Monday, September 12, 2011

Victory Junction and the Old Guy on a Bike

It has been a while since I have felt inspired to write anything. Saturday changed I have a million things I want to say and I'm not sure that I can remember them all. I suppose that all I can do is give it my best shot and see what appears on the page.

For some time, I've wanted to get back into biking. I used to ride all the time and it was very relaxing. After my accident, I was a bit reluctant to get back on.....and I didn't exactly get what could be termed overwhelming support from the home front. As time passed, I found I still had the urge to ride, but there remained some doubts and questions.

In July, the urge returned with a vengeance. I finally decided to look for a cheap bike and give it a shot. (Note to self and all reading, buying a cheap bike was a huge mistake. I should have gone with my instincts and purchased a better bike right up front.) After a few weeks of looking in semi-earnest, the local Wal-Mart had a bike on sale. It looked good to I loaded it up and carted it home. Did a quick check on the assembly, made some minor adjustments and voila.....we're off!

That night, I tooled around the neighborhood until my butt was sore, then decided to call it a night. Riding became a daily ritual. Each day I rode a bit further and for a bit longer until I was just over a week in. While cruising around the neighborhood and displaying my prowess on two wheels, I ran over a rock on the roadway. Said rock turned the front wheel violently to the right causing my elbow to make hard contact with the neighbor's mailbox, which in turn, caused me to swing abruptly to the left and directly into a large rolling garbage bin. Brilliant discovery number are way better than sandals at offering protection to your feet. My sandal clad right foot impacted the garbage can in a manner not recommended to the faint of heart. The impact broke the big toe and the toe next to it, as well as ripping the nail almost completely from the big toe. There was blood....lots of it.

For a normal person, this might be the end of the story, but not for me. I managed to get myself in the house....applied liberal doses of Betadine and hydrogen peroxide, wrapped the big toe in a gauze pad to provide some cushioning, taped the two mangled toes together and went out and completed the 5 mile goal I had previously established for myself. I can tell you that the pain was pretty intense, but something told me I needed to complete the ride. It wasn't easy, but I managed to make the full 5 miles.

The following day, the foot was too sore do anything more than hobble my way to the local clinic. They took one look and said I should go to the ER or a foot specialist. I didn't think it hurt enough to merit sitting for hours at the I opted to return home and read my email. In my inbox was a message from the Victory Junction Camp telling me about a charity bike ride to raise money for the camp. Having long been my favorite charity, I decided it was time for me to really make a difference. I would begin training immediately and participate in the ride.

On the surface, this seemed like a pretty simple task. The camp offered advertised rides of 15, 30 and 62 miles in length. Given that I only had a bit over a month to prepare, I decided that signing up for the 15 mile ride would be the best plan. I sat down with some computer workout software and came up with a training program that would have me up to the 15 mile mark in short order.....and ultimately have me ready for the big event. Each day, I increased the riding times and distances until I was doing 15 miles with no problem. Riding here in the mountains seemed like a great way to prep myself for that simple charity ride down on the Piedmont. In the two weeks leading up to the ride, I alternated 10 and 15 mile rides.....10 miles at a brisk pace, 15 at a more leisurely "charity ride" pace. My toes were slowly healing and I was feeling pretty good about myself. I rode in all sorts of weather, from blazing hot to pouring rain. In the last couple of days before the event, I almost broke my arm patting myself on the back for how well I had done in the preparation department.

We need to jump back in time though, as there is a parallel track to this story. As part of the obligation associated with participating in a charity ride, you are also expected to raise money for the cause you are attempting to support. I did not immediately register to participate in the event, knowing full well that my toes and my general lack of physical conditioning could be a show-stopper. I made up my mind that when I had completed my fifth 15 mile training ride with no issue, that I could safely register and participate in the Camp Event. On August 29, I completed my fifth greater than 15 mile training day and decided that I was good to go for the event. Late that evening, I filled out my registration information and on the morning of  August 30, I officially became a registered participant. Now comes the hard part....raising money. There are some effective tools for fund raising that come with your registration. I immediately put them into action and naively expected the money to just pour in. I wasn't asking for much....hell, I told people that a buck would be great and that anything more than that would be incredible!

People began asking questions about the event and I seriously expected the floodgates to open and the donations would come pouring in. The ice was finally broken when my wonderful (and by now, very, very supportive) wife made a donation. That was followed by a donation from a friend since Kindergarten days. Ultimately, I received donations from four additional families and friends that understand just how important this cause is. If you are hung up on seeing how much I raised, I will include the link to the donation site, where your contribution will help make this story that much better!

Just to keep the story interesting, during the course of  preparation for the big ride, we were faced with Hurricane Irene, impending surgery for my wife (your thoughts and prayers on September 13 would be greatly appreciated), the anniversary of 9/11 and Tropical Storm Lee, which absolutely devastated our hometowns in upstate NY. Most of our family was out of harm's way, but our son Jon's home was extensively damaged, as was Jan's rental property next door. Jon, his wife Teresa and their two kids are fine, but their home and many possessions didn't survive. Sometimes it is very hard to be 700 miles away.

But, I digress. We worked around the distractions and decided that it was important to complete the charity ride.  At 4 a.m. on the morning of September 10, I set out for Randleman, NC and the Victory Junction Camp. The drive over was very serene and I had lots of thoughts racing through my head, not the least of which was switching from the 15 mile ride to the 30 mile ride, just because my training had been progressing so well and I was feeling great. I arrived at the front gate shortly after 8 a.m. and immediately developed a lump in my throat. Just pulling in, I could feel that I was in a very special, very important place. I snapped a few photos at the front gate and then headed to the parking and registration area.

Check-in was quick and painless....and surprise of surprises, my registration number was 43. NASCAR fans will understand the significance, but for the uninitiated, 43 is one of the numbers associated with the Petty family, most notably "King Richard". I took that as a great sign of things to come.

As I mentioned earlier, I spent the drive over contemplating switching to the 30 mile ride instead of the 15, based on how well I felt and how well the preparations had gone. I ultimately decided to stick with the original plan, especially since this was my first attempt at anything like this. During the training leading up to this, I had tried to follow a similar route to the one that was laid out by the organizers on a neat little smartphone app entitled "Map My Ride".  Data gleaned from the app indicated this would be a very flat ride with only a net elevation change of  50 feet. Just walking from the parking/registration area to the starting point, it became obvious that there was over 50 feet of elevation change in just that short span. The worst was yet to come!

We had a few minutes to look around before we set out. Like most of the riders, I had a banana and a couple bottles of Gatorade to make sure we were hydrated and fueled. Everyone spent some time looking around, stretching, having the on-site mechanic double check their bikes and just generally reflecting on the surroundings. Unless you are totally numb from the hair down, I don't know how you can't get a sense of awe and respect for what a fantastic place the camp really is. It wasn't hard to understand why some very big names in sports are willing to lend their names, funds  and endorsements to the Camps. From Paul Newman to Tony Stewart to Kyle and Pattie corporate sponsors like Bass Pro Shops, Norfolk Southern, Sunoco and donations from everyday folks like you and me all go to making for a magical place. At 9:45 we had a safety briefing and thank you for participating session. I think most of us had lumps in our throats by then.

At 10 a.m., the green flag waved and we were off. The first mile wasn't too bad. Many of us learned quickly that you didn't want to try to keep pace with the boys on their fancy road bikes. A group of about 7 of us settled into a routine that we managed to keep for about 9 miles. It became painfully obvious after the first climb that the 50 elevation change bit was totally wrong. There were a number of climbs far longer and far steeper than the climb out of my development.....and I can tell you that climb has stopped a lot of people. By the time I got to mile 10, there wasn't another rider in sight. There were camera crews at several vantage points along the course as well as one crew in an ATV that followed a number of different riders along the way.

Somewhere after mile 10 one of the support vehicles followed me until the rest stop at mile 12. I was plagued by wicked leg cramps on almost every climb from mile 8 on. I can tell you, the thought of stopping crossed my mind more than once. This ride was far more complex than what I had trained and prepared for....but I found myself thinking back to the kids that I was there to support and there were no more thoughts of stopping or giving up. It became a quest, a rite and flat out necessity to finish. My GPS later showed over 585 feet of elevation differential....a far cry from the 50 in all the lead up information. The 15 mile route also turned out to be 17.89 miles, but in the didn't matter. I made it! I made the "victory lap" of the camp on completion too.

After cooling down a bit, eating some bananas and drinking copious quantities of  fluids....(did I mention the temperature and humidity? Let's just say that it added to the overall experience).....I had the opportunity to spend about 45 minutes talking with Linda, a volunteer on a regular basis. You couldn't help but be infected by her charming accounts of the kids, the camp and the whole experience. Suffice it to say, our conversation only reinforced the importance of the Camp and the value of our fund raising efforts. The dining staff then provided all the riders and guests with a fantastic luncheon, followed by a concert in the Dale Jr, Amphitheater.

Eventually the day drew to a close, we loaded up our bikes and everyone headed home....a little tired, a little sore, but with hearts filled with the joy of knowing we had been a part of something very special. I'm pretty sure I get the award for the longest travels of the day.....over 450 miles in the car and on the bike....not too bad for a somewhat out of shape 55 year old!

If you've taken the time to read this, would you please also take the time to consider a donation to Victory Junction? Big, small or in between, every bit helps.....and 100% of your donation goes directly to support the campers!

I should add this little post script. On the drive home, there was a loud explosion and my bike visibly jumped in the rack. On inspection, I discovered the front tire had blown out....there was a huge hole in both the tire and tube. I'm glad it happened when it did and not when I was flying down the final descent at nearly 40 mph....I suspect that result would not have been pretty.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Declaration of Independence

This seems a fitting post for today. The text of the most important document in American drafted by Thomas Jefferson and signed by our founding fathers. You will note, that this does not say that it is the Declaration of Independence. I will post the actual Declaration at the end.

The Unanimous Declaration
of the Thirteen United States of America

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

As signed by John Hancock and the other delegates from the 13 colonies.

And now for the actual Declaration of Independence......drafted by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia and adopted by the Congress.

“these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states....and that all political connection between them and The State of Great Britain is, and of right ought to be, totally dissolved.”

Not as eloquent as the Jefferson Declaration, but far more effective in making the actual point that the 13 colonies were now in a struggle for their very lives. Happy Independence Day America!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In the Garden

The new crop of daylilies is in full bloom. The full gallery can be seen at

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Are You Kidding Me?

You have to love the Asheville City isn't every political body that has so little to do these days, they have time to pass ordinances banning advertising. Gone are the dancing mattress, the strutting chicken and the strange worm with leprosy that graced the Sprint store on Patton Avenue.

In a move that defies logic and reason, the Grove Park Inn was told to turn off the spotlights they had rented to promote their Celtic weekend. The reasons given were totally absurd....first, the lights detracted from the city skyline and second, the lights posed a hazard to the motoring public. Let's face it, Asheville has no skyline and if the city were truly concerned with the motoring public, they would focus their efforts on filling in giant craters that fill most of the city streets!

The local TV station did an online poll asking for viewer input on the matter. Most responses were in favor of doing away with this foolish law and allowing businesses to get back to having a bit of fun. There were a few nut jobs that supported the ban, but you could tell from their comments that they were probably under the influence of some mind altering substance. Among the favorites..."the lights pose a serious hazard to planes landing at the airport", "the lights keep me from being able to see the moon" and "I can't sleep with the lights on"!

As for planes having problems landing at the airport, the runway is several miles from the city and the flight path doesn't take them over the hotel to begin with. For the people that couldn't see the moon, it had nothing to do with the searchlights, the current lunar phase ranged from a new moon to a waxing crescent, I think you can draw your own conclusions there. For the fool that said they couldn't sleep with the lights on....where the hell were you trying to sleep? Were you in the Goodyear blimp or a hot air balloon hovering overhead? No, it couldn't have been the blimp, because that would be an illegal form of advertising and it certainly wouldn't be over Asheville.

Wake up Asheville, time to vote these nimrods out of office and get some of these ridiculous laws off the books.

Friday, January 28, 2011

So You Thought You Wanted to be a Poet

A long time ago, I had aspirations of writing poetry or perhaps a song or two. I was working sixteen hour days in a rather sterile and solitary environment. To keep from going stark raving mad, I began writing in a journal. Most of the entries were random scribblings, but there was an occasional poem and even the framework of a humorous novel.

The journal traveled around the world for nearly thirty five years without suffering more than a dog eared page or two, as well as the expected wear and tear on the outer jacket. The writings grew less and less frequent as the years passed, but the contents still held great meaning and memories for me.

In early June of 2010, I traveled to Charleston, SC for a weekend getaway with my wife. The dogs stayed at home with their favorite dog sitter Kelly. Things were going great until my phone rang while I was on a tour of Charleston harbor. It was my dad with the somber news that my step-mom had cancer. Between the roar of the boat engines, the tour guide giving descriptions and a rather stiff breeze, it was very difficult to hear what dad was trying to tell me. I promised to call him when we landed to get the full story.

Once we were safely back to the hotel, I called dad and was filled in on all the grim details. They were sure it was cancer, but more tests would be needed to confirm things. I asked dad if he needed me to come to NY, but he assured me that there was nothing I could do there that I couldn't do equally as well from where I was. At that point, good thoughts and prayers were about all anyone could do.

The rest of the short vacation was tempered by the news, but we still managed to have an enjoyable time and got to see some great scenery. We headed home on a balmy Sunday morning. The trip was uneventful and we had a great time just talking and spending time with each other. When we arrived home, the dogs were their usual ecstatic selves...thrilled to see us and bouncing off the walls. Jan took the dogs outside while I unloaded the car. It was on my second trip in that I saw the note from Kelly atop a large plastic grocery bag.

I assumed that it was just a simple note telling us that things had gone well and the bag contained the mail. How wrong I was. Seems the dogs had just gone totally insane while we were gone. Chewing on things they never chewed on....blankets, bedspreads and the quilt Jan had made me for Christmas a few years ago. The worst part was contained in the plastic bag. It seems that Zelda really decided that she was mad at me. She had gone into my office and taken the journal off the lower shelf of my desk. All I can say is that there wasn't a whole lot left of my years of work. I was able to salvage a grand total of thirteen pages out of over three hundred. Ouch. And yes...Zelda is still alive. I wasn't happy with her, but it was my own stupidity that caused it to get eaten, I normally kept it in a drawer of the desk.

Spring forward to this week. One of the local newspapers is having a poetry contest. I was pretty sure that there was a short selection in the remaining pages of the journal that might qualify. I spent the last few days trying to recreate the damaged parts and turn the work into something worthy of submission. I have no idea if I succeeded in my quest or not, but I do recall one of my professors telling me that the mark of a decent poem is that it evokes an emotion from the audience. I read the finished product to Jan and she assured me that it caused an emotional reaction. To be fair, she never did tell me what emotion, but I went ahead and submitted the thing anyway.

Without further ado, I give you "Seafaring Blues".

Early morning seas, rising to the wind
The haunting cry of a gull
Beware, the storm begins.
Tossing and turning, losing all my sleep
Still the waves keep rolling
And yet, I long for you.

The sea, it gets so restless
But then, so does my mind.
The rising tide,
Swept you from my side
And still, I hear your call.

Sometimes within you, but mostly without
Clearly, I miss you
And love you even more.
The world is not ours to hold, much less to own
When the call comes to go,
Do we seek a new home?

Searching and yearning, reaching for nothing
Broken hearts weep in sorrow.
Time seems I can’t go on.
I feel my soul sinking, slowly pulled under
Stealing my breath
Like the ebb of the tide.

The sea, it gets so restless
But then, so does my mind
The rising tide,
Swept you from my side
And still, I hear your call.

Sometimes within you, but mostly without
Clearly, I miss you
And love you even more
Time heals the hurt, once the storm has passed
The waves roll on and on
But love remains steadfast.