Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Life is what happens ...

... when you're busy making other plans.

I believe that is what John Lennon said, roughly.
Oh, how true. How true is your life? Have you (recently) done what you wanted to do for even a month? Have you gotten tired of it? It's one of the four natures of suffering -- the suffering of change. So, you don't get that last sentence. Oh well. But isn't it true -- you have your vacation, exactly as planned and all of a sudden, it's like, "Shit! I want some variety! I want a drama. I want a taste of everyday life."
Yep. Sleep tight, Minneapolis. My semester starts tomorrow. And next spring, our second baby will be born.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Fall back!

A synonym for "retreat." Except, well, retreat can mean something exceptionally civilized, something families and companies do from time to time. Such was the case ... our annual company retreat. Besides, I prefer to, and usually do, fall forward.
Now, many are averse to hanging out with a hundred or so co-workers and their families. Well, maybe because I grew up in trailers and saw the worst (and showed the worst I and) my family had to offer, I'm not as shy. This was one rip-roarin' good time. As the postcard might read: "Wish you were here." We all made memories the rest of you ill-inclined folks will hear about for a while to come. The following images are from the Cable area in northern Wisconsin, Land of Beer and Liquor Sales -- Seven Days a Week!

Chequamegon National Forest: Rock Lake Trailhead. Freakin' phenomenal trails (thanks to CAMBA). Bill is giddy already.

The singlespeed ladies -- Amy, Holly and Alix -- say, 'Quit gawking and start riding, fools!'

Reid expresses disdain for governmental intervention in his wilderness experience.

Halfway through the challenging loop -- Hildebrand Lake Loop -- and spirits are somewhat high.

The Karate Monkey overlooks Hildebrand Lake. I connected very well with my Karate Monkey and did not once feel as if it was looking at something without me (i.e. I did not go over the bars or otherwise disconnect from the bike.) Vive le 29er!

The redneck remedy for a plaguing malady -- the thrown chain! Some sticks and a hair tie. Yee haw!

The group back at the trailhead. "Man, those were awesome trails! Let's go drink a beer ..."

Geoff asks, "Does this headband make me look like a dork?" The Schley is sly, but he's still "The Schlayer!"

Trail scars ...

And more trail scars. Hardly worth a mention, but I'm not sure many of you (distant friends) have seen my relatively new tattoo, professing my love for a certain componentry.

Critical Mass Northwoods style!

The Karate Monkey is on autopilot. On One Midge Bars are nice, but not easy to set up.

Ben takes a break from mixing 'wop' to take the Brown Beast for a spin at the lodge.

Dinner beneath a blue Wisconsin sky and 75 degree temps. It was horrible.

Well, Skiles is into see-food. That part was horrible.

It wasn't all fun and games -- we actually had to work on some team building exercises including a scavenger hunt.

But we did get to drink beer while doing so. I think Joe is signing a certain lack of a bevvy in his free hand.

Sylvia dances for mama while the scavenger hunt continues.

Yep, our team is weaving a basket out of discarded plastic strapping. I was shocked and amazed. Carlos is pretty jazzed about it as well. Zeigle and Miker discuss the finer points of aesthetics while the hysteria ensues.

Two faces only a mother could love. Skiles and me at the meeting. He's my favorite Cat 6 guy hands down. The party kept going because the beer took a while to run dry. There are other pictures of Skiles and me from the evening. I'm sure they'll make someone else's blog. I turned in rather early for a party night, but I had an awesome time making new friends and napping in their hotel room.

The next day (Sunday) arrived far too soon. I rolled over in bed and wondered whether any of us would get fired for the frivolity. April and Sylvia went for breakfast. I got up for a shower and checked for a pink slip under the door. In the clear this time. We loaded up Dirty Kop and made a stop off at Rock Lake trailhead again for a hike. It was another beautiful day and an amazing chance to enjoy the Northwoods before returning to the city.

Sylvia and her walking stick.

The stick became a spear ... and later a shovel ... and eventually just something else Daddy had to carry!

A really neat tree discovered by the Kop -- growing atop the remains of a much older tree.

April got to hike off alone for a bit. That was good for her. She was a good sport letting me go on a killer mtn bike ride and stay out late with friends. Thanks, honey!

The Nuptials, continued

Dave and Dawn had perhaps the most relaxed time frame of any wedding I have ever attended. It was a rainy Saturday on August 11th. It was cold and just sort of autumn-like, all of a sudden. We slept in because our bodies were grateful to be clutching for covers after braving the weeks of sweaty 80+ degree nights without even a sheet. It was, in a word, heaven to have the weather break. We had no plan for Dave and Dawn's wedding either. We hadn't shopped for a gift; although Sylvia was to be the flower girl, we had no idea what she should wear. We had no idea what to wear. The cool weather provided another blessing in that we could dip into our wardrobes and find some of the fall stuff (it's never too far buried in Minnesota!) -- woolens, long sleeves, etc. We showed up 35 minutes late but it didn't seem we were late at all.

The wedding took place in the WA Frost building in St Paul. This building is a magnificent historic structure that houses a swanky restaurant, a bar and a paper/gift shop. The presence of these three things along with the architecture/decor of the place, spoke to my soul. I have a thing for turn of the century (19th to 20th, that is) architecture, dress and way of life. Who knew? Anyhow, I didn't take many pictures. I'm going to blame this on two things: my Nikon Coolpix L3 seems to behave terribly when asked to photograph low-light indoor photos. The shutter/flash delay guarantees I will end up with something I didn't plan to shoot; and, the WA Frost building was so overrun with rampant spirits of days gone by that I couldn't have gotten a clear photo had I tried. Those ghosts were busy invading the pixels. Those are my excuses and I'm sticking to them.

It was a wonderful day though. Friends' weddings are always a beautiful occasion and this was a perfect instance of such beauty.

Due to the rain, the wedding (which had been slated for outdoors) was moved to the basement of WA Frost. This place was stylish and terribly, wonderfully retro. I was ready to doff the tweed and tamp a bowl on my favorite pipe to discuss the foibles of imperial politics and watch the rain pelt the panes. I must say, however, in a most gentlemanly way, that Dawn's dress was simply smashing.

We all look like shape-shifters in these images. Here Maui has just put Reid in his place at the dinner table. Or maybe he found a fake eye floating in his water glass. (Wonder who could have put that there?)

Two faces of the groom overshadowed by some long-dead cardinal or bishop or hell ... I don't know. But a very awe-inspiring canvas nonetheless. And Dave wasn't bad either in the tux. It was hard to place him without the orange Ortlieb Messenger backpack strapped to his torso.

Sylvia got the royal treatment. Not only did she get a gift of markers, art supplies and a coloring book, but the wait staff offered to bring her a free bowl of ice cream. I suppose that helped offset the price of my $7 pint of Surly Furious.

Well, more friends getting hitched. That can only mean one thing -- pretty soon those friends will eventually be getting saddled with offspring. Fatherly commiseration, shared babysitting ... they're all right around the corner! Oh, and I did take a spin through the paper/pen store. Although I was tempted, I didn't buy a thing. That was hard because cool weather and tweed jackets (plus, don't forget a fine fedora) always make me think of being indoors and writing. Ahh, writing ... ahh, fall!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I'm a visual person who really digs words, too.

Or am I a word guy who really likes pictures? Who cares ... I totally get the 'Oh snap!' expression now! And I hope this helps you, too.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Back tracking

In recent blogging I have neglected to mention a couple of notable events that occurred. There have been a spree of weddings lately. Let's recap Bob and Betsy's nuptials:

Noren lets his true feelings slip.

The happy couple is now one entity, or so that's what the vows say. In all seriousness, Bob and Betsy are awesome. Many happy years to you both!

Before things got too wacky ... Bob greets Johnny and Carrie, Mamie, and Samantha.

Before long, most of us ended up hovering around the beer tent. Tony even makes time for some business.

Henry (father of the bride) and John discuss the finer points of life over a shot of Patron.

Carrie, Johnny, Tony, Noren, Bob and Betsy -- showing the neighbors what they missed.

Linda Sue is stylin' ...

... and Don is profilin' (the 'WTF?' look).

John thinks Trevor's outfit is lacking the Euro white shoes. I agree.

There are stories behind this photo I'm sure.

Noren's arthritic hand scares many people. It's frozen that way, I swear.

The keg ran dry but trouble was on the way ...

Long after most polite guests had left, Trevor and I stayed. (We were the only two who had ridden bikes to the wedding and our sweaty chamois were still hanging in the bathroom.) We got to spend some real quality time with Betsy's family. Here Trevor shares a bottle of bubbly with Henry.

Henry rode our bikes; we got to sight his shotgun. Then, it was time to leave.

I think I'll listen to Trevor the next time he tells me not to pop the cork on the champagne before loading it into my pannier. Half of it ended up in my bag and half of it in our bellies -- classic Tour style on the road. I got to ride all the way to St Paul from the wedding in Minnetonka for dinner at Joel and Faith's. Unfortunately, I was pooped and didn't stay long before remounting and heading home.

Don't try these marathon party-riding stunts at home kids. Everyone you see here is a trained professional.

Thank you, President Bush ...

... for fucking up my evening commute. The roads were a mess. Cops -- inept, underage cops without a clue -- were incapably directing traffic through otherwise unregulated side roads because your cavalcade chose to block off I-494 at rush hour -- the busiest, most congested stretch of interstate highway through Mpls on a normal day, made exponentially worse because our Dunce-in-Chief was in town. But, hey, I guess you needed to get to the airport. Your presence affected half the city and most of them probably hate your guts. (Land in rural MN next time -- they love you. Here, in the city, we love our liberal ways.) Glad you didn't stay long. Make it longer before your next visit. And, please make it even longer before any of your cronies inherit the White House. Wait, just keep doing what you're doing ... I have some faith the American people are beginning to catch on by now.



Another roadside attraction

Three feet. That's all I ask -- three feet. That's the minimum legal passing distance. Three feet is nice. Give a little more if ya got it. Thanks.

Coming events -- Flecker delves into fresh territory with a go at mountain bike racing. First off is the Dakota 5-0 (as in 50 mile) in Spearfish SD over Labor Day weekend. 6275 ft of climbing (and descending) in the beautiful hills of South Dakota. Come along ... it'll be a memory in the making: http://www.dakota5o.com/ After that, it's time for the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival. That's 40 miles of less punishing terrain, but still a thigh-burner. Me and something like 7000 other riders will hit the course to pedal/race this timeless Northern WI classic. It should be good times: http://www.cheqfattire.com/ Then ... well, then .... it will be 'cross season! (Don't get me started.)

We are on day 4/5 of the rain in Mpls. Since we cool our apartment via open windows, it has been an interesting process watching the pages of books curl and the soggy cycling duds refuse to dry out overnight. Good times. Welcome to Portland. This is why they make Framesaver, I suppose. It's never a bad idea for your beloved STEEL ride. Dig it.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Dissed allusion

I want to say that I hate cars. This is a strong sentiment, especially from someone who does not really believe the word "hate" belongs in everyday parlance. But it is tough for me to ignore how I feel; and when the way I feel carries such strong conviction, I have to express it.

Cars are an illusion. We have built our entire society around the use and enjoyment of automobiles. That facade is the only thing that makes car culture seem a reality. We have created car culture and we have created the "need" to own and operate automobiles on a daily basis. Cars are a crutch. This is an assertion that goes a step beyond and it necessitates that you can at least recognize the vague outline of the facade and begin to understand the holographic nature of the illusion. Society may collectively create and uphold the illusion, but we, as individuals, daily fill our roles as supporting columns in the artifice. Thus, we have the power, as individuals, to challenge the assumptions of society and others at large. Cars are a convenience, a contrivance, a nuisance. Who does not complain about the costs of automobile ownership? Who really could claim that all those hundreds of dollars per month, thousands of dollars per year, make any sense? Yet, so many go on buying into it, never earnestly questioning the insanity.

Have you ever thought beyond the scope of your own costs of automobile ownership? Have you thought about the mass subsidization of automobile culture? Yeah, that's right -- car drivers do not, and could not ever hope to, pay their own way. The next time you drive through a road construction zone (and hopefully, by the way, you slow down and respect the lives of the workers) think about the sheer labor hours and equipment expense you're witnessing. All of that so that we can operate our cars on safe, relatively smooth roads that will take us where we want to go. Sure, a lot of that money for road construction and maintenance comes out of gasoline taxes, but it all doesn't. Many who can't or don't operate automobiles are subsidizing those efforts. The government and auto industries are subsidizing it. Insurance companies are subsidizing it, too. The fact is the price of the automobile extends way beyond the immediate pain each one of us feels writing checks for payments to the bank and insurance company, or filling the tank with gas. When you drive a car you are literally drawing upon a resource pool that taps into nearly all areas of our society. Driving a care is a privilege, not a right.

I don't read much that pops up on my MSN home page. But today, I noticed a storyline -- "Will milk reach $5 a gallon?" Milk -- a staple of many Americans' diets. Milk -- at the base of the USDA food pyramid. And, for all the food pyramid's flaws, milk is a pretty good nutrient for human sustenance. I consider milk a hell of a lot more important to humans than gasoline. But I'd wager that most people don't care. But gasoline -- sub gasoline in that storyline and you'd get a bold, top-o'-the-page headline followed by stories of violence at the pumps and increased road rage and all sorts of crazy, wacky fall-out. Well, get ready. $5/gallon gasoline will come ... pretty damn soon. It might serve folks well to begin thinking about the human machine a little more. Try drinking down a gallon of gas and getting very far. However, the 2350 or so calories in a gallon of milk could carry a cyclist at a moderate pace 45-50 miles or more. This logic may seem pretty wacked out -- the idea of food as fuel. But in an age where more and more people are trying to figure out how to get fit, it truly seems one answer is to quit leaning on the crutch of the automobile.

And once that happens, once more and more people begin to see that life is indeed possible without constant reliance on cars, then real change can happen.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Phoenix Rising

The weather broke a couple days ago. We were melting in MPLS with 90+ degrees most days and equal percent humidity for several weeks. Today saw a high in the low 70s with steady showers all day. Much of the same tomorrow. Most likely no mtn biking at Wirth, but I'll take the rain -- we need it. This weather shift is one of my favorite things about Minnesota. It happens every year in August -- we'll get an abrupt reminder that signals the inevitable end of summer. Oh, it will still be hot for a few days here and there, but soon enough we'll be layering on the long sleeve woolies for the morning ride. And not long after that, the mitts, winter boots, balaclavas ... but I digress. Who wants to think about winter? It's time to appreciate this delicious treat offered by Midwestern late summer/early autumn.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Usual Morning Musings

I get the chance to think a lot on my daily morning commute. I ride the same route most everyday, so some of the time I zone out. I arrive at work and discover that 12.5 miles have passed and I have solved none of the world's looming issues, let alone any of my own. But, generally I ponder lots of things.

This morning I was preoccupied with anger on the road. And, surprisingly, I was thinking about my own anger. Saturday night I was riding back from dinner at a friend's house and some jackass driving one of those big-Asplundh tree trimming trucks decided to verbally berate me at a series of traffic lights on Fourth going through the U of M. I really don't know what his deal was. It was 9:30 or so. The mood was mellow on the road since everyone in that neighborhood was parked in their favorite watering hole. I was following him, right behind him actually, benefitting from the tremendous draft offered by his truck. For a series of three or four lights he just decided to shout at me from his driver's side window. I couldn't hear everything he was saying (something about running lights, which I hadn't), but it wasn't nice stuff. I let my belligerence get the better of me and fired back. Pretty soon, my only recourse was to draw his attention to the fact that his truck had a phone number painted on the back for observers to call and report his driving. He said, "Go ahead and call, asshole!"

I was so steamed that I immediately pulled up on the sidewalk, whipped out my cell phone and dialed the number. Well, the only problem was in my fury I all of a sudden forgot all those numbers I was trying to mentally juggle -- the truck #, the "How's my driving?" #, and the plate # for good measure.

So, yesterday morning I get a voicemail from some guy who very politely explained that he believed I must have dialed the wrong number. He wished me luck in contacting the folks who could help me achieve justice for being treated badly on my bike. I had to laugh when I listened to that, and I was laughing at myself for being my own jackass in the situation.

My message: keep your head about you in the heat of harassment, if at all possible. Not only will you come out looking like the level-headed party, but you'll also be more prepared to take follow-up action should it be needed. Now it's time to go out and follow my own advice.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Yearly Saga

Once a year the Parents Fleck generously host a "Family Bike Vacation." It's always a good time. I guess, in one form or another, we've been doing this for four years now. It is really an awesome tradition. This year took us to Dodgeville (WI) where we headed to Mineral Point one day and to Mt Horeb the next.

Here we are staging outside the hotel in Dodgeville. This might be the homeland of Lands End, but its nothing like the catalog. Can you say Stripmall-ville?

Hannah cuts loose.

Headed toward Mineral Point ...

Noah, Erin and Naomi pass through the lens.

Sylvia waits patiently while Daddy captures the voyage on digi-film.

Mineral Point offers casual bike parking in an English countryside sort of way. This is right outside the brewpub. Mineral Point is also one very hilly town.

After lunch, Naomi, Erin, Noah, and everyone were in a better mood.

We enjoyed a retort dinner in the hotel lobby. Excellent food in the company of family.

Cousins unite! Sylvia and Julian enjoy a little fun in the hallway.

The next day it was just Brian and Sabra and us. Brian and Sabra are headed to Milwaukee (then back to Dodgeville) via bike paths. We were along for the ride to Mt Horeb.

The day was grey and the that made sections of the trail seem really non-descript. In reality, the Military Ridge Trail offers a lot of variety and takes you through a number of quaint small towns.

Complementing the flatlands and farm fields were lush corridors of overhanging trees with many twists and turns.

Trail riding may a little monotonous at times, but there is always danger lurking. April got caught in some gravel on the edge of the path and went down hard. She sustained some good rash and broke her helmet in the process. It was her first "real" crash. She was a trooper. We bandaged her up and she got right back on to finish the ride.

Sylvia keeping herself happily occupied while we cruise the path.

They have a thing for trolls in Mt Horeb.

Hers and his bike parking outside our motel room at the Village Inn. This place was great. It was a very well-kept classic motel.

They just don't build motels like this anymore.

Sylvia built a tent out of a couple of stools and the bedspread. That was one of my favorite games as a child.

Surveying the damage. April was lucky. The worst part of watching it all happen was seeing her land on her head. Helmets do their job, though, and she is walking proof of that. If you ride, you're going to crash. And the more you crash, the better you get at lessening the effects. But folks, it always makes sense to wear a helmet. (That means you shouldn't put it on backwards or ride around looking all cool with the helmet strap unbuckled. We see it all the time on the city paths.)

A time for reflection ...

Sylvia and Old Glory.

A game of ring around the rosie before heading off to dinner.

This brewpub almost makes me want to hop in the car and drive 5 hours just to take home a couple growlers. The Maggie IPA was excellent and the food was very tasty as well.

The Grumpy Troll was a fine end to a fine weekend. The next morning I time trialed 25 miles back to the car in Dodgeville. Then drove back to Mt Horeb to pick up the ladies. We took the scenic route home along byways of southwestern WI and had a late lunch in La Crosse. Thanks Dad and Sabra for making it all possible. We hope your ride to Milwaukee and back is going well. Can't wait for next year!