Monday, October 9, 2017

Biking Around Rochester (New York)

Around 20 years ago myself and the Voice of Reason hopped in my Ford Ranger and drove north from Richmond, VA to Rochester, NY.  We were exploring the possibility of relocating to Rochester; I wanted to transfer from Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond to Colgate Rochester Divinity School.  Because Myrtle Beach does not count, this was really the first time we had been out of Appalachia & the South (we grew up poor, give us a break).

We feel in love.  We arrived in Rochester on one of those rare blue skyed, clear sunshine, verdant spring days.  I was infatuated.

Ever since that trip I hold a special place in my heart for Rochester.  It is where I was ordained, it was where I found my calling, it was where I met great people, it is where I go when I'm down and out to be filled.  But interestingly, it was not a town I biked much.  I bought a bike during my last semester, an old Motobecane at a yard sale, but it was too big.

So this year I booked the first flight of the day from MSP to ROC so I could have a few hours to bike around the town.  As I waited in line to pick up my rental car (yes, I see the irony) I looked through City Newspaper for food recommendations.  I settled on Rohrbach Brewing as my spot (nice combination of high reviews, beer, and close to a bike share kiosk).

First things first the zagster ride share program is a piece of cake to operate.  Seven speeds, easy to ride.   Knowing I was going to have a beer at the end of my ride I started off by pedaling up to the top of Cobbs Hill Reservoir.

(downtown Rochester)

Back down the hill, past my old apartment where the dude downstairs smoked weed every night and every morning yelled, "stop barking" to his barking dog.  Cut through where Dr. Lemke used to live (what an angel and scholar that man was), then up the hill to CRCDS.  
Bike lanes in front of the divinity school!  I would make that the front page of the webpage.  

The day was very much like the day the VOR and I first arrived.   Who wouldn't want to go to school here?  
MLK, Jr. did not attend CRDS but he did attend Crozer Theological School which merged with CRDS to form (drumroll) Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.  Look at how young he was.

On down the hall I was pleased to see the Zagster poster.  

Then I stopped by the Samuel Colgate Chapel (yelp that Colgate both the school Colgate University and Colgate toothpaste) he was a good Baptist.  

 This is the stained glass window as you leave.  Four people (men, white men) who framed the tradition I was trained in: from L to R: Roger Williams, William Newton Clarke, Adoniram Judson, & Walter Rauschenbusch).

From the school I pedaled over to Highland Park Bowl to the Frederick Douglas statue (the first statue memorializing an African-American in the US).  As I looked up at Mr. Douglas I wondered how different the nation would be if instead of Confederate generals there were statues of Douglas!

From the park I made my way down through the University of Rochester campus (by the way, Baptist in origin too).  As I pedaled through campus I planned on taking the path by the river back to downtown but I saw another bike path and took it instead.  What a lovely ride on the other side of the Genesee.

Through downtown, over the Inner Loop.  If you haven't read about a city reclaiming/deconstructing roads then read this piece.  Not having the Inner Loop threw me off a bit, but how cool that it is no longer there.  

By then I was hungry (and thirsty) and I was running out of time.  I parked my bike in the kiosk and called it a day.  

A few notes about Zagster bikes.  One, they are cheap.  $1/half hour.  Two, they are everywhere.  I couldn't get over how many kiosks (usually small, six or seven groups) there were throughout the town, sometimes just blocks away.  Three, people use them.  Later that night I saw a peloton of them pedaling through downtown.  

The ride inspired me to create a Social Gospel bike tour through the city for next year.  Oh that will be fun.  

The day finished with a beer and maybe, a strong maybe, the greatest ham and cheese on a pretzel roll sandwich I've ever had.  

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Bikeable Parish: Equity, Churches, and Bike Lanes

This week the New York Times ran a nice piece on bike share programs in Washington D.C.

About halfway through the piece my eyes nearly popped out.  Why? bikes and churches were mentioned in the same article.  Unfortunately, the mention was not in a positive manner. The issue mentioned centered on the disruption of parking due to proposed bike lanes.  For the record, I have nearly an entire chapter devoted to parking in my book proposal.  I had to find out more about the issue.  Using the google machine I bird dogged down the bike lanes and churches back story.

In 2015 churches, African-American churches, protested the proposal of a protected bike lane in front of their churches.  One deacon was quoted saying, “This ain’t London, this ain’t Europe. The United States is built on the automobile and we need to respect that."  The deacon is exactly right.

I would like to see churches adopt biking and the beautiful benefits of bike parking.  But I don't think the best way to do that is to plop(impose) a protected bike lane in front of historic African-American churches.  Especially, when African-Americans drive, with a higher than average percentage, from their homes to their churches. The African-American church is a thriving (and sometimes strained) and meaningful institution that should be honored and recognized when the issue of biking (and bike lanes) is proposed.  Should historically disenfranchised institutions bear the brunt of alternative transportation plans?  NO.  These institutions and communities have bore the brunt of transportation decisions for decades.  Instead of disrupting their communities these communities should be first and foremost in the conversation.  Listen first then look to Outreach, Partnership, Communication, Education; not disruption and taking away of parking spaces.

On the one hand the sentence in the article is a sad mentioning.  On the other hand I see it as a generative idea for not what to do.  If the narrative or assumption is that biking is an activity for the privileged and historically disenfranchised must adapt to the privileged activity then the expansion of biking is dead on arrival. To make biking equitable the biking community must do its homework, tenderize consciences, and be open to alternatives.  And listen to this piece from MPR news.

I think churches can be leaders in this realm, I hope so.

Post-script.  Have any of you ever seen the word "stippled" in print?

Post-post-script the idea of e-bikes in a bike share program is pure genius.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Arches of Glory

As some of you know I have campaigned, unsuccessfully, for the Minnesota Twins to offer "Clergy Passes" for home games.  I mean the Red Sox do it, so do the Cardinals, and the Reds so why not the Twins?  I know there are good reasons not to start the program, but it would be cool if the Twins offered 100 first come, first serve, standing room only tickets, for free, to clergy within the Twin Cities?  Imagine rabbis, pastors, imams and others all standing along the rail watching the Twins play a game, talking shop, complaining about parishioners, sharing favorite restaurants, bike routes, hopes and dreams.  I think it could be a model initiative for peace in a multi-faith world.

Which brings me to today's post.  In a few hours the Twins will play the Yankees in the Wild Card play-in game.  One game, winner take all, anything can happen...  For the record, I will not pray for the Twins to win; I have other issues to bend the Holy One's ear with.  But it doesn't mean that I will not have transcendent thoughts about baseball and the Twins.  You see, when I walk into Judson Memorial Baptist Church I have to think such thoughts!  The architect who designed Judson forces me (and every one else) each and every time I (we) enter the church to do this.

How so?

The current Judson building (1914) was designed by Harry Wild Jones, how could a parent look down at the little babe in their arms and name him Wild? (I know he was named after his mother, but still).  In 1912 Harry Wild Jones designed the renovations for Nicollet Park, the home of the Minneapolis Millers.  And one of the key features of Nicollet Park was it its arches.

Bicycling Interlude.  A few days ago while biking from the west end of Minneapolis back to Judson I took a five minute break to explore the Wells Fargo branch that occupies the location of Nicollet Park.  I heard the branch had a community room with items and pictures of Nicollet Park.  I was misinformed.  All the branch had was three pictures of the park.  This is the best.

 Outside of the branch is a plaque about the park and the ball played there.

I was hoping they would have some kind of marking of home plate, like they have at the Mall of America.  Oh well.  I then biked south to 38th and Nicollet to take some pics of the mural of Nicollet Park.  

Mark this as #4,561 of the things you can do much easier on a bike...

Back to the post.

Okay, now get ready.  Take a long look at those beautiful, spanning, architecturally wonderful arches.
Keep looking.

Now close your eyes and count to 6.

As you can see Mr. Jones dressed up the Nicollet Park arches for Judson Church.  So every time I enter Judson, I am imagine I am walking also into Nicollet Park; I'm going to play, to watch, to experience, to laugh and cry, to sing and pray.  Somewhere under these arches the line between church and baseball blurs and I love it...I don't care if I never get back...

Monday, October 2, 2017

Civil Bikes: A Civil Rights Bike Tour of Atlanta

Recently I attended the New Baptist Covenant Summit 2017.  If you don't know about the NBC and their work stop what you're doing and read about them here.

Welcome back.  Still feeling the high from the record setting bike ride in Portland I asked the leadership of NBC about a bike ride as part of the Summit.  I knew time was not on my side (only about six weeks to get the word out) but I had to try.  Not only did they think it was a good idea they even created a really cool event for it.

Let me back track for a moment.  While working on my article about bikes and the Montgomery Bus Boycott I found a link to Civil Bikes.  I read about Civil Bikes and fell in love with this organization. I wrote the principal of Civil Bikes and asked if we could arrange a Civil Rights tour before the NBC Summit.  She said yes as well.

It is one thing to read about the Civil Rights era but it is another thing to pedal on the ground and see it at "bike-level".  I kept thinking this over and over and over as we pedaled around Atlanta.

So on the Monday morning before the Summit an intimate group met in the parking lot of King Center behind Ebenezer Baptist Church and started our tour.  (Know that Nedra will provide bikes - nice bikes - and helmets, but if you have your own bike that works too).

From the King Center we pedaled to the David T. Howard school and learned about the school's namesake and the amazing list of alumni.  Right from the get-go my re-eudcation of civil rights began and kept coming...

We turned, pedaled, and admired the differing architecture everything from restored Victorian to plain and fancy shotguns.  And then there was the MLK, Jr. birth home.  
Back on the bike to this amazing mural.  I could have spent the remainder of the day taking in the metaphors, symbols, and words.  
But we had more to see.  On our way to the state capitol we ran into a blocked road, no problem when you're on a bike though, we just pedaled around it.  By the state capitol someone yelled at me for not wearing a helmet, said I was breaking the law.  

(The MLK, Jr statue on the grounds of the Georgia state capitol, which was only recently added.  let that sink in...only recently added to the capitol grounds!)

We stopped for a water/snack break at a convenience store about an hour after we started.  On the glass at the counter I found this interesting imperative.  

I was surprised how easy it was to get around Atlanta on bike.  Drivers were not too aggressive, bike lanes were well marked, and it wasn't too hot. 
Our next stop, our pen ultimate, was the John Lewis mural and Big Bethel AME.  

Again more re-education, more insights, more great stuff.  

Then we stopped a few feet away for our final stop outside of Wheat Street Baptist Church.  

Then we biked back to the parking lot and finished the tour.  I felt like the tour was just getting started.  It was that good.  I had never thought about a bike tour as the perfect vessel for a tour like this.  Each stop was an education (for me) but also an emotional experience.  Biking from point to point gave me some time to process it and moving via a bike gave my body time to process it as well.    Plus, sure you can talk while biking but since it was an unfamiliar city there wasn't a lot of chit-chat going on which created silence to process the tour as well.  

All in all it was a three hour tour, encompassing about eight miles.  I would do it again in a heartbeat. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Bike Camping, a first experience

Yesterday the Norvell men completed our first ever bike camping experience, a 62 mile round trip adventure. 

(the boys after pedailing 31 miles to the campsite) 

Ever since I started riding my bike full-time (for reader clarification: my family owns a van, but we try to bike as much as possible.  and we dont get paid to pedal) I have been thinking of ways to integrate bicycling more and more into the life of our family.  We bike to church, to school, to work, to the grocery store, to the park, to the lake, we bike with a canoe on a trailer, I've hauled supplies for my hammock post from Home Depot on my bike, & etc.  But we have yet to bike to camp. 

We love to camp (for reader clarification: I and my kids love to camp, my lovely and amazing and wonderful and highly perceptive bride is learning to love to camp) but to camp we load up the van and drive to a state park.  For the record Minnesota has some amazing state parks.  The state parks, for the most part are a good distance from Minneapolis.  So where to ride bikes for a camping experience?

Here comes the fantastic Three Rivers Parks District and the Carver Reserve Park with the Lake Auburn Campground.  Because our dog is experiencing separation anxiety only the boys and I went on this trip.  I wanted the boys to have a good experience so I loaded all the gear onto my bike trailer (the bike trailer is the former trailer that used to haul the kiddos in years ago.  I stripped it down and put a plywood base on it) so the boys would only have to pedal themselves to the destination. 
(Reader, you'll never regret purchasing a couple of those gigantic Ikea bags.  We use them for laundry, camping, hiding treats from people, storing old sermons, & etc.)

We loaded up the trailer with too much gear and began pedaling.  And here is the beauty of this trip: 98% of the trip was done on bike trails! Along Minnehaha Creek, onto the Cedar Lake Trail to Hopkins then the Minnetonka Regional Trail to the Campground. 

Now how did I get a 14 year old and 11 year old agree to pedal 31 miles to a campground?  I lied and I bribed them of course.  First, I told them it was only 20 miles.  When we passed the 20 mile mark I told them you can never trust google maps.  Second, I filled them with treats along the way.

The first stop was the Hopkins Depot.   This was our first time at the Depot; human do I feel like a sucker for not stopping there before - what a cool spot. 


What's not to love about coffee, donuts, youth run organization, bikes, solar panels, trains, a garden and grills?  What in the world are serious grills doing out there?  I dunno, but I can see a biking and grilling event in the near future. 

Then we just kept pedaling.  Reader, note that once you start pedaling on the MRT it turns into an aggregated path rather than a paved path; which means compacted dirt and gravel.  It will slow you down, but wont pop your tires. 

I was taken aback by how many churches lined the trail.  This one, St. David's especially caught my attention.  Come on, St. David's you should have a welcome bikers, hikers, walkers, explorers sign on the path with worship/prayer/meditation times.  I visited their website only to discover that the rector spent significant time in God's chosen state, West Virginia, therefore my critique of St. David's ends here. 

And we just kept pedaling.  Every time we came to one of those Three Rivers Parks kiosks with the poles pointing directions I would point something out so not to alert the boys of the mileage to the camp.  
This sign near Shoreview indicating there were 8 miles to go (when I told the boys it was just a little farther) could have ruined the trip but luckily the boys never saw it.   

We reached our site around 7pm after being chased and tormented by mosquitoes and horse flies and some kind of smallish horsefly.  The bugs...they were serious.  After claiming a site, setting up hammocks, securing firewood and checking out the surroundings we cooled off in Lake Auburn then it was the usual camping experience: brats, smores (with jumbo marshmallows, there is a Lunds & Byerlys right on the path in Hopkins) time by the fire and card games.  

Now is the time to ask why didn't we stay at the bicycle only camping spot?  The boys sure did want to know!  Well it was simple, there was a RV near the bike camping spot with a generator and I didn't want to listen to it run all night.  Next time, we probably will stay at the bike site.  Here is my only request for the bike camping site: how about some chairs. It is hard to pack camp chairs for a bike camping experience, some heavy duty outdoor chairs by the fire ring (and maybe a sheltered coin-operated massage chair).  Great idea, plus it is only $10/tent. 
The moon was only a quarter full, the sky was clear, & the stars were everywhere; so were the fireflies (a spectacle we rarely see in the city).  I awoke around 5am to the sun beginning to rise and the birds chirping.  It is amazing how only 30 miles west can transport you from the sounds of the city to the silence of the woods which creates habitat for all kinds of birds.  I loved listening to the waves of different birds until around 7am.  Around the 7 the boys awoke and were, of course, hungry.  But I had only planned on a one night trip.  So we took the camp down, loaded up the trailer and pedaled back to Minneapolis.  On the way we stopped at Cafe 318 for breakfast.  I apologize to the owner I am sure we stunk the place up with a toxic combination of body odor, campfire, bug repellent, and camp smell.  Then we kept pedaling with plenty of rest breaks and tom foolery.  
As we neared Minneapolis I pulled over to adjust the bags on the trailer at Lilac Park in St. Louis Park. 

 As you can tell the boys were starting to feel it. 

I had no idea the beehive was a grill.  Or that there were several roadside parks along Highway 100, "Lilac Way."  We had roadside parks in West Virginia, I kind of forgot about them.  Roadside parks, now turned into biketrailside parks.  I like this. But why dont they open up the beehive for grilling again?  It would be nice to pedal to the park, grill a couple of brats when the lilacs are in bloom, I'd do it. 

As we neared  home, the boys cooled off in a sprinkler at the Lake Harriet Bandshell. 
That was that. 

Next time: two days minimum, whole family, fishing gear, better bug plan, camp chairs (unless the park provides them), bike camping site, and telescope.  

I wouldn't trade living in the city for nothing, but I need frequent trips outside of the city in the midst of starry skies, with more bird songs, and less plane noise to restore my soul.  I'm thrilled to find just such a spot within biking distance of home.  Now to explore the other camping sites within biking distance...

Saturday, July 15, 2017

MSP vs. PDX (bicycling)

A couple weeks ago the family and I drove out to Portland, OR for the American Baptist Biennial (I know try to contain your excitement).  I was excited to visit the west coast, see the ocean again (still aint as cold at Lake Superior), see the Rockies and Cascades and Coastal mountains, sip some Pinot Noir, eat some Tillamook cheese, and etc.  But the real reason I was excited about going to Portland was to investigate the bicycling scene. 

Thanks to the wonders of the internet I have been able to learn some of Portland's bike scene via the Bike Portland page.  But I knew I would need to get on a bike and ride around the city to get a full sense of things.  Sad to say all of my time was accounted for and did not allow for a city investigation (however, I did get on a Biketown bike and set a record!).  Nevertheless, I did notice a few things that make me think, "Minneapolis/St. Paul we should be pedaling circles around Portland." 

1.  We're relatively flat.   Portland has all kinds of hills and stuff that make you sweat and wear your brakes our fast. 

2.  We have dedicate bike lanes and biking infrastructure.  Many lanes in Portland had a bike symbol on them but no space at all for a bicycle and a car.  Our bikes lanes, our bikes lanes, our bike lanes!

3.  Did I mention the MSP area is flat and easy to cycle?

4.  Minnesota Nice, use the passive aggressive culture to our advantage.  I watched bicyclists after bicyclists get cussed at, yelled at and swerved at in Portland.  Sure drivers are aggressive here in MSP, but mostly they internalize their anger and let it simmer for generations. 

It was great and inspiring to see so many people cycling in Portland, there is no reason MSP cant get to double digit riders.  We have the flat surfaces, the infrastructure, the niceness, and lots of biking institutional structure.  Come on Twin City-ans. 


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Father's Day Gift Suggestion

As a pastor no one every asks me for last minute Father's Day gift.  nevertheless, that has never stopped me from offering advice.

The most obvious gift idea: a nice pair nose hair trimming scissors.  No dad wants to admit they have out of control nose hair, but it's a truth.  Furthermore, even if your dad is losing his head of hair his nose hair will continue to grow with abandon.

Beyond the most obvious.  I want to implore you to purchase your father a Brian Doyle book.  The title does not matter, just get one.  Write on the inside cover how much you love your father, even if it is a troubled and broken relationship, even if you can only write "read this book please."

Brian Doyle was a gifted and talented writer but I think his deep treasure was his ability to make dads, especially, appreciate fatherhood in a deeper capacity.  I love my children and I love being their father, but Brian Doyle made me love my children and love being a father even more.