Wednesday, March 26, 2008

my two greatest decisions

Today's shop ride was perfect. This was the first group ride of the season for me, and we rolled out nice and easy. The heart rate was up, but not too high, and there was just a hint of sweat starting to form in the customary areas on some of the climbing. The conversation was great as well, talked shop with the boys, and got home before the streetlights came on and just in time to sing to the little one before she dozed off.

This was a ride that almost didn't happen. The Rider Who Shall Not be Named was a bit spooked by an ominous forecast yesterday but it all turned out to be just fine. In fact, the overall ride was probably better in light of the uncertainty just yesterday afternoon. It seems that the best results come from decisions that involve some uncertainty and perhaps even require a bit of a leap of faith. Is this always the case?

Today's ride got me to consider this as more than a rhetorical question.

In my case, the answer is "yes."

The two best decisions I've made in my life have been my two biggest blind leaps of faith, and the rewards have been incredibly fulfilling.

Second best decision: August 2001
With Alison 5 months pregnant with our first child, we were both comfortable in our lifestyle and gainfully employed in full time jobs. We had bought two new cars, were in a new house, and enjoyed more dinners out than in. We had always wanted to have Ali stay home after the baby came, but the finances didn't seem to work out as we forcasted increasing expenses. We looked into a few day care centers and struggled to come to grips with what it would be like to let someone else spend 6-8 hours per day with our child, knowing that they may be the ones to watch out baby walk or talk or laugh for the first time.

We made the (financially) difficult decision to go to one income and have Ali home with Charlie. We never got the numbers to work, but figured that raising him the way we wanted was more important than anything we could buy with the extra cash.

Our two cars are now each 13 years old, it took 5 years to finish off our addition, and we're pretty frugal with our spending. But we have CJ's first wobbly steps on video tape. Ali called me crying the day he uttered "car" for the first time. And I will never forget the day I was lying with him on the couch, hoisted him up airplane style over my head, and said "weeeee!!!" He smiled back, and laughed his first laugh.

That was the best decision we'd made up to that point, but it wouldn't stay on top for long though.

Best decision ever: October 2003
With one kid running around that I was completely in love with, Ali started talking about a second. I was terrified. The numbers once again didn't work, but we had been down that road before. She wanted a girl, I was ready to stand pat with the one.

I consulted friends, family, the internet. I loved CJ with every bit of me, what would happen with this second one? I honestly thought that I may not like a second kid. How could anyone make me as happy as Charlie?

The decision to try for a second was the scariest one I ever made. I wasn't ready. I was hoping for infertility. I wanted to leave well enough alone, and I'm sure I used that language in discussing this with my wife. She had the full court press was on, and I acquiesced.

Now, we have Cory. Clearly my greatest decision ever.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The cost of cycling

I mentioned about a year ago that had I grown up enjoying less expensive and involved hobbies it would make things infinitely easier and affordable for everyone involved. Well much like the Puerto Rican burger flipper with the infiniti rolling on 22s, I'm trying not to let a tight financial portfolio spoil my fun.

It is common knowledge that a large percentage of the cycling demographic is made up of men in their mid 30s with an athletic background. These guys have come into some money and still like strenuous physical exertion but not so much of the stick-in-the-teeth or elbow-to-the-orbital-bone kind of contact you see in men's hockey or basketball leagues. That $hit gets real old once you hit umm... 32. For me it did at least. The 10 pm games don't help either. I wonder when feltslave/cxracer started feeling that way? He's Canadian, so perhaps not yet at all.

Back to the point. Cycling ain't cheap.

It has put a drain on the financial resources around here; it's an expensive sport and there is no two ways about it. I've been fortunate enough to be able to ride and still put food on the table, although barely, and the wife and kids haven't noticed the small "compromises" that they have been living with. These have allowed us to make ends meet and keep my stock of two wheeled machines finely tuned and dressed with the best parts selection that money can buy.
  • I've been mixing regular cheerios in with the yogurt covered variety, bringing the ratio of the delicious strawberry yogurt rings to the plain ones down from 1:10 to about 1:16.

  • One half gallon of whole mile and a half gallon of water look and taste an awful lot like a gallon of skim but at less than half the price. As long as I scratch off the use by date, I can keep using the same jug.

  • Cold water is cheaper than warm, so showers around here are short and "tepid" at best. The new rule is that you're done when your lips are blue or your teeth are chattering, whichever comes first.

But alas: "les jeux sont fait"... translation "the game is up"

With the children off visiting family with gramma today the wife and I ventured out to do some yardwork. It had been a while for me, as I have the good fortune of living with a woman who enjoys mowing the lawn, hauling mulch and cleaning out gardens. Between last summer's PMC and last fall's full cyclocross schedule, I hadn't done any yard work (other than the new walkway) in perhaps a year. (I'm not going to count the two hours I raked the entire yard in the predawn of November 30th with my bike helmet and light on. I was leaving for a race in Portland Oregon later that day and the first snow was forcast for that weekend.)

There is no hiding the problems with our lawn like there is hiding Great Value yogurt in with the Stonyfield. The pictures you see below represent the price we will have to pay for more time spent on a bike than on a yard tractor in 2007.

Grubs on the side yard. Moss on the hill. The cost of cycling is going up.

As you can see, I still managed to test out the new tubulars. It was after all a beautiful day for a ride.

Friday, March 21, 2008

it was so windy today...

... that my bike was blown out of the fork mount of the roof rack of my car. I had clamped it down tight, but travelling 60 mph into 65 mph wind gusts was just too much. Thankfully the rear wheel had been latched down or the tractor trailer behind me would have eaten it for lunch.

I was too frightened to take a picture, but imagine a bike dangling on the side of the car by it's rear wheel and that pretty much sums it up.

Thanks to Kenny for the quick work to true that wheel back up.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Not one soccer mom

After this most recent visit to Puerto Rico, I think I finally figured that culture out, and fortunately for you dear reader, there is one simple singular reality that captures the essence of how Puerto Rican culture is different than ours here in New England.

There are no soccer moms in Puerto Rico.

Strang but true. Try to imagine an entire society completely devoid of soccer moms. Take away the ubiquitious New England Mini-van, the SUV with the electrostatic hockey puck smashing it's imaginary self through the back window, the helicopter parents barking orders at their pack of children at the grocery store and DVD players dangling from the head liner or strapped to the back of a headrest. Utopia? Close...

Five visits. 33 days total. 300+ miles in the saddle back and forth across the island and not one single soccer mom in sight.

There are moms there for sure. Lots of 'em. Young and old, rich and poor. The thing is that they don't look like, act like, or seem like moms in any way. Except that they have kids. Those kids play sports, go to the mall, listen to ipods and tote around hand held video games. You'd think that the soccer mom would be close by, but no such luck. So what gives?

Simply put, Puerto Ricans know how to enjoy themselves better than we do.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm going to guess that being a soccer mom (or dad) isn't a whole lot of fun... al least less fun than it was when you were single or just married without kids. I know you love your kids, but before they were around you did pretty much whatever you wanted and your principle motivation was self enjoyment. Having kids changed all that. You sold the 3 series BMW coupe and got the Accord or Oddesy. The margueritas and loud music were replaced with red wine and NPR. Relaxing dinners out on the town became family night at the local pizza place.

Puerto Ricans never got that memo. They do what they want, when they want, and the best part is that that doesn't seem to bother or concern anyone. Want to play loud music with the house wide open or from speakers mounted to the top of their car? Sounds good to me. Couple of beers with breakfast? Why not. Want a $45,000 Lexus? Don't let the fact that you are a stock clerk at Marshalls stop you. Trash not picked up today? Well... maybe they'll come tomorrow. If you think I'm tooling on these people, think again.

We could learn something fro a culture that is so laid back and relaxed. And not relaxed in a tropical island lay around the beach all day drinking mojitos kind of relaxed, but relaxed about the little things that seem to drive us crazy. There is no road rage even though traffic, parking and driving is completely insane. No where to park, narrow roads and tons of cars, yet everyone is cool. We were in a Panaderia (which is a bakery, but runs much more like a deli with people making their way in and out, some staying to eat and along line of customers waiting service) and this guy was saying "Toyota negro" in a calm voice for a few minutes. This was a weekday and I could see that his car, parked precariously up on the side walk, was blocked in by a black corolla parked even more interestngly with the ass end sticking out into traffic. Scanning the restaurant, no one was moving. After a few minutes, a woman stands up, wipes off her mouth, drops off her trash and walks past the man indicating that she'll move her car. "Gracis" he says, and follows her out.

The cyclist's experience in Puerto Rico is difficult to quantify. Traffic controls are more of a suggestion than anything, and the roads are narrow and in terrible condition. Cars whiz by with inches to spare and interval sprint work is dictated by the appearance of stray dogs rather than the approaching town line. Despite this, I feel safer there on the road than here. Drivers are patient and attentive in a way that New England cyclists could only dream of. Drivers tolerate two abreast riding for extended periods, wait patiently behind as you ascend the steep and curvy roads across the mountains (no snow there, so sensible pitches and guardrails are hard to find), and you never get the yahoo in the pickup with the gun rack gassing it and cutting you off as they drive by. The slow and twisty roads make patience a pre-requisite for sure, but these people are also used to sharing their roads with cows, scooters, tractors and the like. Cyclists and drivers perform this high speed ballet with a mutual degree of precision, respect and fear. It is organized chaos.

That culture creates an environment where you can be yourself. No one judges you by your career, how you are dressed, or if you are rich or poor. Everyone is friendly and strangers greet strangers with a hug and a genuine smile. If you are willing to sit with the locals and eat and drink the native cuisine and take a stab at communicating in spanish, then you are family.

Maybe the "do what makes me happy" attitude has lead to problems with crime and infrastructure, but on an individual level it is nice to be accepted for who you are as a person rather than being judged by the projection you have to create and maintain of yourself.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Puerto Rico

I've got lots of thoughts about my most recent trip to PR. But it is late and time for bed.

Check back later.

Great ride today, just nice to be out on the rolling roads of Central Mass.