Friday, July 29, 2011

Why?

Why, just tell me why, you continue to do, these, things? We've had this conversation before and I was sure that we had come to an understanding. I just don't get it, what is it that I am missing? Am I not being clear? Are you revolting or lashing out in angst over something that I have or have not done?


Yes, I know, you would greatly appreciate an increased quantity of food on a regular basis. We know, but we also know that you have proven, you can't handle it. You simply have no restraint. Maybe that is the core of this issue as well; it's just too inviting and you simply can't help yourself.


Lord knows that we'd all like to just be able to shred TP at will, heck, who wouldn't. However, it's just not done. Society simply can't and won't allow it. Besides, it's disrespectful.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Loyalty Lost

I may be sort of old fashioned but I tend to be a pretty brand loyal person when it comes to some things. Over the course of my adult life this has been particularly true in terms of vehicles. Basically it all boils down to the concept of a known evil being better than the evil which you do not know.

As such, early on, nearly 20 years ago in fact, I chose to go very conservatively (now there's a shock for anyone who knows me) with the product brand which at the time had the best product reputation to cost ratio. The perceived leader in quality was Honda but running very close in quality and a tiny bit better in price was Toyota. I was also looking at a vehicle type that Honda didn't offer anyhow, a pickup truck, so decided to go with Toyota. That is where my brand loyalty, through which I dragged Cathy's loyalty, has stayed for 18 years and 7 different vehicles. All of these vehicles have been purchased from the same dealer as well, Acton Toyota.

Off the bat it was a love hate relationship with the dealer, or shall I say the sales department, but that is to be expected when you are dealing adversarially, with money. despite the lack of love for the salesmen, I continued to go back to the dealer because of convenience and familiarity. I also stuck with the brand, out of loyalty that I justified by the fact that the vehicles were basically bomb-proof. You just put gas in and went. We never had problems with them. Over the course of time and vehicle trades I felt that I won some and lost others, in terms of getting a fair deal.

My current vehicle, a Toyota Tacoma TRD offroad, for which I traded in a Toyota Tundra TRD offroad, has been the exception to the quality rule. My impetus for the trade was economy as the gas prices in 2005 had just gone through the roof. Where the Turdra was getting less than stellar fuel mileage, the Tacoma was promised to get greatly improved efficiency. Why wouldn't it after all, it was a much smaller vehicle with a V6 rather than a V8 engine. Unfortunately, I got raped on the trade, of course.

Shortly after I purchased it new, the seals went in the steering rack. This was a warranty issue of course but was a bad omen. In terms of efficiency, it quickly became evident that the gain was going to be very, very small. A couple of MPG was all my $10k downgrade saved me, at the expense of, well the $10k expense of course but also comfort. The Tundra was pretty luxurious, the Tacoma, not so much. The dealer negotiation was also particularly unpleasant for that vehicle as well, so in general, I had a really bad taste in my mouth from the start of this vehicle relationship.

Fast forward a few years, it's 2009 and the vehicle has 42,000 miles on it. I really don't drive it much as work is less than 2 miles from home and I typically rode my Honda Ruckus anyhow. Except for driving to Maine in the winter, which we have cut back significantly on, the truck mostly just sat idle and rusted, which is a whole different can of worms that I won't open up on here. Anyhow, it's summer, it is like 90 degrees and we need to go in to Boston so I can but some bike parts from a guy. I think that was the last time I went into Boston in fact; I don't get out much. To my surprise, the air conditioning doesn't seem to work. SoaB! This is the first time I'd used it that season and in fact, can't recall when I'd previously used it. it is, however, past the 3 years and 36k mile warranty that you'd never need anyhow, because you bought a Toyota. Long story abbreviated, I took it to Lexington Toyota as Acton Toyota had moved to Littleton and were just inconvenient enough that we had stopped going there for service. They find that the condenser is leaking and needs to be replaced at a cost of $1200. I said, NFW!

A couple months later I decide to trade it in, so went to Acton to get a Rav4. We test it, like it, they have one, we sit down to deal with a rather hefty but pleasant fellow and all is well. Then, all of a sudden, they ship us off to the internet department because they catch wind that I'd done an internet query on the vehicle earlier and that salesperson wants the cut. No offense, but he is English as a second language and impossible (for me) to understand and negotiate with. I put a deadline on the purchase at the start, saying I need to be gone in an hour. They couldn't make it happen and we got up and walked out the door. For the next year and a half I lived with it, for the one or two hot/humid and rainy days where I needed to drive the truck to work, which how now moved to Littleton. I also upgraded the Ruckus to a DRZ400 SM so when the weather allowed, rode that to work the 3 days per week that I am actually in the office vs. working from home.

Last December we once again pondered what to do longer term. The decision was to run the truck into the ground, and to suck it up and get the air conditioning fixed. As such, I had Acton Toyota perform the service partially because I couldn't find anyone else to do it and also because they are within walking distance of the office. They also did a major, 50k mile service so I laid down just shy of $2000, assuming that I should be good for a very long while. Driving the rig home I tested the air conditioning. Sure enough, the air it blew was cold. That said it was 25 degrees outside.

Throughout the spring of 2011 we had below normal temperatures and even though I drove the truck to work a little later than I normally would have, when I switched to the motorcycle in April I hadn't yet needed the air conditioning. Imagine my surprise when a couple weeks ago, during the first heatwave of the summer, we take the truck to the range on a Sunday afternoon and call for some cooling. At first it is blowing cool air but never quite cold. Soon it's just plain ambient and not working at all. I need an oil change anyhow so back to Acton Toyota I go. My surprise at the system not working pales in comparison to what the service representative later tells me, that the compressor is now bad and needs to be replaced, which will cost me $2501. Wow, does that suck. My answer is of course, NFW!

So now I'm left having spent a bunch of money for an expensive part that is hooked to a system that is chronically broken. It's like a knee replacement surgery for a quadriplegic. Naturally I have no recourse, other than to spread the word. I've done so through a Better Business Bureau complaint. Really though, Acton Toyota is guilty of nothing other than selling me a piece of sh!t and not caring enough to do what is, arguably, right in terms of going to bat with Toyota for me. They contest that the system was fixed when they were done and I have no way to dispute that. I do find it odd that a system not in use would have additional components fail, but maybe they just dry-rot from lack of use.

Regardless, that is it for us. No more Toyota and certainly no more Acton Toyota. I'll send a letter to Toyota USA before I'm done but that is about as far is it will go. Will it make a difference? Of course not, but it will make me feel better. Maybe I can save someone some aggravation as well, by telling my story. Who knows. All that I can say is that for many, many years I was a devout and loyal Toyota owner. That loyalty has been lost. I just wish they cared.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Shut Down

I guess it had to happen, eventually, as all things must come to an end. For years on our tandem we feasted on glory and success in charity events and group rides, you know, highly competative Cat6 races. I look back fondly on the abuse we were able to dispense to the peloton at the MS Cape Tour when we used to compete in that ride. People feared our team, and not just the people on the hybrids either. No, there were hoards of middle aged dentists on spiffy carbon-fiber bikes with aero-bars that also felt our wrath. It is with a tear in my eye that I recall all of the times we would gloriously steamroll right over the top of the Friday night CRW social ride (aka. the smackdown) screaming back home on RT225. Those tools didn't know what hit them; just a blur of minivan gold from the Cannondale missile built for two.

Well, it all came to end this past weekend, not with a blaze of glory but with a whimper of defeat. We (I) decided to bag MTB racing on Sunday and instead head out early and go bandit on the CRW climb to the clouds route. Yes, I know, I should have registered for the ride but it sold out before I got off the pot. We are members of CRW though, and didn't actually stop at any of the rest areas (that would be admitting weakness anyhow) so I don't feel too bad. We'd done much of this loop in the past though never completely. With the temperature in the mid 90's on Sunday and the sun hanging high in the sky, conditions were tough. It was also breezy, which only made a difference in a few strategic locations.


Off the bat I was working really hard to keep moving at a pace that I felt we "should be moving at". The first couple of hours were a struggle but we were making pretty good time and maintaining a respectable 20mph avg. It was in Sterling, at Davis Farmland that I came unglued. The terrain is wide open and the sun was baking there. It is also slightly uphill with an omnipresent headwind. This makes it feel like you are not moving at all, yet working really, really hard. This was bad, I felt much shame as nothing I did, nor how hard I struggled helped. Regardless of how hard I tried, we were still barely moving at all. I reflected back to visions of flying along on the tandem and was befuddled as to why it seemed so very difficult at this moment. What happened? What has gone wrong?

When we came to the junction for the 80 vs 100 mile loop in Sterling, I knew the score and what was still ahead, so opted for the shorter 80 mile loop, admitting defeat. Even this decision proved difficult and by the time we were in Harvard, I decided to veer off course and head the direct 20 something miles back to home. I was completely encrusted in salt, dehydrated and could barely pedal the bike. Not just my legs were giving up but my body in general and my overall coordination. Worst yet, my will to continue and fight was broken. It was a very long and painful ride home from there, to which I contributed very little.



The truth is that the tandem really isn't that fast on anything but flats or downhills. On any extended uphill it's a bus, slowing to a low gear crawl. Attacking up a hill takes massive effort and is typically not a sustainable venture. Our week of tandem rides earlier this month proved this. If the climbs are really steep, such that everyone is struggling, the difference isn't that severe but on those mid level/length climbs that one can push it up over with a single bike, the tandem is dramatically slower. Power climbs are a toss up. If momentum can be carried, you can keep a good solid pace up them and often are at an advantage over a single bike. Anyhow, we have do a lot of miles on the tandem over the past month. Most of those miles involve large amounts of suffering. I can't say that I'm really anxious to get back onto it in the near future.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mayhem

You turn your back, literally, for a second and they get into everything. No, Ellie, that is not how you dial for windage and no, it is not your toy. Yes Opie, the bolt is open, the safety is on and the MA compliant magazine is empty. Still, this is how accidents happen. Bad kittens!

You still haven't cleaned that the way Chris told you to, have you?

TGiF?

The first week back to work after a vacation always seems to be the longest. In reality, I'm all about routines so in some ways, it was nice to get back to the normal weekly routing. Sure, vacation is great but unless I have specific things planned I seem to flounder around and feel like I'm wasting the precious vacation. I'm told that not having a set agenda for just about every hour of the day is actually akin to relaxation but I'm not sure I buy into that theory.

This week saw some excitement on Tuesday evening when one of the junior team members crashed on his face during a team ride. That resulted in a really good concussion and a total inability to remember anything post crash. Everything is OK now though save some nice facial road rash. Other than that though, the week has been pretty nondescript. We had a steady rain break out late afternoon just before CBTT time so we decided not to head over. Of course the rain stopped just before start time and held off until just after the end. In reality I wasn't feeling all that great and figured that it may be a wise move to hold off.

Last night was what has come to be known as the Thursday night worlds MTB ride in the LLF. This is a ride sponsored by the Greater Boston NEMBA chapter and has been pretty well attended. Unfortunately, with all of this extra use we are starting to notice how hammered the trails are quickly becoming. I'm hoping that they start to organize some trail days there to fix some of the damage being done. I've been in a few times this summer doing some work but it's no longer that easy to keep up with it.


Anyhow, last night new dad Scotty (congratulations and welcome to Sadie) and JohnnyMo met up at my place and we made our way over to the ride. There were a bunch of guys like Nate and Greg there that I have raced with but never ridden with before. Colin and Kevin were there as well rounding out a solid group. Unfortunately, even though I was determined that this would be a steady pace non-drop ride, we started having mechanical issues within the first 15 minutes. We then lost Scotty shortly after in the melee and so Johnny and I opted to peel off and go search for him. We picked up Colin, who in an attempt to lighten his bike was running 3 of the 6 rotor bolts in each hub. Apparently they couldn't handle the pressure and loosened up on him. The three of us rode around and had a good steady train going for some time. Eventually we picked up Scott and continued to ride until we met the rest of the splintered group and headed a bit afar for some variety. At some point we lost Colin again and then lost Scott behind the cemetery somehow. One thing I have noticed with these guys is that the group ride mentality is gone in favor of the race mentality, so no mind is ever paid to those behind, only the wheel ahead. Different dynamic. We finished the ride out and headed back for home, getting in almost 26 miles on the evening in just under 2.5hrs moving time. Not a bad effort on the single speed and my legs certainly felt it.

Today it's all about figuring out what to do this weekend. I still don't have my membership finalized at the range so that isn't going to be of use this weekend. There are a few races on Sunday that I am trying to decide between. Typically we race the Yarmouth Clamfest, a P/1/2/3 race in Yarmouth, ME centered around their annual clam festival. It's a good race but realistically the best I could hope for would be a top 20, given the course and the field. The Root66 MTB race is way down in CT the other side of Hartford and doesn't start until 2PM. That makes for a really long day so it isn't going to happen. The other MTB race is in Sunapee, NH and given that they just lowered the entry fee, possibly because nobody registered for the race, it is a possibility, though still significantly more expensive than the Root66 option. We also need to decide today about an addition we are considering of a new deck and screen room on the house. I've been pestering the contractor with stupid questions to the point where he probably hates me, but should be used to it from all of the other times he has dealt with me. My buddy Wayne who has gone out on his own doing contracting is simply too swamped with work to be able to take this on as well. Oh yea, I need to mow the law as well. Stupid lawn.


So here we are. I'm pretending to do some work and stumble my way through the day in pursuit of the weekend, not that the weekend has anything all that great in store for me. The weekend may be the meat (of fish given that it is Friday afterall) and the weekdays may be the potato (or salad if you prefer) but I'm the type of guy that really appreciates the stability and regularity of potato (or salad if you prefer), especially if you spice it up a little with some horseradish, well, maybe not if you prefer salad.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Part of Something Bigger

Being part of something bigger than oneself can mean a myriad of different things. Clearly, it also means something different to everyone. My life is all but consumed by cycling and the pursuit of that passion. For years I searched, trying to find exactly where I fit into the cycling community. I'd progressed through a number of different fads and phases and in recent years,

I'd really focused on racing. A couple years ago I got so serious that I hired a coach, spent the season racing the elite MTB series and every elite road race I could find and really tried to give it a solid run. I also trained like mad, especially early in the season. The result was that I got really strong and had some solid results at first. By the middle of the season however, the results waned, I was really beat all the time and the fun started to fade. In the end, this resulted in me stepping back and taking another look at my objectives. Unfortunately, a really great cyclocross season once again lit a fire that carried into last season, with a record setting spring time training session and some more solid performances. The though of holding it all year long kept me motivated and cross started out great, but promptly tanked, really hard. This was the straw that broke the trend and this past winter I was ready for a break.

We were fortunate to have an excellent snow year and so I let the bike be and reached for the skis. We had a wonderful time and when the spring rolled around I was ready to ride my bike, albeit with a somewhat different view on things. I didn't let myself feel compelled to race or ride for that matter if I didn't want to and I was listening to what my body was saying, trying to rest and recover rather than just push through it. This has been working well and I have been able to maintain motivation, with the ultimate hope being that I can hold it all season long.

Enough about that though. Let's get on to the real point of this post. In recent years I've come to realize that no matter how hard I tried, I wasn't going to be the next, best thing on the race scene. The best I could hope for, which was really all that I have ever hoped for, was to be respected as a racer and I hope to be viewed as someone who works hard and really races his bike. I'd much prefer to be associated with that and not for whatever mediocre results I may pull in. It may be vain, but I think I've accomplished that goal. With that being the case, I then realized that my biggest contribution may be in sharing the lessons that I have learned over the years and trying to promote the sport and avocation which means so much to me, to others. This indeed, seemed to be the simple truth to it all.

I've always enjoyed promoting the sport to others and have, over the past few years, tried more and more to share my lessons and tips when appropriate. Again, I don't profess to know everything or be any great cyclist, but I have been riding bikes for some time and I have learned a few tricks, especially offroad, and I delight in sharing them. Last year, with the help of some friends and teammates, I put together a MTB clinics for NEBC, the club that we belong to, as well as a wildly popular cyclocross clinic that drew nearly 40 participants from the club. I also volunteered to captain the unofficial club cyclocross team last season. This was in some ways rewarding but in many other ways frustrating. The goal was to promote camaraderie and promote the sport within the club from a team perspective. What I found was that trying to get adults to do things, like write race reports and organize to do things as a team, was like pulling teeth. I'd invested a lot of my own time and didn't feel that the benefit was there. I was also getting really burnt out on racing in general at that point. All of this soured me on the club, the sport and on people in general. There were however, some bright spots. A very few individuals whom I could tell really saw benefit in the effort and appreciated it. They were enough to keep an ember of hope burning.

This spring, after some time cooling off, I was determined to stick with the club and once again try and do my best to help out whether they wanted it or not. I did however, decide not to volunteer as any form of team captain and I was not part of any organized team. The idea was to just sit in the background and look for opportunities to help out. Recently, NEBC was approached by a young man from outside of NEBC looking to form a junior team. He was asked to attend a board meeting so that people could get to meet him and hear him out. There had been some interest in a team by some NEBC juniors earlier in the season but the leadership and initiative was never taken to get it going, so the thought was that this may be a good fit. Even though I am not part of the board, I decided to attend the meeting, primarily because it was at Lester's Roadside BBQ, one of our club sponsors. I was so impressed with the young man that I volunteered on the spot to direct and coach (in the very purest sense of the term) the team so as to try and make sure they got what they needed, kept on track and that the experiment was a success.


One thing led to another and the kids came out of the woodwork. At present we have 8 on the squad between the ages of 15 and 18. I've spend tons of time going through NOS clothing from the club, which was the only inventory they had, to try and outfit the team as best we could. I've gotten the chance to learn about junior gearing and have been scavenging 52 tooth chainrings and locking out cassettes left and right. We have also been having a weekly team ride where we all get together and ride. My main focus is trying to stress what I consider to be good ideals on the kids. I want to make cycling, the sport I love, as fun and exciting for them as it is for me. I want then to be safe both in racing as well as in riding and I want them to be ambassadors or not only the sport but of themselves. We have a strict code of conduct on the rides, which I hope will be instilled within them in general. Our goal is to be better people, by being kind and friendly and humble, and through that, better competitors. Let us not be judged but by action.

So, for now, I've trying my hand at something very, very new to me. I have exactly zero experience with kids, save via introspection. From what I have seen so far, it is very different, but mostly in a good way. After years and years of dealing with gritty, miserable, self-centered, old people it is very refreshing to work with raw youth and enthusiasm. So far so good and despite a couple of setbacks like a complete physical meltdown at mile 45 or a 55 mile ride and an astounding faceplant into pavement last night, all is well. All that I can ask is that I can do right by them and offer them something of value.