I haven't ridden much the last couple of weeks; the work involved in doing the Lessons and Carols at church followed by out-of-town visitors to be collected, fed, and taken around, stole away my time. I do love Christmas and New Year's, but it's always a very busy time and the timing of Christmas this year made it busier than usual.
I began to feel a bit bloated and inactive, even though my weight hadn't moved by more than a couple of pounds. Then on the 29th my Uncle John died, my Dad's brother in England. By Saturday the funeral was scheduled for next Thursday and I considered going. Although this sounds a bit morbid, I had carefully hoarded 50,000 Northwest WorldPerks miles for just this eventuality and figured I might try to fly Tuesday to Tuesday. But, I'd have to have some year-end things ready at work before I went. So I rode to work, my last commute of the year.
By Saturday morning the wet 7" snowfall we'd had Thursday was mostly cleared from the roads and it was still pretty warm, right around 30 degrees. I got dressed and rode to work in the slop. I'm happy to say I wasn't the first to ride Lexington, that there were one and for a while two prior sets of bicycle tracks by 10:00AM, though I didn't see the cyclists. Work is 4.8 miles if I ride straight there, more like 5.0 miles if I stop at Caribou to get a fancy-ass coffee in my stainless steel thermal water bottle, like I did Saturday morning.
I'm still pretty new to the Nokian Mount and Ground 160s (see Peter White Cycles for a description of these studded tires) and so set gingerly off. Experienced winter bikers will not be surprised to find that what I ran into wasn't so much treacherous ice patches, not at these moderate temperatures, but rather a slimy salty sloppy mess in the bike lane. I plugged along with no traction issues, riding in the main traffic lane when there was nobody coming, slogging along in the slop when there was. After a mere 5 miles of this, I had nasty buildups of gunk under my downtube, on my derailleur and all over my waterbottle. Fortunately, this particular water bottle is meant to keep your beverage hot (or cold) and not so much to drink out of whilst riding, so I could take it inside and pour the contents out of the grime-covered bottle into my coffee mug.
A couple of hours wrapped up my end-of-month work, and I rode home, stopping in Arthur's Jewelers, looking like a robber with my balaclava on, to get a watch battery replaced, where a very fetching young lady did a great job of feigning interest in winter cycling, then home through the intersection where a pedestrian was killed the night before. They hadn't heard about it at Arthur's; I suppose another dead person is unremarkable when it's something so routine.
My bike gets parked in an unheated garage, so doesn't mess up the house, but my water bottle melted off into a messy puddle on top of the dishwasher. Looking at this mess, I thought that I need to get myself some really good chain lube! I think I also need to extend my fenders, fine for occasional rides in rain with fairly mildly treaded-tires but inadequate protection for riding in slop with aggressive debris-throwing knobbies.
With the work details nailed down, I called Northwest to see about travel. Normally, 50,000 miles is enough for a standard overseas travel reward; normally, January to the U.K. is a low-demand route, low enough that Northwest discontinued their direct Minneapolis to London flight for the winter. However, this isn't quite normal, I'd have to travel Monday or Tuesday to be there in time and these are intensely busy days, the end of holiday travel. Buying a ticket was expensive; even Icelandair through Reykjavik was running $2,200. There were a couple of weird routings down into the $1,700 range, Continental through Orlando or Houston, but that's a still a lot of money. By contrast, a flight three weeks from now is about $500. That's the difficulty of wanting to book on short notice in a blackout-date period. There is no such thing as a bereavement award and the minimum number of miles to book on short notice for flights this week was 100,000. I'm not entirely surprised they remained inflexible in considering 50,000 miles for me to fly; it looks like the actual Northwest routing through Detroit has nothing but Business and First class seats left, and perhaps they have no flexibility in dealing with partner awards through other cities.
And so Uncle John will be buried Thursday and I won't be there. We'd actually talked Christmas Day, when he'd called here to chat and also to talk to his brother, my Dad. John was nearly 86, a British Army veteran of North Africa, Italy and Greece, with seven children, my cousins, and 25 grandchildren. In the funny ways that a family can be buffeted by global affairs, he was all set to move to Persia in the 1950s to work for British Petroleum there when the CIA engineered a coup and installed the Shah of Iran (who would subsequently be overthrown in 1979 and replaced by the mullahs who currently run the country and who are pursuing nuclear technology but for its peaceful uses only, and not to wipe Israel off the map). He did work for BP, but spent his career in London rather than the Middle East. He married a doctor, my Auntie Gwen, and they have lived south of London ever since. It was their 50th anniversary in September 2001 that found us in Britain when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred, our last time over. Gwen is still there, and my cousins, John was struggling with cancer, he would have been 86 in a couple of weeks, but it's still a surprise and shock when he actually died. May his soul rest in peace.