Thursday, January 28, 2010

The challenge

Twenty-four years ago today, I was standing in line at the Cook County building, waiting to file some sort of documentation for the law firm at which I was working at the time.

Someone in line behind me, talking to an acquaintance, said, "Didja hear about the shuttle?"

For some reason, I didn't need to hear any more than that. I felt ice in my gut. I knew.

I still grieve when I see the image of that white plume and the two solid booster rockets spiraling away, looking lost. We lost more than seven brave adventurers and a good ship that day. It was true end of the Apollo era, a time when we were all convinced of America's technological invincibility.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


The hill starts to bite back, and I lean into the pedals a bit harder, taking advantage of the toe cages. Sweat is dripping off my brow now and I’m starting to pant steadily. I want a pull from the water bottle but I know I’ll splash it all over my face, and I’ll get myself even more short of breath. It’ll have to wait for the downhill side.

Just a few more yards now. Three, two, one, whew. I open my eyes to enjoy the stunning view from the top:

Two rows of gray Cybex weight machines, and behind them, a wall of glass and a gaggle of elderly women in swim suits getting ready for their water aerobics session.


The machine eases off to simulate the next downhill portion of the “random” course. I pour a few ounces of lukewarm water down my throat. Halfway through the winter, I tell myself. Halfway through.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lunch at Ellie's

Just a quick 10 miles today. Bundled up against the 27-degree temperatures and went to Ellie's Deli for lunch. Ellie's is a new, delightfully eclectic little mom-and-pop shop on Naperville-Plainfield Road just west of 95th. The store combines a medium-sized deli with Boar's Head meats, a small but thoughtful collection of wines, and a selection of "international" groceries. I ordered a chicken panini, which they grilled to perfection, and ate at the single table next to the window.

I love locally owned shops, so I'll have to think of Ellie's when I'm out of lunchmeat or want a bottle of Friday-evening wine.

Thanks to all my cold-weather accoutrement, the ride was relatively comfortable. Wore my hiking boots, which helped keep my toes warm. The ride was also scenic: we had an ice fog last night, and many of the trees were covered with feathery hoarfrost.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bike Winter Bike Swap

Drove up to Palatine today for Chicago Bike Winter's Bike Swap at Harper College. What a great gathering! Wish there had been a ChainLink table or meeting place.

Bought a pair of "lobster gloves," which absolutely rock my hands' world. I also bought a second pannier bag for $30. The new bag is smaller than my Bicycles Etc. full-grocery-bag pannier -- which cost $20 more -- but it has shoulder straps so it can double as a backpack.

In the "bicycle corral," I got to sit on a used Cannondale T800, my dream touring bike. A few minutes on the trainer revealed that the frame was too long for me (thanks, basset-hound legs). An off-the-rack bike probably won't work and I'll need a professional fitting. The staff from The Bike Shop in Glen Ellyn assured me that they stand by to help when I'm ready to set up my Cannondale.

Mrs. Pither bought a skullcap that will apparently allow her hairstyle to survive a motorcycle ride.

After an authentic Malaysian lunch at the nearby Penang Restaurant (a major reason Mrs. P accompanied me on this junket), we headed home. I can say with some authority that Penang serves the best prawn mee this side of Kuala Lumpur, nom nom nom.

Later that afternoon, I got antsy. I had just bought all this new stuff at a Bike Winter event, so it seemed appropriate to take a ride. I scribbled down our shopping list and took off for Casey's grocery store in the 29-degree weather.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable five-mile round trip, thanks to the balaclava, the-not-a-windbreaker-it's-a-shell and my new lobster gloves -- which made my hands the warmest part of my body. Too warm, in fact; it got a little sweaty in there.

I took an actual shopping cart through Casey's. Before I'd taken just a basket, because that was all that would fit in the one pannier bag -- but now I have two bags! Radichio? Sure! Extra loaf of double-fiber wheat bread? Okey-dokey! Hey, Peterson's is having a wine tasting, and wow -- Three Saints cabernet sauvignon is damn tasty! Throw a bottle in the starboard bag!

As I was packing away the wine bottles into the bulging bags, a guy came up and asked to check out my pannier bags. My parking lot friend was impressed with the bags, but not so much with my bike. "That butted aluminum looks really heavy. Man, that's an old frame — don't mean to diss your bike, sorry."

I allowed as how I bought the bike for exercise, so the weight was an actual advantage. I also mentioned that I was in the market for a road bike, like the Cannondale I'd sat on at the bike swap that afternoon.

"Don't buy a bike!" he almost yelled at me. "I'm a Cannondale guy myself, but don't pay for someone else to build it for you. Build it yourself! That's what I do!"

I'm a handy guy with a wrench around cars and motorcycles -- but I won't be building a Cannondale. However, I was glad for the vote of confidence on the brand from someone who apparently knows a little bit about bikes. And I'm glad that I now have the right equipment to ride during at least part of the winter months, starting with my Rock Lobster gloves. Thanks, Chicago Bike Winter!