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.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Dream. And A Nightmare.

It was one of those days. The kind that make you glad you live on the outskirts of the frozen tundra. Maybe it's because you do live here and have so few of these days that made it seem so good. It was a dream day. A day for being on the bike.

Warm enough for shorts and a short-sleeve jersey, cool enough to be comfortable, even on the climbs. And while windy, it wasn't much of a factor on the route I'd chosen for the afternoon ride. But what it really was that made the day were the colors. Afternoon light lifted the wooded hills into a luminescent lime green. The sky was a deep, brilliant blue, a hue that might very well be impossible to recreate on even the most talented of artists' palettes. The rocky outcroppings on the bluffs effused a warm orange glow, adding to the impossible beauty of this most pleasant of afternoons.

Leaving at 4 p.m., I headed up Bliss Road and, after a loop past our National Weather Service station, went on to drop down County FO to the intersection with County OA. Climbing OA got me back to the top of the ridge where I stayed only long enough to hydrate and stretch a bit. Then, it was down OA and up FO, back past the weather station and down Bliss. At the bottom of Bliss Road, I turned around and went back to the turnaround past the weather station and back down Bliss. Then, I did it again. After descending Bliss for the third time, I decided it was time to call it a day, so I headed for home.

This was that day you dream about when you are riding in March. In wind-driven sleet. With the cold stinging your cheeks. Where your feet are painfully cold, even with the two foot warmers and shoe covers. Today, the dream came true.

You are probably thinking that the nightmare has something to do with the rigors of the 43 mile ride or the accompanying 3,700 feet of climbing. And if that's what you're thinking, then you are wrong. The dark moment of the day came as I went to take care of dinner.

Just before getting home I pulled into the local Subway, something I do often after a late afternoon ride. It was your worst Subway nightmare. There was only one person ahead of me, but she was on a cell phone, obviously ordering for whoever was on the other end of the line. This is hardly ever a sign that you are going to make it through the line quickly, and so it was tonight.

First, the lady asked about the bread choices, then repeated them to her unseen soon-to-be dinner companion. OK, I had to assume she repeated the bread story as she was speaking in Chinese. After a conversation that was pretty animated for something as basic as bread, she relayed the decision to the sandwich maker behind the counter. Then, it was time to ask about the meat choices, a bit more complicated as you can have a variety on any one sandwich. After describing the choices over the phone (again I am assuming this - you know, the Chinese language thing) she had to get some clarifications which, of course, had to be translated and transmitted. When this was settled, we moved on to cheese, only a little less complicated than the meat. The question, "Do you want this toasted?" must have been difficult to render into Chinese, as the discussion that (finally) led to a decision to say, "yes" took almost as long as the bread, meat and cheese conferences combined.

The partially completed sandwich goes into the oven and I get ready to place my order. But the young lady behind the counter asks, as she always does, "Would you like another sandwich?" "Yes." Uh-oh. And so we started the process again Really. It was as if the first sandwich-ordering exercise had never happened. We go through the bread, meat, cheese, toasted-or-not choices again. Except this time it maybe took a little longer. When eventually asked about another sub, the response was "yes" again. And then AGAIN. Four times. Each time as if it were a brand-new experience. Oh. My. Goodness.

I'm going to assume you get the picture by now, so I won't even mention the effect that asking "Would you like the works on these sandwiches?" had on the process. But it was a LONG effect.

It takes me 10 seconds to order. I always get the same sandwich. Always. I can answer the questions before they are asked. Funny thing is, I know the people that work there know what I am going to order. But in the last two years, only one guy (an Atlanta Braves fan, as am I, by the way) would actually start making the sandwich when I walked in. Go figure.

So there you go. A dream of a day. And I really don't take the Subway "nightmare" all that seriously. In fact, it might prove to be beneficial some day. If I'm ever in a Beijing Subway, I'm pretty sure I can order any one of four sandwiches. And they'll never guess I'm not a native.

It's getting late, so I'll say, 晚安 (wǎn ān)!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Rocky Mountain Hi

During my business trip (I am not making that up, the business part) to Pueblo, Colorado, we spent the afternoon on a jaunt from Manitou Springs to the top of Pikes Peak and back. It's not unusual for me to leave some things unsaid in the frenetic pace of a trip, but they eventually need to be said. If you've read Dear Boston and/or Catching up on Correspondence, then you know the drill...

To the Buffalo Bill look-alike / wannabe in Manitou Springs,
I have never, I mean never, seen anyone unholster, twirl and re-holster a six-shooter like that save for when I was sitting in the dark in front of a screen. Man, I hope that thing wasn't loaded. We would have stopped and gotten out of the car to watch the whole show, but we figured you'd want a "contribution." Engineers!

To the Pikes Peak Cog Railway Company,
You need good equipment to climb those 25% grades. I was relieved to see the plate over the door noting that the train was made in Winterthur, Switzerland. The Swiss have never seen a slope that didn't look like a good place for a train track. I'm sure it was a challenge, but I can report that they were up to it...so far.

To the lawyers for the above-mentioned railway company,
Looking through the brochure while waiting for the train, I came across your contribution to full disclosure: "The M and PP RY will not be held liable for for delays due to weather, track or mechanical problems or any other reason." Do you think, just maybe, you've covered all the bases?

To the gift shop at the Manitou Springs station,
My sincere apologies for the (thankfully) unspoken thoughts I had at learning water was available ONLY in 1 liter bottles. The thought: Just a scheme to get $3.00 from a captive audience. Well... I finished the bottle before the train returned from the top and was glad for every drop.

To Sarah Conductor,
Yes. You were right. The falls we passed ARE higher than Niagara Falls. Did you every consider writing boilerplate for the legal team that came up with the disclaimer for your company?

To the smokers at the summit,
NOW do you think you might want to quit?

To the guys (from MY group) exercising 14,115 feet,
I don't think you'd have really had to hand in your man-cards if you didn't do the push-ups.

To God,
Oxygen at 14,000 feet. Would it have really been so hard? The May snow showers at the top were a nice touch, though.

To our waiter at the Stagecoach in Manitou Springs,
Choose one:
A. __ My parents named me
B. __ I chose the name later in life
C. __ It's a nickname attached to me by my friends

If you chose:
A. What WERE they thinking
B. What were YOU thinking
C. You need to find another group of friends

To Mike, one of our seat-mates on the train,
Cool - visiting the high points in all 50 states. Alaska is in the 42 you've already done. That means Denali. I am impressed. It doesn't seem the remaining 8 will provide anywhere near the challenges you must have already faced, what with Florida, Alabama, MIssissippi and Louisiana being among the states left to climb. Good luck!

To the rest of you out there,
You really should get to Colorado sometime.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


"Have a non-technical writing piece published." I've had numerous technical papers published so I was looking for something else when I added this entry to my 50 Things To Do... list. And, not being so sure that writing a blog is publishing in the sense I was thinking, I'll not count mine towards this goal. But I don't want to make this TOO hard, either. I already have some of those on my list - things I doubt I'll really ever be able or have the opportunity to do. So, I've been willing to find some middle ground on this one. Having thus given myself some wiggle room, it turns out it wasn't so hard to get this onto the "Done" side of the ledger.

During the course of my seven mission trips to the Dominican Republic and two to Uganda, I grew (with some encouragement along the way) into the practice of keeping journals. Upon returning from the trips, I shared my journals in a variety of ways and generally found the whole experience - writing in the field, refining at home and sharing with my teammates - to be enjoyable and rewarding. Looking for something just a little different for this year's Dominican Republic trip journal, I remembered a web site I'd heard about - Blurb.com. From there, you can create your own book - a REAL book - and get REAL copies and even have it on the virtual shelves of a REAL e-bookstore. It might be self-publishing, but that was good enough for me. So I did it, I turned my journal into a 45 page booklet with eight chapters and a lot of pictures. And I had a ton of fun along the way.

Now I know you are just chomping at the bit, wanting to get a glimpse of this new addition to the world's vast collection of great works. And, through the magic of Blurb.com, I can give you that glimpse. Just click here. You can see the front and rear covers and the first 15 pages.

The book is for sale - that's part of the Blurb.com service, but I just wanted to have a little fun, make as nice a journal as I could and get copies for my teammates. All accomplished. And, as far as I'm concerned, I now "Have a non-technical writing piece published." Works for me.

Now, if you want to see a good example of what can be done if you really know what you are doing, check out the special book made by Carrie and Susan with pictures from Stellan's name gallery. Just click here. Now that's a book! Thank you so much, ladies. What a wonderful surprise for MckMama.

Did anyone mention biking? One reason I had enough time to make a book is that the weather here has been anything but accommodating to riding. In fact, the reason I have time to write now about making a book is that it is cool, windy and raining. But not to worry, things have been improving. In the first 12 days of May I've ridden 227 miles and climbed 16,440 feet, bringing my totals for the year to 1,096 miles and 38,440 feet. Not as much as I'd hoped, but the pace is accelerating.

Memo to Barnes and Noble: My schedule is pretty much open for the book signing tour. Give me a call and we'll talk.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Are we There Yet?

Or How I started out blogging and ended up in Olathe (and then wrote a post with a whole bunch of links)

Why did I start a blog? This isn't a rhetorical question; I really want to know. First one to figure it out gets a prize. Some facts that might help you get to the bottom of this issue: 1) I like to write. In fact, I took a class once. 2) Daughter MckMama started blogging and I became intrigued with the medium, being oriented towards using computers as I am. And 3) It seemed a good way put the words and pictures in a place where I could always find them. This last advantage really hit home when I lost my handwritten journal with all of my notes and sketches from two trips to Uganda (Out of Africa).

"Are we there yet?" "No, not yet."

So the moon and stars aligned a couple of years ago and I entered the blogosphere with The Fourteen Percent Ride. There, I related my experiences of getting into cycling and the subsequent preparation for and participation in my first tour - Seattle, Washington to Missoula, Montana in 7 days. My goodness, what an experience! And writing about it gave me a chance to relive it; that was nice. And I can still find the posts and relive the ride whenever I want. "This blogging thing is alright," I concluded.

The tour ended on the campus of the University of Montana on Saturday, June 23, 2007, a day that included a ride through Paradise. But the blog was on a roll and I kept writing. Still mostly about biking, I did digress from time to time to write about other things, including announcing, in the very big shadow of the REAL announcement posted at My Charming Kids, the birth of granddaughter "Small Fry" (Breaking News), and posting a weak imitation of sportswriter Furman Bisher's annual list of things for which he is thankful (Thankful).

"Are we there yet?" "Soon. We'll be there soon."

I learned a few things about blog building along the way and at some point added a hit counter. It was fascinating to see that people were actually visiting stumbling in, some from other countries! The service (StatCounter) also provided some information as to how the visitors had made their way to the blog, including being sent by Google when it appeared I had something that was in some way (however obliquely) related to the search query. There were some unusual connections and I wrote about them in my post entitled Searching. My engineering background led to the post called The Last Word on Wind and at one point, I even tried my hand at poetry (On Riding).

But I was stretching the blog well away from its intended purpose and decided to bring it to a conclusion. This happened on March 2, 2008 when I wrote a short tribute to my father-in-law: Mighty Proud.

Of course, if you are still reading, you know the end of The Fourteen Percent Ride was not the end of my blogging. The Long White Line started with a report on a very unusual sighting (Rethinking Things) and soon became the journal of my two big tours of 2008 - Rocky Mountain National Park and Switzerland. This last tour ended with me in a crumpled heap on the side of a rural road near Langenthal (Roadside Reflections), the pain of the experience eased somewhat by the realization that I could get a LOT of mileage, or maybe that would be wordage, out of the incident.

"Are we there yet?" "No, not yet. And don't make me stop this post!"

As before, I kept writing after the tours. But this time, I know that I can just keep on going, a blog not necessarily needing to have an ending. And I've learned through the overwhelming support given MckMama during grandson Stellan's recent health drama that a blog can really connect people and while it is electronic, I wouldn't call the connections "virtual" by any means.

"Not yet."

Yes, a good blog can be a powerful force. Consider this: during the two years prior to Stellan's hospitalization, my two blogs received a total of about 3,500 visits. Then, MckMama posted a picture of Stellan and me (It's a Good Friday) at the hospital in Minneapolis, including a comment about and a link to a posting on The Long White Line (Glad to Help). In the next 24 hours, my little blog hosted over 21,000 visits! Now that's clout. In fact, I'm thinking about using this line whenever I meet up with an obstreperous salesperson or customer rep, "I know MckMama; she has a blog and she's not afraid to use it!" That'll open a lot doors, don't you think?

"Are we there yet?" "Yes, we're there!"

Right. We have finally arrived. Olathe. The one in Kansas. As I looked at the StatCounter log trying so hard to keep up with the sudden surge in visits, I noticed that I had attracted MckMama had sent a reader who was from Olathe. I've heard of Olathe, if you can believe it. In fact, I have a connection of sorts. Odd, I know, for someone who grew up in the south and never got farther west than Davenport, Iowa until he was a sophomore in college. But it's true. My mother was in the service during WWII, stationed in Olathe. What I'd always found rather strange about this, is that she was in the NAVY. Now I don't know about you, but NAVY and KANSAS don't naturally come to my mind when I think of logical pairs. But then, I guess that's why the facts of her service stuck in my mind. That and my interest in planes. You see, she was at the base outside of town, instructing soon-to-be Navy pilots in the fine art of instrument flying using the LINK flight simulator. That was way cool.

So, seeing that there was at least one person (or at least one internet service provider) left in Olathe, I decided to do a little research. Olathe is a city in northeastern Kansas. In 2007 there were 118,000 residents, so it isn't such a small town. However, Olathe's current size is attributed to the completion of Interstate 35, connecting it with Kansas City. So it might not have been such a big place in the mid 1940's. This idea is reinforced by the fact that the location of the United States Naval Reserve Aviation Base, Olathe, Kansas, as it was first called, was noted in some quarters as being "two miles east of Gardner, Kansas," indicating little faith that the general public would have any idea where it was if Olathe was the only reference to its location.

According to an article entitled Naval Air Stations in Kansas During World War II (the plural "Stations" is NOT a typo), the base was officially renamed the United States Naval Air Station, a catchy name if ever there was one. I'm sure the Navy spent many months and thousands of dollars sorting through the options before coming up with this. The article goes on to inform us that, "The purpose of the Olathe air station was to provide primary flight training for naval cadets and quarters for traveling officials." Further, it states that "during the two years the air station served as a primary training facility (July, 1942-September, 1944), nearly 4,550 cadets were trained and only 25 fatal accidents occurred." I'm pretty sure my mother wasn't responsible for any of the latter incidents, as the LINK trainers were pretty well planted in the floor.

My mother's description of her job was that she would sit at a little desk, flick a bunch of switches and watch a bunch of dials. These actions set flight scenarios into motion and recorded the pilots' reactions. Pretty important stuff actually. I'm sure a lot of the pilots that passed through Olathe were glad they had these harrowing experiences BEFORE they actually got into them in a real airplane.

Link Trainer with Operator and Trainee

I have seen LINK trainers at air museums in San Diego and Palm Springs, but never thought much about Olathe past the incongruity of the Kansas/Navy thing. But now I know. I'll bet it's a nice place. Maybe I'll find a cycling tour that goes through Olathe. For now, having found Olathe such as I have, I'll continue on in my journey. Go ahead, ask it, "Are we there yet?" No, not yet. But I'll let you know...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Six Feet

There are times when the big picture is just too big. When it becomes a weight, makes you doubt whether you can achieve your goal. So it was on Saturday; fifty miles into the ride, 14 miles yet to go. The FO climb looming between me and my goal - home. And then there was the headwind. Strong, steady, pushed with the strength of a weather system bigger than the state in which I live. And I don't live in Rhode Island. It was getting to be too much, this big picture painted with broad strokes from a palette of distance and hills and wind on a background of the fatigue setting in from what was already the longest and tallest ride of the year. I lean forward on the handlebars, my head down, looking at the road in front of me gliding under my wheels, ever so slowly. How am I going to get through this?

I do know the answer. First, take care of the fundamentals. Have a good bike. Be in reasonably good shape. Make sure you know your destination and that you are on the right road.

OK. Check. Check (as long as we agree on the definition of "reasonably good shape"). Check and check. But there is still that big picture issue. I can't ride 14 miles, fighting the wind, climb FO...it's too much to contemplate. But, I know what I can do: I can ride to that spot on the road I'm looking at - that spot six feet ahead of my front wheel. Yes. I can do THAT. And, when I get there, I decide that I can do it again. Just six feet. Then, do it again. And again... So it was, riding into the wind, climbing FO, making my way all the way home simply by riding to that spot six feet in front of my wheel.

The whole experience (which I must admit I've had quite often on long, hard rides) reminds me of my personal approach to the mission work in Africa. The big picture is overwhelming. Poverty, culture, infrastructure, distance, personalities, economies, AIDS, finances, conflicting expectations. Too much. I can't do that.

Our small group went to Uganda in 2006 with the purpose of helping a young church that was struggling to get established. During the trip, we visited a school that had so very little of what we expect to see in schools here. Looked at all at once, it seemed to be just too much. But, we took care of the fundamentals. We have a good group of dedicated men and women, both here and in Uganda. We worked out a reasonable destination: education for the church leaders, a roof on the church building, removing barriers to effective teaching at the school. Then, we put our heads down and started riding six feet ahead of our front wheel. Scholarships for men and women of the church so they could receive the training they needed, fund raising here and in Uganda for a roof; bicycles, uniforms, water, electricity and a copy machine for the school. Three years it has taken to get these in place. And, there, just ahead, a library for the school. Books collected, packaged and shipped. Due in Uganda any day now. One more small measure on a long road.

So, if your big picture seems too much to deal with, remember the cycler's mantra - "just six more feet." Patience, persistence, a positive attitude and a weather eye on the road ahead. Before you know it, you'll be home.

There will be more hard rides as I prepare for the Glacier Park tour; and the "ride" in Africa continues as well. I've still got my eye on that elusive spot in the Ugandan road (a road where our Wisconsin potholes aspire to go when they grow up, by the way). It's a spot that, once it comes, is replaced with another, it too just six feet away. What do I see ahead? Advanced training for a few of the church leaders and the need to finish up the library at Aturukuku Primary School. And, if I sneak a peek a little farther up the road, I see more opportunities to help the church become a strong, local congregation. And I see another school. Out in the country. A school with 700 students and 7 teachers. Overwhelming if you try to absorb it all at once. Not so much so if you take it slowly, as you do on long, hard rides - six feet at a time.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Business as Usual

Actually I'm not sure what business as usual is going to mean with Stellan not having been "cured." But he did get home and is, for now, stable in an SVT-free state; so, I am getting on with it.

"What is IT?" you ask. Riding, of course. On Tuesday I took the Bianchi up Bliss Road and then up County Road OA, finally adding to my climbing total after nearly 2 weeks of out-of-the-saddle existence. On Wednesday, I retrieved the Trek from Dan, it being now tuned up and proudly sporting a new bottom bracket. On Thursday, I took it up Bliss and then up Old Vineyard Road, where, if you watch the computer, you can see stretches of 15% grade. Shifting was a breeze... See, I KNEW the problem wasn't operator error!

My climb total has crept past 20,000 feet. Am I going to make it? And again you ask, "What is IT?" The 125,000 of climbing I'd like to get in before the tour starts, of course. Wellllll... It is just under 11 weeks. So short a time that I suppose Northwest Delta considers me to already be in the pre-boarding process. 103,000 feet to go. 11 weeks. That's just a bit under 9,400 feet per week. And that, my friends, will be a challenge. But I might be up to it. Just keep watching the box in the sidebar for regular updates.

Now, it’s lunch time. If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll have my usual.