Dear Js,

Day 1 – went to pick up a bike from someone on Craigslist. Seller said front might have slow leak. I said I was going to ride it back and he had a guilty look on his face. He gave a mini bike pump. Rear shifter pall was gummed up, didn’t shift down. Didn’t matter, I didn’t change gears once. Fell off bike at stop light because of toe cage. Kept raising the seat all the way up. Was good for road riding. Little did I know, that would be the highest I would put the seat for the rest of its life. Felt nervous. Cars, curbs, crossing streets, bumps. Nothing felt right. Best part was going through a Creek trail, which ended with a bike-only flyover over 17. It was pitch black and scary and I could see the stars clearly.

Morning after Day 1 – front tire was flat. Ordered 2 new tubes and tire strips. No more riding. Found mountain bike instructional videos on YouTube. Decided I want to learn bunny hop. But first, manual and lifting my rear wheel.

Day 2 – Changed front tube. Rode bike around the neighborhood. Seat lowered to around midway now. Yanked back on handlebars and scooped up on pedals for an hour or so. Came back saw thorn in back tire. Pulled out thorn – HISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. Oops. Rear tire went flat in a few hours.

Day 3 – Changed rear tube. Rode bike. More practicing, found a few new parks for you kids near our house. Schools and parks were my water break spots. After day 3 – front tire was squishy – new front tube was leaking air.

Ordered patch kits and new tires with kevlar lining. Opted for hybrid tires instead of aggressive trail tires. These old tires are useless. Also ordered a bunch of bike accessories like seat bag to keep bike tool and spare tube.

While waiting for the patch kits to come I took the front tube out and dipped it in water. j you and I worked together and we found a slow leak spitting tiny bubbles. J didn’t care for it. I decided to find and mark the holes in the other 2 tubes too. I could patch them to use as spares.

Couldn’t wait for the patch kits to come, so I thawed out the aquaseal from the freezer. We had bought it to fix the pool toys. Patched the tubes and a leaking watermelon donut float. Left them to set in the garage.

Day 4 – new tires arrived and they are great! Super smooth and quieter, perfect for the riding I am doing. But threads are shallow so dirt is super slippery and can’t go too fast but it’s fun. They’re a little springy too, in a good way. Not sure why but they soak up bumps better than the old tires and I like squishing them down and bouncing on them. Slipped off the pedal and scraped my shin while I was testing the bike in the backyard with flipflops.

Rode around and felt more confident. I can lift the front and back wheel now. It’s not pretty and my whole body has been sore from all the practice. I’m still using too much muscle. But the tires roll nice and smooth, and it helped me find some balance.

Stand on the cranks while the bike is rolling briskly. Move hips forward and back and let the bike slide back and forward in the opposite direction of your hips. The wheels will make a zip zip sound as you move your hips and it slides under you.

I also practiced leaning all the way back to shift my weight over the back tires, almost touching my butt. I practiced going downhill like this. At first my steering was twitchy – I had trouble keeping handlebars straight. But it got better and I tried tugging a few times to lift the front wheel while I had all the weight back. I later learned that the trick is to not use arm muscle. It’s more about dropping your weight back, and your arms are just to grip the handlebars.

Day 5 – No new injuries. More practicing. I found a park with a long straight flat path. Perfect for practicing lifting up front and back wheels. School yards are nice too. Then I found that the grassy spots in the park next to the paved spots make perfect little ramps for practicing. Just enough help to get the front wheel up. Because the trouble I was having was if I lean back to manual too hard to lift the front wheel, I can’t get my hips back forward fast enough to lift the back wheel.

So, the little grass-to-path bump was just enough to help me lift the front, while keeping my weight closer to neutral. And I could shift forward faster to unweight the back wheel. After 15 minutes of that, I could get some sort of rhythm. I can lift/land my front/back wheels in quick succession – so it sounds like thub-thub. I also practiced this while sitting: toes up on pedal (lean back), flex toes down (slide forward). Just to build muscle memory for the quick transition from manual to scooping up the rear.

As I was jumping the little jumps, I noticed myself doing something naturally and something clicked.
I think this is a breakthrough. Right before the jump, I was standing on the pedals, and leaning over the handlebar. Then I bent my arms and lowered my chest. This makes the bike roll backwards under me. I’m still rolling forward, but by lowering my chest and leaning forward, it feels like my bike slides back. This feels super helpful right before the jump.
It feels like I’m winding up. Because now when I hit the jump, I can roll the bike forward under me like ZIP. And just flicking it forward fast enough leans back makes the front wheel pop up. You don’t have to tug on the handlebars or move your hips back. It was clunky for me to lean back and pull with my arms straight.
But what felt good was rocking my body forward (bike slides back) and shooting the bike forward while rocking back. Then right as the front wheel lifts I push the handlebars forward, rock forward and point my toes down to claw the pedals.
That felt like it had a good rhythm to it. Slide bike back, crouch, wait for it… EXPLODE bike forward ZIP! Front wheel’s up, lean forward immediately, lift rear, thub-thub.

The bike is making me stronger. Lower back and body hurt the first few days. My tight back from the trampoline accident was cramping out the whole time the first few days. But as the soreness went away over the next few days, the tightness went with it too. Getting stronger took away my nerve pinch pains. It loosened up the remaining soreness in my lower back and hips. I’m feeling less of my old pains every day. Just new muscle pains and those fade instead of linger like the old ones. Shoulders getting definition and I’m losing fat around the midsection.

Day 7 – Secret: brake levers. Earlier they were too high. I couldn’t keep my index finger on them. I thought index finger is just for braking. But with the right brake lever angle, it’s useful for applying torque to the handlebars too. That helps rotate the bike. The other key is the pump manual. The manual really is the key to the bunny hop. Not the rear wheel lift. I found that a good pump manual will end with you standing upright, head almost above the handlebars, the handlebars near your lap. And standing up aggressively is enough to hop the rear wheel off the ground during the manual. The mistake I made was leaning back too long to manual up the front wheel. It’s more like a snap backward to start the front wheel lift. Then stand up and forward as the front wheel keeps coming up. Like a rowing motion. I did that a couple of times, more and more aggressively. And trying to stand up straighter and straighter. After a few tries my rear wheel started coming up randomly. I only noticed because of the sound of my chain slapping as the rear wheel landed. Once I could pump manual and stand up straight aggressively enough to hop up my rear wheel, I knew I had it. I just had to lean forward more and the back wheel came up naturally. Remember the brake lever? When I leaned forward, my index fingers on the brake levers naturally torqued the bike forward. That and a little bit of pedal scoop is enough to rotate the rear wheel up.

Thank goodness for youtube videos. Learning anything is so much easier in 2016 than when I was a teenager.
These two videos helped the most at this stage in my practice:

One day I decided to do more research on my bike, because I wanted to buy new flat pedals and I wanted to make sure they fit. The new pedals fit, but what I found made me sad. My bike’s days are numbered. Found out that the bike frame is prone to cracking. Aluminium fatigues and this particular one was manufactured in a time when they hadn’t worked out all the kinks in the process yet.

So I went to the garage to check the frame. No cracks! Phew, still good. Then went to browse for new bikes. If you know me, I like things that are “bomb-proof”. This is why I don’t wear watches. I hate to have to worry about something on my wrist that is more delicate than my wrist. I’m slowly changing my opinion on this though. I occasionally find myself browsing for a classy automatic watch that can be dressed up, that doesn’t have a date window. And it has to be tough of course. I don’t want a date window because I don’t want to have to fuss about it being off every month.

Anyway, I went out for a ride that night anyway. It wasn’t easy. But it’s good practice. I decided that instead of feeling sad that my bike will break one day, I want to treat breaking my bike as a badge of honor. That means if I can ride hard enough to break my bike, I’m ready for a new bike.

Bunny hop progress – I have been saving bunny hops for the end of my session. For 2 reasons. One, I get time to focus on basics like Manual and weight transfer to start. I remind myself to not cheat and be patient. Then when I’m warmed up with the technique, I get more fruitful bunny hop sessions. Not only that, my body is warmed up so I get to put more into it. Otherwise I start all stiff and my wrists hurt and I can’t squat. It’s good to collect more time building muscle memory so when I try bunny hops it hooks up better.

Manual progress – I saw a tip that one way to learn faster is to lean and yank back so hard that you go over. I.e., you find the balance point by going over it. I collected my first fall today. It helped my confidence for sure. I went too far and bailed by rolling out of it. Only thing I got was a scrape on my inner thigh. Then I realized that there were people at the playground at night who saw me fall. Didn’t care. Later I learned that the smarter way to bail is to just jump to your feet and walk the bike forward by the handlebars.

Anyway, by falling, I knew how much I needed to pull back. And also how far I can pull before it tips over. I got a couple of nice high manuals but chickened out and dropped them quickly. The fastest way to learn a trick is to not give a fuck about falling. That seems like a lesson that applies to many things in life.

The manuals helped the bunny hop. I could hold it in the back longer before exploding forward. The cues I’m whispering to myself are:
Speed speed speed, and crouch over bars. Lean baaaaack… Boom! Bars to hips + push forward.

Feels good! I can side hop over small curbs and I just bunny hopped the curb in front of our house for the first time today. Only managed to clear it a few times, then got tired and started slamming my back wheel.

I really wanted to keep going but I think I’m gonna get hurt if I keep going while tired. I wheeled into the garage draped over the handlebars.

But man my right wrist hurts. I gotta stretch it out.

Also this whole process of sucking and feeling sucky reminded me that there really are no tricks to improving at anything. We want to believe there are tricks. And I was just telling mama that we have so much information and access to tricks now, compared to when I was growing up. I have all the tips and shortcuts I can get my hands on. But in the end it still comes down to practice.

It hurts and you’ll fall. But that is the only way you make progress. The only secret, if there is one, is knowing that practice can be a long period of sucking. But keep at it. Because it’s a matter of putting in your hours, showing up, putting one foot in front of the other, and paying your dues. And then the reward always comes. If you wish it comes faster, you’ll be discouraged. Don’t worry, try to enjoy the journey, it’ll come.

In that case, the closest thing to a trick might be to find ways to have fun. And finding good company to have fun with while you pay your dues. Trick some friends into getting into it with you. Suffer together and and time flies faster. And before you know it you’ll have clocked your time and you’ll have leveled up together without even realizing it.

Curious convos
J: “Why can’t I do what I want to do now? WHY? Why can’t I be a paleontologist. I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Maybe a zookeeper. How do you choose? So many choices. I don’t know.
Mama: (Now he wants to be a Scuba diver. j just wants to be a purple cat.)

Psychologist says most of the problems come from attention-seeking behavior. Mama says the days that go well are days where she gives each of you 1-on-1 time. Even if it’s just a couple minutes.

Sorry I have been busy with work. More busy than I’ve ever been in a long time. We’ve been having daily meetings to get things in shape for a launch in October/November. I rarely work nights but lately I’ve been working almost every night. Everything’s broken, nothing will work unless I fix it. I feel motivated to work hard this time because I think we might actually have a shot at something big. But I’m familiar with that feeling so I’m working hard but forcing myself to stay cynical and patient and stoic.

I realize now that the more I try to accomplish, the angrier I get when I don’t get it. I get short-tempered and resent you kids, and whenever it’s family time I keep wishing I am somewhere else. So I’ve cancelled all my side-projects for now. The Secret Campfire is dead. And that includes this letter that I write to you semi-regularly. I’m still taking notes with the intention of sharing them with you eventually, but from here on they might be more casual. I might also just copy/paste the random thoughts directly without fleshing them out too much.

So for now my days consist of work, spending some time with you guys, more work at night, some catching up on my newsletters here and there and riding my bike at night whenever I have to let off some steam, and my body’s recovered enough from the last ride.