Category Archives: Blacksburg

Brief update on the Adult Recreational Soccer League

An update to this post: For the past couple of seasons, we’ve been playing on the VT (artificial) Turf fields, which are frankly amazing compared to what we used to play on. The price has gone up a small amount, but personally I consider it worth it. You can also find pick-up games at the Turf fields which are open at least to dusk, but often with the floodlights on late. No-one checks ID, so if you’re not affiliated with VT, you’re generally fine to play. The fields and floodlights have made scheduling much easier too, and weather-related cancellations just don’t happen generally.

Also, TechSportsPlex closed down, but NRU is running indoor leagues in the off seasons.

Emails my daughters’ school might have sent…but didn’t

I have no clue what’s going on…

I’ve always assumed that part of the reason I have no clue what is going on at my daughters’ schools is that we’re in separate households. It’s becoming clearer that no, it’s not that. Our local school system is just pretty awful at communicating with parents….I mean, really, really bad…so bad, you second guess yourself and, as in my case, go into the school offices multiple times every year to make sure that this time they really do have my contact information. Continue reading Emails my daughters’ school might have sent…but didn’t

Selling My Car: 1996 Honda Accord

1996 Honda Accord side viewI’m selling my car. It’s a silver (officially Heather Mist!) 1996 manual Honda Accord with 326,000 miles on it. It’s in pretty good shape. It was in an accident in the late 90s when someone pulled out in front of it, but otherwise it hasn’t had any accidents that I can recall. There are no significant dents. I’ve owned it since new. Maintenance has been regular. For the past five years or more, I’ve been using Auto Experts on Main Street (Blacksburg), so you can always ask there about it.

1996 Honda Accord front view

You don’t get to over 300,000 miles without some issues. Things have been replaced over the years, and I have most of the maintenance records. I honestly don’t recall what’s been done, but it’s the original engine. There are things that need work:

  • The radio mostly doesn’t work.
  • The A/C doesn’t work. Pretty sure this is a simple leak, but I’ve never got around to getting it fixed.
  • It burns (not leaks) a bit of oil, so you have to keep an eye on the oil.
  • Third gear sometimes requires double-clutching. This means it probably needs a new transmission fairly soon.
  • There is no rust, but the paint has faded in places.
  • The automatic door locking is flaky.
  • The engine light stays on, but it’s been on for the past five years!

The miles are mostly highway miles. State inspection was done January, 2014.

I will only sell it in person, to someone local, in cash for $2,000 (or thereabouts). I will not provide the VIN online, but will provide it in person if you stop by.

540-200-8630 or david@carter-tod.com

Soccer in Blacksburg

If you search for soccer (football/calcio/futbal/fútbol/Fußball) in Blacksburg, you will probably quickly see that the high school has a great tradition of success for both girls and boys. If you look at Virginia Tech, the women’s team is excellent, the games are free, parking is good, and they are excellent to watch. The men’s soccer team isn’t quite so good at the moment.

If you want to play soccer as an adult, what are your options?

If you are a student at Virginia Tech, I guess you can play intramural sports, which for internationals who might not be familiar with the term, is recreational sports (“within the walls” I suppose). I never did when I was at VT, but that was probably more out of ignorance than anything. I have no idea what those games are like.

If you reside in the New River Valley, then the other options are a pick-up game, or playing in the New River United Adult Recreational League (NRU) – see below for more details. NRU do not, in my opinion, do a great job of advertising its existence. Their web site also leaves some things to be desired in terms of linking. Hence this post.

New River United also runs most of the kids recreational soccer in the NRV (there’s a Christiansburg setup too), and they have competitive teams for kids as well. I’ve coached and been involved with the kids recreational soccer and enjoyed it. It’s very popular and the fields around town are filled on a Saturday morning.

Pick-up games

I have never really cottoned on to where the pick-up games tend to be, but two locations that I know of where people gather include Nellie’s Cave Park, and the field behind the Food Lion on North Main (park behind the Food Lion and walk up), which is also known as Shenandoah Field. Nellie’s Cave Park tends not to have scheduled games, so it’s often available. Note that all the goals in town should be locked when not in use, because they mostly belong to NRU and they have to lock them for insurance purposes. It’s very frustrating as a casual player, but you just have to live with it.

Adult Recreational League

I play in the Adult Rec League, and have done for many years, perhaps a decade or more now. I played in high school in England where I was pretty good, but not great. The league is usually split into Sport and Competitive. At a very broad brush, Competitive (or the A league) tends to be under-30, skillful and athletic-kids who played in high school or maybe even college. Sport (the B league in which I play) tends to be older, less skillful and less athletic (or at least two out of three of those).

If I look at the team I currently manage/captain (The Goats), we have 8 in their mid-20s, 4 in their 30s, 3 in their 40s and one 60-year old(!). That’s a bit skewed for us historically. I’d say we have more 30 and 40-year olds usually. Our players are locals, graduate students, some undergrads, and faculty. We often have some international students on our teams. Not a ton of women play, but some certainly do. The focus is on having a fun, safe game.

We typically play an 8 game regular season in both Fall and Spring with a tournament at the end. We usually play one game a week, skipping when there is a break at VT. We tend to play on the weekends and weeknights because a lot of us have jobs, and the fields we usually use are owned and used by the local school system. NRU is building its own field near the airport which everyone hopes will be open soon. The fields we use are not great, but not terrible. There’s no budget for improvements really. The ground around here tends to be quite full of clay so the fields can get quite hard when they are dry. See the recent update posted here-we now primarily play on VT’s artificial turf!

One thing I wondered when I first signed up was why it seemed so expensive to me for so relatively few games. Part of the answer is that we play full games with three qualified referees. They generally are very good, and having them makes for good games. In terms of the rules, it is pretty standard, except that substitutions are unlimited, and we play with no slide tackling allowed. You can sign up as an individual and get assigned to a team if you are not aiming for a specific team.

Other options nearby

Roanoke has a number of good options. My understanding is that there is a women’s recreational league and a recreational league. I have heard there is a league for older players too, but I’m not sure where to find the details on that. I believe serious players involve themselves with the Roanoke Star Club, but there’s Valley AFC for kids too.

Indoor soccer

If you want to play indoor soccer (futsal) there are two basic options locally. There’s a winter league at the Blacksburg Community Center (Blacksburg Indoor Soccer League – BISL), and during the same time period there is an indoor league at the Tech Sportsplex near the mall area in Christiansburg. As an old geezer, I tend not to play because it’s a bit harder on my knees and can be quite fast, but the quality can be very good.

Reverend Sam Franklin

This is the Reverend Sam Franklin. This guest book doesn’t have long left, and while the messages are heartfelt, there’s not a lot there. He went by “Uncle Tom” apparently.

I met him once last year, just before he passed away.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while and have had the crumbs of it sitting in a draft since I met him. Last year I was at the mall in Christiansburg, VA with my kids. I had left them to their own ends for a while, grabbed a coffee and had sat down in a mildly comfortable chair in the middle of the mall. The seating made a small square with a couple of chairs on each side.

On one side an old man sat in a wheelchair. Opposite me another man sat. After a minute or two the old man spoke up, “If I was to ask one of these people here how old they thought I am, what do you think they would say?”

So, a couple of thoughts went through my head if I’m being entirely honest. Firstly, that I might be in for a crazy old man diatribe that I’d need to gently extricate myself from, and secondly that there was no way I was going to give a straight answer.

The man across from me smiled, but didn’t say much, umm-ing and ah-ing in a jokey kind of way. The old man insisted, “Go on, guess.” I hazarded a silly guess, “Fifty-five?” We bantered a bit more. I guessed a little closer, “Seventies?” I smiled, “You know, I’m not going to even try to get it right. It’s not very polite, is it?”

“I’m one hundred and four.”

Crikey…definitely crazy old man territory. There’s no way a man this articulate and seemingly healthy is that old, despite the wheelchair. We chatted some more and I don’t really remember why, but I moved over to sit next to him. I do remember that his fingers were thick, swollen and mottled with the years.

An hour and a half later, his middle-aged granddaughter and her husband (from Maryland?) came back to pick him up, and I was wiser. “You wouldn’t believe he’s one hundred and four, would you?!” they said. “Oh, I would” I replied.

I’ll admit to not understanding everything he told me. A Southwest Virginia accent, old age, and my own transatlantic origins made some things hard to grasp, but I still remember some of the stories he told me. I wish I remembered more, and I wish I’d written this last year when I intended, but I also hope that maybe one day someone will find this and he’ll be remembered. I’m sure I’ll get some of this wrong too.

In July 1916, the New River flooded. He would have been ten years old then. His family was living in Carroll County at the time, as best I can tell, right down by the river on the flood plain. It came at night. They barely had time to get him and his siblings out of bed, and to let the animals loose before the house was filled. The waters came well up to the second floor.

I wish I remember more, but I’m thinking that they found a friendly farmer and slept in a barn for a while after that.

The next year (1917), the river froze (here too), and the ice dammed up the river destroying bridges.

Some time after that they moved to Radford, VA, and I’d guess around then he started at the Radford pipe works which was owned by the Lynchburg Foundry (his obituary implies he worked in Lynchburg, but I don’t think he did). He worked in Radford for thirty-six years. At some point, perhaps during the war, he went to Tennessee to train to make aircraft parts, which should have enabled him to make a bit more money.

He took himself and his training to Atlanta after that, where I think he had some kind of supervisory role. He told me some tales of a crazy ex-con who he took a chance on. That was a bet that didn’t work out.

During all this time, he was a minister at various places, including a church in Ellett Valley, and they had ten kids. When we spoke his younger brother was still alive and living by himself. He had buried his son recently. I didn’t want to ask about his wife.

He did tell the tale of the time he saw one man shoot another six times. It was connected to his church, and he was the one who ended up taking the gun off the man who did the shooting. There was a court case of course. I seem to recall though that there was a sense that the shooting may have been justified and as a result the Reverend may have been careful with the truth when the time came.

…and that’s it. One hundred and four years. One and a half hours last year. It really cannot have been long before he passed away. It was a great conversation that meandered a fair bit, and was hard work sometimes, but so worth it. I couldn’t quite convey it to my kids when they came to find me, nor to my friends and colleagues.

He seemed a decent man who lived a decent life.

It was a pleasure to meet Sam. I’m glad I had that time to sit and listen to him. I’m glad he persisted in talking to me and shared some of his life with me. When my race is run, I hope someone takes the time to tell a tale or two about me. I hope there are some good tales to tell.

Virginia Tech Hokies Women’s Soccer

I tweeted about this the other day but I’d like to expand a little.

Last year I attended a game or two, but this year, I’ve been to several Hokie soccer games: at least one of the men’s team and several of the women’s. It has been a lot of fun. There’s a smallish crowd, which is enough to make it fun, but not the insane size of the football games. It’s free to get in and parking is easy.

I’m going to give the men’s team another chance since they didn’t really impress in the game I saw, but I am really enjoying watching the Women’s Soccer team. They are extremely skillful and have many of the qualities of a great team, but they are not quite converting their dominance into goals as much as I think they should.

I thought they were unlucky in North Carolina (let’s just say that I didn’t entirely agree with the refereeing) and that they dominated Boston College for much of the game. They do seem to be a bit vulnerable on set pieces.

Their ball movement, patience, discipline, possession, and general talent are all fantastic. They play a little like Swansea in that they’ll typically move the ball out from defense on the ground with calm, precise and well-controlled passing. Several times, I’ve seen their central defensive players turn the opposition inside out before making a simple release pass. They are very good at relieving pressure in that regard.

The team seems to be setting up in a 4-1-3-2 formation and their midfielders are impressive. The one caveat is that they feel unimaginative on offense in the final third. What I have seen to this point are through balls, long balls, and runs that tend to be vertical (straight up and down) with few overlaps from midfield and less diagonal movement. Several times I’ve seen midfielders creating space in advanced positions by fantastic passing and then it fizzles out, either in a wayward shot or a tackle.

I’m not sure of the underlying reason. It could be intentional positional discipline, but the last game I saw there was at least one occasion for a clear overlapping run by an outside midfielder and the player just stayed in place. The other part of the equation is the offensive players themselves who seem a little static or “one note”. If you aren’t faster than the defense and being quick is your thing, then your options close down. If being tall is your thing, then you need service from the wings.

My understanding of an attacker’s role (and I say this both as a fan, and primarily a defensive player myself), is that it is at least in part to make defenses constantly worry about where you are, to get on their blind side, to get into positions where they can’t see both you and the ball, and to make runs off and away from the ball to draw the defense into bad positions. That off-the-ball mischievousness and creativity is what I think I’m not seeing. I’m not sure of the solution from a tactical point of view, but the team feels only a fraction shy of being a truly great team. They could easily have beaten North Carolina and Boston in my opinion.

Either way, they play again this Sunday, and I’m planning on enjoying the game, whatever the result.

Triathlon

sotto voce: one of a series of long unfinished posts that I’m just throwing out there.

So, I completed my first (sprint) triathlon in June. A Roanoke Times news report is available for some while.

There are some pictures online, but I’m not going to link to them, mostly to spare you the sight of my astonishingly blanched farmer’s tan. I do have a picture of me in the bike-to-run transition, which is, I’m told, not bad.

Bearing in mind that this was immediately after falling and grazing my elbow quite badly, I’m doing okay.


It’s many months later, and post Lyme’s disease and appendicitis, I’m sure I’ve forgotten many of the little lessons I could have taken away from the experience. Let me think…

  1. have flip-flops to walk around in after dropping off your gear in the transition area, and a small bag for glasses(?) or other stuff that you can leave by the pool and pick up later after the race.
  2. the bike section is the longest section in terms of time, and as a result where there is room for the biggest improvement, i.e. a 10% improvement in a swim time would be less than a minute and would require a lot of training, 10% in the run about 3 minutes, but 10% bike improvement would be about 5 minutes.
  3. I don’t have my own fancy bike and if I want to keep doing this I’ll need to buy one 🙁
  4. The camber on the run was quite tough. I don’t know whether I suffered more due to the tick bite on my ankle (and swelling), or perhaps somewhat newish shoes, or just the length of the race, but my feet hurt for a while afterwards.
  5. I was in pretty reasonable shape at the end
  6. I think I’m in better shape now than I was then. My achilles is a bit sore these days, but fewer other things ache or hurt…well, except my knees sometimes.
  7. loosen both your pedal cages before getting to the end
  8. getting up early was a bit of a struggle
  9. those gel packs do seem to make a difference

Nothing else springs to mind, but it was fun, and I’m glad I did it. In general terms, doing multiple sports does seem to lessen the risk of injury and develop more balanced fitness. I’m still biking, running and swimming, although I’ve no concrete plans for another race, and I’ve added a little bit more strength work recently through some body weight exercise. I think that’s helping. I’m trying out tracking with Fitocracy too.

Riding the Virginia Creeper Trail

My kids and I did the Virginia Creeper Trail last weekend. It was absolutely fantastic. I cannot say enough how much fun and how gorgeous it was. This is despite the fact that we were completely drenched in a downpour.

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A note on logistics
I called and made a reservation for bikes and a shuttle the day before. We drove to Damascus, VA (a little over 2 hours from Blacksburg), getting to the bike shop about 30 minutes before the shuttle left. This gave us time to get the bikes, buy rain ponchos, go to the bathroom and get our act together. We could have brought our own bikes and just paid for the shuttle. You can also drop off your own bikes at the top and just one of you get a ride up while the others wait. Last, but not least, you can ride up the trail if you wish. It’s a very, very gentle slope, but it’s 15-17 miles to the top, so I imagine you’d have to be in pretty good shape.

Another option is to start and finish in Abingdon, which is 34 miles from Whitetop.

I didn’t realize until we got there, by the way, that there are a number of bike shops in Damascus. This is a good business for the town obviously. We rented at JC’s Outdoors and were happy with it, but the others looked fine too. Anyway, we all piled into the shuttle -about 12 people in all, with a trailer behind with the bikes on it-and were driven to the top of the trail. The ride up is on a very, very winding road and takes 20-30 minutes as I recall. Both kids were a bit queasy by the time we got there.

When we rode, the stretch from Whitetop to Green Cove was closed for repairs (funded by the ARRA by the way), so we started at Green Cove, meaning that the ride was 15 miles. It took 2 1/2 to 3 hours and to be honest we didn’t stop much.

The ride really was all downhill, but that’s not to say that it didn’t require any work. The slope is so gentle that you do have to pedal to keep going (the kids probably a bit more because they’re lighter, have less momentum and are on smaller bikes), and by the time we reached the end our hands were a little tired from braking and controlling the bikes. I saw a young (6-ish?) boy on the trail on a very small bike, and I would imagine that he would have been wiped out by the end (although the rain probably didn’t help). My daughters are 11 and 13 and were generally fine.

38289_10150240791945271_3169959_nThe default thing to do though is just gently pedal and freewheel down the trail. Check out the Youtube videos for a sense of what it’s like. Near the top especially, the trail is a little bit muddier and rockier. At the bottom, it was more tarmac as I recall (I preferred the top). Either way, do not wear clothes that you are fond of! You will get coal(?) dirt all over your clothes, especially if it rains. It’s probably a good idea to have a change of clothes waiting for you in your car at the bottom.

Most of the way the trail runs next to the river and you can stop and pull over in all kinds of places to relax, snack or just enjoy the water. There are numerous bridges that you cross. It’s just incredibly beautiful. There are places to camp if that’s your thing. About half-way down there are a couple of cafes/shops. We stopped at the first one we came to, which was more of small hut, although to be honest the one after that (across a small road bridge) looked like it had more going for it.

It started raining torrentially very soon into the ride when we did it, but the kids were great. They were having a lot of fun and continued to do so, despite being pretty soaked and filthy from the mud flung up by the bikes. They both had a real sense of accomplishment when we got to the bottom and my eldest wanted to turn around and do it again. I’m really proud of their attitude about the whole day.

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I’m looking forward to going back.

Blacksburg Middle School Move

So, this spring, the Blacksburg High School gym collapsed. I went to a meeting at the middle school as we talked over the plans. The middle school kids are going to have to use the old Christiansburg Middle School.

My thoughts so far. Wow…just wow… the Montgomery County Public Schools (VA) web site is truly, truly terrible. I didn’t think it was possible to create something so unusable. Must be designed by committee.

That aside, I think the schedule they’ve created is a bit ridiculous. It’s compressed in order to align with the bus schedules. 4 minutes in between classes is probably an okay amount of time, but doesn’t allow for relaxing or socializing and it bothers me that the kids’ time is so regimented that they cannot allocate a logical amount of time like 5 minutes.

There’s virtually no time for lunch, and it sounds like that might be tricky to manage. I’m generally not very happy at how compressed their day is. It doesn’t seem like the learning of the children is the primary driver for the schedule. It’s about buses and giving teachers time to prepare for the next day.

The upgrades to the school sound good. They’re putting a lot of money into it. There will be A/C (except in the gym), which I was concerned about before the meeting. People were concerned about 8th graders having to go to the main building to use the bathroom–which could be an issue, particularly for girls. There was general concern about the safety of kids being outside, which felt overly fearful to me. They have two new safety officer positions to help cope with that though. Some were concerned about kids getting wet when it rains, but, really, it’s not like they’ll melt.

From the bussing perspective, the superintendent claimed that most kids will be traveling under an hour each way. It’s still a lot, but not as bad as I feared. One person asked about dropping kids off at the (current) BMS (aka new BHS) so they’d only have to ride from there, which seemed like a reasonable idea to me, but didn’t seem to go over well or just wasn’t understood. The logistics of bussing are tricky, mostly because HS and MS kids travel together and they cannot afford to bus them separately.

The meeting was interesting to my ears, because it generally felt like there were a number of assumptions which were unassailable because that was just how things are done/have always been done.

Overall I felt better afterwards than before though.

Comcast

I really want to like Comcast, but they’re very incoherent. I’ve had cable/internet service with them for several years and just moved, so I’ve been interacting with their customer service quite a lot.

So a couple of things:

1. You call their customer service and I’d swear that within the first 20 seconds you hear about 5 different (automated) voices. It really gives you the feeling that you’re being shunted around.

2. I had a lot of connection problems yesterday (originally wrote this a month or so ago). I waited forever to get into a customer chat and failed, so I sent an email. Got an email response this morning telling me to call because they couldn’t solve the problem via email. About 10 minutes later I got an automated phone call to tell me that known problems in my area had been resolved. Oh and about 15 seconds after I sent the support email I got a call from someone verifying that my original install had gone well and all was fine. They were a bit unsure what to say when I told them I was having problems, which plainly didn’t fit with the script.

3. At the second try I did get the service hooked up at the new place, but the TV signal has been bad (no HD at all). The service guys told me that the line to my house would need replacing and it would be done on Monday. Nothing better by Friday so I call and there’s no record of that being scheduled or needed, so now a tech has to come to my house, probably to confirm the same issue that another tech already identified.