Monday, July 30, 2012

Coffee Break

Coffee time. When I asked for a cup of coffee, I misspoke. What I meant? A gallon of coffee, one cup at a time.

I had a great ride yesterday, taking the twisty route through West Virginia. I asked one gas station attendant why there was no cell coverage. Apparently, we (US Gov't) have a testing facility of some sort out in the mountains, and cell service is banned. Who knew?

Here's another story that could only happen in WV. The sign said: Freeway Ends in One Mile. First of all, what had been a scenic byway in Virginia turned into a 4-lane divided highway when I crossed the border.  Not what I expected, but I was making good time heading west.

I assumed the road would narrow down to 2 lanes in a mile, but the sign was more literal. The freeway actually came to an end. The road stopped in a T. I kid you not. There was no traffic on this freeway to nowhere, so I had time to make a considered decision: left, or right?

I sat for a moment pondering my options. I looked at the sky. I would go out of my way to avoid a nasty storm, but the sky offered no decisive clues. 

Just then a little breeze blew from the north, and my whiskers responded to the cosmic message by pointing south.

And that, boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen, is why bikers have facial hair.

More in a few miles.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


CERUS loaded and ready to roll

Update from somewhere in West Virginia. In the photo, my bike is loaded up and you can see my car and my house in the background. Ready to LAUNCH!

At this moment I am posting the photo and this text via my phone while at a gas station. My cage and my hootch are way behind me now--already distant memories compared to the horizons ahead.

Beautiful riding weather: 90 degrees, mostly sunny, a few passing showers, and beautiful mountain views. Of course, what passes for mountains here in the east pale in comparison to the mountains toward which I am headed!

Onward and upward!

Broken Spoke Camping at the Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis

Map of the Broken Spoke Campgrounds

I posted this link to my blog mainly so I could access it from my phone when I arrived to the campsite! Ah, technology...

Of course, to produce the handy version you see below (and save you clicking in the link), I had to download the .pdf, open Adobe, take a screen shot, paste the screen shot as a bitmap into PowerPoint, save the bitmap as a picture, and then upload the picture to the blog.

Sheesh! How 20th Century!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Two Wheels and a Tent!

I leave in the morning (Sun 29 Jul 2012) for an epic adventure: 5K miles in 14 days, all aboard CERUS, my trusty iron war-horse. I am headed to my first ever Sturgis rally, traveling west from Alexandria via Route 50 to the central valley of Colorado, then north through Rocky Mountain National Park and Horse Tooth Reservoir and Devil's Tower to Sturgis, then east via Mount Rushmore, Milwaukee, Chicago, South Bend, Cleveland (Rocks!), and Waldorf back to Alexandria.

Close to5K miles counting the in-and-around stuff.

I started growing my biker's horseshoe moustache and soul patch the day I retired from the Army, which was about 1/2 " ago. I discovered with some surprise that the 30-year-old, self-inflicted ear piercing is still open. Until I find or replace my long-lost silver hoop, a white gold stud will do nicely. I spent some extra time with my girls. I got a housemate to take care of the house and the cats in my absence. I even checked my tire pressure and changed my oil. 

Not only am I physically, practically, and mechanically ready for this trip, I am also spiritually, emotionally, and mentally ready. I have wanted to go to Sturgis since I came back from Baghdad in 2008. Cerus was brand new then, and I made plans with my Baghdad battle buddy, James Daron, to ride to Sturgis in 2009. But then, during my retirement physical, we discovered a problem and I was diagnosed with cancer. Jim and I rescheduled,  but then it was Jim's turn for unsettling news: he was also diagnosed, but with a more deadly form of the disease. During my 3-year battle, we lost Jim. I'll be thinking of him as I ride, and Jim, if you are listening, when I get to the Broken Spoke, the first one's on me.

I am also at a momentous turning point in my life. At age 51, I find myself in an extended period of transition and reflection. This year ended my 28-year military career. My marriage, which for all practical purposes ended 6 years ago, is coming to a formal end soon. I decided to withdraw from Walden University, stepping away from 166 credit hours and 9 years of work so I could take the summer off and reconsider the options available to me for my second career.

Lots to think about in the council chamber of my saddle. Ride west to ponder and reflect. Ride east to begin anew. And what of the northern leg? Well, August 3rd marks my First Year in REMISSION! And I will celebrate with my parents in their Alamosa, Colorado home, at the southern end of my westward leg. From there north to Sturgis, where God only knows what mysteries will unfold. I expect to head east with a new sense of purpose. And maybe a silver hoop.

So, pack a sleeping bag, a tent, and a toothbrush. Charge up the batteries.

Tomorrow we ride.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

What is Zoigl Bier?

Ever had Zoigl brau? Ever heard of it? 

I had my first Zoigl brau at the Appalachian Brewing Co's Brew Pub in Gettysburg.  ABC listed the Zoigl as a summer seasonal on the menu, though it's actually brewed in the winter. Golden and hazy, with a faintly spicy aroma and a complex flavor, I liked Zoigl Star Lager well enough to  learn more about the style. 

Turns out, I like the story of Zoigl brau even better than the beer itself! 

Zoigl brau is the product of an association of homebrewers. Each brewer in the association brews a batch in turn. When the first brewer's batch is ready, he offers it to community patrons. While his batch is available, he displays a six-pointed Zoigl star on the corner of his home. The next brewer in sequence brews, lagers, and kegs his batch in time to take over serving when it's his turn. The responsibility for brewing the communal brew rotates through the association in turn.

Small clusters of homebrewers in a Zoigl association will develop their own preferences and the beer they brew will reflect unique flavors of the local ingredients and preferred proportions. Because of the local variations, Zoigl brau is a style of brewing more than a style of beer.

These two articles were helpful to my appreciation of this interesting approach to brewing and sharing beer, the most convivial of beverages.

What is Zoigl?
White Beer Travels Zoigl

Since true Zoigl brau is brewed in one of a few Communal Brew Houses in Germany and the Czech Republic, I believe ABC's beer should be called a Zoigl-style beer. There's a difference between champagne (France) and prosecco (Italy), and between a Trappist ale and a Trappist-style ale brewed outside the 7 approved monasteries.

At any rate, I am fascinated with the idea of a community of homebrewers taking turns brewing and serving the town's favorite beverage. Bravo!  


| Belgian | National Day |
21 July 2012!

July 21st is Belgian National Day, commemorating the day in 1831 that Leopold of Saxe-Coburg swore allegiance to the Belgian constitution and became the first King of the new country.

July 21st is not Belgian Independence Day and don't let anyone fool you. Belgians had won their independence from the Netherlands in 1830, so July 21st of following year marks the day the constitutional monarchy was formally adopted and the new Nation of Belgium was born.

Anyone planning to celebrate this auspicious occasion?

  • Attending a re-enactment of the swearing in and coronation at the Sint Jacobs Church on the Coudenberg in Central Brussels, perhaps?
  • Or maybe dining out on moules and frittes at a local restaurant?
  • How about savoring some Belgian brews and chocolates at home?

Last year about this time, I wanted to put my love for Belgian beer into a little historical, social, political, and economic context. What you see below is a re-post of that blog article. Enjoy!

Brewing traditions in Belgium go back to at least the Middle Ages. Pieter Bruegel (about 1525-69) painted people enjoying beer. The Trappist monasteries that now brew beer in Belgium were occupied in the late 18th century primarily by monks fleeing the French Revolution. However, the first Trappist brewery in Belgium (Westmalle) did not start operation until 10 December 1836, almost 50 years after the French Revolution and 5 years after what we now celebrate as Belgian National Day.

The Belgians took a unique path to independence, very different from that of the USA even though for both countries the genesis was similar: both chaffed under the unfair demands of an aloof and uncaring monarch. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815’s Battle of Waterloo and the end of the French Empire, the major European powers created the United Kingdom of the Netherlands as a buffer state against future French expansion. Fifteen years later, in 1830, a revolution broke out when the people of what would become Belgium felt underrepresented in the Parliament of the Dutch king. King William I did not pay much attention to the revolt, refusing to even meet with the revolutionaries. Prince William, the king's son and representative in Brussels, was autocratic, unpopular, and ineffective. The inaction had the effect of fomenting the revolution.

At this time, the borders separating France and The Netherlands (modern-day Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg) were set, but the borders inside of The Netherlands were not so clear. The provinces around Brussels were split into French-speaking to the south and Flemish-speaking to the north. The provinces in what would become the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg had some different property inheritance customs that made them unique. Aside from language differences, there was little to separate the people: culture, art, trade, and customs flowed relatively unhindered, and as for the language, most people were multi-lingual. When King William began imposing some tariffs and trade restrictions, people in the outlying provinces revolted. It is said that a performance at the opera house in Brussels so inflamed the people that they impulsively demanded their independence. So at the beginning of the revolution, there was no Declaration of Independence, no sense of a National border, no clear central leadership, no organized militia, no idea of a fight for Independence. There was mostly frustration over the fact that the folks in and around Brussels were not benefiting sufficiently from the central government way up in Amsterdam.

In the wake of any decisive political, diplomatic, or military solution to the impasse, a Belgian constitution was drafted with the tacit support of Britain and France, though these countries had competing reasons for their support. The French saw Belgian independence as a means to extend the Catholic realm at the expense of territory held by the Protestant Dutch. England, fearing France would annex Belgium, imported a German from the house of Saxe-Coburg to serve as King and prevent the French from taking advantage of the situation. On this day (July 21st) in 1831, Leopold was inaugurated as King before the other major European powers, Austria and Prussia, could object.

But King William did not accept what had transpired, and refused to recognize Belgium as a separate country. Sporadic battles continued for 8 more years. Finally in 1839, Kings Leopold and William signed the Treaty of London which carved out who got what between the various belligerents and recognized Belgium as a sovereign country with a constitutional monarchy.  So in 1830 there really was no particular day on which Belgian independence was formally declared with flourished signatures. In 1831, despite having a constitution and a King, there really was no internationally recognized country of Belgium. By 1839, when Belgian independence was formally established and the border disputed settled, it was a formality and people were already thinking of 21 July as their National day. At this point, the people of Belgium had already been wrestling with national identity. Brussels sits on the boundary between the French-speaking Wallonian provinces in the south and the Flemish (Dutch)-speaking provinces of Flanders in the north.   To prevent the regions aligning with neighboring countries and preserve a strong central government, Brussels became a bilingual capital and remains so to this day.

The unique sense of a Belgian National identity that has developed out of that chaos over the past 172 years is what we celebrate today. Through two World Wars, major battles between neighboring countries Britain and Germany have been fought on Belgian soil. This is one of the reasons why the NATO is headquartered in Belgium and why Brussels is the de facto capitol of the European Union.  Peacekeeping, diplomacy, free-trade, and military alliances are important aspects of Belgium’s national identity. Beyond statecraft, Belgium is known for food such as waffles, moules (mussels), and frittes (twice-fried sliced potatoes), and products such as lace, chocolate, and beer. Of these, I am especially interested in the beer and in particular, Cuisine à la Bière: cooking with beer. Germany likes beer, too, but they have many formalities with their brewing process. France likes cooking too, but they prefer cooking with wine.   

Today, celebrate Belgian National Day with Belgian waffles, Belgian chocolate, moules and frittes, and Belgian beer! Long live Belgium!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Obama Collage

Sharing a photosynth I made of a very cool poster. Click the image below to watch a "collage of collages" come to life.

Here's a little backstory. The Microsoft Photosynth software takes a pile of photos that you upload and stitches them together. You can make a panorama by taking pictures as you spin, or you can make a "synth," of pictures synthesized into a collage. Visit the site to see examples and perhaps create your own

In this synth project, the subject is itself a collage. The poster of then-candidate Obama is composed entirely of photos of other political, social, and philosophical leaders and events. I took 26 pictures of varying camera orientations and focal lengths. I wanted to capture the poster the same way one appreciates it on the wall: big picture portrait and an historical novel in pictures.

I bought the poster from the artist at an art show. One of the photos shows the artist's signature: "O" and the date "2009." The artist told me he had his name legally changed to O.  

I bought it as a birthday gift for my 18-year old, civic-minded, and politically active adult-voter-daughter. I find the poster a fascinating summary of the history of hope for racial equality. I hope you enjoy it, too.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Friday the 13th brings some sad news about Y-Me

As readers know, I have recently become an enthusiastic supporter of the Y-Me Breast Cancer organization through Harley-Davidson's corporate sponsorship of that group. Some fellow long-distance riders and I were preparing to ride a thousand miles in a day as a fundraiser for Y-Me. Perhaps you saw my earlier posts about "1K in 1 Day." At any rate, I was surprised to receive the following email announcing the shuttering of Y-Me's doors.

Date: Fri, 13 Jul 2012
Subject: Sad News about Y-ME Breast Cancer Organization

Dear friend and supporter of Y-ME,

It is with deep regret that  I inform you that Y-ME Breast Cancer Organization closed its doors on July 13th, 2012.  For over 30 years, we were the primary organization that provided support and information from peer counselors who truly understood the complex and challenging world of a breast cancer diagnosis.   We were unique.  We were compassionate.  And you were there to help.  

Despite heroic efforts by staff, volunteers, and supporters to fundraise and streamline services, the organization could no longer raise the monies necessary to continue its professional and compassionate programs utilized by over 40,000 individuals every year.   

There are no words to express the sadness we all feel but we felt it important that you hear this news from us directly.   Thank you for everything you have done for Y-ME over the years or were planning to do.


Gloria Suardiaz Alvarez
Board of Directors

The 1K in 1Day riders are looking for a new cause to support for our 29 Sep ride. Make suggestions in the comments below. Meanwhile, join me in mourning the loss of a truly great and noble service: free counseling by breast cancer survivors for women who have just received their diagnosis. What a frightening time that must be! And Y-Me was unique in helping these women. Y-Me will be sorely missed.