Friday, July 24, 2015

The dream of the American West

We were on day two of our vacation when I first heard and accent that wasn't Omaha and definitely wasn't the light drawl of the Panhandle. "Was that German?"

It was. The fellow Fort Robinson visitors were from Switzerland. I thought they might be foreign, based on the gentleman's clothing, which could be best described as "European hiker."

Eh, close enough. But not blue jeans. 

Our server at breakfast the next morning was definitely French, or at least French-Canadian. We'd run into a family the night before that was also French. There were Germans at the Badlands, too, and we were helped by a Russian at an ice cream parlor.

But why were they in Custer, SD? I'd have to imagine it has something to do with the dream of the American West. As close as I can tell, it has something to do with getting away, getting out there, and watching the sky open up. That's been romanticized over the years, but I can see why. There were a few times we just said, "Oh, man," when we looked out at the land. I know Europe has amazing views and everything, but I don't think it's quite like this.

We were driven by the same urge at the outset, I think. "Show me the stunning vistas!" I thought as we meandered up Highway 2. "Let's see some rolling hills and whatnot!"

I've poked fun in the past about people saying, "We have to get you out there on a (insert name here) bike," as if my life won't be complete if I don't. (Though, yes, I would like to have a mountain bike someday. And I'm glad I got a cyclocross bike.) You could probably say the same for going out into western Nebraska and just being there. It was everything we'd hoped.

You should get out there.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Out there among 'em

Thirty-some years ago, for a few years, my parents loaded up their 1972 Chevelle and trucked my brother and I around the bulk of the upper midwest. From Colorado to Kentucky and Missouri to Ontario and around Lake Superior, we saw most everything there was to see.

Now that our kids are both old enough for such adventures, Chris and I loaded up the Fit and took off. We headed through central Nebraska by way of state highways to the Sandhills, then up to the Black Hills and back through the Badlands.

I'll say right away that I should have taken more pictures on day one. But we were rolling down the road well, the kids were happy and I didn't want to mess that up. Even so, we managed to get a few shots along the way.

Should you snap a picture through the windshield at 60-some mph? Yes, always. 

Downtown Broken Bow, which was named as such because a settler found a broken bow near the settlement. Really. 

That night, we stayed in Alliance, at an old roadside motel called the Sunset Inn. It was good enough, clean enough and priced right. We visited the town celebration, blew $20 in 5 minutes at the carnival and ate pizza in a restaurant that very clearly used to be a service station.

The Sunset Inn. It was good enough. 

After a night of sleep punctuated by Jack elbowing the ever-loving hell out of me, we gassed up and headed north. Carhenge was the first stop, just north of town.

Yep, it's exactly as you'd expect. 

And from there it was a reasonably short ride to Chadron, then Fort Robinson. I've been told for years that the terrain out in the Panhandle is something to behold, but seeing it is something else entirely. It was fantastic. Amazing. Wide-open, free and beautiful.

Fort Robinson was very interesting for its long history as a US military outpost, all the way up to WWII. Outside of the fort complex, the land was once again stunning.

We went north from Crawford after that, through the Oglala National Grassland and up to South Dakota. We intended originally to swing through Wyoming, mostly just for Jack to cross a state off of his list. But the road we planned on turned out to be gravel, and it would have been 30 minutes on that, or another 1:30 to take the paved way. We decided that getting to Custer, SD, sooner was the more important objective.

One of the first trips I remember as a kid was in the Black Hills. And from that I remember bits and pieces. But one of them was Wind Cave. We hit that first thing Monday morning and tromped down into the dark on one of the guided tours. The kids were great, and Maddy walked most of it no problem. They were interested in the formations and were super-excited by the time they came out. We were worried about how they'd do, but they were fine. That turned out to be a trend the rest of the way.

The cave was pretty cool, and much as I'd remembered — even the part 
where they turn out the lights. 

We had a picnic lunch (another old-time Redemske family vacation staple) and then had a quick hike before heading out.

We ended up out in a prairie of sorts, surrounded by small peaks. Pretty awesome. 

Crazy Horse was next. I remember a bit of this one, too. Mostly it was trying to squint to see exactly what the hell this mountain was going to become. This time around, Crazy Horse's face was done and progress was being made on the rest of it. I think it's still going to be, like, at least another 50 years.

Crazy Horse. Hey, we're getting there. 

We went back to Custer for a little rest, some ice cream and then some pizza, and then up to Mount Rushmore for the evening. We caught the lighting ceremony, which was super long, mostly boring and not all that great. But walking around there was great, and the drive up was spectacular. Mostly it made me want to ride my bike up that climb.

I'm pretty sure Chris took this picture. 

We stayed two nights in a place called the Rocket Motel in Custer. It was a standard 1950s-style roadside motel, but well-maintained, spotless and pretty fun. Bonus: Three beds in the room, which means Jack and Maddy each got their own beds. Also, the internet was slower than slow. That's more of an annoyance than a gripe, by the way.

There was a sign out front that said, "Welcome. You are our blessing!"

Our last full day of vacation featured another trip up and over Mount Rushmore and down into Keystone to a place called the Cosmos Mystery Spot. Essentially, down is up, physics are backwards and everything is built to trick your brain into believing you're standing sideways.

The water ran uphill on the board the guide (in red) was standing on.

Bear Country, USA was next, and it was about 45 minutes of "meh" before 15 minutes of "Holy crap, there's a bear right outside the car." Also, we got to see feeding time, when all of the bears perked up when a white pickup rolled into the enclosure and started tossing some food out. If you ever want to see a bunch of lazy-ass bears get really frisky, check out feeding time. I feel like the kids will have that high on their top-10 list for a while.

Bears are the best. 

Rapid City was the last overnight stop, and we got to bum around downtown for a bit before heading back to the motel. We went big this last night, and chose a motel with a built-in waterpark. After about two hours going down waterslides of all sizes, they pretty much crashed. (And as a side note, waterslides aren't meant for old people who know how to anticipate things. Both Chris and I were sore and dinged up. Jack, who is soft and springy, thought it was all awesome.)

We knew the last day was going to be a rough one, so we aimed for the Badlands in the morning and then just a long, long, long drive home afterward. We are fortunate to have two kids who are up for pretty much anything, though, and they dug in and enjoyed it. Jack wanted to run around and hike more, but it was already getting late. We'll have to come back.

The secret all-star of the trip was our little Honda Fit. It is a small car, but it's big inside. And, with the exception of the last day, when we were doing 70-plus mph for 8 hours, it scored 40-plus miles per gallon the whole time. We spent less than $100 on gas for the five-day trip. And it needs a deep, deep scrub at this point.

And now, it's back to work. I haven't shaved or ridden my bike in about a week, my schedule is all out of whack and I've explored the depths of our music collection. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Doing the impossible

The kids were gone this week. Well, most of the week. After the Clear Lake race, we left them in Algona and headed home for a week. We had nothing on our minds but some home projects, riding bikes, listening to loud music and doing whatever we wanted to do!

I have not ridden my bike since. And our projects are well along, but not done. We did listen to loud music, though.

Basically, we ended up staying up too late every night, which meant I definitely didn't want to get up and ride. But we worked on the bathroom, relaxed and caught a concert:

We saw Sturgill Simpson at Sokol the other night. It was fantastic, because he plays legit country, which is awesome. No singing about bros and pounding beers and AMERICA and all of that crap. Nope, sad songs with twangy backing and a kickass band.

But the kids are back now and ... I'm going to go ride in the morning? I'm not sure that's how it's supposed to work, but I'm doing it. I guess it'll be good to get back on a bike. I probably should have done that at least once since Sunday.

Oh well.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Reunited and it feels good enough

We had an interesting weekend, built around a trip to Algona. Generally when we head that way, it's pretty quiet. It's nice having really nothing to do, so it's generally pretty relaxing.

This time around, we had a race in Clear Lake, and then my 20-year class reunion to follow.

This is what riding around Algona looks like, by the way:

That's the little grain elevator about three miles out of town, in a smaller place called Hobarton. Anyway, I spun out my legs on Saturday morning, felt terrible, saw some corn and decided that I was ready to race.

I have a conflicted relationship with the Clear Lake crit. (It's about 45 minutes from Algona, by the way — and easily as close as it gets for a "hometown" race.) The last time I raced there, it looked like this:

Oh, man. That looks terrible. That was 2013, and I was bad at bikes for all but about two weeks of the season. I fell behind early and got yanked shortly after. Ugh. I haven't been back since. But there we were on Saturday. The rough stretches of pavement have almost all been redone, and the fastest corner has been widened. As such, I'm back in love with the race. Or if not love, at least a heavy like.

I've uncovered no pictures so far, but I can report that at no point did I look like this. I felt fast and comfortable and, for the most part, was right where I needed to be. With two to go, I was inside of the top 10 and ready to cover a move. But as far as I could tell, a move in the traditional sense — like a guy goes off the front berserker style — never happened. We just kept going faster and faster and suddenly we were three turns from the end. I grabbed a couple of places back from guys who surged, but I couldn't move up any farther. I finished 10th out of 40-some starters.

I'll take that. It's the best I've ever been there. (And I'm already in the mode of "Aw, man. I should have done better.")

We got a bite of BBQ for supper and picked up, because we had reunion activities to get in on. But ... due to the drive and two kids that needed bathed and not really hustling out of town ... we missed the formal reunion.

Whoops. But at least I wasn't the only one. Out of our class of 100 or so, I counted 23 or so in the official reunion picture. I joked later that it confirmed what I've always thought about my high school class: We just didn't really like each other that much. Oh well.

Anyway, we were able to meet a handful of people at a bar in Algona and had a really nice time. Nobody fought, except Chris, and everybody got home safely. See, a nice night! (Chris did begin to engage the husband of a former classmate in a debate, but thankfully it ended before things got real.)

The trip ended with a godawful ride in some of the more ridiculous heat and humidity I've felt in a while. That ride looked like this:

The view doesn't change much when you ride around Algona.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Nailed it

By my count, I've been running road tubeless since 2008. That was the year after I rode a test pair of the first Dura-Ace tubeless wheels for a day on RAGBRAI. In that time, I think I can count one legit flat, and probably a handful of slow leaks that sealed thanks to having Caffelatex inside.

While doing 25 or 26 mph on Wednesday night, I added a new one to my experiences on a bike:

That is a nail, of course. I felt a bump and then started to hear a fast ticking sound. It kept going when coasted and likewise kept going when I stood up. Paul Webb was behind me in the group and confirmed it wasn't going flat, so I rolled on. 

But that definitely didn't feel right. So I got to the intersection of 72nd Street and Highway 36 at the back of the group, said loudly I was going to check it out real quick and then ... watched the group roll away without tapping the brakes. Sigh. (Jordan did check in on me a moment later.)

And that's when I discovered the nail. Nice one, probably best for shingles. Since it wasn't leaking air like crazy, I thought about riding it home. But then I was concerned that if the air did come out, I'd be driving a nail into my rim. I wasn't psyched about that, so I decided to tube it and roll on. 

But the hole was big enough that the tube was poking through a little, so I bagged that idea. So then I just stood at the side of the road holding up my wheel until neutral service came through. Chris delivered me a wheel and pushed me back into the ride, where I headed down to the east and met the group again. 

Chris is a saint for loading up the kids and bringing me a wheel straight away, rather than telling me to grab a beer at the gas station and hang out. I definitely needed to get that ride in (more for mental health than race readiness), and it was much appreciated. 

It's time to race again this weekend, this one close to home (well, Sweet Home) in Clear Lake, Iowa. It'll be a tough crit, because there are a million corners and it's a small loop. And last time there I positively sucked. So I'll need to be better. 

Oh, and after that — like later that night — 20-year class reunion. And that'll be a trip in itself. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Get out there

I rode my bike lots this weekend. For all but a few minutes of it, things were pretty calm and steady. It was basically three days of feel-good rides.

On Friday, EOB and I did that thing where we ride around for a few hours and talk about the arts and bikes and whatnot. We haven't done that in a while, so it was good to get out there and do that.

On Saturday, Mike and Pat and Todd came over and we rode from my house to a group ride in Council Bluffs. The full day would have been about 150 miles, and had we not had anything planned afterward, I would have considered it. Also, that would have been rough by the end. Anyway, we turned around at Glenwood and wandered back. We hit Hickory Street on the way back, which was terrible.

By the time Sunday rolled around, I was basically just super tired. We were up late Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and my back was sore. I probably ate and drank too much on Saturday. So that was just an easy two hours with almost no effort given toward making the bike go fast. It was pretty nice.

This week I'll try to sharpen up again and get ready to race a crit in Clear Lake. My class reunion is that night (20 years!), so I'll race, head to Algona, clean up and wade into who knows what. It'll be entertaining, I guess.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Freedom of choice

I sit next to a couple of loud-talkers at work. They are very nice people, but they have no volume control whatsoever. One is loud and belligerent on the phone, the other is just loud all of the time. As in, "Why are you yelling at that person when it sounds like you're having a friendly conversation?"

That makes it difficult to think for large stretches of the day, so I tend to have my headphones on, listening to music. As you might imagine, a guy can saw through a lot of music over the span of nine hours at a desk. And while I have a fairly expansive collection myself, I'm always looking for more.

Apple unveiled its new streaming service (Apple Music) this week, and included a free three-month trial for all iTunes users. I wrote about this before, when the service was called Beats Music and not owned by Apple. Though it looks a little different, it's essentially the same thing. And it's still pretty fantastic.

That said, I'm not going to sign up and start paying $10/month when the trial ends, no matter how awesome it is. Why? Because I don't want to rent my music. I found a ton of awesome stuff already (Father John Misty, Jenny Lewis, old Rolling Stones, Sleater-Kinney, Gary Clark Jr., older St. Vincent, etc.), but I don't want to give Apple $10 each month to keep listening to it forever. It's a nice revenue stream, when you think about it: Listen to anything you want, as much as you want. And if you really like it, you can always have it with you, as long we get your $10.

You could argue that I spend at least that much on music each month, anyway (I do). But at that point it's mine, and I can do with it as I please. I can't share an Apple Music track with a friend, who can then listen to it as much as they want, like I could with a vinyl album or a CD.

But, like I mentioned in the original post from 2014, I'm checking out everything that looks interesting and making a list of "things to buy at some point." Some will be on vinyl, some might just be from iTunes. Yes, Apple will still get my money, but I can stop any time I want. I swear.