As I’ve hinted at in prior posts, life has changed a bit for me in the last 5 months. My day job at NASA came to an end July 30, 2021 after 35 years. Anyone who follows me on social media knows this and the basic gist of what I’ve been up to since then. Now that there’s a fair bit of distance between that event and now, I have a few deeper reflections about the experience. Like I said in that piece, I don’t write about my day job much because that is not what this blog is about, but much of what I have been up to and certainly what is in the future concerning urbanism, advocacy, bikes and boats is very much tied to that event. So here’s a recap of the last five months, logistically and emotionally.
I’ve always said I have way more interests than I have time for (the subjects in this blog) and as a result I had been kicking around the idea of retirement for several years once I became “eligible” (encompassing a number of factors) so I could pursue those interests with more vigor. But it never felt quite right; it felt too indulgent and frankly a bit “bougie“. Furthermore, I was always conflicted about leaving NASA because I have (almost) always loved working there (the only professional job I ever held), especially the people I have worked with for the last 20 years once I made the transition from a science field to an IT field. Working with a dedicated team that did great work with a huge amount of mutual respect was a tremendous honor and experience and I learned a lot during that time.
I don’t know whether it was the experience during the initial depths of the pandemic, hearing about colleagues who retire and die shortly thereafter missing out on their planed adventures or just feeling like time was passing me by, but by mid 2020 I had pretty much made the decision that it was time. While I did have a fair amount of latitude to do fun things while working full time, it always felt like I was tied to a desk and was not able to do things that take a lot of time away and were not going to get easier as I get older such as long distance bike touring and competitive sailing events. In fact, that timeframe is realistically limited to the next 10-15 years, maybe 20 tops. Also my 60th birthday was in July 2021 and that milestone compounded the feeling. So I made the announcement early and worked to get things set up for my departure. It didn’t work out exactly the way I wanted for a variety of reasons beyond my control, but no one is indispensable… Anyway, on Friday July 30, I drove in to Washington (third time in 15 months), packed a box, bequeathed my Yoda action figure to Steve Davison, left my computer on the desk and handed my badge to the guard as I walked out of the empty building. Fortunately, I was able to see my team in person just prior to that for what we always called a “CCB” (change control board – and it also stood for Capital City Brewing where we used to go many moons ago). That day really was a surreal experience and while it was no surprise to anyone, it was really an Irish Goodbye.
Acting on a piece of advice I got from numerous people, my thoughts initially were to be very busy during this initial time so I did not think too much about the change. I had planned on jumping on my bike and “sending it” (as the kids these days say) on a bikepacking trip from Maryland to Vermont, but with the things on the near horizon that just wasn’t going to fit in (but IS happening this May – see: https://ridewithgps.com/events/163765-excellent-adventure-2022). So Charles and I settled on a more modest bikepacking trip as a trial run. I’ve already written about that trip in the Road to the Future post. During the rest of the month of August as we were preparing for that trip and a month long visit to New England, I had a few quiet days where I thought, “shit! I made a big mistake” but then I’d look at my to do list and meeting schedule and realized, nah, and got on with the plans. That said, the way it felt was, honestly like I imagine would a death in the family. Not traumatic like that of a spouse, parent or child, more like that of a favorite relative who you spent a lot of time with and suddenly is not around anymore. Having gone through that, I can see how this change might really mess with someone whose identity is tightly tied to their job and has less on their plate afterwards. But, the next few months were definitely action packed and helped me create a lot of separation that dulled that feeling. It was so jam packed, I missed a great opportunity to sail with a friend up and back to New England – but that’s a trip for next year!
September in New England
After the awesome bikepacking trip and packing boats, we loaded up Van*Tastic and hit the road north.
The first stop was Lake Quassapaug in central Connecticut for the Board of Governors Regatta. It was great to be back there. Much to our surprise it has been more than 15 years since we were last there (2004 to the best of our recollection). Turnout was still a bit light due to the ongoing pandemic (delta ramping up), but it was a close regatta where we just eeked out a win; see Joel Zackin’s regatta report for more details.
After dropping Lisa at the airport to get back to Annapolis (someone has to work to keep me in the life to which I’ve become accustomed!), the next stop was to drop the boats at Jibetech in RI for safe keeping and then to New Bedford and to Welfleet for a much needed visit with family. Of course I hit all the usual bike rides in those areas to Westport, Provincetown and Chatham. And I got to finally get my annual Cape Cod Beach marker that I’ve missed the last few years since we’ve not made it to the Cape.
From there, I headed to Maine to pick up Lisa at the airport in Portland (her quintessential “Princess Program”) and we headed to Boothbay Harbor Maine to see our good friend Kay Voss. We were there for about a week and did a weekend cruise to Harbor Island (with a nice hike) as well as some sightseeing in Camden and around Boothbay Harbor and of course great local beer.
We said au revoir to Kay and headed down to pick the boats up at Jibetech and finally got a chance to hit the Herreshoff Museum in Bristol, a place I’ve wanted to visit for quite some time, especially after indulging my covid obsession: watching wooden boat restoration videos on You Tube.
After we picked up the boats and had a nice lunch with Andrew Pimental and Carol/Paul Cronin, we drove back north to Jubilee YC in Beverly MA for the expertly hosted North Sails Snipe North Americans.
Day one was an interesting day of sailing for sure. The breeze was NW offshore shifty with pressure between 5 and maybe 22 knots with sunshine, clouds and even a torrential downpour. The courses were the longest I’ve sailed in a long time lasting between and hour and hour and a half. Really hard physically and mentally but lots of fun and the longer courses gave you time for some gains. After day 2 we were holding on to 16th after two more races. They were mostly light and lumpy, reminiscent of Annapolis but with lots of puffs that got stronger as the day went on. It was really important to get to the next breeze as the shear was large and if you just missed the breeze you were toast. Two basically middle of the fleet finishes (23, 18) but the second one we had to work really hard for as we were nearly last around the first lap. But we got our heads out of the boat and dug back which was very satisfying. On the third day it was howling when we left the beach for the last two races, but once out of the harbor it was sporty, but less shifty/puffy than day 1. “Steady Eddie” gets no love from a drop race so we moved down two places to end up 18th out of 41. Not too bad, but about par for the course. It was a very fun regatta and am great to see so many old and new Snipe friends and love the energy!
After the regatta, I dropped Lisa again at the airport and headed back to New Bedford to hang at my father’s for a few days. It was great to downshift and just spend some quality time along with some other bike rides checking out some fun bike infrastructure as well as a ride that went sideways through Freetown MA a place I hadn’t been in a long time.
After a chill week, I headed back to the Boston area to pick up Lisa for the Snipe Western Hemisphere and Orient Championships at the Cottage Park YC in Winthrop MA. I’ve sailed here a number of times in Snipes and Interclubs, but this was my first time sailing in an international Snipe regatta that required qualification (I made it by the thinnest of margins) so it would prove to be a very challenging. We ended up 19th out of 27, essentially about the same place we usually finish in big regattas, except without all of the back half of the fleet. The races were much longer than we are typically used to and the regatta was 5 days of racing, much longer than we have done in many years and it ends up being a bit of a mental slog-fest. I’m not sure I’m quite cut out for focusing on a single event for so long and my performance kind of reflected that. However, it was a great experience and in many ways a lot of fun and I’m glad we had a chance to sail this regatta in the US. Frankly, after this experience, I’m not sure I’m really that keen on qualifying for a Snipe World Championship overseas (the dream of every competitive Snipe sailor) as it’s a lot of money and effort for the frustration level. I’d much rather do some smaller, less competitive events in cool overseas locations or maybe a World Masters Championships that would be equally as tough, but very social. Other fun aspects of this regatta were that Lexi was sailing so we got to hang out together all week and to make a bunch of new international Snipe sailor friends.
The day after the regatta and a little hung over, we hit the road back to Annapolis almost a month to the day that I left. Usually when I am gone from home for this length of time I get antsy and homesick as I find it exhausting to keep changing surroundings without the stability of having your own space and sleeping in your own bed. Oh wait, I did have my own space and my own bed in Van*Tastic! During the entire month, I stayed every night in the van, much to the apparent dismay of my family and friends. But this allowed me to keep in my own routine at “home” regardless of what parking lot, driveway or city street we were on and that provided the sense of stability that really made this much time on the road enjoyable. I can see this working well in the long run for future #VanLife experiences!
As soon as we got home, it was time crank on the Frigid Digit our annual fall invitational regatta at SSA. We had done a lot of the prep beforehand, but given the time away, we had a bunch of stuff left to do the week before. Given the very busy east coast Snipe schedule especially since the two weeks of NAs and Westerns just ended, we did not expect the usual travelers. However, we had a good turnout (19 boats), a testament to the great energy we have in the local fleet. We ended up winning a tie breaker for 5th. You can read my full regatta report on our fleet website.
The next weekend we went up to Oyster Bay to see Lexi and Andres and were able to sail the Oakcliff Harvest Regatta in one of the Swedish Match 40s. I got on one of the boats crewed by Lexi, Andres and some other Oakcliff staff, and quite unexpectedly when everyone was discussing who was going to drive, the helm fell in my lap, cool! It was a goofy race where you had to not only race against competitors, but also pick up pumpkins thrown in the water by the RC for prizes. Because we had the A Team crew we flew the chute in the puffy conditions and rocketed across the line first and did get a few pumpkins to boot. A huge amount of fun. The next day was the real reason we were there: Andres and Lexi’s nuptials. It rained like hell all morning, but dried up by show time and there was an awesome low key ceremony on the beach followed by dinner in NYC. Definitely a low key affair, but like Lisa and my wedding was “us”, this was “them” for sure.
The next regatta of the fall was the Halloween Regatta in Atlanta. We always enjoy going to that regatta and despite it being on a small lake (Altoona, west of Atlanta) often with screwy breeze, it’s a lot of fun and this year pretty good sailing. We ended up also winning a tie breaker for 5th (out of 22). The costume theme this year was “Venetian Nights”, and as a goof we went as “Venetian blinds”, which got a good laugh.
After the regatta I took Lisa to the airport and drove over to Huntsville, AL to see my NASA colleagues. I worked with them every day for almost 20 years and I had not seen them in person for a number of years, thanks to limited travel funds, great collaboration tools and of course the pandemic. I stayed at Monte Sano State Park up on top of a hill east of Huntsville and that always reminds me of Joe Prahl, one of my college mentors whose influence launched my career. So many years ago during the USML-1 shuttle mission he was an Alternate Payload Specialist, and instead of staying in a hotel, would stay in the rental cabins there. We’d play squash after our shift, then head up there for a beer. Plus, the ride up the hill is a great climb on the bike so I had to let it rip. The best road up to the park starts in the Five Points neighborhood and if I were to live in Huntsville that’s where I would live. Anyone who knows me would not find that surprising as it is a turn of the century traditional neighborhood with great bungalows. It was fun to see everyone and get caught up on all the shop talk I missed over the prior few months. While I was still interested in the goings on and even offered to help on a specific project that did not get completed before retirement, by the time I said au revoir two days later, I did not feel I had made a wrong choice. Not anything negative about NASA, rather enjoying the new view forward.
The last regatta of the calendar year was the Snipe US Masters in St. Petersburg Florida in the middle of December, which we won! If you haven’t been to St. Pete in a while, the place has changed a LOT in the last 30 years (my first Snipe regatta ever was here in January 1988). It’s a really vibrant, hip place with great bike infrastructure and some really fun restaurants. And, they are amazingly friendly to #VanLife (shhhhh, don’t spread that around!). The one place Lisa always raves about is Oak and Stone that has 30 something beers on taps that are controlled by an RFID wristband system so you can sample all kinds of stuff self serve. And if you are ever there with a bike, you have to hit the Pinellas Trail and the other amazing related bike infrastructure in and around the city. I did a long ride that was my typical circumnavigation of the city.
It was a pretty quick trip down for the regatta and with holiday stuff happening at home, I was anxious to get back, so headed through Miami to drop the boat at the US Sailing Center for the winter and bombed home in two days. At least I got in a ride out to Key Biscayne in the 80 degree heat in Miami before hitting the road!
I was also fortunate to sneak in a quick two day midweek sail with Jesse Falsone on Laura T over to Dividing Creek on the Eastern Shore in the middle of November. Late fall on the Chesapeake doesn’t get any better than this. I’m really looking forward to doing more cruising with Jesse next year.
The cyclocross calendar was still a bit jumbled after a canceled 2020 season. As a result, there were several “must do” races that I missed. DCCX in Washington was held very early this year (September during the Snipe NAs), Charm City Cross was the same weekend as the Snipe Frigid Digit which got the priority, Lexi and Andres got married the weekend of Hyattsville CX, and Ed Sander was the same weekend as the Halloween Regatta. This left 8 events I could do and I ended up doing 9 races.
We – ABRT – had a great group of ‘cross riders this year. Instead of it being just Charles and me, Mike, Antonio, Mickey, Gwo and even Steve O were at most of these events racing together in the 40+ or 45+ 3/4/5 fields (depending on series). We brought the ABRT tent to a bunch of them which was fun because we hang around a bit longer and it reps the team. I really like racing in the younger masters 3/4/5 fields because even though I am typically the oldest guy in this field (I can enter the 60+ if I want), the younger fields do not contain any cat 1/2 riders (often former pros). The result is I generally don’t get lapped, have a longer race and it is actual racing with people, not just a dirt time trial. Furthermore, the inter-squad rivalry between Mike, Antonio and me really started to heat up which added even more spice to races.
My fitness built slowly over the season, and unfortunately the season ended just as I was getting up to speed, at least that is how it felt. I ended up hovering around 21 or 22 in many races, with my best finish towards the end in Belair with a 12th (my favorite course of the year, very technical, flowy and punchy) and my worst Falkorburg (lots of long uphill slogging). Surprisingly, the only muddy race was BikeneticX which was at a new Brewery location in VA that was very “boggy”, but the brewery aspect made up for it in spades. The season ended as usual with Capital ‘Cross at Lake Fairfax Park. The course is really fun and it’s a great environment for cross. I decided to do both the 40+ 3/4/5 as my “real” race and later that day, the 60+ as a “goof off” race in my elf costume. While alcohol is not allowed in the park, there are “handups” on the back side of the course and I decided to be a bad elf and grab fireball shots on every lap in the 60+ race (five!). While a lot of that ended up all over my face, it was always interesting to blast down one of the “chutes” on the course right after doing a throat burning shot!
Like I wrote about at the end of the 2019 CX season, cyclocross is illustrative of everything I love about bike riding, the actual bike riding: bike handling skills, training, racing, group rides; and the intangibles: camaraderie, being outside in fresh air, seeing and experiencing new places to ride and of course a couple of local IPAs at 10am immediately after an hour of hard racing! It is always a shame that the season ends so early, especially when it is not brutally cold here in December. In addition to the highlighted pictures below, here’s a full set of pictures from the 2021 season; every narcissistic cyclist has an album of themself on the bike 🤣
Well maybe it didn’t end as we had almost a foot of snow in early January and of course one has to try and ride in it …
Thanksgiving and Christmas were somewhat subdued affairs due to the resurgent pandemic issues, but we were able to have Thanksgiving with neighbors followed by a quick trip to Clearwater for a little mini family vacation. Lexi and Andres were doing an Oakcliff 49er clinic there and Andres humored me with a spin on a full rig 49er.
Christmas was fun with a full house and we had a few low key get togethers, most notably the “A8” crowd, some of our longest friends in Annapolis. I did finally make Cuccidati (Sicilian fig cookies) of which I am now the keeper of the flame (my grandmother’s customized recipe).
The New Normal
In between the fun sailing, cycling and other travel have been the usual bi-monthly Planing Commission meetings (with some very interesting projects that I’ll write about in more detail when we finish our work on them), Transportation Commission meetings and BikeAAA/Advocacy meetings. It’s been really great that these meetings are all still virtual. While some positive dynamics are lost with virtual meetings, I had been working this way with my teams at NASA for 10+ years so it is really more of the same for me in terms of efficacy and it allows you to do all kinds of fun travel and not miss a beat.
If you made it this far, I’ll reward you by wrapping it up in a nice neat bow. My goal in this perhaps stupidly long piece – beyond some obvious self-aggrandizement, or a little more charitably, to let old friends know what I’ve been up to – was to illustrate how I met my goal of getting some mental separation between the old and the new. I no longer have any “what if…” thoughts, and certainly never a moment of “shit! I made a big mistake”. At this point I can look back on the last 35 years with a nice glow and cherish the professional relationships I’ve made, hopefully maintaining at least some of them going forward. If I had any advice for people retiring, start assembling another life before you pull the plug and when you do, definitely get on with with it immediately; don’t sit around at home even as a kind of “staycation” and let any possible negative thoughts mess with your head. As one of the nutballs I follow on You Tube – Ryan Van Duzer – says “Get Out There“.
Now that I have the mental separation from the old work life and my five months of vacation have come to a conclusion, the work of establishing the “New Normal” begins. I am like many, a creature of habit and like to have a routine that provides some consistency through daily life. In the past that was getting up and “going to work” (either in person or virtually) while trying to fit in all the other stuff I wanted to do. The new normal has a similar routine, except it is just “all the other stuff” I choose to do and do them on my own terms. Even within that context there is deeper meaning because a dominant theme is “giving back” whether it is advocating for Strong Towns principles and bike infrastructure, helping new Snipe sailors, or running regattas/bike races. So I’m looking ahead and it really is true that when you are doing what you want to do, everyday pretty much feels like Saturday. Onward!