Friday, December 14, 2012


The second most deadly shooting to ever occur in this country happened this morning. And I went about my day business as usual. I started my day with getting a coffee and going to my 9-year-old son's Christmas program. From there I went to work. It was at work that I first heard the news of the shooting. At first, I just went on with my morning. but it kept nagging at me. Only three days earlier there was another shooting. This one at a packed mall near where I used to live in Oregon. My, but the holidays bring out the best in us, don't they? More nagging at my conscience... I have a cousin with a young family that lives less than thirty miles from the town struck by today's tragedy. I texted him to make sure they were OK. They are fine and safe. More nagging.... Then I saw the photo of our President crying as he addressed the public and my conscience snapped. If I were the president, I would grab the nearest scrap of paper or legal pad I could find and write on it that '...from this day forward unless you are a member of the military or law-enforcement, every single semi-automatic and automatic weapon in this country are now illegal to sell, buy or own.'  Fuck the politicians in the pocket of the NRA who think it's our right to kill each other in the name of the Constitution. If any one of them do not sign it into law today, then they can go to Connecticut and visit the Sandy Hook grade school and explain to the children why we need these weapons. Fuck the politicians who think right now is not the time to act on passing tougher gun laws. We don't need to cool down and collect ourselves. I'm not suggesting outlawing soap because I got bubbles in my eyes. These guns kill people. And they kill a lot of people. Everyone of them unnecessarily. No one needs an automatic rifle to protect their family from a burglar. No one. My heart is with you families of Sandy Hook and Newton. And I pray those who can do something to prevent this from ever happening again finally do do something.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Small-time Downsizing

It was almost a year ago that the plan was conceived to take the family on a grand vacation. Not Disney or Europe, but my version (on my budget) of a grand vacation. An outdoor vacation retracing the road trip I had taken years earlier up north to my cousin's wedding. We would travel to the northern Wisconsin/Upper Michigan border, follow the Lake Superior coastline, and then turn north into Minnesota and finally to Ely (voted the coolest small town in America), the last outpost of humanity before the expansive Boundary Waters Canoe Area. We'd stop along the way to take in the sights, seek concretions, kayak, hike, and explore. We starting putting together the pieces in early spring. I sent out emails (and a blog) to the family getting them motivated and in the vacation planning mindset. We got a GPS and made hotel reservations, but other than that, we left a lot to chance. I watched and compared the weather and let the family know what to except and to pack accordingly. When the middle of August came, all of our ducks were in a row, and we were ready to head North. It was during these last hectic moments of preparation that I was struck with the 'vacation state of mind' epiphany. Otherwise know as 'why people enjoy vacation.' Vacation, in a broad sense, is enjoying time away from one's everyday life. But I think that's just scratching the surface. Everywhere we look today we're being urged to downsize. Living simpler and eliminating the clutter from our lives is better for us as well as the world as a whole. Tiny houses are replacing mini-mansions as the wave of the future. We're being encouraged to buy less and recycle what we don't need or use. Waste not...., right? What is vacation if not a microcosm of downsizing? Each family member packs their favorite things, their essentials and necessities into the vehicle and leave the rest behind. All the extras, all the clutter, all the stuff that we think we can't live without now sits at home waiting to be needed, but it never is. We just think we need more stuff. Bigger stuff. Better stuff. As I write this, I have a basement containing a stereo, a VCR (maybe even more than one), two TVs, and bags full of unknown contents. I don't need any of it, but for some reason I can't get rid of it. Not long ago I was in a dark nasty corner of the basement helping the cable guy find where the cable came into the house. I found a box that contained some nick-knacks I had got when my grandfather passed away. In my haste, I grabbed them and set them on a table across from the washing machine. "I can't lose these," I thought to myself. Guess where they are now? Yep, still on the table in the basement. Four feet from where I originally found them. It takes a while to accept that getting rid of mementos like that shows no disrespect for the memory of those who first owned the trinkets. If I tossed all the hand-me-down stuff laying around my house, I'd be rid of as much as a third of the clutter. And wouldn't be a slight to anyone. I once read an article of extreme downsizing where the author (who was probably a fresh from college single guy living in a studio apartment in New York) was suggesting reigning in his material life to fifty items. Now that's a little nuts when you think of it. If you own a set if dishes, glasses and silverware for four people, you have right there forty-four items! He hadn't gotten very far. By the end of the article he only a pair of jeans and a pen were on the list of stuff he was keeping. I thought I'd give it a try, and started by narrowing my wardrobe down to fifty t-shirts. Oh well. You have to start somewhere, right? I'm getting away from my point..... if I actually have a point to make. Even though we under-planned this trip, it went amazingly well. Everyone in our diverse clan got to do exactly what they wanted to do. Indigo got to kiss horses and do a little shopping, Lori got to find vast quantities of rare Lake Superior concretions, Kovi got to spend all his free time in the hotel's pools, Sydney got to go on a 'Haunted Walk of Historic Bayfield,' and I got the satisfaction of providing my family with a memorable summer vacation. We capped it off with a three hour sea kayak tour that brought us along gorgeous sandstone cliffs and over a shipwreck that has been at the bottom of Superior longer than the Titanic's been at the bottom of the Atlantic. We also got to go see my cousin and his family in Ely where we  spent a great night in great simplicity: Family, music, & pizza. Ultimately, for me it really was the Clark Griswold factor that made the vacation special for me. Providing for my family on a day-to-day basis is rewarding, but to see the pure pleasure in their eyes while they are immersed in doing something they truly love is a rewarding experience on a completely different level. Writing a check for lunch money isn't quite as rewarding as fresh cardamon donuts and chai on a Saturday morning two hundred miles from our cluttered 'other' lives. in fact, we had such a good time that we did an abbreviated version of it again a few weeks ago when the kid's had a long weekend. Marillion was right: Less=More (it is their acoustic album title). If the computer has taught me anything, it's that memories...that is photographs...take up very little room. We all need to remember that. I can fill by head, my heart, and my soul with memories, and my t-drive with photographs. Almost anything more is simply clutter. Experiences will last forever, while souvenirs and commemorative t-shirts only last until the next spring cleaning. Less=More is as Happiness=Vacation. And less crap is less to worry about. Enough chiches....Sell that extra TV, give away the extra clothes, and unpack that third pair of shoes. Freedom from clutter and a simpler life awaits.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Happy Birthday, Caveman

Ready to ride
A little after noon on Sunday the 21st of last month I received a text from my kid brother in Maine. It said, "Happy birthday, bro. Got any big plans for the day?" As a matter of fact I did. At that very moment my dad, Koval, Zooey and I were on our way north to the Cherney Meribel Caves County Park just north of Manitowoc for the first annual Caveman TT bike race. A local mountain bike club had got permission recently to build some bike trails and were holding this time-trial event to raise the funds to expand the trail system.
 I texted Jeff back tell him about my plans to enter a bike race to, "...spend my 45th trying to prove to myself I'm still 25." The weather was gorgeous for the end of October:  bright sunshine and well in the 60s. The caves park is a great destination as well as a well kept secret. For as long as lived in Wisconsin, I'd never heard of this park until recently. It features not only beautiful natural features and caves, but it's also home to a burnt out frame of a field-stone hotel that was once a premier destination for rail passengers of a bye-gone era that is now on the registry of haunted places in Wisconsin. The hotel was essentially the old fashioned version of a spa. Beneath the grounds there's a mineral spring that was considered medicinal for it's high mineral content, which made it a destination for travellers to soak in the healing waters. While I warmed up for my shot at the time trial, dad and Kov did some exploring. The course was great. I had made the drive up a week earlier to check it out and was excited to get on it again. I rode a 21min lap and went back to the jeep to relax, rehydrate, and zen for a bit before the event started. Dad, dog, and boy arrived a little bit later to share their tales of exploring. At 1:00 it was time for the event, and I went and got in line to take my turn at being Caveman. I took off three minutes after the rider in front of me and gave it all I had in the hopes that the guy who started three minutes after me, didn't catch up to me. I finished in 18min, and that included wiping out taking a corner too sharp and snapping my computer mount. I was pleased with my results in spite of the fact I certainly wasn't in the ranks with the real cavemen who were finishing in 15 minutes or less. After getting my official time, we went down to explore more trails. I drank from the mineral spring (it's delicious) and then we toured the main cave. After the tour, it was getting late and we needed to head back. Upon reaching the main staging area for the race, on the way back to the jeep, I heard my name being called. I had won a swag bag in the raffle! Back in Sheboygan we were meeting up with the girls (my mom, wife, and daughters) for a celebratory birthday dinner followed by the traditional cake and ice cream back at home. Before the drive home, I checked my phone to see another message from Jeff. It read, "Did your plan work?" I responded with, "I didn't break anything or throw-up. So I guess so!" Now let's go eat. This caveman needs cake!

Sunday, September 30, 2012


Imagine yourself standing at the fence of any grade school playground in America. You see a game of kickball between the third grade boys and girls in progress. In this game, the girls are beating the boys. And I mean beating! Let's say it's 15-2 in favor of the girls. Now the bell rings and the kids have to go back inside. The boys are stunned in disbelief. How did they get beat by girls? Then one boy comes up with a solution to their embarrassment: the girls must have cheated! No one saw or caught them cheating, but it's really the only logical explanation for girls beating boys, isn't it? Now for the purposes of this story, the role of the girls will be played by Lance Armstrong and the boys will be the ridiculous USADA, the French, the UCI, and the scorned cyclists that Lance humbled Tour after Tour. Apparently the unwillingness to continue fighting sensationalized claims of cheating, is synonymous with admitting guilt. The USADA in a likely alliance with cycling's UCI is dragging Lance through the mud, stripping him of all seven of his legitimately in never caught cheating during...Tour de France titles (and all the prize money that went with them), and banning him from the arena of competition for life. All, essentially, because he's decided it's not worth the energy to continue to fight the charges. Lance Armstrong is a brash, possibly arrogant elite athlete who may in fact be a poor tipper at restaurants. This may come from the fact that he is an elite athlete celebrity.  Not the elite type of athlete that makes a spectacular one handed catch and ends up on Sportscenter's Plays of the Day and then is gone. No, Lance's 'moment' lasted nearly a decade. Lance Armstrong is the greatest cyclist ever. And those are the types of characters that become lightning rods for the media. The fact is Lance Armstrong may have cheated. But he was never caught. For the seven years that he ruled the tour, he was the most tested athlete in sports. Not once did he fail a test. Now it's seven years after his final victory and the whiners are still trying to prove he cheated? The fact this is still going on should be an embarrassment to everyone involved. He won, you lost. Get over it and get on with your lives. What's next? Should we review and demerit every long shot victory in sports history? "Hello, is this the 1980 US Olympic hockey team? Yeah, we're going to need those Gold Medals back. There's no way you could have really beat the Soviets." And if trying to take away the past isn't enough, the rule makers are going after his future as well. Lance wasn't allowed to run in the Chicago marathon this year and Ironman has barred him from all of their events as well.
You know, if this was just another ass-hole hedonistic self-involved jock I'd probably just shrug it off and not give it another thought. But it's not just another athlete. It's Lance Armstrong. He's an inspiration. He's a role model I want my kids to look up to. He's his own six million dollar man. But instead of crashing and having the government rebuild him into a half man--half machine that can do thing others can't; his own body turned on him and left him for dead. By his own will, he rebuilt himself from a triathlon prodigy into a honed cycling machine who could do things no one else could. If cancer can't beat him, do you really think he's going to be afraid of Travis Tygart (the USADA tool in charge of the witch hunt)? In accomplishing these layers of unimaginable feats, Lance inspired millions to an international call to arms against cancer. LIVESTRONG is everywhere. If you don't know about it, then you don't know anyone who's lives were touched by cancer (and if that is the probably don't know many people).  Perhaps on the outside chance that there is a case against Armstrong in lieu of a positive drug test. Ban him from cycling competitively again. Send the message: 'We didn't catch you, but we don't trust you. So you can't race with us again.' But banning from every other sport is ridiculous. Hey, I have an idea. Let him race whenever and wherever he wants and give him drug tests. If he fails -- then kick him out of your event. Come on, who wouldn't want a celebrity of Armstrong's caliber in their event? It's just a poor business decision not to allow him to compete. Lance Armstrong is probably an arrogant jerk, but he has more socially redeeming qualities than most people sworn to public office. Leave him alone.  These stories of suits bringing forth allegations of cheating in races seven, eight, or even ten years ago just make me irate. Isn't there something better to do with your time? Maybe get out there and raise funds and awareness in the fight against a deadly disease? Oh wait, the accused is taking care of that already. Recess is over.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Mission: Accomplished

It's safe to say that once you get to a point where your idols are younger than you are, you are apt to stop writing them fan mail and stalking them from your computer. Having said that however, I've come so close so many times to crossing paths with the one and only Gary Fisher, that I can't help but to keep an ear to the ground and still hope for the chance to meet him. I bought my first Fisher bike in 1994 when I was living in Oregon. That was when I started mountain biking with my mountain bike instead of just commuting as I had been doing with my old mountain bike. I loved that bike and was enthralled with the legend behind the mountain bike itself as well as the man who's credited with its' invention. Gary Fisher and his pals tore up a motorcycle, a ten-speed, and a cruiser and pretty soon...viola...the mountain bike was born. If you've ever heard Gary talk about cycling it doesn't take but a moment to realize 'this is a man passionate about this subject.' I think anyone who's a protegee in their field probably sounds like that. The kind of people who when 'thier' subject is brought up, you just stand back and listen to them go. I love being around that type of person. Even if they're talking about tires, you can't help but pick up on, and be inspired by that energy.
Back in 2005, I was at the Wheel & Sprocket bike expo buying a newer version of my old '94 HKEK  (Hoo-Koo-E-Koo is the Native name for the mountain range where Gary and company first rode  their mountain bikes). When I was checking out with my new bike, the clerk laughed and said, "You should have been here yesterday. Gary Fisher was here signing bikes." So close.... The next few years he was at the show, but for 'members only' type functions.
Fast forward to two riding seasons ago when I met and got to ride with former Elite Pro team Trek/Fisher rider Jesse Lalonde. He was pals with the guy known as 'the fish' and talked about Gary's fondness of Wisconsin. Especially the liberal Madison area. He assured me the next time the Fish came to town, he's give me a call. There were a couple close calls, but over the course of the next year, it still hadn't happened. I had even gone as far as finding a great print on ebay that I had acquired and put aside specifically for Gary to sign. Last spring I was unemployed and signed up to work at the Wheel & Sprocket bike expo as a salesman. That was the same year that the Trek and the Gary Fisher brands merged so the Fisher bikes were now just a line of Trek bikes. So it came as no surprise when there was no Gary sighting at the show. I did have a great time working the expo anyway and decided to do it again this spring. So on Easter weekend I spread myself very thin and hauled ass to Milwaukee to work for five hours every evening after putting in an eight-hour day at my regular job. I was only able to work three out of the five days, but if was still fun and I've gotten pretty good and matching up bikes and people. On Friday evening, I was finishing up a sale when a voice from the lecture area caught my attention. Only one person could sound that excited to be talking about dirt. The Fish was in the house! I stood outside the little tent for a while and listened to him talk. I was mere feet from the man himself. I had no camera, no paper, and I certainly didn't have my ebay print. When his talk was over, I stood in line with a half dozen or so riding disciples who truly understood we were in the presence of greatness. I talked for a few moments, trying not to gush. He is an amazing man to talk to. I jokingly told him about our 'close calls' as well as my beloved print that was some 60 miles away sitting on my desk. He laughed and said, "Don't sweat it. I'm here tomorrow, too." The next morning, I left even earlier than usual so I could stop and buy a new Sharpie. I had carefully packed my poster and an old Fisher Bikes catalog for him to sign. I went through my shift selling my bikes but never straying too far from the seminar tent. I heard when he started to speak and kept one eye on the time as I glided through more sales. When I heard clapping from the tent I waited for a few minutes to let the masses say hello. When I got to the tent it was completely empty. And I mean completely. Gary was gone! I asked the security guy by the door where the hell Gary went. He responded that Gary had a plane to catch and couldn't stick around. I started to panic. There was no way I could get this close and not see him again. I scanned the enormous hall for the Fish. He was a hundred yards away. Almost to the doors outside. I grabbed my mementos and ran through the expo hall. I caught up with him as he was saying good-bye to the Trek reps. He said he only had a moment, but took the pen from me willingly. He commented on the rare poster I had found and said I'd like the new version of it (if I could find it). We shook hands one more time and he was gone. Off to catch a flight back to the Bay area where he calls home. The next day was Easter and I'm sure he was eager to get back. I carefully rolled the poster back up and carefully slid it back into my backpack under the table of the DNR's booth. I retrieved my clipboard from where I had dumped it and returned to the sales floor. I had more bikes to sell. But for today, my mission was accomplished. I had met the one they call the Fish.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Single-Speed Lifestyle

Since Zooey (our two-year-old Blue Heeler) came into my life, cycling has really taken a back seat to walking and hiking. But as the spring has been warming up, I've been getting back in the saddle to speak. I started riding to work as soon as the thermometer started to reach the 50s on a consistent basis. Recently I've been riding more often than driving. That, I am pretty proud of. I knew if cycling to work was going to become a routine for me, I was going to have to keep it simple. No special high maintenance outfits or gear. I'd ride to work in my work clothes and carry only my lunch, wallet, lock and iPod. To keep in the spirit of  'keeping it simple', I chose to ride my Organic Bikes Dylan. A single-speed who's frame is made from recycled aluminum and bamboo. Yes, I ride a wooden bike to work. I haven't ridden a single-speed since I was learning how to ride a bike some forty years ago. I was actually a little reluctant to embrace this emerging fad. It took bikes all these years to evolve into this machines/works-of-art that they are now: 30-speeds, carbon fiber, disc brakes, full suspension..... Why continue to develop all these upgrades when the masses are returning to their roots? It wasn't a fad I was in a hurry to embrace. The Dylan sort of fell into my lap. The concept of an organic bike was what drew me in. Choosing a single-speed just seemed the natural choice of model if you're going to ride a bamboo bicycle. It's been several weeks of consistently riding to work and I'm still feeling for a groove. Riding a bike with only one gear is a lesson in life. There is no hurrying on a single-speed. These is no down-shifting to make a hill easier. There is no speeding up or slowing down your natural cadence. Just as in life, its not you that sets the pace. In this case, its the bike. That is something that takes a measure of acceptance to get used to. I have a computer on all my bikes. Putting one on this bike is either going to teach me to relax or drive me insane! I know my cadence wants to push the pedals to the tune of about 15mph. Going down a hill with the wind at my back, the Dylan will barely push 13pmh!  Little by little, I'm accepting what we can and can't do together, Dylan and I. I know we have to leave by a certain time because there is no such thing as rushing a single-speed's commute. I know I have to bring a water bottle or my pant leg will get snagged on the empty bamboo water bottle cage. I know when I leave work, getting up that long winding hill out of the parking lot is going to make my heart pound even before the access road meets up with Erie avenue and continues uphill for another block. All in all, I feel me as a commuter is growing. I've accepted certain aspects of cycling I took for granted before. Riding a single-speed is freeing in that is allows you so few choices. There's only one way of getting from point A to point B: Dylan's way. And get there, you will. And if I embrace this method of transit, I stand to arrive at point B a more zen rider than those burdening themselves with all the choices of options on their more elaborate machines. Don't get me wrong; there's a time and place for a multitude of gears and long-travel shocks, but 'on the way to work' is not one of them. Today on my way home I started pondering a single-speed mountain bike. Without having to worry about the lame conditions of our roadways, I could achieve a whole new level of zen.                                                                                             

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Letter to My Family...

Now that our summer vacation has been booked, it's time for each of you to start thinking about it and how you can each get the most out of our time together. We are going to be staying in Ashland but gallivanting to the surrounding communities, including Bayfield to explore the Apostle Islands. From there it's north to Ely, Minnesota. The town that was voted 'Hippest small town in America' not too long ago. I encourage you to look up these places on line. Bookmark their web-sites and monitor their weather. Mom's already found a vegan cafe and coffeehouse that's close to our hotel, so unless you want to be stuck eating sprouts three meals a day, you'd better do some research for yourselves. The reason I ask this of you is because I know this isn't the kind of trip any ol' kid would choose for themselves. This is no trip to Disneyland. This trip was designed to unplug us as a family. To get us together by taking us away. There was a day last week when all five of us were on a computer, phone, or iDevice; and each in separate rooms. No wonder we never know what's going on in each others' lives. I want a chunk of this trip to be left up to each of us. If ever on this vacation you need to say, 'what are we going to do next,' then you didn't take an active enough role in planning. We'll be gone for seven days and only have about four things planned. That leaves a lot of time to explore. The towns we're visiting are know to be small and friendly. Mom and I probably wouldn't even have issue with you walking on the beach or walking to town for ice cream without us (so long as you bring us a treat). The room we'll be in for the first three nights is a family suite with a private porch overlooking Lake Superior. I can't imagine a more perfect place to write, drink tea, or unroll a yoga mat. This being said, I also need each of you to start mentally packing and making lists for this trip as you plan our agenda. At the most northern spot we will visit, we'll be about three miles south of the Canadian border and about forty miles from a Wal-Mart is the opposite direction. So if you forget your toothbrush......please don't breath on me. You get the idea, right? To get you pointed in the right direction -- Remember when we'd go to Mauthe Lake for a day of kayaking and a picnic? Imagine doing that for a week. We'll probably each need to get some quick-drying shorts/capris, a long or short-sleeved sun shirt, and water shoes/sandals for the trip. Other things you'll need to remember are: camera batteries, a book, a journal, pens,{relaxing} music, and whatever 'personal time' items you think you'd need. I'm going to trust you can each get what you need packed. If there's anything you need, let us know as soon as possible. I'll be working up to the night before we leave, so any last minute shopping won't work. And I refuse to spend the first few hours of our vacation in Wal-Mart before we leave town.
Mom has referred to this trip our 'vision quest'. Our trip to look into ourselves. I hope you all take that into consideration. Take this opportunity to find out who you are when there's no one watching. Take this time to enjoy each other, as well. These are the most important people in your life. And, all too often, they are the ones who get the smallest piece of your time. I personally, can't wait for this trip. I've waited a long time to visit the Apostle Islands. The town of Bayfield was featured in my Natural Geographic Outside magazine as one of the coolest small towns in the Midwest. And I've wanted to share Ely with you all since I got home from my cousin Matt's wedding. I'm excited to experience all of this with each of you. And I'm also excited for each of you to help figure out how we'll spend our days. It'll be quite the change of pace to be leaving behind our chaotic world of school, therapy, work, practices, and appointments and fill our days with kayaking shoreline caves, hiking along waterfalls, and watching the sunset from the porch with a warm beverage in hand not worrying where we have to be and when. If this turns out to be the vacation I'm hoping for..... No one will want to return from it.