The end of an era

August 28th, 2012

Last week, I started a new job at Oregon Health Sciences University. I’m really excited about it. The job is challenging, the people are cool, the atmosphere is fantastic, and after 16 years of spending 2hrs or more per day commuting, I’m just minutes from where I work.

Of course I miss the friends and coworkers I left behind.  I may have worked only 5 years at the Alliance, but I’ve worked with many of the people at my offices in Eugene and Corvallis since I first arrived in Oregon. Even though my actual responsibilities aren’t so much different than what I have been doing, it’s a big change for me.

All the same, adjusting to my new digs has been easier than I expected. I ride 85% less than I used to, but I also get to sleep an hour extra per day. I arrive home early enough that I can actually call friends and do things with them. I love being right on the river. And I really like Portland.

People have been kind to me wherever I go, so I’ve liked every place I’ve lived and every job I’ve had. But this time is somehow different — I have a really good feeling about it.

Rant of the day

May 16th, 2012

While cycling through through a green light on my way to work this morning, a guy waiting for a red light on the right suddenly gunned the engine and turned on me (not in front of me, but actually on me in a maneuver that normally would have t-boned me).

Fortunately, I ride in the left of the traffic lane if I can keep up. If I would have been in the designated bike lane, I would have been creamed. Instead, I had enough time to swerve and split the lane with oncoming traffic.

I live by the motto, “Ride like everyone is trying to kill you, but don’t take it personally.” So normally I’d just chalk this up as a stupid mistake and let it go. For some reason (probably because he was driving next to me), I shouted “WHOA! MY LIGHT WAS STILL GREEN!” He replied that he couldn’t see recumbents which struck me as strange because few motorists know what a recumbent is. Here’s a picture of mine if you’ve never seen one.

I understand that people just screw up sometimes. But it was clear the guy thought that *I* was in the wrong for being in his way despite the fact that he was the one that ran a red light. I also understand that some motorists don’t care for middle aged posers, but they’re not the only people you’ll find on bikes. Kids ride them too, and they’re far less likely to pull off an evasive maneuver like I did this morning.

So if you’re riding, watch out for the idiots. They’re not out to get you, but they will anyway if you aren’t vigilant. And if you’re behind the wheel, please be aware that the 2 tons of steel vs. flesh thing never works out well.

Spring is here!

April 25th, 2012

Kyle Banerjee skiing on Marys Peak
One of the best kept secrets in skiing is that the real fun begins right about the time everyone quits for the season. Don’t get me wrong. I love deep powder, snow camping, and the like.

But this has been one of the wettest springs on record so I’ve spent a lot of time frozen and soaked. So having a chance to be warm while having some outdoor fun was really nice. Naturally, I’m also looking forward to some serious cycling and kayaking as well.

The only thing that sucks is that too many people in my crazy profession seem to think that Friday nights and Saturday mornings are a great time for business meetings. While this doesn’t happen *that* often, it’s still guaranteed to occur in both May and June which means less time with friends or doing something fun outside. Argh…  But it’s my own dang fault for purposely going into a nerdy discipline.

Ten years ago today…

February 1st, 2012

I realized I’d become a shadow of my former self and decided to do something about it.

As is the case today, it was dark and cool with light rain. I decided to bike to work. My logic was that if I could ride every day for a month, I could do it as long as needed.

At first, I wimped out and rode from a park and ride 11 miles from work. But not long after I started riding, some jackass stole a taillight assembly from my truck and tried to take the tailgate. Rather than deal with problems like that, I decided to ride the full 18 miles which really didn’t take much longer than driving the first few miles.

After a month, I was sore. After two, I felt better (particularly since it was starting to warm up and the light was returning), and after six, I was totally addicted. Within a year, I was in decent shape and taking on rides I hadn’t done for years.

Since then, my commute has lengthened and I’m more addicted to cycling than ever. Thanks to my decent base, I’ve been able to expand into other sports and hang out with people who really know their stuff. And as much as I whine about getting slower, I’d be damn depressed if I started riding at speeds that I would have been very happy with 10 years ago.

Life is simply more fun when you ride. Pushing your limits for an hour straight on the way into work puts you in a state that takes the edge off the most mind numbing meetings. There’s no substitute for air in the lungs, endorphins in the bloodstream, and a burn in the legs. It’s fun to hang out with people who actually know what they’re doing and participate in activities that most people can only dream about.

Here’s to staying out there and never getting tired of it.

Departing from my normal practice

November 23rd, 2011

I usually avoid discussing politics because it’s a great way to accentuate points of contention with people when anyone who likes to get things done knows we need to focus on what we have in common. But a recent incident where police were shown on video pepper spraying peaceful protesters has really been bugging me.

At over 5 million Scoville units (habanero peppers are 350,000), that orange stuff you see the cops coating the students faces with is far hotter than the worst peppers you’ve encountered in your life and burns like acid even if it gets in contact with your skin. Get much of it in your eyes or your lungs, and you might need to be hospitalized as some of the students in the video did. It’s dangerous stuff.

The police chief made the ludicrous claim that this extreme action was necessary to because the officers were surrounded and their safety was in jeopardy. A lot of people support the police actions. I only wonder what those same people would have said if these events had occurred in China.

There are few more effective ways to generate contempt for the law than allowing those charged with enforcing it to abuse their authority or not obey it themselves.

A Peachy century

September 26th, 2011

There are a few rides that have special significance to me, so I do them every year. Although I ride year ’round, I consider the Monster Cookie to be the official start of cycling season. Yesterday, I rode the Peach which ends the season.

The Peach normally attracts over 1,000 cyclists, but it seemed practically empty this year — undoubtedly due to the miserable weather report which called for cool winds and rain all day. Bryan was among the casualties, calling me at 6am to tell me it was just too miserable to ride.

The rain actually wasn’t that bad for the first 50 miles or so, but there was enough that I was glad I brought my commuter rather than my race bike. During the second half of the ride, the rain grew stronger. A number of cyclists opted to shorten their rides due to the rain, but frankly the wind was a much bigger factor. I knew from the beginning that my speed was going to be pathetic, so I set my computer so I couldn’t tell how fast I was going.

I can’t even remember the last time I rode a century under such crummy wind conditions. The big ring on my compact crank got very little use, and all riders were hurting. Fortunately, I was felt really good throughout the day and finished strong — though I was definitely ready for the ride to end at the 100 mile mark.

September is the month of the Bike Commute Challenge, and today represents the first day in 10 years that I chose not to ride in during the Challenge. When I’m in pain, a recovery ride with an easy pace is normally just the ticket. But it’s windy and rainy today, plus I have to make it to orchestra after work. Riding fast for more than 40 miles in lousy conditions when you’re already hurting does not a recovery ride make. Instead, I’m trying out a new philosophy I thought up yesterday. It’s called, “masochism sucks.” So far, it seems to be working well.

An icy hot ride

August 23rd, 2011

I’ve been off the bike a lot due to work and vacation travel lately, but I thought it would be fun to take a recumbent to the Crater Lake Century. I consider the Crater Lake to be one of the best balanced rides out there. There are probably only about three events in the entire country that have scenery this good, it’s challenging without being epic, and the support is excellent.

Since ‘bent riders are the primordial ooze of the cycling world and I was clowning myself by riding one, I figured I may as well go all the way so I donned a jersey with polka dots on it. If you’re not familiar with bicycle racing, the best climber in the Tour de France wears a jersey with polka dots. ‘Bents don’t climb well and their riders have a reputation for being poor climbers, so wearing this outfit made me look especially ridiculous.

It was about 75 degrees and sunny for most of the ride. It doesn’t get better than that. Literally. And the scenery was fantastic. I always tell people that if they only go to one place in Oregon, it should be Crater Lake as that place never disappoints.

The first 30 miles or so is easy time in scenic agricultural land. That’s a nice way to start a ride, particularly if you encounter a bald eagle at close range, which I did.

What makes a ‘bent slow on extended climbs is you can’t rotate different muscle sets very well. That means that you must ease up on the effort to avoid risking cramping even if your legs are strong. If you’re like me and aren’t particularly strong, then you’re doubly screwed. It seemed like the only people I passed were ladies with gray hair.

The climb to the rim was worth it as it always is. The sights are great, and you get some rollers. We’d been given all these warnings about the roads being particularly dangerous due to the late snow melt, but they were just fine.

I kept getting stuck behind vehicles or cyclists who looked a bit squirrely on the descents, so I never got a chance to go full bore even if my speeds got into the mid 40’s a few times. Still, that’s a decent clip.

The good news is that due to riding easy on the climbs, I felt way better than I normally do. I was actually able to eat and enjoy everything, and keeping keeping hydrated was also easy. The BBQ at the end of the ride tasted great, and my legs felt pretty good too. Although I’m normally the kind of guy that likes to operate near my limits, I must say it’s a lot of fun to take an easier pace and enjoy things.

Follow the recipe

August 9th, 2011

This past weekend, I took part in the Shasta Super Century. It’s a great ride. The scenery is outstanding, the route is challenging, and the support is excellent. I look forward to it all year.

When I first started riding the Shasta, I’d prepare by riding repeats on Mary’s Peak and interval workouts in the garage. Back then, I also rode significantly more than I have been over the past few years.

Nowadays, I do no real preparation. My logic is simple: why torture yourself for months to finish a ride when you can just suffer for one day? But since this method also results in me being less fit, I need to ride smarter.

I use a heart rate monitor to help me make sure I don’t ride too hard when I’m on an adrenaline high so I have plenty of energy for the end. But riding hard is fun, and I just couldn’t resist hooking up with a group of local racers. What I didn’t realize is that they had no intention of making it to the end and were just out to have some fun shredding each other on the hills. As a result, I stupidly spent well over an hour with my HR over 160, with significant sections over 170. That’s a rotten pace for a long ride.

I paid dearly for that. On the final climb, I wound up puking and bonking as my pulse dropped to 112 which is ridiculously low given the activity. With my head in a total fog, I stopped 2.5 miles from the end to rest. After a few minutes, I was able to eat three small chunks of cantaloupe which made me feel way better and I rode to the end.

I’m already looking forward to next year, and this time I’ll follow the plan. Or not. Besides, if you really want to have fun, you should ride the way you want rather than the way you should.

That’ll keep me out of trouble…

July 19th, 2011

Earlier today, I signed the first major contract for the company I’m running. In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure why I decided to take this on.

Sure, it’s a great project. It’s useful. Its technically challenging. I’ll learn a lot. And I really like the team I’ll be working with. But I can say the same about my day job, and it’s not like I need the work. All the same, it felt right.

I think I might be doing this for many of the same reasons I like cycling in mountains and technical ski descents. There is something relaxing about challenging yourself. Just as being in a traffic jam is disappointing because the car can’t do what it is meant to do, operating deep in your comfort zone feels a heck of a lot like driving with one foot on the gas and one on the brake.

Naturally, the timing of this project coincides with an even more complex one at work. While you’d think that would make it harder for me to focus properly on each one, I find that it makes it easier. Just as being active makes you stronger which in turn makes you feel like being even more active, doing things sharpens your skills which makes you feel like taking on more.

Another crazy idea I can’t shake

May 7th, 2011

Even though I’ve never actually owned a motorcycle, I’ve had a license to ride one since the mid 80’s. I wanted to buy a bike after having an absolute blast at the safety course I took to prepare. But, I couldn’t afford the new bikes, and the used ones I could find cheap required mechanical skills I didn’t have.

For the past 10 years, money hasn’t been an issue and my commute is almost ideally suited for a motorcycle. However, I like to ride my bicycle for that, and there’s no way I’d be in the condition I am in now if I started using motorized transport. I like cycling way too much to give that up.

Recently, I’ve been thinking more about how I could make it work. Monmouth is near many roads which are ideally suited for motorcycles. There is practically no traffic but there is great scenery, hills, and curves everywhere you look.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to make a motorcycle work for commuting (taking only back roads — I think heavily trafficked highways would be suicidal). Despite the fact I ride my bicycle in anything, regular long distance commuting on a motorcycle is not a good idea.

I still can’t get this bike out of my mind as it would be perfect for the roads that meander through rolling farmland. I frequently encounter motorcycle clubs when I ride my bicycles in these areas.

Shirley is not a fan of my idea. She believes my plan is pointless and more importantly, that I could manage to get myself maimed. That’s a serious issue because if that happened, that would mess up things for her as well as me.

My view is that the things we like the most often have no point. I love dogs and would get more if I could. But as a practical matter, owning them is a responsibility, they take lots of time and money, and they mess up your house. Likewise, the skiing/snowboarding that I like also brings no real benefit (since I’m already in shape) while increasing the possibility of significant injury.

There is risk in everything, and in the end, it’s all about understanding what you value, your limitations, and managing the risk. I regularly ski and snowboard in terrain that would have practically guaranteed serious injury a few years ago, but I still don’t go where I don’t belong. I ride my bicycles in situations which would be unwise for more than 99% of the population. However, it’s safe enough for me because I have the experience and skills to know what I should and should not do.

I know motorcycling is among the riskier activities, but I’m totally convinced it’s not crazy so long as you keep your head on your shoulders and maintain adequate respect for what you face. It’s not hard to find senior citizens that have been enjoying riding for decades. I just can’t get it out of my head that it would be a great match for me and that I could do it smart.

My latest project

December 24th, 2010

Every now and then, I like to try something different. So when people approach me with an idea, I’m ready to listen. To make a long story short, one of my colleagues found a really interesting technology project in Michigan. The only problem was that if we were going to be involved, we’d need to start a company. So we did.

I’ve thought about doing this a number of times over the years. But things just didn’t quite feel right. Undoubtedly, one of the major obstacles is that while I find my work interesting, I’m also trying to find ways to do less of it. If you have this attitude, starting a company does seem like a strange thing to do.

But this time, things just seemed to line up. My partner is a maniac in the best sense of the word. The project is both intellectually challenging and philosophically appealing. Plus, it’s actually one that both of us are particularly well qualified for. I talked to the project manager on the other side, and she’s definitely someone I’d like to work with.

I knew that if I ever want to consider hanging out a shingle, this is the time. I think we’ll do fine, but whether or not we succeed, I know I’ll be glad we tried.

Goodbye, gentle buddy

November 21st, 2010

Today, we accompanied Bo on his final trip to the vet. His condition had been deteriorating ever since he’d been diagnosed with bone cancer, and in recent days he became withdrawn and only a ghost of his normal exuberant self. He couldn’t sleep at night due to the pain. It was time.

Bo actually belonged to our neighbors Tim and Sally, but he always had a special place in our hearts, so we were honored to be invited to come with him today. Shortly after he moved in, a hole was cut in the fence so he could play with Keiko and visit when he wanted. He came over practically every day to play, go on walks, or relax with us in the evening. He looked after us and Powder like his own family, and we always looked forward to seeing him. The house seemed quiet and empty on days when he didn’t come. It seems empty now, and we miss him.

Shirley compiled some of our favorite pictures of Bo. They don’t do him justice, but check them out.

Homage to a light bulb

October 13th, 2010

When I flipped the switch this morning so I could see to make breakfast, I found myself in darkness. Normally, one would assume the bulb had burnt out, but we’ve been through a bit too much with this one to make such an assumption without testing the circuit. But our worst fears were confirmed.

This was no ordinary bulb. I originally bought it with a fixture for Shirley’s birthday in 1996. It’s a decorative bulb, and I remember thinking what a ripoff it was to charge $3.95 for it. But I misjudged it terribly.

Throughout that entire time, it has been the most used light in the house. It’s one of the first lights on in the morning, and one of the last ones off at night.

So when it finally died, it just didn’t seem right to just throw it away. The compact florescent replacement provides more light and draws significantly less energy, but all the same, a great light has gone out.

Topping off an excellent cycling season

September 27th, 2010

Although I ride all year, I get especially excited about cycling season. For me, cycling season officially begins with a ride known as the Monster Cookie which takes place on the third Sunday in April, and it ends with the Peach which is held the last Saturday in September.

The Peach attracts about 1000 riders, but this year the cool wind and rain drove a lot of people away — I’ve never seen so few cyclists at a major event ride before. But I enjoy riding in slop, so I simply took my commuting rig which was literally built for such conditions.

I usually ride solo, but the wind was bad enough that I thought I’d be crazy not to make a few friends. So I started working with a local team around mile 45. The weather was relentless, and a lot of riders were bailing. But I was having a blast as was the team I was with.

Between mile 55 and 75, I didn’t see a single other cyclist aside from the team members. We thought we were off course, but the faint course markings which had been mostly washed away by rain indicated we weren’t. The feed station at mile 75 is normally very busy, but it was desolate when we arrived. The volunteers told us only 5 riders showed up before us, 4 of whom were still there.

During the final leg, the rain started letting up, but I’d worked a bit too hard fighting the wind when I was leading the group. At mile 90, I fell off the back on a modest climb into a headwind. The team support vehicle released their mascot, a pit bull named Ramses, to motivate me. And while that lifted my spirits and gave me a boost, I just didn’t have enough left in me to bridge the gap.

While I was enjoying peach cobbler and ice cream at the end, one of the team members came up to me, said some flattering things about my riding, and reiterated an invitation I’d been given earlier to ride with with their team. The whole day had been fantastic, but that really ended things on a positive note.

Getting soft in my old age

August 2nd, 2010

As is the case with most endurance geeks, it’s not my style to bail on rides I can finish. But 12 miles from the end of the Shasta Super Century yesterday, that’s exactly what I did.

Overall, the day went well. I covered the first 100 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing faster than I ever had before. However, that speed came from pretending I could keep up with riders who were stronger than me. As a result, I started the final ascent dizzy and nauseated from overexertion.

I had two choices if I wanted to reach the end: 1) I could push on which was guaranteed to make me puke and require me to ride with my head in a fog; or 2) I could take a nap to recover and then ride to the top.

The purpose of these rides is to have fun, and despite having masochistic tendencies, neither puking nor passing out sounded like an attractive way to finish the day. I decided to return to the hotel. After taking a one hour nap, I felt great. There was still time to return to the course and complete the final climb. But who cares? A shower and a fine meal sounded like a much better option.