Thursday, October 30, 2008

We coulda taken him

I spent two years as a Mormon missionary. Except I didn't go anywhere exciting like Brazil or Mongolia. I went to Sacramento. I know.

The only "cool" thing about the location is that I was in some rough inner city areas and pretty much didn't see any white people for two years. Well, there were a few white people, but they were definitely the Larry the Cable Guy crowd. And I don't think I saw a car that had been manufactured in the last ten years except the one I was driving. I also spoke Spanish, which was more or less an imperative in some of the neighborhoods, especially out on the delta.

I spent about five months in Stockton, which is usually towards the top of the list for per-capita violent crimes and numbers of gang members. In the last month I was there, there were three or four shooting fatalities within a mile of my apartment, one of which was law enforcement shooting an alleged criminal. It was certainly an interesting place to live.

As missionaries, everyone is assigned a companion--a sort of buddy system, as it were. Incidentally, I used to think that "partner" was a better word than "companion," but in light of societal attitudes towards clean-cut men living together, I now think that "companion" was an inspired word choice.

While I was in Stockton, there were two Spanish-speaking companionships in the city, and all four of us lived together in one apartment. Missions are organized into districts and zones, and the four of us formed one district, of which I was the leader. Part of my responsibilities were to trade off and spend time working with the other missionaries in the district. I guess this was to make sure they were doing their work and didn't have any problems getting along.

While on one of these exchanges with a missionary who we'll just call "Anderson" (which will keep his real name anonymous, especially since I think fully 1/3 of Mormon missionaries have the last name "Anderson"). Anyway, Anderson was one of the coolest guys I have ever known, even though he wanted to be an FBI agent. In fact, he was so intent on this career path that he made some fake business cards at a mall kiosk with his name, followed by "Federal Bureau of Investigation," and a bogus address in New York.

He made them when he was 17 or so, before he realized that doing so was probably illegal, and put them in his wallet and sort of forgot about them. Until he was a missionary, that is, whereupon he rediscovered them in his wallet and occasionally showed them to other missionaries for a laugh.

Anyway, he and I were out knocking doors one day when we came upon the home of some of these Larry the Cable Guy white people. The reception was downright hostile. We found out that this was because at some point they had been Mormons but for a variety of inane reasons had decided that the church had mistreated them and they weren't going anymore. We talked through some of these concerns and brought things around to the point that they were feeling good and friendly towards the church again, possibly enough to start coming back. We thought.

Before we left, we made the standard missionary offer "is there anything we can help you with?" Turns out they were going to be moving and needed some help with that. We told them they could call us. They looked frantically around the house for something to write our names and numbers on. Not a corner of newspaper, gum wrapper, or napkin could be found. The only piece of paper any of us had was one of Anderson's business cards.

Reluctantly, Anderson wrote our number on the back of one, scribbled out the FBI details on the front, and told them the cards weren't real, and he had made them as a joke. In hindsight, our attire of white shirts, conservative ties, and dark trench coats probably didn't make that claim very convincing. This should have been all the more obvious to us since it was not uncommon for the gang members to scatter (like roaches before light), shouting "5-0, 5-0" when we walked into the 7 eleven parking lot.

A couple of days after leaving our names and numbers, someone called on the telephone asking for Anderson. "He's in the shower," I said. "Can I take a message?"

"This is John Gliani with the FBI, and I need to speak with him." My heart was in my throat. "Who's this?" I told him my name. "Well I need to speak with you, too." I was now trying to figure out who this really was and who put him up to it. "Can I come over right now?" I told him he could and hung up.

I then got out the phone book, looked up the number for the local FBI office, and called it. "Is John Gliani there?"

"Yes, can I tell him who's calling?"

"Nobody's calling. I just wanted to make sure John Gliani really worked there. He called me a minute ago, and I wanted to make sure it wasn't a joke."

"Hang on--he wants to talk to you."

"No, this is not a joke," John said. "You've violated a federal law and are in some serious trouble."

By the time I was finished speaking with Mr. Gliani the second time, Anderson was out of the shower. It was time to get everyone together and talk about what was happening.

Anderson's companion was a guy we'll call Sergei. He doesn't really figure into the story except that he sat at the Kitchen table and just sort of observed everything that went down. My companion was a guy we'll call Duke. He was from South Florida and had a pretty interesting life before finding religion in his early 20's and deciding to go on a mission. He used to tell us stories that made Bo and Luke Duke seem like a couple of pansy choir boys. He and I really got along well, and I'm pretty sure that if it came right down to it, he would have killed with his bare hands anybody that threatened me. He was a former gold gloves fighter and could probably give Kimbo Slice a run for his money.

We knew it was Gliani as soon as the plain vanilla domestic sedan pulled into the parking lot. John Gliani got out of the car and through the windows we watched him walk to our door. He knocked. I opened. I noticed three things: 1. he was as tall as the doorway, and his shoulders were as wide as the doorway--he may have had to turn sideways slightly to enter; 2. there was a large bulge in the armpit of his sports coat; 3. he was holding his badge right in my face. He made the comment (regarding the badge), "just in case you didn't believe me that it was real."

We welcomed Mr. Gliani into the apartment. He said something about impersonating a federal officer, federal offense, how it wasn't up to him but rather the magistrate whether to prosecute (but he HAD to turn in the charges), and a few other things for about ten minutes or so. I really don't remember. I do remember being intimidated and nervous.

As soon as Mr. Gliani closed the door, Duke turns to Anderson and me and says "we coulda taken him."

"What?" I said. "How? Did you not notice the gun? Or how big he was?"

"You could have wrapped up around his shoulders," Duke informed me, "Anderson could have taken the legs, and I would have jumped on his head and scooped his eyeballs out with my thumb. Sergei could have...well Sergei would have just watched."

"What about the gun?" I asked.

"It's hard to aim and fire a gun when your eyeballs are hanging down on your cheeks."

"You mean to tell me the entire time I was sitting in that chair nervous and wondering what kind of trouble I was going to be in, you were just thinking about what you would do if things turned violent?"

"Yeah, pretty much."

Epilogue: John Gliani was totally bluffing. We never heard another word about it. And Anderson, last I heard, was working on some sort of FBI task force on Internet crimes. I'm pretty sure he doesn't read my blog, not that his cover would be blown anyway. This incident apparently didn't come up during his background check.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Two hour rides

Two hours is just about the perfect duration for a bike ride. You don't really need to worry about on-the-bike nutrition. And it's short enough that you can often squeeze in a two hour ride on a work day or between soccer games on Saturday without jeopardizing the to-do list. Just fill a couple of bottles and go.

My favorite two hour road ride in Boise has got to be the Cartwright Loop. It's been out of commission most of the season as the road between Hidden Springs and Pierce Park Rd was widened and regraded. I was worried that the regrading would make it too easy. It's still steep, but not as steep, but the elevation gain is the same, so it's still a challenge. And the new tarmac is lovely.

On the mountain bike, my favorite two hour loop is Rocky Canyon Road to Orchard Gulch, down Five Mile, up Three Bears and down to Shane's, and back to Ft. Boise. Challenging climbs, wicked fun descents, and buff, swooping single track.

Both rides have about 2,000 feet of climbing but not all at once, so the climb never goes on so long that you're looking forward to the end of it, and you can push it pretty hard without blowing up.

The crazy thing is that I had never ridden the Orchard Gulch or Five Mile Gulch trails until this year. Which makes me wonder what else I am missing out on. Plus, now that I'm in Utah five days a week, I need to figure out what to ride here. I'm getting to know the Bonneville Shoreline Trail and its spurs pretty well, because it's close to the office and the ideal destination for lunch rides. But I still really have no idea where I'm going in Corner Canyon and only find my way around there by dumb luck or The Force, not sure which. Other than Millcreek Canyon, I really haven't ridden anywhere else on the Wasatch Front.

Leave a comment and let me know what I'm missing out on. If you don't live in Idaho or Utah, tell me what I should ride if I'm ever visiting your town. As UTRider mentioned, we've got a lovely Indian Summer that's lasting way longer than any of us expected, so may as well take advantage of it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The best wheel guy in the world

A while ago while riding with Dug, we were talking about bike mechanics and which ones we like and why. I mentioned that I rarely if ever visit mechanics anymore, except to do things that require special tools, like headset presses, or to true wheels (I could true my own wheels, but why?).

In the course of the conversation, I mentioned that the best wheel guy in the world lives in Boise, ID. Dug of course questioned my superlative. It was probably hyperbole, but I can't imagine how someone could be better at truing and fixing wheels. There are undoubtedly others of equal skill, but they are few.

I found out that the best wheel guy in the world, Brian Grieger, passed away in his sleep last night. He will be missed.

Brian was to bikes what the soup nazi was to soup. He was a true master, but it was also on his terms. Brian worked out of his garage, so you didn't just show up, you made an appointment. At the appointed time, you came with your bike, and then you stood there and listened to Brian complain about how bad your poor maintenance had screwed up the bike. Or, if the repair was easy or not really your fault, he would just tell stories until he was done. You were welcome to watch and ask questions, which is the primary reason I don't take my bikes to the shop very often, if at all. But you didn't leave your bike and come back when it was done, because there wasn't room in the garage for that kind of nonsense. When the job was finished, you paid in cash. Flat rate for labor, regardless of the repair, plus the cost of whatever parts you used.

Before he was a mechanic, Brian used to race bikes with people you've probably heard of. People like Tom Ritchey, Gary Fisher, and Bob Roll. Brian would tell you straight up who was cool and who was a jerk. I learned from Brian that Bob Roll spent his entire stipend for a year on a new Ducati and had to couch surf and dumpster dive during the off season when he couldn't get room and board from the team. I think Bob may have mentioned that in one of his books, but I liked hearing Brian's versions of the stories rather than the sanitized version the publisher approved.

Brian's house was along one of my favorite lunch ride routes. His health had been poor for a while, and I hadn't actually been in the garage for more than a year. But each time I passed, I didn't have anything but kind thoughts. If anyone feels the same way about me when I'm gone, I'll think I lived a pretty good life.

Godspeed, Brian.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Zero latency enterprise

When I first started working at Dunder Mifflin several years ago, one of the learning opportunities I took advantage of was a product tour of their Zero Latency Enterprise offering. The concept is pretty simple: if you throw enough computing power and network linkages at all your databases and keep the files in a standard format that is readable from one to another, it's possible for all of them to be constantly up-to-date. For instance, if a customer calls your support line and provides previously unknown information or an update to existing data, that data is instantly fed to the CRM system to more effectively market to the customer, the e-commerce engine to update shipping addresses, and so on down the line such that everything is always in synch.

If you have ever worked in an enterprise-level IT environment, particularly one with multiple legacy systems that aren't used to talking to one another, you know pulling this off is easier said than done. In fact, it's so much easier said than done, that Dunder Mifflin was not even using their own offering. Nearly four years ago, they embarked on a massive project to achieve these capabilities (though I don't think that the true "ZLE" product was part of that plan). My estimate is that project is still at least three years away from completion and even then won't work the way they really want it to.

IT systems weren't the only source of latency in the company. In fact, there was far more in just the day-to-day tasks required to get the work done. Let's say I was working on a project and needed input from five stakeholders in order to complete that particular phase. If all five stakeholders had to be in the meeting together, it typically took between one and three weeks to find a single one hour block where they could all meet together. And I'm not even talking about a live meeting; this was just to get them all on a conference call at once. If the meeting was to be face-to-face, an exceptionally rare occurence, we were talking a good month of lead time. Ironically, lead time for a video conference was often even longer than for a face-to-face meeting.

The other thing that I got really used to was a non-traditional work day. I'm not talking about going for a lunch ride in the middle of the day or starting early and ending early. Instead, I'm referring to an early morning conference call to speak with people in Europe and then on another day, and sometimes even the same day, having a late evening conference call with someone in Singapore. Even if there were no conference call, checking email at 11:00 p.m. was de rigeur in order to facilitate the flow between the Asian working day, the European working day, and having everything ready to go at the beginning of the nominal hours of my working day.

I'm bringing all of this up because a few of you, either in comments or in person, have asked me how the new job is going. Let me summarize:
  • There is no Singapore office. Which means no 10:00 p.m. conference calls with Singapore.
  • There is a London office, but I think only two people work there, and I'm pretty sure they don't even know I exist yet.
  • When I need CEO approval for something, I don't just give up right there because my middle management status doesn't warrant his attention; instead, I walk over to his office and ask him.
  • I have scheduled exactly two meetings with co-workers. Turns out that was just because old habits die hard. I should have just walked over to their offices and said "do you have a minute?"
  • All of the hardware in the entire company is managed by two people. If I am wondering about how something is configured, I can get a straight answer. I didn't even used to ask these questions, because even if I could find the answer, the complexity of the answer far exceeded the depth of my understanding.
  • All of the software in the entire company is managed by another half dozen or so guys. See above.
  • I can still go on lunch rides. In fact, there are nearly as many people in this office who will go out on lunch rides as there were in my old company. Except that there were roughly 175 times as many people at my old worksite as there are at this one. And we have our choice among excellent options for both road and mountain biking, whereas before only road riding was an option.
The only real downside to this job compared to my old one:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Welcome to Utah

I've been in Utah a little under 48 hours. Just enough time to really be welcomed back. It's been about nine years since I lived in Utah, but I've been back to visit often enough that I felt like I was on top of what's gone on in my absence. I was wrong.

I commuted by bike today from my sister's house in Cedar Hills to the end of the Trax line at Sandy City Center. Pedaling through Sandy and Draper took me right past the neighborhood where I grew up and many of the places I would frequent.

Things have changed dramatically. The open fields where we used to shoot BB guns at each other are all now commercial developments. In fact, they're in their second generation. The Wal-Mart that used to be there has been redeveloped into another retail complex. It's campaign season, and I noticed from the signs that my high school principal is running for the state legislature. The site of my high school is now a large office building, and the school down the road that replaced it plays football in a stadium that is nicer than the one San Jose State and I'm sure many other small (from a football perspective) universities play in.

The nostalgia notwithstanding, I really knew I was in Utah after two things happened during the train ride. First, there was a man walking around the station carrying a gun case. Sure, it COULD have been a violin in there, but it's more likely it was a deer rifle. Or an automatic weapon. The amazing part, though? Nobody said a word to him or even acted as if it were out of the ordinary to be walking around the city center with a high-power firearm.

Towards the end of the train ride, five or six kids got on and sat near me. These kids were pretty rough and talked about foster homes and other things that suggested that they'd had a tough go of it so far. When they used some profanity, I thought "at least they're not getting high on the train or mugging the other passengers." No big deal. But one of the other passengers, while exiting (pansy had to wait until they couldn't retaliate), paused to let the kids know that the profanity was unacceptable in a public place, and he would go tell on them if they kept it up.

So let me get this straight: a man, walking around the crowded city center with what appears to be a gun, gathers no attention at all. While some kids, who were not hurting anyone and were frankly quite nice and personable, but used some foul language, deserve a talking to? Welcome to Utah, I guess.

The other welcome to Utah moment is courtesy of my sister, who teaches at Orem Junior High. Today was their red ribbon week drug awareness assembly, which was put on by a local magician. He was incredibly funny and entertaining and had the complete attention of the audience, including my sister, who only attended because she had to. During the presentation, he informed everyone that Ford was coming out with a new vehicle designed specifically for the Utah market. It was something a little more than the Explorer, Expedition, or Excursion, since those vehicles didn't offer quite everything needed in this unique market. The vehicle will be called the "Exaltation" and will have row upon row of seating for up to 12 passengers. Each of the 12 seats will have its own jello holder. Of course, with fuel prices where they are, powering a vehicle that large is certainly a concern. But this one is special and should be just perfect for the intended market because instead of running on gasoline, it runs on guilt.

Today's commute was also the day that it finally happened: I crashed on my road bike. In the thousands of miles that I have ridden on the road, I had never crashed until today. Unless you count the time I was doing a track stand at an intersection and fell over before I could unclip. Anyway, I was riding from the office to the train station, and as I crossed the tracks, thought "be careful not to get your wheel caught in there." Within one second, I was down. Fortunately I wasn't going too fast and just banged up my hip and scraped my hand. I hadn't put my gloves on yet, so my hand felt pretty beat up but somehow didn't get cut. Nice to finally have that out of the way.

Though the crash has nothing to do with it, I also decided that with more darkness than daylight, trying to do a 70 mile round trip commute by bike and train is not the best idea I've ever had. It can be summed up quite succinctly as follows:

Likelihood of something bad happening * consequences of said bad thing > personal and societal benefits of biking to work

I may still take the train, at least from time to time, just because I prefer reading to driving. But since the bike commute starts in the morning while it's still dark and finishes in the evening after it's dark, I think I'll play it safe. Riding through an intersection only to discover after I got through it that there was no pavement on the far side pretty much sealed it for me. That and significantly overdriving my headlight at 20 mph and having an Escalade pass me with four inches of clearance may have also had something to do with it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Live in concert

Last night I drove five hours or so from my house to Utah so that I could start work this week. iTunes kept me company during the drive, and all I can say is that I love the new genius playlist feature. It puts together mixes better than I ever could--songs I'd never think of putting together but that somehow just go.

The playlist I was listening to, based on "Seven Nation Army," happened to serve up Black Sabbath's "Nativity in Black." Driving to Utah and listening to that song reminded me of an experience when I was attending BYU.

Utah Valley University, a state school just up the road in Orem, had recently built a new events center. As is often the case with a new venue, they sought sponsorship to help them cover the costs. In this case an individual donor contributed enough to earn naming rights, but instead of putting her own name on the building, asked that the contribution remain anonymous and the building be named for former president of the LDS Church, David O. McKay.

President McKay lived a life most would consider above reproach. Filmmaker Cecille B. DeMille recognized McKay as an authority on the scriptures and as such consulted him when making the film "The Ten Commandments," leading to a friendship that lasted until DeMille's death. McKay is probably best known as an advocate of family values, and is often quoted as saying "no other success can compensate for failure in the home."

So imagine my surprise one afternoon when I'm driving down the road listening to the radio, and I hear an advertisement proclaim (in the best husky, heavy metal voice over you can imagine) "Live, from the David O. McKay Special Events Center, OZZY OSBOURNE!"

Friday, October 17, 2008

Back to work

Today is my last workday off for a while. Monday will be my first day at a paying job since leaving Dunder Mifflin over the summer. Thanks to the wonderful network of bloggers, UTRider and I will be working together. At least for a while. I'll be working as a consultant initially, with the potential to become a permanent employee in the next few weeks.

I never thought I would say this, but I'm actually excited to get back to work. I've always thought that I would have no trouble staying busy and enjoying myself when I retire. But there's a big difference between retiring with enough to live on the rest of your life and being out of work with a finite amount of savings and a mortgage, student loans, and young kids to provide for. The people I'll be working with are a great group (at least those I've met so far). Regardless of what I've done, the people I work with have always been the difference between liking my job and not, so I'm actually looking forward to Monday.

Aside from the job itself, though, this is a big change. Here's what I'm looking forward to:
  • Getting paid.
  • Being in Salt Lake City just in time for ski season.
  • Riding MTBs at lunchtime (there are some great trails very close to the office).
  • Having an answer to the question "what do you do" when I meet someone for the first time.
  • Riding, skiing, and hanging out with Utah friends and family more often.
Here's what I'm not looking forward to:
  • Not seeing my wife and kids every day. I can talk to my wife on the phone, so that part won't be too bad. But I can't really keep as involved with my kids that way. I'll especially miss my one-year-old, who is just too young to understand what's going on.
  • Commuting: I'll be at my sister's house in Utah County and commuting to Salt Lake for work--35 miles each way. On the weekends, I'll be back home in Boise. That's a lot of travel time each week.
  • Getting up in the morning early enough to commute. Right now my plan is to commute by bike to the Trax station and then take the train the rest of the way downtown. That means leaving at about 6:30 in order to make it to work by about 8:30. At least I'll get to ride every day.
  • Working but still having the stress and time commitment of finding a permanent job.
  • Not riding with my usual crew. I've got a great group of guys that I have been riding MTBs with for as long as I've lived in Boise. They aren't just guys I ride with but true friends. I hope they still invite me to Moab in the spring.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe the Plumber

So far this election cycle, I have avoided bringing partisan politics into my blog. But the arguments in last night's presidential debate really made me angry. And I only watched ten minutes of it.

John McCain posited that his tax plan is better using the same argument that George Bush made before him and which goes back to the Reagan doctrine of trickle down economics. Specifically, McCain said that under Obama's tax plan, Joe the plumber, a man wanting to buy his own plumbing business and live the "American dream," would have to pay more taxes under Obama's plan and would therefore be unable to afford to hire more employees.

Now I have no problem with quibbling over who pays more taxes under what plan--those are worthwhile discussions to have. But when McCain claims that higher income taxes give money to the government that would otherwise go to paying employees, thereby stifling job creation, he simply doesn't know what he's talking about.

Quick tax accounting lesson: Individuals pay taxes based on income, however, only on the the income that is net of deductions (personal exemptions, mortgage and student loan interest, certain medical expenses, etc.) Likewise, corporations only pay taxes on their net income (revenue minus cost) not on their gross revenue. Paying employees is a cost, and therefore a tax deduction.

Whether a business owner has his business structured as a C-corporation, where the business pays taxes on profits at the corporate rate, or as an S-corporation, LLC/LLP, or sole proprietership, where the profits of the business flow through to the owner and the owner is taxed at her personal tax rate, the tax rate has no bearing on whether or not you can afford to hire an employee. That's because tax is figured on revenue minus cost, and the wages paid to the employee reduce taxable income.

Theoretically if tax rates are higher and the business owner wants to pay less in taxes, it's in his best interest to hire more employees, thereby lowering net income and tax liability. In reality it doesn't actually work this way, but that's beside the point when analyzing McCain's argument. The bottom line, though, is that arguing that higher tax rates stifle job creation makes no sense and is nothing more than a hollow scare tactic intended to frighten middle class Americans.

You'd think after watching the debate for ten minutes I'd be done with my criticism, but I'm not. In the discussion portion of the very same topic, McCain went on to talk about how this housing crisis was caused by Fannie and Freddie giving loans to people who couldn't afford to pay them (an indirect dig at the Clinton administration), but that the solution was for the government to use some of the $700+ Billion that we are borrowing from China to bail out our banks and go in and buy those loans from the banks and refinance them with a lower principal.

If I understand the argument, Clinton was wrong to encourage Fannie and Freddie to make those loans in the first place, so the solution is for the rest of the taxpayers to foot the bill of forgiving the portion of the loans the owners can't afford to pay. Then, instead of using the $700+ Billion to buy illiquid securities or equity positions in banks, both of which have the potential to regain value and return that value to taxpayers, returning to us some or all of the $700+ Billion, we should just give it away and leave taxpayers on the hook for the whole wad.

Basically the McCain solution to the housing bubble is to create a taxpayer-funded floor to said bubble. What happens when that floor goes away or when the good old US of A can't afford its mortgage payments? That day has got to be around the corner if we're going to pay for all this by lowering taxes for the wealthiest 20% of Americans.

I'm sorry, Mr. McCain, but none of your economic proposals make any sense to me. Perhaps it makes sense to Joe the Plumber. But if it does, then both of you are on the list of people who don't know their elbow from their anus when it comes to finance and economics. By the way, was it owning your own home or owning your own business that is the American dream? Because I was confused on that point.

Of course, I don't mean to just pick on John McCain here. It would seem that he's the only one in the line of fire, but as a rule, I'm an equal opportunity offender when it comes to picking on anyone who says something that's totally stupid, illogical, or patently untrue. So now it's Barack's turn.

Obama mentioned that all of his spending proposals around healthcare and job creation and renewable energy and so forth should be funded on a pay-as-you-go basis. That's a great idea, but I'm guessing Michelle must be in charge of the household budget and hasn't had a chance to let her hubby know that he's going to need to do some trimming or else make more money. Either that, or Obama is just that bad at arithmetic. I know it's tough once you get beyond seven figures, but even if you wanted to knock off the last nine digits and round to the nearest billion on everything, we'd probably still be OK. As long as the budget was balanced.

So in a few more weeks (or for people like me who plan on voting early, in the next few days) we get to choose the next leader of the free world. Well kind of. Our friends in the EU might take issue with that assertion. Either way, our choices are between a guy who couldn't do his own taxes and a guy who is bad enough at arithmetic that he couldn't balance his own checkbook. If you still haven't made up your mind, you can go to this quiz for help. That's how I decided. I chose 9 of 13 statements from one candidate, so that's the name I'll be marking down. The electoral votes in my state are going to McCain no matter what, so maybe I'll just ride my bike instead.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Moonlight and hypothermia

Yesterday Psycho Rider and I had conflicts with the regular Tuesday evening ride, so we put on the lights and headed out after dark. Last night was a full moon, and it wasn't long before we realized that the moon was bright enough that the lights were unnecessary.

The trails in Boise are mostly fragmented granite, and in the moonlight they become luminous ribbons of dirt. Just keep your front tire on the ribbon and pedal. The way the trails are worn in, your bike will almost steer itself. We were able to keep the lights off for nearly all the climb and much of the descent.

We ascended Kestral to Crestline to Trail 4 to Corrals. I was interested in riding Corrals this direction on the single to see if I could make it to the top without walking. I almost made it but got off and pushed the last 100 yards or so. I was already cooked, and the trail gets really steep at the end. The other direction is great on a single speed. I probably won't do it this way again unless I'm in the mood to suffer.

When we got to the rock pile, we turned around and came back the way we came. On my rigid single speed, I was reminded why, a couple of years ago when I rode that trail every week, I decided I needed a full-suspension bike.

Once through the rough stuff in the upper section, everything was fine until we dropped back down onto Kestrel from the Crestline trail. The gulley where Kestrel is located is almost always about 10 degrees cooler than the ridgeline above it. Combine the increased speed and decreased effort of the descent with the cooler temperatures, and by the time we got back to the trailhead, I was really cold.

Note to self: next time when doing a night ride, don't base what you wear (a long sleeve jersey and vest; no hat, no knee warmers, no base layer) on what felt comfortable at soccer practice while the sun was still up.

Psycho Rider was dressed more appropriately but still suffering. The heater in the mighty corolla, not known for its robustness, made things only slightly more comfortable on the way home.

I got home and had a mug of hot cocoa and wrapped up in a blanket to watch TV. Still cold. Went to bed with an extra blanket. Still cold. Got up this morning and ate oatmeal. Still cold. I'm now sitting at my desk wearing wool socks, a hoody, and my down vest. And I'm still cold. Maybe a hot bath will do the trick.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

South Fork

Yesterday was Columbus day, a largely meaningless holiday unless you're an attorney and get the day off when the courts are closed. Which is where my friend Eric found himself. I, as his only unemployed friend, was therefore obligated to keep him company while he did something to enjoy himself. We considered a long mountain bike ride, but the stream flows on the South Fork of the Boise River are low enough now that it's very wadeable and the fish have fewer places to hide. Armed with fly rods and leaky waders, we hit the river yesterday afternoon.

We encountered a couple of fisherman coming off the river right as we arrived. They hadn't had much luck, which I assumed meant that they weren't very good at catching fish, and we would do much better. Pessimism and fishing don't go well together. 

What I didn't consider was that this was only the third time I had gone fishing this year and I only fished once last year, so I'm not exactly at the top of my game. Which is why when I first hit the water, I failed to set the hook on the first five or six fish to hit my fly. 

For those not familiar with dry fly fishing, there's a lot more to it than sticking a worm on a hook and waiting for a bite. You have to know where the fish are in the first place (which, if they are rising and feeding off the surface, is the easy part). Then you have to cast accurately enough to put the fly in that location and do it without your line ending up all crumpled on the water. You have to mend the line so that there's as little slack as possible without causing drag. Once a fish strikes you have to set the hook quickly--before the fish spits it back out--but not too aggressively, or you'll yank it out of the fish's mouth. It's something you can spend a lifetime doing and never perfect.

Finally after about a half hour I hooked one then lost it almost immediately. The fish in that hole were now spooked, so I moved upriver a bit and started working a nice seam between fast and slow moving water. After a few more casts, I got one. Not very big, but it was a fighter. Jumped out of the water four or five times before I wore it out and brought it in for a photo.

I realize my thumb is obscuring most of the fish's head, and the perspective causes my thumb to look larger and the fish to look smaller than either really are (I promise!). Sorry, such are the challenges of landing a fish, getting out the camera, and taking a picture of it myself, all while keeping the fish out of the water the minimal possible time so that it lives to be caught again. (For any hook 'em and cook 'em readers out there, the South Fork is trophy trout water, so even if I wanted to keep a fish, I couldn't legally unless it were over 20 inches long.)

After landing that fish, this hole seemed to be worked for the time being and needed a rest, so I moved upriver a little more, where I had this nice view of the canyon. Hard to believe a trophy trout fishery with scenery like this is only about an hour from town, but it is. And we had it almost to ourselves.

Right after I took this picture, I fell in the river. Fortunately I had the camera back in its ziplock bag, but it was still ugly. I stepped on a moss-covered rock and my feet just went out from under me. 

I decided to go back to the spot where I had earlier caught a fish and caught another one, pictured at the top. Eric thought I had gone further upriver and kept moving that direction. I eventually got cold and got out of the water for a while. I figured Eric would be back soon, so I entertained myself by throwing rocks in the river. Which escalated until I was dropping 70 or 80 pound rocks off of the bridge 20 feet or so into the river below. I'm sure someone reading this will find reason to scold me for that, but it was still fun.

Eric was still nowhere to be seen, so I got back in the water and started fishing some more, this time with nymphs (flies that sink down to the bottom). Using a prince nymph, I caught a whitefish that was a little longer and twice as fat as either trout. I didn't take a picture, though, because whitefish are nearly as ugly as carp, and I didn't want to be seen with one.

Eventually Eric made his way back downriver and told me he had landed a nice trout in the 18-20 inch range and a few more smaller ones. I celebrated the success by falling in the river one more time, this time soaking my other arm. I don't drink, but we keep a little beer in the garage for cooking brats. Before we left, my wife jokingly told me not to take it with me. I promise I didn't have any, but judging by my ability to stay upright and out of the water, you'd never know.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Dodging bullets

My daughter just got back from a field trip to Celebration Park, a place near the Snake River that celebrates Idaho heritage, from both the standpoint of Native Americans as well as early white settlers. One of the things that they taught the kids about was bunny bopping. I'm not sure how that was educational, but the kids seemed to get a kick out of it.

I know about bunny bopping because my grandmother grew up in Southern Idaho about 100 miles from where we live now. She grew up in the poorest family in town during the depression, but even with that brief description, I doubt you can imagine what life was like. I'm not sure if bunny bopping was for nourishment, entertainment, or pest control, but essentially it went like this: a bunch of kids would make a big circle out in the sage brush. Gradually they would walk towards one another, driving the rabbits towards the center of the circle. Once the circle was tight enough that the rabbits couldn't escape, they would all take sticks, bats, or rocks attached to strings and swing them at the bunnies, bopping them on the heads and killing them. Like I said, not sure why that was part of my daughter's field trip curriculum, but it was.

When I was growing up in Utah, we used to go out to the desert to shoot bunnies, but our method was different. We would get in a long, straight line and walk across the sagebrush. The rabbits would jump out of their hiding place as we approached and start running. We would open fire. Rabbits flee in large circles, eventually going back to where they started. Once in a while someone would overzealously follow the rabbit in its circle until one or more of the guys in the line was in or nearly in the line of fire. That was kind of scary, but not enough to make us quit. 99% of the time if we hit the rabbit, it was one of the guys with a shotgun that would get it, but once in a while one of us wielding a .22 would get lucky.

The real luck, however, was in not shooting one another. Until one of these trips when I was about 16 or so. One of my friends thought it would be fun to bring a .22 handgun. If we couldn't hit the rabbits with .22 rifles, I don't know how he thought he was going to hit one with a handgun, but he brought it anyway. When we stopped to rest, he set it down on a rock, still cocked. It went off.

One of the other guys yelled "ouch, you shot me!" He was kind of a joker, so of course we didn't believe him. Until we saw blood, that is. First impressions were that it was a flesh wound, so we jumped back in our cars and rushed him to the hospital. We had no cell phones in those days, and waiting for an ambulance would have taken a lot longer. He was treated while we all waited in the lobby before being questioned by the police--standard procedure for a GSW.

Turned out he was fine. The bullet went in near his spine, through his latissimus dorsi, out near his armpit, and then back into his arm, where it lodged next to his humerous between but without damaging his bicep and tricep. As far as I know, the bullet is still there today, as the doctors decided it would do more damage to remove it than to leave it there.

I'm pretty sure that was the last time I fired a gun. I just lost interest.

Lately it seems as if there are a lot of bullets flying around in nearly everyone's direction. I've been fortunate that the one that hit me seems to have been a fairly benign flesh wound. We found out the other day that a scare for a young mother in my extended family was also benign. In times like these, it's easy to say "wo is me." Until I look around. Seems it's open season on everyone everywhere. May we all keep dodging.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Football, mechanicals, and Norman Bates

As I mentioned earlier, last week I joined my brother and his colleagues on a circuitous ride from LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, UT to Romney Stadium in Logan, UT, where we attended the football game between BYU and Utah State. Since riding my bike is pretty much all I did last week, here's a brief rundown of how each day went.

Monday: day before the actual ride, but since I was in Utah, I decided to meet up with some friends while I was there. First I met Mark N. for a MTB ride on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail North of Salt Lake City. Mark had had a stressful couple of weeks at work, so he decided he needed to work out some of that stress on the bike. We climbed a very rocky, steep trail, and then descended the same. I was glad for gears and front suspension.

After the ride with Mark, a stop at SLC Bicycle for more Carbo Rocket, and some lunch, I met up with Dug to ride Emigration Canyon to Big Mountain. This was the first time I'd been back to Emigration since being caught in the snow with my brother back in May. Let's just say that the ride went a whole lot better this time. The highlight, though, had to have been the guy up at the top wearing nothing but white bib shorts. That was hot.

Cumulative stats: ~50 miles and ~5,000 vertical feet

Tuesday: first day of the "real ride." We started from LaVell Edwards stadium, where we went out on the field and took pictures before hitting the road. We plucked some grass from the field, which we intended to sprinkle at Utah State upon finishing the ride. After calling in to the Zone, who were event co-sponsors and would send Hans Olsen to ride with us the final day, we started to ride, I with a game ball stuffed in my jersey. It was to be our longest day at ~120 miles and more than double the climbing of any other day.

We weren't into it very far when Ty noticed a problem with his crank--the left crankarm was working its way loose. We stopped and tightened it a couple of times, but the third time we did so, the threads stripped, and we could tighten it no more. After a call to Racer's, we sent our support vehicle back to Provo, and I replaced Ty's FSA crank with an Ultegra SL in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven in Midway, UT. Ty goes about 260 pounds, so I think the Ultegra will be a little more durable than the carbon FSA anyway.

That repair was done just in time for our biggest climb of the day, from Midway, past Jordanelle reservoir, to Francis. After lunch at a greasy drive-in in Kamas, it was just a matter of grinding out a lot of miles until we got to Evanston, WY. I was surprised how slow our group was moving, and while riding up Chalk Creek Canyon with thunder clouds on three sides, I was certain we would get caught in the rain, dark, or both. Fortunately we made it to the hotel just before dark, also avoiding the rain. It was late enough that we didn't feel like going out, so we ordered Pizza Hut and ate while watching baseball in our rooms.

Cumulative stats: ~170 miles and ~11,000 vertical feet

Wednesday: my parents, along with Steve's wife, Marco, joined us on Wednesday for the ride from Evanston to Bear Lake. The longest Marco had ever ridden before was 16 miles, so to try and ride this far was quite an undertaking for her. She did great and was all smiles, including the 8 mile climb over the mountains separating Woodruff from Bear Lake. The pace had been slow enough that I wanted to make sure I earned my milkshake at LaBeau's, so I went hard and rode the climb like a TT. When I got to the top, I turned around and headed back to see how Marco and Ty were doing. They were spinning along, all smiles. Not very fast but certainly happy--just what I hoped.

I headed back to the top and along with Steve and Tim, decided to descend without pedaling and see who could coast the furthest when we got to the flats. The descent was several miles of 6-8% grade, so we got some speed. Unfortunately at about 45 mph, I also got hit with a cross wind that gave me the worst wobbles I have ever had. I tried to relax and did everything I could, but the bike was shimmying so bad that I was certain I would go down. I managed to bring the bike to a complete stop, got my nerves about me again, and continued on.

On the flats around Bear Lake, Ty and Garn were riding ahead of the group. Ty touched Garn's wheel and went down hard, smashing his helmet and glasses. A short time later, Marco also went down, fortunately at slow speed, so all she suffered were a few scrapes. Lucky for us, they were unhurt and still happy by the time we got to LaBeau's.

After burgers and milkshakes, my mom asked what our mileage was for the day. Someone said 64 miles. She teaches second grade and had told her students she was riding 70. Which meant she needed to pedal a few more miles. The two of us took off on our own and rode up to the Idaho border then back to where we were staying. She exceeded her 70 mile goal, and with my turnaround on the hill, I was closer to 80.

Cumulative stats: ~250 miles and ~13,000 vertical feet.

Thursday: probably the funniest thing that happened on the entire trip had nothing to do with the bikes. Garn doesn't like to sit still, so after breakfast Thursday morning, he went out to the truck, expecting the rest of us to follow and get on with the day. Suspecting that it would drive him nuts to just sit there, we waited in the restaurant until he came back for us. But he never returned. After nearly an hour, we decided to sneak out the side door and around behind the restaurant and walk back to the hotel without him knowing. We were almost back to the hotel when we heard his truck. He almost drove past us, then did a double take and came back. I thought he was upset, but then he started laughing hysterically. He didn't even know we had left, so was shocked to see us walking up the road. We laughed about it for the rest of the day until we got to our hotel, at which point we had even more to laugh about.

We made good time towards our destination of Lava Hot Springs, ID. We would have arrived without incident except that on the final climb of the day, Tim broke his derailleur hanger, sending his rear mech into his wheel and breaking one of his spokes. He got on the spare bike and finished the climb and descent into town.

When we arrived at our hotel, we all had visions of The Shining. The place had been a hospital where injured veterans were sent to recover during WWI. It was odd to say the least. But as we walked around town looking for somewhere to watch football and grab a bite to eat, we found that the whole town was weird. Something about the hot springs attracts a strange crowd to this "resort" town. During dinner, the adjacent table was occupied by a mom and her son, who seemed quite normal. When Garn told them they were the only normal people we had met, she said "Oh, we're not from here." They were from nearby Inkom. Garn told them it was good they were not from town or staying here, especially since our lodging for the evening was like the Bates Motel times The Shining, with Norman working the front desk.

Cumulative stats: ~330 miles and 15,000 vertical feet

Friday: the final day of our ride was also the most challenging logistically. We had arranged for Hans Olsen to ride with us for about half of the day and also to meet up and ride with the Athletic Directors from both schools for the final seven miles. Making it to the rendezvous with the AD's on time required an early start. We also had Mike, the ad manager from the Zone, and his friend Craig riding with us.

Knowing that the climb out of Lava Hot Springs would take us about an hour and have to be done in the dark to keep our schedule, the group decided to shuttle the climb and begin with the descent. With as cold as it was, Mike and I wore jackets on the descent. I took mine off and handed it up to the truck. The drag from Mike's was slowing him down, so I drifted back to help him with it. I should have told him to just stop and take it off. As he was pulling off the second sleeve, the jacket hit his front wheel and got pulled into his fork. He endo'd instantly. Even though he came down on his head, he was unhurt and continued the ride.

When we met up with Hans, I was first in shock at how big his bike was (he rides a 62), until I actually saw him. He's a giant of a man and generates enough force with each pedal stroke to cause the frame to flex visibly. I'd love to see what kind of wattage he puts out in a sprint.

Shortly after picking up Hans, we arrived in Smithfield, where we met Scott Barnes and Tom Holmoe. We delivered the game ball to Tom for him to pass along to the team. Due to Tim's mechanical issue the day before, he was on the spare bike we had brought for Tom. Our support truck had picked up a rental tandem that Tim was going to ride with Hans, but when the AD's saw it, they decided they wanted to ride it together. It was quite a sight, especially since Scott is about 6'9" tall.

We all made it to the stadium without incident. Upon arriving, Scott escorted us onto the field, where we took pictures and celebrated the completion of the event. Then we got what was for us a real treat: Tom let us into the BYU locker room to shower and change (the players and coaches hadn't arrived yet). We of course took advantage of the opportunity to walk around and check out everyone's equipment and get our pictures taken in front of Max Hall's locker.

After cleaning up and grabbing some dinner, we returned to the stadium for the game. The first quarter gave every indication that the game was going to be a blowout, with BYU putting up 24 unanswered points. But I think Bronco Mendenhall was being too much of a gentleman, not calling the game in such a way that would really put Utah State away, so the players lost their intensity. After a scoreless second quarter, Utah State outscored BYU in the second half, for a final score of 34-14.

When Utah State scored their first touchdown, you'd have thought they won the game for the crowd's reaction. My parents, though cheering for BYU, were watching the game from the President's box. The reaction there was one of satisfaction for playing the game as close as it was. My dad and I agreed that it was more a case of BYU just playing like crap. (I still can't figure out, however, how USC could leapfrog BYU in the AP rankings, especially since the team that beat USC, Oregon State, just lost to BYU's MWC rivals Utah. Don't the pollsters realize that there's a lot more parity in college football than there used to be? How many BCS schools do BYU, Utah, and Boise State have to beat in order to get them to realize this? One win would be lucky, but consistently winning indicates something more than that. The Big 10, Pac 10, Big East, and ACC certainly are no better than the MWC and WAC this year, and the head-to-head results have proven it.)

Cumulative stats: ~410 miles, 17,000 vertical feet, fueled with two cheeseburgers, two steaks, one milkshake, three dishes of ice cream (one with hot fudge), five slices of pizza, pancakes, oatmeal, eggs, sausage, and hashbrowns, almost a dozen energy bars, a couple gallons of carbo rocket, and lots of diet coke. At the end of it all, my legs, taint, and sit bones were sore, but there is no way you could get me to give up Louis Garneau airgel bibs or DZ Nuts.

The route was fun and beautiful, but the company made the ride. When we weren't pedaling, we were laughing, good-naturedly poking fun at one another, and generally having a great time.