Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Don't Kill Me

If I can get through tomorrow and Friday, I will have made it the entire week without driving my car. I commuted on my motorcycle today [Wednesday] and Monday and on my bicycle yesterday. Actually, yesterday I biked to school, rode back into town after school to go to the bank and run home and then rode back to school for a function. In all, nearly 25 miles yesterday-- saved just over a tank of gas in Pompey, my trusty Maxima.

Gas prices have fallen in the last week, but they will go up again. Part of what we need to do is find alternatives to conventional means of transportation: mass transit, carpooling, work from home and, yes, bicycling.

I know, the Ducati is somewhat cheating since it uses gas. But one of the reasons I bought it was to save gas. The 50 or so miles per gallon is so much better than the 23-25 mpg of my car.

That being said, please look out for me. And people like me. We are everywhere. Whether I'm on my motorcycle or bicycle, you are bigger than me and will win any collision.

I realize there are a lot of idiots on motorcycles. I really don't need to be fast. I do like the rush of riding. But I get that at 40 MPH. I don't need to go 90. Look for me and my bike as you approach intersections, change lanes and make turns. Drive with extra caution; it could save a life.

I also know there are a lot of people who say bicycles don't belong on the roads. Fair or not fair, until the laws are changed, cyclists are entitled to the same rights on the roads as cars. I believe that we do a terrible job of educating motorists about the rights of cyclists and how to share the road with them. Here are a few things I'd like to pass along as someone who has done a lot of road riding in a lot of places and a decent amount of commuting here at home:

  • I did not wake up in the morning thinking, "What can I do to inconvenience the world?" Trust me, if I could go faster I would.
  • If I do not ride on the far right of the lane, it is intentional. I am trying to force you to go around me instead of "squeezing" by me in the lane.
  • Another reason I sometimes don't ride on the far right is for my own safety. Riding more in the lane gives me room for error in case there is an obstacle or drain or something. Plus, the road is cleaner, thus safer. If you've ever walked or ridden on a road, you'll realize how much debris there is closer to the edges-- pebbles and rocks, trash, nails and bolts, glass, etc.
  • Many states have passed laws that require motorists to give cyclists 3 feet (or 1 meter) when passing. See article in USA Today. Of course, North Carolina is not one of those states. Though it's not a law (yet), it's still a good rule of thumb to follow.
  • That being said, if you are on a four lane road and the left lane is free, why not get over when you pass? I ride Four Seasons Boulevard to work, one of the main thoroughfares in Hendersonville. Where I have to share with cars, the speed limit is only 35. If it were 55, I would not ride it. Yet in my four trips yesterday, there were at least 8 cars that, with no traffic in the left lane, either "squeezed" by me or barely moved left to pass.
  • I really believe more people would commute if it were safer. Some of the ones I've talked to are just terrified to share the road with these large cars and inconsiderate drivers. And probably rightfully so. To me, it would be a good investment in future paving projects to add bike lanes. They look aesthetically nice, promote safe commuting and minimizes conflicts between cars and cyclists. I noticed that almost most of the roads in rural Colorado had paved shoulders (photo below). While not designated bike lanes, they allowed me to ride out of traffic and a safe place to pull off if you were in a broken down car.

Again, it's spring and the weather is warmer. The people on two wheels are coming out. Please be aware of them. They would really appreciate it.

Example of how North Carolina is behind: I took this photo last summer during my bike tour on US 64 between the NC/TN border and Murphy, NC.
I understand the need for rumble strips. They've saved lives. They've alerted me when I have driven. But why not put them on the white line? What could have been a decent place for a cyclist to ride was made useless. I had to ride in the road with traffic going 55-60 MPH. Fortunately, there was not a ton of traffic, so cars could mostly get over into the left lane. But still-- Oregon, Colorado and even Kansas would never allow this.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Track 2011

Track season is over. We competed yesterday in the 2A State Track meet at NC A&T in Greensboro, NC. It was a hot and sunny day, but full of records being broken. It was a fast day.

North Henderson was not left out of the mix either. We had a great day. The 4x800 of Daphne, Emily, Catie and Elena set a new school record (old record 9:58.74) on their way to a runner-up finish in the first running event of the day. Their goal was the school record-- we thought if we broke that we might have a chance for the State Championship. Our 9:57.78 was a great time, but Carborro smoked a 9:49 to win. It was still a great effort by our ladies and they were thrilled and I was very proud.

They wrote their goal on their palms.

Just so everyone knows what a great race they ran, their best race before last weekend was a 10:43 at the conference meet. They really stepped it up and ran a 10:06 last week at the Regional Meet to finish second and qualify for state. The first place team was a second ahead of us. Yesterday, that team ran almost 9 seconds off last week's pace while these girls gutted out a time almost almost 9 seconds faster. As a coach, I only ask for their best effort. I think I got that yesterday.

Daphne also had a good day individually, placing 6th in the 300 Hurdles. Catie finished 7th in the 800. Daphne had never run under 50 seconds before yesterday. She ran 49.41 in the preliminaries and grabbed the last spot in the finals. In the finals she set another personal record of 48.96 to grab sixth place.

The boys were led by Kaleb's 6th place finish in the 400 and Brandon's 7th place finish in the 300 Hurdles.

And as tradition, the girls always choose a theme and dress up and surprise us at dinner. This year: Old Ladies. It was, needless to say, fun.
Old Ladies?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

... And I Feel Fine

Harold Camping says the world is going to end on Saturday, May 21.

We're running the 2A State Track meet in Greensboro on that day. I hope it at least waits until after 10:00 AM when we run the 4x800 because we really have a great shot to win. Our girls are seeded 2nd, just one second behind the 1st seed...

I'm not too worried, because if the world does end it's not like I have a lot of control over it. However, the tune up on my mountain bike and new tires on my car (both in the last two days) would seem somewhat redundant. But there are things I'll always feel like I missed out on. If the world ends on May 21, I'll never have...
  • Seen the earth from a spaceship
  • gotten to do RAGBRAI.
  • visited Iceland
  • watched the final episode of the Simpsons
  • hit a hole in one
  • shook the hand of the President of the United States (or any world leader)
  • correctly adjusted the rear derailleur on my mountain bike
  • been stranded on a deserted island
  • slept in an igloo
  • read the entire Koran (or the Bible for that matter- I always get bogged in Habakkuk)
  • been skiing
  • gotten around to finishing my teleportation machine
That's a long list and May 21 is just 26 hours away.

Oh well. Go Knights this weekend at NC A&T.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Obama and Osama

It's been a week since the announcement that the United States, after a decade, had finally found Osama bin Laden. You know the story, so I won't rehash it here. I've read many different perspectives on the President's role and none of them have changed my mind that you are always going to believe what you want to believe.

This was making it's way to the feeds of some of my friends on Facebook:
Let's be clear on this: OBAMA did NOT kill Bin Laden. An American soldier, who Obama just a few weeks ago was debating on whether or not to PAY, did. Obama just happened to be the one in office when our soldiers finally found OBL and took him out. This is NOT an Obama victory, but an AMERICAN victory!! REPOST IF YOU AGREE

Sure, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but there was something that bothered me about these postings.

I'm all for praising our soldiers, but this took stabs at the commander in chief. Some people will say it does not, it just directs praise in the right direction. The tone, however, speaks very differently. It assumes Obama's role was fairly minor (he just happened to be there) and it was the SEALs took the initiative, made the decisions and acted on the intelligence on their own. If so, they are rouge and I don't want them on my side.

But they are not rouge. They are doing exactly what they were trained to do: follow the orders of their superiors to the best of their abilities.

A few notes:
  • The evidence was strong, but not conclusive that Bin Laden was in the compound. The decision to send the SEALs was not a light decision. It involved a lot of wrangling for the President and within his staff.
  • Bombing would have been easier, but then there is the risk of not being able to identify the body.
  • What if it wasn't Osama Bin Laden hiding out there? Or what if it was a failure-- ala Bay of Pigs or Carter's attempt at rescuing the Iranian hostages? This was a huge gamble that if it did not work would have been disastrous to the President's political career. There were many reasons Jimmy Carter was only a one term president and the failure in the Iran Hostage Crisis didn't help.
  • Political opinions aside, could you imagine what this would have been instead of a dead Bin Laden we find some wealthy recluse and his family? Or if our soldiers were ambushed and the images that we're fighting to release or not release are the burned and mutilated bodies of American soldiers like we saw in Somalia, on which the book and movie Black Hawk Down was based? The video of slain Army Rangers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu still gives me shivers when I think of it.
  • Oh, and there's the entirely different and yet crucial issue of staging a raid in a sovereign nation without their knowledge and approval.
Barack Obama essentially had three choices: sit on the intelligence until it was more conclusive, bomb the compound from high above or send in the SEALs. The toughest decision was the latter. I'm not sure that if I were the guy calling the shots, that would be the choice I make. It was a decision that put American soldiers in harm's way, threatened our already somewhat fragile relationship with Pakistan and had the makings of a political disaster if not successful.

I commend the SEALs for a job well done. No one injured, much less killed. And they'll receive no credit for that's part of their job to be "quiet professionals". They will become anonymous and disappear into society like nothing every happened.

I commend the President for doing what politicians should do: make tough decisions.

Now I challenge him, House and Senate leaders and local and state governments to continue to make tough decisions. We need leaders in this country. We're not always going to work together and agree, but we need people who are willing to put country above politics. Maybe an electorate that could do that would be great too.

Opinions? Leave them in the comments. But please abide by the rule I tell my students: "We don't have to all agree; but we can disagree respectfully." For the most part, they get it.


"I just miss - I miss being anonymous. I miss Saturday morning, rolling out of bed, not shaving, getting into my car with my girls, driving to the supermarket, squeezing the fruit, getting my car washed, taking walks. I can't take a walk."
- Barack Obama

I was explaining to my students a few weeks back why I don't envy Kate Middleton. Her life will never be the same. Besides the obvious of always having security, handlers and staff, her highness will never just be able to take a stroll like the rest of us.

Being in high positions and celebrity does have it's perks. I'm not sure they are enough to make me trade in my anonymity.

Oh, but it was a nice wedding.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Terry Varnadore

I've never been to a military funeral before. The bugle, gun salute, presentation of the flag was a thing for movies. Today, it became reality. Terry Lee Varnadore was laid to rest this afternoon at Mills River United Methodist Church. The helicopter he was piloting crashed in Afghanistan last week cutting short the life a young man, husband and father.

Terry Lee was a freshman wrestler my senior year at West Henderson. I remember him taking lots of beatings. We weren't hazing him- we were a team that ended up winning a state title that year and had several state placers and champs on the roster. He experienced lots of growing pains in our wrestling area. But he always came back for more. And he got better. Before his career was over, he went on to advance to the state tournament twice.

I commented to Coach Smith about the great things he said about Terry Lee in the newspapers. His reply to me was that he was "one of those it was easy to find plenty of good things."

We always show honor to those who serve and have fallen because of their sacrifice. But often time, it's just that: we're honoring their sacrifice. With Terry Lee, we honored his life. You'd be really hard pressed to find someone with a negative comment about him. He met his future wife in Kindergarten. He was respected in school and by all accounts he was highly regarded in the Army. Terry Lee was a true hero.

I sat with Coach Smith, some of his current wrestlers and Mike Connelly, one of the captains on that wrestling team back in 1996. When, during the eulogy, Brent Hall, Terry's best friend and another wrestler, looked over and said that the men they wanted to most please in their lives were their fathers and Coach Smith, I couldn't handle it. I could relate to that sentiment because that man made a difference to me. The same way he made a difference to Terry Lee.

Terry's burial was a thing to behold. Again, I'd never seen it before. American flags everywhere. The steady breeze made sure we saw the Stars and Stripes in all her glory. Amazing Grace on the bagpipe, Taps on the bugle. Firefighters and law enforcement at attention above the crowd. And there was a flyover. Six helicopters from various nearby agencies flew low and slow over the funeral. I was reminded of his career in the military as a chopper pilot but I was also reminded that he is being carried to a great place.

And that our journey is not complete.

God rest your soul.

All Photos: my friend Patrick Sullivan- Times News