7/29/11

Riding Day 5 of RAGBRAI...

Tara and I had planned to do a day or two of RAGBRAI when it hit central Iowa. It was either going to be Wednesday from Boone to Altoona, or Thursday Altoona to Grinnell. Considering the weather was scorching/muggy hot on Wednesday and the forecast called for overcast and rain on Thursday - Thursday it was. Then Tara pulled the plug as she had to work. That suited me fine as day 5 on RAGBRAI called for 66 hills over the course of a 57.5 mile route. I figured I would use it as a training ride and hammer all 66 of the hills and shoot for a 4-5 hour ride.

So Zack dropped me off in Altoona yesterday morning at 9:35 a.m. as I waited until it finished raining before loading my bike in the Element. The lion's share of riders were already gone being that time of the morning, but I knew I would catch up with the crowd in the first 10 miles. The roads confirmed that I had just missed the rain and many must have gotten wet as the morning showers had moved through sometime between 7-9 a.m. . I was riding the Specialized Allez road bike that I bought for Zack a few years ago. It's a size XL 58cm frame, but I have major toe overlap with the front wheel due to my preference of wearing the cleats all the way back on my shoes. Not a problem on my 29"ers, and not really a problem on a road bike since turns are more of a lean and the only time my shoes really rub the tire is stopped at stop lights/signs with one foot unclipped and waiting for my turn to go with the front wheel turned.

The bike traffic flow was nice all the way to Colfax. And the cloud cover made for perfect July riding temperatures. It was still muggy causing me to be dripping wet, but there was no chance of overheating for me in the low 80's temps. We were riding into a pretty good wind that had everyone hunting for a slipstream. I wanted to go solo and use the wind as a big Texas Hill and spent most of the day doing that. Colfax was filled with the "crowd", so I indeed caught up to the masses after the first 7 miles. The usual crowds were already in the beer gardens and it was only 10 a.m. !!! I filled the water bottle at one of the stations and pushed on to the next town - Baxter. We crossed I-80 right at that bridge next to the Adult Book Superstore that one always sees driving east or west on I-80. I think it was one of those old Stuckey's highway gas station/restaurant stops. Anyway, they had a beverage and food stand which was attracting a lot of riders. ;-)

I buzzed on by and pushed myself for the 7 miles north to Baxter. My legs were warmed up now and I was flying. I stuck to my goal of killing the climbs. If I was riding the entire week, or more than one day, this would not have been possible. However, I was enjoying the ride on the pavement as I am always too chicken to go out on the highways of Iowa that don't have shoulders by myself for a training ride. It was really crowded at this point. In addition to the week long riders, there seemed to be a lot of us one day riders which is typical in central Iowa as a lot of folks from the Des Moines metro area hop on for a day. I think RAGBRAI has grown so much they should just block off the entire road. There are too many riders to fit in the right lane. If you want to pass and stay on the right side of the yellow line, you piss off a bunch of folks as you pass in narrow quarters. So you pretty much have to cross the yellow line and pass. But with the road being open, you encounter a lot of oncoming traffic which is not the safest option. I don't even like being in the right lane near the center line when an oncoming car or truck approaches. Here's what the crowds looked like...

Crowded!!

About 3 miles outside of Baxter, I noticed my rear tire was going flat. Rats!! I had a patch kit, but no spare tube as I couldn't find them when loading up my bike. Turns out, Tara had them in her pack and she was no where to be found - obviously. So I put as much of my weight on the front wheel as possible in an odd looking position on the bike and limped into Baxter. I headed for the Rassy tent and Squirrel chastised me for not having a spare tube. $13 later and about a 10 minute wait in line to get my bike "fixed", I was on my way. I filled the water bottle and even though all the food looked great in Baxter, it was still too early to eat lunch. I shot the one GU I had brought along, took a swig of water and headed off.

The sun was poking out and the hills were calling for me. I had not been out of the big ring yet and vowed to stay there even if it meant standing on some of the climbs. People would fly by me on the flats and the descents, only to have me fly back by them on the climbs. Again, since they were riding more than one day, I can understand - I wouldn't have been able to attack the climbs if this would have been day 5 for me either. A lot were even walking the climbs. I started to see bikes turned upside down on the side of the road and people laying in the shade of trees on various farms. The upside down bike is a call for the SAG Wagon to pick them up. The heat and hills were taking out a lot of folks. I was flying and the view was pretty much like this the rest of the day...

Down and up. Down and up. Down and up.

66 Hills on day 5

I finally pulled off the road at 12:30 for a chicken sandwich and a bottle of "Perfect Water". It didn't take long to polish off the sandwich since the chicken cut inside of the bun was a bit larger than a McNugget (I knew I should have packed a bagel and snack). Oh well, $7 to remind myself of the typical RAGBRAI fare. I saw a few signs for free pie, but wasn't in the mood to load up on sugar and go into a food coma. I kept pushing on and when I was 12 miles outside of Grinnell, I stopped for a strawberry/banana smoothie and called Zack to come pick me up.

Passing the entrance of Rock Creek State Park, I noticed hundreds of riders on both the left and right sides of the road were dismounted and enjoying the stop and beautiful scenery or Rock Creek and the lake. About 50 yards in front of me I heard this scream and shouting as one gal entered the flow of traffic without looking or checking or announcing she was coming on and another gal ran right into her. They sideswiped all the way over to the left side of the road with both bikes getting tangled up and both women shouting at each other. Everyone just stared on in disbelief, but they were both okay. I heard apologies as I went by the two getting up off the pavement. It's a fun ride, but care must be taken at all times with that many people on the road.

Hills 58 - 66 were eating my lunch. The legs were fatigued as I was pushing a fast pace all day and I was now approaching hour 4 which is beyond my training for this season riding at the pace I was riding. One sign said "Grinnell 7 miles, only 3 hills to go". So I hammered those 3 hills as hard as I could to finish the day off, only to find that the sign was a mirage (or the work of a practical joker - or sadist). There were indeed more hills ahead. Finally, a sign said "one more hill" and I hit it feeling better than the previous 10-12 hills and sure enough - it was the last hill.

I made the turn south to ride down to I-80 where I was to meet Zack. I pulled into the lawn of a Comfort Inn, called Zack and told him where I was. 4 1/2 hours on the bike which was smack in the middle of my 4-5 hour training ride plan. He pulled in about 5 minutes later, so our timing was pretty ideal. I loaded up the bike, hopped in and back we drove to Indianola. My RAGBRAI 2011 came and went in 1 nice, slightly overcast day on a beautiful stretch of central Iowa roads. That's 11 hours on the bike so far this week - so I will take today off outside of a short recovery ride, and do a little pre-race prep on Saturday for Sunday's XC race.

7/22/11

Tour de France excitement...

One of the best tours I've seen in years. I've been watching every summer for 20 years since my first one in the summer of 1992 in Vienna thanks to it being broadcast all those years in Europe. We even saw a few days of the TDF in France while vacationing there the summer of 2001, but you don't get to see to much standing on the side of the road as the peleton whizzes by in a few seconds. The television coverage is much more worth the viewing.

Anyway, I'm rooting for Cadel Evans from Australia to let it all out on the time trial tomorrow. It was a shame he had a bike mechanical earlier in the day today and spent all the energy to catch back up, but what a great ride for him the past three days. Tomorrow will tell who can recover and TT the best to grab the win - Andy, Cadel, or Frank?

Lots of drama this year, but lots of fun to watch as well.

7/19/11

Back home in Iowa...

I promised photographs of New York of which we have many on our cellphones. Tara emailed me a bunch of the cycling in NYC pictures, but they haven't shown up yet - so I'll need to download them. If I can't figure it out - c'est la vie. Another boring post without pictures. Not too exciting for a blog, I know.

We had a great time on the rooftop BBQ Monday night. Ended up meeting a Holocaust survivor who had a very similar accent to my mother-in-law. Turns out, this lady survived the nasty of all nasties - Auschwitz in Poland!! It was a nice visit.

Tuesday had us meet for lunch with one of our best friends (Susan Roth) to catch up. She took us down to Chelsea and we walked the High Line development in the heat and had a good time getting to know this newly developed section of Manhattan. That evening, we wound up at a Broadway show that Alexa wanted to see - Wicked - which I really, really enjoyed. I know it came out in 2003 and was familiar with a couple of the hit tunes, but the actual production was very well done. It was not overdone or overproduced as I was thinking it would be. Phenomenal comic physical acting from the gal that played "Glinda". She had perfect timing and delivered all night long.

Wednesday was a 3 hour bike ride with our old friend Barbara McGrory. We picked up some bikes from Champion Bicycle Shop on Amsterdam and 104th. Weather was great with temperatures about 85-87 degrees (10 degrees cooler than Tuesday's temps). Origin 8 steel frame bikes outfitted as 1 x 7's with a road ring up front, mountain bike handlebars, road tires and all together, they were some sort of an urban road bike set up. Without bike shorts or shoes or helmets, things could be called a different experience for a 3 hour ride, but it didn't feel bad at all. The largest frame they had to rent me was about a size medium, so we jacked the seat way up and jammed the seat back. The stem was short, so my fit was "odd", but nothing I couldn't handle for a few hours. Who's to argue with cheap rentals? And they tossed in a spare tube in case of a flat.

We rode up to 125th on the bike path along the Hudson, turned around and went all the way down to Battery Park. We took a photo with Lady Liberty in the background, and then stopped for a wonderful lunch at an outdoor restaurant. 1 1/2 hour ride back up to the bike shop to return the bikes and pay. Recovery was at Ben & Jerry's (they had a 99 cent frozen yogurt special). We said good-bye to Barbara and went to pick up Alexa from camp. Wednesday night was dinner with the relatives on the upper East Side (77th and 1st Avenue). Lots of good food, discussion, arguments and catching up with Tara's cousins. The guys talked sports and stocks, the gals - I don't know what they talked about down at their end of the table...

Thursday, things actually felt cold outside as temps were around 80. We dropped Alexa off at camp at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as her camp was touring the Alexander McQueen special exhibit. We hit up a diner on Madison Avenue and decided to take advantage of the weather to do another 3 hour bike ride. So back to Champion Bicyles we went for a 3 hour rental. The guy told us a cool ride was to head up north to 132nd, lock the bikes up and go into the grocery store named "Fairway Market", buy lunch, and then ride up to the Little Red Lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge for a picnic. Sounded good to us.

We headed over to Central Park first and did a full loop and a half of the park first. Too many tourists on rental bikes and too many locals thinking it was a race, so we headed back to the Hudson and rode north to the Fairway Market. I don't know how to explain it, but this grocery market was incredible. I don't think there is anything else like it in New York - let alone little old Iowa. Mounds and mounds and rooms and rooms of produce, meats, cheese, breads, beverages and on and on. How to narrow down what to get for the picnic? Well, we managed to get some goodies and left the market even though I could have stayed for hours just checking out all they had in there. We parked the bikes at the Little Red Lighthouse, had our lunch and then headed back to the bike shop where we were about 20 minutes beyond the 3 hour rental deal, but they were kind and didn't charge us anymore.

We walked across Central Park to our apartment, got showered and headed down to pick up Alexa from camp. We headed down to SoHo for some shopping, appetizers and sight seeing. The girls did some damage at True Religion in SoHo while I sat in a chair. Then we headed through Chinatown and walked around for a bit before making our way back to Little Italy. We were now all pretty hungry and we hunted down a restaurant to eat that was a bit off the beaten path. We had a nice meal with excellent service and felt stuffed going out the door. We walked up from Little Italy to catch the sights, sounds and smells of Times Square at night before heading to 57th where we caught the subway home.

Friday was the day the girls at camp would be making their presentations in the afternoon for the parents that they had been working on all week. Alexa's group had designed a new line of evening wear, and I was anxious to see what they had come up with as a team. Since we only had a few hours to kill, Tara and I headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the McQueen exhibition. Wow!!! It was eye opening, exciting, and tragic all at once. Tragic due to this major talent and mind ending his life the way he did, but fascinating to see his work. We had lunch and raced off to 53rd Street for the presentation.

There were about 10 groups that were presenting, and Alexa's group was made up of the older girls and they were more organized, professional and thought provoking with their presentation. Their line, as I mentioned, was evening dresses and their target market was a market of girls in the 16-21 year old age group with dresses at price points of $200 - $800 per dress. They had 5 different lines of evening wear and impressed the review panel and faculty that they had developed such a diverse line based on one item - the evening dress. It was fun to see the creative work from all of these girls and the teamwork that they experienced in coming up with a clothing line. After it was over, we all got ice cream downstairs in the lobby (B&J's again) after the presentations. Everyone said their good-byes for the week of camp and we headed back to the apartment to shower and change for the evening's plans.

Tara had booked us into the Mesa Grill on 15th Street and 5th Avenue for some southwestern Bobby Flay cooking. She's a big fan of his on the Food Network, so wanted to sample his restaurant. We had a fun time there. Our waitress was an aspiring young opera singer from North Dakota - so we really hit it off. The food was good, but not all of it was great. My ribeye was a laborious chew it was so tough - in spite of being a perfect medium rare. I don't think I've ever had a tough ribeye in Iowa, so it was a bit disappointing. The appetizers, side dish of creamed corn and the coconut cake (the one Bobby has won 2 throw downs with in the past) was to die for. Wow! All in all, it was a fun meal outside of my steak. I should have gone with my first choice - a nice tuna steak instead.

Another walk through lower Manhattan before we hopped the subway and went back to the apartment. Alexa was begging to see the new Harry Potter movie, but I wasn't going to go out to catch a late show in New York.

Saturday, we got up and stripped the beds, cleaned the apartment and packed. Tara and I headed down to the MET Opera Gift Shop to get some goodies for Zack. We went back with our bag full of goodies and picked up Alexa to go to Dylan's Candy Bar on 60th and 3rd to get some presents for our Iowa friends. Stopped at a deli for some lunch and went back to head over to the west side to catch the M60 Bus to LaGuardia airport. Uneventful flight back to Chicago and Kansas City. Well, well - I left a light on in my Honda Element and the battery was totally dead. Managed to get a jump start from a shuttle bus and we were on our way home to Indianola. We pulled in the driveway at 2 a.m. and our vacation to New York was complete.

Teaching at the Orpheus Festival this week at Simpson. Our friends from Austria arrive this weekend for a visit, so we're busy getting the basement ready for them as the carpet was installed last week while we were gone.

Pictures to come once I get them downloaded from the cellphones.

7/11/11

Forget those little town blues, the Big Apple delivers....!

We had a great day in New York City on Saturday - except we walked about 47 blocks too many for my arches and calves which were in shock from pounding all of that pavement. I've got some pictures to dump later, but they are on Tara's cellphone and she has to email them to me first.

We rented a car on Sunday and drove up to Cooperstown to see Sarah Larsen in Cherubini's Medea at The Glimmerglass Festival. This was the opera that Maria Callas really brought to life during her career. I had never seen it before, so was glad to get the chance. It was wonderful and really a joy to witness (they did the Italian version with recitative). Sarah was phenomenal in her role as the nurse. We took her to dinner in Cherry Valley aftern the matinee performance and visited for about 2 hours before driving back to Manhattan.

Alexa's camp started today and she was greeted by the VP of Coach!! We got her registered and signed in at 9 a.m. at LIM on 53rd Street. Tara and I went across the street to a nice little French cafe shop and had breakfast before going to the Modern Museum of Art. Tara and I had snagged tickets for the taping of The Late Show with David Letterman (the taping we saw airs tonight - Monday). That was kind of a fun, touristy thing to do, but well worth it. We picked up Alexa from camp after that and sat down for a little Jause at a cafe to tide us over until dinner and hear all about fashion camp.

We're heading over to our good friends the McGrory's on the upper west side for a rooftop barbeque tonight. Should be a perfect evening catching up and visiting after all these years.

More to come - and hopefully pictures too....

7/6/11

Painting, paint fumes, paint colors....

Three solid days of painting are now under my belt. I should - I say should - be able to finish up most of the important painting today. One more coat in Alexa's room (she decided to go from her standard pink to a new, vivid and bold "Twist of Lime" paint which looks sweet, but requires a lot of coats), some touch up in the recreation room, a repaint of Alexa's bathroom (the Lowe's paint didn't even come close to matching the original color - that's how much they have changed the color code since last year for the same paint), and 1/2 the storage room today. Also up for task today is removing all of the nails and staples from the baseboard that was removed from the perimeter walls, and then dusting and cleaning it to get it ready for installation. Busy day for sure, but nothing 12 hours of manual labor can't accomplish. However, I am physically running on fumes being day 4 of this work.

Measuring at 11 a.m. by yet another carpet installer to get a competitive bid. Tara, Alexa and I head out on Friday for New York - so my original goal of getting all of this done before that trip now has to be given a new target date. The dry wall and framing took 5 days, instead of the contractor's estimate of 2 days. The Better Basement Tech work took 4 days, instead of the original estimate of 3 days. The painting is taking 4 days, instead of what I thought we could do in 2 days (and I've got plenty of help from Tara and the kids down there will all of us painting up a storm). It's just a huge basement to paint with primer, cutting, rolling, trimming, coat 1, coat 2, etc... . So, it was just impossible to get it all done and back together before July 8th. The new target date will now have to be sometime in the week of July 18th - 22nd. Of course, that all hinges on the schedule of the carpet installers as they may already be booked solid for that week. Okay - it will be done when it is done. Then we'll need a good week to get everything back down in the basement and the rest of our house cleaned up and like it was before. I'm growing tired of not getting a vacation in the summer with all of these major damage issues from Ma Nature. Ma - cut me a break. How about a decade of nothing to restore for a change?

Enough of that, back to the basement for another 12 hours I go...

7/4/11

Happy 4th of July!!

Today we celebrate the weeks of deliberation and ultimate unanimous adoption and subsequent signing of the Declaration of Independence that Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1776 which declared independence from Great Britain. Fireworks, barbecues, picnics, parades, concerts, ball games, family get togethers, etc... are the traditional means of celebrating one's patriotism.

So, how did we celebrate this year?

We attended the musical 1776 yesterday that featured some of our friends in the cast. After the performance, we all gathered at the Hades for salmon, tilapia, wine, ice cream, fireworks and fellowship. Much discussion of U.S. history and the months leading up to the signing of the document ensued. It was only a last minute effort that had Adams and Jefferson drop the paragraph about abolishing slavery that convinced the standouts from the south to vote "yay" to adopt the document. Of course, the issue of slavery resurfaced in the next century as Adams forecast, but I was not aware it was such a huge topic of discussion during the weeks and days leading up to July 4th.

Today, for celebration, we painted all day long in the basement while I had a turkey smoking out on the Green Egg (Ben Franklin's choice for the national bird over John Adams suggestion of the eagle). The turkey was so good, I think I outdid myself with this particular smoke. I soaked it for 48 hours in a special brine, made my own rub, steamed it on a can in the smoker, made gravy and wow - just wow is all we can say about it. My own self criticism would be that the next time I smoke a turkey, I will soak it in fresh water for 12 hours following the 2 day brine.

We will go and watch fireworks at the park later tonight after some more painting and the kids head off to a carnival in Urbandale.

Happy 4th to all - even to the Brits. '-]

7/2/11

Boone 3/6 Hour canceled, time to start painting...

A thunderstorm moved through central Iowa late last night which caused the Boone 3/6 Hour race scheduled for today to be canceled. I'm glad I read that post late last night so I could sleep in today and watch Breakfast at Wimbledon. It didn't rain here and everything is nice and sunny today, so they must have had a big dump of rain up at Boone to force the cancel because word was things were really dry going into the weekend. Oh well...time to paint instead.

The dry wall installation, taping, mud and texture is complete. I bought paint for the job yesterday and wouldn't you know it, since the last time the basement was painted the paint codes - or rather the mixture they use to create the exact same paint codes - have changed just slightly enough that a perfect match was not possible for the bathroom and the main basement walls. So we might end up painting all the walls instead of just the perimeter walls, we'll have to see once it goes on and dries whether or not it is lighter or darker than the original.

We went to see Puccini's La Boheme last night at Des Moines Metro Opera and will see Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites tonight. We will catch the third opera on Wednesday.