Jan 23, 2017

Update!

Hello, my friends and readers, I am back. Forgive me, computer problems have sidelined my blog writing for the past few months, but now, armed with a new Chromebook, I will do my very best to get to you more often. 

I do have a tentative assignment right now, so that will have to take precedence for a bit, but do check back for new content regularly, and I will endeavor to try to provide... something.

I will say this today, however. 

My daughter turned 11 today. 11! How do I have an 11-year-old? I distinctly remember her first birthday party! Where has a decade gone? And what do I have to show for it (other than, you know, a well-adjusted 11 year old who's as smart as a freaking whip... and I don't mind saying, even wise in her childlike simplicity of perspective)

I've written about the day of her birth before, so I don't need to get into that again here, but I can say with no hesitation that along with the day I was married, this is the anniversary of one of the twin high points of my life. If you have children, you probably know what I mean. If you don't, I don't have the words to get across what I mean.

Peace out. See you soon.


Dec 15, 2016

Ugly sweater

I have a real problem with ugly sweater contests, and since they seem to become more prevelant every year, I thought I’d share. I hate the irony, the waste, the mindless consumerism of the whole thing.

First of all, I don’t think some people---most people? Any people? ---understand that we’re being ironic here. And that can’t help but be divisive. The last thing we need in this day and age is for some peopl to be thinking they’re doing the world a favor being cheerful, and others to be celebrating them in some odd negative way for being so out-of-fashion that (OMG!) they’d wear such a gaudy, awful sweater. Meanwhile, the first person takes the compliment, while the second one doesn’t mean it at all.
Awkward enough, but when you enshrine it in a contest, it compounds the problem. It reminds me of the classic Simpsons scene where the bullies are discussing some taunt just made: “Are you being ironic?” “I just don’t know anymore.”

Then there’s the waste. Despite the persistent popularity of things like the “Kon-mari” method, Zen buddhist asceticism, and the 30/30 challenge (google it), we somehow want to urge people to keep sweaters they don’t need, and in fact don’t even like? Garments they actively think are ugly? My company specifies (for good reason I suppose, although, if that’s your excitement…) that for its ugly
sweater contest, it must be a different ugly sweater every year---no repeats. Now, if there was ever a
justification (“my dead great aunt made this and I can’t possibly get rid of it, but isn’t it horrible?”) for
these games, it has been shot down. Which leads, then, to…

The consumerism. Target (and I’m sure many, many others) sells brand new sweaters at this time every year, DESIGNED to be “ugly”. One imagines, not TOO ugly---not ill fitting, or pilled, etc.---but made on
purpose to be disliked and worn ironically. Ever heard of the internet tag #firstworldproblems? If you
haven’t, then good for you---but the point stands. With the number of homeless and poverty-stricken
people even in THIS country (at least until Trump makes it great again), we are making utilitarian goods
(sweaters are, in fact, meant originally to keep you warm---little known fact) not to meet our needs, but
to be funny. Volunteer at a soup kitchen sometime. Not that amusing. (though more than you might
expect, but I digress). I haven’t checked, but I hope the companies that make these abominations
donate their proceeds to charity. And if they don’t, you certainly should if you buy one. There are bins

Sep 5, 2016

Have you ever been experienced? Well, I have

Hendrix. You may wonder what that has to do with what I'm about to tell you, but first, watch/listen to this link.

That's kind of close to the sound I heard just before my car spun out of control yesterday. WHUMPWHUMPWHUMP!




I was doing about 70-80 mph (maybe a little slower after I heard that sound) coming home from Hampton Beach when I heard what I thought must be a loud motorcycle, or perhaps a traffic helicopter.  I even remember thinking "Oh, no, I hope my engine isn't blowing up". Looked in the mirrors. Out the sunroof. Nothing.
skidmarks

Then suddenly I heard squealing tires, felt myself moving quickly across I 95 from the next-to-the-last lane to the left, and backwards down a hill, into some trees. I have a vague recollection of hitting the brakes and wondering if I should or shouldn't do that.

And then I was sitting in the car, with it still running, air conditioner still on, and everything totally normal, except that I was in the woods.  I sat there for a moment, and had started to call my wife, when a man ran down the hillside. "Oh, that's nice," I remember thinking, "Just like those people that flipped over that guy's car." He looked concerned. I thanked him and assured him I was fine, got out, and looked at the car with him as another man ran up.

I told them I guessed I'd call AAA, and have the car towed out of the forest.  "Have you tried to drive it out?" asked the first man. I hadn't, but figured I"d humor him.  To my surprise, it pulled right out and drove easy-as-you'd-like up the small hill. I parked on the side of the highway and thanked them both. Then I called Kathy.

"I have some bad news and some good news," I said. The bad news is our tire is ruined. The good news is I just spun across three lanes of traffic--- and I'm fine. And the car seems ok." Considering that it was spinning, I"m sure I went into the far left lane, too. So that would cover all four lanes of I-95. On labor day weekend! I wouldn't call this a near-death experience, because it happened so fast and it's not like my life flashed before my eyes or something. Having just come back from Story Land in NH, I'd compare it more to an amusement park ride than something frightening. But it's on further reflection, in hindsight, that it becomes a little more harrowing.

The best way I can describe this feeling is to compare it to riding along on a fast but smooth trail on a bike when a sudden cliff appears out of nowhere. You do a front flip and land perfectly fine after clearing a large field of boulders that could easily have broken your limbs, or worse. You know you've just been very lucky. Watched over by God, even. But life was normal before, and it's normal now---except now you have a shredded tire and a spare tire on your car (a pretty boring part of the story. The state police stopped and ran their lights so I wouldn't be run over while I changed the "flat"---I didn't even have to file a report). I mangled the metaphor (and the tire) but you see what I me

I've said it here before. Everything could be over in an instant. But, thankfully, it wasn't yesterday.

Call it luck. Call it coincidence. But I'll call it God looking out for me. Whether that means guardian angels, or providence, or the ordering of the universe, I'll leave to someone more theologically astute. What I know is a few days ago, we were driving this car down Mt. Washington. The day after that, driving in the dark on this same highway on the way back from North Conway. Why didn't the tire blow out then? Why didn't any cars hit me---or why didn't I hit them? Why didn't I hit a larger tree---or any trees, really? I'm not sure if I'm more thankful that I"m OK or that I didn't hurt someone else.

So dramatic, and yet, so... can I say uneventful? I thanked God as I drove home on a slower road---then we went for ice cream.

My wife got stung by a bee at the ice cream place.

Jun 14, 2016

Retired and Reborn; a set of bookends.

Spring, 2016:

Normally I go for a ride every Saturday. It's a sort of tradition I've created for myself. I get up early, drink only black coffee, and go for a long ride before eating breakfast with my family.

Two weeks ago, my Saturday ride was put off until Sunday. That should've been my first clue that things were not entirely well. But I tried to redeem myself. I got up early on Sunday. But Sundays are race days.

Usually, I'm pretty unaware and immune to races. Sure, there was that one season a long time ago when I raced three or four races in a year. I think I was 16th in the "fat guys in New England" category. Uh, that would be Novice Clydesdale in the New England Championship Series. And that one time I got third at a race near Phillips Exeter. But that was kind of a technicality. I missed the start because I was in a porta potty, so they timed me on my own sort of time-trial.

Anyway, back to the present. I may have been harboring some sort of pseudo-guilt for missing my local Weeping Willow race (I finished dead last there in 2015. Not in my category—in the entire race.) I rode the NEHSCA race course the day before, and considered that enough.

So I was rather susceptible that Sunday to the urge to prove myself somehow. I've lost a bit of weight this spring, and I guess I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, racing wouldn't be so gut-wrenchingly hard anymore.  You know how they say if there's a gun on the mantle in the first chapter, someone will be shot with it in the last chapter? Remember that.

So on a whim, I checked to see if any races were happening that day. One was. At a place called Moody Park. I'd never been there. If only I had...

I had about 2 hours to make the Clydesdale race—if I hurried, I could make it! Run home, tell my wife what I'm doing, into the car, program the GPS, and off I go. Fool.

I'm challenged at math. You should know that. Not unable, but . . . unmotivated. So here's what I was working with. GPS said 90 miles to the race. I had a little more than an hour and 45 minutes. So, if I drove above 60, I'd be giving myself extra time. I think. I thought. What I didn't imagine, though, is that not all of those miles were highways. In fact, quite a few of them, at the end, were rather small roads. Where you can't go above 60. Or 60. Or 30. This would prove to be my undoing.

I had what I considered an important family event that day---my nephew Nick's graduation party. But that wasn't until 3PM! The race was at 9am. How could that be a problem. I knew it would be 10 miles, so if I went close to 10 miles an hour, it would take an hour.  Let's say 1 1/2.

But what if I just arrived as the Clydesdales were starting? What then? Then I'd have only one other possible class to race in---the singlespeed open. Meaning anyone could race in it.  Experts, Pros, Legends. And it would be twice as long. 20 miles. I haven't done a 20 mile ride on dirt yet this year. And it is raining. And this park looks rather..... hilly. And most ominously, it doesn't start for another hour.

Delayed start + race that's twice as long= eats into my buffer time before I need to be home.

All In At Moody Park Bike Race
Looks easy enough, doesn't it?
And then I realize there's only two of us in my class. A guaranteed second place! I voice this confident cheerfulness to my one competitor. "Yeah, if you finish!," he replies. "Oh, I'll finish," I say, "I have to be home by 3 or my wife will murder me!" Ha ha! These words will haunt me the entire race. I don't want to eat them. Besides, I'd be too busy eating mud.


I don't recognize this place. Probably because its dry.


Don't get me wrong---the people were very nice. They cheerfully signed me up and took my cash. In return, I got---a number plate. Fine, whatever. I mean, I usually get a t-shirt, but I don't even really like them, and I was entering very late, so whatever. (Also, I hadn't eaten, remember? Anything.) [they'd later give me a packet containing a gel and a mini Clif bar. After the race. No bad feelings, fellas, but I sure could've used those WHILE RACING.] In their defense, most people arrive prepared at these things, so I'm sure they assumed I had race food I'd carefully bought the week before. And yes, I normally would have that. I was trying to be spon-tain-you-us! Never would spontaneity bite me so hard.

So, enough foreshadowing.  The gun goes off. The experts (and the one single speeder) are off like a crack of lightning. And in the first 100 yards, I think. Oh, Crap. I hate racing.

This can't be good. Not even to the first hill and I'm dreading what I'm doing. Get out of this hole. Yeah, this will go OK. I'm not the same person! I've been setting personal records on Strava all month long!

Then I get to the hill. The first hill. The endless hill that I'll walk EVERY lap. All four laps. I try to ride it that first time, though. And the mud is more slippery---truly---than any I've ever felt before. I can't climb, because even sitting down (because this sometimes happens when you stand up, but never when you're sitting) my rear wheel is spinning. Tractionless. I've been riding mountain bikes since 1993, and I truly don't understand how the rest of the field got up there. And so, I walk. Halfway up, I get back on and ride the rest of the way. And then comes the downhill.

This is the fun part. The best of the course. Mysteriously, though wet, this dirt has plenty of traction. I just don't get it. This section is full of berms and jumps. My legs start to cramp from standing up to get behind the seat.

And then it happens. I get to the main part of the course. And it's unsane. Not insane, but something beyond that. It might be fun, if I could breath. If. At one point, I come to what I swear is a vertical drop off of about twenty feet. I'm so brain dead I lock up the brakes, and let 'er rip. I do this twice. Then, for unexplainable reasons, it seems impossible to me. It's much harder to walk than ride. A little later, I come to the Gravity Cavity. Imagine a halfpipe. Like in skateboarding, or snowboarding. Here's what it looked like in 2011. Now they've added a much better bridge, but narrower, and with rails. Also, there's a jump just after the bridge. And they've added pavers to make it faster. See?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCBz0Brasek

Now imagine it covered in mud, when you're covered head to toe in mud, and with your front brake not working. And you're exhausted.

January, 2017:

I would go on to miss my family event, finish 2nd---exactly one HOUR behind first place, and come in as the organizers were CLEANING UP the race. They gave me a pint glass, a nice saddle ("because you were in the saddle the longest of aybody") and some nice wool socks ("you looked cold!"). 

And I swore I'd never race again. That was the purpose of writing this last year, then saving it as a draft. To remember why I was never going to race again.

Late last fall, I entered a race and won, for the first time ever. Except that the organizers didn't keep track of times, results, or award prizes.

You see, this was the bike-only part of a duathlon. They kept track of the running section separately, just not the bike section. Which I won. Of course they didn't keep track. So, why did I pay an entry fee, again?

Still, I know I had the guts to take the lead, and I held it until the end. There were only 6 guys, but those 6 were racing, they knew what was up. And I came in first.

Which brings me back to this week. The first race of 2017. I've ridden all through the winter. Just yesterday, I did a 13 mile ride. The race is only 8 miles. With only 125 feet of climbing per lap. I will arrive plenty early. I will eat ahead of time. And I will be sure to be caffeinated. 

And maybe, finally, I will not stink at racing. Do I think I can win? I doubt it. But I'm not going to defeat myself at the beginning by letting everyone else get ahead of me at the start and trying to catch them. If I can take the lead at the start, I'm going to do it. And if I get passed, so be it.

Stay Tuned!


May 14, 2016

Rodney Mullen Deck.

Way back when, when I was a skater, I always meant to get into freestyle skating.  What you know of as skateboarding today is what is known as street skating. In the evolution of skating, it survived, and freestyle (the more flatland, trick oriented style) went the way of the dodo.

I was never too interested in the rip and tear, skate or die way of thinking. So, I always told myself I'd get a deck from one of my lifelong heroes---Rodney Mullen. Rodney was different. He was into skating---the best there was, in fact. But he was also smart. Like, 4.0 in college smart. When all the other skater interviews had them talking about how much they loved Dog Vomit or some other unlistenable hardcore punk band, Rodney listed Stiff Little Fingers---and Vivaldi.

Here's Rodney a few years ago, giving a TED TALK. Turns out that he's the darling of silicon valley, according to WIRED magazine.

But they've covered that---I don't need to. I want to talk about that deck. This deck:



It is amazing to me that I couldn't scrape up the $40. to get one of these back then. Amazing that even though I got a new board---an Alva Eddie Retegui---I didn't get this one. And now, they are impossible to find (actually it's so popular(ish) that PP re-released a collector's version a few years back, which I also don't have. )

But this isn't exactly about the piece of wood (though, if I found one, I'd likely buy it. and if you have one, and sent it to me, I'd be ecstatic.) It's about the past, and how the present becomes the past, and traps our dreams in it like bugs in amber that's become petrified.

I can't even say that I'm aiming for "chase your dreams today, because tomorrow, they'll be unattainable".  It's not about that.

I'm talking about how even if I got one of these, it wouldn't change my past. I couldn't use it. Nor would I even want to take the time to learn! How do I know this? Because I bought a newer version of his board (the Enjoi version) about 10 years ago, sure that I would relearn skating at the concrete park down the road. But... I simply didn't. I eventually gave that board away. It was useless to me. It simply sat around reminding me how much money I'd wasted on... nothing. And I knew my friend would USE it. It would enable actual skating.  I've got no problem with nostalgia, or putting an old deck on the wall because it reminds me---but this wasn't a relic---it was a new piece of equipment, meant for a sport that I was no part of.

I guess this is where I'm aiming to get to---let them go. I've spent too much of my thought-life over the years thinking about getting one of these, or a flatland freestyle bike (my true love back then) and spending my nights alone in a parking lot with an iPod, learning to ride like THIS. I have a tennis court down the street from my house (in the same  park as that skatepark, ironically) that's perfectly flat and well-lit at night. It would be perfect. I still---to this moment---think about that. But what Matthias (watch the video) does doesn't happen by chance. That's hundreds, thousands of hours of falling and failing and whatever else. I know, because I once did it (a very, very poor imitation of what you see there, but certainly a distant relative).

But here's the thing. This is not a criticism of the activity, because I do love it still. But an observation of how it is, or would be for ME. The woods where I ride a mountain bike do something for me. Something relaxing. A type of meditation. Looking back on my life, I can see how it HAD to end up this way. The walks in the woods as a kid. The playing in the creek. And yes, the BMX. And the road bike.

But I'm not that person anymore. I don't want to do tricks to please either myself or others. I don't want to beat my head against a wall to learn. I wish I could DO what he does, but not enough to put in the time to do it.

And each of these things are choices I have made. I stopped skating on purpose. I sold my BMX bike to buy my first mountain bike. On purpose.

What other ridiculous dreams am I wasting time holding onto? And what about you?  What's your Mullen deck? What's your flatland bike?

I'm tiptoeing onto dangerously cliché territory here, but it's truly part of me and I can't abandon it just because of that. Yoda told Luke Skywalker in the Return of the Jedi movie, "do or do not do---there is no try". Now I can get back to that earlier inspirational message. Still want to learn to play the guitar? Always meant to start a band or sing at a coffeehouse? Do it! Or let go of it. If only I could take that advice. Why do I know that Mullen was in that magazine and gave a TED talk? Because he inspires me---in my life today. In the things I do today.

My friend Mutt once told me (google Mullen and you'll understand) something that's stuck with me. I was taking up fly fishing (which I never actually practiced ) and feeling so inspired by A River Runs Through It, and that whole mythos, and Matt said that the trick in life is how to take the spirit of those times, and apply it today. Without it being a ridiculous modern-man-wearing-Hemingway's-hat kind of throwback scenario. (I may have added that last bit myself).

Which brings us back to those re-released Mullen decks. And how hard they are to find. And our generation trying to recapture... a little of the... Gloria (sorry, channeled Bruce for a moment there).

If "those were the best days of [your] life", give some good hard thought to why. Why do you live the way you do now, if you were happier then? Because society tells you to?  Because you have to work, to pay for the car, that takes you to work, to pay for the car, and on and on and on.

I'm not saying to run away from adult life, exactly. We have to do things we don't want to do. But we do them for a reason. Don't reach the end of your life saying "I should've spent the money, taken the time, lived in a van, told her I loved her". Don't hold it back anymore. Make it come---or let it go.