2018 Texas/New Mexico Trip Journal

Thursday, 8/30 – Headed out of town at 6:10 AM, taking I-40 to I-85. Encountered some traffic near Charlotte and Atlanta but nothing too bad. Most of it was because of construction. Got close to 18 mpg on the first tank of fuel. Around 7:00 PM, found a Comfort Inn near Jackson, MS. Ate at Ruby Tuesday near the hotel. We managed to fit all five bikes in the hotel room.

Friday – Got on the road at 8:00 after a kinda lame breakfast at the hotel. While driving through Jackson, the ABS light and two other warning lights lit up on Vanna’s instrument cluster. There was no real detrimental effect, except lack of cruise control. Probably a loose sensor. Laura read the manual and googled more info on it. Results seemed to support the loose sensor theory. Mpg seemed to drop a bit on the subsequent tank of fuel…bad diesel? Not sure. Ate at Cracker Barrel then rolled into Richardson around 4:00. Pete and Kim were not home yet, so we went to the store to get some sides for a cookout. Kimberly and Ellie arrived home and then Pete a little after 6:00. Ate grilled chicken, tater salad, etc., then watched Battle Bots. Later, Pete and I went to Spec’s to get some booze.

Saturday – Left P&K’s at 7:10 to fetch Adam in Lakewood. Took I-30 to Fort Worth to drop Laura off at Oma’s. Hit the road proper at 8:30, going through Weatherford to 920 to 1885 to 281 north. Got to Wichita Falls and El Norteno’s at 10:45…a bit early, but they were open. Food was awesome, as usual. Once back on the road, the overhead speaker panel fell, but luckily was halted by the sun visor panel. If that panel had not been there, Pete and Adam may have been knocked out. The amps would no longer work as a result, so we had no tunes. I set about trying to troubleshoot the issue but could not get power back. Adam suggested the amps were not grounded properly. Sure enough, the two screws that were holding up one side of the panel were also completing a circuit for the ground. When they sheared off, the circuit was broken. We stopped and got some cheap tools and I devised a temporary fix, then we were back in business and ready to boogie with tunes once more. We took 86 west from Estelline, then the usual route once in New Mexico. Like last year, we listened to ZZ Top’s Tejas on the stretch from Clines Corners to Eldorado. Arrived a little after 7:00 and ate Wendell’s excellent chicken tikka masala. Slept okay in the Sprinter.

Sunday – Ate some cereal and rode Galisteo Basin Preserve trails (from the Thumb trailhead this time) while Wendell, Pete, and Adam hiked. Laura and I got about 12 miles in, completing a large loop which included most of the trails. Picked up Elizabeth at the tiny Santa Fe airport, then drove straight to Lamy for a small festival with music and burgers. Met Terry, Sandy, and Sandy’s cousin Anna, who was about Elizabeth’s age. Got Elizabeth checked into her airbnb, then ate pizza at Chez Moya (Mom & Wendell’s). Terry et al showed up as well. Later, we played Wise and Otherwise. Mom led most of the round, then I made my move and finished strong for the win. But it really was not at all calculated; I just got a little lucky. Slept a little better in Vanna, but still battling a nagging cough.

Monday – Awoke and made bacon, eggs, and toast for the entire crew. Got bikes prepped and headed to La Tierra with Laura, Wendell, Pete, and Elizabeth. Elizabeth rode around the gravel lot, but seemed uneasy on the Pivot. Wendell, in the meantime, was having drivetrain problems on the Highball. We made some adjustments to no effect, then realized the cassette was worn while the chain and chainring were brand new. Not good. No amount of adjusting was going to fix that. Wendell decided to pedal easy up and down the road and would forgo the trails. Elizabeth joined him after deciding that the risk to her ACL was too great. I felt bad for them, and frustrated at the bike mechanic who failed to properly assess the wear on the cassette. While on the ride, I decided I would endeavor to find a new cassette while in Santa Fe. Pete rode strong on the Norco, while I pushed the S-Works single speed. The “Hustle and Flow” section was not as fun on SS rigid, however. We rode for about an hour and a half. Back home, we ate leftover pizza while Elizabeth ran errands and found a Planet Fitness to get a in a short workout. Sandy came over later and we all pitched in to help Mom shoot a video. It was an artistic short inspired by The Greeting by Bill Viola. It starred Sandy, Laura, and Elizabeth. Mom wanted to explore the array of emotions resulting from an awkward gift exchange, using slow-motion to fully capture the expressions on each actor. It came out really well. Later, Pete set up recording hardware for me to complete the solo on Don’t Want It. I noodled around until I found the solo I wanted, then punched record. It was not to be, however, due to technical difficulties with Garageband. Pete fiddled with the program awhile, then decided to give it a rest until he could figure it out by way of instructional videos. For supper, we ate Adam’s stew that had been…umm…stewing all day. Started a round of Beyond Balderdash with only four participants, but soon quit when we realized the real answers could be easily guessed. Later we watched Monsters, which Elizabeth had not seen.

Tuesday – Got up and rode the Dale Ball Trails while the rest relaxed at home. I rode the long stretch between 14 and 13 without dabbing, which was a first for me. Met the others at REI, then found a food truck and ate delicious BBQ tacos. Called local bike shops about a cassette and finally found one at New Mexico Bike and Sport on Cordova. However, I later discovered I did not bring the necessary tools (chain whip and splined cassette tool) to remove the old cassette. Grrrr. Hung out awhile, then recruited the other men to help fix the broken speaker panel in Vanna. Pete and I went to the local True Value in Eldorado and got some beefy screws to replace the busted ones. The repair proved to be a major sonofabitch, but we prevailed. Later, Sandy and Terry returned and Mom made another slo-mo short about a weird marriage proposal at a party. Mom seemed pleased with the result, which needed about 10 takes to get right. We ate leftover stew and Indian food, then listened to tunes on Spotify before crashing.

Wednesday – Laura and I returned to La Tierra trails in the morning and got in over 12 miles. Rode nearly everything, then returned to New Mexico Bike and Sport to purchase some tools for the cassette. The others hiked some trails in the ski basin, then we all rendezvous’d at the same food truck parking lot as the previous day. This time, there was a Mediterranean truck called Yummy Town. Some of us ate from that while others ate from the BBQ Taco truck. Got home and I finished assembling the speaker shelf (attaching wires mostly, as all the hard work had already been done). I replaced the worn cassette on the SC and gave it a quick test ride. Much better. Went to Meow Wolf with Laura, Elizabeth, and Adam. Trippy. Later, the entire crew ate dinner at Pecos Trail Inn. Short on atmosphere, but the food was top-notch. Pete went back to the bnb to crash early, as he had not been sleeping well. The rest of us watched Get Out, which Adam, Wendell, Mom, and Oma had not seen.

Thursday – Laura, Wendell, and I rode from the house to GBP trails via the railroad trail. We ended up riding all the way to 285, and thereby overshooting the connector trail. After consulting Google maps, we backtracked until we found the trailhead which led to the signed network of trails. We rode much of what we rode earlier, with Wendell handling the SC nicely. On the way back we took pics of the railroad trestle from Breaking Bad. Ate sandwiches for lunch, then geared up for a round of disc golf with Pete, Adam, and Elizabeth. Clouds stirred overhead, which cooled things off as we played. Pete won by a few strokes as usual, but we all had a great time. Filmed one more video with Mom directing once more. Ate gourmet burgers, cob corn, baked potatoes, and sautéed mushrooms. Played more music then watched First Reformed starring Ethan Hawke.

Friday – after an emotional goodbye and farewell photos, Pete, Adam, and I hit the road at 8:10. It was a mellow trip, but with lots of music. Took I-40 to Amarillo where we stopped for a good Tex-Mex lunch, then 287 to Wichita Falls and 281 south, then back through Weatherford. Pete and Adam did most of the driving. Rained off and on most of the trip, then came a downpour once we got out of Weatherford. Picked up Laura, then dropped Adam off. Got to Pete’s at 9:15 PM, where Kim’s taco salad awaited us. Played with Ellie and watched some Simpsons, then went to bed.

Saturday – Left about 7:40, taking I-30 to Little Rock to pick up I-40. Did not want to take the southern route and experience the horrible roads of Shreveport, LA. The northern route is much more scenic anyway. Found a Cracker Barrel for lunch and then drove until after 8:00 PM. Stopped in Cookeville, TN at a La Quinta. Ate dinner across the street at a place called Gondola Pizza. I had veggie lasagna and Laura had a gyro. Watched the last half of Napolean Dynamite, then bedded down.

Sunday – Back on the road by 7:15 after a hotel breakfast. Driving was easy, and the ABS light never came back on. Ate lunch at the same Zaxby’s as I did when first driving the Sprinter from Florida/Brevard back in May. Got home at 4:12 PM. 3,773 miles.

Seth

Somehow I knew this was going to be Seth’s last race. The loss of muscle mass in his legs—indeed his entire body—was obvious. And it was worse this time. I tried telling myself it was due to a lack of protein, but I never was any good at denial. The kid simply lost all appetite for food, just as the doctors had warned us, and as Helen had feared. But the clear enthusiasm in Seth’s eyes seemed to outshine any loss in physical wholeness; he was genuinely happy to be here. His friends were thrilled as well, although they all seemed to share a grim understanding that Seth may not race again after today.

 

Helen, my wife of sixteen years, fretted over every detail of Seth’s preparedness. I tried reassuring her that kids of Seth’s age didn’t take racing as seriously as the adults, although I’m not so sure I believed it myself, and it didn’t seem to placate her at any rate. She kept right on with the doting mother routine: making sure he had enough water, double-checking his tire pressure, ensuring that there were plenty of gel packets taped to the bars. Wait. Gel packets taped to the bars? “Sweetie, it’s just two laps, and they’re only four mile laps. What’s he need gel for?” I asked. But I knew that Seth might actually need that sort of boost, so I stopped hounding her about it. Let her dote. She needed an outlet that reminded her she was still useful as a mother. But in fact, she was an insanely good mother even before the diagnosis.

 

Shortly before his sixth birthday, Seth began suffering persistent fever and night sweats. His pediatrician was certain it was the flu, but it simply would not end. A battery of tests ruled out that diagnosis and suggested a cause much darker and more fearsome. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I hated those three words, but I soon became an expert in their pronunciation. In addition to the plentiful information given to us by his doctors, I googled the disease and clicked through what seemed like a thousand pages of results, desperate for survival stories. Helen joined an online cancer forum and was immediately welcomed into a tight-knit circle of doctors, patients, and relatives of patients. The cancer had been moderately aggressive, but an effective chemotherapy regimen and bone marrow transplant finally beat it into remission before Seth turned eight. Thereafter, our son enjoyed a renewed vigor befitting a growing child, and at the age of nine he’d expressed an interest in racing. Like me, Seth was wiry, with a narrow torso, slender arms, and oddly—almost laughably—muscular legs. We just seemed to be custom made for cycling.

 

Helen and I had raced in the years before Seth was born, mostly as a duo team for endurance events and an occasional adventure race. We were ideally matched; Helen could ride endlessly at a moderate pace, and I could rip some fast laps, though I lacked Helen’s endurance. We managed to podium a few times during our peak years, but mostly placed upper mid-pack. To be honest, I think we lacked the singular, competitive hunger that separated the top finishers from the rest. We were fine with that. It was the racing community, the electric atmosphere of a big event, and the many cycling friends we’d amassed over the years that kept us in thrall to the world of mountain biking. When Helen became pregnant, we were ecstatic. Her race participation would have to be suspended of course, but she took satisfaction in pitting for me and cheering me on as I continued to compete.

 

That seemed ages ago. Now Seth was fourteen, and his cancer had returned. The prognosis? Not as promising as last time. But Seth’s attitude was infectious, and it made him popular and admired among the mountain biking community. Area cyclists of all ages knew Seth, and they knew about his present struggle with cancer. He lived for mountain biking, he adored his friends, and he seemed to love his parents without condition. It’s as if his positive outlook and endearing personality themselves were the biggest threats to his disease. The universe ought to recognize that, I thought. If there’s any justice at all. Helen and I reasoned that, as long as Seth was living life so fully, who were we to bring him down by discussing the reality of his fate? We could grieve in private. And we grieved a lot.

 

It was time for Seth’s race to start. He was waiting at the front with his two best buds, Dylan Holcombe and Thompson Garner. Helen was there as well, snapping photos with her point-and-shoot, seemingly bent on embarrassing our beleaguered son. Dylan and Thom hammed it up, as they often did, but Seth had donned his game face. “Mom, you don’t have to take so many pictures,” he pleaded, with as much seriousness as he could muster. But Helen continued to click away, pausing only long enough for the camera to regenerate. “Gimme a break,” she answered. “I like photographing you in your element.”

 

“I’m not a baboon, mom.”

 

When he took up racing, Seth had risen steadily through the ranks, but the tallest of the podiums had eluded him. That spot belonged to Kelly Lowden, it seemed. Kelly was a girl. Seth joked that she was in reality a he, as no mere girl could possibly be that fast. But fast she was, and the moment Seth made any gains in speed and endurance, Kelly would simply turn it up a notch, as if she were toying with him all along. “Son, it’s probably genetics. She’s just gifted,” I said, in a weak attempt to reassure him.

 

“Thanks, dad.” Seth paused and mulled this over a bit. Soon his sarcasm gave way to a question. “I’m gifted too, right?”

 

“Of course you are. You may just need to train more and eat right. Maybe her diet is better than yours.”

 

“Well, can’tcha make my diet better?”

 

“Talk to your mom.”

 

The fact is, our diet was fine. Seth’s sickness had prompted us years earlier to begin eating healthier: lots of fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, less sugar and starch. The doctors had encouraged us all to eat a diet rich in fiber and protein, and we found that we could actually prepare satisfying meals without having to include lots of fats. Helen and I were thrilled at the resulting weight loss, but we feared Seth might wither away. Our son had difficulty adjusting at first, but he eventually came around and developed a taste for the meals Helen and I concocted. I wanted to believe that Seth’s inability to put on pounds was a result of the new diet, but I knew there was a more sinister cause.

 

“Go!” the race official barked, and the lineup of eleven racers was off. Seth and his friends were at the front, but it would only take a few short moments for Kelly to make her way to the lead. She had some sort of mechanical issue at the last moment, though her dad managed to get it sorted out. Her start was delayed by about thirty seconds, which she would likely make up in short order. The only racer who might pose a challenge was Thom, or “T-Gar” as he was often called. Or perhaps Seth, I’d hoped. But I knew that he had weakened in the last few months despite his training, and all the gel in the world could not overcome his compromised health. I had to admit to myself that his best chance of placing first in any race had already come and gone.

 

The race course snaked around quite a bit and there were several sections where it doubled back on itself. The result was a number of 180 degree turns whose apexes were only thirty yards or so from some other part of the trail, but a few minutes away by bike. This afforded the spectators easy access to various parts of the course, simply by walking among the trees and waiting for race participants to round a corner, where we would all cheer enthusiastically for our champions. We had done this many times for Seth, who would most often be among the leaders. Other parts of the trail were long straight-aways that slowly rose in a soft ascent and then rose again to make for a more grueling climb. This is where Seth shined. It was seemingly effortless for him to hammer up even the most daunting climbs, and it was the uphills where he often gained ground on the race leaders. All except Kelly.

 

By the time Helen and I made our way to the first observation spot, we could hear the clangor of the peloton. Thom was leading, followed closely by Seth. But I was dismayed to see that our son already bore a grimace which betrayed the pain he was enduring just to keep up with his friends. This early on? As I watched him disappear around a high turn, I couldn’t help but notice his paleness, his creeping loss of muscle, the ill-fitting jersey. Even his legs, once enviable pistons of strength, were now sinewy and far too lean.

 

He was scheduled to begin a new and somewhat experimental drug treatment in Texas the following week, an appointment which he’d begged Helen and me to delay for a few days so he could participate in this race. We hesitated initially, but soon relented. The race meant a lot to him and he’d prepared for weeks. He was already lean to the point of gauntness, I thought, and now another protracted chemotherapy program might undo him. The doctors, however, were more confident; this particular treatment promised to be less harsh, with fewer debilitating side effects. If it worked as they hoped, his appetite would improve.

 

Kelly had made her way past the stragglers and was mid-pack, several seconds ahead of a fairly competent rider, a boy named Martin Hertogen. Martin was another friend of Seth’s, whom Seth had mentored for a few months as he got the hang of racing. He started impressively at every event, only to fizzle out after a few minutes. He was therefore never really much of a threat, even at short track races. Some of the other boys began calling him “Hurt Again” because he would often claim that a sudden onset of muscle cramps was the only thing that kept him from taking first place. And now he was followed closely by the remainder of the riders, all of whom were poised to overtake him.

 

Hand in hand, Helen and I walked with a number of other parents to the next section of trail to await the competitors. I looked at my watch and gauged that it would be another couple of minutes before we saw the leaders. After about twenty seconds, however, Kelly crested a hill that would then drop her into a massive whoop-de-do, the far side of which was a challenge to even the strongest riders. This is where we liked to stand and encourage the racers, since they would be going much slower when they mashed up the steep incline to exit. We clapped and whistled while Kelly mastered the climb-out, as we would for all the riders. “She must have been hammering hard to take the lead so early,” Helen said. I caught Kelly’s eye when she pedaled past, but the look on her face did not express the customary triumph we were all used to seeing. It was a resigned half-frown, almost apologetic. Instantly I worried that Seth had crashed. “What do you suppose that was about?” Helen had noticed the brief, unspoken exchange as well.

 

“Eh, I’m sure he’s fine,” I offered, with no real sureness at all.

 

T-Gar was next to summit the hill, followed by another rider directly off his wheel. Was that Seth? No, it was Dylan. I cursed to myself that they wore identical jerseys. Why wasn’t it Seth? Moments passed. Helen and I looked a question at one another. Should we make our way down the trail to see if he was okay? Wait! Another rider. Again, not Seth. Grimly, we prepared to negotiate the steep gulley that formed the giant whoop. We had to check on our son. Suddenly, the familiar sound of drivetrain chatter stopped us in our tracks. A rider was approaching. It was Seth. While Helen clapped and shouted her approval, I tried to get a read of his condition as he began the sharp drop into the whoop. No good; he was head-down in anticipation of the climb ahead, and I was unable to see his face. But when he hit the nadir, he looked up. What I saw was an agony so visceral it was gut wrenching. His eyes were pleading and wet. He shot a look at his mother, who was now standing speechless, hands over her open mouth. Seth was spent, and the climb out of the whoop would prove a challenge. It had never been difficult for him in the past; he had mastered it after only a few months of riding at age ten. As we watched him struggle, a group of six riders appeared over the crest, bulleted down the drop-in, and spun up the rise in hot pursuit. Three of them overtook Seth as they pedaled out of sight through the trees and around a turn.

 

We picked our way back to the first lookout spot where we could greet the racers who were on their second lap. There was plenty of time to chat with the other parents while waiting, and some of them expressed concern for Seth. None of us were accustomed to seeing him so exhausted. When Kelly was the first to appear around a corner, she had both T-Gar and Dylan close on her heel. This is odd, I thought. She ought to be several minutes ahead of the pack, but her body language suggested she was holding back. I wanted to make eye contact with her again and gauge her intent. Was she playing games with the boys? She was faster and she knew it, but it wasn’t like her to constantly tease. Kelly did not meet my stare, and neither did her riding companions. As they rode past and disappeared down the trail, I could hear them talking in tones that sounded almost earnest.

 

The rest of the riders soon passed as well, but it was several more minutes before Seth arrived, beaten and dejected. He slowed to a stop in front of us and slumped on his bars, attempting to get a sentence out between wheezes. “Are you alright, sweetie?” Helen asked while stroking his back. “Do you need more gel?” I noticed both gel packs had been ripped from their tape mooring on the handle bars. Much of it had spilled over the top tube where it mingled with dirt and sweat. I wondered if Seth had actually ingested any at all.

 

“I need some gel,” he managed to say at last. “I spilled most of it.”

 

Helen fished a gel pack out of her pocket and handed it to him. “You don’t have to finish, you know.”

 

“I’m good. Just need to down this stuff.” He was getting his breath back by slow degrees. “I think I can catch ‘em.”

 

“Seth, you don’t need to pr–”

 

“I’m good I said!” Seth snapped. His frustration had turned to anger, something we rarely saw in him. After a moment, he was off again. He looked weak and awkward as he vanished from our sight. Suddenly, I found myself eager to be in Texas with Seth and Helen. Eager to beat this cancer back again. For good.

 

We turned around and went back to the whoop-de-do for the second time. All the riders crested the hill in a line, with T-Gar in the lead. They did not appear to be racing so much as hosting a beginner ride. When they reached the bottom of the whoop, they all dismounted and walked their bikes up and out. “What’s going on?” one of the parents asked.

 

“Nothing. Just tired,” answered Kelly. A few of the parents exchanged looks of disbelief. No one was buying that excuse. Whatever they were up to, Kelly seemed to be the leader. Naturally.

 

One by one they marched their bikes passed us, each determined not to speak to any of the adults. When they mounted up once again, they talked in muffled voices, looking back as if careful not to reveal a secret.

 

Seth arrived sooner than I expected, but he was not going to catch the rest. The whoop section was at mile three, and the faster riders could be at the finish line in five minutes after the climb out. But at the pace they had been going, it would be more like ten minutes, I reasoned. I had to help Seth up the climb after he executed the drop-in more tentatively than ever. If he couldn’t even ride the descents fast, he was done. None of us spoke as he wearily mounted his bike, but his eyes expressed a gratitude that needed no words . “We’ll see you at the finish!” Helen yelled at his back. He raised a hand in acknowledgement and formed a peace sign before clutching the grip again. Then he was gone.

 

“Those kids are up to something,” Helen said as we headed back to the pit area for the finish. I nodded in agreement but said nothing.

 

My thoughts were in Texas again. Would the new drug regimen show promise? What if it had no effect? Familiar fears were returning once more. I wasn’t thinking much about the race now. Just Seth. When we came to the long stretch of doubletrack leading to the finish, I couldn’t be certain I was seeing correctly. Dozens of the adult racers were straddling their bikes and lined up near the start. Only they weren’t lined up to begin their race; they were facing inward, across from one another. Now I noticed something else. There were heaps of riders strewn about on the trail in front of them. I felt that Helen and I just missed a serious racing accident by mere seconds. As we got a little closer, it looked like a yard sale to end all yard sales. But why wasn’t anybody helping them?

 

Helen too was in disbelief. “Oh no!”

 

“Seth!” I yelled, as I broke into a run.

 

“What?” The question came from behind me, however. I turned around to see Seth apply his brakes and ride up next to Helen and me.

 

“Oh man, what happened up there?” asked Seth. He was no longer breathing hard since he wasn’t killing himself in an attempt to place.

 

The crowd began cheering. I slowed to a trot. This is bizarre, I thought. Helen kept running, as if convinced that she was the only one willing to help and everyone else was in a deranged stupor. Then she slowed to a walk as well. She threw up her arms and started laughing. Now I saw what she saw. Bikes were in a tangled pile in the middle of the trail beneath the finish flag. Some of the racers were lying on the ground in comical contortions. Others had tires around their necks. Yet others had their bikes upside down, feigning mechanical failures. One kid was hanging from a tree branch, and another stood looking up at a bicycle that dangled from the same tree.

 

The cheering became louder. There were piercing whistles and everyone was clapping. Some of the adult racers motioned Seth to keep coming. I looked back to see him astride his bike in the middle of the trail, dumbfounded by the spectacle. I motioned come on as well. Greet your adoring public. He seemed to get the message, a smile forming on his stricken face. He pedaled into the thick of the crowd as it closed and fell over him. T-Gar, Dylan and Kelly pushed him and his bike toward the stage area, the throng parting like the Red Sea. By the time they reached the podiums, the melee was so thick it was difficult to tell precisely who hustled him up onto the first place spot. But there he stood, raising high a trophy that seemed to materialize out of nowhere. Helen was in tears amid the joy. So was I, and so were many others. I knew he was loved, but I had no idea how much.

 

Texas-New Mexico 2017 Journal

friday, september 1 – 8:23 am, drove to Nashville in intermittent rain. Two accidents in TN delayed me, so I arrived at 5:15. I got to t&l’s then rested until 7:00. We drank craft beer then met Adrian and Martha for dinner. I had a french dip. Visiting with a&m was awesome; Adrian had a cool story about transitioning from Frank Zappa’s band to David Bowie’s. We went back to t&l’s to play tunes

sat – Left about 8:30 for Texas. Arrived in Dallas 6:30-ish. We watched episode 1 of The Returned then ate tacos. Pete and I jammed for a little while

sun – Pete and I go to Richardson Bike Mart to look for a seatpost. Nada. Ate lunch at Jason’s Deli, then a rode at Erwin Park trails. Pete rode the ss and did well, but finally bonked right before the end. I ordered a seatpost on amz, to be delivered to Mom and Wendell’s address in SF. We ate bbq at Intrinsic then hung out in their patio area drinking beer and playing jenga with Ellie. Watched another ep of The Returned. Learned that Walter Becker died

mon – Pete worked, so I rode the Grapevine Northshore trail, 17 miles. Almost got overheated, but had fun. Pete came home early from work, so we went to the grocery and got food/beer, then grilled out. We ate shrimp, okra, cauliflower, and bread. Watch a couple of Louie episodes

tue – Trimmed Pete’s hair in the morning before he left for work. Went to rbm and bought a carbon bottle cage and talked to an employee about riding in the area. He convinced me to ride Boulder but to park at Redbird mall, so I did. good ride. Cleaned everything but one climb. Came back and started the spaghetti sauce. Practiced some guitar and played with Benny. Watched tennis with Kim

wed – Went for a run with Pete in the morning. I did not get too far, as my left knee started bothering me. Met Ben Cobb at Hoffbrau in Fort Worth, then came back and mowed p&k’s lawn. Got a few items at the store and made roasted potatoes with rosemary, sauteed asparagus, and Pete made teriyaki grilled fish. Watched tennis, then got ready for bed, but received tragic news from Anna. their cousin Eddie was killed by a self inflicted gunshot wound

thu – Hung out with Pete in the morning, then looked for a Schlotzsky’s for lunch but unsuccessful; they all seem to be closed down. Ate at a Thai place near 380 and i-75 before riding Erwin Park again. Sore legs made for a slow-ish ride, but still enjoyable. Came home and washed clothes, showered, read. Watched tennis with Kim and ate pizza. Pete came home after 10

fri – Met Pete at Burger House at noon for lunch, then went to Chris’ to record my guitar parts for Robin Proper. Watched a little tennis with Kim. Had dinner at Saigon Block with Kim and Ellie, then went back downtown for the Empire Cats show at Poor David’s

sat – Got up and packed for Santa Fe. Adam came by about 8:15 and we got on the road at 9:00 am. Ate at El Norteno’s in Wichita Falls, just like last year. Took 70/84 west to SF from Vernon. Listened to tunes, notably Abbey Road and personal playlists, then played ZZ Top’s Tejas as the sun set in the desert and we rolled into Eldorado. Perfect. A dinner of stew awaited as we arrived precisely at 8pm

sun – Installed the new seatpost on the Norco and rode Galisteo Basin trails in the am with Laura and Wendell, who managed admirably. Trails were fantastic: slightly more tech than La Tierra. Showered, then ate at Harry’s Roadhouse for a late lunch. Pete’s old friend and band-mate Tom Blackburn met us there as well. Later, Pete and I rode the greenway perimeter of Eldorado, then ate a supper of lamb balls, tabbouleh, and naan

mon – Rode La Tierra trails in the morning with Laura, Wendell, & Pete. Good times. Laura and I rode a bit longer to take advantage of the whoops, etc. while Pete and Wendell went back to the car. Did some grocery shopping at De Vargas mall Albertson’s, then ate lunch at Mom & Wendell’s. Pete made me a sandwich. We all lazed about (reading, resting, walking), then Pete prepped for pizza night. After a brief storm cooled things off we ate pizza and listened to some Joe Cocker. Later we played Beyond Balderdash. Pete wiped everyone out

tue – Got up and Laura and i rode Dale Ball trails. Had an awesome ride despite me taking a wrong turn at one point. the Norco seems to really shine on technical singletrack. Showered, then ate lunch at Pecos Inn and it was phenomenal. Took Oma to get a foot massage while Laura and i perused the contemporary galleries in the Railyard district. Later went to REI where I got a couple of new t-shirts. Rested at the Birney’s then went to m&w’s around 6:30. Adam cooked kabobs which were deLISH. Later we relaxed and listened to classic rock

wed – did some cleaning at the Bbirney’s in the AM, then to m&w’s where i made reuben sandwiches and sauteed asparagus for the crew. Hung out until 2:30, then took Laura and Oma to the airport. Was gonna ride after that but we decided to play disc golf instead. Went to the same course as in 2015. Had a fun and tight game. We all finished +4 so had to have a playoff. Pete won. Showered then ate an excellent dinner in Eldorado. Went back to the Birney’s and did some more cleaning

thu – Got up and did the remainder of the cleaning at Chez Birney, then got to m&w’s and did a little reading before eating a lunch of leftover pizza and sandwiches. Packed up, took some pics, then said our goodbyes. Hit the road around noon. Cool and cloudy out, and we had a tailwind. Listened to tunes most the way, and decided on a new format: play tunes by request. Rolled in to Lubbock around 7:00 and visited Grace & Don. New house is cool. Grace cooked: roast beef, mashed taters, broccoli. Crashed at Jenny & Chad’s place

fri – Got up early and said hi and bye to Owen and Wesley, then went and got my oil changed and tires balanced. Ate at Garcia’s with Pete, Adam, Grace, Don, Jenny and John. Had a good chat with John about art. Hit the road around 1:00 and took 114 to 380 back to Richardson. Uneventful trip. Pete drove the whole way

sat – Left Pete’s at 7:45 and drove drove drove. Got to Jeff & Rox’s at 9:30 pm

sun – Got up early and rode the Georgia International Horse Center trails with Jeff. They were sweet. Ate lunch with j&r at Los Hermanos then hit the road. Got home right at 6:00, in time to watch the Cowboys lose. Went to bed early

Race Report: 6 Hours of Lake Crabtree (SES #4)

I was convinced this race would be canceled at the eleventh hour; it was raining hard on Friday night and the Saturday forecast looked grim. But I was prepared nonetheless and needed to act as if it were still going to happen. Turned out the race was still on, and the day’s forecast had lightened up a little, but I was wondering what kind of condition the trail would be in. I showed up at my customary stupid-early time, with Abby arriving a few minutes later. We got an ideal spot for pitting, so we assembled the rapid shelter and unloaded all the gear. Abby mounted up for an early reconnaissance mission to evaluate the trails and returned shortly with a bike that was only slightly muddy. That was a good sign.

Shortly thereafter, Jess Winebrenner and her duo partner arrived and made camp next to us, as Hal and Corey did the same on the opposite side. After we got all set up, I took the single speed out to see for myself what the trails looked like. There were a couple of slick spots on the lake trail and some shallow standing water in one of the turns, but nothing too bad or dangerous looking. However, it was enough to make me think the first lap might be a bit sketchy, but it would no doubt improve as the race wore on. Besides, Abby would be doing the first lap…so…not my problem, right?

I rolled back to our pit area and saw that others were arriving more quickly now, although it was not going to be a huge turnout. About this time, I noticed the Cycling Spoken Here van had pulled up and I wondered what kind of team they would have in the race. There were six duo co-ed teams and Abby had the lowdown on some of the personnel, pointing out the competition we needed to worry about and those who would not pose a threat. As with many of the races, the reputedly fastest team would be out of reach for Abby and me, so the real battle would be for second or third.

I then got some protein and berries in my tummy as Abby warmed up on the Santa Cruz. Our bike strategy for this event was to have me on the S-Works and Abby on the gears. Crabtree has zero technical challenges, so it was really just a matter of being comfortable with pedaling fast and handling the bike at high speeds, and Abby seemed more at home on the Highball. But I convinced Abby to take the first lap since gears would be key in getting a decent spot going into the woods. The turnout was low enough that the organizers decided to start the first lap at the boat dock, where the riders would wind their way through the parking lot before taking a hairpin turn onto the trail section.

I fiddled around and missed most of the pre-race announcements, but Abby had her head in the ballgame and was gathered with the others for the meeting and then the mass start. The racers were off at about 10:02 AM and Abby entered the woods mid-pack and looking strong in her new Jigawatt skin suit. I noted the time and assumed she’d be back in roughly 35 – 40 minutes, so I had time to use the bathroom about three more times due to all the coffee I’d consumed since waking up. That’s always the way it goes: drink coffee and get hydrated at the same time, then end up in the men’s room all morning.

After about 30 minutes I made my way to the transition area next to the hairpin turn to chat with other duo riders who were also awaiting their partners. One of those riders was Steve from CSH, who informed me that he and a shop employee were racing as a co-ed duo as well. Okay, I thought, these guys could be contenders for second place, so keep an eye on ‘em. At 31 minutes after the start, the fast riders started blowing through the transition zone, some of whom were duo and some solo racers. Hal was in the group of quick finishers, as he rode up next to me to give me a trail report. He told me the trail was pretty sketchy and he nearly crashed several times. This came as no surprise, as Hal is extremenly fast. One of the worst sections, he said, was after the second right-of-way crossing, where there’s a short bridge followed by a tricky root between two trees. I knew exactly what he was talking about and mused to myself that the famous diagonal root was bad enough in dry conditions, especially if you don’t scrub enough speed. I thanked Hal as he rolled away to rest between laps.

I began squinting hard at the next wave of emerging riders, hoping Abby would appear and I could be on my way. But before Abby showed, Steve’s racing partner (I forget her name) arrived first, and Steve took off. I would have to work hard to catch him in order to keep it close. Abby popped out of the woods about 40 seconds later and I jetted away, but not before I heard Abby say “I crashed!” I was alarmed, but realized that she’d made good time despite her wreck. Immediately, memories of Lake Norman welled up and I was grateful that Abby was at least able to finish the lap. I was confident her friends at the neighboring tent would help fix her up while I was out on my lap, but I’d need to be ready to double up on laps if necessary.

I set a good clip for my first lap, but conditions did not allow for full-on braap, so I remained careful and tried to look well ahead for any nastiness that might put me on my ass. The course was still relatively crowded and I needed to manuever judiciously to pick off slower racers. I then spotted Steve on his trademark pink Trek; he was perhaps 20 seconds ahead of me and I was gaining slowly but steadily. I finally overtook him on the “Sled Ride Climb” section of loop 1. He said a few friendly words of encouragement as I passed, and he managed to keep me in sight for the rest of the lap. I guess all he needed was for someone to set a pace for him, because if I pushed a little harder, he was still right there, the same distance behind me. As I approached the short bridge section that Hal had warned me about, I noticed the trail leading up to the bridge was quite rutted, and I wondered if it was perhaps the site of a few spills.

As I neared the finish, Steve still on my tail, I made a wrong turn and ended up costing us 22 seconds. Stupid mistake on a trail that I knew very well. Frustrating, but not devastating I’d hoped. When I made it back to the transition zone, I saw that Abby was ready to go and looking fresh, an indication that her crash was not race-ending. Once back at our camp, I checked my phone to see if there were any messages. Sure enough, Abby had more details on her crash and her condition (indeed it was her who had gone down near the bridge with the ruts and other signs of crashing), and as I’d hoped, she had received ample first aid from her friends encamped next to us. Thanks, friends! I then proceeded to stretch and refuel with protein and fruit while chatting with other competitors about their race progress.

Before long it was time to await my turn again. I swallowed a couple of shot blocks and headed to the handoff point where Steve was waiting once again. He soon started on his second lap since his partner had managed to gap us a little more during Abby’s lap. Apparently, she was fast, despite pushing plus-sized tires and a rigid fork. But as Steve sped away I yelled, “I’m going to try and catch you!” I never did catch him on that lap, but curiously, I passed the female half of one of the Storm Endurance duo teams…twice. I think she must have made a wrong turn near the flowy “ETD” section, thereby cutting off about 1.5 miles of trail. I was not going to make a big deal of it, but that’s only because they were not a threat to Team Velocibraaptors (Abby and me). Otherwise, accident or not, that’s cheating. As I neared the home stretch and the “fingers” section (I don’t know the actual loop number), I was pleased to see one of the OCCP guys encouraging riders by blaring out show tunes on his radio as riders passed him. He is known for doing this at cyclocross races and the occasional endurance event like this one.

After turning in my fastest lap, Abby was off once more and I continued my stretch-eat-socialize ritual. I deliberately did not check the standings, as is often my wont, but Jess told me that we were vying for third place. I felt good about that, and was resigned to the prospect of finishing behind the Cycling Spoken Here team. Not too bad; at least we should have a spot on the podium, sporting our new Jigawatt skin suits and looking pro. Jess also mentioned that Abby may be open to doubling up on laps and evolving our strategy to give her more rest, because of her leg injury. That did not sound like a bad idea.

When Abby got back and I took off for my third lap, something was not right with the bike. I rounded the first banked turn and felt the telltale signs of a low tire. I jumped off and gave it the pinch test, only to find that it was almost flat. This happened only about 30 yards from our site, so I bushwacked up to the tent to announce my predicament. Abby was heads-up and yelled that she’d take another lap, then rocketed away as if she had not just finished one. Great, it’s the injured party who must take the first double. I felt bad, but I knew Abby, at her exquisite fitness level, was completely equal to the task, as she whisked away with her customary youthful aplomb. Thank goodness, I thought, then set about putting more Stan’s into my tire and airing it up with a CO2 cartridge. Sean Murphy lent a hand with the task, and I have no doubt that we looked like a fine-tuned NASCAR pit crew, as we had that fucker squared away in less than two minutes. Thanks, Sean.

Now I had to get in the mindset of completing back-to-back laps, so I downed lots of fluids and refilled both water bottles in preparation. I also swallowed some Sport Legs pills in an effort to stave off any forthcoming leg cramps, something that dogs me on especially humid race days. When Abby returned and I took off for my double, I tried to pace myself a bit more intelligently than I would if it were a single lap. That did not last long. I pedaled with the same urgency as before, and found that two-thirds of the way into the first lap, there was a problem beginning to develop. Head sweat started its slow, inexorable journey into my left eye, and I found that I could do nothing about it. My gloves were useless for wiping sweat since they were themselves saturated with perspiration. I was forced to try and squint the sweat away, but that worked about as expected, which was almost not at all. I was reduced to riding one-eyed while laboring to squeeze away the sweat-blindness in the other eye. This has happened before, and I find that it usually passes. Luckily, it did pass by the time I started my second lap, as I found a bit more vigor at the prospect of two functioning eyes. But halfway into my second lap, I was beset with the same problem, and this time in both eyes! I was determined not to stop as I set about switching between eyes, one open and one shut while I worked to squint away the sweat. This must have looked comical, and I was nearing despair. Then I hit upon an idea: stop briefly and squirt some water into my eyes for some relief, although I had nothing to wipe away the water. As I relaxed my pedaling to make an emergency pit stop, I was attacked by some particularly vicious leg cramps. The pills did not work! Dammit! I then realized that I needed all the remaining water for beating back those cramps, and I would have to tough it out with the sweat blindness. So I motored on, repeating the cyclopian eye switch and struggling to maintain a decent speed. It then dawned on me that if I slowed too much, we may slip out of third place contention, so keep pedaling. At one point, I shouldered a tree when I transitioned from one eye to the other and almost fell. I must have been a sight. Suck it up, Matt. After all, Abby crashed rather badly and happily doubled up on laps with no complaints (as far as I know).

At last I heard the OCCP dude with the bullhorn radio, and I knew the lap was almost finished. The song was the Gilligan’s Island theme, and I somehow managed a grin through the extremity of my half-blinded demeanor. By the time I made it to the fingers, he’d queued up “Baby Got Back,” and I could not help but roll in at long last to our pit area with a renewed spirit. Also, my laps were done.

I dismounted and headed for a chair, not so much sitting as falling into it, but not before irrigating my poor eyes with about a gallon of water. Then I wearily checked webscorer.com to see how we were doing. It appeared we were solidly in third place after battling from the fourth place position. That’s cool. We’ll take that. Laura showed up about that time and I briefed her on all that had happened. After chatting with her for about 20 minutes I tried to get up and stretch, and that’s when the cramps came rushing back with a vengeance. Laura poured cool water down my throat as I slowly stretched away the demons of lactic acid buildup, and I was soon good to walk around a little. Note to self: do not sit stationary for too long after turning in double laps.

I had finished my last lap at 3:12, which was plenty of time for Abby to get back before the unforgiving 4:00 cutoff time. I calculated that she would return at about 3:50, so Laura and I walked a short way into the woods and I got my iPhone ready to snap a photo of her to preserve the memory. Like clockwork, there she was. I bade her smile as I took her picture, and indeed she grinned widely. It was a great finish, and I felt satisfied with third place. But Abby was still smiling broadly, almost giddy in fact. She knew something I didn’t. Then I saw why: behind her came the female racer from the Cycling Spoken Here duo, which meant that Abby must have passed her, which meant…

Yes, with hard work and an on-the-fly strategy, we fought back from fourth to second place by a mere 31.9 seconds. Steve was nearby as well, nonplussed as he witnessed the unfolding drama and its implications. That’s the way things go sometimes, and Steve knows full well what can happen in a race, as he is an experienced veteran in all things bicycle. Theirs is a strong team and will no doubt be back to compete again, so we must stay on our toes. But Abby pulled it out and she deserves much of the credit; she saw the CSH racer, she gained on her, she put her in her sights, and she made her move like a pro. Okay, it’s just Lake Crabtree Mountain Bike Trail, a moderately easy trail hosting a race in a regional endurance series, in the eastern part of the United States, in a somewhat niche sport. But damn, that felt good.

ses4

Race Report: Hobby Park SCS

Recently, Abby talked me into one of the Southern Classic XC events, to be held at Hobby Park in Winston-Salem. I agreed to do it, but had few expectations. Abby’s principal M.O. was to borrow the geared Santa Cruz hardtail in an effort to crush the women’s race and come away with the state championship medal as well. I should probably also mention that she really likes riding bikes, so she registered for two races at Hobby: the Cat 2 single speed race among a mixed field, and the standard Cat 3 women’s race. Her first race would be in SS at 10:00 AM so we showed up a little before 9:00 and nabbed a primo pitting spot, then we prepped for a little pre-riding. For this particular course, racers are immediately given the gift of Derby Hill, a short but steepish asphalt climb before it transitions into the singletrack. It got my heart rate up with a quickness on the pre-ride, but then settled down as Abby and I took it easy on an unfamiliar trail. The course was smooth with a few root drops and some fixed rocks here and there. Abby was on the S-Works and I was on the SC, and we were enjoying the flow of the trail. Another rider approached us from behind and we exchanged a few pleasantries. He clearly was able to go around us, but seemed content to shoot the bull for a few minutes first. When we rounded a corner and faced a steep technical climb, Abby dismounted and the rider went around us. We decided to turn around and save our energy for the actual race, and also to put a slightly easier gear on the S-Works. This turned out to be a very good decision.

Gary, Carrie, and Zack Lowden showed up a little later and erected a nice shelter that Abby and I took advantage of without really asking, because that’s how we roll. Also, it was cool to hang out with the Lowden clan.

I worked on my tan while Abby got ready for her first event. Soon, she was off, with only two other (male) racers in the field of SSers. I had agreed earlier to hand off a water bottle for Abby when she rolled in to start her second lap. As it happened, she did not need it and so continued on with a smile on her face. Another 47 minutes later and she completed race number one, exhausted but still enthusiastic. I proceeded to ply her with the lowdown on sections of trail that we had not pre-ridden, which were plenty. Her assessment was mostly more of what we already saw: nice berms, a few drops, burst climbs, and roots. I was getting excited and a little anxious, because I still had hours before the 2:30 start time. Meanwhile, Gary and Zack were preparing for their respective Cat 1 races, which kicked off at noon. I ate a lunch comprising a tuna salad sandwich and fresh berries, washed down by a creamy protein shake. The Cat 1 race started and after about 30 minutes, I made my way over to an area where racers would emerge from the woods and into the open before one last half mile among the trees and then to the start/finish area. I wanted to snap some pics of Gary and Zack at that spot and try to gauge their condition as well. Zack came out first and he did not look happy, so I did not take a photo. A few minutes later, Gary popped out and simply muttered “horrible.” When I made my way back to the pit area, I saw that Zack had exited the race early, and Gary was doing the same. Neither felt well, so they wisely cut it short, to race another day.

After what seemed an eternity, I made my way to some asphalt rings where other Cat 3 racers were warming up. I went round and round countless times, like a hamster in a wheel, in an effort to get my legs loose. The saddle on the S-Works felt a little odd, but that was likely because it was much too padded. It was too late to make a change now, and besides, the race was only one lap. I could endure a less-than-ideal saddle for one six-mile lap. It would be a rare moment when I actually sat down, as it turned out. Finally, it was time to line up. I found that there were 10 or 11 of us in the 40+ field, and I did not know any of these dudes. And naturally, I was the only one on single speed. Rumor had it that this trail was not very friendly to the one-geared bunch, but here I was. I thought maybe I’ll just phone this one in and take it easy. Treat it as a ride, nothing else. But when the official said go! all that shit was out the window. The geared bikes pulled away as I started to spin out, but when a sharp left turn came up, I regained a few spots by hugging the inside corner. Then it was time to face the dreaded Derby Hill. I had some decent momentum as I shot skyward, and found that I was easily able to overtake about three more competitors before getting funneled into the narrow singletrack. Now it appeared there were only six or so riders ahead of me, and their pace was too slow to settle in behind. I could see that the leaders were pulling away from the racers immediately in front of me, and I would need to make my move sooner rather than later. But there are not many spots on this trail where passing can be done safely. However, I did not have to wait long, because the fellow in front of me dabbed on a turn and I took advantage of his misstep and shot around him. I went around a couple more guys in a similar manner when they struggled with the first serious technical climb and had to dismount. Yet another rider was waylaid by a mechanical, but I found out later that he was in a different age group, so no matter. At last I appeared to to be gapping the others and was in the clear. Could I actually be out front? It was difficult to tell since I did not get a good visual on who the leaders were right out of the gate. Nevertheless, I was all alone for a few more miles, so I backed off just a touch so that my heart rate would calm down a little. The rest of the trail was indeed much like the first portion that we pre-rode earlier. There were a few climbs that I considered walking, but somehow managed to reach down and just power through. Now I was enjoying some smooth descents, punctuated by an occasional drop or smooth berm to rail. I had the S-Works humming, its trusty Kenda Nevegal biting nicely in the corners and the Ardent out back, rolling with minimal resistance. I popped out into the open a few minutes later, the same spot where I photographed the hapless Gary earlier in the day. I knew that it was only about 3/4 of a mile until the finish, but first, back in among the trees for a few more punchy climbs and root drops. The last few hundred feet of the race course were a blast, so I turned it up a little as I crossed the finish, hoping I had first place locked up. But it wasn’t so. My initial suspicions were correct: two racers gapped the starting pack so quickly that I never saw them. However, I did manage to make up a little ground on the second place finisher throughout the race. Perhaps if I’d been on the geared hardtail, I could have been a little faster, but some brown-haired chick had borrowed it for this race. And it was not long before that chick came rolling into the finish, far ahead of her competitors. Abby nabbed first easily, and she appeared to be rather enjoying the moment as several of us milled about the timing area.

So I got third place, which I’m happy about. I think I could get into this series if I could cat up, since the beginner group only does one lap, and many of the venues are quite a distance from Raleigh. It would be difficult to justify a long drive merely to race one lap. If I could win a top spot in a future race, I could move to Cat 2 and enjoy two-lap events and therefore make it worth the drive.

Before heading back, Abby and I found an appropriate feeding spot in the middle of W-S called La Perlita Tacos Y Restaurante. They neither spoke nor understood English well, and Abby had a difficult (and a little humorous) time trying to convey to the server what vegetarianism was. But the food was delicious and we scarfed it down with a fury befitting two champion mountain bikers.

Thoughts on Alien: Covenant

I did not enjoy this movie very much. I don’t appreciate what Ridley Scott has done with Prometheus and now Alien: Covenant. Here’s why:

While the plot of Alien and its sequel Aliens begs for an interesting back story, I believe the one crafted by Scott and his crew of writers is overly contrived. As movie making technology improves in the form of better CGI and other special effects, I’m sure that the impulse to make full use of these wonders is overpowering. And indeed, the effects are impressive, but it seems to me they also feed unnecessarily into the story line. Just think of the simplicity of 1979′s Alien: a ragtag crew of space truckers happens upon a distress signal and one of the crewmembers is infected with a malevolent parasite. As the movie unfolds, we find that there are other sinister forces at work. Mother, the ship’s computer, and the behemoth corporation she represents, soon reveals that the signal was actually a warning to stay the hell away. The only directive is to preserve the alien specimen, at the expense of the crew if necessary. But before poor Kane is beset with the facehugger, we are treated to the magnificence of the derelict spacecraft’s brooding interior. Not one of the subsequent films adequately recaptures the power of that scene: walls that are ribbed with an integrated latticework of otherworldly secretions, a spooky haze floating above a floor that promises treachery, leathery eggs whose amniotic fluid drips upward, and just the sheer immensity of the cathedral-like space itself. And then there’s the space-jockey. What mighty race of beings could fall victim to a creature that destroys its victims from the inside? I have always wondered if the giant figure was reclining at the helm of the craft or on an operating table in a sick bay ward when he met his gruesome demise. When I saw this film for the first time as a 16-year old, I was completely creeped out by the scenes in the alien ship, and their effects have not been duplicated since. And when the crew lowered Kane into the hole, I thought why? why go any further? get the hell out! My sentiments would be echoed moments later by the character Lambert.

Seven years later, Aliens was released, and James Cameron moved the plot along with convincing simplicity. He came very close to recapturing the dark and haunting vibe of Alien. The point is, however, that the story was not needlessly complex. Aliens revisited the theme of corporate and political evil by manipulating a terraforming family into unwittingly hosting the alien embryos, and the film plods forward from there. But in my opinion, these two movies did not deserve the treatment they got with the prequels Prometheus and Covenant. In those films, I believe too much is made of the android story line. Admittedly, the theme of artificial intelligence and machine learning, along with its many moral implications, is an intriguing one, but it struck me as clumsy and unnecessary.  Many would disagree, since Ash’s collusion with Mother in Alien was integral to the plot. However, I prefer to interpret that alliance as a sort of one-off that was the result of increasing entropy in Ash’s programming.

The beauty of Alien-Aliens lies in their simplicity: an insidious and devilishly resilient creature needs hosts to survive and procreate. Any warm-blooded host will do, so keep your distance. In this sense, the alien is like any other living being; pass along your genes at any cost. Survive. A more interesting back story, I think, would have examined the evolution of such creatures, but that probably does not have mass cinematic appeal. Seems there was a rumor at some point that one of the prequels was not going to have any human dialog, and would merely provide exposition for the creatures’ beginnings and the need that drove them into the beyond in search of hosts.

Now that would have been cool.

On Intimations of Immortality

The quest for immortality has quickened with advances in the fields of medicine, genetics, artificial intelligence, cryogenics, exercise science, and nutrition. If immortality turns out to be a scientific impossibility, however, then at least significant life extension would be a worthwhile pursuit. I believe that, given mankind does not annihilate itself in the near future, eternal life is a real possibility. It could be this century, or it could be hundreds—perhaps thousands—of years away. There are dozens of ways this could happen. Here are a few:

  • Human cloning combined with mind upload/download
  • Vital organs grown and transplanted on demand
  • Cryogenics perfected (this is only a “bridge” to immortality)
  • Genetic research/gene editing

No doubt it’s wishful thinking that it happens in my lifetime, but who knows? Here is the way I see it playing out, from most likely to least likely:

  • Immortality is achieved, but not in my lifetime
  • Immortality becomes real in my lifetime, but I am excluded because of finances
  • Immortality becomes real in my lifetime, but I am excluded because of failing health
  • Immortality is impossible

At any rate, I need to try and stay alive as long as possible in order to increase the chances of it being realized in my lifetime. Now, you may ask: why would you want to live forever?

That’s another blog post…

Race Report: 6 Hours of Lake Norman (SES #1)

After some uncertainty about the weather and trail conditions at Lake Norman, it was finally announced on Friday that the race was a go, so off I went to Statesville. The bike was clean and lubed, I had a new popup shelter, the cooler was packed with adequate nutrition, and I felt ready to race. The drive to Statesville was uneventful, though dealing with bad North Carolina drivers can be stressful if I let it get to me. Which I did. Once in Statesville, I found a Ruby Tuesday’s up the road from the Sleep Inn, so I got a table and found that I had worked up a powerful appetite. After round one at the salad bar, I demolished a peppercorn steak and grilled zucchini, followed by round two at the salad bar.

In the hotel room, I tried to watch an episode of The Office on my Macbook, but the hotel wi-fi was slower than a sloth in syrup, so I turned on the tragic lantern and watched Bill Maher. Sleep would come fitfully for most of the night, as I struggled with the room’s HVAC to deliver the right temperature and an acceptable white noise level at the same time. Not easy. I awoke around 5:30 AM after a night of what felt like a wrestling match with my pillow. But this was no surprise; I rarely sleep well at hotels.

The free breakfast was nothing to write about, so I won’t.

It was about this time that Abby texted me, asking if the race was truly a go, since she was driving though rain. I assured her that there was “no rain here” and that the forecast looked promising. As I stepped outside to load the bike onto the Siouxbie, I found that I had unknowingly lied to Abby. There was a slight drizzle, so I checked the forecast once again and was surprised to see that the current conditions were clear, and there was no precip in the future. Somebody was not telling the whole truth.

I arrived at the staging area for the race and discovered I was the first competitor on the scene, so I strolled over to chat with David about the weather. No, really. He reassured me that the event was definitely on, so I set about unloading the car and assembling our pit area. I got a good spot in the shade of a huge tree, although oppressive heat and sunshine were not going to be a problem on this day. The drizzle had abated, but it remained cool and cloudy. I wondered about the trail conditions. David had mentioned there may be some slick spots on the Hawk loop, so I contemplated a pre-ride of that section, but I needed to finish setting up first.

A woman racer had arrived in the meantime, and had begun unloading next to our spot. Her shelter was a super heavy-duty type, and I was immediately envious. She appeared to be struggling with it, so I offered to help. It turns out she was the female portion of one of the other co-ed duo teams: Ann from Bike Law. We made small talk as I readied myself to pre-ride the Hawk loop. Before I could mount up however, I received another text from Abby, asking me to drop a pin at my location. She had mistakenly gone to a different parking area on Lake Norman, which was almost an hour from the actual race location. I could sense her frustration; like me, she prefers to arrive early and get the necessary prepping out of the way, then do a pre-ride. That probably was not going to happen for her this time.

As a few more racers arrived, I headed out to reconnoiter the Hawk loop, which, like the Monbo loop, would be ridden in a CCW direction this year. I found to my delight that the trail flowed very nicely in the opposite direction, and I had to resist pushing it too hard. There were a few damp spots here and there, but very little puddling.  Another text from Abby assured me that she was on her way and would arrive soon. When I got back to the pit area, more racers (including Abby) had arrived and were busily setting up. I chatted some more with Ann and gave her my report on the trail conditions: 76.6% dry. She chuckled a little and mentioned that Lake Norman trails were her “home” trails. Also, she looked fast.

Soon it was time for the pre-race meeting, which was held in the lower lot near our encampment. This would also be this year’s starting area, necessitated by the odd-year CCW trail direction. It would not afford the racers very much separation before diving into the singletrack, but it was not a huge crowd anyway. The fast riders gathered near the front, but it was a mass start with no pauses between classes, so I was fearful it might be a bit of a clusterfuck. It wasn’t, as it turned out. I took the first lap, which wound through the pit areas, crossed the main park road, and shot up a gravel doubletrack before narrowing into the singletrack of Hawk loop proper. I was nested comfortably among a pack of riders who were motoring at a pretty respectable clip, but I could tell riders behind me were itching to pass. I let a few go around me at an appropriate spot, then found that I could easily match their pace, which was rather dangerously fast. Naturally, this lap was nothing like the pre-ride. Shit was whizzing past with a fierceness and I had eyes only for the trail; at this speed, you need 100% concentration. I have found that, as I have gotten faster over the years, it’s not so much a matter of “can I pedal fast enough to be competitive,” but rather “can I handle my bike at these ridiculous speeds.” At least at the beginning of a race.

After letting the leaders gap me a bit, I eased back just slightly on my pace, but was still cooking quite respectably. Then it happened. I hit a soft spot that was already rutted by the lead racers, and down I went. Hard. I slammed my left temple on a log that was parallel to the trail and my glasses disintegrated on impact. My first thought was “I’m going to lose consciousness,” but I didn’t black out. I picked myself up and found I was in a daze. My bike was in the middle of the trail, a fact that was happily pointed out by passing racers, who were also kind enough for a perfunctory “are you okay?” which I translated as “I hope you’re okay, because I’m not stopping.” I mumbled “yeah” in response, despite blood spewing forth from my temple. I found bits of my glasses and discovered the left lens and earpiece were missing, so I set about looking for them among the dead leaves and loam near the log. I was in a slight panic, knowing that I could not finish the lap without both lenses. But even if I found the lens, my glasses would not sit properly on my face if the earpiece was broken off. I hastily shot off a text to Abby, telling her that I crashed and she would need to finish the lap, then continued looking for the missing lens. I did this for a few minutes, then it dawned on me that I was probably wasting precious minutes. By this time, the last of the racers had passed me and panic turned to desperation as I thumbed another text: “stay at the pit. I’ll be right there.” I groggily mounted the Highball and affixed my crooked eyeglasses as best I could, then made my way out of Hawk loop at a comparative crawl. I kept thinking to myself Abby’s gonna have to ride to the spot where I crashed and resume the lap from there.

The remainder of Hawk loop was only about a half mile before it intersected the road section. I told the course marshal that I’d crashed and was headed back to the pit area. He mumbled something that I didn’t hear, but I did not care. Abby had frantically prepped for the emergency handoff and was dutifully waiting at the starting line when I rolled up, bloody and still in a fog. I told her repeatedly that “you’ll have to ride backwards about a half mile into Hawk, then turn around and resume the lap from there.” It wasn’t until later that I realized how absurd that was. Of course, she only needed to ride where I had emerged from Hawk (where the course marshal was stationed), then ride on to Monbo and complete the lap normally. Which is what she did, and with a quickness born of necessity.

After Abby sped away, I let the Troutman EMT attend to my wounds. She asked if I had any spring water to clean the wound, and I mused to myself, don’t you? I poured some water out of my race bottle and then dabbed my bleeding temple with gauze. I asked if she had some antiseptic to clean the wound and she replied that the Troutman EMTs do not carry such a thing. Then I inquired about triple antibiotic, and her answer was the same: “We do not carry that. We are only equipped for major accidents.” Jesus, really? Then I remembered I had my own first aid kid, so I cleaned and dressed the wound myself while the forlorn EMT waited helplessly by her truck. I wanted to let her feel as if she was helpful, so I had her apply two pieces of bandage tape to some gauze and my temple, but I had done most of the work. Later, I would wonder why she did not even give me a basic test to determine if I’d suffered a concussion. I don’t think the city of Troutman thoroughly trains their emergency personnel, but whatever. She was nice.

After finding my backup glasses in the car, it took a few more minutes for me to calm down and overcome the shock of the crash. I wondered how Abby was doing. I have to give her credit: her first concern was my well-being, but her instinct for strategy was in full flower as well. If she pushed hard enough, she could complete the lap in under an hour, then take off for another if I was not up to it. But I was up to it. Adrenaline levels had abated somewhat, but I was more determined than ever to make up for the lost time. Sure enough, Abby rolled in at 10:58 and looked at me with a mixture of concern and questioning, that question being are you good to go? I signaled a thumbs up, then pushed away for my first true lap.

With no racers around me, I settled into a quick but steady pace. I kept a lookout for the spot where I crashed and wondered if I should stop and look for my missing lens. Of course not, you idiot. Push! The course had firmed up a little and Monbo loop was flow central. My gears were topped out on a couple of sections near the back side of the loop, as I overtook several riders and rode atop the Highball like Cauthen on Affirmed. You might have to look that up. I attacked the climbs and passed a few more racers, wondering distantly if any of them were in the duo co-ed group. There were some numbered red signs for emergency waypoints, and I remembered vaguely that they ended at #22 or #24 on this particular trail. I had just passed #20 and was on the hunt for #21. After a brief doubletrack section, I plunged back into the narrow bit and looked for the final red sign. It was indeed #24, and shortly thereafter, the road back. I hit the asphalt and cranked down, then lowered into an aero position and passed a couple more competitors.

Ever alert, Abby was waiting for her lap at the transition area. She made sure I was okay, then rocketed away. I found that my lap time was a respectable 44 minutes, and if I could maintain that pace for future laps, we’d be okay. I chatted some more with Ann and found that she and her partner were in second place and that Abby and I were in fourth. Just push some steady laps, and trust that Abby will do the same, then maybe we’ll be able to work our way up to third. I’m not gonna even talk about the first place duo; they’re pros who did not have a great deal of competition at this event. The more interesting battle would be for third, which just happened to involve Abby and yours truly.

I did some stretching and foam rolling before my second lap, and was ready to hit the trail again and find a comfortable rhythm. Abby turned in about a 47-minute lap and I was off once more after tagging up. It was a bit of a lonely lap, as I did not see too many racers. I did manage to overtake Jeff Dennison at the beginning of Monbo, on a gentle, undulating climb. He was rocking the single speed and appeared to be having a good time. At the end of monbo, I assumed a tuck position for the road descent and pushed even harder than the first lap. As I approached the bridge, I eased into a coast and felt the breeze in my face. Suddenly, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye and to my left. It was another rider who caught me on the downhill. He was a clydesdale who apparently had a sizable weight advantage, but I dropped him once we headed into the last tiny singletrack section before the pit area.

Abby took her third lap, then I settled down to rest and get some food in me. I learned that we were closing in on third place, then started doing some math to determine how many laps we’d get and how much time there was to spare. Abby returned at about 2:02 PM and I promised my lap would be about 45 minutes, which would be plenty of time for her to take the final lap without having to kill herself. For this series, racers must be back no later than 4:00 on the nose; one second more and your lap does not count. Very unforgiving.

For my third lap, I fell in with a couple of guys who were pacing one another, so I asked if I could tag along. They were happy to have me, and we made small talk for most of the lap. The three of us caught another rider on a climb, and I realized it was the female half of the third place team. With that pass, she became a member of the fourth place team. Gradually, my riding compadres managed to gap me about two thirds of the way into Monbo, and I watched them slowly recede into the distance. I then passed another rider who was stopped on the trail, fiddling with his bike. I asked if everything was okay and he said “yeah,” and I rode onward. To my chagrin, he very slowly closed the gap and rode my wheel for a few minutes. I asked if he wanted around me, and he said “nah, this is a good pace.” I wondered why he did not want around me, even in very passable areas, but I tried not to let it bother me. Later, while on the road descent, he rode up beside me and we exchanged pleasantries. I asked what category he was in and he replied “I’m not racing…just out here enjoying the trails.” I was a little annoyed, then I thought to myself well, this guy showed some restraint, actually. If he’d passed me, I might have felt humiliated that a non-racer was faster than me…boo hoo. Then he told me he was a racer; he just wasn’t racing that day. I guess that’s okay.

I rolled in at about 2:50 for Abby to take one final lap, which would be our seventh. The female rider I passed was far enough behind that her partner would not be able to overtake Abby after their switch. His final lap was over 47 minutes and Abby’s was barely 50 minutes; slightly slower, but fast enough to hang on. This meant that we had third place nicely wrapped up, with a bow on top. We were happy with that result, especially given the early setback. The fourth place finishers (whom we know) will want some revenge at the next race in June, so Abby and I will need to stay on top of our game.

I felt a stab of pride when David called out our team name, “Velocibraaptors,” which I admit is a little silly, but damned if it’s not unique. Abby and I then mounted the podium (generic “Podium Finisher” mugs raised high), got our picture taken, received a $75 check, then went in search of Mexican food. It was a good race.

SES1

 We did it! (click to biggenize)

Mountain Biking, Music, and Well-Being

Like many people, I have a habit of permitting true happiness to remain largely elusive. Too often, I conceptualize happiness as something that’s always on its way, something that will be attained once certain conditions are met, or goals achieved. I think to myself, if we had a second home in the mountains, or in Santa Fe, and we could be there whenever we wanted, I’d finally be content. Or I will say to myself, if only I had a job I loved, I could be happy. However, I am finding that as I age, genuine well-being is not so much a state that can be reached and maintained, but instead comes in random moments that must be appreciated while they last, which is usually briefly.

This past weekend, I camped out with my good friend Jeff Lankford, whom I had not seen in a couple of years. Our primary purpose was to see the band Sigur Rós in Asheville, and to do some mountain biking. Actually, I think it was mountain biking first, then attending a concert as a nice side benefit. I headed toward Asheville on a Saturday morning, just as the outer arms of Hurricane Matthew thrashed the middle part of the state, the part I had to drive through. It was a bleak beginning of a long weekend, and I dreaded the prospect of trying to sleep in a tent, something I have never been good at doing.

Two and a half hours into the drive, the rain fell away like a curtain being pulled aside, and the stress from driving in a downpour soon vanished as well. I arrived at the camp site to an awaiting Jeff, who helped me set up my tent, then we headed into Asheville for dinner. That night, the wind howled through the trees so fiercefully, it produced a pleasing sort of white noise that helped me drift into a decent slumber. The next day was full of good mountain biking in the Bent Creek area, but some of the climbs cruelly exposed our limits of fitness, and we had to rest often. We spent the next day in the Mills River vicinity, where the riding was even better. We slogged up some fire service roads to gain access to singletrack, then rode along ridgelines and sidehills and enjoyed some truly beautiful scenery. Late in the ride, Jeff and I were riding at a pretty good clip down a fire road, and suddenly I had a revelation: I can let myself be happy in this moment. I thought of the circumstances: I am on a camping trip with a good friend, we are mountain biking on an unfamiliar but exciting trail system, we will be going to a concert soon, we will be eating good food and enjoying downtown Asheville, and we will be drinking some quality craft beer. These are things that are happening right now, or will be happening soon. I can go ahead and let myself be content. I don’t need to wait around for what I perceive the conditions ought to be for happiness; they’re here right now. It was fleeting, but I was happy as hell.

I experienced a similar moment while at the Sigur Rós concert. This is a band that I have always appreciated, though not loved, and therefore not overly enthusiastic about seeing. But things can change, and change they did. It’s peculiar how one can be indifferent about an artist, but once they are seen in a live setting, they are the only musicians that matter at that moment. I think it’s the spectacle, the immensity of the production, the bombast of the event, that makes this so. So I was once again able to be in the moment. The band was incredible. The light show was impressive. Circumstances coalesced into the ideal, and I enjoyed another moment of bliss.

Texas-New Mexico 2016

I don’t have a day-by-day chronicle of the vacation this year, so here’s a bulleted summary:

 

  • Our A/C went out a few days before we were scheduled to leave, so we had to deal with the whole affair while away. We got Ahmet to watch Spencer and be at the house while the new unit was installed
  • We left at about 9:30 Saturday morning, 7/16. The trip was mostly uneventful except for a major downpour while navigating downtown Atlanta traffic
  • Ate lunch at a Cracker Barrel somewhere and bedded down for the night in Gulfport, Mississippi
  • Arrived at Chris and Elizabeth’s in San Antonio around 5:30 PM
  • Laura and I went mountain biking twice with Elizabeth. Sunday was at MacAllister Park where E had a great time and did well for her first true singletrack ride. The next day was not as enjoyable for her, as her ass was sore
  • We watched movies and ate out. I got stung by a bee on our first night there
  • Headed to Fort Worth early Wednesday morning. Pete called me and said he had strep throat, but that it would not affect the trip to SF
  • Laura and I rode the trails at Sansom Park in FW. Very hot. We got news that the A/C was finished and was cooling nicely back home
  • I left Laura in FW and drove to P&K’s on Thursday
  • Pete, Adam, and I left for Santa Fe early Friday morning. We ate at El Norteno in Wichita Falls. It was a hole in the wall joint, and therefore very good
  • Got to SF around 8:20 and mom had dinner ready. Laura, Oma, and Benita were already there
  • Rode the fantastic La Tierra trails Saturday morning
  • Rode the Dale Ball trails on Sunday. Ate somewhere nice, most likely. Got news that my uncle Arvis “Stu” Stewart passed away
  • Hiked with Pete and Wendell early Monday morning
  • Rode La Tierra again and ate at Raaga Tuesday night, our last night
  • On Wednesday, headed east to Amarillo to drop Adam off for Stu’s service the next day. Saw Holly and ate Mexican for the umpteenth time
  • Drove into Dallas with Pete after leaving Adam
  • Ate a home cooked meal. Played with Ellie
  • Pete had to work on Friday, so I got a new rear tire and grips for the SS, and got my oil changed
  • Ate sushi for dinner, followed by frozen yogurt. Yumz
  • Headed east on Friday morning. Made it to Duluth, GA for the night
  • Got home on Saturday at 2:30