Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dumb and Dumber

Celeste and I are still soliciting donations for our Courage Classic Ride in July.  We're trying to raise $1,000 each, $2,000 total.  Any amount you can contribute would be just wonderful, thanks!  Donate here:
or here:

And I'm blogging about my attempts to train for this ride.  Follow along with my misadventures!  And donate!!

Well things got a little crazy today, and probably not in a good way.  Today was a Towers day, which means all the crazy trail runners in town congregate at Horsetooth Mountain Park west of town to run up Towers road.  It's a beast of a workout, and we do it every other Thursday, rain or shine.  I had the hair-brained idea to ride my bike to towers, run towers, and then bike back home.  And believe it or not, Alex had the same idea!  Hey if another person wants to do it, how crazy can it be?  And our friend Jonathan Z does this all the time, so it really wasn't that special of a plan.

So after work I rode to Alex's house, and we biked up to Towers together.  The Fort was pounded with a furious rainstorm earlier in the afternoon but things seemed to be clearing up, and our bike ride was dry and uneventful.  We got to towers, changed from biking shoes to running shoes, and ran a little one mile warm up.  Oh I hate how my legs feel trying to run after a ride, all wobbly and such.  Best to work out of that before tackling towers.

Towers is about 3.4 miles one way, and sports about 1,650 feet of climbing.  It's a beast, don't kid yourself!  I was planning on giving it a nice easy effort today, knowing that I still had to ride my bike home after the attempt, but two things happened that caused me to end up pushing the pace.  One, well, hey, it's towers, baby, and I just get excited chugging up that hill!  I can't help it, somehow I think this is fun.  But second, the relatively nice weather we were enjoying started to turn naughty.  First a brisk wind picked up, usually in our faces.  Then low ominous clouds started to roll in from the south.  We were going to get hit with another storm.  I picked up the pace, thinking I could literally outrun the worst of the storm.  In hindsight I really should have just turned around.  Summit fever, catch it like the plague.  Thankfully nothing bad happened to me or any of our group but I don't think we were being very safe out there today.  I got to the top of towers and immediately turned around and headed back down.

By the time I got to the bottom the rain had started to come down.  Alex and I thought about throwing our bikes into one of the other runners' cars, but ultimately ego took over and we decided we'd ride home through the rain.  Last year at the Courage Classic Celeste and I got caught in a tremendous downpour so I figured I could use a little wet riding.  Oh what fun it was.  I was a little timid on my skinny tires, but Alex and I made it back to town without incident, unless you consider my feet getting soaked and my bike getting filthy incidents.  But it was yet another dumb thing to add to the rapidly growing list of dumb things I did today.

So when you add it all up, I got 26 miles of riding with probably 1,500 feet of climbing, and 8 miles of running with about 1,700 feet of climbing, all told.  A pretty good day's work.  A dumb day's work, but it's a good dumb.

This is for brave little Ziggy, who toughed out the thunder and lightning with Celeste on Towers today.  Yes this is pretty much the best painting ever.  I'm getting a tattoo of it on my shoulder.  Maybe the malamute on one shoulder and the lightning on the other.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Eddie Vedder Opera

So I'm at the health club this morning taking Jeanie's group strength and cardio class, which is awesome, and not riding my bike; in fact I jogged over to the club (about 1.5 miles) instead of riding even that distance.  After work I went to the track for Jane's equally awesome track workout (running).  Apparently I'm training for the courage classic by doing a whole bunch of stuff that isn't actually riding a bike.  Well scratch that, I did commute to work on the bike so that's 10 flat miles for the day.  Incidentally not going to get it done.  Whatever.

Actually that's not what I wanted to write about today.  First, the pitch:  Celeste and I are still soliciting donations for our Courage Classic Ride in July.  We're trying to raise $1,000 each, $2,000 total.  Any amount you can contribute would be just wonderful, thanks!  Donate here:
or here:

Anyway, while I was at the health club I heard a song I've not heard in some time:  "Black" by Pearl Jam.  It was fairly faint in the speakers so I didn't recognize it until they got to the end bit, where Eddie Vedder sings:

"I know someday you'll have a beautiful life, I know you'll be the sun in somebody else's sky, but why, why, why can't it be, can't it be mine?"

Except of course as you know, he doesn't sing "mine" like that, he sings it like:

"Muhhhhhhhhhh-aaa-aaaah-ahhhh-hiiiii-ja-jaaa, whooo!"

(I had to look up the lyric on line b/c I wasn't completely sure that the word was, indeed "mine", incidentally)

Yeah, you know the part, everyone does!  In fact, as I'm listening along I realize that this is a live version of the song, and when he gets to the word "mine", the entire crowd sings along with each and every heartfelt inflection and vocalization of the word, in a grotesque echo of the original.  And I would do exactly the same thing if I was there, oh yes.  And how that must annoy Mr. Vedder!  Actually he's probably come to grips with the fact that every time he sings "black", this totally sincere, passionate, sad, intense, wonderful song, a bunch of idiot frat boys in the front row are going to bellow it right back in his face.  I'm certain he's simultaneously touched and appalled!  "Black" is one of those songs for me that I really liked, then I hated because I heard it too much, but now it is ok for me to like it again.  There's probably 4,000 other songs like that for me, all in various stages of that likability U-shaped continuum. 

But I actually had a good reason for hating that song.  I was in college when "Black" came out, and suddenly every girl on campus was in love with Eddie Vedder, which was bad news for the rest of us very non-Eddie Vedder types.  I heard the song and was impressed with the soulful intense vocal, but the girls heard that song and were instantly smitten with what appeared to be our generation's Van Morrison.  Overflowing with smit, I tell you.  Believe me, us normal guys had no chance to compete.  Oh, I grew my hair our and tried to look grunge, or at least tie a long sleeved shirt around my waist, and write poetry, and say deep things, and look both hurt and angry and cool all at once, but I was a fraud and all the girls knew it.  Damn you Eddie Vedder for being so perfect!  So I turned up my nose on Pearl Jam and went right to, uh, INXS apparently.  Hopeless.

But now I can like it again as I have come to grips with my own inadequacies in comparison to Eddie Vedder.  It's tough to be angry with him for stretching out the word "mine" into a 5 second aria, I applaud his verve.  Which brings me to my final observation about "black".  I've decided that the song is all rather operatic in nature.  You may scoff, but the overwhelming sense of sadness and lack of any redemption, lyrically or musically, rather strongly reminds me of some of Puccini's best work.  I'm thinking Tosca, but I always think Tosca.  Well, here.  Compare Placido Domingo with Eddie Vedder for yourself.  It's rock vs. opera, but they share the same intensity and passion, and in this case, the same ability to really milk a word for all it's worth.

First, Placido Domingo:

And here is Eddie Vedder:

Maybe I'm the only one seeing the similarities here? Well, it sounds like opera to me. And that's a good thing!

Ok tomorrow I will ride.  More than 10 miles.  Should be all rather exciting.  Hopefully not operatic though.

Oh and one more thing, congratulations to Ft. Collins' own Nick Clark for finishing in 3rd place in last weekend's Western States 100 miles race!  Jolly good Nick.  See you at Towers on Thursday.  I might ride my bike to the bi-weekly suffer-fest on the hill!

Monday, June 27, 2011

How to Train for the Courage Classic Without Really Trying: Part 1

Don't lean on me man, 'cause you can't afford the ticket, back from Suffragette City!

As you may know, Celeste and I signed up to ride in the Childrens' Hospital Courage Classic charity ride again this summer.  We did it for the first time last summer and had a really good time, even though the weekend ultimately entailed about 200 miles of bike riding over several high mountain passes in its three days of road biking mayhem. 

Well in spite/because of that, we're back again this year to ride once again.  Now, mind you, this is a charity ride and not a competitive ride, so quite frankly I don't feel too terribly stressed out about being in top riding shape when the event starts.  Which is a good thing, because I can safely tell you all that I am not in any way in top riding shape right now.  I'm in pretty good running shape right now, and I'm sure some of that fitness translates, but running and biking are not the same thing.  So I think I'd better train a bit before the event.  Now I don't need to be in Jan Ulrich shape in 4 weeks, but I don't want to be miserable out there on those mountain climbs either, so some riding is in store. 

Therefore please join me on a little blogging adventure as I try to get myself in biking shape for the Courage Classic.  I hope that you will also consider donating to the Children's Hospital on my or Celeste's behalf by clicking on either or both of the links below, and giving generously:
We're trying to raise $1,000 each -- $2,000 total, and I think as of today we have raised about $270 between the two of us.  Not too shabby to start, but we have a ways to go.  We're riding as part of the "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" team, whose members number six:  Celeste and I, our cousins Tim and Brian, and our friends Tony and Chryss.  We named out team after our new dog, Ziggy.  We rescued him back in December and we named him after David Bowie because he had one brown and one blue eye.  Come to find out that neither of David Bowie's eyes are Brown or Blue, they're both Hazel, and they only look like they're different colors because one eye is permanently dilated due to an old injury.  This is David Bowie I'm referring to, not our dog Ziggy.

Regardless, I'm a bit off topic here, which is just as well because I'm not sure exactly how much time I can spend telling you about how badly I'm riding right now, but once and finally I'll get to that bit now.

The training:

So I figure, this Courage Classic features 200 miles of riding and bunches of hill climbs.  I've been riding my bike to work most days, to the tune of 10 miles per day, but my commute is rather flat.  So today after work I decided to go ride the biggest nastiest local hill climb I could think of.  That's right, Rist canyon.  I've only successfully climbed this crucible of pain one time ever.  In fact it was last summer, when I was once again cramming for the courage classic.  So here we go again.  Rist canyon is about 2,500 feet of climbing in 10 miles of road.  A pretty mellow climb for a run, actually, but nasty stuff on a bike.  I've been doing a lot of hill climbing on foot lately so I thought I could breeze up Rist without too much trauma tonight on the bike.  I thought wrong.  Dang, biking is totally different than running.  Maybe I went out too hard, but I fell apart about half way up the canyon.  I didn't get started on my ride until about 6:45 pm, so I was actually running out of daylight in the narrow mountain canyon, but I was not able to make it to the top tonight.  Heck, I think I only made it about 1/3 of the way up the canyon before I turned around into the calm cool evening. 

It was a pretty ride, and I didn't see too many other riders up there tonight.  I ended up with about 23 miles of riding and about 1,500 feet of climbing all told.  This on top of my 10 commuting miles today makes for a fairly respectable 33 mile day.  I'll take another crack at Rist next Monday on the 4th of July, and this time I may drag Celeste and Tony and Chryss along with me so we can all curse Ziggy together.  It will be a team-building experience. 

So I must admit that I was humbled by Rist tonight.  Again, I may be in good running shape, but I am not in really good riding shape.  At least not where I want to be.  I'll keep you all updated on my training and fund raising progress over the next 4 weeks though, hopefully I'll be able to report good news on both fronts!  And yes I'll continue to run as well, I can't give up my true love!  I have a Bighorn 50 mile race report (I ran that jewel of a race the weekend before last) that I'll post in due time as well.

But for now let me remind you that while Ziggy played guitar, he never rode Rist.

aaaaaah, Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am (for donating)!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Ghanaian Rockies

A few weeks ago I posted a thorough deconstruction of the “Please Visit Ghana” Post Card #7.  So as promised in that post, I present today the “Please Visit Ghana” Post Card #10. 

This time we will mix it up a little and present the back of the card first.  Please read carefully the post card description:

And I thought I had problems with run-on sentences.  But you know what, through all the poor grammar and ramblings, I think Mr. Boateng does a pretty good job of selling Ghana as a tourist destination.  We learn from here that Ghana has chiefs, who presumably have some measure of control of the people, who themselves are nice, and religious, and therefore tourists are encouraged to visit the palaces and learn about Ghanaian culture, and don't forget the rich mineral resources, and I think I have fallen into the same run-in sentence trap as Mr. Boateng.  This post card business is trickier than it looks.

I know that the grammar is not correct, and it’s easy to scoff and laugh at that, but on the other hand I’m not sure I’d fare much better trying to create a post card of Colorado in Twi for Ghanaian tourists.  What I can’t really understand, however, is the front of the card:

I’m no expert at mountains, but I’m no slouch either.  Call me crazy, but my Messner-sense tells me I’m looking at St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park; not Ghana.  And once again, I must state that for the record that I did not see all that much of Ghana while I was there.  So the possibility does exist that the background scene on “Please Visit Ghana” Post Card #10 is actually located somewhere in Ghana.  But I'm guessing this is copied from a post card of Glacier National Park in the USA.  This should take no leap of faith from anyone reading this, but I presume Mr. Boateng started with a post card someone mailed to Ghana from the USA.  Then he pasted pictures of a Ghanaian soldier, Ghanaian drummers, and an Ashanti throne on to the original card, thus creating a whole new card.  At best, it’s almost like the visual equivalent of a rap song that uses samples of other songs to create something wholly unique and fresh.  At worst, it is a curiosity, something to be celebrated only with hipster irony and smug condescension.

St. Mary Lake.  Just. Sayin.

And yet this crazy mash-up IS Ghana.  It’s so Ghana.  So my question is this; is the juxtaposition of Ghanaian cultural vignettes and the Rockies art, commerce, silliness, or perhaps some combination of the three?  And more broadly speaking, are post cards art?  Can art be accidental?  What is this thing, exactly?  Let’s get our over-analysis on, shall we?

First let’s start with the premise that post cards are indeed art.  Although they are produced for commercial purposes, they are designed to be visually appealing and their intent is to give the purchaser and recipient pleasure.  I realize that not all art is created solely to provide pleasure, but that is one function of art.  A designer of postcards wants to make their product visually appealing so that it will sell.  So I propose that the creation of a post card is an artistic act, and it is intentional art, and not accidental art.  Art for commerce, but art nonetheless.  But what sort of art is this?

Let’s see if we can categorize this post card as something called “naïve art”.  Naïve art is an actual defined art form in painting.  In its most correct definition, naïve art is characterized by painters who have formal training, but willfully choose to reject rules of “classic” painting, most notably the use of perspective and proper color.  Sort of like punk rock painters, I guess.  Of course naïve artists generally continue to paint actual recognizable images, unlike abstract art.  I’d argue that our post card satisfies some of the criteria of naïve art.  Lack of perspective, rejection of realistic color, yes.  Recognizable images, well, sort of.  I mean, I recognize everything in the post card, but we’re getting closer to Salvador Dali absurdest juxtaposition than Henri Rousseau bucolic exotica here.  So I’m not convinced that naïve art is the best term for this particular work of art.

And I think serious “naïve artists” would take offense at this post card being described as naïve art, since Mr. Boateng probably did not make this post card with the intent of making naïve art and rejecting this or that artistic convention and sticking it to the (I assume) stuffy "post card" art establishment.  He wasn’t making a statement; he was simply creating a post card.  The fact that it looks like naïve art does not necessarily mean that it is naïve art.  Intent is important.  Artists can be so picky with labels…

So is there another term that fits better?  May I present the term “Outsider Art” for your consideration?  Outsider art is art created by people who have no formal art training.  There are no rules to break for Outside Artists, simply because they don’t know what the rules are.  Some people also will interchange this term with “Art Brut”, which is French for “Rough Art”, and also the name of a wonderfully silly English punk band.  I am told that the term Art Brut was originally reserved for art created by people in insane asylums, so, you know, it’s probably best if we stick with Outsider Art for the purposes of this discussion.

Note that the definition of Outsider Art really has nothing to do with perspective, or colors, or subject matter, or intent, or any of that stuff.  The term is reserved simply for people who make art, but have had no training at how to make it.  Perfect.  I’m going to assume that no one explained to Mr. Boateng the nuances and traditions of formal post card art.   Therefore his wonderfully weird and, yes, naïve creations as less a willful rejection of that stuffy post card establishment, and more an unintentional outsider’s perspective on the form, done without any knowledge that rules were being broken.

By the way, I think I'm going to categorize this post as absurdest art.

Since I seem to think of things in musical terms, I am reminded of a song that provides a perfect musical analogy to my completely over-analyzed post card.

May I present to you the fountainhead of “outside” indie music.  Not the Velvet Underground; The Shaggs.  The Shaggs were a band from New Hampshire in the 60s.  The band consisted of three sisters, who were managed by their father.  They had no musical training whatsoever, and not to put too fine a point on it, one can get a sense of their lack of formal training on their 1969 release, called “Philosophy of the World”.  I found a delightfully strange you tube animation for the song “My Pal Foot Foot” from this album, which you can peruse at your leisure here:

Listening to the song I am of course struck by the, uh, unconventional song structure and musicianship.  Man, that’s weird stuff.  But nonetheless it is a willful attempt at writing a song.  This didn’t happen by accident, believe it or not.  Furthermore, this is not the same as, say, the Rolling Stones writing a song that rejects the rules of rock music.  It’s not even punk music in that regard, since part of ethos of punk was a rejection of the “rules” that bands such as the Rolling Stones followed.  But even punk understands that there were rules to be broken.  Quite frankly it was part of the fun.  And even punk music didn't reject all the rules.  The Shaggs don’t appear to even understand that there are rules at all.  That’s what makes their music so fascinating, albeit difficult to listen to.  It's what differentiates the Shaggs from the Velvet Underground, for example.  Both bands broke the rules, but the Velvet Underground knew that they were breaking rules.  The Shaggs were just making art.  And quite frankly, the members of VU were better musicians.  But that's beside my point.

So yes, I’m stating that Mr. Boateng’s post cards are the post card art equivalent of “The Shaggs”.  Furthermore I’m stating that although it’s easy to mock Mr. Boateng’s post cards (and the Shaggs for that matter), and that it’s quite a lot of fun to do so incidentally, his post cards and the Shaggs music are actually unintentional and unique artistic statements in and of themselves.  More for the outsider’s perspectives that they represent than for their beauty or formal quality of course, but art, nonetheless.