Monday, October 13, 2014

Everyone knows it’s windy!


Ride Report on the Martin's Tour of Richmond 2014

Last Saturday was the Martin’s Tour of Richmond, an annual timed gran fondo put on by the Sports Backers organization; they put on a bunch of outdoor athletic events for the RVA. This was the third annual rendition of this ride and it keeps getting bigger and better every year!

This year’s event provided four different length rides, twenty nine, fifty eight, seventy eight, and one hundred one miles. There were over 1,400 riders signed up this year for all of the rides and I decided to do another century ride along with 392 other crazy people; the century had the largest number of participants.

The courses changed this year so that all riders began and ended at Richmond International Raceway, a famed NASCAR track. One of the cool parts of this ride is that it includes taking a lap around the race track before reaching the finish line outside. Looking at the course cue sheet and online profile, it appeared that the
This is RIR, Bubba!
new course would be much flatter than in the past and that was comforting to me as the last century I attempted, the annual Tour de Cure of Northern VA, I’d had to abandon to avoid killing myself in the Blue Ridge mountains when my legs were gassed. The online information would turn out to be inaccurate, of course, as my bike computer showed it having 50% more elevation change than the old course. 

Even so, it was a really wonderful course.

Instead of riding solo as I did last year, two friends planned to join me on the ride. Greg #1 would be riding his first century after taking up rode biking in the past year while Greg #2 would be returning to ride with me after dusting me by about an hour in the first event, two years ago.  Neither of them had as many base miles as me this year and expected to suffer, predictions that proved to be accurate.

Even though I had more miles in than past years, I was feeling anxious about the ride probably due to the Tour de Cure fiasco in June. The expectation would prove to be inaccurate as I felt strong the entire day.  Lucky for the Gregs!

Preparation is the key to something…sanity, probably.

I took time during the week to perform a tune up on Fast Eddy, cleaning off some road grime, cleaning and degreasing the chain, and then lubricating it, again. The result was that the bike felt great and shifted perfectly all day long. Mechanicals on a long ride just make the ride seem that much longer and, so far, I’ve managed to avoid one every big ride. I think it’s because I over prepare, which is totally unlike me; I’m not usually a belt and suspenders kind of guy but cycling is different.
Fast Eddy

I’ve also changed saddles this summer to a Brooks Classic hard leather model and the results have been excellent. With about 500 miles on it, I seem to avoid all the numbing that I’ve experienced in the past. I was looking forward to the century ride to see if that would remain the case.

Early start on a beautiful day

The scheduled time for the century riders was 7:30 and we all arrived, checked in, and were lined up in time for the playing of the National Anthem.  Right on time, the lead riders rolled out with their police escort leading the way. Their plan was to finish in about 4 hours. Their actual time was 4:30 due to the headwind that we all had to punch through over the last 40 or so miles. (More about that later.)

The rest of the riders moved smoothly out through the starting gate and we headed out on to Laburnum Avenue towards the city. The first seven or eight miles took us through the streets of the city, through the Fan neighborhoods and finally down a long hill where we hit 36 miles an hour just before crossed the James River for the first time on the Huguenot Bridge.
The newish Huguenot Bridge

The first of seven rest stops was placed in a shopping center parking lot at the bottom of that hill and we were going so fast, I’m not sure any riders stopped; most didn’t realize it was there until they were past it.

We turned onto Riverside Drive, a gorgeous winding road that parallels the river and it’s my favorite part of the Tour! The road is quiet and fairly untraveled, rises and falls along the river with some sweeping curves, and the early sun was coming over the trees making for some beautiful views. There were dozens of photographers set up along this part of the course taking advantage of the early morning light and our suffering (some of the hills are very steep so there are some stiff, short climbs) to show fascinating juxtaposition in their frames.
Riverside Drive

There are also some beautiful neighborhoods that we rode through and many people were out on their front porches or lawns, sitting in lawn chairs, drinking coffee and ringing cowbells and cheering us on. Little kids were waving and cheering, everyone was smiling and enjoying the weather (70 degrees and sunny) and it just makes for a great ride!

The second rest stop was in one of these and we stopped long enough to refill bottles, grab a couple of snacks, and hit the portable john.

As we crossed the river again over the Lee Bridge and headed into Shockoe
Are you home, Gov?
Bottom, Greg #2 started speeding up. I held his wheel and we left Greg #1 behind as we accelerated up a couple of hills and flew past the Governor’s Mansion. Our speed continued to creep up and I wondered if Greg had a lunch date and was planning to be early or something. There was no sign of the other Greg at about mile 25; we thundered on, heading east and out of town.

Suffering begins early

About mile 30, Greg finally started to fade when he was pulling so I took over and told him to just hold my wheel. I pushed us on until the next rest stop at mile 34. As we stopped, Greg said he was starting to suffer. I told him not to worry, I still felt strong, and just to let me break the wind for him. In only a couple of minutes, Greg #1 who we had dropped a ways back, rolled in and joined us.  He had hooked up with a couple of others and gotten a pull to catch us. We stretched, refilled, re-snacked for about 15 minutes and finally headed back out. (Stops that are this long are tough for me as my legs start to tie up and I have to work to loosen back up when I get back to riding. Anything longer can really be brutal.)

We rolled along for another nine miles or so and then came to the next rest stop at a fairly large park with lots of young families enjoying the day. We stayed there for about ten minutes this time and then headed off. Greg #2 was quietly suffering, trying to hang on until he felt better. That’s the key to riding a long event, I’ve decided. No matter how you feel, good or bad, it won’t last so just keep spinning the pedals until it changes or until you get to the end, whichever comes first.

We had one more twelve mile section until we got to the aid station at mile 55. I knew this one was key because the station after it was twenty miles away and we’d be turning back toward town and into the wind.  The ride up to this point had been fast (over 18 miles an hour average) and quiet, a sure sign the wind was at our backs. It was important, in my mind, that the stop there be a good one in order to set up the next section of riding.

But we still had to get there and this section had its own identity including a couple of long gentle climbs and some spots where we turned into the wind so we got a taste of what our future held. The road itself held some rougher sections giving it the consistency of a cobbled road; very uncomfortable to my hands and wrists but I gutted through it.

We finally came over the last rise and rolled into the aid station. Greg #2 immediately climbed off his bike and lay down in the grass. Greg #1 took off his shoes to give his aching feet a rest. I went and grabbed snacks for everyone before refilling bottles and stretching my back and legs. I couldn’t believe how good I still felt; strong, full of energy, and ready to get after it. It felt like I’d only ridden about twenty miles!

After about a 25 minute rest, we saddled back up and headed off. I kept stretching the entire stop in an effort to keep my legs loose and it seemed to help.

The hills make you stronger, the wind just makes you angry.

The next twenty miles were a combination of lovely and painful. The road wound through a number of farms, dead flat and into a 12-15 mph wind. I kept my body position low and just focused on spinning the pedals, managing to hold about 13 mph. The Gregs were unable to hold my wheel and fell off but I wasn’t going to stop if I could help it.

Between farms, the road would rise gently into some trees bringing some coverage from the wind but then adding a slight incline. I preferred this because I was able to hold a higher speed with less effort.

These two scenarios traded a couple of times and then the road rolled along between some marshy areas on one side and some housing developments on the other. About mile 69, we came around a curve and a nasty hill rose up in front of me. I downshifted to my smaller front crank and started up at a good speed, working my way through the rear cassette until I got to the 2nd smallest cog. And then, I just put me head down and spun the cranks as evenly as I could, trying to not to go into the red zone. (This hill turned out to be about a mile with an average 5-6% grade. That’s nothing for the pros but for this old fart, it’s more than enough climb; one spot got to about 12%.)

I finally crested the hill and looked behind me. The Gregs were nowhere in sight as I regained my ability to breathe normally. I continued on for another fifteen minutes and rolled into the aid station. I was still feeling remarkably good, especially considering this last section, but I needed some nourishment. I’d pounded a couple of power gels during the last 90 minutes but now I wanted something to chew.

Pizza? Did someone say pizza????

The Gregs rolled in about 4 minutes behind me and found me standing in front of one of the tables eating slices of Papa John’s. It was the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, proving that hunger really is the best seasoning! The Gregs grabbed a few snacks, laid down, removed shoes, stretched, and got something to drink.
Yeah buddy!

I ate pizza. I probably killed one entire pie by myself. (A delivery of 20 had just shown up and it was hot and delicious.) I also drank my fill of water, had some Powerade, and refilled my bottles. I felt good knowing that there was only about 27 miles to go.

After about 35 minutes, I dragged the Gregs to their feet and we mounted our bikes and headed out. Almost immediately, we passed a woman riding a unicycle. Turns out there were 3 of them entered in the rides including one doing the century. As long as they made the time checks, they were good to ride and, from what I could tell, they would meet those times easily. I felt for them having to ride into a headwind with nowhere to hide from it although this woman’s uni had a set of aero bars on it!

One more stop and then we’re heading home!

The next session was flat with some gentle rollers with the continuing headwind. I lead the Gregs nearly the whole way and we held together well. We rolled into the stop and I pleaded with them that we keep it short so I didn’t stiffen up. They agreed.

I checked my phone and realized I had multiple calls from MB. I had turned on my RoadID app at the last rest stop, as we’d agreed, so she’d know my whereabouts. It has a function in it where it sends an “ecrumb” to her via text that allows her to
Never ride without it!
track me by my smart phone. Evidently, the service was so bad out where we were (rural New Kent County) that it registered me as not moving for a long time and sent her a warning text that I hadn’t moved for 5 minutes. She had been trying to track me down as a result. Once I got her, she let me know that the signal had finally moved and she wasn’t worried anymore. The Gregs overheard me telling her we were on Studley Road and they yelled that, “the road was named for me” since I’d been dragging them along. I signed off and we prepared to head out.

As we hit the road, Greg #2 took the lead saying he was feeling better. I tucked into his wheel and we rolled off and pulled away from Greg#1 again. We kept this pace for the next 40 minutes or so and climbed the second to last hill towards RIR. Greg is a really good climber and he started pulling away from me.

We turned onto the last road and climbed the last hill with Greg dropping me steadily. I started to catch him at the last traffic light but he swung the left turn and took off again, down the hill towards the entrance gate.

I pounded my way down it as best I could and turned into Gate 7 which has a pretty stout hill. I stood up to climb it and my left calf immediately cramped painfully. I sat back down and kept spinning my way to the top of the hill and continued on course to the track entrance, by way of the tunnel, to take my victory lap.

Low Speed NASCAR

I rode up into the infield and followed the ribbons out to the track surface for my lap in the opposite direction of cars driving on it. The official photographer was stationed at the end of the straightaway to take everyone’s picture and I smiled to show that I wasn’t actually dying. (I haven't gotten the picture yet but will add it later!)

I rode back into the infield, down the tunnel, past the two ladies who cheered their heads off for everyone that came by, and then around the outside of the facility and back to the finish line, stopping the timer at 7:59:04. (Actual riding time according to my bike computer was 6:23:41; the lengthy stops really killed my overall time.)

At the finish line, volunteers were handing out small bottles of Powerade and cups of chocolate milk which was incredibly delicious! Great idea and thanks to the volunteers!

Epilogue

The temperature was perfect for the ride, highs in the upper 70s with broken clouds and sun. The wind was the big story with a second half headwind of 12 – 15 miles per hour; it made for a tough day but I felt good about taking it on.

The volunteers were amazing, as they always are, friendly, encouraging, and smiling. The law enforcement personnel were out in huge numbers and did a remarkable job at keeping us safe at every intersection. (I understand that one officer was hit by a driver out on the road and I hope he heals quickly!) The course was well marked, easy to follow, and a joy to ride.

In short, the 2014 Martin’s Tour of Richmond was an absolute success!

Next year, Richmond has the UCI World Cycling Championships in September so we’ll be riding the Tour of Richmond in celebration of those. If you get time, come join us for either or both!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Golf is hard and so is Pool


Golf and the Yips

One of my favorite quotes about golf is from Winston Churchill. Sir Winston allegedly described golf as “a game where you attempt to send a small ball into a small hole using implements wholly unsuited to the purpose.” I can’t think of a better
...and tomorrow
I shall be sober
description, frankly.

There have been times when I felt as though I could do anything I wanted with a golf club and the ball would react as I envisioned. I recall playing a round of golf with a non-playing girl friend riding along with me in the cart. I had badly hooked my tee shot on a par 4 and the ball had come to rest in the middle of a parallel fairway about 170 yards from the green with a large stand of trees between the two of them. She asked me what I was going to do to remedy the situation. As I took my stance, I said, “I’m going to hit a high fade over the trees and it’s going to land right on the green.” I’m pretty sure her response was something like, “Yeah, right.”

I took a swing and the ball took off, rose up over the trees, turned right and fluttered onto the green about 10 feet away from the hole, exactly as I’d seen it in my mind’s eye. I walked back to the cart to put my club back in the bag, feeling pretty studly, as the young lady asked me, “Wouldn’t it be easier to just hit it down the middle of the fairway, first, instead of having to go over the trees?”

That’s golf in a nutshell; momentary flashes of brilliance surrounded by longer periods of abject stupidity.

My putting suffered from the yips for a number of years. For those of you unfamiliar with them, the yips are a psychological problem that infects a part of your golf game, usually putting although Charles Barkley 
He actually poses
like this during the swing
suffers from it in his full swing. (There are videos on YouTube but I don’t recommend watching them if you play golf. The yips transfer through the eyes. You have been warned!)

For about seven or eight years, attempting to putt in the 20 – 30 foot range was very uncomfortable. I’d pull the putter back and then twitch as I was about to hit the ball. As you might imagine, the ball didn’t do what I was hoping it would, most of the time. The result is that one begins to feel it coming on and can only just watch and hope for the best as if having an out of body experience with a golf club in ones hand.

It was so bad that I almost gave up the game. Somehow I managed to push the yips out of my putting so that, nowadays, I’m regarded as a very good putter. I don’t recall how I accomplished this; probably better off forgotten anyway.

Unfortunately, the yips now inhabit my chipping and short game. Typically, the ball will either travel about three or four feet because I’ve hit the ground behind it
(golfers call this the chili-dip or the Hormels after that famous brand of chili) or it will run quickly across the green, missing the hole by a wide margin and into a much worse location because I’ve bladed the ball and it didn’t get off the ground at all.

When my best friend plays with me, he will turn his head when I’m about to play a short shot around the green. And encourage others to look away. I can’t blame him but it must be very hard to do. Like not looking at a traffic accident as you drive slowly past it; don’t you just have to look?
Operators are standing by!

The good news is that this past weekend, I played 9 holes with my best friend and found a method for swinging that doesn’t hurt my arthritic wrists! There may be hope that I can continue playing this great game. And hitting the ugliest chip shots with a smile on my face.

Or maybe I’ll have the time to devote to fixing it.

Pool and the Yips

I play pool, I think, for many of the same reasons that I play golf. It’s difficult. It’s mentally challenging, probably more than it is physically challenging. And since the player is the one that is solely responsible for success or failure, I don’t have anyone else to blame for a poor shot. All of that appeals to me. Along with the fact that you can drink while playing, I suppose.

I usually get an hour or two on Sunday afternoon to practice my pool game. I spend the time doing some drills for speed control, quality of stroke, and to cement my pre-shot routine. I also spend time doing something called a Q-skills drill which is a semi-scientific way to track progress over time.

My practice sessions over the past month or so have been really good and I feel as if I’ve reached a new level in my game. That makes last night’s occurrence all the more disturbing.

Monday night is league night for me. I play in an 8 Ball league at one of the few remaining pool rooms in the area, Diamond Billiards. It’s a BCA league (for all of you that care about such things) and is very competitive. My team is made up of 5 people, and we’re all pretty fair players. Halfway through the current session, we’re in first place.

In my first match last night, I broke dry and my opponent scratched on his opening shot giving me ball in hand anywhere on the table. I set up for an easy shot in the side pocket with just a touch of angle on it so as to play position for the next shot, slightly down table. I went through my pre-shot routine, got down on the shot, went through my mental checklist and shot. The object ball hit the point of the side pocket, ricocheted over to the other point of the pocket, rattled back and forth and did not fall. I had managed to miss my opening shot with ball in hand!
Just a bit outside!

I was so stunned, I don’t remember walking back to my seat. My teammates were all staring at me, wondering what happened. I was trying to determine what I’d done to miss that easy of a shat (truly, the easiest possible shot). The only thing I could come up with was that I’d been trying to cheat the pocket and had over-done it, causing the ball to catch the edge of the rail by mistake. Meanwhile, my opponent was running the table and played a safety with 2 balls left. I got back to the table with almost nothing to shoot at, managing to make a couple of shots before missing a very difficult safety of my own and my opponent ran out.

In league play, when you do something dumb like this, your teammates are there to pick you up, and cover your errors.  Or, they abuse you relentlessly for the next 30 minutes or so, just to help you remember that stupid stuff isn’t tolerated. Whatever. I’m guilty of it, too.

I managed to get my groove back a little bit in the second game although the other team kept getting these silly rolls when they would miss and leave us with really bad position from which to shoot. I lost that one, too.

In the third game, I broke dry and my opponent was running out when he rattled a ball and left me a shot. I ran the rack out, making some very difficult shots and playing some pinpoint position. I felt like I was back!

In the last game, my opponent ran down to the 8 ball before snookering himself. When he fouled trying to hit the 8, he gave me ball in hand. I didn’t even think about what had happened in the first game as I plotted my path to run out the rack. (Having very short memory is essential to confident shooting.)

I set up my first shot, made it and got perfect position for the next one. I ran every shot just as I had drawn it up in my mind and it was a difficult layout with a tight cluster of 4 balls at one end of the table that required a break out shot to enable the run out.

With only the 7 ball and the 8 left on the table, I was set up for a very simple touch shot in the corner where the cue ball would strike the 7, make it in the corner pocket and then roll forward about a foot for position on the 8 in the other corner. The shot required a gentle stroke with just enough speed to accomplish everything.

I got down on the shot, went through my mental checklist and shot. The object ball, I could immediately see, was slightly offline and hit the point of the pocket. It rattled back and forth, and stayed up on the table.

The cue ball rolled forward into perfect position…..for my opponent to shoot the 8 ball into the opposite pocket to win the game.

Yep, did it again.

Some rather colorful language came out of my mouth, quietly, as I slowly walked back to my seat amongst my teammates. They congratulated me for the great run, even if I did choke on the most important shot of the game. (These words were said with a smile, at least.) I truly have no idea how I missed that ball. Probably a tiny eye movement at the last second.

Now these two shots, that I went brain dead on, aren’t really the yips as the yips are typically a constantly repeated, psychologically driven phenomenon. And I didn’t see them coming, as you can when you really have the yips. But damn. They hurt just as badly.

I guess it’s back to the practice table again this weekend.  Good thing, too, since it’s Labor Day!


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ruminations on Truth

Goodbye and RIP to one of the funniest people ever.

Monday night, I was at pool league and thumbing through Facebook between matches when I saw someone post that Robin Williams was dead. To say I was surprised would have been the understatement of the night; I was shocked and horribly saddened, especially after hearing that suicide was suspected. How awful must it be that someone who is that incredibly funny, who causes people to smile with just a facial expression or a change in accent, suffers so much inside that he can only say, “Check please!” to life.

Many people talk about what a genius he was on stage, and he was. But he was also a workingman’s comic, bringing labor to the craft and not just relying on pure adrenaline and chutzpah to carry the performance. I once watched him riff on what comics are thinking about while doing their act and was completely transfixed in watching the only version of meta-comedy I’ve ever seen! What it took to prepare that routine must have been exhausting and I was in awe.

He was also a cyclist and a big fan of bike racing, occasionally showing up at local crits and big events wherever he was. Performance Bike had a post this morning that he once showed up for one of their group rides at the home office when he was on location for a film in Raleigh. Evidently, they’ve never been the same. I can only imagine him riffing on the thoughts of a bike racer…..

That we have a huge record of his talent is comforting, in a very small way, that we can go back and catch some of his stuff. That we’ll never get to see anything new from him, and he still had legs, is very difficult to imagine. I hope, Robin, that your pain is now gone as our own – over your loss – will eventually subside. You were a master funnyman, sir. Rest well.
Going to try for Almighty laughter.....

Ruminations on Truth

It’s been crazy at work lately so I haven’t had much time to write.

It’s also summertime and there are so many things to do. There’s my bike to ride as often as possible; three times this past weekend, alone! There’s the lawn to be mowed and ours is three acres so it takes about 2 ½ hours to cut. There are projects out in the shop that people are waiting on for completion, trophies, and mantles, and music stands, and I don’t know what all. There’s golf to be played with my friends. And besides all that, beer!

Bike Truth

The truth is I haven’t ridden my bike nearly as much as I would like. I’ve managed to accumulate over 1200 miles so far this year but I wish I had more under my belt. I’m riding in the Tour of Richmond again in October and that’s a century ride. I don’t want that to be another Tour de Cure where I was gassed at the 30 mile mark and had to limp back to the start. (I didn’t even post a ride report on that one, I was so upset. On the bright side, because it wasn’t about me, my teammates and I and You raised over $9500!) So, I pretty much have to be diligent in riding 3-5 times a week for the next two months in order to make the entire 102 miles.
Fast Eddy - Showroom pose

I did follow my son’s advice and purchase a Brooks Saddle for Fast Eddy in an effort to improve my ride by reducing the dreaded numbness. According to all the experts, any saddle can be made comfortable simply through fitting properly and then adjusting it until it’s just right. This strikes me as testing to see if you’ve broken a finger by smacking all of them, one at a time, with a hammer until you find the one that hurts the worst. That’s the broken one!
Joy for my tuschis!

But the Brooks Saddle, made of top grain leather, is very firm. With only three rides on it, so far, I can tell it’s going to be a winner – once I’ve broken it into my behind. Or my behind breaks in, whichever comes first.

Lawn mowing Truth

The next truth is that I’ve mowed the lawn exactly twice this summer. MB typically does it but has also been pulled in other directions so I’ve had to jump in and do it a couple of times. I hate to cut the lawn so it just seems like a lot more than only twice. And we have a John Deere riding mower so it's not physically demanding or anything.
It's got a cup holder!

When I was twelve, I had a lawn service in my neighborhood. Every week, I’d cut the grass at 18 or 20 houses and get paid anywhere from $3.50 to $5.00 for it. I was the richest twelve year old in the county! But after a few years of that, my love for cutting grass disappeared and remains missing to this day. It doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the look of a well manicured lawn, I just can’t be the one do it. At least not any more than I have to.

Shop Truth

I finished the trophies for the Virginia State 9 Ball Championships again this year, an event I usually play in. This year, it was scheduled to coincide with my and MB’s wedding anniversary and we went out of town for that so, I didn’t play.

The mantle was completed months ago, a piece in beautiful cherry that was great fun to design and build. The music stand is for MB to hold her flute and piccolo when she is playing in our church orchestra / band / music group. I made one that, unfortunately isn’t exactly what she wanted so that one will be moved into our music room (since our last daughter moved out, we’re re-purposing some rooms in the house) and I’ll make another version based on her feedback on the first.
I have a large pile of maple out in the shop waiting for me to turn it into a stand for music leaders during church services and I’ll need to get to that in the next month or so. I have a design in my mind and I just have to execute it, some future weekend.

Golf Truth

This one pains me. Literally. I haven’t played a single round this year. Haven’t even swung a club in anger. Every time I think I’d like to go play, or even hit some practice balls, I tweak one of my wrists and remember that I have arthritis in both of them. And it hurts. It especially hurts to swing a golf club. And it hurts my soul that the game that I’ve loved my entire life is no longer a part of it.
I miss this pose.

The next time I think about it, and it happened this past weekend but I couldn’t connect with my buddy Clyde to go, I’m just going to go do it. Pain be damned. I’m going to push through it, much like you do when learning to play the guitar and you just keep forming chords until the blisters turn into calluses and it doesn’t hurt you any longer. I’m not sure my wrists will go numb like my finger tips did, but I’m going to find out.  Dammit.

Beer Truth

An old saying going something like this, “There’s a whole lot of lies in a full bottle of scotch and a whole lot of truth in an empty one.” The same could be said of beer but it takes more than one bottle.
Yum. A small flight!
Beer is one of the big stories in Richmond this year as we’ve suddenly become the cool place to open a craft brewery. In the past 2 years, about 8 new brewers have set up shop and are brewing some of the best, ingenious beers you can drink. And if you include Charlottesville, an hour to the west, that number almost doubles. It’s a wonderful thing.


And that’s the truth!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Birthday 'Murica!

Start Me Up

I'm writing this on the 4 of July, a holiday that I've celebrated in numerous ways over the years.

I've played golf, gone to a jam session, gotten drunk (more than once) been to picnics and concerts, played tennis, worked in the yard, gotten stoned, been to beach, and one occasion slept the entire day away until just before a fireworks display because I'd been up to see the sunrise.

In any case, it's nearly always involved seeing a fireworks display which, to me, is kind of like lighting the candles on the country's birthday cake. Kind of fitting for a country as large and impressive as ours is, if you ask me.
Not cake but close enough

Easy to Be Hard

The cynic in me wants to say, "I wonder how much longer we're going to be able to celebrate the birth of our nation? Will she really exist for much longer?"

If you're like me, you read newspapers, watch TV, read the internet, watch podcasts and are appalled by the current state of affairs. Never have we been more at odds with each other in the government, with both sides claiming the other is responsible for nothing getting done. The far Right thinks the far Left is every bit as crazy the far Left thinks the far Right is. Everyone in the middle (that group seems to be ever shrinking although if you ask most people, they'll tell you they're moderate even as they're cursing the POTUS or the Speaker) thinks the 2 extremes are hopeless and there isn't anything that the moderates can do to mediate anything, either.

So, you throw up your hands and say, "Let's throw these bums out!" And on election day, everyone continues to vote for their bum because, he or she is the only one making any sense; it's the other bums that need to be thrown out. Except, that almost never happens.  After all, my guy may be a bum but he is my bum!

Look back to look forward

If you look back about 50 or so years ago, go read some old newspapers (the interweb makes it really easy to do this) you'll find that this current state is not so current. Back in the 1960s, the issue was Equal Rights.
We're all the same. Truly.
Go back to the late 30s and early 40s and it was World War 2. Late 20s and early 30s, it was the Great Depression.  And the list goes on and on. We've always had these divisive times; we've always managed to work our way through them; we've always come out the other side a better republic for it (at least I think so) and then we've moved on to the next topic.

What's it mean? Well, to me it means that it's this constant state of unease, discomfort, divisiveness and the like that makes us uniquely American. In most every other country of the world, this sort of thing winds up in civil war (which is the greatest contradiction in terms I've known) followed by a complete breakdown of government, followed by many years of failed attempts at new ones. But in our case, we just keep keeping on.

Currently, we've got the Affordable Care Act that one side desperately wants to repeal while the other side wants to continue to drive into place and adapt as it makes sense. Why? Because we have the most expensive healthcare system in the world and yet it ranks 37th most effective. Yep, we need healthcare reform. Desperately. Is this the right version? Probably not but based on a great deal of study on my part, it's the best we could do under the circumstances. Does it need to be adapted? Absolutely if it's truly going to work. If both sides took that stance and helped to do it, we'd get there a helluva lot faster, too.

Next, we've got the Russia / Ukraine thing and the Middle East. (When have we not had that? Not in my lifetime, that's for sure, and that covers a lot of time.) One side says America needs to get in there and kick some ass to bring everyone into line. The other says America needs to lead the diplomacy efforts. (I think it's probably a little of both but my foreign affairs chops are not that great.) In any case, America needs to lead what happens because it's a global economy and our own economy turns on it so we need to ensure our interests are looked after financially. We also need to keep ourselves safe; 911 is still a little too close for me to forget that we need to be diligent in watching our enemies. Hell, we don't even know who they all are!

Then we've got Immigration. That one is messy and needs to be better handled and I don't know what the answer is. I do know that all of our families started as immigrants in this country, unless you're born to a Native American family. Let's be a little more tolerant of people that want to come here and start a life. If you don't think that's right, I question whether or not you're truly an American because we all started someplace else and became Americans.

Last, for this post, we've got poverty.
This one may be the most contentious for many people."Why should I give to others, why can't they work for it themselves? If we just keep giving to them, they'll never want to work for what the rest of us have." The other side says, "We need to tax the rich, redistribute wealth, put a bigger tax on corporations so everyone can have a better life."

I'm unable to find a single religion that doesn't teach everyone to help their fellow human beings. I'm talking all the major religious texts, Bible, Koran, Torah, Talmud, you name it. They all tell us to do that. If you call yourself one of the people that follow these teachings, and you don't do that, what does it say about your beliefs?

In my opinion, the gap between the have and have nots will continue to grow until either we get a conscience and do something about it (figure out a way for the have nots to have more) or that will be the thing that takes this country down. Think about it people, there are well over 300 million guns out in the public possession: if the have nots get pissed enough, we could have our own "civil war" here and would have a tough time ending it. Then we'd really be a third world country.

(I realize that I've left out many issues of today including same sex marriage, women's rights, and a bunch more. I was trying to keep this missive less than a million words. Please forgive anything that you wanted to see in here and don't assume I don't care about. I do. Plenty.)

In Any Case

I believe that America will get past our current issues, and find something new to argue about. It would be nice to have some good things to talk about on TV news networks but that doesn't sell air time; maybe Fox News and MSNBC are the ones behind all this.  Keeps the ratings up, don't you know?

Not saying anything except both channels are represented here

We have an education system that is beginning to lag other countries. We no longer build the best cars on the planet and we import much of what we eat because farmers really struggle to live. We no longer manufacture much here because it's cheaper to import it. (The local Woodcraft store had a sale today on anything that was made in the USA, 15% off. Do you know how hard I had to look to find something to buy? Damn!) The only reason we have enough decent doctors is that many of them have immigrated from other countries; same is true for most of our IT infrastructure. And damn few of our young people are getting into the trades, a job that pays a solid middle class wage because many go to college, run up a huge debt, and then find a job as a barista while they try to find something that meets their schooling. That's kind of messed up, don't you think? (Mike Rowe is working on a project to change this. Go to profoundlydisconnected.org to learn more about his organization. I'm a big fan!) We send people to school longer than ever before and they wind up dumber than ever before. We spend more, save less, and have far less to show for it because of how we've changed what's important to us as a country. (I don't think it's permanent but I'm not terribly optimistic, either.)

But we are America. We have a huge, finally getting healthy economy. We have a glorious land with many riches and bounty to enjoy. We still have one of the highest standards of living in the world and are still looked upon as the leaders of the free world. We will get through these trying times and move on the next ones, hopefully during my lifetime. 

I believe we will still do great things because we're Americans and that's what we do, dammit. Let's get busy!

Happy Birthday America! You still look good for 238!




Sunday, May 11, 2014

Thanks Mom!

Happy Mother's Day!  

To all of you mothers out there, I say, "Thanks!" You've got one of the toughest jobs on the planet, almost never get a day off, and are on call every night. Those of us who are dads know very well that if we didn't have you taking care of us, along with the kids, the human race would have perished centuries ago.

I'd like to tell you about two of my favorite moms.

My Mom

First, my mom will never see this. She and my father are both pretty serious Luddites and don't have internet. They've gotten through 80 plus years without it, so no use trying it out now.  I may print this off and mail it to her so she can see what I write about.

My mom was a pretty average mom from back in those days. I was born in 1957 and my brothers were both born in the early 1960s. Mothers back then stayed at home, most of the time. I only recall one or two mothers in my neighborhood that worked outside the home and that wasn't until the late 60s. 

Our mom stayed at home until I was about 15 or so at which time, she took up teaching tennis for the country recreation and parks department. Over the years, she became one of the best instructors of new players, I ever saw. To this day, I'm sure if I went to her and said, "Let's go hit some balls." she'd have me hitting my backhand as good as I ever did in a few minutes.

I learned nearly all sports from my mom. She was a jock of some repute back in her hometown of Johnstown PA, playing basketball, softball, and touch football with the boys in the neighborhood. The little finger on one of her hands is permanently bent from a football injury. She's the one who taught me how to throw and kick a football, shoot a jumper and dribble, catch throw and hit a baseball. I was always amazed at her ability to do all of that; none of the other moms did!

The other big thing I learned from mom was a love of music. One of my earliest memories is of sitting in her lap, listening and singing along to a record of hymns from Tennessee Ernie Ford. To this day, when I hear his voice on a record from an oldies station, I always think back to that time. As a result of those sing alongs, I really struggle to sit quietly and just listen to music. I always want to join in

Thanks Mom! You taught me a lot and I hope I've grown up to be the man you wished for.

My Bride

I also want to tell you about my bride who, in my not so humble opinion, is the best mom I've ever seen.

She seems to strike the perfect balance with all of the kids in our blended family. She isn't over-bearing although she is very clear about her feelings on important topics. She will forgive everything and yet has no problem holding her kids accountable for their actions. She wished her children to have perfectly normal lives and took time every year to explain that she expected far greater things from them in terms of leadership and behavior. (I saw eyes roll more than once but I know deep down, they believed and agreed with everything she was saying.) 

She is also a terrific step-mom which is one of the toughest jobs there is. Her step kids know how much she loves them, and how much she expects of them, too.

My bride's incredible parenting skills have made me a far better parent than I ever was before. Thanks, baby! Once again, you've made me a better man.


 Help!

Three weeks from today, June 1, I'm riding in the annual Tour de Cure fundraiser for Diabetes. My goal is to raise $2000 for that cause and I need your help.  So far, I'm just short of $1500. If you could make a donation, I'd sure appreciate it! As little as $5 can be donated by clicking on the link below.  Much obliged!

http://main.diabetes.org/goto/BrianKeller

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Re-Awakening


I know, I know, I haven’t written a bloody thing for months.  I feel badly about it, too, knowing that BOTH my readers keep going to my site hoping against hope that I’ve finally written something.

It’s been a long cold winter in the Old Dominion; even had snow after my birthday (March 19) which is an incredible rarity. But winter finally seems to be behind us as the forsythia is blooming, daffodils have poked their heads up and the trees all have buds. Bradford pear trees are in bloom, too.
Bradford pear tree - Who was he?

Last weekend, it didn’t even rain! I was able to get a bike ride in both days. It was glorious, except for the hills of course. It was even windy one day but I was so happy to be out riding that I pretended like it didn’t piss me off. (It did but I grinned my way through it.)

I’ve been busy


I know that everyone says that but this time it’s true. I hit the ground running, or traveling, the first week of January and ended up on the road every week but one in the first two months of the year. That makes it really hard to keep up with so many things and when something has to give, it winds up being this blog. It’s a creative outlet for me and, since I don’t really consider myself to be all that creative, I leave it alone until I have something that’s just pushing to get out. (I’m not saying I have something now, it’s just the guilt has built up to a point where I have to write in order to keep my balance.)

How much travel have I had? Since my last post, I’ve been to: Southern California (twice) Atlanta, Jacksonville, Orlando (twice) Cincinnati, Winchester VA, and Austin TX.  All that and it still wasn’t enough to keep my status with American Airlines; not that I’m bitter. Maybe I’ll catch them again this year along with Delta.
Climb aboard!

So, what’s been going on outside of work?


In the woodshop, I’ve been building a fireplace mantel for a friend of mine. He’s the host of a regular poker game that I’ve played in for almost 20 years and he and his wife approached me about building this for them. Having not had a project for a while, I was very excited about doing it. We agreed on a design pretty quickly and I’ve set to work on a couple of weekends. At this point, the construction is complete and I’ll be applying the finish to it this coming weekend, installing next weekend.  Pictures to come.

My pool game has been pretty good. I returned to league play last fall and the team I ended up with for the regular season really meshes well. So much so, that one of the players changed his mind about taking the summer off and hung in for the next session. I’ve been dedicated about getting at least one serious practice session each week and the results have been solid.  I’m looking forward to playing in the VA State 9 ball championships in July, thinking I might have a chance to make some noise. (That’s only because I can talk loudly, of course.)
Wait that's a snooker table!

Cycling? Well, if I hadn’t purchased a new trainer for a Christmas gift for myself this year, I wouldn’t have gotten any seat time. Spinning on it is pretty mindless although I am able to catch up on the New York Times on my iPad while riding.

The weather was truly dreadful January and February. I managed to get 2 days of riding outside during that time, and 3 more days in March for a total of 150 miles. The good news is, the long range forecast for April is solid and I’m hoping to commute to work a few times and build up my base miles again.

Why? Well, it’s that time of year again. The Tour de Cure takes place June 1 up in Northern VA and I’m riding 108 miles as a fundraiser for Diabetes. Want to donate? See the link below to donate as little as $5. If I don’t get my base miles in, that ride is going to be ugly because it’s got about 7,000 feet of climbs in one 45 mile stretch, up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Yep, it’s a real ride and when you’re not a real rider, it shows. (If you can't wait to donate, here's the link http://main.diabetes.org/goto/BrianKeller)


Riding last Weekend


I have to share this story from last weekend. It was Saturday and I was just itching to get out. I jumped on the bike with a plan to ride about 35 miles along a couple of my usual routes.

About an hour in, I’m riding along Pin Hook road which is a nice 2 lane road that winds around for about 2 miles with some rollers. Cruising along about 16 miles an hour, I see a car approaching in my mirror just as I’m entering a blind curve that goes uphill. I swing out to take the lane and keep the driver from crowding me. I can see that she isn’t slowing down and suddenly, she swings out across the double yellow line.

Just as she gets even with me, a Ford F150 appears in the other lane, coming
Looks larger coming right at you!
toward us. Now, the speed limit here is 45 so the closing speed is pretty fast. The driver of the truck sees the car coming right at him so he stomps on the breaks and eases as far to the right as he can, putting his wheels almost in the ditch. The lady passing me, whips in front of me missing my front tire by about a foot and the truck by about the same amount.

I holler, “Are you CRAZY?!” as loudly as I can, shaking my head. Evidently she is because about 100 yards up the road, she comes to stop in the middle of the road. (I’m thinking she wants to apologize for scaring the shit out of me.)

As I approach the car, with all the windows rolled down, she starts yelling at me about how I put her in a bad spot. I point out, fairly calmly for me, that she made the decision to pass where there was no room to do it and had put all 3 of us in danger with that move. I said this as I was passing her car, continuing up the road.
I was about 100 yards ahead of her when she accelerates behind me and then passes again ON ANOTHER BLIND CURVE! When she gets up next to me, she slows down to scream at me, “Like you’ve never done that!”

I glared at her and yelled, “You’ve just done it, twice, and there’s another car coming you dumbass!” Sure enough, another car was approaching and she had to whip in front of me again just missing both me and the approaching car for the second time.

I could see her waving wildly at me in the mirror as she drove off. That’s also when I saw the irony in the situation.

Her car had Tea Party vanity license plates; you know them, the group that exhorts everyone to take care of their own responsibilities and, therefore, have smaller government. 
We don't need no stinking laws!
Evidently, personal responsibility is not practiced by all members of that party. I only wish I could have gotten the license number. She’d have been in a heap of trouble.  Hmmmm. Maybe I do need to get one of those GoPro cameras…….

I do find myself looking back at this occurrence and wondering what kind of person does this? Everyone is entitled to making a mistake; I think most people tend to drive in a state of unconscious competence most of the time. Cyclists don’t register in the minds of a lot of folks, which is what causes most of the problems. But she saw me, that’s why she swung out to pass and give me enough room. After realizing what was happening, she took evasive action and avoided a collision. (I’m guessing the driver of the pickup needed fresh underwear based solely on his expression; abject terror is unmistakable.)

The second interaction was just totally out of line trying to justify the action, and then to do it again? I hope I don’t see this car again but I ride that area frequently. Maybe I can get a license number next time.

Now on the Good Things!


I’m a big fan of the life choice, Do Good Things! Here’s your chance to help the country out and do a good thing. Did you know that diabetes affects at least 10% of the US population? Thirty Million people may have it and most don’t know it. The Tour de Cure is a big fundraiser, focused on finding a cure to this killer. (It’s also a slow killer for many people, contributing to heart and kidney disease. That makes it very costly, adding billions of dollars to our country’s health care costs.) I guarantee you know someone that is diabetic or pre-diabetic. Let’s help figure out a way to end this disease and soon.  I’ve made a big donation myself, my company matched mine and I’m asking you to make one, too.

Do yourself a favor, skip buying lattes for the next month, drink water, and donate 
the money to this cause. You’ll lose weight, help the country and feel good about it.  Please?


Until next time, keep two wheels, or more if applicable, on the ground!