Julia made this great card for my birthday. She hit on all the great themes of my life.
April 13th, 2013 · No Comments
April 3rd, 2013 · No Comments
Last week I fully joined the standing-desk trend. I had bought a tall “cafe table” for my office a couple years ago, and intermittently used it as a desk, but last Tuesday I finally moved my computer to that table.
A week into the experiment, I’m ready to say that it’s been a great arrangement. About the only problem so far is that my table doesn’t have enough surface area for much besides the computer and my iPad, which I use as a second screen. I can’t, for instance, easily put a printout or a magazine on the tabletop to consult while I work.
On the other hand, standing has already had several benefits. I’ve found that I’m much more likely to move around more, whether walking across the suite to get a glass of water or just to pop out of my office to chat with someone else. Even when I’m at the desk, I’m hardly stationary: I’m constantly shifting my weight and position. Being upright seems to help a little bit with my ability to focus on my work, too, but that might be due to the fact as that I’m closer to the screen than I had been while seated at my desk.
The biggest payoff, though, is that I am far less sore and achy at the end of the day than I had been after a day of sitting. Even on days when I go to the gym, my legs and back feel good – warm, loose, energized – when I pack up to head home. That’s a pretty nice surprise.
April 1st, 2013 · No Comments
Musing about possible April Fool’s pranks, Julia asked me how hard it would be to rig a bucket of water to fall on someone’s head. Thankfully, she and Vivi went in another, tamer, drier direction. (The dress color and the last line in the description are the jokes.)
March 24th, 2013 · No Comments
Friday morning, I was finishing up some work before heading to Julia’s field trip in the next town when Shannon texted me:
Washer just stopped itself with a load of clothes and water in it and there is a burning smell!
I had a few minutes of before I needed to be at the field trip, so I raced home to investigate. The laundry room reeked with a smoky smell and a load of damp laundry was sitting in the tub. Shannon said that the machine had started again on its own after she texted, but she’d stopped the cycle, worried that the machine would catch on fire. (Having had popcorn burst into flame in our microwave a few weeks ago, she had some reason to be worried.) Without much time to spare, I just unplugged the machine and said we’d have to look at it more later.
That evening – after Julia’s field trip and after she started throwing up with what turned out to be a 24-hour flu bug – I used some YouTube videos to figure out how to open the washing machine cabinet, hoping that I would be able to tell if anything was obviously wrong. Though the process was fairly straightforward (if laborious), ultimately I couldn’t tell what, if anything, was wrong. My first and only hypothesis – that a belt was failing – was eliminated when I found that the washing machine was a “direct drive” model, meaning it had no belt.
So I cleaned the hideously dirty interior of the cabinet, swept and mopped the floor, and reassembled the machine (scraping all the knuckles on my right hand in the process). The next day, Shannon put the machine in heavy use, doing all the usual laundry plus the laundry created by Julia’s sickness. We expected the worst, but nothing has happened so far. It’s a zombie washer.
March 15th, 2013 · No Comments
Vivi wrote this newspaper while I was traveling earlier this week. Click on it to see a more legible version. It’s worth the time:
March 4th, 2013 · No Comments
When I was racing the other weekend, Shannon set the girls up with a dish-soap painting project. Here are two of the paintings they made, each with a mysterious title. When I asked them about the titles, they said almost in unison that I’d told them that artists sometimes gave their works strange names, so they were following suit. Well done, girls!
February 17th, 2013 · 2 Comments
Saturday morning, I drove up to Elm Creek park in Champlin, Minnesota, for the second running of the Fatbike Frozen Forty race. I didn’t know what to expect, since I hadn’t trained much for the race and have done all my racing on gravel roads, but I was eager for the chance to ride my fatbike – a Salsa Mukluk I call “The Beast” – somewhere outside the Northfield city limits. Plus: snow, sunshine, and *bike racing*!
I knew from the event organizers’ messages and the race website that the race would be well run. It was. Numerous volunteers made parking and registration a snap, allowing me plenty of time to get the Beast ready to ride and to cruise around the parking lot, admiring the hundred or so gorgeous fatbikes on display. Salsa bikes predominated, but Surly and 9 Zero 7 rigs were also common, and I even saw a few Fatbacks. Every single bike was gorgeous.
Since I needed to stay warm in the single-digit temperatures, I took a ten-minute ride onto the singletrack trails that would constitute almost all of the racecourse. This little jaunt told me that the race was going to be very technically challenging for me: dozens of sharp but short ups and downs, thousands of twists and turns, and zillions of trees near, along, and in the trail. The snow in the foot-wide trail was pretty soft, so I let about 10 pounds of air out of my tires when I returned to the start area. I must have tweaked the valve stem on my front tire, though, because a few minutes later, another racer pointed out that the tire was completely flat. Thankfully, at a bike race you’re never far from a pump, so I was able to inflate the tire to racing pressure with plenty of time before the gun.
Under clear blue skies (and a circling bald eagle!), the race started at 9:30 sharp, mixing all of the racers who were tackling the full 40-mile distance – solo men and women and the two- and four-person relay teams. After a short neutral rollout, we hit a stretch of trail that spread out the field like warm butter. Everywhere I looked, people were dabbing, crashing, stopping, running. So silly and fun, I started laughing.
We soon hit the singletrack trail, beginning the first of four laps of ten or so miles each. The field was pretty well distributed by now, but I could see and hear plenty of racers ahead and behind. Due to the very tight trail, passing was pretty much impossible unless someone made a mistake. I gained spots when riders ahead of me picked a bad line or hit a tree or whatever, and I lost spots when I did the same. Which was often! At first, I was frustrated at my inability to just stay on the damn trail, but after a half lap or so, I relaxed. I figured I would have more fun, and probably go faster, if I was satisfied with trying to ride *better*, since I couldn’t expect to ride *perfectly* – or even, really, competently. Lap 1 seemed to go on and on, but only because I was completely unfamiliar with the terrain.
When I came back through the start area, after about 1:15 of riding, I stuffed a peanut-butter sandwich in my mouth, guzzled some water, and headed back out. Feeling pretty good, I decided to try to push a little bit. Bad idea. I spent a good chunk of the lap riding off the trail into deeper, looser snow, then wrestling the Beast back onto the path – only to kill my momentum a minute later by smacking my bars on a tree. I hit enough trees that both of my grips have wood jammed into them now:
The best moment of the lap came when I slipped off the side of the trail and smacked my head directly into the tree in front of me. The rider behind me asked if I was okay, and when I said I was, he sprinted away, clearly not wanting to be anywhere near my messy riding.
The worst moment of the lap came after I was caught by two racers who seemed to be riding together – a guy on a nondescript fatbike and a woman with a matching pink jacket and bike. They passed me when I whiffed on a tight hairpin turn, but I could tell they weren’t going much faster than I was, so I decided to stick with them as long as I could. And I did, until, inevitably, I bobbled a tight section that they had already cleared. I tried to push as hard as possible to catch back on, knowing they would be good riding partners, but my technique issues doomed that effort, and I settled back into my own pace for the rest of the lap. Speed on singletrack doesn’t come as much from power as from technique.
Those endless troubles aside, I did find that I had good legs, which helped me in two ways. I had plenty of power to surge out of the corners, sprinting (as much as a rider can sprint on a fatbike at 3 psi) to the next corner. Even better, I had the strength to really attack the relatively short, tame uphills, which helped me catch quite a few riders (or, more likely, re-catch riders who passed me when I dabbed). I especially liked two brief sections of prairie trail that connected the wooded singletrack areas: the straightaways were longer, the ups were longer and tougher, the less cramped trails were much less taxing to ride, and volunteers had put up several huge snowmen at entertaining spots. Toward the end of the lap, I started getting hungry, but the demanding trail left no time to sneak a bite of food or a swig of water, so I just plugged along, looking forward to another PB sandwich at the end of the lap. Mentally scanning my body, I was happy to discover that my kit was keeping me warm and dry and that all the key muscles were functioning well.
Coming through the end of lap 2, I downed that sandwich (turns out, frozen peanut butter has no taste), a few handfuls of trail mix (turns out, frozen chocolate chips, peanuts, and raisins are not easy to eat), and two delicious cups of hot coffee from the registration tent. Back on the trail, I was almost immediately caught by the eventual winner of the race, who zoomed past and disappeared up the trail. I was in awe of the fluid ease of his riding. Happily, I was managing to ride better and better, making fewer errors and generally keeping myself going for longer stretches of time. I did manage to take one magnificent spill in the prairie, catching my front wheel and launching myself off my bike into a snowbank. Laughing, I remounted and focused on trying to ride well through the back section of singletrack: Grizzland.
For the first time, I managed Grizzland with a minimum of trouble and, with a better sense of the trails now, pushed harder back to the lap area.
I was feeling pretty hungry by now, so I took a short break at the end of lap 3 to pound a bottle of Coke and crunch as much trail mix as possible. My legs rebelled a little at starting again after the rest, but they came around soon enough. I was pretty much completely alone at this point, which helped me attend to the challenges of the trail. Through the first singletrack section, I was pleased to discover that I was actually riding decently well – maintaining speed and control through corners, negotiating tricky patches of soft snow, staying on the trail when I descended. The prairie section, too, I handled well. At the entrance to Grizzland, I got off my bike to stretch my legs at the wonderful-smelling firepit and chat with a guy who was warming himself there. He passed me not long thereafter when – say it with me! – I bobbled a corner. I stayed within a few meters of him for a while, and even used a longer climb to get back on his wheel, but he rode the technical stuff better than I did and got away within the last mile. The upside to his escape was that I could hear the timekeepers cheer for him when he finished, so I knew I that I was getting close to the end. When I crossed the line – in 5:36:20, good for 32nd place (of 40 finishers) – a spectator yelled, “Great beard!” I had known for hours that I had some icicles going, but I was still surprised to see that my ice beard was in damn good shape (if I do say so myself):
I rode the Beast over to my car and packed it away as quickly as I could, then changed out of my kit. Dry and relatively fresh, I scored a Surly Furious beer, two Cokes, a bag of chips, and a cheeseburger, hot off the grill. I downed all that food – which wasn’t nearly enough – while watching the awards ceremony and the traditional bike-race raffle. I didn’t win anything, but I was more than satisfied with the race’s official swag, a beautiful winter hat. Driving out of town, I stopped for an americano at a nearby coffeeshop. The heat of the drink melted away my icebeard. I’ll try to earn another one at next year’s race.
February 15th, 2013 · No Comments
Though I’m not quite sure what I’m getting myself into, I am doing this race on Saturday morning. I am severely undertrained, but adrenaline should compensate for at least 10% of my fitness shortfall. I hope my beard can make up the rest. If nothing else, I’ll have some painful fun on the Beast!
February 13th, 2013 · 1 Comment
I saw this graphic a bunch of times last week, when the snowpocalypse was about to crush the East Coast. I appreciate the information, and I know that falling on the ice is no effing joke, but at the same time I despair for a society that’s so divorced from nature that we need infographics to help us navigate perfectly banal natural phenomena.
February 12th, 2013 · No Comments
Feeling a little unprepared for a fatbike race I’m planning to do on Saturday, I spent quite a bit of time on the Beast this last weekend – trying my winter gear, testing my legs, figuring out riding positions, feeling the wintry mix on my face, learning the best way to fly off my bike and land in a heap.
I enjoyed 98% of my pedaling, but perhaps the best stretch of riding was a figure-eight around the two islands in the lower Lyman Lake at Carleton College. I loved the oddity of riding under (or leaning my bike up against) bridges that are, in the lesser seasons, standing in murky, fishy water.
February 11th, 2013 · No Comments
Genevieve spends a lot of time talking about “Genevieve Land,” where the natives naturally speak “Genevieve Language.” Luckily for those of us who might have to travel to this locale, she’s started a lexicon with important entries like Mama, sweets, vegetables, and birthday:
February 8th, 2013 · 1 Comment
Today is Shannon’s forty-xth birthday.
As chief birthday officer, I’m glad to report that everything went well. The gifts were well chosen and well received, and the girls and I acquitted ourselves well in the kitchen, making a workmanlike dinner of bacon grilled cheeses and apple-celery salad and – get *this*! – a chocolate cake. The girls are half my size, but twice the baker I am, so they deserve a lot of credit for both the process
And the product.
Happy birthday, babe!
February 6th, 2013 · 1 Comment
At about 7:15, Vivi decided that she wanted to read in bed under the covers with a headlamp she’s appropriated from me. We headed into her room, where Julia decided to join in the fun (in her own bed). Everything went fine until it was time for actual lights out at 7:30. Vivi started crying because she wanted to read “all night long!” That preliminary crying developed into full-blown weeping about how she (unlike Julia) doesn’t have her own headlamp, just the one she’s “borrowed” from me. After a few minutes of piteousness, she decided to let me rub, no scratch, no rub, no SCRATCH her back. As I did, her weeping subsided and various questions came to mind: where did we get our last name? who invented racism? did “segreckation” come before or after slavery? when can she have her own headlamp? Luckily, by then she was tired enough that I could just promise to address that last issue in the morning, and snuck away while she finally fell asleep.
January 25th, 2013 · No Comments
From a great collection of posters illustrating stupid reactions to designers’ work, my new personal motto:
January 18th, 2013 · No Comments
By 1995, I had followed the Tour de France semi-seriously – or about as seriously as you could from rural Michigan before the Internet – for about a decade, going back to 1986, when Greg LeMond won the first of his three Tour titles and established the United States as a force in international cycling.
In July 1995, I had just finished college and moved to Chicago to live with Shannon, who was then in grad school. We were going to get married the next month, but in July I was unemployed, so I had plenty of time to follow the Tour and plenty of interest in the race, which focused on whether Spain’s Miguel Indurain would be able to win a fifth consecutive Tour title.
Indurain did win the Tour that year, but the Tour’s defining moment came during Stage 15, a long race over several peaks in the Pyrenees. On the descent of the arduous Col de Portet d’Aspet, the young Motorola rider Fabio Casartelli died after a high-speed crash in which he smashed his head into a roadside barrier.
I think I’d already read about the crash and Casartelli’s bloody death in the paper, but when I watched the grainy snippets of video, I burst into tears. The tears didn’t stop when the recap detailed how the Motorola team had been allowed to finish en masse at the head of the peloton on the next stage. And I cried even harder when I saw Casartelli’s American teammate Lance Armstrong win Stage 18 to Limoges. Armstrong pointed at the sky as he took the win.
It was all almost too much: the young cyclist – a husband and father – dying in the sport’s greatest race, his team riding in memorial to him a day later, and then his teammate – America’s great cycling hope – racing his heart out to take a win in his honor.
Back then, doping was a whisper, at least in the cycling media I consumed. I knew about how a doped-up Tom Simpson had literally raced himself to death in 1968 on the climb up the Ventoux, but beyond that, I didn’t know that many racers, if not most, were dirty, much less that the golden age of doping was about to dawn – an age, of course, which we know now was dominated by the greatest doper of them all, Armstong himself.
I didn’t shed any tears over Armstrong’s slow, sad fall from grace. I hope he’s unable to enjoy a second act in American life. He certainly doesn’t deserve one.
But at the same time, I can’t forget that moment in July 1995 when Lance won for Fabio – the young living American recognizing the bravery and skill of the young dead Italian in the only best way he could. I wish that moment of tragic triumph was all I knew of Armstrong.