Today the girls did their tae kwon do testing for their blue belts. They had not had as long a training session as usual, and thanks to busy evenings and snow days had also missed a couple classes, but as the test approached they buckled down to learn everything they needed to know. As the only purple belts in this testing cohort, they did all of the various phases of testing with each other, which was fun to see. They nailed it! I’m so proud of them for their hard physical and mental work!
**JULIA**: What a great morning: Muffins and art and snagging the window chairs at Blue Monday. It made me appreciate how pretty and quiet Northfield is on a Sunday morning. The red Raleigh outside the window had “Townie”written all over it. Northfield is a bike town, even in January. I have to admit, that bike is nice, but the owner would get more admiring glances if she rode a Salsa Beargrease.
A perfect morning always starts with a sketch, and a beautiful Northfield scene in the background lit a match of ideas. And so my drawing began there. The bike immediately caught my interest. It was my kind of challenging sketch: complex and not too colorful. Of course, I would have put more effort into the art (although I put plenty into this one) if it were a green and black Salsa Beargrease!
Tonight I spent three hours in downtown Northfield with Julia, waiting to see if her choir would have a part in a movie that’s being filmed in our fair city. It was both interesting and dull – the former, because, turns out, making movies is the latter.
Julia was a trouper, though. We were first supposed to report at 5:30. When we arrived, we learned that the choir scene had been pushed back to after 7:00, and before 10:00. We went home and returned at 7. The group received some instructions from a (crabby) production assistant and practiced “Silent Night” for a while.
Then they waited. Outside, inside. Standing, sitting. Across the street, on the set. In a big group, in little pairs. Shivering, warming up. I had a coffee. And three cookies. Then some cocoa and two more cookies.
Meanwhile the director ran the same scene over and over and *over* – a couple actors come up the sidewalk, cross the street, and enter Bridge Square while townspeople mill behind them. The throng of townies shrank each time they ran through the scene.
Finally, around 9:15, he got it, and we received word that we needed to stay till 11 for *our* scene. Julia rolled her eyes and pronounced herself “done with this!” Riding home, she said she was a little bummed that she didn’t get to be in the choir scene, but that it still has been fun to see a movie bring made. I’m glad she saw the silver lining in the massive light reflectors.
Wednesday, Genevieve had a bad cold, so she had to miss school, so Shannon had to stay home with her, so I had to drive Julia to school, so I had to drive to work, so I broke my years-long streak of getting to work by bike.
I started biking to work soon after we moved to Northfield in December 2005 – ten years ago. We needed a few months to work out the kinks, but by the next summer I was biking every day. Shannon drove me sometimes during the following winter, but with two kids under three at home, we soon found it easier for me to ride than to get rides.
I’ve taken at least three distinct routes, including one that goes through Carleton’s Arboretum park (because nature) but not including the occasional route through downtown (because coffee). Since Northfield is a small place, each round-trip route is about four miles.
I’ve now commuted on six bikes of my own* and at least two loaners**, and I’ve loved all of them, even though I only ever owned two at most at once.
I’ve used my bike to run innumerable errands; to get to work meetings all over town; and to go to appointments with doctors, dentists, counselors, optometrists, physical therapists, chiropractors, and probably others whom I’ve forgotten.
I’ve crashed a half-dozen times, though I’ve never suffered worse injuries than ruined clothes and scraped arms. (Well, I might’ve broken each thumb at different times, but the X-rays were inconclusive.) I’ve never been hit by a car, and only yelled at once.
I’ve experienced just every possible Minnesota weather condition (never a tornado) in all four seasons, and appreciated them all too, though some are better respected than loved. I’ve only been completely soaked a few times, which made for pretty unpleasant workdays until I started keeping a complete spare outfit at work.
Counting pretty conservatively, I’ve commuted about 240 days a year, which means – with a minimum four-mile round trip each day – that I’ve ridden a total of about 9,000 commuting miles. One corner at a time.
* In order of acquisition:
Kona Lava Dome
Surly Cross Check
Salsa Mukluk (the Beast)
Salsa Vaya (Giddyup)
Salsa Mukluk ti (the Buffalo)
Salsa El Mariachi (the Elk)
Sabine, the grandma cat, is visibly thinner and slower and sleepier even than even a year ago, back when she was a sprightly 20 years old. She must spend about 23 hours a day asleep, with this fire-worshipping spot being her definite favorite right now. Some days, she lies there even when the fireplace isn’t burning, just hoping, I guess, for us to turn it on.
When she’s not sleeping there or in her cozy corner behind the TV, she’s usually about twelve inches from Genevieve, whom she loves very, very much. If Vivi is on the sofa, Sabine is likely to be there too. Sabine always joins Vivi in bed at bedtime. And if Vivi hasn’t seen Sabine in a while, she’ll go find her and sit with her for a while, gently petting her and talking to her.
Sabine is – in "cat years" – about a hundred years old, but she is still a real individual. She loves Genevieve and the fireplace. She expects her snack at 3:30, her dinner at 5:00, and a bit more food at 8 (when I come downstairs after the girls go to bed) and about 11 (when I head off to bed). She also likes to at least investigate the garage if the door is open, though the concrete floor is too cold for her ancient paws in the winter.
And strangely or amusingly enough, she begs for the last few drops of milk in my cereal bowl each morning: planting herself at my right leg, pawing at my calf and meowing while I eat, and then eagerly lapping up the milk when I put the bowl on the floor for her – usually after an angry squawk of protest at my having been so slow.
Some mornings, I don’t have cereal, but she still begs, and I’d have to be a heartless jerk not to pour a tablespoon of milk into a tiny bowl for her to enjoy. She deserves it.
Every winter, our townhouse association’s plowing service creates a huge pile of snow at the end of a cul-de-sac down the block. For years, my girls have loved playing on “Mt. Sunset” – making sledding runs, carving out caves, building tunnels. It’s a seasonal playground.
Every winter till this one, I’ve needed to go help them with the work, especially cutting into the compacted snow. (Other dads like Todd and Dave have helped too.)
This winter, though, is different. The girls don all their winter gear, grab our shovels, and trundle down the block, maybe meeting friends there. They return 60 or 90 minutes later, sweaty and exhilarated and thirsty, having enlarged an elaborate set of tunnels and ramps. It’s marvelous.
I’ve been lucky to be able to ride on snow every day since we came back from our Christmas trip to Moorhead. We arrived home on Monday about an hour before the forecasted snow arrived. About 24 hours of steady snowfall transformed the landscape and created some excellent riding conditions.
Monday night, a short jaunt through the local MTB trails.
Tuesday, 7 hours and 58 miles of tough grinding on the snowy gravel, including some hike-a-bike and a couple crashes.
Wednesday, just a commute to work, but with a little extra riding for fun.
Thursday, New Year’s Eve, a nighttime ride on the MTB trails and a stop for cocoa when it was midnight in Amazonian Brazil.
Friday, New Year’s Day, a fun outing on some of the snowmobile trails outside of town.
Saturday, after loading the bike with most of my race kit, another cruise on different snowmobile trails.
The thing about bikes – or at least one thing about bikes – is that they’re so pretty. I’ve had occasion over the last few days to reflect on this twice.
Friday, I stripped the Buffalo down to its dryland racing setup for the Solstice Chase. It looked gorgeous, in my opinion, after the race. A little mud only added to the overall look: clean lines, bare titanium tubes, big black winter tires, and two red bags (one fore, one aft) for a little color. The machine was of course as functional as it was beautiful.
After that short race, I figured I might as well set up the bike for my longer winter races. So Tuesday night, I decked the bike with bags of nylon, fa la la la. I love the way the Buffalo looks in its gray-and-blue [Porcelain Rocket](http://www.porcelainrocket.com/store/) bags, and putting the winter gear on the bike is as meaningful a marker of the seasons for me as decorating the Christmas tree is for weirdoes.
If anything the Buffalo is *more* fun to ride when fully loaded – though yes it’s a little silly to ride a loaded fatbike to work and on errands. However, I should point out you can fit a whole six pack in the seat pack and another in the frame pack.
Had I known that the winter kit would change the weather, I’d have put it on sooner: we got a bit of snow not 24 hours after the bags went on! The bike can’t wait to race on snow again. We’ve got 17 days till Tuscobia, 33 till Arrowhead.
I raced home from my race on Saturday so that I could go to Vivi’s first basketball tournament, which was being held conveniently at one of Carleton’s gyms.
I missed her first game, in which her team demolished its opponent, 40-something to 20-something, but I did get to see her second and third games: a loss to the best team in the tournament and then an exciting win over a much more evenly matched team. Throughout, the girls played hard and visibly enjoyed themselves, which was wonderful.
I felt a little weird being so fixed on Vivi whenever she was on the court. I suppose it’s just being a parent, but I couldn’t help but only watch her in action, even if there was more action elsewhere on the court. She did a great job playing defense, which she’s already identified as a strength and which she really likes. Being one of the smallest girls on the court, she couldn’t rebound too much, but my god she could dog an opponent with or without the ball. It was fun to see her strip the ball and run
In the last game, she had a particularly good play when she stole the ball from her mark near midcourt, ran up to the left wing, then smoothly passed the ball to a teammate who passed it around to another girl on the right wing, who got the bucket. Excellent team play.
Their effort over the course of the day earned the team second place in the tournament, and you haven’t seen grinning till you’ve seen ten fourth grade girls getting their medals.
Tonight I filed my final grades for the online history course I taught this fall at Metropolitan State University, a public commuter school based in St. Paul, Minnesota. Owing to their administrative chaos and budget cuts and to my own lack of time (energy, interest…), this is probably the last course I’ll teach for them, and thus probably the last course I’ll ever teach.
I can’t say that I’ll miss teaching, really, but it’s been a good run. I started my history-teaching career in 1999 by serving as a teaching assistant while in grad school at Northwestern. Altogether, I served as a TA in three courses and taught one of my own in 1999 and 2000. No “teaching” I’ve ever done was more terrifying than that first lecture delivered as a TA to a giant auditorium full of undergrads.
After Shannon and I moved back to Minnesota for her first post-grad school job, I taught at least four classes (or was it six?) at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul in 2001-2002, while simultaneously working on my dissertation. The first meeting of my first class at St. Thomas was postponed because of 9/11. I commuted to that job from our apartment in the western suburbs – my only real experience with hard-core car commuting. (#hatedit)
When my one-year contract at St. Thomas ended, I signed on to teach history courses with Metro State – always only one per term, and always one of two or three U.S. history survey courses. I was by then working full-time in an academic support job at a different university in Minneapolis while finishing my dissertation. At first I taught “bricks and mortar” courses in the evening at Metro State’s branch campus in Minneapolis – four courses from fall 2003 to summer 2005. I remember waiting amidst the bar-hoppers on Hennepin for my bus back home – first a late express (or was it a ride from Shannon?) out to the ‘burbs, then, after we moved into the city, a local to our new house.
When I took my new job at Carleton in 2005, we saw that we (Shannon and baby Julia and I) would need to move to Northfield, so I volunteered to help launch the department’s online courses. I developed online versions of two of my courses: a global history of World War II and U.S. history since 1865 through the lens of science and technology.
These, I’ve been teaching in rotation ever since – spring, summer, and fall, year in and year out, with the occasional term off. All together, I’ve taught them 25 times: 12 editions of the World War II course (which I really liked) and 13 editions of the U.S. survey (which no). Though I never learned to love the online format, and never had the time to master it, I think I did some good teaching – as good as I could while also adjusting to and getting good at a new full-time job, starting and adding to a family, moving to and getting settled in a new community, and getting hooked on bikes.
My Metro State students were fascinating. About half of each course’s enrollees were “traditional age” undergrads – say, 18 to 25. The other half were adults who were “finishing their degrees,” often years after starting them. Once, I taught someone who had served in the Korean War, and I had numerous Baby Boomers who offered their first-hand perspectives on the historical events, people, and trends we were studying.
Though most of my students lived in the Twin Cities or at least in Minnesota, a few every term were doing the course from elsewhere in the country or the world, including a few soldiers in some very remote locations. True to Minnesota, I had a lot of Andersons, Olson, Carlsons, and Larsons as well as many Hmong and Somali students – though, interestingly, very few Latino/a students. In one course, I had three Hmong women with exactly the same names – first and last (They were unrelated.) Regardless of background, virtually all of my students were working full-time while engaged with the courses, so we had that in common.
Figuring 30 students per course, I’d estimate I’ve taught about a thousand undergrads since my first course at St. Thomas in fall 2001. Yeah, it’s been a good run. I’m not sad to be at the finish line.
Even here at the windswept edge of the prairie, a patriot can find stubborn pockets of unassimilated immigrants.
This crude flag, seen today on an excursion southeast of my home town, speaks volumes about the recondite nature of the immigrants who dwell in the run-down compound of which this building is just one part.
Who knows what un-American spirits animate these immigrants. One can assume they’ve stubbornly retained the surnames they brought with them over the wide Atlantic – names full of ugly consonants and unlikely vowels that confound the American tongue.
Do these immigrants even know our Constitution, or recite our Pledge of Allegiance? Perhaps they – like their countrymen who never fled their rocky homeland – still follow the dictates of their king. Certainly, their farmstead suggests no interest in a Jeffersonian ideal of the citizen.
Whatever their political views, however, we can be sure that these immigrants adhere to the 16th century teachings of a raving Teutonic priest who sought to overturn the social order and who achieved decades of bloody religious warfare. As mute proof of their religiosity, a temple dedicated to this madman’s sect stands but a short distance from the compound, its minaret-like steeple looming over a think line of trees.
And what of more quotidian interests? Judging by the state of repair of the several motor vehicles in the compound, the immigrants can only with difficulty venture to the markets in town. Do they wear our clothes? Do they read our books? Do they eat our food? A patriot might reasonably wonder whether they have ever enjoyed the truest American delicacies such as hamburgers, pizza, or tacos. Until they do, that patriot should fear for the wholeness and unity of the Republic.
As a rule, I – like many cyclists – don’t enjoy encountering dogs on my rides. Some filthy cur bit me on the leg a few years ago, and while I didn’t contract rabies, this only heightened my concern.
Wednesday’s ride was no different. I had to squirt some water at one beast that ran at me from its driveway, and outsprint two other growling hounds that decided they needed to check me out.
Toward the end of my ride, approaching a stiff little climb, I heard a dog barking off in the distance. I figured that it was at the house at the top of the hill, but I took a wary look around anyhow, not wanting to get caught by some vicious mutt as I ground my way up the ascent.
Lo and behold, I discovered that I wasn’t hearing the barking of a dog far away, but the panting of one nearby – a shaggy but grinning golden retriever who was running right next to me. I reflexively veered away from him (her?), but he tracked my move and continued trotting along, glancing up at me and then slowing to cross behind me from one side to the other.
Figuring that I wasn’t after all in any danger, I finished the climb and, breathing easier, asked the pooch where he lived. Again he just looked at me, smiling, and I could see that he was a handsome old guy:
Recovering from the climb, I soft-pedaled for a bit, chatting with my new friend, who trotted alongside very easily. Finally he glanced back toward the hill, slowed, and peeled off, presumably to go back home for a well-deserved snack and drink and nap.
I took the day off today to do a medium-length gravel ride, just letting the legs know that I’ve got big plans for them over the next four months – starting I hope with heavy training mileage over the next six weeks. Today, I just wanted to hit some of my favorite gravel roads east of town. To get a little more out of the ride, I rode all the hills twice, which turned out interestingly in that I rode each hill better the second time than the first. Getting a little descending practice was fun too. What wasn’t fun was a very achy back, but even that hardly detracted from the solid outing or the gorgeous autumn sights. I’m lucky to have enjoyed them.
Today was a perfectly ordinary day full of perfect ordinariness.
It was a Wednesday with nice fall weather – sunny, warm, and mild. The workday included three different meetings: one in the morning on a community project, one at dinnertime on an academic project, and one in the evening for our townhouse association. Being out late at those meetings, I didn’t get to see the girls till nearly bedtime.
I did plenty of miscellaneous work in between the meetings, some of which I did at the office, some of which I did at home or the coffee shop. Some of the work entailed finally finishing lingering projects, some nudged along current projects, some started new endeavors, and some was just answering emails. I ate a sandwich for each meal (though not the same sandwich). During my dinner at the downtown sandwich shop, a kid in the next booth started to melt down because he had onions in his sandwich. He stopped when his mom pointed out that the “onions” were actually peppers, and then had an actual meltdown when he didn’t get an “ice cream fudge” for dessert. I went to the gym and did poorly in a hard workout but bantered enjoyably with the other people in the session and our coach. I didn’t get to ride my bike much, though back and forth to work counts for something, and I was pleasantly cold in the way to work. I made some plans for winter racing. I heard the same REO Speedwagon song twice. I remembered to watch my favorite TV show at 9. And to have the last beer in the fridge.
As great a race as the Heck of the North was, even more great and memorable was getting to the race. Being a wholly unworthy but lucky son of a gun, I had the chance to fly – like, in an airplane! – up to the race, thanks to my friend Michael, whom I met a few years ago through the Northfield cycling scene.
In addition, see, to being a great gravel rider, a fatbiker, and an IT entrepreneur (and the parent of a kid the same age as my oldest), Michael is a private pilot. I’ve enjoyed learning from him about this avocation: his desire and efforts to learn to fly, his membership in a flying club based at an airfield near Northfield, his adventures flying to places near (the big Oshkosh air show) and far (the Black Hills in South Dakota).
We’d chatted casually a few times about going up together sometime, but never actually made time for it – until Michael discovered, last week, that the forecast for Heck weekend included perfect flying weather. I was more than game for flying to the race – what a great story, right? – so we made the requisite arrangements, planning to head up on Friday afternoon from tiny little Airlake Airport in Lakeville (a.k.a. KLVN, a half hour or less from Northfield) to big ol’ Duluth International (a.k.a. KDLH).
Interested though I was to go up in a little propeller plane, I was surprised to find myself pretty nervous about the flight. Not because I doubted that Michael was a perfectly capable pilot, but because, you know, scary news stories like this one or major tragedies like this one. My unconscious even served up a vivid nightmare about being in an airplane crash, just to make sure I was cognizant of my unfounded terror reasonable concern.
Friday morning, I literally and figuratively gritted my teeth and said to myself, “Self, nothing bad is going happen. Face your fear. The flights will be fine.” And not only was that very much the case, but both of the flights – Friday afternoon up to Duluth, Sunday morning back home – were marvelous, astounding, indelible experiences.
Michael selected his club’s Piper Archer as the best plane for our trip: roomy enough for our bikes, bags, and selves, and more than capable of the 90-minute flights between KLVN and KDLH.
Michael did a great job with the pre-flight prep, from doing the mandatory checklists and offering basic facts about the airplane to briefing me on in-air etiquette and answering my questions about being aloft in “Archer 8414 November,” which looked amazingly (and a little disturbingly) like a station wagon. Getting set to go dampened my lingering worries, and participating in some of the pre-flight activities was engaging: turns out, one person can roll the plane out of the hangar – just give it a yank and it follows you like a dog!
Once packed into Archer 8414 November’s front seats, I put on headphones/microphone that muffled the rather incredible engine noise, let me communicate with Michael in the air, and looked, frankly, a little bit cool. I wished I had a long red scarf like Snoopy.
We taxied over to the runway, did a few final checks of the airplane’s systems, and then started down the tarmac. I expected the abrupt upward sensation of a jetliner on liftoff, but nope: Archer 814 was just suddenly six, then sixty, then 600 feet off the ground, soaring over Lakeville and points east. I was literally slack jawed – and we weren’t even really flying yet.
We headed mostly east first, then turned north and followed the beautiful blue St. Croix River for a ways.
An easterly wind meant that we could not just head straight north to Duluth, but had to fly over a beautiful swath of western Wisconsin, which was first a patchwork of fields and small cities.
About halfway into the flight, though, the farms and towns disappeared and the forests and bogs asserted themselves. Gorgeous.
Michael saw Duluth in the distance far before I did, but when I finally did pick out the white-gray smudge of civilization against the green-brown of hills and, behind, the deep blue of the lake, I enjoyed watching the Zenith City approach. Going far slower and far lower than a jet heightened my impression that I was immobile and the ground was moving under me – an exhilarating and fascinating sensation.
A swing to the west brought us around to the runway at Duluth, where Michael touched down without any problem.
On the ground at KDLH, I was amazed to learn of the existence of a whole industry that serves private pilots: guiding their planes to their parking spots, tying the planes down, fueling the planes up, handling baggage (even our bikes – cargo I don’t think our guy had ever seen come out of a tiny little plane), even driving us over to the car-rental counter… This is somewhat how the 1% lives, I suspect.
An hour later, we had finished the first part of our trip with a quick drive up Highway 61 to Two Harbors. I would be lying if I said that I was then anticipating the race on Saturday more than the return flight on Sunday.
Sunday morning, we got our heavy legs to KDLH relatively early. In getting us to the terminal where Archer 8414 November had been waiting, I got to drive our rental car on the tarmac – yet another strange feeling, and impossible to separate from about a hundred action-movie scenes. Reality was far quieter: Michael took care of the pre-flight checks while I loaded the plane and returned the car.
As on Friday, takeoff was seemingly effortless, but Michael had the brilliant idea of flying further east, over Duluth and above the lake, before turning south toward home. The views were incredible. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on the shores of Lake Superior, and some dozens of hours on the water, but I don’t think I’d ever been above the Big Lake. It was worth the wait – especially with the bonus of seeing Duluth from the air.
Heading back south, we retraced some of Friday’s flight path, flying over the St. Louis River south of Duluth, the massive forests and bogs on both sides of the state line, and finally the St. Croix again.
At one point somewhere over Wisconsin, Michael let me operate Archer 8414 November’s controls, which I did very, very, very gingerly. Again: astounding. Turn the yoke to the right, and the plane turns right! To the left, it goes left. Pull back on the yoke and the goddamn plane goes up. Push the yoke in, and ohmygod there’s the ground in front of us! I didn’t have the stomach to do much more of this “flying” and happily let Michael take the plane back.
As we approached home, Michael asked for permission to fly through the restricted “Class Bravo” airspace over Minneapolis. Since it was a quiet Sunday morning in the sky, ground control granted this request, and we flew right over Minneapolis, just to the east of downtown – you know, for the views. Which were amazing.
Just a few minutes later, we were back over Airlake, and then back on the ground, and then back in the car, headed home. I think I’m still a little high from the incredible experiences of those flights – and very grateful to have a generous and skilled friend like Michael. Should I even mention that I can’t wait for next time?