Thursday, December 30, 2010
It was above all else, life as I know it; warts and all, wonderful and terrible and so very much like so many of the other years in my five decades come and gone. The good, the bad and the ugly. We lived it and that's enough.
A highway once travelled can't ever be completely new again and no road can be ridden the same way twice so at the end of the day, I'm content to see this year roll away behind me like all those summertime miles on 81 South. It'll be alright to watch it disappear under the wheels and around the bend without a fuss. It'll be alright to know things are as they should be.
Yes, most of all...it'll be alright.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Up and around early today. I was wiped out last night and conked with a house full of people. Chris covered for me and held the fort but I kept drifting off in the middle of sentences and fading in and out of conversations. I only slept a couple of hours yesterday morning after I got home and these days I find that I just can't operate 24+ at a time without some pretty serious consequences to my disposition. The long trips and constantly flipping from days to nights keeps me off balance and out of sync with the rest of the world and last night I had to pay the piper. I only vaguely remember crawling into the sheets and that was that until the dogs whined at the door to go out. The critters always get priority.
A few minutes later, coffee firmly in hand, furballs safely back in the house and eyeballs focused at last, I stepped back outside and took a pause to look up at the hill behind the new domicile. It was one of those rare early mornings that I've always been so fond of...absolutely still and bitter cold. No noise, no breeze, not even a bird singing yet. I wait for times like this. It's like the whole Earth holds its breath for just a second before it wakes up and gets on with the uproar of another day. The sky is bright but the sun hasn't peeked over the trees yet down here on the ground and for only a little time, there's peace.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
I did manage to rope a pack of my son's teenage pals into doing some heavy lifting in return for pizza and a place to crash in the new digs. They helped drag the big stuff around and saved me from probable hospitalization had I done it alone. Some of it just barely fit in the pickup bed and the rain was a real plus until it turned to sleet and snow halfway through the job. Did I mention that we had several inches of rain and flash floods in the midst of all this? I think I did but just let me say again...it flat out poured like you read about. I was beginning to think bad Karma but it could have just been crummy timing as opposed to actual divine retribution. The outcome was about the same.
Yes, it's been kind of a lot of hauling and a lot of stuff with a tiny truck but at least most of the things I can't lift alone are finally in. Now it's a matter of finding a spot for everything as it comes out of the boxes and then locating it again when you want to use it. Case in point: When I got home the other night, I looked all over the place for a wine glass as I thought they were already here and put away. Not so fast and not that easy...I searched every cupboard; in the dishwasher, all the drawers, through the pantry twice and orbited the kitchen to the point of just tipping the bottle in frustration. In the end, I finally wound up fishing one out of...guess what? A box. I shoulda known.
We still have to get to the attic in Old Drafty and sort that mess out, along with the minor disaster that is the rest of the place. My old office alone may require earth moving equipment to dig out once I chew into that project. God forbid that anyone show up to look at the place right now because they'd most likely laugh themselves unconscious before they got two rooms into it. We might get an offer of about six bucks for the whole thing the way it looks today, if we got an offer at all. I seriously doubt it.
I know we'll get through it all eventually but it's for sure been a handful and a headache. The new place is at least starting to feel like home and the critters have found new places to lounge so it'll be OK. But it's been an awfully long hundred yard trip from one life to another.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
I've at least got my tools where I can locate them in the garage (wow...a garage) which is good because there seems to be quite a lot of things that require tools. Chris and her crew have painted damn near everything from one end to the other and in the meantime, I've been tinkering on assorted revelations that have come to light in their wake. A variety of water leaks, wiring oddities and a non-whirling whirlpool promise to keep me in projects for the foreseeable near future. I knew there was some stuff but...
Well, chalk it up to not moving for 20 years. We'll get through it eventually but for now the rain is pouring down and the heavy lifting is just getting started. Wonder if we'll ever make it to Christmas?
Thursday, November 25, 2010
We decided against doing the usual big bird and trimmings this time around because quite frankly, we can't find the kitchen easily or anything much to cook with once we locate it. Everything is half packed and partly moved so to try the turkey route is pretty much out of the question. We're ok with it though...we've never been too much of a traditional bunch around here. With me coming and going all the time, it's sometimes pretty doubtful that I'll be present for the big meal at any particular hour most years so we just have the holiday when we can. Last year for example, I worked outbound Wednesday night and didn't make it back until about 4pm on Thursday. I just barely remember dinner and was probably lucky not to fall asleep and face-plant in my apple pie. We've learned to adapt to stuff like that (mostly) and it's more important to me to be home with my brood than to do the feast anyway. Good thing because this year, it's one-pan lasagna with packing on the side.
I know this too shall pass and once we actually get moved, things will settle down. Until then, it's mayhem and madness, stress and worries mixed with relief and anticipation, a little fun and a new view from the kitchen window...a fine recipe for Thanksgiving no matter how you slice it.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Well, as it turns out, I'm having kind of a hard time on the biggest-thing-that-ever-hit-the-planet-or-at-least-the-internet network.
See the problem is, there's just not that many people I know or am looking for. How do you socialize with nobody? The first thing I noticed once I got a page was an ad over on the right that offered to search for long-lost classmates. Chris found a bunch of people from her school when she got on and re-connected and that's great. I on the other hand, didn't really hang with a whole lot of kids back then so I'm not sure who I would search for. I wasn't on any sports teams, wasn't in the band or plays, never made academic honors, didn't get in trouble or party much and never moved on to college or the military. The long and short of it was; I hated high school and couldn't get out fast enough. Hence, my circle of friends had a very short diameter. There were a very few I ran around with I guess but when I got to be a senior, I went to work and they went to parties...we didn't have much in common to reminisce about. Besides, I haven't seen or heard from a single one of them in the 30 plus years since I graduated. I don't see why I would look for people I hardly spoke to in the hall. A couple of my good friends that I do miss are dead and even Facebook doesn't claim to be able to find them. I guess there are limits...
Browsing around a little more, I looked at the search box at the top of my page and kind of wondered whose name I could type in. There must be someone. I ran the old memory back a few years, looked at the box, looked at the keyboard, went back a ways further and looked at the box again. It stayed empty. The circle is apparently still pretty damn small.
Maybe I'll come up with some names eventually or I suppose someone might show up and surprise me (other than the total unknown that popped in this morning with a generic 'Hi there' message and a prominently well-endowed, clothing-less profile picture). I might be a noob but nothing screams "SCAM" to me quite like an unsolicited personal message from a big-breasted blonde who 'only wants to be my friend' but doesn't have a name. I thought Craigslist had the corner on the phishing spammers but at least Fb let me block this one with only two clicks. I'm trying to keep an open mind and give it a chance.
It isn't all bad news anyway. I've exchanged some posts with a few people, put up some pictures, sort of poked my way around the gadgets and that's been pretty cool...a strange way to interact with people but kinda cool. I'm not sure about it yet but it might just turn out to be a pretty quiet place on my laptop with an empty box at the top and a really small circle on the wall.
"Tell me now...by what ends does a man ever partially control his fate? It is obvious from the special history of our kind that favorites are played, but if this is so, then how do you account for those who are ill-treated? The worship of pagan gods, which once answered all this, is no longer fashionable. Modern religions ignore the matter of fate. So we are left confused and without direction.
Let us admit, then, that the complete answer may only be revealed when it can no longer serve those most interested."
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
The reality of it all comes down to the fact that sooner than we think, Chris and I will be empty-nesters. The guys are sneaking through being teenagers on us and already looking out the door and down the road. They've grown like the proverbial weeds and emptied the refrigerator twice a week for the last year.
Even Connor is almost looking me straight in the eye these days. The desperately sick baby who only had about a 50/50 chance of ever walking or talking is now my jazz man and calls me 'Dirt' because to him, that's how old I am. I think of that awful day when we handed him to a surgeon and wondered if we'd ever see him again in this world. He became our 'Miracle Child' when the tumor came out and my son came home to live and grow up. He can call me anything he wants as long as he calls me Dad once in a while.
Seneca passed me in altitude long ago and is on his way to being a big man in more ways than one. He came home from the maternity floor to a screaming Nor'easter that buried our old house in more snow than I'd seen in a lot of years. The snow was over the top of my van and kept two brand-new parents pretty worried about being stranded in the creaky house with a newborn. I shoveled for days to dig out and wished for global warming. I still wonder every time his birthday rolls around if we'll get a repeat of 'Seneca's Blizzard'.
There's a million memories kicking around here but ours are only the latest. Who knows how many kids have passed through this place in a hundred years or how many more will follow before it's gone? We're hoping another young family will move in like we did and make pencil marks on the door to chart their kids on the way up. Someone to fill it with dogs and noise, fresh paint and piles of laundry. It's a big and quirky house and it needs a new brood to keep it loud and alive, full of comings and goings so it never has a chance to get too old. It needs a fresh blast of baby cribs and stuffed animals, a new batch of local musketeers to parade to the 'fridge and another late winter storm to go down in the record books. The change will be good for all of us.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Unexpectedly, my announced intention to leave the house at about 6 AM in order to have lots of time to make the 42 mile push to our office was met with unprecedented resistance from the management. I knew it would still be dark and likely be extremely chilly but I had lights hooked up on the 2.1 and had multiple layers of clothes all picked out to get me through until sunup. Nothing like thinking ahead. The weather forecast was for sunny and low 50's by midday so the return trip promised to be a breeze. A pre-dawn departure was my plan and all I lacked was fresh batteries for the headlight. Chris was watching all this preparation without much comment until she realized I'd be riding about 2 hours out of the gate in full dark. For the first time in our married life, I actually saw her stamp her foot on the rug, cross her arms and flat out say no. She's pretty much accustomed to my more common antics but I guess this one crossed the line in the sand. I think the foot-stomp was the killer indication that there would be a few alterations to my itinerary. I promised I wouldn't ride in the dark.
Instead, I hooked the rack on the van and loaded up the bike in the morning and took off on a slightly different angle. I'd drop the van at the shop (which happens to be in the direction I was going anyway) for an oil change, get geared up and ride the 20 or so remaining miles to the yard. By then, it would be daylight (sort of) so I could get around the prohibition on darkness and yet still get in some miles. So far...so good.
The guy at the counter looked at me like he was seeing an idiot for the first time when I told him I had to unload my bike before he could have the van. His customer-service face cracked a little but he handled it without calling me a moron to my face. I happened to glance at the thermometer on the overhead in the van as I was gathering up my stuff...27 degrees. That's pretty cool, even for me. Less than ideal but not unheard of in my biking escapades so a quick change into riding gear and I was on the road east in gray morning light. Gray being the key word because I soon realized that it was not only 27 degrees out there, but hanging around the valley was a pretty thick coating of fog.
Fog is a way of describing water floating around in the air and when the air is somewhat below freezing, said water tends to solidify on whatever thing it touches, things like me. My gloves, sweatshirt and glasses were soon decorated with a heavy layer of frost and the feeling went out of my hands. In changing my plan of attack, I guess I neglected the extra gloves I had layed out thinking it would be warmer with daylight. I missed them very much. I stopped every couple of miles to defrost and take a look to see if I still had fingers or if they'd snapped off in my gloves. Eventually though, the sun popped up and started the mercury in the positive direction. Luckily too, the mist burned off quickly and though it stayed cold, I could at least see where I was going. It was another hour before I could shift without actually looking at my fingers to see if they were doing what I wanted. Note to Shimano: You guys could make those shifter paddles a little bigger and it would be alright with me. They work a little hard when you have to use your whole frozen hand instead of the customary one finger.
Daylight brought out the commuters and so began the dodging of vehicles. I'm pretty used to that anymore so unless someone does something openly hostile, hustling around in traffic doesn't worry me much, I just jump right in and go. I try to get out of the way as much as I can but sometimes lack of maneuvering space means they either have to go around or hit me. Nobody's clipped me yet; close but no cigar so it I must be doing something right. Potholes and broken glass are as much a problem as anything but all obstacles were avoided and there was no horn-blowing or finger-waving this day. There's been other jaunts that included urban adventures but I'd never ridden in the city of Binghamton before. Turns out to be like all it's concrete cousins, it's just a matter of rolling with it and getting where your going without being run down. I got straight across the middle of town with only minor annoyances and rolled into the yard right on time. Cold but successful.
It was nice to see Jess again even though she had her own adventures getting down from Syaracuse. She's good people and it'll be a blast working with her on the 2011 Tour. We had a good chat before Mark and I took off for a short ride on a local rail-trail. A few miles with the Big Galoot and it was back on the road west to pick up the van and call it a day. The sun was bright and if not warm, at least tolerable and the wind was at my back. With any luck, there'll be a few more of these before I have to rely solely on the trainer. I hate the thought of salt and snow but spring will be here eventually...
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Just to be up-front, I pretty much hate this non-holiday anymore. It was fun when I was a kid I guess but like everything else, it's degenerated into another opportunity to blow out your credit line on expensive costumes and decorations instead of just carving up a pumpkin and soaping the neighbors windows. Trick-or-treating is almost an industry in itself; structured with designated hours and approved locations. The annual hike around town with a costume and a sack is now escorted, patrolled and by curfew, will end at 8pm or else for most folks thank you very much. For the miscreants who decide to stay out dodging the police, the tracks are more temptation than they can usually resist. If I wind up working (which I will this year), the whole night will likely be punctuated with eggs, rocks, paintballs, junk on the tracks and the occasional chicken-player trying to 'scare' the train crew. The old mannequin-sprawled-on-the rails trick might be a big yuk to the locals but I never know till it's too late if that might be a real body I just ran over. Yeah kids, that's a real thrill.
Call me jaded but to me it also sort of kicks off the mad-consumption, retail-driven hell that marks the last couple months of the year. We don't even get a break from the shrill, ridiculous political screaming of the election cycle before the nauseating 'Holiday' ads kick in and TV becomes even more unbearable than usual.
A bonus at this time of year is the networks overwhelming desire to show every horror movie ever made for the whole month of October. I clicked on in the hotel the other day as I was packing for home and just as the screen popped in, I was treated to a close-up, full view of a semi-dressed and busty young lass (they're all semi-dressed and busty in horror movies) being split right down the middle by an axe-wielding zombie...complete with a follow up shot of steamy innards plopping on the ground. Nice. That made my whole day guys, thanks. I know you are required by tradition and poor taste to show all the straight-to-video splatter failures that have ever been produced in a four week span but come on...it's 2 in the afternoon and you've probably run this sleaze-bag 50 times since Thursday...give it a rest. On top of that, no matter how many times it airs it still sucks and is not likely to improve with age. In case you can't tell, this stuff makes me a little cranky.
Every time around it gets harder to take. I don't watch the tube very often anyway but sometimes when I'm stuck in the hotel for hours, I channel surf out of boredom. I might be able to take a 'CSI' or 'Modern Marvels' rerun for the 80th time if 6 minutes of high-volume commercials weren't spaced by 3 minutes of show. I wish I could trap a brace of ad execs. in a room for 24 hours and blast them with their own insanity so they'd know how the rest of us feel. On second thought, they'd probably have a ball and spend the whole time congratulating each other. Thanksgiving and Christmas on cable is worse than the split girl sometimes.
I'm sure I'll return to this as the season rolls on but for now...I'm holiday-ed up to my eyeballs and hoping it pours tonight to keep the tricks to a minimum. It might be a long trip.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Old Drafty has been on the market for a little over a week and we've had a couple of showings but mostly it's cleaning rampages and trying to come to grips with the fact that we might actually pull this off. I've been rolling with it as well as I can. This is all new to us again.
More when I can...
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Things have been more than a tad hectic since we decided to put the big homestead on the market. Without going into all the details, let's just say this little adventure came out of the blue and we're still struggling to believe it might actually come to pass. Just when you think nothing else can happen...
We've lived in this monster house for twenty years or so and raised our kids here. It's the only home they've ever known but it's just getting to be too much for the old guy. The recent estimate I got for repairs on the roof (again) kind of took the wind out of my sails for the last time. It was a pretty substantial chunk of cash and even if I had it in my pocket, (which I don't), there's still everything else below the eves yet to do. It also dawned on me that I've got about 15 years to go until I'll be either retired or real close to it and frankly, I don't want to do drywall and plumbing until then...much less for untold years after I leave the right-side seat for good. It's time for someone else to have a go at the old chicken farm. My dearest wish is to retire and do things I WANT to do; not things I HAVE to do. Unless Bob Vila drops in with his checkbook and a boatload of contractors, there's never going to be an end to the fixing-up projects for me. With my lack of schedule and bizarre working life, I could quite possibly tinker on this place until I die and still not have it all done. Reality sometimes sucks but there it is.
The illusion of all twenty-somethings that life just goes on and on over the horizon has sort of faded for me as most illusions will. These days I'm thinking more about the end of things and watching the clock. There comes a point where you have to quit kidding yourself and face the fact that you will most certainly not live forever. I think it's time to look down the road with different eyes.
The kids will probably be out and gone sooner than later and when they pack out to homes of their own, it'll be just Chris and I rattling around in this three-story-endless-renovation project. We've poured a lot into the place over the years but the long and short of it is that we're getting older and time is starting to look more and more like a finite commodity. There's a limit to how much I'll ever do unless my sulfur-water well suddenly becomes the fountain of youth or an armored truck pulls up and just happens to unload pallets of money on the porch. Do I really want to be hanging sheetrock and pulling wire when I'm about 90? Not if there's any way out of it I don't.
I realized a while back that I've been working since I was about twelve in one form or another which translates into almost forty years of nearly continuous employment so far. Not that I'm complaining but its been a pretty long haul. I've still got half a career with the railroad ahead of me so I'm not ready for the rocker quite yet but at least the end is in sight. When I do finally get to the end of it, I might just want to sit on the porch for a minute, sip a beer and think things over instead of installing a bathroom. I might consider mowing the grass eventually...or I might toss a neighbor kid 20 bucks to do it while I have another beer and supervise. Who knows? There may be grandkids to wreak havoc with by then. There's always the original plan Chris and I have for our retirement...two full-dressed Harleys, an offshore bank account for my pension checks, summer clothes in the tour-packs and no forwarding address. One way or another, my days of fixing it up before it falls down will be over.
Yep, the house is for sale and I hope the payoff is more than just an end to the mortgage. I hope it's the life we've worked so hard for all these years.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Saturn V Launch - Sonicbomb.com
I remember the Saturn V moon rockets in grainy black and white on console TVs. Walter Cronkite told the story and counted down the minutes until the big F-1 engines lit, the pad breathed fire and the monster lifted off. They say the roar of the launch travelled around the world but I heard it through over-driven mics in Florida and cheesy RCA speakers in New York. I wish I could have been there.
Something about daring to light 7.5 million pounds of thrust under 6.5 million pounds of rocket, fuel and men leaves me in wonder to this day. It was an awesome thing to watch back then and to see it now in super-slow-motion as well as in color is pretty amazing.
Here's to the Saturn and the people who flew her...I never knew you, but I remember you. Fly high and fast for the next generation. Run the clock down to zero and light the candle again. We're counting on you.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
I bought my FXE brand new in the spring of '83. It was a carry-over from the previous year and the dealer was hot to get rid of it to make room on his floor for newer stuff. He made me a smoking deal and so my Sportster passed into history and the Superglide came home to roost. It was pretty plain as Harleys go; the only thing I got extra was a turn-out tail pipe with no baffles to replace the fat, ugly baloney-shaped stock muffler. The only thing that made it special was the fact that it was screaming, gaudy, burn-your-eyes, fire engine RED. Maybe I was the only one crazy enough to buy one that bright but having a big motor was my goal and it was the only way I was getting there. Back then, that 80 inch iron engine hooked to a four speed hanging on two wheels was all I needed to be right with the world.
After a couple of years spent on my stiff-legged Sporty, it rode like a Cadillac even though I had to wear midnight-dark shades to cut the glare off the tank. I promptly started pouring in high-test and rolling up the miles. I did find a need for a sissy bar and forward foot rests so a little accessorizing got the red monster set up the way I wanted and life was good.
The first fly in the ointment was my discovery of a fairly large pool of tranny fluid on the ground one day as I was getting ready to ride out to lunch from work. This was not a good thing. The dealer said he'd look at it so I topped off the transmission and headed for the shop. Dissection found that a hex bolt head had sheared off, digested itself in the gears, cracked the case and pretty much wrecked the whole works. The really bad news was that the warranty had run out the week before and H-D was not remotely interested in covering it. This was really not a good thing. Having just spent a boatload on the bike and since it was only days off the warranty, I kind of thought they might bend a little and fix it, especially since it was a manufacturing flaw as opposed to abuse. Nope. This was my first hint (more on that another day) that all maybe was not rosy with the Motor Company in Milwaukee. The long and short of it was; no amount of threatening or pleading was shaking them loose so I bit the bullet and had the shop wrench tear into it. He managed to weld up the cracks, clean out the metal shavings and stuff Pandora back in the box. It cost a bundle and there was no promises as to how long it would last but I was back on the road. Wiser and poorer but moving again.
Fortunately, that was the worst of it for years thereafter. The transmission held together (and is still holding) as a testament to the mechanic's ability. And the miles just flew away. I jammed all over the northeast (those are stories to tell another day too), commuted to work, took off on the weekends and just generally rode the wheels off it like there was no tomorrow. Unleaded gas went away so the valve guides wore out fast and the rings got sloppy so a first re-build came along somewhere in there. Tires and brakes changed like my socks as the odometer cranked around into the 40's. At some point the red paint finally got to me and one winter, the old girl became basic black. No emblems, no pinstripes, no flames...just black like a Harley should be. The painter wanted to put a badge on the tank but I figured anyone who cared would know what it was and anyone who didn't know didn't matter so why mess up the gloss? So now it was black on black with the chrome starting to show some dings and rust. The turnout pipe got razor-sharp on the bottom edge from dragging it around corners and the instrument lights gave up the ghost around 50K. And still we rode.
Chris and I finally decided to get married in the summer of '87 and the only way she and I were leaving the church was on that black scooter. On the big day, she put a helmet over her wedding hairdo, stuck on some Wayfarers, gathered her wedding dress up in her lap, threw a leg over and away we went. As usual, the Superglide was in on everything. We ended up living in a trailer for a while and at one point even owned a second Harley. I came across another red '85 FXE (what is it with red?) and picked it up out of an estate. It was nicer and newer than the '82 so it became our primary ride for a while. It wasn't meant to be though, the payments were a little big and along came a house with a mortgage. The '85 went, the '82 came out of semi-retirement and then there was only one.
The kids came next and hard riding went on the back burner while we did cars seats and mini-vans. We'd sneak out for a ride when we could get someone to watch the boys but there were weeks on end when the big twin never fired. Years came and went while the guys got bigger and still I hung on to the bike...hell, it was the only thing I had that was paid for. I rode it while I taught rider education courses to a flock of novices for a decade or so but that was mostly commuting and demonstrating what I wanted my charges to do. The days of packing a bag and taking off for Virginia were temporarily (I hoped) gone. What riding I did took a toll though because the bottom end finally developed a persistent knock that could only be a sick crank bearing and that meant another round of rebuild after almost 90,000 miles. This time it was a lower end, a bore job and yet another set of valves. She came out running like a champ with a couple mor cubic inches but still hanging on to the bone-stock Japanese carb and the original clutch plates. I couldn't seem to wear them out.
Suddenly, my boys are in high school and the old shovelhead is parked under a tarp on the patio. That carb finally managed to vibrate itself to death a couple of years ago so a new S&S took it's place under my right knee. The brand new and shiny chrome on the air cleaner is almost embarrassing compared to the way the rest of it looks. The sudden increase in horsepower that came with better breathing instantly did in the clutch so that got a little upgrade to end the slipping.
Chris and I ride a bit more now that the kids are pretty much self-sufficient but still nothing like the old days. The bike's got about 106,000 on it now and all those miles show. She's rusty in spots, the pipes are mostly blue for about a foot from the heads, the chrome is pretty much shot, the forks leak (along with most everything else), the black is faded and after almost 30 years, I still can't see anything out of the mirrors because they vibrate so much. For all of that, it's still the bike I rode to and from my wedding, the one I rode in the heat and sun and snow and rain for what seemed like a million miles, the ride that took us to a string of crummy hotels in strange places because that's as far as we could go, the one Chris used to fall asleep on when we rode all night, the one I took my kids for their first rides on...the one-owner scoot that always starts no matter how much I neglect and abuse the thing.
Yeah, I ride bicycles a lot these days and it takes up time I used to burn up on the Hog. I haven't forgotten the old shovel though. We've been through an awful lot of changes and roll with them like the song. We'll get back together again one way or another. I've even threatened to turn it into a chopper someday when I hit the lottery but I doubt I could do it. I'd probably just shine up the black, re-plate the chrome, buff off the rust and ride some more. It just seems like the right thing to do for an old friend.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Thursday, September 23, 2010
I remembered the clueless sod from another ride who passed three cars in one shot at very high velocity. All while talking on his cell, drifting over the line into the oncoming lane's shoulder and forcing me to nearly dive for the ditch to get out of his way. I'm certain he never even saw me on my side of the road, tooling along in broad daylight on a straight stretch that ran for over a mile. Even with my day-glo yellow jersey and upright middle finger, he never saw the guy he was about to run over.
This stuff happens all the time and I can't help but wonder...
I thought about the parade of people who insist on hanging around a railroad bridge I cross every trip. Mostly they're young and possessed of all the vast wisdom of youth but still, why would you walk out on a skinny little bridge with a train coming and expect good things to happen? I've stopped (or tried to anyway) on several occasions and the response is always the same..."I didn't know I wasn't supposed to walk here." Hey, nobody ever actually told me not to play and party where large, moving objects that can kill you operate but it seemed fairly obvious even when I was pretty young. My reward for slowing down for one group of trespassing idiots was a shattered window on a trailing unit from a large rock pitched at us in gratitude. Who raised these geniuses and how did they live long enough to make it out of grade school?
Another very common lunacy is the race for the gate when a train is approaching. I see this everywhere but most prominently every day in a little burg called Sunbury PA. Sunbury has multiple crossings, all with lights and bells but no gates. A long train effectively cuts the town in half for several minutes as the speed limit is only 20 mph. In addition, we're frequently pulling out of a restriction which lowers the rate even more. This is an invitation for foolishness and a pretty good percentage of the population just can't pass it up. The locals who know what's about to happen ignore the warnings and scoot for the other side regardless of what's bearing down on them. It's almost fascinating to watch everything from pedestrians to tour buses look directly at the train, decide they'll risk it, then just roll the dice and go. I guess they don't realize that I can see them and know exactly what they're going to do but can't do a thing about it. I'm afraid someday I'll be looking one of them right in the eyes when they go out of sight under the nose and under the wheels.
The point is...how did so many people get to be so unthinking and uncaring? How do they expect to climb on moving trains without a chance of getting cut in half or run in front of one without a chance of getting hit? How do they figure that everybody and everything will get out of the way of their poor driving habits? How many times do they get to be stupid before it kills them or someone else? The lack of skill and judgement seems to be on the upswing lately and I can't explain it.
...Then there's the people who aren't just oblivious, they're nasty. Case in point...A certain individual around town has a taste for roaring up behind my son when he's out on his bike, jamming on the brakes to squeal the tires, blowing the horn and generally scaring the daylights out of him. There's a real adult for you...one with a full sized truck, complete with a manly Monster sticker on the back window who shows his daring and bravery by terrorizing a kid on a bicycle. I'm impressed, really I am but it might not be nearly as sporting for him if I come across that truck one of these days and he finds that not everyone in the world is quite so easily frightened. Where do these guys come from?
I get it all the time from drivers who don't figure anyone has anywhere to go or anything to do that's as important as the mission they're on at the moment. Bikes are a terrific inconvenience because they might force someone to steer around one or (gasp!) slow down a little. Same with trains...heaven forbid that anything cause said motorist to wait, even if it outweighs them by a factor of thousands and has a really hard time stopping in short distances. That's not important. What matters is that not a second of any one's day be wasted by anyone else. I've pulled out of my driveway taking the kids to school and had irate commuters climb on the back hatch, blast the horn and ride 6 inches off my bumper all the way to the drop-off loop. Classy...not too effective at making me go faster but it does get my heart going a little with kids in the car. And on it goes...the list is long and varied but you get the picture.
All I want to know is when did so many of us lose the patience to do things the right way? When did it become OK to be a jerk to others so much of the time? We all have our days when we're a lot less than perfect but is everybody on a roll on the same day?
I was just wondering...
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
One turn led to another and pretty soon I was 50 miles into it and a long way from home. At least the weather was nice; warm and breezy again and this time I was on the outbound leg with the wind in my teeth. I hoped that maybe once I turned for home it would be easier sailing, unlike the last go when the wind destroyed my legs 60 miles out. I got as far south as I figured I should reasonably go and then hooked west on PA Rt. 6 out of Towanda to make a big circle out of it. Rt. 6 is advertised and marked as a designated bike route in PA but I think PennDOT better reconsider that until after the gas rush. More on that in a minute.
Now being a rational, semi-intelligent person, I understand this was a working weekday for everybody in the real world. My weekend is Tuesday and Wednesday so it's not like everyone else is drinking beer and hanging out around the Weber when I have my days off. I may not be working, but it's not yet hump-day for 99% of the population. This means that unlike a Saturday or Sunday when things might quiet down a bit, commerce was going full blast down the blacktop while I was trying to make my way from turn to turn. The alarm bell was ringing again.
Once I crossed into Pennsylvania, truck traffic increased exponentially and I realized too late that I was now riding in the long, all consuming shadow of the Marcellus Shale natural gas boom. As my kids say when texting...OMG!
This thing is a monster swathed from top to bottom in raw, undiluted money and the gas drillers are in overdrive. These guys are poking strings of pipe in the ground so fast it's a wonder the world doesn't deflate from all the holes in it. There's an unmistakable smell of cash burning through expense accounts that just hangs in the air no matter which way the wind is blowing. The madness of the rush caught me off guard since it hasn't hit in NY yet, all things still being hung up in litigation, legislation and legalization for the time being. But PA is going at it like 49ers running full tilt west for California gold. It's awesome and frightening to be at ground level on a fly-weight bike watching this insanity go roaring by in a solid string of 18 wheelers and leased white pickups with gas company logos. I've never seen anything like it. I thought I'd somehow gotten lost and ended up on an eight lane interstate with no speed limit. I can only imagine the chatter among the truckers on the CB regarding the idiot on the bike where no reasonable idiot should be.
I was frankly scared witless. A fair number of the trucks didn't even bother to move a foot to the left or lift a boot off the gas. They just kept the hammer down and sailed by me so close I could smell the driver's aftershave and cigarettes in the windblast. A couple got their yuks in by climbing up on my back wheel and letting me have it with the air horns. Classy...in a Red Man long-cut kind of way I guess. Let me think...there's been an uninterrupted line of rigs tearing by me at maximum speed for a solid hour...I should be surprised by another one?
I do have to give some credit where credit is due though. Many of these guys were pros and it showed. I know some of the drivers were trying to do what they could with what they had but there just wasn't enough room or time at 55. When there was nothing coming at them, they tried to move over to give me some wiggle room. Some even slowed down to give me time to find a wide spot between the lane-line and the ditch but mostly there was nowhere to go and circumstances made them cut it mighty fine. Some of them were really good and I'm glad of it because the shoulder wasn't much in many places and there were a few passes were I could have stuck my elbow out and touched a fender. Lesser men would have run me over with the trailer tires.
Roughly every three seconds for miles on end, another heavyweight ripped past and blew me about two feet to the right. The dirt, grit, exhaust and wind was intense. Before I got 10 miles along this nightmare, my eyes were dried out and I was covered in grit like I'd been caught in an Arabian Desert haboob.
I got a weird, metal taste with my Gatorade and knew every moving part on the bike was getting chewed by the emery-fine dust. Talk about taking the wrong way home.
Obviously, this was no place for me but I had to soldier on to the next turn before I could get aimed back north. I've ridden bikes all over the place and never dreamed I'd hear myself say it but bicycles should be banned from roads with this kind of traffic and conditions. There was no sign or warning of any kind for an out-of-towner like me and no real way to get out of it except to keep going. Maybe PA doesn't want to admit their 'scenic byway' is a deathtrap but I sort of think terrifying or killing visitors might be somewhat bad for the tourism business. I never thought I'd live long enough to see that 14N sign with an arrow pointing to Elmira but just outside of Troy, there it was.
My relief at leaving 6 was enormous. As I suspected, the tailwind was fantastic and my average speed increased by leaps and bounds. Traffic let up to almost nothing and the shoulders got wide and smooth. It was like hitting the lottery. My stress level dropped and I could enjoy cruising again. The next 30 miles rolled easily even as I closed in on the 100 mark. I just let the wind push me along and let my speed do what it wanted.
The last obstacle came along when I was within spitting distance of home. The town highway dept. apparently decided to stone and oil about seven miles of road that I had to ride to get to my driveway. It was freshly done so there were drifts and dunes of fine gravel piled up beside the four tire-worn tracks in the lanes. Those grooves were the only place I could remain upright on 23mm skins since loose stone and narrow tires don't get along too well. Every car that went by stirred up a cloud of dust and I couldn't really move over much without risking a slide in the piles of dry stones. That meant even more dust and grit stuck to my grimy self but with the end so close, it didn't seem to matter much. I just slowed down some more and slogged my way through it until I finally hit real pavement again for the last push.
At the end of the day, it turned out to be a really nice ride except for the Rt. 6 section and I was pretty stoked to make another century without really thinking about it much. 100 miles at a crack is still not the easiest thing in the world but I'm getting better at it. Winter will soon be here and I'll probably get fat and lazy with the snow but for now...I'm knocking off mileage at a pretty good clip. When do I start working on a hundred-and-a-half?
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
In my normal fashion, I just kind of turned when I felt like it and let the road lead where it would. I had a rough destination in mind but no real plan of how to get there. I find it's good therapy to just roll sometimes and let the mental flip of a coin decide where I'm off to. The flip today led west from one lake to another. A lengthy climb out of Watkins Glen and away from Seneca Lake led over the ridge-top toward Waneta Lake and a little burg called Tyrone. The view was pretty spectacular as I started down the hill and I got a little distracted until I realized that the road surface had turned from smooth and fast to a very rough, coarsely grooved stone and oil sort of thing that had the bike weaving around under me. Besides the change in pavement, I noticed the computer on my handlebars was reading a velocity somewhere up around 45 mph. That, my friends is humming right along on a feather-weight bike with not much between my pink skin and the ever-so-unforgiving blacktop. Visions of how much tissue and skeletal damage I'd incur if I unloaded at that rate wearing only shorts, a thin jersey, fingerless gloves and a plastic helmet flashed through my head just as the high-speed front end wobble hit. God, here we go again. I thought I was done with this foolishness when I got off the 1400 with the cracked frame.
A shimmy at warp speed is probably the most frightening thing that ever happens to me on a bike. I'm OK with trucks, dogs, weather, close calls and all the other typical hazards of the sport but when that front wheel starts vibrating like the spin cycle on an off-balance washing machine, my life flashes before my eyes in an instant. Loss of control is a given and a flying leap over the handlebars a very real possibility unless you can break the shake and slow down somehow. Fortunately, I was already down in the drops instead of on the hoods so the brake levers were near to hand. I three-fingered both, again availing myself of more luck than brains by not grabbing too fast or too much thereby adding a skid to my problems. Trying to hang on to the gyrating bars, I got the anchor thrown out and deceleration going before the front wheel went 90 degrees and launched me into orbit. I was still doing 40-plus and had lost all interest in the scenery.
Only old Sir Isaac's First Law about a body remaining in a state of constant velocity and tending to move in a straight line saved my bacon from what could only have been a very poor landing in the ditch. There was absolutely no control over my direction except momentum. Since I was screaming straight down the hill when my ability to turn went out the window and there were no curves in the road to navigate, I managed to stay on the tarmac with only minimal wandering while I chased the wiggle out of the forks.
Eventually, as always happens if you can stay on the bike long enough, things slowed a point where the harmonics dampened out and the shimmy broke allowing a return to normal steering. Normal steering mind you, not normal breathing. That takes much longer and requires the pulse rate to first drop below triple digits. Wobbly knees replace wobbly handlebars and and certain impolite language is used while you shake your head in wonder and think, "How many times can I get away with this and live?"
Reflection leads me to believe that a combination of excessive speed, a nasty cross-wind (remember that breeze?) and a crummy paving job brought on this episode of the wiggles and that it's probably an isolated incident. It's never happened before on the 2.1 and the rest of the day passed without a repeat performance so I'm hoping it was just a weird, one-of-a-kind thing that won't become a trend. Onward and upward.
Once my heart subsided and a quick inspection found nothing technically amis with the bike, it was back on the road and on to Penn Yan. The breeze had now become very stout and being behind me, I ate up miles northward very quickly. A little alarm bell was ringing because I knew that sooner or later I would have to turn back south and the wind would no longer be my friend. The turn came with another bonus...not only was it upwind but uphill in spades. Rt. 14A is straight for several miles which gives you the ability to see what you're up against. It looked like a tower. The wind was blowing 15 to 20 mph off my starboard bow and trying to push me out in the lane of traffic with every gust. I've never been in creeper-low so long in my life. It just went on and on up that hill until I my legs cramped and finally just shut down. I had to pull into a little ice cream stand and just sit with a cone for about 20 minutes while the burn subsided. I still had over 40 miles to go and the wind just didn't let up. Brief rest stops became increasingly common until I finally dropped down off the ridge back into Watkins Glen and took another long breather on the lakefront to fortify for the last push home.
Anyone who's been to Watkins knows that it's pretty much located in the bottom of a hole. Any way out is up except due south which didn't happen to be the way I needed to go. All you can do is pick the lesser of the evils for a climb and then just gear down and do it. I decided on a secondary road out of the valley which turned out to be ridiculously steep but mercifully short. It saved a long slog up the truck route which is still steep enough but also stretched out so much that it makes you want to shoot yourself to end your misery before you finally get to the top, especially when you've already got 90 hard miles behind you. No matter what road you pick, you've got to do the grade to get out of the pit and that last little push just about did in the old guy. I had to pace pretty carefully after that to nurse it on home. And the wind just wouldn't quit. I kept trying not to bonk for well and all at this stage. Surrender would have meant a rescue operation by van and a considerable blow to my self-esteem so slow but sure, I limped on back to the barn. 103 miles after my departure, I sort of wobbled into the driveway and unclipped. I'm usually not that whipped but this time I hurt enough that a couple of beers only took the edge off. Sometimes it's like that...
Once in a while, I have to keep trying to remember that I really enjoy this. Seems like an awful lot of hurt to volunteer for. Then I think about the land and the sky and all that I've seen and before I know it, I can't wait to go again. Sometimes it's like that too. The Fourth Century AT is already on the horizon.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Sometimes I lose track of how lucky I am. I hope I never stop remembering.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
My mood is a little better today too. I probably will never know what that thing is that hits me like it did yesterday. I hammered until there was absolutely nothing left trying to make it go away but it didn't work. I do know there's always a day when the skid gets to the bottom of the hill and the whole world just shatters...kinda like yesterday. After that, things will slowly get better until the next cycle when the "uncontrolled descent below known terrain"; more commonly known as a 'crash and burn' begins again. It's not like I become non-functional, even at the worst of times...I just don't feel like doing anything or being around anyone. Going to work has almost the same effect as the killer biking or running I do...it makes me focus on just one task and put away everything else.
I preach to engineer trainees when I get them that when they run trains, they have to be able to put all their problems and distractions in a little mental box and stash that box away in the back of their head while they concentrate on the job at hand. I guess I've pounded it enough that I can actually do it pretty well when I need to. It takes so much of my mental capacity to keep track of a train that I can't think about much else anyway. Single minded I guess. It's the rest of the time that's a problem.
The only thing I keep thinking...This too shall pass.
I sprinted nearly to collapse but couldn't outrun it. I climbed hills but it was there at the top. I tried to make my legs hurt enough to forget but it still rode with me. I've worked so hard at being strong but I still can't lift it.
An old song I like has a line about "the nexus of the crisis and the origin of storms"...maybe I'm just passing through there on the way to better days. I hope so.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
I've got some plans in the works but we'll have to see how things shake out as the summer winds down.
Did I really just say that? Summer winds down? How did that happen? It's going to be my birthday pretty soon and I seem to have lost another year someplace. Too busy to watch the time go by I guess. I sort of noticed that the days were getting shorter but was trying to ignore it and hope it would go away. Looks like it'll be a year-end blog entry before too long. God I hate to see it get cold again!
Anyway...I'll have more to get down in the old Wayward Home when I get back from this trip...unless the urge to peel off another century ride hits me and the 2.1 gets precedence over the keyboard. The blue and black rocket could very easily go over it's first 1000 miles. You never know what might happen...
Seneca Lake could be on the destination list again.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
I did a couple of 6% grades and then zoomed home on the flatlands to meet Chris and the kids around noon. I sprinted the last 10 miles or so and had a good burn going when I got in the driveway. Grabbed something to munch on and decided to head out again but realized the front tire had gone flat in the interim. Grrrr.
On disassembly, I found a circular piece of sharp metal stuck in the tread and a small hole in the tube. Dig out the patch kit and slap a sticky on the puncture, pull the shard out of the tire and we're back in business.
Out the door and rolling again. This time I dropped into Ithaca and negotiated the traffic. This time of year it's laced with fresh Cornell and IC students, many of whom have yet to drive their first thousand miles. It's a zoo when the college kids hit town but I did a little zigging and zagging and got out unscathed. The hill back up out of town is an epic and my lungs were competing with my legs to see who could hurt the most. Ahh...the Bonk approaches.
I ran out of water somewhere about 65 miles out but I knew the end was near and forged on to the high school where Chris was at a meeting and bummed a ride back home on the bike rack. Not sure I could have legged it home but it damn sure would have been way-dark-thirty before I got there. That was enough for one day anyhow. The next century will have to wait for a day when I don't deliberately overdo it so early in the trip.
I realized sometime along that I miss my riding partner on these adventures. Doc could make me laugh no matter what and push me way out there when I thought I didn't have anything left. People come and people go but the good ones seem to go more often.
Here's to ya Doc...I'll be down that way sometime to cut the wind.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
I said I'd soon get back to that long ride in the swamp down in VA but as usual, life in general kind of caught up with me and the keyboard got sidelined. Here then without further delay, is the adventure in the muggy flatland...
I heard about this place from one of the locals and thought it sounded interesting so a little web research led me down the road and right to the gate.
Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge
I didn't really know what to expect but their website promised miles of trails and lots of interesting scenery so I loaded the 4500 dirt bike, packed extra Gatorades and headed out. The day I picked for my explorations was unfortunately one of the hottest of the week with heat indexes of around 106 degrees with the humidity hanging at the top of the scale. Not exactly the best weather to explore a low-lying swamp but you work with what you have.
The first thing I discovered was a serious miscalculation on my part on the scale of the place. It's much bigger than it looks on the map so even the parking areas turned out to be a couple of miles off the main drag down some decrepit looking dirt roads. The next revelation was that the whole area appeared to be totally deserted. Mid-week afternoons don't seem to be a big draw.
I offloaded in an empty parking lot and set off down a trail along a 'ditch'. All the trails follow these things which are just as described...stagnant, bug and snake filled swales that run straight and true right out of sight.
The first one I followed was dug in the time of Washington (that's George...of 1776 fame) by hand with slave labor. The idea of chewing a four-and-a-half mile ditch with pick and shovel for any reason in these kinds of conditions is mind boggling in itself. I guess it must have seemed like the thing to do at the time. Each one is bounded by a slightly raised, relatively clear path that you can ride right to the horizon. These things are way too straight and flat for a guy used to trails that go out of sight around the next curve in about 10 yards. Took some getting accustomed to.
As advertised, Washington Ditch led to a large puddle called Lake Drummond. Again, it was absolutely deserted. Nothing stirred anywhere except the local critters and the (swarming, voracious, bloodthirsty) bugs. Stopping meant swatting but I parked on the small observation deck for a breather, a look around and a couple of pictures.
That marker I leaned the bike on had an excerpt from a poem that caught my eye. I quick search when I got home found the rest of the text. It seemed appropriate for the place...
The Lake of the Dismal Swamp
"They made her a grave too cold and damp
For a soul so warm and true;
And she's gone to the Lake of the Dismal Swamp,
Where all night long, by a firefly lamp,
She paddles her white canoe.
And her firefly lamp I soon shall see,
And her paddle I soon shall hear;
Long and moving our life shall be
And I'll hide the maid in a cypress tree,
When the footstep of death is near."
Away to the Dismal Swamp he speeds,
His path was rugged and sore,
Through tangled juniper, beds of reeds,
Through many a fen where the serpent feeds,
And man never trod before.
And when on the earth he sank to sleep,
If slumber his eyelids knew,
He lay where the deadly vine doth weep
Its venemous tear, and nightly steep
The flesh with blistering dew!
And near him the she-wolf stirr'd the brake,
And the copper-snake breathed in his ear,
Till he starting cried, from his dream awake,
"Oh when shall I see the dusky Lake,
And the white canoe of my dear?"
He saw the Lake, and a meteor bright
Quick over its surface play'd,
"Welcome," he said, "my dear one's light!"
And the dim shore echo'd for many a night
The name of the death-cold maid.
Till he hollow'd a boat of the birchen bark,
Which carried him off from the shore;
Far, far he follow'd the meteor spark,
The wind was high and the clouds were dark,
And the boat return'd no more.
But oft, from the Indian hunter's camp,
This lover and maid so true
Are seen at the hour of midnight damp
To cross the Lake by a firefly lamp,
And paddle their white canoe!
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Speaking of vacation...where did I leave off? Oh yeah...back in VA Beach...
As it turns out, our first night was kind of fuzzy. I was really beat and it all seemed to melt together like everything does when you haven't had enough sleep. I crashed pretty hard and pretty early, hoping I'd be recovered enough to hit the sand in the morning. By the time it got dark, I was gone.
Dawn brought sunshine, climbing humidity and a fast rising thermometer.
Much recovered, Chris and I ventured out to reconnoiter. Early morning is far and away the best time to be on the boardwalk. Only a few runners, bikers and bladers are out and the beach is nearly deserted. The sun traded places with the previous night's thunderheads on the horizon, bright but not yet too hot. I could live with an AM walk or ride by the sea most days for about the next 20 years or so. If we could find a place where I could hold a job and keep my seniority, the ocean rolled up to the sand, there were nearby hills to test my mountain bike, somebody desperately wanted to give us a house and traffic didn't SUCK...we'd have it made. But for here and now, the sand was warm, the water was cool and for a moment...all was right with the world.
One thing I discovered very soon about that area aside from how nice the beach is...everything around there is flat. You have to actually search to find anything resembling a knoll. A short road bike jaunt with some folks from the NS Tour de Cure team demonstrated that if it wasn't for a stiff breeze...riding down there is like sitting on the trainer. Apparently, the riding mode of choice in these parts is to go really fast with a whole bunch of people and swap leads in a paceline. Sounds like fun but I personally prefer a view that doesn't include quite so much bib short and derailleur. I'm pretty much a solo guy when I'm hammering unless Doc is in my draft so I'm not really used to following anyone. Besides, the roads were extremely skinny and completely devoid of shoulders or much in the way of markings. This means you either tiptoe on the edge of disaster between asphalt and ditch to let traffic go or you just let it all hang out and ride in the lane hoping the next low-flying Audi doesn't need a new hood ornament. It's interesting and I can't wait to (hopefully) ride in their version of the Tour next April but for my part, I think I prefer the vertical world.
Anyway, I spent a chunk of one day lounging on the beach and sloshing around in the surf. Very relaxing, especially without a cell phone. Someday, I'm going to heave my cell right out in the ocean and cease to be available. I got along pretty well before those miserable things and I think I might like to do so again at some point. Dream on.
I also got out on both bikes at one time or another while Chris baked and the kids body-surfed. One little cruise right around the beach front area led me into a park with some pretty nice paths and scenery. Still generally flat terrain of course but at least it was dirt instead of sand (mostly). It sure is weird to bike in places with Spanish Moss hanging off the trees. Looked like Pirates of the Caribbean to me but it was pretty cool anyway. Challenging in some ways like fighting the heat and humidity and pushing through the sandy spots but fun nonetheless.
Street riding on the other hand was quite a challenge in other respects as most of the drivers were either oblivious or outright hostile to bicycles. I'm not much intimidated by traffic after years of risking life and limb on the Hog but the deliberate near-misses and cut-offs got old pretty fast. Now I know why group rides are de rigueur around here; there's more back-up available if you have to drag some side-swiping idiot out of his car and review his legal obligations to other highway users (or just stomp his ass if you're a little less PC). I guess you have to get out into the open a little to do much road work without the hassles but I gave it a whirl anyway. I had a loop all figured out but the daily thunderstorm sort of let the air out of that plan and maybe it's just as well. I got some pavement miles in and lived to tell about it so it's all good. Then there was Thursday and the last, longest pedal adventure of the trip. Let's just say that that one that turned into an epic and will be a post all it's own. When I get back from my next rock around the clock on tonight's train, I'll try to get it down. The Lake of the Dismal Swamp is all I'm gonna say for now.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Looming large on the list was a trip to hot and sunny (really, really hot and sunny) Virginia Beach. It's been a lot of years since Chris and I last took a jaunt down thataway. A couple of offspring, a house, a career change and middle age have all intervened. And this time around it was a luggage-stuffed mini-van with kids in the back and bicyles on the rack instead of a screaming red Shovelhead with garbage-bag-lined gym bags on the sissy bar. Times they do change.
At least when the usual enroute monsoon opened up on this go-round, we didn't get drowned and beaten half to death as was normally the case on the Harley. Hitting rain on the bike headed to the shore always seemed like riding through Heaven's own urinal flush; the sky would get dark, lightning would flash and then the Big Guy would zip up and pull the lever...
Every time we rode to Norfolk or VA Beach, we'd UPS our clothes down ahead of us because we knew nothing would arrive dry enough to wear no matter how many Heftys we used. Once the downpour started, there was no rain gear short of a space suit that could withstand it. There's just no describing what it's like unless you've done it yourself. You could volunteer as a target for fire department hose practice and that might be close but it probably wouldn't last as long. I've been more than suprised a few times that the Big Twin could gulp down that much water and keep the plugs firing. It sure looks different through windshield wipers.
Unconcerned with dodging tropical weather this time and hoping to miss at least some of the heaviest beltway traffic, we hit the blacktop in the wee hours of the morning. The kids promptly crashed in the back and I never heard much except music and tire hum until daylight. A breakfast and gas stop in Harrisburg displayed the first cracks in the plan as we got nailed by the morning rush hour trying to get out of town. The ETA display on the Garmin kept creeping further and further into the future as 6 lanes stuttered slowly southward. This was frustrating but also merely a warm up for the main event. The real fun came in the neighborhood of DC...pretty much as I remembered it from every time I've ever been near the place. Construction, detours, gridlock, attitude; yep, nothing's changed here. I95 was an 8 lane, 15 mile parking lot which only accelerated above 3 mph after we passed the crunched plastic and glass remains of someone's artery-clogging 'oops'. My lack of sleep before departure began to display itself as a lousy disposition which finally led to surrending the wheel for a while to catch a nap. Another hour slipped away.
Eventually the traffic jams, rest stops, thunderstorms and brake lights all blurred together until at last, signs appeared advertising an approaching beach. The screen on the GPS showed nothing further east but blue so I knew we'd either reach our hotel soon or have to find out if a fully packed Toyota will float. Fortunately, the road took a left before the blue line and we didn't have to test the van for seaworthiness. But we did need to offload and get all that stuff out the hatch and up to the 5th floor. Long intervals passed waiting for the single bank of elevators to have room for our travelling show. When the van was at last safely parked, the last coolers and suitcases had made it to the room and all hands were accounted for, I finally got a look off the balcony and realized we really were here again. The ocean was a smooth hazy blue fading to mist where the clouds touch the water, just as I remembered it. The beach looked toasted, edged with slow breakers and boardwalk. Late afternoon storms were still rolling around in the heat so the sky was moving, dropping lightning and rain squalls as the weather moved out to sea. I'd forgotten that big horizon over the Atlantic. It drops right off the edge of the world taking ships and thunderheads with it. There's places and things in life that can still make me stop and stare. The sea meeting the sky in it's eastern home is one of them.
We slowly got settled into our temporary digs and wound down watching those short, vicious little thunderstorms blow off shore. The ships out on the sea lanes disappeared behind sheets of rain only to pop back into view a few minutes later as the squalls passed. In between every blast of wind and lightning, the Navy fighters doing touch-and-go's at Oceana would roar overhead, coming in low with gear and flaps hanging out. Mean looking little devils sneaking in through the overcast with a touch of afterburner to stir up the neighborhood. Things were looking up.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
So I'm a sucker for punishment. From out of who-knows-where, a notion occurred to me to take a little solo distance ride while I'm on vacation. Great idea. No pressure to get back by such-and-such a time, no worry about getting called to work about 87 miles from home, just me and the mileage. But where to go, where to go?
How about around another lake? Sounds like a possibility. I've ridden the old Harley around Cayuga a zillion times, how about let's pedal it once? And just like that, a plan was born.
Load up on Gatorade and Clifs, pump up the tires, pack my tool bag, plug in the iPod and point the Trek north.
The weather was a little iffy right out of the gate. The NWS guys advertised a 70% chance of rain but clearing later on. I'm game for that so I was on the road by 8 AM under clouds and fog. Funny how fog sometimes gets thicker and darker until you really can't tell the difference between the mist and rain. Less than an hour out, I noticed it was a lot thicker and darker and very much like rain. In fact, it was definitely rain. The world on the other side of my shades disappeared.
Fortunately, it didn't last too long and dropping down the valley to the foot of the lake put me under the worst of it. Not the most auspicious way to begin.
I made a short stop downtown to get my hair buzzed at my sister-in-law's shop (nothing like getting something productive done while I'm at it), then off and running again. The ceiling lifted a little and the rain quit but still looking pretty dreary. I dispensed with the sunglasses on the way out of Tiny Town. The lake came into view and started drifting slowly by on my left as the long climb back out of the valley got underway. So far, so good.
The first misadventure caught me at about mile 30. I'd been grinding along up a steep little dip, gritting my teeth at that right shoulder of mine that always gets sore after a few hours on the bars. Why not pause for a stretch, a drink and a couple ibuprofens to take the edge off? Pick a spot and pull over...Uh...why didn't my left foot unclip? How about pick a spot and fall over? Why is my world rotating leftward and earthward? This can't be good. My right foot finally popped loose and in a desparate attempt to avoid eating tarmac, I jammed it between the front tire and downtube with big chainring teeth embedded in the calf. Now this is fun!
The good news is, the bike never hit the ground so it doesn't really count as a crash. The bad news is I was now equipped with a fresh row of greasy bite marks leaking red stuff down the back of my leg and into my shoe. And alcohol wipes burn like crazy. Well, my shoulder doesn't hurt as much but I needed that ibuprofen a little more than I did. Back in the wind after a bit of first aid and Gatorade. I just hope ProLink chain lube is a good antiseptic.
Still pushing a pretty stiff north wind, I eventually dropped down to lake-level at Aurora and met up with Chris, her niece and our younger son. They'd followed me out with the van so I could take a look at Jessica's new Diamondback and sort of fit it up for her. She'd bought it the day before and couldn't wait long enough for me to get home and put it on the trainer to have a look. So instead, they put it on the rack and brought the bike to me so she could ride it ASAP. The big-box where she got it didn't even bother to put air in the tires or raise the saddle once she paid the tab so nothing was right. She's a shiny-new rider and all this is pretty much from scratch for her but it seems like they could at least show her how a presta valve works before they kicked it out the door. It was kind of a quick-and-dirty, close-counts setup done in a parking lot but it was more than the store gave her and at least its rideable. I needed a break anyway and they restocked my bottle cages before we took off in opposite directions.
By now, the sun was peeking out and raising the temperature as promised and the humidity was creeping up along with it. The road along there is an endless series of little dips and dives which means you don't get much of a break anywhere for a lot of miles. It was a preview of things to come. The north end of the lake eventually appeared and I took a little breather at the lock where Cayuga connects to the Erie Canal. I've lived around here all my life and never seen this. Guess going a little slower isn't all bad.
But if I wanted to get home before Thursday, I had to keep rolling so it's back on the blacktop and around the turn at the top of the lake to head south. I'd been anticipating that the wind at my back would help a lot on the return leg but I didn't count on the hills. It turned out to be a long, gradual climb with only minor variations for what seemed like a week. The breeze coming from behind did give me a little boost but it also meant I didn't have much free air conditioning to keep me dry while I chewed my way back up to the top of the ridge.
Somewhere in there, a yellow jacket zoomed in, bounced off my helmet visor, lodged under the strap in front of my right ear and before I could grab him, buried his stinger in my cheek. He must have been a healthy one because it felt like somebody punched me. And alcohol wipes burn like crazy. My eye sort of puffed shut for a while and teared until I couldn't see past the forks. Somewhat less than ideal but eventually it cooled off and calmed down to where I had binocular vision again. I guess between the sweat and alcohol, the venom didn't have a chance. It took my mind off the sprocket holes, shoulder ache and saddle burn. More ibuprofen.
I eventually got up on the hilltop and in the nick of time, an ice cream stand appeared. I'd had about enough hot Gatorade for a while so a break in the shade and a cone fit the bill nicely. I managed to speak coherently enough to order and chat with the owner while I soaked up some of their conditioned air. Leg burn was becoming a significant issue but the cold vanilla and cool air took the edge off enough to clip in and push on.
From about mile 85 all the rest of the way down the lake, the short climbs and drops just ran together. This was the same stuff I was doing earlier in spades. It turned into an endless exercise in gear changing. The cables were stretching out and shifts were a little harsh but the lake kept moving slowly along on the left. The bonk was lurking just around the corner so rest stops got more frequent and cruising speed dropped quite a bit. My saddle had seemingly developed fangs and there wasn't really any spots left on the bars that didn't come with stiff shoulders and tingly fingers. At one lightheaded pause, I foolishly decided to swab some more grease, dirt and blood off the chainring gouges in my calf and just about passed out when I tried to stand up. Note to self...don't do that quite so fast when you're already loopy, stupid. And alcohol wipes REALLY burn. Finally, there was no more lake, just road and the last 20 mile leg to home was all that was left.
I know this part from riding it many times in the past and I know that it comes equipped with several climbs including one wretch called McMillan Hill. This thing's just steep enough to get your attention on a good day but normally isn't that big a deal. It's about 2% and only a couple miles long, just gear down a bit and grind it out. Having 112 miles already behind me when I hit it this time made it a very big deal. Granny low got used all the way to the top and I thought my legs were going to burst into open flames. The old bonk was drafting right off my back tire and gaining.
By mile 119 I was pretty well done in. Just about everything hurt at this stage of the game and the world was going by very slowly. About then an orange jersey appeared headed toward me and there was Chris, returning the favor of coming out to meet me and riding shotgun into the finish. I needed that extra boost of having a cheerleader and found enough in the old legs to make almost 20 mph for most of the last five miles. I don't know if I'd have made it in without my escort.
We hit the driveway ten hours after I left and that put away another record distance. It was a long day but worth the trip. I keep pushing, finding out what an old guy can do and surprising myself. True, a lot of my parts are pretty sore as I write this even after a stretch of sleep but this too shall pass. I outran the bonk-monster one more time despite a close race at the end and with any luck, will always stay just one pedal ahead.
Now where do I go from here? Two lakes? Who says you get smarter with age?