Bicycling at Mid-Life

I have become a superhero at mid-life, for only they wear stretchy, tight black outfits in public there to kick evil’s ass and engage in calorie-burning feats far beyond the ability of ordinary mortals.  That’s what I’ve been doing, every day, although in my case the two categories of action do not necessarily coincide.  Also, sometimes, evil kicks my ass back.  Ordinarily, when taking the fight to the prince of darkness grim, I wear street clothes or business casual.


Saturday before last, I rode my Razesa 12-speed 25 miles, from my house to the county seat and back again, to vote early in the upcoming primary election (one categorical coincidence, as above).  While at the administrative center, I got to visit briefly with a friend I don’t see often enough.  My bike’s chain came off on the way home, but I was able to figure it out and keep riding.  At home, I showered, ate a huge lunch and took a long nap.  That’s what the comic book guys do after one of those epic battles that appears to involve more heroes and villains than can be numbered in a Hindu pantheon, er, comic book universe – functionally, is there a difference?

Yesterday, I rode 20 miles, round-trip, with no errand in mind beyond getting some exercise and pedaling a different route.  That same hill I’ve always had to walk up partway I still had to walk up, but I was able to ride all of the other hills.  I know this could not have been the case, but it felt like the 15 – 20 mph wind was in my face most of my ride.  This time, into the wind I “rode the drops,” that is, rode with my hands holding the bottom or terminal parts of the ram’s-horn-looking handlebar.  Doing so altered my body’s position and seemed to reduce wind-resistance.  I was again glad I’d bought a set of Continental Gatorskin tires because there’s a lot of gravel, garbage, and crud on the highway’s sometimes uneven surface.


Today I rode the Razesa to worship service and used (for the first time) the panniers Eric included with the bike to carry Sunday School material and the bulletins I’d printed, as well as a book for Theodore.  I think it’s cool to be able to “commute” so to speak and conveniently carry stuff with me using a bike.  Annoyingly, with the balls of my feet on the pedals, my heels kept kicking the panniers, and I had to pedal on my arches, which shifted my body’s relationship to the seat and made for a slightly uncomfortable ride.  After I got to the meeting place this morning, I slipped off the sweat pants I’d put on over a pair of shorts, as well as my windbreaker, folded both, and stowed them the ancient “Triplex” bags that were purchased in Madrid the same time Eric bought the gold bike.  The bags proudly proclaim “Made in Spain” in English under the logo.


On the ride home, the shifters didn’t work like they should.  They’re friction shifters, and with the left one at ninety-degrees to the tube, the front derailleur is supposed to be on the most difficult ring, but this afternoon, it was like the Opposite Gnomes had gone to work at them while I’d been singing hymns and listening to a sermon Romans 7:1 – 6 (I am much less antinomian than in former times).  I made it home without losing the chain or crashing into a ditch or into traffic, but haven’t had a chance to monkey with shift problem, yet.  Had to mow, and have a relatively tight schedule for this afternoon.

Tennessee Republican Problem


Tennessee Republican legislators need to free themselves from a fear of the Republican governor’s system of rewards, punishments, and contract lobbyists.

Unseat Haslam?

I am wondering whether it is time to form a Republican or Tea Party group that aims to unseat Tennessee governor Haslam.  Maybe a group of Republicans who, if the party machine balks, will find a suitable Democrat to support in order to send a clear message to Nashville.

Tennessee Problems

With a majority in the state house and senate and a Republican governor in office, Republicans in Tennessee have been wasting their finite political capital and therefore face an increasingly narrow window of opportunity to make real progress in addressing the state’s many problems.  Let’s list a few:

  • A labor vacuum created by the socialist welfare state that makes it more comfortable for those best suited for low-skilled work to stay in their taxpayer subsidized homes than to do productive, paid work
  • Unsustainable influx and residual population of illegal immigrants that flows over our borders to fill the aforesaid labor vacuum
  • A reliance upon the Federal teat that shows itself in the eagerness with which Haslam sought the spigot for Race to the Top education dole
Governor’s Agenda Hits “Sitting Targets”

Instead of tackling any one of the difficult tasks that a responsible and trustworthy elected official would apprehend a moral obligation to confront, it appears that Mr. Haslam wishes to “accomplish” only a couple of “easy” things in his first, and hopefully only term.   He seems unwilling, or perhaps feels he is unequal to the task of accomplishing meaningful work that would entail encountering strong opposition by well-funded and extremely vocal entrenched interest groups.

One emailed communication I’ve read declares that Haslam has instead gone after both teachers and state employees, “sitting targets,” which came as a surprise to the writer, because neither related “issue” was talked about during the campaign.  Teachers and state employees are, largely, compliant groups of hard-working, dedicated individuals whose remuneration is low in comparison to their effort.  Legislative attempts to remove what little protection they have in what is already a “right to work” state amounts to little more than tormenting a captive population.

Survivor Guilt

I didn’t write about it here – , but the kind of guilt we were talking about was survivor guilt.  The man with whom I spoke that day on steps of Nashville’s War Memorial talked about the guilt he experienced having survived as a soldier in the Viet Nam War, as well as attempts to destroy himself as a means of testing the reality of his perceived unbreakability.  While I have never experienced anything like organized, legally sanctioned armed conflict, I have survived a constellation of circumstances that others have not.  I also spent years testing the reality of my perceived unbreakability, gathering data I will probably never publish or otherwise make fully known.

On the other side of survival and reality-testing is, I think, the possibility of awakening to an experience of humanness that may be better than one thinks one deserves or ever thought to hope for.

Monday’s Leadership Lesson

If you’ve been hired to work as a manager, understand the “product” the unit you’re responsible for produces.  You’ve got to understand two things in this regard when you work in an agency that provides services:

  1. What it is the agency has been chartered to do
  2. What the agency actually does

In regard to each, if you have a lick of sense, you will apply a value test.  Simply put, you will ask yourself, regarding the service or services provided, “Is it valuable?”  Your task is to promote and encourage what is valuable and, if you find your agency or company is all about something loathsomely else, to find ways of providing or producing value.  You have a moral obligation to promote value and work to transform a bogus waste of “customer” money into a producer of value.

If you got your job because you convinced the person or group that hired you that your goal is exact abject compliance with their demands, that you would, in essence, “suck-up and kick-down,” then you are an unworthy person deserving of nothing more than contempt.  If you are a careerist hack committed to the Potemkin Village model of public or any other service, you have another kind of problem, but are still deserving only of contempt.

You have a moral obligation to foster, to promote value.

“Do you think we’re all crazy?”


Last Thursday (not yesterday, but last week, February 2) I spent some time at Nashville, a place I seem to be visiting more often.  The drive and parking are kind of an expense and a hassle, but I’ve grown to like downtown Nashville and wish there was some convenient commuter rail option for day trips to the city. 


Looking out the window to my left, I observed “Occupy Nashville” camped out on the pavement in front of the War Memorial.  I obtained permission to snap the photograph shown above from a nearby room not in use on the day of my visit.  After I had concluded my business, I started on my several blocks hike to the parking garage where I’d left Thursday, the coincidentally named 850, and at the corner of the street pictured above at bottom left, thought, “I’ll just walk up to the War Memorial and eat my snack (which I’d small bag of trail mix and another small bag with four generic fig newton cookies) on those steps by the colonnade.”  Suiting action to thought, that’s what I did.


Snack eaten, I took my camera from a pocket and took some more pictures.  A lawyer sitting on the steps in front of me to my left spent a long time with his smart-phone held about a foot away from his face, punching buttons.  Another lawyer walked up to him from a doorway near the foot of the steps to my right and said, “Up here doing some research?”  The first lawyer said something in response I didn’t completely overhear, about a break.  The second lawyer, looking around at the squatters’ campground said, “You know, I represent the hotels around here.”  Gesturing to my right, toward the Hermitage Hotel, he said, “At $400.00 a night, this is bad for their business, but it’s obviously a boon for blue tarp sales.”  The first lawyer chuckled politely, and the two parted company, the second lawyer walking back off to my right across the pavement in the direction of the Hermitage Hotel.


As I took a parting shot at the second lawyer, pictured above at right, a man, casually and appropriately dressed for midday walkabout on a sunny, warmer winter day walked straight up to me, sat down on a step above and to my right, about three feet away.  His facial features and manner of speech resembled those of actor Tommy Lee Jones.  I’d guess he was in height anywhere from 5’8” to 5’10”.  “Well, do you think we’re all crazy?” he said.

“I think most of us have traits that at times may rise to the level of clinical significance, but we’re organic beings and the manifestations of our personalities and other characteristics tend to be fluid and changing, so the superimposition of a rigid diagnostic structure doesn’t always account for all of or capture all of the pertinent information,” I said, or something that at least contained all those elements.

“What are you, a doctor or something?” the man asked.  I gave him a truthful, as opposed to a self-aggrandizing, answer. 

“What statement are you all trying to make with this?” I said, gesturing to the blue-tarp covered tents on the pavement.

“I’m not one of these ‘Occupy’ people,” he said. 

“Then which people comprise the ‘we’ to which you referred?”

“Everybody – humankind,” he said.  As to the ‘Occupy’ group visible from the steps upon which we sat, “I don’t think they are making any coherent statement. Most of these (he gestured to the tents and the people in and milling about them) are just homeless. I wouldn’t stay here. I do agree that the rich aren’t paying their fair share, but this ‘Occupy’ movement won’t accomplish anything. And legislators, although they could accomplish something, won’t. They have a purpose, and that purpose doesn’t usually coincide with things like social justice.”

Then he told me about himself.  65 years-old, a Viet-Nam veteran, a man who had had “every advantage” growing up, who went to university “to become somebody, I have a math degree.  I worked twenty years as a statistician and was well on my way to becoming somebody when I disintegrated.”  Queried, he said that what he meant by disintegration was walking away from his work, his family, his home.  “I am homeless,” he said, “but I’m not crazy.”  He said he could return to the world of work any time he wanted to.  He said that after having been homeless for several years, “I straightened myself out and went to school, became a registered nurse, but I washed out of that” after about three and a half years, he said.

“I am in perfect health.  I could do anything to try to harm myself, and have tried to in the past, but have remained unscathed.  The thing I can’t get past is the guilt,” the man said.

“The fact that you feel guilt, that is, something painful, is evidence that something has, indeed, scathed you,” I said.

“Guilt is just the common experience that befalls all humans,” he said.

“Guilt is pretty common,” I said, “What do you do about it?”

Unfortunately, I don’t remember his answer.  I do remember he said that he consciously tries to avoid conflict with other people, stays out of trouble, avoids contact with the police, and “I try not to harm anybody.”

“Have you kept in contact with family, children?” I asked.

“I haven’t kept contact with anyone,” he said, “I don’t have a family, now.  Remember, I said I don’t want to do anybody any harm?”

“And you think it contact with you at this time would be harmful to them?”


I talked a bit about my wife and son and about why I think it’s necessary and I want to make the choices that keep me in contact with them, to keep my family intact.  He expressed agreement that I should, indeed, maintain the integrity of my family to the extent it is possible for me to do so.

I think in the context of guilt we got talking about soul.  We both agreed that the idea of a soul is better expressed by the likelihood that whatever it is the individual reckons as self is probably a byproduct of neurobiological functioning, as opposed to some unseen “organ” that functions superior to observable physicality, and that, to use my words, the human task is to remain aware and aloft above mere autonomic functioning. 

I didn’t think of it while we were talking, at least not clearly enough or knowingly enough to mention, but the man with whom I spoke has information that may be helpful to his offspring who share his neurobiological makeup.  He may be doing more harm than good by avoiding contact with them from an amoralistic functional perspective. 

“Do you know why I do it?” he said, referring to living in a tent in a Nashville wilderness area.

“You tell me”

“Because it’s easy – I am a soldier, I’m used to living outside.  I am a Southerner and my father was a woodsman – it is my heritage,” he said and described his way of life as something like camping.  He said that as a veteran he is entitled to government services through the Veterans Administration that allow him to remain clean.  He said he receives a check once a month, buys one bottle of vodka, drinks it mixed with Gatorade (“I’m drinking now", he said as we talked) gets quietly drunk and remains sober for the rest of the month.  During the time we talked, I observed his face redden perceptibly due to the chemical’s effect, and something about the eyes that appeared to indicate something about the alcohol creating a distance between the meeting of our minds.

It was past time for me to go.  He told me his name and I told him mine.  We shook hands and said goodbye.  I left with the strong feeling that I’d met a sort of kindred spirit, and a man I liked who did not want or seem to need my help.

Monday’s Leadership Lesson

You lead from in front.  You develop and model competence.  You do your own work.  Where there’s a gap, you fill it with your own effort until it can be repaired.  If you created the gap through your own failure or series of failures, you own up to, learn the lesson that teaches, and immediately start doing better.  You will be held accountable.

Asheville Gear Swap

Early last Saturday morning, January 28, my goal was to leave the house before 5:00 am and drive across the Upper Cumberland plateau to I-40 East at Crossville, then drive through Knoxville and points further East to Asheville, North Carolina, to meet my friend Eric at a downtown hotel parking lot.  I was motoring along that stretch that runs uphill, past the curves, that is between Sparta and Crossville.  At my right, to the East, the sunrise backlit the horizon so that it resembled nothing so much as a freight train speeding parallel my course.  The picture below doesn’t capture the thundering dawn train I imagined; I must have snapped it about three minutes later after fumbling in my backpack for the camera.


The drive from Stepford to Asheville only took about four and half hours.  I enjoyed driving I-40 near the border and through Cherokee Forest into Asheville, especially the tunnels.  Although my 1997 850’s horsepower was anemic even in its day, the standard transmission, front-wheel drive car handles superbly.  As I drove, I listened to the entire book of Genesis on CD, and experienced a surprising emotional impact the narrative never had upon me when I read it.  I arrived at my hotel about 11:30 a.m. local time.


The Sheraton Four Points is, if Tripadvisor and other online hotel review sites are correct, a former Best Western hotel.  But the rates were excellent and the location good – a block or two from downtown and right off the freeway.  After I checked in, I phoned my friend, Eric, who said he was only a few minutes away.  Our goal was to exchange human powered vehicles – a Pouch E68 folding kayak and a 1985 Razesa 12-speed road/touring bike.  As also noted somewhere on Tripadvisor, the magnetic room-keys didn’t work, but the friendly staffer at the desk quickly “made” new ones.  The room, itself, was a bit small but apparently clean.  The room’s WiFi signal was relatively weak, at two bars, but adequate for email, looking at the weather, etc.

We parked at the edge of the hotel’s lot and emptied our cars of gear.  I assembled the kayak so Eric could see how it was done; he took photos to help remember.  I’m still puzzled by the fact that I always look worse in photographs than I do when I check my appearance in a mirror to make sure I’m presentable before I go outside.  I also brought along some miscellaneous gear found a watch I thought I’d lost at a put-in a couple of years ago; it’d probably got stuck to the velcro on a paddling glove for cold-weather I included in one of the boat’s bags.  We’d both brought our lunches and ate them in the parking lot while assembling the boat and monkeying with the bike.  Here’s a picture of the kayak and gear spread out behind our cars in the parking lot, followed by another picture of Eric riding the Razesa to make sure it could still be ridden and also so I could take the picture of one of his final rides on the bike he bought at Madrid in about 1985.

While we worked in the parking lot, the bus driver for the Liberty University women’s basketball team, in town for a game and staying at the Four Points, came over and talked with us about the kayak and about religion and culture.  Something about a folding kayak that never fails to attract the attention of passersby.


I bought that red kayak from Ralph Hoehn at in, I don’t know, maybe late 2005.  I wanted something that tracked straight and was sufficiently sturdy that when bracing knees and feet against the frame, the frame itself would not come apart.  Ralph’s demo-boat fit the bill, perfectly.  When I bought it, it had what I think was its original hullskin – without fore-hatch, deck much faded, a sort of rubber tractor-seat, PVC hull much scuffed and nicked.  Ralph challenged me to assemble it without instructions.  As with any of the folding kayaks I’ve owned, it took not too much time to look at and think about the pieces to see how they must fit together.  I was able to manage the thing without very much difficulty, with maybe one part left over.  I assembled it for the first time in the front yard of the first house my wife and I owned. 

The faded red deck was about the coral-pink color of the common trumpet creeper or campsis radicans, which I saw growing on the rocky shoreline of Woods Reservoir the second or third time I paddled the kayak, so it came to me as a sort of vision-quest revelation of the kayak’s name.  Ralph had told me the kayak had never been named, so I was free to find a name for it.

In this kayak, I explored portions of the Duck River up and downstream Normandy Lake, all of Normandy Lake, all of Woods Reservoir, portions of the Elk River up and downstream Woods Reservoir, and most of Tims Ford Lake.  In addition, I paddled Lake Ocoee and Lake Watauga in this kayak.

Here are many of the photos I’ve taken of and from this boat – .

About three years ago, now, maybe a little longer ago than that, but not much, I bought a more recent hullskin from Ralph.  Although it was used, it was not much used.  New hullskin came with a forward hatch, a little better workmanship on the rear-deck closure, as well as better workmanship on the rudder-cables management (plastic sleeves to prevent the cables catching on stowed gear aft, and reinforced exit points on the rear deck).  The problem with the new skin is that it never fit quite right, due, in my opinion, largely to PVC tabs holding the sponson sleeves in position.  Inflated, the left side tubes always pushed up over the gunwale frame in front, and at right, was significantly lower than it ought to have been.  Nothing I tried, in terms of fitting the frame into the skin, could correct this.  The kayak paddled fine, but looked odd to me.  I guess I’m OCD enough to have been significantly bugged by the left side bulging.  Back during the summer of 2011, a couple of times I was so frustrated with the odd fit that I wanted to burn the boat or throw in front of a speeding tractor-trailer rig.

I’m not sure why I got so frustrated with the E68, but I couldn’t tolerate the fact that the deck was uneven left to right.  When I mentioned a couple of months ago to Eric that I wanted to burn it, he said, “I like that kayak.”  He’s paddled it several times.  Here’s a picture of him in it on the Stones River near Manson Pike Trailhead at Murfreesboro:

Eric told me he’d purchased the Razesa bike in Madrid in 1985, at which time he was serving as a short-term Southern Baptist missionary there.  He said he bought the bike for around $300.00, and it was a mid-range roadbike he thought comparable to what’s available currently at about $1000.00.  Eric said he and another guy had ridden from Madrid to the Mediterranean coast and back using this and another bike.  When he got back to North Carolina, he said he’d ridden the Outer Banks a few times with it, as well.  Maybe a couple of years ago, I remember him telling me he hadn’t ridden in a long while and that he’d slowed down his jogging regimen.  Back pain, leg pain.  When I mentioned that during the Christmas holidays I’d ridden a very old (late 60’s to early 70’s) Raleigh Grand Prix at Goldman’s Bicycles, and wished I’d gone ahead and bought it at $119.00, he mentioned that he’d had the Razesa in a trainer stand for the past three years using it as a clothes rack.  Said I could have that bike.  I began researching downtube shifting and Razesa bicycles. 

Razesa-View-1 Razesa-View-2Razesa-View-3Razesa-View-4

The bike’s got a lugged frame, Weinmann brakes, Weinmann rims (the original rim on the back and a newer rim on the front), Shimano 600 derailleur, Simplex (according to Chuck – and I found a West Coast Craigslist ad with photos that seems to confirm this) shifters.  I think the frame’s about 54 centimeters.  The steel frame bike is lighter than my aluminum Trek Navigator.  The lugs have some cool decorative cut-outs.  The rack is original, and Eric included a couple of panniers purchased at the same time.

Later on we had supper at Mafel’s downtown, a place we chose because Eric wanted the salmon advertised on the Daily Specials chalkboard.  Turned out to be a good choice – good food and a waitress who laughed at our jokes.  Inside, somebody’d turned the music up too loud; we ate at a table outside protected from the wind by plastic and vinyl side-curtains.  I took pictures of stuff I saw; because my camera bounced out of my sweatshirt pocket while riding around the parking lot earlier, the SD card got scrambled and I lost some of them. 



The drive back Sunday was pretty uneventful.  I stopped off at the scenic overlook as I drove down to Sparta from Crossville.  I was reminded again that the state of Tennessee is a good deal more than its government – it’s the land, air, water, living things and what the people living here make of it.  Government is limited because it can be nothing else – a flawed human construct.  Below are some photos I took from the overlook.