Monday, December 22, 2014

Two more days until Santa Claus comes

The formerly single-speed steel Ritchey is geared again and now lives in Freising
Sitting here in Sabine's new apartment on our last evening before leaving tomorrow for her childhood home in Dortmund,  it's a good time to reflect on what my past two-and-a-half weeks have looked like.
My neighbor Kelly's front yard is the best-looking in the entire neighborhood
My trip to Cape Cod feels like a distant memory—mind you, a very happy one. That surely was one wonderful trip. Since then I made it home on a Friday, cursed the crappy weather over the weekend, and then enjoyed the WTCA's Yuletide Ride on Monday as I had missed the actual Christmas party. Two days later I packed once again and left Lubbock in the Miata to drive down to Waco to officiate one more race in 2014. Since Temple is very close to Waco, I extended my trip by an extra day and stayed with Martha and Alan for a few nights. Oh man, it was so much fun to see them! It had been since the HS race in Troy that we had gotten together, so this visit was overdue. Apart from good food and lots of wine there was a trip to Austin where I got to see the Whole Foods flagship store. Wow.
With Martha at Antonelli's, the Italian cheesemonger in Austin
The race happened on Saturday and Sunday, at McLennan Community College in Waco. For once I didn't have to chief—so that meant that I was not responsible for paperwork or hard decisions. I enjoyed my time as the referee in the wheel pit, and I got a chance to talk to many, many old friends and buddies. What a great way to finish off the year!
A true race mobile—you oughta see the beer tap on the side!
One of 'cross racing's victims
Usually I'd drive only a few hours up to Abilene and spend the night there, but with my flight leaving at 2:20 p.m. on Monday afternoon (and not being packed!) I figured it was a better idea to push home after the race had concluded on Sunday afternoon. I made it, safe'n'well, before midnight, and I didn't sweat too much packing on Monday morning since I have a certain amount of experience doing so.
Nice bird, eh?
And so I left Lubbock, enjoying a last-minute opportunity to use my miles for a classy ticket across the pond. OK, the co-pay was $500, but the (one-way, mind you) ticket was worth around $7,000: First Class on a British Airways 747—yes, that's a jumbo jet—from Dallas to London, with the front- and back-end flights being in First as well. My seat was in 2K, in the nose-cone below the pilots on the upper deck. Dang, that was fine, and I don't regret shelling out the money (and miles). For the flight back I am booked into Business on the same equipment, so I will get experience the upper deck as well (for another hefty co-pay and a bunch of miles). One lives just once, they say.
View from my First Class berth
For the past week I've been eating too much, drinking even more Vitus, fixing some nice dishes, and even riding the bike (so far about 90 miles, which is pretty good considering that we had several days of rain). Sabine has had to work during the week, but we managed to attend a beautiful guitar concert in the Hofkapelle of the Residenz, drink some potent Glühwein, entertain friends, and get ready for tomorrow's trip to Dortmund.
Procuring refreshments—by bike
Christmas without my dad will be a bit different, although it never was all that Christmassy anyhow but rather was just "what we did." I am sure that Sabine's mom is just as excited to see her daughter and grandchild as my dad was glad to see me, and I feel privileged to be part of her family tradition. Merry Christmas to all of you!
Happy Hoppiness!

Friday, December 5, 2014

One day on Martha's Vineyard

Woods Hole, as seen from the MV ferry
Originally I hadn't planned to write another post covering my trip to Cape Cod, but yesterday's excursion to Martha's Vineyard—playground of the wealthy—deserves a few words and a few pics. Oh man, I couldn't have written the script any better: After Tuesday's and Wednesday's so-so to crappy weather Thursday was forecast to be perfect, and it all turned out to be true with nothing but sun (even though it was a bit on the chilly side).
Loading ....
... leaving ...
... and heading for Martha's Vineyard on the Nantucket.
I had checked out the timetable of the SSA's sailings from Woods Hole to Vineyard Haven, on the island. The 9:30 a.m. departure sounded just right, allowing me to leave the cottage at the civil (and no longer sub-zero, centigrade) time of 9 a.m., without having to ride my heart out. Why take the car and pay for parking, eh? Isn't that why I brought the bike?
The sister-ship is heading for Woods Hole
Now, the passage to Martha's Vineyard ain't cheap. The one-way fare for an adult will set you back by $8, and being accompanied by a bike will cost another $4. So, round-trip that's $24 for two 45-minute crossings. Idle chatter with the hands taught me that the Steam Ship Association is a state-governed non-profit organization, unlike the ferries in Washington state, for example, that are state-run (and -subsidized). OK. I still thought that there were way too many folks standing around running the show, but this is not the high-season, and who wants to lay off employees just because it is winter?
The source of the foghorn!
Harbor of Vineyard Haven
I saw the crossing as the equivalent of a charter boat cruise. I got to see Woods Hole from a different perspective; Nobska lighthouse greeted me from a new angle; and I finally figured out where that foghorn that I had been hearing intermittently (as it turned out, depending on wind direction) originated from on the Vineyard's coast.
One happy Ritchey!!!!
Now, you need to understand that the Ritchey, by pedigree, is a bike that could be raced in any amateur road race or crit. With its fairly aggressive geometry it is not a commuter or what one would call touring bike. But for this excursion (and Tuesday's ride, too) I had outfitted it with platform pedals and had softly talked to it to stay tame, and look what we did: We spent 43 miles together, with my using my Gore-Tex "tennis" shoes to match the aforementioned flat pedals (with me, all the while, wearing underwear!!! and Castelli commuter tights) to ride from Vineyard Heaven to Oak Bluffs and then to Edgartown, all along the amazingly beautiful north coast of the Vineyard. Did you know that MV is the third-largest island in the US? Now you do.
As is so customary, a few of Judy's ashes joined the sea right here
In Edgartown, you get to a spot where the road disappears and the water appears in the form of a small channel, maybe 100 meters across. That's where you take the Chappy ferry, short for the impossible-to-spell-correctly Chappaquiddick, to the eponymous and more importantly infamous Chappaquiddick island. If you don't know, use your friend Google with the C. word and "Kennedy." You'll love it.

You gotta love the name: The Chappy ferry
Wanna retrace Ted's escapades? Shell out the dough!
Oh man, I just love this pic!
I spent another $6 for a 2-minute trip to the other side (at least that was round-trip) and then rode to the end of the paved road. I saw a few mansions, but that was it. I had really expected a bit more. Don't waste your $6, unless you want to see lots of oak and no shoreline. Probably you have to spend more since you most likely will go by car.
These lighthouses have a metal outside and are lined with brick on the inside.
Back in Edgartown, I went off in search of the fire-engine museum. It had been mentioned in one of those ubiquitous "Your Guide to Martha's Vineyard" booklets that are heavy on coupons and maps and that one can find in a rack when leaving the local supermarket, right next to the Real Estate Guide for the region that you happen to visit. Don't underestimate the power of the printed word! After various inquiries (not so easy, since a) only a third of Edgartown's population is in E. in December, b) of that population everybody seems to be inside, and c) both of the construction dudes I asked were definitely not native to Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, or the USA, for that matter) I managed to find the Edgartown Fire Station and its adjacent museum. The place was open—yet deserted—and obviously in the midst of preparations for the upcoming Holiday Season, judging from the litter of faux wreaths, strings of holiday lights, and the like. I suppose, I could have hot-wired one of the two antique engines, but then, where the hell do you go on an island in a borrowed fire engine?
Merry Christmas to you ...
... dear Edgartown Fire Department
From here I headed south to Katama and South Beach, and that's where I finally saw the true Atlantic. It was strange: I leaned the Ritchey against the deserted "Lifeguards Only" parking sign and walked the final 50 meters through the dunes. And there it was, the Atlantic, opening up all the way to Europe on the other side. It was strange: The waves were so different, the vista went forever, the air carried that je ne sais quoi that indicated that something had suddenly changed from what the bay and sound were like. Get into a boat here, row really hard, and five or seven weeks later you may end up in Ireland, or France, or whatever the waves intended. Or dead. It was magnificently powerful and at the same time so beautiful. I could have stayed for a very long time.
There were numerous other worthy pics, but why bother?
Well, it was a good thing that I lingered for only ten minutes or so, because otherwise I would have missed the ferry. Don't get this wrong: I was fully, ahem, resigned to slowly riding back to Vineyard Haven and spend about an hour or so in some tavern over a hard-earned beer and wait for the 3:45 p.m. ferry. But once I got back to Oak Bluffs I realized that I might catch the 2:30 p.m. ferry, which would get me back to Woods Hole at 3:15 p.m. instead of 4:30 p.m. Mind you, at this latitude and longitude it is dark at 4:30 p.m.
About 3 p.m., and I'm ready to fall asleep on the Island Home
All that for $24 round-trip. I'm not complaining....
So to hell with platform pedals and underwear, I put the hammer down for the final six miles or so and made the ferry with four minutes to spare. The spoils? A gorgeous semi-sunset from the open deck and two IPAs and another stuffed quahog at Landfall in Woods Hole, with the very last rays of our beautiful sun kissing me. I rode home in the falling dark and almost-paralyzing cold, so content and happy that I decided I had to share. I hope you enjoyed reading.
So long, my friends. No quahog pics this time.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Cape Cod—in the off-season

My cottage on the right, the beach on the left
Quite frankly, I'm not sure what inspired me to book this trip. I suppose it was mostly my frugality: I had RCI timeshare points that were about to expire—a thought anathema to me— and I sit on those 3,000,000+ frequent flier miles. So I cashed in a few thousand miles plus pitched in a $10 co-pay for a First Class ticket to Boston, and I used the remaining 2014 RCI balance to book this perfect domicile here in Falmouth. For the past four nights I have been holed up in a charming two-bedroom cottage just across the street from the beach, with view of Martha's Vineyard.
The beach in front of my cottage, with view of Martha's Vineyard
Seaweed at low tide
Cold enough to freeze
A beachcomber's paradise
Falmouth harbor—mostly deader-than-a-doornail for the winter
I go for long bike rides, drink wine, read good books, and chat up the occasional beachcomber or barmaid. What do you think I'd be doing here? Oh, I could work on some high-highfalutin cerebral stuff that I might put to future use as a consultant or send e-mails to former girlfriends, but I am quite content in my little cottage, which, BTW, comes with a full kitchenette, Adirondack rocking chairs out front, and a gas fireplace. Oh, the comfort.... Remember, I am retired.
On the CCRT (Cape Cod Rail Trail) on Monday afternoon
This is my off-season. I worked a race 10 days ago and will work another in a little less than two weeks' time. In between was Thanksgiving. I was at home, and I was goaded into preparing one of my signature turkeys on the Kamado by my young friend Eric, whose parents, Bruce and Anne, were in town for the holiday. Together with my almost-next-door neighborette Janet  we prepared a helluva meal on Monday night. Seems like months ago....
Thanksgiving came early last week
Friday I flew out. Eric is the best taxi driver in the Delta Quadrant. Of course, I am the best bike mechanic—tit-for-tat. Three flights later, I was in Boston, and all my luggage was there, too—most importantly the Ritchey. For less than $200 I had reserved a rental car through a German website, and by 9 p.m. I was here in Falmouth.
Sunset in front of my cottage, the Ritchey happily blinking after 56 miles

Last week, the East Coast was slammed by a rough nor'easter, but the weather cleared out in just the nick of time. In my first three days here I rode about 110 miles, on quaint roads leading along the seashore or through wooded sections that smell of fall. The houses all reflect that this is a sandy place: No rocks are used in their construction, with wooden shingles or boards used to protect the sides. The yards are tidy, even with leaves blowing around. There don't seem to be any farms here, but occasionally I come upon a harvested cranberry bog that has been drained but still betrays its former crop through its reddish color. Dogs are a non-issue. Drivers are courteous. Heaven.
Post-Thanksgiving cranberry bog, drained and cropped
The bogs are all over, adding an unusual color to the already polychrome landscape
Some of the roads lead along the shore, with views toward Martha's Vineyard (where I hope to go on Thursday) or the far-away mainland across Buzzards Bay. The sea water brings the other defining smell of Cape Cod as I will remember it. There are lighthouses and wharves and lots of packed-up boats in dry docks. Falmouth's harbor—as well as that of Woods Hole—is quiet and essentially dead for the season. Summertime must be beautiful out here, but to imagine the hordes of tourists makes my head spin. Things now are quiet, and I like that, a lot!
Typical West Texas scenery around almost every corner
What will happen to these wetlands and marshes once global warming
is acknowledged by the Right Wingers?
It's doesn't become much more Cape Codish than this, does it?
The weather has been varying between really cold (high of 34 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday) to balmy (about 60 yesterday), with mostly sunny skies but also some cloudiness and outright winter today. So far it has rained just a tiny bit, late last night. Today is cloudy, and in a little while I will take the bike path to Woods Hole to go to the country's oldest aquarium and visit the oceanographic facilities. Afterward I may hole up again at Landfall, a quaint pub in the harbor where one can sip a good IPA and eat a quahog, or stuffed clam. I may have to take a book along, just for good measure.
Nobska Lighthouse and the attendant's house
Interesting reading
The only drawback so far has been the fact that it gets dark so dang early. One o'clock in the afternoon feels like 4 p.m., and when the clock strikes 4:30 p.m., it's basically night out there and the chupacabras come out. The only thing is, nobody has even heard of them! Oh well, time to pull the cork out of the wine bottle and curl up in front of my cozy gas fireplace.
A quahog, two fish bites, and a half-empty IPA at Landfall in Woods Hole
It'd be 9:30 p.m., if it were summer
Tomorrow is supposed to be a really nasty day, weather-wise. I'm already planning a beach-walking excursion—easy to do as the beach starts on the other side of the small road in front of Beachside Village, Unit #1. When I came here, I was fully prepared to face stiff winds, low temperatures, and sleet the whole time, and so far I have lucked out. Today's forecast didn't disappoint, and it was gray, blustery, and very cold. Just the perfect day to ride the few miles over to Woods Hole and check out the aquarium and the "educational displays" chronicling the deep sea explorer Alvin and some of the other very, very cool stuff that has originated here.
It may be very small, but this aquarium is one of the finest I have seen
This is a scale model of Alvin, which in the late '80s paid a visit to the Titanic
Where have all the Atlantic salmon gone?
The top floor of the aquarium: You get to see the displays from a different perspective
You may have guessed that I am having a truly exceptional vacation. The small sampling of pics does not do justice to the abundance of sights, let alone smells and sounds, of course. My accommodations couldn't be any better. I'd love to say I will be back, but unless I could be put up in this two-bedroom cottage, things couldn't be as nice. I sit here, right now while putting the finishing touches on this post, listening to Bob Dylan on one of the many NPR stations that litter the dial the way country stations do in West Texas. It has started to rain, and tomorrow I will take my anticipated walk on the beach and later into town. I have two more days here on the Cape, and really, I can't think of a much better place to be. I'll be back, I am sure—just not in the summer!
The light at the end of the tunnel
Happy Holidays to all of you!