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What's your vision of a perfect life, a perfect world? If you're in Los Angeles, you can help make it all happen.

What's your vision of a perfect life, a perfect world?

Mine would have a lot of wonderful requirements, but here are my top five:

1. Health. A pollution-free environment, and healthy people who get lots of fresh air and exercise. If they want it. I would want it.

2. Friends. Lots of relaxed adventures with cool, interesting people

3. Coffee. Lots and lots of caffeine every day. Preferably organic, shade grown, fair trade, and hand-packed by members of an autonomous collective of indigenous transgender people of color who donate a portion of their profits to help underserved communities of dolphins with special needs.

(Okay, maybe I've had too much coffee...)

4. Books. Lots of books. And time to read them. Even if it's just a page, read out loud on a busy street.

5. A healthy dose of silliness. Laughter at my expense is okay. I probably did something to deserve it.

You can help make this vision a reality!

If you're in Los Angeles, you can help make it all happen.

Group bike rides cover most of this. And there's a new one that's having an impact at least twice a month.

This bike ride has an immediate positive impact on your health, and you're reducing pollution by getting around on your own power. You'll meet lots of interesting people, and the ones you're not ready to throttle by the end of the ride will probably become friends.

Still not convinced? Well, there's going to be coffee at the beginning of the ride. Probably more in the middle of the ride. And usually at the end of the ride, unless we drink wine instead. (I guess that should be #6 above)

Nick stocks books on the Street Librarians' Ride

There will be books. In fact, we'll be stocking the free boxes of L.A., providing fine literature for readers all over the city. There will be a dramatic reading at every stop. You can read one too, if you want.

That covers everything on the list except the silliness. But this is the Street Librarians Ride, created by stand-up comedian and journalist Nick Richard. So you should probably be ready for some silliness.

Are you in? We meet on the 2nd and 4th Sunday of every month. Usually 12:30 at Stories Book Cafe in Echo Park. But check the Facebook page to make sure:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/livebiketalk/events/

The books we leave behind always get picked up, so you know someone is reading them. It's good to know there are still people in L.A. who read books. Let's encourage them. Street Librarians Ride!

This is one way you can boost your memory on a bike ride.

I wrote about this a while back, but here's a video I made about how riding a bike can improve your memory. I hope you enjoy it.

These changes don't just enable you to do the impossible once. They help you learn faster, so that you can redefine what is possible and what is impossible.

Note: There's a free prize at the end of this post!

Are you looking for a new bike ride?

Here's a way you can have a good ride anytime, anyplace, anywhere in the world. Try this technique and you'll never get bored. You'll get some good exercise, make new discoveries, and... well, I'll save the third thing, the big bonus prize, the absolute number one reason you should try this out, for the end of the post.

Bikesharing depot in Rome, ItalyFirst of all, try these steps (and don't forget the free prize at the end of this post):

  1. Open up Google maps or some other mapping browser and look up your own address.
  2. Put it right in the center of your screen.
  3. Zoom out once or twice. The more ambitious you are, the more you'll zoom out
  4. Figure out a tour that takes you through the safest, most challenging, most scenic areas on your screen. If you don't know what they are, go out and find them!

It's up to you what you'll include in step 4, but here are few things that come to mind: Coffee shops, parks, museums, places you're not supposed to ride but you'll do it anyway, steep hills, your favorite place.

I just made this up. As far as I know, nobody else has talked about it. Maybe there's a reason for that.

Try it out, and tell me what you think. I'll share mine in a future post.

Now for your free prize:

I'm reading a book called The Rise of Superman by Steven Kotler. It's about how to achieve "flow," a very powerful state of mind where you can do things that are normally out of human reach.

Think riding your mountain bike off the roof of a skyscraper, landing on a slanted roof farther down, which you use as a ramp to propel yourself into the air where you do a double backflip before opening your parachute and gliding to a perfect landing on the front lawn of the Embassy.

Kotler writes about the conditions that can put you in that state of mind in a "normal" day-to-day world. If you get there, you can move beyond your limits as a musician, photographer, dancer, or stock trader. You can take something you're good at and become extraordinary in a short amount of time.

One of the key conditions is novelty. There's a reason the best athletes, artists, and professionals are always pushing the envelope. Whenever you stimulate your mind with something new, it creates physical, chemical, and electrical changes in your brain and in your entire nervous system.

These changes don't just enable you to do the impossible once. They help you learn faster, so that you can redefine what is possible and what is impossible.

If you start seeking out new bike routes in your old neighborhood, you might discover that you have more energy, or you're communicating with people more easily. You'll think more clearly, even when you're dealing with issues that have nothing to do with bike rides.

When you bike a new route, you're on your way to developing superhuman powers.



Even if you just have a few hours free, you can jump on your bike and have an adventure. There's a small residential road that I had never explored, but on the maps it looked like it continued on for a while.

I had a free afternoon with just about three hours until sundown, so I took a bike ride down the mystery road to see where it would go. It turns out this particular section of Olive street intersects with El Camino Real, the Royal Highway of "New Spain."

I ended up in the historical center of San Gabriel. The road went almost in a straight line to one of the early California missions. People from the San Gabriel Mission went on to found the city of Los Angeles, so this bike ride took me to some of the roots of LA's history.

I even got to see one of the first and oldest grape vines in southern California, and later on I tasted some California wine to celebrate.

If your a biking newbie, this just reinforces the point: It doesn't matter how far you want to ride or how much time you have. Just get on your bike and explore. You'll run into something interesting you've never seen before, or discover a new bike route to places you've already been.

This is the coolest thing since I first removed my training wheels. You can go to Google Maps, select "Get Directions" and in the options down below you can ask for directions by bicycle. Yay!

This is still a new thing. Google warns there may be dangerous roads on the bike routes, not to mention unmapped bikeways. And of course, the most direct bike route isn't always the most interesting bike route, even if it may be the safest.

The ailing BikeMetro offered more, at least for Los Angeles, because it let you factor in your tolerance for hills and traffic.

But if you're looking for a basic bike ride from point A to point B, especially in an urban environment with a lot of traffic, this is a good way to start and you can do your own "research" and exploration on the pavement.

Thank you, Google!

5

Somewhere between Terracina and Formia, you'll find it. There's a stark pillar along the side of a winding mountain road. I assume it's either a milestone or the remains of one of the many monuments that line the Appian way.

Italy bike tour Appia milestone ItriThe bike ride to this pillar is phenomenal, and there are at least three good reasons to make the trip. First is the "Tomb of Cicero" at one end of the bike route. Most experts agree that this isn't the really the tomb of Cicero, but it's near the spot where he died and that's enough for most people.

Better than Cicero's tomb, the bike ride from Terracina to Formia passes through a park which includes the original remains of the via Appia, as well as several ancient Roman and Medieval buildings.

In fact, if you're riding your bike on the main road, you'll pass through the park several times. The road winds up the mountain in endless switchbacks, while the Appian Way shoots up in the classical straight line, defying gravity just as easily as she defied the Pontine marshes. You can ride your bike up this way if you choose to. I didnt.

But my favorite thing about this section of the Appian bike tour is the town of Itri. I hadn't meant to stay there, but I was intrigued by the scenery, the friendly locals, and the castle. After taking a long hot shower and stuffing my gullet with fresh pizza, I spent hours wandering around the dark, twisting alleys of the immense fortress on the hill overlooking Itri.

I can't tell you much about the history of the castle, but I'll introduce you to someone who can. On our next bike tour through southern Italy, one of my local contacts has offered to hook us up with an archeologist in Itri who can give a tour of the place. I asked him how much something like that would cost and he said, "some cafe in a bar, I assume, but not more..."

So if you're up for an expert tour of Itri for the price of a cup of coffee, not to mention a zillion other great experiences that you can read about all over my blog, get in touch with me and join us on this trip. The dates are May 15th-June 1st 2010, approximate cost is $1500 plus airfare and bike (rental, purchase, or transportation of your own rig), and I'll be happy to answer your other questions by phone or email.

1

Every time you use your own power, you expand that power. And here you are. We are extraordinary human beings, and we don't do ourselves justice if we stay inside our comfort zones all the time. You can do something extraordinary today. Right now.

It was pouring rain in Los Angeles today, and I was skidding all over the place as I weaved my bike around drivers who aren't used to driving in the rain.

But in this case, the destination was more important than the journey. I was heading for Griffith Park with two goal in mind:

1. To stop procrastinating and begin doing hill sprints--as I had told myself I would do six months ago.

2. To practice taijutsu--another promise I made to myself.

Maybe there was a little bit of the macho thing going on, riding out in the rain to do strenuous exercise and crazy martial arts stuff in the mud. But even if it had been sunny, I would have done it.

We're not in this world to sit like rocks, and slowly erode in the weather. We're here to rise and grow and always seek greater heights.

As the drizzle streamed down my face, I launched myself at the top of the first hill, sprinting full on, trying to get up there as fast as humanly possible. Finding the limits, and pushing beyond them. Flinging past gravity, mud, exhaustion--any obstacle that dares to say, "This is all you are. You can go no further."

Riding a bike is the same battle, in slow motion. Every time you use your own power, you expand that power. And here you are. We are extraordinary human beings, and we don't do ourselves justice if we stay inside our comfort zones all the time. You can do something extraordinary today. Right now.

That's why I ride.

Today is the exact midpoint of 2009. It's also Hermann Hesse's birthday, and he's got a connection to bike travel. Or any travel, actually.

I was really influenced by two of his books, Siddhartha and Goldmund and Narcissus. They were both about wandering vagabond-type characters whose travel became a big part of their destiny--and that of all humanity.

I think his books taught me the difference between being a tourist and being a traveler. It seems that the term "bike touring" is more dominant, but really when you tour the world by bicycle--or even just your home town--you're embodying the spirit of a traveler.

A tourist goes site-seeing, but a bike traveler has a spontaneous conversation with the places you visit. You may have  a schedule, but it's a loose one by necessity. Your plans are tempered by the weather, the terrain, and even by what you ate for dinner.

Bike touring engages you. Wherever you stop for food, drink, or rest you're going to get the attention of the locals simply because you're traveling in a way that's still unusual. People who wouldn't talk to you if you were driving will invite you in for coffee drinks because you're on a bike. You get to know the adventures that go along with heat and cold, hunger and fatigue, being lost and finally arriving at your destination.

Your adventures may not be as long or intense as the ones that Siddhartha and Goldmund experienced, but when you travel by bike you're living in the real world, not just being passively entertained.

It's the middle of the year, the beginning of summer, and a few days from our celebration of independence. Celebrate your own independence, while the sun shines and the open road rolls out before you. Ride on, and enjoy the adventures that await you.

1

Getting ready for a long Saturday bike ride. And it gets me wondering why I do this. There are actually a lot of important, pressing things I could take care of tomorrow. Instead I'm leaving checks uncashed, bills unpaid, dishes unwashed and groceries unbought so I can zip around the outskirts of LA without any important destination in mind.

But I already know what's going to happen. I'll find a new street that I've never been down before. Maybe find a new park or garden, or a great hill to test my will or my courage, depending on whether I start at the bottom or the top.

I'll get food and coffee at places I've never been before, and strike up a good conversation with the owner or the patrons.

BikeLA pix 005I always like to check out old historical routes and sites, so I'll eventually get to the San Gabriel Mission, but that's a tiny piece of the whole experience. I could drive there in half an hour or less, but that would leave the hills untested, food and coffee untasted, back streets undiscovered, conversations unstarted.

I guess that's why I do this, why my irrational wanderlust always wins out over the guilt about chores I've neglected. the bike is my only proof that there's still some adventure and excitement in the world. It's the biggest thing that lets me keep a sense of wonder about things.

Why do you ride?

I had an extra long lunch break today, and took a quick ride in a part of LA that I pass through a lot. But I never saw this before!

I was out for maybe a hour, and didn't ride more than a couple of miles, but I took all the side streets and discovered a new park, a bunch of old mansions,  and some gingerbread houses. I was stalked by a giant Ewok in a Porsche (Halloween is near), and I even found a narrow twisty road that smelled like a redwood forest. In L.A.!

If you're not using your bike to explore the places you think you already know, you're in for a treat. I bet every city has quirky houses and yards, not to mention those random freak encounters with weird (ahem, interesting) people.

You'll come away from these discovery rides with a new sense of wonder at the world, quite possibly enhanced by the extra load of oxygen and endorphins.

This is at least as entertaining as any movie you'll see all year, and it's free. Not to mention the exercise.