Monday, June 29, 2015

An Injury & What is to Come

I can be a very tenacious individual. When I want something, I go after it - full throttle. It's hard to derail me when I'm on a mission, and although I am very much a go-with-the-flow person, and try to let everyone live their own life (as long as it doesn't harm others), when I want something bad enough or believe in something passionately, it's quite difficult to deter me.

Sometimes this trait comes across as absolute stubbornness, other times it is viewed as craziness, and still others may have just accepted that I simply am who I am. I suppose the perspective is completely dependent upon who one is asking or their own life circumstances and beliefs.

This little tidbit is important because I think it's essential to know that I don't give up easily on the things that are important to me.

It hasn't been something I've hidden, but this year (or the last six months of what will be this year) has been a very trying and frustrating time on a bike for me, and I can't help but feel a bit like a fraud as I write posts about various happenings, parts, or bicycles. Not that anything I've written has been falsified in any way, but I'm not exactly feeling like the person I think I should be and it's causing conflict within.
*Image found here
It started with lack of time to ride due to renovations, which turned into extreme bodily pain because of the work being done, resulting in ongoing trauma to various parts of my body which never seem to go away.

All of these things have definitely shortened or eliminated many rides I would normally take this time of year. I've had to take a step back and realize that I have to modify and adjust, and as someone who always wants to do more or be "better," it's an entirely discouraging proposition to realize that this may not be the time for such aspirations.

Last week, as I was participating in a non-cycling activity, my back was injured. It was the sort of injury that left me barely able to walk or stand upright. I'm not entirely sure how I made it home on my bike, but I did. When I finally limped through the door, I let out a wail, "Why now?!" It was all I could think to cry to the skies. I have a history of back injury, but over the last several years I've been able to, at least for the most part, keep severe injury at bay with regular exercise and strength training. It just seemed unfair that one false move had now crippled me.

The morning following the injury, I went to the walk-in Urgent Care office to see if there was anything that would help ease the pain. I've went through this before many years ago and until the muscles decide to relax, it's challenging to get everything back in place. In addition, I'd been asked to shoot some photos of an outdoor wedding in the mountains the following day, and knowing that I am not a photographer by any stretch of the imagination, the added pressure of now being injured wasn't helping my stress levels.

The doctor was sympathetic, but informed me that all activity is out the window until I'm on the mend. No kickboxing, no running, no walking the dogs, no picking anything up, and no riding a bike. Pretty much, she wanted me to sit on a firm surface and wait for the injury to heal.

Not exactly what I wanted to hear. I had just started a running schedule again over the last few weeks and was working toward a goal before mid-August. Kickboxing is my go-to exercise and happens several times a week. Riding a bicycle? That one hurt most of all. How can I not ride a bike? It's not just a form of exercise for me, it's transportation.

Of course, I've never been one to exactly follow what anyone tells me, even doctors. I view it as more of a suggestion, a guideline, if you will. The next day, I decided to take a short trip by bike up the road and while it certainly wasn't the easiest thing I've done recently, as long as I didn't push too hard, I seemed to be okay.

Riding a bike - even short trips - has been my reflection time. It's the opportunity to clear out everything in my head and attempt to find new strategies for whatever is in front of me. With all of the previously existing injury frustration, this set back wasn't helping matters.
*Image found here
Dealing with the ongoing issues from early in the year and then adding in this injury, I was starting to question everything. It's easy to start feeling like a victim. The "why me" questions take over and it's all too easy to find myself spinning downward and out of control. Later, I went through the usual - though necessary - self-pity type of thoughts: It seems unfair, why am I being punished, where did I go wrong, will I ever be able to reach the goals I've set?

In reality, this is a temporary setback. All of the injuries will be relatively short-lived (at least I hope), and while I may not be healing from the earlier injuries and strains as swiftly as I'd hoped, we have found ways to modify my bikes and I've tried to come to grips with the idea that long rides are just not as likely until everything heals and/or works itself out.

I've attempted to look at this time as an opportunity to find solutions rather than focusing on what I cannot do. I'm missing out on some things, yes, but perhaps there is reason for it. Maybe I need this time to learn something about myself or to understand that not everything goes exactly as we plan it. Sometimes, I think I've learned a lesson, only to find myself in the midst of a similar situation, at which point I start to question whether I truly learned what I was supposed to or not.

At the moment, I am on a search for balance in all things, trying to accept that I have (what I hope are) temporary restrictions, and within these limitations still set goals and strive to be a better me. It's not an easy task for someone who dreams big, and who doesn't take no as an answer to something truly desired. Fortunately, I don't give up easily.

In all of this, I ask as a reader for your patience as I fight through demons and attempt to jump over hurdles [screw what the doc says - I can still fight and jump :O)]. I have no intention of focusing on my personal injury issues (unless they somehow relate to the topic being discussed), but know that I am trying to find ways to work around current bumps in the road which may result in periods of silence or an occasional slightly off-normal-topics post.

I have no plans to stay off my bike, but I also understand that there are constraints to what is currently possible. I am anxious for healing to take place (and it is already happening) and looking forward to resuming what would be regular rides sooner than later. In the meantime, I may take this opportunity to do more reviews of parts that I've neglected to talk about thus far, or to write about past events that managed to go by without acknowledgement.
*Image found here
We are presented with challenges every day. Some are easier to contend with than others, but I hope that whatever you face in your today, you meet it with determination and a belief that you are capable of solving any dilemma and overcoming any obstacle.

Happy riding, my friends. I look forward to being back in the saddle for extended periods of time in the near future.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summertime Riding: Let the Games Begin

Often, I spend the winter longing for warmer months, so as we dip our toes officially into summer, I am finding that there is a true mix of emotions and reactions from others traveling on the roadways. My personal run-in's on the road often come into full bloom about this time of year, and much as I prefer to live and let live, there are some incidents that cause the fire inside to grow and I find myself living moments that seem entirely avoidable.

Yesterday, Cyclelicious posted about a "suicide wave" he experienced given by a motorist as Richard waited to make a left hand turn on a 4-lane road. If you're unfamiliar with this terminology, it's the idea that a person in a car stops the traffic behind him/her and waves the cyclist to cross in front of their stopped vehicle. The problem with this seemingly nice gesture being that when traffic is coming up behind the stopped car, those approaching may opt instead to go around and the cyclist ends up as road splatter. Not exactly what anyone wants.

The post was interesting timing for me as I've had a great deal of this going on lately. Perhaps it's the warmer temperatures and more motorists realizing that more than the usual number of bicycles are out on the roads, or perhaps some motorists are making a concerted effort to not appear discourteous. Regardless, it can be challenging to deal with these types of situations.

My most recent moment was about a week ago. Sam and I were pedaling back home from goodness knows where and we were approaching a stop sign. The traffic perpendicular to us had no stop signs or signals and so we waited for traffic to clear before crossing.

Right after this stop sign is a short hill (not exactly anyone's favorite on a bike - to lose momentum completely and then have to climb), but I've made my peace with it as I climb it regularly throughout the week.
Sam came to a stop, put his foot down briefly and then continued up the hill. I was a bit spaced out and have been suffering some back issues, so I wasn't confident I would make it across in time to out run the approaching vehicle. So, I sat, staring off in the other direction, waiting for the truck to pass.

It seemed to be taking an inordinately long time, so I turned to look back in the direction of the truck, only to see that the driver had stopped in the road and was waving me across. I smiled, but waved at him to continue forward. He still sat waiting, insisting that I cross in front of him, but I remained in place and continued to wave him on.

I understand that the driver was probably aware that my riding partner had already crossed, leaving me alone on the opposite side and was simply attempting to be courteous to allow me to get across, but I find this to be an incredibly dangerous thing to do as a cyclist -- to accept a motorists "wave" to cross the road.

One problem with accepting this wave is in fact the reasoning mentioned at the start. Another motorist might just as easily decide that they aren't going to stop (because they do have the right of way) and as I make my way across, there is potentially a dangerous situation for all involved. Additionally, in this particular instance, there is traffic coming from two other directions (the parallel traffic to the stopped truck traveling in the opposite direction, and those stopping on the other side of the road making a left hand turn).

I have yet to figure out the best way to deal with these situations. I appreciate motorists who attempt to stop traffic (especially in very busy areas) to allow me to cross on my bike, but at the same time, I know better than to do this because it has the possibility of ending very badly. I often wish I had the means to communicate with the driver to explain that while I appreciate the motive, it is really putting me in a horrible situation. Often, if s/he would just continue on as they should, things would go far more smoothly.

Interestingly enough, I had another incident at this same point of travel a few weeks prior.  I was approaching the stop sign, preparing to stop, as a motorist coming on the perpendicular road was preparing to make a left hand turn in front of me.
The building to the left of the picture (and usually the items sitting outside) block the view of the road from behind the stop sign at this intersection.
Now, I have developed a somewhat routine habit with this junction because the stop sign is set back a bit far to get a proper view. If I stop behind the sign, I cannot see the traffic approaching from my left, so I generally don't stop until I'm about two feet in front of the stop sign, putting me in a position to see approaching traffic from all ways/paths of travel.

On this occasion, as I slowed and prepared to put my foot down, the vehicle turning in front of me shouted out his window, "That IS a stop sign! You don't get to just roll through."

I had no intention of running the stop sign, and I was clearly slowing down, so yelling this in my direction did nothing, except perhaps make the driver feel as though he was somehow superior? I did stop - I just didn't stop where he would've liked. Of course, had he not been severely cutting the corner, this wouldn't have been an issue at all.

What I realize is that generally what I wish from others on the roads is to be treated as traffic. There's no need for a motorist to stop when s/he has the right of way. Generally, traffic and road patterns are well-studied and roads are set up to be as functional as possible. I appreciate the motorists who are trying to be kind and courteous, but they are often putting me in greater danger trying to be nice than they would if they just continued as they should.

Even with that, I also understand that bicycles cannot always function as motorists do. Sometimes, I need to stop in a different location than the posted signs. There are also rare instances when it's actually safer for me not to stop than it is to continue forward momentum. These are fewer and much more far between, but those rare circumstances do arise. While traffic flow is often highly studied, many roads are not set up for regular cycling traffic and what works in a car or truck does not necessarily always work while on a bicycle.

For example, as a motorist, I would never cut in front of all the other cars at a red light to try and be in front; but on my bicycle, I often find it far more dangerous to wait behind other traffic than to place myself at the front, next to the first stopped vehicle. This allows traffic from the opposite direction to see me more easily so they don't attempt to make their left turn behind the last car and end up hitting me (which has actually nearly happened in the last week as well when I waited behind all of the traffic).

So, I'm feeling my summer time riding armor being put on a piece at a time. I'm attempting to find new strategies for dealing with awkward road situations... and I'm kind of wishing that every time a driver's license is up for renewal, part of that test would require a person to take a ride on a bike in their city. I think we'd all have a lot more patience with each other if we knew what it was like to be in each others shoes.

Have you noticed any changes in your city now that the weather has warmed up? What strategies do you implement when dealing with motorists who are attempting to be courteous, but are actually putting you in potential danger? Are there times when you wish that the rules of the road were written differently for those on a bicycle versus driving a motorized vehicle?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sounds of a Bicycle

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
*Photo credit/found here
The sound was absolutely rhythmic, but driving me nearly insane as I couldn't seem to locate the source of the clatter. I'd stop pedaling, lean my head closer to the drivetrain and the noise would cease. I'd start to pedal again and the clicking resumed.

"Do you hear that?" I continually asked anyone riding along side me. Most often I received blank stares or the shake of my companion's head, but I was determined to find the source. "It's driving me crazy!" would inevitably blurt out of me, and then I'd proceed down the road, knowing full well there wasn't anything to be done about it in the moment.

After several rides like this, I purchased a new crank. It was time for a new one anyway as the crank I'd been utilizing had come off an older bike that had sat out in the rain with its previous owner. It had not been in the best of shape and I assumed that the noise must've been caused by rusty bits somewhere inside. But, after the installation of and riding around with the new, shiny crank, I quickly realized that the sound was still there, clicking along in unison with each revolution.

Perhaps it was the bottom bracket, I thought. But, when I inquired with the house mechanic, he mentioned that we had changed this out not long ago (a bit of information I'd completely forgotten), so it was likely not the source of this infernal clicking.

Being a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, the story of The Tell-Tale Heart was running through my mind. It is the beating of his hideous heart! Or, in this case, clicking. It was all I could hear or think about while riding. The noise seemed to get louder and become the focus of all my rides. It was impossible to not hear the clicking. Try as I did to ignore it, the sound continued.

So, I stopped riding the bike. I have others, so there's no reason to torture myself. I figured over time we would deal with the issue and riding would resume.

One sunny day several weeks later, I stood in the bike holding area staring at the bike. Now why haven't I ridden you, I thought to myself. It seemed odd that I would go so long without riding a particular bike, so I decided that I'd take it as my transport around town that day - completely oblivious to the reality that I'd forgotten to follow up about the aforementioned clicking.

At first, I was happy to be back on this bike. I had missed it and didn't understand why I'd let it sit for an extended time unridden. Then, as I continued down the road I was quickly greeted by that methodical click, click, click. Argh. I pressed my palm to my head, realizing the issue had never been addressed. I could turn around and fetch another ride, but why? I didn't have far to go and I should be able to tolerate a little noise for a few miles.

The following day, I opted not to take this bike and instead chose another. I had no level of tolerance to deal with the clicking and I was still not entirely sure what the source of the noise could be. Hopping on an alternate selection, I pedaled down the street - only to be greeted by a new noise on this bike too.

The noise was much more faint on this bike, but I could feel a sort of clunk or bump with each spin of the crank. What in the world is going on with my bikes, I thought.

Fortunately, Sam was along for this ride and offered to check pedals and crank to make sure everything was tight. After a quick turn of a few bolts/screws, we continued on, but the clunking was still present.

With this, I now had one bike with clicking pedals (or crank, bottom bracket, or some other unknown part), one that was clunking with each pedal revolution, and another that had no pedals at all (they were removed for a test ride on another bike and never reattached).

Several days later, Sam was rained out on a ride and decided it was as good a time as any to check things out. As was soon discovered, both sets of pedals (the clicking and the clunking variety) had loose bearings which was causing the incessant noise or sensation when riding. Why they were different problems for the same exact issue, I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps it's just the universe trying to teach me some sort of lesson - or, maybe I just need to be better about routine checks and maintenance. Either way, I was happy to have some relief from the clicking and clunking.

It reminds me, however, that there are certain noises we grow used to hearing and tend to ignore, and others that can be the sort that drive a person to madness. I know for a time I had a squeaking noise due to a slightly too tight bolt on a set of handlebars that had a way of irritating me on long rides as I grew tired. However, I enjoy the variety of sounds that come from different free-wheels spinning. Some are loud, some are softer, and others I have difficulty hearing at all.

Have you ever experienced a noise on your bike that drove you crazy until a remedy was in place? Do you have a system for determining where a sound is originating? Feel free to share your tips and tricks, if you have experience in this area. I do know that some sounds shouldn't be ignored as they can cause wear to parts and necessitate early replacement, but when the cause or origination point is unknown, it can be tricky to know what to do or where to start.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Lessons in a Box

Over the past several weeks, we've busied ourselves around the house focusing more on yard than interior improvements needed to our home. As the weather started to warm, I was feeling the need to prepare both front and back yards for summer possibilities. Since neither of the yards are in great shape, it was tough to decide where to start, so there was a bit of moving back and forth from one yard to the next, never really focusing on either.
*Image found here
Then, a couple of weeks ago, we were talking about building a deck in the back. The yard has basically been a mud pit since we moved in so we were trying to figure out the best way to utilize the space to our advantage and also limit the amount of dirt being brought in from the yard.

As we worked on building the deck, my mind started to wander. This happens often with projects as I am definitely an "idea" person. I started to picture an elaborate set up, complete with attached benches, pergola, lights, and planter boxes all accompanying what started out as a simple base. Soon, I wanted to make the deck larger, thinking we could use it both as entertaining space with seating and a place to eat meals with a picnic-type table and benches or chairs. My mind was running wild.

"We can build it all!" I exclaimed, my eyes wide with excitement. And in truth, yes, we could build it all, but time is a precious commodity, particularly in warmer months, and Sam quickly pulled me back to reality. I caved a bit and started to let go of the ideas. No more giant deck. No more overdone possibilities.

Instead of letting it all go though, I decided I would build an attached small seating area off of the front of the deck with a couple of planter boxes on my own. It seemed simple enough and something I could handle during down time.  I went and gathered the wood I thought I wanted and set to work making a plan.
There were sketches. There were measurements. I knew the width/depth/length of every board. I had appropriate tools and equipment ready to go, and I was being entirely logical. So un-G.E.-like. I was very, very proud of myself. I was behaving in a way that appeared rational, sane and intelligent. How could anything go wrong?

I had obtained the wood I'd use prior to starting my plan. Of course, as things were drawn out, I realized I needed more and different pieces. So, back to the store I went, in search of the missing lumber. Still, I thought, not too bad for someone who doesn't behave in the most logical ways at times.

Sam had gone off on a group ride and would be gone for several hours. I had the time to start this project and I was convinced I could be close to completed by the time he returned home. I was sure that he'd be oh-so-proud of me and my very logical actions. I had actually made a plan, I was using leftovers from other projects, and what I needed I had got on my own.

This is the most logical and organized I think I've ever been with a project, I thought to myself. Surely, nothing would go wrong.

The first order of business, the piece of the project I intended to finish before Sam returned, was a simple box-bench. As I went to attach my first screw, I made a fast realization. I couldn't get the screw to go through the wood. Try as I did (for over an hour), that screw was becoming my enemy. I switched spots for the screw, I pushed harder/lighter with the drill, I changed my position and the position of the two pieces of wood, but no matter what I did, the screw just spun pointlessly between the drill bit and the wood.

Normally, when something becomes challenging, I just move on to another area until my head clears, but this was my first screw of the project and I was fixated. If I couldn't get the base together, how could I move on to anything else? Quickly, my thoughts turned as I fussed and fumed about this screw. I felt incapable, powerless, and inept. My mind went to very dark places, doubting everything about myself - even areas entirely irrelevant to the task at hand. I had reached a point that I was not going to recover or continue on with any sort of sanity.

When Sam returned from his ride, I was not in the best of moods. I truly wanted to be left alone. I had desired so desperately to complete this project on my own and one screw had put an end to that.

An hour or so later, Sam volunteered to be the official screw-attachment-specialist, and together, we started again. He assured me that the wood I was using was particularly difficult to get through and that had I drilled a pilot hole first, I wouldn't have run into problems. Coincidentally enough, this thought had crossed my mind during my solo attempt, but I'd become so frustrated that reasonable thoughts were not being acknowledged by my, at that moment, irrational brain.

As we moved along in the project I inquired of Sam, "Is this how you would've built the box?" He was quiet for a few seconds and then replied, "That's a tough question to answer." I couldn't help but believe he was trying to think of a way to spare my feelings, but ultimately needed to tell me that this was not going to be a stable or usable project. Instead, he said, "It's just not the way I would've gone about building it. Your methods are simply different from mine."

I was still a little confused. It's a box. How different can a box be built after all? He went on to expound upon the matter, explaining that I simply go about things in a different way. The way I see something or envision it is merely different than the way he does. It gets to the end and is completely functional, but my process of getting there is generally not linear. I tend to jump from spot to spot and while it seems chaotic at times to those watching (or, assisting in this instance), I do get to the end - just in a manner that tends to zig-zag a bit.

To be honest, most of my life, I never realized that the way I do things is weird or different from some others. My processes don't feel illogical or odd. In my mind, I am extremely sensible and follow order, but it is when I am around someone who truly thinks and does things linearly that I realize there are differences. I can drive Sam crazy with the way I go about tasks, but he's also learned that I just have my own methods. They aren't good or bad, right or wrong, they just are.

As we neared the end of building the box together, I took a step back and said to Sam, "I don't think I can stick to plans, even when I try. I am pretty sure all the planning did was stress me out. I think I just need to be who I am, go with the flow - or lack of - and figure things out as I work." He smiled a bit and agreed, assuring me that this was something of which he was already well aware, but was glad to see that I had reached this conclusion. "Why are you trying to fight who you are?" he said. "Just do it the way that seems right to you." And with that, he hopped up on the box we'd just built and jumped up and down a few times. "Seems sturdy to me," he exclaimed.
I have had a lot of these experiences in life. I try so hard to do something in a way that I think is appropriate to others, only to end up frustrated in the end because it feels wrong. I liken it very much to moments when I returned to riding a bike as an adult. When something was bothering me, I would seek advice, trying to figure out the way in which others would go about addressing the issue at hand.  Instead of finding solutions, I often became more frustrated as suggestions sometimes resulted in new problems or didn't resolve what I was experiencing at all.

Sometimes, it was due to my lack of ability to accurately describe what was taking place. In other instances, I knew that the suggestion wasn't right for me, but I would carry through with what I'd been told, believing that I couldn't trust my own senses or experience because they were limited.

A box is a box. Except that boxes are made for different purposes. They come in squares and rectangles, they range from those that hold jewelry to massive crates to transport machinery. A box can be pretty or dainty. A box can be rough or sturdy. And similar truths extend to bicycles and their riders as well.

I am reminded today that in all aspects of life, it is important to be true to ourselves, to follow our instincts, to learn from mistakes, to seek help when it's needed, and to learn how to filter through information to find what is true for our own bodies. Every day that I ride, even years after returning to the bicycle, I learn a little more about myself, my abilities, and my weaknesses. I begin to understand the ways in which I fit entirely into the understood and accepted forms of practice, and I also concede that sometimes my truth is quite far outside the parameters of what is commonly accepted. That's perfectly okay with me though... I am equipped to build my own boxes in whatever form they take, even if I need a little guidance or assistance along the way.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Unsolicited Advice

We were busy putting away equipment after a recent kickboxing class. It had just been announced that there would be a change in one of the evening class times, making it a 40 minute earlier start than the current 8pm time. A couple of class attendees were busy chatting about the change and they started discussing the problems with such a late evening class.

"I don't like to eat before I come to class because I always feel ill with a meal on my stomach, even if I eat at 5pm," said one.

The other involved nodded along. "I know. I don't like to eat before either, and then it's so late to eat after class that I often go to bed without a meal."

I completely identified with this conversation because it's one we've had in our household on occasion too. It's difficult to workout on a full stomach and it's tough to have energy if I don't eat.

A third person happened into the conversation and stated, "You know, you really must eat both before and after a workout. It's just not good for you to go without." The former two looked up, gave a bit of a stare, and then continued talking with each other.

I could sense the agitation with this intrusion to their conversation, but I had to get about my day and couldn't hang around to see how things ended.
I am guilty of similar interference as well though, much as I hate to admit it. It's almost inborn to want to offer advice to others when experienced with a task or activity. Sometimes, it's because I've had to figure things out the hard way and I just want to save someone else from the same problem(s) I've encountered. Maybe I just truly believe that I know a better way and am offering it as an alternative. Any way around it, this incident in class made me pause for a moment to think about the times when I've offered my own version of unsolicited advice.

It's easy to do - without even being aware that the "helpful tip" may be entirely unwanted. I don't think I'm a horribly pushy or intrusive person in everyday life, but I have had occasion to see someone riding with a saddle far too low or a person who appears quite stretched on her road bike and I can't help but want to offer my two cents.

Really, like the individual who interjected her thoughts after kickboxing class, I am not an authority or expert and should probably keep my opinions to myself, but it can be challenging when we've experienced the ramifications of the same actions another is carrying out. Most of the time, I will let it go unless opinion is sought, but there are times when it takes everything in me to keep my mouth shut.

When I think about it, we are surrounded by advice we aren't necessarily pursuing.
Five ways to feel more confident. 
Ten things you shouldn't eat. 
Eleven mistakes cyclists should never make. 
The BEST way to get six-pack abs.
Our world is a headline of unsolicited thoughts and opinions about what we should and should not do. It can make it difficult to know when ideas aren't necessarily wanted when we are ourselves continually bombarded with advice we weren't seeking. Of course, when it's an internet headline, we can make the choice to read through the ideas or completely ignore them. It's a lot more challenging to walk away or ignore a person standing right in front of us.

The trouble in my mind with un-requested opinions is that they can lead to the perpetuation of myth, or even cause a person to end an activity.

Without even realizing it, there have been times when I have offered my opinion to someone without understanding that my thoughts were a bit off from reality. It has never been my intention to do so, but when we hear or read something time and again, it seeps into our subconscious and can become a belief, or when we've experienced something that appears to support a hypothesis, it is easier to believe that the familiarity I've developed will be true for everyone, or at least most people.

Beyond this, riding a bike is an activity that ranges from the once-a-summer cruiser rider to the I-live-for-racing rider to the long distance event participant - and many shades of grey in between. Knowing what works for one cyclist does not then mean it will work for all, and offering opinion without all of the puzzle pieces may ultimately do more harm than good.

At its worst, I have been witness to unsolicited advice ending a persons participation with an activity. It may be that the opinions expressed come across as know-it-all-isms and the newbie feels unwanted or like an outsider, or it could be that the advice was wrong for the individual and resulted in damage or pain.

Even as open as I can be to others thoughts and ideas, I am stubborn when it comes to people offering opinion as fact.

Additionally, I enjoy figuring things out for myself, which doesn't mean I don't or won't ask for advice, but rather that learning along the way is part of what I enjoy about new - and old - activities. I've never been one to believe in hard truths one way or another anyway (with rare exception), and I enjoy seeking out my own answers, which often helps me gain confidence and skill.

I am certainly not stating that advice is always "bad" or "wrong," nor that it shouldn't be presented when appropriate, but simply offering the suggestion that it may be prudent to find out if the opinion is wanted or needed before jumping to the aid of another.

I know I would hate to feel responsible for offering ideas - especially uninvited ones - that don't work for an individual, and I definitely don't want to be the reason for ending someones enthusiasm for riding a bike.

One of the great things about blogs, Twitter, forums, and other online outlets is that these provide the opportunity both to share experiences, thoughts and perceptions on a topic, as well as providing the ability to seek out wanted information without it feeling too intrusive or preachy, I think. If I don't find merit in a particular viewpoint, I can look for another until my experiences-to-date ring true with what I'm reading.

For myself, I know that I am far more receptive to advice based on its delivery too. Even online I've read over topics that seemed to come across with a certain level of hostility or in a sharp tone. When an idea comes across as a lecture or in an I-know-more-than-you manner, I can feel myself become hardened to any ideas expressed - whether they are valid or not - which is entirely unfortunate because there is often truth and experience in the information being shared.

How do you feel about uninvited advice? Do you appreciate someone offering it if they think they know a better way, or do you find yourself more on guard with these types of comments? Is your reaction different based on the format in which the advice is shared (such as in person in every day life, or in an online format)? Do you offer up unsolicited advice (online or off)? Is it generally well-received, or do you find that it gets ignored?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Finding a Touring Bike {Part 2}: Early Thoughts on the Velo Orange Campeur

*Note: This is the second part on finding a touring bike. If you don't care to read about the back-and-forth process of finding the Campeur, feel free to read from here, but if you have interest in reading about what I was considering as possible choices, you can find the first part of this post by clicking here.

Once I calmed myself down and stopped the incessant searching, I realized that I had made a choice and I needed to give it a fair shake before I began another hunt. What sort of crazy person buys a frame and then continues to look? {Points fingers at self and says, "This gal."}

Anyway, with so many parts around the house, I had to buy very little to get the Campeur built up. I needed a crank, a bottom bracket, cables, and a headset to get it completed (In truth, we had a bb and crank I could've used, but I opted to go ahead and buy another regardless). As much as I wanted to blow every dime I had available to build this up with parts I could drool over, I wasn't ready to invest in new (nor expensive) parts when I wasn't sure the bike would work for me. I'd rather get it built up with minimal expense and then upgrade or change as things move along. Call me overly unnerved by this project, but I just couldn't bring myself to pony up the dough.
The day the Velo Orange Campeur arrived, I ripped into the box. I think the grey color is a wonderful choice. It's difficult to dislike anything that's fairly neutral and that can go with any color. It leans just a bit to the purple side of grey, but not enough to be noticeable in passing (or at least, this is what others have stated to me). I was immediately surprised by the lightness of the frame, but then quickly realized it was because the fork was not attached. As I grabbed the fork, I realized how long it had been since I'd separately held a steel fork in my grip. It isn't light, but lightness isn't its point either.
[As a quick side note, I've read in a few locations that the Campeur stickers along the top tube are under the clear coat; however, mine arrived with stickers on top, making them easily removable. This may have been an update to later versions at the request of potential buyers. I honestly don't know. I may or may not keep the sticker, but it doesn't bother me either way at present, so we'll see what develops. I haven't quite decided if it's kitschy or cute, but either way it is "different," and I tend to like the unusual.]
A couple of days later, the bike was assembled (I am seriously impatient - thank goodness Sam knows this and hopped to it with the build), and it was the first opportunity I had to see what it would look like in person as a whole bike. I felt it looked a bit a hodge-podge of parts, despite the fact that it wasn't built as oddly as one might think from random pieces sitting around. It was and is perfectly functional, even if I'd have preferred different choices had I been willing to drop the cash. Even the bar tape turned into a mix of three different colors; but it looked both stout and still kept a bit of a vintage, clean feel, I would say. I use stout in a hardy sense, not in a derogatory manner because this bike seems ready to take on anything.
An experiment with cloth bar tape - for me, I think the cloth would work better over something more cushioned.
I was concerned though that it wouldn't fit properly and I wouldn't have an opportunity to find out how it actually rides. Thankfully, that was not the case.

The first venture out was just on an errand in town. I was rather surprised by the Campeur's spritely feel. I imagined that it would provide more a dead ride, given that it is a touring bike, but instead I found it easy to pedal and maneuver, yet it wasn't twitchy or squirrely - rather non-specific descriptors, I suppose, but often used to describe some bikes. I enjoyed the stable feeling, reminding me somewhat, though not entirely, of my Rivendell Sam Hillborne. But I will get to that comparison in a bit.
At some point, the bar tape will all be the same color, but I couldn't find a single color - nor two single colors - in storage to make it all the way around these very large handlebars.
I have had a set of trekking handlebars sitting around for some time. I've not been entirely sure what I wanted to use them on, but thought this was the perfect bike on which to test them. We had flipped and flopped and tried to situate these to give me the most comfort since they can be used in whichever manner suits the rider. To date, I still don't know if these will stay or go on this bike, or if they'll get more adjustment, but the bars themselves will be a tale for another post. In short, I can say that I do like all of the hand position possibilities on these - particularly as I have need to move my hands frequently.

The Campeur was ridden for a few weeks around town and running errands before I took it out for more of a "real" test. It had easily passed the around town bike assessment, but I wanted to know how it would feel on longer rides. I have learned that I really do prefer to have bikes that can work for multiple purposes. While they may be "assigned" a task in the fold, I prefer having the ability to use a bike for more than one job.
It took a bit to be able to go on any length of a ride. Due to some physical issues I've been dealing with, long rides are not exactly on my to-do list at the moment. But, I needed to know how this bike would fare over distance and a longer time in the saddle.

So, one dreary day, I decided that even if I had to stop more than I'd prefer, I was going to take it out for a more duty-driven test, and thankfully, all went well. It was not the sort of test that an actual multi-day tour would provide, but it gave me comfort knowing that the bike is capable and that I am able to situate myself to maintain at least a reasonable distance riding the Campeur.

I am truly in awe of this bike's ability during descents. I haven't owned or ridden many bikes that felt so entirely stable, regardless of speed, while plummeting downhill. In fact, if it weren't for the little voice inside telling me to slow down before something unexpected happens, I'd have no reason to slow at all. But, that is my own hang-up, not the bike, so for those who enjoy their 40-50+ mph descents, I think this is a fantastic possibility.

What has struck me about this bike is how I feel when riding it. I mentioned earlier that I am compelled to compare it to the Hillborne, and there is good reason for that. They are similar bikes and intended for somewhat similar purposes, but I find a different feel and pedaling quality on each.
One of the first comments Sam made as he followed me on one of our rides in town was that I was pedaling around like a rocket. "I guess the new bike suits you," was his comment, after which he proceeded to further explain that he was pushing to keep up.

I laughed a bit, as I know he can easily out pedal me, but understood his point entirely. I felt faster on this bike than on the Hillborne, whether I was physically quicker or not. To be clearer about the speed element, after a few tests trying to directly compare velocity, I'm not sure that either is physically faster than the other. I realize this has much more to do with the engine pedaling than the bike itself, but I'm always curious if my speeds increase when using one over another.

However, I do feel faster on the Campeur, which is an interesting bit on its own. I'm nearly incessantly trying to figure out what it is that causes one bike to seem easier to pedal or quicker than another. Many will argue different aspects of a frame, components, or the geometry itself, but I will leave that to others to decide as I am by no stretch an expert in such areas. The one thing I came to realize during the comparison rides of Hillborne vs Campeur was that they each provide their own distinct ride.

I wouldn't say I prefer one over the other, but more that they are simply different. In some ways, I have likened it a bit to an on versus in feeling. A strange way to explain the differences, but in some ways it feels an appropriate means to describe just that. I struggle really to find a better way to provide descriptors of the way they each feel/ride.
My "hobo" Campeur, in all its glory.
While perhaps both bike options could be described in terms of a "Cadillac-y" feel, the Campeur, in my experience thus far, seems to have more ability for quicker pick up. There is more of an immediate reaction to effort than there is on the Hillborne, I'd say. I suppose this is in part why I feel as though I'm "on" the Campeur and have more ability to push it, while I feel more "in" the Hillborne, as though I'm kind of just along for the ride and pushing is a bit more effortful.

In regard to the actual build of the two (since I am comparing them), letting alone the physical geometry, there are a few items that differ. The Hillborne is built with 650b wheels, while the Campeur sports 26" wheels (I will note this is only true of the two smallest sizes as the larger ones have 700c wheels). They both have wide-set handlebars, though the Campeur's is the wider of the two (by a few centimeters). The Hillborne has bar end shifters, while the Campeur has thumb shifters. In respect to drivetrain, they have very similar builds and each has a triple crank (the Hillborne has a 26-36-50, while the Campeur sports 26-36-46) and 11-34 cassettes.

Neither of these bikes have been weighed recently, but when picking them up, it is apparent that the Campeur is far weightier than the Hillborne as it is currently built (as in, there is an audible grunt when I pick up the Campeur). Despite this reality, I still find the ride more lively.

I do feel as though I may lean over the handlebars a bit more on the Campeur (something I cannot do with the Hillborne because of its extra long top tube), but it has not been something that has bothered me, and in fact this is what I hoped for as a possibility with a shorter top tube (for reference, the Campeur has a top tube measuring 2.5cm shorter than the Hillborne).The leaning may partially be due to the handlebars selected as well. An extra tall stem was used in the build, believing that I'd need to get the bars up higher, but it's actually set at the lowest point possible for this frame (I may need to get a shorter stem at some point if this begins to feel too high).

It may seem a bit odd, as I mention my hand and wrist problems with regularity, that I would want a more leaned over position; however, what I appreciate about this bike is that I have the ability to both be upright and to change the set up to a more leaned over posture, if wanted and/or when my hands will allow it. I should also note that my "leaned over" stance is a far different position than most riders, as I still sit in a fairly upright position regardless of set up.

I stand at just slightly over 63 3/4 inches/162 centimeters with mildly shorter legs - for a female anyway (My PBH is 78cm for those who use this method) - and the 47cm Campeur fits me well. There is plenty of standover and I don't feel squeezed in, nor do I feel the reach is too far.

There was some experimentation that took place with handlebar stems. I have tried a 50cm, 60cm, and an 80cm reach. The 80cm, with the handlebars currently in use, was a bit too stretched for my liking. The 50cm seemed a bit short. Using the 60cm at the moment feels just about right, but again, I think this has more to do with the particular set up and handlebars selected.  If I were to set the bike up with handlebars (and perhaps more importantly, brakes) closer to the rider, a longer stem would likely be more suitable.

For some, I know there is a bit of a debate when it comes to threaded versus threadless stems (even in the first part of this post the subject arose), especially for a touring bike. I personally prefer the look of a quill stem to the more easily found threadless variety, but I also understand that there are pros and cons to either option. For me, my decision was not based purely on the quill stem, and I don't view it as a reason to pass over the Campeur as an option either; however, if it is important to the individual to have threadless, it is something to keep in mind. It is also possible to use a stem converter if this is truly a deal breaker.
In looking at the photos of the Campeur build, an oddity with the front rack may be noticed. Eventually, a front bag will sit atop the rack (if I can ever decide what it is that I'd like to see on this bike), but I didn't want to purchase a new front rack for the time being, knowing that I have a perfectly good one available. The problem was that the arms of the rack didn't quite reach the eyelets. While we could likely have taken this to a shop and had the arms bent (though I'm not sure even bending would have resolved the reach issue), we decided to go with a home solution.
Perhaps some of the sharp edges should be filed down, but they haven't caused any issues as of yet.
Instead of bending the arms, we added small pieces of metal to "stretch" the arms to meet the eyelets. If the front were going to be loaded up with a great deal of weight, I wouldn't use this method (nor this rack), but it is surprisingly sturdy for a home remedy and will hold the potential few pounds carried in a front bag.

Since I have yet to select a front bag, I cannot speak to how the Campeur will handle a front load, but I suspect it will do just fine from the few things I've traveled with attached to the rack.

One other point of note, particularly for this smallest sized Campeur, is that it actually does come with three water bottle mounts (something rarely obtained on small frames). I haven't as of yet mounted a cage or bottle, so I cannot confirm the size of bottle it will hold (though my guess is that it will be only a very short one, simply due to clearance issues), but I was thrilled to discover this as a feature I hadn't anticipated when I ordered the frame.

Over time, I will replace parts and pieces that are more to my liking, but I have to say it is a fine machine as it stands. Despite having other preferences for parts I'd like to see on this bike, I have found that because it is such a great ride, I am perfectly happy to wait things out and select pieces a bit at a time.

A good indicator for me when it comes to my enjoyment of a bike is when I choose it over another option. When a bike is new, it is sometimes easy to select it over another because there is a certain level of excitement, but I have had many bikes that, despite my fervor or infatuation with them, were ignored or avoided. I can already sense that this is not one of those bikes.

It is still early in our time together, but I find I almost have to force myself to ride something other than the Campeur. It just seems to do a lot of things well. It's not a race bike, but beyond that it is capable of handling dirt roads with ease, performing well over longer distances, and it does a great job of getting this rider around town in comfort. It's even seen me through a hail storm and several rainy days without issue (other than perhaps some squealing brake pads).

During one of my early trips running errands around town on this bike, I was sitting stopped at a signal waiting to make a left turn when a car pulled up on my right side to cross. A few seconds later, the driver rolled down his window to ask about my saddlebag, but then quickly took notice of the bike itself. "Looks like you have yourself a fine touring bike there," he exclaimed, interrupting himself mid-inquiry.

We finished our chat quickly as the signal had changed, but it's an example of the sort of reaction this bike seems to get. It isn't the first thing a person may notice, but after spending a few moments taking it in, the bike is recognized as a solid, good looking machine that is perfectly capable of a variety of tasks.
I am particularly pleased to find such a smooth bike frame for a reasonable price. I was willing to wait and even continue to save for a more expensive choice, but I am truly pleased that I took the risk with the Campeur. I haven't always had the best of luck with buying-before-riding, and it may not be the choice for every rider, but I continue to look forward to using this bike.

It should be a strong point to anyone reading that I have yet to actually tour with this bike. My opinions of it at this point in time are early and are not based on riding a loaded bike over long distances. I think it's important to point this out because after a loaded tour, my thoughts could change. However, if someone were looking for a bike to commute on with some panniers or a front bag, or to take on an overnight camping trip with minimal luggage, I think my tests thus far -at least for myself- have shown the Campeur quite capable.

As we have more time together, I'll likely have more to say about this bike, but in the meantime, it's a bike I wouldn't hesitate to recommend trying. If you happen to be close to Velo Orange or a dealer that carries built stock, take one for a spin and let me know what you think... or if you have owned a Velo Orange, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on their product(s) as well.  Additionally, if there's anything I may have missed, please feel free to ask away and I'll do my best to answer.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Finding a Touring Bike {Part 1}: So Many Choices

"I don't know why I can't make a decision!" It simply came bursting out of me with little control one evening as I sat debating the next bike purchase. I'd already been knee-deep so to speak in research for several months, and had been purging bikes from the herd for some time as well. I'd even contemplated annoying others, trying to reach some sort of conclusion that made sense.

The idea of another bike was both exciting and entirely stressful.  I was finally ready, or so I thought, to make a decision and the choice was the one thing I found myself incapable of making. My biggest fear in purchasing a new bicycle is having it go awry and finding myself in a situation that requires starting over (again). I wanted this one to be right - or as right as it could possibly be.
*Image found here - Surly loaded to tour
This notion of touring has been stirring in me for a couple of years now. While it is unlikely at this point that I would be able to take off on a several week or month long adventure, I do think it's entirely possible that I could escape for a few days and see where my legs take me. The hiccup in this idea is finding the right bike for the job.

The Rivendell Sam Hillborne seems like an appropriate choice, but as has been discussed prior, the top tube is too long for me to get more than about 40mi/65km - and that's pushing the limits of what my body is willing to tolerate. In the days following such a ride, I am often ill-equipped to ride again until my upper body mends.

As I browsed initial options, there were a lot of possibilities to consider - even more than the list here. Just do a quick search for "touring bicycles" and it's easy to become overwhelmed. I looked at and more seriously considered bike possibilities from Soma, Co-Motion, Salsa, Velo Orange, Surly, Rivendell, and I thought about custom options from Bruce Gordon  and even another Rodriguez. I also looked through used bicycles on Craigslist and eBay, thinking that perhaps there would be a good option in an older, steel Trek or other bicycle. I figured there's no reason to buy a new bike if something used will work just as well.

Realizing quickly that the list was already too long, I began narrowing down the possibilities. I really didn't want to look at a custom bike at this point. Having never toured, it just didn't make sense to spend the sort of money that would be necessary for a custom. Until I have some experience under my belt, and better understand what I like or don't, I really couldn't justify a custom bike for this purpose.
Rivendell Atlantis - *Image via Rivendell
Eventually, the list was narrowed down to include the Surly Long Haul Trucker, Rivendell Atlantis, a Velo Orange Camargue or Campeur, or finding a used bike that would work.

The one bit of wisdom most touring cyclists seem to share is that the "best" touring bike is one that you can/will ride and that is comfortable (of course, that wisdom is true of any bike). Obviously, there are other needs for touring, such as being able to carry the weight of the load for a tour, and for me, I wanted to be sure that I wouldn't be on a bike that was neither too big nor too small.

One problem with my narrowed down list was the ability to test ride. There were only two bikes available for testing locally: the Surly LHT and second-hand bike possibilities. Sam owned a Long Haul Trucker that I was able to ride in the past, so it was the one bike I didn't feel the need to actually test. I'd also considered it as an option after extensive test riding before ultimately purchasing my Sam Hillborne. The other possibility, a used bike, would be difficult to pin down locally, but if I could find one it would be the perfect opportunity to test ride before purchase.

I have never ridden Rivendell's Atlantis, but I like the ride quality of my Hillborne and I liked the Homer Hilsen, so I kept this in the mix. The Atlantis has a shorter top tube which would make it easier to set up and ride long distances. I had also never ridden any Velo Orange bicycle. These two possibilities from VO were the options that scared me most on the list because it would be a dive into the complete unknown.

After more research, I wanted to narrow down the two VO options to just one. I had done a lot of mental (and verbal, to the utter annoyance of poor Sam) back and forth between the Camargue and the Campeur. I was fine with either the quill or the threadless stem, but what had begun to sink in was reading on a website that the smallest Campeur had an effective top tube of 53cm, which seemed a tad long for me. I also feared the forward/down sloping top tube. In the past, this hasn't been a good position for me. It is technically a horizontal top tube, but I could see from photos that there was a tendency to lean down toward the handlebars.

While the Campeur seemed like a great possibility, I dropped it off the list because I feared some of the potential pitfalls. The Camargue, however, had the choice of a 51 or 52cm effective top tube and the top tube had more of an upward slope, an angle that seemed more reasonable for my needs. It also had the possibility of wider tires which had me thinking that it would make riding on dirt and rocks easier.
Velo Orange Camargue - *Image via Velo Orange
And so it came that I had the list narrowed to the LHT, the Atlantis, the Camargue, or a used, yet-to-be-discovered option.

In addition to this soon-to-be bicycle functioning as the touring bike, it also needed to work as a city bike. Of course, just about anything that works as a touring bike could also easily do double duty as a city bike, but the idea of comfort and hauling became the primary mission of this future bike.

Thoughts of my comfort on the current Rivendell were circling. If the top tube was just a bit shorter, perhaps that would make the difference and the Atlantis could be the ideal bike? The more I pondered this option though, the more I thought of it inline with the cost of a custom frame and decided that I probably wasn't ready to plunk down that sort of money for a bike that I would be using as a means to gauge my interest in touring, and if I were going to spend, perhaps a custom would be a better route to go anyway.

So, it was down to the LHT, the Camargue, and the possibility of a used find. I held out hope for finding something used, but realized that it was unlikely that something in the proper small size would materialize, so I viewed the potentials as a list of two. Two fine bicycles. Two great options.

As I'd wander back and forth between Surly and VO's website, I couldn't help but continue to glance at the Campeur. I had to admit I was drawn to it, but I had eliminated it for solid reasons, and so I would have brief thoughts of selecting this frame, but then return to the debate between the aforementioned two.

One day, I decided I just needed to make a decision. The back and forth, the pros and cons, the unknown possibilities were getting to me. I had decided that the LHT was going to be my bike. For better or worse, the choice needed to happen.
Surly Disc Trucker - *Image via Surly Bikes
I went to a local bike shop and quickly learned that the proper size was not available. At home, I did more research and realized that every location seemed to be unable to obtain the size needed. I thought I had my hands on one for a brief moment, and quickly learned that it was in fact already spoken for. Because of the dock strikes out west, there were backups and delays for manufacturers with frames made overseas. If I wanted the LHT, I was going to have to wait.

Time is an interesting component to decisions. The longer I had to think, the more I thought back to the ride of the LHT. I had recalled liking the bike, but also remembered that it had a heavier, slower, more "dead" feel to it. I also recalled feeling in between two sizes with one feeling a bit small and the next up feeling too large. There are ways to work with this, but I would prefer an option that was a bit more precise.  The more I thought, I wasn't entirely sure that the LHT would be the best option.

While I continued to look for a used possibility, I went back to the Camargue. Maybe it was a better choice? Since I had the time, I continued to debate.

It was about this time that I received some information from MG and friends of Chasing Mailboxes. MG was very kind and accommodating with my request in which I asked for thoughts and feelings regarding the Atlantis, the Camargue, and the LHT. The information she sent was both extremely beneficial and added to my internal dilemma. As I went through all the information I'd gathered, and re-read the thoughts received from MG, I was struck by a statement from one of her friends who stated that he believed he preferred the Campeur to the Camargue for touring, unless the rider needed extra stout tubing and/or really big tires.

Would I ever actually ride on rocks? I mean, who am I trying to kid... this is me we're talking about. Dirt is about the extent of my off-road riding, so how wide a tire would I actually need? And, at this juncture, any touring I would be doing would either be supported partially or completely, or it would be for only a few days at most with minimal packing.

I went back to look at the geometry of the Campeur and realized that the measurement listed for the top tube was actually 52cm, not 53cm as I'd previously believed. In reality, it was not a bad starting point at all. In addition, the quill stem would allow me to raise the handlebars up as needed with ease. It looked as though I may have given up on this option too quickly.

Sam had grown weary of my debating. He was patient though as I spoke fondly of one choice and then switched over to the next, and I'd even sucked him into reading about the different possibilities. While he was hesitant to tell me what to do (partially, I'm sure, because he didn't want to influence my decision or feel responsible if the choice didn't work out), I continued to press for his thoughts. He believed that he would go with one of the two VO options as it was difficult to find anyone with anything bad to say about either. I certainly couldn't disagree with that statement.

Still, it's difficult to choose something that I've never ridden. After having very little luck finding something used that I could actually ride before buying, I decided that I had to make a choice. What was the worst that would happen? The frame would arrive and be built up and it wouldn't work. Yes, I was trying to avoid this problem, but without making a decision, I'd never know.

And with that thought, I hovered the mouse cursor over the online cart. I couldn't believe how sick I was feeling about making this decision, but I was ready to move on with life and other happenings, and this was taking up far too much time during my days.

"I'm going to do it," I announced to Sam, my face grimacing. Hardly the sort of feeling one wants to have when making such an exciting purchase. "Really. I'm going to get it." He just laughed and told me, "Just do it already."

And with that, the decision was made. I pressed the checkout button and decided to move on with life. "It's done. No turning back now, right?" I'm not usually so slow or fretful when making bike decisions, but this decision seemed to really weigh on me as though my life depended on it in some way. Sam reassured me that it would be fine - regardless of the outcome.

The frame coming my way was the Velo Orange Campeur.  I was excited. I was nervous. I was hopeful. And then, I went back to looking at other options for a brief time, thinking that perhaps I'd made the wrong decision... but, what could I do about it now?

*Note: I'll have the second part of this post up soon, which will include more specific information on the bike itself and less of my rambling-indecisiveness.

The second part of this post is up now and can be found by clicking here.