We Could Make a Fortune

…if we could build a guest house and find some folks willing to spend $300 per night for a “haycation.” And I’m sure the kids would greatly appreciate getting some help milking the goats.

As the NY Times reports:

In a world where small farmers need to diversify to keep their fields afloat and city dwellers are more desperate than ever to learn where their food comes from, a “haycation” for about the price of a nice hotel room in Manhattan didn’t seem like such a far-fetched idea.

For my family, the appeal was a fancy floored tent with a flush toilet and running water. On the Web site, it looked bigger than a junior one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side.

I’m no stranger to this kind of thing. My mother grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm. I was once so tough, I hiked for days across Alaskan tundra. But I have gone soft from all this city living. And my partner makes a point of telling me regularly that her people don’t camp.

On the other hand, we have a toddler who had never seen a live chicken. And I was desperate to get out of the city and eat vegetables still warm from the sun. So what if I had to do chores? How tough could a $300-a-night farm stay be?

This is essentially how we talked ourselves into spending a long weekend at Stony Creek Farm in Delaware County, N.Y., a part of the Catskills so rough that most everyone who grew up there describes it as “two stones to every dirt.”

Go read the whole thing. It’s fun. It might inspire your next vacation. And for all our out-of-town friends and family who came to visit overnight and got to help out with chores for free this summer: Do you feel lucky or what?

Seattle-to-Portland 2009 Ride Report

This post is a break from what we usually discuss here, and is very long to boot. Many regular readers may want to skip it. As noted recently, I returned home to Seattle last month for a few days; at that time, I promised a full report on the Seattle-to-Portland (STP) ride, the event which had been the primary purpose of my trip. It’s taken me this long to sit down and put that report together. I write such a report after every major cycling event; I am sharing this one on the blog for anyone out there who may be interested in my experiences and who may want to learn from my mistakes and observations. You’ll note the clipped style (many sentence fragments) is also quite different from what I usually post.

A couple of quick notes up front: I was an avid cyclist when I was younger, but have been away from the sport for many years. This year’s STP was a personal challenge, to see if at age 40 I could get back in shape and again hang with the pack. My first STP was the 1984 two-day ride, which I did at age 15 with a good friend. I came back the next year and did the one-day ride, and then was totally hooked on that version of the event. For me personally, it was actually easier to pull through and do 200 miles in a single day than it is to ride 100 miles, sleep who-knows-where (usually a gym floor), then get up and ride another 100 miles with full body soreness. Also, given how large the event has now grown, I’d frankly rather be sharing the roads with 2,000 people than 8,000 people (which is the rough division between one-day and two-day riders). This wasn’t an issue in 1984, when there were only 1,800 riders total.

Anyhow, I did the one-day STP in 1985-1989, 1992-1994, and 1996. After that, between distance and family and work obligations, it became impossible to travel to Seattle for the event. To put the 13 year break in perspective for you STP veterans: the last time I did STP, we were not only still starting in the Kingdome parking lot…but there still was a Kingdome. Family and work obligations eventually got to the point where I couldn’t even train for cycling; I did my last double century ride while living in California in 1999, and then basically hung up the bike for many years. Only in the last few years have I discovered the pure joy of tandem cycling, with my kids serving as stokers; they have allowed me to again become a good cyclist while remaining a good father. I still do plenty of training alone, on my solo bike, but riding with the kids has been essential for rediscovering the sport. I highly recommend it for anyone who’s wanting to ride more, but is also concerned about spending time with growing children.

On to the ride report itself:

Overall a wonderful ride, with nearly perfect weather. I was in good shape, and felt good most of the way. I was concerned because my longest training ride was only 80 miles, but 1,360 solo miles and 440 miles with kids on tandems seems to have been enough to make up for it. The weather was a little too warm, but better than being a little too cold. The temperatures topped out in the mid-80s by afternoon, but were very comfortable up until then. Best of all: we had a tailwind pretty much the whole time we were in Oregon. Couldn’t have asked for much better conditions, or a much nicer day on the bike. Sure don’t envy the two-riders, who had a chilly drizzle for Day Two.

I shipped my old Bianchi to R+E Cycles, and they assembled it and did a full midseason overhaul before I arrived in Seattle. The guys at R+E are awesome, and I highly recommend them. They did a complete drivetrain cleaning and adjustment, trued the wheels, replaced all cables, re-wrapped the handlebars, etc. Definitely needed the service.

For gearing, I was running a 52-42-30 triple in the front and a 12×19 eight speed straight block cluster in the rear. This is perfect gearing for Michigan, but was only boarderline acceptable for STP. I never had to push the bike up a hill, but there were several times I wished I had something lower than 30 x 19.

Stayed at the Travelodge in the University District, just up the street from the start line. Began at 4:45 sharp, and was in the very first group released from the start. Weather was comfortable at the start; wore shorts, STP 96 jersey, and an old long sleeve t-shirt under the jersey. Used a flashing red taillight for the first 25 miles or so, but a headlight was not necessary.

I was amazed at the size of the ride. There were literally always other riders with me. The first 24 miles were screaming fast, and I arrived at the REI food stop in Kent after just an hour and 16 minutes. Used the restroom, filled with water, and got back out on the course after just five minutes or so. I did okay on “The Hill;” I had a gear that was just low enough, and it felt good to stand on the pedals and climb.

Spanaway was an awesome stop, with outstanding service from local kids, but the restrooms were way across a wide field. Spent more time at Spanaway than I’d anticipated, but that was okay. My goal was to finish the ride feeling strong, rather than finish as fast as possible. Taking a little extra time at rest areas was part of that strategy, and I made a point of not hurrying. Called home, and the kids were excited to talk to me.

The course now includes a long stretch of bike trail from Yelm to Tenino, which was excellent. I ran out of water just as the trail ended, so the mini-stop at mile 86 was a huge relief. Filled up with water, and cruised the remaining 12 miles to the Centralia rest area at 10:20 AM.

Spent a half hour at Centralia. Weather was starting to get warm, so I left my T-shirt there. Food at Centralia was okay; had a couple of baloney sandwiches, filled up with water, and got back on the course.

Just past Chehalis, as we were heading back into the countryside, I got into a minor accident. Was in a pack of about 20 riders, and the course took a 90-degree turn to the right. I watched the wreck develop in slow motion. A young man cut across the path of the woman right in front of me. I could see that she’d be unable to avoid him; sure enough, he sliced right across her front wheel and she went down hard. I slammed on my brakes, but knew I’d be unable to avoid her. Braced myself, hit her bike, and tumbled to the pavement. Scraped up my right knee, but was more concerned about my bicycle. The rear wheel wouldn’t turn, and I was afraid it’d been potato-chipped (or had busted spokes). Several riders stopped, including a medic, and checked out the woman who’d been in front of me. Her arms were badly scraped, but she was okay. Her riding companion asked if I was okay, and I said I was, but showed him my rear wheel. Fortunately, it was just a matter of the rear brake being jammed from the impact. He was able to realign it, and all of us were back on the road. Big relief. I saw the two of them again at Lexington; they were leaving as I was arriving. All of us assured the others that we were doing fine, despite our scrapes. The medical support on the ride was unbelievably good; I got my knee cleaned up at a first aid station in Vader, and really appreciated the help I got.

Along the way, I called Danby, another amateur farmer (and one of the blog’s frequent commenters); he lives a few miles off the course, and we’d agreed ahead of time to try to meet. I told him I was incoming, and he met me at a mini-stop near his house. We spent about 10-15 minutes chatting. Was very glad we were able to get together.

Was getting tired, and running out of food, between Vader and Castle Rock. Stopped at Castle Rock for about 15 minutes and filled up with water and used the restroom, but the available food was mostly candy. As my stomach was begging for carbs and protein, I decided I could stretch what I had until Lexington. Spent about a half hour at the Lexington stop, enjoying the excellent wrap-style sandwiches they had. Finally climbed back on the bike at 2:40 PM; was miserable battling winds and lousy roads/traffic into Longview, but I realized that the winds seemed to be blowing from a direction that would favor us once we crossed the bridge. That lifted my spirits.

The bridge itself was worse than I remembered. Lots of traffic whizzing by on the way up, then the expansion joints on the way down could be dangerous if not handled properly. I wanted to fly down the bridge at 40 MPH, but each expansion joint was dealing a horrible THUD to my front wheel. Fearing a tire blowout, I slowed down and took my time. Some riders were “bunny hopping” over the expansion joints at full speed, but I honestly didn’t trust myself to try that. Ended up reaching the bottom safely, then began the long slog down Hwy 30.

The stretch to St Helens was by far my slowest of the day; averaged just 15.5 MPH between rest stops. Was pretty much all uphill from the bridge to St Helens – I had not remembered that. I’d thought the hills rolled more. Struggled a lot here, especially since there were fairly few people to ride with. Took a much-deserved half hour or so break at St Helens. Watermelon was wonderful, and I got some excellent cookies. Ice water made a big difference, too. Was quite hot by now. The folks staffing this rest stop knew how tired we were, and went out of their way to be friendly and of service. If any of you are reading this, please know how deeply appreciative I am for what you did.

St Helens is on a plateau, and it was largely downhill to Portland from there. My spirits were high, and I made very good time to the city limits, but after entering the city the stop lights killed my average time for this section of the course.

Reached the finish line just before 7pm. That was a respectable enough time for me, and above all I felt fairly good. I knew I wasn’t the strongest one out there, and this wasn’t my fastest double century ride, but speed wasn’t my goal; finishing strong was. The other things which contributed to the strong finish: I was fanatical about eating and drinking before I felt hungry or thirsty. Having a Camelbak hydration system helped a lot, as water was always just a turn of the head away. And the regular rest stops ensured I never ran out of food. Also, I found that taking two ibuprofen tablets at each rest stop helped ward off and control soreness in my shoulders and back.

The next morning, I picked up a rental car, packed up my bike, dropped it at a 24-hour FedEx/Kinkos (yes, it was much cheaper to FedEx my bike both ways than it was to take it on the plane as checked baggage), and started driving back to Seattle. Stopped to see some extended family in Shelton, and spent a wonderful afternoon hanging out with them. Felt quite sore all day, but tried to keep moving and stretching. Stopped at Whole Foods that evening and picked up a fresh salmon to carry home with me; this was an essential gift for the family. Caught the redeye out of Sea-Tac at 11:20, and was home Monday morning.

Will I be back to ride again next year? I’d love to, but between having an infant in the house and it being a busy year for work, it’s doubtful I’ll be able to leave the farm for that many days in the middle of summer. Not impossible. Just don’t put money on my being out there on the course before 2011.

Bats!

I love bats. Especially now that we live on a property that includes a perpetually wet, somewhat swampy area, bats are wonderful for controlling the massive mosquito population. But even in Illinois, I would enjoy sitting outside at night and watching the bats fly back and forth past our farm security light, gorging themselves on the myriad insects drawn to that area. Every farm should be blessed to have a bat colony somewhere on it. It’s hard to think of a more effective pesticide-free means of insect control. In fact, some people have even gone into business selling bat houses (unfortunately, bats not included), so you can attract a colony to your property.

So, bats are terrific…as long as the bats stay where they are supposed to. That was decidedly not the case last Saturday evening, when our family returned home from a visit with Mrs Yeoman Farmer’s father. I unlocked the back door, and then returned to the van to retrieve some things while MYF and Homeschooled Farm Girl made their way into the house and then went upstairs. The next thing I knew, both MYF and HFG were running back out to the porch at full speed.

“It’s a bat!” HFG shouted.

“There’s a bat in the house!” MYF echoed. “I need you to take care of this, because we cannot take the kids in there until it’s gone. We might need to drive back and spend the night at my dad’s house.”

I agreed to do battle with the bat, but needed an essential tool. “Where could I find a tennis racket?” I asked.

MYF dispatched Homeschooled Farm Boy to the barn to find one. As I stood outside on the porch, looking in the glass pane of the back door, I could see the bat flying laps around the downstairs portion of the house. But it would disappear from time to time, so I suspected that it was also flying up the stairs and all over the rest of the house. “I sure hope it doesn’t get stuck in a closet or something,” I commented.

Once HFB delivered the tennis racket, MYF had all three kids troop out to my office to wait. I took a deep breath, stepped through the back door, put on a pair of gloves, and tried to summon up all my courage. Standing there with the tennis racket, I felt like a knight getting ready to ride into battle.

Suddenly, a big, black, bird-like thing came hurtling out of the darkened front room, flying toward me, but maneuvering as crazily as a Japanese kamikaze pilot trying to penetrate enemy flack. I swiped at it with my tennis racket, but the bat easily turned and sped through the kitchen and back toward the front part of the house. Getting a bright idea, I propped the back door wide open; driving the bat out of the house would be the very best solution.

I cautiously made my way to the front part of the house, turning on every light and keeping my eyes wide open for any sign of the bat. Just as I propped open the front door, the bat appeared again and began flying toward the back. I chased it, but right before the bat reached the back door…MYF appeared there, and the bat again turned and flew crazily through the kitchen.

Together, MYF and I prowled through the downstairs of the house. Once we were convinced it was clear, I crept up the stairs. Unfortunately, I told MYF, all the bedroom doors were open. The bat could be anywhere! Suddenly, it came flying out of the boys’ room and straight toward me (or as straight as a bat can fly — it was still looking a lot like a crazed kamikaze). I swiped at it a couple of times, but it disappeared into HFG’s room.

I called this news down to MYF. “Shut that door, so we can trap it!” she shouted back. But just as I began heading for that door, the bat came hurtling out. MYF was coming up the stairs, and the bat hovered for just a moment trying to decide which direction to go next. That one instant of hesitation was all I needed: I dealt a massive overhand serve with the tennis racket, connecting and sending the bat into the carpet with a heavy THUD. “Got it!” I exclaimed. Relief, that we would be spending the night in our own house and not driving a half hour back to my father-in-law’s, swept through me.

“It might only be stunned,” MYF cautioned. Glad to be wearing gloves, I carefully picked the bat up. It seemed very dead to me, but I figured we shouldn’t take any chances. I took it straight to the garbage can, deposited the bat, and made sure the lid was securely fastened. We told the kids the bat was dead, and they all cheered as we returned to the house.

How did I know to use a tennis racket? I have MYF, and her father, to thank for that. When MYF was a girl, they lived for a time in a house that had bats in the attic. On several occasions, bats would get into the living portion of the house. Their family found that bats, with their radar navigation, could easily steer around brooms and other soild weapons. But a tennis racket was different — the bat’s radar largely penetrated through the webbing, allowing the human a much greater shot at a direct hit.

Did I want to kill the bat? No. I want to emphasize that my first preference was to get the bat out of the house, because I greatly value the contribution bats make to pest control. There are non-lethal ways of trapping bats, but given our particular circumstance those did not look like they would be successful on Saturday.

For those of you thinking about moving to the country, make sure you think about bats. They can be intimidating at first, especially if you’ve watched too many vampire movies. But they are an integral part of country life, and ought to be fostered. Just make sure you’re prepared to take action if one of them finds his way into a place where he really shouldn’t be.

Chicken Underground

My apologies for the slow posting of late; work turned extraordinarily busy, but looks to be clearing up in the next day or two. I have a few things I’ve been thinking about and planning to post.

In the meantime, I must share this wonderful story about urban chickens:

The “chicken underground” is on the march.

Gay-Ellen Stulp and Stephany Miskunas are lobbying the Lafayette City Council to allow them to keep pet chickens at their homes in the historic Highland Park neighborhood.

Stulp said she wants city council members to amend the ordinance that forbids having chickens in the city. The city council’s Public Health Welfare and Safety
Committee plans to consider the matter.

“It’s been a blast,” Stulp said of her quest. “I can’t believe the discussions I’ve gotten as I go around with my petition.

“It’s a little hobby. They are pets. I guess I’m now part of the chicken underground.”

Go read the whole thing here:
‘Chicken underground’ emerges in Indiana IndyStar.com The Indianapolis Star

Food, Inc. Review

About two months ago, I posted about the movie, Food, Inc. The film still isn’t showing anywhere near me, and the publicists still haven’t sent me a review DVD. So…I still can’t produce my own review.

However, Julie Gunlock of National Review has seen the movie and has written an excellent piece describing its strengths and shortcomings. Her key observation:

Food Inc. boils the subsidy issue down to the basics: Farm subsidies artificially reduce the cost of some food — mainly manufactured and unhealthy snack foods — and create incentives for farmers to produce massive amounts of some commodities no single nation can possibly absorb.

So, what happens? Well, as Food Inc. demonstrates with the help of an upbeat soundtrack and colorful pop-up images of ketchup bottles and batteries, people start getting pretty creative with how to put those commodities to use. Enter corn — lots of corn.

U.S. corn farmers are paid to produce more corn than people can eat normally. As a result of this overproduction, corn is everywhere. Corn derivatives can be found in nearly one-quarter of all the products in the grocery store — from peanut butter to Twinkies. And of course, corn subsidies led to the creation of a clear, liquid sweetener — HFCS, or high-fructose corn syrup.

It isn’t only corn subsidies making HFCS as popular as it is today, but also sugar tariffs. While the government reduces the price of corn, it simultaneously hikes the cost of sugar through a complex set of tariffs that make the price of cane and beet sugar more than three times the price of sugar in other nations. Food manufacturers naturally choose the lower-cost corn-based sweetener. Who can blame them?

But this toying around with prices comes with consequences, and Food Inc. connects the dots between farm subsidies and America’s growing health problems, such as obesity. A report by the Heritage Foundation examined this issue last year and came to the same conclusion…