Friday, December 30, 2011

Albums of the Year 2011

As most years, 2011 was a great year for new music if you know where to look. For me it was a year in which I discovered more new music than I had in previous years, as I kept expanding my horizon beyond my indie guitar rock roots. Below is a list of my top 5 favorite albums that were released in 2011.

Best Albums of 2011

1.  Wild Flag Wild Flag - Carrie Brownstein had a helluva 2011 with her new rock band and the popularity of her TV show Portlandia. After too many years of female vocalists trying to channel 1920s jazz singers, it's great to hear a group of women who want to rock. Of course they come from the prior generation of music, but nowadays rock musicians don't need to burn out by 30 to prove themselves. Thank God for that.

2.  The Roots Undun - You may know them as the house band on Jimmy Fallon's TV show, but they've been around for almost 20 years and are kickin' out the jams better than ever. This is the way albums are supposed to be made, a true piece of art that also includes a bunch of kickass tunes.

3.  Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi Rome - A modern day spaghetti western soundtrack featuring vocalists Norah Jones and Jack White in the best work they've ever done. Great for road trips across the American West or for a mellow evening on the couch (not that I'd know anything about either of those).

4.  Glenn Campbell Ghost on the Canvas - With a little help from Paul Westerberg and Bob Pollard on songwriting duties, Glenn Campbell records what feels like his farewell album. It's a beautiful, sad chronicle that makes one reflect on all the great music from the his era.

5. The Antlers Burst Apart - This is the one album on my list that best typifies the quality music being made in 2011 -- lush, beautiful, dense with falsetto vocals, keyboards and only a light touch of drums and guitar. It's what the kids are into and I appreciate it in doses. Here's a sample...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Broken Systems: Exhibit A

I'm seeing these signs next to road construction all over the great state of Montana:

The ratio of the 3 levels of government contributing is always basically the same:
  • 90% paid by the federal government
  • 10% paid by the state
  • 0% paid "locally"
Of course, it really makes one think about the definition of "local". For if the federal government is paying for 90% of the project, that means that this particular piece of road construction is being paid for by people from outside the state of Montana, people from Alabama, Texas, California, New Jersey, et al.

This sounds awesome if you're an 8-year old.

But for those of us who completed grade school, we are left wondering who is paying for the similar 90% of road construction costs in Alabama, Texas, California and New Jersey. Surely it isn't us!

As I reflect back on my life in Minnesota, I can't help but remember the absolutely horrible condition of many of the roads in the Twin Cities. Highly traveled asphalt roads in the northern climes face extra challenges due to the extreme temperatures and freezing of water in cracks, the expansion of which exaggerates weaknesses and forms potholes. Quickly. In particular, the 5th street off-ramp from I-94 westbound in Mpls looks like Dresden circa 1945, and has for 2+ years. Despite the fact that it saw massive traffic every day there just weren't the funds to repair it. (See Strong Towns if you're interested in more elegant detail of how we're building our cities and why cities are going broke).

So who is really paying for the maintenance to our infrastructure? The feds? But wait a minute...aren't "the feds" simply American citizens just like me (but who don't live in my city/state) who are clearly charging me for the exact same things in their cities?

And why does our system work in such a way that we use "other people's money" to pay for our infrastructure? There's no way 90% of the people traveling on the above photographed road live and pay taxes outside the state of Montana.

For more perspective, read this Strong Towns story about the financial dealings of the newly proposed Stillwater bridge between Minnesota and Wisconsin. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bike Hack - Wine Bottle Water Bottle

There's been so much talk recently about the long-term side effects of plastics that every cyclist is looking for a better water bottle. Metal bottles are becoming popular, but many of them are lined with dangerous BPA and they cost $20 +$5 for the suckable lid adapter. So what's a healthy, thrifty cyclist to do?

It turns out that bottles of all sorts are actually already quite prevalent in our society, and that we don't necessarily need a unique bottle design for every different type of liquid we consume.

Glass recycling is limited in Bozeman -- you actually have to take bottles inside the local Target store where they collect and recycle them. With bottles piling up in my kitchen, I realized that perhaps there was an alternate use for them. After all, "reduce" and "reuse" come before "recycle", right?

I'll share with you my secrets of...

How To Make A Bicycle-Ready Water Bottle From A Wine Bottle

What you'll need:
* bottle of wine
* corkscrew
* receptacle in which to place the wine
* fingernails
* water

First, buy a cheap bottle of wine. This one cost me $3.99 at the co-op.

Next, we need to empty the wine from the bottle so it can be replaced with water. Take the corkscrew and remove the cork from the bottle. I choose to pour the wine into a wine glass and drink it, but you can do with it whatever you please. 

It'll actually take 3-4 glasses of wine to empty your bottle. Invite a friend, if you like, but sometimes I just like to keep it all to myself.

When the bottle is empty, rinse it out and remove the label. To do this, run warm (not too hot!) water over the outside of the bottle and use your fingernails to scrape off the label as if you were scraping them on a chalkboard. 

Now you have an empty bottle, into which can be placed virtually any liquid, including water! How exciting! 

Fill the bottle with water.

Finally, insert the full bottle into your water bottle holder. Notice how the neck extension naturally prevents spillage.

Voila! Enjoy your new BPA-free water bottle and watch the ladies' heads turn when you ride by in style.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Welcome, Winter

Winter has come to Bozeman (in the MT) so I decided it was time to seasonally update the blog background and title image. Whaddya think? Alas, I don't have a lot of great BZN winter images yet, so I'll have to get on top of that.

These ones are from a few weeks ago, though. I've been doing lots of winter bike riding and really liking it. Riding on the snow, especially at night, is so quiet and peaceful. I put studded tires on the bike and have been testing them out in different conditions, still not exactly sure how much to trust them. The helmet goes on my head 100% of rides in these conditions (I'd gotten away from using it during casual summertime rides around town). And a balaclava underneath is a must to keep the windchill out.

I love the sound of snow, too --  that quiet squeak when you roll over it. The balaclava also covers my ears so it slightly muffles the sound, adding to the mellow pleasure of the experience.

This pic is from a ride around town about a month ago after our first snow...

These next 3 are from a trip to a nature preserve near Great Falls 2 weeks ago. I had the place to myself, riding along the 7-mile snow covered gravel road loop. I'd never seen a group (flock?) of 15+ pheasants at one time until that day.

Just me and the critters...rollin'.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Bicycle Reborn

I had a lot of fun recently (and learned a thing or two) re-painting my Gary Fisher Mendota commuter bike. It was a pretty decent looking bike, grey in color and understated. But the graphics on it were kind of ugly and I've never been a fan of displaying logos. Plus, I'm curious about what it takes to paint a bike and if it was something I could handle or not.


First step was to take it all apart. This was a little daunting because I knew that it meant I'd have to put it  all back together, too.  I've done a fair amount of maintenance on this bike, but that was mostly making adjustments to the brakes and derailleurs. I'd never replaced cables or removed the crankset.  Dismantling went smoothly, though I did need help from the Bozeman Bike Kitchen because I did not have all the necessary tools. There's a special tool for virtually everything, ya know.

Once it was taken all apart, the next step is to sand down the frame to remove all the paint, right down to the bare aluminum frame. In this photo, you can see where I'd been sanding off the paint to get it down to the aluminum.

To sand it I purchased some metal brush-like attachments for my drill so I didn't have to use sandpaper and do it by hand.  It still took a little while, though.

Completely sanded and ready for primer

After sanding it's time for primer. I hung the frame up in the garage and taped as necessary.  Here it is with primer applied. 

Those old moving boxes that have been sitting in my garage for 3 months came in handy as a spray barrier.

I applied about 4 thin coats of primer, each 20 minutes apart, and then let it sit 24 hours before painting. The next day I repeated with white spray paint -- 4 or 5 thin coats.

It wasn't until I figured out a design that I liked for the frame that I took this plunge into painting. If I was going to paint it myself then I had to put a little of my personality into it. I am a simple man and would want my bicycle to reflect that. In fact, I really really hate now new bikes have such fancy paint jobs on them -- they really turn me off, trying to look all sleek and special. So I decided to keep it simple with what I consider a bit of an anti-logo: Bicycle.

So I messed around on Powerpoint, found a good font, Rockford, and took it to Kinko's to print out in navy blue on clear sticker paper. I'd thought about making a stencil and spray painting on the design text, but figured I'd probably struggle with drips and would have trouble getting the letters to look crisp. So I opted for the sticker route.

I think I maybe should have used a hairdryer or flambé blowtorch on the sticker after application to remove any air bubbles from underneath it, but didn't think of that until I'd already applied the first layer of clear coat finish. Next time maybe I'll give that a shot because if you look closely you can see the outline of the clear sticker paper on the frame. Not a big deal, but something I could maybe do better next time.

After painting I let it sit one full week to allow the paint and clear coat to fully set up before putting it back onto the rack to be reassembled.

Reassembly went better than I thought it would. I made another trip to the Bike Kitchen for tools to put the chain back together, and had to make a couple trips to the local bike shop for some parts that somehow disappeared since disassembly.

But look at her comin' together...

Ta daaaaa...!

Note that I also removed the rear rack for panniers and added a fender in its place. The fenders are needed for wet travel because that rack, despite what it looks like, provided no protection from water splattering on my back during wet rides. Since this is my daily commuter bike for going to the grocery store (co-op), the library, and general errand running, I need wet weather protection. But I also need a place to carry groceries and library books.

So that's where I turned to Trash Bags to make me a custom designed messenger bag.

Now I've got a newly painted bike with fenders (still need to add on front) and a way to carry stuff.  Looks like I'm set.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

SoDak, NoDak

My buddy Jay got married last weekend at Custer State Park in South Dakota. It was a beautiful place for an outdoor wedding and a fun excuse for a roadtrip into the Dakotas. I'd been thinking about exploring Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota for years so this was just the right opportunity.

Friday morning I left Bozeman and stopped at Little Bighorn National Monument, which is just off of I-90 in southeast Montana.

That was a sobering visit.

It is the famous site of Custer's Last Stand, where General Custer was overrun by a vastly superior number of Indians led by Sitting Bull. When I drove from St. Paul to Bozeman a couple months ago, multiple people of my parents generation asked me if I'd been to Little Bighorn or was planning on it. To children of the '50s and '60s, I think this was a touchstone historical event that they learned about through Western TV shows, cowboys & Indians, and action figures. I recall an older cousin of mine had a General Custer doll/action figure.

This first picture shows white markers where a couple American soldiers fell while trying to defend the hill in the background that has the larger memorial on it.

But what really got me was this -- the marker of a Cheyenne who died "while defending the Cheyenne way of life". I got a little teary-eyed, I must say.
The Indians had won and may have thought they still had a chance. Later on I'd read on another memorial quotes from the likes of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse 30 years later. The quotes said, effectively, that even though the Indians had lost the war, that at least now they were friends with the American government. This really struck me as sad, because I don't believe that the American government has ever shown friendship to the Native Americans. 120 years later it sure doesn't look like the American government had anyone's interest in mind other than the advancement of their own agenda.

So then it was slightly uplifting, at least, to go to the Crazy Horse Memorial on Saturday.
I last visited this site in about 1982 on the classic Midwest family road trip to the Black Hills. At that time I remember being awed by the vision and determination of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski who, at that time, had already removed something like 100 times as much rock as was removed to create Mount Rushmore (he started in 1948). Today you can see Crazy Horse's face in the mountain, but in 1982 all you could see was that hold underneath his arm. I spent $10 of my own lawn mowing money to purchase a small plaster replica of the monument and remember being proud to support such an endeavor.

Ziolkowski's family is doing this work entirely on their own and twice has turned down $10 million from the U.S. government. So the $10 kicked in by little kids really does matter.

Mount Rushmore still looks the same as 1982. Mike, George, Sandy and I went there on Sunday and though the park is small (I was hoping for some legitimate hiking), it is nicely put together and an enjoyable 0.6 mile walk gets you fairly close to the base where this photo was taken.

Jay & Bridgette's wedding was a lot of fun on Sunday evening, but I wasn't snapping photos. I really enjoyed it because they didn't do everything exactly by the book like people do when they get married in their 20s. It was a relaxed affair in a gorgeous setting with friend Dan presiding and no rehearsal or walk through prior to the ceremony. A bunch of old college friends were there and it's always fun to see the Dales, Holstines & Brandts.

Monday I drove up to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. I'd always been intrigued about this park since first hearing about it around 10 years ago. A national park in ND!? Who knew?

There aren't any bad national parks and this one gets relatively low traffic. It features a combination of badlands and grasslands elements, with bison and prairie dogs the most common wildlife.

I brought my mountain bike along and took these shots behind bars on the Buffalo Gap trail which is within the National Grasslands just outside of TRNP. It was a fantastic bike ride on singletrack through rolling hills on a windy trail.

Parts of it were a little hairier than others...

And at times there were some ornery customers blocking my path. Here the trail actually fords this little stream and continues up the hill on the other side of those fierce looking guardians.

After a long standoff and a punishing battle, they turned out to be no match for my mad kung-fu skillz and I survived to bring you this tale. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I Pick Huckleberries

A question that I hear from people in most conversations when I tell them I recently moved to Bozeman is: "What do you do there?" or "What are you doing?".

I know what they're getting at. They want to know what I'm doing for work.  But I hate that phrasing of the question because it's supporting that American cultural norm of being defined by one's career. I am a Systems Analyst or I am a Marketing Manager. I don't particularly care for that use of language so I like to mess with 'em a bit.

So when people ask me "What do you do in Bozeman?" I always respond by saying "Hiking, biking, enjoying the mountains. I can't wait for ski season." It's my way of trying to expand their horizons.

Saturday morning I went out on a hike picking huckleberries. Huckleberries are the popular local berry around here and one I'd never interacted with. They look like small blueberries but are more tart.

So the next time someone asks me what I do I'll be able to respond: "I pick huckleberries".

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Recycle Cycle

Bozeman does not have curbside recycling pickup and its a little sad for me to see how reliant I'd become on that convenience. There's no glass recycling to speak of (though I think there is a place you can take it where it'll be hauled to a different county or something) and everything else needs to be completely separated -- plastics from cans and paper from cardboard.

There are two levels to this inconvenience. First, I now need a whole bunch of separate bins at home where I've gotten used to only having two. Second, I need to transport these items myself to one of the several recycling centers around town, mostly located in the parking lots of big box stores.

Today I made my first recycling run. Since I've cut back on soda in the past year I've been drinking lots of La Croix sparkling water in cans -- two or three per day. So I had 6 weeks of crushed cans to recycle and, as you may know, I'm not a fan of driving my car. That means that I'd take the cans by bike.

Fortunately I recently purchased a kickass handmade messenger bag from Andy at Trash Messenger Bags and it was up to the task. First I crushed all the cans down small so I could fit 'em all in the bag. Here's a picture of my bike and my custom designed Trash messenger bag filled with recyclables.

And here's the same photo but with the can bag out of the messenger bag. The messenger bag has a great volume.

I only had to bike about a mile to get to the recycling bins, so that's not too bad. The bigger challenge for me is that I need to set up more recycling receptacles in my house. I don't exactly have a convenient space for them so these multiple inconveniences are causing me some delay in getting a new system setup. But I'm making progress and should get it all together soon enough.

This massive pile of cardboard boxes left over from my move might require more than a bicycle, however. Or at least I'll have to borrow a trailer.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Career (Chutes &) Ladder

Sometimes your life leads you down a path that you didn't entirely plan, but that, in retrospect, was leading you to the place you wanted to be all along. This is a story about a career path not towards more money and more prestige, but toward more freedom.

When I graduated from college, like many young bucks I wanted to climb some corporate ladder and make a name for myself in the business world.  Work downtown in a skyscraper. Carry a briefcase. Make a lot of money. Own a cabin and a boat. Because that's what the generations before us wanted, right? That's what we were brought up to believe was "success".

Times were tough after college so I was happy to get a job at Lutheran Brotherhood, due, in part, to a friendly family connection with the Chairman of the Board. I made $18,000 and immediately bought a new car for $12,000 because that's what rising young businessmen did. The new car is often the first big status symbol Americans purchase to let their friends and family know that they're making it. I worked my tail off those first 3 years, getting promoted up 3 more rungs and displaying my talents for all to see.

But then something changed. I was 26.

Truthfully, what I remember most about the shift in my focus are two things. The first is this John Denver lyric from "Rocky Mountain High":
He was born in the summer of his 27th year
coming home to a place he'd never been before

I used to come home from work and play that record on the turntable with my roommate Steve and we'd talk about how we should just up and move to the mountains and ski. The foundation had been set by my mom and aunt & uncle who all nourished the skier in me, and it would soon be the summer of my 27th year. Yet here I was, sitting in tan-colored cubicles in some office building downtown Minneapolis.

The second thing I vividly recall is the picture of the obese women in the Claims Department who did the same job day after day, year after year, sitting in their lifeless cubicles and never experiencing the full wonders of the world. The vision still makes me shiver.

So I moved to Utah with buddy Steve and skied my heart out for two years. And when I had had enough, I found myself back in Minneapolis working for the same company, which was terrific. I got a nice signing bonus because it was 1998 and I had a math degree.  Remember 1998 and Y2K hysteria? It paid to be thought of as someone who might be able to learn how to program computers to try to fend off the pending doom.

I spent 5 or 6 years programming computers and then was struck by the realization that the daily tasks of all the IT leadership I saw really turned me off. If I was going to keep climbing the corporate ladder I'd need to do it in a different part of the organization. So for the first time in my career I made a thoughtful and strategic lateral move to a job that would let me work with management from all over the company. This would give me a better chance to really understand the organization and find a place where I felt I would fit.

After 2 years in the audit shop I'd worked with enough V.P.s to know that I did not want to become one of them. We were simply cut from a different cloth and though I respect them I knew I had no interest in doing their job.

Strategic move #2: An opportunity opened up in a cool new department that was on the cutting edge, trying to develop new social businesses to make life better financially for the mass market of average Americans out there. I took a pay grade cut for this move, but it was getting closer to the sort of job that I now knew was best for me. The V.P. of this area was really open-minded and much more flexible on corporate structure than other places I'd worked.

I've been working in that area for that V.P. for about 5 years now and the tone that he sets in the workplace helped me be able to move to Bozeman and continue my same job.

My career path has not been one of moving up, but of moving out. I don't make as much money or wield as much power as I could if I had kept moving up, but I'm in a position of relatively low stress and I'm experiencing a new part of the world at the same time.

It's a different way to think of a career ladder. What's at the top of yours?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

There Are No Words

I've been listening to a lot of instrumental music lately. Perhaps its a new habit reflecting the fact that I'm working from home and lyrics tend to distract me a bit. But even before that I discovered a couple newish instrumental acts that I've been enjoying for some months now. Have any good instrumental recommendations to share?

Maserati - "Pyramid of the Sun" came out late in 2010 and I must've heard about it through a critic's Best of 2010 list. Electronic-y, but with galloping beats that make for better driving music than dance music.
Fuck Buttons - It's a horrible band name, but this was a big step for me into dancey, electronic mash music. And I like it a lot. I've been listening to the album "Tarot Sport".
The Alps -A little more mellow and neither danceable nor driving, but beautiful music nonetheless.
Glenn Kotche - The Wilco drummer is quite the talented percussionist. I don't normally go for pure percussion, but his album "Mobile" pushes the boundaries quite a bit and gets pretty creative.
Explosions in the Sky - These guys are a guitar rock band who make brilliant soundscape rock songs that sound as their name suggests (as long as you include the beginning of the explosion and also that lingering effect). The album I have is "The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place".

Monday, July 25, 2011

Behind Bars in Montana

This past weekend was spent exploring the 2 closest scenic Montana drives in a scenic byways book I recently bought. I brought my bicycle along to further explore and I'm officially in love with the Montana landscape.

There's something that just puts a smile on my face being out in the vast open spaces of this land. The green and yellow and gold colors of the grasses are ever changing and fairly new to me, so that helps make it fresh and exciting. There's virtually no automobile (read: pick-'em-up truck) traffic so its terrific for biking.

Saturday I drove less than an hour west of Bozeman and drove a 110-mile loop along the Madison River (some of the world's best fly fishing) and the Tobacco Root mountains. This picture is on the 6-mile spur road from Harrison, MT to Pony, MT after an early lunch at a little diner that was just what you'd hope for out here(note to self: they stop serving breakfast at 11). The bike ride was gradually uphill the entire way to Pony, which made for a super fun 6-mile downhill coming back.

On a short, lunch time ride last Friday just on the outskirts of Bozeman. Those are the Bridger mountains.

Sunday I drove the amazing Beartooth Highway from Red Lodge, MT down toward Yellowstone Nat'l Park (but didn't go all the way to the park).  The Beartooth is one of those that's been called the most beautiful drive in America. It's full of switchbacks with dramatic views and southern tourists ogling at the still visible roadside snow pack. The bike ride I took was a hilly little number strewn with wildflowers between cattle pastures. If you expand this picture you should be able to see the cows hanging out in the grass straight ahead of me on the inside of the road's loop.

I hadn't been through Red Lodge since high school when we took a ski trip out there with the church youth group. I didn't go check out the mountain on Sunday, perhaps turned off by the overly touristy main drag through town.

But I did have a fun dirt road drive through Luther and Roscoe on the way home and ended up having a very nice filet mignon at the Grizzly Bar in Roscoe. My spontaneous detour was driven by seeing a sign for a town named Luther just down the road a piece. I had to check it out. The town turned out to be a zero, but the drive at sunset for 15 miles on dirt roads through Luther to Roscoe was amazingly beautiful, especially how the sun shimmering off the grasses causes about a hundred different shades of green and yellow beneath the backdrop of snowy mountain peaks.

It was my first weekend of exploration via car and bike. In the next couple days my new used touring bike should show up and then hopefully soon an upcoming dispatch like this will be an overnight on bicycle.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Vote 'em Out

The Minnesota legislature just ended a 20-day state government shutdown by agreeing to a collection of bills that none of the participating politicians like -- and they all admit it.

The people cannot stand for this and our ('re) only recourse is to vote 'em out of office.  All of 'em. How else will politicians get the message that it's not acceptable for them to not work together?

The problem is that, though an historically high percentage of Minnesotans may be out of work, most of the other 91% are too content with their big screen TV, their pets and their video games to get angry.  It was certainly interesting to see the surprising effects of the shutdown, like beer shortages and vandalizing of state parks.  But in the end, I'm not sure people care enough yet to take action.

One of the challenges of a democracy is that, to work as its supposed to, it requires the voting public to have a really good understanding of whats going on in their government. And as we know with all the political spin and personal facts out there these days, its nigh impossible for the people to achieve that. Instead we rely on politicians who have a personal conflict of interest because they're trying to get re-elected.

That's why I propose one-term limits everywhere. We can lengthen the term a bit, like maybe 6 years for a President and Governor. But you only get one term. There are plenty of qualified people to be in government so I won't buy the argument that "Strom Thurmond is doing such a fantastic job for the great state of South Carolina that nobody else could possibly replace his leadership", for instance.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Song of the Day by Built to Spill

This album, There Is No Enemy, came out a couple years ago and I purchased half of it and have tended to forget about it. But every time I listen to it I end up putting those 5 songs on repeat over and over again. Built to Spill has been around since the early '90s and has a great blend of indie rock and spacey psychadelia.

Built to Spill doesn't write radio-ready hit songs, but I think they're a tough band to not appreciate.

So check out Good ol' Boredom...

I just realized it's been 2 years since I've done one of these Song of the Day posts, which makes me also realize that this blog has been going for 4 years. Crazy.

Previously (and still) recommended songs:

Monday, July 18, 2011

House Tour

Three weeks after picking my stuff up in St. Paul, the moving truck showed up in Bozeman on Sunday morning. The whole moving truck experience probably merits an entire blog post on its own, but lets just say that my clairvoyant (some might say pessimistic) anticipation of challenges and zen-like ability to face them made it not nearly as bad as it could have been. Moving is a stressful enough experience without being slapped with hidden costs, long (yet small print contractually legal) delays and a truck driver on the back end who insisted on playing for me his cliched solo acoustic guitar songs of despair.

The truck just unloaded yesterday morning and I'm about 90% organized, so that feels pretty good. Here's a video tour:

Saturday, July 16, 2011

New Bikes

From prior posts such as this one, you may recall that I'm in need of new bicycles. When I say "new", of course I mean "new to me" because I've discovered that I really don't appreciate shiny, fancy, brand new bicycles with their high-modulus aero carbon frames and flashy color schemes that may or may not match the rider's display of spandex.

Yesterday I went for a mtn bike ride on my new (to me) Rocky Mountain along the shores of lovely Bozeman Creek. Here's a picture to prove it if you don't believe me:


And here's the new (to me) touring road bike I just purchased on eBay. It's a Trek 720 circa 1982 and appears to be in fantastic shape.

The great thing about a touring bike is that you can cruise around town on it like normal and also load it up with front and rear panniers for lengthy multi-day rides. The frame dimensions are a little elongated to make it more comfortable on long rides and it's built to allow for front and rear racks. I've never done an overnight bike trip before, but am looking forward to the experience. Not sure I need to be one of those folks who bikes across the nation or anything, but I think it'd be great to take some week-long treks around the great American West.

I did a lot of research over the past few months before making this purchase. It's very important that a bike's frame is the right size and I've found that here. The frame is steel which, while not as light as aluminum, makes for a softer ride on the road and is far cheaper than newfangled carbon fiber. The frame is the most important part because the component parts can be swapped out piecemeal if they are no longer up to snuff. It's the timeless, vintage steel frame that really attracted me.

It should be here in a week and I can't wait to give it a go.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Next Chapter

I've now been an official resident of Montana for less than 48 hours. The drive out went pretty smoothly, except for the massive thunderstorm just east of Moorhead that caused traffic to pull over to the side of the interstate for about 20 minutes. It was raining and blowing as hard as you ever see, dropping visibility to dangerously low levels. It also allowed me to be witness to one of the greatest and most prolonged displays of lightning I can recall. For a good 30 minutes (and while driving 30 miles westbound into a presumably eastbound storm) the sky was aflutter with constant flashes, both within the clouds and classic strikes.

On the way out I also stopped in Medora, ND, the gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a park I've been fascinated by ever since I learned that North Dakota actually had a national park. Later this summer after friend Jay's wedding I hope to mountain bike the Maah Daah Hey trail for a few days near there, so I was looking into that.

My first impressions of Bozeman are every bit as good as I'd remembered -- my house is a little more spacious than I recall and the mountains are even more beautiful when not hidden by springtime clouds and rain. The local food co-op doesn't have quite the selection I was used to at Mississippi Market, but it is within walking distance so it'll be a lot easier to make frequent healthy trips for fresh food.

Here's the house I'm renting. It's a three-bedroom with a small front porch and a two-car garage.
I'll do a little video tour and post it on here, too. The only bummer about the video tour is that the moving truck with all my furniture might not show up for another week, so it's empty for now.

Yesterday I went on two great hikes, one of them being up Sypes Canyon in the Bridger mountains on the north side of town. In this picture you can make out Bozeman in the background if you know what you're looking at.

I also drove up to Bridger Bowl ski area to check it out in summertime. I think it looks pretty imposing with the huge wall of granite staring down at you. And yes, all that terrain is skiable. Ski the cold smoke, as they say.

So yesterday I became a member of the co-op and today I got my library card -- I'm feeling like a true BozeMan. I've officially turned the page on the next chapter and so far it feels pretty damn good.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Changing Channels

This morning I dropped my cable box off at Comcast so I'll be cable-free my last week in St. Paul. Next week in Bozeman I've scheduled an internet hookup but decided to see if I can continue to live sans cable TV for awhile. After all, I'm moving to Montana to experience Montana, not to sit on the couch and watch TV just like I do in Minnesota.

I want this move to help spark lifestyle changes so unloading the cable TV will be the first. Being more healthy is also high on the list and I'm hoping it will be easier to eat well when I'm working from home. At the grocery store I'm pretty good about controlling my cravings, so if I have plenty of fresh fruit around for snacking then I'm hoping I won't be tempted like I am now. In my final week working downtown Mpls I will be seduced daily by the endless supply of fast food options within a 10-minute walk and the burger & fries grill in my very own building.

Hockey season is when push will come to shove regarding my television viewing. I'm hoping that and have ways to watch games online, but I haven't looked into it yet. In the era of Netflix I can see pretty much whatever movies and shows I want, anyways, so cable is becoming less necessary. Plus, its ridiculously expensive.

I've never been one to make new year's resolutions, but there's definitely some of that going on with my move to Bozeman -- new surroundings, new potential, new experiences, new habits.

So the test begins now of living without cable TV. Here's to hoping that I'll fill that time in new ways and won't even notice the loss.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Farewell, Old Friends

It's often been said that some purging is easier than other purging.  And they're right. For instance: getting rid of that redundant set of silverware that I hadn't used in the 7 years I've lived in my current abode. That was easy.

But this is harder.

These t-shirts have been very good to me and will carry a little piece of me with them when they go (and I don't just mean underarm sweat stains).

Oh, Supersuckers. I love this silhouette shirt, but haven't worn it in years. I just don't really wear shirts with anything on them (save for a pocket) anymore. Not sure what that says about me, but it definitely says I'm not one of those Ed Hardy guys.

Bought this Nirvana shirt at the First Ave. show in 1991. Good times. Mikko will never let me forget how I didn't fully appreciate the musical genius of opening act Urge Overkill, and he's right. It's cuz they were dressed up and I have a thing against bands in costume. Great band, though, as was Nirvana obviously.

Ahh, Soul Asylum. Another kickass band from the '80s and '90s. I must say I'm more than a little sad to see how indie guitar rock has pretty much disappeared from the scene, only to be replaced by bands with too many computers or not enough bassists.

Got this one during one of my trips down to SXSW in Austin in about 2003, maybe? I dropped by the Broken Spoke just a couple months ago when I was back there for business and was quite disappointed that it was closed for the night when I showed up a hair after 11:00. But I guess that's what makes it a country roadhouse not a rock joint, which is why we love it.

My tribute to local rock scribe Chris Reimenschneider that I wore on stage a few times back in the Gone Out Gone days. I'm certain he never saw it and not sure how many people got the joke, but it pleased me, at least. I can't wear it anymore, though, since I no longer rock. Hopefully someone else will appreciate my homemade iron-on handiwork.

Farewell, old friends. May you warm the heart of another. Literally.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Thumbs Up for Rock & Roll

An argument, I suppose, for having children (Via).

Bicycles Bicycles

From high school through about 5 years ago I barely rode a bike at all. But my decision to do a triathlon was the impetus that sent me to a local bike shop to purchase a road bike. Unfortunately, I knew absolutely nothing about bikes.

Ater I picked myself up from the floor, writhing from the sticker shock, I just bought whatever they had on the lower price end -- a Specialized Allez Sport (and I took enough Francais to know that allez means "go", and that's what I wanted to do). I didn't really know what I wanted, but knew I didn't want one of those sleek, fancy Tour de France time trial style bikes because I could never afford the properly fashioned spandex to accompany it.

Road bike I sold

It was a good bike, but I never really felt any love for it. I took it on some beautiful, scenic road rides in WI and rails to trails rides in MN, but it just didn't have much character.

Around that same time 5 years ago I also dipped my toe into bike commuting to work. The old mountain bike I rode wasn't the most efficient transport, but it got the job done until it was stolen from right behind my place of business 3 years ago. That's when I bought the Gary Fisher Mendota for commuting, but, again, I didn't really know what I was buying.

The trusty steed -- my commuter

This is a terrific bike and has served me well, but has disc brakes, which I didn't really understand at the time. Disc brakes are mostly used on mountain bikes because normal brakes on a mtn bike will get all muddied up from the dirt & muck on the tires. Disc brakes are also renowned for their superior stopping power, which is nice in a brake. The downside of disc brakes is that they require constant maintenance. Every few days I'm adjusting one part of it or tweaking another. There are 4 or 5 different ways to tweak the fit. It's also kind of a beast, what with its oversized frame tubes, but I do like the fact that I've never seen anyone else riding one.

For the past few years I've been doing my own maintenance and getting a bit more into the bike culture, both of which have led to my knowing more about bikes and understanding better what I'm really looking for.  The problem is that I now understand why people own 3 or more bikes. I feel like I need:
  • one mountain bike for exploring the wilds of Montana (definitely, thanks Steve),  
  • one touring bike for loading up with front and back panniers and getting out on multi-day, overnight bike tours (pretty sure...but maybe not quite yet), and
  • one low maintenance simpleton for getting around town (definitely if my only other bike is mtn bike).
Neither the Gary Fisher Mendota nor the Specialized Allez Sport fit any of these needs.

So I sold the Specialized several weeks ago but don't want to unload the Gary Fisher until I have its replacement for tooling around town. Bozeman is really flat in the city limits, so I'm considering a single speed or fixed gear. The friends I have with fixies rave about them, but there's also the hipster factor which I'd need to avoid. It's a delicate balance. Ideally, I'd find a city bike like that that could be adapted for winter riding, too, meaning I could add wider tires and fenders which not every frame can accommodate.

I'm now set with a sweet mountain bike thanks to buddy Steve moving to Chicago and unloading his. Now I need to just keep my eyes out for the next right one to come along. I'm not sure if I'll have better luck finding the right used bike in Mpls (#1 biking city in the nation) or if I can pick something up in Bozeman (pretty good bike culture of its own), but I guess I'll find out.

My new (used) mtn bike

Just another of the major dilemmas in my life.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


It's been feeling really good to purge in preparation for the move to Bozeman. I like to think I act relatively efficiently in a lot of ways, like when carrying lots of stuff from one location to another I'll always choose to carry more and heavier stuff each trip in order to minimize the trips. And I'm a quick-tear-the-band-aid-off guy, too. So ridding myself of lots of extraneous stuff that I don't really need is like delegating responsibility to other people for things at work, lightening the load both literally and figuratively.

The other part I like about cleaning house is that I always donate the used items to Goodwill. This weekend I made two trips and I'm happy to make the dropoff myself because it delays their trip to the landfill and allows others to appreciate them at a bargain price. Goodwill has done a tremendous job of making it easy to drive-thru donate with hours seven days a week that put the public library and neighborhood bank to shame. I always have a Goodwill pile that is slowly accumulating and make regular donations once or twice a year.

Here's a partial list of the things I'll be fine without:
  1. Keyboard, musical (early '90s vintage that I got for free somewhere)
  2. Thin screen computer monitor (maybe 13")
  3. Vintage suitcase
  4. Full set of silverware
  5. Miscellaneous pots & pans
  6. Voice recorder
  7. Throw pillows
  8. Books
  9. CDs & vinyl that Cheapo wouldn't buy
  10. Picture frames
  11. Jarts, the sharp original from the '70s
  12. Christmas tree stand, skirt, lights

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Billie Holiday They Are Not

How come so many indie songstresses these days sound like Billie Holiday?  They all have that little quiver in their voice like they're a jazz singer from 1930.

The bottom 3 are Mpls bands that seem to be fairly popular locally.  Am I the only person hearing this connection?  Does nobody else care?  Am I daft?

Click the links to listen for yourself.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bozeman Bound

It's been 15 years since I packed up my corporate job in cubicle nation and lit out for the mountains of Utah. At the time I clearly remember thinking: "I do not want to be one of those corporate America lifers I see around the office who sit in their cubes all day and seem to be satisfied with repetition and the status quo".

The skiing in Utah was phenomenal and Alta will always have a special place in my heart, but it wasn't a well-rounded fit for me. Summers were 100 degrees every day and Salt Lake City was, to be blunt, culturally vacant. The Mpls music scene was a big part of my life then, as were MN sports teams. And there was virtually no internet so it wasn't easy to keep up with things.

So two years in Utah was enough for me and I moved back to St. Paul. Its hard to believe I've been back here for 13 years now.

Its been a good 13 years, though, filled with a good income from a good job, lots of global travel, summer weekends at the cabin with friends and 6 years playing bass in a local rock band. Good times, all.

But good isn't good enough. I don't want to live a good life. I want to live a phenomenal life filled with consistently amazing experiences. I want to deeply explore different regions, cultures and geographies. I want it all and I want it now because, really, why should we allow ourselves to settle for anything less than amazing? We only go around this crazy world once, after all.
Barn & Bridgers near Bozeman

So I'm moving to Bozeman in July. It's been a long time comin and is a decision I did not make lightly. Many cities were researched and Bozeman's rise to the top was cemented by a visit there three weeks ago. It's a town of about 35,000 people plus Montana State University. It's only 15 miles to Bridger Bowl ski area, a family-run kinda joint without expensive spas and condos that reminds me of Alta in attitude and ethos. Bozeman has a healthy bicycle community, an excellent co-op, a local brewery, and x-c skiing and mtn biking trails easily accessible from downtown.
Jon & Kirk
At this stage in my life that's the lifestyle I'm looking for. I still haven't figured out exactly what I'm going to do for work, but it looks like I'll be able to transition some semblance of my current job to this remote office, which could work out great.
Amy Q

I'm excited for the move and have started purging superfluous belongings, which always feels good. Thanks to everyone who's helped me talk through it over the past months. Now I can only hope that there's at least one nice single woman in Bozeman who can appreciate a simple gentleman from St. Paul, sans scruffy goatee, ponytail and duct-taped Patagonia pants.