Some Stones Unturned

Knitting, Biking and Some Sober Second Thoughts

Archive for the tag “biking”

Face, Meet Pavement

I’m fine.  My Mom told me once when I phoned her to pick me up early after a fire at the gym that you should always open these sorts of stories with that so: I’m fine.

Bike crash injuries

My bike and some streetcar tracks had a disagreement about whether my face needed more colour.

I was trying to get a headstart a sort of on time-ish start on Christmas shopping and took a bit of a tumble off my bike.  I was moving to change lanes to go around a large parked truck and my wheel got caught in the streetcar tracks and I went into a skid and ended up on the pavement.

I credit a generally clumsy nature and several years of gymnastics training when I was younger for my being a good faller.  Seriously, the art of getting your hands underneath you and twisting to avoid major organ and bone damage is underappreciated by many, but is a valuable skill.  However, I don’t have quite as much practice with falling while a 40 pound bike limits your ability to move.  I am taking that as the explanation of how I must have contorted myself to end up with a scraped pinky, swollen thumb and small bruise on my knee on my left side, but two cuts on my face on the right side.  That and about four layers of winter padding protecting my rib cage.  Although how I ended up scraping my pinky through thick mittens will remain forever a mystery.

I’m sure that most folks would tell you that if you fall off your bike on a major city street and all you lose is a couple chunks of skin and some patellar capillary integrity, you should count yourself pretty lucky.  And I do.  You know, thank goodness there were no cars coming behind me.  Thank goodness I wasn’t going that fast.  It could certainly have been worse.  So I do feel very lucky.  But there is another feeling that people don’t seem to talk about quite as much.  Not directly.  Not as loudly.  The other thing you feel is this: incredibly stupid.

I’ve listened to friends and family who have been in car accidents tell their stories over and over.  A friend took a turn onto a gravel road too fast and the car spun out, causing her to warn everyone she saw for the next while about slowing down on gravel.  My Mom went into a ditch after hitting a patch of black ice and she swore over and over she “should have known” it was there even though it is the nature of black ice to be invisible.  A friend got rear-ended in a lineup of stopped cars on a bridge by someone who just plain wasn’t paying attention and caused a domino effect of three or four cars being jolted into the car in front of them.  They all got charged with following too close and the nature of this law and the inattentive driver were subjects for many discussions that followed.  I never really understood the tendency to relive these terrible moments repeatedly.  Until now.

I wish there was someone or something I could blame.  I’ve tried pretty hard to find one, replaying everything that I remember.  It’s not just a cliché that “it happened so fast”.  Everything before the accident, the warning signs you saw or should have seen, the ways you could have been more prepared, those are all burned into your brain, but the moment from when my tire went into the track until I ended up on the ground is pretty unclear.

I wonder if this is why tensions run so high on the road sometimes, especially after accidents and near-misses.  Of course people react to the danger and potential damage, too, but if you’ve been in an “accident” like this that was avoidable, but you’re confused about what exactly happened and you felt stupid, you want someone or something to blame.  I know the dangers!  I’m a good cyclist!  I’ve been riding over three years here accident-free!  It can’t possibly have been my fault.  And so if there had been a moving car around, or an illegal parking job or a poorly maintained road, I am certain I would be hurling many insults at all of them.

I tried being angry at the truck for being so wide (the width of an entire lane?  Really?).  And I tried being angry at the streetcar track with its need to be all tire-sized (what is with vehicles that move large numbers of people efficiently requiring wheels?).  But in the end there’s only my own stupid, idiotic self to blame.  I know those streetcar tracks are a death trap.  I know they have to be crossed at an angle.  Add to this the fact that I probably shouldn’t have been out in the first place since I’m sick (good news: I bought the Christmas presents before crashing and they survived intact.  The art of falling well, I tell ya) and I seem even stupider.  I saw the truck in plenty of time and checked the lane was clear.  And yet I still ended up on the pavement.  I just somehow didn’t get the wheel turned quite enough.  Or something I guess.  I’m still not sure.  It happened so fast.

I jumped up after the crash.  A fellow cyclist happened to be travelling the other way and asked me if I was okay.  I assured her I was, but in the way you sort of do when you’re in shock and embarrassed and just want to hustle off the road.  Not sure if she was experienced in such things, but she crossed the road and asked again if I was okay.  I peeled off my left mitt since it felt like my fingers might be broken, but there were just the cuts and I told her again it was fine, muttered about the “stupid streetcar tracks” and made some excuse about not being used to riding downtown.  She told me about crossing at an angle and I said I knew that but I guess I just hadn’t managed it.  She asked again if I was okay (why so awesome #bikeTO?) and said I had dirt on my face, although it turned out there were cuts underneath that.  Assuring me that it was totally normal to be shaken up from the scare, she eventually rode off.

I got on my bike and realized the chain had fallen off.  I fixed that and then realized I’d lost my mirror.  So I went back and grabbed that off the road, remounted and discovered the cockpit was completely crooked.

handlebars misaligned

When the handlebars are lined up, the wheel is off about 15 degrees and vice versa.

I must have yanked really hard on the handlebars when I got stuck in the tracks and twisted it, but whatever strength I’d called on when trying desperately to get out of the skid along the tracks was no longer with me and I couldn’t straighten it up without tools.  I actually tried to ride it in a “get back on that horse” attempt at courage, but holding the handlebars crooked to go straight goes against everything in your brain and I gave up after a block, figuring there was no need to compound stupidity with more stupidity by doing something unnecessarily dangerous.  I did the walk of shame onto the subway, and was reminded of how long it’s going to take to get places now as we waited for quite some time at Bloor.  In fact, we waited long enough that my face began to thaw and the cuts there started  to sting.  But eventually I made it home and for that I’m grateful.

Cyclists in Toronto are very aware that if they get in an accident on the road, it’s their fault.  The mayor, back in the days he was still a councillor, made that very clear to them.  And yet even in cases like this when it’s true, it’s completely unhelpful.  One could say the same about many car accidents I’m sure, but I’m not aware of any politicans who do as a general statement.  We are all responsible for our own safety and need to be aware of the risks any time we choose to get on the road, of course.  We should ride and drive responsibly for our own sake.  But we should also do it for everyone else out there.  Because if you spend any number of hours on the road, at some point, you will mess up.  You will do something stupid, something you should know better about, even if only momentarily.  And that moment of stupid could be trouble.  Or maybe, like me, you get lucky.

Please ride and drive safely as things turn colder and slipperier.  Your extra attention could compensate for someone else’s momentary lapse.  Help make the world luckier.

Biking as portrayed in the Newspaper

The Toronto Star is featuring bikes in the Wheels section of today’s paper (I would love to link you to the actual articles, but all I have is my iPad-hence all the typos you will be seeing-and Wheels is not part of their mobile site nor could I find it clicking through to their regular site. You can click through from there to wheels.ca, but I couldn’t find any of the same articles there, though there is a link to a video of one of their writers talking about why he loves biking). If this doesn’t seem that exciting, keep in mind that Wheels typically features motorized vehicles. Also keep in mind that they didn’t put out this special issue because it’s some official sort of “bike-to-somewhere” day or because there has been an unfortunate run of accidents involving cyclists or because some politician got all het up about the “war on the car” and decided to talk about licenses and insurance for cyclists, which are some of the more common reasons newspapers have had in the past for focusing on cycling. Nor does the decision appear to be related to the ongoing Tour de France, which is covered in the sports section, but not really the kind of cycling they’re talking about here (in spite of the picture on the front of the section, which appears to be of a race).
No, they put together this section because, in their words, “If it belongs on the road-and bicycles do-then it belongs in Wheels”. I could not be more thrilled about this. It is like saying, we are talking about bicycles because people ride them and care about them and that’s reason enough. I am also pleased they seem to have avoided the common trap of taking a writer who hasn’t been on a bike in ten years, throwing them onto one of the busiest streets in Toronto and having him write about how harrowing this experience was. I know those sorts of articles are often supposed to convince folks we need better cycling infrastructure and while that’s a laudable goal, an inexperienced rider on a busy street is obviously going to give a biased report and rather than changing minds may just end up scaring off people who were thinking about giving biking a try.
No, they seem to have found a couple of writers who are also riders, one seemingly mostly on the city’s trail network and another who has an $8500 bicycle (crazy) and rides it along Steeles (crazier).
They avoided all these traps and yet I’m still not happy. A minor quibble, if you will. It would be such a shame for me not to uphold the stereotype of the angry self-righteous cyclist given such a golden opportunity.
The amazingly informative article on websites and resources for cycling around the city (did not know about bikesandtransit.com, but I’ve been contemplating a longer, possibly-overnight trip recently, so I’m very excited to check it out) is on page 12 (not page 14 as the paper suggests). The article on fancy shifters and lightweight components and expensive tires? That’s on page 16. And the article on the best cars for transporting bikes, which is kind of a cool idea for an article that I don’t think I’ve seen before, is on page 20. The editorial stating everyone should wear a helmet? That’s on page 2.
Let me get this out of the way since it seems to be a compulsory thing for some people if you want to discuss cycling with them: I wear a helmet. I grew up when the mandatory helmets for under-16s law came in, so I feel naked without one. Although I should note that it’s over three years old, when some manufacturers recommend replacing (but there is some suggestion this is a cash grab). Also I’ve dropped it a few times, which means it may need to be replaced, but all these editorials that claim to be so interested in the skulls of cyclists often fail to mention this for some reason. (Other thing the Star fails to mention: the guy with the fancy bike worries about his speed, but speeding laws in Ontario only apply to motorized vehicles, although obviously they can still charge you with careless driving so 90 kph in a 50 isn’t recommended. I’m just trying to indicate that sometimes these bike articles seem poorly researched).
So with that out of the way, let me now say what I really want to. Cycling is so much more than helmets. To me it is fun and physical effort and getting to know new corners of the city and the pleasure of owning a vehicle simple enough that I can do basic repairs myself. And I’m sure to other people it’s even more than that. And I know that if they hadn’t mentioned helmets, someone in the comments would have (if I could find it online). And I know that if they had dared to show a picture of a cyclist without a helmet, it would be basically the only thing anyone in the comments mentioned. It’s frustrating as a cyclist to have something so minor dominate so much of the talk. It gives the impression that cycling is much more dangerous than it really is and that feeling safe is more important than being safe. And so I wish that the Star had left it out of their special issue. Or at least that it wasn’t the first thing they brought up about cycling. Or at least at least that they could mention it without the fear-inducing anecdotes.
But since they did, let me turn in my scientist card for a few minutes and fight anecdotal evidence with anecdotal evidence. Less than a year ago, a girl I worked with was walking in a quiet residential neighbourhood on the sidewalk when a car that had somehow lost control (still not clear on the details, but witness reports were of the car driving wildly through a stop sign beforehand) ran up on the sidewalk, knocked her through a fence and she landed on her head. Her brain shifted several centimetres; there was blood on it and she was in a coma. Several weeks later she died from her injuries.
Even just writing this out I feel silly using her death to try to demonstrate some point about safety, but no one ever seems to feel this way about using bicycle accidents, so I’ll press on. No one at her funeral suggested she “looked stupid” (as the editorial put it) for not wearing a helmet when she was hit. No one suggested they had a right to tell her what safety equipment she ought to have been wearing even though she needed the health care system and was thus “costing them money”. Because that would be silly. And because people are reasonable when it comes to pedestrians (mostly).
People get that when you leave your safe little home and poke your head out in the world, you are taking on a certain level of risk and that you wouldn’t have gotten hurt if you had elected to just stay home, but that we as a society have decided that this really isn’t a practical way to live. So we let some people walk without safety equipment and some people with further to go or more stuff to transport drive large motorized vehicles right alongside them. And we understand that when we let people do that, sometimes someone loses control. And sometimes someone else is, tragically, horribly, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I don’t know if wearing a helmet would have saved my friend. The same way everyone with a near-miss bike story who claims the helmet saved them can’t know that that’s true. But I am pretty confident that newspapers that have chosen to run features on pedestrian issues have not opened by suggesting all pedestrians should encase themselves in protective gear because walking is dangerous and it just makes sense.
But helmets so dominate the cycling conversation in North America that people do think it’s the most important thing to ask or mention any time cycling comes up. First, before anything else. Even if the original conversation was not about safety to start with. Look, even if the talk is about safety, helmets shouldn’t be the first thing mentioned. The best way to stay safe is not to get hit. And the best way not to get hit, assuming you’re not willing to stay home, is to be visible and predictable and follow the rules. Take a course if you need to.
So to take my own advice, I hope this is the last you’ll hear about helmets on this blog. Let’s try to offset that big rant with a more positive cycling story. I played Ultimate this week at Fergy Brown Park and decided to bike there from work. I have been over it a few times and can’t figure out a reasonable route that doesn’t take me a few kilometres down Eglinton Ave. This section of Eg is six lanes wide and, although that mean traffic moves freakily fast, there is also a lot of room to pass. Except now they are starting construction for the Eglinton crosstown and it’s down to two lanes, one each direction. Which is how I found myself facing down a row of pylons at rush hour on the Thursday before a long weekend with a huge line of cars behind me. And I ended up totally fine. Thanks to the kind drivers who let me in and didn’t try to sneak past when there wasn’t room to pass safely. Thanks to everyone who waited behind me. I’m sure some of you were cursing the 30 extra seconds it took you to get through, especially Eastbound where I swear I biked my little heart out to get up that hill. I know it can feel like forever when you’re slowed down so much, but know that I very much appreciate you not honking impatiently. Seriously. I’ve been biking here a little over three years and only had a few bad incidents, but those are the ones that stick with you. So glad this was not one of them. You all made my day.

A Bike-y Interlude

I have been out enjoying the nice weather (and stressing about my defense) and neglecting to write, but I did hear about a window display of crocheted reef things. Fibrework? In biking distance on a nice weekend? Of a reef when I am off to Australia in a couple of months? It was like I was meant to go check it out. Very fun.

That’s about it. Not much knitting progress lately.

Is This Blog Ever Going to Have Anything about Biking on it?

Ummm, hopefully? My fault for starting it in January I guess. A couple of year ago, I did bike most of the winter, but only to places I had to go not weekend trips to interesting places in the city. This year it’s been warm enough to probably make a go of it again, but I haven’t really had many places to go within biking distance (work is walkable; my weekly ultimate game is too far).

Also I really need to get my bike in for a tune-up, particularly new tires as the treads on mine are gone. But there doesn’t seem to be much point until after the cold goes away. I only got the bike 2.5 years ago and I think I’ve managed to keep it in pretty good shape myself using bicycletutor.com but at some point it really needs a professional to look at it and make sure the brake cables aren’t about to snap or something.

But so my one biking story from this winter is that a couple of weeks ago, I got all bundled up, pumped up my tires and headed to my dentist appointment downtown. It was just below freezing when I left, but dropping rapidly, close to -10°C by the time I was finished and had to head into work. My dentist is in a pretty big office building and I was taking the elevator down after my appointment and a guy got on and saw my helmet. He asked how the winter biking was going. I told him today was a bit cool, but not bad. He said that was his brother’s opinion as well, and that it hadn’t been that snowy/icy this year, which is indeed much more of a concern than the cold. Why you need multiple people’s opinions on the biking conditions when you could just stick your head out the door and check the weather, I’m not sure, but it’s always nice when people are interested and not (a) shocked you bike in winter or (b) complaining about crazy/self-righteous cyclists. And if there’s any way to stop Canadians from talking about the weather, I haven’t found it yet.

Also, my appointment was at 11 and I had to walk past 3 or 4 bike posts that already had bikes on them so either there are a lot of abandoned bikes in that area, or biking is really becoming more popular this winter.

Also also, there is a Bulk Barn on the ground floor of my dentist’s building. Yes, a Bulk Barn in the city. Within biking distance. This is going to change my life. Come spring it is going to be weekly candy and trail mix bike trips downtown. At least weekly. It’s great that I can go to the dentist, get my teeth cleaned, then buy candy knowing I won’t have to face the consequences until six months later.

Anyway, there are a huge number of bike lanes in this part of Florida (where I’m vacationing for the week). My parents are in one of those weird gated communities and all the roads have bike lanes in both directions in spite of the fact that the roads are not busy at all (unless you count golf carts in the bike lanes). Supposedly there are bikes in the garage, so maybe there will be another bike post about the weirdness of toodling around nearly-abandoned streets. But otherwise, to answer the question in the title, probably no bike-y things until spring this year. Sorry.

Mission: Impossible and Getting Around in the City

Note: post contains spoilers for Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol, as well as descriptions of certain scenes in The Bourne Supremacy and the BBC Sherlock episode A Study in Pink, although I wouldn’t really call the descriptions spoilers.

I saw Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol (Ha.  I didn’t notice until I looked it up just now how they had to use a dash for the subtitle because they already used the colon after Mission.  So many sequels that they’re running out of punctuation!) yesterday.  I really enjoyed it.  They moved around from city to city and I thought it was really interesting how they adapted the action scenes in each city to give them a different feel.

A bit of background from my life (skip ahead two paragraphs if you’re not interested and just want to know about the scenes in the movie): I moved to Toronto from a much smaller town a little over five years ago, not really expecting to like it but ending up pleasantly surprised and really growing into it.  The way that large numbers of people manage to live practically piled on top of one another and make it work fascinates me.  And a big part of that is how to get around efficiently.  Not just public transit, although that is a major method and knowing the major bus routes and subway lines is important, but also moving around the neighbourhood on a smaller scale: walking and biking.  The fastest pedestrian route to the main intersection near me involves crossing through a parking lot, along an alley beside an outdoor pool and then through another parking lot.  Then you cross Yonge street and go into a little mall and you can walk through the mall to get to the subway (Toronto has a very large, confusing set of underground walkways and shopping areas).  When people visit me and I take them this way, there are generally comments.  Why not just walk along the street all the way out to Yonge and then outside down Yonge to the subway entrance?  Well because that’s not the best way; my way is at least 20-30 seconds faster.  And it’s more interesting usually.  I am hardly the only pedestrian taking this route.  Since taking up biking, I’ve noticed these sorts of separate-from-streets routes even more.  There are streets where cars aren’t allowed straight-through but bikes are excepted, shared paths through the park or pedestrian overpasses over railway tracks that you can walk your bike through.

And so when I think about if I had to face off against someone in my neighbourhood, if they weren’t familiar with the area, I think I would do all right if I could get a decent head start, even if that person were a well-trained American movie actor spy.  Streets run in grids and if you’re used to driving then you might see the city as all straight lines and right angles.  But if you walk, you know there’s probably a short cut or alternate route somewhere.

Anyway, the point is that now when I watch movies, I often take note of how exactly they deal with getting around in the city.  Driving a car down a perfectly straight highway with infrequent exits is not necessarily the best way out of town.  It’s obviously one of the fastest, but it’s also the first place anyone would look and the one where it’s easiest to cut someone off because you know which direction they’re headed and there are only so many ways to bail out (assuming you’re not going off-roading).  And Mission Impossible actually makes use of this when Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) ends up in a car chase with the bad guy, Hendricks, on a highway out of Dubai.  Hendricks is going from one highway to another, taking an onramp that makes a 270 degree turn.  Rather than follow him directly, Hunt slams on the brakes, turns 90 degrees, goes the wrong direction onto what I presume is the offramp, onto the highway and then goes the wrong direction up the onramp Hendricks is in the course of coming down (if this explanation is as unclear as I think it is, see the potentially equally unclear picture below. #NotAnArtist), so that he can slam their cars together.  This is relatively successful; there aren’t a lot of ways off an onramp after all.  It seems like it would have been better to lay low in the city for a while and hide in amongst all the other people in plain sight (and to be fair there is a foot chase through some area of Dubai that appears to be pedestrian-friendly, although it’s hard to tell because it’s in the middle of a sandstorm).  But, on the other hand, if you’ve got to get out of somewhere fast, speeding down the highway to a ridiculously conspicuous helicopter is probably a better option than hoofing it.  Also it makes for more exciting film viewing.

car crash schematic

Slightly better CGI effects in the actual movie

Contrast this to Russia, where the movie starts.  Judging from the movie, Russia is full of trains.  First a team of agents is sent to steal a set of nuclear codes, which involves finding one man getting off a train in a sea of hundreds and hundreds (at least, I think this train is in Russia.  Apologies if I don’t remember all of the details accurately).  This operation is considered “routine” but involves the use of phones connected to a database that can quickly look up names and give you a picture, as well as contact lenses with facial recognition software.  A train station actually does not seem like an ideal place to find someone you’ve never met to me, although the advantage is that train stations are generally designed to funnel people in one direction and are also full of folks sitting around looking asleep and one more body is unlikely to be noticed (people minding their own business in the city is sometimes a blessing and sometimes a curse).

Later, Hunt and another character, Brandt, have to get on a moving train (though this appears to be a cargo train rather than a passenger train) because they are meeting other team members there and co-ordinating for their mission.  Hunt and Brandt run through the train yard, dodging cement poles and grabbing onto the old door handles on the car, and when they finally get pulled inside, the sleek look of the inside of the car, filled with video screens, tech stuff and weapons the IMF has stashed there, is jarring compared to the train yard.

Moscow feels distinctly different from Dubai and Mumbai, where the chases involve fancy cars and rotating elevators in parking garages.  It’s not all trains, but overall it does seem to have a starker, older feel.  Moscow is where Hunt escapes from a hospital and runs through side streets and back alleys, managing to steal a shirt and jacket from people’s clotheslines and a set of shoes from a street vendor and so on.  He does this while escaping a Russian who is likely familiar with the area, but the back alleys are presumably too numerous and convoluted for pursuit.  There are also scenes in Russia where Hunt jumps onto the roof of a pretty fancy van, and later Hunt meets the Secretary in a car with a driver that gets shot up, so it’s not like Russia is devoid of action scenes involving personal vehicles or anything, but it’s just a general observation.  Russia is the land of the Cold War and nuclear politics, but Dubai is where they have business meetings in fancy suits (and also really tall buildings.  I am sad that the CN Tower has missed its chance to star in a Mission: Impossible movie as the (former) tallest freestanding structure) and India is the place where telecommunications equipment is bought and run.

One final note is that the idea of cars and traffic being a problem in the city, and the need to know the area and know alternate routes, comes up in Mumbai.  Traffic is bad and Hunt can’t get to the satellite relay fast enough.  They pull up their fancy holographic computer route map and cut through an alley.  This gets them closer, but even then they are held up by a bunch of pedestrians crossing the street and ultimately they fail to get where they need to be in time.  The final fight then takes place in a parking garage where, yes, Hunt and Hendricks fight, but parts of the scene are almost both of them fighting against the parking garage, which is a high-tech thing that delivers cars via an automatic elevator.  The two try to keep the briefcase from getting away from them and also try to figure out where the elevator things are going next.

The chase through the city is a pretty common action movie trope, but some movies seem to take a particular interest in making use of the streets, alleys and architecture of a particular city (note I have not actually been to Moscow, Dubai or Mumbai, so I can’t comment on how accurate Ghost Protocol is in its portrayal of these places).  Other movies and shows that I think did this well include:

1. The Bourne Supremacy: Jason Bourne does a lot of running through streets and, while there are a number of car chases in this series, what stands out is Bourne arranging to meet Nicky Parsons (Julia Styles) in the middle of a square in Berlin.  The CIA puts a bunch of surveillance on Parsons to try to protect her, but the meeting is set to take place in a public square where there is a protest going on that day.

Alexanderplatz

Scene from the Bourne Supremacy

Once Bourne phones Parsons and tells her to get on a tram, the CIA basically has no chance of keeping tabs on her or finding Bourne (As the character who pulls the blueprints for the subway tunnels says “Three levels, fifteen tunnels and they’re all converging in a five block radius”).  Bourne takes Parsons down to subway level and questions her in a room where the wire she’s wearing won’t transmit out.  I have been briefly to Berlin, although not to Alexanderplatz, specifically.  There pretty much did seem to be constant tram activity though and lot of parallel subway lines you could lose yourself in.

2. A Study in Pink (Episode 1 of the BBC’s Sherlock): Sherlock Holmes and Watson, on foot, chase a car through the streets of London.  They take advantage of Holmes’s knowledge of the area to predict the car’s likely route (“Right turn, roadwork, one way, traffic lights, fast lane, pedestrian crossing, left hand only, traffic light, pedestrian crossing, traffic lights.”) and then use the shortcuts available to pedestrians (up some stairs inside a building to the rooftop, jump across to another rooftop, down a fire escape and through a series of alleys) to try to cut the car off.

Car Chase

Route of car through London streets in BBC's Sherlock.

Car Chase

Route Holmes plots to head off car in BBC's Sherlock, including a missed opportunity to stop the car where the lines cross.

When they just miss the car, Holmes is able to re-evaluate on the run and find the next crossing where they’ll likely meet the car.  I don’t know London, but I assume that it’s like most cities in that there are just some areas where it’s tough to get around.  For whatever reason I thought a modernization of Holmes might involve him having the entire London transit schedule and route map memorized because he seems like the transit geek type (and also it’s a good way to keep tabs on what’s going on in the city), but I guess that’s probably not necessary if you have a phone and the transit authority has an accurate schedule online.  And if you think back to the original stories Holmes was always hiring hansom cabs in the city, with the train being for longer journeys.

3. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three: Too much to list, but basically this is what it would look like if you enjoyed the idea of a chase through the New York City’s public transit system and alleyways so much that you decided to make an entire movie about it.

I’m sure there are lots of others, but there’s a start.  And I thought Mission: Impossible did a pretty good job of distinguishing different cities based on the layout of the streets and the ease/difficulty of getting around in various ways.

Winding a Hank of Yarn using your Bike

Here is a story that I feel is a decent introduction to me.  As indicated by the title

1. I knit and

2. I bike.  Not seriously in races or anything, just around the city.

At first these two activities might not seem to go together and that is what I would have said a week ago too, but as it turns out that would have been due to a lack of imagination on our parts.  Don’t worry; I wasn’t riding around the city whipping up a sweater or anything (That would be ridiculous.  It hit -20 with the wind chill here last week and it’s too hard to knit with mittens on).

No, instead what happened was I got a hank of handspun 100% silk from my sister for Christmas.  It feels like amazing.  It feels like expensive.  So expensive, in fact, that I have never bought yarn that nice for myself.  I buy the kind of yarn that comes in skeins and balls, ready to knit.  Fancy yarns come in hanks that have to be wound into balls before you can start using them.  There are ball winders and other equipment that you can buy to aid you in this task, but something else worth noting about me is

3. I’m cheap.

My Dad is too.  It’s in my blood.  When will I have another bunch of yarn fancy enough to come in a hank?  I would never buy such yarn for myself, so not until at least next Christmas.  And one use of a swift and ball winder per year (maximum) is just not enough to invest in them.  I mean, sure, there are 1000 m of yarn here, but I’m not in any rush.  I don’t need no fancy ball-winder.  As you may have deduced

4. I’m stubborn.

What does a swift do that cannot be done by just winding the yarn carefully and slowly by hand?  Well, I’m not sure, but somehow I made a huge mess.  The yarn kept sticking to itself and I tried to have faith that it would come untangled, but things kept getting worse.

Mess o' yarn

See the scissors poking out on the right hand side? Yeah, I used those a few times.

I must have missed something obvious.  I consider myself reasonably bright.  There must have been some trick in starting the winding that I missed.  So I did what anyone would do.  I asked the Google, but it couldn’t help me.  All the videos made it seem so straightforward.  No one else’s yarn was sticking together or getting tangled.  It must have been my yarn particularly.  Yes, that must be it.  I’m going to make a beautiful shawl with this gift from my sister and if I’m really really careful and don’t waste any of it, I might have enough left to make a second thing.  I can’t waste any of it.  I really needed this to work well, so it couldn’t be my fault.  When Google fails you, there is only one recourse.  I made tea.  Oh, right,

5. I like tea.

I drank the tea and I looked at the mess.  I willed myself not to cry over tangled yarn because, apparently, some people have even bigger problems if you can imagine.  I considered that it might be a little bit my fault.  Maybe I let some of the loops get pulled into the wrong spot and that’s why everything was now a disaster.  So, I cut the yarn, pulled the end out (a longer process than I can really convey interestingly) and I started again winding a new ball.  And again I couldn’t manage to pull the yarn free from neighbouring loops.  I didn’t seem to have enough hands to hold the ball, wind the yarn and detach the strand I was winding from the ones I needed to stay put.  I needed something to hold the extra loops in place.  I looked around.  It’s not a big apartment.  The largest nearby object in it was my bike.  And part of it appeared to be just about the right size for…

Tangled Mess on a Bike

Cushions the blow when your wheel gets caught in the streetcar tracks

Yarn around the bike handlebars.  That I was willing to get lace silk yarn near the greasy, gross gears on my bike must tell you how desperate the situation had become.  Although, as it turned out, the bell was the object more in the way.  I’m sure my neighbours were thrilled by the repeated accidental dinging.  So I set about winding.  It was going a lot better…at first.

Start of a ball

Yes, I occasionally sat on the bike while doing this.

I got a rhythm going.  When it appeared to get tangled, I kept pulling, confident that no loops were getting pulled anywhere they shouldn’t.  It was working!  Well, except for the fact that I kept dropping the ball on the floor and it would roll under the couch and I would have to use a knitting needle to scoop it out and re-roll a bunch.  Another person might move the whole enterprise away from the couch, but when you’ve got a rhythm and a bunch of silk yarn near a lot of moving bike parts with sharp bits, you don’t tempt fate like that.

About 1/3 of the way through, it got tangled in a way I couldn’t fix and I ended up going to bed before I could finish, but one more cut with the scissors and a couple of days later

Four balls of yarn

Finished! I have completed a task that takes under a minute with proper equipment in a mere ~12 hours.

I am so stinkin’ proud of these four little balls of yarn.  To put it in perspective,

6. I’m working on a PhD.  I’m almost finished (I swear Mom and Dad), even though I’ve been almost finished for a year.  I am on my sixth thesis draft, have had the requisite argument with my supervisor about it and just handed it to my committee members for review.  So I have summarized 5+ years of work up into a 140 page document that took me over 6 months to write.

And these balls of yarn are the thing from the last month that I’m most proud of (granted I was on vacation over Christmas for a couple of weeks).  Which is probably not that strange, I guess.  I’ve found people have pretty much the same reaction to finding out you knit as finding out you’re working a PhD: “Wow.  That sounds tough.  I could never do that.”  This never makes much sense to me since my impression is none of these people have tried either thing, so they couldn’t really know what’s involved.  Some days it’s tough and everything goes wrong, sure, but some days there’s a real sense of accomplishment and you remember why you love this thing.  I think really what they mean to say is “I don’t want to knit/do a PhD, so I don’t.”  And you know, fair enough I guess.  I think they’re missing out (at least with the knitting; my opinion on the PhD thing varies depending on when you ask me).  If you don’t want to knit, then don’t.  But if you do want to knit, you absolutely can.  Most of it’s not really that hard.  Except sometimes, when you get a hank of yarn that you have to wind into a ball and you are too stubborn to buy yourself a ball winder.  And since the answer I found on the internet when I tried to Google was inadequate, let me try to help out future hand-winders who get off to as poor a start as I did: how do you wind 1 km of yarn from a hank into a ball by hand?  The same way you end up doing pretty much everything else you don’t know how to do: persistence.

Well, persistence and creative use of your bike handlebars, apparently.

Beginning of shawl

And so the shawl begins. If you look closely you can see the humbling effect of the ball winding incident: not one but two lifelines in a piece of knitting 12 stitches wide.

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