Friday, December 4, 2009

moving house

Given the ratio of time spent (conscious) in each room and place of the house, clearly my first priority was to preserve the mountain view from the kitchen sink. 
In the old house, the view as it actually is, 

and the view as I see it with none of the usual distressing kitchen filth in the foreground, 

In the new house, the view isn't nearly as good, but the house is bigger. 

By squinting carefully through my new bifocal glasses (well, progressive lenses really, but still I feel as if I've tottered over some new threshold) the mountains can yet be seen. 

In a Platonic sort of way it should be enough to know the mountains are out there, the shadows on the cave wall are all we have anyway: but I was confirmed in the church of St Thomas, and I need to see. 

Over Thanksgiving it was fourteen-hour days shuttling boxes down the road. Some of the boxes hadn’t been opened in 15 years..  some of those contained letters and photos from our childhoods, couldn’t quite throw them away yet. I’ll let my kids do it. 

Here’s the short list of major fun incidents :
-        washing machine tap snapped on Wednesday evening as I tried to replace it. Memo to self: don't undertake plumbing projects on Thanksgiving eve. The water was off until Friday when I could get to a hardware store for the special extraction tool. The first cheap Chinese tool was made of a metal softer than copper, so it just rounded off – back to the store for a quality US-made implement. That still took a 3-foot lever and all my strength to get the tap remnant out of the pipe threads. 

-        Used the camping water jugs and fetched water to flush loos, etc. I was so fully into camping mode I went to the basement on Friday morning to get a camping pot to boil water for coffee. H asked why I didn’t just use the kettle, I had no answer. Ahem. 

-        Sienna hatch door handle broke on Wednesday evening, so I had to remove the rear cover and open the trunk from the inside, all weekend long, while moving loads of junk. Ebay had a new metal handle to replace the original plastic part, but it's wending its way from Florida. I should have it in good time to not need it for the move. 

-        Dishwasher in new house runs but doesn’t heat water or dry. Handwashing all dishes is just what I needed to do with my free time. While searching the interwebs for a dishwasher manual, I found many references to this Bosch model overheating the circuit board so the solder melts. Tore it open, grunting: by golly one pin on the board was completely dry and surrounded with blackened spatter. Re-soldered it with an added piece of copper wire to act as a heat sink and re-assembled. Now it gets hot but the soap release is sporadic and random. Oh well close enough. You have to wonder about a design that gets the circuit board up to 600 F, hot enough to melt solder. As soon as the cash-for-clunker appliances kicks in for Colorado, we'll get a new washer. The stimulus program has been good to us: $4500 for the old Subaru, $6500 for the home-buyers' tax credit, and now even more money for a new dishwasher. I feel a little guilty but not enough to refuse the moola. 

-        Went to all the outlet stores looking for a new stove for the old house. This is part of staging the old house, the 20+ year-old coil stove is rather repulsive. We moved it with us, thereby providing another opportunity for the taxpayer to subsidize our new appliances. After 3 hours of fruitless driving around, resorted back to the internet in desperation: Home Depot, Lowes and The Great Indoors were all $50-$150 cheaper than the outlets. Bah. Did you know you can still buy a stove with an oven that isn’t self-cleaning ? I had no idea.

-        Realtor said we should re-hang the closet doors in the one bedroom. The previous owner took them off, installed shelves and painted them in bright primary colors for the kid’s room, we liked it and left it. I thought it would be straightforward. Instead started at 7pm Sunday then off to Home Depot at 7:30pm with the project list. It went well until I found my guess that it took ¼” runners was wrong, should have had 3/8”. So then it was only another load to move and unload, got to bed nearly before midnight at least. 

This coming weekend is for the crawlspace and garage. The old house had a two-car garage and 1400 sq. ft, new three-car and 2500 squares: yet the new is quite full and there's still all that other stuff to move. Two canoes and six bicycles out of the garage alone, two more canoes and kayaks from the outside, and on and on. 

The old house looks quite beautiful now. Empty clean rooms full of sunlight, I think we'll buy it. We were happy there. I'm sure I moved the Lares and Penates in one of those boxes, so hopefully they made it intact. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Opening Day

November 7th was opening day for Wyoming's pheasant season - not exactly the Glorious Twelfth, but quite good enough for who it's for. The dawn comes up with a distant cackle, "kek-kek-kek" from the cornfields as the roosters feel their oats, so to speak. In this wet year, the corn is still standing, which gives the birds plenty of food and place to hide from dogs and hunters. We were listening to Prairie Home Companion that evening, broadcasting from Des Moines, where they have the same problem: "We're in Iowa, where the major industry is gambling. Some call it farming. The corn harvest is a couple weeks behind, the corn is still wet — do you harvest it now and have to pay to dry it out or do you leave it in the field to dry and maybe lose it to a hard freeze ?" 

The road that's dimly visible on the L of that photo runs up past the pea field and sorghum patch, to the neighbour's corn. Often at lunchtime while sitting in front of the barn recuperating, we'll see birds come out of the field, look left and right then scuttle quickly over into the scrub on the other side. For some reason we can never find these birds even with the dogs Spot and Artie. I did notice today that a wing-shot bird can outrun the dogs, so it's possible they just run very fast and far. 

The sunflower picture is from earlier this year, now they are brown stubble. My excuse for posting is that it's pheasant food, also I like the picture. Even after harvest there are seeds scattered around, good for giving the feathers that final gloss to just bowl over the hens. 

In the field everything is grey and brown except for the hunters in blaze orange. I used to be quite snotty about US hunters and their brilliant garments (the hunters I knew in SA didn't often kill each other by mistake), especially after a deer hunter shot our grey backpacking tent in the Three Sisters wilderness. That was twenty years ago. I still have the two orange ball caps we bought at the first gas station we saw on the way out of Three Sisters. Now I find with any more than two people in the field, the orange is downright necessary. A shotgun blast is dangerous up to at least a quarter of a mile; in the tall grasses it's easy to lose track of where everyone is, especially when tracking a bird moving high and fast on a curve to the next county. 

We trudged around for some time, scaring up a number of hens but nothing shootable. Artie got away to do some independent hunting and flushed a handsome rooster at sixty yards, which made me think of getting him back in the shock collar. It has a vibrate mode, a shock mode, then a "bowl 'em over yelping" mode for when they're in full overexcited pursuit. 

Further down in the beautiful blonde wheatgrass, a rooster broke out near my feet and hurried down the wind past Ian. He shot it dead center. I shot a second after him, but the bird was already dropping when I pulled. Artie dashed off but did not find it. We found a wing feather so we knew he was down somewhere, but quartering with two dogs did not reveal anything. Apparently the problem is after the flight, the bird is air-flushed so there's not much scent, and it's difficult for the dogs to track it across the dry windy Wyoming plain. A couple of hours later we came back and Spot proudly trotted out of the grass with a mouthful of pheasant. 
That's not in fact the gun which did the damage - it's a Remington 1100 automatic, rather looked down upon as inferior to the break-action shotguns. Ian was shooting a borrowed Beretta Silver Pigeon with a cut-down stock when he got the bird. For my sins in not buying myself a shotgun over the off season, Ken made me carry the 12 ga Browning Citori, about eight or nine pounds. That doesn't sound like much, but after keeping it at the ready for five or six hours and ten to fifteen miles, it's a bit of a lump. 

Ken was shooting a new-to-him vintage gun, a ninety-five year old side-by-side, with double triggers and an unusual safety. A bird got up out of the cattails while we were searching for Ian's, presenting an easy shot. First the safety was on, then the wrong trigger, so the shot came late and far. Spot was on the case though and pinned the bird as soon as it came down. 

By lunchtime my other urchin had arrived. For a cruel and unusual punishment of Artie's independent hunting, we put him in his crate with the urchin. 

The sentence for a shot pheasant is to hang by the neck while dead. These are all Ken's birds, though Ian had a beautiful shot at one of them. Artie dug it out of the cattails in a ditch and it hung there in the Wyoming breezes, glaring at us while trying to pick up speed into the wind: but there was a regrettable misunderstanding about the safety on the Remington, so Ken had to shoot it. I'd told Ian the red band on the safety button meant the gun was on and ready to shoot, but he'd understood me to say the red band meant the safety was on. Dagnabbit. By late evening the score was three for Ken, one for the whole Kretzmann tribe, a disgraceful exhibition. Do the birds your sons shoot count for you as well ? I'm demanding credit for taking him hunting anyway. 

Early evening, and there's a rooster in that tangle somewhere. Artie knows about it as evidenced by his alert stance, but I wasn't paying enough attention. The bird flushed out from behind my right shoulder as we passed the puddle and headed for the corn. I was slow to respond then didn't lead him by enough and missed clean. No beer for me tonight. 

John Buchan wrote, "The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope." This of course doesn't apply to fishing a popular hatch on one of our Western tailwaters, which is rather a series of opportunities for public humiliation and to be comprehensively ignored by the fish. Still the point holds good for most fishing, and indeed applies to pheasant hunting as well. There's an awful lot of walking through empty fields: but at any moment anything may happen: and at worst there's been a fine long walk in the sun and wind, which is very nearly enough. 

A well-hunted dog. That's either bliss or extreme fatigue. 

What with all the hurry and scurry of preparing the old house for sale, packing up the old (Helen) and panicking about the cost and debt of the new house (me), somehow two sleeping bags got left behind. Since we're doting parents the boys got the bags and we slept fully-dressed under coats. Luckily it wasn't particularly cold, unluckily my sleeping mat had a slow leak so I'd descend gradually onto a concrete heat sink and wake up shivering. Then it would be time to shove another big chunk of cottonwood into the wood stove and wait for the warmth to permeate my old cold bones. With the air flow turned down in the stove, the flames come up and fold around the new wood slowly and waveringly. This makes for phantasmagorical images in the fire, good for poetical midnight musings but not so grand for a steady eye and hand in the morning. 

Next day the mighty mighty hunters went off early to check neighbour Casey's cornfields. Tea and toast for breakfast, made with spray-on olive oil in an electric frypan, an abomination to my Greek-by-marriage sensibilities. We couldn't wake Ian up to go with us, another well-hunted creature. The birds were mostly all very happy where they were, deep in the corn, thank you very much. We did kick up a pair of roosters in a small field that had been left to go to weed for the year. A good shot would have bagged the double here but I'm not a good shot - missed with the first barrel, regrouped myself and re-acquired the target as it built up speed, then brought him down. Artie plunged swiftly into the ditch and brought it back to me grinning through the feathers. We were both very happy. 

After brunch we went out on Ken's fields again. Ian preferred to loaf in the sun with a book, fair enough after walking his feet to nubbins the previous day. In the sorghum field, Artie ran his usual enthusiastic circles, wagging like an animal possessed. The rooster was trapped between me and him, panicked and blew up practically in my face. This is hard on the heart, but at such close range even I couldn't miss. 

Last weekend we'd taken the dog to Cherry Creek for a walk in the mud snow and slush. Afterwards to Petco, to wash the dog ($11) in their self-dog-wash facility (the new house has a utility sink in the mud room, so we'll save $11 there). A Russian guy working at Petco told me Artie looked just like his Russian spaniel in the old country. He also used to own borzoi for coursing. I asked him what they hunted on the steppes, he didn't have the English names but said "the small wild chicken, and the big wild chickens".  We'll eat our wild chickens in a leek soup with wild rice, I think. 

In the late afternoon Ian had another shot at it. C got into an orange vest and walked with us. Only hens, and one indeterminate bird which Artie rooted out on an independent foray, far off into the setting sun. 

The first time I saw a marsh hawk was near San Francisco, in Tomales Bay. Here again over the wetlands marsh hawks flew low and quartering, snipe gave their alarm calls, and a great blue heron flapped slowly up.  That's all, he wrote. 

Friday, September 11, 2009

a qualified success

USA Triathlon National Championships, Tuscaloosa AL 08/22/2009
1.5k mostly upstream swim, 39k bike, 9.8k run

"The tumult and the shouting dies --
the Captains and the Kings depart --"
leaving us with the flags flying over a quiet Black Warrior river flowing swiftly to the Gulf.

This is aftermath of course. In flashback, my story is a below-par performance at the world age-group (AG) race in 2006, see here. The idea this year was to attempt to qualify for 2010 Worlds for one last race, to satisfy my vanity. This was all predicated on job life and health remaining unchanged: Ha, the gods who live past all imploring laugh merrily and long. So as prospects narrow, the goal remained to qualify, but the actual trip to Worlds in Budapest became unlikely. It's just too much money, given the GFC's effects on our college and retirement funds. I’d feel bad leaving the family to spend thousands of dollars on a vanity project. Lausanne actually cost less than Tuscaloosa, go figure.

A cheap flight to Huntsville left me with 100 miles to drive to Tuscaloosa. Walking out of the airport was like stepping into a pressure cooker - the heat and humidity combine to a sensation of physical oppression. Torrential rains and heavy traffic for all those miles wasn't quite as expected, but survived to reach the U of Alabama's campus and the Official USAT Hotel Capstone. Every third radio station in Alabam’ is faux Christian. Luckily one of them was bluegrass gospel, some good old-time music. The mayor was running ads on the radio thanking all the triathletes for coming to spend money in Tuscaloosa.

Dined quietly in the deserted hotel restaurant, as I couldn't face any more driving. There was one other couple, he was another racer in my AG, from Montana which is a long long haul. Nationals draws a crowd wherever it's held.

Next day was all administrivia, fetching the bike from the transport company, checking in, etcetera etcetera. On the walk back from bike check-in, talked to a Pennsylvania couple: we were in violent agreement on the need to avoid unnecessary exertion before the race. Amazingly the bike course was cluttered with clots of bikers, apparently riding the whole way. I drove the course, bike then run. Both were hillier than expected. The run in particular had some startling hills climbing out of the floodplain.

I'd finished the entire 500 pages of David Copperfield by dinnertime. A book is a good shield when dining solitarily but having read greedily, at the restaurant I had to sit in my usual eccentric-loner pose. The guitar player showed up with an old Fender amp and a couple of acoustic instruments, promising to make our ears bleed, but in the event was gently melodic. My usual pre-race meal is a PB&H (peanut butter and honey), so ordered a PB&J to-go from the kid's menu, for breakfast.

By morning all those rains I drove through had worked their way into the watershed and the Holt Lock opened. This turned the river from a sluggish scarcely-detectable flow to a brisk 1 mph current. I swam a short warmup upstream, turned over and floated down at a good clip. We faced the swim with trepidation. One poor old gal (age 77) never even finished the swim, just stayed in one spot for two hours fighting on, then called for a kayaker and quits. Bravo, is all I can say in admiration.

I usually swim about 23-24 minutes but took a hard-working 33 today: once tried to get closer to shore for quieter water but nearly impaled myself on a snag. The stronger swimmers lost 5min or so, the weaker went to the wall and lost 10 to 50. One of my AG competitors swam 44 so I beat him for the only time I ever will.

On to the bike, a two-loop course, and immediately plunged into a bunch of squirrelly 20-somethings on their second loop. For most of the first loop all my effort went into not-crashing and avoiding a drafting violation. I did clip a traffic cone at one point, but managed to keep it upright. The second loop was much pleasanter, in exactly the same time as the first.

By the run it was 80 degrees and 70% humidity, really not as bad as it might have been but quite bad enough. After ten minutes I decided to take my top off and damn the spectators' eyes, it was just too hot to be wearing anything more than necessary. The hills were staggering. Held on grimly to finish in 2:23, as 33 swim, 1:04 bike, 43 run.

At the finish I was quite satisfied with my effort, as I could scarcely walk. The run time seemed slowish though that could be put down to the uphills. Looking at the results, everyone else ran their usual times or faster: that plus the anecdotal reports of GPS showing a short course leads to the belief that it was short and I was slow. Oh dear.

Later that day, delivering the bike back to Luke at the bike transport, I got talking to Kirk Framke (your M35-39 National Champioeen !) about running and getting old. The postrace exhaustion supplied a form of 'in vino veritas' which let me blurt out a truth I'd not articulated before: the worst thing about aging is that running now hurts. It never used to hurt - the pain appeared as information rather than suffering - but now every blessed step of a race takes effort to oppose the weakness. If I take my watch off it's possible to imagine myself to be running fast, still that's only a comfortable delusion. Kirk was an architect: after 9/11 he took to teaching middle-school math in the poorer quarters.

All this plus my need for a little lie-down at the hotel meant I missed the women's elite race.

Here are their bikes at least. The greensward in the background is where the AG rabble racked their bikes. I was by the first flag on the left at the back. A California girl in the 45-9 AG, coached by Michellie Jones, was racked opposite. She assured me her Tyr speedsuit was worth several minutes in the swim. I took an informal survey of all the athletes I saw wearing speedsuits, asking if it helped: 6 "I don't know, this is the first time I've tried it" and 2 definites. The definites came from ex-college swimmers with deep backgrounds, so I'm inclined to think I should have spent the $250.

At the end of the day, 14th in the 2010 50-54 rankings, so a clean qualifier at least - top 18 qualify, this year. 21st in 45-9, a bit weak but as the oldest in the AG I'm not too concerned. The bike was 1:04 for 24 miles which is about 1:06 for 40k, a small PR. The major disappointment was that I'd trained very carefully all year long in an attempt to recover my run, but all the training and tapering did not make any difference at all. In fact the neglected swim was the best performance, bike OK, run mediocre.

From one of President Obama’s books,
“I began feeling the way I imagine an actor or an athlete must feel, when, after years of commitment to a particular dream, after years of waiting tables between auditions or scratching out hits in the minor leagues, he realizes that he's gone just about as far as talent or fortune will take him. The dream will not happen, and he now faces the choice of accepting this fact like a grown-up and moving on to more sensible pursuits, or refusing the truth and ending up bitter, quarrelsome, and slightly pathetic.”

"If you can't let up on the competitive part of it, if you have to go as fast at 50 as you did at 20, you will grind yourself into the ground and become stressed out, bitter and unhealthy." Mark Allen

I'm not bitter, really. It was swell while it lasted.

Brightroom took a picture of me in the race that is the nearest to flattering I've seen in thirty years of race pictures.

On the other hand, my nieces and nephews think I look like a velociraptor, strange bug eyes and muscles in implausible places. So much for flattering. After all those pictures I'm forced to acknowledge that maybe I really do look as goofy as they seem.

Letters (well emails in point of sober fact) to and from Tuscaloosa:
here in tuscaloosa
Aug 21
there are no telephones.. the hotel phone is incapable of outside
calls, and there are no public phones. Extraordinary.

Anyway, arrived safely last night about 7pm, after 130 miles of
driving in heavy traffic and torrential rain. The air is thick enough
to chew. Bike also arrived safely so we're all in place. In Kansas
there were 36 in my AG, here there are 61. Yikes. I guess that's the
east coast phenomenon, more people everywhere you go.

The conference center has free computers so here I am.

I plan to have dinner at FIG (food is good)
and order the kid's pb&j to go, for breakfast tomorrow.

Haven't seen anyone I know yet, talked to a guy from Montana
yesterday, the only one from the state. The hotel has the same feel as
in Kansas - individual triathletes are in general pleasant to know,
the herd emits a narcissistic vibration.
How do you know there's a triathlete in the room ? He'll tell you..

The hotel bed is very comfy. Two queen beds, I need my family with me.

> See. You need a cellphone.
> I was wondering why you hadn't called last night. Boys came up with all
> kinds of excuses for you. Maybe your plane was late, maybe you were too
> (see, we need call waiting).
> Dougie needs to catch a fish and release it to complete his
> fishing merit badge. We might all go down to the gravel ponds on Sunday
> to find a fish to release. Any suggestions on what lure to use ? Can
> you use bait there?

bait is allowed, a nice worm is the best bet - the ponds have mostly
warm-water fish, bass etcetera, so woims is what you need. Otherwise a small minnow lure.

Yes, now everyone has a cellphone, no-one is allowed to not have one:
since the public phone infrastructure has withered away.

The goodie bag includes a fine big towel from Ekanuba (dogfood company), with a pawprint on it. Odd sort of triathlon sponsorship.

It's raining and hot. The bike course is a lot slower than I thought
it would be, hilly and two long climbs. The most part of the swim is
against the current, which is bringing down quite a bit of detritus,
leaves twigs branches and probably the odd dead dog. Not much chance of a PR I think, but I do not repine.
Aug 22
the current in the river picked up overnight. One 70-year-old woman
spent 2 hours swimming upstream before giving up..
I was 10min slower than usual, but the weaker swimmers were 15-20
minutes off their usual swims. This was an advantage for me.
14th in the age group for Worlds qualifier (top 18 qualify), 21st in
45-9 AG. So an OK race, not as fast as I'd hoped, but the course was
very hard. I put my name down for Budapest, have 4 weeks to make a
decision before they want a race fee, but I'm thinking probably not.

off to chipotle for dinner because it's getting late and I'm tired
now. Drive at 7:30am tomorrow and away we go again.

the end

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

North Halfmoon creek

We dragged our children up a mountain for a backpacking trip, assuring them it would be fun. I'm not sure if our enthusiasm has quite taken. Here we set out - note the kids are carrying their share of load.
The trailhead road is also the access to the fourteener Mt Elbert and Mt Massive trailheads. I’d guess a couple hundred people established in dispersed campsites along the creek: never mind what the bears do, it worries me what all those people must be doing in the woods. Turd blossoms everywhere, I suspect. The last mile is bad 4wd road but luckily Evan’s Tundra Toy (ota) had the clearance and the low range for it.

Quite a few hikers on the trail, but not many backpackers. Kid backpacking has shown this to be a good strategy for the crowded Colorado backcountry - backpack on a dayhike trail and camp just a mile or two in. This gets away from the 4wd campers, and once the evening comes on, the country empties out wonderfully.

Progress was slow, as there were backpack adjustments to be made about every 100 yards. The smallest child found his pack to be unbearable, so I wound up with 50lbs on my back and 15lbs in one hand. This is doubtless good strength training. Oh well, as long as it gets him out of the house. I'd packed a variety of junk food to entertain them at the frequent rest stops.

We were a bit late for the wildflowers. These I believe to be Gentiana alpina. The next picture is certainly Fireweed or as the British say, Rosebay Willowherb. It always makes me think of Alaska. When we visited eighteen years ago in autumn (August), the fireweed was flourishing in the clearcuts.

While we rested in the meadow, the others went to reconnoiter for a campsite. They found a nice flat island where the creek split around it, about a half-mile square, whistle pigs (yellow-bellied marmots) all around. Here's a Google Map of the campsite. Go down from the marker on the map, which is just by the trail, to the little open space with the crick bending around S of it. Switch to the 'Terrain' view and zoom out, for an idea of the topography. Although we hiked just 1.5 miles in, it was 800 feet of climbing.

The crick here is tiny, just a good jump across, with cutthroat trout that are probably the Yellowstone subspecies stocked in earlier years. These are in the wrong place, strictly speaking, but the habitat is close enough that they seem to be doing well. I caught some plump cheerful 9-10” and I’m sure there are bigger ones living quietly in pools back in the woods.

The views from camp couldn't be beat. We had a quiet night for the most part. The two youngest boys were in a tent on their own, with only stuffed animals and a small Maglite as defense against the night noises. I expected to have to offer shelter at 1 am, once the marmots or ground squirrels came around prospecting, but they made it through the night. C said he heard an extremely angry squirrel chittering at some dark hour.

Next day we pottered another 1.5 miles and 1000ft up to the lakes. C clambered up then ran down a big boulder, luckily just fell and skinned his knee. I had this vision of him falling off the wrong side of the boulder and bouncing a hundred feet down, so he got yells instead of sympathy for his sore knee. Quoth he to his brother later that day, “here on a silver platter, you can see why I prefer the indoors to the outdoors”.

The lakes are at 12200 approx, a good stiff climb up there, rewarded by the usual gorgeous high mountain views and wildflowers.

Small caddisfly were skittering across the lake and getting walloped by the fish in big splashy rises. We weren't very successful predators. I got one brookie on a #12 caddis, didn’t have anything small enough to match the hatch.

Young I worked on his flyfishing skills: rollcasting, and disentangling the result of a roll cast gone bad. He's making good progress, I wish he'd been rewarded with a fish. The brookie used up all our luck for the day I think.

Two hirsute fishing guides came down from the upper lake with a goofy black Lab puppy. They said the fish were cutts and brookies, allowed as to how they got a few but were cagey about the details.

Then it was time to beat feet out and back to the city. Both sets of children had highly-scheduled weeks ahead of them; we were supposed to deliver them home in good time for showers and general prep. In fact we rolled in around 11pm. Evan and I compared notes on the comfort of our respective doghouses, to see where we might be better off. C said he loved going into the doghouse - he's all set for married life.

H stayed home with Artie, to do some housepainting prior to putting said house on the market. While I was out having fun she was home toiling so I didn’t even get any dadly points for entertaining and educating the chilluns. Still it was worth it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Farewell my Subaru

"Cars are cars, all over the world 
drive them on the left, drive them on the right 
susceptible to theft, in the middle of the night
 but people are strange.."

Paul Simon, Cars, on Hearts and Bones (1983) 
The gummint will now give you $4500 for your old clunker car - see for details. One of the catches is it has to get 18mpg or less on the EPA combined mileage estimates. Both our cars are heading for that 200 000 mile mark, though the Subaru is aging far more gracefully than the Toyota. We'd planned to craigslist the horrible heap'o'junk Sienna and keep the Subaru: but it gets 18mpg, the other 19. That $4500 sounded its death knell. 

 Last night driving back from the dealer, I put Springsteen on the tape deck, opened the sunroof and let the wind whip the tears from my cheeks. The Subaru was the first sober respectable car we bought, to transport new baby boy who is now a smart-mouth preteen. Even though it looked like a station wagon, the turbo made it into my secret rocket sled. 'Rosebud'. I never did find out how fast it could go. The speedometer goes to 140mph, once took it up to 120 on the way to Santa Fe: the car was perfectly willing to go faster but my nerve failed. 

 Now we have the first, the last, the only new car I'll ever buy, a shiny happy Honda Fit. It doesn't have anything in the way of personality, which is my word for the dings dents and leaky sunroof of my fine old Subaru. Helen has a different word for its condition. Once it was broken into in a parking lot while surrounded by new SUVs, though nothing was stolen. My theory is that it looked like a doper's car, and the thieves were looking for money for dope, so they decided to go straight for the source as it were.

Now I'm driving the minivan, which feels like a procession of one going down the road. It's comfortable, quiet, and powerful but tends to proceed in a stately fashion, rather than nip around. Of course you have to remember my dream car was and is the 1982 Ford Econoline adapted to a camper van. It was a getaway car - all we needed for a weekend away was a few bits of food, ice and beer. Everything else was already loaded. It had lots of personality too. New cars are overrated, plus that 'new-car smell' is actually pthalates and extremely bad for you. Bah humbug.

(apologies to Doug Fine, I pinched his title and made it mine) 

 Update April 2010: On a macro level, it looks now as if the the clunkers program was a highly effective stimulus. The authors conclude, "A plausible interpretation of the available data, in fact, is that many of the CARS sales were to the kinds of thrifty people who can afford to buy a new car but normally wait until the old one is thoroughly worn out." I'm busted.

Friday, June 26, 2009

boiled frogs and lions

James Fallows has his quixotic struggle against the boiled frog cliche. In solidarity, I am now taking arms against the stupid, mendacious, cruel "when the sun comes up, you'd better be running" so-called motivational running quote, not for the first time. My hope was that it would vanish into well-deserved obscurity. Now, in Christopher McDougall's book Born to Run, comfortably placed on the bestseller lists, he attributes it to Roger Bannister. That attribution is creeping into the internets too, for example at the ironically-named factsleuth site.

Here's the quote. "Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle - when the sun comes up, you'd better be running."

I cannot prove Roger Bannister never said it but am entirely convinced that no-one can prove he did say it. Sir Bannister is a scientist, on the evidence of his life and 'The Four-Minute Mile' a careful thoughtful man, who would not knowingly say a false thing. The entirety of this farrago of nonsense is false.

Let me break it down: Gazelles don't wake up in the morning, because they don't sleep at night. Lions don't wake up in the morning, because they hunt at night or early in the morning before sunrise. Lions don't run down their prey, instead stalk it and then pounce, like a domestic cat writ large and terrible. In the morning when the sun comes up, the gazelles may safely graze around the lions, who are probably lounging happily near the carcass of last night's dinner. The time to worry is when the sun goes down, and running won't help you then.

A bravura performance by whoever wrote this, a whole paragraph without a single true fact. I saw it first on a motivational poster in a Fortune 500 company office, its natural habitat. It was doubtless composed by some ignorant cubicle corporate drone in a flop sweat, fabricating motivation for other wage slaves; to sell posters to executives who think talking on the phone and tinkering with spreadsheets qualify as work.

In terms of running quotes, it's a blight and an excrescence. The facts matter. Falsity must be opposed at every level. If you take falsity as your token in small things then how will you resist its blandishments in the large things ? Even on the surface level, perhaps it's just me, but I don't find inspiration in the fear of starving or being eaten. Terror is a fine goad and entirely appropriate to most corporate cultures, but fear is not why I run. If you want inspirational running quotes, Sir Bannister's book is a good place to start. On running as a child: "I had found a new source of power and beauty, a source I never dreamt existed". Power and beauty: this sounds ridiculous if you don't run, still it is neither more nor less than the truth.
There, I feel better now.

A few notes on Born to Run (whoops, wrong Born to Run, but I think we should acknowledge prior art). Of course I enjoyed the book, it's about running after all so I am bound and determined to interest at the very least. The first few chapters took me aback with their overcaffeinated, Outside magazine neo-gonzo, jaguars-ripped-my-flesh kind of prose. Fortunately it settled down after that, but as a whole it seems a pastiche of magazine articles roughly stitched together. Many of the articles were interesting, though. The standard of research is often poor, as in the misattributed quote that started me off.

Another observation on aging runners - Dr Bramble is interviewed, who says that according to New York marathon times, sixty-four-year-olds are competitive with nineteen-year-olds. This seemed wrong to me. I know my times at sixty-four (when I get old, and losing my hair, many years from now) will be a lot slower than I was running at 19. 

Checking with the WMA Age-grading calculator, using a 21-minute 5k, that performance at age 19 is roughly equivalent to the same time at... age 35. At age sixty-four, that performance is roughly equivalent to a 17-minute 5k by a nineteen-year-old. The same proportions apply to marathon times. 

The WMA calculator uses world age group records as one of its inputs. Looking at the NY Marathon results for 2009, Dr. Bramble's numbers are confirmed: top 3 for 19 and under have times 2:55 to 3:09, top 3 for 60-64 are 2:58 to 3:04. Looking at world age group records, 19 is 2:10, 64 is 2:42. That rather makes a nonsense of the NY marathon times, and the whole contention that sixty-year-olds can compete with the young guns.

Another age-based calculator that uses world bests only, can be found here.
The study on which it is based finds "the estimates show linear percent decline between age 35 and about age 70." That only addresses the aging side of the equation though. Also, I'd contend that using world bests only has an inherent bias. Most runners reach a personal peak after five to ten years of consistent training, and it's very rare that this peak can be sustained for more than a few years. Look at the list of world bests for the marathon, linked above: there aren't many names that appear more than once, those that do are not far apart in time. 

Update May 2020:
Speculation confirmed in a new study by Prof. Jason Hall. This used 40 years of data from the Crim 10-mile race to track performances of aging runners. 
58,599 observations from 6,666 individual runners show a consistent decline about 1.1 percent each year for men, 0.9 percent for women, at ages 35 and up. As the paper notes, "the rate of decline is considerably faster than the world record times for age recommended by the USATF for age-grading." So, "Using world best times as a benchmark understates the effects of aging on performance."
- end update.

The WMA calculator also uses age-grading factors from the Masters Track website, motto: "older, slower, lower". I can get behind that.

The mysterious Caballo Blanco has a website where some later history of the Great Race can be found. It is sadder than the story in the book of course.

The story of Louis Liebenberg was fascinating. He was studying philosophy of science in the early 80s at the University of Cape Town when he had an epiphany about the origins of science, believing that tracking animals was the motivation for the scientific method. I took that same course in 1979. The professor was an eccentric who would show up, talk rapidly and eloquently throughout the lecture, then stride out of the room in mid-sentence on the pip of the hour. No epiphanies for me, though I did get a lot of running done, mostly in the forests on the slopes of Table Mountain.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

dogs and children

C (7) hurt himself in some fashion, rooting around in the basement in pursuit of a special Lego piece. He refused consolation from his mother, heading instead for the sleeping dog under the coffee table, where he got loving face-licks for ten minutes. According to C, Artie is better at comforting than Mom, since "Artie doesn't press for details".

yurt raising

Memorial Day weekend turned into four days straight: working construction in Palisade, to get the deck down and yurt up. I forgot the camera, so the first picture skates blithely past a days' work of finishing and framing the first subfloor.

Here Keith and I are slicing and installing insulation below the second subfloor. The fibreglass made me cough, probably should have worn a mask. Keith's t-shirt says in Dutch 'horen, zien.. en suipen' which translates in Afrikaans (kitchen Dutch) to 'hear, see, and get happily drunk'. In Dutch the meaning is the same, but there is an extra layer since it's a corruption of "Horen, zien en zwijgen", the Confucian edict.

Rain stopped play quite often. This ensured the insulation got nicely saturated. The menfolk hoped this would translate to a stinky mould infestation, so the yurt would become a man cave, unsuitable for wifely habitation. Here, most of the second subfloor is down and wet, and the bender boards are getting bent around it. Eventually the skirt of the yurt (pause for Marilyn Monroe flashback) is screwed to the bender boards.

Two monkeys in a tree, with hangers-on. The lattice is expanded around the inside of the bender boards, and screwed to the floor. What this means, is the entire structure is dependent on the floor's structural integrity. Hm. The scaffolding holds up the center ring of the yurt, as will become clear.

Young Fernando (orange shirt) works with Keith, came along for a bit of mountain biking, plus helped out with yurting.
We drank all his beer - thought we'd be picking up the necessary from the Palisade Brewery, but never quite got off our duffs and the work site. Sorry Fernando..

While on the subject of youth, Farmer Thomas' daughters were around on the first day. Their track and cross-country spikes were in a box on the back porch, awaiting some event. I had a look at the shoes; a lot better than the Nike Elite waffle shoe which was state-of-the-art at the close of my x-c career. The younger daughter and her boyfriend were setting off for a summer of living in a van in Buena Vista, working as raft guides on the Arkansas river. It's one of my favorite whitewater rivers. I was talking to them about paddling, camping and all kinds of groovy things, but kept getting called 'Sir'. While I appreciate the courtesy, it makes me feel old enough to be their father .. wait a minute, I am.. Oy.

This morning I left Artie the Wonder Dog leashed to a tree, so he wouldn’t get into mischief in the 10 minutes between me leaving the campsite and H following. Some child unleashed him, a different child went into the hen run to play with the chickens and left the door open, carnage ensued. Ian reports Artie came out grinning broadly through a mouthful of feathers, 'mmm, tastes just like pheasant'. One of the girl childs screamed loudly enough that the neighboring farmers came out to have a look. Everyone thinks Artie is an evil dog now, but he's just a dog who likes birds, really. The rooster was still walking when we left, not sure of the longterm prognosis though.

Evan has the instructions. We have nothing to fear but Evan himself.

The central ring looks alarmingly toothy.

OK, so far so good. Now where does the rest of the rocket go ?

A steel cable runs around the top of the lattice, secured by a hook that says '2T limit'. The entire weight of the roof plus any forces generated by the winds depends on the frail lattice. Presumably some vector of the forces is actually outward, onto the cable, but it looks implausible. The background on the right is rows of incipient potatoes.

Practicing for when everything's finished, and we can relax on our shady deck. It may never happen, so we have to seize the day.

A layer of insulation goes over a liner. It comes in halves which have to be taped together. Brian invented a giant Q-tip to press the tape down, here he employs it under our admiring gaze.

Ommm.. here in the center of the mandala, perhaps we can get levitation..

Raising the roof. A couple of people on scaffold-stabilization; two on a rope on the left out of the picture; Thomas and Evan on top; and three of us boosting it from below. A good roar (me on the L) clears the pipes, and might even help with lifting it. I don't remember yelling though, makes me wonder what else happens during the day that I'm missing.

The roof unrolls on each side and is gradually unfurled. We had to wait for a lull in the winds to get it up, to avoid a Mary Poppins moment.

The walls then get unrolled around the lattice, and laced to the roof by a kind of crocheting of rope loops and grommets. No pictures of this, as the wind was picking up and it was all hands on deck. No further pictures either, as we were hoping to get home before the early AM and were focused on work. No such luck in the event - last screw driven at 6pm, a chukar running around the farmhouse as we packed up in the rain, home by 1am in torrential rains.

Finally. There's a spacy plastic dome on top, for light: it can also be opened a bit, to let the breezes through. Now all we have to do is put a floor over the particleboard, add railings so kids/dogs don’t fall off the high side, and make a bathroom arrangement. .. oh well. As Thomas said, soon we'll be coming up to clear out the under-yurt storage. Right now it's beautifully open, spacious and light in there.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

rainy day

Here in Seattle-by-the-Rockies, it's been raining for what feels like a month. The grass is lush and soggy. Taking Artie for a walk on the long leash, he runs circles around me dragging the rope through the wetness. The green belt is full of rabbits, which the owls and the coyotes appreciate. When the dog takes off, half-crazed with bunny lust, after one of these, the rope snaps taut: throwing off spray and an occasional rainbow.

Meantime the boys are on summer break, constructing cities and subterranean caverns of Lego on every flat surface in the house. When this palls, Ian painted the grey skies and trees outside the kitchen window. The yellow tree is a honey locust, its leaves a bright green on the yellow side of the spectrum.

Here's the picture with a background of sordid domestic detritus.

In closeup,

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The dog that didn't bark

The Barkin' Dog Duathlon, 5k run/30k bike/5k run, now in Cherry Creek State Park. It used to be in Keenesburg, CO, "Home of 500 Happy people and a few soreheads" and featured an utterly flat 30k with one turnaround. There was the occasional agricultural by-product to dodge on the way, but it was a good ride. The farmer's dogs would come out and bark at the bikes, hence the name. The run went along a dirt road next to the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad which gave the town its reason, now the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe. At times we'd be hurting ourselves along the road as a massive freight train rumbled by, "ground tremble birdseed fly in all directions", made me feel like a small fragile mammal. Eventually the few soreheads tired of roads clogged with Lycra-clad freaks and the race had to move. In Cherry Creek the locals still don't like Lycra-clad freaks but at least they're used to us.

Last year race day was cold and rainy, perfectly miserable weather for bike riding. Today's forecast was for the same, but in the event was clear and cool. I'd decided to do two 5k runs with a jog in the middle if it was raining. The over-45s all started together, with a modicum of creaking and groaning. A mop of white hair shot to the front and was last seen streaking through the woods - turned out to be Scott Hajicek, 54, running a 17:13 first 5k. It's been twenty years since I could run that fast. In the last 3 Dogs I've done:
first 5k, 19:59, 19:53, 19:54
second 5k, 21:20, 21:30, 21:10
I haven't broken 19:50 on a standalone 5k in ten years. Today's race was 19:05 first, 20:10 second. This was entirely due to a new pair of Newton shoes. They have four fat lugs on the forefoot which are supposed to encourage 'good running form', whatever that is. I didn't really believe it but will try anything once, especially now I'm old fat slow and desperate. The shoe is essentially flat - height of forefoot including lugs is the same as the heel. This I suspect is the key. Whatever it is, a 5% improvement from shoes is astonishing. Now I'm on the hook for $160 for new Newtons every year, dagnabbit.

The 19:05 was good only for 6th place in the over-45s. We are very serious old guys: old enough to have the money to buy aero goodies and engage in the whole arms race of buying speed with bike bits; old enough that we've either made our pile, or have given up trying, so have time to train; young enough that there's something left to train with; "made weak by time and fate", but denying it with all the strength left to us. Though perhaps I speak only for myself, in which case strike out the bit about 'made our pile'.

Duathlons tend to attract strong runners who can't swim and don't bike much, so my relative weakness on the bike becomes a relative strength in these races. The bike too had a winter makeover. Brand new used Hed aerobars, plus high-end tubular tires to replace the Continental Sprinters, which are sturdy but slow. Thanks to AFM, whose indefatigable testing of tires has produced the reference database of rolling resistance, for the idea. To my surprise, spending $100 per tire instead of $50 per tire, does produce a difference in the ride quality. Bike aficionados tend to witter on about 'ride quality' but I've always figured a racing bike is going to hurt and there's no doing anything about that. However these new tubulars produce a distinctly pleasurable sensation, even on the ruts and potholes of the Cherry Creek road. They are also faster I think, though the effect is not currently measurable as the new aerobars confound things.

The aerobars are carbon, which I've previously avoided on general principles. Several different carbon fly rods have exploded in my hand while casting: this is not a problem when footling about in pursuit of fish and standing foursquare on the good hard ground; but exploding handlebars at 25mph, suspended several feet above that same hard ground by two square inches of rubber, would be over-exciting. A lust for speed induced the sleep of reason so now I'm riding carbon. The trick is to not overtighten the bolts holding everything together, a torque wrench is a necessity. My bike mechanic-skills were all learnt by making mistakes in a poorly lit garage at 11pm, after the day's work is done. Wrenching on carbon provides an opportunity for new mistakes.

I’d adjusted the length of the aerobar extensions and timidly tightened the retaining bolts to what seemed appropriate. Descending from Cherry Creek dam road at 30+mph, the right-hand extension came loose. This was still manageable, steered with the elbows on the pads, held the loose bar with one hand and shifted with the other. I thought, "as long as the LH one stays solid, I can finish" so of course about 5km later the LH one comes off too. Stopped, jammed them back in, tried to start uphill in a big gear, cramped, got off the bike and downshifted, retried. This was very annoying as I'd been on schedule for sub-45 minutes over the 30k, which would have been a new land speed record for me, averaging close to 25mph. Bashed on regardless, cradling the extensions in a delicate yet firm grip, to the transition.

As usual both calf muscles cramped rigid in the first few steps of the second run. I'd worn compression socks for the full tri-geek look, also to see if it would help with the cramps, but no luck. Peglegged along for a quarter mile or so, then they began to relent. Mr CEO Challenge, Ted Kennedy, had repassed me on the bike during the equipment malfunction, and was slowly dwindling into the distance. Chased, but did not have the legs for it.

At the end of it all I'd won the 45-9 age group by 20s, and 41s ahead of 3rd place. There were four 50+ guys ahead of me though, so felt a bit of a fraud. On the other hand, I've been fourth in AG at races where I'd have placed in every AG but my own: call it karma and feel no shame. The awards are always a nice beer glass with a howling dog on it. I've heard several people complaining about the awards, having too many of these glasses, but that's not a problem for me. In fact the boys usually fight over who gets the dog glass, so I'm very happy to have two now.

There were several dogs at the finish, none of them barking. Most notable, a big Newfoundland the size of a small island, slobbering genially at us all.

Picture from bike leg is here, looking agonized in full aero tri-geek mode.

Racing is a kind of addiction. The reward is an altered state of consciousness, more precisely the obnubilation of consciousness, a holiday from the quotidian: "the strong life; it is life in extremis". This is true, win or lose: but there are many ways to win, and only one way to lose: which is to let winning matter.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Calvin's eschatology

Dinner-table conversation with the 7-year old. Calvin prompted the dialogue,
C: if I go to heaven where you enjoy yourself being good, but I enjoy being mischievous, how will I enjoy myself in heaven ?
Aged P: maybe you'll live a long time, become an old man like me, then you won't want to be mischievous.
C: do you think you get to choose how old you are in heaven ? How old would you like to be ?
A P: I'd like to be as old as I am when I die, with all my memories: but a 25-year-old body.
C: I think I'd like to be six. Or seven.
.. tires of talking, heads off to climb into the dog's crate with him, an activity C terms 'fur therapy'. I tried to take a picture of this, but Artie saw an opportunity to get in an affectionate lick on my chin. All I captured was two loving brown eyes, closing fast.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Arches NP

This carefully-framed pic elides the popup camper next door, fully equipped with a generator which ran reliably during all permitted hours. In my simpleness I thought the infernal machine could be run for some period within those hours; but the neighbours believed in the ants' dictum, 'everything not forbidden is compulsory'. Breakfast and dinner were accompanied by its steady brrrr. Otherwise, an excellent site, moderately sheltered from the cruel month's winds, with an unbeatable view across the sandstones to the La Sal mountains. The sand was fine and soft, marvellous below the sleeping bag, not so good as a companion in it.

The boys scampered up the rocks to find a sunny warm spot for re-reading the entire Calvin & Hobbes oeuvre.

A short hike from the campground gets us to Broken Arch, which is not in fact Broken. At kid hike pace, stopping to examine and discuss lizard versus snake trails in the sand, create sandslides, pick up attractive bits of sandstone, etc etc: this hike took nearly 3 hours. On another morning I ran the loop in 18 minutes. Still, the journey's the thing.

Broken Arch from below. There's a goodly bite out of it, and a crack across the narrows so it may not be long. On another day we hiked past Wall Arch which isn't there anymore.

From the top of the arch, views to La Sal. The mountains were clouded and snowy all the time we were there. Somewhere in the dead ground between here and there is the Colorado river. Our last trip on that section is essayed earlier in this screed.

Quoth young C, "I'm enjoying myself in two different ways. It's fun climbing on the rocks, and it's fun making you nervous".

SandDune Arch, good for an hour's innocent amusement. Surely there must be a way to climb up top and teeter precariously above one's aged parent ?

Sunset on red rocks.

We'd planned a nice easy bike ride on the Bar M loop but I managed to snap the rear derailleur cable on the Schwinn Continental. It was only 18 years old, can't imagine why it broke. Of course I had a full set of cables and housing languishing in the garage at home for the last several years, awaiting my pleasure. There was a bucket'o'tools in the car, using for a bit of deck construction in Palisade on the way over, but no cable. We needed to visit Arty the Wonder Dog in town anyway, at his lodgings with the Moab vet, so back to town.

I walked into Uranium Bicycles and waited for the owner to finish selling a $6k Wilier frameset with Dura-Ace tubeless wheels, probably a good $10k overall. Then I asked him about fixing a cable on a shamefully dirty $25 bike. He couldn't do the job before the next day and I didn't want to drive the hour-plus back to town, so he was kind enough to cut housing and sell me a cable for $6. They have some beautiful road bikes for rent, thought briefly of getting one for a long ride through Arches: eheu fugaces, I have children and dogs and a campfire to attend to. I replaced the cable while Arty got a walk through the cow pies at the vets'.

Weather rather shut down over the next few days, windy and cold. It rained the last night, then froze. The drive home as always took place through a blizzard.