Sunday, May 22, 2011


It could be something from Science Fiction, as in...

Han Solo stopped for lunch on Planet Zoncolan.

...or fantasy...

The villagers ran for cover at the sight of Zoncolan, the fiery dragon.

...or politics...

The left-wing crowd marched on the square, carrying signs proclaiming their candidate, Zoncolan.

But no, it comes from the world of cycling! The Monte Zoncolan is one of the toughest mountains in the 2011 Giro d'Italia, and, as Universal Sports commentator Todd Gogulski described it: "One of the most wicked climbs in all of cycling".

The road to the top winds through green forests, dark tunnels, and treeless heights. It's so narrow that team cars have to be left at the base while mechanics follow their riders on motorbikes. One of those motorbikes couldn't take the 22% grade and broke down in a great puff of smoke. I imagine some of the riders were ready to do the same.

There's something very Italian about the Zoncolan climb. The motorbikes were chugging away behind the riders, the spare bikes were draped precariously over the mechanics' shoulders, protests on an earlier climb led to the Zoncolan being routed earlier into the stage, the fans were wild, and the scenery was stunning -- all of which gave it a feeling of controlled chaos peppered with so much passion and love.

And then there's that wonderful word ... Zoncolan. It just doesn't look right in boxy print. It needs to have a darker edge to it, like something hastily painted on the side of a wall late at night when no one's looking.

Rather than paint a realistic scene from the climb, all I wanted to do was write that word with the flair it deserves. So that's what I did, against a backdrop of those rich green and brown colors that make this singular mountain stage so beautiful.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Quiet Ride

Bike rides can be epic and grand, or contemplative and quiet. It's often those quiet rides that are the most evocative, bringing back thoughts and memories that extend well beyond the ride itself.

Words are like that too. For each of us, the simplest of words can be filled with a wealth of personal meaning.

One of my favorite words has always been "rambles". Miriam-Webster's online dictionary defines it as: a leisurely excursion for pleasure; an aimless walk. That's really nice. But for me, what makes the word so special is that it reminds me of Don Adcock.

Mr. Adcock was my high school private flute teacher in my childhood home of Raleigh, North Carolina. In addition to being a great jazz and classical flutist, he was also the director of the North Carolina State University Music Department and the best flute teacher in the city.

Nothing got by Mr. Adcock during my lessons. Rushing the tempo, ignoring a dynamic marking, or missing a note would provoke an animated “What?! Did you hear what you just did?" I wish you could have heard him say those things though, because they were spoken with a voice full of humor, enthusiasm, and a love of music and teaching. Mr. Adcock was tall and thin, with a full head of grey hair, and despite struggling with arthritis that severely limited his own flute playing, he seemed to bound into the room with an endless supply of energy.

One of Mr. Adcock's favorite flute exercise books was "60 Rambles for Flute" by Leon Lester. Each Ramble was only a few lines long, but they were jazzy little gems.

“I just love these little Rambles,” Mr. Adcock would so often say, looking over my shoulder at a few bars I had just played. The Rambles weren’t all that difficult technically -- they had none of the twisty finger combinations found in the notoriously tough Paris Conservatory etude books. But those sweet little Rambles had a unique difficulty all their own. They were about learning to play a melody, and playing it beautifully. With enough practice, you can teach your fingers to perform just about any series of notes. Playing a tune with a singular beauty takes something far deeper.

When I was deciding on a name for my blog, "rambles" was the first word that came to my mind. Although I didn't consciously name it after that exercise book, I could hear Mr. Adcock's voice saying the word and it felt perfect. Through those short, lilting melodies, my teacher taught me that even the simplest things have an inner beauty and complexity all their own. Given a little dedication and care, they can unfold into something truly extraordinary.

I'm sorry to say that last Saturday my mother called me with sad news. Don Adcock had passed away.

I wish I could do something like paint a watercolor, as I did in the last post about the very public death of cyclist Wouter Weylandt. But the death of a teacher and friend is more difficult than that. Sometimes the best we can do is simply set aside some thoughtful moments in the days ahead, reminisce with family and friends, take a quiet bike ride, and remember.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Moving Tribute at the Giro

The riders, team leaders, and race organizers created a beautiful tribute to Wouter Weylandt on Stage 4 of the Giro d'Italia.

In this atmospheric watercolor I painted, depicting the last few miles of Stage 4, the line of Weylandt's eight Leopard-Trek teammates lead the peloton to the stage finish, joined by Tyler Farrar -- a good friend of Weylandt's on the Garmin-Cervelo Team, whom the Leopard-Trek riders thoughtfully invited to ride with them.

Not only did the riders choose to neutralize Stage 4 in honor of Wouter Weylandt (which means they just rode together as a pack without racing), but they organized themselves with a very touching choreography. Each of the teams spent a few minutes at the front of the peloton, ending with Weylandt's team, Leopard-Trek.

The smooth progression through the beautiful Italian Riviera, the poignant hand-written signs and applause from the Italian cycling fans lining the side of the road, and even the sensitive commentary by the Universal Sports announcers all made for a very moving tribute, full of camaraderie. Only in cycling could this occur.

It was a very sad day, but so full of heart.

Wouter Weylandt

As a fan of professional cycling, I would like to add my condolences to all those mourning the tragic death of Belgian cyclist Wouter Weylandt, who crashed on Stage 3 of the Giro d'Italia. Such a sad day in the cycling world.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Two Shipyards, One Ride

I generally begin each bike ride with a good idea of my route. Part of this is for practical purposes ... avoiding traffic, figuring out where to ride within a limited amount of time, etc.

But riding familiar roads also gives me the great feeling of being a local cycling expert. It's as much sailing as cycling, following the currents of the local terrain like an old Gloucester fisherman on native waters. There's something reassuring about being so in touch with your surroundings.

Once in a while though you simply have to satisfy your inner Lewis and Clark and start exploring. So last Saturday I hit the road at 5:30 a.m. and headed east, along the southern rim of Boston Harbor, with no plan or destination in mind.

The nice thing about cycling is you don't have to ride into unknown territory to feel like you're making new discoveries. Roads you've already driven by car seem fresh and new on a bicycle.

Riding out on Washington Street, the temporary drawbridge across the Fore River Inlet loomed large up ahead...

Rather than cross it (it's hazardous for cyclists), I turned right into the Fore River Shipyard. Active from 1901-1986, workers here built submarines, battleships, aircraft carriers, and other large ships, including the USS Salem, which now rests in one of the shipyard's old slips. Volunteer guides give visitors a great tour of this historic navy vessel.

Next door is the ferry to downtown Boston.

But unfortunately that's all that's left of this once mighty shipyard, other than abandoned buildings (note the broken window)...

...and wide spaces of industrial nothingness.

Looking through those broken windows at the old office furniture inside, you can just imagine engineers hovering over blueprints of massive ships, and secretaries noisily banging away at their typewriters, transcribing their shorthand notes. There was a certain artistry to work back then.

Riding out from the Fore River Shipyard, I followed quiet side streets in an easterly direction, passing through a nice neighborhood of little Cape Cod style houses in Braintree.

Without even trying, I eventually found myself in Hingham, Mass. Hingham is a beautiful seaside town, and home to the famous Hingham Shipyard.

The Hingham Shipyard is faring better these days than its Fore River cousin. Although no longer an active shipyard, it's now the home of a nicely-designed shopping center, a modern ferry terminal, a marina, condominiums...

...and a lobster shack.

Next door is a memorial to the shipyard's remarkable history.

But best of all, walking my bike down the nearby path...

...led me to an amazing spot.

It doesn't look like much now, but what you're seeing are the old launching sites from the World War II-era shipyard (look close and you can still see ruins of the wooden pilings on the beach).

All's eerily quiet now...

...but just imagine what this place was like 60 years ago, as each new ship was launched into the deep-water harbor with cheers and fanfare. Over 15,000 people worked here, building 227 ships in the 3.5 years that the yard operated during World War II. Incredible.

Riding back home, I didn't have much time to reflect on those two great shipyards. Even while retracing the same roads, there were still so many little things that caught my attention. What's wonderful about cycling though, is that those reflections come later, all throughout the day, as images and thoughts from the ride rise to the surface.

That afternoon I would be quietly reading a book on the subway -- but in my mind I was still standing on that windy pier in Hingham, imagining those magnificent ships launching into the sea.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Springtime on the Harbor

Spring is slowly coming back to life here on Boston's South Shore. Each day more and more boats return to the marina I pass by on my regular riding route.

Some boats still sit around the parking lot though, patiently waiting for their turn to set sail.

My "regular riding route" is actually rarely that regular. There are many little detours I like to add along the way. For instance, on a late-day ride last Thursday, I turned down a steep hill to take some photos at this lovely Boston Harbor cove:

It's a little tough to see in the following photo, but that tiny white speck in the center is Boston Light, the oldest lighthouse in America:

Every night the rays from Boston Light shine all around the harbor, reflecting up off the water into the evening sky. It's a beautiful sight.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Misty Morning Ride

Sunny days are overrated.

If you're a cyclist in New England, then you know it's those cool, misty mornings that are often the most beautiful.

On one such morning last week, I decided to explore the two "necks" of Quincy, Massachusetts: Squantum and Hough's Neck. They jut out into the southern portion of Boston Harbor, creating Quincy Bay and a long stretch of beach in between.

Riding out to Squantum, the streets were still wet from the rain that fell the previous day...

But this morning there were just cloudy skies, a nice backdrop to the flowering trees on top of Squantum's hilly terrain.

Riding away from Squantum, I turned onto beautiful Quincy Shore Drive...

...and looked back onto the Squantum peninsula, where I had just ridden.

After some thrilling moments zipping along the shore, I took a left turn, rode a few more miles, and was soon pedaling on Hough's Neck...

At the very end of Hough's Neck sits Nut Island. It's not really an island, just a little bump of land connected to the neck itself. It was once the site of an artillery testing facility; the base of one of its big guns is still plainly visible on the center-left of this photo.

All around are views of the southern part of Boston Harbor, which this morning was eerily calm.

My favorite part of Hough's Neck is at the very tip of Nut Island, where a lonely pier juts out into the morning mist...

Sometimes it's lined with people hovering over their fishing lines and rods. But this morning it was quiet and mysterious.

Walking my bike out on the pier, it's easy to imagine this as some dark Cold War-era spy rendezvous site....

It really gets your imagination going!

Riding back, along the other side of Hough's Neck...

...and back onto Quincy Shore Drive... wasn't long before the sun was shining through clear blue skies.

Returning home a short time later after this 30 mile ride, I cleaned my bike, watched some of the morning news shows, and then switched on the Weather Channel. By that time it was noon, 75 degrees and sunny ... the warmest it had been all year.

But personally, I'm happy I got to experience that special cool morning, in the mist, on a bicycle.