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Friday, January 24, 2014

Un-Marinated Roadkill--The SUP Sequel

After my "Marinated Roadkill" story of a less than successful windblown debut in the sport of stand-up paddleboarding (SUP, or "Janitors of the Sea" as stated by some surfer friends), readers might assume I gave up on SUP in soggy disappointment.  Far from it, I emerged from Mission Bay ready to try again with the help of my hard-won lessons on wind speed and aerodynamics.  

It took me a couple months before I had a chance to use my second discount Mission Bay Sport Center (MSBC) SUP rental voucher, and in the meantime I had learned a few useful things beyond the fact that a paddleboard works in all dimensions much like a sail in high winds.  For instance I discovered:
  • There is a second MBSC board rental site (1441 Quivira Road) much more convenient to my Ocean Beach home...both in distance and bike-friendliness.
  • Said second site is much less crowded, as it is on the premises of the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay  and seems to cater almost solely to their residents. (main MBSC location tends to attract  all Pacific Beach tourists and residents within 10 miles of their location)
  • The less crowded the rental site, the much better chance you have of getting a little extra help.  On this particular morning I sweet-talked my way into a VIP marina restroom key and the bicycle equivalent of valet parking.

All the basics of an outing become easier in a mellow and non-crowded setting.  After advice from a valet, I parked my bike in the parking garage of the Hyatt and wandered back to see if it might be worthwhile to grab an Einstein bagel.  I quickly reviewed  menu options, realized they would not fit my cheapskate profile (see my latest airport bagel escapades) and headed for the rental dock.

As I got pushed off into the harbor I immediately realized that the morning SUP expedition held the following advantages over my first time out...

  • Virtually no wind
  • Wind direction favoring an expedited or at least unaffected trip back to home port after going east on Mission Bay

With the lack of wind came the end of fear.  Yes, if I were to fall off my board I would be uncomfortable in 52-degree water.  But the rental boards are so huge that falling off on calm water seems impossible for anyone who can keep a bike up in traffic.  So I took the rental clerk's advice, made a slow exit from the harbor by way of the fuel dock that seems to be a renegade sea lion hangout, and headed out into the wind in Mission Bay.  There wasn't much wind, and as hoped for I hit my desired turnaround near Fiesta Island after 45 minutes.

Once I got to the midpoint of my trip I took a few chances...drifting longer and longer on the board as I tried to get a couple great pics.  It took a while, after encountering everything from Mexican-bound fishermen to collegiate rowers, to feel comfortable out in the middle of the bay.  But it made me consider how far I had come as a non-surfer, SUP-ing around after not seeing the open water with anything bigger than a boogie-board since I've been in San Diego.

I have a couple more discount vouchers to use for local SUP rentals, and I hope finishing them off will prove to one and all that I am serious about SUP. But I especially hope to convince my elite surfboard-shaper significant other to admit my seriousness...and hope he comes through with a great color scheme on that custom SUP that's now my birthday wish!    

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Seriously, Folks...How You Know You're a Real Bike+Transit Commuter

I've been accused of not being a "real biker,"  couldn't agree more and couldn't care less.  My interest in all things bike-related starts and ends with how best to get from Point A to Point B...maybe stopping for groceries at Point C.

What I feel guiltier about is the notion that I'm not even a "real bike commuter."  I had high expectations when I got my new bike, thinking I would free my commute from the San Diego transit system entirely and bike all the way to work and back every day.  But months later, I still use the bus for the middle portion of my trip on most days...ALL days for the trip to work.  I had to admit that I just didn't feel like starting my day with a 15-mile, 1 hour 45 minute bike ride in the dark that ended with a brutal uphill stretch, and really enjoyed  having that bus ride "downtime" for reading or writing.

So I'm making peace with the fact that I am just a "real bike+transit commuter," but a pretty serious one.  In case you're wondering how I determined my seriousness, I applied the following checklist.

You Know You're a Serious Bike+Transit Commuter When:
  • All the outerwear you own is in a shade best known as "radioactive lime" and is trimmed with reflective stripes.
  • You know at least half a dozen all-bike and bike+transit routes between work and home...and can pick one immediately based on what errand destinations and grocery stores are on the way.
  • There is at least one clip-on red "blinky" taillight in every single bag you regularly use.
  • Los Angeles native freeway drivers, who can argue hours on the relative merits of I-10 vs. The 405, think you're a little obsessive about commuter routes.
  • Your bike features 1 permanent and 2 clip-on headlights, and you carry an extra headlamp to wear on your helmet when it's REALLY dark.
  • You know the name and location of a bike shop in every neighborhood from home to work...and have come into at least half of them for an emergency flat fix.
  • You slow down at construction get fashion tips from the reflective-garbed road crews.
  • You have calculated exactly how many one-way bus trips a week you can take to ease the hilly part of your commute while still saving off the cost of a monthly transit pass.
Un-Marinated Roadkill--The SUP Sequel

Thursday, January 16, 2014

If You Can't Say Anything Nice...The Midway Surprise

I brace myself for a flurry of driver hostility and misbehavior whenever I bike home through the Point Loma Midway District, especially in the darkness of the evening shopping-rush hours.  I'm still not sure whether the bad vibes arise from the potholes, the lack of bike lanes or the frequent stoplights on Midway Street, but I almost always get honked at, flipped off or buzz-passed somewhere along the way from Sprouts Market to the relatively gracious West Point Loma Boulevard.  

It doesn't help my nerves any that the trip requires left turns on not 1 but 2 very gnarly multi-lane intersections.  So I was waiting with trepidation in the 2nd left lane on Rosecrans, standing tall in my high-visibility jacket and anklebands with a spare red blinky taillight clipped to my reflective-vested backpack.  When the light turned green, I pedaled furiously in an attempt to keep pace with traffic on the turn while listening for telltale honks of dissatisfaction behind me.

No honks came, and surprisingly nobody buzzed me in the narrow first stretch of the block.  By the time I stopped at  the first red light I was calming a bit.

Then I glanced at the white sedan stopped to my left, saw the Hispanic man at the wheel and the two carseat-strapped toddlers in the back seat...and watched warily as the front passenger side window opened.

"This can't be good news," I thought. "Is he going to accuse me of cutting him off and scaring his kids, or will he just try to order me off the street and onto the sidewalk?"

Instead he surprised me with "I didn't think I should pass you on that narrow stretch, hope that's OK."  As I mumbled a confused "Umm...yeah..." he continued.  "I really like that you've got all the safety gear on, we appreciate it."

"Thanks!" I replied, "I've learned I have to really light myself up like a Christmas tree out here."

The light changed and the sedan pulled away, leaving me with the odd feeling of having my negative expectations proven WRONG for a change.

My cynical view of the driving public wasn't totally shattered by that compliment, however...12 blocks later on West Point Loma, a cellphone-wielding woman in a dark SUV nearly T-boned me speeding out of a condo complex!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Road..If Not Quite Killed (Sneak Preview of Upcoming Travelogue/Memoir Project)

As indicated in last post, I am now working on editing and marketing projects for others under the "" umbrella.  The following is a preview of one such project, please let me know what you think.

JH Crossings, Chapter 2
Jesse Houle, Copyright 1/1/14

(Upon boarding the airplane for cross-country flight, leading to a 3-week journey from New York to San Diego via the northern midwest)

Based on previous experience, fears of crying babies ran through my head as I shuffled from gate to plane with my enormous backpack. Howling infants, whiny full-diapered toddlers, Kit-Kat-fueled ADHD-ridden preschoolers...they seem to surround me whenever I fly. But as I approached my window seat, I was surprised at my seatmate assignment. No babies, no kids at all...just a dead ringer for Harold from “Harold and Maude” and his Asian girlfriend. The “Shanghai Surprise” was soon more trouble than even the screechiest baby, however. She began with a litany of complaints, then managed to really endear herself to the flight staff by refusing to turn off her laptop computer for takeoff.

After the final laptop shutdown of “Shanghai Surprise,” I hoped to get a bit of rest on this 50-minute flight before landing in Phoenix and proceeding to Newark. No such luck. “Harold” was minding his own business as the plane took off, relaxing in his hideous L.L. Bean-meets-Gap Kids outfit consisting of a crushed blue sportcoat and mint green shirt. But his girlfriend (or was it mail-order bride?--I'll never know) couldn't keep it the plane neared cruising altitude she laid down in “Harold”'s lap, slinging her mop of hair over me in the process. “Harold” gave the best apology he could, I ordered a gin and tonic, and his “companion” asked me to shut the window shades so she could sleep. I shut the shade as ordered, and was on the ground 10 blissfully-quiet minutes later.

While I didn't have to change planes in Phoenix, the layover and stress made me run for a bar when we landed. It took me a bit of searching, but I found a place to pick up a much-needed double screwdriver. Afterwards, as I returned to my gate to get back onboard for Newark, I passed “Harold” and “Shanghai Surprise.” I heard nothing new..she yapped and yelled, he responded submissively...but the good news for me was that they proceeded towards a totally different gate than mine.

I was happy that the next leg of my flight would be free of disruptions, but must admit I felt sorry for poor broken-looking “Harold.” What ever happened in his life to make him believe it would be best shared with this bossy and abrasive woman? What made him put up with this situation? But more importantly...who would my seatmates be for the Phoenix-to-Newark flight?

On that flight, there were no seatmates. I was asked if I could move to an emergency row. I did so, and was soon in the “Promised Land” where my feet could not touch the seat in front of me. Slumber reached me one Tanqueray and tonic later. Please don't ask how that works with my emergency row assistance availability.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Vested Interest (or...I Want My Baby Back,Baby Back, Baby Back...

One of my most firmly held bike commuting beliefs is "the more distracted the drivers around me, the more I need to increase my visibility." So it seems most appropriate that as we enter the most distracting of holiday seasons, I have added a piece of biking gear that's truly "got my back."

I bought my new Neiko "Hi-Vis" vest on with the intention of adding some industrial-grade visibility wearing it over my fading reflective-lime biking jacket.   But I soon found a much more urgently-needed use for it. 

Since all my backpacks are big and black,  I become almost invisible from the rear when "packing."  Hanging a red "blinkie" taillight on the backpack helps a little, but not enough to satisfy a biker as paranoid as I am about being rear-ended. So with a brand-new reflective vest and a lot of backpack-wearing trips ahead an obvious solution sprang to mind...use the vest as a backpack cover.

My backpack is about the same size as a small human torso, and its straps fit pretty well when pulled through the vest armholes, so it's relatively easy to "suit up" the pack and put it on before a ride.   And the reflective power of the new industrial vest--a popular choice among road crews and other visibility-conscious workers--is truly outstanding. 

I should probably apologize to the motorists who at first glance get the mistaken impression I have a vested but helmetless baby on my back.  But as long as they SEE me, what they THINK about the spectacle is irrelevant!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Marinated Roadkill...WhatSUP With That?

Last Sunday afternoon, I was not my usual pulled-together bike commuter self.  Accessorized with only a helmet and cable lock, soaked to the waist in seawater, riding my hand-me-down 90s mountain bike in a sweaty tank top and shorts, I was in fact a waterlogged mess.  That this happened was not wholly unexpected, but HOW it happened was a complete surprise.

I set out for Mission Bay Sportcenter Sunday morning with a plan to redeem a promotional voucher for a full day rental of a stand-up paddleboard (SUP).  While my surfer boyfriend and traditional paddleboarder friends ridicule the people on "janitor boards" sweeping the sea with their paddles, I was convinced this would be a perfect water sport for me--utilizing my core and arm strength, and not requiring me to spend a lot of time immersed in cold water.

My 2 biggest fears about the experience were getting my bike stolen while there and falling off the board, so I prepared accordingly...put on an old gymwear tank top and pair of cotton drawstring shorts, carried nothing but my ID, voucher and a $10 bill, and rode the unassuming "ghetto bike" over to the rental site.

The voucher said the rental included instruction.  If by "instruction" they mean some guy saying "there's your board,"this was absolutely correct.  Luckily the big wide boards make balance very easy and the experience is pretty intuitive...just like it looks, flat-water paddleboarding is a lot like kayaking standing up. So while I started out paddling on my knees, I was standing in no time and feeling pretty comfortable as I headed across the bay.

I never had the massive splashdown fall I was dreading...I did lose my balance and slip once, but only did a butt-plant fall onto the board.  And I seemed to be getting around pretty well...covering distance pretty quickly.  But in my concentration on paddle technique and balance I had lost track of one key factor--the wind that had been picking up speed rapidly since my arrival at the Sportcenter and was now pushing me towards the opposite shore.

While the wind had totally escaped my attention as I was paddling with it, it became a major point of interest when I turned around to head back to the Sportcenter.   At first I thought I was just being negative in my perception, but soon I realized my suspicions were true--no matter how hard I paddled, I was making absolutely zero forward progress.  After a few minutes of paddling furiously, I resigned myself to the prospect of walking the board all the way back around the shore to the rental site.

As I pulled the board out of the water, however, I was in for yet another unexpected lesson in physics.  The board's massive surface made it so easy to balance in the water...but once hoisted into the air it acted like a giant fiberglass sail.  I could only go a few steps forward at a time as the board turned me around with the wind.  A passing jogger took pity on me and helped me hoist the board up to  a more aerodynamic forward carrying position on top of my head, and that helped me make a little faster progress...but as soon as I let the board's front end come up enough to catch the wind, it was back out of my hands. 

By myself it was impossible to get the board back overhead, so I thought I would make one more attempt at paddling.  I had no illusions about making it across to the Sportcenter--my goal was to get within hailing distance of a pontoon boat a short distance offshore and offer the owner my now-waterlogged $10 bill for a lift to the other side of the bay.

But once again, forward progress was impossible against the wind.  In fact, I lost most of the ground I had gained doing the head-carry forward march.  So after a few very futile random thoughts ("Is there a "Vessel Assist" for paddleboarders? " "Should I have brought my phone in a Ziploc  bag?"  "Might the cops take time out from ticketing beachside drinkers to give me a courtesy ride?" ), I admitted final defeat and realized the only way I could get back was by wading along the shoreline with the board in the water.

As I slogged along the sandy bay bottom in thigh-deep water (too shallow and I would have to bend uncomfortably to reach down to the board), I observed all the action around the bay.  Lots of other paddleboards--all safely stowed beachside instead of braving the wind.  Volleyball and hackysack games, loungers catching sun, kids making sandcastles--even a foursome on an anchored powerboat sounding increasingly sloshed as they played quarter-bounce with red beer cups on deck.  I had plenty of time to see everything, and attention to spare as I tried not to think about how much my calves and ankles would hurt the next day from my watery hike.

Finally I  "turned the corner" to a point where I would be able to paddle towards the rental site with the wind at my even in defeat, I managed to pull off a smooth-looking final approach to the Sportcenter entrance. As I went to the checkout counter, I found a huge lineup of renters waiting for turns out lots of other rookie paddlers got blown across the bay, and not all of them made it back as fast as I did.  My embarrassment on getting stranded diminished a bit--but that didn't do anything to help the soaking I got.

After completing my return it was time to take my waterlogged self home.  I readjusted my fully soaked shorts, unlocked the old bike, got on and began pedaling very slowly towards home.  It was far from my prettiest commute, and was more than a little uncomfortable--but I must admit the SUP  experience was totally worth it.