Musings on Two Wheels: My First Century

On September 19, 2015, the alarm on my Samsung went off at 5am, though I had been awake for a while. Just for today, I set Rush’s “Marathon” as my alarm tone. Since I took up cycling, the lyrics have served as an inspiration to me: “You can do a lot in a lifetime / If you don’t burn out too fast / You can make the most of the distance / First you need endurance / First you’ve got to last…”

Ever the obsessive, I had my clothing set out last night, so that all I had to do was get a shower and get dressed. Everything else I needed was already stowed in the van.

At 5:40am, I set out, heading for the small town of Hope, Indiana for Hope Ride 2015. The sky was inky black, the rising sun a victim of heavy cloud cover. As I made my way south, thunder claps and lightning shattered the fragile sense of optimism I had for good weather. It sprinkled off and on. I was fifteen minutes from my destination when the skies opened up with a windshield-pounding deluge. My mood quickly soured.

By the time I arrived at Hauser High School, the starting and ending point of the ride, the rain had completely stopped, and my optimism began to reassert itself. As I pulled into the parking lot, I could see that my friend and unofficial cycling mentor Rick had already arrived. I parked my van, and Rick and I headed into the school to register. Prior to this ride, I had only ridden in three other organized rides, each with perhaps thirty to forty riders. As we entered the school, I was astounded. There were hundreds of riders milling about.

We got registered and headed back to the parking lot to meet up with a guy named Eric, someone I had connected with on Facebook who was looking for someone with whom to ride. Eric, Rick, and I set out at 7:30am, the cloudy sky casting a pall over our departure. The roads were still wet, and the cold air bit at my arms. Fifteen minutes into the ride, the rain came and stayed with us for an hour, perhaps longer. My mood headed south again as I pondered the possibility of riding 100 miles in the rain.

Meeting new people doesn’t bother me, but spending a lot of time with someone I don’t know usually makes me a bit uncomfortable. When we set out, a tinge of regret tickled my stomach. What if Eric turned out to be a jerk?

Turns out Eric is a heck of a nice guy. He and I spent a good portion of the ride talking about books and authors, our careers, families, etc. He and Rick also talked about various bicycle components, reinforcing in my mind just how much I have to learn about bicycles.

When we pulled into the first SAG stop, it was still raining. I ate a banana and a couple of small cinnamon rolls, refilled my water bottles, and we set out again for the next leg of our journey. As the miles passed beneath our wheels, I was proud of myself. I felt as though I was keeping pace with Rick and Eric, two very experienced riders. Sure, I would fall behind a bit as we headed up some of the bigger hills, but once I hit the top, I would hit it hard until I caught up with them.

After a little more than fifty miles, we rode into the town square in Hope. It was around 11am. Lunch was being served and smelled pretty damn good, especially after having eaten nothing but bananas, cookies, and granola bars. Rick suggested that we ride the next 25-mile loop, which would bring us back to the Hope town square, before we ate lunch. That was appealing to me because it meant that after lunch, we would only have about 25 miles left.

We set out to ride another twenty-five miles. At the next SAG stop in St. Paul, Indiana, we realized that the route did not make its way back to Hope until the end of the ride, as had been the case in years past. Rick was apologetic about causing us to miss lunch, and even offered to go buy me lunch (“a big greasy cheeseburger”) after the ride was over. We pulled out of St. Paul, a group of about seven or eight, knowing that we would do an eighteen-mile loop and end up back at the St. Paul SAG again.

Following our second stop in St. Paul, we headed out for our final leg. Twenty miles, give or take, to go. It became evident to me at a mile or so into this final leg that I wasn’t going to be able to keep pace with the main group. It was windy, and I was starting to feel in my legs. At first, Eric hung back with me. He then rejoined the main group, and Rick dropped back to ride with me. For a few miles, we kept pace with the larger group, which was about a hundred yards in front of us. Then, as the miles piled up and the wind continued to hammer at us, the group began to pull farther and farther away from us.

My legs were holding up okay on the flat stretches, but screamed at me every time I made my way up a hill. Ten miles into our last leg, we hit another SAG stop. I couldn’t have been happier! I ate a banana, and refilled my bottles. Even though I had only been on the bike for about ten miles since the last SAG, I was grateful.

We left that final SAG and made our way toward Hauser High School, arriving about forty minutes later. There was no fanfare, no one standing there cheering for us as we rode the final fifty yards and turned into the parking lot. Over half the cars that had been in the parking lot earlier that morning were gone.

I quietly pedaled over to my van, put my bike into the rooftop rack, and walked over to tell Rick goodbye. There were free root beer floats inside the building for ride participants. I wasn’t interested in the root beer float or commiserating with other riders about the shitty weather. I just wanted to get in my van and head home for a hot shower and time with my family. Emotionally and physically, I was drained. I just needed some time to myself. On one hand, I was proud of my accomplishment, and I was glad to be done. On the other hand, I had an empty feeling, but I didn’t know why. Why in the hell had I decided to ride a hundred miles on my bicycle? What did I get out of it but sore legs and a sore ass?

When I got into the van to leave, I was plugging my phone in and getting ready to leave when I saw that I had missed a call from Riley, my youngest child. There was no message because, as I have come to realize, kids don’t leave voice messages (or check their own voice mail for that matter!). I called her back, but didn’t get her. A few minutes later, we finally connected. I asked her how she did at her cross country meet. She said she did fine, but seemed more interested in how I had done on my ride. There was the answer to my question! Beyond the exercise, beyond my own need to push myself to the very edge of my limits, I did it for my kids. I did it to show them that if you put your mind to something, even something that seems out of reach, it can be achieved through hard work, dedication, and never quitting.

Before heading home, I joked with a lady in the parking that this was my first century, and maybe my last. Bullshit! I’ll do it again next year. Heck, maybe I’ll do two! I know now that I can. And surely it won’t be rainy and windy next year….


Album Review Dream Theater by Dream Theater


downloadEvery time I hear that Dream Theater is going to release another album, I get a little excited–not like I do when I hear that Rush is releasing a new album, but excited nonetheless.  On September 24, 2013, Dream Theater released its eponymous twelfth album.  The album begins with “False Awakening Suite,” a short, majestic piece that highlights Jordan Rudess’s keyboard playing.  The next song, “The Enemy Inside,” is a blisterin

g, guitar-heavy song about living with guilt and shame.  Mike Mangini’s drumming is machine-like.  Hearing these two songs left me hopeful that the rest of the album would be as good.  Instead, I was left feeling cheated and disappointed.

The musicians in Dream Theater are at the top of their game.  The musical interplay between John Petrucci, John Myung, Jordan Rudess, and Mike Mangini is mind-boggling and awe-inspiring.  James LaBrie still has great vocal range, though much of the time he brings a level of pomposity to his singing that is exceeded only by Creed’s Scott Stapp.

Disappointingly, Dream Theater’s song-writing hasn’t evolved at the same pace as their musical prowess.  On this album, songs like “Behind The Veil” and “Surrender To Reason” are devoid of emotion.  Then you have “The Bigger Picture” and “Along For the Ride,” two sappy ballads, typical of many of Dream Theater’s more recent albums.

“Enigma Machine” is a decent instrumental, with Petrucci, Myung and Rudess interacting musically on a level that most musicians can only dream of.  But still, there is something very sterile about the way the song feels.  Maybe it’s that the playing is too perfect, too mechanical.

The final song on the album, “Illumination Theory,” sounds like an exercise in using a computer to combine discordant pieces of music into a 22-minute song.  Again, the playing is excellent.  However, the song  doesn’t flow  from one section to the next very well, not like Rush’s “Natural Science,” “Xanadu,” or “Hemispheres.”

Bottom line: The musicianship on this album is excellent, but the song-writing is lacking.


Album Review: Vapor Trails Remixed by Rush

25510Vapor Trails, the seventeenth album by Canadian prog-rockers Rush, was released in May 2002, nearly six years after the band’s previous studio album, Test For Echo.  A welcome sight for Rush fans, Vapor Trails  signaled the band’s return to recording and touring following a long period of uncertainty about the band’s future.  A little over a month after the band finished its Test for Echo tour in 1997, drummer Neil Peart’s 19 year-old daughter was killed in a car accident.  Ten months later, in August 1998, Neil’s common law wife of 22 years died of cancer.  Peart went into a self-imposed exile until 2000.

I remember the day that I bought Vapor Trails.  It was a great day, because I had tangible proof that my favorite rock band wasn’t done yet.  I also remember being a more than bit disappointed by the album.  It wasn’t the quality of the songs that disappointed me; it was the way the album sounded – very dense and distorted.  It was missing the intricacy, depth, and complexity that I had become accustomed to.  Because of the poor sound quality, Vapor Trails was among my least-played Rush albums, along with Roll The Bones and Presto.

When Retrospective III was released in 2009, it contained two songs from Vapor Trails: “One Little Victory” and “Earthshine,” both of which were remixed for the compilation.  When I listened to these two songs, I was blown away.  Both remixed versions sounded much better than the originals.  This got me thinking how great it would be if the entire album was remixed.  Finally, four years later, Rush fans get Vapor Trails Remixed.

The first time I listened to Vapor Trails RemixedI was afraid that I would be disappointed, that the album wouldn’t live up to its billing.  Boy was I wrong.  The sound quality of Vapor Trails Remixed is vastly improved.  Gone is the muddy, distorted bottom end, which rendered the original album almost unlistenable.  It has been replaced with a crisp, clean-sounding album full of really good songs – songs with lots of layers and depth, songs worthy of being on a Rush album.  The remix brought out musical nuances unheard on the previous version.

Alex Lifeson’s guitar work benefited the most from the remix.  His guitar shines through, sometimes clean and bright, sometimes crunchy and dirty.  On the original album, the guitar was buried under a thick layer of distorted bass.  And speaking of bass, Geddy Lee’s bass guitar work is second to none.  His use of bass chords and right-handed finger strumming really adds thickness to the songs.  Neil Peart’s drumming is powerful and clean, brought to the forefront in the remix.

Bottom line: Amazon currently has Vapor Trails Remixed for $9.00.  That’s a small price to pay for great music that was liberated from the morass of a bad mix.  Listeners familiar with the original album will be pleased with this “new” Rush album.