19 December 2011

Avoiding spontaneous combustion

I'm not really sure which came first; this ...
... or this: A Bicyclists' House Built for Two. If you haven't seen it yet, check out the WSJ article on Sue Butler's new house -- holy cow. I'm not a big fan of modern architecture, but this ... well, it's just stunning. And their bike room! Wow. Be sure to click on the link for the slideshow of photos -- the last one in particular grabbed my imagination, took hold, and wouldn't let go -- at exactly the same time Kim and the kids were getting ready to leave. Inspiration, meet opportunity.

Having a usable basement is a novelty to me. For most of our marriage, Kim and I have shared downwards of 850 square feet on one level, dining room doubling as bike room and all that. Before that, I grew up with my Dad's workshop in our garage, and though he had a fantastic table saw setup and a set of shelves that reached to the sky (that made excellent pirate ship rigging to fuel a young boy's fantasies), working out there from November to March was excruciating, as your knees ached from the concrete and your fingers froze from the breeze that blew under the back door.

Since finding a basement with a house on top last autumn, we've been steadily moving in and finding the optimal arrangement; it didn't take long for me to set aside a bit of a self-contained area for bikes, bench and stand -- not to mention wheel storage -- but it's taken longer to set up the rest of the space. It's quite perfect, maintaining a steady 67 degrees or so with very little moisture, but there was a bunch of stuff left over from the previous owner that's taken us a while to find new homes for. In the meantime, I grabbed some fixtures from work that I was able to install to hang our bikes against the wall -- not my favorite arrangement, what with all the hydraulics we've got going on, and -- to be blunt -- my laziness at needing to lift anything above my head.

At any rate, Kim's dad helped us quite a bit when he was here a few weeks back, and got some left-over cabinetry installed that has created an instant "craft space" for Kim. Of course, with her out of town, it also made for a perfect wood-working bench!

I still don't have a good saw, so that was step one the day Kim left. I borrowed a power saw from my boss, but I also picked up a hand-saw and a small miter box from Harbor Freight, before heading to Lowe's to pick out my materials. As much as I understand bicycles, I have no clue when it comes to wood -- I wandered the aisles seeking inspiration, with only a vague idea in the back of my head of what this would look like. As any good homeowner knows, this is a bit like wandering a grocery store when you're hungry: Even with the best intentions, you're bound to end up spending more than you planned, and leaving with a cart full of supplies that could equip a small army.

I did sort-of have a budget -- Kim had left me a bit of cash. This money was supposed to last me the full 2 weeks until I saw her again ... it was a generous allowance, but it was intended to cover expenses, a hair cut, and maybe one night out to dinner. Instead, in a move I perfected in my teens, I hit the register and the amount I had in my hand nearly exactly matched the amount that showed up on the screen ... With 12 days until I saw her again.

Undeterred, I got the supplies home and started making preparations. Again, there was no planning here -- I had a vague idea of what I wanted, and had downloaded some plans from the interwebs, but except for the last time I watched This Old House, I hadn't even thought about woodworking since I was about 14. But I started cutting, sanding and staining, staying up well into the night to get the first few steps complete.

Thankfully, my dad had taught me well when it came to staining; for cutting, notsomuch. Or rather, blame the student -- I just don't have the patience I should, and rather than try to set up the power saw better, I found myself chopping away with a hacksaw. When I woke up the next morning, I could barely move my right arm ...

... and then, in a turn that came to define this project, I made it more complex. As I drove to Pisgah that Saturday morning, I suddenly had a vision of what could be done with it -- and because I had no clue what that meant, I decided then and there to go for it. Little did I know ... 

I spent that first weekend working and riding, conveniently ignoring the household projects I was supposed to be doing, and not working out in the yard like I meant to. But I was possessed, obsessed -- I would conquer this project, and be done with it before Christmas!

I got the first frame done, and simultaneously moved the second frame forward. I was learning as I went, which was a good thing -- the first frame took me four days; the second took me two hours. It was getting more simple but more complex by the hour, and I posted regular updates to Facebook while still staying cryptic about the final outcome. I was also getting pretty sleep-deprived and high on Minwax fumes -- those first few days I didn't sleep more than 6 hours a night as the project consumed me.

But then, in a classic Chris move, by Tuesday my adrenaline had worn off and my focus was waning. I had to get this thing done -- the basement was an absolute mess -- but I also had other things on my mind. Chief among them was riding: We caught a break in the weather, and all of a sudden had blue skies and a run of 60-degree days -- the week before Christmas!

I got out on a couple of lunch rides, and Wednesday night hit Bent Creek with Greg and Thursday headed to the Sycamore ride for Bennett's Gap. Nothing was getting done in the basement, but I was getting inspired -- Carlos built a new rack in the back of the shop that gave me a new idea ... and of course, it also made things more complex ...

Anyway, as we headed up 477 that night, Dan and I cruising along with Chad not far behind, I heard a loud "POP!" that I thought was a rock hitting my bottom bracket. Thankfully Dan was a bit more astute and asked about my spokes -- sure enough, I had broken one mid-shaft, and ripped open my thumb getting it to bend around another nearby. There was no rub, though, so down the singletrack it was!

That wheel is kind of a hybrid; it's a NOS Cane Creek hub laced to a standard rim, with adapters in the spoke holes. It's been troublesome since it was built, as we had to fake the spoke lengths and it didn't come out quite right. So instead of spending Friday closing out sales for the year, I spent the day tearing down and completely rebuilding my equipment ...

Just what I needed -- manual projects at home, manual projects at work. What's worse, this weekend was slated to be the end of my season -- I've stretched it since February, and need a solid break. So here I was, Friday at lunch time, rebuilding a wheel for what might be my last two rides of the year before an extended break during which I will clean, fix and maintain bike stuff in a more leisurely fashion ...

After work, I realized I needed just a couple more pieces of wood and a whole lot more screws, seeing as how the project had taken on a life of its own. But remember that allowance that was already spent? Yeah -- imagine me, in a steady rain, with my ass sticking out of the open passenger-side door of my car, scrounging around in the center console trying to count out several dollars' worth of quarters, dimes and nickels so that I could buy more lumber. It was pathetic, but I was determined ...

The rain we got Friday broke the string of warmth and turned Saturday morning into a frozen mess. I might have ridden, but my mojo had come back -- I realized I had just a few more hours left in the basement, and the project would be complete! So instead of heading for Pisgah, I headed down the stairs.

First, I cut. Everything. Then, I sanded. And I sustained my first injury of the project.

Thankfully, it was just a flesh wound, no blood, no harm. Then, I cleaned up a bit -- this was the pile of sawdust that I didn't inhale.

Then, I stained, and left the wood to dry.  

After that, I headed to REI to help Stephen wrap gifts on behalf of Trips for Kids-WNC. Thank goodness his lovely wife is good a wrapping -- as bad as I am at woodworking, I'm even worse when it comes to gifts!

As we hung out near the front door, Stephen -- who is experienced with wood -- scared the hell out of me. "You know, you can cause combustion when you sand, right?" Wait, what?! I knew the stain was toxic, and had taken steps to ensure adequate ventilation, but still -- I was staining and sanding in the same general area, which though there is a window nearby, is also close to several electrical outlets. A friend of mine just experienced a house fire that destroyed her ex-husband's home, and I was already paranoid from hearing about it -- holy crap! That's the last thing I need is to burn everything down!

However, he assured me it would be alright, and that I "should" be fine. I was still a little nervous as I drove back that night ...

... I got home, and it was on -- final assembly! Behold, The Bike Rack! 

All told, it's 11 ft. long, in two equal sections, and can hold upward of 10 bikes. It turned out pretty well, and as I put on the finishing touches and finalized the installation at 10:30 Saturday night, I thought to myself, "Self, if you had a beer right now, you'd drink it." Only, I'm allergic to beer, and I don't drink, so instead I made myself pineapple fish tacos and a big mess of refried beans. You only live once, right?

The next morning was even colder, and I totally wussed out -- yes, I had rebuilt that wheel in order to ride Pisgah on the weekend, but I also had neglected all the household stuff I was supposed to do while Kim and the kids were away. Sunday was my last weekend day before the holidays, so it was my last chance to make amends!

I started out in the yard, and knocked out our 150 cubic feet of a leaf pile that had been sitting there for weeks, completely neglected. Our yard has lots of hiding spots, and those leaves will make decent mulch for some of the out-of-sight areas ...

See? You don't even notice them! Ha ha -- this area was already cleared, but I had to take a photo of the beautiful greenery we have here in the mountains, even this late into December. It was a perfect 50-degree day, and after clearing the leaves, I grabbed my Monster Rake and headed for the back forest -- there was trail to be built! I raked for 3 hours, defining the right-of-way and making it more fun for the kids to start playing in there while I go back and IMBA-fy the tread. And the self-discovery continued: I'm a much better trail builder than woodworker, and with a palette like our back yard to work with, that trail is killer! I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: If our kids do decide to ride or run trail, they're going to be a force to be reckoned with!

But that's a post for another day. After another afternoon of moral support while Stephen and Rhonda wrapped, an evening of pathetic bromance cinema and finally getting the dishes cleaned up, I'm ready to see my family again -- the project is done!

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