Happy [fill in the blank]

We made it through another holiday season.  In Waterbury, where I live, there's been something of an atmosphere of enforced gaiety and holiday cheer as the community struggles to recover from the September flood and the dramatic changes brought about by the filthy brown water from the Winooksi River that inundated the town.

So let's be thankful for what we have and hope for better things in 2012 -- whatever one's personal belief system might be.


What lies ahead

Rebuilding Waterbury meeting, facilitated by FEMA
Driving through Waterbury in late December 2011, things look almost normal.  The oversized dumpsters filled with debris that were such a prominent feature of the post-Tropical Storm Irene townscape are mostly gone.  Hundreds of buildings were damaged but relatively few -- mostly centered in the village's two trailer parks -- were destroyed. The temporary FEMA office on the second floor of the fire station has closed.

But appearances deceive.  Many of the homes damaged in the flood are still under repair and are not yet habitable, and there are many displaced families living in awkward and temporary housing arrangements.  Some local businesses have reopened but some have closed and some relocated out of town.  Most of the state office complex, which once housed 1500 workers, is closed and the workforce dispersed far and wide, a situation that will not be resolved for several years to come.

Into this very challenging situation steps the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).  The agency is working specially and intensively with two towns in Vermont:  Wilmington -- where the entire business district was inundated, and Waterbury, where there's lots of damage, and is the community that probably took the single largest economic hit in Vermont from the storm, due the damage at the state office complex.

Last Thursday FEMA facilitated a meeting on Waterbury's future in the local elementary school.  It was well attended and designed to conceive of what the village 'might be' in the future without taking into consideration unpleasant practicalities like funding mechanisms.  A process to come up with a community wish list, with no strings attached.

It was relatively easy for a couple of hundred of engaged, optimistic people (neatly broken up into teams, each assigned with a separate area -- Recreation, Human Services, Economic Development, etc.) to come up with a long list of ideas, some of which are solutions to problems resulting from the flood, some of which addressed pre-existing problems in town.

The FEMA group had experience with other disasters and showed a short video of some folks in Alabama talking about the recovery process in their tornado-devastated community. The FEMA folks, they've seen situations like this before.

I attended this event and sat in on the economic development table.  On one hand, it was a positive event.  Lots of people, lots of energy, the community leaders were all there, there was a palpable frisson of optimism in the air.

On the other hand, however, (and maybe this is a temperamental defect on my part), it was a profoundly discouraging event.  The list of post-flood problems in Waterbury is long.  What was once a pretty thriving (by Vermont standards) community is now regressing backwards. There are many pressing needs, and some -- most? -- will require significant amounts of money to address.   And therein lies the rub...

So to engage in a large scale collective imagineering session paying scant attention to practical realities might feel good for 90 minutes or so.  But on the day after, one wakes up with the realization that the situation has not changed, and that the process of change hasn't even really begun.

Some photos of Waterbury the day after the flood here.



I had avoided cell phones, smart phones and mobile technology -- until now.  My one small contribution to the untold billions spent on Black Friday was to order this device from Amazon -- a basic 4G capable Android phone for the T-mobile network.

T-mobile (at least while the company still exists in North America) has a $30/month unlimited data plan that comes without the necessity of two year contracts or 450 minutes of unwanted and expensive voice minutes per month.

When the device shows up, I intend to 'root' it (delete a host of unwanted pre-installed software), install a VOIP dialer, and use a Google Voice number over data or (when available) WiFi connections.  If this works well then my days with a landline phone may be numbered.

It will be interesting to see how this changes me -- if at all.  Perhaps constant connectivity will reinvigorate my waning interest in online oversharing and having a camera with me more often may open some new possibilities.

...or perhaps I'll just play Angry Birds instead.


Go-go girls ascendant as Tyler fades away

To run this totally inconsequential site, is to have a small keyhole through which to peer at the pulsing global consciousness:  The traffic reports reveal what people all over the world are searching for.  

And what does this record reveal?  

That erotic massage in Kathmandu (Thamel, specifically) is now the single most searched topic on this site.

Looking for love tawdry, paid-for sex in all the wrong places...
And the thing is, that I'm sure that these worldwide seekers of pleasure are pretty disappointed when they click through... because the post in question alludes to tawdry, paid-for sex, but does not describe any such activity, because there were no such activities to describe on the night in question. 

Go-go dancers, alas not of Nepal, but of New York City
Time marches on and memories fade.
And how has traffic to this site evolved?  Back in 2007 I inadvertently Google-bombed cyclist Tyler Hamilton's then-wife (the topic of the post was doping) and this post was the single most trafficked page on this site through the spring of 2011.

In May, however, Hamilton confessed on 60 Minutes and ignominiously retired, and ever since, search traffic to this post has tapered off.  Two trends remain, however:
  1. If it's not the topic of drugs, it's the topic of sex, that drives traffic to this site.  The post "Drugs and sex remain popular" is already written.
  2. No one really cares about where I ride my bike or the other more recent triviality that shows up here.     


Out and back

I have not been very active on this blog lately. "Moonlight in Vermont or Starve" is a bumper sticker here and I have managed to juggle a string of roles, some professional and challenging, others more mundane (landscaping), in an attempt to keep the repo man at bay.

Also some of my roles involve blogging and after coming up with coherent, well-argued, typo-free blog posts on varied topics in the workplace the last thing I want to do is come home and blog some more.

It has, however, been a warm and clement November which has meant that my Sunday routine has involved watching a  cyclocross race (usually a Superprestige or World Cup) from Europe online and then going for a ride on my road bike.

After several years away from the road bike it is strange and somewhat awkward to spend hours in the saddle again.  I find that both leg speed (ie, cadence) and overall speed is lacking on the bike but there's no doubt that the longer road climbs in the area offer a chance to gain strength and fitness that will carry over to nordic skiing and next year's riding season.
The usual lumpy Vermont ride profile.



One can sense the end of the year aproaching -- and it's not just from the holiday commercials showing up on television.  Images from a (probably) last ride on Waterbury's Perry Hill trail network near my home last week.  Wind and a light dusting of snow over the weekend finished removing any remaining foliage from the trees:  It is officially 'stick season' now.

There was still some color in the understory on the trails at lower elevation.

These trails close for the season on November 1.  If there are some balmy clement days in November I may poach a couple of quick rides but for the most part riding season here is over until 2012.

Higher up, the trees were pretty bare and the thick layer of leaves on the ground made for very tricky riding, even on trails that I know very well.

I know it is perfectly absurd of me and also that I am not a very technically proficient mountain biker but I was quite pleased with myself when I learned to ride these rocks on my rigid bike.   When I first encountered this obstacle many years ago I thought to myself "there's no way I'll ride this".

The 'line', roughly.
My Redline has served me well but now that I have a mostly functional road bike I can set about upgrading or replacing this rig.  Most of the time the rigid bike is fine but I have done some longer rides where the Redline has delivered a real beating and left me sore and barely able to ride.  Salsa's "Adventure by bike" slogan and design philosophy has a certain appeal....
The GPS track of this ride.


Ride of the (mostly) fallen leaves

The foliage in north-central Vermont is now mostly past peak which means that most -- though not all -- of the tourists have departed.   A fine day for a long, hilly ride on my newly-rebuilt road bike.

Bottom of Loomis Hill in Waterbury Center.
Sweet Farm Road.
Waterworks Road.  
My bike is not delicate and I don't hesitate to ride on the many dirt roads in the area. Vermont Route 100, with heavy traffic, a poor road surface, and glass and other debris is much worse to ride on compared to a relatively smooth and quiet unpaved road.

Trapp Hill Road in Stowe. 
Rt 108 riding towards Smuggler's Notch. 
Looking pretty grubby heading up into the  Notch.  

Loomis - Trapp Hill - Smugglers - home. 


Forty-six turning 38

Little ring. 
Every October marks another turning over of my personal odometer, a few more kilometers closer to the grave.

Showing that I am perhaps a little wiser -- as well as fatter, and slower -- in my advancing years, I set up the drivetrain of my road bike with 52/38 chainrings, and am running a 25 cassette.  The idea is to make climbing at least a little easier going forward.
Waterbury to Waitsfield by bike. 
Small gears make ride profiles like this easier to manage -- and Route 100 through Duxbury does not count as one of the longer, or steeper, climbs in the area.


Back in the saddle again

My road bike languished in my garage for the better part of three years.  Its components were worn out, I had started collecting parts and brought it to a local shop, which told me that the frame was cracked, which sent me back to square one.  In the meantime, wasps built nests in the crank bolts and pedal spindles and the frame and fork served as a forlorn ornament hanging from the rafters.

Further research, however, revealed that the frame was not in fact cracked, but procrastination and other projects prevented me from putting the bike back together.  I was going to get to this project earlier this year -- like spring time -- but only recently was the project finished, thanks to help from Iride in Stowe.

Resurrected:  My 11 year-old, size 52 cm, Chinese-made titanium, Habanero road bike. 
After years of inelegantly hammering on my undergeared rigid mountain bike it feels very strange to get out on a road bike again.  The muscle memory of sitting in the saddle and trying to be smooth and keep a high cadence -- especially climbing -- is almost all gone.  And there have been some issues getting the new drivetrain parts to work together:  the photo is from an aggressive chain degreasing/re-lubing session.

I haven't had any close calls with cars yet, but with distracting personal technology even more prevalent now then when I last was out on the roads, I wonder if it is only a matter of time.  It is disconcerting to do something perfectly innocent -- ride a bike -- but to know that it is a bit like playing the lottery with potentially catastrophic consequences.
A tour of devastation along the Winooski and Mad River valleys in Vermont.  It is strange to ride along local river valleys and see debris from the flood high in the treetops, gutted homes and collapsed bridges, silent testimony to the passing of Irene.


Dirty pictures: More Nor'Easter cyclocross race images

Images from the cyclocross race held at North Beach, Burlington on 9/24/2011 as part of the Nor'Easter festival held at various venues along the waterfront.  

Ian Field and Tom Van Den Bosch race in the late afternoon sun.
Some of these images were used in the previous post but these have more elaborate post processing so perhaps the quality on these is a little better.

Nicolas Bazin showed the strain of the heavy, muddy course.

The frentic start of the pro men's race.
The local CBS affiliate declined to send a crew to cover the event itself but did make sure to have crew talking to some very unhappy Canadians on the day after the race.

The race did tear up the turf pretty badly but I'm pretty sure that with some grass seed and hay for mulch that there won't be any sign of the race when the park opens again in 2012.  People should just chill out.

A gallery with images from the Juniors/3s, Women's, and Pro men's races can be viewed here


Water, water (and mud) everywhere: Nor'Easter Cross images

Images from the Nor'Easter Cyclocross Race, September 24, held at North Beach, Burlington. It rained on the days prior to the event, soaking the ground and turning pretty much the entire course into a heavy, slippery mud bath.

UK National Champion Helen Wyman flew through the mud in the women's race.
(Ted King watching in the background.)
Laura Van Gilder spun sideways on a flat section on the first lap.
Pro mountain biker Lea Davison had an easier time than most in the mud.

Amy Dombrowski rode in second for most of the day...
Until she snagged course tape and had to complete the race on foot, winding up 8th.
Wyman had plenty of time to celebrate her victory.  
Wyman:  "Racing in mud is like custard and ice cream to me..."
Women's podium
Spray flew at the Pro men start. 
The pro men had to contend with the thickest mud of the day.
It was a struggle to ride even flat sections.
More mud.
The pits were a busy place. 
Near the end of the race, it was down to Ian Field and Tom Van Den Bosch.
Waiting and watching for a slip-up. 
Justin Lindine was top US finisher. 
At the end, Field forced a separation and won alone.
Men's podium:  Tom Van Den Bosch, Ian Field, Nicolas Bazin
More photos to come...


I remember when: Cyclocross at North Beach

Nice straight lines for the pit at the Nor'easter Cross at North Beach.
Speaking from experience, it helps to use a guideline when setting the stakes... 
Back in the 1990s, I lived in Burlington and raced a bike quite ineffectually, mostly on the road, but also cyclocross and mountain bike racing.

One of my autumn training grounds was North Beach in Burlington, it was a great place for cyclocross workouts, offering a mix of surfaces, run ups, and spectacular -- almost Wagnerian -- scenery:  I remember training with low clouds scudding by, in a ripping wind, waves pounding on the beach, and glimpses of the Adirondacks across the lake.

I always wondered why no one tried to promote a race at the area and then stopped riding and eventually moved to Waterbury... but this year the venue is being used for the first time for a New England Verge Series race.  I spent a few hours yesterday helping the crew from Pioneer Event Productions set up the course.

I plan on attending the races on Saturday, it will be like old times.  There will be some Euro pros in attendance -- trying to snag some early-season UCI points -- but most of the domestic elite cyclocross group will be racing in Wisconsin due to a scheduling conflict with the USGP.


17 times up Mt. Royal: Images from the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal

Some images from the Grand Prix Cycliste de MontrĂ©al on 9/11/2011.   

The race course consisted of a 17 laps of a 12 km circuit that included the climb of Mt. Royal on each lap.

Professional cycling miscreant Danilo Di Luca led the break on the climb most of the day... but Danny Pate wound up winning the KOM prize when all was said and done.

Some minutes behind, the Rabobank and Sky teams rode at the front, and upped the pressure as the kilometers went by and the afternoon shadows deepened.

View of Montreal (looking east) from Mount Royal, with the old Olympic Stadium in the center.

More photos from the race:

(Gallery here and  a snippet of video here)