Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Camera Choices

I received a pre-Christmas note from a friend on which camera to buy and I thought about it and wrote back. FWIW, I'm sharing my thoughts ...

On cameras, the brand I've worked with is Canon. It's been good. I went there because I thought the digital color was strong and pro usage is pretty extensive ... though of course there are flame wars between Nikon and Canon. Both brands offer exceptional options. Here's what I've looked at and work with --

Point and Shoot -- the top rated two options are the Canon G10 (now the G11) or the Leica D-Lux 4. I bought the Canon G10 for about $500 and subsequently lusted after the Leica for about $700. (The Leica has some awesome image quality for a small camera and a certain elite appeal.) However, as I got used to the Canon, my lust faded. Leica, while nice, is too "precious" ... not as sturdy as the Canon, no auto lens cover, a little harder to set. The Canon G10 or G11 gives you a lot: Great image quality, the ability to shoot in RAW format (and, subsequently, edit/post-process native image files without loss of quality ... this is really important to me). Plus it has a pretty bomb-proof metal case and feels okay in the hands.

On the digital SLR, there are a lot of options. I started with Canon's Rebel for about $500, and moved up to the 5D (which cost new about $3,000). But, really, many Canon SLR bodies will be just fine, particularly as you get started. The key thing that makes the difference is the quality of the lens. The kit lens I got with the Rebel was pretty weak, about a $100 thing ... the images were never very sharp. My first higher end lens was the Canon 70-200 F4L, about a $600 deal (non-I/S). The damn thing delivers great results, all my shots at bike races (including candids) are from that lens, both on the Rebel and the 5D. Subsequently, I added the 24-70 F2.8L (the wedding "brick") and I'm probably going to get the 135 F2L before my next overseas trip. So, I'd recommend a reasonably inexpensive digital SLR like the Rebel or a used 20D or 30D, and spend more money on good glass -- which you'll keep using if you move the camera body up the food chain.

One advantage of the point and shoot is that it is portable and mostly self-contained -- e.g., it has its own flash, no need (or ability) to change the lens. The SLR is more complicated (and more capable, as you grow ... some pros, though, like Chase Jarvis think the iPhone is the best thing since sliced bread (mostly because it's easily ubiquitous ... if there's good light).)

There are lots of review sites out there. I think Fred Miranda is among the best --

So, these are my starting thoughts. Get something you like, that feels right, and shoot a lot. Henri Cartier-Bresson, my favorite photographer, said something like "Your first 50,000 shots will be bad, so get them over with." It's a great art form, and way to remember things you like, your family, the mountains.

The other piece of the equation is what you do after you take the pictures. I discussed this here.

Anyway ... I hope you have a great holiday and that photography brings you as much satisfaction as it does me.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Favorite 2009 Pictures

I probably took fewer bike race pictures this year than in past years, but I took more nature pictures. I think my quality settled down a bit. I had more fun. Here are a few favorites with comments. Originals are posted at You can click through pix to download high resolution or order prints.

Nathan at Fitchburg

This is my personal favorite. I like the black and white, the contrast of youth and harsh context. My son Nathan following a national-level road race where he fought to win second, solo, against the powerful Hot Tubes squad. A couple months past his 18th birthday. Nathan is an exhausted but matured warrior here, something I mark as a turning point. Nate continued the 2009 season to set ever higher marks, achieving Category 1, winning big races, besting pros, and riding to a silver at the USA Junior championships.

Chris Kelley at Kelley Acres Cross

I've known Chris over the years and been fortunate to grab some nice images. I like the ethereal lighting and how Chris's beauty and wisdom penetrate. Outdoors on her farm.

Andy Wulfkuhle at Capital Classic Cyclocross

This is "Bad Andy" Wulfkuhle, 2009 Pennsylvania Cyclocross Champion. (Apology -- I had mislabeled him as Wes Schempf in an earlier post.) I like this gritty image.

Joellen and Pam Mauch at Reston Town Center

Mother and daughter in the rain. I like this pairing, generational beauty with a sense of both je ne sais quoi and knowing.

Bobby Phillips at Turkey Day

The Baltimore Bullet is one of the winningest cyclists to grace our region. A friend, one who has given much. This shot is of Bobby as he memorializes his mother and father at the start of the annual race he hosts in Maryland.

Middle Child at Wilmington

This reminds me of a Sally Mann picture. The girl looks defiant and perhaps angry, her brothers watching the bike race, her mother laden with her next sibling.

Young Racer at Tour de FCCC

I like the lighting and color balance with his one, the strand of hair (click through to zoom). I recall that she won her class. Beautiful.

West Side Road, Mount Rainier, Nisqually Bridge

This was an important part of a journey for me, some time off in raw nature. I wrote a blog post on this.

Deschutes River, Mount Bachelor (USAC Nationals)

This was one of those virgin nature shots, refreshing. I grabbed it after an 80 mile loop riding around Mount Bachelor in Oregon. Makes me want to drink the cool water, put on my backpack and head out.

Ethiopia Healthcare Network

My next big round of photography comes in January 2010 when I travel to Ethiopia. I'll be working (volunteering) for the Ethiopia Healthcare Network charity and related programs in Addis Ababa. Below is a favorite shot from my Ethiopia work in 2007. These children in Dukem are yearning for (and need) healthcare.

Have a wonderful New Year! -- Jim

Questions for LeAlem

I'm conducting a site visit to LeAlem Higher Clinic in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on January 17-31, 2010. This is a scratchpad of thoughts for that trip, with background and draft vision and questions. Comments or suggestions on this blog, at Facebook, or email to me are welcome.


We founded Ethiopia Healthcare Network (EHN), a 501(c)3 non-profit, in December 2008 and started the LeAlem project in October 2009.

About two years ago, in November 2007, John Wimberly and I visited LeAlem and met its medical director, Dr. Alemayehu (Dinku) Gebrehiwot. When a clinic construction project we were working on -- the "Clinic at Dukem," south of Addis -- became ensnared by local politics early in 2008, we turned to Dr. A. to consider a different approach. We shifted from infrastructure development to healthcare delivery, in order to more immediately provide benefit to needful patients.

Dinku (pictured above) is an amazing individual. He regularly works 12-14 hour days, seeing many tens of patients. He is noble, dedicated, smart and humble. With EHN support, LeAlem serves 100 additional patients each month, patients who cannot afford and would not otherwise receive professional care. EHN's October 2009 grant enabled LeAlem to hire an additional doctor, social worker and nurse.

Our focus is mothers and children who do not have access to professional medical care. We do this because it concentrates resources and will help us achieve excellence, and because we believe children and their mothers are the seed corn and binding force of a community. As EHN grows, we'll likely have projects that support more broadly-based community healthcare, particularly in rural areas.

This is a long-term effort, and we are only at the beginning of the beginning, a couple months into our first project.


EHN is fortunate to be headquartered in Foggy Bottom, Washington, DC, near the White House and blocks from the State Department, international development organizations, and a major university and medical school. EHN's Board is an exceptional team of experts, individuals who were born in Ethiopia, generous patrons, and well-connected professionals.

We envision the EHN "network" drawing upon resources in the Washington area and helping them to deliver value -- charity, healthcare -- a continent away, in a place orders of magnitude less fortunate. Beyond leveraging DC resources, in the long term we envision EHN clinics and projects across Ethiopia networking, working together and with regional resources, NGOs, government and other organizations to provide care, alleviate suffering and improve outcomes.

So what's next? We have started a project that is delivering meaningful results (see link), at low cost. My focus and line of inquiry for the LeAlem visit will be on how we can help, how we can enable. How can we better serve the great mission of delivering medical care, relieving suffering, and improving outcomes -- while responsibly stewarding EHN resources and talents? What shared vision can we develop and support?

While in Addis, I will meet with Dinku at length and meet with all the staff supported by EHN. I will shadow Dinku and his clinic, open to close, observing activity and interventions, and develop anecdotal case studies describing EHN-supported work and challenges.

In addition, I'm scheduled to meet with NGO and government officials, and tour a few other medical and social work centers, including Biruh Tesfah (Bright Future), which cares for displaced girls and women, many from rural Ethiopia, and helps them develop skills and gain traction in the urban economy.


Here are draft questions to explore at LeAlem. These will likely change based on research, feedback from partners, and cogitation.
  1. What is Dinku's vision for program expansion? How could we help with next steps? What are the limits of LeAlem's current capacity?

  2. Could Dinku envision working as a center of the EHN network, with additional clinics in Ethiopia, locations in Addis as well as rural areas? What scenarios are plausible? Would others be willing to take on roles in this area? What resources would be required?

  3. How would we identify new projects? Do any new projects come to mind?

  4. Considering different time frames -- one year, three years, five years -- how might the LeAlem program evolve? What additional resources make sense? Could a telemedicine program, with specialists from GWU online, be feasible? Would it make sense to rotate med students in with LeAlem, perhaps in combination with the large Black Lion hospital in Addis?

  5. Who are we serving? Where do the EHN LeAlem patients come from? Where do they go? Do LeAlem patients need and receive follow-up? What are post-treatment outcomes? What degree of the EHN work is preventative?

  6. Are there meaningful, additional community needs to be addressed -- sanitation, hygiene, education, housing, clean water -- needs that severely impact the outcome of LeAlem patient care? Can we make a difference here? How? What partners or coalition?

  7. Who are our partners? Are we collaborating with local government agencies, NGOs, family care providers, other health care providers? Should we work to strengthen relationships like these? What are the risks and benefits?

  8. Given our focus on women and children, is there more we can do? Gynecological/urological expertise? Neonatal? What are the most significant problems for this population? Can we do better?

  9. What vaccine programs are available for children? Pneumococcal vaccine? Could we partner with or help form an immunization program for client children?

  10. How does LeAlem handle HIV cases? Is there a referral structure (e.g., PEPFAR) that works? Are we connected to a program to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV?

  11. Are there elements that EHN's current LeAlem project is missing? Equipment, medicines, infrastructure, staffing, management? How could we be better? Are there parts that are inefficient?

  12. Are we measuring the right things? How is the patient case tracking data valuable? Research, trend analysis, publication, quality assurance, follow-up, grants, government reports, support for fundraising?

  13. How can EHN volunteers help? Money, politics, collaboration, clinical or technological expertise, NGO contacts?

  14. Does it make senses for Dinku and/or LeAlem staff to come to the US, for advocacy, training or other reasons?
These are a few topical areas, probably all weighty, we look forward to examining. Other logistical matters are well in play -- from lodging to setting up meetings in Addis with NGOs, diplomats and the like. Ideally, I'd like to return to DC with at least one or two pieces for publication, to help grow the charity.

The end goal, the site visit purpose, is to help EHN learn how it can do more to deliver care to underserved patients, efficiently and effectively, and to gain assurance that our resources and talents are being well-applied.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

LeAlem Progress Report, November 2009

This is an extract of LeAlem Higher Clinic's November 2009 progress report, furnished under terms of an Ethiopia Healthcare Network (EHN) maternal and child care program grant. Located Addis Ababa, LeAlem is headed by Dr. Alemayehu (Dinku) Gebrehiwot, a specialist in pediatrics, obstetrics and emergency medicine

In summary, during the second month of operation, LeAlem exceeded numerical benchmarks set by the grant, caring for 103 patients. Ninety-two percent (92%) of the patients had annual income below $100 US per year; the balance of patients had annual income of $100-200 per year. Ninety-seven percent (97%) of post-school age patients were female.

Without EHN support, all patients would not have had access to professional healthcare. Patient outcomes were largely positive, alleviating suffering, treating disease, and supporting improved pre-natal and infant health.

Patients were treated for a diverse range of diagnoses, including pneumonia, head injury, reproductive complications, pregnancy, diarrhea/intestinal disorder, gangrene, hemiparesis, urinary tract infection, seizure, candidiasis, asthma, metastatic cancer, adverse reaction to anti-retroviral therapy (ART), and Parkinson's disease.

Ethiopia Healthcare Network (EHN) appears to have effected a highly successful launch of the LeAlem program. A more extensive quarterly report will be provided in January 2010. Additional assessment and case study data will be developed during an upcoming site visit.

Based in Washington, DC, EHN seeks further support and volunteers to enable measured growth in healthcare programs. Volunteer needs include fundraising, administrative, multimedia development and research support. For information, please see the EHN
web site or email

Secure, online donations may be made at
this link. EHN is a 501(c)3 charitable organization; donations are tax deductible. Thank you.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Rockburn Cyclocross, 11.22.2009

Lovely fall day at Rockburn, everyone was home. Nate came in from Boulder for Thanksgiving break, and Care returned from a six-day spin through Pine Bluff, Paris and Hannover. I hadn't shot a bike race for a couple months. It was nice to reconnect with the scene, see friends, and watch the boys. Perhaps sad to say, my photographic interests and best pictures vector toward people and nature rather than cycling. At Rockburn, held in a small park near Baltimore, I worked a little to mix the three. In the shot below, the tangled tree is the focus. The blue rider came into it.

Below is elite race leader Wes Schempf. Nice (almost jungle looking) woods detail, Wes looking over his shoulder, black and white moire.

Shot the cyclocross race a little slower than a criterium or road race, because action is a little slower. Also, lower light in the woods made slower shutter speed helpful. Experimented a bit. About half shots were manual focused. This helped in woods; I could make sure an interesting tree or such was sharp, and shoot the rider when s/he came into focus.

Of course, family trumps. Here's a top-bottom of Avery (blue bike) and Nathan. And, as common, dogs.

Full album
here. Thank you.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Off the Grid – Mount Rainier

“This greatest of American mountains with its living glaciers and magnificent forests.” -- Floyd Shmoe, A Year in Paradise

Thursday PM, November 5

After near a week of Microsoft SQLServer conferencing in Seattle -- a great conference, PASS, -- I went off grid. Drove down in the rain to Mount Rainier National Park. Renewed my annual Golden Eagle pass and drove straight to the end of the road, the Paradise area, base for climbing expeditions and the Jackson Visitors Center. The road beyond was closed due to snow and ice. My plan was to tramp about Friday and take a lot of pictures. This evening’s aim was framing, to get a feel for where the shots could be, to learn the lay of the land somewhat. It was beautiful. I did about 100 exposures in the half-light of late afternoon, with heavy overcast and light drizzle or wet snow.

I had thought to go down to Mount Saint Helens Saturday, on my way back to Seattle’s airport. But, I don’t know, Rainier is so extensive, so grand, I decided to stay in one place and go a little deeper. To hike and touch a glacier, many thousand-years-old ice, now dissipated due to global warming.

My lodgings were rustic, sort of. The National Park Inn at Mount Rainier (Longmire), an old place that reminds me of the Peruvian at Alta … shared baths, creaky stairs, good, hearty food, smoky fireplaces, red wine, no WiFi or cell.

Sat by the fire reading Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains, about Deo, a survivor of Burundi genocide, medical student, and later Partners In Health acolyte (under Paul Farmer) and clinic founder. Fits with my Ethiopia healthcare work (EHN), inspiring, painful.


Woke early, about 5 AM. Raining out. Finished Kidder’s read. By breakfast, precipitation turned to snow, then back to rain. High at Longmire predicted at 39 degrees F. Wet, cold. Hiking today will be "manly."

Wake-up hike around Longmire and across Nisqually River. Pretty meadows, tall evergreens. Waiting for main gate up to mountain to open (following snow-clear operations). At ll:00 AM, main gate opened but restrictions set for tire chains, which I didn’t have, so out of luck. Drove instead a few miles up West End Road, caught some nice field/stream/rock images. On way back to Longmire, it appeared that tire chain restrictions were lifted, so I drove on up the mountain. Light drizzle at start, quickly shifted to heavy snow, about 4-6” deep on sides. Halfway to Paradise, I quit. Turned about and low-geared and white knuckled it slowly back to Longmire. Lunch then book-reading by the fire. No big hike.

Reading my book I looked out and saw snow had stopped. I grabbed my gear and ran to the car. Drove up to about 4,000’ and stopped at the “chains required” sign. Shot some nice pix at Nisqually bridge, very cool. Cold depth, glacial moraine, snow and fog. Headed back down to Longmire. On the way, light improved and I saw patch of blue sky. U-turned. This time, drove past chains-required sign, up until ice began to grip. Pulled into Narada Falls overlook and shot some nice pix. Retreated with a few more pix stops to Longmire. Hearty dinner – pasta primavera and white wine -- and off to read and write by fire, then bed. Forecast calls for much snow and cold, snow for next five days. Will work my way back to Seattle airport tomorrow. Awesome.


Looked out window, pre-dawn. Elk grazing in front of Inn, one rubbing antlers on tree, stripping bark with teeth. Lumbered down for breakfast. Steady rain. Read a bit more of Schmoe’s A Year in Paradise, about his post-WWI honeymoon over the winter as a snow-bound keeper with his new bride at Paradise Inn. Schmoe’s lifelong conservation efforts did much good, earning many plaudits, including nominations for Nobel Prize. Inspiring. Rain at Longmire meant snow higher up, mountain tops were glazed white, and unlikely success in my coaxing the tiny rental car past the chains-required zone. So I packed, loaded-up and drove towards civilization.

Stopped at an amazing art gallery outside park, Ashford Creek Pottery. Spent an hour talking with proprietor Rick Johnson, also a school teacher. Many interesting stories, shared interests. Famous climbers and artists had passed through, record holders for Everest ascents, survivors of high-altitude horrors, Mount Rainier naturalists, park founding activists, novelist Tom Robbins, poet Theodore Roethke, mountaineer, writer and humanist Greg Mortenson, many more. An intellectual and artistic treasure trove, not larger than my living room, but immense.

After cell phone signal came live, stopped in Starbucks to shuffle travel arrangements, rushed to airport, grabbed non-stop to Washington Dulles. Less than 48 hours at Mount Rainier loomed enormous, edging me closer to increased environmental activism.


Home safe Sunday and working pix on big screen Mac Pro. Uploaded original pics here. Facebook cross-posting with additional notes here.

Enjoy! (Christmas card photo below?)

Monday, October 19, 2009

EHN Awards Maternal and Infant Healthcare Grant

Washington, D.C., October 19, 2009 -- Ethiopia Healthcare Network (EHN) announced award of an initial maternal and infant healthcare grant to LeAlem Higher Clinic in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The competitive award will enable LeAlem to care for 100 patients each month, patients who would not otherwise be able to afford or have access to professional medical care. Under the grant, LeAlem will hire medical and social work staff and buy medicine and equipment. LeAlem is headed by Dr. Alemayehu (Dinku) Gebrehiwot, Medical Director, a specialist in pediatrics, obstetrics and emergency medicine.

On learning of the award, Dr. Alemayehu said, "[EHN's] support is a godsend. We will now be able to treat more patients among my country's most needful population." Only about 52% of Ethiopians have access to healthcare services; less than 6% of women have access to a health professional while giving birth [1]. Ethiopian women have a 1 in 27 chance of dying during childbirth. Many suffer devastating complications like ruptured uteri or fistula -- complications which, according to the United Nations Population Fund, are preventable [2]. EHN's mission is to alleviate these problems.

Through the EHN grant, according to LeAlem, each day five persons who would not otherwise have access will receive healthcare, 25 persons per week, and 100 persons in a month for six months. Thus, the health of children and women will be kept and these beneficiaries will perform their normal duties and strengthen their bread winning activities. Women will be healthy and take care of their family, children will be healthy, and school dropout will be reduced. The EHN grant provides not just for in-clinic care, but also social worker outreach to identify those most in need and monitor and support post-clinic patient performance – e.g., patient home care, access to and taking medicines.

Washington, DC-based EHN is guided by a board of directors with expertise in obstetric and emergency medicine, information systems and telecommunications, Ethiopia and third-world development, and non-profit organizations. EHN will evaluate LeAlem performance under the initial grant, and work to increase and extend support and practices that prove most beneficial.

EHN President Rev. John W. Wimberly, Jr., notes, "We envision this effort and LeAlem as a highly-efficient model for care delivery and use of EHN resources. Our goal is to extend support based on this model to not just care for 100 people, but hundreds if not thousands of patients each month at LeAlem and similar clinics." In the next 2-5 years, Wimberly notes, "EHN plans to add clinics and extend services and capabilities to rural Ethiopia, where maternal and infant healthcare needs are also dire."

[1] 2005 Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey (FR179).

[2] Advocates Rally World Support to End Fistula, 6 July 2009, United National Population Fund.

Full press release here or PR Newswire.

LeAlem 2010 Picture Library
EHN Blogs

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fin de Semana ... Parks

Really nice weekend. Mellow Friday off with Care. Rode 80+ miles out to Purcellville and back; Care partnered through to Ashburn. Saturday, last U19 race of season, Juniors' Day Out. Awesome squad swept most categories (overlooking our champion's crash with 100 meters to go). Pic of the big guns below.

Avery (above, far right) built up his new 54 cm team frame (upsize from 48). He's had a good year and next year, racing age 16, will be awesome. Probably national championships, with a number of teammates. Sunday slept in (to 6:30 AM), meandered through WashPost and Times, a few cups of coffee. Dickered with Ethiopia healthcare press release and such. After lunch tuned in Ken Burns' "National Parks: America's Best Idea" on hi-def. Extraordinary!

Burns is a great photographer. The national park (and John Muir) story is compelling. Today's chapter featured Yosemite and Yellowstone, places I could return to again and again (if only I had time). (I remember backpacking through Lamar Valley with my sister when I was 15, and later showing my children and Care.) High mountains, rivers, trees do much for me.

Here's a recent shot of Rocky Mountain National Park; we may visit in a couple weeks when we see Nate.

Stirred by Burns, I hopped on my bike and headed to the national park closest to my house, the C&O towpath (Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park), rode out to Great Falls National Park (Maryland), rode back streets home through Potomac Palisades and Arlington. It was raining a little when I left, then the sun came out, so the water and trees had that luxurious warm hue and mist. No camera on the ride.

Saturday, took a few pics of 15-18 year old race and crowd candids, posted here. In Oregon I did a no-no, quickly changing lenses at a wine party. Got some dust and fiber on the CCD (sensor). As a result, many of the subsequent images had to be retouched to clear the junk, slows down post processing and frustrating. A week ago, I dropped my 5D at ProPhoto -- 1902 Eye Street, NW -- for a sensor and lens cleaning. Very pleased with results -- don't have to spend 10 minutes retouching a landscape with a black strand and freckles ruining the sky.

Also this weekend I threw up some old shots from Nate's graduation and Care's recent work trip to Italy. (She took the G10 and it worked pretty well -- middle shot below.) As my technique settles down I'm finding myself trying to find more avant-garde shots and processing. I like the good fellow pictured at bottom.

Busy week ahead. Cheers.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Los Passionarios ...

Full weekend: Funeral for a friend; rides with Care in Poolesville, Ave at Schaeffer, many laps at Hains; Skype with Nate; 24th Anniversary dinner at Blue Ridge (extraordinary! -- thanks, Eli) ... Lovely weather ...

Ode, written 12.26.2002, ever more true. Happy Anniversary, Care!

Angel Time

Is real time.

Waking, she stretches, bends low, showers -- warm
water, soap over her gentle breasts, long legs. Dry
towel, clothes, coffee, yogurt. Early, very early,
she goes off, mind set, clear in her mission, caring
for my health, humanity's health, touching crystals
deep in the mountain, invisible to all but a few
modest priests of this new science.

In her laboratory, she scans gels run overnight,
tabulates bars marking amino acids, sets the course
for her staff (diverse like exotic flowers). On to her
desk, cased by paper stacks, a sunny corner, she scans
email. Emergency! A young boy has leukemia; second
case. Gene therapy has stopped. What to do? She
carries this pain, silent and secret.

A new mission unfolds. Children, born with broken genes,
unimmune to even simple colds, die very young. The new
treatment, gene therapy, bolsters the system and gives
these wee souls a new, normal life. Then came leukemia,
white cells out of control. Two of fifteen, what to do?
Politicos will call, "Gene therapy must end." Pulpits
may rage; the French march. Should fifteen have died?

Alive by a slender thread, their fate of early death
passed over, what will be their future? What is the mark
of science? Think, check, analyze. Do no harm.

Silently she comes home, stirs dinner, guides her two
boys through homework. Dad comes in, a normal day
casting software, done. We supper, touch on publishable
events, negotiate our family agenda. The kids are
released to games, we settle in bed, under a down
comforter. I turn and touch the belly of an angel.

"How was your day?" I ask. Only she sleeps, deep in
her only time.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


I've shifted gears on the fitness front. Usually, this time of year, I've dropped about 15 pounds, the result of riding over spring and summer. No such luck this year, though I've ridden hard. What happened? In March I started Lyrica (pregabalin), a seizure med that is experimentally used to treat central pain syndrome -- from which I increasingly suffer, due to adolescent traumatic brain injury and aging. Lyrica has helped with pain and improved my sleep architecture, but it added pounds and blurred my vision. So I'm weaning myself from the drug and increasing my fitness regimen. I've hired a personal trainer and nutritional consult; bought a high-end Retul bike fit; cleaned-up our home workout room; and am riding as intensely as ever.

Results so far are promising. I do weight training twice a week, ride 100-200 miles/week, and have trimmed my diet. My weight is down a few ticks, and should drop more quickly as my muscle build/burn rate amps. With the weaning, my pain (mostly left peripheral with some spasticity) is increased but tolerable for now. In a couple weeks, I meet with the folks at Georgetown to discuss an intrathecal baclofen pump -- an implanted device to push a low-dose into my spine. Given my current tolerance, I think this may not yet be appropriate, but it's good to understand the option.

Life is good. I feel bad that this pain stuff has taken some engagement off the table -- fewer good days to enjoy with Care and the boys, lost athleticism. The human condition.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Rocky Mountain National Park, 8.21.2009

At Denver airport. Flight to BWI delayed due to weather/tornado warning in Maryland. Hope everybody is okay. Blog time ... Home 2:00 AM (8/22).

Great day tramping (driving, hiking) around Rocky Mountain National Park. Posted some pictures here (start of series). About an hour drive north of Boulder. Very twisty last half into Estes Park, at 7,522' ... park roads climbed to over 12,000' ... highest in the country. Quite a few cyclists suffering the climbs, descending faster than cars. I thought I saw Levi Leipheimer in red Gila jersey ... probably not.

Saw some nicer parts of Estes Park than I remembered from my Fort Collins/HP consulting days' visits (c. 1992). Very nice little town. But the gem is the park. Enormous mountains, made accessible by ridge top drive (Trail Ridge Road). When I see that awesome beauty, I'm astounded, uplifted. Maybe I can do some backpacking there next summer. Viva!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Boulder/RMNP, 8.19-21.2009

It didn't hit me until we were making the bed in his dorm room (dorm pic above), spreading the mattress pad, tucking in the comforter. Inwardly, I started to cry. I love doing the small things, taking care of him ... not to coddle but to enable, soigneur. Later, we shook hands, hugged quickly, a bit awkwardly (his roommate was there), and said goodbye. He was off. Later, I saw him in Kelly kit, heading out to ride up one of the canyon roads that lace the mountains behind Boulder. This is a wonderful place for Nate, the best I think. A great university, awesome riding, many pro riders.

About 3 PM I drove to the Chautauqua Park (pics above), hiked a beautiful five mile loop, to the base of the Flatirons. Then I drove up to the top of Flagstaff for a few more walkabouts and pics. Yesterday, to open up his legs, Nathan rode up Flagstaff. It's a pretty awesome climb (pic below). That guy's got legs. Seeing the beauty and the tens of riders on Flagstaff strengthened my conviction that this place fits.

Tomorrow, I'll drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park, about 45 minutes north, for more walkabouts and pics. Then, semi-redeye home, into BWI at midnight. Venga!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Shifting Gears, 8.16.2009

Big, interesting weekend. Long 80-mile ride with lots of climbing (5,660') in the Shenandoah valley Friday (my AWS day), fast hot criterium in Millersbug Saturday (I took pictures, Nate took 4th), and follow-up ride Sunday. We're shifting gears a bit. I take Nathan to University of Colorado/Boulder to start his freshman year later this week, Avery continues high school after Labor Day, and the bike race season is tapering. That said, it's been great ... a silver medal at Junior Natz for Nate, two bronzes for NCVC's Steve Black, and a number of additional top ten finishes among our squad ... good progression by riders among the categories with sharp, region-leading results by many. I really enjoy helping kids advance in bike racing. And I like a good ride.

Shifting gears? My sense is that I'm going to dive-in more to get in shape, to burn the pounds a bit and build strength. I turn 50 in a couple months and, while I doubt I'll get another 50, I'd like to get as many as possible, as competent and pain free as possible. So to stay engaged and fit.

On the engagement front, I need to rev-up the Africa project. I'm going over this fall. I helped found a clinic program that each month serves 100+ women and children in Addis-Ababa that would not otherwise receive pre-natal or infant care. It's a good thing. We will increase the program's scope and reach, serving more patients and deepening technical and medical resources. That requires money and partnership-building with folks like World Bank and GWU medical school. That's my (volunteer) job. We'll get there. More later.

Enjoy pictures from Millersburg posted here. (Pretty good work in bright sun; normal manual focus techniques described in preceding posts.) On Friday I rode this route, a loop from Front Royal over Edinburg Gap, the heart of the Shenandoah valley. While I burned 5,000+ kCal, I took my time at it. Nice lunch at Cucina Italiana in Edinburg, bigger dinner finale at Soul Mountain in Front Royal. On Sunday I'm riding the Marshall route over Mount Weather. While both rides are good, I miss the longer, simpler rides out west, where you can do 90 miles and 6,000' and only have to take three or four turns. Because I'm new to this weekend's routes, I had to stop briefly every 5-10 miles (or less) to check my cue sheet for the next left or right ... 40-turns kind of messes up the long distance flow.

Anyway, it feels good. Onward and upward.

PS -- Got to Marshall and forgot my shoes ... so retreated to Arlington and rode local.

Monday, August 3, 2009

In Bend, Wrap-Up -- August 3, 2009

We left Bend yesterday, drove 3 hours to an airport hotel, woke early, did the shell game of major luggage drop-off (6 bikes, bags, etc. … two $20s to the porter), rental car return and taxi back. On plane – Southwest Air 3 stops PDX to BWI.

Looking back, in my view, we had an exceptional two weeks: three podium medals, a bunch of top tens, including results for Nate and both Stevens. Nate did his first NRC race, besting many elite U23 and professional riders, etching his great strength in mountain stages. Most importantly, we had a lot of fun, on and off the bike, small parties and klatches with friends, outdoor and coffee table experiences.

I loved Bend, central Oregon. It’s a beautiful area, capturing the wonder of the high desert and the alpine glory of real (10,000’+) mountains. Photographically, it was a smash hit. Working with the 24-70L I produced some of my favorite pictures yet. I want to develop a new genre in my collection, “ecology,” for landscapes and nature like this shot of the young Deschutes or this Crater landscape.

What worked? I think the accommodations, Lavabelles were a great hit. A big house would also have worked, at a lower price, but it wouldn’t have had the separation and connectedness we got in our row of three adjacent bungalows. The big ass Chevy Silverado truck was great: I’d never driven such a beast, but it was so easy to transport so many bikes, luggage, up to five guys, ice coolers and stuff. It was a nice beachhead in the feed zones. Having two coaches, with mechanic, soigneur, masseuse and other magic abilities provided the highest level of care for the racers. The gentle freedom we all had, aided by our location, where anyone could walk around the corner to the Taco Stand (with the Boswell Challenge!), or a few blocks into town to a great coffee shop or suds or wine bar or cafĂ© or art gallery … or we could take off on a bike and get a perfect ten-mile uphill effort for training, or an epic 100-mile century through breathtaking landscapes, or something in between.

Technologically, I/we travel like bomb makers, with more than a dozen electronic devices, from chargers to multiple laptops, Garmins and a half-dozen USB devices and a bunch of different storage blocks – and several cameras and lenses, air guns and the like. Of course, amping the bomb-maker theme, we had a quarter chest of tools, bottles of lubricant, and greasy rags for maintaining bikes.

What didn’t work? Mostly, everything went well except for the one tragedy that a bike was stolen from the Kendall’s rental house. Things like that are always stingers, for me, making things gloomy. The feeder driving directions at Cascades were laughably and consistently bad – don’t those people actually use maps or drive the directions they provide? Oh well, I guess we may finally invest in a portable GPS unit for the car. Got to see a lot more countryside and only missed one feed for Nate. (Next year, we’ll know better.) The riders were naturally cracked at the end of the day, in the afternoon, so they weren’t up for much venturing, like a river float or walk about at Smith Rock, but that didn’t stop their soigneurs from getting out and about a bit.

No, all in all this was a great trip. Can’t wait for more.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

In Bend -- USAC Nationals, 7.28 - 8.2.2009

USA Cycling (USAC) Junior National Road Cycling Championships

Podium 1 -- Road Race -- Nathan Wilson (2nd), Steve Black (3rd)

Podium 2 -- Criterium -- Steve Black (3rd)

My son Nathan is competing in the 17-18 year old category, as is NCVC's Steven Black. NCVC's Steve Kendall is competing in the 15-16 year old category. I head the National Capital Velo Club Juniors (age 10-18) program. Blog entries are in reverse chron order. (Nate's parallel blog posts are here.)

Sunday, August 2, 2009 -- 17-18 y.o. Criterium

Another podium! Steve Black grabs third, following a grueling 3 man break (pictured below) off the front and a sprint finish on the 50K course. We're in Portland now, Holiday Inn, recovering from three hour drive and an exciting day at the races (and last night's party ...).

Saturday, August 1, 2009 -- 15-16 y.o. Criterium

News Flash -- Awesome Avery, my 15 year-old son, grabs 2nd in the U19 criterium in Warrenton, Virginia ... a part of the 540 race series. This against a stacked field. Bodes well for today and tomorrow's crits in Bend ...

Today at 3:00 PM, Steve Kendall, NCVC's 16 year-old powerhouse, races in the 15-16 year old criterium in southwest Bend (across from the Old Mill area). I'm headed off for a 90-mile loop around Mount Bachelor as my last ride in Bend. Watch Steve's crit, then pack the bike and take it to FedEx. Nate and Steve Black have big downtown crits a 10:30 AM Sunday. This should be a good race for both men. After the Sunday crit, we drive to Portland, overnight and fly home Monday.

Steve Kendall does awesome powerhouse move in crit, but crash in first lap (where Steve went down) bent his derailleur hanger, so shifting was uneven ... and his move got reeled in because Steve couldn't stand-up and hit it for finishing sprint. (When he stood, the gears went flaky.) Without these technical difficulties, I place Steven on podium. Alas, he picked up first page (of results list) ... worthy of a celebration!

I left the house about 8:00 AM for an epic 93 mile ride up and around Mount Bachelor. Sue and Pierre were a bit behind me, having left Lavabelles at 8:20 AM. The ride was truly epic (for me), wonderful and exciting for about the first 80 miles. Up and over Bachelor, at 6,400', a tough 20 mile climb, increasing inclination each mile, to the final push over the top. Following last Wednesday's cruise in the rain/snow, where I rode with great caution, in today's dry heat, I let go and descended the curvy backside of Bachelor without once applying brakes (although I sat up from time to time, increasing wind resistance, decreasing speed). Beautiful ride, 5,256' climbing and 5,471 calories burned, max speed 42.31 mph. I mitigated my high calorie burn with a stop at Elk Lake Resort where I downed two Hagen-Daz ice creams.

Downside was at about mile 82, having broken my left cleat on final climb, my left heel slid into the rear wheel and took out 4-5 spokes, making bike unusable. I walked a couple miles until a nice crew in a Volkswagen camper (the official vehicle of Bend) picked me up and gave me a lift to Steve's crit ... All things considered, minor disasters, a great day! Garmin road trip map and elevation capture below.

Friday, July 31, 2009 -- Time Trials

24 Kilometer time trials today, up and back on Skyliners Road, up a long steady, 8 mile climb towards (but not as far as) Tumalo Creek, then back. Steve Kendall is off at 11:04 AM. Steve Black about 12:15 PM, and Nathan at 12:32 PM. Venga!

Steve Kendall in the start house, 15-16 y.o. Time Trial U.S. National Championships

Nathan Wilson with 1K to go, 17-18 Time Trial U.S. National Championships

We had exceptional results. First off at 11:04 AM, 16 year old Steven Kendall won 10th place for the TT. He was followed by Steve Black, who finished "first page" (of the results sheet), passing three riders in front of him -- riders launch from the start house at 30 second intervals. Nathan wrapped up, placing 9th in the 17-18 year-old TT, a very, very solid result -- considering TT is not Nathan's specialty.

Sounds like we're heading off to Smith Rock State Park for an evening picnic, mountain bike ride, river float and what not. Another day!

Thursday, July 29, 2009 -- Road Race

Nathan wins 2nd, Steve Black gets 3rd. Massive props to both, to Sue Hefler/Pierre Pelletier of HP Coaching, and NCVC Juniors who developed these two champions.


Coach Pierre Pelletier, Nathan and Coach Sue Hefler

Reed and Steve Black

Long day, big celebratory lunch at Bend Burger (excellent! Franklin and Wall Streets). Podium 6:00 PM at REI. Nap time.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 -- No Races

While the U23 racers had a 120 mile road race, we had no events for our crew. I took a nice ride around Mount Bachelor, 53 miles, starting at a snow park on the east shoulder at 5,034' altitude (Garmin capture above). My strategy was to do the hardest hills first. My initial effort took me uphill for seven miles to the ski area base at 6,400'. As I came up the hill, dark clouds began to rumble and rain began -- although sunshine covered much of the area at lesser altitudes. As I swooped down off the mountain at 40+ mph, some of the rain turned to wet snow. Visibility was poor. I gripped my brakes tightly sweeping down S-curves and hoped I wouldn't hit ice. All turned out well as the downhill softened and I cruised. The balance of the ride consisted mostly of light rollers. I had good legs and was able to come in in 3 hours 38 minutes.

When I returned to my car I drove much of the course in order to take pictures. Some nice shots starting here and a couple below.

Near Deschutes Bridge, Forest Service Rd. 40

Mount Bachelor, from Sparks Lake

Deschutes River, Forest Service Rd. 40

When I returned to the house about 8 PM, the gang was in fiesta mode, having moved tables and chairs from our three bungalows into the back yard and cooked-up a taco and burrito feast. A good ending. Tomorrow, Nathan and Steve Black have their 70 mile road race for the national championship.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 -- 15-16 Road Race, 75 Km. (47 mi.)

We transitioned pretty well from the Cascades races, and the troops arrived ... lots more help. The wonderful Kendall family, Tom, Judy, Bradley and Steve; coaches Sue Hefler and Pierre Pelletier; and Steve Black ... father Reed arrives Wednesday night. So I had a lot less to worry about, less running around and getting organized. Our competition today was the 15-16 road race, where Steve K. rolled out into the high desert dry heat and hit his race hard. It was a 75 kilometer circuit with 14 laps over mostly gentle rollers and a few sharp turns. There was a pretty significant crash as the riders raced out of the high school starting area and got tripped-up around an intersection traffic circle. Luckily, Steve wasn't involved. An early break of three took the honors, riding off to a two-minute+ gap. Steve worked to bridge across but was stifled. He finished front of the main pack in 15th. A great effort and result, his second full day in Bend. More to come. Coach Sue's blog notes are here.

Shifting gears to vacation mode, I rode out the Skyliners time trial course and a bit more. Tomorrow, a no-race day for our crew, I hope to complete a 56-mile circuit around Mount Bachelor and grab some more photos in the Sparks Lake area (like this one), in the warm evening light and clear air (about 7:00 PM).