Saturday, October 31, 2009

The End of Daylight Savings

Every year, around this time, I dread what I have come to call The Darkness. Otherwise known as the end of daylight savings time. For some reason the powers that be decided to make Alabama part of the central timezone, and this has the effect of turning most of the useful part of the day...into night. This is when the coming winter, that already curtails my outdoor fun, has the added dis-incentive of being pitch black at 5pm. Once this happens, the only outdoor activity after work is tied to whether or not I have batteries charged on my bike's God Lamp.

Since I have moved here, I have handled the late fall and winter's seemingly constant nighttime with different methods. Some more effective than others...

2004 - Working 90 hours a week...Who cares, it's going to be dark anyway.

2005 - Watch DVR'd football on the couch and eat...lots.

2006 - Go out with friends and watch sports at a local restaurant regularly, and eat...lots.

2007 - Jeez...It's still dark and cold. I'm tired of this...Maybe if I eat a lot, and pay a bajillion dollars for the NFL Ticket on Direct TV, it will go away.

2008 - Last year, I realized my pattern of "Hey, the sun just set at 4:30pm, time to go get fat!" wasn't helping my Seasonal Affective Disorder, and I started attempting to do more healthy things. It's demoralizing to have to re-lose 10-15lbs every spring only to have it show up instantly at the end of October again.

Just what are they saying for Saturday? How ominous is that??? Click on the image if you can't make out what the Weather Channel had put on their forecast just for me...

2009 - This year I have a plan, and I'm going to do something different. With the darkness that sets in starting tomorrow, I plan on spending the winter making myself more active when it is light, and more active in general. That way I don't have to work so hard to shed pounds and the accompanying bad mood come spring. (I'm sure Brenna just rolled her eyes wondering how I could be "more active in general")

When the time changes, it is light at 5:30 in the morning around here. I am going to attempt to move my patterns to fit the sun as often as I can. I have to have more daylight and more activity outside, and I plan on being out in it whenever I can, no matter the temperature. I'm sure they have invented these nifty things called warm clothes by now.

We'll see how all this works when I actually get around to setting the alarm...beep beep beep...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Fine Lunch Hour

As I sat behind my desk on a fine Wednesday with 70 degree temperatures and clear blue skies, I was suffering from too much Excel work and a serious lack of out-door time in my windowless office. I wished that I had a poor enough work ethic to suddenly "come down" with some wickedly foul and violent sickness. (i.e. play hooky for the rest of the day)

The morning dragged on with budgeting analysis and other wildly exciting activities, and as lunch approached, the phone rang. It was my wife, who seemed decidedly more excited than I did. She was on her way over for lunch. But not only was she on her way to meet me for lunch, she said she wanted to go ride the motorbike. She already had her helmet, jacket, and 2 Subway sandwiches. The dark pall that was hanging over my day lifted (cue the angelic music here) with the opportunity to hang out with her sans kids, and I was (and still am) pleased that she was excited about riding the new bike.

I changed into my commuting clothes and met her in the parking lot of the office. We threw the sandwiches in the new top case that I added to the bike and roared off for the hills. We twisted and turned through all the hilly back roads, which are surprisingly accessible from the office, and stopped at the top of Coosa mountain. The big overlook was a perfect place on this sunny day and we quickly munched on our sandwiches and looked off across the ridges of the Appalachian mountains. It was great to be out of the office doing something that I don't normally get to do on a Wednesday afternoon, and we had an equally fun time on our return trip to the real world.

The small things and activities make life really great sometimes...

but they do make it hard to go back to work.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Yard work is getting better...

During the only dry day we seem to have had in months, I had a few hours to complete a dreaded task, or at least a task I procrastinate over quite often. I had to mow the yard. Now, this was made more difficult by the lack of gasoline in the garage and my lack of sleep the night before. Concerts are great, but they kill you for the next day's activities.

I gathered the minuscule one gallon cans together, made the trip to the gas station, and I got what I needed to get the jungle that was once a nice yard under control. Grumbling to myself about having to do this and how expensive hiring someone to do it would be, I grudgingly trudged around the front yard for a lap or two while pushing the noisy and smelly mower. Grrr...

Then something great happened.

Bryce wandered out and asked to help. Looking around to see where the hidden cameras were, since this must be some to-good-to-be-true joke. I warily said, "Sure." I had helped him push the mower around in the past when he was much smaller, but now NOW was the real chance, and I took it! I showed him where the powered wheel lever was, and I went through the instructions about how to kill the engine if anything seemed out of control. Not that much gets out of control at walking speed, but hey, it's better safe than sorry, and I really didn't want to mow.

Bryce was beaming because he realized that I wasn't going to hold the mower with him but was going to actually let him take the reins and do it himself. I was thinking about how this is exactly how Granddad would have done it. He wouldn't worry about missed spots or taking too long and wasting a little more gas to go back and touch up. It was a chance for my oldest to do something that older kids and grumbling adults do. I told him what I wanted him to do and how best to get the job done, and I went and sat down on the front steps to watch him have at it. I certainly wasn't going to totally leave him, but he didn't need me to help. Up and back he went and he really did a great job. It's easy to forget how he isn't a "little boy" anymore even though I see him daily.

In the end, he learned something, we had a great father/son hour or so, and...

I got out of mowing the yard...

This is the obligatory shot of Ansley while Bryce was mowing...

I'm wondering when she may pick up the mantle of yard work as well? What do you think my chances of that are??? :)

You Bought a What?

Yep, I finally did it, and I didn't have to make up some story for my wife about how it followed me home! Can I keep it??? Not to say that I wouldn't if it came to that...

After putting money away for a couple of years to finance my laughably early mid-life crisis, I bumped up my life insurance and bought a motorcycle. I haven't owned a bike in over 10 years, but the time seemed right and I was really looking for something that didn't involve pedaling so much. I needed some sort of change, and what's better than deciding to get something that can be equated to an instant roller-coaster ride without a Disney-esque line to wait in?

It's a Suzuki VStrom DL 1000, and I have driven it quite a bit and covered the distance from Atlanta to Birmingham on it's inaugural ride. It feels great and handles like a dream on the mountain roads too. I have some plans in the works to equip it with some hard luggage and take it out to Texas to ride with my Dad before it gets too cold. Well, cold for a southerner, so if you're from Michigan or some other similarly permafrosted locale, I don't want to hear it. A 45-50 degree winter day IS cold...end of discussion. If you think those temperatures are fine warm riding conditions, you can keep them for all I care.

I laughed when I thought, "Now my garage is complete." I have all the two wheeled entertainment than I can hold in there, and if it will stop stinking raining, I'll get more chances to use my toys! (Note that I didn't say "all the two wheeled entertainment that I need..." There's always a "need" for some other kind of mountain bike or something...)

I woke this morning to yet another line of storms that dumped a few more inches on the saturated southeast, and the news had bright red warnings about "Flash Floods". For all the media hubub about it, they may as well have put out a PSA about how we all need to wear those arm floaty things just to survive the day...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Six Gap 2009

As an annual tradition, when I don't have a broken bone of some sort, I took on the challenge of Six Gap again this year, and the ride started off like it has for the past 4 years in a row. In a rush... I swear, I tell myself, somewhat belatedly, that I will never get there at the last minute again every year, and every year I have a repeat performance of just barely making it for the start.

There must have been a record group of riders this year because the parking lot was closed out about 45 minutes before the start. I then had to drive around in the dark, find a place to park my car without it sliding into a ditch, get all my junk out of the car, and then ride off to the start line, ride back to get my helmet, ride off to the start line, ride back to get my gloves, etc...

With the amazing number of riders I decided to just cut in line and start with the first 100 or so riders. The fast riders. The riders that would proceed to hammer for the next 5+ hours and finish the ride with smiles and energy left in the tank. I knew that I wouldn't hang with them, but with the crashes of this year, it was safer to ride at their back in order to avoid the 2,000 other people that I would end up passing during the first miles and the climb up Neels Gap.

Riding with the real "horses" of the group was pretty fun, and we covered the first 20 miles in under an hour. It's a pace that I never dreamed possible on the Six Gap ride. Climbing the first hill was as fun as it was getting there. I was feeling pretty good, and I was happy since I have had such minimal and interrupted training this year. I basically trained for the ride with 9 weeks of watching Heros in my basement for 6 hours a week and then riding 75 miles on Saturday mornings.

Then, as in every year, the ride did something strange. Sometimes it's rain, sometimes it's cold and windy, sometimes, you have really really annoying mechanical issues. I would have traded for the rain. Honestly... One part of my bike that I apparently hadn't tested or even noticed over the past few thousand miles I had spent riding decided that it was time I noticed. As of mile 25 of 104 miles, my left pedal bearings began to fail. At first it was just a little squeak...cute having a sweet little bird nearby... I knew, when this foolish "glass is half full" thought went through my head that the chirp wasn't going to be cute after listening to it for 5 more hours.

It only took about 20 minutes before the chirp became a more pronounced, and angrier sounding, Squeeerrrrk every time I turned over the cranks... I stopped at the first aid station and desperately searched for someone with some grease to spray into the pedal. It didn't work. In fact, it may have made the disgruntled bearings...uh...disgruntleder? After listening to the sound for about an hour, I had to turn up my iPod and try to drown it out. As the miles and hours went on, I felt good, but my pedal didn't. It was finding a way to resonate through the carbon frame of the bike and amplify itself. I swear I could feel it in my hands with each turn of the pedal. People I passed would ask, "Is that you?" I felt like replying, "My bionic knees need oil. Otherwise I would be passing you." Well, I felt like saying all sorts of stuff, but nothing funny came to mind until well after the moment had passed, so I just squeek-squawked on...

The foggy morning gave break to a beautiful day, which was great considering how the evening had gone. Here is a shot of the storms that were rolling through from evening to the early hours of the morning.

And a shot of the following morning from the top of Hogpen Gap.

Thank goodness, I didn't have torrential downpours coupled with the wounded moose that had taken up residence in my pedal. Ah, see my negative view of things does have a shiny moment every so often...

The hogpen climb, where I discovered last year that "not training" is not the same as "tapering" prior to a endurance event, went by and I felt pretty strong. I know I was moving more slowly up the climb than I have in years past, but it wasn't bad. I stopped for some cookies at the top and bombed down the descent at over 50 miles an hour. Descending is so much fun on a road bike. You can travel faster through the turns and switchbacks than most any other vehicle on the planet, and I didn't get hung up behind a single car so I could really let it go and enjoy the ride.

I was feeling good and then I saw the devil...and she is way more attractive than the Sasquatch I saw last year. Now that I look at the picture, it is apparent that the devil doesn't need to touch the ground when heckling riders. Unfortunately, the sighting was a harbinger of the miles to come.

After a while I did wear out, and that coupled with the pedal that now had decided to make it's presence apparent to everyone in a 50 mile radius made for a very difficult, and decidedly un-fun finish to the ride. The pedal had changed from squeek, to Squaaaarrrrk, to SQUUUUAAAAAAAARRRRRK!!, to a YYYYEEEEAAAAAWWWWWRRRRK! that echoed off the mountain sides and couldn't possibly be drowned out by my iPod without serious hearing damage. Other riders would just shake their heads at my caterwauling equipment and ride on by or make a point of going much slower in order to get away from me. I just kept my head down and pedaled my demoralized body ever closer to the finish line. There was a song on my iPod at one point by Modest Mouse. "The Good Times are Killing Me." Yeah, that is as apropos a tune as I could come up with at that moment.

The final miles of the ride are a hideous collection of rolling hills that brought me, as they had last year, to a pace that would rival most snails for speed just to top them. Over and over I climbed as fast as my legs could go, which was slower with each successive hill but finally I found the finish. I had decided at one point that I was having no fun. I had not really had fun for over 2 hours and I was telling myself that this was my last Six Gap ride and I just needed to finish. I was so disgusted with the broken pedal and my overtaxed and under trained legs that I left the bike in a disassembled pile in the back of my truck for a week, but during the course of that week something happened.

I forgot something. I forgot how much of a painful experience it had been. I forgot that I didn't have fun, and I found something too. I found a magic number. 3. That was the number of days it took for me to decide to do it again next year, and I am already thinking, "I'm sure I'll be faster..."

I know now how women decide to have a second child. Time has a great way of washing away the awful bits of some experiences and leaving only the good.

But, I'll be darned sure to replace my pedals before I go again