Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thoughts in the mind of my back

I've been spending a lot of time prone lately as my back slowly gets better, which has given me time to think. Never a good thing.

What struck me today is that the crappy design of the human back dictates many of the castes in our society. Think about it. Bending over a lot sucks because the physiology of our backs makes it tiring and painful. Therefore, any job that requires a lot of crouching and stooping is delegated to the lower rungs of our workforce. Picking crops for example. Much of the agriculture in the country is borne on the backs of immigrants -- literally -- because they're willing to assume the postures that Americans won't. When a job involves wretchedly difficult labor, one doesn't say "foot-breaking" or "nostril-breaking" or "earlobe-breaking" -- it's "back-breaking" and for good reason. Back pain is easy to come by and it totally, totally sucks. If our backs were such that bending over constantly made one feel really great, only the rich would be allowed to bow all day, I guarantee it.

I've also realized that humans have designed their indoor spaces stupidly. Taking something out of the oven, loading and unloading a dishwasher/washer/dryer, fetching or putting away one's cleaning supplies, sweeping the floor -- all involve contorting into uncomfortable positions, and, not coincidentally in my opinion, are jobs done by low wage earners. We should design our spaces so that everything is above knee height. Granted, we'd have to give up some window space, but it'd be worth it! Only chiropractors could be against such a sensible plan! Well, them and conservative Republicans, who WANT to see their laborers suffer.

The only good thing about the universality of back pain is that Argotnaut has frequently dealt with it herself, so she's been a sweetie as the house has gotten progressively more disgusting. She knows the only way to get better is to rest. But if my back doesn't get better soon, there will be only one solution: call some illegal immigrants to come clean our house! But I'd be sure to tip them well.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

But I want to be a lion tamer!

I had my third and final meeting with my...sing it with me now, Monty Python fans...Vocational Guidance Counsellorrrrrrrrrrr on Thursday, and the results were no surprise. God has called me to be a chartered accountant.

Actually, I had the right idea all along. In college, my plan was to be a science writer for a newspaper or magazine, or, perhaps more realistically, a marketing or technical writer for a scientific products company. Thus, I majored in Journalism and got minors in English and Physics. (Actually, the PLAN was to double-major in Journalism AND physics, but I was too busy working and too lazy partying to study enough to get through the necessary math courses.)

After all the fancy surveys and worksheets, it turns out I test very highly in "Investigative" (that's fancy-talk for sciency/researchy stuff), "Creative" (creating and enjoying art); middling in "Social" (helping, instructing) and "Realistic" (building, repairing) and low on "Conventional" (accounting, processing data) and "Enterprising" (selling, managing).

So I was initially on the right track, but was derailed a bit when I got into the financial marketing thing. My writing and research skills enabled me to do well, but it was still "just a job" at which I never really excelled and I went part time as soon as I was able so I could take piano lessons. (It's all so clear to me now!)

The challenge now, of course, is to find something more up my alley. My counsellor seemed keen on my becoming a teacher and Argotnaut seems to feel I'd be good at that, but I'm not so sure. "Learn that algebra or I'll give you something to cry about!"

But at least now I've got validation for what I thought all along. Now I just need to find something that will involve a lot of my "high interests" and few of my "low interests." I'm thinking something along the line of audio or video production, which would be technical but also creative. Or maybe I'll do marketing and educational materials for an artificial hip manufacturer. "Not only do I write about them, I'm also a client!"

Back D'oh! Man

Last week was rainy and cold around here, so I took my bike in for its 500-mile free tune up in anticipation of continuing training for my Larch Mountain ride. Just as the weather man predicted, the weather cleared yesterday and it's scheduled to be beautiful for the next week. Just enough time to get in a few more warm up rides and then go for the big one. And then, of course, my back went out. D'oh!

Now, I rarely have problems with my back. And this twinge was triggered not by doing anything spectacular, but by reaching down to the coffee table for the salt and pepper shakers. So now I'm walking around like Mr. Tudball on the old Carol Burnett Show..."Mrs. Ha-Wiggins!"

My wife has been chastising me like a little kid: "Keep still!" but it's hard for me to do. But if I'm going to make it to the top of Larch Mountain before the snows come, I'd better do what she says. Now where's my icy-hot? Missus Ha-Wiggins!"

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Ride of Sisyphus

Those who know me know that I don't do anything without a plan. (The plan may not always WORK, and I often don't stick to it, but there IS a plan). Anyway, my cycling plan this summer is to ride to the top of Larch Mountain, a trek of about 60 miles and 4000 feet of elevation gain. From the top, one can see Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, and the top of Mt. Jefferson. Worth the trip, I'd say.

I tried to do the ride in late May of 2002, but the summit was still closed by snow. I still remember loading some of the snow in a water bottle, and then hitting Argotnaut with a snowball when I got back home. Keep in mind, this was May.

As you might expect, one doesn't just jump on one's bike and ride to the top of Larch Mountain. Well, you could, but if you survived, you'd feel like the wife of a friend of mine who gave birth after less than 90 minutes of labor; she likened it to "running a marathon without training and finishing."

Because that doesn't sound like much fun to me, I've been slowly working up to my goal. Today's ride was truly epic: The Sandy River Gorge. Details: 40 miles, 2700 ft. of elevation gain, 4 hours, 1500 calories. The topography of the ride, as related in the awesome book "Bicycling the Backroads of Northwest Oregon," looks like this:

As you can see, the ride is downright Sisyphian: 45 seconds of harrowing descent, followed by 45 minutes of grinding uphill. Then you roll to the bottom again. You do this about five times, the killer being a 1000 ft+ haul from the Sandy River.

The positives: Awesome scenery. Here are two shots, the first from the shore of the Sandy River, the second looking down on the river from the town of Sandy (noted on the above chart):

At the highest point of the ride, I stopped to recover a bit. These guys came to see what all the gasping and coughing was about. Apparently, I smelled bah-ah-ah-ah-ad.

After the biggest descent, I stopped to gather my wits (I hit my fastest speed I've ever ridden on a bike: 46 mph) and admire the Bull Run River, which is formed by runoff from nearby Mt. Hood and supplies much of Portland's drinking water.

The negatives: Lots of farmer traffic, the favored vehicle being those Ford 350 monster extended cab pickups with dual wheels on each side of the rear axle. Some of these also have bumper stickers like "This Vet Supports President Bush." I'm glad I didn't have some snippy placard on the back of my seat, especially because the roads were often twisty and there was never much room. (For this reason, I don't think it would be wise to do the ride again. Usually on my rides in area, I see a few other cyclists even in the more remote parts. Today, none, and I think the relative unsafeness of the route is the reason.)

Oh and the other negative? Pain. Lots and lots of pain. On a couple of the ascents, I had to actually get off the bike and push for a 100 feet or so. I've NEVER had to do that before. But that's why I'm doing this. To get stronger.

Actually, I'm feeling better after this ride than the 50 mile marathon of a few days ago. I don't know if I'm up to Larch Mountain yet, but I'm getting closer. I had just better get there by the end of September, or the snow will thwart me once again!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Barking up the wrong tree of knowledge

Came two Jehovah's Witnesses to the door this morning. My yelling at the barking dogs to shut up alerted them that, yes, someone was home. I know I could have ignored the doorbell, but I'm old-fashioned that way and think it's rude. So I opened the door and chatted briefly with the two elderly black women. I couldn't pass up the offer of a "Special Issue" of "Awake!" entitled "Is There a Creator?" and told them that, yes, I would look it over even though there could not possibly be a more wrong tree up which they could be barking. They even asked if they could come back and discuss it. I said, "We'll see."

This special issue has articles like "Is Evolution a Fact?" and "How Can I Defend My Belief in Creation?" and features scientists talking about their belief in God. That's all fine and good. Personally, I think it's a fun thing to debate (the scientific basis for the existance of God, that is), but that the question is, in fact, irrelevant.

First, you're talking about two polar opposite principles -- faith and science. Faith, by definition, involves believing things even though there's no proof. Science, by definition, involves believing things only if there is verifiable and testable proof. Trying to get the two to co-exist is like trying to merge matter and anti-matter, and you know what happens when you do that. Well, scientists do, anyway.

Second is that even if there is a God, he/she/it/they don't get involved with humanity. All the bad stuff that happens in the world that goes unpunished seems to me pretty clear proof of that. We're on our own and it's up to us to solve our own problems ourselves whether there's a God or not. Furthermore, I've always thought it a little juvenile to behave well on Earth so you'll be rewarded later in heaven. What are we, dogs? "Jump through the hoop, Trixie, and you'll get a biscuit!" God can keep his biscuit. One should do good works on Earth because it makes Earth a better place for you and everyone else.

For example, I COULD have gone off on the Jehovah's Witnesses about an item in the paper that made me a tad irate. September 11 is, of course, the five-year anniversary of you-know-what. That involved one religious zealot killing nearly 3000 people, and another religious zealot responding with policies that have killed even more American service men and women, not to mention, by his own admission "30,000 Iraqi civillians, more or less."

"Yeah. Devout religious beliefs have made the world a better place all right, ladies. I've borne witness to that."

But I DIDN'T say that because I believe religion is a neutral force. Why? Well, here's an example: September 11, 2006, is also the 100 year anniversary of Mahatma Ghandi's manifesto of change through non-violence, an approach rooted in Hindu philosophy that actually did generate positive change in the world for millions of Indians and inspired others, like Martin Luther King, Jr., to pursue positive change in ways that don't involve killing people by the thousands.

I think it's possible that humans will attain a state of peaceful won't be easy and it won't happen soon. And if we allow violent extremists to bring out the worst in our natures, we many not get there at all. But if we practice tolerance, heck, perhaps we can get along as well as these former "enemies":

So that's okay, ladies. Knock on my door and perhaps we can exchange ideas. I probably won't change your minds, and you probably aren't gonna change mine. But as long as we're willing to listen to each other, maybe can do our small parts to get the world out of the handbasket it's in.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Another boring cycling post

You cycle 51 miles and whaddya get? Another day older and really, really tired. Today's ride back to the Vista House represents the longest ride of the year by 15 miles. I cheated on my previous rides by taking Portland's truly awesome MAX light rail line as far east as possible and setting out on my ride from there. Today, I said, to heck with that! I'm riding the whole way! And so I did. The MAX route cuts the distance in half but adds 300 ft. of elevation. It might take a little less time, too, but I always felt a bit of a pud taking my bike on the train. "Whatsa matter, little boy? Too far to ride by yourself? Want your mommy to carry you?" "Why yes, yes I do." But now that I've been able to adjust to the climbing a bit, I felt I could ride the whole way. Which I did, but the trip is pretty much at the limits of my abilities right now. Final tally was 1100 feet of elevation gain, 51 miles, 3.75 hours, 1,400 calories.

On the upside, I did get some new vacuum cleaner bags (sorely needed) at the Home Depot along the route, AND took some pictures of the interior of the Vista House. I hope the cool art deco details are apparent:

And of course, here's the ubiquitous photo of the boringly transcendent Columbia River Gorge. The Vista House is on the outcropping at center right.

All these gorge-ous shots remind me of a story a friend of mine told me about traveling in Ireland: "After a while you get up in the morning and look out the window and say, 'Not another Goddamned rainbow!'"

Anyway, now my quads are being obstreperous (does that mean they're turning into Quadsimodos?...sorry). I'm actually looking forward to a simple day of vacuuming tomorrow. But only after a night of looking like this:

Monday, September 04, 2006

Vista House Reclaimed!

As threatened in an earlier post, today I did make it to the Vista House. Woo, I'm tuckered this evening. So I include here only a brief travelogue: 1400 feet of elevation gain, 30 miles. As proof of my conquest, here's the new, refurbished Vista House:

They've done a lovely job with the recently completed restoration. Unfortunately, their web site doesn't yet include any photos of the new interior. I guess I'll have to head back and take some of my own. I will say that the stairways reflect an America just prior to World War 1, when Americans were a lot skinnier!

Anyway, here's a shot from the newly opened second story balcony:

The big river is the Columbia, obviously. The highway just to the right is I-84, the construction of which nearly doomed the splendid old historic Columbia River Highway and was built over part of the old road. (That's progress for ya.) The little river to the right of the highway is...uh...some river.

One of the reasons I like this ride so much is that it climbs through some nice pastureland, where one can commune with guys like this:

Another reason is the multiple climbs and descents that offer so many different fantastic views, here of the Sandy River Gorge, the last major climb of the trip. Note house at far right center that provides some idea of the height:

Now, however, it's time for night night and one last beautiful view: that of my snuggly wife!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Mother Load*

"182 pounds!" I gasped as I looked at the scale yesterday morning.

Yes, a week without cycling or walking, combined with my mother's "you better believe it's not vegan" meals and, I must admit, a bit of drinking, had bumped me up five pounds. I had been vacillating about taking a bike ride this morning, but my gut feeling (har har) prompted me to flee the house as if Argotnaut was chasing me with a taser.

I was considering a trip out to Crown Point (40 miles, 1100 feet of elevation gain) but 85 degree heat (forecast to top out near 100) and a 20 mph headwind convinced me to opt for Blue Lake Park (25 miles, 300 feet of elevation gain). It was near 90 degrees at 11:30 am when I got there, but the Labor Day bathers didn't seem to mind:

On the way home, I had just enough energy to drag my baked ass into Green Dog pet supply to get Buddy a stuffed squirrel toy. He's been an extra tolerate boy with the arrival of the new puppy and I wanted to get him something that was his and his alone. I think he appreciated it.

Fortunately for Buddy, his stuffed squirrels don't have any calories!

* I know it's mother "lode." I'm making a pun, y'all, albeit a crappy one.