Thursday, December 29, 2011

Unmoored ...

I like the holiday interstice, Christmas to New Years', to get unmoored. There's less churn at work, almost no meetings, my email drops from 100 a day to a dozen or so. The holidays bring renewed family and social connection, reasons to reflect, measure change. I read deeper things, technical or policy. This week I've been into liquidity risk ... ƒ[certainty(value, time)] ... an interest of a client. Not that I need to be expert (my job is software), but it helps to know the customer, improve anticipation.

At home, we're about empty nesters. My youngest, age 17, is off to study in Granada, Spain. His older brother is soon to California, then broadly about the US and overseas racing bicycles. (May the wind be at his back.) So, there're refined things to do, like renegotiate kitchen duties, cooking for two, not four. Care and I are taking a short cooking course to fresh-up. My Africa avocation continues to grow, albeit more complex. I've got to work to fit new government regulations in Ethiopia. Likely we'll set a new partnership, then grant and development work, while continuing excellent healthcare. I anticipate a quick trip to Addis ... Tuesday, after New Year's, we re-animate, fast train to New York, then back to DC same-day. Moving away from thoughtful waters, into slalom gates and churn ... so it goes.

Click the pics for high-res ...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mad River

Enjoyed about two weeks in Vermont's Mad River valley, arriving on the heels of a devastating flood caused by Hurricane Irene. Many persons were displaced, long dumpster-sized piles of belongings and house-parts alongside road, in front of homes low and close to the river. Our travel was delayed because bridges and roads were washed out from the north, south, east and west. The four-day Green Mountain Stage Race (GMSR) was rerouted at the last minute and part-cancelled on day 4 due to more heavy rain. I was moved and impressed by Vermonters' resilience and appreciation for their government -- Hand-painted signs dotted the road with thank-yous to local authorities. (I wish this scaled to the national scene ...)

Son Avery rode intensely in his hardest race series of the year. No podiums, but we'll be back. It was pretty rainy, so we didn't get as much post-GMSR leisure riding as planned, but had lots of fun nonetheless. We visited Ben and Jerry's ice cream factory, scrambled nasty cuts on the Long Trail, rode the gondola and hiked Mount Mansfield at Stowe, mountain biked XC ski trails and single track, lunched at Trapp Family Lodge (Maria!), and more. A lot of quiet time playing games, talking, reading, dog walks, and meals with friends was a great refresher. Mad River helped to make us un-mad ...

More pics -- GMSR and Mad River, FB with notes.


Lareau Farm Inn / American Flatbread ... awesome ... Vermont local produce, organic, great beer ... classic !

Our wonderful cottage -- convenient to GMSR, biking, hiking, dining ... someone should grab it for next year (we'll probably be in Steamboat ...) ...

Trapp Family Lodge -- a great place to mountain bike, dine, pub, amble ...

Long Trail -- many great hikes, shelters ... legendary ...

Stowe ... great hiking, shopping about town, skiing in winter, biking ... full-on nature ....

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Not surprisingly, I've postponed my Tour d'Afrique adventure because of responsibilities of new job ... I have the time owed, but taking a month out in the first year doesn't fit ... Alas. Maybe 2013, or big ride with Care in Swiss or Hawaii instead ...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Relaunches ...

I wonder how this year will turn out. Much has changed for the better. New job. My older son survived a bad, bad situation (hit by a truck while biking). My younger son graduated high school. Both boys are doing great racing and pursuing their dreams. I'm re-engaging the medical charity in Ethiopia and riding my bike like hell, training for a trek in Africa.

This is a lot of stuff. My mantra is to keep things simple. It ties back to Grady Booch's principle: "A ruthless focus on simplification, minimization and clarification" is essential to (software architecture) success. I say this, but when things are spare, I tend to add things to get to a level of stress, requisite complexity (variety), I think I can manage. In this I perseverate, iteratively considering and adjusting, finding the right load.

Looking forward, the load looks like this: (1) Job. I'm a new director at a federal agency. My value prop is to help the agency move from a contracted-out software development model to one that is more strongly in-sourced, strengthening core capabilities. I've done this before. The place is a billion-dollar enterprise. My horizon is five years. (2) In April 2010, I resigned from a healthcare charity I developed in Addis Ababa due to missteps in DC. In June 2011, the program ran out of money, and my colleagues in Africa asked for help. I wrote a check, and I'm working voluntarily to strengthen development and in-country partnerships. (We serve 200-300 indigent women and children per month in Addis. We're also partnered with Save the Children to vaccinate 30,000 children in southern Ethiopia.) (3) For fitness and fun, I've signed-up to ride the first leg of the Tour d'Afrique, starting next January. My trip will cover 2,000 Km in under three weeks, riding from Cairo to Khartoum along the edge of the Sahara desert. My weekend training rides, sometimes 8-12 hours, are strenuous, usually in Virginia and Maryland's countryside.

A good time to clear the mind and find simple paths.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Selling my beloved Kona 29er ... $350.


I'm selling my beloved Kona Unit 2-9, single speed 29er mountain bike. I bought it about two years ago (new), and put it through normal paces in the DC Metro area (e.g., Wakefield, C&O, Elizabeth Furnace) and in mountains out west. Unit is dinged per normal usage, but no issues. Great fun, simple, light and reliable. (I've moved on to a Specialized Evo 1x10.)

Size is 19" (I'm 6'1"), with stock components (Avid disk brakes), plus Time Atac pedals and both road and mountain tires. Here's a spec for the 2011 version: ... Pictures of my bike below.

If interested, please email or call (6-9:30 PM) 571.239.6772.

The bike's palmares, such as they are, include rides up to Broken Top, Tumalo Falls and various loops in Bend, round about Sisters, Oregon, Seattle bike parks, Olympic Peninsula, a couple times up and down the length of the C&O Canal, lots of single and double track around Boulder, Colorado, and various ventures about DC and Skyline Drive -- and a Spokes Etc. best 'photograph-your-bike' award ...

Jim's bike on Olympic Peninsula, near Sequim.

Jim's 29er @ Lake Washington, Seattle.

Thank you.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


I am honored by great and wonderful sons and wife. Avery, Carolyn, Nathan. Beauty, love, life-long learning, hard work ...

Avery and Care, graduation fete ... 6.2011.

Nate rockin' up Mount Hood ... (red jersey) ... 6.2011.

A great victory, Fitchburg ... world class ... 7.2009.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mountain Biking and Camping

Really beautiful three-day weekend. Drove Friday to Blackwater Falls State Park, first with a stop by Blackwater Bikes in Davis for map and advice, lunch at Hellbender Burritos (fiery good), then tent set-up at campground.

Rode from camp to Plantation Trail. It didn't go very well. I crashed about five times, mostly landing in duff, but sometimes sticks and stones. Trail was very washed out due to about six weeks' rain, plus I guess I was tired from sitting in car four hours. After the ride, read in guide: "This trail will jolt you, pound you, hammer you and throw you off at times." Another: "Technical, technical and then a little bit more technical. One of the most challenging cross-country trails in the country." Huh! Mission accomplished. I got stomped. Dinner at Blackwater Lodge, then snug in my "Tundra Dome" tent.

I haven't camped for many years, last time was high in the Tetons with Nate, Paintbrush Canyon. Camping is, like, roughing it. And I've grown soft. My aim is to harden-up for Tour d'Afrique next January. I'm riding Cairo to Khartoum, across the Sahara. Except for two rest days (Red Sea, Luxor), we'll tent camp every night. This weekend at Blackwater was a test. My tent worked well (very sweet rig), and I rode pretty hard, about five hours, five hours and two hours in the saddle Friday-Sunday. Here are some pics and notes.

This is "Tundra Dome" ... an expedition tent I got on sale about half price from EMS. Very sturdy. It's mission is to keep me tight in high wind and sand in the Sahara. One thing I can't say enough good things about is the Blackwater SP campground -- great set-up, hot showers, a short ride down to the lodge for dinner and drinks (and WiFi) ... not so roughing it, but a start ... lots of ride options in and out of the park ... and only 20 bucks/night, to boot ...

This is a map of my ride out to Plantation Trail, and down the trail and such. I'd like to re-try it sometime, maybe later in summer when it's a bit dried out and I'm sharper. Again, this puppy kicked me. Here's a small bounce, over a root and a two foot drop down to the creek. And a picture of Black Lion in a tree (numerous fallen trees blocked the path) ...

Despite Friday's agony, the beauty of trails around Blackwater is immense. It lifts me up even when my legs are dead. Here's a shelter and field off the Allegheny Trail (near Plantation). And the Blackwater Canyon.

On Saturday I did a nice long loop on Canaan Loop Road, which left from Blackwater and "circled the mountain," with a lot of challenging rock, creeks and mud for about the first half, then generally pleasant gravel road by cascading streams and sharp evergreens.

My favorite ride, which would have been a better warm-up Friday, were the many trails about the Canaan Valley Institute (CVI), running out of Davis. I did a two hour out-and-back Sunday, before packing Tundra Dome and driving to DC. Here's a map of my CVI ride, plus a couple nature pics. More pics start here. This was a great out. I'll be back!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Letting Go ...

I'm privileged to work with seasoned (Wall Street, big computer company) merger and acquisition specialists, as a principal in an office bringing together a $100+ million IT organization. Early on, I was struck by a lead consultant's briefing that we need to "let go" -- work to do what you believe is the right thing, but if a different decision is made, don't get stuck on it. So many things are going to happen, that you need to keep moving forward. This, plus being surrounded by talented and enlightened folks, has proven a great formula. It makes sense in many places.

Benjy, Quentin Compson and the lot in Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County struggled with the past, the old injuries, scent of desecration, and scars ... as did Wolfe's Eugene Gant and others. Promises owed to some future account, set in the past. My family is deep and diverse, a Senator/Supreme Court justice early on, heralded explorer, poverty in the Great Depression, Avedon and Wyeth models, media hero, combative inferiority, an imbecile. Understanding these influences and then letting go is helpful.

But Santayana says history should be our guide, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." So I'm challenged to balance these things. Always a balancing act, it seems.

Jane Karsten, the legendary American Civilization teacher at Langley, firmly taught that we needed to work to see dichotomy, differences in life, opinions, situations. Then, observing thesis-antithesis, use the mind to balance matters, determine, make a choice amidst the data. This is the power we are given, to learn and decide. Remarkable.

And thinking, learning and growing this way, in balanced and civil discourse, with a community, your spouse, at large, is an even greater, more durable gift.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I've written about challenges and pain. My son's recent injury. Those dying in Africa I've cared for, lives I helped save. My father wrote about my getting hit and paralyzed by a drunk driver when I was 17. I've since lived in pain, with deficits. I continue to improve.

Others have fared worse. My grandfather used to say if you all sat around a table (at a bar, I guess, he was an alcoholic) and put your problems on the table, you'd be embarrassed and pull yours back ... others are worse off. Singer Bono said something like that when he compared our world to the third world: "[I]n the Third World, the gap between an ordinary life there and a life in the West is enormous, almost unimaginable. But the gap between where you are and where I am is microscopic. It's just degrees of luxury."

On balance, I believe, pain or no, poverty or not, we live for dreams. Maslow wrote, we live for ourselves but, once we meet basic needs, we can turn to help others, our community, our children, make the world a better place, attain a sense of love and belonging, the substance of dreams.

Jack Wheatcroft, Bucknell poet and professor emeritus (and one of my academic advisors), taught that we are myth-makers, we create stories to explain the world. I suggest our myths need to reconcile with facts and adapt, or we become stupid, irrelevant. We've seen the crude myths of gods and thunders evolve over the millennia, to science and precision, at various levels. My wife, a molecular biologist, is squarely in the precise paradigm, where I am more coarse, prone to creative conjecture, fresh product designs that decompose to software bits.

I also have high dreams that are more often whispered. The future of the Africa clinic model, certain cyclists, a software product line, heat in the Nubian desert, my left leg. Dreams are larger than the big hairy audacious goals I described last week. They're the entire ether. Much stuff fitting together, elaborate and delicate, assiduously tuned, revised -- abandoned when necessary. Some dreams make it into pictures.

Other dreams are accomplished. (Venga!) On we go.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Benchmarking is a very cool, key practice. It's what athletes do naturally in the arena, before, during and after competition; and it's what individuals and corporations do to learn what works (or doesn't) and improve. I've conducted formal benchmarks for HP, Nortel, U.S. Secretary of Defense, and others. Wikipedia defines benchmarking here. Done best, it is not just comparison of gross inputs and outputs, and assessment of focal processes. Rather, solid benchmarking involves understanding many dimensions of activity and environment, and comparing ecosystems where results are produced. Without proper context, adoption of someone else's best practice may do more harm than good -- e.g., applying advanced testing to an immature software development process can be disruptive because there is not a structured means to implement results.

I'm benchmarking now, sizing up my fitness and ability to improve it, in order to ride Tour d'Afrique (TdA) from Cairo to Khartoum, 2000 Km, starting January 2012. I've been carefully reading rider's blogs for the race in progress, and looking at historical reports, maps, equipment lists, etc. Getting a feel for the ride, environment, facilities, healthcare options, nutrition, etc.

Today I had a good training ride, a 114 Km (71 mile) loop on a mountain bike in my neck of the woods (above). That represents a very easy TdA day, albeit with knobby tires which made the ride harder (CAI-KRT will likely be mostly on slicks). Repeat that ride, about 20 Km more distance, 15 days in a row (with two rest days), and that approximates January's ride. Add sleeping in a tent in the desert, afternoon temps to 120°, Sudanese sandstorms, primitive hygiene, and likely stomach bugs, and that's a benchmark.

While there are sophisticated ways my kids, elite bike racers, measure performance -- sustained power, watts per kilogram, VO2 efficiency, -- my current strategy is to build increasing time on the bike and distance, on consecutive days when I can ... progressively lose weight, spend nights in a tent ... ride in the desert late this year and such ... My average speed on today's ride was 25 Kph on pavement and 15 Kph on the canal towpath. As with distance, I'd like to bring this average up, to about 30 on pavement and 20 kph on towpath/packed dirt sustained for 4-5 hours. My heart rate seems pretty good, averaging 135 bpm and maxing at 172. I'd like to keep average HR under 140 at the sustained speed and distances. This should provide better recovery, day over day.

As I punch through the initial time and distance training, I'll check in with my internist and cycling coach to fine tune measures and technique. If things seem on track by April/May, I'll make the deposit for TdA. Then, Black Lion (named for the hospital in Addis) and me will be on our way ...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tour d'Afrique 2012

In Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Collins and Porras write that Big, Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) can be key to greatness -- and sometimes failure. A favorite icon, Steve Jobs, worked to make Apple Computer "insanely great." He set audacious goals -- "the computer for the rest of us" -- and tightly controlled product architectures. Apple is now the planet's most valuable tech company.

In December, my bicycle-racer son, body wracked by an errant truck driver, plotted from his hospital bed to ride and race again in Europe. This March, he's off to Belgium (France, Italy ...) to ride with Team USA. My father, at age 70+, embedded in the Marines in the drive to Baghdad. (A no-fear war correspondent, George initially asked to embed with the Iraqi army.) My namesake, photojournalist James Ricalton, walked across Africa three times, 1895-1908, across Russia and more. When I was struck by a drunk driver, comatose, paralyzed, folks counseled that I'd probably be institutionalized, never walk again. Five years later, I'd graduated from Bucknell and was skiing with the governor of Virginia, helping write and enact drunk driving legislation. I founded and sold a tech company, did some interesting work, wrote a book, and blew-up on the back side of the dot-com bubble. I co-founded a maternal and child health clinic in Ethiopia that has treated 3,000+ indigent patients since inception in December 2009.

Difficult goals and steadfast pursuit. Sometimes messy.

I suffer from central pain syndrome, have been diagnosed with dysautonomia, slow failure of the autonomic nervous system. I have bad days. I'm risk averse -- I take extra caution not to hurt myself, am somewhat slow and methodical, spend a lot of time anticipating danger. Since 2001, I've been a consultant and, now, director in the banking regulatory sector, building software. (My products will help drive the new Consumer Financial Protection Board ... helped make TARP successful.) Steady, conservative gruel.

So what's this Africa business? It's another balancing act, between the imprint of my father's audacious bloodline and my mother's disciplined, engineer-led style. (Pictured above is pole-vaulting George and mom's dad, GM chief engineer H.R. Gibbons.) My BHAG? I'm going to ride a bicycle from Cairo to Capetown. In January 2012, I aim to ride the 2,000 Km first section, Cairo to Khartoum, from the pyramids, across some miserable desert, along the Red Sea, then up the Nile into Sudan. If things work, in 2013 I'll ride the nasty, mountainous Khartoum to Addis leg, perhaps beyond. Camping in tents. 12,000 Km all told. Run by a top notch firm, Tour d'Afrique (TdA).

Why? A lot of reasons. Life is short. I've been repressed by injury. I love Africa. I will live longer if I keep my body in shape. I'm an avid photographer ... there will be good pics. I have obligation space -- the kids are in college or nearly so, our house is in order, my wife is supportive. I'll probably align to help charity. It's less dangerous than Everest. Ricalton was there. My vaccines are up to date. It could be fun ...

To prepare, I'm reading a lot. There are a number of very good blogs by folks currently riding TdA (e.g., 1, 2, and 3). I've bought a suitable bike, a Specialized Evo 1x10 hardtail 29er (above), and I'm riding a lot. Next year's Cairo to Khartoum segment is not too bad, about 15 days riding 80-110 miles per day, flattish, with a day off on the Red Sea and a day in Luxor. The harder thing for me will probably be the heat (up to 120+ degrees F), grime and tiredness. I'll do long base miles on the C&O Canal towpath, with some overnight camping interspersed by off-road agility work to improve balance, some heat work to acclimate to desert, and mountains as my weight drops. Yoga, stretching and core workouts will help with 'pretzel' pain. I'll probably drive my weight down from 195 to 175 pounds (a bit more than what I usually do March-October).

There you have it. A first draft. My next BHAG. It may not work, but I think it will. I look forward to sharing thoughts on TdA and learning from everybody. Want to ride?

Take a look at this compelling video ... more vids here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Salut, Salute, Salud ...

February 14, 2011, National Airport, Arlington, Virginia.

Nate heads off to Boulder, CO, then San Jose, CA, and Belgium (France, Italy ...). (We see him for a day when he has a medical visit, as he passes through on his way to Belgium.) Training, racing and racing ... CalGiant and Team USA.

Angel Time

Is real time.

Waking, she stretches, bends low, showers.
Warm water, soap flow over gentle breasts, legs.
Dry towel, clothes, coffee, yogurt, cereal.
Early she goes off, mind set, clear, caring,
touching crystals deep in the mountain,
invisible to all but a few modest priests.

In the laboratory, she scans gel run overnight,
measures bands marking DNA, sets the course for
her staff (diverse like exotic flowers!). At her desk,
cased by paper stacks, a sunny corner, she reads
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,
immune not even to 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?
Politicians will cry "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
boys through homework. Dad comes in, a normal day
casting software. 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.

A tribute from 2003, still good. Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Balancing Act

It is difficult to hold your son’s hand, after receiving a phone call and flying across country overnight, to look at his misshapen and lacerated face, eyes filmy, conversation disoriented, perseverative, a gurgling cannula sucking blood from his mouth, oxygen in his nose, multiple IVs.

On the other hand, it’s not difficult. It is exactly where you want to be, your every fiber seeking to draw out the pain, heal the tissue, do the right thing. Eighteen hours ago, he was laying on a Tucson street, bicycle broken like matchsticks, hypotensive, airway filling with blood, dying; the victim of a negligent driver. Eighteen hours before he was a joyous teenager, a top of-his-game espoir, bound for European races and national team slots, working ardently at winter training. Prompt EMS, suction and IV saved him, opened his airway and restored circulatory volume. Open reduction surgery with internal fixation by titanium plates and screws would rebind his jaw, fractured in a dozen places, eight teeth knocked out across the top of his mouth, right condyle snapped and dislocated, fractured left subcondyle.

This I balance five weeks post trauma. He’s had a remarkable recovery. His legs are strong, as are his lungs. His power is up, exceptional watts per kilogram. Six hours today on the bike, riding out from our house near Washington, DC. "Let him go, be the wind at his back" -- I tell myself. This I will do, but it is hard. When I was about Nathan’s age, a negligent driver ran a red light and hit me. At the time, January 1977, my own father wrote:

As I stood there in the hallway outside the Emergency Room, I saw Jim standing vibrant, healthy and loving in the family room and cursed myself for not putting my arms around him and persuading him to spend New Year’s Eve at home with us. He was close to doing so – if I had only held him at home. If, if – there were so many ifs to ponder as I waited for the double doors of the operating room to open … The doors finally parted ... [Jim's surgeon] talked briefly but directly. Jim was in grave danger. It would be several more hours before we knew whether the brain’s swelling would reach fatal proportions or stop … They wheeled Jim out. His head was a white turban of bandage. Tubes were in his arm and nose. We tried to touch him as the attendants wheeled him past us on the quiet rubber wheels of the stretcher. I probably called out what I had heard and said dozens of times on the battlefield but seldom believed: “Hang in there. You’ll be all right.”

With this, I work to balance the eerie burden of repeated history. I wasn’t as lucky as my son, my injuries deeper and harder to compensate. Where does a parent draw the line? My two boys began bike racing at ages 10 (Avery) and 13 (Nate). For us, it was the next stage beyond youth soccer, basketball, lacrosse and whatnot pediatric sport mayhem. A phase. But cycling became more, a unifying principle around which our family organized our lives, travels and passions. And the boys became good, very good. Racing around the country and internationally. Cycling is the main thing; both boys wish to become professionals, have guided their college selections towards physiology and sports. Who would have thought? This from a family of scientists, software geeks, lawyers, writers and school teachers?

Cycling is the path that is before my sons, their passion and desire. It is a beautiful thing, their choice. Their hard work and success will bring not just individual victories, but will also lift others seeking joyous and healthy lifestyles. While I urge caution, the Tucson experience is a stronger caution than any can imagine.

Will I feel bad at the next accident? Of course. And we will be there, with every fiber and talent we possess, as we care for those we love, gently enabling their passion, the next podium, the beautiful slice through the sun and air.

Nathan and Avery Wilson, Sonoma California, 2008.

Friday, January 14, 2011


On December 14, [2010] I posted a Christmas Letter, with thoughts from the year. Six days later, much changed. My son was hit by a pick-up truck while riding in Tucson, Arizona. It was code red trauma, life threatening. Thankfully, he has come through strongly. He fractured his jaw in about 12 places, some dislocation, communition and crushing, lost eight teeth, had reconstructive surgery, and is moving forward.

Our family has done a good job rendering care, love and support. We assembled an A-team of medical and legal experts. Nate will race again, for Team USA in Europe in a few months, and Cal Giant across the season. He is an incredibly tough, smart and fast rider. By many graces, things are going well.