10,000 miles–March Report

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March–like its predecessors January and February–hasn’t been entirely cooperative with me in my 10,000 mile endeavor. It’s felt like the whole month I’ve been seizing brief windows between bad weather. I remember one particular ride, which was actually kind of warm, still, and pleasant. Then, when I was only a few miles from home another rider–a complete stranger, by the way–caught up to me, riding like a bat out of hell. He yelled, ‘Hurry. There’s really nasty weather right behind us.’ As if on cue, a cold wind licked at my back, with a hint of rain in it. I sprinted home, as best as the red lights would allow, and got inside just before the freezing rain started to pour down. Again, this last Saturday, it was such a beautiful, warm morning that I took the good bike out for its first ride of the season and wore my spring clothing. I texted Stephanie from the mid-point of the ride just to celebrate how great a warm sun and dry roads felt; but just as I hit ‘send’ gray clouds rolled up, and a strong wind turned right into our faces. We fought that chilly headwind the whole way home, the smell of the ocean in the air letting us know that if we didn’t get home quick we’d have a wet end to the day.

Still, a bad March is better than January or February. The days are longer, opening up new riding opportunities. And, though inconstant, the temperature is ticking its way up. The improvements show in my end-of-the-month totals:

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That’s 75 miles more than January and February combined. I feel pretty good about that, even though it’s still a couple of good rides short of my 800 miles per month goal. I’m feeling good about April.

For the year, here’s where I stand:

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Nine months and 8784 miles to go. That’s 976 miles each of the remaining months. This is going to be fun.

Hit and Miss: Averna v. Drambuie

We’re always on the hunt for new cocktails and new liqueurs.

Well, not always. Recently, Steph and I found ourselves in a bit of a rut. Whenever I asked, ‘What would you like to drink?’, Steph would answer, ‘You know, I think I’m in the mood for a vesper martini,’ as if it were not the very same thing she said the previous half dozen times I’d asked. But it was. Eventually, we caught ourselves. James Bond might be ready to settle down in a lifelong commitment to a single cocktail, but we’re young; we want to remain open to new beverages. We resisted the lure of the vesper, and struck out on the path to some new taste experiences.

We have one hit and one miss to report.

The MissDrambuie

Drambuie 2 EP

Drambuie is a Scotch-based liqueur with a strong honey flavor. It’s the primary ingredient in the Prince Edward. Our friend Alex suggested it to the Game Night guys when we were in search of a new cocktail to add to our repertoire. Amazingly, the Game Night bar didn’t regularly stock any of the ingredients of the Prince Edward. So, we bought full bottles  of everything, only to discover that all of us hated the Prince Edward. I’m, of course, speaking subjectively. You may really like the Prince Edward if you try it, but to me it tasted like syrupy secondhand smoke: it had the smoky flavor of a peaty Scotch, but without any of the depth of flavor of a good single malt, and with the viscosity and sweetness of honey instead. We tried the Drambuie straight, on the rocks, and in a couple of other cocktails, and we still don’t like it. And to top it all off, Alex, who suggested the drink, is currently not drinking. So, we’re stuck with an almost full bottle of the Drambuie. We’re open to suggestions.

The Hit–Averna

Doesn't the bottle alone look fantastic?

Doesn’t the bottle alone look fantastic?

Averna is an Amaro (a bitter Italian herbal digestif). It tastes a little like a flat, alcoholic, herb-infused root beer. It’s like a softer, more palatable version of Fernet Branca, if you’r familiar with that. I realize I haven’t given it  a very promising description, but Steph and I have fallen in love with the odd, bitter little guy. We were introduced to Averna at the Red Cat restaurant in New York, mixed in a cocktail with maple bourbon and red vermouth. We didn’t find out the recipe to the drink, but we immediately went home, got ourselves some Averna, and have attempted to imitate it. It’s become a favorite. I’ve also had Averna straight, and used it in a Negroni variation, all to good effect. I realize you may not want to invest in a full bottle of Averna yourself based only on my recommendation (I saw how that can go with the Drambuie), but if you see it on the menu somewhere, give it a try. Or drop by our place; we’d be happy to mix you something.

The Recipes

The Vesper Martini

  • 2 oz. gin
  • 1/4 oz. vodka
  • 1/3 oz. Lillet Blanc

Shaken and served in a cocktail glass with an orange or lemon twist.

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Our Vesper variation

Stephanie particularly likes the Vesper sweeter and less ginny. So, we take away from the gin and add to the others:

  • 1 oz. St. George Botanivore gin
  • 1 oz. Grey Goose vodka
  • 1 oz. Lillet Blanc

Shaken and served with a lemon twist.

Our Averna/Whiskey Drink (really we need a better name)

We started with a more whiskey-heavy mix, but wanted more Averna flavor. Here’s where we landed. You’ll notice we like to keep it simple.

  • 1 oz. Eagle Rare bourbon
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 1 oz. Averna

Shaken and strained.

Prince Edward

Because, who knows, you might like sticky secondhand smoke:

  • 1 3/4 oz. Scotch
  • 1/2 oz. Lillet Blanc
  • 1/4 oz. Drambuie

Stirred, strained, and served with an orange slice.

Hill Repeats

On Thursday mornings, I ride with my friend Kate. Kate is a racer, with a coach. So our rides aren’t just rides; they’re training. Kate’s coach gives us an assignment, like, ‘A 90-minute ride, including five 2-minute sprints,’ to cite a very basic one. They get much more sophisticated than that, but perhaps we’ll talk about that some other time. One of our most common assignments is hill repeats, which is exactly what it sounds like: we find a hill, climb it, descend it, and do it again, 5 times.
Hill repeats are an unfair combination of boring and difficult. You’d think that something as boring as hill repeats would also be easy, or that something as challenging as hill repeats would also involve some sort of intrigue. But no, they’re more or less a slog. We very slowly push ourselves up the same mile five times, and coast down that same mile another five times. It’s a short ride, both in time and distance; and yet it’s totally exhausting. They say you’re doing a hill repeat right if you feel like throwing up each time you reach the top of the hill. I’d say I did it right this Thursday.
Here’s the thing about hill repeats. They’re very unpleasant, but they really work. This whole year, I’ve felt like I’ve been riding in mud. Every small breeze has felt like a strong wind in my face, every little slope has felt like a mountain–until I spent a morning going up and down a hill. Like magic, my ride just two days later on Saturday felt like a totally different experience. The ride didn’t seem like such hard work as the Saturday before, and I could find that extra gear when I needed it. So, thanks, Coach Sara, for the hill repeats. Can I have another?

Cold weather cycling

When people find out that I ride my bike year-round, they often ask if I ski or snowboard too. I don’t. I’m not in the end a fan of winter sports, or of winter at all really. It’s cold, and dirty, and parking is difficult. I’m a fan of cycling, which is not really a winter sport. Actually, the two don’t go together that well at all. But I like cycling enough that I find myself doing it, even in the winter.

On a day like today, when it never quite hit 20 degrees, I arm myself heavily against the cold. Today, my equipment included:

  • Fleece-lined bib tights

giordana tights

 

  • a fleece-lined base layer
  • a wool sweater
  • what’s called a corsa jacket

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  • a balaclava

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  • snowboarding socks
  • boots
  • and lobster gloves

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That’s almost the full extent of my winter gear. If it were a little colder, I could have added another layer of tights, and used chemical hand and toe warmers. In fact, since it ended up colder than I thought it would be, I probably should have added those to the mix today.

All of these things are meant to be lightweight, to not be cumbersome, to allow for easy movement, and yet to keep you warm. And they do a pretty good job, particularly with the core of the body. From my wrists to my ankles, even in the coldest weather, my winter gear keeps me feeling pretty warm for the length of the ride. That’s not the case for the hands and feet. No matter what I do, they get cold.

As can sometimes happen, about 20 miles into the ride, one of my hands got so cold that I stopped being able to use my thumb properly. Luckily, once I turned around and had the wind to my back, it warmed up enough for some feeling to come back into it.

Another design weakness in the winter gear is that, when I’m wearing the face mask of my balaclava, my breath escapes up toward my glasses, fogging them. By the end of a ride, condensation builds up inside the glasses, making it a little difficult to see.

And then there’s the frozen water bottles. Even with insulated water bottles, eventually my water freezes. Thankfully, since winter rides tend to be shorter and slower, I don’t need the water quite so much as I would on a more intense summer ride. When it’s very cold like today, I’m not really all that interested in pulling down my mask to take a drink anyway.

The real unpleasantness doesn’t happen on the ride, though, but afterward. Once I’m back in a warm building, it’s like my body finally feels permission to express how cold it’s been. First comes throbbing pain in my fingers and toes as the feeling comes back to them. Those can last for quite a while. I got in from my ride about two and a half hours ago; and at this point my fingers feel fine, but my toes are still a little tingly. Maybe five or ten minutes after I’ve gotten inside is when the goose bumps appear. On an even longer delay, I might start shivering thirty minutes after I’m back inside.

Like I said, cycling isn’t really a winter sport. But I like it enough, I was out there today–and glad to be there.

10,000 Miles–February Report

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Snow–did not ride.

Extreme cold–did not ride.

Rain–did not ride.

Snow–ride cut short.

Snow again–ride cut short again.

Out of town–did not ride.

Out of town again–did not ride again

That’s what most of February looked like.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, despite all that, I did end up exceeding January’s miles, with 321 to January’s 250. And it’s fun to see that I’ve been on a bike 65 times already, in the first two months of the year. (Those 2 mile commutes really boost the number of rides, and really bring down the averages of time and miles per ride). Also, I feel like February has toughened me up a little. By the end of the month, I knew I couldn’t depend on good conditions to give me enough miles. So, I started riding in the rain (as I wrote about), or riding alone if I had to. And they’re not my favorite, but they’re not bad either.

Even though my February was better than my January, it was still a terrible month, miles-wise. I’m a whopping 1095 miles behind pace. Still, I’m getting tougher, the days are getting longer, and–who knows–maybe the weather will start to improve as well. I think I still have a shot.

571 miles down. 9,429 miles to go.

Cycling in the Rain

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The rule among my cycling friends is that if it’s raining when the ride is scheduled to go out, we don’t ride. But if it’s not, we ride, no matter the forecast. It seems clear enough, but at ride time this morning it was anything but. It was definitely raining until just before the ride. At ride time itself, though, there were no more visible drops falling from the sky, but it was definitely still wet. In normal circumstances, I might have called it rain, and taken the day off. But these are not normal circumstances. I’m trying to ride ten thousand miles this year, and I’ve already had far too many of my rides cancelled because of snow, rain, or extreme cold. If I’m going to make my ten thousand mile goal, my motto is going to have to be, ‘When in doubt, ride.’ So, my friend Jen and I briefly consulted one another, checked the forecast, discovered more rain coming later in the day, and decided that the current damp circumstances were our best chance for a good ride.

While it wasn’t exactly raining, it wasn’t exactly not raining either. Once we got on our bikes, we noticed that there was a fine mist in the air. Apparently, if you’re trying to get absolutely soaked to the bone, riding in mist for a couple of hours is the perfect weather for it. If it had actually been raining, we would have never ridden or would have cut short. The mist was never enough to make us think of stopping, but it slowly, steadily did the work of turning us liquid. By the end of the ride, my gloves were so soaked that gripping the handle squeezed water out of them.

The mist itself probably would have done the job sufficiently, but it had help. On wet roads, our bike tires throw up a stream of water. Both Jen and I have fenders, which protect us from splashing ourselves; but whichever one of us was riding behind would get a face full of water from the tires of the front rider. Water with bonus salt and sand from the road, that is.  You can see how much sand built up on my bike frame. My eye sockets held a similar amount.

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I’m making the ride sound terrible. But really, while we were certainly damp, both of us were glad to be out and enjoying ourselves just fine. Until we stopped at Starbucks. Coffee at Starbucks is a no questions asked end-of-the-ride ritual for Jen and me and our friend Kate, or at least it was. We might have to revise our stance on Starbucks for days like today. Jen and I were perfectly cheerful when we got to Starbucks. By the end of our cups of coffee, we were warm and comfortable, and we’d cooled down from our exercise. Then we realized that we had to put our absolutely soaked gloves back on our hands, and go back out into the cold, wearing our absolutely soaked shoes and socks and coats. It takes me about half an hour to get home from the Starbucks we stop at. It was half an hour of freezing, shivering, and general misery.

When I got home, my clothes were so wet that they formed a puddle. My hands and feet were so cold that they went through that painful spiky feeling as they warmed up, like when your foot falls asleep but worse. An extra long shower got me to feeling human again, though.

I’m still glad we went on our ride. And I’m still going to have to go with the motto, ‘When in doubt, ride,’ if I’m going to make my ten thousand miles. But next time, I think I’ll skip Starbucks and go straight to the warm shower instead.

AMC, You’re killing me.

In my Oscar post Saturday, I left an award out (Well, two. A commenter filled in the gap I left for the incredibly obvious ‘Sixth Man’ award for best movie that didn’t get a nomination). I saved the award for ‘Worst Short Form Video of the Year’ for its own post today. My recent movie and Oscar interest only extends so far: to the major categories, that is. So, with all respect to the fine, creative people who are making, I’m sure, truly excellent short films, I have to admit that I don’t even know who’s been nominated for Best Short Film. I haven’t seen a one. I haven’t been to any film festivals. But I’m absolutely sure that I’ve seen the worst short video of the year, several times. There can really only be two choices: ‘Bouncing Red AMC Logo Goes to the Movies’ and ‘Bouncing Red AMC Logo Goes to the Movies 2: The Irritation Grows.’

If you’ve been to an AMC Theater recently, you are familiar with the videos of which I speak, and you probably have your own story of how and when you grew to loathe them. For me, it happened on Christmas Eve, the day Stephanie and I launched our Oscar campaign. A quick scan of the  listings told us that there was a showing of American Hustle timed perfectly for to observe the Housman Christmas Eve tradition of movie-watching and still make it just in time to the Acker Christmas Eve party.

We arrived at the theater at showtime, got some popcorn and soda, and settled into our seats for what we thought would be a few previews and our movie. Instead we endured an endless string of commercials, for cars, TV shows, and entire TV networks. These were apparently the build-up to the first act finale: ‘Bouncing Red AMC Logo Goes to the Movies,’ in which the red dot from the AMC logo becomes a bunch of bouncing balls who fill a massive paper cup with Coke on some sort of rocket launch pad. I don’t know whether it was brilliant or ironic that this video played just about as my own popcorn and soda were pretty much empty. I do know that it was infuriating.

Once ‘Bouncing Red AMC Logo …’ finished playing we moved to previews. We incorrectly took that as a sign that the actual movie we came to see would soon begin. But no. They must have played 17 previews. These previews were all over the map. Romantic comedies. Animated movies. The next Transformers. Anything goes. By the time the previews were done, we had psychological whiplash, and we felt pummeled by the long, relentless attempt to sell us stuff. It’s like we endured a time share pitch, but from a salesperson who kept forgetting what it was they were trying to get us to buy.

After the 17th preview was finished, the room darkened, and we thought that now, finally, our movie was beginning. But, again, no. Instead it was the absolute, perfect nadir to our pre-movie experience: ‘Bouncing Red 2,’ in which the bouncing red AMC logo has a pet, and that pet is also a bouncing red AMC logo, who is a dog on a leash, but not really a dog on a leash but the AMC logo’s cell phone, which Bouncing Red needs to silence before the movie begins. How in the world does this make any sense? How is it necessary? Why couldn’t they just put up a slide that said, ‘Please silence your phones’? And why didn’t they do that 35 minutes ago?

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All told, it was 45 minutes from the listed showtime to the time the movie actually began. We had not budgeted for that. It meant that we spent the last half hour or so of quite a good movie–the movie that we’d actually paid money to see–not relishing the unfolding of the final, delightful scam, but instead hoping it would just end  so that we could get to our Christmas Eve party on time. AMC decided for us that it would be better for us to watch ‘Bouncing Red’ 1 and 2 than to savor the actual movie.

For that, I award ‘Bouncing Red 2′ worst short video of the year. And because of that, I’m spending as much of my moviegoing time as possible at our local independent theaters: The Somerville and The Capitol. The seats aren’t quite as comfortable. But there’s no bouncing ball video, and no commercials. Just a preview or two, and then the movie. And as an extra bonus, both theaters serve beer.

And the Oscar Goes to …

Stephanie and I aren’t usually big movie fans. Or at least we haven’t previously been big movie fans. This year, though, we’ve gotten really caught up in the race to the Oscars. I blame Grantland. There’s nothing Grantland does better than (a) Ranking things, using often whimsical but usually smarter than the average screaming head reasoning and rules, and (b) Betting on the outcome of award selections and sporting events. Since I read Grantland every day, I got caught up in all of their pre-nomination Oscar speculation, so much so that I stared talking with Stephanie about this supposedly especially good Oscar season. Somehow, one of us suggested that we try to see all of the best picture nominations before the Oscars. That’s a pretty big jump from watching no movies at all. But there are very few things that motivate us like a to-do list. Once it’s written down on a list, we do it. So, we’ve made pretty good progress, with two weeks to go still:

1. Wolf of Wall Street

2. American Hustle

3. 12 Years a Slave

4. Captain Phillips

5. Gravity

6. Dallas Buyers Club

7. Philomena

8. Her

9. Nebraska

I have to say, these movies have all been really good. I can’t say whether this is a special year or the Oscar nominees are always this good, because, you know, I don’t usually pay much attention. But I can say that this particular batch has been really good. We’ll have to wait until March 2nd to see who wins the actual awards. In the meantime, I have a few of my own awards to distribute:

Scene Stealer of the Year

This one goes to Jennifer Lawrence. In American Hustle, she took the familiar, and usually limited, role of the dull wife who is at home living normal life while her husband is out doing interesting things, and she did something amazing with it. ‘My wife who just doesn’t understand’ stole every scene she was in. In fact, she almost took the whole movie and ran away with it.

Most Relentlessly Committed to Making Us See How Messed Up We are

This category had some strong competition. But in the end, it has to go to 12 Years a Slave. It simply refused to ever let me say, ‘See, people are fundamentally decent after all.’ That takes guts.

Man of the Year

In my personal opinion, Matthew McConaughey should win Best Actor for his Dallas Buyers Club role. For bonus points, his cameo appearance in Wolf of Wall Street starts that movie off with a bang.

Most Hilarious Scene That’s Actually Terrible When You Really Think About It

Hands down, this award goes to Leonardo diCaprio for his portrayal of the high out of his mind Jordan Belfort trying to get himself home to warn everyone that the phones are tapped. If I just focus very carefully and take it very slow … Creepiest Trailer We’ve saved Her until near the end because the trailer just felt that icky.

Longest Streak of Terrible Things Happening to a Character

When I saw Gravity, I would have thought that Sandra Bullock had this one in a lock, but then Chiwetel Ejiofor came along and ripped the award right out of her exhausted hands.

Inspiration of the Year

‘Based on a true story’ seems to be the theme this year. Of the six movies we’ve seen, five of them have some basis in real life. Granted, none of them but 12 Years a Slave seem to be overly concerned with accuracy (Good Lord, can you believe that’s the accurate one?); and American Hustle practically disavows it’s roots in fact with the opening words, ‘Some of this actually happened.’ But, still, semi-based-in-fact was the story source of the year.

Most Impressive Human Beings in a Realistic Movie

Holy crap, those Navy Seals in Captain Phillips were something else. Why did they parachute out of a plane into the ocean during a storm instead of landing on the aircraft carrier? They say, why the hell not?

Bodily Transformation of the Year

While Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto deserve a lot of credit for losing all that weight, I think the fat, bald Christian Bale wins this one.

Worst Accent

Tom Hanks, for his foolhardy and unsuccessful attempt at a Boston accent. Despite that, the rest of his portrayal was really gripping.

 

My votes for the actual Oscars, if I had votes:

Best Movie12 Years a Slave

Best Director–Martin Scorsese

Best Actor–McConaughey

Best Actress–I’ll have to see Blue Jasmine before I can assess this one.

Best Supporting Actor–Barkhad Abdi

Best Supporting Actress–J Law

Choosing Teams

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The first Sunday of every February, Stephanie and I throw a big, raucous party for this little event you might have heard of, called the Super Bowl. We love parties. We especially love throwing parties. And the Super Bowl is the perfect party-throwing occasion, because pretty much everyone comes to the party primed and ready to enjoy themselves.

The Super Bowl is an especially good excuse to party in our neck of the woods, because–and it’s hard to say this without sounding like an a@#$%hole to much of the rest of the country–our local team so often plays in it. Sadly, (for us, that is. I guess it’s more like, ‘Mercifully’ or ‘Finally’ for pretty much everyone else), the past couple of years that hasn’t been the case. Selfishly speaking, that’s made us worried that our Super Bowl party might fall a little flat. Can it still be fun, if no one is really all that invested in the game itself?

It turns out that there’s a surprisingly simple fix to that problem.

We fill a fishbowl with  strips of paper that say ‘Broncos’ or ‘Seahawks,’ to use this year as the example. If you arrive at the party without a rooting interest in the game, you draw your team affiliation from the fishbowl. It’s fascinatingly effective. A random piece of paper tells us who to cheer for, and minutes later we’re screaming our heads off like lifelong fans. We moan when a wide receiver whose name we didn’t know an hour ago (and maybe still don’t) drops the ball. We hiss at the dirty play of the other team. We loudly complain about how the refs are in the other team’s pocket. We gravitate toward the people who drew the same paper strip as us, and we end up in good-naturedly competitive shouting matches, one side of the room against the other. And then, at the end of the night, we throw away our strips of paper and move on. It seems that we’re perfectly willing and able to temporarily and arbitrarily become enthusiastic fans.

I learned from a book I recently read (the very interesting The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt) that the late 19th and early 20th Century sociologist Emile Durkheim coined a term to describe our experience. He calls it ‘collective effervescence.’ It’s that ecstatic feeling we get when we get caught up in something  in the midst of a crowd. We love the feeling of losing ourselves in the midst of something that feels bigger than ourselves. Apparently, the pleasure is enhanced by things like synchronous movement, chants, singing, a sense of healthy competition, and a focus on similarities. Sporting events, rock concerts, and, yes,  church services all tap into that same craving.

I’m very much rooting for the Patriots to be in next year’s Super Bowl. But it’s handy to know that if they don’t, with the help of some scrap paper and a bowl, we can still get our collective effervescence fix for the night.

Ten Thousand Miles

I got a nifty little upgrade to my cycling equipment this Christmas: a bike computer that uses GPS. Called a ‘Garmin’ (since that’s the brand that makes most of them), these things have been around for a while; I’ve just been slightly behind. Don’t misunderstand: I’ve been using bike computers, but I’ve been using an older technology which measures your speed and distance by counting the revolutions of your tire rather than by using GPS.

Among the several things that eventually decided me to upgrade was the fact that I could use a single Garmin for all of my bikes, instead of having to have a different bike computer for each of my four bikes.  No more dealing with different wheel sizes. No more transmitters attached to all of my forks. No more wires. A simple quarter-turn takes the Garmin off of one bike, and another one puts  it on to the other.

Having just one computer for all my bikes also means that all of my bike miles are totaled in one odometer. When I realized that, all of a sudden my New Year’s resolution for 2014 became clear: I want to see 10,000 miles on that odometer by year’s end.

I’ve come close before. In 2011, when you added up all of my various cycling computers, I logged a bit more than 8000. And that didn’t include any of my commuting miles, since I didn’t have a computer at all on that bike. I think it’s safe to estimate that I rode about 1000 commuting miles, bringing me to 9000 for the year. 2012 and 2013 weren’t as impressive in mile totals. Technology is partly to blame; both years I had a few broken computers (perhaps another incentive to make the jump to the Garmin) making my totals spotty. But that may have been a kindness anyway. I’m sure that if I had solid totals for those years, I’d be disappointed by them. This year, I want to get back into a 2011 rhythm of cycling. And, maybe just as much, I’d really like to see that odometer turn over to 5 digits.

One month in, and I have to say that the totals so far aren’t very impressive: 249 miles for January, 1/12th of the way through the year and only 1/40th of the way to my goal. I’ll have to step things up quite a bit. But it is January after all–and a particularly cold and snowy one at that. 9750 miles to go, but eleven good months to do them in.IMG_0609