We had just pedaled - very slowly, with agonizing effort - our recumbent tandem up a 650' section of road with an average slope of 17.2%, and once things finally leveled out a bit, my wife wondered aloud whether we were getting too old for that sort of thing. I wanted to dispute that notion but I lacked the lung capacity to do so, and, in fact, had wondered that very thing.
 
Of course, we could have stopped, gotten off the bike, and walked the hill. That would have been an admission of defeat that we haven't experienced in 25 years, and to do so might be the admission that as far as riding over the hill, we're over the hill.
 
Horseshoe Bay has some killer hills, in addition to the one described above. If you're familiar with the area, you know there's a significant elevation gain between Ranch Road 2147 and the HSB airport. There are several roads to get you there, but they are all basically long and steep. You can take Hi Mesa, which begins with a thousand foot climb that averages 16.4% slope (with one mercifully short section of 41.7%!). Hi Stirrup is an alternative; it also has an initial thousand foot climb but the average slope is only 15.6%. Then, there's Nolen Drive - the most direct route to the airport and the one most people will drive. It begins with a 1350' climb that averages 11.3% slope (but the last half is 14%), with a brief leveling out before continuing another 800' that averages 14.7%. We've never ridden that section of road. I ran up it once, and that convinced me that a motorized vehicle is the only sane method of transit.
 
We've ridden many memorable hills over the course of our cycling lives, including:
 
  • Vail to Vail Pass, Colorado - one 10.4 mile stretch averages 8.5% slope, with one short section of more than 30%

  • Freedom Trail Road, Kerrville, Texas - a 1,250' section averages 11.3% slope

  • Keystone to Montezuma, Colorado - a 5 mile ride with an average slope of only 5.3%, but it starts at an elevation of more than 9300' and ends a thousand feet higher than that, and has one section with a 36% slope

  • Road from McDonald Observatory Visitors Center to the summit of Mt Locke - this is perhaps the most infamous of roads for Texas cyclists. The entire distance is just over a mile, but the average slope is 13%, but one 700' section averages almost 19%, and the maximum slope is a ghastly 38%. Full disclosure: we rode this on our single bikes, not our tandem.

  • Bear Mountain (Fort Davis Loop), Texas - 1.5 miles with an average slope of 8.4%, but one 600' section averages 18%

  • Road from Fort Davis to McDonald Observatory Visitors Center - 1.5 miles with an average slope of 9.45, and one 200' section that averages 31% and a 700' section averaging 15%

  • Bear Creek Road (what is it about steep "bear" roads?) outside of Fredericksburg, Texas - 600' section averaging 10%, but the last half averages 14%
Out of fairness to ourselves, it's worth mentioning that on a recumbent, you can't stand up and pedal...you have to gear down and grind it out. Also, our tandem weighs around 60 pounds with our Camelbaks, loaded rack, and other accessories. Given those challenges, and the fact that we still haven't had to walk any grades, I feel pretty confident that we're going to be cycling the hills for a long time to come.

Note: All of these measurements courtesy of Google Earth, and I can't vouch for their accuracy but my legs and lungs can. 

Feel free to comment on this post via email or on my Facebook post. If you're a cyclist or runner, what's the most challenging hill you've faced?

The Importance of Being Earnest...on Twitter
October 11, 2014 1:44 PM | Posted in: ,

So this happened last week.
Let's backtrack a second. Here's some context, in the form of a brief partial thread on Twitter:

Screenshot of Twitter thread

That conversation thread was pretty innocuous, beginning with the other person's statement about wearing a personal fitness device to a wedding. My reference to the Pogo quote was in response to the other person's expression of an observation that was different from mine, but the subject was hardly controversial, nor the conversation adversarial.

If you're not a Twitterzen, that reference to a "friendly block" means that the person whose Twitter feed I was following will no longer allow me to post messages on or respond to their timeline. This is the type of action normally reserved for stalkers or people who post offensive things on someone's page. Or, in the case of this person, apparently, people who publicly express a belief in God or claim personal Second Amendment rights.

Here's the profile that seems to scare this person:

Screenshot of my previous Twitter profile

Now, I don't really know anything about the other person, whom I was following because of some interesting things they'd posted. I did know enough to understand that we had some significantly different views and values, but I'm not threatened by associating with people with whom I don't see eye-to-eye on every subject. Obviously, not everyone feels the same way. But it's hardly a life-changing event, and certainly not worth losing sleep over.

So why am I devoting a blog post to it, if it's not a big deal?

It did make me think about whether the public face I'm displaying on social media accurately represents who I am, especially on Twitter where you're limited to 140 characters. Am I unintentionally turning away people because I've been too cavalier in my self-descriptions, or used humor without the proper context that leads to misunderstanding?

In the case of the "guns and God" phrase in my Twitter profile, I was taking a not-so-subtle dig at Barack Obama's [in]famous quote. This is my semi-tongue-in-cheek method of displaying my political leanings, but some may read more into it than I intended.

If you're going to engage people on social media, especially outside the confines of friends and family, I think you need to be as transparent as possible about the values and interests that are so important to you that they form a big part of your personal identity. The preceding exchange caused me to evaluate how I was doing in that respect, and I realized that I was inadvertently making myself out to be someone I'm not.

For example, I'm a big supporter of 2nd Amendment rights, but guns don't really play a big part in my life. On the other hand, expressing a vague belief in God as almost an afterthought - and in a decidedly flippant manner - understates the nature and importance of my faith.

So, if someone decides to block me because I'm a Christian, I've got no problem with that. It's who I am. But if you block me because you think I'm a wild-eyed gun fanatic, then you've misread who I am. And, perhaps, that's because I inadvertently misrepresented myself.

Given those considerations, I've rewritten my Twitter profile so that anyone who sees it will be able to place in context anything I post or link to. It's not perfect, but I think it's better, and I hope it's adequate to let people know who they're dealing with.

Screenshot of my new Twitter profile

If you'd like to comment on this post, please email me or post something on my Facebook page.

Wrong Way Looking: Remedial Driver's Ed
October 6, 2014 9:34 PM | Posted in: ,

So, let me ask you a question. Is it just me, or have you also noticed that many drivers pulling up to an intersection tend to look to their right, and then back to their left after they start to move into the intersection?

I can't find any definitive statistics about whether the driver's side gets hit more often in side-impact collisions than the passenger's side, but based on my observations, I wouldn't be surprised to learn it's the former...simply because drivers are engaged in that peculiar behavior.

It's not an academic question from my perspective. It's not unusual for us to spot this kind of strange driver behavior when we're out on our bicycle, and trust me when I say that inattentive drivers are a cyclist's biggest nightmare. I can't count the number of times we've had cars pull in front of us (or begin to do so) and then spot us at the last second, simply because they looked right and then looked left only after starting to move into the intersection. (To be clear, in all of these instances, we've had the right of way.) Cyclists are always advised to try to make eye contact with drivers to increase awareness, but it's hard to make eye contact when they don't look at you until it's too late.

My firm recollection from driver's ed was the admonition to "look left, look right, then look left again." That was good advice back when we were riding mastodons, and it's still good practice. I'm dismayed that more drivers don't seem to be aware of it.

Comments? Email them or post them on my Facebook page. We'll all be glad you did.

Comments Disabled
October 5, 2014 8:16 PM | Posted in: ,

After almost twelve years of blogging, I've made the hard decision to disable comments on the Gazette.There are several reasons, including:

  • The blog platform I use, Movable Type, is a little buggy in its implementation of registration and some people have told me they haven't been able to get signed up in order to leave comments. I could probably fix this by either upgrading MT or switching to a better platform like WordPress, but frankly, I'm too lazy.

  • I could also solve the problem by removing the registration requirement, but that would open the floodgates to comment spammers. Again, I don't have the time or patience to deal with issue.

  • But, most important, most of the comments I get on posts actually show up on the Facebook post where I notify folks of new material. And because everything I post on the Gazette is  linked via a public Facebook post, there's no technical reason for someone not to leave a comment, even if it's not on the blog itself. I could make this process easier by including a link to the Facebook post at the bottom of each article, and I'll give serious consideration to doing just that. It might make for an interesting experiment to assess the level of interaction between the two media. (It does raise a "chicken and the egg" sort of question about the timing and logistics of the cross-linking. I have to post a link on Facebook in order to generate a link to that post that I can include on the blog post. Got that?)
I confess that I miss the good old days of blogging, in which almost every post elicited comments from readers that often turned into interesting, entertaining, or challenging discussions. But those days are gone, at least for the Gazette. My hope is that the discussions and interactions can simply shift to another medium.

Care to comment on this? You can do so via my Facebook page, or email me.

Shot through the barrel of a Canon
October 5, 2014 2:19 PM | Posted in:

Having the incredible - and surprising - foresight to get the yard work done on Friday afternoon, I found myself on Saturday evening with enough time on my hands to snap a few pictures. These will eventually be loaded into the Fire Ant Gallery, but for now, this post is the exclusive portal through which to view these limited edition photos. 

If that's not pretentious enough for you, let me know and I'll try harder next time.

Click on the small images for bigger versions, and to go through them slideshow-style.



The Directional Driller's 23rd Psalm
September 27, 2014 7:00 AM | Posted in: ,

My pal Kelly posted his version of the 23rd Psalm on his Facebook wall, written from the perspective of an oil driller. I was inspired by his version to create my version, which is similar - but since my company drills nothing but horizontal wells while Kelly tells me he's primarily drilling vertical wells, my angle (see what I did there?) is from the perspective of a directional driller. If you're not in the oil business, some of the jargon may be unfamiliar, so I've included links to pages that may clarify things a bit.

By the way, I don't think this is sacrilegious or disrespectful of Scripture, because we all seek (and find) God from where we are, and I believe He cares about all the details of our lives, and this includes what we do for a living. I think it's helpful and even important to try to relate Scripture to the everyday aspects of our lives. Given that, how might you re-word Psalm 23 to fit your personal situation?

The Lord is my Geosteerer; I shall not miss my target bottom hole location.

He makes me slide through soft shale; He leads me past thief zones.

He restores my mud motors; He leads me in the well path of mild doglegs for His name's sake.

Yea, though I drill through the zone of limestone stringers and chert, I will fear no DBR'd bit, for You are with me; Your agitator and kickpad they comfort me.

You prepare a directional plan before me in the presence of management skeptics;

You lube my wellbore with oil-based mud; my reserve pit doesn't run over.

Surely one-BHA laterals and cement to surface will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the cooling house[1] of the Lord forever.

[1] A cooling house, aka safety trailer or safety house, is an air-conditioned trailer placed on a drill site for the use of rig personnel who might be suffering from heat exhaustion.


Despite the fact that only nine customers (out of 10 million orders) have reported problems with iPhone 6 bending, the alleged phenomenon has spawned numerous memes and generated its own Twitter hashtag, #bendgate. 

Since the internet is never wrong about stuff like this, I immediately recognized that this is a world-class problem in desperate need of a world-class solution, and I wasted no time (OK, perhaps I wasted some time, but not a lot) in focusing my awesome engineering skills on bailing Apple out of this horrible pretend crisis. 

I present for your consideration the ultimate iPhone rigidifying accessory, the iBeam.

The iBeam, for the prevention of bendy iPhones

Simply affix the iBeam to your phone (you only take selfies with anyway, so you won't miss the camera on the back) and you're guaranteed* to never have to suffer the embarrassment of a floppy phone.

*Certain exclusions apply.

Running Thoughts
September 24, 2014 8:35 PM | Posted in:

Some random observations arising from yesterday's run...

It's amazing what a 10° difference in temperature makes. A week ago, with temps in the low 90s, I was struggling after only a couple of miles. Yesterday, I made almost five miles (I stop at 45 minutes regardless of distance) and felt good.

OK, "good" is a relative term, of course. In this case, it means "I didn't eagerly desire the comfort of death."

About half of the distance was on unpaved roads and trails that wind through the pastures around our neighborhood. Conventional wisdom tells us that running off-road is easier on one's joints, but our trails are pretty hard-packed and/or rocky, so I'm not sure there's much benefit from that respect. But the almost complete absence of traffic and the frequent appearance of wildlife are indisputably positive factors.

T-Rex, sort of
Typical West Texas wildlife.

I also have my own theory that running on uneven surfaces has physical benefits like improving coordination and strengthening joints and muscles due to the continuous changes in direction required to avoid ruts, mud (yes, we occasionally have mud), cactus, and other obstacles. 

I like running because it's a minimalist activity. Although cycling is my preferred form of outdoor exercise, the equipment requirements are steep. That's not to say that I don't have my own requirements for running gear. I'm very picky about shoes, and I'm now running in a new pair of New Balance Fresh Foam 980 trail shoes - the red, yellow, and black version (think coral snake). They look a lot faster than I am, but the main advantage besides being comfortable is that they don't pick up gravel in the soles that can scratch wood flooring after a run.

New Balance trail shoes
Mesmerizing, isn't it? IRL, the shoes don't float. Pity.

I don't wear a watch when I run, but I have the MapMyRun app going on my iPhone. It records my route and associated statistics, and I have it set up to alert me every quarter mile so I'll know why I'm feeling so bad. It will also play music from my iTunes collection if I ask it to, but I prefer the rhythm of the blood pounding in my brain in syncopation to my raspy breathing.

MapMyRun screenshot
Ran uphill a total of 30' over 5 miles. Leadville, here I come.

I did have two pleasant surprises during the run. First, there were occasional sprinkles of rain to help keep things cool, without being heavy enough to create mud (I'm not into shoe cleaning). Second, Berry Simpson rode up on his mountain bike and we chatted a bit (he's remarkably skilled at slow-motion maneuvering). I don't normally like to run with anyone else - my wife excepted - but his company was a welcome, albeit brief distraction.

Mud run
I would hate to have to clean those shoes.

Berry is one of those guys who thinks deep thoughts and wrestles with philosophical and theological issues and writes entire books while he runs. I, on the other hand, focus mainly on questions of more tangible import. You know, things like, "what are the symptoms of a heart attack?" and "would someone find my body before the coyotes?" and my theological musings are limited to making deals with God if He'll let me survive and the only things I mentally compose are addenda to my will.

Berry commented that we needed to enjoy the trails while we could because they would probably soon be developed into neighborhoods. He could be right, but the more oil wells they drill, the more reluctant developers are going to be to build houses. And my run took me within a quarter mile of two well sites, one recently drilled and one with a rig still on it.

I'm not very fast, but at least I don't run very far. I've been running for 30 years, and for much of that period, 8 minute miles were the Holy Grail of Pace. But now that I suffer from an incurable condition known as RBS (Receding Birthday Syndrome), that goal is now a foggy dream.

On the other hand, every time I set out on a run (or a ride, or even a walk), I offer a prayer of thanks for the ability to do whatever it is I can do on that particular day. I don't take my health or fitness - however diminishing it might be or become - for granted. Every step is a blessing.

It took almost seven years...
September 21, 2014 1:26 PM | Posted in: ,

...but they finally made it to our backyard.

Photo - Squirrel in tree

I'm not thrilled about having squirrels in our neighborhood, but their appearance was inevitable. We are sequestered by at least a quarter mile of treeless pasture on every side, but a lot of trees come in via landscapers and it was just a matter of time before some of these guys hitched a ride.

It's not that I have anything against squirrels, but I'm dealing with enough distractions as it is without...oh, look!...

Driving Mr. Crazy
September 13, 2014 11:20 AM | Posted in: ,

Everyone who drives slower than me is an idiot, and everyone who drives faster than me is a jerk.
 --Me, and probably every other driver in Midland, Texas

Last week, while driving home after work, I encountered the following at consecutive intersections:

  • A driver in a pickup turned left in front of me after the signal had turned green for me to go through the intersection. Having driven in Midland for decades, I anticipated that and had slowed. What I didn't anticipate was the woman in the small sedan hugging his bumper and completely blocked from view who never came close to making a legal turn, and who glared at me for almost t-boning her.

  • A few blocks later, I pulled up behind an overly (in my opinion) timid driver who stopped as soon as the light turned yellow, causing us both to have to wait for the city's longest signal (an admittedly subjective assessment but after a day at the office, it's entirely warranted, if you know what I mean).

So, let's recap. Within the space of three minutes, I was angered by (1) a driver who ran a red light, and (B) a driver who refused to run a [almost-red] light. What's wrong with this picture?

Ask anyone who regularly drives the streets of our fair city and they'll tell you that the population of insane drivers has skyrocketed in direct proportion to the rig count. But, having said that, I've realized that my hypocritical attitude is not doing my mental state and blood pressure any favors...and it's certainly not improving the driving habits of others.

I confess that I have many faults, but angry judgment of other drivers is one of the worst, and the preceding realization has brought that into focus. I'm now making a conscious effort to remain calm in the face of what I perceive (and, honestly, it's a fair judgment) as inconsiderate, inattentive, and just plain bad driving. My wife will likely tell you that the effort is a work in progress with little discernible improvement, but I really am trying. As is the case with much in life, I can't control my surroundings, but I can control my reaction to them.

Well, theoretically, anyway.