8.29.2010

Ten years, thousands of racing miles: 2010 Green Mountain Stage Race

Criterium action: The Pro1/2 men charge up Main Street in Burlington in 2006.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Green Mountain Stage Race. I think that I have participated in all ten editions of the race in some form or fashion -- as a inauspicious rider in its early years, and then as a volunteer.

Ten years is a long time for any volunteer-run event to keep on keeping on and the history of the criterium race in Burlington goes back even further -- back to the late 1980s.

Through the years I have done a good many of the non-leadership tasks involved with putting on a bike race: Course setup and take down, marshaling, prize distribution, moving stuff, recruiting volunteers. This experience has given me a pretty broad understanding of what's involved in putting an event of this magnitude.

Despite ongoing economic bad news (2010, the year of the 'pessimism bubble') it looks like registration at this year's race is comparable to previous races. As I always, I hope for a safe event without any bad car-rider interactions... a good, competitive race held under sunny skies and on quiet local roads with patient, friendly drivers (sarcasm).

Previous posts about the Green Mountain Stage Race here, take a look (lots of images).

8.23.2010

Wedding Photography, 2010

A week ago, I was a volunteer wedding photographer for a small wedding in Barre. It was an interesting test of my skills with my camera... perhaps there is a potential market for low-budget events like this one... or maybe it's only an opportunity for stress and aggravation for comparatively little money.

This image is nothing like reality (and the colors are deliberately 'off').

The original image. If nothing else, this exercise did expose my lack of skill at post-processing and pointed out areas where I need more learning and experience. I also used a very basic camera (Pentax K100D Super) and one 17 x 70 mm Sigma lens the entire time.

I wasn't paid for this project, which meant there was little stress. At the event, however, I discovered that there at least four other volunteer photographers roaming around with DSLRs and also that many other attendees had brought compact digital cameras. When the ceremony started it was like a firing squad, only with cameras, not guns... the click click click of shutters both mechanical (SLR mirror slap) and electronic was clearly audible.

With so many competing photographers roaming around, I made the conscious decision to be radically contrarian in my approach to this assignment: When the herd went one way, I went in exactly the opposite direction.

Maybe this technique worked, or perhaps I just wound up with lots of photos of people's backsides. (More conventional wedding photos here, from another ceremony in 2008.)

I am not particularly interested in weddings -- usually too staged, formal and contrived for my taste -- most of what I do with a camera is either in nature, or as a kind of documentary, trying to explore social and economic changes as they happen, we are living through a 'great crumbling', and I try and post photos as old assumptions are torn away.

But this is difficult and there are many others that are far better at this style of photography than I.

8.17.2010

Lies politicians tell me

In Vermont, the Governor's term is only two years duration, which is silly, and means that it is almost always election season... as if we didn't have enough problems already.

As the incumbent and (surprisingly) Republican governor is not running for re-election this cycle, there are many Democratic candidates seeking to fill the seat. The Republican candidate, Brian Dube, is not facing a primary challenger for his party's nomination.

The primary election is next week, where the field of Democratic gubernatorial candidates will be remorselessly winnowed from five to one. It is predicted that the percentage of the electorate that will be involved in making this potentially momentous decision will be very small.

Anyhow, Vermont twitterati (/irony) that I am, and with 'social networking' being all the rage with campaigns these days, some of the candidates have "followed" me -- a very lemming-like metaphor -- me on twitter. This despite the fact that my main use of twitter, is to promote this blog -- truly a lost cause, and also to get real time results from bike races.

I took a look at candidate Peter Shumlin's twitter profile out of curiosity. Now, twitter is inherently shallow, self-aggrandizing, and not a venue for nuance or deep thought, but I discovered that Mr. Shumlin's twitter page describes the candidate as (and I quote):

"Socially liberal and fiscally conservative Democratic Senate President from Windham County running for Governor of Vermont."

Now, "socially liberal" makes perfect sense, I won't address that here.

"Fiscally conservative," however, is a lie.

It's not quite as absurd as saying "on a clear day the sky is not blue" but it's almost up there with "2 + 2 = 5" in my book. It would be a strange parallel universe indeed, a down-the-rabbit-hole kind of world, where Peter Shumlin could be accurately characterized as a "fiscal conservative".

Perhaps this sentence was tossed off without thinking by some campaign worker. Maybe it is of no importance whatsoever, making it perfect fodder for this unimportant and unread blog.

I, however, find it emblematic of the mess we are in.

As a proud member of no political party, I have tried to follow the campaign, vainly searching for distinguishing characteristics among the five Democratic candidates. I have tried -- and failed -- to identify a candidate grounded in reality, and not in the thrall of various regressive special interest groups.

Instead, the five candidates have assiduously refrained from criticizing one another and managed to speak in airy platitudes, flattering established constituencies while not addressing the need for serious structural changes by state government.

It has been a dispiriting experience that leaves me with little hope for serious, thoughtful debate in the next two months until the general election in November.

*Candidate Susan Bartlett did state something to the effect that "government does not create wealth", which probably qualifies as the most commonsensical statement by any Democratic candidate in this election cycle, as this is a dissenting opinion in Vermont.

8.09.2010

Life and death along the river

Images from a walk along the Winooski River, Waterbury, Vermont on Saturday 8/07/2010.

It is high summer in Vermont and there is already a sense that things are past peak and that autumn is coming. The transition starts slowly and almost imperceptively but speeds up as August progresses.

This image was captured while standing in dense, tangled weeds (goldenrod, honeysuckle, various vines) almost as tall as I am -- a jungle, and I was not appropriately dressed.

Hundreds of grasshoppers were underfoot.

Along the river, six deer vertebrae were neatly arranged in the sand, a stark gray monochromatic scene after the bright colors of the meadow.

There were no other bones or connective tissue present. It was a strange, antedivulian scene, a fragment of a story of death and dismemberment. More images here.

8.06.2010

In flight

I like this image: It is, however, a very imperfect reflection of nature, and has been cropped and cleaned up considerably.

The nice even gray background (actually, a paved sidewalk) made it comparatively easy to remove the feeder from the lower right-hand corner of the cropped image.

More hummingbird photos here and in my Facebook account, in an album that is visible to 'everyone' (at least until the next time facebook changes privacy settings.)

8.02.2010

Go gently into that good night (and please stay gone)

"In four or five days... Lance Armstrong is over." -- Lance Armstrong, after stage 16 of the 2010 Tour de France.

"You can't pray a lie." -- Huck Finn

The 2010 edition of the Tour de France ended a little more then a week ago. For the first time in my life, I had cable coverage (on the Versus network) of the race, so I spent quite a bit of time watching the race live on television, instead of watching blurry, pirated online video streams of European broadcast coverage.

The race was, on one level, a somewhat exciting duel between Alberto Contrador and Andy Schleck, and was very close, as only seconds separated the racers even after multiple tough stages in high mountains.

On another level (especially on Versus, the defacto LANCE/team radioshack channel) it was Lance Armstrong's last appearance at the Tour de France. A succession of mishaps and errors meant that Armstrong did not figure in the race and rode quite anonymously. The coverage, however, still focused extensively on Armstrong and his team, which did suceed in winning the 'best team on GC' competition.

I have followed, with varying degrees of interest, the Tour de France since the late 1980s and I can state with certainty that the amount of coverage lavished on the team competition in 2010 was unprecedented -- and highly annoying.

Returning to Lance Armstrong, I hope he retires and stays retired. I personally believe that he -- and his teams -- engaged in doping practices, cheating and intimidation and that at least some of the Landis allegations are true. I wouldn't mind, either, if litigation forces some secrets out into the open and if stories about what really went on during Armstrong's career become common knowledge.

I rest assured, however, in the knowledge that pro sports (not just cycling) are not pure and I don't doubt that lots of cheating went on at other teams and by other riders during the Armstrong era. I look out on the economic ruins of early 21st century America (and the obscene wealth and continuing freedom, of those responsible) and I really don't think that much would be served by the US Government engaging in a long drawn-out court case to uncover what went on. I think it would be bad for the sport to have Armstrong tossed in jail like Marion Jones.

I never saw Armstrong race except on television/video (he was supposed to race in Burlington, VT in the early 1990s, but missed his flight... story here). Two stories I'll remember involving Armstrong are:
  • Back in the mid-1990s, when I was participating in the Killington Stage Race, the club I was involved with, would stay in ski condos at at the mountain - lots and lots of bike racers (10+ people in one unit). In this crowded, communal (and sometimes stressful) environment, a VHS tape of Armstrong's 1993 Worlds victory was the smuttiest of smutty bike porn, something furtively passed around, and watched repeatedly. This was in the pre-Internet, pre-YouTube era, when information still struggled to be free. Now you can watch obscure events like the Tour of Poland live online and video highlights are available the day they happen.
  • After Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer in 1996 there was a giant homemade "Get Well Lance" poster at the now defunct Craftsbury Mountain Bike* race for the assembled riders to sign. This was coordinated (if memory serves) by local MTB pro Audrey Augustin and Daria Bishop, wife of one of Armstrong's former teammates.
*My palmares are pretty thin (non-existent) but I did win the Masters category of this race three times. Just sayin'.