28 December 2009

That's what I'm talking about

Christmas, and a slew of new books. Even discounting duplicate gift books (thanks, boys!), nearly all the titles are about cycling adventures. Some good winter reading ahead ... a season when (a) I'm only riding indoors to begin with, and (b) I'm preparing for a different kind of adventure altogether.

Ha, just thinking of Violet, in "It's a Wonderful Life," asking George Bailey if he doesn't want to do more than just read about adventure. Well, yes, there is that danger, of settling for the adventures of others. So, I hope that reading tales of international, not to say extreme, cycling travel - new and old - will inspire rather than simply substitute.

But today's book is an adventure of another sort. Or of another sport, anyway.

For my birthday I received Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. The gift was inspired, no doubt, by my registering for my first marathon [about this, much more in the coming weeks] and my delight in being introduced to Murakami this past summer. I'd heard the name for a long time, with a son and some friends already huge fans. Preparing for a trip to Portland in July, I could not get from the library the typical "hot" titles. (Turns out, this is a problem at libraries all over the place. Apparently to read Murakami, one must buy the books or be a very patient library patron.) So, what I chose in the end was his first international best-seller, A Wild Sheep Chase. I'll leave the waxing eloquent about Murakami to others. Sufficient here to say - I was hooked on this fascinating author.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running came to me after I registered for the Big Sur International Marathon, but before I began actual training for it. It is inspiring, but not only for running. I would actually say, not primarily for running or maybe even not inspiring to me as a new runner. It's a good, gentle, humble memoir of a fascinating life ... written by a man who is downplaying his fascinating life. As a runner, he has completed many marathons and a few triathalons as well. (It's a demonstration of my commitment to cycling, I suppose, that when he writes about the cycling part of triathalons, my interest is tweaked even higher, and that I find myself taking issue with his personal preference for running over the bike!)

I'll certainly re-read this, and probably before April 25, when I run my first marathon. The combination of beautiful writing (the novelist), the simple lessons of sport (the athlete), and the perspective of a cosmopolitan from Asia (the world traveler/teacher) made this the best read of the fall for me ... and the quickest, too!

19 December 2009

And now it is winter

It's been a long time since I posted here. The cycling season ground down - too slow, and too soon. My outdoor miles squeaked just over 2,300. OK for a pedestrian, but far fewer than I like, and definitely undeserving of the name "cyclist." (A term which I have stopped accepting for myself, and never use!)

One way I've kept visiting this site is a little tally of "most recent rides/runs." Yep, runs. More on that later.

Busy, busy, busy. But with the little bit of cycling that ended the fall, I did enjoy some interesting cycling reading. Which, come to think of it, maybe I should have put off until a day like today - 3 inches of new-fallen snow, beginning to look a lot like Christmas - and ridden instead!

Pedaling Revolution by Jeff Mapes (OSU Press, 2008) is subtitled "How Cyclists are Changing American Cities." Mapes is senior political reporter for The Oregonian. He is an active cyclist (commuter and advocate). Through the book he explores the cycling culture of leading bike-friendly cities, Amsterdam, and cities where the culture is changing toward bike friendliness. Along the way he talks to, and rides with, bicycle advocates (extremists and pragmatists), politicians (my favorite, no doubt from my decade-plus sojourn in MN, is congressman Jim Oberstar, D MN - or, technically DFL, MN), city planners (both established and working on it), and everyday riders (powerful and hoi polloi). He commuted with people in his home town, and in Manhattan; he rode in more than one Critical Mass ride; he traveled to Holland and Denmark to see what they have done to shake free of the automobile, and how it those efforts are paying off.

Adding to my pleasure with Pedaling Revolutionwas reading it while on a trip to Portland, OR, my favorite cycling city, Mapes' home town, and a highly rated cycling mecca.

I am recommending the book to all who take cycling seriously, who are interested in urban planning, who love pedestrians, who endorse human-scale civil engineering, and who dare to think something can be done at the individual and community level to make a dent in our ecological jeopardy. It is engagingly written, and - this is a non-activist writing here - has been more succsessful than anything I've read to nudge me toward taking part in local and regional cycling issues.

Now, if I can just get out and ride!!