Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My New Ride

Upgrades, baby.  Sometimes they come at the weirdest times. I missed summer this year. Between Dad's adventures in Cardiology and exploring the afterlife, and Mom's adventures in Brain Injuries and regaining her life, and what seemed like hours at the various hospitals that were actually days and weeks... well, the summer flew by. 

Today, after about a year of learning all about bikes and doing some serious comparison shopping for months, a brand new Motobecane Nemisis showed up on my doorstep with my name on it!

It is a tri-specific bike, and rather than bore you with the myriad of details, I will say this... It is ten or twelve pounds lighter than my Big Yellow Beast, with rail thin tires about two thirds the width of the BYB tires. All of this to say it should be a rocket! I'm pretty pumped up to take it for a spin.  Maybe tomorrow when the Wife returns from work.

I am a little giddy at how light it is. Giddy, I tell you. I'll let you know how it all turns out.

More Later.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Photography can be HARD

As we were driving home tonight, we passed a small field with a great number of dragonflies flying around, feeding. We raced home, grabbed a few cameras and headed back to see if we could get a few shots. 

Turns out it is REALLY hard to get good pictures of dragonflies while they are zooming around and eating. I shot well over 200 pictures in about thirty minutes. Thank goodness for digital cameras! Of those, these are the ones that were the best...
 I think this one is a Canada darner.

 Common Green Darner?

 Another Common Green?

 No idea, but I liked how the sun was flashing off the wings.

 Turn and burn, dragonfly style.

 Maybe a Common green, but with red eyes?

I wish this last one was in focus, it would have been awesome.  If you look closely you can just make out the dragonflies legs extending towards it's meal.
I'll keep practicing and practicing.  Those little suckers are FAST!

More Later

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hickory Grove Triathlon (Duathlon) - 8/28/11

It was a beautiful day for an outdoor event, but we'll get to that in a minute.

A couple of days ago we got an e-mail from the organizer of the HGT saying...
"The DNR requires signs warning the public of ecoli levels in two situations. One if the 30 day average rises above 126 ecoli colonies per 100ml of water. Two if any single reading rises above 235 ecoli colonies per 100ml of water.
The latest water test for Hickory Grove is 790 ecoli colonies per 100ml of water."
The high levels were caused by goose poop. Lots and lots of goose poop. They cancelled the swim portion of the race and changed it into a duathlon. Instead of starting with a nice 500 yard swim, it would start with a 1.1 mile run, then the normal 15.5 mile bike, and finish up with a 2 mile run. I was a little bummed because the swim is my strong event. But there was nothing for the swimmer in me today. I've never run before a bike, so at least it would be a new experience. 
One interesting side effect of this was that I had very few nerves before the race. I was all psyched up to compete against last year me, and when the swim was eliminated, all the stress of beating last year me went right out the window. I didn't have to worry about where I would leave my glasses for the swim, or anything!
So I pondered how a run before a bike followed by a run would be. Honestly, I was a little interested to see if I could even do that! I hastily made some new goals for the race. I wanted to run the first leg without stopping to walk. I wanted to improve my bike time from the year before. And I wanted to finish the race. With these goals in mind I got ready to race. Mom, Dad, the Wife and the Kiddos all attended and cheered my friend Matt and me on. Lots of people seemed thrown off by the change in plans. I had no worries though, I just wanted to do the best I could. I was hoping to finish around 1:45, preferably faster rather than slower than that mark.
Run leg 1 - 1.1 miles, 11:26
We were to start in our swim waves, but on the road instead of the beach. At 8:20 my group started. I was in the middle off the pack, but was quickly passed by just about everybody.
 (picture by the Wife)
Group Start... that's me in the blue, about to get passed by nearly everyone behind me.
 Did I mention that the run is my very weakest thing? While I am improving with every run, I still have sore knees and bothersome shin splints. Not to mention carrying a bit too much extra weight around. I was able to keep running through the entire mile, and even ran through the transition area to my bike, and later ran my bike out of transition! First goal accomplished! I was feeling pretty good!  

T1- 2:11 Out of my running shorts and into my bike shorts. And of course trying to catch my breath as much as possible.
Bike 15.5 miles (though both Matt and I had 15.7 miles on our bike computers) - 55:26

(picture by the Wife)
Look at me... running my bike out of T1 like a real triathlete!
 I had a lot of fun on the bike. Not just because I maintained a higher speed than I ever have before, (16.8 mph at 15.5 miles or 17 mph for the 15.7 I had recorded!) but I actually passed quite a few people! Including a guy on a really expensive tri bike with a teardrop helmet. The course went three laps, and although the wind kicked up a bit when I was on my third lap, I was able to stay in almost my highest gear for most of the ride. I say almost the highest gear because when I tried to shift into the top two, the chain would skip and jump on and off the sprockets. Not the best thing to mess with on race day. So I left it a couple of gears below the top gear as much as possible and really pushed as much as I could.

(picture by the Wife)

One more time on my Big Yellow Beast

 In short, it was a very good ride for me. And since my new tri bike is on it's way here, this was the last race for my Big Yellow Beast. It held up like a champ, but now it is time to put it out to pasture. The best part of the bike was passing the viewing area and hearing my little ones cheering me on!
 I raced right up to the dismount area where Mom and Dad were located, and hopped off the bike and into T2.
T2 - 2:22 Out of the bike shorts and back into the running shorts. Tired, jelly legs and my right leg started feeling... twingy.
Run leg 2, 2 miles - 28:52
 (picture by the Wife)

Heading out.
VERY small stride,
Fighting a cramp in the leg.
 I knew I was in trouble when I started running out of the transition area. The twinge in my right calf muscle seemed to be preparing to knot into a very painful cramp. I have had zero trouble with cramps in this 13 months of tri training, and can only remember two other times in my life when my legs cramped up. Once in a high school swim practice, and once during a run in boot camp. I remembered the pain very well and was more than worried that my calf would turn into a rubber pretzel and stop me completely. I hobble/ran as far as I could past the crowds, willing myself to keep jogging and try to appear as if all was well. My stride felt more like a short shuffle as I ran past my Wife and Kids again who cheered me wildly. The Wife later said that I looked like I was hurting when I went past, and indeed I was. So much for my acting skills. I went about a third of a mile before the calf threats turned extra painful and I needed to stop to stretch that pesky muscle. I walked and shook my leg and stretched the calf, and jogged a bit again. To no avail for the whole first half of the run. Finally by the turn around, my leg relaxed and I felt like I could run again. So while I spent the first mile limping along and walking more than I would have liked, I spent the great majority of the second mile actually running!
 (picture by the Wife)
feeling MUCH better! I'm actually running with a little speed.
 As I approached the finish, I saw the Wife and my kiddos cheering me on, my parents and friend Matt cheering me on, and I turned on the speed! ... Seriously, I have GOT to work on my run. I had NO speed left, so I kept up my jogging pace and finished with my hands in the air and a smile on my face.
1:40:19 was my finish time.  When I compare it to last years performance it comes out a little like this. Matt and I decided that adding 10 minutes for a swim portion would be fair, as the swim itself would be faster, but the extra time would account for transition and energy lost during the swim. So adding 10 mikes to my time would be around 1:50. That's a full 13 minutes faster than last year! More directly, if we compare the two bike portions, I went from 1:03:00, or 14.7 MPH, to a 55:26, or 16.8 mph! That is a huge improvement from last year! I also shaved a few minutes off my run time, but probably because it was broken into the two sections.
(picture by Mom)

Matt and I in our spiffy new HGT shirts.
I can't compare these two years very well. But I did have a very fun day with friends and family in a beautiful location. This was my last tri of the season. Soon I will be posting some goals for the next season. I am hooked on this tri thing!

More Later

Monday, August 15, 2011

Lessons from the Odonata Files

Being new to something can lead to making a few mistakes. A lack of knowledge in a subject leads to dependence on those with more knowledge. And sometimes there is plain old being clueless to blame.

The Boyo and I have been learning a great many thing about the world of Odonates, or Dragonflies, as I've posted before. I've been working on my photography skills by shooting them for posterity when they cooperate. The Boyo has been spotting them, and pointing them out to me.

Such was the case in our garden at the end of July when we saw this pretty girl...

My initial reaction was that it was a Ruby Meadowhawk. Why? Because if you go to the Odonata Central website, they have really friendly lists of dragonflies and damselflies found in your specific county!  Our list had 18 species. The Boyo and I added the 19th, species last week, much to our excitement. Then I saw that most of the records in our county were from the DOT project done back in 2004, so I decided to add my recent finds to our list as well.

I submitted the Widow Skimmer...

The Halloween Pennant...

And the Ruby Meadowhawk.  Well, the Widow and the Halloween Pennant were both confirmed, but the Ruby was still pending a few days later. In the mean time, I had found the Minnesota Odonata Survey Project, and they have a facebook page, so I joined it to ask what they thought of my Ruby Meadowhawk. They have some wicked knowledgable folks there and they gently corrected my ID and said that I had recorded a Band-winged Meadowhawk instead. 

I looked up a picture of the Band-winged, compared it to mine and a picture of the Ruby, and sure enough there were little differences that I had missed, indeed making it a picture of a Band-winged Meadowhawk, and our SECOND county record!

Now, to be fair, it seems that getting county records is pretty common due to the lack of recording of odonates in most areas. But for the Boyo and I, having two of our four recorded odonates be county records is pretty exciting! He wants to keep hunting them and find a brand new species that we can name. I'll admit that sounds pretty cool to me, too. However unlikely.

My mistake was in comparing my photo to the known species list, and choosing the one that most closely resembled it. The lesson learned was to take my time in ID'ing my pictures, and keep an open mind as to what I have found. There are literally hundreds of varieties of dragonflies and damselflies, and they are kind of under studied. So my new goal is to keep on hunting with the kiddos, keep recording, keep learning, and keep an open mind.

I encourage you to get out there with your cameras and get some shots. You never know what you might find!

Special thanks to The folks at Odonata Central for their fantastic website, and the good people of MOSP for helping out a newbie like me!

More Later

Friday, August 12, 2011

Remembering SSGT P

Today I heard through facebook that a man I served with in Delta Battery was killed in Iraq back in October of 2004.

John A. Pinsonneault was a "civilian contractor" when he was killed in the Green Zone of Baghdad. From what I can piece together, it seems he had finished lunch with members of his security team and they were leaving the dining hall when a suicide bomber detonated next to them, killing John and three others. He was 39 years old. When we served together in Delta Battery, I just called him P.

We had served together for a few years and when my enlistment was up, he did the paperwork and talked to me about re-enlisting. I remember the conversation vividly, and have thought about it often. What if I had re-upped? Where would I be now and what would be different?  I had decided to let my enlistment run out because I wanted to explore new avenues of what life had to offer. Jason and I had released our first album and were going on tour with it. I had broken up with girlfriends because I did not want to commit while I was in the USMC and could be called up to go to war if there was one. I wanted to be committed to being the best FDC I could. When I left the Marines, I felt it was time to commit to seeing if a woman would actually want to spend her life with me and have kids and such.

When P asked me one last time if I would reconsider, I paused for almost a full minute. Because I loved being a Marine. I loved the unit I was with and the men and women I served with. It was hard to leave behind. But I had been thinking about it for the better part of my last year in, and stuck by my choice to end my Marine Corps career. I told him that joining the Marines had saved my life. I had grown up a great deal and learned that if I argued for my limitations, I would have them. But if I set my mind to something and hit it with Marine Corps intensity, well, then I could do almost anything. I signed the papers and he shook my hand and said, "Well, Shaf dog..." (This is pronounced "Shayeef - dog" and was a nickname given me by Sgt Slickers - Slick - who gave about everybody their nicknames.) "Well, Shaf dog... We're going to miss you. You're a good Marine and a good man."
Then he smiled at me and said,
"Good luck with everything in the future, John. You can do anything you put your mind to... Marine."

It was a brief conversation, but memorable to me because of the "what if's" I've considered over the years.

I turned 40 less than a week ago. P will eternally be 39. It is hard for me to get my head around his death. Because it happened almost seven years ago. Because so much has happened in that time. Because in those youthful days as a Marine, we were immortal and untouchable. Confident in our ability to improvise, adapt and overcome in any situation. Those days, a decade or two back, still seem fresh in my mind. The faces of my brother Marines will always be youthful and immortal in my mind, even though I grow older. And while I suspect he will not be the last of my Marine brothers I will not see again in this lifetime, he is the first I have lost. I lost the opportunity to reconnect. To thank him for the time we served together. I grieve that loss.

This news also brings the war closer to home for me. Don't get me wrong. I fly my flags every day for those who are serving and those who won't come home. We had a local Marine funeral at our church a time ago, and it was hard for me to see. Though I knew him not at all, we were still joined by the common bond of the Corps, and his loss got to me a little.

But I knew P. I laughed with him and worked with him. We trained for war together. Broke bread together. Celebrated more than a few USMC birthdays together. And while we were not best friends, I considered him one of my "Marine Corps Buddies".

I lost touch with the Marines I served with after I got out.  Facebook has provided an opportunity to reconnect with many of them, though only passively. They all have their lives and their close friends. I occasionally chat with them through FB. Comment on a status or "like" something. But I suspect if I stopped those interactions, their lives would continue with nary a blip on their radar. Just as I've lived the last seven years without the faintest notion that P was dead.

But once, long ago-but not too long ago, we all served together in a Marine artillery unit, as a band of brothers. There is a bond there that even I don't understand at times. The common bond of service, good times and bad times, training to fight and kill and win and serve. It's a strange phenomenon. But there exists a brotherhood of Marines. I believe if any of them contacted me with a request, I would go to the ends of the earth to fulfill it for them.

And so, though I had not talked to P more than a half dozen times after I was out, and was not even aware of his death now six and a half years past, I grieve as if I had seen him only last week. Both of us in our cammies, shooting the poo as Marines are wont to do. I am in shock at his death, and my heart is just a little broken for his family and for the loss of my Marine brother.

It sucks, because I can hear P telling me to just get over it and get on with life. He had a philosophy that tough times don't last, but tough people do. And he lived his life as such. When the war started, he jumped back in as a security specialist. At that time I was being courted by the Navy to go back in as a medic attached to a Marine unit. I was a newly minted EMT heading for Paramedic status, and they were very aware that combat medics would be in demand when the war heated up. P went in, even though he had a wife and kids. I was engaged and just ready to start Family Life, which was a sticking point for me. I didn't want to go off and die somewhere and leave a wife and kids behind. So I chose to get married and start my family and serve my communities as a medic instead. (The Navy also wanted me to do their boot camp again, which seemed a little silly after having been through USMC boot. And at the time they wouldn't give me a promotion. They did call again two years later though, about six months after P died, ready to sign me up with a promotion to E-6 and send me off with the Marines. But I had a one year old son. I just couldn't do it.)

In that sense, P was a much stronger patriot than I. He was willing to sacrifice the future with his wife, kids, grand kids, family, to serve in the war however he could and fight for those who needed fighting for. He had a true warrior spirit, and was an honorable man. I wonder what he would have accomplished had he turned 40 and gone on living to a ripe old age. I wonder what I can do to honor his life and his sacrifice. To earn the freedom that he served to provide.

I did some time in the Marine Corps. Almost a decade. I gave the government a "blank check" to spend as they saw fit. Willing at the time to give my all, even my life, to serve this country. But that check expired. Though I serve still in very small ways, others have taken my place and the US has cashed their checks. Some giving the last full measure. Like P did. His check had no expiration date, and it cost him and his family a future of wondrous possibilities.

It will take me some time to get my head around not only his loss, but what I can do to honor him. I will start by remembering his last words to me as a Marine. That I can do anything I put my mind to. And remembering him with his own words to me...

Goodbye P. We're going to miss you. You're a good Marine and a good man.

More Later

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sintifick Draginfly Reserch

You may remember this post from late last year, wherein the Boyo was upset when he learned the meaning of extinct and that we would in fact, not be getting a baby triceratops to raise in our yard. He brightened up when he learned that dragonflies were descended from dino-dragonflies, and that we could learn about them, study them, and maybe even see some up close!

We learned that there are 18 known species in our area, and studied pictures of them with the hope that we could find some when the weather got warmer and get some pictures of our own.  The Boyo asked for a three ring binder and we got to work making a notebook full of pictures off the Internet and any info we could find on said Odonata. He made a cover page titled "Sintifick Draginfly Reserch" or (Scientific Dragonfly Research). We want to fill it with all we can find and photograph regarding our local critters of the Dragonfly variety.

So far this summer we have pictures of...

The male Twelve Spotted Skimmer...

The female Ruby Faced Meadowhawk...

Which you've seen in previous posts.
We also got some nice shots of the beautiful Halloween Pennant...

And just today I got some shots of the male Widow Skimmer...

at the lake I train in. The Boyo and I were sneaking through the muck and mire looking for other dragonflies, when we noticed this one...

male above, I think a female below

which we could not place. With wings folded back like that it is a damselfly, but there are only two recorded species in our area... the River Jewelwing...

and the Ebony Jewelwing...

And this new guy was not like either.  After we got home, I scoured the Odonata Central website to try and figure out who he is, and I think he is the Eastern ForktailIschnura verticalis). I submitted my photos to the Odonata Central website for verification, and if it is verified, I'm hoping that the Boyo and I will have added not only to our book, but we will have upped the local Odonata count to 19!

I'm totally geeked about it, of course. And the Boyo is ready to go dragonfly hunting again all day every day.

So, in our quest to find the 18 locals, we may have found #19! Good Times... Good Times!

More Later

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On Turning 40

Things have been a little crazy around here. The last few weeks have been some of the longest months ever.

On July 8th, Mom was finally transferred up to Mayo. My brother and I had discussed the possibility of hospice and end of life care if Mayo couldn't find or fix whatever was ailing her. But within a few days they had discovered the root of the problem, and fortunately it was reversible. And after briefly getting a little worse, they turned her around and now she is on the rehab unit getting stronger and training to go home!

Lots of people come to Mayo hoping for the "Mayo Miracle". Mom was one of the many lucky ones who got it!

Oh. Also, I turned 40 a few days ago. The "Big 4-oh". I had expected to have a lot more angst or be more disturbed at turning 40. But really... not so much. The birthday itself was excellent. After church the four of us met Mom and Dad over at the rehab courtyard for a Chinese lunch with way too much food. Followed by a yummy spice cake with cream cheese frosting thanks to my lovely and talented wife.

I got two presents, too. A new fiberglass guitar case from my folks to replace the wooden one that got wet and moldy several years ago. I'm VERY excited to be able to travel with my guitar again! And from the Wife and Kiddos I get to pick out a new bike for the triathlons! There is a budget for that of course, as a top end tri-bike could cost what a new car does. But I'm shopping around and learning more about bikes than I ever thought I would need to know.

Brands aside, there are a dozen things to look at. Components like the front and rear derailleurs, brakes, shifters, cassettes, pedals, wheels... it's a little overwhelming. And since I don't want to buy another bike after this one, it has to be a bike that will last, and will not be too much or too little bike for me now and in the future.  It's complicated. Now, if anybody wants to sponsor a middle to back of the pack triathlete and donate towards the new bike, I'd be happy to paint your logo or name on the bike when I get it! :)

With the rest of the day, we relaxed and went for supper at the Olive Garden, where I was going to get the soup and salad to make up for the gigantor lunch, but ended up getting a very good mushroom ravioli with shrimp. So all in all, a very fun day and gifts more generous than I could have imagined.

More than a few people told me that after turning 40, it was all downhill. Maybe it is... Maybe it is. But I know that gravity is a good friend on the downhills during triathlons. And something has sparked some amazing workouts in the past couple of days.

On Monday the 8th, the day after my birthday, I went for my first bike ride as a 40 year old on my hilly course. Imagine my delight when I finished the 15.5 mile ride in 59:25! Keeping a 15.5 mph average on the course that usually holds me to 12 to 13 mph. I hopped off the bike and did a very slow 2 mile jog/walk to stretch my legs a little and start getting some bricks in. Then that evening, Dad and I went for a swim at the lake. I did 600 yards and felt pretty good. Dad loaned me his fins and I did another 200 fast.

I feel like I am outgrowing my big yellow beast of a bike, and that I am actually finally worthy of an upgrade. So choosing a new one will be great!

Then yesterday I was scheduled for a 3 mile run, which I got to in the evening after eating leftovers from the past couple days, including more birthday cake. I thought I'd be regretting the second slice that I had eaten when I started running.  My goal was to run over a mile when I got going. At the one mile mark I felt pretty good and decided to shoot for the mile and a half mark. When I reached that I let out a healthy USMC "OOH-RAH!" and kept on running. Passing the two mile mark I was thinking that if I made it that far, I should be able to reach 2.5. At 2.5 I was motivated to do the whole 3! As I rounded the corner and faced the hill between me and the finish line I had a pang of doubt. I rarely run up this hill, because it's kind of steep. But as I got started on it, I got pumped. I did not just run 2.75 miles to quit on the hill this close to the finish. So I pushed hard and RAN UP THAT HILL!

Crossing the finish was nearly as satisfying as finishing my first triathlon. I have not run a solid 3 miles since my USMC days. And though my time was 36:04, which is great for me right now, it is nowhere near the 21:00 I could do coming out of boot camp. My knees have aged and I don't expect I'll ever get back to the 21:00 time. But I do want to get under 30 minutes sometime, and have a goal of breaking 30 in a triathlon by the end of next season.

14 months ago when I started this triathlon training, I couldn't swim fifty yards without stopping to breathe and rest. Now I'm swimming 500 - 1000 yards straight and at a pace 15-20 seconds faster per 100 than my race time from HGT 2010. Last year my first bike ride was less than 5 miles in 45 minutes and ended with me nearly passed out on my front deck. Now I'm holding 15.5 mph on a pretty hilly course, faster by a couple mph than race day last year. Last year I couldn't run from one telephone pole to the next without feeling like my heart would burst and my lungs seize up. Now I can do a 36:04 5K without stopping to walk, and fully expect to improve on it.  Now I just need to bring them all together for the Hickory Grove Tri.

Turning 40 really wasn't too bad. My health is improving. I have both parents still around, and it was questionable at times this year whether either would be alive on my birthday. I have a wonderful, beautiful, kind, caring and thoughtful Wife that loves me and supports me. I have VERY energetic and strong willed children, which can be challenging, but is also wonderful to see them developing into such delightful human beings. And hearing "Daddy... I love you very much." just never gets old. I have good friends who love and support me, too. I am a lucky, lucky man.

I may be getting older, but I'm also getting better.

More Later