Monthly Archives: January 2015

Bike League: A Nation with Great Legs

When my mom sent me an article on cycling from her area newspaper in Florida I opened it up and my eyes popped.  The League of American Bicyclists’ community specialist Stephen Clark was examining the conditions on the streets for bicyclists and filing field reports as part of the Bicycle Friendly Community program.  Many of the conditions Stephen experienced in Florida were similar to what is going on where I live.  And he did a wonderful job articulating thoughtful critiques that can help us better approach sharing the streets.  This gave me a boost of energy not only in helping me articulate educational goals for my community but also because the Bike League had touched my mother’s life, and helped her understand better the conditions her bicycling son faces on a regular basis.  We need these kinds of nationwide connections to help bond communities together and unify us around common interests and circumstances that impact us all.  The Bike League is providing an important perspective into our national life.

Bicycling is like an escalator for every aspect of our lives.  It simultaneously improves every facet of our health–economic, social, personal, public–while evaporating symptoms of poor health by relieving restlessness, anxiety, stress, depression, alienation, lethargy.  What an amazing result from such a simple action.  Bicycling is like education in that it serves as a vehicle and gateway for individuals to enter into a world of new opportunity.  It is a game changer.

The League’s National Bike Conference is March 10-12 this year in Washington, D.C., the place I was born and lived the first nine years of my life (in nearby Bryans Road outside of the beltway).  The theme is Bikes +, accentuating all the synergistic ways cycling works to make improvements in so many areas of our lives.  Cycling is such a multi faceted activity and for me these cascading effects–increasing my empathy, connecting me to the places I live, developing relationships with the people I share these places with, lifting my self esteem, stimulating my thinking, improving my health, and giving me honest feedback, and providing basic transportation–make cycling such an integral part of my way of life and make it such an attractive draw.  I’m glad the League is hitting on these themes and elevating them in the national awareness.  Should be a stimulating conference producing some cloudbursts of energy leading to discovering new ways of approaching things.

In the nascient stages of this nation’s birth we centered our discussion on very idealistic principles and core values.  Most of those ideals, like equality, were no where near evident under the conditions present.  But nonetheless we aspired to them and initiated practices that helped us little by little inch towards our great goals.  Contrary to what cynicism tempts us with, these high aspirations have worth in providing a proper aim for us to base our trajectory on.  Bicycling is a practice that actually lets me make day by day progress and see results toward high goals, like perfect well being and health, that are not attainable really, but nonetheless are worth having because they guide our efforts and make true gains possible.  When I bike my ideals become more attainable and in some ways actualized, giving me a boost of confirmation that effort is rewarded.  The more we become a nation that bikes together, the better off we’ll be in making progress towards making more of the ideal possible.  Probably more than we have yet dared to imagine.  The League of American Bicyclists is my bike org of the month this first month of 2015.  Thank you for better connecting us through the arc of the bike life.  This is an exciting ride to take together.



Recovery is the most important part of training.  When the healing happens it makes us stronger.  Our job is to not get in the way of the wisdom our bodies have.  Just let the restoration happen.  Our ability to heal is as amazing as a baby being born.  It is life regenerating itself.  From broken to better.  Resiliency is rhythmic like waves.  Like a song.

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It helps to have a restorative place to rest.  I’m beyond lucky because my wife is an Ikebana artist.  Plus we have this nice couch we brought home on the roof rack of our Rav4.  I’ll tell you what, if you ever let a cyclist inside your house the first place they’ll gravitate towards is the couch.  Unless they are super traditional in which case they’ll plop down on the floor.

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It helps to surround yourself with a refreshing atmosphere.  And be an easy walk to the kitchen.  I have let go of my TV habits of old.  In part because they were over stimulating.  Watching sports left me tired still.  Be careful with computers and electronics too.  My favorite thing to do now is read, write, draw or sketch.  Take a walk in someplace nice.  Nap.  Dream.  Talk with family and friends and neighbors.  Cultivate and nurture the mind, body and spirit.

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Sometimes we need assistance seeing how our training is going.  It can come from anyone.  Listen to what people tell you, the wisdom they share.  I received good advice from my mechanic yesterday.  Take it easy sometimes!  Today I’m going to practice the advice Allan S. gave me a couple months ago while he was finishing up his gratitude bike tour.  You can ride everyday but not so hard that you make yourself too tired.  This is called active recovery, or at least reasonably paced riding.  It was the best kind of advice because he didn’t actually offer it as advice.  He said he wasn’t having trouble recovering each day.  He wasn’t riding that hard.  Hmm, good idea.  Allan has what you call a genius for living.  It can take a thoughtful lifetime to cultivate that well.

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And when a storm comes, or a chance to visit with family or to take a trip with Mai, I’m ready to put the bicycle away for a couple days.  Enjoy all of life’s richness.  Keep cycling and any kind of regular exercise a balanced part of your daily living and every part of life is more enjoyable.

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Update 2/2/2015.  The blooming continues.
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Valle de Oro: Connecting Bicycling and Wildlife Ecologies

The wildlife refuges further out in the country from Albuquerque are wonderful, and there is a new one real close to us, just past the city limits on the south side of town called Valle de Oro.  As I explored their website I found some great articulation of how human health, wildlife ecology, and land integrity all fit together.  If you have a chance check out the “our transportation scholar” link from Valle de Oro to explore in detail how the local community relates to the lands.   Angela West discusses how this wildlife reserve provides a critical measure for human health, and provides a point of engagement for us to reinvigorate our baseline understanding of our linkages to the rest of the natural world.  We go the way of our wild neighbors, our health and destinies being linked together.  In the video clip on the Rio Grande High School group called the Green Ravens, students discuss how the environment matters, and the land is the common substratum for the life of every living thing.  Yes we care!  Students pay attention to what their communities support, and Valle de Oro is confirmation place and wildlife integrity matters.  There is also some great coverage of how the 2nd street road connecting the Valle de Oro to the human residential communities would open up greater access by being redesigned to recognize the range of travel options residents are choosing to get around by.  I am so looking forward to bicycling to Valle de Oro and meeting more of my neighbors.

Cranes feeding in the water south of downtown Albuquerque

Cranes feeding in the water south of downtown Albuquerque

As a bicyclist and geographer I’m interested in a lot of things, and how they go together.  Especially in ways things combine to produce good health!  The integrity of the land is probably the most important metric for how we are doing.  Visiting these wildlife refuges so accessible here in New Mexico give us important perspective on sharing.  Our success as human beings is not predicated on domination, but fundamentally contingent upon sharing, and keeping resource uses in balance with the needs of diverse constituents including all kingdoms of life.  It is like what our founding fathers knew about freedom.  If one individual’s freedom was compromised anywhere, it matters to all of us.

Cranes are not just in the wildlife refuges.  You see them all around Albuquerque in their habitat.

Cranes are not just in the wildlife refuges. You see them all around Albuquerque in their habitat.

Bicycling provides a way of being that facilitates my health and learning at the same time.  It kind of lets me know how I’m doing, and gets me out there to see how we are doing.  I am writing so much about birds and wildlife in general because the health of humans and wildlife go together.  For one thing having open space where wildlife thrives makes for nice human habitat as well, and provides us comfort and inspiration, a kinship connection with the land we need.  The wildlife refuges along the Rio Grande are places where we can be restored and rejuvenated for continuing our journeys, just as they function for the migratory birdlife that winters there while building up energy stores for the long flight back to their summer homes north of the arctic circle.  These beautiful agricultural and open landscape are real attractions for bicycling and universally recognized for the irreplaceable, non-saleable value they bestow.

“The earth is what we all have in common.  It is what we are made of and what we live from…There is an uncanny resemblance between our behavior toward each other and our behavior toward the earth…the willingness to exploit one becomes the willingness to exploit the other.”  –Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

The Rio Grande valley specializes in food production, for us and many other creatures, which is the most fundamental aspect of our economy.  No wonder the local, sustainable, and organic food movements are reinvigorating our connections to these lands through the lens of our personal, family, and community health.  That is pretty much what these birds are doing here too.  The feast of life!

Cranes feeding in the drainage alongside the Chavez Loop trail, downtown in background

Cranes feeding in the drainage alongside the Chavez Loop trail, downtown in background


A Bright Day in New Mexico: Photographing Life on the Rio Grande

For the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday Mai and I got up well before dawn and drove down the Rio Grande Valley to watch the birds fly out of the Bosque at sunrise.  We’ve done this before but the silky movements of so many birds in flight together, their buoyancy in the air, their smooth and supple gracefulness, pulled us back for more.  We ended up spending the entire day there.

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There were not as many Sandhill Cranes and Snowgeese at the Bosque refuge as the last time we visited.  The guides at the Visitor Center told us the corn fields a little further north at the Bernardo Refuge were providing more abundant forage so there were more birds there.  We ended up spending sunset up at Bernardo.  There were still lots of serious looking photographers in the morning at the Bosque.

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I’ve always enjoyed listening to people talk as they walk by, at restaurants, or in any public place just to tune into the everyday vernacular.  You can tell a lot from small soundbites!  It is especially intriguing to hear people speak at National Parks, Monuments and Wildlife Refuges and on public lands.  So many retirees are experiencing America anew after all these years, and many hunting people have taken up tuning into wildlife with quick snapping cameras.  What really is striking is the joy and enthusiasm people express here at the Bosque.  Big smiles and faces aglow.  I’ve seen people awestruck by birds gliding overhead.  The rush, what a show!

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It reached 60 degrees by lunchtime but in the morning it was definitely below freezing.  Our hands were “permanently cold” as Mai put it.  But observing these birds waking up and easing into the day brings on a kind of euphoria.  Photographers high.  There is this rising feeling watching the easy athleticism as the birds take flight but at the same time their movements are basic, a harmonious chord that is true to life.  They get up and get on with their work every day, a simple existence of finding what they need to live.  I’m reminded of this song.

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The human family and the bird family have known each other a long time.  The Federal and State Wildlife Services work here with local farmers and residents to manage human activities so these birds have what they need to live.   This includes growing crops specifically for the birds.  Even though this river ecosystem has been significantly altered by extensive human settlement and resource manipulation such as irrigation canals, scientist are tuning in and adapting to be sure the ecosystem still provides all the services to the traditional wildlife as well as being nurturing habitat for human beings.  I’m quite impressed at this symbiotic mutualism.

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Deer emerged from the edge area between grasslands, desert scrublands, and river forest.  There are also elk, bobcat, coyote, mountain lion and many raptors here.  At Bernardo a father and daughter were observing the field from up high on a viewing platform.
Dad said, “Watch where the field meets the trees.  Maybe we’ll see a big buck come out.”
Looking over there she asked, “Dad, do you like deer or elk best?”
Dad said thoughtfully, “Hmmm,” followed by a long pause.  “That’s a tough one.”
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Since we’ve been here a couple times this winter I thought maybe we’d seen it all.  Not true!  It keeps opening up for us and the more you learn and more country you see the greater your realization the world is really deep.  Local places are immense.  The local people and animals are endlessly delightful.  Photography is a fun way to aid in discovery.  You have to frame what you see and focus in on what tells the narrative, select what to show.  This place is a symphony of life including the Chihuahuan desert ecoregion which bridges Mexico, Texas, New Mexico.
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Cranes are the keepers of a history beyond our reckoning.  As Barry Lopez recorded in Arctic Dreams, ‘those animals know way more than you do.’  At least about their migrations, how to tell other birds where to find the best food, how to survive as they do, how to fly with long arcing feathery wings.  The Cranes do these little dances too.  It is good we’ve made keeping up a fair deal with our bird and wildlife neighbors part of our legacy.  It is so cool to be in the company of birds and wildthings as we develop new traditions to celebrate the old ways.
Can’t get enough birds?  Here’s Mai’s video of the Fly Out at sunset at Bernardo.

Empowered to Ride

If you have your health you have everything.  Get out there and walk.  Get out and ride!  Make your day extraordinary.  Be an entrepreneur and creative investor in your daily life.

Sierra Nevada from my camp at the Death Valley Stage Race, May 2011

Sierra Nevada from my camp at the Death Valley Stage Race, May 2011

Bike Zone–Idea One, Elements of Cycling

Bike Zone.   A Bike Zone is anywhere bicyclists are present.  When bicyclists are present, slow down.  Use caution.  Be careful when passing.

Bike Zone is “idea one” in my Elements of Cycling guide which is designed to increase the use of good safety-based judgment making skills in the traveling public.  We want to make active travel a safer and more attractive choice.  One that everyone can exercise anytime they desire.  The safety expectations for bicyclists are the same as for any other road user.  It requires our special attention to treat every human being first class.

When I passed a school today I saw a sign that read “when children are present, reduce speed.”  I realized we had no similar concept for when bicyclists are present.   A bike zone is like a construction zone, a school zone, a neighborhood with people around, but it is not always in the same place.  It is wherever bicyclists happen to be.  Bike Zone.  When bicyclists are present, slow down.  Use caution in a bike zone.  Be careful when passing.


Rocks Come Alive: A Walk through Piedras Marcadas

Soundscape — This song reminds me of the intimate and expressive environment at Piedras Marcadas.  Quiet prevails and the delicate expressions from the past speak to us through these marked rocks.  I can especially imagine standing in the canyon on a hot summer afternoon with monsoon rain clouds building and after much anticipation rain comes trickling down.  The composer and conductor of this music, Eric Whitacre, is from Reno, NV.  He started off as a pop band musician.  He said in an interview his world went “from black and white to color” when he first heard Mozart’s Requiem rehearsed in choir practice when he was a student at UNLV.
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At Piedras Marcadas Canyon at Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque has a global attraction where people from all over the world can come and see these intimate rock markings.  The setting places us in the company of the clans of animals and people depicted in the drawings.  The sense of humor imparted by these images is palpable.  Petroglyphs, like music and texts, bring continuity between living things through time and space.  A mysterious communication, communion through sharing of place, a touching of spirits.  I walked away with a finer appreciation of what we have here.

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The simplicity in the medium creates a pure and clear messaging.  The park service is generous in their interpretation that no one can know, save for the maker, why these were made.  But everyone can be moved by these creations and our individual responses awaken us to something we must already know inside us.  These elemental drawings help us trace back to common origins.

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A broad swath of history is apparent here, from deep geological changes over the millennia to more recent looting where rock surfaces were chiseled away to separate off drawings.  Imagine, Mai said, what this place must have looked like before there were modern houses between this basalt escarpment and the river below!  This enchanting open space enlivens vivid imaginative powers.
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When exploring at Petroglyph sometimes we had to let our concentration sink in and shapes subtly emerged from the stones around us.  Other times we walked into an area, stopped and looked, saw one petroglyph then another and another until it was a veritable eruption of drawings.  Humor, pluralism of voices, and joy runs through all the glyphs and becomes the essence of what is being conveyed.  It is something like walking through a delightful and humorous kind of haunted house outdoors underneath the desert sky.  The substance of what they drew is still surrounding us.

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Petroglyph National Monument tells the story of a heritage that belongs to everyone.  This place takes you in when you venture outside and walk through it.  What a quality keystone experience to make part of our welcome to Albuquerque adventures!
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Get Educated on Active Transportation

Great Video: Dan Gutierrez’s 6E’s Presentation , by
Great Article: Enforcement for Bicyclist Safety , by
Great Book: Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Doby Tom Vanderbilt
For Albuquerque residents and visitors, check out Jeff Speck’s work on this very special Southwest city that emphasizes how we can capitalize on our natural attributes to build a more livable and healthy city that benefits everyone with a higher quality of sustainable living.

Bias is a funny thing.  We all have biases.  Even bicyclists.  Even bicycle advocates!  They’re hidden though, because we actually think through them, like a prism.  But we can overcome them with sustained effort and work!  Cultivate the habits of lifelong learning by openly examining your knowledge and adapting your critical thinking skills to find your original insights.  Overcome common prejudices and become a good resource for your friends, family and neighbors.  Think.  Imagine anew.  It’s worth it!  Let’s move cycling forward one conversation at a time.

Heartbreak Hill and East Mountain Area Geography

The Turquoise Trail is a quiet jewel with stupendous vistas northwest towards the Jemez

The Turquoise Trail is a quiet jewel with stupendous vistas, especially looking northwest.  Heading north here.

Sunday afternoon I took a ride through the gap known as Heartbreak Hill between the San Pedro Mountains and South Mountain.  This is the route the Sandia Crest Road Race takes before tackling the climb up the Sandia Mountains.  I’ve never done Heartbreak Hill outside of doing that race, so it was nice to take my time and look around.  Here is my Heartbreak Hill Strava map and ride data from Sunday.

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Heartbreak Hill is so steep my back tire slipped when I stood up out of the saddle to get some leverage.  I was in my 39 x 28 gear breathing hard.  Memories from the three races I’ve done up this rushed back to me.  I’ve seen some amazing explosive efforts on this hill by local racing legends.  Bicyclists with Ferrari engines!  Those racing memories are inscribed so vividly because they are intense moments where you are so very alert and alive.  Today I tried not to think about how hard it is to race up this heartbreaker, but instead stopped to take in the sights.

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The East Mountain Area–the areas Immediately east of the Sandia and Manzano Mountains–offer an abundance of wonderful country road routes.  Heartbreak takes you past some of the luxurious houses positioned for prominent views west of the Turquoise Trail (hwy 14) and on the sunny side of South Mountain, and also through the more remote areas east and Cedar Grove where working ranches with goats, cows, chickens, and horses make for a traditional rustic landscape.  The East Mountain Area is still very wide open but the growth has brought significant changes.  The population went from 23,000 to 33,000 from 1990 to 2000, and population continues to increase at a high rate.

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Further east in the plains there is irrigated agriculture including pinto bean growing regions.  Many people are struggling to make a living out here while others are showing extravagant lifestyles.  There is a happy middle where folks are enjoying country living on the land and have found a way to keep a comfortable yet humble balance, with resources to pursue their ambitions and time to enjoy their communities.   A sustainable abundance emphasizing quality, integrity, and focused considerate choices.  People really work hard in this country to realize their dreams.  The trick is to also be dreaming of the generations ahead.  The long view.

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Right now the mix of new development combined with laid back lifestyles and abundant open space make for great bicycling, and from the people I know who live here, awesome living.  To keep the spacious ambiance undiminished, newcomers and visitors will have to keep adapting lifeways to keep the skies dark, roads uncongested, fossil water protected, and whole landscape integrity intact.   The Paa-ko community golf course uses recycled water and reduced grass areas out of respect for the natural environment and limited water resources here, but does pipe in King Ranch ground water to supplement.  Some other challenges to living out here include becoming more efficient with transportation planning, as any trip requires greater distance to reach city amenities.  Living fire-wise in any forested area in the arid southwest takes tremendous attention with the variable climate and drought cycles, and forest types that have a history of cyclical fires.  If we meet these challenges by innovating and investing in sustainable solutions, keeping reasonable expectations, embracing simplicity and are willing to compromise for the greater good, the East Mountains Area might even improve in ecological health and as human habitat.
A bicycle ride is a great low impact way to enjoy the natural amenities found here, the mountains, wooded knolls, rolling hills, and plains, and meet great people along the way.  Heartbreak Hill is a very accessible ride from Albuquerque by bicycle via Tijeras Canyon that will take you through fantastic changes of scenery and geographical character.  This is a special place to ride.  The ride name is a misnomer.  The clean air, huge skies, mountain ridgelines, and awesome landscape tapestry make your heart stronger and provide important perspective.

USGS 2005 Groundwater Resources of the East Mountain Area 
Albuquerque Journal article October 6, 2008, on the Paa-ko communities developments

Boca Negra

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Today I rode to Albuquerque’s west side and met Mai at Petroglyph National Monument for a walk at Boca Negra Canyon.  The art from people who have lived in this valley is astounding.  Petroglyph was created in 1990 to preserve over 25,000 rock art renderings and is jointly managed by the National Park Service and Albuquerque’s Open Space Division.  What a storied and decorated place we live in.   Here’s the Strava map of my bicycle route to Boca Negra.

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The escarpment these rocks are set in seems to be chiseled by a graceful sculptor, so dark and edgy in the sharp light of the clear winter sky.  Everywhere you look drawings emerge into view.  This city gives an admirable service watching over the carvings of ancient inhabitants w/ care.

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The bike lane on Atrisco Vista is outstanding.  Couple this with careful, considerate driving and we have a winner.

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I rode out above the volcanoes before retracing my path to meet Mai at Boca Negra.  The Paseo de la Mesa multiuse trail is outstanding.  For people who are not accustomed to wide open spaces, the American Southwest can seem vacant or scary.  For me the open vistas are inspiring and there are plenty of details to study and admire.  You just have to be open to getting over the color green and for letting new sensibilities transpire.  Live gently on these fragile soils.

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I discovered the Boca Negra Canyon multiuse trail today (pictured above).  Surprisingly cool.   Middle New Mexico has the beginnings of a spectacular bicycling and walking transportation network, though all the pathways are not yet well connected.  The ancients may be pulling for us hoping we can carve and cultivate the most sustainable transportation system possible for perpetuity, helping our health and community prosper while saving our natural inheritance to share with future generations.  What an eye opening timeless place!

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