Sunday, July 31, 2011

why it's not working

It's been pointed out to me that I didn't talk at all about the people I met in my post about the Anchor House ride. I also know that I generally have trouble meeting people and making conversation.

It's at least partly because I'm an idiot. There have been at least two occasions in the past month when, I now realize, people were inviting me to make, or continue, conversation... and I didn't pick up on what they were doing until days later.

Sometimes, I'm just dumb.

Monday, July 25, 2011

the face of the TSA

While most Transportation Security Administration employees are busy groping people or taking naked pictures of them, the cops say one of those employees was putting fliers' electronics down his pants.

The Broward Sheriff's Office says 30-year-old Nelson Santiago stole around $50,000 worth of electronics over the past six months from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport's Terminal 1.

After porno X-rays, groping, and now this, I think it's time to end the TSA.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

riding in the heat

Holy bananas, but it's been hot. Most of the week I stuck to the air-conditioned house and the air-conditioned job, but yesterday, I went out on a ride that the Freewheelers ride list said was to be about 50 miles, starting at 8:30. The ride leader had an attack of good sense, and emailed that she was shortening the ride and starting earlier; we did about 42 miles starting at 7:30, and, keeping to shady roads for most of the morning, we managed to have a good ride despite the heat. We went up Bonetown Road, with a steep climb and a terrible road surface (it's hard to get any speed up) on the way back. It took a bit longer to get home than my wife expected, and she was a bit disturbed; I'll plan to be a bit liberal with telling the time I intend to be back.

At night, went up to visit the in-laws, then took the nephews to the last of the Harry Potter movies. It's been a tradition that we take them, and now, as the last one is out, they are turning into the men they will be. It's sobering, and a reminder of time passing.

For today, I got an email forwarded from Laura, Our Lady of Perpetual Headwinds. Tom Hammell, author of Road Biking New Jersey, was doing a metric century today out of Burlington County. That sounded like fun; I've never been on those roads. Well, hot again, of course, so the ride went from a plan of 62 miles (10 km) to 57, to 54; we finally ended up with 52. The topography of Burlington is about like a sheet of paper that's been crumpled and smoothed: it's that flat. There are some things that look like hills, but they're not; it's more likely they're just gravitational anomalies, or something. Because it was flat, some of us got going fast, even in the heat; Laura pointed out that her average was over 17 mph; could we maintain that all the way? I took that as a challenge, and was part of a trio that cooked the road on the way back, and despite winds and the worst hills that the county could throw at us (oh, please), came in with an average of 17.0. And then I wrung about 1/2 cup of water out of my headband.

On the Anchor House Ride, riders are given a name tag to be worn, or carried on the back of the bike, any time we're out on the road. I had not taken mine off the back of my bike for yesterday's ride, and Laura, who has a labelmaker at home, said she was going to make a label for the bottom, so it would read:



After some consideration, I think the label I would make for myself would say:



Sunday, July 17, 2011

wait - WHO are we gonna tax?

I found it here.

et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum

(That heading is from the creed from the old Catholic Mass, now usually translated as "I await the resurrection of the dead.")

My main computer started shutting down on its own after a few seconds last night. A quick search indicated that this was probably caused by heat problems, and fixes were suggested, but I couldn't get the computer to stay on long enough to impose any of them. I opened up the box, and I saw that the bracket that held the CPU cooling assembly in place was broken.

Oh, dear. I figured I needed a new motherboard, which meant new CPU & memory, and I need three SATA connectors. Getting expensive, this is. Go look at Newegg & Tiger Direct...

I remembered a discussion I had had recently about using a local vendor. There's a PC Warehouse store in Edison where I've gotten some stuff; let's see what they have to say - they may be able to save me some time (although I was sure I'd need to rebuild and reinstall the operating system, at least).

It turns out they had the bracket alone for $15. I also needed some cooling compound. The clerk fellow thought I could re-use the little plastic clips that held the bracket in place; I couldn't, but I had nuts & bolts that could fit. Within twenty minutes of arriving home, the computer was up and running with no loss of data.

And that's why you want to support local vendors. The fix that I thought was going to cost over $200 came in at $21.

ride report: anchor house ride, july 9-16, 2011

Edit 7/20/11: I edited the section on 7/13; people have been giving me more credit than I deserve.  I also added some text at the end about what I did not do well.

I rode the Anchor House Ride for this year. Below find my ride reflections:


Dropped off bike yesterday, got new socks (2 pair). I really don't like not having the bike in the garage, and they didn't give me a receipt when they put it on the truck, although in over 30 years, they say they haven't lost one yet. Nonetheless, it's uncomfortable not having it there. It's not like I'm focused on it all the time, but every time I go thru the garage, I'm reminded that it's not there. I wanted to put the saddle measurements in my phone, so I could check them when I pick it up, but, of course, it's not there to do it, so I had to pull out this netbook (which I had already packed) and check the saved document.

There is no end to my wackiness about that bicycle, is there?

In other news, I'm very excited; I'm all packed already.

At the loading, I met the rider I had asked for a ride to the starting point before I asked my local friend (my wife is also away, and sannot drop me at the starting point). I had thought from a subsequent email that she was re-thinking her agreement, but I was pleasantly surprised; she seemed, not creeped out (as I had feared from an email I received from her), but welcoming of me as a new rider, and made assurances that I'd be back to do the ride in future years. I haven't even pushed a pedal yet for Anchor House!


Shanti, a friend, came to pick me up on time, calling twice first to see if I wanted her to pick up coffee (I'd been up since 3:something worrying about whether she'd come and whether I'd make the bus, but it all went well). I was one of the first to the check-in, and they were selling out-of-date jerseys, in my size, for $20! So I got one to wear on the two “Jersey days”, Monday and Saturday. I found a seat on the bus, and wound up sitting alone, which I took for an ill omen, until:
1. I saw several other people sitting alone further back in the bus, and
2. I asked for, and received, an invitation to join some folks for lunch.
It's an undoubtedly friendly crowd; I've also received an invitation to ride with a group in the morning.

It's a long bus ride.

Found my bike (had to make a couple of adjustments), and got checked into the room. Folks are gathered outside having a few beers prior to going to dinner; I'll soon join them.

Later – there were no soft drinks, and I don't do alcohol. I potted around and got my stuff ready for tomorrow and ate alone; I'm tired, and it was easier than trying to find someone to eat with. Nobody in the room now but me; soon, I hope, to bed.


Couldn't sleep well last night; finally got up about 5am. I was two to a bed, but one of my roomies sleeps on the floor, so the other bed was a single. We seem to be OK about light and noise at bedtime.

UP and out by about 7:00. Continental breakfast at the hotel (almost enough; need a bit more tomorrow). Bring out the bike, go back and get the bags, pick up the “chit” (a tag that tells whether you're still out or not) and get on the road. While I was planning to wait for some people to ride with, I got restless and left. Cold this morning... and why is a town called Southern VALLEY at the TOP of a hill?

Got to the first SAG stop (water, food, encouragement, a place to sit down that doesn't have pedals underneath, and, usually, toilets; “SAG” apparently is an acronym for “Support And Gear”, although I suspect it's really a “backronym”, originally just a place for a rider to sag after being tired... but I could be wrong). The support on this ride has me convinced; if you're going to do a multi-day ride, this is the one to do. And the SAG people are so cheerful and encouraging... and they have info about the route beyond, like where there might be toilets if there are none at the stop, where there was a dog to avoid, and the dangerous road surface on a long downhill.

Leave the SAG for the second leg of today's trip. We're going through the Seneca Nation, and cigarettes are $24.95 a carton, although gas seems more expensive than outside the nation (yesterday I remember passing a casino on Seneca land). Along the road, I met some of the folks I planned to ride with today, and rode with them for a bit... but then we got separated again. Another SAG at a VFW; later in the day and more riders are out, so there's much more activity here.

Eat up, load up the bottles (there's gonna be a lot of that at the SAG stops), and on the road again. I rode this stretch alone, and there were few hills and a lot of sun, but I found a pace and this was a fun ride. This is great. Not for the first time, I think, “There are worse things to do than ride the bike all day with all this support.”

At one point, there's an ambiguous direction; we're told to go straight. The main road, the one we're on, veers off to the right; there's a much smaller road that appears to go straight, and I'm almost on it before the road names indicate the smaller road is the one to take. As I get on that road, on the ground is a pink/lavender arrow sticker pointing the direction. Anchor House uses these on turns where they think there may be a question. This is the first I've seen, and I didn't see one before the turn (although I”m sure it was there). It's a great reassurance to a guy who still expects to get lost all the time.

To the last SAG. These folks are also friendly, and some people who used to be involved with the ride but are no longer appear shortly after I do; I overhear conversation about the changes in the ride, and people who are fondly remembered (and people who aren't). All the SAGS seem to have peanut butter and whatever concoctions, cut fruit, granola bars, and gallon upon gallon of water and Gatorade; there are some specialties at each SAG (one had peanut butter, apple slice, and apple butter sandwiches; another had peanut butter and marshmallow fluff on crackers). Here, I got a warning: there's a mile-and-a-half uphill, followed by a mile-and-a-half downhill, and the road surface on the downhill is bad. This means we shouldn't just point the bike and coast down the hill (speeds can get high; 50mph or more is not impossible). I meet someone I was riding with earlier, and we agree to ride together... but I'm faster on the uphill, and he's faster on the downhill (I was TERRIFIED), so I rode the last ten miles to the hotel alone.

That uphill was WICKED; over a mile and a half, and unrelenting; no breaks in the grade. I'm on my lowest gear (and puffing hard at that). As I approach the top, there's a little band, of all things: accordion, snare drum, and saxophone... it's a SAG team! They're playing a version of “Tie a Yellow Ribbon”, notable more for its enthusiasm than it's artfulness (or even its accuracy), but it's an encouragement as I top the hill. When I got to the hotel, my mileage was 73.54, with an average of 15.8.

As I write this, I'm waiting for the Hotel room to be available, for a shower and shave, and then dinner. More later.

Later: went to dinner with 2 of the roommates. The directions to the Applebee's said that it was .3 miles from the hotel; walking the distance indicates that was off by a factor of at least 2.5. Another reason not to trust the GPS! (Later: This was actually a Google Maps error, not a GPS one.)


Longest day, with, as the training director said, the shortest cue sheet: leave the hotel, get on 417, ride to Corning, take about 2 ½ miles to find the hotel. Unfortunately, a rider fell at mile 7, and had to go to the hospital; I think she's off the bike for a couple of days (it later turned out she could not ride this week at all, but she assisted with support).

There were some large-but-rolling hills in the first bit of the ride... and I was faster on the uphills than I was on the flats this morning (despite some hurtin', tired front thigh muscles!). After the first SAG, there was a confusing direction; the sheet said straight to stay on 417, but the signs pointed to highway entrances for 417. Now, I didn't think the ride planners would put us on a highway, so I went straight as directed... and the mileage marked was off for the next turn, so I was REALLY sweatin' being lost. I found what looked like the turn, and made it, but there was no confirmation that the turn was correct for miles.

The confirmation I finally got was this, and requires some setup: there's a “team” on the Anchor House Ride called the SlowSpokes. They make a point of leaving early, stopping for ice cream, not losing anybody, and having fun and laughing a lot. Many of them look like the kind of riders who eat a lot of ice cream and laugh a lot. Now, as I was riding up this road, with some concern about whether it was the right one, I see a chalked on the shoulder, “SLOWSPOKE AHEAD”, and then an arrow pointing to a dead cat in the road. I knew I was on the right track.

On this part of the trip, I passed a store called the East Dyke Depot. My imagination ran wild, but it turned out it sold model train supplies, and I was going through a town called East Dyke. If there's a West Dyke Supply, it may sell other types of merchandise.

After the next SAG, there were two big hills – not steep, but long (more than two miles long, I think), and one right behind the other: two miles of up, then two miles of down, then two more miles of up, and two more miles of down. Again, I was fast on the uphills. I'm not fast on the downhills, because I'm terrified. My top speed was 39mph, and I know I was passed by several other riders on those downhills. (I'm also not fast on the flats. I'm a good uphill rider, but I'm a fair flats rider.)

Another SAG, and then straight into Corning, the traffic increasing as the neighborhood more approaches urban. Got to the hotel early enough to get dragooned into helping ot unload the luggage truck – that'll teach me to go so fast! And fast it was: average of 17.2 for the just-shy-of-90-miles (WTF?).

In the evening, we had the first of our “Yellow Truck Meetings”; when we're all in the same hotel, we meet at the support truck (rented from Ryder, so it really is yellow – but it's called the “Yellow Truck” even when it's rented from companies that paint their trucks other colors). Riders who have done extra service, riders who have done dumb stuff, and riders who have run afoul of the rules and are to be fined (for example, for overweight luggage) are pointed out, and some get tee shirts from River Horse Brewery, a staunch supporter of the ride. One of the announcements was of a last minute route change for tomorrow... uh-oh. This bodes not well for my ability to stay on track.


Another 17.3-mph-average day; what is going on?

Corning to Binghamton. Yesterday was an easy cue sheet: get on the road in Olean and stay on the same route into Corning, almost all the way to the hotel. Today was different: lots of turns and changes, including that last-minute change announced last night to avoid some tricky construction.

Sure enough, I wasn't ten miles in before I missed a turn. I made it back quickly. The SAG stops try different things to see what the riders will like; at SAG 1 today there were graham crackers with some kind of cinnamon spread, that certainly got MY vote!

Then on. I have to point out Wyncoop Road on the way to Van Etten, NY. Many bicyclists like rolling hills: the climbs are not too challenging, but one can get good speed up on the downhills – and can use that speed to help get through the next uphill. Well, Wyncoop had a great run of rolling hills; I loved it, and I heard a fellow rider who was in a paceline saying that the only reason they weren't giggling like schoolgirls was to maintain dignity in front of the other riders in the line! My hat is off to the guy who included this as part of the route (and I actually do wear a hat).

But then there was the problem of the missing SAG stop. Most of us count on the SAGS, and the second was several miles further on than the cue sheet said. I put in an extra couple of miles circling back and looking for it – so I don't feel too bad about my couple of missed turns.

On through the town of Condor, notable for Jack's Family Restaurant and Go-go Bar. I don't think I can say anything that will improve on that. Just let that image percolate in your mind for a moment.

At the final SAG stop, it was pointed out to me that there was a barbecue place further on that was just opening for the day. I'd like to point out the Big Dipper Barbecue, along Route 17 (more or less). Now, any barbecue can have good food. The Big Dipper has great barbecue (even if it is up North), but it also had the other stuff you'd expect at a great barbecue place: a terrible location (right under the Route 17 traffic zooming by), an outdoor sink to clean your hands, a porta-potty (one; no separate his-and-hers), and an great fat guy manning the cooking, who made it clear that he really didn't like you to interrupt him; would you pay for your food and go eat, now? Holly would give it at least four grease stains.

And on into Binghamton. On to that route change, where I mis-copied something, and wound up going in the wrong direction; I was corrected by a friendly driver. Now we're in the hotel in a tiny room, and I'm trying to figure out how we're gonna fit four riders and four bikes in here!

Yesterday, I took a walk around a renovated section of the Corning downtown, and today I took a long walk around the not-at-all renovated section of Binghamton's downtown, Both of these cities have the look I've also seen in other upstate New York cities. Once upon a time, there was a lot of money here, and the architecture shows it: the upper facades of the buildings here are interesting, ornate, and unique. Recently, though, there appear to have been hard times. It wasn't as clear in Corning, where Corning Glass may still have some sway (although there were empty stores and downturned neighborhoods on the way to the hotel in the restored section), but here in Binghamton, the downtown has empty stores, lawyers in storefront offices, stores that are office for charitable organizations, and the storefronts for the businesses that survive are simple and all similar to each other.


Elevation diagrams for each day of the ride are posted online, and today's had the largest amount of climb, with two steep hills (over 4 miles each) and one long, slow one.

I have an anxiety disorder, and it took over (as it has a tendency to do). I had a hard time sleeping last night, partly from worrying about the hills today. There were some shorter hills in the earliest part of the day, and I allowed my difficulty on them to increase my anxiety over the coming, bigger hills. The anxiety ruined the first part of the ride. I tried asking myself, “What is the worst that can happen? That you won't finish this part of the ride?” and “There are a number of riders if far worse shape, with far less training – and they can certainly do it; some of them have already done so” (the route followed the same roads on past rides). Edit 7/20: This self talk was not effective; it never is (that's part of what an anxiety disorder means).

And when I got to the first big uphill, it was, of course, nowhere near as bad as I'd feared.

It was still quite a challenge, though. As I was struggling my way up, I passed a road construction crew with a traffic worker with a traffic sign saying “Slow”. I thought, “You have got to be kidding; octogenarians with walkers could probably pace me now!”

What I should have worried about, and didn't, was getting lost. I missed a turn, got turned around, and did several miles in the wrong direction; then had to backtrack, so while those who were able to follow the cue sheet did 70 miles, I did 80. I have a saying when I ride with the Princeton Freewheelers, “It's always safe to presume that Jim doesn't know where he is,” and I proved it today! I make special cue sheets for myself with big type. They've been helpful up until today (who knows how many times I would have gotten lost without them), but they are not a panacea for my getting lost. (I think it's like a learning disability; I've tried to learn, but it doesn't sink in. And it's not the case with interstates or other highways that I drive on – just on the bike.)

avg 15.9.


Another tough day. Two long climbs; a tough, 4-mile climb and an easier (but still not easy) 6-mile climb. The latter climb was deceiving; we were warned about it on the cue sheet, but after going up for a while, it leveled off and there was actually some descent before the climb resumed. As I was making the turn for the climb, a fellow rider was waiting for confirmation that this was the correct turn; the cue sheet and road signs said it was, and I told him so and proceeded, faster than he. As I saw the level, then descent, I began to second-guess myself, and thought the other rider will be EXCESSIVELY angry if he's done all that climb, and it's not the right route! Luckily, I came upon the SAG stop and knew I was correct. This SAG had a pirate theme, and after some “Arrgh” and “Avast thar!”, I won a prize for catching a plastic fish. The prizes was a saber-shaped plastic drink skewer, and it took some imagination to find a place to carry it where it wouldn't break.

One of the long downhills had a badly broken road surface, and one of the support crew went out the morning we were to cover it, and spray-painted warning loops around the worst holes. How's that for support? (He said that two of the locals had asked if he was from PennDOT, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and were they finally going to fix that road?)

Got to the hotel early, and the room's not ready, so now I'm waiting. 61.79 miles, 15.0 average – those hills are messing up my averages!


Today was a hard day.

I'm tired. One way to see how tired I am is that my average speed was only 14.7. It's true there were hills today (one rider said there was actually more climbing today than yesterday, but it was spread out rather than in single, long episodes), but still...

The other way I know is that I got off the route at least three times, and did well over 80 miles for a route that was supposed to be only about 66. I got turned around after I made a wrong turn and added about 8 miles; when we got back to Jersey, I made a presumption about the route rather than following the sheet closely and added about 5 more miles (and another tough uphill); I missed an ambiguous cue, and wasn't able to get back on track until I was met by one of the supporters who ride the route in a car. At the end, it seemed like I forgot how to read the cue sheet at all; I finally took to stopping at each direction change, repeating the cue out loud, re-interpreting it, then riding to the next direction change.

I'm at the hotel now, showered and shaved, and writing this. It's better now. One of the more experienced riders says that this is frequently the hardest day for some people; tomorrow is much shorter, and there are often supporters along the way, so we know which way to go.

That said, there was some niftiness along the way. We went from the hotel to riding along the Delaware river, and the river towns on the Pennsylvania side were pretty. The first SAG stop was in a house that looked like a dwarf's cottage, or a hobbit house: all curves, low ceilings, oddly-shaped small rooms, exposed wood and stone. It was built by a dentist, and is now a meeting center and retreat house.

We went down River Road in Warren County, which tracked the railroad, which tracked the river. It was beautiful. I can't believe I've never seen it before.

Banquet tonight. As I type this in the hotel lobby, I'm hearing that riders are being brought in (it's about 4:00). More about that after it happens; I gotta go clean up my bike.

Later: It turns out that the banquet is the time when special services and anniversaries (one of the committee members has been with the ride for 20 years; some have been with the ride longer) are recognized. This year's banquet is a comedy of tardiness errors, and some people wait long for food, but, once fed, the camaraderie, especially among the long-time workers and committee people, is palpable. The announcement is made of the amount raised so far (over $400,000); this is the largest single source of funds for Anchor House and represents about a third of its budget.

By the way, this hotel sucks. They didn't have the rooms ready for hours after we got here (or were scheduled to have the rooms), and in at least one case, there were three people rooming together (a married couple and a friend) who were assigned to a room with a single king bed. The banquet was due to start at 6:30, but started about 6:50, and the food line was so slow that I didn't get a plate until after 8:00 (and I wasn't last).

Tomorrow is a short ride, then a picnic for all members, then the ride to the mall for the closure ceremony. We will start the ride late. After the picnic, we process, two bikes by two, with police escort, to Quakerbridge Mall. I'm told it's the experience that makes multi-year riders out of first-year riders.


On the ride today, a veteran rider with at least 13 years experience on the Ride for Runaways died when he crashed into the back of another vehicle. The decision was made to hold only the briefest ceremony at Quakerbridge Mall, and all riders had black armbands on their red tee-shirts as we rode in procession from Hopewell to the mall today.

I did not find out about the death until I was already in Hopewell. For me, in my ignorance of this greater event, it was a good ride; I seemed less tired, and I remembered how much fun riding could be. I DID make a wrong turn, and added 2+ miles (making my total 50.53 for the day instead of the 48.5 on the cue sheet), but I had a respectable average (for a guy as tired as I was; I woke up at 3:30 with a backache that I had to walk off) of 15.7. My total for the ride was 524.21 miles, instead of the just-shy-of-500 actually planned.

I got picked up at the mall by a friend, Al, with whom I had previously arranged the pickup, but when I got there, there was another friend, Libbie. That was a pleasant surprise!

Will I do it again? I hope so. Will I do it again next year? I don't know. I want to talk to my wife (who has been away these two weeks) and see what she has to say.

Edit 7/20: If I go again, I'll also make a point of meeting more riders.  I met my roommates, of course, and I chatted with a few other riders. But I didn't get close to anyone, really, and at the Friday night banquet, there was no person or group that it was obvious I was going to sit with.  I should not let that happen again; I should make a point of connecting with riders.  (I did connect with a number of people at the SAG stops and other support people, and I am incredibly grateful to them.)

Friday, July 8, 2011

ecce quam bonum...

I don't know if this one requires this setup or not, but back when I was in the seminary, I took some Latin. It's stood me well, not only because it gives me an air of erudition I don't really deserve.

When I was in the seminary, we had a song about living together in community. The text was the Latin of Psalm 133:1: "Behold how good and how sweet for brethren to dwell together in unity." The Latin is "ecce quam bonum et iucundum, habitare fratres in unum." The music is pretty awful; I'll sing it if you insist... but it's not worth the bother.

Since I'm a snob (see the profile), I remember thinking how good it was to have people on whom to look down. It was a quick jump from there to, "Behold how good and how sweet: there are people to whom one can feel superior." From there, it was only two more jumps and a "king me"* to Latin-ify it: "ecce quam bonum et iucundum: sunt populi quibus potest sentire superior."

*Didja get the spiffy checkers reference?

All of which was brought back to mind today when I saw this on one of my daily comics, Diesel Sweeties:

Sunday, July 3, 2011

reading too much into it?

I saw my ol' ride partner yesterday on a B-level (which means not fast, for him) Princeton Freewheelers ride. We picked up as if we'd been riding last month (see the first part of this post for why I was surprised by that).

He suggested we meet for a challenging 60-70-mile hilly ride today; imagine my relief at the storms I heard this morning!

Ahem. I remember thinking he was outclassing me by the levels of the rides he was planning to go on. After some discussion, it was clear that he was impressed that I was doing the Anchor House ride.

For a guy who makes his living doing assessments of people, I certainly appear to have missed the boat with this guy.