Troi Villes Tour d’Alamance

Alamance-Context-Map

In middle of last month (July 2015), because Americans are free to travel at will within the country by car and I wanted to visit my friend, Eric, I took a bike with me and drove to Alamance County, North Carolina.  He’s been out this way to visit with us several times over the past few years, so I thought it might be a good time and simple neighborliness to pay him a visit at home.  You may remember him from my earlier posts about swapping my Pouch E68 kayak for a Razesa road bicycle, and my posts about going back to Asheville to sell my Pionier 450S kayak – Return to Asheville Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Eric and I met in the 1990’s, when we were both attending seminary at Louisville, Kentucky, and were housed on the same dormitory floor.  His room was at the top of the stairs and was a natural meeting place for the floor’s residence.  Eric was sort of the community social director.  We became friends, and some years later, Eric served as best man at my wedding; he is my son’s godfather and probably my closest friend.

Garmin Confusion at Asheville

The drive to Asheville was pretty uneventful I-40 through Knoxville and then follow the signs and drive up the winding, mountain road.  As I ascended the mountains nearer Asheville I saw river outfitters’ school buses carrying rafts on top and crowded with tourists within.  I listened to the Minor Prophets on the car’s CD player while driving because I’ve been studying Nahum to preach through the book, and all of the Minor Prophets in order and context convey a message I’m trying to discern.

I’m down to one pair of bib-shorts for cycling and my old Castelli jersey is showing signs of wear – threads coming loose, zipper-pull broken off – generally looking worn-out enough to replace.  On my way to Eric’s house, I planned to stop for lunch (I brought a couple of sandwiches with me in the car) and buy a jersey and bibshorts at Hearn’s Cycling & Fitness downtown Asheville.  I remembered that odd used bike shop from my previous visits as a friendly place, and thought it would be cool to have a Hearn’s bike jersey.

At Asheville, Garmin GPS – I used “Voice Command’s” Find Place feature – routed me to an address on Broadway that has no bike shop.  I tried to remember the location of Hearn’s from my several walks through the downtown area, but consistently failed on my own to find the bike shop.  I did drive past all the places I’d walked past or eaten at or window-shopped with on my two prior visits to the city.

Without any difficulty, though, I found the Four Points Hotel, where I stayed during my first visit to Asheville.  Helpful hotel desk staff found for me the correct address for Hearn’s, 28 Asheland Ave.  Garmin, supplied with the correct address, got me there without difficulty.

The vibe at Hearn’s was completely different than it was at the time of my first visit to Asheville.  I had the impression that the grownups had gone off and left the store in charge of an indifferent and underage staff that knew little about cycling.  Or, rather, knew something about cycling related to their own use of bicycles, but had little or no idea how to communicate that effectively to customers in a friendly, welcoming, and productive way.  I did buy a set of cleats for my old SPD shoes to try out with the old SPD pedals I bought used at Stepford a couple of months ago.  Next time I need a bike shop at Asheville, though, I’ll look elsewhere.

Alamance County

Alamance-County-Big-MapBicycle-Laws-&-Safety-Tips

Before leaving Stepford, I googled cycling routes in Alamance County, North Carolina.  The North Carolina Department of Transportation has detailed information in the form of maps and brochures by county and region.  Here are the county maps:   http://www.ncdot.gov/travel/mappubs/bikemaps/  The State of Tennessee offers nothing remotely close to the wealth of data North Carolina provides to interested cyclists.  The cycling maps I’ve reproduced here were taken from this brochure:  http://dotw-xfer01.dot.state.nc.us/gisdot/DOTBikeMaps/Alamance/alamance.pdf  In addition to the NCTDOT website, googling this morning the phrase “bicycling alamance county nc” returned this link, as well:   http://burlingtonnc.gov/index.aspx?NID=1499 .  Burlington’s one of the three bigger towns of Alamance County.  The other two are Graham, the county seat, and Gibsonville.

Gibsonville-Cycling-Route-MapBurlington-Cycle-Route-MapGraham-Cycling-Route-Map

Heat and humidity in Alamance County during mid-July were oppressive.  Daily thunderstorms provided some relief from climactic conditions and opportunities to practice rain-riding skills.

Visit

Eric lives in a 660 square foot two bedroom, one bathroom, condominium on the good side of one the three Alamance County municipalities that all run together to form a more or less seamless small urban or large town area.  The condo, as these owned apartments are colloquially known, is part of a development built in the 1940s that resembles housing built for married officers during World War II.  Brick exteriors, well-built interiors with hardwood floors throughout, but tiny compared to what we’re used to nowadays.  Our expectations of comfort and personal space have changed a lot during the past 75 years.

Eric’s condominium reminded me a lot of his old dormitory room from seminary, only quite a bit larger.  Books everywhere, as well as photos, pictures, wall hangings.  Actually, a pretty comfortable small home.  Eric filled me in on the goings on in his neighborhood; he seems very well informed and seems to know his immediate neighbors pretty well.

Supernova-Living-Room

I arrived in the late afternoon Thursday, and got my travel gear moved into the spare bedroom, where I camped out with an inflatable mattress and a sleeping bag.  I parked the bike in the living room, against a small couch Eric had inherited from a deceased aunt or uncle.  We spent some time catching up, and then Eric gave me a driving tour that included a 20+ mile route he used to ride pretty regularly before he swapped me his old roadbike for my old kayak.

Riding Around

For this trip, I took the Jamis Supernova rain bike because stormy weather had been predicted by www.noaa.gov; turns out I made the right choice.   I got caught in rain and thunderstorms every ride.  The Supernova, equipped with Clement X’Plor USH tires handled slick, wet conditions in town and in the country without the slightest problem.  I visited Elon Bike Shop initially in search of cycling togs, but also out of tourist-like curiosity; while there, I did buy a bell and some wheels.

Berea-Christian-Church-PerspectiveBerea-Christian-Church-Stained-GlassHaw-River-Bridge-Ossipee

My visit lasted five days and four nights.  I rode every day, even the day I arrived, if I recall correctly, except the Monday I left.  My rides took me through Graham, Burlington, and Gibsonville – the Troi Villes referenced in the title line, above.  I also rode through Elon (and visited the university there as well as the famed Elon Bike Shop) and Ossipee near which municipality I crossed the Haw River on my way to and from Berea Christian Church’s building (built in 1903) – where on a couple of rides, I rested and drank Gatorade, ate a snack, and snapped a few pictures.

Town-of-Elon-Supernova

Elon-University-ClockElon-University-Colonnade

Elon-Art-Studio-Sculpture-Lean

During my rides I saw fields of cultivated tobacco growing green and healthy-looking, as well as soybeans and corn in abundance.  The crops in Alamance County looked better than most of what I’d seen earlier in the summer while riding through East Central Indiana.  While riding I came upon a couple of derelict houses.  One appears to have been built of cinderblocks stamped with a starfish design, and intended to resemble houses built over a century ago.  The other house appears to date from the 19th Century and could at this point provide shelter only for the birds of the sky and the small, wild animals of the fields and hedges.  The chimney is still standing, but it appears the section of house in back where the kitchen was probably located has long since returned to the ground.  After I rode past the broken house, I wondered about the family or families that’d lived there.  Were they happy?  Did things turn out well for them?

Broken-Beanfield-House-1Broken-Beanfield-House-2

Starfish-HouseStarfish-Cinderblocks

On Friday, Eric and I visited his family’s lakeside dacha at a private hunting and fishing club.  I saw an albino deer stuffed and displayed in a glass case at a gas station bait shop on the way out to the lake.

Bait-Shop-Albino-Deer

We grilled out (chicken soaked in a marinade that defies adequate description) and spent most of a lazy day reading (me), fishing (Eric) and talking.  I’d gone for a ride in the morning and was pretty worn out by the time we got to the lake.  Because I was pretty spent, I didn’t take my old companion, the Pouch E68 folding kayak Campsis Radicans, for a paddle around the lake.  Still, it was good to see the old boat again, and to remember how ill its badly fitting hullskin made me (which is why I was so willing it to swap the kayak for old roadbike).  A family of ducks swam over to the dock and disruptively demanded to be fed.  Eric gave them some dog food he’d gotten from somewhere, and the ducks were satisfied for a while.

Disruptive-Fishing-Club-DucksEric-&-Campsis-Radicans

Fishing-Club-Lakeside-DachaFishing-Club-Lake

On Saturday, 18 July, my grand tour took me on a circuit that included the county seat, Graham, where I attended a rally in support of a monument in remembrance of the Confederate soldiers of Alamance County who gave their lives during the the American Civil War.  I listened to an informative and well-reasoned speech made by a member of the local Sons of the Confederate Veterans camp.  In a separate post, I’ll talk more about the rally, but here let me say that if 20 years ago you’d told me I’d applaud and express hearty agreement with the statements made from a man wearing a Confederate uniform in support of Southern heritage and values, I’d have said you were crazy.  But I would have been wrong.  After the speech ended, a thunderstorm broke and rain poured down on me as I rode on.

 Monument-Rally-Monument-Statue

The town of Gibsonville is memorable for its model railroad hobbyist store, Bobby’s World of Trains, an outdoor model railroad, a Saturday market on the green, and an ice-cream shop.  I visited the hobby shop where I snapped some pictures of its train-table.  If you have any interest in electric model trains or railroading, you should pay this place a visit.  The owner and customers seemed friendly and knowledgeable.  They’d even heard of Tennessee’s Chapel Hill Ghost Light, a phenomenon I saw many years ago.  Bobby’s World of Trains is located at:  113 Lewis Street, Gibsonville, NC 27249 Telephone: (336) 449-7565.

Gibsonville-Bobbys-World-of-Trains

I visited Six Scoops ice-cream shop and ordered two scoops in a cup getting something closer to two pounds of ice-cream made on site.  Six Scoops has a Facebook page here.  I got lost on the way out to find a very old Lutheran church building, but found my way back to the familiar course I’d been riding since my arrival.  One of my ancestors, William Jenkins, was a Lutheran pastor who made his way to Bedford County, Tennessee, from North Carolina.

Gibsonville-Outdoor-Model-TrainGibsonville-6-Scoops-Bike-LeanGibsonville-2-Scoops-2-#

Worship Services

On Sunday morning, I attended a worship service with the church to which Eric belongs – a mega-church in nearby Greensboro called Westover Church.  I enjoyed the service and the outgoing friendliness of the diverse, upscale congregation.  This came as a great surprise to me, given my tendency to disparage big, showy, institutional Christianity.  On reflection, though, it seems that should not have come as a surprise – if a large congregation did not offer a pleasant experience, it probably would not long remain a large congregation.  In the afternoon, I again rode a circuit that included Berea Christian Church and Gibsonville.  In the evening, I worshiped with a Reformed congregation – Beacon Baptist Church near the Burlington airport.  If I’m able to visit Eric again next year, I plan to again attend that congregation’s worship service.  Again, on reflection, it seems to me that Westboro Church presents as informal, but its organization is doubtless highly structured and somewhat formal in its operation.  Beacon Baptist Church presents as formal, but I had a sense that it may be less so in its actual operation.

A Long Drive Home

The drive home was uneventful – I stopped at a Cracker Barrel on the Tennessee side of the mountains for lunch.  Getting back to my own county, I encountered heavy rain.  Rain bothers me less than it used to.

Rainy-Drive-Home

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Mid-Week Daze

This morning I got through a minor surgical ordeal that was far less horrible than I imagined it would be, but I’ve felt pretty spacey all day.  A nap this afternoon helped. 

Yesterday, Wednesday 13 May, a few hours before I had to begin the preparation process for today’s unpleasantness, I suited up in my torn Ireland Harp jersey and slightly too large Sugoi (sp?) bib shorts for a ride.  I chose the Miyata 610 and planned just a quick 10 to 12 mile neighborhood ride.  Got about four miles into the ride and realized the front tire was almost flat; I stopped and pumped it back up and was miraculously able to ride again at normal speeds.  For about a mile, I rode normally until the tube again leaked so much air its lower volume would have alarmed even the serious alternative cyclists at Rivendell Bike Works.  Feeling disappointed, I pulled off the roadway onto the bike path and rode carefully to within a half mile of the house.  From there, I walked the bike.   Probably, I’ll repair or replace the tube tomorrow.

Feeling like a condemned man as I considered the prospect of today’s outpatient procedure, late Tuesday afternoon I rode the Jamis Supernova from Stepford to Pixley and back again.  Only about 25 miles, but I made good time – about 15.3 mph average until getting back in to Stepford on the return leg due to stops for traffic.  I was surprised at the speed I made on the Continental Tour Ride tires.  For Christmas, I got a new cassette for the Jamis that’s got 32 teeth on the big ring, which makes a big difference on the hills hereabouts; got it installed about three weeks ago at Woody’s.  The mechanic was able to install the cassette very cheaply while I waited and then corrected a problem with the right STI shifter that’d been caused by the use of brake cable housing for the shift cable.  Getting the work done while I waited and was able to talk bike stuff with someone more knowledgeable than I was pleasant.

Back in Stepford, on the way home Tuesday, I got to visit with a couple of old friends at two stops, and that was also pleasant.  At the house, again, my son and I played catch, played with toy lightsabers, and played a lot of catch.  All in all, a good day.

Lately, especially since one reader reached out to me information about one, I have been hoping to find a serviceable and inexpensive folding kayak to replace the E68 I gave to my friend Eric back in 2013.  Right now, the only boats I’ve got are the behemoth, heavy Pouch RZ96 and the 17’ Grumman aluminum canoe.  Neither is much good for solo paddling.  Yes, it is about time to get my son in a boat, but he’s still much too small to assist much with assembling and moving Poucher Boote.

Thinking About an Expedition

I’ve been thinking about a Tennessee expedition for at least two, three years, now.  Two of them come readily to mind, although I’m still not clear on whether or what degree of support is needed.  Not too far away from here are the fabled sources of both the Elk and Duck rivers.  Neither river is famous for its commercial value, except in a couple of locations to canoe-float outfitters.  Both have been dammed in one or two places to create lakes used for fishing and other recreational purposes.  The Duck River is contained entirely within the State of Tennessee; the Elk’s course takes it over the state’s southern border and down into Alabama.

The feasibility of hiking, pedaling, and canoeing or kayaking the entire length of the Duck is at present an unknown.  There’s a guy in the UK who’s done something like that – his website takes a while to load, but is pretty cool and worth seeing/reading.  Slingshot Bikes of Michigan produces a foldable, full-size mountain bike that could be stowed aboard a canoe for those parts of the journey that could be completed by canoe.  It’s conceivable that a foldable, stowable trailer could allow the canoe and gear to be pulled with the bicycle overland, or trailered canoe with bike stowed could be pulled by hand where necessary.

Slingshot's folding, full-size mountain or all-terrain type bike

Slingshot’s folding, full-size mountain or all-terrain type bike

I did enter a competition to win the use of a Slingshot bicycle for a period of months, but I and others who posted more serious-minded entries lost out to a Canadian who called himself von Bubblegum and later changed his Facebook surname to Slingshot.  That was the “other venue” I mentioned in my post entitled “Three Years On Two Wheels.”  Ah, well, that’s how it goes.  A company’s got to make marketing decisions it hopes will maximize exposure and increase sales.  I wish the Canadian guy well.  Canada is probably a great market for these bikes, not all of which are foldables.

How Do I Learn Stuff?

How Do I Learn Stuff

How It Works

Usually what happens is that something piques my interest and I begin to acquire information about the subject.  A lot of the time, what interests me is technology, and when that is the case, I learn everything I can about whatever the thing is that interests me.  Curiosity is the starting point.  My interests are not limited to things, but this post is about things.

I scour discussion boards, old catalogs in portable document format, reviews, purveyors of new old stock, and consult with those known to me who are more expert than I.  Sometimes, I decide I’ve got to have whatever it is I’ve been studying about.  Usually, then, what I decide is that the cost of the latest version of whatever it is cannot be justified, so I buy (when I can find it) an upper mid-range or top of the line item that is several years old.

For instance, I bought a 1981 Miyata 610 that was in nearly new old stock condition, and have put the bike to constant use.  I obsessively researched the manufacturer and the model for a month or two before making the purchase.

Except for the Power Mac 7600 I bought in the Nineties, I’ve never purchased a new computer.  All of our computers were refurbs and supposedly obsolete when we bought them, but they serve us pretty well.  My smartphone is the version of the Iphone that my provider was giving away at contract renewal time.  My Pentax Optio water proof camera was several years old, but new in box, when I got it.

Sometimes, I’ll buy something on the used market that may be suitable, but isn’t what I really want.  The reason for that is that I never do want to spend a lot of money.  I have qualms of conscience about spending money, and because, as a married man and a father, what I really want more than things is to husband the family’s resources.  I recall buying a Power Mac 8500 for a video project in college – several years old at the time, but I got the project done and got to monkey around with video.  I got the 8500 because I thought the used 9500 was too expensive.  Sometimes what I buy on the used market that turns out to have problems that require correction or upgrade which may have a learning curve and require spending more money.

I learn how to cobble stuff together out of necessity.  Sometimes I find I am able to tackle learning projects that seemed impossible to me when I was younger, before I had learned how to learn in the need of the moment.  Necessity promotes learning.

Who Needs a ‘Modern’ Bicycle?

I figure, back in 1981 or 1985, cyclists were doing cool things with their then-new bikes, so why shouldn’t I be able to do cool stuff with those same bikes that are now old.  Having old bikes, I learned how to operate downtube friction-shifters, ride fairly heavy bikes, ride where I want to ride, ride hills that intimidated me, outrun (for the most part) trailer-dwelling pit-bull dogs, ride in traffic, and so forth.  No worries, right?  So, why would I want an index-shifted, lightweight road-bike?  I don’t know for sure.

I have been intrigued by purpose-built cyclocross bikes because there’ve been times I’ve ridden my road bikes down gravel roads and through mud and on dirt tracks, experiencing their limitations.  Pavement ends, and I want to keep going.  Limitations including clearance at brakes, forks, and stays for mud; road tire (even the venerable Continental Gatorskin) inability to maintain much traction on degraded small town alleyways, mud, sand, gravel; road bike lateral drift on dry, loose dirt and gravel.  Frame geometry has not been a problem with my old lugged-steel bikes, nor has ride comfort.  Modern cyclocross bikes appear to have similar slack frame and fork geometry to my ancient Razesa (a sport-tourer/racer) and the older Miyata (primarily a tourer).  Additionally, I don’t want to abuse the Miyata – my favorite bike – during the winter months.  Something newer might hold up a little better in Southern Middle Tennessee cold-and-wet-season conditions.  I ride all year long.

Without regard to harsher climatic and road surface conditions, having joined a cycling club and occasionally participating in group rides, I listen with envy to guys talking about their 65 to 75 mile rides.  I wish for a sufficient number of cogs at the rear wheel to address the varying terrain in this part of the state, as well as the ability to more effortlessly shift between them while riding.  I’ve gotten tired of unexpected goofy cable maladjustment causing the chain to bang down to smallest cog in back when trying shift into a lower gear to climb a hill.  I hate walking up hills and, although I could  be a stronger cyclist, some of the problems are due to an erratic funkiness inherent in the old equipment.  Heck, next year, I’d like to ride the BRAT – that’d be greater challenge than necessary on a 33 year-old tourer with the original 15-speed Suntour groupset.  Actually, I could probably do the BRAT on the Miyata, but I’d rather ride it on an Orbea Starship.  Heck, I grew up watching reruns of Star Trek on a 13” black and white television in my room when I should have been doing homework.  Starships are where I come from.

So, regarding a modern bike – a choice of two types of bike:  a premium road bike, or a cyclocross bike.

Bike versus Upright Freezer:  Freezer Wins

We got the upright freezer my wife has been wanting for months, and that was the right thing to do.  Got the freezer at about 60% of the item’s on sale price because it had some cosmetic imperfections; that’s fine with us because the appliance resides in our garage.

About the bikes, then.  The one I wanted was a 2003 Orbea Starship (Columbus aluminum) tube frame with carbon seat and chain stays, full Campagnolo Record Ultra 10-Speed gruppo, Bontrager wheelset, Bontrager carbon fork and seatpost, and Bontrager seat, bars, stem.  Truly a beautiful bike, right down to its tan bar-wrap, which reminded me of the steering wheel wraps we had on our cars back in the 70’s.  Pretty much the-best-money-can-buy build in its class.

My wife told me to go ahead and make an offer on it, and I, the expressionless man whose dial rarely registers anything that could be interpreted as enthusiasm, was visibly excited and happy about the prospect.  Then, I woke up in the early a.m., the day I was to drive out and test-ride the bike, and I had this sense that the amount I was prepared to spend was out of all proportion in terms of what is important to my family.  With real regret, I emailed the bike’s owner and explained that I would not be able to look at the bike.

I’m certain I made the right decision about the Orbea, and if I come into a providential windfall while the bike’s still for sale, the first thing I’ll do is buy it.  Christmas is on its way.  Who knows what will happen.

A Less Expensive Compromise
This bike in this condition was not worth what the seller was asking

This bike in this condition was not worth what the seller was asking

I did travel to Murfreesboro to test ride a 2003 Bianchi Reparto Corse Alu-Lite SL in my size, celeste green with Campagnolo Centaur 10 speed gruppo.  According to the seller, he bought it from the original owner, a Chattanooga physician who’d put a lot of miles on it; seller said he’d only ridden it about 2000 miles.  If the bike had been in better condition, it would have been worth what he was asking.  I actually offered him more than I’d originally wanted to because I did like the bike, and now that I’ve been super close to buying a top-end European bike with top-end groupset, I would have settled for a less expensive, lower-end European bike.  The seller, however, said, “For that, I’d just as soon keep the bike.”  So, I let him keep it.

00g0g_7rs3VX3naIf_600x45000404_4QtMvYw8yIl_600x45000T0T_93TsifhBI1U_600x450

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What I wound up getting was a 2007 Jamis Super Nova cyclocross racing bike.  I’d seen the ad on Craigslist for about the past month, so had plenty of time to research it.  The photos above are those the seller used in his ad.  The 2007 Jamis catalog can be found here.

The biggest complaints I’d read on various Internet bulletin boards were:  Avid Shorty brakes provided inadequate stopping power; strange seatpost brake cable routing; heavy wheelset.  The 2007 Jamis catalogue lists the Supernova as the company’s top-end cyclocross bike that year (but, there were only two cross-specific models).  The Craigslist seller had addressed the brake problem by installing a set of Kore brakes using Kool Stop mountain bike pads, added Dura Ace rear derailleur and shift/brake levers, Ultegra front derailleur, Ritchey carbon fork, RaceFace alloy stem and 44 cm bars, SRAM rear cassette with a large cog for hills, cheap SRAM chain, Mavic Ksyrium wheelset with cheap Continental Ultra Sport tires.

I probably paid $50 to $100 too much for the bike, considering the seller had built up the frame (purchased on Ebay in 2009, he said, from an Oregon bike shop that probably stripped a complete bike that didn’t sell) using components he’d already had or bought, like the frame, on Ebay.  On the way home, I agonized over not having bargained better.

I've got ideas

I’ve got ideas

Because I felt chagrined, when I got to the house, I added some air to the tires and rode the bike around the neighborhood deliberately hitting every rough patch I could find, and then rode it around my yard a few times, hitting roots and holes on purpose.  What I discovered as a result of this caveman-level emotionally motivated activity was that the frame is supremely comfortable; that even with low-end, treadless road tires, the bike handles all manner of lousy (but dry for this experiment) surface conditions in a manner that left me feeling confidently in control of the bike.  I began to like the bike in spite of my stupid bikesnobbery.

Bike Learning

This bike’s a little like those second and third hand computers and videography equipment I bought back in college for projects, only I have no project to justify the bike’s expense.  I’ve already bought a 90 mm stem to replace the 110 mm unit that came with the bike.  Tried that out today, along with some cage-pedals.  Stem and pedals are fine, but I’ve got to reorient the bars for a little better long-ride comfort and control.

I do like the orange and white color scheme.  I like the fact that the bars are wider, but hate the drops – they aren’t long enough at the ends.  Or, rather, they don’t sweep back far enough to comfortably grip for longer periods of time.  Maybe Salsa Woodchipper or Short and Shallow bars?  I hate the black bar tape and switch to white when I get a set of bars I like better.  Okay with me that the white will become dirty-gray before long.  Adds character and still matches the bike’s color scheme better than black.

It did turn out those Mavic hubs are either in need of service or replacement – they don’t spin as freely as they ought.  Getting the bike up to speed requires real effort.  I ordered a set of Continental Tour Ride 2 tires for winter riding here at Stepford.  They arrived today.  I’m not sure about them, but will try them out after I get the hubs sorted.

Here’re some pictures I’ve taken of the bike while out on rides since last Thursday’s purchase:

Supernova-Barn-Lean2007-Jamis-Supernova-LeftsideJamis-Front-3-QuarterJamis-2007-Supernova-Front-3-Quarter

Lazy-Jamis-Lakeside

Set the bike down here to snap some photos of wildflowers, nearby. That’s not really my house in the background. No, really, it’s not….

 

 

A Short Trip Up the Elk River

Grumman-Bow

I’d planned to bring our canoe to Tennessee after our summer trip to the farm, but reckoned the 18’ aluminum Grumman behemoth would not fit on the wagon’s roof racks with my bike on the hitch-rack at the tailgate.  The end of the boat would conk the bike resulting in a loss of the bike’s ride-ability and aesthetics.  So, I figured I’d drive up and get the canoe on a quick weekend trip.  But in July, when my wife’s parents came to visit for a week, they brought the Grumman with them.

A couple of weeks later, my friend, Adrian, and I took the canoe for a short paddle up the Elk River from Prairie Plains bridge to the point where the river became too shallow to paddle it upstream any further.   It’d been well over a year since I’d gone paddling, and I’m not sure Adrian had ever paddled a canoe.  We took lunches, bug spray, and water with us, setting off on a Saturday morning in August.

Cyclemeter's trip webpage screengrab

Cyclemeter’s trip webpage screengrab

We saw no one else on the river, but did hear gunfire from a nearby shooting club.  Paddling a canoe is more tiring than paddling a kayak, but they’re different types of boats for different purposes.  We took a sixty year-old paddle, a fairly new lightweight paddle of reasonable quality, and a really long, double-bladed Klepper paddle.  We stopped for lunch at a riverside pavilion at the edge of a farmer’s beanfield, then paddled a little farther upstream before heading back.

Cartopped-GrummanCanoe-Put-In

Near-LaunchAdrian-by-Canoe

Canoe-DocksideLunch-StopTractor-Seats-Table

BuckeyeRiverside-Beanfield

Rocky-Bank

June Rides

Sundial-Thing

Once again, Spring has come and gone without my having once gone paddling.  Kind of disappointing for me, but I’ve got some work to do on my one remaining kayak.  I spent most of my project-working time on the 1989 Bridgestone MB-4 I bought earlier this year from my friend, Adrian.  I’ve been taking longer rides, on the average, this year, exploring by bike.  Here are some pictures from a couple of June rides. 

One of the things you’ll notice is that my ride photos have largely devolved into compositions consisting of my bike leaned up against stuff – sort of photographic evidence that I’ve ridden as far as those points and indicators that they are not just scenic phots, rather that they were taken while exploring my dry-land environment.  A lot of my kayaking photos included my boat’s bow, boat pulled up on scenic shorelines, and water, for similar reasons.  I’ve found a Facebook group for people who take these kinds of bike photos:  Look at My Bike Leaned Up Against Stuff.  By the way, I’ve paddled the Elk River upstream to the bridge upon which you can see the Miyata posed, below.

Another thing you may notice is that most of my rides lately have been on the Miyata 610.  A problem I’ve had with the Razesa on longer rides is that the bike’s narrow, 1985 handlebars render the bike’s use uncomfortable after about 20 miles.  Also, the MKS Lambda pedals installed a couple of years ago are increasingly no longer to my liking.  I’m thinking about buying some used quill pedals with toe-clips to replace them.

Dead-End-ScenicGreen-Tunnel

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Return to Asheville–Part Two

Making Plans

My friend, Eric, was out of the country engaged in ministry work in a South American country during part of August, and I can never remember other people’s itineraries well enough to mentally reference them for the making of my own.  So, because, for whatever reason, I don’t write this information down on a handy calendar, I have to individually consult with other parties to proposed activities, usually more than once, to plan a trip like this one.

He is not my Science Fiction Twin,” (I have none) but he is probably the friend who knows me best and, in emailed communication, he did mention that he has a niece in Asheville, a freelance writer/journalist named Megan, who might wish to accompany us as we monkeyed around in North Carolina’s mountain-high, miniature metropolis.

Booking a room at Asheville for the weekend agreed upon with Brian and Eric proved difficult.  The Four Points, where I’d stayed previously, had no rooms available for my dates, and the rooms of other hostelries in or close to downtown were likewise sold out for the weekend or were priced out of my budget for the trip.  The price of the kayak only offset, a bit, the costs of travel, but the point of the trip was the trip, itself, and to ensure the Pionier found a paddler able and willing to look after it.  I wound up staying at a Holiday Inn Express that, as it happened, is located not far from where Brian and I had agreed to meet.

How to Get from Stepford to Asheville in a Volvo

I took a Friday off work, packed up the kayak (which I’d previously disassembled and photographed), packed up my own travel kit Thursday evening, and planned an early start next morning.  I wound up not leaving the house until about nine due to the should-have-been-foreseen exigencies of school day morning routine. 

Pionier-Packed-&-Ready

Because I’d got such a late start, I drove straight through to Asheville without stopping and arrived there in early afternoon, Eastern Time.  My green ‘98 Volvo Cross Country handled the drive admirably and was a lot of fun to drive on the curving mountain roads.  I erred in bringing with me no water to drink on the way, although I’d made and packed two chicken sandwiches, two bags of trail mix, two apples.  When I got close to Asheville, I telephoned to Brian who gave me directions to a lakeside park in his subdivision, a neighborhood next which my own Burnt Down Plantation Estates near the country club at Stepford pales in comparison.  While waiting for Brian, I got out, stretched my legs, and ate a handful of trailmix.

The Exchange

A tall youngish man of athletic stature, Brian Rider appears about forty years of age.  He arrived in a late-model pickup truck, possibly of Japanese manufacture – the sort that has an extended cab and smaller doors behind the driver and passenger doors.  We unloaded the Pionier from the station-wagon’s cargo area – with back passenger seats folded down, the whole thing fit neatly therein.  I’m afraid I wasn’t articulate enough to answer very well Brian’s many good questions about the kayak and its provenance.  He expressed happy surprise at the hull’s condition and said he didn’t think the delaminated seatback would be very much trouble to replace.

Brian-w.-Pionier-450-S

We talked mostly about vocation – calling, not in a religious sense, per se, but about finding and doing the work that in some measure defines the meaning of one’s life.  By the outward indications observable to me at the time of our meeting, Brian is a very successful sales professional.  He said his dream is “to work with my hands” crafting things useful and beautiful from wood (it was wood that we talked about, anyway).  Somehow, from vocation, we began talking about regrets, or, maybe we started with regrets and moved on to vocation.  In my nutritionally deprived and dehydrated state, my recollection is clear only that we discussed both, but the sequence is not so clear to me. 

Regarding dreams, Brian mentioned that he works with his hands with wood, and wishes he could do more of it.  At the time he and I spoke, I’d put my vocational dreams on hold, trying to develop competence in a new job conveniently located near my home.  I’d recently quit a job I’d defined for the past seven or so years by the manner in which I’d performed it, and the transition to the new job in an agency itself in transition was proving difficult.  I recall I wasn’t much willing then to closely regard my calling and instead sought occasional escape from its circumstance through cycling, watching reruns of television shows on Netflix, and generally wasting time that would have been better spent productively. 

Regarding vocation, I do wish to refer any reader interested enough to C.S. Lewis’ address to, it is reported, to a group at King’s College, London, in 1944 – The Inner Ring.  I can be found here.

My regrets, however, have little enough to do with vocation, which may surprise some, considering my education and work history.  Since I began to experience life as a conscious, rational, and moral being, I’ve tried to live in a way that makes ethical sense to me.  Having already experienced enough of the irrationality and immorality of others, that last part of the previous sentence became primary.  As such, the truth of my regrets is that now, at middle age, those of my failures that I regret are the many times I have been intentionally unkind to others.  I recall and sorrow at the memory of having picked on and bullied probably the only child weaker than myself at the parochial school I first attended when my family returned from its European sojourn.  As a father today, I am haunted by the fact that as a child, I had literally no empathy whatsoever for other people, especially other children.  I wish I could make that right, today, but cannot much alter my past by just wishing parts of it away.

Brian mentioned that he had heard an address, a convocation speech, given by one George Saunders this year at the University of Syracuse.  I don’t remember the speaker’s name or the name of the university by virtue of having conversed about it – Brian was kind enough to send it to me via email, later.  Saunders is kind of your average socialist, and I think some of his statements are mistakes based on his political/philosophical bent, but he also has attained genuine insight.  Here’s a completely unauthorized verbatim reprint of Saunders’ speech:

Down through the ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you).

And I intend to respect that tradition.

Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking them to do one of their old-time “dances,” so you can watch, while laughing, is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?”  And they’ll tell you.  Sometimes, as you know, they’ll tell you even if you haven’t asked.  Sometimes, even when you’ve specifically requested they not tell you, they’ll tell you.

So: What do I regret?  Being poor from time to time?  Not really.  Working terrible jobs, like “knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?”  (And don’t even ASK what that entails.)  No.  I don’t regret that.  Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked?  And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months?  Not so much.  Do I regret the occasional humiliation?  Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl?  No.  I don’t even regret that.

But here’s something I do regret:

In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class.  In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.”  ELLEN was small, shy.  She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore.  When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.

So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” – that sort of thing).  I could see this hurt her.  I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear.  After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth.  At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.”  And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”

Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.

And then – they moved.  That was it.  No tragedy, no big final hazing.

One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.

End of story.

Now, why do I regret that?  Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it?  Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her.  I never said an unkind word to her.  In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.

But still.  It bothers me.
So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. 

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly.  Reservedly.  Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope:  Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Now, the million-dollar question:  What’s our problem?  Why aren’t we kinder?

Here’s what I think:

Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian.  These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me).

Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.

So, the second million-dollar question:  How might we DO this?  How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?

Well, yes, good question.

Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left.

So let me just say this.  There are ways.  You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter.  Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend;  establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition – recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

Because kindness, it turns out, is hard – it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include…well, everything.

One thing in our favor:  some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age.  It might be a simple matter of attrition:  as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish – how illogical, really.  We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality.  We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be.  We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now).  Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving.  I think this is true.  The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”

And so, a prediction, and my heartfelt wish for you: as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love.  YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE.   If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self-diminishment.  You really won’t care what happens to YOU, as long as they benefit.  That’s one reason your parents are so proud and happy today.  One of their fondest dreams has come true: you have accomplished something difficult and tangible that has enlarged you as a person and will make your life better, from here on in, forever.

Congratulations, by the way.

When young, we’re anxious – understandably – to find out if we’ve got what it takes.  Can we succeed?  Can we build a viable life for ourselves?  But you – in particular you, of this generation – may have noticed a certain cyclical quality to ambition.  You do well in high-school, in hopes of getting into a good college, so you can do well in the good college, in the hopes of getting a good job, so you can do well in the good job so you can….

And this is actually O.K.  If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously – as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers.  We have to do that, to be our best selves.

Still, accomplishment is unreliable.  “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.

So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up.  Speed it along.  Start right now.  There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness.  But there’s also a cure.  So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf – seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.

Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.  Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.  That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been.  Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s.  Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place.  Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

And someday, in 80 years, when you’re 100, and I’m 134, and we’re both so kind and loving we’re nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been.  I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful.

Congratulations, Class of 2013.

I wish you great happiness, all the luck in the world, and a beautiful summer.


A week or so later, I think, Brian emailed me three photos of the Pionier 450-S, reassembled and put to good use.  Honestly, I am grateful to him for taking this kayak and keeping it up, paddling it, seeing to it that it does not gather cobwebs and dust in my Stepford garage.

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The Cat Who Walks By Himself

I had some other things to write about my first day back in Asheville, but since that was August 2013 and this is February 2014, I’ve lost track of them.  Most of this writing was, I think, done before I was injured last September.  I do recall mentioning to Brian something about the Kipling’s Cat, and I did find an interesting representation of a cat on a wall in Asheville the following day.  My Asheville photos will complete this extremely untimely troika of blog posts, and I expect to complete that sometime in the next two weeks.