Jun 22, 2017

Mountaintop Experience

"Dada, you said if I wanted to turn around, I could."

"Yep, that's right."

"Well, I want to turn around."

"Not yet, just a little further."

This scenario replayed itself all the way up Mount Monadnock, and can you blame her? They say it's the most climbed mountain in the USA, but if you've climbed it, you know that doesn't mean it's easy. Far from it. This isn't hiking, it's rock scrambling, and plenty of it. Who could blame an 11-year-old for being a little unsure of herself? I've climbed it at least 5 times, and I wasn't sure about myself, let alone her.

Did I mention it was wet?  I didn't? Oh, yeah---every freaking unclimbable rock had a thin coating of mud. Also, without planning to, we climbed a lot of the way with a family where Mom was carrying a baby on her back. That's not humbling at all. The last time we climbed Monadnock, I did the same, so the irony was a little amusing. Or as amusing as anything is when you're sweating out every pore and trying to make it look easy so that your daughter doesn't lose what sliver of confidence she has that this is actually do-able for her.

She's always loved climbing rocks at the beach, so we thought maybe this would be perfect for her and her seemingly limitless energy. Turns out, there is in fact a limit, and it occurs about 35 minutes into rock climbing her way up a mountain.

I don't know if I pushed her too hard, because once I let her take a longer break and really catch her breath, she perked up quite a bit. Especially when we got up into the more stunted trees, and saw ravens and hawks flying above us.

I showed her the USGS seal, and we ate our celebratory sour gummi worms, once we reached the top. Have you climbed a real mountain before? Do you know how good those little candy critters were? Swear-word good, that's how.

But of course, climbing to the top is only half the battle (unless you're climbing Mt. Washington, then you just ride a train down). After reminding her that people would talk all her life about "mountain top experiences" and that this was in fact what they were talking about, we started down. Always a little regret at that point. Always a little trepidation as well, because unless this is your very first time, you know that [spoiler alert] the coming down is MUCH harder than going up.

In a way, it was torture (you know, the physical way), but in another sense, this was my true victory of father's day togetherness: Lucy refuses to even consider swearing, but even she said a few choice words before we got to the bottom.  In fact, just before the end, I believe she actually insulted and/or threatened the mountain itself:

"I hate you, you stupid mountain!"

(If you don't currently have a kid in elementary school, let me remind you that "stupid" is worse than a curse word for these kids). I told her I'd like to punch this stupid mountain in the face, except that surely it had a rock face and I'd be doing nothing but hurting my hand.

It was after one flat, relatively rock-free half-mile or so that we thought might possibly be the bottom, when another long stretch of steep rocks dropped beneath our boots. That's when my little princess let fly with a few words of her own. And our father's day togetherness reached its own summit.

"Yep, I know." I said and smiled.

"It's just... I'm not sure I can go any farther," she said.

"I know EXACTLY how you feel, believe me," I said. "I wish this was over. But it just isn't."

"I can't wait to get to the bottom, I'm going to drink so much water, right out of the gallon jug!" She replied.

She doesn't even drink out of cups without a lid very well, or at least very often.

But once the celebration of finally reaching cilivizashun civilization was over, and we'd discovered the gift shop was already closed, and we'd walked back to the car, I looked up to see the same girl holding a half-full gallon water jug above her head and chugging just like a lumberjack.

This was the greatest father's day ever.







Jun 14, 2017

Muddy Yak

So there I was, nearly knee deep in mud, with my Keens not too keen on coming out of that mud. My kayak, suddenly on "dry" ground (hardly, but not wet enough to float), was ten feet away. And I wasn't quite sure what to do next. 

It had all started out so normally. I hadn't even gotten wet getting the boat into the water! I was on the way back home, and had been drawn over to the South edge of the water by the prospect of taking a picture of an egret. But each time I took the ziploc bag off my phone, it got scared and flew away (the last phone I destroyed was by flipping a kayak).

So I'd been trying to follow the channel up that south side. And the thing about water is, unless it's clear, it looks deep enough, until it just isn't. And if the tide is going out on an already pretty shallow tidal river, you can end up just like I was. Up the proverbial creek.

So two things became clear. I needed to get to the water. And I'd have to go back into even wetter, and therefore deeper, mud to get the kayak. And since each step was a shoe wrestling match, I'd have to take off the shoes. Heaven knows what's in the mud. Snails were all over the place on top. One can only imagine what lies beneath.

At this point, I should tell you that my greatest watery fear is something slithering underneath my feet. Eel, snake, whatever. As Lucy grew and we started playing in the ocean together, I've learned that wearing water shoes makes things much more pleasant. And that my fear isn't likely to come true---in the ocean. But in river mud?  Who's to say? 


Different river. A canal, really.


Well, now I'm to say, because I did what I had to do, and I'm happy(ish) to report that it wasn't really that bad. Sure was easier to walk. Stepped on a lot of things (likely snails), but nothing slimy or slithery. And soon enough (much quicker than all the manuvering before I got out of the kayak, and the mudwrestling with my shoes that followed) I was back on the water, muddier, but on my way home.

Did I learn anything? No, except about the bare feet, a piece of knowledge I hope never to use again. I know where the channel is in that part of the river, that's for sure.  And I should've just gone for a bike ride.
twas much muddier than this

Jun 13, 2017

goulash

The thing they never tell you about being a "professional" writer, is that your non-professional writing will suffer. I simply feel I have nothing left to say. Not like feel sorry for me, I can't contribute, but more like, I'm drained of all words. Last week I worked 8 hours of overtime. Doesn't sound like much, written down here, but when you consider I shortened my lunches, didn't take breaks, spent about an hour extra every day at work, and I still barely got finished, I suppose it starts to make sense why I don't come home feeling creative.

We're working on Christmas right now. I've lost all track of time, frankly.

I found myself worrying that we hadn't yet bought Lu an advent calendar (something we don't normally do, anyway), when I realized, well, of course we hadn't---it's June.

So there's that, as well.

None of this is excuses, but I check blogs myself from time to time, hoping always for something new. And if you've been looking for that here, well, you've been disappointed. To the point that surely you've given up on it.  IF you still read blogs.  Do people still do that?

I heard from a college friend of mine the other day. Her daughter is a JUNIOR in college. But how can that be? I just graduated, didn't I? Well, it turns out, NO.  It left me sad. Not depressed, but
certainly with a poignant feeling that lots of time has passed, even if it doesn't feel like it.  I guess I really can let go of some grudges from high school at this point, huh?

"Well, there I go again"

And I'm drained from all this politics. It feels like all we talk about, except the sides are so divided,
what are you to say, if someone is on the other side. It is as if each side is inconceivable to the other. So I'm left feeling constipated in my opinions. I'm not sharing it here, either, which perfectly illustrates what I'm talking about.

Time for dinner.






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!