31 December 2009

Strange days

It just feels … weird.

Not good weird, not bad weird, just … weird.

For the first time in … well … um … a decade? I’m heading into New Years with no set athletic ambitions for next year. No races officially on the calendar, no inkling of my “peak” times of the year, no clarity on what events I want to focus on.

And it feels weird.

In all, 2009 was a pretty fantastic year – I met some career racing goals, enjoyed watching my little baby become a little person, got some clarity around life goals and locales. But it was also challenging, with a couple of disheartening crashes at key moments, bike breakage and more – and worse – illness than I’ve faced in many years. And given the life upheaval of the past 3 months, it’s pretty much all I can do to hang on, ride or run when I can, and just hope that come Monday, things will settle down.

Which is strange. Normally by October, I’m sketching out a calendar for the next year, I’m getting eager to train – even though I’m not done with the current season yet! – and I’ve got a really good idea of my peak events. But this year, it’s already the end of December, staring January in the face, and I’ve got … nothing. Well, not completely nothing – I do have a couple of events that I *think* I’ll target next year. Maybe. Perhaps. We’ll see.

Starting a new job, in a new part of the country, is never “easy.” Starting a new job in a riding Mecca, though, makes me think I should be more on the ball than I am. But I don’t have a clear understanding of the racing scene down there (i.e., what’s easily accessible), I’m *really* looking forward to just exploring by bike or by foot and truth be told, I’m so focused on my job right now (rightfully so!) that the thought of registration deadlines and missing the window for certain races simultaneously terrifies and paralyzes me.

Kim and I talked about it last night, and I know I will have a good season in 2010. It will be skewed later in the calendar year, for sure, but that just means I should still be going strong for the NC Grand Prix, in my hometown, the weekend before Thanksgiving. And between now and then, there are some really awesome racing opportunities – once I get back, finish getting settled, and start to get back into racing shape. It’ll take me longer than previous years to reach that level, but I’ll also have nicer weather and longer days of daylight to help the process along. That’s why I’m not totally freaking out about my fitness, and why I know I’ll have fun next year.

Still, it feels weird.

Bring it on!

28 December 2009

40 years!

We had a wonderful evening yesterday, celebrating my parents' 40-year wedding anniversary. 40 years! Crazy to think ... my sister-in-law, brother and Kim put together a fantastic dinner event at a local restaurant with a few family and friends, and I got to put together a cute little slide show with photos from their life together. There have been a lot of great times these past 40 years, and some challenges, and it's exciting to me to see the influence they have had on both Tim and I, and now on our children. Role models? Oh, yeah -- consider multiple college degrees, paramedic certifications, soccer parents before there were soccer parents -- all while making sure to be home for dinner every evening, and attending every game, event and outing Tim and I ever had. Thanks Mom and Dad, and congratulations!

As for us? We had a great weekend with family, and Kate continues to grow up every day. She's taken to babbling incessantly while holding objects to her ear -- a legacy of the past week of daddy being in North Carolina and talking to him on the phone. (And, oh yeah, it's breaking my heart even though it's really cute!) She also started shaking her booty -- she likes to tackle me when I'm sitting on the floor, and has started to back into me so I tackle her sometimes. It's so adorable!

I've got a few shop visits scheduled this week, and then we head to a friend's house for New Years before Kim's friend from college and her little girl visit next weekend. I'm trying not to get ahead of myself -- I have plans this week and the time will go fast, but I want to be sure to enjoy every minute I get with my little girl. I'm not sure when I'll be back after this trip ... that's been the hardest part of saying goodbye to my nephew and nieces. Not to mention a cloud hanging over my time with Kate and Kim!

In the end, though, we'll all be together, and we're already looking forward to planning activities once they get down to NC. And we know, thanks to the foundation my parents and hers (who also celebrated 40 years in 2009!) have built, that 26-1/2 years from now we'll be celebrating our 40th as well!

21 December 2009

Yup, she's mine

This should take away any doubt as to whether Kate looks like me or Kim. Little Steven Christopher, circa 1975 ...

20 December 2009

A walk in the woods

When I heard the tell-tale scrape of metal on tarmac yesterday evening, I knew I had a chance ... sure enough, the landscapers that take care of our development had a plow, and I watched as they cleared a path up the hill. Still, it looked like this, and I figured I'd have one more day stuck in the house before venturing out for work on Monday.

Thankfully, though, it turns out the weather forecasters aren't all that good here either -- and the 40% chance of rain and snow predicted for this morning turned out to be a bright, sun-shiny day. Despite the suggestion from my coworker that he would come rescue me (in his 4WD Ford), I decided to strike out on my own, and see whether I could make it to the trailhead at Mills River. Maybe a snow hike?

Thankfully, the little Scion I'm borrowing made it down the sheet of ice that is my driveway, and I headed out 191 toward Pisgah. It was smooth sailing until I got to North Mills River Road -- the sun had melted the ice yesterday afternoon on the southern exposures, and it had re-frozen. Thankfully the Scion is stick shift, and five white-knuckle miles later (including a stop to help push a Prius out of a snowdrift), I was parking where the plows stopped.

I headed up FS 1206 toward Yellow Gap, about 3 miles and 1,000 ft. above me. At first, I took advantage of a local or two who had laid down some tracks ...

... enjoying some beautiful scenery along the way. In addition to some recent damage from the storm, the waterfalls and mountain streams were amazing!

Eventually, though, the tracks ended, and I started to post-hole. I figure I did nearly 2 miles through 8-10 inches of snow, gaining about 700 of the 1,000 ft. in the process. What a fantastic way to spend a day!

I made it to Yellow Gap, and the road on the other side had a southern exposure -- the direction from which the storm came. The managable 8-10 inches of snow on the north side quickly became 13 or more, and it looked as if there was another storm brewing from the north. Time to turn back!

Heading down was a lot easier (and what I would have done for a pair of skis!), until I got to the wheel tracks again -- sure enough, a couple of locals had gone and gotten themselves stuck, and then burned out their starter engine trying to get loose. We managed to push the pickup a ways back down the mountain, with one of the guys' girlfriend driving backwards, before we gave up and just decided to hike the rest of the way. Thankfully, everyone was safe, and I dropped one of the guys at a local Citgo so he could call for some help. I got an upper body workout in addition to my hike, so I was happy!

Instead of heading straight home (although I did pass it along the way), I headed into town to finish up my Christmas shopping. I found a cute set of PJs for Kate, and a nice gift for Kim -- I hope she likes it!

Now I'm home, finishing up the laundry that I abandoned this morning, tired, hungry and extremely happy about my first foray into Pisgah. It was a stunning, solitary day, my shadow as my only companion ...

18 December 2009

It's not the snow, it's the hills that'll get you

I've not had a snow day in maybe 20 or so years -- I remember once when every Milwaukee County school was closed, Marquette still held classes. So it's probably been since high school, and now I find myself working from home, staring out at a beautiful winter wonderland, a stranger in a strange land.

Down here in the South, they don't have much in the way of snow removal equipment -- a couple of the landscaping companies have pickups with plows, and the cities might have one or two that double as salt trucks, but for the most part you're on your own. And around here, that means no go -- when it snows, all the schools shut down and what little traffic there is normally basically disappears from the roads. Let me tell you, it's hard going up a 6% grade with an inch of snow on top of it!

And this is a big one -- the storms that come up from the Gulf of Mexico always carry more moisture than those from the North -- the "Gulf Effect" means that the snow is heavy, wet, and sure to stick to just about everything! No light and fluffy around here! We're expected to have 100% chance of snow until tomorrow afternoon -- they're predicting 10 inches here at 2200ft., although I hear it's like Chicago with a big fudge factor somewhere in there. (But, it started snowing 7 hours before they said it would, with no rain ahead of it as predicted -- we're sitting on more than an inch already with 28-30 hours to go ...)

I woke up this morning and went for a run in the light sleet; by the time I had gotten out of the shower we had full-on snow, and we got the email that the office was shutting down. Even with all my years of Chicago driving, I have to say I was relieved -- I'm driving a borrowed sports car, and was not looking forward to crawling to work in it. Maybe if I had my AWD Subie ...

Since I was low on milk, I headed over to the local grocery store -- a 20-minute hike through the neighborhood. You should have seen the looks I got from the people at the store when I walked in, covered in snow, with my hat and gloves, and ski jacket on. I must have looked crazy to their untrained eyes! I went early, though, because it occurred to me that if everything is shutting down, they might shut down too!

It was fun walking back though -- because school is off, all the kids are out in their yards going crazy, and the parents are taking photos of them playing. They get a storm this big maybe once every 10 years or so (*if* it gets that big!), and the moms and dads are documenting the momentous occasion. It made me realize how much I take snow for granted -- do you remember how much fun it was to play in it when you were a kid?! And when it's just at the freezing mark with no wind, it's not so cold you can't have fun ... and they were definitely having fun! It's strange to think they'll be talking about this one for years to come ...

Anyway, that's my morning. I've got a full pot o'coffee, some research to do, a remote connection to the office and a whole lot of boxes left to unpack. The snow just started falling again in earnest, and I've got boots ... maybe I'll go for another hike this afternoon. Play on!

17 December 2009


Besides the obvious accent -- which is really hit or miss in the Asheville area, with so many transplants -- the most interesting linguistic tick I've found here in the South is that they use different contractions than folks in the North. I noticed it first from my friend's wife and thought it might just be a Virginia thing, but then once I heard it, I have become aware of it almost constantly!

Other than "y'all," (which, yes, I hear every day!), mainly it seems to do with "not" -- whereas in the North you might say "I haven't ...", contracting the "not," down here they say "I've not ...", contracting the "have." The accent on the syllables is pretty much the same -- they don't emphasize "not" any more than in the North -- but it just rolls off the tounge slightly differently. There are others, and I'm getting more and more used to them ...

Things are going well as I settle in at work and home, and get into a *bit* of a routine. I did find a safe walking route from our duplex, so I can get to downtown, the grocery store and more importantly Papa's & Beer! Their shredded beef tacos are really good, and their flautas are out of this world -- they're "California Mexican," the stuff I grew up on!

Tomorrow should be interesting ... we're expecting 5 inches of snow even down here in town, so it may be a free day ... at least I have the clothing for it!

15 December 2009

My morning

Just in case you missed the twitpic, this is the view from the office this morning. Yes, that's our lunch ride destination!

07 December 2009

12 things I'll miss

In the spirit of the season, I want to share 12 things I'm going to miss about Chicago. Contrary to the way I may have made it sound recently, I don't "hate" Chicago -- but, at the same time, it's just not me, and I have to admit quite a bit of excitement for the impending move. So here goes, a month-by-month list of things I will miss:

January - The strong tradition of Chicago theater, and specifically Broadway in Chicago. I have seen more shows in Chicago (and also, Milwaukee) than I remember, and am proud to count thespians and theater managers among my many friends and loved ones.

February - Chicago's diversity. On those insanely cold February days in Chicago when it's not safe to ride to work, I hop on the L (thankful for the public transportation system!), and marvel at the mass of humanity from all walks of life, all colors, all creeds that make Chicago what it is.

March - Long lakefront rides with Brad, up to the Highwood Starbuck's. Especially when it's been 30 degrees and sleeting all week, and then we luck out with a 50+ Saturday. Riding the "hills" in Highland Park and Fort Sheridan before enjoying a latte and turning south into the warming wind.

April - The Chicago Fire soccer team. It was at their very first home opener at Soldier Field in April 1998 that I began to see the world with new eyes, and I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for Zach Thornton!

May - Our families, especially in May. My SIL's b-day, Mother's Day, my birthday and our wedding anniversary all fall within 2 weeks of each other, and it's a beautiful time of year to celebrate life!

June - The guys at The Pony Shop -- especially Lou, John and Warren, who have put up with me for nearly 10 years now. Their service and friendship has been invaluable, and I wouldn't be the rider I am today without them!

July - Wisconsin. So it's not Chicago, but from here it's so easy to get there -- and I will very much miss our friends who live on the other side of the Cheddar Curtain. And I will miss its unique beauty -- from Door County to the Mississippi, from the North Woods to the strip malls of Kenosha and Racine, Wisconsin has a little bit of everything.

August - Mike Pechnyo and The Judson Ride. By August, it's a complete hammerfest with all the racers in top form, and Mike's self-professed "anarchy" means that this twice-weekly World Championships is a breeding ground for aspiring speedsters, many of whom go on to greater things. I remember my first ride being dropped by "FBI John" up on Atkinson, and having no idea how to get home!

September - Tom Skilling. 'nuff said.

October - The very strong Eastern European and Mexican influence in Chicago, which leads to an October filled with some of the most intense Halloween preparations anywhere in the U.S. Oh, and not to mention many great restaurants!

November - That one clear, 50+-degree day with a south wind in November, commuting home on the LFP with the gillmering full moon showing silver on the lake.

and finally ...

December - The ChiCrossCup, and specifically the State Championship race at Montrose. Seeing more than 400 people racing yesterday, the spectators, the tents -- the CCC has become a fantastic scene, a far cry from the days when we were lucky to get 10 guys in the As, racing in front of family. Viva The Cup! Viva Chicago!

05 December 2009

W O W !

Stolen from the Hendersonville Times-News web site, our new hometown!

02 December 2009