In honor of my 200th post since I started this blog in August of 2007, I'm going to provide a link to my nine best posts of the previous nine months (one from each month since last August). Yes, I know that this is a cop-out akin to the much-abhorred TV clip show. These posts were picked by me, and represent my favorite topics. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed writing!
To preempt your disappointment in this clip-show of blog posts, here's prologue -- if you will -- to warm you up for the Best of Blue Mondays:
I went for a bike ride this afternoon. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate in the way that I was hoping it would. After the last two week's mid-70s weather, we're back down to the 40s here in the north country. There were snow flurries today, and it was decidedly chilly in the apartment this morning.
Of course, I went our for a ride anyway, dressing, as I often do, not warmly enough. It was okay for the first 18 miles or so. I was quite warm on my up Lake Desolation, and even opened my jersey up to let in some cool air. I started to get cold on the way down the 4-mile decent.
I warmed up again on my second trip up the climb, but by then the sun was starting to set, ad it was downright cold by the time I got to the bottom, and swung off to ride the steep rollers on Ormsbee road. Partially dazed by the cold, I took a wrong turn on my home and wound up riding a few extra miles. Oh well. I eventually made to the quiet road that would lead back to Saratoga. Night was falling, and my hands were slipping quickly toward numbness. I wished that I'd worn more clothes, but it was an exceedingly pretty night.
It was almost completely dark by the time I made it home, and it took my quite a bit longer than usual to get my key out of my jersey pocket as I could hardly feel anything in my pocket. But it all worked out in the end, and I'm hoping that next week will be warmer!
And now, the top nine posts from my first 200 posts:
1) Green Mountain Pain. The forecast came true.
2) My other car is a Nissan Maxima. Even though my car has been slowly sliding toward poor gas mileage, it's still my number one car.
3) Unleash Your Inner Tiger Shark. Proof that I'm more than just a pretty face and fast set of legs.
4) Sweat and Ice. Still one of the best rides of the past year.
5) I'm not that manly. No really, I'm not.
6) Lance Pants. He is so juiced.
7) Wax. This was not a fun Sunday night.
8) CSI factor. Still true.
9) Battenkill-Roubaix. I'm disappointed, but I still love this race.
It's been a great nine months, and I look forward to many more posts. I hope you'll stick with me, and keep reading!
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
In honor of my 200th post since I started this blog in August of 2007, I'm going to provide a link to my nine best posts of the previous nine months (one from each month since last August). Yes, I know that this is a cop-out akin to the much-abhorred TV clip show. These posts were picked by me, and represent my favorite topics. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed writing!
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Tomorrow is Free Cone Day at Ben and Jerry'. Obviously, I'll be there two or three times during the day, so if you need me, look for me there. As such, and because I'm resting up for tomorrows' ice cream, and because I'm feeling the effects of two consecutive long days at work, I'm going to keep this extremely brief tonight. Consider reading BikeSnobNYC's take on symmetry in cycling instead. That's all.
Monday, April 28, 2008
This whole recession thing has been getting a under my skin a little recently. In the best of times, it wouldn't be easy to live on $320 per week. If I were living alone, I'd qualify for food stamps. In a recession, it seems like it should be damn near impossible to live on such a small sum, and yet, I seem to be doing OK. Becky and I work hard to keep our household costs down, and our rent can hardly be beat.
Over the weekend, I found this article in the New York Times. It seems that across the county, people are switching from name-brand food to store-brands, while cutting red meat from their diets in favor chicken. People are eating out less, and cooking more.
With all this talk, it feels like I should be worried. It feels like we should be cutting meat out of our diet altogether, in favor or rice and beans. It feels like I shouldn't have just recently spent a tenth of my annual salary on a new race bike, when I already own a perfectly good (albeit, out of date) bike. And yet, meat remains on the menu, and I'm flattening mountains on my new ride. I've also read that sales of expensive technology, like gigundo TV sets have remained strong, but I say that I'd rather spend my money on a bike than a TV.
For as long as I can remember, I've been programed to live in fear of recession. In school, we were regaled with tales of the Great Depression, and how awful it was, and of course, we've heard stories of harsh times in the 70s and 80s. At the first whisper of this current recession, it felt as if the whole world immediately did what it was programmed to do, flew into a panic, and stopped spending money. But I think we might have been a little too hasty.
Then I heard a bit on WNYC the other day (I wanted to give you a link to the audio, but I couldn't find the right clip... sorry!). It was on the Leonard Lopate show, and about an economist who was talking about the importance of saving money. After talking at length about how important it was to put money away, so that it will grow and come back to benefit you later, he admitted to one very interesting thing: While a student, this man said that he went out of his way to save whatever money he could. In the end, he would up putting away a few hundred dollars during the course of his education.
In retrospect, he said, he wished that he'd spent some more money, and enjoyed his time in school a bit more, instead of always worrying about saving. So I guess that's where I'm at now. Life is too short to not enjoy it, and as long as I'm solvent, paying my bills, and not spending more money than I'm earning, I'm going to do my best to enjoy my life, even if it means dropping some greenbacks from time to time. And, for the record, I have still been able to save some money, without trying too hard, and without passing on too many good times.
An interesting corollary to all of this is that I'm hopeful that learning to live well in lean economic times, will translate to an ability to prosper in fatter times. But only time will tell about that. In the mean time, I'm going to continue doing my best to enjoy life.
My next big purchase? A more efficient car, but that's a few years off.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Ok, I know I didn't post anything on Thursday. I'm sorry. I have a good reason. I was hanging out with two of my oldest and closest friends: Eryn and Amanda. Eryn recently graduated from Cornell, and is now living in Brooklyn -- my last highschool friends still in the city. Amanda lives in New Hampshire, where she works at a school for youth with developmental disabilities.
The visit was an important one for me (and hopefully for all of us), for two reasons:
1) It gave me a chance to show off all of the fun things to do in Saratoga, and a few of he delicious places to eat, and lush-ious (misspelling on purpose) places to drink. (And, while I was at work for a few hours, I heard they even found some good shopping.
2) I proved to myself that even if my friends and I spread out our geography, we can still be close, we can still share fun experiences, and, most importantly, we are still going through many of the same trials in all of our disperate lives, and sharing experience is just as curative as it ever was.
It's always fun to have people visit in Saratoga, be it my brother, my parents, or friends. For as many issues as I sometimes have with Saratoga Springs, I do like living here, and I love to show the town off -- and there's a lot to show off!
While I should have been blogging on Thursday, Becky, Eryn, Amanda and I enjoyed a delicious Indian meal at Karavalli on Caroline Street, before we went off to favorite watering holes DA's and the City Tavern. We stumbled back to the apartment in time to disturb Becky's sleep (she had to go to work the next day, while the rest of us slept until 11.
On Friday, we spent the afternoon walking around town. I took them off to Skidmore, where we broke out the college camouflage and spent some time hanging out on the green. After a nice stroll downtown, we spent some time sampling the local gelatto. Then I had to go to work for a few hours where I sold my first bicycle, while Amanda and Eryn did some shopping.
Later, we all met up at SPA State Park, where I showed off the Geyser, before we sampled Saratoga's take of pizza, courtesy of DiAndrea's pizza. Then it was off to the brewery for some souvenir pint glasses and complimentary beer, before holing up at Gaffney's. In the midst of it all, we had lots of time to catch up on each other's lives.
On Saturday morning we sampled one more local restaurant -- Ravenous -- and then dropped Eryn at the bus station for her trip back to Brooklyn. Amanda and I stopped by Yaddo Gardens, which is not yet in bloom, but looking like it has some great potential.
Then Amanda hit the road, and all that I had left to do was go out for a bike ride, to make up for the miles I didn't ride on Friday.
I think the highlight of the weekend was when Eryn and I convinced Amanda to sample the "curative" waters of the Hathorn Spring. The water smells like rotten eggs and tastes like metal, but some believe that it can do you a world of good. I'm not sure if I buy it, but it sure was funny to see Amanda's face! Stay tuned for photos...
So, it was a great visit. I think I showed my friends a good time, and I know I had a lot of fun. The only thing that could have been better was if Becky had had some time off, and could have hung out with us. Well, hopefully soon.
In other related news, Eryn and Amanda reminded me that our five-year high school reunion is next weekend. Unfortunately, I'm not going, because I forgot that it was happening, and registered for a bike race. If anyone from high school is reading this, I'm not coming to the reunion. If you'd like to catch up, shoot me an email!
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
From right to left: Uncle Barry, Mom, Cousin Emilie, me, Eric, Kitty, Cousin Jenny,
Kitty's sister (whose name I don't remember), Dad.
In a week that saw two major disappointments (Battenkill, the airport), there was one highlight. That would be Passover. Although I'm not the most observant Jew (ie: I don't keep Kosher, I think religion is a sham, I don't believe in God, etc...), I do love to participate in the religion's cultural traditions. Like I've said before, Hanukkah is a great favorite, and for as long as I can remember, I've celebrated it with family friends Harvey and Jackie.
In my family, Passover is like a second Thanksgiving, with some religious lip service thrown in for tradition's sake. One of the best things about Passover is that it's celebrated over two nights, which means that if you play your cards right, you can celebrate the holiday with two groups of people.
When I was a kid, my family would often convene in one place or another -- either at our house in Brooklyn, in D.C. at my uncle's house, or in Florida, with my grandparents. Florida was always the best, because, with a little coordination, we could have Seder with the Bernsteins on one night, and with the Blechmans on the next. It was twice the fun... plus Passover food is delicious, even more delicious than latkes on Hanukkah.
Favorites dishes include Gefelte fish (although Eric told me that this species is endangered, so we might not be enjoying it for much longer) and matzoh ball soup. Of course, the one thing that gives secular holidays a decided edge over Passover is the pesky Seder.
It goes something like this: You've spent a fun day hanging out with relatives. You've helped prepare some delicious foods, and been treated to mouth-watering aromas emanating from various pots and pans in the kitchen. You've put on some nice clothes, and you're ready for dinner. You sit down at the table, only to realize that there's not a scrap of food to be seen anywhere. Then someone hands out the hagadahs.
This takes me by surprise every year. I'm always ready for dinner, and then suddenly, I remember that I have to sit through the prayer service designed to recall the Israelite's exodus from Egypt. In my family, the seders have become less and less orthodox as the older generation passed on. Then I went to college, and suddenly Passover conflicted with bike racing, and I missed a few years of Seders.
This year was finally time to get back to my holiday roots. So I made the aforementioned trip to D.C.
From right to left again:
Uncle Barry, Mom, Cousin Emilie, Eric, Kitty, Cousin Jenny, Kitty's sister, Dad, Cousin Ali
The Seder went something like this: my uncle made a moving -- but decidedly secular -- toast to offer his thanks that the family was all together for the holiday. We took turns reading prayers, skipping over the ones we didn't like, and occasionally repeating the ones we liked. Diaynu is always a favorite, so we unleashed a raucous chorus, which was followed by a chorus of laughter.
The service was frequently interrupted by various things like political commentary, editorials over certain overly-zealous references, Eric lamenting the plight of the Gefilte fish, or my Mom asking us to please use gender-neutral pronouns in referring to God, because, after all, God could be a man or a woman, or a cockroach. We tried to get Cousin Zack, just four years old, to read the four questions, but he wasn't quite up to it. Cousin Emilie, who is very much 15, had to take over the task.
Eventually, we got to the part of the Seder where the meal is served. It was delicious, but the best part was sharing time with my family, who flew to D.C. from as far away as Fairbanks, Alaska and Oregon. After the meal was over, we all went downstairs to play with my uncle's birthday gift, a Nintendo Wii. If there's anything sillier than a bunch of adults sitting around a table praying to a "manly God in all his manliness," then it has to be a group of adults playing virtual doubles tennis in front of a TV.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
I should have been on the damn plane
Instead I was fighting to stay awake in a plastic chair
It was a simple plan: Get up early on Sunday, fly to Baltimore, enjoy an afternoon with family and share a Passover Seder, get up really early on Monday, fly home in time to get to work.
Everything went according to plan until it was 5:15 a.m. on Monday, and I was standing in the airport, about to miss my plane, because U.S. Air lost my reservation. Yes, that's right, they lost my reservation. Despite the fact that I had collected my ticket for the first two legs of my trip the previous day, the airline had somehow decided that I was no longer flying. Well done U.S. Air.
The reason I was given for why my reservation was canceled is this: because my flight on Sunday was delayed (I was on it, it was late), it was listed as if I hadn't traveled at all. Because I hadn't traveled one way, the airline's computers assumed I wouldn't be traveling the other way either. Good thinking.
But it occurred to me: this is exactly why airlines are failing left and right. Ticket prices are going up, airports are increasingly difficult to navigate, and the airlines can't even bother to not delete our confirmed reservations. Who wants that?
Now the best part of all of this was that when I presented myself to the ticket agent, and said, "Excuse me, my reservation appears to be gone," and it took her about 20 minutes to correct this problem (enough time for the plane to leave), I asked what the airline was going to do to make it up to me; she laughed and said "Well, if you had been here when you're supposed to be, when we opened at 3, we could have corrected this."
Yes, that's true, but if I had a reservation, I wouldn't have needed to arrive at 3 in the morning.
So, the useless ticket agent put me on a flight that left only six hours after my scheduled departure, and would get me into Albany about 8 hours after I was supposed to have been there. I tried to explain that this wasn't good enough, and it didn't work.
But I'm never one to take "no" for an answer -- particularly when "no" involves staying in an airport for 5 extra hours. So I took the ticket and proceeded to my gate. I approached the gate agent, and told her that I wanted to get on an earlier flight. She said there was a $25 charge. I said I wasn't going to pay it, because the airline canceled my reservation, she said that was fair enough, and put me on the flight. Why the original person didn't do this, I don't know.
So now I has only three hours behind schedule. The next hurdle was a connecting flight in New York City. It was the same situation, I was on one flight late in the day, but I really wanted to get onto an earlier flight, which was supposedly booked solid.
I presented myself to a flustered gate agent at La Guardia, and he told me he'd call me if there was an opening when the flight boarded... three hours down the line. Eventually the flight boarded -- an hour later than scheduled, and I was able to get on board.
I arrived in Albany six hours later than scheduled, and missed enough of the day that I was hardly able to do anything productive at work. So much for my simple plan.
Here are some stats from Monday:
Waking hours: 3:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Hours in airports: 7
Hours on planes: 2 hours
Pages in books and magazines read: 271
Useful ticket agents encountered: 1
The one upshot from the day was that I slept quite soundly last night. I'm planning on lodging a formal complain with U.S. Air, I'll let you know if they respond.
Monday, April 21, 2008
So disappointed. So frustrated. So sad.
Of course, I’m writing about Saturday’s Tour of the Battenkill Valley. If you’ve read this blog at all in the past month or so, you know that this race is a monument of cycling in the Northeast. Not only is it a stone’s throw from my home in Saratoga Springs, it is the largest single-day event in the country. It’s the one event that everyone and their uncle wants to race. Registration fills up months in advance, and people travel from across the country to participate.
Why is it so special? Well, you race on one 55-mile loop. No lapping around a boring circuit. And it features several dirt roads, adding both an extra challenge, and a feeling like you’re in Belgium racing on cobbles like Tom Boonen or Fabian Cancellara.
And it’s hard. There’s no hiding at Battenkill. This ain’t no crit, where even fat boys can hang in for the sprint. No sir. At Battenkill you bring your game face, your best legs, and you come ready to play.
I learned all of that one year ago, when I registered for the Battenkill thinking that it sounded like a cool idea for a race. Of course, registering for a race months in advance has its disadvantages. I was highly motivated when I signed up in December. But when April came, I was over weight, under motivated and out of shape.
Of course, I lined up anyway, and after riding the first few miles like a sack of potatoes, I was promptly dropped on the first difficult dirt climb. I swore then and there that I’d be back to make up for my embarrassing performance.
In the year that’s past I’ve gone on a successful diet to get down to fighting weight, and all through the winter, when I was suffering through three hour rides on my trainer, I was imagining myself flying up dirt roads. I ate gravel for breakfast, I dreamed of sprinting to the finish in Salem. I wanted so badly to win the race. I wanted the victory more than I can ever remember wanting any athletic achievement in my life.
And my preparations – both mental and physical – seemed to paying off. My fitness reached new levels this spring. I could fly up climbs like never before, so I allowed myself to be quietly confident – and sometimes a little cocky – in the weeks leading up to the event. This year I would come to play, I knew I could be a contender. On training rides with Dante I would say things like: “Well, you are riding with the future category three champion of the Tour of the Battenkill…” He would snicker and tell me to keep it up, but I think we both knew that I wasn’t completely speaking out of my ass.
My anticipation of the race in the days leading up to the event was so palpable that I experienced something I hadn’t felt in years: a deep excitement that manifested itself in trembling sensations in my stomach and tossing and turning at night. I was nervous. More so that I’d been since my early days of racing bikes when I hardly knew what a peloton was.
Suddenly my nerves got the better of me and I started second-guessing months of careful preparation: What if my gears were too hard? What if my tires didn’t have enough tread? What if I was too slow? What if it was hot? What if it was cold? What if? What if? What if? Recognizing that the questions were slowly driving me mad, I delved headlong into other work, principally writing non-stop about the race for my newspaper, for my blog, and for anyone else who would read.
Finally, on the night before the race, with two of my teammates staying in my apartment, I had to let go, and trust my work. Of course, I didn’t sleep at all that night.
I drove to the race under a gloriously hot August sun. Never mind that it was April. I methodically picked up my numbers, and pined them to the wrong side of my jersey. Then I slowly got dressed. Realizing my mistake, I got undressed and fixed my numbers. I put my bike together and warmed up. I put an extra set of wheels in the truck that would follow my race around the course, just in case I got a flat. Just in case.
As I did, I regarded the old wheels with their ratty tires with esteem. My oldest set of wheel, and my least attractive wheels, the acid-yellow Mavic box-sections rims have never once let me down, not in all the tens of thousands of miles that I’ve put on them. For a split, second I considered switching and racing on them, but I quickly realized it was just another butterfly, and stuck with my equally trusty lightweight racing wheels. After all, they had better tires on them.
I lined up at the front of the race with my teammate Pete. We discussed our strategy: stay close to the leaders, make the selections over the difficult climbs. And soon we started. The race rolls out of Salem on paved roads, but soon turns right onto the first section of dirt. I had no trouble rolling at the front of the field. A couple of riders went off on suicide missions, and were shortly brought back in.
Clearing the dirt, we rolled back through Salem, and headed south. The first test came at mile eight with a step, switch-backed climb out of the valley. I killed it. Everything was going perfectly. I was well within my comfort zone, so I pushed the pace on the climb. Looking back, the 100-strong field was strung out in single and double file. The months of work was paying off.
I knew one of the hardest features in the course would come shortly after that climb, when racers would fly down a paved decent before banging a hard right onto a dirt tractor track. I knew anyone not at the front would have to break hard into this turn, but I also knew that with the monster dirt climb just around the bend, hitting the breaks was the last thing you wanted to do. So I made it my business to be the first to the turn, and railed with reckless abandon, putting trust into my tires. The rubber stuck, and I was the first onto the dirt, and the first to the base of the wall of Juniper Swamp Road, an 18-percent grade.
The heat, and a week of dry temperatures, had left the road’s surface loose, and traction was scarce. I rode about 2/3 of the way up the hill, before my wheel started slipping and sliding. I hoped off of my bike and ran for it. At the top of the incline I jumped back aboard and took off down the hill. I’d given up a few spots, so I started hammering the decent as fast as I could. It was going fine, the dirt road flying underneath me when I heard a loud thud.
I thought nothing of it – just another consequence of racing on a dirt road – until about 100 yards later, when a familiar rough feeling from the rear end of my bike announced a flat. And just like that, my race was over.
I got off of my bike and swore to the wind. As I stood by the side of the road dozens of racers went clattering by. I wanted to cry. I wanted to throw my bike away. I wanted to yell at the leaders to stop. But above all, I wanted to get back in the race.
I dismissed each of these for various reasons. Got to be a man. Can’t throw my bike, it’s too expensive. No one is stopping for me anyway. But I still wanted back in the race… where were my damn spare wheels?
Eventually another rider clattered up with a rear flat, and we stood together, two disabled riders. We waited for what seemed like hours, and eventually the wheel truck drove up. I ran to get my spare out of the back, and slammed it into my bike. I took off in a desperate chase, but too much time had gone by. At least I had my trust Mavic wheel to ride home on. The wheel didn’t let me down.
I would up sitting in with other dropped riders. I found Pete a little while later. He had also suffered a rear flat, but he had the bad luck of not having any spare wheels. So it goes. I made it to the finish in just under three hours, 30 minutes slower than the leaders. On the other hand, I did stop twice (once to wait for my wheel change, and once to wait while Pete fixed his flat.)
On the ride home I passed and rode with a number of other riders suffering similar misfortune. It was a tough day out there, and ultimately, the strongest riders – with he best luck – took the win.
But the event still left a bitter taste in my mouth. One minute my mind, my legs, and my heart was in the race. The next minute, everything was dashed in an empty tire. I guess the only thing I can do is come back next year, fitter and faster.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
I'm not posting anything tomorrow, because I'll be in Washinton D.C. for Passover. But here's something to tide you over. Earlier today was the Tour of the Battenkill Valley. I wrote a report for velonews.com. You can read the story here.
How did my race go? Not well.
My team mate Pete and I raced the cat 3 event. Temperatures were in the 80s. The first 9 miles went great. I stayed at or near the front, led over the first major climb, and was the first to the base of the steep climb on Juniper Swamp road (which meant I didn't have to worry about killing myself to get up it quickly). The dry condition made traction really tough, and I wound up getting off and running, but still going over the top in good position. While flying down the decent I slammed a large rock. A few moments later I realized my rear wheel was flat. Race over.
It took about 5 minutes (felt like 30) for the wheel truck to come along. I got my spare rear wheel out and finished race with an assortment of other dropped riders. Pete, who had been able to sit in with the lead group, got a flat around mile 25. Not the greatest day for BVF. Needless to say, I'm pretty disappointed. I felt like I had great form, and the race was going exactly how I wanted it to for the first few miles. Then it was all over. So it goes. I've already placed my pre-, pre-registration for next year.
Here are some photos:
showing off his bike, but a little disappointed.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
I believe this week's top and bottom needs no introduction.
Tops from the week:
1) The Tour of the Battenkill Valley.
2) Bernstein on the Tour of the Battenkill Valley.
3) Bernstein brings the Tour of the Battenkill Valley to the readers of The Saratogian.
4) 36 Hours to go, and all systems ready...
5) The weather for the Tour of the Battenkill Valley... things are looking sunny!
Bottoms from the week:
1) This six-day work week.
2) PERC. At least it's a good story.
3) No paid leave for Passover... 5 a.m. is an early plane to catch... but you'll hear about that next week.
4) The film: The Bonfire of the Vanities... the book was much better.
5) And finally.... No more Battenkill
The boys over at Velocity Nation have published my preview of the Tour of the Battenkill Valley, giving you a great chance to see what my writing looks like on a website with flashing ads and more than five readers. Since I've been writing this race to death over the past week, I figured I would share the love, and send something over their way. Check it out here.
And yes, this was the essay I was working on last night, when I couldn't be bothered to put a real post on my own blog. And yes, I do plan to continue writing about TotBV well into next week.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
I've got another essay to work on tonight (I know, I know... moonlighting), so I'm going to keep this brief and illustrated.
First of all, since we're now just 57ish hours from the Tour of the Battenkill Valley and I already have butterflies in my stomach in anticipation, here are some photos from last year:
At one point there was a tractor on Main Street.
I couldn't afford to pay for the photo
Note the dirt road surface
This is the beginning of the race
Things were much more spread out later on
I'm yelling at Becky and Tom because I'd already lost my water bottle on the first dirt section
It was going to be a thirsty 55 miles.
Next, here are a few other blogs that I've been reading and enjoying recently:
Capital Bicycle Racing, by Eric Schillinger. Amusing race recaps here, and I think he's onto something with his post about why women are repulsed by bicycle racers (except for Becky, of course).
The Bell Lap, by Jesse Gutierrez. Jesse is sick at the moment, but we're all hoping he feels better before Saturday!
The Fat Cyclist, by Elgin "Fatty" Nelson. Amusing, if long-winded, posts on all things bike.
And of course, Bike Snob NYC, by BikeSnobNYC. This anonymous blogger is everything I aspire to be in a blogger. His recap of Paris-Roubaix is one of the funniest things I've read this year, and his take on pass/fail racing will surely serve as a guide to many aspiring racers this season.
That's all for tonight... see you tomorrow!
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
As a journalist, I didn't always enjoy the glory of working at a daily newspaper. First I had to cut my teeth as a reporter at my college's paper, a weekly. I later became a News Editor, then Editor-in-Chief. Skidnews, as it is known, was (and still is) a pretty solid campus newspaper. We did a good job of covering events on campus, and even managed to do some harder-hitting enterprise reporting on issues like gender politics and diversity on campus.
Above all, working at Skidnews was fun. I remember countless late nights in the newsroom, eating pizza, hammering out stories, putting pages together, falling asleep at the keyboard, worrying about class work that wasn't getting done, and just plain hanging out.
As a student club that served a vital (sort of) function on campus, we were one of the few student organizations that had our own space. It was an expansive room with a soaring ceiling. Computers were arrayed around the room, and some ratty old furniture clung to the corners. There were old newspapers everywhere, and trash everywhere else. And on top of all that trash, some of my closest friends. It was a great college newsroom, and many good times were had.
Throughout my first three years at college, this was a place where I spent almost as much time as my own dorm room. I ate there, I did homework there, I hung out there, and I occasionally slept there, when fire alarms drove me from the dorm. I spent a little less time there in my senior year, but I was still a regular fixture. Then, some time this fall, the Skidmore News was told by the administration to up and get out of their office. The space was needed for another purpose. The newspaper was given a larger room (albeit with a lower ceiling), on the floor below the old room.
I had occasion to visit last week, when I was on campus for the John Ashcroft lecture. At the lecture, I wound up sandwiched between a TV camera and the two current Editors in Chief. They were both first year students when I was a senior, so we know each other, though not all that well. Anyway, they invited me to come see the new space.
I texted Dante, another Skidnews alum, and Ciara, another friend of ours and former Editor in Chief. We three met up in the newsroom. The new space is nice. There was room for a much larger conference table, and, more impressively, there was enough space for the mess to be pushed to the sides without cluttering the entire room! My friends and I sat on the old, broken down couch, where we'd each collapsed at one time or another.
Some vestiges from my day had migrated down to the new room. There was a poster spelling out difficult words that I had made with a co-editor in 2004. There were some photos of my friends and I on a screen saver. But it didn't feel like that place that had once felt so comfortable.
The kids working on the paper -- most of whom I'd never seen before -- did many of the same things that we had done years earlier. Just like me and my friends before them, they all seemed to be having fun, but I still kept expecting to turn around and see my old crew walk in the door. But I guess that's the way it goes in college newspapers. I was happy to visit, but don't think I'll be back any time soon... It's time to give the new guard their space.
Monday, April 14, 2008
The last climb requires the big ring
All of it requires a lot of suffering
After yesterday's relatively formal post on the Tour of the Battenkill Valley, I'm going to give a slightly less formal look at the Tour of the Battenkill Valley tonight. I've been dreaming of doing well in this race since I got dropped at miles 7 in last year's contest. This race is captivating, like no other athletic contest I know of. I won't be so bold as to predict an outcome on Saturday, but I will say that I'm optimistic for my chances.
All winter, when I was suffering through 3-hour trainer sessions, I was imagining myself on dirt roads. I dream of Battenkill at night, I see visions at work. I've plotted what I think is a winning strategy, and I've targeted all of my training so far this season at this event. So far, the races I've done this season have gone well, and my fitness seems to be on track. Now, with five days to go, the cards will fall where they may, and all I can do is hope for good luck.
Here are some of my calculations: First of all, the course is insanely difficult. As you can see in the elevation profile above, there are six major climbs. Five of these are on dirt roads. In addition to the natural challenge of needing to ride quickly uphill, the dirt adds the extra challenge of keeping your traction on the dirt road, while skinny tires try to spin out underneath you. I know of no other race available to amateurs that offers such challenging terrain.
Some racers will try to tackle this course with treaded cyclocross tires, but this is a mistake. Although the dirt roads are some of the most difficult sections, the majority of the race is conducted on paved roads. I've now ridden the course five times, in dry condition, wet conditions, and frozen conditions. In every case, I've used regular road tires. Anyone who wants to succeed at Battenkill would do well to not sacrifice speed on the road for extra traction in the dirt.
Then there's the much-feared Juniper Swamp Road, which features an 18% grade for 1/4 mile on a dirt road. Some people will be tempted to race 27-, or even 29-tooth cassettes to help them get over this section. I've used a standard 25-tooth cassette every time I've ridden the course, and can safely say that if you're not turning over your 25 on the climb, you're getting dropped. That's not to say you can't chase back on on the following decent, but remember, the easier your gear, the slower you go.
My most important calculation pertains to my success. I know that if I go out and give the race everything I have, I'll be satisfied. That's because of the event's festival atmosphere. About 1,500 people are racing on Saturday, and many of them are coming with family and friends, and the locals will turn out to cheer the racers on. It's like one giant party, that manages to capture the feeling of the storied classic races in northern France and Belgium, with fans lining the streets in little hamlets, cheering for their favorite riders.
With a few months of preparation, and a little luck, I'm hoping to be among the first to receive their cheers.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Dirt makes everything a little trickier
And that's why this is a singular event in the country
There are just five days remaining before the biggest single-day race in the northeast rolls out in Salem, N.Y. Last week, with preparations fully underway (for both racers and the promoters), I took a few minutes to talk with mastermind behind the Tour of the Battenkill Valley, Dieter Drake.
The race, which, for most racers, takes place on a 55-mile loop comprised of paved and dirt roads in southern Washington County, is in its fourth year. In that short time, it has quickly sprouted from a little-known early spring race to one of the biggest amateur events in the county.
What made this event so successful so quickly? "It's a unique race on the North American calendar," said Drake. "It mimics what they've been doing in northern France and Belgium for 100 years, and people look for experiences like that here. People want a taste of that. People want difficult races that gives them a real challenge, and that's what gets them out."The Battenkill is nothing if not challenging. I had the opportunity to ride the course with Drake and a few other racers on Saturday. Torrential rain on Friday night had turned the course's dirt sections into a soupy quagmire that left us gasping for breath on the course's toughest sections, like Meeting House Hill Road, which features three steep dirt climbs, and Juniper Swamp Road, which sends racers up an 18 percent incline, and then racing down a bumpy decent toward the village of Eagleville. Drake gave me a few tactical hints, but I'll keep those to myself.
As of last Thursday, there were 1,350 racers registered in 16 categories, and they will all get a challenge. There are age groups for junior riders under 18, and races for masters riders over 30. There are regular category races for men and women. Before Saturday, Drake said he expect registration to exceed 1,500.
"The pro men are the last to finish, and it's an exciting part of the day. The pro race is very symbolic, and that's what people come to watch," said Drake.
About 16 professional teams, representing some of the most talented racers from the U.S. and Canada, are expected to toe the line on Saturday, and Drake said that their presence gives the race notoriety necessary to success, but getting them to come is no easy task. Organizers paid for hotel rooms for many of the pro racers, to lessen the financial burden of traveling to this remote corner of the state.
But Drake said the course helps draw pros as well. "Hopefully we can offer something to some of the east coast teams."
The most prominent team in the race will be Canada's Team R.A.C.E., run by Steve Bauer, a former pro who succeeded on cycling's biggest stage, winning stages in the Tour de France and taking second place in the 1990 Paris-Roubaix road race, an event on which the Tour of the Battenkill is modeled.
"Steve has been really good, he understands what a great race looks like, and he wants to give his guys that kind of experience, and that will spring them to races in Europe," said Drake.
Bauer's team will be anchored by five-time Canadian National Champion and Olympic hopeful Mark Walters. Other pro teams include some of the most powerful teams from the eastern seaboard and Canada, but Drake said all eyes will be on Walters.
"My money is on Walters," Drake said, noting that Justin Lindine, of the Windham, and racing for the Target Training team based in Connecticut, could be a contender to place in the top three, and is one of the strongest local hopes. Lindine won the first race of the season at the Johnny Cake Lane in Coxsackie.
Putting together a race this big takes more than hard work. Drake said about 165 volunteers would be on hand on Saturday to help register riders and direct racers around the course. In addition, 35 volunteer-driven vehicles will follow racers, with two cars assigned to each each field to watch for racers violating rules and to make sure there are no hazards on the road. Law enforcement, from local, county, and state police departments will also be on hand to make sure everything goes smoothly.
The race is held to benefit two not-for-profit organizations, the public libraries of southern Washington County and Farm Team Cycling. Farm Team Cycling is a junior cycling club that Drake started to get kids into the sport of cycling.
"This is the budget driver for the entire Farm Team Cycling. The sport is so expensive, that the kids wouldn't get near the sport without help. We take away the cost of cycling, so that these kids can participate, so we can get more kids on bikes," said Drake. He said that Farm Team receives support from parents and other benefactors, but it is the one event that allows the club to function in its mission of getting more people into the sport. About 15 of Farm Team's 22 boys and girls will race on Saturday, hoping to bring home results for the local contingent.
For Drake, that's the whole point. "The long-running mission of the race is to grow the sport, so I admittedly don't spend a whole lot of time grabbing sponsors. That said, we have some really good support anyway because I think the sponsors wee the value in the approach to the race and what it's able to accomplish every year," he said.
Registration for the Tour of the Battenkill costs $30 to $40, but Drake said he could charge a lot more."I am certain I could charged $100 per rider and get it, but that would be counter to what I am trying to do with it," he said, pointing out that other event place the premium on profit, and use larger prize purses to draw pros. Drake hopes he can use his event's success and mission instead, as he aims to get the race listed on a national racing calendar next year.
Anyone who wants to watch the action on Saturday should visit one of the three Spectator Hot Spots along the course. One will be in the village of Cambridge, at the Rice Mansion Inn. The Cambridge youth lacrosse team will be selling refreshments. The second is at the Alleged Farm, at the base of Meeting House Hill Road.
"That's the epic part of the course," said Drake, noting that spectators at the Alleged Farm would have access to cow bells to ring as they encourage racers along the course. The third hot spot will be in the village of Greenwich. Each of the hot spots was planned to afford great views of the race, while keeping things like parking in mind, and spectators will have time to watch friends or family go by, and still make it back to Salem for the finish.
A spectator guide and more information is available at www.battenkillroubaix.com
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Well, who would have thought that less than a week after publishing my much-acclaimed essay on being sick, Divine Caroline has published another of my works! This one is about how everyone I know, I mean, everyone I know, is one facebook. It's like we're all hanging out together in one giant bar. My friends are there, my family is there, my teachers are there, my co-workers are there, and my bosses are there. There's no hiding. Gone are the days when we would all hang out separately. But we're all the better for it, I suppose.
In any event, here's the weekly top and bottom five.
Tops from the week:
1) It's finally spring and riding has never been better. (Plus, one week and flat free!)
2) The Tour of the Battenkill Valley... eight days to go! Start getting excited!
3) My pants don't fit.
4) Pad Thai
5) Johnny Cake Lane.
Bottoms from the week:
1) Stem slippage at Johnny Cake Lane.
2) My pants don't fit.
3) Rain tomorrow, rain Saturday.
4) Washing machine tricks. Ours does the moonwalk, can yours?
5) This one's pretty obvious, but the economic is pretty troubling.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Granted, this is August, not April, but you know...
Notice, I've removed my arm warmers, and am preparing to throw them at Dante.
For cyclists in the northeast, spring comes fast and furious. One day you're pulling on tights, leg warmers, thermal tops, long-sleeved jerseys, neoprene booties and mittens to go for a bike ride, that's inevitably going to end with you freezing, and struggling to control the bike as your shivers send it careening around the shoulder of some country road.
Then, almost without warning, the snow is melting and you're overheating in just shorts and a short sleeve jersey. Sweat pours down your face, and you claw at your zipper to try and cool off whenever the road turns uphill.
Suddenly, even a lightweight vest is overkill, so you stuff it into your pocket. As much as twittering birds and budding flowers, spring is marked by bulging pockets, as you stuff your unneeded arm-warmers, leg warmers, and even gloves into your pockets over the course of a ride.
But here's the best sign of spring: The cyclists who live in denial of spring. It might be 55 or 60 or 65. You might have spent your lunch break sprawled out on a lawn basking in the sun, but these cyclists still think it's January and it's 20.
I turned up for a group ride the other afternoon in 60-degree whether. I wore a vest, and had arm warmers and gloves in my pockets, just in case it got cold as the sun creeped lower in the sky. Glancing around at the other riders, I noticed several questionable equipment choices. Several people were wearing fleece tights. Two had wool caps on under their helmets, and almost everyone was wearing full-finger gloves and booties. Hmm...
Now don't get me wrong, I hate being cold. I'm the first to drag my trainer out of storage when it gets even a little chilly; better to be bored than cold, I always say. But for pete's sake, if it's warm, peel off those winter layers, and finally feel the warm air on your skin.
For me, the most important part of spring is finally peeling off all of those bulky layers, and letting the warm air caress my bare skin. After all, cycling is a summer sport, and dressing the part is what it's all about.
So why would anyone not want that feeling of gliding through warm air after months and months of cold? I took an informal poll of my ride partners. It seemed that the consensus was that a force of habit drives us to dress warm. After all, if you've spent four months piling on all your layers, it can feel almost uncomfortably exposed to ride without them, said my ride partners.
So, after months and months of wearing your spandex like some kind of armor, some of us seem to be unwilling to ride without the protective layer. Personally, I don't get it, but that's just me.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Here in Saratoga Springs, it's finally looking a little bit like spring. Most of the snow is gone, it's been warm enough to head outside sans jacket, the grass is slowly turning greener, restaurants on Broadway are setting up their outdoor patios, there are dozens of birds chirping in the trees, leather-clad motorcyclists have been revving their engines while rolling around town, Becky and I peeled the plastic sheeting off our leaky windows, and limousines ferry wealthy revelers to Caroline Street, I've put my sweaters and warm spandex into storage, and, in what is the ultimate sign of spring, the fancy cars have come out to play.
I walked out of the office today to go to the police station for the daily press briefing and saw, at a red light, a man in a deep-blue BMW convertible with the top down. He wore gray slacks and a crisp white oxford. He glanced at me through dark sunglasses, then glanced back down at his tachometer. It felt for a moment like he should have been listening to blarring hip hop, but he was clearly more interested in hearing the tune of his V6. When the light turned, he dropped the clutch, tires squealing, and shot off to the next red light.
All around town, fancy cars that had been in hibernation all winter, are coming out to show off. Like heavy winter clothes going back into the closet, and the spring wardrobe coming back out, these brightly colored cars just as much a sign of spring as flowers blooming and long lines at Ben & Jerry's. In the past few days, I've seen Beamers, Mercs, 'Vettes, Porches, and even a Lotus driving around town. Some were very slick and appealing. Others were ostentatious. Some were garish.
Such is the case with this Honda Ridgeline. I spotted it on Sunday, parked on Caroline Street across from the parking lot at work. I'm very curious to meet the owner, as I'm convinced that he (or she) walks with a swagger stick, is partial to white velor suits with leopard fur lapels and a purple hats with a wide brims, and I'm dying to know if I'm right.
The funny thing is, the Ridgeline is a pick up truck, intended for use carrying large loads of sand, and towing boats, or horse trailers, and that sort of thing. Of course, in this world, where a Cadillac Escalade can be a powerful status symbol, it's certainly no surprise that a Ridgeline ca be used for the same purpose, but what is the owner trying to say with the custom coloring? Your guess is as good as mine, but my suspicion is that the owner is either a) color blind, and the victim of a prank at the auto body shop, or b) looking to get attention in any way he or she can. You decide.
Oh, also, the rims on the truck are large enough to render the truck useless for off-road work.
nor are the rims
I didn't photograph the rear, to protect the innocent.
So, while we're on the topic of things of questionable taste, here's a nugget from the New York Times. Yesterday, the state senate killed the Mayor's proposed congestion pricing scheme. Good move, it's not like New York City has a major problem with congestion, both on the streets, and on public transit.
Monday, April 07, 2008
Every once in a while I feel compelled to remind you, my three readers, that I do sometimes write things in other places besides this blog.
When I last gave you such a reminder it was snowing and I was whining about being cold. Now spring is here, as announced by birds chirping, flowers peeking through the soil and mini, and mini skirts on parade up and down Broadway. Somewhere between February and now, I wrote a few essays for Divine Caroline, two of which have recently been published.
"Shaving off my manliness," is about my annual custom of shaving my legs in February, ahead of the start of the bicycle racing season. This year, with help from my girlfriend, I tried a new, and infinitely more painful, means of hair removal.
"Sick" is pretty self explanatory. I caught some kind of a stomach bug a few weeks ago, and found myself delirious on the couch for the better part of a day. It was the first time I'd been sick in years, and the experience brought me straight back to my youth. Now you too can go straight back to my youth.
As always, clicking on those links, and reading my essay will remind my editors at Divine Caroline how popular my writing is, and encourage them to give my essays more prominent placement on the site, so click on over and enjoy!
Look for a new essay on Divine Caroline in the next couple weeks. The new piece is about Facebook and how more and more people in my life are signing on, much to my chagrin.
Sunday, April 06, 2008
You can see me hitting the pot holes, safely tucked in
I did my best to stay close to the front.
Yesterday was the third and final race in the Johnny Cake Lane Series. This year's series was held in honor of New York State Trooper David Brinkerhoff, formerly of Coxsackie, who was hit and killed by friendly fire during a shoot out with Travis D. Trim in April 2007. Brinkerhoff was a member of the New York State Police Mobile Response Team, a highly-armed unit of the state police, that entered the house where Trim was barricaded. The unit is stationed in a barracks in Coxsackie.
Two other trooper were also shot in the standoff. Brinkerhoff was 29, and is survived by his wife and infant daughter, who still live in Coxsackie.
Because the race was a memorial, $5 of every $20 registration fee for the series was donated to a trust fund for Brinkerhoff's daughter, and because this was the final race in the series, the competition was preceded by a parade of all the racers, led by State Police, Greene County Sheriffs, and Coxsackie Police. The route took racers by the state police barracks where Brinkerhoff was stationed, and through the sleepy village, much to the bemusement of the locals and racers alike. Calls of "Hey, let's do this all day," and "That's it, nice and easy," resonated throughout the peloton.
I caught the guys in front of me,
but we were soon pulled back in.
Racers in the A (1/2/3) and B (4/5) fields were joined today by racers in a C field, comprised of citizens and law enforcement officers, who raced two laps, and participated in the parade. This week's race was looking to be quite a bit faster than last week's, with Target Training, Westwood Velo, CCNS and Keltic bringing big teams, and strong riders from Kenda/Raleigh and Van Dessel turning out as well.
Also, because this was the third and final event in the series, and because it coincided with the Ronde de Vlaanderen, one of the most important northern classics, which took place today in Belgium, organizers added the "Koppenburg of Coxsackie," a short but relatively steep climb, to the course. Racing started at the bottom of the climb after the parade through town, and the pace immediately shot up.
The new bike goes really fast uphill
as long as the stem points the right way.
Temperatures were in the upper 40s and 50s yesterday, and everyone had shed many of their winter layers, and with it, despite the usual strong wind, racers seemingly also shed their early season legs, and ratcheted up the pace as soon as we hit the hill. The pace stayed high for the first two laps until Roger Asphlom (Westwood Velo) and a Target Training rider went off the front. The field calmed down for a bit until people realized that there was a race on and it was probably best to chase. A few chase groups went up the road, and there was some shuffling at the front, but unlike the last couple weeks, the peloton stayed largely together. I went in a couple moves that didn't really go anywhere, and otherwise stayed safely tucked into the peloton, where I did my part to pull on the front. I moved as best I could on the hill on each lap, in the interest of testing my legs before the Tour of Battenkill in two weeks.
Look at the Target Training rider in Green
Very strong team, but I think they look like the Hulk
Everything was going pretty well for me until the second to last lap. Keltic riders forced a split in the field shortly before the hill on the start of the second to last lap. I was caught out, but wanted to stay as high up in the race as I could. I put in a big acceleration on the hill, quickly getting out ahead of the peloton, but was unable to catch the chase group. I soon wound up back in the field. A short time later, a Van Dessel rider riding next to me commented that he thought my stem looked long (it's 120mm). Although it's a standard length for my size bike and torso, his question made me look down at the stem.
My front wheel was straight, but I was holding the handlebar as if I was turning right. Not good. I hadn't noticed that the stem had slipped, but I did not feel safe continuing knowing that the stem was loose and out of alignment. I threw up my hand, pulled over, and let the race go by. I asked the officials in the follow vehicle for a wrench, but they didn't have one. I resigned myself to rolling into the start/finish with my handlebar askew.
On a side not, I'm confident that the reason my stem slipped is that my new bike's fork has a carbon steer tube. I adjusted the stem's stack height earlier in the week, and was so worried about over tightening the stem bolts that I must have left it too loose. It's something to be wary of for anyone else running a carbon steerer.
The B race had an interesting ending in the first lap. Jordan Sagalowsky, wearing all black, attacked from the gun, and rode the rest of his race on his own, finishing two and a half minutes ahead of the field, which, due to the placement of a second pace car in the race, apparently forgot that there was a rider up the road. Brian Kelley wins the Leif Hoste award for finishing second in all three races... close, but no cigar! Regardless, he takes the overall title for the series. Stay tuned to the overall winner for the A series.
Someone won the C race. Sorry, but I don't know who.
Becky volunteered to marsh by the bridge, and she was able to take these photos. Thanks Becky!
Also, in case you're curious, Stijn Devolder won the Ronde de Vlaanderen, after his Quick Step team played its cards nearly to perfection. Perfection would have been Tom Boonen winning, but what can you do? Nick Nuyens, of Cofidies, was second, and Juan Antonio Flecha, of Rabobank, was third.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
As tradition dictates, I'm going to start this Thursday's post with the usual missive: It's Thursday, and I'm tired. As much as I enjoyed attending last night's event with John Ashcroft, I think it took about 10 years off of my life. These ole' legs are used to sitting on a saddle, not standing in a hot auditorium without moving for hours on end.
I'm also percolating a post about my new part-time gig at Blue Sky Bikes, but for the time being, suffice it to know that today I had a 9 a.m. meeting, went in to work at 10 a.m., stayed until 4:30, then went to Blue Sky until 7, then went back to the Saratogian to finish up for the week, staying until 8:30. I was pretty much useless by the time I pedaled by bike on home. And I got a late start today!
Before I get to this week's lists, I thought everyone should know that on Wednesday afternoon, I ducked out of work for a mid-day ride. Near the top of Braim Road, one of my main routes out of town, I got my second flat in two days. I was prepared for it this time, after the previous day's experience. But I ruined my CO2 cartridge, emptying the brass canister of its precious gas. And then I was in practically the same boat as on Tuesday. I stuck out my thumb at the first truck I saw, and fortunately for me, the kind driver stopped and asked what was wrong. I told him, he told me to throw my bike in the back and get in. I gratefully did. After offering to take me anywhere, he gave me a lift to Travis's house (about three miles away), where I borrowed Trav's pump and went back out for my ride. I would have been screwed -- for the second day in a row -- had it not been for the kindness of that stranger. I didn't get his name, but I thank you.
Anyway, I don't mean to moan and groan, but I'm really looking forward to going to sleep. Here here the week's highlights:
Tops from the week:
This is what Becky and I made for dinner tonight. Yes, it was as good as it looks.
2) The limitless kindness of co-workers and strangers.
3) The John Ashcroft lecture.
4) 18th Place at Johnny Cake Lane #2. Not that I'm keeping score, but that's almost a 30-place improvement in one week.
5) I can smell spring on the air. It's nearly here. (Even though it might snow tonight.)
Bottoms from the week:
1) Five inches of snow last Firday? More on the way tonight! Come on!
2) John Ashcroft. It might have been a great event, but I will never understand his neoconservatism.
3) Two flats, two days, two rides nearly ruined.
4) The price of gas, and the amount my car uses. Good grief.
5) Never ending chores: laundry, dishes.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
One headline that was not an April Fool's Day joke (though it could have been, and it would have been a really funny one), was John Ashcroft's visit to Skidmore. John Ashcroft? At Skidmore? You must be kidding, isn't that the left-leaning college better known for organizing Earth Day events and eating veggie burgers than voting for GOP candidates? Yes. The former Attorney General's visit was, without a doubt a cou for Skidmore Republicans. But it was also a cou for the entire community.
It was standing room only in Gannett
Tom Qualtere tells someone to give up their seat
The benefit is to all of us, who had the chance to hear the speech, and gain new insights. There was, without a doubt, no bigger event in Saratoga Springs tonight than former Attorney General John Ashcroft's lecture at Skidmore College. Although Paul Post was on hand to handle our coverage of the event for the newspaper, I decided to attend as well, to A) offer my own insight into the lecture, and B) When a figure of national importance comes to town, and you can go listen for free, you go!
Having spent nearly five members as a member of the Skidmore community, I can say with certainty that tonight's lecture was the best attended event I can recall, with the only exception being the annual commencement exercises. I arrived an hour early, and the 230-seat Gannett auditorium was already filled to capacity, with students filling in the aisles and doorways, and spilling out into the hall. There were some seats reserved in the front for donors who had paid for the privilege, and the media. Of course, there weren't nearly enough seats for the six TV stations and five newspapers, so I wound up standing to the left of the podium, behind a few of the TV cameras.
Unbelievably, I was within spitting distance of a man once protected by the Secret Service
I didn't get this view for long
I heard the other auditorium, in which the lecture was simulcast, was similarly packed. The only other I can remember getting that much turn-out, was a lecture by Daily Show correspondent Mo Rocca.
You can almost see Ashcroft behind the TV camera's light
At least I got to be in the room!
Ashcroft was everything that I would expect from a man of his stature: he was charismatic, he was engaging, he wasn't afraid to poke fun at himself, and he easily held the attention of about 600 people. The substance of his speech was his belief in the importance of defending liberty, and the USA Patriot Act, adopted in the wake of 9/11/01, which was Ashcroft's crowning achievement. Ashcroft said that laws should exist only to protect our freedom, and to make us more free. He also read Emma Lazarus's poem, inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty: give me your poor, tired, hungry, etc...," calling it an important, patriotic work.
One thing that really, really gets under my skin is when politicians reference 9/11 as a justification for everything that has happened since then. Ashcroft said the world changed on that day, and he's right, but he was in a plane over Michigan when he heard the news. I was at school, in Brooklyn. My Mom was at work across the street. My entire life was within a mile (as the crow flies) of the burning World Trade Center. With all respect to the tireless work Ashcroft and other members of the administration put in to govern the country in the wake of 9/11, none of them were there. None of them saw thousands of dazed survivors walking across the closed Manhattan Bridge. None of them heard the city erupt in a wail of sirens. None of them really know what that day was like. And what we needed on that day was the comfort of loved ones. What we did not need was wanton revenge. What we did not need was the government telling us it would keep us safe by increasing domestic spying. But Mr. Ashcroft wouldn't know anything about that.
But I digress. After the speech, a handful of Skidmore students had the opportunity to question Ashcroft, apparently forgetting that he is no longer a law maker. Most of the students called on were prepared with good questions. One or two were not, and got thoroughly trounced by Ashcroft, who has the benefit of a life spend steeped in government. Questions ranged from a questioning of Ashcroft's position on abortion (How can you say that laws preventing abortion expand and protect liberty?), gay rights (How can you say that laws preventing same-sex marriage expand and protect liberty?), immigration (if we need to accept more people into our country, why are we turning away so many people from our boarders?), and our mission in Iraq (How is our occupation of Iraq expanding the liberties of the Iraqi people?).
I wonder what they talked about
Insiders told me Ashcroft really knows how to work a crowd
The answers were, generally, not to the liking of the audience, which was not shy about reacting with cheers to the questions and jeers to the answers. In general, Ashcroft stuck by his conservative beliefs: I believe that life begins at conception, and we need to protect the freedom and liberty of that unborn person; We're not going to take away your freedom to have any relationship you want, but marriage should be based around building the next generation; We need to help the Iraqis reach freedom by giving them the choice to choose; and I welcome more immigrants.
Ashcroft made one significant gaffe, when he referenced the national campaign. "Now Osama.. uh, oops, I mean Obama..." yeah, right. That one clearly didn't go over too well, especially not from a man who began his speech by saying the President directed him (and others) to "never let this happen again," on Sept. 12, 2001, a directive that lead to the creation of the patriot act, which Obama voted to renew as a senator.
One the whole, if the point was to more the greater conversation forward, it was a success. I disagree with almost all of Ashcroft's views, but I am still honored that I had the opportunity to hear him talk.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
It started out so well. This morning I went out for my usual mid-week climbing session. I cruised out of town on Clinton Street, and took a left onto Daniels Road. Despite moderately gray skies, today was the best spring day we've had yet this season, and I couldn't be happier to be out riding my bike. I was wearing the least amount of clothes I've been able to wear on a ride since Grant's Tomb -- shorts, arm warmers and a vest. And, I was sweating... imagine that! Sweating on a bike ride, and not wearing fourteen layers of clothes.
The ground was a little wet, and there were intermittent layers of fog in low-lying areas, and melting snowbanks on the side of the road created some cooler inversion layers, but on the whole, it was a great early spring ride. I rode to the end of Daniels Road, and swung a left onto Route 9N, and then a right onto Middle Grove Road. I rolled west on Middle Grove for about 4 miles, and then took a right onto Lake Desolation Road.
Lake Desolation is a small Adirondack lake perched high on a mountain. The road to the lake rises 1,000 feet in about 4 miles, and maintains a steep grade as it winds through small communities, hunting lodges, and farms. With about two and a half hours to ride, I had time for my usual routine: ride to the base of the climb, climb it, ride down, climb it again, ride halfway down, and take a turn onto another back road to make a loop out of the ride on my way home.
Everything was going swimmingly for the first half of the ride. I took a full minute off my previous best time on the climb, and made it down to the bottom while munching on a granola bar. I turned around to ride back to the top, and made it about two-thirds up, when I deep thud told me my rear tire was flat. Annoyed, because I'd just lost my chance to beat my new record, I stopped to change the tube. It wasn't surprising, really, it was wet out and the road was sandy. Prime flat tire conditions.
I pulled out the old tube and put in my pocket. I pulled the offending pebble from the tire's casing and took a fresh tube out of my saddle bag, installed it, and took out my CO2 inflater. That's where problems emerged. I realized something was amiss when the CO2 cartridge was empty. Feeling like a fool, I realized I'd forgotten to put a new cartridge in my bag after the last time I'd had a flat some time in the fall. This was a pretty serious problem. Without any way to inflate my tire, the ride was over.
No real problem, but I did need someone to come give me a lift home. I reached for my phone. It wasn't there. Now I had a real problem. I always carry my phone on rides, and yet, somehow, it wasn't there. With a groan I looked around. I was on a particularly desolate stretch of the road, so I put my bike back together and started walking down the hill.
If you've never experienced the joy of walking down a steep hill in slippery carbon-fiber soled cycling shoes, while your bike's flat tire bumps along the pavement beside you, I don't recommend you try it. I stopped at the first house I came to, and an overly excited yellow lab soon greeted me, with woofs and wags and jumping. After patting the dog for a few minutes in an effort to get it to stop clawing at my shorts, I knocked on the door. In a minute, a man with a full gray beard opened the door.
"Everything OK?" he asked in a thick Rusky accent, after sending the dog away.
"Umm..." I explained my predicament, and asked to borrow his phone. He said of course he didn't mind, and went to retrieve it. There presented a whole other obstacle. In this day and age of modern conveniences, I don't know anyone's phone number. Not Becky, not Dante, not Travis, no one who could come get me. I knew my parents' phone numbers, but that wasn't going to help.
Frowning, I called the one number I did know: work. I got my boss on he phone, and asked if, perchance, Dante was in, even though I knew he wasn't. When she told me he wasn't, I asked to speak to Rick Gargiulo, chief photographer. Aside from being a super nice guy, Rick is a fellow cyclist, and was an alternate on the now-defunct Coors Cycling Team, which dominated US cycling in the Greg LeMond era. Also an accomplished mountain biker, Rick was excited to hear about my new bike, when I bought it, and couldn't wait to see it, when it finally arrived. Although I felt bad interrupting his work day, it turned out that he was having a slow day anyway. I gave him some directions, and he was on his way. Thanks rick, I owe you a million.
So, I clicked off the phone, and turned to my savior. I thanked him profusely for the use of his phone, and we started to talk. It turned out that he was from Borough Park, Brooklyn (which I could have guessed from the accent). So, we fell into a chat about the old country. He moved up to Lake Desolation (as unlikely a place for a Russian Jew as the moon), because public schools upstate are better than those in Brooklyn, and the property tax is less. He traded stocks online, and owned 20 acres with two houses, one of which he lives in, the other of which he rents to Navy men from the facility in Malta. We talked about journalism, about the presidential race, and about the weather. As we talked, the sky, which had been fixing to clear, got grayer. Eventually, our conversation ran dry, and he went inside, and I went to the bottom of the driveway to wait for Rick.
As I stood there, it started to spit rain. I zipped up my vest and shivered. In the knick of time, just as it really started to rain, Rick arrived. We put the bike in the back of his truck, and he gave me a lift back home.
It could have been the best ride of the season so far, but it sure turned out different. Rick, man from Borough park up on the mountain, thank you both so much. It would have been a much worse day without you.
P.S. I was going to play some April Fool's Day trick on you today, but I couldn't come up wit ha good one. Sorry, maybe next year.