Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What happened to bread machines?

When my wife and I got married, bread machines were all the rage. All the other couples that we knew who got married at around the same time got one as a wedding gift. We thought about putting one on our registry but ultimately chose not to. Turns out that was a good thing, as we scarcely have room in our kitchen now for all of the various tools and appliances my wife uses on a regular basis to wage war against my weight loss efforts. We certainly lack the space for something like a bread machine that would take up space and never get used.

I was reminded of bread machines today because the dear Mrs. came home from the store with bread flour that indicated right on the label that it was "perfect for bread machines." I found it surprising, but maybe market research has shown that the people who still have bread machines are the people buying bread flour. I would have thought that bread machines were for the relatively unsophisticated bakers who don't realize that all-purpose flour, while truly serviceable for a variety of uses, is ideal for neither bread nor cakes. Either way, there certainly can't be that many bread machines in service any more, as it's been years since I've seen one of those silly looking loaves with a bottom crust on top and a hole torn in one end at a church potluck.

Of course, I'm just speculating here, and it could be that millions of people are still using their bread machines and loving them. I'm not much of an authority on what's stylish or trendy. The last bandwagon I jumped on was 29" wheels, and I'm pretty sure I was at least three years late to that party.

The reality is that I don't get out much. In fact today was the first time in three days that I've been out at all for more than a few minutes. Sunday I didn't leave the house until 8:00 p.m. when I took the garbage out to the curb. Then yesterday a quick trip to the grocery store was my only exposure to sunlight.

Not that this is typical--it's just that I've been horribly sick the last couple of days. Knocking on death's door, in fact. Well not really, but I have had a head cold. I knew it was coming, and I'm frankly thrilled with the timing. It seems that every time I train for a really long event, I get sick and have to take time out from my training. Last year this happened right before Lotoja, and I was actually on antibiotics during the event (not a good thing). This time it happened with five weeks to spare, so I should be completely recovered before the big race. I just wish that instead of a head cold it could have been a stomach virus--that way it could have at least helped me with my weight loss.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The perks of being a blogger

The Fedex truck just stopped at my house and dropped off two pairs of Smartwool cycling socks. These are courtesy of Zach, who works at Smartwool, and whom I've never met but reads my blog (or at least read my entry about socks). Incidentally, not five minutes after the Fedex truck pulled away from my house, I got an email from Fedex confirming that my delivery was complete. My internal geek was duly impressed.

One pair is the PhD Cycling Ultralight Mini (shown above). The other is a very similar, yet-to-be-named short crew length (it goes almost to my calves rather than just above my ankles) pair of very similar construction. I would take a picture and show them to you, but Zach said they are a prototype, and I'm worried that they'd blow up or a ninja would come to my house and kill me if I went around showing everyone the top-secret stuff that Smartwool is working on. Either that, or I'm too lazy to take a picture of my own feet. Regardless, I'm going to start riding with a blow gun and poison darts in my jersey pocket so that if anyone sees me wearing these socks, I can kill him. I've already had those bladed hubs like on the chariot in Ben Hur mounted to my single speed, so don't even think about looking at my socks if you see me on a ride. (You may be relieved to know that the rumors about one of the stuntmen being killed during the filming of the chariot race are false.)

After I've had a chance to wear these socks for a while and really see what they're made of (besides wool, obviously), I'll do a little writeup here. I'll admit that since I got these socks for free, it's kind of hard to be objective about them. In fact, I'm wearing the top-secret pair while sitting here at the computer just because they were so comfy when I put them on that I didn't want to take them back off. Regardless of how this particular pair feel in my cycling shoes, I like Smartwool's corporate philosophy. It's refreshing to see a company that's about something more than making money. I'm a little fed up with organizations where every interest is subordinate to the almighty dollar.

These socks, incidentally, are the first benefit of any monetary value I have received from blogging. I think they're worth a little under $30 for both pair. Which means that I make less than a dollar an hour from blogging. My advice to myself would be: don't quit your day job. If I had a day job, that is. Now, if I can just find someone from Rudy Project who wants me to test sunglasses or someone from Louis Garneau with bib shorts for me to sample.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Way to go Tour of Germany

I recently read that the organizers of the Tour of Germany have told Saunier Duval they are no longer welcome. Good for them. Even though I'm pretty sure that the Tour of Germany occurs just so Jens Voigt can win a stage race each year, it's still an admirable move.

Zero tolerance to doping needs to be the standard. Rather than voluntarily withdrawing after a positive test, as the Saunier Duval team did following Ricco's ring of the dope-o-meter, the entire team should be kicked out on every positive. If the team pulls a rider on suspicion, as Rabobank did last year with Rasmussen, they should be allowed to stay. But only if they act before the positive occurs.

There's no way a rider can do something suspicious without teammates or staff catching on, so having them police each other rather than turning a blind eye would only help crack down on the problem. As exciting as it's been to watch John-Lee Augustyn and Vincenzo Nibali in this year's tour, neither should be there because Barloworld and Liquigas should have been shown the exit along with their doping riders.

I've mentioned before how fishy it seems that Amgen, a manufacturer of synthetic EPO, sponsors the Tour of California. I can't imagine why they'd do that unless they had a business interest in cycling. Moreover, I can't see how the event organizers can in good conscience take their money. It's a far cry from Roche, another maker of synthetic EPO, cooperating with the WADA to enable them to detect what I'm sure Ricco thought was an undetectable EPO product. I really don't see why Amgen, Johnson & Johnson, and everyone else who makes synthetic EPO aren't also adding a molecule to their product to make its detection simple and consistent.

The standard test for synthetic EPO is wrong more often than it's right, in favor of the cheaters, which I'm sure is how Ricco managed to convince the UCI his hematocrit was naturally above the UCI threshold. This prodigy with a high hematocrit was such a sensation that his team touted his blood composition in his online bio, though it was taken down hastily once the fraud was revealed.

As much as I'd like to see doping removed from cycling and every other sport, the last thing I want to see is a witch hunt. Johnny Schleck, father of Frank and Andy, had his car searched earlier today in the Grenoble area. I have no idea what the French equivalent of the fourth amendment is, or if there even is one. Nor do I know if, under French law, being the father of two pro cyclists satisfies the burden for probable cause to make a traffic stop and search the vehicle. If I were Johnny and had been searched for no reason beyond who my kids were, I'd be upset. At the same time, if my kids were riding clean but losing races to guys like Ricco, I'd be even more angry. For all I know, he voluntarily let them search the car to make a point.

I do believe that athletes in competition forfeit some of their civil liberties in order to ensure fair play, but where to draw the line is a difficult decision to make. For a long time, the fact that neither the USADA nor the WADA had ever thrown out a doping conviction led me to believe that something was afoul with the system. I'm moving more and more to the opinion that they never overturned a decision because there was never a basis for it, but there were dozens more cases they couldn't prosecute because the dopers were more sophisticated than the controls.

Indeed, as much as Lance Armstrong is still revered as a hero by so many in the American cycling community and the public at large, and as much as I admire his efforts to fight cancer, I simply can't get myself to believe that he raced clean. The evidence in From Lance to Landis is pretty damning, with in-depth personal accounts from people who have nothing to gain and a lot to lose by speaking out. But perhaps the most convincing evidence is that neither Jan Ulrich, the most talented cyclist of this generation, nor Ivan Basso could ever beat Lance. And both were doping. Sure Lance is a great talent, but to beat a doped Jan Ulrich requires something more than that.

All the talk of doping in cycling suggests that it's the sport with the biggest problem. Frankly, I think that's a bigger load of bull than Ricco's naturally high hematocrit. Cycling does a lot about addressing the doping problem. Meanwhile, the big three American sports ignore it almost completely. Sure they have testing and bans and things like that, but does anyone really believe that someone can be six foot six, 300 pounds, and run a 4.6 40 without performance enhancers? Look at American football and basketball players from 40 years ago and compare them to today. There's a lot more to the difference than weight training and better nutrition. Those two things will only get you so far. I'm sure football (soccer) players are also doping, but that's a sport like golf where skill is the first priority. Doping can help your stamina or speed, but I don't think there's a pill you can take to make you do this.

Other than the doping positives, it really has been a great tour to watch. I know Fatty was critical of the lack of time bonuses or team time trial and the course layout, but it has served to tighten up the race and keep several riders in contention all the way through the last time trial. I'm looking forward to Saturday and really hope these guys are clean. Because I want to believe that what I've seen over the last two and a half weeks is real.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lanterne Rouge

Last night, I decided to join up with some of the Team Reel Theatre guys as well as many other Boise club riders for the weekly Tuesday Nighter. I usually don't participate because I ride MTB on Tuesday nights with some friends, but this week I decided to hit the road for a change of pace. Normally the route for the Tuesday Nighter varies, but for the next couple weeks, the route is a half Bogus or Bogus Light: riding up Bogus Basin road to the forest service sign, eight miles and about 1900 feet of climbing.

The reason that the route is fixed is because the Olympic time trial route is very similar in distance and profile to a half Bogus, so Kristin Armstrong has been using the Tuesday Nighter to prepare for the Olympics. It's not like she even knows my name or anything, but I've seen her and said hello out on the road, and she's very nice and down to earth.

So I'm giving this big introduction just 'cuz I think it's cool that last night I got to ride with a world champion and Olympian. And it took her all of 0.8 second to drop me. Srsly. We were all just bunched up, chatting with those around us, wondering when the ride would start, when the guys at the front, including Kristin, started riding. By the time I got clipped in and made my first pedal stroke, there was already a gap.

It was really hard not to chase and try and catch up with at least the very end of the pack, but I knew from experience that I needed to just stay within myself and ride my own pace, or I would blow up. A little way up the road from me, I saw Kimberley from the Bob's Bicycles team, who was pedaling at about the pace I wanted to be going. So I pulled in next to her, and we chatted a bit about how it's hard not to chase.

My best efforts to stay within myself notwithstanding, I still had started faster than I wanted to, and it took me a good ten or fifteen minutes before I was at the pace I wanted and my heart rate was back where it needed to be. Once I got into a rhythm, I was able to sustain it through the steep sections and had enough left to push hard at the end. At one point, I saw Nate on the switchback above me, and I really wanted to catch him but ended up about 20 seconds behind. I finished in 42 minutes even, good enough for a personal best and on pace to get to the top in under 1:20. (My best is a little over 1:20, and I'd like to get to a 1:17 or so.)

If you've been reading long, you know that I've been trying to lose weight in order to become a faster climber. My weight loss goal is eight kilos, or about 18 pounds. So far, I'm down about six kilos, or 13 of the 18 pounds. According to what Michele Ferrari told Lance Armstrong, losing 1% body weight while maintaining the same wattage will allow a rider to climb 1% faster. I was a little concerned that I was losing wattage, because my experience does not bear this out. So I headed over to analyticcycling.com to see what Tom Compton had to say on the topic.

The 1% weight loss = 1% faster theorem would probably be valid if weight were the only variable in the equation. Unfortunately, there's also aerodynamic drag (however minimal that is at climbing speeds) and rolling resistance to consider. By Tom's math, a weight loss of 1 kilo or 1.25% of body weight for an 80kg cyclist will only yield a 0.75% faster time, at least on a hill with a profile like Bogus Basin Road, which I used for my analysis. So my eight kilo weight loss will only make me five minutes faster, rather than the eight to nine minutes I had hoped for.

The good news is that my wattage is apparently increasing a bit rather than decreasing, because on Saturday, I was five minutes faster to the top than I was at the beginning of the season, versus the three and a quarter minutes predicted by analytic cycling based on my weight loss to date. Today I was three minutes faster to the half way point versus the predicted 96 seconds. The really bad news, though, is that to yield the 10% improvement I was after on weight loss alone, I would need to lose a little over 13 kilos or about 30 pounds. Increasing my wattage now seems a lot easier than losing another 17 pounds.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lotoja 2007 Race Report

Lotoja 2008 is about six weeks away. Obviously it occupies significant mindshare in addition to being the focus of nearly every ride. I thought I would publish my 2007 race report as I get into the home stretch of my training for 2008.

My strategy was pretty simple: conserve as much energy as possible by drafting between the start and the climbs and then opportunistically find people to work with after that. This was fairly easy at first, as our group raced out at about 23 mph, with a couple of hammerheads out front who didn't seem to mind doing all the work.

About 20 miles into the race, we were caught by one of the relay groups who was going 1-2 mph faster. My brother Steve and I latched onto this group and made it all the way into the first feed zone without ever having to pull. 40 miles in, neither of us felt like we had done anything yet. The only problem that I had was that my knee was starting to feel a bit sore (I had a torn PCL and torn meniscus in my left knee, which required surgery six weeks after this event).

Our support crews stayed the night in Montpelier, so we used neutral support in Preston--topped off the bottles, one with water, one with gatorade, one with red bull, grabbed a banana and off again. We got into a paceline with some other riders that took us all the way into strawberry canyon where the road turns up. The climb was pretty uneventful except that my knee was starting to hurt a lot more. And then my back started to hurt. Usually when my back hurts, I just stand up out of the saddle and give it a chance to rest for a minute. But each time I stood, it felt like a nail was being shoved into my knee with each downstroke (upon completion of my surgery, the doctor told me the piece of torn meniscus had folded back onto itself and was being pinched with every pedal stroke--no wonder it hurt). So I suffered through the climb, not sure if I could continue on for the rest of the day.

Steve opened up a gap of about a minute or two on that first climb, but he needed a natural break at the top, so we started the descent together. Once we got through the real descent and had to pedal again, we pulled in behind a paceline being led by a huge dude in an Oscar the Grouch jersey. He pulled us 27-28 mph for a good five miles across the foothills above Montpelier. When he'd finally had enough, we thanked him for the pull, and he just asked us to stay with him and help him the rest of the way into town. There were about eight of us taking turns, and seven of us knew how to work together. Unfortunately, the guy right in front of me was one of those who thinks he needs to sprint ahead sporadically when it's his turn to pull, so I had to work extra hard to keep the train together. People not knowing how to pull turned out to be a repeated theme throughout the day.

When we got into Montpelier, my knee still really hurt, and I did not want to start climbing again. Frankly, I was not sure I could make it the rest of the way. In fact, all the way into Montpelier I was trying to figure out what to do because I knew I couldn't tolerate that kind of pain for the rest of the day. My wife, kids, sister-in-law, and parents were there with new bottles, food, and Advil. I took four Advil and was off again, not sure if I would make it over the next pass. As I got back on my bike, I gave my wife a hug and whispered in her ear "pray for me." I knew I would need it.

Moments later, my knee quit hurting, and I was able to make it most of the way up Geneva pass without too much pain. The Advil only lasted about an hour, though, so right before the top, I was suffering again. I realized that with my higher metabolic rate, I was probably burning through the Advil a lot faster than normal and wouldn't have access to more until we got to Afton about 30 miles later.

We coasted down the backside of Geneva and then started up Salt River pass. We were very fortunate to have a brisk tailwind and were making 23 mph up the lower part of the canyon without working too hard. Steve told me that when they had done that climb back in July, they had a headwind and were really working to make 13-14 mph in that section. Salt River was not too bad until the King Of the Mountain section started. The road tips up to 8% at this point, which slowed us down considerably. Once again, Steve pulled in front of me on the climb and probably had 30-40 seconds on me by the time we reached the summit. The backside was so steep that I was riding my brakes a bit just to keep things at a reasonable speed (I could have hit 50+ mph without pedaling but don't really feel comfortable faster than 45).

Once down in the valley, we had a pretty stiff crosswind. We were hoping to find some people to work with. We were passing a lot of people who didn't latch on or would latch on but weren't strong enough to pull. Nobody was catching us that we could latch on to, so Steve and I traded off doing the work. We were making good time and got into Afton (where I got more Advil and grabbed a few extras) a little ahead of our support crew. This slowed us down a bit, and then my need for a full service facility slowed us down even more. Instead of waiting in line at the porta johns, though, we rode a half mile into town to the taco time. The lengthiest part of the process was pulling the stupid single ply toilet paper basically one square at a time. We continued across the Star Valley without incident, wishing the wind would go away, but glad that it was not really in our faces and that it would be at our backs in Snake River canyon.

After a relatively quick stop in Alpine, we entered the canyon. The tailwind was nice, but the canyon was tougher than I expected--a lot of rolling hills one after another. We pushed hard, but the hills really took their toll. We were both pretty tired and didn't have a lot of gas in the tank at the last aid station. Once we got out of the aid station, we just kept grinding away hoping to tick off the last 26 miles without bonking. It occurred to me at this point that I had already been on my bike for about 10 hours and I still had a full marathon distance ahead of me. I was just glad that I wasn't running. For the first time in a long time, 26 miles sounded like a very long bike ride.

There is one pretty good sized hill right before you get into the town of Jackson. I pulled to the top of it with Steve on my wheel, and we had a train of about 10 guys behind us. When we got to the top, they were all relatively fresh and a few of them went off the front. I turned to Steve and said "Oh great, we pull these guys to the top, and then they just leave us behind." But somehow we were able to latch on and stay on their wheel. Good thing, too, as there were four guys on the front who had the legs to pull at 21-24 mph and didn't seem to be interested in sharing the effort. I was number five in the paceline, and each time one of them would rotate off the front, he would fall back and tuck in right in front of me. I felt like I must be Tom Boonen and team Quick Step was out front keeping my legs fresh for the bunch sprint at the end. (I wrote this before Tom Boonen's shenanigans with cocaine. Loser. Dopers suck. Even if it's recreational drug use, anyone who would do that probably lacks the integrity to avoid the performance-enhancing stuff.)

The last miles from Jackson to Teton Village seemed to tick away relatively easily since we didn't have to do any of the work--until there were about two miles left. My left leg suddenly started cramping and seized up with each turn of the cranks. I doused it with water to cool the muscle and drank a little more. The cramp diminished enough to pedal comfortably, and I was close enough to get back on the train before they left me behind. As we were approaching the finish line, we passed a couple of guys who took issue with us passing them and started to sprint for the end. I figured since the guys on front had treated my like Tom Boonen, I might as well respond like him, so I shifted up two gears and went for it. I passed the whole bunch and then felt kind of silly for having done so, since nobody else was really sprinting. But it was still fun. I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch at 11:20 for the day. My best case scenario estimate was 11:45, so I was quite happy with the result.

My wife, sister-in-law, and the kids were there at the end, and they were all cheering for us. It was really fun to see the kids and to share the day with our families. I was really proud of the girls for keeping it together all day--they had kids to entertain, cars to drive, potty breaks to take, and two exhausted cyclists to support for 200+ miles. They were unbelievable to do what they did, one with a baby and the other pregnant. And the race-day support was small potatoes compared to putting up with all the long training rides leading up to the event. In a lot of ways Steve and I had the easier job, since all we had to do was pedal.

Our actual ride time (not including stops) was 10:39, for an average speed on the bike of 19.4 mph. Of course this got me thinking that next year we should shoot for a sub 11. I think the definition of a good ride is to get to the end and already be thinking about doing it again.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Blogging is the new scrapbooking

My sister mentioned in an email the other day how much she likes reading blogs, particularly those written by family members. She went on to indicate that we would be able to read her blog soon, as it was "almost done."


How long does it take? You sign up for an account, choose a template, maybe upload a photo or two and write a blurb about yourself, and then start posting. The content is far more important than the layout, as proven by BSNYC, who I think spent no more than nine seconds getting his blog "done."

Well apparently I'm way behind the times, because you can download all sorts of busy-looking templates to make your blog copy harder to read. Moreover, you can also install soundtracks to distract your readers from what they are reading. David Ogilvy would throw up on the screen if he saw some of the light font on slightly darker background blogs out there. Of course, since there's no such thing as a blogger that has anything meaningful to say, I suppose none of this matters. It's not like we're trying to sell cars or personal care products with these things.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Scorched earth and trickle down economics

Every July for the last few years we have left town for a week or so. Every time we've been gone, it's gotten really hot at home. Each time, we've returned to a lawn that looks nearly dead. I always think before I leave that I should increase the watering, and every year I forget. Once the lawn is brown and dry, it's nearly impossible to get it green again when temperatures are pushing 100 degrees every day. Moreover, it seems a bit irresponsible to use that much water since most of our lawn--save the section in the back where my kids play--serves as nothing more than an ornament for our house. The only reason I bother with trying to nurse it back to health is that my goal for landscaping is to avoid embarrasment, and completely letting it die would be embarrassing.

So for the last week, I've given the lawn a bit more attention. This means mowing and trimming and watering the really dry spots, and even pulling a few weeds. Apparently, it's bad enough that the enterprising young man who lives behind us thought I needed some help and even came to the door to offer his services mowing and trimming our lawn.

I actually already have a neighborhood teenager who mows my lawn. Last year for Father's day, my wife hired another neighbor kid to mow the lawn for me in order to allow me more time to train for Lotoja. I liked the arrangement so well that I kept him on this summer. But last week he was on vacation, so I did it myself. And being out of work, it's pretty hard to justify paying someone else to care for my lawn when I'm home to do it pretty much every day.

So yesterday we had to let our neighbor know that he was being laid off from his lawn mowing gig at our house. I assured him he'd be called back once I was working again and no longer had no excuse whatsoever not to do it myself. I'll have to figure out a clever way to turn this into another economics lesson for my daughter. She'll get the first part of it really easily, but if my nine-year old can get a reasonable grasp of the multiplier effect, I'll be really pleased.

Don't expect any posts for the rest of the week, as I'll be in northern Idaho on a Boy Scout High Adventure trip riding the Hiawatha Trail and the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes. Can't wait to see what my lawn looks like when I get home.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Ladies' socks

I am really particular about the socks I wear. I also really hate it when I have a pair of socks that I like and then can't find the mate. The solution to this is obviously to find a pair of socks I like and then buy a whole bunch, so even if the dryer eats one, there are still enough to make a pair. I have a couple pair of Smartwool cycling socks that I would have gladly purchased more of, but they were discontinued. My wife bought me three pair of the socks they replaced them with, but these are too thick for rides over an hour, as my feet tend to swell on longer rides, and thick socks + swelling = numb feet.

I recently purchased three pair of Fat Cyclist socks, hoping that these would be the solution, and I could just stock up and always wear these same socks. Sadly, for some reason the seam in the toe hits me in a spot I don't find comfortable, so I won't be loading up on these socks, either.

The other day, my wife came home from Target and mentioned that she had bought my daughter some nice socks made of a wicking material, and they were rather inexpensive. Thinking it may be worth a shot at least for some cheap socks to wear on lunch rides, last night we went to Target and checked out the socks in the men's department. Unfortunately, they were all too thick.

Then on the way out the door, we passed the women's department, and bingo! Did you know that they make socks especially for women with large feet? And that these socks are just the right size for men with small to medium feet (say a size 42 cycling shoe)? And that they only cost $4.00 for a three-pack? (If you have really small feet, you can get the regular women's size socks for $3.00 a three-pack--apparently you have to pay a premium if you're a woman with large feet.) And that they're made out of the same soft, breathable material as socks that would cost $10.00 per pair at REI or a bike shop? I had no idea about any of this, but I assure you it's true. The only downside? In addition to the fat-foot premium, the larger women's size socks only come in white. But at $1.33 per pair or 66.5¢ per sock, I didn't care.

I bought a three-pack, just to try out, and wore them on my ride this morning. I will be going back for two more three-packs forthwith. I am embracing the white and find they actually contrast nicely with my black cycling shoes. Even if they do look funny and I'm not noticing it, I don't care. 66.5¢ per sock means I could feed one to the dryer every week and it would still cost less than a 44 ounce diet coke, which I am trying to eliminate from my diet anyway.

Now, what do I do with the two unopened pair of fat cyclist socks that I have? I think the only solution is to give them away. The next two people to donate at least $50 to the Huntsman Cancer Foundation (click on the pink jersey at upper right for a link to my fundraising page) will each get a pair of brand-new, never-used fat cyclist socks. You know you wanted to donate anyway, so here's your chance.

And since I'm feeling generous, I'll offer another giveaway: anyone who donates $200 or more gets a lovely, four-course dinner party for four catered in your home (or ours if you prefer) or the location of your choice, so long as that location is somewhere between Boise and the Wasatch Front. If you're not aware already, my wife is a fantastic cook. I am not at all exaggerating when I say she could go on Top Chef and make it to the finals, so giving 200 tax-deductible dollars to a very worthy cause in exchange for a gourmet dinner for four is a fantastic offer.*

In other news, I finished the steel cut oats on Wednesday. Yesterday I had regular, old-fashioned oats with blueberries for breakfast. It was so much better. Didn't have a regular breakfast this morning because I was riding, but I'm looking forward to more regular oatmeal in my future and never touching steel cut oats again.

Finally, this is not even what I intended to write about today, so I may post again, or I may save it for tomorrow and go riding instead. Blogging or riding twice in the same day: one of the myriad benefits of not working.

* I'm not going to fool myself that I'm going to be overwhelmed with donations--I simply don't have that many readers--but I do reserve the right to cap the number of dinners we are on the hook for.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Did you get any riding in?

Several friends have asked me how my vacation was last week. The exchange usually goes like this:

"How was your vacation?"
"Did you get any riding in?"

At which point, I tell them about the several wonderful rides I got to do while in Utah last week. The first ride was the Alpine Loop, once in each direction, with my brother and Kris. Kris did a nice writeup about it, so I won't really elaborate, other than to comment on some of the oddities of Sundance. I really like Sundance--it's one of the prettiest places in the world. But I get really annoyed with environmentalist hypocrites, like Al Gore and Robert Redford. Both live in palatial homes that consume heaps and gobs of energy and burn fossil fuel traveling all over the world. In Gore's case, it's all offset by green energy credits. In Redford's, they have hybrid SUVs to haul their employees and guests around the resort.

Seriously, Sundance has a fleet of Lexus RX400H hybrids. As if that's doing any good. The RX400H has a V6 gas engine mated to the electric motor to get a whopping 26 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway. Why not put your money where your mouth is and just have a fleet of cruiser bikes scattered around the resort that employees and guests can use to get from point A to point B? Between the hybrid SUVs, the $3.00 16 oz Gatorades, and the disgusted looks we got for cooling off in the stream, I came away from the 15 minutes or so we spent at Sundance just laughing at the whole situation.

Later in the day, Steve and I saw Brad and Racer finishing the same ride. Brad stopped to talk for a bit and mentioned the Soldier Hollow biathlon coming up on Wednesday night. We were going to be in Park City Wednesday, and I had read Grizzly Adam mention what a good time the biathlon is, so seemed like an ideal way to spend the evening.

Before I talk about the biathlon, though, I'll just comment that as good as the riding choices are in Boise, I can't think of a better place to live and ride than the north end of Utah County. We stayed at my sister's house in Cedar Hills, and it was literally four minutes from her driveway to the mouth of American Fork canyon. Having the Alpine Loop as a viable option for a morning or after-work ride is just unreal. Same could be said for living in Suncrest, Alpine, and where Steve lives near Thanksgiving Point. Steve can incorporate Suncrest into his commute, and he's also got great access to some of the steep roads in Butterfield Canyon. I rode the AF side of Alpine Loop on Tuesday afternoon, and it was 90 minutes door-to-door. Talk about great access!

I thought Brad would make it to the biathlon on Wednesday, but Kris was the only person I knew who was there. I also recognized KC Holley from RAWROD and said hello, as she, Kris, and I were starting in the same wave (sport men + expert women). Turns out my wife and KC's mom were getting acquainted from the gallery at the same time.

I didn't arrive early enough to do any warmup laps, so when the race started, I figured I'd just get on KC's wheel and let her pace me through the first lap. I had ridden with her group for a good chunk of RAWROD, so I figured that would be about the right pace. KC went out hard, and I went right behind her. On the pavement before the first hill, we passed most of the pack and then hit the hill strong. By the time we got to the top, it was KC and me at the front. I passed her right as we crested the hill and began the descent and was in the front for the rest of the first lap.

Then we got to the shooting range. I missed three of the first four targets, and my gun jammed on the fifth. After four of five penalty laps, I was immediately out of contention. My new goal was just to pass Kris. Unfortunately, on lap two I missed three more targets. I was really behind. On lap three, I slowed down before coming to the shooting range to let my heart rate come down, then I took my time shooting. Five for five. I could see Kris up ahead. Last lap, Kris is still ahead of me. Five for five again. Kris missed one. I passed him as he did his penalty lap.

It was a great time, and the raffle was awesome. There were about 70 racers who showed up and nearly that many prizes. When my name was called, I grabbed the Park Tool barbecue set. Used them to turn some fourth-of-July brats on Friday, and they will definitely be coming to RAWROD so Elden and Kenny don't burn their fingers grabbing and flipping sausages.

Friday was my last day in Park City, so I figured I better get out on the local trails. Rick suggested hitting the Glenwild trail, but we were staying right at Park City Mountain Resort, so I opted to ride from there instead. I rode Spiro to Mid Mountain and then continued on Mid Mountain for a few miles before turning back. It was unbelievable. The trails felt as if someone had gone out and raked them that morning, they were so buff. I don't know how they manage to have steep trails with tight switchbacks without braking bumps all over the place, but they do. And I like it.

On Saturday, Steve and I rode the first 70 miles or so of the Lotoja course, including the nasty climb over Strawberry Summit. Steve absolutely smoked me on the climb over Strawberry summit. The last couple climbs we've done together, I've beat him to the top, so on Saturday when he was going strong, I figured I'd stay within myself until he cracked, at which point I would catch up. He never cracked. He's been using Hammer Perpetuum on long rides lately, and I can't help but think that was the difference. Every ride where I've been faster has been a shorter ride, where on-bike nutrition was less of an issue. I was running on Clif bars and Coca-Cola, while he was religiously following the Hammer program. I'm going to have to give it a try. I'm probably fooling myself that I'll be able to stay with him, and he really is that much stronger on long climbs. But it's worth a try.

Once over Strawberry Summit, we headed towards Bear Lake, where we met up with my parents, who had ridden a lap around the lake. The four of us then rode from the north beach to Garden City, where the girls and our kids met us for milkshakes and burgers at LaBeau's. I had a burger and split a shake with my wife. I was so hungry from the ride (at that point about 105 miles and 4000 feet of climbing) that I could have easily eaten that much again more. I was thirsty enough that I ended up going back for a 44 oz diet coke. It was barely enough.

After lunch, we did a family ride with the girls and the kids. My son fell asleep, while my baby didn't like the bumps. So I turned around early and sat in the shade waiting for the rest to return. Good thing, too, as the entire time I was pulling that trailer, I was nervous that the clamp was going to crush my carbon chain stay. I don't think I'll pull the trailer behind the road bike again.

It's probably a rhetorical question when asking an obsessed cyclist whether he got any riding in on his vacation. In my case, with my brother and now my parents spending a good chunk of their free time on the bike, when that vacation involves visiting family, it's not a matter of "if" but "how much."

Monday, July 7, 2008

Two and a half hours

You may be wondering at the title of today's post. It's called two and a half hours not because that's how long it took me to do a training ride or something else bike-related, as one might expect. Rather, that's how long I spent this morning reading blogs. You see, I've been on vacation without Internet access for the last 10 days (which is why I haven't posted in that time), so the blogs I regularly read just stacked up, and I had to catch up.

Some may find it shocking that I read that many blogs. But in reality, that works out to less than 30 minutes a day if I'm reading daily, which I usually do. Considering that this is primarily done while I eat breakfast or lunch (yeah, I'm that geeky that I take meals in front of the computer as often as not) or during short breaks between meetings at work, it's really not that time consuming to stay on top of what my fellow bloggers are writing.

Of course, there's always the question of how, on the first Monday after a 10 day vacation, I had time to spend two and a half hours of my morning sitting at the computer and reading blogs. I'm glad you asked, because it's an interesting story that still surprises even me when I think about it.

Two weeks ago today, I left my office, never to return.

It was a pretty typical Monday, really. For the first hour, at least. I had a conference call at 8:00 a.m., which fortunately ended early. That gave me a few minutes to check email and catch up from the weekend before my 9:00 a.m. one-on-one meeting with my boss.

A little before 9:00, my boss, let's call him Andy Bernard, sent me an IM asking if I was in the office. This may seem weird, but Andy works in Palo Alto, and I telecommute a couple days a week, so he has no way of knowing where I am. Anyway, I responded that I was in the office, so he said he'd call me for our meeting in a couple of minutes. When the phone rang, Andy said that he needed to discuss some confidential organizational matters with me, so he had reserved a conference room downstairs from which he wanted me to phone him back.

Now I recognize that cubes are not the best place to hold confidential conversations, but in five years with the company, I had never once been asked to move to a conference room for reasons of confidentiality. Performance reviews, organizational changes, even discussions regarding yet-to-be-announced financial results have all taken place within the not-so-secure bounds of one of the multitude of massive cube farms.

On my way down the stairs, I got thinking about how otherworldly this was, thinking it was all pretty cloak and dagger. I imagined myself sitting down at a park bench next to a man in an overcoat and dark glasses with a cup of coffee in one hand and a newspaper in the other, to whom I would say "the daffodils bloom in the spring," whereupon he would hand me the rolled-up newspaper containing a secret message or escort me to an auspicious-looking black vehicle.

Imagine my surprise when I got to the conference room only to find a mysterious-looking man already there, sipping coffee. "Great," I thought, "now I've got to kick someone out of the conference room before I can make my call." As I approached the conference room, the man looked up and asked "are you Mark?" This was getting too weird.

The coffee-drinking man, let's call him Toby Flenderson, introduced himself and indicated that he was from the human resources department. I immediately suspected what was coming. Toby indicated that he already had Andy on the phone and invited me to sit down. Andy then informed me that it would be my last day with the company, that I had until noon to exercise all my stock options because they would be expiring after that, and that Toby would take my PC and badge.

With options exercised and a few personal belongings in my bag, Toby walked me to the lobby. He tried to make friendly small talk, to which I gave mostly one-word answers. He said something that was supposed to be reassuring about how given my level in the company, I must be talented and should have no problem finding other work. I just agreed with him and kept walking. When we reached the door, he said something friendly and extended his hand. I just walked away, got on my bike, and pedaled home.

Of course this meant that Barcelona was off the table. Aside from the loss of income in the immediate future, that's about the only reason I can think of to be bothered. There's a not-very-compelling-to-anyone-but-me back story that involves envy, fear, greed, and malice, but since I don't even publish my last name on this blog, I won't go into that here. Let's just say I was pleased about the fate of a superior, let's call him Ryan Howard, only to become collateral damage.

At about 11:30, I got a call from one of my coworkers. I had a meeting scheduled with him and two other people at 11:00. When I didn't show up, they wondered why. When they got a not-particularly-satisfying answer from my boss, they wanted to know more. So I told them. I've since had calls and emails from former colleagues whose reactions are typically of shock, in some cases coupled with fear that they could be next. To those who have offered kind words and support, thank you.

And that's it. I'm not particularly angry. I think I'm just relieved to have it over.