The Long and Winding Road – Following the Beatles Trail

I started this post in 2019, but now it’s 2021. Yes, it’s taken this long to get back to it,  and then get it sent out for your reading enjoyment. Hope you like it.

As of 2019, it’s been 55 years since the Beatles arrived on our continent to forever change the history of rock n’ roll. As I remember that year 1964, I’d found out that they were going to be on the Ed Sullivan show. My family was more interested in watching the Walt Disney show than Ed Sullivan. So I convinced my neighbor-friends, Patty & Linda, to watch the show. Huddled together in one of their bedrooms we watched the show, screaming with all the other girls across the country, who were also watching. Afterwards we spent months fighting over who would be Paul when we pretended to be the Beatles.

Although I spent most of my early life listening to and playing classical music, I quickly developed a love for the Fab Four and all their wonderful and sometimes quirky music. Knowing that most of my family originally came from the British Isles reinforced my love even more. I hoped that someday I’d get to go to their homeland and visit the places that were important in their lives, and places where they performed.

Read on

Jesus Wept for Notre Dame

I cannot begin to express the anxiety and heartbreak we are feeling over the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Tears have been shed. I feel a way that I haven’t felt since 9/11.

Notre Dame is THE iconic structure of Paris. When the Eiffel Tower was completed, Notre Dame had already been standing for over half a millennium. It is central to the city’s identity.

The only “good” news is that there was no loss of life (at least none known so far) and that this tragedy is not the result of an act of terrorism or war. It was an accident with horrible results.

But any other good news will be hard to come by. Medieval builders didn’t have access to strong fire-resistant building materials. In other words, there is a lot of old, large wood in that building that will joyfully burn until it is consumed. As I type, the roof is gone, and the stained glass is probably melted by now.

When we were in Europe in 2001, we saw many old churches and cathedrals that were burned by Henry VIII or bombed in the second world war, and all that remains are the stone walls and steeples. My worst fear is that this is what will be left of Notre Dame, and so far I haven’t seen any news to deny that.

The Sun As a Dark Star: Eclipse 2017

On the morning of August 21, RoZ and I were in Service Creek, Oregon for the total solar eclipse. We were with our friend Sage, his 8-year-old son Cosmo and their greyhound Serendipity.

We had driven 300+ miles from Seattle the day before and camped on the roadside near an old back-country stage stop. After marveling at the high-desert skyscape, we got a good night’s sleep and had breakfast at the stage stop in time for the big event. Read on

Fired Up – Ready to Go

Our train leaves tomorrow (Tuesday) morning to take us to Philadelphia. We’ll get there in time to do spend a few days reconnecting with the city (we lived in Phila. for two years in the 90’s) before facing the busy days and short nights of convention week.

Bernie may have endorsed Hillary, but there is still a lot of important work to do. To vote for Bernie as our nominee is not the only reason I am going to Philadelphia. I am mainly going there to do everything I can to change the direction of the Democratic Party. For too long, it has acted as Republican-light, but the only way we can win is to return to the populism of FDR and JFK.

This is more than a campaign.. it is a movement, a movement that must grow beyond this convention and beyond the next election. We go to Philadelphia to launch this movement forward.

By the way, after the convention we will have a YUGE credit card bill to deal with. We’ve had modest success with our fundraising, and we greatly appreciate all of the contributions – big and small – that we’ve received so far.

Right now we are at about $1,600. But our hotel room alone is going to cost $2,200. If we can raise another $600, that part of our bill will be covered and we will have an easier time squeaking thru this financially.

You can help out here, and you can monitor our progress here. Thank you very much.

The Limo – Bikepacking on a Tandem Recumbent

bikepacking: backpacking by bicycle; traveling long distances by carrying overnight gear and camping along the way.

As long as RoZ and I have known each other, we’ve wanted to go bikepacking. Since we moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin in the mid-90’s, we’ve had easy access to a premier network of bike trails. Most are part of the “rails to trails” movement: reclaimed rail beds with gentle grades far from highways and traffic. With plenty of places to camp, our part of the world is made for bikepacking. Read on

The Bridge Gallery

A newspaper we read online occasionally puts out a call for photos on a particular theme.

One such “assignment” was for “The World’s Best Bridges”, and it was enough to motivate me to dig thru our bridge pictures. The assignment description said that they weren’t looking for “iconic” bridges (though we have some of them, too), but for those that “make the business of crossing … an experience unlike any other.” I take that to mean “quirky”, and quirky is what we do. Read on

Windstorm Closes Bike Trail

We had plans to spend the weekend bikepacking overnight from La Crosse to Sparta and back (30 miles each way, camping in Sparta). The weather forecast looked good… the muggy upper 90’s would give way to dry air in the mid 80’s, with little wind. But it’s always the transition from hot to not-so-hot that creates trouble.

Friday night (July 1) a strong wind blew through the house before we could get windows closed. Fridge magnets and the stuff under them were blown all over the kitchen. A large crystal was blown off a window sill. We later learned our area had experienced winds up to 80 mph. It started hard and suddenly, then died down after a few minutes. It started to feel like deja vu from the tornado we had in May, and it lasted about the same amount of time.

We finished packing for our ride, and early Saturday afternoon we set out for the edge of town and the state bike trail, oblivious to the situation left behind by the storm. We went about 5 miles and found this…

A downed tree blocks the city bike trail on the north side of La Crosse.

A downed tree blocks the city bike trail on the north side of La Crosse.

We spoke with some people coming from the other direction, they told us that there were lots of trees down blocking the trail, all the way to Sparta. Some were large and others were small. “Too many to count.”

Just to get across that first large tree, we would have had to take the bike trailer off the bike and then find a way to finagle everything over the tree. That’s not so hard on a regular bike, but it’s nearly impossible with a loaded 10-foot bike, plus a loaded 3-foot trailer. If there were just one tree we could probably deal with it, but knowing there were a lot more of them down, we decided to turn around and go home.

Weirdly enough, we didn’t get any rain, just lots of wind and lightning. It did cool everything off though, and that’s a good thing.

RoZ adjusts gear on The Limo after we turned it around at the down tree blocking the city trail on the north side of La Crosse.

RoZ adjusts gear on The Limo after we turned it around at the down tree blocking the city trail on the north side of La Crosse.

Obbie adds: This bike trail is a major connection to La Crosse for users of the state bike trail system. I wonder how long a local highway – or even a minor street – would be allowed to remain impassible due to a downed tree.

Madison in Early Summer

We recently came home from a week off visiting Portage and Madison. This was a trip we would normally take to beat the winter doldrums, so this year we were kinda late. On the other hand, early June is a good time to be in Madison since most of the students are gone for the summer and the locals have room to breathe.

We lived in Portage for about a year in the mid-90’s, and we had an open invitation to stay with an old friend we have there. So we took the train to Portage and spent three quiet days in the country before being delivered to our friends in Madison just in time for the weekend.

A derelict traffic light controller was converted into a whimsical grotto on Willy Street in Madison.

The first thing we noticed when we got there was an ancient and defunct traffic light controller along Willy Street that was turned into a miniature grotto by a creative member of the neighborhood. Later, we found a makeshift book exchange on a street corner.

Our favorite part of town was having a neighborhood festival Saturday, and we ran into almost everybody we still know in town. The Marquette Neighborhood Festival had all kinds of great food, music, beer, and wine, but no coffee. If someone had set up a coffee cart, they would have made a LOT of money.

RoZ browses the titles in a book cabinet near the sidewalk bearing the words "leave a book - take a book" in a Madison neighborhood.

Last winter, there was a lot of political upheaval in the state capitol, and it continues as a prominent feature of Madison life. The focus of Madisonians is to recall Governor Scott Walker, and there’s also a strong movement encouraging Russ Feingold to run for governor in the recall election. But as visitors from “upstate”, we have a problem with this focus. The recall campaign against Walker can’t start until next winter – seven months from now. But we have a recall election against Dan Kapanke in less than a month. We’re all for recalling Walker, but first we need to get rid of Kapanke and five other Repugnantan state senators, so this focus feels premature to us.

RoZ relaxes on a bench in the Eagle Heights Community Garden in Madison.

We spent a lot of Sunday with a member of Obbie’s family who wanted to show us her plot in the community garden. Expecting to see a few vacant lots converted to gardens, we were taken to the Eagle Heights Community Garden and were amazed. Hundreds of gardeners have plots that stretch out over at least dozens of acres of what was once a lakefront farm. For something like $30/year, each gardener has access to wheelbarrows, shovels and other tools; a huge pile of mulch and compost is maintained by a front-end loader on a corner of the farm; and water is piped around the farm to be easily accessible to each plot. We felt like we were in the country, even though one of Madison’s busiest streets was just blocks away. We have seen many community gardens in many locations, but nothing of this scale anywhere, and we were impressed.

We spent the rest of the afternoon killing time on State Street before a rally at 5:00 where Russ Feingold was scheduled to speak. We met and hung out with some La Crosse friends who now live in Madison while Feingold rallied the activists. There were rumors (hope? fantasy?) that Feingold would announce his political intentions at this rally, but that didn’t happen.

Senator Russ Feingold greeted supporters following a rally on State Street in Madison, Sunday June 12, 2011.

Russ Feingold is under a lot of pressure to run for governor in a recall election, but he would also be a formidable candidate for Wisconsin’s other US Senate seat which is open for the 2012 election. Some political reporters have said that he’s interested in being governor, but that was before Herb Kohl’s Senate seat became available. Whatever Feingold decides to do, we have to deal with getting rid of Kapanke and his ilk first, and he pretty much said so in his speech.

We got on a bus for home the next morning. If you buy tickets three weeks in advance, you can get between Madison and La Crosse for $24/person in three hours. It let us off at the new downtown transit center just in time to get the next city bus home.

That’s the Spirit

A view of Mars from the rover "Spirit"

A panoramic view of Mars taken by the rover "Spirit" from a hilltop several miles from its original landing site.

Many years ago, some scientists and engineers designed a robot to crawl around on Mars, taking pictures, gathering data, and performing experiments along the way. In most space projects, the design work is a big part of the cost, so to build two robots doesn’t cost much more than to build one, and they can back each other up in the event something goes wrong with one of them.

They launched the robots – named Spirit and Opportunity – in 2003. At that time, space machines on their way to Mars were haunted by a streak of bad luck where they had a tendency to disappear when they should have been landing. But these machines both landed on opposite sides of the planet as planned, overcame some early glitches, and went on to perform beyond expectations.

Each rover had its own team of scientists minding it back on Earth. With the rovers on opposite sides of Mars, one crew slept while the other crew worked. They were scheduled to work for the expected life span of the rovers, which was 90 Martian days… just over three months.

Last week, the space agency announced that Spirit has gone dark… six years after it first landed on Mars. Scientists have learned many amazing things about Mars that we didn’t know before. For the rest of us, we get to see Mars as a place that doesn’t look much different than some parts of Arizona.

We now have a better understanding of that world and our own world, but when we find answers we also find more questions. But we’re not finished yet… Opportunity is still running, roving around, taking pictures, digging up dirt, drilling into rocks, and doing all the other amazing stuff that was designed into it nearly a decade ago.

Many people say we shouldn’t spend money on exploring the solar system, that we have far more pressing needs at home. The total cost of designing, building, launching, tracking and controlling the two rovers is about a billion dollars. That’s less than one B-2 bomber, or one day of the Iraq war. I think our great scientific minds are put to better use building space robots instead of war machines.

The same factories that build military hardware also build machines for interplanetary exploration. The rocket scientists who design cruise missiles can also design Mars landers. And the technology that enables these missions benefits all of us… after all, the first digital cameras were designed for robotic spacecraft.

The life of Spirit says so much about the kinds of amazing and cool stuff we can do. We need fewer bombers and tanks, and more Spirit.

Sunset in Berlin

Nine years ago tonight, after a long day of traveling, we arrived to our room in the Sunflower Hostel in Berlin. We were greeted by an unusual pattern of clouds radiating from the setting sun. We clamped the camcorder into the window and started rolling.

Ther resulting video was accelerated 15-1 (IF I remember correctly), and the audio is a montage of clips from the original recording. The trains you hear are a mix of S-bahn, U-bahn, commuter and intercity trains.