Monday, 30 October, 2006

Why I do it

On October 5, I wrote a short review of Dean Karnazes' book Ultramarathon Man.  In my review I said that Karnazes does a better job than most of answering the question, "Why?"  I also said that I don't have an answer that's any better than his.

In his October 15 entry, On not knowing why, Brook M said:

It seems as if some of these folks do extraordinarily difficult and dangerous things, but don't know why.  At the very least, they can't articulate whatever reasons they might have.  I've always thought one should know why one was doing something.

Furthermore, in response to my saying that most people don't react well to, "Go out and run 26 miles and then you'll have your own answer," Brook writes:

I'm one of those people.  My opinion is that if you can't articulate the reason for an action, then you don't have a reason.  You're simply working off instinct.

If nothing else, 12 hours alone on a bicycle gives one a lot of time to think.  And I thought a lot about why I was spending an entire day pedaling when most people would have spent the morning recovering from the previous night's birthday bash.  Somewhere along the way I reached a conclusion.

I have a whole host of reasons why I choose to participate in endurance events.  I enjoy being outdoors.  I exercise in part because it keeps me healthy.  Being out on the road bicycling, or on the trails running, allows me to clear my mind and release some of the tension from the day.  I like feeling tired but somehow refreshed after a ride.  I enjoy talking with other people I meet on the road.  I like being able to eat that extra piece of pumpkin cheesecake without worrying about its fat or caloric content.  I like pushing my body to see how far and how fast I can go, always striving to improve.  And I get a real kick out of watching the expression on somebody's face when I tell him that I rode 160 miles on my bicycle in 12 hours.

Those are my reasons and it's quite likely that people who don't participate in endurance events won't accept them.  But that's okay.  I don't understand why somebody would spend all of Sunday afternoon sitting on the couch watching football and drinking beer.  For that matter, I don't understand why anybody would spend much time at all in front of the TV.  I have no desire to own a boat or to spend all day standing in hip-deep water, flicking a line and hoping some fish will bite.

People who drive trucks for a living probably don't understand why I like sitting in front of the keyboard banging out code.  That's okay, because I don't understand the attraction of driving all day.  The only real issue is that endurance events are so far out of the realm of common experience that most people look askance at those of us who participate.  Almost every endurnace athlete will tell you that he anticipates and even enjoys getting those reactions.

You have your reasons for the things you do, and I have my reasons for the many activities I enjoy.  We might not accept the other's reasons as valid for us, but as big-brained primates, hopefully the smartest species on the planet, I think we can accept that the other's reasons are valid for him, and agree to get along even though we don't fully understand each other.

Sunday, 29 October, 2006

Birthday Bike Ride - Results

I rolled out at 6:04 AM yesterday, in an effort to see how much ground I could cover in 12 hours.  It was 45 degrees outside, so I was wearing my arm and leg warmers, a hat to keep my ears warm, and gloves.  The first two hours--especially the second hour--were very cold as I headed north to Lake Georgetown and then west to Liberty Hill.

I had packed my camera along in the hope of getting pictures of myself at points along the route.  The only pictures I managed were at the two spots along the route where Debra met me, and this one excellent shot of sunrise a little after 7:00.

The sunrise was incredibly beautiful, making the frozen fingers almost irrelevant.  I soon turned west, though, putting the sun behind me as I pedaled towards Liberty Hill.

I've done quite a bit of long-distance bicycling over the last few years and never encountered the problem I experienced during the first four or five hours of today's ride.  I couldn't pee enough.  I know that sounds odd, but there it is.  I'd stop to empty my bladder and five or ten minutes later I'd have to go again.  Riding with a full bladder is very uncomfortable, and it was frustrating having to stop every 20 or 30 minutes.  At my average moving speed of about 16 MPH, every minute off the bike is a quarter mile.  Sure, I need some rest, but the idea behind the ride was to see how much ground I could cover in 12 hours.

Outside my favorite convenience store in Liberty Hill, I met three riders who were just starting a 60-mile ride.  We rode together for 30 minutes or so before they turned off and I headed south on Bagdad road to meet Debra at the 40-mile mark.  The primary purpose of that meeting was for her to take my lights and some of the cold weather gear.  She brought Charlie along and got this picture of us just before I rolled out.

I was feeling very good except for the having to pee every 30 minutes part.  I'd been keeping my heart rate down, and was eating and drinking regularly in order to stay hydrated and keep my energy up.  The next part of the route--from the Walgreens in Cedar Park to the Veloway in south Austin--contained most of the day's hills.  I wove my way down to highway 620 and headed south past Mansfield Dam through Lakeway and then Bee Cave Road back into Austin.  I met a couple of other riders along the way, sharing the road and a few moments' conversation before they turned off on whatever route they were taking.

I got hungry--ravenous--at about 70 miles.  I stopped at a convenience store to refill the liquids, and scarfed down some munchies.  I also called Debra and asked her to bring some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to our next planned meeting place.  I don't know what it is, exactly, about PB&J that I like so much during a bike ride, but those sandwiches really hit the spot.  I was so hungry she had to tell me to slow down, I was shoveling it in so fast.  It was about 1:00 PM and I'd covered 93 miles.  Other than being hungry, I was feeling really good.  No muscle aches, and surprisingly my butt wasn't sore from sitting in the saddle all that time.  I unloaded the rest of my cold weather gear, Debra snapped a picture, and I was off again, heading north back through Austin and towards home.

Long distance cycling can be a very lonely sport.  It's not for those who are uncomfortable keeping themselves entertained.  It's true that I have to keep some attention on the road and be aware of what people in their cars are doing, but that becomes almost second nature after a while.  One must find a way to occupy the mind or it starts to occupy itself.  My brain seems to like putting particular annoying or catchy songs in a tight loop unless I'm careful to think about something else.  I can't solve very involved problems while I'm riding, but I can toss ideas around.  And doing so keeps my mind from contemplating the craziness of what I'm doing.

I met my friend Shelia (Jason's wife) at about 105 miles, and we stopped at their house for a break.  She offered me a protein bar which I didn't think I needed, but I accepted it anyway.  How wrong I was!  About 20 minutes after eating that I was feeling a whole lot better than I had been.  One of the dangers riding for so long is that you tend to discount the pain and often don't recognize when your body is about to crash.  That protein bar and a bottle of Gatorade (about 500 calories, all told) did wonders, and I was able to pick up the pace a bit.

Sheila rode with me for about 20 miles before she had to head back home.  I headed north towards Round Rock, stopping at a convenience store for a hot dog and a Coke.  It was 4:00 in the afternoon and I was looking forward to finishing the ride.

Since I was feeling so good, I picked up the pace a bit as I rode through the neighborhoods near the house.  It's amazing how much distance you can cover without really going anywhere.  Knowing the neighborhoods as well as I do, I was able to time things just right so that I pulled into my driveway right at 6:04 PM, exactly 12 hours after leaving.  I'd covered 160 miles, with a total of ten hours and 13 minutes pedaling.  The other hour and forty seven minutes were spent on rest stops and traffic lights.  My body was tired, but I wasn't completely exhausted.  No major pains or muscle aches, and I was fully coherent.

What surprises me most about the ride is that I hadn't done many long rides over the summer.  Most of my 'training' has been the seven mile commute to work and back each day, with a few rides of 50 to 70 miles on the weekends.  But I hadn't been focusing on the training as much as I had in the past.  I knew, however, that if I kept my heart rate down in the lower part of my areobic range, and kept fed and hydrated, that I could go essentially forever.  At least, that was my theory.  And it turned out to be correct.  I've established a baseline.  I know that I can do 160 miles in 12 hours.  The next time I'll do a little better.

Saturday, 28 October, 2006

Birthday Bike Ride

Yesterday was my 45th birthday.  As some of you might recall, I had planned a birthday challenge, but then backed out of it due to otime pressures and my injured shoulder.  But I'm not going to be a complete couch potato.  It is now 5:11 AM on Saturday the 28th.  I'll be rolling out at 6:00 for a 12-hour bicycle ride.  I'm hoping to cover at least 150 miles.

I don't have the technology to post while on the road.  I'll update this post when I finish, and then add detail tomorrow.  Provided I'm still functional.

Friday, 27 October, 2006

Herm Albright Revisited

Two weeks ago I asked, "Who was Herm Albright?"  I've had a few people tell me that they searched and couldn't find anything.  I finally ran across an entry for Herman Oliver Albright at AskART.

He was a painter and lithographer, born on January 29, 1876 in Mannheim, Germany.  He emmigrated to the United States and settled in San Francisco in 1905.  He held a job with the Paul Elder Book Company for 25 years  He died on September 21, 1944.

I have been unable to find any detailed biography of Herm Albright or any information about his quotes.  I'm not entirely sure that this is the same Herm Albright, although the birth and death years in the artist's bio match up with the years cited in some of the quotes attributed to him.

Again, if you have any information you'd like to share with me, I'd be grateful.

Thursday, 19 October, 2006

I'm a glutton for punishment

I want to like Linux.  Really.  But every single time I start working with it I end up so frustrated I wonder why I don't just give up.  We're going to need server support for our new project and, all things considered, Linux looks like the way to go.  I've been hearing such good things about Ubuntu over the past year that I thought I'd start there.  Following is the result of two days' fiddling.

Download Ubuntu Desktop first, because we wanted to test something.  Download went okay.  Then I had a heck of a time burning the CD.  First my relatively new DVD/CD burner checked out, and then the built-in on my laptop wouldn't work at high speed.  I made a half dozen coasters before I got a good burn.

Ubuntuu booted okay from the live CD, but it wouldn't get past the "select language" on the install.  It'd just hang.

I spent a couple of hours searching for the reason, and stumbled across a few others who were having similar problems.  The solution was to download the alternate install CD and do the install from there.  I got the image last night and burned it to CD at home.  (Another story I'll relate in a different post.)

This morning the Ubuntu install went fine.  I was impressed with the clean desktop.  The default GNOME GUI looks very nice.  The software update process went without a hitch--very nice.  I was able to download the Flash 9 update for Linux.  We confirmed that worked, and I also got the Flex SDK running on the machine.

The machine was pretty sluggish with only 128 MB  of RAM, so I made a trip to Fry's for a gigabyte.  Came back, installed the RAM, checked to see that the machine still worked.

With that out of the way, it was time to install the server.

Moved computer back to my office, hooked everything up, and started server install in text mode.  It'd get to a point and then ... blank screen.  Why?  Sure, I'd hooked up a different monitor, keyboard, and mouse, but that shouldn't affect anything.  Right?

After fiddling around and trying different things, I carted the other monitor back into my office and hooked it up.  Works fine.  I can't figure this one out.  Why does the old Planar LCD panel work and my Viewsonic VP151 not work?  Imagine if I didn't have another monitor and tried to install Ubuntu.  I'd just give up and throw the CD in the trash.

With that problem solved, I got the server installed.  "apt-get update" worked nicely to get all the latest updates.

Now to copy a few things from the network.  How?  No Samba support in the default install.  Okay, so I install that (apt-get install samba, as pointed out in the Ubuntu documentation) and try to mount the network drive.  No dice.  Create a mount point and try again.  Still no dice and I get a nice informative error message:  "mount_data version 1919251317 is not supported."  WTF?  A few Google searches and I found that all I needed was to install smbfs.  "apt-get install smbfs".  Would have been nice if the Ubuntu documentation that talks about installing Samba had mentioned that.

The Flex SDK comes in a zip file.  No, not a gzip, but a PKZIP format.  Fortunately, I was able to install unzip:  "apt-get install unzip"

The first thing to try when you install the Flex SDK is building the examples.  But now I'm getting error messages saying that the "java" command is not found.  Great.  "apt-get install java" didn't do it, so back to the Web to figure out what package I need.  Finally find "sun-java5-jdk".  But that package isn't found.  More searching and I find that I need to update my /etc/apt/sources.list file as described here (

And that's where I left it until tomorrow morning.

Frustration.  Take a step, get stumped.  Find something.  Take another step.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  I figure at this pace I'll have a reasonable server install sometime around Christmas.


Friday, 13 October, 2006

Who was Herm Albright?

I found more info a couple of weeks later.  Click to view.

It appears that Herm Albright's most famous quote is, "A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort."  It's a funny quote, with several possible meanings.

A friend of mine posted that quote on her blog and then asked, "Who is Herm Albright?"

From what I've been able to determine, Herm Albright lived from 1876 to 1944, and he might have been a writer for the Saturday Evening Post.  That's all I've been able to dig up, and I'm really curious.  Wikipedia doesn't have an entry, and all the search engines turn up quote after quote, but nothing about the man or his life.

Anybody have old copies of the Saturday Evening Post?  How about a little author bio?  Anything would help.

Thursday, 05 October, 2006

Ultramarathon Man

I just finished reading Dean Karnazes' book Ultramarathon Man, in which he describes how he became an ultramarathoner and attempts to answer the question that everybody asks: Why?  What makes a person want to abuse his body by running for two days straight, eating on the go, suffering the wild mood swings from euphoria to deep depression and back again, and enduring the aches, cramps, blisters, exhaustion, and everything else that goes along with ultraendurnace events?

Karnazes comes closer to an answer than most, I guess, but he freely admits that even he hasn't quite figured out why he does it.  I could sum up his reasons here, but they wouldn't make much sense unless you've read the 275 pages that make up the context of the answer.

When I'm asked why I ride 100 miles or more on my bicycle, I'm tempted to give the glib responses, such as George Mallory's, "Because it's there" response to why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, or my own favorite, "Because I can."  But in truth I don't have any better answer than Karnazes, even though I've thought about it quite a bit.  The best answer I've seen is more of a challenge: "Go out and run 26 miles and then you'll have your own answer."  Not surprisingly, most people don't react well to that.

Karnazes writes with an engaging conversational style and inserts a lot of the somewhat offbeat humor that I find common among endurance athletes.  He does a very good job of pulling the reader into the story--trying to explain the ups and downs, pain and enjoyment of competing in an hours-long event.  I might be better equipped than most to appreciate it, having done some endurance events myself, but I think anybody who enjoys reading about great adventures will enjoy the book.

Highly recommended.  As of today, you can still get the bargain price of $4.99 from  It's a delightful read and well worth the price.