Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Too Much Time On His Hands

How else could this be possible?


We have this beautiful dog.
He has no opinion on the weather. He doesn't seem to care about the coming of spring, or the NOT coming of spring as we are currently witnessing. He's a good one to consult with when spring is yet again delayed and the weather makes me crabby. When the snow gets deep, he is delighted and can't wait to go out and help me shovel the snow.
Even when it's so cold he has to wear his boots, he just sits patiently ready for action.
He doesn't want to hear that we are done for the day.
It's not that he doesn't enjoy spring when it arrives and he gets to romp in the park climbing trees and such.
He's always bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for a barbeque or a session with a toy I would complain miserably about and want a new one. Not only a new one but a super-lightweight one made of carbon fiber or unobtainium that would make all the other dogs oooh and aaahhhh over.
OK, it's true he sometimes only has one eye focused on the present,
but what would you do if you had a shredded Frisbee on your head?
At the end of day, he doesn't need anything fancy, he just hops in the back of the car and drops off for a nap on top of the luggage...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Group Riding, Group Safety

Belgium Knee Warmers has this great post called A Group Effort about group riding etiquette and approach. If you do any group riding, you owe it to yourself, no actually you owe it to the  group to get up to speed on this:
Be a good wheel - This is a broad statement, but apply it as you will. To me, this means, keep a steady flow when riding with others, no herky-jerky, yo-yo moves. Keep the power distribution smooth, and soft pedal to control your speed and time yourself so you don't have to use your brakes unless it's absolutely necessary. Avoid bumps and holes in the road by giving the riders behind you fair warning. In some cases this means a subtle point or a verbal cue "hole," but try to reduce the amount of shouting, it creates confusion and no-one likes the startle effect it can produce. When you're at the front and responsible for the group behind you, look ahead, and when an obstacle approaches, give the group the benefit of a smooth lateral movement that begins 10 seconds in advance. This way there is a smooth avoidance. As a rider behind, watch the riders in front of you and mimic their line if you trust the wheel in front of you. A trusted wheel is sure to avoid obstacles.
Read the rest here at BKW...
Coming relatively recently to group riding with a racer's insight, this is something that I have worked very hard on and still welcome advice on how to improve. So many of my miles are solo for my commute that I don't always shift gears into group riding as effectively as I should. When riding with others, I hope to be that dependable wheel that will keep them safe as they catch my wheel and I hope to find other dependable wheels in the group as well.
Now that more riders are taking their bikes off the winter hooks, I hope we can all keep improving our skills both for our increased enjoyment but even more so for the safety of the group. Fact is I might do more club rides if I felt safer on them and the BKW post sets a great foundation. I am hoping that this year can be the safest year.
Riding skills need focused effort just like fitness so let's think skills as well as fitness as we begin another great season. Be a good wheel and we'll all be safe out there!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Soar With Eagles

False spring last weekend
Warm sun gives way too cold March
Late March grey just sucks
Ground is not yet thawed
Trapped in winter's fading grip
Thawing soon, real soon
Flooding starts up north
Sandbag filling now frantic
I think I would move
Most snow is gone now
Studs off, ice should go away
But it just doesn't
Perhaps the garden
WIll grab my attention now
Dreams of growing things
Bright warmth and sunshine
Never more than now
But while I'm waiting
I'll watch Eagles glide and soar
Chance blue sky appears

Sunday, March 22, 2009

First Road Ride '09

First open water that's not flowing across the roads. One of many other cyclists taking a big bite from the spring apple. Flight of fancy, Fancy lady! Acres of ice, frozen lakes haven't heard the news. And still we ride. Winter lingers on the lake, but the road is flush with spring. Happy smiles persist, even when it's become a tired blur. It's a really, really good tired!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Transition Day

The day broke clear and warm. Even warmer since we overslept and were still happily snoring away under cover of down when we should have been downing our last cup of coffee as we looked at the gear all ready to go sitting by the door.

Sometimes it's good to have a quick start on Transition Day. Spring is launching it's most serious attack with temps predicted to peak near 50 degrees, 10 degrees if you measure with a C. The snow was going to lose this one and everybody knew it. No point to sitting around taking it slow, this was time for action.

Shock and thaw would prevail but the skiers weren't going down without a fight. There weren't many parking spots left when we got to the Woodland Trails parking lot and we were in the early shift. For the number of cars in the lot we didn't see very many people but every single one had a smile broader than the clear blue sky.

Spring skiing isn't always great since the snow is progressing along its terminal path, destined to put in its star appearance as the key ingredient of the spring mud. This day was the exception. The snow was nearly perfect but for very few spots where the ice was already staging victory parties  in the low sunny points on the trail.

We skied a bit longer than the legs we brought with us were ready for but we promised they would have a long rest from skiing so they numbly went along. The sun had the sky to itself but the temps were still just above freezing so the snow wasn't suffering and we weren't sweating like the warmth of the last ski of the year can sometimes inspire.

A quick stop at the bakery and ski season was put to rest for another year and it was only lunch time. It's important when coaxing your end of season legs to continue on to that extra loop at the end not to let on what the nature of the afternoon plan. On such a beautiful spring day, a guy like me has no choice but to head out for a spin on the bike.

I ride year 'round but the first spring ride has a magic not to be missed and this particular day had the glory of the spring sun still refusing to share the sky with anything but the stark tree branches all waking up but not yet showing the first yawn. Neither has the ground yet thawed so while the snow was melting quickly under the stern gaze of the sun, all the run off was still moving horizontally, creating lakes and rivers where yesterday and tomorrow there would be none.

So great was the glory of this day that I recorded mostly with my internal retinal camera but these few shots capture the essence of a day where skiing lumbers off for its summer hibernation and the lone winter cyclists are joined by the fair-weather throng. It's a wondrous thing to have such a day that begins in the soft white embrace of skiing and ends with the warm caress of the saddle flying over the distance covered by our wheels.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

AIG - Definition of Bullshit

This is the very definition of bullshit: $165 Million in Bonuses
How in the hell can anyone think the folks responsible for the AIG debacle deserve a bonus for their efforts? They screw up so badly our government has to step in and give them our money, $170 Billion Dollars of our goddamn money, to bail them out. The argument is that the bonuses were promised before the crisis so they have to be paid. They continue saying they can't attract the best and brightest talent to lead the company out of the crisis if their compensation is subject to "continued and arbitrary adjustment" by the U.S. Treasury. 
IT'S NOT ARBITRARY, THEY SCREWED UP! When did accountability become synonymous with arbitrary? How can they be thought of as the "best and brightest" when the crisis is the result of their efforts? If this is what the best and brightest deliver, perhaps we should just put some average folks in charge. You know, the kind of folks who know how to balance a check book and actually kick the tires before they buy something so they know they aren't getting a pig in a poke.
At what point would these dip shits decide that criminal actions need to be sanctioned not bonused? If these executives had murdered someone would that be grounds to cancel? There are folks who have lost their futures over this and no doubt there will be suicides as a result. I would argue that the actions that brought on this crises, and AIG is dead center in the whole mess, will cause deaths.
How can the people making these decisions sleep or look themselves in the mirror?
How about jail time? How about we offer them a long stay in our jails instead of our money? Or maybe I should apply for a job that I can screw up beyond comprehension and still not only get to keep the job but get some obscene bonus for my incompetent efforts. Except that, unlike these sorry excuses for human beings, I couldn't live with myself.
Is anyone paying attention out there? It's time for people in positions of power to take some responsibility for crying out loud. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Elusive State of Normal

Normal isn’t typically hard to find. It’s just how things are. The way they have been for the largest periods of life. Yes there are the peaks and valleys where normal flits away on an unexpected gust of life. When the gust subsides, normal creeps back in like a puddle in the low spot of a parking lot. It’s never quite the same but it becomes the new normal.

Normal includes the redefinition of Normal spinning from where it came to where it now is. But it’s still Normal. Accepting the new Normal sometimes takes time. Perhaps it requires an acceptance, even grieving for what’s been lost, what’s being replaced. It’s true that some states of Normal are more difficult to accept than others. Sometimes it’s difficult to detect when the new Normal has finally settled in and the transition is complete.

For me, reconstructing Normal has been a long and varied effort. I’ve known folks who declare how their lives will go, perhaps “I’m going to be a Doctor” and then one day they are. It still takes time but their path is pretty straight between that day in third grade when they declared their intent and their current Normal. I’m not one of those and can’t pretend I am. Don’t want to either which is not to cast any shadows on their path but it just hasn’t been that way for me.

I started this post a few months back when the house was torn apart for our remodeling project. Being unemployed through it all, I was here living every dusty, noisy moment. Sometimes leaving for interview calls since I didn’t want it to sound like I was calling from a park bench in downtown. Sometimes I would head out just to head out and that was fine and all but Normal demands a home into which you can retreat.

Normal has the comforts we surround ourselves with. It’s soft where we need it to be. Quiet for our thoughts and rich with the dreams of a future yet to be realized. It also has its hard spots from which we can push off into the world we are constructing. We plan, or at least understand that at times we incur disruption and lack of connection to these things just as a broad jump athlete lifts off from the toe board in the quest to soar over the distance.

At that point they are helpless, suspended in air, hurtling towards all that for which their training has prepared them. Even though they are no longer physically connected to the earth, this is Normal and they know they will land according to the trajectory their training, in the long term, and their leap at the instant they took flight, has set for them. But they always land somewhere.

I have carefully crafted the arc of my career, set the trajectory on which I have flown for many years. And, as Normal would have it, I always landed. But what happens when the very laws of physics change between the time your foot launches your flight and the predicted landing? I started this run as a broad jumper and now find myself in the dark, a freefalling parachutist, wondering how to open my chute.

Actually, I’m wondering if I have a chute since I didn’t pack one. If I do have one, I’ll have to figure out how to open it on my way down and assuming I can figure that out, knowing when to pull the chord is likely to be important. Too late and I’ll end up a stain on the tarmac but too early and I’ll suffer the relentless cross winds and miss the target completely.

I don’t know if it’s a good thing but I’m not alone in this free fall. Somewhere along the line our society lost the concept that adding value was the foundation of Normal and that bedrock was replaced by a Normal where adding wealth was all that mattered. Never mind that it was all based on IOU’s written on tissue paper now being used by the Bear to clean up after a grizzly dump.

So now that our game of Financial Let’s Pretend is ending, will we return to a Normal based on actual value or will we just generate so much paper that it looks like a foundation on which our future can be constructed? Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion but while we wait you might want to pick up a few extra rolls, you know just to get in on the ground floor of the next Normal.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Solving The Wrong Problem

The latest jolt from Fat Lad’s cattle prod:

For you is cycling a lifestyle thing or is it a utilitarian tool for getting from A to B?

Thoughts on the back of a £20 pound note to my home address please ;)

I’m not really sure which camp I fall into. Some days I think I’m clearly on the lifestyle of the equation since I commute full time, mountain bike most weekends that I’m not out on a road ride with my pals. I do many utility runs on the bike, groceries, post office etc. as well so I can’t argue with the utilitarian camp either. I can’t decide if I’m being indecisive or if perhaps I fall into a third camp.

Perhaps we are just due for some new thinking about transportation. We’re currently on an unsustainable energy track and seem to think if we aren’t seated on our butts at all times that something’s wrong with us. Our preference to emulate our living rooms for our transportation environment results in excess energy consumption and unnecessary emission loads into the environment.

If the energy consumption and it’s resulting pollution fatal embrace weren’t enough reason to reevaluate our transportation strategy perhaps a quick peak at our declining health could get us to the tipping point. We are an increasingly obese society and more than just a few folks (Fat Lad, Fat Cyclist, fatboybiking, Large Fella On A Bike, etc.) are looking at the bicycle to address our collective girth. Even if your focus isn’t losing weight, increasing exercise improves health. Unlike other machines, using our bodies improves them.

I think about how this triple threat could be so effectively reduced with the lowly bicycle and wonder why there has been so little focus on integrating cycling into our culture. So when my Popular Science magazine arrives the other day, a side bar headline jumps out at me:

It’s a very interesting story that makes the argument that we are trying to solve the wrong problem. Like so many times a fresh insight shows up, it’s a real ‘Duh’ moment for me. The problem isn’t how to get better mileage from our vehicles. It’s how can we transport ourselves from A to B.

At the beginning of the article they highlight a couple interesting facts in a sidebar:

1.    “If every adult in the world rode a stationary bike for eight hours a day to generate electricity, they would crank out 80 gigawatts – still only half of 1 percent of our energy needs.”

2.    “If each American driver cycled to work just one day a week, we could cut our Persian Gulf oil imports in half.

The first one is the kind of statistic naysayers like but when juxtaposed with the second, it underscores how little energy is actually needed to move us from A to B. The whole better gas mileage mantra is focused on what it takes to power our rolling living rooms but the living room is the wrong tool for the job.

People find it easy to focus on the symptom and forget to ask themselves “Just what was the problem this now broken solution was intended to resolve?” The original problem was “How can we get around more quickly and easily than walking? We need to get back to this original question!

I still use my car for longer trips and larger loads and don’t feel even a twinge of guilt. Sometimes it’s the right tool for the job and yes, better mileage would be great. If you only have a hammer, all your problems tend to look like nails. It follows then, that if you only have a car for getting from A to B, you are not likely to consider a bicycle to be the proper tool for the job.

I am encouraged that the mainstream press like the Wall Street Journal is starting to spread some ink on bicycle commuting and thrilled with the presentation in Popular Science this month that gives very deep coverage and presents an entirely new angle.” Good Magazine has an interesting article about transportation efficiency that I found over at Why Howard Laughed.

I still don’t know if I’m a lifestyle or utilitarian cyclist but then once I leave the grocery store, I don’t really care that much about labels.

PS – I’m a bit confused about Fat Lad’s request for a copy of this post being sent to him by post on 20 pound note stock but I will put it in the mail and hope that it’s not a case of mis-communication across the pond... J