Thursday, September 29, 2011

What? Legs are made for walking?

The porch where I wrote this post

After spending most of the summer with my legs straddling a bike, I find it a novelty to stash the lycra and instead don a pair of hiking shoes.  Wow...was that just the gasp heard round the world?  Yes, it's true, I actually enjoy hiking.

Believe it or not, I did learn how to walk before I learned how to ride a bike.  And once in awhile, particularly in autumn, I even prefer walking over biking.  This year's hiking has been dedicated to exploring the Smokies in Tennessee and North Carolina.  For all of you cyclists, the Smokies is the National Park next to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  But I digress.  Ah yes, the Smokies, the most visited national park in the nation and yet only a fraction of it's visitors actually get out of their cars.  What a shame too since the trails are quite magnificent and most of the folks driving just spent the day going from the Waffle House to the Cracker Barrel to Chick-Fil-A (with maybe a little shopping in Gattlinburg thrown in).

The trails I've gotten to explore so far range from woodland paths following up creeks under a canopy of rhododendrons, old growth poplars and hemlocks to those up on balds (mountain tops covered in grass).  I've discovered that almost every trail is rooty and rocky which my cycling ankles aren't quite used to.  In fact, while I can often times zone out on a well known bike route, I have to be much more present on these hikes so as not to trip.  There are advantages of spending hours looking down.  I've gotten to see beautiful snails, skinks/salamanders, toads, snakes and some crazy looking fungus.
One of the resident skinks

Along with being my first trip to the Smokies, it's also one of the rare trips I make down South.  My husband was born and raised down here and we still visit his family from time to time but I can't say that it's ever become old hat to me.  I feel like my trips South of Indiana are somewhat like an anthropological study...almost as if I'm in a foreign land.  The language is different, the food (although still fried) is different and the way people treat each other is different.  None of this Midwest "chilliness" down here.  People make small talk. In fact passing folks on the trail can take quite a bit of time.  Niceties must be exchanged and can often go like this:  "Hey there, how ya'll doing today?" - "Beautiful weather isn't it?" - "You must be young with all that energy...whatcha all doing, running up the trail?" - "Well, I remember 20 or 30 years ago when I had that kinda energy, make sure you never let yourself get outta shape." - "Hey now, have a good day ya hear."  All of this should be spoken in a slow drawl so it takes about five minutes.  This is all fine and dandy until you end up passing 30 people and by god if I wasn't actually happy to pass two German hikers that wouldn't even say "hello" (Germans are known to be rude hikers).  At the end of one of the trails we got caught up listening to a 20 minute monologue with an older gentleman that chose to tell us about his entire family lineage...I think we'd still be there if we didn't just break away.

On top of Gregory bald looking into Cades Cove

One of the old buildings in Cades Cove

Looking into North Carolina from one of the huts on the Appalachian Trail

A bit of old pastureland in Cades Cove

Travelling over these pristine roads that have never known a pothole makes my legs ache to bike down here.  I can imagine myself in a tuck position bombing down the mountains on banked curves.  Then, I wake up from my dream and realize there's bumper to bumper traffic and every car is going under 10mph. in hopes of spotting wildlife...from the car.  We were stopped behind two cars the other day where several passengers inside were holding out cameras and camcorders taking pictures of turkey for over five minutes.  Once they got going again (and I stopped swearing) they proceeded to stop and take pictures of a squirrel (laugh away but I'm not joking).  So until I can purchase vaporizing laser beams, I won't be biking these roads.

This adventure by foot will end tomorrow with a glorious 13 mile hike up to another bald over 6,200 feet in elevation on the Appalachian trail.  Although I can't wait to tie up my laces, a bit of me also can't wait to get back on the bike in a few days.  I guess it's true...absence does make the heart grow fonder!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Trying to Move Forward

Life is like riding a bicycle - in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.
                                                                                                 -Albert Einstein

The panel addressing about 300 citizens

About 30 folks were also in the hallway                  

This past Wednesday, downtown Madison was the site of a very exciting meeting.  There must have been more than 300 people packed inside a conference room waiting to hear what the mayor along with 8 other panelists had to say about the future of our biking community.

Not unlike most cities, Madison is currently facing an enormous debt.  Drastic cuts are being made in every area from education to TIF programs.  Amidst all of that, we're about to be hit with huge cuts to upcoming bicycle/pedestrian projects.

I have to question the reasoning behind our moronic governor, Scott Walker, when he decided to increase the spending greatly on highway projects and at the same time destroy our light rail train, proposed wind farms and force every community in Wisconsin to cut spending on bike/ped projects.  In a country where 30% of the population is obese (soon to be 50%), air pollution is a serious health hazard and oil supplies are dwindling quickly, you'd think there would be more movement in taking a proactive stance.

Currently there are cities in Europe making 50-60% of all trips by bike, many more are making 30%.  To put things in perspective, Madison, ranked as one of the best cycling cities in the U.S., only makes about 4% of trips by bike.  Think about that.  Only 4%.

About two years ago, former Madison mayor Dave Cieslevich (one of my personal heroes), made a trip to European cities with several city/county/state staff in hopes of learning a few things that we could apply here.  Since then, buffered bike lanes, bike boxes at busy intersections, sharrows and B Cycle (our bike sharing program) have now been implemented due to his hard work along with the bicycle federation and city engineers.  These all make bike commuting not only more enjoyable and time efficient but also much safer.

Now, with a new mayor and tough economic times, we are at a crucial tipping point.  It would be very easy to slip back and put the money into other areas but at what cost?  By getting more people to take even one trip a week by bike or by walking we could be on our way to reaching our 20% by 2020 goal.  At the same time we would cut down on health care costs due to obesity and stress, our air and waterways would be cleaner and I think people overall would be a lot happier.  I always say that biking to work in the morning is better than a cup of coffee.

Now is the time to bond together and keep thinking/moving forward.  Let's all make a pledge to walk or bike  more for errands, pleasure and exercise.  Let's write our local politicians and stress the importance of staying a bike friendly city/state.  Remember that baby steps lead to big changes and that every little thing you do DOES make a difference!  I remember when Kathleen Falk built the trail alongside HWY 12 and how much flack she got for it.  Now, it's flooded with cyclists, walkers, runners and skaters.  And to that I say, build it and they will come.