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So as I understand things, every four years we get an extra day in February. My first thought on this is, why can’t we get an extra day in a month that doesn’t suck? Like July. Who doesn’t want one more day of July? Does this seem wrong to anyone else?

But I digress. Today is February 29 which happens to coincide with the first long run of my training program. It was on the schedule as a five miler, and since I’ve been running this winter more than most I wasn’t feeling too intimidated when I set out. The mercury was reading a balmy (for February in New England) 54 degrees when I stepped outside, so there was no need to layer up. The air was chilly but comfortable and the only issue I had working against me was a line of weather pushing in from the west. I knew when I left the house I was likely going to get rained on.

I’ve been doing some reading this winter about how to better train for half marathons, incuding the concept of running slow or taking walk breaks on long runs. I’ve never really done this before. My approach has always been to run a faster pace early and slow down towards the end. I didn’t really care as long as my average pace was a number I was happy with. I’m getting to understand that this isn’t really the most efficient way to train. Since I’m pretty intent on not getting injured in the next eleven weeks, I decided to make a change. My last 5k came in at roughly a 9:00/mile pace so I set the pace for the five miler at 10:00/mile, a goal of an even fifty minutes. I didn’t realize how difficult this was actually going to be. Rather than just putting my head down and going, I had to keep a close eye on my pace and when I felt myself getting too fast, make the conscious decision to slow down. I found this to be completely counterintuitive to what I’m used to. I’m usually pushing myself to go faster.

A couple miles in the wind picked up and the rain started. It wasn’t a monsoon by any means, but the rain was steady enough, and as you might expect, being cold and wet was pretty awesome. All I wanted to do was pick up the pace, get the run over with and get into the hot shower I had waiting for me at home. Is that what I did? Nope. I watched my pace and ran slow, even though it was uncomfortable to be outside. I got back to the house in 49:35.

So its the end of February, and in the last two weeks I’ve logged 20.57 miles with a couple days in the gym for some cross training. Not so bad for winter and I’d say a pretty good start to 2016.

Here comes week two.

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A few months ago I went through the somewhat painful process of choosing a new every day carry pistol. After some trial and error, I tabled my ever reliable Glock 19 for the smaller and slimmer Smith & Wesson Shield. I’m pleased to report that after about 1000 rounds the Shield has turned out to be a reliable pistol up to the task of every day carry. Of course, the system doesn’t stop with the gun, it needs a holster, which anyone will tell you is almost as important as the gun itself.

Before making the switch from my G19 I ordered the Incog Holster with the Mag Caddy option from Gcode Holsters. The research indicated that this was going to be a solid, and complete carry system. This is all true. The retention of the gun in the holster is about as perfect as anyone could ask for, and the belt clips lock tightly around the entire belt which means once you clip it in, it’s not coming off. I thought the mag caddy was a great idea to keep a magazine handy so I don’t have to dig through a pocket to reload. It’s a complete system. So when I bought my Shield I ordered the same holster with a detached mag pouch.

So why am I writing about this?

After a few months of carrying in the Incog I found a few problems. First was concealment. It’s good and bad. The way the clips are designed, they push the gun up tight to the body which, in terms of concealment, is a pretty good thing. The downside is that to achieve this, the clip actually pushes the belt out a little bit causing a fairly noticeable bulge under tighter fitting clothes. Add the magazine pouch to this and the result is a shelf like bulge at the waistline, which in the world of concealed carry is a lot like a neon sign screaming “I HAVE A GUN!” This is undesirable. I realize that 97% of people would likely never notice, but to me if feels pretty obvious.

Getting a complete grip. So yeah, this one is important. To make the gun as concealed as possible, the holster is set with a low ride height, meaning the grip of the gun rides almost right on top of the belt. I have two issues with this. First, in the draw stroke I found it difficult to get a complete grip on the gun. I would have to two finger grip it, then reestablish the grip during the presentation. If I actually had to draw my gun in an adrenaline dumping defensive scenario, this is never going to work. Additionally, because I’m left handed the magazine release faces out. This is important because with the low riding holster I had a consistent tendency to eject the magazine in the draw. Kind of a problem here too. There’s not much I can do about the button itself, so I decided to try changing the ride height, and have the gun sit higher above the belt line. This was a notable improvement in establishing the grip without ejecting the magazine, but it’s also where I started to struggle with concealablilty. I ended up ditching the mag pouch and going back to pocket carry, which helped a bit, but it’s not a solution I really like for my mags.

Lastly, is comfort. Not that it’s completely uncomfortable, it’s just not…. Great. Even tucked into the right spot in front of my left hip, I could never get it in a comfortable position, and with the added mag pouch, it was worse. I think it has something to do with the clip pushing the belt out and wearing clothes that actually fit. This is, of course, the least important issue, but as I have said before, if your system is uncomfortable, you’re not going to carry it.

After going out with Beth one night and feeling like I looked like someone getting ready to give birth to…. something…. I decided it was time to try something else. I recently advised my father in law to go with a Crossbreed Mini Tuck holster for his G43, and since I used to use a Super Tuck for my G19, I thought it would be a good place to start over. I put in an order for the appendix holster for the Shield in the hopes that it might remedy some of the issues I discovered with the Incog. In initial testing, the first thing I noticed was that the ride height was about the same as the adjusted setting on the Incog, and once I got the cant adjusted I could get a full, complete grip on the gun without inadvertently hitting the magazine release. That’s a pretty big improvement. Like the Incog, the Crossbreed comes equipped with a strong belt clip, but because the clip doesn’t push the belt out, it creates a less obvious bulge under an untucked shirt. Lastly, I find the design of the Crossbreed, kydex over leather backing, distributes the weight of the gun and holster so there isn’t one point of pressure, making it more comfortable and easier to carry.

Although it’s still early in the trial process, it seems that the Crossbreed Appendix holster is an improvement over the Incog. The only problem I haven’t solved is how to carry my spare mags. I don’t love pocket carry for a number of reasons and finding an IWB mag pouch that is comfortable and actually works is proving to be a challenge. It may be that pocket carrying magazines is a training issue that just has to get worked out. Time and range trials will tell.

Lastly, I feel it’s important to note that the Incog really is a good holster. My findings here are just the result of trying to integrate it into my personal system. Your own experience may be different. I would not hesitate to recommend the Incog to someone looking for a well made, top of the line kydex holster.

Ok, that was more like 1000 words.

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Here’s something you probably don’t know about me: I’m a half marathon runner who has never actually run a half marathon race. In my running career I have trained for three different half marathon events, always scheduled late in the season, and each year something has happened that has prevented me from being able to actually run the race. The first year I couldn’t get the days off, and the second year poor running shoe choices led to crippling shin splints that derailed my entire season. Now, this past season everything was looking great. I was healthy, no injuries and by late September I was right on track in my training program. Then, in an almost absurd escalation of stupid things preventing me from running races, an impatient pizza delivery driver cut in front of me while I was on my way home on my Triumph Bonneville, causing an accident that landed me in the hospital, and put an abrupt end to my 2015 running season.

I was two weeks away.

I’d like to think that in those few moments spent under engine block of a Volkswagen, I had a moment of clarity. Not of the meaning of life, the universe and everything. No, I’d like to think that while I was laying under that car and fighting my way out, somewhere in the far recesses of my mind it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, I need to adjust my running schedule so I can run a half marathon earlier in the year. This October thing is clearly not working out.

Right now it’s February 2016 and where am I? I’ve been trying to stay motivated and keep running through the winter this year to maintain some level of fitness in the hopes of not starting at zero in the spring. I’ve been doing mostly 5k’s because well, it’s winter, and who wants to be outside in the cold ever, let alone in running gear? It hasn’t been consistent, but I’ve been going when the temps are 30 or better. Consistent or not, that’s the best I’ve ever done since I start running six years ago. A couple days ago I was able to pick up a long layover in Florida and took the opportunity to go for a longer run in the warm weather. Since I didn’t have to worry about being cold, I decided to push myself to do a five miler. I was initially going to run/walk it but when I got started I decided to just go and see how it went. All in all, not bad. Not fast, but whatever, it’s winter.

So a long run of five miles, in mid February. That’s my starting point. It’s not great, but it’s not completely awful either. I started looking around and discovered that San Diego has a Half/Marathon event in early summer. That’s roughly 15 weeks away. If I chose the most conservative training program I would likely not have enough time,  especially considering it’s still very much winter here. It’s going to be tight, but I think it’s worth doing. It also helps that San Diego is one of my favorite places in the country, and this would be a pretty good excuse to take a long weekend to go visit.

And just like that, the goal is set.

San Diego, June 5, 2016.

Man or Animal?

Posted: February 9, 2016 in Life
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I think what this blog needs is a frank discussion on what is most important in life. I think you know what I’m talking about.

Coffee.

Nailed it, right? Popular scientific opinion will tell you that it’s opposable thumbs that separate us from the animals, but I respectfully disagree. I think it’s a good cup of coffee.

After fifteen years of moving airplanes at ungodly hours of the day and night, I was finally forced to acknowledge the fact that airport and local coffee vendors simply can not be relied upon for the most important component to safely transporting crew, customers and aircraft to the intended destination without incident. They’re never open when you need them, or worse they are and their excuse for coffee is at best criminal, and at worst utterly inhuman. The stakes are just far too high to take the chance. Now, if you’ve read any of this blog you would be correct in surmising that I am a systems guy. Every good idea needs a better system, right? So when it finally became apparent that it was time to solve the dilemma of how to have consistently good coffee while traveling, it turned out to be a task worthy of my OCD research and analysis.

Before we even talk about the tools, I’ll briefly touch on actual coffee. Choosing the right coffee bean is a lot like choosing a pair of running shoes. It’s incredibly personal, and what works for one person, may not work for someone else. Whole bean only, and the darker the better. If I can see daylight through my coffee, I’ve obviously made a horrible mistake. Trader Joes Italian, French or Sumatran are my usual go to beans, but some of the best coffee I’ve had comes from the smaller roasters that you can’t find on a shelf in a brick and mortar store. In either case, stay away from pre ground coffee at all costs. It’s important to note that you can have the best coffee on the planet and still kill it with a substandard brewing system.

Let’s start with the grinder. Go out and get yourself a burr grinder. Like, right now. I’ll wait… (Just kidding, maybe finish reading this first…) They can range from obscenely expensive to sort of reasonable, but I believe for the money you are buying a higher level of grind capability. The difference is noticeable in the quality of the final outcome. I use a Cuisinart, which allows you to adjust your grind from extremely fine to extra course. I’ve found an extra fine grind produces a stronger brew while a mid coarse grind turns out something a bit more balanced. Since the grinder is prohibitively large and heavy, traveling with it is not an option. My solution to that is to pre grind as much as I need for the length of trip I’m heading out on, and seal the grinds in small ziplock bags.

Never, and I mean never, use the coffee machine in your hotel room. I know it looks like it will make coffee, but I promise you no good can from from it. I’ve experimented with the French press for a while, which I’m sure we call all agree is a significant improvement over your standard drip machine. However, if my priority is making coffee on the road, I have to admit that it’s a little too bulky, not to mention fragile for a portable operation. I was at a drive in campsite with some friends a couple years ago when I was introduced to the Aeropress coffee press. To be honest, I’m not sure why the coffee that comes out of this odd looking little coffee press is so spectacular. I can only assume it uses what in aviation we refer to as PFM Technology. Either way, I could see the Aeropress would be a man-portable way of bringing good coffee to the most remote of locations, like this hotel room in upstate New York.

What about water? When I’m on the road, I use bottled water, which fortunately I have in abundant supply. Local water conditions may effect the taste of your coffee, so if you can, bottled is the way to go. As I’ve mentioned, your standard hotel room coffee machine, while being a coffee machine in name only, is an equally unreliable method of producing water at the right temperature for your perfect cup of coffee. I settled upon the Bodum 17 oz. travel kettle. Smaller than your average electric kettle the Bodum gives you the opportunity to get your water to exactly the right temperature. I shoot for about 175 degrees, and yes, I have a thermometer.

Most fanatics (read: addicts) will tell you that brewing the perfect cup of coffee is as much art as it is science. After some trial and error I identified a recipe that turns out a cup coffee so amazing you’d think it was brewed by unicorns:

– 2 generous Aeropress scoops of beans, mid coarse grind
– Water heated to 175 degrees – I push as much water as I can through the grinds without diluting it.
– Just a splash of half/half – This isn’t really necessary, as black coffee from the Aeropress is just as good.

I spend a fair amount of time in a confined space around expensive electronics that don’t react all that well to coffee spills, so in looking for a water tight container I discovered the Contigo insulated mug. It advertises keeping hot liquids hot for five hours, which I would say is a little optimistic, and has a lockable spout. This is especially important because when I inevitably knock my coffee over while performing those “preflight checks” you’ve heard so much about, I won’t cause significant delays and expensive maintenance procedures. You’re welcome, traveling public.

Forget for a moment the operational need, whether you travel for business or leisure, sometimes the impact of starting the day with a good cup coffee can make all the difference in the world. Being away from home is hard enough without having to suffer unnecessarily.

Please brew responsibly.

  

The Sky Is Crying

Posted: January 28, 2016 in Life
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What you’re looking at here is the liner from the very first blues album I ever owned. Released after his most untimely death, The Sky Is Crying is a collection of, at that time, Stevie Ray’s previously unreleased material. As my introduction to the blues, you could probably say it changed how I listened to music for the last twenty plus years.

It’s funny the events in life that you remember. Here was a seemingly inconsequential exchange one summer afternoon, but the effect it had on the course of my life is unmistakeable. I was working at a summer camp when I was 16 and was standing in line for lunch with my friend Mike. To this point in my life it would be a fair assessment to say I had dubious tastes in music. I had recently been on a prep school induced binge of hip hop (yeah I’m not sure I get it either) and it was this interaction that completely changed music for me.

So there were are standing in line, and Mike says to me, “Tavvy, dude, you’ve gotta listen to this cd. It’s gonna change your life.” He handed me his copy of The Sky Is Crying by Stevie Ray Vaughan, promptly reminding me that he was going to want it back. Not knowing what to expect, I put it in my CD player when I get home and was immediately hooked. I had never heard anything like it. It was this album full of soul, emotion, and blistering guitar solos that opened my eyes and ears, and had me listening to and thinking about music in a way I never had before. It was Stevie Ray that introduced me to the music of John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, and later Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, just to name a few.

Growing up in my house, music was pretty important. My mom had, and still has a pretty eclectic taste in music. She listened to anything from jazz to, for some inexplicable reason, Def Leopard, and my dad loved classical. I remember his seemingly endless stacks of CDs of varying symphonies and concertos, and mom’s jazz and rock albums (including Pyromania on vinyl. Vinyl! Way to represent.). I can only imagine their fear and frustration when, in the eighth grade, I brought home the liner notes from a Public Enemy CD to have them read before I could buy it. In my defense, it was a great album.

As kids, they encouraged my sister and I to learn an instrument and after discovering Stevie Ray and the blues, I settled on Bass guitar. I can’t say I remember what drew me to it, but I remember very clearly standing in the Music Mall in Lowell, MA and my mom making it very clear that the bass wasn’t like lead guitar. That’s ok, I said, this is what I want to do. So she bought me my first four string bass, an Aria Pro II. I took lessons for a few years and then when life got busy I kept playing on my own. Mike, who himself was an exceptional guitar player, suggested we start playing together so with our friend Rich on the drums we started learning how to play Stevie Ray and other blues tunes. I don’t remember if that band had a name, but for a couple of kids from suburban Massachusetts, I’d say it sounded pretty alright.

Twenty-two years later, although I have long since lost the liner, I still have my copy of The Sky Is Crying, and my Aria Pro II. I count them among some of my most cherished possessions. Over the years I’ve played in a few bands and while I love all types of music, I consider blues to be my “home.” I stopped playing for a while and focused my efforts on learning to play jazz piano, but in recent months as I find myself navigating through another chapter in my life, I have been drawn back to my roots in rock and blues. Maybe because it’s comforting, or familiar, or maybe it’s just because sometimes life requires a loud, righteous rock and roll sound. For me that time is now.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that, while its taken thirty years, I’ve finally come to appreciate the musical stylings of Def Leopard. I mean, that drummer has one arm. ONE ARM! How can you not respect that?

21 Days Later

Posted: November 30, 2015 in Life, Moto
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Note: on September 27, 2015 I was involved in a serious motorcycle accident with another vehicle that totaled my much loved Triumph Bonneville and nearly killed me. I have a post written that chronicles that event but I’m waiting to publish it due to pending legal action. I wrote this three weeks later:

Today I put on the boots of a guy that should be dead. That guy is me, and the boots are my Alpinestars Oscar Montys. 

Let’s just stop and think about that for a minute. I should be dead. It’s a funny thing when the thing you love nearly kills you. I’ve been mulling that over for the last few weeks. I’ve spent the time since my accident resting and healing and tying to come to terms with the fact that I had a one percent chance of surviving that scenario and somehow managed to make it out alive. Talk about beating to odds.

Anyway, I had been meaning to write some short reviews of the gear that saved my life, and today I finally got around to it. I took a few pictures and for the first time since before the crash I put my hands on those pieces. Everything is trashed except my boots. They’re scuffed up to be sure, but are otherwise in good shape. So, I decided to clean them up and put them back on. Why? 

Because fuck you cosmos, I’m still alive.

Ahem… Let’s move on.

Now that the shock has (mostly) worn off and the wounds are healing, I’m left with questions that have no obvious answers. The most asked question of me recently is, will I ride again? The more existential questions like, Why am I still alive? Should I be living my life differently now? Should I ride again? These questions are harder, and have no real answers.

Great post, Matt.

I know, right?

I’ll start with the question everyone seems to want an answer to: will I ride gain? I just don’t know. Most people I know assume that once you’ve been nearly killed doing something, you would never again want to take part in whatever it was that nearly killed you. It does sound logical, doesn’t it? Remove the threat from the equation and voila, one less way to die. I get it. Immediately after the accident I was sure I would never ride again. Twenty-one days later, that answer seems less certain. In finishing my article on the Mt. Washington adventure, I got to relive some of those moments, and was reminded of what motorcycling had become for me, and why it had become such an important part of my life. What started out as a passing interest developed into a passion and eventually a new way to have adventures, not just a different way to get to the store. When that was taken from me three weeks ago, the loss I felt…. feel… is palpable. Not just the loss of my Bonneville, but the loss of those future adventures. There were many things I had yet to do.

So, why would I be willing to accept all that risk again? Because fuck you cosmos? No, we covered that with the boots. The reason to buy another motorcycle is personal, and I think only other people who have had similar experiences might understand. The adventure I found on two wheels in the last few years, has done a lot for my soul. Spending a day exploring roads on the map that “look like they might be fun” provided me an opportunity to put aside what ever troubles I might have had and be present in a different moment. Even if that moment was fleeting. Giving up motorcycling means giving up those moments.

The reasons for not riding should not be surprising: It’s dangerous, I almost died, the accident was hard on my family, I almost died, my local friends would not support me in buying another bike, and that means the risk of alienating them, and also, I almost died. Those things are all legitimate. I don’t really expect those friends to understand, and it definitely makes a decision to buy another bike seem selfish. I am fortunate, however, to have a supportive family. Not one of them, including my wife, has told me that I can’t ride motorcycles again. I mean, I know that I’m all growns up, but it was nice for me to hear them say that if I wanted to buy another bike in the spring, that would be ok. It’s a kindness I’m not sure I deserve.

Why am I still alive? Right now I’m going with the Seven P’s: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. I planned for the crash, ergo I survived the crash. It’s a very simple way of looking at things, but right now it’s the best I can do

Should I be living my life differently? This one is heavy. It sort of makes me thing about what I would want people to say about me if I hadn’t survived. He was kind to people? He loved his family? He loved his dog? He was a good friend? I would hope that I have lived a life worthy those compliments. I know that I’m not the easiest guy in the world to know sometimes, and I can be….. less than flexible about some things. So as I’m trying to find meaning in this survival story, perhaps I can use this opportunity to work on those flaws.

You can see, I have a lot to think about.

As I said, the answers aren’t obvious. So until I can figure them out, these boots are staying in the rotation as a reminder to be kind to people, love my family and my dog, and try harder to be a good friend. I guess that all any of us can do.

A War With No Fronts

Posted: November 14, 2015 in Shooting
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Preamble:

I love Paris. On November 13, 2006 my wife and I got engaged on the Eiffel Tower. In 2010 we went back after a year of unemployment to see more of the city and the French countryside. Our hearts are heavy for a city that means so much to us. 

What can we do?

Beth asked me that last night while watching the coverage of the terrorist attacks in Paris. The truth is that as civilians, in a war with no fronts, no battlefield and against an enemy that strikes with little to no warning, there isn’t a thing we can do to prevent such attacks from happening again. It’s not our job. However, as responsible civilians I do think there are a few things we can do to look after ourselves and our loved ones:

1.) Carry a weapon and train with it. You’ve got a hand gun and some mags? Great. Go get trained up and become proficient in the use of that tool. Then, carry it every day.

2.) Stay alert and aware of what’s going around you. Do this for a while and you’ll know when something isn’t right.

3.) You’ve got a rifle and some mags? Even better. See number 1. If you don’t have a rifle and the gear to go with it, go shopping.

4.) Walk out into the world peacefully, but prepared to return fire.

5.) You’re law enforcement? Carry your creds and your weapon off duty. See number 4.

6). Train. Keep training. And then train some more. This will be the best money you ever spend.

7.) If you’re new to this stuff, ask someone you know who has experience. I always encourage people who are seeking knowledge to come out to the range with me and take the first steps into a larger world. I will never say no to someone who wants to learn.

Am I afraid? Sure. It’s only a matter of time before these strikes come home to an American city. This enemy is clearly motivated and willing to attack unarmed civilians, and their eyes are fixed on the US. These few things are the ways that I choose to deal with that fear. If you happen to be in that place when violence breaks out, you will have a choice to make: Do I die cowering in fear, or on my feet at slide lock?

Truly, I hope it’s a choice we never have to make.