19 June, 2015

Charleston - Think About it

A warning to those who follow this blog for cycling, skiing, or fly fishing and who are anti-gun - we're going to talk about guns here today. And a warning for those who read for hunting and shooting - I'm going to step out of line with the NRA party line. Call me an equal opportunity offender...

The events in Charleston this week have really given me pause. As a gun owner, they've caused me to re-examine some thinking. As an American, they've stirred a lot of thought. And as a human being, they've caused me to be really disappointed in my fellow man.

I heard a talk radio host yesterday posit the theory that the problem is we all hate each other - blacks hate whites and vice-versa. I'm sure he was firing for effect to keep the program lively, but it was a legitimate theory. Do we really all hate each other? My take is that there are extremists in every group and those people probably do hate each other. But the vast majority of us don't share those feelings. Unfortunately, social media, the Internet, and the 24/7 news cycle have given the limelight over to the extremists. Sad. We've become a nation focused on the extreme. Maybe it's time for the Moderate Majority (yeah, damn right, I capitalized that...) to seize control and get this place straight.

No Gun Zones
This one's ticklish, but this particular case is illustrative. An Emmy-award winning reporter from a Dallas TV station told the tale of an interview with a family member of a victim that Dylann Roof reloaded FIVE times. As a long-standing concealed carry permit holder, I know that churches are an identified gun-free zone. Curiously, I think this is more of a legal thing -- churches and stadiums both hold a lot of people, and therefore are gun-free. Sad, I'd actually think you'd do it out of respect for the Church as a place of peace. But I digress. He reloaded five times. And you've got to figure a 21 year old isn't going to be trained in eyes-off reloads. So he had to look down, drop the magazine, grab another, insert, and rack the slide to chamber a round. I wasn't there, so this is merely speculation, but I have to believe that during at least one of those reloads, a savvy concealed permit holder could have ended the situation. Does this mean I'm advocating eliminating gun-free churches? I'm not willing to go there yet. But in Michigan you can carry in a Church if you have written permission from the priest, minister, rabbi, etc. Makes you think.

We don't do this much on Get Outside - polly-ticks that is. I'm a confirmed fence-sitter who's beginning to align more with the Libertarian mindset. If there were really any moderate Republicans or conservative Democrats, I'd probably vote for them. But I'm incredibly disappointed in our President who took this opportunity to use this tragedy to push his personal "no guns" agenda. That's shameful. And to say that "this doesn't happen in other developed countries..." is just outright rubbish. Seen what's happened in Paris in recent years as it became a melting pot of cultures? Would you consider Pairs a developed country. This was a time for our leader to express the Country's grief for the victims, their families and loved ones, and the people of Charleston. Period.

More Politics
Obama's decision to focus on guns took everyone's eyes off the real issue. The gun in Dylann Roof's hand didn't kill those people - his finger pulling the trigger did. And his decision to reload and pull the trigger again. I own a number of firearms. None are equipped with a self-pulling trigger. The gun is simply a tool. He could have killed those people with knife, a bomb, or even a folding chair. What Obama glossed over is our utterly ruined mental health care system. All reports indicate that this was a truly troubled young man, with a history of drug abuse and violent statements. We see this pattern over and over in these shootings. Virginia Tech? Same deal. Aurora? Yup. So, I would issue this challenge to our government - how about if you devote 50% of the time, energy, and money that you spend trying to prevent law-abiding citizens from having guns and put it into fixing our broken mental health system. I have a number of friends who are mental health professionals. All will tell you the system has been gutted by cuts. It's time for real reform. And remember, this is an anti Big Government guy suggesting this...

Sorry folks, its time to stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution. We need to stop protecting the rights of people like Dylann Roof and Adam Lanza. People with a history of mental illness, drug abuse, and/or violence shouldn't be able to own firearms. Period. Do whatever it takes to find a solution. Show that you are the good people you claim to be. If that means stronger background checks - good. A national database? I'm not thrilled about some aspects of that, but maybe we need to look at it. One logical place to start, in my opinion, is levelling national policies rather than the current State-by-State model. A friend told me that in Indiana you can get a concealed permit by having a simple chat with the Sheriff. Seriously? I've been an NRA member for years, but this is my last unless they start to find some way to collaborate and seek solutions.

The Family
You need a license to drive a car. A special certification to operate a motorcycle. A CDL for commercial truck drivers. And, what do you need to have a kid? Just a few sweaty moments. Dylann Roof's parents saw the external signs of hatred -- he wore Apartheid patches on his jacket and had a Confederate flag on his car. So what do they do? Buy him a gun for his 21st birthday. That's some solid parenting there. Adam Lanza's Mom thought that somehow having a Bushmaster AR would be a good idea with a kid with clear mental health issues in the house. She paid for this mistake with her life. Do I have a solution? No, but there are plenty of smart people who study family dynamics. I'm pretty sure if you got a few of them in an apolitical room, you'd get some clear, simple answers. I will give you one piece to think about -- I enjoy and value my guns. But if a family member in the household begins to have issues, they're out of the house. Immediately. The guns, BTW, not the family member...

This city has long been one of my favorite places. It's hard to describe, but it's a place with soul. I love the State of South Carolina and the city of Charleston. I can only imagine parents in the United A.M.E. trying to convince themselves and their families that the church IS a safe place. It's a city that's had a rough year of senseless violence. Honestly, I don't know how I'd cope with it if I lived there. Just know that you're in the thoughts of an awful lot of Americans right now.

So there you go. I suppose I wrote this for me more than for the readers. Just putting some of this down was cathartic. I hope perhaps for you as a reader it was, too. Just one man's opinions.


16 June, 2015

Fit Is It

Pick up any cycling magazine or browse web site and somewhere in the issue you'll likely a mention of the value of a good bike fitting. Sure, a good salesperson can get you on a bike that looks like a good fit. But did you get a good salesperson? And did the wrench who assembled your bike position the bars correctly? Did the manufacturer put the brifters at the right place? Bicycle companies have come a long way with sizing and such, but every 56cm Trek Madone is the same. The people who ride it are not.

For a while now, I've been considering a pro fitting. My road bike was set-up as-built from the shop. It's comfortable enough, though I find that when I get past the 40 mile point, I get some foot numbness, some shoulder/neck pain, and my arse hurts. These days bike shops have all figured out that a fitting is a great way to make a few bucks on the fit, and sell a bunch of new gear to adapt your fit. And a decent fitting isn't cheap. So, I really wanted to find someone good.

Thanks to my cycling-connected friend, Josh, I am introduced to Jess Bratus of fitmi!. She recently fitted Josh and he absolutely raved about the difference it made. A chat with my neighbor Mike, a competitive triathlete, reveals that Jess also did his fit and he was very pleased. SOLD! An appointment is scheduled.

Jess' studio is located above Sic Transit Cycles in a historic building on the north side of Ann Arbor. From the moment I walk in, the whole experience is just about perfect. The space is bright and open with all the tools of the trade on display. Right away I can tell this won't be a big box bike store fit. Plus, she digs my bike.

I gear up while Jess gets my bike on the trainer on an elevated platform so she can observe, measure, and tweak my bike. To my surprise we don't even start off on the bike. First she wants to quantify all of my body's quirks, oddities, and issues. She finds a few things I already knew (really stiff hamstrings) and a number I didn't (a great deal of pelvic rotation and a right foot arch that's lower than the left). She looks a my stance, measures the natural angle of my feet, observes how my knees are positioned in relation to my ankles. All the while, she's methodically making notes and clearly thinking about how what she's seeing will translate on the bike.

We discuss my Fizik Alliante VS saddle. Josh had warned me about this, so it wasn't a surprise. Turns out that in addition to being overly narrow, has a reputation for excessive pressure in the nether regions. Yeah, that's not good.

Now it's time to hop on the bike. Immediately she's identified a couple of major areas. And the adjustments start. First a swap to a shorter stem to get my shoulders relaxed. Ahhh - that does feel better. Then we swap out the saddle for an Selle SMP Avant in the mid width. Immediately I can tell that the trusty Fizik wasn't supporting my sit bones at all. Then we go to work on my cleats. A positioning adjustment, followed by a shim in my right foot and things are feeling really nice.

Thus far this has all been the experienced eyeball. As we chat during the fitting I learn about the extensive training Jess has completed, both with custom builder Serotta and later with the Specialized Fit Lab training. Pretty cool.

But wait - now we're going to break out the laser. COOL! She puts an elastic band with a reflective target just below each knee. Using a laser, she's now able to visualize how my pedal stroke is tracking. The improvement is incredibly visible. My right side is now largely corrected. Given that I have a history of issues on that side (tight IT band and a funky knee) this fix feels hugely better.

All in all, a really worthwhile expenditure of time and money. Jess is like a bespoke tailor, mixed with a kinesiologist and a bike mechanic. A true intersection of art and science. She sends me away with a new understanding of my body and how it's issues intersect with my bike (and a new stem and a demo saddle to try out).

But the true test comes tonight on the road (I hope -- Michigan has been enjoying some weather that has me happy to own a drift boat as it means constructing an ark won't be necessary). Stay tuned!


08 June, 2015

Dry Fly Adventure

Had the pleasure of a dry fly adventure float with Capt. Jon Ray over the weekend. I've done a little dry fly fishing, but only once before out of a boat. I know enough to understand how technical this style of fishing can be. Being in the right place, at the right time, with the right cast and presentation can mean the difference between a successful outing and a skunking.

Found a dumb one (the fish)!
Fortunately, Saturday was a successful outing. We were floating a section of the Manistee river known for its big fish - but not for quantity. Jon knows I'm always up for a research project, so this stretch was chosen to give him some more knowledge on it. Plus, it's linking up some sections I've floated before. A definite dry fly adventure.

One big challenge for this adventure - angler skills. My dry fly casting skills are among my weaknesses. Blame chasing smallmouth bass and steelhead. Throwing a sink-tip, spey rod, or popper on a heavy line has a tendency to make you lazy. Plus, I haven't put in the casting practice I need this season.

A few lessons learned:

  1. Slow down. Slow down your cast. Slow down your hookset. Slow down and watch the water ahead for rises. Just slow the eff down overall.  
  2. There are no second chances. Trout are smart. prick 'em and miss a hookset and they vanish like a ghost.
  3. Sometimes, there are second chances. But they're few and far between. I got lucky and missed a fish on a jet set. This was a dumb one, as she started rising a few moments later. On the second try, I got her!
  4. This is a lifelong skill. We fished with one of Jon's long-time frequent clients. This guy had a story of a lost fish around every bend. He's done this a LOT. He had skills I didn't even know I lacked. 
  5. Missed fish will haunt you. I missed what looked like a nice fish on a too-fast hookset. This one wasn't dumb enough to come back. Was it my mythical two-footer? Maybe, but we'll never know.
  6. Rowing for dry fly anglers is harder than it looks. To give Jon a break, and because I'm always happy for some constructive criticism, I took the sticks for a while. In the two years I've owned my boat, I've gotten fairly competent with the basics of maneuvering the boat, river position, etc. But in dry fly adventures, I learn that now you have to watch the front fly and try to match boat speed to presentation.
  7. I need to do this more. A lot more. It's fun and relaxing. But it's also demanding and you need the skills to keep up. The more I do this, the better angler I'll become.
  8. I love my Abel clicker reels. My AC2 was ideal for my 6 weight Scott A4, and my Classic is perfect beneath the G2. There's nothing quite like the purr of those clickers.
An excellent day/evening on a beautiful river. And, as a bonus, I learned something. If you're looking to up your dry fly game, I highly recommend Jon, or any of the guys at Hawkins Outfitters.