Oh the Joys (and Injuries) of Commuting bike, that is :-P

When I started out on this path a year ago, I thought, "Is it even possible to work biking 30 miles to/from work into my schedule?"  Now I'm up to biking up to 3 days a week to work and loving it!  It's a very rewarding experience, and it gives me an opportunity to enjoy the sights, sounds, and yes smells of San Jose.  As I always say, biking through a city always helps you truely learn the lay of the land.  But commuting does come at a price...

When I first dreamed up this plan of biking accross flat old SJ, I thought it would be a walk in the park.  After all, I've biked up and down hills for miles and miles, so what's the big deal with a short city ride?  Turns out the biking part is easy; it's the gear (and apparently my health) that's the hard part.

Since starting to bike to work, my 1983 Bianchi racing bike has been retrofitted to go through a war zone, and it definitely looks the part.  Here's a shot of my blue steel beauty hanging out with it's friends:

I write this part partially as a future shopping list in case I get a new commuter (heaven forbid).  I've amassed an arsenal of equipment to outfit my sweet ride:
  • Really bright LED lights (hell I'd buy the $800 ones if I could) - gives stupid drivers somewhat of a clue that you're there.
  • Reflector stickers all over - might make you look dorky, but hey, we need to give those drivers all the help they can get!
  • Kevlar tires - you hit EVERYTHING driving through the city, and these suckers get through it!  I've gone through glass, nails, leaf piles, and God-knows-what without a flat yet!
  • An "anatomically correct" gel seat w/ a deep center groove - trust me on this one haha
  • Campus pedals - use clips when you got 'em, ride like normal when you forget (it's happened)
  • Panniers - ahhh, saved my back!  These things can fit all my emergency gear and clothes in one full swoop.  Of course, my Timbuk2 bag is on my back at all times just in case I have a larger load (aka my laptop)
  • Fenders - if you don't want your "Freshman stripe" as they call it at Davis, then grab a pair of these bad boys, they're a lifesaver in the rain.
  • Tools - multitools, allen wrenches, tire levers, the works...anything and everything in case of a flat, a loose bolt, what-have-you occurs.
  • Tubes and (if you have the space) hit a lot of funky stuff on roads, lemme tell ya!
  • Handlebar tape and (possibly handlebar gel pads) - to give you comfort and to protect your hands; the gel adds extra cushion on bumpy rides, but gloves dampen most of that...
Now that you got the bike all decked out, time to turn yourself into the ultimate mailman, inpenetrable to all Mother Nature can throw at you.  I've gathered quite a hefty collection of gear after freezing my hands off or being unable to bend my toes:

  • The basics: lycra shorts, short sleeve and long sleeve jerseys, and a good helmet
  • A base layer shirt for those really cold mornings.  Don't use undershirts, cotton will get soaked through if you ride hard.
  • Arm and Leg Warmers - super cheap and makes it easy to go from short to long sleeve in a flash
  • A couple pairs of light socks
  • A couple pairs of Smartwool socks - so your toes don't freeze off on cold days
  • Touring Bike Shoes - so you can click in while you ride and walk around at work
  • High-visibility wind breaker - makes you a shining yellow beacon to others, and it keeps out the cold and wind
  • Gloves - many types: fingerless for warm days, full finger windstopper gloves for cool days, and the waterproof lobster gloves for those cold, wet days
  • Thermal Skull Cap - good for keeping your ears warm and your hair from flying out the top of your helmet, plus it makes you look like a swimmer!
  • Rain Jacket - stops the wind, rain and cold, great for the winter
  • Rain Pants - you get the idea...
  • Helmet Cover - prevents you from getting rain on the noggin
  • Baraclava - on those really cold mornings, covers your whole face like a ski mask
  • Shoe covers - good for keeping the rain out and the warmth in
What does it look like when you're fully decked out?  Kinda like this:

Scary, huh?

It's interesting to look at the huge list above and think about what life was like riding before some of these things.  (I'll make a detailed list of my gear one of these days if interested lol)  Half of this stuff I bought after learning the hard way...

When it dropped below 50 in the mornings, in came the warmer gear like the warmers, skull cap, full finger gloves, and wool socks.  When it dropped into the 30s, well then there came the lobster gloves, etc..  And the rain?  Shoot, that required quite a few trips to Nashbar, Performance, Wheel Away and REI to pile up the goods to ride :-)

Oh, and of course the injuries.  The baraclava came in response to the doc telling me I'm not getting sinus infections, I just and breathing in too much damn cold air (thanks doc!)  The seat came after I injured my...well, yea let's not go there.  Needless to say the "mystery illness" happened twice before I figured out I needed a new seat.  And now what?  Carpal tunnel syndrome.  Seriously?  As a computer geek, I recognized the tingling numb feeling and weakness in my hands after a day or so.  Took me a lot long to peg biking instead of typing 129082532359 hours a day, but usually I've found that the cause of all my illnesses recently is biking lol.  Turns out that holding you hands on the bars in the same possition as well as not taping the bars (oops, been meaning to redo that) and the resulting vibrations can cause CTS or handlebar palsy.  Thus my sexy splints I'm wearing at the top of the post lol.

At first, it kind of bugged me getting injured all the time, but I now see it more as a learning experience about my body and commuting.  I'm curious to see what will go wrong next when I start biking again Wednesday :-P  I've come to realize that it's not tough biking to work, it's just the constant biking day to day that causes the strain.  However, if you protect yourself and get the right gear, it's a blast!  I gotta tell ya, the other day it started raining and I was having SO much fun in the rain!

Happy riding everyone, I'm sure there's going to be some new problems (and new equipment to buy :-).  I'll keep y'all posted on my next little "adventure"!


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A Random Romp in the East Bay

Ah, it's great to be back and writing more often, I'm gonna do my darnedest to keep you guys updated!

Yesterday was just one of those awesome days of complete randomness.  Well, I guess you could call it "planned randomness" (I'm the Man with the Plan, remember? :-P )  Anywho, Lesley and I decided a LONG time back to check out this free book exchange up in El Cerrito.  It's exactly what the name implies: a bookstore crammed with tons of books, and they're all free!  Dad, I know you'd love it.  Limit 50 books per person though (or however many you can carry lol as we found out).  Well, after Lesley told me about this place what?  6 months ago?  I was supposed to visit it but got sidetracked at some point.  Busy busy busy.  Instead, we decided to have a little daytrip adventure up the East Bay to see what it was all about.  Let the discoveries begin!

I'm all about the random adventure, whether it's by foot, car, plane, you name it, I'm there.  It gives you a nice break from life by the calendar.  Normally I go out on my own to get lost on foot, but it was awesome having Lesley as a travel companion for a Bay Area day-cation (I'm all about vacations, stay-cations and day-cations lol.)  As fellow busy bodies, we of course had to booked each other in advance, but I'm so glad we did!  Ok, so the haps for the day:

First of all, the weather was GORGEOUS.  It was 60 and sunny all day, a nice change from the couple dreary days of showers that I biked through. (still fun, but I'm glad to have a day of sun)  We met at my house and I proceeded with the household tour (I've become quite rehearsed over the past few months).  We both decided that my room was something out of a store catalog lol.  Not quite Pottery Barn and better then IKEA, so we settled on Target.  I can live with that :-)

We grabbed BART up in Fremont and headed to El Cerrito.  Of couse we wanted to make the most efficent use of time, so we sat and planned our backpacking trip in the Lost Coast.  It's gonna be so much fun, it's our first time backpacking and I can't wait.  I'm so glad that Robb's an expert at work and has some stuff I can borrow, b/c I really wanna try this out before I jump in head-first.  We're planning a 3-4 day loop in the King Range just north of Shelter Cove.  Should be lots of fun!  Now, if only we could find the time in our busy schedule to go :-)  Oh well, we will solve that issue lol.  I mean, I think I already have 4 trips planned between now and May?  Awesome!

I always love the scenes on BART.  Everything from the elderly lady who asked a couple if they were in love (which they said yes), to the random orange (or lemon?) rolling around the car freaking out everyone who it bumped into, to the guys trying to raise money for a trip (I gladly gave em $20 since I didn't have change, and I wasn't going to ask for some lol, but it's a good cause, plus we were going to get tons of free books!)  Always a trip, I think a day of traveling the BART lines would give you enough world knowledge alone that you could skip an international trip haha.

When we got to El Cerrito, we decided to explore a little bit.  I'm sure a lot of people are thinking: El Cerrito, really?  Hey!  An adventure is always more fun in more colorful areas, you never know what to expect!  What did we find?  Well, there's a lot of arts-related shops as Lesley pointed out.  Oh, and the jazz band playing on the sidewalk was awesome!  A nice, smooth beat lol.  We rummaged through a thrift shop and hunted through all the 70% off bargains at a party store that was going out of business.  Lesley got a few things for her classroom and we both got treats for some very lucky people who I think will be very surprised ;-)

Next up, the Book Exchange.  All I can say is WOW.  There are so many books!  It's a little store that has rows and rows of books that people, libraries, and other organizations donate, and they are all free!  They had a sign saying they've handed out over 90,000 books as of January.  My goodness!  We went to town, reading through all the funky titles.  A lot of them were like new; I mean, if you're never going to read it again, why not donate it?  I mean, I could have gotten one of a dozen like-new copies of "The DaVinci Code" lol.  We found all sorts of stuff to take.  Lesley grabbed a few Tom Clancy's for her dad, a book on starting your own childcare center (which she hopes to do someday), some travel books and a few others.  I grabbed LOTS of travel books (you know me), a hiking book, a random book as a joke to surprise someone :-) and a Jon Stewart book on Democracy which Lesley found.  Actually, it was kind of funny, everytime I was about to pick a book off the shelf and look at it, Lesley would grab it first and say that it looks like my kinda thing.  Haha, guess we know what we like.  We also brought some books to donate; keep the exchange going guys, you rock!

In the end, I ended up with bookload in my messenger bag and Lesley ended up with a whole grocery bag of books!  (which I would've helped carry lol)  Those Tom Clancy's take up a lot of space, but hey, at least you got a workout carrying all those books, right?  I mean, we did walk 3-4 miles with a bunch of books through El Cerrito and Berkeley later on, so I think we got our exercise.

Afterwords, we walked northward to the next BART station, searching for antique stores, which we had heard about.  Well, they must've been somewhere else lol, b/c we certainly didn't find them!  Oh well, we did stumble upon an Ichiban Kan, which I would call a sort-of Japanese dollar store?  I guess everything wasn't a dollar, but they did sell lots of random little things and it was all super cheap.  I LOVE going into stores like this b/c there's just so much cool stuff!  And I'm a big fan of writing on packages and things in other languages, and I love Japanese.  Lesley says there's a store like this at Eastridge too, so I'll have to check that out.

Anyways, we found all sort of fun stuff, from candy bars (some of which are sexist) and snacks (I grabbed us a bag of wasabi peas, which are awesome!), to storage containers (we're all about the organization), to random knick knacks and toys (more gifts for friends :-), to your common household items (lots of chopstick sets), and of course personal care (aloe condoms eh? interesting lol).  Lesley grabbed some Hello Kitty stuff for her friend (I loved her reaction every time she turned and saw something else with Hello Kitty on it lol)

Of course, any adventure with yours truly isn't complete without an awkward moment.  In this case, we were sharing the peas I bought at the store and when I went to pour some into my hand, about half of them missed and dropped all over the parking lot.  I was totally clueless for about 10 seconds until Leslsey started laughing.  I stopped and rolled my eyes.  GOSH!  I always do stuff like that!  No matter, I am proud of my awkward self :-)  Or am I a clumsy?  Lesley claims there is a distinction, which is true.  I'm just a little of both haha.

We traipsed up to the next BART station, lugging our pile of books and other goodies along.  Next stop was downtown Berkeley where we decided to grab a bite to eat.  Rather than walking up and the down the blocks looking for something, I decided to make it interesting.  We walked until we hit an intersection and then we would only cross in the direction that the WALK sign was on lol.  Of course we added a few house rules as the game progressed.  If you're at a corner where there's a DON'T WALK sign in both directions, just turn down the sidewalk in the direction you haven't gone down yet.  Crosswalks are wild cards, just choose which direction to go!  With these modifications (and some great running skills for those last minute lights) we found a cool little Mexican/Indian/Pakistani restaurant.  An interesting mix lol, Lesley got Indian and I got Mexican and it was really good.  The people serving us were so nice, I almost forgot to pay!  We chatted about bollywood movies and watched the beginning of Goodburger.  Ah, the good ole nineties....where is Kel now?  Evidently, we're both big Rugrats fans too.  By far THE best Nicktoon from back in the day in my humble opinion lol.

My favorite place in Berkeley was the next stop, $1 ice cream!  John's Ice Cream is awesome, and for $1 a scoop, you can't go wrong!  It was really creamy too; it really hit the spot.  We trained it back down to Fremont, nodding off and snoozing on BART after reading a little of my new Jon Stewart book at the station and on the train.  MAN that guy is hilarious!

Of course, the trip wouldn't be complete without one last little mishap (what us travelers like to call an "added adventure")  After stopping in Berkeley, we didn't have enough on our passes to get out of the Fremont BART station.  We were trapped! (well, there was a swinging door people were walking in/out of, but that's besides the point!)  Lesley and I are all about the rules, and if we believed in the No Food or Drink rule on BART and ate our ice cream outside, we sure as hell weren't going to jump a turnstyle lol!  The ticket machine IN the station (where we were) didn't take Debit or CC and nothing larger than a $5 bill.  Nice.  Luckily, after paying for stuff in Berkeley (they're all about cash up there) I had enough to add fare to mine to get out and then swipe Lesley's ATM card for her's.  Well, these BART folks are pretty crafty.  They know if a ticket hasn't exited the station yet, and so the ticket machines outside the gates won't take the card lol.  My goodness.  BUT, there's a change machine!  I changed a $10 to two $5's and gave the card back to Lesley, who now had enough for fare (and a TON of change in quarters which I happly took back lol).

Oh the stories...and so our trip drew to a close with the ride back to SJ.

Now, I'm all for the adventuring, and I always recommend that people try it, even if it's on their own.  I told Lesley all about how I manage, hanging out at restaurants, exploring new places, the works.  It can be a bit intimidating on your own at first, but you get used to it.  And it forces you to talk to so many people, which I found out in Europe.  And MAN, the things you learn from people are amazing!

Of course, I was so fortunate to have Lesley with me on this little trip.  It's always more fun with another person, especially since we're into a lot of the same things, like hiking and traveling.  And then there's all the random conversations that go along with the tour.  I mean we covered all sorts of random stuff:

  • Hiking and backpacking
  • Random places we'd like to visit
  • Where we will end up (grad schools, careers, that sorta stuff)
  • How silly standardized tests are (I mean, seriously, they're pointless...)
  • Favorite Foods
  • How some people make such a big deal out of Valentine's Day
  • Nicktoons
  • Whatever, you name it, we talked about it
Thanks so much Lesley for the fun trip, hope you had a good time too.  Best travels to everyone out there and I'm sure you'll be hearing from me when the next trip strikes me.

Enjoy your week!


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(In)Decision 2011

Well, it's great to be back after what?  A three month vacation?  Oops :-)  Ok, let's see what have we missed?  Uh....not much lol, so let's just skip over all that.

I've been sitting on this blog entry for quite sometime trying to figure out how to talk about it, but today's little adventure helped me come up with a good analogy for my current situation.

Today was my first adventure biking to work in the rain and it was so much FUN.  Granted there was very little rain, but hey, it was still an experience.  My car was in the shop for repairs, so I actually ended up biking to the car dealer to pick up my car.  I stopped to think about how funny the situation was.  5 years ago, I had NO idea how I'd even get around without a car.

Within the first week of getting my car at Poly I got hit my first friggin week in the student lot.  I had to take in my car to get the dents removed from the bumper for 3 days and I lived 5 miles from campus.  Of course I loved biking back then, but the concept of commuting to school was just not in my dictionary.  Now, thanks to Professor Braun pounding the idea of sustainability into my head, I find my self biking 30 miles to/from work 3 times a week.  I've gone from driving to pick up my bike, which used to break down every other day on the way home from campus to riding my bike to pick up my car which had broken down.  Funny how that works.

Man how times change...

I'm all about change.  I don't know why, but I just seem to thrive off of it, like stress :-)  I guess I need lots of changes to keep busy haha.  For example, if I've been home for more than 2 weekends in a row I absolutely have to take a trip somewhere.  Or if I'm sitting in my room and I'm bored, I'll rearrange everything.  It's just the way I am...or at least have become.

Before college, you would never find me leaving the security of the Grosse Pointe bubble.  I wasn't much for adventure, I just stayed in my 5 square mile patch of metro Detroit and messed with computers.  I never liked going on trips, I stressed out about traffic and I was scared to fly over oceans.

Then something changed.  Dunno what made me do it, but for the first time ever, I made a decision without much sound planning at all.  Going to college in California was probably the first major spontaneous choice I've ever made.  Of course my parents and I did the research, but in the end, my decision was based on a very random feeling: I just wanted to get away.  And so I did.  I drove west for 4 days with my parents to my new home in San Luis Obispo, and I've been in California ever since, enjoying the weather, the outdoors, and all the other great things that make this state great.  And I don't regret it one bit :-)

It truly was a turning point in my life.  I forced myself to socialize and try new things, and I'm so glad I made this choice.  I've become a much more open person whose willing to travel pretty much anywhere.  Hell, I went to Europe on my own for a month.  The old Matt wouldn't be caught dead crossing the Atlantic lol.  I actually socialize with people now, it's kinda scary.  I don't think anybody back at North would recognize me (and I didn't skip the reunion because I'm too cool, I was just jetlagged lol).  I've slowly become less stressed and OCD, especially by the end of college.  I do my best to get away from the computer as much as possible and get outdoors.  I'm just a different person, at least on the outside.  I like to think I still have the midwest charm, although sadly I've lost my accent. :-/  I guess being a nice guy is something that sticks with you lol, and I'm glad it has.

Of course, big decisions come at a price.  I do miss a lot of things about MI (which I've covered before).  The snow, Coney Island, hanging out at our cottage on a humid summer night, tornadoes, fish flies...well maybe not fish flies.  Not to mention my family and friends!  I know we all move on after high school, but I really wished I stayed in contact with you guys back in GP.  To Brenna, Carmine, Alex, Caitlin, Janelle, Ashley, Nathan, Danny, Johnny and everyone else, I still miss you guys and hope all is well.  I do someday hope to return and maybe start a greentech startup in Detroit where there are so many bright people and opportunities to start a business.  I just need to come up with a good idea :-)  Of course, reason tells me this is a hard goal to achieve, but hey, after doing all the things I've done in the past few years, why not right?

So why the trip down memory lane?  Well, after college I moved up here to the Bay Area and had a similar feeling.  Many of my friends from college moved to other cities and I was left in a new place again on my own.  Kristen, I'm so glad you were around, otherwise I would've been so lonely!  Of course I was excited, it was a change right?  A new place to live, a new job, many places to explore, the list continues.  I was a little hesitant about meeting people; even though I had become more social, it still was hard for me to meet people.

It took a good year, but I finally established myself and am finally comfortable saying that I don't mind San Jose.  For the longest time I was obsessed with moving to SF, but I realized that I really do like the various towns that surround the valley, not to mention all the great hiking and biking around here.  Oh, and of course I have to mention my volunteer friends.  What started as just a thought has turned into the best decision I ever made.

One night when I was feeling a little lonely, I was reading a book, and it stated that the best way to get to know people is to "focus more on things that interest you than meeting people."  I thought about it and figured, "Hmm, well I like to help people, what could I do with that?"  I decided I should do volunteer work, which I had hardly ever done up until this point.  And now?  I help lead a group of volunteers in San Jose with some of the greatest people I've ever met.  You guys are all so awesome and I'm so happy I've met all of you!  To Avni, Michelle, Lesley, Aravind, Denise, Melisa, Shailendra and Jose, you guys all rock!

Ok, ok, so why mention all this?  Well I have that itching feeling again that it's time for a change.  And if there's something I want to do, I will get it done.  And so, I've started looking to new opportunities in terms of places to live and grad schools.  But I'm stuck.  On the one hand, I'm excited to move somewhere new, try different things, maybe go back to school.  That's never an issue anymore, I'm always up for a trip!

The problem is leaving what I have behind.  It seems so stupid; I feel like I get settled well enough just to sever all ties and move on to a new life.  Well maybe not sever, but it's hard to keep in touch at a distance.  Why do I do that?  Sure, the experiences are priceless and I'm young so I should do this now and "get it out of my system", but I just have to stop and look around and wonder, "Why?"  I mean I have a great life with awesome friends in a nice, cozy little slice of the world.  Why mess with that?  Unfortunately, those of us who like change like to poke and prod at our lives quite often, don't ask me why.

What should I do?  I'm really in a pickle.  Stay here or move on.  It's always a tough choice, but I'm all about tough choices.  I've turned down studying abroad, I skipped over Italy on my Eurotrip, I moved 3000 miles west, so why not move again?  Ugh, this is so hard!  I know people think I'm "Stan the Man with the Master Plan", I must say, I don't have a plan for this.  What to do?

All I can say is this: something's gonna change this year, but I don't know what yet.  That's just vague enough to work right?  Well, I guess more specifically I mean that I'm not sure if I wanna leave the Bay Area just yet. The people, the opportunities, the sourdough bread...ok well maybe the bread I can find in other places, but the first two are irreplaceable.

I'm hopeful and excited that something big is on the horizon for 2011, I just can't wait to see what it is :-)

Later everyone!


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