In Which “War and Peace” Tips Over the Bike

“War and Peace” in my bicycle helmet one summer!

Odd though this may sound, War and Peace is a comfort read.  I reread it every year.  There is nothing intellectual about this classic, despite Tolstoy’s occasional philosophising.   I adore the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys (especially Masha/Mary/Marie),  whether they are gossiping in the drawing room or riding horses in the confusion of battle.  And what about the  flight of the residents from Moscow when Napoleon and the French are at the gates?  Very suspenseful!

In my family it is a joke the number of times I’ve read W&P. “Please read something else.”  A few years ago, when my husband saw me loading the Vintage Classics edition into the bike pannier before a 30-mile ride, he said,”That’s why you have back problems.”

I was blithe.  “It’ll be fine!”

But he was right. I hate to admit it, though.  At four pounds and 1,273 pages, W&P tipped over the bike every time we stopped for a break. The trick was to lean it against a tree and then lean against it bodily before it toppled.

“I told you so.”

And so, quite sensibly, on the next ride I switched to the Oxford paperback, which only weighs 2.1 pounds.

Recently I decided to reread War and Peace.  I took it with me on a bike ride again:  the Oxford.

But am I losing my strength?

I planned to bike to a park, choose a nice bench in the shade, and read for an hour.  The problem?  THE WEST WIND WAS GUSTING AT 23 MPH!  I was out in the open and it was a struggle.  Finally I reached the woods.

I sat on a bench and the wind blew the hair across my face.  I had one barrette, and though I pinned my hair back as far as possible, it kept escaping and whipping into my eye.

And when I stopped for a restroom break at a convenience store, the bike tipped over.  Crash! The wind, the big purse, a water bottle, a thermos of tea, and W&P.  It capsized!

So I sat down on the sidewalk and drank a Diet Coke.

Really, I do think I’m losing my strength.  Or is it just the wind?

I’ll have to take my tablet next time and read the e-book. I wanted to get back to the book, but…

River Biking & The Bronte Bibliomemoir Market

Glum but lovely scene on the trail.

There is a 100-mile linked-trail system in central Iowa:  long stretches and loops of  trails by rivers, through corn fields, soybean fields, prairie, parks, woods, small towns, and Des Moines, the capital.  The scenery is undramatic but gently green after a solid week of rain.  My spirit is decidedly damp.

There are even touristy things to do by bicycling standards.  You can eat disgusting fried food, delicious ice cream, or pie a la mode at diners in Adel, Redfield, and  Panora. You can stop at Angie’s Tea Room in Jefferson or lie down on a bench in a picnic shelter in Linden.  You can go wild in Des Moines or Madrid (pronounced Mad-rid) at pubs on the trail.  You can, under duress from your husband, bike to  Yale (not the university) and camp in a park not far from that tiny town.

Well, today I did none of the above.  I whizzed down hills, rode past lakes and rivers, and took a reading break by the river.

The countryside is ungroomed, but I found a pleasant place to contemplate the river.  I took the  thermos out of my pannier and drank tea while I read a bit of my latest e-book, Miranda K. Pennington’s  A Girl Walks into a Book: What the Brontës Taught Me about Life, Love, and Women’s Work.

This is the Year of the Bronte bibliomemoir:  earlier I read and was disappointed by Samantha Ellis’s Take Courage:  Anne Bronte and the Art of Life,  but I’m not far enough into Pennington’s light book to make a judgment. I will say this:  combining Bronte biography,  criticism, and memoir is a challenge for Ellis and Pennington.

Pennington has a light touch and has read Jane Eyre over and over since childhood.  She informs us:

These days I reread Jane Eyre once a year, and take doses of the others as necessary. Sometimes I consult them like an oracle or a Magic 8 Ball—I open to a random page and see what they have to say; it’s an idiosyncratic art of bibliomancy, a kind of sortes brontënae.

Very funny!


Eventually I put away my book and rode on. I’m always in the zone when the trail is flat.

The river was gushing in the background.

And then I came to the underpass.  Flooded, of course.  I should have known.

I ignored the Trail Closed sign. So many Trail Closed signs, and so often there is no need.  I walked my bike past the sign and looked in dismay.  Well, it was flooded, but the water didn’t look TOO deep.  Surely I’d ridden through worse?

I had not.

It was shallow for a turn of the wheel and then SPLASH!  I was almost swimming.

But a second later, before I had to abandon my bike, I was through.   My stretch pants were soaked four inches above my ankles, but I kept riding, riding, riding.   Once home I jumped into the bathtub and washed off all the pollutants (I hope).

And I’ll never bike through a river again.  Don’t do it!

And now I’m going to read my book!

NOTE TO SELF:  Write nothing about the Brontes in bibliomemoir-in-progress because the Bronte market is saturated.  In fact, scrap the bibliomemoir, because the bibliomemoir market is saturated. Turn the whole thing into an (a) novel, or (b)  imitation of Horace’s Ars Poetica.  Publish it in a spiral at Kinkos and distribute to relatives.  This is how my family published The Kinfolk Cookbook and many other strange family books.

When in Doubt, Cook It on Medium, Bike Woes, and Biking to Indianola

Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) cooking

Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) cooking breakfast.

My husband asked “Would you like pancakes?”

What an Arcadian beginning to Spring Break!

I was groggy.  Was I back on the commune in the ’70s? I wondered. That was the last time anyone cooked pancakes for me.   But no one was wearing overalls, listening to Blind Faith, or feeding scraps to a cute dog from the pound, so I figured it was 2015.

I was reading an article about Hilary Clinton’s private e-mail account when the smoke alarm went off.   BLEEP-BLEEP.  “Where is it?”  That is always the question.   There is hunting, there is following the loud bleep, there is climbing on a chair, and there is disconnecting.  Then there are black-crusted pancakes. They were burnt, but delicious with real maple syrup.

It was a surreal sitcom morning.

Here’s what we learned.  When in doubt, cook it on medium.  My motto:  Cook everything on medium except boiling water.  You boil that.

Bike Woes and Biking to Indianola


My Cannondale is the one with green pedals.

The weather has been heavenly.  It was 68 degrees today.

Biking weather.

I have had a few bike woes lately.

Do you, like us, have several bikes?  A city bike, a long-distance bike, and an old back-up?  Maybe a few more in the basement?  When the back-ups break down, you know you’re in trouble.

My woes started last year when my 2003 Cannondale got creaky.  Everything had been replaced:  seat, pedals, chain, derailleur, brakes, you name it.  I didn’t like the new noise, so I bought an inexpensive Raleigh.

My husband was a little upset by the cheap Raleigh, and said I needed a better bike.  But my reasoning goes like this:  Why spend a lot of money on a bike when you can buy books?

The lovely cheap Raleigh has collapsed, less than a year after buying.   And so I am back on my Cannondale.  It creaks like mad, but it is much faster and easier to ride uphill.   And now I know:  it is the better bike.  He was right.

And so CREAK-CREAK-CREAK:  Yesterday we rode our bicycles on the Summerset Trail from Carlisle to Indianola, Iowa.  The 11-mile trail (22 miles round-trip) is VERY EASY. And that’s why you want to ride it.  Your first long trip of the year eases you into riding.  And so you ride past the wetlands with the frogs croaking and then you are in a state park with a lake.

Uncommon Grounds, Indianola

Uncommon Grounds, Indianola

If you are lazy, you can stop by the small lake (six miles into the ride) and have a picnic.  We go on to Indianola,though,  because I really, really like coffee.

You can go to Uncommon Grounds, a coffeehouse-cum-deli with great coffee, delicious sandwiches, and dessert, if you get there before 2 p.m.,  when everything on the square closes up.

Crouse Cafe, Indianola

Crouse Cafe, Indianola

If you have a big appetite,  you can go to Crouse Cafe, which is open all day.  It has wonderful home-cooking specials like chicken with noodles, rigatoni, or catfish. I’m not sure about the coffee.

I am so happy to take a long bike ride so early. (Last year, we weren’t on the Summerset Trail till April 26:  read about it here..) No jacket, or wear just a sweatshirt–we’ve got to be kidding, right?  And the weather’s going to be nice all week.

Please Don’t Make Me Go to the Opera!

"Spokes and Leaves Full" by Mia Nilsson

“Spokes and Leaves Full” by Mia Nilsson

Don’t make me say it.

Eric Clapton is as good as it gets.

I don’t want to go to Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutti, the Met Live in HD.

I don’t want to be indoors.

I’d rather listen to Eric Clapton’s “Let It Rain” on the boombox in our rainy back yard.

Let it rain, let it rain,
Let your love rain down on me.
Let it rain, let it rain,
Let it rain, rain, rain.

My cousin, who is visiting from Montana, complained about the rain while she watched The Talk.

“When the f—k will it stop?”

It’s not that I didn’t wonder that.

But I had to get out of there.

I thought she’d be better off biking with me than listening to Sharon Osborne chatting with Steven Tyler.

He’s not Eric Clapton.

A little rain.  So what?

I would bicycle to the library, pick out a Jane Austen DVD (I just read Northanger Abbey), get back on my bike, and spend the rest of the afternoon watching the movie.

Yeah, a little rain.

It was cold!  The wind ripped through my L. L. Bean rain jacket.

I pedaled on.

The library was closed.  I was stunned.   Honestly, this is the biggest city in the state, and I swear the branch library is closed more often than it’s open.

I decided to bike to the suburban library, maybe three miles away.

My hands were so cold that I pulled the sleeves over them like gloves.

After I checked out my books and movie, I drank coffee in the cafe.

When the rain stopped,  I biked as fast as I could and had almost warmed up when it started raining again.

My cousin was watching Ellen.

“Time for Northanger Abbey.

“No no no no!  I hate Jane Austen!”

“But if we watch Austen all weekend we won’t have to go to Cosi fan Tutti.

“Educational TV?” she guessed.

Certain family members like to go to every Met HD opera.

Darn, looks like we’re busy!

Austen or Cosi?  It’s a no-brainer.

There’s much more time outdoors with Austen.