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!


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.


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 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.


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! 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.


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.


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.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Heart of VA

Last weekend, MB and I got to ride in a wonderful event that is the only fundraiser for the Richmond Area Bike Associate – the Heart of VA Bike Festival.  Here’s a quick ride report!

The Seasons are a changing…

It seems that worst of the heat is behind us. I can’t complain, it was a relatively cool summer for Richmond. We had very few days where it got to 100 and the humidity wasn’t overbearing, either, most of the time.
Weather for this ride was over-the-top beautiful! The temperature was 50 at the start time and never got much above 76. Skies were mostly clear with a few, large puffy white clouds here and there. These temps have decided to stick around for a few weeks, too, and I’ve been enjoying my riding time whenever I can.

Pick a distance

We decided to do a metric half-century for this ride, one of the two shortest distances available. For those of you who are metrically challenged, that 50 kilometers or about 31 miles. There were plenty of folks riding the full century (100 miles) along with the metric century but I’d venture a guess that a third of participants rode our distance.

What’s great about this distance is that it’s short enough that nearly everyone can finish if you take your time, long enough to feel as if you’ve accomplished something and, most importantly, finishes just as lunch is being served at the after party!

The Start

The scheduled starting time was 9:00 am and we arrived in time to check in, unload, hit the rest room, and line up with the other 150 or so riders. We strategically stopped about two thirds of the way back through the field so we wouldn’t be leading the group at the start; I get nervous with all those riders in a pack, not knowing who can handle their bike and who can’t.

At the go signal, we headed out to the road, past a fife and drum team that was playing each group off at the start.  It was a really cool way to start the ride!

Sorry for the poor pic!

Speaking of Cool

I was bloody freezing! I had dressed for mid-day temperatures so 50 degrees felt very chilly as we headed down the road. The first couple of miles descended a long, slow grade that was almost entirely shaded and this coupled with 18 miles per hour had my goose bumps in full bloom. (At the start, we’d been in full sun and I wondered if it was going to feel this good all day. Yeah, no!)

Suddenly, MB sped up to about 25; I had to push hard to catch up to her wheel.  When I asked what she was doing, all I heard was, “I’m trying to get warm!” as she pounded the pedals. By the time we turned off the main road at the 2.5 mile mark, I was pretty sure we were leading the ride.

The ride wound along going in and out of the sun and we finally began to warm up.

That’s when the first hill appeared.

It wasn’t very long, probably half a kilometer or so, but it was steep. I kept up my normal rhythm and climbed nearly to the top when I realized that MB was no longer in my mirror. I pulled over and stopped to wait as a friend of mine crawled past saying, “This is a damn cruel way to wake up!”

After a couple of minutes, I spied MB walking her bike. She’d been unable to get into a comfortable gear in time and decided discretion was the better part of valor. We remounted our bikes and continued on, comfortably pulling up the rear, now.

Absolutely Gorgeous!

For the next hour and a quarter, we wound our way through two lane blacktop roads of several rural counties, passing cornfields, and pastures filled with livestock. It was so simple to just ride along enjoying the views, which were very pastoral, and taking advantage of the perfect weather. We chatted with each other and with other riders along the way.

At about the halfway point, we pulled into the SAG station to refill bottles and grab some snacks. Everyone seemed to have a smile on their face. It was as if we’d all gotten into someone’s stash and imbibed during the rides so that no one looked or acted grumpy. It was such a Zen day for all the riders that I’m guessing everyone would have gladly ridden farther than they’d initially signed up for, so that it wouldn’t end.

After the break, we remounted and headed off for the second half of the ride which was more of the same although one four mile stretch was the absolute frosting on the cake.

It began with a turn off a slightly busier road (we’d been on it for less than a quarter mile but more cars had passed than the rest of the ride combined) and wound back and forth before coming out of a grove of trees. The view opened to an expanse of farm fields, several miles across, with this two lane blacktop that we were riding, wandering back and forth for as far as you could see. It was a false flat so that the road and field rose up in front of us but the rise was so gradual that it didn’t feel like we were working very hard, at all.  There was a group of four of us riding together at this point, and we all kept talking about what a great sight it was; one of those amber-waves-of-grain moments that you see on a bike.

At the end of the last field, the road turned to the right and went back into trees and gently downhill. We coasted for about a half mile, hitting 30 mph with no effort before reaching flatter ground.  MB and I, both, had the same thought during that section, something like, “this is going to suck when we have to climb up the other side of this” but it never came.  Evidently, that long false flat had been the climb to get to this point. Road riding bliss!

On to the Finish

The rest of the ride had us winding our way back to the county seat of Hanover, passing some small houses and some poorer sections, too. This is eye opening to me as I never feel as if I see this part of life from inside a moving car. On a bike, though, it burns its way into my brain and I find myself wondering who those people are, what’s their story……

We made the last turn back onto the main road and into the courthouse complex, passing the tent that was setup for lunch. Nothing was being served yet so we headed to the car, hung the bikes and cleaned up in the restroom before sitting down to a delicious BBQ lunch….with cookies! There was also a five piece jazz band playing a soft groove while we ate. Nice finish to the ride!

Another Gran Fondo this way comes!

The Martin’s Tour of Richmond is scheduled for October 5th and features a 106 mile timed ride around the entire Richmond region, finishing at the Richmond International Raceway. There are also 66 and 30 mile rides available. What’s really cool this year is the organizers have taken feedback from last year’s participants and will be having the riders take a lap around the NASCAR track as a finish to the ride!

Look! It's a lap around a city!

The ride is slightly longer this year, by about 4 miles, due to some bridge renewal work that is taking place in Hanover county. I knew this was going to happen as it's on one of my regular routes; just the same, that extra 4 miles is not fun as it's adding another climb into the ride.  Dammit.

If you’re within a couple of hours of Richmond and like to ride a bike, I recommend you come join us. This is a terrific course, huge crowd is expected, the support is top notch with coverage from the law enforcement to keep it safe and there will be people applauding the riders all along the course. It’s just awesome!
I rode the century last year and plan to do so again although I’m not as prepared as I’d like to be; I’m jammed up with the work for the last two weeks before it and won’t get as much riding in as I’d like.  But, it doesn’t matter though.

I hear the weather forecast is for more perfect weather!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The World stopped turning…..

Today is that day, again.

I knew it was coming, as we all do, and was feeling kind of hopeful that this year, maybe things would be different.

But they aren’t. Even if I don’t watch a TV or don’t go to the internet, I can still see the horrible scenes playing out in my mind’s eye.  As if it happened last week, instead of a dozen years ago. I’m struggling today, as I seem to more every year, and need to write about it. I don’t know if I’ll post this or not.

The Victims

I can’t comprehend, not for a moment, what the innocent had to endure. I can’t understand how their loved ones, suddenly being without, manage to go on. I hope they are able to find solace in the time that’s elapsed.

MB and I were in NYC last year and made the trek down to the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. It affected me in a way that nothing else ever has.  I didn’t know a single person that perished that day and yet, I felt a connection to them…a very powerful connection. I have no explanation for it, I only acknowledge it. I’m hoping I’ll understand it, someday.

The First Responders

They reacted and ran into hell, as they had been trained to do.  Their task was to save as many as they could. Instead, so many joined the victims in leaving this life. Those that remain bear an incredible burden, wondering what they could have done differently, wondering why they were spared. 

I can only thank all of them, inadequately, for their sacrifices and their giving to all of us. What they do is the best of humankind.

We Will Never Forget

This phrase means different things to people. In the days shortly after the attacks, it became almost a rallying cry, a battle cry, for many.  There was a great deal of posturing, chest puffing about how “we’ll show those crazies not to mess with the USA!” The result of this has been two incredibly expensive, long lasting, drawn out wars, resulting in so many deaths and helping to contribute to the financial difficulties of the entire world, too. (Don’t misunderstand me. I was right there, in favor of getting our pound of flesh, too. But after eleven years of this, I’m kind of tired of it. Actually, I’m really tired of it. I keep thinking everyone is.)

Others thought about how important it was to keep the victims and their families in our thoughts. “They’ll need our help, let’s remember to provide for those who made the sacrifices.”

Still others took another meaning from the phrase. “Those who forget the past are destined to repeat it.” We must remain vigilant to keep it from happening again. 

This has resulted in stories about how our freedoms are being violated on a daily basis by our own government in the name of security. As a result, we seem to be discovering how much we’re willing to tolerate in order to keep the peace.  Like most people, I’m only willing to tolerate so much…unless, of course, we’re attacked again. Then, folks will be asking why more wasn’t done to protect our country and our “freedom.”

What it means to me

Recently, I’ve seen some really horrible things written and/or broadcast about “the Muslims being responsible for all of this.”

This is where I start to lose my mind.

Many of the people saying these things identify themselves as Christians. If you lived in another country, and read about the activities of the Westboro Baptist Church, who also identify as Christian, would you then think that all Christians are that hateful?

Would you want to be identified as a Christian, based on those activities? (I’ll assume the answer is no.) Then why do you assume that all Muslims are responsible for all the acts of terrorism?  All the senseless killing? The Quran doesn’t teach this kind of behavior any more than the Bible teaches hatred to Christians. And yet, here we are launching all kinds of labels on people because of outliers. 

To me, “we will never forget” means that everyone on this planet needs to understand that we’re all in this together. We need to share the beautiful place we live with each other. We need to understand that we are different, not better or worse, but different. That my beliefs are mine and your beliefs are yours and that we don’t have to agree with each others’ beliefs or opinions. And we shouldn’t make fun of them. And we shouldn’t impart our own on someone else.

We should work to understand each others’ and see if there is common ground on which we can agree and build a basis for living together.  If we can’t, there is really no hope for us over the long haul.

Maybe that’s why this gets harder every year, for me.  Because I think there’s no long term hope for us.

I wish I could dare the world to prove me wrong.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bike Shopping

Important Math

Many bike enthusiasts will tell you that there is a formula for determining how many bikes you should own at any particular moment, N = T +1.  

In this formula, N is the number of bikes you would like to own and T is the number you currently own. 

There is a corollary to the formula, described as the “spousal adaptation” and it is 
L = A + 1

L is the number of bikes owned that will cause them to leave while A is the acceptable number of bikes you may possess at any time. This drives appropriate bike ownership behavior, whereby you have to thin the herd prior to making a new purchase.  A trade in may work but can be construed as cutting it too close, depending on the spouse.

You can justify until you’re blue in the face but the spousal adaptation will always trump justification, assuming that you wish to remain happily married.

After an excellent year at work, I was fortunate enough to receive a bonus of some substance. I asked MB if she thought it would be okay for me to earmark some of it towards buying a new bike. As usually happens, she was quick to say, “Yes, you deserve it!”  (I’m really a lucky guy.)

It’s not that my last bike wasn’t serving its purpose. I bought it off Craig’s list, 2 years ago for $200 and invested a bit more than that to make it road ready with new tires, stem, and a full tune-up. She had served me well for about 2800 miles, including three century rides.  But I knew the technology had changed dramatically in the sixteen years since this bike had first hit the road and I wanted some of that!

The Planning Stage

Bicycling Magazine publishes an annual issue with reviews about practically every make and model of bike available today. As a subscriber, I received this issue and thumbed through it, looking at all of the bikes that were in my price range of sub-$1500.  (I could have gone up to $2K but wanted room for accessories or tweaking, too.) This dividing line knocked out about 75% of bikes that they reviewed.  (I would no more spend $18,000 on a bike than I would $5,000 on a guitar; my talent and skill levels are similar on both instruments, by the way.)
The cyclists Bible

By the time I finished my research, I had a list of about eight or nine models that I wanted to test ride. I was anxious to do this as many of the reviews talked about the quality and nuances of the various models. I couldn’t imagine that they would be all that different, I mean it’s just a bike, but my curiosity was peaked. I scouted out all the local bike shops to find out what brands and models they offered, and then planned my test ride day.

All of the “experts” tell you to bring a pair of shorts (whatever you normally wear to ride) shoes, and a pair of pedals. I had all of those with me, along with my trusty iPad for note taking, and headed out to the shops.

Of Test Rides and Salespeople

I headed down to the first shop on my list, I’ll call it Sparky’s, with the hope of riding a Giant Defy. This model comes in a variety of equipment / price levels and at least one of them could fit the bill. The website indicated that they carried this model. The store is also the closest LBS to my house.

Entering the store, I looked around to see almost nothing but used bikes. There were a few new models mixed in but they were mostly big wheeled cruisers or kids models.  After milling around for a few minutes, I was approached by a slightly built (damn climbers) fellow who introduced himself (let’s call him Steve) and asked how he could help.  I explained that I was interested in a new road bike, had been riding an old Giant CFR-3 and was looking to spend less than $1500.  I told him I’d seen the Giant Defy on their website and was wondering if I could get a test ride.

(Full disclosure time. I train sales people for a living and have been in the sales world for over 30 years. There aren’t many things where I’m an expert but when it comes to professional selling and the sales process, I am. Additionally, I was skeptical about buying used because it’s impossible to know what the “correct” price is in the market. If you’re buying from a dealer, I think it could be very easy to be taken. There isn’t a Bike Blue Book, although there are some websites that attempt to help with that. If you don’t know what something is worth, then you’re the sucker!)

Steve immediately pointed out a used Giant Defy that was in the rack.
Sweet ride!
It was the correct size for me (56CM) and he started to talk about what it had on it, which was a nearly top of the line group. He then told me that, at $3800, it was a steal and, if I wanted, I could test ride it.  When I asked him how much the newer models had changed, he said, “Very little.  Besides, this is a much better deal.” While I was disappointed that he wasn’t listening to me, I decided that, if nothing else, I could ride something really terrific to set a bar for myself, even if it wasn’t the exact one that I wanted. I handed him my pedals and he rolled the bike back to the mechanic’s area to get them installed.

I rolled the bike out into the parking lot and took it on a ride of several miles. From the moment I got on the bike, I was amazed at how comfortable, solid, and quick the bike was! (It remains the best ride of all the bikes I’ve ridden to date.)

As I returned to the shop, I made a fairly sharp left turn and realized the front wheel had flatted in the last few seconds. I never heard it but when the wheel tried to skid out from under me, it got my attention and I really had to work to keep from smacking the pavement. I rolled the bike back into the shop and up to the counter where Steve was speaking with a guy I took to be the owner or manager.

“How did you like the ride?”

“It was great until the front wheel went flat out in front of the store. It’s amazing how much better the drive train is than on my old bike and the ride is terrific.”

“I can have the tire fixed in no time if you want to take it home with you.”
(Now, I appreciate an assumptive close as much as any sales trainer but this was the kind of thing I expect from a car salesman not in my local bike shop.)

“I told you, I didn’t want to spend over $1500.”

“Oh, I heard you. I just know that when someone tells me that, that’s not what they really mean.”

“Actually, it’s exactly what I meant. I have a budget and plan to stick to it. But I also wanted to ride a Giant Defy and this appears to be the only one in your store despite what the website says. I also told you, I was looking to buy a new bike, not a used bike and you haven’t shown me a new one, yet.”

At this point, the owner/manager spoke up.

“Show him what’s available; in his price range, the only Defy he could get is the ‘cheap carbon’ version.”  The way he said “cheap carbon” it sounded as if he thought it was made from recycled bird dung or something equally as valuable. Nice.

Steve went to the computer and began pulling up Giant’s website as he said, “You know, you really ought to ride that Litespeed I have over there; it’s titanium and it’s really sweet. And it’s only $2400.”

“Steve, you seem to know a little bit about selling. Has anyone taught you about effective questioning techniques, coupled with active listening skills? They come in real handy when you’re trying to find out a customer’s needs and wants, in order to close a sale!”

“Are you in sales?”

“No, I train sales people for a living. Right now, you and your boss are failing miserably, too.” I smiled as I said it. “I’ve got a few more test rides to make today so I’ll take my pedals and be on my way.” He went back into the mechanic’s area to retrieve them. The “boss” focused intently on his computer screen and pretended I’d already left.

Steve came back, handed me my pedals, and said, almost sheepishly, “I can probably get one of those Defys into the store by the end of the week so you can see it, if you’d like.”

“Thanks, that’s good to know. I’ll give you a call later today and let you know if I want you to do that.” I turned around and headed out.

While I loved the ride, I was really pissed. He could have easily sold me a bike if he’d listened to what I wanted and his boss hadn’t disparaged what I was interested in buying. (Just because you wouldn’t buy one yourself doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sell one to a customer if that’s what they want. Dumbass.)

Next stop was a shop in the city, Carytown Bikes. I had spoken to Bill there the week before and he was glad to get my pedals onto a bike we’d talked about then, so I could take it for a ride. His technique was far more polished and he suggested that I ride the carbon version of the Cannondale bike first, to get an idea of how it felt, before riding the aluminum model. The carbon model was slightly over my budget but I wanted to compare to see what I might be giving up. I was also interested in understanding how it differed from the Giant I’d been on earlier.
Good people, downtown shop!

I took it for a spin around Carytown and the surrounding area, covering ten miles at varying speeds and terrain.  Much to my surprise, the ride was distinctly different and I didn’t like it. It felt harsh and stiff. The performance was good but I just didn’t feel good on the bike.

I got back to the shop and told Bill that I wasn’t keen on the ride, telling him that it felt harsh to me. He swapped the pedals onto an aluminum model and I headed out for the same course.  Once again, the ride was really unpleasant to me, even stiffer than the carbon model. I just couldn’t see myself spending hundreds, possibly thousands, of hours on this bike, complaining about how it felt or ever getting used to it.

When I got back, I thanked Bill for his time. He probed for how I was leaning and I told him that based on the feel, I didn’t see myself buying a Cannondale at this time.  If anything changed, I’d get back to him. He nodded, pointing out that many things can be changed on a bike but the frame feel isn’t one of them. I appreciated his candor and knowledge, wishing we could do business but it wasn’t to be.

On the way back out of town, I stopped at a fairly new shop in the West End where I had planned to try a couple of brands.  After waiting around for 15 minutes and being ignored, I left. It was as if I was invisible. (I worked in retail for many years. There are some things about it I’ll never understand. Like not seeing customers.  WTF?)

Performance Bicycle makes the grade

My last stop for the day was Performance Bikes, a chain out of Raleigh NC; they have over 100 stores in the eastern and western parts of the US.  I really wanted to buy from a local store but, up to this point, none of them seemed to want to sell me a bike. (Carytown did but their bikes didn’t match up for me.) So here I was at a chain, going against the conventional wisdom of most people in the sport, not buying from the local guy.

Reid immediately took care of getting me set up to ride a Fuji Gran Fondo in carbon; interestingly, I had to fill out a form and leave my driver’s license behind while I rode which wasn’t required anywhere else I rode. Some things about chain retail never change; policies must be obeyed!

I took a half hour ride, a bit hillier than in the city, covering about ten miles. The bike felt really good, nearly as good as the Defy which was over twice as much, and while the gearing was one step down it also felt very solid. So, here was a bike that was $100 above my price range that felt good, was equipped the way I wanted it and was really good looking, too!

As I returned the bike, Reid told me that it was a great weekend to buy because it was a “Triple Points Weekend.” Frequent buyer club members usually receive 10% of their purchases back in the form of points to be used for future purchases. This weekend, that amount was tripled so I’d get nearly $500 back! That would more than cover the accessories I was looking to add. He also pointed out that purchasing there includes lifetime adjustments, a professional fitting was included, lifetime satisfaction guarantee and several other services, too. (The power of big retail is alive and well!)  I thanked Reid for letting me know and told him I’d call him later if I wanted him to hold and prep the bike for delivery in the morning.

Decision Time

I went home, mixed a drink and considered my options. 

The Fuji had the second best ride with a great price, including the chance to get all the accessories I wanted without spending any more money. In the end, I’d be way ahead of the deal. When I replayed my shopping experiences to MB she said, “Why are you even considering these other places? And you hate it when you have to deal with gear snobs and bad service. Go buy the Fuji.”

I called the store and told them I would be coming in first thing in the morning and asked them to prep the bike for me. They took down my name and promised me it would be waiting.

The Best Laid Plans….

I got to Performance about 15 minutes after they opened and was greeted by Jay, the store manager who looked to be about my age. I told him my name and that a bike was being held for me and should be prepped and ready to go.

He immediately got that look on his face that I hate to see. ‘I have no idea what this guy is talking about but I’m going to pretend that I do.’  I’ve seen it dozens of time over the years, to the point where I almost laugh out loud.

Jay walked quickly to the back of the store and reappeared a couple minutes later. Now the look was, ‘I can’t pull this off. Better come clean.’

“I’m sorry, I can’t seem to find it. What kind of bike was it? I was here last night and I don’t remember anybody saying anything about this.”

“It’s a Fuji Gran Fondo, matte black finish with some red trim, with a 105 group on it. It was right here (I pointed to the empty spot in the rack) yesterday. I called about 7 last night and told the guy I spoke to that I would be in this morning to pick it up and prep it for me.”

Jay nodded and began walking toward the back of the store where the mechanic area is and I followed him.  He disappeared behind a wall and I heard him rummaging around back there. 

Suddenly, I heard him say, “Here it is! Found it.”  He reappeared carrying the bike.

“I’m really sorry, Brian, nothing has been done to it yet. Do you mind waiting while we prep it? It’ll take about 30 minutes or so.”

“That’s fine. I’ll go get a cup of coffee and be back shortly.” I replied. Jay placed the bike in a bike stand and started directing one of the mechanics to work on it.
In a half hour, I was back. The bike was ready to go and Jay got me on my way in short order, with the bike loaded onto the car rack. I planned to return the next week, after the points had hit my account, to pickup accessories.

First Ride

There was family stuff going on so I couldn’t ride immediately that day. Late in the afternoon, though, I was able to take it out for a shakedown ride. I told MB I’d be back in an hour or so.

I changed clothes, stuck a spare tube and CO2 pump in my jersey pocket (to prevent a tire from flatting. They only go flat when you aren’t prepared, you know what I’m talking about) and took off. I was extremely curious to see the difference in performance, if any existed, on one of the regular courses that I ride.

The course I rode is just over 18 miles and it’s got a couple of fairly stout little climbs.  As I headed up the street that runs in front of my house, I felt very comfortable spinning along. Since I didn’t have a bike computer on it yet, I couldn’t tell how fast I was going but it felt faster than normal. I immediately thought, “I must be experiencing new bike syndrome.  It must be faster because it’s new!” I had cued up an app on my iPhone so I’d be able to get a pretty good idea at the end but the phone was in my pocket and for now it was all about feel. And it felt good, so far!

At the first climb, it seemed to be much easier riding than I was used to and I shot up the road in a taller gear than I normally do. Definitely faster. I pedaled another couple of miles and came to the second climb, easily the tougher of the two. It felt like I flew up it! Wow! Maybe new gear does make a difference.

I continued on, becoming more and more unified with the machine, liking it more with each corner. By the time I turned back into my driveway, I was convinced I’d made the right decision.  I unclipped and stopped, reaching into my pocket for my phone to click the stop button on the app.

I was surprised to see that I’d ridden this course in 53:03 beating my previous best time by over 5 minutes! That was far better than I was expecting.  New bike syndrome? Maybe but it’s continued for the past 6 weeks and that’s long enough to be statistically significant. 

This new bike has a home!

And a name!  Meet Fast Eddy!