Saturday, April 29, 2006

Preliminary TransIowa Race Report

That was the toughest 63 miles I've ever ridden. Rainy, windy, and most especially muddy. I'm a little disappointed that I didn't manage to go farther, but I still think I did pretty well. Much to my surprise I stayed with the race leaders for the whole thing. Going in I said to myself, go your own pace, and I did. I just didn't realize that my own speed was up at the front. Most everyone dropped out by mile 63 at Sutherland, IA, but about five people went on. Last I knew two Canadians were the only ones left on the course. I think they were trying to make Algona, but much after the 6pm cutoff. It was a great race and I'll be back next year if at all possible. More to come, perhaps tomorrow.

Lastly if Mike who gave me a ride back to Ames has my Swag Bag in his van would he please contact me. It's not really a big deal, but I would like that Thompson seatpost. Just leave a comment on the blog. Thanks.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Where does he live any more?

I leave tomorrow at about noon for the TI race so this will be my last post. I've got everything I think I need packed. The bike is good to go. I even have my custom map case in place. I've gotta say I'm nervous, but what can I do. All that's left is to ride the bike.

I found a book to read for the time being; One Human Minute by Stanislaw Lem. I went searching on wikipedia last night and started from Jorge Luis Borges and followed some links until I got something I liked. The Ames public library only had one book by him so that's the one I got. It seems to be three reviews of books that haven't been written and so far it's pretty good. It fills my quota of philosophical thinking, while remaining a largely speculative and lighthearted work. The one question I have is: why was this book in the non-fiction section? Shouldn't reviews of ficticious books be in the fiction section? Similar works by Borges are shelved as fiction (perhaps because his book's title is Fictiones). Oh well, it's nothing to get too worked up about. Your book suggestions are still welcome by the way. I tend to burn through books pretty fast.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What to read now?

I quit reading a book today. I don't particularly like quitting books. I generally think that once I've started I may as well follow through and see what the author has to say. In this case, however, I realized that I wasn't getting anywhere.

The book I quit was The Nature and Destiny of Man by Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr's name has been popping up all over lately. I've read quite a few essays, books, and webpages that mentioned him. Usually if someone's name keeps coming up it means I like things related to that person and therefore will probably like things by that person. In this case however it doesn't appear to be true.

I read about the first third or three chapters of the book. Most of the time he was criticizing rationalist philosophy (I'm fine with this), but he criticizes it from a rationalist point of view. He'll say that, for instance, Marx went too far here, or Nietzsche didn't go far enough there, but always with a nod to say that they were on the right track.

My problem is that I see most of this sort of philosophy nonsense. The Absolute. What's that? Above, below. What do these words mean when talking about individuality or consciousness? I don't know. Maybe it's my long held impatience with metaphysics or my sympathy with analytic philosophy, but I can't make heads or tails of it. I don't think that these philosophers were on the right track. I recognize that in some sense these writers were saying something. I even like Nietzsche's writing somewhat, but I see it more as literature than philosophy.

I sympathize more with William James or Wittgenstien. They recognize the usefulness of philosophy, getting your language straight, or clearing up the terms of an argument, but stop when they find that there's nothing to say on a subject. Sometimes our thoughts and our reasons are too subtle or complex for analysis. Ursula K. LeGuin noted in the introduction to her book The Left Hand of Darkness that people often wanted her to tell them what her book was about, but she couldn't do it. If she could have told someone what the book was in a few words then she never would have written the book. Read the book, she said. I think that many of the metaphysical topics that philosophers (mistakenly) debate are like this. You can't pin them down in a few words. They are more like impressions that we get, feelings, better left to the artist. Philosophy isn't a clearing house for whatever's left over when we're done with science.

Niebuhr seems to think that he can show how philosophers fail on their own terms, then he wants to defend a Christian interpretation of the same problems. Maybe he can, but I can't make heads or tails of it. Perhaps I should have run away when I saw "nature" and "destiny" in the title. Two ideas that are nothing if not metaphysical.

In any case, this leaves me without a book to read. A perilous state for someone like me who has to be thinking all the time or else suffer for it. Perhaps you have some idea of my tastes by now. I invite you to chime in and give me some book suggestions, fiction or non, your favorites or least liked, I'm up for something interesting.

In bike news:

I did a lot of work on my bike today. It's just about ready for TI, but I still need to figure out how to fit everything on the handlebars. The light, computer, mapcase combo I've got now isn't working too well. Any two and I can make it work, but all three, no. I think I'm going to have to do a custom mapcase out of a ziploc bag, cardboard, and duct tape rather than the fancy Jandd one that I was planning on using.

One thing I refuse to freak out about for TI is the weather. I can't control it so I'll just be prepared and see what I can do. I think I can make Algona in any case and if I do I plan to continue.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Crazy Monday

Well, I broke my rule and didn't post yesterday. It's my rule so I'm free to break it, sure, but it makes me feel kinda' guilty anyway.

Yesterday was crazy at work. Much of my wrenching time at work is assembling new bikes, but with all the check-ins on repairs and out-the-doors on new bikes I barely got anything done. I pulled out a bike to build at 10am as soon as I got in and by 6pm when it was time to leave I hadn't even gotten the packaging off. Today was better I got three bikes and a 6' giraffe unicycle built. I couldn't find anyone willing to test ride the unicycle.

On Monday, in the thick of everything, we also had a photographer from Playboy in the shop. I don't know why, but he was checking out the bike shop as a possible location for a "Girls of the Big 12" photo shoot. The boss turned him down, citing lack of time, which is fine by me. I don't really want my workbench and tools featured in Playboy. It's just not my kind of magazine.

I made a list of things to do before TI today. It's pretty extensive. New tires, install bike computer, new seatbag (the old one tore off the bike on Sunday), attach headlamp to helmet, not to mention more prosaic things like buying food and washing clothes. If I have time I might even straighten my fork. It's been a little out of whack since a crash in an adventure race a few years ago. Nothing major, but the wheel isn't quite centered. I thought it was my wheel being out of dish, but after checking it on the stand I see it's in perfect shape.

My secret weapon for TI? Soy milk. 50% Chocolate, 50% Vanilla. Fill the Camelbak with it and good to go. I tried this on a 130 mile gravel ride last summer and it was great. A lot like Boost, but less expensive.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Five days to TI

I caught myself looking at the RAAM site today and wondering about 24 hour road races. Is this dumb or what. I haven't even finished the Transiowa yet, nor do I even have a real road bike (just a cross bike and a track bike). I'd better back off until after next weekend.

As for Transiowa, I'm starting to have dreams about it. Nothing too ominous, but I'd better keep my mind occupied, or I'll start to obsess. I'm worried about...Well, I'm worried about a lot of things, so I won't even mention them here.

Perhaps the weekend was just too long and lonesome for me.

Movie Review: The Manchurian Candidate

I knew that tonight (Saturday) was going to be a pretty boring night. Veishea, the ISU festival and all night party, is this weekend and I figured that I'd end up spending the night bored by myself (I don't like crowds or heavy drinking). So I went to the library and borrowed a movie. I wanted to borrow Network, but it was out. So I checked out The Manchurian Candidate. I hadn't seen the movie before and it seemed like as good a time as any. Every time I suggest a movie to my friends they reject it. I guess my taste isn't quite theirs. Best to watch it alone. Anyway, here's what I thought:

The first thing that struck me with the movie was it's very modern use of the camera. Many scenes were more realistic and wide that I am used to from an older movie. There were a lot of long takes and scenes in real contexts rather than on a sound stage. Granted the sound stage was used along with green-screen techniques, but they blended better than I was used to. Editing was also used in ways I'm not used to seeing, especially in the brainwashing sequences. I'm sure that someone else could (and has many times) give a better exposition on the techniques pioneered in this movie.

As for the cast, I was pleasantly surprised. I usually expect any movie with star power to be poorer than those with unknowns. Stars can't seem to separate themselves enough from their public image to play good characters. Frank Sinatra was suprisingly good in this film however. Perhaps it's that I didn't grow up seeing him on TV so I don't associate his face immediately with any particular stereotype (though I do recognize him). In any case his Major Marco was believable and that's all I ask. The only other player I knew was Angela Lansbury whom I only know from Murder, She Wrote. Needless to say, the thirty years that separate these two performances do much to disasssociate her for me.

The critique presented of McCarthyism presented in the film was, I am sure, groundbreaking at the time. I am not sure that it resonates the same way with today's viewers though, who know this period only through history books. Certainly the extreme points of view, us versus them attitude, and fear mongering is familiar, but we today don't have the same sort of "enemy in our midst" feeling that seems to have been prevalent at the time.

The US-centric point of view is also pretty apparent today. The Chinese and Soviet powers are presented as somewhat monolithic and two-dimensional. All the bad guys are in it together and infighting, when present, is trivial. Granted, the film probably treated the subject more generously than any other films of the time, but the communist powers could only have wished for such solidarity.

Another item of note is the diversity of the cast. Race, while not a real factor in the film, is at least present in the film. There are two black characters. One is a sharp minded psychiatrist, the first black man in a role not specificity created for a black man. The other is a soldier whose distinctly black mindset is shown through the brainwashing sequences we view through his dreams. In another scene a Puerto Rican police detective speaks a the phone in Spanish. While not an essential part of the film the diversity shown indicates an awareness not usually seen in a film of this vintage

On a personal level my biggest beef with the film is it's use of conspiracy. I am not a big believer in conspiracy or conspiracy theories. The conspiracy theory necessarily portrays the enemy as monolithic and inhuman. The conspirators need to have a superhuman knowledge of the consequences in order to have their plan succeed. I call this the Heist Movie fallacy. In a heist movie the thieves will know exactly how long the police will take to respond, how to get to the roof, and exactly when to jump off in order to land in the dump truck full of mattresses that their buddy just happens to be driving. This sort of coincidence just doesn't happen in real life. To assume that the "powers that be" know the consequences of their actions any more than you or I is to mistake humans for gods. In The Manchurian Candidate the Communists suffer from this. Granted, their plan eventually fails for reasons out of their control, but the assumption is that if Sergeant Shaw had completed his mission the US would have been in the hands of the Communists. I find this a little hard to believe.

Such quibbles are largely beside the point though. Any movie requires some suspension of disbelief and on some level this is what makes movies interesting. This movie was a real treat for me to watch. The modern, but well paced, cinematography combined with a rare glimpse of the political depth of the '50s and early '60s and it's relevance today made the movie well worth my two hours.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Book Review: The Metaphysical Club

Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club is an exploration of the influence that pragmatist thinkers and philosophers had on the United States in the years following the Civil War and leading up to the Depression era. Focusing on figures such as Oliver Wendell Holmes, William James, Charles Peirce, John Dewey, and others, Menand draws our attention to developments in the concepts of truth, race, and free speech during this time period.

Pragmatism, simply put, is the idea that the test of our beliefs is their success in practical use. A belief that useful is considered true. Such a philosophy is necessarily Relativist and the enemy of most absolutisms. On the Pragmatist account truth is not fixed, it changes with time and with people and culture. What is useful and true in one circumstance is a hindrance and false in another.

Menand relates the origins of this view back to experiences of the US Civil War. The war began with absolutist views on both sides and ended with a muddling of ideas and a re-thinking of those ideas the war was fought over. Specifically the war showed that truths about slavery were subject to change. Before the war Abolitionists were considered "fringe" and a minority of the Northern population. Slavery was peculiar or distateful, but not immoral. After the war began, Northern opinion was galvanized and abolitionism became mainstream. This shift along with the horrors of the war intimated to some that truth wasn't as absolute as they had been led to believe.

The other major contributor on Menand's account was Charles Darwin's account of evolution. There had been other ideas of evolution before Darwin, but what set him apart was his rejection of teleology. Darwin's mechanism of evolution was chance mutation, not purposeful advancement. This too took the absolute out of the picture. No longer did one need to cite design or purpose in the sciences. Random chance took that place.

Holmes' view of the law is a reaction to these events. In his conception the law is just what lawyers and judges do. Legal decisions are not a simple following of judicial logic. Or as he put it, "General propositions do not decide concrete cases." Each case is a unique circumstance requiring it's own unique decision.

Holmes' experiences in the Civil War also formulated his views on free speech. He did not believe in free speech as a Right, but rather as a good (or useful) idea. Fixed ideas led to violence, the kind of violence seen in the war, on his account. Free speech was a tool for breaking down fixed ideas and keeping people open minded rather than at each other's throats.

William James' pragmatism is rooted in his psychological studies. The infant psychology of the time was devoted to finding scientific definitions of mental events. James, as well as Dewey, saw that it was impossible to objectively observe mental events and any science that claimed to was misguided. Rejecting this scientistic view, James saw that psychology could not be a science like Physics or Chemistry. Descriptions of mental events were only made sense as useful generalizations, not as observables. No theories could be made regarding them. Psychology had to find a new direction to be a science.

Charles Peirce's contribution to a pragmatic worldview came in the form of statistics. By applying new, sophisticated, statistical methods to human populations he showed that human activity could be viewed as an aggregate. Each individual person has their individual motivations, but viewed from afar the activities blend together and form a picture that can be analyzed. This stripped groups of their humanity and left behind only a useful generalization. While disturbing to many this proved to be a useful method of inquiry. Truth about people no longer had the same connection to the individual person.

Finally, John Dewey's views on knowledge and educational rejected the idea of knowledge as a set of facts, but rather emphasized knowledge as ability. To know is to be able, might have been his catchphrase. Rather than rote memorization he encouraged the use of hands on work in the classroom. His laboratory school at the University of Chicago taught students chemistry and physics through the use of cooking. Additionally he viewed his laboratory school as a psychological research project on a grand scale.

Menand also treats the subject of race in the light of pragmatist thinking. Darwinist thinking rejects the notion of species or race as an absolute concept and so our ideas about what constitutes race has to change. Race, rather than being primarily biological is viewed more as a cultural concept.

One of the hallmarks of pragmatist thinking is the notion that the world is more complex than we ususaly think it is. Many factors go into every truth and they are impossible to sort out. While we may be able to pick out a few influences we can never get the whole picture. True to form, The Metaphysical Club (or this review) can not explain everything that went into the formation of modern thinking, and it doesn't try.

In large part Pragmatist thinking in the US fell out of favor with the arrival of World War II and the Cold War. Vague notions of truth didn't jive well with the "us or them" dichotomy that was on the rise. However, with the end of the Cold War, Menand feels that Pragmatism has something to tell us. It would be interesting to see how Menand's beliefs have changed since the arrival of the "War on Terror." Is the US worldview shifting back toward the absolute or does pragmatism still have something to tell us?

Incoherent Blogging

Tonight is going to be a tough one. It's the first night I haven't really wanted to write and haven't had a good excuse not to. This post might be sub-par, but it'll have to do.

Bike news:
I fixed the squeak on my cross bike yesterday. The upper derailleur pulley has been complaining ever since I put it on about a month ago. I've tried disassembling it and greasing it, buffing the bushings, all the usual suspects, but to no avail. The squeak would just return within 15 miles or so. Last night I pulled out all the stops and replaced the stock Shimano 105 pulley with an XT ceramic bushing pulley. This seems to have done the trick. Thirty miles and not a peep.

I'm also giving the Rock 'n' Roll Lube one last shot. I've been experimenting with different lubes to try to keep my chain cleaner and more efficient for TI and other races. I've always used Finish Line Wet (aka. Cross Country, Century Lube) before and I like it, but I want to try something lighter. I tried Pedro's Liquid X and pretty much hated it. It lasted about one good ride before giving out. The Finish Line Dry was a little better, but still wouldn't last a week. I've wanted to try Rock 'n' Roll for a while, but the shop was out until last week. So far it's still up in the air. It seems to be wearing out a little already, but I'll give it a few more days. I do ride in all conditions rain or shine, plus a fair amount of gravel and some dirt so that may have something to do with the stuff wearing out fast. Still, I want my lube to last at least a few weeks or preferably months like the Wet stuff.

In other biking news, I think I've talked my co-worker and riding buddy Eric into signing up for the Endurosnob Epic with me. He's been mulling over different bike options: a C'dale Cross bike, a C'dale Rush, or an old Raleigh Grand Prix with cross tires. I say go for the bonus points and fix up the Raleigh. I like seeing people do races on bikes that aren't exactly ideal, but get the job done. There's just something about riding the bike you have and making due that I like. I think Matt Chester wrote something on his blog about this a few times. That said I feel like a bit of a hypocrite as I have a bike for every day of the week.

In other news:
I played a game of Go with my friend Pinky. He's still recovering from a broken hip suffered in a hellatious scooter vs. suv incident and it was good to see him up and about and in great spirits. He beat me 80-something to -18 with a 9 stone handicap for me (he's about 12 kyu and estimates me at 27 kyu). Pretty sad on my part, but he gave me a few pointers and I should do better next time.

I also had a pretty good talk with Alice tonight. The topics ranged from the causes of the US Civil War, to Modernism in philosophy and art, and on to Existentialism vs. Nihilism, and finally speculations on the afterlife. While none of these topics surprised me, what was unusual was that we didn't argue (though we did disagree) or take anything too personally. I think I may have just BSed all the stuff on Modernism, but the rest of it was pretty well thought out. Some of this discussion should come out when I finally write about Menand's Metaphysical Club. Maybe tomorrow.

Finally, I updated my Blogger profile. You can check it out if you like.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Arrowhead Race

Well, my frostbite has healed and I'm already looking forward to next year's Arrowhead race. I don't have much to add to this write-up that I did back in February, except to say that Dave Simmons really deserves to have finished the race (hope to see you there next year). Enjoy.

It was -18 when I awoke on Monday morning so I had started with all of my clothes (excepting my windshell) on. I knew that this would be too warm within just a few miles, but I figured that it was worth it to keep from getting chilled at the start. As we started the bikers quickly went to the front in the hard snow and strung out into a loose line. I figured I was pretty close to the back of the pack at that point. I had to concentrate and remember that this was a 135 mile and probably a 2 day race. I told myself to remember to pace myself, but that was hard as I had hoped to be spinning at 80-90 rpm and I was doing more like 60. I calmed down, took off my jacket (it had warmed up quickly), and took a sip from my Camelbak. This would be the last easy drink of water I'd have for the entire first day.

I continued on for a couple more miles and decided I needed another drink. I pulled out the hose and couldn't get the cap off. I had borrowed a cold weather hose cover and cap for the race, but hadn't been able to test it in sub-zero temperatures. I tugged at the cap and pulled the whole valve off the hose. Hot water spilled all over my jacket and tights and gloves. I stuck the end into my mouth and drank. I thought I could just keep the cap off and blow the water back into the bladder, but as soon as I took my mouth off of the hose the water just spurted out again. I shoved the cap back on and hoped for the best. I arrived at the turnaround in about 1:10. Ahead of my projected pace of 5 mph. Dave Simmons snapped the now famous "Santa photo" at this point. Lookin' good. At this point I hardly noticed the frost on my beard. It was pretty light and fluffy. I checked out my Camelbak and noticed that the hose had now frozen solid. I decided to try my insulated water bottle at this point only to find that I couldn't open the valve. I tried to unscrew the cap and found that that wouldn't work either. I was stymied. I shrugged my shoulders and decided to think about it on the 7.5 miles back to Hwy 53.

Here I started to see the rest of the bikers, runners, and skiers coming up to the turnaround. I realized I wasn't in such bad shape. Some bikers looked like they were really suffering and one fellow had a broken derailleur hanger. I offered him my chain tool so he could turn his bike into a single speed, but he said he was dropping out. I felt sorry for him, but I didn't really want to stop and freeze my fingers working on a chain anyway. Speaking of frozen fingers the water that had spilled from my Camelbak had turned my gloves into blocks of ice. My fingers felt okay but they were frozen in place. I flexed them, cracked the ice and moved on. I made it back to Hwy 53 feeling pretty good, but I knew I had to do something about my water situation. I hadn't had water in over an hour and knew that wasn't a good way to race. I tried to make a snowball to eat (against all advice, I know) but the snow was too dry and wouldn't clump together. Next I pulled a chunk of ice out of my beard (which had thawed and refrozen into heavy, uncomfortable, though not particularly cold ice) and sucked on it. It seemed to work, but I knew that all that ice was water that had come from my breath. I couldn't keep up and drink from it forever. Finally I stopped, took off my Camelbak, unscrewed the lid, and drank straight out of the bladder. I spilled some, but I realized that this was the best option. I would continue drinking this way through to the checkpoint at Melgeorge. With 1/10 of the race over I settled into a rhythm leapfrogging with Dave Simmons and Charlie Farrow. The course got hillier, but at this point everything was ridable. I was a little worried about the lack of pedal speed and knew that my knees would be complaining later but there was little I could do on my sturdy single speed.

I reached the Gateway store ahead of Dave and Charlie, but decided not to stop. I felt good and knew that I had enough water to last me through the day (though accessibility continued to be a problem). Just before the Gateway Store I had seen a sign that said Elephant Lake 40 miles. Now 10 miles down the road (by my reckoning) I saw a sign that said Elephant Lake 35 miles. It was demoralizing to realize that every mile was feeling like two, but I told myself to hold to my pace, have fun, and not worry about the finish. Just past the Black Duck River shelter Pierre Ostor caught up with me and we leapfrogged for a while. The hills steepened and some were unridable on my SS bike. Pierre was faster on the downhills (bigger tires) and on the walking uphills, but I was faster on the flats and on the ridable uphills. We kept together until about dusk when Pierre pulled ahead. Shortly I found myself riding across Elephant lake and at Melgeorge resort. I nearly took a wrong turn here but the course marking stakes set me straight and I arrived at the checkpoint just after 6pm.

The cabin was a welcome respite from the race. Donny and Bonnie, the gear checkers from the start served up soup and sandwiches. Even though my right knee was bothering me and I knew I needed a nap before continuing I was happy. I had made it over halfway and was feeling pretty good. I felt confident that I would finish. I tried to nap inside, but it was too small and too noisy. I pitched my sleeping bag on the deck outside at 8 and went to sleep. Shortly after I went to sleep Dave Simmons and Stephen Reginold left the checkpoint to finish the race. I awoke just enough to wish I was going with them, but knew that I needed to race my own race and sleep some more. It turned out to be a smart choice as they returned 4 hours later having gotten lost and gone in a big circle back to Melgeorge's. I finally woke at 2am after a refreshing (if long) nap, and decided it was time to get a move on. I felt bad for Dave and Stephen, but hoped that they would continue after resting for a bit.

At 4am I left the checkpoint, 10 hours after arriving. It was cold as I left, but I felt pretty comfortable in my down jacket and oversized mittens. Soon my hands were sweating so I switched back to my Swix gloves (dried on the radiator at Melgeorge) and continued on more comfortably. I knew I had 20 miles of rolling hills, 20 miles of steep and by all accounts Himilayan hills, and a final 20 miles of flat marshland. I found myself riding along on logging roads in the dark with logging trucks my only company. Suddenly, the temperature seemed to drop and I became chilled, I must have entered a valley or something like it. I didn't really want to put my mittens back on so I just pushed through and seemed to get used to it.
Not long after dawn I started to find the hills that had been promised. They didn't seem too bad. I could ride many of them and the ones I couldn't were a welcome change of pace. The downhills were really a blast and I never felt out of control and rarely had to touch the brakes. I had been told to expect hills almost too steep to walk up or ride down. I was pleasantly surprised by how ridable it was. Unfortunately a trail grooming machine came through and turned the trail from hard pack into soft fluff. It slowed me down a lot and forced me over to the left side of the trail at times when I really didn't want to be there.

Eventually the hills ended and I started the last flat 20 miles. It was about this time that I realized I didn't know where the finish line was. I couldn't remember the name of the resort at the finish, nor could I remember how to get there. I found the name in the Emergency numbers list, Bay View, but I still didn't know where it was. I saw a sign that said Bay View and followed it for a while, but I only saw one set of tire tracks (I later found out these were Dave Grey's. He'd gotten lost too) and the trail twisted and turned in a way I wasn't expecting. Soon I came to a big hill and as I looked at it and the prospect of walking up I decided I was going the wrong way and turned around. I reassured myself with the thought that someone had said that the Bay View resort was right on the trail. I also convinced myself that it was on Highway 1. I was wrong. I reached Highway 1 only to find no sign of a resort. I kept on in the hope that I would soon find it. Shortly I reached the terminus of the trail where it joins with the Taconite trail. Now I knew where I was and I knew that I had gone 5 miles too far. I turned around and rode back to Hwy 1. There I decided that I had ridden enough trail and decided to ride the road back. After a couple of miles I stopped at a marine store to get directions. The fellow who helped me asked where I had come from and gave me a thumbs up as I left. I only had a mile to go. I rolled into the finish just as the sun was setting.

Most of my equipment worked well. My Weirwolf 2.5" tires on Alex DM32 rims were sufficient for the conditions, but I think I would have wanted wider if the snow were any softer. The Surly 1x1 frame was a great choice. I wanted a single speed so I wouldn't have to mess with frozen shifters or broken deraileurs, but I think gears would have been fine in the conditions we had. The 33x22 gearing I had was okay, but a lower gearing, say 30x22 would have been better.

The pogies I had were excellent, just a windshell, but they allowed me to go with thin gloves or even no gloves for much of the race. On my upper body I wore a thin 4-way stretch under layer, a heavyweight short sleeve jersey and a Craft Thermal jacket on top. On my lower body I had biking shorts, lightweight tights, and Craft Stormtights for the entire race. This worked well for me as I was rarely sweaty or cold. Two Jandd Mini Mountain Panniers were sufficient for all of my gear and the -20 down bag and inflatable sleeping pad strapped on top were very comfortable overnight. The Camelbak with cold weather kit was okay so long as I kept it under a jacket and blew the water back into the bladder, but I was taking a risk any time I wore it on the outside as I had to more often than not. The Polar water bottle I carried was a total flop.

I carried way too much food. I only ate one waterbottle full of gorp and 5 gels during the race (I ate quite a bit at Melgeorge). Next year I'll only take 1/2 or 1/3 of what I had this year.
As for training, the 15 miles per day of commuting I do plus 4-6 hour gravel road rides on the weekends seemed to do the trick. I would like to have put in a century shakedown ride, and some truly cold weather rides, but wasn't able to squeeze it in.

If I had done better planning I wouldn't have gotten lost at the end. If I had reviewed my maps I would have known that the Bay View resort was clearly marked on the map and never have taken a wrong turn. I can't blame anyone for that except myself. I also spent too much time sitting around at Melgeorges I probably could have cut 2 hours off of my time there and been just as rested. With just this better planning I could have cut 3-4 hours off of my finishing time.

All in all it was the best race I've ever been to and can't imagine it being much better. Thanks to Pierre, Cheryl, Don, Bonnie, Ron and all the other volunteers who made it possible. Thanks also to all the riders who were so friendly and encouraging especially Dave Simmons and Brian Block. See you all again next year.

Catching up with my thoughts

I was out of town visiting my parents for Easter and so I didn't manage to post anything. It was a pretty good weekend, took a day off the bike, and saw all my relations. It seems that my parents' mailbox was struck by lighting and their lawn furniture melted into puddles under mysterious circumstances. I don't know what to make of it, but all signs point to space aliens.

Speaking of space aliens, I seem to have misplaced my Arrowhead race write-up. Hopefully it's still on my roommate's computer. If not it might be gone forever. I'll see about it tomorrow.

In biking news, I've got Transiowa on the brain. I'm feeling confident about Algona, but beyond that is new territory for me mileage-wise. My knee started mysteriously hurting after a day off the bike. I think it was all the walking I did at my parents' while wearing shoes I don't normally wear (ie. not cycling shoes). I'm also worried about the weather which has been pretty violent lately with winds out of the East. Prevailing winds in IA are supposed to be out of the West. Dang global warming. In any case I'm as ready as I'll ever be. Time to rest hard.

I've also got the Dirty Kanza race coming up. 200 miles in 20 hours. I'm planning on riding the cross bike again, but I hear the roads in the Flint Hills are pretty rough. I've driven through the area on the highway and it looks really hilly. I was also expecting more people from IA to sign up for the Kansas race. I don't own a car and was hoping someone would be driving through and give me a lift. So far it looks like Guitar Ted is the only other Iowan in the thing. I'll have to talk with him at TI and see what his plans are.

With all these lectures I've been going to I've been giving thought to resurrecting my "I don't care" fixie commuter. Parking my bike on the university campus makes me nervous especially on Friday and Saturday nights, plus I have a habit of forgetting my lock. Thus, about a year ago I had an old Specialized Hard Rock built up with a fixed gear and no brakes. The whole thing was built out of parts I already owned or found. The only thing I had to buy was a cheap SS chain. The idea was that nobody would steal it, if they did they couldn't ride it, and if they did make off with it I wouldn't care. I miss it a little for days when I just don't want to worry. The only thing is I sold the fixed wheel which was the heart of the bike. Maybe I'll have to do loctite & a BB lockring on an old freewheel hub and see how that goes.

In non-bike news I finished the book Metaphysical Club, by Louis Menand. I haven't completely digested it yet, but as soon as I do I expect to write some sort of book review. That's all for now.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Not much about biking

I realize that many of my readers (all 2 of you) aren't really interested in philosophy or leftist professors. To you I can only say that I'm sorry, but I haven't had much to say about bikes in the past few days. I haven't had time to ride much and I'm trying to take it easy until Transiowa.

Still, as per my goals for this blog, I want to write something every day to improve my skills. One of the huge obstacles to my previous attempt at college was my writing. I just didn't do it. I figure if I make myself write every day then when it comes time to write a paper I won't be intimidated. Since my likely field of study is philosophy writing is essential. So you're likely to hear more about my thoughts.

Perhaps tomorrow I'll post a write-up I did for the Arrowhead race. Hopefully that'll give you something interesting to read.

P.S. It's funny that the spell checker on this blog doesn't contain the word "blog."

A much better lecture

Thanks to our new shop employee, Wade, I attended another lecture at ISU this evening. A smaller audience and a more specific topic made it much better than the lecturer's colleague at MIT, Chomsky.

Loren Graham, a historian, spoke about the connection between a heretical branch of the Orthodox church (Name Worshipers) and how it influenced mathematical theory in Russia and the Soviet Union. Put briefly, both felt that by naming something one makes it real. In the case of the church they invoked the name of God in prayer in order to bring God into being and achieve an ecstaic state. The mathematicians noticed that we can name things that have no reality such as the square root of -1 (i), or, in set theory, different sorts of infinity. In this way we create by naming.

It turns out that many of the mathematicians were Name Worshipers. Rather than being put off by the lack of reality of these concepts, the mathematicians were fascinated and driven on by their belief that they were creating something new. This led to great advances in set theory and to the Moscow School of mathematics, out of which many famous mathematicians now come.

Graham's perspective was that of a historian of science rather than a mathematician or philosopher himself. He refused to speculate on whether they were creating by naming or not, but it leads me to ponder. Personally, I think that they were creating in some sense. They weren't merely discovering something that was already there, but it hardly matters. The metaphysical status of things like these is insignificant so far as I can tell. We don't even know what an satisfactory answer would look like. It only shows that we can talk about and use concepts that we don't understand. It makes me want to re-read Kripke's Naming and Necessity though.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Law and Chomsky

Perhaps I was too hard on Chomsky in my first review of his lecture. Specifically I may have been too harsh in criticizing his use of international law in his argument. By bringing up the administration's flaunting of the law he is saying two things: 1) that the admin. is objectively criminal. 2) he can call the admin. hypocritical for being a signatory in intl. law and not obeying it. In either of these cases the admin. is no longer just wrong, misguided, or mistaken, but actually malicious and evil. I'm not saying I buy his arguments, I still stand by my statement that law that has no teeth is no law, but I can see what he's trying to do.

A second point is that he probably feels that he is doing something about the world's problems just by speaking about them. Thus the answer to the world's problems, in his mind, really is simple and obvious. He's doing it.

If I can say something for the lecture it is that at least it got me thinking a little bit, even if it is about things that Chomsky didn't intend.

For the record, I haven't read any of Chomsky's work except for an article (Scientific American?) many years ago on linguistics. I expect he's better in print. I also felt his lecture was disorganized and I know he didn't get to many of the points he outlined at the beginning. Too bad, as some of those (health care, nuclear armageddon, environmental problems) sounded interesting.

Chomsky speaks to Choir

I attended a lecture by Noam Chomsky this evening at the university. It was better than I was expecting, but hardly sensational. I went in expecting a "rah-rah Bush bad" sort of thing, and make no mistake, there was some of that, but it did at least have some content. The most enlightening part of the lecture was his view of the world oil economy, but really it wasn't anything new. He just highlighted the interest the US administration has in keeping oil under US control and out of the hands of China, India, etc.. He also went over the lessons other countries learned from the Iraq war which is, don't be a defenseless nation with resources (thus why Iran would want nuclear weapons).

Actually, after some thought the lecture wasn't that great at all. He really didn't touch on why the administration wanted war in Iraq, just why the war was wrong and why the administration would now want to stay there. Most of his justifications for taking Bush to task had to do with international law, but as far as I can see international law is law in name only. It's tough to call something law when there is no apparatus (or willingness seemingly) in place to enforce it.

Chomsky wrapped up his lecture with (predictably) a call to get out and do something about it, but he really didn't seem to give any indication as to what that something is. When, in the Q&A session afterwards, he was asked about it he merely responded that it was "simple" and "obvious." He also made mention that most solutions to the world's problems are simple. I don't know about you, but when someone says to me that the solutions to the world's problems are simple I get just a tad skeptical.

Overall it was pretty much preaching to the choir. I agree with many of his positions, but I can't say that I know more now than I did before.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Several items of interest.

To start off, I'm ditching the all lowercase thing. Too hard to read. I thought it was cool, but I thought wrong. I might try out the "&" thing someday though.

Today's ride:
Eric Henderson and I went for a quick 20 mile road ride today. He's a little out of shape after the winter and I rode my cross bike with knobbys so we were a pretty good match. There was a lot of pushing each other faster and such, which was great. I don't mind some friendly competition on a shorter training ride (just not on a gravel century). The wind was brutal going South, but a blast going North. No surprise there. It was great to get out and spin, plus my Achilles tendon didn't bother me a bit. When Eric gets into shape (which won't take long) he'll be able to beat me, no problem, on the road.

Sunday's non-ride:
I had considered doing a local MTB race at Peterson's Pits on Sunday, but decided against it. Too bad really, it would have been fun and good bike handling practice on the cross bike. There were two big reasons I didn't do the race. One was the entry fee. $20 pre-registered, $25 day of, plus a $5 NORBA day license. Thirty bucks for a little race at a county park seemed like too much. When I did this race two years ago with Nick I think the entry fee was $15, no preregistration, and no license required. That was more like it. I mean c'mon nobody in their right mind is taking this race seriously. The second reason was the course. On a good day the Pits isn't too challenging. It's pretty flat and not too tight with lots of double track and some gravel road mixed in. The good things about it are that it's close, only about 5 miles from town, and free. The thing about the course they had planned for the race was that it avoided nearly every bump on the trails. The only two "technical" sections were cut and there was an extra dose of gravel. Sure, I might have mopped up in Sport on my cross bike, but I wasn't really going in order to win. I wanted a challenge.

Define your terms (a philosophical post):
I had a pretty interesting discussion at the coffee shop this evening. A woman noticed me listening in on her Bible study group and decided to come over and ask me a few questions. As a former (and perhaps future) Philosophy major I was game. The discussion turned to moral relativism vs. absolutism. I come down pretty strongly in the relativist camp (with a few qualifications) so we had plenty to talk about. One counterexample she came up with was one from C.S. Lewis; he could not conceive of a society which held cowardice (as in the opposite of courage) as a moral good. I argued that I could and gave my own example to hold it up, but I really should have tried a different strategy. I think that the reason Lewis couldn't conceive of a society that held cowardice as a virtue (or moral good) is the same reason that we can't conceive of one that would hold murder as a virtue. Murder is just killing that is deemed wrong. Saying that something deemed wrong is deemed right is obviously contradictory and therefore inconceivable. Similarly cowardice might be defined as wrongful retreat, or something like that, and therefore incompatible with being right. Hardly a serious attack on relativism if this is the case.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

trip report: gravel in the dark

some (one) of you out there are wondering how the gravel ride i did friday/saturday went. well, it went pretty well all considering.

i rode down to dsm with the intention of doing an overnight gravel century with Dave Mable and then riding back home. when i intially formed this plan i figured it was a mere 25 miles to dsm and so, all told, i'd be doing 150 miles. a lot of miles no doubt, but not much more than the 130 miler i did to cedar rapids last summer. luckilly, before leaving on friday i found that the trip from ames to dsm was more like 40 miles. still, i figured i could do it.
i budgeted 4 hours for the trip down and left at 3pm. 16 miles of gravel, 20 miles of the saylorville bike trail, and 5 miles across dsm got me to Dave's house at about 5:45pm. the saylorville trail always fools me. i think that it's just a bike path and should be no trouble. the trouble is that it is hilly, twisty, and circituitous. it does in 20 miles what a good road would do in 10. plus, it is so tight and twisty that you can't maintain any speed. great for an afternoon ramble, but not so good for getting someplace. but hey, i wanted a challenge, didn't i?

Dave and his wife were very kind and gave me some dinner (pasta, what else) while we chatted and waited for 7pm and the ride to begin. the plan was to ride 58 miles to jefferson and back on gravel starting at 7pm and getting back at 4am, for a total of 116 miles in 9 hours. i was a little suprised that we were planning on going that far. i didn't think that given the finish time we'd be able to do it (i usually plan my rides for 10mph including rest stops, etc.).

we met up with the other riders (7 in all) and rolled out at 7:30. the sun was setting and as soon as we got out onto gravel the scenery was nice. in town no one seemed to be in a hurry, just what i wanted, but as we got into the country people started doing strange things like trying to make breaks and sprinting for stop signs (i am not a roadie). hey guys, i thought, this isn't a race, this is a 100+ mile ride, on mountain bikes, on gravel. what are you, crazy? but i didn't say anything and we kept going. at about 20 miles in Ward from decorah bikes and another rider dropped out to ride to granger and then back to dsm on the saylorville trail. i'm not sure if they intended this from the beginning or just decided the pace wasn't to their liking. i for one was sorry to lose them.

as the 5 of us approached perry somebody started to push the pace. i started to breathe hard and my legs felt a little burn. i knew that if we kept doing things like that i wasn't going to make the ride home. we stopped at a casey's store in perry for food and a short break i was warm enough when we got there so i decided not to put on my jacket, big mistake. as we left perry i started to shiver pretty violently, but i kept it under control and rode on knowing that as soon as i warmed up it would stop. i was right. after about 10 minutes i was back to normal, but i knew that shivering was a bad sign. i was using up too much energy just keeping warm. not a good way to do an endurance ride.

about 10 miles out of perry, Scott, the only other guy on a cross bike, decided to call it quits and turn back for dsm. i can't blame him. he took off and we stopped, rested, ate, and talked about whether or not to go on. initially i wanted to continue, but i knew that if we kept our pace and stopped for food in jefferson as planned we wouldn't be back until 6am. too late. we turned back, phone calls were placed to let wives know what was up, and 1 of the 4 of us left arranged for his ride home, originally to meet him in jefferson to meet him instead at perry. when we arrived in perry the guy who was getting picked up left us and so did another rider who had had enough.

then it was 2 of us. Dave and i were the only ones left. we stopped at a bar, Dave refilled water bottles and i put on my jacket, then we headed out. we spotted Scott's taillight flashing about a mile ahead, but soon lost it. we maintained a reasonable pace from here. it seemed that all of Dave's competitive friends had left us and i sure wasn't going to push the pace. for a long time we played tag with Scott's taillight. eventually we caught him while he was taking a break and eating.

Dave described a shortcut back to the saylorville trail for me and i thought about it as we rode. i kept having visions of myself sitting alongside the trail somewhere shivering and trying in vain to get my cold, numb hands to open an energy bar wrapper. that decided it. i told Dave i was going to have to crash on his couch for a few hours and call a friend to give me a ride home. he said it was the smartest thing he had heard all day.
as we got near dsm Scott started to push the pace. he knew he was almost home and he wanted to be done. it was all i could do to hang on. i wanted to slow down, but i too knew that i'd soon be done and didn't really have any reason to hold back anymore.

we got back to Dave's house around 3am where he gave me a blanket and a couch. i was grateful, he had been super kind to let me have dinner and now a place to sleep. i laid down, but as soon as i did i started shivering again. if i had been at home i would have taken a warm shower, but as it was i just suffered with it for a while and then fell asleep. at about 6:45 i woke up and called my friend Alice for a ride home. i am lucky to be surrounded by such helpful people.

so yeah, it was a pretty good ride, but i learned some lessons:
1. i would have been better off much of the time to keep my own pace.
2. i was colder on this ride than in the arrowhead race, even though it was no colder than 32 degrees. even though i got away with it i should dress more appropriately.
3. gravel in the dark isn't too bad, but it is tough to see street signs with only a handlebar mounted light. i'll have to use a supplementary helmet light on transiowa.

i'm sure there were more lessons, but i can't think of them just now. i'm glad i did the ride. i'll be more comfortable on the overnight sections on ti. and to answer Paul's question i'm feeling pretty good. i was pretty exhausted at work on saturday and very hungry, but i am only a little sore. my knees feel good. my only complaint is my achilles tendon which hurts a little when i ride. i plan on taking the next few weeks for rest though so i should be ready when ti rolls around on april 29th.

that was too long,

why blog

okay, so i've got a blog. why, you ask? here's why:
1. a journal of my bike rides (for entertainment and motivational purposes).
2. practice my writing skills in the hopes of returning to school.
3. get some of my thoughts out into the light for harsh criticism.
4. so i can post on Paul Jacobson's blog.
that's all for now.