Sunday, May 26, 2013

Books Read: April

It looks like I didn't get much reading done in April.  Oh well.  I did a lot of false start reading on the Kindle (too easy to do) and I was pretty busy with other stuff.  One thing that does get revealed here is the dirty secret that I like reading and thinking about religion.  I take it a little too seriously for someone who isn't very religious. Some of what follows probably falls into the realm of cliche and for that I have to apologize.  Sorry. 

Surviving Survival, Laurence Gonzales
After reading Gonzales Deep Survival I thought I'd see what else he had written.  This book is his exploration of the aftermath of survival, PTSD, and getting back to "normal".  The point really is that there is no getting back to normal, just a readjustment and moving on.   PTSD, as he describes it, is a reasonable response to a changed situation.  If you're in a situation where you have to behave differently in order to get by or survive then you can't expect that learning to just disappear when that situation ends.  It's like a more extreme version of culture shock.  I can't say that I've ever experienced anything like the traumas Gonzales describes, but the lessons are still relevant.  Be adaptable and stay mindful of your situation and changes in it. 

Varieties of Meditative Experience, Daniel Goleman
The title hooked me I'm sad to say.  I really liked William James' Varieties of Religious Experience when I read it a few years ago for it's detached view of subjective experience, but meditation is not well served by description.  The states of mind (or whatever) that occur during meditation are simply not the point.  Meditation, as I see it, is a process, a practice, not an otherworldly experience or ecstatic state.  The two may go together, but they are not the same.  This book seems to come out of the tradition that glorifies epiphany and sees drug experience as similar or identical to that of meditation.  That's kind of like seeing steroid use and cosmetic surgery as the same as (or as good as) exercise.  It confuses the process with the product.

Religion of the Samurai, Kaiten Nukariya
It's a little silly to call a book on Zen philosophy "Religion of the Samurai".  It's like calling a book on Protestantism "Religion of the English Longbowman", but like it or not the two (samurai and Zen) are strongly connected in most peoples minds.  Really this book has virtually nothing to do with samurai, but a lot to do with Zen, or at least Zen philosophy.  Of course as Zen is not a philosophy it gets pretty clunky at times.  I got pretty bored with the sutras and the five forms and 108 earthly temptations and so on.  The specifics don't really concern me much.  I do think the anecdotes are useful though it seems like there are only really 5 or 6 and they just get repeated through all Zen texts.  Writing about Zen is an oxymororn.  You can't really do it.  It isn't something you describe or understand, it's something you do. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Jumping off the tubeless bridge.

I realize I'm late to the party, but I finally set up one of my bikes as tubeless.  It wasn't very difficult to do...well at least at first it wasn't.  They held for two days and then this morning, with a ride planned for the evening, I woke to find my rear tire flat.  I tried to fix it in the few minutes I had before work.  Ten minutes later, with a puddle of Stan's on the floor and a mild case of frostbite I gave up and rode a different bike in to work.  After work I did it properly and managed to get the tire re-inflated...four CO2 cartridges later.

W/R/T the advantages of tubeless:
  • Fewer flats: I think you know where I stand here.  I've had two flats this year and half of those have been tubeless flats.  I've seen more folks get flats with tubes, it's true, but I've seen a few get flats with tubeless as well and given the ratio of tubes/no-tubes, well you get the picture.  I don't see much difference (yet)
  • Run lower tire pressure without pinching: Without a tube to pinch I suppose this is self evident, but tubeless are subject to "burping" which is basically the same thing in my mind ie., if you run your pressure too low you risk getting a flat.  Also, perhaps you won't pinch or burp, but if you are in a position where that was a possibility then you certainly risk damaging your rim.  It looks to me like a wash here.
  • Better ride quality: I haven't noticed poor ride quality with tubes, but I will have to wait for some singletrack time with the new setup to figure that out.  
So why am I even doing it?  Well:

Friday, May 10, 2013

Books Read: March

I'm a little behind on writing these.  Reading is a lot easier for me than writing (I expect that's true for most people).  Anyway, March shows how getting a Kindle has influenced my reading.  I did a lot more reading of old stuff that I can get for free and not so much new(er) stuff from the library.

Trails that Never End, Tim Kelley.
Endurance cross-country skiing in Alaska.  Everything I ever wanted and more.  I dropped $15 on this e-book as soon as I heard about it.  Usually I'd be reluctant to spend that much, but since I read Tim's blog frequently and I've learned a lot about skiing and camping from him I didn't hesitate.  Honestly I was a little worried that this would be a how-to manual and negate all the hard work and research I had put into learning how to ski like I do (maybe I'm beginning to understand Mike Curiak).  It's not.  There's a lot to glean from what he says, but mostly this is a record of Tim's early ('90s) ski trips across the Alaska backcountry.  He tells a great story and there are hundreds of great photos to go along with it.  I'd recommend it to anyone who has an interest in this type of skiing (which hardly anyone seems to). 

Farthest North Vol. I, Fridtjof Nansen.
Another book that the Kindle allowed me to read.  It's unavailable in print, but no charge on Project Gutenberg.  For anyone who doesn't know who Nansen is, well, you should and you should worship him as the mortal god that he is.  This book covers his arctic journey in the Fram from the planning stage until he and Johansen set out for the North Pole by dogsled and ski (that journey is covered in Vol. II).  While the book is a little repetitious at times (being on a ship for two years will do that) his thoughts about humanity and nature are well worth the read.  If I might be allowed to say so it is an inspiring story and makes one believe that anything is possible. 

Various stories, Jack Vance.
Along with The Chronicles of Narnia, The Matrix, and the band Rush, Jack Vance's science fiction is one of those things that I'm supposed to like (given my dispositions), but just can't.  I could give you a rundown of the reasons, from trite plots to rampant sexism that make me cringe about his stories, but I won't.   I don't think I'll be trying to read him again. 

Various stories, Fritz Leiber.
Lieber is perhaps the opposite of Vance in my opinion.  The stories I read are not his popular Lankhmar fantasy series, but a selection of sci-fi stories that were pretty obviously written quickly and for publication in pulp magazines.  But they're good.  In just a few pages he manages to create interesting characters in thought provoking situations.  The classic "twist" ending that characterizes most sci-fi short story writing is certainly there, but always alludes to a greater truth and isn't just a convenient hook on which to hang a story.  I may end up paying good money to finally read the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. 

The World Set Free, H. G. Wells. 
Published in 1914, this prescient novel introduced the concepts of aerial bombardment and the atomic bomb well ahead of their time (that sentence was not intended to sound like a "question" on Jeopardy).  While the first half of the novel focuses on a world war, the second is of more interest to me.  It's the opposite of the later 1984 by George Orwell.  Rather than describing a socialist dystopia, Wells describes a socialist utopia arising out of the ashes of a world changing war.  It's a sentiment (and perhaps a story) that inspired Orwell before he became disillusioned after the Spanish Civil War.  I have to admit that it is refreshing to read an optimistic novel that predicts a better world.  Whether or not it's realistic is debatable.  Also of interest is a chapter towards the end that discusses feminism.  I don't know enough to properly criticize it, but it's certainly fairer to women than Vance ever was.  

Not Always So, Shunryu Suzuki. 
Published posthumously, this book, along with his first, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, is a series of short lectures that Suzuki gave to his students.  The form suits the style of Zen much better than a lengthy and logically structured book.  It's tough to say much about it, but the message of single-tasking and constant surprise strikes a real chord with me.  It's too easy to get stuck in a rut and not realize that you're even in one.  Breaking those habits of mind are difficult, but I think that through reading (and practicing) this, along with some works by Thich Nhat Hanh, and David Foster Wallace, I am beginning to recognize my thoughts and stay more present. 

Pro Motocross and Off-Road Motorcycle Riding Techniques, Donnie Bales and Gary Semics.
I checked this out from the library in the hopes that I'd pick up some tips on riding bicycles off road.  I have never been able to find a good technique guide for mountain biking, but I had always heard that riding motorcycles helps biking skills and vise-versa.  That may be true, but this manual didn't have much to offer for me.  I did pick up some tips on braking, but cornering still eludes me and none of the advice in this book really seemed to apply.  It looks like I'll have to find a teacher somewhere else. 

Friday, May 03, 2013

A very pretentious TransIowa race report.

I get uncomfortable when I hear stuff about how "X race changed my life" and stuff like that.  I'm suspicious of epiphanies (my greatest epiphany during an ultra was the realization that quesadillas are Mexican grilled cheese).  So when people tell me I'm "a god", or I'm an inspiration, or I should be talking myself up, and ask me "what it means to me" I treat it with a large dose of skepticism and humility.  Nothing happens out there that doesn't happen at home.  The only thing that separates me from someone who didn't do TransIowa is that I signed up and showed up.

It isn't that there isn't anything special about the event.  I do appreciate all the hard work that Mark and the volunteers put into organizing this thing.  I enjoy meeting and hanging out with like minded individuals.  I hope to do more of it in the future, but it's not like we're saving lives out there.  We all make choices and this is where mine have led.

All philosophy aside TransIowa went really well for me this year.  In spite of  a winter that didn't allow a lot of bike training, a sprained ankle a month out, coming down with a cold a week out, and whatever other obstacles presented themselves I came into the race in good enough shape.  Not the best shape, but good enough.

My plan was to go out and ride my own race and I did that.  I rode by myself pretty much from the beginning and never really did ride with a group.  My single speed gearing helped prevent that.  I had to push hard on the uphills and spin on the flats preventing the usual "easy on the hard stuff, hard on the easy stuff."  For the last 140 miles (including the entire overnight) I didn't see another cyclist (okay I did see Grelk and one other in Brooklyn, but it turned out they were dropping from the race so I dropped them), but my favorite riding partner is myself so I was never uncomfortable with being alone. 

Around midnight I found that there were hills out there I could no longer climb on the bike.  My knees would no longer take it.  So I walked, no shame in it, but I kept moving.

A check of the cue sheets after crossing Highway 30 near Montour made me realize that we were going to have to put in 100 miles between convenience stores.  We had had the warning that we would should be prepared for that distance without resupply, but I didn't really expect Mark to call our bluff.  Going through the shuttered town of Brooklyn at 2am was the low point of my race, but I knew I could manage another 15 miles to where the cue sheets promised a refuel.

The convenience store on I-80 midway between Brooklyn and Victor was salvation.  Warmth, coffee, breakfast sandwiches.  The attendant was the most enthusiastic sober guy I've ever met at 4am.  If anybody could give you a pep talk to keep you going it was this guy. 

I divided the remaining 40 miles of the race into 10 mile segments.  10 miles (let's push it to 11) then sit down in the road and eat a Snickers and drink as much water as possible.  Repeat.  I skipped the last break and rode the last 15 miles in one stretch. 

The finish to one of these things is always a shock.  After the simplicity of the road, nothing to do but pedal, I once again have to talk to people, make decisions, the rest of my life.