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.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


No, it isn't a spelling error, as I am sure the epicureans amongst you already know. And, while I have a story or two about the better margaritas I've enjoyed over the years, this is all about the pizza. Oddly enough, my first margherita pizza experience was in London. Especially odd in that food in the UK is generally considered to be somewhat below the high standards of continental cuisine. It is a bit unfair, in my opinion, as it is hard to beat a good fish and chips with mushy peas, accompanied by a cold Magners cider.

But I digress, which I know you find unusual. So, getting back to pizzas...

A group of us attending the Compressors Conference at City University several years ago found ourselves looking for a place to eat after the evening social event arranged by conference organizers and sponsors. We settled on a cafe with tables on the quay along the south bank of the Thames where I decided to take a chance on the margherita pizza as it was something I had not heard of before. It was, I must say, a most pleasant surprise. The pizza is made on a very thin crust with only tomato sauce, olive oil and mozzerella cheese, garnished generously with fresh basil. It is a light, fresh taste, the antithesis of the deep dish Chicago style pizza; I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Snce that chance encounter in London, I have made it a point to sample the margherita pizza when I find one on the menu, and I have rarely been disappointed. The exception was a visit to Germany where I sampled them at two different restaurants and found them to be nothing whatsoever like the pizza with which I had become aquatinted.

Once again I know you think I've wandered away from the cycling stories that are, supposedly, the reason for this blog. But, as has been noted, "Not all who wander are lost" (J.R.R. Tolkien).

My wanderings have brought me to a cycling opportunity that promises to bring me to the heart of margherita pizza country. I have foregone bicycle tours in the last two years in favor of other endeavors. This year included mission trips to the Dominican Republic, Uganda and Kenya in addition to three visits with family in California and a business trip to London. While a return to Africa in 2012 is a possibility, my plans for travels in the "not a bike tour" category are considerably less ambitious. That leaves me with, you guessed it, a chance for a tour.

As luck would have it, Laurenz Gsell, the organizer and host of the marvellous 2008 Swiss tour, has offered a ride through southern Italy. In March. Remember, I live in Wisconsin, sometimes refered to as The Frozen Tundra. Whatever you might think of when you consider March, here it is still winter.The tour is around the Puglia region, the heel of the boot that is southeastern Italy. Here's the route map:

Naples is the official tour terminus. We take a bus to Matera to start the ride which includes two nights there and in the towns of Otranto, Gravina and Peschici, the last stop on the tour. There are also overnights in seven other towns, making for ten days of riding during which we'll cover about 550 miles and climb around 20,000 feet, much of this in the last few days from Gravina to Peschici. After a final day in Peschici, it is a bus to Naples and a flight home.

An article in USA Today paints Puglia as a wonderful destination, in spite of a name that sounds as if you might want to prepare yourself for something less. And it is this article that brings us back around to pizza:

...my last dinner in Puglia...a humble pizza margherita. This must be the only region in Italy where the tomato-and-mozzarella staple of generations of students and workers still only costs about $2.50.

Of course, I will have to do my own research into the quality of the margherita pizzas. There will be a report.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Old Books

There's this remark variously attributed to Harry Truman, David Henderhan and Anonymous. The quote appears in several forms as befitting, I suppose, the number of speakers it is attributed to, but it is more less like this: "If you want a new idea, read an old book." It's a great idea. Except, of course, when it gets in the way of progress. That would be MY progress, of course.

"How might this be?" you ask. Well, it started with the paper I wrote for the engineering conference I attended in London in September. I've done quite a few such papers in my career and, after some struggles early on, have figured out how to write the report and prepare the presentation for the allotted number of pages and time, respectively, in pretty short order. Having conquered this small challenge, I have decided to move on to something a bit more ambitious. My latest attempt was this last paper. You can see the title (this is where the challenge is, but we'll get to that later) on the first slide of my presentation:

So, what's my current mission regarding these reports? Just this: I am trying to see if I can put enough content into the title that I don’t actually have to write a paper to go with it. And you might think I've come pretty close to achieving this with my latest attempt. I'll have to say, I was feeling pretty good about it myself and thought one or two more stabs and I'll set some sort of new standard.

This is where the old book comes in. Wanting to be sure I was really setting the pace in this endeavor, I searched the internet for long titles, although I was pretty confident that my recent efforts would have me well up on my competition (it is fierce, let me tell you). So you can imagine my disappointment when I came across this contribution from Édouard Lagout, written in 1877:

Takimetry: concrete geometry in three lessons, accessible, inaccessible, incalculable. Fundamental takimetry: a resumé of conferences held in the primary schools in connection with the Ministries of Agriculture, Commerce, Public Instruction, Interior, Finance, War, Marine, taught in the industrial schools of Alais, Creusot, Lille and in the celebrated Ecole Trugot, Paris

I might as well hang it up as this one will be hard to top. Oh well, it will give me more time to concentrate on reading old books.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Just a Little Water, Please

It is a distinct privilege to be able to ride along the banks of the Father of Waters on my cycling outings. I see tows that move with the current, carrying coal or grain; but mostly what gets carried from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico is water. A lot of water. Exhaustive research (I Googled "Mississippi River flow rate") reveals that well over 1 million gallons per second flow along this stretch of the Mississippi. Let me repeat. One MILLION. GALLONS. Per SECOND.

Due to road construction on one of my usual routes, I have spent more time going south along the river. And on most rides, I am taken by the beauty of this part of the country. On many days there are blue skies over dark green trees, both then reflected in the blue-green-gray waters of the river. The other day I spied my first flock of dazzlingly white Tundra Swans. "Spectacular," I think as I travel on.

But I haven’t thought much about the sheer magnitude of what the river is actually DOING, carrying all of that water from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. Until the other day.

We have had glorious weather these last ten days or so and I have been able to get out on most of them. On Sunday afternoon, I was on my way out of town when my rear tire went flat. As I was in the process of replacing the tube, a lady rode up on one of those sturdy bikes with panniers over the rear wheels and a route sheet in a holder on the handlebars. She asked if she could help, but I was well into the fix and had what I needed to finish up and get back to the ride. I asked about her ride. Turns out it wasn't any big deal. She was only going as far as THE GULF OF MEXICO!

In early September, she and her husband had started out on the long ride from one end of the Mississippi to the other. They stopped in La Crosse, as they were originally from here. The stop ended up being about a week as her husband had had some health issues. Not terribly serious, but enough to knock him out of the ride and into the position of full time support.

As I finished up fixing my flat, she told me that she was carrying a small bottle with her on the trip. She had filled it with water from Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi, and planned to pour it out in the Gulf of Mexico. And that is what impressed me. Not the ginormous amount of water that the river pushed south every day, but the little bottle that she would personally deliver to the Gulf.

Time and world events and life in general move along on a grand scale, sort of like draining the watershed west of the Rocky Mountains into the Gulf of Mexico. We can't match that. We can't compete with it. But as Edmund Burke said, "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do little." I'm thinking, my bottle may be small and my pace may be slow. But I guess I should fill the thing up and get going.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Want to Go for a Ride?

There has been more riding than writing in the last month or so. But maybe only a little. However, today turned into one of those absolutely perfect days for riding. So why don’t you join me for a ride that will take us up Mohawk Valley Road and home along the Mississippi River.

You can see as we clip in at home that the day is cool (leg warmers and a single water bottle). What you can't see is that this is one of those truly rare days in the upper Midwest. There is little or no wind. Did you catch that? No. Wind. If for no other reason than this, it is a day to ride.

About four miles from home we are on Highway 35, out of town and heading south.

Just a couple of miles down the highway and we are at the turn off to begin the climb up Mohawk Valley Road.

There are three small hills to negotiate first; here we are, looking back down the first.

Continuing on, we are treated to views like this:

And soon, we are starting up the steeper part of the climb where sections reach grades of 14%.

At one point, we are left to ponder this situation:

Apples are not unusual in the area, but here on Mohawk Valley Road, there is not one apple tree. I'm thinking there is a story here. One of loss and regret that more care was not invested in securing the load in the rear of the pickup. Or something of a similar ilk.

Finally, the end of the climb – the intersection with Chipmunk Ridge Road – appears ahead. The grade eases up just a bit at first, a point were it is relatively easier to pause and look back down the hill.

But as a sort of farewell, the road rises steeply one more time before we gain the summit, such as it is.

Just past the high point, we come to the intersection with Proksch Coulee Road. Here, we will drop down a twisting descent.

Before we take on this challenge, however, let's ride on a ways and take in the view on the ridge. First, we can look down on the beginning of the descent. Riding a short distance farther provides a view back to the intersection. Next up, a stop to greet the crowd that has come out to check us out.

Then there is this. Worth the climb, to be sure.

Turning back we start down Proksch Coulee, pausing to greet one of the many cows in the area, this, apparently a fall blogging theme. Check out another encounter in this Redwoods and Running post.

It is an effort, but we are able to pull up on a slightly flatter section of the descent to capture this view of the road falling away. At a greater rate than it looks like here, I might add.

Coming out of the woods, we approach a farm where there are cattle of a slightly more exotic pedigree.

Having someone in a day-glo lime green vest stop and take their picture was not something this group appreciated apparently. I no sooner captured the image than the long-horned bull turned and trotted out of the barnyard, followed without hesitation by the remainder of the herd. They did not stop until reaching the safety of a a field a bit farther away and higher up.

There is another mile of gentle descending until we turn on Cedar Valley road for the short run to Stoddard. It is a nice, gently rolling road

with little more to offer than views like these:

Finally, we are back on the highway, now heading north along the river

and, at about 3 1/2 miles out, coming back into town.

So, there you have it. A wonderful 25 mile trip through the rural landscape south of La Crosse, just east of the Mississippi River. Not a bad place for a bike ride, eh?