07 December, 2014

Christmas By Bike

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For many people Americans, there is a a firm dividing line between the Thanksgiving and holiday period following it, where you must give Thanksgiving its due before moving on to Christmas, Hanukah, Festivus, etc. You put lights on your house before the 28th of November, and your name gets removed from your neighbor’s Christmas card list. You listen to Christmas music at the office and your co-workers groan, visibly discomforted by your eagerness for Santatime to arrive. Getting an early jump on the December holidays is seen as bad form.

Here in Europe, that problem of course does not exist, because they had the sense to clear the calendar of all conflicting holidays leading up to the start of the new year. So from All Souls Day to the 31st of December, it’s pretty much Christmas around these parts. Sure there are special days interspersed throughout, but they all have something or another to do with that big day on December 25th.

The Mrs. and I however, forever faithful to the American way, waited until after November 27th to crack open the bin of holiday décor. And this year, we decided to get a real Christmas tree.

As explained to me by our neighbor, we are fortunate to have a Christmas tree farm right in the village where we live. The other trees you buy are imported from Norway or Scandinavia and will invariably drop their needles all over your house. So we decided to shop locally and pick out a proper German tree (which come to find out, was actually Canadian, in species anyway). They were all rather short compared to giant, SUV-sized, American trees I’m accustomed to, but that just means your lights cover that much more of the tree’s surface area.

Oh, and I really wanted to use the dog-kennel trailer to bring it home.

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So we got on our bikes and rode to the man’s house who owns the little tree farm. It’s literally less than two blocks away, but I feel like my plan would have worked regardless of distance. The man asked which variety of tree we would like, and I told him whichever one is best. So he pointed us in that direction, we picked out our tree, and he kindly cut it for us.

20 Euro later, it was ours and we bungeed it securely into the trailer.

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[You can see on the bottom of the bike I installed a double-legged kick stand which makes a world of  difference in loading/unloading from the trailer. I was worried it would affect my clearance off-road, but soon realized my style of riding is far too mild for it to cause me any problems. Also, it’s easily removed.]

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I almost wish the tree farm was farther away, because I did not have much time to savor the self-reliance of transporting a tree on a bicycle. Alas, the short trip gave us more time to spend decorating the tree and merging two cultures into new traditions of drinking Glühwein while listening to Bing Crosby on the stereo.

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Happy holidays from Bicyclist Abroad!

 

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02 December, 2014

Winter Light

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Much like the setting of the Swedish film, it is utterly bleak and mostly silent outside. A degree above freezing and sunlight reduced to a diffused glow, it doesn’t look like there’s going to be any better time to ride. Last week the Mrs. returned from the States and I coincidentally acquired the flu, so I hadn’t been out on a bike until today. The cold nights of a few weeks ago have turned into cold days, and although I see people riding about in it, I was slightly reluctant to do so myself. Having grown up in the Northeast and spending four years in Alaska, I’ve been told countless times that “your blood will thicken”. Now, while I’m sure that there are varying degrees to which the viscosity of blood may vary, I don’t think it has anything to do with keeping you warm. So despite living in colder climates my whole life, I’m just as cold as anybody (except maybe the Mrs. who is frequently much colder), so I’ve stopped waiting for a transformation to occur and started trying to wear appropriate cold weather clothing.

Today, I went out for a test ride in anticipation of a much longer ride later on. I wore a Smartwool long-sleeve shirt that has half a dozen holes in it, but was too expensive to throw away, and tan polyester leggings the Air Force gave me as a base layer. On top of that was a Polypropylene half-zip and my reflective Crane cycling jacket from Aldi, and a pair of REI wind-resistant pants. On my feet were wool-blend Bicycle Times socks (they’re perpetually on clearance) and my Giro MTB shoes. On my hands were insulated gloves made out of some technical fabric, and most importantly an UnderArmour balaclava over my head to keep my ears from falling off.

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I set out with Ardie my dog, who never wears any clothing yet seems to do just fine. The muddy parts of the road have coalesced becoming harder and more easily traversed than when it’s warmer outside, but there is still plenty of wet mud along the edges underneath the leaves. I know this because Ardie liked to run in them and came back a few shades darker than when we left.

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Off of the road and into the woods, my core was sufficiently warmed up, but I was starting to feel the cold in my toes and fingers. The Giro MTB shoes offer little in the way of insulation, as I’m sure they were intended to instead keep your feet from sweating. Next time, thicker socks, I tell myself.

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Further into the woods. Here, the coniferous trees are all lined up in rows, creating a very strange effect as you pass by. By now, my toes were very cold and my fingers were getting numb so I was 90% sure it was time to head back. The rest of my body was fine. I asked Ardie how he was holding up and he did not respond.

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Part of the way back was able to be done on a paved road where I had hoped to dislodge some of the mud and debris with some targeted bouncing and higher RPMs. Using a hose, even if I had one, in this weather is out of the question, so a clean bicycle is something that will have to wait.

For my next ride, assuming the weather stays the same, I will fit more sock into my shoe, probably one of my thick wool ones, and find a pair of proper winter gloves that will keep my fingers warm at the expense of dexterity. There’s no gears on my MTB, so as long as I can depress the brake levers, I’ll be A-OK.

The winter brings a set of challenges to bicycling, but the key is to make it fun. And to wear the right clothes, because no matter what someone has told you, your blood isn’t getting any thicker.

- Bicyclist Abroad

20 November, 2014

Bicyclist Abroad Reviews a Film: The Triplets of Belleville

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The Triplets of Belleville is a 2003 animated movie that I remember seeing the trailer for and at the time, had very mixed feelings about. The animation looked frantic and grotesque, and frankly, I was a little terrified of watching it. I think I went to see the third Lord of the Rings installment instead, and forgot all about The Triplets of Belleville.

Over a decade later, my taste in movies has significantly changed. I have an unfortunate preference for B-horror movies, Hallmark movies, and dark comedies. While I don’t always “get” David Lynch, I appreciate his films. That sort of thing. So when I saw that the Triplets of Belleville was on Netflix, I decided to give it a watch.

Now, there is an opening sequence that is sort of a flashback and it sets up the rest of the story. In it is a dancing Josephine Baker wearing only bananas, the aforementioned (fictional) triplets, and Fred Astaire, who is somehow eaten by his own shoes. (I’m sorry if that was a spoiler, it’s not a major plot point.) If you can get through this portion of the film, you can handle the rest of it.

The main part of the story revolves around three cyclists, the French mafia, an old woman who can true a wheel atop a miniature Eifel Tower, and her dog. The triplets only have a part in the third act of the film. It takes place in France and New York, but they somehow bleed together into a place that approximates neither of those. There is no dialogue, but that aspect adds to its appeal in my opinion. It is beautifully illustrated and does a good job of straddling the line between charming and downright creepy. The characters and buildings and vehicles are all disproportioned to an extreme degree, except for the bicycles which were impeccably illustrated.

Since there is no dialogue, much of the comedy is through slapstick or sight gags, but you’re not beaten over the head with it. The parts of the movie I found myself laughing at the most were Bruno the dog’s dream sequences, where we are shown surreal, black-and-white images involving the things he thinks about the most, mostly being the train outside his home and his food bowl. There is so much to be said about this movie, but I will defer to the late Roger Ebert’s review:

There is not even a way I can tell you what the film is "like," because I can't think of another film "like" it.

The trailer is below, but if you have Netflix I would recommend just going ahead and watching it. Action, suspense, old ladies with grenades, bicycles… it’s got something for everyone.

 

- Bicyclist Abroad