Monday, December 17, 2012

In The Wake of Another Sandy

The internet. A place of wonder and evil. The Wayward Home lives there but so does madness.

I wrote on my Facebook page after I'd seen more than enough of the latter for one day:

Pro or con. Every last one of you. Respect. Stop raving about guns and lunatic politics. Argue and hate in another hour. For just one brief, shining moment.   Stop it. 

Be silent.

Grieve for innocence and children. 

Grieve for us.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Down and Away

It actually looked pretty nice outside from my kitchen table this morning.  I had resolved yesterday to ride somewhere today as long as the weather held out so I watched as the frost slowly melted off the pool cover over the top of my coffee mug.  The sunshine peeking around the clouds bore promise of temperatures above freezing so there was hope.  I needed a ride.  It's been dark and cold inside and out lately and saddle time is good therapy.

Eventually, I decided the thermometer was about as high as it was going to get and started rummaging around in the closet for cold-weather riding stuff.  A few layers later, I moved to the garage for a bike.  The 2.1 roadie is long overdue for a chain and a tire so I elected to leave her home this time and exercise my faithful mountain bike a bit.  I often have a tendency to get too far from home on the street bike anyway.  I figured I'd hit some steep old dirt roads that I haven't seen in a while on one with some suspension instead of the stiff-legged, skinny-tired weapon.  Besides, as cold as it is, slow is good.

I wanted to get out in the woods proper but bow season is open and rattling around in the leaves and pushing the deer about tends to aggravate the guys frozen in tree stands.  They seem unhappy sometimes after sitting all day waiting for something with horns, not something with tires.  I find it's usually a good idea to just forget about single-track trails until after the last gasp of the season unless your heartfelt desire is to bug somebody who's holding a compound bow that could easily take your head off.  There's something about knowing how many eyes are watching every clearing and deer path that makes it a little unsettling out there right about now anyway.  It's not as bad as shotgun and rifle season when the hills sound like a firefight and your epitaph could read, "Well, I thought it was a deer..." but why tempt fate?  I actually like the bow hunters so I try not to ride around in their shooting lanes.  They tend to be quieter, more disciplined people who rarely take a less-than-sure shot and I appreciate that.  So today would be dirt roads and well traveled byways where nobody in camo paint will be irritated.  Westward we go.

The climb into the hills was nice.  Colder than I anticipated but steep enough to require a low gear which kept the body heat on simmer while I cranked up out of the valley.  I wish I could go on about Zen-like peacefulness or re-affirming my faith in humanity or some such when I'm riding but I'm just too damn old to be a hipster and my karma is pretty well used up.  I just like to go out and look at the countryside and stretch my legs.  It was chilly enough to hurt on the first pitch and I realized I should have grabbed that day-glow yellow windbreaker but it was now miles behind me in the closet so I just chugged along and wondered how cold it would be when I turned back for home.

I live in a valley so no matter where I go, it's mostly uphill at first.  This has advantages as you can usually run downhill to get home unless you venture a valley or two away; trust me, I know this.  I've bonked a time or two trying to clear that last hump when I've gone too far for my own good (see above).  But today I had a plan.  Climb out, fool around on the ridge top and then cruise back to the garage.  It actually worked for once.  I got down in creeper-low and made the climb.

You can see a lot from up top now that the leaves are off but the color has already drained out of everything.  It's mostly gray with a few patches of rusty, die-hard oak leaves and dark green pines.  The gaudy fall color party is over and the hills feel like they're pulling up the covers and settling in to sleep it off.  I sort of feel the same way.

The cold air lets you see all the way to wherever once you get up high but it's like looking at the world through those old midnight black Wayfarers I had years ago.  The horizon is shades of blue right out to the sky but everything else is flat.  By March, I'll be crazy for scenery that isn't gray and muddy but for now, it seems right.  There was even a little snow sticking under the hedges way up on the very tops of the hills where the wind was the worst and the sun couldn't reach.  I had my camera with me but for some reason, didn't feel like taking pictures.  Just rode.

Up and around a few times and then that last big drop for home.  Falling into the gullies on the way down put the sun behind the trees and the ground suddenly wasn't the only thing dropping.  The temperature went into a tailspin as fast as I was losing altitude.  Note to's now November you idiot.  Bring the windbreaker. I lost touch with my finger tips on the brake levers but I figured that as long as I could still see them and I wasn't completely out of control, they must still be working.  My toes complained because I was wearing my everyday, well ventilated shoes and my knees picked up the tune once I stopped cranking for a while.  Why do I do this to myself?  Repeatedly?  The valley floor was completely in shade and just a tad below freezing judging by the ice on the puddles so the road around the base of the hill was downright frigid.  Eventually it turned east and came out into what little sunshine there was and all my assorted parts defrosted enough to regain some feeling.

From there it was just a cruise in the cool.  Hopefully, the snow will hold off a while yet and I'll get a few more miles in before the salt crews wreck the roads for the duration.  I have a trainer to ride in the winter but it just ain't the same.  There's no hills and no view.  No cold and no heat.  Just miles and it's just not the same.  Not like today or so many other days.

Down and away for home, a warm kitchen, a burger and a beer.  Thanks...I needed that.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Song of the Day

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."
Aldous Huxley "Music at Night", 1931's like that sometimes.  Too many cloudy days.  Too many rainy nights.  Too much cold and damp.  A body needs sunshine and springtimes.  Fast approaching winter is never good, never easy.  Always hard.

I love this song but I wish I'd never heard it.  I listen to it often but wish I could forget it.  I hear it but I wish it meant nothing.  I hate it because it does.

Music is where your heart is.  And sometimes, just sometimes your heart hears music far better than your ears.

Yeah...sometimes it's like that.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sandy Baby

Here's me...waiting for Sandy (as in hurricane) to arrive and smack us around.  It's an unwelcome visit from one of the creatures more typically seen in Tim Joe's neck of the woods.  We have snow and floods according to season up here but Florida and the Gulf coast is supposed to be home to tropical storms, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes etc.; not upstate New York.  That's one reason I like it here most times...lack of exciting weather beyond summer T-storms and the occasional Alberta Clipper.  We did get an actual F1 tornado in the area last summer which was absolutely unacceptable.  But as long as they don't become too common, I can almost accept something that short-lived and short-tracked.  A full-blown (no pun intended) hurricane however is just over the top.

One of those southern phenomena (a miserable prick named Lee) passed through last year and I didn't work for a week.  30 miles of track went under water, whole chunks of hillside disappeared and I sat home while they dug the railroad out from under the downed trees, mudslides and debris and then filled in the washouts.  The damage was awesome and there's still areas that have not and probably will not ever recover.  Whole city blocks just disappeared under water before it was over.  I thought the '72 flood was something but this made that one look like a cow pissing on a flat rock.  It just plain sucked.

So now here we go again.  It's raining a little as I look out the back door but the real festivities aren't slated to get underway until Monday and Tuesday.  We're far enough inland that we probably won't get the really big wind but the rain is supposed to be intense and slow in passing.  Seems like we just got through that '500 year flood' or some other zillion year flood last year.  I'm not too concerned with high water or high wind right here but it could get interesting if the juice is off for days.  The trees are still leafy and heavy in places and the ground is wet to begin with.  I suspect the power lines are in for a butt-kicking from falling firewood.  If this keeps up, the news people are going to run out of colorful, dangerous sounding metaphors to run in the headlines.  Let's just say I'm a little weary of 'epic' weather these days.

And of course, the railroad won't commit to a shutdown until the water is over the ties and the trees are dropping like dominoes.  The commuter roads are closing up shop for the duration and Amtrak is calling it a day shortly but not us.  They hate to surrender too soon and I get that but this thing is almost 700 miles across already and she's courting a mid-west low for a little dance around the east coast that promises to set records from Norfolk to Nova Scotia.  It's hard for them to admit but sometimes even the railroad hasn't got the biggest brass ones around.

I've seen the results when you try to keep going.  I sat on a train almost 20 hours staring out the windshield at downed trees waiting for rescue once before and that was just from a thunderstorm.  I also backed a pair of  brand-new CN engines away from a moving washout while I watched the ballast disappear out of sight into the river about 10 yards in front of me.  I brought the last train into our terminal before a hill turned to mud behind me, dropped out from under the track and left rail and ties hanging like a big necklace over empty air.  Oh yeah, the weather can kick us around when it gets ugly.

Besides the destruction, I know what'll happen even if it's just the power out for too long on our friendly CP radio bases, signals go out, control points go into code fail, street crossing gates stay down...been there, done that too.  Sometimes, you just gotta cut your losses and go home until the crap lets up and then regroup.

So I'll be watching the computer until the power goes and I lose my router but for now, nobody knows for sure what's going to transpire and if they do, they're not saying.  Shhhh...It's a secret.

See you all after Sandy moves north to pester Canadians.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The 2012 Tour Part II

So now it's on to the ride.  I know at the very least, Tim Joe is itching to find out how the actual Century went so let us begin at the beginning.  The very early beginning.

After the calamity of Friday, I finally got to sleep sometime before midnight with my clock set to go off at 0300.  Now if that sounds ridiculously early, believe me, it was.  The plan was to head out with my (previously loaded) truck to the site, get unpacked, set up and ready to go without the mad rush of last year.  Nice thought anyway but as usual, it didn't quite work out that way.

Although the alarm went off as intended, it took a while to roust  my younger son and his buddy; (one of the neighborhood strays that hangs at my house and keeps my 'fridge running on empty) out of their racks and into semi-consciousness.  I told them I'd hit the door early...

Breakfast, riding kit, last minute checks and more coffee were done and at last, it was time to hit the road.  Just as we were about to start engines and taxi out, said stray announced calmly that he didn't have his signed parental waiver form, even after I had asked about oh...four or five hundred times the day before if he had all his stuff together.  He may never know how close he came to a near-death experience.  His answer to my unbelieving stare was that I could just sign one for him.  I was forced to explain that although I feed and house him on a regular basis, I am not a legal or biological substitute for one of his real parents and hence cannot sign any kind of document in that capacity.  He'd have to wake up his Dad and get it on the way.  The fidgets began in earnest.

Fortunately, the father's house was on the way so we made the stop for the missing paperwork with only a minor detour and then hauled off through the early morning fog for the Tour site.  It was just about getting light when we rolled in the parking lot to unload.  The plan went a little better for a while in that we got the pop-up tent put together, tables set up, assorted boxes of team stuff spread around and the truck parked before the rush of sign-ups began.  I got myself registered and tried to look 'captain-ish' while at least pretending I knew what I was doing.

People started showing up pretty early for the Century since that was the first group set to launch at 7:00 am. I ran around talking in twelve directions at once and probably making absolutely no sense to anyone.  Sort of like my normal day.  We made a valiant effort to get everyone together for a team photo and then most wheeled off to the starting line.  My sister was manning the team tent and had all under complete control so I had time to locate my helmet and shoes which had vanished in the rush.  By sheer dumb luck, my phone was in my jersey pocket as intended but true to tradition, I couldn't find my truck keys.

The sun was burning off the fog as the 100 milers got set for takeoff.  And at last, after all the months and hours, the Tour was off and running.  Things were looking up.  There's a whole bunch more photos on our Fb page over here.

On three of our Tour routes, the cool, flat streets of Watkins Glen quickly turn into a long climb out of town that puts the burn in less-than-warmed-up riders early in the game.  That first incline is great for some as it gives the young and better conditioned an opportunity to show off their big-ring abilities for those of us who are old and ride triples.  I just settle into a low gear and spin along while the ambitious jump off the saddle and mash the pedals up the hill.  The sight of many high-zoot exotic bikes disappearing into the distance is depressing or inspiring depending on how you look at it.  Depressing because I can't climb like that; inspiring because having done this before, I knew I'd catch some of those same hammerheads in about 60 or 70 miles when their legs gave out.

It stayed cool all the way up the hill so the climb seemed easy even if it was a little slow.  I took it easy and sort of floated back and forth in the pack just chatting with different folks as the first miles fell behind and the sun got higher and warmer in the east.  My cell phone stayed quiet so I assumed everything was falling together somewhat as it should and began to hope we'd make it through the day without major crisis.  Memories of last year when Penn Yan closed the main road through town just as the Century riders arrived were in the back of my mind but so far, so good.  An ever-more insistent burning sensation reminded me that I'd neglected chamois butter.  I hate it when that happens.

Rest stops came and went until suddenly, I was halfway around.  I'd eaten enough peanut butter sandwiches and Stinger Waffles so I actually felt pretty strong for running with a couple of teammates that were averaging about 17 mph for the last 15 miles.

I'm too old for that kind of pace however and I knew I couldn't keep it up and have a hope of making it back so I switched off to another set of riding companions and just cruised along into another rest tent on the east shore of the lake.  I'm pretty fond of this spot because it's in the middle of Samson State Park which used to be a Navy base back in the 40's but now it's miles of old roads weaving around the campgrounds and boat launch.  How a major naval installation came to be so far from the ocean makes a lot of people wonder but I guess water is water.  I guess there probably wasn't any U-boats in Seneca Lake to worry about either.  I always try to picture how it must have looked when it was all groomed and busy back then so it appeals to my history-nut side.  I'm easily amused.

The legs were starting to feel it but apparently something was going right because "The Man with the Hammer" was still quite a ways behind me and it was looking like I might make it all the way around without him surprising me somewhere.  I did however know the guy who built the route so I knew what was coming...a couple more good climbs and a steady uphill run until the road reaches the top of the ridge.  I nearly bonked along this section when I first rode the loop to check it out so I'm leery of over-achieving.

Leaving the stop at the park, you ride a couple of miles along a bike path in the woods.  It's a little rough but it gives you a break from watching over your shoulder for vehicles so it's a relaxing jaunt through the trees.  I was almost to the gate that lets you back out on the road when I spotted a familiar giant strolling up the trail.  Here was my original riding partner, the legendary Doc Annabel; now afoot and nursing a banged-up elbow but Doc nonetheless.  He drove up from VA to ride regardless of the fact that he couldn't make a Century this time and I had yet to see him until he came striding along.  Some things never change and running into the madman was like we'd been out riding last week instead of last year.  My companions left me there shooting the breeze with Doc and by the time I saddled back up for the climb away from the lake, I felt like I could go all the way around again.  Good friends will do that for you.

So now I was riding alone and so my attack on the ascent was at my typical little-ring rate; which may not look as cool as standing up, stomping the pedals and snorting like a bull at full charge but saves my weary legs to fight on for the last 30 miles or so.  The wind was quartering off my stern which gave a nice break anytime the road leveled out a bit and the anticipated false-flats fell behind until the last stiff climb appeared in my sights.  It's really not a big deal unless you've been up since 3 am and have 75 miles under you already but it looks evil and nearly did in the Good Doctor last year.  I got down in the old-guy rings again and chewed my way up the grade.  I know that the top of this one is pretty much the top of a ski slope on the run for home.  There's a couple of little rollers but the trend is downhill and downwind from here with one last rest-stop to refuel and load the water bottles one more time.

It happens that that last stop is at a winery that also happens to make my favorite wine so a pause there is always a temptation.  Prudence won out again though since I know what would happen with one sip of a wine tasting at this stage of the game.  Complete and utter collapse would ensue if I ever put wine on top of about 15 PBJs, 6 tubes of Shot-bloks, a pocket full of Stinger waffles and 90-something miles.  Oh yeah, it'd be ugly.
Besides, who wants a bad-smelling, sunburned, windblown, pony-tailed F.O.G. (Fat Old Guy) with funny shoes tottering up to the tasting table?  I deemed it best to pour down some plain old water at the tent and get out of there before my self-control went on ahead without me.  I hooked up with another teammate and settled into the drops for the run to the finish.

The last blast is always a ball.  It's downhill with one pitch at the end that you can make almost 50 on if you tuck in and let gravity have it's way.  Then it's busy streets and traffic again for the home stretch.  A confused looking guy nearly did me in on the last left turn when he couldn't make up his mind whether to stop in the crosswalk ahead of me or bolt for the far side.  We danced a little dance that could have ended badly but between my fizzled-out reflexes and his desire to avoid skinny tire marks across his grubby T-shirt, we avoided each other somehow.  With no further adventures, we rolled under the balloons to a couple of cowbells and that was another one done.  The massage people were loading up their tables.  Someday, I'm going to get one of those...a massage, not a table.  You know what I meant.

I wobbled over to our team tent and started checking to see who was yet to come in.  There was a group of 65 milers and a couple of Century riders still out so I pestered the HAM radio guys to check on their progress, trying to decide who we'd ride back out to meet.  In short order though, the last 65s cruised in and that left only the 100s.

True to form, a bunch of us put stiff legs back over bikes and got back on those ass-hatchet saddles one more time to go bring 'em home.  We met our tail-enders just coming into town and swung the pack around to give them an escort.  Also as usual, we managed to block traffic and take up the whole road for the last mile, whooping it up and jostling Charlie to the front to lead us across the line.  He'd just made his first-ever Century despite being our oldest teammate and he deserved the honor.  We cheered like kids.

And so it was over once again.  We had the best weather you could ask for, the best people to ride with and one of the greatest events around.  I was worn out but I think I managed to be semi-coherent while we packed up the truck (I even found my keys) and headed home.  A bunch of us lolled around on the deck and told stories over burgers till it got dark and nobody could keep their eyes open.  I couldn't even unstrap the bikes off the truck.

Now that I'm posting this (a month later), I'm already planning on next year and another team.  We'll do it again, bigger and better.  But for now, the leaves are turning and it's pretty cool at night.  The Tour is both in the past and in the future and I'm just grateful for everyone who rode and helped.  They're quite a bunch of people I've found in this little adventure.  Yeah, it's worth it...and more than anything, so are they.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The 2012 Tour Part I

This one is going to be a little tough.  It's already taken two or three days so just come along for the ride.  Well see where it goes...This may take a while, hence the Part I.

After months and months of planning sessions, phone calls, meetings, emails and anguish, this year's Tour de Cure is in the books for my team and I.  It's been a long haul, especially at the end as you'll see, but a good ride nonetheless.  We ended up with the biggest team we've ever had, made more money than ever for the American Diabetes Association and all in all, just done good.  Where do I even start to describe it?

Well, here's a link to the map anyway...that might be a good place to begin.  We'll just wander along from there.

In case anyone noticed, I've pretty much dropped off the blog world for the last month and a half because for a while, I quite honestly couldn't keep up with it all.  Beyond my wildest expectations, the team just kept growing and growing.  People came from the most unlikely places to sign up and be part of this thing.  People from far-away states and right next door.  I'm still dazzled.  Fifty seven in all finally ended up on the roster including a couple who signed up at the last minute, rode and left without me ever even meeting them which is great in one way, less so in another.

I very much miss being there to see everyone at our team tent before they ride out but since I do the Century, I leave early and get back late.  Many of the team come and go while I'm lost in the Amish country somewhere.  I've debated even not riding at all so I could be at the starting line when each loop blasts off but that 100 miles is sort of my one reward to myself.  To actually see it work and make it all the way around puts the icing on the cake that we've been baking all year.  My first-ever Century was on a Tour de Cure and it's become kind of a tradition with me.  Simple things...

I do really wish I could put all of the team in a single room for a few hours though so we could all get to know each other.  That's one thing about the big team that I have a hard time with...I don't get to meet everyone.  If this keeps up, we'll need a convention.  Something else in my to-do basket someday.  Not that I'm complaining!

But on to the ride itself.  It actually begins right after last August but the run-up kicks into high gear about Wednesday before the event.  I burned up all my remaining vacation days and a couple of personals to paint red arrows on roads all over upstate NY, grocery shop for the team cookout and try to get my truck loaded on Friday night.  Success on the paint, fail on the truck but things were moving along fairly well until my cell rang about mid-afternoon on Friday.  Suddenly, all was not so right with the world.

Some of our troops went out that morning volunteering for the Tour by putting up direction signs along the routes.  It's another sort of informal tradition that the NS team comes out of the woodwork to help set up the ride so five of them; Angie, Charlie, Seana, Chris and John were roaming in a couple of cars signing the 65 and 100 mile loops.  While they were still in a caravan together, out of nowhere John suddenly collapsed in the seat.  Chris started CPR and kept him going until the paramedics arrived but Angie called me from the hospital to break the news that despite all efforts, one of our own had passed away in the emergency room.  I just fell into a chair in shock.  Of all the things we do to get ready, nothing got us ready for this.

I'd only met John a week ago.  He and his wife Lori came to my place for our last pre-Tour team ride on Sunday.  A big, tower of a man laughing as he tried to wiggle into a team jersey and she promising to come pick him up afterwards like he was a kid at soccer practice.  He rode in the lead third of the group all day and ate 45 miles for lunch.  I liked him already.

But then he was gone and I didn't know what to do.  There just wasn't enough time to process it.  I didn't even dare let the team know lest some stray email find it's way to someone in John's family who hadn't heard yet.  It was awful...and yet out of it came inspiration.

After all that, the signing crew went back out and finished.  They did first-aid, figured out a 911 call to get the ambulance to a place they didn't know,  rode with John to the ER and stayed with him, waited for Lori and the family to arrive, did all they could to help her, pulled it all together and then after all of it, went back out and finished.  The routes got marked and Saturday was a success because of them and again, I didn't know what to say.

How do you tell people how much what they've done means?  They could have packed up and headed home and no one could say they weren't justified after what had happened.  But they didn't.  They grabbed some lunch to recharge and worked the rest of the afternoon and into the evening.  They said John would have wanted them to.  I wish everyone who rode out Saturday morning knew what went into those simple road signs stuck in the grass along the way.

What do you say to people who just do what needs to be done in spite of it all?  They'd be mad if I called them heroes but in truth, they fit the definition.  So it's not a battlefield or a natural disaster that will be remembered for years?  Does it have to be big to be good?  Maybe it was a small thing in the grand scheme of the world.  Maybe it wasn't even a blip in the local news.  But people do wonderful things in ways that never make CNN and it still matters.  In our little corner of the world, it matters very much.

In my book anyway, they deserve the title of heroes but I know they'll yell like they just hit their thumb with a hammer if I ever call them that.  So how about I call them my friends?  I think that might just work.

And how about I call John and Lori my friends too?  For inspiring us and spending a little time with us, the team and I will always be grateful.  That's what friend do.  Something good will come of this.  I don't know much, but I do know that.

We lost a teammate last Friday but I think a little of the soul in what we do came back.  That's the inspiration John gave us.  We started doing this thing for people.  Not donations, not numbers, not ADA or NS, but for people.  John didn't have diabetes but he was out doing for other people anyway.  At the end of the day, that's really all that matters.  Real heroes know that.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Wherefore Art Thou Wayward?

I've been around.  And around. And around.  It's summer (finally) and the laptop on my kitchen table hasn't seen a post in quite some time due to the weather...good weather.  Hot like I waited for all winter.  I live for days like this but it's not too conducive to blogging.

So where have I been?  Well, here on one day...loafing along in the sunshine.

Here on another the top of a 2 mile climb that topped out at 12%.  My legs were on fire but the view was worth it.

And a spot where old was parked next to new.

Then I found this...

Around and around...being chased by the storm moving in from the west.

And so it goes.  I'm trying to ride whenever I can but my mileage is way down and after my misadventure with the dreaded BONK, I'm trying to go a little easier.  It took a while but I think I finally got the memo about running headfirst into the Man with the Hammer when your desire exceeds your ability.

You have to realize that I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer and sometimes it takes a real pounding to get something through my thick skull.  This I proved by my failure to learn a lesson from my first total collapse while trying to do long miles without enough prep.  I didn't heed the warning, overdid it again a couple of weeks later and wound up in the hurling position by the roadside for bonk version 2.0.  It wasn't any more fun the second time so I decided I'd better cool it and build my endurance back up a tad before I hurt myself again.  The plan seems to be working as I've now got a couple of rides under the Trek that didn't involve rescue calls to the home front or digestive reverses.  After two unhappy events though, I don't think I'll be able to use Gatorade or Clif bars ever again no matter what.

In between my infrequent rides, I'm still struggling to keep ahead of my team for the Tour de Cure.  I'll have to do a post on that one all by itself pretty soon.  Let's just say that for now, it's become almost a full time job all on its own.  There's 52 people on it so far and I'm in awe every time I open up the web page and find someone new on the roster.  I never would have believed it...

Oh yeah...then there's work.  Gainful employment still has a place in my schedule.  I can't seem to figure out how I can survive without it.  Especially since my dollar-and-a-dream from Mega Millions keeps coming up empty.  If only I could get paid for all the extra-curricular stuff, I wouldn't have to run trains for a living but I can't get anybody to go along with that particular plan for some reason.  There's gotta be a way but the nuts and bolts of it so far escape me.  I guess I have to answer the phone and take another train.

Speaking of running trains; I just got back from my usual round trip this morning sometime before dawn.  We had a pretty good start but ran flat out of daylight somewhere in Pennsylvania and then rolled along under the full moon after the sun went down.  Usually when it gets dark down on the south end of the Sunbury Sub, there's nothing much to see beyond the headlights except crossing gates and dim window lights in the occasional little towns.  Places with tongue-twister names; Moconaqua, Catawissa, Nescopeck and Wapwallopen that are just a couple of whistle pulls and a blur to me.

In some spots down there, the trees grow right up to the windows and you risk losing fingers if you hang your hand out too far.  Then for miles along the way, you're riding between rock cuts on one side and river bank on the other and all you can see is stone and leaves beside you and rail and ties going under the nose.  You know the Susquehanna is right there but you hardly ever get a look at it.  Sometimes it's just a green tunnel with bats and owls zooming along in the glare.  On certain summer nights, it's a lot less when the fog rolls in off the water.  Then everything is grey or dazzling white in the headlights and it feels like your eyes are being dragged out of their sockets after the first half hour.  The lower end is all flat until you get to Wilkes-Barre so all you do is watch the speedo and flick the throttle up one and down one for about fifty miles.  It's a struggle sometimes.

Last night though, the moon gave us a view that we rarely see.  There was enough light getting down in the valleys to throw shadows and all those small towns looked like old black and white photos.  I glanced in the mirror on my right when we got out in the open as is my habit and could see the outline of the train following along in the curves almost like daytime.  At first I thought I saw a wheel sparking in the dark back there but then realized all I was seeing was a million fireflies that couldn't compete with the headlights out front swirling around in the wind behind as we passed.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky and only a few stars were holding their own against the moon.  It looked like a movie.

There didn't seem to be much to talk about after we got settled in and rolling and the usual cross-cab chatter kind of died out without notice.  Some guys go crazy if they aren't gabbing all the way but I'm content sometimes to go for miles on end without saying a word.  Even my conductor, who I usually call Wild-Man, fell quiet and just toyed with paperwork on his desk with the light down low.  The quiet from his side isn't uncomfortable as it is with some.  There's a few who don't say anything because they seem to hate what they do and can't talk at all without bitching about the railroad.  Some simply don't have much in common with the old guy and some are just unaccountably hostile.  I avoid such men as often as possible as the long, tense silences make for very unpleasant trips and I've been doing this too long to be mad about it all the time.

The Wild-Man however, often goes for an hour or two without much more vocalization than a couple of off-key verses from some old song that popped into his head and found a way to escape through his vocal chords.  I've accused him of nodding off but I know better; when the DS calls and wants a head-end location or a complete-by, he can usually peel it off before me, take a new track warrant and then disappear into the dark on his side without missing a beat.

Then after a while and out of nowhere, we'll start back in on a conversation like we just left off five minutes ago instead of an hour and a half.  The quiet is easy with him and his kind because they're capable of thinking without talking.  Besides, sometimes being quiet for fifteen minutes says as much as three hours of mindless chatter.  So I was happy to say no more than we had to and let the evening roll along with the moon for company.  Even the radio held its piece and didn't offer to intrude until we were almost to Scranton.  For a little while anyway, it was enough to watch the land go by in the dim light and not think of much except our small world inside the windshield.  Sometimes, that's enough.

There are reasons I work the road after all these years and last night was one of them.  It was just another train; number 98 for the year but somehow, in some small way, it made up for a lot of the tough ones.  It was just another good trip under the moon.  I said earlier that I live for summer days but there's a lot to be said for these summer nights too.

And since its now night again, that's it for Wayward for this one.  Tomorrow is the 4th of July holiday but I'm not planning anything too outrageous.  I might get in a ride or maybe not...I'll let tomorrow figure that out.  Right now, I've run out of steam.  I only slept a few hours this morning and the crash when I hit the pillow is going to be epic.

A ride sounds good for tomorrow.  Slow and easy for a while is the name of the game for now...looking for that century still but maybe not quite so soon as I planned.  I'll get there eventually and I'll keep you posted.

Friday, May 25, 2012


So let's see here...the Canadian Pacific is on strike so there's no trains for me to run (they're the ones who bring it to me from Montreal)...I'm using vacation days so I don't have to bump someone just yet...sounds like a riding opportunity.  Here we go again...

I intended to saddle up real early and get going.  I even prepped the bike the night before and sorta packed up my bar-bag so I could leave with time enough to get in a hundred.  I've been eyeballing a Century for weeks and it seemed as though I might have a window.  So much for good intentions, I didn't hit the road until about 10 am but still, figured I didn't have to worry about a midnight phone call so I'll just keep going till dark or 100, whichever comes first.

All's well for the first 30 miles or so.  It's warm and muggy but the worn-out cogs on the back aren't skipping and the shifts are only hanging a little between 9 and 10.  I'll take that until I can scrape up enough loot to finally get a new cassette.  I guess with five grand on them, the old ones really don't owe me much anymore but they'll have to soldier on a while longer anyway.

I took a little detour to my old buddy Donnie's place to check in on my ex-conductor and catch up on the news.  I always enjoy spending time with Cardie and Sandy and this time was no different.  He's retired now but it's still a lot like the old days on the "Lakeshore Express" when we worked together.  He can always make me laugh.  We sat around the kitchen shooting the breeze over a bottle of water and everything was fine in the world for a minute.  He was set to go mow grass somewhere though and I needed to head out too so off we went our separate ways.  I backtracked out of his driveway and slid down into the drops to buck the wind picking up from the south.

As usual, I don't really know where I'm headed in anything but the vaguest way.  My ultimate goal for the trip was to make Watkins Glen and do some scouting for the Tour but how I got there was subject to modification as the day progressed.  This always leads to interesting travels and normally I get to see some great country that I've never seen before travelling that way.  Usually.  My first mistake this time was to ignore my own advice and cross the border into Pennsylvania.  PA as you may have heard, is in the midst of a gas-drilling boom and there's places where it's like the wild, wild west during the gold rush.  Such was the road I picked.

I've been on it in a vehicle before and it intrigued me because of it's smooth surface and long climb with an equally long zoom back down to reward the determined.  That part is good but the bad news soon became apparent as I started up the hogback...there is a complete lack of shoulder and the drillers are out in full force.  It turned into a nightmare of close-calls and dives for driveways to get out of the way of dump truck after dump truck grinding up the hill in the same creeper-low as me only filling the whole lane to do it.  The parade ran in both directions so over the crest of every pitch, I had to try to ride on a two inch slice of blacktop between screaming, loaded triple-axles and a ditch lined with gooney-rocks to let the trucks meet without colliding.  Most places, the road dropped off a minimum of 6 inches into loose dirt and fist-sized stones so to slide off the edge was to go down instantly with no hope of recovery.  I got pushed off once but lucked out that I was near enough to a driveway to hang on and unclip before disaster.  Why do I do this to myself?

Eventually, the hill broke over into the downgrade and I at least had the fun of out-running the last big rig as he geared down for the descent and I geared up, put my chin on the stem and left him Jake-Braking his way through the curves.  Somewhere near the bottom, it started raining.  I'm sorry if I offend anyone but to put it bluntly, Pennsylvania just plain sucks for bikers.

Onward to the northwest.  The wind turned around to port astern and I got a little boost in the sails but the rain got heavier and I began to think this whole thing was getting just a little out of hand.  Think good thoughts.
After a few more wet miles, the showers rattled off to the north and left the road black and steamy.  The sun came back out and the humidity zoomed.  By now, it's about 50 miles into this and I'm thinking hard about that next 50 to make that one-zero-zero.  I realized about then too that unlike my normal self...I'm not thirsty, haven't been thirsty and I'm kinda feeling...well...not so pretty good.  I decided to put in for a few minutes on the stoop of a little country church to wring out my gloves, make sure I drank some liquid and get down a Clif to refuel.  It was probably too late by then already.

The road away from the church is pretty familiar territory so I knew it was mostly flat and with the wind now firmly behind me, I expected an easy leg to the next turn.  So why am I in the small ring on my triple going up these little rollers wonders me to myself?  Why does my neck hurt like it's on fire when I usually do this stuff all day and don't even feel it?  And why do I suddenly have an overwhelming desire to get off this thing and just lay down?  What the hell is this now?  Whatever it is, it can't be good.  Surrendering for the moment, I pulled into a little park and stretched out on a picnic table bench.  Maybe I just need a rest stop.  Uh-huh.

I think I actually fell asleep for a bit which should say something to a normal person about their condition but did I listen?  Nope.  I've still got that magic Century in mind so I figure I'll just keep going and things'll get better.  They always do right?  I've been giddy and nauseous on the Trek before.  It just goes with the territory sometimes, especially when it's hot and sticky.  I always make it even when the going gets tough.  About then I noticed my hands had started shaking.

I finally came to the conclusion about 10 miles later that enough was probably enough and I'd better start thinking about sending up a flare for rescue.  I was still at least 25 miles from home and no matter which way I went, there was climbing to do.  Every vehicle that passed stank of exhaust or cigarette smoke, the air felt like it was a solid mass of pollen and every single smell, good or bad made me sicker.  Some idiot on a crotch-rocket went by with open headers shrieking and I wished he'd die right in front of me.  My hands kept trying to vibrate off the hoods.

It really didn't look good for the home team so I swallowed my pride and called Chris to come haul me in.  I seriously doubt I could have gotten home anyway, even if I tried.  I was going slower and slower on flat ground and wondered vaguely if somebody would have me posted on YouTube or FailBlog for falling off the bike and throwing up on the sidewalk.  I was pretty close to my LBS so I told Chris to meet me there and staggered along the last couple of miles, pausing one more time on a park bench to scrounge up enough energy to get over the river bridge and down the street to the shop.  Things are a little fuzzy, likely from dehydration but I wallowed my way into Kingsbury's front door walking my bike and announced that I'd come there for the sole purpose of collapse.  I made it as far as the chair at the end of the counter and somehow got my helmet, gloves and sunglasses off.  The guys had the decency to laugh at me, which helped immensely.

Paul offered a couple of shot-blocks to try to get some electrolyte back in me but by now, things internally were in outright revolt.  The room kept trying to spin and the damn lights were too bright.  I managed to get down a couple sips of water before there was an absolutely, irresistible imperative to make one last desperate sprint...for the rest room.  I found out why I was dehydrated...I hadn't absorbed anything.  I got Clif bar and Gatorade out my nose and wondered if I'd ever get out of that bathroom alive.  I thought my cleats were coming up.  This my friends, is the spades.

I've only done this once before and like the first time, there's absolutely, positively nothing to recommend it.  I managed to douse myself with enough cool water to keep my knees from buckling and staggered back out into the showroom to await rescue.   I probably scared off the customers.  I'm pretty sure I was delirious and I'll have to apologize to the shop guys when I get my wits collected.  I only hope it was good for a chuckle.

In due time, my chariot arrived and I loaded up the bike before dropping into the seat like a bag of cement.  Just moving was horrible and I was fighting not to be car-sick on top of everything else.  I actually made it most of the way home before losing that little battle.  Chris managed to panic-stop in time and rolled her eyes at her idiot husband as he fell back in the van even more dehydrated than before.  How much fun can one guy have in a single day?

The driveway was salvation and I sort of remember stripping off my kit and falling on the bedspread gasping like a fresh-caught salmon.  At some point later on, I got through the shower and passed out for well and all with the A/C blasting.  The world finally stopped spinning and the flashing lights went out behind my eyelids but I didn't get my hands to stop shaking until this morning.

So once again, riding the Trek was an adventure.  I guess I never saw this one coming but it's all part of the game and I'll know better next time.  Or not...

But it'll make a great story and Paul will laugh at me over it for weeks.  Chalk up another one for the old guy.  I'll make that first 100 of the year sometime...I'm just not sure if I'll ever be able to eat that flavor of Clif Bar again.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bikes in the Garage

I admit it.  Things have been a little dark around the Home these last couple of weeks.  There's times old Chance throws the dice and they don't come down in your favor.  Sometimes more, sometimes less but I've been on a real crummy roll lately.  That's the way of things and I know sooner or later, I'll have new cogs on the Trek, the rain will quit, the lawn will miraculously mow itself (well...maybe not), I'll finally get a Century this spring and all will be well once again.  It may not be today but it will.

In the meantime, here's a tale or two to cheer you and me both I hope.  Stories of bikes long trashed and kids long grown.  I spend a lot of time with bicycles these days and it all had to start somewhere.  Well...

Sometime that seems like about a century ago, I got on a bike by myself for the first time.  There's some really dim recollections of being pushed around the yard until I got the balance but actually being on one is the first bike-related thing I remember clearly.  I think it might have been my sister's blue step-through but I can't be sure.  It's likely it was though because since it didn't have a top tube, my sawed off legs could reach the pedals.

This was the same bike on which I'd skinned my left foot with the chain-stay and rear wheel.  Sis and I were headed up the road with me on the fender as we had a zillion times before.  I might have been five and unlike more recent times, riding the fender was a long accepted way to get around when you didn't want to hoof it.  The pinging of my sneaker toe on the spokes was fascinating until one reached out, grabbed my Red Ball Jet and sucked it right in the wheel all the way to my ankle.  The sock and skin peeled off until it jammed the wheel solid and we slid to a crash by the road.  Screaming ensued and after big sister managed to pry my leg out of the frame, my long-suffering mother hauled me off to the dreaded pediatrician for mending.

I should mention that this wasn't an easy task for her.  I'd long before noticed that the doctor's office was situated in a low, cold looking building directly in front of a cemetery.  At some point during an annual visit, I'd convinced myself that this was where he buried his mistakes.  Every checkup and booster shot was traumatic.  Not only because of the locale but because the old guy wasn't really of the best disposition to be a children's physician.  I could be wrong but I remember him as really, really old, lacking in patience, unfriendly and about as far from Mr. Green Jeans as you could get.  His hypos all looked like they were four feet long and he kept them in plain sight like he was getting ready for the inquisition.  He probably was a wonderful doctor but when you're five, he might as well have been something I'd seen on 'Monster Movie Matinee' last Saturday.  He's probably laughing somewhere right now but back then, he terrified me.

This was the man who would patch my skinless ankle.  I wondered if he'd just take it off at the shin to make it easier.  I remember that he shook his head when he saw the damage and brought in reinforcement nurses to control the flailing youngster on his table.  I saw tweezers and gauze but not much else.  After an interval of shrieking, I emerged intact...limping pathetically but whole.  After the performance in the office, my Mom said I wasn't going to ride a bike again until I was 20.  Little did she know.  In short order, the bandages gave way to a scar I still have and as it would so many times, the road called again.

We always had a collection of used and used-up bikes in the garage back then.  Cast-offs from my older sibs who had pretty much beaten them to within an inch of their mechanical lives.  Flat tires and very un-true wheels were the norm.  Brakes were coasters if they worked at all.  I vaguely remember a red one with a fake gas tank on it.  Somehow, we figured out how to get a wheel off with a 12 inch crescent wrench and fix perforated tubes with the dollar patch kits from the store down the road.  The wheels just had to wobble though because the thought of truing them up never occurred to any of us.  Over time, assorted bikes came and went.  Some got parted out, some got fixed, all got destroyed.  We tinkered endlessly in that old, cold garage among the lawn mowers and stray hubcaps.  Nothing was ever put together the way it was supposed to be but we rode our creations to oblivion because it was all we had.

We built, rebuilt and then built again.  I know I put a banana seat and ape hanger handlebars from a Spyder bike on a 26" steel dinosaur and thought I'd reached Nirvana.  A four foot sissy-bar and some black house paint made that baby one mean looking ride to a 6th grader.

Then there was another little green 20" Stingray with 5 speeds and chrome fenders.  I scrounged up two hunks of electrical conduit, sawed them to length, beat the ends flat with a hammer, pounded them over the forks of that 'ray and had myself a chopper.  It was as long as my Dad's Country Squire but man was it cool.  I rode that thing until it disintegrated.  As long as you didn't lean back too much, you could almost actually steer it.  Shift your weight a little too far astern and the front wheel would just lift off the road all by itself and you were suddenly piloting a funny looking unicycle.  Treacherous just doesn't describe it.  I think I was riding that one when I over-achieved going downhill, failed to make a turn at the bottom and slid across a gravel-studded intersection on my shirtless chest after the bike and I parted company.   That little mishap removed most of my ventral hide and both nipples.  My kid brother who was with me never even tried the turn and battering-rammed across a ditch and through a barbed-wire fence before knocking himself cold in a cow pasture.  Our long-suffering mother picked the stones out of my lacerated torso, patched up my brother, doused me with peroxide and cut up an old bed sheet to make a bandage big enough for my whole front.  You'd think I'd learn...

We kept putting the stray pieces together long after they should have been scrap and had a ball with it.  The garage was always full of tinkering kids and broken parts.  We fixed and fiddled, found out about stripped threads and rounded-off clamp nuts and tried every day to make something out of not much.  Somewhere along the line, we learned that if you loosened the nuts on the front axle of a certain bike; the one belonging to the big kid down the road who loved to  terrorize us, vengeance for all his transgressions was ours to be had.  He was bigger than we were but still an easy mark.  A couple of dare-ya's was all it took to con him into doing a wheelie to impress the little kids.  Running for our lives was worth the fun of watching his front wheel come off in mid-air and seeing the look on his face as his forks stabbed into the blacktop and launched him over the bars.  The best part was that he fell for it twice.  He was almost too easy though...I was able to talk him into letting me shoot him in the butt-cheek with a BB pistol once because I told him it wasn't a pump-up gun and so couldn't really hurt a tough-guy like him that much.  I lied.

As we got older, the bikes got more and more worn and weary.  We discovered that jumping over ramps in the lawn at high speeds was not conducive to long bike-life.  Nor was bailing off and allowing the bikes to ram each other head-on.  Entertaining but not very good for the equipment.  The wrecks got harder and harder to reconstruct but the pack of kids roaming the neighborhood usually managed to wire enough together to get to the next ball game or swimming expedition.  I don't ever remember anyone having an actual new bike but maybe they did.  It never mattered much anyway.

Eventually, along came motorcycles and with them, another saga of injury, expense, property damage and great times.  I put what remained of the bicycles up on the garage wall and forgot about them.  There's a world of stories from the motorcycle years but those will have to wait for another day.  Let's just say that my big brother inspired me to burn fossil fuel and from there on out, leg bikes were a thing of the least until the present.

Times have come back around and now my big Harley sits quite often while the pedal bike hits the road.  I wonder if they argue about who's going out next when I'm not listening.

At least now I don't have to put parts together out of bushel baskets to ride a bike but sometimes I'll still get a flash from that old garage on the corner.  I smile when I remember the kid next door getting clothes-lined on the dog-run cable in my back yard.  It wasn't then but it's funny now thinking about pedaling like an egg-beater to get home before a summer thunder shower.  I know how excited I was when Mom first let me ride out of her sight up the back road and over the hill.  I still get that same feeling of 'something new' when I venture further from home than I ever have and wonder how I'll make it back.  I've been here before.

So I'm waiting for the clouds to lift and the rain to stop so I can go out and do it all again.  I think I'll pass on the crashes and battle-scars though.  I'm a little older and the abrasions take longer to knit these days.  I might take another shot at that turn at the bottom of the hill though...I won't let it get me again.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

In Memory of Bobby

I've been a little off lately.  So what else is new when the weather stinks and a 'breezy' day has winds of 25 mph?  I can't ride off my frustrations easily in the 40 degree, sleety nasty conditions of the last couple of weeks.  It gives me too much time in front of my laptop when I'm home.  Not that that's all bad.  I get a lot of work done on the Tour and my team (which incidentally, I should be doing now...but am not).  So it goes...

In regards to the aforesaid frustrations...Sometimes, you get a kick in the teeth that just takes the wind out of your sails and makes everything look just a little bit less sunny.  Such was my return from a trip a week or so ago.  I'm really having kind of a hard time getting around the news of my old friend Bobby.

Bobby was my conductor last fall on a work-train that I held until they chopped it off for the winter and sent me back on the road.  We had an absolute ball on that train.  He was counting the days until he could retire after 40-plus years in this line of work and nothing seemed to make him stop laughing about the good times he had lined up at his new digs in Florida.

Every day for those few weeks with Bob started with his 'Country Breakfast' (coffee and a cigarette) as the sun came up over the ball park in the east.  Then he'd tell me the news on the sale of his house in Pennsylvania, then tales of moving truckloads of stuff down I95 and the ongoing work on the new place outside Daytona.  He was as giddy as a puppy and even though I knew I'd rarely see him after the move, I was glad to see someone getting out of the grind with all the ducks in a row.  He said the days were dragging but the end of the line was in his cross-hairs and I was happy for him.

We had an old NW bay-window caboose (or 'shoving platform' as they now call them) on that job  that we kind of adopted.  The 'boose was a concession to the fact that we had to go backwards for long distances with the rail train we were hooked to and riding the side of a flat car for miles in the rain was something Bobby flat-out refused to consider.  We used our down-time to sweep the old wreck out, bagging up years of accumulated trash, wiping the dust off the seats and plugging up the worst holes with duct tape.  I called it  Bobby's pimped-out caboose after we got is semi-presentable.

Nothing in it worked of course; the coal stove was long gone and the old box radio was gutted to it's electronic innards on the wall.  The bank of batteries was still in the floor but they hadn't had acid in them in years and the generator was probably seized anyway.  Regardless, it became something of a prize.  Bob said it was pretty cool that he began his career on a caboose and was now going to end it on one.  Even this long after cabooses were abolished from everyday service.

I even learned to handle a train with a cabin on it.  It's a little different running when you have to think about smacking someone around who's riding on the other end.  You can slap them about pretty hard if you're not paying attention.  The stories from the old-heads of getting tossed against the wall or having their lunch fly out the window were strong in my head.   That was one of the reasons cabooses disappeared...too many injuries from ham-handed engineers running the slack in and out.  The later versions had 5-point harnesses on the seats like a fighter plane.  Wiggling the tail on 100 cars must have been like getting hit by a truck.  But I figured it out and if I did hit him with the slack, Bobby never mentioned it.  He kept the rail-train crew chuckling all day long while holding court from his rolling office like he owned the whole railroad.  In some ways, it seemed like he did.

I met him soon after I hired out way back when and once he found out I had a Harley, we were friends.  He was our union rep. for all those years and managed to save my skin a time or two when I rubbed the carrier the wrong way as well.  Sometimes I wouldn't even see him for weeks but then he'd call and want to know everything.

Then he surprised me by jumping on a long-pool job with me.  We spent months after that riding up and down the track between New York and Pennsylvania with an assortment of trainees and miscreants who were qualifying on the run.  It was a blast.  The tales of the Bobby and Harold Show would keep me blogging for months but nobody would ever believe any of it could was true.  It was one hell of a run.

Eventually, he went off on other trains and I moved around as we all do in this trade and we only ran into each other at union meetings unless I grabbed a vacancy on his job for a week.  We stayed close though and whenever the madness would get to me, I'd call and shoot the breeze for an hour.  Then the work train came up and the stars aligned just right for the old road-team to have one more go at it.  I was tickled to be able to hold the job with Bobby, even though I knew it was only for a couple of months until he was old enough to take his pension.

He told me before he left that he was happy he had the chance to finish out his career with me as his engineer and he was glad we got the chance to work together one more time.  That meant more to me than he ever knew and I'll remember it well.  Sooner than I wanted to think about, he was shaking my hand for the last time as he headed south for his new place in the sunshine.  I never would have imagined it would be the last time I'd see him.

Bobby passed away suddenly last week at his home near Daytona.  He slept away in his bed which is a long stretch from how he ever expected to go.  Only a couple of months into his retirement that he worked so long to get, like turning out the lights, that was all she wrote.  He got to party with all his friends at Bike Week, sent them all on their way and then he was gone.  When I heard the news, another little bit of the good leaked out of the world.  I still haven't figured it out.

We all know that fairness doesn't enter into these things and sometimes fate is one cruel bastard but it leaves us who stay behind to wonder...why him, why now?  Nobody ever knows their time but how is it that the cards played out the way they did?

As my favorite author, Ernest Gann said, " 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 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."

I for one, wish I knew.  But until I do, he's a good man gone and I'm proud to have known him.  We'll get through the hard time somehow because he always did.  We might even end up laughing about it.  He would.  He was my friend and all I'm sure of is that I'll miss that man.  And it'll be a while before I get some of the wind back in my sails.

So here's to you Bobby...I'll whistle for you in the night like I do when I think of all the others gone before. It's a long, long line you've joined now Brother; hold me a place and we'll do Daytona when I catch up with you next time.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hello Tim Joe

One thing I learned since I started The Home is that a (very) few people are actually bored enough to read it.  It was originally just kind of a vent/rant/therapy kind of thing for nobody but myself but over time, it picked up a follower or two.  Who'd a thought?

One of those is TJ...The Trailer Park Cyclist...a total stranger (stranger even than me) who happens to come by and post comments pretty regularly.  For this I'm very grateful because it at least gives me the illusion that my keyboard time isn't just a waste of somebody's ones and zeros that instantly gets lost in space on a server somewhere.  His descriptions of bike rides around the Florida countryside strike me as...well...something I'd be likely to do if I happened to be in that neck of the world.  Kindred spirits perhaps.

I was thinking the other day how it was funny that just this once at least, the connected universe worked as advertised.  I can talk bikes, beer and barbecue sauce with someone I've never really met and likely never will.  Barring a sudden vast increase in my pay scale, we'll never see one another face to face over post-ride beverages.  But as long as those ones and zeros keep zinging back and forth, we'll have something in common.  We might never drink beer at the Park or the Home; half-wheel along the beach or the Finger Lakes; but we can still tell tall tales and lies from the kitchen table realizing that somewhere out there...somebody knows what we're talking about.

So, Hello Tim's a little journey from up north.  Tag along if you like.  Only some of it is lies...

I watched the sky from the back window yesterday with an eye on going for a ride.  The weather service guys promised severe clear and cool which is great biking conditions for an old guy like me but they also noted that the wind would likely blow hard from the northwest all day with gusts up to 30 mph.  This is a little less than ideal unless you can do a whole jaunt on a southeasterly course and never come back.  Since I'm a round-trip sort of rider and have to be able to make it home,  the outbound leg took some thought.  I stalled around the Home waiting for the thermometer to creep above the no-go line and pawed through my dresser for cold weather gear.

The mountain bike was starting to look good because at least I could hide in the woods and stay out of the wind's line of fire but that would likely entail driving somewhere to get away from the same-old-same-old places I hack around in near home.  Have you bought any gas lately?  I hate burning the stuff unless I really have to and besides, there's something fundamentally wrong about driving someplace to ride a bike.  Finally, I came to the decision to go the pavement route, mainly because the dirt bike was hanging in a semi-inaccessible location in the back corner of the garage and the street bike was already prepped and ready to go.  There's probably something to be said as well about being too lazy to dig the mountain bike out when you're looking for exercise but we won't go there today.

I bundled into a couple layers of jerseys and jackets, leggings and full gloves anticipating that it's probably going to be cold on the downhills.  Out the driveway, two lefts and directly into the teeth of the wind.  Might as well do it while my legs are fresh.  As expected, it was about an 8 mph slog until I hit some descent, then it was a 15 mph slog pedaling downhill.  The front wheel was doing a little happy-dance back and forth in the crosswind and visions of prior fork-chatter adventures again kept the fingers poised over the brake levers.  It obviously wasn't going to be a fast trip.

Since I figured it would be slow going until I turned for home anyway, I opted for a loop I did with my brother-in-law as my nearly-final ride before the snow last fall.  It was a pretty good climb the way we did it in October but this time I wanted to go backwards and do the steepest part first.  I'm in training for the Tour de Cure you least that's what I keep telling myself.  If you can't go far, go high...and slow.  At least the wind isn't as much of a factor when you're already in creeper low and grinding.

A long chug up out of the valley is usually followed by a view from the hilltop and this one was no exception:

Severe clear was the truth.  I think you could see all the way to Syracuse if you looked in the right direction.  That stiff breeze blew everything out of the air and the bright sunshine made everything look brand-new.  Somewhere down there is Cayuga Lake and Ithaca but that way-far horizon was the real reward.  About 10 miles, 1200 vertical feet and 8 million crank revolutions down the road on the right is the bottom of the hill.  It always looks a lot better when it's behind the seat bag.

Now on the ridge of Connecticut Hill, I figured I could coast a while and let my legs regroup.  Or not.  The crossroad I was hoping for never materialized so it was more miles straight into the wind before the turn for home.  Talk about false-flats.  I could see it was all downgrade but I had to stay in the middle ring most of the way just to keep moving against the gusts.  A couple of them almost pushed the Trek backwards.  I've never ridden in reverse but there's a first time for everything.  I wondered if I held up my jacket if I could get home without pedaling at all.  Somewhere along there, I came across another old barn for my camera.

I take a lot of shots of assorted barns and junk.  I love old buildings and old machines...must be because they're usually the only thing around older than me.  I can almost hear stories and see other days in them.  They were new and someone was proud of them once and if the old boards and bolts could talk...what a tale they could probably tell.  I'd like to hear them all.  I've been told I have issues.  I'd like to think so.

Tooling along the wind induced upgrade, I eventually turned tail and suddenly it became a sled ride for home.  I never did try sailing with my jacket but my average speed went to double-digits for the first time all day.  I could actually hear something besides wind noise even in the big ring.  A pair of guys on bikes and a low-rider on a 'bent went by in the other direction crawling upwind.  I feel your pain boys.

The cramps and leg-burn faded out after a while and the countryside cruised by.  Around another little lake and over a ridge brought me out on the last leg.  The daylight is a little short still so a pause to look around, capture a pic and it was settle in to head for the Home.

The fields are plowed and the grass is greening up.  No leaves on the trees yet but any day now...

The temperature started down pretty fast as the sun got low but with the wind at my back and all those layers, I didn't care.  I made one more stop for one more pic as the sun dropped behind the hills.

I work for a railroad after all so I noticed I was perched along an old right-of-way.  That streak of dirt is all that's left of the Lehigh Valley Railroad mainline to Buffalo.  Another long-ago place that could tell a world of stories if anyone was listening.  If the miles of old stones and abandoned bridges could only talk...

As it was getting dark, the last road for the day ended up behind me and I rolled into the driveway.  Only 57 miles this time but hey, the season is young and I'm not. I'll get back in shape once the weather figures out what month it is and the temperature gets higher than my age before noon.   The cramps in my thighs should be gone in plenty of time for the Tour...I hope.  I've got a lot of miles to go and a lot to see before then.  If I wasn't such a sucker for a climb it would help...

So there you go TJ and everyone else out there who happens by.  Pictures and random chatter from the cold end of the east coast.  As I'm so fond of saying, it's always something...

Come to think of it...the Wayward Home is still a kind of therapy for me but pushing pedals around the New York hills is too.  You never know where it'll all lead but I kind of hope someone sticks around for the ride.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Why of it All Part II

I've been here before.  There really are reasons to be the captain of a bike team...sometimes I just need a reminder.  I have to thank my wife Chris for the inspiration.  She was very, very right.

If you've been around the Home at all, you know that the team takes up a pretty good chunk of my off-time.  Sometimes more than I bargained for but I keep on doing the captain gig because...
A:  There really is a Why of it All as I wrote before.  And...
B:  Because of people like Angie:

Let me explain a bit.  Ang was one of our original 'charter members' the first year we ran the team.  It took a little doing but we got her interested in biking and as always seems to thing led to another.  After some small amount of pressure from certain quarters, she bought a hybrid, learned to ride all over again after years off a bike and just sort of took off from there.  Mileage and upgrades ensued and it was fairly obvious that she'd been bitten by the bug.

Last year on her second go at the Tour, she was determined to make a Century on that hybrid.  It turned out to be more than enough miles and after a fight that left me in awe, she finally agreed to get in a SAG truck just before she outright collapsed from sheer exhaustion.  She didn't give up though.  At the end, she got back on and rode the last leg in to the finish line and came through the gate with the team.  I was most impressed to say the least.

Now comes around another year.  Angie has a new bike, time to train, inspiration and motivation.  This time, I have no doubt that the Century will fall.  But as I found out, there's much more to it for her than just a ride.

I've known Angie and her husband Elton for years.  She's my sister-in-law after all so it isn't like we'd never met before the two-wheeled adventures began.  She and Elton were always around but somehow, he and I never talked too much...different backgrounds and whatnot.  I did notice that he was ever-present whenever Ang rode with us.  We couldn't convince him to try it but regardless, he was always just hanging out, waiting for Angie.  Always supporting, always encouraging.  I never realized that Angie isn't just riding; she's on a mission.

I can't tell it any better than she does so as a special guest at the Wayward Home...Angie in her own words.  It's a pretty amazing read:

"This is why I ride"

"When Chris and Harold first asked me to ride with them I thought sure this will be fun.  I hadn't been on a bike since I was like 16 and I was now...well a lot older.  I had been living with diabetes for about 5 - 6 years but I hadn't really realized how many people this devastating disease really affected.  I knew the struggles of the disease but it just seemed normal by that point in time.  The more I became involved with the ride the more it made me realize that there are lots of people out there who don’t understand the struggles that a diabetic and their family faces everyday.  My personal goal is to finally ride my 1st century but the real reason I ride to for my husband Elton and everyone else that battles with this disease every day.

Elton was first diagnosed with diabetes about 8 years ago.  It happened on a Friday night in January when we were playing cards with some friends and he all of a sudden got really pale and said it was really warm in the house and went out on the porch.  Then we heard a thump! He had passed out on the porch.  We all ran out there and got him up on the bench and he came to for about a minute and passed out again.  We got him to come to again and got him something to drink and got him in the house.  Of course being a typical man would not let us call the ambulance! So We got him some more to drink and some food he started to feel better but not right. By Monday he decided he needed to go to the doctor.  They of course thought it was his heart so we were referred to a cardiologist.  In the meantime they did blood work and the results changed our lives forever.  When the doctor told us he had diabetes we were both just shocked.  They said he had type 2.

Over the next 2 years we went through nutrition education, countless doctors appointments, numerous blood tests and several different medications.  They were still concerned about his heart so we also went through several appointments and tests at the cardiologist, including a scare that he had a blockage, which turned out to be false.  He still goes to the cardiologist every 6 months to make sure everything is OK because diabetes can raise your chances for stroke or heart attack.  During this time we changed our diet and carb counting became a way of life.  Even with everything we did to control his sugar it was nearly impossible to keep in under control.  The doctors kept changing his medications and nothing appeared to be working. At this point, 2 years later, we were referred to an endocrinologist and on the first visit the doctor did blood work and came back and told us the current medication was not working because he does not have type 2 diabetes he has type 1!!

So this is a whole different ball game now.  Type 2 diabetes can be controlled with diet and exercise, type 1 can not.  The difference between type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes is that type 2 is caused from an insulin resistance, the body is creating enough insulin but it is not being used they way it is supposed to.  This can be controlled by diet and exercise and medication if needed.  Sometimes people with type 2 diabetes may have to have insulin. Type 1 diabetes is caused by the pancreas not working, it is destroyed by antibodies and people with type 1 diabetes will always need insulin.  With the pancreas not working the body is creating little or no insulin.

So the doctor immediately started him on insulin shots.  At least now the control was better but still not good.  The amount of insulin needed depends on carb intake and what your insulin levels are at the time.  After still struggling with controlling Elton’s blood sugar levels the doctor recommended he go on the insulin pump, this was two years ago.  After looking at the different pumps we decided on the Omni Pump which is completely tubeless.  Which is great with the type of work he does.  The way this works is there is a small pod which he adheres to his side once he has filled it with insulin and when he activates it, it inserts a small mono filament line just under his skin which is used to feed him the insulin.  He has a controller that is a little bigger than a cell phone that is used to test his sugar and tell the pump how much insulin to give him.  The pod system is programmed to give him insulin every hour.  The amount of insulin it delivers changes at different times during the day.  When he eats anything he tests his sugar and tells the controller how many carbs he will be eating and it calculates how much insulin he needs, sends the signal to the pod and the pod delivers it.  So during the day Elton tests his sugar about 8 – 10 times and has to calculate the amount of carbs in everything he eats.  It has taken several adjustments to the pod settings to get the amount of insulin delivery correct.  Since getting the pod Elton’s sugar levels are a little more under control but there are still days that are bad.  When his sugar is high he will sit down on the couch and be a sleep in seconds.  This is dangerous because if his sugar keeps going up there is a chance that he might not wake up.  We struggle with is nightly, I never know if it is because he is really tired or his sugar is to high.  If his sugar is to high we have an emergency insulin kit that we can use to administer a quick dose of insulin to lower his sugar.  When it is low he gets very, very warm and could go into a diabetic coma.  When it is low we need to get something such as a glucose tablet or two in him to bring his sugar up.  Everyday is so different even if you don’t change anything such as exercise or carb intake.  His sugar levels can be affected if he is stressed or sick also.

Our scariest moment since Elton was diagnosed with diabetes was the night he woke me up at about 2:00 in the morning because he was breaking out in a cold sweat and didn't feel very good.  He checked his sugar and it was 30, normal should be between 80 and 120.  He got some juice into him and some crackers and maybe even some cereal to get his sugar up to a safe level.  If he hadn't woken up he might not be here today.  I pray to God every day that he will have a good day and he will be with us a while longer.  Diabetes is one of those diseases that affect so many things that you really never know what could happen next.

I could really go on forever but I will try to sum it up.  You need to test constantly, keep track of the carbs in everything you eat, carry supplies with you in case of high or low sugar spikes.  You have to watch your blood pressure and cholesterol.  If you are sick it takes longer to get over it so it is important to get your flu shot every year.  If you have a cut it takes longer to heal so you have to keep it tended so you don’t get an infection.  Diabetes can cause damage to your nerves, eyes, heart, skin and kidneys.  Living with diabetes is a constant struggle."

That sure puts things in a different light.  Now I'm really in awe.  Ang and Elton...I never knew but now I surely won't ever forget.

So to honor Elton's fight and Angie's mission, I'm taking the captain's privilege to announce that Elton White is who Team PowerTrain will ride for in August.

He is someone who quietly battles diabetes every single day.  He's one of the millions who live with it because for now, they have no choice.  He's one person among many who puts a face on diabetes and so shows that what we do isn't just about a cause or a disease, it's about's for people.

And I'm very happy and proud that we're going to ride our 2012 Tour de Cure...

...For Elton

Sunday, March 18, 2012


There was a time when we were so much younger.  As happens to us all, time passes and things change as things do.  This is as it should be and must be as long as we're here.  But sometimes you look back when and see something wonderful and fine that might have changed a little more than you thought somewhere along the way.  Maybe for the better...maybe not so much.  It's hard to tell from this end of the kaleidoscope.  The colors look different from the long end of the lens and perhaps a bit faded; but the pictures are still there to remind you and make you wonder.

I've carried this one in my wallet for over 25 years and I'm suprised it would even come out of the plastic sleeve without falling apart. There's not much left but I can still see the faces and the eyes through the wear and tear.  I've seen it a million times through half a life but it still tells me a story.  A lot of stories.  Of different times and places but the same two people I know today.  So much younger then but already on the way to where we are now.  So very young back When...

Traveling already when that was taken and not knowing where we'd go.  Somehow, someway, we're still traveling.  There's a lot less road out front than there used to be and how we go about getting to the end of it is hard to tell.  

But those two in the faded leather jackets are still here.  Still here after everything we've seen, done and been.    The scratchy old photo in my pocket reminds me.  We've covered a long, long way from those years ago.

A long way from When...