Can a “very old” cyclist keep riding the open road?

August 20, 2015
Interurban Trail

The Interurban Bike Trail on the West Valley Highway

With Amtrak’s help, I took my bicycle to Seattle for a family visit to be followed with my first road trip of the summer: 180 miles back to Vancouver, following the route taken every year by thousands of cyclists doing the STP (Seattle to Portland) ride.

Years ago I rode STP in its one-day version, but my plan this year was to do it in three 60-mile segments with overnights in Yelm and Castle Rock. My mileage for the summer is down and at age 83 my daily mileage capability is lower than it used to be.

If I am to believe an Associated Press article that I read in The Seattle Times, however, age may be an even larger factor than I had realized. Both the article and my own sense of things make we ask how much longer octogenarians can keep riding the open road.

The article reports that older Americans continue to buy and drive cars and motorcycles. It refers to “the very old,” implying that 84 (which I’ll soon be) is the significant birthday.

Talking with my daughter, I acknowledged an unexpected level of anxiety, which she shared as we discussed the route the bike map recommended for cycling through South Seattle. After we drove the route, however, our anxieties eased.

The adequacy of the route was confirmed the next morning when I headed south from her home on Beacon Hill. From a cyclist’s point of view, road conditions and traffic on East Marginal Way past Boeing Field were OK.

In past years I have followed Interurban Avenue and West Valley Highway, the arterials through Tukwilla, Kent, Auburn, Algona, and Pacific, continuing on to Puyallup. This year, however, I planned to try the Interurban Trail that parallels most of this route. On the bike map, it looked straight as a string and therefore seemed worth a try even though STP stays on the arterial.

Green River near Kent

Green River near Kent

Misreading the map, I left the highway a few miles before I should have and meandered along the Green River Trail. At Fort Dent Park, I came to the trail I wanted, and for the next 14.8 miles I sailed along an absolutely flat, broad, blacktopped trail with BNSF freight tracks on both sides and Puget Sound Energy power lines overhead on steel utility poles that marched south for miles.

After coffee with a friend in Kent, I continued on the trail completely satisfied with this alternative way of traveling south from Seattle. Occasional gaps offered views of Mt. Rainier, and drainage ditches provided greenery and habitat for birds despite the extreme drought the Northwest is experiencing.

Researching this route since coming home, I discovered that the right of way follows a trolley line between Tacoma and Seattle that ran from 1902 until 1928. A major reason why the trail is so satisfactory for cyclists is that it bypasses sprawling commercial and light industrial areas in Tukwila and Kent while providing access to employers and shopping malls.

Because I was trusting my memory after leaving the trail, I had to follow hunches as I worked my way through Puyallup and Spanaway. Although my instincts kept me on course, I realized that I need a compass and a better electronic guide than my smart phone to research maps while on the road. Maybe it’s time to buy an iPad Mini.

The final segment of the day’s ride was along SR 507 from Spanaway to Yelm. It’s a straight, flat, well-surfaced highway that travels along the backside of Joint-Base Lewis-McChord. Because the road is a commuter route for people working at the joint base or Olympia, the 4:00 o’clock traffic was constant. Although I was getting tired, my legs still felt strong and I continued forward to my night’s lodging in Yelm.

According to the website of this 7,000 town, its name is derived from the Coast Salish Native American language word “shelm,” which means “land of the dancing spirits,” from the shimmering mirage from heat rising from the summer prairie floor.

My room at the Hotel Prairie was one of the nicest I’ve ever enjoyed. My 65 miles for the day was my longest ride since early March. My average speed for the day was within my current range, and the day’s ride encouraged me to believe that even the “very old,” can keep on riding the open road.

Mt Rainier seen from Yelm, Washington

Mt Rainier seen from Yelm, Washington

Meeting Jesus at the Communion Table

August 19, 2015

The Eucharist: Encounters with Jesus at the Table, by Robert D. Cornwall (Gonzales, FL: Energion Publications, 2014)

cornwall-eucharist 1This 34-page essay concerning the central act of Christian worship is volume 10 in a series the publisher describes as Topical Line Drives. They are designed “to demonstrate a point of scholarship or survey a topic directly, clearly, and quickly.”

Cornwall’s focus is stated in his subtitle: “Encounters with Jesus at the Table.” He develops this aspect of eucharistic worship by tracing the historical trajectory of two doctrines: sacrifice, how the Eucharist helps set things right with God; and real presence, how the Eucharist connects us with Jesus.

In the first chapter, he points to the Passover roots of Christian worship at the table and the biblical imagery of Jesus as “the perfect Lamb of God who has been sacrificed for us” (9). He notes other ideas in the biblical accounts: eschatological images, communal meal, and sign of unity. The reference in 1 Corinthians 11 to “discerning the body,” which has been used to “support the idea the idea of Christ’s real presence in the elements,” Cornwall notes, “more likely refers to the presence of Christ in the community itself” (11).

The second chapter summarizes post-apostolic developments. Cornwall cites theologians over an extended period of time, including Cyprian, Cyril of Jerusalem, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Augustine, Radbertus, Peter Lombard, and Aquinas. The purpose of this brief survey is to trace the gradually increasing complexity of theological interpretations of how Christ is present in the Eucharist. He concludes the discussion with a brief summary of the developed doctrines.

“The emphasis on Christ’s real presence, as defined by the doctrine of Transubstantiation, and the doctrine of Eucharistic sacrifice led to the church taking the step of worshiping the host. If the host (bread) had truly become the divine body of Christ, then it, like Christ, ought to be worshiped. Thus the host was elevated and worshiped. Just being in the presence of the host was sufficient to cleanse one from one’s sins. This meant the actual communion became unnecessary. In the host the person of Christ became tangible to the medieval masses” (20).

This summary of the development of eucharistic theology explains why Cornwall’s treatment of the Protestant Reformation begins with the debate between Luther and Zwingli at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, more than a decade after Luther’s initial posting of the 95 Theses protesting abuses in church practice and theology.

Luther affirmed the symbolic nature of the bread and wine but he also believed that “the symbol contained that which it symbolized. In contrast, Zwingli believed that “the Eucharist served to remind Christians of the event of the cross…Therefore, one eats and drinks the elements of the Supper as a sign of thanksgiving for a work of grace already completed by the Spirit” (22–23).

Omitting Calvin’s participation in defining eucharistic theology, Cornwall turns to Cranmer and the English Reformation. Cranmer did not hold that Christ is corporeally present in the eucharistic elements, but he did not agree with Zwingli’s teaching that they were “bare elements or tokens. Instead, he taught that God was present and working in the Eucharistic moment, bringing the fruit of grace to the participants in the Eucharistic service, as long as they received the elements by faith” (25).

In his discussion of ecumenical conversations in our own time, Cornwall calls attention to the renewed emphasis upon thanksgiving and the diminished emphasis upon sacrificial imagery and violence. He disapproves of the continuing separation of Christians into ecclesial communities that limit access to the table, and he affirms the movement toward agreements of full communion new occurring.

The “concluding thoughts” of this essay encourage contemporary Christians to learn from one another across ecclesial and theological lines. The Eucharist could become a bridge to unity rather than a barrier that keeps churches separated. He encourages churches to move toward weekly celebrations even though that may not be their current practice.

Although Cornwall offers a few hints about ceremony, ritual, and cultural aspects of eucharistic worship, these aspects of the topic are largely overlooked. Little is said or implied about the way that the Eucharist has entered into the politics of church and state. The emergence of broad types—Orthodox, Catholic, Coptic, etc.—is left untouched as are discussions about uses of vernacular languages in worship. It is true, of course, that a “topical line drive” has to move is a highly disciplined way, and this the author does.

Cornwall is pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Troy Michigan and earned a PhD degree in historical theology. His blog can be accessed at

Bicycles that have shaped the world

August 11, 2015

The History of Cycling in Fifty Bikes, by Tom Ambrose (New York: Rodale, 2013)


A two-line description on the book jacket tells readers what to expect in this artfully designed book: “From the Velocipede to the Pinarello: The Bicycles that Have Shaped the World.” The book presents its information in a manner that invites even casual readers to keep going. Each of its 50 chapters is brief, from two to six pages in length, and consists of a six- or seven-line synopsis in bold type, photos, graphics, main discussion, and brief notes set off to the side or bottom of the page. Readers can skip along or read carefully according to their interest in the topics discussed in each chapter. A bibliography, notes, and picture credits provide information for readers who want to continue their explorations into the history of cycling.

Ambrose skillfully interweaves specific information about the bicycle featured in a chapter and descriptions of other bikes that had similar characteristics or were closely related to that phase of cycling history. Several chapters feature bikes that were important primarily because of the riders who chose to use them rather than because of the technical features of the machinery involved.

Some of the cyclists are highlighted in the titles or subtitles of the chapters in which they appear. Among them are Frank Bartell, Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx, Lance Armstrong, and Bradley Wiggins. Competitive cycling on the international level clearly is a primary factor in Ambrose’s selection of bikes. Equally important to cycling history are the biographical sketches of people who developed new uses for bicycles or who established companies that manufactured bicycles. Among them are Jacques Schulz (early mountain climbers), Alex Moulton (folding bikes), Joe Breeze (California-based mountain bikes), Ernesto Colnago, Mike Sinyard (Specialized Bicycle Company), and Alessandro Pinarello (Pinarello Bicycles).

Four chapters focus attention on the development of components rather than bikes: pneumatic tires, lights, internal hub gears, and derailleurs. The final chapter provides a quick summary of futuristic designs.

Ambrose devotes a chapter to the Peugeot PX-10, which was one of the highly acclaimed bikes in the 1970s when I and two of my teenaged children became interested in cycling. It was too expensive for our family, and we had to be satisfied with the less expensive Peugeot PX-8. For several years I owned another bike that is mentioned in a later chapter, a Specialized Allez Epic, one of the earliest bikes using carbon fiber tubing. Although the list price was $800, it cost the family nearly twice that because my wife’s new bass recorder cost nearly the same amount.

Fifty-seven pages (out of 217 pages of text) are devoted to bikes or proto-bicycles that that led to the basic pattern of the bicycle that finally developed late in the 1800s. I was especially interested in the prominence of James Starley and his nephew John Kemp Starley during the pre-history of the modern bicycle. This early history of proto-bikes, however, does not deserve the space that Ambrose gives it. Since there have been so many interesting, trend-setting bicycles, there will always be, disagreements concerning the list to be included in a book like this.

Some of my nominations for bikes and bicycle-related technology that should have been included are these: the development of bicycle tubing by companies such as Reynolds and Columbus, the use of aluminum in bicycle componentry and tubing (as in the Alan bicycle), saddle design with an emphasis upon Brooks leather saddles, the Schwinn family in the United States, the Terry woman’s bike, the Singer or Herse bicycles as examples of touring bicycles, the Kestrel bike, which was a forerunner of the modern carbon fiber molded frames, and the Calfee bamboo bicycle.

Since we are still in the summer season when the emphasis needs to be placed on being out on one’s bike, there may be too little time to read this book right now, and it’s too heavy to carry along on bicycling trips. Cold weather is sure to come, however, which gives you time to buy your copy or make sure that your local library orders one soon. There are other good books on cycling history, but for most people Tom Ambrose’s text is the one most likely to hold their interest.

Bicycling on Portland’s Swan Island

August 4, 2015
Map Study at Swan Island

Map Study at Swan Island


When one of my coffee shop buddies invited me to joint him and a few friends on a bike tour of Swan Island, I gladly accepted. The ride on the next morning was exactly right for a hot summer day: a slow and easy ride filled with interesting things to see and experience.

Swan Island is a sandy spit of land in the Willamette River eight miles upstream from the river’s confluence with the Columbia and close to downtown Portland, Oregon. In the middle 1800s, it was an island with shallow channels on both sides. In order to develop shipping capabilities in the Port of Portland, a deeper channel was dredged on the western side of the island and the excavated material was used to fill in the eastern passage and connect the island to the mainland.

Our guide assured us that the river remembers how it used to be, and when a 500-year flood comes, the river will reclaim its previous right of way.

From 1927 to 1940, the city’s airport was on Swan Island. During World War II, one of the nation’s most productive ship building operations flourished on the island. Today, 70 year’s after the war came to an end, major dry dock repair facilities and ship building operations continue. Other industries maintain major facilities on the island, including Daimler, Cummins, Georgia Pacific, and the Union Pacific Railroad. Major construction of new facilities is currently in progress.

SSignwan Island

Sign at Swan Island

Access to Swan Island is by way of N. Going Street, which is heavily travelled and not friendly to cyclists. On the island itself, motorists sometimes exceed 80 miles per hour as they blast their way along Channel, Lagoon, and Basin Streets, the short, multi-lane arterials that provide access to the manufacturing facilities and office buildings. 11,000 people come to Swan Island on working days.

Fortunately, there is a wide sidewalk on Going Street and sidewalks along the three Island streets. Furthermore, a network of trails suitable for easy but interesting cycling is being developed. They offer the best view of Portland’s traditional harbor-related industrial might that I have seen.

There were only five of us on the tour; we were gray-bearded old men on an interesting array of interesting bicycles. Our guide knew the territory, having spent most of his working career on Swan Island. Currently, he devotes much of his attention to npGREENWAY, an organization that is developing trails through North Portland, with frequent access to the Willamette River, from the Esplanade at the Steel Bridge near downtown to the Columbia 10 miles distant.

The website includes maps of the projected system of trails.

Although I have been closely connected to Portland for more than 70 years, this was the first time I have ever been on Swan Island. During World War II, my dad worked in a shipyard located there. In more recent times, a family friend from Indianapolis spent several years as an executive with one of the Swan Island industries.

For several years my parents in law lived on the bluff overlooking the Island and adjacent industrial land on the eastern bank of the Willamette. The smell of creosote from Mock’s Bottom still comes to mind when I drive or bicycle along the crest on Willamette Boulevard that goes past the house where they lived.

Tribute to a Benefactor

Tribute to a Benefactor

I stopped to have my picture taken in front of a sign for Cummins Engine Company. For generations the family that developed and controlled this company included Butler University and Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis among the many religious and cultural causes that they supported. I and two of my children are graduates of Butler and I spent most of my career on the faculty of the seminary.

In order to leave Swan Island, our group of cyclists used the Maud Bluff Trail that was opened March 14, 2013. According to an article by Jonathan Maus, this project cost $3.2. Financial support included a grant from a Congressional earmark that Representative Earl Blumenauer had made. The trail itself is 1,700 feet long and includes a steep footbridge over Union Pacific tracks. This part of the bluff hosts the northern-most Madrone-Oak habitat in the Willamette Valley, which persists because the steep hillside faces in a direction that is bathed in direct sunlight much of the day.

Maud Bluff Trail

Maud Bluff Trail

My long-time habit is to be a solo cyclist who pushes hard, taking only an occasional break. I will continue that kind of riding most of the time, but mornings like this one—easy going, with congenial companions, riding in a place of historic interest, with a well-informed guide—will become increasingly important as I move forward into a new phase of my life as an open road cyclist.

(Photos by A. J. Zelada; used with permission)