GMSR Day 1: Prologue

As I noted, the Green Mountain Stage Race started today in Waitsfield. The weather was awesome and there definitely is more than just a hint of autumn in the air (at previous editions of this race, I have been very cold, shivering, from not dressing warmly enough).

Despite the great weather the day was something of a downer for me as I was unceremoniously kicked out of the passenger seat of Criterium co-director Tom Moody's Porsche Boxster by a loutish prig of a USCF official with no manners at all. I took a picture of the guy and thought about posting it here but why bother to mar my blog with his ugly visage? I've known some officials through the years and some are cool but this guy was most emphatically not cool...I wonder how he deals with strung out racers in the heat of competition.

Some other images from hanging around the start area:

Race day triumvirate of Gary Kessler (Race Director), Al Atwood (Announcer) & Nina LaRosa (Podium Girl -- a big race has to have a podium girl).

Big Al in action, his voice will fill downtown Burlington all day on Monday.

A rider from local team Onion River Sports finds something to smile about.

Video of the finish of the Cat 3 race climbing Appalachian Gap from the east side.

I shot this video as practice for the Pro/Elite race... but I am not a videographer; when the pro/elites came by, I was busy panning and zooming (and was located in a better spot), but I neglected to hit record on my camera. This embarrassment bookended the humiliation that started the day so I stopped in the local Waterbury brewpub on the way home for a consolation beer: Tomorrow is another day.

I quickly uploaded some more images from today here.


2007 GMSR is this weekend; 800+ bike racers visit Vermont

Mavic mechanics ready with neutral support bikes at the Burlington Criterium.

The 2007 Green Mountain Stage Race is this weekend. I will be helping out on Monday in a small way, it's just a way for me to reconnect with some of the people I know from my decidedly inauspicious bike racing career. I checked the start list and it's kind of like the 'class notes' section of an alumni magazine: We are all getting older and people I knew from way back when are now racing in the Masters categories. There are over 800 riders registered and several fields are full, the race has really grown over the years. I hope that all goes well because while it's good that the race is so successful previous editions have been marred by traffic problems and congestion caused by hundreds of aggressive (and not very smart) riders racing on public roads shared with aggressive (and not very smart) drivers in bloated and oversized vehicles.

The race is a complex and time consuming volunteer effort to put on and it seems like each year it gets a little harder to find folks willing to help out. The event in Burlington is run by a veteran cadre of people who are quite experienced at putting the race on -- which makes it much easier -- but the pool of volunteers seems to shrink a little each year and it's very hard to find new blood.

I hope that all goes off without a hitch (last year, a state police cruiser took out a large part of the mens pro/elite race on Saturday, the stage was nullified) and I will probably post a few pictures from the Friday (there's a chance I will get to be in the pace car for the pro/elite race with my camera), Sunday and Monday stages here.


The 'Grand Depart' date approaches

Exactly 30 days from now, if all goes well, I will be on the ground in Katmandu, Nepal, having endured a very long flight (Burlington to Chicago to New Dehli, 14 hour layover in a filthy airport, then on to Nepal).

Back earlier this year I signed up for this trip because I knew Ongyel and also because I saw it as kind of a belated 40th birthday present for myself. I'm looking forward to the trip but so far the preparations have involved stress, aggravation, physical discomfort (immunizations, yuck) etc. But I'm committed to going now so there is no looking back and I do look forward to being abroad with my camera and also to getting away from my job for a while. I've never really been in a Third World country (though I once took a very rickety train from Belgrade to Athens) so I am sure it will be something of an eye-opening experience for me.

Now that there is less than a month to go before we leave, time will seemingly speed up for me. Every day has some task that needs to be attended to, and I don't want to be spending the night in some unheated Nepalese guest house/lodge and discover that I have forgotten something vital.


Thunder and lightning

Pretty self explanatory: A hot, muggy summer day ended with a short but violent thunderstorm. I was experimenting with lightning photos -- a tricky thing to do, there's a delay in my camera, so I was trying some different strategies. I hit upon the idea of capturing video and then using vidcaps as images. I was only partially successful but this short clip does give a sense of the power of a thunderstorm as it rolls through.

The last time I was outside in a thunderstorm like this, I was quite miserable in a tent on Mt. Mansfield, and expecting to die at any moment.

This little post also lets me try out blogger's new video hosting service, it doesn't say anything about storage quotas, I'll have to research this further.

Reading books: A quaint old-fashioned pastime

News item: Americans don't read much anymore, particularly books. A long time ago (longer than I care to admit), I was an English major at college, and growing up I read widely, consequently when it came time to take standardized tests of language skills, I tended to score more than merely "OK". I remember taking the GRE several years after graduating, the math parts were a struggle (I got a hold of a high school algebra textbook, and taught myself again, what I hadn't paid much attention to the first time), whereas I found the language parts of the test to be quite entertaining.

Now, however, I'm almost as guilty of not reading books as anyone else. Part of it is growing older, part of it is working too much, and part of it is being surrounded by a short attention span culture. Occasionally something still captures my imagination and sucks me in (like Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, I purchased a copy after hearing her give a reading at the Stowe Library earlier this summer), but this kind of experience is increasingly rare. And I can't blame television for this, I live without TV and don't miss it much at all -- though too much of my time is consumed online, on this (largely reader-less) site, flickr, photoblog, and various news sites. Perhaps the Internet connection is the next thing I should unplug?

So last weekend we stopped at a lawn sale while driving out to Groton (where there are hummingbirds) and I bought three books for the princely sum of $2 (the other title was a work on F. Scott Fitzgerald's milieu). This 1922 "Reader's Library" edition of Robinson Crusoe contains a preface that is unimaginable in today's world of Ipods, cell phones that play video, texting, YouTube, hundreds of cable channels, all the high tech distractions of modern life. There's very little today that pretends to be for the "entertainment and instruction of old and young" -- the emphasis is more on entertainment these days, and on segmenting audiences by age, and usually skewed towards the 'youth' segment of the market.

(Now, considering that this was printed during the Roaring Twenties, it may be that this was hopelessly naive and idealistic even back then.)

I've never read a Zane Grey novel, this musty copy may keep me amused for awhile, or maybe not. For $0.66 I felt like giving it a try.

On the subject of books, I have to go to this event at the Barre library next week, seems like there are some cool events happening in Barre. The library is also having a raffle for some Zevon memorabilia, if they are still selling tickets when I get there I will certainly purchase a few entries.


More colorful flying things

Butterfly multiplicity: I work in a office space carved out of an old barn (very drafty in the winter), it's better, I suppose, than being cooped up in some anonymous office park somewhere. At this time of year butterflies positively swarm in the wildflowers in the field out back. So today instead of reading the Wall Street Journal op-ed page online or browsing through the relentlessly self-promoting puffery that makes up the recruiting blogosphere (some of these recruiter-bloggers, I wonder if they ever do any work) on my lunch, I took a walk out back with my camera.

This last image, isn't anything special, but I think that there are twelve Monarchs in this clump of flowers -- try and count them all.


Flight of the hummingbirds!

I have been trying feed and photograph hummingbirds all summer with limited success; the hummingbird feeder at my condo has been resolutely ignored (apparently, commercial hummingbird nectar is not appealing -- plain sugar solution works much better). Today, however, I was at a house at Lake Groton where hummingbirds dart about all day long, drawn by a string of feeders on the porch. I had my camera with me, and took these images.

These are tiny, shiny birds and even though I was quite close to them it still pushed my camera to its limits to capture a sharp image.

The pictures came out OK but this does make me wish for a more powerful camera and a longer, image stabilized, lens. Some day...

I have posted some more pictures here in my photoblog account.


Velo retro: The Monocog 1x9

Back in the early 90's, my first mountain bike was a Bridgestone MB-3, a steel bike with a rigid fork and thumbshifters -- even then, Bridgestone was a company famous for its almost Luddite design philosophy. I was first and foremost a road cyclist but I did like to ride off-road; in the course of the next few years I sold (probably a bad move) the Bridgestone and graduated to first an anonymous Trek mtb and then an orange Gary Fisher "Genesis" hardtail. There are quite a few of my used bikes being ridden around Burlington I suppose because I sold these rigs in various bike swaps through the years.

Now I have a new ride -- a Redline Monocog 1x9. Things move in circles: It's a steel bike with a rigid fork and a single thumbshifter; there's no front derailleur -- just a 9 speed cassette on the rear wheel. The bike also has 29 inch wheels instead of the more usual 26 inch mtb wheelsets. The large wheels allegedly soak up more shock and vibration and also roll over obstacles more easily than smaller hoops. The bike came with large tires and by running low air pressure (lower than recommended) I have found that it is possible to minimize chattering and bouncing when riding over rough sections despite the bike's lack of suspension.

The larger wheels give a somewhat unnerving perspective on steep descents because it does give one a sense of being up higher than is usual... and it looks to be a long way down. The bike, however, does have a pretty stable ride and doesn't seem to want to do an endo. The lack of suspension does make it something of a handful on steep rough descents but I confess after a couple of hard crashes when I first ventured onto trails I have been riding very cautiously in technical sections.

The bike's gearing (34 t front chainring plus a 9 speed cassette) also takes some getting used to as I have found that the lack of bailout gears means that more energy is expended on a ride and that some climbs that would be rideable with a granny gear are not with this setup -- at least until I get stronger. Also I have learned that I tend to be maxed out on climbs quicker because of the gearing and that consequently I need to be careful climbing; this was a contributing factor in two very hard crashes I took when the bike was new.

All in all the Redline has proven to be a pretty fun bike to have so far and there are many trail networks to explore in this area. I think that it's good for me to spend some time just playing on a bike again because all of my riding lately has been pretty utilitarian -- commuting back and forth to work on my battered road bike.

Some rides in the Waterbury area. The ride in red, isn't technical riding, but includes some brutal climbing and riding through overgrown meadows filled with stinging nettles, I am not sure that I will repeat that experience until after some hard frosts kill off the jungle-like vegetation. The rides in green and blue are in the Perry Hill trail network, maintained by the Stowe Mountain Bike Club.


Power Wagon

An old truck for sale on Route 100 in Stowe. This farm also has an impeccably restored Jeep version of this vehicle. More images are posted here; I have lots of prosaic images on my hard drive and I continue to add them to my photoblog account. It's kind of like flickr lite.


Localvore that I am & Autotagging the blog

When it came to gardening efforts this year (a new experience for me, my new place came with a small patch of yard), some things I killed at a touch: I planted a packet of wildflower seeds -- nothing happened. Sunflower seeds were planted, they germinated, but were a delicacy for some wild creature, and suffered an amazing 100% mortality rate in the course of three days.

I did, however, buy three tiny pepper plant starters ('plugs') at a nursery this spring -- $0.25 each -- and have carefully nurtured them all summer long. I learned that because the plants are in a small pot that they would dry out and wilt on warm summer days, so my routine before leaving for work has included watering them regularly before the sun gets too strong. I have even periodically fed them liquid fertilizer.

Barring some unforeseen catastrophe (hailstorm or some late arriving pest), my efforts at nurturing the plants should soon pay off: 1 sweet pepper and a handful of hot peppers. It's another way of marking the passing of the season. It's also a great time of year to visit the local farmstands.

I have also added an "autotagging" utility to my blog. This document is very self absorbed (I have noted this fact previously) but it is also very diffuse, so I am not sure that this feature will be helpful, but I will give it a try. The service is still in beta and it does produce some odd results; I noticed that it characterized "Glen Sutton" (a small town in Quebec) as a 'person'.

A graphical representation of the content of this site.



Just a random image from my camera yesterday, I was chasing Monarch butterflies around, but the best shot was of this dragonfly instead. Other (butterfly) images are posted here.


One year ago today

Exactly one year ago today, I arrived (like Odysseus cast upon the shore? -- I don't think so) in Waterbury. I showed up at my new place promptly at 8:30 am, there was no sign of the moving truck with my possessions. Several hours later than planned the truck turned up, I moved in, and have been here ever since. The changes are mostly positive, I think, but there are aspects of my past life that I miss, and it is certainly disconcerting to discover how hard it is to stay in touch with people even though the amount of physical distance involved isn't much at all.

There are places i'll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain

I could research how many soldiers have been killed in various wars in the preceding 365 days, or how the previous year was one of the warmest on record, how much the national debt has increased in the past year, or some other obtuse topic, but this trivial and very self-absorbed (and largely unread) blog -- a horrible word -- tracks the mundane events of my life, so I'm content to mark this anniversary instead.


Bloodied and bruised: The perils of riding rigid

Above, dear reader, is an artfully cropped and retouched photo of my ass. I post it here not in the interest of being salacious (a word that reminds me of the Bill Clinton-Ken Starr era) or titillating but to illustrate the consequences riding past the limits of one's ability on a new mountain bike. I managed to go over the handlebars and hit a large tree on Sunday afternoon (my rear end was above my head when this happened)... and this wasn't even the hardest wipeout I took on this ride. It's quite lucky that I'm not in the hospital.

The new bike with its lack of suspension, limited gearing choices, and larger wheels will take some getting used to for sure. The Waterbury/Stowe area is actually something of a mountain biking mecca with several trail networks to explore but I must confess that I was happy to finally emerge from the woods, bleeding and sore, on Sunday: I'd had more than enough of a beating for one day. But I will try again on more forgiving trails in the future.


Will the circle be unbroken? Emmylou Harris at Shelburne Farms

Just some quick images from tonight's show at Shelburne Farms. After a very rainy day the sky cleared and it turned out to be a very pleasant evening.

From my favorite song of the evening, a cover:

Livin on the road my friend, is gonna keep you free and clean
Now you wear your skin like iron
Your breath as hard as kerosene
You weren't your momma's only boy, but her favorite one it seems
She began to cry when you said goodbye
And sank into your dreams
Pancho was a bandit boy, his horse was fast as polished steel
He wore his gun outside his pants
For all the honest world to feel
Pancho met his match you know on the deserts down in Mexico
Nobody heard his dyin words, ah but that's the way it goes

All the Federales say, they could've had him any day
They only let him slip away, out of kindness I suppose

Lefty he can't sing the blues all night long like he used to
The dust that Pancho bit down south ended up in Lefty's mouth
The day they laid poor Pancho low, Lefty split for Ohio
Where he got the bread to go, there ain't nobody knows

All the Federales say, they could've had him any day
They only let him slip away out of kindness I suppose

The boys tell how old Pancho fell, and Lefty's livin in cheap hotels
The desert's quiet, Cleveland's cold
And so the story ends we're told
Pancho needs your prayers it's true, but save a few for Lefty too
He only did what he had to do, and now he's growing old

All the Federales say, they could've had him any day
They only let him go so long, out of kindness I suppose

A few gray Federales say, they could've had him any day
They only let him go so long, out of kindness I suppose


A 1x9 nostalgia-inflected Saturday

[10/21 update: It appears that Google searches for "1x9 mountain bike" etc. can land users on this page, which doesn't really discuss the handling/performance of the Monocog. The real review of the bike on this site is here, "Velo Retro: The Monocog 1x9". Check it out.]

Saturday I arranged to pick up a new bike at a shop quite far from where I live (only Redline dealer remotely near me). I'll write more about the bike at some point, it isn't a single speed, but a rigid steel mountain bike with a 1x9 drivetrain setup, still a much simpler design than most modern mountain bikes.

Equipped with this new toy, I didn't want to drive all the way back to Waterbury to try it out, so I brought some gear (shoes, helmet, etc.) with me & set about revisiting many of the places where I hung out when I lived in Burlington.

After driving all the way up to Georgia the first order of business was to find some food: A Philly cheesesteak with a Coke at Brigante's in Colchester, just the ticket on a nice summer day. The folks who run this place almost retired and closed it for good a few years ago but then reconsidered; now the stand operates on a weekends only schedule (I also think that they stopped serving fries, because preparing & cooking fries was too aggravating.) After this healthy lunch I drove over to the northern terminus of the Burlington bikepath, quickly put the bike together and ditched my car for the day.

First I rode out the causeway which was quite spectacular with a good breeze blowing and the lake full of activity on a Saturday afternoon. Then I headed down the Burlington bikepath, I knew that there were some little stretches of trail behind the high school and in Ethan Allen park where I could test the bike's off-road capabilities. It's been several years since I've been on a mountain bike, and I'm not used to a rigid fork or 29 inch tires, the new setup sometimes gave me pause on drop offs and rocky rooty sections. I rode cautiously (like the middle-aged person I am) and managed to not wipe out hard and the new bike handled pretty well though the gearing does take some getting used to.

Setting out: The bike is quite a bit less pristine now after several hours of trail riding.

After abusing myself for several hours this way I rode down to the waterfront and spent some time at a concert in Battery Park, finally riding back in the fading twilight to drive home. Today my body is sore because I haven't spent that much time on a bike of late plus the new position means various muscles are being used in new and exciting ways, and don't respond too positively (I am getting old, no doubt about it).

Saturday afternoon was the first time I had really missed living in Burlington since I moved. When I lived in town I could ride through the Intervale and Ethan Allen park pretty much anytime I wanted to. I don't like feeling like a tourist there.

This feeling pretty much went away once I got home to my place in Waterbury, I am happy with the choices I have made and the way things are now for me, but there are still aspects of my past life that I miss.



...This week has brought the hottest days of the summer so far -- though with the arrival of August, signs of the changing seasons (wildflowers are going to seed, things are ripening, fog in the morning, etc.) are already becoming evident.

The image is from a family reunion this past weekend (I was a guest) and I like it, so here it is.


Hilltop Poultry: Not like buying industrial processed chicken at the grocery store

Federal Hill in Providence is the Italian-American section of the city. I heard while there that the area is becoming gentrified and 'trendy' and that many fashionable restaurants are opening. The new establishments, while outwardly attractive, do strip the area of some its character.

Hilltop Poultry, however, is a definite throwback to the past, although customers can no longer select their own live chicken right on the premises for slaughter and eventual delivery.

The sign says "No exchanges or returns"! I wonder if someone ever served a roast chicken for Sunday dinner, decided that it wasn't satisfactory, and tried to return the chicken on Monday morning.

The proprietor was a pretty talkative guy who was willing to share stories from the 'old days'.

In the Federal Hill area there are several fancy stores featuring imported Italian foods -- gourmet cheeses, meats, olives, etc. Of the places we wandered through, Tony's Colonial Food Store was the nicest... Tony (jr.) was fun to talk to as well, and was quite generous with samples, I can now attest, that real Italian provolone is nothing like the bland domestic cheese that masquerades under the same name. It's always odd for me to speak with someone who grew up in one place and who knows their local community intimately, because this is so unlike my own experience.