Who are we? We are our stories.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Garden and the Grim Reaper

I recall reading that gardens come into their full glory two years after the gardener moves or dies, whichever comes first.

We had a slightly raised block patio built up last week in the east end of the garden where the bench sits. Because of its isolated location, poor Tom had to carry two trailer loads of sand down the rough stone steps in 5 gallon buckets. I helped him by doing what I'm best at, which is mostly general kibitzing and offering moral support. This little patio, along with the water feature ( a cow tank) I dragged down earlier this year, pretty much completes the bones of the garden. I thought the cow tank was a nice touch in a Midwestern cottage garden. I helps both me and the garden from becoming too refined - too precious. As I sat on the bench, a smoking a cigar and sipping Glenlivet, generally admiring my handiwork, I thought to myself, "Those perennials I transplanted should fill in nicely in about two years." Oh shit! As I'm not planning on moving anytime soon, this does not bode well for my future health and well being. Damn! - time to update the old will, I guess.

Entomological Weather

I don't generally watch weather reports. I get up in the morning and if it's sunny I go outside. If its raining I stay inside. Not a very complicated life. Lorna, on the other hand, is a weather watcher. She is fascinated by isobars and satellite maps. It frustrates her no end when she's in the other room and the weather report is on the TV. She hollers and asks me what the weather will be tomorrow... and I'm clueless. I tune it out like I do with commercials. My eyes see it, my ears hear it, it just doesn't download. In my mind I'm out in the garden; I'm filling birdfeeders; I'm building bikes.

BUT last night I listened as the weather guy says, "Don't be fooled by this apparent cloud cover along the Mississippi. Its not rain, its a mayfly hatch." A mayfly hatch heavy enough to be picked up by satellite photos? Yuck.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

1975 Cinelli Super Corsa

It's probably healthy for everyone to lust after a few unattainable things. For me, one of those things is the Cinelli SC. Some will argue that DeRosa, Masi or Colnago were also top builders, but for me Cinelli was "THE" Italian racing bike. The Cinellis were not show bikes with exquisite detailing. The finish on a Cinelli is okay-no better than is necessary to get the job done. The job, in this case, is to go as fast as possible on a human powered machine. I've heard the SC described as a weapon, an attack weapon. If it is a weapon, it isn't something crude like a gun or knife; it is more like a samurai sword honed to a razor edge. A simply wonderful machine. In 1978 Cino retired and sold the company to the Columbus tubing company. They still manufacture bicycles with the Cinelli name on them, but they aren't "real" Cinellis. They have become souless machines.

This particular bike hangs from the ceiling of Rydjor Bikes, my local bike shop. It was originally imported and built up by Spence Wolf at the legendary Cupertino Bike Shop. When new, this was somebody else's dream bike. It has all the bells and whistles. Not only does it have the Cinelli Unicantor seat and Cinelli fenders, it has the industries first clipless pedals, the M71 "death pedals"; so called because of the difficulty of disengaging one's feet from them in a panic situation. It also has Cinelli Bivalent hubs, a feature which allowed the front and rear wheels to be interchangeable. The rear derailleur remains attached to the frame when the rear wheel is removed. Yet another feature of this bicycle is a custom Pino Maroni titanium bottom bracket, made at a time when titanium was an extremely exotic material. All the bells and whistles, and obviously ridden a lot and well cared for. Somebody else loved this bike.

I fell in love with it years ago. It is a perfect fit and rides like a dream - of course I only had a chance to ride it around the block one time. Whenever I came into the shop I'd pause, look up at it and ask Dan when he was going to sell it to me - a kind of joke. He never sold one of his collection. Then one day he said, "I'll sell it to you, because I know you'll ride it instead of hanging it on the wall." He said that he wouldn't sell it to me until he had found a replacement Cinelli for it in the collection. A few months went by, and then he died suddenly. At the time a damned bicycle didn't seem very important. As time moved on, I was afraid the collection would be sold and I'd lose the Cinelli. It now seems the collection is more or less permanent. I won't ever own the Ulwelling Cinelli, but I can still stop by the shop anytime I need a Cinelli fix or to remember Dan.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dan Ulwelling

Recently the Rydjor Bike Shop mounted a large print of a Dan Ulwelling painting around the rear door.

Dan Ulwelling was a friend who owned the Rydjor Bike Shop. We discussed art, politics and family, but it was a love of vintage bicycles that was our primary bond. Although he was 10 years younger than I was, in someways he was a mentor - someone that I could ask advice on any subject and get help, not bullshit. Dan’s office was at the back of the shop, elevated so it looked over the shop, but more importantly to me, it was at eye level with his large collection of vintage racing bikes. When the traffic was a little slow in the shop, we would sit up there among his paperwork, paintings and sketches, looking at the bicycles hanging from the ceiling and he would pick a bike and tell me everything he knew about it – everything from the marque’s history, the bikes history, to the tube specs and components - which were original and which he had replaced. Over the years we critiqued maybe 30 of them, one at a time.

At first meeting Dan might have seemed to be a simple person. He was quiet and modest, but with a kind sense of humor. As time passed I grew to know him better, and the layers slowly peeled away. It became obvious he was much more complicated, very intelligent with varied interests. He read a lot on many subjects, enjoyed drawing and painting, cabinet making, and racing vintage motocross motorcycles as well as his bicycles.

About five years ago Dan was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was very up front about it, not feeling sorry for himself, but accepting it in his own philosophical way. The form of cancer he had normally would take years to run its course, but 2 1/2 years ago Dan died suddenly, devastating all of us. The shop had a carbon Trek on display that had been a Lance Armstrong bike. It was taken off its stand, pushed back in a corner, and replaced with Dan’s bike - his daily rider, along with his cycling gloves and shoes; a shrine to a lost friend. People stopped by the shop, but it was hard to talk, difficult to put feelings into words. In the evening the line at the funeral home threaded through the chapel, out the door, up the sidewalk and around the corner– all people biding farewell to a “simple” bicycle shop owner. The next day there were probably 600 people at th service at St.Augustine. There were 600 people there only because that was all the little church would hold with people standing at the back and in the aisles. His wife Katie and his children spoke. I just cried. As the service wound down I slowly regained control. It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings...and her last song was "Danny Boy".  A cappella. The tears started all over again.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Vansevenant leads in the Lanterne Rouge!

Wim Vansevenant is back in last place in the TdF by a minute with only one perfunctory stage left! He had a really suck time trial and fell a two full minutes to his closest challenger!

Hats off to the Red Lantern. He is us.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Hjørdis

As always, the photo does not capture the grace, the movement of a sailing ship. This ship looks fast tied to a mooring.

Thelma and Louise Update

Ad and Marissa have made it as far as Portland in their ongoing West Coast adventure. When they get to Seattle I think Marissa ("I don't think I'll ever be able to live at home with my parents again.") will fly home and Ad and her friend Walter, who is in Portland, will go back to Camp Costanoan and work for the rest of the summer.

The Red Lantern Dims

While I was on vacation, Wim Vansevenant slipped into the runner up slot, a full minute ahead of his new challenger, a nobody who's name I refuse to even bother with. I'm afraid it will be tough to ease back into the last slot with only the time trial left. Of course with a pro like Wim, we cannot discount the last day ceremonial ride into Paris. Maybe he still has something up his sleeves. Let us hope he gets the necessary team support.

Grand Marias: The Harbor

The Angry Trout Restaurant, eating on the pier, next door (next dock?) to the commercial fishermen. Grilled fresh fish right out of the water, served on a bed of wild rice, with greens - good wine or beer. On the other side of the commercial docks is the North House Folk School - boat building, canoe making, timber framing, whatever. A really neat place. Of course I neglected to get a picture of their 50' wooden schooner Hjørdis. It's beautiful - varnished wood, dark green hull with a full set of weathered brick red sails. It's as pretty a boat as I've ever seen. This year, along with the gulls, Black Ducks, Canada Geese (Eh?), there were a pair of otters patrolling the waters beneath us. I don't believe I've ever seen them in the wild (well, sorta wild). I resisted feeding them, mostly because the fish was too good to jettison overboard.

Shot from our table: the breakwater, lighthouse, sail boats, and the horizon.

A shot of the huge crowd (one old woman) admiring the boats anchored in the harbor.

The side wall of the food co-op: ceramic tiles and mirrors. And a pick-up.

Grand Marias: Cabin on the Croftville Road

The weather was beautiful. In the 40s at night, sunny and up into the seventies during the day.
Northeast up the shore.

Southwest, toward town - a nice bike ride 2 miles away. Probably the Hjørdis on the horizon.

Out front. Superior was gentle to us. Some days the breakers would kill you in a heartbeat.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


The far reachs of our yard tend toward unkempt jungliness. The various critters seem to appreciate it and I appreciate their presence. Tonight the big show was fireflys. I don't think I've ever seen as many. The weather conditions must be ideal. For whatever reason they are out in force this year doing their sexual signaling thing.

They are one of those creatures that are magic. Image you have never seen anything other than regular brown bugs. Then you meet this guy that says there are insects that have internal lights, and they can turn them off and on at will, and on certain nights of the year they gather in large numbers and blink off and on in a certain sequence as a precurser to mating. Well, you'd think he was smoking really good dope. Though I'll bet if I could make my fat ass light up like a Christmas tree I could attract females too.

Long Live the New King

Earlier this year the greatest bicycle sprinter to ever grace the roads, Mario Cipollini, retired. Actually, due to age and injuries, the "Lion King" retired five years ago, but nobody bothered to tell him; he just finally realized it. For years I watched Super Mario destroy the field. Nobody really challenged him. They just pushed and shoved to get on his back wheel and suck, hoping he'd run out of gas before the line. He won 42 Giro stages and 12 TdF stages - of course a number of years he wasn't invited to the Tour. To say Mario was flamboyant is certainly an understatement - skintight suits with muscle prints, zebra stripes- or tiger stripes. His team changed the colors of their bikes to match his outfits. Zebra striped bicycles! One time he was asked what his favorite thing about cycling was. "You get to wear really cool shoes." I thought I had seen perfection, perfection in a cool suit, and nobody could ever approach it. Then this year this kid, Mark Cavendish, shows up and wins four sprint stages in the Tour. He certainly isn't Super Mario...not yet anyway, but he's only 23 years old. Maybe? Get the kid the number of Mario's tailor.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

VS Channel

What's with these people and their self-commercials? I guess I'm a "sensitive" guy. I really don't like watching cage fighting, bull riding, or serious bicycle crashes for that matter. I really can't imagine the typical cycling enthusiast does either. Who the hell watches bicycle racing hoping for a crash? Christ, I'm getting sick of seeing these thugs beat each others brains out or getting their faces stomped on by bulls and calling it a sport.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bizarre Foods

Tonight, between endings of the All Star game, I found myself on the Travel Channel - Bizarre Foods with Anthony Zimmern. It the program where the short bald guy eats stuff like fried cockroachs and aged eggs-things really not fit to eat. This week it was an hour of..."Bizarre Foods-Minnesota". They proceeded to eat ethnic things, things I've eaten all my life, and he visited some of my favorite restaurants. And implied it was "bizarre". Hey, lutefisk ain't no bizarre food. Its...it's...Lutheran! It's church basement fundraiser food! (Dryed cod reconstituted in lye and then rinsed in water. Broiled and slathered in butter it's reported to be quite good- or at least edible.)

Rest Day

Rest Day, for both my ass, and the Tour de France.

Upon reviewing yesterday's results, I found that while No. 9 Wim Vansevenant, the anchor of the Silence-Lotto team, still has the Lanterne Rouge, No. 123, sprinter Jimmy Casper, a two time Lanterne winner himself, is taking big chunks of time out of his lead. This is the first real threat to Wim by one of the real heady pros of the Tour. While Casper, a sprinter, is falling back, just trying to haul his sorry ass over the hill, Wim has work to do. With teammate Cadel Evans in real contention, the 13 year veteran will have work to do in the peleton. When Wim does fall off the pace, he will have to fall back fast to cover Casper, yet avoid the rolling cut off time. Go Wim!

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Day in the Saddle

Spent the day riding my bike. My ass hurts. My old knees ache...bad; shoulders, back, whatever, it hurts. I'm beat - all the juice wrung out of me. Gawd, it feels GREAT! It feels great to be 63 and still able to ride reasonably long and hard. I just have to adjust my expectations and goals a little. I still ride about the same length of time; it's only the distance covered that has changed.

I see Cadel Evans, my TdF pick, is now firmly in yellow, leading by one second. I haven't had a chance to check on Wim. The pro that he is, I assume he's doing alright in this, his swan-song Tour.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

TdF: Vansevenant Clings to Last

After the Stage today, 170th placer, Wim Vansevenant continues to cling to last place, 1 hr-25'-48" behind the leaders and less than two minutes slower than challenger Matthieu Sprick. Our boy is going to have a hard day tomorrow in the mountains, as the real race finally begins. He will be expected to push hard up the lower slopes in team support. Let us hope he still has his legs and doesn't fall off the back too far and face elimination.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Lanterne Rouge

The Lanterne Rouge, the red light at the back of the train, the last place finisher in the Tour de France. This is an honor that is harder to achieve than one would think. They have to be good enough to get hired; be a good fellow to have around, and be completely egoless. They have to consistently place near the end of the train, without ever missing the daily time cutoff, which in the mountains is a moving, arbitrary target. Hovering at the end of the line, a blown tire can eliminate them in one stroke. And don't think the domestiques, the food and water carriers, don't think about the honor. They are aware and many vie for it. You can see them rolling in after the winners, the placers, and the hard charging peleton. They are the relaxed - laughing and talking to their competitors, their blood-sworn enemies, as they roll gracefully over the line. I can identify with them, because I sense they were the backrow slackers when they were in school... and probably smart-asses too. They are me, except they can ride, and ride damned well. But Wim Vansevenant is in a class by himself - a watercarrier to the Gods.

This year Wim goes for an unprecedented third straight Lanterne, after a second from bottom finish in 2005. May God grant him leaden shoes. Honestly, who would you rather share a beer with, Lance Armstrong or Wim Vansevenant?

I used to follow the daily standings, looking for the names of my favorite laggards. Now there are blogs dedicated solely to these anti-heroes, these backrow slackers. This one is particularly fine: http://tdflr.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Roll On Columbia, Roll On!

I watched the TdF this morning. It is uplifting to have an American team, the erstwhile Highroad team, now Columbia, organized on the premise of clean, drug-free competition. I think I'll have to chuck my cynicizm for a couple of days to appreciate their effort. Back in the 1930s, Woody Gutherie wrote a theme song for them. Insightful. He said it better than I ever could:

Roll on, Columbia, roll on, roll on, Columbia, roll on
Your power is turning our darkness to dawn
So roll on, Columbia, roll on.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tour de France?

Because last year I predicted Alberto Contador would win the TdF before it began, I have been swamped with requests (okay, three people asked) for a prediction for this years winner. I would pick Contador again, but he has fallen in with evil companions, and is not invited to the party this year. I'm clueless. I may pick him anyway.

It seems to be a period of transition, with lots of young riders in the ranks, and no obvious teams or leaders. As I am apparently expected to make a call anyway, if I was waggering real money I'd pick Cadel Evans. He's not a dark horse stud like Alberto, but a good, consistent cyclist. I hope I'm wrong. If I'm correct, it will make for a long, dull race.