Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category


Free On Two Wheels – Part I – Equipment

December 9, 2010

After blogging about my 300 mile bicycle adventure, several folks asked me for advice about preparing for and taking a long bicycle trip, so many that I have decided to write about this topic.

Today’s Topic – EQUIPMENT


If you are planning to take a bike tour with a tour company, you may not even need to own a bike as many tour companies provide or rent them. Some bike shops even rent bicycles to folks, especially in resort towns or large communities. This option can eliminate headaches and generally provides an opportunity for you to ride a high-end bike, one your budget may not afford you to purchase. With that being said, however, you will need to have a bike available for training. I do not recommend taking any sort of bike trip without training.

If you plan to do a lot of riding, want to get into this sport and/or plan to take more than one long trip or just plan to ride regularly, you should probably invest in your own ride. And if you are planning or considering taking a long bicycle trip, one of the first things you should do is make sure you have an appropriate bicycle. If you have been to a bicycle shop recently, you know there are a wide variety of bicycles from which to choose. Road bikes, racing bikes, tri bikes, mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, touring bikes, fitness bikes, and cruiser or beach bikes to name several. The type of trip, terrain you plan to cover, whether you will have SAG support of be self sufficient, are all factors you should consider when choosing the type of bicycle most appropriate for your needs.

Road Bike

Road bikes come in a variety of configurations and can range dramatically in price, from entry level to professional.  It is not uncommon for serious cyclists to spend several thousand on a high-end road bike. Price will be dictated by frame material, brand and components. While you can use a road bike for a long trip, they are best suited for supported tours where your luggage will be transported by a vehicle. Few road bikes are rack ready. And on a long trip, while the lightweight nature of the road bike will make it easier to ride and allow you to ride faster, you will feel every bump in the road.  In addition, you will ride in a more hunched over aerodynamic position. This can be uncomfortable on very long rides, creating greater back strain. On a SAG supported trip on paved roads, a road bike will serve you fine. But if you are planning a self-supported trip where you will be carrying your own gear, a road bike is probably not your best choice.

Touring Bike

Touring bikes are specifically designed for long distance touring or riding. Most come ready for racks and are made to withstand loads and absorb the roughness of the many roads you will travel. A touring bike’s frame is generally heavier and sturdier than those on many road bikes. A fully loaded touring bike will take much more abuse and comes with wheels/tires designed for this type of riding. Tires are wider than on a road bike and tend to hold up better to high mileage and heavy loads and are suitable for riding on both paved and unpaved roads. Touring bikes  also offer long-ride-friendly gears and frame geometry that puts you in a more comfortable riding position than that of a traditional road bike. You will need racks if you will be self- supported on your trip (carry your own supplies and belongings), and will also need panniers in which to pack your belongings. Panniers can be attached to both the front and rear racks as needed. If you are considering riding a great distance and will be self-supported, you will want to consider a touring bike.

Hybrid/Fitness Bike

Some hybrid or fitness bikes may do well on a long distance trip. The hybrid bike is designed for use off and on road and generally is heavier than a road bike with wider tires.  There are, however, fitness bikes that are extremely light. The handlebars on these type of bicycles are generally straight across instead of the dropped handlebars traditionally found on road and touring bikes. Some hybrid or fitness bikes come ready for installation of a back rack and a few brands will accommodate a front rack.  Here again, hybrid/fitness bikes range in price from a few hundred to several thousand.

Tri – Bike

Tri-bikes are specialty bicycles used by triathletes. They are generally very light and come equipped with aero bars. While a tri bike could be ridden on a long trip, this is not the type of riding most suited to this bicycle.

Cruiser/Beach Bike

Cruiser or beach bicycles are not recommended for long distance bicycle trips. These bikes are designed for leisurely riding about the neighborhood or along the beach. They have very wide tires and often, are limited to just a few gears. Some even have no gears and no hand brakes, just the old fashioned type of cruiser brakes that you activate by pushing backwards on the pedals.

Mountain Bikes

If your long trip will be on dirt roads or mountain trails, you will want to consider a mountain bike.  Mountain bikes are designed for off road and trail riding. As with road bikes, this type of bicycle comes in many configurations with a variety of components. You can easily spend several thousand on a high-end mountain bike. If your long ride is mostly or entirely on paved roads, a mountain bike is not your best choice.

My Ride Choice

Prior to my long ride, I researched several different bicycle options. Initially, I had planned to ride one of my two road bikes on my adventure. I have a Specialized Roubaix Elite and a Specialized S Works Tarmac SL 2.  They are very different bicycles. The Roubaix is one of the entry level road bikes from Specialized and was perfect for my needs at the time; training, occasional charity rides and general exercise. I rode the Roubaix for a few years and enjoyed it thoroughly. It is fairly light and handles well. Perfect for my new venture into cycling.

About a year ago, when visiting my local bike shop to drop off my Roubaix for a tune up, I fell in love. Of course, while at the shop I had to check out the current offerings. On a rack loaded with bikes that were above those displayed on the floor I noticed an absolutely gorgeous Specialized S Works Tarmac SL2.  What a beautiful bike! It had been customized for a customer who later decided not to go forward with his purchase. And the best part, the bike was drastically discounted. After taking it for a test ride, I was sold. This bike was lighter than my Roubaix and came with higher end components. My riding was going to the next level.

When I initially envisioned my adventure, my plan was to ride the SL2 since we would have SAG support. And I had been putting in a lot of miles on that bike. But after doing some reading and talking with folks who have been on such trips, it became pretty clear that my SL2 was not the best choice. Yes, it is light and fast, but I would feel every bump in the road. And who wants to feel every bump when you will be in the saddle 8 – 10 hours a day? Plus, the geometry is such that I would be in a bent over position most of the day, even when my hands were on the hoods. While my Roubaix would probably be the better option, most of the folks I talked to suggested I look into and consider a touring bike, especially if I wanted to do any other long trips, which I did and do. When it became clear that I would be riding a couple of days without SAG support, I knew that I needed to explore other options as I would need to haul my own gear for those few days.

After doing some research on the internet and talking with several people, both those I met who were currently on long rides and experts at my local bike shop, I decided that a touring bike was the best option for me. Ultimately, after exploring several different brands and models, I settled on a Surly LHT (Long Haul Trucker.) Everyone I spoke to who had this bike absolutely loved it.  And after my trip, I certainly share this sentiment. My Surly LHT is nothing short of excellent. It is heavier than my road bike, but built specifically for touring. And the price was reasonable for what the bike came with. I added a rear rack, upgraded the seat, added clipless pedals and purchased rear panniers. While I did have SAG support during most of my ride, I spent one-and-a-half days riding solo so needed to haul my belongings. I also plan to take additional long trips in the future. I know this bike will serve me well and meet all my touring needs.

Find A Good Bike Shop

No matter what bike you choose, I highly recommend you purchase it from a reputable bike shop with experienced employees. You owe it to yourself to search out and find a high quality professional bike shop with knowledgeable staff. They can be invaluable in your education (if you are new to cycling) and help you choose the best bike for you and your needs. In addition, a good bike shop will gladly take the time to answer all your questions, make recommendations and more importantly, ensure you get the proper size bike and fit you on the bike you purchase. This is not a bike you want to buy from a sporting goods store, guess at proper seat height, hop on and take off. The proper size and fit will ensure a more efficient and comfortable riding experience. And, if you plan to be in the saddle for high daily mileage on a long trip, you will want to be as comfortable as possible.

Additional Equipment

It is absolutely necessary that you purchase a helmet for your trip. It is never a good idea to ride a bicycle without wearing a helmet. A helmet can make all the difference between a serious head injury and no injury.  There is no need to spend several hundred dollars on a helmet, and it is possible to do that. You simply want something that will provide adequate protection in the event of a fall.

You will also want a decent pair of riding gloves. Riding gloves have padding on the palms and thumb pad and will absorb some of the vibration from the road, helping to keep your arms and upper body fresh. You can ride without wearing them but you will be more comfortable on a long distance ride with gloves.

Clipless pedals are recommended. They will maximize your pedaling power and efficiency. You will also need cycling shoes to go with your clipless pedals. If you have never ridden with clipless pedals, you will want to give yourself plenty of time to get used to them. Most riders fall a few times because they forget to “clip out.” Once you get used to these pedals, however, you will be glad you have them.

Bike Shorts/Tights – Bike shorts are designed to cushion your hind quarters and genital area and reduce the friction from sitting on a bicycle saddle for hours at a time. On a long ride, you will want this extra comfort. There are many different brands and price ranges to choose from. Ask your cycling friends what brands they like. Be sure to buy some chamois crème to use with your shorts, especially on those very long rides.

Cycling Jersey – Although not necessary, cycling jerseys are moisture wicking and comfortable. Not to mention that they look cool and come in an infinite variety of colors, patterns and styles. They often have pockets on the back where you can easily store snacks, a cell phone, etc.

I recommend purchasing all bicycle clothing via the internet. You will find much greater variety and more reasonable prices if you buy on line than you will if you purchase these items at a bike shop. You can also find some great deals at the expos that generally accompany many cycling events.

Racks – If you plan to haul your belongings and travel necessities on your bike, you will need to add racks. Racks are available for both the front and rear of the bike. There are a variety of racks available. Your bike shop can make recommendations. Some bicycle manufacturers sell racks that are specific for their bikes.  And others include a rack or racks with their touring bikes. The back rack I added to my Surly LHT was also made by Surly. Whether you need both a front and rear rack will depend on the distance you plan to travel and whether or not you will have SAG support.

Panniers – If you are planning a self-supported trip, you will need panniers. Whether you need both rear and front panniers will depend on the distance and length of your ride. Obviously, the greater the distance and longer the length of your trip the more you will need to pack. There are a wide variety of shapes, sizes and style of panniers available. I settled on a pair of Arkel rear panniers and found them perfect for my needs. As with other equipment, panniers range dramatically in price. I suggest you speak with folks who have toured to find out what they used and how they liked them. There are also several excellent web sites with information about different types of panniers and the pros and cons of various brands.

Seat – Because you will be in the saddle for extended periods of time, you may want to upgrade your seat from that which comes standard with your bicycle. If you are a woman, you can get a seat specifically designed for a woman’s physiology. Padding and width can vary as can comfort. Your bike shop can make some recommendations.

Garmin/Bike Computer – A Garmin/bike computer is a very valuable tool for both training and touring. Depending on the model and accessories you purchase, your Garmin or other bike computer can track such things as your training progress, mileage/distance, time elapsed, miles per hour, heart rate, cadence, incline, calories burned and map features. I always ride with my Garmin because I like to know how far I have ridden, how fast and to keep an eye on my cadence. Bike computers range in price depending on brand and features.

Sunglasses – You will want a pair of sunglasses that fit snugly and don’t fall off when you shake your head. You definitely need eye protection.

Sunscreen – Because you will be out in the sun for hours at a time, you will absolutely want to cover yourself in sunscreen.

Water bottles – Your bike will probably come with at least one, and most like two places where you can attach cages to hold water bottles. My Surly LHT came with three locations for water bottle cages. On any ride you need to ensure that you stay hydrated. That makes this accessory a necessity. Water bottles are not very expensive and you should at least have a couple. You can get plain bottles or spend a little more for insulated bottles.

There are several other accessories you should consider such as a Camelback, all-in -one tool, spare tubes and tires, air pump, under seat pack, handle bar pack, gels and energy bars, sports drink, socks, leg warmers, arm warmers, rain jacket, mirror, lights, etc.

I have attempted to cover some of the basics about equipment in this piece and hope you find it helpful. Riding has given me a sense of freedom, peace and accomplishment. I wish the same for you. Good riding!


300 Miles in Five Days: Fighting Fifty Part II

November 12, 2010

I didn’t sleep much the night before the big ride. For some reason, I was nervous and anxious. Would I be able to ride high mileage for several days in a row? Had I trained enough? Would I make it? And yet, I was also excited. I was about to embark on a new adventure.

After dressing in my riding clothes early the morning of our departure, I checked my panniers and double-checked them, making sure I had packed enough energy gel, energy bars and snacks for munching on the road. I loaded my bicycle with lightly packed panniers onto the bike rack of the car and woke my wife to drive me across town to the Starbucks where we were to meet my riding companion. Our plan was to start our ride from a Starbucks midway between our homes. It was 6:00 a.m. We would be on the road in an hour.

I had mapped our trip via google maps which offers a bicycle route feature. The first day we would ride from La Quinta, CA to Brawley, CA, approximately 85 miles of mostly flat terrain, with some very slight climbs. I had never ridden this far and hoped I would finish without being completely spent. I clipped a 3×5 index card to my handle bar bag that had our route, turn by turn.

After coffee, a high carb breakfast and hugs goodbye, we set off from Starbucks with two friends in tow who rode the first few miles with us. The first part of our journey was on side streets with low traffic. We travelled through neighborhoods I hadn’t visited before and entered the rural area flush with date farms. I felt strong.  We conversed about all sorts of things as we rode. So far so good.

My brother-in-law served as SAG support. He would drive the route and stop periodically to provide us with water, snacks and the like and to encourage us on. Every ten miles or so we would see him by the side of the rode and stop for a few minutes, refilling water bottles if necessary, making adjustments to our bikes as needed and stretching our legs.

My sister-in-law (who is 66 years young) planned to only ride part of each day, as much as her energy and stamina permitted. She would start each morning with me, stop when tired and possibly resume riding the latter part of the day.

After about 20 – 25 miles, my sister-in-law decided to take a break and joined her husband in the SAG vehicle. I was now on my own. As the miles ridden mounted up, my energy started to lag. And now I was on the part of our route that included some long, slight inclines. A 2% grade doesn’t sound like much, but on a heavy touring bike with loaded panniers, it feels steep and never ending. By the time I broke for lunch, I was only about half-way to Brawley. And I was low on energy. I needed to stretch my legs and re-fuel.

The last 15-20 miles were very challenging. My sister-in-law rejoined me and we rode triumphantly into Brawley, arriving about 2:30 p.m. We checked into the local Best Western, enjoyed hot showers and took short naps. That night we went to dinner at a local Italian restaurant to carbo load for the next day, a day I knew would be hell on two wheels. (If you are ever tempted to eat at an Italian restaurant owned, run by, and completely staffed with asian people, go to a different restaurant!)

In planning this trip, I knew that the second day would be the hardest day of the ride. We would be travelling from Brawley to the Yuma, AZ area on back roads that took us through some very hilly terrain through Glamis, a recreational haven for ATV’s, rails, dune buggies and off road motorcycles. The ride traversed rolling hills with some very steep inclines and some long gradual inclines. The surrounding landscape was comprised of mostly desert terrain, no large trees, no shade and a lot of sand dunes. So in addition to challenging terrain, it would be hot.

I knew the day would be tough when I didn’t sleep well the night before and when I had low energy at the start of the ride. My speed was 3 miles per hour slower than the day before. Maybe this was normal for a second day and after riding 85 miles. I pushed myself to pedal on. After about 20 miles, my sister-in-law once again took her mid-day break and converted from riding companion to SAG support. I was on my own for the most difficult part of the ride, rolling hills that seemed never to end and felt to my legs like the Swiss Alps.  If I thought the first day was hard, it was a piece of cake compared to this second day. I was tired, I was hot, and I was in pain. I pedaled on, albeit slowly. Again, my riding companion joined me for the last 15-20 miles. The second day’s total was over 65 miles. I had made it.

Once arriving at the hotel, ice on my tired and sore legs was the first order of business. I tried to take a cold ice bath but couldn’t tolerate the cold on my feet. After icing my legs, I slathered arnica on my sore muscles and Desitin on my chaffed rear end. My sore behind made the aching legs feel like nothing. I was happy I survived day two.

We ate another carbo rich dinner at Olive Garden and splurged on Cold Stone for dessert. I had burned over 4,000 calories each day so had no guilt about this indulgence. Day two was now in the record book.

I slept like a rock that night and awoke the next morning feeling great. Yes, my legs were sore, but it was a good soreness. We drove the car outside of Yuma and unloaded our bikes at the first rest stop. We had a light tail wind that would help push us on. Today was our first day riding on the shoulder of the interstate – I-8. I was a little nervous about this but it was the only viable route for day three. We had decided not to ride the entire way to Gila Bend as it was around 120 miles. So, the plan was to ride at least 60 miles.

Day three was incredible! I felt great all day. My speed was excellent and my legs felt good. Even my rear end was somewhat better. I had plenty of energy. I felt so good at 60 miles that I decided to ride on. Total for day three, 75 miles! Reward – a chocolate dipped cone at Dairy Queen in Gila Bend, AZ.

Because lodging options were so slim in Gila Bend, we drove on to Maricopa, AZ outside of Phoenix and stayed at the Ak-Chin Harrah’s Casino resort. My room was incredible! My sleep was not. My legs ached all night and made it hard for me to sleep. Ice didn’t help, arnica didn’t help, even ibufpropen didn’t help. The fourth day was to be a fairly short mileage day. I was going to spend the night at my sisters in San Tan Valley, on the south side of Phoenix. 50 miles and I could rest. At about 20 miles into the ride, it was time for my sister and brother-in-law to leave me and return to Palm Springs. Previous commitments precluded them from completing the trip. I was in civilization at this point and had no qualms about riding the rest of the way alone. In fact, one of the things I like about riding is being alone with my thoughts. Riding is meditative to me. It renews my spirit.

The night before I added about 15-25 pounds to my panniers. Since I would finish the ride on my own without SAG support, I had to pack all my personal belongings that I would need for the next several days in my panniers. I was fully loaded down. It is unbelievable how this extra weight dramatically increased the effort it took to ride. Although I only rode 50 miles on day four, it felt like 100. One of my mistakes, not having enough coffee that morning! I arrived at my sisters simply exhausted. After showering I laid on the couch to take a nap until everyone got home. Despite my throbbing legs and sore hindquarters, I managed to sleep. One more day to go.

I woke early for the final day of my journey. My sister assured me that there was a Starbucks only about 4-5 miles from her house so my plan was to fuel up there, coffee and breakfast. I could make it 4-5 miles. Unfortunately, she was wrong. It was nearly 8 miles to Starbucks. Under normal circumstances, that wouldn’t have been a problem. But on a touring bike, with fully loaded panniers, after having already ridden about 270 miles, it is a long, long way to ride.

But make it I eventually did. I think that was the best iced coffee I have ever had. I also had an Egg McMuffin (minus the meat) at McDonalds and a blueberry scone. I needed fuel.

The plan was for my mom to meet me outside of Florence, AZ to provide SAG support. I would ride as much and as far as I could on this last day. Unbeknownst to me, the ride from Florence, AZ to Tucson was a long steady incline that eventually turned into rolling hills. And I do mean long. It might not have been steep but it was an incline and a very long one with little breaks in the climbing. Without a load, it probably would have felt like nothing. But hauling all that weight, plus my body weight up the long incline was draining.

After much internal struggle, I decided to stop after my total mileage for the trip reached 300 miles. My legs were aching and my knee began to hurt. Although part of me felt like that would be giving up, another part of me knew that riding a bicycle 300 miles in five days was an accomplishment that few have achieved. I finally made peace with the voice inside me that kept saying “You are a failure if you quit.” Riding 300 miles on a bike is not failing. I was content.

When I reached the 300 mile mark, I dismounted and loaded my bike and belongings into the truck my mother was driving. I had made it. I had just spent the last 5 days riding through the desert on a bicycle. How many people can say they have done that?

Some have asked me if I would do a long bicycle ride again. I can honestly say yes. Yes, I would. This was a great experience for me. I saw incredible scenery and a part of the country I have driven through on numerous occasions in a new way. I challenged myself physically and succeeded. I tested my resolve and commitment. And I connected with my spirit and soul.

Maybe, just maybe, turning fifty isn’t that bad.


Fighting Fifty

November 5, 2010

I am turning 50 in a few short weeks. That number, 50, seems so huge to me. I don’t feel 50 and I certainly don’t want to be 50. But the reality is that I can’t prevent this birthday from coming. I didn’t have any trouble turning 30 or even 40. But the prospect of being 50 has really thrown me for a loop.

For most of this year, my 50th year, I have been rebelling against crossing the threshold into my 50’s. About 7 months ago I came up with a plan to prove to myself that 50 isn’t old, that I am still young enough to accomplish physical feats of endurance.  I also decided to make additional changes to my diet. I might not be able to prevent growing older, but I can live in a way that allows me to live better and to be healthier.

I gave up all red meat 4 years ago, becoming a semi-vegetarian, and only eating limited amounts of fish and chicken. Earlier this year, as part of my anti-aging campaign, I decided to give up all animal products, including eggs and dairy. I also added more grains to my diet. The transition to a vegan diet wasn’t as hard as I had imagined. I enjoy cooking and found many great vegan recipes to experiment with. Now and again I do indulge in some dairy, particularly by adding non-fat milk with a splash of half-and-half to my coffee. But because I have hypothyroidism I can’t eat or drink large amounts of soy. I can honestly say I don’t miss meat.

Some may scoff at these dietary changes but the impact on my health has been quite remarkable. I have more energy, sleep better, and generally feel better. My skin and hair are softer. And I have not gotten a cold or the flu since changing my diet.

In addition to these dietary changes, I came up with a plan to accomplish something big athletically. Initially, I thought climbing a mountain would be quite an accomplishment as well as a physical challenge. I can’t afford to climb Mount Everest (and don’t have any serious climbing experience that would make this a realistic option) and couldn’t convince any of my friends to join me on a trek to base camp or on a guided climb to the summit of Mount Rainier.  So, I came up with a plan to ride my bicycle from Palm Springs, California to Tucson, Arizona. Yes, I did say a bicycle! And I knew just the person to join me on this adventure – my sister-in-law.

I had no trouble convincing my sister-in-law to ride 300 plus miles on a bicycle. After all, she has been an avid cyclist for at least a decade if not more. At 66, she is in great shape, rides 3 times a week and takes very good care of herself. I broached the subject with an email “Do you have any interest in a long bike trip, say a ride from Palm Springs to Tucson?” She responded enthusiastically to my invitation. “Definitely!” And so, I had a companion for my adventure. Serious training needed to be undertaken.

This past spring we talked about our training needs. Our goal; work up to riding about 200 miles a week. No easy task. If you ride between 12-15 miles per hour, that meant training 13-17 hours per week on the bike. And given that we would ride close to 90 miles on some days on our trip, we needed to build in several very long training rides.

Some of you might be thinking, “hey, no problem, it’s just riding a bike.” Oh, if it were only that simple.  Although riding a bike is a non-weight bearing activity, it requires a lot of leg strength and endurance. Not to mention the discomfort of your hindquarters from sitting on a bike saddle for long stretches of time. I slowly built my training distance and in a few months was regularly riding 30-40 miles per ride. Eventually, I added a long 50-mile ride to my weekly training. In the weeks immediately preceding our trek, I did a long, grueling 70-mile ride over hilly terrain. That was the most challenging and exhausting physical activity I had done up to that point in my life. I was drained from this ride, both physically and mentally. But I made it! I was wiped out the next day and my derriere was chaffed and sore. I began to doubt my ability to complete this trip. Would I make it? Could I really ride 80+ miles in one day and still have energy to ride the next day? I began to doubt myself. And to question the wisdom of embarking on such an adventure.

The week before the trip, my anxiety surged. I was nervous and anxious about stringing together back-to-back high mileage rides several days in a row. How was I going to do this? Would I make it?

To be continued. . .


Morning Coffee

October 11, 2010

This morning, like so many mornings, began with a trek to Starbucks. I am feeling a little under the weather, either fighting off a cold or battling allergies that flame up each year when golf courses and resorts re-seed their vast expanses of grass.  I just wanted to sit with a cup of coffee and slowly enter the day.

After getting my venti iced coffee and oatmeal, I went out to the patio at Starbucks to sit for a while and relax in the cool morning air. No sooner did I approach a seat I had been scoping out while I had waited in line to order when I smelled that familiar, yet sickening smell, of burning tobacco.  Off in the corner of the patio sat a man puffing away on a cigarette, oblivious to the world and the people around him.

Now I am all for individual rights and respect the right someone has to choose to engage in a vice that may eventually kill them. But I personally prefer not to be exposed to smoke. Quite some time ago, Starbucks took the proactive step of making all their establishments, including the outside patio areas, smoke free environments.  It really was unpleasant to sit outside with a cup of coffee and pastry only to be exposed to smoke filled air. I applaud Starbucks for its efforts.

As I neared my seat I looked over at the man and said to him, “Excuse me sir, but you can’t smoke here.” He looked at me, shrugged, and began pantomiming something. Again I said, “There is no smoking on this patio.” The man pointed at several empty tables and using his cigarette free hand counted to five and mimed that people had been smoking at those tables. At least I think that is what he was trying to communicate. I pointed to the sign near the door that said smoking was prohibited and simply said “No smoking.” The people sitting nearby looked up, “Thank you for speaking up.” “We totally support you.” But no one, other than me, said anything to the man. And still he sat, puffing away and flicking ashes to the ground.

I felt a little bad saying anything at all because the man was obviously homeless. He was filthy, his pants had holes in them and black grime, like the suburban housewives French tip manicure, tipped his fingernails. A small-wheeled suitcase sat on the table near the seat he occupied. He did not speak at all, just mimed to communicate.

The other occupants of the patio starred at him and several people began pointing to the sign near the door that read “Starbucks is a smoke-free environment.” An older couple stood near him and began to shuffle away, looking over their shoulder at him as he mimed to the rest of us.

The man shrugged his shoulders, stood, retrieved his suitcase and departed the patio. Several people spoke to me. “Thank you so much for having the courage to say something to him.” “You just made our day.” “I am so glad you said something.”

I found these comments somewhat strange. I didn’t feel courageous for speaking up. I spoke up simply because I wanted to enjoy my coffee without breathing in smoke.  My speaking up was a selfish act. I am surprised that the others on the patio were unwilling to say anything, especially when this man’s smoking clearly bothered them. I didn’t and still don’t know what to make of all of this.

My heart goes out to the homeless. So many of these folks need a break.  They need human kindness and compassion. I don’t know whether or not I did the right thing by saying something to this man. Perhaps I should have let him enjoy his morning and his cigarette. Maybe I should have offered to buy him a cup of coffee. I just don’t know.

What do you think?


Ohhh, Canada!

September 22, 2010

I recently ventured to the province of Alberta in Canada for a long awaited vacation. We flew into Calgary last Wednesday and made the short drive to Canmore where we are staying in a condo – Worldmark by Wyndham. Really, it is a time share formerly owned by my parents which they graciously offered to let us use.  Our accommodations are comfortable, 2 bedrooms, each with a private bath, a living room, dining area and small kitchen. The condo is a short distance from town and hiking trails abound. Canmore has made for the perfect home base from which to explore this incredible area.

Because of the weather, we didn’t realize until we awoke our first morning that Canmore is surrounded by majestic mountains.  I was speechless the first time I saw them.  Having grown up in Colorado and after spending numerous years in Wyoming exploring the Tetons and Yellowstone, I am no stranger to mountains.  But the stunning peaks and expansive wilderness I have experienced in this part of Canada far surpasses the beauty of all others I have had the pleasure of enjoying.

On one of our first adventures we travelled to Banff and Lake Louise. A short distance from Lake Louise is Lake Morraine which is even more beautiful than her famous sister. In Banff, we treated ourselves to Canada’s Best Ice Cream at Cows. If you ever get to Banff, don’t miss a stop at this ice cream parlor! Our tasty treats lived up to the advertising. It was so good, we visited this eatery twice.

During our week in Alberta we explored Banff National Park, the Kananaskis area and have had numerous wildlife sightings including a big Bull Moose, several deer, elk and even a coyote who passed within 3 feet of our car on a lonely dirt road in the Kananaskis.  Today we saw a group of young white tail deer frolicking in a meadow covered with snow. They were chasing each other and romping around with tails in the air. Their tails even appeared to be wagging!

We rode the Banff Gondola on Sulphur Mountain and trekked at the top where we feasted our eyes on mountains in every direction. From this vantage point we gazed down on several lakes and the meandering of the Bow River from Banff to Lake Louise. The views were simply magnificent.

There have been some unexpected and surprising observations on this trip.  The first, and most noticeable, is that Canadians don’t seem to have the same addiction to cell phones as Americans. During our week in this beautiful country, we have rarely seen a person on a cell phone. Folks walk down the street and have conversations with each other. At local coffee houses, people read or enjoy the company of their companions. It was refreshing to dine without hearing cell phones ring at nearby tables or to shop in the local grocery store without overhearing a fellow shopper’s cell phone conversation.  Over the course of one week, we saw  only one person using a Blackberry.

Canada is significantly more expensive than the U.S. Gas is $4 dollars a gallon and a single scoop ice cream cone $4.50.  Beverages at Starbucks are on the average 75 cents to a dollar higher than my local Starbucks in California. The same with pastries and oatmeal. Food at restaurants, particularly lunch, seemed pretty pricey.

The local people we encountered were extremely friendly, offering suggestions of activities or café’s, the best roads to travel for the best viewing of wildlife or the local majestic peaks.

This has been an amazing vacation filled with incredible scenery, wonderful adventures, great company and stimulating conversations. I definitely plan to come back and enjoy all the activities the weather did not allow us to partake in such as mountain biking, more strenuous hiking, fishing and canoeing.

And of course, another visit to Cows!


The L Word is a Lie

December 5, 2008

About 5 or 6 years ago, the lesbian community rejoiced at the creation of a Showtime original series “The L Word” whose story lines focused on several lesbian characters, their lives and relationships. Every Sunday lesbians across American sat together in living rooms, bars and community centers and watched with deep satisfaction and joy as the lesbian lifestyle was exposed to all of America.  L Word parties became the rage and were the highlight of many a woman’s weekend as well as the hot topic of conversation. Lesbians were finally main stream.

The problem, as I see it, is that the show presents a mythical, fictional and unrealistic view of lesbians and their lives. I mean, come on, have you ever met as many hot, sexy and gorgeous lesbians as the main or supporting characters on the show? Do you know any lesbians who live the kind of life the women on the L Word live? Maybe you will see these types in small numbers at the annual Dinah Shore event in Palm Springs or on occasion in Provincetown, Los Angeles or New York but in my everyday life, I can count the lesbian women I know who look, dress and act like the women on the L Word on one hand, and then using only one or two fingers.

I recently married my partner and we are now one of the 18,000 gay couples who got married in CA before a slim majority of ignorant and bigoted voters passed Prop 8 (it should actually be called Prop Hate) prohibiting gay marriage. For our honeymoon we went on an Olivia Cruise to the Caribbean. In case you don’t know, Olivia cruises are lesbian cruises. Prior to departure we were excited at the prospect of being on a ship with all women, in a community where we could be a couple, hold hands and gaze into each other’s eyes at dinner without fear of hateful looks or nasty comments. We could enjoy a real romantic and celebratory honeymoon as a couple and not have to pretend to be roommates or sisters. And, as an added bonus,  having seen footage of Olivia cruises on both the L Word and Work Out, I had a vision that the ship would be filled with beautiful lesbian women such as those featured on both of those shows. For one short week, my wife and I could live the L Word life! Boy was I in for a surprise.

As we embarked on the cruise I looked around at the women on board and thought to myself “The L Word is a LIE!” The majority, and I am talking 80 to 85% of the women on this cruise we not only fat, they were obese. They were not, as a whole, beautiful, hot, sexy or gorgeous. Most had short butchy haircuts. Most were older. Where were the normal looking women? Where were the women like me? I exercise, eat healthy, am fairly attractive, and dress somewhat fashionably. In short, I take care of myself. Before I stepped foot on the ship I thought I would see and meet a lot of women like my wife and myself. This was not to be.

Another thing I found disturbing is how masculine many of the women were.  I am a lesbian because I am attracted to women. I have never understood why a lesbian who purportedly wants to be with another woman would chose to be with a woman who looks like a man. What is up with that? The number of extremely butch and masculine women on this trip astounded me.

Now there is nothing wrong with a woman being athletic, wearing her hair short or having masculine qualities, (I have straight women friends like this) but I really cringe when I see women dressing in men’s clothes and acting like men. I just don’t get it.  On formal night, I was shocked by the number of lesbian women wearing men’s suits, and I mean real men’s suits complete with ties and wing tips. This is not to say that dresses should be required (I only own two and rarely wear them) but couldn’t these women dress in female clothes? Is it lack of self-esteem that drives them to men’s clothes or is it rampant obesity? I guess the obesity should have come as no surprise. After all, nearly two-thirds of Americans are obese or grossly overweight. Why should the lesbian community be immune to the epidemic?

Now don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the cruise. Olivia is a great company and provides travel opportunities for women in safe, secure and comfortable environments. They have created settings where we can feel free to and simply be ourselves. The company does a great job and I recommend that more lesbians take advantage of the Olivia experience.  But don’t expect to see the type of lesbian community the L Word or Work Out projects. Beautiful, hot, sexy and gorgeous lesbians were in the minority on my cruise. But one thing you can count on, you will feel safe and free to be yourself in a loving and open community.

The point? The L Word IS a lie. Isn’t most everything we see on television or at the movies? If television simply held up a mirror to society, no one would watch. Who among us would watch a show about fat, unattractive lesbians? Every one of us, gay, straight or questioning wants to believe in something better and more beautiful, more perfect than ourselves or our everyday lives. Come the beginning of the final season of the L Word, you will find me and my wife in front of our television every Sunday night imagining ourselves living in the fantasy world created by Showtime.