birds of a cranky feather


Creationists, global warming denialists, anti-vaccine proponents – what do they have in common? They all think scientific consensus is either outright wrong or just an opinion put forth for some political or monetary reason. All three groups are motivated by ideology.

How do we know they’re motivated by ideology? Because they completely ignore equally solid scientific confirmation in areas that don’t push their buttons. You rarely hear a creationist complain about Newton’s laws of motion and want to ban teaching them in school. Not many climate change deniers write editorials trying to tear down the theory behind how bumblebees fly.

Only when a pet belief is threatened do people suddenly become experts or at least doubters regarding a field they know little about.

I’m not saying I’m immune from this sort of thing. In fact, if I was told that chocolate is really bad for me — a slow-acting poison — I would have a difficult time with it, even if the majority of biologists, nutritionists, pathologists, and so on, all converged on the same truth and published it in top peer-reviewed journals.

“You can have my choco when you pry my cold, dead fingers from the wrapper!”

“It’s a conspiracy by Big Flavor – the vanilla and strawberry marketers.”

May we all finally come around when the evidence is in our faces and not be grumpy birds.


carnival ride in a hole in the ground

A view along the scenic route.

A view along the scenic route.

This weekend Liz and I bicycled along the Iron Horse Trail again, this time traversing the darkness of the 2.5 mile Snoqualmie Railroad tunnel that travels under a mountain pass. (Official sources say 2.3 miles, others say a bit longer.)

The first thing that happens when you ride into the tunnel is you quickly remember that your eyes are not accustomed to the blackness, even with a bike headlight on. I rode in near blindness for a few minutes, and even then it was not easy to see bumps and rocks in the path ahead in the 15-to-20-foot wide tunnel.

The next thing we noticed is a 40+ degree drop in temperature. It was 90 on the outside, much colder in the nether world. A sweat-soaked cotton shirt is not the ideal apparel for subterranean cool. An extra treat is ice-cold drops of water dripping onto your back and head from the tunnel roof.

It’s spooky in there. Lights from bikers and walkers are visible far ahead into the mostly straight tunnel. A light in the distance may be literally a mile away, or 50 feet. And the opening on the far side – at first you can’t distinguish it from someone’s flashlight. Add to that the echoing of voices, the barely visible walls passing by on either side, the occasional ghostly humans, and you have a good fun-house ride.

After an interminable time, the opening at the far end gradually resolved, enlarged, and came into focus. We finally spilled out onto east side of the Cascade mountain range. Unlike the opposite entrance, there is a cold breeze blowing out of the tunnel here and we had to keep riding well beyond the mouth to find warmth. Why was the air moving west to east? Does it follow prevailing winds?


Emerging in a cold breeze.

Not far from this entrance is a car parking area, near the interstate. We stopped there to warm up and have a snack.

A group of 30 people arrived. Lots of kids, but all ages represented. They met for a short meeting, then headed toward the tunnel on foot, flashlights in hand. Since we had reached the halfway point in our 42-mile ride, and would soon be heading back through the tunnel, we knew we’d be sharing underground real estate with these walkers.

A few minutes later a group of about 50 young runners filed out of a bus. They gathered together, a leader addressed them, and then they jogged toward into the tunnel. We’d have to deal with them in the dark also. Woo hoo! Underground party!

A half hour later we reentered the echoing, dank passage. After a quarter-mile or so, bobbing lights drifted down the corridor in our direction – these were runners on the return trip. Occasionally we’d encountered what we used to call “darkwads” when I attended the Burning Man festival: people with no lights at all, coming right at you or sitting in your path. Swerve to avoid. A mile later I started encountering clumps of people with kids, spread out across the width of the tunnel. Parents vainly tried to herd them to one side. Swerve to avoid. Don’t hit the wall.

When we finally got out of the cold passageway, we had a common feeling about the experience. As carnival rides go, this one isn’t much fun. The tunnel of love, it ain’t. Interesting to do once, or to get from Point A to Point B, but not a primo cycling experience overall.

A cool stream in extreme heat.

A cool stream in extreme heat.

the smudgers



Approaching my friend’s apartment this past weekend, we noticed a cloud of smoke wafting away from the porch and feared that the place was on fire. On closer inspection, the smoke was emerging from the apartment next door. A neighbor emerged from inside with a fat bundle of burning vegetation in his hand.

The neighbor was burning dried sage, “purifying” the apartment after an unpleasant event. The entire area was enveloped in stinky gray smoke. I believe this type of “cleansing” is mainly performed by white folks in North America who think they have borrowed something authentic from Native Americans.

indigenous wisdom

The bundle of herbs is called a smudge stick, and the practice is called smudging. To quote Wikipedia, “The American English term ‘smudge stick’ is usually found in use among non-indigenous people who believe they are imitating North American Native ceremonies.”

If you search on “smudging” you’ll find a bajillion web sites telling you how to do it: “Easy House Smudging Step by Step,” “Clear Your Energy and Lift Your Spirits with the Sacred Art of Smudging.” You can find “smudge kits” for sale, along with sticks and herbs – accoutrements of all kinds plus manuals.

It’s reminiscent of the “plastic shaman” appropriation of native culture found in many places, such as the books of Lynn Andrews. There’s a short film on this subject if interested.

but why?

Setting aside the fumbling, culturally blind part of this, what do people believe is actually happening when they light up some sage? Maybe it’s a symbolic way of turning a new page and putting the past to rest. I can understand that, though I think I could come up with my own creative way of marking it.

From reading about this on various new age sites, however, many think that there are actual “bad vibes,” troubled spirits, and disruptions in The Force in the environment that must be eliminated. They can’t be, you know, actually found, but you can just feel the bad energy. Maybe the spirits of the sage plant are released upon burning, and they go forth and chase away the misbehaving imps and unsightly vibrations in the environment.


Getting back to the neighbors with the cloud of smoke pouring out of the door –- they soon set off the smoke detector in the apartment and rushed to turn it off. In retrospect, I think they realized that a huge burning bush full of sage wasn’t required.

I wonder if they needed to burn a little more sage to eradicate the bad effects of too much sage? Or maybe there’s a different herb to combat over-smudging. If you over-smudge you might get too much sage energy and create invisible energy stalagmites that have to be trimmed.


more cycles


Now that I have my bike back and repaired I’m ramping up again to train for that first 106-mile day of the RSVP. Today there wasn’t much time so I rode the Burke-Gilman Trail.

¿Que es mas loco? The people with no bike helmets at all, or the people who have a helmet attached to a backpack or hung from the handlebars?

Thank you, woman-on-the-bike-trail-who-lost-control-of-your-dog. It was just terrific to come around a curve and see your dog running across the trail, it’s leash stretched out across the entire path like a deadly booby-trap. I braked hard and no one got hurt … this time.

Earlier in the ride, another couple with a dog took up the width of the trail while they dithered about what direction to take. They seemed utterly oblivious to bicycles coming at them from both directions.

If only the world was as courteous and thoughtful as me, the perfect bicyclist.


my bicycle is a delicate flower



Am I just a cranky old guy complaining, or do I have a point? You decide. I’ve had a new bike for four months. Cannondale Quick CX 4. I was riding it the other day, came to a quick stop, ended up losing my balance and fell over, dang it. I picked myself up and continued on my way. Then two things happened.


I noticed that the bike saddle was loose. Next time I stopped it came off completely and would not fit back on except in a very temporary configuration. It wasn’t visibly damaged, but the “rails” had come out their holders. At home I tried to put the rails back into the saddle to no avail. On the phone with the bike shop they told me that once the bike saddle was “sprung” out of place, it was not repairable. I asked about the bike warranty and a repair-human told me there would be no warranty because I had “crashed.”

I became cranky.

Really? My fricking bike seat is so dainty that if my bike tips over it’s toast? Should I have a supply of saddles in a closet at home? Do they make bike seats so much crappier today than in the past or am I just lucky that this has never happened before?

Fortunately when I visited the store in person, the technician helping me was much more reasonable and gave me a replacement seat at no charge. He said the ones that come with new bikes are much like the crappy spare tires you get with cars.


The other thing that occurred was more serious. I noticed the chain was rattling a little bit, intermittently. I figured my derailleur would need some adjustment when I got home. But a half-mile later I shifted gears and there was a horrendous crunching noise. I found my entire derailleur assembly twisted into a horrible shape and wrapped partway around a spoke. Drive train trashed. I later learned that if my bike ever falls over I need to check the derailleur hanger and see if the fall has bent it. Turns out it’s designed to bend so it take the pressure instead of the frame. And if I do bend that hanger I need to quit riding my bike and take it to a shop. “It’s one of the most common repairs we do,” says bike-repair human.

I felt cranky.

Have bikes become delicate flowers? On my upcoming two-day ride must I live in fear of my bike getting bumped and sustaining catastrophic damage? Maybe my ignorance of the concept of deliberately weakened derailleur hangers is no excuse. But it feels like a good one. 

All right. It is a rather light-weight bike compared to my last one. I paid for light weight. An aluminum frame can’t be as strong as steel. The repair human said that even lying the bike down on the derailleur side is chancy. Wish they would have told me how frail and sensitive my bike was before I had to spend those repair dollars.

If I lean my bike against a tree and someone knocks it over, my drive train and seat might both be ruined? Is that right? Cannondale calls this cycle a great road bike and “the perfect vehicle for dirt road adventuring, off-road shortcuts.” I would add, “As long as it doesn’t get bumped, tipped over, or laid on the ground the wrong way. Otherwise it’s perfect.”