It’s a beautiful day for math!

It is a perfect day. Too bad the century ride is tomorrow. The sun is out, the sky is blue, it’s beautiful and so are you…wait,

The title comes from the kids’ algebra teacher. I rode past him on the footbridge on the way home from the co-op, buying supplies for the camping weekend…

As I set up camp, the front blew in. The sky turned dark and the wind kicked up. The temperature began dropping. I closed up the tent before going to Sister Bay to pick up my ride packet. The threatened rain (whose chances and number of hours forecast kept shrinking as the week wore on) never came, but it will be a cool ride tomorrow. I’ll be getting up at the usual time for work due to a 7 AM start two towns up the road from here. Carbo-loading tonight with pumpkin tortelloni covered in pesto I made this morning.

I got up in the dark, normal at home but a little different when camping. Breakfast and coffee and off to Sister Bay at 6:20. First decision – what to wear. The temperature was in the low 50s (11 C), with a forecast high in the mid 60s (18 C) and it wouldn’t get to 60 (15 C) for a few hours. I opted for a long sleeve jersey, figuring it would be good all day, and shorts, figuring they’d be chilly at first but the right choice later. In a variation on the old bike racer trick of stuffing newspapers down the front of the jersey, I used the plastic bag we got our swag in. No ink on your chest, and no peeling off the disintegrating newspaper when you sweat through it. I needed that for the first 25 miles. My knees were cold in the morning and the sun felt pretty good when we were in it.

I avoided the mass start, not liking anything with “mass” in it these days. I rode out with someone I would see off and on all day. We started at a comfortably slow pace. The other advantage to avoiding the mass start is avoiding the adrenaline rush of the big crowd, which makes me ride faster than I should with 100 miles ahead of me.

At the 28 mile rest stop they served brats – only in Wisconsin (at 9 AM). I passed. A few miles on, I saw topiary in the shape of a camel. I wanted to stop and take a picture, but there were barking dogs on the other side of the fence. I figured they’d go nuts at someone stopping right outside their gate. It didn’t matter, since 100 yards later I came upon a couple of real camels grazing.

Camels? in Wisconsin?

At 46 miles I was hoping for some substantial food, but there were only melons, donut holes, and cookies. I noticed I was riding faster than I intended to, so I thought I’d slow down a bit to save strength for the end. A few miles on from there, R from Milwaukee rode up beside me. I had seen him coming and figured he’d pass me, but he settled in and started talking. The next 15 miles flew by – both because I don’t notice them while chatting, and because we were riding faster than I intended.

At mile 64 his family was waiting to meet him. After saying hi to them we started off with 5 more of his friends we met at the rest stop. From there to the mile 80 rest stop was easy going as a result. At that stop, all the talk was about the big hill coming up.

We hit that hill at 85 miles. It was pretty much like the average sort of hill we climb several of on every local ride. The Milwaukee crew disappeared behind me on the way up. I didn’t see them again. At mile 90 I talked to a couple of Ironmen (I don’t know why we don’t call a woman who completes one of those an “Ironwoman”, but we don’t.) I didn’t plan to keep up with her or her partner. They hadn’t done our local Ironman last week, but were planning two others this fall. This was just a warmup.

The miles were starting to take their toll after that as we rode into a headwind. A group of about 8 passed me with 6 miles to go. As they were young enough to be my children, I wasn’t tempted to try to keep up, even though it would have helped with the headwind. Miraculously, they did not disappear up the road and I followed them into Sister Bay after 101 miles and 6 hours and 6 minutes in the saddle. I had expected it to take 7 hours. The free beer was a welcome sight. Even better, they had several choices – all from One Barrel Brewing. It was a perfect day for the Oktoberfest while wading in Green Bay.

It was, by the way, a great ride – well-organized, through beautiful country, and less crowded than the more famous ride up here a week ago (which I did once and will now avoid). In a week, we’ll see if I can do it again (though close enough to home to sleep in my own bed).

Lost in Translation

I used to tell people my specialty was English-to-English translation. We have so much trouble understanding each other even when two native speakers of the same language talk. Expectations and what we want to hear often get in the way. Wanting to be heard (instead of wanting to hear) and planning your response before the other person speaks get in the way. I would hear two people talking past each other and quickly rephrase for each of them and they would come to an understanding.

This is not to say that I don’t have the same problem with some people. It is though we speak two different languages which contain the same words.

In my work I spend a lot of time translating medical into English. Doctors tend to forget that normal people have no clue what most medical terms mean. People don’t want to seem dumb so they smile and nod. When the doctor leaves, I’ll ask what they understood of that. Frequently the answer is “nothing”, so I translate.

This was prompted by someone else’s post about actual language and cultural differences, which prompted this memory [cue harp music for a flashback].

I was in Nicaragua and our regular interpreter was unavailable. One of our group leaders offered to translate. Someone asked a local farmer how life had changed since the revolution. She said it was harder to get food now. The interpreter said something completely different, vaguely and rhetorically in support of the revolution. Two of us called her on it. She tried to say that the woman didn’t really understand the question. We argued that she clearly did understand the question but the answer was not the one you wanted to hear. After a bit more discussion, with the interpreter and the farmer (who made it clear she understood the question) in Spanish, then the group in English, we agreed to continue, with the translator knowing that she couldn’t get away with that degree of “interpreting” another’s thoughts and statements.

This also led to thoughts about language, fluency, and on-line translators. On-line translators are handy if you know both languages and are uncertain of the nuances of a particular word choice. They do not work if you think you can get the gist of a large work from an algorithm. If in doubt, listen to this:

“Let it Go” run through Google Translate through multiple languages and back to English. If you want the original English lyrics, they’re here.

I used to get asked if I were fluent in Spanish. Usually I just said no. Sometimes I answered that I wasn’t sure I was fluent in English. Other times I thought about what fluency meant.

After five weeks of language school I took a week off to travel and try to incorporate what I’d learned. Standing on a train, I started chatting with a local school teacher. After we’d talked for a while, he went to get a bottle of pop and asked if I wanted one. While he was gone I checked my watch and realized we’d been talking for two hours; a wide-ranging discussion that made me realize that: 1) I was thinking in Spanish and conversing naturally; 2) I had just fulfilled the goal I’d set five years earlier in Ecuador when the owner of the hotel where I was staying tried to initiate a similar conversation and I was unable to carry out my half.

I thought I had told this story before but, searching through the archives, I can’t find it. It was about January 1977. I was going through a home and roommate-related crisis. I called a friend in Berkeley, who knew the issues and people involved. He suggested the best solution was to join him and a friend (who had just arrived from Australia) on a trip to Colombia and Ecuador. On that trip, I could sort things out, and things here could sort themselves out.The idea had merit. A week later, I met them in Miami and we flew to Barranquilla, Colombia. We stepped off the plane and into customs. Since S & C had met while traveling extensively in Guatemala, I presumed they spoke Spanish pretty well. The customs agent asked C how long she would be in the country. She smiled. He repeated the question. She smiled more sweetly. He turned to S with the same question. He smiled, more broadly and sweetly than C. I realized: 1) they had gotten through Guatemala on friendliness and smiles; 2) they knew not a lick of Spanish; 3) I was now responsible to communicate for three. I told the customs agent that we all wanted 90 day visas, he stamped our passports, and we were on our way.

My Spanish got us through shopping, getting meals, finding our way, renting hotel rooms- all the basics of being a traveler. One rainy day (in Baños, Ecuador), while S & C were in another town, I was sitting in bed reading. The hotel owner stuck his head in the door, said hello, came in, sat down, and struck up a conversation. Within minutes (seconds?) I had my English-Spanish dictionary out. [It was years later that I bought a Spanish dictionary, recognizing that knowing a language meant learning to define words, not translate them.] Within a few more minutes I realized I was over my head. I did not know how to talk to anyone. I could conduct business, but I couldn’t talk. I apologized, he left, I cried. I felt shallow. I vowed that I would learn to speak Spanish and have that conversation some day.

After a week of vacation I went back to school for three more weeks. Was I fluent at that point? How about five years later when I went back for a refresher course and, as my final exam after three weeks, I gave a 45 minute slide presentation (on my work in Nicaragua) to the school in Spanish? Or when I returned to the school for a visit after 3 months working in Nicaragua and someone told me that the secretary said I was back in town and now spoke with a Nicaraguan accent? (I’ll admit I was flattered. For a Mexican to say I sounded Nicaraguan and not North American was one of the best compliments I had ever received.)

I realized that we have word-finding difficulties in any language. If the language is familiar enough, we find a way to talk around the missing word if it doesn’t come to us. There are words that we may not know, but we can discuss the concept in a way that gets the meaning across without the missing word. Ultimately, I discovered that fluency is a continuum, not a point. I’m pretty fluent in English after speaking it for more than 65 years. I’m less fluent in Spanish and considerably less fluent than I was when I was cutting down trees in the forest and miscommunication could mean death from falling tree.

Daddy, what’s money?

You’ve heard all of the COVID-19 conspiracy stories. I don’t need to relate them here. But there is a conspiracy you may not have heard of. The conspiracy to get rid of money.

Once we traded things, deciding their relative values. Then we traded precious metals for goods. We melted metals and formed them into coins. The metals became more valuable than the coins so we switched to cheaper metals. Quarters, instead of silver, are made of copper and nickel. Nickels are mostly copper, not nickel. Pennies are now mostly zinc, not copper. We developed paper money, symbolic of those metals – cheaper yet. US dollars used to be “silver certificates” and promised that the US held silver equal to its value to guarantee it. Then we made the dollar wholly symbolic, with the US government’s trustworthiness the only guarantee of its value.

Banks started making it harder to go inside. Cash came only from ATMs – once you could get $5 bills from them, then only twenties. Bills became harder to find. I rarely see a ten any more. The banks wanted you to use plastic cards instead of money. It cost them more to handle actual cash than virtual transactions. Then the virtual transactions became more virtual, with phone apps. And if they could charge you a service fee for doing it the way that was cheaper for them, so much the better.

Gas stations put card readers outside and didn’t want you to come in and use money any more. Just swipe a plastic card. The pandemic came and my neighborhood grocery store no longer accepted money. Soon the only place I could still use cash was the hospital cafeteria. Then they wanted me to use exact change, saying there was a coin shortage. And now, the one cashier who still took real money quietly told me that, starting tomorrow, I would no longer be able to use cash. I could use a phone app, a payroll deduction, or a credit/debit card. Is the money in my pocket about to become obsolete?

Time was, when someone opened a store, they would frame their first dollar. How soon will it be that storekeepers frame their last dollar? As U. Utah Phillips (The Golden Voice of the Great Southwest) wondered aloud 50 years ago about a child wondering what a train is after they disappeared, I now wonder if my son’s child will one day ask, “Daddy, what’s money?”

Not an Ironman

Wednesday night’s ride covered some of the ground of Sunday’s Ironman Wisconsin. We periodically saw orange route arrows taped onto the roads. We climbed 100 feet/mile, which doesn’t sound like a lot but is about the same rate of climbing as the Horribly Hilly Hundreds or the Death Ride. We rode 30 miles instead of over 100, but then, we did it after work. When Ironman participants ride these roads, they will do it after swimming 2.4 miles in open water. After riding 112 miles on these roads, they’ll run a marathon.

On the way to work the next morning, I saw green arrows marking the run route for Ironman. When I take a different route to work, I see swimmers (accompanied by kayaks) practicing on the swim route.

Will the Ironpeople have time to watch the sunset over these soybean fields?
I saw this sign on last Sunday’s ride. It captures the half-fast cycling ethos, even when we’re training for a century.

Sunday’s ride was a reminder of where the white people who settled this area came from. We met in Verona and rode through Frenchtown, Belleville, Monticello, and New Glarus. Of course, before them were the Ho-Chunk and their ancestors, the Mound Builders. The meet-up point was inaccessible due to road closures for Ironman, so I wandered a bit before finding a place to start. A few miles in, I joined the planned route. Twenty miles in, I saw the ride leader. Forty miles in, I stopped at a christian classic car show and saw a few more riders I recognized, but mostly I rode alone. You might wonder what christianity has to do with classic cars. I do. Old cars were parked at an angle around a one-block park. Very few people were looking at the cars. Most of them were in folding chairs listening to a preacher. I found the deep purple 1957 Chevy much more interesting.

I never tire of looking at contour farming.

ADude I follow wrote about riding alone and riding in groups, wondering which we prefer. My answer is “yes”. Riding in a group has the advantage that someone else can plan the route and you can follow a cue sheet. Riding alone has the advantage that you can go where your heart takes you and follow no plan; or have the fun of planning a route. A group lets you talk to people. Alone lets you be with your thoughts. A group give you the opportunity to draft behind someone and save energy. Alone means you can watch the scenery and not pay attention to the person in front of you. You can ride at your own pace. A quick pause here to run outside. The laundry is in the back yard but:

The laundry is hanging in the basement or in the dryer (and the rain has stopped), so back to riding. Somewhere in between those two is riding with a friend or two. I’ve been riding with this guy for about 45 years. This picture is from the 80s, when I was visiting back home from California and riding a borrowed bike. So ride alone, ride with a friend, ride with 100 friends. I don’t care. Just ride.

Half-fast in the mid 80s.
Can you spot them here, 25 years later?