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, 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!!!!


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