Archive for the ‘Travels’ Category

Einbürgerungsurkunde: An American Simplifies Life in the EU

September 22, 2011

Rome, September 20, 2011 – I got my German naturalization document today at their embassy here in Rome. It had been signed in Köln in March and was countersigned in Rome today. (Einbürgerung means naturalization, and urkunde is an original of a paper, a document.)

The German Embassy is a big concrete building left over from the Fascist era, which somehow seems fitting (though so are most of the elementary schools in Rome since that was a project of Mussolini). Like the American Embassy and every other embassy in the world (including the Italian one in DC), the moment you walk in you are on their territory, in this case, German soil. They speak some Italian—the guards, for instance—but everybody there are Germans, as were the two embassy staff who checked my passport, did my fingerprints, helped me with some other forms, and congratulated me on becoming a German citizen.

Well, in the sense that life is an adventure, that was a little one, painless (for a change) and no risk of any bone breaks.

Having been born an American without giving it much thought since, all at once I sort of realized that becoming a citizen of a county is a serious thing. It’s not like applying for a grant or filling out a health club membership. It’s hard to describe. At the embassy they all speak German; they dress and act German more than Italian; they’ve got the German flag there and the big eagle symbol on everything. All of a sudden, that’s your heimatland. The embassy staff even reminded me it was my responsibility to ensure that I wouldn’t lose my American citizenship by becoming a German citizen. I had already checked that so it’s not a problem, but it’s another sign that formally becoming a citizen of a county is not quite like joining the local pool.

Informally, they asked what my family story was, how old my mother was when she came over, about where my other relatives were. They even wondered how my family felt about my becoming German. The question alone was a little unsettling, but as I said, it’s an adventure, this chapter of which I’m a German, at least here in Europe. The embassy woman in charge of my case asked if my mother had considered also getting a German citizenship, but she understood that if she is an American and only visits for an occasional vacation to Europe, maybe it doesn’t pay.

She said they get a lot of applications, but virtually none in Italy. I think that’s because Italians are already EU citizens, so there’s no motive for them to get a German citizenship. Plus, how many German Jews are in Italy? Very few. (For those leaving in 1939, I don’t think Italy was a great choice of refuge.)

Then we talked about places in Germany. The staff were very personable, and they really made me feel like they were glad I took the trouble to do the application and show up for the naturalization. I did not expect that from the German Embassy, since everyone operates from behind an inch of glass (though in the paranoia department, Americans are by far the leaders, with the Brits not far behind).

The German embassy is on a regular street and people actually drive up and park in front of it. A fence surrounds the American embassy, and the sidewalk around that is closed on all four sides. You have to cross the street constantly to get around all the detours, with no help from the American guards who just stare at you like you probably have a bomb in your backpack. Friendly, those Americans. Nothing like that for the Germans. Just a nice, neat, large concrete building a few doors down from the HQ of La Gazzetta dello Sport (the pink (in color only) national sports newspaper that founded the Giro d’italia—a long-distance bike race—103 years ago).

Unlike bank tellers, the Germans came out from behind their glass and met me in a waiting room to do my naturalization across a table. Also, the Germans work by appointment. In the US Embassy, you show up before they open and a line forms around the block, like you’re buying tickets to see The Rolling Stones. (Another reason I am glad to not have to deal with American visas.) If anything at all goes wrong, you spend the day in that line.

The nice passport photos we all labored to get here for me were annehmbar nicht (not acceptable)! Because they use digital image recognition, the pictures have to be just so. You can smile, but your mouth can’t be open more than a tiny amount. My agent told me hers were rejected for the same reason. (It’s the same in the US if you get a new passport, btw.) So she told me to do what she had done: walk to the local metro station two blocks away and pay 5€ to get photos in a machine for passports, which helps you get your head just the right size, etc. The metro machine photos were nice. The machine prints them on real photo stock, which is also better. I could have saved a lot of trouble for me and you at Moto. Sorry about that.

There is a strange feeling doing something so normal, like searching for a 5-euro note in your wallet while seated in one of those little cabinets in a metro station—something you see other people do and think you would never find yourself doing—the tiny details. The photo repair guy was there to service the machines. We talked a little, and I thought, here I am speaking to an Italian photo repair guy as a tiny step in becoming a German citizen at an embassy two blocks from the Castro Pretorio metro stop, which happens to have these machines in it next to the ticket dispensers. Nobody could write that script. He advised me to use the second cabinet. “The photos work better and there’s more room; it’s more comfortable,” he said.

My passport will come in four weeks. When these guys say four weeks, they don’t mean 29 days, they mean 4.0 weeks. The embassy woman said if I don’t hear from her to email or call. But it’s a done deal. I paid the 59€ passport fee and the 21€ for the shipping of my papers from Germany and from Boston, and it all got signed and stamped for printing, with even the photo glued onto the original passport page. Then it gets bound into the passport book with the blank pages, I think in Cologne again.

Well, it was a little scary, but I’m really glad I did it. It’s a big advantage to have EU citizenship if you are all over the world like I am. Practically speaking, this means I can get paid here and not have to bill through a US company. And I have barely adhered to the visa laws for the last three years, always making sure I don’t stay 91 days, and using my visiting professor status to avoid having to get a real visa. The bureaucracy of a German passport is nothing—nothing!—compared to getting an Italian visa. And the German citizenship is for life. The visa you have to do for every single 90-day stay, and it has to be done less than 60 days in advance, and half the time it doesn’t come through on time anyway. It’s crazy as only Italians can be. So now I never have to deal with that again, which is a problem for every American working here lacking Eu cittadinanza, as they call it.

Today on Italian radio they happen to be playing all the songs from Mary Poppins as it was done here in Italy. A spoonful of sugar translates to: Basta un poco di zucchero e la pillola va giù.

P.S. For more about my travels, see Travels of a Thermodynamicist.

Travel Is Hell (and 119 Slices of Life There)

August 18, 2011

Buddhism short-circuited whining centuries ago.

Buddhists accept that the brief interval in which our souls exist isolated within mortal biological vessel, must, by its nature, imply suffering, and life proceeds from that premise. This is why sensible Japanese eschew Buddhism for weddings, preferring Christian or, more often, Shinto ceremonies, but console themselves about the deaths of their loved ones by going to Buddhist temples. Given the assumption of inevitable suffering throughout life implies—it must be a relief to die.

As a fully licensed road warrior, a professional who carries a pocketful of frequent flier and car rental cards, I spent my company’s accumulated wealth as I saw fit (while realizing a lot of my expenses might not ever be reimbursed) when I was a CEO.  Now, still a road warrior, but traveling for business mostly on my own account, I depart a Shinto and come home a Buddhist.

A deep sense of relief infuses my body as it enters a cab to Dulles or Logan or Fiumicino airports for the beginning of its next immersion into life as an aerospace missionary. Cut from the umbilical of the clothes in my closet, the toilet articles in my bathroom, and the electronic gadgetry on my writing desk (which has no room for writing covered as it is by equipment, wires, and the power supplies and connectors necessary to make them all cooperate), I am my own universe.

I will survive in nature as a component within the air transportation system. I’ll sleep, not under the stars next to a whitewater river with rafts dragged on shore for the evening and embers slowly dying in a campfire, and not even in a building, but rather—inside giant machines, their turbine engines whining and their seat belt signs turning ever on and off, always accompanied by a Pavlovian bell that induces even a soundly sleeping soul to unconsciously check the long-ago-fastened metal buckles.

Life becomes simpler. Whatever I don’t have, I’ll live without or buy or improvise. This simple life has in fact itself been purchased by contracts that are large compared with my actual salary, or by invitations to be that special speaker who comes right after the keynote speaker, that old guy whom they bring in to say something intelligent. Combined with the nth round-the-world airline ticket, 40 nights in overpriced hotels, several weeks of rental cars, Shinkansen tickets, and elegant meals with inelegant people—within the sea of that banality, a pearl of divinity must exist. Somewhere.

Whatever prep work I didn’t do will get done in a plane, a taxi, or a waiting room. Two shirts and two pairs of pants yield only four possible sartorial combinations. Dressing simply, I’ll live among the natural elements and commune with their spirits, for instance the aroma of Jet-A (aka jet fuel fumes). I won’t be alone; Eurodiesel exhaust mixed with a 6:00 a.m. cold mist will waft through the Parisian streets and alleys and red-light district and path along the Seine with me. I’ll experience life with them, and through them.

When I try to get the defroster to work, the rented red Chevy Cavalier sprays tobacco ashes on me. But it doesn’t matter. Life wasn’t designed to be comfortable. It was designed to pique the senses and test the mind, and that is what nature will do for me and to me for the next one, two, three, four, five, six, ten weeks.

Buddhists love life. They love it through its discomforts, its disappointments, its raw bitterness. The life of the itinerant traveler, lugging laptop, palm top, batteries, cell phones, cigarette chargers, wall charger, thumb drives, brochures, business cards, ear plugs, wallet, passport, tickets, books, magazines, pens and pencils, Ray-Bans, and maybe an emergency ration of Diet 7-Up, all in the eternal blue JanSport backpack, wasn’t built for comfort, or convenience, or sleep maintenance, or great eating, or perfect biking and swimming opportunities.

That life deprives you of those things whenever it can. At home we do not give thanks for an electrical outlet. But the occasional rate AC plug next to an unoccupied seat near the gate of my next flight is the day’s gift, my friend, my soulmate. A yogurt stand with sugar-free walnut flavor is my kill. An empty middle seat is my bed at night.

The struggle against the entropy of the universe seen at an average sustained speed of 60 mph, 24/7, maintained for weeks, with the occasional brilliant victory addict me. Cable TV, which I don’t have at home (actually, I don’t have any TV at home), catalyzes the metamorphosis from Shinto to Buddhist: tuning in to CNN Sports Summary on Flamingo Hotel cable in Solna, just north of Stockholm, watching that one golfer on that one hole, where she sinks the 58-foot putt, is meaningless if you haven’t watched all her missed gimmes. The tie-breaking homer in the bottom of the 13th is just another sailing baseball if you haven’t lived the inning-after-inning-after-inning monotony of a 1:1 deadlock through a steady Pittsburgh drizzle.

That’s the lure of travel, not the friendship of the carpet upon which I sit because the power plug isn’t near a seat by my gate at the airport. The white-hot heat of success is thermodynamically powerful only when coupled with the cold dimness of its frustrations, a few, in fact 90119, of which I’ve collected.

A few preliminary examples: an 80°F, 25m, non-turbulent pool with marked but empty lanes that’ll be open for the next 75 minutes is an everyday occurrence for me in Rhode Island. But I score that victory in Colombo, or Graz, or Kuala Lumpur, and it’s an event worthy of a nine-dollar phone call home. Hey! I swam 60 beautiful minutes in a real pool! The girlfriend, or my dad, thinks: For this he flew 10,000 km and disappeared for a month?

I plan to convene a road veteran’s conference for the purpose of canonizing and agreeing on the numbering of these inconveniences that create the freezing, entropyless cosmic background of travel against which our daily lives are pitted. Then, when we brush past each other in the stairwell of the 16-story hotel whose elevators, all two of them, kicked a breaker and died during the 8:00 a.m. rush to check out, we won’t need to say any more than “18? 15 for me yesterday — in Sydney can you believe it?” And we’ll nod and trudge ever downward.

In the next few weeks I’ll present all 119 of these little inconveniences. Perhaps you’ve encountered the same or similar ones. Maybe your red Chevy Cavalier was a Toyota something-or-other, or a fellow traveler was saturating your aisle with ear spray from open-style headphones in economy, not plus,instead of changing their kid’s diaper in public.

If you’ve had unique and discomfiting travel experiences you’d like to share—and that have helped you toward a Buddhist appreciation of travel as inevitable suffering, from which you have returned a better, wiser person—feel free to share.

Namaste!

Rick Fleeter

author, Travels of a Thermodynamicist


Applause, please

July 26, 2010

From the “turning Italian” department.

After 3 hours of weather delays we did get off the ground.  For me it was only an hour delay, since I (barely) got a seat on the 2 hour earlier flight.  Filled of course.  I was squeezed between two real men.  A short stocky Hispanic guy, Peruvian look – straight Dutch Boy hair, dark skin the color of adobe, no neck, a round head jutting from the neck of a soccer shirt apparently veteran of many hours on the field of battle without seeing the inside of a washing machine.  Cell phone the size of a Big Mac held in his hand the whole flight, doing nothing but looking straight ahead, his beard evidencing at least a week of not noticing that yes, it grows.
And a younger black guy who was in basketball garb over a basketball build, with the ipod welded to ears permanently, white white against black black, retro afro hair.    Men act like only women worry style.  Style, like management, like politics, is not a choice of yes or no, but of quality.  Men included.
Nobody said a word nor exchanged a glance – they were men as bears, hibernating, except for the word “kewl” spoken by the black guy, accompanied by the smoothest of hand gestures when I signaled I’d like the seat between them.  And men say women are a mystery.
We eventually land in Providence.  In Italy, there would be applause.  If a plane lands, you applaud.  Why?   I used to think it was naïvete – the crew flying the plane can’t hear nor see it behind the cockpit door.  So why bother?  Is it so amazing a plane lands?  Flying is not exactly new.  Maybe in italy it is new – they are sort of new to the jet set, maybe because it’s not as wealthy a country as the U.S. and many people are just on their very first flight?
Yesterday we Anglos sat in stone silence when we landed.  No applause, no smiles, no exchange of even a glance among strangers sharing an experience.  Silence.
It bothered me.  After all, when you land, you have arrived where you want to.  You spent the money, you invested the day, the aggravation, the energy of making reservations, getting packed and to the airport on time.  We all shared that – every one of us bought a ticket, made plans, packed a suitcase, said goodbye, got the airport on time, waited in line after line, stood at gates with all the uncomfortable  seats taken, with babies and moms carrying them, with parents trying to keep kids entertained, with adults sprawled on the floor.  We spent $4 for a pint of water.  And after all that…  Here you are!  Here we are – 176 of us made it to Rhode Island this evening.
Wow!  Home.  Or to visit friends.  Or someplace new and strange to start whatever voyage – to a conference or an interview or work in a remote location.  Whatever doesn’t matter.  And you know what – we all fear flying, traveling.  Sometimes people die that way.  Everybody knows there’s a small but non zero risk in travel.  We are here!
It’s emotional, to land.  Especially yesterday.  We made it through the storms, the trees down on the Beltway, the standing room only airport, the overcrowded planes.  The sun was setting and we were (in my case) home.  But these Anglos, expressionless, cool, hands in pockets, waiting for something better, something to really impress them.  They need a much, much better reason to celebrate, to risk embarrassment at exposing an emotion.  Maybe winning the lottery is necessary to risk smiling and admitting something nice has happened.
When Dustin Hoffman in Wagging The Dog said “those are real tears”, he was saying “hey guys, here’s that rare example – an actual emotion being displayed”.  That line would not work in Pescara or Padua.   Finding an Anglo expressing an emotion, it’s  like finding a vein of silver in a remote patch of Nevada high desert.  Because with Anglos, to express an emotion maybe you have to get married or die.  Otherwise, better not to seem too easily moved.
Land?  I have landed before, don’t you know.  Maybe if it’s the moon, I’ll bother to look out the window.  Mars, a smile mayhaps.  Providence?  I’ll pass on that emotion thing.
So is it the Italians who aren’t getting it, are naïve to what travel is, who have the strange habit of expressing an emotion?  They reach home after flying across an ocean, a continent and a sea to return  from New York on that discount seat on the  American Airlines nonstop and what do they say to their families? “You know what was really strange?   Nobody applauded”.

Sept. 17: Life V2.0 begins

December 20, 2009

My neighborhood, working morning, light rain, cobblestones (photo Brian Pankhurst)

Yesterday I walked into my apartment here in Rome and found everything as it was when I left at 7:45 AM on Sunday, June 7, thinking I would be back in three hours to run over to the grocery store to pick up my vegetables for lunch.  It was spooky.  it reminded me that we do not know what life has in store for us – an accident, a phone call from a physician or a family member – what we take as routine can end in literally the blink of an eye.  Forever.   I have had a crash course in reality.  Hyperreality.  Haven’t we all taken that course by this time in life.

This morning waking up as I always have in the dark to work by the light of my lava lamp, it was surreal.  I did go through that blink of the eye life changing event, and yet 102 days later, here I am, a little beat up, scarred slightly, sore a lot, but doing it again.  I was saved, I have no idea why or how, and reinserted in a life I loved and lost and now can love again.  Not in the same way – it is the same in the settings, in the homework and obligations, in the bus and metro and pool and Elite grocery store (one of those ok but not great urban chains of small overpriced grocery stores New Yorkers know well) – it can not be the same, and I don’t want it to be the same because I don’t want to be that naïve.
OK, back to work and then the pool, then italian class and the university and Mario’s.  I will spend a fortune on cabs today – I am too sore from the trip to deal with any walking other than into the metro station or whatever.  But sore is not a bad thing – I am like in training for an ironman and yesterday was a hard day.  I will take a few easy ones.

fuso orario

December 20, 2009
Here’s your italian lesson for today, fuso orario.
Fuso orario – literally, the fusing together of clocks and calendars.  Which is what time zones are – a way of linking disparate time systems around the world.  It reflects an old world view when everybody ran their own clocks and there was no particular system of conversion.  The fuso orario refers to what at the time was a radical idea – a system accepted worldwide whereby everyone agrees to live in and respect the same time keeping, of a particular zone, enabling us to easily calculate times anyplace -. like we do linking dollars to pounds to euros.  There is a fusion, a linking, of time all over the world.
When I first had to memorize fuso orario, my brain resented it.  Why not just say Zona Tempo or Zona Orario like the rest of the world?  But Fuso Orario has something time zone doesn’t – it has history.  It reminds us that it wasn’t always so, that indianapolis and chicago and columbus and cleveland had at one time clocks separated by 10 minues, by 17 minutes, by an hour and 20 minutes, whatever.  Every little town had its independent time keeping system, and somehow, it is sort of a miracle to see all humanity agree to anything, the whole world of millions of independent clocks, got fused down to 24 zones, and really one universal system – the fusion of timekeeping – the fuso orario.
When I first started our project in Kuala Lumpur, I guess in the mid ’90s, they had their own ancient time zone.  it was 30 minutes different from what should have been their time zone according to the Fuso Orario Mondiale.  At the space agency they have an enormous sun dial.  Since the sun shines almost always there (except at night and the occasional afternoon thunderstorm) a sun dial is pretty useful.  It was huge and built of rock, solid and impressive.  Unfortunately, in that time they finally accepted the Fuso Orario – they became fused to the world system, and shifted their clocks for the country by 30 minutes to be in synch.  Now that sundial is the only clock in Malaysia that keeps the old time, and while at first a lot of talk was about somehow moving it to synch, now it is a little bit of history, an anachronism from when the world was not linked and every independent group of people could have whatever time they liked and without instant communications, it didn’t matter.

bike meets car v4.0

June 20, 2009

If you noticed my disappearance from most of the known world, it is because a few minutes after leaving my apartment in Rome to meet some other cyclists for the usual Sunday AM giro on June 7, I was hit from behind by a Fiat.  As happened in 2002, when I was similarly hit by a car while riding a very similar Carbon Colnago bike on a similar Sunday morning, the bike was destroyed and I did my best to share the pain. This time I ended up with long fractures of both the left and right femur, and the head of the right femur was completely separated from the rest of the bone.   I was spatula-ed from the pavement by an ambulance, and to make a long story short, ended up 18 hours later in my 3rd hospital, a beautiful place called The European Hospital.  Thanks to Tom and several friends here with medical contacts, a team of three surgeons reconstructed me on Monday night, and I woke up Tuesday morning with many segments of tubing leading from various regions of my body, and oxygen trickling into my nose, flat on my back staring at the ceiling.  I have a philosophy that any day I wake up with no tubes connecting me or other hardware attached to my body, is a good day.  Tuesday gave the affirmation of the converse of that principle.

 

The result of 7 hours of surgery, 4 units of blood and 35 mg of morphine, besides a truly miserable experience first recovering from anesthetic, was some hardware in both legs, plates and screws, titanium left, steel right presumably so one day I can do a true side by side comparison, and lots of staples to hold the insides in and outsides out.  Leave us not forget long stretches of dressing covered in longer stretches of surgical tape, the removal of which every other AM for cleaning is definitely a sufficient substitute for any espresso I’ve had here.  

 

The people who took care of me there were just outstanding, without exception, working my diet and fluids and moving and cleaning me, it’s quite an experience being totally dependent on medical people to do any more than lift a glass from table to lips.  I don’t recommend, but I do appreciate the dedication of these people.  My surgeons were in to check on me daily, or more.  Amazingly, post surgery I have had zero pain medication – zero – just loads of nutrients to rebuild blood, fluids, antibiotics etc.   My only pain is trying to get back moving – otherwise I’m what you would call resting comfortably.  Though resting is not my favorite activity, it beats resting uncomfortably. 

 

My energy level is well approximated by the number zero, and I was reluctant to even log on.  i hope you’ll understand that if you send me an email, I will definitely read and appreciate it, but unlikely I will reply to it.  My focus is on doing what they want me to do, and being stationary with the computer on my lap is not going to be possible – or desirable anyway.  When not trying to move, or eat, I’m mostly asleep.  But I did want to at least get the news out and assure everyone that my passport to remain on planet earth has yet to be revoked, though the authorities are wondering how many ways I’m going to test their patience.  

 

Gradually during the 9 days all my lines came out, and  I was ambulanced to The American Hospital in Rome (you really have not fully experienced driving here without that ride), which has a specialty in rehab, where I will be for a few weeks until I can fly back to RI.  Like the European Hospital, and my health club here ‘all around sport’, the English ends at the stationary… it has caché.

 

Today is about my 12th post crash and I feel pretty much myself as one can given I spend all day on my back, excepting two hours practising sitting in a chair, which at the moment is a big deal to do, but also progress.  Monday I’ll be in the therapy pool, starting to walk without weight on the legs, and they also take me to the gym in the hospital to enjoy more creative torture than available in bed.  American Hospital is bigger and more bureaucratic, but has all the cool rehab facilities, and also an excellent place to be if you have to be somewhere like this.  

 

Looking forward, I am told I’ll be at home with live-in 24/7 help in July, and walking by end of August, maybe sooner.  Given my quick recover to date, I am planning on the optimistic side, but a few days or weeks one way or the other is what it is.  The body will be ready for the next thing when it’s ready.   

 

On a philosophical note, It’s a big shift in a few hours to go from looking forward to some free time after tough teaching stints at Brown and La Sapienza, plus my teaching and consulting at ASI, to hoping to be recovered enough to resume it all end of September.  But overall I am grateful for many things – foremost that I am alive and will recover 100%.  I have rolled these dice maybe too many times and nobody has to tell me what can happen to a cyclist hit by a car – an experience I have now had 4 times in the past 20 years.  The fact that I have ‘only’ orthopaedic injuries I consider amazing.   If you don’t think you need to wear a helmet, I have some remaining pieces of mine you might wish to take a look at.  Having had 4 serious bone breaks on the bike in the past 7 years, having spent almost 50% of that time in some form of recovery, I look at this outcome as a chance to make some necessary changes in my lifestyle and I’m committed to doing that.   I was only 5 weeks off crutches from my Feb. 1 bike crash when this happened, and that was my first thought lying on the pavement Sunday AM – how can I muster the attitude for another long campaign to recover.   Somehow I did / am, but I see my next challenge as making sure not to again face this kind of challenge.  Life is full of risks, one can’t exist in a bubble, but this is ridiculous.

 

Thanks for reading.  I hope I haven’t worried anyone – worked on this all day hoping to be clear that I’m comfortable, in good hands, and recovering, but without putting any makeup on the reportage.  

Ride Report: Matera to Rome

October 1, 2008

 

Arrived Rome a little after 5 pm last night having departed hotel in Pietravairano (mapquest that one) pre-dawn that AM – 6:45.  Man, was it cold, still in mountains, in twilight conditions first 15 minutes.  Takes a long time (9 AM) for sun to reach the road in the valley.  Another 41°F start – autumn comes early to the hill country of Italy – I should have remembered that when I picked my ride clothes.  I did make a vest out of a plastic pillow holder after freezing the first day to Potenza.  I hate that thing – stiff, makes noise in wind, but it blocks cold air.  On the last day, when things warmed up, I shredded it with gusto.  People make fun of us riders in Lycra, but consider the alternatives…

 

This was among the most difficult (not longest, but per mile) rides I’ve ever done.  2.5 days of steep climbs and descents – often times an hour or even two would go by with no opportunity to take even one hand off handlebars – up 10 degree and down 10 degree grades, narrow often bumpy roads.  I quite often wondered what I was doing out there (don’t we all ponder the easily answered questions and skip over the hard ones).  

Few street signs – every time I spotted a live human being (most live items being animals from snakes to sheep) – I checked directions.  Most people at least know where they are, and a few know where the next town on the map is.   There are no good routes through this part of the South other than one freeway, and so very few people attempt this route.  I only did it because the conference I attended was in Matera, and my next assignment in Rome.  Connecting dots I can handle.  But for a vacation I’d probably pick a route with better infrastructure.  I took enough food for the whole day, and supplemented only with water, mostly from bars –  the only commercial entity in the small villages I went through – otherwise begged from inhabitants.  If anyone is wondering about drinking tap water in rural southern Italy, I seem to have survived plenty of it.  Don’t know if I’d try that in some other countries, but the reason to drink bottled water in Europe has more to do with style than substance.  Not a route for an inexperienced cyclist.  The only food in these bars is potato chips and mints – not exactly good ride fuel!  But if necessary I suppose one could get by on chips…it didn’t come to that, thankfully.

 

Most of yesterday was on the straight rolling hills road back to Rome on the old main route – Casilina.  It is lined with war memorials.   And populated by plenty of traffic, including ridiculously huge trucks on a small road often with no shoulder.  I would call it unsafe, the only modifier being that Italian drivers are well adapted to cyclists, and there are many others commuting along the road.  Neither would I call riding within the city limits of Rome safe, but at least there are lots of bikes and scooters and drivers do not hate us as some do in US.  A long day with cars and trucks buzzing by riding the bumpy edge of the road.  The other three days were physically hard but peaceful and beautiful.  The last day was 120 miles grinding away – very Iron Man.  Even though I don’t look for that sort of thing, sometimes you have to do it temporarily.  “My mother told me there would be days like this” comes to mind.  But the bike was fine, I was fine, weather was nice, so no big deal.  The last 10 miles through Rome were an exciting compensation for the first 110.

 

Lots of work this week.  Cycling long distances is a hobby that can make you really appreciate a few days of presentations and meetings wearing wool or cotton that doesn’t squeeze your skin and wick anything.   Maybe by the weekend I might be in the mood for a few miles on the bike.  As Michael Phelps said after Beijing – I’m glad to not move for a day!  It’s hard to describe – it was a fantastic experience, but an exhausting one.  And when it’s over you’re both sad it’s over, and grateful you survived it – less in a danger sense, more that I wouldn’t have thought I’d have the physical ability to do what I did.  I look back and think – how did I do that (and why!). 🙂  I think I climbed in 3.5 days something like 30,000 feet.  Plus 375 miles riding.  And the first day I didn’t arrive until 8:30 pm – the last two hours on unlit, narrow, winding mountain roads, in the dark, to Potenza (the only town with an Albergo after departure from Matera).

 

Second day the choices for stopping points were again limited, and I ended up in Caposele, which is famous to us students of the history of salt as a place the Florentine salt cartel sourced the white gold.  Though in those days it was more often grey or black than white, containing plenty of other minerals which technology didn’t exist to separate except at great expense.  White salt was reserved the the priveleged few.  Crank that into your cost of living calculations – we’re all rich in salt.  Or maybe not – all those other minerals might be good for us…  700 feet up a 13% grade from Caposele is the shrine of Santo Girardo, with numerous hotels for pilgrims.  I joined those seeking cures, getting married, and shopping the street stalls for local chestnuts, Jesus figurines made of straw and other local curiosities including nougat, which is so sweet it’s hard to believe anyone over 6 years old actually consumes – but they do, of course.  There are several weddings per day up there, including 2 at my hotel during my 12 hours there.

 

Which brings me to my latest thermodynamic invention…  Which saved me from hypothermia over that cold night above 3500 feet in an unheated hotel room.

 

Many tourists come to Italy in hot summer, and learn about the Italian air conditioning – lobbies are frigid, rooms are tepid, and at night (coincidentally after everyone is checked in and no new prospects will enter the lobby), they save energy by shutting the A/C off completely.  

 

What tourists don’t experience so often is the other extreme – it’s 40 degrees outside, and the room is not much warmer.   The heat is on, explains the front desk.  But the radiatore is freddo – freddisimo – as only a hunk of unheated iron can be.  

 

Enter my thermodynamic invention.  The rubber band.  While void of heat or A/C, even the 1 star hotel bathroom (assuming you have a bathroom in your room) has a wall-mounted hair dryer.  No Italian will stay at a hotel without a hair dryer, apparently.  Armed with your stout rubber band ( I recommend carrying a few spares – they weigh just a gram or so each), you wrap it tightly around the spring loaded trigger grip on the hair dryer, and just leave the thing on.  Heats up the room, dries the cycling clothes you washed in the sink, and simultaneously masks the band and singing from the wedding going on at 2 AM down in the restaurant.  

 

The rubber band.  Don’t leave home without it.

 

Did I mention that for extra hero / idiot points, I made this ride with an apparent stress fracture of a bone in my right foot?  I think that’s why cycling shoes use Velcro – so you can widen them to accommodate swollen feet.   I expected it to be much worse after the abuse of the last 4 days.  But in fact it’s better – maybe only by contrast… 

 

With this ride I’ve managed to stitch together about 1200 miles of long distance cycling this “summer” – in quotes since I don’t consider riding in 40°F weather summer – wimp that I am.  I admit returning to a winter season of day rides and commuting, where you actually know where you’ll be at sunset (home) and don’t have to lug a day’s supply of hazlenuts and stop every 10 km to ask directions, scrutinize a map, your eyes tear blurred, or seek water refill sounds pretty good right now.  

It bothers me that I don’t read enough.  Nancy would consume a huge tome or two per week – real intellectual stuff – while I read mostly aerospace trade, ham radio and cycling magazines.  But my excuse is she read very few maps, if any.  Reading maps is like talking with nature – you have to bring a lot to it – isn’t that intellect at work – or at least fantasy.   By February I’ll be ordering my  ration of maps from Barnes & Noble and plotting next summer’s rides.  I had thought about a mid-winter ride this year, maybe RI to Florida or NYC, but this one might almost count.  I plan to rethink that from my heated – without use of any rubber bands – house in RI when I’m back next month.

An Admission

August 24, 2008

As the guy who wrote the book on travel as life, I am compelled to blog for the sake of truth:  life, travel or otherwise, is not always pretty.  But would we want it any other way?  Heaven on earth might not be worth living.  If Homeland Security, the airlines, rental car companies and hotel chains were not the disfunctional, homogeneous bureaucracies we love to hate, would we have to create some equally frustrating substitute?  

 

Arriving in San Francisco after midnight, anticipating an early start to Friday’s meetings, and three good hours remaining tonight to work the luggage and car rental maze, drive down the Peninsula, check in and get to bed, I lack the energy to fish out my Zen Nano MP3 player, carefully loaded though it may be with thoughtful and intellectually engaging files awaiting some spare time to get a listen.  I read last Sunday’s NY Times on the driver-less tram as it jerks through various terminals, that mysterious East Parking Lot (is there a West?) and the BART terminal.  No one ever seems to get on or off at these stops – we veterans of the business beat soldier on toward the car rental terminus.  Having produced the requisite credit card and driver’s license, I settle into my wheels for the next few days – a bright copper Chevy LHR with the most confusing radio since BMW’s i-drive.  I manage to find a late night AM talk show, and while the exits tick off my progress down the 101 Freeway, I am assaulted once again by the oft repeated, never verified theory that a frog sitting in a pot of slowly warming water will not jump out, and not realizing how hot it’s becoming, will eventually be boiled to death.

 

The chauvinism of this mythology strikes me since the implication is that a superior species – a human – would get out of the warming bath.  Whereas the idiotic (and hence soul-less and thus worthy not of protection, but rather only of being sauteed carefully in unsalted butter and garlic over a gas flame in the kitchen of a French restaurant), would be so easily unable to discern gradual change.  I wonder – will people save their environment before we ruin it?  Will we transition away from fossil fuel before we overheat the climate or create ever larger, and possibly less confinable, wars between great nations?  Will people ever admit that more people may not forever and always be  better than fewer before our planet can no longer support our tens of billions?  In my own little econiche, will my university be better when 20 students apply for each admissions slot?  30?  100?  Will people be smarter if standardized test classes become available for 9, 8, 6, 3 year olds?  If people travel back to the moon, to Mars, to Io, if we spend enough money on the pursuit of that illusive horizon, will we value our lives or our planet any more?  

 

Maybe the frog’s clock runs faster than ours, so a ten minute heating cycle from warm to boiling is to him, the way a century’s heating cycle of our planet is, to the overnight talk show, too long to raise any immediate concern.  

 

Gas prices – isn’t it our American Right to drive whatever car we want to afford?  And prices are down – to $3.99 here in the Bay Area.  So the difference between Man and Frog – a frog can’t extrapolate a line, we can’t filter a noisy signal and see that despite ups and down, gas on average doubles in price something like every 10 years.  Since sunny yesterday was warmer than rainy today, even though it’s April, winter must be coming on…  

 

These are the dark thoughts that haunt the sleep deprived travel addict.  We survive having learned the fundamental lesson of lousy hotel rooms – they all look better in the morning especially once the suitcase is dragged back out over the door jam, and you can leave that little prison forever.  And enter a new one tonight.  

 

 

As my 11th flight of this adventure’s itinerary landed at Providence today, I thought – home after how many days?  I asked the guy on my right “what day is this?”.  21st, he said and I thought, of what month?  I figured that out completely on my own – remembering that if it were September, I’d be leaving for a few weeks in Italy and UK, and that before I left, I told myself I had a full month between trips (unless the unexpected comes up, which it usually does) – ergo it must be August.   OK, when did I leave?  I remembered the Narragansett Bay Swim – that was in July, when the Ocean has warmed a little, but the Jellyfish haven’t yet made their debut.  So I probably left in July, and now it’s August   Summertime, but who could tell?  In the world of airlines and rental cars, air conditioned hotel rooms with windows welded shut, hushed conference rooms for anechoic telecons and enough niggling little time changes that the diurnal cycle becomes a tease – if not a mean joke – all one can really discern with certainty is the appearance and disappearance of snow, if north of about DC, since it’s pretty visible from an airport shuttle even at 1 AM.  Watch out for tree leaves, so unreliable in the West, high country, or piney forests.  And the proclivity of business men for short sleeves and college students for shorts year ‘round doesn’t help either.  Not to mention exhibition seasons which allow football to start in June, and baseball to start in March.  Of course I have only thermodynamicists to blame for Hockey running 11 months a year.  And even more worthy of our condemnation, that inane cliché “frozen floor”.

 

I left home in Rhode Island, after a month spent cleaning up and moving in after 9 months of construction work, for a week in my other home – in Virginia, itself in the midst of a small avalanche of transfiguration.  Not of its soul maybe, but of constitution.  Though laudably unselfish, sacrificing itself to cushion the fall of a couple of major league trees previously resident in my neighbor’s yard, during a storm – I think that would have been in May – that sign of solidarity among wood products triggered a new round of insurance and care giver calls – this time not in the medical realm, but in drywall, shingles, zoning approvals, plumbing, painting, cabinetry and cleaning.  Rebuilding a part of your house is like throwing out a disk in your back – your back hurts, but for some reason soon so does your arm, and your leg, and your neck.   And eventually your Visa card is begging for mercy.

 

Three days before my flight to Utah I gave the construction crew which had assembled on the main floor of my house a scaffolding that could have painted the ceilings of a dozen Sistine Chapels, a forced vacation.  Violating, I admit, my own rule never to grumble about work getting done, and definitely never to punctuate it.  I needed to find my stuff under all those tarps.  Which I did – though everything was the color of sheet rock filings But I did learn how to clean the filter of my Dust Buster™, itself busted by a surfeit of dust.  Hey, who’s the buster and who’s the busted around here anyway?  That last letter ‘R’ should be a ‘D’.

 

Maybe it’s the homogeneity of airports – the same geometric patterns of diet and regular Coke and non-diet Sprite and neat little whole juice mugs (what, exactly, is whole juice anyway?  My theory is now that we’re all old and think we can’t metabolize milk, we try to please our mental models of our mothers by drinking anything that has the prefix whole applied to it), plus the same brand of bottled water, gleaming from their exposed vertical coolers, the same brand and selections of nuts, bananas, apples, the same Starbucks franchises, that eventually makes your soul long for something that doesn’t come inside the safety of shrink wrap?  I used to think dressing and undressing four times a day to accommodate the wake up, AM bike ride, evening commute home and then swim routine was a little bothersome.  But my X/C ruggedized Adidas are worn out not from granite, not from long miles of road work early before the day’s first meetings, but from don and doff routines mandated by our Homeland Security bureaucracy.  Nike will soon bring out shoes with reinforced heel cups, not to prevent blisters, but to resist breakdown from sliding them on and off for x-ray scanning.  Hundreds of millions of passengers sentenced to a lifetime of de-shoing and re-shoeing.  Gotta be a market in there someplace.

 

  I am an inmate of the world’s largest prison system – the American Airport.  You can leave, but then you can’t travel – so you can’t leave unless you don’t leave, and then only if you go back through the line.  The Prisoner and Kafka’s Joseph K. have nothing on me.  I don’t even have a number, except my confirmation number du jour, which is only mine for one check in.  Then where does it go?  Every day I scramble to find a computer and printer to confirm to my airline that the ticket I paid for I’m definitely going to use – otherwise they’ll sell it again.  I type in that number – and it tells me I’m not recognized.  I take comfort in my anonymity.

 

 I have no right to complain.  In almost a month of taxis, trains, planes, rental cars, hotel rooms, conferences, meetings, dinners, breakfasts, lunches, in- and off-airport meetings, family reunions, and hotel room Wifi connections, everything planned to happen, did happen, more or less on time.  My computer didn’t crash, neither did any of my planes or taxis, and my luggage even arrived on the same flight as my body.  On time, every time.  I feel I’m being set up for a massive fall.  By email today in a concourse of Philadelphia airport (a city I have never been to excepting the Southwest Terminal and on I-95 when I missed the NJ Turnpike Exit), I learned that even my shipments to Matera, Italy, made in preparation for next month’s voyage had arrived on time in good shape.  

 

Lucky in travel, unlucky in?  Murphy, the 2nd Law and I know one thing – the universe is not symmetric.  Hey, my waist is no longer symmetric.  Like the earth, it has been deformed by a weak but constant force.  In the case of earth, it’s centripetal acceleration from its own rotation.  At least that deformation is to 2nd order symmetric.  My 3.4 oz cell phone isn’t.  My belts’ scars tell the tale.  As likely will my minutes for this month.

 

Home is where you don’t pay $9 and 11¢ for a bag of almonds and a roll of mints you don’t even like.  And then get handed 89 cents in change and a receipt, as if one day you’ll go to heaven and get a better berth if you carefully documented your completely over the top expenses.  

 

My best hotel room was an efficiency at a suites hotel – about 250 square feet of luxury that included a knife, fork and spoon in a drawer, a microwave, small refrig with ice maker and, wowie, a stove top and two pieces of cheap Revere-ware, one of which made a pretty decent top for the other one, as they  both lacked that element of the ensemble.  I paid $1600 for a little under a week there – which translates to the payment on a passable McMansion with a small pool.  Without the burden of tax deductions, appreciation, or the ability to leave your stuff there for the nights you have to be somewhere else.    Have you ever wanted to own a Maserati?  You could – for much less money per day than Hertz charged me to rent a Hyundai in Chicago and drop it in Columbus.

 

But my suites hotel did maintain, for my comfort and safety, plenty of under 6 year old kids to keep the pool lively, and all the coffee I want, 24 / 7, which in my case is… none.  Clearly I am not succeeding in exploiting all the bennies of travel.  In fact, I’m beginning to loathe them.  I have a couple hundred thousand frequent flier miles.  I refuse to think about them.  I can buy $6000 worth of new GM card thanks to my Visa affinity card (I don’t like to think about the concept of my having an affinity with GM either).  Unfortunately I like my old VW.  I have exec points at Hilton – if I knew which hotels were Hiltons (or cared) or what those points would buy me – probably admission to the club floor with a full compliment of foods which in real life I would never touch, proto-edibles accompanied by widescreen CNN and ESPN, which for some reason just remind me that I’d rather be anywhere than in front of any television, regardless of screen dimension or cable channel selection.

 

I traded Richard, the taxi driver, $100 for my suitcase and the last receipt of this trip, wheeled my mortally wounded $370 (not reimbursable) Swiss Army suitcase up my handicap ramp, and greeted Lulu, my hospice-trained cat.  Leaving everything in the middle of the living room, I rolled up my wetsuit into my backpack, traded khakis for a bathing suit, and walked to Charlestown Beach.  The guards were still on their perches – so it wasn’t yet 5 pm and the ocean thereby safe for human visitation, plus or minus the odd jellyfishes.

 

Having gotten sequentially very wet, somewhat dry and thoroughly sandy, I shuffled back toward my house, marveling at having my feet in contact with earth, sand and pebbles.  Asphalt, in the rare spots we have any, even felt great.  Say of Deepak Chopra what you will, the man understands the value of curling your feet in sand.  The seasons have changed – the air is clearer, crisper, cooler.  I can see Block Island, hidden in mid-summer, by the hazy heavy Atlantic summer humidity.  The license plates are different, they change with the vacation schedules of nearby states and come in waves – New Hampshire, Ontario, Connecticut. the Cicadas are singing, the sun is too low and farther South.  

 

It’s not that obvious what is a good trip and what is a bad one.  Is a good bike ride one with sunny warm weather and no breakdowns?  Or do we get a lot more style points riding 500 miles in the rain the last hundred minus two rear spokes and a front deraillieur?  In fact, the miles are no easier wet or dry – just the clothing changes.  And if it rains, the world thinks your really a tough dude.  If your luggage is lost 8 times, your flights leave you stranded in maybe Utica and Novosibirsk, and you survive a non-poisonous snake bite exiting a cab in Tegucigalpa, you may in fact have a much better trip, get away with giving a lecture in less than business formal attire but get a free pass, and earn a few attaboys back in the home office.  People find you much more entertaining opening your talk with tales of travel disasters – they are a shared experience of our species.

 

Frogs don’t take vacations – good or bad.  They learn change doesn’t exist.   Change is inbred to the traveler.  Every trip we return forced to relearn, to reexamine our surroundings.  We take its temperature, measure its light, scan its new population, stroke its complexion.  Because we’re smarter than frogs?  Or maybe we just get around more.  

Helicopter Rescue

August 15, 2008

Besides avoiding death, being plucked from the side of a rock face in darkness at 11,700 feet altitude by a Utah Highway Patrol jet helicopter yields several benefits.   Among them it is a comfort to know that not only aerospace engineering, company management and university teaching have been infiltrated by bureaucracy.  In addition to the modest $1,190 bill for helicopter flight time (at $700/hour) and $240 for crew (pilot plus the guy who grabs your arm helping you leap off your suddenly much more appealing than it was before help was in the offing rock perch and onto the landing skid outside the polycarbonate bubble), you also find an entry for “incident management”, a disembodied bureaucratic construct which nonetheless gets paid as much as the military trained pilot with 40 years rotary aircraft experience and his search and rescue specialist crew.  

 

But as my Dad wisely points out, $1870 I could have easily spent just getting ambulanced and admitted to the Park City Emergency Room and maybe getting a blood test before the bill grew another 0 left of the decimal point with MRI, ER Docs and Nurses, not even counting the luxuries attendant to overnighting on the med-surg floor under those 24/7 florescent grow-lamps.  And my bill gaining yet another order of magnitude with surgery and follow up therapy and medical visits.   In other words, a rescue as expensive as a week’s cycling vacation in the Alps may have saved the equivalent of a retirement bungalow in the Ozarks.  Not counting the months of unproductive time spent in medical care and then in physical therapy, taking drugs and hurting.  Or worse.

 

Outside of existential issues, how was the hike?  Rocky.  From about the time we reached the bouldered semi-summit for lunch, way ahead of schedule despite climbing a lot of rock with no climbing gear, dressed in T-shirts and running shoes, and started down various nearly vertical walls and chimneys, I cycled through all the modes.  First there was Denying that it was going to be as bad as it in fact was, followed by Bargaining:  if I ever got off this mountain I’d stick to safer endeavors – like cycling to Tyson’s II on the shoulder of Route 7 with cars zooming past at 55 mph, or maybe cliff diving in Monterey.  I toyed with Anger for a while – but getting mad at the only guy who has ever been there before (though it turned out the guide never had been there before – so just as Seinfeld once pondered the definition of “reservation” I began to ponder the definition of “Guide”) seemed counter to my overarching survival goal.  Finally I reached Acceptance – that this is a ridiculous situation but unlike some situations this one is completely cure-able if we made the right decisions.  Which were to give it the best try we could, and then to bail if all else failed.  

 

While the guide helped talk my left foot and then my right foot down long steps onto toe-width slivers of semi-horizontal rock, me facing the wall and gripping the cracks like they teach at Yosemite, I distracted myself thinking about my recent past.  I calculated that in the last 12 years, I’d spent 10% of my time in wheelchairs, casts, hospital beds and crutches – recovering from bone breaks – 3 clavicles, 2 ankles, one shoulder, several ribs and almost all the bones in one foot.  Another 10% of those years I had spent caring for Nancy.  An AeroAstro friend is just now able to travel – on crutches – months after breaking his leg climbing, and a cycling friend has a chance to go home to a life of 24/7 care in a few weeks following 3 months in the hospital, much of it unconscious, due to a head injury.   He may never be able to work or recover his personality. Then I thought about a passage in one of the library full of death and dying books I studied to help cope with Nancy’s care.  The author pointed out how hard people work, the lengths they go to, the money they will spend – to save their life or that of a loved one.  The same person will put the whole enterprise at risk to save a few seconds at a red light, or to have a little fun on a weekend, or to share a drink with friends out for dinner.

 

OK, not the sort of thoughts that motivate a person to muster maximum gusto, but few would number among my faults a tendency to spending too much time on the couch for lack of motivation to expend some energy.   

 

The Guide and I spent 4 hours sitting on our perch, wondering if we were going to spend the night wrapped in a couple of rain parkas trying to sleep in 20°F air next to the burnt-out remains of the microfire he built from the scant combustibles one can find on a rock outcropping.  He skittered around the rocks collecting what wood and boughs he could, but nothing that would do much more than briefly flare.  We saw the sun set across the valley, listened to the absolute quiet when thermal driven wind subsided, and watched the stars emerge in a purple sky.  We wondered what phase the moon would be in that night.  We watched headlights on the road miles away to see if any looked like they were looking for us.  We adapted – enjoying the strange uniqueness of our moment and the beauty of it.  I remembered the last time I slept outside – 26 summers ago rafting a California river.  Camping, I admitted, was not my passion.  

 

Then we heard the helicopter – but it didn’t come near us.  We thought he didn’t see our little fire and our jackets draped over rock piles.  In fact, our fire was blindingly bright in the pilot’s night vision goggles, and a few minutes later the big rotating blades were on top of us, blowing embers from the fire onto our skin and seconds later I was just a passenger in the back seat of a small aircraft making a short, comfortable flight to the meadow where the day had begun that morning.

 

Days later 10 minutes still don’t pass without my marveling that I am not in a hospital, that all my limbs are in one piece, though my hands and legs are scared from rock hugging.  This year I watched a person gradually die, and I know what each of us really wants from life – the ability to enjoy it.  The rest, our quest for fun, for experiences, for salaries, for a good watermelon, for a better fitting cycling jersey, for the right stock buys, for all the things we tell ourselves matter enough to trade our time, maybe all of our time, for, as it says on my “Swimming Is Life” t-shirt, is just details.

 

  

 

 

  

Narragansett Bay Swim

July 27, 2008

 

 

If you’ve visited my swim page lately,

http://www.savebay.org/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=786&srcid=804&frsid=937

you’ll see we raised $612 for the Narragansett Bay.  I have no idea how much the Bay earns on its own, but I do think it lives frugally.  You don’t see the Bay at the mall, in designer bike shops, or taking advantage of the summer special at Ruth’s Christ, whatever that is.  So I’m guessing for a Bay, $612 is a lot of money, even with the weak dollar.

 

Swimming across it was a lot of fun and conditions were excellent.  Which brings me to the other reason I think the Bay really appreciated the money.  She coordinated with the Sky to provide perfect blue cloudless conditions, and the Atmosphere, which kept relatively calm, resulting in at most a light chop.

 

There were about 600 swimmers, about a third like me going, in the lingua franca of short sellers, naked, meaning in our case without an accompanying kayak.  Not meaning without plenty of neoprene, though there were a few hearty New Englanders in just a Speedo.  I was impressed but not tempted.  The swim begins at the Naval War College so we had the benefit of a couple of Naval helicopters watching over us, naval ships keeping the big barges and other boats out of our stretch of water for the 2 hour window, plus an accompaniment of coast guard boats.  My only real worry was bumping into a boat.

 

Unlike the Ironman crowd I’m used to, the swimmers were mostly casual and friendly, not focused on their zones, and the experience was collegial and low key.  A few young Turks raced it and finished under 40 minutes.  I was (and am) somewhere in the (my) 50s, but who knows if official results will get posted.  And while like Ironman they provided orange slices and bananas at the finish, I’ve never been at an Ironman finish catered by the local Thai restaurant.  Amazingly, they gave away a lot of Pad Thai, even at 9 AM…

 

It was fun to escape the surly bonds of the shoreline and cross the deep shipping channel between the two main bridge supports.  And the conditions in the Bay near the bridge are much calmer than my practise venue in the water off Charlestown which is exposed to open ocean, the next land being Bermuda.

 

 I’ll definitely plan to do next year.  It will take me that long to psyche up for waking up early enough – the hardest part, displacing what’s usually the hardest part – stretching the wet suit on, followed closely by the 2nd hardest part of an open water swim – peeling the wet suit off.

 

Would I have woken up before 4 AM without the motivation of making good on all my sponsors’ overly generous donations?  I guess that depends pretty much on the biorhythmic mysteries of Lulu, my hospice cat (like me, she’s shamefully but gratefully underemployed these days).

 

 

 – Rick