Tucker

“Tucker: The Man and His Dream” is a great movie.  I have shown it to my leadership and management students over the years as a way to connect the concepts of entrepreneurship, creativity, optimism, innovation, charisma, and teamwork.  Unfortunately, it also gives warnings about unethical behavior and ugliness of power and politics.  It shows what can be possible with an indomitable will and drive to succeed.  The movie was based on the true story of Preston Tucker.

In one of the final scenes of the film, which takes place in a courtroom during Tucker’s trial for fraud and corruption, Preston Tucker gets to deliver the closing remarks to the jury.  As part of the closing, he had arranged for the 50 automobiles that his company produced to park on the streets around the courthouse.  To prove his innocence against the charges against him, he asked the jurors to simply get up and look outside the windows of the courtroom and see the automobiles.  If they could see the automobiles, they would known that he had done what was expected of him and that he was not guilty of fraud.  The case could have ended there and then.  Unfortunately, there was a legal technicality that prohibited the jurors from doing so–they had to take his word without actually seeing the evidence for themselves.

At the end of film, the jurors got to sit in and take rides in the actual cars.  The people looked elated.  The cars were revolutionary for their day–they possessed features that would later become standard for automobiles in the future.  The people and forces that that were heavily invested in the existing system of automobile manufacturing did not want Preston Tucker to succeed.  They didn’t want to change–they just wanted to keep the status quo and to continue making cars in the same old ways.

As I try to describe the power of experience-based and experiential learning opportunities to people who don’t understand them, I feel like Preston Tucker trying to get everyone to simply “look” and see for themselves.  I don’t think that I can count the number of invitations that I’ve extended to people to look at my videos, visit my social media accounts, join with us, and experience these things for yourself.  You really have to be part a Red Pill experience to truly understand.  In the meantime, take a look at my social media accounts to get a glimpse.

Leadership Studies Website

“Glimpse” is the proper word.  Someone on the outside looking in cannot possibly connect social media images and videos to the feelings, emotions,  and memories of the experiences drawn in through all of the senses.  When watching videos, be sure to look at the faces, body language, weather, surroundings, and other visual cues in each image.  Only in that way can an outside viewer possibly connect with the people in the pictures.  Only be seeing the faces and trying to put yourself in the place of the jurors who, for example, just lived through the Tucker trial, can you begin to understand their amazement with the new cars.

Just look.  Just do it.  Then you will know with certainty that what I am saying is true.

 

The Weeping Prophet

In the Old Testament, Jeremiah was called to deliver a message that few people were willing to heed.  Although faithful to his mission, he and his message were rejected by the people he was called to help.  He took the rejection personally and often questioned and despised what he had to do.  Although lonely and seemingly depressed, he begrudgingly carried on his work.

Since my last blog post, I have also been rejected among men.  My academic program and position have been cut from my university and I have failed to receive a job offer from four different universities with leadership studies programs–two without an interview, one after an opening interview, and one after two interviews.  And while I am not depressed, I am saddened by the decisions of the university and search committees.  They just don’t know.

As described in other blog posts, the power of these learning experiences cannot be fully known until they are experienced.  Trying to described the beauty of a sunset can never take the place of actually seeing one.  Likewise, trying to grasp the power in a moment of athletic or musical performance achievement is impossible to fully describe and understand with just words.  The only way to truly understand those things is to experience them yourselves.

Several years ago, I got to a point where my words were insufficient to describe to parents and students the things that we did through our program.  The diverse array of classes, the exceptional trips and visits, the service projects and all of our other extracurricular activities were too much to describe.  I needed something else to help others understand what we do.  I used the power of pictures and videos and jumped into social media with both feet.  Facebook, which we had used internally as a communication forum, suddenly became a way to inform the world of the things we do.  Facebook page

As other social media platforms arose, so did consumer tastes and preferences.  Younger people moved off of Facebook and their parents moved on.  Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and other platforms came into being that attracted younger people–people in the high school and college-aged demographic.  I moved into the Instagram world as well.  Instagram doesn’t have abilities to share videos like Facebook, but has other strengths.  Instagram has been a nice tool for helping spread the word and inform others of our offerings using visual stories. Instagram page

Videos are also powerful ways to convey stories and experiences.  While limited in their ability to relay emotions, they can capture sound and provide a wider visual story.  I began making documentary and recap videos of our extraordinary learning experiences as way to remember them and to show others so that they might see and better understand what we do.  YouTube is the forum for storing and sharing our videos. YouTube channel

Our videos, pictures, and social media posts only serve to help us tell our stories if people look at them.  My recent experiences of interacting with administrators and search committees convinces me that they are clueless about our social media accounts and the loads of information presented through them.  Despite invitations and exhortations to learn about the unique and exceptional learning opportunities available to students through my program, there has been very little evidence that any of those people even take a look.  Matrix-based programs don’t have social media news.  Matrix-educated administrators and search committee members don’t have clues that education exists beyond the traditional ways they’ve only experienced.

As I prepare for a final year at my current institution, I have begun inviting students from across campus to join us next year in our course offerings.  The videos, pictures, and stories that I am using to invite students brings back strong memories to me–and not just memories of facts and details, but of feelings and emotions and the intensity of the moments experienced together in earlier learning environments.  Those students who shared those moments from earlier classes understand the power of those experiences–their memories extend far beyond words.  They’ve been beyond the Matrix.

I’m not sure what the next chapter will be in my life.  I only know that life beyond the Matrix is the best place to be and that the forces that work to keep people operating in traditional modes of thinking are very powerful.  I will symbolically weep for those who are content to exist in their worlds of limited understanding, but will continue push ahead with my messages and methods of learning beyond the Matrix.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

“Good morale in cycling comes from good legs.”   – Sean Yates

After a few decades away from playing my saxophone and bass clarinet, I got back into music in the past several years.  I play in the Abilene Community Band on Monday nights and in our church orchestra on Sunday mornings.  We have just completed our Christmas concert season and it was one of the easiest to endure since getting back into playing.  Bass clarinet parts usually involve a lot of sustained playing throughout all of the pieces.  With a repertoire of 10-14 pieces for our Community Band programs, it is common to play almost constantly for an hour or more during our concerts.

Until this year, I’ve always had problems with my mouth being in good enough shape to maintain a strong embouchure throughout the concerts.  Air starts seeping out of the corners of my mouth, my mouth muscles get tired and fatigued, and I sometimes have to pause from playing during some of the pieces in order to stretch my cheek and mouth muscles to have enough stamina to finish the songs.  I don’t like that.

I’ve realized that playing only on Sunday morning and Monday night is not enough to keep my embouchure in shape.  In the weeks leading up to this concert season, I began playing at home almost nightly to build stamina.  I’d play my clarinet, saxophones, and even brass instruments on a regular basis to build and maintain strength in those muscles.  It REALLY helped.  I don’t recall having any endurance problems in any of our performances.

As we’ve been preparing for our ninth long-distance bicycle ride, I’ve made a connection between developing and maintaining a strong embouchure for playing my bass clarinet with strength and endurance for our upcoming cycling adventure.

With the way we ride on our cycling trips, you don’t have to be in top shape to hit the road.  By riding as a team and (potentially) taking turns on the bikes and in the support car, it is possible to ease into the experience with lesser miles on the first few days and more miles toward the end of the ride.  A solid base-level of conditioning is required, but we’ve also come to realize that we get stronger on each succeeding day.  That strategy works better on longer rides.  On shorter rides (5-7 days), you don’t get to enjoy the benefits of being in really good shape for long before the trip is over.  On the Canada rides, you can ease into the adventure for 3-4 days and still have two weeks of strong riding.

This upcoming trip is loaded with veterans who know how things work.  They will either be in shape or will slide into ideal shape over the first few days.  The newbies have been encouraged and prompted to ride and build endurance.  Everyone on the team will undoubtedly have the strength to get started and enjoy the ride (maybe for just a few “musical pieces” at first).  I’m hoping that everyone has been working on building their endurance over time.  From experience, I know that it will be a more full and enjoyable experience for everyone if they start strong and finish strong.

 

Keep the Tank Full

“The bicycle is a curious vehicle whose passenger is also its engine.” – John Howard

As we approach our next ride, I still sense a little apprehension from our rookies.  I don’t feel that the apprehension is coming from their uncertainty of how this whole thing will unfold or how they will hold up.  Half of our team are veterans–some coming back for their fourth, fifth, and sixth rides.  The newbies also seem confident in knowing that the experience is something that they can (and will) accomplish.  What they need help understanding are the host of detailed tips and hints that aren’t readily apparent until you’ve actually experienced a ride.  Again, my newbies are true newbies–most are not cyclists and none have completed similar adventures.

One of the tips that I pass on to everyone during the preparation and execution of the ride involves the necessity of eating and drinking.

An automobile engine will perform the same whether the gas tank is full or almost empty.  As long as there is gas in the tank and flowing into the engine, the automobile will maintain a consistent level of performance.  Drivers can refill their tanks at anytime from just-off full to nearly empty.  Once refilled, the automobile will continue to maintain its previous level of performance.

Human bodies do not function like automobile engines.  When riding a bicycle, human beings are not only passengers, but the engines as well.  Our bodies are not designed to perform equally well when full of fuel or almost empty.  We can’t deplete nearly all of our reserves before filling back up.  We must keep consuming good calories during the day and stay hydrated.  Having come to this conclusion the hard way (from experience), I’ve devoted a lot of effort to reminding my cyclists of this fact.

When out on the road, we usually pause every 10-15 miles to rest, eat, communicate, and swap out riders (if needed).  Those pauses give team members enough time to put something in their bellies.  Bananas, oranges, trail mix, protein bars, fruit snacks, and other healthy and high-energy snacks are perfect for keeping the tank full.  The rest stops also give time to top off water bottles and consume sports drinks (or mix them with water in their bottles).  It is important to not become bloated or over-full from eating and drinking, but it is important to make sure that the energy tank stays mostly full.  A lot of small snacks during the day keeps our bodies properly fueled.

Because we are almost always split into two vehicles and on the road throughout the day, it is rare that we actually stop at a restaurant for lunch.  We sometimes do (especially when we are meeting a newspaper reporter or managing our time to nightly host), but we mostly carry and prepare food in the car as we’re rolling.  We frequently visit grocery stores in our host cities each night.

One of our favorite on-the-road “meals” are peanut butter fold-overs (or “halfsies”).  A fold-over is simply peanut butter slathered on one side of a piece of bread and then folded over into a half-sized sandwich.  In 3-4 bites, with lots of liquid to wash it down, you can quickly eat one of these high-energy snacks.  They are also quick and easy to make and can be handed out one after another to hungry cyclists.  Support car passengers usually serve as the team chefs while out on the road.

Jelly is also okay to add to the halfsies, but is more complicated to store without refrigeration, requires more time to make the sandwiches, and is potentially a lot messier if dropped in the car (which I’ve done–and got grape jelly on the side of the front passenger seat in my wife’s car).  For these reasons, we usually go with just peanut butter on our sandwiches.

At times, we will plan our rest stops at gas stations and convenience stores.  Those stops not only allow us to get gasoline in the support vehicles if needed, but also allow us to use the bathrooms and grab some quick food while out on the road.  Turkey and cheese sandwiches, chocolate milk, and (more often than I care to admit) mini donuts or banana pudding (Buc-ee’s) are frequently purchased items at gas station rest stops.

IMG_5543

It’s not uncommon for me to weigh more at the conclusion of our rides than I do when we begin.  I like to think that comes about from gaining so much new muscle in my legs and rear-end, but probably equally a result of constant eating of high calorie snacks while on the road and the consumption of mass quantities of food in the evenings.  More on that will come in a future post.  Needless to say, I’m a fan of keeping the tank full.

 

The “Wear” of Cycling

“The cold never bothered me anyway.” — Elsa, Frozen

In the summer, the choice of cycling kit is exceptionally easy to pick out.  A short-sleeve cycling jersey, a pair of padded cycling shorts, along with my cycling sandals, gloves, helmet, and sunglasses are all that are needed–everyday.

The cold-weather months create needs for different clothing strategies.  Living in Texas, we do experience cold weather, but don’t have to contend with snow or ice very often.  We can pretty much ride year-round, but the choice of what to wear changes often–almost daily during the Fall and Winter months.  It is common for temperatures to vary 20-30 degrees from the mornings to the late afternoons–so riding in the morning and riding in the afternoon can require very different riding togs.

In the summer of 2014, I took my university students to Vienna to participate in the Vienna International Model United Nations Conference at the UN Headquarters.  It was our second time to participate and my fourth time in Vienna.  The conference is for university students leaving faculty advisers without much to do during the sessions.  On one morning, I decided to let the students go to the conference while I went shopping in some of my familiar and favorite places from previous trips before meeting them at the UN in the afternoon.

Among the stops on my shopping expedition was Sports Direct on Mariahilferstrasse.  As I rode the escalator up to the fourth floor of the shopping center to reach Sports Direct, I could see a sales clerk pushing a freshly stocked rack of clothing to the entrance of the store.  It was cycling gear…and it was marked “90% off” regular prices!  And it wasn’t one rack that had been rolled out, there were 3-4 racks.  The store was obviously wanting to rid itself of the previous year’s cold weather gear in order to make room for a new inventory that would soon be arriving.  I was ready to help them clear their stock rooms.

Unfortunately for most people, but fortunately for me, the clothes appeared to be mostly in very small and very large sizes.  For cyclists, very large clothing is still reasonably sized compared to the body sizes of the American (non-cycling) population.  At nearly 6’3″ tall and slightly more than 200 lbs., the largest sizes on the racks fit me perfectly.  I came home with long-sleeve jerseys, two middle-weight fleece jackets, a pair of bib cycling tights, and a jacket for super-cold weather–made of an almost wet-suit type of fabric that keeps in body heat.  It was quite the score.  Combined with other purchases in Vienna, at home, and online, I now have a fairly complete collection of Texas-rated, winter cycling clothes–including a head band to cover the ears, a balaclava, padded and unpadded tights, gloves (heavy, middle, fleece, and fingerless), and a variety of long- and short-sleeved jerseys and dry-fit shirts for wearing over and under the jerseys.

Choosing proper clothing to wear when cycling is dependent on the temperature, wind, whether the sky is cloudy or sunny, and the predicted changes over the time that you’ll be out riding.  Layers are important when riding, but work best when you have a place to put the peeled-off layers as you warm up.  When you are on the road and away from a “home base” you have to carry everything with you on the bike.  It is best to guess wisely on your clothing needs when setting out on a ride.

From my experiences, I’ve developed a basic guide to clothing based on the temperatures and weather conditions.  I always wear a cycling jersey (short- or long-sleeve) or cycling jacket when out riding.  I depend on the pockets in the back to carry my phone, keys, and whatever else might be needed that day.

Mid-70s and up – summer cycling wear – shorts, single jersey, fingerless gloves.

60s and low 70s – shorts, two layers on the torso (dry-fit t-shirt under a long-sleeve jersey OR long-sleeve dry-fit shirt over a short-sleeve jersey), fingerless gloves.

50s – cycling tights, long sleeves (fleece jacket or thermal long-sleeve jersey and dry-fit undershirt OR sweatshirt and short-sleeve jersey), fleece gloves and maybe a headband to cover the ears.

40s – cycling tights, long sleeves (fleece jacket with long sleeve jersey or dry-fit undershirt OR sweatshirt and long-sleeve jersey), fleece gloves or middle-weight gloves, headband or balaclava.

30s and below – cycling tights, warmest cycling jacket (with short- or long-sleeve underlayers), heavy- or middle-weight gloves, balaclava.

I’ve also noticed that as cold weather settles in, my body becomes more accustomed to the lower temperatures.  At the beginning of the cold season, I find myself dressed in warmer clothes than what I’ll wear several weeks and months into the season.  Where tights were once needed when venturing out, I later become comfortable going back to shorts.  And where a jacket was needed earlier in the season, a long-sleeve jersey becomes fine.  The same holds true for the headband.

I think that the worst part of cold-weather cycling is knowing that your body will warm up 2-3 miles into your ride.  You can choose to start off slightly cold and then warm up or start off comfortable and then shed once you get going.  Like skiing, or other outdoor activities in cold weather, the trick to stating comfortable is to dress properly for all occasions.

Slow Rider

No matter how slow you go, you are still lapping everyone on the couch.

Those who know me know that finding exceptional deals on things is something I enjoy doing.  It’s a game and one that takes patience, knowing what you are looking for, being willing to ask for your terms, and being ready to walk away if the seller isn’t wanting to play along.

My son and I enjoy finding deals on musical instruments.  Often times, they need repairs to make them playable and/or in a condition to sell to others.  We also have a larger-than-needed collection of instruments that we enjoy playing and having available to play.  Some instruments are sitting in storage waiting for the right time to take in for repairs.

Once we realized that long-distance cycling was something that we were going to do on a regular basis, I applied my deal-making skills to building our fleet of bicycles and equipment.  Good deals found on Ebay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, pawn shops, trade-ins at the local bike shop, and contributions from friends and supporters have helped us develop an impressive collection of required cycling gear.

While preparing for the Katy Trail ride, I began researching gravel and trail bikes.  We had several hard-tail trail bikes that we could use for the ride, but they just felt so heavy and slow when out on the road.  The thick tires and front-fork suspension would be welcome on the trail, but I was (not so) secretly wanting something that would also ride more quickly on hard-packed dirt trails.

The RAT 1000 is a dirt-road and trail race across Texas from Texarkana to Tucumcari, New Mexico.  I belong to the RAT 1000 interest group in Facebook and before our Katy Trail ride, did some research on the types of bikes used by gravel racers.  The Salsa brand is one that came up a lot in the online posts and discussions.  After looking at prices of Salsa bikes and comparable models by Specialized and Trek, I decided that I couldn’t justify the cost of a new bike.  I already had a road bike and a trail bike–spending a thousand dollars for a hybrid-type bike wasn’t something that I could justify doing.  Our trail bikes worked out very nicely for us.  We were not rushed for time and the slower pace probably made the trail ride more enjoyable for all of us.

In the months after the Katy Trail ride and right before our second January ride across Texas, I saw an interesting post on ShopGoodwill.com.  There was a strangely labeled listing for a Shimano bicycle.  Shimano is not the brand of a bicycle, it is the brand of the shifters and derailleur system.  I clicked into the listing to see exactly what was up for auction.  The pictures showed very little detail, but it looked like a steel-frame bike and one that might work well on trails.  The wheels were detached from the frame, it didn’t look like pedals or a seat/saddle was included, the handlebars were unattached, and a rack was included among the pile of parts.  Besides the frame looking distinctly steel with cantilever brakes, there was very little else to identify exactly what it was…except for one bit of evidence that eventually caused me to bid on and win the bicycle.  The handlebar stem had a distinctive “Salsa” label printed on it.  The fork and other characteristics of the bike didn’t line up with the Salsa bicycle models that I investigated, but I felt like the bike was still worthy of bidding on and purchasing if I could get a good deal.

For $41, I won the auction.  It was a pick-up only auction, but fortunately it was in Austin and I had a friend driving through there on the way back to Abilene two days after the end of the auction.  Yada, yada, yada…the bike made it back to Abilene and after several hours of online research, I was able to match the serial number and frame characteristics with well-respected brand and model.  It turned out to be a Surly Long Haul Trucker!  That is a magnificent find.  With wide tires, it would be great for future trail rides.  And with wide tires, it would be a smooth ride on our chip-seal roads and highway shoulders in this part of Texas.  It’s a smooth and comfortable ride–it’s also pretty heavy.

surly

I’ve kept the Surly at school with our fleet of BRAT bicycles.  It’s nice having it handy for training rides with our team.  When riding with students on our training rides, most of them are new or getting back in cycling shape.  Despite my heavier bike with wider (42mm) and softer tires, I am able to easily keep up with the neophytes on their 25-28mm tires.  I have been planning to bring the Surly along on our upcoming ride across Texas.  It is a monster to lift onto the bike racks on our trailer and would be annoying to load and unload as a second bike each day, but it is SOOOOO comfortable out on the road.

In the past few days, I’ve been riding the Surly in place of my carbon-frame bike while the carbon bike is in the shop getting its shifters replaced.  When riding by myself without students and on the normal roads and routes that I usually ride on my carbon bike, I’m finding that comfort is less desirable than speed.  I give up an automatic 1.5 mph on the steel bike compared to my carbon bike.  For the same amount of perceived exertion, the heavier bike actually feels heavier and more sluggish.  When riding with the wind, it isn’t a problem–riding into the wind is an entirely different story.

Now only a couple of weeks away from our next ride, I’ve decided that the steel bike and its fat tires will be THE bike for future trail rides, but that carbon and fast is where I want to be with the upcoming ride.  I will continue to ride the steel bike while the carbon bike is in the shop and on training rides with new generations of developing BRAT cyclists.  It’s nice to have options and the proper equipment for each particular type of challenge that we set out to conquer.

Hello darkness, my old friend

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.

Back by 8 a.m. and out after 8 p.m.  During the hot summer months in Texas, that is the adage I use to avoid the hottest times of the day for a ride.  They are also the times when the winds tend to be the lightest.  By riding early or late in the day, I am also able to avoid lathering up in sunscreen.  The trees that line my usual route provide shade from the sun while it is close to the horizon.

Winter months bring with them a different combination of variables that need to be assessed before determining the “when” of cycling.  Mostly, I ride short 10-15 mile rides nearly everyday with longer rides with students on weekends and usually on one early evening ride per week during the training seasons for our BRAT rides.  Besides occasional charity bike rides, the BRAT adventures provide me the opportunities for my longest rides in a sitting.  BRAT rides provide opportunities to string together 40-100 mile rides day after day.

To prepare for our winter BRAT rides, we begin riding together as a group shortly after the start of the school year in August.  We ride together a couple of times each week and also rely upon individuals to log time on bikes or exercise bikes to build strength and stamina.  As we plan our late-afternoon rides during the week, usually on Wednesdays, we become keenly aware of the days growing shorter each week.  From our first early-evening ride together in September until the time change occurs in early November, we have to adjust our departure and return times by up to an hour.  Once the time changes and we approach Thanksgiving, our required departure time for a 20-mile ride gets so early that it encroaches on late-afternoon classes and lab times.

Here in the middle of December, the sun sets about 5:30 p.m.–with remnants of light in the sky until 6:00-ish p.m.  Having been in Seattle over Thanksgiving week, I know that cities farther north and more eastern in their time zones get darker much earlier in the evenings.  To sneak in even a short 10-15 mile ride before it gets too dark, I have to start getting ready to roll by 4:30-4:45 p.m.  In order to do that, I have to head home from school by 4:00-4:15 p.m.  When doing so, things are often rushed at school at the end of the day and once I get home and on the bike.  It is always a race against daylight to squeeze in enough time to get the needed time in the saddle.  Morning rides before going in to work tend to also be rushed, however, the rush comes from schedule rather than astronomical constraints.

Late Fall and Winter give us Texans a break from the oppressive summer heat, but at the price of shorter days and time to be outside.  We are fortunate in this part of the world to be able to ride outside most of the year.  The colder and darker days of winter make the long days (and rides) of the summer that much sweeter.