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, July 29, 2009

Camp Dixie for Girls

Friday, July 17
La Crosse - Minneapolis - Kalispell - Whitefish

Good. I've got your attention. There really is a Camp Dixie for Girls, though. And, before you get to the end of this post, I'll show you how it relates to day one of the Glacier Park / Waterton tour. You're going to have to trust me on this, as it won't be evident right off.

Inauspicious is how one might describe the start of the tour. The flight from Minneapolis to Kalispell was about 40 minutes late, although I know these days this is pretty much considered on-time. And, since I was to arrive in the early afternoon, this wasn't such a big deal. The state of one of my checked bags - the one with all of my biking clothes and accessories - was somewhat of a big deal. To me, anyway. It arrived in a condition that does not do justice to the word "shredded." Seriously, it looked as if it were the focus of a tug-of-war between a badger and a mountain lion. Who both really wanted it. And who had had words before the contest. I went to the Delta Northwest counter (it seems as if when something goes wrong at the new Delta, it is actually the old Northwest's fault) and got a new and larger rolling duffel. Now about 1 1/2 hours later than I had expected, I was on my way to the Chalet Motel in Whitefish, Montana. The tour was on!

A brief conversation with the young lady at the motel desk revealed that she was an author and currently busy promoting her latest book. Putting in time at the motel just in case the writing thing didn't work out, I guess. I asked her, "What's the title?" "Money and Sex "(or "Sex and Money", I don't remember which way it went nor do I think it matters much), she replied. She had my attention and, sensing this, she told me it was a financial advice book aimed at women. The title was her publisher's idea, not hers, she added. OOOO-K.

After carefully unpacking tossing my suitcases into a corner of the room, I headed out for a walk into Whitefish. And here is where I make the Camp Dixie connection. I'm telling you this so you won't bail out. As if I really thought you would.

I went to high school in College Park, Georgia, where I was on the football team. If you didn't already know this, high school football is BIG in Georgia. Schools there play a 28 game regular season in order to determine which 4 of the 3,562 teams in the state will not take part in the playoffs. As a result, there are Friday night football games from September through July. Regrettably, this left the College Park coaches - Harris, Ross and Cunningham - nothing to do in August. But, being resourceful types, they came up with a plan: summer football camp. Brilliant! We would load up a school bus and head into north Georgia for a week of fun and games. Or maybe it was a week of grueling two-a-day practices, each one, after the first, enjoyed in wet and REALLY cold, smelly uniforms. Yes. It was that last one. One of the schools in our area went to Hard Labor Creek State Park (I am not making this up). The College Park Rams? We went to Camp Dixie for Girls. You can stop that snickering. Now!

Camp Dixie was a couple of miles outside of Clayton, Georgia and we were, of course, told that under no circumstances were we to go into town. What we heard was, "Feel free to take off and have a look at what Clayton has to offer." So, we did. There were about six of us, as I recall, who hitched a ride on a flatbed truck with a load of hay. As we drove slowly along the winding, narrow road, relaxing in the vehicle-induced breeze and enjoying the musky smell of the hay, we met a car coming from town. A car with the above-mentioned coaches. Who were returning to the camp, after checking out all of the reasons we were NOT to go into town, I suppose. As the vehicles passed, we waved, they waved, and we went our separate ways. Knowing we would possibly not live to see another afternoon in north Georgia, we decided we might as well enjoy it. We went into a few of the stores and visited a {gasp} pool hall. Yep. We were goners for sure.

As we walked back to camp, a car pulled up to our little band and the driver asked if we knew where the Greyhound station was. We had no clue, of course, but this didn't stop one of us from saying something like, "You bet. All you do is drive down this road until you get to the Shell station. It's about a mile on the other side of town. Take a right there and go another half mile or so. You can't miss it." The driver thanked us and drove off. I wonder to this day where he ended up.

Fast-forward to last Friday...

As I was walking from the hotel into Whitefish, I had my eye out for the high school, where Cycle America had set up operations for the start of the tour. I'd looked at an aerial map earlier in the week and thought I knew about where it was. But, I didn't see it, so I kept on going. My goal was to get to the local cycle shop and locating the school on this walk was only to get my bearings for when I needed to go there to assemble the bike, have dinner and attend the first of the pre-ride evening meetings. As I got closer to the center of town, I met two young ladies on the sidewalk. I stopped and asked about the high school. "Oh. It's just up ahead on this road," one of them said, pointing in the direction I was headed. "In fact, you see that pedestrian crossing sign up there? It's just past that and on the right side of the street." Now this did not jive with my idea of where the school should be, but I thanked them and continued on. As I got to the sign it was clear that no high school was going to be found there.

What goes around, comes around.

It is really hot in Whitefish - pushing 95 degrees. I am well-prepared for cool weather riding, but do not have a sweat band, something that will clearly come in handy. What I find at Glacier Cyclery is one of those do-rag affairs. It's not what I was hoping to find, but I get it anyway. And I came to really like it. I also got one of the shop's signature jerseys which I wore on the first and last days of the ride. Here is a picture of my Montana cycling outfit, a self-portrait taken in a reflecting window at the Hungry Horse Dam visitors' center:

BIll arrived just after midnight. His flights were on time and, from the pristine appearance of his luggage, I deduced that the badger and mountain lion had settled their differences and called it a night before he arrived. Tomorrow? We prepare for the ride around and through Glacier National Park.

By the way, do you think those girls in Whitefish will ever wonder where I ended up?

Disclaimers, Clarifications, and Other Legal Matters
My flight was late as claimed and my small sports duffel was in fact destroyed somewhere between La Crosse and Kalispell. I use packing cubes, so the contents stayed pretty much intact and as near as I can tell, I didn't lose anything. And I did go to the Delta baggage service desk in Kalispell first. Delta is making an effort to erase all vestiges of the Northwest name, but when I showed the Delta guy my bag, he really did send me to the Northwest ticket counter. Where they really did have an extra duffel to give me. There's a story there, I'm sure.

Perhaps I exaggerated just a little on the football season played by Georgia high schools. But I did do some research and found that there were in fact 160 schools in the 2008 playoffs.

There still is, I have learned in my research for this posting, a Camp Dixie for Girls. AND, a Camp Dixie for Boys as well. No, there were no girls at the camp when we used the facilities for our summer practices. You WERE going to ask, weren't you?

I want to say it was NOT me who came up with the faux directions to the possibly non-existent Clayton, Georgia Greyhound station. Not that I WOULDN'T have, but I usually don't get clever ideas like that until pondering the situation for a while. It was, in fact, a one M_______ A____. He knows who I'm talking about. I really think the coaches dropped the idea of a restriction on going into town to see who would actually go ahead and do it anyway - you know, screening for future leaders.

It is only recently that I learned we have lost coaches Jack Cunningham and Owen Harris. The news saddened me more than I might have thought it would, had I thought about it that way. I only saw them once or twice after I graduated. One thing I'll always remember is that first practice after our return from the outing in Clayton. They didn't say a word during the entire afternoon. Until we were dismissed to clean up for dinner. Or, when everyone else was dismissed. They lectured us for a few minutes, but it was easy to see they were working harder to keep from smiling at our hi-jinx than they were at being angry. We had to run around the field during the entire dinner hour. It was getting dark when coach Harris told us we could go shower and retire to our cabins...where we found our dinners wrapped in tin foil, sitting on our bunks. I'm guessing I never thanked him. Too soon old, too late smart, I guess.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hopping for Stellan

Grandpa and Grandmother are waiting along with Stellan as he gets closer to his return to Boston. Thank you for all of your support for the MckFamily!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Good News, Tour News, Bad News

It's over. I'm back. With no broken bones; at least not any I didn't leave home with. It was a great ride and much different from what I expected. Here's a brief summary:

The tour, by the numbers:
0 cows mistaken for bears
0 flat tires
1 shredded duffel bag
1 day off
1 fox
1 place named Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
2 countries
2 mountain passes
2 nesting ospreys
3 bears
3 hours of rain
6 days of riding
24 switchbacks on hike to Bertha Lake
30 hours on the bike
35 riders on the tour
428 miles on the road
19,525 feet of climbing
7,625,212 wildflowers

"Real" posts about the Glacier/Waterton tour are coming soon. However, there are a number of things needing attention, what with being gone more than a week. But do not fear, progress has already been made: shortly after arriving home, I washed my clothes - two large loads. Some of them were not needed during the trip, but they were guilty-by-association with the others, which were clearly in need of serious laundering. I had been thinking, "I pity the beagle that has to check out my bags," a sentiment re-confirmed as I transfered jerseys, shorts, socks and other remnants of the week on the road from suitcase to washing machine.

On a more serious note, grandson Stellan is not doing well. His tenacious SVT has broken through once again, in spite of the latest chapter in attempting control using drugs. He is now in the hospital as doctors in Minneapolis and Boston work to find a plan of action. News is available, as always, at mycharmingkids.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hit the Road, Jack...

One more hour, then it's off to the airport for flights to Minneapolis and Kalispell, then a short ride to Whitefish, courtesy of (well, I think I'll actually have to pay) Flathead Glacier Transportation. I hit the road 49 times since February 7 and put in an additional 20 days on the trainer in the basement. As previously noted, the 2,280 miles of riding and 112,500 feet of climbing I had attained last Saturday will indeed have to be enough. The pump finally arrived on Wednesday, but I was officially tapering by then. I did not make the 125,000 ft. goal for climbing, but that's OK. My real goal is to enjoy 7 days on the road in Montana.

No computers on the trip, so no updates to the blog until at least July 27. Once I get settled back into the not-out-on-a-tour routine, I'll post details of the ride, one day at a time.

And now, I'll hit the road...
                                                ...but, I'll be back.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Processes, Progress, and Pains...

...a post where I passionately ponder a potpourri of pithy points possibly pertinent to the plethora of pleasures and prickly problems provoked by processes pertaining to pedaling.

This is a long one, so get yourself a cup of coffee, get comfortable and let's start by looking at...

Process has become a fashionable business buzzword (unintended alliteration; I'm just on a roll I guess). We all use processes to accomplish tasks and many become habits imbedded in our everyday goings on. I prepare for a ride more or less the same way every time. Getting dressed, filling water bottles, checking out the bike, resetting my computer and so on. Processes are helpful in providing consistency in repeating complex repetitive procedures.

Usually created with good intentions to address real issues, they can, however, get out of hand. This is especially true when it is assumed that a process can be used to guide us through a complicated issue without requiring us to use our experience or common sense to react to events as they unfold. In business this gives rise to the idea that the solution to even the most convoluted problems can be reduced to process steps which can then be carried out by those who are at best obliquely familiar with the intricacies of the issue. To quote another Jack, "Not good."

But sometimes the result is just humorous. Consider my experience at the customer service counter when I delivered our bikes for shipment to Kalispell. As I waited my turn to talk to the agent, I did notice the computers on the counter along the wall. But they were both displaying a message indicating the system which customers were to use to start the process was down for maintenance. When it was my turn at the main counter, the agent asked if I had printed my labels already. I informed him that I had not. "OK," he says, "let me show you how." But when he saw the message on the screens, he scowled in a way that told me things were only going to go downhill from here. "You can just use your computer," I offered, helpfully. "No; I need the label that you print using our handy software. You could have done that at home or work, you know." No, I didn't know. Things were taking a nasty turn as it was not only apparent that it was going to take some effort to get the bikes on their way, it was also becoming my fault, me not being familiar with the required process and all.

But, in what appeared to be real stroke of luck (and NOT a result of the shipping process), the IT guy was in the building and knew how to resuscitate the moribund systems. I was soon (it actually took about 20 minutes) typing away and succeeded in coaxing two small labels from the tiny printer provided for only that purpose. I showed them triumphantly to the agent, who said I was to put one on each box. I dutifully followed his instructions and then helped him lift the first case up onto the scale. At this point, he proceeded to type furiously on his keyboard. After a few minutes, a really LARGE label emerged from his printer. Clearly pleased with this, he peeled the label off of the backing and proceeded to put in on the box, DIRECTLY ON TOP of the little label I had so recently (and carefully, I might add) applied. The same fate awaited the little label on the second box, of course. But the now properly-labeled cases were taken away, firmly in the hands of processes that were intended to get them safely and swiftly to Montana. The shipping agent and I high-fived and chest-bumped, recognizing the deep significance of the successful execution of our parts of the process; we are making...

Recall if you will the blow I received when Bebo announced to the world that I had 0 friends. Well, I am happy to report that the folks at reunion.com sent me an email with the proclamation (I am not making this up), "Jack, You're Popular!" Awwwwww. How nice. I feel better already.

On another upbeat note, I added more miles and more feet to my training log this last week. That plus the fact that the bikes are rolling along towards Montana (they were already at the Eagan, MN facility yesterday afternoon) represent progress towards the goal of completing the Glacier / Waterton tour. My training totals are now 2,280 miles and 112,500 feet. And that might need to be enough, because there are also some...

One royal pain was the failure of my floor pump that resulted in completely deflating a tire I was trying to "top off." I did what I could with a small frame pump and took off. It turns out Bill was working on his bike and, riding near his home as I do, I was able to fully inflate the tire in his garage. For reasons even I cannot fathom, I decided to order a new pump from an internet store. Now I buy a lot of my equipment online and am satisfied with the services offered. However, I really need to have a pump on hand (as we'll see later) and this one has not arrived, nearly a week after placing the order.

With the Trek on its way to Montana, I've been riding the Bianchi. You know what's coming, don't you? Yep. A flat after the first ride. I replace the tube and once again have to bring out the frame pump to achieve only barely acceptable inflation. But once again, I found help at the top of the hill. This time, it was a local bike shop setting up a bike demo at the head of the mountain bike trails. They kindly inflated the tire to its proper pressure and I was off.

On Saturday, I took the bike up Bliss to Bill's where we mounted mountain bikes for a 50 mile round trip to Trempealeau along the wonderful Great River (that would be the Mississippi) Trail. It was a spectacular morning and we had a great ride. However, just before starting back down from Bill's on my Bianchi, he noticed a split in the sidewall of my rear tire. It was all I could ask of it to get me the six miles back to the house, which it did. But I need to put on a new tire. I can't do that without deflating the tube. And when I do that, I'll have to re-inflate it. And I don't have a floor pump yet. What a pain.

And if that isn't enough, not long after I got home, my left knee started to hurt in a pretty significant way. My back was acting up too, and my shoulder weighed in with its usual array of post-ride twinges. All of this caused me to wonder why in the world I would take off on a 50 mile ride on a borrowed mountain bike with a completely different fit than my road bikes. Less than one week before a 400 mile road tour. "What WERE you thinking?" you ask. Or maybe it's just "WERE you thinking?"

The real problem, of course, is that there is no process in place to help me work out what to do in this situation. Clearly, I need the help.

And, at long last, we arrive at the...

"Why are you getting email from reunion.com?" I can hear you wonder. "Aren't you a little down on the whole 'social networking' thing?" And right you are. My reunion connection came a few years ago when I volunteered to help the organizers of my high school reunion fill in some blanks in their mailing list. I signed up at reunion.com and classmates.com as part of my research. Of course, I've gotten emails from them ever since. I could take my name off their mailing lists, but it is a bit of a diversion for me, watching how they're always trying new things to reel me in as a paying customer. And hey, with the kind of moral support I got from the folks at reunion -- like telling me how popular I am -- it seems to be worth it, don't you think?

The pains? I don't think the knee is going to end up being a problem. My back was acting up last year before the Rocky Mountain National Park tour, but I rode a lot and did my back exercises before the tour and, with the exception of the long descent from the top of Trail Ridge Road, I had no problems on the tour itself. That same program this year (riding and exercises) has not seemed to have gotten me as far. I don't have a pump yet and the bad tire is still on the bike. I had decided that I would not ride after this coming Tuesday. But, considering the rapidly accumulating pile of pains, perhaps I'm already done and will just participate in virtual training by watching the Tour de France on Versus TV.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Sharing recipes on the internet seems a popular activity. Here's my contribution to the mix:

Leave home at 6:50 a.m.
Warm up with 5.9 miles; include a climb up Bliss Road.
Meet Bill at the top (suffering enhancer - like MSG).
Steep in the perspiration of the next 101 miles.
Blend in a bit over 4,000 feet of climbing.
Add a dash of back and shoulder pain.
106.9 miles into the ride, start the climb up FO.
Roll up to home with a total of 114.3 miles for the day.
Top with a Lance Armstrong retrospective on Versus TV
...where he makes it all look so easy.

Sit back and enjoy - that it's over!

Thursday, July 2, 2009


AOL notified me recently that they have a new service - Bebo. Another entry into the social networking arena. It's probably like Facebook. If I understood Facebook, I could make the comparison with more certainty, but I don't. Understand Facebook. Or Twitter. Well, I understand the technology. It's the fascination with using them that escapes me. Or using them in the way they are, at least as I've seen in my limited exposure.

Anyway, I entered the Bebo universe (something you can do automatically if you use AOL) and was confronted with this rather unsettling observation:

You have 0 friends

And yes, they highlighted the "0" part. How sad is that? Not even one? Oh, well. What would someone with a name like Bebo know, anyway? And hey, if I want to invite all 0 of my friends over for a big party, I won't break the bank providing food and drink. And it doesn't take much organization effort to have this same group accompany me on my afternoon rides. There's always an upside. Or two. And two is better than zero.

As for riding, the 28 miles and 1,800 feet that I did last night put me over 2,000 miles and above 100,000 feet for the year. It was a good workout and even on a comfortably cool evening I was able to "work up a good sweat." Hmmmm... It's been a week since I washed my jerseys. Do you think that might have something to do with the friends thing?