31 July 2019

Balance On The Road To Delphi

Yesterday, I took my first trip outside Athens, in the company of an unemployed historian.

Actually, Kostas is employed in three different jobs.  He was performing one of when he drove a passenger van designed to carry a few more people but which--luckily for me--had to transport only me and him on the 2 1/2 drive to Delphi.

His employment situation is like that of too many young Greek (and American) university graduates.  Even though he didn't incur debt for his education, Greek salaries are so low (at least in comparison with other European countries and the US) and taxes so high that he has to work nearly non-stop.  That, in itself, is troubling. So is something else he told me:  "In Delphi, I can't guide you."  As he explained, he is not part of the guild of licensed tourguides.

Still, our conversation en route and on the way back to Athens was interesting.  When you talk to him, you start to see that modern Greek life, even among the uneducated, is a reflection of the philosophies of espoused so long ago.  "They all stressed balance," he explained.  "The body, mind and spirit, all should be in balance," he said.  "So should all areas of life--work, family and everything else."  The fact that so much of the media stresses materialistic values and the body--or, at least, a particular image of it--is why the cause of so many of our problems.

While none of the philosophers focused on the body, "it all starts with the body," he explained.  That made perfect sense when I saw this:

The stadium, for the Pythian games, is at the very top of the Delphi site.  Below it is the theatre, which in turn is behind the Temple of Apollo, where consultations with the oracle took place.  While the stadium is at a higher location, the Temple, the most sacred structure, is right at the center of Delphi, thus "balancing" different aspects of human life. 

and under that, various stages, temples and treasuries.  Near the base is the "navel" of the world.  That stone was left exactly where archaeologists found it. I suppose leaving the stone there is also a kind of balance, too:  After all, how do we define what is the "center" of our planet?  The core?  The point where zero degrees longitude (the location of which is pretty arbitrary, when you come right down to it) meets zero degrees latitude (the Equator)?  Those archaeologists, I believe, were balancing what they knew as researchers and scientists with portraying what ancient people knew about the world in which they lived. 

On our way back to Athens, we stopped in Arachova , which looks like an Alpine ski village.  Actually, it is, except that it, of course, isn't in the Alps.  I admitted to Kostas that until we saw , I never would have used "Greece" or "Greek" and "ski" in the same sentence.  Then again, I am neither Greek (as far as I know, anyway) nor a skier, so I wouldn't have known how well-known the place is among skiers--and Greeks.  

Now there's a balance:  skiing, on the slopes around Mount Parnassus.  On the other hand, I have to wonder how many folks are thinking "Nothing in excess!" as they're barreling down the slope. 

30 July 2019

Would Hadrian Build Bike Lanes?

Almost three years ago, the first phase--all 3.2 kilometers (2 miles)-- of the Second Avenue subway opened, nearly a century after it was first proposed. The second phase, roughly two-thirds of the distance, is expected to open some time during 2027-2029. After that, yet another extension is planned. 

Whenever it's finished, it's still running ahead of the schedule on which the Temple of Olympian Zeus was built.  To be fair, no one planned on taking more than seven centuries to finish it.  Begun in the 6th Century BCE by Peristratos, it was abandoned for lack of funds.  It finally got finished in 131 CE under the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who had a large statue of Zeus built in it, along with an equally large statue of itself.

If the Acropolis is the #1 "can't-and-shouldn't-miss-it" sight of Athens, the Temple, only a five-minute bike ride (if that) away is easily #2.  For one thing, it's easily the largest and one of the most magnificent temples you'll ever encounter.   

Just outside the Temple's grounds is another impressive structure:  Hadrian's Arch, completed a year later both to commemorate the consecration of the Temple and demarcate the boundary between the ancient and Roman cities.  The northwest frieze reads "This is Athens, the Ancient city of Theseus," while the southeast frieze says, "This is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus."

This Hadrian character had an ego.  But he sure knew how to build a city.  While he destroyed some other cities in Greece, he loved Athens and wanted it to be the artistic and intellectual center of the Roman Empire, as it was for its Greek counterpart. Evidence of his magnanimity and megalomania are found in another stop on my bike tour of Athens:  Hadrian's Library.  There's not much left of the actual library, which was set next to a courtyard bordered by 100 columns with a pool at its center!  The library, in addition to the estimated 75,000 volumes it held (by far the largest collection of its time), also contained music and lecture rooms.  

In between Hadrian's gate and library, I made another stop at the Roman Agora, right around the corner from the library.  While the most impressive remains are near the entrance, the real "show-stopper" on this site is the so-called Tower of the Winds, which has served as an astrological observatory and Orthodox chapel.  If you step inside on a hot day, as I did, you will understand why even with such summer heat, air conditioning was so rare until recently, here and in most of Europe:  It seems like all of the winds are blowing through it!

Plus, I'll admit, I wouldn't mind having a skylight like that in my apartment!

Now, if I were an Athenian or in any way sensible, I probably would have stopped at least for something to drink, if not a full-on Greek lunch, somewhere between one of those destinations.  But since I'm not Greek (and I will let you decide whether or not I'm sensible), I wanted to ride and see more.  You might say I was getting addicted to cycling my way through history.

Oh, and I wanted to pack as much into my day before I had to return my rental to Athens by Bike.  I would have kept it another day if I hadn't had other plans.

So another ten-minute bike ride through a narrow, cafe-lined lane, an only-slightly-wider path rimmed by flea-market stalls and a cobblestone walkway that led to the path I rode to the sea, I came to Kerameikos, which you might say is an early "potter's field" because it takes its name from the clay-workers who settled there, along the banks of clay-rich banks of the Eridanos, a stream that was covered over in ancient times and re-discovered during construction of the Athens Metro.  

Kerameikos is practically a diorama of Athenian history.  In it, you can see the Sacred Way, which pilgrims entered through the Sacred Gate for the annual  Elusinian Procession, which commemorated the abduction of Persephone from her mother Demeter by Hades, the king of the underworld, and her rescue.  A little further along is the Diplyon Gate, at that time the city's gate and the starting point for the parade.  It's also where prostitutes gathered to offer themselves to travelers.  Oh, and right by that gate, Pericles gave a speech extolling the virtues of Athenians and honoring those who died in the Peloponnesian Wars.

Oh, and right by that is a cemetery used by the Romans until the time of Justinian (6th Century BCE) and uncovered during street construction in the 1860's.  And there's the path to Plato's Academy.

I thought my head was spinning from taking all of that in.  But, in reality, between my biking and all of the sites I'd visited, I'd been out in direct sunlight for close to eight hours.  Even with all of the sunscreen I slathered on myself, I was feeling the burn.  

After returning the bike, I stopped for some yogurt with cherries and an iced coffee.  Then, in walking by down the pedestrian mall that passes the Acropolis Museum and the base of the Acropolis hill, I saw an entrance to the park that includes the Hills and Pynx, which in turn connects to Filopappu Hill, named for a prominent Roman consul and administrator.  It is on these hills that, according to Plutarch, Thesus and the Amazons did battle.  The west side of Filopappu, as it turns out, is right across the street from the apartment where I'm staying.

Like most hilltops in Athens, it offers a nice view of the Acropolis.  But, if you get tired of that (as if that's possible!), you can turn and see this:

 I wanted to visit all of the sites I mentioned because the pass I bought for 30 Euros at the Acropolis included entrance to all of them (except Filopappu, which is free) and lasts for three days. (It's 20 Euros for the Acropolis alone.)  That 30-Euro pass is, as the Athens cultural office explains, for "archaeological" sites, all of which are outdoors.  There's another 15-Euro pass, also for three days, that includes the Acropolis Museum and the Archaelology Museum, as well as others.  As each of those museums has a 10-Euro admission fee, this pass is also well worth the money.

Today, though, I travelled outside of Athens. More about that later.

29 July 2019

Doing As The Athenians Do

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

We've all heard that bit of advice.  Yesterday, I followed it.  Well, sort of.  I scheduled my cycling day as an Athenian might.  Then again, the vast majority of Athenians don't go anywhere near a bike.

Anyway, I spent the first part of my day wandering around the neighborhoods at the base of the Acropolis.  One thing about this city:  Just because some place is at the base of a hill, that doesn't mean it's flat, or anything close to it. Not that I mind.

After wandering, I sauntered into the streetside flea market in Thissio, which is connected by a path just wide enough for three or four people to another, much larger flea market--in a series of arcades, like the one in Saint Ouen--and one of those "can't miss" monuments:  the ancient Agora.  

As you probably know, "agoraphobia" is a fear of being in public or simply exposed.  The agora was a marketplace, but it was also the most public space in ancient Greece or Rome.  Many a planned or impromptu debate took place there.  I can only wonder how the philosophers of that time might talk about some of our current leaders or celebrities.  

Anyway, the Agora wasn't just a place to shop or argue.  On its site were also altars and temples, at least one of which was added by the Romans.  There's even evidence that synagogue occupied part of the site around the third century A.D.

I came to understand very clearly why people who don't want to go outside are called agoraphobics.  On the site, you are exposed physically as those ancient orators were intellectually.  So, after a couple of hours wandering around the site, I could feel the effects of the sun and I ducked into one of the cafes.  It was a tourist trap, but I had only an iced espresso, so my finances didn't take much of a hit.

One nice thing about Greek, Italian and French cafes is that the wait staff are paid decently and thus don't have to rely on tips.  So, even though I ordered only that iced espresso--a double--nobody was rushing me out of that place.

Then I wandered along the pedestrianized street that leads to the Agora, which had a fair amount of shade and cool mist spraying from the canopies over the cafe terraces. After a few minutes, I did an about-face and walked back to the streetside flea market and crossed its path into a leafy little park.  There, I miraculously found a spot on a shaded bench:  It seemed like all Athenians and more than a few other tourists had the same idea!

Around 3:00 pm, I got back on the bike and rode down a few winding streets lined with graffiti into what seemed to be Athens' Inida-town.  I had a destination:  the National Museum of Archaelogy, a bit removed from the other major museums and monuments.  I had time:  the Museum remains open until 8 pm, even on Sunday.  

For most of us, "Ancient Greece" means the time from Socrates to the Roman invasion.  At least, that's what most of us are taught, if we learn anything at all about it.  But, to an archaeologist, "Greece" is almost as old as the human race.  Even if it's older than most other civilizations in Europe--or the West--it's even older than most scholars, let alone the general public, realized until about 50 or so years ago.

If nothing else, you could come away from a visit to the museum thinking--with justification--that nowhere else does pottery-making have more of a history.  Vessels made of clay were used for literally everything imaginable, and were even funerary offerings.  

There was also a great variety of jewelry-making and other kinds of metal- and bead-work.  Given how advanced their techniques, and the level of intricacy of their work, it's almost surprising that nobody built anything resembling a bicycle--unless, perhaps, they used wood or some other material!

Hmm...Maybe they used some of the obsidian rock found on Milos.  Yes, that's the island from which Venus, now found in the Louvre, came.  The particular variety of obsidian found on the island is harder than most any other rock, or metal, and takes on a sharp edge when broken or cut.  So it was used for knives, swords and other instruments.  Even today, it's being used experimentally in surgical instruments.

I wonder if any of those really ancient Greeks took siestas in the middle of scorchingly hot summer days.

28 July 2019

Journey To The Sea In Another Country

Yesterday, after visiting the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum, I rode the bike I'd rented to the sea.

Technically, that's true.  But not in the way I anticipated.

Manos, the co-owner of Athens by Bike, gave me a paper and "app" version of a route to ride to the Saronic Gulf, a.k.a. the Gulf of Aegina, which is part of the Aegean Sea.  I am sure he has taken that ride in the recent past.  But, as a New Yorker, I know that road conditions can change on any given day, without notice.  So I don't blame him for my ride not turning out quite as I'd planned.

I did indeed get to the Saronic/Aegean, more or less the way I'd planned. But I didn't quite see the coast in the way I'd expected.

Following Manos' directions, I followed one of the few bike paths in Athens.  For most of its length, it parallels a line of the city's Metro system to Piraeus, the port that serves much of the area.  From what Manos showed and told me, the path goes underneath a highway before reaching the shoreline and, at the shoreline, there's a bike/pedestrian path that follows the highway and sea.

Once I got to that highway, though, it seemed that there was no way to cross--except through an underpass with a side lane barely wide enough for most people's feet.  I took it, and found myself at the Athens Marina.  While it's not meant for folks like me, there is an area where couples stroll and (I assume) poor Athenians and immigrants fish.  I rode out to it.  The views from it, I must say, were pleasant enough.

As I returned to the path along the tracks, another delightful young Athenian woman called out to me.  "Excuse me, do you know how to get to the sea?"

Turns out, her nearly-flawless English came from her study augmented by a trip to the United States.  I guess I shouldn't find that so unusual.  What struck me, though, was that she was, in essence, asking me for directions--only two days after arriving in this city, and country.

She was trying to do exactly what I'd wanted to do--get to, and ride along, the sea on her bike.  She said she'd found the lane blocked.  Hmm...Maybe I'm not such a rube, or so hopeless at navigation, after all!

So, having been stymied, we decided to ride back together.  In another odd coincidence, she lives in the same neighborhood where I'm staying.  En route--about 12 kilometers--we shared a bit about our lives.  While she is an esteemed professional here in Athens, she shares many of the same struggles as other people in her native city and country--and of her age and gender.  

Since I was a somewhat-chauvinistic guy in my previous life, I promised to help her.  At least, I'd promised to help her in one specific way she requested.  When I told her I planned to take a trip to Delphi, I promised to ask the oracle what she should do about a particular dilemma she faces.

How could I do otherwise?  This might not be the best cycling country or city--at least, not yet.  But my limited cycling experience here has brought me into contact with two very intelligent women with whom I enjoyed riding and conversing.  I am perfectly willing to return the favors, however imperfectly!

Oh, and her name is Virginia--as it happens, the name of my beloved maternal grandmother.

27 July 2019

If I Can Ride In Athens, I Can...

I can honestly say that I'm not inclined to boasting. (If I were, would I know it?)  Even if I were, I'd have no need for it in Athens, at least when it comes to cycling:  If you ride at all, people--even other cyclists--are impressed, if they don't think you're crazy.

So I didn't have to claim that I ride up the hill of the Acropolis.  I rode a bit before I arrived, mainly to try out the bike I'm renting.  It's actually rather nice:  a hybrid with wide 700C tires. I had never seen the brand--Ideal--before, but it's apparently sold in a few other European countries.  If anything, it--or, at least, this particular bike--seems much like similar offerings from Trek or Specialized or Giant.  It wouldn't surprise me if Ideal bikes were made in the same factories as those other brands.

I rode another bike just like it yesterday morning with Sappho as my guide.  Both bikes came from Athens by bike,  Today, though, I had the advice of Manos, the co-owner of Athens by Bike (good on all counts) and my own instincts (sometimes good) to  guide me.

So I rode a bit around the Plaka, the central area of the city and home to the Acropolis as well as other well-known sites.  I stopped just before noon, as most any Greek might have done, when the temperature rose noticeably.  Instead of ducking into an air-conditioned building or a well-shaded cafe terrace, I took the hike up to the Acropolis and wandered among its ruins.

Contrary to what many people think, "Acropolis" refers to the site, not to any of the structures on it.  And, neither the Parthenon nor any of the other buildings are the "original" monuments built there.  Other things had been built there before, mainly because of its springs, which were said to be created by Poseidon himself.

I am amazed at how quickly (at least relatively speaking) the Parthenon or, for that matter, the Angkor Wat (which I visited last year) were constructed, let alone how accurate and intricate were the work that went into them, especially when one considers that the designers and builders did not have the technology we have today.  The funny thing is that it took less than a decade to build but has been in one stage or another of repair or reconstruction almost since Greece gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire---nearly two centuries ago!

To be fair, it's astounding that any part of the building is still standing, given how it was used and abused, not to mention damaged (and nearly destroyed altogether) by natural and human-caused disasters.  Also, I would imagine that it might be more difficult to figure out how something was conceived, created or constructed when records are sketchy, damaged or nonexistent, than it was to actually build something from scratch.

Still, I told the director of operations--who saw me riding to the site--that I might be able to help speed things up a bit.  Hmm...Maybe that person believed that if I was strong or persistent, or simply crazy, enough to ride on Athens streets, I could be of help.

So, instead of doing a job that involves no heavy lifting in New York for a salary that sounds good until you have to pay New York prices, I am going to do some heavy lifting in Athens.  The rents are much lower here--but so are the salaries.

All right:  I made up that story about getting a job here.  But, really, my time  on the Acropolis--and in its museum afterward--was some of the best I've spent.  And the late-day ride I took afterward was a reward, even if part of it didn't go as planned.  More about that later.

26 July 2019

On A Journey With Sappho

Last night, I arrived in the place where I'm starting the epic (sort of) journey I mentioned in yesterday's post.

At least one epic is related to the trip I'm on now.  Think of the Odyssey.

Now, I hope I don't have to be like Odysseus and spend twenty years trying to get home.  For one thing, I still want to be a Major League Baseball player.  Hey, if I were to sign with, say, the Mets at this point in my life, I'd be the first known transgender player in history.  

All right, that was a bad joke.  But no less than Bart Giamatti, a former MLB Commissioner and Yale literature professor, suggested that part of the game's appeal is that its goal is to reach home.

Where I am now, I don't think very many people know much about baseball--unless, of course, they've spent time in America, or have relatives there.  The funny thing is that in the little bit of time I've been here, I've talked to a few residents and all have heard of the neighborhood in which I live:  Astoria.  If you're familiar with my "nabe," that might be a clue as to where I am: Astoria, until recently, was home to more of this country's natives or their descendants than any other place outside of this country.

I am talking, of course, about Greece.  I arrived late yesterday and fell asleep almost immediately afterward.  When I awoke, it was well into the night, but people were out and about.  

Such scenes were pretty common in the New York of my youth:  People would gather in parks and other public places to chat, eat, drink or just hang out.  That sort of public life is quickly disappearing from the Big Apple and is all but nonexistent among the young people who've moved in during the past fifteen or so years.  

As soon as I got back to the apartment where I'm staying, I booked myself on to a "Good Morning Athens" bike tour that starts, literally, just a few pedal strokes from the Acropolis Museum.  It's a very easy, slow-paced ride done on hybrid/comfort or flat-bar road/city bikes. (I chose the latter.)  But for me, the point of such a ride was not speed or distance or any other sort of physical challenge.  Instead, it was a way to introduce myself, and be introduced to, a city and culture I have previously seen only in books and images.

The entirely flat ride--something that seems impossible in this hilly city--was led by a delightful young woman named Sappho.  Really:  Even with my penchant for storytelling (if I do say so myself!), I could never make up such a detail.  Or, if I could, I would never use it because readers or listeners would never believe it.

All right, her name is spelled Sapfo.  Still, you can't come up with a better name for a tour guide in Greece. 

Our tour group consisted of, in addition to myself, a family from Atlanta, a couple who are about my age and live in the Washington DC area and a younger German couple.  Our ride spanned about ten kilometers and included a number of stops.  We didn't go into museums or the Acropolis, but we did see that symbol of world history and culture just about everywhere we turned.  We did, however go to the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, where all sorts of official ceremonies--and the marriages of wealthy and well-connected people--are conducted.  

Next to it stands a Byzantine church constructed on the site of an ancient Greek temple.  

We also stopped at the Roman Agora and the "original" Olympic stadium.  At least, it's the first stadium built for the modern revival of the Olympic games, in 1896.

That's about as close as I'll come to being an Olympic athlete.  Even if I were to become one, at this stage in my life, I'd have nothing on these guys:

We got to the Presidential Palace just in time for the changing of the guards.  While not as impressive as the ceremony at Buckingham Palace, it is a sight nonetheless, if for no other reason that those guys are performing their moves clad in heavy wool uniforms and shoes that weigh 2 kilograms in 34C (92F) weather.  

Sapfo pointed out that the "goose step" differs from others in that the soldiers bend their legs to make the number "4", commemorating the four centuries of oppressive Ottoman rule  (I couldn't help pointing out another kind of oppression that went on for 400 years in America) that ended with the War of Independence in the 1820s.

For their troubles, the guards--who are chosen for their height and abilities with weapons--are paid the princely sum of 8.5 Euros a month.  Granted, they are given housing, food and everything else they need when they're on duty, but on their days off (four a month), what can they do?  Most of them come from the countryside and, although a good meal and drink can be had for a good deal less than in New York or Paris, those young men still can't do much.  Even if they could "go out on the town," most would want (or be expected) to send money to their families, but the cost of doing so wouldn't leave much left to send.

It's no wonder, Sapfo said, that she and others refer to those young men, and everyone else in the military, as "victims."  Greece is one of the few European countries that still demands military service from all men, and all who end up on special assignments (such as the Presidential guard) are chosen them.  Oh, and everyone is paid that same princely sum every month.

(At least I wouldn't have to worry about being drafted if I were to move here:  I'm over 35 and, oh, only males are required to serve!) 

Now, just as I don't want you to think our ride was a race, I also don't want to give you the impression that we only concerned with such high-minded things as Hadrian trying to turn Athens into the cultural capital of the Roman Empire or the debates of Socrates.  We also partook of another important aspect of Greek culture:  food.  Across from the Agora, a group of people was leaving a church.  One of them had brought in a traditional ginger cake that's offered after a mass for a loss--of a person or any thing of importance in one's life. That cake, which I liked, is a symbol of hope that the person or thing will return, or that there will be a new beginning.

What I (and probably everyone else) in the group liked even better was served at a cafe where we stopped.  It's the best ice cream sundae I've eaten in my life.  At least, it looks like vanilla ice cream with red sauce. Greeks, however,  don't call it "ice cream" and, technically, it isn't:  It's made from yogurt.  But it--kaimaki -- is just as creamy, if almost chewy, and has the most enjoyable, complex combination of flavors I've ever tasted in a dessert.

Kaimaki is perfumed with mastiha, a spice that comes from a tree that grows only in one area of Greece, and is served with the most delectably sweet-tart cherry sauce I've ever savored.

If today's ride were only about riding, I'd wince that I rode ten flat kilometers, with stops, and consumed as many calories as I did.  Then again, the kaimaki and even the cake may not have as many as I might expect.  Even if they do, well, I am not on a journey to count calories, or kilometers (or miles).  

25 July 2019

Not Epic, But Another Journey

You may have noticed that my last two posts were about epic journeys:  the Apollo 11 moon landing and Eddy Mercx's first Tour de France victory, in which he dominated as few riders (or athletes of any sport) ever have dominated.  

Well, I am on a journey. It's not epic, but it'll be interesting, at least for me.  I'll tell you more about it when I've arrived--or, more precisely, when I'm at the start of it.  I'll just say one thing about it:  Epics will be involved, sort of.

24 July 2019

To The Moon--And The Finish Line

Yesterday, I wrote about how Eddy Mercx's ride to his first Tour de France victory was overshadowed by Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon.

Well, as it turns out, that day--20 July 1969--isn't the only connection between "The Cannibal," who left his competition in the dust, and the fellow who stepped off the Eagle into the lunar dust.

What Mercx's and Armstrong's (and Buzz Aldrin's and Michael Collins') journeys had in common were the vehicles that took them to their places in history.

By now, you might be wondering whether I've partaken of one of the substances consumed at another watershed event of 1969:  Woodstock.  I assure you, though, that the Kessels bike Eddy rode and the Apollo 11 spacecraft both had the same hand involved in them.  Well, sort of.

Tullio Campagnolo (center) in front of NASA OSO 6 satellite, for which he built the chasis (1969).

That mano is Tullio Campagnolo's.  Yes, the same uomo who designed the hubs, brakes, cranks, derailleurs and other major parts for the bike Eddy rode to the finish line also designed--and made--the chassis for a 1969 NASA satellite.  It's not the same craft that took the astronauts to another world.  But, certainly, much of the same technology and techniques were involved--and Tullio had a hand in them.

How many other people can say they helped to put men on the moon and get men (and women) over the finish line--in race cars as well as on bikes and motorcycles?

23 July 2019

Ask Him Where He Was On 20 July 1969

Three days ago, on the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon, my post highlighted Dr. Rhett Allain's engaging article, "How Long Would It Take To Bicycle To The Moon?"

In my post, I said that everything stopped for Armstrong's historic stroll. Well, almost.  That same day, another legend was born, if you will.  A certain athlete would achieve one of the most resounding victories in his sport and begin a dominance that is all but unrivaled in any sport.

Now, since you're reading this blog, you probably know who that athlete is.  Hint:  He's Belgian.

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Yes, the incomparable Eddy Mercx rode to the first of his five Tour de France victories on 20 July 1969.  To be fair, the ride wouldn't have had to be pre-empted because it took place during the day, while the moon trek took place at night. That is, night in most of the Americas.  Paris time is six hours later than New York's (or Cape Canaveral's) and seven hours past Houston's, so by the time "The Cannibal" crossed the finish line--18 minutes ahead of second-place finisher and 1967 winner Roger Pingeon, one of the widest margins in Tour history--most Americans were still asleep or just waking up.

Although Mercx would become one of the most famous athletes of his or any generation, his ride in France was overshadowed (no pun intended) by the walk on the moon.  That was especially true in the United States, where there was little, if any, recognition of bicycle racing outside a few enclaves in California, Boston, New York, Chicago and, interestingly, Detroit.   And, of course, the 'States were the home base of the NASA.

So, even if bicycle racing becomes as popular as basketball or baseball in the US, if most Americans are asked "What happened on the 20th of July in 1969?," they respond, "Neil Armstrong walked on the moon!"  Then again, if you asked most people what happened on 22 November 1963, how many could tell you that C.S. Lewis died? 

22 July 2019

The Only Way You Can Pin Down A World-Class Rider

A few cyclists who are even more dedicated (to what, I don’t know) than I am, or are simply more Retro-grouchy than one of my favorite bloggers, has a pair of wheels with wooden rims.

Once upon a time, such wheels were de rigueur.  After all, wood is light (at least compared to metal), strong and resilient.  All racers used them until Mavic developed alloy rims.  While road riders embraced this new development, track racers used wooden rims until they were banned for competition during the 1950s.

Why were wooden rims banished from the velodrome?

Well, when an metal wheel is crashed, it bends or crumples.  But a wood rim is likely to shatter. That is made all the more likely because on track wheels, the spokes are tuned to a higher tension, and the tires are pumped to higher pressures, than on road bikes.  

The result of an “exlpoding” wooden rim was often a cloud of wooden shards that could shush-kebab riders or spectators.

Decades after the ban on wooden rims, many velodromes have wood surfaces. Nobody anticipated such hazards from them—until now.

Lorenzo Gobbo suffered a previously unheard-of mishap.  Apparently, when he went down, his pedal scraped up a half-meter length of the track that ended up in his back—and pierced  his  lung

He is expected to make a full recovery.  But  you have to wonder: how many other cyclists  have come out of a race looking as if they’d  been attacked by an  by an archer?

21 July 2019

In Other Worlds, And Ages

Yesterday, on the 50th anniversary the first moonwalk, I wrote about Dr. Rhett Allain's wonderful article on what it would take to ride a bicycle to the moon.

If I live long enough to see all of that technology develop, and eat my vegetables and drink my milk (I do one of those things now!), I just might make it to the Sea of Tranquility.  

Now that I think about it, I wonder whether I'd want to take such a trip.  After all, if I could go to Paris and bump into someone I hadn't seen in twenty years, who knows who (or what) I might encounter in another world:

20 July 2019

How Long Would It Take You To Ride To The Moon?

As a teenager, I followed the journey of John Rakowski, who rode his bicycle around the globe.  In all, it took him three years to pedal through every continent except Antarctica.

Up to that time, one other journey so captured my imagination:  the Apollo 11 flight.  Exactly fifty years ago on this date, Neil Armstrong alighted from the space capsule and became the first human to set foot on the moon.

I must say, though, that the moon landing didn't sustain my interest in the same way Rakowski's trip did, mainly because the trip from Cape Canaveral to the lunar surface took only four days, and a few days later, Armstrong and fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin (who followed in Armstrong's steps) and Michael Collins returned. 

Moreover, you couldn't escape (even if you wanted to) seeing or hearing about Apollo 11:  literally everything else, from Bewitched to ballgames, was pre-empted for moment-by-moment coverage of the event.  It really took no effort to follow the moon mission.  On the other hand, the only news, it seemed, you could get about Rakowski's trip was his serialized accounts in Bicycling!, which came out every month.

I mention him and the astronauts today because of an interesting Wired article.  Rhett Allain is a physicist who can actually explain his work in terms that folks like me can understand.  Heck, he's even entertaining.  But what makes his article so wonderful is that he takes a seemingly idle question (which, I admit, I have pondered) and answers it in a way that makes the process of scientific research comprehensible and fascinating while showing its complexities.

The question is this:  How long would it take to ride a bicycle to the moon?  The short answer is 267 days, but that assumes that the cyclist weighs 75 kg (165 pounds) and puts out the same amount of energy as a Tour de France cyclist would--for 24 hours a day.  He acknowledges that such a combination of factors is impossible, and that other things come into play, such as what sort of cable or other contraption would serve as the rider's route between worlds and a bicycle capable of being ridden on it.

One thing that's great about Dr. Allain's article is that it reveals just how complicated a task it was to land humans on the moon, and why accomplishing it little more than six years after JFK's proclamation was nothing short of miraculous.