Monday, June 30, 2008

Motorcycles on Palomar Mountain

In the "blow out" post I mentioned I got a ride from a photographer. He was on the mountain taking pictures of sport bike riders dragging their knees--or trying to--through the 21 switchbacks up and down Palomar Mountain. In fact each of the half-dozen times I have cranked my bicycle up Palomar, my entertainment has been listening to the Ninjas, FZRs, Ducati twins and other crotch rockets roar up and down the mountain. And since I am climbing at 5 mph I can hear them coming five turns behind me and hear them going away five more turns up. The best is when I am in a left bend--the wider radius going up--and a really good ride goes through the turn. I hear them coming out of the last turn 2nd gear, third screaming to redline then down to 40 mph, smooth through the turn and for about 50 feet through the middle of the turn I hear the plastic puck on the riders left knee dragging along the ground. At the exit, the rider nails the throttle and rips to 80 mph in four seconds before braking into the next turn.

Of course, not all the sport bike riders rip through the turns--some brake hard and wobble, some think they are going a lot faster than they are, and others ride Harleys. Whatever the virtues of these La-Z-Boys on wheels, they look pathetic on Palomar. After watching the virtuosos rip through the hairpins at 40 and the not-so-skilled ride through the turn at 35, it is sad hear the 800-pound Harleys rumble up the mountain and idle through the turns at 20 mph. Any faster and they are scraping footboards, pegs, kickstands, etc. They look like Amish mules at the Kentucky Derby.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Unbearable Lightness of Bacon

That's the title of a recent post by a blogger who identifies himself only as Big Tobacco. He is an infantry platoon sergeant in the new Jersey Army national Guard and is currently training for deployment to Iraq. Today's post was about continuing the mission with pepper spray in your eyes. He did on about the last night before deployment with everyone sleeping on a drill hall floor with wives and families making last goodbyes. Great stuff!!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

California Friendliness

When the tire blew out I was riding in a straight line and down from 45 mph to about 20 mph. I got the bike stopped and pulled off the road to see if I could fix the tire. The sidewall had blown out. Within a couple of minutes another rider who was doing repeats up the Palomar Mountain stopped to see if he could help. We tried but 3 inches of the bead was separated from the tire. It blew out as soon as we aired it up. So this very nice guy, Michael Callahan, said he had one more hill repeat to do but if I did not get a ride in about an hour, text him and he would pick me up and take me to my car. He also knew the owner of Holland Bikes, Tyler, and said he would call and let Tyler know what happened to me.

Five minutes after Michael rolled down the hill, Rick Clemson, owner of Rick Clemson Sport Photography, stopped and picked me up. The bike wouldn't fit so we stashed it in the woods and he drove me the 12 miles back to my car. Rick was on the mountain shooting picture of motorcycles making knee-dragging turns through the hairpins on Palomar so he took an hour out of his work to pick me up.

When I got back to Holland Bicycles, Tyler fixed the wheel and I rode 20 miles along the beach road in Coronado then turned in the bike. Tyler asked me how many days I rode the bike without trouble. I said one and he charged me for one day's rental rather than one week.

Maybe living in Paradise makes people nicer, but I don't think I would have had the same experience east of the Rockies.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bike Rental Blow Out

One of the best things about my trip to San Diego was the chance to ride Palomar Mountain. The day after I arrived, rented a bike at Hollands Bicycles of Coronado. The plan was to ride an hour to two each evening, then after the show closed ride up the mountain on Saturday. The first day worked great. On Tuesday evening I rode 22 miles along the shore north to La Jolla and back. The next night rode inland. I got about 10 miles out and broke a front-wheel spoke. As soon as a spoke breaks, the wheel starts rubbing. In this case the wheel was rubbing the fork and the brakes. I got a good workout riding home. The next day I was in LA so I could not get the bike fixed or ride. Friday afternoon I took the bike to the shop. They replaced the spoke and I decided to ride up Palomar a day early. Four miles up the 12-mile climb a rear spoke broke. I rolled back down the hill and drove all the way back to San Diego to get the wheel fixed. Tyler, the owner put a different wheel with a new tire so I would have no hassles for the Saturday climb. The climb went great. I was 20 minutes slower (2 hours and five minutes) than when I climbed the mountain three years ago, but I was riding a lot more then.
At the top I ate at Mother's Kitchen--a vegetarian restaurant at the top of the mountain where both bicyclists and motorcyclists hang out. The glass-smooth road up Palomar with 21 switchbacks and some very fast esses draws motorcyclists from all over Southern California. In fact, my entertainment while slogging up that 8% grade at 5mph (it ascends 4600 feet from the valley floor) is listening to the motorcycles rip up the straights and knife through the turns--the best ones anyway.
After lunch at Mother's, I started down the hill through some fast esses on the way to 12 miles between 25 and 45 mph without turning a pedal stroke.
Then five miles down on a short straight going into a switchback, I heard an odd noise from the rear wheel. I slowed to take a look and BANG--the rear tire blew out.
More in the next post

Friday, June 20, 2008

San Diego or Beijing

While my camo pack helped me through the security line, once inside I was subject to all problems of air travel since the business downturn of 2000. I know, 9/11 had an effect, but air travel was really different when the airlines made lots of money. In 1999 I flew to a conference in Beijing. Back then Northwest Airlines flew direct to Beijing from Detroit. I left my house in Lancaster at 0830, 90 minutes before the flight from Harrisburg to Detroit. In 40 minutes I parked and was dragging my bicycle box (I always bring my bicycle on overseas trips, they don't charge for it.) and other luggage to check in. In 15 minutes I was boarding the 90-minute flight to Detroit. We had a 75-minuite layover, then off to Beijing. I took off at 1230 and landed 13 hours later in Beijing. Since Beijing is 12 hours ahead it was 1330 local time--the next day. It took an hour to get my bags and get my bike through Chinese customs, but by 1530 (3:30 am in PA) I was in my room assembling my bike. Total trip time from my home to Beijing with a bicycle--19 hours.

My flight out of Philadelphia to San Diego was delayed an hour. Then we sat on the runway for almost an hour. The connecting flight was also delayed. I did stop at work on the way to the airport so the comparison is not entirely valid, but I left my house at 0930 and was in my room in at 3am Eastern time in San Diego.
Total trip time WITHOUT the bike (it is cheaper to rent in America)--17 1/2 hours.

By the way, the trip distance to Beijing is about 10,000 miles--to San Diego is 3,000.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Escorted Around the Security Line

I had a good reason to fly to San Diego from Philadelphia on Monday afternoon, but I could not remember that reason when I walked halfway back to the parking garage to get in the Security Line for Terminal A. I had plenty of time--my flight was delayed one hour at that point and I arrived 90 minutes before the flight--but I did not want to spend an hour waiting to put my shoes in a gray plastic tub.

Ten minutes later I was in through security. One of the TSA guys walked along the line saw my ACU camo backpack and haircut and asked if I was military. I showed him the ID with the computer chip and he walked me to the air crew security line. I don't know if I will be flying anywhere else before I get deployed (that fight I won't have to take off my boots before boarding, but if I do my carry-on luggage will be camo.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Father's Day

My kids drove to Fort Indiantown Gap today to have lunch with Dad in an Army mess hall. Although my daughters were happy enough to eat Army food, my 8-year-old was was pumping his fist in the air at the possibility of eating lunch with 200 guys in camouflage. But he was not just looking for the chow-hall atmosphere, he wanted gravy. His mother is a former vegetarian and his youngest sister is a vegetarian and they do most of the cooking. So it is not often dinner includes gravy. And the menu today did not disappoint. We had beef stew over buttered noodles, vegetables, fruit, cole slaw and cake.

Before lunch, the kids met me at the motor pool so Nigel got to see the PLS and FRS (see Saturday post). Then we went to the mess hall. After lunch Nigel got to hold a SAW, an M-16A4 and a 9mm pistol. Guns and gravy--what could be better in the eyes of an 8-year-old?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My Vehicle M1075

Last year I wrote about being in charge of the FRS (Forward Repair System) for our unit. You might remember I am in charge of it because I am the only person in the motor pool, male or female, who does not work on his own car, truck, or motorcycle. This month we got a brand new M1075 PLS (Palletized Load System) 10 by 10, 500hp, five-axle, all-terrain semi-trailer to carry th FRS.

So now I will have to recall enough motor maintenance from my tank commander past to be in charge of the truck that hauls the FRS around.

Happy Father's Day

Friday, June 13, 2008

On the Road Again. . .

. . .In several ways. Tomorrow and Sunday is June drill. Since I will be spending Father's Day in green, my kids are coming to Ft. Indiantown Gap to eat lunch with me. My teenage daughters are happy to make the drive, but my 8-year-old son is really looking forward to Army food. He was pumping his fist in the air at the prospect of eating Army food.
Also, I am going to a conference in San Diego from Monday the 16th to Monday the 23rd, then to Boston the 24th to the 26th--all business meetings.
But today I road to work, the longest ride since 2006 actually--70 miles from the west side of Lancaster to the east side of Philadelphia. There was almost no traffic--considering it was Philadelphia and its suburbs. I ride US Rt 30 almost the whole way if you are curious about the route.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lunch with Ivan Amato

For soldiers MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) is just victuals in a vinyl bag, but for Ivan Amato, author of the book Stuff and managing editor of Chemical and Engineering News Jambalaya in an aluminum bag was just the beginning of a banquet of materials: vinyl, polyethylene. Ivan's first comment on ripping open his MRE is "What a waste" looking at all the packaging. But then he quickly became fascinated with all the "Stuff" inside the sand-colored bag. First was the FRH--flameless ration heater. The FRH has magnesium metal powder inside a plastic bag. Add water and the magnesium oxidizes fast, heating the water and the Jambalaya. I was eating Cajun rice and beans. We both had a metal pouch of cheese spread--Ivan thought it could be used as adhesive. I had crackers and he had wheat bread. We ate the cheese and carbs while we waited for the main course to heat up.

WHERE: It would be completely inauthentic to eat MREs indoors, so we ate at the mostly empty outside tables at Caribou coffee shop at 15th and M St. in Washington DC. The temp was mid-90s and the humidity about 50%. The smart people ate inside.

After cheese and crackers/wheat bread and the main course, neither of us ate desert, so Ivan's kids will be eating a chocolate energy bars, Skittles, and carrot cake for dessert tonight.

Anyway, it was interesting to see Ivan's view of all the materials that go into a meal that can withstand rough handling and bad weather and still, according to Ivan, taste good.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Attention Span

As you can imagine, after three weeks of living in the same room, everyone has a pretty good assessment of other soldier's character. My favorite was this overheard moment. One of the sergeants is talking about a private who has some difficulty paying attention.
"I look this fool right in the eye and talk to him. Not five seconds later a bird flies by and BAM! He's gone. I say, 'CONCENTRATE!' He comes back to this world, but five seconds later he's gone again."
The speaker is a tall, fit impeccable soldier talking about a short, dumpy young man with no small resemblance to a rodent. It would make a great 10-second video.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Robert F. Kennedy

Today is the 40th Anniversary of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. I grew up in a Boston suburb in the congressional district next to the one that sent John F. Kennedy to congress so as you can imagine the Kennedys and the tragedies the Kennedy family suffered were a big part of my childhood. I was ten when JFK was shot; 15 when RFK was shot--40 years ago today.

Although Bobby Kennedy is widely known for being against the Viet Nam War, he also spoke out against draft deferments. In 1968 he told college students from white middle-class families they were letting poor kids serve and die in their place. Kennedy got booed for telling that bit of the truth, but he said it.

Many of the college students who got deferments and let someone else serve in their place have remained consistently anti-war. I disagree with them, but I respect their position. But I can't understand how a man who let another man serve in his place, maybe die in his place (The draft, for those who don't remember, only called up men.) can be known as patriots today. A man who is a Chicken Hawk should not be on the radio or TV cheering as new generations go off to war. Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, for example, could have served and did not. The draft was a zero-sum game. When someone got a deferment, the next kid got called up. Limbaugh and O'Reilly avoided the draft so someone else served in their place. Bobby Kennedy spoke out against draft dodgers when he lived. On this 40th anniversary of RFK's death, it is important to remember that RFK was against the war, but also was against those who would use the "Wrong War" justification to let someone else serve in their place.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Army Public Relations

At one of the many briefings I had at the end of Annual Training, the most interesting one for me was from the public affairs sergeant for our brigade. During my last enlistment--in the 70s--the Army communicated only through commanders and official spokespersons. But after 9/11 the Army did some market research and found the American soldier had among the highest credibility among all professions, above doctors, scientists, athletes, etc. So the policy became "Let the Soldier speak." There are restrictions. We are supposed to talk only about what we know and we are not, for obvious reasons, supposed to talk about future tactical operations. But the best line from the presentation: "The Army is an outdoor sport. Take the reporters out in the field." It makes sense. The old Army constantly sent out "Grip and Grin" pictures with soldiers receiving awards--indoors. The new policy is much better. For those who did not see the article I was in on May 18 on the front page--scroll down to the May 18 post.

Birth Control Glasses

As part of pre-deployment medical processing, I got an eye exam. The contract eye doctor determined the prescription I would need. I old him I mostly needed reading glasses and that I had several pairs. he siad the Army paid him to make me glasses. So a few days ago I received two pairs of BCGs, Birth Control Glasses, the only style the Army issues. Above is one photo from the Web.

I now have one pair of clear, bifocal BCGs like my current glasses for reading and using the computer. I have one pair of BCG sunglasses with the same prescription--assuming I want to read or work on the computer in direct sunlight--because with this prescription I can't drive or see more than 10 meters. Finally, I also received a pair of inserts for my gas mask. Putting these inserts in my gas mask will allow me to read or work on a computer during a gas attack. What they won't do is allow me to shoot or drive or see clearly 10 meters in front of myself. But if I am gassed while reading a novel--I am set!!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Memorial Sunday

I spoke for five minutes during both services at my Church last Sunday--Wheatland Presbyterian in Lancaster. Most of the people in the Church found out I was going to Iraq by reading the Lancaster Sunday News article, so I thought it might be good for me to give some sort of update about what is going on in my life and with my family, the Army, etc. I also talked about why I joined and about getting deployed what I might be doing after we return. In Presbyterian Churches, we write things out. Here's what I said:

Serving Our Country, Serving Our Lord

For those who know me and know my family, they know without a doubt that the last year has been quite exciting—way too exciting for most people, to say the least. The excitement began on May 9 when I had a very bad bicycle racing accident. Just 54 weeks ago, Pastor Bruce was asking you to pray for me because I was in Lancaster General with a broken neck and many other injuries. The following Sunday and for a dozen Sundays thereafter, I worshipped Our Lord in a neck brace. Then on August 16th, out of the neck brace for a full two weeks, I re-enlisted in the Army National Guard after being a civilian for 23 years. In October my wife Annalisa and I decided to start the process of adopting a brother for our son Nigel—a process that is going on now. Then last month, I found out for sure that next February I will be deployed to Iraq with the 28th Aviation Brigade, Fort Indiantown Gap, PA.

Before I go further, I want you to know that everything that has happened to me in the last year has, according to Our Lord’s faithful promises, worked together for my good.

Some of you right now may be thinking I really must have whacked my head pretty hard in that accident. How can ten broken bones and orders for Iraq be blessings? I’ll admit, it’s not for everybody, but I have had the opportunity in the last year to see the limits of my faith, to test my courage, to test my resolve, and to live in daily dependence on others: on my family and my brothers and sisters here.

Most of us are divorced from the reality that the next life is just a moment away. I live vividly with that knowledge. We can all get used to the blessings we have and take them for granted. Beginning on May 2nd, my 55th birthday, I went through three weeks of Army training and for that three weeks slept in the same room with 40 other guys. Beyond all the other sounds you can imagine 40 guys making, all soldiers now have personal electronics of various kinds. War movies, heavy metal music, wrestling and horror movies played simultaneously until, thank the Lord, lights out. Of all men in this sanctuary this morning, I imagine I most appreciate the comforts of sleeping at home just now.

Because serving in the military means devotion to a greater cause and a willingness to give up freedom, it is easy to confuse patriotism with serving Our Lord. And, of course, on this Memorial weekend we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice of patriotism, those who gave their lives for our country. But there is a great difference. We are told to pray for our leaders, not to worship them. As citizens, we serve our country in various ways, but we are not to idolize it. As in so many other areas of life, the truth is clearest to those who actually do things, and dimmest to those who simply look on.

The forty guys in my training group certainly qualify as patriots, but that is not the first purpose any of them is training to go to Iraq. They need a job, want money for education, want the adventure of going to a combat zone, or just want to try something different. They all know the sacrifice they could be making, but that is almost never a topic of conversation.

I am looking at the time I am spending in the Army as time that will help to make me a better and more willing servant of the Lord. Each one of us, whether in the barracks I just left, or in this sanctuary, is to a very large extent the sum of our habits. Last year when I was in the hospital as soon as I recovered my wits between bouts of pain, I wanted my cell phone and I wanted a latte. The worst pain was in my right arm so the addiction to email actually had three weeks off. In Iraq we will have limited phone and email privileges—no round the clock access. And I think it is safe to say I will not be drinking lattes, racing bicycles, and traveling on an expense account to the world’s greatest cities.

By the time I retire from working full time, I want to be ready and willing to serve the Lord. I want to be able to help in disasters, live in bad climates and not be looking back at the world I frankly love too much. The real service will be then when I am able to live in this world without being of this world. And the Army will help to take the glitter off the world while giving me, among other things, the kind of fellowship most modern men are dying inside without.

CS Lewis says—you didn’t think I was going to go five minutes without quoting CS Lewis did you? Lewis says we are fools to think our lives are our own, even to think our time is our own. I have spent a long time becoming that sort of fool, but with Our Lord’s help I am on the fast track back to seeing my time as not my own.

Who Fights Our Wars? CSM Donald C. Cubbison, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division

In the fall of 1977, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division got a new Command Sergeant's Major.  Donald C. Cubbison, veteran of the Vietna...