Sunday, June 29, 2008

Why I need an SUV

I found a way to take both my motorcycle and my boat. With a front hitch receiver fitted with auxiliary driving lights I can carry my bike in front and tow my boat behind.

I'll be taking my motorcycle to the NC side of the Smokies, staying on my boat for a week at Fontana Lake, hiking and exploring the wilderness of the NC mountains on my dualsport Kawasaki Super Sherpa. The beauty I've seen on that bike, the places I've been! Fontana is truly the finest lake I've ever seen in these United States, and a great area for dualsport cycling. This is what summer adventures are for, getting out on the water, in the wilderness, and connecting with nature.

I never use my Ford Expedition to commute, only for transporting lots of people, my motorcycle or my boat. I got this truck in 2002 with 65,000 miles on it and 6 yrs later, it has only 91,000. I usually commute to work on my motorcycle, and use my Honda Civic to go to the store and around town.

I think it's really wasteful to be driving a truck like a Ford Expedition around town for routine commuting. It's crazy! I really do feel sorry for those who use a big SUV for daily commuting, especially those that have a long daily commute to work. Fortunately, I barely work (5 months off), barely commute (2 miles to work) and often drive a cycle that gets 90 miles per gallon. When I'm out on a concert tour, I get a state vehicle to drive. My gas expenses are minimal, except when I take the boat out for a week... to NC.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A pretty spider I found

I found this very pretty spider outside on my windowsill. She was guarding an egg sack and her web. So I collected her to take some photos and play with her a while. Such a pretty spider!

She is shiny black with red spots on her back and front, sort of look like hearts, or an hourglass. She looks good, her red spots match the trim on my windowsill. Her web is very complex and three dimensional.

After playing with and photographing this pretty spider, I was mean. I gave her the death penalty for trying to live on my house.

Of course I know who she is, she's Latrodectus mactans, or commonly known as the southern black widow spider. She can inflict a serious bite. The venom of a black widow can actually kill a person in rare instances. Black widows have killed 63 people between 1950 and 1990 in the USA.

Black widow venom is extremely potent, 15 times more potent than that of rattlesnakes, much more potent than the venom of cobras and coral snakes. However, the amount of venom is tiny as is the fang that injects the venom - only one millimeter (less than one half of a tenth of an inch).

So, it is hard to get bit by one and likely not fatal.

Sometimes but rarely, the female spider will eat the male after mating. (Is it a metaphor that I found this spider today?) Female spiders can live five years. Males, not as long.

People bitten often suffer the effects of Latrodectism, the clinical syndrome caused by the neurotoxic venom.

Well, I guess I'll do some spraying this afternoon.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Trials Training Center visit

After completing a grueling off road cycle trip, I stopped to chat with Charlie and Dan at the Trials Training Center in Sequatchie, TN. This is one of the premier motorcycle training centers in the US.

Charlie gave me lots of tips ... on everything from riding to tire pressure. I should really take some lessons. He also told me about a new state-wide off highway vehicle group that was getting organized.

Also, I got to watch a pro practicing.

To get an idea of what trials cycle riders can do, watch pro rider Andrew Blaine in the videos that I took of him on Wednesday:

Click to see
my favorite trials motorcycle video - Pat Smage - Awesome, don't try this at home.

Cycle adventure in the South Cumberland wilderness

What a gorgeous day up on the Cumberland plateau, cool and clear. After visiting some friends in Sewanee, I took off toward Monteagle and Coalmont where I entered the wilderness on Palmer Firetower Road on the Grundy/Marion county line off Rt. 108. The next 15 miles was some of the most remote and challenging terrain I've attempted.

The main obstacles were water n' mud, steepness, and extremely rugged terrain. I laid the bike down hard at least 4 times over the several hours, once in the water. The Sherpa cycle performed flawlessly despite a savage beating. Of course I bent my brake pedal repeatedly and scratched the shit out of everything from the gas tank to the side of the engine. That's why I bought 2. Keep one nice and pound the shit out of the other.

The second picture shows the crazy steepness of one trail. The pic doesn't do it justice - it was definitely an extreme trail.

As I continued south, i picked up an extremely rugged trail which became the Little Sequatchie River. Often the "trail" was the dry (and sometimes wet) river bed. After 8 miles of this, it got old and I became worried I'd get to an insurmountable obstacle and have to drive back. There were boulder fields and some water nearly 2 ft deep I had to ride through. I'm amazed the bike could do it.

These solo trips are pretty risky. I've always worried that I might get injured and be unable to make it out. A serious injury could mean death because of the remoteness of the area and the total lack of cell phone signal.

I made it out and came out right in the cove where the Trials Training Center is located.

If your not familiar with the sport of trials motorcycles, checkout my next post and videos.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Manuel Barrueco with the Nashville Symphony

I hadn't seen Manuel in 4 or 5 years, since he played the Aranjuez Concerto with the Chattanooga Symphony.

This was the first solo guitar concerto that the Nashville Symphony has programmed in 13 years, very odd for a 'guitar town' like Nashville. The last performance of a guitar concerto with the NSO was circa 1995 when Christopher Parkening played the same concerto... and by all accounts, had a tough time with it .

Manuel again played the Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez... the most famous guitar concerto ever written. He played great, as usual, and I had an excellent seat to watch. If you haven't been in the new Schermerhorn Symphony Center, you're missing one of the crown jewels of the Nashville arts scene. It was just awesome with table seating, food and wine for the patrons, it was a particularly nice night. It was a great program of Spanish and Latin American music. I really like Giancarlo, the new conductor/music director. Funny, but he told the audience a story of how he first heard the composer Alberto Ginestera's music - on a rock album by ELP: Brain Salad Surgery, exactly the same way I first heard this music as a young teenager!

Speaking from experience, I know the Aranjuez guitar concerto by Rodrigo can never be taken for granted, it is a hard piece that has 'taken down' many a great player. As a colleague of mine noted, the first movement is a gauntlet of technical challenges and it's 'easy to fall off the guitar.'

Manuel is a supremely controlled performer. It always seems like he's playing it a bit safe but he didn't take any short cuts. He could have slurred the scales in the last movement but he didn't, he ripped 'em. He kicked ass and got a standing ovation.

I had a long conversation with him afterward. He remarked that he had forgotten that he played with the NSO once before, early 80s. I asked him if he ever took 2 weeks off from the guitar, he said no, and his wife confirmed that fact. Maybe a week he said. He also said that he'd "like to take a year off. " I asked him about his hobbies. His wife said, turning the wine bottles in his collection.

I asked him about the Aranjuez concerto, what part scares him the most? He said it's different all the time. He mentioned discussing this with Pepe, that the relationship with this piece changes... sometimes some parts seem hard and sometimes they don't. It's kind of like any hard piece, you keep having to "plug the leaks." For me, starting the last movement always seemed the hardest. Manuel also mentioned that that there are many a great solo guitarists that don't necessarily make great concerto performers. Playing concertos with a full orchestra is a rare opportunity for most guitarists.

I've played several concertos in my career and that's not many, less than a dozen. Most recently with the TN Phil - the Fantasia Concerto by Rodrigo. Here's a clip.

Murfreesboro's Altiplano

Up on Murfreesboro's "altiplano" - (otherwise known as secret place #1) I watched the sunset and the day turn to night.

Here, at the edge of a 300' cliff I watched the sunset, saw the local herd of wild mountain goats, walked around at night under a nearly full moon listening to the frogs and whippoorwills while looking down at the city lights below at my feet.

While standing for some time in the same spot, I was approached by a medium sized dark furry creature resembling a wolverine or a tasmanian devil.

It must not have seen me, and when I moved it immediately started growling. We circled each other in a primal 'dance of defense' before the animal ran off into a boulder field.

I then took out my camera and chased it. What the hell was that animal?

I got one distant photo of the creature. It turned out to be an extremely large possum with dark, almost black fur. About the ugliest possum I've ever seen. They are notable for their bad vision so that explains why it didn't see me standing there and almost ran into me. I'm glad I was standing and not sitting down.

It was a gorgeous night up on the altiplano, the Murfreesboro highlands ... thanks to the mobility provided by my Sherpa.

These are the 'light days' - the longest days of the year. I just love this time of year.


Saturday, June 14, 2008


Flowers are in bloom at Bill's TN Paradise this time of year. This week it's lilies and magnolia blossoms.

I really like these red day lilies (thanks Shirley), they kind of go with the red trim on my log house.

The tomatoes are thriving with the recent rain and the new cherry trees look healthy. I have small green tomatoes on the vine already and hope to be harvesting in a few weeks.

When the tomatoes start coming in, I eat 'em all the time. With a dressing made with fresh herbs crushed and ground with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and sea salt. A mortar and pestle is essential. Sometimes I get a few lbs of home made humus from the Gyro Restaurant and spread it on tomatoes. I could eat it every day.

Summer is great. Bring it on.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bonnaroo - the back way

I really have no interest in attending the Bonnaroo Music Festival - not really into big crowds - but I wanted to see if I could find the "back way in" because directions seemed deliberately vague and I've heard a lot of stories of mass traffic jams near the highway exit.

First, a handle bar mounted GPS on my Sherpa motorcycle is a beautiful thing. Combine that with a gas tank mounted map display and I become 'king of the back roads.'

The bottom line is that the Bonnaroo is east of I-24 on New Bushy Branch Rd in Manchester. Mapquest it. It is best approached from the east, not the highway. I came from the north, near Woodbury. I'd recommend people to get off at either exit 105 or117 and follow the map closely. It's a complicated route on the back roads but there was zero traffic last night. It was fun, seeing the glow at night in the distance. Following the back roads between Murfreesboro and Manchester, I passed through many little hamlets like Bradyville, Readyville, Pocahontas, Ragsdale; it seemed like a church every few miles.... definitely deep in the heart of "Jesusland."

New Bushy Branch Rd is blocked off and forms the back entrance to Bonnaroo. in other words, you can't simply 'drive by' Bonnaroo. I could see it in the distance and I knew when I was getting close by all the makeshift signs of locals trying to make a buck off of parking. I definitely recommend arriving at night. Have fun and party hardy.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Doc Elrod and I

Dr. Elrod was recommended to me as the premiere knee guy when I ripped my acl skiing in '91. After 17 years, I saw him again yesterday.

If you're a Tennessee Titan's football fan, you've probably seen Dr. Elrod running out on the field to attend to injured players.

My reason for seeing him yesterday wasn't the left knee he repaired (which has been perfect), it was the other that has not been feeling right since Jan.

It took him just a minute to determine that a clunking in my knee may be a loose cartilage flap. To be sure, I will get an MRI tomorrow (Friday).

I was really impressed with his medical clinic - the Elite Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center.

Dr. Elrod told me that even though today they use absorbable materials' instead of using titanium staples and screws to affix donor acl ligaments like he did with my left knee in '91, he said my acl surgery in '91 was 10 years ahead of its time because it was done arthroscopically. My left knee has an acl donor replacement ligament- an allograft. At that time, it was revolutionary surgery. The donor ligament is actually an achilles tendon which is structurally much stronger than an acl. The knee has been perfect ever since.

Doc seemed interested in my own prosthesis - the classical guitarists fingernails - particularly the thumb nail that employs a superglued piece of ping-pong ball - odd as it sounds, it is a standard and widely used device among classical guitarists.

Note: I have not been posting very frequently here at Bill's TN Paradise, but with all the political news lately, I've been posting a lot at my politics blog: TN Canon.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Another entry in the new breed of 200 mpg+ cars

The Aptera - yet another entry in the new breed of ultra fuel efficient cars.

They are taking orders for the electric and the hybrid models. The hybrid model generally gets between 200 and 300 miles per gallon depending on how long the trip. The car is said to have a top speed in excess of 85 mph and able to pass crash safety tests. It will cost "less than $30,000" says the manufacturer.

It looks like these types of innovative new technologies will be coming from small businesses and inventors instead of the Detroit automakers. Detroit seems a bit too ingrained on previous designs and methods to deliver a revolutionary concept car that can achieve 200+ mpg, especially American car makers. It's good to see this project coming from the US. The previous fuel efficient cars I've cited are both German. I like this one, but not as much as the German Loremo.

You can reserve yours now on the Aptera web site for a refundable $500 deposit. Delivery will be one year.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Wildflowers in the barrens

The Flat Rock Cedar Glade and Barrens State Natural Area is just down the road from Bill's TN Paradise. It offers some nice hiking amid some splashes of rare and delicate wild flowers.

Pictured here: The Wavyleaf Purple Coneflower (Echinacea simulata) and the yellow Missouri Primrose. Purple coneflower - Echinacea - is used in herbal medicine but the benefits have not been confirmed in scientific studies. I just like the way they look.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

New world's fastest man - Jamaica's Usain Bolt sets the 100m world record


at the Reebok Grand Prix, NY on Sat. May 31, 08.

Bolt, 21, lowered the record of 9.74 set by countryman Asafa Powell at Rieti, Italy, last September.

Why are these Jamaicans sooo fast?

speaking of bolts....

Capturing lightning on video

It takes a lot of luck to get a good video of a lightning strike. What's more exciting than a severe electrical storm with frequent deadly lightning? I tried last night and got a few clips, but nothing as spectacular as the video below where I came close to videoing my own death. Funny, the closest lightning strike I'll probably ever experience ... and I got it on video. The funny thing is, I was specifically trying to capture lightning on video.

One evening, during a storm I took my digital camera in movie mode up to my second floor sunroom that has a glass roof and walls, the perfect room for experiencing storms, (I call it the rain room). After recording for a few seconds, I turned to my left and BAM! Lightning struck just 50 feet away near my carport. It surprised me so much that I moved the camera and yelled 'whoooa shit' !! In this clip, the last thing you see is the quilt on the futon as I flee the room. The explosive sound and stunning ethereal brightness was so instantaneously blindly, I thought the very room I was standing in was taking a direct hit.... like the bright silver hammer of Thor coming down on my head. But as the lightning flickered 3 times, as a frame by frame analysis of the video shows, I realized it was a near miss... or a near hit, but a spectacular video. Actually, it creeped me out a bit, I didn't go in there during storms for a while.

Definitely a "whooaa shit" moment... very exciting !