Thoughts

Thoughts and Adventures From Greenlite Heavy Industries

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Manaslu Part 1

Introduction

Approximately ten kilometers south of the mountain chain that forms the Nepal/Tibet border, in the Gorkha Himal, stands the world’s eighth highest mountain: Manaslu. Weighing in at 8163 meters, Manaslu is one of fourteen mountains that rise more than eight thousand meters above sea level. To mountaineers the number eight thousand is important in the same way that twenty six point two has special significance among runners.

I went to Manaslu in the spring of 2002 with five American and three Nepali climbers. The Nepalese climbers were on the clock, in other words we paid them to help us reach the summit; these three men were invaluable to our success and I will have much more to say about them in the pages to come. Among the American climbers was my very good friend Brian Sato. Brian and I have climbed together for over twenty years and the friendship that we shared – one in which two men completely trust one another – is a theme woven into the fabric of this story.

All writing, even non-fiction, is conjecture. I am not a journalist and have no particular affinity towards books that simply tell how, when and where such and such an event occurred. I personally have always been more interested in the why. This is a story based entirely on recall, which is not to say that I’m making things up, but memory is fickle, and what I remember as a seminal event may have passed by my companions unnoticed and vice versa.

As our society becomes increasingly immunized the adventurer becomes more of an anomaly. What one hundred years ago was the danger of everyday life has, today, morphed into an unacceptable risk. The price of an unexplored life is mediocrity; you don’t know your capabilities until you’re forced to find them.

So that’s the upshot, this is a story about friendship, challenge and discovery: the three ingredients of a wonderful life.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Subprime Intelligence

I’m reading this book The Monster by Michael Hudson, it’s all about the subprime mortgage debacle and it got me wondering: why don’t they teach personal finance in high school? It seems that a class on basic household finance – what is APR, what’s wrong with credit card debt – should be required in order to graduate high school.

The purpose of public education is to create a responsible citizenry, but when you have so many people who are so gullible you actually begin to create a failing state. The financial meltdown spawned by subprime lending is a case in point. I mean how can you explain to the public the problems of deficit spending or global warming when so many members of that public will willingly sign an adjustable rate mortgage that begins at fourteen percent and climbs to twenty two percent.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Keep It To Yourself

One of my favorite editorial writers is New York Times columnist David Brooks. Unlike most blow with the wind conservative columnists who are adamantly for something until they become adamantly against it, Mr. Brooks remains true to a very well-defined ideology, and even though I usually don’t agree with him, I do respect him for his intelligence and his consistency. In today’s editorial - The Joys of Social Science - Mr. Brooks accumulates the findings of several social scientists, my favorite of which was a study performed by David Gal and Derek Rucker.
Here's the abstract of the study:

A seminal case study by Festinger found, paradoxically, that evidence that disconfirmed religious beliefs increased individuals' tendency to proselytize to others. Although this finding is renowned, surprisingly, it has never been subjected to experimental scrutiny and is open to multiple interpretations. We examined a general form of the question first posed by Festinger, namely, how does shaken confidence influence advocacy? Across three experiments, people whose confidence in closely held beliefs was undermined engaged in more advocacy of their beliefs (as measured by both advocacy effort and intention to advocate) than did people whose confidence was not undermined. The effect was attenuated when individuals affirmed their beliefs, and was moderated by both importance of the belief and open-mindedness of a message recipient. These findings not only have implications for the results of Festinger's seminal study, but also offer new insights into people's motives for advocating their beliefs.

Funny the timing of this bit of info as I yesterday I was emailing a couple of buddies my hypothesis that the more someone doubts their religious beliefs the more likely they are to go around trying to convert others. I think David Puddy from the good old Seinfeld days had the right approach.

Monday, December 6, 2010

First Turns


Finally it's the time for ice cream for breakfast. Nothing fuels that big ski day at Alpental like a big Belgian waffle topped with ice cream and berries. I was up at five thirty beating egg whites to soft peaks so that we could be in line at opening bell.
The coverage was spotty but the snow was cold and soft, so all in all it was a good day. Here in the Northwest any skiing before Christmas is gravy so I can't complain. As a general rule you can't ski Alpental if you're a complainer: I am continually amazed by just how challenging Alpental really is. There just aren't that many people willing to put up with that place.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Balancing Act

I like to balance my rants with something positive. Not everything manufactured in the twenty first century is complete crap, all you have to do to prove this point is look to the small town of Red Wing Minnesota. There is a factory in that town, a factory known as "The Shoe" where craftspeople still make a product that is built with pride and built to last.



My Red Wing Iron Rangers are the most comfortable and most well-made shoes that I've ever owned. They are my go-to winter shoe and I predict that ten years from now I'll still be wearing these same shoes.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Land of Broke S**t

My father-in-law used to have a ranch in rural east Texas, a place he accurately referred to as “the land of broke shit.” The roads leading to the ranch were lined with trash and nearly every home we passed was surrounded by a garden of broken lawn mowers, motorcycle frames, rusted farm equipment, disused playsets and no-wheel cars on cinder blocks. It was as if owner used something until it broke down and then simply got off and walked away, leaving a metal hulk to rust in the knee high grass. Now it seems that the WalMartization of America has made, not just East Texas, but our entire country a land of broke shit.

Last week I bought one hundred and fifty pounds of grass fed beef from a rancher in Eastern Washington and wouldn’t you know it my six year old chest freezer decided that this was the time to take a crap. We go to Home Depot, but all they have is the same piece of junk I already had so off we went to Sears. Sears had two options: the same piece of junk with a Kenmore instead of a GE sticker and a $250 stand-up freezer. I didn’t want the same ole same ole so I inquired about the stand-up. They wanted $70 to have it delivered; seventy bucks to deliver a two hundred and fifty dollar unit, no thank you I’ll take the POS chest freezer and borrow Jane’s Jeep Cherokee to get it home.

So here I am with POS 2.0 in my garage and next to it sits a worthless piece of scrap metal. The old freezer didn’t completely fall apart, what happened was some tiny plastic part had finally had enough and gave out thereby rendering the entire unit worthless. What irks me is the waste.

As Americans demand cheaper and cheaper products manufactures’ respond by examining each individual part of their product and systematically replacing relatively expensive durable parts with inexpensive failure prone parts. Eventually the unit becomes so cheap that it’s more economical to purchase a new unit than it is to have it repaired. This would be no problem if the product were made out of say corn, but they are not, they are made of and packed in non-renewable resources. My old freezer is a complete waste of finite resources. Whether it’s pots and pans, televisions or freezers we have become a throw away society.

Throwing everything away just isn’t a sustainable model. Perhaps we should task prison inmates with the job of repairing all the broken down freezers, water heaters, dishwashers, ranges, washers and dryers. You should just be able to make a call, have someone pick it up, have it transported to some lock-up where it would be fixed and put back out for sale. Seems like a win, win, win.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Community

A few weeks ago I listened to a story on NPR about the family of severely disabled girl who was turning eighteen and facing severe reductions in her Medicare. The girl required full time medical care, which came from either the parents or an in-home nurse. There was a lot of pressure on the parents to put their daughter into a home for disabled adults, an idea they were against because of the poor care she would receive. The parents brought up the subject of whether or not the public ought to care for a person who, at least in the traditional sense of the word, has nothing to “contribute” to society. The parents tried, in vain in my opinion, to make the case that their daughter did have value to society, a topic some emailer seized on the next day stating that he had no responsibility for someone who can’t contribute. In my humble opinion both the parents and the emailer completely missed the boat.

This girl doesn’t contribute to society, but she does define us as a society. Imagine a scenario wherein one hundred pregnant women were put into a room where a doctor walks in and states “I’ve studied each of you and I can tell you that ninety eight of you will have healthy babies, one of you will have a mildly disabled child and one of you will have a severely disabled child. My combined fee for providing care for the two children is one hundred thousand dollars. These are the facts you decided how to best handle it.” I think that the room would be split about eighty/twenty with the eighty being a community oriented group and the twenty being a screw you group.

The community group would propose that everyone kick in a thousand dollars for a total of one hundred grand, thus ensuring that the two disabled children will get the care they need. The other twenty percent will say screw you, I’ll go ahead and take my chances. In my humble opinion the community group has the more worthwhile solution: everybody kicks in a little in order to care for the community as a whole. The screw yous would argue that they are forced to pay for something that their family doesn’t need, while the community people would counter that they are paying for something that that their society needs. Do we stand alone or do we stand together.

The disabled child has value outside of her immediate family not because she can go out and handle a shovel or enter data into a computer, but because she defines who we are as a society. Are we a community or are we a collection of screw you individuals. The screw you mentality falls apart when one of that group ends up with the disabled child; suddenly they want to change their vote. Kind of like when Limbaugh found himself addicted to hillbilly heroin or when Wall Street bankers stuffed money in their pockets just before coming to the American people – the very same people they’d been screwing for a decade – hat in hand.

When you look at American history you see an attitude shift right around nineteen forty. I believe that WWII changed the American psyche from one of “grab all you can get” to “we’re all in this together.” It was this shift in world view that fueled something that America had never before seen: a prosperous middle class. Today The United States of America faces a very difficult challenge wherein a minority of screw yous are presenting themselves as a majority. The community group, led my President Obama, has done a very poor job of making their case, it’s time he/we step up and show the voters just what kind of crappy world these Ayn Rand reading screw yous are trying to create.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wise or Chicken

The past twenty two years in Seattle have reduced me to a bit of a wimp when it comes to snow driving. When I was a kid back in Des Moines we used to hide behind snow drifts and when a car passed we’d hustle out and grab the back bumper for a ride. We called it bumper sliding or hookey bobbing. I remember once we went snowmobiling and my dad was driving a pick-up with the sled in the back and I rode the entire way just holding onto the tailgate – totally normal in 1978, completely crazy in 2010. My point is that in order to slide behind a car the roads would have to be pretty darn slick, and we thought nothing of driving on those roads.

I remember mom carting us to school in this 1974 Chevy Impala station wagon, you couldn’t design a worse snow car, but every morning off we went. When I got my license we used to go out on icy nights specifically for the ice. We didn’t avoid it we looked for it. Today I have a Subaru Outback – the consummate snow car – and I find myself inching along, nervous on any hill. On the one hand you could say I’ve grown wiser, on the other you could argue I’m more chicken.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Winter



It's not supposed to snow in Seattle, but every year we get at least one white storm. This year the white stuff came a bit early. Our new old house isn't insulted nearly as well as our old new house; despite storm windows I can feel a steady breeze blowing through the single-pane windows. Perhaps I'll have to get out the Sawzall this spring and install new windows.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

No Bull

Last week I spent three days sneaking around the Utah mountains looking for a bull elk. I was visiting my friend Bill, and tagged along behind him while he went in search of an animal to top off his freezer. We put in three twelve hour days and came across several groups of the massive animals, but we saw no antlers and consequently couldn’t fire a shot.

When I was a kid in Iowa my dad really enjoyed pheasant hunting, and my brothers and I used to go out with him walking the ditches and draws on crisp Midwestern mornings – eventually dad spent more and more time in the car, but he still loved being out with his son’s giving us pointers and telling us where to go. For me hunting has been more about laughing and telling exaggerations than it ever was about firing a gun or putting meat in the freezer.

I quickly discovered that elk hunting and pheasant hunting are two ends of the hunting spectrum: one is slow the other fast, one is silent, the other social. Every morning Bill had me in the woods an hour and a half before sunrise moving quietly, listening and looking for any sign of a passing elk. Once we found a favorable spot we hunkered down and waited. This is when I typically assumed my “hunting posture” of lying on my back with my eyes closed, calling in the unwary prey with an elk call that sounds surprisingly like a light snore. Sometimes I’d nod off for thirty, maybe even forty, minutes only to wake and find Bill standing in exactly the same place and in the same position that he was when I dozed off. He had his sneak down that’s for sure.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods, climbing, hiking, trail running, mountain biking, but elk hunting was something entirely different. Hunting is all about immersion and absorption: you have to immerse yourself in the forest and absorb every noise and every flicker of light. For me outdoor sports were all about getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible, basically I was just crashing through the woods oblivious of my surroundings. Hunting opened me up to those surroundings. Lying on the warm ground watching the light from the rising sun track down through the forest canopy is something I never before noticed despite having spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours in the woods.

I know I might piss off a few friends when I say this, but serious hunters – and when I say serious I’m excluding the beer can shooting guys who have their asses glued to the seat of four-wheelers – and REI shopping enviro folk have a lot in common. I think that there is significant common ground on which both groups can stand. Both groups have a sincere love of the untamed and both want to preserve it.

I think that there is a lot of political hay to be made by separating one group from the other, and it’s sad that both groups are so eager to lap it up. “I ain’t no tree hugger,” is a common refrain among hunters. I’d like to say “heck dude you probably hugged, leaned against, hid behind more trees than I ever did, elk seek refuge in the forest, without trees you’d have no forest.” Likewise environmentalists so often act appalled whenever the issue of hunting comes up. Bill and I were out hunting for food, good tasting healthy food essentially doing the same thing that Homo Sapiens have been doing for two hundred thousand years. It’s in our blood man.

I went hunting for wild elk and hope to do it again really soon.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Finding Pablo

The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is hosting an exhibit from the Picasso Museum in Paris. I was able to check it out this morning as a chaperone of the Islander Middle School Art Class. Ten years ago Melony, Sam and I visited the Museum while on vacation in Paris, here are my thoughts at the time:

From Notre Dame we continued across the Seine, past the many statued Hotel de Ville and up the shop lined alleys towards the Musee Picasso. We were in no hurry and so we wondered through back streets filled with chain smoking art students. We had already seen the Muse D’Orsay and the Louvre where for lack of a better term what hung on the walls resembled the actual world. Now I wanted to visit the Picasso Museum in order to see the work of the quintessential abstractionist.

Picasso claimed to be the greatest collector of Picasso and the Museum in Paris houses the artist’s personal collection of his own work. The Musee Picasso contains an eclectic collection of paintings, line drawings, ceramics and sculptures, the largest single collection of the world. I confess that I don’t understand abstract art, and have difficulty seeing Picasso’s work as anything other than childish scribbles. Secretly I hoped that surrounding myself with Picassos would switch on the light – oh now I get it.

Unfortunately our visit to the Musee Picasso only served to convince myself that much of what the guy created was little more than a big con. I’m convinced that if I would have brought in six paintings from this collection to the art gallery that displayed my photography I would have been laughed out the door. Maybe I’m too shallow for abstract art, but the bottom line is that I neither understood nor enjoyed the work of Picasso. The best I could say about the collection was that there were a few inspired pieces scattered among a bunch of crap. I would think that many artists would become disheartened after touring the museum because it convincingly demonstrates the fickle nature of the art market.

What a bunch of cynical dribble. Good thing I’ve grown up since then. I find that when it comes to art a little explanation goes a long way. Today a SAM volunteer explained a half dozen of the more important works in the exhibit and things made one heck of a lot more sense. Picasso was that once in a century type of artist who takes the status quo, cuts it up into tiny pieces, shuffles it up and presents an entirely different view. He literally redefined art.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Badass




When you live in one place too long it becomes easy to think that the entire world lives, and thereby thinks, like you do. This is why travel and literature are so important. Travel, I don’t mean tour bus sightseeing, but true travel – wherein you meet, interact, and hopefully to some small extent live like the locals opens your eyes to the fact that many of the things we consider to be “normal” are completely crazy to people who weren’t raised in the same society as you were. Toilets are a good example.

When I worked in Japan the company had a Western style sit down toilet installed in the company bathroom. That stall became my private throne room as nobody else in the office wanted to put their bare butt where someone else had just plopped their fat ass. The Japanese toilet looks like a porcelain baby bassinet set into the floor, you don’t sit you squat. To me squatting was a bit weird, to them using a Western toilet was just plain unsanitary.

When I worked at Boeing I worked on the lavatories and we kept getting complaints from Middle Eastern and Asian airlines that their toilet seats were breaking. After some investigation we discovered that instead of sitting on the toilet seats the passengers were actually standing on them. We hadn’t designed for this and consequently the plastic seats were breaking. I think that once you realize that the vast majority of the world’s population views your toilet habits as nasty and gross you start to realize that not everybody wants what we think they want.

You may be asking “what the heck do I care about how people use the bathroom?” Well it’s not really about bathroom habits it’s about understanding the world, what motivates people what makes them tick. Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney could have used a little more of this “worldliness” when they misused their extraordinary power to declare war at their discretion. Both men lived sell-out lives: was George Bush among the top applicants to Yale or Harvard, no, but he took advantage of the fact that his people knew their people, and undeservingly he walked on through the hallowed doors. Was Dick Cheney, a lifetime politician, the best business mind that Haliburton could find? No, but he had a thick Rolodex and he parlayed that into a multimillion dollar a year salary. When you look at it in these terms it’s no wonder that the post invasion behavior of the Iraqis is, to Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, a complete mystery.

There is no doubt that if the Iraqis would have just played ball with us they would have, right now, a much more pleasant lifestyle. If they would have just sat back and let us install a government, rebuild what we bombed, pump their oil they’d, for the most part, be living a much easier life: no roving death squads, no power outages, no militants wanting to drag them back into the middle ages. I’m sure at one time or another Bush said to Cheney “heck Dick we’ve been puppets all our lives and look how good we have it, why won’t they just play ball?” What they didn’t understand was the mentality of the badass.

The badass is that guy who refuses to be told what to do, despite the fact that if he does what he’s told to do his life would be much easier. Cool Hand Luke was a badass. The North Vietnamese were badasses. The Iraqi’s are badasses. They ain’t gonna play our game, as a matter of fact their game is going to be whatever our game isn’t. When you understand the mentality of the badass you start to understand why Iraq is moving toward Iran. Iran and Iraq are blood enemies, but our game is to keep them separated so their game becomes one of developing close ties. This why we failed in Vietnam and this is why we are destined to fail in Iraq. No matter how much good we do they are going to hate us for it, it’s jujitsu, the more power we exert the more powerful our opposition becomes.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dad Tales

My dad was a civil engineer and was a “true” engineer in that he knew how things worked, why they failed and consequently how to fix them. I would equate him to a ship’s engineer – the guy responsible for keeping the boat afloat. If he didn’t know how to do something he knew where to get the information required to figure it out. As our American lives become increasingly surrounded by disposable crap; mechanical devises designed to be thrown away instead of repaired, I’m reminded of two “dad stories.”

John T. lived across the street and he drove around in this big ole’ Chevy Impala. My dad had a soft spot for Detroit iron and when that car didn’t move for two months he started to hatch a plan. On a summer Sunday morning he crossed Lawnwoods Drive with two twenties and a ten in his pocket and laid them on the table. “I gotta tell ya Mr. McGuffin,” John said “that car don’t run.”

Thirty minutes later dad and my brother Donald had that car running and were backing it out of the driveway. I wonder what John thought when he heard that V-8 kick over. I think Donald drove that car for another two years before it finally crapped out for good.

Dad was a good mechanic and consequently many of my stories about him concern cars, this second story is no exception. Back when he was in college my brother Mark had a girlfriend who owned a late seventies model Honda Accord. One day while my brother was puttering around in it the engine seized up, probably due to a lack of oil. Somehow dad and Mark got that car into our driveway where they pulled out the ruined engine and replaced it with one they picked up at Sam’s Riverside Auto – our second favorite junkyard after Easy Eddie’s Trails End Salvage. In a single afternoon they were able to pull and replace that engine. “It started on the first turn,” dad later told me.

“I can’t believe it,” dad said, “that engine was sitting on its pan in the mud, we didn’t even change the oil.” From that day forward dad bought only Hondas.

When people ask me how I know how to do things I always give credit to my father. He taught me a lot about woodworking and engines, but more importantly he taught me how to roll up my sleeves and just get in there and do it. Just getting started is nine tenths of the battle.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Freedom

Just finished Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and am now starting Freedom. I must admit that I kind of enjoyed the fact that Franzen rejected Oprah when she wanted to include The Corrections in her book club. Oprah’s a fine gal, but we all need a little rejection in order to keep our feet on the ground. I now see that Franzen relented with Freedom as it is now officially christened an “Oprah book.”

For me reading Franzen really stinks as he continually shows me just how high the bar is set and how low I can jump. He is just so dang good. Reading schmaltzy books like Eat Pray Love or The Pilot’s Wife gives me hope because these are more works of perseverance than innate talent: anyone can persevere, but only a select few have the talent.

The first sixty pages of Freedom has lived up to the hype; perhaps by the time I’ve finished it a little of the author’s talent will have rubbed off.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Back in 2002 I went to the Himalaya to climb one of the least, if not the least, known eight thousand meter peaks: Manaslu. The trek to high camp was eight days of unspoiled culture immersion, meaning that there had been very little Westernization and we witnessed a way of life that has progressed with little change for hundreds of years. Our trek ended at the eleven thousand foot town on Sama, very near the Nepal/Tibet border. Sama is home to a large Buddhist temple and our team was invited to join in for what I can only describe as a good luck ceremony.

Some members of our team turned up their noses at the invitation, but my buddy Brian and I hustled up the hill so as not to be late. The ceremony was a mixture of chanting and incense burning and it gave me an opportunity to think about things. Now Buddhists don’t worship some singular deity, some omnipresent, omniscient being, so I had to ask myself “who are they praying to.” In Western Christianity you pray for the protection of an overseeing God, and if you don’t die you say “thank God,” and if you do die your family says “well I guess God had other plans.” Simple enough, but what about these Buddhist fellas.

I came to the conclusion that the monks were, in essence, giving us their sincere good wishes. We, like them, are travelers on a road, and if in our case that road contains a really high mountain, well then so be it. I’d bet that most, if not all, of those monks saw nothing but futility in our quest, but they accepted that this was the task we had chosen for ourselves, and so they said good luck, hope you make it out alive. In hindsight I don’t think that I could have asked for anything more.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Live Honest Die Happy

A little something I wrote in response to an email I received giving examples of how God destroys anyone who mocks him.

That kooky God of Vengeance stuff always splits my mind: on the one hand I’m tempted to ask “so while some nameless guy was being fed his severed fingers in some concrete-walled torture chamber in Cambodia and praying for a quick death, God was too busy to listen to him because he was out knocking off Bon “Highway to Hell” Scott, or while that mother in Sudan was lying on the floor of her hut praying do die so she wouldn’t have to watch a hoard gang rape her ten-year old daughter God was a little preoccupied killing John “we’re more popular than God” Lennon, how do you explain that.” The answer invariably is “well God works in mysterious ways,” well he wasn’t so mysterious a minute ago when you were preaching about all the death and destruction He’s caused, he was pretty damn un-mysterious then. On the other hand if some prick doesn’t abduct that girl because he’s afraid of God’s vengeance, or that drunk doesn’t drain a sixth gin and tonic and bloody his wife because he fears divine retribution, well I guess that’s one less pedophile and one less wife beater.

Personally I side with Jefferson and Franklin when I say “I don’t know.” This is the only honest answer anyone can give when it comes to the existence of some godlike entity. One thing I’m certain of, the one conclusion supported by overwhelming evidence, is that if there is a God he/she/it plays no role whatsoever in the day to day workings of this planet. What kind of God brings an idiot who broke his neck while flipping his ATV back to life while sitting idly by while the son of a Liberian fisherman has to watch his dad get his hands cut off before being forced to put the final bullet into his father’s brain. As Desie would say to Lucy “he’s got some ‘splaining to do.”

My plan, and the plan I pass down to my kids, is to live life in a descent way, and in the moment before death reflect back on a life well-lived. I believe that when you just let go of the mumbo jumbo and simply accept the fact that there is no divine intervention; that God suffers as we suffer, you free yourself. Sadly most folks are not willing to be free, they would rather harbor dreams of being “born again” having their sins “washed away.” Sorry sucker you are who you are so think twice. Same story with the bible – a valley was flooded, a farmer along with a goat and a cow floated to safety and over the generations the story grew to the entire earth being flooded and a giant ark with every living animal aboard. The bible was written by folks with a very limited world view: to the author of the great flood story the entire world was that valley. The bible is basically metaphors and rules for how to behave in a lawless world. When you accept it as the work of fallible humans you free yourself from all the denials, conspiracy theories and circuitous logic required by the creationist crowd.

The sad truth is is that most folks would rather be led around by the nose than to truly think and be held accountable for their actions. They want to blame someone else for their poor miserable lives: it ain’t my fault that my marriage failed: it’s because of that homosexual over there. This is why the God of Vengeance theology needs an enemy – someone to slaughter as a scapegoat. Is it any wonder now that the homosexual card is becoming played out that churches are beginning to take aim at Islam.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Just In Time

Two weeks ago I did something I’ve been meaning to do for two years: I shut off my cable TV. I’m not one of those folks who like to claim that television sucks, because I don’t think that it does. I have no problem with entertainment – all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy – and television offers some good entertainment.

The now cancelled show of Deadwood is Shakespearean in it’s intriguing dialog, it’s complex characters and it’s interwoven themes of myopic greed, redemption, human fallibility and petty jealously just to name a few. Currently my family and I are watching Lost, and though it’s gotten a bit longwinded and what appears to be unnecessarily weird, it’s good fun and during dinner we like to speculate on what’s going to happen next. And don’t forget The Office, when Andy tore his scrotum, I’m laughing right now just thinking about it. Who thinks up that stuff?

Luckily we can now watch the shows we want to see without having to wade through the sewer dodging turds like Jersey Shore and Desperate Housewives as they float by. I’ve never seen either show and will die a happy man if I never do. Unfortunately TV executives must have fallen asleep early in their college drama classes. Yes drama needs conflict, but conflict alone isn’t drama it’s voyeurism. The reality show formula is to put a bunch of weak people together and incite a conflict. Watching two chicks catfight over a bum pretending to be a millionaire might be fun for a minute, but then it just gets sad. Really sad.

Shutting off the TV in October was just in time as we have totally avoided the political lies, I mean the political ads.

Monday, October 11, 2010

It's the Economy Stupid


The entire Seattle region is gridlocked, and despite having a newly elected bike friendly mayor there still hasn’t been a serious, or even a non-serious, discussion about making the city more accessible and safer for cyclists. It’s taken me a while to understand the reason, but I’ve finally realized that it can be summed up in three letters: GDP.

Everyone seems to be talking about the economy lately; what they are really talking about is the Gross Domestic Product – the total of all goods and services produced in the U.S, and let’s face it cars are good for the economy and bikes aren’t. Bikes reduce pollution- bad for the economy (nothing to clean up). Bikes promote good health – bad for the economy (no more oxygen tanks for emphysema sufferers to lug around). Riding a bike makes you happier – bad for the economy (the U.S. leads the world in antidepressant drugs). Riding a bike doesn’t burn fossil fuels – bad for the economy (no more massive profits for oil companies). Riding a bike doesn’t require massive road building projects – bad for the economy ( no more Senatorial pet building projects). People in the know know that cars contribute to the economy whereas bikers, well they’re just freeloaders.

We assume that a roaring economy is a good thing, but why do we assume that? Robert. Kennedy put down some very insightful words on the matter:

Our gross national product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors, and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwoods, and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm, nuclear warheads, and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

Study after study show that once folks rise above abject poverty wealth and happiness have no correlation. Money can’t buy happiness, but a lack of it sure can buy misery. I wish that I was living the monastic life, free of material wants, but it would only take a minute for me to lay out exactly what two new bikes I need and what new camera will be the “last camera I ever own.” At least I’m starting to realize that the satisfaction is more in the acquisition than in the possession.


When we talk of the economy it’s worthwhile to realize that it’s much better to be overweight, depressed, divorced and behind the wheel of a Hummer than it is to raise a garden, get another year out of your car and only purchase that which you can afford.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Finding a Good Fit

10-10-10 a good date for a blog post. I really need to get on the stick and post everyday.

Kris and I took a step closer towards making our bike racing dreams a reality yesterday by joining up with the Blue Rooster team meet and greet. Blue Rooster is a Seattle-based bike team and I was impressed with the turn-out and enthusiasm of the team members. Once I decide to do something I want to have done it yesterday, and so I’m a bit impatient with regards to finding a team and getting all decked out in the kit colors. Normally I’d just go with the first team I was exposed to, but now that I’m older and, hopefully, a little wiser I’d like to take my time on this decision and find a team wherein I’d be a good fit. Next week I’ll ride with Cycle U and the week after that I’ll hit Motofish.

Triathlon biking is a lot different than team riding mainly because in triathlon you’re penalized for riding in a group wherein during a bike race group riding is not only encouraged it’s nearly mandatory. Most of my Ironman training rides were either solo, or with a few friends whose rear tires I normally kept at a safe distance. If you’re going to ride in aero (i.e. unstable and without quick access to brakes) you can’t ride tight. This is what I’m used to. Riding with a group of thirty was completely new to me, but I must say it didn’t seem all that stressful. I have to confess however I don’t think that the team was pushing the pace very hard. My bike handling skills are above average, and so long as I don’t fall into too much daydreaming I think I’ll be just fine.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Looking For Clint



Caught a bit of the California Indian summer down in Carmel; the locals told us that the ninety five degree temperatures we were experiencing were pretty darn far from normal. It's been cloudy and cold up here in the Northwest so a little heat and sunshine was received without complaint.
Carmel started out as an artist's community and it maintains the look and feel of a place predating fast food and cheap tscotchkes. I'm sure that McDonalds and Super Eight would love to sink their mitts deep into the place; I'm sure that it takes more than a little effort by civic leaders to maintain authenticity. The winding streets and give a damn architecture reminded me of the tiny Beaux Arts community located adjacent to the ever growing city of Bellevue, Washington.
With the exception of a few newlyweds, Melony and I definitely were the youngsters. When I went out for morning coffee the typical scene was a fit woman in her late fifties-early sixties decked in the latest fitness gear including cap and expensive running shoes leading a dumpy man wearing cargo shorts and grass-stained white athletic shoes. Carmel seems to be the vacation spot for the guy who long ago made a Faustian deal - money for your soul.
I'm glad to see that these tiny slices of life endure, that they overcome the pressure to be like everywhere else.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Clandestine Footwear





Last weekend my son Sam and I attended the Starcrossed cyclocross series in Marymore park. It was the same night as a Grateful Dead (I didn't even know that these guys were still around) concert and as we crawled along behind a Microbus I commented to my son, "who the hell are all these dopers anyway?" I had momentarily forgotten that I'd attended a Dead concert back when Jerry Garcia wasn't just an ice cream flavor, but an actual real live person. I guess we're destined to turn into our parents.
Anyway I love finding new cool groups of people who live colorful in this monochromatic age, and cyclocross racers and fans certainly fit the bill as being colorful. We live in crazy times, a period in which outlandish lies are sold as truth and when appearance is valued over substance. It's hard not to become cynical. All I can say is thank God for the honest few, thank God for the few who wear crazy shoes, and thank God for those who race hard and smile when they cross the finish line.
And to the Deadheads I say the Dead are dead, let 'em rest in peace.





Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cle Elum Ridge 17 Mile Trail Run

Kris, Tina, Wendy and I ran the Cle Elum Ridge 25K Trail Run on Saturday – I call it the Cle Elum Ridge 17 mile Trail Run because the course was a mile and a half long. Based on the few organized trail runs that I’ve participated in I can say that so far two constants hold true: cool people and beautiful women. Nearly all of the gals had a dog on a leash, a big white smile and a halo-like glow that comes from ample time spent in the out of doors. If I were a single fella I’d be at one of these races every weekend.

It’s been extraordinarily wet, even by Pacific Northwest standards, recently and I expected a muddy course, but what I didn’t expect was all the standing water. The race course was on an ATV track and those knobby tires and internal combustion engines leave behind a rocky, potholed, stair-stepped mess. Luckily we only encountered only two riders as I think most of the bikers tuned into our presence and wisely chose other routes. The course also involved a lot of monster climbs most of which were best climbed at a fast walking pace in order to spare the calves and thighs.

My disadvantage on a hilly course is the downhill portion – I just can’t seem to let ‘em go and fly downhill, and consequently lost a lot of time on the descents. Concern over more stress fractures combined with a fear of rolled ankles and a general lack of catlike reflexes keeps me overly constrained when going down. I followed Tina for a while and was amazed at how nimbly she floated downhill: she was skipping and dancing while I was skidding and sliding.

I carried a Nathan Quickdraw handheld water bottle which I’d bought the day before, and filled it with Cytomax. I liked the handheld, it was easy to carry and comfortable, but disliked the Cytomax. The last time I used Cytomax was 2002 on a climb of Manaslu in Nepal and had no trouble, but on the run it upset my stomach. Perhaps it’s better used at lower intensities.

My finish time was 3:23 and during that time I took on 20 ounces of water, two and a half gels, two Oreos, a handful of gummy bears and two fun sized Snickers bars. I might have been a bit light on the hydration but other than that I felt really strong at the finish and had no signs of bonking.

Long trail runs become kind of a solo event and after the first aid station at mile 5.6 Kris, Tina, Wendy and I were all kind of on our own. It’s cool that even though each of us ran our own race we finished sequentially, each of us just minutes or even seconds behind the other. Jim Varner puts on a great race, and I felt fine for the entire seventeen miles. I think next stop will be the Orcas Island 50http://orcasisland50k.blogspot.com/K.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thirteen on the Thirteenth or What's SUP

I don’t remember my parents ever preaching the gospel of commitment and determination, but for some reason or another my three brothers and I all have an almost masochistic aversion to quitting. Not following through is anathema to me and I figure that’s a good thing; I’ve held on to some stupid ideas longer than I should have, but on balance I’ve come out ahead, so I can’t complain. With that said, it was with great consternation that on Sunday I walked away from the Round the Rock – a thirteen mile standup paddleboard race around my home isle of Mercer Island. In my defense it was a pretty stupid idea to begin with, I was wholly unprepared and completely clueless; this was a major endurance race and my sole preparation had been a ninety minute chill SUP lesson in Elliot Bay.

I have a whole suitcase full of really good excuses for not doing the race, but the short of it is that walking away really soured in my stomach. To make matters worse I felt like my son saw me as a hypocrite – that I push commitment on him but in the end I bail. Unfortunately the fact of being a parent is that you can do fifty awesome things and your kids couldn’t care less, but you screw up once and they pounce like a crouching tiger. So to make a long story short, yesterday I put Sophia on the bus, strapped the borrowed board atop the Subaru, drove to the beach at Luther Burbank Park dipped the board and started paddling.

Despite some headwinds on the last four miles, the day was a good one for paddling; the thirteen and a half mile circumnavigation took me three hours and fifty minutes. I have to say that the Mercer Island shoreline looks rather like something from Martha’s Vineyard, I half expected to see the Kennedy clan playing touch football out on one of the manicured lawns. Who are these people?

All in all SUP is good simple fun, much easier than lugging around a heavy bulky kayak. Too bad the price of admission is so high – a descent board will cost you at least fifteen hundred.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Gimme Shelter


Recently my son and I spent a sunny morning in Northern Idaho building a tipi. It was a place for him and so we made the opening big enough for a kid, but too tight for an adult.


Since I was a kid I've been enthralled by Native American culture, and am especially drawn to the great tribes of the Western Plains. I'm sure I'm romanticizing a bit but it seems to me that the tribal culture was more "real." I think there is something inherently positive about a society in which everyone lives in a home of their own creation. Your character is on full display when what you own is a reflection of the pride and care you take in living life.


Modern Western society is so full of B.S. We've created a society of illusion - one in which you are what you appear to be, which is often in direct opposition to what you actually are. Line up Ronald Reagan, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Kerry and ask "who is the war hero?" Chances are you wouldn't get the right answer. Love him or hate him it doesn't matter, the fact remains that Senator Kerry is a bona fide warrior - he has the medals and scars to prove it - but that just never caught on with the U.S. public because he doesn't fit the Hollywood mold.


If anything I hope I've taught my children to take pride in what they do, because in the end we are what we create, and what you say, claim or brag makes no difference.

Monday, August 30, 2010

An Old Dog


Way back in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety I bought a top of the line mountain bike – a Trek 990 – for $450. Now you gotta remember that back in them thar dark ages I was earning five hundred a week as a budding up and coming aerospace engineer, so the price tag was as steep as the hills I was dreaming of pedaling up. Over the decades I’ve made a few upgrades like a front shock and new brakes but the old black and pink paint job never sat well with me. Well finally I took matters to task and had the old steel lugged frame stripped down and powder coated orange. It was a bold move, but it turned out fantastic.

I rebuilt the bike the other day and must say I’m happy with the result. If I throw on a sealed bottom bracket and some modern wheels I think I might have something to take me into the next decade. Obviously a Santa Cruz Blur XC would be a nice upgrade, and the full suspension would be EZ on my old bones, but dang a fella's gotta draw the line somewhere. I have a single speed, a TT bike, a road bike, a mountain bike and am looking at cycle cross bikes, do I really need a full suspension mountain bike. We all know the answer to that question, but before I go shopping the old dog is going to have to get me around the mountain a few more times.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mike's Saw Works


Last week while I was hanging out at a friend's cabin in Idaho I had need of a hacksaw, but could only find a single blade in the tool closet. After hacking away for awhile with just the blade I decided to make a backwoods saw; the only tool I used was a Leatherman Wave. The resulting saw felt better than what I have in the shop at home. All said and done it took me less than ten minutes to make and best of all my son Sam was impressed with the result.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Over The Top - Highway 20




Many years ago a friend of mine wrote a story with the theme of transforming a dream into memory. It’s a theme I’m not afraid to steal. For two decades now I’ve been driving over the North Cascades Highway in a car loaded down with either mountaineering or skiing gear, and often I’ve said aloud “man I sure would like to ride this.” Summers are too short and time slips away, but after several false starts I managed to get a group together; August 14 was the date.

The alarm on my James Bond wristwatch never fails me and I was pulling on my new cycling shorts at four AM. Bradley, my partner in this particular crime, is, like me, an early riser and he was standing patiently beneath a dusky sky when I pulled my trusty Subaru into the Mercer Island Park and Ride. Twenty minutes later we met up with Kris and Wendy beneath Interstate 5 near Greenlake. Bradley and I were planning on riding one hundred miles round trip from the Colonial Creek campground to the Mazama General Store while Kris and Wendy planned to turn around thirty two miles down the uphill road at Washington Pass.

The temperature at Colonial Creek was cool, but the clear windless skies foretold heat so I put on sunscreen and left the arm warmers in the car. Normally I’m not much of a sunscreen kind of fellow, as it hints of forethought, but it was going to be a long day in the sun so what the hell.

Colonial Creek to Mazama is nearly to the foot fifty miles, and since I believe in the keep it simple stupid mantra I elected to start our day where Colonial Creek flows into the unnaturally green waters of Diablo Lake. Ten miles east of the Seattle City Light company town of Newhalem and sandwiched between the Diablo and Ross Dams, Diablo Lake is clear and toe numbing cold, but from the road it reflects a deep emerald green due to sunlight passing through microscopic particles of the mineral gneiss which has been ground off the surrounding mountains and held in suspension in the glacial waters.

Highway 20 eastbound from Colonial Creek rises steeply towards the Ross Lake Resort parking lot and provides no opportunity for the legs to adjust to a long day of pushing and pulling pedals. With only a pair of short respites the trip up to Rainy Pass is entirely uphill. We were in cycle tourist mode and consequently kept the speed slow and steady, the grade was gentle enough to allow each of us to find an all day rhythm and gradually we knocked off the miles. The road was smooth, the shoulder wide and the sun warm and I greatly enjoyed the soft pace and the rare opportunity to converse with my riding partners. I made good use of the opportunity to tell stories of the mountains I’ve climbed or attempted to climb. At one point I think Wendy became fairly exhausted with yet another story that began with “I remember one time…”

The drop from Rainy Pass was much too short and after only a minute of speedy descent we were back again to climbing – this time up to Washington Pass. Once again the grade was gradual and I feel into a smooth easy cadence and sooner than expected the fanglike Liberty Bell Tower began appearing over the treetops. At Washington Pass we joined the Harley Riders at the precipitous overlook where Bradley and I caught our first glimpse of the daredevil descent into the furnace of Eastern Washington.

The water fountains at the elaborate structure in the center of the Washington Pass Overlook parking lot were turned off, quite a disappointment, but it was downhill for all of us so our survival wasn’t in question. Bradley bid goodbye to Kris and Wendy as we headed east down the seventeen mile descent into Mazama.
Despite a recent remodel the Mazama General store was still funky and eclectic. The little store in the middle of nowhere is one of my favorite places, it was refreshing to see that even though things change they also stay the same. Bradley and I rehydrated and ate sandwiches in the shade, oblivious to the fact that the thermometer was now reading triple digits. “How hot do you think it is?” Bradley asked.

“Must be at least ninety,” I replied. I was shallow by twelve degrees.

Seventeen miles of continual uphill in one hundred and two degree heat is a bit daunting and luckily I now have the maturity to know how to pace myself. At times like these you need to count your blessings and I was grateful for the small tailwind and the stunning scenery. This little pocket of Northeastern Washington is my kind of place.

I drank nearly the full measure of my two oversize water bottles and wondering why I hadn’t packed a third when I hit Washington Pass. I was thinking of flagging down a passing car to inquire as to whether or not they might sell me a can of Coke. As it turned out I scarcely took a drink for the next thirty miles as it was nearly all screaming downhill.

Bradley and I arrived at the car a full nine hours after starting out, our odometers agreed at one hundred and one miles. Our riding time was almost an even eight hours. We soaked our legs in the ice bath known as Diablo Lake and then got on the road, stopping at the Buffalo Run restaurant in Marblemount for elk burgers and cold Stella beer.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Every Breath...

Seattle is such an eclectic city that I often forget hidden gems. Ballard is one such jewel. Last Thursday Sam, Kris and I headed down to the Shilshole Marina for a stand up paddle board lesson from the guys at Ballard Surf. The lesson lasted all of thirty five seconds: stand here, hold your paddle like this, if you fall get back on the board and try again.

Getting on the board was easier than I had imagined, I was a little nervous about Sam as he was on a more tippy standard surf board, as opposed to a wider stand up paddle board (SUP). The head instructor had told me that Sam really should have a life jacket, but that he’d leave that decision to me. Sam has been in competitive swimming for three years, and because the board his was tied to was in essence a floatation device I opted for no jacket. It was one of those decisions that you kind of begin to regret as you get further and further from shore. But in the end Sam stayed atop his board the entire time and was even jumping up and down by the end so all’s well that ends well.


The assistant instructor was a cool fellow; he had the only tattoos I’d ever actually liked. On his right forearm were the words Every Breath, and on the Left was Is A Gift. I told him that he should have had it written upside down so he could be reminded, but he said that he needed to remind others more than he needed to remind himself. On his right shoulder was an image taken from a famous photo of the late great skier Doug Coombs. I would seriously consider a similar inking for myself but I would have to be a shot of Bill, Brian or Scott.


We paddled around for two and a half hours and then hit a little Caribbean sandwich shop called Paseo. Little did I know that this was some “must go to before you die” place. The Cuban Pulled Pork was definitely worth a second visit.


I’m now in the market for a SUP. Dang they are expensive. Julie and I are going to do the race around Mercer Island come September so I’m going to have to get a little practice. I like the simplicity of the sport. I live fifty feet from the water and could zip through my neighbor’s yard and be paddling inside of two minutes. It’s always something isn’t it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Riding With Spirit


The camera in my backpocket was uncomfortable as we rode up the Denny Creek Road towards Snoqulamie Pass, but the sore butt proved worthwhile when I spotted Spirit the pitbull sitting atop his ride. Check out the amazing adventure of Spirit and his owner at http://www.theoasisofmysoul.com/.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Glacial Pace






My good friend Bianca is looking to climb Mt. Rainier next summer so we took a nice hike up to Glacier Basin to get a look at the Emmons Glacier route. Glacier Basin is an easy six mile round trip hike up a newly revamped trail; it’s an ideal family hike with a spectacular view at the turnaround.

Despite a bit of whining the kids did great, I mean they wouldn’t be kids if they didn’t whine a little – it does seem to be their job after all. Whenever I take Sam and Sophia for an outdoor adventure I bring along an enormous bag of candy and let them eat all they want. I figure they are burning the calories and I want them to associate the outdoors with fun and enjoyment. Hiking, biking, and paddling are hard work and the ability to enjoy one’s self while sweating is a learned trait – a trait some people never learn.

Bianca and I had a long conversation regarding the safety of her proposed endeavor. Assessing risk is not one of my strong suits as I fear fairly innocuous things while I seem to be comfortable with some seriously dangerous situations. I think this stems from a comfort with heights. Alpine rock climbing is scary and no doubt I have ample fear, but I don’t have that guy tingling paralyzing fear. My fear is more rational: you fall you die so don’t fall. On the other hand I can swim three miles in a pool but put me in a lake and the adrenaline starts pumping.

Anyway, I didn’t try to convince Bianca that climbing Mt. Rainier is safe; it isn’t, and it shouldn’t be. On the other hand, if I wanted safety I’d rather be on the Emmons Glacier than on I-90 atop my motorcycle. So it’s all relative. Bianca is adventurous and gutsy, so it didn’t take much convincing, but as we were nearing the trailhead I noticed a pair of television cameras set up on large tripods.

A short inquiry revealed that there had been a fatality on the mountain and the reporters were there to interview the two surviving members of the team (a third had already been evacuated). That didn’t do much to improve Bianca’s confidence. A deceased climber, a motorcycle on its side, a cyclist lying beside the road, these all shake me up a little bit. There but for the grace of God go I. They aren’t an excuse to stay at home, but they are a reminder to live every day to its fullest.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Chew on This


Good cycling food is hard to come by. I’ve tried just about everything from nearly every energy bar/gel on offer to salted potatoes and landjager. Gels aren’t for me; when I’m running a marathon they are really the only antidote to bonking, but when it comes to cycling I’ll take a pass. Energy bars work okay, but they get tiring. Potatoes are good for seventy eighty mile plus rides, but I don’t seem to get out of them on the shorter excursions. A few weeks ago I discovered these bars from Trader Joes:.

They are tasty and pack a whopping 290 calories. Lately they have become the food of choice in my jersey pocket. They are also good recovery food.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Dog's Life

There’s blood on my bike gloves, I’ll tell you how it got there but first allow me a short rant.

Me I consider life a precious gift – a gift that gift comes with responsibility. I used to adhere to the Hippocratic thinking of do no harm, in other words, so long as you don’t do any damage you've lived an adequate life, but that lame attitude is changing. Now I’m going with more a tribal way of thinking –small bands of hunter gatherers can’t tolerate dead wood: either you contribute or you hit the road. Unfortunately our modern society not only allows deadwood it actually coddles hordes of worthless deadbeats. All too often it seems I run into absolutely worthless motherfuckers. All human life is precious, nice words but they hold no water; some people just ain’t worth the air they breathe.

So back to the story. We were riding down to the Black Diamond Bakery when I noticed beautiful blue-eyed husky crouching in the ditch, his front paws covered in blood. Kris, Joe and I wheeled around and while I went to check on the dog, Kris spoke to some guy who had pulled up in pickup and Joe knocked on the door of a trashy house across the road. The pickup pulled away – thanks for the help dickhead – and Kris said that the driver had come to investigate a gunshot and a woman’s scream. Joe said that the fat ass redneck who answered the door at the shack said something to the affect of “rules are rules he deserves what he gets,” and slammed the door.

The dog had a collar but no tags. This was a valuable dog, it was a healthy pure breed, it wasn’t some stray. Now I’ll confess I don’t like dogs. Well I shouldn’t say that, it’s not that I don’t like dogs it’s more like I’m indifferent about dogs, but there I was trying to comfort a dying animal while Kris and Joe went out trying to find the owner. Cars simply drove by. I guess the drivers had run out of smokes and were hustling down to the 76 station to pick up a six dollar pack of Marlboros. Finally a lady pulled up in a big Dodge pickup pulling a horse trailer. She thought she knew the owner, and so made a difficult U-turn and headed back down the little side road. Across the road the rednecks were crawling out of their holes, stumbling around the brown yard scratching their asses.

The dog seemed uncomfortable and I helped him to roll over to his other side. I noticed a small hole just behind his front leg, out flowed a steady stream of blood. Could this be a bullet wound? Finally the lady with the horse trailer came back; as it turns out she didn’t know the owner. Thank goodness she agreed to take the dog to the vet, so I picked up the dog, wrapped him in a blanket and put him in the truck. That dog really shook me up, he was a good boy and to see him suffer cut deeply.

As I got back on my bike I noticed a trail of blood across the road. The red trail went directly from the redneck’s driveway to ditch where we found the dog.
We continued down to the bakery where Kris reported the incident to a couple of Sheriff Deputies. They feigned interest and took down a little info, but I noticed that they didn’t take her name. Let’s hope that I’m wrong but I felt like those two guys were more interested in their doughnuts than that dog's life. Kris called the vet and found out that the owner had showed, but was unable to get any info on the status of the dog, so I guess that’s the end of the story.

Even now I can’t explain why I care. There just seems something inherently evil in shooting a dog. As I rode past that Hoosier shack on the return home I spat on the pavement.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Imelda Lite

Three days ago I went out and bought a pair of Saucony ProGrid Kinvara running shoes. My search for the perfect running shoe has been a long and expensive road. I’ve come to the conclusion that the high heel “support” shoe is one of the most successful con jobs ever foisted on a population. Serious runners and even podiatrists are convinced that two hundred thousand years of evolution have resulted in a poorly designed foot and thank goodness technology is here to solve the problem. Humans have been running injury free for two hundred millennia. We’ve been plagued with running injuries in the three and a half decades since Nike released the first high heeled “jogging” shoe; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out the math.

For twenty five years I ran on either the cheapest or the most colorful Nike I could find at the local mall store. Five stress fractures in three years made me rethink my lackadaisical attitude toward footwear. Looking at my pile of barely used shoes I wonder if perhaps I went a bit overboard.

A year ago I picked up a pair of Brooks T5 racers and fell in love. My training partners labeled my newfound practice of training for an Ironman in racing flats crazy. The T5 were great but like most minimalist shoes they had a short life span. I replaced the T5’s with Scott T2’s which use a more subtle version of the rocker sole we see all too often on those goofy “roll along” shoes. The Scotts were good, but when I ran the Onionman in June I dusted off the Brooks.

Running in the Scotts I ended up with another stress fracture, in all fairness I don’t think the crack was due to the shoes but now that I’m back to running I went out looking for something new. The Kinvara appear to be just what I’m looking for – an ultra lightweight minimalist training shoe. I’ve only worn the shoes on two short runs but so far so good.

I’m not a barefoot runner, but I can see the logic – if it works for you heck yeah do it. I think a minimalist running shoe is the idea middle ground between those obnoxious cinder block-like “stability” shoes and naked feet. Right now I’m dreaming of competing in the Portland Marathon, we’ll see how it goes as I gently return to running.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Viva Le Tour

I’ve always been at a loss as to why people are interested in watching professional baseball, football, basketball and golf. First of all it’s boring as hell. Secondly money has absolutely ruined the major American sports. Baseball is a child’s game; getting paid one hundred million dollars to play it is obscene. Some would argue that players are just getting what the market will bear, here in Seattle that’s a croc as we tore down one unpaid for stadium to build two so that our football and baseball teams wouldn’t make good on their threats to leave town. When the basketball team played the same gambit we told them not to let the door hit them in the butt. I don’t even care if the team is in the black, and doesn’t have to go to the taxpayers for a handout – just because you can pay a one hundred million dollar salary doesn’t mean that you should pay a one hundred million dollar salary. Any child knows that.

Well I have to eat my words a little bit as I’m totally hooked on the Tour de France. Amazing athletes, stunning scenery, and drama so compelling that if you made it up folks would say “aw that would never happen.” The winner of the Tour de France takes home four hundred thousand Euros, the winning team splits fifty thousand. Hell LeBron James wouldn’t blow his nose for fifty thousand Euros. Winners of intermittent sprints win four hundred Euros, that’s like six hundred dollars; those guys are out there busting their butts for six large. I bet A Rod has neck ties that cost more than that.

Cycling is a sport of passion, it sure as hell ain’t no path to fame and fortune, and maybe that’s what makes it so intriguing. Those guys aren’t out there for a paycheck, even superstars like Lance Armstrong don’t have a helicopter at the finish line waiting to take them to a five start hotel. They bed down at a local mom and pop just like the rest of the racers; some of them probably even share a bathroom.
The race this year has been complete with heroes and villains, old warriors and new blood. In the Contador versus Schleck battle I’m all for Schleck. I don’t know why I don’t like Alberto Contador, I just don’t. Conversely I don’t know why I like Andy Schleck, but I do. Heck how can you dislike a guy who says “my stomach is full of anger.” I mean maybe only someone like Hemmingway could come up with that stuff. As far as Lance goes you gotta give the guy credit, he went out there even when the odds were against him and held his own. The man is a warrior, and I respect him for giving the stiff middle finger to the naysayers. He walks away with his head held high that’s for sure.

It’s still a mystery to me why someone would watch a guy chase around a little ball, but my addiction to the Tour is helping me to begin to understand.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Keeping Vashon Wierd

While ten thousand of our fellow cyclists rode nuts to butts to Portland my trusty companion Joe and I caught the Fauntlery Ferry over to Vashon Island for a peaceful hilly ride over practically deserted roads.

We arrived for the 6:55 ferry at 6:56 and would have made it had we not got behind some highly confused Audi driver. With 40 minutes till the next boat we cranked up the hill and enjoyed pastries and coffee at the Original Bakery. Not a very original name, but they know how to bake.




We caught the 7:35 ferry for a cold crossing; I was feeling a bit underdressed for the occasion:


We planned a 52 mile circumnavigation of Vashon and Maury Islands. The cheat sheet downloaded from the Seattle Bicycling Club filled a page of copier paper, and more than once I wished I had one of those map holders that fit between the handlebars. The Vashon/Maury Island tour is a scenic, hilly ride over fairly descent roads. We saw little traffic and those few cars that did pass us gave plenty of space. The cheat sheet directed us down a dead end road and despite the warning sign we rode it to the end hoping to find some kind of cut through. Unfortunately we had to turn around and went free form for half a dozen miles.

Vashon is my kind of place, a lot of cool unique people who aren't afraid to let their freak flags fly.

We arrived back at the city center to find our way back to the ferry dock blocked by the Strawberry Days parade. Joe and I accidently joined in on the parade and marched along with the Vashon Eucele band. Once we were in the parade there was no escape and being someone who likes to blend into the crowd I was a bit freaked out. I walked my bike while Joe rode his Cervello proud as punch right down the middle of the parade route.


I really enjoy not being on any training plan. Joe and I simply rode along laughing and enjoying one another's company. We stopped when we saw a good photo op and rode at a comfortable conversational pace. Good scenery, good pastries, good friends, good conversation, that's what it's all about.























Friday, July 16, 2010

There’s An Ironman In My Pocket




As I approach midlife I realize more and more just how short is our time on this planet. Instead of wondering “what if” I’ve kind of just threw my hat in the ring and dealt with fears and second guessing later. I figure if you don’t ask yourself “why the hell am I doing this” at least once it’s really not worth doing. Some things are worth doing again and again, while others are best to have done.

When folks ask me about what I think of doing the Ironman I respond that it’s a good thing to have done. I did the Ironman twice; it’s a great thing to have in my memory bank, to have in my back pocket so to speak. We are what we’ve done and our accomplishments are the only possessions that cannot be taken away.

I have a big problem with the whole idea of being “born again.” If you’re a thief, a deadbeat, a liar you will always be a thief, a deadbeat or a liar. You might be a reformed thief, but you’re still is thief, it’s who you are – we are all an accumulation of what we have done. We are indeed slaves of our pasts, and once you realize this hard fact you’ll be a little more careful about how you plan your future and how you live your present.

Life is short, live it well.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Take One For the Team



As a stay at home dad I often hear other parents commenting that they want their kids to play team sports in order to learn teamwork skills. This is one of those easy to agree with yet hollow maxims. Unless you plan on a career as a galley slave I have to ask how important are teamwork skills. Life, as I’ve experienced it, is nearly one hundred percent taking the initiative and doing it yourself.

Sure it’s important to know how to work with others and to delegate responsibility, but those are social and managerial skills, not team skills. Team building exercises and that Walmart “hi I’m a team member” nonsense all look and smell like con jobs. If Walmart were truly interested in creating a team environment the three Walton kids wouldn’t all be among the ten richest people on the planet.

The real world is a small group of superstars supported by a “team” of worker bees. In this respect professional bicycle racing is a good metaphor for life. Lance Armstrong could never have won seven Tours without the support of an incredibly strong team, but how many people can name even one of those domestiques. Armstrong proved seven times that he was the most talented, strategic and fit rider in the race, but that wouldn’t have even got him to the podium without an elite team.

Personally I see individual team sports such as wrestling, swimming, gymnastics, cross country, and track as more worthwhile life lesson delivery devices. Sure there is a team victory in each of these sports, but that is more of an afterthought; few wrestlers or gymnasts would give up their individual win in exchange for a team victory. The primary goal is to win your event; team victory is icing on the cake.

Life is all about stepping up and doing it yourself, you can’t rely on the team.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Is More Better


Back in the day when I used to work a regular job two workmates and I plotted a winter ascent of Mt. Rainier. A winter climb of Rainier is extremely arduous even under the best of circumstances, and when a third coworker approached me about coming along I was skeptical. The guy had the mountaineering skills and he was definitely fit, but his fitness was a product of the gym and not the trail. At the time I was a svelte endurance athlete and was naturally uncomfortable signing on with a guy who looked like a bodybuilder.

In the end we made it a group of four and set out from the Paradise Lodge early one Saturday morning. My two original teammates and I were snickering behind our hands as the newcomer strapped a pair of Sorel boots onto the outside of his already overloaded pack. We quit laughing right quick as the big guy set the pace, kicked the steps and drug us all the way up to Camp Muir. In the end the weather stopped us at Muir, but I learned that muscle and endurance are not mutually exclusive.
I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that traditional Ironman training, for me, isn’t healthy. In the world of Ironman conventional wisdom states that more is better: training eighteen hours a week is good, but twenty is better. That’s one way to skin a cat, but I’m starting to think that there is another way.

My coworker on Mt. Rainier wasn’t putting in nearly the amount of endurance training that I was, but he kicked my butt. And this isn’t the only example. During Ironman training I’ve gone out backcountry skiing with buddies and they see me huffing and puffing and ask “hey man I thought you were training for an Ironman.” The reality is that I go skiing on my rest day and thus I show up destroyed from a hard week of training.

I’m starting to think that true fitness and health doesn’t come from continual tear down of one’s body, but instead comes from short bursts of high energy exercises punctuated with adequate rest. I don’t think that you have to do an Ironman every week in order to do an Ironman on race day. More to come on this issue.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ah to be Fifteen


Yesterday Sam and I rolled out the mountain bikes and went in search of some secret spot here on the island known as Snake Hill. We found one hell of a lot of steps, it was like climbing to the Monkey Temple or something, but no riding. We'll have to make another attempt next week.


One cool thing we did find was a trio of nutty skateboarders going down this uber steep hill. They wore work gloves with a chunk of plastic taped to the palm in order to do this sideways slide move. I wish we'd have come up with that back when I was fifteen.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cool Blog

Every morning I enjoy turning on my computer and spending five or ten mintues browsing the web, checking out what's new. This morning, via a series of links, I found the blog of author Tim Ferris (The Four Hour Work Week). It's worth checking out.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Human Power

Seems ironic that just three days after giving a dire address from the Oval Office regarding the pitfalls of an oil addicted economy President Obama was cutting the ribbon on the ten thousandth roads project funded under the Federal Stimulus Package. Here is a portion of what he had to say:

“I think that it’s fitting that we’ve reached this milestone here in this community, because what you’re doing here is a perfect example of the kind of innovation and coordination and renewal that the Recovery Act is driving all across this country.”

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m no Obama basher and frankly barring Al Gore he’s the best guy out there for the job, but for goodness sakes he’s got to pull his head out of the sand. First I have to ask myself what “innovation” is he talking about, I don’t know how you innovate a road. The automobile is the downfall of our nation and here our President is celebrating yet more pavement. I’ll bet there isn’t a bike lane on that “innovative” stretch of blacktop.

The only thing Republicans have right on the energy subject is that there is no substitute for oil. James Howard Kunstler put it succinctly when he wrote in the Washington Post:

"But the truth is that no combination of solar, wind and nuclear power, ethanol, biodiesel, tar sands and used French-fry oil will allow us to power Wal-Mart, Disney World and the interstate highway system -- or even a fraction of these things -- in the future. We have to make other arrangements."

Well said.

The magic bullet, the only alternate energy source that offers any hope is human energy. Every family is welcome to have a car, but they should also have raincoats, good shoes and bicycles. Automobiles should only be used occasionally and we should ride and walk either to our destinations or to mass transit centers. The major obstacle in implementing this new way of life is the American belief that one shouldn’t be uncomfortable.

Over the past forty years our lives have become so easy and so comfortable that we’ve lost sight of the fact that we don’t melt in the rain. We are not sugar, we are not the Wicked Witch of the West. We Americans are going to have to face the truth that just because something is easy that doesn’t make it right. Or conversely if something is hard that doesn’t make it wrong.

It is going to take some courage on behalf of our leaders to tell us straight – the party is over, now get your butt on a bike and pedal, and when you get off that bike have a cheese Danish, you’ve deserved it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cave Man Power

Monday night Sam and I went into Seattle to listen to a lecture by one of my favorite people, Dr. Spencer Wells. The author of The Journey of Man and now Pandora’s Seed and the driving force behind the Genographic Project, Dr. Wells possesses one of the most intelligent minds currently on the planet. Despite his Harvard, Stanford, Oxford pedigree the guy is incredibly down to earth and can explain complex theories in a way that even a dunce like me can understand.

In The Journey of Man Dr. Wells used mutations in the DNA chain to trace human migration patterns all the way back to an “Adam” and “Eve” couple living in central Africa. It’s even possible to send in a sample of your own DNA to the Genographic Project in order to obtain information about your own distant family tree. What I like about Dr. Wells is the fact that he doesn’t seem to forget that he’s not only dealing with bit of protein, but also that he’s dealing with individual human beings and human history.

Dr. Wells along with a few other researchers have begun to notice that even though we homo sapiens have been around for about two hundred thousand years, it has been only in the last ten thousand years that we’ve experienced massive amounts of evolutionary changes. What happened ten thousand years ago: the invention of agriculture.

Ironically the fossil record shows that the switch from a nomadic hunter gatherer lifestyle to a sedentary agricultural lifestyle was extremely detrimental to human health. In short our hunter gatherer ancestors were much healthier than their farmer descendants, a trend that continues even today. The human body has gone through great changes in the past ten thousand years, like developing the ability to digest milk after childhood, but still we are primarily suited to the active lifestyle and meat and plant based diet of our ancestors.

Check out his interview with John Stewart.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

All Out



Though I’ve ridden my bicycle tens of thousands of miles and I’ve entered well over one hundred running and triathlon races I have very little experience with actual bicycle racing. Yesterday I got a chance to peek into that fascinating subculture by competing in the Mercer Island Time Trail. As part of The Senior Games the race was open only to those forty and over, and while you might think that would limit competition this really isn’t the case as some of the most competitive athletes out there are in the forty plus age categories. My theory on this is that you have to be over forty to have the time and money to seriously compete in these races as they take a lot of both.

I really enjoy being a fly on the wall: just sitting back observing the common traits and characteristics of different subcultures. I discovered that the dress code for showing up to a bike race is knee length, typically plaid, cotton shorts, some sort of slip on shoe (flip flops, Birkenstocks or Crocs) and either a tee shirt or polo – no serious contender showed up in their bike kit.

I thought triathlon was an expensive sport, but it’s nothing compared to bicycle racing. These guys were rolling ten and fifteen thousand dollar rides out of their VW turbo diesel Passat wagons. Funny thing was that these probably weren’t even their primary bikes as I’d assume most of the team riders were road racers first and time trialists second.

I learned that when you start a time trial you roll off the starting line clipped into both pedals. This requires the assistance of a couple of guys who hold your bike up. This is a strange sensation, and I was simultaneously nervous and jacked up. I was nervous about falling over the second the guys let go of my bike and I was jacked because the 5-4-3-2-1 countdown had my heart rate flying even before I took one pedal stroke.

I live on Mercer Island and have ridden the course dozens of times and that initial three mile climb never gets any easier. I hit the hill at full speed and by mile two I was seriously considering pulling over as I feared cardiac arrest. I couldn’t get air and was sucking and puffing hoping for some relief ASAP. Cresting the hill didn’t offer much relief as it rolls for another three miles before hitting the final insult: a ten percent grade with little to no downhill run-up. I reluctantly dropped my chain into the small ring and powered up the hill.

With the hills behind me I began to see light at the end of the tunnel as I entered the grand prix curves portion of the route. This is why bikers love Mercer Island: the road twists and turns like three miles of human intestine. An orange sign marked the final kilometer and dang that wasn’t the longest six tenths of a mile in my life.

I did fine considering this was my first experience with serious bike racing. Crazy how my brain works though; I wasn’t five minutes finished before I started plotting ways to do better next time. Are aero wheels in my future?