Bad Rides

My Feelings Exactly

Wednesday, I took a mental-health day and went for a long training ride on one of my favorite routes, a simple out-and-back over the gravel roads between here and Red Wing. Part of my training for a long race in mid-May, I had wanted to do this ride the previous week, but the lingering effects of my birthday strep made that impossible, or at least a bad idea.

So after unduly suffering on a fairly short and easy ride the previous Tuesday, I took another week to recover, which coincided with a week of gray, cold, rainy weather – definitely my least favorite conditions for riding. But since my body felt good (enough) and since the time until the race was growing shorter, I decided I had to hit the gravel, riding the Beast to make the ride a little bit harder.

And the ride wound up not being so much hard (though it was) as just ugly and gross. I did end up doing almost the full route, logging some very good miles (and going over the thousand-mile mark for the year). The weather stayed bad, dealing out a harsh northerly breeze that provided a crosswind almost all day, and even worse, the late spring meant that I saw more disgustingness than I have ever before seen on a ride. Within the first mile, I had passed a desiccated roadkill deer – one of at least three over the day. I also saw the usual range of run-over squirrels, rabbits, and other small mammals as well as one dead coyote, which was novel and gag-worthy.

And when I wasn’t looking at dead animals, I was looking at a staggering amount of trash. Seriously, Goodhue County is apparently one huge landfill: hundreds of pop and beer cans, scores of fast-food containers, a half-dozen sofas and easy chairs, at least that many smashed-up televisions, several heaps of castoff garbage bags, numerous piles of building-demolition debris, and on and on and on. The capper, which made me laugh more from frustration than humor, was seeing a black trash bag dangling from a tree into which it had obviously been thrown.

All this grossness made me feel bad partly because I don’t like looking at ugly things and partly because I’m saddened that my fellow Minnesotans are treating our beautiful countryside so poorly. I wish I had a way to clean up all the trash on the route, but I guess I’ll just have to settle for waiting till the foliage covers it all.

A Rough Start to Year 42

The twelve days since my birthday have rough.

Gray Times

I caught strep on that happy day, and needed pretty much a full week to recover – even after taking two sick days (my first in almost a decade). I fell way behind on some urgent work while out of the office, and needed a solid week to catch up. Thanks in part to that illness, my first real bike ride in quite a while – a night ride with the guys earlier this week – was an unpleasant ordeal. And then yesterday, the grandma cat started throwing up and crapping all over. Turns out, she was horrendously constipated, and the vet needed quite a bit of money to get her cleaned out. (I hope I never hear the words "fecal balls" again.) The cost was worth it, but the black humor of a literally shitty end to the week isn’t lost on me.

Sunday will be two weeks since my birthday. I’m hitting the reset button on year #42 then.

Spring Poems by Vivi

Genevieve wrote these two poems the other night, right before bed. (Both are untitled. Long story.)

Soft tapping on the green grass and sidewalk, cars slowly rolling down the wet street
Birds chirping kindly
Gray but beautiful
Raindrops clinging to branches on the trees
Still and quiet
The rain silently offering a spring-time breeze
Listen to the spring
Warm, gray evening
Smells like fresh air floating through the window
Bird eagerly singing its beautiful tune
Branches let every drop fall before it begins to drizzle again
Tapping rain sounds like footsteps quietly tiptoeing across the lawn
Sky shading the houses
Clouds quietly admitting they had been here all along

Nitwit Blubber Oddment Tweak

Julia made me this excellent piece of art for my birthday. She included both one of the funniest lines in the first Harry Potter book (the "few words" that Dumbledore offers to the new class at Hogwarts [#spoiler]) and various illustrations of themes and scenes from the books.

She’s a pretty great Muggle.

Nitwit Blubber Oddment Tweak

Crazy Drivers, part zillion

Riding my bike, I see a lot of drivers doing a lot of crazy stuff. People driving with both hands occupied are a dime a dozen (the usual combination: talking on the cell phone and eating food; another common combo: talking on the cell phone and picking a nose), and I’ve see a lot of the other cliches: women putting on makeup in the rear view mirror, teenagers looking down as they text, men holding maps up front of their faces, couples arguing…

All in all, these sights – and the erratic driving that corresponds with them – have made me very, very leery of all drivers. It’s not for nothing that many bikers say that “cars are coffins,” but it’s maybe more accurate to say that cars are killers. And though I’ve never had a serious mishap with a car, I continue to marvel at the idiocy of drivers who could – but for a few seconds in either direction – kill me.

This afternoon, for instance, I stopped at a stop sign and decided, on a hunch, to let the next car go past before I rolled out into their lane. When it went by me, I saw that the driver was (of course) on her cell phone, that her passenger seat was occupied by a Cujo-sized dog (which barked furiously at me through the open window), and – amazingly – that she had another big dog sitting on her lap as she drove. How she could see anything except the back of that dog’s head, I have no idea.

Shooting Around

Sometime this winter, Vivi got hooked on shooting baskets at the Carleton gym. With spring slowly on the way, Shannon and I decided we would get a hoop that we could roll in and out of the garage. (Our townhouse association’s rules prohibit putting up a permanent hoop, either on the townhouse itself or in the ground.) As luck would have it, I found someone at work who was selling a used but serviceable hoop for just $30. Though I had to do some gruntwork to get the thing home and assembled last weekend (and might need to do some minor repairs later), it’s paid off enormously:
I’d guess that Genevieve has spent about fifteen hours shooting baskets, and that Julia has spent about ten, which is remarkable given that she’s far less inclined toward sporty stuff.
Shooting Around

Not only is it fun to watch them dribble and shoot (and endlessly chase the runaway balls), but I’ve been impressed at how much they’ve already improved. Vivi can make a basket with her light but more-or-less regular-sized ball from just about anywhere on our driveway, and Julia – using a men’s regulation basketball – has gotten very adept at shots from close in. I think it might already be time to raise the hoop a couple notches.

Somehow Older

My year of being forty is almost over. Maybe because forty is such a milestone, I’ve been more and more aware of the ways that my age – or at least the appearance of my age – is working to my unearned advantage. People call me "sir" more often, even on the phone. In crowds, especially at work, students – who are, yes, half my age – seem to get out of my way a little more readily, especially if I say "excuse me." More than a few times, I’ve (inadvertently) quieted down a teenager at Target or a coffeeshop simply by looking at them. No scowl or anything – just a look.

The other day I went to the Verizon store to see about upgrading my iPhone. I’d received an email saying that I was eligible to switch for free to one of those candy-colored 5c models with more memory than my current phone, so I thought, "Why not?"

A salesman came right up to me when I walked into the store, addressing me as "sir." He seemed inordinately young: if not 18 or 19, then a baby-faced twentysomething. I told him about the emailed offer, and he got right down to business by explaining some of the finer points of the upgrade scheme; checking on the store’s inventory of 5c devices; trying to upsell me on insurance, a new data plan, and a case; and finally looking up my account – at which point he learned that only Shannon’s phone was eligible for the upgrade, not mine.

I was a little bit surprised by this, but I didn’t care too much; my current phone is just fine. Sales Boy, though, was incredibly embarrassed by his error. He blushed, his hands started shaking, he dropped his pen, he stuttered as he apologized for not looking up my lines right away, and he started twisting one of his (many) rings around and around his finger. I’m not sure if he thought I was going to yell at him or what, but I just shrugged it off. No biggie.

As I left the store, I saw my reflection in the window and realized why he might have been so deeply embarrassed (apart of course from making such a dumb error). In my work clothes, I looked old and serious. It was strange to think that this mattered, but it I think did.

Spring Riding

I went out for my first real springtime ride this afternoon. I chose an easy route over some of my favorite roads south of town, and true to the season, I wound up fighting a headwind for the first half of the outing. But after I turned around, the tailwind blasted me home, letting me savor some of the nice aspects to riding in warm-ish weather: wearing fewer layers of clothing, exposing a little bit of bare skin (only my lower legs today), feeling the splatters of water and mud on my face after hitting some puddles, meeting other riders, enjoying some long vistas


and rolling past spots that I don’t see on winter rides:


Entertaining Facebook Spam

Today I got spammed through Facebook’s chat feature by someone who hacked a former colleague’s account. A few choice excerpts from my conversation with the hacker, which ended abruptly when I said I’d be reporting the exchange as spam to FB.

"Have you heard the good news,about Mark Zuckerberg facebook founder who help deafs,Hearing,and retired on facebook? Oh i thought you heard about it,its a lottery promotion he made to few people on to benefit from the gain of the company $150,000.00 did you get yours?"

"Ups delivered the money to my door step. I saw your name on the lucky winners list, so I thought I would see if you have gotten yours?"

"Anyway i think you should contact to the clamming agent right now so that you can be able to claim your own win money because i saw your name on the winners list when my own money was deliver do you know how to do that on facebook ?"

" click on the link it will lead you to the agent facebook page and sent him friend request. Tell him you want to know if your name is still on the winner’s list he was always online there to attend to the claiming winner ok?"

To Idaho and Back (In Snippets)

Day 1
I35 south to I90 west to the Rocky Mountains. The long flat straights of South Dakota. Gas station stops for fuel, beef jerky, and water. Passing the Corn Palace in Mitchell. Lake Francis Case on the Missouri River. So many Wall Drug signs. Cheap Subway somewhere on the road, made by a sandwich artist who had recently been beat up. Finally, Wall, but not Wall Drug – just a dinosaur statue and a gas station. The dim Badlands at dusk. Wyoming warnings to chain up. The hellish-looking coal plant outside Gillette. A good night of sleep in the industrial-park Super8 in Billings.

Day 2
The mountains mounting in the distance. Flatlander freakouts start. A morning gas stop in Bozeman, where we saw no bozes. Lumberyards full of timbers for "log cabin homes" after the Four Corners south of Bozeman. The amazing morning drive south on US 191 through the Gallatin River valley. Overpriced Subway and snowed-in shops in West Yellowstone. Up and over the Continental Divide outside West. Dicey driving on US 20 down to Island Park, Idaho. "The longest main street in America." Pond’s Lodge and Cabin 17.
Cabin 17

Admiring the Mad Max snowmachines in the parking lot. (These aren’t Midwestern sleds.)
Mountain Sleds

Riding bikes along the edge of Harriman State Park).
Harriman State Park

Coyotes watching us from the banks of Henry Fork, snowmachiners watching us from the back of the Last Chance. Driving off the mountain through all the winter weather for dinner. Rexburg, home of the biggest Mormon temple in Idaho. All you can eat pizza at Pizza Pie Cafe. Sharing the dining room with a Mormon youth group discussing the best thing in your life right now. (Nobody said "racing bikes.") Getting groceries at Albertson’s, a Super Valu in different colors. Home again. One last night of good sleep before before the race, except for the nightmare about ferrets.

Day 3
A lazy morning. Meeting Kid Riemer, the voice of "The Push." Coffee and breakfast and a morning drive to Fitzgeralds Bicycles in Victor. Every kind of weather coming off the mountain. A snowmachine trail next to the road, wider than the road. The big potato at the Spuds Drive-in in Driggs. The invisible Tetons in the distance. Taking advantage of the sales at Fitzgeralds and having an excellent americano. Newpaper stories about wolverines in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Relaxing all afternoon, but not really. Meeting the other roomies. Setting up the bikes. Meeting other racers at Pond’s. A bowl of beef stew and a hard cider for pre-dinner. The pre-race meeting. JayP turning the stoke to 11.
JayP at the Pre-Race Meeting

A huge pre-race dinner. More bike and kit prep. A surprise visit from JayP. Trying to go to bed, but actually staying up too late, jittered.

*Day 4
Day 1

Night Trees

Day 5
Day 2

The six telephone poles leading to the US 20 crossing. JayP pulling me from the race. Disappointment shading into a shattered kind of satisfaction. Race talk with Ben, the fourth-place finisher. A horrible, wonderful shower. Dinner at Pond’s with other racers. The happy chatter of race stories. Swag from JayP. A hard sleep full of nightmares and visits to the bathroom.

Day 6
Up early-ish. Saying goodbye to Kid. A gas stop in West for double-caffeinated coffee. Wondering where Checkpoint Two had been. The morning drive up US 191 along the Gallatin to Bozeman – even more amazing than it had been on the way in. Surprised to be missing a place that I hadn’t even known, or left yet.
Gallatin River Valley

One annoyed big horn sheep.
Bighorn Sheep

Bozeman through the car windows. The big mountains turning to lower mountains turning to hills turning to almost plains. Wyoming again, "Forever West" (unless you’re in Idaho). A lone pronghorn in a field along the road. Devil’s Tower in the northerly distance. Loaded coal trains heading east, empty ones coming west. A superb burger and beer in Spearfish with a mountain bike on the wall. The Super8 in Chamberlain.

Day 7
A carb-y breakfast and then the rest of the road trip.

A partial list of amusingly named gas stations on the trip: Pump & Munch. Kum & Go. Loaf & Jug. The long straight flats of eastern South Dakota. A stop for Caribou Coffee and amazing donuts. The mysterious barn-y building in Worthington, Minnesota. Turning north again. F’real milkshakes at one last stop outside Owatonna. The backroads into Northfield. Home again. Sad to see Ben off. Unpacking forever. Getting my laundry done before the family gets home from school. Satisfaction, happiness, tiredness.

The Beast, Capsule of Memories

I love how this picture of the Beast includes so much great bike-life history. I drilled out the rims with instructions from Scott and Derek, the organizers of the Inspiration 100 gravel race up near Alexandria. Derek gave me one of the fork-mounted Anything Cages as a good-luck gift before the Arrowhead 135. The other, Salsa gave me as a replacement for the A.C. that cracked during that race. I got the cool silvery grips as swag at JayP’s Backyard Fat Pursuit in Idaho earlier this month. The new bars and seatpost came from my Fat Pursuit race-mate Ben Doom, who also tipped me to the great stand from Feedback Sports.

So many good memories, and so many good opportunities to make more memories. I love bikes and bike people.

The Beast, Capsule of Memories

Why “Uranus” Is Funny

Genevieve is deep into astronomy – "space" – right now. She’s devouring book after book on topics astronomical, and will walk up to me at random times to disgorge some new fact, like how Saturn’s moon Titan is the likeliest spot in the solar system to host life), or how one asteroid has its own moon. The fact that the universe that she’s learning about right now is so radically different from the one I learned about at her age is startling. I mean, the demotion of Pluto to "dwarf planet" status isn’t even the half of it!

Despite those changes, the seventh planet from the sun still has a funny name, and I’v been waiting for Vivi to realize this. Naughty funny, especially in our G-rated house, but funny anyhow. The other day, I was sure the cat had escaped from the outer-planet bag, because she whispered to me that she had realized why Uranus’s name was funny. "Uh, oh," I thought. "Yes! The name is funny because if you say it slowly, it sounds like ‘urine is.’ Funny, right?"

Yes, very.

X plus Y equals Z

Vivi enjoys the challenge of doing math, and even more, enjoys finding mathematical patterns in everyday life. She counts syllables in poems, arranges items in ascending rows to form triangles, and above all loves calling out equations hidden in the time on our clocks. If it’s 5:23, she says, "2+3=5!" 3:39 is "3×3=9!" She especially enjoys finding two consecutive times that both work out mathematically: 3:25 and 3:26, for instance.

I dunno if this portends anything more than a personal quirk, but I’m enjoying it!

“Pray for Newtown” (Sun Kil Moon)

Whether or not you’re okay with gun violence, I think this exceptional tune by Mark Kozelek (recording as Sun Kil Moon) will make you think again about Newtown – and other needless massacres in recent American history. Sadly beautiful, quietly angry. We’ve failed as a society in failing to act after Newtown to prevent more stupid killings.