Sunday, July 27, 2008

Low Mileage, Higher Speed, Fresh Pavement

I am a bit behind the locals when it comes to cranking out the miles this year. Psimet recently opined about reaching 2000 miles, while Mr Arron is charging hard to top the 700 mile mark for the month of July. Checking my odometer, it only has 1452 miles. The lack of centuries and skipping out on RAIN this year seems to have taken it's toll on racking up the distance.

This is not all bad, though.

A lot of my miles have come on the weekly 28.4 mile Penny Road Pub ride, which is usually done in a brisk 20-21 mph average, or my miles have come from a half dozen hilly Wisconsin rides. There haven't been a lot of junk miles (not that those other guys are junk miling it).

Yesterday morning I went out early for what ended up being a 42.8 mile ride. Despite the low 70s temps, the air was hazy and humid. I was dripping with sweat. Despite the moisture, the ride was really zippy at 20.3 mph average. A few years ago the same route would have been somewhere between 16 and 17 mph.

I attribute much of this faster riding to the Tuesday night rides. The Tuesday night ride has pushed me to keep up with guys I couldn't keep up with when I started joining in last summer. This year I'm still not their equal, but I can hang much longer in the pack.

The other part of yesterday's higher speed was the fresh pavement on the roads near my place. It's a revelation when a flat road goes from pitted and potholed to smooth asphalt. Worth several mph over a few miles. Wonderful. All roads should be so smooth.

Alright. Going to get out there in a little while to rack up a few more miles. I'm falling behind...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Be on my side, I'll be on your side

Mr. Arron linked to a live Phish performance in his latest blog. I’m kind of wondering how he chose “Bohemian Rhapsody” as the song to link, even though I would have love to been there to party like it’s 1996. I know NYE at the Fleet Center on 12/31/1996 was a decent show, as I’ve got a three tape copy of it somewhere around here, but it’s not what I’d call a transcendent show just upon tape listens, such as one year prior 12/31/2005 at MSG. I wasn’t at MSG, either, but listening to the tapes for years (and finally getting a deserved official release from the band), I could find something in there to blow the Queen cover off the map.

In any case, the post got me to thinking about transcendent moments at shows and I linked in his comments to one of my all time favorites. It happened on a cold October 1998 weekend down in Tinley Park, where Nelson/Young/Mellencamp were hosting Farm Aid for the second consecutive year at the New World Amphitheatre. The year prior, much of the crowd left after a lukewarm set by Dave Matthews Band. The DMB kids took off and missed to the amazing John Fogerty set and subsequent performances by Willie, Neil, and John. WTF? In any case, I’m guessing the organizers didn’t want a repeat of that in 1998 when it was announced that Phish would be on the bill. They placed the Vermont boys at the end of the show, insuring that many of the heads would stick around through all the sets.

The day was cold and blustery as I met up with my old buddy Larry (a Neil Young aficionado) in the parking lot. We had seats in the pavilion, but they were off to the left side where the sound was miserable. Sets by Steve Earle, Wilco, Brian Wilson, Hootie and the Blowfish, and few others went by before the three organizers took their turns. Finally, it was time for Phish. The pavilion had cleared a bit, so we moved to the middle where the sound was much better. The boys played through “Birds of a Feather,” “Moma Dance” and a couple other songs and then finally dropped an awesome “Runaway Jim.” (picked up mid-song here) At a point near the end of the song, another guy walks on stage.

It’s Neil Young.

Aww yeah.

Neil straps on one of Trey Anastasio’s custom Languadoc guitars and the feedback begins. Later on we would find out this was based on Young’s “Arc” but in the moment it was pure cacophonous wonder. As it ends, John Fishman picks up a beat and a recognizable riff starts in. Larry turns to me and shouts “Down By The River!” And thus begins this intense 19 minute workout:

The amazing thing about this is that CMT had it on live. That they showed 19 straight minutes of Neil Young and Phish in one of the most intense and transcendent jams ever is nothing short of miraculous. The look on Trey’s face throughout is priceless. He’s like, Wow… Neil F’ing Young is playing MY guitar and we’re jamming to one of HIS songs!

Soon after, Willie walks onstage to wind down the show with the rest of the day’s luminaries. It was amazing. Simply amazing. I saw Phish seven more times that fall (yeah, I was in a mood to see shows and travel around a bit…Halloween inVegas, Madison, Chicago, Cincy), but I don’t think they matched this high point. Not since set two of the second day at The Great Went. Not again until they let it all hang out after midnight at Big Cypress. But those are other stories altogether.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Higher Ground

Yes, third blog post of the year. I’m on fire!

So this past weekend was packed with the fun. Saturday found the family hopping on a Blue Line CTA train into The City. But this wasn’t just any Blue Line train. It was the WALL-E train. Oh yeah. A big treat for the bambinas on their first ever CTA train experience having advertisements for the new Pixar movie plastered on the outside, inside, and even ceiling of the train car. Pretty cool, especially since they are jonesing to see the movie.

Chicago was Chicago. We hopped off at Damen and wandered down Milwaukee through Wicker Park checking in on old haunts from days gone by. Myopic Books moved to a location closer to the 6-way intersection and had a lot of people just standing around drinking coffee. Still felt like the old Myopic back in the cramped stacks of used books. After getting all the way to Division, we cut east to see if Hillary’s Urban Eatery was open for lunch. Oh No. HUE is no longer in business! Tragedy! That place was a great little restaurant. Oh well. We’ll turn around back to the newer restaurants on Division.

Finally settled on a place at Honore called Moonshine. It had a patio and a breakfast/lunch menu. Perfect. The breakfast burrito plate was incredible. About a pound and a half burrito stuffed with sausage, potatoes, and eggs. The black beans with a small amount of cheddar jack cheese on top were fantastic. And the kids rocked a fruit plate that was much bigger than a typical side of fruit. Preferable to another fast food jaunt, for sure. Plus there was a couple with a pug dog next to us and the kids had a good time going to pet him. So, in sum, Moonshine = Goodness.

Further wanderings into our old neighborhood on Chicago found a block transformed from when we moved away 6 years ago. The old abandoned car lot at Chicago/Wolcott is now a fancy storefront with a Starbucks and condos above. Same for the opposite side of the street. No more abandoned cleaners. New building going on everywhere, it seemed. The old Edmar just past Damen is now an upscale Dominick’s. It probably doesn’t have that old Edmar funky smell, though.

A quick bus ride on the #66 (hey, look, bus stop shelters!) got us to Michigan Avenue, where we meandered down until we finally got to Grant Park for the day’s supposed highlight: Stevie Wonder at Petrillo Music Shell. We were so far back that we could barely hear the music and we took off about an hour into the performance. Oh well. Maybe someday when we can get closer. At least we did hear “Higher Ground.”

Sunday also included some higher ground, but in a more physical sense. aham and I headed up to Wisconsin to rock the Double or Nothing metric route out of Cross Plains (6400 feet of climbing in 63 miles of riding… that’s a lot of climbing!). After warming up into the wind for about 4 miles, the hills hit. Big hills. Steep hills. Roads like Sutcliffe, Zweitler, Pinnacle, Lakeview, Mounds Park, Braun, Garfoot, Observatory, and Barlow are a big challenge for flatlanders like us, but we made it up all of them. Thankfully, the ominous clouds that hovered overhead all day never turned to rain. The climbs would have been miserable or impossible in a downpour.

The best part was aham wondering most of the ride why his Uphill Grind jersey was different than the one I had on. That tight cut through the waist. That little bit of extra room through the top. That lack of elastic at the bottom allowing the jersey to flare out oh so slightly. Upon returning for post ride caffeine, aham discovers the label his jersey says:

Hilarity ensues in coffee shop.

No matter, though. He’s a good sport and I’m glad he offered to drive up there. It’s much easier to climb when there’s someone else suffering, too. And he had Arby's on the way home. CyLowe is a bad influence on people.

Enough for now.