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.

Monday, August 15, 2016

I Am Riding My Bicycle Again

I love bicycles. Bicycles are a hobby, a religion, a sickness, and a source of great and hilarious farce. Bicycles are something I need in my life. That I can fix them skillfully improves my state of inner peace. And while I don't hope for an apocalypse, I recognize that my skillset would prove surprisingly valuable, and I would be an unlikely target for cannibals on foot. More usefully, though, having experience with bicycle touring prepares a person for frequent and inexpensive getaways. Taking a bicycle trip is probably the single best thing I can do to clear out my brain and give myself a renewed positive perspective on life.

I haven't ridden a bicycle much for the past few years. Maybe as little as ten times in a year, and not very far. People change. Interests change. I wasn't too hard on myself. I accepted this ebb of activity as natural.

Then, during the most recent van-cation, I began to severely miss the utility of my Diamondback with milk crate securely attached. When I've lived in a van before, I as much "lived in a van" as I did "live on a bicycle." The van is where you sleep, and the bicycle is your ticket to go exploring and fetch supplies. Ideally, you run around all day, and then have a cozy little home to return to. Not so during the last van trip. I drove that big fucker everywhere. Sure, I had my little Raleigh Twenty, but we did not really ride bikes. We had dogs, so we walked. We had dogs, so we couldn't leave the van for very long. What a load of grief.

In any case, that trip made me miss flying around on a heavy, unbreakable, permanently-tuned, impervious-to-disaster happiness machine.

We ran severely out of money from severely not working enough, and headed home double-stat. I made a new commitment to personal organization so such things would never happen again. I've been reading (parts of) books about the ADHD brain and how to go about finding systems of organization that are compatible with it, and new ways to think about organization that don't lead to the usual conclusion, which is "fuck it, we all end up dead."

Along with improvements in organization, I knew it was time to get back on a bicycle. In fact, every one of the ADHD books spent time talking about the importance of physical exercise. I know the benefits first-hand of flying around by bicycle. The books were reminding me and underscoring what I already know.

I can't explain why it took so long to start riding again, but I imagine the reasons are similar to the reasons why most people never start flying around by bicycle in the first place. It isn't hard to do - but it is always easier not to.

I drew my line in the sand, and determined that I would at least start riding some. I didn't work out the details of destination or distances, but did determine that zero riding equals lots of fucking up.

Hills that I would sail over years ago are now formidable once again. I rode an old favorite loop of mine from Kennett Square through northern Delaware. It's 18.5 miles of beautiful low-traffic roads. There are flat sections and rolling hills. The route goes along a creek, through the woods, across a mirror-surfaced reservoir. You go through small town Delaware, and then roll past farms and fields until you return to the starting point.

I felt like I was going to throw up.

I am so out of shape that a moderate effort up the first climb brought me close to puking. I guess that's one reason that some people don't start flying around by bicycle. But I'm familiar with riding up a hill too fast, and I know what comes next if you keep with it - the results are worth the effort, and the effort is something you can be proud of. I mean, you can't boast too much, but you should be confident that as soon as you hop on your bicycle you are a hero - in my mind and yours.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

3/4 gravel vs. a past labatt.

Fuckin 3/4" gravel my heart is filled with, and I'm slinging it by the handful, and I'm building a mountain with it and a moat. Tight and dusty. I am thankful and begging for anything I recognize. I am wound tight as a spring.

Grass covered hills were enough to bring my eyelids to 3/4 mast, and I still drove my train car straight home. I have ten homes, going on thirty. Sleep is fitful and useless.

Once a time ago, I was in Brattleboro, VT.

- Jerk seasoning in free stew
- $2.00 balaclava
- $1.89 40oz LaBatt Blue from a roof carrier

It's five hours away.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Sick and slow and nowhere to go.

Starting Tuesday August 2nd, I had the worst headache of my life. I would later find out that a virus had infected a layer of tissue surrounding my brain.

Inflammation increased pressure until I cried out to nothing in particular for mercy. I attempted vague and insincere prayer; pain causing me to reach out desperately and beg for relief.

I am lucky. My folks heated chicken noodle soup. They looked over me, and brought me squares of badly needed sandwich. When it looked most grim, they took me to the hospital twice, and mostly paid for all of it.

It is too hot and fucked up outside to even think right now. My brain is pickled. My head feels like a collaboration with a baseball bat.