Friday, August 31, 2012

Knocking down Borders, growing out hair, woodworking birthright, Glen Rose sight, beautiful sky at night

This is a photo I took a couple of weeks ago of what used to be a Borders bookstore and Wheels In Motion bike shop at the Old Town Shopping Center at Greenville Avenue and Lovers Lane. For a gang of folks who lived (and still live) at the Village apartment community, this was a very popular spot. It will continue to be a very popular spot for those who call this area of Dallas home when an LA Fitness opens in the near future.

I am in the process of growing out my hair. A few weeks ago I decided I would like to have longer hair when I cross the Dallas Marathon finish line in December. So, yeah, backinnaday, I used to grow out my hair for about a year and then cut it all off. I did that for about 14 years. This photo is from 2004, the penultimate time I had hair touching my shoulders. The only downside to growing out my hair — I don't get to see my stylist quite as often. Daisy at Michael Raymond Salon at Mockingbird Station is awesome. I've gone to her for about three years. Will I ever grow it as long as it is in this picture or longer again? Maybe.

Receiving mail is good. Receiving mail from people you love is great. Receiving a gift from someone you love is the greatest. That is exactly what greeted me when I returned from work Thursday. A gift from my Grandfather. He is a skilled woodworker; the skill runs in the family. At some point, all the men on my mother's side are compelled to make things with wood. So now I have a set of tools that not only my Grandfather used but he actually made from old German steel straight razors and attached to handles he carved. I'm not going to rush into this. I appreciate my digits too much to make a mistake. I'll learn woodworking properly. Until then, I will enjoy looking at and holding the tools, and smelling the wood scent ingrained in the apron my Grandpa wore when he made presents for me, family members and friends.

This sad lookin' horse lives in Glen Rose. I will see him/her (I did not look that close last time) this weekend when I return for a training ride on The Texas Time Trials course. I plan to ride nine hours — a new personal best for me. Who knows how many miles that will end up being. Honestly, I don't care. My main goals are continuing to build my endurance, perfecting my hydrating and nutrition (tortillas are working!), and meeting up with some other TTTT racers who also will be riding the route this weekend.

I spent a good part of last weekend at Hotter 'N Hell 100 in Wichita Falls. A large part of the time was spent on a bike saddle. As great as the ride was, there was nothing better than camping alongside the creek and having a picnic dinner under this lovely pink sky. This is a slice of heaven on Earth, in Texas.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hotter 'N Hell edition

I'm just gonna shoot ya straight on this post: I'm not inclined to write a narrative recap of last Saturday's Hotter 'N Hell 100. If you seek such posts, I steer you toward the super blogging skills of That Pink Girl and Mama C, who were among the fantastic friends who descended upon Wichita Falls for the 31st annual cycling extravaganza. Their recaps are quite good. Now on to my 13 things:

This vantage point is probably the middle of the entire field of riders. If you squint, you can see the starting line two or three blocks down the road.

1. Hotter 'N Hell is a well-run event. There's so much to see and do. In addition to riding the main event  — Saturday's ride — it boasts: the most crowded expo in the history of expos, a gang of vendors outside the expo, live music and food and beer, a 13-mile mountain bike race (the trail runs right by a sweet camping spot by the creek), a criterium and a trail half marathon/10K. Is there any doubt why 14,000 people participate each year?

2. Leading up to the rally, I rode several times in 100-plus temps; so I felt confident I could handle the heat. However, it was not hotter than hell last Saturday. The temperature in the morning was in the 70s (!!!) and stayed in the 80s and low 90s for most of the time I was riding. That was a blessing.

3. Bike lockup is a great thing. A Wichita Falls church offered the service outside the expo center — a perfect option for those of us who were camping. Most of the bike guards were teens who were nice and incredibly entertaining. They assisted with covering bikes in case of rain and one girl even noticed a burr stuck in my rear tire when we checked in the night before the race. With everyone staring, I did my best to quickly change the tube right there, which was preferable to discovering a flat the morning of the race or realize the tire was leaking air during the race. And I even received another assist in inflating the tire from Dana at Richardson Bike Mart (the SAG wagon dude at Cow Creek) who was set up at the RBM van/tent 40 yards away.

4. Wichita Falls is flat. Like seriously, really flat. I remember three minor descents and do not consider any portion of the ride significantly uphill. The feeder road at the end of the race is the most "climbing" the course offers. It's annoying because, a) it's at the end of the ride and b) it is seemingly endless. The roads also are in fairly good condition. Cracks and potholes are not a concern but there's plenty of road feedback/vibration. You definitely want to change your position on the handlebars often and make sure your water bottles are securely in their cages. I lost one and saw at least 25 on the roads.

5. What the rally lacked in heat and hills, it more than made up with wind. The wind really picked up around 11 a.m. There was a section of the route — probably around mile 60 — when it was fiercely slapping riders sideways. A group of about 30 of us huddled together to lessen the effects of the 20 mph winds that gusted above 30 mph.

6. There's not much scenery to soak up in this section of West Texas. There are oil derricks and some ranches with cattle, but nothing out of the ordinary.

7. The volunteers are excellent! I had two bottles and a full, 100 oz. Camelbak; so I hoped I wouldn't need to stop at any of the plentiful rest stations. I eventually did run out of water after the first 50 miles and reloaded with local agua (lots of minerals) a couple of times. The three rest stops I visited were packed with plenty of volunteers. It was great to see smiling faces pouring drinks, passing out pickles and restocking banana and cookie stations.

8. People in small towns rule. I saw several families in towns like Electra, Iowa Park and Burkburnett sitting on their porches taking in the event, which is easily the biggest thing that happens in the area all year. Many of them waved and cheered, which was very cool. I waved and said "Howdy" to as many as I could.

9. The best spectators of all: The men and women at Sheppard Air Force Base. The final leg of the 50-mile, 100K and 100-mile rides rolls through this landmark. It was a privilege to see the base and several planes close up. But the real highlight were the dozens of Air Force members cheering on the riders. I thought my energy was empty, but they pushed me to get into the drops and haul ass. It felt incredible hearing their encouragement as I found an extra gear and sprinted until I passed them all. My legs yelling at me and my breathing heavy, I slowed down considerably once I was out of their sight. It hurt a bit, but it was worth it. Easily the highlight of my ride.

10. Medals! They hand out medals at HHH! Most rallies not only lack a li'l jewelry, they also rarely have an incredible finish line like Wichita Falls'. A rally usually ends anticlimactically with very little fanfare — perhaps an actual finish line if you're lucky. HHH has an announcer and hundreds of people hanging out at its finish line.

11. If you enjoy looking at fancy bikes — like a $14,000 Specialized S-Works Venge Super Record EPS — this is your place. Not that you have to own anything nearly that fancy. Plenty of people rode the endurance distances on hybrids and mountain bikes; a few were on unicycles; and even one guy did the century on an ElliptiGo. The best bike to ride is the one you have. Run what ya brung, son!

12. Surprises! Who doesn't dig surprises? Well, I got a cool one from Marci, the official bestower of Team FIGJAM T-shirts. It even has my name on it and everything. So cool! It really is an honor.

13. Overall, I had an excellent experience. I got to hang out with friends and I felt strong and confident the entire ride. It was the confidence boost I was hoping to get as I continue to train for the 2012 Texas Time Trials.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tunesday: "Polio," Staff Benda Bilili

I found out about Staff Benda Bilili while seeking out more music like Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars, another excellent African band everyone needs to know. Both were featured in acclaimed documentaries (SBB and SLRAS) that tell of their hardships and the transformational power of music.

Staff Benda Bilili (translation: look beyond appearances) is a unique collection. Four older, paraplegic Congolese men — victims of polio — and a couple of younger street kids create songs about dignity, hope and respect. In a lot of ways, they're not unlike most bands. The documentary's director sums up the group as "a bunch of rockers. They love women. They love whiskey. They love weed. They play amazing music."

What else?

• The group's new album is set for a Sept. 4 release date. And judging by the album's art work and title — "Bouger Le Monde!"  (Move the World) — the band is ready to do big things this year.
• Big things, such as a multi-date world tour with several U.S. stops.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Triathlon spectathlete, ridin' all over DFW, Liberty Plaza in Farmers Branch, Tukta Thai, new red 'shoes'

Beautiful, isn't it? That's the sunrise that greeted me at Take On The Heat Triathlon last Sunday at Frisco's Hidden Cove on Lewisville Lake. I wasn't competing; I was spectathleting. Watching these impressive athletes put their all into swimming, riding and running was nothing short of spectacular.  For details of the race, you can catch recaps written by two podium-placing tri-badasses — That Pink Girl and TriGirlruns42K. I highly recommend cheering at a tri. I can't wait to attend Ironman 70.3 Austin in October!

I have biked all over D-FW lately, including from my house in Lake Highlands to Frisco for the triathlon (64 miles round trip) and D/FW International Airport (70 miles roundtrip, taking back roads). If you are interested in the D/FW loop, I highly recommend it. The route around the airport is very nice — well-paved and mostly shouldered, and there's surprisingly very little traffic. Bonus: The jet engine noise is not nearly as loud as you would expect. The downside: There's very little scenery to appreciate, except for planes and hangars.

En route to D/FW, I pedaled through Farmers Branch. I must admit, I've spent very little time in the city. In fact, practically all the time I've spent in FB has been at the Dr Pepper StarCenter, skating and shooting photos of high school hockey teams and the occasional Dallas Stars practice. Anyone who has driven past the StarCenter off Interstate 35 no doubt has seen the massive American flag flying near it. Didya know the 60-foot by 30-foot Star-Spangled Banner marks Liberty Plaza? You do now. This park honors those who defended America. It's a simple yet touching tribute, one that the city is still raising money to complete.

I especially like the sculptures. The first is "Field of Blue" by Colorado sculptor George Lundeen. The plaque at the base says: "Dedicated on April 19, 2010, in honor of the families that support our troops." As a former Scout who learned how to properly fold a flag, I really like this sculpture and can appreciate the sentiment Lundeen created. I neglected to gather information about the veteran sculpture, but I like his expression; you can see the effect of war on his face.

There's nothing better than having a delicious meal after a long ride or run. Lucky for me, the best Thai restaurant in town — Tukta Thai — is practically a stone's throw from my house. What's good there? Every friggin' thing. I recently ordered Thai Country Hot and Spicy (perfect tofu!) for carryout and proceeded to make it my lunch and dinner. It's so good. I guarantee anyone who looks past the location's strip shopping center sketchiness will be rewarded with good eats, excellent service (BYOB, too) and the opportunity to work on your golf game. Yep, there's a putting green inside the restaurant. Seriously. The owner installed it for his daughter so she could practice. I'm told she is a pro now.  

In preparation for the 2012 Texas Time Trials, I have done some work on my first road bike — a tough-tested, twice-wrecked, lightweight and compact 2006 Giant OCR 1 that I purchased at Shosies Cyclery in Loves Park, Ill. It's a fine bike with a new set of black-and-red "shoes." I am hopeful I won't have to use this bike at TTTT, but it's comforting to know I have a spare with a "granny gear" if necessary. At some point, I'd like to throw a rack and panniers onto this workhorse and use it for commuting and errands instead of keeping it confined to a closet and robbing it of parts (precisely why my Cannondale has red-and-black Vittoria Rubino Pro tires). 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tunesday: "Pictures of Matchstick Men," Camper Van Beethoven

Camper Van Beethoven's best-known song is, IMHO, an inferior cover of Status Quo's big hit. There's nothing to not like about this live performance — including Francis Rossi's 'stache — on "Top of the Pops" in 1968. I don't think I've ever heard a more liberal use of phaser pedals among all the guitars on one song. So thick, you can swim in it.

Despite the recent inclusion of the Quo's original in "Men In Black 3," most people are more familiar with CVB's take. Yep, even more so than Ozzy's version and Kasabian's cover. Hard to believe, I know!

Morgan Fichter's violin is what makes the band's interpretation from 1989's "Key Lime Pie" superior. It's also very difficult to ignore David Lowery's singing screaming of the lyrics. I'm not knocking his delivery. It's his signature sound, and he employed the hell out of it quite effectively in the '90s with his next band, Cracker. I present ex. A: the prechorus and chorus of "Low"; ex. B: the halfway point of "Teen Angst"; and ex. C: the chorus of "Get Off This." That's a fine trio of pop-rock singles. I will, however, knock the band name. Cracker? That's it? That's all you've got? I guess it is darn difficult to top a name like Camper Van Beethoven.

What else?

• Not familiar with CVB? Then you at least owe it to yourself to listen to "Take The Skinheads Bowling."
• Are you a fan of all things David Lowery? Didya know he and his bands still perform? In fact, you can see both in one evening — on Sept. 13 at Campout 8 in Pioneertown, Calif.
• Who the heck are the matchstickmen Rossi wrote about? They would be the figures in L.S. Lowry's paintings.
• That I am aware of, there is no relation between David Lowery and L.S. Lowry.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ultracycling training/reading/eating,
skate spot, trailspotting, 635 sight

Not interested in reading about Mark Beaumont's adventure? You can watch it on YouTube.
About a week from now, I will be on my way to Hotter 'N Hell for my second 100-mile rally. It'll be a lot of fun and a good training ride for the 12-hour ride at TTTT. Seeking inspiration, I picked up a new book the other night. "The Man Who Cycled the World" is the story of Scottish cyclist Mark Beaumont's attempt to break the record for biking across Earth — an 18,000 mile journey. So far, it's only an OK book. Beaumont isn't nearly as good a writer as Scott Jurek or Dean Karnazes, but his feat is pretty damn impressive.

Speaking of cycling great distances: Last Sunday, I rode longer than I ever had — 129 miles in 7 hours. I've been told that you just never know what you'll get a hankerin' for when you are exerting yourself. After three laps around the Mesquite/Sunnyvale route, my body said I needed fries and a Coke. Needed. My body wasn't joking around. So, instead of noshing on the provisions in my cooler in my car parked at Poteet High School, I stopped at Sonic. The carhop didn't even flinch at the sight of a sweaty, stinky, messy me stretched out at a table. I demolished my "meal" and knew I could complete one more loop on a 100-degree day with strong-ish wind (felt like a hair dryer out there, y'all). It was a great, tiring day. I can't wait for my 9-hour ride in two weeks. I'll probably want to eat tots!

Scenic, isn't it? That's the back loading dock at Poteet. It's also known as the place where I skateboarded all the effin' time as a teen. That crumbling concrete on the right used to be covered with wax. Countless grinds went down at this location. Countless cigarettes were smoked here. I even saw a dude pop his shoulder back into its socket for the first time here. I hadn't revisited this spot in at least 15 years. Last Sunday, I imagined what a 16-year-old me would have said if he met the 33-year-old me in Lycra and wearing a helmet at this loading dock. He would have laughed his ass off. 

You are looking at a creek crossing (no diving!) at the Coppell Nature Park. Since I started working in Irving, I've tried to find cool spots to run and ride, particularly on nights when traffic on Interstate 635 is a nightmare. Tuesday evening, I ran CNP. I wasn't blown away. It's more of an educational/walking trail. What was good: My 3-mile run at 5 p.m. was pleasantly cool, thanks to the considerable tree cover. And it's a free park. Good on ya, Coppell, for having a nice natural space for people to enjoy. I won't come back too often (Northshore is worth driving a little further and paying an entrance fee), but I will return.

When I am stuck on 635, I entertain myself by looking for odd things. The funnier, the better. The advertisement on the back of this truck is hilarious. I mean, seriously, who in his right mind is going to trust this dude to fix his home's foundation? He can't even put stickers on his truck straight!!!


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tunesday: "Survival," Muse

I like Muse. A lot. There. I said it.

You see, the band has plenty of critics. Admitting that you actually don't mind the grandiloquence of Matt Bellamy and Co. — well, that's not easy. The group's evolution in rock opera in the last couple of records is a major reason why. The music and message is theatrical/dramatic and pompous. It's also just not easy to listen to. The progressive nature of the band and its music demands more from a listener. And, quite frankly, sometimes you just don't want to think too much about what you're listening to.

All that being true, Muse is excellent. There's no other band capable of playing with their emotion, volume and precision. It's outstanding that a three-piece (a fourth member tours as a keyboardist) can create such an atmosphere. I had the pleasure of seeing them when their Absolution tour rolled into Austin in 2005. It's easily in my top three shows of all time — and not because they wrecked their gear (evidence, that poor, beautiful Pedulla bass gets trashed). Rather, it was memorable because the set was nonstop energy. The performance was engrossing and seemingly passed in the blink of an eye. That's the sign of an excellent show; not once did I pause to consider something beyond the spiraling loops of arpeggiated chords, lock-step rhythm section and skyscraping falsetto.

So, enter "Survival," a very dramatic, sweeping tune that captures the essence of the Olympics. The explanation of the tune is interesting, as related to

"The lyrics of the song are kind of related to the struggle against losing energy and this desire to survive and determination", continued frontman Matt Bellamy. "When we actually finished the album, we got a call from the Olympics saying they wanted us to play at the ending ceremony and they asked us what we’d like to play and we said well this is the song that we kinda thought may have been suitable for the Olympics in the first place; maybe we should play this song. They came and listened to it and we started talking about how we were gonna play at the show and everything. They loved the song and at that point they said oh we think this will be a great song for the Olympics and it just seemed like a really unusual coincidence. It was kinda full circle really that came back to the beginning again."

I'll say this: The video makes the song much less cheesy. Without it, I probably would not be typing these words. It's an inspiring piece of video editing — pairing the performances and emotions of elite athletes on the world's biggest stage with the inspired music of arguably the greatest rock band in the world. It's hard to not want to do something incredible — something of Olympic caliber — after watching it.

What else?

• If you're not that familiar with Muse, I recommend you start out with "Origin of Symmetry." I consider it the band's finest effort — a bold musical statement that prominently displays classical influence and some of the greatest bass-driven rock riffs. What's funny: The group's stateside label, Maverick, refused to release it in America until its successor, "Absolution," became a hit in 2004. I procured the British import in 2001 and played the hell out of it. Still do, in fact.
• If you prefer the band's most recent offerings — "Black Holes and Revelations" and "The Resistance" — then you're in luck. The new album, "The 2nd Law," is set for an Oct. 1 release. Just a warning: The band has been listening to Skrillex

Friday, August 10, 2012

My pal Scott's Lentil-Mushroom Burgers, Olympics-inspired racewalking, Irving Arts Center, Urban Thrift and White Rock sunset

I know what you're thinking: "Hey, that's not a burger, bro." You know what? You're right. And that's fine. What it is: A photo of a step in creating ultrarunner Scott Jurek's Lentil-Mushroom Burgers (recipe) that are featured in his excellent book, "Eat & Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness." This is Step 3 (sauteeing finely chopped kale, mushrooms, onion and garlic). The burgers I made look nothing like the photos accompanying the recipe; that's why you're seeing this picture. "But how do they taste?" you ask. Pretty good. The meatiness of the walnuts is what makes the difference. A little dry, but that can be fixed with your favorite condiment. I recommend a little Dijon mustard. Hatch chile salsa will also do the trick.

From reading about Scott Jurek to seeing me: I realize it's a tough transition. I'll never have
his curls, but a long-haired version of yours truly is probably coming back. You've been warned.

Olympic fever is spreading across the globe. My office is no different. A recent email thread about an Olympic champion racewalker who tested positive for PEDs led to a bit of fun at my office. A dozen dudes are competing for $36 and bragging rights in the 2012 Men's Racewalk on the third floor of our building. The layout is perfect: There's an actual wood-floor oval track in the middle of the floor. Well, seeing as I'm serious about racing, I went all out; I even created a bib for my first race on Thursday (I had a bye for the first round). The semifinals and final are today; I won't wear this outfit — I have something better planned. If you're unfamiliar with racewalking, I'll say this: It's not nearly as easy as you think. Oh, and "Vegas oddsmakers" have me as a 4-1 favorite (FIGJAM). Oh, and you better believe the women's race will be next week!

Pseudo-related to work: My office is about four miles from the Irving Arts Center. It's a fantastic place to spend my lunch hour. I like to visit the outdoor sculptures first, then spend the rest of the time inside, especially when it's so friggin' hot! Through Sept. 8, you can see the works of local artists at the 12th Annual Art Connection Members Show (painting above makes me smile almost as wide as that horse). There are other exhibits worth seeing, too. I love that Irving ISD students' art is on display. How cool it must be for them to be a part of an exhibit at such a young age!

What you see is half of the bounty I recently dropped off at Urban Thrift, the newest (only?) thrift store in Lake Highlands. I'll be honest: That Converse box filled with 30-or-so discs woulda netted me at least 30 dollars at Half-Price Books. While I love HPB and could use $30, I opted to support a new business in my community by donating music and about a dozen vegetarian/vegan cookbooks from backinnaday. I'm hopeful my donations are found by adventurous shoppers, encourages others to donate great items and that Urban Thrift becomes a cool, affordable shopping spot. Heck, if any of those CDs interest you (Animal Collective and The Avett Brothers are the two without labeling) — at about $1 a piece — you should check it out.

I leave you with a beautiful sunset I captured a few days ago after a lap around White Rock Lake. Even though my focus is firmly on my cycling goals (HHH and TTTT), I still find nothing as blissful as a run at my neighborhood oasis. I'm blessed to live so near to such a beautiful place where I can escape city life. Humorously, it's where I first experienced the dreaded red 11 (tape those nipples on long runs, fellas) and the worst hail storm. Seriously, this is also where I became a runner — where I first ran 10 miles, then 20 miles (starting and ending at Norbuck Park, for those keeping score at home), ran my first race (DRC Half Marathon in 2011) and became a marathoner (2011 MetroPCS Dallas White Rock Marathon).

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tunesday: "Henrietta," Yeasayer

I haven't paid much attention to Yeasayer since 2007's excellent release "All Hour Cymbals," a brilliant psychedelic nugget featuring the preposterously excellent "2080". That's a shame. Hearing "Henrietta" for the first time today reminded me how great the band is and how much I used to dig psych-revival bands — Brightblack Morning Light, anyone?

What's cool about Yeasayer's music: It's instantly recognizable but damn difficult to describe — no group quite compares. The Brooklyn-based group adroitly touches every style imaginable, creating a sound that is completely theirs. And from the sound of the first track, the new album — "Fragrant World," Aug. 20 release date — the band hasn't stopped experimenting and evolving. And that's not surprising, considering the group would like to pattern its career after David Bowie's. If only I had heard the track about a week ago, when the entire album was briefly leaked by the band for an online scavenger hunt.

What else?
• For people who care about such things, Nerve says Yeasayer's Anand Wilder is the second sexiest guy in indie rock music. Well, he does have nice hair.
• If you dig Yeasayer and don't mind going to the House of Blues, you can see them Sept. 5. in Dallas, or several other dates across the country