Saturday, December 08, 2007

Half Measures


AA is full of slogans that can sound rather shallow if you don't work a program. But if you do: well, they are guiding beacons for action.

The slogans I've been thinking a lot about lately are these:
  • Half measures avail us none
  • You'll always get what you've always gotten, if you always do what you've always done (not sure this is a slogan, but it sure is a commonly heard saying)
  • Just do it (I know, that's Nike, not 12 Step, but hey, it works)
I'm planning three semi-solo, semi-self-contained cycling tours next riding season--home to south GA, home to NH, and Seattle to Eugene, OR. Some of you know I'm not a fan of the hills. Prefer the ups to the downs, but really try to avoid both. (Living in Chicago with an elevation of 600' and the biggest climb being a boat slip or a highway overpass makes me smile with contentment). But such won't be the case in the southeast, northeast or pacific northwest.

How does a 62 y.o. female, recumbent rider improve in power and strength when my fast twitch fibers are diminishing as fast as my hair is graying! Here's a little physiology, if you're interested. If not scroll down to: "But us old folks..."

Human muscles contain a genetically determined mixture of both slow and fast fiber types. On average, we have about 50 percent slow twitch and 50 percent fast twitch fibers in most of the muscles used for movement.

Slow Twitch (Type I)
The slow twitch fibers are more efficient at using oxygen to generate more fuel (known as ATP) for continuous, extended muscle contractions over a long time. They fire more slowly than fast twitch fibers and can go for a long time before they fatigue. Therefore, slow twitch fibers are great at helping athletes run marathons and bicycle for hours. That's why us older cyclists love the ultra distance, like double centuries, PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris 750 miles in 90 hours or less).

Fast Twitch (Type II)
Because fast twitch fibers use anaerobic metabolism to create fuel, they are much better at generating short bursts of strength or speed than slow muscles. (The sprinters) However, they fatigue more quickly. Fast twitch fibers generally produce the same amount of force per contraction as slow muscles, but they get their name because they are able to fire more rapidly. Having more fast twitch fibers can be an asset to a sprinter since she needs to quickly generate a lot of force. Fast twitch is the first to go, and goes rapidly the older we get :-(


But, us old folks are trainable.
Instead of joining my PAC Tour buddies at Desert Camp this February, I decided I needed to hire a cycling coach to help me build some strength and power into these old, endurance legs of mine, so I won't be so intimidated by the hills, euphemism for mountains. With the help of my physical therapist, LB, (yep, recovery from my back ills is still a daily reprieve needing regular attention by the professionals), I found my way to a cycling coach out of Bend, OR, Carpe Diem Coaching By Bowen.

So, since November 19th, and I anticipate through March, I will be doing lots and lots of work in my trainer using my PowerTap wheel. I'm able to download all the data off my PowerTap cycling computer to my laptop and then upload the results of my workout to Bart Bowen, my cycling coach. He is then able to give me feedback as well as adjust my workouts accordingly.

I can hardly wait for the snow to melt to go up to Wisconsin to New Glarus or Mt. Horab and check out my new strength! Never thought I'd hear myself saying such travesty as looking forward to a hill. :)

Mighty Mice







The dead mouse count is up to 14; no idea what the live-in-the-walls mouse count is. But I'm sure they've had plenty of time to recapitulate and multiply.

We have tried Aerex, the local pest control panel van; our mice survive the decon.

We have tried putting our Fletcher's food dish in the refrigerator cutting off the mice's food source. All we got from that was Fletcher prancing and howling over our sleeping bodies for food in the middle of the night. Why, you ask, doesn't Fletcher catch the mice? Well, he's 16 1/2 and is on Feline Social Security Disability. He actually was a mighty hunter in his younger day bringing home bunny and bird head trophies, quite a feat (feet) when he has no front claws.

We hired Sears ($165) to come clean the inside of the gas oven, down under the sub-flooring, where the mice population pooped and pooped, and pooped some more while stashing a WHOLE BOWL of Fletcher's kibbles.

I have set qzillion mouse traps, the spring loaded kind, and they learned to snatch the cheese without even springing the trip wire. Peanut butter does seem to work better; they have to linger, none of this drive through, grab and go fast food stuff. But how many nights am I willing to set traps?

We've tried the sticky pads; boy I hate those. We did catch one that way; he/she drug the whole rat-sized pad under the stove! The rest sit in the ready position. They have learned to just walk around them.

It's in the teens around here with 6+ inches of snow on the ground (maybe the snow will keep them warm??) and probably not an ideal time for construction folks to seal off any cracks in the foundation.

But I am hopeful. Maria, a friend of ours, suggested two VICTOR products. (I'll call them VICTORY products, if they end up working. Anyhow, one is a high frequency sound blaster you plug into your wall outlet making your room a hostile environment for your rodent population. The other is a little trap/box that when entered the mouse steps on a little pad it is electrocuted instantly via a charge from 4 AA batteries. We'll see, my fingers are crossed.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Beta Volae!

When I felt the right edge of the Volae seat back ridging my spine bones, I thought it was me. I'm just not sitting straight. When my right leg kept swiping the steering column, I thought it was me, or maybe I had just not noticed that the steering column was a little off and just needed to be centered up.

But when I got home and dropped the kickstand and it wouldn't support the bike, I thought: "Well, it's not me. It's the bike! But what is it about the bike?? Then I saw. The rear half of the frame had rotated 15-20 degrees to the left! YIKES. How do you ride across the country on a trick bike??

Talked to the good folks at the Hostel Shoppe the next day. Neither they nor I knew I would be a beta tester, but twas true. So, a new frame is in the making for me with an added stop bolt, akin to something Vision had used successfully on some of their recumbents. The downside? Well, it will take 6 weeks to ready the new frame. The upside? That's easy. A problem solved (hopefully) and some cement to help hold my current frame solid while I wait for the new one.

The moral of this story? If you're planning some long distance cycling and you buy a new bike, make sure you have enough cush time in case your frame twists, or something akin to that. :)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Voila Volae

































At long last! Joanne and I took our little road trip to Stevens Point, WI to the Hostel Shoppe the last weekend in October to pick up my Volae Century. It isn't coupled but can be taken apart and put in a traditional bike crate for shipping/transport. I actually bought the first such bike! That's kinda cool. I had known for about a year that Rolf Garthus had this bike in the design wing. When Bike Friday's recumbent called the Sat 'R Day didn't work out for me, I was hopeful that the "take apart" Volae would fill the bill for the semi-solo, semi-self-contained riding I have planned for 2008 to Georgia, Eugene, OR, and NH.

I test rode the bike at the Recumbent Rally last August and it seemed like it would be a winner. But, there was waiting to be done. Waiting for it to get manufactured, painted, and assembled by Waterford and the Hostel Shoppe, and I had to get back from the foiled Cochise Ride.

Joanne was curious if a recumbent trike might be a possibility for her. From the moment we walked into the Shoppe the Anura (the yellow trike above) seemed to have her name on it. We went out to dinner that night and tried to come up with a list of deal breakers and all we could come up with was a list of needed accessories for it.

I headed out in the early morning dark to test ride my new bike ( I call it Glimmer because its paint coat is called Iron Glimmer and to distinguish it from my P-38 which I call Green; you guessed it, because it is green) Joanne met me in Amherst for breakfast. We worked some more on reasons not to buy the Anura but our list of accessories just kept growing.

After brekfast Joanne headed back to the Shoppe, and I continued my ride. By the time I got back to the Shoppe the Anura was rigged with all the accessories and Joanne was ready to ride.

Now let me tell you how amazing my Nissan Quest is. It handedly got the 81" long Anura and my Volae (in its packing crate) in my van. There was room for another bike, two more passengers and all of our luggage. Pretty good rig, I'd say.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Probably Rhabdomyolysis--Cochise Finale

There are six posts below this one, all created on Monday, October 15th, detailing the Cochise Classic Experience. If, however, you want a quick summary, well, here it is.

After only 27 miles, 2 hours and 15 minutes, and a 2,000 foot climb we sat on top the mountain considering options. I felt terrible so we turned around, went back to the motel, crawled back in bed at 5:30 a.m.and slept for three hours and then returned to Tucson.

It was a sign of growth in wisdom and self-care to choose to abort the effort in light of all the investment in getting that far. But it was easy for me to foresee the huge medical hole I would need to climb out of had I gone forward.

The way I've put it together is Rhabdomyolysis secondary to the crush-type injury two weeks ago (L leg), compartment syndrome secondary to the climbing effort, cumulative exertional overload; and renal struggles.

Rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of muscle fibers resulting in the release of muscle fiber contents into the circulation. Some of these are toxic to the kidney and frequently result in kidney damage. Some relevant possible causes:

Myoglobin is an oxygen-binding protein pigment found in the skeletal muscle. When the skeletal muscle is damaged, the myoglobin is released into the bloodstream. It is filtered out of the bloodstream by the kidneys. Myoglobin may block the structures of the kidney, causing damage such as acute tubular necrosis or kidney failure.

Myoglobin breaks down into potentially toxic compounds, which will also cause kidney failure. Necrotic (dead tissue) skeletal muscle may cause massive fluid shifts from the bloodstream into the muscle, reducing the relative fluid volume of the body, and leading to shock and reduced blood flow to the kidneys.

Monday, October 15, 2007

This Much I Know Is True

Training and planning could not have been more perfectly fastidious, redundancy intended: more than 10,000 miles on the bike from January 1, 2007 to Cochise; in the neighborhood of 25 hundred-mile rides half of which were greater than 120 miles including two 150's, a 175, a 185 and a 200, as well as multiple back2backs. I tapered respectfully the last 4-6 weeks prior to the Cochise.

I did have The Big BAM on Old Grand (see post by same name) two weeks before Cochise. While not much to look at on the continuum of nasties, the tendons and ligaments attaching to the heads of the Tibia and Fibia were badly avulsed/strained/sprained, and the belly of the Peroneus (front, lateral calf muscle) would swell with exertion, and continued to do so up to the time of the Cochise.

I shipped boxes of supplies to Daniel's in Tucson--extra wheels, tools, tubes, Hammer fuel, Hammer supplements, plenty of Hammer Gel, Clif Bars. My lighting system was perfecto, thanks to Lon and Larry; couldn't want for anything more for comfortable, safe, night riding.

I learned tons from riding with PAC Tour the last couple of years and crewing for RAAM earlier this summer--what was needed in the support vehicle and what I needed from my crew. I loaded the rented Dodge Caravan with an ice chest loaded with perishable rider and crew food as well as loaded five other milk crates: one with 1st aid, one with tools, one with extra clothes, one with cleaning supplies and paper products, like TP, and one with non-perishable rider and crew food.

I couldn't want for a more willing and dedicated crew: Bryan and Daniel--both are cyclists, doing the commuting thing now, but Bryan rode competitively as a teen going to Junior Nationals twice. He also did some serious snow boarding when he was an undergrad at CU-Bolder and even more serious surf-boarding when he lived in Santa Cruz. He knows a lot about putting it all out there on the line, trusting that your skills and experience are sufficient to respond to what the elements and the quirks of your body and spirit throw at you hoping, praying that all of those come together on that given day for a safe, "in the zone" performance of a life-time.

Bryan arrived on time from Eugene; we left on-time for Douglas arriving in plenty of time to leisurely settle into the Motel 6, Douglas's finest. I took the bike for a little test ride to the 1909 vintage Douglas YMCA, the registration headquarters for the 350 riders, only 32 of whom will be riding the 252 mile Challenge Ride. The Y will also be the site of the 6:30 Friday night spaghetti dinner that will precede the final instructions for the 157 and 252 mile riders.

Bryan, Daniel and I took a walk to the start/finish which was just 4 blocks from the Y and I got some cash from the ATM in the event that they needed supplies in the desert from retailers unprepared to deal in plastic.

We were back at the hotel by 8:00; in bed by 8:30 hoping for some sleep before the 1:00 a.m. wake-up call.

Night

The final instructions from the Cochise organizers did not induce pastel-colored butterflies of Ambien sleep. In fact, when I laid my head on the Motel 6 pillow at 8:30 p.m. hoping for 4 1/2hours of sleep before the wake-up alarm bells blared, my heart was pounding with such ferocious anxiety quarters bounced off my belly.

What made the difference? I was not intimidated by the distance in the least. I had good lights. I had even climbed and descended the 2,000 foot Mule Pass from Douglas to Bisbee (reaching an altitude of just over 6,000'), albeit in the light of day, when I rode Cochise's 157 in 2004 and at PAC Desert Camp in 2007.

But descending in the dark reaching speeds of 45-50 with a shimmy in the steering column at those speeds, still nursing my wounded left leg, kidneys, adrenal, and gut from The Big BAM on September 30th left me with a shimmy in my Motel 6 cocoon.

Shortly after reaching the bottom of Mule Pass I'd pick up I-10 at Benson for 100 miles. We were told at the ride meeting that the shoulder was full of large chunks of truck retreads, crunchy pavement all overgrown with grass and weeds. That's what you can see. What you can't see are the little surgical steel fine pieces of wire that spit off the truck retreads and reek havoc with bike tires yielding predictable flats.

Crew are allowed to leap-frog the rider until I-10 (crew catches up with rider, pulls off the road, waits till rider disappears + five minutes and then rides up to rider again, repeating the process again and again). Once on I-10, crew is not allowed to follow or leap-frog the rider until after getting off I-10. Crew can wait for the rider at the bottom of the exit; the rider can exit, check in with crew and then return to I-10. Crew advances to the next exit. Cell phone reception is sketchy from I-10 to Douglas--lack of towers. If the rider were not to arrive when expected, crew would back-track on I-10 and go find the rider. That was our plan.

The plan, too, was that crew could not begin to follow riders until 30 minutes after the riders were released from the start. Bryan and Daniel would "sleep in" till 2:00 preparing to leave from the hotel at 2:30 and to catch me somewhere about 45 minutes into my ride. This can work.

27 Miles

The 32 cyclists were escorted through the three turns out of town. I'm sure all 17,000 Douglasonians were sound asleep as we snaked through 10th Street to Pan American (the Mexican border is less than a mile south of our start), and then on to Route 80 West. The escort was way more ceremonial than safety-necessary.

I was probably half-way back in the pack so had a most glorious view. Oh, how I wish I had a digital capture. Imagine, if you can, a string of tiny, red, blinking tail lights serpentining through the twists of the night road, climbing, climbing to summit Mule Pass. Each rider had two or three tail lights so the the red twinkles were doubled to tripled. Above, above a sea of stars and planets sparkled in their wonder.

The temperature was cool, but not cold. I didn't even need long fingered gloves! I was actually relaxed and enjoying the serenity of the night and the pleasure of the ride. About 2:30 I began to watch the approaching rear headlights wondering which would be my crew. Rider numbers were affixed boldly on the back and passenger side of the rear window of the crew vehicle for easy identification. I was rider number 7. At 2:45 my crew caught up with me for the first time. We exchanged pleasantries; they held back; I rode ahead, just as planned. And so we advanced up Mule Pass. At about mile 17 I drank my first bottle. Feeling fine. A little further up the road a rider had a flat just as my crew was passing so they were able to provide headlights for the rider to repair his flat and protect him with their vehicle from approaching bike and car traffic.

About 6 miles from the summit I caught #22, Linda. It was fun to have company in the dark. The road was brighter, barking dogs were less scary, and spirits were lighter. I have to concentrate on severe climbs, too low a gear makes the bike too wobbly, a little higher gear and my quads catch fire. I called out to Linda, "How far to the summit?" No answer. "Linda, are you back there?" No answer. Cast a quick glance in my rear view mirror. Linda was no where to be seen. I had summarily overtaken Linda on the climb. Hmm. I was breathing hard, feeling the altitude for real. No way for us mid west flatlanders to altitude train.

Finally reached the summit, 27 miles into the ride, where there is a parking lot. About 10 crew vehicles were awaiting their riders. Bryan steadied the bike as I got off. I felt absolutely terrible--dizzy, shakey, nauseated, weak. I tried to drink and there would be none of that. Food of any kind was even more abhorrent. Was this just altitude? If so, it should pass, but I would certainly need to feel better before beginning the descent or I'd wobble into a crash for sure.

I didn't have to pee, but I thought I should give it a try to see how that system was working. The results were not good--only 3 ounces of dark, tea colored urine. A decision needed to be made.

Aborting Cochsie
















Team Mama, as I was dubbed by the crews and riders atop Mule Pass, had a decision to make. My kidneys were obviously not doing well. Was it worth the health risk to push on? Bryan and Daniel offered to SAG me to the bottom of Mule Pass and I could finish the 252. Yes, that was an option. I could ride down the pass, or they could SAG me down and I could follow the 92 mile route on back to Douglas. Yes, that was an option.

We sat at the summit for about 30 minutes discerning. Feeling little better, I said, "Let's go back to Douglas and get some sleep."

Bisbee Afterword


We returned to bed at 5:30 a.m. to arise for the second time that day, October 13th, at 8:30. I was full of a swirl of relief, guilt, disappointment, a twinge of failure, and lots of vulnerability. Tears came easily and often. I talked to Kirk who, as always, was hugely supportive and in no way condemning of my foiled venture.

We pulled the rider numbers off the support vehicle, got a refund from Motel 6 for the unused 2nd night, and headed west on AZ 80 for Bisbee and breakfast after which Bryan and I tour-walked Bisbee while Daniel graded papers at a local coffee shoppe.

We arrived at home in Tucson about 2:15 p.m., unloaded the support vehicle and unpacked all the supply boxes, returned the rental car to the airport, and we all went to dinner: Bryan, Daniel, Rachel, Sivana, Ken, and Melissa. We left The Red Sky about 8:15, probably the time I would have gotten to the finish in Douglas, had I been healthy when I reached the top of Mule Pass.

My 2007 riding season has now come to a close. Now is the time to recover and do some specific training for the 2008 season that will officially begin with PAC Desert Camp, in AZ in February.

Chief Cochise

Dragoon Mountains where Cochise (b. 1812, d. June 8, 1874) hid with his warriors. Cochise was a tall man, six feet, with broad shoulders and a commanding appearance. He never met a man his equal with a lance, and, like Crazy Horse, was never photographed. They both were buried in secret locations on their homeland.



"You must speak straight so that your words may go as sunlight into our hearts.
Speak Americans.. I will not lie to you; do not lie to me."

“Why is it that the Apaches wait to die -- That they carry their lives on their fingernails? They roam over the hills and plains and want the heavens to fall on them. The Apaches were once a great nation; they are now but few, and because of this they want to die and so carry their lives on their fingernails.”

“I am alone in the world. I want to live in these mountains; I do not want to go to Tularosa. That is a long way off. I have drunk of the waters of the Dragoon Mountains and they have cooled me: I do not want to leave here.”

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Big BAM on Old Grand


September 30th it rained in the night. My riding partner for the 30th had to cancel so I thought I'd re-ride the North Shore Century Route, a beautiful route for a beautiful day.

Just after going under the underpass on Old Grand in Gurnee between O'Plaine and Delaney, BAM! No warning, no nothing. Down before I even knew what happened. I had been heading east. My bike is now heading west, my body still heading east, bent under my bent (the term of endearment for recumbents). Often what happens in a tumble is one foot does not come uncleated and the combination of the frame on top of the rider and the angle of the foot in the cleat, you can't uncleat. Sometimes you can reach your shoe buckle, release the buckle (kinda like that of a ski binding buckle) and get your foot out of the shoe while the shoe remains on the pedal. That was the scenario Sunday. A couple of other cyclists were passing so they were helpful too. I was 35 miles into the ride so dusted off and rode on completing the 100 miles easily.

But, the lingering consequence is some nagging bone bruises on the Tib/Fib head and some torque and inflammation to the tendons to that lovely muscle, the Extensor Digitorum Longus and Peroneus Longus. I've been nursing them, limiting my mileage and being prayerful that it won't interfere with this Saturday's Cochise 252.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Night Rider Ready

Finding the right lighting system can be quite a project given the specifics of the bike to be ridden and the conditions under which the ride will take place. It's hard to run an acid test on a system you want to use under a desert night sky when your in Chicago. Conditions just aren't the same. But with the help of the Great Lake Randonneurs, Lon Haldeman from PAC Tour, and Amlings Cycle I think I've got a winning number. What do you think?

Riding Cochise
















This year's riding challenge is the Cochise Classic's 252 mile, one-day ride. October 13th about 20 ultramarathon cycling souls will toe the start line in Douglas, AZ at 2:00 a.m.

This is an unsupported ride, meaning it's a BYOC, (Bring Your Own Crew). Bryan and Daniel will crew for me, each taking time off work, each giving up a full night's sleep to carry water and shout words of encouragement as I try complete the 252 miles in 16 hours. Mule Pass, in Bisbee, will be ascended and descended in the dark, somewhwere about 3:30 a.m. I am a fearful descender even in the light. What am I doing??? I have borrowed some pretty fancy lights from my ultra cycling friends, so that will help a bunch.

Since January I've ridden over 10, 000 miles; since March I've ridden 25 rides of 100 miles or greater. Thirteen rides were over 125 miles in length, including a couple of 150's, a 175, a 185, and a 200. I've done what I can do to ready myself. What remains are the factors I can't control, like wind, heat (forecasted to be 90 degrees), mechanicals, tumbles, and tumbleweed. Whatever will be will be and a good time will be had by all.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Confuse Not Turds and Tea Leaves
















The existential debate over turds and tea leaves has little to do with Bent Wanderings, but a lot to do with the Bent Wanderer, me.

I had been noticing that I must have been growing in carelessness as I spooned my Argo loose tea leaves into the strainer to prepare my daily ritual of tea soy misto accompanied by a dash of stevia and a splash of honey. The drawer where all the accoutrements for preparation are stashed was sprinkled with fallen tea leaves. I reckoned that one day soon I would need to clean all that up.

One peep-eyed morning when I opened the drawer, what to my wondering eyes did appear was that all the extra Starbucks honey packets were nibbled open and the honey devoured, as were all the little peanut butter individual serving cups, like the ones from Fairfield Inn's Continental breakfast bar.

My stomach sank and then churned a big nauseated somersault as I realized the fallen tea leaves were none other than, you guessed it--fallen turds.

That rank discovery began the still, ongoing saga of doing battle with resilient little field critters who, I am told, are capable of squeezing through a crack the thickness of a dime. How do you defend against that, I wonder.

The death toll is 9 and counting while Fletcher, our 16 y.o. feline sleeps on oblivious to how fast his food dish empties. He seems content to rest in the comfort of knowing his needs will be met through Feline Security Disability, a.k.a. me.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Cicadian Theory


Everything in life is about balance.

Turns out birds typically keep the Itch Mites under control by feasting upon them. What happened this year is that the Cicada returned to Chicago after being dormant underground for 17 years. Birds and zoo animals were thrilled for this tasty variation to their otherwise routine diet. But what was bad for the Cicadas (getting eaten by the birds and monkeys), was good for the mites (not getting eaten by the birds), and was bad for people, certainly for me (getting eaten by the mites). Even if this is not exactly how it is, it sure makes sense and gives me hope for next year--that the birds will be back on duty tending to the mites. Mitey nice.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mitey Bites










Let there be no confusion, Mitey Bites are not savory; no, not in the least!

Along with its bunny boom this season, Chicago has had a boom of the Oak Gall Mites, sometime also called Itch Mites. They have made the news in the Chicago Tribune, and the Department of Public Health. Tonight I even heard they made World News!

These little pesky critters are nearly invisible. Not only that, but they bite today and you don't start to itch until as many as 12 hours later. Then you get to itch for up to two weeks. But, because I'm so special, I get to itch for up to four weeks. Don't know if it's because I'm out so much on my bike or what, but I'm covered with these fiery itches that just don't quit.

Never thought I'd hear myself say I look forward to the first killer frost. But if that's what it takes to kill of these buggers, I'm for it.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Storm Story








Despite the consumptive storms of the past week, I somehow managed to get my 400 mile riding week in, including The Bike Psychos DoubleMetric. The biggest, badest of the storms hit Thursday during evening rush, doing some if its worst damage to Wilmette.

While my 63 mile ride on Friday didn't commence until 4:15 p.m. I was confident I could make it home by dark; civil sunset being 7:37 p.m. I was eager, too, to see what devastation the storm had wrought. Our narrow escape from the fallen tree that landed only one foot from the structure of our house was but a sampling of what was everywhere. The sounds of sawing were everywhere contributed by crickets and chain saws, the latter getting an early weekend jump reducing the felled trees strewn over roads, lots, houses, and cars to pick-upable size.

Streets seemed to almost squish beneath my bike tires, so water logged they were. I was on track for a civil twilight ETA until my first road closure at Illinois/Happ--a telephone pole obtusely draped across the street, its wires casted like fishing lines.

Turned around, rerouted, getting darker now. Winnetka Road and Hibbard. Closed. Don't know if I, a bike, could have made it through, but I almost didn't see the wire across the street so not taking any chances in the growing dark of night.

How about Locust to Illinois and on to home. Nope. Closed. Now I'm totally enshrouded by the night. My helmet lamp and an 0.5 watt lamp on the front of the bike aren't doing much except letting oncomers know I'm sharing the road.

I'm disoriented. It smells like I am in the middle of a Christmas Tree lot. But, I thought it was August, yes? no? Yes!. All the fallen pine trees were emanating their holiday fragrance. A little nervous though, there are myriad, indiscernible shadows everywhere. Which of them might have form and substance encroaching on my traveling road surface?

Another road closure and now the sounds of silence, but not those of Simon and Garfunkel. Black as pitch--no stars, moon, nor a street light, nor a light in any house. A different motor sound now breaks the silence--generators sucking out basement bilge.

I made it home safely, but long, long, after sunset. I turned on the kitchen light and sighed with frustration that two bulbs were out. Quite the commentary about the selfish, sinful nature of this human being, me. I asked for forgiveness and added many things to my list of gratitudes and light bulbs to my Ace Hardware list.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Sparta But Not Quite To Elroy








Kinda cool, Denise literally rides from her house in Muskegon onto the ferry also in Muskegon and I pick her up in Milwaukee. We were going to ride the Sparta to Elroy trail in SW Wisconsin on Thursday before the Recumbent Rally at the Hostel Shoppe in Stevens Point, WI. It was a slow go to Sparta via I 94--a fatal accident for the driver of a dune buggy.

Sparta is really a sweet town. Lots of community pride, love of cycling abounds, but haute cuisine there is not. There was dinner at Taco Bell and lunch at The Greens. Now that I was looking forward to. Had to be either an organic place or a restaurant owned/operated by the Greens who had to be into healthy food. NOT, again. It was a restaurant whose most elegant item was Cod Loins with cheesy fries. It was, however, situated pleasantly on the greens of the local golf course.

Riding was beautiful. Reminded me of Michigan. Don't know if Denise would say the same. It did rain some so we aborted a trail ride and stayed on the streets paralleling the Sparta to Elroy trail. And, we made up our own routes.

Passed these two young girls who had found a new way to walk the dog. The girl not pushing the buggy is from London visiting relatives for a month in Sparta. That had to be culture shock! Dog in a buggy aside.

Sparta is also the home of the Deke Slayton Bicycle and Space Museum. Interesting combo. Deke was famous by his own rights as a US Air Forcepilot, he was chosen as one of the original seven American Astronauts in 1959 . He was scheduled to fly in 1962 on the second orbital flight but due to an erratic heart rate he was grounded, and his place was taken by Scott Carpenter. Slayton was the only member of the Mercury Seven who did not fly on the Mercury program. He eventually flew the final mission of the Apollo spacecraft. But Deke was famous in our house as we watched over and over again Hollywood's version of the NASA's Mercury Program, The Right Stuff.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Short 15



This was to have been a 200 miler, but alas, I got a late start (5:30 a.m.), had some technical issues with my electronic "toys", (Garmin and Power Tap Hub Batteries),and my route was waaaay too traffic-heavy so I quit at 185.

The graphic shows the route via Google Maps which is car-only friendly--from home to Waterford, WI. I had routed myself with my Garmin GPS what I thought would be bike friendly, but alas, I lost between 30-40 minutes just trying to cross impossible, impassible roads. Traffic was so intense through some of those booming Lake County burbs.

The good news is I learned about some roads that will be fun to ride for my next 200--Hales Corners, WI by way of Kenosha and Waterford.

I stopped by the Waterford Bike Frame Building Factory, said "hi" to the frame builders and got excited with them about the new Volae ES that is going into production next week. The frame can be taken apart for the ease of pack&go via the airlines. Looks like that bike is in my future for some semi-self-contained touring planned for 2008 to GA and NH. I had a chance to ride it last weekend at the Hostel Shoppe Recumbent Rally in Stevens Point, WI.

Got home in time for a wonderful dinner out with Kirk. How could a day be better?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Bipolar 175


My friend, Barb, called this ride “bipolar” given that I went South, North, and then South again. Or maybe she was just thinking I am plain crazy to do this stuff.

Anyhow, The Cochise Classic, a 252 mile ride out of Douglas, AZ, is in only two months (October 13th). It’s an unsupported, timed ride that draws only the hard core, mostly AZ-based racers. Only about 20 participate, only 1 or 2 from out of state, only 1 or 2 females, only about 1 or 2 my age, and no other recumbents. So, the training is on big time to ready myself for my own self-assigned goal of completing the 252 miles in 16 hours. For me that’s a touchable, but possibly audacious goal requiring an elapsed average speed of 15.75 mph. So, I have to ride even faster than that average to accommodate stops to pee, refuel, change out a tire, or take care of any other road business that comes along.

Bryan and Daniel will be crewing for me. Thanks to my crewing for RAAM this year I learned a lot about how they can crew that will minimize my off-the-bike time which, along with the unknown and uncontrollable AZ wind factor, will be the two largest deciding factors of my success with my 16 hour goal.

So, to that end Saturday, August 4th, was a 175 mile ride. “Ride Illinois” was hosting an 87 mile Tri-State Tour originating in Hammond, IN and concluding in Kenosha, WI. I figured if I rode TO Hammond, hooked up with those guys, rode to Kenosha, and took the long route home from Kenosha I could get 175 miles in. I arrived home with 175.04. Can’t get any more precise than that, I don’t think.

The start out of Hammond was 6:00 a.m. which meant I needed to leave my house at 3:00 a.m. It doesn’t take 3 hours to ride 35 miles, but there was the darkness factor to attend to.

I really like night riding. So quiet, no traffic. If I did very much of it in unlighted areas I would definitely want to get a Schmitt hub to through some good light on my path. But given that I live in one of the several most brightly illuminated cities in the US, as seen from satellite pix, a Schmitt hub won’t be my next big purchase.

A few encounters of the night-kind were either predictable or poignant. For those of you who know the Lake Front Path, it was about 4:00 a.m. and I was at Recreation Drive on The Path when three 30-something females were coming toward me. They were dressed in their partying clothes, carrying their heels, each walking alone with that weary, the-night-used-me-up, all alone countenance about them. They were not together, just happened there were three of them at about the same place and the same time. For those of you who don’t know The Path, this is not a Path to home. It is a Path were the whole world of Chicago cyclists, runners, and bladers, do their daily workout thing, or do a north-south bike commute. So why a single female is walking this part of The Path at 4:00 a.m., one of the few places on The Path that is not lighted… Well, I don’t know the answer to that question, but what ever the answer is, can only be a sad one, I think.

My second encounter, by the Oak Street Beach Curve, was with a harmless African-American drunk. One of my two front headlights fell off my bike, right in front of him. So, nothing to do but stop, get off, and get my light. I made some friendly comment about losing my light to which he regaled himself with an a-humorous comment about losing virginity. He was still laughing at his “joke” as I rode off. So much for 4:15 a.m. drunk humor. I gave up putting the fallen-off light back on, looked at the sky and knew, with gratitude, that by the time I hit the blight of NW IN, there would be enough light in the sky to not need my 2nd headlight.

My third encounter was down by Grand Ave. and The Path. About a dozen folks are mingling about. I’m assuming they are all under the influence of something, if nothing else than fatigue. So, I announce my upcoming presence and this one African-American guy, who is so drunk I can smell the alcohol as I whiz past at 16 mph, shouts out, “Whoa! What kind a bike that is?” I chuckled at his syntax.

The ride to Kenosha was uneventful. I didn’t want to ride a good portion of the “official” course as it was a lot of bike paths crowded with weekenders, tree roots, and pot holes—not a rubber-side down combination. The ride organizer was sympathetic and was totally fine with my riding off-SAG when I wanted.

I got to the Kenosha terminus with 125 miles on my odometer and there was not another cyclist or crew member around. I called the ride organizer thinking I was at the wrong shelter in this park, or something. I said, “I’m here, where are you guys?” “I’m in Lake Forest”, he said. Now that is at least 20 miles back!! Well, I thanked him for the ride and told him since I had 50 more miles to go, I was heading on home.

Stopped for lunch at Franks Diner. I’ve been hearing about this place of landmark-fame for quite awhile and never took the time to check it out. Today was the day. It’s a made in an old train car that landed in Kenosha in 1926. Truly a place to visit if you’re ever hungry in Kenosha. Check it out. www.franksdinerkenosha.com

Finished the ride with an average moving speed of 16 mph, not including the 35 miles in the dark. The moving speed is respectable, but not good enough for a Cochise 252 in 16 hours. More work to be done. But, all in all, a most excellent day on the bike.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Biking To Chautauqua


When I was on our Mediterranean Cruise I had a dream that instead of just riding my bike from Cleveland to Chautauqua I could ride from Chicago to Chautauqua! What a great idea.

So as soon as I got home from RAAM I began setting in motion all the little and big details of a solo, self-contained 500+ mile bike ride.

With my trusty Garmin I created a wonderful route that would land me in:
  • La Porte, IN at the end of Day 1, about 90 miles
  • Auburn, IN at the end of Day 2, about 100 miles
  • Fremont, OH at the end of Day 3, about 130 miles
  • Cleveland, OH at the end of Day 4, about 100 miles
  • Chautauqua, NY at the end of Day 5 about 120 miles
The next challenge was to find a buddy to ride with. Not an easy task. "Hey, wanna ride 500 miles with me to NY?" Even if they wanted to, to pull that off in a blink of an eye...well, now that's pretty tough.

But, I had the good fortune of spending the weekend in Muskegon, MI the end of June with my Desert Camp, recumbent friend, Denise. Her long-faithful riding buddy, Ken, another bent rider, was up for at least part of the ride. He would ride down from Muskeon, MI and meet me in La Porte and ride Days 2 and 3 with me.

Walt, a Transcon rider and one of the racers on Team 60 Going Hard, lives in Cleveland, OH. He and I began talking on RAAM about how to make it happen for us to ride some of my route together. What could work was he would ride west from Cleveland and I rode east toward Cleveland and we would meet on the road. We did just that, had lunch together, rode to my hotel and then he rode on home in Cleveland Heights. We met up on the road again on the following morning, Day 5, and rode about 50 miles together before he turned around and rode home again.

All five days were amazingly pleasant--good weather, good comaraderie, no mechanical problems, and courteous drivers. It was so pleasant that I have been smitten by the touring bug and am now questing after a long wheel based recumbent (maybe a Gold Rush??) that can better accommodate the weight of loaded touring while also increasing the stability. I'm fantasizing about an 850 mile ride to Columbus, GA to see Kirk's Mom, and a 950 mile ride to Keene, NH to see my friend, Barb. At least it's something to dream about.

A couple of funny sights along the way:
  • A sign which read: "Wigs and Food"
  • There was a hitching post outside the local grocery store, not for bikes, but for horses, you guessed it we were in Amish Country
  • Bowling Transportation (I thought this community had such avid bowlers they even provided transportaion to the local alleys. But Ken convinced me it was the name of a transportation company since they were recruiting, drivers, owners, and operators).
Probably the most amazing thing of all was that Daniel from Arizona, Katie, Aaron, and Mya from Chicago, Kirk, from Wilmette, and G'ma Mary and her three septa/octogenarian friends from Georgia, and I all arrived at Chautauqua for our family reunion within 5 minutes of one another. This will be the re-write of the classic, Planes, Bikes, and Automobiles. :))

Oh, while I was in Cleveland, I GPS'd the "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out" Christmas Story Museum. Hopped on my bike and rode the 12+ miles from my hotel. What fun it was. Watching that classic has been part of our family's Christmas Holiday Tradition since the movie was released in 1983.

There are a few pix from biking along the northern tier, including The Christmas Story House/Museum on my shutterfy. www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

Enjoy!

RAAM 2007 Is In The Books


For all the history, stats, and stories about RAAM 2007, check out: www.raceacrossamerica.org.

For a recounting of my experience on this my first Race Across America as a crew member, please follow the 3,043 mile journey on the posts below concluding with Dinner At 11:00 p.m.

Pix of the Race from my shutter can be found at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

Enjoy.


2007 Race Across America, RAAM, as it is known.

How to capture RAAM is something like a single person trying to cover the Olympics or a war. What do these diverse events have in common? For starters, they are multi-day events where the action spans a huge expanse of geography, involving many players, each contributing and experiencing something unique, mundane, or life-changing at any single point in time. So, I will do my best to share RAAM with you, but know that whatever I say is but one tiny speck of the whole.

First, RAAM is a transcontinental, single stage bicycle race, this year from Oceanside, CA to Atlantic City, NJ 3,043 miles. There are solo riders, and teams of 2, 4, and 8 persons, who ride traditional/diamond frame uprights, tandems, or recumbents. Within each of these phylos there can be gender and age divisions. Some of the riders race for charities, but it’s only a philanthropy race if the rider or team chooses to fund-raise on the behalf of some cause. The fastest solo riders will cross in as little as eight (8) days; the fastest teams in less than six (6) days. Many riders who start are unable to finish within the allotted 12 days.

RAAMers race RAAM for the love of riding, the distance and the challenge. There is no money to be made, only money to be spent. The average racer will spend a minimum of $10,000, most of which is out-of-own-pocket, just to cover the minimum basics. That’s why only one Tour de France racer has ever participated in RAAM. TDFers ride with the hope of winning prize cash.

For RAMMers it’s rider against rider, rider against terrain, rider against the elements, and ultimately the rider against him/herself. There are a few winners, a few more survivors; the rest go home.

There is no way to simulate a race like this—riding up to 20 hours a day through rain, hail, heat, 40 mile an hour head winds, 10,000 foot climbs, hairpin descents in the middle of the night, riding sleep deprived with a chase vehicle, whose driver is also sleep deprived, 20 feet behind the rider’s rear wheel throwing light on the road ahead.

RAAM Pix at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

So How Did This RAAM Thing Get Started, Anyway??

The concept of a bicycle race across America can be traced back to newspaperman George Nellis, who in 1887 crossed the United States on a 45-pound iron high-wheel bicycle with no gears and with pedals attached directly to the front wheel. Following the railroad routes across the country, he made the crossing in just under 80 days.

Every ten years or so, the record would be reduced by a few days, but it was not until the 1970s, when John Marino got serious about finding how quickly a bicycle could be ridden across the U.S.A. that the modern movement of trans-national cycling competition began. Other riders began challenging the marks made by Marino, and by 1982 a group of these riders decided they were ready for a head-to-head race. In its first year, the Race Across America (RAAM) was called the Great American Bike Race. Four riders lined up on the pier in Santa Monica and raced to New York. The winner was Lon Haldeman. Since then the race has been run every year, always west to east. In 2007 the race begins in Oceanside, California, and finishes in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

RAAM Pix at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

My Connection To RAAM

Lon Haldeman won the Great American Bick Race in 1982, one year after he launched PAC Tour (www.pactour.com) a bike travel company supporting fast bicycle rides (not races) across the country. Somehow I had heard about Lon’s winning the Great American Bike Race and I thought that was way cool and absolutely knew that somehow, sometime I wanted to ride my bike across the country. I knew I was, and never would be good enough to race across the country, but ride, yes, I could do that.

The only problem was our kids were about 4, 6, and 8 years old and Kirk’s ministry as a United Methodist Pastor involved evenings and weekends. The 80’s was not the decade for me to be consider a transcontinental bike ride. The kids were older in the ‘90’s but that was the decade of multiple back surgeries, challenged rehabs after my surgeries, and generally a protracted season of the dark night of the soul. I had even forgotten about transcontinental bike races and rides.

By 2001 I was rehabbed enough to purchase my first recumbent bicycle and figure out how to ride again. Some recumbent buddies threw down the gauntlet challenging me: “If you’re really serious about your riding, you ought to do a PAC Tour Transcontinental.” Twenty years after Lon’s first win, RAAM, and transcontinentals had come full circle for me. I started training in earnest in 2002 and by the time I arrived in San Diego in September, 2006 to ride PAC Tour’s Southern Transcontinental Route, I had logged over 40,000 training miles.

Three of the guys on my Southern Transcon were Walt Chapman, Larry Gitman, and Paul Danhaus. They were some of what I call, “the fast boys”—too fast for me to keep up with on the road, but we did enjoy good camaraderie, shared meals, and a few laundromats together. One thing else Walt, Larry, Paul, and I had in common. We were all at least 60 years old. So, when Paul asked if I wanted to crew for their RAAM team, Team 60 Going Hard, I reflexively said a resounding “yes.” Crewing for RAAM would be the closest I would ever be able to get to RAAM.

And that’s how RAAM came to be for me.

RAAM Pix at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

3,043 miles, 4 riders, 10 crew—The Plan

If the route is divided equally, each rider would ride 750 miles. To break the pre-2007 record by a team of 60 year olds, we will arrive in Atlantic City on June 19th. Since each year’s route is slightly different, the average mph for the crossing is the “true” number to chase, not hours:days:minutes.

Three support vehicles will support Team 60 Going Hard—a 39 foot mobile home, which I unkindly named either The Beached Whale or The Beast, and two mini vans. The mobile home would be “home base” where crew and riders would sleep and eat their meals. There would be four (4) permanent residents in the mobile home—the two drivers, the crew chief, and me—the domestique, a term given to the servants of riders in The Tour De France. As domestique I would be responsible for meal preparation and clean up, rider massages, laundry, and assuring each of the riders had “The Right Stuff” in his bottles before and after each of his rides, or pulls as they are called. Sounds simple enough.

I chose the domestique role because I know painfully well what a hard time I have staying awake on long distance road trips. This was to be a truly long road trip with expected sleep deprivation. Plus, I would be starting RAAM exactly 24 hours after returning from Venice. Just a little jet lag to deal with.

RAAM Pix at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

The Beached Whale

We acquired The Whale through a dealership that leases other people’s MH’s for them, sort of like a time-share I guess. Anyhow, the mobile home would become our albatross.

Before we even left Oceanside we had to replace all four of its batteries to the tune of about $600.00. San Diego-based crew had bought a ton of food-type staples to start us out on our journey. Pre-race I stashed all the goodies and labeled all the drawers and cabinets. Keeping life neat and organized in a 39’ mobile home with 14 people living in it intensely 24/7 would require ever bit of organizational skill I could muster.

When it was time to turn our headlights on our first night out, we had virtually no headlights. So we climbed the mountains of California with our parking lights. YIKES! We got them “sort of” repaired the next day.

We quickly became acquainted with the limits of The Whale’s black and gray water tank capacity. Those were terms I knew nothing about before this, my first MH experience. But let’s just say that what we learned is this. First, only the riders would be able to take showers and only seaman showers at that. You know, where you turn the water on long enough to get your self wet; turn it off while you scrub; and then turn it on again only long enough to rinse. The rest of us would need to use “wet ones” or, at the most, sponge off in the sink. Second, no # 2’s in the MH’s toilet. We learned that the graphic way as raw sewerage was one eye winker from washing down the galley as it rolled up through the shower drain. Yuck!!

This particular MH was selected because it had a washer and dryer in it. That seemed like quit a nice perk as we would have riders needing a lot of clean and dry clothes. Well, it took 3 hours for the washer to finish its cycle and it did not dry the clothes at all. Furthermore, it used up a lot of our fresh water tank. So riding clothes were washed by hand and hung to dry in the MH. The rest of us wore the same clothes all week long.

Our Whale had no shocks. So my job of cooking while standing up in a moving vehicle hurtling up and down mountain passes was a better ride than any at your favorite Theme Park. Many things were hurled down the galley—a jar of olives, the coffee pot (more than once), coffee grounds (only once), the microwave glass turntable, and me.

Our most scary Whale moment came in Yates Center, KS Saturday morning, when out of the clear blue sky we lost our entire hydraulic system. What that means is no power steering and no brakes. With a whale this big, both are essential!! Our good fortune was that we WERE in Kansas. Kansas is flat and we were able to coast to a stop with the help of our Jake brake and the curb. While the mechanical guys on our crew fixed the hydraulic system, I rented a hotel room across the street so our riders who were not on the road could sleep, and our mechanics could have a place to shower after the fixin’ was done. The motel desk clerk drove me in her own car to the town Laundromat so I could do a real load of wash.

It truly was a miracle that we had our mechanical challenge in Kansas and not in the middle of the night screaming down a mountain pass. There would have been 8 of us who didn’t make it.

Only two of our crew knew how to drive the Whale. One had poor night vision so the division of labor was apparent—Wayne by day and Larry by night. Even though each of these guys had a lot of MH experience, driving one of these huge rigs under the influence of sleep deprivation in ever-changing terrain was a challenge none of the rest of us could truly appreciate. So, when the Whale lost two of her under-belly cargo doors because she was pulled in too tightly against the protect-the-pump-defense poles, well, we knew our drivers were doing the very best they could.

RAAM Pix at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

How Hot Is Hot

California and Arizona desert heat in mid-June is hard on all living creatures. But try racing a bike under those conditions 24/7! It’s amazing more racers didn’t have trouble! By the time we reached Missouri the heat had caught up with two of our racers and one of our crew. They were basically out of commission for a day and a half which meant that our whole race strategy had to be rethought. The remaining two riders pulled double duty for the day and a half.

RAAM Pix at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

The Record--Can We Break It?

After everyone got over their heat exhaustion and all our racers were able to ride again, we had lost too much ground to The Hoosiers, the other team of 60 year olds who were our most direct competition. It didn’t look like we would be able to break the record for 60 year olds.

The riders’ spirits were down as heat, fatigue, cramped quarters, and disappointment about the record sank in. Then one of our racers, who’s a numbers wizard, said

“Wait a minute. If we put all 4 of us out on the road at the same time and we work together in a pace line, averaging 23-24 miles per hour for the last 100 miles, we can still break the record.”

Lots of excitement, chaos, and scramble to get all the rides out on the road at the same place at the same time while abiding by the myriad RAAM rules (most all of which are grounded in rider and crew safety). We did it, though, got them all out there, and they rode their hearts out.

They did, indeed, BREAK the old record. But, they did not SET a new record, as The Hoosiers averaged 0.1 of a mph faster than our guys. Not bad at all for a race that’s 3,043 miles long.

RAAM Pix at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

Finishing On The Boardwalk

The finish is on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. It was about 7:30 p.m. when our riders rolled down the Boardwalk escorted by the police on a motorcycle, siren blaring. Family members were there, crew was there cheering them to their victory stand.

The Boardwalk is neonified and garish. But not tonight, our night, June 19, 2007. A surreal fog rolled in, just for us, I’m sure, muting all the ostentatious glare. Even Boardwalk sounds were stilled. Our guys rode in with head lights on for the last time in RAAM 2007.

RAAM Pix at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

Dinner At 11:00

The riders hosted a dinner for all of us. Only thing was that no one wanted to eat until we had our first shower in a week. Getting 14 people checked into the Trump Plaza Hotel, showered, and back down to dinner was like herding puppies. So, dinner commenced at 11:00 p.m. What’s one more night of short sleep.

What fun it was to swap “Remember when” stories. There were lots of stories others had not heard because we were all spread out in 3 vehicles, 4 mikes, and 3,043 miles.

Would I do it again? Too soon to say. At least now I know what questions to ask to decide if I would.

RAAM Pix at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

Sunday, June 10, 2007

June 9 - Venice

Several big events on or around June 9th. Elijah turned a mighty 6 on the 7th; Venice is our last port on this cruise; we booked our next cruise for January, 2009 to South America and Antarctica; PAC Tour's Elite Transcontinental leaves San Diego today to arrive in Savannah 17 days from now; and the Solo RAAMer's leave Oceanside, CA Sunday the 10th at 9:00 a.m. PT. Big Stuff.

If you ever come to Venice I hope you have the awesome experience of arriving by ship, a ship big enough to see over the tree tops and roof lines revealing the myriad, meandering canals of this city that was a major seat of power in the 9th century and has been welcoming tourists for at least 400 years.

Venice's major thoroughfares are canals with 400 bridges under which the gondoliers must duck. If you think urban parking is a problem, think about parking your own personal boat near your apartment! Navigating around Venice is by landmarks, not streets, or even addresses.

Getting around, other than by foot, is best accomplished on a vaporetto, or water bus, that carries about 100 people for about $9.00. Water taxis cost between $65-100, regardless of destination. Then there are the Gondolas. They are the equivalent of taking a horse-drawn carriage ride in NYC or Chicago. They run about $100-125 in the day time. Add 25% if you want to ride after 8:00 p.m. Add another $50.00 if you want to be serenaded.

There are as many pigeons in the squares as there are tourists! Vendors even sell little bags of corn for $1.30 so you can feed the pigeons. If you hold out your hand filled with corn, the pigeons will sit in your hand (or atop your head) to feed. I have a pix of a man in a wheel chair with probably 6 pigeons sitting on various parts of him feasting away. Of course with all those pigeons, ground and air born poop is abundant.

We spent time on St. Mark's Square Saturday afternoon--touring the Basilica, for which the square is named, and wandering the streets and alleys wide enough in places for only single file, two-way pedestrian traffic. Also on the Square is the Doge's Palace (Duke), the Correr Museum, the Campanile (dramatic bell tower) and the Clock Tower. The time is hammered out by two bronze men (Moors) with mallets. In the 17th century an unsuspecting roof-top worker was knocked to his death by the hammer-slinging bronze robot. Probably the first death attributable to a robot.

We have a full day, Sunday the 10th, to poke around Venice before an early to bed, early to rise on Monday the 11th departing Venice for Madrid at 7:50 a.m. (12:50 a.m. Chicago time). Then non-stop from Madrid to Chicago. Monday will be a day of endless sunlight for me as I'll land in Chicago and then board another plane for San Diego arriving there at 10:30 p.m. PT or 7:30 a.m. Tuesday Venice time. YIKES!! hope my black-out mask, ear plugs, and No Jet Lag homeopathics do their trick.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

June 7 - Easy Come Easy Go

I had been so excited to discover the ship had soy milk making possible my comfort bev of Soy Tea Lattes. But alas, the 6 quarts of soy milk on board for 3,000 passengers that we started our voyage with were consumed less than half-way through the cruise! The coffers were to be restocked in Istanbul, but alas, no soy milk and not to be for the rest of the trip. :(

A small miracle! In returning to the ship from Kusadasi there was a Starbucks. Lovely, as the English would say. I saw a couple of Starbucks from the window of the bus in Athens, but it wasn't worth missing getting on the boat to quest after a Bucky's.

On the way to Corinth we stopped to admire the incredible Corinth Canal an engineering marvel about 4 miles long, 200 feet deep, and the width of a medium sized boat. I visited a roadside shop hoping for some snackables that could meet my dietary criteria. Low and behold, I found nuts and apricots!

Public tran in Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and France put the CTA to shame!. The trains and buses are modern, clean, fast, and on time. Signage is easy to use AND there are electronic marquis at each station, even bus stops, announcing when the next train or bus will arrive. Why can't we have something like that?

June 7 - Athens

I awoke with our ship secured in the Piraeus Port, a "suburb" of Athens, and with a compelling energy surging through my being connecting me to ancient Greek mythology, ancient Greek civilization, and present day Athens with its metropolitan population of 4.5 million, a rapid transit system that puts the CTA to shame, 39 stadiums built for the 2004 Olympics now abandoned, and 12 million olive tree in all of Greece. Our tour of the Acropolis, the Corinth Canal, and the ruins of Corinth will be anchored in memory with my pictures, soon to be uploaded to my Shutterfly account.

June 6 - Kusadasi & Ephesus

25 years ago Kisadasi was nothing but an unspoiled community of fishermen and farmers. Now it is a holiday destination for Turks and other Europeans. During cruise season, as many a 7,000 tourists are disgorged from the ships each day to surf the bazaars for carpets and jewelry.

The ruins of Ephesus, only about 10 miles from Kusadasi, are second only to Pompeii providing a most excellent introduction to ancient Roman civilization. Ephesus was once, itself, a major seaport, and home to 60,000 people as early as 9 centuries B.C. In the early A.D's. the population was more than a million.

Ephesus was an epicenter of the birth and evolution of Christianity. The Aegean Sea did some kind of trick many centuries ago, receding to such an extent that Ephesus was land locked, drying up the port. Over the centuries the people left and the city was covered over with dirt aided by several earthquakes, thus preserving the ruins of Ephesus. Only relatively recently have the ruins been discovered, renovated, reconstituted, and preserved. The amphitheater, where St. Paul preached seated 24,000 people. Today it is about 40% intact.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

June 5 - Istanbul - Ten Times Older

How can an American whose country is not even 250 years old relate to a country so momentous, glorious, exotic, and chaotic that is ten times its senior?

Ethan had arranged for us to have a personal tour of the Dolmabache Palace constructed in the late 19th century. Fourteen tons of gold, 6 tons of silver, and countless tons of crystal opulently adorned the 285 rooms that spanned nearly 1/2 mile. One of the crystal chandeliers, the largest in Europe, weighs 4 1/2 tons!

Ethem also arranged for us to have a personal lunch and guided tour by the President of the Topkapi Palace, now a museum, but formally the residence for Sultans and the administrative seat of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 400 years. The Treasury (gallery of jewels) was home to an 86 carat diamond and many emeralds of similar dimensions. Do you have insurance, we asked? "No. Their value is priceless." Wonder if that's where Kodak invented its tag line?

We had just under an hour to try to absorb the awe of the Ayasofya, Hagia Sophia, or St. Sophia(how you call her depends if you prefer the Turkish, Greek, or English moniker). St. Sophia was completed in 537 A.D. after only 5 1/4 years. She was a Christian church until the 16th century, at which time it became a Mosque, the most prominent church in the world that has been a house of worship to both religions. Ayasofya's dome is so tall (184 feet, 15 stories) that the Statue of Liberty could stand under her dome and not put out her flame!

Huge mosaics of Christian motif adorn many of the walls. I can't imagine what it would take to create 9 x 12 or 20 x 20 foot mosaics using tile the size of a new born baby's thumb nail!

We had enough time to briefly visit the Blue Mosque, so named for its predominantly blue tiles used inside. This is still an active house of worship packed out, especially on Fridays at the 1:15 prayer service. Had to leave our shoes at the door and I wore my first Muslim head covering. Seemed the right thing to do, a way of showing respect.

Along with Barcelona, Istanbul and Turkey are places we hope we can return to in the next few years.

Be sure to check out the Istanbul pictures when they are up on my Shurtterfly account,which won't be till after I get home.

June 5 - Istanbul - Waiting For Ethem

Our Turkey time has been one of our most anticipated destinations on this trip, thanks to the last several years of building relationships with a number of Turks in Chicago who are also committed to cross-cultural dialogue and appreciation.

Waiting for Ethem at the port in Istanbul had a "Waiting For Godot" feel to it. For two hours we waited; we became friendly with the Taxi drivers, port security staffers, rogue cats feasting in the dumpster, and pigeons that looked far nobler than pigeons of the States.

Ethem was one of the Turks we knew in Chicago but whose permanent residence is Istanbul. Ours was a better outcome than those waiting for Godot. Several calls later on the security staffer's cell with Turkish translation as to our location, Ethem finally arrived. He lives on the Asian side of Istanbul; he'd been on the bridge crossing to the European side and became gridlocked by a major traffic accident. He returned to Asia to catch the ferry, leaving his car there. By the time we finally connected, his business shirt was drenched in sweat from having run from ferry dock to Princess dock.

Monday, June 04, 2007

June 4 - Mykonos

What a contrast to Spain and Italy!

Mykonos greeted us with austere, steep, rocky cliffs clustered with stark, white, adobe-style, flat roofed homes and hotels. The doors, window frames, and shutters in each cluster share the same color, predominently Greek blue.

The nearby, neighboring island of Delos, accoridng to classical mythology, was the birthplace of Apollo, God of the Sun, and his twin sister, Artemis, Goddess of the Moon. A rapid trasnport to the 21st century of global warming, overpopulation, and oft total disregard for public space, Mykonos is spotless! The sidwalks, made of large flat stones in the shopping area are painted to give an appearance of grouting. Shop keepers are required to repaint this faux grouting every 10 days else be fined. There is no trash anywhere, not on the sidewalks, not on the beaches, not in the water. There is no graffiti. The rest of the word needs to learn from Mykonos how to enculture an attititude of respect for our earth home.

Kirk was going to the beach and I was going to walk the shopping district. Streets are oh, so narrow. Even the ones that carry the huge tour busses leave pedestrians a shoulder of only three inces. Anyhow, I was walking along the road and gave a quick shoulder check for traffic and who is behind me but Kirk on a 4-wheel, off-road moto. So, I hooked a ride with him over hilly terrain (wouldn't be much fun on a bike) to the beach and then caught the bus back. He had some thrills on his return trip: getting the motor to start; not being able to read the Greek road signs; not remembering where he rented his 4-wheeler; and dealing with beaucoup de traffic--motorized and two legged, as some cruise ships were readying to leave and others were arriving. But, he was victorious and made it back to the ship with an hour to spare.

Fun morning. Now off to Istanbul. Hopefully we'll hook up with our Turkish friends who will give us a personalized tour of that great city.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Gypsies and Pick Pockets

Every port we've been in, including Barcelona, has warned of Gypsies and pick-pockets. I carry my stuff in my hip pouch worn on my left hip, easily within my reach and view. In Barcelona when we we were riding the subway I had a most weird encounter with a young couple--a guy and girl. She blocked me from getting on the train as the door was closing. I thought she was a tourist unfamiliar with subway travel so I was somewhat forgiving and gracious trying to get around her, but she was hard to budge. Then her guy friend blocked my way from going down the aisle by standing in the middle holding on to the poles on both sides. As I would try to go one way, he blocked me with his body, and so we danced back and forth till finally I just shouldered him out of the way. When it was all over I noticed my pouch was open. But, the only thing in that compartment for looting was a pen, lip balm, and eye drops, all of which were still there. :)) When I'm in a congested, unfamiliar territory I move my billfold to an inner sanctum behind a clip and a zipper.



A fellow passenger on our boat, I'll call her passenger #1, wasn't quite so lucky. In Florence she was with two female companions. She noticed what she thought was bird poop on her friend's back. Man #1 in the crowd offered passenger #1 a Kleenex to wipe her friend's back. While doing so, man #2 in the crowd sprayed the white, fake, bird poop on passenger #1's back. A random woman in the crowd announced, "There, he's the one who squirted you!" So passenger #1 ran off to catch man #2, the squirter. She did, indeed, catch him, but then she didn't know what to do with him. Meanwhile, the random woman in the crowd took off with passenger #1's purse. The good news--her billfold was not in her purse. The bad news--she had taken off her diamond when her fingers began to swell and it was in her purse.

The moral? I guess is to just be careful.