Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Still haunting us

This week I completed an article dealing with haunted places in the Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia area. When I got the assignment I told the editor that I was not a believer, to which she said okay, that doesn't matter.

It has been at least 50 years since I could say that ghosts in the poltergeist fashion exist. I'm not sure what convinced me way back then that there was no need to bother myself with the possibility of ghosts. Most likely, an evening of gentle kindness in the arms of my loving father eased me into a life without ghosts.

Later, but not too much later, the religious side of my intellect rejected the whole notion of ghosts on new grounds: Jesus freed humans of ghosts. That notion evolved over time, eventually becoming: Christ's life - in spite of the possession story in the Gospels - makes ghostly spirits meaningless. Sometime in my early twenties I blended my understanding of Christianity with my understanding of Whitman's "oversoul" and realized that there was no place on Earth (or elsewhere in the universe) for ghosts, again, of the poltergeist fashion.

Of course, a very good reason for having a world view that does not include ghosts lies in the fact that there are no haunted physics laboratories. No physics experiment in a laboratory has ever been influenced by the action of ghosts. That would be enough, even if I hadn't experienced the love of my father and the Christ.

So, here I am: not just a skeptic but one who knows that ghosts do not move things around or glow or create chill drafts in old houses.

Having read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance I cannot get into this discussion without recalling the passage in that book in which Robert Pirsig and his son ride through the Dakotas, I believe, and Pirsig says something about the Indian ghosts. The son thinks he has caught his father in the untenable position of having told the son there are no ghosts and now speaking of the Indian ghosts as though they are real. What I don't recall is the exact way that Pirsig explained this apparent internal contradiction to his son, so I suggest to my readers that they read the book and find out from the original source.*

Anyway, I know there are no ghosts such as the ones that inhabit our European-dominated American ghost stories. And I just assume that anyone would agree with me. Now, I am learning that I assume incorrectly.

At my writers group meeting tonight each of the other three in attendance said that she does believe in ghosts. This astounded me. I was asked, as if my disbelief in ghosts needed to be explained rather than the opposite, if I hadn't ever been in a bad place - not referring to the wacky relationship that I endured far too long many moons ago. My fellow writers told me of places where people had died and that since we are energy the energy of the dead must still be there. I heard them speak of places that generated eerie feelings, strange sensations, discomfort, as though that might convince a reasonable person of the presence of lingering spirits.

All of a sudden I felt like I had followed Alice down the rabbit hole. Why was it up to me to accept the absolute lack of evidence of supposed phenomena as evidence of those phenomena? Why was I supposed to abandon the scientific method so that I might rejoin others clinging to notions that I had discarded in my first decade?

Are there any answers out there? Please post if you have one.

*Should one of my readers know how Pirsig responded (either at this time or after reading the book) I would be pleased to see an explanatory comment here.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mountain Stage Revisited
A second try pays off

This morning my bike carried me to the end of the pavement on Mountain Orchard Lane, a hill that defeated me during my pseudo-tour in July. The difference between the two attempts probably was the air quality. Back in July the air was hot and hazy. Today's weather brought cooler and cleaner air.

As to strategy, this morning I decided to use the small chain ring and the big rear gear almost entirely. After all, I am not really racing. I just wanted to see if I could make it to the top of the hill - however long it took. New strategy, new air, new legs - who knows what made the difference. All I know is that I made it.

Following my ride up the hill - an almost 10 km round trip from home - I tacked on the 38.6 km round trip to the end of the pavement on Airmont road. I managed to cover the distance of this little impromptu ride in 1 hr and 30 minutes for an average speed a little better than 24 kph. My speed on Mountain Orchard Lane, of course was much slower. I hadn't even bothered to time it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Slo-Mo Time Trial

While the competitors in le Tour were in their 40 Km time trial I took a 48 Km ride here in Round Hill. I averaged 23.8 kpm with a time of 2:05:18.

By slightly over one kilometer this was my longest stage in my pseudo-tour, and the fifth fastest average speed. Probably none of the days I've ridden a previous stage has had humidity as high as today's.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Success on the Hills At Last
No flat this week

This morning I started my ride at about the time that the competitors in France were half way through their stage. My pseudostage included four ascents of Stoneleigh, just west of Round Hill.

Total distance for the ride was 26 Km which I finished in one hour and 26 minutes for an average speed of 18.1 kph.

The real riders covered 207.5 Km. Alberto Contador won the stage in a time of 5 hours, 3 minutes and 58 seconds. His finish blew away the competition. Lance Armstrong, for whom I have been rooting, is now a super-domestique.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

On the Road Again
Two days of rest were just what I needed

Did I not ride Thursday and Friday because all my bike shorts were in the laundry? Don't be silly! I just didn't feel like riding. But I did today.

In the interest of taking advantage of a chance to do something together Hiroko and I took a ride to King Street in Leesburg by way of the W&OD trail. The distance covered was 32 Km. Due to the fact that Hiroko's bike has flat pedals we took our sweet time and spent a lovely 2 hours and 50 minutes enroute. The average speed was 11.2 kpm - certainly not my fasted time, but at least I got to ride with my sweetie.

And regardless of how slowly I went, I did pass the 300 Km threshold today.

In France the boys rode 199 Km in not much more time than it took us to ride 32 Km.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sunrise Ride
Up before dawn for a quick ride

My stage today began at 5:36 AM. What was I thinking?

Maybe I was thinking that the sky would be beautiful as the darkness over the Blue Ridge began picking up pink tones from the eastern sky. Perhaps I was anticipating the cool still air. Or it might have been that I hoped to watch a hawk carrying its breakfast across the road and into the woods by the pond.

No matter the reason for my early morning insanity, I logged 20.8 Km in 56 minutes. That's an average speed of 22.3 kpm.

Later today the boys in France will be riding 192 Km at considerably more than 22 kpm.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Back In The Saddle Again
Tire fixed and rolling

During the rest day yesterday I bought an inner tube to replace the one that failed on Sunday. The failure was at the point where the valve merged to the inner tube proper. Installing the new tube presented no problems at all.

Today my ride was delayed by a job interview - one of the best reasons for delaying a ride, I must say! My ride didn't start until after 4 PM.

One hour, 59 minutes later I had completed 46.4 Km in rather breezy conditions on a one mile lap. My average speed for this run was 23.2 kpm.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mountain Stage 3 - Mountain of Disappointment!

A short and slow trip over Stoneleigh

Today marked the third and final day in the Pyrenees for the real riders, and marked the third day for me to be a pseudo-climber here in Virginia. I had planned to make four climbs to the top of the Stoneleigh development, a tough ride over safe residential streets. An alternative would have been riding from Round Hill over the Blue Ridge and down to the Shenandoah River. I received so many negative comments on my sanity the last time I did that I haven't attempted it again.*


After huffing and puffing myself to the top of the hill and coming down the other side, my return climb came to an abrupt end after 200 meters with a flat rear tire. A kind couple gave my bike and me a ride all the way home.

Bottom line for the day: 6.4 Km in 25 minutes for a speed of 15.2 kpm. This isn't my slowest performance, but it surely is my shortest of this tour.

As disappointing as it was, my bike and I did attain the 200 Km level in just nine stages. With 12 stages still to go I need only 100 Km.

Tomorrow is a rest day, thank goodness, so I'll have time to get the tire back in order before riding again on Tuesday. But since I have a job interview on Tuesday I'll probably be taking a short ride even then.

The boys in France logged 160.5 Km over a Cat One and an HC climb today with the leader finishing in 4 hours, 5 minutes and 31 seconds - without a flat tire. That's pretty impressive.

* I have to admit it was sort of stupid to be riding a bike on a steep highway with 55 mph speed limits and almost unridable shoulders.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mountain Stage - Again
Feeling a Bit Better on a Hill

Today's stage in France (and it really is in France) was a significant mountain stage with two Cat 1 and one HC. We all know that means I should do a bit of climbing in my own mock tour. You might think that since I live in a town named Round Hill I'd have an advantage in climbs, but it doesn't seem to be working out that way.

Whereas yesterday I put my legs to work in an attempt to scale the Blue Ridge only reaching about half way, today I tried a less aggressive climb. The actual elevation was unknown but it was low enough for me to climb twice in about 12 minutes - obviously it couldn't have been too much of a hill. I added about 23 Km of relatively flat riding to the climb and descent for a total of 25 Km in a little over one hour and 10 minutes for an average speed of 20.6 kph.

For tomorrow's mountain stage I've selected a ride somewhere between yesterday's embarrassment and today's success.

Oh, yeah. The real riders completed their ride of 176.5 Km in just over 4 hours and 30 minutes. They are remarkable.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Stage 7 - Mountain Day #1
Not really a good showing by Mr. Sackrider

Because today's stage in France (actually in Spain and Andorra) is a mountain stage I am duty bound to ride a hill. My choice for hill today is a rather obscure piece of pavement. Judging by the condition of the pavement I guess that even the highway department has trouble finding it.

I found the hill without difficulty. I just couldn't find the energy to make it all the way to the top. How far I climbed I don't really know, but it was perhaps halfway. Look for me to try this hill again on Stage 20 - the final mountain stage of le tour.

But let's get back to specifics. The distance that I know I covered today is 25.6 Km. That took 1:53:00 for a pathetic 13.6 kpm.

The professional riders in Europe are riding 224 Km and climbing a five major ascents: one Cat 4, a pair of Cat 3's, a Cat one and finish with a hors-category. What does all of that mean? I'm not sure. I've never ridden - or even seen - a hill for which the category has been established. But I have seen the professionals riding catagory climbs on the TV coverage of le Tour and know that my effort on the hill this afternoon would have been rather insignificant to them.

Well, tomorrow is another day - another mountain day.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Cool Morning - Easy Ride
Rest day over, back in the saddle

This morning the air temperature was probably 60 F when I started out at just about six o'clock - too early for the wind which was still resting quietly in the hollows and over the pond. For riding after a rest day this was a perfect beginning. I truly felt wonderful when I finished my ride.

I covered 29.6 Km in 1:07:31 for an average speed of 26.3 kph, my second highest of this little experiment in cycling.

Riders on le tour were enlisted to cover 181 Km which leaves me well back again. Although I will not cover the 2,200 Km of the tour, it looks like I have completely blown through Hiroko's prediction of 112 Km and am well on my way to my predicted accumulated distance of 300 Km.

The more challenging part of le tour is coming up with the mountain stages. It should be clear to one and all that I will not be pedling up any Category 1 hills during my mock-tour. In fact, I will not be riding on any Category climbs. In further fact, I don't know the category of any of the hills in my neighborhood so measurements like that are out of the question. However, I will include more hills on days when the boys in France tackle the mountain stages.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Stage 5 - Rider's Option
The benefit of not being in le Tour

Okay, I'll admit it - I'm not a professional bike racer. And that's a good thing, because I get to take extra days off. Today is one of those days for me.

Instead of riding I had a 2 1/2 mile run with Hiroko this morning, which was a wonderful workout in its own way. There was a lot of huffing and puffing on my part. Running is so much slower than riding! It takes a lot of patience to get to back to the house. Of course, the alternative is not getting back to the house. That really isn't an alternative, I guess.

Over there in France the boys completed the longest stage so far, 196.5 Km. Hey, it's not like I was going to catch them anyway.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Good and Bad Day on the Trail
Distance Up, Speed Down

Today's ride was 43.2 Km on the W&OD trail from Purcellville to the 30.0 mile marker and back. Outbound, that is away from Purcellville, the trail has a slight slope down, which steepens slightly before arriving at Leesburg.

After a short time on the trail I realized that the wind was going to be helping me on the outbound leg. As a result I was zipping along at better than 24 kpm, then up to 32 kpm for the steeper downhill run into Leesburg. My enjoyment of the brisk pace was moderated slightly by the knowledge that both wind and hill would be working against me after I turn around.

Certainly that proved to be the case. At the turn I took a several minute break for a snack and some Gatorade, and have a chat with one of the Loudoun County Sheriff Deputies who ride the trail "to make people feel safe." I had arrived at the turn around about 53 minutes after leaving Purcellville. The return trip took about an hour and eighteen minutes with the labor of bucking the wind and climbing back from Leesburg. Altogether it led to an overall speed of 19.6 kpm. As a result my average speed for the four stages (such as they are) dropped to 20.4 kpm.

Over in France the boys had their Team Time Trial today - first since le tour 2005 - and logged only 39 Km. So, I decreased their distance lead by 4 Km, a nearly insignificant gain. And completely meaningless when we take speed into account.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Stage 3
Dave Falls Farther Behind

Today my distance was 27.2 Km, for a total of 74.4 Km. Time on today's stage was 1:07:30, which results in an average speed of about 24 kpm.

The boys in France finished at 5:01:24. About 30 Km before the end there was a 27 rider break away - if you can call such a crowd a break away. That lead group, which included Lance Armstrong, but neither Alberto Contador nor David Sackrider, beat the next group - the peleton had pretty much shattered into four groups - by 39 seconds. A very exciting sprint finish went to Cavendish, the second consecutive stage win by Cavendish.

Quite a wonderful stage.

Tomorrow don't expect me to lose too much distance since the team time trial (TTT) is only 39 or 40 Km.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Stage 2
The peleton leaves me in the dust

Today Hiroko and I took a mild little ride around town, logging 20.8 Km in one hour and 25 minutes.

The boys in France piled up 187 Km - catapulting past my two stage total of 47.2. I won't be seeing them again until they are enjoying a good meal back in Paris.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

le Tour Begins
Here we go! le Tour de France begins today and concludes in Paris on the 26th of July after the riders have logged about 2,200 kilometers.

It has never been my dream to ride le tour. I've come to enjoy the sport of team bicycle racing too late in life for that. By the time I figured out how interesting this sport can be I had matured into a degree of realism that kept me from having the ultimate dream.

However, I had enough dream left in me that I asked Hiroko a few days ago how far she thought I could ride on the 21 days of le tour's stages. She quickly replied, "70 miles."

I was stunned! Only 70 miles! Had she forgotten who she was talking with? I've ridden that far in one day just four years ago.

"I'll go at least 300 Km," I told her. And now I've told you.

So we will keep track of my accumulated distance over the next three weeks or so and see if I can meet my goal of 300 Km in 21 days of riding.

This morning, the day of Stage 1, my distance was 26.4 Km, which took 1 hour and 6 seconds. The riders on the tour will ride only a 15.5 Km today, but they'll do it at much faster paces than I did mine.

Update: The Swiss rider Fabian Cancellera won Stage 1 in Monaco with a time of 19:32, at an average speed of about 46 kph - considerably better than my 26 kph.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Trainwreck 2009
Once again, no casualties

The Winchester Little Theatre Trainwreck 2009 pulled into the old depot right on schedule Saturday.

Once again my sister Ann and I participated as a directing/writing team. On the drive from my house in Round Hill to the theatre for the auditions I told Ann very truthfully that I had no, absolutely no idea what I would write. This was in part because the spirit of 24-hour theatre would dictate no advanced preparation: and in another part because I had spent the previous night with a toothache unmatched by anything in my experience. Sleepless and still in considerable pain throughout Friday I hadn't had one coherent thought about the upcoming show.

Following the post audition dickering Ann and I joined up with the following cast members:

Brittany Rathman, John Chesek, Theo Ollison, and Michael Cordero.

We had worked with Michael in last year's production. The other three were, I believe, total newcomers to the Winchester Littler Theatre world.

After abbreviated greetings and goodbyes we writers (myself and four others) were left to our devices (laptop computers and lots of donuts and cookies) to see what we could craft in the next twelve hours. My first attempt took me two hours to get just about nowhere. About 11 PM I scrapped that and started over.

Surrendering at last to my discomfort I let my toothache have its way and the result was "Four: A Play." In this absurd little three-act for four actors we watch the boundaries between imagination, rehearsal, stage and life wobble then shift, disappear and realign. Under it I hoped to point to an awareness of intentionality's source - the actor, the director, the author, as they represent the overlapping roles we play in our non-staged world.

As was the case last year, when the casts and directors returned to the theatre on Saturday morning the real magic began. Ann maneuvered my script and our actors into something that became worthy of presentation on a stage. Probably the biggest reason I went into this crazy endeavor again was to watch her do this, hoping to learn what goes on in such an amazing process. I don't think I learned much this time either. My awe at her ability, however, has grown.

Throughout the day Brittany, John, Theo and Michael came closer and closer to the Millie, Ed, Martin, and Bob my toothache channeled for me the night before. They all worked hard, for which I am very grateful. While writing is very much a part of my everyday life, acting is something that these four adventurers do only rarely. The dedication they poured into giving flesh and voice to my ideas makes me feel exceptionally fortunate.

Finally, at about 8:30 PM our little play took to an audience.

And ten minutes later is was all over. Except for the happy memories.

I want to thank Pat Markland and all of the rest at Winchester Little Theatre for opening their stage to our band of actors, directors and writers. There is also a debt of gratitude to be paid by mentioning the other writer/director pairs: Jessica Coleman & Becca Parker; Aaron Trompeter & Joey Thorne; Jerry Tracy & Roxie Orndorff; Jan Kirby & Paul Bailey. Without the commitment of these eight there would have been no place for the two Sackriders to do what we enjoy so much.

And of course, all of us are lucky to have found an audience still hungry for the excitement that live theatre provides as nothing else can.

During my participation in this event I learned something - in addition to the importance of flossing - that I'd like to share with you:

Whatever it might be, put something in your life through which you can find as much fulfillment, excitement and joy as we have found in our adventures in 24-hour theatre.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Question for You
I am not saying this would have been a good thing, or not, but if we had elected Mike Tyson instead of George W. Bush in 2002 (not that we will ever know if we actually elected George W. Bush in 2000) would he have bitten the ear off Osama bin Laden?

I actually don't think that he would have. And I base this on my belief that Tyson would not have been more successful than Bush in leading the capture of bin Laden. I think that Tyson's response to the CIA briefing about bin Laden wanting to hit the American homeland would have been quite close to Bush's.

On the other hand, I think that after a meeting between Putin and Tyson it would have been Putin who would have said, "I looked into Tyson's tattoo and I'm scared."

Friday, May 22, 2009

Andrew McCarthy is Torturing Me
On May 19 Andrew C. McCarthy wrote a piece for National Review Online in which he asserts that two Republican congresspersons made a fool of Attorney General Holder in a House Judiciary Committee hearing. Holder, according to McCarthy, does not know the definition of torture or he does not mind misstating it.

Figuring prominently in the questioning cited by McCarthy was the issue of whether the Attorney General's assertion that "water boarding is torture" means that the people conducting water boarding demonstrations on certain groups of military trainees are committing torture. Holder said this was not torture in response to the matter being raised by the congressperson. He pointed out that the intent was for training purposes and not to inflict serious bodily or mental harm.

McCarthy jumped on this point, emphasizing that the legal definition of torture is completely based upon intent. In the article he gets into the legal technicalities of general intent and specific intent (a judge quoted by McCarthy made much of this specific v. general intent in a torture case) which may or may not be the significant point that McCarthy makes it out to be. To be torture in the legal sense, the article states, the person performing the act must have the specific intent to cause significant physical or mental harm.

Apparently we should think that regardless of what the torturer does, if his or her intent was to get information rather than to cause harm to the source of the information, the acts which result in harm are not torture. This kind of thinking is sickening.

Regardless how the law and subsequent judicial opinions might define intent and mental harm, the crux of the matter lies in the fact that the victim of torture faces his or her treatment involuntarily. A sailor volunteers to become a SEAL. When made aware of the impending water boarding demonstration the would-be SEAL can opt out or volunteer to continue. What the trainers do in such a case is then not torture and they are not torturers - dangerously sadistic perhaps, but not torturers.

The situation faced by someone water boarded by the CIA or its henchpersons does not have a voluntary aspect. At this point the McCarthy and others willing to spend our tax dollars on torture might say that the victims can opt out of torture by giving up the information that they hold. We are to believe that water boarding or other torturous techniques are never applied when probing for information. The water boarders somehow know the victim has the information in every instance. So in effect this line of thinking would claim that in spite of the documented failures of the CIA in so many other cases, when it comes to knowing who has information that will save lives the CIA never makes a mistake.

And as to intent, the actual intent of the water boarder is to get the victim to say to herself, "This time I am going to die if I don't get them to stop this now." How could this not be mental harm? And what of the several prisoners who died while under CIA or other United States government control? Do possible murderers involved in deaths get a get-out-of-jail-free card because they didn't intend to do harm, regardless of the outcome?

The excuses and disgusting justifications promulgated by the pro-torture crowd are torturing me. And killing our reputation in the world.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Does this ever happen to you?
Brushing my teeth I felt something not quite right in my mouth. No surprise there. I had sort of expected an oddity, and I got it.

I spit into the sink. Out came dozens if not hundreds of tiny balls of metal which I recognized as material from old fillings. Spitting again, two teeth clattered into the basin. Rubbing my tongue around my mouth caused a couple more to loosen and tumble to the sink which was now frothy with bloodstained foam.

It was quite disconcerting.

Fortunately I awoke before calling a dentist.

I assume that my dentist appointment for the following morning triggered this dream.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Happy New Year?

Well, why not?

My initial plan for ringing in the New Year included running withHiroko in the Midnight Run through New York's beautiful Central Park.* Hiroko and I made the trip to Brooklyn for a very enjoyable visit with my sister and her son (read into the exclusion of all other Brooklynites what you will).

Unfortunately the old year ended with an incredible cold snap. At about 7 pm on New Years Eve Hiroko, Ann and I caucused and arrived at the decision to stay in Ann's snug coop instead of freeze our sweaty selves on the return trip from Manhattan. In lieu of the run, we watched the odd spectacle of Dick Clark tell us that Time Square and New Years Eve can't be beat. Can't someone close to him convince him that millions, billions, of people will have a Rockin' New Years Eve even if he stayed home.

Risk - The game of world domination

Say, what?

Ah, I can see that was a rather abrupt transition - almost no transition at all. I'll make up for that now.

Back in my high school days I somehow learned to play Risk, perhaps at Jim Maruniak's house at Grand Forks Air Force Base. And somehow, I got to be pretty good at it, and therefore enjoyed playing it every chance I could. Probably I enjoyed it much more than my siblings, who according to family legend almost never beat me.

My nephew, now in high school, has recently become an avid Risk player with a high win percentage. He enticed us into a game during the afternoon of New Years Eve. The players were Hiroko, my nephew Hudson, his buddy Jake, and me. Fortunately we didn't finish the game. Time was called before any players were eliminated. Hudson and I will have to play again to determine family domination.

What does all of this mean?

Happy New Year

*Rarely do I compose a sentence with such a high ratio of capitalized words.