Monday, August 30, 2010

Building character

Saturday was the Sanpete Classic, one of my favorite courses. Usually. It was super windy and would have been a good day to hide in the group and make a late move. Before the race began, though, Mark T. found me and told me that my assignment for the day was to spend some time on the front. “It builds character,” he said.

Mark is a guy I respect as a cyclist, a climber, a coach, and a philosopher. But our philosophies differ somewhat regarding cycling tactics. Mark believes one has a duty to spend time on the front. When I wrote about winning by not spending time on the front, I was responding to my fellow competitors who didn’t seem too happy with me. But I was also responding to Mark.

Mark and I agree that bicycle racing is a way to test one’s self, and for better or for worse, I wanted to test myself in the break. So when Mark gave me my “assignment,” I had already made up my mind to accept it. When the first break went up the road, I was in it. Even if the break didn’t stick, it would hopefully wear out some rivals chasing it down.

We only lasted a few minutes before we were all back together. Then Steve and Will made a move. Just as that one was coming back together, I felt a little touch—it was my teammate Adam signaling that we were going to counterattack as soon as they were caught. We did and were joined by Louis and Mike from Canyon and Eric from Skull Candy. The good news was that these were all strong guys, so it might actually stick. The bad news was that we were maybe 10k into a 160k race, so if it stuck, we were in for a long day.

About 50k in, the wind was howling, and I’d had about enough. When I saw the main bunch behind us, I realized—with hardly any regret—that my day was done. I just wanted the race to be over. You can burn your matches in the break, or you can burn your matches at the end, but once they’re burned, they’re burned.

Not long after we were caught, teammate Scott and Louis got away in another break. How Louis had the legs for that, I have no idea. I thought I’d be riding in alone when Tim M. drove the pace with a tailwind. The only thing that saved me was that tailwind, because being off the back didn’t require any more energy than being in the group. When they turned into a crosswind, they had just caught Louis and Scott, so the pace went down, and I got back on.

With a little over 10k to go, Will and Jonathan H. got away, this time for good. I was hoping Will could get the win. Will has been top 5 in almost every race this year, but without a win.

When the late race attacks started, all I could do was pedal tempo and watch people ride away from me. Then I got stung by a bee*. Then I finished and found out Will was second, again, by half a wheel (Steve was fifth, Scott sixth). Then at the post-race barbecue, they were out of food by the time I got a plate.

*I hadn’t been stung by a bee in over 10 years, but I got stung twice this week—once on the face Tuesday riding down Emigration Canyon, and then on the thigh Saturday.

Mark T. won the Masters B race. I built lots of character.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How email will lead to the demise of this country

People are stupid and will believe almost anything you tell them. For instance, in the last few months I’ve had people forward me emails telling me that if I eat cake made from expired mix* or answer my cell phone while it’s plugged in, I may die.

*Why you would want to eat anything made from a mix, especially cake, is beyond me. But that’s neither here nor there to my point.

And while people not answering their cell phones when plugged in or not eating expired cake mixes have no long-term consequences one way or another for the welfare of humanity, they’re symptomatic of endemic American gullibility that will result in significant long-term consequences, if it hasn’t already.

The problem is that people believe the garbage that they get in forwarded emails without checking the facts. There are a few of us fact-checkers out there, so email forwarders have started prefacing their messages with “Note that it's confirmed on Snopes.” The sender/propagandist is banking on the likelihood that the recipient won’t take the time to actually click over to Snopes and get the real story, because what’s on Snopes very likely differs from what’s actually in the email. But this supposed verification makes the message that much more believable.

Back in the days before Snopes and email, these rumors didn’t spread nearly so fast, but they were still around. I remember being told by a certain family member that buying Liz Claiborne clothing was bad because Liz Claiborne had made a deal with the devil. The person telling me this assured me it was true because she had been told this from a woman at church. Because nobody at church has ever lied or exaggerated about anything.

Today, however, the rumors spread faster because people can easily add dozens of friends to the recipient list of an email and forward it along. And when these emails are spreading a message of hate or misinformation, they’re truly dangerous.

I said at the beginning that people will believe almost anything you tell them. And while many will believe anything they read in a forwarded email, I said “almost anything” because too many of these same people dismiss what they hear from reputable journalists as “leftist propaganda.” This ridiculous gullibility and the abject ignorance it fosters will result in the election of incompetent policymakers and the eventual demise of this country.

What’s worse is that it’s not just the email forwards spreading the message of hate, but radio and television as well. As detailed in this must-read article in the New York Times, Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck drop “suggestions, hints, and notes that people are ‘questioning things.’” Their audience take this innuendo as gospel, and before you know it, 27 percent of the Republican party doesn’t believe the president is a citizen, even when ample evidence exists to the contrary. (The irony of this is that Limbaugh and Beck imply people are questioning things—actually using critical thinking skills.)

Further to this point, according to the Times article, 46 percent of the Republican party believe the lie that Obama is a Muslim, and a growing faction in the party is under the false impression that the TARP bailout for banks is an Obama deal when in fact we have his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, to thank for that one.

At the root of this problem is a general lack of critical thinking skills. We’re all guilty of it: we’re told from a source we trust or at least want to trust that the world works a certain way, and we accept this as truth without questioning it. Many accept these so-called truths out of wishful thinking; they want the world to be a certain way, and so when they’re told so by someone who seems credible, they believe that’s the way it is.

Unfortunately, just as wishful thinking won’t decrease the unemployment rate or clean up the oil in the gulf or end the traffic jam in China or rescue the Chilean miners, neither will it make a fairy tale come true. My daughter desperately wants to believe in fairies, but at some point she’s going to have to come to terms with the fact that Tinkerbell is only real in Disney films, and she’s never actually granted anyone a wish. Perhaps it’s time for the rest of us to start making sure the Tinkerbells we encounter are real before we forward the email Tinkerbell supposedly wrote to everyone we know.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My day in court

Well it turns out I don’t get to join the hallowed ranks of the misdemeans, dug, Elden, and Brandon. I got a ticket a few weeks ago for driving with revoked registration. Sounds worse than it is, though at its worst, I’m still not even sure it’s a misdemeanor. I hadn’t switched my auto insurance from Idaho to Utah, so even though I was insured, the Utah DMV didn’t think I was.

I was fortunate at the time I got the ticket not to have my car impounded—I had just enough valid paperwork to avoid getting impounded, but not enough to get out of the ticket. After a quick trip to the DMV where the clerk was amazingly kind and patient even though it was 10 minutes to six on a Friday, I had adequate paperwork and decided to take that to court in order to try and avoid the $70 fine.

When I called the courts in South Salt Lake, they told me to come in on the 25th at 8:30. When I arrived this morning for my appointment, I realized that “appointment” is a term they use pretty fast and loose, as I would actually be waiting in line with all these people.

Courtroom And there were that many again more waiting on the other side of the room for their turn to see the judge. Or perhaps it was that I didn’t have an appointment at all and only thought I did because I’m used to a life of convenience and ease, not the hardships of being a criminal.

After passing through the metal detector and pretending to turn off my phone, I sat in the courtroom while the prosecutor read through all the cases and asked whether we would be pleading guilty or whether we wanted to talk with him before entering a not-guilty plea. I should have responded “not-guilty” just for dramatic effect, but when he called my name, I just said “I’d like to speak with you.”

Of course, I had to take my turn to speak with him, as I wasn’t the only one trying to get off with a reduced charge. So while I waited, I got to listen to all the other cases being heard.

The first thing I learned is that if you want to get to the front of the line, hire a lawyer. It turns out that the courts are respectful of the fact that lawyers get paid by the hour and that lawyers bill for the entire time that they’re in court, whether they’re arguing the case or twiddling their thumbs awaiting the chance to do so.

The kid in the dress shirt and tie with the lawyer at his side and his dad anxiously watching in the peanut gallery got to go first. And I’m guessing the $600+ he has to pay in fines for his drug possession charge are only the half of it, and that he’s got at least that much more to pay the attorney. But the attorney spared him jail time and perhaps greater fines, so in the end, everybody won.

I learned that the fine for driving without a license, a charge highly correlated with those who needed an interpreter when speaking to the judge, is much lower than the fine for driving with a suspended license. And that the judge has a lot less sympathy for the suspended license cases. I also learned that if you are charged with driving without a license, you ought not to drive yourself to court, as one of the morning’s defendants had chosen to do. He said he didn’t have any other way to get there, but the judge reminded him that he could walk. In his case, she had no sympathy.

When my turn came with the city attorney, I explained what had happened, showed him my insurance cards and valid registration, and waited, wondering what my fate would be and whether this was still going to cost me $70 as well as a wasted morning in court. He spent what was for me an anxious ten seconds looking things over and said “OK, we’ll dismiss the charges then.”

I still had to return to the courtroom and wait for the judge to actually tell me the charges were dismissed. So I sat down (this is when I heard the guy tell her he had driven to court without a license, so it was totally worth it) and waited.

As it happens, the judge is also respectful of those whose charges are dismissed, as she called my name next. I stood, and she said “charges are dismissed, you can go.” I never even turned towards the bench, I just said “thank you” and walked out of the room.

Before I left, I glanced back to notice that every single person there had a facial expression indicating they really wanted to be me at that moment. I was also relieved when I got to the parking lot to find that Elwood was not waiting for me in an old cop car, and I could just drive myself to work.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Saturday afternoon I lined up in the Cat. 1-2-3 field in Park City for the Tour of Utah amateur criterium. It was perhaps the hardest race I’ve ever done. And I only lasted 20 minutes.

Cameron H. and his teammates put the hurt on us from the outset—the field was shattered from the gun. On the first complete lap, I rode across a gap to rejoin what I thought was the field, only to realize there was another gap and another still to the front. Each time around, these groups got smaller.

On lap six, I was getting into a rhythm. I had just caught Steve, and we were grinding our way up Main Street’s 10-12% grade with a group of strong guys. I thought maybe we’d chase back on. Then I heard the motorcycle. Cameron was right behind it, and we had been lapped. Sorry guys, your race is over.

For the next 40 minutes we were spectators as Cameron rode away from the field. Revolution was well-represented in the chase, with Elliott and Scott P. in chase 1 and Justin in chase 2. But nobody was catching Cameron, who soloed 52 of 60 minutes for the W.

It was a type of what was to come in the pro race. Just like our race, the attacks came early. It took a little longer for the sorting out to occur, but eventually Jeff Louder made his move and soloed to the win. I saw a lot of really tough, really fast guys suffer. Some of them got pulled. Some of them, like Kai Applequist, who is as tough as 60 grit sandpaper, gutted it out. All of them paid dearly for the effort.

A criterium in a stage race is usually a gimme stage for the GC guys, and a chance for the flatlanders and sprinters to shine. Not so in the Tour of Utah. That stage was a war of attrition—the climb to Mt. Nebo claimed some 20 racers, but the criterium thinned the field by nearly twice that number. At the end, only 86 of the 140 finishing the prologue remained. And that was just because race officials allowed those who had completed at least half of the criterium to continue. Several of these 86 would not start on Sunday, and several more would abandon, including GC leader after stage one, Alex Dowsett.

The rate of attrition has much more to do with the course than the toughness of the racers. The Tour of Utah is billed as “America’s toughest stage race.” Rightfully so. Racers who would make Chuck Norris feel like a ninny were bested by this course. Which makes Levi’s victory, especially since it began on the third day after his record-setting Leadville performance, that much more remarkable. Kudos to everyone who competed. Whether you finished or not, the fact that you threw down to begin with has earned my respect.

Oh, and please come back next year. We had great fun watching.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tour of Utah Super Spectator

Seeing as how we have this big time race going on in Utah right now, I’ve done my best to watch as much of it as I can, including Tuesday’s prologue*, the finish of Wednesday’s stage one (which were both conveniently in downtown SLC near my office), then yesterday I took the day off to ride part of stage two ahead of the race with teammates Lance and Pete. We met Adam and Aaron, who came up the other side, at the top of Mt. Nebo to watch the racers come through.

*I spotted Matt B. at the prologue, four days clear of his surgery. What a stud—totally committed to putting cancer behind him and getting on with life.

Differing perspectives on the stage were offered by Levi Leipheimer, who mused—I hope sarcastically since the climb had a max grade of 14.5%—to Burke Swindlehurst that “I thought you said there were some steep sections.”

On the other hand, Sam Krieg, one of the best racers in Idaho, racing on the Cole Sport amateur team, commented “That was the most painful three and a half hours of my life. Why do people even do this stuff?”

I was just riding, not racing, up the climb. And I’ll side with Krieg on that one. Either way, it was fun to watch.

Below are some photos of the action so far.

Big George, leaving the start house at the prologue.

Stage winner Taylor Phinney, approaching the finish line.

Levi Leipheimer, about to finish.

Last year’s GC winner, Francisco Mancebo.

Phinney on the podium after the prologue.

I didn’t get any pictures from stage one, but here are some from the stage two mountaintop finish at Mt. Nebo.

Levi, soloing to victory.

Mancebo and Ian Boswell, 2nd and 3rd on the day.

Daren Lill.

Local hero Burke Swindlehurst follows Alex Hagman to the line.

Junkie kids with their thundersticks.

Some very fast guys from Idaho: Applequist, Krieg, and Diaz.

Alex Dowsett (in yellow), with Ben King and Andrei Krasilnikay.

Brad Gehrig.

The Bearded Lady was out again and got the attention of more than one racer (check out the gawker from Trek Livestrong—sure looks like Taylor Phinney to me).

Dave Harward.

Last group to make the time cut, including gold medalist Billy Demong.


Levi on the podium after donning GC leader’s yellow jersey.

All the jerseys together, almost: Boswell (young rider); Leipheimer (GC); Lill (Utah Rider); Tanner (Sprinter). Mancebo, the KOM leader, grabbed his jersey and disappeared.

As cool as it was to watch the mountaintop finish, we were sad to learn that George Hincapie crashed and withdrew from the race. No broken bones, just 18 stitches in his knee. Hopefully Big George is healed and ready for another run at the US Pro championships next month.

Looking forward to taking in more action between now and Sunday, when the race literally passes through my neighborhood before finishing at Snowbird.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I won another race on Monday night. Kind of. It was the UVU Crit. Except that for a variety of reasons, it was not an “official” race. But we still raced. And afterwards I got the impression certain people thought I did it wrong. It’s not like I’m the Brazil World Cup team, and it’s not enough to win—you have to win beautifully.

There are lots of ways to win a race. And while some may claim certain tactics are more aesthetic or may even describe others as pathetic, you pick the one that you think gives you the best shot and hope you’re right. And if you’re right, you’re the winner. More often than not you’re not right, because either someone else executed your tactic better than you did, or else someone else used a different tactic that was more effective than yours.

Here’s how it went down. Two guys, each of whom had teammates in the race (I didn’t), did a lot of work on the front and shook the field up to where we were down to six racers by the last three laps. With three to go, the pace slowed and the cat and mouse game started. I took a little dig, but it didn’t produce a gap, so I sat back up. Each of the guys who’d done most of the work launched a last lap attack that I covered, then I came around at the end to take the win.

It’s easy to criticize someone for “not doing any work” when he wins a bunch sprint without having spent meaningful time on the front. This criticism may come from people who don’t realize that winning a bunch sprint requires a lot of work, it’s just all concentrated into one brief effort. It always involves pain, and sometimes a bit of vomiting. Moreover, it’s rare to just be delivered to the final 200 meters with fresh legs so all you have to do is sprint. Inevitably there are attacks to cover throughout the race and especially in the last kilometer, such that you may be at your limit already when it’s time to kick. Starting a sprint when your legs and lungs are already burning is not pleasant.

Besides, nobody is making the guys on the front ride on the front. It’s a tactical decision on their part, usually because they think by riding hard on the front, they will wear out the rest of the field and improve either their own or a teammate’s chances of winning. I don’t mind being on the front, but when I am, unless I’m chasing a break or setting up a teammate, I often soft pedal because I don’t care if it takes us longer to finish, and I don’t care if we go to the line with a big group.

I’d love to win with a solo breakaway, especially if it involved a big climb. If you’re by yourself with 200 meters to go, you’ve got nothing left to worry about. In a sprint, your worries are just beginning at that point. But that’s not the kind of racer I am. I’ve helplessly watched as guys ride away from me in a break I’ll never catch, but I’ve also ridden past these same guys in a sprint finish. That’s what makes racing exciting—people with different strengths trying to play to those in order to gain an advantage. If we all did the same things well, races would be boring.

It’s this nuance that makes racing exciting for cycling fans. Is this a stage for the sprinters? Will the leadout train set up their man, or will somebody poach it? Will the break stay away? What will happen on the climb? Will it come back together on the descent? So many questions, so much suspense, it makes for great entertainment.

Unfortunately, to most Americans, it’s just a bunch of skinny guys in garish lycra riding as fast as they can the whole time. Boring. Which is why the 15 second segment on the local news about yesterday’s Tour of Utah prologue was actually a big deal, even though at least one local cyclist didn’t realize that.

He lamented that “one of the biggest races in the country with tour de france level talent gets 15 seconds of coverage while the flippin U of U scrimmage gets 3 minutes and an interview.” And he wanted to know, “does anyone have any idea why the news coverage is so far falling short?”

For starters, it was the prologue, which, aside from the difficulty explaining to an American audience what that even is, is pretty much a throwaway stage. Besides, the Tour de France gets about 15 seconds of coverage, and even then only on the last day, unless a local guy wins yellow, which has happened all of once. Cycling will never be as popular as basketball in this country—its practitioners are just too weird. But we should be glad that it’s got enough support that we get a big-time race in our own backyard, and that this local race garners enough attention to be on the front page.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

An open letter to Shimano

I’ll get right to the point, Shimano: despite making better products, you’re getting your lunch eaten by SRAM. Dura Ace and XTR have their devotees, but as any first year MBA student can tell you, Harley Davidson doesn’t need to market to the people with the company’s logo tattooed on their arms*. It’s the uncommitted consumers, the swing if you will, that need to be convinced to buy your product, especially when SRAM is lighter and less expensive.

*Used to be that Harley Davidson claimed they were the only company whose customers got their logo tattooed on their bodies, but a recent issue of VeloNews featured a photo of a Phil Wood tattoo, and my brother spotted a guy at church with a Titleist tattoo. We both thought one was cool and the other dorky, can you guess which was which?

In the same post in which I mentioned that Specialized was the real winner of this year’s Tour de France, I also mentioned that you, Shimano, are the loser of this year’s tour. This has nothing to do with the fact that Contador and Schleck were both on bikes equipped with SRAM Red. You sponsor riders and roll the dice with results. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. Your money was on the winner seven times in a row, though he has now jumped ship for SRAM. And that right there is the real problem—SRAM has the momentum, and you seem uninterested in contesting the battle.

The problem can be summarized thusly: SRAM has generated more buzz with Mara Abbott winning the Tour of the Gila on Red than you have managed to garner from Mark Cavendish winning 15 stages in Le Tour on Dura Ace.

It’s not about who sponsors better racers—that’s a tossup. Sure, SRAM has Contador and Schleck, but you’ve got Cavendish, Farrar, and Zabriskie. And in the US market especially, that should be even odds. SRAM just uses the riders they sponsor much more effectively. They do TV ads featuring their racers. They do full-layout glossies showing their component groups and who won which race while riding on them.

What does Shimano do? You run what is frankly a pretty weak ad for XTR in a predominately road publication. The ad features Adam Craig (though it doesn’t tell you that), a fine racer, but one who has missed most of the season with injury. An ad, any ad, featuring Mark Cavendish, even one as lame as this, would be better than what you’ve got:


I recently switched from a SRAM Red crank to a Dura Ace crank. I made this decision for one simple reason: the Dura Ace crank just performs better. Way better. Sure, Red is the lightest group you can get. So what? Pros are adding weights to their bikes to get them up to the UCI minimum. And 85 fewer grams (the difference between the actual weights of the two complete gruppos) won’t help you if you’re stopped at the side of the road putting your chain back on.


Of course, looking on the bright side, Shimano, you're yet to lose market share to SRAM in the fixed gear market. This is primarily because SRAM doesn’t offer any products for track bikes. Though the track bike market is tiny, this market is growing. At least until all the people wearing wool caps and skinny jeans held up with the seat belts of old Buicks decide that fixies aren’t cool anymore, and they’d rather ride Razor scooters or longboards.


And while it’s easy for me to jest, I’m sure it’s getting harder and harder to explain why fewer and fewer high-end bikes are being spec’d with Dura Ace. Especially when just a few years ago, you had nearly 100%* of the OE US market.

*Campy had some share, just as they do now, but it’s tiny. Even though Campy doesn’t even slightly care about the US market, there are a handful of people who consider being unable to receive neutral wheel support in a race or having to own or have access to a $300 tool just to put on a new chain a worthwhile sacrifice to have a gruppo that goes to 11.

If SRAM were truly producing a better product, this loss of market share would be one thing. But Di2 is hands-down the most amazing thing I have ever ridden. It’s so much better than anything else that there’s nothing to compare it with. And while Di2 is expensive to the point of being unobtainable for most people, including me, there aren’t nearly enough demo centers. Because Di2 is so good that if people actually rode it, there’s a meaningful number who’d be willing to spend the money, but who today have no idea what they are missing.

Even when we’re just comparing the mechanical gruppos, you get a good idea of how poorly you’ve promoted Shimano technology when the best marketing I’ve seen for a Dura Ace component wasn’t even produced by Shimano.

It's just a front derailleur -- what can be so amusing? It's this: When Shimano's arch-nemesis SRAM unveiled their much-ballyhooed Red component group in fall 2007, one of its most-hyped attributes was the fact that the left Red Doubletap lever (in contrast to SRAM Force and Rival) allows for front derailleur trimming. It has a micro-shift to it, which allows you to cross chain in gears like a 53x21 and eliminate noisy front derailleur/chain rub. And this was a fine enhancement, so long as you didn't dig too deep into the details (e.g. Red doesn't allow for trimming when you're in the small chainring -- so you're SOL if you're in a 39x13. Cross-chaining in the small ring is noisy as hell. Another fact, of course, is that Shimano has offered front derailleur trim in the STI lever since, like, forever.)

What's funny (or at least interesting) is this: The great innovation with the Dura Ace FD-7900 is that Shimano has eliminated the need for front derailleur trimming. SRAM hasn't yet figured out how to provide it, and suddenly Shimano has made the need (in a Dura Ace drivetrain, anyway) obsolete. Thanks to the fresh design of both its cage profile and the linkage, you can cross-chain to your heart's content. You won't get chain rub, so you won't need to micro-shift the noise away. Sure, 53x25 and 39x11, etc. are usually unwise gears to be in -- they put excessive wear on your drivetrain, and they have loads of mechanical drag. But, then again, at crunch time on race day, your pain-addled, oxygen-starved brain isn't optimally situated for thoughtful shifting decisions.

Really, Shimano, this is not a conversation we should be having. You’ve got great product, and you sponsor exciting racers. Creating a lot of buzz about both of those should be a piece of cake. I mean, Red has only been around since 2007. 2007! But I fear, like the US auto industry a generation ago, that you are a sleeping giant. You’ve enjoyed tremendous market share for years, which you’ve been able to maintain by focusing on making good products and letting them sell themselves.

Suddenly you need to market those products in order to be able to sell them. This is a little different than engineering, but really compared to how hard it must be to build equipment this good, this part should be easy.

You’ve spent the money to sponsor great riders—now start featuring them in your ads. Even if it feels unseemly at first, make a big deal of it when people win on your stuff.

You’ve spent the money to sponsor this week’s Tour of Utah—now take advantage of more than just a chance to put your logo on some signage and drive around in branded wheel cars. Set up a mind-blowing Di2 demo center. Recruit sales people and brand ambassadors to attend the race expo with some neat show-and-tell, and have them tell the story (I’d be happy to work a booth in exchange for product, hint, hint).

SRAM has positioned their stuff in a way people understand: cheaper and lighter. Don’t let that be the end of the discussion. 85 grams in a complete group isn’t going to make a difference. There are lots of good reasons to buy Shimano (durability so good I've ridden the same XT drivetrain on my mountain bike for more than five years being one of them), you just need to talk about the reasons in a language consumers will understand.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Meth moms and shameless self-promotion

I’m guessing you’re more interested in the “meth moms” part of the post than the shameless self-promotion, so I’m going to get the self-promotion part out of the way first. That way I’m sure you read it.

Shameless self-promotion item #1: If you haven’t already, please donate to the Huntsman Cancer Foundation. 100% of what you donate goes to fight cancer, as the overhead and staff salaries of the foundation are paid by Mr. Huntsman. I was sort of ambivalent on fundraising and even doing Lotoja this year until I went for a ride with Matt Bradley the day before he went in for a pretty nasty surgery to treat his cancer. During the ride, Matt’s brother, Seth, asked if I was racing Lotoja. I gave him my ambivalent answer. Seth asked where he could go to donate to Huntsman. How could I not be 100% committed after that? Thanks, Seth. And thanks to everyone who has contributed.

Shameless self-promotion item #2: My lovely wife, Rachel, has opened a bakery. No retail operation, she’s just supplying coffee shops, or rather a coffee shop (for the time being), with an eye to supplying others, as well as catering business meetings. So, if you want to sample the delicious pastries, head over to Bad Ass Coffee Co. (3530 S. State in SLC) and ask for a Kona muffin or a caramel brownie or some Irish cream cheesecake. Or better yet, all three. If you’ve got a meeting or event that would be enhanced by some delicious pastries, drop her a note to see about placing an order.

Now, on to the meth moms.

I mentioned last year that down the hill from us on the Alpine/Highland side, one is likely to encounter stripper moms. Which would leave one to wonder whether down the hill from us on the Draper side such a phenomenon would also occur. Turns out the geographic separation has resulted in the evolution of a similar but not identical species (this is believed to be an example of divergence, as the two are believed to derive from a common ancestor).

Draper has a variety of mom (certainly not all of them) far more frightening* than the stripper moms: the meth moms.

*Not that the stripper moms are frightening. Indeed, as dug mentioned, there are worse things.

What, you may wonder, is a meth mom, and how did I become acquainted with them? As it happens, I like to ride my bike. And not just for leisure. Occasionally, I actually use my bike for transportation, riding it all the way from my house to my office or from my office to my house. And when I ride from my office to my house, I ride through Draper at approximately the same time a vast fleet of Escalades and Navigators is busy ferrying adolescents from one round of overprogramming to another.

These moms in Escalades seem to think that the gutter offers all the space I could possibly need to ride my bike safely. And that indeed, this allotment of the gutter is a gross allotment, and that the side view mirrors of luxury SUVs are exempt from any need to stay clear of the gutter and the vertical space directly above it.

The burning question, though, is whether this negligence is based on apathy or ignorance. Do these moms really not care about me, and would they just as soon see me wrapped around their axle as able to go to work and provide for three young children? I want to doubt this is the case (though I can’t rule it out completely).

Which leaves ignorance. How can they not notice a man dressed in brightly colored spandex? How can they not realize that he might need just a little bit of road space in order to be safe? One look in their eyes reveals the answer: stimulants are the only reason they’re able to maintain anything even resembling a wakeful state. And awake is a relative term that’s less distinct than you may realize from the comatose state they will undoubtedly enter when the chemicals leave their systems.

Hence the name meth moms. I’d wager that at least one of the three women who forced me into the gutter and in one instance the curb in a single two-block stretch of 123rd South was only awake because the meth was keeping her that way. And when you consider the pressure she’s under, you begin to see why she turned to such drastic measures rather than just lying down and taking a nap.

Draper moms’ reasons for meth use:

  • When she got married at age 19, she was a size 2. And though it didn’t take much work to maintain at that age, at 39 and after having had four kids, it requires getting up at 4:30 a.m. to spend 60 minutes with a personal trainer in addition to the 60 minutes of cardio she’ll do on her own.
  • Meth not only helps you stay awake (per the above), it also makes you less interested in food. So when two of the four kids are starving because they went straight from school to violin to volleyball practice, and the only place to eat en route is McDonald’s, meth helps you avoid the McNugget McTemptation.
  • Increased libido. The downside of the fitness regimen is that the husband is not just interested in his summer intern, he’s still interested in his wife. And even though she’s sleep-deprived and starving all the time to stay fit while he, um, isn’t, the meth helps her feel somewhat interested in him.
  • Meth makes you feel invincible. And while this can be a bad thing if you’re standing at the top of a 100 meter cliff, when you have four kids, all of whom have an overblown sense of entitlement, starting the day feeling invincible may be the only way to make it through to the end.

The big problem with all this, aside from how bad meth is (OK, so it’s probably not meth, maybe just lots and lots of diet coke), is that as invincible as a meth mom might feel in her 3,000 kilo Escalade, that’s how not invincible I am riding around in little more than my underwear at a speed almost as fast as you’re going in your car with no protection whatever offered by my 7 kilo bike. So do me a favor and give me some space as you come by, even if it means slowing down and getting your kid to swim team 30 seconds later.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A satisfying glimpse

A week ago Saturday, I raced in the Tour DAY Park City*. The next day I packed up and went on vacation and didn’t give a second thought to this blog until I got home. But since Aaron was curious enough to ask me about the race the other day, I figured I’d do a race report.

*I hate that they use “de” in the name of the race. But I ranted about that last year**, and the promoters ignored me. They did not ignore my rant about feed zones, however, so I’m inclined to just be grateful for the improvements this year over last and ignore their preposterous and pompous use of a French word in the name of an American race since they’re clearly not interested in coming to their senses about it.

**Not just on this blog. I actually provided feedback to the race organizers, I think via an online survey, which I thought was a nice touch and an indication that they were serious about improving*** the quality of the event.

***Aside from the name, one other thing they failed to improve is their ability to measure distances using the metric system. The 200m to the summit sign was a good 500m from the summit. And the finishing straight, which according to USAC rules must be at least 200m without any turns, was no more than 50m from the last corner. This was a huge problem last year, with a confusing labyrinth of a finish. This year’s finish was less confusing, but no more straight. But this 200m finishing straight problem is not unique to this race, as Terry McGinnis and State Championship Criterium are similarly afflicted and have finishes more dangerous than they need be as a result. I’m really not sure why USAC officials allow the promoters to set up courses that don’t satisfy the rules.

I’ll get the results out of the way up front: I placed 14th. Nominally one of my worst results of the season, yet I’m perfectly happy with the race and my performance.

We raced in a combined Pro/1/2/3 field, which is the primary reason I’m happy with the result. We were scored separately, so I was the 14th out of 20ish Cat. 3s across the line. But racing with the big boys changed the dynamics of the race enough that I still think of it as a good result. Here’s how it went down.

The ride up Chalk Creek Road was just that—a ride. A far cry from the brutal pace up that road the weekend before. Once we got to the dirt, we drilled it pretty hard. Then when we were on pavement again, a few guys went off the front, including teammate Pete. Elliott and Curt, two of our Cat. 2 teammates, suggested we get one more in the break, but they knew it would get chased down if it were one of them. Steve volunteered to bridge while the rest of us chased down anyone else that tried to get across.

As we started the climb, the break had four and a half minutes on the field. I thought with that kind of lead, and the shortened course being downhill or flat the last 80k, they would stay away for sure. I got on the front and rode tempo to try and keep the pace just high enough to discourage other attacks, but not so high that we’d gain time on the break. I knew it was only a matter of time until things blew up.

And blow up they did. When the Pro/1/2* guys decided it was time to go, I went from first to being spit out the back in seconds. I didn’t even try to keep up and just upped my tempo to what I knew I could hold to the summit and hoped they didn’t catch Steve and Pete.

*There was only one “pro” in the race, but he won.

At the front end of the race, the four and a half minute gap was down to one minute within ten minutes of that move being made. Less than 1k from the summit, they were caught. Heartbreaking.

Back in the autobus, I teamed up with Jeremy, a Cat. 2 from Ski Utah and winner of this race two years ago, and Brooks, a Cat. 3 from Wright and someone who dropped me like a stone when we climbed this pass in the other direction at High Uintas. Yet somehow, I was feeling good enough that the pace was higher when I was on the front, and the other two quit taking pulls and just followed me, promising to make up for it on the other side.

Just short of the summit, we caught Manny, another Cat. 2 from Bike Shoppe, and the four of us worked together on the descent. It was hopeless to try and bring back the lead group, but we thought there was an outside chance of catching the first chase group and still getting a respectable finish.

With about 20k to go, we spotted a rider ahead, evidently one of Brooks's teammates. It was Alex, who had dropped off of the chase group when he caught a finger in his spokes. He joined us but stifled some of our hope when he indicated the chase was pretty far up the road.

Shortly thereafter, though, we could see traffic getting backed up, indicating the vehicles were probably stuck behind the race. Which meant we could catch them if we drilled it. So we did. Or rather continued to drill it. Because we’d been going pretty much all out since the point we got dropped on the climb. In hindsight, passing backed-up traffic on the left wasn’t such a great idea on a two lane road, especially when a Camry decided to make a surprise left into a gas station, nearly taking Manny and me out. But we survived the Camry and caught the chase group.

What we should have done at this point was keep going right on past them. We were 10k from the finish, and this group was the breakaway plus those that got popped from the leaders, about 15 strong. They were in no mood to chase and would have let us ride away from them. Instead, we sat in, glad to not have to do the work anymore.

My legs however, thought the race was over. When I tried to pedal again after a few minutes rest, they let me know there would be none of that by cramping from hips to knees. No sprinting for me.

Out of our group, Pete took the bunch sprint, with Steve right behind. Up the road, Will missed the Cat. 3 win by the narrowest of margins, while Curt and Justin went third and fourth in the Pro/1/2 field.

Good day for the team, and other than the cramps, I felt strong all day*. Not hang-with-the-Pro/1/2-and-stupid-fast-climber-3-guys-over-the-pass strong, but as strong as I’ve felt on a climb like that and stronger still on the other side. Would have loved for the break not to be caught, and were we not racing with the big boys, it probably wouldn’t have. But then again, it may have never gotten away in the first place.

*I felt like a decroted piece of crap after. For a couple days after the race, I thought I had torn a calf muscle, it hurt so bad. I struggled to hike up small inclines, and stairs were torture. Training for racing involves bringing yourself right up to the edge of collapse, and then backing down, each time extending the limit of where the collapse is reached. I was pretty sure after this race ended that I had reached the point of collapse. Of course, I also planned to go on vacation for the week after the race with that expectation.

In our all-too-soft modern society where very few jobs involve real risk or the testing of physical limits, bike racing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing, open-water swimming, bull fighting, marathon running, and countless other pastimes occasionally allow us a brief glimpse of what we’re really made of and what our bodies evolved to be able to accomplish. The days when we’re afforded that glimpse and don’t come away disappointed are the most satisfying.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Regular readers know that my writing is more regular than some of my readers. Except lately, I haven’t been so regular. No, I don’t need a suppository to loosen the sluices on some writer’s block. I’ve just been on vacation. But seeing as how I’ve posted where I live on this blog, and I don’t have a brother Ray with a vicious dog to house sit for me while I’m away, I figured I wouldn’t tip my hand to would-be criminals about my extended absence until after the fact.

And I suppose, since reading blogs is about voyeurism just as much as writing them is about exhibitionism, you’re perhaps wondering where I went. To Oregon, that’s where. Oregon, the state that Alex has so recently mentioned manages to land itself atop all those silly “places rated” lists. Turns out there are some pretty good reasons why.

Oregon’s kind of an odd, conflicted, place, because it’s divided into two distinct sections by the Cascade range, and this range divides the climate, both physically and politically. The West side of the range is wet and green and liberal. The East side, dry and brown and conservative. But somehow the policymakers manage to get along well enough (or more likely the liberals bully the conservatives sufficiently) to make some public policy decisions I think the rest of the country would do well to emulate.

  • Lower speed limits. First thing you notice upon entering the state is that you better slow down if you don’t want to get a ticket. Interstates have a max speed of 65 versus 75 in neighboring states (or in some stretches of Utah, 80!?). Highways have a max speed of 55. Sure it takes you longer to get where you’re going, but it also helps you take in the lovely scenery and use less fuel. And unless you’re an over-the road trucker who can’t safely drive above 65 anyway, you’re likely not in that big of a hurry to get across the state that slowing down a bit is a big deal.
  • Full-service fuel stations. The fuel you save costs ever-so-slightly more than in neighboring states, because a service station attendant is going to pump it for you; you can’t pump your own. This is intended to create jobs, but it’s also nice for travelers, as the attendants are usually helpful in providing route data, and they always cleaned our windshield.
  • Concise road signs. Oregon road signs get right to the point: Speed 55; Elk; Rocks. They tell you what you need to know and don’t leave you wondering like you do with those picture signs whether the quadruped depicted is a deer, an elk, a pronghorn, or, in the case of several signs we saw in Nevada (and I’m not even kidding here—we actually saw them foraging near the road), a burro.
  • No sales tax. Price marked is price paid. Sales taxes are regressive, and if anything, discourage commerce. Which, for all the genius policymakers out there, is not what you want to do if you’re trying to stimulate the economy.
  • Pothole hotlines. If you notice a pothole in the road, the city of Portland has a hotline you can call, with the number posted on signs throughout the city, to have the street department come fix it. Nice.
  • Slow vehicle pull-outs. It’s one thing to provide a pullout lane for slower vehicles. But the fact that slow vehicles actually use them is what makes them really terrific.
  • State parks. Oregon state park campgrounds all have showers. We stayed at one that was a short walk from the campground to a lovely beach that never had more than 15 people on it, and that includes our family of five. Nevermind that while we were at this campground, a five-year-old boy also went missing. That part was a bit scary, but it ended well.
  • Bike friendliness. Portland is a bike-friendly city. Duh. Lots of people ride there as a means of everyday transportation. Some of the traffic signals even have bike-specific signals to allow bikes to get from one bike lane to another. Anything that encourages people to ride where they could otherwise drive is a good thing. (Incidentally, I didn’t ride at all while on vacation—took the whole week off the bike. But I did walk rather than drive whenever I could.)
  • Weird forest people. OK, this one’s not so much a public policy decision, but I thought I’d include it anyway, because I think some of the public policy fosters this culture. Or maybe the culture fosters the policy. But anyway, Oregon has some weird people. The fact that ghillie suits were displayed in shop windows in one town is evidence enough. I’ve even heard Portland described as where ambition goes to die. Free ridership is the major flaw in many liberal public policies, but anywhere you encounter self-described druids alongside off-the-grid militia types on a regular basis only adds to the charm if you ask me.

So anyway, we like Oregon, the mosquitoes that did their best to eat us alive at Crater Lake notwithstanding. Probably not enough to ever move there, but it was nice. Nice enough that we were talking about going back before we even got home. The scenery was pretty good, too.