I volunteered at some of the Great River Energy Bicycle Festival/Nature Valley Grand Prix
races this past week. Last year I carried along a digital camera and wove my experiences around that. This year, my son Henry took the camera with him Friday on a Minnesota Boychoir
trip to New York City and I ended up using film, so it'll be a bit before my pictures will be done. So, you get mostly text, lots of it. Lucky you.Wednesday June 14
Saint Paul Time Trials
My old friend Paul rode up from Iowa to volunteer just like he did last year. His departure was delayed a day as he got food poisoning from some loose meat sandwiches at a hospital food day, go figure, so Tuesday night found him in Alma, Wisconsin. He called to say he'd meet me at the Time Trial course in downtown about 2:30.
Paul had an interesting ride in. I'd scouted the way in from Prescott a couple of weeks ago and even left him a Twin Cities Bike Map, one of the old ones without all the detail in the outer 'burbs (you want the one with the Light Rail on the front cover, it's in all the local bike stores). He did fine until the end of Military Road when he turned too soon onto Sterling Road rather than go down the big hill to Point Douglas Road. I'd never seen or heard of this road, but weirdly, it dead-ends into the top of a ski-jump area next to I-494. There was a gravel road next to the this and Paul thought, Aha, that must be the bike trail. He headed down onto what proved to be a terrifying, death-defying plunge locking up his rear brake and fighting to keep control. The road, a service path for the ski jumps, apparently, dead-ends at the bottom, and he had to walk the bike back up. He went through a hole in a fence into a park, saw a woman walking who directed him towards a road, and eventually found his way down to Point Douglas Road and into town. When he described this to me I couldn't tell what he was talking about, not knowing we even had ski jumps on the east side.
We did some setup. This mostly involved moving fencing and putting up banners. We were both hungry and had a turkey burger from the Birchwood Cafe
who had a food booth set up, but they couldn't serve beer, so we rode up to the Eagle Street Grille
. It was Happy Hour, 3-6, and so we ordered a beer and drank it, then ordered another. At 6:03PM the waitress brought us the tab, and the first beers were half price and the second ones full price. I pointed out that it was 6:03 but that the tab said it was 6:23. She blithely informed us that the registers run on bar time, 15 minutes fast, that all bars do it, and happy hour is over at 6:00 bar time. There is, it is worth noting, no clock in the place showing this so-called Bar Time, and her register had printed 6:23 when it was 6:03, which is 20 minutes fast, not 15. I pointed out that we had just finished the beers and almost certainly ordered them prior to 6:00 even on this alleged Bar Time. No dice. We paid and as we left shook the dust of the place off our feet. We'd enjoyed the joint last year, when we ate there, and were happy to get a beer this year, but this kind of bullshit is what keeps me away from places. I will not be returning to the Eagle Street Grill and I would suggest to anyone there that they confirm what "Bar Time" is when they order. Sheesh. (Also check their math: the Summit Pale Ales were $4.25 full price, $2.25 half price, which I would think ought to be $2.13, they can't tell time or do math, but what do I know, I just work with a bunch of actuaries).
We went back down the hill to the races. There were plenty of course marshalls about and we'd had beers and Paul had ridden from Alma so we just watched for a while. Last year the pacing of the Time Trials was pretty stately and they took up a lot of the day with a big lull in the late afternoon. This year they tightened things up; the racers went out at 30 second intervals so that it was pretty common for one to overtake the next racer ahead and there was a pretty constant flow of cyclists going by.
Here's a Kodak racer in the starting ramp. They get all clipped in and the guy behind supports the bike while the other guy does a countdown. I liked the colorful Kodak uniforms.
Here's a guy taking off. He must be good or something as the video motorcycle is coming out after him.
A Bianchi rider accelerating at the start. One of the nice things about bicycle races from a spectator's point of view is how close to the action you can get. Another nice thing is that you can cross and move up and down the course. Paul and I rode down to the turnaround to watch from there for a bit.
Here a couple of riders are at the turnaround. This wasn't common last year, when the riders were more spaced out, but with the 30-second intervals it happened more often.
Here you can pick out four riders on the course; there are two coming towards the turnaround, one under the light pole heading back and one in the distance directly under the locomotive headlights. This kind of rider density made the time trial more interesting to watch.
Sometimes the overtake took place right by the turnaround. The bikes with a solid rear wheel made a sort of whoomp-whoomp-whoomp sound as the riders powered away from the turnaround back towards the finish line.
The course runs right by the Mississippi, very much a working river around downtown Saint Paul and downstream. Here is a view into some empty barges moored along the way.
Here comes a guy at the finish. His bike is all light and whippy, mine is the red beast in the foreground. It's not in final form yet, but you can see the Topeak rear basket with bag in it and the eight-speed Nexus hub. These are different conceptions of cycling.
When the races were over we figured we'd better get moving or we'd end up tearing down as well, and we rode home.Thursday June 15
Cannon Falls Road Race
We didn't volunteer for the Cannon Falls race, but decided to go watch it, after spending the day touring oddball bicycle shops of the Twin Cities. Sibley we left to later, Express Cyclery was closed still, but we hit up the Hub Bicycle Coop
on Minnehaha and Lake (where Paul bought his Xtracycle
a couple of years ago), Sunrise Cyclery
, a pretty filthy Mexican restaurant on Lake near Sunrise, Hiawatha Cyclery
where we met Jim's 13-month-old daughter and I bought his in-stock Swiss-made Esge two-legged kickstand
, boring old Penn Cycles
on Lake, racing-oriented Flanders Brothers
and then, for my first time, One on One Bicycle Studio
. I figured that being middle-aged and having driven there (Paul had stressed his left knee pretty badly and we didn't really ride at all once we were in from Wednesday's volunteer work) we might be at big risk for scorn and humiliation, but in fact the guys were pretty nice. Paul bought a long-sleeved wool jersey, I ordered a NOB and we spent some time rooting around in the basement. There was some total crap down there and some very cool old stuff. I may write about it later.
We got home, had a quick tea, and left for Cannon Falls. We were going to miss the start of the race so decided to go and catch them out on the course
, which I had highlighted in my DeLorme Gazetteer
. Here's a map of the route, scanned from my DeLorme. If you click on it, you'll get a big version on which I have marked the positions where we watched the racers out on the course. (A careful examination will reveal that there is a conflict between the race map and the DeLorme on the gravel bit's road number--my DeLorme is a 1994 edition and the road number has changed since then).
We went south of Cannon Falls a bit, took a gravel road over to the Highway 25 part of the course and popped up wondering if we were ahead or behind the race. We quickly caught up to a Highway Patrol car and figured it was the rear of the race, so head down some more gravel and went to the turn we were most interested in, where the race went off the paved roads and onto a gravel road. We parked the car and got out with the cameras in hand (for you photo nerds, a Nikon FE with Ektachrome slide film I'm going to have processed using old Kodak PK-36 mailers). I had my motor on the camera and fired away. Nobody crashed, which would have made a dramatic photo but I am glad, it would have hurt a lot. Used as I am to seeing instantly how photos come out, using film again is feeling distinctly old-school though I do love the instant response of the Nikons.
Once the race had gone by, and they were already strung out over more than 5 minutes, we dashed off back down Highway 8 to Highway 1, then east to the 51/1 intersection. Here the race came down County 51 and turned east onto Highway 1. These poor buggers, the wind was directly out of the south at 20+ mph gusting to God knows what, and they had to come laboring down his long hill, across some flats and then turn east. They looked really tired. Headwinds like that would just about blow me whimpering to a stop. The race was now strung out over eight minutes and a final small group came by drafting a non-race related car. I don't blame them.
Here some racers come into the turn onto eastbound Highway 1. You can see another clot of racers back up the road. Paul took this with my daughter's digital camera, I was taking slides on a motor-driven Nikon FE.
We went off again, south along some gravel and then paved roads and to the intersection of Highways 8 & 9. Here the race would have a bit of tailwind as they came west and a ton of it as they turned north and disappeared down a steep hill. We parked the car and talked to a guy on the corner who'd been drafted by the official policeman to course-marshall Highway 8 from the south when the race came by. It took a while before they showed up, lugging up a long hill, around the corner and then I can just imagine the relief as they feel the wind at their back and start down the hill. A respite!
When these guys had all or at least mostly gone through, we left that corner and went west on 9 and then back up 52 into Cannon Falls to watch the circuit which finished off the race. We saw the men go by and caught the very end of the race. We stood right by the finish line and awaited the women, who had gone off half an hour after the men and were out there somewhere. They showed up and did their circuits and we watched the end of their race and then retired to a bar and grill for a burger and beer, stopping only to get a volunteer goodie bag which we had missed last night in Saint Paul. This bar, by the way, had a clock and was running five minutes fast for Bar Time. Done, we headed home.Friday June 16
Friday was a loooong day. Henry had to be at the airport at 4:30AM to get the plane to New York, another parent was picking him up at 3:50 and so we rustled him out of bed at just after 3:00AM. I'm not an early riser in the best of circumstances. Once he'd left, Karla and I enjoyed our second cup of tea in the quiet of the moonlit backyard. The paper showed up. We went back to bed for a bit, but then were up again by 6 and got up Paul and Geneva and went to the Day by Day Cafe on West 7th for the Very Early Bird Special (half price if you order by 7:00)(unclear if there is a Restaurant Time). I'd built a cedar garden border and we spent the morning at home digging up some grass, putting this in place, mixing the soil for it and putting it in, and cleaning up. Lunch came and went and we got ready for downtown. I thought we might end up wet, so took a goofy hat and rain poncho. Paul thought we'd be dry enough. We caught the bus downtown and showed up about 3:00. I hadn't ever actually gotten an email telling me what to do but figured if we set up, course-marshalled and tore down I'd probably catch my shift. We checked in, got t-shirts, ear plugs and yellow safety vests and got to work.
We soon found the white fencing truck. We did a bunch of work with this fencing last year at Minneapolis and Stillwater so know how to do it. A guy named Brian is in charge of it and we spent a couple of hours setting up fencing around the course area. I keep forgetting how many very nicely-dressed young attractive people there are working downtown. I used to be one of them except I wasn't all that attractive. We set the fencing up on the curbs to start with; the road closure permit runs only from 6 to 10, so we get it in place then move it at 6:00. That's the plan, anyway.
At about 5, setup was as complete as could be and we were hungry so we went to Chipotle, washed up and ordered burritos. It was early for dinner and we got the bar stools along the windows onto Nicollet Mall. We ate away while outside it got darker and darker and lightning began to flash. You know, I said, I think it's going to rain. Paul kept our seats while I ran down to the Caribou tent to get a couple of free ice cream cones, then came back just before the rain began to fall.
We had a great view, and we felt pretty smug about it. We watched the restaurant next door pulling in all their stuff, there was going to be no outdoor dining tonight! The tents all lowered their legs and the people held onto them as the wind picked up. Then it began to rain and blow hard and soon it looked like hurricane footage and the Culligan Water tent blew inside out and ripped up the frame and a couple of others tried to overturn and there were people huddled along the front of Chipotle from the rain then the hail started and it didn't hail for the normal 1 minute but went on for five or more minutes, not very big, mostly, but lots of it and it was shredding decorative flower plantings and stacking up in the chairs and more and more people piled into Chipotle out of the onslaught. Lighting was flashing, the hail dwindled, the rain kept lashing down as water ran curb-deep down the street. We sat warm and dry thinking, wow, that looks bad, glad I'm not out there.
A little after 6, the rain having dissipated and the hail mostly melted, except where it had drifted, we went to the volunteer tent and turned in our yellow safety vests for use while setting up and got orange ones indicating we would be course marshalls. We were issued flags and whistles and sent to the corner of 10th and Marquette. It wasn't too crowded, the bustling crowds of after-work Friday Minneapolis having been dispersed by the storms. The inside part of the corner, my part, was wide open, which wasn't good. I pointed out to a race guy with a radio that I could use another guy on the corner and that the next intersection (11th and Marquette) couldn't see us when we waved our flags if we were controlling pedestrians. He looked at the corner and said it wasn't properly set up, then radioed in for, what, backup? After a few minutes a piece of steel fencing showed up and some Do Not Cross yellow tape and some orange cones to mark the hazards (the handicapped access to the sidewalk corner) so the racers could see them and I had an intersection I could manage.
The women's race started later than scheduled and ran for 30 minutes. The roads were still wet and there were a couple of slides on the wet manhole covers at the start of the turn, but no crashes. I think the racers were taking it carefully. I don't know who won; as fun as it is to see bicycle races, it's tough to know what's going on out in the course. I wish they could work with a radio station to broadcast what was happening during the race so those of us away from the Start/Finish line could hear what was happening. As it happened, we were only a block away and could make out some of the commentary from time to time.
The men's race was a confused start. There was a two-minute warning at 7:43, then the announcer at the Start/Finish said it would start at 8:00. One of the guys with radios happened by. There was much animated discussion--people thinking the race was in two minutes, our guy radioing out that the announcer was saying 8:00. There was some urgency as there was another line of storms coming our way. The race ended up being run at 8:00, which is what the racers had been told. Our guy with the radio said that you couldn't run early because the racers had been told 8:00 and if they showed up at 7:55 and the race was already underway, they would be out of the whole Grand Prix.
With darkening skies looming, the men set off at 8:00. Again, they seemed to ride more gingerly than usual, picking their way through the corner. It began to rain. I saw a couple of slips and Paul, across the intersection and thus looking down-course, said one guy rode into the barriers after taking a bad line, but there were no big crashes like last year. It rained more and more heavily and lightning and thunder started booming. I think the racers can stay in the Grand Prix if they complete a minimum number of laps, and they get the time of the slowest rider to complete the race. As the rain really began belting down, the race got slower and a lot of riders withdrew, many through Paul's side of the intersection since we were the first exit after the Finish line. I had put on my poncho but Paul was just in a t-shirt and was starting to shiver as the rain came pelting down and the temperature dropped. For a few minutes the race continued in almost apocalyptic conditions, failing light, pouring rain, booming thunder, wet and cold. The racers went by in a spray of water, hissing through the intersection in a diminishing pack. I was thinking they could use lights in this race and maybe fenders! I believe it was 18 minutes in that the officials decided the conditions were too dangerous and called the race. I heard later that a 45-year-old won it, figuring it was going to get called early and poised in front. We course-marshalled for a few more minutes, keeping the intersection clear as the riders came through and rode to their dispersal areas, then set off back to the volunteer tent. Paul was very wet and cold and shivering badly.
At the volunteer tent we cowered under the canvas. Paul took off his sopping t-shirt and just left it there and put on three of the dry volunteer t shirts and his own tshirt besides. Now he was warm enough. I added my own shirt and another volunteer shirt under my poncho. We turned in the flags and orange vests and switched back to yellow for teardown. I had a feeling they'd be short of teardown people and the streets had to reopen by 10:00.
There's a Target downtown now, so Paul and I sloshed down there and he bought a $5 poncho in the freezing store. We waded back to the Volunteer tent again. I saw the strangely alluring sight of some young ladies in little black dresses with wet hair walking barefoot down the sidewalk. You don't see fetching barefoot women prancing around downtown too often. We stopped by the tent and things seemed a bit disorganized. A lot of volunteers had gone off to get free leftover food at the VIP tent. We set off down Nicollet figuring to find the fencing truck. We didn't see it and were assigned to gather the sandbags together.
By now the rain had picked up into a total deluge again. I felt like an extra in some war movie showing the utter misery of frontline conditions as we worked along across from Brit's, only a few hours ago full of happy drinking fashionable people. I hate carrying sandbags; I'll happily toss white steel fencing around all day long but if I have to bend over a lot to pick stuff up my back goes all stiff. We were working across from some gym where the well-off were walking nowhere on their treadmills and the indigent were cowering under an awning. They probably figured we were getting paid, possibly overtime, not that we were a bunch of middle-class white guys doing this miserable work for free. We had to open up the fencing to allow in an ambulance to help some homeless looking guy lying on the sidewalk, unable to sit up and drenched by the ongoing downpour.
We saw the fencing truck coming up 12th. Hallelujah! It was understaffed, so we happily left our sandbags and went down to the truck and got to work. Our group had enough experience that people didn't need to be told what to do and we gathered the fencing in around the course in the continued deluge. When that was done, we stacked the Finish line framework atop the fencing. We wandered back to the Volunteer tent, now being torn down, and set off to get the Red Bull displays and stunt rider scaffolding in. Now for our moment of fame.
This stuff was at the corner of the WCCO-TV
building and they shoot their anchors in front of a window looking out onto Nicollet Mall. It was right before 10, so we loaded the stuff then stood in the rain with a couple of other volunteers and peered over the shoulders of the anchors as the news came on. If you were lucky, you might have seen us, though it would be hard to tell, as we looked like the Complimentary Color Brothers in our yellow and blue ponchos, peering in the window and making profound utterances like "Are we on?". If the evening's endeavours in the storms hadn't already alerted us, we could tell that the weather had been bad because Paul Douglas, the station's weather doofus, had his sleeves rolled up. They were preternaturaly neatly rolled up, like maybe he has them pressed that way at the cleaners and kept in the Stormwatch section of the wardrobe along with the loosened necktie.
Eventually our limited attention spans got the better of us and we wandered off. Our media-whoring had caused us to miss the last bus, so I called Karla to come and get us, to meet us at 1st Avenue and 5th Street. There were still hay bales to gather and I don't know who looked after the sandbags, but we'd been on since 3:00 and someone else could finish up. We walked through downtown to the meeting point, the rain diminishing to a slow drip so that the cool Club-going crowd was out now, dressed (or in some cases undressed) to the nines for a night of partying while Paul and I looked like the retreat from the Marne squishing our soggy way through downtown.
That's three years in a row now the Friday Criterium has been affected by rain, though last year it was at least before the races and the course was dry and the weather beautiful by the time the men raced. Two years ago I'd spent a wet and anxious hour at 11th and Marquette during a colossal thunderstorm that delayed the race starts. One of these years they'll have great weather and huge crowds. I'm still bringing my poncho, though.Saturday June 17
Mankato Road Race
We didn't go. With the 3:00AM start to Friday and all the setup I didn't even wake up until 9:00. We all had breakfast and Paul and I went off to hit up Sibley Bike Depot
and Express Cycles. Sibley, where I got my red Schwinn, was way down in inventory. Express Cyclery seems overpriced for what they're selling (all used bikes) and I don't think that I have ever bought anything there. My record remains intact. We went back to One on One to check out a couple of German 3-speeds dating from the late 1950s. Paul, who is of German extraction, was thinking this would be great for the next Three Speed Tour
, he and his wife Anne on matched 1950s German bikes in Lederhosen, or perhaps Wermacht uniforms. We went down to look at the bikes in the gallery's dank basement and there were a couple of gay guys admiring the bikes. Oooo, look, they're so cute, and they're three speeds, said one in a mincing voice. Man, I thought, this is going to blow if these two pick up the bikes for a song. One of the guys went upstairs to ask how much they were and the guy from the store came down. Not for sale yet, he said, but they'll be expensive, and they would only sell as a pair. The gay guys moved on to other candidates and Paul and I reexamined the bikes, which we'd admired on Thursday.
They were Rabeneicks, not a brand I've ever heard of. Sturmey Archer hubs, an AM
medium-range hub on the men's bike (rather than the common-as-dirt AW
wide range, introduced in 1936) and the oddball SW
on the women's. Later reading showed that the SW means Super Wide, had a bit bigger range than the AW, and a different mechanism which, in the words of one reviewer, shifted like a garbage truck. It was withdrawn after 3 years and the AW, which it was intended to replace, carried on in production. The women's frame had a small cylindrical tool box welded to the frame with a dogbone wrench in it. Both bikes had small Bakelite handgrips, dynamo lights, pumps, kickstands and little R hood ornaments on the front fenders. They were really cool. The hubs were 1956 (AM) and 1957 (SW, its first year), so these were late-50s bikes.
Upstairs, we had a coffee and pored over The Golden Age of Handmade Bicycles
and I picked up the NOB I'd ordered Thursday. This book was alluring enough that, even with feeding the meter for the pickup, which I'd brought on the off-chance Paul bought these bikes, it expired and I got a $34 parking ticket. Grrrr.
Home again, we installed the Esge kickstand on the Schwinn. I love these kickstands and have one on my Marin. The Schwinn installation is very clean as this frame is nerdy enough to have a kickstand plate, so I didn't have to use the Esge clamp. It did necessitate a run over to the hardware store for a short stainless steel M10 bolt and a couple of tries at getting the leg length right but now I have two legs on my Schwinn. I also mounted the NOB on the left fork blade and put the Shimano dynamo-driven headlight down there, freeing up room on the handlebars. With the chainguard we'd put on Thursday the bike now looks, well, completely dorky. As Paul said, it's no poser's bike! Sunday June 18
I was scheduled to show up at 1:00 in Stillwater for Course Marshalling and probably teardown. For all the work this five-day event involves and the thousand or so volunteers who help, it's not always as clear as it should be to the volunteers what to do. Paul and I went to Saint John in the Wilderness
Episcopal Church on the way out, a cute and surprisingly busy church in White Bear Lake. We drove through Macdonalds, went out on Highway 96, parked and showed up at the Volunteer Tent at 12:30. They were short of people, especially Course Marshalls, and were in desperate need of bodies on Chilkoot Hill, a short but extremely steep climb with no fencing. The guy who organizes this and the Mankato races saw us and told the volunteer lady, send Matt and Paul, they know what they're doing, so off we went, with our flags, orange vests and whistles and scaled the hill to take up our positions.
Chilkoot Hill is a bastard, it has a 24% grade. This is pretty brutal, especially for the Midwest, and would even make the top 10 steepest hills in San Francisco judging by this list
. The Stillwater race, another criterium, runs up this thing probably 10-14 times (the women's race is 10 minutes shorter so they are spared a couple of climbs relative to the men). From a spectator standpoint, it's pretty good as it's shaded, you're close to the action and even the fastest of the racers grinds slowly up so you get a really good look at them in contrast to the peloton flashing past at 30mph.
This went well. The weather was perfect, maybe 80-85 and sunny with gentle breezes and puffy clouds. The amateurs went first, then the women, the the Pro/Elite men. The crowds were generally well-behaved, the races got very spread out and a lot of riders got lapped and pulled from the race. One guy fell over right in front of me and had to be pushed uphill to get going again. These guys ought to try some lower gears, they were suffering. The finish line is at the top of the hill, so there was that final agonizing sprint to the top of this grind of a hill and the races were over.
We did the usual finishing routine--walk down the hill, have a drink, start taking down sponsor banners while the awards ceremonies took place, then to the fencing truck and take up all the white steel fencing around the course. One of the passing clouds got dark and there was a brief thunderstorm and rain shower, but it quickly passed and was as nothing compared to Friday's deluge. After an hour or so all the white fencing was in, the finish line gantry loaded, and we were done. We turned in our yellow teardown safety vests, had a beer, got a couple of goodie bags (we'd missed Friday's) and went home. Monday June 19
The usual routine, up at six, to Day by Day for the Very Early Bird Special, and I drove Paul out past Prescott to start home. Last year I dropped him off right in Prescott, but the major hills
on Wisconsin 35 happen in the first 10 miles out of town, so I took him past those, nearly to the County E intersection. This was because his left knee had been bothering him all week (he'd been icing it down with a bag of frozen peas and popping Advils) and I thought the best thing to do was start out in the flats with only the long but modest Bay City Hill to climb. He'd be three days getting home, the last thing he needed to do was screw up his knee in the first ten miles.
At 8:35 Paul set off southbound aiming for LaCrosse that evening. I headed back to the Cities, stopping home at 9:20 or so to change and then to work by 10:00. Another year's races done with.
Why do we do this? It's five days of bikes bikes bikes which, when you like bikes, is pretty fun. We also drink beer and cook out and did some needed gardening and just hung out. I don't actually care a lot about the sport of bike racing, I couldn't name more than maybe two of the racers from this past week, but it makes a fun event to hang other bikey stuff around. Last year it was the Atlantis buildout, this year it was the tour of offbeat bike shops and further tweaking of the Schwinn. Because Paul was resting his knee for the return trip, we didn't actually ride at all after coming home Wednesday night. I also don't mind the work; the white fencing in particular is something that all the races use and which I've done two years in a row now, so know how to do. It's kind of fun for a desk jockey like me to go out and toss around fencing for a couple of days, sore arms aren't something I get to experience in my daily work. Just keep me away from the sandbags! The course-marshalling is also pretty good, a good view and plenty of interaction with people, which I don't mind at all.
Karla reminded me of something I'd said when she asked me about why Paul would do this, why would he ride up here to work like a dog for several days? She said I responded "Oh, Paul's always up for a bad time". On the face of it, working nights like Friday moving fencing in an unbelievable downpour doesn't sound like a great time, but it's a bonding experience. I wouldn't even say male bonding, because there were several women out there in the rain working away as well. And as they say, of those to whom much is given, much is expected. We are blessed with decades of fun on bicycles, good health, the flexibility to get the time off and the attitude that hard work shared with old friends can be enjoyable. It's also a great time of year to be outside doing stuff. You should consider joining in next year.