Day 38, hanging in St. Louis: The bicycle (and kit) as vehicle for self-expression and source of confidence - Chris Cross America - CycleBlaze

May 30, 2022

Day 38, hanging in St. Louis: The bicycle (and kit) as vehicle for self-expression and source of confidence

Monday stats and status — physically and emotionally

Start and end: "The Lounge," Rob and Jenn's sweet porch, in St. Louis. Holy cow, am I lucky to have been here when I contracted covid. It sure has been nice to have such amazing company (even if masked and distanced) and to be looked after by such caring friends. Worse than the illness (my case would classify as mild) is the fact that my covid case disrupted my friends' plans and exposed them to the virus. But even more so than that bout of guilt, I'm feeling lucky and grateful and touched.

The Daily Progress: 0. But I did go for a ride, partly just for the heck of it and partly to see how I feel on the bike and whether I'm feeling up to riding again. Rob led me on a tour of some St. Louis highlights, ensuring that we saw each of the things depicted in the sticker I bought for Blue to commemorate our stay in St. Louis. Those landmarks included the Anheuser-Busch brewery, Busch Stadium, the Gateway Arch and the Old Courthouse.

Rob took this shot of me and Blue in front of the Arch. I'm wearing a light blue t-shirt, a yellow helmet, bright yellow fingerless gloves and the white sun sleeves. Oh, and also black shorts. (Yes, I always wear pants of some kind when in public! I swear! Always.) I'm raising a celebratory fist in the air and the other is holding Blue's handlebars. In the background is a deep blue sky with broad streaks of cloud, the Arch swooshing overhead from behind one fluffy green tree to another.
Heart 2 Comment 0
Here, Rob, stands with his bike in front of the most psychedelics murals along the Mural Mile along Wharf Street. Behind Rob is an image of a skeleton-faced creatures wearing some kind of biomechanical, spike-covered armor. The creature is shooting a stream of fire out of a hole in its forehead. To the left is a mural that says "the 1619 project" with the New York Times logo. To the right are the words "KILLER NAPKINS."
Heart 2 Comment 0

I was hoping to resume the bike tour again tomorrow (Tuesday). I feel up to it, but the weather forecast calls for severe weather tomorrow night, which rules out camping. And that right there probably rules out riding tomorrow because, based on the CDC's calculator, I should stay in isolation through May 31. I was thinking I could consider myself isolated if I stayed outside on my bike and camped outside. But severe weather means I'd have to get indoors, potentially around other unsuspecting people, and I don't want to be the jerk who thinks the rules don't apply to him. So I guess I'm staying put until Wednesday unless I'm sure I could be safe outdoors and on my own. Another day of rest won't hurt, but it sure would be nice to start laying down some miles.

Ice cream flavors: Today: Front Porch Mint Chip and Decadent Coffee from Clementine's Ice Cream. Yesterday: Breyer's Natural Vanilla at Jenn and Rob's, but it was completely devoid of any flavor, thanks to covid. Ice cream (or any food) is certainly not as great when you can't taste it, but I was surprised by how much I did still enjoy it. Also, you might've noticed the four different vanilla flavors on the same day last week. I said everything tasted the same and really didn't taste very vanilla-y. I tested positive for covid about 36 hours later. I don't think I'd lost my sense of smell and taste by that point, but you know, I've got standards. I can't let a questionable review stand. Clearly, I will have to re-sample these flavors someday down the road when covid isn't messing with my senses.

Clearly, I'm feeling much better if I'm thinking this much about ice cream again.

Monday ramblings: The satisfaction of suiting up (yourself and your bike)

I said in the first blog entry that "it was on a bike tour that I felt most satisfied and most like myself." (Click here to jump to the first entry of this blog.) Of course, the riding itself is a huge part of that, but another important part of that feeling involves exactly what I'm riding and what I'm wearing. 

Knowing that I've got the right tools for the job creates a lot of confidence. Suiting up might mean putting on some tight-fitting clothes, but it also means putting extra padding in some critical places, not to mention sun protection and sweat-wicking power. It makes me feel physically armed to ride. And you end up decked out in bright, bold colors, partly for the sake of visibility to motorists and partly for the sheer joy of it. Deep down, I know it's a grown man's excuse to dress like a superhero. Well, at least this grown man.

Seriously, what guy has ever worn cycling tights for any amount of time and not thought of adding office attire on top just so he could rip off that tie and button-down shirt and run off like Spider-Man or Superman?

So, yeah, wearing bike clothes makes you feel ready for anything. 

Add your own color scheme or a jersey advertising a cause or organization that's important to you, and it can feel like your clothes are bringing out the strongest, truest version of you. It makes me think of the concept of residual self-image from "The Matrix." My image of myself is most definitely wearing clothes I would take on a bike tour.

And when you're on tour, your bike is an extension of all that. For me and Blue, it happened accidentally. Unsurprisingly, virtually everything about my bike and my cycling clothes prioritizes function over form. Performance, safety and comfort have been the deciding factors when adding or replacing any individual component. And although I would not have expected it, taking this utilitarian approach organically brought about two forms of self-expression: a color scheme and ... stickers (or, if you prefer, pieces of flair)!

Prioritizing safety and visibility produced the color scheme, which is any bright shade of yellow and any bright or royal shade of blue.  (If you're wondering why yellow and blue, I'll explain at the bottom of this post. It's just about what I perceived as the brightest colors and has nothing to do with Ukraine.) And although I feel like a child talking about his favorite colors, I've surprised myself by just how much satisfaction I've gotten from them. 

Here's the attraction of a color scheme: It creates a way for everything to look like it goes together. Rather than a seemingly disjointed collection of biking and backpacking gear, everything suddenly looks more organized. And the appearance of organization creates confidence. I mean, of course I can climb across the Appalachians — have you seen the thoroughness of my color scheme?

Here's a photo of Blue on the morning of May 3. It may be hard to see here, but Blue has a blue frame and lots of stickers, most of which note a place I have ridden to on Blue or is a blue reflective sticker (courtesy of my dad). Blue has a yellow GPS device on the handlebars, along with a light decked with blue and yellow rubber bands, yellow cable housing, yellow bottle cages and yellow electrical tape in key places to protect the frame. On the rear rack are two yellow panniers, my tent in a black garbage bag, and my yellow jacket. The biggest exception to the color scheme is the U.S. flag strapped on top of all that, with its red and white.
Heart 0 Comment 0

The stickers also started from a utilitarian standpoint: I wanted to add reflective stickers for safety, and I wanted cover up the Surly stickers that came on the bike to make it less attractive to potential thieves. I had not yet learned that it's easy to scrape stickers off with a credit card. So I made a point to pick up stickers at places where I had arrived on Blue and over time, Blue's frame has become a living history of the places we've gone. 

Other than those representing locations, I've added stickers saying "I voted," "Vaccinated for COVID-19" and "The Washington Post" because those all meet the criteria of biking to the relevant locations. Because I'm a journalist, I've stayed away from any stickers making a political statement, unless you consider "I [heart] FOIA" a political statement (but you shouldn't! For those not involved in journalism or government, FOIA is the Freedom of Information Act, which requires government entities in the U.S. to provide certain kinds of records upon request, and journalists use these requests to get all kinds of revealing information and hold elected officials to account.) I think one of the stickers from The Post, now all grungy after riding on Blue for a few years, is the most badass of the collection.

This black sticker sits on Blue's chain stay. It says in white: "The Washington Post. Democracy Dies in Darkness." It is heavily scuffed and scratched.
Heart 0 Comment 0

The sticker collection includes, but is not limited to, stickers that name or visually represent the following:

  • Portland, Maine
  • Boston
  • Vermont (Vermont State Parks, the Switchback Brewery in Burlington, and a bike shop in Montgomery Circle)
  • Albany, N.Y.
  • Hunterdon County, N.J.
  • Pocono Bike Co. in Stroudsburg, Pa.
  • The Great Allegheny Passage
  • Buffalo, N.Y.
  • Toronto
  • D.C., in several different cases, including The Post and WABA, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association
  • The Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Atlanta
  • Damascus, Va. (first zero day of this trip)
  • Mammoth Cave National Park, representing Kentucky
  • St. Louis (just added!)
On Blue's down tube sits a new white sticker in the shape of Missouri. Inside the state outline are drawings of the Arch, the Old Courthouse, Busch Stadium and the Anheuser-Busch brewery. To make from for this sticker, I scraped off one from REI that said "United Outside." To the right is a Toronto sticker and to the left is one from Burial Brewery in Asheville, N.C.
Heart 0 Comment 0

How the color scheme came about, and a thought about color perception and contrast

For the sake of being highly visible to motorists, I always choose the brightest colors available when buying a cycling jacket or helmet. That's how I'd end up with so much gear that has a highlighter yellow color, sometimes with a tinge of green. 

Side note: I realized something recently that I hadn't been aware that I was doing: I'd been basing this decision on color brightness because that is what stands out most to me, but others might notice strong colors more easily than I do because my ability to differentiate between similar colors is not as strong as the average sighted person. (My eye doctor when I was a kid called it something like "color deficient," as opposed to "color blind," and it's fairly common especially among men.) So the idea of contrast to me is all about light versus dark. Contrasting colors with the same level of brightness just ... don't really have that a strong contrast to me. 

In any case, I figure if bright florescent yellow or greenish yellow stands out to me, it will probably also stand out to those with better perception of color. But I have since learned that "brightness," for lack of a better term, is not the only way to make something stand out. I used to think yellow or red words on a black background were just not as bold as white words and I've learned not to take that for granted. (Also, typography on a sign, for example, is a very different context than choosing a color for a bike jacket ... and if you're thinking, "Okay, Chris, have we spent enough time over-explaining this?", well, I don't blame you!)

All that is my way of saying there's a lot of yellow or greenish florescent yellow in my kit. There's also a decent amount of blue, especially a light blue, because of the fact that the bike I wanted was available only in light blue at the time I wanted to buy, which was a huge relief because the only other color that year was black, and although black is kinda cool, it is the exact opposite of being easy for motorists to see at night. Granted, if you're counting on the color of your bike frame to be seen, you are doing things wrong.

Okay, so that's how I ended up with bright yellow and light blue as the dominant colors in what I'm wearing: I'd make all decisions based on performance, safety and comfort, and when all else is equal, if a new piece of gear is available in yellow or blue, that's what I'd choose.

Rate this entry's writing Heart 3
Comment on this entry Comment 0