Booking it in Door County

Inside the handlebar bag: five books I bought this summer in Door County, Wisconsin. Buying five books in a week’s time, at least once a year, is not an indulgence; it’s a necessity.

I’m supporting businesses I care about in an area I’ve visited almost every year for the past three decades. I’m keeping my mind active by taking in new information and weighing the thoughts of others. Most of all, I’m adding weight to the shelves on the second floor of my house, further securing those shelves to the floor and that floor to the rest of the house.

The roof, as always, is on its own.

I’m also making good use of my handlebar bag. Though I leave it off the tandem most of the year, after I use it to haul books I wonder why I don’t leave it on the bike all the time. It doesn’t slow us down; we’re too slow for aerodynamics to be a concern, and even the weight of a few hardbacks isn’t noticeable.

By the way, there’s no rule that every bag on a bike be loaded before the journey. If you start with an empty bag, you can pick up things along the way. I’d go as far to say if you don’t have a way to carry things home, why venture out in the first place?

Likewise, it’s not important that a bag be custom-made for its contents. There might be an exception to that if you’re hauling a laptop; electronic devices need some coddling. But otherwise, apples, sweaters and coffee cups huddled among sweaters just need a little space.

That holds true with books, too. Have the room? Toss a couple in. No cushioning or coddling necessary. No cables or electricity, either.

You never know where you’ll find the next indispensable book. You expect to find it in a bookstore, but in Door County you can find it other places, too.

Finding The Mother Tree came from Kick Ash Coffee in Ellison Bay, just across the main drag from the Viking Grill, which was featured in the 2010 movie Feed the Fish starring Tony Shalhoub as the only sheriff in recent memory with a toaster in his cruiser.

Take that, Elwood Blues.

Words on Water II came from Fair Isle Books on Washington Island. If you like the ferry ride to Detroit Harbor, you might as well learn what life is like at the north end of Door County from the captain himself.

The Invention of Nature also came from Fair Isle Books. I don’t spend a lot of time on biographies, but it’s probably worthwhile to learn something about one of the founders of the modern world.

Are you kidding? How can you not pick up a book with a title like this? Travels With a Stick came from Sister Bay’s Ecology Sports, a clothing-driven outdoor store with a clean, stylish look. I’ve made the pilgrimage to this store for many years; maybe it’s time to read about a different sort of pilgrimage.

Another title designed to trap the unwary wanderer. Buzz Words, a compilation of insect-inspired poetry, came from Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm. I read a few poems to my partner, who found them suitably disturbing.

One of the poets, Ogden Nash, might not disagree. Here’s his outlook on the praying mantis:

From whence arrived the praying mantis?
From outer space, or lost Atlantis?
I glimpse the grim, green metal mug
That marks this pseudo-saintly bug,
Orthopterous, also carnivorous,
And faintly whisper, Lord deliver us.

Leave it to Nash to zero in on the praying mantis for theatrical emphasis; he could have chosen a similar insect, the walking stick.

But the walking stick lacks the blood and gore that Nash’s last line leans on so heavily.

Pity. Surely the vegetarian walking stick offers something of interest to the writer of prose. Imagine a book about a walking stick’s pilgrimage.

You find in front of you the preface to that very book:


I did not intend to write a book about my wandering. Indeed, when I set out on the way of St. James, I lacked not only the inclination but the ability to write.

Being a walking stick, I had no need of a second, insensate stick on my journey to Santiago de Compostela, just a few leaves and my own disposition to travel deliberately and lightly on the land.

However, as I walked toward my goal, I was transformed–not like Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s
Metamorphosis in which a man becomes a huge insect, but the inverse–from an elegant though rather small insect to a larger though rather ordinary-sized bicycle rider.

This book is about my journey, my transformation, and my acquisition of a bicycle—and a handlebar bag big enough to carry the books I require for intellectual sustenance.

I never made it to Santiago de Compostela. Instead, my life has become one of diversions.

May you find this book a diversion of your own.

Edelstein, Illinois
September 2021

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Of course you’re not a professional—you work on your own bicycle

I am a person who rides a bicycle; like people say who shop for bikes, I am not a professional.

But what does that mean, not a professional? For many customers it’s a defensive admission.

I am not a professional: I am not going to spend $5,000 on a bicycle.

But only amateurs spend $5,000 on a bicycle. Professionals are given bikes—bikes that cost $10,000 or more.

No, to me the word professional has something to do with my attitude toward the bicycle.

I am not a professional: professionals ride bicycles with parts that were made the same year as the frame.

Not me.

My Specialized Diverge has a 33-year-old crank. My Bianchi Pista has a 40-year-old front hub. The back hub on my 1964 Schwinn Corvette was made in the 21st century.

(Sadly, like so many 21st-century bicycle parts, that hub is now obsolete, which means no longer made, supported, or remembered by the company that created it—automatic-shifting two-speed hubs being so 2017.)

No one would look at any of my bikes and say, wait a minute, this one—this one belongs to a professional.

Not the tricycle.

Not the folder.

Not the fixed gear.

Not the coffee bike.

Not the tandem.

But here’s the thing about the bikes professionals ride: they’re boring.

They always sport the latest tech: electronic shifting, hydraulic brakes, thru axles, tubeless tires.

They’re maintained by pro mechanics who touch everything up every day of the racing season.

And they’re spotless. No dust, no grit, no mucky chain, no half-worn brake shoes.

Hmm. Up to date, everything in order, and clean?

I may not be a professional, but I am surprisingly willing to be bored.

Maybe I should turn pro.

How hard could it be?

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Stop making sense. 30 days of biking, #30

What if everything, everything was in motion?

If you think about it everything is in motion. The Earth rotates at an absurd speed. It does this as it moves around the sun with all the other planets. What’s more, the entire solar system flies through space as though it has somewhere else to be and it’s late.

Everything on this planet: you, me, the screen you’re reading this on, the dog that lives down the street, we’re just along for the ride.

Not that we always knew this. The whole sun-moving-around-the-earth theory fooled us for quite a while.

You say some are still fooled? Maybe, but today’s fooling is an exercise in Unitedstatesian stagecraft and/or willful ignorance, defined as the freedom people enjoy to miss the point on a daily basis.

But I’m not interested in cosmic physics as much as in the physics of imagination: everything in motion, more or less separate from everything else.

What if everything was able, nay compelled, to move in relationship to everything else?

Now, let’s not get silly about this idea. I’m not talking about the wall over there moving in relationship to the ceiling or the floor. Buildings and trees and bicycles and people retain their physical integrity in the always-moving world.

And while the ground and sky move, it’s not like you’d see a mountain moving by itself across the sky. Not a big mountain, anyway. It might happen, but very rarely, maybe as often as a bird from South America in our own, more stationary world finds itself transported within an enormous storm system that finally peters out over Scotland.

Trees also move from place to place, though a tree in the always-moving world has a completely different root system: one that drags along the ground for nutrition, much as an electric streetcar gets its power from overhead lines.

Trees also move from east to west, following the sun, because photosynthesis will find a way.

By the way, everything floats in the always-moving world. Otherwise a lot of things would just sink into the ocean, doomed to circle the edge of the continental shelf until it rises to form a new mountain range.

Because everything floats, trees moving from east to west keep moving: from California to Hawaii to the Philippines to wherever.

Also, fish move across the land, treading ancient evolutionary paths on a daily basis to the consternation of anti-evolutionary folk who often wake to find themselves at sea.

Yes, people too are always in motion, whether voluntary or not.

Babies start drifting as soon as they emerge on the scene. Concerned parents leash their offspring immediately while the more laidback wait for their kids to circle the earth, which they do every 27 minutes (kids move so fast these days).

Meals are eaten on the run.

Bicycles also move by themselves. If people feel like going for a ride, they wait for bicycles to come by and climb aboard. But since everything in the world is moving, you’re not really riding unless you steer the bicycle in a new direction and pedal.

I mean pedal faster; pedals are always turning in the always-moving world.

Buildings and streets and parking lots move but slower than everything else. Beautiful buildings tend to group together, sometimes at the beach, sometimes in the mountains. Ugly buildings tend to follow the people responsible for their creation. Trees move aside as the sorry spectacle passes.

Yes, you in the back. Hmm? How do supply chains work when management and labor, and machines and trained operators are always moving in different directions?

Short answer? About as well as they do in our world during the pandemic.

You’d like a longer answer? Well, supply chains operate differently.

Ownership of the means of production is defined by the Law of Proximity. A factory might be built in Egypt on Tuesday and operated by someone in Nigeria who just happens to wake up next to it on Friday.

If steel tubing arrives that same day, the Nigerian makes bicycle frames and martin-house poles. If bamboo is on hand, the factory turns out flooring, window blinds and bicycle frames. Aluminum? Bicycle rims, brakes, derailleurs and frames. Carbon fiber? Mostly marketing materials.

People in the always-moving world can work with whatever comes to mind. They enjoy the variety.

Let’s move on.

In the always-moving world, cemeteries don’t exist. If they did, the only answer to the question where did we bury grandma would be who cares, she isn’t there now.

Cars and trucks? They never stop. Never. It’s like Los Angeles never existed.

Ironically, people don’t need bicycles or motorized transporation to get to their destinations. If they wait long enough, they just find themselves floating down the Arno in Florence, or picnicking beside the Seine in Paris, waiting for the kids to arrive from New Dehli or Juneau or Cleveland or wherever kids hang out, however temporarily.

And because you don’t need cars and trucks for transportation, most of them are unoccupied, used maybe for the occasional Zoom meeting, which few people enjoy and which, in turn, makes a lot of people question why there are so many cars and trucks in the first place.

Damn Zoom meetings.

What’s that you say? The world I’m describing is stuff and nonsense?

Well, of course it is. If it existed, it would be impossible to sustain a political party based on stopping migration. Borders wouldn’t exist and you couldn’t calculate gross domestic product.

On the other hand, you could get a great cup of espresso wherever you were.

And grandma wouldn’t be missing.

Imagining the always-moving world makes me better appreciate certain stationary aspects of our own world.

  • Buildings with permanent addresses and temporary tax breaks.
  • Tables that stay put, so coffee cups are easy to retrieve.
  • And trees that move with the wind but only so far. With roots that run deep, roots that are strong, roots that are, well, rooted.

What can I say? I like riding home to the same trees that were there when I left.

April 30. 12.5 miles.

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Crossing the bridge. 30 days of biking, #29

There’s only so much time.

That’s what your grandparents and your parents told you, and, after all this time, you still believe them, mostly because they aren’t around to remind you.

On the other hand, there’s all the time in the world: time to get up, go to work, read something, listen to something, listen to someone, count change, drink coffee, fix something, throw away something, find something, lose something, think in generalities, struggle to think of specifics, consider an outstanding example of WHAT WE SHOULD BE DOING NOW, and shake your head about all the things we seem to be doing instead.

Why are you doing this? There’s only so much time.

And so you do the math: whether you have enough time to hike from Georgia to Maine, whether you have enough time to pedal from Minnesota to New Orleans, whether you want to use a significant portion of the time you have left to read, really read, all the books you think you want to read.

Whether you have enough time to visit Florence again.

And it occurs to you, even as you do the math, that you’re not especially good at math. And so, once again, you enter the cul-de-sac of cognition that is wondering why you’re not good at math.

You’ve circled these mailboxes before: is it because you aren’t good at it or because you don’t try to get better at it? Is it because math is too overwhelming, or because it’s that time thing again: you’ve gotten this far along without math and so you’d rather not waste any time trying to get better at something that can’t even help you calculate how much time you have left?

By the way, you’re figuring 20 years, give or take. That’s how long your dad had to go when he was your age in 1988, and you’re just enough the product of a paternalistic culture to think that matters.

Your mother, the nurse, the one who drove by herself across northern Missouri in the middle of winter (when winter meant snow, lots of snow, blowing snow in northern Missouri) because she didn’t think her mother had much time left—your mother might disagree, might suggest you hadn’t thought the problem through, that there are things we can’t know, that you might live to be 100 or, because she knew of other examples, that you might not live another day.

There’s only ever been so much time.

And so you exit the cul-de-sac you visit way too often and pedal up the Rock Island Greenway bridge over Knoxville Avenue and look to the south and the cars and trucks and pavement and the busyness of it all and think to yourself, well, at least you’re not wasting your time doing that, not right now at least.

Because there’s only so much time.

April 29, 1 mile.

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Catching up. 30 days of biking, #28

Somehow, someway, Ellen’s Diner in Princeville is still open. And so we park where we have always parked, and in we go, to eat breakfast and hear the latest about Ellen’s dogs and guinea pigs.

To sit down inside; it’s like last year never happened.

Except for the mask requirement.

And social distancing.

And the downturn in business.

The upturn in takeout.

The new freezer.

And the diner’s hours of operation.

Wait a minute. New freezer?


At least that’s the idea: something new, something that keeps its cool like it’s supposed to.

Just like Ellen.

April 28. 21 miles.

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