Bob's Basement

Just a short, simple blog for Bob to share his thoughts.

Ride Notes for Seattle to Portland 2015

This past weekend I completed the two-day, 206-mile Seattle to Portland (STP) ride with my brother-in-law, Mike. This event is hosted annually by the Cascade Bicycle Club (CBC), and despite its daunting length, the ride sells out with 10,000 registered riders. Just to clarify, you read that correctly: every year ten thousand cyclists are willing to endure almost two-dozen hours of self-inflicted physical abuse for little more than bragging rights.

And this year, I was one of those masochists.

Prologue

I do not recall whether it was Mike or me who first suggested participating in this year's STP ride, but I am pretty sure that it quickly evolved into one of those "I'll do it if you'll do it" kind of conversations which guys often find themselves in. (And once the gauntlet has been thrown, you have to accept the challenge.) In any event, at some point back in 2014 we decided that riding in the STP seemed like a good [sic] idea, so I did some preliminary research about the ride on the CBC website. Once I had put together some rough details about the event, (e.g. when to register, where to stay, etc.), I sent everything to Mike. I let him know that the STP sells out quickly, so we both set calendar reminders to register on the day that registration opened.

When the starting day for STP registration arrived, Mike and I were both able to register for the event. Although in keeping with tradition, the STP was quickly sold out at 10,000 cyclists.

I received my official packet in the mail a few weeks before the ride, which brought a sense of reality the whole affair. My bib number for the ride was 8564, which was easy to remember, but it wasn't one of the numbers that I'd like to have. (e.g. I'd prefer to have something like 1024, 2112, 2600, 4096, 6502, 8088, etc. And no - I will not explain any of those numbers to you.)

My STP Packet! Bib Number 8564!

Once all of the event registration details were in place, I booked a hotel in Seattle for my stay before the ride, and Mike booked us a hotel in Centralia for the mid-point of the ride. After that, all that was left to do was buy a travel case for my bicycle, fly to Seattle to meet with Mike and his wife, Tesa, and prep our gear for the big day.

Packing my gear into our car for the ride to the airport.
Prepping my gear in my hotel room on the night before the ride.

Day One - Saturday

Mike and Tesa picked me up from my hotel shortly before 5:00am, and we headed across the 520 bridge in Seattle to the University of Washington where the ride was scheduled to begin. As we neared the parking lot for Husky Stadium, we could see that there was a long line to get to the drop-off location, so I suggested that we pull into the parking lot across the street in University Village; this turned out to be the best idea and saved us lots of time. Mike and I got the last of our things ready for the ride, said our goodbyes to Tesa, and we rode to the start line.

We dropped off our bags with one of the trucks that was headed to Centralia, and then we got in line for the next wave of cyclists. Note: In order to keep the hordes of cyclists from bunching up at the start, the event organizers combine riders into large groups and release them every few minutes; it was a very organized and efficient system. (One-day riders were allowed to start 30 minutes before two-day riders; this was also a great idea, because at a 16 mph pace that means that you could be eight miles away from the first wave two-day riders.) As we waited in the chilly morning air for our wave to start, Mike grabbed a quick cup of coffee, and we chatted for a few minutes until they announced that our group was ready to go.

Queuing at the Start Line.
Mike's last cup of coffee before the ride.

When they pulled back the tape around 6:00am, I made sure to start both my Garmin GPS and the GPS app which I had written for my Windows Phone that allows family members to track our progress, and then we took off amidst a sea of exuberant riders.

Waiting to start.

The first leg of our journey took us through a series of neighborhoods and parks which line the western shore of Lake Washington. The day was overcast, so we couldn't see any volcanoes, but it made the day cooler overall. There were a few small hills here and there as we started out, but nothing of significant difficulty.

Mike and I riding along Lake Washington.

Mike and I had set our goal for the morning to ride straight through to the 40-mile stop in Puyallup, so we quickly bypassed the first official stop at Seward Park around the 10-mile mark. (Actually, I couldn't believe that anyone was bothering to stop there; we were barely a half-hour into the ride.) I should mention that I pushed Mike's and my pace pretty hard at the beginning of the day for the first hour or so; I wanted to get past several groups of slow-moving cyclists, and that way we would be riding with more of the serious cyclists who would keep a better pace.

Route map for the first half of Day 1.

Shortly after we passed the 24-mile stop in Kent, Mike and I pulled up to a stoplight with a hundred or so riders. I unclipped my left foot so I could stand on it while waiting for the light to change. But as I came to a stop, I suddenly lost my balance to the right, and I couldn't unclip my right foot before I fell over. (Thankfully I was wearing a helmet when I hit the ground.) There were a half-dozen or so concerned cyclists surrounding me and asking if I was okay, but I chose to reply by jumping up and addressing the entire crowd of cyclists by exclaiming, "Nothing wounded but my pride, folks! Did anyone get that on video? I'd like to post it online later." This had the desired effect of assuring everyone that I was all right while allowing everyone the opportunity to laugh along with me at my own expense. However, this little mishap left a lovely, little series of gashes on the back of my left leg, and I got lots of comments about it for the rest of the day. (e.g. "Nice tattoo!", "Blood and grease make great lubricants!", etc.)

My first War Wound of the day.

A couple of hours into the ride we had passed the one-third point for the day, and I tried something kind of stupid: I pulled out my camera and held it backwards over my shoulder in order to snap a few photos of Mike. All of the photos came out pretty well, but just the same - I resolved not to try that again.

Mike looks pretty good after two hours of riding.

We arrived at the 40-mile stop in Puyallup around 8:30am, and it was nice to get off the bike for a few minutes and walk around. Mike and I refilled our water bottles, ate some chocolate cookies which were for sale, and we split a banana. (Bananas are a good source of potassium, which helps cut down on muscle cramps.) After a quick 10-minute break, we hopped back on our bikes and headed south towards Portland.

Taking a quick break in Puyallup.
Back on the road.

I knew from looking at the elevation profile before the ride that the largest hill climbs of the day were immediately ahead of us, and we hit the base of the first hill somewhere around the 44-mile point. As Mike and I made our way up the hill, Mike found a great opening amidst the mass of cyclists and attacked the hill with some serious gusto. Unfortunately for me, however, I managed to get myself boxed in by a group slow-moving cyclists. By the time that I managed to maneuver my way past them around the mid-point of the first hill it was too late; I had lost all of my initial momentum to launch a proper attack, so I was forced to slog my way up the first hill. I was still passing scores of cyclists, but I should have been moving a lot faster. (Darn. Darn. Darn.)

Once Mike and I were past the big hills for the day, (which comprised about four miles of the day's riding), it was fairly easy cycling for the next ten miles to the 57-mile stop at Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM), where lunch awaited us. (Note: There were some serious winds as we rode around the base's airfield; that was no fun.) We arrived around 10:00am, and we were pleased to discover that there was a fairly decent spread of food at this stop; I had a turkey sandwich, a Rice Krispy Treat, some fruit, another cookie, etc. But to be perfectly honest, by this point I was so ravenously hungry I could have eaten just about anything. After resting for 20 minutes, Mike and I refilled our water bottles and we got back on the road.

Hundreds of cyclists taking a lunch beak on JBLM.
Mike and I taking a quick photo before heading out.

As we weaved our way through the base housing, that brought back memories of being raised as a kid on various military bases, and also of my own years serving in the military and living on base. (Note: Those nostalgic reminiscences weren't necessarily happy memories for me, because base housing usually leaves a lot to be desired.) Anyway, many of the cyclists were giving high-fives to the MPs and other military personnel who were directing traffic for us. They were all enlisted personnel, so I'm sure that most of them were ordered to guard the roads for the cyclists, but nevertheless their efforts were greatly appreciated by all of the riders.

Route map for the second half of Day 1.

The route took us through some of the back woods on the base, and eventually we exited the base near the town of Roy, WA. Mike and I pressed on to McKenna, which was the next official stop at mile 72 for the day. We arrived around 11:40am, and we took a break to rest our weary legs for about 20 minutes. After we refilled our water bottles, it was time to head out.

Stopping briefly in McKenna

Shortly after we left the stop at McKenna, we faced a steep hill climb. Mike was ahead of me, so he didn't notice the following incident: I attempted to shift from my top chain ring to my small chain ring in order to climb a little easier, but my bicycle threw its chain off the small chain ring. I tried to backpedal out of the situation, but my chain became completely lodged and it wouldn't move. This predicament caused me to quickly lose all of my forward momentum in the middle of the hill, and in one of those moments which seems like an eternity at the time (but was really just milliseconds) I weighed my options. There was obviously nothing that I could do to dislodge my chain, but if I unclipped my left foot (which I always unclip) I would be leaning (or falling) into traffic. This risk was unacceptable, so with no other options available to me, I threw all of my weight to the right side of the road, where my bicycle and I tumbled over the concrete curb and into the grass and dirt which lined the road. This undoubtedly looked much worse than it felt; several approaching cyclists called out to me to see if I was okay. I assured everyone that I was fine, (although my fall had bruised my right arm and torn up my right knee a little). I explained that my bicycle had simply thrown its chain, and I encouraged everyone to continue pedaling uphill. After that, I spent the next 10 to 15 minutes attempting to untangle my bicycle chain. This proved to be a very difficult task; my chain was stuck fast, but I eventually succeeded - although my hands were filthy by the end. (It's a good thing that I had packed hand wipes with me.) Mike eventually noticed that I was nowhere to be seen, so he pulled off the road into an unofficial stop at mile 81 and sent me a text message to let me know that he was waiting for me. When I caught up with Mike, I explained what had happened, then we quickly got back on the road.

My second War Wound of the day.

The next segment of the ride Mike and I both agreed was the best part of the day's ride; we rode along the well-paved Yelm-Tenino Trail for 14 miles or so. First and foremost - there were no cars on the trail, which was a pleasant change. In addition, the trail was wide enough for Mike and I to ride together, and yet there was still enough room for other cyclists room to pass when necessary. This trail was also the smoothest part of the day's ride, which was greatly appreciated.

Riding along the Yelm-Tenino Trail.

Note: As we were riding along the trail, Mike and I saw the aftermath of a female cyclist who had suffered some sort of major catastrophe; medical personnel were treating her myriad of injuries, and I make no exaggeration by stating that she was covered in blood.

Mike and I stopped in Tenino at the 89-mile point around 1:25pm, which was the last official stop before our destination for the day in Centralia. Our decision to stop in Tenino was mainly due to my earlier accident; I wanted to have some bicycle repair technicians check out my bike to see if they could determine why it threw its chain. The technician ran my bike through all of its gears but couldn't reproduce the problem, so he commented that it must have been a fluke. His diagnosis put my mind at ease, although that later proved untrue. (But I'm getting ahead of myself.)

Taking a break at the Tenino stop.

When Mike and I left Tenino, we had only 14 miles to go for the day, and the miles passed pretty quickly as we rode for the next hour or so. (To be perfectly honest, I can't recall anything of importance from that hour's worth of riding.)

Finishing up the day's ride.

We crossed the Day 1 finish line at Centralia College shortly before 3:00pm, so we made pretty good time for the day. My wife, Kathleen, had been tracking our progress throughout the day via the GPS app that I had written, and she sent me a text message to congratulate Mike and me for completing the first day's ride.

Mike crossing the Day 1 finish line.

As various cyclists made their way across the finish line, an announcer was having fun calling out the various jerseys and costumes worn by the participants. Mike and I pushed our bicycles out of the way to allow arriving cyclists more room to exit the course, and as we did we were met by volunteers who were handing out orange-flavored popsicles. Mike and I both gladly accepted the proffered popsicles, although at that point the volunteers could have frozen just about anything and I would have eaten it. (e.g. "Here's your frozen kale!", "Get your frozen lutefisk here!")

Mike enjoying some well-earned reclination.

After a little rest and relaxation, we decided that we should either find something to eat for dinner, or we should depart for our hotel. We looked at our dining choices, and we chose to order a pizza at the hotel later. Our next step was to retrieve our backpacks, and it took us a few minutes to discover where the pickup point was located. (This was due to a misunderstanding of what the announcer said.) Once we found the right place, it was well-organized and we quickly found our things.

Our hotel was a little less than two miles from the college, and once we got settled into our room we both took long showers to wash off the grime from the day's activities. We ordered a pizza to be delivered to our hotel room - which was fantastic. We ate most of the pizza, but we set aside two pieces for breakfast the following morning. (For some people, cold pizza in the morning is the breakfast of champions.)

After dinner we put together our riding plan for the next day, and I wrote up a cheat sheet with the distances for all of the stops. The pickup up time for our backpacks at Centralia College wasn't until 6:00am the following morning, so we both set our alarms for 5:00am, and we headed off to sleep by 8:00pm.

Putting together my cheat sheet for the next day.

We had averaged a little over 15 mph for the day, which wasn't bad. Here are some quick stats for the first day's ride:

  • Total Distance: 102.1 miles
  • Riding Time: 6 hours, 39 minutes
  • Total Time: 9 hours, 4 minutes
  • Elevation Gain: 3,290 feet
  • Average Speed: 15.4 mph
  • Calories Burned: 3,444 kcal

Day Two - Sunday

Mike and I both woke up shortly before our alarms, and since neither of us could sleep, we got up and started to put our things together for the day. We pulled the pizza out of the mini-fridge from the night before, although by now neither of us wanted to touch it. (It's funny how appetites can change overnight.)

Mike and I preparing to start our Day 2 ride.

We got on the road by 5:40am, which was close to our goal. As we pulled up to a stoplight near the hotel, I pulled my bicycle onto the sidewalk in order to push the button to change the traffic signal. Unfortunately I decelerated too quickly and - surprise, surprise - I lost my balance and fell over. Seriously - one minute into the day's ride and I had already fallen over. Who DOES that? (Apparently I do. And just to clarify, my count for falling over during this trip was now at three. Darn.)

Route map for the first half of Day 2.

Mike and I arrived at Centralia College within ten minutes of leaving our hotel, and we quickly dropped off our backpacks. Once that task was taken care of, we got on the road shortly before 6:00am. Even though my muscles were a little sore when we got up and headed out from our hotel, much of that soreness quickly passed as we started the actual ride.

Dropping our backpacks off at Centralia College.

We skipped the first stop in Chehalis at the 7-mile point, but as we rode through town we realized why some of the more experienced STP riders push on to Chehalis or some other town during the first day; it diminishes the length that you need to ride on the second day, and it probably helps psychologically to know that your ride will be shorter. You would miss out on all the half-way point festivities in Centralia, of course, although you could hang out there for a half-hour or so before riding on to your ultimate destination.

Riding through Chehalis in the early morning.

Our plan for the day was to ride a little slower than the previous day and to hit all of the stops. We had made good time the day before, but we didn't want to kill ourselves during the second day's ride. With that in mind, Mike and I started off together, and the road was wide enough for us to carry on a conversation as we rode. Sometime later I started to break away on the hill climbs, and at the next stop Mike suggested that I ride at my own pace and simply wait for him at each successive stop. With that in mind, I routinely sped off after each stop, but I only arrived at each stop about two or three minutes before Mike, so he was riding at pretty much the same level as me. What's more, Mike passed me during a couple of the hill climbs and I somehow didn't notice, so I was perplexed when I found myself passing him later. ("Hey, how did you get here?") Once I discovered to my amusement that Mike was waiting at the next stop for me, and I queried when he had managed to pass me; Mike replied that he had passed me following a climb, and he had arrived at the stop just 30 seconds before me.

At one point I was passing a bunch of cyclists and I kept hollering "On your left" to announce my intention to pass each cyclist. I started hearing a woman behind me announcing the same as we passed several cyclists, so I thought she was drafting behind me. But as I was passing another cyclist the woman behind me exclaimed, "I'm not kidding; ON YOUR LEFT!" This meant that she wanted me to get out of her way, but I need to point out that there was no shoulder on the right, so the cyclist to my right had nowhere to go. I was in the middle of our lane passing that cyclist with only inches to spare between our bicycles, whereas the woman behind me had the rest of our lane and the entire oncoming traffic lane (with no traffic visible for at least a mile) with which to pass me. As I couldn't get out of the way without pushing the cyclist to my right off the road, I ignored the woman behind me. When she eventually pulled alongside I remarked, "In case it wasn't obvious, I was passing someone, too. Just a thought." (I got no reply as she sped off.)

I knew from studying the ride profile the day before that we had a big hill awaiting us near the start of the day, and sure enough we hit the base of the hill around the 14-mile point. However, this hill was a little different than the big hill on the previous day, because it was more like a series of hills which seemed to go on and on for five or six miles, and for a little while it became kind of annoying. (Well, it was annoying for me, anyway.) But I was really glad that I train on the Pistol Hill Loop back in Tucson, which has a long, uphill climb for seven miles or so. As I was riding I kept thinking about Rule #10 from The Rules: "It never gets easier, you just go faster." (Of course, Rule #5 always applies, too.)

That being said, as I attempted to shift my bike onto the smaller chain ring, my bike threw its chain again. But since I had a sneaky suspicion that it might do so, I chose a time to shift when few people were near me, and when my chain was thrown I was able to quickly pull to a stop and get off the road in a controlled manner. A few of the passing cyclists asked if everything was okay, and I replied, "Yup - I just threw my chain." They just nodded sympathetically and rode on. It took me about five minutes to fix my chain, and once I had done so I wondered what to do with all the oil on my hands. I decided that my cycling shorts were black for a reason, and I just wiped my hands off on them.

Rejoining a hill climb in the middle is tricky; you have to find a good gear to get started, and you have to find a good interval between cyclists to get back on the road. Nevertheless, I managed to get back on the road pretty quickly.

As we neared the summit of a really tough climb, I loudly asked everyone around me, "Why are we doing this? Is ANYONE having fun?" Most people just laughed, but the woman riding next to me said this was the best thing that had happened to her all year. I replied, "Really? This climb is the best thing that's happened to you this year?" She responded, "Yeah, I've had a really awful year." (I said I was so sorry for her; and I really meant it.)

Our first official stop of the day was in Winlock around 7:15am. Mike and I both bought a small cup of coffee, and we split a simple breakfast sandwich. (Which at the time tasted better than filet mignon.) As we arrived, medical personnel were loading an injured cyclist into an ambulance, which was yet another reminder that I was fortunate that my previous day's injuries had been pretty minor.

Arriving in Winlock.
Thankfully the ambulances were not there for us.
This may not have been the breakfast
of champions, but it was fantastic.
Mike insisted on this photo. I kind of regret it now.

The next official stop was in Vader (no relation to Darth) at 8:20am, but Mike and I were both feeling pretty strong so we decided to bypass this stop and we hopped back on the road in order to push on to the next stop.

Bypassing the mini-stop in Vader.

The sun broke out, which made it much warmer, and I finally had a need for my sunglasses. Some of the cyclists complained about the heat, but it was cooler than my usual riding temperatures in Arizona so I didn't mind. (Although I did increase my water intake.) Unfortunately, since the first day had been overcast, Mike had packed his nice sunglasses for this trip, so he only had his normal glasses with him. (Even though his normal glasses automatically tint in sunlight, it's just not the same.)

We pulled into Castle Rock around 9:00am, which was the 38-mile stop for Day 2. I think Mike may have refilled his water bottles, but I was doing fine for supplies so I just stretched my legs for a few minutes before we got back on the road.

The stop at Castle Rock.
Mike expressing his elation upon our arrival.
My bike leaning against a rock in Castle Rock.
It might have been the actual "Castle Rock," but I couldn't be sure.
(Note: That was meant as a joke, of course.)

The next stop was in Lexington at the 45-mile point, which was the first major food stop of the day. We arrived at 10:00am, so we were a little behind a timeline that I would have liked. But we had kept our pace pretty well; we had simply been following our plan to hit more of the stops along the way, which slowed us down a little. However, this approach was arguably worth the sacrifice from a psychological perspective; it was nice to know that our next stop was never more than 10 to 15 miles away, even if we decided to skip it. In any event, Mike and I ate a leisurely lunch in Lexington and we relaxed for a while before getting back on the road.

The Lexington stop had a much larger crowd
than normal, but that was to be expected.
Mike enjoying lunch.

Unfortunately we discovered as we got ready to leave the Lexington stop that there was a really long line to refill our water bottles, so that set our departure time back a little. Apparently there was a problem with the water pressure, so they only had a single tap working for hundreds of cyclists. (If we had known that fact a little sooner, we could have got in line when we arrived. But in the grand scheme of things it wasn't that much of an imposition; and we were glad to have enough water to depart safely.)

Sorting through the food that I picked up and choosing what
comes with me on the road and what gets eaten immediately.

Mike and I got on the road around 11:00am, and about a half-hour later I arrived at the Lewis and Clark Bridge over the Columbia River, which signified the border with Oregon. The ride organizers and police were corralling cyclists onto a frontage road while allowing southbound road traffic to continue over the bridge unabated, with the intention of stopping traffic at some point and allowing the mass of cyclists to make their way across the bridge. Mike arrived about ten minutes after me, so he was further back in the mob of bicyclists than me. About ten minutes after Mike arrived the police finally blocked off the traffic and allowed the cyclists to cross the bridge; this action was greeted by a number of cheers from the assembled throng of cyclists.

The hundred or so riders who had
arrived at the bridge before me.

As we approached the bridge, several of the ride organizers called out to the crowd to say that the descent on the opposite side of the bridge was going to be very bumpy. With this in mind, they were recommending that everyone should make sure that all of their gear was securely fastened to their bikes, and to watch out for lost gear as they descended. I reached down and made sure that my water bottles were snugly fastened into their cages, and I made my way up the bridge climb.

I have to admit, when I first saw the bridge from a distance, I thought that the climb would be exceptionally terrible. But as it turns out, the climb wasn't that bad. However, what was bad was that there was a large number of cyclists who were riding very slowly, but we had been grouped into such a thick horde of cyclists that it was difficult to maneuver around the slow-moving riders. Meanwhile, we had fast-moving traffic approaching in the opposite direction. As a result, the ride across the bridge was often terrifying - just for fear of accidents. (PS - some people simply gave up and walked their bikes across the bridge.)

The Lewis and Clark Bridge from a distance.

As I approached the mid-point of the bridge, the crowd around me had thinned out considerably. A group of cyclists (including me) had broken away from the main group, and as a result I had enough of a buffer behind me that I felt comfortable enough to pull out my camera and snap a couple of photos before starting my descent. As I coasted down the far side of the bridge, I put on a lot of speed due to the steep decline, so I was braking constantly as I hit the series of bumps about which we had been warned. True to the predictions, there was somewhere between 50 and 100 water bottles lying beside the road. I guess some people failed to heed the warnings. Once we were past the bridge, we were back to road riding - only now we were in Oregon.

Entering Oregon!

Sometime later my bike threw its chain again, and this happened a few more times. However, each time I was able to catch the problem before I wiped out, and I pulled to the side to fix the problem. (I waved Mike on whenever this happened.) But I decided that I no longer trusted my bicycle to shift to the small chain ring, so I chose to ride for the rest of the day on my small chain ring in order to avoid throwing my chain again. (This is, of course, unacceptable for a bicycle, so I resolved to have to have that looked at when I got home.) However, this also meant that I forfeited my highest gears, and therefore I lost my top speeds.

After a while I had so much oil and grease on my fingers due to resetting my chain that it was kind of gross to eat. That being said, there simply wasn't a place to properly wash off all of the fifth, so I was forced to make do. (In my military days I called this condition "perma-grime," and I learned to live with it or starve.)

Route map for the second half of Day 2.

At some point during the day I started to ride with a group of women with Skull/Butterfly gear. We rode together for quite awhile because we seemed to ride at the same pace for the flat sections; I would climb hills faster than them, but they were willing to take the downhills faster than me. I can't remember when we started riding together, and I can't remember when we stopped. It was probably at one of the stops, but I don't recall.

Mike and I stopped in Goble at the 62-mile point around 12:30pm, although we didn't stay long. We refilled our water bottles, and I had a couple snacks which I had saved from an earlier stop that day. After 10 minutes or so we were back on the road.

Stopping for water in Goble.

The next big stop of the day was in St. Helens, which was shortly before the 75-mile point. We arrived around 1:50pm, and we found a good place to ground our bikes while we wandered off in search of food. The sandwiches and snacks were largely the same as other stops, except that they had watermelon, which was fantastic. They also had a water mister operating, and it was fun to see people walk through it again and again.

Mike pulling into St. Helens.
Navigating through the sea of
cyclists to find our lunch.

Mike needed to pick up something from the medical tent, and one of the volunteers asked if I wanted her to wrap my knee from the previous day's accident. I replied, "No, I earned that." (She laughed and walked away.) After an hour's rest, we packed our things and got back on the road.

Visiting the medical tent.
Mike leaning back, kicking his shoes off, catching some shade...

Somewhere after we left St. Helens, I realized that I had not been pulling up on my legs during the climbs; I had just been pushing down. So I decided to change pedaling techniques, and I discovered that I had so much power in reserve that I found myself climbing a few of the difficult hills at 18 to 20 mph. That being said, I realized that this was going to be a short-lived discovery; after a few hills I recognized that I was quickly burning up that reserve, and all of it was gone by the time I hit the uphill climb to St. John's bridge an hour or so later.

Our last stop of the day was in Scappoose at mile 87, and we arrived around 3:30pm. This stop was pretty small; it was really just the last chance to fill up on water before starting the final 17-mile stretch to Portland. Kathleen sent me a text message that my GPS app which I had written had stopped uploading data at Goble, so I quickly reset it and it started transmitting again. (If Kathleen hadn't sent me that message I would never have known, and Kathleen would have thought that something had gone wrong in Goble.) After Mike and I topped off our water bottles, we got back on the road.

My bike was helping to point the way to water.
Taking stock of my snacks for the final push.

Mike later remarked that he started to listen to music through his iPhone about three or four hours from the end of the ride, although I didn't turn on my music until the last hour or so before the St. John's bridge. (Then I turned off my music for the ride through Portland.)

Mike and I had agreed to meet up at St. John's bridge, which crossed the Willamette River into Portland, in order to finish the ride together. The distance from Scappoose to the finish line was roughly 16 miles, and the bridge was about midway between the two locations, so from a psychological perspective it helped to subdivide the last of the ride into two shorter segments. (At this point in the ride, it's all about the mind games.)

I arrived at the bridge less than a minute before Mike, who pulled along side as I took a photo of the bridge. We had to wait for a stoplight to change, and then we made our way across the bridge with a small group of cyclists.

Crossing the St. John's bridge into Portland.

The ride through Portland was predominantly a nice respite from all of the up and down hill riding over the past several days, except that there was one small hill near the finish line that was a brief moment of difficulty, for which I loudly remarked, "Okay, who added THIS hill to the ride?" That being said, we were forced to stop for a large number of stoplights as we rode through Portland, which probably added at least a half-hour to our ride time.

Nevertheless, before we realized it, Mike and I were crossing the finish line at Holladay Park, and our second century ride of the STP was over. (Note: I should have taken off my sunglasses as I crossed the finish line, because you probably can't see my face in official ride photos. But perhaps that's a good thing.) Mike and I were handed our "STP Finisher" patches, and then we pulled our bikes off to the side to allow room for arriving cyclists who were completing the ride.

Approaching the last few meters to the finish line!
Mike's opinion of what it feels like to finish.
Proudly displaying my hard-earned "Finisher" patch!

We walked our bikes through the crowds, and we found a tree off to the side of the park on which to lean them. Mike watched our bikes while I picked up our backpacks.

My bike finally earned its own rest.

Shortly thereafter we were met by Tesa and her sister, Mary, who showed up to congratulate us. After a few minutes of visiting with Mary and Tesa, Mike and I ventured off in search of something to replace the thousands of calories which we had just burned.

We decided on Greek Gyros, (which were amazing), and we picked up some free souvenir STP cups from the Cascade Bicycle Club. After that, Mike and I ordered our 2015 STP jerseys. (Note: I don't pre-buy my jersey before a ride, which is kind of like a minor superstition for me; I don't want to jinx the ride by buying the jersey and then failing to complete the ride.)

What this year's jersey looks like.

We were informed that we won't receive our jerseys until October, which was unfortunate, but what choice did we have? Once we were done eating and buying our jerseys, we packed up our bikes and headed off to spend the evening with family.

Mike and I had averaged just under 15 mph for the day, which once again was pretty good. Here are some quick stats for the second day's ride:

  • Total Distance: 106.2 miles
  • Riding Time: 7 hours, 8 minutes
  • Total Time: 11 hours, 39 minutes
  • Elevation Gain: 3,809 feet
  • Average Speed: 14.9 mph
  • Calories Burned: 3,954 kcal

Epilogue and Random Thoughts

I had jotted several things down in my notes which didn't apply to either day in particular, so I thought that I would add a special section to this blog in order to share them.

  • Ford Prefect described Earth as "Mostly Harmless." If I was following his lead, I would label STP Day 1 as "Mostly Flat," and STP Day 2 as "Mostly Hills."
  • Mike and I saw several bad accidents during the ride, with several people being whisked away in ambulances. So in the grand scheme of things, my minor injuries were nothing. (Although it should be noted that Mike had no injuries; only I did.)
  • Throughout the ride, most cyclists did their best to thank the volunteer staff and police officers who provided food, drinks, directed traffic, etc.
  • Two words: Honey Buckets. Enough said.
  • On Day 1, Mike and I both wore our El Tour de Tucson jerseys, and Mike got lots of comments about his jersey. It was from the 2012 El Tour, and I have to admit, that year had my favorite artwork; it appears that everyone else agrees with me.
  • On Day, 2 Mike wore a plain jersey while I wore a Microsoft jersey. At some point another cyclist from Microsoft noticed my jersey, and we started a small conversation as we rode. The guy asked me if I work on Visual Studio, since that logo was on my jersey, and I replied, "More or less." (I work in the division which creates Visual Studio, and I designed the development web server which ships with Visual Studio.) I asked where he works, and he replied, "I work on HoloLens." I said, "Dude, you work on the cool stuff." To which he responded, "Yeah, and I use your stuff to make my stuff."
  • I had several groups of cyclists touch on one of my pet peeves: they failed to queue properly at a stoplight. In several specific instances, a group of cyclists was already queued at a stoplight, when an approaching group of cyclists would glide past the whole queue in order to take the best position for when the light changes. This was especially frustrating to me when it was a group of cyclists which I had already passed, which meant that I would have to pass them again! (If I recall correctly, I politely chastised a couple of groups of cyclists for failure to queue properly. After all, we were in it together, right? Weren't we supposed to cooperate? Sheesh.)
  • Unlike the El Tour which has thousands of people cheering cyclists on, most of the course was devoid of anyone other than angry motorists who appeared to hate the inconvenience of cyclists taking up their precious roadways.
  • Some groups of fast-moving cyclists speed up on your left side unannounced and it scares the poop out of you. (I did my best to announce all of my passes.)
  • We saw some interesting bicycles on this ride. For example, one group of cyclists riding for charity were doing the entire ride on vintage, single-speed bicycles. (That's either gutsy or foolish - but either way I admired their bravery.) I saw two cyclists on commuter bikes which resemble a Brompton Folding Bike, which was even more insane that riding a single speed bike. There were also a few recumbent bikes completing the ride, several tandem bicycles, a Penny-farthing, and one hand-pedaled cyclist who was making pretty good time.
  • At most of the stops (full and mini) they had water, Clif bars, and sometimes fruit, while at the full stops they also had sandwiches a greater selection of snack foods. The full stops also had lots of vendors selling their wares or offering free samples.
  • I over-packed for my supplies, but that's actually a good thing; I would rather have something with me and not need it than to need something and not have it.
  • There is an old adage which says, "If you ain't the lead dog, the view never changes." This applies to cyclists as well.
  • I made good time for a lot of the ride; I was able to keep a pretty good pace even climbing the moderate hills, and I found myself climbing with a good deal of power. (I was nowhere near competitive, of course, but I was really glad that I always train with hills.)
  • After the ride was over I did the math, and I could have done the ride in a single day if I started at 4:45am with the rest of the single-day riders. Now I am not suggesting that I wouldn't have been in a great deal of pain after the ride, and during the ride I would have been psychologically punishing myself for being stupid enough to attempt a 206-mile ride in one day, but the math definitely proved to me that it could be done by me. (I should point out that I am not suggesting that I ever intend to do such a thing, but it is possible.)
  • Throughout the ride I tried to joke around with other cyclists; I complimented people on their jerseys, silly things they attached to their bicycles or helmets, funny costumes, etc. I tried anything to take people's minds off the immediate suffering that we were all experiencing. I used to do the same thing in my Army days; I am not trying to be a "comedian" and make people laugh; I am just trying to spread a little joy and alleviate a little pain when it's needed most.
  • Mike later made fun of me for a few of my verbalizations to other cyclists during the ride. For example, I chastised one guy for tossing a plastic wrapper to the ground: "Dude, you should pack out your own garbage." (Note: I always do.) And I chastised someone else for cutting me off with an abrupt lane change: "A little warning next time would be great. Thanks."
  • I alluded to this earlier, but several of The Rules applied during this ride; I mentioned Rules #5 and #10 earlier, but the more you ride, you start to realize how many of those rules are apropos for any big riding event.

At the end of the event, Mike and I averaged just over 15 mph for the entire ride, which was better than I had anticipated during our planning. Here are some quick stats from both days:

  • Total Calories Burned: 7,398 kcal
  • Total Elevation Gained: 7,099 feet
  • Final Average Speed: 15.1 mph
  • Total Cycling Time: 13 hours, 48 minutes
  • Total Participation Time: 20 hours, 43 minutes

The day after the ride was over I told Mike that 7,400 calories seemed too low, and he agreed: "That seemed a lot more like 10,000 calories."

As a parting thought, there are five stages to dealing with grief - Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance - and I've learned that it's much like that for distance rides:

  • Denial: "Hey, a 206-mile ride won't be that bad..."
  • Anger: "Why am I doing this ride? I am such an idiot!"
  • Bargaining: "Dear God, if you help me to survive this ride, I promise that I will be nicer to all of humanity."
  • Depression: "Oh my gosh, I still have another 20 miles to go. I could just die right now."
  • Acceptance: "Well, that ride is over. I will never do that again."

The problem is, within a few weeks the vicious cycle will begin again. Immediately after a long ride like the STP is over you think, "I will never ride my bicycle again, so I'm going to sell it and take up an indoor hobby." On the day after the ride you think, "Well, maybe I'll keep my bicycle as a souvenir." One month later you start to think, "Hmm. I might ride the STP again." After another month passes you think, "Hey, I wonder when I can register for next year's STP?" And then in another month or so you find yourself telling your friends, "Hey! Do you guys want to ride the STP with me? It's LOTS of fun!" When that happens, denial has set in, and that's pretty much how it starts.

Posted: Jul 18 2015, 02:28 by bob | Comments (0)
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More 511th History: Happy 4th of July

Here's a 4th of July story for you from our days in the 511th...

Anyone who remembers Steve Meyers will recall that he had no fear - although sometimes he had no common sense, either. Steve backpacked across Europe with no cash as a teenager, wandered off in Turkey without knowing the language or telling anyone where he was going, and managed to pull off a two-week vacation using his MAC flight privileges to visit Athens, Jerusalem, and Cairo and still made it back in time for duty. Steve was an amazing guy who simply went where no one else would think to go.

But what some of you who joined the 511th after the Fall Of The Wall may not know is that our unit used to work with members of the British RAF before they rotated back to the UK. We deployed to the border with them several times, and a few of us were sent to work with the RAF somewhere further north (in locations about which we cannot speak). ;-)

Anyway, during one of those deployments along the border, we were having coffee with a few of the Brits, when Steve turned to them out-of-the-blue and asked, "So, how do you guys feel about when you lost the Revolutionary War? Are you guys still upset about that?"

For a flash of a second you probably could have heard a pin drop all the way across the border, then one of the Brits - without looking up from his coffee - replied in his best British accent, "Lost? I think not. We simply left it to you. Have you been home lately? Ah, what a piece-o-crap."

This comment was followed by a well-deserved round of laughter, and all was well in the world. :-D

Happy 4th of July everyone!

Posted: Jul 04 2015, 14:46 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Ride Notes for June 27th, 2015

Despite having ridden in temperatures over 100 degrees (Fahrenheit) in the past, I appear to have failed in learning the important lesson that riding in extreme temperatures really takes a lot out of you. That was abundantly evident during today's 60-mile ride; even though I started early to avoid the hotter temperatures, as the day wore on I found myself suffering through the worst temps of the day, as evidenced by the following photo of my GPS when I approached the 50-mile mark of the ride:

Way-Too-Hot

When I'm riding during the hotter times of year, I tend to arrange my rides in something like a cloverleaf pattern, where I am always trying to get back to the entrance of Saguaro National Park (SNP) in order to refill my water bottles. (I try to do that every 15 to 20 miles.) During this ride, however, I was still several miles away from SNP when I realized that I wasn't going to have enough water to get back.

With that in mind, I called Kathleen, and the following conversation transpired:

  • Kathleen: Hello? Where are you?
  • Me: [Panting.] I'm not sure; somewhere way out on east Tanque Verde.
  • Kathleen: Are you okay?
  • Me: I've just realized that I don't have enough water to make it back to my refill location.
  • Kathleen: Okay, I'll come get you.
  • Me: Oh no, I don't want to quit - I just need you to bring me some more water.
  • Kathleen: You realize that you're nuts, right?
  • Me: Yup.

And my darling spouse, being the wonderful person that she is, drove out to meet me and brought me several bottles of water so I could refill and continue my ride for another 10 miles.

Ride Stats:

  • Primary Statistics:
    • Start Time: 9:25am
    • Distance: 60.1 miles
    • Duration: 4:32:22
    • Calories Burned: 2526 kcal
    • Altitude Gain: 2681 feet
  • Speed:
    • Average Speed: 13.4 mph
    • Peak Speed: 33.3 mph
    • Average Cadence: 71.0 rpm
  • Temperature:
    • Average: 99.6 F
    • Minimum: 78.8 F
    • Maximum: 111.2 F
  • Heart Rate:
    • Average: 152 bpm
    • Maximum: 182 bpm
Posted: Jun 27 2015, 19:05 by bob | Comments (0)
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Sunset On This Evening's Ride

Sunset during this evening's 52-mile bicycle ride...

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Sunset Over the Desert

Which reminds me, I should point out that there are both good and bad things about heading out for a long ride in the evening; one of the good things is getting to see sunsets like this. However, one of the bad things is when you realize that you're seeing a sunset like this while you're still 15 miles away from your house, which means that in a few minutes you will be plunged into a darkness that will surround you like an encroaching evil, where you are never more than one menacing pothole away from certain death.

Did I mention that the light on my bicycle failed five minutes after I turned it on? It's a good thing that I was once a Boy Scout and I had a backup light; it was better than nothing, but it barely offered enough light to see the road.

WP_20150606_19_42_40_Pro
Just Before Darkness Fell,
(And I still needed to ride half-way to the far horizon)

That being said, I can see that I have digressed from my original thought... it really was a nice sunset.

Ride Stats:

  • Primary Statistics:
    • Start Time: 5:14pm
    • Distance: 52.5 miles
    • Duration: 3:29:01
    • Calories Burned: 1656 kcal
    • Altitude Gain: 2181 feet
  • Speed:
    • Average Speed: 14.8 mph
    • Peak Speed: 30.8 mph
    • Average Cadence: 76.0 rpm
  • Temperature:
    • Average: 83.7 F
    • Minimum: 78.8 F
    • Maximum: 89.6 F
  • Heart Rate:
    • Average: 144 bpm
    • Maximum: 175 bpm
Posted: Jun 06 2015, 23:37 by bob | Comments (0)
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Jury Duty

I received the following notice for jury duty in the mail a few days ago, (although I edited out all of the actual personal data before posting it here):

I am somewhat ashamed to admit that the first thought which came to mind was:
"Crap. I do not want to do this."

The second thought that came to mind was: perhaps I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss my 'Civic Responsibility.' I am eternally grateful that I am a citizen of the United States, and trial by peers is one of our cherished legal rights which is not available in other countries around the globe.

But over the ensuing days I thought about this a little more, and I began to form the opinion that I have already fulfilled 2,973 days of civic responsibility during my time in the military. Now, for those of you who have never served in our nation's armed forces, you may think that is an unfair attitude. But let me be very clear: during my eight years of military service, the Army owned my life 24 hours a day, and it often made good on its possession. I spent hundreds (if not thousands) of hours working in abhorrent conditions in obscure areas around the planet which the average person doesn't know about, and I did so at any hour on any day - regardless of the weather, physical discomfort, or extended separations from loved ones. During my tenure in uniform I endured countless nights trying to sleep in a makeshift lean-to in subzero temperatures, scorching desert heat, and torrential downpours. I also missed dozens of holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. So believe me when I tell you - we veterans have already done more than our fair share for society. With that in mind, I started to think that all honorably-discharged veterans should be exempt from jury duty.

But then again... as I continued to ponder the subject, I began to think about what the impact to society would be if we exempted all veterans from jury duty.

As I watch the news, I am amazed at the lack of responsibility that is so prevalent in North America. When someone does something bad, they generally refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. But when society attempts to punish a person who has done something wrong, large-scale riots break out in protest. When these riots inevitably destroy cities, their apologists claim that none of the rioters were at fault - it is their 'oppressors' who are the evildoers. But the worst part is - if someone is ever taken to trial for their part in these tragedies, the courts often let the guilty parties go without punishment. A group of defense attorneys were able to successfully use the following defense: "They were simply part of a mob; individual actions do not matter."

Well - let me be perfectly honest: I do not share that opinion. I whole-heartedly believe that if a person screws up, they are personally accountable for their actions; I do not care about the actions of any moral degenerates who may have been surrounding them at the time. If you individually break the law - you are individually guilty. Period. And when you are punished, it is not the arresting officer's fault - it is your fault. (Likewise, if you are pulled over for speeding, it is not the police officer's fault if you get a ticket; you broke the law, so you have to pay the fine.)

In the end I came to the following resolution: even though I may not want to give up a day of my life to serve on a jury, perhaps I need to. Our society desperately needs more people who are not afraid to use the word "Guilty" when it needs to be used. So even though I will undoubtedly be bored for most of the day, I will be bored with a better attitude.

 

PS - If you are a lawyer who is selecting jurors and I'm in the pool of potential peers, I believe everyone is guilty of something. Food for thought. ;-)

Posted: May 18 2015, 16:20 by bob | Comments (0)
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Price Gouging versus Common Sense

Look, I get it - companies are in the business of making money. I like a good paycheck, you like a good paycheck, everybody likes to receive a good paycheck. But that being said, everyone who has ever bought something from someone else has realized that the people who are doing the selling are charging you more money for their merchandise than what they originally paid for it - that's called profit, and that's how they make their living. We implicitly accept this arrangement every time that we make a purchase, and I have no problem with that. In principle, at least.

But every once in a while I run into a situation where someone is so blatantly overcharging that I no longer want to deal with them.

For example, consider the following true story:

I recently dealt with a company which attempted to keep my business by using "Hard Sell" tactics when I contacted them to cancel my account. When they asked why I was cancelling, I said it was because I could get the same service through another company for less. They replied that "since I was such a loyal customer," they would be willing to match the other company's price.

At this point I said, "You realize that you just admitted to ripping me off for all of the time that I have been your 'loyal customer?' If you were willing to provide the same service at a lower cost all along, why didn't you do so earlier? That would have kept me as a customer! But now I think you're just a bunch of thieves; so unless you're willing to refund what you have been overcharging me, just cancel my @#$% service and let me get on with my life."

That ended the sales pitch and they cancelled my account.

Posted: May 05 2015, 17:28 by bob | Comments (0)
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I Love a Good Salsa

I can be somewhat adventurous when it comes to food; I've been to lots of places around the world, and I'm generally willing to try the local cuisine - even though I've sometimes wound up sick from doing so. But that being said, anyone who knows me well should know that my favorite fare is Mexican food; this is due in large part to growing up in Arizona. As a direct result of my southwest-inspired cultural and environmental surroundings during my formative years, most people who know me are also aware that when it comes to salsa, I can be quite picky. I have been known to leave a restaurant because of bad salsa, and I have brought my own salsa to other restaurants.

It is also common knowledge that I like my salsa hot - somewhere between Habanero Peppers and Ghost Peppers is my ideal temperature range. If my sinuses haven't been cleared up by the time I'm done eating, it wasn't hot enough. That being said, a good salsa is not just about scalding what is left of my taste buds; anyone can make a sweltering salsa, but it has to have enough flavor to make the heat worth the pain. It takes skill to make a salsa hot and delicious at the same time.

One of the many reasons why I loved to have lunch with my friends and co-workers Keith Moore and Wade Hilmo in Seattle was that they shared my affection for a good salsa; any two or three of us would drive around to all of the Mexican restaurants in the Seattle area and judge their salsa. It was kind of amusing to watch us, because we would discuss the merits of various salsas like wine connoisseurs contemplating a rare vintage: "Hmm... I detect cilantro, a touch of garlic, minced onions, with just a hint of pineapple..." (Seriously - one restaurant used pineapple to counter the heat in one of their salsas, which was better than it might sound.)

Needless to say, I was quite happy when the Salsa Fairy arrived with a box of Mrs. Renfro's salsas earlier today... which you can plainly see in the following image. A second box of salsas arrived at the same time, and between the two boxes I had several jars of Mrs. Renfro's Habanero Salsa, Tequila Salsa, Chipotle Salsa, Pomegranate Salsa, and Mexican Hot Sauce.

Because I live in Arizona, I celebrated this momentous occasion with a half-dozen or so tacos - each with a different salsa.

Yup, life is good and all is well in the world…

Posted: Mar 10 2015, 19:55 by Bob | Comments (0)
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More 511th History: Arriving in Fulda in 1988

Even though the following article was written a couple of years ago, it has been making the rounds lately: The Lovely Little Town That Would Have Been Absolutely Screwed by World War III. It's a great article, and I highly recommend reading it. However, here's a spoiler alert: they're talking about Fulda, Germany.

Wappen_Fulda

The topic of that article should come as no surprise to anyone who served in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR); the Fulda Gap had been used as a thoroughfare for invading armies between East and West Europe for centuries. This point was vividly brought to my attention when I was in-processing after I arrived in Fulda in January of 1988.

blackhorse

Part of my in-processing was a briefing with Colonel Thomas E. White, who was the 52nd Regimental Commander from 1986 to 1988. During his briefing Col. White made the following ominous statement:

"If the balloon goes up, we expect 90% of the 11th ACR to be dead within the first 30 minutes of battle. This is simple a fact of life. Get used to that idea; it will make things easier."

Col. White followed up that dire prediction with the following observation:

"Fulda has the highest divorce rate of any post in the military. If your marriage survives your tour here, it will survive anything."

In retrospect, Col. White wasn't the cheeriest guy.

But that being said, I soon learned just how true his second statement was; during my first year in Fulda, I was deployed to one place or other for 40 of the 52 weeks. (Most of that time was on the East German border in places I cannot mention.)

At the time, we knew that the Russians had tactical nukes stationed just across the border, and since it was our job to figure out what the Russians were doing, we coined the following unofficial motto:

"The 511th MI Company: First to Know, First to Glow."

Thankfully, the balloon never went up, and less than two years after I arrived in Fulda everything had changed dramatically: the borders between the East and West were opened, the Berlin Wall was demolished, and Soviet Communism met its inevitable demise. If you had told me during my first few days in Fulda that all of those earth-shattering events would occur during my tenure at the 511th, I would have thought you were nuts. Just the same, it has been almost 30 years since I arrived in Fulda, and I'm still thankful that the doomsday prophets didn't get their way.

Posted: Mar 01 2015, 23:16 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Thank You Obama and Boyd for Demonstrating Your Historical Indifference: It is Far Worse Than ISIS or Christian Violence

Someone I know posted a link to the following blog by Greg Boyd on Facebook. The title alone piqued my interest, and because I like to keep an open mind, I read it with genuine curiosity.

Thank You Obama for Denouncing "Christian" Violence: It is Actually Far Worse Than ISIS

This article was obviously written in response to President Obama's recent comparison between the barbaric practices of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the actions of Christian Crusaders from centuries ago. President Obama was speaking at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, which is hardly the appropriate forum to make such a comparison, but just to set the mood for this discussion – here are the president's exact words from Mr. Boyd's blog with regard to the recent spate of murders that have been committed by ISIS:

"Unless we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.

President Obama has taken a considerable amount of criticism from Christians for that statement, and at face value that criticism might seem justifiable. However, that particular sentence is being taken out of context, which makes it somewhat difficult to evaluate on its own. To be fair to President Obama, here is a more complete quote from his speech, which adds a little more depth to his earlier statement:

"So how do we – as people of faith – reconcile these realities? The profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths – operating alongside those who seek to hijack religions for their own murderous ends; humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. Unless we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country slavery and Jim Crow [were] all-too-often … justified in the name of Christ."

By including the quote from President Obama within the context of his original discourse, his intended meaning does not seem to suggest that he possesses an anti-Christian ideology like most pundits are proclaiming. To be sure, President Obama's speech was poorly-worded and poorly-delivered in what was probably the poorest choice of locales. But what is worse, the President's examples are poor history, and while I could easily expound on the foolishness of his revisionist narrative, I will gladly refrain from doing so in favor of simply addressing Greg Boyd's equally lamentable indifference to the history of Western Civilization.

To being with, it is sheer lunacy for anyone to attempt to draw a comparison between the actions of present-day terrorists with the actions of uneducated, Medieval warriors from 1,000 years ago. I whole-heartedly acknowledge that quite often the actions of the Crusaders were horrific and condemnable, but those actions took place many centuries ago and there is nothing that can be done about those atrocities now. However, the world can do something about the atrocities that ISIS is currently committing. For those reasons alone, making a comparison between these two sets of objectionable behaviors is completely ludicrous. In fact, making such a comparison is even worse if you hope to garner some degree of sympathy for ISIS, because comparing their current behavior with those of the Crusaders would seem to suggest that the members of ISIS have failed to evolve during the past 1,000 years. Christian armies are not currently marauding across the Middle East and oppressing the innocent – but ISIS currently is. This means that Europe and other Western Cultures have obviously moved past what is considered by many to be a dark period of religious dominance, imperialism, and intolerance, even though ISIS remains fully-engaged with theologically-sanctioned slaughter.

But let us set aside the comparison between the behaviors of two disparate cultures that are separated by a millennium. Instead, let's look at a few important historical subjects. But before I continue, I need to stress that I do not know Mr. Boyd personally. He could be a great guy, and I mean him no disrespect. However, based on his discourse he seems willfully dismissive of history. His rhetoric consistently employs a very common argument that I often hear about the Crusades, which is this: when you want to portray Christians badly, simply bring up the Crusades, regardless of the fact that nearly 1,000 years have passed since that time. While I agree that Christians should not attempt to ignore the atrocities of the Crusades, it is also true that anyone who wants to bash Christians desperately needs to get some new material. If the best that you can do is to bring up something from the Middle Ages, you really need to rethink your argument.

With that in mind, if you were to believe Mr. Boyd's blog – which would be a very foolish thing to do – you could easily infer that the Crusaders were a bloodthirsty mob which ravaged the Middle East on a quest for glory at the expense of the peaceful Muslims which inhabited the region. Nothing could be further than the truth, and it would seem that Mr. Boyd is simply regurgitating the uninformed drivel that was passed down to him as a by-product of his higher education.

Let me briefly step back in time to frame this historical discussion, and it is completely necessary for me to paraphrase a narrative from Jewish Scripture in order to put a few things in perspective. It is very important that you realize that I do not mean for anyone to believe the story that I am going to relate – you are welcome to believe that this is a fairy tale which is best reserved for Sunday Schools. But it is absolutely essential for you to understand that the inhabitants of the Middle East believe this story, which serves as an ancient foundation for unrest in the region.

According to Jewish Scripture, in approximately 2000 BC, God promised to give a son to an aging Abraham and his wife Sarah, and from that son God would make a great nation. However, when Sarah could not conceive a child, Abraham and Sarah grew impatient. So they took matters into their own hands, and Sarah offered her handmaiden, Hagar, to Abraham. Hagar had a son with Abraham, and she named the boy Ishmael. Many years later, Sarah gave birth to a son, whom she named Isaac. When sibling rivalry ensued between Ishmael and Isaac, Sarah insisted that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away. Hagar took her son and left as instructed, and when she felt certain that she was doomed to die in the desert, God spoke to her and told her that her son, Ishmael, would also become the father of a great nation.

As I said earlier, you need not believe the preceding story as historical fact, but you need to understand that many inhabitants of the Middle East believe it to be true.

With that in mind, the present-day Jewish population of the Middle East trace their heritage back to Isaac, and the present-day Muslim population of the Middle East trace their heritage back to Ishmael. The descendants of Isaac believe that they are the true inheritors of God's blessing to Abraham, and therefore they are the heirs to God's promises for a great nation in the Middle East. They base this claim on the fact that God made His promise to Abraham and his wife, Sarah, and not to Hagar. Conversely, the descendants of Ishmael believe that they are heirs to God's promises for a great nation in the Middle East because Ishmael was the first-born son, and according to regional traditions of the time, the first-born son has the principle inheritance.

Leaving aside the Jewish and Muslim Scriptures, the kingdoms of Israel existed for several centuries, although many of those centuries were spent enslaved to other kingdoms which had conquered Israel. When the Jewish revolts of the first century AD failed, Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans in 70 AD, and the kingdom of Israel ceased to exist. Many Jews and Christians fled Judea, (called the Diaspora), although considerable numbers of Jews and Christians chose to remain in the area despite their loss of national identity. As Christians made their way throughout the Mediterranean and European regions, they faced tremendous religious persecution due to their unwavering faith and subsequent refusal to convert to the religions of their host countries. Christian pacifism led to their widespread slaughter and martyrdom, although eventually their example of "turning the other cheek" and forgiving their aggressors won over the hearts of their oppressors. When emperor Constantine embraced Christianity in the 4th-century AD, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and thereby most of Europe. In addition, the ancient city of Jerusalem was under Roman rule, and therefore it passed peacefully to Christian control, (or more accurately to Byzantine control). In short, Christianity spread throughout Europe based on a lack of aggression, and not by violent overthrow.

Jumping ahead a couple centuries, Mohammed rose to power based on proclamations that he was the last prophet of God. Mohammed asserted that – as a direct descendant of Ishmael – he was heir to the kingdom that was promised by God to his forefathers, and anyone who followed him would be part of that kingdom. At the age of 40, Mohammed began to preach the message of Islam publicly, and he soon began a campaign of military conquests throughout the Middle East to spread Islam through violent oppression (Jihad). To Muslims, each new conquest was not new territory to them – they were the rightful heirs based on their promised inheritance. As they conquered each region, any non-Muslims residing in the conquered territories were offered few fates: forced conversion to Islam, paying the jizya (which is mandatory tax on non-Muslims), enslavement, or death. (It should be noted that the jizya is little more than an early form of a "Protection Money" racket, where non-Muslims are paying for their 'protection' from Muslim harassment.)

The stark contrast between the first centuries of Christianity and the first centuries of Islam is incontrovertible; early Christianity triumphed through pacifism and forgiveness, whereas early Islam conquered through violent subjugation. A series of Muslim rulers spent the next several centuries rampaging throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Southern Europe. By the start of the second millennium AD, Jihadists had brutally conquered much of the Mediterranean region. (As the Muslim armies made their way through the Middle East, Jerusalem was one of their most-prized conquests.) In each region they conquered, the existing Jewish and Christian populations were confronted with the fates that I mentioned earlier: conversion, jizya, enslavement, or death.

After centuries of militaristic aggression, the armies of Jihad stood poised to conquer all of Europe. When faced with that possibility, the European nations banded together under the Crusades and – with the Pope's blessing – set out on the First Crusade to halt the advance of Islam and retake Jerusalem. In this particular instance, one could rightly make the argument that the Pope – and thereby the Christian Church – had no just cause to promote warfare based on the theological tenets of their religion. However, the political situation of the time must also be considered; European leaders were often preoccupied by wars between their countries, and therefore they could seldom agree on any unifying purpose – even when their inaction might result in their own destruction. By rallying the individual nations for a single cause – however misguided or misrepresented that may have been – the Pope managed to unite the disparate European nations to join together and thereby preserve Europe from Islamic domination.

I should mention, however, that Mr. Boyd attempts to play games with his English vocabulary when he suggests that the Christian-affiliated armies were not called "Defenders," but rather that they were called "Crusaders" because they were consumed with offensive actions rather than defensive actions. I disagree – they were called "Crusaders" because they were sent out by the Pope and they believed that they were on a "Holy Crusade." Their mission actually was – at least in part – to defend Europe. For Mr. Boyd to make such an assertion – especially as someone with a Ph.D. – is rather poor form.

For the sake of reference, the following video illustrates the staggeringly-large scope of Islamic conquests over the centuries, and it compares that with the relatively minor impact of the Crusades; I highly suggest that you watch the video before you continue reading.

Jihad versus Crusades

As you can see in the video, for several centuries the Muslim armies wreaked havoc across the entire Mediterranean region – where they routinely slaughtered or enslaved the native populations of each territory. In contrast, the Crusades were a collection of relatively minor skirmishes. What's more, after the First Crusade, most of the subsequent Crusades were abysmal failures that have done little more than to serve as the foundation for Muslim hatred of Western interference in the Middle East.

However, it must be reinforced that the Crusades were not a situation where a group of Christians woke up one morning and decided to march to Jerusalem and kill its peaceful inhabitants; the Crusades were launched as a reaction to centuries of violent oppression at the hands of invading Jihadists. It should also be repeated that Christians facing persecution in the first centuries of Christianity won over their oppressors by following the tenets of their religion: pacifism and forgiveness. While the Crusaders may have embarked on their journeys with the blessing of the Pope, that did not mean that they were actually Christians, nor does it mean that they were following Christian Scriptures. In fact, the opposite is true; the Crusaders were going to war in direct opposition to Christian beliefs.

On that same thought, much has been said of the condemnable actions of the Crusaders when they sacked Jerusalem: the invading Crusader armies killed Muslims and Jews throughout the city, which is hardly following the foundations of the Christian faith. However, that method of warfare was true for all conquering armies of the time; the Muslims behaved in a similar fashion when they conquered new territories, as did the Persians before them, and the Romans before them, and the Greeks before them, etc. The nature of warfare until recent history had always been that of systemic slaughter. While it does not excuse the behavior of the Crusaders, you must consider their actions in light of their time period and their society – their actions were neither worse nor better than the Muslims whom they were conquering. In a similar manner, when the Muslims retook Jerusalem, thousands of Crusaders were slaughtered.

Having expounded on the history of the Crusades long enough, there are literally thousands of better examples of violence that were committed "In the Name of Christ" that would have made both Mr. Boyd's and the President's statements considerably more valid. For example, I would consider the centuries of bloody wars between Catholics and Protestants in the wake of the Reformation even more apropos as discussion points for their position. But that being said, choosing the Crusades as a fodder for their arguments simply displays a wanton disregard for historical accuracy.

When considering Mr. Boyd's and the President's other examples, I have to agree – the Inquisition was inarguably a horrific episode in Christian history. But once again – the people engaged in torture and genocide were not following Christian Scripture. To restate my earlier premise, there is a world of difference between claiming to behave "In Christ's Name" and actually following Christian teachings. However, that does not excuse the actions of the Inquisition, nor does that absolve true Christians for failing to bring an earlier end to the Inquisition, (although many Christians died in their attempts to do so). Likewise the people who abused Christian Scripture to justify years of slavery and Jim Crow laws where decidedly un-Christian in their behaviors, and it should be noted that thousands of genuine Christians spent several decades fighting against those who justified slavery and racism based on false interpretations of Scripture.

The behaviors of false Christians are what led Gandhi to say, "I like your Christ, [but] I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Or, as Brennan Manning once summarized, "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle." In other words, when people claim to follow Christ and do not follow Christ in their actions, they are not Christians, and they easily confuse non-Christians who cannot tell the difference.

As I mentioned earlier, committing atrocities on behalf of Christ is a violation of the core principles of Christianity. Over the two millennia since the foundation of Christianity, countless despots have justified their actions by claiming that they acted "In the Name of Christ," or they have convinced others to follow their orders based on a personal revelation from God. There is a section of dialog from the recent movie The Book of Eli which illustrates this concept perfectly; in one particular scene, the film's antagonist describes the Bible in the following manner:

"IT'S NOT A @#$% BOOK! IT'S A WEAPON! A weapon aimed right at the hearts and minds of the weak and the desperate. It will give us control of them. If we want to rule more than one small, @#$% town, we have to have it. People will come from all over, they'll do exactly what I tell 'em if the words are from the book. It's happened before and it'll happen again. All we need is that book."

Carnegie (played by Gary Oldman), from The Book of Eli (2010)

Even though the film is purely fictional, this statement has a ring of truth to it; many people have abused Christianity for their own, selfish ends. That does not make them Christians, and their actions are easily identifiable as contrary to the Christian beliefs of forgiveness and pacifism. Conversely, Islam was founded as a "Religion of the Sword," where violent subjugation of non-Muslim peoples and places was foundational to the spread of that religion. There is an irrefutable difference between the two religions in that regard, and to compare the two is utterly ridiculous – with one exception: condemnation of their evil actions. Those who commit evil in the name of Christianity are acting in opposition to the tenets of Christianity, and their acts are to be condemned. Likewise, those who commit evil in the name of Islam – even if they are acting in accordance with the tenets of Islam – are also to be condemned. Evil is evil – regardless of the motivation.

In a savage turn of events, Mr. Boyd probably owes his physical existence to the Crusades, for without the Crusades the marauding armies of Jihad would more than likely have conquered all of Europe. And since each of us is the by-product of thousands of chance encounters between our respective ancestors, it is very likely that a Muslim conquest of Europe would have altered the face of Western Civilization to the point where someone in Mr. Boyd's family tree would never have met someone else, and as a result he would not have been afforded the opportunity to dispassionately persecute the actions of the Crusaders from the relative safety of the religious freedom that has been afforded to him by centuries of sacrifices on his behalf.

Just the same, it wouldn't hurt if both President Obama and Greg Boyd brush up on their history before they attempt to draw a comparison between the actions of 21st-century terrorists and 12th-century Crusaders. Because in the end, trying to compare the two simply makes them look silly.


Update: I discovered the following op-ed piece after I had published this blog; it's a great read on this subject: Obama's Morally Confused Prayer Breakfast Lecture

Posted: Feb 09 2015, 23:14 by bob | Comments (0)
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Code Monkey Save World

OK – I have to make a shameless admission: I really like Jonathan Coulton's music. Jonathan's style is sort of like modern-day-Internet-geek-cyber-folk-pop, as if that's a real genre.

Anyway, years ago he wrote a song called "Code Monkey," which became something of an Internet hit. (Hey, I'd call over one million downloads a hit.) If you're curious about the song, you can browse to http://youtu.be/MNl3fTods9c in order to see it with the lyrics.

Code_monkey

That being said, fans of "Code Monkey" might not be aware that Jonathan teamed up with Greg Pak and a few additional artists, and together they converted "Code Monkey" and several of Jonathan's other songs (like "Skullcrusher Mountain," "Re: Your Brains," etc.) into a weird little graphic novel.

codemonkey

Truth be told, I'm not a graphic novel kind of guy, but I love the song - so I ordered a copy through Greg Pak's online shop.

My signed copy of the graphic novel just arrived, and it was a great read; it was fun to see the characters from so many of Jonathan's songs brought to life, even if it was just for a hundred pages or so.

EPSON MFP image

For those of you who are familiar with the song, you're probably wondering to yourself, "Does Code Monkey finally tell his manager to write that @#$% login page himself and win the heart of Matilde, the girl of his dreams?"

Well, you'll just have to order the book and find that out for yourself.


(FYI – The graphic novel was a Kickstarter project in 2013 which was fully-funded in just 12 hours; it eventually reached $340,270 of it's original $39,000 goal.)

Posted: Jan 26 2015, 23:55 by Bob | Comments (0)
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