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



There are two type of audiophiles.

That’s a lie; there are way more than two types, but I want to address only two.

The first type is one who is driven by his love of music to acquire top-quality playback equipment, often at reasonable prices. He is obsessed with hardware only inasmuch as it promises better sound quality or expands playback options. This person will search online forums, become a member of online forums, then participate in online forums, all in pursuit of enjoying music more fully. He is more a musicophile than audiophile, though he may get a certain gratification from the prospect of new equipment now and then.

Why “he”? Because there is a dearth of female audio purists for some reason. Sure, they exist, but the audio world is dominated by men, and men like things. And the continued acquisition of things.

The second type of enthusiast is the true audiophile, and I’m not really using the term affectionately here. They place audio above music. They place aesthetics way above music. What do I mean by this? The audiophile loves the reproduction of sound and they desire the most elaborate and expensive equipment to do so. These people are extremely wealthy, since the hardware required is astronomically priced. I have reason to believe there may be some audiophiles who rarely play music, or even turn their stereos on; their systems function only as visual art. And there are indeed some very beautiful systems: gigantic monoblock tube amplifiers the size of a room radiator, speakers that dwarf a refrigerator, and turntables that more closely resemble a Rococo-like Rube Goldberg contraption than something that spins records. The tried-and-true design philosophy that “form follows function” is cast to the four winds in favor of ever more ornate and wildly unnecessary “improvements.” Luckily for the music lover, accurate stereophonic reproduction does not require such equipment, though the silver spooned audio elite may disagree.

I myself am the first type, and I would like to think that even if I had unlimited income, I would still opt for the reasonably-priced brand names, from companies who want everyone to enjoy high fidelity without taking out a second mortgage.

Yeah, right. I would so get the expensive shit.


Mark Levinson monoblock amplifiers/room heaters:


Pathos power amplifier with ridiculous heat sink:


 Gargantuan Tannoy Westminsters have a gargantuan price tag:


Quicksand by fIREHOSE

Lately I have been obsessed with this track from fIREHOSE. By the way, the band’s name is styled like that everywhere; maybe they have a patent on it or something. Quicksand is a bit of a filler tune from their Mr. Machinery Operator album, but I think it’s brilliant both musically and lyrically, and I usually don’t care much for the words in a song. I scoured the web for the lyrics to this song, but they were not to be found, so I wrote them down for my own enjoyment. Here they are:


You weren’t pushed away
You weren’t pulled away
You were sucked away, dragged under
A lime in the sinking sun
Ignore the ‘proachin’ thunder
You have it, use it, and abuse it
A lesson in your livin’
In time you’re tired of all things, baby
All is forgiven
Quicksand, pullin’ you right under
Quicksand, pullin’ you away from me
Wastin’ words is easy once ya
Get into the habit
Now, this brass ring on the carousel
Your hand sticks out to grab it
You’re a dancin’ dog
In someone’s circus
Proud to be part of it
But lately you’re as hollow
As that wooden horse you’re ridin’ on!
Quicksand, pullin’ you right under
Quicksand, pullin’ you away from me
Now you ride for peace
You ride for a time
Satisfy desire
His eyes are lookin’ back at you
As you look in the fire
His voice will whisper in your ears
“What is done is done”
His arms will reach out to haul you in
Ya find that you’re the only one
Quicksand, pullin’ you right under
Quicksand, pullin’ you away from me
Quicksand, suckin’ you right under
Quicksand, pullin’ you away from me


Listen closely to the guitars in the third verse and how Mike Watt’s phrasing builds to this balls-out crescendo. Then, at about the 2:39 mark, the wailing guitar feedback melts into a beautiful vibrato as Watt sings “ya find that you’re the only one!” Astounding in its simplicity, but never loses its energy.


Common Goods Submission: Pandora’s Blender

This project was challenging because I had no real vision for the finished piece. I wanted to let the process itself drive the outcome, and it’s that element of ambiguity which made this a rewarding effort.

I knew that I wanted some sort of “boxy” base for the work, onto which I would assemble the more interesting and visually appealing components…whatever they were going to be. I started with a frame roughly 11″ x 32″ x 4″ made of poplar:


I mitered the corners as best I could, then filled the nail holes with putty:


A piece of 3/32″ birch plywood was used for the top:


I then applied several layers of shellac to the top and sides, sanding between each coat. Next, a few coats of gray sandable primer gave the base a smooth finish:


I floated another plank of MDF about 3/4″ from the base and added some chrome shower door handles that I removed from the upstairs master bath, much to Laura’s consternation. Then I worked up this color scheme:


After a great deal of browsing in various local stores, I came upon the idea of incorporating vegetable steamers into the work. I needed more chrome elements and these steamers had a cool look when they were closed. But I still needed a capping element on top of the steamers, so I again went hunting. I settled on glass bottles of some sort, but they needed to be the exact right shape. An upside down oil & vinegar bottle seemed to do the trick, but the store where I found them only had two, and I needed five, so I ordered some more from Amazon.

The top of the piece needed to echo the color scheme from the base, so I painted some wooden dowels with a spiral motif and jutted them up into the overturned bottles. I also added four chrome drawer pulls to the corners, since the shower handles fell a bit short of the piece’s length. I ended up with an artwork that met my expectations; a work that appears to offer some oblique function, but just sits there and tries to look pretty instead:


This work was finished just before the expiration for a local competition, but I needed to come up with a catchy title, so I “friendsourced” a few options on Facebook and finally chose Pandora’s Blender. I entered it in a juried show called Common Goods, hosted by Visual Art Exchange, and it was accepted.

After a couple of weeks passed, the show opened on the First Friday art crawl in downtown Raleigh on April 3rd, 2015. I arrived half an hour late because I was drinking some craft beer with Gary and Carrie at The Pharmacy in Cary. When I walked into the show, I saw that Laura was already there. I also saw that I had won first place. That was a good feeling.


Another Post About Food

I doubt I will live forever, but it would be nice to live at least a very long time. We see articles almost daily that enumerate what we need to do in order to stay healthy and prolong our existence. There are the usual suspects: exercise, eating the right foods, stop smoking, and so on. But more and more studies reinforce the idea that we must reduce our food portions as well. I don’t like this. I don’t want to go through life feeling hungry all the time, like a scrawny underfed rat in a laboratory. It’s an awful habit, but I tend to eat until I am full…usually somewhat past full. I’ll stuff my gullet until my blood pressure rises and my heart rate increases, and I’ll bitch to no one in particular about how my tummy is uncomfortably bloated. But you know what? That feeling is better than feeling hungry. With satiety comes a feeling of accomplishment, of a job well done, and maybe this is just a part of our DNA. Maybe I’m more a living atavism of my paleolithic progenitors than I thought; I eat too fast, I eat too much, and if I’m hungry enough I will toss any semblance of a judiciously crafted diet out the window and eat anything in sight. How is it I do not weigh 400 pounds?


Almost every day I’ll tell myself that I will start watching my portions, but it almost never seems to happen. Oh, once in awhile I’ll make a serious attempt and manage to control portions for a day or two, then I give up. Because food.

Christmas Diary

Elizabeth and Chris were scheduled to arrive around 2:00 PM on Monday before Christmas, but flight delays put it much later. When they finally got to our house, they scarfed up my chili which I had prepared a couple of days prior. I think the chili may have been a bit too spicy for Elizabeth. Mom and Wendell were to arrive late on Christmas Eve, but the airlines had other plans. They missed their connecting flight at DFW due to gate SNAFUs, which is typical at that airport. They ended up spending the night in Dallas and arrived at RDU the next morning. Laura, Benita, and I worked furiously to prepare a Christmas feast of Honeybaked ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and a pretty good dressing concoction that Benita put together using Stovetop Stuffing as a base. Later, we opened gifts. I got the things I had put on my Amazon list as well as a quad copter from mom and Wendell, which was a pleasant surprise. Wish lists are a good thing, but they remove the element of creative gifting. Friday morning I broke out the copter (to hell with reading the directions) from the back deck and let ‘er rip. I flew it up over the roof of the house and into the front yard, whereupon I contemplated the effective range of the remote control. It lost signal with the copter just as it was hovering over the tallest tree in our lot, and became stuck fast in the uppermost branches. No amount of tweaking from the remote was able to dislodge it, and the battery soon died. Great. It was about three stories from the ground, so we set about trying to free it by winging golf discs at it, hoping for the best. Not once did we come very close to the copter, and even if we had, I’m not sure what we were expecting to happen. I must have assumed the disc would arrive at the vicinity of the copter, then ask it politely to climb aboard and ride it gently down to terra firma. After repeated throws from beneath the tree failed, Elizabeth and I got on the roof of the house to get a better vantage point. Those attempts also failed, so we brainstormed other ideas. Wendell and I went to Home Depot in hopes of inspiration from the vast wonderland of building products therein. We seized upon the idea of a small plastic canister which could be filled with hardware and tethered to masonry line. When we got home, we set about filling the canister with a few nuts and bolts, then went outside to test our theory. We recruited Chris, who has a decent throwing arm, to launch the missile toward the branches near the drone, in hopes of then using the twine to shake the tree vigorously enough to free the imprisoned toy. This did not work. The string was not heavy enough to withstand the tugs to shake the branches, so it broke. We heaved it into the tree once more to try again, but then it too got stuck. Back to the drawing board, but now it was getting late and we were losing daylight. We would assail the conundrum tomorrow, tomorrow being Saturday. Chris, Wendell, and I went to Home Depot (and then Lowe’s) and managed to find some 10 foot garden stakes which could be coupled together with PVC. We got enough for about 42 feet, which we assumed at the time would be plenty. After only 15 minutes of prepping the rods, we were ready. Gary from across the street came to observe. Once we strung the pieces together, we found that we were a full 20 feet short. Curses! Undismayed, I climbed the tree, found a secure position a third of the way up, and had Chris and Wendell feed me the garden stake/PVC contraption length by length. When all connected, the rods were unwieldy and difficult to maneuver, swaying to and fro like a drunkard. I then endeavored to cradle it in the crooks of strategically located branches in order to attain some measure of stability. After several tries, I found the right crook, and had a straight-on shot at the drone. With this arrangement, I was able to extricate the forlorn copter from its arboreal gulag, and down it plunged, unsullied and whole. We played with it some, keeping it far from the clutches of the gnarled behemoth in the front yard. Anyway, we ate some more meals, went out a few times, went on some runs, watched movies, and played Cards Against Humanity over the next few days. I felt it was a good visit, and as usual, I was sad to see my family leave. I hope to see them all again for St, Patrick’s Day in Dallas soon.

Led Zeppelin

What is it about this band? It’s no great mystery that which makes for an exceptional musical group: talent (of course), cohesion among the members, time and place, a good producer, et cetera. Led Zeppelin had all these in spades, but it seems there’s something more, something almost ineffable about the group. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s no question that the confluence of all these qualities helped create what became arguably the greatest rock group of all time. It’s not just that they oozed talent, but I think it’s this: that they oozed talent effortlessly.

They were also literary. And they paid homage to their blues forebears. And they often experimented with instrumentation outside the domain of rock music. Sure, sometimes Page/Plant could get a little wordy with lyrics; Carouselambra reads like an epic poem, but it’s still a musical tour de force. However, there’s one song that combines not only the best in each band member, but is a masterful amalgam of all the best anything: The Rain Song. This number has it all. It’s got strings, including a heart-wrenching cello part. It has a plinking piano track that evokes, you guessed it, rain. It features achingly beautiful lyrics, and it has a double climax. Everyone loves double climaxes.

A plaintive half-step drop on the guitar establishes the main musical motif; it’s not exactly uplifting, but not altogether sad either. What it is is perfect. A second acoustic guitar is strummed almost wetly in the background. When the strings come in around 1:37, The Rain Song becomes this towering thing, anchored by the brooding cello track. Just listen to the interplay of the piano, strings, and guitars during the stretch between the two main verses, capped by Bonham’s gently urgent percussion until the 3:50 mark.

And that second verse! “Speak to me only with your eyes.” I melt at this stuff. But the climax at 5:01 is downright heroic. Page’s guitar riff at 5:11 is subtle, but it’s also the sound of triumph made melody, as Plant sings “(Hey!) I felt the coldness of my winter…” and two-note piano chords stack joyously upward. This is about the time I’m pumping my fists in solidarity with musical perfection.

And there’s more. A second, more subdued climax happens at 6:16 when Plant really gets to the point: Upon us all a little rain must fall.

So…writing about the details of a song is a fool’s errand. I can’t pretend to adequately express what it is that makes a musical work so enjoyable and moving. You just have to listen for yourself, but hopefully you’ll take notice of the high points I’ve mentioned here.

Tennessee-Texas-New Mexico Road Trip 2014

Friday 7/18: Left work at 11:45 am to hit the road to Nashville. Rained off and on starting in Asheville, all the way to Ted and Linda’s. Arrived around 7:30, had a beer, then went to Chili’s and ate/drank at the bar. Food was good. Went back to T&L’s to play DJ for the rest of the night. Got drunk but had a blast.

Saturday: Drove the rest of the trip with a hangover. Got to Pete’s around 5:30. Ate at Casa Cha Cha with P, K, and Ellie. Watched an episode of the Sopranos with P&K.

Sunday: Got up and ate breakfast at Hubbard’s with P, K, and the Macharts, then drove to San Antonio, but not in time for lunch with E&C. Checked out their crib until they arrived around 3PM, then went to tour the Riverwalk downtown with C’s mom and niece who is preggars. Saw “Wish I Was Here” which was kinda sucky. Watched a few choice episodes of Family Guy and Louie with E&C, while grubbing on pizza.

Monday: Met E&C’s friend Carlos, whom we floated on the Guadalupe with after lunch. My iPhone got waterlogged and would not power on, so I put it in a baggie of rice when we got done with the river. Ate some excellent BBQ with Carlos.

Tuesday: Got up early and headed back to big D, via 287. Played cat and mouse with an Audi S4 part of the way. Made good time. Got to Pete’s office around 12:15 and waited for him to go to lunch. Ate at Buzzbrew’s, which was very good. Fretted about my iPhone and tried several things to get it to power on, to no effect. Dreaded having to get a new one; did not think my Applecare would cover water damage. Watched another Sopranos.

Wednesday: Met E at Cafe Brazil for brunch, then we both went to the Apple store to see what could be done about my phone. Crowded, so had to make an appointment for 3PM. Drove E back to get her car. Met with the Apple “genius” who informed me that my Applecare+ would mostly cover the damaged phone, and I only owed $49. Yay! Set up the B&W/Adcom system in P&K’s living room. Later, P came home and made a yummy pasta dish while we jammed to the new sound system and drank B&C’s. Later, P and I started “Cabin in the Woods” but did not finish it.

Thursday: Met E again for brunch, then I went to Erwin Park to ride the MTB trails. Snapped a pic of the spot where I crashed a year ago. Oh, and it was very hot, but had a good ride. Visited with E again at Olive Garden; met the rest of her crew. P made burgers for supper.

Friday: Hit the road to SF around 9:30. Took 287 to Wichita Falls where we ate at El Chico’s. Then got on 70 west and made good time while jamming to fine tunes. Traded driving duties. Missed a turn somewhere in NM, but was not a big deal. Got to M&W’s just after dark. Unbeknownst to all, Koji snagged a pair of gloves from my bike bag and devoured them. We visited awhile then went to bed.

Saturday: Picked Laura up from their place in town, then went MTBing at the La Tierra trails…not bad. Met 3 women who told us about some cool whoops there, so we rode them twice. Hung out with Benita in the railyard district, visiting a few galleries. Later we tried to decide what to do for dinner, then P discovered a glove that Koji barfed up. The mood soured when we could not locate the glove’s mate. We all knew what this meant.

Sunday: Mom really not feeling well. L and I rode the Dale Ball trails off of Hyde Park road. Very nice trail system. W took Koji to the vet to make him puke. It worked, so catastrophe averted. Later, picked up B and drove round SF looking for a parking spot, then gave up. Ate at Tune-Up later with P, K, B, L and Oma.

Monday: Took a run with P in the morning. Ran along the river bed, which was still wet from storms the previous evening. Watched most of “Snowpiercer” with W and P, then picked up the women to take to airport (Oma) and ABQ (Benita). Came home and ate W’s excellent chicken tiki marsala. Watched “Enough Said” with M, W, P, and L. I then watched the remainder of Snowpiercer and sipped B&Cs.

Tuesday: Got up and rode the Winsor trail with Laura. Poor signage made for a less than stellar ride, but quite a workout: tough climbing and fast descents. Finished around 12:30. Mom feeling better and doing her group therapy and blood work. Ate a sandwich. Lazed around the house until we ate at Osteria Italian restaurant near the square in SF. Scrumptious. Watched “Please Give” then crashed.

Wednesday: Took L to the SF airport around 9AM, then came back and started packing up. Ate with M&W at Tree House in DeVargas mall. I had enchiladas, which were really tasty. P and I got on the road at about 1:15 and made good time to Lubbock, despite losing an hour. Got to G&D’s around 7:45, just in time for a supper of Swiss steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, and brownies afterward. We watched an episode of True Detective, but I fell asleep in the middle of it.

Thursday: Took a 4-mile run with P at about 8:30. Ran past M&W’s former house on Clinton. I wanted to sob. After showering, we went with G to meet Dylan at his new apartment, then to lunch at Garcia’s (awesome), then to look at some artwork for an upcoming group exhibit that D is participating in. I bought one of his pieces. P and I headed back to Dallas via 84/20 and got in before 7PM, then watched an episode of Sopranos.

Friday: Slept in a little, even though P and I had intended to run. Too wet to ride, so I pondered packing up and getting on the road back to NC. Had lunch with Adam at Saigon Block, then got under way at 1:00. Arrived in Nashville at 11:40 and had some wine with T&L and listened to their new audio system

Saturday: Had breakfast at Vitile’s with T&L, then got on the road at about 9:45. Trip seemed loooong. Got home at 7:05. Laura had dinner ready.

Music and Memory

I think about this topic quite a bit, probably because I think about music a lot. And that’s because I love music, in case that isn’t clear. When I was about 20 years old and spending summers with my dad in Plano, TX, I remember playing with a dinky little Casio keyboard. It had about 22 keys or so, and it also came pre-loaded with a few songs. One of them was a sped up version of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, the Andante movement specifically, often referred to as “Elvira Madigan.” At the time, I was not aware that it was Mozart, nor that it was a famous passage of music at all, but I did recognize its brilliance. I played it over and over, until I could pick out the melody and play it myself. It’s a simple but elegant piece, often considered the most beautiful passage of music in the world. That’s a highly subjective claim, but I’m hard pressed to disagree. Anyway, it wasn’t until years later that I realized it was Mozart, and that it was just one small part of a sublime concerto from one of the musical greats. The entire concerto remains one of my favorites, and I cannot listen to the Andante without tearing up a little, particularly a minute or two in when the main theme is played. I will weep instantly, but I have to wonder if it’s because of the sheer beauty of those piano notes, or because I miss my dad.