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DIY Education – Second Year Capstone

July 21st, 2013

Two years ago I posted on here a declaration of self-education and a strategy to get me started with an autodidactic education program. The strategy didn’t last long, but I’ve been experimenting with different things to accomplish my goals. It took on a life of its own. Then, this spring, a lot of plans hit their climax all at once. I finished my Minnesota Master Naturalist class, got on payment plans to pay off back rent and a debt to the IRS, and I officially started my residential-contracting-via-utility-bicycle business. My brain was, at this point, crammed with unsorted information and experiences. I figured the next step in my personal education should be a sort of capstone project – to unpack and synthesize everything I’ve encountered in the spirit of this project since beginning it. That includes, but is not limited to:

  • Volunteer seed collection and native plant identification
  • Taking a MetroBlooms Raingarden workshop
  • Minnesota Master Naturalist training
  • Taking part in Occupy MN
  • YouTube videos or free online documentaries with Timothy Morton, Slavoy Zizek, Alice Roberts, etc.
  • Filling notebooks with half-baked essays on anthropology and human history
  • Visiting state parks by bicycle
  • Hiking
  • Conversations with naturalists, park rangers, landscape architects and environmental science students
  • Reading (but not always finishing) Small is Beautiful, The Ecology of Commerce, The Expanding Circle, Collapse, Sex at Dawn, Thoughts Without a Thinker, A Primer in Environmental Literacy and the Ecology of Freedom

My second year capstone is a two part writing project.

Part one is a sort of self-assessment where I attempt to unpack the last two years and pick out some key ideas and synthesize multiple lines of thought. This is for myself — as writing practice and as a way of taking stock. I’m going to use it sort of as a cheat sheet for the last two years, or as an external hard drive for my brain.

The second part is a paper putting Timothy Morton’s concept of “The Ecological Thought” into context in terms of ecological stewardship and political economy. I want to focus on some of the conceptual traps we fall into when we consider the intersection between human societies and the natural world, and how the Mortonian “Ecological Thought” turns those traps into new questions. The goal is twofold: to complete a finished philosophical essay and to combine my three focus areas of philosophical anthropology, landscape ecology and nonfiction writing in such a way that all three things feed off of each other.

This essay will be posted here when I’m done, maybe as a new version of my zine, “It’s a good day to face the hard things.” I’m exited to write it, but I first need to read Morton’s book entitled The Ecological Thought, and possibly also Ecology Without Nature. I’m familiar with his thinking through a series of videos and podcasts I’ve taken in. That kind of learning is adequate for forming thoughts and getting a sense of his ideas, but in order to write, I need to read the book.

As soon as this capstone is complete, I will return to the self-assessment and figure out what to do next.


Bike Upgrades for Touring

January 26th, 2013

Trek 850 Touring Bike

I went on my first bike tour in august with a minimal amount of upgrades to my 1983 Trek 850. It was awkward, but I did pretty well with what I had. Now, I’m taking the winter as an opportunity to get ready, piece by piece, for the next trip. I chose the fun part first: new handlebars.

Trek 850 Touring Bike

I got a set of trekking handlebars from Nashbar.com for $15 and wrapped them myself. I was able to reuse the gear shifters and brake levels without changing the cables or anything, so it was a really easy upgrade. And they feel much better than the flat bars. I don’t know why trekking bars aren’t more popular in the U.S.

The rest of my setup includes a new Axiom Journey rear rack, a new Banjo Brothers quick release handlebar bag (with built-in map holder), a frame-mounted Blackburn pump, and a handmedown kickstand I found lying around.

I’m also using Wald fold-out baskets attached to the rear rack. They’re supposed to be permanently installed, but I’m experimenting with using them as removable panniers. I taped and zip-tied pegboard hooks to the top and attached a bungee along the bottom to secure it to the rack but still allow it to be easily removed. For touring, I’ll be getting regular panniers. You may also notice the knobby tires. Those are my studded winter tires. For now, I’m using this bike as my winter commuter. Next year I’ll have a utility bike and I’ll be able to save the Trek from all this disrespect.

Technically, this is a mountain bike, but only technically (in my opinion.) It was the first mountain bike Trek built. In those days, that pretty much meant a tough road bike with low gears and wide tires. Since then, mountain bikes have gotten smaller frames, suspension forks and other features which make them poor touring-conversion candidates. This bike has way more in common with modern touring bikes than it does with modern mountain bikes. It has a long wheelbase, steel frame, rack braze-ons, room for any tire width, triple chain rings, 26″ wheels (more of a world standard than 700c) and mounts for two bottle cages.

Trek 850 Touring Bike

The other planned upgrades for the winter:

  • Front rack
  • Fenders
  • 26×1.75 touring tires
  • Front and rear panniers
  • Bike computer
  • Compass
  • Rearview mirror

And where am I going? I’m hoping to volunteer for the State Parks working on prairie restoration for a short trip in the spring, and then in the late summer, pick a route according to one of Adventure Cycling’s maps.


Three River Mini Bicycle Tour

July 23rd, 2012

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Rather than continuing to post my incessant ramblings about how I can’t get my shit together, I’ve been trying to get my shit together. A few moments of inspiration around recording, philosophy or self-education have fed this blog, but other than that I’ve had a heap of things on the backburner. Every once in a while something comes forward. Better work, a more solid place in the world, peace of mind and a more active social life are all actually pieces of the same thing – happiness. Overall and forgiving of the pitfalls, I get a little happier everyday. There are as many reasons for this as there are things I’m juggling.

Knowing all of this, I was all too aware as the early spring hit Minnesota that I was due for a trip – I hadn’t been out of town since my western tour-on-the-cheap in 2009. I need nature, miles of pavement, inspiring boredom and the loss of ego that comes with the unfamiliar. This need is three years backed up. While the rest of the obstacles of life are close at hand and visible, this one just grows like a slow cumulonimbus – a sure sign of a bad storm.

I made a heavy commitment to biking this year, for a lot of reasons. Mental health, fun, economy, exercise, ecology. All signs pointed to letting my shitty 1994 Ford station wagon sit on the street if it wasn’t playing nice. Instead of going through the usual hoops of mechanics, maintenance and asking dad for loans, I asked a friend to tune up my 1983 Trek 850 mountain bike. I bought a nice custom-refurbished single-speed from Two Wheels. I got a membership at the YWCA and toned up my legs. I bought rain gear. In comparison the only investment I made in my car was a new battery and two or three tanks of gas. After buying a map of the city trails, I learned how long I could stay out biking – about five hours with a lunch break.

I was shopping around for a second bike when I learned about bicycle touring – taking a 10 mile an hour road trip on two wheels. My Trek, although not a dedicated touring bike, seems suited just fine for light touring. With a little bit of work, it could go across the country for weeks on end. I made the bare minimum of upgrades: a new chain, new cassette, a rear rack with fold-out baskets, new grips, a light set, and I replaced the rusty shifter cables. I’ve been racking my brain all spring and summer budgeting out what I needed, and what I could get away with not buying, for a short camping trip. I’m able to fit my big ass Target tent. I have a list of foods I can eat that don’t require cooking. Instead of a sleeping bag and air mattress, I can suffer with just a woven mat and a blanket as long as it’s less than a week. In 2009 I was sleeping in the backseat of my 1991 Honda Accord though 10 states. Instead of waterproof panniers I have garbage bags to line my backpack and gym bag with. Instead of a handlebar bag I’ll use a drawstring backpack and a Sea to Summit Dry Sack to carry my wallet, phone, journal and maps. Not the most ideal or elegant touring configuration, but it’ll do to get me out of the city and into the landscape.

Originally, my plan was to bike up to William O’Brien State Park, just north of Stillwater on the St. Croix River, and stay for three nights. I made my reservations about a week ago, and went on a binge of plan-changing. I added an extra day, an extra state, two stops and 140 miles to my trip. I will be camping in three different parks on three different rivers. In order to camp in dependable places I needed to make my itinerary a little rigid. To compensate I made my trips as short as possible so I have lots of time to check out the landscape, get lost or wait out the weather if I need to. Since I can’t carry a lot of supplies with me, I’m making sure to be within about an hours drive from the city at all times in case something happens and I need to call for help. I’ll be passing through cities in between parks so I can shop for groceries.

I spent over $1000 in 2009 to be on the road for two weeks and got to camp for free in the Jemez mountains of New Mexico, check out off-the-interstate ghost towns in Texas and deal with torrential rains in Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri. I woke up in a van to ridiculously humid air in Houston. I took a wrong turn into East St. Louis after dark (which should speak for itself if you’ve ever been there) but I’ve never been just outside of Hudson to stand in a waterfall, I’ve never taken note of the native Midwestern prairie grasses, and I’ve never gone across a state line without letting almost everything besides rest stops and chain restaurants speed past me at seventy miles an hour. You don’t need a car to get to work, see your friends, go to shows or go grocery shopping. In a little over a week I’ll show myself that you don’t need one to take a road trip either.

So here’s the itinerary for my five-day three-river mini bicycle tour:

  • August 1st
    42 mile ride to William O’Brien State Park near Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota. I’ll be taking the very long Gateway trail through the northeastern metro area.
  • August 2nd
    23 mile ride to Willow River State Park in St. Joseph Wisconsin. I’ll be crossing the state line into Wisconsin in Stillwater, shopping for food if necessary. I’ve got all day to make this very manageable distance, so I may stop to swim in the river or have a long picnic or just get to camp early and hang out. I hear the waterfalls at this park are spectacular and I hope it’s not raining.
  • August 3rd
    49 mile ride to Frontenac State Park just downriver from Red Wing, Minnesota. This is the furthest out of town I will be.
  • August 4th
    Rest and hang around camp. With all the riding and camping, I want to make sure I’m good to get back home.
  • August 5th
    70 mile ride back to Minneapolis. This will be a feat, but since I’m biking into the city, I figure I can stop and eat or get on a bus if I’ve had enough, and I don’t need to worry about setting up camp at the end of the ride since I’ll be home, which could be as late as midnight!