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.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Me, needy? You betcha! And I don’t think I’m alone here, but that’s for you to decide. Now, let’s get back to me. My current need - a new chain. Not technically, I guess, as I have riden my bike twice since realizing this new need. There were climbs up Bliss Road and County OA. Stretches of riding over gently rolling terrain, some descents. Nothing that I normally do on a ride that I can’t do with the chain I have. So, why then, do I need a new one? Glad you asked.

Need is contextual. It starts with articulating some outcome we might be pursuing. If I were totally indifferent to anything except being here 5 minutes from now (I’m not, by the way; totally indifferent, that is), then I only need one thing: oxygen. And maybe some shelter to protect me from the asteroid that may, at this very instant, be drawing a bead on the space I happen to be occupying. Anyway, you know what I mean, right?

Extend my outlook to the next few months, then my list of needs grows. If I add to the goal of simply being alive things such as being useful, satisfaction or simple pleasure in what I do, that sort of thing, I’ll have to get an 18 wheeler to haul in everything I need.

So, regarding the latter thought - not the 18 wheeler thing, the one about satisfaction - I need a new chain. Hope the sudden jump from the profound to the pedestrian didn’t startle you too much, but I am just writing about bicycling here. How deep can it get?

There’s a lot of satisfaction in riding. Enjoying the wonderful area in which I live in a rather intimate way as it is when you ride. Feeling good about being able to make it up the climbs. Getting beneficial exercise. All good things. And of course, I need a functioning bike. Now, if you can remember way back to the start of this treatise, you might recall that I am able to ride with the chain I have – the bike functions. BUT NOT VERY WELL, THANK YOU! There. I got that off my chest.

A bit more than a week ago, I set out on a late afternoon ride that was to include climbs up Bliss Road and County OA. On the way up Bliss, my bike started misbehaving. The best description I can come up with is that the chain would suddenly “skip,” as if it had jumped off of the rear cassette. It wasn’t that, but that’s what it felt like. It was so very annoying. Crank, crank, crank, SKIP! Crank, crank, crank, SKIP! Function wasn’t affected. I was climbing as well as I ever do (not very). But nothing else mattered. Not the scenic beauty of the winding, tree-lined road, not the satisfaction of actually gaining altitude on a me-powered vehicle. Nothing but waiting for the inevitable SKIP. I got to the top of Bliss, rode to the end of FA then went home.

The bike was immediately taken to River Trail and left in Dan’s capable hands. In addition to this problem, my rear wheel needed some work. He did some looking, simple adjustments, but figured the wheel really did need to get fixed so the final adjustments could wait.

A few days later, I found out that it would be some time before the parts for the wheel would be in, so I decided to pick up the bike, put on my Swiss wheels, and get in a few rides.

I started up Bliss. About half way up, crank, crank, SKIP. #$%&#!@% I toughed it out, so to speak, and did the ride I had planned. The pedaling actually smoothed out a couple of times - I had about 20 minutes total of SKIP-free riding – but in the end it got really bad. Skipping on every turn of the crank in any gear.

At home, I put the bike up on the stand and spun the crank. Standing off to the side, as I was, I could see that there was a sort of “bump” on the chain as it passed over the rear cassette. One time for each lap of the chain. I stopped cranking and took a close look at the chain. This is what I saw:

Not what you want your chain to look like

Mostly you don’t want a kink in your chain. The link was almost frozen. It would flex a bit, but if it did straighten out, a pass or two over the cogs in the rear would be enough to bring it back.

I’m happy to report that cleaning, lubricating and gently separating the link with a chain tool has made a world of difference. It is still a little tighter than its neighbors, but a 25 mile, 2 climb ride was executed without a single SKIP.

I’m about due for a new chain anyway. And, on the last ride, I could hear a little click that would come and go. I suspect that the problem might reappear. I do not want the aggravation of the SKIP'ing chain. Or the worry that it might suddenly decide to break while I'm miles from home. And that, my dear friends, is why I want need a new chain.

And now, I need to go. No, really, I NEED to go. You’ll just have to take my word on this one…

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Eight Years Ago Today...

It is November 9, 2017, now eight years since the successful procedure to rid Stellan of the SVT that battered him for the first year of his life. Here is the post I wrote on the 1 year anniversary of the first (and unsuccessful) procedure in Boston, amended after his second (and successful) procedure there and which I now share on the anniversary of that miraculous day:

One year ago today...

...grandson Stellan had his first surgery in Boston. It wasn't the end of his troubles, but I am moved to write him my thoughts on this anniversary. The blue text items in the note below are links to posts about the week in Boston that I wrote during and just after my trip there.

Stellan, April 21, 2010

Dear Stellan,

It is hard to believe that it has been one year since your call to come join you in Boston. As I made my way to New England, I thought about that day just a week earlier when we shared a laugh at the hospital in Minneapolis. It was hard to think about you being so terribly ill and I'll always treasure this picture - it is such a good example of your strong spirit and ability to laugh when life gives you half a chance. And that did not happen all that much during your first year with us.

It was a privilege, being with you in Boston. Helping your mom in small ways and having those opportunities to sit with you - and all of the tubes and wires you were sporting - in my lap. Of course, there were SO MANY people, all around the world, praying for you and following your story. The Boston Red Sox even gave you a "shout out" on the big scoreboard at Fenway Park, making them my second favorite baseball team (the Atlanta Braves, in case you were wondering).

People in the Boston area brought gifts to the hospital in such quantity that we had to organize a sharing program with the other families on the cardiac floor. The Dunkin' Donuts gift card? That one I got to keep. You know, something I could use in case I got Lost in Boston.

And, it was hard, being with you in Boston. I remember it so well, that painful night before the surgery. You were not allowed to have the medicines that were, for the moment, keeping your little heart from racing. You were not allowed to eat. Your mom called at about 2 a.m. She needed to rest, to get ready for the long day. So I came. Slept - sort of - on that hard little bed near you, getting up when you woke. Holding you. I was so glad that I was able to do that. But it was hard.

The medical team came and took you away and time just stopped. Your mom needed to be alone while she waited. I understood and sat by myself in a hallway. It seemed like forever, but then the call came. It was over and the SVT that had dogged you had disappeared. It was what we wanted to hear and, optimist that I am, I felt very good. But Dr. A was reserved. What they had done, they did cautiously so as not to damage your heart. There would be a test in two days to see if the procedure had worked.

The next morning, the day I was to leave for home, I walked to the hospital listening and singing along with a Cat Stevens song on my iPod: Morning Has Broken. So hopeful I was, in spite of the uncertainty and reservations of the doctors, that your heart problems were behind you.

But it was not to be. When the doctors ran the test to see if the SVT had been cured, they found that, as they feared, it had not. I was moved to mutter words I will not repeat, !@#$%. Then, just a few days later, I cheered you home as you started the next phase of your journey.

It was an amazing, wonderful, difficult, fulfilling, challenging week. I will forever wish that you would not have had to go through what you did, but be forever grateful that, since you did, you let me spend those few days with you. And, in spite of the circumstances, I was able to savor the expereince of being in Boston. In fact, I even wrote notes of thanks to the city and people that so gracioulsy hosted us.

===========The Rest of the Story===========

Of course now we know the rest of the story. Dr. B's heroic struggle to keep your SVT under control with drugs. Having to finally give in and send you back to Boston in November. The terrible 24 hours where we feared so much we would lose you. Then, on November 9, the HOME RUN as Dr. A and his team, blessed as they were with talent and compassion and determination, used all of these gifts to rid you forever of the SVT that had controlled your life.

So, one year later, I have cause to pause and reflect on that day, that week and the last six months. I am so proud of you. And your mom and dad. And your sister and your brothers. You are all special. Grandmother and I love you all very much.


Stellan, April, 2010

Stellan, November, 2011

Stellan, November 2015

Sunday, April 18, 2010

One Hundred, The Easy Way

Spring housecleaning in the Coulee Region as mother nature scoured our little corner of the earth with stiff winds all day long. Not bad enough to keep us off the road, but we for sure altered our plans to avoid a 40 mile stretch of riding into 20 to 30 mph headwinds. Saturday's route provided climbs on Bliss Road, County II, along a very pretty road from Bohemian Valley up to County X and, finally, up the wicked County PI climb. It was 4,100 feet of climbing, but the route allowed us to avoid the worst of the wind. I don't know why, but I'd rather climb than ride into the wind, even though the physics tells you that wind isn't anywhere near the challenge. For those of you who care (there are some, right?), you can find an engineering treatise on wind resistance here.

Weather.com and the local news reports all promised a much different day on Sunday. So, after church, I was on the bike again. For a day without much wind, it was pretty windy. But the ride wasn't quite as ambitious, with distance and climb totals of 33 miles and 1,600 feet, respectively.

The ride total was no mere accident, though. By getting in over 31 miles, I managed to log my first "century" of the year - one hundred miles. OK, a cheap century, coming over the course of two days as it did. But it's early in the season, so I'll take it. And soon enough, I'll get in a real one. Really.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

2010 Tour Unveiled

Updated April 17
Plans for my July tour are coming together. The map below shows the route I have in mind at the moment. I've already had some advice concerning the Lanesboro-La Crosse leg (avoid highway 16) and will probably tweak the details.

Day 1: La Crosse to Prairie du Chien [81 miles]
Day 2: Prairie du Chien to Lanesboro, MN [83 miles]
Day 3: Day off in Lanesboro
Day 4: Lanesboro to La Crosse [86 miles]

The map takes a bit of time to load, but it will eventually zoom in to the route.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

O Spring, Spring! Wherefore Art Thou, Spring?

Iridescent red bougainvillea, cascading over and down the walls like movie popcorn overflowing the kettle. The precise definition of sky-blue showing off overhead. Comfortable temperature, gentle breeze. Springtime…

…in Palm Springs. If spring won't come to you, you go to spring. It really isn't all that complicated. A laid back long weekend in southern California. I thought about cycling. Really. In a serious way. I even went into a bicycle shop - Palm Springs Cyclery. I bought a jersey. I picked up a brochure from a company that rents road bikes. For my next visit. It was ALMOST as if I actually rode. Almost.

OK, I just checked their web site, since I provided a link. There is an entry on the home page that starts, "Due to the current chilly weather, we are postponing our shop rides until the warmer weather returns." Give. Me. A. Break. But if you scroll down a bit, sure enough, there is the Weather Channel report. It is (as I write this) 80 degrees in Palm Springs. But, with the wind, it feels like 79. Chilly. Now I can see why the rides were called off.

If you haven't worked this out on your own by now, I'll just tell you. I have not ridden in two weeks. But I did ride today. Bill and I headed out on what turned out to be a three-season tour in a little over three hours. In Wisconsin, not southern California (perhaps I'm not giving you enough credit for deduction skills; but, one can never be too sure). When we started out, it was about 53 degrees. Cool, but the climb up Mohawk Valley Road took care of that. By the time we got to Coon Valley, it was up to 60- just a little shy of summer weather. A climb up unforgiving German Coulee Road was followed by a descent then ascent on County H. The top of H on Highway 33 was in a new weather zone. Fifty degrees. Rain. I needed to paw through a pile of trash to find a plastic bag to put my phone in. I know. Be prepared. I did have a bag, but I guess it had been in my wedge for years, as it pretty much crumbled when I pulled it out.

After stowing the phone, I noticed that the long sleeves of my base layer shirt were covered with shaved ice. Sort of like you'd find spewing from a Sno-Kone machine. It was SLEETING. Good grief! But it stopped as quickly as it started. Next, a cool rain came and went for about half an hour. Then, in just a matter of minutes, the rain stopped, the sun came out and the temperature shot up to 62 degrees.

That's what I like about this place. We have four seasons. And, on any given day, you have a chance to experience two or three of them.

Friday, April 2, 2010

It's All About Economics

Seems like it's becoming harder and harder to make decisions. Unless, that is, we find some way to rank options in terms of dollars and cents. Cents, not sense, rule. We are led to believe that everything is binary. Yes or no. A complex issue can be reduced to a series of steps, the reduction continuing, if necessary, until we have reached a list of yes/no, go/no-go, black/white elements. Fill in the blanks and your problem is solved. Non of the pesky inconvenience of actually having to deal with uncertainty or risk. Why did you even get me started on this?

I'll have to admit that economics do come into play in my biking decisions. I started riding about 4 or 5 years ago - it's already starting to become a blur, that period separating not riding from riding. Since I came late to the cycling scene, I did enter with some level of maturity. When you stop giggling, I'll continue. OK, maybe it wasn't exactly maturity; let's go with experience mixed with common sense. A counterpoint to my general mathematical/engineering approach.

Anyway, over the years, I learned that cheap and good quality at a reasonable price do not mean the same thing. Cheap means cheap. You are often likely to get less than you paid for, leading to disappointment and additional expense since you now must fix or replace the item you got at that what seemed at the time bargain price.

So, I decided I would learn what I could about the equipment I needed. Pour over product reviews, ask more experienced riders (they weren't hard to find at the start of all of this); you know the drill. Then, when I decided on what I thought would be a good investment, I'd pay what I needed. Sure, I'd look for the best price, but my decision was based on the expectation of getting durable equipment that would perform its intended function well.

This approach has served me pretty well. My bike is capable well beyond my riding skills. I have comfortable shorts, shoes that have stood up to years of hard work, jerseys that do keep you cool - and which are wicked stylish, I might add - and helmets that protect. I have concrete proof of the latter, by the way. Make that asphalt proof.

With all of this, I still let economics dictate my decisions in some cases. It shouldn't come as any surprise that bicycle parts eventually wear out with use. So, looking at my chain ring (a triple, by the way), it is clear that the big ring, being, well - bigger - would be more expensive to replace than say the middle or little rings. So, for the sake of economy, I try to stay out of the big ring as much as possible.

I can report that this strategy has worked quite well. I have yet to need a new big ring. What can I say? Just an economics genius!