Friday, May 30, 2008

Disaster averted

Lately it seems like I've been writing a lot about the things that have gone wrong on bike rides. For once it's nice to write about something that could have gone wrong but didn't. Last weekend, a few of us were planning a memorial day ride through the Boise mountains. The route we had planned was about 150 miles, very few of them flat.

As I was getting my bike cleaned and lubed for the ride, I looked at my rear tire and noticed this:In case you can't tell, that's the casing of my tire exposed through the rubber. The tire has about 1500 miles on it, and I knew it was getting worn, but I hadn't been getting any flats, so I figured I'd keep riding on it until it became a problem. The smart thing to do would have been to buy a replacement tire to have at the ready when the problems arose. But I am not nearly practical enough to do something like that, even though I thought about it on dozens of occasions.

Fortunately, I noticed it before the ride began. Unfortunately, all the shops were closed by then. It took me exactly one phone call to find a replacement tire.

"Hello, Ladd?"
"Hey, I've worn through the rubber on my rear tire. Do you happen to have a spare sitting around?"
"Let's see, I've got a cyclocross tire, a 28 from my daughter's bike, how about a new 23--Vredestein Fortezza?"
"I'll be right over."

He could have charged me whatever he wanted, and I'd have paid it. But he stocked up on those tires when they were on sale and said $25 would be more than enough (he initially suggested $20). Aren't friends great? Especially the kind that ride bikes. Then again, I don't think I have any of the other kind.

Unfortunately, we called off the ride due to thunderstorms in the mountains and did something much shorter instead. Oh well, at least I have a good tire now.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Technical incompetence

I work for a very large tech company. As such, many people who don't work with me think I know a lot about technology and how to do stuff. These people are wrong. May I enter into evidence Exhibit A, my writeup of my Moab trip. Those of you who read the writeup probably wondered where the pictures were. To me they showed up just fine, because they were hosted on my machine. To the rest of you, they were invisible. My apologies.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Six days in Moab

Another trip to Moab is in the rear-view mirror. We've been back for a week, but organizing the photos and doing a writeup took a lot longer than I thought it would.

Upon arrival in town, our fist order of business (other than a bite to eat) was the Slickrock trail. I've done Slickrock enough that it would have been ho-hum except that this was my first time on my 29er. All I can say is that the bike and trail seemed to have been made to go together. The big wheels made easy work of some of the trail obstacles that were challenging in the past.

One of the lines I had never cleaned before was a spur we dubbed "Road to Paris," since Chris Paris was the first person we'd seen clean it. I gave it a shot and didn't make it. Brad tried it and failed. Paul tried it and didn't get it. Chris took a crack at it and couldn't get over the hump. We were ready to give up and move on when Paul took another run at it and made it all the way up. Crap. Now I had to do it. After one more failed attempt, I nailed it, with Brad right behind me. Enough fun there, time to move on.

I've never not made it up Cogs to Spare, but I've never made it on my first attempt either. This time it was a piece of cake. The only thing hard about it was that it's a long, steep climb. But the little crux move was like running over a garden hose, where in the past it has been enough to knock me off balance.

The rest of the day went fairly smoothly other than Steve K's ongoing drivetrain problems. His chain and cassette worked just fine on the tame stuff at home, but when tested on the steep slickrock, kept skipping under load. We replaced it the next day, but walking was required on many of the climbs. Steve K made the comment "I've never wanted to climb steep hills so much until I couldn't."

On the home stretch of the trail, I decided to descend a little gap in the rocks rather than up top where the "trail" indicates. This was one of those gaps with little basins scattered throughout the bottom. Since there'd been rain earlier in the week, these little basins were filled with water. I rolled through the first one with no problem. Hit the second one thinking it was an inch or two deep--wrong. Some witnesses indicate the water was hub deep. Didn't matter, because I was over the bars and wet. No injuries to anything other than my ego, but it was enough to win the endo award for the week. Not really the kind of attention I wanted, but someone's got to win it I guess.

Thursday was our big shuttle day. Hazzard County wasn't open due to snow, so we had to settle for Kokopelli to UPS to LPS to Porcupine Rim. While this trail certainly would have been rideable on the 29er, that's not to say it would have been fun. So I went to Chile Pepper and rented a freeride bike for the day. It's been a long time since I've been on a big bike, and it was a ton of fun. Brad was on his 7 point, so I pretty much just followed him and tried to nail everything he nailed. Which is not to say that we did everything, as we had the sense of self preservation to watch and take pictures while others crashed down the staircase, without actually hitting it ourselves.

I'm always amazed, though, at how much worse a line seems when you're at the top looking down versus watching it on video or looking at pictures after the fact. This little drop seemed like a really big deal at the time, but now that I've watched the video, I'm surprised I balked at it at first and was still hesitant right up to the point where I nailed it.

When we were trying to decide what trails to ride before the trip, I was pretty lukewarm about doing a big shuttle on Porcupine Rim, mostly because it's a rough trail and can really beat up both rider and bicycle. But the consensus was to do this ride, so I embraced it, made the most of it with a big bike, and had a great time. Now I can't imagine going all the way to Moab and not riding that trail, nor can I imagine not doing it on a long-travel bike. It was that fun. Kudos go to Paul N, who flew (himself) in Wednesday night, grabbed a rental bike, and made the most of the shuttle trip with us Thursday morning. Paul is a roadie who hasn't ridden a MTB in 15 years, and this is how we introduced him to Moab.

After a bite to eat, we headed up to Arches so we could hike up to delicate arch. I have no idea how many times I have done this hike, but I never get sick of it. The arch is beautiful in photos (and there are lots of 'em!), but there is nothing like coming around that last rock and seeing it right there in front of you.

Friday we split up the group and headed in different directions. Paul N, having arrived later and missing Slickrock, wanted to ride that trail, so he and Mark P headed over there, while Chris, Steve K, Steve A, Paul, Brad, Eric, and I went the other direction for our own epic ride. (You'll notice that we have a real shortage of naming diversity in the group with two Pauls, two Steves, and two Marks; things only got worse the next day when my brother, Steve, showed up to ride with us. Perhaps next year we'll all just call ourselves Bruce.)

The intended route for the larger group was to ride Gemini Bridges to Gold Bar Rim to Blue Dot to Poison Spider, then back on the road. We saved ourselves a long slog on the road by having Mark P and Paul N drop us off at the Gemini Bridges trailhead. It was a tad hot, and by the time we got to the top of the first big climb on Gemini Bridges, Eric wasn't feeling well. He seriously considered bailing out on the ride, but decided to stick it out. He ended up being glad he did.

Gold Bar Rim was a lot of fun, with lots of chances to climb technical moves. Steve A really stepped it up and exhibited the typical Moab "day 3 mojo." It usually takes about two days to get used to riding there before a rider is comfortable opening it up and really being aggressive. Steve was on my wheel all day and cleaning some pretty impressive moves that stymied even some of the most experienced riders.

Blue Dot is a relatively new trail and probably not "official," much like Sovereign and UPS were not too long ago. It runs more or less parallel to parts of Gold Bar Rim and Golden Spike, but instead of winding back and forth across the top of the mesa, it runs along the edge, including being right at the edge from time to time. Everyone but Paul got off and pushed the bike at the spot where this picture was taken. We all know that it's as wide as a sidewalk and none of us would worry about whether we could ride our bikes on a sidewalk without falling off, but the exposure is just enough to prompt us not to test things. Paul was comfortable on the sidewalk and just rode across.

Besides riding the cliffhangers, Paul does some remarkable stuff on his stumpjumper. It's a XC bike, but he was still rolling it through technical lines and not really hesitating on anything. He's a funny rider, because he's pretty reserved when we're riding at home, but we get down to Moab, and it's as if someone else shows up and starts pushing the envelope.

At the top of Poison Spider/Portal trail, we ran into the Vehicross rally. We had seen them in town and were making jokes about how they had organized a rally and both of them had shown up. We were surprised to find more than a dozen at the top of Poison Spider. They were quite a bit more surprised to find out we had ridden our bikes there from Gemini Bridges.

As we made our way down Poison Spider, we rode along some slickrock that we thought was the trail but that turns out wasn't. When we finally reconnected with the actual trail, we couldn't tell which way we were supposed to go. We asked some guys coming up in Jeeps, who pointed one direction. We should have done just the opposite. The direction they pointed took us on Poison Spider loop, a piece of trail we were not familiar with. While it did in fact get us back to where we wanted to go, we had to cross several big, deep sand traps to get there, including one that had to have been a quarter mile long. Ick.

Once back at the Poison Spider trailhead, whatever it was that was making Eric sick earlier in the ride decided that it needed to come out. So we waited. And waited some more. I was out of water, and it was hot, so Brad, Matt, and I decided to take off down the road so we could stop at the spring on our way back into town. We got our water and cooled off a bit and then got back onto the road right behind the rest of our group. We spent the rest of the afternoon cooling off in the pool.

My wife and kids and my brother and his family arrived shortly after our ride, so the kids joined us for a nice soak before heading over to Pasta Jay's so we could carbo load and do it all again the next day.

Saturday was our last day of riding, and Amassa Back was our destination. Our original plan was to do Sovereign on Saturday, and I brought my rigid single speed with designs on riding it on Sovereign and letting my brother use my 29er. Amassa Back is less suited for a rigid single speed, but I brought the bike all the way down there, so I may as well ride it, right? Brad rode his 7 Point, making Brad's Yeti available for Steve to ride, which he (wisely) chose over my 29er hardtail.

I'm pretty sure the last time Steve rode a mountain bike was last year when we were in Moab. That didn't seem to slow him down though, and he didn't even hesitate rolling down this line that caused the otherwise fearless Mark P to pause.

The trail itself was a lot of fun, though I will say going up was more enjoyable than going down on the single speed. I was surprised at some of the moves I was able to do on the SS--I think the higher gearing forced me to go faster, which gave me enough momentum to get over some of the big step-ups. Matt's a strong enough climber that he spend most of the week off the front while the rest of us struggled along behind him. On Amassa Back, it was a bit different, since the single forced me to go faster up the hills. I yo-yoed with Matt most of the day, passing him, then stopping to catch my breath while he passed me, then repeating the process. He made the comment that he could always hear me coming because I was breathing so hard.

Once at the top of the mesa, we had stunning views all around us, including vistas of the world's most scenic potash plant (intentionally left out of the photos).

No photos of the way down, as Steve and I had to leave the group and book it back to town for the sake of marital bliss. Would have been nice to stick around, as Brad demonstrated his ample skills on the many drops and booters along the trail. On the way down, I got a shoutout from another rigid single speed rider coming up the trail. Rigid single speeds are like their own religion, though I'm not the most devout of members.

One of the cool things that Chris does every year is an awards ceremony on the final day. Chris organized the first of these Moab trips for our group eight years ago, and he has been back every year since, even though he moved away several years ago. Each time he puts together some nice awards and lets the guys vote on who the winners should be. This year's awards were:

Rookie of the year: Steve A
Climber: Matt
Descender: tie between Paul and Mark P, but since Mark has won this award pretty much every time he has come and already had some lock-on grips (the prize for the award), he gave it to Paul.
Endo: yours truly
Most Impressive Rider: Brad--he locked this up by day 2, but kept on impressing. Brad can do it all, uphill and down.

While I was hanging out with the family on Saturday night, the rest of the guys did a night ride on Sovereign. Mark P thought that was the highlight of the trip--I'll need to make sure and give that one a go next year.

The rest of our time in Moab was spent hanging out with the family. We did some nice hikes in Arches, including Park Avenue, which we had never done before.

We also took the kids to their favorite spot--the sandbox between two fins on the Devil's Garden hike. I think we have as much fun as they do just watching them play and run around in the sand.

Before heading home on Monday, we took the kids to hike up to delicate arch. Our youngest fell asleep in the car on the way there, so she and I stayed in the car while everyone else took off on the hike. She only slept about fifteen more minutes, so once she woke, I put her in the pack and hauled her up the trail. We met the rest of the family at the top. Now all of our kids have done that hike, but our oldest holds the record for doing it earliest, since we carried her up there when she was five weeks old.

On the way down, our one-going-on-twelve baby decided that she needed to get out of the pack and hike on her own. It was pretty funny watching her stumble along the trail and stubbornly refuse to hold a hand or receive any other assistance. Eventually I tricked her into getting back into the pack, which saved us from spending all afternoon hiking that last half mile of trail.

Going to Moab is like a ski trip with guaranteed powder. No matter how often I go, I never want to leave, and I always look forward to going back. There's just something magical about that place--even when it's hot and miserable from a weather standpoint, it's still fun. You just can't get much better.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Got the email (finally!) confirming I am actually in for Lotoja this year. Good thing, since I had already started raising money on the assumption I would be. I'm well ahead of where I was last year from a training standpoint and with my surgery shouldn't have to worry about my knee acting up. I'm optimistic that I'll have a good race--as long as the weather holds.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Gavia

In the 1988 Giro d'Italia, Andy Hampsten endeared himself to Italian cycling fans with his legendary performance on the Gavia, a 2,621 meter/8,599 foot pass high in the Lombardy region of Italy. The stage was marked by heavy snows and sub-freezing temperatures, making an already difficult climb something truly extreme. Although Hampsten didn't win the stage (he came in second), he took the overall race lead and held it to become the first and only American to win the Giro.

The remarkable part about this stage was not the snow and cold--such conditions are not unheard of in the high mountains of Italy. The remarkable part was that the stage didn't finish on the mountain top, but required a treacherous descent as well. In Hampsten's own account of the experience, he quotes Italian cycling great Francisco Moser, who said "I have seen stages where it finished on a climb in conditions like this, but never with such a descent."

Yesterday after work, my brother and I decided to head out on a road ride up Emigration Canyon in Salt Lake City. The weather had been wet and windy earlier in the day, but it was clear and relatively mild when we departed. Our intention was to climb to the pass at Big Mountain, a little over 20 miles and 3700 vertical feet from our origin.

Things went fine up Emigration Canyon, but on the climb up Little Mountain, it started to rain lightly. No big deal, just made things a bit wet. We were making good time, so we thought we'd be OK. On the way up Big Mountain, though, I noticed that the rain was turning to snow. I wasn't alarmed, though, and actually thought about the account I read in Bicycling Magazine of Hampsten's ride on the Gavia as I made my way up the switchbacks. At the top, I snapped a picture with my cell phone to document the event, thinking the climb and descent in the snow would make a good story.

It was cold at the top, but I felt OK and figured the descent would be fast. I put my phone back in my jersey, and we started down the road. I think we made it 500 meters. On the climb up, we were moving slow enough and working hard enough that we didn't notice the cold so much. But on the way down, we were wet, weren't working hard, and had the additional 30mph wind to chill us even deeper. I've been hypothermic before, so I know what my limits are. And I knew this descent was beyond them. I pulled off to the side of the road, and told my brother I was calling our dad to come get us. I felt like we were little kids again and needed dad to bail us out, but neither of us cared.

Once the rescue party was called, we tried limping down the road just to make a bit of progress. I was shivering so bad that I couldn't keep the bike going straight, and my hands were cold and numb to the point I couldn't grip the brake levers. Plus moving was a lot colder than just sitting still. So we pulled off to the side of the road and waited. My brother had nothing but a jersey and arm warmers to keep him warm. I had a long-sleeve base layer and a jersey. Both of us had bare legs. It's silly to think that neither of us even brought a vest or a jacket considering what the weather had been like all day. It took about 20 minutes for the cavalry to arrive with coats, hot chocolate, cookies, and most important, shelter from the elements.

At the beginning of the climb we had ridden past Donner Park and joked about the foreboding nature of having a park so named at the base of the climb. On the climb up, I thought about how much worse it could be if instead of a trace of snow, we had several inches, like Hampsten dealt with. I figured I'd have to take it slow and easy to avoid going down on the switchbacks. But the thought never crossed my mind that I wouldn't make the descent at all.

Hampsten's team had the foresight to raid the local ski shop for gloves, hats, jackets, and other cold weather gear. I like to think that properly equipped, we would have rallied the descent rather than bailing out. But I'm probably wrong.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Today I leave for my spring Moab trip. I know what you're thinking--weren't you just there? Yes, I was. Well kind of. I never actually entered Moab city limits. And it was for RAWROD, so it's not really the same as a Moab trip.

Here are some things I'm looking forward to:
  • Riding my 29er: this is my first true Moab trip on the 29er. I had it with me last year, but we didn't ride anything but Slickrock. I'm looking forward to getting it out on some other trails.
  • Moab diner: the nice thing about riding bikes all day is that I can eat a milkshake every night with a lot less guilt. It won't be guilt-free, though, because that's not how I'm wired.
  • Friends: the first three days will just be hanging out with the guys and riding bikes. There's something restorative about having nothing on my agenda but riding my bike.
  • Family: wife and kids plus my bro and his family are coming on Friday. It's a ton of fun to see the kids running around together and having a blast in the giant sandbox that is Southern Utah redrock country. And I love just hanging out with my bro and his wife. Not to mention my wife and I honeymooned in Moab, so there's nothing better than being there with her.
  • Not working: there is absolutely nothing I look forward to about going to work each day. I won't miss it and will certainly dread going back next week.
Wanna know what would make the trip even better? If I came back and my handful of readers had donated to the Huntsman Cancer Foundation.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Fighting for Susan

I'm not one to be silent for long, so now that my moment of silence for the Nelson family has ended, it's time to get down to business. My brother, Steve, and I have decided to use our Lotoja ride this year as a means to raise money for the Huntsman Cancer Institute, where Susan had her hip replaced last fall.

My goal is to raise the equivalent of one paycheck for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation. To do this I'm seeking 80 donors willing to contribute the equivalent of one hour's wages. Given that my blog is small potatoes compared to Elden's, that means all six of you readers are on the hook to make a donation.

It's really easy: all you have to do is go to and click on the "make a contribution" box on the right-hand side of the page. Enter your contact information, your credit or debit card number, click submit, and you're done. It will take you less than two minutes--I know because I just primed the pump for you.

I know how these things work--if you don't do it right away, you'll forget. So do it now. Click the link, take your wallet out of your pocket or purse, and punch in the numbers. I'd like to get to $800 in donations by the end of next week. Let's see if we can't get there even faster.

Thanks for your generosity!

Oh, and by the way, Lance Armstrong visited the Huntsman Cancer Institute earlier this week and liked what he saw. He's pulling for Susan to win just like the rest of us.

Monday, May 5, 2008

A moment of silence

Not quite three years ago, I started reading Since then, I have read almost every day. I have met Elden, ridden with him, consider him a friend. And so I have nothing to say about this news other than I am deeply saddened and angered by the injustice of it all. I can think of nothing to say to help and so will observe a moment of silence for the Nelson family. May God bless you and shower you with miracles.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Gas tax moratorium

Apparently John McCain is getting his economic advice from Carly Fiorina. By his own admission, McCain doesn't know much about economics. So of all the people in the world to choose as an advisor, why Carly? If McCain needed some advice on how to waste taxpayer/shareholder money on useless publicity antics, I'm sure Carly could provide some useful advice. But when the economy is in the crapper and needs a jumpstart, why on earth would anyone think she'd have a good idea?

Of all the ideas McCain has ever had, a moratorium on the gas tax has got to be among the dumbest. Over dinner a few days ago, we were talking about the horrific situation in Haiti as a result of rising food commodity prices. My nine-year-old asked a simple yet reasonable question, "why don't they lower the price of rice?" So I took the opportunity to explain to her the basics of market prices and supply and demand.

I asked her if there were ten people wanting to buy rice but only enough rice for five of them, who would get the rice?

"The five willing to pay the most," was her reply.

And if the first were willing to pay $10, the second $9, the third $8, the fourth $7, and the fifth, $6 for that rice, how much will all of them pay?

She thought for a second, then said "six dollars."

Six dollars, I told her, was therefore the market price for rice. It wasn't set by the sellers, but rather by how much the buyers were willing to pay. And so long as the supply doesn't change, the price will always be set by how much the buyer of the last available unit is willing to pay irrespective of whether that six dollars is all going towards the seller or includes taxes, tariffs, or other fees.

This made sense to her intuitively, and I congratulated her for mastering a basic economic principal that many voting adults fail to grasp.

And apparently 2/3 of viable presidential candidates fail to understand this one either, because so long as the supply of gasoline remains unchanged, removing the federal gasoline tax will do nothing beyond putting the government another $10 billion into debt. Because a given supply will sell for whatever the buyer of the last available unit is willing to pay for it. And if that 18.4 cents per gallon doesn't go towards infrastructure, it will go to those selling the gasoline. But the market price will remain unchanged.

The part about all of this that I find most troubling is not that such a half-baked idea is actually being proposed by presidential candidates. I actually don't think that any of the three are truly so ignorant as to think it would work. It's that two of the three think that the voting public is stupid enough to think that it would work, and since it's too late to actually implement the idea, it's a political gimmick that the candidates can safely use, confident that their bluff will never be called.

I have no delusions that the American people are wise and deliberate decision makers when it comes time to vote. That should be evident to anyone that takes a serious look at the idiots we send to congress. But it's insulting to know that the candidates' assessment of our collective intelligence is such that they can make a suggestion as pathetic as a moratorium on gasoline taxes a campaign issue and actually use it to sway voters in their favor. I'm sure that if it were legal, they'd hand out five dollar bills at the campaign rallies if they thought that would influence voters. And I also wouldn't be surprised if, under the right circumstances, that same five dollars is equal or greater than the value a candidate places on his or her own integrity.

If anyone really wants to do something about gas prices, go ride a bike. The supply curve isn't moving, but we can move the demand curve a step to the right.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I'd hate to be John Arne Riise right now

Yesterday Chelsea beat Liverpool to advance to the finals of the UEFA Champions League. Since Manchester United beat Barcelona earlier in the week, it will be an all-England final. Which I guess is really only cool if you're a fan of English football. Otherwise it's the equivalent of baseball's subway series, bay bridge series, or a (still-theoretical) L.A. gridlock series. Pretty interesting if you live in the town where it's occurring, but less engaging for everyone else in the world.

As you should be aware, I despise Chelsea. Loathe them. Hope that they'll be relegated and never contend for any title again. And now they're in the finals, and since they beat Man U over the weekend, are also contending for the double. And I'm sure John Arne Riise would love to have a mulligan. Literally seconds before the final whistle in the first leg, Riise scored an own goal, effectively giving Chelsea the advantage on away goals.

Yesterday's match was hard-fought, with Chelsea striking first on a stinger by Didier Drogba. Fernando Torres leveled the score, and there it stayed until the end of regulation. Liverpool were first to concede in extra time, which although a psychological blow, really didn't matter. They needed to score and if they did, could afford to concede one and still advance on away goals. Unfortunately, they conceded two in the first period of extra time. Liverpool got one back in the second extra period, but were unable to level, allowing Chelsea to advance.

Now both the Champions League as well as the Premiership are in the hands of the two sides who have dominated English football for the past three years. As an Arsenal supporter, this is hard to bear. My brother called me last week, before any of the Champions League semifinals, to ask me who I would support in the finals.

Chelsea was never an option. Liverpool would usually be his choice, but they've been to the finals twice in three years, and he felt like they'd had their turn. Barcelona is appealing at first blush just because Thierry Henry is there and it's hard not to support the former Gunner, particularly since his move to Barca was motivated by a desire to win the CL. But after attending a match at the Nou Camp, my bro was not impressed with the Barca fans and felt like they don't appreciate the talent they get to watch each game and certainly weren't the kind of people he'd wish to raise a trophy. Which leaves Manchester United.

As an Arsenal fan, is it even possible to get behind Man U and wish them success, particularly when they're vying for the double? When the alternative in both of those contests is Chelsea, the answer is a resounding yes.