Thursday, October 30, 2008

Riding Along

The anatomy of how a vessel blows up when you introduce an open flame to fuel and combustible vapors is thrilling and some would argue commonsense; however, at the moment it has my head spinning in a variety of different directions so I decided to take a break and ride my bike. I don't always travel with an IPod, or in my case a new nifty IPhone, but today I decided to rock out my training ride to a couple tunes.

The right song can make the miles go by in a flash...conversely the wrong song, i.e., a terrible re-make of "Pour Some Sugar on Me" (which I downloaded accidentally), can cause irreparable damages to my ears. Sometimes, when I get beyond the pale of Georgetown and cars that make random U-turns in traffic, I find myself lost deep inside my own mind. A song starts playing that gets me thinking of a time or a memory and the next think I know I'm ten miles down the road without realizing how I got there. I'm conscious but operating with a mechanical functioning and repeated muscle memory.

I can reach a state will riding which allows me to escape. It's this escape which I love so much and has provided numerous opportunities for me. It's part and parcel of the reason why bike racing has become such a part of my life. The races are great and help me satisfy the competitive part of my personality. However, in order for me to be good at those races I need to be out there for the long rides. I need to have the passion to ride for hours in situations where there is no glory and no prize money at the end of the road.

My training rides are the opportunity for me to sort out those issues which I have dealt with during the course of the day. To think things through and to plan out what my next steps will be. I use them as the opportunity to break away from what is consuming me and in that breaking away to look at things critically and from a different angle. I guess it all boils down to this-- bike racing is how I stay sane.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rain Days

Sometimes the powers that be just be. The weatherman has been predicting bad weather for today all week long and well they weren't wrong. So I'm here on the couch watching my Jayhawks play and not out on the bike. These are the days that I need to help slow me down. Sometimes as a bike racer/lawyer/super type A personality I get spun up on something so much that I forget to relax.

I believe that you have to slow yourself down periodically or you end up missing everything. I get mired in details and workouts and motions. It runs the risk of burning you out and it's my natural tendency to fight burnout by working harder, riding longer and trying to do more which ends up driving me further down the path. So sometimes it takes a little rain to get me slow down and reminds me to take a break.

Monday, October 20, 2008


In the Summer before my final year of swimming eligibility in college I moved to Ft. Lauderdale to focus and train. It was a great Summer. How could someone not enjoy a life geared around training, eating, sleeping and enjoying the beach which was less than a mile away from my bed. When I started that Summer I came up with this philosophy of NBBOS which stood for No Babes or Booze Only Swimming. In a nutshell it was a dedication to a singular purpose that was swimming.

It would have been ridiculous to think that I actually adopted the entirety of NBBOS. In fact that was the Summer that I remember spending $10 on a Bud Light without batting an eye. Largely because it was served to me by a bombshell wearing a silver bikini at the Baja Beach Club. However, it was the dedication to the cause of qualifying for the Olympic Trials that I took from NBBOS.

As I sit here looking forward to offseason training and toward reaching a similar level of cycling I think about the dedication I had back then. I'm not advocating divorcing myself from enjoyment of life's other pleasures but on focusing in on a goal. From this point forward I am reinvesting myself in the NBBOS; not literally because I could never give up the BBs of life. However, by this time next year I'm going to write again about this topic. When I do I'm going to say that I achieved my goal.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Joe's and Changing Washington

Joe has gotten mad press lately. By that I am referring to Joe Sick Pack and Joe the Plumber. Since there is only one person not from the US who is likely to read this blog, and he's at the London School of Geniuses anyways, I don't feel compelled to explicate the above pop culture reference.

The only thing getting more press than Joe right now is the repeated phrase made by politicians nationwide that "we need to change Washington." I, speaking on behalf of all Washingtonians am here to say to the rest of America "thank you, but we are fine and don't need anything." The political rallying cry of "change Washington" is the most ludicrous of them all. However, at the same time it is the least politically costly too.

For those who don't live inside the Beltway and don't spend your time dodging tourists trying to feed squirrels in Lafayette Park (I promise you I say a German women attempting to do it earlier today) I think a little explanation is necessary. Washington is the federal city. The vast majority of people who live in DC work either for or with the Government doing the day-to-day tasks of making sure it doesn't collapse. Very few Washingtonians find themselves in policy making positions and are content to work for government wages, i.e., way less than what they deserve, because they believe in the system and want to make America better.

Washington is a city of museums, good restaurants and national treasures (not the one's that the crappy movie with Nick Cage alluded to). It is not a place filled with vice where every individual carries a wad of $20s and is ready to bribe or be bribed by anyone. If change must come to Washington, than perhaps it is the people that the rest of the country sends here who must change. These are the individuals who control policy and establish the rules of the game. This isn't Washington's fault, but rather the fault of Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Albany and countless other cities.

Politicians take cheap shots at Washington because they can. Nearly half a million people live in Washington, which makes it larger, by population, than the State of Wyoming. However, Washingtonians have little control over what happens within our territory. It's easy to target those who are least capable of fighting back. I can vote for three people-- the Mayor, the President and a city commissioner. None of these individuals decides on how funds are appropriated to my LOCAL government.

Plus, my fighting back is like throwing a tiny stone in the Potomac and imagining that it will miraculously stop the river from flowing. It's easy for people from a thousand miles away to join others a thousand miles away and target one specific location as the source of all their troubles. It's easy to displace the failures of their elected officials on some mythical corrupting force such as Washington. It is much easier than looking within the confines of their own voting booths.

If you want change in your world the better approach is to change those people who represent you. Don't blame those who are just trying to help.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lunacy = ???

10 1/2 hours in the saddle on my first long weekend back into the world of off-season training. Maybe I'm a bit over zealous? It was just a lot of long long long riding out in the Blue Ridge. I found myself spending a couple days west of the Beltway, enjoying society events by night and long rides by day. My adventure into horse country and blue blood society culminated on Sunday with me on the far side of Mt. Weather heading toward the gravel top of Blue Mountain.

I view climbing as a semi-religious experience. The longer the hill and the higher the peak the closer I feel I am coming to the All Mighty. Literally this may be true but there is also something euphoric when you look out through the trees and see nothing to the sides of you except an open expanse of air and a valley way below.

My view of the cycling landscape is shaped by the relatively flat world of Kansas. According to Ben I have waxed poetically about my origins quite a bit. I agree with his assessment, however, when you come from some place where the horizon is visible beyond the curve of the Earth and the ocean is days away you get a new appreciation of terrain and the enormity of nature.

There is also something beautiful in the sound of silence. Climbing is about rhythm. It's about finding that comfortable spot in between pain and suffering and then continuing on. When I reach that rhythm I find myself in a silent world where all I can hear is the slow ticking of my cranks and the pavement under my wheels. It's like a symphony of silence.

There are many different types of silence and each has it's own emotion behind it. There is the silence of being caught on an elevator ride with my ex-girlfriend who I am no longer on speaking terms with. The silence where you are uncomfortable and undirected emotion boils over into a reddening of cheeks and a desire for it all to end. Then there is the silence of a rush hour DC bus where 40 people can be packed in like sardines yet not breadth a word. That is the silence of motivation and determination. Of people trying to start their day in the most positive light while using the least energy possible. Then there is the silence that proceeds a first kiss with a girl who I know that I will love. The one so pretty and so smart that I can not believe she is there standing inches away from me and I find myself just overwhelmed by the situation.

The silence of climbing borrows from all of these moments and creates its own. It's a time of fire and motivation combined with passion and determination. It is a meddling of feelings and a result of desire. On top of that, the silence makes you crave it even more.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Seafarers for Obama

After four hours in the saddle life has ways of making itself amusing; better put, I come up with ways to make life more amusing. At first trying to figure out obscure vanity license plates can be a lot of fun; but, on some of the roads I ride on there just are no cars. In these situations other diversions have to be created. This afternoon while riding back into D.C. I came across a car with a bumper sticker which said "Seafarers for Obama." I immediately went to the Obama website to find this bumper sticker but was unable to do so.

However I did find this sign:

Call me old fashioned but can you be an "independent" when you've committed to vote for either a Republican or Democrat? I understand that these individuals are probably not registered for one party or another but the sheer fact that you have decided which candidate you are going to vote for inherently means that you are not independent for purposes of that election. Prior to the next election cycle you can go back to being an independent but let's call a spade a spade.

I understand that it is politically sexy to consider oneself an "independent." The independents in our nation are the ones that every politician relentlessly courts. They are like the hot ditsy girl in the bar who has had too much to drink. Suddenly she let's out the official ditsy-girl-in-the-bar mating call "I'm so drunk" and everyone comes running. Thus, it is with independents and the election cycle.

These classifications encourage the fragmentation and itemization of the electorate. As a nation we have encouraged the compartmentalization of society. Everyone wants to find his or her unique social sub-class. If we can only objectify ourselves a little bit more then we can package society into neat boxes that can be taken out at election time so that media buys can be effectively used to target voters.

The issue that I see is that every election cycle the American public ends up being treated like every one is uneducated and worse yet uneducatable. The electorate is taught what to care about rather than the candidate listening to his/her voters' concerns. Churchill once said "the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." However, in the same breadth he said "democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." An educated electorate is the most powerful tool for progress and the ideal of supporters of democracy going back beyond the ancient Greeks.

I was reading an article in The Washingtonian yesterday which spoke of partisan databases (Catalist for the Dems & Voter Vault for the GOP) which track voter characteristics and attributes over time. These databases are used by political action groups and election committees to predict voter sympathies so that they can micro-target swing areas and successfully campaign in places that may not have previously been thought of as "in play." This is a such a powerful tool however, it's not being used for it's ultimate purpose. I am sure that the owners of these databases can reap huge monetary rewards from politicians seeking office but what their creation should be used for is the education of the public.

Tracking this amount and type of information can bring within the electorate such a consciousness about specific issues as to achieve the dreams of our democratic founders. It is hard to comprehend the vastness of political space from where I live. With a loud bullhorn I can hear someone from Capitol Hill in my bedroom. However, that distance and thus that level of convenience, is not shared by everyone.

It is a long distance to Abingdon, VA from Richmond and its an even greater distance from Washington, D.C. to Redmond, OR. Those who live in places not so proximate to the palaces of politics reap both the rewards and the deficits of that distance. While some are politically conscious and remain intent on the minutia of issues that concern them, others are not so motivated. This leads to a lack of public awareness of issues of great import but limited mass appeal. This problem is compounded as a result of the proliferation of "national" news media with its generalist approach and headline news tickers which spend as much time talking gossip as it does exploring issues. Sadly, "sexy" stories or sensationalized news sell and their technical
counterparts get mired in obscurity.

These databases should be used to raise awareness in specific issues for target groups not just during election cycles but at all times. If you can micro-target a group then do so not for just the benefit of the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November but so that these groups can educate themselves and become grass-roots players in the political process. Targeted media and the availability of the internet can be used to create a new market place of ideas wherein genuine discussion of an issue at the highest levels can occur. These people can then direclty interact with their representatives

No longer need debates be had between only those with the monetary ability to purchase massive media outlets and blanket an entire metropolitan area. The debate can be brought into the home of those who are most directly effected thus raising awareness and giving more people the education necessary to participate in the market place of ideas. Whether they ultimately participate rests in their hands.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Virginia is for Lovers

While it is true that Virginia is for lovers, Maryland however is for crappy drivers. It might as well be said that DC is for everyone else. There of course is no shortage of bad drivers in DC too. Given it's proximity to Maryland and the fact that many of the latter's residents drive into Washington to work one must expect that like a rat carrying the plague these drivers would spread their disease all over the city.

Worse than people from north and east of the city, DC's single biggest problem on the roads is the presence of unregulated, untrained and irresponsible cab drivers. Today, in a two hour ride only 30 minutes of which was done within the reach of this breed of cockroaches, I was nearly killed 4 times. That is a little too frequently for my tastes. I prefer to keep near death experiences to a maximum of once a week.

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So, I knew this would happen. I took a break from blogging for the evening and in my 10 minute bike ride commute home I found myself getting hit by a car. I guess my luck had just run out. Thankfully it wasn't bad and I didn't get hurt that badly. However, to add insult to injury, literally, the police who responded gave me not one but two tickets. One for failure to yield the right of way and the other for failure to use a turn signal.

This is how the accident happen. JRA (just riding around) I cross an intersection while I have a green light. I'm riding in the right hand lane and as I get to the far side of the intersection a pedestrian steps into traffic. In an effort to avoid that person, I move slightly over to the left while still remaining in my lane. In a simple 1 foot move to the left I come into contact with the leading edges of a car passing me in my lane. This sends me right to the ground.

So this is my fault how? Should I have signaled to indicate that I was moving over in my own lane? When I asked that was clearly the officer's theory. So from now on should I signal with each pedal stroke because inherently I'm likely to get a little lateral movement each time. Or is there a de minimis movement that I don't need to signal for? Kind of like the 12 inches I moved over before getting hit. Should I always give up the right of way to cars that are driving behind me? I mean that makes sense right? By doing that I imagine that I should just stand on the side of the road in my kit and watch cars go by for a couple hours and call it a good ride.

The officer was nice, given that she didn't know the "bike statutes" and had to phone a friend. I didn't know that we were living in the real-life version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. I guess the next time I have a question about an objection at trial that I should request a recess or poll the audience. I think I might be challenging this ticket.