Back from Rhode Island

A fast 600 miles passed by between Friday night and Sunday, and now when I drive home late and tired on I89 after a weekend away, struggling to stay awake at the wheel, I definitely flash back to my bike racing days, when this was a very common occurrence. Now such activity just serves to remind me of how much older I am.

A couple of images from "Waterfire" in Providence on Saturday night, more images from this event here.

Bar-hopping afterwards.

The beach in Newport on Sunday.


Road trip

On the road again
Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway
We're the best of friends
Insisting that the world be turnin' our way
And our way
Is on the road again

I'm spending the weekend in Rhode Island, back on Monday.


Ride (maybe even race) your bike!

As I was saying, ignore the drug-addled antics of the pros. It's too depressing, the wheels have really come off the Tour de France, the race leader (who I described as 'dodgy' yesterday, before the latest stories broke) was finally kicked out of the race and fired by his team for a pattern of lies and deception that was unravelling under intense media scrutiny.

I was at the Catamount Outdoor Center last evening, even though it's been many years since I showed up there on a Wednesday night, I still knew many people there from my racing days. The evening afforded an opportunity to try and capture action with my camera which is something of a challenge.

A very retro ORS paceline.

Chris Cover suffering in the evening heat and humidity.

The future?


A joyless spectacle

Almost a decade ago, a team car was searched at a border crossing in Europe as it was being driving to the start of the Tour de France: Inside there were enough doping products to fuel an entire peloton's season of racing (recap of the 1998 race here). The scandal finally revealed how the pros ride so fast for so far and so long: Scaling high mountains one day, racing against the clock at breathtaking speeds the next and rarely having an off day or suffering a collapse. The events of 1998 may have changed somewhat the willingness of the cycling federations, legal authorities, and race organizers to better police the sport (note my qualifier).

Then in 1999 Lance Armstrong -- coming back from a bout with testicular cancer -- won the Tour for the first of seven consecutive times. Armstrong was never caught doping but there is lots of circumstantial evidence that strongly suggests he was not as pure as driven snow...

Since Armstrong retired, however, many of his ex-teammates and rivals have become embroiled in doping scandals. Any rider capable of being competitive in a three week grand tour is highly suspect: Ulrich, Basso, Hamilton, Heras (as well as others) have all been caught out and suspended. Then at last year's race, Floyd Landis managed to stage an improbable comeback and win the race... only to fail a controversial drug test. This year's tour started without a race #1 that is traditionally assigned to the previous year's winner.

So the scandal of the 2008 race broke yesterday. Alexander Vinokourov, winner of two stages of the race, shows evidence of a blood transfusion -- I won't say 'tested positive' because the test results were just leaked to the press, as usually happens. This is a big scandal, his team withdrew from the race, very little coverage of the actual sporting event itself.

Compounding this squalid situation is the fact that the likely winner of this year's race has a dodgy past and perhaps shouldn't be racing at all based on doping technicalities. More illuminating than these technical violations (though, given the atmosphere in professional cycling, I tend to believe allegations of wrongdoing), is this story on Velonews about an attempt to smuggle a plasma supplement made with cow's blood to Italy -- to me, this is what it means to be a pro these days: sneaky, not very smart, and taking some really strange drugs. What a freak show.

The moral of this situation is, I suppose, to not invest too much in the antics the pros (in any sport), it will only lead to disappointment. Get off the couch, stop watching TV, spend some quality time outdoors. Tonight I'm going over to Catamount to look at a new bike that would allow me to do some of these things.


Solitude in the wilderness

(The blurriness is from a large sweaty dirty thumbprint on the camera lens)

I climbed Camels Hump yesterday with the group that is going to Nepal in October, it was kind of a team building exercise since we will living in quite close quarters for three weeks; spending some time together beforehand may help to head off potential personality conflicts later. It's a pretty mellow group and trekking isn't competitive so I don't anticipate that aspect of the trip will be too stressful.

Our the group got a late start, by the time we started it was almost noon. The parking lot on the Huntington side of the mountain was complete craziness, the lot was completely full, there were people everywhere, singles, couples, & larger groups. The hike to the summit wasn't too bad but then at the top, there were lots of people there enjoying the cream puff day, especially after all the rain that has fallen as of late.

I know I'm spoiled and that I should be thankful all these people are outside enjoying the environment, but still there is something about being on top of a mountain in a crowd that makes me want to plunge into the nearest patch of dark, trackless woods alone. It's almost a claustrophobia response on my part. I was once on top of Mt. Lafayette in NH with hundreds of people (it was a gorgeous, end-of-summer, day, on a weekend) and I was very fidgety and uncomfortable pretty much the whole time.

I also know that my coming trip to Nepal is probably a personal environmental catastrophe of the first order (how many kilojoules of energy will it take to transport me halfway around the world?) but I assume that the plane would fly regardless of my travel status.


The "Cirque" phenomenon, or, a melancholy loner in search of a plot

So I saw the Cirque de Soleil production "Kooza" when I visited Montreal recently. Someone asked me what I thought of the show, so here goes.

For a performer in the 'circus arts', I imagine that being part of Cirque de Soleil is the pinnacle of the circus world. Every aspect of the show is very professionally done. In Kooza, I enjoyed the performances -- the high wire acts, the contortionists, the "Pendulum of Death," etc. It is like theater in the round and the audience is very close to what is going on, and the performers are really word-class.

Cirque, however, is not content to merely put on an exciting circus show, they claim to use the 'circus arts' to tell a story...

KOOZA tells the story of The Innocent, a melancholy loner in search of his place in the world.

KOOZA is a return to the origins of Cirque du Soleil: It combines two circus traditions Рacrobatic performance and the art of clowning. The show highlights the physical demands of human performance in all its splendor and fragility, presented in a colorful m̩lange that emphasizes bold slapstick humor.

The Innocent's journey brings him into contact with a panoply of comic characters such as the King, the Trickster, the Pickpocket, and the Obnoxious Tourist and his Bad Dog.

Between strength and fragility, laughter and smiles, turmoil and harmony, KOOZA explores themes of fear, identity, recognition and power. The show is set in an electrifying and exotic visual world full of surprises, thrills, chills, audacity and total involvement.

Frankly, I don't think that this part of the show worked that well. The 'story' is this vague little thread that showed up in the beginning, ran between the various acts, and at the end. I wouldn't really call it a story or even that much of a discernible theme.

Also, there was some clowning in this show that seemed to refer to the days of slapstick (Chaplin, Keaton, as well as older comic traditions, etc.) and I found this aspect of the show to be 'not that funny'. It wasn't tedious but it wasn't exactly sidesplitting comedy either, and the person I was with agreed with this assessment.

The show as whole is very slickly produced and this means that it lacks a certain spontaneity, on the whole I enjoyed listening to the slightly ragged but more improvisational band at the homegrown Speilpalast Cabaret than the professional musicians who never missed a beat or cue in Kooza.

I've read that some people really get into the whole Cirque thing and become Cirque groupies and eagerly await each new production. While I'm glad that I saw the show under a tent in Montreal even though it was expensive ($95), I think, however, that I tend more to enjoy smaller scale, less highly produced spectacles.


Object of desire

I try not to get caught up in buying things, I have no problem being pretty frugal, one of reasons why I don't watch television (besides not wanting to pay a cable bill!), is that the box was being used mostly pump images of consumption in my house, it was getting to be too tiresome.

Suddenly, however, an urge to acquire a new bike has come over me... not at the end of the season when there are sales, not a used bike, but a bright, shiny new bike, and now. The model I want, however, is a really simple and straightforward design, not some fancy high maintenance rig with suspension that looks like a motorcycle sans motor.

So last night I emailed a small bike shop that is a Redline dealer asking about price and availability on this model. I have a tendency for procrastinating and being indecisive when it comes to major purchases but occasionally I can be decisive and just write a check, the last time I bought a car, it took me just one afternoon, and a bike is a much more fun purchase for me than some expensive, environment-destroying automobile.

I read a review from someone who had this bike and the reviewer wrote that "the bike made him feel like a kid again" and I thought "that's exactly what I need" and also the simplicity of the bike strongly appeals to me at this point. Also there's lots of trails and dirt roads close to where I live -- but there's also lots of hills, perhaps I will end up missing gears, who knows.



Taken last night on my drive home -- it has been a wet week, and I am still banged up and sore from last weekend's activities, so I have been driving to work, which doesn't please me. I wanted to take photos of storm clouds moving in framed by Nebraska Notch but it is hard to find good places to stop on Route 100, so this will have to do. More images are posted here.

I have started to use my "photoblog" account to host lots of the day to day images that come out of my camera. It's a nice service but no one knows that I have an account there. Also the search utilities are quite limited, but it is free, offers unlimited hosting, and the user base is surprisingly international -- I think most users are from outside the US -- but it is still much smaller than flickr. I like seeing photostreams from places like India or Iran, it's a glimpse of life not frequently seen in the mainstream media.


Little red bug

Taken on a rare sunny day this week. Yesterday was beautiful but it was just a blip, this morning is cool and showery again. Summers in Vermont are very short so it isn't good to lose a whole week to crappy weather.

Different colored bugs here.


A damp experience of communal living, and my Bearvault(tm) does its thing

In my previous trips to the Adirondacks I have camped in my small one person tent. The tent provides shelter, privacy, is bug proof, etc., however it is (obviously) set up on the ground, if the ground is saturated, it would be very wet. So on my recent trip I planned to stay at the Boquet River Leanto (random image I found online, taken on a sunny day) due to the dismal weather forecast, this proved to be a wise choice as it rained all three days of the trip.

The leanto is a little more than 4 miles from Route 73 in Keene. When I arrived at about 6 pm on Friday night, having hiked in through a downpour, there were a couple of young guys already ensconced in the shelter, but as leantos have a capacity of 8 people, I staked out a corner for myself. I am far from an expert outdoorsman but I had more experience with being in the woods than my erstwhile companions and managed to bring less stuff, but generally lived better, than they did over the course of the weekend.

Friday night I discovered that the leanto was home to lots of mice which spent the night running to and fro... one got tangled up in my hair, which made think of plague or hanta virus... not the most pleasant experience in the dark. Saturday we went our separate ways but the other guys left a pack with food in it in the leanto. The weather deteriorated in the afternoon (see previous post) and when I finally made it back to camp this was the scene that awaited me:

Some animal (a large raccoon? -- I don't think it was a bear) had gotten into the pack and made a big mess... and they had no food left at all. The other guys in the leanto were quite disheartened when they returned from hiking to discover than their dinner was unceremoniously piled on the floor. Fortunately I had stored my food in a bear canister (required when camping in some parts of the Adirondacks, it is like a giant Nalgene pill bottle) and had brought a four serving package of instant mashed potatoes with me (light, cheap, filling and surprisingly passable, especially with some olive oil and Parmesan cheese tossed in). We shared this simple meal, and they were extremely grateful for the hot food.

As we were finishing our shared meal -- by this time it was past 8 pm -- two other guys showed up at the leanto, soaking wet and needing a place to stay for the night as they had been hiking with full packs all day. Five guys and lots of wet gear made for a crowded night in the shelter but by that time I was too tired to care and despite the cramped and sodden environment fell asleep early and slept through the night.

This was the scene at about 6:15 am on Sunday morning as I got up and started to get ready to hike out. I think this was my 4th overnight trip into the Adirondacks and it really was the first time that the weather was quite bad pretty much the whole time... no blue skies this trip. Also when I got home I discovered that there were some teeth marks on the bear can, whatever animal raided the pack in the leanto, tried unsuccessfully to get into my food cache as well.

A couple of other images from this trip can be seen here.


Rainy hike epiphany

Rain moving towards me, July 7th, from Hough Peak.

I had something of an epiphany on Saturday afternoon. I was approaching the summit of Dix (4800 ft, sixth highest peak in the Adirondacks), I was on a very lonely herd path, it was raining, the wind was blowing hard, and the temperature was falling. The summit was wrapped in fog and my rain gear was keeping me 'damp' as opposed to 'dry' (I hiked in on Friday through a thundershower-produced downpour, the gear was still wet). And, I was alone, and while not panicked, I was fighting back severe anxiety. I knew that traversing the summit would be at the very least very uncomfortable and at the worst... possibly fatal -- images of potential bad outcomes kept coming to mind.

"Why do I keep doing this sort of thing, especially alone?" went through my mind as the clouds streamed by in the roaring wind. "I'm too old for this. One of these days, my number will come up. I should stay home and join the Rotary Club instead."

Anyway, I did successfully cross the summit of Dix in the rain, fog and wind. I didn't fall, become immobilized, catch hypothermia, and die. I made it back to the leanto, put on some warm clothes and had a large cup of tea with sugar. But I may reconsider my approach to things in the future because "Don't hike alone" is an aphorism that shows up in any responsible hiking guide. I'll have to see. Perhaps my days of solo bushwacks are over? I really had to gather myself and fight back fear before emerging from the thick woods to cross the bare rock of the summit of Dix.

I will post a few more images from this trip later, it was very wet, and was the first time I stayed in a leanto as opposed to my tent. It was quite an experience in damp communal living.


Outdoor style / Adirondacks in the rain?

As part of my planning for my trip to Nepal I read the autobiography of Tenzing Norgay, the famous sherpa who made the first ascent of Mt. Everest with Sir. Edmund Hillary. I like this picture because it is of two men who are totally at ease in nature in their worn (and logo-less) clothing. It reminds me of a picture I saw at my grandfather's funeral, taken in the 30's sometime, a strong guy in wool pants and wool shirt, holding a big wooden pair of skis, totally old school.

Tenzing's book, Tiger of the Snows, is pretty interesting, his life was one long adventure, he walked in many high and (at the time) uncharted and unclimbed parts of the world. The book was written in the 50's and as such has a pretty 'politically incorrect' tone at times. Tenzing went on expeditions with teams from France, Switzerland, and Britain and it is apparent the the British were not his favorite climbing partners due to their colonial perspectives... teams for other countries treated the native Sherpas more as equals.

I'm leaving to spend a couple of damp nights in the Adirondacks -- writing this is procrastination on packing. Hopefully any thunderstorms will pass me by -- I am not eager to repeat my recent experience near Mt. Mansfield. It is probably the only chance I have to do have this kind of experience this summer (due to the Nepal trip) so I'm heading out regardless of the iffy forecast. I'll stay near a lean-to on Boquet River and will try to spend some time in Dix Range.

Noonmark and Giant

The lean-to/campsite is a few miles down the valley... I doubt there will be views like this on this trip.


Local color on the 4th of July

Some images of the world through my eyes/lens today. Colors both man-made and natural.
The bunting was recycled from the Waterbury Independence Day parade, a neighbor's car was in the procession.

It's been a couple of months since I walked through the meadow behind my condo with my camera. There's usually something worth photographing happening...it's wildflower season, and consequently, bees and butterflies as well.

Independence Day 2007

Happy July 4th. I haven't seen any firework shows so I don't have any pictures to post.

There are times when the politics & culture of the US really turns me off and I'm ready to move somewhere else... but looking around, where else to go? There are so many sectarian conflicts with awful consequence bubbling up around the world. I work in an environment (technical recruiting) where we talk to people from all over the world on a regular basis and it's funny how elastic America can be, it is still a powerful draw -- lots of folks still hope to get a green card. It's far from perfect but a lot better than some other places I can think of.


Where I used to live

Yesterday I volunteered at the Catamount Outdoor Center in Williston, it was fun to send kids through a simple bike rodeo course, trying to give them some basic instructions in bike handling and bike safety. I posted a few pictures of this thrilling event here.

After this event concluded I had the opportunity to go sailing on Lake Champlain with a friend who has a pretty impressive sailboat. It was the first time I have sailing on the lake though I have been out in a kayak and taken the ferries many times. It was a great day to be out as it was pretty gusty at the start but the wind did die down as the day went along.

I post this because when I moved about one year ago the total distance involved was only 25 miles... but it seems much further. Moving seems to have cut me off from people I formerly used to spend quite a bit of time with and I no longer participate in events that used to fill up my free time. I notice that when I visit now I almost feel like a tourist. It's very strange. One thing I do miss about living in Burlington, is that it was relatively easier to live without a car...in rural areas driving less takes quite a bit of determination.

But perhaps it was a fortuitous time to move on, when I moved I sold my condo at the top of the real estate bubble, it sold very quickly and for the full asking price. I doubt that would be the case today. Also Burlington has been under one party rule (the progressives) for far too long and now it seems that the bills are coming due. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. The issues facing Burlington also hold true for Vermont as a whole.

The other side of the mountain: Camels Hump from the entrance of Shelburne Bay. Now I live close to the east side of Vermont's second highest peak.