Mar 23

Exploring the Pyrenees in Andorra

Good morning from Andorra. This is the view from our balcony. Not. Too. Shabby.

Today we set out for a bit of sightseeing. Not that there’s anything to marvel at around here.

It was a Hot Picture-Taking Date. I think you can see why.

Here’s a panorama. Click to embiggen.

And here’s the first of several videos of some of the day’s views.

We stopped my a place where several different hiking paths intersected. On one side of the road there was a little cut out for drivers to park and enjoy the views. On the other, a low wooden rail fence, beyond which there was a grass clearing.

A truck was parked there, the local version of a park ranger. No one was around, and you could stand there, feeling like a small king near the top of the world. Naturally there was a stone desk set for your photographs.

That’s 6,496 feet to you and me. Almost 1.25 miles above sea level. Sometimes, when you get to a certain elevation, it feels like you’re looking down on other mountains.

This was the first bit of downhill we’ve encountered in Andorra. The road hit the valley floor and immediately started going back up.

Some more video views.

And I now invite you to enjoy another amazing panorama. Click to embiggen.

Oh, look, here are the tourists, doing touristy things.

Such tourists.

Next we visited Mirador Roc del Quer.

On the sign out front someone named Raimon Diaz Marino has left visitors a message. Pardon my awkward translation.

Mother Earth is magical and sacred. She keeps memories of life and the universe. She witnesses wisdom on every mountain, in every drop of water and in every living being. She nourishes us and we are all her children.

And this place is the Roc del Quer, “The White Mountain.” In the heart of the Pyrenees and what Canillo looks upon.

You want to become an observer? We invite you to visit the route.

Observe and feel what surrounds you and keep this place in your heart.

Think about that as we walk out.

This is the view off the right side of the trail.

Here’s a panoramic version of that view. As with all of the panoramas, click to embiggen.

This is the view directly ahead of you.

Mountain peak heart hands. MOUNTAIN PEAK HEART HANDS!

We are somewhere between 6,379 and 6,276 feet above sea level here. (There were signs at both ends of the short trail, and this is taken in the middle.) The now seemingly low clouds are a good reminder.

“Wisdom on every mountain, in every drop of water and in every living being …”

And then we met this guy.

Who is that guy? That’s The Ponderer.

The Ponderer

by artist Miguel Ángel González, whose calm and meditative attitude invites visitors to do the same. Sitting on a beam, undaunted, it appears as if the height causes him no fear whatsoever. And in fact, it doesn’t: it fills him with strength and confidence.

We’re standing 40 feet off the side of the mountain, on a walkway, taking in these spectacular views, enjoying what The Ponderer is sharing with us, the valleys of Montaup and Valira d’Orient, the new spring ready to burst forth, the winter well into it’s early retreat.

The Pyrenees are about 85 million years old. Moving tectonic plates closed the sea. Refracted rocks fold, faults form. The stones go up, and the valleys too for a time, which is why you can find the seabed so high up. The most extensive glacial erosion in these parts, the signs say, was between 20,000-40,000 years ago. Then the planet’s weather shifted. Ice and snow melted away, and you see these rugged shapes, hints of the still relatively new mountains, though, as the signs note, erosion and evolution of the landscape continues.

“Everything is in constant motion and change.”

There, I just summed up 85 million years of geology, and seven signs about it written in Catalan, in 92 words.

Now, when you walk away from the Mirador Roc del Quer, back up the 400 meter trail, and then down the road a short way to the parking lot, and then drive on down into the valley below, you have a chance to look back, and up, to where you just were. See that horizontal bit jutting out of the mountain on the right?

We were just standing on that.

Here’s a video of some of the views from around that region …

We’ll stop there for now. That’s 18 images, three panoramas and four videos. That’s a high quality hot picture-taking date!

Mar 23

That last photo, though!

When I mentioned, last Thursday, that this site recently marked its 5 millionth visitor I coolly said I have no idea why people visit. Only I do know why.

You’re here for the cats.

Phoebe, as ever, is here for the sunshine.

This is my second favorite in-house joke right now. I say to my wife, I say, “On the floor of our house is a medium-grade residential carpet pad. On that carpet pad is stretched a standard 21st century carpet. On that carpet, there is an overstuffed ottoman. On that ottoman, there is a pillow. And that is where your cat is sleeping.”

Perhaps an even better joke is this one. I say to my lovely bride, I say, “On the floor of our house is a medium-grade residential carpet pad. On that carpet pad is stretched a standard 21st century carpet. On that carpet, there is an overstuffed sofa. On that sofa, there is a fuzzy throw blanket. On top of that fuzzy throw blanket, there is another fuzzy throw blanket. On top of that second fuzzy blanket, there is a third fuzzy blanket. And that is where your cat is sleeping.”

Occasionally, Poseidon also looks for the people inside the television.

They’ve gotta be in there somewhere …

This was the Day of Three Presentations. It was a day full of presentations. Many presentations were given, some of them better than others. One was maybe great! That’s the thing about having a lot of things: there will be variance.

I’ll spend all night staring at a wall thinking about every flinch and stumble. Every tone and tenor, time I squinted or had vague eye contact.

But none of that is important. What’s important is what is coming up at the bottom of this post.

Yesterday afternoon’s bike ride featured some dinosaurs. How many giant reptiles do you see in this graphic? I count six.

After that ride, we went outside. This is The Yankee’s first bike ride since her massive crash last September. Look at that smile!

Part of this is physical, sure. The bone is now starting to heal. (Turns out, she busted herself up so badly it has taken this long for the mending to begin.) Part of it is about getting out of your own way. This is perfectly understandable and reasonable. I was in a similar boat in 2012, when it took me five months to even want to ride again.

So we went out for six miles on quiet, empty roads. Whenever a car came along I put myself between the two of them, and we smiled some. It was cheery and emotional. It was a little more normal.

Feb 23

I’m not even sore

Happy Monday. And to make your Monday just a bit more tolerable, we’ll begin with the site’s most popular weekly feature, the weekly check in with the kitties. This weekend they have been quite the cuddle cats. That could be because the heater was, for some reason, turned off on Friday and it was midday Saturday, when it never got warm inside, before I noticed.

They’re also loving and needy little things, that’s a part of it, too. Last night, I wasn’t sure if they would let me go to sleep, for all of their “Pet me. Pet me. PETME,” demands.

In our house, there is a mid-grade residential carpet pad. And on that carpet pad sits a nice, low shag carpet. And on that carpet there’s a throw pillow. And on that pillow there’s a folded pair of jeans.

And that’s where Phoebe is choosing to nap.

What I love about this picture is that it demonstrates Poseidon’s ability to anticipate, and his understanding of the sun’s direction of travel. He’s not half in the shade, he’s waiting for the sun to come around.

That’s a smart cat move.

This was the weekend of going uphill. That’s not a metaphor. I was actually going uphill. Virtually uphill, anyway. It’s a silly thing, but there was a series on Zwift this weekend, a three stage showdown of some of the more demanding climbing routes. And since I am trying to ride all of the routes anyway, I figured, why not?

Friday evening I rode the first of the three stages, climbing 2,500 feet. Knowing what was to come, I was determined to take it easy on Friday. And I was largely successful with that, but I felt too good late and so I pushed a bit on that last climb. I have no idea how to preserve my energy over time. Most people don’t, I think, so that’s OK. I set two Strava PRs on Friday, celebrated by putting on the compression boots and got ready for Saturday.

Saturday, there was the Alpe du Zwift, the game’s (apparently realistic) take on the legendary Alpe d’Huez. This stage was harder, and it has 3,900 feet of climbing. I decided I was going to pace myself up that beyond category climb because Sunday’s route was even more demanding. So on the alpe I set seven Strava PRs, including taking more than seven minutes off my best time up the climb.

I’m no climber. Really, I’m not, but the progress is progressive. But my avatar looks great descending!

At least the switchbacks on the alpe actually provide a little relief on the ascent. No such help on Sunday, on the hardest route of the weekend, punctuated by a slow climb up the vaunted Ventoux.

Ventoux or d’Huez, which is harder? They’re both a big challenge. Ventoux has a bit more of a gradient, and it’s almost continual. Eight percent is the norm, and there’s a lot of 11 and 12 percent, and there’s no accelerating up that. Plus, leg fatigue is, of course, cumulative. The only thing Ventoux has going for it on this particular route was that the finish line came about two miles before the summit. Even abbreviated, the route had 3,953 of ascent, and Strava considers it another beyond category climb. I was pleased with the earlier finish, though. Long before that, I was hoping to just finish well.

It started out great. If you look to the right of this graphic, you can see where I am in the field. For a brief, brilliant, shining moment, I was at the front of the field, pushing on at 30 miles per hour.

When the climbing started, I fell away pretty quickly. I am not a climber.

But I was happy to finish in the top 50.

I was happy to finish 50th.

I was happy to finish.

After finishing all three stages of Rapha Rising, I believe 249th overall, I had another 10,400 feet of elevation gain in my legs over the last three days. (That’s a lot for me!) I earned a day off. My Zwift avatar earned some Rapha kit. The only time I will ever afford Rapha is when it’s free.

The 2023 Zwift route tracker: 76 routes down, 48 to go.

This is where I stopped reading last night. Willie Morris has spent four pages talking about riding around Texas with W. Lee O’Daniel. He’d been the governor of Texas from 1939 to 1941, running and governing in the all-too-familiar populist demagog style. He went to the U.S. Senate, beating LBJ in a special election, for the rest of the 1940s. Then he returned to private life, running a ranch in Fort Worth, and making money in real estate and insurance in Dallas. In the second half of the 1950s, he ran for governor again.

It’s a poignant, bittersweet thing, Morris’ detailing of three days canvassing Texas in an air conditioned Cadillac. O’Daniel was aging, and he knew it. Morris saw him as an old man “trying to retrieve the past.” His constituency was aging, and he knew that too. Or they were dying off, and he could see it, in the dusty, small towns he visited. Not that he was the same draw as he’d been as a famous radio host back in ’38, but also, the makeup of the state had changed underfoot. Not because of him or in spite of him, just around him, a colorful character with much of the color washed away by time.

I say this every time I return to his work, but I love the way Morris writes.

Feb 23

‘So we tripped upstairs’

We spent a pleasant Sunday afternoon on the deck. We built a fire. There are woods behind us, but we went out and purchased firewood. I have joked about buying a chainsaw, finding the owner of those woods and … well, maybe I should do that in the other other … meeting the owner of the woods and ask if they minded if I pulled the occasional felled tree out for the fire pit.

But I haven’t done that. The Yankee bought some wood, some really green stuff, and we struggled through that for a while. I used every trick before adding an accelerant to make that stuff to burn. But we needed more firewood and so, yesterday, we went to a proper lumber man. He has an honor system set up. Put your money in the box over here, draw your wood from that stack over there. It was perfect. When we put the flame to the wood it caught straight away.

It was the perfect temperature. You didn’t need to hug the fire to be warm. You didn’t get too hot if you leaned in too far. I wonder how long a trunk’s worth of wood will last.

Light weekend on the bike for whatever reason. I just go by feel, really. And after a few low key days I’m sure I’ll feel the need to put in more miles. But I have screen grabs, because I need content. Here’s a flat spot after a downhill from Saturday’s ride.

And then, for some reason, all of the HUD graphics disappeared. It was lovely. No times of other rides or maps, just a road. It was a bit like, well, riding a bike.

I’m not sure how I managed to do that to the Zwift interface, or what brought the graphics back. I’ve cropped them out here, because I like the side view as a change of pace, those flowers are nice and … what is going on with my avatar’s knee?

My knees sometime feel like that, too.

I also got in 26 miles this evening, and my knees feel great! (It was a generally flat course, just 1,000 feet, or so, of climbing.)

The 2023 Zwift route tracker: 71 routes down, 53 to go.

But enough about me on my site. Let’s get to what you’re really here for, the weekly check-in on the cats, who are both doing well, by the way.

Phoebe has absolutely developed a sun routine. At a certain point of the morning, on those days when we have sun, it can stream into the bedroom. We have some heavy duty curtains, so if her time of the morning has arrived, and we haven’t opened those curtains, she knows. She’s not a big complainer, mind you, but she will sit. She will sit, and she will wait. She will sit, and she will wait for the sun to be presented to her. She will sit. She will wait. She will judge.

She judges me a lot. Fortunately, she is fair, and forgiving.

Mostly because she likes to cuddle. Here’s the standard issue Sunday night cuddle.

Sometimes, you just have to sit on the steps and think on the deep, profound issues of life.

On this particular night, Poseidon was thinking about how he comes to find himself with a napkin over his head, holes cut out for his ears.

He’s thinking of a ghost costume for Halloween this year.

We play a game every Sunday morning. He rolls around on the oven cover, delighting in the heat that’s escaping after bacon and biscuits. After I do the breakfast dishes I rub his face down with a napkin. We pay special attention to his ears and his cheeks and his chin and he loves it. After a time, he feels his face is clean and at that point the napkin has somehow become offensive, and he starts biting it, and me. Yesterday that got a bit aggressive, and he tore a hole in the thin paper. Open it up, and the holes were the perfect size and spacing for his radar ears.

Back then, I just didn’t buy everything right away. Probably because I couldn’t afford it. Plus media consumption was a little bit different. It is also possible that some of these CDs got slipped into the CD books a little out of sequence. One of those, or some other banal explanation, applies here. Anyway, let’s call it the spring of 1996 and return to the Re-Listening project with a perfectly produced example of alt pop from Arizona.

“Congratulations I’m Sorry” came out in February of 1996. I probably bought this from one of the two independent music stores that were in town. (It wouldn’t be too many more years before that sentence was, itself, outdated.) I probably paid between $7 and $12 for it. Worth every penny. Panned by critics for a lack of innovation, it’s really a continuation of Gin Blossoms’ previous record, which we breezed through earlier this month.

This one went platinum, but underperformed their second record. It made it into the top 10 on the US Billboard 200 weekly chart, and settled at 138 on the year-ender. They are, of course, still playing the hits from both today. (We saw them twice last year.)

So here are some more prime alternative pop deep cuts coming your way.

Somewhere between the flannel and finding jobs, these songs were part of the soundtrack of a century slowing wrapping itself up. That’s as profound as I can get.

This one got nominated for a Grammy, and was probably a profound breakup song for someone trying to wrap up a century. Not for me, but for someone.

They were really after something with that video, no?

No video here, but a nice live audio recording which does a nice enough job pointing out that Jesse Valenzuela makes the whole band work.

The Wikipedia entry has a “People” review I can’t find quickly online, but runs the quote “a quick fix for any dark mood … the songs are so upbeat they almost conjure sunny summer afternoons.” And that seems fair.

Also, I think this is one of the better songs of its genre and time.

A lot of people posting and uploading to YouTube seem to agree. There are a lot of shaky phone shots of live shows, and more than a few personal covers of “Competition Smile.”

I saw them on campus on this tour, and not too long after that they went on hiatus for a few years. They’d been through a lot. The title of this record, after all, stems from people acknowledging their last record’s success, and sharing in their grief of the 1993 suicide of former lead singer, Doug Hopkins. “Congratulations I’m Sorry.”

He’s not on this record, but they’ll be playing his songs this weekend in New York and Pennsylvania.

The band in our next installment of the Re-Listening project is also on tour this spring. If you’re in Florida next month, maybe you can still get a ticket. But more from them tomorrow.

Feb 23

I want a Montezuma University Medical College t-shirt

Sorry for the abrupt Friday post. I was apparently tired. That night I went to bed early, feel asleep reading and slept the whole night through. I woke at an, well a normal time for a Saturday morning, I guess. But that meant 12 full hours of sleep. Felt great on Saturday! So good that I was still awake at 4 a.m.

Ahh, the biorhythms.

Bookies are now taking action on when I’ll wear down this week.

Let’s start off with the reason why you showed up on Monday, the site’s most popular weekly feature, the check in on the kitties.

We’ve had some periodic morning sun, lately. And whatever the number of times is required to make something a habit for a cat has been met.

Now, they are waiting, each day, in this spot. The sun isn’t always poking through the clouds, but they’re here on this carpet, on spec. Roll back the curtains, people, there might be some sunlight.

Being cats, Phoebe and Poseidon will lounge in it indulgently as long as they can.

So the cats are doing well. Their biggest news is that Poe got in a scuffle with his sister and she marked his nose pretty good. It’s healing well, which is good. His pink nose is a big part of his charm.

Though I did not ride on Friday because, ya know, sleep, I’d like to think I made up for it a bit.
I got in 40 miles on Saturday. I had six Strava PRs, including two climbing segments which I will never be able to equal. Mostly because I was chasing my lovely bride.

We took another ride on Sunday, and I ticked 33 more miles into my legs. It was slower, but steady, I guess. Never felt like I could accelerate. Couldn’t drop The Yankee, but I surely did try. Somehow I took 6:09 off my best time up a cat 2 climb. I am not a climber. Even though Zwift gave me the polka dot jersey on Saturday.

And then, the weirdest thing happened this evening. I decided to spin out an easy recovery ride. Then I forgot about the recovery part, I guess. I set three more Strava PRs, and took 1:26 off another climb.

So it is shaping up to be an interesting year on the bike, I suppose. Or a perfectly average year, who even knows.

The 2023 Zwift route tracker: 66 routes down, 58 to go.

(If you’re following that little tidbit, you might have noticed that the math has changed here. Turns out I was using a slightly outdated route list. Four new routes were added since last November, so there’s your mathematical inconsistency. This list is accurate, until Zwift adds the Scotland routes in March. Basically, there’s plenty still to do, hopefully most of it before I take the bike off the trainer and start riding exclusively outside again.)

The hardest part of having a couple hundred books waiting to be read is trying to decide which interesting thing to choose next. I solved that problem yesterday. Instead of grabbing one book, I selected the next three. And I’m starting with the great Willie Morris and his memoir, North Toward Home.

There aren’t many memoirs that appeal to me for a variety of reasons. But Willie Morris, above talking about one of his ancestors, is in a different category. If I could write like anyone the boy from Yazoo City, Mississippi would be on the very short list.

This is a third edition of his memoir, the first run was in 1967. The language can be problematic, particularly in these early stages of the book. The kid that would become a not-quite-singular progressive voice from the South grew up in those small towns and visit those hollers and delta swamp lands and live it before he could wrestle with desegregation and coming of age in a time of deep and lasting change. We’ll get to that later in the book, I’m sure. First, there are rich memoir moments, like the nearly universal nature of the southern church experience. There was much nodding along. Two generations later, and a state to the east, there are many similarities.

And, here, his first time in a Catholic church.

I recall my first visit to a Catholic church, but not as clearly as all of that. The story goes like this.

The town was founded by a coal man, a Methodist and a Democrat, in 1886. Henry DeBardeleben was the ward of one of the state’s first industrialists, and inherited, or otherwise acquired, much of his assets. The quintessential New South industrialist, DeBardeleben decided to create a town near the booming Birmingham to exploit the local iron and steel resources and their dirty, important, industries. One of his sons continued the family trade, becoming a coal magnate in the first half of the 20th century, but he was an Episcopalian and a Republican. So the DeBardeleben name is important in that region, but the second generation German immigrant’s neighbors, the Italian and Irish immigrants, were the ones that built the first local Catholic church.

There was a 50-room hotel, which first appeared at the New Orleans World’s Fair in 1884. For 10 years after DeBardeleben bought it and had it moved to his new city. He lived there for a time, in the hotel, the former headquarters of Mexico’s delegation to the World’s Fair, on the 10 acre lot. The railroad marked one border, a local creek tributary, today little more than an oversized and running drainage ditch, marked another. For 10 years the Montezuma was a hotel, for three more it was Montezuma University Medical College, then it burned, in 1899. That’s where the first Catholic church in the area held their services. Today there’s a pharmacy, a closed foundry and low income housing in the hotel’s footprint.

Just before the fire, the church got their own land from the city, a choice spot, just in the direction the city would grow and thrive for the next few generations. They built a frame school building, then replaced it in 1912 with a modern brick building, the first of its kind around, and there they thrived for decades.

I went to mass there once with an elementary school friend and his family. My friend was the oldest kid. He had a brother and a sister. Both of his parents were educators. They had the first remote control I ever saw. We were friends until I changed schools in the 5th grade, and eventually grew apart. But he’s still there, working in medicine or some such. I wonder if he still goes to mass. The parish he grew up in was a full, ornate building. I remember the colors being rich and dark low, and growing lighter as you looked toward the ceiling. I am sure the room was smaller than my memory. There were the solemn processions, the costumed finery, the purification and sanctification of the incense, the call and answer, both joyous and monotone. All of it different. All of it interesting. None of it mine.

The church stayed in that spot until it burned in 1989. A century between fires. They still have a convent on that block. There’s a halfway house and a law firm there, too. The local board of education is across the side street. Across the way today there’s the “Opportunity Center,” and the Homeless Education Program.

The church built their new parish four miles away, again, in the direction where the city was still (somewhat, somehow) growing. Last Christmas they celebrated 30 years there. I bet I’m the only person who has found a vague, passing, unintentional, similarity between the Montezuma and their current building.

I’ve been to one or two other Catholic services elsewhere. I saw Catholics before a mass praying for Pope John Paul as he lay dying. I even watched mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica. Those last two I can remember clearly, but I was an adult by then.

I think that’s the problem I’d have writing a memoir, and the pure genius of Willie Morris. Look at all he gives us in a half of a paragraph. Look at the space I filled up in 600 or so words.

Also, there’s the issue of memory.