Guest Post: The Relativity of Flat

Hey, wait a minute–isn’t Stasia on vacation sans technology? Well yes, yes I am. But as I’m biking through Utah, the magic of the internet is bringing you this guest post from Dieter Loibner about his recent bike adventures in Hamburg, Germany. Read it and get psyched for international travel! :)

Ah, Hamburg. Germany’s second largest city, 60 miles from the ocean, on the banks of a huge river. A bit like good olde Stumptown. But that’s where the similarities end. For one, they don’t have volcanoes in their back yards here and the topography is rather flat. On first blush at least. Beer and coffee? Well, you’d have to come and see for yourself.

This city of 1.8 million also is Europe’s second largest container port. It has a long seafaring tradition and it got wealthy from the cargo trade, i.e. coffee and spices. It used to be a sailor’s town with the (still) notorious Reeperbahn red-light district. Here the mates, starved for amusement by months at sea, drowned their sorrows in booze. Here they paid louche ladies for sexual relief. And here they got the sh*t kicked out of them if they couldn’t pay their tab. Alas, the romance is gone on ships that are now turned around in a matter of hours and on the Reeperbahn that morphed into a cheesy tourist trap.

But Hamburg has much more going for it, including hundreds of miles  dedicated bike paths and routes, which makes it a prime place to ride the Drahtesel. That’s why I bring my strawberry-red Dahon (aka ze Falter), with a fat ECO sticker to boot all the way from Portland. Hamburg has city bikes, of course, but I stay a little bit outside of the center where they are scarce. With my own wheels I can sidestep public trans and still enjoy my daily commute to the magazine where I work, which is a 20 mile round trip.

Dieter Loibner(ze Falter, plus consumerism. © Dieter Loibner)

Every time I get here I notice that probably 8 out of 10 riders don’t wear a nut case, a helmet or even a bucket. They ride casually; they wear office attire and obviously are more worried about hairstyle than brain injury. Commuters mostly wear black – you gotta be hip – and many ride 3-gear Holland bikes. The video is for illustration only. It was shot in Utrecht, the Netherlands, but you’ll catch the drift. The upright position is very comfortable and surprisingly fast. Until you hit headwind or – gulp – a bitty hill.

Dieter Loibner(Helmets? Spandex? Are you kidding? © Dieter Loibner

 The weather in spring loosely compares to Portland, although Hamburg is much farther north. The latitude here is about that of Edmonton, Alberta, while PDX is about eye level with Venice, Italy. The breeze can be fierce, especially when howling from the western quadrant. In that case the morning commute is “downhill” (riding east into the city), but after work it’s 10 miles into the teeth of a gale. Makes you earn dinner.

Next time you grouse about traffic on the Eastside, you may want to think about this: Germany with 230.71 people per square kilometer is seven times more densely populated than the US of A with 32.22 inhabitants per square kilometer. From that follows that no matter where you ride, traffic is likely to be quite a bit denser, plus people in Audis, Daimlers, Porsches and Beemers simply love to drive fast. Because they must. On the other hand, many vehicles are puny, not quite the global warmers like you’d see in front of US schools, waiting to haul a gaggle of kids to football practice “safely” so they can happily bash heads with one another.

But there are oddities here, too: By anecdotal evidence I noticed a fairly high obedience rate for traffic signs and lights. In my own twisted analysis that’s because Germans have good memory. Especially for the operative word of their upbringing: VERBOTEN. Speeding bikes on rural back roads in Hamburg’s hinterland are kept in check with the creative use of cow grates. Kids though, riding to and from school are fiends. Riding sans lights, often without helmets, but not so rarely texting while pedaling. Cocky little bastards.

Dieter Loibner(Cow grates on some back roads rattle bikes, riders and teeth fillings. © Dieter Loibner)

A safe bet is riding along the Elbe River, this mighty waterway that’s full of oceangoing ships, barges, tugs, ferries et cetera. For some good cardio, try racing ships when they are sailing with the tide and the current. There’s a lovely bike path that runs along the northern shore. Just peachy. But fools never let good enough alone, so I tried one of those innocent looking cross streets in Blankenese, a posh burb on a bluff overlooking the river and the Airbus plane factory on the far shore.

After a harmless start, I passed a sign that portended trouble: 15%, 800 Meters. Holy crap! Even though it really was only 600 m, it promised a taste of the RondePDX. I also learned that the bus here is called ”Mountain Goat.” I found out why. Nothing beats empirical knowledge.

Dieter Loibner(yikes. © Dieter Loibner)

You think Amisigger sucks? Or College? Or Old German Town reversed? Well, try riding up to the Bismarckstein (the name says it all, doesn’t it?) from the river following the Falkentaler Weg. It kicks ass. But I’m proud to report that ze Falter with all of its seven gears and I prevailed. No stopping, walking or pushing. Just huffing and puffing and cranking.

Yeah, Hamburg is worth a trip. Bring a bike or rent one. But be aware that “flat”, really, is quite relative.

Dieter Loibner(flat. Relatively. © Dieter Loibner)

Adventure, and, ode to the partner left behind

There’s an old, handwritten quote on my refrigerator. I put it there years ago, and there it still sits–as pertinent today as ever:

“Of the gladdest moments in human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of Habit, the leaden weight of Routine, the cloak of many Cares and the slavery of Home, man feels once more happy.”

-Sir Richard Burton, Zanzibar

He continues:

“Excitement lends unwonted vigour to the muscles, and the sudden sense of freedom adds a cubit to the mental stature. Afresh dawns the morn of life; again the bright world is beautiful to the eye, and the glorious face of nature gladdens the soul.”

I think of this quote every time I scheme adventure, every time I yearn for adventure, every time I actually set forth. With tomorrow’s super-early departure looming large,  I definitely feel that sense of freedom, the fresh dawn of life, the expansion of the soul. With every loose end that I tie up, I feel one more trapping of habit slipping away–at least for the next three weeks, when I will replace it with the habits of travel.

And yet, home is not a Slavery. I do escape from it often–I’m sure James and many of you think way too often–but it’s not a Slavery.

These little adventures of mine are how I make life so sparkly. These forays into spontaneity, into nature, into exploration, into the unknown, give everything a lasting glow. The light from the bright world of adventure dazzles everything about life; home is precious because I have the choice, and I choose to come back.

I am so, so thankful to have people in my life who put up with my particular kind of crazy, who realize that this constant need to leave and return makes me who I am, that the fact that I can adventure is what truly makes my soul happy.

The last few days, I’ve been so giddy. So happy, in fact, that I almost wonder why I’m leaving. But it’s exactly because I’m leaving that I’ve been so excited. It’s because I’m about to embark into the unknown that I’ve been so happy with what I have here. And three weeks from now, having tasted deeply of adventure, I will come back to my home, my love, my rock–full.

I may be crazy. But I don’t know how else to be.

And I’m so fricken psyched about life right now.

So I’m off. I won’t have internet access and I don’t much plan to use my phone, but enjoy the Portland spring for me and I’ll catch you all in a few weeks:)

Sometimes little brothers are the best:)

Okay, chalk this up to a proud-big-sister kind of post.

My bitty brother Alex is a professional climber. Which is pretty cool in its own right, but not exactly why I’m proud.

Perhaps you recall that last summer Alex and his friend Cedar Wright biked to and then climbed all the 14,000-foot peaks in California, and I got to tag along on my own bike for the last few peaks of their adventure. Especially since climbing is often such a car-centric sport–drive with all your gear to wherever far-flung place you want to climb and then do your thing–I was super psyched that they were opting to travel via bike. (And even more psyched to be able to meet up with them:)

They weren’t always so excited about it. After their adventure, Cedar made a video about their experience called Sufferfest–which should tell you something about how awesome they felt about biking and climbing exclusively for three weeks. Though if you read the article they co-wrote for Climbing Magazine, they admit that it wasn’t all bad. I even make a cameo appearance in that article as the ridiculously exuberant “unfamous but equally badass female hippy Honnold who doesn’t own a car and is a vegetarian philanthropist.” heh.

So that adventure and its carfreeness was pretty rad of them.

to the mountains!(that’s right, I’m recycling this picture from my initial post about them:)

But the best part is that eight months later now, the two of them are on another bike adventure, this time combining biking and climbing with work installing solar panels in Arizona.

Grist has an article about it here, but the basic idea is that the two of them will bike through Utah climbing all sorts of rad towers in the desert, then end up in Navajo land to help install solar power on 30 homes and 5 schools. I love not only that my bitty bro is biking to do all this stuff–again eschewing the car, although they won’t be totally self-supported this time–but also that he’s using his adventure as a venue to do right by the world.

As a relatively well-known athlete, it’s rad that Alex can use his much-larger-than-mine voice as well as shit-tons of his own money and effort for making the world a better place. (Check out more of his work at the Honnold Foundation!:)

So I’m a proud big sister.

And in another funny feat of planning (how do we always do this?), Alex and I concurrently designed almost exactly the same adventures for ourselves. That bike adventure I’ve been talking about? Going to Utah? Alex and Cedar are biking almost exactly where I plan to be–in part because it doesn’t seem like there are really that many roads in SW Utah, but also because it turns out the places I want to see are also the places they want to climb. They’re already out–they started on Friday–but hopefully I’ll catch up to them somewhere around Canyonlands. Or who knows where. But I’m psyched for the potential of more family adventure–which, I discovered last time, is the most wholesome of all adventures:)

Daylight Savings Magic

It’s like magic: we move the arbitrary clock hands one hour ahead, and suddenly I can see the other people who bike through Washington Park at the same time as me in the evenings. I recognize these people only by their blinky headlights and the way their voices sound when they say “hello” in the dark; now that I have all these other visual cues–smile, colorful clothes, type of bike, way of waggling the fingers in salute–I have no idea who I’m seeing. With the brash and beautiful tumble into spring, I get to re-learn a whole new set of commute buddies.

I know that right now it’s only a matter of rearranging when daylight happens, but every new day it’s perceptibly brighter, a little more enticing to stay out.

Daylight savings: a whole new perspective on the people I share a commute with, and officially the season of taking the looooooong way home. I’m psyched:)