Last Monday, my course veered undetectably by me. Until the moment my body slammed to the ground–rudely snapped against a boardwalk much like a rag doll without consideration of human bones, ligaments, tendons, organs, and blood–I thought I was simply out riding my bike.

A simple swerve to the right–or was it to the left?–over mist-covered algae growing on a wood boardwalk changed the course of my wheels, my day, and perhaps even my life. The loss of traction was immediate. There was no skid, no slow motion fall, no time to realize I was under attack by the forces of physics that remain as undeniable as death and taxes. I found myself on the ground, shocked.

A tiny version of myself stepped outside my body and tried to make a video of all it could see, but my tiny self’s view was obstructed by the giant helmet on my banged-up head, the bars and shafts that made up my bicycle, my Gulliver-sized legs, and the shadows cast by all. Yet my tiny self was amazed to watch my big self rise up to a seated position and do its best to be sociable with a woman who had stopped to help.

Smiling, making a joke even, denying any serious injury. Above all else, protecting self by refusing to admit any vulnerability to a stranger–even a lone mother walking her infant in a stroller.

All pain was pushed aside. The knot of confusion was barely hinted at in the statement, “I hit my head.” I stood. I walked. She rolled my bike along. I sat on a bench, she parked my bike next to me, assured me she would be back shortly to check on me and disappeared both visually and in my memory until hours later when I suspected I’d dreamt her. Then, later still, the video my tiny self made was unlocked from some deep archive and returned to my big self for viewing.

Yet, I remembered I had a phone. I remembered where it was. I remembered the password to unlock it. I remembered how to call my husband. I asked him to come and get me. My tiny self was fully back onboard with my big self at this point–there was no video for me to return to later.

I still cannot recall the conversation with my husband. Nor can I recall the quarter-mile walk I undertook to meet him at the nearest street–I had fallen on a pedestrian-only portion of the Tennessee Riverwalk.

What I do recall is a moment of utter panic. Of being uncertain that I was going in the right direction, uncertain of where I was, uncertain as to what was happening. I choked down an urge to sob. I gave up crying long ago, after my mother’s funeral. My mother was the only person I ever knew with a healthy respect for a stranger’s tears–the only person I knew who was comfortable to just allow them. For everyone else, they are at least a source of discomfort if not disgust.

I keep mine close. Occasionally, I allow moisture in deep empathy for someone else’s pain. But if you see a tear for my own pain, it’s either a once in a decade occurrence or you’re someone I trust with my life.

To be standing on a street corner lost and confused and blubbering would be the most vulnerable I’ve ever felt in my life. Standing on a street corner lost and confused was close enough. I swallowed hard, choked once, blinked away any tear that had dared to form, and recalled my phone.

I scoured my muddled mind for a memory of having spoken to my husband recently. A vague impression of having had a conversation formed much like a shape bubbling up briefly from under quicksand, then sinking and disappearing again. I wanted to reach for the memory, but feared grabbing it would mire me in muck so deep I might not surface again. I let it go.

I dialed my husband again. The words that came were, “Are you coming to get me? I’m so confused.” And I choked back a sob for a second time.

He talked to me from that moment until he arrived to pick me up. His voice my lifeline through the quicksand of my mind. Then, he scooped me safely into our van where a wet muzzle reached from behind my seat to check on me, reminding me my boys will protect me and care for me when I will let them. It’s the letting them that’s always the hardest part.

In the ER, I learned I had a concussion. Nothing dangerous or permanent, just scary. I was sent home to heal with instructions not to watch TV, use any electronic devices with a screen, or read any non-fiction. Thankfully, I was allowed to sleep.

I thought I would be fine in 2 days. I was not. The more I learn, the more I realize this isn’t something you recover from at the same rate as the 24-hour flu.

I’ve also learned that bike helmets don’t offer much protection against concussions. I’ve found one that promises a novel design technology called MIPS that’s supposed to have slightly better protection than traditional bike helmets against concussions. At $219, it seems pricey. When I get the ER bill, it will seem like a bargain if it works.

I will heal and I will ride again. But the experience of temporary dementia haunts me. I find myself wondering if more than my tires veered.


Riding at Sunrise

Sunrise reflected on Amnicola Marsh

Sunrise reflected on Amnicola Marsh

5:15AM didn’t seem any later this morning than it did yesterday.  Especially not after a bad night’s sleep–poor Tisen started itching again in the middle of the night.  But, I managed once again to get myself out of bed.  Then things went a bit South.

A sculpture lurking in the dim morning light

A sculpture lurking in the dim morning light

It’s like a time warp occurs in the morning.  I can look at the clock at 5:20, do a task that normally takes 5 minutes, and suddenly, it will be 5:45.  By the time I’d had a cup of coffee, gotten myself together, taken Tisen for a short walk, and gathered together all of the required accessories for an early morning bike ride, it was 6:40.  Then, still adjusting to having my bike in the parking garage and having to take all steal-able accessories off every time I ride, it took nearly 20 more minutes from the time I walked out our door to the time I’d finished re-accessorized my bike, unlocked it, and filled the tires.

The train crossing in morning light

The train crossing in morning light

At long last, I headed up the River Walk.  By the time I started riding, I felt foolish for bothering with the lights–it was light enough I no longer needed them.  As I made my way back across the Walnut Street Bridge and East along the Tennessee River, two Great Blue Herons flew straight at each other as if they were playing a game of chicken (I wonder if they call it “heron”?) until one suddenly swooped downward in a graceful dive, leveling out just above the water.

A Great Blue Heron perched on the rail of the pier below the bridge

A Great Blue Heron perched on the rail of the pier below the bridge


As I watched, my mouth dropped open just about the time I rode through a cloud of small gnat-like critters.  I guess I was hungry, but it wasn’t quite the filling snack I had in mind.  I have to say I preferred the mouth full of gnats over the eyeful of gnats I got simultaneously.  I rinsed my mouth with water, shut it tight, and wiped as many bugs out of my eyes as possible.

The final stretch of the River Walk

The final stretch of the River Walk

I rode as hard and as fast as I dared on the river walk–it’s not really a route conducive to riding fast, in fact, one section is posted 3-5 miles per hour.  I can’t imagine it’s physically possible to ride a bike 5 mph or less, but clearly the people who built the river walk weren’t cyclists.

Can you spot the Great Blue Heron on the rocky shore?

Can you spot the Great Blue Heron on the rocky shore?

When I came up on the Amnicola Marsh, I had to stop.  The sun was rising behind the marsh, reflected in the water.  3 Canada Geese were rendered into black swans, silhouettes against the brilliant light.  Near the shore, a group of Coots stretched out their gangly legs and ran back into the water as I rolled to a stop.

After taking a few photos, I remounted and made my way up to the dam.  A fisherman on the pier caught something big on his line as I was turning around to return home.  I wonder if it was an old tire or a giant fish?

My boy waiting patiently at home for breakfast

My boy waiting patiently at home for breakfast

Summer Morning

Hipstatmatic version of the Chickamauga Dam shortly after sunrise

Hipstatmatic version of the Chickamauga Dam shortly after sunrise

Someone flipped the weather switch from winter to summer.  After a quick afternoon walk in the park with Tisen yesterday when I discovered it was suddenly August, I decided it was high time I get my bike out of storage and take it for a spin.

Camera! version of the Chickamauga Dam

Camera! version of the Chickamauga Dam

It seemed like a fantastic idea last night.  I got it all ready to go, putting air in the tires, checking the brakes, digging up my biking shoes and helmet.  I even found appropriate attire and laid it out so I wouldn’t have to hunt around for what to wear.

When the alarm jerked me awake mid-dream at 5:15AM, it seemed like less of a good idea.

But, once jerked awake, it’s hard to go back to sleep.  I stumbled into the kitchen and made some coffee.

Train trestle over the Tennessee River

Train trestle over the Tennessee River

I eventually made it out the door, still ahead of sunrise.  When I told Tisen goodbye, he momentarily raised his head a fraction of an inch and blinked.  Then he fell back into a state of involving loud snoring.  I was jealous.

Hipstamatic makes high tension wires look charming

Hipstamatic makes high tension wires look charming

Once on my bike, I realized I had never headed to the Riverwalk from our new location before.  I wasn’t exactly sure how to make it to the Walnut Street Bridge without having to navigate any stairs.  I didn’t quite make it there stepless–I had to carry my bike up one flight of steps–but I did make it without riding on any streets, which was a nice way to start out the morning.

Structures I normally try to keep out of the frame

Structures I normally try to keep out of the frame

I took my time riding in the dark, breathing in the smells of spring, and watching the light gradually increase in the sky ahead of me.  I saw Osprey and Great Blue Herons.  Ring-billed Gulls and Tree Swallows.  Dozens of Warblers teased me by flying ahead of me and remaining just visible enough to be recognized as Warblers, but not long enough for their particular species to be identified (even when I got off my bike and pulled my binoculars out of my saddle bags).

The iPhone might not be good for getting photos of birds, but it does pretty well capturing high-tension wires

The iPhone might not be good for getting photos of birds, but it does pretty well capturing high-tension wires

When I made it to the last mile before the dam, as I entered the sculpture garden, I saw the strange exhibit I call “Abduction” glowing in the dim morning light as a cloud of mist rose off the grass and the sky turned pink in the distance.  I thought it was an excellent time to make use of my iPhone camera.

Abduction Sculpture at sunrise with last bit of mist in the background

Abduction Sculpture at sunrise with last bit of mist in the background

When I made it to the end of the Riverwalk at the Chickamauga Dam, I coasted down to the fishing pier.  I decided it was another photo op, although maybe not the kind I usually think of.  The large manmade structures used to generate the electricity that powers Chattanooga (and probably a lot of other places) may not be my normal idea of a subject I want to immortalize, but this morning I just felt grateful for the electricity instead of annoyed by the environmental impacts of the dam.  And for once, I found myself smiling with appreciation.

Much later in the day, Tisen enjoyed sitting in the evening sun with Cow

Much later in the day, Tisen enjoyed sitting in the evening sun with Cow


Bike and Then Bird

I have been riding the Tennessee Riverwalk twice a week for a few months now.  It’s one of those places that makes me happy.  It’s just a beautiful way to wake up.  Riding along the river on the mostly quiet trail, exchanging smiles with the dozen or so pedestrians who also haunt the riverwalk just after dawn–there just isn’t a better way to start the day.

I have also been leading bird walks a couple times a month.  And, I went on a biking tour of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park last year, which was organized by Outdoor Chattanooga.

Thus, it was only natural that, as I rode past great birding spots along the riverwalk, I would think “I should organize a bike and bird!”

Allow me to clarify for safety reasons:  I am not advocating birding while riding a bike.  That would be dangerous.  However, a bird walk is a usually a slow meander through a relatively small area with a good bird population and does not afford the opportunity to cover much distance without driving.  It seems counter-intuitive to me that we would increase the amount we drive in order to pursue an activity motivated by the desire to learn about and appreciate creatures quite dependent on an unpolluted environment.

To give credit where credit is due, a friend of mine back in Columbus, OH previously organized “eco bird walks” where all participants agreed to walk, bike, or take public transportation to the starting point and they walked from there.

So, I my idea was not exactly unique.  Regardless, I get a special pleasure out of combining activities.  I formed a plan:  Outdoor Chattanooga organizes bike tours all the time.  Why not ask them to do a bike and bird?  They have a fleet of bicycles so even people without bikes could join.  I would invite the Chattanooga chapter of TOS and the Audubon Society and we could have a lovely morning of riding and birding.  Or, to be more accurate, riding, stopping, and then birding.

And so it was.  It took a few emails and phone calls, but that was it.  Outdoor Chattanooga did the rest–and what a great group of people they are!

Finally, the Saturday selected was upon us.  I’m not sure which of the folks at Outdoor Chattanooga was in charge of arranging the weather, but they did a fabulous job.  I suppose if it would have been a little less breezy, we might have had an easier time spotting small birds among the trees, but the clear blue sky with little humidity and the cool breeze kept me smiling the entire ride.

We saw quite a few good birds, although not quite the bonanza I was hoping for.  As I told our guide from Outdoor Chattanooga, it was such a beautiful day that I would have enjoyed it even if we hadn’t seen a single bird.

Mountain vs Couch

As much as I love to be active, there’s a part of me that would really prefer to lay on the couch all day.  That part of me was screaming when we decided to try mountain biking for the first time in Jasper National Park several years ago.

Fortunately for me, I was still shooting with my PowerShot G3 at the time, which weighed approximately 1/3 what my current camera with a wide angle lens would weigh.

When the locals we talked to assured us that there was a “super easy” trail just outside of town that was only 10 miles long, I imagined it would take about an hour to cruise around this loop trail.  I planned for us to take it easy, stopping for a picnic lunch by a lake and having a leisurely day.  As we headed out for the trail, I wondered what we would do the rest of the afternoon.

When we got to the trailhead, we found if we went to the South, it looked flat.  If we went North, it was a very steep climb right from the start.  We, naturally, went South.  Of course, after about 100 yards, the trail turned uphill and we began the most painful climb of our lives.  Painful for two reasons:  first, our lungs (and every muscle in our bodies) were burning trying to keep the bikes moving up and over roots, rocks, bumps, and pot holes as we climbed.  Second, we were crawling along at such a slow pace that the plentiful mosquitos were keeping up with us.

When we encountered objects beyond our skill level to get over or around, we fell over.  Once we fell over, we had to push the bike along until we got to a flat enough place to get started again.

I pushed the bike up a hill at a run with my rain jacket on and the hood up trying to get away from the mosquitos.  I’ve been riding bikes a long time.  I’m pretty sure that “riding” doesn’t mean taking your bike out for a run.

After stopping for a quick lunch (due to the mosquitos) in a spot where we could watch loons on a lake, we turned around and started heading downhill back home.  We came to a screeching halt when Pat spotted a black bear peeking at us from behind a shrub.  Eventually, the bear figured out we were humans and took off.  We went on our way singing loudly in the hope of scaring the bear away (anyone who has heard me sing would appreciate how effective this would be).

Then, we out-peddled the mosquitos and discovered how much fun mountain biking is when you’re going downhill!  Much better than laying on the couch.  Going up, not so much.

When at last we arrived back home, over 3 hours had passed in spite of our brief lunch.  We both needed a nap–the perfect time to hit the couch.

Good Dog

It’s Sunday.  No alarms, no where to be.  It’s just a nice relaxing Sunday.  Except one thing.  I feel like I was run over by a truck when I wake up.  Every muscle in my body, including all those little secret ones that I’m always surprised about when I realize I have them, is completely wrenched.  My neck hurts, my shoulders hurt, my back hurts, my hips hurt, my legs hurt, and, yes, every cotton pickin’ toe hurts.  Even my ears feel strained.

When I get out of bed, I walk like a cowboy after a month on the trail.  It’s like my knees won’t bend and I have to rock my weight back and forth from foot to foot, swinging my legs from my hip to move forward.  This is what running down a hill with a glider on my back does to me.  Who knew it was such hard work?

I get the coffee going and then, while I wait for it to brew, I do some yoga.  I end up doing a lot of yoga, trying out virtually every restorative pose I can remember, trying to ease my body back into movement.  By the time I have spent an hour doing these gently relaxing poses, I am able to walk back to the coffee maker looking a little more like I have the joints of a human being than the joints of a barbie.

I take my cup of coffee back to the couch, but instead of sitting there, I choose my office chair instead.  I have a remarkable office chair.  For my entire career, I’ve had a bad habit of slouching down into my chair and resting my head on the back of the chair.  Given that I am tall, this requires scootching my rear end all the way to the front edge of my seat and then stretching out my legs to plant my position so I don’t drop off the edge and fall onto the floor.  From behind, people think I’m sleeping.

In any case, this posture has always left me with back pain and I could never figure out why I always slip into that position when I’m not paying attention.  Well, when I bought my own office chair, I figured out why.  It’s because my neck hurts.  All these years, what I really needed was a neck rest on my chair!  Now that I have said neck rest, it gives me a place to perch my head while I’m sitting straight up.  My office chair has eased my neck pain on more than one occasion, so I give it a try again today to see if putting the weight of my head on the rest and pushing back gently against it to stretch my neck helps.

While I do this, I work on processing photos.  I might as well do something productive while I’m sitting there.  Pat got up before me and is already on the couch nursing his sore muscles.  Although, he is in far better shape today than I am.  He stopped flying early because he wanted to protect himself from pulling his hamstring again, having just recovered from the last time.  So, he did half as many flights and launched on all of them, meaning he didn’t run all the way down the hill like those of us struggling to launch did.

I resent this about him.

After having plenty of time to relax and ease ourselves into our morning in our own ways, we decide we should ride to the market today.  While I hurt, I haven’t actually pulled or torn anything, I’m just sore.  And riding a bike gently and a short distance is a great way to get blood flowing to sore muscles and ease some of the pain.  I’m totally up for that.

We make our way across the Walnut St bridge cautiously–the crowd for the Head of the Hootch is back again today, although somewhat thinner now.  We are prepared to walk our bikes if the crowd gets too thick, but we make it across still in the saddle by riding slowly and watching out for darting pedestrians.  Fortunately, there aren’t any races going under the bridge as we cross, so the darting is minimal.

At the market, we stop to talk to Lou and Eddie, the honey and candle makers we’ve met at the market several times now.  Pat has a printout of some info about a trumpet Eddie wants to sell.  He goes through what he found with him and gives him the bad news that his trumpet is not likely to sell for a lot of money.

We move on to find lunch.  We didn’t realize how late it was getting when we left for the market and after our little ride there, we’re suddenly ravenous.  We find a hot dog stand in the back corner of the market.  It’s called Good Dog, which is a restaurant located about half a block from our apartment.  We’ve eaten there once and they serve the same mustard used in the Cleveland Indians stadium.

We each order a couple of dogs and while they cook, I get into a conversation with the owner.  They are from Akron, Ohio and the owner used to go to watch the Cleveland Indians with her grandparents.  She saw an article about how the mustard on the hot dogs there was part of what kept the Indians fans coming to the stadium even when the Indians had one of the worst records in baseball.  So, when they decided to open a restaurant that serves hot dogs, they decided to serve that mustard.

When our dogs are ready, we say our good-byes after getting directions on where to buy beer.  We didn’t realize they always sell beer at the market, not just during Oktoberfest, but there are only a couple of vendors rather than a bunch.  As we make our way towards the beer, we pause to take a bite of our dogs.  My teeth pierce the skin of the dog and juice squirts out a good 3 feet.  I laugh.  As I chew my mouthful, I’m impressed.  “Good dog!” I say.

We drink our beers and finish our dogs slowly, wandering around and checking out the vendors who are there today.  Some of the same photographers are there, including one that prints the photos on fabric so they look like a photo-painting.  I do not like this look.  As Pat says, “It should be on black velvet.”

We visit the produce vendors next and pick up some watercress, radishes, tarragon, and lettuce.  We’ve decided we’ll make my favorite salad with the first three ingredients, although we will have to supplement with a few items from the grocery store.

Having eaten, wandered, and purchased everything we could use, we decide to head on home.  The crowd on the Walnut St Bridge has grown slightly, but we’re still able to make it safely through without walking our bikes.  We get home, unload our groceries, and collapse on the couch.  Having loosened some of the kinks out of my body, I’m now completely ready for an afternoon nap.  Ahh.  It’s the life of a good dog.

Main Street Market

It’s Wednesday. We plan on going to the Main St Market tonight, but it’s only open from 4-6PM. It’s a true farmer’s market with less craft stuff and more food stuff, from what we’ve heard. We’re hoping to find good local produce priced more reasonably than the Greenlife Grocery store. But, in order to get there with time to shop before they close, I will need to take a break from work no later than 4:45PM.

I am having one of those busy days with a calendar so full of meetings that I just keep collecting action items throughout the day. I manage to get some things done during the last call of the day, but I have only 45 minutes to make sure I get anything I need today from anyone in my time zone so I can finish up on the other items I need to get done today after I get back from the market. This, of course, takes longer than expected and we find ourselves rushing to get to the market at the last possible minute.

We grab our bikes and get downstairs as fast as we can. Then we realize rush hour has started and we need to revise our planned route. We will take Walnut St bridge instead of Market St, although it seems wrong that we would not take Market St to the market. It’s a beautiful fall evening to be out riding, even at rush hour. Once we make it to Walnut and start our way up this wood-surfaced bridge, the old nursery rhyme “To market, to market” starts in my head to the rhythm of our tires rolling over the wood planks. We, however, will not be buying any of the nursery rhyme items.

As we exit The Walnut St bridge, we realize we have the problem that we don’t actually know where we’re going. The Main St Market is somewhere on Main (yep, figured that part out all by ourselves) between Market St and Broad St. We know where Market and Broad are, but not where Main St is. We want to stay on Walnut as long as possible to avoid traffic, but we aren’t sure if Main and Walnut intersect. We cruise South and decide as long as we keep going South, we have to hit Main at some point. This turns out not to be true. Or, at least we run out of road before we hit Main. Then we have to go West to get to another road that goes South and we find the roads so confusing that we aren’t sure whether we could have gone around Main or not and are unsure of whether we’re too South or not South enough. We pull over and google.  As one might have predicted, we are not South enough.

We find just how South we need to be and head on down the road, finding the market just where google says it is. We are somewhat relieved that there are not that many tents set up–we wouldn’t have had time to peruse them all if it would have been a big market. Although fewer tents means fewer options, given that the season for fresh produce is winding down, I don’t know that even having 10 more vendors would have made the selection significantly more varied.

We circle our way around the market, selecting fresh green beans, gorgeous yams, and a bunch of multi-colored radishes that resemble a bouquet of flowers. Then, we get to a stand with wheat and wheat flour. I am tempted to buy some wheat four just to see if it works for bread, but I remind myself how long it’s been since I last made bread and decide I’m not likely to take up bread making as a hobby any time soon. Instead, we strike up a conversation with the wheat farmer and learn that he teaches Spanish at one of the local schools and farms wheat in his spare time. He tells us that he has wheat all year long here and that the market stays open, although the hours go to 4-5 in December when there isn’t enough light to see after 5. I had forgotten about the short days coming–I guess the longer duration of daylight savings time has me thrown.

Next, we visit Lou and Eddie’s stand. We met them at the Oktoberfest market and have been enjoying their honey for the past few days. Although we have met them inly two times briefly and as customers, I feel like we’re visiting old friends. Lou takes me to a cheese maker’s booth and has me try the cheeses. The cheese maker suggests the milder of her two cheeses to try with slices of honeycomb (also purchased on Sunday). I then return to Lou’s booth and we end up chatting about hair while Pat and Eddie finish their conversation. Eddie tells us he’s going to be semi-retired soon. I suggest he should label his honey “Limited Edition” and charge more.

Next, we hit the last few stands, getting a few purple peppers and a small, heavy loaf of whole wheat bread with a crisp crust. Pat selects the bread and then asks how much it is. We are both surprised when the baker says it’s $6–the produce has all be very reasonably priced.  Pat nearly hands it back to her, but doesn’t since he didn’t ask before she bagged it. We contemplate the loaf of bread and wonder if it’s baked with gold, which would explain both it’s price and it’s weight. As we walk away, I wonder if we got the “let’s see how much you fools are willing to spend on bread” price and if, perhaps we were supposed to barter.

As we return to the honey stand to say our good-byes (we really didn’t need to rush so much to get here after all), a car goes by in the street and a man with a bull horn leans out the window and starts saying things. Everyone looks puzzled–either the bullhorn or alcohol has garbled the man’ speech and no one can understand what he’s trying to say. Fortunately, he moves on.

On the way back, we decide to turn off Market St early so we can avoid going up a really steep hill to the Walnut St bridge. However, we had failed to notice on the way out that Walnut is one-way between the bridge and where we are and we are now going to the wrong way.  Because the road is narrow and has parked cars, we decide not to risk it and go around the block instead.  As we wait to cross a fairly busy intersection, a guy with a bullhorn drives buy, also barking unintelligibly from the car window.  I ask Pat, “Was that the same guy as over at the Market?”  and Pat says, “There was a guy with a bullhorn at the market?  What’d he say?”  I have to laugh because of course, no one knows and I am also amused that Pat was apparently engrossed in a conversation to the extent that he missed a guy with a bullhorn.  In any case, since the odds of there being two such men with bullhorns seem smaller than the odds of there being one, I have to assume that it’s the same guy, driving around Chattanooga looking for people to shout something at.  I wonder if he is just having fun and doesn’t care that no one can understand him or if he actually believes he has an important message that everyone must hear and doesn’t realize no one can understand him?  Either way, it’s clearly a poor choice of communication methods.  One of my favorite (mis-)quotes from Emerson pops into my head:  “Who you are shouts so loudly in my ears I cannot hear what you say.”  The fact that the bullhorn makes the shouting literal in this case makes me smile.

When we return home, I roast the sweet potatoes and green beans in the oven while Pat prepares salmon.  We try the bread and it’s good, but not $6 good.  I go back to work between cooking and eating and then manage to finish up the critical items I needed to get done today in another couple of hours after we eat.  I am wound up after working late all week and take my iPad to bed with me in the hope of getting my mind off work enough to fall asleep.  When at last I drift off, I think of the man with the bullhorn one last time and smile.

Sunday Market

This morning, we will return to the Oktoberfest market, but this time to buy produce and honey.  We pack a couple of grocery bags into my panniers and head to the elevator with our bikes.  We’ve worked out a routine to fit both bikes in the elevator, but I always forget what it is, enter the elevator the wrong way, and end up having to pick up my bike (heavy with gear) and swing it around the make room for Pat.  Each time this happens, I think I should let Pat go into the elevator first, but then I forget the next time.   This is partly because he stands back to let me go in first, which I think is a secret ploy to amuse himself because he laughs at me every time.

We do make it into the elevator eventually.  And the elevator, which has been remarkably better behaved of late (or else we’ve just developed our elevator button pushing skills to its liking), takes us to the first floor with only a slight pause after closing the doors before it starts to move.  We roll our way out the door and down the ramp to the parking lot where we stop to put on helmets and sunglasses.  Unfortunately, I put my helmet on first and then remember that I can’t fit my sunglasses under my helmet unless I put them on first.  I take the helmet off, put on the sunglasses and replace the helmet.

I think it’s taken us longer to get ready to ride than the ride will take.  But, finally ready, we hit the road and head up towards the Walnut St Bridge.  Having safely crossed the river, we work our way through downtown, back towards the Tennessee Pavilion for the second day in a row.  Pat comments as we approach the Pavilion only a few minutes later about how much faster it is to ride a bike 2 miles than it is to walk.  Even at our slow riding pace, it’s about 3X faster.

When we get to the market, it’s far more crowded today than it was yesterday.  I guess all the regulars of the Sunday market are here today along with the extra crowd attracted by Oktoberfest.  There is no place to put our bikes and we didn’t bring a lock anyway, so we walk them through the pavilion with us.  This works well in that it allows me to use my panniers as a shopping cart.

Pat crosses in front of a woman who is, predictably, out of shape.  She has to pause for a couple extra seconds while Pat rolls his bike by.  He overhears her comment to her friend “they shouldn’t allow those in here.”  Pat tells me this and I look around.  There are parents pushing strollers, people in wheelchairs, even a man pulling a wheeled cart with oxygen on it.  I find myself thinking I’ll be walking around her wheelchair in a few more years if she doesn’t start taking care of herself and decide it’s OK if she has to walk around our bikes in the interim.

We work our way around the produce section, picking up some gorgeous bib lettuce (and I don’t call bib lettuce “gorgeous” often), watercress, and another lettuce whose name escapes me.  I also pick up some goat cheese and then we head over to see Eddie and Lou, the honey and candle makers.  Eddie gives us tastes of three different honeys and we end up buying a jar of sourwood honey with a hint of blackberry juice.  Apparently, there were overly ripe berries that attracted the bees enough that it slightly changed the flavor of the honey.  It’s really good.  I had no idea that there was that much control over what the bees collect nectar from that you could end up with honey that was from only one type of flower.  Eddie and Pat are busy chatting about other things or I would have asked more questions about how this works.  Along with the honey, we also buy a honeycomb, which Lou tells us is really nice to slice and serve with cheese.

Next we look for bread.  We’re disappointed by the first bread vendor in that all of their crusts are soft.  We walk/roll over to the second vendor and find only their baguette has a crisp crust, so that’s what we buy.  Next, we look for apples and tomatoes.  We’re disappointed to learn that the vendors there don’t have heirloom tomatoes and the first vendor doesn’t grow their tomatoes organically.  However, the second vendor doesn’t use pesticides or herbicides, although she’s not certified organic.  We buy some of her tomatoes and then head over to the apples.

This is where I get into trouble.  I have a very specific way of placing my fingers on apples and exerting gentle, even pressure so that I can tell if an apple is crisp without bruising them.  The woman selling the apples gets upset with me because she doesn’t want her apples bruised.  While I can understand that she can’t have everyone coming over and squeezing her apples all day and, therefore, she can’t let me squeeze her apples even if I have a special talent for it (is this starting to sound like it’s no longer rated PG?), she really didn’t have to be rude.

Unfortunately, she is having troubles with her inner jerk today.  And this causes my inner jerk to rise from the little snooze she’s been taking.  Imagine the introductions:  “Inner Jerk, meet Inner Jerk.”  Fortunately, before my inner jerk can get one word out, I say, “OK, Thanks,” and run off as quickly as I possibly can, leaving Pat standing with both our bikes, unable to follow.  I recognize that Pat is not behind me relatively quickly and circle back around realizing I’ve left him stuck.  As I get close to the apple stand, I approach from an angle where the woman is unlikely to see me.  I explain to Pat that I need to get out of there and we head off, apple-less.

We ride back a different route, working our way up to Walnut St early so as to avoid a very steep climb up to the bridge.  Unfortunately, it turns out part of Walnut St is one-way the wrong way and we have to take a detour to get back to it.  But, we make it to the bridge safely and navigate the tourists successfully, returning home with our goodies in a much better mood.

I can’t wait to try the honeycomb and immediately slice up some bread and start spreading goat cheese and honeycomb on it.  The bread is more of a “if you can’t find good bread and you need something in a pinch” variety of bread and the goat cheese is good but typical, but the honey comb makes it all seem special.  I am hooked.

Riding to Georgia

For the first time in my life, I am about to ride my bike from one state to another.  This has a lot more to do with having lived most of my life in the middle of a state than with how far I’ll be riding.  I am going to the last bike tour of the Chickamauga Battlefields, a large memorial for the Civil War.

This will be my first time commuting by bike here and I’m a bit nervous about riding on the roads.  I got the route from Outdoor Chattanooga, the organization sponsoring the biking tour at the park.  They also gave me the lowdown on the difficulty of the climbs and the traffic situation.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think to ask about the neighborhoods I would be riding through and Pat is out of town this weekend, so I will be riding alone.  Now that I am almost out the door, I’m suddenly wondering if I’ll be going through any scary parts of town.

I decide that if it were really bad, Outdoor Chattanooga wouldn’t have sent me that way and finish gathering up my gear.  I pull on padded mountain biking shorts–after much time off and then riding yesterday, I need the padding today.  I love the fact that it’s the middle of October and I’m putting on shorts for a 7:30AM ride (not something I’ve ever done in Ohio).  I also love mountain biking shorts–they look like normal shorts so I don’t feel like an idiot walking around in them if I end up going into a store or something.

I snap on my helmet, velcro my riding gloves, zip up my high-visibility jacket, and snug-up my backpack.  Then, I mount up and take off.  Today, I head over the Market St bridge instead of taking the longer route over Walnut St.  It’s early Saturday morning and traffic is light so I figure it’s a good time to experience riding over Market St bridge.  There are actually fewer obstacles–no meandering tourists with small children to dodge–and there’s plenty of room for cars to pass me safely.  I continue through the familiar part of downtown that I’ve walked many times.  This doesn’t take long.  As I continue my ride through downtown, I realize how little of it I’ve actually seen.

The non-touristy downtown area is quiet.  Only a few people are out, mostly waiting on buses.  I quietly glide by, cranking at a steady pace.  My legs are still warming up and I’ve discovered a few bruises from my fall yesterday.  As I get outside the downtown area, I go through some neighborhoods that might not be areas where I would look for a home.  There are a surprising number of people out and about for early on a Saturday morning, but as I pedal past a flea market set up in a parking lot, I realize the draw.

I cross under the freeway that goes around Chattanooga’s South side and through a couple more intersections and discover I have now ridden the full length of Market St.  It is now called Alton Park Blvd.  Sounds nice, but it’s not.  The area is very industrial–hard surfaces with cracks seem to be the architectural theme here.  As I get to my first turn, I pass a convenience store.  A teenager crosses the street in front of me.  I catch myself staring–I’m amazed by how low he has managed to position his pants on his hips.  His rear end is actually completely above the waistband, although he’s wearing blue shorts underneath, so he is not indecently exposed.  He takes small, awkward steps, restricted by the low-hanging crotch in his jeans.  It’s nearly like having your legs tied together.  While I’ve seen this fashion statement many times and for many more years than any such style should remain popular, this is a new extreme.

Having made my turn, I continue down 38th St and ride through a new housing development that looks like it was intended to start a revival of the area probably right before the market crashed.  The small area of new houses looks well-maintained–everything still looks fresh and new–but it looks a little lonely, like it was deposited in the midst of an industrial wasteland from the sky.  The small trees draw attention to the newness of the community–I try to imagine what it will look like in 20 years when the trees are big enough to cast shadows on the roofs.

I make my way on over to Rossville Blvd think I must be getting close to the state line as Rossville is in Georgia.  The area remains depressed looking.  By “depressed looking” I mean:  there is a lot of trash along the roads and sidewalks, the buildings and their surrounding structures (like parking lots) are in a state of disrepair, the style of signage suggests no one has bothered to pass any zoning laws to make the area look less cluttered, the signs themselves are old and haven’t been updated for many years.  In short, there is no indication that anyone cares what the area looks like or invests in making it appealing.

I pass another flea market just before I see a sign indicating I am almost at the state line.  However, I miss any indication of the state line itself.  I am suddenly in Rossville and there, in front of me, is the Food Lion that we have looked up on Google maps.  As it turns out, one of the disadvantages of living in Tennessee is that there is a sales tax on food.  It’s slightly less than the tax on non-food items, but it’s roughly 6%.  Plus, the food seems like it’s already about 20% more expensive than in Columbus, which makes no sense (but it makes cents!).  So, we have toyed with the idea of going grocery shopping in Georgia, where there is no (or little) sales tax on food.  The Food Lion looks every bit as depressed as the surrounding area–I am not encouraged.

I continue on by and make it to the last turn before my destination.  There is a bit of a climb here–I’m going over a ridge.  But, I make it just fine.  As I get to the final mile or two before my destination, the Outdoor Chattanooga van and trailer pass me.  The woman who gave me directions is in the van and they honk and wave, but they are already passed me by the time I realize it’s them.  I make it safely to the visitor’s center and coast down the parking lot to where Outdoor Chattanooga is lining up loaner bikes for people who want to join the tour but don’t have a bike of their own.  The moon is still visible in the incredibly blue morning sky and the combination of colors inspires me to get my camera out.

By the time the tour starts, there are at least 50 bikes in the parking lot.  Everyone gathers around Chris, the interpretive ranger, who kicks off the tour by talking about the trail of tears and the forced evacuation of the Cherokee down the road we all just came in on.  He paints a picture for us of the loss of land, life, and homes as these people were forced to move.  Then, he paints a picture of the people that came after them, farming the land that we now stand on.  He tells us that he likes to focus on the people who were part of history and what the impact of history was on them.  Every part of Chris’ body participates in his story telling.  He is gifted with an almost magical ability to convey the feeling behind his words.  There is no doubt that this tour will be different.

After our introduction, we all mount up and ride to another part of the park where many regiments have erected memorials indicating how many were wounded and injured here.  Chris once again creates a vision for us of these men on the battle field, chasing each other and firing on one another.  He shares personal stories of men and women who were so interconnected across the Mason-Dixson line that questions of right and wrong are transcended.  If I had any fear that a lone yankee woman would feel out of place on this tour, it quickly abates.

Between this stop and the next, I end up talking with a man who tells me his wife is the superintendent of the park.  When we get around to how long I’ve been in Chattanooga and why we moved there, after I explain that we wanted to move and how we picked Chattanooga, he says, “Oh, are you retired?”  with a tone of voice that conveys certainty, not surprise.  I cannot help but feel like he thinks I am much older than I am.  In fact, I think he thinks I am his age and he looks to be in his sixties.  I decide not to ask.

The next stop allows us to look across large open fields that the soldiers had to run across while retreating.  Chris tells us harrowing stories of men being shot and honored, even by the enemy.  I find myself feeling intensely sad that these men will live through history because of war.  I look around me and see a bride posing in front of a bright orange tree.  She looks beautiful in her white dress against the green grass, orange tree, and blue, blue sky.  Her presence there seems  impossible in the context of the stories Chris weaves together for us.  But, I suppose it is the way the cycle works–one set of stories is replaced with the next.

For our final stop, we must ride up a steep but short hill.  I feel somewhat redeemed when I am able to ride up the hill without getting out of breath–many of our group have gotten off their bikes and are walking up.

After Chris intrigues us one last time and finishes up the tour, we all start heading back down the hill.  A woman in front of me has a completely flat rear tire.  I call out to her and we both pull over.  It turns out that she is also here alone.  I get out my portable pump, but it’s for presta valves; she’s never heard of a presta valve.  She tells me her husband is a firefighter and he usually takes care of the bikes.  I would make fun of her for that, but she seems like and amazingly nice person.  And, before anyone attributes her lack of knowledge to being a “Southern Belle,” she is from Ohio, too, so there goes another stereotype.

In any case, she doesn’t have presta valves and I can’t get any air into the tire.  Fortunately, Outdoor Chattanooga has provided a sag wagon in the form of a couple on a tandem who arrives to help out.  The man hands us a pump and we start pumping while he goes back to get some additional tools with his wife.  He returns alone and we have made no noticeable progress getting air into the tire–even after taking turns pumping because we’d worn ourselves out.  He takes the pump away from us, changes the position of the tire, and has the tire completely inflated in about 30 seconds.  So much for my independent woman status!

We ride back to the visitor’s center together, keeping an eye on the tire.  It clearly has a slow leak–we watch it deflate as we ride.  We make a stop at the halfway point to inflate it one more time (well, we watch the man inflate it one more time).  But, we all make it back to the parking lot just fine.  The woman with the flat drove there, so she has no issue with getting home.  In fact, surprisingly, I am the only one who rode their bike to the bike tour.  Given that we couldn’t have ridden more than 5 miles in the park during the tour, I’m surprised.

I head on back home after making one more pit stop at the visitor’s center.  The roads are busier on the way back and I enjoy the ride a little less than on the way in as a result, but it’s still such a beautiful day to be out biking that I can’t help smiling.  That is until I’m headed up 37th St and a truck drives past me dripping really smelly runoff that sprays me for what seems like a half an hour.  I hold my hand up to block the spray from hitting me in the face and slow down nearly to a stop just to let the spray dissipate ahead of me so I’m not continuing to ride into it.  As the truck pulls ahead, I read the back panel: “Industrial Waste Handling.”  I really wish I had a giant military weapon right at this moment so I could just eliminate that truck from the face of the earth.

I make it back alive–my skin hasn’t started peeling off my face, my eyes aren’t burning, and I only smell slightly like garbage.  This is handy for the final approach to home since the tourists are all out this Saturday afternoon.  I figure smelling like a homeless person might help alert them to get out of the way.  I can’t remember the last time I so looked forward to a shower!

Dams and Damns

Rainy weather has kept me off my bike since our return from Germany. But today, the weather is decent and I’m home alone so I can ride wherever and however I want. I am determined to get back on my bike after so many weeks off. As soon as I can pull myself away from work, I get my bike out and go.

I tell myself just to go slow and relax since I haven’t ridden in so long, but I can’t seem to stop from pushing myself. It feels good to crank up a hill. I remind myself again that it’s been a while since I’ve ridden and that I’m planning a bigger ride in the morning and don’t want to be too tired or sore. But, I push a little harder going up a hill anyway. I’m like a little kid who doesn’t know how to pace herself.

I settle down a bit as I get into slippery boardwalks with blind curves and pedestrians. Even so, I almost collide head on with another cyclist when we both take a blind turn wide at the same time going in opposite directions. We both jump, brake, and move back to our respective sides. I feel my mouth formed in a perfect “O”, still stuck in my surprise.

I continue on my way even more cautious of the blind turns. But, I have no more close calls as I go past the various landmarks that mark progress along the trail. I pass the riverside restaurant that I want to stop at “some time.” I get to the boat house for the local rowing club that I keep meaning to visit “when I have time.” I continue past the practice football field that I can’t figure out which team uses. I make it into the gate that marks the part of the trail that is supposed to be 3-5 MPH. I glide slowly around the pedestrians in this area, trying not to draw attention to the fact that I’m going more like 10 MPH. I brake to a crawl every time I approach someone walking and call out politely (I hope), “I’m on your left,” and say “Thank you!” if they step right to make room for me. I am a regular ambassador of cyclist, pedestrian relations.

Eventually, I make it to the Chickamauga Dam. Today, the water is calmer than last time. Less churn seems to correlate with fewer blue heron. A fisherman hunkers down on the rocks in a shape identical to a giant great blue heron. I wonder if assuming the shape allows him to also assume the patience–they are the most patient birds I’ve ever watched. Then, I wonder how many of the men fishing in these toxic waters are fishing to feed their families. The sign warning fishermen about eating more than 1 fish a month from these waters still looms large on the shore. I wonder, given the choice, how many people would choose starvation over toxic fish?

I ride out to the overlook of the dam. But I am not interested in the dam so much as counting heron. The collection on the shore blends into the rocks in a way that defies the size of a great blue heron. Were it not for the low sun casting long shadows, my eye would skip right over them. As it is, I am left to guess how many I don’t see. The men and heron scattered over the rocks create an image of survival. I feel certain that there is deeper meaning in this tableau, but I am at a loss to articulate it.

I make my way back towards home, riding at a quicker pace now that the pedestrians are mostly gone and my rear end is reminding me why cyclists should wear padded biking shorts. Fortunately, the ride seems shorter on the way back and I am soon approaching the last hill up to the Bluffview Art District.

As I exit the switchback from the pedestrian/bike bridge, I encounter a bit of a traffic jam. A wedding party seems to be having a rehearsal in the sculpture garden. Two cars are headed towards me, the first confused when faced with the cul-de-sac. The bridge I have just come across dumps me into this same cul-de-sac and I must cross it to continue on my way while the car must perform a U-turn. The second vehicle is a large SUV and the woman driving has stopped so that she is blocking the entire road exiting the cul-de-sac. Plus, she is looking at the wedding party instead of the road, oblivious to my presence. I hesitate, balancing on my pedals hoping she will move on before I have to stop. I have not snapped in my left foot just in case she doesn’t move. Unfortunately, even after 44 years of intimate knowledge of my ability to hurt myself, I have failed to predict that this time I will fall to the right. I cannot get my right foot unsnapped fast enough and I fall to the ground with a thud as a loud, “God Dammit!” escapes unedited.

To add insult to injury, both drivers, still completely unaware that they have each contributed to the circumstances that led to my fall, pull up and ask through their windows if I’m OK as I struggle to free my foot so I can stand. Then, as I regain my feet, a man suddenly appears at my side out of breath and apparently ready to perform triage, “Are you OK?” he asks anxiously. This strikes me as being ridiculous to the point of offensiveness. I try to be polite, but I really just want everyone to pretend like they didn’t see a thing and let me sulk in my embarrassment. As a result, my answers are short and tight, communicating my desire to be left alone a little too plainly. When the man walks away, he’s clearly the one offended.

In the category of “could this situation get any worse,” when I try to ride away, my rear wheel won’t roll. Now, I have a lot of experience troubleshooting software over the years, so you’d think I’d check the simplest possible problem first. But, no. I get out my allen wrenches and start trying to adjust my rear disk brake, assuming that’s the culprit. After my adjustments make no immediate difference (possibly because I actually have no idea how to adjust my disk brakes), I decide to take another look. I realize the problem is much simpler: the seatpost has a rack attached to it for my saddlebags. The seatpost turned in the fall and now the rack is pressing against the rear tire.

All I need to do is open the seatpost clamp, twist the seat back to straight, and close the clamp again. Unfortunately, I can’t get a good grip on the clamp release and it’s tight. I swing the bike around for a better angle and end up with the bike across the sidewalk, the lever in my right hand, and my right foot against the frame of the bike for leverage. As I struggle with the clamp, I suddenly realize that the entire wedding party is now flowing down the sidewalk towards me. In my peripheral vision, I can see that they are gathering just short of my bike and coming to a stop. I’m too irritable at this point to be social, so I keep working without looking up, but I expect someone to offer help at any moment.

Instead, when I sneak a quick sideways glance, I realize they are confounded by the obstacle. They just want to leave, but I am blocking their path. This irritates me further. Did they not see me on the sidewalk when they headed this direction? Were they too fearful of using the street that has 2 cars an hour on it and those 2 cars drove off after they ensured my fall? Someone in the group finds a space between a road sign and the curb and the group narrows and starts flowing past me, single file. It’s my first experience as a dam.

Then, the concerned man approaches. If I had any doubt that I offended him earlier, it was removed as he walked by me briskly without so much as a sideways glance even though I’m clearly struggling with the bike. I feel remorse, but it only intensifies my desire to leave. Fortunately, the clamp releases and I’m able to make the adjustment and get on with my life.

I crank up the hill through the district harder than I thought was possible. As I pass the remaining wedding party members getting into their cars or lingering on the sidewalks, all I can think is, “Damn it! Get me out of here!” I am sending all my angst to my pedals. I can only hope that none of these people will recognize me if they ever see me again.

Unfortunately, I have to get off the bike and walk across the glass bridge only 100 yards or so later with plenty of angst still throbbing in my temples. But I take a deep breath and re-group mentally before I mount up and ride across the Walnut St bridge. It’s a Friday night and the bridge is full of tourists with small children. If I fall again, I will likely throw my bike off the bridge, and the last thing I need is to run over a small child. I relax and take it slow as I maneuver through the crowd.

I am relieved to make it home safely–that is, I am safe and so is the public. I check my bike out to make sure it will be in shape to ride tomorrow and then I put it away and focus on making a good recovery dinner. Who says you can’t have adventure close to home?