Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Bar tour of Bryn Mawr. Awake after the trail.

I'm back after ten days on the Appalachian Trail with Jonas. I can't say enough positive things about the trip, and I will be attempting to describe it all in an article I'm working on.

The woods give a person plenty of time to think. You walk along with nothing to do but think for hours at a time. The scenery is nice, though a bit repetitive, and it is easy to start poking around below the surface of the mush of your brain. After a few days, I was digging deep in the spaghetti, and I took a few truths to heart.

Obviously I thought about how I'm still married. That's a baloney subject. I'd need at least two computers to type that up for real. I guess somebody is going to have to do something about paperwork to get a divorce. I really hate being called mean, because I try so fucking hard to be nice that I've almost let it ruin my life a few times. So the whole situation has left me as a lonely guy with hurt feelings and an exploding head. It's not that bad - I know how to handle that. This ship is in well charted territory, and I know I'll get back to land.

The second obvious revelation was immediately actionable: I need to sew the fucking curtains for the van. I've been working on some blackout curtains for a century. Bunch of cloth in a bag is the point I was at. The day I got home, I had those curtains sewed up, and I patted myself on the back for the progress.

Another obvious realization about the van: I don't like the bed I made. I want to sleep on the floor. I've been seeing a lot of fancy #vanlife photos, and that's not where I'm at. I want a mattress on the floor that I can fold and shove out of the way when I need to. So I took out the bed, built another small storage unit where the bed used to be, and now I'm happy. Ready to roll.

With the new curtains and bed setup, I felt ready to get reacclimated to stealth parking. I knew it was time to get serious about purchasing more books, so that's what I aimed to do. I haven't visited most of my best sources for many months, so I had immediate success and many good finds. I operate mostly in the affluent suburbs to the west of Philly, and I have enough sources there to spend at least a few days. I spent the night stealth parked in Bryn Mawr to eliminate more than two hours of driving from my schedule.

It's cold. I'm lonely.

I finished up work for the day, found a parking spot, and immediately had difficulty imagining what to do for the next six hours. Usually, I might prefer doors wide open, beautiful vistas, and some music playing. It was cold and I couldn't think of any ocean or mountain views in Bryn Mawr. Instead I went to a slew of bars.

Bar tour of Bryn Mawr: 

First I went to The Grog. People in fancy shirts ate wings off of square white plates. Lager was $4 a pint. I was hoping the bartenders would be rude since Yelp practically promised poor treatment. Instead, they seemed preoccupied with being monochrome as I sat there bundled in two sweatshirts feeling aloof. Another beer? "No thanks. I gotta go."

I headed a few doors down to Erin Pub. There is no apostrophe 's'. So the pub itself is named Erin, and presumably no owner by that name exists. The doorknob has fallen apart, and you have to push the door hard. The interior is a time capsule, but the price of a pint went down by fifty cents. It was deserted. In spite of the first game of the World Series in progress, this pub was tuned to hockey. I had a second pint, and floated slowly out the door.

I continued further down the block to McCloskey's Tavern. Yelp said people like it there. Incredibly, they do not have Yuengling on tap, but fuggit, because Budweiser is a $3 pint. There were people at the bar, and they all seemed to know each other. Nobody seemed fancy, and the World Series was on the TV. I don't care much about baseball, except if I'm at a bar with twenty six drinks.

"Another pint and a shot of Yukon."

That's how it begins. I scan around behind the bar, see the Yukon Jack, and then get funny ideas. The place cleared out, and I found out why people like McCloskey's. They probably all had the same bartender. We talked for awhile about matters better than weather. I stayed warm and occupied until it was time to go for real. The youth shift arrived to play darts, and I exited the front. The door flew open, and the bartender appeared behind me with a raised arm.

"Goodnight, my friend!" He hurried over to the door only to say that? I returned the wave and wished him well. Maybe he wanted to make sure I was standing.

When I got back to the van, the night was colder than before. My plan has been to stay in Pennsylvania for another couple months, but the temperature had me mentally amending that idea. I sat on my mattress and wrapped myself in my sleeping bag like a cloak. I smoked a light dusting of the driest and oldest marijuana. I listened to the same two songs and fell asleep.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Future, The Future, and Right Now.

I'd say that except for having too much space, my new Dodge van is great. I think I'm about 85% ready to start trippin'. My curtains need some work. I want to work on the battery box and electrical. I doubt I'm going to get solar panels on there before I go. Brain's a little mushy for that.

My ability to self-motivate is total shit. That's not such a bad thing, it's just a long-term fact. I can surely bust my ass on whatever single project I am most interested in at any moment, but anything other than that, I can hardly lift a finger. The curtains I am working on are not a difficult project. Little bit of cutting and sewing. The battery box is easy too. But I feel like I have about 3-4 productive hours each day before my brain turns into a pancake. I've been using those hours to make myself sell books.

The Near Future:

I'm leaving on October 9th. Me and Jonas are going to hike the Appalachian Trail starting where we left off last year. Hopefully I'll write about that. Paradoxically, I most want to write about adventure and travel here, but that is what I tend to omit. I haven't been good at turning notes into posts. I let it all get backed up until writing all the posts seems like an overwhelming task. Then I don't do it. I also don't open my mail for six months at a stretch. Good. Plenty of room to improve.

The Slightly Farther Future:

I'm going to write this here to remind myself: I am going to drive south soon. I need to buy and sell a lot more books first. I need to do those things to the van. If I do it right, January sales will be enough to float me for a few months. I want to be in Key West by New Years. Hopefully I'll be comfortable there, and lord willing I'll meet some people. At bare minimum, I will have a bicycle and a warm island.

Right Now:

I'm getting ready to hit the road. It's slow and I don't see a lot of daily progress. I need to remind myself that's normal. I've been hanging out in the van. I've been watching Ice Road Truckers and trying to keep it to the right amount of wine. The nights are getting colder. I have a cheap old sleeping bag, and I am sleeping like a king.

My alarm is a phone, and it goes off at 9am. I made a schedule for myself, and sometimes it works. I let the alarm go off for about ten minutes before I finally get up to turn it off. If I hit snooze, I'll be hitting it forever. If I turn off the alarm, I will be getting up past 11.

I go inside and make coffee first. During the week, my dad leaves enough coffee in the pot for me to have a cup. On weekends, everybody here uses the Keurig. In the morning there is always TV. Morning shows: where they try to sell you shoes and make it look like news.

After my first coffee, I take an Adderall. Pretty soon, I take out a pan. Most of the time, I put in about a third of a can of beans. Sometimes discount ham. Once that's pretty hot, I crack two eggs on top. Thirty seconds later, I break the yolks. I've been mixing and flipping the eggs for months. I've tried every variable and heat setting. I started adding more pepper. Every time it's pretty much alright. Beans and eggs are good.

Around 11am, I have to get to work. I'm awake, and it's time to get started. This is the beginning of my 3-4 hour window when anything feels possible. I leverage this energy - usually, I try - into working on shipping out books. We all need money, which pretty much means a job. This is a good one. I'd rather keep on sleeping, but this isn't bad.

My brain becomes an idiot around 4pm. I could take a second Adderall at 2pm, but instead I am stockpiling pills for future use. I am prescribed two, and I take one. Soon I will have enough to last for months on the road. (On the road I will take less than one pill per day.) Getting Adderall while traveling feels like an almost insurmountable obstacle. Even though I have insurance. Expensive and compulsory insurance. [Fuck everyone. Fuck everything.]

I watch some more TV with my folks at night. Jeopardy for sure. Then shows about beating houses with a sledgehammer. The shows are all the same.

Then I go and spend the next twelve hours at home. A van beside a house.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Ice Road Truckers is great.

Shit's going great. I downloaded season 10 of Ice Road Truckers. Let me tell you about that.

There are no spoiler alerts possible for IRT. The show itself is one long tease where nothing... actually... ever... happens. I get a real bang out of it. I remember watching some of this show in 2008, and I was blown away to see that they're still doing it.

Ice Road Truckers.

They drive big rigs in the far north to get supplies to remote locations. To get there, they have to drive across frozen lakes. If the ice is too thin, a truck goes in - or at least that's what they promise. I haven't seen a truck go through the ice yet, so I checked with the internet. Turns out a truck has never gone through the ice. A spoiler is when you say what did happen. What do you call it when you point out that nothing really ever does? I didn't spoil anything. I'd blame the camera crew for getting zero footage of sinking trucks.

This might sound like I don't like Ice Road Truckers as a show. Not true. I think it's a gas. You just can't take it literally. The semi-scripted action is pure banality, and I am highly amused at how they try to spice it up. They talk all about how they're probably gonna go through the ice. It's quaint and theatrical. They're so ready to go through the ice. They open the door as they cross the ice slowly - one guy steers from the running board prepared to bail. They talk about how they could be stranded if they break down, but help is always there.

I'll tell you what a real show is: Highway Thru Hell. Not the American one. The Canadian one. That show follows a tow truck company that recovers crashed big rigs along a horrendous stretch of highway. Winter in Canada. It looks pretty miserable. Everybody takes themselves very seriously. I am greatly amused. The conflicts are exaggerated; people get pissed off. As angry as they ever get, they are still Canadian, so they can't help being weirdly polite.

I would hate to watch those shows with commercials, but that's what torrents are all about. I've got that VPN shit set up, so I'm safe. Until the VPN fails for a split second - then my folks get their nineteenth warning that their son is a crook, he's crooking around on their internet, and he downloaded HBO*

*all of it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Look how awesome I can park.

Look at this!

I worked a half day at the bicycle shop today, and this is how I parked. If you want to know my secret, it's all about hitting both of those cars a few times.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Infinite bivy guarantee.

Outdoor Research is a company that makes camping stuff. I presume they wear lab coats when they hike. They've evidently gathered the right facts, because my bivy has been great thus far.

In 2007, I bought an expensive Gore-Tex bag in Montreal. I used it to sleep in some pretty weird places. Now the white coating on the floor is flaking off and getting white shit everywhere. And whatever seals the seams is turning yellow and falling apart. Fortunately there is an "infinite guarantee," so I investigated that.

I put that bag through its paces, and I understand that things wear out. Regardless, once I sent some photos, they said they'd help me out. If I send them back my bivy, they'll send me a brand new one. The problem is that it takes a long time. Fair is fair, but I'm going to be on the trail in a week.

I don't know. Either I'm going to send back the bivy, and hike around with a whole tent, or I'm going to delay the bivy return and wake up covered in flakes of white shit. Probably soon would be a good time to decide. There's this question and several more.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Trexlertown Bicycle Swap. (still one bicycle to ride.)

The bicycle swap meet at Trexlertown happens twice a year. Spring and Fall. People set up folding tables and lay out blankets all around the velodrome. They lay out bicycles, frames, wheels, and parts for every type of bicycle from every era of cycling. Spandex-y bicycle shops try to blow out last year's inventory. Greasy bicycle shops go to stock up on repair parts. I used to go to buy low and sell high. Now I go mostly for myself.

Arriving the night before is a ritual. People get there early and build a few fires - in the back of a field and beside the gravel part of the parking lot. It's a secluded location, so this kind of thing flies. Greasy enthusiasts drink beer and talk excitedly about bicycle touring. As close as I can tell, these folks are my people. If you give a slight allowance, I almost fit right in.

There was no party this year. The forecast was for cold and rain. I can't sit still before game day, so I drove up early and arrived as the sky became dark. Aside from an RV in the main parking lot, and a pickup truck parked in the grass, I was alone. I had a hoagie, a full charge on my laptop, and a fresh skein of yarn. I had 51 ounces of beer from Acme, and a tall pumpkin spiced coffee from the Wawa.

I had a nice little evening to myself. Watched a movie; practiced some crochet. I slept well. When I woke up at 6am, I knew I wouldn't get back to sleep. I rose up, put on some pants, and headed straight back to the Wawa a few miles away. I got another tall coffee - pumpkin spice again - and two breakfast sandwiches for now and later.

I took a new spot close to the side gate, and pretty soon people started to arrive. Shelly and Nielle showed up, and I helped set up a table and a tent. For that plus $15 I got a special wristband that let me on the track an hour early.

I had $1000 in my pocket. All 10's and 20's to make it easier to spend.

I've seen better swap meet turnouts. There was lots of empty space. I didn't bargain hard enough, and felt less invested than times in the past. The threat of rain never materialized, but I suspect it kept people away.

I made circle after circle, buying bread and butter parts. Square taper bottom brackets, discount derailleurs, old handlebars, and of course lots of cranks. I got a Holdsworth frame for $20 - big dent in the top tube, and also missing the fork. I never back down from a challenge. I don't always step up, but I don't back down much either. Show me a damaged frame-up project, and I'll show you twenty bucks. Yes, sir. I bought pedals. I got Dura Ace and Suntour. I got a Shimano Sante bottom bracket. I got a Specialized bottom bracket with a Hatta nutted spindle. I got a Dean seatpost, and Campy Record carbon ergo shifters. Everything was barely making sense.

I stuck around until the end, and had a little less than half of my money left. The bank envelope was thin and deteriorated. I ate the cold second sandwich. I loaded up and went home.

Some of these parts will be sold. Some of them will be used for my own experimental projects. But as I drove home from the swap, I felt a certain doubt that any of my projects are getting finished fast. In fact, I bought that new frame, so the incomplete bicycles are only adding up. I have a new personal rule to leave the Hoopty alone. I need at least one bicycle to actually ride some time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

When you need to go away for awhile.

I woke up late, and read highlights from the debate. I'm sleeping in the van. I'm hanging out there at night. The van is parked in the driveway at my folks'.

I have no business here. My veins are pumping molasses. I need to hustle, wrap up, and drive toward a brighter sun. Instead I'm drinking white wine and calling people up. It's getting to be a mess.

I'm feeling real bad for myself. I need to take my wedding ring and throw it in the toilet. Instead, I keep wearing it, and going to the bar.

The bar is awful. What an expensive and horrible place. I sit and stare at nothing. I try to stay upright while the wrong song might send me off my seat. I try to stay upright while I'm overcharged for beer.

I'm feeling like a loser. I fact check the idea, and I know I need to go. I contribute nothing, and hover daily. I make stacks of dirty books and shrug off anything productive.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Storage and a bed in my long and tall van.

This is information about my van and how big it is. I had a different post about how my head is falling off and I'm becoming insane, but that's saved as a draft.

Sketchup is a great program. I can't even scrape the surface of the program's capabilities, but I can stick rectangles together pretty good. Plywood and 2-by-4's are all 3-D rectangles. I can't draw for shit. When somebody says they designed something on a napkin, my first response is "fuck you." 

This storage unit is made from two sheets of $28 plywood, and I have leftovers. I had the jerk at Home Depot cut the sheets on their panel saw to 13" strips. Yes, he was a jerk, and I don't know why. I try to be this nice kind of quirky meek guy, and I regret it when someone is a dick. "Just cut the fuckin' wood" I could have said. But I might regret that too.

This is a bed that can slide out. You can slide it in to make more space in the aisle. The slats of wood are 1-by-3's. 

I stained all this wood. I added iron-on edge banding to the face of the storage unit. I wouldn't do any of that again. Staining wood is a pain. Edge banding doubly so.

So, I'm doing this work to the van. I can't claim I'm excited to move back in. I took down the remnants of what Kristin added. I removed what didn't fit. I know the van is my best option - better than anything else. But I reserve the right to put my head through a wall.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Mike Price and the low-flying heat-seeking chopper.

Mike Price waddled into camp panting. The old man had a fresh red pack that looked blown up like a balloon. It must have weighed a hundred pounds. We heard him coming from a mile away.

"Was that you tootin' off the airhorn?" I questioned, as he sat at the picnic table across from me and Jonas.

He confirmed that it had been. He had a red sweaty face and labored breathing, but I could see that something more was wrong. He was bug-eyed from more than exhaustion, and the impending drama was almost palpable from the offset.

"Have you seen a guy named Steve Pippin?"

Me and Jonas started hiking the Appalachian Trail from the start. This was the third night, and we were getting into the swing of it. We were sleeping in the shelters along the trail, and since it was off-season, we mostly had them to ourselves. The sun was getting low, and we had maybe an hour until final light. We were finishing dinner and spouting off nonsense when Mike burst in.

Mike and this guy Steve were hiking south together, and they got separated. There was a long rocky climb, and their packs were at least as heavy as Jonas's and mine combined. There were bear bells clanging, yellow walkie-talkies, and somewhere an airhorn. I got no opportunity to rifle through his gear, but I suspect the abundance of communication devices was only a hint of a far deeper absurdity.

We had not seen Steve Pippin. To an already rattled Mike Price this was grim news. This was dire indeed.

They had an agreement, he explained. As he was huffing and puffing up the mountain, Steve went ahead. He said that he would go to the top, drop off his pack, and return to help Mike with his. Simple as that. Clear and simple. When Steve failed to return, Mike could imagine only one reason: he fell off the mountain. The trail was steep, and there were places to fall. He tried the walkie talkie and the airhorn. Nothing. The only explanation was death.

I suspected from the first telling that Steve Pippin was very alive. Communication-obsessed as they seemed, wires do get crossed. Miscommunication has been known to occur. I tried to explain my theory of unknown variables, but it's hard to console a baby twice your age. It was hard to impart the value of staying calm.

A miscommunication did not register as possible. In fact, as Mike Price replayed the events endlessly, he only became more certain of doom. He added to the story, and soon Steve Pippin had been adamant: "We're a team!" Mike now remembered him proclaiming.

Likely scenarios be damned. Waiting until morning wouldn't do. Steve Pippin was dead or dying, and the time for action was now. As the light began to fade, Mike returned to the trail to retrace his steps. He looked like he wanted to see a ghost. It was hard to regard him as a simple annoyance, because he looked like he might begin to cry. He was a child who gave up when he got lost in the mall. He was afraid of being alone.

It was business as usual once he left. Read a few pages and set up for bed.

"Goddamn this man," I thought, as I handed Mike Price my phone charger. He huffed and puffed back into camp at midnight, and his panic was now in full bloom. He needed to call the authorities, but his phone was almost as dead as his friend. In all that luggage, he didn't have a battery. He needed to waste the power that I was saving for sexy texts to my future wife. But it would have been callous to refuse.

With his phone getting juice, he called cops and wives, and attempted to cast all manner of alarm as far and wide as possible. I pulled the flap of my bivy back over my head and tried to ignore the proceedings.

"Goddamn this man!" Mike Price had laid out his sleep shit barely a foot from my head, and now he was snoring like a Jake braking diesel.

The next thing I knew, it was 2 a.m. and flashlight beams were whirling in every direction as loud men marched into camp from the trail. Fire, Rescue, and Good Ol' Georgia Boys spilled into camp. Clamor be damned, they began to hatch plans. One of them threw a plastic water bottle on the coals of our fire, and it gave two of them a start when it whistled a reply. They smoked and chortled; ribbed and guffawed. There wasn't anything they could do, aside from show up. Well, there was one thing. And the taxpayers wouldn't mind.

Scarcely an hour later, a low flying chopper was combing over the mountain using heat seeking radar to find a body I felt sure wasn't there. They made many passes, but came up empty handed. To poor old Mike this confirmed the worst. The corpse of Steve Pippin was already cold.

"No." I said too weakly, "unknown variables" I failed to explain. I wanted to slap him to his senses, and implore logical thought. But it would be inappropriate to throttle an aging stranger.

The light had been rising, and now it was risen indeed. Once the sun made the path visible, I took Mike's water bottles to the creek. I used my filter to pump fresh water into his bright and shiny new Nalgene containers, enjoying the brief respite from the curtain of worry that had fallen over camp.

Good old Mike thanked me for the water, and he shuffled slowly down the path to look again for a decaying corpse.

Jonas and I got back to the program, and put some oats on the stove. Before the oats reached a boil, a new man strolled into camp. Big fresh red pack. Looked like it was stuffed with blankets.

"Mr. Steeeeeeeve Pippin!" I greeted him; a celebrity guest on the stage. I told him people were looking for him. I mentioned the helicopter, which he either didn't register or believe. I walked over and unclipped the walkie talkie from his pack. I said he should call Mike.

Steve Pippin turned on the walkie. After they got separated he'd never bothered to turn it on. His promise to turn back was either forgotten or it never happened. He continued on the trail much further than planned. He radiated an oblivious innocence.

Mike Price was on the horn immediately. The team would be back together at last.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

An astonishing moment from my 20's.

I'm standing on the beach in a huddle. It's late summer and hours past sunset. The sand is cool, and a breeze is keeping the bugs at bay. I'm early-20's-young, and I quit my office job a few months ago. I'm spending a week at the beach drinking wine out of bottles, and whisky-coke from plastic cups.

Down the beach in both directions, other circles of youth have started fires. The flames flicker rapidly, and light up the undersides of hats and big hair. I have two bags in my pocket.

In the darkness I reach for a bag and a bowl, and in the dim light have difficulty packing. I work carefully in the windbreak of our huddle; diligent because anything lost will be unrecoverable waste.

I put in a good amount, but when I flick the lighter I am astonished. In the bowl is not the pot I was looking for, but torn bits of psychedelic mushrooms. My astonishment is not that this has happened. What really floors me is that this has happened before.

Friday, September 2, 2016

When you really think about bicycles.

I've been spending a lot of time trying to convince myself to hide my money from myself. In my Roth IRA account, for example. So I can horse around better when I'm old. The task is made difficult by my rekindled bicycle obsession. I already have a few projects cooking, but what's a few more?

With this in mind, I bought a mini velo. If you really think about it, I had to. I've had a lifelong attraction to everything miniature, and this is a useful investment. Of course, it comes with flimsy components, so I will probably need to invest a little more and get Campagnolo shifters, especially considering I've never had them before. If you really think about it, I should do that, because 10spd Campy shifters will work with an 8spd Shimano cassette with no modifications needed. It's called a "Shimergo" setup. If you really do the math, I'll be saving money in the long run.

Plus, when I come to my senses and realize I'm not riding the bicycle, I can sell it for a slim profit anyway, like I usually do. Considering this, I should probably invest in another folding bike too.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

At this time I'm vapor.

I'm sitting in the basement in my office-like corner. I'm looking at my plans fade to shapes and shades. My head is full of mayonnaise. I'm asleep with wide eyes, forgetting how to breathe.

I would drink right now, but I can't stand up. If I stand up now, I'll have nowhere to go.

There are no conclusions here. There is nothing to fix.

I might rather feel miserable; a solid place to put my hat. But at this time I'm vapor, and it clatters to the floor.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A guy who knows how to be alive.

Except for this one time last week, I haven't been drinking. It seems recently that it doesn't mesh well with my life. I've heard some people say they outgrew drinking. I've heard midlife folks say they can't drink like they used to. That sounds like a blessing and a relief. One less devil always pissing in your shoes.

I started cycling every day, and then I looked up how many calories in beer. If I kept cruising along, I could easily replace all the calories from my ride with a few hours and a pint glass. That would almost be fine, except I also then have to wake up and pee nine times. Then I'm left with a case of the morning-mopes. I don't know when I started to pee so often, but it seems like a lot. And I won't be seeing a specialist for a matter which I wonder about generally. I'll phone the urologist once my penis falls off or turns orange.

Also, I was recently bedridden. You can forget about stacking booze with your viral meningitis. Even thin soup makes you think. So that was two weeks off drinking right there. Then for two more weeks, a single beer would sound the rampage-headache warning alarm, so I'd switch to a gallon of water. The illness gave me headache paranoia. I was scared to death of bringing a hint of that illness back.

Then I was all cured. I went to a party and got pretty buzzed off two slow beers. Then I washed down some fried chicken with all the rest of the alcohol at the party. The next day was a total loss. 

No drinking since then. I'm not making any declarations, and there's nothing here to read into. These are only words on a screen. 

I'm feeling good. I feel strong and alive. I'm sipping watered down lemonade and reading every book about bicycles and bicycling. I'm sleeping like a rock on my thin little tri-fold mattress. You gotta love a guy who knows how to be alive.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Alone to travel through time; to put screws through wood.

I didn't know what to do. I haven't known what to do. I didn't want to come back home, and then I didn't know what was next. My life was at the height of disorganization and financial fiasco. I was overwhelmed, and my frustrations were spilling out.

If this is as hard as it gets, then I might be luckier than I assumed. I have a knack for snapping back. I have an iron support system. I feel thankful every day. 

I don't want to live at my folks' place a whole lot longer, but I haven't minded spending time here. My marriage was puttering out, and it still seems hard to believe that it's over. It's over? That's what the letter said. I feel relief, and I feel excitement, but there is also a gap. Alone again. Into the open again. Alone to travel through time at whatever pace time decides to travel. I'm thankful to my parents for always providing all the support they can. We get along well these days, and they take care of me. 

I am focused on the opportunity to influence my future. Now I know what to do. Initiate escape pod procedure... slowly!

Two months ago, I was in debt. I was living at Kristin's folks' house, and in a hurry to move out. I wanted a house, but knew an apartment came first. Another lease, probably, and only short stints of travel along the way. 

Then she kicked me out for being a dick. A harmonious nature never resumed. I guess I was supposed to go back. I was supposed to say something more profound than I'm technically sorry, but. The truth is, we were better off apart. I hope she's better off. I want her to be the best, but I want no responsibility for making it so.

I have the money for an apartment now, but I'll be damned in the neck if I'm going to get one. Not at this moment in time and space. I got out of debt, and I'm working toward paying off other expensive needs - van shocks and back taxes. (So I wish she'd cool it with the debit card at TJ Maxx, and buy some cheaper hooch, but...) Living rent free has provided a boost, and I have been able to squeeze a good income out of books. 

The next step, obviously, is moving into a van.

The van won't be ready overnight, and in fact I am in no particular rush. I have a temporary office setup in the basement, and the driveway is a good place to build. I expect to be ready in the earlier part of fall, and move to Key West for the coldest part of winter. It's a plan. I am ready.

A van doesn't need much. That's what I've always said. A bed and a few milk crates for storage. Some discount tablecloths for curtains with some binder clips holding them up. I believe that's all you need, but I am building more. I have an improved bed design, and a new plan for storage as well. If I keep selling some books, I might get solar panels too. 

I need to find a new "Life Is Easy Chair" to complete the build. 

Step one is to construct my updated bed. I got the idea from searching "vandwelling bed," and made my version today in Sketchup:

The slats slide together like the fingers on your hands. The bed expands from 23 inches to 33 inches, making it usable as a bed, couch, and low table with slats. To put on that, I got a tri-fold 4-inch memory foam pad. That setup, in theory, will give me much more space than I need.

Next, I designed a storage unit to fit some semi-rigid reusable bags that I think are great:

Soon it will be time to put screws through wood.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

How I Made A Sick Book Deal.

My van is a big ol' honker, but it doesn't smell right. A mountain of boxes of books left a lingering essence that I am almost desperate to forget. It's time to clean out the van for real.

Last month I got an opportunity to buy "hundreds of boxes of books" from a man whose mother passed away last year. I couldn't find out much on the phone, so I had to drive an hour south into Delaware to take a look. He could have mentioned the cats.

I woke up on inspection day, took my Adderall pill, and filled a travel mug with coffee. I hopped in the van, and an hour later I was more than ready to make a deal. I texted that I arrived, and stepped out into the hottest and most humid possible morning. It was one of the days where your glasses fog up, and drops of sweat snake through your eyebrows and fall in plump droplets inside your lenses. I was greeted and invited inside to take a look.

Hundreds of boxes might have been accurate. Huge piles of file boxes and other kinds of boxes were stacked in various areas, taking up most of the space in the small house. The stacks and piles were chest and shoulder high. The essence of the house was punctuated by neglect. A reverse mortgage made anybody concerned stop trying. A creepy man lived there with cats. Somehow he lived there, and his brother was trying to deal with the issue of the books. Clumps of cat hair carpeted the wooden floors. Clumps and layers of cat hair clung to the boxes. I did not like these facts, but I felt invested from the drive, and I was churning along at peak-stimulant. For an hour each day, anything feels possible.

There is no good way to estimate the value of a hoarder's lot of books. I opened some boxes to take a sample, and I looked up some prices. The few boxes I opened looked better than expected based on the condition of the house. The few things I checked made me willing to consider a deal rather than running back to the van and hitting reverse. $200. I made up a number. I'd take everything for $200, which is more than the guy could ever make on these books any other way. With all that cat hair, nobody else would offer anything. I saw an enormous amount of work, but I could not see how the deal wouldn't eventually make me plenty of money. We started loading.

My van is a big ol' honker, but I couldn't fit half of the boxes in there. We did load enough to make a dent in the piles. It only got hotter outside. I had to take off my glasses, because the flood of sweat was washing them off my face. I was drenched in sweat. Nowhere from my shirt to my shorts or boxers or socks had a single dry spot. My shoes were soaked. Cat hair clung to my arms and legs. I could not wipe sweat anywhere without getting cat hair on my face. The guy also owned a van, so we filled his too. He'd be in my area the next day, and I was happy to hear that he wouldn't mind dropping off a load of the books. That still left about a third more of the books, maybe more. I'd have to deal with that later. Another day.

I filled half of my folks' garage with tall stacks of boxes. I set up a folding table and some plywood over a couple sawhorses. I updated my pricing database and got to work. Anything I was selling I put in one pile; anything I wasn't went in another. There was far more trash than treasure, but with thousands and thousands of books, the pile that I planned to sell got plenty large enough. I assembled new boxes to store the keepers, and made piles of the original boxes to take to the recycling center.

I don't know how I got viral meningitis. There's no way to tell exactly where it came from. But when I think about that house and the cats, I start to itch, and my neck feels sore. At that house they don't put cat food in a bowl. No. They drop a thirty pound bag on the floor and knife it open like they're feeding goats. I can't be sure, but I feel like those cats are responsible for my suffering. The pain from the headache made me weep in defeat. I hardly left that skinny guest bed for a week. I thought about dying and hoped to get better before I had to wish for it. It was unbearable, and yet it continued unabated for a week. For me, viral meningitis has been the worst experience so far. It still haunts me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

the Roberts 3-Speed: Plenty Of Gearing And Clearance.

I turned 30 a few years ago. Nearly four. I was living at Jim's place in West Philly. It was a great place to live, and dirt cheap. Dirty and cheap. There was a coffee shop around the corner that didn't charge a lot, and above that, Firehouse Bicycles. Great shop.

Thirty years felt like a milestone. I was happy and proud. I made it a long time without paying for a haircut or falling victim to all the other scams. I thought I deserved a reward. I thought I'd get myself a bicycle.

There was a handbuilt Roberts hanging from the ceiling of Firehouse Bicycles, and it had been there for a long time. I stood under it many times; admiring from below. Cutouts on the thinned lugs, chrome under the paint, Reynolds competition tubing. My size. I asked them to take it off the hooks.

I only went a little bit fast, and not far. I said I loved it, but I would have to think about the money. I walked away and returned two hours later. I knew my price, but I was nervous to hear theirs. They knocked it way down to $600, and I breathed a sigh of relief. $600 was nothing for this bicycle. $600 was free.

I'm a bicycle mechanic with dreams and schemes. New projects are a passion and a weakness.

The Plan: 

Sell all of the vintage and valuable parts to recoup most of the investment, and then build the Roberts as a 3-Speed road bicycle. My first road bicycle was a Shogun that I converted to 3-Speed with my first handbuilt set of wheels. The Roberts would be an homage to that Shogun - an important bicycle in my life.

Time passed, and not much got done. I sold most of the parts, and was left with a semi-assembled project frame. Eventually, I had all the components I wanted at the same time and the same place - and so the 3-Speed Roberts was a vision finished at last.

The Roberts is a vintage British frame with a geared hub of British heritage (now made in Taiwan), and to top it off a 1940's quadrant shifter that was inexpensive because it was missing the yolk that holds the cable end (a part you don't technically need.)

Here it is!

35c Pasela tires, Shimano 600 tri-color cranks, $10 swap meet front wheel with small dent you can feel while braking; vintage Kirtland handlebar bag, Nitto 'Noodle' handlebars which you can accurately judge me by, and a Brooks saddle because obviously you need that.

Sturmey Archer quadrant shifter. It's missing the barrel yolk, but I just threaded the cable through the hole where that's supposed to go. The internals of a Sturmey Archer hub have barely changed since 1936, and so the cable pull from a 1940's shifter works perfectly with a hub made 70 years later!

Sturmey Archer SRF3. Made in Taiwan since 2000. The guts are nearly identical to the AW hub made since the 1930's. The new Taiwanese hubs have aluminum spoke flanges, and nice quality internals.
Snazzy old Kirtland handlebar bag. Made in Boulder, CO a long time ago.

Clearance with a 35c tire is less than 1mm per side. It's not rubbing, but it's damned close.
I started putting these on all bicycles.

You can trust this guy with your gearing and clearance.

Monday, August 22, 2016

I guess I never want much anyway.

Well, it's time to clean out the van for real. I don't guess that anybody has great advice for this. I've been in a similar place before. I'm older now. I have added experience from being alive longer. I don't guess anybody could have seen this coming. Except me. I probably saw this coming. On some level I knew.

Nobody has been truly happy in this marriage. Kristin spoke up first. Loud and clear. She went away for a couple weeks, and when she got home and didn't call, I figured what was probably next. She wants a divorce. Granted. I want one too, but I'd be more willing to drag my feet. Maybe I'd try something and maybe not expect it to work.

We were married for 14 months. Not a lifetime; no kids. We gave it a whirl. Sometimes it was good. Not enough of the time. Probably not nearly enough. I've been running the postmortem through my head for weeks - hypothetically, and now a little bit for real. I'm done with that. I'm moving ahead. She wrote me a really nice letter. I feel the same way. Nobody is mad. I was a little bit mad, but that's long over.

It was a really nice letter. But it's over. It's time to clean out the van for real. I guess there isn't good advice for this, and I guess I never want much anyway.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Nobel Pista Prize for 3-Speeds.

You know what? I'm feeling pretty good. I'm a 33 year old man who is living at his parents' house for god knows how much longer. But you know what? It's a pretty good house. My marriage is kinda tanking at the moment, and we've only been married for a little over a year, but you know what? Well, actually that one is kinda for shit. But I don't think we're going to start hating each other... at least I don't think we'll be hating each other. That would be awful.

About feeling good though, I am a proud lifelong bicycle geek, who - get this - just remembered that he's a bicycle geek. That's even better than finding gold in them hills. Anxiety cannot exist aboard a bicycle. It can't exist for at least a few hours after a good ride. That's a medicine I fucking need. Distractions are most welcome, and there is no better distraction than a full-on obsession.

I got a text from my neighbor across the street. His kid's bicycle's back brake was sticking; rubbing on the rim. I'd just finished my 2pm sandwich, so I hopped over the front railing, crossed the street, and walked into his garage. It wasn't a pretty brake situation, so he was definitely lucky to have a hippie-van-bum bicycle mechanic across the street. I made a couple trips to the van for tools, eventually convinced the brake to act friendly, and lubed the chain to complete a job well done. Then my man tossed down $20 on my tool box, and backed away quickly. I told him a ten would be better, while putting the bill in my pocket. No use arguing. Wouldn't want to.

Almost nobody knows that I have a couple of the best bicycles ever assembled. The other one is my Roberts Cycles custom (not for me though) frame. It's built with 531c tubing, and the "c" stands for completely fucking awesome. I have it built up as a 3-Speed, shifted with a Sturmey Archer "quadrant" shifter from the mid 1940's. I'm expecting an honorary doctorate for that one. Or the Nobel Pista Prize.

I rode that Roberts 3-Speed so fast today, you literally do not want to hear about it. The only time I rode it faster was yesterday.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Main Machine: 2006 and 2016

My main bicycle is a 1997 Diamondback Outlook that I bought in 2006. A property manager in Delaware answered my classified ad in the Daily Local News. The ad started strong with "Bicycles Wanted" in bold type. Plenty of tenants had moved out, and I bought the bicycles that were left behind for $20 each.

I lived at 46th and Locust in West Philly. My apartment with my girlfriend at the time was in the basement. Getting my road bicycle up the stairs and through two doors was just enough of a pain to justify getting another bicycle to lock outside full time. I wasn't worried about the Outlook - I viewed it as a bike theft experiment. I used a U-Lock, and it lived outside the front door, attached always to the stop sign on corner. Nobody ever touched it.

The only things I changed originally:

1) Handlebars to Raleigh 3-Speed takeoffs.
2) Shifters to friction thumb shifter on right side only.
3) Tires to $5 IRC slicks from the wholesale account I had no business having.
4) Rack and Milk Crate.

The Diamondback was easier to access, and had a useful crate on the back. I was not worried about theft or damage. Wide tires roll great on shittily-maintained pavement. For these reasons, and the simple fact that it was more comfortable, the Diamondback became my main bicycle. I never would have guessed back in 2006 that the $20 bicycle would be the one that I would ride up into Quebec, and then later from Philadelphia all the way to the Pacific Ocean. But so it is, and we are still close friends today.

Now it is 2016.

The Diamondback "Hoopty" Outlook has gone many thousands of miles, and dozens of component changes. It is unlikely that there will be much deviation from the current setup unless something breaks or wears out. The Hoopty wears many brands, and components from many ages and origins. It is as mechanically simple, smooth, and reliable as I could ever wish of a bicycle.

Here are the details with plenty of photos for once:

As majestic a machine as I have ever seen...

To me, this looks like the epitome of bicycle cockpit comfort.

Sugino XD600. The only crankset you will ever need. It's on its third center chainring - a 40t Race Face. The 36t it comes with is too small for pavement riding, but I wore it out before changing.

The original "7-SIS" rear derailer. I wanted to see how long it would last before crapping out, but I'm starting to think I will never find out. That blue piece of housing was also installed in 2006.

One bottle cage is never enough. The hose clamp is grabbing the metal boss from a Minoura gadget that was designed to put a bottle cage on the handlebars.

Velo-Orange quill stem adapter. Opens up a world of stem possibilities.

Bar-end shifter attached to Jagwire shifter pod. The pods are designed to go on the ends of aerobars, so the orientation is backwards - so this is the "front" shifter operating the rear derailer. It's a friction shifter, so it works great.

Suntour Accushift shifter attached to Jagwire shifter pod. This 7spd shifter operates the Front derailer in friction mode. The reason for the Jagwire pods is that they fit over the handlebar ends, as opposed to traditional bar end shifters, which fit inside the ends.  The handlebar's inside diameter is too small for bar end shifters.

Brooks Flyer. The saddle rarely sees the light, because I keep the rain cover on at all times. I've worn through a rain cover, but the saddle probably has years to go. 

Oversize Hi-Ten MTB tubing. The most scoff-worthy tubing available. Somehow it hasn't killed me yet.

Fender stickers for reflectivity and amusement. Boat inspection sticker found roadside in Idaho, and applied over a crack in the fender, which has recently re-appeared. 

Milk crate featuring many toe straps. The rolled up yellow thing is some sil-nylon that I made into a cover for the milk crate. It's big enough to fit over an overstuffed backpack, and keeps everything 100% dry.

I put these pedals on every bicycle.

My friend Nielle used to race downhill MTB. She was sponsored by Ringle. I found this hub in a taco'd wheel in the basement of Fairmount Bicycles when the shop opened. I needed a new wheel, and I didn't have much money. I migrated the hub and spokes over to a new rim, and I've been using it ever since. I killed the pawls on the cross-USA trip, sent an email to Ringle, and had new pawls and springs sent free of charge. It always pays to mention that you work in a bicycle shop.

Shimano Alivio brake levers. These originally had integrated trigger shifters. The shifters were broken, so I removed them, and ground down the vestigial disc-shaped bosses with an angle grinder. The levers were worth saving - the barrel adjusters are made of steel, as opposed to the tin foil bullshit on 99% of  levers, which immediately strips and crossthreads. The mechanical advantage is matched well to cantilever brakes, as opposed to the pull on a lot of replacement levers that seem to be trying to split the difference between the cable pull for v-brakes and cantis, thus being sub-par for both. For inexpensive levers, these were made well.

The rivets failed, but the zip ties won. These fenders are developing a lot of cracks, but I think I can outpace the damage with more zip ties.
Yup... seems to make a lotta sense....

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

This Is Why I'm Not Writing Anymore

I haven't talked to Kristin for two weeks. She's at her parents' house; I'm at mine. We didn't talk much for most of July either, except to fight. I hate fighting. My instinct is to wait it out. From what I've seen, nobody stops a fight when they realize the other person has a good point. Fighting is a loud hiss - venting - and I would rather let off steam in private.

That doesn't make me less of an asshole. I sound like an asshole when I am speaking precisely, or when I am being critical, which is too often, since I am so seldom wrong.

I have a certain way of doing things. It's a correct way: researched, logical, precise. When my ways meet resistance, I am confused and frustrated, because my ways are correct, and all anybody else needs to do is paint by the numbers. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the methods I use to sell books online. I have systems, and the systems are the only way I make money. I want to work less while making more. It's not a fantasy, because I know how to do it.

We are fighting because we each have a different view of how the business is going. I see room for improvement. Without increasing overall effort, I believe we can improve accuracy, efficiency, AND volume. I know exactly where to focus those efforts.

That's a moot point. I'm not working with Kristin anymore. It has always caused friction, because I am far too awesome at this job, and she can never live up to my ridiculous standards.

I don't know how our marriage is going to work out, but working together sure isn't something that's going to fix it.

The problem is that when there is a work related issue, it flows seamlessly into a personal relationship fight. This means I am living in a nightmare. We can't fix work, because it is impossible for me to even suggest there is anything to fix, and doing so makes me an insensitive asshole. To make matters worse, I don't show love, Kristin feels unloved, and I am a shitty husband.

There is a whole spiderweb of issues and variables at play. I would like to start sorting all those out, but I don't think I'm invited to the table unless I bring flowers. I am not in a hurry to bring flowers to somebody who has begun in earnest to step all over my nuts.

I hate all this shit. I am riding my bicycle instead.