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!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Holidays and other sorts of weird stuff


It’s that weird week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Some people are working regular hours while others are off until the 2nd. Still others, like me, are working some days and not working others – a mishmash of working and not working.

For this blog, I’m getting over a case of writer’s block; I just couldn’t come up with anything to write about for the past couple of months. When combined with a very busy time at the office, it equates to no blog posts.  Sorry to both my faithful readers!
I think I’ve got enough little things to write about and make a decent post, or at least something that will pass as one. Let’s get started.

Phil Robertson
So what if I think they're sinners?
We all are, according to the Bible!

Seriously?

My first thought when I started to hear about his was, “Has America become that shallow, that this is a news story?” Even as the words were streaming across the screen in my brain, I was nodding to myself. I don’t know what else I would expect. With 24 hour entertainment stations, poorly disguised as news stations, anything that jumps out of the ordinary is going to be a big story. (Victoria’s Secret model fart caught on interview – film at 11!)
I just pooted.

For those of you who haven’t followed the story, this man is the patriarch of a family that makes duck calls used by hunters to attract the birds for hunting. The family has become the starring cast of a reality show called Duck Dynasty. The show, which airs on A&E, covers everything they do in their everyday life, including the partaking of a number of family meals together. These scenes often include the blessing of the meal in prayer led by Phil and he has stated a number of times, over the five years the show has been on, how important his faith is to him.

We were rich Christians before the show!
In an interview with GQ magazine, Phil was quoted making some offensive comments about gay men, intimating that homosexuality is in the same vein as bestiality. These suggestions were based on his study of the Bible.

The best selling book, ever.
He also explained that he had hung around with black people all his life, having come from a white trash background, and that he never saw them unhappy because their faith kept them from getting the blues and, besides, he also didn’t see any kind of racism being practiced on them.
  In Louisiana! Huh!

What was most surprising to me was the vehemence with which his fan base reacted when A&E announced that he was suspended from the show for opinions and comments that might be construed as offensive.

The first salvo seemed to be around the notion that A&E was wrong for taking the man off for his religious beliefs. I thought this showed how little people comprehend what they’re reading or hearing. He’s allowed to think and believe whatever he wants, it was what he said that was the problem. I mean, if he was a Muslim and stated that non-believers in the faith of Islam were scum of the earth and should be killed, would that be okay? Since it was based on his religion, and all that?  I’m guessing probably not.

The next attack was based on Phil’s right to Freedom of Speech. Folks were quoting the US Constitution as being the basis for allowing him to remain on the air.
It is okay to yell "Theater"
in a crowded fire house.
What was interesting in this case was, pointing out that this right has to do with what folks can say about their government didn’t seem to make any dent in the voice of public opinion. You really can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater because someone may be hurt by the rush of people leaving. And yet, this huge group of folks apparently thinks that it is okay and their right to do so is protected by the Constitution. 

This second group was also pointing out, on various social media sites, they were going to show A&E who is boss by boycotting all their programming. Finally, it seemed that some were beginning to understand the situation. Phil was dropped as a consequence of what he said, you can drop A&E as a consequence of his being dropped. Welcome to democracy and capitalism in action!

But then, they realized they’d also have to give up History, Disney Channel, and ABC since they’re all under one umbrella.  That one seems to have died down, oddly enough. (Seriously, who wants to miss American Pickers and re-runs of The Bible? Oh irony, thou sting is rich!)

Are you helping or hurting
the average?

My take? I think about the average person I know, in terms of intelligence. I then realize that half the population is not as smart as that person. And I’m no longer confused by all the uproar.



It’s tough breaking in a new boss

Last month, I got a new boss.

We both interviewed for the job and he got it, and got me in the deal, too. It’s awkward since neither of us chose the other. I described it to MB as tenuous; neither of us can really trust the other, just yet.

There comes a time in your career where, unless you’re the CEO, your boss is always going to be younger than you. I hit that line about six or seven years ago, so I’m really okay with this. It’s just that he’s young enough to be my son. It’s awkward for both of us, really. I can’t imagine managing my father, either.

On the plus side, he’s a very intentional person and is working very hard to make this as easy on me as possible. I can’t tell if it’s because I’m a protected class (over 50, white male) or he respects my skills/experience. Either way, the effort is appreciated and is making it easier for me to trust him. Being intentional doesn’t come naturally to me and I have to work hard at it. (Remember, I’m the flailing Buddhist.) I’m focusing on giving him my best efforts in every encounter, deferring to him for decisions, and offering insights into the organization when possible.

There are a number things that he does that I’m never going to understand or enjoy.  Just too many years between us, I suppose.  All the same, I think we’re going to be not just okay but good for each other.

I must be evolving.

The Holidays

When I was a kid, it seemed like it took forever for Christmas to finally arrive. Finally, the last day of school would come and we’d have a couple of days before Christmas morning.

Nowadays, especially this year, Christmas comes storming in like a runaway freight train and I manage to get all my gifts purchased and wrapped with 24 hours to spare.

This year was different because of a late Thanksgiving and a mid-week Christmas day. The retailers have been sweating bullets, too, because of that. The traffic at most malls is over 10% down from last year and all the stores are discounting like crazy in an attempt to get products out the door. (I tend to watch retail trends because I was in that business for over thirty years.)
How malls used to look before the Internet.

Online sales, meanwhile, have been brisk with huge increases over the prior year so that there winds up being a slight overall sales increase for the holiday season. That indicates a healing, although not quite healthy, economy to me which is good news.

The bad news is that retail, as we know it, is slowly dying. I think it’s very close to the tipping point for retailers on whether or not to have retail stores versus online stores. 

A prime location for a store is expensive and with the pricing pressure from online “stores” it’s become increasingly difficult to run a traditional store profitably. Think about that the next time you go look at something in a store and then run home to buy it from someone else online.

Weirdness

I have several friends who struggle what to say to me around this time of year. Since I don’t go to a Christian church, they’re always surprised when I say, “Merry Christmas!

“Wait! You celebrate Christmas?” is something I’ve heard more than once.

“Not in the same way that you do, probably, but yes.”

“What do you mean?” they’ll sometimes ask.

“It’s the birthday of a great man but I don’t believe he’s the son of God. I do believe he was all about love, however, and that’s something I can definitely get behind. So, for me, Christmas is all about love for each other and for the world. I think that’s worth celebrating. Don’t you?”

That usually gets agreement and they wish me Merry Christmas, too.  But I just know they’re shaking their invisible heads as they walk away.
Happy, happy, happy

If I didn’t see you beforehand, Merry Christmas! I also hope that the coming year is just amazing and that everything you do, turns out just the way you want it.  If it doesn’t, I hope it turns out good enough!


One Last Thing

MB and I both have elderly parents. Recently, one of them was treated by a physician who prescribed medications that reacted with each other in such a way as to make the parent nearly catatonic, losing balance, and appearing completely out of it. We actually made the diagnosis ourselves, thanks to Google. The good news is that the parent came back, just fine.

I’m telling this story because I wonder how often this goes on around the country. Doctors, bound by their Hippocratic Oath, aren’t supposed to do this and the pharmacies are supposed to act as a stop gap to ensure it doesn’t happen. And yet it does, I would guess most often in the elderly.

As healthcare consumers, we have the right to ask if there are reasons not to prescribe and take any medication. Folks that grew up in an earlier time, may not know enough to say anything.  Help them out, please!


You may save a life or, at least, extend one.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Century that felt like a Millenium


Flashback (Cue the harp music and gimme a little Vaseline around the lens, will ya?)

A couple of weeks ago, I took at look at the long range weather forecast on Accuweather.com to get a feel for the temperatures I’d be facing in the Martin’s
Tour of Richmond Gran Fondo on October 5th.  Accuweather actually predicts up to 30 days in advance and, from what I recall, is usually fairly close to being correct about 50% of the time.  (In other words, 50% of the time it works every time!)
I was very glad to see that the temps for that day were forecast to be in the 60s and 70s during the daylight hours. Awesome! My favorite riding weather was coming and I could take a shot at my lowest time for a century ride.  I was psyched! (Harp music again. Thanks!)

Ride Report

The Tour of Richmond has just completed its second year of existence, put on by the SportBackers of Richmond as one of the signature events for the public to enjoy. I rode in the inaugural event last year, my second century, and it was really outstanding!  The venue, support stations, traffic control by 8 local law enforcement agencies was all top notch. I figured with another year and lots of feedback (they sent participants a survey to get suggestions for improvement) this one would be even better.

In some ways, it was; in other ways, not so much.

The Good

The Century ride begins and ends at Richmond International Raceway, known locally as RIR. Two shorter distances also end there but begin along the loop of the century course. Since everyone finishes in the same place, and at about the same time, there is a pretty big party atmosphere. They’ve got live music, good BBQ, a vendor fair, and acres of parking of course.
aerial view of RIR

Last year I, along with many other participants, mentioned how cool it would be to finish on the actual race track. (I realize we aren’t NASCAR, we’re cyclists for goodness sake but you don’t often get the chance to do something like this. And I just rode 100 miles, how about a little something for the effort?!) The organizers apparently decided it was a great idea because anyone that completed any of the three rides got to take a victory lap around the actual race track before heading back out of the tunnel and across our own finish line.  (Just so we wouldn’t think we were actually racing, our lap was in the opposite direction.  Former NASCAR champ Alan Kulwicki (RIP) used to do the same thing in his car when he won a race, calling it a “Polish victory lap.” He drove the Hooters car for years and was quite a character.)
Alan Kulwicki - RIP

The course this year was rerouted in a couple of places to account for some construction that was taking place out near my neighborhood. This resulted in an increase of distance for the two longer routes, of an extra 4 miles. When you’re riding that far, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference and I also felt like there was a pretty good hill that was getting cut out, too, so I was kind of happy about it.

Support was, once again, awesome! All of the intersections were staffed by the aforementioned law enforcement groups all of whom went out of their way to keep us safe. I always thank these folks as I pass them and every single one responded back with very pleasant words and a smile. Thanks for all you do, guys, every day of the year!

The course was beautifully marked and signed. I can’t imagine missing a turn anywhere along the route and there were multiple spots where electric message boards were out, warning drivers of the dearth of cyclists on the road for the day.  As a result, drivers were incredibly pleasant to the riders although I did get one guy ticked off at me for not moving far enough to the right so he could pass with traffic coming the other way. (That’s why I did it, dude. It’s called taking the lane.)

There were lots of aid stations, placed about every 10 – 12 miles apart. They were stocked with plenty of cold water and Powerade; at least half were staffed by high school kids and they were very quick to offer to fill up bottles, get a snack for you, and help you with any problem. There was also a mechanic at each one, too, ready to help with any issues on the bikes. I was lucky enough not to have any mechanical problems and that makes four completed century rides without one. (You just know it’s coming though, don’t you?)

Finally, the riders were terrific! At this event, everyone is happy and encouraging. While queuing up at the start, I started speaking to guy who asked about my RABA jersey. He asked who I was riding with and when I told him I was solo, he immediately grabbed someone from his circle of friends and paired me up so that I could get some relief and we could help each other with the wind.  (Unfortunately, I lost him at the start when a pileup occurred and we were separated.)

Cyclists have a common bond regardless of how fast or slow we are. All of us know the suffering that we sometimes have to endure on the bike, know the joy of overcoming it, and celebrate that in each of us. It’s one of the things I love about this ride!

The Bad

Aid station snacks didn’t really do anything for me this year. They seemed to have an abundance of Goldfish, Ritz Bits (peanut butter or cheese) and some really dry snack bars. Everything else was kind of spotty; I could really dig a PBJ every 15 miles or something like that.  Not much of that around, though. Bananas were available and I also saw some Oreos Minis along with another cookie that I can’t remember. 
Fortunately, I’d prepared for the worst and brought my own stash of Clif bars, Honey Stinger Waffles, and some power gels, too.

The heat was really tough on everybody. (Based on my calculations, about 8% of the century riders didn’t complete the course.) Accuweather was correct that the day was bright and sunny but they undershot the temperature by about 20 degrees. It actually reached 96 about the time I finished the ride. Yeah, it was warm.

The Ride

At 7:30, they sent the riders off for the century ride.  At the front were several professionals from United Healthcare’s team and a number of the local amateur studs. They were planning to ride in the 20+ mph category. Behind them was the 18-20mph class, then the 15-17mph group (that’s where I was) and the “under 15mph” folks. I believe that was 543 starters, in all.

And, they're off!

Having lost my “teammate” at the line, I settled into an easy pace just riding along with everyone else as we headed south towards downtown Richmond. There seemed to be a lot more people around me this year than last and I was very wary of all the people. Not everyone is used to riding in a large group and some people aren’t as good on the bike skills as they could be so I ride very defensively.

Heading toward downtown

About a mile before coming into the Shockoe Bottom area, there was a really bad accident. Two female riders had evidently bumped wheels and gone down at over 20 mph. As I rode past, one was still on the ground being attended to and the other was sitting nearby with blood pouring down her face from a head wound. I never did hear how they fared but I hoped they weren’t too badly hurt. An ambulance passed me in seconds, heading to the site to assist so I know they were well looked after. (These two were skilled riders. This is why I’m very defensive.)

I rolled past the 1st aid station after crossing the Manchester Bridge
Manchester Bridge view
and headed up onto Riverside Drive, feeling strong. (I was hoping to beat the 7 hour mark on this ride and my pace was really good so far.) This part of the ride has a bunch of rollers along with one of the most beautiful sections of road in Richmond. For about 5 miles, we rode alongside the James River. This morning, it was smooth as glass with a mist hanging over it in the shadowed areas but already burned off where the sunlight had punched through.
Riverside Drive descent

We climbed out of the river valley area for the next couple of miles before turning away from the river and out into the suburbs of Chesterfield.  I made my first stop at the 2nd aid station, refilled my bottles with water, opened a Clif bar, stretched a bit and then saddled up for more. I had come 25 miles in just less than 90 minutes, well ahead of schedule and still feeling good!

Paceline Riding

A few miles up the road, I was grinding along at my usual 17-18 mph pace. In my mirror, I could see some riders approaching and the person riding the point was on a trial bike and down in the aero position.  As they pulled alongside, I could see that she was a very fit looking rider as was the guy behind her, also in the aero position.  Riding third and fourth were two guys on road bikes. As the last one passed, I jumped up on the pedals and sped up to catch the last wheel.  Just like that, I was flying!

My bike computer showed me at 22.1 mph and I didn’t feel as if I was working any harder, either. My pedal cadence was a bit faster, about 90 rpms instead of my usual 75, but there was no strain. It’s amazing to me how drafting makes such a difference in performance. It would save my butt later in the day, too.

We continued along at this speed for about 9 or 10 miles, passing slower riders along the way and going up and down some low, rolling hills. They rider ahead of me looked to be about my age and was a bit over weight; his riding looked somewhat strained, particularly on any upward grade. Eventually, he lost the wheel of the rider in front of him and I had to push to pass him and catch back up with the train which I managed to do quickly.

Finally, we started up a fairly long grade. It wasn’t steep but it had enough of rise to cause me to lose the wheel of the rider in front of me. As soon as I did, I noticed that there had been some strain after all; I didn’t have anything extra available to chase and I was spit, out the back. I grinned and settled back down to my pace again, hoping to recover from the last 30 minutes and getting another chance to catch a wheel.

Halfway

I pulled into the aid station near the mid-point of the ride, still ahead of the pace I’d set for myself but feeling a bit more tired than I expected. I chalked it up to the higher output of riding in the paceline. I refilled bottles, grabbed a snack, and then stretched for a few minutes.  My legs felt okay and I was pleased that neither of my hands had experienced any numbness. That was a big problem during my last century and the effect had hung around for a painful couple of weeks.

As I took my break, I fell into a conversation with a couple of guys who I had seen several times so far. One was fairly large, often referred to as the Clydesdale
Clydesdale Paceline
category, and the other looked to be of Indian descent and may have weighed 125 pounds. Evidently, they had been riding together for a good part of the ride. The smaller one was asking if all of the hills were finished, as he was feeling pretty gassed.  When I heard the other say that, “this is the highest part of the course and the worst is behind us” I had to stick my nose in and tell him the truth.

There were several healthy climbs ahead, two in particular heading into Hanover County that I avoid when I’m riding in that area because they are really steep and they come in quick succession, too. I wasn’t looking forward to these, although my pre-ride preparation had focused on better climbing and I’d done really well back in June at the Tour de Cure.

I let the guys know what was ahead; the Clydesdale sneered and his buddy slumped a little bit. He said he was suffering from cramps already and this was his first century ride, ever. I told him to be sure and keep hydrating, and wished them both well as I threw a leg over the bike and rode off.

Third Quarter

The next 25 miles or so were kind of a blur. I’m very familiar with these roads as they wind within about a mile from my house and I’m on them frequently.  As a result, my mind just kind of went blank and I kept spinning the cranks, holding my speed between 15 and 17 mph.

At the aid station near my house, mile 70 or so, I took a quick break to refill bottles and grab a snack and a stretch.  I also started my RoadID app on my phone.

RoadID is a company that was started a few years ago by a guy who was injured while out on a ride and wasn’t carrying proper identification at the time. He started a company that makes ID bracelets for cyclist and runners. They’re smart, light weight, incredibly well made and have all the needed info. I bought one last year and always wear it on my rides.

The RoadID app, is in beta right now (I think) and it’s designed to be one more link in the ID chain for cyclists. It works with your phone’s GPS capability. When I use it, I create an “ecrumb” or trail of my ride, along with the projected time I’m going to be riding and it sends a text to whomever I choose to let them know. There’s also a link that the receiver clicks and it shows my position on the map, on their phone! That way, they can follow along with the ride. (I’ve been using this for several months when I commute to work by bike and it lets MB know when I’ve left and how I’m progressing on the ride home. Traffic being what it is at that hour, it’s helped keep her calm during my ride.)

All this to say that RoadID makes a great product and, if you are a cyclist or runner and hate to carry identification (or worse, you don’t!) you should go their website and buy! www.roadid.com is the website.  Go. Now!

Cramps, cramps, and more cramps

With about 30 miles or so to go, I was suffering badly. I’d gotten a hint of cramping in my calves about the halfway point but they had left after a few minutes. Now, they were back with a vengeance and were migrating to other locations, as well.
When your calf cramps on a bike, you can usually ride it out by locking your ankle and utilizing the big muscles in your thighs and glutes to take up the slack. That worked for the first hour but now, the thighs were starting to cramp as well.

I knew I was in trouble when I stopped pedaling for a few seconds on a slight descent. I typically ride with my left foot up and right foot down (I don’t know why, it just feels right) and I happened to look down at my left thigh because I noticed a dull ache in it.  The quad muscles were in spasm and making all kinds geometric shapes under the skin while I watched.

I remember thinking, “Maybe that’s why it hurts.” Very calmly, as though it was someone else's limb, I pushed that leg out straight with my left foot down and the spasm went away but the pain was still there. I tentatively began spinning the pedals slowly. Every time the foot would come up, I’d feel the muscles start to grab and then, as I extended the leg they would subside.

At that point, I was thinking I’d have to not stop the rest of the way or risk being doubled over in spasm.

The next aid station appeared, at about the 80 mile mark, and I figured I’d need to stop and figure out my next move.

I make a new friend!

I pulled in and climbed off the bike. I killed the last of what was in my bottles and then spent about 10 minutes stretching, really focusing on the calf and thigh muscles. They seemed to be okay but I knew that as soon as I climbed back on the bike and started the repetitive spinning, the cramps would start again. I was seriously considering calling MB and telling her to come get me because I didn’t think I could finish.

(By the end of this ride, I consumed at least 15 liter bottles of water and/or Powerade; in some cases I was mixing it 50/50. It appears that I didn't drink enough. It's hard to believe that 4 gallons of fluid isn't enough. And I never once had to pee. Yeah....)

I refilled my bottles, had several snacks including 2 bananas, and continued to stretch.  As I came up out of a deep bend, I spotted the Indian guy I’d spoken with a couple of hours before. He was also stretching and looked as bad as I felt. We made eye contact and he walked over.

He was still suffering from cramps just as I was and was also thinking about bagging it. We continued to talk while we stretched and realized that, since we had been riding almost exactly the same pace all day, it made sense to hang together and help each other out the rest of the way.  He introduced himself as Sonny; we shook hands and mounted up.

For the next hour and a half, we took turns pulling each other along. We stopped at every aid station to stretch and re-hydrate, and generally to push each other to the finish. At the 100 mile mark, I rolled up to give Sonny a high five for having completed his first century ride. He seemed startled at first until he realized what he’d done.  His grin said it all!

While the cramps never went away completely, we managed to hold them at bay and drag ourselves back to RIR for the finish line.

Victory Lap

Sonny and I made the left turn and rolled down the last hill before turning at 7 and heading onto RIR grounds. Once there, we followed the line of cones and yellow tape that directed us through the tunnel and up onto the race track.
While taking our victory lap, I was struck by how huge the place seems when there is no one in the stands. It’s like a football stadium on steroids (I know, ironic, huh?) and just seems to go on for a long way.  And RIR is really a small track compared to about half the ones on the NASCAR circuit at ¾ mile in length.

We rode up pit road and turned right to go back to the tunnel and, finally, to the finish line.

Success!

Outside the raceway, we followed more of the yellow tape around the perimeter until we could see, and hear the finish line. The PA announcer was amping the crowd noise up, announcing each rider’s number as they crossed the line.  About 20 yards away, I sat up and through my arms up in the air to cross the line in the victory salute.  (Hoping for a photo op!)

The finish funneled everyone to an area where volunteers with large trashcans full of iced down Gatorade and cloth towels were waiting. As I came to a stop, a girl handed me a full quart, wrapped in an ice-soaked towel.  I slowly pulled off my helmet and Headsweat and hung them on my bars. Then I put the towel on top of my head and felt the cold, icy water pour down my face, ears, neck, and shoulders.  

(I can’t come up with words to tell you how good this felt.  Truly. Thinking about it, right now, I tear up. It was that good.)

With the cloth still on my head, I opened the drink and chugged it.  Evidently, I was going to live.

Epilogue

I stowed my bike in the guarded parking area and walked toward the food/banquet hall for the after-party. I pulled out my cell, and called MB to let her know I’d survived and would be home in an hour or so. My friend Greg, who had ridden the 30 mile course, had sent me a text letting me know he’d just sat down to eat so I responded that I was on my way.

I got a beer ticket and went to get it, so I’d have something to drink while waiting in line for BBQ. The line for food was short, fortunately, and I piled my plate high with pork and chicken BBQ which was delicious.

I sat down with two friends, one of whom rode with me the prior year, to discuss the ride. It was determined that anyone riding the two longer distances had a tough time of it with cramps running rampant throughout the field. It had been a tough day, no question!

I finished my food, said goodbye to Sonny and thanked him for his teamwork, and went to pickup my rider goodie bag and my medal for completing the 102 mile,
Pay off
but actually 106 mile, course. I slipped it over my head. Yeah, I’m a dork.

The truth is I was proud of myself for completing the course.

Final Thoughts


It’s now been a week since the ride.  Looking back, this ride doesn’t seem as hard as it was at the time. (This short term memory for pain is one of the reasons the human race still exists. If women really remembered how painful it is to have a baby, gorillas would be in charge because humans would have died out long ago.)  I’m already thinking about the next century ride that I’m going to do.

Sick bastard.