Friday, August 26, 2011

Cycling Shoes

I have a pair of cycling shoes in my garage. They're made of thin leather attached to a stiff sole. Screwed onto the sole, there's a cleat that makes walking difficult by raising my toe above the level of my heel. But the cleat made it much easier to ride a bicycle. See, there's a slot in cleat that fit perfectly into part of a quill pedal before the whole foot is cinched onto the pedal with a leather strap.

These were my first pair of cycling shoes, which I acquired not too long before clipless pedals became quite so ubiquitous. I remember specifically (though my memory may be faulty) that my parents questioned the wisdom of me buying these shoes. They were kind of expensive for something so specialized, or for something that I'd only be able to use for one very specific activity. They asked whether I intended to continue cycling, or whether it would be something I moved on from before long.

It was a valid question, which I dangerously answered 'yes' ... how could I really know what I'd be doing in the future?

The last time I wore those shoes was for the first triathlon I ever did. It was a winter race, and the stages were started individually, which meant that there was plenty of time to change clothes between swim and bike, and between bike and run. I cinched my shoes onto my pedals at the start of the bike leg while everyone else simply clipped in.

But that day was the renewal of my love of cycling. I'd spent a couple years away from riding much at all, but that day I felt again the thrill of working hard to go fast. That day I also understood the need (need?) to purchase new cycling shoes that fit new clipless pedals.

Were those leather shoes a good purchase? I'm happy to say that my dangerous 'yes' was accurate. I now have others that work much better; but I still keep those original shoes hanging in my garage ... just for me.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The First Time I Ate Jalapeños

It was lunchtime at the Junior High school, and I chose nachos. Of course I chose nachos, 'cause why wouldn't I? Crispy rounds of ground corn covered with a creamy orange cheese-like sauce. Obviously it wasn't the best choice, but you can't blame middle school students for exploring eating independence.

I don't remember exactly ~ maybe he was in the lunch line with me, or maybe the challenge came before I stepped into the line ~ but one of the older students dared me to eat jalapeños on my nachos. It doesn't sound like a big deal now, but at the time my culinary experience went from bland to potatoes. Cocktail sauce on my shrimp and yellow mustard on my sandwich was about as adventurous as I got.

I have to admit that I had been curious before that day. I'd wondered what the fuss was. I knew they were spicy, but had no reference for what spicy tasted like on the tongue. Was it something that would cause me to suffer? Would the jalapeños stick around on my palate for hours, their spiciness a day-long reminder of a bad choice at lunchtime? Sure, other people ate them, but what about me?

And then my challenger, the older student who dared me to eat jalapeños on my nachos, put three slices of that pickled pepper in his mouth without even a chip. He chomped them down alone, with nothing to temper the spiciness. That did it. If he could eat them by themselves, I would surely survive the common gustatory experience of chip and cheese with pepper on top.

I waited 'til he'd gone. I waited 'til I was by myself so that my reaction, good or bad, would be mine alone. And they were delicious. The flavor infused my mouth; surprising spicy, but also sweet and tangy.

My recollection, many years later, is that lunch that day was a more expansive encounter with flavor than I had experienced before. It's dangerous to read too much into what happened long ago, but today I relish the opportunity to expand my gustatory horizons.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Taxes and the Common Good

The other day, the first day of school for my son, he asked me why he had to take a different bus to school. He asked me why the bus didn't pick him up and drop him off where it had for the previous three years. I responded, immediately, "Taxes". Then I explained my position to him. See, people want to keep the money that's in their bank account. People want to be able to hold on to the money that they receive in their paycheck. And since taxes necessarily take money out of people's bank accounts and/or paychecks, the electorate often votes against tax increases and elects politicians who promise to lower taxes.

Now that all sounds fine ~ it's good (in a capitalist economy) for a person to have more money in their bank account. They can purchase more, and (since we tend to equate value with financial wealth in this country) people with more money are worth more.

But we tend to forget the other side of the equation. We tend to forget that when tax revenue goes down, our access to services goes down as well. We tend to forget that when we pay less in taxes, the slack has to get taken up somewhere else.

To my simple brain, it works like this: if I paid a little more in taxes, my son could still take the same bus he took last year. But I get to save some in taxes, so I have money in my bank account so that I can pay for the gas it costs for me to drive him to his new bus stop. Of course, he still walks or rides his bike to the bus stop right now, so it's not a factor. At least, it's not a factor until it gets cold. I'm more likely to make him walk two blocks in twenty degree weather than I am to make him walk ten. So this winter, when pollution is a bigger problem here in Denver, more people will be starting cold car engines to drive kids to school. So, since we don't want to pay more taxes, we find ourselves paying for more for gas, and paying more (in the future) for healthcare.

Obviously this is simplistic. Obviously there are other factors to consider. Obviously it's no big deal for my kids to go .75 miles to the bus stop instead of .25 miles. But it's also obviously true (at least to me) that we're scared of even thinking about paying more taxes in this country; and to me, that's an unreasonable fear, since if we don't pay taxes for services, we'll end up paying for those services some other way.

Some people may say it's better that individuals have control over their money. I say, though, what about the common good. When, in this country, did it become better, or more noble, to take care of self to the exclusion of the other.

And it seems like many people who advocate so strongly for lower taxes also call themselves Christian. When did Christians become so publicly selfish? When did we stop advocating for the 'least of these' so that we ourselves could stay rich?

I'm no tax expert, but it seems to me that our selfishness is sinful. I will almost always vote for tax increases, and then work to make sure the government is using our common funds for the common good.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

backyard garden haiku

I recall, yearly ~
storebought fruit can't compare to
homegrown tomatoes

Friday, August 12, 2011

Observations from a gathering place

ten, eleven, twelve
they know
at such a young age
(mimicking their parents,
like most of us do),
rattling off with
their regular
starbucks order

Saturday, August 6, 2011

In the tent on a rainy night

nighttime crushes in on
my eyes - I double-check
to be certain they're open.
I know, tonight, at 11,000
feet, under continual rain
and blanketing cloud cover,
that no light will intrude on
my tent. Tomorrow, rain may
pour from overwhelmed skies;
with or without rain, though
the sun will rise, bringing light
and new vision - so I lay still
in the dark, and trust

Probably not epic, but it felt like it

A day off, planned since the week before. We were four, having just met weeks earlier, who decided on a day off hike over a pass. We checked in with the rangers, found our route, and looked forward to a quick day-off trip through the national park; respite from the tourons we constantly served at the concessionaire where we all worked for that summer.

A couple tents, food, clothes, and we were set to go. Six easy miles in, we camped around a gentle fire. Up over the pass and down to the shuttle car was the plan for the next day as we ate dinner and got comfortable for the night. Next morning, breakfast, and we're on our way.

We made our way down the wide trail, gradually gaining a little elevation as we approached the approach to the pass. Before long, we crossed the creek marking the end of the day hikers' typical reach; and thus the end of wide, easy hiking.

After crossing the high water in the creek, the trail began to drag us up toward the pass. Naturally, as the trail went up, the temperature went down. We stopped, adding what layers of cotton and knit wool we'd thrown into our hastily-loaded packs the day before.

It got colder and colder, but not unbearable. As we moved upward, every turn brought hope of seeing the start downhill from the pass.

Then, treeline.

No longer was there anything to block the wind that had spent the day whistling above our heads the whole way up. And with the wind came snow. We couldn't tell if it was blowing up from the ground or falling from the sky ~ but that didn't matter to our body temperature that plummeted with every snowflake that penetrated our inadequate layers. One shell and a windbreaker made a valiant but failing effort to stave off approaching hypothermia. Crouching behind a boulder, three of us found the shelter to decide that the pass may or may not be close enough - without a map, who's to know? - and that it was time to bail.

So, shivering, we turned again toward the seven miles we'd just covered instead of the three to the car, and headed back toward last night's camp where we planned to restart a small fire to warm up our almost dangerously cold bodies.

We made good time once we slipped again into the trees; then, across the creek, we flew over flat ground toward shelter until we happen to glance up at the rear end of a large bear lumbering the same direction on the same wide trail we're using. So we bide our time, holding back, waiting 'til our ursine friend allows us access to dinner and a little rest before the 5:15 alarm rings calling us to the next day's breakfast shift.

But before the breakfast shift, a dinner stop. The warm vinyl booth around pizza and beer became a welcome sanctuary from which to reflect on our 27-instead-of-10-mile day.