Monday, April 30, 2007

A 30 Year Love Affair

In 1977 I was living in San Diego, assigned to the USS Fresno working my way through a 4-year enlistment. I had a bottom bunk in OI berthing which opened up to stow my clothes and other stuff in addition to a stand-up locker which had even less room. Some of the guys would go together and rent apartments. These were usually the same guys who owned cars. I had neither. I lived a very meager existence. Much of what little I got in pay was sent home and put into a savings account which by the time my enlistment was over had grown to over $5000. I wasn't making much more than $8000 a year then so that was a lot for me to be able to stash away.

I'd eventually find an outlet for my money.

30 years ago today I went to the Navy Exchange in San Diego and bought my first road bike...a white Peugeot for $155. I knew nothing about components, bike handling characteristics or sizing. All I knew was that it would give me independence in a way the buses in San Diego couldn't. I'd no longer have to take the #23 from National City to Chula Vista.

Rather than keep my bike locked up on the pier I'd bring it up to the radar room each night. I'd spend hours in CIC (Combat Information Center) going over it, taking it apart, cleaning it and putting it together again. It didn't take but a couple months before I was swapping out components for better quality stuff.

My weekends from that time on were spent exploring San Diego County and points beyond. I'd leave the ship with no particular direction in mind...just a map and a desire to ride. It's the desire to ride which has stayed with me all these years. The map has been replaced by a Garmin GPS.

I put a lot of miles on my bike over the next year but I knew that it wouldn't be long before I'd need something more...something which would take me further and hopefully faster more comfortably. Jerry LeRue, a local racer was getting married and needed to part with some of his possessions. I was given his name by a local bike shop owner who knew I'd outgrown my current ride. Jerry had an Eisentraut Limited frame for sale. A whole new world was about to open up to me...the world of high-end bikes.

I remember the first time I saw a "superbike" as it was described to me. It was a track bike in the window of a shop in San Diego with a price of $700. I couldn't believe you could spend that much on a bike. Within the year I'd spend considerably more than that to build up the Eisentraut frame I'd bought from Jerry.

In August of '78, our ship was deployed overseas to the Western Pacific for 9 months. I was given the keys to the athletic gear locker in exchange for being in charge of it—checking stuff in and out for the crew. It worked out well as there was limited space on the ship to keep my bikes. I could no longer keep my Peugeot up in CIC while we were deployed so the gear locker gave me plenty of room to add to my bike inventory. With the help of Palo Alto Bicycles mail order catalog I was able to assemble the Eisentraut piece by piece during the months we were away. Between paydays, I'd sit down with the catalog and decide what I'd order next. The catalog listed the weights of every component so I could easily figure where I'd get the most bang for my buck in terms of weight savings. There was no internet or even an 800 number to quickly place my was strictly snail mail. It would often take over a month for an ordered part to arrive on the pier a few ports later. Building the bike was a lot of fun and I always looked forward to seeing what would be waiting for me in the mail at the next port.

My Peugeot was still serving me well. While overseas we were always told to use the buddy system when going out but I often didn't or couldn't as nobody else had a bike. I'd take it out into the city wherever we were and explore things other than the bars. Not that I didn't get out into the city with friends occasionally. I'd often turn heads as it was unusual to see an American on a bike in some of the more remote areas I'd find. The island of Iloilo in the Philippines comes to mind as being one of those places. Another place I loved exploring on my bike was the island of Guam. It was nice to not have to depend on the liberty buses to make their rounds as I'd just get on my bike and go.

By the time we arrived back in San Diego in April '79, I had my Eisentraut nearly completed. A couple trips to the local bike shop for the rest of what I needed and it was done.

I wrote in my diary after riding it the first time,"Fantastic! I was in awe...the bike gets it on so to speak. It's very quick and responsive." It was everything and more that I was hoping it would be from the Cinelli bars and stem to the Campagnolo Super Record rear derailleur and everything in between. My most vivid and fun memories on it were made out beyond Otay Lakes in San Diego where I'd often head to on my weekend rides...towns named Dulzura and Campo come to mind. 80 to 120 miles was a typical day for me then and those were the days before I knew anything about nutrition. I loved that time of my life.

I sold my Peugeot to Stan Whitmarsh for $150. I believe it died a slow death in the salty air on the pier. Somehow it wasn't right after all I'd done on that bike, it deserved better.

My Eistentraut was all I could want in a bike but that didn't stop me from looking at the menu. I used to frequent a shop in La Jolla called California Bicycles. It's still there today. There used to be a Macaw on a perch hanging in the doorway. It was a beautiful bird but when the owner sold the shop to Kevin Millard and his father the bird wasn't a part of the deal. Kevin was a few years younger than me and he seemed to have a dream me anyway. I was looking to add one more bike to my collection before my enlistment was done and I'd be returning to the real world, a world where money would be in short supply. Kevin steered me toward a Colnago frame. The Eisentraut would still be my favorite but the Colnago would fit me better.

There was nothing custom about my Colnago, just standard geometry. A few weeks later my Colnago would arrive. I remember the bus ride back to San Diego from La Jolla carrying my new frame. I couldn't wait to get the parts swapped out from my Eisentraut and get it on the road. I wouldn't have much time with the Colnago in San Diego as my enlistment was nearly done. I no sooner had it on the road when I had to pack it up for the trip home.

My riding took a back seat to my job and college after getting out of the Navy in late 1979. I still managed to ride some but it was spotty at best. I would seldom find the form I used to have but I still loved to ride.

In 1984 I discovered running and for the next ten years, I was much more a runner than a roadie. I still managed a few rides a year but I'd found a passion for running which left little energy for my bike. I could get my workouts done in a little over an hour whereas on the bike I'd be gone for hours at a time. There was no maintenance involved with running and it was much cheaper than riding. I'd replace my shoes every 500-700 miles and that was it. I wasn't about to sell my bikes but I really thought I'd found something I'd be doing for the rest of my life...until my right knee began to rebel and for good reason.

At 17 I tore ligaments and cartilage in my right knee on two separate occasions. Both times required that my leg be immobilized in a full-length cast. It didn't help that I'd also cracked the patella of the same knee around that time. My right knee had been my Achilles Heel you could say. In 1992 I'd go in for arthroscopic surgery to clean up some of the debris remaining from both the injuries and overuse through years of running. The orthopedic surgeon said I could continue running but that I should reduce my weekly mileage. I tried but it was never the same so I quit running altogether. My concern was that I didn't want to get into my 50s and 60s with knees which wouldn't allow me to be active.

For years after I'd have dreams that I was running and experiencing that feeling runners get where they're floating over the road and the whole experience seems effortless. They were bittersweet dreams. I was glad for the memory but sad that that's all it would ever be...a memory.

Over the next few years, I began to rediscover my bike and by 1996 I was fully back into riding. It was good therapy for me as I went through my divorce...hours out on the road with nothing but me and my thoughts. For the most part, I was on my Colnago which was approaching 20 years old. After my divorce I decided to take whatever cash I had left and buy more bike than I ever imagined owning. It was an irrational thing to do but I did it with no regrets. I could have lost everything at that point but I figured if I had Snickers and my bike I was going to be fine. I had Scott at Flanders Brothers in Minneapolis fit me for a custom Serotta. Standard geometry doesn't work for me with my short torso/long leg build. Scott dialed me into my new ride and I loved it. I began riding more than I'd ever ridden and was enjoying my riding as much as I used to in San Diego; maybe more.

Tammy has been very supportive of my riding but she won't allow me to race. I've done some in the past but that was never a focus for me. I was hooking up with some local groups and talk of racing on their teams would eventually come up and why didn't I race. My knee. I know that in a race environment and the training associated with preparing I wouldn't be able to moderate my effort. I'd push too hard (I already do that) and be plagued with overuse injuries which would cause my ability to ride to go the same way as my ability to run. I came close a couple years ago to racing but Tammy asked me not to. I'd been in a bad crash a few years earlier and those wounds were still too fresh for her. It was the right decision. She and Rachel both said no to me last year when I brought up the idea of getting a light for my bike and doing some night riding. That was another right decision on their part. I managed to ride over 9000 miles on the road last year so I can't complain.

For the past 10 years, I've been as serious as ever about my riding. In 2003 I dabbled again with running but soon realized that my running days were over. If I can ride into my 70s I'll be very happy and I'm trying to approach my riding with that thought in mind—self-preservation. Which is why I won't be having another 9000 mile year this year. I think something along the lines of 7000 miles would be more reasonable to allow for more recovery. I've never been very good at building recovery time into my training but I have to change.

I added one more bike to my collection last year. A Serotta Legend St with a sloping top tube to allow me to get the bars more easily in a comfortable position. I'm not quite as laid out as I am on my other Serotta (nor is my body as supple as it used to be) but I'm more comfortable which allows me to ride faster and farther more comfortably; the same reasons I bought my first high-end bike all those years ago.

I've always felt young at heart but never more so than when I'm on my bike. Out on the road in the country or in rush hour traffic jamming on Hwy 169 I'm not some guy about to turn 50. I'm someone in their late 20s (aside from a few aches) who can't believe that 30 years has gotten away so fast and desperately wanting to squeeze as much out of life as I'm able to and remain active for as long as I can.

I don't think I ever imagined what my purchase at the Navy Exchange 30 years ago today would lead to or the countless memories I've made along the way. It was just a simple bike after all. I'm so grateful for the ability and desire to ride. It's a 30-year love affair which I hope continues for many, many more years.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Random Thoughts on a Thursday

We've been taking Toby and Allie to a dog park about 10 miles from home. We live in the suburbs without a fenced yard so it's not easy to let them run around and explore. The dog park has acres of openness where we can walk along and not worry about them running out into traffic or getting lost. Here's a video I took from yesterday's walk. What surprised me most was how Allie's personality changed once taken off the leash at the park. When she's on the leash and we're out for a walk in our neighborhood she can be aggressive toward other dogs. Off the leash at the park, she's not at all aggressive. Toby is very non-confrontational toward other dogs. On our first visit to the park, he was reluctant to go near other packs of dogs. He's a submissive little guy who doesn't want any trouble.

I replaced my mp3 player. My iRiver I bought three years ago still works fine but it's gotten crusty from sweat as I only use it when I'm out on my bike. I decided to stay with iRiver and ordered the T10, 1GB flash memory player. I like it because unlike an iPod, the battery can be replaced on the fly. I was very disappointed with the lack of software for uploading files to it. It relies on Windows Media Player for the uploads. With my other iRiver player, I'm able to rearrange the tracks within it so they play in a particular order. The T10 model sorts the tracks into categories based on the artist and then the album. I have to strip away all that information from the tracks so it will play them in the order I upload them to the player otherwise it plays the tracks back in its own way based on the artist name and album. I like to arrange the songs in a specific order so while I'm on a ride I'll go through periods of up-tempo stuff to hammer to then work into some slower tunes for a recovery phase.

Barack Obama just lost any chance he may have had to secure my vote in the next presidential election; not that he ever really had much of a chance nor any Democrat for that matter. Yesterday the US Supreme Court upheld a congressional decision banning the practice of partial-birth abortion. Democrats will tell you that it's a needed procedure in cases where, well, they really can't tell you any specific reasons why it's needed other than to say for the health of the mother but that's simply not so. If a baby can be partially delivered why on earth would it be necessary to stop the delivery so they can go in, crush the child's skull, killing the young life? There is no possible explanation for allowing this sort of barbaric practice to continue.

Back to Barack. In response to the Supreme Court's decision, Barack said, "I strongly disagree with today's Supreme Court ruling, which dramatically departs from previous precedents safeguarding the health of pregnant women." What about the health of young human beings developing in their mother's womb, Barack? Not to worry though, Barack, because you can still extinguish the young lives which are somehow a threat to their host. There is another procedure which is every bit as gruesome and is not affected by yesterday's decision. Dismembering the fetus in the uterus is still available and is actually much more common.

Do an image search on partial-birth abortion and see what it is these politicians are so eager to fight for. Ask yourself what sort of person would condone such a practice. It's possible that I'm simply clueless and I need help in understanding why this is a good thing and not just done out of convenience.

Barack is not alone in his position as all of the democratic presidential hopefuls used similar words to express their unhappiness with the court's decision. Too bad.

How did we get to where we are today? I don't have a lot of hope but it's my wish that someday we'll look back on this period in our history the same way we now look back on the ugliness of slavery in our country. We'll wonder how it ever was that so many in our society embraced abortion and fought for its continuance in the same way that slaveholders fought and died for their right to enslave others.

This was my entire reason for voting for Bush...the Supreme Court nominations he made. I don't like being a one-issue person but I don't see that there is any way for me to get beyond this issue. Both parties are very disappointing there is no denying that. A move to a more conservative court was my main concern and for Bush to be able to appoint two judges during his presidency was important to Tammy and me.

As for my profession, I couldn't have made a worse choice when I pulled the lever for Bush. His appointment of Marion Blakey to head the FAA was a poor one. I used to love my job but that all changed this past September when our union's (Natca) negotiations came to an impasse with FAA management and they imposed their last best offer on us...calling it a contract even though there was never an agreement. It may take a couple years to right the wrongs but now that the power has shifted in the congress and the senate I'm hopeful that our issues will be addressed and not ignored.

Divided government is a good thing. Too much power by either party has never been good for our country.

Mat Kearny is touring the country. Go see him if you get the chance as his words have some important truths.


I hear a voice crying out from the bellies of their mommas
Hold on for today don't worry about tomorrow
Though the rains of today seem to fall with sorrow
Let me be and we'll see this life for tomorrow

I hear a cry going out in the middle of the night
Under the scatter of the stars from a voice cracked with fright
And as the tears stripe cheeks from pain running south
The taste of salt hits the corner of her mouth
Resting on tied tongues with no breath left to speak
Sick of throwing up with no bread left to eat
Tired and confused from disillusionment
Sunny days turn to grey and away he went
Ripping the hooks out your heart from the promises at dark
The words found their mark as the sheets came apart

Every spoken word broken
As he flipped you a token
Kiss on the cheek as his feet found the open door
What's in store for you he didn't question
Shook his burden to the floor to leave you guessing
About the future and what it will unfold
But you're still standing there rockin' it so bold like

Chorus x 2
Holding on these songs of hope
I cannot sing them without you
Holding on, holding on

You can't just point a finger and say it's alright
Make a trip downtown and put it out of sight
Because two came together so strong one night
And two wrongs don't make one right
Giving a voice to the voiceless saying it's choiceless
Cause they're priceless my princess

I feel the kicks and the churns give me a turn
And a shot at this world to fight the fight
To beat my plight and let my light shine
In this dark time with all its ways of wearing crime
And let this world drown in these ultrasounds
Hearing this heart beats speak sweet so profound
From beat down to higher ground
Where hope abounds with love that astounds
Les Miserables this ain't no miserable daughter
Calling you Cossette 'cause God will be your father

Chorus x 2

Holding on these songs of hope
I cannot sing them without you
Holding on, holding on

Sunday, April 15, 2007

It Truly Is a Small World and Glory Revealed

Okay, I've heard enough about Don Imus and Anna Nicole to last ten lifetimes.

I'm much more concerned about what's happening to our honeybees—really. There have been a few stories recently about beekeepers going out to their hives to find them abandoned when just a short time earlier they'd been thriving. To most of us, honeybees are a nuisance but the reality is that without them we'd starve. I don't think it can be stated strongly enough what they mean to our existence. We don't usually think of ourselves as being dependent on something so small but the reality is that we are.

Tammy and I made it to the American Craft Show in St Paul on Friday. It's a yearly thing we try to do although we don't always make it. They've got the best collection of glass artists you'll find and each year they seem to add more. Every time we go I get re-inspired to take the leap into glass blowing. My guess is that my glass blowing dream won't be realized before I hang up my headset at work...another six years I'd guess.

While at the fair I heard some guitar music around the corner. We headed that way and I saw a guy with the most beautiful lamps made of wood...turned on a lathe. I immediately recalled an east coast friend from an online forum who spoke of a friend of his who made this sort of lamp. Being that artists come from all over the country for this craft fair I had to wonder if this could be the guy Gene spoke of. I asked him if he knew Eugene Benjamin and a big smile came across his face. Of course, he knew Gene he said. He then told me how they met...he was in a park playing a banjo and Gene was riding by on his bike. Gene stopped to chat and that was the beginning of their friendship. Six degrees of separation or it's a small world—take your pick.

We were at Maranatha Hall at Northwestern College in St. Paul this past Friday to see the Glory Revealed tour. Mac Powell from Third Day, Shane and Shane (who you're listening to now if you clicked the link at the beginning of this post), Brian Littrell, Tim Neufeld, and some others collaborated on a CD and are touring the country together. I was able to get us some seats in the 3rd row, left of center stage. Rachel had planned to go with us but had to cancel out so Tammy's sister, Theresa, took her seat. We had a nice time. I, of course, brought my video camera so I'd have something to add to my YouTube account. Here's a video I took of Shane and Shane performing the song I began this post with. I love this song.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Easter, Rachel in H-wood and Porta-potties

Hosanna acted out the Passion Play on Good Friday. It was a very moving service performed by some incredibly talented people from the church. It was interesting how it was done with several of the actors taking the stage by themselves and playing out their part in the hours leading up to Jesus' crucifixion. Jon Russell played the part of Peter, a man beside himself with grief at how he'd denied Christ not once but three times. When Jon finished his speaking part he picked up his guitar and began to play. He's so talented; not only him but the many others, too.

Hosanna was buzzing all morning with four services before noon. Typically the music at Hosanna is much more contemporary than traditional. Today's service began with a traditional hymn which I'm sure appealed to many from out of town who've maybe never been to Hosanna or experienced our style of worship. It was nice but no sooner had the hymn ended when Jon cranked up the volume and the tempo and put the service into overdrive. I don't think I've ever heard Hosanna as loud as today.

This morning was so nice. I got up early and took the pups for a walk. It was only 22 degrees but it was a beautiful sunny day. I walked them to a park not far from home where I could let them off their leashes so they could run around. I love being able to do that for them. They look forward to their walks and I hate to disappoint the little guys.

Tammy was up when I got back preparing our lunch for later. She had told me that after church Rachel and I would have to make ourselves scarce as she needed us out of the house while she put the finishing touches on an Easter egg hunt. Yes, you read that Easter egg hunt. This goes back I'm not sure how many years but it's something she'd do for Rachel when she was younger. She'd include me in it as it added to the excitement for Rachel. It's more a treasure hunt with clues than it is a traditional hunt for hidden eggs. One clue leads to another and once all the clues are collected a word from each clue is used to put together the last clue where the mother lode will be found. I'm actually just a big kid at heart so I look forward to playing along.

While Tammy was busy at home I took Rachel out to get coffees and some behind the wheel time for her. She did much better than any time previous. Up to now, her driving has been very hesitant but today she appeared to have found her stride and did really well. She was going on and on about experiences from her week in Los Angeles all the while still focusing on her driving. I hope to have her out on some busier highways soon.

Speaking of Rachel's trip to Los Angeles...she got in early yesterday with the senior high youth group from Prince of Peace. She had a blast. I asked her what the high point of the trip was and she said that the whole trip was a high. They stayed at Hollywood Presbyterian Church in Hollywood. She said the grounds were very beautiful. Their days were spent working in homeless shelters and soup kitchens. She's got so many stories to tell us but it was clear that for her this trip was about reaching out to the needy and making a real connection with them. She told of one man she met at a shelter who not long ago was married, employed and a homeowner. His wife became ill and their savings were depleted caring for her. His wife died and he fell into a depression. He soon lost his job and his home. Sad.

It was a good experience for her. She said their counselors told them that they'd never seen a group bond as their 50 kids did. Rachel said that the small group of 6 kids she was assigned to on the trip is going to try and keep meeting. She's serious that she doesn't want it to be just something they only talk about doing. She really wants to see the group continue getting together and hopes to organize something at our home in the coming weeks. That's been a dream of Tammy's and mine for her ever since we finished the basement. That was one of the main reasons for doing it when we did...while Rachel was still with us. It would be a great place for her to entertain her friends.

Tammy is making her first attempts at real stained glass. She has been researching painting on glass (a very dying art) and purchasing the necessary supplies to get started. I think she could be very good at this. I hope to see her first project when I get home from work tonight. The kiln firing isn't nearly as long as the glass fusing/slumping projects she's done. We hope to incorporate her painting on glass with some of the stained glass work we'll be doing. She did several watercolor paintings for a class she took in college; that's another thing I'd love to see her do if she only had more time.

Last Wednesday our building at work lost a main transformer which shut down power throughout the building. The emergency generators kicked in but they're only good for supplying power to the most critical operations of the building...the air traffic ops. The stupid thing about where I work is that the building was built on a marsh and has three turbine pumps which continually run so as to keep the building from flooding. They pump about 1,000,000 gallons of water a day. Should power be cut off to the pumps it's just a matter of time before water begins to flood the basement. As I was leaving work on Wednesday I could smell the distinct odor of moisture rising up from below. They'd shut down the bathrooms so as to minimize sewage backup and they were installing porta-potties in the parking lot. With high temps in the mid-20s, those must've been lovely to use. Fortunately for me, they had things nearly back to normal by the time I returned to work on Saturday afternoon. I could go on about how this is a 44-year-old building and the transformer was original equipment and how maybe we should've been better prepared for this sort of thing but I understand that management here has more important things to do such as monitoring the gates for people who may be skipping out 5 minutes early. Anyway, all is well that ends well. The bathrooms are once again open for use and management is reassuming their Barney Fife posture.