Thursday, November 30, 2006

What I Learned in San Antonio

I spent the last 4 days in San Antonio, TX participating as a trainer/presenter at a conference. Althought I used to travel as many as 14 times a year for work my travel schedule has been cut back to usually 3-5 trips for the last couple of years. I know there are a lot of frequent travellers out there with suggestions about how to beat long ticket lines, score the best rooms or speed through airport security, but I learned a couple of interesting lessons on this trip:

Lesson 1 - Where the heck am I?
Clearly, you should know what city you are visiting, what hotel you are staying in and major landmarks near your destination, but there is one more thing you might want to investigate. What county are you visiting?

"What county?" you ask, "Why would I need to know that?"

Here's why. One evening during my trip a very strong cold front moved through the area, triggering tornado warnings and watches from the National Weather Service. Now, I appreciate highly the work done by NWS and the Emergency Broadcast System. However, I have no earthly idea what county San Antonio is part of, or which counties it sits next to. So when the warning came on listing several counties, I didn't know whether to sit in the bathtub and cover my head, just keep watching the non-stop stream of Law and Order reruns on cable, or go out to the Itallian restaurant I had a hankering for.

Lesson 2 - Check The Weather At Home, Too
I checked for San Antonio before I left Salt Lake. Ahhhhhhhh! Temps in the mid 80's until late Wednesday or Thursday when I return. Excelent! I will wear a light fleece vest to the airport, pack it to San Antonio and I'll be great.


I got of the plane in Salt Lake today and was met with temps in the low 20's. I had a long walk in the economy parking lot to my truck, in which I had no scrapper to remove the 4 inches of snow and ice. Gotta check that hometown weather for the return date next time.

Lesson 3 - Frequent Stay Programs are Great!
When I checked into the Westin Riverwalk (and excellent hotel) I was greated by Marissa. I asked for a non-smoking room and when she said the entire hotel was non-smoking I joking said, "Well, I'll take a big room then." At that point she asked me if I was a member of Starwood Rewards, looked up my number and told me that on my last stay I became a "gold" member of the program. She then became my favorite hotel employee of the year when she said "I have a suite available for you at no additional charge".

Suite? Sweeeeet!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Ten Little Steps

This post is not about turning your life around, although in a way it might be. And it's not about creating the ultimate Thanksgiving dish, yet that plays a part as well.

I read an article on the behavioral differences between fit and obese people several years ago. I wish I could find the reference, but the main point was this: People who are not fit, or obese find a bunch of little ways that they conserve energy. They don't get up as much when they work at a desk, they don't fidget, and they don't walk if they can avoid it.

The Story
This evening I found myself at the local big box supermarket. I went there to pick up some model paint, thinner and a snack for Mrs. GeekCyclist. It was a madhouse on account of all the people picking up dinner stuff.

On the way out I was behind a guy with a cart. In the cart was a box containing a single pair of boots. That's it; that's all he bought and he was pushing this pair of shoes to his car in a cart. As it turned out he was parked next to me, and I was parked next to the cart return. He put the box in the trunk and then proceeded to leave the cart between our cars.

That's right, rather than walk the ten steps to put the cart in the return, he left it between our cars. I looked around the parking lot and was amazed at the number of carts strewn all over the lot.

The Point
We constantly hear about people wanting to lose weight and get fit. But we have a society where we think our convenience is worth more than the time it takes to walk 10 steps. We believe that it's okay to take shortcuts or make decisions that go counter to anything we are trying to accomplish.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Living in Utah

I have lived most of my life in Utah, which leaves me feeling like I should answer the three most common questions I get about my home state.

1. Yes, I am a member of the predominant religious community, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the "Mormons".

2. No, I have never skied at Snowbird, Alta, Park City, etc, etc. In fact I have never skied other than a couple of cross-country excursions on rented equipment.

2. No, I have never ridden the Slickrock Trail, or anything else in Moab. I have never really mountain biked anything.

So, why do I live here? To begin with, I feel at home among the mountains. While I don't ski or mtn bike, I was an avid rock climber for years, and I continue to log about 25 nights of camping or backpacking every year. I like to hike. I find nearly every part of the state that I have visited to be relatively hospitable to road cycling.

I have a great job with state government. I have been there for almost 15 years, and I enjoy what I do. It's nice to feel like the programs and projects I work on can really make a difference in someone's life.

Changing My Answers
The funny thing is, I am feeling more and more inclined to change my answers to numbers 2 and 3. (Sometimes dumb things done in the name of religion make me think about changing my answer to number 1 as well, but that's a topic for a different post).

I don't really have the time, money or desire to get into downhill skiing, but I'd really like to supplement my normal winter activities with some cross country skiing or snowshoeing. I actually have a pair of snowshoes I made as a boy scout in about 1985. I figure I could get a x-skiing package for under $200 and I think even Mrs. GeekCyclist might like that.

Even more enticing is the idea of mountain biking. I have a rigid frame mountain bike that I bought in the early '90s but I have converted it to a commuter with high pressure slicks, rack and fenders. But over on one of my favorite blog, Elden, the FatCyclist, (who by some strange quirk of mathematics and physics weighs about 60 lbs less than me), has posted a 4 part series on his trip to Moab. This is another area where I think I could entice Mrs. GeekCyclist to participate. She acually has a Giant hardtail that doesn't get much use, but she has ridden the Jordan River Parkway trail with me.

I am not sure I have ever seen anything that looks more fun. I have found my reason to want a new bike...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A week with no rides

It's been over a week since I last rode. In fact, last Friday I started doing a major tuneup on my mountain bike primarily because I knew I wasn't going to get to ride this week. I overhauled the hubs of both my main wheels and my backup pair, and threw both cassettes in a bucket of degreaser. That's where they have been for a week now.

Besides just being generally busy I went to Milwaukee to testify in the sentencing hearing for this case. The couple got 48 months for immigration and indentured servitude violations, which seems low considering they held a domestic servant 'captive' for almost 20 years. Then again, they are Filipino citizens which means when they get out of jail they will almost certainly be deported. I was called to testify about the back wages owed to the servant (almost 3/4 of a million dollars.)

Wrong Plane
A funny thing happened on the way to Milwaukee though. I had to fly to Denver to connect through to Milwaukee. It was one of these small Canadair Regional Jets that hold 40-50 people; one where to board you usually exit the airport and walk across the tarmac to the plane.

At the Denver Airport all of the similar small jet flights use the same main gate, and then you walk down some stairs and through a long hallway with doors labeled A-N. They have people with clipboards checking tickets etc.

As the time approached for our flight to push back, I was commenting to the man seated across the aisle that we may have gotten very lucky since we were the only two people on the plane seated in rows with empty seats. Just then a frazzled woman came rushing on the plane and sat down next to me.

We chatted briefly as the plane took off, and then I returned to my book. After about 30 minutes the pilot came on the intercom and did the spiel about our altitude, the weather and the expected flight time to Milwaukee. "Jill" tapped me on the shoulder and with a shocked expression said, "Is this plane really going to Milwaukee?" Of course I said yes, to which she responded "I not going to Milwaukee. I'm going to Indianapolis." To which I responded "Not without going to Milwaukee first..."

The funny thing was that her ticket was for a seat in row 13; my row. Had she held a ticked for any other row there would not have been vacant seats and it is likely the flight attendants would have put her on the right plane.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Counting Votes

A Close Race
I know people who never vote because they say their vote can't make a difference. I know others who have this vision of their vote being that one vote that puts their candidate over the top. I think that sometimes both viewpoints have some validity.

In the great state of Utah I have a hard time seeing how my vote in a presidential election can make a difference when this is the reddest of the red states. I think in '92 not only did the former President Bush beat Clinton, but Perot did too.

On the other hand, we are in the midst of a recount in my state House of Representatives district. Our incumbent representative ended the election 25 votes behind the challenger. 25 votes seems to me like the equivalent of one evening shaking hands, 2-4 well placed lawn signs, or maybe an hour of calls from a poll watcher.

It is insane how this race has gone, especially when it looks like the challenger spent about $50k on the race while the incumbent spent about $15k. I like the incumbent, but I think our representation could be better. I strongly disagree with the challenger on multiple issues that are important to me, and with the amount of money she spent I am worried about her ties to several special interest groups I despise, but I think she would at least be a passionate advocate for our area.

It may be December before we find out who won.

Voting on Two Wheels
I rode to the polls; twice actually. I tried to vote early last Friday but when I got to the location the wait was about two hours. So on Tuesday I left the house about 5 after 7 in the morning and rode to the local elementary school. I was a little discouraged because I overslept and was afraid of the lines I would encounter. As it turns out I was done and back on my bike riding to work within 30 minutes.

Voting For Two Wheels
There were three propositions on the ballot, all of which dealt with parks, transportation and open space. They all three passed, which I am happy about. What I would really like to see is more discussion of complete streets and safe routes to school.

I don't know how much of an impression my showing up at the polls in cycling clothing made, but I know I am a little 'famous' both in the neighborhood and at work for commuting by bike. I know when I first started my 13-15 mile one-way commute seems like a really long way. Now, I can't imagine not doing it long term, and if I go more than a day or two without riding I can's stand it.

So, to my 3 loyal readers, a question. What should I do to help make cycling a more viable alternative in the Salt Lake City area?

Monday, November 06, 2006


A few nights ago was Meet the Candidate night at the local high school. There are some interesting local races including those for my district's state Senator and Representative. So I packed up the kids and off we went.

I got to talk to several candidates and made up my mind about a few races. The best thing was the chance to talk to policy and lawmakers about the concerns of a commuting cyclist.

I asked several candidates, "A legislator once told me that he was sensitive to the needs of cyclists. What do you think the needs of cyclists are?" The answers tended to flow around the idea of a recreational cyclist. The focus was on parks, trails and the like.

I was really pleased when two candidates seemed to really grasp the idea of cycling as transportation. They each talked about wider streets, better enforcement of the Josie Johnson Law. It gave me a chance to talk about Complete Streets and Safe Routes to School.

I was also able to share the major frustration of the commuting cyclist in western Salt Lake County - crossing.

On my typical routes to work I have to cross two high speed divided highway (SR 201 and Bangerter Highway), two or three interstate highways (I-15 and I-215 at least, and sometimes I-80), a river, and multiple sets of grade-level train tracks. At one set of tracks that crosses the 800 South bike route it seems like once I week I am blocked by a stopped or veeerrrrryyyy slow moving train working it's way through downtown.

I moved to my current home about 10 years ago, and since then the population has at least doubled in this area. The development has made nearly unridable three of the roads I used to ride frequently. One of the roads I have switched to is fairly good, but also has the old-style, wheel-swallowing sewer grates every few hundred feet. There is a parkway next to the river that now has an underpass below SR 201 (thank you SL County), but it suffers from an infestation of southwest thorns.

I recognize that I live in the 'wide open west' and that people out here have a love affair with their cars, especially the gas-guzzling, huge-family carrying SUV's. But I want to get the message across - I am only trying to get to work on time, just like you. I'd like to be able to get there more or less in a straight shot, similar to what I could do if I drove. And I'd like a little patience from motorists when on rare occasions I am forced to take the lane. Remember, I'm not blocking traffic, I am traffic.

So - I am going to vote bicycling as much as I can. There are a lot of other things important to my vote as well, but I only get one and commuting coupled with open space preservation are touchstones to me. It may not be much, but thats how I plan to contribute on election day.