cycling


16
May 24

At least the UV score is low

Would you like to know my feelings about today’s weather? They are similar feelings as to many of the days since mid-March or so. Please refer back to most any post I’ve written between now and then. Odds are good I was observing the conditions, or filling this space, or perhaps grumbling, or resignedly accepting the pleasantly mild, gray days for what they foreshadow, or with a mind toward what an uncomfortable alternative might be.

There will come a day when it feels like we share a ZIP code with the sun, and I’ll miss 62 degrees and overcast on that day, after all.

But the visceral isn’t always logical, he says to people that know that.

Also, on Monday afternoon we went and watched part of a softball game. It was warm and sunny. We were on the third base side of the field, and facing east. My face got a little sun.

My skin is so fair that I can turn red when facing away from the sun.

So these clouds? This weather? It’s doing me a favor, really. I should be embracing it. And that’s what I’m going to do. The forecast suggests I’ll have a few more days to practice this new approach before the meteorology suggests that summer will arrive next week.

So a few photos from this evening’s bike ride. First, here’s today’s barn by bike. I was enjoying a nice little stretch, sheltered from a crosswind and averaging about 21 miles per hour through here. But you have to sit up and admire the barns.

A bit later — after a climb that slowly keeps pointing up for about a mile, I realized that it wasn’t the climb that was slow, but it was me — I ran across these chickens, which ran across the road in front of me.

According to the principles of rural bike riding, if the people let their poultry run free, it is a good road to ride on. This fowl observation has never failed me. And now that I’ve realized it, right here, in real time, it is a notion to be respect.

Considering that I’m lousy on hills lately and this is a good road to ride, I should spend a lot of time here in the weeks to come.

Elsewhere, but still out in the country, I found a most curious bit of lawn decoration. I guess the farmer’s work was done, or he knew he right where to pick up when he came back.

This was a 20 mile ride and, for now, a new one to put in the rotation. Have a quick 70 minutes to ride? I now have three different routes for that. This is a good thing.

That sky? Good as it got all day.


15
May 24

Do you know what parados means?

Rainy again, today, and just barely into the 60s. And at least four or five more days of the same. It has been, on balance, a wonderful way to experience … let me just check the calendar here … May.

At this point it’s just funny, really. I’m not even sure, as I type these letters into the word box, what the ideal weather would be, or if it matters. I don’t have to wear a heavy coat or stay under a blanket or shovel anything, and there’s no dangerous storm bearing down on me, so any manner of weather is fine, I suppose.

We’ve got a sign on the front porch, and it says “Hello, Summer!” It is prepared for the somewhat plausible eventuality.

I went for a bike ride this evening. First one in weeks. First there was work, and then there was grading and then I spent all my time visiting with family. So, it was nice to get outside, and nice to have another restart to riding. (This is the way it always works: stops and starts.)

It was cool at first. Almost chilly, even. And then the rain started. I just rode around a few neighborhoods for an hour to wake up my legs and practice clearing the rain droplets from my glasses.

You don’t always appreciate the small skills in life. There’s an art to taking off your glasses, banging them against your person, shaking them at arm’s reach and then trying to put them back on your face. It’s nothing, really, but you must do it every so often because the things you do while riding a bike aren’t always just like riding a bike.

Here’s the thing. It’s the height of style to make sure the arms of your glasses are worn outside the straps of your helmet. This is easy when you have standard, rigid glasses. Place, then slide. But since it was late and gray and raining, I did not wear my usual glasses, but, instead, I was wearing a pair of clear lenses.

They’re actually safety glasses, just about the cheapest pair you can buy at a box store. I probably wouldn’t wear them when real eye safety was a concern, but I picked them up for working under a kitchen counter. If all you must do is keep rust and things from falling into your eyeballs, they were worth the six bucks. But I’d wear something a bit thicker if things were flying with more speed than gravity or had more heft than crumbs of ruined metal. They are terribly, wonderfully lightweight, which, when the repair job was done, made me think I could use them for bike rides. Sometimes you don’t want dark lenses, but you do want to keep bugs or rain out of your eyes. So clear lenses! And these, again, were cheap. And lightweight!

Also, the arms of the glasses are basically the cheapest, most flexible bits of rubber the 20th century ever devised. And they don’t easily go over the outside of the helmet straps. So, for a time, I was riding and breaking one of the important rules. Yes, it’s in the rules.

Rule 37 // The arms of the eyewear shall always be placed over the helmet straps. No exceptions.
This is for various reasons that may or may not matter; it’s just the way it is.

It doesn’t matter. None of this matters. We do it anyway.

Let us, one last time, return to California. This is my last video from our trip in March. If stretching things out two months seems excessive, it is!

I made this video for our friends’ daughter. She loves all the fish in my SCUBA diving videos, and she asked, specifically, if we found Nemo in the Gulf of Mexico when we were diving off Cozumel and Quintana Roo. I did not find Nemo there. I found Nemo, instead, in central California.

 

I’m hoping this video will make her smile.

I’ll let you know.

It’s time once more for We Learn Wednesdays, where we discover the county’s historical markers via bike rides. This is the 35th installment, and the 63rd and 64th markers in the We Learn Wednesdays series. I’m grouping them together because there’s not a lot to say about this particular set.

So, we’ll return to our tour of Fort Mott, where we have recently we saw the old gun batteries and then the observation towers that helped them in their work of defending the river and Philadelphia, beyond.

In its day, Fort Mott was a self-contained military community featuring more than 30 buildings here, including a hospital, a PX, a library, a school and more.

Here’s a not-bad map that’ll give you some idea of the layout. The river is on the left side of this drawing. You can see the pier jutting out into the water. Just above that you’ll see the long row of gun placements. Let’s look behind them. Note the blue bit in the map.

That’s the moat. The engineers had the idea that while the big weapons were defending against vessels sailing up the river, they needed to protect themselves from anyone sneaking up behind them.

On one side of the fort is the river. Since it sits, essentially, at a point on the shoreline, the river also shields another side. Still a third side looks protected by thick wooded terrain and narrow creeks. That one direction opposite the moat is about the only approach an enemy would have, though it is difficult to imagine how anyone could get there to begin with. So we need a moat, and a parados.

The workers dug, by hand, 200,000 tons of sand, soil, and rock. Apparently $1.25 in 1897 is worth less than 48 bucks in 2024 money.

That doesn’t strike me as a lot for moving 10,000 pounds of earth a day.

The parados (Spanish for rear door) is the earthen hill adjacent to the gun battery. It serve as a shield against gunfire from the rear. Construction of the moat and parados at Fort Mott began in 1897 and took over two years to complete.

The earth used to build the parados came from digging the moat; 44,500 cubic yards of earth, over 200,000 tons, was moved with grapples, wheelbarrows, and shovels. The work was grueling. Each man was expected to move nearly five tons of earth daily for a wage of $1.25.

The moat was constructed by hand using shovels and wheelbarrows. Mules were used to help move soil and shape the parados.

The parados originally reflected the “mirror image” of the moat. This feature provided a substantial obstacle to help thwart the advance of an enemy force attempting to capture the main gate line, as well as protect the gun crews from enemy artillery fire.

Here are some of the still standing and preserved barracks the soldiers lived in, just behind the gun emplacements.

I’m pretty sure this window unit was standard gear at the beginning of the 20th century.

An important part of their creature comforts …

Two latrines were built within the parados for soldiers assigned to the gun batteries. The bathrooms each had several toilets for enlisted men, a private stall for officers and a large cast-iron urinal.

Toilets were similar to our modern flush toilets, except that the plumbing took the waste directly to the moat and not to a septic system. Since the moat was tidal and controlled by a sluice gate, the sewage was flushed out into the Delaware River with each tidal change. In addition to the practical necessity of the latrines, this system also served as part of an overall defense strategy: any enemy who tried to cross the moat first had to get through the sewage.

First … eww.

Second … also ewwww.

Thirdly, what if this one engineering choice prevented any invasion plans anyone was considering in the early 20th century. Suppose some Spaniards or Canadians came down, saw that and realized they couldn’t get their men to sneak through a stinky sewer moat to capture a fort so their ships could sail up the river.

Also, the insects out there are pretty intense, too. Not only would you have to wade through that moat, you’d have all sorts of insect bites.

Finally, the state put these signs in. The state needs to update them.

Made obsolete when nearby Fort Salsbury opened just after World War I. The last soldiers were removed in 1922, the fort became a state park in 1951.

If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

More tomorrow. Another bike ride! And maybe some other things, too!


1
May 24

It’s gonna be performative evaluations

Grading will never end. This was my own doing. The way the semester’s calendar came together I had two classes that were a little heavy in the last three weeks. Not so much as to be daunting for students, but to give them a little challenge. It has, however, become a bit daunting for me.

I have final projects to grade in one class. In two other classes there are two large written assignments, two smaller assignments, and final exams.

So guess what I’m doing between now and kingdom come?

I am making some progress. I got through all of the smaller written assignments yesterday. Trying to build momentum and all of that. That took several hours.

Smaller assignments.

Today I got through the final projects in my New Media class and tallied grades. I’ll go over those again tomorrow to make sure all of the numbers are correct. (Update: The math works!)

And then the work continues all through the weekend, probably.

Yesterday evening I did get out for a brief bike ride. Better work and the weather that’s probably the last ride I’ll get for the next week or more. In that context, this sort of thing is frustrating, but that’s the way it works. At the end of the ride I set two Strava PRs on segments even though they didn’t feel like they were especially strong, so I almost had some form. That’s the way it works for me. A few ups, followed by a bunch of downs immediately thereafter.

I saw some great livestock on this ride, though.

Makes me want to go on another bike ride!

Instead, let’s revisit another bike-themed feature, We Learn Wednesdays, where we discover the county’s historical markers via bike rides. This is the 34th installment, and the 61st and 62nd markers in the We Learn Wednesdays series.

So let’s go back to Fort Mott, where last week we saw the old gun batteries that defended the Delaware River and Philadelphia, beyond.

Today, we’ll examine the observation towers that served those batteries. This is fascinating technology at the beginning of the 20th century.

Fifty-two feet above the ground, soldiers in this observational tower were able to identify an enemy vessel, calculate its speed and distance, note weather conditions and communicate this information to the main plotting room and the ten-inch guns at Battery Harker. Soldiers at the gun batterys used this information to compensate for weather, set the firing range and direction and potentially fire at an unsuspecting vessel.

This tower was completed in 1903. It has two levels: an observation room and meteorological station on the glass-topped upper level, and a target plotting room below, from critical data would be relayed to soldiers aiming the big guns.

We learned last week that when they tested the guns they blew out the windows on the fort, and at nearby farms. These were powerful guns, meant to do terrible damage, and they had to control for the recoil. What went into that is most impressive.

When the big guns were fired, vibrations similar to a small earthquake affected the delicate instrumentation contained with the observation towers. Soldiers had to continuously adjust their instruments to make accurate readings.

To solve this problem Army engineers designed a concrete-filled tube below the tower and attached it between the instrument platform and the ground. The tube was then encased in a steel jacket. It served as a basic vibration-dampening device to protect the instruments and a means of insulating power and phone wiring as well.

These were serious people doing serious work, and they didn’t just invent these techniques on the spot. But every new thing you learn should make you wonder how the once-upon-a-timers came up with the solutions that worked.

If you look across the moat toward the river, you will see the second tower. This fifty-five foot high tower has a single observation level for taking accurate sights on enemy targets. Its primary function was to obtain target information for the twelve-inch guns of Battery Arnold.

And here is that other, simpler tower.

Five gun batteries, two observation towers. And, remember, Fort Mott was just one of three forts protecting this stretch of the Delaware River.

In it’s day, Fort Mott was a self-contained military community. There were more than 30 buildings here, some of which we’ll take a glance at later. There was a hospital, a PX, a library, a school and more. Fort Mott was rendered obsolete when Fort Salsbury became operational just after World War I. The last soldiers were removed in 1922, the fort became a state park in 1951.

If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Tomorrow: more grading! And maybe some other stuff, who can say? You can! Try the comments below.


23
Apr 24

A most usual hodgepodge of wonderful things

It’s going to turn cool again. Cold, actually. We’re going to have nights where we dip down near to freeze warnings. This makes sense for the last week of April.

If spring is going to be short, summer better be long. And since we’re custom-ordering things, it’d be OK if summer was two percent milder than last year. Or without the two or three weeks of extremely July July we had last summer.

It was perfectly timed. Post-move last summer, while we were still trying to get settled, it was weeks before I could do a few chores without looking like a full workout was underway. In those first days it seemed like it took forever to cool anything. The fridge, me, anything. Turns out it was just the summer.

Which seems like a silly thing to complain about when it’s going to be 39 tonight and even colder in the evenings to come.

So in come the plants. Again.

For the third time.

I was out back looking for little bits of things that belong to the greenhouse — there’s always something to look for around here. Always something new to learn. Always some reason to wonder why things are the way they are. Always a puzzle to tease out.

So there I was, hands and knees, peering through some shadows, looking for small parts and found this.

That’s from a neighbor’s tree. I wonder how long it’s been sitting down there, caught between the greenhouse and the fence. All those intricate veins look like a suburban map, doesn’t it? It’s rather beautiful, but I wonder how and why a leaf withers away like that.

Nature on it’s own schedule.

I went for a 30-mile bike ride today. There was nothing remarkable about it, there was a tailwind, and then there was a headwind and then there was a pasture.

That’s right on the outskirts of a town, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense, really. It’s a nice town, but they don’t seem the sort to allow fun things like livestock. Nevertheless, there they are, eating and drinking and being raised.

Sometimes when you go through there the sheep aren’t in that lot, but the dogs that work them are. Today, no dogs, just sheep.

Let’s go back to California! There are many sights to behold, and we’ve been enjoy some of the critters we met at the Monterey Aquarium, like this on.

The mauve stinger (Pelagia noctiluca) is a beautiful nocturnal hunter. They aren’t the best of swimmers, but they seem to be spread easily by winds and currents, and so they are fairly ubiquitous. Odds are, if you’ve ever had a stinging encounter with a jelly, it just might be one of these guys, or a closely related cousin.

 

They go very deep until nightfall, which is when they move up to shallow waters to chase down plankton. The tentacles and bumps on the jelly will leave its prey with a powerful sting.

I’m still way behind in the Re-Listening Project, meaning I’m right on schedule. The Re-Listening project is the one where I’m listening to all of my old CDs in the car, in the order in which I acquired them. Then I write about them here to pad out some posts. These aren’t reviews, usually they are just memories, but mostly excuses to post some music.

In 2004 I bought 1999’s P.S. (A Toad Retrospective). It’s a greatest hits record from Toad the Wet Sprocket. At the time, 1999, Toad was broken up, so this was just a label cashing in and fulfilling a contract, I’m sure.

Here’s the memory. I have the hardest time keeping the Toad chronology straight. If you asked me without the benefit of liner notes or Wikipedia, I would swear that two or three of the same songs could be found on each subsequent record. I don’t know why I can’t keep this straight. It’s a problem unique to Toad the Wet Sprocket for me. Maybe it’s because of their radio and MTV airplay. Maybe it’s because I didn’t get any of their records for way too long. But, anyway, it’s a greatest hits record, so they’re all there.

So here’s one of the previously unreleased tracks.

And here’s the other new track.

Each of these songs have some internal-band-dynamics backstory to them, but they’re a quarter century old and don’t matter much to us. What matters is that they’re a band again.

And so here’s the other memory. In 2022, after 30 actual years, including a two-year Covid postponement, I finally got to see Toad the Wet Sprocket play live. (Twice!)

They still sound great, which was a good enough reason to see them twice that year. And they are on tour this summer, too. Maybe I should see them again.


22
Apr 24

A multisport first

And how was your weekend? Ours was just grand. Just grand, I say. But I don’t say it so that you’d think I’m trying too hard to convince you, no need to do that, for it truly was grand.

On Saturday we did a duathlon — run, bike, run. It was a local event. We soft-pedaled down to the starting line from the house. A bike warm-up for a race. They had a sprint and a super sprint. My lovely bride did the sprint. Here’s her big finish.

I did the super sprint and finished second in my age group. Clearly, there was a miscalculation.

These were home roads, though, so I thought that would be to my advantage. Part of the course, for instance, was comprised of Strava segments that I made. I figured I would do well on those parts, since I obviously cared about them and traffic was controlled, but no. I was riding about as slowly as possible.

But I got this little thing, which is now sitting on the dining room table as a very funny joke.

Also I was ninth in the men’s division. Not bad for bad running. And, also, my first ever duathlon.

So I wound up doing a 5K run and about a normal day’s bike ride, besides. Also, I had a wind jacket on, because we’re approaching the last week of April and why not?

They had a 28-mile time trial, too. I dug up the results and, one day soon I’ll go out and ride that and see how bad I would have been in comparison to that field. (Some of them looked quite fast.)

We traveled on Saturday afternoon to celebrate a 75th birthday party in the family. It was a fine day. Family, Italian, playing volleyball with kids, and so on. By the end of the day …

… we were tuckered.

Yesterday evening we sat out by the fire pit, where a fire was burning.

It was not my best fire, but they can’t all be the best, right? It warmed the hands and crackled and hissed in a satisfactory way, but it took too long to get there. And just about the time I had the fire where it needed to be, it was time to go inside.

It’s like that sometimes, and that’s OK.

I’ll smell smoke in my nose for the next two days.

The kitties, for the most part, just sit and watch us from the window. Probably they wonder why in the world we’re sitting out there, when they are waiting in here. Or maybe they wonder why we’re out their with the birds, but not trying to catch the birds. There’s probably a lot to wonder about if you’re a cat.

Or maybe not. They’re cats.

Phoebe has been enjoying some tunnel time of late. Perhaps, while she’s in there, she’s contemplating the nature of all of this, channeling her thoughts to the many cats throughout the cosmos, trying to find answers for what the tall ones do, and why. And why she isn’t getting more milk for her troubles of being so adorable all the time.

I thought I was a late sleeper, but Poseidon, when he gets a comfortable spot, you wind up checking on him a few times a day. And there’s nothing quite like being under the covers on a cool morning and contemplating the mysteries of the world, like we won’t let him go outside.

We tell him, “No no, blanket boy. It’s too cold out there for you, you cover cat.” He is not dissuaded. Especially not now. Now that it is (finally) getting warmer he’s becoming more aggressive about trying to get outside to find a bit of dirt to roll around in. Just not at that moment. It was 50 degrees, and he’s smarter than that.

The cats, then, are doing just fine.

Sometimes Poseidon sits with me while I’m at the computer and lately he’s discovered the cursor and pointer on the screen. Just wait until he notices these jellyfish moving around. Here’s another sequence from the Monterey Aquarium, which we visited last month. They’re beautiful, but seeing them all together like this felt a little off putting.

 

A sea nettle hunts by trailing those long tentacles, covered with stinging cells. When the tentacles touch tiny plankton, the stinging cells stick tight and paralyze prey. From there, the prey is moved to the frilly mouth-arms and finally to the mouth, where the jelly eats its meal.

And if you’re wondering how long I can stretch out these videos, me too! At least two or three more days.

You’re welcome for the peaceful videos.

Relax. Enjoy. Repeat.