Tuesday Trippin’ Jan 18

I tried to pretend I was optimistic, but it was inevitable. Covid came to our house last week. First I got the text that the pre-school was shut down for the next 10 days, then came the text that it was the other grandchild, the highschooler, who had a positive test.

It’s a no win situation.The kids need some semblance of normalcy, but if you put 2000 kids who have been guided oppositely (few of them well) in a closed building during a worldwide world record surge in new cases without a vaccine policy and without enforcing the mask policy… I don’t see how that ends well for anyone. Georgia is back at 9th for states with most new cases. Our grandchild has a breakthrough case, and thankfully it’s been mild so far.

Art at Fellini’s, one of my favorite pizza joints.

Russ and I got boosters before a small family get together for Thanksgiving. We chose the different mRNA vaccine from the one we had the first time around, just in case some level of variety gave broader protection, even in the most miniscule way. Well see if that holds against whatever fresh hell has been incubating in the masses. According to CDC recommendations, he and I didn’t need to isolate, but we did need to wear masks if we went anywhere. We were doing that anyway.

That next day Russ had time off to go see his Dad who had a recent hospital visit. We left it up to his Dad whether we’d still visit now that we’d been knowingly exposed. We were relieved when he told us not to come. You just don’t want to take any chances with someone in a high risk group.

We went out to ride instead. The weather was cold. There weren’t many riders or walkers out, but we drove out to Cedartown anyway so we could ride where we weren’t likely to see anyone at all. It was a nice ride, but we were stress exhausted and it was very short.

Cedartown Depot. Behind us is the one place on the trail where cyclists are required to get off an walk their bikes.

We’ve had snow too, just a dusting, but ever since Snowmageddon Atlanta in 2014 no one wants a repeat of the storm that stranded people all over the city and halted business for 3 days. At least we didn’t lose separate days for snow and sickness. I’ve been doing much of my computer work from the stationary bike. I rarely work hard on the stationary bike. It’s purpose is to keep me from being sedentary when I do sedentary things, and more often than I’d like to admit, the bike is just a catch all. It earns its keep in times like these though. We’re expecting more snow by the end of the week. I make myself do it, and maybe even work hard enough to sweat a little when the gaps in real rides are too big, and that’s when it makes the most significant difference.

Tuesday Trippin’ January 11

We had good rides since my last post, not pushing too hard through weather that was on again off again like a Georgia winter. We took some time for the holidays with family, or at least I did. I went to south Alabama to see my mom and sister early and without Russ. He didn’t have the time off. It turned into Christmas Past, the Christmas of my childhood when I was the grandchild. Now I’m the grandparent. The celebration has morphed primarily in who is alive to attend and which house will accommodate us all. Sometimes people drift, especially in fractious times like these. I wasn’t sure I would ever see that again.

Normally Russ and I alternate which family we spend Christmas with and which family we spend New Years with. But, with the pandemic, we stayed home last year and enjoyed time within our bubble. That was nice because the bubble was bigger than normal with my kids home to roost. The down side was that by the time this past summer rolled around, it had been a year and a half since I had seen my mother. Russ had seen his Dad a couple of times for various reasons, but seeing Mom came later. I’ve always visited often. Even when I lived thousands of miles away I visited at least twice a year.

But, through the pandemic I’ve tried to behave in a low risk manner, wearing masks, getting vaxxed, not being the person who exposed my bubble to unnecessary risk. At times that seemed like a hopeless venture in a house of essential workers and school aged children with shared custody. I really felt the weight of visits not made as well as the weight of not carrying illness home to mother. Russ saw his Dad twice before I saw my Mom. That really isn’t relevant. He made a last visit to a dying relative and we went a graduation this summer before I went to see Mom, but it felt bad when Russ had seen his family twice and I hadn’t seen mine. Mom is 88 and a content homebody, but some days when we talked she mentioned how hard it was to be protected instead of hugged.

So, I made my commitments to be home this year, and then. Omicron. Potential attendees for our gathering included vaccinated people, people who had Covid on the first round, people who had it on the second, some who had it more than once, newly minted and entrenched political anti-vaxxers, and people of unknown status. It would have been the year not to go, if we hadn’t already had so much forced time apart. And, at the same time, a virus doesn’t care about all the times you were careful, it just transmits on opportunity.

We talked about having a fire pit outside. People were agreeable. Usually it’s a little cool in south Alabama in December, and the piñata would be destroyed outside anyway. (the current strategy on piñata design is to make them last through several swings of the high school sports kids while being reachable for swings from the littlest ones, without rendering the treats into powder before it was all over).

I didn’t expect many people. We’d never celebrated the whole deal with the generations of friends and family, the piñata and the roast beast on a different day. But everyone showed. Everyone. All the family, all the friends that normally come. One person left early when they learned they had been exposed to Omicron two days before, but everyone else was there. And, they all showed about the same time.

Mom keeps the house hot because she’s sedentary, so it was hot when people showed up, and then a full house made it hotter, like an Omicron oven. It was so warm outside, no one needed the forgotten fire pit and thankfully it didn’t take long for people to migrate outside to watch the kids climb the tree house and play basketball in the drive. But, I tell you, no one was carrying the virus that day because they didn’t get out the door that fast, and two weeks later no one had been sick. We were lucky, when what I try to be is smart.

For just one afternoon we were all those Whos down in Whoville, and then poof, back to the real world and that little bit of trepidation while I waited to see if anyone got sick. And, also, wondering in the back of my mind if that thing, that Christmas of my childhood that just happened once more ever will again.

Six Degrees, The Etsy Store

I’ve written about my/our Etsy Store, Six Degrees a couple of times lately. It’s relevant to this site in general because the site and our shop were both in existence long before there was a Silver Comet cycling project to dominate the last year and a half. And, it’s relevant to the project because the shop reviews are the tangible thing I have in my current life show that I deliver on promises and follow through to make people happy.

I’m going to go ahead and give the store, and the challenges it has presented recently, its own full post here so people who are interested in that can read it. People who just want to see that I can successfully run something can click on the links. And, people who aren’t interested in either can skip to cycling.

At one time I was concerned that if a lot of people clicked on the Six Degrees site, people who weren’t interested in finding that long lost treasure or trinket that they remember their great grandma having, it would destroy my conversion rate, but I’m not really sure it matters anymore. I’ve recently found out that if a seller’s store goes viral or gets an atypical boost in traffic, Etsy throttles it, sort of. The store disappears from showing up in search until the boost is over. I’m sure there is some rationale, but none of the sellers I’m aware of who have experienced it were able to come up with positive comments on the matter. Last time I subscribed to an SEO service, I was shocked that my rank in worldwide stores was so high, because my financial return on effort is so low. It’s not the only mystery I’ve tried to figure out. Some people are making huge money with Etsy, but the cliff drops fast.

The shop is near the front of my thoughts now in part because the last quarter is always supposed to be the busy season and this year it wasn’t. That’s not just for me either. And, it’s not just about changes created by the pandemic. Shipping has become a real burden and a pressure point for many sellers. According to Etsy, 50% of buyers who choose not to buy on Etsy give high shipping cost as the reason. There was a time when some sellers on some sites padded their prices with higher than cost shipping fees and added in handling to increase their margins while making the purchase price initially look low. It was pretty clear what they were doing. Buyers quickly learned to look out for sticker shock on the bottom line and hit cancel. Those times are long gone though, and shipping just keeps on getting more “extra” for buyers and sellers in every way. Now Etsy pushes sellers to cover shipping, or part of it, with their item prices. Unless my shipping is “free”, I get a notice saying my shipping is too high on every single listing I publish.

Low volume sellers of things that are average size and weight (like me) are feeling the shipping pain the hardest. Sellers who offer small expensive things like fine jewelry can absorb shipping expense most easily. Their costs have increased the least, and covering that increase goes unnoticed to the buyer. Those who sell bulky or heavy items at low cost are struggling to stay in business. In this case, large means packaging more than a square foot in area that weigh over 4 pounds.

Many sellers, including me, have taken large numbers of heavy or bulky listings out of their shops because shipping them is too expensive, and, I haven’t taken enough of them out. With the 4th quarter USPS price hike, I cancelled orders totalling $20 and $40 because the shipping (on a small teapot and a medium small bowl) was going to be $70 and $80 respectively. When the losses were lower I’d eat my mistake and ship anyway. Now I offer the buyer the chance to pay additional shipping before canceling the order, and I send a screencap of the shipping cost when I do it because the cost is so incredible. Amazon is a completely different animal and customers don’t understand why Etsy sellers can’t be the best parts of everything that Etsy was in the beginning while also being the best parts of what Amazon is now. How could you expect them to. They can order thing from Amazon or Target that come in oversized boxes and weigh way over 4 pounds and do it repeatedly. They can’t truly appreciate the effect that “custom” or “unique” has on the number of hours it takes to produce an item and get it in front of them either. Makers and sellers are having trouble coming to grips with it. Many craftspeople and sellers don’t do the math, and they’re there for the whole process!

It’s not just the cost of shipping something that stays sold either. Returns cost everyone, but not everyone sees it. I walked on Kennesaw Mountain today behind some ladies talking about ordering a lot of swimsuits and cover ups in several sizes. One of them said “It beats trying them on in the store, and if I don’t get to go on the trip, I can just send it all back.” As a shopper, I so get it. I don’t want to risk being stuck with something that doesn’t work for me, and companies like Amazon, they found that pain and fixed it. They take that risk away from the buyer, but, that only works for high volume companies selling mass produced goods at a high enough markup to cover losses from returns.

Small sellers without repeat customers can’t charge membership fees to cover part of the overhead or have a delivery fleet with the footprint of Amazon. And, on top of that, the delivery services give significant… read that HUGE, commercial shipping discounts to the big volume guys. Sellers who drop ship through sites like Amazon get all the big discounts and if it’s coming from overseas, they get international benefits from the Postal Treaty and still have to triple the markup to cover returns. They rely on the economy of mass production and high volume sales for their profit margin. How on earth can a buyer understand that they can get free shipping from China, but it costs $80 to go from Atlanta to Seattle? Things are upside down, like they are in so many other parts of the economy. Sellers like me don’t get big discounts. We make them possible for the big guys to get them instead, and my trips to the post office take half an hour at best because the close post office location closed. When my turn around time is short, I’m usually going for only one package. The same story repeats itself in every facet of the business.

The early emphasis at Etsy was on small makers of original works or curated vintage and unique supplies with sellers who often work from home, the opposite of what Amazon does best. But, Etsy now allows “production partners” and pressures sellers to become more like Amazon every day. It’s becoming increasingly hard for buyers who are not makers themselves to recognize the difference between hand made and mass produced. The entire nature of the beast is changed.

It’s not that I couldn’t find a thing to sell and make a profitable business from Etsy or some other platform now. It’s that once I was able to make it support me, I wouldn’t have my heart in it. Whether I’m making it, or saving some little known object from an obscure death, I love feel and weight of old things. I love tiny little stitches wrought with love that make a project take an enormous amount of time to complete. I love keeping tools and furnishings that were made when resources seemed limitless out of the scrap yard. Those things take time to find, clean, research and bring to the customer. I love the rabbit hole I fall in when I discover some something that I didn’t know about. When I get a customer who found a pot her deceased aunt made it makes my day, not just my day, really it keeps me going. One of my dream jobs would be to do research for History Detectives.

In order to sell enough at a high enough price to support myself, or even make a profit would require me to spend my time and my mind on things I care much less about. It wouldn’t be the empowerment to makers working from home that Etsy was in the beginning. It would have to take advantage of economies of scale with a large proportion of passionless performance of marketing tasks and spending large amounts of advertising cash. If I was going to do that, I would rather work someplace more secure and less fickle for better pay and, most of all, a higher purpose. We each carve out freedom for the things that are most important to us in whatever way we can make most meaningful. I have happy customers and time to meet other obligations with my current Etsy store, but it isn’t supporting us, or even me, and that isn’t a sustainable way to make my life work.

So, the Etsy store, at least for the near future is on probation, a dream I don’t want to give up, but can’t really afford to keep either. If I create cycling project related items, it makes sense to have an established site from which to make those available. I have an unreasonable amount of “treasure” to sell (as well as things I can’t fathom why I ever bought). As long as I can, it makes sense to put as much on the site as possible with focus on items that have never been listed. Listings are quarterly. I’ll slowly stop renewing the listings that have been renewed the most. So, for now, we’ll still hang around between lemonade and wait and see mode. It’s been an interesting journey filled with hope and learning experiences, just like whatever we do next will be…

The Work Week

I’ve been writing this piece (along with the budget post) for a while, editing and changing as I tweak the plan. I was prepared, but still surprised at the level of overtime when I calculated hard numbers of hours. When I showed my draft of this article to Russ. He read it. I waited. He didn’t say anything. So, after a bit I asked “Were you shocked by the time commitment?” He said “Yes”, (and that was before I added in another 5 hours each for active recovery walks the day after each ride). Russ didn’t say any more, so I asked if there was anything that he thought I overestimated. He said “No”. I asked if he was still on board. He said “yes” and asked some questions.

Actual questions in full sentences with nouns and verbs were a relief at this point. He had envisioned part time work outside the project. In his head, and probably the heads of potential supporters, the job was to ride a bike two days a week.

In fact, the most predictable part of this project is that very surprise, that the time commitment will be immense. Top search results in Google say that the Silver Comet alone takes 1-2 days for the “ambitious” to cycle. On the other end of the spectrum the 2020 record for a (drafting) century ride is 2 hours 20 minutes and 26 seconds. Those conditions are completely different from the trail, and obviously, we’re not world record class athletes drafting a minivan on a track. We’ll be somewhere in the middle with video shot at a speed that could be sped up or slowed down to suit the user. While the video is the point,

So, here it is, a big picture snapshot of what I expect our start, then our regular weeks to look like. This is based on the scenario for the super stretch goal, riding there and back while filming both the Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga Trails in each direction, each week for at least 52 weeks. We will lead up to that by training for the full ride and working out the bugs in our filming set up, and we’ll taper off afterward, and do our best to fill in any weeks that didn’t go according to plan.

The Weather, It’s Always Out There

Our weeks won’t be neat and tidy like my layout below. We have weather parameters that, while workable, will be the unpredictable part, at least on a day to day scheduling basis. Not every week will look the same in practice as it does in planning. Our weather limits are basically temperature, precipitation and lightning. Go, no go decisions will be based on keeping body temperature in the functioning range and free from charges that would power your flux capacitor. The weather can be wet, or cold, but not both. Hypothermia is not good. If the chances of rain are above 20% and the temperature is in the 50s or below, that’s not likely to be a ride day unless we’re confident conditions will pass before we get to a section.

If there’s snow, maybe we ride. It depends. I’ll ride in some sludge, but when there’s slick solid ice on the ground that’s a no no. We don’t have enough icy weather in Georgia buy cold weather tires and probably won’t even choose a bike with a fork wide enough to accept them. In fact, in Georgia, we are likely to have more unrideable days due to heat. Hyperthermia is the warm side no no. Our high temperature isn’t as firm as the cold temperature. My personal high has been rising because I’m growing more fit with the training, but Georgia summers are hot. We’ll plan one of our breaks at the expected summer heat peak, and that should take care of most heat days.

Schedule During Funding and Set Up

When the funding comes in, we’ll start coordinating the equipment and pressing the training harder. We’ll double check that the gear choices we made are still the best and still available. We’ll have some short to medium test runs with the equipment as we work up to full century rides and adjust our set up. We can start as soon as the lowest level funds because some of our expenses and equipment fund at the first level and we will be committed as soon as it funds. We’ll start front loading our workload as much as possible at that first level.

I expect the first ride or two that cover both trails in both directions to be backed up by car. One of us will ride in one direction, the other on return, or at this point we might each do half days instead. We’ll have designated spots to meet. After we ditch the car and move to backing each other up by bicycle, hydration will require a little more planning. During the pandemic and in the winter trailhead drinking fountains are turned off. Before the pandemic, they were turned off well before the first freeze and stayed off long after the last. Leaving the trail while filming is not optimal. We’ll be carrying water for some segments and making sure we buy any necessary water at the places close by the trail as we pass them

We will stay in a hotel the first time we do a full ride. After sleeping the ride off, we’ll be looking to see if we can find an efficiency apartment that could be had for the same price as the hotel and storage budget. If we can do that, logistics becomes much easier. It would eliminate the time, stress, expense and hassle of switching accommodations when the weather forecast changes. It will also make leaving supplies, gear and battery chargers for use on the next visit possible. A whole host of other things will become markedly less trouble while making actual expenses more predictable. Smooth, manageable and predictable are the features that will make the project sing. Renting an efficiency apartment, room or even a camper also gives us the option of staying additional nights without additional cost if have a small injury, unexpected changes in weather or other conditions. Every piece of the project is its own little cost benefit analysis and being open minded about changes, as long as they remain inside the budget, will always be worth a look.

Hopefully car backup will only be needed once or twice, 4 times at most. After that we should have accomodation and other questions answered, and any gear that we should leave on the other end transported. We’ll be settling into a procedure and a schedule.

Where Will the Hours Go in a Typical Week of Video Riding and Reward Making?

We have two kinds of time commitment once we’re up and running on a “regular” schedule. One is time away from home (which matters because we are away from family and family obligations), the other is the amount of time spent actively working.

I expect time away from home (excluding still photography day trips or other work accomplished in a single day away) to be 3 days a week. A day out, a day of both active and passive recovery, a day back.

There could be additional time away as well. If the Landscapes and Covered Bridges Screen Wallpaper reward gets 2000+ supporters, we will be away from home an additional 2+ weeks photographing all 16 of the covered bridges in Georgia. If that reward gets more than 4000 backers, we’ll be doing all of the covered bridges in Alabama too.

Project Hours of Work Per Week

Starting with the hours that are identical for both of us, we will each be on the trail 20+ hours per person per week. That’s figuring 15 miles per hour. That’s a low end speed for distance riders, but the recumbents won’t be fast and we want to be fairly consistent with travel speed while filming. We may get faster over the course of the project, but we won’t get a lot faster. The 20 hours, or 10 hours per ride day, allows stops for tasks like changing or checking battery packs, memory cards and other equipment as well as things like rest/water, restroom and lunch breaks.That’s 40 project hours

We will both write for rewards categories 2 and 3. Those are estimated at 5 hours 45 minutes each for 11.5 project hours, that’s if all of those rewards find supporters. We’ll start that as soon as we’re funded at the lowest level (while we’re acquiring equipment) to front load the work and free up time on the back end if possible. Obligations met also free up brain space.

Commuting to and from the trail on each end, 3.5 hours x 2 people. That’s calculated from home on the front end, and on staying at the lodge on Ft McCLellan and commuting by bicycle on the Anniston end. 7 Project Hours.

Strength Training at the Y (not at the pre-pandemic levels when I’d skip for months sometimes, or the pandemic levels- nothing) this would be on a serious, keep us healthy and riding, go twice a week level. 7 hours each. Sadly, that’s just over 50% commuting time. We may have to change to a different gym to reduce travel time. I’ve avoided changing because the Y offers free or reduced memberships to those in need, and because I’ve been a member for 30 years. I joined when I lived closer to one location that I do to any location now. All gym related decisions are on hold until we Omicron settles though, and whatever wave arrives on its heels. Gyms are among higher transmission locations and new weekly Covid cases are at an all time high in Georgia. The National Guard is on call at testing sites and in hospitals. We could reduce this time block some by doing what we can for strength training at home. Proper equipment is clearly better for strength training though, so for now the time block stays at this level in hope that we can return to the gym for the better strength and preparedness. 14 project hours.

Et cetera (I always hear that in the voice of Yul Brynner as the King of Siam BTW). We need to do things like wash and dry our bike clothing, check weather, and check it again, fill, clean or store drink bottles, make sure streaming is ready, organize everything, move things to where you need them next, make and use checklists, pack lunches, gear and kit, repair, replace and organize or store the little things and the side things, make any appointments, plans and reservations necessary, all those things that suck up the time you don’t know where went and would hire an assistant to do if you could. I’m optimistically allowing 2 hours each per week for that. 4 project hours

Total 76.5 project hours of project work done by two people, or 38.25 hours of joint project time each.

Work for Russ Only

The work that Russ will do exclusively is:

He’ll maintain bikes, recumbents and… by doing things like adjust, store, repair (or take in to be repaired), air the tires, clean and lubricate after every ride, check brakes, check video, safety, communication and other equipment. He’ll also do things like update software. 4 hours a week.

Upload video. We won’t edit heavily, or even much, but we won’t just throw it up either. We expect to upload 1 ride (around 7 hours of trail video) per week, plus anything else we shoot for fun or for sharing the project. I’m only allowing 4 hours for this activity, so obviously we’re not carefully editing video, just clipping the start and end points, quickly assessing quality and editing out any of those things we said we’d edit out if we noticed them while recording.

The 38.25 hours each of us works plus his individual hours gives Russ 46.25 hours of project related tasks and activities per week.

Work for Karen Only

One day a week, I’ll have a still photography day when I shoot and edit the photos that will make the wallpaper screensaver rewards. My goal is to fit that in a single day each week and to spend more time taking them than editing them. My reality check for this is that people who do just photos as “youtubers” have said they get only 5 or 6 photos a year that they’d consider hanging on a wall and it is their full time job. I’ll be pushing myself for great photos while trying to keep my eyes on the prize (the video) and manage my own self expectations. 8 (I hope) Project Hours

One day a week I’ll write for the website to keep backers up to date and share the project. It will likely be chopped up across the week though. I’ll have to get faster, but let’s say 8 (I hope) Project Hours. I’m not a fast or organized writer. If you read something I’ve written and it looks like I’m an organized writer, then I’ve edited it repeatedly, and then again. If you’ve seen something and don’t think that, I tried to get it up quicker, or for some reason left it alone once published. Maybe I’ll get over myself and drift toward video/vlog rather than writing for updates. I’d like to have a 40 hour work week. But, the 38.25 hours that each of us works, plus the 16 hours that only I work gives me 54.25 hours per week. I’m going to have to improve on that. Trimming by 14+ hours won’t be easy. My other obligations and he rest of my life aren’t going to stop, and if I’m going to ride 2 centuries per week, I have to get some sleep too.

To help us keep up this schedule and give our bodies time for repair, we’ll be taking quarterly 2-week breaks. Weather permitting, we’ll ride immediately before and after these breaks so that only 1 make up ride per break will be required the following year to complete the set of 52 videos. They will likely be 1.) December/January winter break 2.) Spring Break 3.) The peak of Summer Heat, and 4.) Fall Break. 1,2 and 4 will be guided by the Fulton County Georgia School Schedule. 3 will be guided by historic data.

Tuesday Trippin’ November 2

Did you know that there’s a natural lull in the average conversation at twenty minutes? I think it’s related to the average attention span being about that. I had a little bit of a lull recently. It was time, partly because I got this respiratory infection…not that respiratory infection. I’m slow to get well from those, really, really slow. Part of it is because I needed a break. I had a dip in my cycling mileage that was significant enough to miss the cardio endorphins and get a little depressed. It’s strange to me when I get depressed and there’s no emotional cause, feeling it in my body and being aware in my mind, but not having a situational cause out in the real world for the desire to cry. My depression was just a reduction in the normal flow of endorphins produced by exercise.

I’m a little back on track this week, but still not fully recovered. The trail is beautiful with the fall colors and the crackle of leaves has me running sound recording options around in my head while I try to plan the best option for recording fall sounds without ground noise. I may have to put calling the crews and finding out when they will clean the trails into my weekly mix of factors that determine ride days.

The temps have dropped lately. They’re in that range where it would feel warm if it were spring, but since I’ve spent months trying to adjust to the heat, it feels cold instead.

I’ve been using a Buff and other brands of neck gaiters in headband style to cushion the deep red marks left on my skin from my now properly fitted helmet. It’s working well enough that I don’t think I’ll seek a different option for several months. Well, when it gets really cold I’ll want fleece on my ears. Right now, I’m pulling the gaiters down over my ears at temps where I wouldn’t normally bother to cover them and it feels cozy and comfortable. I like it. When the temps rise again, I’ll want something breezier. I’m expecting my warm weather solution to be a sewing project.

We’ll get high resolution focus back on our goals soon, likely this weekend.

Tuesday Trippin’ October 1-11

I was still going to write up last week a day late, but this week came along and blew it right out of me. Russ and I had a commitment to each other to complete the project video this weekend. Then my tech guy came along and suggested that I live stream for engagement. I think I like the word “engagement” in my life now about as much as I liked the words “on task” (as in “needs to be”) when my kids were in school. I said “But my budget is complete. What will it cost?”

I didn’t feel great in the first place. There was a week of rain expected, so we decided to get our second shingles shots while the weather was wet in case it was as bad as the first. The first was draining and caused the biggest reaction I’ve ever had to a vaccine. I hoped the second would be better. DENIED!

So, with bad weather, a miserable body and the holiday shopping season on the way, I was going to work on the Etsy store hard and strong. It’s the small side hustle that I dreamed would become a business one day. My conversion rate is usually good when I’m active in the store and I have a five star review average, but that alone isn’t an indicator of profit. My number of listings vary, depending on whether or not sales are coming in fast enough cover listing fees. If you carry 500 listings, it takes $100 net per quarter to cover the listing fees alone. Usually listing a bunch of items will trigger a sale or two, but during the low seasons it may not be a net gain after fees and expenses. Not being a fan of net losses, I let many listings expire in the off season and build back up for the holiday shopping frenzy. The problem is that the sales aren’t coming this time. I’m a “star seller” with 100 percent scores across all the metrics they use to decide the designation. But, there is a minimum dollar amount and number of sales needed to get/keep the designation and I currently have no sales for October. It is the first time I’ve built the shop up for the holiday season and not triggered sales while building. I’m at a loss, to understanding how I can make a future with Etsy. I’ve had to raise prices because shipping and other costs keep going up. I’ve been on the edge of closing for at least 4 years. I need to keep the store open while I promote this video project so that anyone can see that I’m able and willing to please customers, but I’m less certain than I’ve ever been that can justify being on Etsy next year at this time. Like too many other people, I’m there because I love the idea of what Etsy was and the dream of what it might mean for me if I could make it profitable.

It was while I was contemplating the potential death of my Etsy store that my tech guy brought up streaming. Some time back I was riding alone a lot and I wanted to stream my rides to a single person who’d show the video to the police if anything ever happened to me. It wasn’t feasible then, so it wasn’t on my mind for this, and I felt like it was a little late to be changing things. In truth this project will change constantly, even after it’s funded, but this was a change that interfered with my plan to get the project officially out there very quickly. He is probably right though. Engagement. If we can stream, it should help.

I was physically miserable from the “jab” and still not excited about the disruption in our existing plan when I went west to test stream through areas with low and no signal strength. The weather was questionable and I hadn’t really looked at my tech. I’m a Luddite, until I’m motivated not to be. Once I wanted to be part of a team attempting a world record length balloon flight. I got my HAM license and learned to send packet location data so that I could (we got the record BTW). I’d have to learn it all over again to do it now. I use my phone to call, text and photograph. It doesn’t have games, and until this week, didn’t have social media.

I felt pressure to get on with it though. I was grumbling about putting Facebook on my phone and asking if there wasn’t another way to live stream. I didn’t have good prep or mounting hardware for anything. It started raining at my first choice location just before I pulled up at the Tara Drummond trailhead and the scrape of my worn windshield wipers was grating.

I didn’t want to get the phone soaked and I’d driven too far to give up, so I drove out further where the rain was lighter. At Coot’s Lake the weather was misting and the trail was littered with slippery wet leaves. I had that brain fog that comes with trying to rise to the occasion when you just want to curl up in bed and sleep it off, but I didn’t drive for an hour just to emit greenhouse gases and fight falling asleep on the way home. I needed to accomplish something, so I took the bike off the rack.

I forgot my brand new shiny helmet with the goggles. I forgot to change shoes. I realized that near the car. I was wary of slipping on the wet leaves, but if I went back for them I wasn’t sure I’d actually ride. I left my cheap drug store readers trailside to pick them back up on returning. My bike bags were full. I was taking video of the inside of one bike bags so the phone would stay clean and dry. The plan was to compare any streaming gaps to the network signal strength tester I thought I was running in the background

I went to and through Brushy Mountain Tunnel describing where there were high rocks or open spaces on either side along the way, then just barely into the edge of the Paulding Forest. I stopped to turn around and check to see if I was still streaming. I was. I was streaming black screen with terrible audio to my personal profile instead of the private group we set up for the test. I was trying to fix it all without the glasses I left back near the car. This is when and where I decided it’s time for multifocal contacts. I need to just get over it and learn to stick my fingers in my eyes. I turned everything off and started back to the car. I resolved to pick up my glasses, take a deep breath and start again.

I was still riding very carefully because of the slippery leaves and lack of helmet. I passed a group of people with a Doberman. The person who was supposed to be holding the leash wasn’t. I sped up as much as I was comfortable in the wet leaves while the dog’s leash bounced on the pavement. I don’t know whether I was more afraid of the dog or a fall, but I was aware that it could be a double header. The dog got tired of chasing me while I was still upright and I learned first hand that adrenaline will completely wipe out the feeling of side effects from a vaccine.

I picked up my glasses as I neared the car. I rethought my second attempt. I didn’t want to go back toward the Doberman for a second try any more. After the Doberman, I didn’t want to go in the other direction where the St. Bernard that chased me that one time lives. I loaded up told my peeps I was in the car safe. I thought about going on out to Cedartown and riding even further west, but that’s a long way for someone to drive to rescue me if the day kept on getting worse. The adrenaline had charged me up, but my brain was spent. I just needed to get a handle on dealing with a delay that’s worthwhile. As I drove home, wide awake, the clouds cleared and the blue sky was glorious. I told myself to just enjoy the view and remember that the leaves on the trail still weren’t dry.

Next Try

I haven’t been happy with the sensitivity level of the glass screen protector my tech guy recommended. Pushing on the glass sometimes makes enough movement to ruin photos. I’ve been really tempted to try a flexible one instead.

Screen cap from the end of my feed for Sunday. Russ is watching me check my phone for damage. You can see him through the reflection in my goggles and the haze of my crumpled glass screen protector.

Russ and I went back out on Sunday together. We drove to Cedartown and rode west because it’s an iffy signal section of trail that’s really too far out for me to be riding alone. We confirmed that the signal is low in most places and the video quality is poor, but at least we were streaming to the private group this time. While we were out there I ran over a big green walnut with my front tire. The bounce caused my expensive new Galaxy 21 Ultra to dismount and I ran over it with my back tire. I may not like the sensitivity of that hard glass screen protector, but the phone still appears to be fine. I came home and ordered another one.

The broken screen saver left a fine powder of dust that I thought was the same kind of micro cracks that accumulated on my old old phone. Russ told me to wipe and the undamaged screen was a relief.

The Recovery Ride Will be a Walk in the Park

After looking for the really nice shot of Russ in the stream at the local park for 20 minutes, I settled on this random and unrelated photo of Russ being his larger than life and larger than BigFoot self.

We took our grandson to a Saturday practice for his mountain bike team on Yonah Mountain. Rather than wait, we went over to the hiking trail and did as much as we could in the seriously limited amount of time we had before returning to pick him up. The walk reminded me that one reason building up my cycling mileage was easier the first time is that I was hiking regularly at the time. I had been thinking about the negative reasons more, like aging, but that’s not the whole story.

Sometimes my lightbulbs are a little slow to switch on, but while hiking up Yonah mountain the lack of shoulder issues and the attitude of my saddle free hips brought this decision clearly into focus. The recovery cardio needs to be a true recovery in several senses of the word, and the focus needs to be physically and mentally restorative, not the opportunity for additional video footage I was thinking of at one time. One or two centuries a week will really provide quite enough video, and we need to vary more than just our body positions on the bike. We’ll get significant benefits that keep us riding if we vary the activity as well. Recovery should be the primary purpose of recovery cardio, and with the amount of time we’ll have in the saddle, cross-training is the way to do it best.

Leita Thompson Park in Roswell GA

There is a pleasant no drive option, so making the switch is not just ideal physically, it’s easily doable.There is a park with a trail near my house. Walking there and doing the loop inside then walking back is just under 5 miles. We may venture out to other places for some variety if there is available time. We live in the Georgia Piedmont Region with reasonable access to Lookout Mountain and Valley, the southern terminus of the AT and the the Blue Ridge. Some of those trails might be doable before or after a photography day which would open up some location options for the still photography.

That was the easiest decision I’ve made for the project.

Tuesday Trippin’ Aug 30

August has been full of doing things rather than writing things that are ready to post. The riding has been going well. One day I went out and was hit by three stinging meanies, on my shoulder, on my chest, and the last one was in almost the exact same spot on my lip as the sting I wrote about in my last post, but I did not get stung by any of them. I held my breath a bit each time until I realized I wasn’t hurt, but never had to pull out the benadryl that’s now part of my everyday kit.

It’s been humid southern riding. Moving or removing my bike shorts has been worse than a wet swimsuit on some days. I haven’t suffered much with overheating, and that feels good. A guy came up to me in the parking lot one day as I was loading the bike. I had passed him earlier. He said “You didn’t have to make that hill look so easy!” I thought “What hill?”, but what a I said was that he was on a mountain bike and I was on a road bike (which is easier) and I talked about how much it meant to me to be riding and regaining strength over the pandemic. On the way home, I decided I must have passed him on a long slow hill that I walked up when I first started riding the Silver Comet. back then there was an intersection and you had to stop at the bottom. Now there is a trail bridge and momentum takes half the load. It was a small thing, but it felt good to be in a different place than I was a year and a half ago. I’m probably passing 80% of the riders I see going in my own direction now. That doesn’t mean I’m fast. Fast riders get on, get done and get off. I never even see those riders if they started in front of me. I still can’t call myself a good rider, but I am much stronger than I was, and I’m good enough to complete the project I want to do. It’s a level of accomplishment that feels good, feels on target.

I’ve also been adjusting to changing commitments and getting some personal things done. I have more time available and I’m trying to get my mind and my house ready to shift into full time mode. Part of that is that we just made some major renovations to the house. Another part is working on the Etsy store and getting it ready for the busy season. I’ve been struggling with it, as have a lot of vintage sellers. I’m in a funk. I have a lot of stock, and I’m ready to just give it all away, clear out the basement and Marie Kondo the side gig. I can’t really afford that though. And when I say that I can’t afford that, I’m still fully aware the increasing overhead by way of fees and shipping costs is killing me. I still have a 5-star average review, I’m just working harder than I should be to accomplish it, and… Then every once in a while there’s that one customer, and I just made such a difference for them. That thing that I found and rescued was that thing that reminds them of someone they love and they’ve been looking for for so long.

I’m making a push toward paying a lot more attention to the photography because however much I personally want to do the project on muscle power, it will always be completable on electric power, but there will be few fixes for photography fails. I’ve watched a lot of photo editing videos as well and will watch many more. I’m sure the level of editing I’m willing to do will evolve, and at the same time be different for different projects. To some extent the point is moot. I don’t have editing software yet. In fact the only reason I’m looking at editing instruction instead of photography instruction right now is that I need to choose the editing software. I may end up with the obvious Adobe products, but if I do, I want that to be an educated choice.

Until next time…

Glorious Connection

During the first wave of the pandemic, Russ, in the landscape industry, was officially considered by the Georgia Governor’s executive order to be an essential employee. That was a flood of mixed feelings. In the beginning we stayed home except for work and groceries. We didn’t go out to feel the freedom of empty roads with little traffic in those early days. I really enjoyed not buying gas. But, one day, for what reason I don’t remember, I took Russ to work. On the way we saw Santa Claus on the side of the road. How random is that in April? He had signs leading the way, thanking essential workers and encouraging people. And there he was, waving and dancing. After the initial delight, I want to know the backstory when I see something like this. Who was this guy? What motivated him?

I think I saw him maybe 3 times total, but it was every time I passed by. It wasn’t always a Santa costume. By the time I was driving that road often again, I wasn’t driving it during commute hours and there were only signs beside the road. I wanted to take a photo back while he was still out there, one with the sun rising behind him. Time got away from me. Then I wanted to photograph just the signs. Then there was only one sign left. It was the smiley face attached to a traffic sign. After missing the previous photo opportunities, being in a rush, not having time, not making time, I finally stopped to take a photo of the smiley face sign before it too was gone.

I didn’t want to park in turn lanes, so I pulled into the neighborhood next to the sign. There wasn’t a great place to park, so I parked across the street from a driveway, but it was a narrow street with houses on only one side. There was a little less room than normal street parking. When I came back to the car after taking the picture, there was a man in the driveway looking at me like he was wondering what I was doing.

I said Hi, and told him that I had stopped to take a photo of the sign and apologized if my parking had bothered him. He introduced himself. He said he was the guy! He put all the signs out there and stood there waving and smiling at passers by during those dark early days of the pandemic, and then he kept it going. The person to get the backstory from was standing right in front of me, and he was talking to me about the whole thing. I guess I picked the best time to stop after all. His name is Jerry and he’s a professional Santa. Santas had a rough go of the pandemic too, BTW, but Jerry didn’t say anything about that.

Jerry was out there at 6AM every day, then cut it back to two days a week. He was out there for a total of 6 months waving at people and thanking them for being essential workers. One day his wife asked him how many people he thought he had an impact on. His guess was 25 per day, but then he decided to count reactions, and realized that he could count 150 positive reactions a day, and sometimes he was in the dark, he wasn’t even sure that he could see all of the reactions. On top of that, people stopped to talk to him and thank him, to tell him that they shared what he was doing with co-workers and it cheered them too. He was really having an effect, making a lot of smiles and laughs. His big message for me was that his effort was totally worth it. He let people know that they mattered, and the cool part is that they let him know that he did too.

Jerry’s big focus was on the more essential jobs, from healthcare workers to waste collectors, but he made a difference to everyone who was out there driving by, and the Georgia list of essential workers was pretty big.

Russ was out there commuting every day, caught in a fog, grateful to be employed, grateful to have income that we needed, while also wondering if it would cost him his life. The official governor’s executive order was a cruel Catch-22 with no good options for high risk workers who actually needed their income. Russ’ company instituted new procedures to limit contact between crews and did everything they could to make it as safe as possible. At the same time, it’s hard to wrap your mind around beautiful landscapes as essential work. Bad things do happen when landscape maintenance goes by the wayside. Vandalism and vermin increase, but it’s not at the forefront of what people think about when they think of who’s job is essential.

It was and still is a struggle for everyone. But, it’s easier for some of the essential workers to know exactly why they’re essential, and harder for others. If you’re saving lives everyday, you know that risking your own is worth it. The more removed your work is from saving lives, the harder it is to see it as anything but risking your life for a paycheck. The pressure and opinions through the pandemic were and are still relentless, most of them dictated by what the holder of those opinions feared most. One day I asked Russ if he (Santa Jerry) was still out there. He said “What?, oh, I don’t know.”

WHAT!

There’s was a row of signs like you’re coming up on a Stuckey’s or Rock City and at the end of it Santa Claus is jumping and dancing and waving and Russ didn’t know if he was still out there? At the time that I asked that question, Jerry was still out there, and Russ was too distracted to see him.

I just said that Jerry mattered, and then I said, for all his effort, he still faded into the background for Russ. But, the thing is, both are true. When people are that stressed out, the Jerrys of the world all matter. The guy on the Silver Comet telling people to have a glorious day matters, even when you are no longer consciously aware of them, even if they become background noise, the noise is good. It matters that there is good background noise. People who love people redeem the rest of us.

I went to a funeral service for Russ’s Uncle Woody a few years ago. The pastor built the entire sermon on Uncle Woody’s favorite greeting, “God loves you and so do I.” Woody would say that and offer his hand. I never saw him do it. I met him at a family reunion and he didn’t do it there. Apparently he did it everywhere else. I love the unconditional love that gesture conveyed. I don’t know how to offer my own version of it to people. I want my own version. I want it to be inclusive of different belief systems. I want something just as warm as Woody’s, but universal. It’s harder now. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic and I’m really ready to leave handshakes behind forever, but the elbow bump feels more trendy than warm. I just don’t feel it. When I was active in ballooning, we all hugged a lot. Not everyone, because not everyone is a hugger, and that’s way too up close and personal for the pandemic era. What puts your mind and body into a greeting like Woody’s for today? I’m not sure.

Extroverts like Jerry have figured out how to reach out to people. And, we are all better for it. Not everyone can be a Jerry, not everyone should. People are different. Some are introverts, some are distracted, some are having a bad day, some have the weight of everything precious and ephemeral on their shoulders. But, reaching for the connection, however you can is a good thing, and even when people don’t respond noticeably, we get that strangers care enough to get out there every day and work for nothing more than a smile. When that happens, we’re in a world with a more beautiful backstory. When the world is crushing, the compassion and the connection are the background music that gets us through. And sometimes when we see or meet a Jerry, we smile, inside or out, and our heavy thoughts are replaced with lighter ones for just long enough.

Tuesday Trippin’ July 20

The weather hasn’t been completely peachy. Last week we had siding replaced on the back of the house, soffits and fascia underneath the gutters with Hardie board and it’s rained enough that there hasn’t been a paintable day since. Fortunately, It’s easier to get a rideable day than it is to get a paintable day. I got up this morning to see if the forecast was as grim today as it was last night. I clicked and got excited, then realized it was showing me Panama City Beach. We visited my Mother for the first time in a year and a half a few weeks ago and went a little out of the way to drive through Wewahitchka for some Tupelo honey and walk down the beach. I’m not sure why the widget reverts back to the fun thing you checked once or twice instead of going to show you the place you’ve checked dozens of times since, but I’ll choose to be grateful for the reminder that I got a walk on the beach and a long awaited visit with my mother

The morning percent chance of rain moved inside my parameters here too, and the thunderstorm forecast disappeared completely. The grim bedtime forecast converting into a bike ride happens often enough that I never rule out a ride until the morning of, and really kick myself if I forget to re-check. More to be grateful for.

The ride was nice, not too wet. I was dragging at first, but energetic and getting my head into the right place before it was over. The Y was more crowded last time I went. I hope that was a reflection of the time of day rather than changing norms. I didn’t get the muscle soreness after, so I’m getting used to being back. My bike feels like it could use tightening up, tuning up and adjustments everywhere. For that matter, so did my body earlier this week.

I’ve been writing a good bit, things for this blog, both published and not, as well as other things. I’ve also started getting ready for the seasonal uptick in sales for the Etsy store. I need that to flow smoothly for at least the next 6 months and everything I do now will save some really irritating oops from happening later.

That’s it for today. Have a glorious day, and try to remember what you’re grateful for.