Monday, February 27, 2017

Pamper Camper: Community Acupuncture

After beating yourself up on the road day after day, there's no reason to not pamper yourself a bit.  In any decent sized town, one can easily find massages (Chinatown), saunas, and/or hot tubs (hotels or gyms with free-trials).  Each of those is a great way to thank your muscles for all the hard work they do, as well as get them ready for the next few hundred miles.  That said, there is another affordable, effective, and readily available option out there for relaxation and recuperation: Acupuncture.

Most people have not had acupuncture.  For many, the thought of having needles shoved into their skin is just too painful, unnerving, or uncomfortable.  For others, it's too new-agey/hippie for their Western sensibilities.  For the rest, though, it's too expensive to try, sometimes costing over $100 for a treatment.  If you are in the first group, I assure you that the needles do not hurt, as they're extremely thin and are not put very far into the skin.  If you're in the second group, you're probably a lost cause.  Your stubbornness, which is likely rooted in fear of the unknown, is only going to make you miss out on positive experiences in life.  If you're in the last group, then at $15 per session, Community Acupuncture (CA) is exactly what you've been waiting for.

Photo Courtesy of West Philly Community Acupunture

You're probably thinking two things now: 1) What is Community Acupuncture, and 2) Why is it so cheap?  CA is a type of acupuncture that's done in a open, group setting, rather than in private rooms.  Since it requires less space to treat more people, costs are considerably lower, which means they can afford to offer sliding scale pricing based on what you feel you can pay ($15-$50).  Boom.  Asked, answered.

Now you're probably wondering about the "group" aspect of CA centers.  Are you imagining a bunch of naked people laying on rows of tables in a warehouse?  Like an upside down morgue?  Stop thinking that.  That's gross.  No, there are a couple ways the CA could be set up, but none of them involve group nudity (that I know of).  The center I go to is West Philly Community Acupuncture, so I'll use them as an example in the style of a guided meditation:
You're riding your bicycle in West Philly, careful to not ride into the tracks of the 11 Trolley.  When you reach 4636 Woodland Ave, adjacent to the Four Worlds Bakery, you lock your bike to the nearest sign post.  Mmm... that bread smells good, but do you know what you want even more than a fresh loaf of sourdough?  Acupuncture.  Bypassing a glutenous destiny, you open the front door to West Philly Community Acupuncture and are met with a friendly greeting.  Yes, you would like a treatment.  Yes, it is your first time.  No, you're not gluten intolerant, you just didn't have time to stop.  Yes, $15 seems reasonable.  You pay.  After filling out your first-timer paperwork, Sarah asks you what you would like to treat today.  You had read their FAQ earlier in the meditation, and tell her that you have sore muscles from riding your bicycle.  She says she can help with that.  You take off your shoes and follow her to the treatment room.  As the door opens, you're met with warm air and gentle hum of white noise machines.  Throughout the room are recliners in the reclined position with bodies reclining in those comfortably upholstered cradles.  Everyone's eyes are closed, either sound asleep or deep in meditation.  Sarah takes you to a vacant chair and you sit down.  She pulls the lever on the right side of the chair.  You are now one of the reclining bodies.  She begins placing needles in various parts of your body.  Your hands, your arms, your legs, your ears, the top of your head, and finally, one between your eyebrows/middle of your unibrow.  You didn't feel any pain as they went in, but that last one tingled a little and you can still feel it.  Stop focusing on it.  Think about something else, like pickles.  Why do they even make bread and butter pickles?  Who eats them.  Wait, why are you thinking about pickles?  You can't remember.  Good.  Sarah asks if you would like a blanket.  Of course you would.  Who wouldn't want a blanket.  She lays one on your legs and one on your upper body.  She really meant blankets when she said blanket.  Sarah leaves you to go check on one of the other bodies.  You look at the clock.  3pm.  You close your eyes for a moment and look back at the clock.  3:05pm.  How did that happen?  You close your eyes again.  3:15pm.  Time is warping.  Your mind melts into your body and your body melts into the recliner.  You are one with the recliner.  The recliner is one with the universe.  It is 3:30pm.  Your muscles are no longer sore, but only because you no longer have muscles.  Your muscles have been reduced from fibers to cells to atoms.  Atoms are mostly empty space.  You are empty space.  It is 3:45pm.  Pain cannot exist in empty space.  Nothing can exist in empty space.  But you exist in and as empty space.  It is 4:00pm.  Bodies are missing.  People have left.  Chairs are empty.  Your new neighbor looks to be asleep.  Maybe they are dissolving into the upholstered nothingness that is the universe.  You open your eyes wide and suddenly wake up.  You wiggle your fingers, then rotate your wrists.  Your atoms have recombined and as they had done so, they made slight changes in your configuration.  Your muscles are no longer sore.  The sore atoms are elsewhere in the universe, replaced by willing and able atoms.  They are ready to ride a bicycle.  You are ready to ride your bicycle.  Sarah walks into the room.  You make eye contact.  There is no talking, only eye contact.  She removes your needles and tells you to take your time.  You do.  Your brain atoms are still reconfiguring.  You take off your blanket and walk out of the treatment room.  You drink a cup of water and say goodbye.  There is talking in this room, but only at a reasonable volume.  Your bicycle is still locked outside.  The bakery is closed.  You decide to get a Banh Mi at Fu Wah instead.  You've chosen well.
Wasn't that great???  Don't you feel revitalized?  Like your mind and body have been reset and you can conquer a Vietnamese hoagie?  I told you it would be wonderful, and have I ever let you down.  There was no question mark at the end of that last sentence because there was no doubt in either of our minds.

Ok, just a little bit more about the CA.  Each center is individually owned, but they are all a part of the People's Organization for Community Acupuncture (POCA).  As such, they must adhere to certain POCA guidelines, which ensures that they must maintain certain standards.  If they don't, POCA will look into any problems/complaints and make sure they're resolved.  This also keeps the price down, as POCA sets the sliding-scale fee limits.  This also means that POCA can keep track of which centers are where and make a handy map for tracking them down throughout the United States.  There are so many (provided you don't live in an armpit of a state)!

Anyway, if you find yourself worn down in a city that has a CA center, do yourself a favor and stop in for a treatment.  Even if it doesn't magically fix your broken-down wreck of a body, it will at least make you feel really good for a few more miles.  Sometimes that's the best we can hope for.

Friday, February 24, 2017

New Helmet: Nutcase Constellations

Back in October, my helmet was stolen.  Well, my whole bicycle got stolen, and my helmet happened to be locked to the bike, so it was stolen too.  Had the Kensington Trash stolen any other helmet of mine, it probably wouldn't have been as big of a deal.  But it was my Nutcase Superstar helmet, a helmet that is no longer manufactured and appears to be available nowhere on internet.  I had gotten it in 2013 at the Philly Bike Expo and had loved it since Day 1.  In fact, here's a photo of me loving my Superstar:

That's a nice looking helmet.  I really miss it.

Isn't it beautiful?  It's an Evel Knievel pattern, and I have received more random compliments for that helmet than any other item I own (and I have a really cool piece of polished polychromatic jasper).  That's an old picture, too, as by October 2016, it had faux-rhinestone stars placed in the middle of each white star, making it even better.  A helmet like that, a helmet so awesome to behold, a helmet so fun to wear (look at that face) can't just be replaced.  Or can it?

The answer is yes, it can be, but not by just any old helmet.  I already had an 'any old helmet' for MTB, and I didn't need another one.  No, it had to be replaced by an equally rad helmet (or at least one really close).  But who could make such a rad helmet?  The obvious, Occam's Razor answer was Nutcase.  They had made the original awesome helmet, so if anyone could make the new awesome helmet, it was them.

Disclaimer:  This may sound like a shameless plug for Nutcase, and it kind of is.  When I got my Superstar in 2013, it was at the Nutcase booth on the Philly Bike Expo convention floor.  It was at that booth that I met Miriam and Chris from Nutcase, two of the nicest people you could ever meet (at a bike expo or not).  Over the years, we've kept in touch (including swinging by their fun HQ in Portland) and they've continued to be awesome people .  Their products are great and their team is great, so I am completely Nutcase biased.

Anyway, a few days ago I received an email that the newest Nutcase models were released, and that's when I knew I had my replacement.  Behold... Constellations:

Click here for a way better picture of Constellations.

Woah...  Now that's a pretty helmet!  It's covered in (eponymous) constellations and has a sparkling black finish.  Way more elegant than my old Superstar, but just as awesome.  Even more awesome was the fact that the ear pad inserts from my Superstar fit perfectly in Constellations.  Anyone that rides all winter and doesn't have ear pads is doing themselves a disservice, as they are fuzzy lobe-warmers.  Also, anyone that's having trouble reading a non-plural proper noun ending in an 'S', I'm with you.

Most importantly, while stopped into Bicycle Revolutions to show Travis, one of the mechanics said, "Nice helmet."  Looks like Constellations is going to pick up right where Superstar left off.  Couldn't have picked a better helmet to carry the torch.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mississippi Learnin': Slave Labor in 2017

Let's start with some numbers:
Ok, now let's get into this without swearing.  I really want to swear.  I really, really do.  But I'm a gentleman, and gentlemen only do that in private with their pinkies out.

When I first arrived into Mississippi, I noticed something I'd never seen before in another state.  Every so often along the highway, I would see a crew of people cleaning the side of the road.  Those people were always in distinct uniforms so that they could easily be recognized.  They were criminals, and they were laboring away in the sweltering heat picking up trash.

After spending some time driving around with a lifelong Mississippian, I had it loosely explained to me that this was a win-win situation.  The prisoners got to spend some time outside of jail and the county got discounted labor (discounted, free...  potato, potato).  Prisoners also ran a nearby produce stop where they sold veggies that they grew.  My Mississippian never once said it was a good way for prisoners to earn some income, and I never asked to clarify whether that omission was intentional or not.

So let's go back to the numbers up above.  In a state where unemployment is at 6.6%, why are prisoners doing work rather than employing someone that needs a job?  Shouldn't MDOT have people on their staff that could do highway beautification for a paycheck?  Wouldn't it make sense to create jobs where they very obviously could be created, especially unskilled positions in a state with low four-year degree rates?  Wouldn't it be beneficial to the state as a whole to help the unemployed get back into the workforce, which in turn betters the entire economy as they rejoin it?

Obviously, this is all rhetorical.  I know why prisoners are doing the work.  They are unpaid (for all I's and P's), yet somehow subsidized labor.  Mississippi and the South have deep roots in unpaid labor.  It worked so well for so long, why not try it again?  Oh, right, because last time it ended with their entire economy being wiped out, the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, and a trail of burning buildings from Atlanta to Savannah.

Mississippi (along with the country as a whole) has a disproportionate number of minorities in jail, a hallmark of overt, unchecked racism.  While whites outnumber Hispanics by 19:1 in the state population, they are dwarfed by 1:8 in prison.  Versus blacks, it's 3:2 in the population, and 1:3 in jail.  With a fresh supply of non-whites readily available at all times, Jail Cells have become the new Slave Quarters.  Mississippi has found a way around the 13th Amendment.  It might be time for another emancipation.

I was happy to find a NYTimes article covering this terrible practice, and happier to see the program was going to be scaled back.  I was less happy to see it was being scaled back for financial reasons, instead of the blatant wrongness of it.  In any case, here's a quote from the article:
“Prison slave labor isn’t free; someone’s paying for it, and, typically, it’s a state subsidy to the counties,” said Paul Wright, the executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center and the editor of Prison Legal News. “At the end of the day, even when the prisoners are being totally exploited and paid nothing, the labor itself is far from free.” - NY Times, 6/2/2105
So the only way to end a racist practice is to make it financially unattractive?  If that's the case, does anyone have any ideas on how to make racism itself less profitable?  Currently, our judicial system is doing a great job of keeping private prisons profitable by filling them up with minorities.  How could the system be changed to make this practice a financial disaster?  Heavy federal fines for wrongfully imprisoned minorities?  Removal of federal funding for states that have proven racist practices (the ACLU would be all over that in a heartbeat)?  

But really, I don't think racism is ever going to go away.  We are animalistic creatures with biological impulses that tell us to fear those that don't look like us.  Some of us have overcome those impulses, while others have embraced them.  That said, it's the job of everyone who's evolved past animal instinct to try to reach out to those who still drag their knuckles, in the hopes of getting them to walk upright.  (If you see somebody being shitty, reach out to them.  Talk to them.  See if you can use that big brain of yours to help them see the error in their ways and be a better person.)  And above that, it is the job the governing power to hold themselves and their citizens to the highest standards, not the basest.  If that means heavy fines for bad behavior, so be it.

Anyway, if you have any interest in getting really angry (so much swearing) and possibly involved, go catch up on episodes of Reveal, a wonderful show from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.  Either listen to their hour long episodes or read stories online.  You can start with content tagged as Criminal Justice.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Team Orange Update: Satisfaction

Saturday night, Team Orange played possibly the most satisfying game of hockey that I have ever been a part of.  Before stepping out of the locker room, I was all but certain that we were going to lose.  We had only six skaters and our goalie, meaning at most, one person could possibly be getting a rest at any given time.  Also, we were about to face the top team in the league.  A team that beat the snot out of us the last time we played them.

Once we got onto the ice, my outlook changed a bit.  While we were still playing the best team in the league, with the top scorer (49 points in 15 games), they only had seven skaters.  This meant they still had enough skaters to be able to always be resting one D and one O, but at least this made it a pretty fair fight.

We got off to a quick start, with Tony U. hammering one home within the first minute and a half.  Damien lit the light nine minutes later to give us a two goal lead that we took into intermission.  That two minute intermission felt like ten seconds.  I was exhausted and dripping with sweat.

Midway through the second was when I started to get the shakes with a touch of the woozies.  Neither team was giving any ground, meaning every puck was a battle.  Giving an inch or showing any weakness could have been disastrous.  Teams can always pick up on weak links and attack.  Fortunately, we didn't have any.  So even though were weren't getting any good scoring chances, neither were they.  That was only until late in the period, though, when their top scorer managed to sneak past our D and get a deep pass for a breakaway.  With 30 goals on the season before stepping on the ice, the end result of his breakaway was a foregone conclusion.

Soaking wet and electrolyte deprived, we ended the second period with a 2-1 lead and not much left in the tank.  A 2-1 lead is a terrible lead.  Especially if you're on defense, which is where I was.  A slim lead makes the losing team attack harder, and even the tiniest mistake can swing moment and lead to heartbreak.  

And then the flurry of penalties began.  We spent most that period dumping pucks deep while on a man disadvantage, unable to establish an offense.  But then disaster struck for the other team.  Their biggest player (with the hardest shot) became entangled with Erik as the two fought for the puck.  As their momentum ground to a halt, the big man wiped out, pulling Erik down on top of him.  When they hit the ice, Erik was fine, but their big guy's game was done.  He hurt his ankle (either broken or severely sprained), making the game 6 on 6.  That was all we needed.  I said it earlier, teams find weakness and attack.  Getting hurt is always a possibility.

With four minutes left, Tony U. found the back of the net on a breakaway.  I had just gotten off the ice for my second small break of the period, and as I sat their slumped over on myself, I almost cried tears of joy (and exhaustion).  I had a golf ball growing on the outside of my left foot from a blocked shot and every inch of me wanted to stop moving, and when that puck went through, I was overwhelmed by relief.  Not only did that puck put gas back in my tank, it deflated the other team's spirits and acted as blood in the water for our team.  Two and a half minutes later, Dan snuck one more in for safe keeping, and we ended the game with a  4-1 victory.

Happy Goalie, Happy Life.  (Photo courtesy of Dylan Williams)

After hand shakes and words of encouragement to the injured player, we slowly made our way back to the locker room.  It took a long time to get all that gear off, and even longer to crawl into the showers.

The whole point of this recap is that I have never before been happier with how well every single person on the team played.  Everyone on Team Orange gave it their all for the entirety of the game, even when they were beyond exhausted.  The offense backchecked all night and gave the other team hell through the neutral zone all night and the defense played a tough but smart game, bodying up, blocking shots, and clearing the puck out of the zone every time the team needed it.  Everyone played their position and did their job to the best of their abilities, working as a unit and never lounging on the expectation that a fellow teammate would pick up their slack.

The biggest thing was that nobody was ever a burden to anyone else on the team.  If anything, every person only tried to make everyone else's life a little easier.  It's a pretty good way to be successful as a unit (team, society, world, etc.).  If everyone stopped focusing on how bad they think they have it, and worried more about helping those who might have it worse, a lot of our problems would take care of themselves.  While you're busy helping someone through their struggle, there's going to be another person helping you through yours.

Anyway, a huge thank you goes out to Cat, Damian, Dan, Erik, Tony U., and most importantly, Will.  Best game I've ever been a part of, and I'm glad I could share it with you guys.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Mississippi Learnin': Kudzu - The Vine that Ate the South

I first noticed it in Bristol, VA, and then I noticed it everywhere.  Devouring small bushes, overtaking large trees; it was an unstoppable force hellbent on swallowing the South.  But what was it?

Atlanta, GA Kudzu Infestation (via Wikipedia)

It wasn't until I reached Jackson that I finally had kudzu explained to me.  Kudzu is an invasive, leafy vine that was brought to America from Southeast Asia in the late 1800's for the purposes of erosion control.  Those were the Dust Bowl days, and we needed something to end John Steinbeck's subversion, so kudzu was imported.  And holy shit did it ever control erosion.  Growing its vines at a rate of about a foot a day, kudzu is a beast of a plant that has no naturally occurring competition in America.  The picture above should give some idea of what it's capable of, but the picture below should really hammer home how ridiculous this plant is:

Photo from:

Get it?  Hammer home?  That's a house in the middle of all of that kudzu.  Ugh, tough crowd.  In any case, this is what the kudzu can do if left unchecked.  It will grow over any surface in order to get as much sun as possible, parasitically using the height of taller plants to steal that delicious sunshine, killing them in the process.  Can you imagine going on a two week vacation and finding thousands of 14' vines climbing up your walls?

As we drove around Mississippi, we saw infestations of kudzu all over, turning an arboreal landscape into menacing green walls.  I've never seen anything like it, and I really hope M. Night Shyamalan never visits the south, because I don't think the world is ready for The Happening 2: Attack of the Kudzu.  Could you imagine?  A future where global warming has left kudzu growth unchecked as low-altitude frost is only a vague memory.  Civilization is forced to move to higher and higher elevations to escape the crawling vines, eventually building homes on towers high up in the sky.  And then the big reveal... The movie is just the prequel to The Jetsons.  No thank you.  Either that or he'd rip of Cat's Cradle and kudzu would be a biological ice-nine.  Also no thank you.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mississippi Learnin': Vicksburg

I'd mentioned Vicksburg and it's Independence Day protest in the previous post, but there's a lot more to know about the town than that bit of infamy.  I was lucky enough to get to spend a day in Vicksburg with a local historian and anthropologist.  Along with visiting the Old Warren County Courthouse Museum we spent a big chunk of time at the Vicksburg National Military Park.  Until visiting that park, I can't say I ever really found myself drawn towards Civil War history, but having since been there, I care enough to tell you all about it.  Quickly and with many links for more reading.  If you are a historian, please stop reading.  You'll burst a blood vessel yelling at the screen otherwise.

Vicksburg National Military Park

The turning point in the Civil War, as everyone knows, was Lee's defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863).  A battle that's lesser known to non-history buffs, but also extremely important for a Union/Federal victory, was the Seige of Vicksburg.  Why was it important?  Because Vicksburg was the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi river.  If the union could control the Mississippi, they could get get supplies and troops to the South quickly and easily with their Ironclad Ships.  And if they could do that, victory would be within reach.

So the only thing standing between Union and control of the Mississippi was the fortified, high-ground city of Vicksburg.  Grant knew this, so he came up with a plan.  The first part of the plan was to get south of Vicksburg and approach it from underneath.  The only way to do that was to bypass the Mississippi by breaking down levees to reroute through the Yazoo Pass.  While a successful maneuver, the Yazoo Pass Expedition did mark the first sinking of an iron clad, as the USS Cairo was taken down by a submerged mine.  Two fun facts about that: 1) The Cairo was eventually removed (after a failed attempt that split it in half) and is now on display in the Vicksburg NMP, and 2) Submerged mines back then were manually detonated, not pressure-triggered.  Soldiers would hide and wait along the side of the river and then blow the mine with a detonator that was wired the long distance to the mine.

USS Cairo

Anyway, once they had the Yazoo, they could dip south and really raise hell.  Up first, Grant split up his troops and started clearing out Confederate battalions throughout Mississippi.  While that was going on, Confederate Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton fortified and regrouped at Vicksburg.  Grant marched as far east as Jackson, MS, tallying victory after victory.  Eventually, as Mississippi cleared out of Confederates, Grant headed west to Vicksburg.  On May 8, Grant launched the first assault, with 35,000 soldiers on his line to Pemberton's 18,500 (out of 40,000 total).  The Union lost 135 soldiers with nearly another 800 wounded.  Whereas the South only lost 8 with 62 injured.  Not a bad start for the Confederates.  If they could just hold out until Lee finished the North off up in Pennsylvania, they'd probably be ok.

Grant, not being a dumdum, changed his plans.  Instead of attacking and losing men, he was going to play the long game.  At this point, the North controlled the Mississippi above and below Vicksburg, so the first thing to do was cut off all supplies.  It was a big city, eventually they would need food and other necessities, and that would be reason enough to surrender.  

The Confederates also knew that breaking up the supply chain for the North would be a path to victory, which led to the famous Battle of Milliken's Bend.  The Bend was where the North had nearby supply depots and hospitals, which were mostly guarded by freed slaves.  So on June 7, 1863, the South attacked, and guess what?  A group of poorly trained, under armed, former slaves kicked some Confederate asses in what was the first victory for a black battalion.

Back in Vicksburg, Grant decided to "out-camp the enemy," so he hunkered down, lined up cannons, and let it rain on the city.  All day and all night, random cannon fire fell on the city, making it unsafe to be out in the open.  This was a problem that the townspeople found a creative solution to, as they began digging caves to live in.  There's a good book about this, My Cave Life in Vicksburg, that is a first person account of life during the seige.  And it worked, as very few civilians died.

Meanwhile, more and more Federal troops arrived, until the North had nearly double the troops of the South, forming a 12-mile ring of fire around the city.  Pemberton was screwed.  On top of that, his troops were starving and disease was spreading.  He was trapped like a rat, and Grant was the cat sitting outside of the hole in the wall just waiting to pounce.

On July 3, 1863, Pemberton realized he had lost and sent a message to Grant to discuss terms of surrender.  That is the same day that Lee's dramatic defeat on Cemetery Ridge, ending the Battle of Gettysburg in a Union victory.  The next day, Pemberton officially surrendered, which was why Vicksburg didn't celebrate the Fourth of July for the next 80 or so years.  Two major Confederate losses in cities separated by 1,000 miles signaled the beginning of the end for the Confederate States of America.  Good riddance.

Illinois Memorial to fallen soldiers in Vicksburg NMP

With how divided our country is currently, it might be a good time for all of us to take some time to visit these battlefields to get a reminder of what can happen if we can't settle our differences.  Over 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War, roughly 2% of the American population at the time.  Would it be worth 6,000,000 lives to defund education, environmental protection, and take health care away from those who need it?  And who are the 6,000,000 that die?  The people that most need those social services, not the wealthy elite that use the rest of us as disposable soldiers on their front lines.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Mississippi Learnin': The Civil War

Prior to this past summer, I had spent very little of my adult life in the South, with the majority of my time down there spent either partying in Columbia, SC or at amusement parks in Tampa and Orlando.  Oh, or buying fireworks at South of the Border.  Definitely have done that a bit.  As a Northern Yank, I only had some stereotypical ideas about what Mississippi was like, which included thick, molasses accents, stars and bars flags, and baptist churches as far as the eye could see.  What I didn't expect to see were prevalent reminders of a war that happened over 150 years ago.

As a Philadelphian, I very seldom think of the Civil War.  It just isn't a big part of the cultural identity this far north the Mason Dixon line, with the exception of major battleground cities like Gettysburg.  We studied it in school and then move onto the next subject, mostly learning that it rectified the wrong of slavery.    If anything, the echoes of the Revolutionary War are what still reverberate through the streets of my home town.  The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Elfreth's Alley; these are our historic artifacts of Americana we embrace.  Portals through time, they represent the good on which our country was founded.  The symbols of the Land of Opportunity that won it's freedom from tyranny through valiant battle and sheer determination of will.  Be sure to ignore the fact that history is written by the winners, and that the freedom's extended by that war only applied to a select few, while others are still playing catch-up with Civil Liberties nearly 250 years later.

Mississippi is much different, in that the war it holds onto, whether it wants to or not, is one that ended horribly for the state.  The Civil War and its aftermath can still be felt over a century and a half later, with a battered economy and towns that still lie in ruin.  Maybe it's not so much that Mississippi holds onto the war, and more that it can't escape it.

Prior to the war, cotton was king in the South.  Sprawling farms and free labor afforded affluence and luxury to the families that would one day most feel the negative effects of the Civil War.  With everything to lose, they had to fight back against what they viewed as Federalist tyranny (in the South, they don't say Union).  And as a result, they lost everything.  Family members killed, homes burned to the ground, farms destroyed, fortunes lost, sanctions levied, and all their slave labor all gone.  Mississippi was set back over 100 years by the war and its repercussions, and their current economic conditions reflect that setback.

The Windsor Mansion survived the Civil War, but Karma caught up in 1890 in the form of a cigar. 

I feel little sympathy for the Confederates that lost their lives or livelihood in the war, as I can't even begin to fathom the horrific nature of the atrocities committed on those plantations by Southern gentlemen.  I do feel bad for any good people living in the South during the war that ended up dying for or ruined by a cause that they were opposed to.  It's easy to lump a whole region together, but the fact is, every nation is made up of individuals, some of which don't want to be defined by the worst of their neighbors or leaders.

In any case, I saw reminders of the Civil War that I had not expected.  I expected to see memorials and statues, but I didn't expect to see a cannonball still lodged in the side of a church:

First Presbyterian Church.  Rodney, MS.

Look directly above the middle window on the second floor.  That is a cannonball that was fired by a Union ship out on the Mississippi.  Crazier to me, though, was the fact that the Mississippi river is currently over a mile from that church, as it's been rerouted over the years by levees, floods, and the Army Corp of Engineers (the latter to undo the damaging floods caused by initial straightening rooted in commercial interest).

I also didn't expect to see cities that had never really recovered after having been razed to the ground during the war.  Before continuing, do we really antonymic homonyms in our language?  Raise and raze? C'mon, we're better than that.  Anyway, as Grant cleared a path to Vicksburg (more on that later), towns that resisted the Federal troops could potentially end up burned to the ground.  The post-war economic crush then left those towns unable to rebuild, even to this day.  One of the most famous exceptions, though, is Port Gibson, a town that Grant said was, "too beautiful to burn," which still thrives to this day even though it was part of a major battle.  But getting back to the point, there are towns that were leveled in the 1860's that never recovered, meanwhile Dresden has a shopping district.

Finally, I didn't expect to learn about an American city that protested the 4th of July until the 1900's.  Depending on who you ask, it's said that Vicksburg refused to celebrate America's birthday from 1863-1945.  The reason for the initial protest was that Vicksburg fell to Gen. Grant on July 4th, 1863.  Following that defeat, the town remained butthurt until the 1900's, and refused to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  A brief pause here to remind everyone how young America is.  The Civil War ended less than 90 years after the country first declared itself an independent nation, and the Vicksburg protest went for another 82 years, to when the Second World War ended and they finally saw a reason to feel unity with the rest of the country.  That is such a short span of time.

While I found all of the above interesting, none of those things were quiet as incredible as a story told to me about a young soldier in Raymond, MS.  As legend has it, during an overwhelming Federal victory, a young solider was shot in the testicle, and that bullet, more magical than the one that struck JFK three times in the head, passed through that soldier's crotch, through town, and into the abdomen of a young woman that stood on her porch, watching the battle from a distance.  That young woman went on to give birth to a perfectly healthy baby some nine months later.  Woah.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Driving to Jackson

Pop Quiz: 
  1. What is the capital of Mississippi?  Answer
  2. What is the capitol of Mississippi?  Answer
Did you answer both correctly?  If so, click here.  If not, click here.

Ok, let's get back to it.  I had a rental car with functioning A/C, clean clothes, a large cup of coffee mixed with a splash of hot chocolate, a pimento cheese sandwich, and somewhere around 16 hours to drive less than 550 miles.  Driving is boring, so instead of getting into the thoughts I thought and feelings I felt over those hours, let's do the highlights.

1. Alabama Rest Stops
Having slept in the drivers seat at my fair share of highway rest areas, I feel like somewhat of an expert in the field.  From the crowded chaos of stops along the Jersey Turnpike to the minimalist shade structures in Wyoming to senior citizens handing out coffee in Colorado, I was pretty sure I'd seen it all in the way of rest stop offerings.  But then I got to Alabama.

Plenty of open seating at midnight.

A wraparound porch with rocking chairs?  Where was I, Cracker Barrel?  Alabama clearly took their country living seriously.  That or the ample seating had more to do with the toll taken by oppressive heat and humidity.  Even at night, Alabama felt like a sauna, so I could only imagine how many sweaty layovers occurred in those salt-stained rockers during a brief journey from bathroom to car.  I didn't touch any of them.

2. Chunky, MS
Not much to say about this, other than it's the best name of a town ever.  I didn't stop, as I was sleep-deprived and over-caffeinated, but I did paint a pretty nice mental picture of a town full of cherubic, roly poly Chunkyans walking their chubby, little English bulldogs through town square, tipping their hats or waving their forehead dabbing rags as they pass.  There was even a gazebo in the middle of town with a barbershop quartet doing the truffle shuffle.  Ok.  It's very possible that I just imagined Chunky Stars Hollow.

Yeah, I took this while driving.  #rebel

The winner of the worst town name was Philadelphia, MS.  Never before in my life have I had to explain which Philadelphia I was from.  Context clues, folks.  I clearly asked for an ice cold glass of woo-duh, not wah-tuh.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Shutter Precision - Round 2

My replacement Shutter Precision PV-8 hub (💩) came in about two weeks ago, and Kyler graciously rebuilt my wheel for me.  Same rim, same spokes, new nips, new hub.  It's a solid build, but I am genuinely concerned about the durability of this hub.  The last one made it fewer than 100 miles before it crapped out, so I'm not sure how many miles I'll have to put on it before I trust it enough to head out on tour.  At least 1,000?

When I told a Shutter Precision sales rep about the issue, they told me that the issue I experienced had a 1 in 10,000 chance of happening, so if their numbers are to be trusted, the chances of two complete breakdowns in a row should be 1 in 100,000,000.  I really wish I could say a 0.00000001 chance of breakdown is reassuring, but it's not.

Here's what I think is going to happen, I think it's going to breakdown in the middle of nowhere and it's going to be a disaster.  I'm going to be a week into a three week tour, somewhere in the Kootenai National Forest, no bicycle shops for miles, riding just after sunset when my hub gives out.
  • Scenario 1: Outside of civilization; only the electrics fail. - Fine, I can still ride, I just won't be lit up any more.  No worries, what's the worst that could happen?  Oh, right, I could be flattened by a tractor trailer hauling ass down Route 2 on their way to drop a bunch of grass fed, free range, angus steaks off at a resort hotel inside Glacier National Park.  Maybe I don't get flattened.  Maybe the trucks see me because of all the reflectors on my panniers (very possible, as Ortliebs panniers have high night visibility) and they don't run me over.  Great, but now that I'm no longer lit up, I no longer appear to be a vehicle to the mountain lions that litter the mountainside.  That's right, the only thing that had been differentiating me from a potential woodland meal was my super bright LED headlight.  Now that it's disabled, I'm just a funny shaped, oddly moving mule deer that is potentially more delicious.  Only one way to find out.  Outcome: Death

The mountain lions are hiding in the trees.

  • Scenario 2: Outside of civilization; the hub stops spinning. - Now what?  Walk my way to the Troy Bike Shop?  This is as bad as Scenario 1 for both trucks and lions.  That means I'll have to hitch a ride with someone nice enough to pick me up in the middle of the night.  Oh, here's a nice person driving up in a rusty, old truck.  Well, hello sir.  Why yes, I am heading to Troy.  Thank you for the ride!  And then maybe the authorities will find what's left of my body a month later, buried in a shallow grave along the Kootenay River or maybe the rocks will slip loose and I'll float up to the top of Flathead Lake.  In either case, that nice old man is going to be extra warm next winter when he's wearing his me-skin jacket.  Same outcome: Death

  • Scenario 3: In civilization - With this scenario, if either the electrics fail or the hub stops spinning, the hub will need to be replaced (if the electrics go, the rest of the hub is on its way out soon).  I have a few options here.  If I'm not in a hurry I could overpay a shop to order a new hub and rebuild using my existing rim.  Another other option is to have them build one from what they have in stock, also expensive, but not as nice.  The worst option would be to buy a pre-built wheel that would be good enough to get me to civilization but would have to be replaced once I made it home.  Outcome: Bank Death or a Junk Wheel
Shutter Precision has already let me know that they don't care about bank death, but will they care about real death?  Would anyone boycott them if Shutter Precision is the reason I end up eaten by a family of mountain lions?  How am I supposed to trust a company that doesn't care if I'm eaten by lions?

If this hub fails and I don't die, I'm going to put a bad product review on every website that let's me.  I'll be leaving Shutter Precision reviews everywhere from the bottom of YouTube videos about LARPing to Yelp pages for Mexican restaurants in Philly.  I have free time.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Looking Glass Layover

After a few days of rest and relaxation in Asheville, it was time to be getting to Jackson.  Finishing the southbound portion of the tour early meant I could spend more time on the road out west, but that couldn't happen until I reached Jackson.  So I said my goodbyes, loaded up my bike, and took off for the most affordable car rental spot in town.  Once there, I rented the cheapest, most compact car they had, shoved my bike and bags in the back, and headed southwest.

On a side note, as I get older, I realize more and more that things people told me when I was younger were bullshit.  Santa was just the beginning.  As far back as my first car rental, I can remember being told that rental car insurance was a scam, that I didn't need it.  "Well son, the funny thing about rental car insurance is that you just don't need it."  "Why's that?"  "Because your regular insurance will cover any damages."  "Ok.  I'll believe you since you said it so matter-of-factly."  "Good.  One day you will be wise too."  "Oh boy!  I can't wait!"  "Well, you're just going to have to.  Time moves in a straight line with constant velocity.  Your only chance of speeding it up is a coma, and nobody wants that."  "Aw, shucks!  I'll never be wise!"

For the past ten years, I don't think I've ever gotten the rental insurance.  Then just a few weeks back, name redacted was in a rental car fender bender and proved that this was all a lie.  That personal insurance doesn't automatically cover rentals, and that they were going to have to pay a bunch of money to get a cracked fender repaired.  Are you kidding me?!?  How many other false notions am I basing my life on?  Does diet soda even cause cancer??

My only extended stop between NC and MS was Looking Glass Rock, over 35 miles from where I'd been crashing in Asheville.  See?  The good hikes were not that close to Asheville.  How was I supposed to ride down, do a hike, and ride back?  Unpossible.

I didn't know anything about Looking Glass, but internet said it was "impressive" and that was good enough for me.  Who doesn't like to be impressed?  When I arrived, my first stop was to Looking Glass Falls, a bit before the Rock's trailhead.  I wasn't planning on stopping, but there were cars lining the road into the park, so I decided to park and see what the story was.  The story was a beautiful waterfall that crashed into a large, shallow pool of water that was packed entirely full with families.  There were so many people that I promptly turned around and headed back to my car.  I'd been to a swimming hole the day prior, I didn't need one today too.  Especially not one that was full of kids peeing everywhere.  It probably had a urine ppm comparable to a public pool on a Saturday in Philly.

The trailhead was less than a mile away, and when I arrived, I stopped only for a moment to change my clothes before heading up the dirt path.  It was a beautiful hike through thick forest, and was entirely uphill all the way to Looking Glass Rock, with 1700' of elevation gain over 3.25 miles.  The only reason I'm telling you any of this is because I want to show you the pictures from the top.


Ooooh!  Aaaah!  Right???  Looking Glass is a big bald knob that, while very gritty, gives the appearance of an easy fall.  I walked as close to the pour over as I dared, which wasn't that close because I'm not that daring when it comes to heights.  Off to my left was a storm system that appeared to be moving my direction, so I didn't stay at the top very long.  Also, I still had a lot of driving to do, with another 560 miles separating me from Jackson.  I mostly just wanted to get a nice hike in as well as see what all the hubbub was about these mountains.  Having a birds eye view made me more than ever want to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway in the autumn.

With the 560 miles on my mind, I double-timed it back down the trail.  I was making great time, so I'm not sure why I decided to try to shave less than one hundred feet off the hike by skipping a switchback and heading straight down the side of the mountain.  I regretted it instantly, as the mushy earth gave way, leaving my back half covered in mud after a long slide.  This leads to three important lessons for everyone:

  1. Always stay on switchbacks.  They're there for your safety as well as erosion control.
  2. It rains everyday in Asheville.  All dirt is mud at some point in the day.
  3. "There are no shortcuts in life."  Which I just found out has the follow-up of "- only those we imagine."  I like that full quote more.
Once I reached my rental, I changed back into my driving clothes and headed to the nearest convenience store for a coffee.  I had a lot of driving to do in a short time if I wanted to drop the car off before I was charged for a second day.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Riding Music: Spiderman of the Rings (Dan Deacon)

It occurred to me that I don't give nearly enough credit to musicians for helping me out on tour.  Between brutal climbs and monotonous farm flats, music helps keep my mind occupied when it needs distraction most.  I'm mostly a podcast guy on tour (safer since they allow outside noise in past my headphones), but there are times that the savage beast needs to be soothed.  So before I head out on tour, I make sure my music library is stocked with some music for when I need it most.  That said, here's one my usual picks:

Spiderman is transitional Deacon, residing somewhere between the completely absurdist cassettes and the more traditional (relative term) Bromst.  It is frenetic, ridiculous, and spectacular, and packs enough energy to push the most exhausted butt up a climb.  It's also complex and nuanced enough that if you're able to zone out and fall completely into the album, you'll catch bits and pieces of patchwork sounds you'd never noticed, even after dozens of listens.  If you've never given Deacon a listen, here's a good start:

The intro to "Snake Mistakes" was the ringtone on my phone for a while.  
It was not a popular ringtone among my co-workers.

Spiderman has a few things going for it that make it ideal for my rides, the biggest being crescendos and absurdity.  The first one, crescendos, are what pack the punch for getting me through the worst parts of a ride.  My favorite track on the album, "Jimmy Joe Roche", is a constant interweaving of rises and falls that lead to an auditory tidal wave crashing down and drowning out any outside thoughts, good or bad.  Almost a forced meditation by yelling louder than any voices bouncing around in my skull.  Maybe it's not a tidal wave.  Maybe each build up adds light to a ball of energy glowing in my chest, and the final climax ignites an internal explosion that breaks down ATP bonds and blows away lactic acid.  Yeah, it's one of those two.  In either case, it works.  Just listen for yourself:

Not many better riding songs.

Then there's absurdity.  Absurdity should be something we all embrace every day.  We are all absurd people, each living absurd lives, but instead of embracing the fact that life is ridiculous, we try our hardest to normalize and fit in.  There is freedom in absurdity, in admitting that the things we do don't make that much sense.  That life itself doesn't make that much sense.  Why does it make sense to dress intentionally ugly to attract a mate?  Why does it make sense to spend $3 on a coffee that cost $.20 per cup, and then tip an extra dollar for that barista to buy more ugly clothing to attract a potential mate?  Why does it make sense to trade the 40 best hours of the week (at a minimum) to someone much wealthier than us in exchange for money to buy overpriced coffee that we need to make up for the lack of sleep we get because we've sold over a third of each day to the highest bidder?  It's completely ridiculous, but we think it's normal.

For that reason, you need Spiderman of the Rings.  Life doesn't make much sense, but we still try to make up a story to fit all the disjointed pieces of reality together, ignoring the fact that the end result is just a shitty Mad Lib.  Instead of forcing incongruous pieces of sound together in a way that sounds the most "normal", Deacon puts them together the way he wants to hear them.  He's willing to follow his ear's heart and making something that sounds beautifully and absurdly honest.  And that really strikes a chord with me on tour.  There is nothing "normal" about riding bicycle through the middle of the Smoky Mountains in the middle of the night, but goddamn does it feel good.  If feeling good isn't normal, then I'll take absurd.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Hunt for the Wilderpeople: ★★★★★

Have you seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople?  The movie with Dr. Grant from Jurassic Park, except he's a lot older, a kiwi, and not the terrifying doctor from Event Horizon?  No link was included to that last movie because it is absolutely terrifying and even just Google searching the words "Event Horizon" has damned me to a week of nightmares.  I saw Event Horizon in theater with my uncle, and the two of us were equally terrified, even though he was a grown man and I was old enough to know movies aren't real.  The scene in the air duct?  Are you kidding me?  That same uncle and I also cried at the end of the Travolta movie, Phenomenon.  That terminal brain cancer?  Are you kidding me?  I'd like to think that hiding my eyes in terror and/or wiping tears away from them are simply signs that I'm getting lost in the story and suspending my disbelief.  I know that there is neither a hellish dimension full of demons that latch onto blackhole traveling ships, nor a cancer that causes hyperintelligence and telekinesis.

That said, I enjoy going to the movies.  So much so, that when I had some free time in Asheville, I took a ride down to the Fine Arts Theatre on Biltmore Ave (not helpful since everything is named Biltmore down there) just to see what was playing.  You know it's fancy because they switched up the 'e' and the 'r'.  When I saw Sam Neill on the poster, I figured Wilderpeople had to be good, and holy crap was it great!

The premise is that Sam Neill's wife (Aunt Bella) takes in a troubled youth (Ricky) in a last ditch effort to save him from himself.  Hec (Neill) is not keen on the idea, as he does not like people, especially children.  The only person he likes is Bella, and that's enough for Ricky to get to stay.  In fact, if not for Bella, Hec would be more than content to live in the woods for the rest of his life and never see another person again.

Bella and Hec live in the middle of rolling hills and lush green forest, a few hours drive from civilization.  There they are self-sufficient and live off the land.  Ricky is from the city and wants to be a rapper.  He has no idea how to survive in the wilderness nor does he have any interest in learning how.  What a setup for ensuing hijinks!

Cut to... Ricky and Hec hiding from authorities in the woods for a few months.  Not just the police, but local hunters eager to get a reward for catching them.  Watching that little city boy learn to live in the woods?  Watching that cranky old man learn to live with a child?  Watching bumbling authorities try to bring them in while the rest of the country cheers them on?  It all makes for a very enjoyable movie.  I highly recommend it.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople: ★★★★★