Update

African Connection links are now in the sidebar to the right, just below the My Travel section.

Click here to see a La Crosse Tribune article about the mission in Uganda.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What are the Odds?

Chance of snow...
100%

Chance of riding...
OK. In spite of Calvin's dad's example, I say the chances are 0%. More or less.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Frore

There is no such thing as bad weather, only a poor choice of clothing.
Norse Proverb

Chosen for this day: arm warmers over a long sleeved, hooded base layer, short-sleeve jersey, heavy jacket; shorts and leg warmers under fleece tights; foot warmers over Smart Wool socks; road shoes with CalienToes topped with a fleece full-shoe and ankle cover; glove liners and full-finger gloves; ear warmers and helmet cover.

And still it bordered on being a poor choice.

The visual of sunshine and clear skies clashed with tactile signals that warned of near freezing temperatures and a bit of wind. But, that's what cold weather clothing is for, right? With the wind at my back, I cruised down Highway 35 to County K. On the approach to the climb, the wind changed direction twice, a feature in the winding valleys around where it manages somehow to always be in your face. The climb up to Hamburg Road was easier than I had a right to expect, what with not having been on the bike since November 8. Of course my speed (don’t take this term too literally here) was nothing to write home about. Still, it seemed a pleasant climb and the extra exertion warmed me up a bit.

It's not to say that the ride up to this point hadn't been cold, because it had. But, the gloves, ear warmers and all the layers on my feet were doing their jobs. However, the descent-manufactured 40 mph headwind on the ride down the east side of County K made for an altogether different experience. As in colder. Like most of the descents here, it is over pretty quickly. When the road flattens a bit - there is a nice, long run out that allows you to almost coast all the way to Highway 162 – I become aware of the numbness in my fingers, but, surprisingly, not in my toes. This all gets sorted out by the time I reach Cashton, so I’m thinking that about does it for the effects of cold.

Retracing my route for about two miles brings me to Hohlfield Road; I turn off there and again at Wrobel road where I start the climb over the hill I just came down, this path being about 1 mile to the north. This is a really great road. You start off rising quickly above a cultivated field. The road flattens a bit as you enter the more wooded section; at this time of year, you get a good view through the bare trees down onto the farm, a white house, white barn, collection of smaller white out-buildings, cows, doing whatever cows do in the winter, scattered around the surrounding fields. Practicing for the Chick-fil-A* commercials would be my guess.

To my left, the tree covered hill rises up above the road, meaning that most of the climb is sheltered from the late afternoon sun. The temperature has dropped about five degrees, but I’m climbing. Chilly, but not too bad. The road crests at the intersection with Brinkman Ridge Road; there is a small cemetery. A couple of miles of rolling road bring me back to County K, a little below the top at the church by Hamburg Road.

I head down. Against the wind, now, soaked with the chill of the first descent. As Barbosa would say, “I feel … cold.” Those were his last words, actually (in Pirates 1 anyway), but let’s not go there. But I do. Feel cold.

An ice-cream headache lurks just behind the bridge of my nose, but does not strike. This is good, as the sharp pain usually pushes me into a prolonged wince, not the best way to be wheeling down a winding hill. It’s my hands that are really cold. Well, my fingers. Actually, my finger tips. Not cold enough to be numb, mind you; painfully cold. Really painfully cold. I have seven miles to go. All of it against the wind. Did I mention that it was cold? Good. Because it was. Cold.
Not wanting to keep you in suspense - you are in suspense, right? - I made it home and, after a brutally painfully 15 seconds of warming up, recovered full use of my fingers. Whew. That was close.

It was a good ride. Good for early December in Wisconsin, anyway. Just under thirty miles with 1,600 feet of climbing. There wont be many more like this this year, if any. Certainly not this week as our weather will take a turn towards that which is suitable for the Frozen Tundra – winter storm warnings and blizzard watches are up for Tuesday night and Wednesday. Sounds like a good book and a cup of hot chocolate to me.

* You might be interested to know (if not, stop reading now) that my father-in-law submitted some design ideas for the Chick-fil-A logo (although his wasn't the one we see today). He was an artist and entertainer and even worked on one of the mechanical dwarfs (that would be one of THE Seven Dwarfs) in Truett Cathy’s first restaurant. At one point, Mr. Cathy gave my wife’s family a miniature pony. It bit my father-in-law not long after taking up residence with them and was summarily sent back. Oh well, I understand they are pretty high-strung animals.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Le Tour de iPod

Only 137 miles since October 25, and not even 10 yards since my ride up Bliss and OA on November 8. Five rides - for Pete’s sake! I’ve been at O’Hare SIX times in that same time period. Well maybe that explains why there haven't been many rides along the river or up into the high rolling countryside; no encounters with the Amish horse-drawn buggies from which you always get a wave and friendly smile nor any short but exciting descents on the winding rural roads scattered throughout the Coulee region.

But in the last two days, there has been some biking. Of sorts. One of those no-matter-how-hard-you-pedal-you’ll-not-move-an-inch bike-like machines here at the hotel in Atlanta. But in an hour spent in the basement fitness center, I am able visit far-away places, courtesy of the songs on my iPod.

First stop, Africa. The group Selah provides a great rendition of the hymn By and By in the Kituba language; this is one of the favorites in my collection. And try as I might, I have yet to learn the lyrics so I can sing along - although I do have a pretty could handle on the chorus.

Then, whisked along on Beausoleil’s Atchafalaya Pipeline, I enjoy a lively trip through the swamps of south central Louisiana before taking off on a whirlwind world tour with Hank Snow, who declares, "I’ve Been Everywhere". Checking the lyrics, I discover that I have actually been to 16 of the 91 places he mentions in the song. And how many have you visited?

A fantastical horseback ride through dark and windy western skies follows as Johnny Cash sings Ghost Riders in the Sky. As a young boy, I was entranced by Vaughn Monroe’s version that was played often in the 50’s (it was number 1 on the charts in 1949). When I first heard the Johnny Cash offering, I was disappointed, but now consider it the best I’ve ever heard.

The next stop is the Pacific Northwest via Pam Tillis’s The River and the Highway. It’s one of those song that tells just enough of the story to give you freedom to imagine the details, a hallmark of songs I consider my favorites. The travels continue with Bronn Journey – the name of the harpist who plays a haunting instrumental version of They’ll Know We are Christians by our Love. Wherever this one takes me, I always enjoy the trip.

Alan Jackson points out that It’s Five o’clock Somewhere. And a few hours after my "ride" on Wednesday, I enjoyed local Sweetwater Brewing's (their slogan: "Don’t Float the Mainstream") India Pale Ale, knowing that it was, in fact, five o’clock in La Crosse!

Since I am in The South, it seems only fair that I get a musical tour. I've earned it after all: my cotton T-shirt (a no-no on a real ride) has reached that sweat-stained state you see on a south Georgia peanut farmer at noon. Dixie (stand when you read this) is done as it should be by Stephen Brannen, notes jumping sharply off of the guitar strings at first, then tumbling like water over rocks in an Appalachian stream as the hammered dulcimer takes over. The third verse rings off of the taut skin covering the body or "pot" of a 5 string banjo. You listen to this and you know Mr. Brannen understands the South.

After this excitement, I’m treated to a trip down the Shenandoah on Teresa Perez’s cello. The mellow melody at first evokes a leisurely float down the river. Then the key goes as low as you can get on a cello (I’m only guessing here, but bear with me); this and rhythmic drumming combine to paint a musical picture of the clear water rolling through the Shenandoah Valley.

As it was in the concert from which this next recording comes, the best is saved for last. My shirt is now wringing wet and my legs are asking, “Just why should we do this any longer?” Well, it’s so I can take a ride on the Orange Blossom Special. I do not know if it is possible to enjoy a piece any more than I do this one, performed by the Flying W Wranglers along with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic Orchestra. According to one of the Wranglers as he introduces the finale, “We're gonna start off with one ol' lonely fiddle over here and before it's done, you're gonna hear a whole acre of fiddles, maybe two!” OH. MY. GOODNESS. The song is SO good that I often find myself laughing, unable to contain the sheer joy of listening to the rising crescendo of frantic fiddling.

Oddly enough, this song brings me full-circle, back to Africa. I bought my iPod in 2006, just a few weeks before my first trip to Uganda. During the long flight (La Crosse to Chicago to Brussels to Nairobi to Entebbe) I passed the time with a rather smaller collection of music than I have now – my iPod is full, as a matter of fact. I listened to Orange Blossom Special over and over again. The mystical magic of music, fusing blue grass fiddling with a Philharmonic orchestra, flight and the African continent. I love it.

Orange Blossom Special is introduced by the Wranglers with the words, “Man, wait ‘til you hear this!” It' time to stop waiting... If you have not heard this piece yet, you MUST find a way.

As the flywheel on the stationary bike comes to rest and the lights on the panel go out, I’m once again aware of the gray walls and the dark TV screen in front of me. It’s been a great trip, one I plan to repeat a few times during our stay in Atlanta.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Newton, et al

A light mist hangs over Chicago’s O’Hare field. The ramps and taxiways are wet, reflecting the silver, red, white and blue of the American Airlines planes as they maneuver into and out of the gates. An Air India 777, decked out in white, red and orange, lumbers along towards the international terminal, approaching the end of what must have been one long flight. At the same time, another 777, this one in the clean lines of the latest JAL livery, heads towards the runways, looking for a really long one, I suppose. Several hundred passengers settling in for a 13 hour flight. That’s a long time, to be sure. But think about it. Chicago to Tokyo in 13 hours. Simply incredible!

Sitting here, looking out onto the field, I can see planes taking off on the longer of O’Hare’s two east-west runways. The small regional jets leap from a dead standstill and after a short, frantic sprint, jump off of the concrete as if it were too hot to stand any longer and soon disappear into the low clouds. Planes are also taking off on the NE/SW runway a little farther out. There, a 777 rolls slowly along then, seemingly with great effort, lifts off the ground, quickly for something that size, but without the urgency of the little jets. Once airborne, it floats upward in majestic grandeur, showing off its might. If it happens to be a 777ER, its mammoth engines will have just convinced some 775,000 pounds of airplane, passengers and cargo to slip the surly bonds of earth and dance the skies. Simply incredible!

The odd thing is, in spite of appearances, the little jets probably leave the ground at about 130 mph while the “heavies” need to get up to around 180 mph before they can thumb their noses at gravity and take flight. Big or little, it is still an incredible sight to see these machines take off then fade away into the mists above Chicago.

The process by which this happens is well understood. There are some simple explanations which capture the concept, but in actuality one might need to be conversant with the works of Newton*, Navier and Stokes (authors of the familiar Navier-Stokes equations), Euler and Bernoulli to get it just right. As an aerospace engineer by training, I am acquainted (note this is NOT the same as conversant) with the theories. But I prefer to leave the actual application of such esoteric tools to the professionals who design these marvelous machines and stick with a simpler description of the phenomena of heavier-than-air flight. With no offense intended to the aforementioned learned gentlemen, I think it is just pure, simple, awe-inspiring MAGIC!

* This would be his development of the laws of motion. His seminal work with figs came later in his career.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Long Haul

Riding gives one the chance to think deep thoughts, ponder the meaning of life, work on solutions to the world’s problems. You know, those things you don’t have time to mull over in the course of a normal day. Well, maybe it’s just that my mind wanders when I pedal and every once in a while I stumble into a thought. Whatever.

On Saturday, when just a mile from home, I had to stop and wait while a long train rumbled through the Ward Avenue crossing. Each car was loaded with two containers, one stacked over the other ~ a moving array of multi-colored boxes sporting names like MAERSK, COSCO, HANJIN, TEX, and EVERGREEN. The brawny locomotives that had urged this traveling steel community into motion and now carried it smoothly along had long since passed, but I knew their powerful diesel engines had settled into a steady rhythm, turning the generator that provides electric power to the big traction motors, one for each axle. No land speed records were being set, but the engines and their following of flatcars were making steady progress as a result of the constant torque applied to the wheels of the engines.

Not long after this encounter, I was cruising (read: riding with a tailwind) down the river. Just past Goose Island, I was treated to the sight of hundreds of snow-white tundra swans bobbing on the water. Up above, more of them were organized into unbalanced “V” wedges, warming up for the trip east I imagine. There with the whitenesses of swans were gaggles of Canada geese and rafts of small ducks. An affecting avian assemblage that made my day.

As it was with the train, the swans were in it for the long haul. No sprinting, just steady progress on their way to the mid-Atlantic coast. I hope they got going while the wind was blowing their way.

For me, it was the same procedure as every time: rolling along, making slow but steady progress, a 51 mile ride on a day that would have been spectacular without a train and migrating waterfowl to provide opportunity for contemplation of ~ on this day ~ the value of persistence.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Move over Babe, Hank (and Barry)....

As announced by daughter MckMama, it was a long, long HOME RUN in Boston. It wasn't at Fenway, either. Here's the call:

OH. MY. GOODNESS!!!! It JUST this second became official -- after all of the drama since last night, (grandson) Stellan's doctors seem to have HIT IT OUT OF THE PARK!!! They struggled all day, but when they were done, they now think they were able to kill the problem nerve bundle in Stellan's heart WITHOUT damaging the AV node (a critical pathway for electrical signals in the heart). He is in normal sinus rhythm with no pacemaker. This was NOT the expected outcome.

Thank you so much for the prayers. Next step -- they will try to induce the SVT on Thursday to verify the results. So, thanks in advance for continuing prayers for Stellan. PTL!!!!

OH. MY. GOODNESS!!!!

OK, so the Babe and Hank did some incredible things with their wooden bats. But in my humble opinion, there hasn't been a home run hit, anywhere, anytime, that stacks up to this one! Dr. A and the entire team at Children's Hospital Boston are major league all stars for sure.

Memo to Red Sox management: Give them all season passes. Now! (please).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

26.2 for 426412*

Updated 11/13/09 In April of this year I went to Boston for Stellan's first and, as would be verified on November 12, his next-to-last, surgery. It was the weekend of the Boston Marathon and I was privileged to be able to see so many of those who finished the run walking around that evening, looking justifiably satisfied at having risen to the challenge. As I noted in my Dear Boston post, I was impressed.

Now, I am once again impressed by the 26.2 mile running thing as fellow blogger "Spiffer" has completed the New York City Marathon - pardon me, the ING New York City Marathon - in impressive fashion. How impressive, you ask? How about in the top 5% of her class and the top 11% of ALL OF THE RUNNERS IN THE RACE - more than 42,000 of them. That's worth a good Woo Hoo! for sure.

* AKA 16345

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ujumbe*

* Swahili for Mission

Weather. Being under the weather. Weathering long meetings, late meetings. A grand conspiracy to keep me off of the bike. I'm sure that's it. Or, maybe it's just nature and life happening with no regard for my mission - to ride 5,500 miles this year. A mission that has taken multiple hits and which is now essentially unachievable. I'm devastated OK with it.

There are other missions with more meaning. Take Africa - mentioned in two posts in this blog: Six Feet and Out of Africa. Our small group is busily preparing to return in January, 2010 and the not-riding time has provided an opportunity to put up some information about the missions that are our African journey. We've been working with churches and schools in the area of Tororo, Uganda, East Africa. And now, there are blogs dedicated to providing all who are interested information about what has been done and what is yet to come. Check them out at:

UjumbeUganda [C] -- work with churches
UjumbeUganda [S] -- work with schools

Riding? I'm pondering what to set as a goal for next year. Any suggestions? And, I've got my eyes on another tour... stay tuned for updates!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

NOW I Remember!

When I went to get some coffee at work this afternoon, I found a cup of hot chocolate sitting in the machine, with no one around to claim it. Chuckling to myself, I wondered who would have dropped the coins in the slot, made the selection then left without their purchase. I mean really….

About 10 miles and one hard climb into my ride this afternoon, I reached down to grab my water bottle and found… nothing. Now who would ever take off on a ride and forget their water bottles? I mean really…

Actually, my memory is an integral part of my fitness regimen. For example, I’ll take off to the other side of the building to get something from the printer. Along the way, I decide to check my mailbox. Then maybe get a cup of coffee, stop by someone’s cubical. You know, really multi-tasking, making the most of the trip. After returning to my desk, I realize I never went to the printer. So, off I go on another lap. I’m sure our Lifesteps health coach would be proud of me.

Does this happen to you? If not, how do you prevent it? I need to know! If it does, well, welcome to the club.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hungry Horses and Spotted Bears

Saturday, July 25
West Glacier to Whitefish


As noted in this 14 Percent Ride blog post, you can only do something for the first time once. Finishing my first tour as I rode into the University of Montana campus at Missoula in 2007 is as clear in my mind as if it had happened only 10 minutes ago. Epic. Never again would I finish my first-ever bicycle tour. But that’s not to say riding into Loveland, Colorado or being driven to the hospital in Langenthal, Switzerland were not memorable ~ and special ~ in their own way. They were. And so it would be today, the last ride of the Glacier/Waterton tour.

It appeared at first that our biggest challenge would be to understand the route sheet. Being only about 26 miles from West Glacier to Whitefish, our router decided to offer a variety of options, resulting in a lot of “if you chose Option 1, go to line 20 of the sheet, but if you want to ride Option 2, go to line 46.” Except it wasn’t that straightforward on the actual sheet, which just had lots of Option 1’s, Option 2’s and Option 3’s all over the place. But, I’d ridden in Switzerland where the only thing that wasn’t optional was the name of the hotel we were aiming for at the end of the day. And where Bill and Bob succeeded in finding options to the options. Sometimes on purpose. How hard could THIS day be?

Note: Since I DID NOT say anything about how I saved Bill’s life by having enough warm clothing for two people on yesterday’s ride, I know he won’t mind a little poetic license regarding the Swiss trip. It’s only a little, though.

The side trip to Hungry Horse dam was highly recommended so dam it was to be. To save you the trouble of returning to the first post, I’ll just tell you now, “It was a grand morning, cool and clear, when we headed out early after a quick breakfast.” Eight miles out of West Glacier, I turn onto Reservoir Road for the four mile ride to the dam. The road was quiet, rolling and scenic, providing a most pleasant approach to the more-impressive-than-I-had-expected Hungry Horse dam.

To Hungry Horse Dam




After spending time in the visitor center, we decide to ride around the lake behind the dam. There is an 11 mile stretch of paved road and we’ll have to turn around and backtrack, but this is such a nice area that doing it twice doesn’t seem to be a bad thing. Shortly after crossing the dam, the road climbs gradually above the lake where we get good looks at several occupied osprey nests.

Beyond Hungry Horse

Looping along to follow the contour of the shore, the road carries us into a bit of the Montana wilderness. There is a campground and a couple of houses. We meet a few cars. There is a construction crew re-building a small bridge. But we are mostly alone in the quiet of the forested hills above the large lake collected behind Hungry Horse dam.

At the end of the paved road, I stop and ponder the significance of this sign:
My conclusion? When you are at a point in the road where your only options are to go to Hungry Horse or Spotted Bear, you are a LONG WAY from home. Maybe it’s time to go back.

Roads often look much different when ridden in opposite directions; that was the case today on the return to Hungry Horse dam and then on into the town of Hungry Horse itself. A nice 15 miles. The remainder of the ride to Whitefish was enjoyable as well. OK, there was that 2.5 mile section of Highway 2. Narrow, no shoulder, fast moving, heavy traffic. But it was off on rural roads again at Columbia Falls and after 10 miles of fairly easy riding, the tour was over.

It was probably the least affecting tour ending of the four I have experienced. Yet it still had that same bittersweet character. The riding had been hard work and it was nice to be able to anticipate a day not perched on a seat that would be small to someone half my size. There would be no pulling myself and the bike up hills or riding those unpleasant parts that you encounter any route – the long, straight, flat stretches that seem to never end. On the other hand, it was with considerable regret that I realized I wouldn’t be on that seat tomorrow, going up another grade, rounding another curve, finding another spectacular vista unfolding ahead of my handlebars, rolling through country I’ve never seen nor will ever forget, … Sigh. What a great tour.

If you’ve been on a cycling tour, then you probably know how enjoyable it can be. If you haven’t, then maybe you don’t know, nor can you figure out, why anyone would find pleasure in the experience. I doubt all the writing about my tours gives any more insight into the experience to either group. But I get to relive the rides, so I write about them. And in that, perhaps, given those of you who read the accounts a smile or two as well. I hope so.

Today's Ride:      Tour Totals:
61.2 miles           427.9 miles
2708 feet            19,525 feet

Monday, September 28, 2009

Epic

Friday, July 24
St. Mary to West Glacier via Going to the Sun Road


Note: there are 27 pictures in this post, so I chose the "small" format. You can click on a picture and open it in full size.

Have you ever done anything epic? You know, as in heroic; majestic; impressively great. That definition sets the bar pretty high. A less grandiose picture of something epic is surpassing the usual or ordinary, particularly in scope or size. Looked at this way, epic may actually be within reach. Come to think about it, I have been called “out of the ordinary” more than once. But that’s another story altogether.

At the Thursday night meeting in St. Mary, Greg said getting over Going to the Sun Road would be an epic ride. It was certainly going to be different from the riding we had behind us. We would climb about 2,100 feet over 12 miles then descend almost 3,000 feet in the next 12 miles. But epic? We would have to make the ride and see.

After breakfast, we packed a lunch and clothing suitable for hiking. These would be carried up to Logan Pass, the designated picnic stop. There is a restriction in riding a seven mile stretch of Going to the Sun Road. One of our choices was to start early and ride hard to get into the section before the restriction started at 11:00 a.m. As the section in question was at the bottom of the descent, some 41 miles into the ride, this was only theoretically a choice as far as I was concerned. Besides, it would turn the ride into a race; I prefer a tour. So, it was the second option that we all (as far as I know) chose: ride to Logan Pass, have lunch, change clothes, enjoy some of the hiking opportunities then continue the ride at a time that would bring us to the restricted stretch after 4 p.m.

Remember the paragraph that described weather for the day’s ride? The one in the second paragraph of the Happy Wanderer post? The one that was to apply to every day, unless otherwise noted? Good. You do remember. Consider yourself otherwise noted.

Bikes are ready - just waiting for the riders

As we coasted down the hill from the campground into St. Mary, we could see the mountains up ahead. The forecast was for a chance of rain and thunder storms; low clouds draped over the rocky slopes made the “a chance of” condition seem decidedly optimistic. But it is of little consequence. I have been captured again by the enjoyment of being in such a spectacular place and by the anticipation of the climb.

Entrance to the park and Going the Sun Road

It was a short jaunt to the park entrance, followed by a very nice ride on the lower part of the road – we were not officially climbing yet. Right from the start, the views were impressive. The twisting road presented new vistas at every turn. Rocky slopes cascaded down from the right, their course briefly interrupted by the level road surface before continuing down on our left. I pull off at an overlook. The lake below is surrounded by towering mountains; there is a small island in the middle. While admiring the view, it starts to rain in a way that lets you know it’s only going to get worse. A few miles farther and we start the “gradual climb.” A waterfall cascades down from the slopes on my right. And the rain gets more serious, encouraged, it seems, by the thunder that rattles around the lower reaches of the road. I get on my helmet cover, don my light rain jacket and head up.

For a while, the intensity of the rain increases with altitude. The thunder does not last long though, a good thing as the road soon gets up and onto the side of the mountain where we riders are quite exposed. I stop at the first big switchback and wring out what water I can, snap a picture, and continue on. The rain soon lets up and the wind, quite brisk at this point, is at my back. I make seriously good time going up a section that my computer rates at 7 to 9%.

The skies alternately cleared (in a relative sense) then dropped a damp, foggy mist during the remainder of the climb to Logan Pass. I’ve been wetter. I’ve been colder. And on rides on roads not nearly as impressive. No rain would have been OK. But the weather did not dampen what counted. That would happen soon, however. Here are pictures from the ride up:












As soon as I parked the bike, I realized it was COLD. I was damp. The air was damp. The wind was fierce. After stopping at the van to pick up my lunch, I headed for the visitors’ center. Ignoring the sign on the door that said No Food or Drink in Visitor Center, I joined several of the group eating lunch and trying to dry out and warm up. This morning, Bill had suggested a hike to Hidden Lake. That sounded like a great idea. Now, it was cold. Shivering cold. Hiking did NOT seem to be a good idea. I had dry socks, a wind-stop base layer shirt, leg warmers and an extra pair of tights. I changed into the drier, warmer clothes, but my jersey was damp and it was still cold. We decided to start the descent to get out of the weather; we could wait out the cycling restriction at Lake McDonald. Down we went.

It was an interesting descent. Going down, the road is steeper with considerably more twists and turns. And the surface was not all that great. In fact, one section was pretty much just loose gravel. But the views down into the valley below were breathtaking. And, the weather improved dramatically. It warmed up right away, the mist lifted and the rain was gone. For good. I stopped several times to take in the views and capture them, imperfectly, with my little camera. Here are the pictures from the trip down:











The restaurant at the Lake McDonald lodge offered up a pretty special buffalo burger, accompanied by a locally brewed Huckleberry Lager. Ice cream, jam, beer – that huckleberry is one versatile fruit! The lake was nice but, in the end, the wait for the restriction to lift got a little long. After a few hours of sightseeing, sitting by the lake, watching one of the riders fix another’s flat, we rode to the sign and waited for the big hand to crawl past 12.



It was a fairly easy 12 mile ride into West Glacier and the Highland Glacier Hotel. Luggage was carefully unpacked:


And we found a physician-approved recovery beverage:


Up and over Going to the Sun Road made for a great ride. But epic? I do not think I’d go that far. Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park; riding from Ulrichen to Bergun in Switzerland. Epic rides in my book. But let me repeat, Going to the Sun was a great ride. One I’ll remember for a long, long time. Along with all of the others. It might not be a collection of epics, but it is an epic collection, to be sure.

Today's Ride:      Tour Totals:
54.3 miles           366.7 miles
2967 feet            16817 feet

Saturday, September 19, 2009

4,000 Words (and then some)

I did not take a camera to London. Instead, I had this nice little passport-sized journal in which I kept notes so as to not forget all of the things I'd seen. Like the Humped Zebra Crossing. You know, the really important things. And, I made sketches. Four of them as it turns out. So, instead of the 4,000 words I'd had all planned for this post...

Breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express, looking out onto Old Street

Bunhill Fields; Daniel Defoe on the left, William Blake on the right

Presentation at City University London

Dinner for one at Zigfrid von Underbelly

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What's in a Name? Or on a Sign?

Foreign languages are fascinating, none more so than the one we supposedly have in common with England. We are all familiar with that English (UK) spelling rule; you know, the one that goes “e before r except after t,” requiring the tongue to say something other than what the eye sees, as in centre. But there is so much more than this little quirkiness that makes the US and UK known as “two countries separated by a common language.”

Names here are lively and beg to be researched for the story that gave rise to them. Take Elephant and Castle, a train station and tube stop south of the Thames. Really, you have to make a trip there, just to say you've been and to report, as have countless thousands who have made the trip before you, there are neither elephants nor castles there.

There is a Great Portland Street tube stop. I like that name. Do you suppose there is a Mediocre Portland Street somewhere? Marylebone Road runs through a neighborhood of the same name. Originally known as St. Mary at the Bourne (bourne being a stream or rivulet), it morphed over the years into its current form.

Other tube stops making the famous London Underground map even more colorful are: Tooting Bec, Barking, Swiss Cottage - notable for it’s startling non-Britishness, in rather sharp contrast to stops on either side: St. John’s Wood and Finchley Road. Then there are Headstone Lane (NOT at the end of the line, by the way), Chalk Farm, Upminster (if there’s a Downminster, I haven’t come across it yet), Hounslow (West and Central) and a couple of Circuses: Oxford and, of course, Piccadilly. Anyway, you get the picture.

“I’ll take Names of British Business Establishments for $1,000, Alex.” OK, how about pubs? On this trip I visited Masque Haunt and the George and Vulture. Admiral Nelson is honored by having a number of pubs bear his name. One near my hotel was called The Nelson’s Retreat, as if there might be some question as to which Nelson they were referring.

One rather disturbing development is that British pub food seems to have fallen out of favor at British pubs. Thai and Italian menus have pretty much taken over. As a result, I had a Margherita pizza at George and Vulture. And it was no contest when it came to my choice of beverage – they had Scrumpy Jack cider on tap. It’s the cider, not Jack, that’s scrumpy – a term meaning small or withered apples. Later, I tried Old Rosie Cloudy Scrumpy Premium Cider and decided that a Scrumpy Jack easily trumps an Old Rosie. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

On my last night, I ended up at Zigfrid von Underbelly (I am NOT making that up), a bar and restaurant in Hoxton Square, near my hotel. It was an interesting looking place, but I went mainly because they offered Fish and Chips with Mushy Peas. Mushy peas, I’ve been told by people who should know (i.e. those born and raised in the U.K.), make it a REAL fish and chips meal. Well, the fish was very good as were the chips. But the mushy peas? I found myself looking at a small bowl filled with a brilliant green puree that would have made Mr. and Mrs. Gerber proud. THAT was disappointing.

There are a multitude of fast food shops, many selling Kebab. City Best Kebab was right around the corner. Further on down Old Street, I came across the parenthetically parenthetical (The) Best Kebab). Displaying a slightly errant understanding of both U.S. geography and fast food franchises, the owners of one establishment came up with the name Tennessee Fried Chicken. Soooo close.

A number of small grocery stores can be found on any short walk and just down from (The) Best Kebab) I found Good Luck Supermarket. For my money, I’d like to have a little more than a wish for “good luck” in my food shopping experience.

Finally, there was the startling revelation that exotic wild animals were loose on the streets of central London. Seriously, right there on the road alongside Paddington Station is a sign calling attention to a Humped Zebra Crossing. And I thought the humped zebra had been hunted to extinction decades ago. I wonder if they have to pay the congestion charge?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Many

Thursday, July 23
Waterton Lakes, Canada to St. Mary, Montana


How many crazies are there? Apart from me, of course. When leaving Uganda last October, the friend of our Ugandan host drove me to the airport. Just entering the Entebbe airport property required a stop at a security checkpoint. Manned by soldiers. Who were armed. One of the guards leaned over and our driver (names withheld to protect the other crazies on board) looked at him and said, "If you are looking for the gun, it's in the boot." I said, well, nothing. I was thinking, "GUN! You have a GUN in the trunk! WHAT! Are you CRAZY?!" Or something more or less along those lines. The guard looked in the trunk then came back, smiled at the driver, and said, "It must be the little one. I don't see anything." And he waved us on. I asked about the encounter, as calmly as I could. Our driver smiled and said, "I was just joking with him."

If you think no one else could really be that crazy, well there was this one rider on the tour. Going through the border crossing at Chief Mountain, he told the agent that he'd dropped all of his drugs and related paraphernalia a few miles back. The agent dragged him away for interrogation smiled and waved him through.

I'm not sure who is crazier, those who joke around with security guards and border patrol officers or the guards and officers who smile and wave them through. Whatever, I heartily do NOT endorse such behavior. And yes, I have heard people say "Hi Jack. Oops, don't want to say THAT in an airport." More than once.

OK, maybe one of the other riders in the group was even crazier. In a different way. On a long, gradual descent, I just had to pull over to take a picture. As I turned to snap the photo, one of the other riders went whizzing by. He wanted a picture too. So, he took his hands off of the handlebars, dug his camera out of his jersey pocket, turned, took the picture, re-pocketed the camera and kept on going. That may be just plain good cycling. But I think he was crazy. One of the so many of us, it seems.

What a day. The ride from Waterton to the border was breathtaking. We left the main highway at Babb and rode in to Many Glacier. Lakes tucked into mountains with the remnants of glaciers on their upper flanks. It was you could hope for on a bicycle ride.

Here are some of the sights along the way...


This was the day of the bear for me. A few miles after crossing into Montana I was riding up a gentle slope when I saw a number of cars and few of our Cycle America group stopped on the far side of the road. There was a good sized cinnamon colored black bear walking away from the road. Just as I got my camera out, it disappeared into the tall grass. We saw another - a mother and her cub - just off the road as we entered the resort area of Many Glacier. The shot I got wasn't all that good, but here it is:



Today's Ride:      Tour Totals:
75.3 miles           312.4 miles
4341 feet            13850 feet

Sunday, September 6, 2009

In Long Repose

A morning stroll brought me to Bunhill Fields, a cemetery whose residents include authors Daniel Defoe and John Runyan, poet and painter William Blake and scores of other lesser-known individuals. There are marked graves dating back to at least 1692. But what got my attention on this day was the tomb of one Mary Page. On one side, the inscription reads (apparently neither lower case nor punctuation had been invented yet; also note, the spelling is carefully checked and reproduced):

HERE LYES DAME MARY PAGE
RELICT OF SIR GREGORY PAGE BART
SHE DEPARTED THIS LIFE MARCH 4 1728
IN THE 56TH YEAR OF HER AGE

Then, on the other side:

IN 67 MONTHS SHE WAS TAPD 66 TIMES
HAD TAKEN AWAY 240 GALLONS OF WATER
WITHOUT EVER REPINING AT HER CASE
OR EVER FEARING THE OPERATION

I haven't given much thought to what I'd want to have on my headstone, but I'm pretty sure that's not it.

Some facts to enhance your reading experience ~

RELICT - a widow or survivor
BART - A man holding a British hereditary title of honor reserved for commoners, ranking immediately below the barons and above all orders of knighthood except the Garter.
REPINING - feeling or expressing unhappiness or distress

And I'm sorry to have to point this out, but that's 3.6 gallons for each procedure. Yikes!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Day Flight, Night Landing

Inserting yourself into the UK through London’s Heathrow Airport is always an interesting experience*. And so it was again last night. The landing is pretty much what you’d expect: a long runway with lots of lights, some buildings appearing in the distance. You know, just another airport. But then you taxi in and it’s altogether another world.

It’s like you’ve landed in a medium sized city and the pilot, who seems to have lost his map, decides to roam aimlessly in search of a suitable parking place. Having taken the day flight from Chicago, we are here at 10:30 p.m. It is dark and this adds to a growing feeling that I will quite possibly go missing, leaving my family and friends to forever wonder what happened to me. We wander around amongst a scattered collection of buildings, only a few of which actually look like they might be part of an airport. Warehouses, office buildings. Seriously, I think we passed two Kwik Trips. Or maybe it was the same one twice. After a while we approached a likely looking place - a long edifice with planes nuzzled up against one side like piglets at dinner time. But we passed it by and continued on into the night.

After stopping twice to ask directions, the pilot decided to pull in at the end of a sprawling building that looked more like a vacant strip mall than a terminal at a major air travel hub. But we deplaned (a term coined by Hervé Villechaize in the TV series Fantasy Island) onto a real, if not altogether stable, jet bridge. Really, the thing was rocking like a boat in a storm. The Tacoma Narrows bridge came to mind as I made my way towards the terminal, my hands pressing the wall for support.

The pilot had hoped to do better, I’m sure. But when you’ve been searching for as long as we had been, even the most remote of parking spots begins to look attractive. I figure it was a good two mile walk to the passport control area. Looking at the bright side, it was a chance get my land-legs back and to stretch out the various kinks that had settled in during the long flight.

I would eventually make my way to the arrivals hall where the thirty or so passport control desks were staffed by six people, only four of whom were in the area assigned to the 98% of us passengers who could not avail themselves of one of the special categories. On this night, that included a line reserved for “First time workers and students.” Perhaps procrastenation does pay off sometimes. A sign along the winding queue, one that would put many at Disney World to shame, assured us that the desks were being manned (or womanned as was the case at two of the stations) by “all available personnel.” Well, it was 11 p.m., so I suppose I shouldn’t begrudge the other 25 staff a little rest at home. Actually, the process ran smoothly and took just long enough that when I reached the baggage claim area, I found my suitcase lined up in one of the four neat rows of bags already removed from the conveyor by the helpful Heathrow staff. The British do like a nice, ordered queue.

Another half-marathon walk and I was on the platform of the Heathrow Express. “15 minutes (to Paddington Station) Every 15 Minutes.” True to their word they were this evening. Then it was on to the taxi platform outside the station where both the London cabs and prospective passengers have their own queues. The ensuing ride to the hotel was longer and more expensive than that on the Express, but I had arrived.

And there you have it; a mere 14 hours after waking up in La Crosse, I was settled in at the hotel on Old Street in the Shoreditch neighborhood which is within the borough of Hackney, possibly spilling over into Islington and maybe even into The City in east London**. With issues of geography still not wrestled to the ground, another battle begins: my internal clock, insisting it is only 6 p.m., versus the one on the nightstand showing it to be approaching midnight. Sigh.


* Heathrow is an amazing place. I have yet to grasp its overall layout, although I suspect it is a little more orderly than I have described**. The multitude of planes from all over the world that gather around the several terminals create a visual display as disjointed and visually arresting as a Jackson Pollock painting. This feast for the eyes is supplemented by the unending stream of people in what we would call costumes but what they simply consider as clothes. It is not unusual to walk around for a goodly period of time and not hear a word of English.

Those whose goal is to be whisked away through to their final destination hate the place. And while I do fall into the category of those not actively seeking travel misery, I relish the experience of going through Heathrow. Most of my experiences have not been that unpleasant. When problems do arise, there is often an exotic twist and you get the chance to become part of a most diverse community of displaced people now more or less sharing a common experience. Finally, there is always - always - a new story to add to your collection.

This is all easier to say after my trip from La Crosse which was, in nearly every respect, flawless. But I still mean it. Every word.

** A little time carefully studying a few maps and I could figure all of this out. But then it wouldn't be nearly as much fun, would it?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Down Time

Wednesday, July 22
Off Day at Waterton Lakes


Weekends. Time to shift direction, concentrate on something besides work, the news, whatever. What is it for you? That occupies your week? That you seek to avoid on the weekends?

For the riders of the tour, today is an off day; no riding required, although the option is there. Since the little saddle is starting to fit just a bit too well and since my bike has been somewhat obstreperous, it seems a good day to shift my attention to pursuits other than pedaling.

OK, so this entire trip is a vacation. Time off from the "grind." I'm not (or maybe just barely) aware of so many things that occupy my thoughts during a normal week at home or on a business trip. Even things I don't realize I notice until a tour like this when I become completely oblivious to them, for a variety of reasons.

For example, on my first tour I slept in my tent every night, a pretty major change in routine. At the end of about the third day of the ride, I called Shirley. During the conversation, she asked me, "What time does it get dark where you are?" My reply? "I don't have a clue!" Sound asleep before sundown is the norm.

But the tours really do provide release from the normal norm. No laptop, no work brought along to catch up on, no newspapers. This year, being in hotels, I'll have to admit to having the TV on a few times - surfing for the Tour de France coverage which was never found. But it is near total disconnect. All you need to do is get up, eat breakfast, get ready to ride, ride, eat at the picnic stop, ride some more, find some mid -afternoon refreshment at at the end of the ride, unwind in town, eat dinner, sleep and repeat. It's great and I highly recommend it.

Waterton Lakes Village is in a beautiful location. Mountains surround the north end of the lake that extends down into Glacier Park in Montana. The location of the US/Canadian border is visible from a spot just above the visitor center which offers a grand view of the area. The weather continues to be near-perfect.


At Waterton Lakes

Our hotel is located in the village, not far from all it has to offer in the way of services

Our hotel in Waterton
NOT our hotel in Waterton
In the hotel yard (our hotel)

Hiking trails, boat rides and cycling options are available. We decide to take the hike up to Bertha Falls and then on farther to Bertha Lake. The trail is well maintained and winds around with a repeating pattern of sections lined with wildflowers followed by an opportunity to walk in the cool shade of the abundant evergreens before emerging at an opening offering panoramic view of the lake below. The walk to the falls is pleasant and not all that challenging.





On the way up to Bertha Falls

The falls are of the tumbling ilk, water rolling down over a rocky stair step, never really getting launched over the edge of anything. We take a few pictures and head on towards the lake.

Lower Bertha Falls

The trail immediately becomes steeper and not long after the falls we get up onto a ridge that, on approach, appears to want to carry us along the edge of a sharp precipice. That wasn't really the case, though and we were soon back into forest shaded hiking, winding our way up in what I would later determine to be 24 switchbacks.

It is quiet and we encounter no other hikers. A bit above the falls, we do meet a group of young men and women working for the park, repairing one of the switchbacks. Hard labor for them, but they are smiling and chatting as they go about the digging and scraping and hauling of rock. If you have to do this kind of work, it might as well be in a place like this!

Later we find that there is another waterfall, this one taller and more of the water-throwing-itself-down-the-mountain type. There is a bit of bad news in this discovery as the water is coming from a place well above where we are. That would be where we will find the lake we are going to see. We climb on and eventually reach the high point of the hike where we can look down on the surface of Bertha Lake.

Nothing much to see here. Just one of those picture post card perfect vistas of a turquoise lake surrounded by rocky peaks, their lower slopes painted a cool, dark shade of green by the trees that grow right down to the water's edge.


Bertha Lake

We walk down to the lake level, through a field of bear grass. This is the first time I have seen bear grass and it is showing off by sparkling brilliantly with reflected sunlight.

Bear grass

The only "improvement" is a rough log bridge across a small rill that feeds the falls we saw on the way up. There is a couple wading in the water in a clearing across from our location. And a single merganser swimming and diving, unconcerned with our presence.

A page from my journal with notes and my impression of Bertha Lake (left)

We sit on bleached trunks of fallen trees and eat lunch. As we finish, another of our group comes down the trail. It is getting awfully crowded so we take off for town. Once there, we settle down and do some serious consideration of local insects.

Grasshopper

The tour has provided a chance to "get away from it all." And the day off at Waterton Lakes provides a chance to get away from the tour. What a grand day.

Today's Ride:      Tour Totals:
00.0 miles           237.1 miles
0000 feet             9509 feet