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New Gloves!! April 30, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in MegaTweet.
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My new gloves are here! Am Seriously stoked.
I kind of abandoned the idea of confronting Warm Gear to honor the lifetime wiring guarantee that disappeared from their website within the year I bought the first pair. (The second pair was provided under the “1-year warranty”). Given that the heating elements of two pairs failed at an average of a year and a half — I really don’t see the point of trying again. I think I will disect the pair instead to learn more about the fatal flaw. 
I now have the Gerbing G3’s. They are so muck sleeker than the Warm Gear gloves and have a bona fide LIFETIME warranty on the heating elements. I will give a full product review after they have been road tested — but so far, they look great.

Easter Loop April 12, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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Again, the week had kicked my butt.  With the launches of LRO, LCROSS, and MLAS coming up and LMMP heading into implementation I was feeling a bit spread out.  The LCROSS Mission Readiness Review had been scheduled for this week, but moved with the recent launch delay.  I incorrectly thought I’d have some time to get caught up; didn’t, but at least managed to bring things to a low roar.  I figured to take a 2-day ride to blow out the stress and regain a little focus.

Saturday and Sunday were supposed to be nice.  A chance of rain Saturday morning, but sunny 50’s thereafter.  I woke Saturday morning to rain — gray, steady, soaking rain…  I checked the weather: supposed to clear by 10.  At 10: supposed to clear by 12.  At 12: still raining… and the power was now out.

I’ve ridden in rain, and I am well able to do so….  But if I am riding for relaxation, STARTING in rain is not fun.  I held off…  Finally at 3 o’clock the rain cleared and the sun started peeking out with most of the day gone.  I had planned on riding west in to West Virginia, maybe Ohio, and get on some roads I’d not ridden before.  No way I would make Ohio today, but I set out on my loosely defined route. 

As always, I high-tailed it west on I-70 (the ride to the ride).  I got off at MD-355 in Frederick.  I crossed back over I-70 on New Design Road heading south, and stopped in a little shopping mall at a bar called Beef O’ Brady’s for a bio-break and to warm up a little bit.  The kindly barmaid comp’d me my coffee (which ironically, I only ordered to be a “customer” to use the restroom). 

Heading back out to the parking lot, I changed the batteries in the GPS (its for tracking not for routing) and headed south on New Design.  Following each of three cars going slightly slower than I was wont, I was held up just enough to just be stopped by a coal train crossing the road — something I had seen and often waited for in my youth in South Dakota, but not for years living in the DC metro area.  I shut off the bike and watched the endless stream of cars crossing in front of me.  Little did I know, that would not be the last train on the trip.

The only ABC photo I managed to stop for (28th point for the year)

The only ABC photo I managed to stop for (28th point for the year)

I took New Design to MD-28 west picking up US-15 south to Leesburg, VA.  I really thought to stop at the Downtown Saloon across from the Loudoun County Court House (“Better here than across the street” is their slogan.)  but instead turned onto VA-7 and headed west.  Picking up VA-9  I headed west to Charles Town, WV.

Charles Town is one of the closer “gambling” towns to Maryland, touting “Charles Town Races and Slots!”  I am more for table games (Blackjack and Craps), but thought Charles Town may offer that which comes with gambling… good restaurants and bars.  Turns out Charles Town is really much more of a typical lazy small town  than I imagined — at least the parts of it I saw. 

Just entering town there is a little confluence of roads and signage directing everywhere but Charles Town.  I continued straight and ended up on WV-115 not knowing if I was heading for Charles Town or not.  It was getting colder and the sun was heading for the horizon — and I knew I’d best find my place for the night with enough light to explore.  I stopped at a 7-11 at a crossroads and polled the parking lot inhabitants.  I ended up taking the advice of a man in a neon green shirt who was giving his recent knee replacement a multi-mile workout.  He recommended heading up into Ranson, staying at the Budget Inn and having a drink at a bar called Secrets within walking distance of the motel.

The Budget Inn was a typical cheap motel, though it was surprisingly “nicer” than than it first appeared (note: I did not say “nice” , only “nicer than…”).  The room was cleaner than many, the sheets were clean, and the towels were unusually soft for a cheap motel, however, the beds were among the worst in which I had lain.

I stripped the bags off the bike and headed down the road to check out Secrets, which really should have been a good bar — but wasn’t;  probably because of the meager pre-Easter patronage and bad music.  Right across the parking lot from Secrets was Anthony’s, a pizza and subs place where I feasted on one of the BEST cheese-steaks ever.  After the late start and damp chilly ride, it really hit the spot, and will be a “must have” for future rides in the area.

Budget inn only about 450 feet from the tracks.

Budget inn only about 450 feet from the tracks.

Heading back to the motel and feeling too logy to blog, I tried watching some TV but found 20-odd channels of static covered stations (despite having a cable connection).  The room was cold, the bed hard and lumpy, and the blanket useless– I actually questioned for a moment my “road rule” of staying only in the local cheap motels on my rides.  Lying tired and nearly asleep, I heard a familiar sound in the distance growing louder and louder…  As it  turns out the train tracks are 450 feet from my motel room

I watched the 1960 film Inherit the Wind with Spencer Tracy.  Somehow the black and white film made the signal noise more tolerable, as though watching it four decades ago with a foil-laden set of  rabbit-ears. 

I am assuming I eventually slept, only because I finally awoke.  Tired and achy, I put on yesterday’s clothes and strode across WV-115 to the Ranson Grill in the crisp 31 degree air.  I ordered a coffee to go, and let the proprietor know I’d be back after I woke up.

I headed back to the room and tried to get moving with the day.  Watching a snowy, staticky airing of Spiderman, I drank my coffee, showered, put on some fresh clothes and packed the bike. 

Checking out of the motel, I wondered where the nice weather was that I was counting on.  My “great” electric gloves had just failed earlier in the week, and I was not prepared for 30 degree riding. I rode the bike across the street to the grill.  I ordered French toast, eggs, and bacon, and sat loosely planning the rest of my trip as Lorne Greene plotted to save his son, Michael Landon, from kidnappers, in a  Bonanza  episode playing over my head on a big flat screen TV.  The locals were coming in for breakfast after church services, talking about who they’d seen there (and who they hadn’t in a while).

It was still cold by the time I finished with breakfast and headed out.  I back tracked a little ways south on WV-115 to pick up WV-51 west.  I only made it as far as Inwood (about 13 miles) when I had to stop and warm up at McDonalds with a large coffee.  I pulled out the laptop and started this blog…   I really nursed that McD’s coffee, writing instead of riding, waiting for day to warm.

Finally, I headed out continuing on WV-51 meeting up with WV-45 heading west.  Despite the cold, WV-45 was an unusually beautiful ride: smooth ,well banked road, lots of gentle twisties with few surprises.   WV-45 crossed the boarder into Virginia becoming VA-681 (which I didn’t notice) which soon terminated (unexpectedly) leaving a choice of right or left.  I guessed wrong, and ended up on VA-671 (the road I thought I came in on).  VA-671 was still a scenic route, but the road condition became increasingly poor; never horrible, but just enough to become a little tense in some turns taken a little too quick.  I kept thinking I sould be coming across my next leg, US-522, at some point.  The optimism of seeing a highway in the distance was shattered when I pulled onto US-11;  I had been heading in nearly the opposite direction since the VA-671 error.  I pulled into a Truck Stop to reassess.

Easter Weekend Ride 2009To avoid the maze of three digit Virginia state routes, I needed to go south to go north.  I continued down US-11 toward Winchester and picked up US-522 north via VA-37 west.  I stopped at a Farmers Market (it didn’t dawn on me that nothing is in season), bought some homemade black walnut fudge and horehound candy, and continued up US-522.  US-522 north out of Winchester was easily one of the best 4-lane divided highways I have ridden.  Big broad sweeping curves through rolling “mountain” countryside.  Traffic flowed well, the views were scenic and the twists were just enough to be like gliding at higher speeds without imposing any significant challenge.

I somewhat regretted leaving US-522 to take VA-127 west back into West Virginia, where it bacame WV-127 to pick up WV-29 north, and in retrospect I rue the decision even more.   The roads were nice enough, but from WV-29 through the rest of the trip, the incessant wind and cold made the ride more work than relaxation, especially after my poor night’s sleep.

The rest of the day was just a hard ride.  Every muscle clenched bracing against the wind and cold.  My failed glove left my left fingers freezing and sporting that old cadaver cream color forcing me to pull over too often.  I don’t think I had drunk that much coffee in a day since running all-night thermal vacuum tests on the MESSENGER solar arrays. 

I followed WV-29 north until it became WV-9, which I rode into Paw-Paw.  Crossing the Potomac into Maryland it turned to MD-51, which I rode into Cumberland.  All the while passing ABC photo ops, but being too cold to care.  Stopping in Cumberland for my ump-teenth cup of coffee, I debated briefly about taking I-68 west to pick up Garrett county.  But at this point, 15 miles up and 15 miles back was a 25 minutes delay to getting home and warming up in a comfortable bed.   So I punted, figuring if all else failed, I’d pick Garrett on my coast-to-coast ride this July, and I headed home at high speed on I-68 east to I70 east.  

After 80 miles I was at the Dog Patch, still an hour out from home.  I stopped for some chilli and beer.  I realized that despite the fact I was tired, hungry, and freezing (and maybe because of that fact) — I hadn’t thought about work at all.  I had exchanged one form of stress for another, but now it was purer and simpler — kicked a couple notches down Maslow’s Hierarchy.  I think it was a good trade.

First MegaTweet April 1, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in MegaTweet.
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As anyone who has ever blogged would say (and a lesson I learned years ago on another attempt at authoring an antiquated web page) — keeping fresh content takes work.  A lot of work.  Providing polished, fresh content even more so.

Four weeks after my “first nice weekend ride” to Harpers Ferry, and I still have but a draft, and a partial one at that.  Not good.  I’ve watched my numbers rise with the Dragons Tail, seriously spike with the Witicisms, and (justifiably) decline in the absence of an update. 

So — how to fill the gaps? 

When I started this blog I toyed with the idea of the occassional “MegaTweet” — for when 140 characters just ain’t enough.  Not just filler (which is worse than nothing) – but a more spontaneous, raw, realtime blog akin to Twitter, but unfettered by character restrictions.  And,  if I really plan to roadblog (which I do), I will not have eight hours of time to edit an 8 hour ride story.  But the MegaTweet would not be a replacement of ride stories, rather an addition, an augmentation.  Like the weekday comics between the big colorful Sunday Funny Papers…

But I certainly don’t want to lose theme either…  You are most likely reading this because you are interested in the an inside look at what a “typical” NASA person may do or you share the passion for riding, or… maybe… both!  So let’s give it a try…

Been an interesting day today.  LRO and LCROSS are both at the launch processing site getting ready for there joint launch to the moon.  I flew down this morning to attend a Launch Vehicle Ground Operations Readiness Review and Launch Vehicle Readiness Review tomorrow.   I completed a review of an LRO requirements assessment on the flight, and upon landing, I was pleased to be running ahead of schedule and managed to call into the weekly telecon for the Lunar Mapping & Modeling Project (LMMP).  The LMMP team is preparing for their Formulation Review next week which has had several of us putting in some extra time the last few days to get ready. 

After the telecon, I drove the rental east toward the coast.  Arriving at the facility where LRO and LCROSS are being prepped for launch.  It is the first time I had been there since LRO and LCROSS arrived.  Things are very busy in the launch manifest at the moment, so LCROSS had to set up their offices in a double-wide trailer for lack of more conventional office space.   Seeing the big “Got Water?” banner of the side of the trailer as I drove into the facility told me I found where I was headed. 

After getting badged for the facility, I headed over to the trailer, lucky enough to have just made it just in time for the LCROSS Plugs-Out test that demonstrates that LCROSS can operate all by itself  (like in its mission) without a bunch of test support equipment attached to it.

I met up with some of the lead engineers and they took me on a little tour of LCROSS in its new home.   Since LCROSS is being processed in a cleanroom, we had to gown up in “bunny suits” (clean jumpsuits)  to prevent from carrying particulate into the processing area. 
After a great walkthrough and test briefing, the team got to work with the test.  Having been a spacecraft power systems engineer earlier in my career, I knew the best place for a Headquarters observer during a critical test was “anywhere else” out of the way.  So for once I had the means of controlling at least one observer (me), and I left the team to conduct the test.  I headed back to the “doublewide” office only to realize I hadn’t been given the keycode to get back in.

I headed over to the LRO banner hung outside the “real” office facilities and met up with some of the LRO guys, and arranged to get a tour of their setup.  Back into a bunny suit…

I got to see LRO up-close.  The spacecraft was in the middle of a 5-day long mission simulation to prep the ops team for the journey from the earth to the moon.  I was also afforded the opportunity to see the Atlas fairing (the top of the rocket that encloses LRO and LCROSS during launch).  Very impressive.  The fairing has the mission graphic of LRO hand painted on the side, with smaller decals of the LCROSS graphic and the NASA emblem.   Being that close to the fairing halves really puts the enormity the launch into perspective.

After the LRO walkthrough, I managed to get the LCROSS office keycode and settled into catching up with the dozens (and dozens) of emails that had accumulated during the day…

About 5:00 a thunderstorm came rolling in — with tornado warnings, and here’s the LCROSS team, assigned to a doublewide (i.e. tornado magnet in midwestern parlance).  Figuring I’d hear an alarm if things got worse — I hunkered down and plowed through the emails — notices of meetings, out-briefs of meetings, reporting actions, strategic planning, review packages…

Finally the storm started to let up and I finally headed off the hotel.  After another dozen emails and five late telecons to coordinate launch planning, and I decided to go off the clock and blog a little….