Friday, November 20, 2009

Livin on the naughty list

yeah, yeah, it's been 2 months since I've blogged anything, and yeah, the naughty list and I are becoming comfortable with one another....

But lookit, it's not like I don't have excuses....errr... valid reasons for not posting.

Let's see, "Dear Blog, life stinks, we all have the swine flu" .pass.

Or... "Dear Blog, life stinks, everyone got over the swine flu but me" .pass.

Oh wait here's one... "Dear Blog, I'm over the flu! But now I have this chronic cough that just won't go away." .pass.

We could talk about cycling, but I've been so sick for the last 6 weeks I haven't even been able to dust my bike, much less ride it. And don't even get me started on the pro guys, everyone moving, changes all over, will Wiggins go to Sky, will Contador go to Garmin, will Astana ride Specialized?

Ok, no Wiggins didn't go to Sky - win.
And no Contador didn't go to Garmin - win?
And yes Astana and Contador will likely ride Specialized - win. Ok sort of a win, this means that it's more likely that Specialized will trump Trek in le tour - I mean Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador on Specialized the odds are pretty well in their favor, but it also means that Specialized is no longer sponsoring QuikStep. So one of my most comfortable kits is now a collector's item. Ok, enough cycling.

Hey, on the upside Elder Murphy came home! Ok, I never really doubted he would make it through, but at times it was hard to see the end of the tunnel. He's really grown a lot, and I can see the changes his service in the austere environment of Eastern Europe. We're really glad to have him home, and look forward to more great things from him as he heads off to BYU in January.

Oh wait, I know, the weather!

Blog Post, stardate every day from November to March:
"The weather today was cool, wet and overcast"

Ok, maybe not the weather.

So I'm not feeling very creative these days, and haven't had much that felt worth saying, but hey at least I can get off the naughty list now. :)

Monday, September 7, 2009

The August Doldrums

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:


Perhaps it was because for 10+ days Julia was out of the country as she helped get Ree settled in in Utah, or perhaps it was because it was crazy hot for several of those days (remember here in Germany the default is *not* to have air conditioning).

Perhaps it's the feeling of getting older as timer continues to march along, with those ongoing reminders like sending your daughter off to college. In a few months I'll have been stumbling along here for half a century and most days I'm still not sure what I'm doing.

I'm not sure what it was, but August was certainly a listless month for me, seeming to drag along forever. I'm glad September is here, the weather is starting to change and new season's always bring new excitement - except for Winter, I am a cyclist after all. Soon the leaves will be turning, we'll all be bundling up in scarves and caps to stroll the Hauptstrasse, and not too long after that Jack comes home.

It's odd having the two oldest out of the house, for a long time I thought, "wow life will be so much simpler when it's just the 4 of us." Not that I don't love all my children, I do, but let's face it, the world is designed around 2.2 children, not 2*2 children, and logistically things are simpler when there are 4 of us. But they're also less interesting. Perhaps this too, contributed to the feeling of stagnancy last month...

So thanks for coming in September, here's hoping you bring a brisk breeze to whisk away the idleness of my August doldrums....

Monday, July 27, 2009

Vive le Tour!

Wow was this one of the best tours ever, or what?!

Ok, so my team didn't get on the podium, but they were really close! And yeah I'm no big fan of Contador, Astana or Lance, but there was really some great riding that put the two of them on the podium.

For me this tour had more excitement than any of them I've watched, even if it was almost locked in by Contador a week ago, there was drama in every stage. I know a lot of people mumbled about UCI changing the format, but watching the boys hammer up Ventoux on the last Saturday of le Tour was AWESOME!

And yeah, to quote Wiggins, bollocks to all of you who wanted to whine that Hincapie "deserved" the yellow. Hey, I like big George as much as the next person, and his perseverence after busting his shoulder last week is awe inspiring, but the only way he deserved yellow was to ride 6 seconds faster. He didn't, oh well, move on. Watch the replays of each sprint finish and count how many time an HTC rider blocked Tyler Farrar or Julien Dean in the last 50 meters of the sprint and then come whine to me about Garmin's despicability. In the end, Brad Wiggins beat out Frank Schleck for 4th by 4 seconds, so it was a wise strategic decision for the Garmin team. And yeah, it was nice to see them thumb their noses at Columbia for a change, anyone who pays attention certainly knows they've been on the receiving end of Columbia's crap for some time. Ok, off the soapbox...

And were those Schleck boys amazing or what? Andy is a climbing machine, and my second choice to Garmin getting Wiggo on the podium would have been to see those guys finish 2-3, that would have been tres coolio.

And who'd have thunk you'd see two US Teams duking it out for the win of the final stage in Paris? Sure both of their sprinters are Brits, but that's beside the point, these are US based and sponsored teams, in only their second TdF, and they both have established themselves as solid teams, it's going to be fun watching Farrar kick Cavendish's butt next year!

Ok, yeah, some pundits say this wasn't one that will go down in the anals as a "classic" and they're probably right, but I think it marked the beginning of a new era of classics, as we saw Wiggins grow into a real contender, and saw the increased prominence of other youngsters like Nicolas Roche and Brice Feillu.

Sadly it's the last of the Grand Tours, and as such a lot of folks forget about cycling until next year, but there are a lot of one day races here in Europe and I'm hoping to get out for some of those. The only downer is I'll miss the Tour of Missouri, riding in the Mavic car last year was a blast!

And next year, who knows where anyone will be? Team Radio Shack will certainly grab up some of the "popular" US riders, Levi, George, but where will Alberto wind up since Vino is coming back to Astana? As for me, I hope to be in Rotterdam on Jul3 and Jul4 for Le Grand D├ępart!

It's a great time to be a cycling fan!

Friday, July 17, 2009

An Argyle kind of day

Holy cow!

This has been one of those days that you just can't make up, and it all happened because of "thrown together" banner....

So everyone knows we're in Germany, yeah yeah you're tired of hearing it I know.... and most of you who know me know I'm a cyclist.... Germany + cyclist + July = ?? anyone? .... anyone? ... Beuller?...

Yes it's the Tour de France! Today was one of the closest stages to us, Stage 13 from Vittel to Colmar, with the starting city only about 350km away. So I took a day off and Joe and I planned our day, up early, off to Vittel, see what we can see and then go out on the course somewhere and try to get some good shots of the peloton. We had our cowbells and an American flag - and no bodypaint.....

Then late yesterday the girls and mom decide it would be a good idea to "throw together" an Argyle banner, Julia worked until nearly midnight on it and I think it's just awesome.




So Joe and I get up this morning, pack up all our necessities and head out for Vittel, including of course our fabulous Argyle banner. Why Argyle you ask? Well that's easy, because I am simply a huge Garmin Slipstream Racing fan and they wear Argyle, right down to their socks.

The drive was uneventful, though we did have some torrential rains, and we arrived in Vittel almost 2 hours before the start, and about 15 minutes after the beginning of the caravan departure. The caravan is way cool, it's a parade basically of all the different race sponsors, and it precedes the racers by roughly two hours, handing out candy, water, treats, etc., sort of like a really long (200 km today) parade but without any marching bands.

So we watch the caravan and then head towards the starting area, with our ultimate goal being the team bus area, to see if we can get a glimpse of the boys.

There was already a pretty good crowd around the start, but it would get bigger before it was over.

Then we got into the bus area, of course there was the Astana bus - no we didn't get Lance's autograph, but we did see him ride by, I might even have a picture of his helmet around here somewhere.



Then we saw other buses of course, Lampre, Cofidis Bbox, Agritubel, Quik Step (they get pic since they ride Specialized) , Caisse D'Epargne, Saxo Bank (another Specialized team)










So then after we watch the Saxo Bank bus go buy we look and here comes the Garmin bus!



Amazingly, it parks directly in front of Joe and I and then the team cars pull in, go figure the spot we'd pick to stand and watch the buses roll in would be the spot where the bus for my team would park, what are the odds? So we grab the Argyle banner from the backpack and drape it across the barricades so the argyle is facing the bus. Next thing I know this nice guy (Dr. Allen Lim) walks up and asks us about the quilt, and I explain that my wife had made it the night before for us to bring down. I asked if the boys would be doing autographs before the race and he said probably not. Then he paused and asked "you want to get that autographed don't you?" Of course I replied yes, so he contemplated for a moment and then said, "I can probably do that." And off he went into the bus with the quilt - and the super sharpie I just "happened" to have handy. A bit later he comes back with the quilt, with the autographs of all 9 riders! Oh, and a couple of camera crews, one was a nice guy from Garmin documenting the tour and the other three were from Versus! So we told them about the quilt, and they filmed it from several angles. A few minutes later Joe was interviewed by a crew from The Daily Show!




So then the boys all mounted up, and headed for the starting area, we did likewise, with Joe wearing the Argyle like a cape. Of course we picked up some more schwag along the way, took shots of the riders, and commiserated about Levi having to withdraw. Then after the start we did an evaluation and decided that with all that had happened the day had nowhere to go but down - so rather than chase the peloton through the course we decided to head back home, a good choice it turns out as the stage was rainy and cold all the way into Colmar.

So we had a great day, a great adventure and the experience of a life time. An Argyle kind of day all because of a "thrown together" argyle banner. Who knew? I think maybe Argyle is where it's at. :)


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Happy Birthday G'Pa?

Wow, what a day.... what a week... so we finally go the new ride this week. One of the many perks of being a Cisco employee in Europe is the company car, not just any old company car either. It's a complicated process but basically you get an allowance, and a list of car models and then you get to order your car. So we went with the BMW, and since we are 5 we figured the wagon, so it's the 5-Series Touring Wagon. Next is the "bigger motor or more options" debate, we went with the more options so it's the 520D. Now that's not to say the motor is small, it does 225 on the Autobahn comfortably. And it looks pretty good too don't ya think?

And of course there are the options, leather power seats (and in BMW-ese that means power headrests too) built-in navi, built-in bluetooth, a USB port, sun-roof, leather seats, run-flat tires, parking distance control (front-rear parking radar) and my favorite new toy, 'BMW Night Vision' an infra-red camera that feeds a display in the dash.

We had been planning on a weekend trip to Munchen with Julia's dad - who is in town for a month - but something came up at work and I couldn't take Friday off, so instead we decided Bill, Joe and I would drive to Munchen by way of Castle Neuschwanstein. Why Munchen? Well, when we asked Bill, "what do you want to see while you're here" the only thing in his list was a concentration camp. So we drug him down to the Schwarzwald last week to the World's Largest Cuckoo Clock last weekend and this weekend it's Dachau.

The drive to Castle Neuschanstein was nice, the car handles great, has adequate power and lots of cool gadgets to keep everyone occupied. Bill rode in the back because the extra-long sunroof gives him a great view out the top as we're driving into the Bavarian Alps. The last 25km or so were on the Deutche AlpenStrasse, which was a lot of fun. The navi of course worked flawlessly guiding us in her polite nicely-clipped British accent ("please leave the motorway now") right to the parking lot at the beginning of the trail up to the castle. Our "plan" was to just do a 'drive-by' get a look, do the "ooh ahh" thing and then roll on to Dachau, but you really don't get any good views of the castle driving in from the West, and we had about 90 minutes to spare so we decided to head up. And "up" it was, just guessing I'd say it was 12% for at least a mile on a lovely shaded paved (and horse-pooped) road. The horse poop is because one of the alternatives to get to the top, or almost the top, is a horse-drawn carriage and they leave their presents on the roadway as an additional obstacle to the hearty/foolish who walk it. There was a lovely waterfall along the way that gave us a nice excuse to stop and take a breather...errr.. picture.

Then once we got to the top it really was gorgeous, naturally we took a couple of snaps to prove we conquered the hill, and then because we had to get to Dachau in time for the 2:00 film showing it was back down the hill, I still think going down was worse than up, but the experience was worth it. Once back at the bottom we grabbed a Brat, Pommes and a Coke and were back on the road again. When we left Hohenschwangau we headed north on ST2016 and about a mile out of town Bill says, "look at that view" and Joe had to get a shot, so we pulled over - here's the result. Worth the stop I'd say.

Then it was on to Dachau, what an experience that was. In case you've been living in a cave for the last 60 or so years Dachau was the first concentration camp built in Germany, by the Nazis in March of 1933. As we walked along the pea-gravel path to the memorial site and entered through the gate into the prison site all I could think, and say, was "what a horrible place." To which Joe responded with such an insightful question, "If it's so horrible, why do so many people come here?" A thought-provoking question, no doubt. Anyway, we got there in time to see the 1400 showing of the 22-minute documentary "The Dachau Concentration Camp" and then went through the museum. After the museum everyone had seen enough and we headed back home. I think Joe's expression in this picture, taken on the way out, pretty much sums up our mood. It was, for me, a sobering, educational - and frightening, experience.

The words on the gate, which I so nicely clipped off on the right say "Arbeit macht frei" which means "work brings freedom", or literally in English "work makes (one) free." This slogan was placed at the entrance to a number of of the Nazi concentration camps. The thought of all those prisoners having to see that each day as there were marched back from whatever forced labor effort they had, starving, sick, dieing, provided a fitting finish for my visit to this place that where more than 25,000 died.

On the drive home Joe remembered that this was the the second Saturday in July, the day of the second Schlossbeleuchtung (castle lighting)! One of Heidelberg's most famous landmarks is its Schloss. Each year in June, July and September, there is a Castle Lighting (Schlossbeleuchtung) to commemorate three times when the castle went up in flames (1689, 1693 and 1764). The first two times were due to wars with the French, and the last time by lighting. It's a great show, it starts with what sounds like mortar fire from the Alte Brucke (old bridge), which signals the lighting of the castle resulting in an eerie red glow as if the castle were on fire. This is followed by a spectacular 15-minute fireworks display. Since we're between the Alte Brucke and the Schloss, Flower and I went down to the street and watched this year, it was awesome.

All in all, it was a eventful day, 800km in the car, 1mile up and down a 12+% slope, a concentration camp and a castle burning.... not sure it's the kind of birthday he would have asked for, but I'm sure it's one he won't forget....

Happy Birthday G'Pa...

Monday, May 4, 2009

I have a testimony of cycling helmets

Yeah, I almost said that yesterday, when I nudged my wife and told her, I think she decided I'd finally lost my mind, completely. :)

Let me explain, last Monday I headed off to work on my trusty Aluminum framed Allez S-Works "commuter" bike. About 4km from home I exited my bike in a non-approved fashion, that is to say I went over the handlebars. The hows and whys don't really add much to the story, though they do enhance my embarrassment, so we'll omit that part for now.



The significant fact isn't that I crashed, or that I went over the handlebars, the significant fact is that I wasn't wearing my helmet. I had it with me, because you have to have them on when you go on-post, but "it's not that far" and "I won't be going that fast" and "it's just a commute" all seemed like perfectly good reasons to leave my helmet attached to the backpack this time.

And that's where the testimony comes along... If I'd been wearing my helmet, I'd still have crashed, and I'd have banged up my knee and probably my chin and nose, but I'd have avoided the huge knot on my forehead, the black eyes, and a lot of the pain. Likewise, Paul taught the Ephesians to " Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." He didn't say "only wear it when you think you'll need it" or "only for the long battles" He admonished us to put on the *whole* armour.

How often do we find ourselves trapped, stuck on paths we don't want to be on, because we were wearing the *whole* armour? Ok, so you snuck a peak at a porn site and you're not having a problem with it so it's safe right? I rode without my helmet and the crash results weren't that bad, does that mean it's "safe" for me to ride without my helmet? I don't think so.

The adversary is after us, constantly laying traps for us to trip us up and send us over the handelbars, we need to be wearing the whole armour always, to protect ourselves from the dangerous pitfalls he places in the path back to our Heavenly Father.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Keukenhoff!




Wow! This place was amazing, I've never seen so many colors, some of them so vivid it's hard to describe. Reds so deep that the entire bloom is just a blur, combinations, variations, patterns, it was an awesome experience. And I am such a flower guy.... not. :)

We did a tour package purshased in the city about 2 blocks (unless you follow Tom-Tom's directions) from Amsterdam Centraal. It was a little pricey, but it included the bus to the gardens and back, and the admission ticket, so we were able to avoid the long lines and the insanity of parking - ok, yeah, we didn't drive out, but still.

We had a couple of options on the tour, a shorter one which was a couple of hours and a longer one which was almost 6 hours in the gardens. When we chose the longer one I was really wondering what the heck we were going to do in a tulip garden for almost 6 hours, but it turned out to be exactly enough time for us to stroll comfortably through, stopping to look at the beautiful beds of flowers and to enjoy all the different visual and olfactoral nuances that are Keukenhoff.



It's a little sad that the experience is so fleeting, but the gardens are only open a few weeks each year, so, if you can, plan your trip to Europe in the Spring. It's a little cool at night still, but you won't regret the visual experience of Keukenhoff.

We weren't in Amsterdam very long, well long enough for me to stubbornly follow Tom-Tom's directions until we very nearly missed our tour, a story best untold, but what we saw walking to and from the tour office and along the bus ride was lovely.



And then there was this amazing parking structure, three levels, for bicycles!

Ya gotta love Europe, I know I do.

I have a few more pictures of the garden, maybe I'll add a slide show if I can get Mrs Murphy to show me how, she's way more blog-savvy than me.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Amsterdam

Yes, we're in Amsterdam! It's amazing, really, to think all of these places I've heard about, read about, are so close. Of course it didn't seem so close yesterday, with the train delays it ended up being about a 9 hour trip door to door from home to the hotel, but all in all it wasn't an unpleasant journey.

We're using our Eurail Global Passes to travel and we have to make reservations for the international trips. This week we had some challenges getting seats from Heidelberg to Amsterdam, but Julia worked it out at the train station. Heidelberg to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Duesseldorf, Duesseldorf to Ultrecht, Ultrecht to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, and shuttle bus from Schiphol to the hotel. Even though we were about 30 minutes late departing Frankfurt, and another 30 minute late departing Duesseldorf, we still had a pretty smooth trip.

We're staying at the Hotel Schiphol A4, a 4-start hotel about 10-15 minutes from the airport. We're in a 'quad room' which is kind of intriguing. In standard configuration it has sleeping for 4 in one big room, with the toilette/water closet off the main room. Sparsely furnished but roomy, and they added a fifth bed - so we're all in one big room, but it's just two nights and we're not here for the hotel. :)



Today we're headed for Keukenhof http://www.keukenhof.com/ to take in the colors of 7 million bulbs during their Summer Bulb Weekend, it's gonna be a lot of fun!


Being Smarter than the Shower

Everyone keeps asking me, "So how's the family adjusting to Europe?" and my response is always the same, "they're loving it!" And I think that's absolutely true, at least that's what they tell me, and sometimes it's easier for dad to just take everyone at face value. Now that's not to say there aren't challenges and adjustments....

There's no QuikTrip around the corner which means no fountain Diet Cokes at any hour of the day.

There's no Diet Coke! This has not been a very good thing as most of our family dearly loves Diet Coke. There is Coke Light, but I'm sorry even a non-connoisseur such as myself can tell the difference, and in this case, change is not necessarily for the better.

In most places everything closes at 7 or 8 pm, and almost everything is closed on Sunday - yes I think that's a good thing, but closing at 7 does reduce the 'convenience factor', in fact, surprisingly in this day and age, there doesn't seem to be that drive to suck the money from your wallet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You see people out after dinner walking their dogs, riding their bicycles, walking in the park, kayaking on the river, *LIVING* and not shopping. I think it's awesome...

And things generally are just different here, space is more of a premium because the green areas are more jealously protected. In the USA it's all about sprawl, but here, at least in our area, we don't see that. So there is an inherent need for efficiency. A lot of those things we used to look at in the Ikea back in the USA and say "what on earth is that?" or "why doesn't this work in my shower?" make sense now. Most of the time if we just pause and think things through it makes sense, or at least you can see the logic behind the design, there really is some amazing engineering to be seen here. Don't get me started on the windows....

Sometimes though, we have to work to be smarter than the shower. Last week we were in Paris - an amazing experience but more on that later - and in our hotel bathrooms we had shower heads but no shower curtain. There was like this half glass wall that covered half the length of the tub, but I don't think any of us ever actually figured out over the 4 days how to use the shower without spraying the bathroom to some extent. Some of were less successful than others, but we'll leave that be for now. :)

So for this week, to the chagrine of some and for the entertainment of most, our favorite line is "Try to be smarter than the shower!" Of course we're in Amsterdam today to see the Tulips at Keukenhof so I'm sure we'll pick up a new quote for next week. Stay tuned!