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Winning the Air Force Challenge Ride

steve-airForce-2013-thumbThe 2013 Air Force Cycling Classic Challenge Ride had 1,408 people this year—a fun mix of both avid and recreational cyclists. This was my fourth year. Previously, I’d always bonked at some point and fallen back. Sunday, my objective was to stay with the lead peloton, and then sprint off the front to win. I told a few people this goal, and I got some weird looks — I haven’t done any real categorized road races before. But . . . I’ve been training a lot more this year.

First, my stats: I averaged 23.1mph for 65.1 miles, for a 2:49.03 total time. Here are the results. (Edited: Seven riders completed 8 laps and are listed above the lead peloton in the results, but the fastest among them finished the 7 laps more than 5 minutes and 2 miles behind us . . .)

The Challenge Ride is not to be confused with the Crystal Cup, where world-class pro racers compete about a half hour after we clear the course (JJ Haedo won this year). The weekend series also includes categorized races, with seriously talented Cat 1 to Cat 4 racers competing for small prize money. In fact, watching the Clarendon Cup Saturday for maybe the 8th year in a row, I was blown away by their endurance, power, and bike-handling.

For the last few years, I’ve been riding most Sundays with neighbors. It’s a good group, and can get competitive—in a good way—since they are really strong riders. This year, we have a small contingent going to the Crystal Cup. I meet up at 6:30 with Eric Miller, Phil the Hill, Steve Cahill, Bill Mowery, and Mowery’s son Jack (age 11, a great athlete). Colin Brown will meet us at the starting line, but we never find him.

Post ride pic from last year, left to right: Phil the Hill, Bill "Orange" Berlin, Steve Cahill, and Ron Paletzki; bottom: Bill Mowery, Jay Stanley (who won), and me.
Post ride pic from last year, left to right: Phil the Hill, Bill “Orange” Berlin, Steve Cahill, and Ron Paletzki; bottom: Bill Mowery, Jay Stanley (who won), and me.

The start is messy and crowded. I wish I was closer to the front, but participants in various corporate and team challenges get to start up there. Almost as soon as the horn sounds, I lose track of Phil and Eric. Normally, Bill “Orange” Berlin is wearing his eponymous jersey, which serves as an effective beacon. This year, he’s outta town, and we have none.

I’m winding in and out of lots of riders. An early accident gets the adrenaline flowing. About three miles up Route 110, five guys in United Healthcare and DC Velo kits race past with a purpose. That’s our cue. Cahill and I glom on. By the Iwo Jima Memorial, our turnaround, we have a peloton of 15 riders. These guys are out to win it. The size of the group will ebb and flow between 10 and 20 riders until I make my move at the end of lap 6.

The Challenge Ride route is an advertised 16.5k, but really 15.0k (or 9.3 mile loop). In years past, it was a very tidy 12.5k, so when you did 8 laps, you did a metric century, or 100k. This year, I figured I’d do as many laps as the lead group, probably 6 and maybe 7.

While I ride, I review my plan: to sit in with the lead peloton, pull as little as possible, keep as much in the tank as I can, eat a gel every 45 minutes, match any breakaways in the final lap, and then try to separate at the end. I’d figure out exactly where to make my break as we loop around.

Lap 1 is hard. The peloton has not yet coalesced, and we’re jerky. I’m not feeling warm yet, so I stay at the back. The problem is, I keep yo-yoing. At the turnaround, Cahill yo-yos as the peloton accelerates and I lose him. I remember what my friend, ex-racer Ron (see photo) always says about staying in the first third of the peloton, so resolve to move up.

By lap 2, I’m warm. I move up gradually before the Air Force hill and am in the front five riders. The Air Force hill doesn’t seem as tough this year. I just put it in the small chain ring and do a higher cadence, staying around 17mph. The descent, however, is curvy and dangerous, because it’s hard to decide whether to keep it at 40mph when the circuit narrows and you pass a bunch of unpredictable riders going 20.

At this stage, along with three other guys, I somehow gap the peloton and gain some serious time (is there an accident behind us on the descent?). It’s just us for the three miles into Crystal City. The announcer calls us the “chase group” as we race through the start/finish line, but I don’t know what that means. One rider says there’s a single breakaway rider out front, by 20 seconds. So we resolve to pull him back. This is not especially in my strategy, but we start pushing the pace in a rotating pace line of three (this ends up being my fastest lap at 23.7mph). Apparently he doesn’t like my style, and yells “Man, don’t you know how to do a pace line?” Sorry, I meekly respond.

At the Air Force Memorial
At the Air Force Memorial. Check out Tony Estrada Photography to get photos from the ride: www.backprint.com/tonyestradaphotography/‎

Moments later, on the narrow northern stretch of 110, I almost hit a displaced orange cone, swerving left (into oncoming bike traffic) to miss it. The guy behind me hits it squarely, stays up, but the cone spikes up and smacks my nemesis in the face. (We chat about this amicably during a subsequent lap).

The cone incident puts me alone in 2nd place. But I don’t have a clear idea of how far back I am, so I sit up, soft pedal, and wait for a minute for the peloton to catch me. It’s about the 24 mile mark.

Laps 3-5 are routine. There are some strong guys taking long pulls, including a new friend Greg Butler. I eat and drink attentively. I’m focused on the wheel in front of me and not getting in trouble. The peloton is working well together: indicating road hazards, doing all the hand signals, slowing down when we get to accidents. These guys know what they’re doing.

At about the 8-mile mark of every loop, there’s a long gradual 1% downhill and then a sharp 3% uphill as you cross a bridge and drop into Crystal City. It’s typical for the speed to inch up to 30mph, and then slow down to 15mph in the span of les than 20 seconds. Here toward the end of lap 5, at about the 43-mile mark, a rider attempts a break. He gets maybe 10 seconds on us, but we gradually reel him back before the start/finish line.

But this is all the inspiration I need for when to attack!

It’s lap 6, and the gamesmanship begins. The pace slows considerably after the halfway point, and nobody wants to pull. Somewhere in the middle, we finally swallow up the sole breakaway, a super strong cyclist named Tim—he’s been out front by himself for 2 hours! By the Air Force Hill, I’m at the front and get some energy when I see my wife and daughter cheering! I wanted to take the descent first to stay out of trouble. That’s because last year, I got gapped by Jay Stanley here (who went on to win), trapped behind a super slow group. I didn’t want that to happen again.

On the approach to Crystal City, we’re averaging maybe 20 mph (where we’d done 26+ before). I see the bridge about a half-mile in the distance. That’s my cue. I take a swig of water, then use the rest of it to spray my head and try and cool down.

Bam! I make my move, pushing it to about 35 mph on the gradual downhill. I hit the uphill hard, try to maintain as much speed as possible, and enter Crystal City still ahead, yelling “on your left” like a banshee.

Now, the road here is so torn up that even the pros actually complained about the potholes! There are tons of riders, and I’m winding around them willy-nilly. As I make the right turn onto Crystal Drive, I catch a glimpse back over my shoulder—my move has broken up the peloton. There’s a string of 5-6 riders behind me. I don’t look again. I’m getting dog tired, but just push it as hard as I can the final quarter mile or so.

I cross the finish line first, which is kind of a new and amazing feeling. I sit up and try to catch my breath. A few seconds later, Greg rides up (I note he’s not breathing that hard!) and says, “we’re doing one more” . . . UGH!! I’m so dead after that sprint! Had I miscounted?

This is definitely my low point. I’m out of breath, out of water, and the peloton is down to only five guys, so it’s gonna be harder to hide. I just catch a wheel and determine not to drop off. At this point, I honestly am confused and still don’t know if I’ve done 5 laps or 6 (the discrepancy with the loop length, and the math involved doesn’t help!). When it’s my turn to pull, I demur, and go straight to the back.

The first half of this lap is a total blur. One guy falls off the pace. Then another. Then Greg signals me as if to say, “I’m dropping back.” Now it’s just Tim and me.

To be fair, Tim Kelley is a better cyclist than me. His name is all over Strava and he’s clearly a beast. His first lap was the single fastest lap of anybody in the Challenge Ride, averaging 24.7mph—a minute faster than my fastest lap. However, I know that he decided to test himself with a solo breakaway for more than two hours, which means he’s tired.

Tim’s not too troubled that I suck his wheel for the final 4 miles, nor that I jump him with about 300m to go. I round the final curve in full sprint mode, determined to give it my all. And then! I hit a pothole and drop my chain from big to small. While I’m struggling to put it back, he passes me. I get back in gear and struggle to catch him . . . finishing in a dead heat!

We congratulate each other, and I seek out my friends. When I see the results Monday, my time is about 5 seconds ahead of Tim’s. I know it’s not a legit categorized bike race, but it was loads of fun! 

 

The Bad, Boring, Blowhard Washington Nationals

 natsWe interrupt this regularly programmed blog on film and video so I can vent about something that I didn’t realize I cared so much about: the bad, boring, blowhard Washington Nationals.

They’re bad: 9th of 15 NL teams, with a losing record, 29-30. But they’re worse than their record indicates. Of 30 teams in baseball, the Nats are 28th in batting average, 27th in slugging average, 29th in runs scored, and 30th in on-base percentage.

Because they don’t score, they’re boring. At least the Colorado Rockies lose games 9-8 and fans can chat about the 10 home runs they saw! Yes, Strasburg and Harper are exciting, but they’re both injured (along with about a fourth of the team).

Worst of all (and it pains me to say this), the Nats are blowhard. When New York Jets Coach Rex Ryan predicted he’d win the Super Bowl in his third season, I thought he was full of it.

That’s because since birth, I’ve been a Steeler fan. Steelers and their fans can be a lot of things, but we don’t tend towards acting the fool or self-aggrandizement. It’s about the team. And Coach Mike Tomlin is the anti-Rex Ryan.

Is Nats skipper Davey Johnson any different? His pre-season boast, “World Series or bust” became a rallying cry before 20 year-old Harper and 24 year-old Strasburg had even played a full season together!

And the DC media ate it up. It’s been a dry spell here. But sometimes you have to ask yourself whether it’s sports journalism or wish fulfillment. In fact, the hype has inspired a rash of Onion-like articles proactively inducting the pair into the Hall of Fame.

But this is American sports. Hyperbole rules. I get that. Big-market teams have big pocketbooks, hyped players, and braggart media. ESPN talking heads play armchair quarterback with all the reserve of Ann Coulter heckling an ACLU gathering.

Yet what I didn’t realize is that I cared so much.

After going to exactly one Major League baseball game in the two decades between 1992 and 2011, I’ve been to 20+ Nats games in the past two seasons. Where’d this passion come from? Did I catch . . . “Nattitude?”

SORRY PIRATES, I’VE FOUND A NEW MATE

I broke up with baseball at 11:52pm October 15, 1992. That was the moment Barry Bonds’ throw to Catcher Mike Lavalliere arrived a split second too late. The Atlanta Braves’ Sid Bream score the walk-off, overcoming a two-run deficit with two out in the bottom of the ninth to dispatch my Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1992 NLCS.

The Pirates of my youth were stacked: the power-hitter Bobby Bonilla, CF Andy Van Slyke, aces John Smiley and Doug Drabek, and a skinny kid named Barry Bonds.

But because the small-market Pirates couldn’t sign these budding stars to big money, they lost them all. In 1993, they finished 22 games back, and have been stuck there ever since.

I was only 20 at the time, and baseball and football were my favorite sports. But the way money dominated baseball didn’t seem fair.

So I broke up with baseball. Went cold turkey. Stopped pouring over statistics in the morning paper. Packed away my Topps mint-condition cards. Muted my amazement that Dave Kingman could ding 35 homers while hitting .210; stopped comparing Rickey Henderson to Lou Brock to Ty Cobb; Nolan Ryan to Steve Carlton to Sandy Koufax to Walter Johnson. Stopped it all.

Life went on. Studies, travel, new aspirations.

Lots changed in me, but little in baseball.

In 1992, when the Pirates lost Barry Bonds to the free-agent market, I wanted to be a college professor. The next year, I was an aspiring homeless advocate. By 1995, I wanted to be a professional piano player; in 1997, a management consultant, and (finally) in 2001 a documentary filmmaker.

All the while, the Pirates were losing, and I didn’t care. Baseball was dead to me. And it’s not clear to me if MLB tried to fix what ails it. In fact, the Pirates still haven’t had a single winning season. In 20 years.

OMG, DID I CATCH “NATTITUDE”?

Fast-forward. In Washington, D.C., with a family, career, and the Pirates-pain dulled by the passage of time, I didn’t see it coming.

The 2012 Nats snuck up on me. After their 2011 losing record, they became exciting! And it brought up a lot of great memories of baseball and my youth.  I started buying SRO tickets to watch this underdog team—hanging at the Red Barn, drinking IPAs,  and eating burgers at Shake Shack—just enjoying the new stadium!

I’d check stats in the morning paper, like I hadn’t done in 20 years, text friends with predictions on upcoming games, dissecting last night’s.

I was becoming a fan again.

So, as a new fan, here’s my two-cents: Nats, thanks for making baseball fun again. It’s been a while. I don’t need a World Series this year, nor predictions about it. Nats media: I don’t need the hype. I’m happy to see you build a good, solid franchise (perhaps like the Pittsburgh Steelers) that is in contention for many years to come. You’re a young franchise, and GM Rizzo seems to be doing a great job building young talent. Don’t start swinging your money stick around like the Red Sox, Yankees, and Dodgers. It cheapens the sport. Acquisitions like Jaysen Werth ($126 million) and Dan Haren ($45 million) remind me why I’m paying $9 for a lite beer. And it reminds me of the Pirates.

So, if I’m going to trade in my self-imposed baseball isolation for the big-market Nats, it only feels right if you do it with class.

Oh, and can you score some runs?

Film @ Egypt: Ahmed, Ambulance-Beater + 5 Videos

steve-liftRockEgypt, for me at least, is not one of those places you can parachute in and feel at home. It’s intense, with its own pronounced contours and customs.

A Washington, DC-based organization hired me to go to Cairo and film for four days. As DP and director, I’d pick up a unit producer and driver in country, (When I’m back home, I’ll write and edit a short documentary film).

Here’s a 1-minute clip from some stuff I shot on day 3 on a nature preserve. Check out the underwater clips!

Day 1 starts early. After a couple interviews, it gets fun. Khalil runs the agribusiness unit of a large company, so I decide to put us on motorbikes, winding through the vineyards on the way to his staff. Anytime you can ride on the back of a motorcycle, filming, and get paid for it, it’s good times . . . What a blast! Here’s a quick clip:

I decide to do Khalil’s interview in the greenhouse, since it’s quieter and there’s some shade. I get set up, using my Litepanel LED, then wait a bit until the golden hour is just right. Here’s a still (no color grading):

kstill-2

Anytime I can complete three interviews and some creative b-roll on day 1 in a new country, it feels great. This rosy feeling of accomplishment takes a hit, however, when my “unit producer” informs me she needs to “spend some time in the office” on day 2. She’ll be leaving me with the driver for beauty shots Tuesday around Cairo.

Anytime you can ride on the back of a motorcycle, filming, and get paid for it, it’s good times . . . What a blast!

This is well and good, except I speak no Arabic and Ahmed, my driver, speaks about 57 words of English.

Ahmed driver
Despite a language divide, Ahmed and I become fast friends

Now, I’ve shot city b-roll in some crazy places before, from Harare to Baku and Manila to Mexico City, but nothing compares to Cairo. Old lady drivers make Manhattan cabbies look like Zen Buddhists. It’s manic. Somehow things function, but it’s tight, chaotic, and extraordinarily loud.

After a lengthy argument, my unit producer relents—only to call at 10:30pm. She’s not coming; driver to pick me up at 7am.

I feel abandoned, but there’s work to be done. This is what it’s like to be an independent documentary filmmaker — you move forward, you solve problems, you do it all: shoot, run audio, direct . . . and I was ready to learn some Arabic along the way!

The next morning, Ahmed and I head to the pyramids. Without a unit producer, I wing it. Fortunately, Ahmed knows a guy who knows a guy. Because it is virtually impossible (and prohibitively expensive) to bring film equipment in the main tourist gate, I should get a horse and go around back where I can film the pyramids from a hilltop in the desert.

Good plan, right? Except the stable owner tries to get me to name the first price. Having lived in Cameroon—where people approach haggling with the vigor of Olympic athletes—I knew enough to wait.

“2,400 Egyptian pounds,” he offers. I laugh out loud. Stable owner wants $350. The next 20 minutes is a legendary back-and-forth where I feign disinterest, act like I’m walking away, and eventually settle on about $64. I immediately have this sinking feeling in my stomach that I could have gotten it for much cheaper, but I can’t haggle the whole day. I have a job to do.

A fence encircles the entire Giza pyramid area. It is reportedly 22 kilometers long. It probably helps the state capture more tourist dollars, because everybody has to enter the main gate, paying some 60 pounds.

Skirting the pyramid fence from the slum side is a start contrast. Dilapidated storefronts advertise horse tours or all-terrain vehicles. I pass a dead horse, a cemetery. Then we enter the desert:

mohammed-donkey
Muhammad knows no English, but is a nice boy who carries my slider to our destination. Thanks!

My guide, Ali, complains how tourism is way down since the revolution. He has a winning smile, and fortunately for me, a background in TV. When we finally reach the distant hilltop, and I capture the footage I want, Ali takes my camera and directs me with the confidence of a commercial director:

steve-hold-pyramidsteve-jump steve-liftRock

What saves the rest of day 2 is Ahmed, the driver. Every time I want to get out of the van and film, he makes it happen. Alternately, he charms security guards, tips people to watch our van, and finagles our way behind locked gates. Thank you Ahmed! You are a lifesaver.

At Muhammad Ali Mosque at sunset, Ahmed and I capture a stunning silhouette of this historic building:

Day 3 promises adventure. We’re accompanying the CEO of the company to an innovative pilot project where they’re raising seabass in a saline lake, Al Fayyum. The drive is only 150 kilometers, but because we start in central Cairo, it takes four hours.

Despite the 95-degree heat, this is my favorite day. Any time you can film on a wooden rowboat and underwater with a GoPro on a monopod, it’s cool. The clip posted up top is from this day.

The rest of the afternoon we take our time heading back to Cairo. At golden hour, we come across a family harvesting wheat. While my unit producer (back with us today) stays in the van on her phone, Ahmed jumps out with me. He spreads some small tips around to the grandfather and the children just to say “thanks,” as I film the family in action:

We continue down a rural road. The light is so nice, I jump out. Soon, outgoing young men gather around. They’re curious. Ahmed explains what I’m up to, and they enjoy hamming it up for the camera:

Day 4, I do an interview, spend some time with the company, and then spend an afternoon getting broll around the city. At sunset, Ahmed invites me for “koshari.” It’s yummy, and a fitting end to an intense week.

Because my flight departs at 4:35am, I awake at 1am, and Ahmed picks me up at 1:30. What we don’t count on is a big accident on a bridge, and I’m dangerously close to missing my flight. We’re going nowhere. And what’s not helping is a sea of gawkers who arrive on motorbikes, park them on the only functioning lane, and start directing traffic of their own accord. Where’s the police? Where’s emergency services?  . . . At a snail’s pace, we creep forward to the scene, which has the vibe of a democracy demonstration more than a traffic accident. At that moment, Ahmed spies an opening. An ambulance breaks free from the scrum. Ahmed reacts. We are hot on its tail, and race through the city at breakneck speed.

Eventually, even the ambulance is going too slow. Ahmed, with commentary, leaves the ambulance in his dust!

I make my flight! And head back to Washington, D.C. Thanks my friend . . .

Cherry Blossoms: Naked and Famous

silhouetteEvery spring here in D.C., the cherry blossoms come out and the city shuts down. I decided to go to the tidal basin for a few hours and take part in the mayhem . . . through my camera lens.

I set up at three locations: by the MLK, Jr. Memorial, around the corner facing the Washington Monument; and across the polo grounds on the banks of the Potomac. I brought the Canon 5D Mark III, the MYT Works glider, and several lenses: 16-35mm, 24-105mm, and 100-400mm.

I didn’t have a shooting plan. I was just having fun. Lots of tourists stepped through the frame, smiling, happy, with good energy. A Japanese woman with friends. A picnic at water’s edge. The golden hour gave way to blue.

I edited the footage today. I decided to use “Jilted Lovers” by the New Zealand band, The Naked and Famous. What inspiration? I pictured that Japanese woman. What if these lyrics were her story? What would capture her eye? What would she be thinking? Would she give in to bittersweet nostalgia? Or could she find release in the beauty all around her?

I decided to go to the tidal basin for a few hours and take part in the mayhem . . . through my camera lens.

The clip runs just short of 3 minutes. Hope you like it.

Salt & Ice: A Cyclist’s Confession

It took a day to thaw to write this. On the eve of President’s Day, I’m tipping back single malts with Triathlete Jay, in close proximity to ex-Cat 3 racer Ron. And I get peer pressured. In a “good” way (photo credit, not of me).

“Going riding tomorrow, Steve?” asks Triathlete Jay, the hint of an evil grin apparent, to which I confidently respond, “Sure!”

This is the hard time of year to be a cyclist. Yes, I’ve cross-trainied on running trails, attended co-ed spin classes, and watched documentaries on Netflix from my Kurt Kinetic.

But it’s a chore. And it’s nowhere close to the fun of riding a bike outdoors.

Yesterday, I was excited to get outdoors for the first time in about a month. At 7am, the mercury’s quivering at 25 degrees. I meet up with Jay, Erik, and Dave—all motivated by fear since signing up for Lake Placid Ironman. Cycle Guru Phil somehow . . . feels . . . no . . . cold.

By mile 15, we pass Great Falls Park on the shores of the Potomac. And the temperature drops. My fingertips, encased in bulky ski gloves, are itchy and bulbous. I am unthirsty, but remind myself to drink. Yet my “insulated” water bottles are frozen shut. Shaking vigorously, I manage to coax out a semi-liquid the consistency of a 7-11 Slurpee. Meanwhile, the ice blocks that were my feet (despite the foot warmers) are taking over my ankle like gangrene.

Stinger Waffles are concrete discs. Slurpee water is in solitary confinement. I make the unwise decision to not eat or drink, and just ride.

My face is crinkly for the dried sweat-salt. I become obsessed with avoiding the patches of black ice on the shoulder of the road. As I bonk, I withdraw, focusing on the pedaling; I flex my cheeks and feel the salt. Salt and ice. Ice and salt.

About 8 hours later, some friends are over for dinner. It’s President’s Day, and what better way to celebrate? Yes, I’m still exhausted from the ride, but I feel myself rebounding after an afternoon of sluggishness . . . Their middle-school son, ostensibly good-natured, opens the stopwatch on his phone. “Are you ready for a challenge?” he smiles. Maybe the hint of an evil grin apparent.

The boy shakes salt into my palm. Then places an ice cube in it. “Close your hand,” he instructs, “squeeze hard, and see how long you can go.”

I’m 20 years removed from science instruction of any kind, so I don’t see this one coming. When the zapping begins, it’s mild at first . . . until its not. After 1 minute and 9 seconds, the stopwatch clicks, and I’m bent over the sink, glorious water flowing, punked by a middle-school science geek.

My blisters are nowhere near what you’ll see if you Google “salt and ice challenge.” That’s good. But today I have to ask myself: Am I too old for such craziness? Am I too old for 50-mile bike rides in 25-degree weather?  . . . Not sure. Ask me next weekend.

Photo from Huffpo article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/30/salt-and-ice-challenge-12-year-old-badly-injured_n_1640429.html

A Dose of Inspiration

Sometimes all it takes is a 7-year old on a moped to remind you why life is so awesome! Here’s a sneak peak from another episode of this new TV series called “Survivor Tales,” about cutting-edge medicine and the brave people who stand to benefit from advances.

I went to North Carolina to film Liviya. Liviya was struck with a rare blood disorder called Aplastic Anemia. My director, Liz Hodge, and I spent several days with her family – reliving the horror, celebrating the recovery, and enjoying life at school, with friends, around town. And having had this near brush with death, the entire family was reveling in every moment!

One late afternoon during a break from filming, I looked up to see Liviya on a mini-moped. She went off-road, on a bee-line for Liz, rambling over tree roots. At the last minute, she veered away, disappearing around the garden, only to reappear again with the most uninhibited joyous smile I’ve ever seen.

I’m fortunate to be shooting and editing a documentary series of substance, with real people surviving real issues — in stark departure from the manufactured drama of reality TV. I’m so glad to have met this family, that Liviya is healthy, and we’re in a place where we continue to search for cures for even the rarest of diseases.

Shattered Sky: A Whirlwind of Good

Since the March 22 premiere of Shattered Sky at the DC Environmental Film Festival, it’s been a whirlwind of good: NY Times coverage and lots of contacts with festivals, colleges, and activists who want to play the film.

Most importantly, our Shattered Sky team is growing, and setting a solid foundation for a campaign to make a huge impact on the issues come September – the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol, the international ozone treaty.

The New York Times article quoted me well: “Shattered Sky is not about the science. It’s about what a responsible leader does when there’s a good chance the science is right. It’s important to remember that the first draft of the ozone treaty wasn’t perfect. It was a first step. It showed the world that America was committed to lead — and that made all the difference.”

The festival was super. Expertly run, our screening was super packed. We had Sunshine Mendez moderating, with Rolling Stone editor Jeff Goodell joining Dan Evans and me on stage for the panel afterwards.

We had a private reception at the nearby Hotel Rouge following the panel, with about 100 people. National Wildlife Federation CEO Larry Schweiger talked about the educational partnership with Shattered Sky.

I’m personally really excited about this, and will write more as it continues to take shape. The outreach will focus primarily on high school and college. It will be national. It will be a combined science and civics curriculum. And it will focus on the positive message that America led the world to a solution on the ozone crisis during the Reagan Administration—and we can do it again on energy and climate.

If you’re on Facebook, you can see the photos of the film, the vibe, and the party.

It’s been a crazy month, but has exceeded all my expectations. Thanks to everybody for all you’re doing to get our campaign going. You know who you are!

NIH Research and the Lives it Touches

Had a shoot today at the National Institute of Health. Connected with a physician who is an expert on aplastic anemia. Spent some time in his lab. Did an interview. All for an episode of Bench to Bedside, a science documentary TV series that I’m shooting, editing, and writing.

Something he said really stuck with me. He said the American taxpayer is helping people around the world. We fund NIH. NIH does all kinds of research, there in Bethesda, Maryland, but also in collaboration with Universities around the nation. This research often centers on extremely rare diseases, even those that you don’t see much in the US. Gradually, with a lot of time, money, and expertise, our researchers indentify answers. As cures emerge, the world benefits.

In the case of aplastic anemia, Europe initially made great strides, and then US helped advance cures. Only 30 years ago, this disease was an immediate death sentence. Today, it’s on the verge of being something we can control. Instead of children dying within months and years, they can live full lives. Now, that’s a great bit of good news.

MLK Day & A New Memorial

It was cold and bright today at the MLK Memorial on the Mall in DC. Lots of people cycled through inspirational quotes, craned their necks up at the towering stone likeness, and hammed it up for photos on the banks of the Tidal Basin.

It’s fitting that the new Memorial for Dr. King is located between the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Monument. Lincoln kept our country together and hastened the demise of slavery. Jefferson espoused (if he did not always live) the ideals that distinguished our young country from all others.

There’s been a lot of press about Dr. King’s mien. Is he too angry, imposing?

I wanted to decide for myself. I checked it out up close; from far away. For me, it’s the right tone. Fighting discrimination has been a long, bitter battle. You don’t get there with a smile and a pat on the back. Like Congressman Andrew Young (who I interviewed last month), you do it with with an iron resolve, an uncompromising commitment to non-violence, and perhaps a strong faith.

Dr. King fought the powers that be with that approach. His message was confrontational. Upending institutionalized injustice always is.

With a friend . . . and Dr. King.

And that’s why i think the Memorial will keep growing on me. It’s good to see Dr. King’s message in that stone just as much as his visage. And it’s a credit to our country that we’ve put him right there on the Mall smack dab between our elected Presidents.

It’s a reminder that citizens like you and me — despite unjust laws or even public opinion — can still make this nation a better place.

That’s something I can believe in.


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