Saturday, April 25, 2009

getting settled

A number of people have asked us if it feels weird to be back in Urbana after a 4 1/2 year absence. The short answer is yes and no. We know a handful of people that were or have become townies, but the majority of our friends are scattered across the country. So that gives this place a very different feel. One aspect that has smoothed our transition is that the weather has been downright pleasant since we moved. Aside from the couple days of rain, the temps have felt much like Abq.

We picked our rental home over the interwebs on the basis of 4 pictures and a short description. It exceeds our expectations. Nice, big kitchen.
We have one of your larger two car garages. Eventually we might park the car in there or get 25 more bikes, but for now I really like the vast space. And there are windows on 3 sides.

By the way, the biking revolution has begun here. My rough estimate is that there are 5X as many people riding bikes for errands and commutes as when we left. It's hard for us to imagine people referring to us as the biking couple here. Whoda thunk it?

You may recall that Jill is pregnant. Here she is at week 19. All is still going well, yea!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Big NM ride, parte dos, el conclusion

But then, as at our San Ysidro stop, the precipitation stopped and the sky brightened. Yes indeed, continue to Los Alamos we would. After nearly 2 hours in the LL, we were warm and our clothes turned from wet to damp. I tried to take some pictures, but my water-logged camera couldn’t focus. I was aggravated because I just bought it a month earlier to replace the one I dropped. And yes, I was still unemployed.

The scenery in Jemez Canyon is gorgeous with steep rock walls on either side that change from red at the southern end to gray near the canyon entrance. This day, however, a couple of inches of snow highlighted the cliffs’ contours and brightened the ground. This stretch of riding was the highlight of the ride. Seeing the whitened canyon more than made up for the cold rain earlier in the day and filled me with joy.

Not far from La Cueva, it started to snow. Not much later, blizzarding began in earnest. We first stopped to put on our jackets, then stopped for pants, then for hoods, then for frozen jelly bellies, and finally stopped to ponder our fate. I took comfort in the relatively warm temperatures (for a blizzard), I doubt it was ever much below freezing, the number of daylight hours remaining, the number of cars that offered us a ride, and the relatively proximity to Los Alamos. I was surprised by the peace that filled my soul. I felt that mother nature didn’t want to kill us as she easily could, but simply was reminding us of our fragile existence.

However, I was getting the feeling that Ryan wasn’t happy and peaceful. Perhaps he was happy and just wasn’t talking much. Frankly, we had run out of most conversation topics after spending the first 9 hours of the day together. If he was upset, I can’t blame him. He was riding in a blizzard with wet clothes along an unfamiliar road. Plus, ANY other day within the last 4 months would have been more pleasant.

Eventually, we reached the Valle Caldera but couldn’t see it because of the snow and clouds. On the climb just west of it, I had the brilliant idea of letting Ryan use my booties. He had complained of cold feet which is a very bad thing to have on a very fast descent. My feet were warm and dry at the time, so I thought this would help to balance the suffering between us (also recall that he loaned me some glove liners earlier in the day). After getting the booties on his feet, I started to grind up the hill only to look back and see Ryan still standing by the side of the road. His cleats wouldn’t lock into his pedals because they were clogged with ice. Much chipping away with a screwdriver freed the ice, and we were on our way.

We eventually reached the top of the road, 9134 ft above sea level. Ryan took a few photos with his iphone (recall that my camera was water-logged). I offered to take a pic or two of him, but Ryan graciously turned me down. In order to take photos with an iphone, you have to touch the screen with bare fingers. Though my gloves were a mixture of snow, ice, and water, I didn’t want to take them off.

An easy lesson to learn about bike riding in winter in mountainous areas is that riding uphill feels much warmer than riding downhill. I believe this has something to do with the windshield factor, whereby bicycles don’t have a windshield. In fact, riding downhill in winter can be downright miserable.

The descent to Los Alamos is about 4 miles with an average gradient of about 7-8%. This ride was by far the slowest I had ever ridden the descent. First, it was very cold. Second the road was very wet, but thankfully not icy. My brakes worked poorly. On the way down, my rear brake pads wore by about 50% so that my lever bottomed out. The front brakes were compromised. Thus, pulling the levers with all the strength left in my frozen fingers barely slowed me. Yikes! My feet, once dry and warm, became wet and frozen.

At the bottom of the descent we had another powwow. Clearly, we couldn’t ride down to White Rock to meet Kyle and his brother because we were too cold. So I thought about people that I could call in LA who would be willing to take us in for a little while. Our friend and tenant Alan was at the top of the list. He was working on his dissertation at another friends’ apartment, but offered to walk back to his place to let us in. We rejoiced. This was extra kind of him because I had not told him about the ride.

At the downhill side of Omega Bridge I noted that my front tire pressure was low. I rode on without caring at all about damaging the tire or rim. Only warmth mattered. We reached Alan’s place and he welcomed us. He was a hero. He gave us tea (5th cups of the day) and wash cloths with hot water and cranked the heat.
The time was about 4pm when we got to Alan’s place in LA, about 100 miles from home. Our clothes were wet, and the only way out of LA is a 1500 ft descent. Verily, this was the end of our ride. We had ridden only half of our planned route but we were seriously proud.

The story concludes with evidence of the extreme kindness of my friends. Alan drove us to Santa Fe so that we could take the train to Abq. His sedan couldn’t fit our bikes, so Kyle, who was installing basketball hoops at the new Crossroads Church building, offered to drive our bikes on his way home to Abq the next day in his truck. Lovely wife Jill picked us up from the train station and drove us home. That anyone would offer help to knuckleheads that knowingly put themselves in a precarious situation is beyond me. I am rich in friends.

In my mind, the ride officially ended on Monday. Ryan got a ride from another friend to our apartment to help to load our stuff into the Uhaul. Jill drove us to Kyle’s apartment where our bikes awaited. I fixed the flat tire from LA, and then we rode the 3 miles back to our apartment under a clear blue sky in 70 degree temps.

We plan to try the ride again on my next visit.

Big NM ride, parte uno de dos

When one lives in New Mexico, recreation plans are very rarely contingent on weather, so it’s generally not considered. Ryan and I had talked about doing the big ABQLASF loop before Jill and I left for greener flatter pastures. The date that best fit our schedules was Sat, Apr 11, 2009. As the day approached, it became clear that Sat would be the worst weather of the previous month, and the forecast grew grimmer with each passing day. As a weather optimist, I assumed that the rain would come in brief showers that would give way to pleasant sunshine, making for an overall not-too-unpleasant day.

The full loop is about 200 miles, and I would estimate somewhere around 8000 ft of climbing. Based on my 93 and Ryan’s 140+ mile rides, we thought it would take 14 hours with reasonable weather conditions. Ryan’s friend Eli, a stronger rider than either of us, agreed to ride with us. My friend Kyle and his brother planned to join us on the leg from Los Alamos to Santa Fe.
I woke up at 4:30am on Sat and noticed that the ground was wet though it wasn’t raining at the time. The radar showed large and many showers to the southwest. I called Ryan at 4:50 to see if he was still willing to do the ride. He was, but Eli had not shown up to his house yet.

One big lesson from this ride is that when a group of men get together, very often the most risky or exciting viewpoint carries the day. Certainly this was true of our group, and I imagine this is a leading cause of gang violence, church splits, and reality tv shows. I fancy myself a rational thinker, but perhaps I’m more swayed to extremes than I know.

At 5:20 with still no rain falling, Ryan called to say they were ready, and I was off. It was really dark and moderately chilly. A few flashes of lightning appeared to the west. The wind was blowing pretty hard from the south.

Since we had already started to pack for our move to IL, some of my better winter clothes were in boxes. But I felt pretty good about what I had and was wearing. Here’s what I had for the ride.
feet: thick wool socks, mtb shoes, neoprene booties
legs: bike shorts, tights, rain pants
torso: LS wool shirt, LS nylon shirt, LS bike jersey, rain jacket
head: winter wool hat knitted by Jill
hands: fingerless bike gloves, wool mittens
food: small bag of Jelly Bellies, two pb sandwiches, orange
water: two large water bottles

Since the plan was for only 2 hours of riding in the dark, I brought small, battery powered LED lights rather than my generator lighting system. With the fancy tires borrowed from Ryan, my bike was as light and fast as possible.

The three of us met up along the North Diversion channel trail and cruised along happily but took note of the lightning flashing ahead on our route. At Paseo del Norte, the bike trail was blocked with multiple signs saying that the path was closed. That was inconvenient, so we stayed on the trail. Eli joked that those signs are simply invitations to mountain bikers like him. All was fine until just before we wanted to exit at Alameda where the pavement was removed and a fence blocked the exit. I though about carrying my bike over the muddy path but chose to drag it instead. After hopping the fence, I noted that my rear tire was flat, bummer.

The second and third flats happened just south of Bernalillo, at the same time. This time, there was some daylight, so that was nice. Also, since I had brought a spare tire, I replaced the rear Challenge tire with a Pro2 Race.

Shortly after we passed through Bernalillo, a moderate rain started to fall. We were riding along the shoulder of 550 with a slight but gusty tailwind. However, it was tough riding. Water was beginning to pool on the road, so I could either draft the guy in front of me and get a stream of gritty water spraying my face or back off and work harder. I tried both, and neither was pleasant. We all had fenders, but as NM residents we had no experience riding with others in the rain. Additional mud flaps would have prevented the spray onto following riders.

About 5 miles from San Ysidro, my front Challenge tire flatted again. Our routine was getting pretty good by this time. I would get the tools and remove the tire, Ryan would patch the tube, and Eli would pump. After pumping the tire back up, the first patch didn’t hold, so we did it all over again. Brrr, my hands were cold, and my gloves were wet.

5 miles is a long way to ride in the rain with cold, wet hands. We finally reached the gas station in San Ysidro where I washed the road grime off my face and warmed my hands under the hand dryer. We drank hot drinks and discussed our plight as the rain fell. Eli abstained from voting—as the third member, he would go with the group’s decision. I leaned towards returning to Abq, but worried about getting many more flats. Ryan wanted to ride up towards Jemez so that we could see better scenery. We would go on. I bought a pair of gardening gloves for $3 and borrowed glove liners from Ryan.

The rain stopped, and up Jemez Canyon we went. Since we were riding uphill and my hands were dry, I was in good spirits. 5 miles up the road the rain restarted. Then it rained harder. Eli turned for home, but Ryan and I planned to reach Jemez Springs. As we approached Jemez Springs, the rain was turning to a snowy, sleety mix and water ran across the road.

We pulled off at the Laughing Lizard at 10:45 thoroughly soaked and rather cold. Their sign said they would open at 11, but they let us in shortly after we took off our outer gear. The LL has a wood burning stove with a wood fence around it on which we hung our wet stuff. We each drank 4 cups of tea, ate a quesadilla, and had dessert while the rain turned to snow and then to a blizzard. Other patrons told us that snow was sticking to the roadway further up the mountain, so we assumed that our journey had reached the turn-around point.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

arrived in Urbana

Friends, we are in Urbana. Jill's mom and dad joined us for the driving adventure from Abq to Urbana. We men drove 1200 miles in a 14' Uhaul truck while the womens were in the Mazda.

Many thanks to Gus, Rocky, Randy, and Ryan for the help loading the truck. Also thanks to Jill's parents, Bob, and David for helping to unload in Urbana. The polkadots also helped pack and clean our old apartment.

Here's what the truck looked like after we took out Jill's red bike plus a couple of wheels. Tight fit!
More updates to come as we get ourselves settled. We do have interwebs and phone at our place now (and power and water). First impression is that the weather is great here (this is funny because it seems that the day we arrived was the first time anyone had been outside since November). Seems like it was a tough winter here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The vagabonds (part 1 of ?)

It's now 5 days before our scheduled departure from Abq. I've been thinking about the trajectory of my life lately, wondering why I can't seem to settle at a job and/or in a location yet. Here's a very brief history: youth through college in California, grad school in Illinois (with summer reprieve in Santa Fe), first 2 jobs in New Mexico, and now headed back to Illinois for job #3. I've enjoyed all of these places while I've been there. I've made numerous friends in each place, and our closest friendships have happened in Abq.

A root of my vagabond life can be traced to my great-grandfather Ted. He had a farm in eastern Colorado (I need to learn more about this. E. CO is nearly the bleakest place on earth: flat, hot, cold, dry. Maybe the time period of settlement was particularly rainy? Not surprisingly, the populations of Genoa and Limon have decreased steadily in recent decades.) Oscar, my grandfather and Ted's oldest son, expected to inherit the farm, but it was given to his brother. Oscar worked odd jobs his whole life, including driving a truck for Carnation, and was relatively poor. My dad was Oscar's first and only son. He fixed his mind on getting a good job that allowed for a comfortable life, so he went to college and got a degree in mechanical engineering. This led to job opportunities in California. I am my dad's first and only son.

Had Ted passed the farm to Oscar, I would have been next in line for the farm. There I'd be, wishing for rain and worrying about wheat futures.

Great-grandpa Ted lived a long time, so I was able to meet him. I remember his very small dog, his quilts, and that he seemed to be a jolly guy. I'm not sure if anyone knows the reason for his choice.

So one lesson is that higher education leads to broader job opportunities that are often located far from home.

It's funny that despite the huge shuffling of people, unexpected reunions happen all the time. The adults in the group below knew each other in Los Alamos, and somehow for this very brief moment we were all together in Abq.
Very cool.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Packing in the NM rides

Our days of riding up mountains in continously near-perfect weather are coming to a close. So I am making the most of them.

I had been doing a good bit of mountain biking in the foothills, but after my elbow infection, I decided to stick to the road for fear of further injury. Here's a typical view, and keep in mind this is less than 4 miles from our apartment.

My buddy Ryan and whoever else we can convince are going to do a very big ride this Saturday to celebrate New Mexico. The plan is to ride the big loop including Abq, San Ysidro, Jemez Springs, Los Alamos, Santa Fe, and back to Abq. That's about 200 miles with a whole lot of climbing. We're a little nervous but feel that we can do it and be alive afterward.

My preparation was to ride the Heartbreak hill loop and up the Crest, which I did the morning after discovering my wonky elbow (did that help or hurt? In any case, I'm much better now). This was 93 miles with lots of climbing, wind, and cold. After the ride, I laid on the floor, but the next day I felt fine.

Ryan's prep was to ride to SF and back on Sunday. I hardly count this as a warm up since it was over 140 miles -- that's a good chunk of the ride! I told him that I could meet him somewhere in the east mountains to finish up the ride with him. He called from near heartbreak hill and I managed to meet him near mailbox hill (about 20 miles from home). He was in good spirits and still had plenty of strength to ride the rest of the way to Abq. Jill and his friend Ruth met us at Los Cuates for some yummy NM food.

Buddy Ryan loaned me a pair of tires to use on the big ride. I put them on the big boy blue bike and rode up to La Luz trailhead. Momma mia! These are handmade and incredibly thin and lightweight, but they are larger volume than standard racing tires (28 vs 23 mm diameter). Admittedly, I spoil myself with bike goodies, but super duper tires were not on my pamper list. They might be now...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

White sands

Last Tuesday (yes, I have been a very busy unemployed person) we and the Polkadots took a day trip to White Sands. As I'm sure you're aware, New Mexico is a stunningly beautiful place. However, many of the beautiful places that are here can be topped by neighboring states. For example, we have the Rio Grande Gorge near Taos, and Arizona has the Grand Canyon. We have several mountains over 12000', and Colorado has several over 14000' plus they get more snow. White Sands, on the other hand, cannot be topped.

The weather was perfect: 70 or so degrees, no wind, no clouds.We brought along a sled and snow skates for playing on the dunes. With lots of wax, the sleds get a little speed and moreso for lighter people. The big sled, along with some rope, Jill's cleverness, and lots of brute force, was also useful for getting the whole crew to the top of a dune.

One of the dunes that we sledded down had a middle section that was very rock-like. This was good for speed but bad for crashing on. I crash landed on my elbow and hip while surfing on the snow skate. It hurt a good bit at the time, but I assumed it was fully healed until I awoke Monday night (6 days later) with throbbing pain in my elbow. Today the dr. gave me a shot (ouchy on my rear) and some meds. She also drew a line around the swelling.
Lastly, I have accepted a job offer. I'll be working at the Illinois State Geological Survey researching water treatment methods needed for coal mining and CO2 capture from coal fired power plants. Basically, I'll be saving your lives and improving the planet's health.
The job starts on Apr 20, so we'll be out of NM and back to Urbana, IL in a couple of weeks.