Aug. 6, 2007

Near Los Nevados, Venezuela.

Photo taken: Aug. 2, 2007


April 11, 2007

I woke early this morning for a long ride, checked the weather and returned to bed.

"The good news," I said, "is that it's not raining. The bad news is that there's an inch of snow."

This is supposed to be a high-volume week of training for me, but 30 degrees in April is somehow less endurable than 10 degrees in January. And mentally I can no longer sit through four minutes on the trainer, let alone four hours.

The worst part of this weather is that there's no recourse. Normally when you are inconvenienced or treated unjustly you can write an angry letter or get a refund or ask to talk to the manager. But what can you do when your training plan is shot and you're heading east into a 25 mph wind and the freezing rain is slapping you silly? Pray angry?


March 28, 2007

Belmont Harbor.

Photo taken: March 24, 2007


Dec. 4, 2006

Mom, from behind a model plant in the children's room at the Garfield Park Conservatory.

Photo taken: Dec. 4, 2006


Sept. 27, 2006

Two recent moments:



The worst part about bouncing down the lakefront path at 20 mph isn't the road rash to your knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, hands and forehead. (Yes, forehead! Even with a helmet!) Nor is it scuffing all your girlfriend's expensive time trial gear. It's not even the embarrassment of having done so all by yourself, without the assistance of cars or other riders.

It's the old man with binoculars who strolls across the grass, hands behind his back, to inspect your sprawled self. "I'm OK, I'm OK," you say, "but maybe I should consider birding instead." He nods in agreement and returns to the trees.



Without breaking stride, the kid descending the stairs ahead of me whips out a black marker and tags "312 Mental" on the wall. I call for his attention, but he pulls his hood tighter over his head and starts walking faster. I have no idea whether he hears me when I yell down Lower Michigan, "You are the coolest guy in the entire world!"


July 10, 2006

Photo taken: July 7, 2006


June 20, 2006

If it's going to storm during a camping trip, there's only one good time for it to do so, and that is while the two of you are making a grocery run. And when you walk out of the grocery and are greeted with a rain as hard as any you've seen, there is only one course of action: Look at each other, look at the beer under each arm, look at each other again, and then sit underneath an eave, split a Spotted Cow and watch as the wind carries grocery carts from one end of the parking lot to the other.

Photo taken: June 17, 2006


Nov. 24, 2005

"You're wearing shorts today."

"It's not so bad in the sun."

And such is my winter strategy: Denial. It's like Bush's Iraq strategy or the baseball union's steroid strategy or an alcoholic's gin strategy: Deny enough times that a problem exists and it will cease to exist. (And it's just as effective.)

I once had a dormmate whose favorite movie was "Top Gun." Midway through each viewing, right before the scene [SPOILER ALERT] where Mother Goose dies, he'd clasp his hands, rock back and forth and say, "This time Goose won't die ... This time Goose won't die ..."

"This time winter won't come ... This time winter won't come ..."

Photo taken: Nov. 24, 2005


Oct. 24, 2005

Five recent moments:



"I'm seeing Sleater-Kinney at Metro. The crowd will all be short lesbians, so at least I'll have a good view of the stage."



When I start a book, I like to get through the first 10 percent in the first sitting. Then, whether it's a good book or not, I continue to flip toward the back to monitor what kind of progress I'm making.

On my 30th birthday, I decide that this is a life hack I wouldn't mind. I don't want any spoilers, thank you, but I wouldn't mind knowing where I am. Halfway through? Nine-tenths? One-tenth???

Also, better footnotes, please.



"I noticed you taking communion."

"Yeah, I didn't want to be the first to not take it. Also, I was sort of hungry."



I'm driving to Ohio with Gus and Conrad. I take a turn behind the wheel, and Gus does Sodoku puzzles in the passenger seat. I realize that this is the problem with Sodoku: Unlike a crossword, there's no potential for collaboration. At no point is Gus going to ask, "What's a one-digit number that's not 3, 4 or 6 and is also not 1, 5, 8 or 9? And if it's 2, then what's a number that's not 1, 2, 6 or 9 and is not ..."



"I'm not sure which is worse: dating or looking for a job. They both have the same, insufferable interview process, the same 'I enjoyed meeting you, let's do it again' follow-up e-mail, the same sense of lonely rejection."

"But if you don't get the job, you can't go home and hire yourself."


Oct. 20, 2005

At Stan Hywet Hall, Akron, Ohio.

Photo taken: Oct. 15, 2005


Oct. 5, 2005

County Line Orchard, Hobart, Ind.

Photo taken: Oct. 2, 2005


Sept. 12, 2005

The light above Last Chance Ranch, Blackwell, Mo.

Photo taken: Sept. 10, 2005


Aug. 25, 2005

Early arrival at the Matteson practice races.

Photo taken: Aug. 16, 2005


Aug. 23, 2005

In the Dana Hanging Gardens, Yosemite National Park.

Photo taken: Aug. 5, 2005


Aug. 18, 2005

The Tuolumne River near Lembert Dome, Yosemite National Park.

Photo taken: Aug. 5, 2005


Aug. 13, 2005

While we waited for "The Night of the Hunter," orange-jacketed security shooed several dozen Canada geese that had been calling Grant Park home, often from one patch of trees to another and then back. It was like a giant game of keep-away.

The geese flew in large, panicked flocks, an activity that to those of us on the grass was more disconcerting than had they remained standing quietly under the trees.

"Whatever you do," someone nearby said, "don't look up!"

"At least not with your mouth open," I thought to add.

Photo taken: Aug. 9, 2005


Aug. 11, 2005

It usually takes about 14 months for me to make a good impression. Right on schedule, then, a great stride was made last week with my nephew, 14 months after I first met him: At the beginning of the trip he would cry as soon as I entered the room. By the end of the trip he'd cry when I left it. (It helped that I would sometimes leave the room carrying his favorite toys. It's a dirty trick to make an uncle feel wanted, but I love him so; all is fair and all that.)

On the trip's last night I stood around the campfire after my brother's ranger talk. He was chatting with visitors and mentioned he was from Wisconsin. Two young women next to me started tittering.

Do you think it's him? He said he's from Wisconsin. It's gotta be. Let's ask him. Yeah, ask him. No, you ask him. No, you ask him.

Hank looked their way and they were silent for a beat, then burst together: "Are you Malcolm's dad!?! He's the GREATEST!"

They'd apparently waited for a shuttle bus with Malcolm and his mother and become big fans.

They were sort of cute, too, but I resisted the urge to point out that I was Malcolm's uncle and, unlike his father, single. Still, it reminded of what great company Malcolm could be around Chicago. Prop him up on the bar and so long as he keeps his fingers out of my Schlitz I'm set.

It wouldn't even have to stop once he's too big to carry. I'm imagining a scene in 20 years when I am 50 and he is 21 and he visits his doddering, still-single uncle in the city. We'll ride our hoverbikes through the park. "This is my nephew," I'll say to the fawning women, "with whom I have common DNA. He pooped today!"

Or maybe I'll just buy a puppy.

Photo taken: Aug. 4, 2005


Aug. 8, 2005

Like the businessman who submits to the cat-of-nine, I am fond of controlled danger, of ordeals with just enough risk to make me hate myself for having entered them willingly but with enough reward to want to do it all again. Comfort, like air conditioning and coffee cream, is for other people.

It's been more than a decade since my last rigorous camping trip and I don't think I've ever done time in the backcountry alone, but for about a year I've been considering a solo trip through Yosemite wilderness. Finally last week I visited my brother and his family -- they spend their summers as rangers in Yosemite's Tuolumne Meadows -- and with borrowed gear embarked on a three-night trek.

The first 48 hours were perfect. I hiked down, through and up the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River. Although I saw none of the bear or rattlesnakes I was promised warned about, I didn't see many people, either. I didn't hear a single car horn or check a single RSS feed.

I'd budgeted the entire last day to make the 8-mile, 3,000-foot climb from Pate Valley to Harden Lake, close to the spot where my family would pick me up the next afternoon. The ascent, however, wasn't nearly as difficult as it looked from the canyon's depths and I was at Harden by 1 p.m. Even though my food was down to a half-pound of trail mix and three Landjager sausages, I decided to add an extra 5-mile spur to my trip with a hike to Smith Meadow.

And that's when everything went to hell.

Unknown to me, a large fire had within the past five years swept through the area west of Harden Lake. Large, sooty logs blocked the trail at dozens of points and it was often hard to find my way again on the other side. Switchbacks never switched back. Elsewhere, lush new growth or swampland swallowed the path, such as in the eye-high flowerbed above. (Do you see a trail there?)

The sun played its share of tricks. Shafts of light resembled well-worn paths until the shadows shifted and I found I'd been lured into a dark dead end with no way out and, against belief, no longer a visible way in.

Losing a trail is like climbing a rope and having the rope abruptly turn to air. The last mile, a long descent into the meadow, was the worst. Even when I knew I was on the trail -- which was rare -- I had to clomp violently through the thicket. Thorns and branches scratched and bloodied my beautiful and sultry cyclist legs.

All I could do that last mile was trace the countour lines down to where Smith Meadow was supposed to be and hope for the best. To avoid the brush I balanced across felled logs arrayed like so many pick-up sticks. Every few minutes I whistled for help. None answered. This bombed-out forest held me alone.

It's funny the things you do when you are lost. (I use the word liberally here. I wasn't really lost. I knew exactly where I was. It was the trail that couldn't keep its bearings worth a damn.) Sometimes I headed opposite my intended direction because the ground that way was more navigable, like searching in the kitchen for an item dropped in the pantry because the light there is better.

I took inventory of who was to blame for this mess. Damn the rangers for not posting a sign at the trailhead: "Caveat urbus: Cityfolk beware." Damn the park system for not adhering to the Chicago grid with a cross street every eighth of a mile. And damn that deer bounding from the brush for making this look so easy.

Then I remembered that this is wilderness, and this crisis was why I was there. Wilderness is a state of mind as much as a location. It is a place without roads but, more important, a place without emergency exits. If it weren't for the possibility of getting lost or falling off a cliff or getting mauled by a bear, this would be just a park, and there would be a security guard on a Segway telling me not to loiter and to be gone by sundown.

Finally I was there in my meadow, a small, uninteresting patch of dry grass that rightly earned the small, uninteresting name of "Smith." An hour later a second hiker came through. He was more seasoned than me -- he wore hiking boots, for example, not running shoes -- and he confirmed that that was the worst trail he'd ever been on.

Through it all I never felt I was in real risk. There was plenty of light left. Weather wasn't threatening. The only danger was if a fall immobilized me or if I stumbled upon a napping bear who enjoys being woken up as much as I do.

The remarkable thing is that after two days with no new insights or revelations, it was during this hour of despair that my thoughts congealed the most. I was reaching for my notebook every few hundred yards. I mentally composed postcards to friends. When I reached camp I transcribed them so that if the next day took a turn for the worse, my friends would know that in my final hours I was thinking of clever things to tell them.

The next day did not take a turn for the worse. I still could only approximate the trail, but I was more patient. After four hours the trail became a road and I knew the trip was almost over. I heard the clip-clip-clip of sprinklers. I saw hikers unburdened by overnight packs.

I passed a father with two skipping children. I'd been out of water for an hour. "How much farther to a cold beer?" I asked.

"You're about four minutes away," he said.

Five minutes later I had the week's first and only moment of panic. I couldn't find my wallet. It wasn't in the compartment I'd put it in. It was in none of my pockets. Then I remembered I'd put it in the bear can. Of course. To keep it safe from ursine pickpockets.

The store at the trailhead had no beer, so I settled for a Powerade, a Häagen-Dazs bar and a half-bag of Doritos a motorcyclist in leather traded me for my story.

I had all the limbs and most of the blood I had started with. The Dead played on the store's radio as I sat at a shaded picnic table. Suddenly the adventures of the previous 24 hours seemed small and barely worth mentioning. I was lost, I became unlost, ho-hum.

I blame the ice cream. What honest man can claim hardship or trouble between licks of a Häagen-Dazs?

Photo taken: Aug. 3, 2005


June 25, 2005

You see things vacationing on a [cycle] in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it's right there, so blurred you can't focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.

Robert Pirsig, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"

Two summers ago I took a camping and cycling trip that stopped in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The best roads I found were along the Mississippi north of Lacrosse, Wis., so after a few days camping with friends at Devil's Lake, western Wisconsin is where I returned this week to spend my vacation time.

Once again the riding was sublime. The shaded hills were mean but beautiful -- conversely, the locals were homely but very friendly -- and for every car there were a hundred cows, for every cow a thousand cornstalks. It's here, in the valleys along County Road G, that I will build my training facility once I win my lottery or marry my heiress. (Candidates for the live-in masseuse(s) may submit applications and schedule interviews now.)

Base camp was at Perrot State Park in Trempealeau, Wis. A train parallels the river every thirty minutes. At the Wildflower Cafe, where the French toast is as thick as a bible, the old-timers crowd the counter each morning to, as they were doing two years ago, complain about local government and wonder how bad this drought is going to get.

When I wasn't riding I was reading, watching amateur baseball and enjoying the light of solstice. (Also: swatting mosquitoes. Shaving my legs yesterday was like running a slalom course.)

Even on the most perfect vacation, however, I get solemn. For years I've had a Kundera-like aversion to kitsch, but it gets exaggerated on a trip once I remember that the freedom and relaxation are temporary, that the hours that seem so endless are indeed running out. On a vacation I become sad not only because I cannot forever live this life -- napping with aplomb, riding without a destination, dining without a budget -- but because nobody can. While functional people are enjoying a sunset, vista or other supposedly fun thing, I am quietly exhaling sighs of regret and nostalgia. I know, it's sick, but If ever I seem like I'm not having enough fun, know that it's likely because I'm in fact having too much.

Photo taken: June 22, 2005


April 27, 2005

Near Bryn Mawr.

Photo taken: April 19, 2005


March 23, 2005

Two recent moments:



I'm riding home from a trip up the North Branch Trail. Three large, snow-white feather dusters float across the road about 20 yards ahead. They belong to three bounding deer.

In the woods to my right are a dozen more deer, and their tails are also in full plumage. They look like ghosts wandering through the trees. I stop and watch with a woman walking her dog. She says she thinks saw a coyote, so this must be how deer express their sense of danger, much in the way our species might knock knees and urinate.



There's a young boy and his young mother in the seat ahead of me. The boy turns around and looks at me.

"Can I see your game?"

"My what?"

"Your game!"

"Oh, this. It's a radio." I show him my iPod and give him one of the earbuds. It's playing Portishead, which I assume isn't his thing. I scramble to think of something from my library an urban 4-year-old might like. "'Hey Ya!'" I think. "Everyone loves 'Hey Ya!'"

But by the time I find "Hey Ya!" his mother has yelled at him to turn around, which he does, leaving the earbud dangling on the seat.

He starts to cry, and I realize that the iPod wasn't even on. I'd paused it so I could eavesdrop on three gangbangers who were comparing experiences in Cook County Jail. (Memorable quote: "You don't even realize how much you stink until you get outside, and then it's like, 'Fuuuuuck!'")


Feb. 13, 2005

At the Garfield Park Conservatory.

Photo taken: Feb. 12, 2005


Feb. 5, 2005

The skyline, from near Foster Avenue Beach.

Photo taken: Jan. 27, 2005


Feb. 4, 2005

Near Foster Avenue Beach, with fake Lomo affect applied afterward.

In all things purity, and for me that includes photography. I'm suspicious of photos that have been manipulated in the lab in Photoshop. It speaks to my journalism background: I believe that any photo, whether a .jpg or a print, should faithfully depict what the photographer saw through her viewfinder.

Add some extra contrast here and some masking there and a photo ceases to be a photo and starts to be an illustration or a drawing or a lie. For this reason I tend to be dismissive of the Flickr group Technique: Too many of the threads have to do with aftereffects. For me, technique stops once the shutter is released.

But this photo needed some help. I'd accidentally been overexposing everything I shot at the rocks on this day but I was keen on salvaging this shot. Thus the fake Lomo effect, which I hope elevates a bad photo to an average one.

Photo taken: Jan. 27, 2005


Feb. 2, 2005

Near Lawrence Avenue.

Photo taken: Jan. 27, 2005


Feb. 1, 2005

Foster Avenue Beach.

Photo taken: Jan. 27, 2005


Jan. 23, 2005

Humboldt Bay.

Photo taken: May 8, 2004