Author Archives: kitefencer

About kitefencer

Cyclist, kite builder, and seeker of life's small joys.

Riding for the Soul

For the last two days, I’ve rushed out my door after I finished work and rode hard for an hour. Both times I made it back just a few minutes before sundown. Days are getting shorter – Autumn has arrived. At this time of year I’m feeling good, the temperature and humidity have dropped, and the riding feels easy. Sadly, the days are getting shorter and there is less time before sundown to get a ride in. Now is the time for end of season events, enjoying the good weather and good company before shorter days and colder weather start driving me inside. At this writing I have less than 3 weeks before I finish all my events for 2022. When that happens, I ride for the soul. By that I mean that my riding is done for the feeling of freedom, the enjoyment I get from the beauty of my surroundings and the company of those I ride with.

A fall ride from a few years ago with my friend Eric. Rides at this time of year feed the soul.

In years past I had events to ride nearly every weekend in September, but in these post-pandemic days some of those events have not come back, and rides like the Indian Head 100 aren’t on the calendar any more. Some of the people I would have ridden with in past years have moved on too. I recently took a week off to go to Portland Maine for the Lighthouse Ride. As always it was a fabulous event. The weather was perfect and the event was beautiful. I have more lasting memories of Maine to take with me now. I have 2 more rides on my calendar, the Taneytown Twister for my cycling club, and the Seagull Century. I don’t feel the same urgency for events that I once did. I have ridden so many events that I know what to expect and how to adjust to conditions. Finally, I just don’t worry about them as much; I’m less concerned about my performance when I’m riding them now.

My first events were tests; I was concerned about just finishing them. Soon they became routine. I started riding events with friends and events became social. Without the group I once rode with, I have to change the way I ride events again. I still enjoy riding them, but maybe now I’ll be riding events for the soul. After all, I have the experience of having ridden over 100 century rides. It isn’t a matter of finishing, it’s a matter of knowing how to adjust as I ride, and feeling the joy of riding.

With so little time before my events arrive, last minute intense training won’t do anything other than wear me out, so I may do the occasional hard ride, but I build in rest to be sure I’m fresh when the time comes to ride my events. I enjoy riding in the cooler days of September and October. The rides that I’ve done all year have steadily built up my fitness. When the days cool off, somehow my rides feel easier. When I’m done riding events, it’s all for the soul. Every pedal stroke is for the enjoyment of the season. It’s about good times and good company. I can see it coming as the days grow shorter. I’m looking forward to cool days and soulful rides.

A different kind of experience at a familiar event

Recently I rode the Covered Bridges Classic in Lancaster Pennsylvania in support of a friend. We were riding the short route, 35 miles. The Covered Bridges Classic is a rolling ride through Amish farm country. I’ve ridden this event many times over the years. Normally I would have ridden the metric century at this event, but this time I was with a friend who was new to cycling events, so I rode in support to add my experience and my company to his day. I went with the flow. It changed my focus a little. I noticed little things at the roadsides. I stopped for pictures at the bridges, and I found that the time slipped smoothly by.

Ken (on the right) and I before starting out on the Covered Bridges Classic.

Ken is a co-worker and good friend. I’ve been talking to him about cycling and events for years. He took up cycling himself, and chose the Covered Bridges Classic as a goal. He’s learned a good deal about cycling, and while the ride would be his longest ride distance of the year, he was ready to test himself. We had a good day for it. I have to admit that I felt good on the climbs, and there were times when I chased a few riders up the hills. On the back side of one particularly long and grinding climb we were rewarded with a steep descent that got our top speeds for the day up to 40 mph. We rode it safely and it was a memorable roller coaster moment. I was impressed by Ken’s focus and determination. We finished feeling good, and I don’t think I could have enjoyed it any more than I did.

I saw it all through the eyes of my friend, and we were so pleased afterward that my girlfriend, who had been studying at a local cafe, is now determined to join us on the ride next year. When we returned to work, we showed photographs and shared our stories of the event with our co-workers, and that was also a part of the experience. A different perspective on an event can be refreshing!

Ken in front of a covered bridge, with an Amish wagon coming through in the background. Photos like this are just another reason to come to Lancaster, PA to enjoy the Covered Bridges Classic!

A New Event!

The Chesapeake Cycling Club’s C3 Tri-County Classic

Waiting for the Ferry in Oxford, Maryland during the Tri-County Classic.

I enjoy riding events. I’ve literally ridden hundreds of them, and they’re good for motivation, fitness, training and simple cycling enjoyment. This year I registered for a newly created event called the Tri-County Classic. 65 miles on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, which included an area I didn’t know well, and even had some short climbs. The Eastern Shore isn’t known for climbing, and while you can find them on some rides in the area, it’s mostly a place known for flat rides and headwinds. Yes, headwinds. The dreaded weather condition that a good friend calls the “Eastern Shore Mountains”. Conditions on this ride turned out to be a challenge, even without high winds, but on the whole, it was a good experience.

The ride started in Easton, a town bisected by Route 50, the major artery from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the ocean beaches of Maryland and Delaware. As a result it’s a place that people will often drive past but not experience. The ride included a choice of two courses, a 30 mile course and a 65 mile course. The short course looped around the river inlets to Oxford, taking a Ferry across the Tred Avon river, and then heading back to the start. The long course headed west into more rolling country before coming back to Easton and joining the other course to the ferry, then back to the start. The ferry ride alone makes this a fairly unique event.

The weather was a concern. A storm was moving up the coast, and the concern was getting caught in it. The ride was sold out, but I believe that many riders stayed home for fear of the weather. My colleague Ron and I had no such problem. I’ve always said that I don’t mind riding in the rain, but I won’t START riding in the rain. It’s a fine distinction, but it works for me. Since the rain was going to hold off until late morning, I brought a change of clothing for after the ride and headed for Easton. We were on the road by 8:00.

I stuffed a rain jacket in my jersey pocket and we set out, leaving Easton and entering the countryside. The roads were good and the scenery was pleasant. The rest stops were good. We were still dry upon leaving the second rest stop, but on the road into Oxford, the rain began. After a quick stop to put the jacket on, and a stop at the Highland Creamery in Oxford for a little time out of the rain. The organizers provided a ticket for a free ice cream, so we took advantage. We went to the ferry, standing under a tree while we waited. The ferry ride was fun, and the remainder of the ride was wet, as expected. It was still a good course, and had the day been dry, I’m sure more riders would have come and enjoyed the experience. This was a well planned event. I’m glad I was there for the first edition of it, and I plan to ride it again next year.

We stayed briefly to check out the post ride atmosphere, but we wanted to get a meal, so we reluctantly left for home with a stop at a favorite seafood restaurant along the way. After you get home from a ride in the rain it’s important to clean the bike and wheels thoroughly and re-lubricate the chain before you ride again, but I’m good about bike maintenance and I thought it was worth doing in any case. I had a satisfying ride, and it turned out to be the longest ride I’ve done so far this year. There will be other, longer rides for me, but this was a good event to start the year.

Coping with Change – using deliberate change to take the sting out of life’s disappointments.

My photo album above seems like a chronicle of habits, but I need some new ones. the action camera on the left side of the photo is one of the ideas I’ve had to adapt to ever changing times.

I’m a creature of habit. Those habits, good or bad, have become locked into my life. I don’t manage change as well as I would like. The sad part of that is understanding that life IS change. Lately, for a variety of reasons, I’ve had to face some changes, and the discomfort I feel in dealing with them has forced me to think about ways to cope with change. It might be a good idea to start driving changes for myself. After all, many of the habits I’ve formed are the results of decisions that I’ve made in the past and adopted as habits. It occurs to me that one way to cope with change is to make deliberate changes to my own viewpoint and actions in response. It preempts the feeling that change is something that I’m forced to cope with. Change can’t be avoided completely, but once you’ve faced the initial shock of it, finding a way forward is the only answer. In my case, I have to find a way to set aside old habits, or use the change as an opportunity.

This morning I picked up a photo album that I enjoy. It holds photos of cycling events and friends, and it’s got a lot of memories in it. I thought about signing up for the Patuxent Rural Legacy Ride, a local event that I have always enjoyed. Since it’s already mid April and the ride occurs in mid June, I thought that the sign up page should be available online. I could find nothing related to it. Now this might be an error in searching for it on my part, but I couldn’t even find it on the calendar of the Oxon Hill Bike Club, which sponsors it. I could still be wrong, but it seems to me that if I can’t find a registration page two months before the event, then it probably won’t be held, or in the best case will be held later in the year. Since Pax (As I call it) has been one of my favorite events, I’ll miss it. Change has pounced on me again. The pandemic short circuited a lot of events, and some may not come back, but I have to accept that some of the things I have done from habit aren’t a certainty any more. What I need to consider is developing new habits. It’s less of a loss to consider new things to replace what had become a habit or tradition.

I’ve had a slow start to 2022. Between nagging pains, difficult weather and other concerns, I’m feeling less fit and motivated than usual. This doesn’t mean that I’ll give up, but I need to make some deliberate changes in my own behavior. As the weather warms, I have decided to lead some rides for my local club. that will be an intentional change. In addition, I’ve gotten a small action camera to use as I expand on this journal. The Insta360 Go2 is an interesting device, and I’m still learning the best way to use it. Later I may post more about it. By changing my point of view, and offering change to deal with change, I hope to alter how I relate to to things I’ve taken for granted and move forward with purpose. Replacing the habitual with something new seems difficult. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.

Taking advantage of a brief winter thaw

This morning I awoke to a light snowfall. It won’t amount to much. Mostly it’s a pleasant looking inconvenience. The strange thing is that yesterday the temperature was in the 60s (16 Celsius), and I got my bike out on the roads for the first time in 2022. I didn’t go very far, and I wasn’t too fast, but it felt good. Riding outdoors is nothing like riding a trainer. My legs are feeling the difference. I only count outdoor miles in my yearly totals. I know some people count trainer time, but I’m on a simple trainer, and frankly if I’m not going anywhere, it doesn’t feel right to include it in my totals.

It’s been a colder than average winter here, but like any other winter, occasionally a brief thaw happens. Those days are valuable. Whenever I have enough warm clothing to ride comfortably on the roads, I get out and ride. It may be rare, but by this time I’m usually dreaming of getting outdoors, and I take every opportunity. The days have begun getting longer, but I’m still a month away from Daylight Savings Time. I look forward to DST because by mid-March the temperatures are trending warm enough to ride comfortably in my warm cycling clothes. I can also start riding short rides after work before the sun sets after DST, and it’s exciting to start regular outdoor workouts. Though brief warm spells like the one I took advantage of yesterday are too good to miss. I rode through Rock Creek Park in Maryland with my friends Ron & Rita. Much of our route was closed to traffic, and the route is a local classic – very popular with riders, walkers and skaters. Something about moving through the landscape and breathing in the outdoor scents makes me feel good. As I look out the window at the snow flurries, I’m reminded that while it’s still cold, spring is on the way.

Late last week, I purchased an Insta360 Go 2 action camera. I don’t know when it will arrive with the supply chain problems that we’ve all had, but hopefully I’ll be able to add video to these posts at a later date. I’m hoping that it will help me tell these stories more effectively. I’m also planning my events for the 2022 season, but I’ll write more about that later!

2022 – Starting again, with a mix of old and new.

I’m looking forward to some familiar events and adventures in 2022. Another trip to Maine in the fall, to see sights such as the Portland Head Lighthouse will certainly motivate me.

Every new year comes in with a sense of optimism. My 2021 was an improvement over 2020, but 2020 was so dismal that it didn’t take much to improve on it. Despite my advancing age, I don’t want to slow down too much. My 2021 will be about trying new things and improving on the old.

For 2022 I want to improve my cycling mileage a bit. It doesn’t have to be a big improvement, just more miles. While I rode more miles last year than I did in 2020, 2020 was such a miserable year that it represented a big drop in miles and it was easy to improve on. I want to improve on 2021. I’m looking into a couple of century rides, a couple of new events, and some longer weekend rides, and perhaps I will ride some of those longer rides at an easier pace.

I’d like to do a few other activities… perhaps some fishing, and other outdoor activities that keep me moving and occupy my mind in a different way. I’ve been very focused on cycling since 2005, and I won’t just set aside something I’ve enjoyed seriously for 17 years. But over the years things have changed. I’m never giving up on what I’ve done all those years. It’s just that I need to find a new way to enjoy it, and just maybe I’ll diversify my interests. That will keep me feeling refreshed. That might be the secret to staying happy in 2022.

Spinning Toward Christmas

During the darkest and shortest days of the year, it’s time to look for small joys to sustain me.

Dragon at the Garden of Lights display at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD.

I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t manage cold well. I go inside and spin when the weather gets chilly. It’s a preference, not a rule. I don’t like riding in heavy clothes. It feels restrictive. I’d sooner ride in the high heat than a cold day. I can get on the bike down to about 40 degrees, but it’s not often that I do. Instead I spin in place, take advantage of warmer days when they pop up, and wait for spring to make riding outdoors more attractive. As I write this, it is the solstice. It is officially winter, and after today the days begin to get longer again.

Lately I’ve been taking in Christmas light displays with my girlfriend. There are several in the Washington DC area. It’s been a fun way to share the holiday season. That’s the kind of small joy that brightens up a stretch of short and cold days. It’s good to have the holidays coming up to spend time away from work and step out of myself.

Still, my holiday preparations are complete, and I’m taking care of small details. The bikes have to go in for yearly maintenance, my yearly checkup is scheduled, and I’ve gotten my COVID booster shot. The busy work before the holidays is nearly complete. There is always a flourish of activity at the end of December. I’m spinning toward Christmas and the New Year and appreciating small joys wherever I find them. In these short winter days, it pays to look for those small joys.

Returning to the Movies – A review of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”

My first attempt at a movie review.

Promotional Image for Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

It’s been about 2 years since I’ve been to a movie theatre, mostly due to the pandemic, but partly it’s been a lack of films that I’ve been inspired to see. I was intrigued by the release of a sequel to “Ghostbusters”, and the pull of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” finally got me into a theatre seat. The original “Ghostbusters” came out in 1984 and was an instant hit. The film was original, funny, and well paced. The characters were a good contrast, and nearly 40 years later, it’s accepted as a cult classic. It has been a difficult formula to follow though, after a lackluster follow-up in 1989 and a controversial reboot in 2016.

I noticed that the film received generally poor reviews from critics, but enthusiastic reviews from fans who saw it before it was released to the public. This was the opposite of the reception for the 2016 reboot, which critics praised but audiences disliked. Reading the critics, I think they wanted to defend their praise of the 2016 reboot, and Afterlife makes it an orphan in the Ghostbusters film history. They dismissed Afterlife as pandering to fans of the original. Yet fans found it appealing. Perhaps they want to be pandered to?

This left me thinking – should I believe the practiced eye of the professional critic, or the approval of the kind of fan who attends conventions? Both can be ruthless in their reviews. Sequels and reboots rarely live up to their promise. The Ghostbusters franchise has had 1 disappointing sequel, 1989’s Ghostbusters 2, and the 2016 reboot was considered a failure. The problem with the all female reboot was that it came during a controversial election year. Either criticizing it or supporting it became linked with the candidates. Liking (or not liking) the film got political. When you insert politics into it, you get people polarized for reasons unrelated to the film itself. I think that explains the differences between critics and audiences. It’s the shadow of politics. I decided not to go into the theatre with high expectations.

Count me as pleasantly surprised.
I won’t indulge in spoilers here and it’s difficult not to, but my impression of Afterlife is that it clearly wants the audience to remember its roots in the original 1984 classic. Scene after scene will show something familiar. (Watch the 1984 original before you go, and see how many of these things you notice!) The original cast made brief appearances, and the film paid homage to the late Harold Ramis, who played Egon in the original. The story required a lot of character development, and centers around Phoebe, Egon’s granddaughter, a scientifically gifted girl living with her mother, who clearly isn’t anything like her. The actress, McKenna Grace, was brilliant. She and her family find themselves at her grandfather’s farm, which is full of clues about his ghostbusting past. Phoebe’s brother Trevor, his love interest Lucky, and Phoebe’s new friend “Podcast” become the focus of the story.

The cast, particularly Phoebe, are good. Podcast is a quirky character whose enthusiasm was his strength. I thought Trevor and Lucky could have had more character development though. They felt under-used to me. The film plods through the early phase with Phoebe discovering her heritage, but begins to gain momentum as these characters discover why their grandfather lived there, and the secret of his farm and the nearby mine. Then it builds to a strong finish. The film doesn’t beat you over the head with pratfalls. The comedy is well written. The action sequences are good, and the plot follows on from the 1984 film, giving it a familiar vibe. There is also room for more sequels, but we’ll have to see how it does at the box office before that discussion can start. At this writing, Afterlife has out-performed expectations, and unless interest collapses, it should turn a profit. It’s definitely worth seeing, and while it isn’t as good as the 1984 original, it is definitely better than Ghostbusters 2 and the 2016 reboot. This one is worth buying a ticket for – and also worth watching for the mid credit and after credit scenes! This isn’t the kind of film that keeps you guessing or makes you think, but it does exactly what a film should do: it entertains.

Returning to the Seagull Century in 2021

The Seagull is a familiar event with many happy memories. But was I ready?

At the Seagull Century rest stop on Assateague Island, 10/9/2021. My bike got a lot of compliments!

I had been looking forward to riding the Seagull Century again since 2019, because the 2020 event was cancelled due to Covid-19. Since Covid remains a consideration, changes were promised for 2021 to make the event safer. For me, no virtual substitute could stand in for actually going there and riding with all the other riders. I have ridden the event for so many years that I wanted to ride it in person again regardless of the changes. There were quite a few differences, both obvious and subtle, not the least of which was a registration limit of 4000 riders. None of the changes concerned me, and even if it wasn’t exactly the same as I remembered, I felt good about riding it again. I was worried about how I would do. I was not sure that my training was good enough. I decided that my goal would be to ride faster than my slowest Seagull – which I thought would be easy enough.

The ride itself was very familiar. While Seagull is a flat century, and a very busy century, the Delmarva peninsula autumn scenery is part of the charm, as is going to Assateague Island. I started at a good pace, using a steady cadence and fighting against the wind as I headed east. Every familiar turn made me smile. I wasn’t sure that I could hold my pace this year – my training wasn’t as good as previous years, and the wind was challenging. However, I got to the first rest stop without feeling too tired. After fueling up and refilling my bottles I set out again, hoping that the winds wouldn’t wear me out too quickly, but they were pushing against me. When I got to the water stop in Newark, I immediately found a good spot to park my bike, and I did my best to make the stop as brief and effective as I could. The next leg to Assateague was very windy, and I had to power through stretches of it, but the familiar landmarks kept me focused, and my legs were still holding that strong cadence.

My anticipation grew as I approached the island. Over halfway done! Finally the bridge to Assateague came into view – and the only real climbing that day started. I had relatively little reason to shift gears before the bridge, but that climb was welcome! Over 60 miles done! Despite the mob scene at the stop, I did my best to get food and water quickly. I was satisfied with my pace. I was going much faster than I’d hoped. This stop is always a highlight on the Seagull Century. I did my best to savor the moment, and then I started back.

Now the wind was helping me, or at least not hindering me, and I got into a rhythm and started passing other riders. I wanted to finish strong and hold the pace I’d optimistically set at the start of the ride. I passed a lot of riders. I got through the town of Berlin at 70 miles hoping that I wouldn’t have to slow down too much. Every familiar turn raised my spirits and called up memories, and when I got to the final rest stop it wasn’t crowded. I took some time to rest and eat, thinking about the final leg. With less than 20 miles to go, I set out for Salisbury determined to finish strong. The day was getting brighter, and so was my mood. This old man was still riding strong! I didn’t let up until I reached the tunnel at the campus. I emerged to the wonderful sound of cheering from spectators and friends. I had ridden slightly faster than I had in 2019, averaging 17.5 mph. The beer garden was fabulous. Beer and friendship flowed as we cheered for the incoming riders. It felt wonderful, just as it had when I finished my first century at the Seagull in 2006. I haven’t missed a Seagull since.

A few final notes to share here: if I had a dollar for everyone who complimented my bike, it would have paid for the entire trip! It was nice to hear praise for my lugged steel bike. After the ride, the hotel hot tub felt like a little piece of heaven. Maybe I still have another Seagull or two left in me!

The Way Back

After nearly two years, I finally rode another century.

The Maine Lighthouse Ride, at a rest stop on the coast

I’ve reached an age where health discussions begin to sound like a long series of dire warnings and consequences. While I’ve never wanted to live forever, I want to have a good quality of life, and that means staying active. That activity has been my cycling for the most part. It’s been a social activity as well, and I’ve come to enjoy it and depend on it. With the pandemic and other changes, the last two years have left me doubting my fitness level, but I rode the Maine Lighthouse Ride, finished, and felt good, much to my relief.

2020 was a disaster, and 2021 had had a difficult start. My longest ride of 2020 was short, even though I rode often. There were no group rides that year. Group rides this year were complicated by social distancing and mask protocols (I despise face masks with a white-hot intensity, but I wear them. I hope one day soon they’ll be completely voluntary). The practical upshot of all this has been that I have not ridden a century in nearly 2 years and I have not been certain of my preparation. I signed up for 2 centuries this year, and the doubts had been thundering in my head. Have I trained enough? How would I feel? A lot could have changed.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry. I wasn’t particularly fast, but I rode strong, I finished, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Of course, the ride I did was the Maine Lighthouse Ride, and that ride is beautiful. The day was cool to start, but the temperature got up to the low/mid 70’s – perfect weather. It was a joy riding it. Next I have the Seagull Century to ride, and it should be another joy. One of the good things will be riding it without any doubts!

Portland Head Lighthouse