Last Saturday, a few of us convened to say goodbye to a friend and mentor who had died the previous month.
Owen Mulholland (I’m leaning on him, and he’s with his twin, John Mulholland) was one of the first diehard bikies I met in Marin County.
Within a year of meeting, both of our lives veered in new directions. I quit trying to pass physics classes in order to apply to medical school, and started envisioning myself as a bike racer, and he fathered a son.
Emile grew into a superb human being and I managed to acquit myself in the racing.
I shared one little thing with Emile: the sting of Owen’s tongue.
When dancing on the podium with Liz Newberry who’d just won the national cyclocross championship (a new thing for women), Owen chastised me for unseemly behavior.
But he also backed me when I needed a letter for a small grant from the Women’s Sports Foundation. And rode with me, and listened as I wept about being yet again shunned by the men’s morning ride.
He was a writer, historian, father and above all a cyclist to the core. He truly lived to ride, and Emile saw to it that his close friends would be able to experience a meandery loop through Point Reyes, taking in a couple of side-trails and then climbing up the long long wooded spine of Mount Vision. I went with the dirt riders on my Croclo-Zeiss (Cunningham cross bike). There were kids in front of me and old men behind. In the middle feels comfortable now. The ride was just hard enough for me to feel worked, under the forest canopy which the Japanese know is so healthful.
Road riders convened with the dirt riders and we shared stories. Franklin Blackford (the fourth person in the above picture) spoke of how he was embraced by Owen and his men’s Wednesday riding group within months of moving here. Believe me, it’s rare. Our county doesn’t have a warm fuzzy exterior, but there are people within that reach out and grab you.
After the ride, John Mulholland approached me with a smile and announced I was wearing his Pedal y Fibra jersey from 1963, when he raced in Mexico. I was flattered, and wondered how it ended up with Charlie Kelly. It was C.K. who gave it to me (well, he was throwing it away, actually, and I caught it mid-throw), and who swore it was from someone in the Grateful Dead crew.
A very patched up 5 pocket work of sartorial art, I am keeping and wearing this thing til it’s in shreds. It’s only fitting.
It’s four months to the day since Charlie’s “episode” (the bleed that nearly killt him–7 weeks after falling from the bike and breaking a few bones).
Now that we’ve lived through a third of a year, we understand better that the healing curve is nice and Malthusian at first…Charlie went from a curled up ball with arms pressed to his heart (I think this is a sign of a really bad brain injury, according to the author of “Over My Head”) to a guy who can, with careful supervision, walk about 4 miles with small ‘balance disturbances’ and stumbles. He still doesn’t have a clue where he is–on which trail, how far, etc. Will the ‘inner compass return?
I discovered an unfortunate fact: I’ve become my sharp-tongued, overworked mother Doreen. She had six ‘accidents’*, one after the other, and we little Phelans were just so terribly inconvenient!
Mom and Dad were party animals, and we felt the sting of their resentful ‘parenting’ too often.
So I bark : “AUUGH!! WATCH your RIGHT FOOT–it’s too close to the trail’s edge” . I had chosen a single track trail up behind Deer Park School to hear all the little rills roaring down Bald Hill.
“I’ll be careful. Sorry”.
I cringe when I hear Charlie say “sorry”.
It’s ME who should be sorry for being shrill.
Yesterday we got in 90 minutes of walking, cleverly timed between rainstorms. Life is good. It’s also not-so-great. Then it turns great again.
Our friend R. M. lost two rellies this week. Our other friend Nick F. brought us a feast of roast bird, potato, brown rice and veggies…and withdrew politely to allow Charlie that Alone Moment that his royal Shyness so patiently awaits.
This is in direct conflict for my wish for MORE people to visit….my battery gets charged by visits, while his battery drains away ….Is this TMI?
I believe one of the toughest things for Mr. Do-it-Yourself-Depend-On-No-One (so you won’t have to engage socially) is the fact that now, since he’s ‘down’, he must allow his mechanically worthless wife to seek assistance around Off Hand Manor. Our 60 yr old shingled shack, like any home, requires constant vigilance…today was typical: a leak from the woodstove flue. Somehow the ‘hurricane cap’ allows rain to drip right down from the roof to the floor. It is black and creosote-pungent. It might not be doing the unpolished hardwood floor any favor.
I discovered all that, and a wet floor just when we were celebrating the first day with no doctor’s appointments in about 3 weeks….and now, partway thru making oatmeal, I had to change gears into “supplicant of support “, when I’d been such a helpful cook and housekeeper, chauffeuse and bed-warmer.
Mike Schultz came to the rescue (he and Scott Bowman are the only guys who wear as many hats , skill-wise, as Charlie).
By three this afternoon, there was enough slack in the sched that I could get out on my road bike and catch 2 hrs of fresh air, and upon return, Nick Fain was carrying a roast bird and pile of organic roast veggies, plus a bottle of rouge under his arm…so he spared me the hour’s dinner prep. We didn’t know what to do with the extra time so I had Charlie pen one of his patented thank you notes. He’s able to write, but unable to read. Must learn more about this “pure alexia” condition, where somehow part of the brain can generate legible (if badly spelled) text, but in no way can it be re-read. It’s like, as soon as it’s on the page, a mysterious substance scrambles it, and the only way Charlie can read it is to put a finger on a letter, then look it up on the 26 letter alphabet on a plastic sheet that he keeps at the dinner table to ‘decode’ the occasional word. Each word takes about ten minutes to de-cipher. It’s maddening, and he’s trying to be patient, but both of us pray that at some point, a ‘patch cord’ will allow free interplay between the writing and the ability (not yet there) to read.
And: don’t get us started about his ruined sight. There is only about 10% of his vision remaining and we don’t know if it will come back. Of course one must be cheerful but er…can we just hurry thru the next 3 yrs to see if the eyesight returns to 50 % or so? Then he could ride a bike (not on pavement but on dirt, where things don’t pull out in front of you suddenly , etc).
Ah…well, this is the day-in-the-life. Tomorrow Robbins Peek the PBP veteran tandemist will take Charlie round the county a little bit…and get him a schosh stronger.
*Irish term for “bundle of joy”
Here’s a shot Charlie Kelly took of us at the local park last week.
It’s been a wild year, with the notion that I’d pick up a new language and impress the folks at Single Speed Worlds in Hakuba Japan.
But on August 3rd, while still cramming at Middlebury Language School, I got a call that Charlie’d had a crash, and had broken 7 or 8 bones. Nothing was made of his head injury, so when I came home, I was a bit in the dark about the subdural hematoma lurking upstairs in his fine mind.
He went from crutch to handmade cane to easy walking, and I was lulled into thinking I could carry out my plan of going to Japan.
Fortunately I brought my computer, and checked me email. I didn’t have a cell phone, but perspicacious Wombats Carolyn V. found a way to reach me and summon me home through this blog.
I found Charlie on life support, but he was able to squeeze my hand (showing he was not a ….er….vegetable is the uncool word, but that was what I was worried about).
Now it’s three months since that awful September 20th, and so much has transpired…much of the news was transmitted thanks to Caroline James of BigMango, who created a funding site for Charlie. The success has been awe-inspiring. Caroline’s partner Dave Garoutte has been Charlie’s welding wing-man, CNC wizard (back when there were hundreds of orders for this or that invention) and general wise guy whose practical, no-nonsense perspective helps me keep on track.
We ‘re settling into a new normal, and an unnervingly unbusy Charlie. When I’m typing here, he sits quietly on the couch. He never makes a demand (when he does, I’ll be very happy), for that implies executive function, which is glaringly absent.
I’m trying my hand at list-making (his strong suit, along with Fixing Everything Jacquie Breaks) and…day-planning. Very strange.
I’ve always been the Keeper of the feminine traditions–cooking, sewing, and hamhanding delicate stuff so Charlie can analyse how Mere Mortals can mangle a bicycle component, invention, or whatever. I get to “ruination” quicker than anyone.
These days, we BOTH knock things over, and have relied on a tight network of his old buddies to fix things…
I’m hanging the old stockings I made for us a few years ago–note the little hammer and golden wrench on Charlie’s stocking.
Mine features childhood friend Katrina Alef’s lavish embroidery. I have asked Santa Claus to bring back Charlie’s sense of direction/orientation–one of the two things that haven’t bounced back–the other being the ability to recognize letters and printed material. Oh, yes, and vision, balance…er…there are a few stocking stuffers I’ll be awaiting.
Doctors don’t seem to make prognoses about Traumatic Brain Injury. Instead they intone: “the brain has an amazing ability to adapt and reconfigure….but it will take years.” Now that’s something I will need to have put in my stocking.
In January I discovered that a Japanese biker friend –Koh Kitazawa– won the ‘bid’ for this year’s singlespeed world championships , to be held in Hakuba at the Iwatake Snow Field on Oct 10-11. Having missed the SSWC 2012 ,2013, 2014 (South Africa, Italy and Alaska) I just couldn’t let another year slide past.
I might get out of shape.
Anyone can race singlespeed at the “world level”: for the moment at least, you simply send in your fee and get to work on your elaborate costume. Sometimes there’s a lottery, but not this year. Perhaps the snow field can hold 2000 bodies…..This location is where the first mountain bike events took place in Japan thirty years ago…and alas I was not part of that trip (Charlie Kelly, Denise Caramagno, and Tom R were invited, wined and dined). I imagine it’s possible the corporate ruination process could hijack this frolicsome 15 year tradition to serve its own purpose ( associating companies like Chevron, BP, Dupont, and various automobile or drug companies with our healthy, peaceful pastime).
As the self-inaugurated global ambassadress for women, I figured speaking reasonably intelligible Japanese might help me diffuse the Women’s Mountain Bike & Tea velosofy.
Which is: An hour on a bike is an hour in perfect balance.
January 20, one day into Spring Session at COM, I decided to take a class. College of Marin is nothing if not accomodating. Why Japanese? Because it’s reputed to be a difficult language to learn, and I figured wrestling with it would do what bike schooling does for my students: returns them to youthful innocence.
Thankfully nobody laughs at a sixty year old student; they mostly scratch their head and shrug, then revert to texting when teacher isn’t commanding their attention.
I pedal right into the classroom, past the teacher’s desk (“Konnichiwa!” and a subtle nod) and hop off, lean the bike on the far wall, unclick helmet and drag the messynger bag with its 10 lbs of textbooks, notebook and three sharp pencils to my desk. I’m wayyyyy up front (even though there are only about 8 students, they huddle behind me). I got this issue with hearing ‘s’ and all unvoiced consonants.
The kids range from 15 years old (middle school) to 21.
Even though “furui” is the wrong word for a human, I AM a “furui kaban” (old bag).
The senseis are phenomenal. I have two because, with my crappy hearing, i need a second helping of every lesson for vocabulary retention & grammar seepage. It’s been a very intense 3 months. My brain hurts, and I even lost weight. Back and forth to COM 4 days a week. Worth it ! I can read a soy sauce label now.
For my final speech (a three-minute digest of who I am, my age, major, what I like & hate, etc) do it up. I pulled a ratty silk kimono from the clothing compost heap, wrapped a Therma-rest sleeping pad round me for a pretty reasonable ‘obi’ cinched with tres chic white nylon climbing rope. Costume designer Pat Leo lent me water-based white makeup. My route to school has lots and lots of flowers on fences. Charlie mollified a chain for a bit of jewelry. Genuine passion flowers, genuine jasmine. Couldn’t find tabi (toe-socks) or 3 inch tall wooden clogs, but the bike shoes are equally impractical to walk in. Watch this space to see if I can get into a summer program, and if they let you attend classes in costume.
Pictures by Joy Sassoon, Gary Leo and Fredde Foster, who I THINK will be competing at SSWC with the rest of the wild costumed folk….
Gentle rider, this will seem like a strange (and poorly edited) story, talking to a general reader. Please forgive the sloppiness. The story ran in longer form –i admit–it’s too long even when pruned– a year ago in the Specific Pun, an entertainment weakly (yes, that ‘a’ is on porpoise) that fails to pay its writers unless they really beg. Here, then is my lame-ass cover story for the Specific Pun.
When you speak of “a culture,” it can be the behavior of a given society, or of a group of societies, or of a certain area, or of a certain period of time.—Margaret Mead
COMING SOON! The third or fourth “opening” will be Saturday June 6th, don’t miss it. Maybe you already know. Maybe you’re even going to the Day Before “opening” .The MMB (don’t call it the hall of fame) is a serious nonprofit organization that aims to educate the public about the history of bicycling and encourage biking culture, will occupy the old Big Bear Market site at 1966 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Fairfax. Lectures, movies and live TV coverage of cycling events in the screening room. The main space holds a hundred people . I plan to share my skills- and shrediquette-training there when I get permission to do so.*****
The people behind the MMB are Carole Bauer,Don and Kay Cook, of Crested Butte. Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in Crested Butte, Colo., to Joe Breeze, bike builder and historian, to bike pioneers Otis Guy and Marc Vendetti, to Mark Squire, building owner and partner at Good Earth Natural Foods. A community of dedicated bicycle advocates has also been involved.
Larry Galetti’s dad built the market in the 1950s, and left the business to Larry . Galetti left it to Al Baylocq, who joined the team at the legendary Good Earth health food store. When the customer base outgrew the building in 2012, the store moved to the huge lot in the center of Fairfax. Chris Lang, Fairfax commissioner and bike promoter, connected the dots and got Mark Squire together with the MMB team.
With the help of Lang, the MMB team found the former Good Earth location to be promising for the future museum. Morgan Hall, a Fairfax-based architect, wanted to return the building to its midcentury roots by creating a strong, horizontal element and exposing the beautiful bowstring truss construction. Hall partnered with Joe Breeze, a Marin-based bicycling legend in his own right, to collaborate on the building’s spatial elements. He attributes many of the building’s intricacies to Breeze’s attention to detail. “Working with Joe has been a joy,” Hall says. “He has such a good spatial eye, and his tolerances are … well, he works with metal so they’re in the thousandths of an inch. Me, I’m a broad brush-stroke kind of guy.”
To many, the museum’s opening is more than a new addition to what has long been an enthusiastic biking community—it’s a culmination of many events that highlight the Bay Area’s connection between sport, art and the landscape.
In 1998, San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, in collaboration with the SF Bicycle Coalition, sponsored a broad-scoped art show on bicycle cultures highlighting the history of mountain biking and displaying low rider bikes, art bikes and performance pieces. Many say the exhibit lit a slow fuse for bike culture that’s been sparkling ever since.
Momentum for fostering a biking culture grew from July of 2012 to February of 2013, when thousands of international travelers and bikers enjoyed the SFO Museum’s exhibit, “Repack to Rwanda: The Origins, Evolution and Global Reach of the Mountain Bike.” Often viewed as history in the making, the exhibit helped to unite the bicycle community—while setting a high standard for near-future scholarships and exhibitions.
In 2012, San Francisco International Airport Museum Curator Tim O’Brien developed an exhibition that focused specifically on the role Marin County frame builders. Joe Breeze was the guest curator.
“We quickly recognized Joe’s critical role in this early history, his steady involvement in the industry, the greater issues surrounding bicycling and his personal connection to so many people whose cooperation we were seeking,” O’Brien says. Having already been invited to contribute to Santa Clara University’s De Saisset Museum, Breeze was ready to commit more time and energy to exhibiting bicycle history.
Determined to avoid succumbing to the pressures many museums face today, O’Brien sought alternatives. “These are unsettled times for museums. The DeYoung and the Asian Art Museum have to push turnstiles,” O’Brien says. “Free from that pressure, our mission is to tell the truth and inspire others to learn more.”
In the spirit of no-waste, O’Brien donated the exhibit’s specially built panels, photographs and other valuable materials to Breeze and the MMB.
Breeze’s love of all-things-bicycling started early in his hometown of Mill Valley. As a child, he was sure that the mountain in his backyard was the “highest mountain in the world.” The magnificent presence of Mount Tamalpais—Marin’s original tourist attraction—and its green slopes has shaped his life indelibly. He roamed not just the county, but much of California by bike, at a time when few people rode bicycles at all.
Breeze was a road-racer on the weekend, but during the week he rode with a posse of free-spirits who sported no race numbers or uniforms. They roamed the yellow hills during long summers, astride clunky relics in search of fun and a little adventure away from the suburbs.
If you told Breeze or one of those denim-and-flannel-clad bikies that someday mountain biking, or the “world’s smallest sport,” would be an Olympic sport, a high school team activity, or the inspiration for national transit policies, they would have wondered what planet you came from. While mountain biking started to leave a trail in the sporting industry, the organic food movement was picking up momentum. Good Earth sprouted up in 1969 and set itself apart from regular grocery stores—it was where you shopped if you really cared about what went into your body. Serious coin was spent on food and bicycles, being issues of the most pressing sort.
Always looking at the big picture, Breeze regarded bicycles as capable of influencing politics and, ultimately, saving the planet. In 1994 as the U.S. Army vacated San Francisco’s Presidio District, opening spaces for nonprofit organizations, Breeze and MMB partners envisioned and spearheaded a permanent exhibit to excite the kids of the future about bicycle culture. Breeze imagined a bicycle history corner at the Thoreau Center for Sustainability. He contacted Don and Kay Cook at the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.
The Mountain Bike Hall of Fame arose from businesspeople brainstorming in the summer of 1988. The Hall of Fame, which inducted mostly California riders at first, had as much to do with tourism as it did with preserving the memory of the sport’s earliest days. In a town of roughly 800 full-time residents, an influx of avid cyclists—especially in the slow season of autumn—means money. Induction ceremonies moved from Colorado to the annual bicycle dealer trade show to accommodate even more attendees. Inevitably, the industry titans who sponsored the Hall of Fame were enshrined; thus the world’s smallest sport became a tributary to the created cult of celebrity.
In the early 90s, around the country, federal funding for non-motorized transportation—mainly identified as the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), among other refreshing acronyms—swelled the coffers of many regional bicycle coalitions. The collective energies of their members resulted in greater numbers of riders on the road, including kids. Dan Freeman, a history teacher at Sir Francis Drake High School, coached Marin’s first high school mountain bike team, and 15 years later all of the high schools in the county have a mountain bike team.
And in 2012, with a space in mind, Breeze had his eye on moving the Hall of Fame and its historical memorabilia out to California. Breeze summoned his old friends Marc Vendetti, a former racer, businessman and philanthropist; Otis Guy, a local fireman, and early mountain biker/builder; venture capitalist Julia Violich, and lawyer Keith Hastings to the team and a handshake sealed the lease—committing to a project that would house the famed Igler collection (30 bicycles from the beginning to the most recent of the bicycle era) as well as examples of the fat tire bike’s evolution.
Marin County is both the spirit home of the human-powered bicycle and the place where its adherents, despite heroic efforts, had little to no political traction. It is no longer a hidden gem, but a global tourist destination conveniently close to San Francisco.
And decades later beyond our county lines, the world caught the fat tire bug. Global production soared through the 1980s and 1990s as the industry realized: People could have more than one bicycle. This “fad” rescued the flattish-bicycle industry after the 1970s sting-ray and 10-speed boom. Trail prohibitions and inflammatory press coverage generated friction and a sensationalized trail war. A parade of journalists from The New York Times, the L.A. Times and countless European and Japanese bicycle magazines, rolled through impressed by the beautiful terrain and astonished by the grim faces of the bike-loathers. The journalists’ stories noted the incongruousness of “mellow” Marin’s cool regard of cyclists on the trail. But at the time, Marin wasn’t yet your typical tourist destination; and sharing was a new concept.
A new generation of bike-friendly policymakers, 30 years and a global climate shift have silenced the chorus of obstructive land managers and officials, who insisted that mountain bikes were ruining the tranquil outdoor experience. County residents continued to simply ride the bikes, and let the cares of a contentious, traffic-bound county slide off them with every revolution of the bear-trap pedal.
At times collaboration seemed unlikely until common goals, federal funding and expanding enfranchisement brought bicyclists into the negotiating rooms. Three decades later, Marin’s bicycle family has matured with the tincture of time. The Marin County Bicycle Coalition was founded precisely to educate this very mercurial and “skiddish” constituency. Years of lobbying, advocating, showing up and never giving up the mission of safer two-wheel transit paid dividends.
The roads are still jammed with cars and irritable, distracted motorists, but the roads have lanes being shared by thousands upon thousands of both residents and visitors.
The stampede into the county’s greensward can only grow. Farsighted Marinites preserved an impressive amount of public land, and, where once the bicyclists were coolly received, a slight thaw is taking place. Stafford Lake Bike Park—the proposed 17-acre bike park slated to include a single-track loop trail, gravity-fed flow trails with jumps and beams, several pump tracks and north shore style elevated trails—would take pressure off southern Marin fire roads.
Future generations of Marinites will remain young in the saddle. Perhaps, if we are good, there will be some narrow trails opened on Mount Tamalpais. Or all the trails will be open on certain weekdays. Anything is possible.
No car can touch what bicycles deliver on many different levels: the joy, the clean air, the clear head, the strong legs, the healthy lungs and the fascinating, translucent, black Lycra shorts—sorry.
Our love affair with the car is dying, and the romance of modernity’s first love, the bicycle, is gearing back up in its Golden Age.
The two-wheeler’s cultural center, the Marin Museum of Bicycling, will open before the rainy season this year. As a membership- and fund-driven entity, the MMB will be creating history for the foreseeable future.
Recently released by two professors at MIT is Bicycle Design An Illustrated History by Tony Hadland and Hans-Erhard Lessing. It’s a dense, rich and very readable text made up of 576 pages and 300 accompanying illustrations. Needless to say, most of the Marin inventors like Charlie Cunningham, Joe Breeze, etc. are cited.
Due out in September of 2014 is the memoir Fat Tire Flyer by Charlie Kelly. After a 30-year hiatus, Kelly is back on the trail and ready to recharge his wild biking roots as a much-overlooked biking pioneer.
Ever since we met, Charlie’s sported a green down jacket begrimed from years in the machine shop. I think this one is his third…whenever it looked like the poor thing was about to fall to shreds I’d seek another in a thrift shop. It wasn’t too hard in the 1990s but green seems to have fallen out of favor.