Monday, January 31, 2011

A weighty decision

Long-time readers know that my motto is “if you can’t be fast, you should at least look good™.” Which is why even though it’s the dead of winter, right now is the most wonderful time of the year to be a cyclist.

Why? Because right now is when clubs are placing their orders for team kits. And once again we get to imagine how each bit of form-fitting lycra will look stretched around our bronzed and shaven thighs (which, incidentally, should provide whatever motivation is needed to lose that winter weight and get out the garden shears for some manscaping).

My brother Steve and I have been exchanging text messages to coordinate our kit purchases. Since we’re not twins and therefore never wore matching outfits* as children, we never grew tired of it.

*Which is not to say we never wore the same outfits. We did. But since I’m older, he wore them after I outgrew them. Just never shoes. I never outgrew shoes as a kid—they always wore out first.

We’re both ordering skinsuits because skinsuits are dead sexy. I am contemplating shoe covers as well. As Steve put it, “dude, you show up to a crit in a skinsuit and shoe covers, and everyone will know you came to kick ass.”

I responded “I’ve seen that look before, just never on the winner.”

He validly countered, “but they looked good, right?”

The only problem is that looking good isn’t just about what you wear, it’s also about what you do. And if you wear shoe covers in a crit, you can’t reach down and tighten your shoes before the last lap. A weighty decision, indeed.

Friday, January 28, 2011

25 years ago

I woke up this morning with a bit of chest congestion and a slightly sore throat. It was not enough to stay home from work over, but 25 years ago today, I skipped school over similar symptoms. I remember this, because I remember staying home from school and turning on the TV and watching the space shuttle launch. And then watching it explode. Odd how you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing at these moments.

On my way to work this morning, I heard a touching memorial to one of the Challenger crew, Ron McNair, offered by his brother Carl. I recommend reading or listening to the whole thing, but here’s an excerpt:

As youngsters, a show came on TV called Star Trek. Now, Star Trek showed the future — where there were black folk and white folk working together. I just looked at it as science fiction, 'cause that wasn't going to happen, really.

But Ronald saw it as science possibility. So how was a colored boy from South Carolina — wearing glasses, never flew a plane — how was he gonna become an astronaut? But Ron was one who didn't accept societal norms as being his norm, you know? That was for other people. And he got to be aboard his own Starship Enterprise.

This photo from The Big Picture of teacher Christa McAuliffe shows her excitement over traveling to space. She was wearing that grin in pretty much every photo.

Teachers are real-life superheroes, in my opinion. McAuliffe was just hero enough to be chosen to teach an important lesson from an enormous classroom.

Thank you, Ron, Christa, and crew, for your courage and for your legacy.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

More affordable


Am I the only one who finds it a bit odd for framesets (not complete bikes) priced at $3,500 and $2,849 to be described as “more affordable?”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Euro style

Yesterday was my first bike ride of 2011, and the first ride on my road bike (other than on the trainer) since October. I remembered everything for my ride except a helmet, so I went Euro style, sans casque with just a cap on my head. Here are some observations:

  • Riding without a helmet made me hyper-aware of traffic. I did not want to crash and die or get injured so that the commenters on* could flay me for being stupid and go on and on about how I had it coming and they wish all cyclists would get off the road, and that any child dumb enough to be born to a parent who rides a bike deserves to grow up without a father**. Two blocks from my office, when I was finally starting to feel like I’d made it through the ride safely, I discovered that just because a car signals a turn doesn’t mean they will actually turn. Glad I waited.

*Yes, I realize KSL has put their comment boards on hiatus, but that doesn’t mean the commenters who would have said those things aren’t still thinking them.

**Actually, my real fear was not that I would get hit by a car and die. I don’t particularly fear death and have enough life insurance that I’m more concerned about a serious injury that would leave me severely disabled or in a vegetative state. Time to draft that living will—wonder if I can put a clause in there that even if I could remain alive without life support but had little or no quality of life due to my injuries that my caretakers would just leave me alone in an apartment with no food and just a big bottle of vodka and lots of razor blades.

  • My wool cycling cap with ear flaps, a Christmas gift from my kids (that I helped them pick out), has intensified my love for wool clothing.
  • MTB and cross both have their appeal, but there is nothing that compares with the feeling of speed one gets on a road bike.
  • This was my first ride on a Fizik Antares demo saddle. After ~25,000 kilometers, my Specialized Toupe Gel finally got a crack in the shell at the end of last season and needs to be replaced. To their credit, Rico said Specialized would warranty it if I took the saddle and a receipt to a Specialized dealer, but since I bought it in 2007, I can’t find the receipt. So how do the saddles compare? The Toupe took some getting used to. The Fizik did not. Which is not to say I like the way the Fizik feels better than the Specialized—jury is still out on that one—there just wasn’t a 10 ride break-in period. My big concern with the Fizik is that without the cutout, I will get sleepy-peepie. I had no numbness yesterday, but I was only riding for an hour. I can get better pricing on the Fizik since they are a team sponsor, but after so much time, I am used to the Specialized and may stick with it, even if it means paying retail.
  • The nice thing about riding in cool weather is that it requires tights, which meant I didn’t have to shave my legs. If I’m still wearing tights in June, you will know why.
  • Is it that unshaven legs look less toned than shaven legs, or is it that my legs really are less toned in the off season? (If this is not an admission that cyclists shaving their legs is driven by vanity, I don’t know what is.)
  • Taking four weeks off the bike after Nationals was probably the minimum amount of time needed to ensure recovery and restored motivation. It felt good to be on the bike again, but not so good that I’m ready to start racing again in six weeks.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Review of Smartwool NTS, one year hence

Dressing for a ski tour isn’t a simple matter of just putting on the same clothes every day, regardless of conditions. At least it isn’t for me. I guess you could put on the same clothes, but they’d get rather stinky, and you’d likely not be super comfortable.

Warm days can be the most challenging because you’re likely to sweat on the hike, but “warm” is a relative term, and as soon as you stop moving, it won’t feel warm for very long.

Really cold days can also be challenging, as there’s not a lot you can do to mix up what’s on your feet, and aside from growing a beard, there’s no good option for keeping your face warm. And since you can’t grow a beard on your nose, and at least 50% of the population can’t grow one at all (or is forbidden from doing so by their better half), a beard is at best a half solution.

One year ago, I wrote a review (at the time quite preliminary) of the Smartwool NTS (Next to Skin) midweight baselayer. And regardless of what the weather is going to be like, I find this setup is my preferred first layer, especially on the long tours when staying comfortable for several hours is the most challenging.

The wool is great for minimizing the “swampy” feeling most clothing gets when it’s sweaty. It seems to do a better job of insulating when wet than synthetics, and it just feels warmer on the really cold days. If it’s warm, I hike with just the baselayer on top, no jacket until it’s time to ski. Cold days, I’ll put on a softshell for the hike and then add another layer for the descent. Even if it’s snowing lightly and I don’t have a jacket on, getting wet doesn’t seem to be a problem.

In fairness, Enel pointed out in the comments of my post a year ago that there are other companies making great stuff out of wool. But after a year of heavy use, I have no complaints about the construction or performance of my Smartwool.

Friday, January 14, 2011

First time

Last weekend, the stars finally aligned to take this little girl alpine skiing for the first time.

So we went to the store (three of them actually) to get a hula hoop. Hula hoops are hard to find these days, but they are a great aid for teaching little ones how to ski.

We take things slow with the kids. Get them used to how it feels to glide on snow first. Then we’ll work on pizzas and french fries and making turns. We’re in it for the long haul, so if a kid is cold after one run, we call it a day (free after three is nice for this). Kids who ski are liberally rewarded with hot chocolate and goodies. Make it fun and keep them coming back.

We took this approach with the older two, and they think skiing is fun. They even like skiing together. And, believe it or not, with their parents.

JunkieBoy is tearing things up in the new boots and helmet he got courtesy of RabidRunner. She may not be a good mormon, but she’s got the love thy neighbor thing pretty dialed. That’s all that matters if you ask me.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The trashiest, most awesome thing I have ever done

Friday night I took JunkieBoy to the monster truck show at the Maverik Center. Admission cost about the same as going to the movies (though we did have to pay for parking). Concessions were about the same as going to the movies. Entertainment value was head and shoulders above going to the movies, especially movies that are age-appropriate for JunkieBoy.

Of course there were lulls in the action. Thankfully those were filled by people watching that was the best I’ve experienced since the Rush concert. A representative sample was the woman with a topless mermaid tattooed on her upper arm. The mermaid may have been her own likeness. Awesome.

We brought our own earplugs, because Dug warned us it would be loud. They sold earplugs and aspirin (spelled asprin) at the concession stands for those who forgot.

The monster trucks did three competitions: wheelies; drag race over crushed cars; and freestyle. Between each round some locals drove old Chevys and Fords through a mud bog. Bigfoot won all three rounds. Here’s a clip of the freestyle performance.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Full circle

Back in the 1980’s, my sisters referred to me as a “modem monster,” because I would be up late at night on my Commodore 64, connecting to bulletin boards via a 300 baud* modem. This would be no cause for concern today, because they could just use their mobile phones. But back then, it was a major hassle, because we had a single landline for the entire household of nine people. Which is why I did it late at night.

*If you understood what I just said, you dated yourself. And you are a nerd.

Bulletin boards were this way geeky thing computer nerds used to talk to each other without really having to talk to each other. I think the one I liked was run by someone who called himself “Bill the cat.” They allowed multiple nerds to congregate in one place and share inane facts about their lives via computer. (This may sound familiar.)

Then along came the worldwide web and killed all the bulletin boards.

Then along came Mark Zuckerberg, who stole an idea from his college friends that those college friends stole from old computer nerds: a bulletin board. Except they called it Facebook. And Facebook promptly killed the worldwide web.

Advertisers like Facebook because Facebook knows everything about its users, so whenever you look at an ad, they know who looked and lots of demographic details about the looker. They pay a premium for that shit. Goldman Sachs just paid a premium for a piece of the Facebook action because advertisers are willing to pay a premium to get in on it. And Goldman will still make money on the deal.

Don’t get me wrong, Facebook is great for keeping tabs on friends you couldn’t otherwise be bothered to spend time with. It’s a stalker’s dream come true. It would be easier to navigate if the posts were organized by topic. But then again, the only two real topics are: “feel sorry for me because my life sucks;" or "be jealous of me because my life is better than yours."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Game on?

I gained two kilos* within a week after Lotoja. I raced all of cyclocross season overweight and then promptly gained another couple kilos after cross season ended. I am, at the moment, comfortably plump**.

*Yes, I’m still committed to using the metric system on this blog. I don’t use it all the time in everyday life, because that would be annoying and in some cases, impossible. For instance, I can’t go to the grocery store and insist that they repackage my gallon of milk into metric containers or ask the gas station to re-price my fuel on a per liter basis.

I do, however, think that making a hard and fast nationwide conversion to the metric system would be a great use of stimulus dollars. Anyone who works as an engineer, mechanic, scientist, or in the medical field is already accustomed to using metric. It would take us a year to make the switch, and by the end everyone who wasn’t using it already would be used to it. Then all we’d need to do is start dipping our French fries in gravy, and the Canadians would have nothing left to laugh at us about. Well, except for our screwed up healthcare system. But that’s another tangential rant for another post.

**But not so plump as to adversely affect my Wii fit age. My three year old’s Wii fit age is 28, and everyone I know who has tested has a Wii fit age greater than their actual age. So last night when I did the assessment, I was pleasantly surprised to have a Wii fit age of 34. Wii fit age is based mostly on a balance test. I guess skiing and riding bikes are good for your balance. Who knew?

Rachel and one of her friends decided that they were going to kick off the new year with a fitness challenge (novel idea, I know). In a misguided show of solidarity, I agreed to participate. The list of rules is quite lengthy, but part of the point is austerity, including additional penalties if you fail to live up to the rules.

I won’t bore you with the details, but the bottom line is that we had cake at work yesterday to celebrate a high-volume day, and I ate the fruit off of mine and threw the rest away. For dinner last night, we had an assortment of vegetables, most of them raw. Halfway through dinner, I was ready to swear off bike racing and dieting forever. Except that there wasn’t anything in the fridge that wasn’t part of the program, so it wouldn’t have done any good.

The only upside is that one of the rules is a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night. So last night I went to bed at 9:30 to ensure I got the minimum before getting up at 4:30 to ski with Jon. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before, and I don’t think I’ve ever had such an easy time getting out of bed to ski before work.

Unfortunately, the good feeling was short lived. I never really got into a rhythm hiking, and within an hour, I was running on fumes. When we got to the top of Argenta after just under two hours of hiking, I was cooked. And today, skiing down wasn’t a breeze, as the wind, sun, and other skiers had conspired to make for a somewhat challenging descent. By the time we exited, I was glad to be done. I don’t think most diets are designed with highly active, reasonably competitive, endurance athletes in mind.

The views at the top were nice, though.

On Saturday, we brought in the new year right, with good skiing and good scenery in Days Fork.

What’s the saying? My life is better than your vacation? With as many times as the Powderbirds dropped people on top of the slope we had already skied, I’d say that’s the case for at least a few people.