Sunday, January 15, 2017

Life - The Wheels Keep Turning

So recently there have been a lot of changes. I just started a new job, I have a new (to me) car, I've been getting stuff done around the house, and we're going to be changing our home schedule a bit to accommodate my job. I've also decided to stop promoting races and, in a related thing, I'll be backing of on the bike racing as well.

Dad

I guess the big thing is that I am no longer taking care of my dad. As much as it was the right thing to do, it affected the rest of my life by limiting what I could do, when I could do it. There are a lot of ways to describe the limitations, both negative and positive.

Negative words I think of right away are "shackled" or "trapped". This is because I really couldn't do much because I needed to take my dad with me. As he declined it was possible to sneak out while he was sleeping, which made things a bit easier. Toward the very this reversed itself and I stayed close by to keep an eye on him.

However, when I think of how I was able to care for him, other words come to mind. "Privileged" and "fortunate" come to mind right away. I was very, very lucky to be able to care for my dad. Even with all the tough stuff that happened, the stress and the like, I wouldn't have traded the experience for anything.

Work

In the end, though, when my dad passed, it allowed me to think of myself once again. First there was sort of this numb, decompression period, maybe a week, maybe more, where I felt just pulled along by all the things that happens when your dad dies. Then there were a couple frantic weeks of doing estate stuff, with one of my siblings handling much of it.

Then, after the dust settled for me (my sibling still doing estate stuff so not totally settled), maybe a month later, my situation became pretty clear to me. I needed to find a job that paid enough, and, if possible, a job I'd enjoy.

The latter was a bit tough. I wanted to be customer facing, I wanted to work with something that interested me (bikes, cars, not sure what else), and I had to find a position that didn't require too much specialized knowledge while offering me both a reasonable starting salary as well as opportunites for growth. Bonus would be substantially subsidized health care benefits.

Of course I've been thinking of this stuff for almost ten years now so this wasn't an idle thought. I enjoyed my time at the hardware store but the reality is that the position simply didn't offer much growth. It couldn't, much like working in a bike shop has difficulty offering growth.

After about four weeks of lots of searching on Careerbuilder and the like, I realized I was coming back to a particular position over and over. It was basically a sales position (management trainee) at various Firestone Complete Auto Care centers, all of which are (I think) wholly owned by the parent company Bridgestone.

As I pointed out in my previous post, I ended up with the position. I started a few weeks ago and it's been a steep learning curve. I am relearning stuff that I learned in my previous work lives - the car dealer, the hardware store, IT, and the shop. In the process I'm feeling like, okay, I'm starting to get it.

The thing I want to do at some point in the future is build my own team. To me that'd be the ultimate, to build and maintain a cohesive, cooperative, positive group of people into a nicely honed machine. When things go smoothly it's like a big leadout going well, all sorts of diverse elements working together toward a common goal. Just at this job this kind of stuff happens all the time. I caught a glimpse of this the other day (meaning as something based on what I initiated and did, not what others did) and I have to admit that it's extremely enticing. I'm looking forward to the day where I can make such things happen all the time.

What Else?

So what else is happening?

Our Cars

Well, for one thing, we've gotten our VW TDI "dieselgate" offers from Volkswagen. In case you don't know about it, VW cheated on emission tests with their diesel cars, to the point that some senior executives are being indicted for various crimes with senior executives told not to travel to the US. VW agreed to buy back almost half a million cars and pay some fines for a record $14 billion or so. That kind of dollar amount is a bit "otherworldly" to me because I can't think of that kind of money.

The Golf in the registration tent.

However, I can think about $10,000 or $20,000, and for us, as VW diesel owners, those are real numbers. VW not only is buying back the diesels but they're paying an additional $5-10,000 for each car as punishment. To give an idea of what our cars are worth in terms of trade in, I'd priced both cars in August 2015, just before Dieselgate hit in September 2015. I wanted to trade in one or both cars to get a more versatile tow vehicle. The dealer offered $9,000 for our Jetta Sportswagen ("JSW") and $12,000 for the Golf, a total of $21,000 for both cars.

$21,000 for both cars.

In contrast, because of Dieselgate, VW paid us $21,600 for the Golf.

Just the Golf.

Golf turned in. Tag on mirror says the car is not for sale.

They will pay us about $17,000 for the JSW.

So as far as we're concerned VW has done right by us.

I used less than half the Golf money to buy a replacement, the Sentra. We've ordered a Civic sedan for the Missus. So we'll have two completely different cars in the garage by March.

House

There's a lot of stuff going on with the house. We live in a single family home located in a condo complex. Therefore we get to have our own house but we don't deal much with outside maintenance. In the next year the condo association will be clearing our area of dead and dying trees (pretty much every large tree near the house, I'm guessing 15 or so large trees and a slew of supporting smaller trees), they'll be re-roofing our house, fixing the wood siding, and painting. It's a lot of work for sure and we're looking forward to the renewed yard/outside in the fall of 2017.

With the roof work we're looking into any roof modification so that we can sort of piggyback the work already scheduled. We'll be adding a sky tube (it's sort of like a skylight that ends in a light fixture lens in the ceiling) to brighten up a dark section of hallway. We're also contemplating having a chimney installed for a pellet stove. With some of the recent single digit temperatures a helper heating source would be a welcome addition to the home heating environment.

There are a lot of projects for inside the house as well. I've had a number of them planned or thought out and finally got around to doing them. Inertia/momentum works in two ways. When things are static it's hard to get going. However when things are in motion it's hard to stop. And now, with things in motion, I've found myself doing little things here and there all the time.

Family - The Missus and Junior

I put this down a bit lower because it's something we handle every day. It's not something like the car where we don't think about it for a bit, or it's a once in a while thing like a new roof on the house. For sure Junior occupies virtually all my free time outside of work. The Missus and I both schedule life around Junior, meaning we tend to work around his schedule. With work that's an added variable, making the intersection between the three schedules even more rare and special.

Things are going great with the Missus and her work so that's not a huge stressor, at least to me. I think for her there are both good and bad days, with seemingly very few of the latter. As a former small business owner I can relate to some things common to owning a small business, although hers is successful and mine was less so.

Once tax season is over her schedule lightens up which means my job will be the limiting factor to our family time.

Junior is doing well too. I'm constantly amazed by the things he does. He remembers stuff so well he's been keeping me on my toes. He's great around people, inquisitive, talkative, energetic, and will even admit defeat if he's tired and go upstairs for nap or bedtime.

Junior enjoys unscrewing the quick release skewer from the wheel.
August 2016.
Note lower profile front wheel, the Stinger 4. It must have been windy that day.

We had to pull Junior out of Pre-K because of my job. He's returned to what is officially a daycare center. The reality is that it's a super effective educational place based on how well prepared he was for Pre-K. A lot of it is him, of course, he learned a lot of stuff sort of on his own, and it's not like we sit down and do vocabulary drills or whatnot. He seems to pick stuff up on his own, with the help of some YouTube clips, Einstein DVDs, Cat in the Hat, and some other educational entertainment. Lately he's gotten into Star Wars stuff so of course he's learning and memorizing all sorts of stuff that doesn't necessarily translate to "education".

Part of our play at Pre-K pick up.
Here we're taking shelter in the doorway to a different part of the school.

Running the Yellow Line.
I told him to stay on the line so he wouldn't veer toward the curb.

Saying hi to the daycare bus driver (a teacher also) and telling her all about his day.

My job will mean a few late nights a week so I'll miss his bedtimes regularly. I think, honestly, that this will be harder for me than him. I knew underneath that eventually it would happen at some point. It's just that it's happening now.

Other Things

One thing I've wanted to do since late 2015 is to get back in some gasoline powered karts. Connecticut has two locations which run gas karts on tracks which suit gas engine characteristics. Gas karts have very little low end torque, requiring a bit of time to build power. Such karts reward smooth driving, good lines, and longer "full throttle" sections of track. On Track Karting (OTK) has two locations with well laid out courses for gas karts.

Back in 2015 I went to each track one time, Wallingford in November, Brookfield in December.

I was hooked.

I bought a helmet (it was a $100 Bell helmet) and an inexpensive action camera. Then life intruded and I could only dream about karting. I watched clips people made of their OTK outings, watching the better drivers over and over again. I memorized the layouts, I knew when to get on the gas, when to ease, leaving just a few areas of doubt ("do I brake here or just coast?" or "how does he initiate turn in here?"). I'd have to get to the track to figure that out.

Recently I went back to Brookfield. I wanted to catch a full evening of driving ("all you can drive from 6 pm until 11 pm"). I got there a bit late but drove for about 4 hours straight, missing only a few heats during that time. Significantly for me I qualified for Pro Karts, based on dropping below a certain minimum lap time for multiple heats. This was my holy grail goal and I managed to hit my marks in the first four or so heats.

43.062 seconds.
I needed to break 43.75 seconds I think.

On seeing my reports on karting a (bike) racing friend reached out to me and offered me a ride in his karts. I have yet to take him up on it (it was 1 deg F outside the next morning) but I hope that I'll be able to experience karts outside later in 2017. Indoors I don't think we go much faster than 30-35 mph in the 6.5 hp regular karts, but outside he says his slow kart (similar to an indoor 9 hp Pro Kart) will hit 50+ mph. His fast kart will apparently hit the 70+ mph range.

After my solo outing to Brookfield I got in touch with my friend that first introduced me to OTK with a bunch of car nuts. We made plans for a repeat night out at the Wallingford track. It was sort of like a "group kart" experience, versus a group ride, with a 7 of us meeting up to kart. Five of us were Pro Kart qualified so for two heats we blitzed the course in the fast karts. It was my first time in them and it was eye opening. They were so much faster in certain sections that I had to relearn how to approach them.

2nd heat in the Pro Karts, top of the leaderboard.
"Frank", a regular, said that "mid-37s are respectable".
The best time in December at that time was in the 35.xxx range. That's fast!

I look forward to doing Brookfield in the Pro Karts. I hope one day to do the actual racing. It won't happen soon I think but there are some pretty long races. In a 10 minute heat I got in 15 laps at Wallingford. I did 16 minutes in Brookfield, two 8 minute heats back to back, and that was a bit fatiguing. In contrast the long kart races are 100 laps long!

Cycling

One conspicuous absence in all of this is anything bike related. The reason for this blog is cycling, of course, and my main interest for 35 years has been cycling. With an almost off year in 2016, with just several Tuesday Night races checked off, 2017 doesn't seem to offer much more. For me, as a promoter, racing has always had two sides: promoting and racing. There's a third bit, maintenance, and I'll kick off with that.

Maintenance

For the last two years I put literally zero dollars into my bike. I rewrapped the same tape around my bars a few times. I think I glued one tire on, a tire I had "in stock". I still have maybe 10 or 12 new tubular tires, ready to be mounted. I even have a few rolls of tape but I was jealously hoarding them for when I really needed new tape.

With the new job (as well as an economical car purchase) I've gotten to the point where I can think about spending some money on the bike. I need to overhaul my two SRMs, both of which are not working. I want to get a second stem so the black bike can be fitted like my red bike. I bought two new training clinchers for if I start training outside again. It's maybe six or seven hundred dollars but that's more than I felt comfortable spending in the last two years. Now, though, I feel like I can do it. Not just yet, but in the near future.

As a last bit I may try and get a second set of new-style 10 speed levers, Centaur I think, so the cockpits on both bikes match.

I did go and get one new cassette and a slew of used ones, from a good friend of mine. I hope that this gets me through the next year or three in terms of drivetrain maintenance.

Promoting or Lack Thereof

A big bike thing for me is promoting. With my new job I need to work Sundays from February through mid-April.

This means no Spring Series.

That's 100%. No giving it a shot, no trying, for me I'm done.

I've been on the fence about ending my promotion work, promising myself not to promote "next year". I've thought about my exit strategy, if you will. There are two significant investments in Carpe Diem Racing that I have - the trailer (legally it's Carpe Diem Racing property) and the tow vehicle (legally just a personal vehicle), both of which I wouldn't own except that I promoted races. Selling the trailer first, then the Expedition tow vehicle second, would seal the "no more promoting" decision. Even though I promoted races before I had them, if I sold them then mentally I'd be done.

I was telling someone about this stuff the other day and the one thing I'd want to get is a pick up, van, or minivan large enough to haul around a snowblower or a couch or something. With just two compact cars we can't carry much of anything if we didn't have the Expedition or the trailer.

Trailer at the 2016 Aetna Silk City Cross race.
To be clear I didn't promote the race, I only helped with registration.
Credit for the race goes to Jon, David, and the rest of the Expo crew.

So... If you're a promoter looking for a trailer and tow vehicle, let me know. Heh.

(For reference I spent $23k to buy them and I'd sell them for significantly less. Emphasis on the word "significantly". Trailer is a 8.5'x20' car hauler, 3500 lbs axles so 7000 lbs gross weight, about 3600 lbs load capacity as it's about 3400 lbs empty. Expedition is rated at 8900 lbs towing, give or take. I was thinking the trailer could act as a portable garage if it came down to it. Or a portable, heatable, miniature garage where I could work on my car. Waitaminute. Hm.)

Racing

For the actual racing bit I don't foresee much improvement in my schedule from 2016. I hope I'll make some races, but with my work schedule in flux typically week by week, I have absolutely no idea if I can race a week in the future, even a Tuesday night (there are some nights I'm at work until 8 or 9 PM or even later). This makes planning on doing any races sort of pointless. Pre-reg is no longer a thought. Targeting a peak or "A Race" is simply impossible. I'm okay with that, although with no real goals in mind it's hard to motivate to get on the bike.

June 2016.
Bike as I have it set up now.

I did make a "racer gambit" at the beginning of my current job. When they asked me pants size I gave them my 160 lbs waist size. I was already pushing about 168 lbs, and now I'm over 170 lbs. I literally cannot gain much more weight else I won't fit my pants.

Since they've given me eleven pairs of pants I'm sort of committed to that waist size. This means losing some weight and keeping it off. I managed to get down a few pounds in the last three weeks. If nothing else this will help with my racing.

So that's what's going on so far. Hopefully I'll have more updates a bit quicker in the future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Life - A New Start

Innocuous Start

A few weeks ago I met a friend who was getting some 35% good snows replaced on his car. He found that with a front wheel drive car the snow tires last about three seasons. With his new rear wheel drive car it seems that two seasons was the limit.

But with some meat left in the treads he offered the tires to me for my new-to-me car (I'll call it the Sentra because that's what it is). The tire size was a touch off (I think 1.8%) and I thought it'd be worth the drive to get the tires. Plus we could catch up a bit.

Picture of the Sentra from the listing where I saw it.

We hung out at the tire place, mainly discussing my Sentra and some of the things I have to take care of with the car right away.

You know, like passing emissions.

And getting snow tires for it.

Ended up that the set of tires had three decent tires and one poor one. This presented a problem as those tires were no longer sold so I couldn't get a replacement tire. Even if I could I didn't want to replace just one tire.

The problem with any tires but snows in particular is when you mix different wear/life tires. Even with all seasons different wear tires aren't ideal, but with snows it's worse. Studless snows have super effective snow/ice rubber compound for about the first half of the tread. The second half is not as grippy. With unevenly worn snows at some point I'd be dealing with one tire (the newest one) having a ton of grip because it still had some of the super grippy snow rubber left. The other three tires would be down to "regular" rubber and not grip as well. That's not great when you consider three sliding tires and one gripping one. The gripping tire would act like a pivot around which the car would spin, like if I was on some ice or some snow.

Spinning is bad.

So although my good friend meant well, I went and bought four new snow tires for the Sentra.

I ended up back at the tire place to have the snows mounted on the gray rims in the picture above. I'd have the place remove the summer tires from those rims and put them on some other set of rims, to be decided still.

And while I was at the tire place my life pretty much changed.

That sounds dramatic, right? Well it is, and it's supposed to be.

Tech

The tech doing my tires, Greg, was extremely diligent with his work. He avoided scratching the pristine rims by manually leveraging the beads off the rim. He didn't use the tire machine, he used some big bar and literally pushed the bead off the rim. This was old school hard work.

It took some time but the end result is that the rims remained untouched during that trip.

He inflated the tires to the proper pressure and even torqued the lug nuts properly. He gave me a choice of gray or black valve covers, pointing out that the chrome metal ones that I drove in with would rust/freeze in place over the winter.

He asked if he could take a picture of the engine.

It reminded me of the guys at my shop. Super diligent. Super proud of their work. Happy to help a customer. Going above and beyond.

Teammates

While Greg was doing this other techs would walk by to get this or that or check out the car. I immediately realized that there was good camaraderie at this shop. The techs were happy, they got along, they joked with one another, it was really pleasant. I thought it must be a great place to work, in a friendly environment, no visible tension, no snapping at one another.

Again, it reminded me of my shop. The techs meshed well and it made for a really good environment. You get happy techs proud of their work and you can't help but have solid work happening in the shop.

Team Leader

When I was inside the waiting area I poked around and looked at tires and such. The whole time I could hear the manager Bryan, at the counter, talking to various customers. He had a soothing voice, very calm, very level. He would be great at poker because he never seemed upset or agitated. Yet when he had a free moment he'd talk with his counterpart (the other service consultant, if you will) and his face would brighten with a huge grin. He, too, seemed very happy.

I heard him work through a number of different scenarios. It was like listening in on a "how to be a tire place manager" video production. He gently deflected any aggressiveness, empathized with his customers, and kept the place calm and peaceful and nice.

l can't say that it reminded me of my shop because I was the boss of my shop and I thought this guy was a thousand times better than me. But I do think that his demeanor, his personality, absolutely helped create the atmosphere in the shop.

The Shop, The Shop, The Shop

I kept thinking of the shop, meaning my old bike shop. I was inexperienced, a bit overwhelmed, and made some very basic business errors.

But what made it bearable was that it was a great place to work. The people there (that I picked) all got along. We were all proud of our work. Even now I know that most of the guys are still fiercely proud of the work they did at the shop. They still have some of the same equipment, they still work on their own bikes. They carry the shop within themselves, even now.

I realized that I wanted to work in such an environment again. A small business kind of place, with a smaller staff, interaction with everyone all the time, and a well picked, "elite team" of people.

In fact, I'd even like working in a tire place. Tires to my cars are sort of like wheels for my bike. As you probably have figured out I'm always thinking of the next set of wheels I want for my bike, or the ideal quiver of wheels. I'm still working on my ideal set of clincher wheels. Incredibly, because I never thought this would ever be the case, I'm happy with my quiver of tubular/race wheels.

Likewise I'm always thinking of what tires I want to put on whatever car next. With car tires it's a bit different because car tires vary so greatly. I'm a big fan of the +0 tire thing, where you go with a bit wider tire on the same rim. On the 350Z I went from a 245/45-18 rear tire to a 315/35-18 size. Same circumference, same rim diameter (so same sidewall height), but a massive 70mm wider contact patch.

With the Sentra the car is badly under-tired, meaning the tires are too narrow. It runs a 215/45-17 tire, which was probably fine for the stock set up, but now, with about the same horsepower as the Z, the 215s are a bit narrow. My thought is to go with a 235/40-17. Same circumference (almost negligible difference) but closer to the 245 width the stock Z had. Braking should improve significantly, traction under acceleration as well, and cornering of course.

So when the summer tires on it wear out, will be an excellent canvas for summer tire experimentation. I have no idea what I'll put on at this point. Summer tires, yes, high performance, yes, but what tire?

Well, here's a hint. Today, tonight, I narrowed down my choices substantially.

Small Business Reality

The reality is that from an employee point of view, smaller businesses have a huge disadvantage compared to larger businesses. Smaller businesses usually don't offer good benefits, they don't have very good retirement plans if they have one at all, and they are usually pretty solidly capped in terms of promotion and growth.

Larger companies usually offer more comprehensive benefits, some kind of 401k plan, and, hopefully, room to grow. But they're large businesses. I didn't want to feel lost, like a cog in the machine.

Small Business Feel in a Large Business

What if I could find a similar kind of atmosphere in a larger company?

Well, to be honest, I'd want to work for them.

I'd been poking around looking for a job since November, after the scramble that we went through after my dad passed. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do but I wanted the job to be everything. I wanted to be customer facing. I like helping people and I don't mind the "customer service challenges" that one sees when dealing with the public. I didn't want to deal with IT stuff, meaning like IT support.

I wanted to have room to grow, with some solid career path ahead of me. My mom told me in college that I didn't have to decide what I wanted to do at that moment. I could get a job at 21, work at it for 20 years, retire, and I'd only be 41. I could switch careers, work in another career for 20 years, retire, and I'd only be 61. Back then it felt like I had plenty of time to figure out what I wanted to do.

That was then. This is now.

The problem is that I've used up one career worth of time and I'm halfway through that second career's worth of time. I'm running out of "career time".

As an aside I also wanted to get solid benefits. With the Missus a small business partner, we can't lean on a large employer to subsidize our health care costs. We are paying an enormous amount of money for health insurance. It's enough that it's a matter of concern for us. If I could work for a larger company that offered decent benefits, it would be huge. It would be so huge that I'd consider doing non-customer-facing remote IT support buried in a cubicle for some enormous corporation because sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Really, though, I didn't want it to come to that.

After I got the snows mounted on the Sentra I revisited one of the many positions I bookmarked.

"Retail Store Management Trainee"
(If you Google it you'll see it repeated over and over for Bridgestone for Firestone Auto Care locations.)

I thought about it and then, after a bit of pushing myself over the cusp, I applied. It was the first job I applied for since my dad passed, which I didn't realize until I applied. It was also the only job application I submitted.

The next morning I was asked to schedule a phone interview, which I did the following afternoon. The evening of the phone interview I was asked to come in for a face to face interview the following day. I met the area manager, who, of course, asked me why I wanted to work there.

I told him the story about getting the tires installed on the Sentra, how I wanted to be part of a team like that, how eventually I wanted to build a team like that. I wasn't delusional - I knew it might be 5 or 10 years to do that, but that's okay, I was good with that timeline.

The area manager asked me where I had the tires installed. Naturally he knew the place, it is a good shop. Then he surprised me. He knew Bryan personally because, get this, Bryan started at Bridgestone. So did Greg, which I knew because Greg told me with pride that he used to work for Bridgestone/Firestone. With that comment Greg actually got me to consider Bridgestone.

Bridgestone is a huge company so they have solid benefits. The area manager knew that was a selling point for anyone applying with him, and he had all the plan info right there for me to review.

I decided I liked the way everything was going and I accepted the position. I had to pass a background check, a physical, and a drug test. I got word just a few hours ago that I'd cleared the last of those hurdles.

So it's official.

And I'm psyched.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Life - What Got Me Started Racing

This was a thread response that I wrote sort of stream of conscious like just now. I just added pictures for the post.

***

I grew up in Holland. Ironically I don't remember ever seeing a drop bar bike there. Never saw a race, a cross race, nothing. Saw rally cross (race cars - there was a track in our town), watched some rally racing coverage on the very limited TV. In Holland a the time it was 2 channels, noon-11 PM or so, that was all that was broadcast, and weekends were pretty dead. We didn't watch a lot of TV.

Moved back to the US. Saw a guy on a road bike going around a corner. I later learned the guy was a strong Cat 2 (Scott Donovan). I couldn't believe how skinny the tires were on his bike. Started looking for books about cycling in the library. The only pro racing picture I saw was one of Eddy Merckx. He became legendary because of the 6 or 7 books, he was the only racer mentioned.

I decided I wasn't the big thighed racer the Bicycling guy kept describing. I forget the guy's name but he always wrote about touring and his search for the perfect drivetrain for a bike (half step + granny). I was dreaming about a 14-28 and 52/48/24.

I was 13.

Bought a road bike (Schwinn Traveler III, red) when I could finally ride one. Short legs, 19" frame was a bit big. Wrote the gear chart (52/40, 14-28) and taped it to my stem. Practiced double shifting. Got toe clips.

Second bike, Dawes Lightning, dark/light green fade. Changed gearing to what I thought was ideal, 48/34, 14-21 or 14-23 (for either "flat rides" or "hilly rides"). Eight usable gears out of ten. Got 700c wheels. Learned that a kid (Ken Bowler) in a bunch of my classes was an actual bike racer. Peppered him with questions 4 of 7 classes for a fall and winter.

I was 14.

He told me that in a race he'd have climbed Wolfpit (Wilton, CT) in a 53x15. That's basically the same as my max gear 48x14, and that blew my mind. I asked him repeatedly to make sure he wasn't telling me he'd descend down Wolfpit, not climb the thing. He kept insisting that he was referring to going uphill.

I tried it in the spring, going up the hill in a 48x19 or 21 first and working my way up. I got to a 48x15 but all the efforts made my legs fold in the 48x14 and I had to pull a u-turn halfway up the hill to avoid falling over. A kid Kurt in our school, who got a pro triathlon contract ($16k back in 1983?), got clocked and ticketed for going 50 mph down the thing. It's steep.

Shortly after my Wolfpit experience I went riding with Ken and his dad. I was absolutely shocked at how fast they went on the flats. Appalled, really. I thought the flats were the easy part when I rode, but the reality was that climbing was always hard and the flat stuff was ultra fast. Fortunately his dad got stung by a bee and required medical attention, else I'd have been dragging them down for 80 out of the 100 km ride we'd started. I think I still have the badge from that ride, the Bloomin Metric.

That winter I used all my current savings, my birthday present, my Christmas present, and some extra earned stuff, and ordered a Basso with Campy and Excel Rino on it. $550, $585 with tax. Campy NR derailleurs and shifters, Modolo brakes. And Excel Rino? Excel Rino had to be good, Lon Haldeman won the RAAM on it.

I was 15.

Basso in action, 1984.

Excel Rino was horrible, it was cast aluminum with the density of styrofoam.

But the bike was built by a mechanic who got 2nd in the Jr State RR. He asked if I wanted to join his team. He built my bike with Junior gears, laced over GP4s, put Clement Futurox tubulars on, and I raced that bike for two or three years.

I rode to escape all those teenage angst things. Lots of long rides deep in the boonies, roads I'd never seen before. All my friends through high school were my cycling friends and teammates. There were a couple Juniors (including high school classmate AgilisMerlin) but most of my friends were in their 20s and 30s.

My favorite days to ride are the gloomy 45-55 degree overcast possibly raining days. I guess that's sort of Holland weather. For some reason it really calls to me. Just pounding the pedals, rolling, feeling the tires dance over the pavement. I also hate riding in that weather, it's tough, it can get unpleasant, and it's always a bit iffy if it's wet or sandy.

Back in the day taking a picture cost money.
I wanted these pictures so bad I was willing to pay for them.
It's because I went for a ride in wet, gritty, gloomy weather, and I loved it.

Now it's a bit different. I train indoors most of the time. But my last ride was in 50 degree, rainy-at-first weather. We were on flat roads next to fields lined with trees, wind blowing hard, rain falling sort of sideways. My head was pounding from the cold, I could feel the wind piercing my long sleeve jersey just past the wind vest. It really was just like Holland. Horrible. I loved it.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Training - Blues Ranger

To continue an unlikely trend, I rode outside again, on November 6.

This time it was with two old time ex-teammates, riders that I hung out with mainly in the 90s. One bought the bike from my one and only "pursue and recover" incident, where I chased a thief for a bit and got back a bike he'd stolen from the shop. I'll call him Ranger.

The other guy is a musician first. He's since moved about 4.5 hours away, and, yes, he made the drive just to do this ride. I'll call him Blues.

Ranger, to my delight and astonishment, showed up with the theft recovery bike. I quickly snapped a picture of it in all its glory. It's virtually unchanged since back in the day.

The bike I recovered from a would-be-thief in a different life.
Other than a change in tires I think the bike is pretty much original.

While we got ready it was raining a bit, a cold, windy, damp, grim, grey, day.

A perfect day for a Belgian style ride.

What's interesting, and we all commented on it after the ride, is that none of us ever suggested just skipping the ride and catching up over coffee at the local breakfast place, a favorite in the area which Junior refers to as "The Waffle Place". Instead we set about dressing for what seemed to be a pretty grim ride on the bike, each of us putting on differing amount of gear.

With the temperature just about 50 degrees, a chilly wind, and the drizzle, I had on knickers, booties, a short sleeve jersey, a thick long sleeve jersey, a wind vest, and my winter gloves and hat. My helmet of course, and shoes.

My bike, this time with a saddle bag, rear light, a pump in my pocket, bottles.

Blues had on everything, tights to jacket, and looked to be the most prepared of the trio.

Ranger, true to his hard man style, opted for shorts and just two t-shirts. With his toe clips and straps, sneakers, and non-lycra gear, he was by far the least pretentious of the group.

Start

Our motley crew headed out. It was so cold I started getting a massive headache because of the cold and a slightly tight helmet (I loosened it later when I realized it was too tight). I could feel the wind blowing through my jersey arms, my shoulders and upper arms feeling the piercing chill. My glasses got wet from the misty rain, the tires looked slick as ice, and I found myself wondering how long I could keep this up.

I figured both Blues and Ranger had driven quite a bit to ride with me. Blues had initially arranged to meet up by me so I could take a short break from looking after my dad. Since my dad passed that wasn't a concern anymore but still, they made the drive here. At any rate I figured they both had too much vested into the ride to quit after 15 or 20 minutes.

I had to keep going.

So I plodded along, trying to shift my helmet around to get my cold-induced headache to a minimum.

Then, as we moved along, the clouds started breaking up, the sun peeked through, and things got a bit better.

We tried not to go too fast so our pace heading out was, shall we say, "conservative".

Along the path

Let me go on a tangent here for a bit.

Along the Canals

In the book "The Dog In The Hat" that spoke to my core in some absolute and indescribable way, Joe Parkin talks about how a lot of riders train by riding along canal bike paths. These paths are meant just for bikes, they don't have motorized traffic on them, and it allowed a group of riders to pound out the hours without getting too distracted by cars and such.

I realized that here, along this "Multi Use Path" (MUP), we were riding along our version of the "canal paths". In a different life, perhaps a future one, I thought it possible that I'd be rolling along these paths, maybe in the off hours, doing base work.

For now though, it was just for fun.

Turn Around

We generally stayed together although Blues went ahead when someone passed us. Even on easy ride it's easy to get pulled into little informal competitions. However, after about an hour, with Blues ahead maybe 20 or 30 seconds ahead, Range admitted he was done. Blues was still in sight over these flat and straight trails. I told Ranger to turn around (it was an out-and-back ride) and that I'd catch Blues and we'd turn around and catch up.

I did a little effort to bridge the gap and quickly realized I was blowing up. I looked down and saw 26.7 mph.

Yeah. Not very impressive.

I eased because, um, there were some people walking a dog. That's it, people walking on the trail. Actually, there were people walking, I eased to pass them without scaring them (smiles and waves all around), and then, with 20 seconds of recovery, quickly bridged the remaining bit to Blues. I told him Ranger had turned around and that we'd catch up to him.

We looped around, passed the people walking (more smiles and waves), and then I started pushing a bit. Normally I think going sort of fast on these trails is really bad, but that's in the summer with lots of people and such. When there's no one around, in dreary conditions, 20-22 mph seems pretty reasonable.

The Chase

I was leading much of the time as Blues was on an off day. At the beginning of one of the many long straights I realized that Ranger was totally out of sight. Like absolutely totally out of sight.

"I think Ranger dropped the hammer when he turned around."
"No, he was hammered already."
"Well, he's pretty far ahead."

We went on for another 15 minutes, not a glimpse of him. Finally, at the end of a really, really long straight, I spotted him just disappearing out of sight. After a minute or two along the straight, the end of said straight still off in the distance, Blues admitted that, wow, Ranger had a big gap on us.

I started making calculations. We'd been chasing "hard" for about 15-17 minutes and he was at least 4-5 minutes ahead of us. I couldn't go much faster and we might have closed a minute on him, based on previous straights. At this rate it'd be an hour before we caught him, meaning we'd only see him back at the cars.

I started pushing as hard as I dared, Blues clinging to my wheel.

Unbeknownst to us Ranger had pushed super hard until the end of that exact straight and then blew sky high. Just 7 or 8 minutes later we caught him. He had a big grin on his face. He'd tried to pull one on us but had shattered himself in the process.

We slowed down a bit then, with the three of us sort of working together, we upped the pace slightly.

The only incident of note happened when we were clearing yet another set of gates meant to keep cars and trucks off the path. Blues clipped the gate with his bars, got flung to the side, and basically karate chopped through two of the three poles of a wood fence. He was fine though, as the wood was totally rotted.

He got up and we got going again. Our little incident blocked the path for a minute or two, holding up a few riders. I saw them, called it, and we got into line. I was pleasantly surprised by our ragtag group's fluency. Everyone got in line, we were in tight formation, all that, no fuss, no muss. I pulled at a reasonable pace for a bit, I asked if the riders were still back there, and Ranger and Blues replied that they were gone.

We got back okay and then headed to the Waffle House (aka Harvest Cafe) for lunch. We, meaning the family and myself, hadn't been there after 8 AM for a number of years, so I went in thinking they just served breakfast all day Sunday. When the manager (a funny character) walked by I asked him if they were serving lunch because the lunch menu was in our breakfast menus.

"Yeah, we serve lunch. Why?"
"I thought you only served breakfast on Sundays."
"Well that changed, I don't know, like TWO years ago," he grinned.
"Oh. I guess we haven't been here for lunch in forever."

I realized later that we hadn't been there for lunch since long before Junior was born, so a solid 4-5 years ago.

After

I got home and felt absolutely wiped out. I realized that riding outside, especially when it was chilly out, made the riding a lot more fatiguing. Probably burned more calories also.

My epiphany that the MUP was sort of like the local version of the "canal paths" also came as pleasant surprise. I could see myself going out there and doing some steady work, maybe even on my mountain bike. I need more than anything else to do some uninterrupted, high-steady work, and the MUPs are perfect for that, a semi-long effort separating the road crossings. If I rode them at night, or maybe early in the morning, I imagine there'd be little or no traffic.

And finally...  When I drove by the broken fence the other day I noticed that the remaining log in the fence was moved to the middle spot, which makes sense. High enough to keep people from spilling out onto the road, low enough to keep kids and dogs from breezing through the posts.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Training - Riding Outside

So the other day (Nov 2... it's been a while) I went for a ride, the first normal training ride (where I started from and finished at the house) I've done in something like 22 months.

22 months.

The last regular outside training ride I did was back on December 27, 2014 (2014!), part of a three day ride fest when the weather ended up unseasonably warm. The winter really hit hard after that, with a ton of snow and stuff. I ended up not posting very much at all because things were absolutely crazy with holding the 2015 Series.

I wasn't planning on riding but it was November 2, it was 70 degrees outside, and the Missus came home early. At first she said she wanted to go for a run but then she thought about it, looked at me, and asked if I wanted to go ride.

I hadn't even thought of it.

What's weird is that in the last few years I've basically trained myself to not ride outside. I know there were a few days where I was walking with my dad and thinking and saying out loud (my dad wasn't interactive so all my talking was to myself), "It's a nice day out, what a perfect day for a walk." Or, before my dad was here, I'd think, "What a great day! It'll be perfect for the playground!" and I'd bring Junior to the playground. In fact, when I picked Junior up from pre-K earlier that afternoon, we ran around outside for a good 30-40 minutes, it was just so nice outside.

So when the Missus asked if I wanted to ride my brain sort of missed a shift. I couldn't answer for a second as I worked to assimilate this new thought, this new world.

Training outside?

After what seemed like an eternity I said yes. And I started scrambling to put together a riding kit. Shorts? Jersey? I wanted a long sleeve, just in case, but not winter weight. Only thing I had quick at hand was the 2010 Bethel Spring Series Leader's Jersey so I grabbed that. It's yellow and therefore visible, but it also is both an ego boost and a memory trophy so there's that. I grabbed a pair of matching shorts because, you know, matching.

Shoes, socks. I couldn't find my oversocks in 15 seconds so I decided to skip them.

I couldn't find my long finger summer weight gloves but they popped up somewhere, I don't remember where.

I grabbed my helmet, my main helmet cam on there. It hadn't been charged in forever, since August, so I knew it would be done quickly. I debated switching batteries but, really, none of my helmet cams had been charged recently so I knew I'd get 5 minutes of coverage before the dreaded double-beep and the shutdown.

I grabbed the tail light off the helmet I used when I rode to the local garage to pick up the Expedition.

Waterbottles? No.

Tube? Pump? No.

"I'm not carrying anything so if I flat I'll need to call you."
"Okay."

And with that I was off.

I tightened up the brakes - they are set for the race wheels, about 5mm of clearance from the pad to the rim. It took a lot of turns on the brakes' barrel adjusters, more than the 5 turns I normally do for the clinchers. I think the pads have worn a bit since my last ride on clinchers which was sometime in mid-2015, over a year ago.

A note on our driveway - over the summer I went to measure the slope using a level and a ruler. I was sorely disappointed that it only dropped 7" over 32 level inches. It didn't seem that radical and the driveway feels radically steep. Then I did the math.

22%

Our driveway, at the steep bit, is 22%.

No wonder I've slipped and fallen there. No wonder the Missus had to crawl up the driveway once (it'd snowed, the driveway wasn't plowed yet).

Knowing I had to stop at the bottom of a 22% slope had prompted me to check my brakes before rolling down the thing. Brakes good I rolled down our driveway. 

I turned onto the road and did what I always do when I first get on a bike outside. I got out of the saddle and waggled the bike a bit.

There's something magical about riding a bike out of the saddle, saddle wagging back and forth. It's what I've tried to capture with my homemade rocking trainer mod, and it's what I miss most about riding outside. Racing, yes, but doing a massive acceleration on the bike... that's basically what I live for when I ride.

I did my standard loop, the one I call the Quarry Road Loop. I'd love to be able to say that I smashed all sorts of PRs and stuff but the reality was that I just trundled along. I got out of the saddle when I could, blew up way too quickly when I made any kind of effort, and generally did what I normally do on training rides.

One change was that I completely misjudged one fast right turn. I briefly wondered if I was going to lay down the bike. Apparently my cornering gets rusty when I ride inside, not that it's great to begin with. No bike laying down so it was just a little hiccup in an otherwise good ride.

No one buzzed me really close. A couple cars were a bit close, but they were hovering over the white line anyway.

When I got fitted back in 2015 one of the thoughts that came up was that I'd be a good person to ask if driving has gotten much worse since, say, 2014, because the last time I rode outside in the area was 2104. So here's my n=1 survey result: I have to say that between Dec 2014 and Nov 2016 it seems that the drivers were about the same. No worse, no better.

Bike as I rode it.
ISM saddle is an absolute must for me now.

When I got back I was a bit out of breath, a bit warm, and I felt energized. I took a picture of the bike inside for posterity's sake. Thanked the Missus for the chance to get out there. I realized that maybe riding outside has some merits.

I also realized that I had a little reunion ride with a couple former teammates in a few days. This ride outside was a great little reintroduction to the outdoors, before I joined others on a ride.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Life - My Dad

My dad passed Wednesday, October 19.

He'd been struggling for a while, and, now, finally, he's at peace.

Walking back in April.
I'm to the left, he's to the right.
Although he could walk on his own I didn't want him falling so I held his hand while walking.
We walked a little less than a mile in 21 minutes that day.

For those that don't know my dad has been at my house since the beginning of 2016. He's been unable to care for himself for a while so, after many years of one of my brothers looking after him, I accepted the "care baton". We had no idea how much time he had left. Initially I thought maybe a year, but that was just some random guess/feel thing. After a month or two, with my dad totally stable in his abilities, I thought that he could stay stable for years.

Of course that wasn't the case. Every month or so I'd notice a decline somewhere, and, cumulatively, it was more than he could bear.

Hospice

I initiated hospice care the Saturday before which was October 15. I didn't really "start" it, it was really like "signing up" for it. Actual care really started on Tuesday when the first person showed up, and, I suppose, it really started Wednesday when his regular nurse arrived for her first, and, unexpectedly, her last visit.

For the uninitiated hospice care is basically "end of life" care. The expectation is that the family would initiate hospice care up to 6 months before death, with government coverage designed to handle at most 6 months of hospice.

The thing is that I didn't think he needed hospice just yet. Maybe a few weeks ago I got him up in the afternoon. Junior had just fallen asleep for his afternoon nap so it was a perfect time, I could pay attention to my dad and not worry about Junior getting tangled up in our feet or asking me about dinosaurs or whatever. I showered and dressed my dad then walked with him out of his room.

I meant to walk him to the kitchen table (the only eating table in the house) to feed him. Instead he veered off intentionally, heading directly to the steps leading upstairs. We'd gated the stairs off when he first moved here because he immediately started going up and down the stairs (with us spotting him). We were worried he'd fall down if he got up them on his own. Recently, though, we removed the gates since we always walked with him due to his somewhat unsteady walk.

That morning, at the first step of the ungated stairs, he paused and looked at me.

Then he looked up, lifted his foot, and started up the stairs with a purpose.

Although a bit wary I let him climb the stairs, one step at a time. If he wants to go up the stairs then he should go up the stairs. He wobbled a bit as expected but I never had to really support him, just spot him, and he made it up to the top of the stairs. Then he walked directly into Junior's room, walked around his bed (the bed has walls on three sides), and stood at the open side looking down at the napping Junior.

Junior's bed. The doorway is in the background, Bella is hanging out.
You can see how walking around the bed would give a better view of the bed.

After watching Junior sleep for maybe a "moment of silence" amount of time he turned and walked out the room, to the stop of the stairs. I quickly got past him at the top of the stairs to spot him from the front. Although this time I had to catch him a few times he made it down pretty well. Then, after visiting the front door and the kitchen he finally walked to his chair at the table and waited for me to help him sit down.

This didn't seem very "end of life" to me.

He did weaken significantly in the next couple weeks but still, this was something I remember pretty vividly.

We got this in late September.
We borrowed a wheelchair from a local medical closet and took my dad to the Big E.
We figured he'd like more trips like that.

Nonetheless we started talking about hospice, eventually resulting in me asking for a meeting with the hospice care providers for a meeting. I figured I should at least figure out what I need to do when he was closer to "end of life". That prompted the Saturday visit by a nurse. She did a preliminary assessment, declared him relatively fit but at the same time definitely meeting the criteria for hospice care. These include the person being not ambulatory on his own, not intaking much, not talking, losing significant weight, and being incontinent. My dad was all of them; at that point he weighed about 109 lbs, down from the 130 lbs in January, and his normal 160 lbs or so.

That Saturday, October 15, we made appointments for various people to visit the next week. The nurse wanted to have a health care aide 5-7 days a week. I initially declined because, you know, I can do all that stuff myself, but then we compromised and decided maybe 2-3 days would be good. The first visit from the aide would be Tuesday. As standard protocol the nurse had a counselor schedule a visit, as much for the family as for him. That was scheduled for Wednesday. Then of course his assigned nurse would come in, do a more detailed assessment, and bring me up to speed on what I'd need to do to care for my dad. After some negotiation we decided that the nurse would be at the house Wednesday as well.

Keep in mind that at this time I didn't think he really needed hospice care. I did know that things were changing, but to me it seemed hospice might be a few weeks away.

Once initiated the hospice program gets a lot of things rolling. Before hospice I was sort of struggling to learn things as it became necessary to learn them. It wasn't like I had to learn all sorts of complicated things, but it was still stuff that I'd discover the hard way, either asking my brother for tips, Googling things myself, or realizing I needed to do this or that otherwise my dad would do that or this. Although perhaps just one small thing at a time, it was a constant "learning and adjusting" thing.

In contrast, after hospice kicked in, I felt like I suddenly became part of a well oiled machine, all the parts humming along. Everyone had a task, they were good at it, and they took the newbie (me) in like I was a new teammate in a cohesive team. I learned a lot of little tricks in the two days hospice care people visited the house. Even the admitting nurse taught me some tips that Saturday.

A significant thing is that they knew the drill. They knew what to expect, what was normal. For me every change was sort of like "omg what do I do now?!" For them it was just another normal, expected thing.

My dad made it four days from that Saturday, one visit per person. I guess if nothing else my dad was super efficient. No wasted resources there. For anyone that knew him it was completely appropriate.

Family

My dad and me, 2007.
I know, he must be so proud, right?
Photo by Matthew Wagner

My dad existed for his family, living his life as a duty to provide for his wife and his kids. By "provide" he felt the duty to support his wife until her death and support his kids until they were married. Apparently this was his definition of "leaving the nest". I was the last of the kids to get married, in 2007, and at that time he told us: "My wife is dead, my kids are married, I've fulfilled my duty, I am ready to die now."

That statement notwithstanding he cared for the earlier grandkids, the first of which arrived just a week and change after my mom passed. He helped out around the house as much as he could. But slowly, inexorably, he deteriorated.

In the end it's how he arranged his things that says a lot about how he and our mom raised us.

Before his facilities diminished too much my dad gave each of us four siblings equal and complete power of attorney over everything in his life. No checks or balances, just 100% outright power in each of the siblings. The lawyer writing all this up was pretty surprised at this, even questioning us to make sure that the law firm wasn't misunderstanding anything, or perhaps my dad wasn't aware of the implications.

He was.

This meant that any one of us could have, say, changed his will. Any one of us could have absconded with all of my dad's assets, legally, without telling anyone else. Even though none of us did that stuff, at the very least there might have been arguing about who should do what. Instead we all agreed on everything, together, without hesitation. To me this is a reflection of how our parents raised us, taught us.

A related thing is that we felt it necessary to look after our dad at one of our homes. This wasn't a specific wish of his, but it's something we felt necessary. We put some of our own lives aside in order to do this; one brother really took the brunt of it, and when he finally started cracking my other brother and myself both stepped up. Because of various logistical reasons we all decided that having my dad come to my house made the most sense. He moved in with us the last day of 2015, I think we finished getting him settled in a little before 11 PM on Dec 31st, New Year's Eve, 2015.

I can't begin to describe how much time, energy, and stress caring for an elderly person can put on a family. I've spoken to a lot of people who have gone through the same thing. It's not anything super intense, like say dealing with a fire or a flood, nor is it super complex, like neurosurgery, but it's just relentless. I can sort of relate to the never ending stream of, say, mail, and the whole "going postal" thing. The continuous demands of caring for a family member can be very draining psychologically, which affects you at every level.

It got to the point where, a couple months in, I was privately wondering if our marriage would survive, it was that bad. The stress ended up tempering my relationship with the Missus instead of breaking it, making it stronger, but like the initial stages of heat treating or welding, it didn't look very good for a while.

The End

Although we went through this end of life thing with my mom I seemed to have forgotten a lot of details in the 13 years that have passed. The hospice nurse explained to me some things, like if he was breathing a bit quicker it meant he was distressed. We'd treat him for discomfort (pain and anxiety) per his wishes.

The hospice nurse made her first visit on Wednesday, October 19. I had a weird night going into it, meaning on Tuesday, October 18. Normally I don't drink alcohol but for some reason I decided I needed a drink sort of late on Tuesday night. Usually when I have a drink it's because someone offers at a special occasion, but for me to initiate wanting a drink is pretty abnormal. Out of the blue, before I really realized what I was saying, I announced to the Missus that I wanted a drink. She was surprised but, perhaps, in some way, it wasn't too outlandish, given the situation. After all the whole year had just been one thing after another.

I got some tequila out to make a margarita. We keep the alcohol in a cabinet up high so I was standing on a stool to retrieve the bottle. I bent down and started pouring myself a bit into a cup below me on the counter. I couldn't tell how I'd poured because I was looking at the cup from above, not from the side. Also I'm no bartender so I don't instinctively stop at an ounce or whatever. The Missus watched me pour.

"That's a lot of tequila!" the Missus exclaimed.

I quickly stopped pouring.

When I climbed down I realized that I'd probably poured myself two shots worth of tequila. I put in a lot of mix, took a sip, and started coughing. The Missus couldn't help but giggle a bit. Although I didn't look up through my watering eyes and state through my coughs that "wow, that's pretty smooth", I think that's the only thing that was missing from the picture.

The Missus got me a couple ice cubes, I waited for it to dilute just a bit, then I drank it. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I went to sleep.

About 4 or 5 hours later I snapped awake. My first thought was the only reason I'd wake up like this was because of my dad so I hurried downstairs to check on him. He was breathing very heavily, normal cadence but it sounded labored. I wasn't sure what to do so I watched for a while, he seemed to be stable and asleep, so I headed back upstairs.

For me the operative term was "stable". "Stable" implies no changes so it's a good thing.

I woke up again and after some breakfast waited for the nurse. She arrived, watched him for all of, I don't know, 15 seconds, and started getting busy. She did all sorts of stuff, arranging him on the bed, raising and lowering bed stuff, asking for blankets and pillows and putting them here and there, and giving medication to clear my dad's mouth and make him feel less distressed. I noted what she did and basically my dad seemed a lot more comfortable. He was laying on his side, curled up like Junior taking a nap.

At some point she said that we were in the "days or weeks" time frame, not the "hours or minutes". That's one of those things you want to ask but you're not sure when it's appropriate. You don't want to blurt out, "So how long, nurse?", but at the same time you really want to get some kind of a time frame. It was good she mentioned it on her own. I figure it must be protocol.

Somewhere about that time I decided to call my siblings, I think while the nurse took care of some tasks like cleaning up my dad and such. My two brothers could drive from work immediately. One had probably 4 hours to get here, the other maybe 7. Unfortunately my sister couldn't make it that day because she had to fly across the country and that isn't a "right now" kind of thing - it would be tomorrow night before she could arrive.

A few hours into her visit his breathing was a bit fast, about 30 breaths per minute. Normal is a bit slower, 15-20 or so. We gave my dad some medicine but it generally takes a bit of time for it to kick in, especially since he stopped swallowing anything in the last day or so. For practice the nurse had me give him the last dosage of everything he'd gotten so I felt okay taking care of him. The nurse double checked that I was okay with the medicine procedure, I told her yes, we reviewed my tasks, and she left.

I checked my dad often. I remember being sick as a kid, laying in bed with a fever, and my mom and dad coming in to check on me. They'd wipe my forehead with a towel dipped in a water and rubbing alcohol solution, the alcohol evaporating quicker to cool me down better. I don't know if that was a known thing back in the day or if it was something my chemical engineer dad would have done.

We knew it was serious if they then had us take an aspirin, an orange flavored chewable, I think they were St John's or St Joseph's or something like that. After they finished with whatever they'd wrap me up, tucking in the blanket under our sides. My mom was a bit softer, the blanket wasn't as far underneath me, and of course it would loosen after a bit. My dad would tuck the blanket in more; when he tucked in the blanket you knew it. It felt like you were a snug little burrito. It'd still be snug when you woke up an hour or two later.

I didn't snug up the blanket around my dad but I made sure he was all covered. His torso felt really warm although his extremities were a bit less so. I made sure his face was clear so he could breathe okay.

I was expecting his breathing to slow down once the meds kicked in. Problem was that his breathing actually sped up. I called the nurse and reported that his breathing wasn't slowing at all and in fact it was up to about 60 breaths a minute, one a second. If you try breathing that fast (I tried it while I was counting) you'll realize that it's very, very fast for someone that's super weak and laying in bed. The nurse told me to give him the various "use in case of emergency" doses of medications as he was clearly distressed.

She also told me that my dad was deteriorating even quicker than she anticipated and were were now in the "minute and hours" range. This was a big change from the more relaxed "days and weeks" statement just a few hours before.

I hoped my brothers could make it here quickly.

I gave my dad the various medications (something to clear phlegm and two other things). I waited for a half hour, rolling his wheelchair up to the bed so I could sit in it while I watched him. His breathing didn't change much at all. At some point I went and moved one of the cars out of the driveway so one of my brothers could park next to the house - he'd be arriving shortly, like in 45 minutes; the other I expected in a few hours.

When I came back in my dad was breathing extremely slowly, like a breath every 10 to 15 seconds. I called the nurse again. At her request I timed his breathing. Three breaths in 32 seconds, 5 or 6 breaths a minute. Obviously this was a significant change from panting at 60 breaths a minute. After a brief discussion she let me go after making me promise to call her as things changed. Now that I know a bit more I have a feeling that she knew what was happening and she wanted me to be present with my dad for his last minutes here, not be talking on the phone.

I hit the Off button on the home phone. I sat there in the wheelchair, next to my dad on the hospital bed. I had my stopwatch (an app on my smartphone) in my right hand, the home phone in the left. I was counting breaths, which, at that point, was more like counting how many seconds between breaths.

I reset the stopwatch and waited for him to take a breath.

He took a breath so I hit the start button. The timer started racing along, counting off the seconds until the next breath. In a bike race, when I'm timing a break's gap, time crawls by so slowly. I figure the break has to have 20 seconds and it's really 12. Here it raced by; I was hoping for 10 seconds and it was already, whatever, 15 seconds.

My dad looked as comfortable as he could be, curled up in bed, wrapped in a blanket. His hands were up across his chest and neck, his legs bent a bit and his knees up a bit. His eyes were mostly closed so he looked completely at ease, curled up like maybe Junior when Junior's asleep.

I resisted the temptation to tuck in the blankets firmly around him.

My dad took a breath, a big one.

I glanced down. The stopwatch showed 32 seconds. 32 seconds. That was a long interval. I let the stopwatch run. My mind wasn't really processing things. I wanted to make sure I didn't miss the time when he took his next breath. Otherwise there were no changes, no movements or anything.

Stable is good, right?

At some point, out of the corner of my eye, I saw 32 flash by again. By the time I focused on the stopwatch it showed 1:35, a minute 35, numbers racing by even as the 32 registered in my head.

It meant that over a minute had passed and my dad hadn't taken a breath.

That got my attention.

I looked closer at him. He didn't look any different, still curled up like he was taking a nap. I got up and crouched over him. His fingertips were cool, but they were before. His toes were cool, but they were before. His head was cool up top, warmer toward his chin, like before. His chest was warm.

Like before. That was stable, right?

I held his wrist.

I thought to myself that I hadn't taken his pulse recently so I wasn't sure how it would feel. I couldn't feel anything but I was starting to get a bit agitated and I couldn't calm myself down to feel for a feeble pulse. I checked his neck for a pulse also, but, again, I wasn't able to do it. I didn't know what his heart rate was when the nurse checked in the morning so I had no point of reference. I did notice one thing.

His chest wasn't moving at all.

At some point, I don't know when but I think after about 2 minutes, I realized that he still hadn't taken a breath.

I straightened up.

I walked out of the room and down the hallway, the one my dad walked through over and over just a few months ago when he'd do laps around the first floor of the house. I remember it was a bit dim, I don't know if the light was on or not, or maybe I wasn't seeing quite right.

The Missus was standing there.

"I think my dad just died."

After

We had a very simple gathering for him. We knew he wouldn't want anything for himself but I think it was for all of us to pay our respects to him. I think of it now and it felt like a celebration of his life, which was perfect.

As a bonus we learned all sorts of stuff about him. It's unfortunate that the stories come out after the fact, but, still, now at least we can enjoy them. I learned a lot about his professional career, just how significant it was to those of us in the modern world. I am thinking about putting something together something on that for later, but I'm not sure what I feel comfortable posting. We'll see.

I also got to see him as more of a peer, at least in the grand scheme of things. To me my dad was always "my dad". We called him Daddy, even now; my updates to my siblings were titled "Daddy update". To me he was one of the two adults of the family and I was always one of the kids. But to his peers he was a peer. He was the guy they met when he got hit by a car and declined getting x-rays because he was "fine", or the guy that taught them how to be the best engineer possible, or the guy that unexpectedly cracked jokes at work, or whatever.

As my mom deteriorated back in 2003 she realized that the Nutmeg State Games were coming up. She asked me if I was going to go defend my fortuitous 2002 Nutmeg State Games gold medal. I told her no, I'd do that "after". I also told her I'd win the Bethel Spring Series for her. She knew what I meant by "after" and she was okay with it. I didn't tell anyone else about my promises because, really, how could I possibly tell someone I was going to accomplish those two things? Plus, at the time, I weighed something like 210 pounds, and, yeah, I could barely ride a bike. In fact I had to size up because I couldn't pedal the bike without kneeing myself in the gut.

Nevertheless, after some intense races (and losing a lot of weight), in 2005 I won the Series in a super tight finish. In 2006 I got the Gold at Nutmeg State Games.

2005 Bethel Spring Series

I didn't commit myself this time to doing anything, even privately. The end came so quickly I ended up wrapped up in the details of things instead of thinking of bigger broader. Whatever I do, though, I hope to do honor by my dad.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Life - The Thought

As you might have guessed I've experienced, and am experiencing, among other things, a sort of young adult renaissance. Back in my late teens and early 20s, basically my high school and college years, I went through a period of musical exploration. Although I started listening to classic rock (the only station that our super primitive radio would pull in), I quickly turned to what because "alternative music" or "new wave".

I still enjoy that music.

Which I think is normal, I don't think we keep exploring music genres, do we? I can't stand certain music, never could, and other types of music I've always enjoyed.

When I was a kid we upgraded our house stereo to something with multiple speakers in each speaker box. Per my mom it lived in the kitchen so we could hear music all the time, for our own intonation/etc, because we all played musical instruments. I'd commandeer it when I could and listen to WXCI, the West CONN station. It was the only alternative rock station in a huge area. There was one on Long Island for a bit (at 92.7), but WXCI was it for a bit. I'm sure they played stuff other than alternative rock but I don't remember it.

Back then we couldn't just Google a song or listen to clips on YouTube or whatnot. You had to hear the song, ID the band and the song (hopefully the DJ would actually say the band and song after it played, instead of before), then get to a record store and search it for said band and song. David Bowie alluded to this in a 1999 interview I only saw after he died. This whole process was pretty involved and required a pretty good amount of commitment. As he says, rock and roll had a "call to arms kind of feeling to it".

For us "record store" meant Johnny's in Darien, CT, the only place that offered non-mainstream albums. They sold t-shirts, albums (and later CDs), pins, Vans sneakers, everything. You'd know you were there when you saw the checkered VW Bug parked across the street. Honestly, though, we rarely bought stuff, we mainly looked to see what we might be able to buy.

In the meantime the only way to collect music was to record songs off the radio.

In order to capture songs I'd set up something like a butterfly trap, or, if you will, a shotgun. I'd put in long tapes, 120 minute ones, and just record whatever played on the radio for the next two hours. Then I'd review it, see if there were any good songs, copy them off onto another tape, then record over the 120 minute tape with another 2 hours of whatever.

I also spent a lot of time hitting "Record" just as one song ended, hoping to catch all of the next song. If I didn't want the song (I had it already, I didn't like it, etc) then I'd stop and carefully rewind the tape with my finger to get it "just right".

A well done tape was a work of art.

If the 120 minute tapes were a shotgun approach, the "Sit and Record" method was more like a sniper. I'd sit by the radio and record targeted songs, whether they were songs already announced ("and after the break the new Adam Ant song!") or I was doing the "hit record as the last song ended" thing).

The "Sit and Record" method resulted in higher quality recordings. This was because I recorded over just a short portion of tape (the beginning of songs, if I didn't want to keep it I'd rewind and record over it) but otherwise the recordings were on virgin material. Therefore I used better tapes for my sniper sessions. Typically the best quality tapes were available only up to 90 minutes long instead of the 120 minute long junk tapes.

Gathering songs from the motley assortment of tapes, I'd create mix tapes.

As technology advanced I started taping off of albums, and, as CDs started making their appearance, off of CDs. Most of this was so I could play the music in the car because us poor bike racers generally had just cassette players for them. Although CD adapters were neat, portable CD players skipped regularly when you hit a bump and such. If you were lucky enough to carpool with someone you could assign that someone to hold the CD player up in the air, their arms acting as suspension. If they got tired and the CD player hit something and skipped you'd shoot them a dirty look. The arm would go back up and you'd keep going.

Or you could place the CD player on a folded up jacket or something. Problem was if you took an exit fast or did some other higher-G maneuver. The CD player would end up on the floor on the passenger side or, worse, between the passenger seat and the door. Then you'd have to go to radio or see if you really did get all the tapes out of the glovebox.

Jeepers. The things we used to do.

Through the last few weeks one thing popped up in my personal radar - this one song I had on tape. It was on one of my scrap tapes, a 15 minute long tape originally meant for saving computer files off of our TRS-80 Model III.

Our TRS-80.
Hard to take a picture of it in the basement so poor quality but it's there.
I should try and boot it up. I don't even know if I need a floppy disc to do that.

You see, back then, there were really no hard drives for computers, and the ultra slow/simple TRS-80 was a solid $2000-3000. There were reel to reel tapes for computers and, if you were super advanced, there were these things called "floppy discs". The cheap version of a reel to reel was the cassette tape, whether for music or for data, and therefore those ubiquitous cassette tapes got recruited for computer use.

Our TRS-80 Model III came with a cassette player "storage solution". We had two tapes for it, a 15 minute tape and an 8 minute tape.

When we upgraded to floppy drives it freed up the cassette player and two near-useless tapes. 15 minutes? It would barely hold a few songs. The 8 minute tape I think got tossed.

The 15 minute tape (it was green, the 8 minute was orange or something) became my scrap tape, where I'd hold songs temporarily to record onto another tape. The 120 minute tapes were also scrap tapes. Generally speaking the 120s were so thin and so long that they'd regularly jam in the tape deck. The idea was to use them to gather stuff then transfer the good songs to a more durable tape.

The good tapes were 90 minutes long, durable enough for car play, reliable, not prone to tangling up inside a tape player. Typically they had upgraded material, either High Bias tape or Metal Bias tape. They were the carbon and titanium of the tape world. High Bias was good but Metal was the schnizzle, one step below CDs.

Sort of.

I recorded the best stuff on Metal, and we had two tape decks that were Metal compatible (and had Dolby noise reduction, which is what Dolby did before whatever they do now, like doing the sound for the new Star Wars movie).

One song I had on my 15 minute scrap tape was one that had lyrics that included stuff like:
Shalala sing a simple song
But in my mind everything is wrong
I (wish?) the words just to feel at ease
But tension builds to be released... 
I'm looking in my mirror now
See the face I have to shave 
There was something super compelling about the song. Yeah, it had some of the normal elements of new wave music, with synth drum stuff, a Euro accent (but not English… the accent really drew me in), bass stuff…

The problem was I had no idea who performed the song or what it was called.

I first recorded the song about 30 years ago, maybe a year or two beyond that. I listened to that 15 minute tape regularly throughout college, and I transferred the song onto some of my mix tapes. The cheap, 15 minute, originally-meant-for-computer, not High Bias, not Metal Bias tape became my master tape for this song. Poor quality recording dubbed onto other tapes. It's like a copy of a fax of a copy of a fax, if you know what I mean.

Fast forward about 15-20 years.

Now there was something called the internet. MP3s. You can buy music online without buying anything physical. Yada yada yada.

Every now and then I'd Google some of the lyrics of the song. No success. When my SoCal host told me about Shazam (an app that identifies music - just hold your phone up to the music and let Shazam listen to it for a bit) I downloaded the app specifically to check this song.

To get the tape to play I had to have a tape player and something to push sound to speakers (amp or receiver which contains an amp). I had a tape deck but my stereo/amp was dead. I put a cable into the tape deck headset jack ("out") and the other end into a laptop mic jack ("in") and recorded onto the laptop.

Problem was I had no way of hearing what I was recording.

I was limited to 60 seconds because after that I had to pay for whatever application.

With no idea of output level, no idea of input level, the recording sounded horrible. When I played it for Shazam the app told me, predictably, that it couldn't identify the song. Of course not, it was a horrible recording.

I liked the song so much I'd regularly listen to those 60 distorted seconds while on the trainer.

Fast forward another few years.

With Facebook a FB friend that rides happens to have been a WXCI DJ back in the day, and a few times he offered to ID the song (anything from the 80s). I never got around to putting anything up, and, recently, sitting at my laptop, I just videotaped the keyboard while I played that 60 second recording of the song and posted it for him.

He ID'ed the song immediately.

The Thought. "Every Single Day".

He even linked to the YouTube clip below. I clicked, listened, and I was in shock. It was the song.

It took 30-odd years but I finally knew who did the "See the face I have to shave" song.

I realized why I like the accent - it's a Dutch band and I have some affinity to the Dutch accent after spending much of my childhood in Holland. I associate Dutch accents with women, not men, so that sort of put a twist on that, it's probably why I didn't recognize the accent.


I've mentioned before how music really tugs at me. What I didn't realize was that even music I didn't know I was missing would tug at me.

I listened to a slew of The Thought songs in one sitting and I had this weird feeling that many of them sounded familiar. Slowly I realized that I'd heard and liked many of these songs but never captured them on my 120 minute shotgun tapes or my sniper "sit by the stereo and hit record+play when the song ends" sessions.

The Thought, "Rise and Fall", has a drum intro that reminded me of Powell and Perralta's Bones Brigades 2 "Future Primitive" bridge song as I thought of it (go to 34:45 of the video). I remember thinking the two were similar, but I didn't know the "other" song. It was The Thought.

"Secrets of the Heart". I had no idea they did this song, and, honestly, I forgot about this song until I heard it.

"Eight Miles High". Did I hear their version or some other cover? I don't know.

"Out of Oblivion". I don't know what to call them, the harmonics? Another one that resonated with me, and it still does.

The songs remind me of XTC, which is maybe why I liked XTC.

Finally, the tie in to cycling.

"Tension builds to be released."

Sounds like one thing, of course, but for me it perfectly describes a sprinter's race. The tension builds until it's just unbearable in the bell lap, then, finally, the sprinter launches his sprint.

Glorious.

Anyway, if you're in the area and you drop by, chances are that you'll hear The Thought playing.

Epilogue

I had lunch with an old friend recently. A familiar song came on, something I hadn't heard for years and years. I couldn't place it, neither could she. So she pulled out her phone and said, "Let me Shazam it."

I immediately thought of the only song I'd Shazam'ed. I wondered how this would go.

It came back with XTC. "Mayor of Simplteton".

And so it was.