Monday, June 20, 2005

Deer Crossing

This weekend I biked from Epworth to Durango and back, a distance of 24 miles on the Heritage Trail. Durango has a population of 34, making it larger than nearby Graf.

I am becoming a better cyclist, and I averaged 12 m.p.h. on the crushed limestone path without particularly exerting myself. The trail is long and rural, so there's no need to slow down or stop all the time for pedestrians like on urban trails: only occasionally. And then there's the wildlife.
This time I saw a deer leaping into the woods ahead of me, and I stopped because I heard something on the other side of the path, and deer usually travel in groups. As my friend Chuck would say, "Bambi they ain't." I would sincerely not like to get kicked by a deer.

Well, a doe and fawn broke out of the woods a safe distance ahead of me to my right, and the doe turned away from me and jumped back into the trees, but the spotted fawn, less than two feet tall, spun around and ran straight at me on my stopped bicycle. As I stared in astonishment, the fawn barely missed my front wheel, brushed my right ankle, crossed behind me, and vanished into the woods at my left.

I rode on, still feeling the sensation of deer fur against my ankle. I'm glad it wasn't the buck!

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We finished a major project at work so I feel I have leisure to think. I looked over a detailed brochure from my power company and discovered that I could receive ALL my electrical power from renewable energy sources at an extra cost of two cents per kilowatt hour, which for my one-bedroom apartment adds up to $1.64 per month, about $20 a year. I signed up. I feel smug. This is WAY cheaper than a solar panel.

This reminds me of an unintentionally hilarious NPR piece about a survivalist who trains military personnel to live off the land. The reporter commented that visiting this man's home was like stepping into the 19th century: He chopped his own wood, he burned kerosene lanterns, and he powered his computer equipment with solar panels! Completely off the grid!

Good god, how did they ever manage with only solar-powered computer equipment back in the 1800s? Yes, people were made of sterner stuff in those days.


Saturday, June 11, 2005

Food from the Recent Past

Growing up, I wasn't much of a cook. I had no real interest in anything that smacked of domesticity. I preferred to solve a math problem, write a poem, read a book, or stroll purposefully through the woods pretending I was Clark, my best friend was Lewis, and my faithful dog was Seaman.

In college I learned to microwave cheese tortillas, and that was about it. Even after college my kitchen creations tended to revolve around cheese, except for curried eggs with avocadoes. I still miss those heady times when avocadoes were five for a dollar.

The longer I stayed in graduate school, the more obsessive I became about saving money and finishing without debt, which meant I had to cook. I went through enough times eating lentils and rice that I also was determined to eat not merely cheaply, but well.

Now I am earning money and gradually letting go of my obsessively skinflint ways, but I am still cooking, as I have developed a taste for eating very well. This week a coworker asked for a curry recipe, and while I searched for that recipe, I uncovered a treasure trove of recipes from people I have known over the years.

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I collect people. They live their own lives, and they don't take up any space, but I know a few of their stories, and I keep a few recipes from some of them. I have a pickled garlic recipe accompanied by a soundplay poem from a dear friend who shares my passionate love of Moscow. There's the Zen noodle recipe from my geologist friend with the "four-dimensional mind," a divine diablo sauce that I used to make once a week with vegetables from my garden. There are shark recipes that I'm going to try this summer, sent along by a Floridian who knows what's good to make in hot weather.

Most importantly at the moment, I found, misfiled, the wonderful chicken salad recipe that I begged one friend to send to me. A year ago this month, she killed herself. She had already taken pills but had been found before the pills could finish her off, so being a thorough academician, the second time around she took pills and drowned herself. I have her letters, and she published articles, but her chicken salad with sundried tomatoes and pasta seems to me to reflect the way she lived--a shy, invariably kind tenured college professor whom I had known since our own college years, with a bright, airy, lovely home, a sweet husband, and two dynamic dogs. She seemed happy. She had the kind of life I wished I had. And now she doesn't.

Academe has killed or driven mad a smattering of my friends and acquaintances, and I've suffered a couple stinging betrayals. In some ways it's odd that I'm not now a Ph.D., and I still find that many of the most magnificent people I know are in universities, but I love, love, love having an hourly job. I work 8-10 hours a day, and that's all. I finally have an apartment to myself, with my desk in a different room than my bedroom. It's heavenly. Why did my other interviewers ever not hire me? I'm the happiest employee ever.

This summer I plan to have the most fun I've had since 1995 in Moscow. I will attend concerts, I will ride my bicycle, and I will cook delicious meals and remember my friends.

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Monday, June 06, 2005

Not Particularly Snazzy

I found out that my Sutliff Bridge route is a well-known scenic bike route, but many people avoid it because it's so bumpy. Once a month the tandem club PIGS (Paired Iowans Going Somewhere) rides out that way.

I joined Bicyclists of Iowa City for a "Thursday Night Leisure Ride." It was extremely leisurely, but I figured out that if I shifted down, I was able to bike that slowly. The slow pace made the hills more difficult because I had less momentum, but the extra exercise was probably good for me, though it gave me sore knees the next day. They set an average pace of 10 m.p.h., which is the speed I normally ride; but I normally ride on crushed limestone. This was smooth concrete, a much faster surface.

I think the path was called Glen Willow, although it is unnamed on the map of Coralville trails. It runs between Coral Ridge Mall, which is the largest mall in the area, and another major shopping area, terminating at a small, well-hidden, and very popular ice cream shop. The trail area is undeveloped because it used to be a Boy Scout camp, and it is now being used as greenspace.

Before the ride I went to the mall to buy a brightly colored shirt to ride in. My wardrobe is mainly black, white, brown, and navy, due to nine years of New England living--enough time for most of my bright and funky Texas and California clothes to wear out. So the first place I went at the mall was Scheels All-Sports, where I decided that there was no way on this green earth that I was paying serious money for a bicycle jersey when I never ride more than 22 miles at a stretch. I went to a department store instead and bought an orange T-shirt on sale for $14. It's a shade darker than a traffic cone, but just as bright, and it has stupid little flowers on the front, and it still looks better than most cycling jerseys. I wouldn't be caught dead wearing it in Boston, but we Iowans are less finicky about what we put on our backs.

I was happy to find that most of the other riders were also wearing T-shirts and ordinary shoes, so I didn't feel out of place in my makeshift riding gear. Most of us had bicycle shorts, though, which are well worth a $60 investment. I now see why my cyclist friends say "everyone looks funny in bicycle shorts," but frankly, I don't mind looking funny (if I did, I'd throw away the corduroy sneakers I'm wearing right now), and those shorts are darned comfy. But I still think the jerseys are funnier. I have no idea what that back pocket is for.

Iowa City is a generally unassuming town. Back in the 80s I bought a comic book called "Superheroes of Iowa City"; they all had these piddling superpowers like melting the soles of tennis shoes, so they couldn't get in on the big leagues and had to content themselves with banding together to fight crime in Iowa City. Bicyclists of Iowa City also proved to be a lowkey crowd in which each individual had a few unique talents. I look forward to riding with them again.


Thursday, June 02, 2005

More Exploring

My new favorite place to ride is the Sac and Fox Trail in Cedar Rapids. I still technically prefer the Dubuque-Dyersville Heritage Trail, but the Sac and Fox is a lot closer. It is an easy trail, actually even less strenuous than the Heritage Trail because there are lots of little hills, and the speed from descending one hill gets me going up the next. Since the Heritage Trail is fairly flat, I work a lot harder and change gears more when I ride there.

The Sac and Fox is a multi-purpose recreational trail, but it is much better for bicycling than for walking. Its turns and hills are too small to provide interest for a hiker, but they are lots of fun for a novice bicyclist. I meet a lot of recreational riders, some serious road riders, a few walkers, and typically one deer and one tanned guy on a gently used Trek (not the same deer or the same man every time). The men on the Treks can be a little crushing to my ego because they pass me really easily, and they're obviously not putting forth any effort, sometimes even riding without hands. Still, I treat them extra nicely, not only because I'm a nice person, but also because I recognize their potential usefulness. One heavensent Trek rider fixed my front brakes for me one night.

I checked out Matsell Bridge Recreation Area, which got a full page spread in a book on Iowa biking trails, but I didn't like it. I had to either share a trail with horseback riders, which seemed daunting, or else I had to ride on a gravel road out behind the firing range. I find gunshots unsettling.

I decided to pick out my own riding route. There's a little-trafficked, scenic county road running from Lisbon to the Historic Sutliff Bridge, where a small tavern is conveniently located. The ride is 6 miles out and 6 miles back, and it can be extended by either cycling on into Mount Vernon on the north end, or riding out past the bridge toward the historic church on the south end. I made a good call; it's an excellent ride past several scenic farms and over a stream or two. I don't know why I never see any bicyclists out there. I wonder if it has anything to do with the condition of the road; I've encountered fewer bumps on gravel roads. It doesn't bother my steel-framed hybrid bike, but I don't know what someone on a skinny-tired bicycle would think.

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