Sunday, April 25, 2010

Living Larger

I need to get into town more. I went into Boston last night to meet up with a friend, her sisters and a friend of theirs. It was a fun night out, with good company, and honestly I'd forgotten how alive the city is. Maybe that's because it was a nice evening, weather-wise, so people were lingering outside, rather than rushing between buildings to stay warm. Or maybe it's just that I was more open to seeing the energy around me than I've been in a while. Whatever -- it was good to be there, and I need to get in there more. By contrast it's really kind of depressing to go out in the suburbs, here. There are more than just chains, yes, but not much more. More Boston -- need to remember that.

It's been a good and busy weekend. I had lunch with one friend and then dinner with another on Friday. Then on Saturday, I did some chores around the house, then had a really good call with my friend living in Amsterdam -- the kind of call I thrive on, honestly. After that, I ran a few errands and kept a couple of appointments, then shot over to see my daughter's soccer game. After a late lunch, the kids and I put 8 miles on our bikes, and then I went into Boston, as I mentioned. This morning, I replaced the brakes on my car (just regular rotors, but Hawk HPS pads, which bite pretty well, though are noisier than stock). Later I have a few errands to run, then a friend of mine from out of town will be coming in and hanging out for a few days, which should be fun. Lots going on, which is a nice change of pace.

With respect to yesterday's cycling: my older daughter Juli had been having kind of a rough morning yesterday. She ate too much for breakfast, from the sounds of things, she let three goals in during her soccer game (so did their team's other keeper -- the opposing team had one dominant player) for a 6-1 loss, and she was generally in a down mood. But I'd bought her some new Pearl Izumi shorts while I was out and about yesterday, and managed to cajole her into a ride to my folks' house, to swap mountain bikes. Not a half mile into the ride, she was woo-hoo'ing and generally having a much better time. And she really did well on the ride. We worked on lane/shoulder discipline, got her back up to speed with trimming her derailleurs (her shifters aren't indexed) and I coached her through breathing up a few tough hills without too much complaint. Seeing the ride improve her disposition towards the day really made me feel great, and when I called to say goodnight, I could hear that the change had stuck.

Ava had a great ride, too. I could really feel her working back there, and she's re-learning the application of gears, as well. She seems to grasp the fundamentals a little better than her sister. Perhaps through observation, or maybe she just has more of my mechanical inclination running in her veins. Her next challenge will be getting more comfortable on solo rides on her little bikes -- she likes the trailer bike perhaps a little too much. That's my task with Ava for May -- I've already replaced the brakes on her Gary Fisher, and its time for her to put the bike to work.

I didn't have the girls much this weekend, I just watched them for a bit while my ex-wife did some triathlon training. But I'm looking forward to logging some more miles with them next weekend. Weather permitting, we'll ride to soccer on Saturday, and get another ride in on Sunday as well. And I think I'm going to take them into Boston on Saturday evening for dinner. Just as I needed reminding, I need to show them there's more to the world than the suburbs -- help us all live a little larger than we have been.

All for now,


Thursday, April 22, 2010


This weekend I'm going to swap the Paramount for the Trek 950 at my folks' house and put the Trek up on eBay. It's a good, if basic, MTB. It's not worth much, but there's always something to put the cash towards. And more importantly, that gets me down to 4 bikes of my own to house at my next stop.

And I've reached some tentative conclusions as to how to pare down further. I'm going to try to get the Columbia together in the next few weeks, and that'll go up on eBay next, configured largely as I'd planned to use it, but without new wheels. That'll be three. The Schwinn is staying for now as my all-arounder, tow bike and light touring bike, but it may be swapped out for something sexier in the future. That leaves two more: Le Mongre -- the ugly Motobecane that I so enjoy. And, of course, my baby -- the Kestrel.

Depending on what my next space can accommodate, the Kestrel will either be assigned to training roller duty or will find itself disassembled and hanging as a piece of art on a wall. Its components, 8-speed 105SC with two rings up front, will be cleaned and boxed up until such time as I can afford a Rivendell Roadeo frameset. I'm going to miss riding that bike -- it's truly a thrill to ride. But the ability to trust your bike is really important, and 16 years is plenty of duty for a carbon frameset. Time to retire.

So with that, I think the Motobecane will find itself as my primary ride this season. It needs a few hundred dollars worth of stuff for me to trust it in that role -- new fork, new stem and bars, new brake levers, and tires. But even with pricey options, that's not going to run more than $400, and I can slim that back to something far more reasonable without skimping too much. I'm also contemplating a 7-speed freewheel (with modern tooth profiles), to replace the old 6-speed twist-tooth unit on there. Not required, but I appreciate narrow gear spacing, and every extra cog helps.

As a likely benefit, the bike shouldn't be nearly as ugly once these changes are made. A chrome fork will harmonize much more cleanly with the bike's paint, where the 1977 Ford Granada blue fork clashes with everything, today. And I'll have more color flexibility in the bar tape department, too -- maybe a nice red cork wrap. I may also take off the fenders, to clean the lines up a bit more, and strap a more elegant pump to the frame. The name "Le Mongre" may not seem so apt once those changes have been made.

Sitting before me as a possible path, this feels pretty good, even if it only lasts a season or three before I'm ready for that Rivendell. It feels much better than letting Le Mongre go, for sure. When I shared these thoughts with a friend this morning, she seemed happy that I was considering keeping it, and getting even more out of it through a role change. Apart from knowing that I thoroughly enjoy the bike, she reminded me that it came to me during a time of transition and possibility. Possibility that's sometimes difficult to see right now, amid a lot of uncertainty. But it's always there, waiting to be seen -- and in many cases, possibility that has faded from view can be rediscovered and rekindled when timing and circumstance are right.

Perhaps this beloved old Motobecane -- rekindled in a time of possibility -- can serve as a reminder of that.

All for now,


Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I hit a milestone on Saturday for lightening my load of distractions -- I sold my second-to-last remaining Gravely. This was the tractor I grew up with, and it was a 1948 Model L. Or at least parts of it were - the engine was probably a newer unit. I'd torn it apart a couple of years ago, cleaned it up thoroughly and reassembled it (in some cases fixing my own teenaged handiwork, and in others admiring it). It ran, once reassembled, but the cylinder jug had a crack, and it needed to be replaced. So the tractor came apart again and stayed that way for a lack of time. Or possibly interest. It's gone now, for better or worse, along with whatever Gravely spares I had.

Prior to that, I'd sold my rider and the rest of my leafing rig, and still earlier, the parts tractors I'd had. Most of my implements are gone, too. I still have a rotary plow that I'll be giving to my brother-in-law and sister (I managed to convince him to get a Gravely, so I'll at least have access to one). And he and I will swap snowblower attachments so that he has the narrower but superior 4-bolt model, and I'll have two quick hitch implements.

What I have left after that swap will go as a package once the house sells. That would be my main tractor (a 5665), the late-model 50" deck that I bought new at the end of the production run, and the aforementioned blower. And with that, I'll have officially lost (or at least suspended indefinitely) a hobby.

A second hobby, actually, because I've also offloaded all of my main woodworking equipment as well. All I really have left there is an assortment of hand and power tools that will fit easily into a storage chest.

I still have a long list of stuff to get rid of, from bike parts to ceramic sconces to an International Harvester dealership sign. The Motobecane, Columbia and the Trek mountain bike will join that list, in all likelihood, too.

Of all of this -- the tractors, tools and assorted stuff -- the Motobecane is the only one that hurts. So we'll have to see about that one. Otherwise, it's really a relief to be lighter, and my vision for the path ahead is to keep my life lighter, but also make it larger -- to help myself and my girls to find value in experiences rather than stuff. In other words, to live, rather than consume.

All for now,


Sunday, April 4, 2010


I've been jokingly called a control freak. At least I think it was jokingly. But I'm less that than a seeker of certainty. I like knowing what's on the path I choose -- where it will lead, and just as importantly, where it's likely not to lead.

Certainty is illusory, I know -- the best laid plans, and all that... But even acknowledging that, there's still that tendency in me. And just as I'm sure of that, I'm sure it's led me to decisions, situations and even relationships that haven't served me well.

A lot of certainty has been stripped away, of late, both by circumstance and my own choices. I find it unnerving, but I think there's potential for it to be refreshing. It isn't, yet, but could be.

Even so, uncertainty has brought me an appreciation for how impermanent most everything is, and understanding that -- truly grocking it -- may provide a new context in which to make decisions. It's also gotten me thinking about time scales differently. Yes, I have important decisions to make, but I don't need to decide most of them -- maybe any of them -- right now. Instead of analyzing the data and making a decision quickly, I could slow down. Work on being the best me I can, for myself and for others. Let the path unfold at its own pace, and focus on the joy found along the way. Decide later. Or never.

I'm working on that, and on seeing past uncertainty to the opportunity that accompanies it. The certain path is in many cases the most conservative one. And it seems doubtful, even to a seeker of certainty, that the most conservative path is the most interesting of those in reach.

All for now,


Spring Rites

This weekend, two spring rites that I don't believe have ever occupied the same weekend occurred -- my annual trip to New Jersey and New York for the auto show, and my first real ride of the year.

Auto Show
I took Friday afternoon off from work and headed straight from Lowell to my friend Brian's house in New Jersey. The ride down was really pretty painless -- maybe 4 3/4 hours, which from Lowell seemed pretty good. There was only one tight spot in traffic (accident outside of Hartford), and that maybe cost me 15 minutes.

Saturday was a beautiful day, and we rolled out after a late breakfast without jackets - the first time I think we've ever been able to do that. And the show itself was pretty good. It seemed smaller than in past years because there were several missing manufacturers, either from brands being killed off or because they didn't show up (no Ferrari, for example, from what I could tell). But that really just made it easier to get around, and most of the missing brands didn't do anything for me anyway. I was a little disappointed that a couple of the cars listed in the iPhone app for the show weren't there, but I suspect I'll live.

This year, as last, Ford seemed to be pulling the most activity, though the BMW booth was jammed too. Ford had the new Fiesta there in sedan and hatchback guises, as well as next year's new Focus, also in 4- and 5-door configurations. One of the missing cars from the iPhone app was the Focus C-Max, which is essentially something like a Mazda5, but maybe a little shorter. For a divorced soccer dad with two girls, a dog and our bikes, a car like that makes a lot of sense, and I'll probably move into something like it the next time I buy a car. I'm not planning to replace my Mazda3 any time soon, but in a couple of years I'll need to do something. It's racking up the miles quickly (120k and only 50 months old), and starting to get some rust bubbles on the door window frames.

The Chevrolet booth was supposed to have the Orlando on display, but it wasn't there either, despite what the iPhone app said. The concept was more muscular than the C-Max or Mazda5, and had conventional doors, and I'm interested to see how it'll compare to those. Next year, perhaps!

One car I really liked is the new Buick Regal. Yeah, I know -- the name is a throwback to my high school days. But that aside, this is an Opel Insignia, transplanted here from Germany virtually unchanged. It's got an attractive and well-finished interior, great seats, all the features you'd expect in a European or Japanese car, and no evidence that I could find of cheapening. It compared favorably to the Saab 9-3 or the small Volvos, and if there were a wagon version, it might be a contender for my next car. But whether it's right for me or not, it looks like a great car and I genuinely hope GM sells a million of them.

The Toyota booth was relatively quiet and the mood contrite. They didn't have the FE-86 concept on display, which might have helped things a bit. But there seemed to be plenty going on over at Lexus and Scion, so maybe all of the brands haven't been tarnished by the accelerator problems. But honestly, I think Toyota's biggest problem is that their line-up looks dated. The freshest designs are the new Sienna minivan and the new-last-year Venza -- how depressing is that?

I should say that the people working the booths this year seemed extra helpful. I had one woman chase me down to give me better answers about the Ford C-Max than she'd been able to offer initially, and a woman at the Chevrolet booth sought out an expert from the Detroit debut of the Orlando concept for me to ask questions of. Now, these folks are being paid to be helpful, but it was clear that something had changed from prior years to this year. Maybe there really is a new level of humility in corporate Detroit after the catastrophes of 2008 and 2009? Time will tell, but I liked the experience.

After the show, we walked across the city to Hillstone's (formerly Houston's) for a late lunch that proved sufficient to cover dinner as well. Good stuff, and as always the wait staff was superb. It had gotten windy and a little chilly, so we cabbed it back to Penn Station for the ride home.

First Ride
The weather has been absolutely gorgeous all weekend, which makes up for the downpours that caused unprecedented levels of flooding in my basement earlier in the week (6 or so inches, across the whole basement -- ugh). That made for the most painless ride home from New Jersey ever (4 hours flat, including two quick stops), and left me with an afternoon to fill between driving home and Easter dinner at the folks' house. The weather proved too much to resist, so I took the Kestrel out of the attic, pumped the tires up a bit more and set off for a ride.

And it felt absolutely fantastic to be out there. This is much earlier than I usually go, and though the roads were still pretty badly potholed from the winter and the recent rains, the sand had mostly been rinsed away, even though the towns haven't rolled out their street sweepers yet.

I followed my normal workout route over to Route 30 in Southborough, following it to 135 in downtown Westborough, then following that to 85 in downtown Hopkinton, then finally heading back into Southborough. Traffic was really light, presumably because so many people were home for Easter dinner -- lots of evidence of family gatherings, in the form of houses with many cars in the driveway. The computer on the Kestrel read 19.67 miles, which is shorter than I think it's ever read for the same route, so I need to measure the circumference of the new Vittoria tires and program the computer more precisely (I just used the internal preset for 700x23). They felt fine outside, by the way -- maybe a little harsher than I remember Vredestein Fortezza's feeling, but in fairness it's been years since I had a set of those on the Kestrel.

I felt really strong. There weren't many other riders out there, but I passed a few heading the other way, plus one on an aero-bar'ed Cervelo heading my way. He seemed tired, especially after he poured it on to retake the lead on a nice downhill, so maybe it was near the end of his ride. Or maybe it's just as early in his season as it was in mine. Either way, it felt good to pass a guy on a $4-5000 bike, while wearing sneakers and a tee shirt. Twice. And climbing, at that! Usually I'm a weak climber because I'm pretty heavy. But perhaps not, this season. I felt pretty strong.

Speaking of downhill stretches, I really do need to do something about the Kestrel. I just don't have confidence in it anymore and kept speeds below 25 mph, where in the past I have attempted and achieved nearly double that speed on the hill out of Hopkinton Center. When I sell the house, I'll call Rivendell and order a Roadeo, hopefully in time to get some use out of it this summer.

Wrapping up the ride, I was not at all prepared for the pain when I got off the bike! The muscles and tendons under my sit bones were positively screaming once I stood up, particularly on the left side. I need to toughen those up! Some of it may be that I've lost a bunch of weight since last season (15 lbs since New Year's), and some of it is probably the pounding from the crappy roads. Stretching helped, but time in the saddle is really what's needed.

Which I should have plenty of, come May. My last day at my current job is going to be 4/30, and I don't have anything lined up yet. I'm looking forward to logging a bunch of miles and working out the mental and physical kinks on the bike, so that when I do land, I'm fully recharged and ready to go!

All for now,