"It's never too late to start your life over."

You know how it is, you're just minding your business, doing whatever it is you are doing and all the sudden, something catches your attention, be it a car, or a woman, or an airplane at 30,000 feet and BANG, you aren't doing what you were doing before, you are distracted by said shiny thing. Yea, welcome to my life.
"I'm not stupid, I'm easily distracted."

Monday, November 26, 2007

The state of the internet, such that it is…

So, I am spending far too much time and money in McDonalds these days. No no, don’t get me wrong, it isn’t to eat, as I am still on a diet, it is to use the internet. Yea, you may want to re-read that. I am using the T-Mobile hotspot at the McDonalds.

Why, you might ask. Well, so glad you asked.

I went to sign up for internet service the other day. It took forever. I waited in line for nearly an hour to talk to the lone representative only to have him tell me in the first 30 seconds that he couldn’t help me because I owed him money. What!?!?! Apparently, the phone provider that I go through didn’t receive my final payment when I turned off my service before I left for Iraq, over 15 months ago. For some odd reason, even though I clearly remember getting my “final bill” and paying it, they say I owe them 48 euro. Except that it isn’t 48 euro. You see, the bill was turned over to a collection agency and now I owe the collection agency 48 euro and a bunch of fees and probably a bunch of interest. Well that isn’t cool. I now have to search my apartment to find that final bill which I am sure I kept, because, heck I didn’t have much going on the last few days before I deployed.

So what does that have to do with internet you ask? Well, 19 months ago when I moved into this apartment I attempted to get internet hooked up (apparently it is a good thing I failed because that 48 euro would probably be 150 euro) and was told that internet wasn’t available where I live.


Now it isn’t as though I live in some tiny backwater town surrounded by cows. I am a mere 8.4 miles from Schweinfurt, and a quick 2 minutes from a major autobahn. I’m not in the styx here! The problem is that I can’t find out if that situation has been remedied until I pay that outstanding bill or prove to them that I already did. So first, I have to find the bill, then I have to wait 2 weeks while TKS verifies that I actually paid it, then I have to go back to TKS, wait in line again, and then wait 2 weeks for them to tell me that I can’t get internet. Is anyone else here frustrated?

I have to have internet. I just do. Internet is what separates us from monkeys. Yea, I said it, but I don’t have to worry because monkeys aren’t going to come after me because, as I have so definitively pointed out in the previous sentence, monkeys don’t have internet, and this blog is only posted on the internet. I am safe. Monkeys do have art and literature and all that, but not internet. Oh, you need more proof huh, well I read somewhere that I won’t bother remembering where, that there is a monkey somewhere with a typewriter and he has pounded out all of the works of Shakespeare, or will shorty. I have it on good authority. There may also be more than one monkey working on the project, but I am sure it doesn’t matter to my point.

So there you have it, I have provided definitive proof and flawless logic, the internet makes you human. (If you can’t follow, I recommend drinking more and re-reading the blog. Repeat as necessary.)

So here I sit, in McDonalds happily posting to my blog; getting weird looks from the other tables as a laugh maniacally at daydreams of monkeys trying to use the internet. Stupid monkeys.

Oh yea, and occasionally I’m doing my schoolwork too. I think I need some fries now…

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I am officially a bike commuter...

... at least in my mind. I have ridden to work before. I did it a handful of times before I deployed. Today though, I consider myself an official bike commuter. Today I did it without the benefit of all of my clothes waiting for me at the office. Heck I did it without the benefit of an office to go to at all. I also did it without the benefit of nice weather. It snowed today.

I got up at 0645. I laid out all of my stuff last night, checked the tire pressure, installed my head and tail lights, put some food in my bag and budgeted an hour and a 45 minutes to get to work and change.

When I looked out the window I saw something that confused me. White. Lots of white. Now admittedly it was merely a sprinkle but to me it looked like a blizzard. Especially since last night was so clear. I expected cold, I didn't expect snow.

So I made the 20 second decision to go ahead and ride in, despite the weather. I tossed a couple of extra clothing items in my bag and then just got to it. It was fantastic. I had a blast. It wasn't too cold, I had no problem with traction, and I left early enough that I didn't have to push myself (traction again.) The only issue I had was once I got into town the snow went away and I had wet roads instead of snowy trails. I started getting damp. I got to work in about an hour and then had time to eat and change before anyone got there.

So now I am sitting at the library on post contemplating my ride home. This might suck a bit. The damp clothing has not subsided and while my base layers are dry the outer ones aren't, nor are my gloves. Guess I will have to break out the extra gloves and socks. No problem.

I won't say that I am morally superior to everyone who drove in today, but then again I shouldn't have to, it should be obvious.


Oh yea, and despite the weather, I grinned like an idiot the whole way in. I think I chapped my teeth.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Germany, Thanksgiving, and the Levasseur Family Memory

So I know that this entry was written out of order, but I post-dated it so that it fit chronologically even though I wrote this post after a few of the others on this blog. I don’t think it matters though, I’m not sure that anyone actually reads this other than me. I find it amusing, I guess that’s all that’s important.

I returned to Germany on Tuesday, 20 November. We flew in to Ramstein Air Base in Germany and arrived back in Schweinfurt before noon. We waited for a bit and then had a very nice reintegration ceremony in which nearly 500 screaming family members greeted around 250 returning members of the Dagger Brigade. I admit, it was a nice ceremony, comments were kept to a minimum, the ceremony was short and the outright din, as we marched into the gymnasium, was deafening. I am surprised I didn’t see more people choked up. It occurred to me as we were walking in that this was probably the last time I will ever march in formation with a group of soldiers as a soldier myself. It made me a little sad.

The next day we started our reintegration training. Reintegration consists of half-day schedules for seven consecutive days. During this time they do medical screening, finance briefings, relationship counseling, update your records and various other stuff. It is really pretty well planned and most days you don’t spend the entire four hours you are scheduled for actually at work, you get done early most days. The only hitch is that there is only room for 250 people in the morning session, and 250 people in the afternoon session. I was part of 1400 soldiers returning to Schweinfurt in 36 hours. You do the math. That led to some issues but nothing that they didn’t do a fantastic job handling.

At this point I must share a story, and this is where the “Levasseur Family Memory” from the title comes in. I went out to breakfast the first morning back. I stopped into a little deli just down the street on my way to work. I sat down, ordered and had a nice German breakfast of yogurt, toast and coffee. As I got ready to leave I realized that I no longer remembered how to ask for the check. I did however remember that pulling your wallet out and waving it at the waitress will often give them the hint that you are ready to pay. I did just that feeling pretty proud of myself for remembering that little fact.

She waved back.

No, seriously, all she did was wave back. Oh good lord. A little later, good thing I had budgeted extra time to get to work, she came back out and I again tried to get my check. I did everything I could think of, I pushed my plate away, I gathered my things, I had my wallet out, I smiled and furtively checked my watch. She smiled back. Finally, a little old German guy asked me if I was trying to let her know that I wanted to pay.

“Yes! Thank you! Can you help me?”

“Sure.” Then in German, “actuchung, deutches bank, achtchung, autobahn, phlegm, betzahlen.”

It then dawned on me, the word I was looking for was betzahlen, which of course is some verb tense or other of the German verb meaning: to pay and please randomly insult me in a language which I clearly don’t understand.

“Ja! Betzahlen Bitte!” I say happily.

“Ah, so! Actuchung, deutches bank, achtchung, autobahn, phlegm,” she very politely said to me.

The very helpful old German says, “She just told you how much your bill was.”

In defeat I handed her my entire wallet. She gave it back later with a smile, I have no idea how much money she took out.

The next day was Thanksgiving. I had some grand plans to do absolutely nothing. Well, not true. I said from the day we arrived back in Schweinfurt, “I am going for a bike ride on Thanksgiving day. Come hell or high water, you mark my words.” Other than that though I had plans to do nothing. I decided that I would go out and pick up Chinese food and eat it at home while sitting on the couch watching TV shows I had forgotten I owned. It didn’t work out.

Well, the ride did. Neither hell, nor high water tried to interfere. It was a nice day about 35 degrees or so and while the roads were damp they weren’t wet enough to throw water into my face as I rode. I donned my newly acquired cold weather cycling gear that I purchased, much to the mockery of my friends, while in Iraq while it was still 90 degrees and had shipped back to Germany in plenty of time for it to arrive before I did. I had no idea how much clothing I would need so I just loaded up for bear and hoped for the best. I wore heavy weight tights, shoe covers, a skullcap that covered my ears, a merino wool cycling jersey (from Earth Wind and Rider), a light windbreaker and mid-weight gloves. I had heavier gloves and a full balaclava but I decided that both were probably overkill. As it was I think I did pretty well. It was chilly at first but soon afterwards I warmed up and even had the jacket and sweater unzipped a bit during the warmer parts of the ride.

Oh, and boy did I warm up fast! My plan was simple. Take no gadgets, no heart rate monitors, no odometers, no GPS, no timers other than a wrist watch. Then, find the nearest hill (easy since I live on one) and ride up it till I got to the top. While on the top, fighting the expected urge to throw up and pass out simultaneously, I would scan the horizon to find another hill to ride up and I would ride down the one I was on and go up that other one. I would do this until I passed out, I ran out of food, or I was about to freeze to death.

What a grand time I had. I even had a good time during my, uh, incident. About an hour and a half through the ride I was flying through the little town of Shonungen when I unceremoniously and nearly got hit by a bus. You see, this bus had to go around a house that had been incongruously built right in the middle of the road smack dab in the middle of the town (a strangely common occurrence in Germany, especially considering how ordered the rest of their lives are.) This of course caused the front of the bus to swing wide and fully into my lane. I am, at this point doing about 25 MPH (I think, remember I had no speedometer either) and am now facing a rather large bus coming towards me. Fortunately there is low (1 inch or so) curb to my right and plenty of sidewalk that runs next to the buildings on my side of the street. I steer in that direction and that’s when it happens.

I gloriously wipe out.

For some reason my front wheel didn’t roll over the curb as I expected it to. It caught and stayed in the gutter spilling me face first onto the pavement. I went down in a heap, managed to get a hand and a foot down and that is when I realize that now I am in real trouble. For some reason the house on this side of the street has an “L” bend in it causing the wide sidewalk to become a narrow sidewalk with the wide part of the sidewalk ending neatly and abruptly in a very sturdy stone wall which I am now sliding towards.

I have no idea what happened next. All I know is that I went down in a jumble, had time to think, “well this is going to suck,” and then I stopped two very short and very precarious inches from the wall. Neat. It must have looked ugly though because the bus driver stopped and didn’t move on until I hopped quickly back on my bike (I was embarrassed that I crashed, though I don’t know why, it seems to be what I do on a bike) and rode away. This is when I realized that I had completely wrapped my chain around my crank and that the two rotations of my pedals finalized the complete smurfing of my chain.

So, 15 feet later I had to stop and look at my mangled drivetrain. Not cool. I spent about 10 minutes breaking my chain (that is the repair term, and not a bad thing) and putting everything back together. About this time, the same bus and driver actually came back through and asked me if I wanted a ride to the hospital. I guess he figured that if I was still there I must be hurt.

Of course I must admit that I didn’t know what he was asking until later. He said something like, “actuchung, deutches bank, achtchung, autobahn, phlegm, krankenhhaus.” I wasn’t really cranky at all, in fact I was still laughing and grinning like an idiot, so I figured I didn’t need anything having to do with the cranky-house. I was simply so happy to be back on my bike. Later I looked up krankenhaus and realized that it had nothing to do with cranky people, or not directly, it means hospital. Either way I am glad I said no.

The ride ended rather uneventfully a mere two and a half hours later. I nearly passed out on the bike, I was happy.

I didn’t get my Chinese food. I ended up eating dinner at a friend’s house. He wouldn’t accept no for an answer and eventually tricked me into coming over, “Just to say hi to everyone, then you can leave.” I showed up at the appointed time and immediately heard my host say, “Well, Dave’s here, lets eat!” It was very nice of him but I cursed at him under my breath just the same.

So life is good. I have great beer, great friends, and an idiot’s grin plastered on my face every time I walk past what used to be my office and has now become my bike workshop. At some point I will take pictures.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

On the way...

Or I will be shortly.  I leave Iraq in the next 24 hours.  At this point it looks like I will be headed to Kuwait for at least a few days before catching a charter to Germany.  

Transfer of Authority ceremony was today and that officially ends our time in Baghdad.  The only thing left is actually getting out of here.

Looking forward to catching up with all of you as soon as I can.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Last Full Moon

One of the nicest things about this place is the sky.  We have lots of it.  No, really, lots.  We don't get clouds, and when we do they are few and far between.  I am of course not talking about the 6 weeks of the year that constitute the rainy season, those are in the winter and I'm not there yet.  I am talking about the rest of the year, when it's hot.  Then, we get lots of sky.

Nice thing about lots of sky is lots of stars.  Most neighborhoods around here get 6 hours of electricity a day.  You can pretty well bet that they aren't going to waste any of that on street lights.  What that means is that you get very little light pollution.  The sky is very dark the stars pop right out of it.

Another nice sight is the moon.  I have really been living by it.  I track when it is going to be full.  I keep an eye out for sunrises or sunset in which the moon is hanging big and full on the horizon.  I love it.  Tonight is my last full moon I will see here.  I know it seems a silly way to count down the time but there it is.  My way.  

Tonight is the last time I will see the moon full over Baghdad and it was a beautiful one too.  The moon rose just before sunset, big and orange on the horizon.  It will be up all night long and will set shortly after sunset.  Nice.

See you later old friend.  Next time I see you we will both be in a far nicer place.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Under 30 Days

Yep, that's right.  I have less than 30 days remaining here in Iraq.  I can't tell you exactly how many, but it is under 30.  I am very excited.

We are packing up.  Printers that don't really need to be used every day are going into a connex.  Rooms are being packed up and things are getting shipped home.  I have a room full of boxes that I need to take to the post office.  One nice thing about living in Germany is that to ship a box home to myself it costs nothing at all.  No, really.  It stays in the Army system so there is not charge, unless, of course, you want insurance on that item.  Then, not only do you have to pay the insurance but you also have to pay shipping.  I have camera equipment and the like that I am sending insured mail.  Ok, so I had to pay for a few packages, not too shabby considering that I am sending 5-6 large foot lockers home for free.

So, anyhow, you should all think warm thoughts for me, and us.  We will be home soon, lets home it all goes without a hitch.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Night Ride!

I am going out on a night ride tonight. Ok, so it isn't the great fun that most people have on a night ride: the world turned a surreal imitation of itself through the tiny beam of light from your handlebar. New trails from old familiar ones. Animals peering at you, just a glimmer of their shining eyes the only clue that they are there. No, none of that for me.

It isn't a true night ride. In fact I barely need a light, though I will have one, if only to keep myself from being run over, the awesome 0.3 watt LED shining out for, hopefully, oncoming cars to wonder at until they get really close. But, it is a ride, at night. I have that going for me.

I wasn't supposed to ride tonight. I should have ridden this morning. This leads us to the lesson for the day.

If you set your alarm clock for 4:30 PM, it will not wake you up for your 5:00 AM ride. At least, not today's ride. Keep that in mind kiddies.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Like a gnat to a buffalo.

I almost got run over by a tank today.  Yea, a tank.  You know, those big squarish, 62 ton monsters that ruin the dreams of the enemies of the United States.  Yea, one of those.

It was a pretty tame ride up to that point.  I got spinning a bit later than normal, but that was OK, the training plan only called for an hour and I would be back in plenty of time to get a shower, a meal and a nap, in that order.  So a bit later than normal meant that it was getting light out.  I didn't need a light to see, I did need a light for others to see me.

I was slipping through the morning when I got on my third most unfavorite piece of road.  This is the road that leads to the Entry Control Point, i.e. the gate to get on and off the forward operating base I live on.  I hate this section because it is extremely dusty, and sometimes, dangerous.

So I turned the corner onto this section and ahead of me was a long line of stopped heavy trucks and Hummers coming in from a patrol.  All vehicles have to stop after coming in the gates so that they can unload and clear their weapons.   I stayed on my side of the road, they were going away from the gate, I was heading towards it and I knew it wouldn't be a problem.  I stayed alert though and looked up towards the gate as I heard a heavy clanking and a turbine.  "Ooh, tanks.  I like tanks!" I thought as I peered through the heavy dust up ahead.  

Seconds later, and only about 75 yards away there was indeed a tank.  Coming towards me.  Not slowing.  Driver still inside his hatch using his tiny viewing blocks to drive.  Not seeing me.  Not seeing me.  50 yards away.

I make the intelligent choice and dodge between two trucks that don't have their drivers reloaded yet and get off the road.  I figured that a big heavy truck between me and the tank was just what I needed.  I got off my bike and walked a bit all the while enduring confused stares from the Soldiers coming off patrol.

Getting hit by a tank.  Not recommended.  For me it would be catastrophic.  For the tank, well, that is where the title of this entry came from.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

So it's been a year already huh?

Well, I have been here a year now.  Not exactly HERE as in Iraq, but I have been deployed into theater for exactly a year today, 6 September 2007.  

As many of you know we started our deployment by first deploying to Kuwait.  While there we were supposed to do three weeks of training before moving on to Balad, Iraq a place I am already intimately familiar with since I already spent 12 months there in 2004-2005.  As it turned out we didn't do that.  Another unit was selected for that mission due to their organizational similarities to the outgoing unit.  That all made sense but what didn't make sense was that my brigade, which had deployed sooner, was staying while another brigade was already moving into Iraq.  

To see why this is a problem you have to know a bit about Camp Buehring, Kuwait.  Let me sum it up with this simple phrase:  We would rather be in combat in Iraq than in Camp Buehring, Kuwait.  Yea, its that bad.

We finally got orders to replace the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division and I arrived in Iraq on or about 1 November.  So, no, I haven't been in Iraq for a year yet and in fact once I do leave I will have only been in Iraq for a few weeks over the 52 that encompass a year, but still, I have been deployed now for a year.

On another note, I left work a little early last night with the intention of going out and getting in a quick bike ride.  Gale force winds put an end to that idea.  Always nice to see armored vehicles getting blown off of roads by the wind.  I don't think that riding is such a good idea when that happens.  I only survived the walk to my room because I put sand in my pockets after dinner.  Oh, yea, and I had a piece of cake.  I am sure that helped too.

Monday, August 27, 2007

It's Almost Easy to Forget Where you Are.

A nearly unprecedented thing happened this morning. I woke up 15 minutes before my alarm went off and actually got up. It was strange that I had woken up this morning, after all, it was only 4:45 and I hadn’t managed to fall asleep until after midnight. I used the opportunity to wolf down some Clif Shot Blocks and drink some water.

It was easy to get out for my ride this morning. All of my clothes were already laid out, my water bottles were filled and ready to go, I had already changed out the lenses on my sunglasses, and my lights were mounted, and fully charged. The only hitch that I had was getting my heart rate monitor tracking.

After warming up and stretching out I got on the road about 5:15. At that time the sunrise is still about an hour away and on this particular morning the nearly full moon had set several hours earlier. Those of you who have ridden a bike in the dark know who I was feeling. My entire world was reduced to what was visible inside the small cone of dim light coming from my handlebar.

I was alone save for the unseen but ever present bats swooping constantly above me and the occasional bus rumbling by me taking workers to dining facilities, construction yards, or guard posts.

I rolled on silently, listening to the sounds of the night interrupted only by the crunch of sand under my wheels and the swish of my shorts on the saddle.

That’s when it happened.

Within that fairly confined world that consisted simply of the sounds around me and the relatively small area encompassed by my light, I forgot where I was.

I was just happy to be outside, flying along under my own power. It was wonderful.

As you might imagine, this didn’t last long. In no time I was within a stones throw of the outer perimeter. The yellow-orange lights illuminating the concertina wire-topped wall. These blooming, necessary evils adding to the tiny sliver that had been my world just moments before.

The quiet crunch of my tires was eventually overwhelmed by the diesel roar of heavy trucks, the unmistakable clank and squeal of tracked infantry fighting vehicles, and the strangely beautiful and comforting banshee scream of an M1 Abrams tank engine at idle.

The illusion was shattered. I knew, I felt, and I could see, in stark relief where and when I was.

You know what though, it didn’t matter.

I was just happy to be outside, flying along under my own power. It was wonderful.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Base 1

So I'm going to start training tomorrow. I know that this begs the question, "Training for what?" Unfortunately I don't really know how to answer that.

There is a process to planning a racing season. I learned it from the book The Mountain Biker's Training Bible by Joe Friel. The first step is to do a self assessment and then clearly identify your goals for the season. Then you identify they key races that you want/need to do well in in order to achieve your goals for the season. You then set up your training plan so that you "Peak" for those key races. You then work backwards defining the other periods of the training plan. Those periods are Base, Build, Peak, and Transition.

Tomorrow I start the Base 1 period. For those of you familiar with this methodology, you probably recognize that it is probably too early to start Base 1. I agree. On the other hand, I am in such terrible riding shape that I am going to do the 4 weeks of Base 1 twice and the 4 weeks of Base 2 twice. That will give me plenty of time to build a good solid aerobic base before I get into the three Build phases right before I peak for my first "A Category" race the week of 24 March.

This of course begs the question, "Which race is that?" The answer to that is, of course, "I have no idea." Not to mention that much of the month of March I am going to be... Well, I have no idea what the month of march holds for me. The other problem is that most race series calendars have not yet been published. Heck, most of them are just finishing up, they have barely begun to think about the next races. I suspect that I will be racing in Arizona or Utah during that time. Most races in Colorado don't start until much later in the year. In fact, I am pretty sure that most people in Colorado are still skiing during that time.

So, Base 1. Tomorrow. Needless to say, I am a bit excited. Might as well get in as much training as I can before I end up back in Germany freezing my, uhh, toes off.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Two good rides

I had two good rides in the past two days. Sunday isn't a normal riding day for Keith and I but since one of us wimped out on Friday and the other wimped out on Saturday we both had fresh legs. We decided to take a long ride at a pretty high speed.

We started out at a pretty good clip, a few miles per hour faster than normal and just started to spin. It felt great to be out on the bike. We noticed that there was some wind but didn't think about it much. We got to the half-way point when we noticed something: there was a LOT of wind. It felt like a summo wrestler's hand on my chest.

The problem with wind is that when it is a tail wind, you go slightly faster, but when it is a head wind you go much slower. We traveled into the wind for the last hour of our ride sucking the whole way. It honestly felt like we were going up hill the whole time. Of course that didn't stop us from occasionally turning directly into the wind, going up a hill and speeding up. Not sure why that happened but it hurt, a lot.

We got back and I wobbled to my room. Good ride. I haven't downloaded the data yet but I expect that my heartrate was in the 85-90% the entire time.

This morning's ride was supposed to be a short 15 mile spin at a nice low heart rate to recover from yesterday. That didn't happen. Not sure why but next thing I know, Keith and I are huffing and puffing, up a hill, into a wind, at a higher speed than we had been a few seconds before.

The conversation a few seconds later went like this:

ME: "Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?"
KEITH: "Dunno, must be your fault."

We took Lance with us today too. He can outrun the hell out of both Keith and I but we definitely have him once we get on a bike. Lance made an epic effort towards the end of the ride. He closed a 600m gap on a rough section of road. We didn't slow down, he just closed up the gap. And then it looked like he grabbed two handfuls of brakes and stopped. "Yep, that was all I had. Couldn't stay with you once I got up to you." Still, an awesome effort. It scares me, if he keeps riding with us, he is going to start stomping us.

I must find more things for him to do...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I saw something that scared me today.


No seriously, they scare the crap out of me! I looked up this morning and I saw a bunch of clouds. The problem with clouds around here is that with clouds you get humidity. Most of you deal with humidity every day and know that it can make a warm day downright nasty. An 85 degree day with 85% humidity, is just not nice. I know this.

Today we had about 85% humidity. The high temperature hit 118.

I can deal with hot, but if you add clouds, it's just brutal.

Monday, July 30, 2007

A ride full of beautiful sights, almost perfect...

Keith and I set off just after 0530 this morning. We decided to ride far and fast today. We had both taken two days off and had fresh legs.

It was about twenty minutes before the sun rose and still fairly dark, but not too dark. We both rode without lights and with our sunglasses stowed. We started spinning down the road in front of the headquarters, dodging potholes and armored vehicles and cutting through road construction detours.

As we rode along and over canals, black forms swooped incessantly overhead. They were the barely seen outline of a hundred bats scooping up the bugs that habitually hover above the water only water source for miles.

On our right a nearly full moon greeted us blinking balefully through the occasional tree, obscured occasionally by the thrown up dust of a passing vehicle. This moon was tired and dropping rapidly, yellowing and fading as it dipped towards a hazy, dirty horizon chased by the magnificent view on our left.

On our left were the quickly retreating deep purples and reds that signal the coming of the sun. Every moment led to a brighter one and soon the glasses returned to their rightful perch on our noses, as much to protect from the sun as from the flying dust and stones. Before long, and entirely too soon, the sun peaked over the horizon, barely visible. The haze that had covered the moon also proved a worthy adversary to the rising sun.

We were treated to the sight of the sun’s battle with the haze as we had turned east after completing the entire north to south leg of the Victory Base Complex in Baghdad, Iraq. Today’s ride was the first time I had tried to circumvent the entire complex. Keith had done it a week earlier without me and I had labored to convince him to do it again, not because of the difficulty of the ride but because of the poor quality of the road. We had only been riding for twenty minutes and both of our faces were already grimy from the flying dust and our hands tingled slightly from riding roads that closely resembled washboards.

As we got into the more populated portions of the complex we came upon a lake we had both ridden around ten or more times. Today we hit the lake at the perfect time. The sun had finally broken free of its bonds and was shining full strength at an almost perfect horizontal. The light illuminated several of the buildings in the center of a palace complex surrounding the free-form man-made lake. The light was fantastic, with great reflections from the lake, and highlights that clearly showed the intricate stone work on the edifices of the buildings and casting intricate shadows as it played across the “floating oases” randomly strewn throughout the lake.

We continued to ride past these sights passing runners and other cyclists, getting looks and exclamations as we scared pedestrians unaware of us due to our rapid progress. The temperature continued to rise, as did the pace. We maintained a pace that four miles into the ride I was sure I could only maintain for another few minutes. We ended up doing 26 miles in a bit over an hour and a half. I finished tired but extremely happy and I gobbled hydration drinks to replenish the lost water and the lost salt that was still encrusted on the sides of my face.

The best part about this ride was the pictures. The pictures I took are fantastic and I would love to share them with you but I can’t. The pictures are only in my mind. My point and shoot camera crapped out unexpectedly a few days ago.

So, like the title says, “almost perfect.” It only could have been better if I could have shared the pictures. Ah well, at least Keith has the same photos I do, I will share with him.

Friday, July 27, 2007

I took a nice cool shower today...

Ok, so two of those three aren't true. I'll let you guess and I will give you a hint: I took a shower.

It was neither nice, nor was it cool.

I went for a nice long bike ride this morning. After the ride, I gathered up my towel and headed off to the shower trailer. I turned on the cold water and let it run for a second. I turned off the cold water and turned on the hot water thinking that this might be one of those showers where the pipes were hooked up in reverse with the hot on the cold side and the cold on the hot side. I thought this because there is no was way that the water coming out when I turned on the "cold" faucet was actually anything even vaguely resembling "cold".

The water for the showers is stored in big tanks out in the open and the water is piped in to the shower trailer. Lets do some math. If the water is stored in outdoor containers in the sun and the outside temperature is 112 degrees for at least 16 hours a day and the lowest ambient temberature is 85 degrees, what is the lowest possible temperature that the water can get to after a full night when I am hot and sweaty and ready to take a shower?

If you worked this out, I believe the answer you would come up with is: this place sucks.

So here's a problem that most people will never have to deal with. There was no cold water today. Neat.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Oh Come On!!! You have got to be kidding!

As you may be able to tell, when I don't really have that much to talk about, I revert to the weather. It isn't as though I am weather geek or anything, I don't have the weather channel playing in my room or anything, I just well, simply, it's god awful HOT here. As an example I will show you the weather forecast from my computer. I took this screen shot just after noon, before the hot part of the day. Please pay particular attention to Monday's weather. I envision birds flying along and simply bursting into flames. Should be fun. I will try to take pictures but I expect that the camera will melt.

Unless you have experienced this you just can't understand (I love that line). Seriously though you can't even think when it is this hot which is probably why I don't have much else to say.

I did run this morning. It was a run at your own pace and distance thing. I did three miles which was plenty since I plan on riding about 24 tomorrow morning. When I started riding one of my coworkers opined that my run times would get worse. I knew better. Two and a half weeks of riding and I have dropped 15 seconds per mile at any distance at a lower heart rate. I think I'll keep riding.

I'll be sure to update you on the ride tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Well, clearly I should have known that...

Remember this for later: Function-Option-F11. This is something I should have known.

So I have been riding more lately. I have also been generally working out more too. One of the things that I like to do is quantify my workouts. There are lots of devices available now-a-days to help you do that. One of the best solutions right now is the Garmin Edge 305 or Garmin Forerunner 305. The Edge is a bike mounted GPS that not only gives you distance and speed but also includes a heart rate monitor and an optional pedal cadence sensor. The Forerunner 305 is similar but smaller and watch based designed for running. It too has a heart rate monitor and you can still add the pedal cadence sensor if you use it on a bike.

Both of these things are really cool but don't really come into their own until you download the data to some computer program. Garmin runs a website called Motionbased which allows you to put your recorded GPS track on a map of nearly any type, topographic, overhead satellite shot, whatever. And then you can integrate your heart rate data and get descent and ascent rates and all sorts of other data. Really cool. Especially for a data geek like me.

I however, don't have either of these neat toys. I have a Polar S625X Heart Rate Monitor. This thing is designed for multi-sport athletes and has a foot-pod that tracks how far your foot moves and through this gives you distance and pace while running or walking. The watch has a pressure and temperature sensor that tracks altitude, it has the option to also run it on a bike where you can add a bike speed sensor, cadence sensor, and power meter that all feed data right back to the watch. You can then load all of this data onto your computer and analyze it. You can see your elevation track, and heart rate tracked against speed and elevation and temperature and time. Lots of geeky data for me. Of course you can only do that if you have Windows because the software doesn’t work on a Mac.

Well, that’s annoying.

Fortunately, the Mac is the coolest computer ever. I can boot up in Windows with a free program called Boot Camp!

So, I got the Polar Software sent to me by my dad and I have been using it for a few weeks. It works great. I wanted to share a ride with everyone today. Not for any real reason or because it was neat or difficult or I did really well, but because I can. Then I realized I can’t.

Turns out one of the easiest ways to share one of these graphs with people is through a screenshot. Then I realized that the Mac is missing a crucial key on the keyboard that every Windows based computer has: Print Screen. Well after quite a bit of searching I found out that after updating Boot Camp to version 1.3 I will be able to take a screenshot by hitting…

Damnit, what was that key combination. I really should have written that down.

Oh, yea, Function-Option-F11.

Why didn’t I know that?

Postscript: The screenshot of the ride will have to wait until later, I just don’t have the energy right now.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I am an inveterate tinkerer.

I simply can’t leave well enough alone. I bought a Subaru WRX when they came out in 2002. It was fast, it was fun, and within months I was modifying it. It was fine but I felt the need to modify anyway.

The same is true with my computer. Once I get it running nicely, I add something to either the hardware or the software because I simply can’t leave well enough alone.

This of course brings me to my bikes. Yes, plural. For those of you who don’t know me, I have many. For those of you who don’t know me but are serious cyclists your next thought after reading that was probably, “Well of course you do!”

I can’t stop modifying my bikes. Right now of course I am only talking about my Specialized Hardrock XC that I purchased from Mountainside Ski and Sports in Mechanicsburg, PA. They were kind enough to ship it all the way here to Iraq where it arrived a few days later. The bike was perfect, so of course I started modifying it. So far I have added a Garmin GPS, a Polar Speed Sensor, P1 Overendz Bar Ends, water bottle cages, and the crown jewels: Crank Brothers Eggbeater Pedals.

Last night I decided to play with my camera and take some pictures. Here are the pedals. You can probably tell where the name comes from.

Postscript: A further update on “Ouch”: I have two more days before I am supposed to do any physical activity with my hands. Today, I ran and did push-ups, tomorrow I am going for a ride. (Yea, I’m an idiot.)

Monday, July 23, 2007

An update on "Ouch"

So I went to the medic this afternoon. It all started well because the first thing she told me was to take off my shirt. Woo Hoo!!! (Yea, I'm an idiot.)

She asked me what I did and I told her I had crashed my bike. She is clearly a cyclist because the next question was, "Is the bike ok?" I told her that it was fine and then she asked me what I had done. I told her again that I had crashed my bike. I didn't really feel like explaining that I was screwing around and got hurt doing it and there wasn't even a camera there to record it. Besides, at this point I had my shirt off and I am feeling rather vulnerable.

She asked again, "No, what did you DO and how did you LAND?" So I got to explain that I flipped my bike over backwards trying to do a wheelie and somehow didn't manage to get my feet down but did manage to get my hands down. Then she laughed at me. (Yea, I'm an idiot.)

So the bottom line is that I hyper-extended my wrists likely causing some slight tendon damage in the form of tearing. Whoops. I got some ice packs, some Advil (mmmm, wonder drug), some stretching exercises, and some instructions on how NOT to fall off my bike. (Yea, I'm and idiot.)

I was also told not to ride for about three days. Damn.


So I wanted to ride this morning. I didn’t.

I was playing around on my bike yesterday. I was just riding around in circles, over bumps, across wooden planks, over large concrete barriers, through water ditches, really just working on my balance and cornering skills.

Unbeknownst to me I had also decided to work on another skill: falling.

At the end of the ride I decided to try to do some wheelies while riding back to my room. From a technical standpoint wheelies are easy. You simply pull up on the handlebars, lean back, and pedal one time hard to rotate the front end. Oh yea, don’t forget to use the rear brake stabilize yourself to keep yourself from flipping over backwards.

I did all of the things accept for the last part. I was riding along at a moderate pace, I pulled up, I leaned back, I pedaled once hard, I flipped over really fast and hard. “Oh yea, the rear brake.” I landed on my back with my hands down and the bike on top of me still attached to my pedals.

I guess I’ll go see the Doc later today. I can move my hands and fingers. I can put weight on my wrists as long as they are straight. I just can’t put any weight on them if they are bent. They may be a bit hyper-extended.

So I missed my ride today. I was really looking forward to it too, so that hurts. Add that to my wrists that also hurt and you have the makings of a pretty crappy day.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

How about a nice swift kick in the groin?

It’s another beautiful day in Baghdad. No really, today it is about 46 minutes (see previous post for my new measurement system). The heat isn't too bad, though you still feel like a turkey.

The kick in the groin is the wind. It is blowing at about 20-25 MPH. It is blowing so hard that flags don't wave, they simply stand straight out.

It feels like a huge hair dryer got turned on and you get to stand in it. I don't know if scientifically there is an opposite to wind chill, but I tell you, from anecdotal experience, there is. It is really sad when the wind adds no cooling effect, only a heating effect.

Going to the porta-john is an adventure. Three things happen. First, the door is glued shut by the wind, so you have to yank on it. Then, as soon as it starts to move it catches the wind and flies open nearly jerking your arm off. Finally, you recover and have to try to close the door, which of course resists at first until you really pull on it, and then slams closed flinging you into the back of the porta-john. All you can do is hope that someone put down the lid on the toilet because if they didn't, it could be touch-and-go there for a while.

So today I am simply living the dream. Tomorrow should be better. I am going for a bike ride in the morning and that is always a good time. And the temperature is usually below 95 degrees, bonus!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

So, what are we cooking today?

Today is probably the hottest day we have had since, well, ever. It is brutal. Strangely, the thermometer doesn't seem to agree, but I did see the glass melting and the mercury draining out the bottom, that may have something to do with it.

I asked a friend of mine how hot it was. He replied, "Oh its a hundred and..."


So here's the thing. Once it gets beyond 100 degrees it is no longer weather, it's cooking. Seriously, the difference between 104 and 116 is just this: At 104 you wish you would die; at 116 you actually do. I prefer 116 because at least that way the pain stops.

I think, in a god forsaken country like this, a much better way to measure temperature is how long it would take to cook something, like say, a turkey.

The temperature today is about 48 minutes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I'm back, but is this home?

So, I have to wonder what to call home. Most people of course don't have this issue. They call where they live every day, "Home." Simple enough I guess, but not really effective for me. After-all, I live in Iraq right now.

I could call my parents house "Home", I know that would please them, but I don't think it is accurate. I don't really have a room there anymore. My room is now a crafts room, mom has her loom in there. I'm just grateful that they still store some of my stuff and let me sleep there on occasion.

I could call my apartment back in Germany "Home". Also not accurate. Right now it is just an empty apartment that is really just serving as an expensive storage room for my bikes and furniture. Doesn't really sound like a home to me.

So that leaves just one place. Here. I guess this is "Home". Such is the life of a Soldier that we have to call some pretty nasty places home. This one is mine I guess.

I got "Home" yesterday afternoon. I was exhausted but I went to work anyway. I couldn't get any sleep or I would have been up all night. You need to get the jet lag out of the way as fast as possible and this is one, albeit painful, way to do it.

An almost uneventful trip. I am telling people that I didn't intend to come back here, that I simply went to the airport in order to cash in my airplane ticket for some money to go on the run with. Unfortunately, there was a line, so I stood in it. Yea, next thing I knew I was on an airplane back to Kuwait. Damnit! Mostly not true, but I'm not telling you which part.

I left my sister's house at 7AM on Tuesday and I got into Kuwait at about 10PM on Wednesday. I then had to be back at the terminal for a flight manifest call at 3 AM on Thursday. Unfortunately a sandstorm of near biblical proportions kicked up around, well 2:59 AM. The flight was not canceled. Unfortunately, they didn't know when the storm would clear so they simply kept telling us to come back in 45 minutes for more info and to not go very far. They gave me a tent in which I managed a stunning 1.5 hours of horzontal sleep, my first real sleep since I woke up at my sisters house at 6AM on Tuesday. Unfortunately with updates every 45 minutes there wasn't really an opportunity to go back there and get any more sleep. I mean really, 10 minute walk each way, 5 minutes to stumble around and look for an open bunk (you only make that mistake once) and then 5-10 minutes to fall asleep. You do the math, that leaves you with like... 23 seconds of sleep. It just ain't worth it.

I did manage a few minutes of sleep here and there on the chairs in the waiting area with my head comfortably perched on a paperback. I was so tired that I think I read the same page of my book for about 30 straight minutes. The cool thing is that I kept getting a new meaning out of the page every time I read it. Oh yea, hallucinations are fun too...

The flight finally left Kuwait at about 11AM and I got into Baghdad about 1PM. My guys were so happy to see me that the normal 30 minute drive across the base to get to the airport took the guy coming to get me about 6 minutes. (Please remember that I was still hallucinating here.) As soon as I got in, by deputy handed me my 9mm and loudly proclaimed that since I had the pistol, I had to go to all the meetings from here on out. So much for easing back into it.

At 5AM this morning, after only 6 hours of sleep I was wide awake and staring at the ceiling. I guess this makes sense, that was about 9PM back in the states, I think my body was craving Troegs beer, and 9PM seems the logical time to wake up and drink it. Whatever the reason, there was no going back to sleep, so I got up, got some breakfast and came in to work. Great fun.

I guess the bottom line is that I am back at home and safe. This isn't much of a home, but fortunately I can see the light at then end of the tunnel and I am looking forward to starting a new one as soon as I can leave this one.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


A friend sent this picture to me. We happened to be having a conversation about New Zealand, and the Kiwi, and then the fact that some idiot decided to introduce possum to NZ so that they would have something to hunt and would have some fur to wear.

Now a bit of background. There are no natural mammals on NZ, so the Kiwi took over the role of rodent. It lives on the ground, burrows under the ground, is flightless, and eats bugs, sounds very much like a rodent to me. You can probably imagine the ecological horror that ensued with the introduction of a carnivorous, quick breeding mammal to this environment.

I immediately set to thinking about how to rectify this situation and I came up with large packs of wolves, a suggestion I immediately discarded, even before I said it out aloud. My next thought was that all you really needed to do to control the possum population was build one long paved road in the middle of nowhere and drive up and down it, that would kill, roughly, 95% of them I think. Problem solved. My friend enjoined that this would be far more effective with armadillos.

Ok, some more background. Armadillos have a pretty good defense mechanism when it comes to predators. They curl up into a little ball and let their armor take the hits until the predator gets bored. In order to get them out of trouble initially, if they get surprised for instance, they jump several feet into the air. Sounds good huh.

So, lets imagine you are an armadillo, walking along this nice smooth black surface with an occasional white dashed line down the center. A light comes over the hill. You think nothing of it for a while and then you notice a light (armadillos aren't that smart here folks.) You think nothing of it, "Ooh, hey! A line!" Suddenly you notice a light really close to you. It still takes your pea sized intellect a few minutes to process and all the while the light gets closer. Suddenly you realize, DANGER! You leap!

Now a quick math problem. If a car leaves Dallas and travels at 60 miles an hour for two and a half hours, exactly what point of the grill of the car will an armadillo impact if it leaps two feet into the air one half second before the car gets to where the armadillo was previously standing, blissfully ignorant.

I think there is hope for the Kiwi. I bet they don't leap at the sight of cars. I hear they are even smart enough to stay off roads. Which is fortunate for them, that is where all the possum are.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I know you are my boss, but do I really have to listen to you?

It has been a busy week. I have been working on a new video for the Dagger Portal. I got it all done today and sent it to my boss for approval. It is infrequent that he doesn't make at least some change to a product I submit.

Today’s change was for me to change some of the pictures in the video so that there were more people wearing the 1st ID patch in the video.

Sounds pretty simple, however... What you must remember is that most of the brigades in Baghdad are all cut up with units all over the country. Let me explain. One of our units deployed early and is in east Baghdad. One deployed to the far west and is working with the Marines. One of them is in south Baghdad and for a while (and again shortly) they worked for a different brigade. Since we have been here, we have had ten battalions in this brigade and of the actual combat battalions, only one of them has been in the 1st Infantry Division. Sounds like a crazy way to run a war huh? So what does this mean to the video? Well, what it means is that I don't really have any pictures or video of people doing war stuff wearing the 1st Infantry Division patch. Oh, I have lots of pictures of a 1ID guy fixing a truck, or guarding a gate. I could have taken those photos in Germany!

Of course, I tried to explain this. This process was asymptotic to talking to a post. A post that interrupts you that is.

So I am going to scour my database for pictures of people with 1ID patches on their shoulders. I think there will be lots of shots of guys working at desks. All of the guys with the sexy hunter-killer jobs are wearing other patches.

Of course here is the real kick in the nuts. He also told me that I have to do a video of the people from the headquarters doing what they do. Now THAT should be a snoozer. "And here is Mike typing on his keyboard." "And here is Terry typing on her keyboard." "Oooh look, Kevin typing on his keyboard." "Frank! Asleep! On his keyboard!" I can't wait.

I will, of course, be featured in this video. Typing on my keyboard.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Could I have spoken too soon?

I will admit, my prediction of the outbreak of spring may have seemed a bit premature, especially considering how early in the year it is, but I stand fully by it! I wasn't quite so confident this morning when I was awoken by a faint choking sound. Turns out, it was a good thing I woke up, I was the one choking.

For those of you who don't know, I have a one inch gap beneath my door. The gap is caused by, well, just outstanding craftsmanship. Another example of the quality, as though a one inch gap at the bottom wasn't enough is the construction of the hinges. The hinges on my door are actually two and one half inch nails. On the outside. Good thing the door double locks! So this gap just fits right in, it is perfect! Perfect to slide right under if you are dust, rain, a field mouse, or even the moderately skinny cat that was chasing the field mouse. For those without the ability to do the limbo, see previous sentence where I indicate that you need only be a three year old with a stick to break into my highly secured room.

Back to the choking. So I wake up to, well, me, choking. I was choking on dust. I instantly look up to my window to see what time it is, you know, by checking to see if the amazingly bright light outside my room is on. The room is slightly dim so I know that it must be after sunrise because they turn off the light at sunrise and not even high noon is as bright as that light.

So the window is dim. Oh yea, and orange. This confuses me as well so I spring up from my bed, pull open the curtains and see... orange.

Lets go back to yesterday where I said that the great thing about weather is that everyone can relate. I lied. You can't relate to this. Well, maybe you can. Go to the fabric store Get a nice piece of semi-sheer orange curtain, and wrap it about your head three or four times totally covering your eyes. Did you do it? Of course you didn't, because if you did you wouldn't be able to read the screen. If you had though you would be able to understand what the orange out my window looked like. I couldn't see more than about 15 feet. "There used to be things out there," I told myself hopefully.

In this case the orange is actually caused by a "schmal" though I am absolutely sure that isn't even romotely how you spell that word. A "schmal" is a dust storm. In the case of Iraq, those storms are orange. Everything turns orange, the sky, the sun, the horizon, your unprotected eyeballs. Everything. This morning, the "schmal" was blowing right into my room through the gap under the door.

Let me tell you, for those of you who haven't woken up choking, it isn't plesant and certainly isn't the way you want to wake up in the morning. Not good on the heart, of that I am sure. The initial shock of an orange day passed and I quickly put on my clothes and headed off to a work day filled with meetings as though nothing were out of the ordinary.

Oh, yea, and it was winter-like cold. I put on a sweater.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Is it Too Early For A Season Change?

Well, I don’t think so. I am fully confident in this proclamation: We are fully in the grip of Spring!

Yes, I know, it is the end of January, how are we part way into Spring already. Well here in Iraq we actually have five seasons. Those seasons are Fall, Spring, Summer, Oh-my-god-I-feel-like-I-am-going-to-catch-on-fire, and finally second-summer.

It is actually quite nice here right now. The nights are cool, about 50 degrees, and the days are nice, about 65-70 with some slight breezes. It is actually quite like spring you have in the US. You have bees zinging by and blooms bursting. We have AK-47 rounds zinging by and mortars bursting. Really, it is very similar.

Actually we did have winter here, it was just really short. It was about a week long. The temperatures dropped into the high 30s at night and it rained just about every day.

Rain in a country that doesn’t get rain is miserable. The entire place turns into a quagmire. You can’t keep anything clean, and there is mud everywhere. It became a twice daily chore to go to eat because no matter how hard you tried, your boots would be caked with mud in just a matter of steps and would quickly become about as light as a cinder block. You would then take about five minutes to clean off your boots and after eating you got to do it all over again on the walk back. Some people would take a truck the 800 meters to the dining facility and while I would outwardly jeer them, inside I was really just jealous.

Other than the mud, it was actually quite cold. I have some cold weather gear, but I somehow always forgot to wear it. What truly frightens me is that two months from now when it is over 100 degrees, I will be wearing exactly the same clothes I was wearing when it was 40 degrees. I really hope my body adapts, because I don’t have any different clothes to wear.

I have heard people complain when they get on the phone or get a letter all the person talks about is the weather. To me, it is one of the most important things. Sure, you can’t do anything about it, it is always changing, and the weather on one side of the message has nothing to do with the weather on the other side of the message. But weather is the one constant. You both have it. It affects both sides. And while the effects of weather may be more or less profound for you, it is something to which everyone can always relate.

Till next time, here’s hoping the bees are far away and the blooms decide to burst somewhere else.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

How am I tired?

I don't get it. I go to bed early, well, earlier than usual anyway and two things happen to me today.

First, I wake up at 4:30 AM. Wide awake, no reason, other than, of course, the bright light that is shining through the window of my room, but that was there all night, it shouldn't wake me, and I don't think it did. I am a bit annoyed that I am awake, after all, I know that I haven't gotten enough sleep and that I am going to be exhausted if I don't get back to sleep. I look around my room. I don't need a light, as I said, there is one shining through the window. I consider going to get some breakfast, and then realize that the dining facility doesn't open for another 90 minutes. Fortunately, reason overcame all motivation and I fell back asleep.
Second, I woke up with only six minutes to get to my 7:30 AM meeting. I love going into a meeting, unshaven, and those of you who know me know that if I don't shave it is really obvious, after a week. I apparently had some bed head going on as a friend from the other side of the room made a hand gesture on top of their head that looked like they were an indian brave who had just earned a few feathers. At first I was a bit confused, then just embarrassed.

So anyway, it makes me wonder why I bothered to go to bed early. Apparently if I had gone to bed two hours later I would simply have woken up 15 minutes before my alarm went off and all would have been well.

At least, that is what I keep telling myself.