Sunday, May 30, 2010


When you've been under fire for a long time, everyone looks like a threat. So you build walls to keep the threats at bay, and let only a trusted few through the barricades. If you're not careful, staying safe can pretty easily become a way of life, even long after the shelling stops.

At least in the world I inhabit, most people represent some sort learning opportunity, not a threat. But you have to open the barricades to experience what they have to offer, against the risk that a bad guy will slip through the defenses.

After a day of actually engaging with my community, I have to say it's worth the risk. Anything else makes for a pretty awful way to live. Here's to taking away walls.

All for now,


Friday, May 28, 2010

An American in Tuscany

My 1972 Schwinn Sports tourer was made by a distinctly American (at the time) company with many distinctly American features -- thick-walled tubing, a built-in kickstand, and a headset to the American spec. But at the same time, this bike was just as heavily influenced by its European contemporaries, with tubing of chromoly, a standard English-spec bottom bracket shell, and Huret rear dropouts, of all things.

The bike took what I have to believe is its first trip to the source of its European influence in mid-May, on an Air France flight bound for Charles DeGaulle airport. Ultimate destination: Tuscany. The plan was to invest in myself in a badly needed break, and to get back to a place (Italy) that I've thoroughly enjoyed exploring in the past. The itinerary was ride the bike for a couple of days, then spend the next few days exploring Florence with my friend Allyson. She moved away seven months ago, and though we stay in close touch, in-person time is hard to get. This would be our third visit since she left, and the first time we've really traveled together.

So... good company, a good setting and a bike I've built and rebuilt with my own hands -- all the makings of a very fun trip!

The Gear
The bike went over just as I described it a few weeks ago. Fendered, racked, open pedals, front bag on a decaleur (with safety strap!). No real news there.

For lights I just had blinkies -- the front mounted on the fork crown where the fender keeps the mounting strap safely away from the tire, and the rear on the flap of my saddlebag. Italians pretty much don't ride around with blinkies, so I'm sure I looked a little ridiculous to them. That's OK -- nobody hit me. I didn't ride into dusk, so there wasn't need for anything brighter, light-wise.

The biggest investment in gear I made for the trip was in a Rivendell Saddlesack Large saddle bag, as seen in the top photo. It's a beautiful bag, made in small batches in Connecticut -- land of Ellsworths. As I think I mentioned before, I wanted to try touring with a saddlebag, and I didn't want to buy another set of panniers just because my V-O rack won't support my Blackburn panniers. Someday I'll rack a bike to support those and I'll have panniers at my disposal. In any case, the saddlebag is beautifully made and has classic good looks. It's big! And makes the bike look as if it's been eating too much pie. But at the same time, it offered me plenty of capacity, a decent level of water repellancy, and complements the bike's green Brooks saddle and tape, I think

The bike had to be pretty well disassembled to fit into the Cervelo box I got over at Landry's Bicycles. Stem and bars, saddle and post, wheels, pedals, rear fender -- they all had to come off the bike. And I don't think I've ever mentioned this before, but the bike has a mix of SAE and metric hardware on it. Schwinn was an American company after all, so French or not, the Huret dropouts are threaded SAE. The fork's dropouts are not threaded, so I used metric bolts and nuts there. Stem and headset -- SAE. Bottom bracket and seatpost -- metric. In any case, I couldn't just bring a multi-tool -- I had to bring a small kit of real tools as well, to handle reassembly (two SAE Allen wrenches, a multi-tool, an adjustable wrench, and two small metric wrenches, box and open end). Oh, plus a pedal wrench to get those on and off again. Not a light little kit, but one that fit just fine in the front pocket of my handlebar bag, in a heavyweight plastic bag to keep it neat.

The Ride
When I got to Florence, I took a van to a hotel (Hotel Ausonia-Kursaal) that had graciously agreed to allow me to store some luggage and my bike box there while I spent a few days on the road, before coming back and staying there. I unboxed the bike, rearranged my gear, packed the saddle bag with a couple of days worth of clothes, shoes and my toiletries, got changed and then headed out to find the train station. I got a little lost, which was a little funny, later, once I'd learned the city's layout a bit more. But I made it to the station about a half hour before the next train to Siena was scheduled to leave, so that worked out fine.

I had to fumble my way through the Italian train system, first not understanding the whole ticket stamping/validation thing, and then not understanding that I needed to buy a ticket for the bike as well. Then finding the carriage that had bike storage in it, and finally working past the uncertainty caused by the train itself appearing completely unattended. But the conductor turned out to be the guy milling around near the front of the train -- he was just out of uniform. A helpful and gracious guy.

Arriving in Siena, I bought a map (first thing to do in any new city), and spent maybe 45 minutes getting to the city walls. This was both because the streets weren't well marked outside the city, and I needed to get my bearings, and because I needed to do some tweaking and adjusting to the bike, post-reassembly. I got through all that, though, and spent the afternoon and evening exploring the city a bit.

Siena is charming, as you can see by the photo at the top. It's a little walled city made mostly of brick -- a maze of narrow streets plopped on top of hills that seem improbably steep for building a city. It's largely a walking city -- you can bike or ride a scooter, sure, but most people seem to walk around, and that makes riding a little sketchy. I explored on foot, and when I was headed in and out of town, walked the Schwinn around. Doing so introduced me to the one down-side of having chosen a handlebar bag and saddle bag -- the weight being up so high makes the bike want to fall over when it's not being ridden. But on the bike, that top heavy feeling seemed to vanish -- I'm way heavier than the baggage, of course, and I'm perched way up high, too.

I had a fun night that night, and was seated between two tables of Americans for dinner. I drank too much Chianti, but woke up feeling fine the next morning, ready to hit the road!

Making my way out of the city, I happened by a bike shop, and stepped inside to get my crank bolts tightened (I was a little light on the torque during the crank swap last winter, it seems, and didn't bring my crank wrench), and to pick up a cable lock. The shop was at all nothing like the typical superstore you see in the US -- more like the dim little shops you used to see back in the '70's and before all those places were driven out by the big boys in the '80's and '90's. Most of the shop's footprint appeared to be workspace and storage out back, rather than storefront (which was about the size of my kitchen, except darker and with more bikes). The proprietor was helpful, and took a moment to ogle the Rivendell bag. "Bella borsa" I think he said. Bella was easy enough, but I had to convert "borsa" to "purse" in my head on my way to "bag", so I was a half step behind when he started to point at the bag to close the loop. I pointed out the tag which explained its origin, and he gave the bag a once-over and a respectful nod. He sent me off with non-creaking crank arms and a lock I never ended up using, asking if I was headed to Rome. I managed to both understand that and respond back that I was headed to Florence. And off I went!

The ride to my first night's destination was interesting. Getting out of Siena required a bit of gut-based navigation. My city map got me to the outskirts, but then stopped before I was certain I was where I needed to be. I had much the same problem heading into Florence later, transitioning from street-level maps to the lower-resolution regional map, but I managed without getting too lost.

Once outside the city, the countryside was immediately fabulous. Hills everywhere, covered in vineyards, olive groves, other types of agriculture, hayfields and even some woods. SR 222 from Siena to Florence is a ride not to be missed! It's not long enough, but other routes could be added to make for a fantastic 5-6 day loop through the area. It's mostly agricultural, with just a bit of industry plopped here and there, and though the roads aren't wide and the traffic isn't slow, I never felt at risk of being hit (unlike, say, Route 2A in Concord, which is wider and flatter and straighter, and can be very scary if the traffic is up).

I stopped for lunch at Castellina in Chianti, a little hill town with a quaint shopping district, a neat church and a miniature castle (thus the name). Lunch was a banana I'd saved from the B&B's breakfast, some Orangina, a pear I bought in Castellina, some milk and four slices of Prosciutto bought at a little butcher shop that had cured meats in one case and things like rabbits and lamb shanks in another. I love eating that way when I'm traveling -- little of this, little of that, all tasty!

I'd noticed before lunch that some clouds had been approaching from the north, and heard a bit of thunder while I was eating. Then the temperature began to drop, and I'd say it dropped 15-20 degrees over the course of a half hour. The only shelter for me and my bike in Castellina was a sort of underpass through a line of buildings, and while there was a bench there, I figured if I didn't press on, I'd be stuck there a while. So I put on my new orange windbreaker, saddled up and made my way out of town.

SR222 north of Castellina largely descends until you start to make your way back up the hills toward Panzano. So I was coasting my way north, and had made it maybe a mile when it started to rain. Shortly thereafter, I started to get cold. I stopped, threw my Aardvark saddle cover on the Brooks, pulled off my windbreaker and added a layer of fleece to my upper body. This was standing under a small tree on the side of the road. That's about when the skies really opened up, and let loose not only with a God-awful torrent of rain, but added a solid helping of pea-sized hailstones to the mix. I wasn't really excited about standing under a tree during a thunderstorm, but neither was I excited about riding in a hailstorm, so I stayed put and put a little distance between me and bike, which was grounded through its kickstand, and standing in what was rapidly becoming a stream of runoff.

After a half hour or so of standing around, getting wetter and colder, the rain started to ease up a bit, and the hail stopped (but not the lightning), so I figured it was as good a time as any to make a break for it. I assumed riding would help me build up some heat. Except that the road was largely downhill, so I found that riding actually made me much colder, with both the wind and the water streaming down my legs from the road spray stealing all my warmth.

The shivering got pretty bad. First my legs, and then my arms. I've never been that cold on a bike before. I was worried a lot about crashing from the shivering and a little about hypothermia. So I stopped again in the lee of a quonset hut-like corrugated steel maintenance barn at the road side, again taking my chances against a conductive surface in a thunderstorm. About 15 minutes later, a rider out for a workout went by and that sort of shamed me into action. But I was truly cold, so I hit the next cafe I saw and sat for a few minutes, sipping espresso and warming up near the kitchen.

By the time I got out of the cafe, the rain had stopped. And not far past the cafe, the road began to rise again, and my body started producing heat again. As it turns out, I was completely unprepared to find my B&B for the night, and I followed my iPhone's maps app way out into the boonies, on a dirt road that ended at a farmhouse with a large, barky and unrestrained dog that fortunately had no apparent interest in doing more than barking. On the up-side, this detour gave me a glimpse at life off the 222, and it was pretty cool -- stone farm houses sprinkled among olive groves and vineyards. I logged 31 miles that day.

The next morning promised better weather. It was chilly, but the clouds were burning off even when I had this photo taken. I'm standing at the side of a major road, by the way. Not 222, but a route just as big. The proximity of roads and buildings is very different there than it is here.

I mentioned that there were other riders out there. And on the second day in particular, I saw many. What was interesting is that just as in the US, there is definitely some tribalism at work on the bikes. Whereas on my Kestrel I get lots of nods and waves from the more "racy" riders out there, I get almost zero attention on my Motobecane or my Schwinn (unless I'm riding with the girls, in which case other riders of all stripes are happy to see me passing the torch). In Italy, too, most of the other riders pretty much ignored me, given that I was a "touring" rider, not a "sport" rider. There were I think only two exceptions. One guy gave me a hearty smile and a thumbs-up. Another gave me a "Ciao!" in response to my "Buongiorno!" as he dusted me on a climb. The rest didn't acknowledge the nods or waves. Tribes.

I also noticed many more older riders. A third of the guys on bikes were past 60, I'd guess. Not here. And the only women I saw on bikes in my whole trip were commuters or tourists. No club-riding women at all, where there are plenty around here.

The ride from Panzano to Florence was really fantastic. The weather was great and I eventually took off first the fleece and then the sleeves from my jacket. The landscape was incredible, again -- a repeat of the day before, but in some cases even more stunning. The descent out of Panzano on SR222 was particularly beautiful, and my meager photography skills just couldn't do it justice. It was really steep, too, and I'm glad I was headed north, not south, like nearly all of the other riders -- I didn't envy them!

I made it to Florence just after lunchtime, and again had to sort of fumble my way through the outskirts of the city. At one point I found myself essentially at the top of a ramp onto the Autostrada, and realizing that really wasn't the place for me to be. Nowhere else to go but back, so I ended up backtracking through a village that didn't show up on my map and just sort of winging it through there to another road that turned out to be the right one to be on. I was much farther east than I thought I was, but everything is relative -- Florence isn't a big place.

I mixed walking and riding through the city as I made my way back to the hotel, stopping to read the map every once in a while. One thing I was taken by in that hour or so is how vibrant and seemingly communal that city is. At one piazza over near the University, a pair of elderly women sat at the other end of the stone bench I was on, as I studied my map. Another happened by and joined them in an animated discussion I didn't eavesdrop on, and would have missed most of if I had. But I was taken by the level of engagement I saw and heard. I noticed the communal aspect in Siena, too. People all seem to know each other, and stop to chat or vent or even just wave, if they're on their mobile phones.

Eventually I reached my hotel, having added another 30 miles to the odometer. I checked in, boxed up the bike, took a shower and planned the rest of my day, of sightseeing, laundry and food. I grabbed a slice and some biscotti as my laundry was churning away, then headed out to experience more of the city before heading to the airport to pick up Allyson. More on the rest of the trip another time -- it was just as fun, but different. Focused not on me exploring solo on a bike, but on exploring with a partner.

This Saturday morning I unboxed the Schwinn and discovered that the bike had suffered more from the flight home than it had in the crash a few weeks ago. The crash damage had been limited to a wheelset and tweaked fenders. At the hands of Italian, French and/or American baggage handlers, the fenders were tweaked, the little (irreplacable) TA rack I have bolted to my front Mafac was crumpled, there is a small dent in the top tube up by the head tube that wasn't there before, and the large chainring was both bent and suffered a broken tooth. The chainring was straightened enough to ride with an adjustable wrench as a lever, the rack has to be swapped and thrown away, and the dent isn't the end of the world. But the box really has to have been mistreated for that kind of damage to arise.

With that experience, next time I'm going to ask for a different kind of box -- one of the two-piece boxes that Trek Madones come in, with straps and the like inside, rather than the longer one-piece boxes like I ended up with. Particularly since I had to pay for the box (they used to be free!) A reusable hard case would be better, but they cost $3-400, and weigh 40 lbs themselves, both of which raise the price of bringing a bike somewhere considerably.

But there will be a next time, assuming I have the opportunity. And I'll give myself more time on the bike, next time, as well. There's just so much to see out there -- and so much I'd like to share about that experience with my kids and with others. Soon.

All for now,


Friday, May 14, 2010

Night Rain

I opened the kitchen door tonight to a driveway glistening with rain, and the occasional "tap" of a raindrop falling from the sky. It wasn't heavy enough to worry about, so Jake and I pushed through the door for his evening walk, me forgetting a jacket and flashlight.

When we hit the end of my driveway, the rain started falling with more conviction. I paused and looked at the sky. The nearest street light has been out for months, and tonight I was grateful for its absence, as the relative lack of light pollution helped me see what was happening overhead.

Directly above, the ragged trailing edge of a mass of light gray clouds was pressing east, leaving behind a sky empty but for the stars. It seemed as if the rain falling on my face came not from the clouds, but from that nearly empty sky.

We kept walking, following our usual path to the corner and all the way down that street. A few years years back, three wooded acres (an overgrown former fruit tree grove) that stood at this street's end yielded to progress. The trees have been replaced by a small house, a second, empty building lot, and an unlit cul-de-sac -- the space Juli learned to ride in, that I crashed the Columbia in, and in which Ava will further hone her skills on a bike.

By the time we got there, the clouds had passed further east -- still visible, but well past us. The rain had nearly ended, but I could still feel the smallest of drops on my face when I looked up. Random cool sparks, gone as soon as they were felt.

Jake took his time. But in that lingering I found nothing at all to mind.

All for now,


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Shaken down

It's been pretty chilly up here in Massachusetts this week. Sunny, but breezy and cool. Today it's going to rain, but it'll be clear again tomorrow and then starting to warm up as the countdown to Italy ticks off.

I've gotten the Schwinn pretty much shaken down at this point. I put 35 chilly miles on it the past couple of days, and it feels pretty good. The first was a ride back to the grocery store, to pick up a bag of oranges, a gallon of milk, a small bag of flour and a few other heavy things. I wanted to get a feel for the bike with a loaded handlebar bag and a load on the rear rack. And I have to say the bike did really well. I could feel the weight, of course, but it wasn't unwieldy. The steering was a bit more deliberate, and I could feel the high center of gravity through my feet as I rocked the bike on climbs, but none of this was obnoxious, and the bike felt stout enough for the load. I managed not to crash this time, either, so it seems my handlebar bag strap is doing the trick.

The second ride was a 20-miler on my workout loop. This was yesterday, and again it felt just fine. It wasn't at all hard to maintain a 20 mph pace where I usually can, and I didn't need the lowest gear on any of the climbs on that loop (I do use the lowest gear on the Kestrel and Motobecane, but I've both larger cogs and a smaller inner chainring on this bike). I think I only used second gear once, as well. The spacing between the cogs is a little wide, but with the wide front spacing, it's not hard to find a combination that works well. And it's a bike meant for paced touring, not gonzo sprints, anyway.

I've also been getting stuff together for the trip. The bike has a headlight now, though it's oriented to blink at oncoming cars more than light up the road. I have a rear blinky to clip onto the saddlebag when it arrives. I have a cable lock coiled around the little front rack, where it fits comfortably under the bar bag. And the bar bag has been stocked with the tools I'll need to disassemble and reassemble the bike while I'm there.

I'm planning to ride it once more solo tomorrow afternoon, and then take it out on Sunday with the girls -- Ava on the trailer bike. Then I'll break it down and pack it up!

I'll share a photo or two of the bike ready for the trip, once I have the stuff from Rivendell.

All for now,


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Crash Remedies

Because I need the bike for Tuscany, I haven't wasted any time trying to get the Schwinn rolling again since the crash yesterday.

I picked up a new set of gloves and a new wheelset from Harris Cyclery yesterday. I don't like the external-cam QR skewers that came with the wheels, but I have a spare set of Campagnolo skewers that I can try. The Quanta sealed-bearing hubs seem to spin just fine, and the Sun CR-18 rims (triple box) should be stronger, though heavier, than the lightweight Mavics that were on there. The Schwinn is a touring/all around bike, so strong is good. But the trashed wheelset (which had come with the Motobecane) was pretty nice -- Steven didn't go cheap when he bought it years ago.

I've also rigged up a solution for the bag-ejection problem that triggered the crash. I took an old but unused toe clip strap and slipped it behind the bag mount part of the decaleur, with the spring clip positioned at the top for easy access. It's more or less permanently part of the bag setup now, and matches the black nylon of the bag. It takes only moments to run down and around the back loop of the little Specialites T/A bag support when I put the bag on the bike, or to undo when I take it off. The decaleur isn't truly quick release with this setup, but the extra time is well worth keeping the bag where it belongs. If you're using a decaleur, I strongly recommend that you do something similar -- a little searching revealed others have had similar issues.

I also hit the local Apple Store yesterday, and they replaced my iPhone, rather than try to replace the glass. Fortunately, that was a flat-rate sort of thing, and it was only $200. My left shoulder has quieted down some, as have my knees, though I need to stock up on giant Band-Aids today. My right rotator cuff is not happy, but that shouldn't slow down my riding, at least.

As for other bike fixes, the damage was surprisingly light. The fenders required the tiniest bit of tweaking -- likewise the brake levers and handlebar stem. It won't be hard to put right, but yesterday was an expensive day.

All for now,


Friday, May 7, 2010


Well... that certainly sucked.

I just crashed on the Schwinn. I'd taken it grocery shopping, and was riding back to the house, with every intention of hitting Starbucks on the way home. The road was pretty rough, and on one particularly bad stretch, I had the double-pleasure of also being approached from behind by a landscaping truck. I was going maybe 15 when hitting a gully around a storm drain (I couldn't swing into the road around it, given traffic) bounced my handlebar bag up and out of its decaleur, tossing it right into my path. I thought briefly to myself "Oh, this isn't going to be...", then found myself flying up and over the bars.

I landed flat on my belly -- on my knees and palms, mostly. My left middle finger got a little chewed up, and I've got some abrasions on my right ribcage, my right thigh and my right shin, too. My palms were pretty well protected by my sacrificial Pearl Izumi mountain biking gloves. The knees are the worst, and they're currently gauzed and taped up, and burning exquisitely. I had to toss the long-sleeved tee I was wearing, and my riding shoes have some cuts on the toes. I think my right rotator cuff will ache a lot more tomorrow, too.

The Schwinn made it through mostly OK. The front wheel is potato chipped, so I'm going to cut the Specialized cartridge bearing hubs out, set them aside for a future wheelset, and toss the rest. A new set of 27" wheels will be mounted tomorrow. The brake levers both took a little abuse, but no big deal there. My Rivendell ShopSack looks like it's now been well-used (though today was the first time I actually used it). And I'll have to un-tweak the fenders, I'm sure.

My handlebar bag is a little chewed up, too, but the big loss is my iPhone, which was new in January. It still works just fine, but the screen is smashed -- held together by the laminate thing I put on it. Bummer. Strangely, the jar of pickles in the handlebar bag survived intact.

Fortunately, my ex-wife works nearby, was heading to lunch and was able to come get me and bring me to the house. The bike wasn't rideable, so that was a very good thing.

Lessons? The big one is that decaleurs are not foolproof. Any bag so mounted needs a bungee or a strap to hold it down and in-place on rough roads. I got lazy there -- that's usually how I rig the front bag. Even so, I'm likely to toss the decaleur altogether after this crash, and go with a different style of bag and mount. Maybe the new Riv bag with the Nitto mount.

The picture, by the way, is from my iPhone, of the bike sitting outside the supermarket maybe 10 minutes before the crash. This is largely how it's going to Europe. Maybe a different handlebar bag, and the basket will come off so the saddlebag will go on. And the wheels will be new, of course.

Anyway, keep the shiny side up, as they say... It's rough out there.

All for now,


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Getting Ready

I'm halfway through my first week of being without a job and am feeling great about things. I've had a handful of interviews, meetings and calls this week, and there seems to be a fair bit of activity out there in my field. It may take time to find the right fit, but I'm optimistic and excited by much of what I'm seeing.

One of these meetings was in Cambridge. I like the opportunity a lot, at first blush, and am trying to figure out if the fit is right. I can say for sure that being in Cambridge elicited much of the same excitement that being in Boston had for me a couple of weeks back. Not just because of the decade I spent at Lotus in that same neighborhood, but because of the people -- the vibrancy of the area. I look at that today and find it hard to fathom why I ever moved 20 miles away from the action, or worked even farther away. But of course I know the answer -- it was a track. And I found or created plenty to hold dear on that track. But I'm pretty sure I need to frame those things differently now. And I'm working on it.

Anyway, back to my week. One of the things I'd hoped to do this week is park the car and largely bike my way through life. I can't say I've parked my car entirely, but I have logged nearly 30 miles on the Motobecane the past two days. I ran some errands yesterday, and grabbed lunch with my dad, all with the help of Le Mongre. And likewise, today I ran to a doctor's appointment, then did a quick workout loop while also managing to pop into my kids' schools during their after school program. I could get used to this biking thing -- practical biking, I mean, not just "doing loops" biking.

I've also been getting the Schwinn ready for its trip across the Atlantic to Tuscany. It now wears fenders, courtesy of my REI dividend, and three of the four bearings on the hubs have been lubed up. The last is hidden behind the freewheel, and will remain inaccessible until I get a bike shop to get it off. I shattered my vise trying to remove it -- which was both surprising and unwelcome, as you might imagine. On the up-side it shows what a little leverage can achieve!

I may actually need to get new wheels for the Schwinn, depending on how the rear wheel fares during the freewheel removal process. The eyelets on the old Mavic rims are also a little rusty, and I'm not sure heading on a 3-day tour on the old rims is necessarily a good idea. Fortunately Harris Cyclery has decent wheelsets at a relatively low price that would do the trick, should replacement prove necessary. In 27"/630, I should add -- my rear brake won't reach to a 700C/622, and I've already messed with the rear brake plenty this week, having trashed the threads on the rear mounting bolt trying to install the fender. I had to buy a metric tap and die set to re-thread it, and I bought a NOS bolt set to give me a backup.

Today I also ordered a pair of plastic water bottles, some toe clip straps and a large saddlebag from Rivendell. The water bottles shouldn't leach into the water in the sunlight like the Specialized bottles I have do, and won't rattle in the Schwinn's Velo-Orange cages like my Sigg bottles do. The saddlebag is the large Saddlesack -- a formal, square-rigged sort of bag in hunter green canvas, tan leather and brass. I already have a set of panniers, so I didn't want to buy a second set, just because they won't fit on the Schwinn's rack (their top hooks are non-adjustable and interfere with the rack's crossmembers). Also, I've been wanting to try life with a large saddlebag, and wasn't convinced I needed 50 liters of capacity. So I got Riv's biggest bag, and we'll see how that goes. I'm sure it'll be fine. The toe clip straps will secure the bottom of the bag to the rack -- or at least I hope they will -- and keep the bag positioned where it belongs on the bike.

Once I have the wheels situation settled, I'm going to ride the Schwinn exclusively for the next week or so, making sure it's been thoroughly shaken out and is ready for the trip. I'm not expecting any problems with it, but better safe than stranded on SS222 somewhere between Siena and Florence.

I've been in a pretty awful place, stress-wise, for months. On top of the good interviews and the activity in prep for the trip, this week's sunlight seems to have been bleaching away that stress, and I'm feeling great after only three short days of not working. Any doubts I've harbored about spending three days solo on a bike in another country are gone, and any questions about whether moving on from my last job was the right thing to do have been erased. I feel better than I have in months. Genuinely good. Right-minded. I'm even sleeping later every morning, and am hoping that I'm well on the way to reclaiming my normal sleep schedule.

It's going to be a good trip. I'll be ready. And open to whatever it brings.

All for now,


Saturday, May 1, 2010


In what's been a recurring theme for me of late, I've found that it's really easy to get caught up in what I don't have, or worry I might not have. But the truth of the matter is that my life is rich, and I've plenty of opportunity to make it more so, even as I walk away from some of the things that have anchored me for years.

Friday was my last day at work, and I don't have anything lined up yet. I paid bills Friday night, cleaned the house for a showing Saturday morning, and generally ran around stressed out -- a condition that's not good for anybody. This after a week where I'd felt really good -- very positive -- in general. I hit the sack at 10:30 or so, and woke up at 4:00 -- an ungodly hour to wake up, but one that's unfortunately on the late side of things for me these days.

Fortunately, as the simply gorgeous day that it was unfolded yesterday, I found myself starting to relax again. I packed us a picnic lunch yesterday (Jake, included), and we spent much of the morning outside at one of the schools in town, where first Ava then Juli had their soccer games. I got a little sunburned (forgot my sunscreen), but both girls' teams won their games and they both played well. Juli stopped four shots on goal in her half as keeper, and Ava scored two of her team's 6 goals. Jake, fluffy as he is, was hot. I gave him a lot of water to help keep him cool, but I was hot just looking at him. Unfortunately soccer fields don't offer much shade. For our next hot day I'm bringing ice cubes -- for him and for our Sigg water bottles. I kept wishing we'd been able to ride to soccer, so in the coming weeks, we'll have to make that happen.

Yesterday afternoon the girls and I went into Boston, to walk around, shop for a gift and find some dinner. What a great day to be in town! We parked at the garage under Boston Common, which was teeming with sunbathers, then walked through the Public Garden, which was likewise full of people out walking, taking swan boat rides and generally enjoying the day. We walked down the park that separates the two halves of Commonwealth Avenue, where we saw a guy make a turn down the wrong (one-way) side of Comm Ave, realize his error, then make a 3-point turn in the middle of everything to to rectify his situation, only to smack into a Lincoln Navigator sitting innocently at a light.

We stopped at a bookstore after that, then walked past Trinity Church over to the Boston Public Library -- a building I've never been in before. It's a neat place and I want to go back when that's more a deliberate destination than a random stop. At Copley, the girls were rather taken by the sight of the John Hancock building, and were impressed that their mother worked in that building for a time, before either of them was born.

By the time we got to the restaurant, Ava had stubbed her toes a few times, and was complaining about blisters. Juli's feet hurt, too. So the next time we go into town for a walk, I'll separate that from getting dressed up for dinner. Maybe just hang out at the common, then walk around the Public Garden. Or pick any of the hundreds of other things to do in town, and dress appropriately.

In any case, it was a good day. I was able to appreciate the weather, to enjoy some time with my kids (not entirely stress-free, but still time to enjoy and, yes, appreciate), share some new spaces with them, and enjoy a decent meal. And today, I woke up feeling more relaxed than yesterday -- certainly more than Friday night. I hope this trend continues over the next several weeks, leading up to my upcoming trip to Tuscany.

I'm not entirely sure how the trip will unfold, yet. The plan is to spend a few days solo, either biking around or taking trains around. Exploring another country solo isn't something I've ever done, and honestly I think it'll be good for me. I'd really prefer to bike it, but my left knee is messed up and I don't want to get stuck somewhere with a bum knee. So I may take trains instead -- I'll see how my knee feels over the next week or so. I'm going to try to ride most every day, now that I'm not working. I also really need to get cracking on my Italian course!

After my solo time out and about in Tuscany, I'll be meeting my friend Allyson in Florence for a few days. I'm really looking forward to that. As a friend, I've been burdensome the past couple of months, and I have perhaps even taken for granted that she would be there to listen and offer support. I'd like to be able to make up for that -- share some quality time, connect, and show my deep appreciation for the support she's offered, and more broadly for what I am certain has been one of the most important friendships of my life. One I hope -- I trust -- will remain so.

So apart from re-learning Italian, and continuing the job search, a primary focus for me the next few weeks will be to relax and reflect. To try not to worry about what might not be. But rather acknowledge what is and appreciate it, focus on expanding my world, and get myself to a place where I'm open to discovering what can be. I've got a few meetings set up for next week, relating to my search, and a bunch of tasks I need to get done. But I'm going to try not to use my car too much, try not to work on the house at all, and do my best to let go of the stress I've been carrying too long.

All for now,