Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Full Day on the Bike and Some Quite Cool Technology

The weather this weekend was too nice to be toiling in the yard so I had no choice but to simply get out and enjoy it. I spent a bit of time on Thursday plotting out a course for an all-day ride on Friday. The course I mapped out was around 150 miles and would take me to the small town of Dassel, about 75 miles to the northwest. My mind was up to it but I wasn't sure if my knees would be willing participants so the course I mapped out allowed for a convenient bailout point should I find it necessary.

I set my alarm for 6:00 Friday morning wanting to make sure that I didn't sleep in too late having been up until after midnight the night before. I finally managed to roll out of bed at 6:30 and went about getting my body fueled. Three eggs, toast, cinnamon roll and juice would be enough to get me through the first few hours. I prepared my water bottles, topped off my tires and made sure I had enough money in my seat bag for food and drink along the way. I finally got on the road a little past 8:00 pedaling under a beautiful blue sky.

I'm fortunate to be able to ride as much as I desire. Tammy understands my addiction and I couldn't ask for a better enabler.

I made my way across the Minnesota River just north of Shakopee and tackled what would be the steepest climb of the ride. It's a steady 9% grade which tops out at 12% just before the top but it's not much more than a third of a mile. Still, it definitely elevates my heart rate.

The wind was out of the northwest at around 10 mph. Given what we've had to deal with here in the Midwest lately I wasn't complaining. I made my way through Excelsior and Tonka Bay then deviated slightly from my intended route to get a photo of the backyard of a home I'd passed the last time I was in the area one month earlier. The backyard was the most ideal setting I think I'd ever seen for a dog where a fence was involved. There was plenty of shade with room to run and a ground covered with wood chips. If I was a dog I could easily call this place home. I'd been telling Tammy about it and I wanted to send her a photo.

I pulled alongside the house and un-clipped from my pedals. An older man with a screw-gun in his hand was making his way back up the driveway when his dogs saw me and barked as they came in my direction to defend their territory. He turned to look and I asked him if it was okay if I took a photo of his yard. He walked back toward me and as he did I told him how I admired his place and had been telling my wife about it. He smiled and said his neighbors weren't too happy with him as his dogs are still pups and they tend to bark a lot. He's fitting them with collars that emit an unpleasant high pitched noise when they bark hoping that it will solve his dilemma.

We chatted for a bit and then he said: "Looking at your bike and uniform, you're a pretty serious biker aren't you?" I told him that "yes, I am" while thinking that I'd never heard anybody refer to my cycling jersey as a uniform but I understood. He went on to tell me that although I may not be able to tell by looking at him now, he too was a serious biker back in his day before he injured his back. He used to ride with the LA Wheelmen and he told me how they'd do century rides a couple times a month and that they used to race to the top of Griffith Park in Los Angeles then race back down. We talked for ten minutes and I could tell that he had more time than he knew what to do with and would've loved to tell me stories from all those years ago but I had to keep moving if I was going to finish in daylight. I'd love to hear his stories; another time, perhaps. I asked him if he'd mind posing for a photo with his dogs so I could include it in my blog. He seemed a bit dumbfounded that I would want to do such a thing but he was happy to indulge me. He told me his name, Bill Bitter, and with that I shook his hand and continued on my ride.

I got to Delano and veered into the McDonald's on the east end of town. I don't typically stop at McDonald's for nourishment when I'm riding but this ride would require something other than Hostess Cupcakes and Gatorade. I think it was the sodium in the Quarter Pounder my body was craving. I touched base with Tammy before clipping back in and finding my rhythm once again.

Highway 12 was under construction west of Delano and the detour took me on a two-lane highway with no shoulder to speak of. I did my best to get through that stretch as quickly as I could. The road was nice but I could've done without highway 12's traffic on it.

I came to the town of Montrose and grabbed a quick photo of the city sign to upload to Facebook. "jump on it! an obscure reference for '70s rockers" I'm not sure that many, if any, of my Facebook friends understood that one.

By the time I got to Howard Lake, I'd been pedaling into a headwind for several hours. It was decision time. Did I have enough in me to continue on to Dassel or should I bail out and pick up highway 261 in the direction of Winsted while shaving 25-30 miles off my ride? I'd still finish with more than 100 miles total but not what I'd set out to do. I pressed on but with some annoying uncertainty; not something I needed for what lay ahead.

I was happy to finally get to Dassel and turn my bike out of the wind. I'd come 78 miles to this point. I tried to text my brother Keith to tell him that I wouldn't be able to make Keith Beulen's retirement party and to give him my best but I couldn't get a signal out. I'd try again later with better luck.

I passed the hundred-mile point passing through the town of Biscay and found new life in my legs. A fuel stop in Hutchinson and a tailwind can do that for you.

East of Glencoe I noticed some darker clouds moving in from the north and began to have serious doubts about my chances for staying dry. I don't mind riding in the rain but I was on highway 212 with loads of semi traffic which would make for a bad combination depending on how hard the rain would be. It wasn't until Cologne where I felt the first drops. I opted for a road I've always wanted to take but had never been on which would take me south and possibly away from the approaching rain. I knew that it may be a futile attempt but I'd be away from the heavy traffic I'd been riding in. I had 125 miles in my legs at this point and I knew my reactionary skills weren't as sharp as they were earlier in the ride. The altered direction would add distance to my intended goal but I was fine with that.

I no sooner turned onto this new southerly route when the sun poked through the broken sky cover. It was a reassuring sign and I couldn't have asked for a better road. Plenty of rolling hills to get me out of the saddle from time to time and bring other leg muscles into play. The solitude of this highway was a far cry from the steady stream of traffic passing a few feet off my left and the need for greater focus. I could let my mind wander out here and for a change, those thoughts weren't about my job.

I got to Jordan and rather than stop for fuel and break my rhythm I pressed on figuring if I needed to I could stop in Prior Lake to take on some liquids. The clouds were looking threatening once again and I was trying to minimize my downtime. I got to Prior Lake and hurried inside the Holiday station to grab a bottle of Gatorade then proceeded to wait in a line six people deep with one person behind the counter. Patience. The young guy behind the register was friendly enough and when I finally got to him he wanted to talk about the weather and did I think I'd make it home before the rain? "I'm doing my best" I politely said and with that, I was out the door and back on the road in a final push for home.

I was happy with just about every aspect of this ride. I especially like it when I have serious doubts along the way but am able to overcome them and this day provided a few of those moments.

Total distance was 164.63 miles and 9:28 in the saddle for an average speed of 17.39 mph and 6203 feet of climbing. I have no doubts that I'm ready for a double century; I just need to convince myself that it's necessary.

30 years ago this was as hi-tech as it got—a wheel mounted odometer. There was no fine-tuning it but it gave you a general idea of how far you traveled. Figure in your downtime during the ride and you could come up with an approximate average speed. Welcome to today's world. Sometimes I wonder if maybe we live among space aliens and they're the ones responsible for all this technology. It blows my mind. Here's a video I put together of the mapping process and the technology available. It's really quite cool. Click on the video a second time once it begins to play for a larger view.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mind Drift

I spent most of Thursday working in the yard and came to the conclusion that it's past time to replace the edging around a couple of our trees. It no longer looks attractive since the trees and their surface roots have distorted it. My plan is to make a much broader, irregular shape edging to replace the old ones and fill them in with plants and shrubs like the other islands around our yard. I thought about doing it yesterday but I came to my senses and went riding instead.

I was overdue for a long ride.

I waited for the temp to warm enough so I didn't need to wear anything other than my summer gear. I got away at 11:15 into a sunny day with a breeze from the southeast and the temp in the mid-60s. I don't understand why but with my reduced mileage my knees have been much more sore than usual. I've experienced this before. When I dial my summer mileage up to the usual 300-500 miles a week my knees seem fine. I'm averaging less than 200 miles a week now and the soreness in my knees has me riding much less aggressively than I'm used to. I would think it would be the reverse of what it is.

I'd intended to ride to Redwing with the winds out of the southeast as they were but the forecast had them becoming more southerly later in the day. I always try to plan my ride so I've got the wind at my back on the return. I decided to head toward Le Sueur instead where I'd then track east toward Montgomery to position myself for a direct tailwind on the push home.

My ride came to an abrupt halt when I got to Shakopee and found myself among a long line of cars waiting for what was probably one of the longer trains I've ever seen. I should've turned back and taken a different route through town but I kept thinking that the caboose would be in view any second. My Garmin told me I spent over 7 minutes waiting for it to clear. I'm too patient sometimes.

I opted for the quietness of county road 40 and worked that toward Belle Plaine. I found a nice rhythm and let my mind wander. I hate it when I'm on a ride and my thoughts keep turning to work but that's where they kept going on this stretch of road. I was thinking about a briefing I'd attended earlier in the week which had to do with error reporting and a kinder, much less punitive approach toward controllers that the FAA is about to embark on. It's a good thing in my opinion but there are many of us who have a lot of trust issues with turning ourselves in to management when we mess up. That's simply being smart in the current environment management has created. For this program to work there needs to be a good amount of trust from controller toward management but trust has been a rare commodity of late.

Twice in my briefing, it was mentioned that controllers are at the razor's edge of critical decision making. The further one gets away from the job being done behind the radar scope the less critical the decisions become with respect to safety. I get that and agree wholeheartedly with it. But yet, management sees fit to marginalize the job a controller does by capping their pay as we're in the 3rd year of a 5 year pay freeze while management continues to receive raises. Did I mention here before that of the 1,800,000 federal employees, only air traffic controllers have had their pay capped and we number less than 15,000? Go figure.

A controller recently made the mistake of saying in an editorial on Focus FAA that air traffic controllers are the backbone of the FAA. He took a good amount of heat for it and deservedly so in my opinion. I think that maybe what he meant to say was that a majority of jobs within FAA are there to support the person sitting at the sector separating aircraft. I don't think it's much of a reach to conclude that, nor is it intended to diminish anybody else's work by saying that; it's simply the way it is.

With that in mind, why is it that of all the people in the FAA, it's been the controller on the front lines in that 'razor's edge' position who has been the target of so much harassment and ridicule the past few years? Wouldn't you think that of all people you would want to keep focused on the task at hand it would be the controller? I speak from experience but I'm certainly not alone. There are other good, dedicated controllers who have suffered similar harassment for no reason other than people abusing their position.

Gerald Lavey has once again penned another opinion piece suggesting that it's time for all of us to make peace. No kidding but why now? Why not three years ago when management set out with their scorched earth agenda in hand and declared war on air traffic controllers? I saw Lavey's article Tuesday morning at work and quickly sent off a response not thinking that it could possibly make it in time for Focus FAA's weekly post of editorial comments to be published that same day but surprisingly it did.

My main hope is that those who have been appointed by Obama to lead this administration are truly paying attention to what is being said. I also wish there were more people speaking out; so many that we couldn't possibly be ignored. We'll know soon enough as both sides are currently in talks to hammer out an actual contract which restores fairness to the men and women who put their very careers on the line each time they plug into a sector.

I got to Le Sueur and took a seat on a pile of salt bags outside the door of the Holiday station while I refueled. My knees were no longer aching as they'd been earlier in the ride and I was thankful for that. I picked up Lexington Rd out of Le Sueur and took that east toward Montgomery. There would be no more headwind for the rest of the ride.

I was finally getting to put my new seat to the test. I'd purchased a Selle SMP Evolution saddle last fall but was having no success finding comfort with it. The pressure it puts on the sit-bones was too focused and my butt simply couldn't adapt. I bought a Koobi PRS Alpha after reading a recommendation from a cross country racer written on a forum I frequent. I took a chance. It's easily the best saddle I've ever used. With my Selle, I always knew the saddle was there. I don't notice my Koobi at all; it's that good. The yellow and black inserts in the rear of the seat are spongy shock absorbers. They come in varying densities depending on your weight. Five out of five stars for this saddle!

Lenny from work lives just off highway 13 in Prior Lake and he's mentioned to me a few times that I should stop by his place when I'm riding by as I'm on that stretch of road often enough. I doubled back on 170th street and made my way toward Lenny's house. I found him out by the pool and he went about showing me the projects he's working on; his garden, landscaping, deck, pool and garage. He's got enough to keep him busy for the next few summers. He recently made the switch to the same end of the week I work so it's been nice getting to know him better.

I took off from Lenny's with 101 miles completed and with a goal of 120 before I'd bring it home which is what I ended the ride with. I'd like to shoot for 150 miles in the next few weeks before setting out on a double century sometime in late June when I've got the most daylight.

But, before I can work on my cycling goals there's a couple of trees in our yard that need my attention. First things first.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Make 'em Laugh!

I remember several years ago sitting in the audience for one of Rachel's dance recitals and watching the Dads' Dance. They always brought the house down with their routine and I'd be less than honest if I said there wasn't a bit of me that wanted to be out there with them. But I need a big shove when it comes to things like that as I'm not going to run off and get involved on my own.

A few years ago I picked up Rachel outside her dance studio (Brenda's School of Dance) and she had a piece of paper in her hand for me as well as a big smile on her face. The sheet of paper was a request for any interested fathers who wanted to participate in that year's Dads' Dance. Rachel wanted to know if I would do it. there in front of everybody? Rachel's request was the shove I needed. I said I would; there was no way I could tell her no.

It's been three years since my debut with the other fathers and three years since the dads have put together another dance but this year we were back and I think quite possibly as good as ever; at least in the nine years I've been watching.

We've been practicing our steps every Tuesday night for the past two months and more recently we've included an extra practice on Friday nights as recital weekend approached. I'm not uncoordinated but these moves were difficult for me to get down and it wasn't for a lack of trying.

Usually, we've got matching outfits to wear but this year the choice was all our own. We were simply told to find something zany and I think we all did a good job of that. I resurrected an Austin Powers outfit Tammy made for me when I played the role for Rachel's 11th birthday party. It was perfect. The photo to the right was taken just before we took the stage for the final time Sunday afternoon.

Make 'em Laugh!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

ZMP Sector 30, 1715Z

It's just past noon when I get Rex and Suzanne out of Sector 30. Suzanne has been training there most of the day and they need to take some time to debrief before going home. I was hoping the rides had improved from earlier in the day but they haven't and choppy rides add considerably to the workload of a sector. The only decent air I have is at Flight Level two-eight-zero (FL280, or 28,000 feet) and below. Pilots will go there if they have to but they'd prefer to fly higher where the air is thinner and requires less fuel.

Aircraft in level flight are much easier to manage than those climbing and descending to try and find smooth air. There's simply much less to consider in terms of traffic. The vocabulary necessary to do the job of air traffic control is probably less than forty words and half those are used to describe rides to pilots checking in on your frequency. To know of bad rides in your sector and not convey that to the pilot so they can get their passengers seated is a cardinal sin of ATC.

There's a short lull in traffic before the next wave comes through and I use it to make some adjustments to the traffic analysis screen and its many windows of information, also known as URET, or User Request Evaluation Tool. It replaces the strips of paper data we used to shuffle at the sector (and still do but to a much lesser degree) to analyze traffic ahead of time. The Aircraft List (ACL) begins to populate with call-signs and information on flights that will be transitioning over the next 20 minutes through the airspace I control. Lenny sits down next to me and plugs in to take care of the numerous coordination calls that will be made between our sector and those adjacent to us.

Kristy, my trainee, is working the airspace above us controlling traffic from FL370 and up. Barry is training her for the day which gives me some time in the sector to work on my own proficiency. It's one thing to sit behind somebody and instruct them in the ways of the job but it's no substitute for actually doing the work. I doubt there's a more rewarding job in the building than watching somebody you're training progress in ability and confidence in that ability while working traffic. But having said that, as an instructor, I can't imagine a more stressful job out of the 500+ people who work at our facility in Farmington, Minnesota. To do it right you have to allow your trainee to work themselves into situations you'd rather they didn't. Stepping in too soon to resolve a conflict for them does nothing to show you how they'll fix a problem once they're on their own and that's key. Allowing them to go to a point beyond where you're comfortable but where you can still recover takes nerve.

I tell my trainees that I expect they'll make mistakes; that's why they're not certified yet. It frees them up to try different solutions to problems rather than trying to be so perfect. Even once they're certified and on their own, they'll still make errors in judgment. Some controllers are fond of saying that ours is a job where you can't afford to make mistakes but I disagree. We make them all the time. It's how well you identify them and fix them that matters most. It's all about the recovery.

WYLIE32 is the call-sign of a pair of military aircraft on a refueling track running through the heart of the sector in a block of altitude from FL240-260. They're at an altitude which on a typical day keeps them clear of most traffic transitioning the sector but today is not a typical day. A few minutes before the end of the refueling track the pilot calls to inform me that they'll be executing a right course reversal. I've been contemplating his turn and counter with instructions to execute a left reverse so I can keep him clear of two potential conflicts; a departure climbing out of Sioux City, Iowa headed for Dulles and AAL547 (American-547) at FL260 approaching our sector from the east.

Being able to multi-task is vital to any air traffic controller. It's not that you can think of any more than one thing at a time but rather, it's an ability to move from one situation to another, quickly, while taking in queues from others around you at the same time while resolving situations and anticipating others which your intuition tells you are developing. You're a juggler of aircraft. Anticipation is so much a part of the game; anticipation born out of experience.

DAL78 (Delta-78) checks in on frequency level at FL330. Before he even asks (and I know he will) I inform him that FL350 has shown some improvement of late but higher than that is still rough. He requests to climb and Lenny is quickly on the line coordinating with the controller whose airspace the aircraft is still in for permission/control to climb prior to entering our airspace. Lenny responds with "Your control" and after a quick traffic search I key the frequency, "Delta-78 climb and maintain flight level three-five-zero". It's a clearance I'll repeat several times over the next half hour as pilots seek to find the highest altitude of smooth air for fuel-efficiency.

The sector beneath us calls to coordinate a large chunk of our airspace we're turning over to the military to use for the next 90 minutes from FL280 and below for combat maneuvering practice. Had the rides been any worse we would have shut them off at something a few thousand feet lower but we give up the airspace. We support our troops. I quickly outline the restricted area in green on the scope with some simple digital drawing tools to remind me to keep other traffic clear of it.

Mark (the supervisor) comes by and tells us that we're expected to go 'red' soon. Each sector has a predetermined number of aircraft it can reasonably handle before it reaches a point where it's deemed to be 'red'. At the same time, he tells us that we'll be getting an additional ORD (Chicago, O'Hare) arrival that we'll need to put 30 miles in trail of another ORD arrival on our frequency. I look at the sector the flight is coming from and see they're doing very little and wonder why they don't do the spacing on their end. It doesn't matter; I enjoy the challenge. "No problem" I tell Mark. As he walks away I wonder how it is we haven't been red all this time? The all-important predetermined number knows nothing of the complexity added to the sector due to weather.

WYLIE32 is still refueling and in its turn back to the west as CPZ1916 (Compass-1916) inbound for Minneapolis at FL270 passes a couple miles to the east of the refuelers. I'm not too busy to give a traffic call to the Compass flight in case they need something to look at to interrupt their boredom before they begin their preparations for arrival. "We're IMC but thanks, Center" they reply. IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) is another way of saying he's in the clouds and can't see the flight.

I'm reminded how much I enjoy smooth air days as the ride reports and pilot requests begin to take their toll on me.

I've been plugged in for maybe 75 minutes with very little dead-air time on the frequency for most of it when Jim asks me if I'd like a break. His offer is tempting but I wave him off. "Are you sure?" he asks. "Yeah, I'm good." Lenny tells me that if he can stick it out another twenty minutes in the sector he'll be good to finish out the day on break. I'd be lying if I said the same thought hadn't crossed my mind.

Multi-tasking also involves planning your breaks. It's fundamental to the job.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Out With the Old in with the Yews

I'm getting ready to head into work after my weekend and I'm actually looking forward to it so I can slow things down some. Not really. The past few days have been a bit busier than I like with a ton of yard work that couldn't be ignored any longer in addition to whatever else I had planned for the weekend. Maybe this speaks to the dream I wrote about in my previous entry.

I've been unhappy with the look of an island of Junipers in our front yard for some time. I planted them when I had our home built in 1992 and they looked fine until a few years ago when they became overgrown. There isn't much you can do in the way of trimming them so they keep their natural look and that's what I'd like. They suffered a lot of winter-kill this past winter making my need to replace them a higher priority and this was the weekend to finally do it.

I got busy Thursday morning with a hand saw working to trim the limbs off down to the base. It was going okay but I could see that it was going to be several trips to the compost site ten miles away before I'd be able to begin the work of digging out the roots. I wasn't looking forward to that as I only had a shovel and an ax.

On my first trip to the compost site, I noticed that a neighbor around the corner had hired a crew to cut down a large oak in his yard. On my return, I stopped and talked with the guy operating the stump grinder to see if there was time in his day to take a look at what I was working on. He said he'd have his boss stop by and give me an estimate. I'm usually fine with doing this sort of work myself but I could see I wasn't helping my still recovering right forearm and my tendinitis issues. It doesn't take much for me these days; that's really all the excuse I needed.

I struck a deal with the boss and within an hour of my inquiring, I had some help. While the guy on the stump grinder was finishing what I'd started I went to the back yard and began pulling out five other Junipers from our other two rock islands which had also been badly damaged over the winter. I'm done with Junipers. I took the liberty of dumping those carcasses off on the pile he'd made which they shredded and hauled off for me.

At the start of the project, I had a thought that this could make for an interesting time-lapse video. So, in true geek fashion, I set out my camera on its tripod and let it roll for a couple of hours while the work was being done. Have a look.

I spent the better part of Friday making another run to Gertens to buy some Taunton Yews to go where the Junipers had been and getting them planted. The new plants will take a few years to begin to fill in. I'm sorry for the rabbits who had their homes torn up as there were a few who made their home among the overgrown Junipers. The Yews will make nice homes for them in another few years.

I wrapped up early Friday so I could watch Rachel play her violin for a friend's concert performance for school at Lakeville Art Center. It wasn't a difficult piece that she was playing and the focus was on the singer and not the accompanying musicians. There was no mic on Rachel's violin but the video I took of the group does a good job of capturing her efforts.

My riding took a back seat this weekend with the exception of yesterday. I was able to get out for a few hours in the afternoon once I'd put the finishing touches on some Mother's Day details.

Tammy and I took the pups for a walk last night before going out to celebrate Mother's Day with Rachel. There would be no time today as we both work. Anyway, while we were out walking, Charlie was doing his usual zig-zag route looking for sticks and pine cones to carry in his mouth along the way. He'll often carry whatever he has until something more intriguing catches his eye. A mile from home I noticed that he'd scored a Greenie from somewhere. There would be no replacing it with a stale pine cone or stick.

We had to laugh because it looked like he was taunting Allie and Toby with it. For once they were both showing an interest in what he had in his mouth. Not surprisingly he finished the walk with the Greenie knowing full well that he'd scored something big and not to be discarded. I suppose that's as good a testament as a company could hope to receive.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Meaning and the Miscellaneous

I woke up yesterday morning from an unnerving dream; the sort of dream that causes you to be thankful that it wasn't real life. I've had the dream several times throughout my adult life and I'm guessing there must be something that triggers it. I think I know what it is.

In the dream, I'm either in college or high school with the end of the grading period just around the corner with me totally failing a couple classes. I haven't even attended either class since the first day. Lengthy papers are due and I've opened no books to research them. There's always a time warp in the dream in that I go from being at the beginning of the semester early in the dream while assuring myself that I'll have enough time to do the necessary work to finding myself woefully behind at the end of the dream and the semester and failing. It's a helpless, overwhelming feeling. I awake with great relief.

Maybe the dream was spawned while watching Rachel this past week working overtime to try and meet all of her obligations with work and school. But I don't think so. I think it's more about me feeling that there isn't enough time in my day/week to do all I want or need to. Yes, I know, "Just retire!" I wish it were that easy or that I could afford to.

I'll never understand people who get bored in retirement. They must not be trying.

The Dads' Dance is less than two weeks away and I'm still a bit unprepared. There are a few moves that aren't clicking for me and I think for many in the group as well. We've stepped it up to two practices per week and we could easily use three. Needless to say, our dance floor in the basement is getting some use from me.

The last time I danced with the other dads was three years ago and they had us all wearing similar outfits. This time we were given the green light to dress as zany as we like. Me? I'll be resurrecting my Austin Powers outfit from Rachel's 11th birthday party. I think it may even help to take the pressure off me. It won't be Kevin Gilmore dancing in front of a packed auditorium; it'll be Austin Powers! It's possible that I may find some alter ego once I'm out there that I didn't even know existed within me. I'll try not to get carried away.

I'm taking tomorrow off from work to shop for flowers with Tammy. We'll head to Gertens in the morning and buy a dozen flats of flowers for the several flower beds we have throughout the yard. It's a trip we do together each year. We've planted them this early many years in the past without any problem from frost. It's either now or wait another two weeks as our schedules won't match up for this trip again until then.

Tammy and I are both putting in quite a few hours on the next panel for above our entertainment center. It's coming along nicely and we hope to have it done in the next couple weeks.

I get an anxious feeling working on it when it's warm and sunny outside and I could be either riding or working in the yard. It's almost like a withdrawal of sorts. I have to remind myself that the goal this year is to do fewer miles than last year and that the yard work can wait. It takes a bit of talking to myself but I'm usually able to work through the urge.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Change is Coming and No Hurry Home

We're experiencing more culture change at work. FAA management has seen the error of their ways (not that they didn't see it all along) and has begun briefing us on a new day dawning where we all work together for a greater good. Fine. I've always thought that's the way it should be; but why now? Could this possibly have anything to do with the Obama Administration and its dim view of what's been happening within the FAA these past few years with respect to management and their heavy-handed, hypocritical ways?

After my Wednesday briefing on our intended new direction in the workplace, I was plugged into the sector chatting with another controller and I sarcastically stated that I was curious if we'd be seeing this culture shift had McCain been elected. After my remark, the supervisor interjected himself into the conversation and assured me that this new culture change has nothing to do with the Obama administration and that plans for a change have been in the works since well before the election. Really? I had to laugh. "You're not serious, are you?" I asked.

It didn't take long for me to turn the subject to pay disparity between labor and management and the fact that they've had raises the last three years while controllers have gone without, save for a tiny locality increase tacked onto our base. The sup assured me that it was our union's fault that management was still getting raises. Huh—you wanna run that by me again? He said that management had an offer on the table to Natca (our union) which didn't expire until September and since their pay is tied to whatever Natca negotiates there was nothing management could do to cap their pay until they knew the outcome of the offer on the table. I don't honestly know that I've ever heard anything more ridiculous in my 27+ years in the agency.

I reminded him that Natca turned the offer down immediately. He replied that good faith bargaining meant that the offer had to stay on the table until it expired and by the time it did it was too late to make any changes to stop the pay raise they received last January. "Are you hearing what you're saying and do you actually believe that?" I asked. "If your pay is tied to what Natca negotiated for labor then how is it that you're still getting raises while our pay has been capped?" He never answered that one. "And what's to stop management from putting out another unacceptable offer and leaving it to sit on the table knowing it will never be accepted?"

As unreal as that conversation was, I had to wonder if the sup really believed what he was saying. Had he actually justified that scenario in his head? Sadly, I think he had. I'm not sure this sup is ready for the culture change we're about to enter into but I hope I'm wrong.

Tammy headed up to Virginia yesterday morning to see her father at his retirement home while Rachel and I stayed behind. She's got a ton of studying for next week's final exams for some advanced placement (AP) classes she's taking. She's been a bit overwhelmed between school and her work as a dance instructor. They've got her doing choreography on her own time at home and she currently has little to none of that as it is. The other night she was feeling the stress and Tammy and I did our best to give her her space. Any conversation we had with her resulted in one-word responses. She had no time for either of us with her nose buried in her books.

I took to the streets on my bike yesterday after Tammy got away with intentions of doing my Monday Morning Loop; a 38-44 mile ride depending on how I finish it. I typically do this ride on Monday mornings before work; hence the name. I got 10 miles into it and began wondering what the hurry was to get home. I decided to cross the river on the bike path on the south side of 494 and stretch it into a 60-something mile ride. I was feeling good about that decision, at least for a while until the drizzle I'd been riding in turned to rain. I was confident that an approaching cold front would eventually move the low ceilings out.

I worked my way west through Bloomington toward Flying Cloud airport and planned to cross the river just north of Shakopee where I could refuel before the final 20 mile stretch for home. But again I thought...what's the hurry? My legs were feeling good but more surprising was that I was holding up as well as I was on as little sleep as I'd had since working the all-night shift the previous night and only getting a couple of hours of sleep when I got home. It's my weekend and I enjoy my time off too much to sleep it away. I can catch up on my sleep when I retire in another four years.

I stopped at the Holiday station on highway 212 just before getting into Chaska. Rather than reaching for my usual 2-pack of Hostess Cupcakes I opted for a Chuckwagon ham and cheese sandwich instead. Not the best riding food but it's what I was craving. That and two bottles of G2 Gatorade.

I got back on the road and headed in the direction of Jordan to the southwest but before I could get out of Chaska, Creek Road, off to my right caught my eye. I'd often wondered where this road went so I doubled back and decided to find out. I'm finding myself much more inclined to explore some other options now that I've got my Edge 705 leading the way. What a great road it turned out to be and it was taking me in the direction of a stiff northwest wind that was holding steady at 20+ mph. Just what I'd need to help push me home for when I finally turned to head that way.

Five miles out of Chaska the sun was shining and I pulled over to take off my knee warmers. It was then that I realized that I wasn't wearing sunscreen. When I left home 50 miles earlier the plan was to do a two-hour ride in drizzle and fog. Hardly conditions for sunscreen. But there I was under a sunny sky with another 50-60 miles of riding in front of me. Will I ever learn?

I made it to Waconia and headed south, glad to be out of the teeth of the wind I'd been struggling against for most of the ride. I crested a hill just south of town and was surprised to see that Waconia was now boasting its own round-about. These things are popping up everywhere.

I texted Rachel to see how she was doing and to let her know that I was still another 2-3 hours out. She said she'd wait until I got home and we could go somewhere together for dinner.

Next stop for fuel, Cologne. I texted Rachel again to tell her to take some money from my wallet and go get some dinner because I didn't want her to have to wait for me. I got back on my bike and jumped on Hwy 212 and dialed the speed up to 30 mph. I'd hold it there for a minute or more then back it down to an easy to manage 25 mph and then repeat the surge. At one point I was cruising along at 45 mph with a couple of 18-wheelers off to my left to draft off of. It's a rush that you won't understand without having done it.

I got to Jordan and turned out of the wind for the final 25-mile push for home. My Edge was telling me that going directly home would bring me in at 99 miles. Not good enough. I'd need to do the Orchard Lake loop which adds another 7 miles or so to the total. No worries and no hurry.

A few miles from home I came across a woman walking her four Corgis. They looked like they were smiling. I asked her if it was alright to take their photo and she didn't mind. I wanted to show Tammy, plus I thought it would look good here as well.

It was a good day on the bike with a little over 106 miles ridden at an average speed of 17 mph. Not as fast as I'd like but considering the wind I had to contend with I was happy with my effort. I was glad to have my first century ride of the season completed and that my quads never once failed me as they've had a tendency to do on occasion this year.

Today is a rest day off the bike which works well because I've got glass to cut and an added dance practice tonight and do I ever need that. Hopefully, Rachel can work with me once her finals are over next week. She got me into this after all.