Thursday, February 26, 2009

Happy Birthday Mimbres Sister #1

Happy Birthday Mimbres Sister!
Hope you have a great day!
(last time we were together I was an ass!...heehaw!)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Carnival! [Day 4]

Last day of Carnival so got up and went out for a ride. Did some climbing, descending, then just riding around and saw some interesting things.

A genuine Klein Attitude (not a Colombian knock-off) circa 1995-1996. The owner is one of the few who recognized my Merlin for what it is. He was impressed though he thought the single speed thing was a bit strange.

Another cool thing was seeing someone out paddling a kayak...another rare sight. Not too many kayakers around considering the area in which we live. (I need to get out in my kayak and paddle more.)

Went to the fish market and bought a la branche (flathead mullet, Mugli cephalus). Good in fish soup, or fried, they are a very tasty salt-water fish. I went home and Tania fried a couple of pieces for my lunch. Nice!

Spent the rest of the afternoon getting ready to head back El Tigre.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Carnival! [Day 3]

Most of the day I hung out with Tania. Around 5'o clock, I decided to go for a ride. So I did a short afternoon solo ride on the Merlin. .
I watched pelicans for a while. Then watched the sunset.Hooked up with these guys when riding back into town. Ran into a small Carnival crew on one of the back streets. It was a good little ride.


When sailing yesterday, we were far enough from land to see a petrel. It was probably a Greater Shearwater Puffinus gravis. These images came from the link.

First time I've seen a pelagic bird in the wild. Very cool!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Carnival! [Day 2]

Went sailing today on Daniel's boat.

Not much wind going out so we had to use the outboard. Once we were far enough out, we caught some wind and tried to tack to Isla Borracha. The boat began taking on a serious amount of water. We headed back to Los Borrachitos so we could figure out what was wrong.

Once in a tiny cove, dug around and found a small hand bilge pump. We would have to fill our beer cooler with water then dump it overboard. Each stroke of the this little pump would spit out about 500 ml (1 pint) of water. It would take at least 100 strokes to fill the beer cooler. This soon got tiring and we decided to rig up a small electric pump we found. It was not powerful enough to send a column of water up and over the rail, but it was easier to fill the beer cooler than the hand pump and soon we had to boat empty of water.

A cotter pin came loose from one of the stays on the main mast and we could not put it back in due to length of the cable. We decided to go out, put up the main sail hoping sail would tweek the mast so we could put the pin back in place. Daniel had go out on the rail do the fix but it worked.

Then water started coming back in...a lot of water! I went below and hooked up our makeshift electric bilge and started the bucket brigade once again but we were not making any headway. Water was coming in faster than the pump could take out. I asked Daniel if all the seacocks were closed. He thought so...

A couple more beer coolers full of water and Daniel asked where the sink drained. I looked under the sink and found our problem. The drain pipe had come lose and the seacock was open. Water was coming in like a firehose! The seacock was frozen, but with the help of a Leatherman tool, Daniel got it loose and closed it. Then we were able to empty the boat of water via our electric bilge pump/bucket brigade method. We probably emtied at least 1100 L (300 gallons) of water.

Came home and watched Ben Hur on TMC with Tania. I hadn't seen that movie since I was a kid. It is really good. Last night we watched Bridge on the River Kwai, also very good.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Carnival! [Day 1]

Hey its Carnival, but we are stuck! Our car is still in the shop awaiting a new head. (Warning to all: Do not let the timing belt break on a modern engine! I recommend changing a KIA's timing belt at 90,000 km [50,000 miles] our's broke at 97,000 km). Not to worry because we live in an area where most Venezuelans come for their holidays. Our condo is 180 meters from the Caribbean. Nice!

I went out for a good ride this morning. At one point we had a group of 15 riders. The ride thinned out at The Rails climb. The Rails combined with The Fausto Trail climbs 100 meters in less than 1 kilometer. There is a 200 m section that is very steep, about 20%. On the second lap, when climbing that steep section, I felt my gums tingling. That is a tell for me that my heart rate is at its maximum. It is was time to slow down. At the parking lot area I had to stop for a few minutes to let my heart rate slow down.

The rest of the day so far has been vegging out with Tania. Very nice!

Photo update: Saw this ratty CJ-5 up on El Morro that morning. Though this one is a beater, its my opinion that they are one of the greatest vehicles ever designed and produced in the USA. I love the look of the classic CJ. The original only had an 81" (207 cm) wheelbase. Later the wheelbase grew by 2" (about 5 cm), to accommodate American Motor's inline-6 engine. This one looks like a short wheelbase version judging on the front fender design (but its hard to tell it could be a weird Venezuelan hybrid). The CJ-5 could go almost anywhere, do almost anything. I know...I had one (1964 model) back-in-the-day.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Under the Sea

We had access to a launcha on Sunday so we took advantage of it and motored to Isla Borracha . I ended up swimming more than a kilometer taking pics. Water was mostly warm but I am glad I wore my wetsuit top layer; a 3mm [thick] jacket.

The reef is healthy on the northside of the bay and was teaming with fish in those areas.

The camera used was my Canon SD-1000 instead of my A-530. The camera dry bag is for a larger camera like the A-530 and the SD-1000 was small for the bag so sometimes the photos were obscured by the plastic window housing, therefore I've cropped most of these photos to make them look a little nicer, otherwise everything else; color, light, etc. is how the camera captured the shot.

Saw a variety of fish including; a barracuda, a lizardfish, a couple butterfly fish, several sergeant-majors, tons of wrasses, a few damsel fish, and several other kinds of fish that I am not sure what they are.


Check out this post !

Monday, February 16, 2009

No Sheep

The world is full of sheep.
I refuse to be a sheep. I will not follow blindly. I will think freely as I choose.
This is why I ride mountain bikes. I am not confined to a court or playing field. I am not dependant on other team members for an outcome. I am not limited to the range of a gasoline tank. I can hop fences, go cross-country, and hike-a-bike if necessary. I am only limited by myself; what I can carry, and my ability to problem solve.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Nicely Executed Turn

The Downslope of the Switchback
(the old door is gone now and there is only one pallet left)

One of the things I love about mountain biking is the feeling of complete control in challenging terrain. The other day I executed a beautiful turn on the Merlin. It went something like this: I entered the Fausto Trail, while leaning slightly back off the saddle. I bleed off some speed, line up the bike to the high outside edge of the switchback, enter the curve by leaning right while slightly turning the front wheel. When exiting the switchback, I aim for a point down the hill towards the right side of the trail (because on the left is a steep drop). My angle puts me in a position where I am going to miss the wooden pallet (a make-do water bar). I lean a bit more to the right, twisting the front wheel simutaniously and the Merlin's rigid fork tracks perfectly. I nail the groove between the pallet and the cut bank and now it is smooth sailing down the steep, slippery, and gravelly slope. I tap the brakes a bit to control my speed. My CG* is aft of the saddle, but my upper legs are in contact with the seat so I can make quick, minute adjustments as I descend. I keep the bike from slidding off the trail because on both sides are guaiatoto plants; the plant from hell! Once past the guaiatotos, and on the flats, I relax a bit. This trail is fun but too short.

*center of gravity

Saturday, February 07, 2009

International Day

Friday we had International Day at school. My secondary students built Egypt in one of our classrooms. They did a really great job.

Other countries represented:
  • England (12 & 13 year olds girls [middle school])
  • Australia (12 & 13 year olds boys [middle school])
  • Madagascar (8 & 9 year olds [3rd/4th grade])
  • Jamaica (Intensive English)
  • Saudi Arabia (10 & 11 year olds [5th/6th grade])
  • Peru (6 & 7 year olds [1st/2nd grade])
  • People's Republic of China (4 & 5 year olds [pre-kinder/kinder]
Turned out to be a great event. Very enjoyable. The food after the presentations was tasty. I focused on Arabic food. Excellent!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Litespeed Toccoa [travel bike]

Note: The bike has since been tweeked and will
be undergoing a major refit summer 2009.

The Problem: I work and live overseas. I soon found out that traveling with a full sized bike is a real hassle. On my first trip to Venezuela, my bike was left at CCS because it couldn’t make the commuter flight into the interior. Fortunately, it made it on a later flight, but then and there I knew I needed a bike which would travel easier. One I could take with me back and forth to the USA or wherever I wanted to go.

A Possible Solution: It was during this first year living overseas that I thought about retro-fitting my old trusty Merlin with S & S bicycle torque couplings. Ultimately I could not bring myself to hack my buddy in two halves. I didn’t trust any frame-builder to do the job. If someone was going to do it, they had to do it right or I’d lose my favorite bike.

Experimenting: This project/idea was put on hold for a few of years. I tried other options like riding my road bike exclusively [see Bridgestone post], borrowing a friend’s mountain bike; I crashed hard and hyper-extended my elbow, due to radical geometry. And once I tried renting a mountain bike which turned out to be a performance pig, and I crashed hard due to a weird mushy feel due to heavy wheels, and a cheap, non-responsive suspension fork. None of these options were an adequate solution.

Problem #2: In the following spring (2006), I started getting a wild idea of buying a high quality travel bike. At first I was thinking of a Dahon Flo. It seemed a good design; high-end steel, quality components, designed by Joe Murray, etc. I found a shop on eBay selling them, and almost bought one, but my research found that the Flo travel bike had a weight limit of 230 lbs. Being a Clydesdale rider [about 215 – 220 lbs (98 – 100 kg)], I decided I needed another option. It was back to titanium.

The Solution: I am a big fan of titanium. I like it for its strength, lightweight, and ride quality, plus I like the look of titanium. I needed a Ti bike that I could convert into a folding bicycle.

The Quest for Ti: Working from Venezuela, and with a fairly quick Internet search, I found a complete 2000 Litespeed Toccoa for a very good price. After many e-mails, a phone call, and a leap of faith, I sent the guy a cashier’s check. I made an arrangement with Bilenky Cycle Works in Philadelphia and I asked the seller to send it there instead of my USA address. Bilenky hacked and retrofit the bike with S & S bicycle torque couplings then sent the bike on to New Mexico.

First Impressions: When I got home [my New Mexico hometown], the bike was waiting for me at the bike shop where I assembled it for the first time. That afternoon I rode it offroad for the first time up on Boston Hill. My first riding impression was very good. The bike seemed unstoppable. I found the Litespeed a great riding bike…smoother than the Merlin and still very light even with the big couplers; about 23.5 lbs. It climbs like a goat and it descends like a rocket on rails. It is firmly in the super bike category.

A Real Travel Bike: So far it has been to the all over Venezuela, including the Venezuelan Andes, the hills around Caracas, and a border run into Brazil to get sugar [an ongoing Venezuela problem]. On travels, it has been all over the mountain trails of New Mexico, the mountains and deserts of Arizona, the Colorado Rocky mountains, deciduous forest trails of Kansas and Missouri, Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle, and a supported trans-Scotland tour.

Conclusion: It’s great to be able to pack a bike into an airline legal 26” x 26” x 10” case and fly with it at no charge. The retrofit has paid for itself in bicycle fees already. It has traveled by Venezuelan buses and taxis, and it easily fits in the trunk of my small car and goes anywhere we go. It is a very cool bike. My mom says it is the best [bicycle] purchase I have ever made. I agree…but then, I like all of my bikes.

Litespeed Packed in it's case

Case Closed!

Update: (19-09-09): I had the Litespeed totally rebuild this summer. Now the only original piece is the frame.

Riding the Winsor Trail near Santa Fe, NM

The Toccoa has all new parts, only the frame is original.
- Frame: 2000 Litespeed Toccoa retrofit w/ S & S couplers
- Fork: 2009 RockShox SID Team (big improvement!)
- Handlebar: Groovy Cycles titanium "Luv Handles" (~660 mm)
- Grips: WTB clamp-on
- Brakes/levers: Avid Ultimate with Ti bits
- Stem: FSA 110
- Headset: Chris King
- Shifters: 2009 XT

- Derailleurs: 2009 XT front, XT Shadow rear

- Cassette: XT - Crankset: RaceFace Deus
- Pedals: XTR
- Chain: XTR
- Seatpost: Thomson Elite (black)

- Saddle: WTB Pure V Team, leather cover w/ Ti rails
- Wheelset: XT centerlock, DT spokes, WTB Dual Duty rims
- Tires: WTB MutanoRaptors
- Cables: XTR

weight: ~24 lbs, 4 oz. (not too bad considering the S & S couplings)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Coincidence or Something Else?

On Friday I got word that my grandmother had died. I wasn't surprised. I had been preparing myself mentally for this for a while.

Around 3:00 local time I got a phone call from my sister giving me the news. I asked what time did Grandmother die? About 11:45 MST. That puts it at 2:15 Venezuela Standard Time.

I asked for the time of death because I wanted to see if there was some kind of "message" from my grandmother.

Do you know what I was doing at that exact moment of 2:15? A few minutes before 2:15, I was showing my 5th and 6th grade science class a PowerPoint presentation on weathering and erosion. Around 2:13, I opened the file on my laptop from Christmas 2007 because there were some photos of the Mississippi River in there and I wanted them to see the meandering features of the river. BTW, I was watching the clock because the students were scheduled to go back to their regular classroom at 2:15.

We never got to those photos, instead, as I was scrolling through the photos, my students, mostly girls, saw the icon pictures of my grandmother and asked who it was. I stopped and opened the pictures and we looked at my grandmother for a few minutes. I told them she was 101 years old. They were in awe.

We then looked at photos of the rest of my family that I had taken that Christmas morning in 2007; my mom when she was crying because she opened a gift she wanted, my younger sister who made the phone call to me, my mom's husband who was close to my grandmother. It was all connected somewhat.

The little girls in my class were amazed looking at my grandmother. I'd like to think it is because my grandmother was always one of them, a sophisticated little girl deep inside.

I guess scientifically/psychologically you could say, I've been preoccupied with my grandmother's condition, I opened the file subconsciously. Or was it something else? Was it a way of my grandmother contacting me, giving me her final send off? I am not sure, but I'd like to think so.

This is the third time weird stuff like this has happened when a family member died. At least two mysterious things; almost unexplainable things associated with my dad's death, and now this.

I try to think of myself as a science person. Things that are explained supernaturally are written off as pseudo-science. Perhaps...or perhaps we haven't found a way of measuring certain things (energies??) yet. I want to believe in String Theory and how everything is connected. I would like to think we are all connected and that the connections between family members is greater since we share DNA.

I've experienced some really strange things in my life...way more strange that looking photos at a certain time. That being said...I am going to believe that my grandmother was sending me her final good-bye to me though the eyes of my 10-year old girl students.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Beautiful Spot

Venezuela is a beautiful place with a lot of flaws...the flaws being primarily political..But it is a country full of beauty everywhere...and until recently, most Venezuela didn't care about the rest of the world. Why should they? They had their paradise.
Need proof? Take a look at this photo I took when riding on Sunday. Only 2 miles from my condo. Nice!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Surprise Extra Day Off!

A view from my living room window (a few months back)

Sundays are a drag for me. That means I have to get ready to leave Tania and my cool little condo on the beach and head back to El Tigre were I work. I don't mind working in El Tigre, in fact, its a pretty good gig, but the commute on Sunday and Friday are long and somewhat brutal, and potentially dangerous. Where I live is a nice part of the country; full of beaches, the ferry terminal to Margarita Island, coastal mountains, and so on. Where I now work is 180 km (110 miles) inland and is an oil town. There is not much going on there...not even a movie theater.

I've been carpooling with another teacher also from Lecheria. We swap cars week to week. Some weeks I drive my little Kia Rio, and sometimes we take his Jeep Gran Cherokee. Dan's Cherokee has been in the shop for the last month, so I was going to take the Rio this week (my car was in the shop last week because it needed new rear wheel bearings...Venezuelan roads are brutal, full of potholes...hard on a little car). I drive to Dan's to pick him up and while I am visiting with his mother, I get a phone call from my boss. No school tomorrow. Chavez has declared February 2 a national holiday, 10 years of his "revolution". Whatever he says...

Anyway, back home, relaxing with Tania. Its nice to be here instead of El Tigre, at least for another day.