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.


 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



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.