Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 Epic Colorado Mountain Ride - Part 2


NOTE:  This post is rated PG-13 for mild strong language.

Introduction

This post is a sequel.  If you start reading from here, chances are you’ll figure it out, like with those endless superhero movie franchises.  But if you want to understand why my friend Pete and I did this super-long bike ride in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, click here for part one.

Food

Here’s a little-known truth:  real bike racers—I mean the Euro pros—actually starve themselves.  As I learned from a tell-all memoir, one coach even recommended that his riders make a practice of doing a six-hour training ride, drinking a couple liters of carbonated water, and then trying to sleep through dinner.  I wish these riders and coaches hadn’t figured out that the human body is capable of normal power output even when half-starved, because the modern dietary strategy has made all the pro racers look like stick figures or extraterrestrials.

For us amateurs, the old rules still apply:  ride big, eat big.  I don’t mess around when it comes to fueling up for a big ride, and I enjoy the privilege of unconstrained gorging.  So on the evening before the second leg of our epic Colorado mountain ride, Pete and I went to a little family-owned Italian joint in Fraser.  The owner said, “Sit anywhere you want, make yourselves comfortable.  I got a real good-looking waitress I’ll send over … if she ever wakes up.”  Sure enough, we looked over to see the waitress in the middle of a giant yawn.  (I’m pretty sure this was the owner’s daughter.)

We pored over the menus and figured out our strategy.  “This might cause a raised eyebrow,” I told the waitress, “but in addition to the lasagne, I’d like to order an extra-large supreme pizza.  I’m on a special diet.”  She looked surprised, and Pete said, “Hey, didn’t he warn you about the raised eyebrow?” 

Our soup and salad arrived, and the bread that came with the soup, and a basket of rolls.  Then the pizza.  Then the entrees.  You know, the term “18-inch” is actually just an approximation.  This pizza seemed as big round as a bike wheel.  And it was good, other than having canned mushrooms on it (?!).  We did some serious damage to this spread, polishing off all of our entrees and sides and all but two slices of the ‘za.  The waitress came by to check on us, saw this, and said, “Holy shit!”

Breakfast the next morning, at about 5:30 a.m., was a cup of strong coffee and (duh!) the leftover pizza.

Freezing in Fraser

I forgot to mention, we took a day off between the two legs of this ride, and during that day it rained on and off the whole time—except when we were walking to breakfast and doing a one-hour spin-the-legs ride.  Now, on day three, the rain still seemed at bay, and it’s a good thing, because it was unseasonably cold:  45 degrees.  And it got colder as we went.  As we approached Fraser, which is like a big basin, I noted all the fog collecting there.  Pete casually mentioned (and I’ve now ascertained) that because of this chronic fog, Fraser frequently boasts the coldest temperatures in the contiguous U.S.

Down, down, down the temperature plunged, to a low of 36 degrees.  In Boulder we would always qualify a remarkable temperature with “But it’s a dry [heat/cold]!” but that didn’t apply here.  Oh, and I’m a Californian, accustomed to perfect weather, so this was especially harsh for me.  We started to gradually climb out of the basin, and the slight increase in temperature caused moisture to condense all over our gear:  my bike computer, my helmet (so dew dripped down in front of my face), and my bike.


Pete said, “Hey, this is weird, my legs aren’t cold anymore!”  I noticed the same thing.  The explanation?  Condensation had formed on our leg hairs.  It seemed like every hair had its own big droplet.  Together, they seemed to form a complete barrier to the cold, insulating our legs!  So if you’re looking for an excuse not to bother shaving (other than “my wife says my leg hair is the only masculine thing about me”), there you have it.

The major climb

The big event of the day?  Climbing over Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous auto highway (in other words, the highest pass) in North America.  It’s about a twenty mile climb, to over 12,000 feet.  It’s not very hard, unless oxygen is important to you.  The scenery is pretty impressive.  There are also some  serious drop-offs, which never really bothered me, but it sure scared some Dutch relatives of mine who drove over Trail Ridge with me and my family back in the ‘90s.  The first time I ever rode this pass was the summer I turned 14; you can read about my trials (thunderstorm, hunger knock, being a stupid kid) here.  But on this day, the weather was fine, we paced ourselves, and other than the climb being really fricking long it didn’t give us too much trouble.  Here’s Pete indicating his okay-ness.


And here we are at almost the top, in front of the giant visitor’s center, which is like a national embassy or something.  You can see for miles and miles from their observation deck.  Well, we could.  See that little trail winding along in the background?  That’s Fall River Road.  You should mountain bike there sometime, or maybe I should.  Somebody should.


They sell everything at that visitor’s center.  Many years ago I bought my daughters these glorious stuffed bears there.  Lindsay named hers “Lindsay Bear,” and it was her favorite stuffy until it was stolen—yes, actually stolen—by some friends whose dog had also fallen in love with it.  So I’d warned Pete that if I could find a replacement bear, he’d have to carry it for me for the rest of the ride.  Fortunately for him, the only bears they have now are these creepily smiling mother/offspring bears that are sewn together, which is just weird.  Are you supposed to separate them, like Siamese twins, or just have this weird pair stuck in an infinite cuddle?


A guy asked us how far we’d be riding that day.  “Around 150 miles,” Pete told him, to which the guy replied, “Holy shit!”  How about that … our second “holy shit” in as many days!

We drank some cocoa, climbed back on our bikes, and rode to the actual summit.  I was hoping for a big elevation sign for a photo-op, but the only one I saw was a small placard attached to a restroom.  So you’ll have to settle for some more pictures of gorgeous scenery. 


I was in pretty good spirits as we began the descent down the eastern side, but I wasn’t completely stoked.  The problem was this:  though we’d ridden for four hours and gone around sixty miles, we’d only climbed like 4,000 feet, and we had about 100 miles and 12,000 more feet of climbing still to come.  It’s hard to enjoy an emotional high when you’ve only just scratched the surface of the suffering yet to come.  Who came up with this crazy route, anyway?  Oh, yeah.  Pete.  I couldn’t exactly complain to him though.  He’d just mock me.

Later

We had a sweet descent.  It seemed like I could feel the reduced wind resistance of the thin air.  At that altitude you can coast along at 40 mph down a 4% grade.  The air got progressively hotter and we had to pull over and shed our jackets.  We hit the outskirts of Estes Park and took a hard right (though it was tempting to go straight and descend for another ten miles.)  We bought a gallon of water at a bait shop.  (Was there even a lake?  Must have been.  It seemed like a bait shop, anyway.)

A narrow twisty steep road led us to the Peak to Peak highway, heading toward Allenspark.  Now it was all up and down over the Peak to Peak for the next several hours.  The descents were lovely but over way too soon, and the climbs went on and on.  It was a lot like how the weekend goes by in a flash and then you’re back to slogging away.  Here’s Pete possibly looking tired.  Actually, I’m sure he’s just looking at his drive train or something.


We decided to shorten the ride from the original 170-mile loop, which would have taken us all the way to the end of the Peak to Peak highway.  There was a closer cutoff—taking Coal Creek Canyon instead of Golden Gate Canyon—that would shave off about 20 miles and around 4,000 vertical feet.  The rationale for this, in no particular order, were that a) Pete forgot to train this year, and b) I’m from California.  If you’re in your mid-40s and have recently completed a 170-mile ride with 16,000 feet of climbing, feel free to give me a hard time about this capitulation.

It had been really hot coming out of Estes Park, but other than that we enjoyed perfect weather.  All day we were looking out at thunderheads but they always seemed to be over some other vista—either the place we’d just been, or the place we were headed.  It was like somebody took Murphy’s Law and stood it on its head.


We climbed to Ward, kept straight, and descended to Nederland.  Why is it called Nederland when its elevation is over 8,000 feet?  It’s because miners of nearby Caribou Hill, which is at over 10,000 feet, used to bring their ore down to this place for milling, and called it “the Netherlands,” and when the town was incorporated in 1874 they chose the name Nederland.

We stopped at a convenience store for some calories—the same convenience store we’d gone to during our last epic ride, three years ago.  I well remembered getting a Hostess fruit pie last time, but Hostess has gone under, so all they had this time were Lil’ Debbies brand fruit pies.  These ended up being even better because they were cheaper:  $1.29 for 480 calories, putting to shame every energy bar in existence. 

It’s funny:  some people I know like to go on high-end vacations to fancy resorts where they eat Kobe beef and drink expensive wine, and maybe get luxurious spa treatments, but I don’t get that much pleasure from such things.  All the fuss slightly embarrasses me.  I’d rather tackle a bike ride that’s so difficult that just sitting on a bench feels like an extreme luxury, and a cheap fruit pie tastes exquisite.  If the ride is long enough, my lukewarm energy drink starts to taste like a magic elixir, and a cold glass of water at the end is a small miracle.

Below, you can compare photos from the recent ride and the 2011 one.  Do we look older?  Frailer?  I think the main difference is that my crow’s feet are more pronounced and my eyes are even smaller, collapsing into my face.  Three years from now my eyes will just be slits, like on a drive-by car.  The other noteworthy thing is that this time my lips are purple, as sometimes happens when I’m oxygen-deprived..


We rode south awhile longer, then departed the Peak to Peak highway for good, hooking a left and climbing Coal Creek Canyon.  I guess I was pretty spent at the top because my hands were shaky and I couldn’t manage to take a useable narcie with Pete.  (What?  You’ve never heard of a narcie?  It’s the more precise word for “selfie.”)  I kept accidentally cropping one or another head, and couldn’t get enough of the background in there.  So here’s a non-narcissistic photo of the gorgeous backdrop (and yes, more thunderheads).  They don’t call it Wondervu for nothing.


At this point in the ride we had about twenty miles to go, virtually all of it downhill.  Our average speed so far was 16.1 mph and the question was, how much could we increase that?  The other question was, could we actually manage to avoid the rain?  We could see it coming down hard out on the horizon, over Denver. 

The descent was a blast, needless to say, and when we turned south on Highway 93 for the last few miles of the ride, we satisfied our schadenfreude centers by passing hundreds of cars trapped in rush hour traffic.  We got to Pete’s house in Golden and could see it had rained there, and looked like it would rain again.


It did rain again, very hard, like ten minutes after we arrived.  If you think we had amazing luck, well, yeah, we did.  But the last time we’d tried to do an epic ride, in spring of 2012, there was so much snow all the passes were closed.  So to me this felt like Mother Nature righting a wrong.

Upslope

Upslope?  What?  You mean we had to ride up another hill?  No, it’s this beer:


See how it says “limited release”?  This isn’t just the BS you sometimes see, like my old “Limited Edition” Bruce Jenner Signature Edition AMF Roadmaster bicycle, where they “only” made 150,000 of them.  This Belgian-style beer really was available for just a short period last spring, and Pete liked it so much he set aside a six-pack for four months so we could have it after this ride.  Well, actually, his will power flagged a bit over the months and he only managed to hang on to three of them, but that ended up being plenty.  We didn’t even get in a fistfight over the third beer, which we split.

Dinners

My first dinner was pasta with chicken in a Madeira sauce, at Pete’s.  Immediately following this I headed over to my brother Max’s house and we had pasta with marinara sauce and fried fish.  Nobody thought anything of this; Pete’s wife knew that the meal she served was just a warm-up.  Maybe that’s why I like this sport so much.

Stats and maps

Several of my biking pals have talked about doing an intervention and forcing me to join Strava.  One guy even mentioned sneaking a GPS device on my bike so they could gather up some big data, figuring that once I saw all the pretty graphs, maps, and reports, I’d finally cave in.  Well, until that happens you’ll have to make do with some bullet points and snapshots of Pete’s Strava pages.  (And this blog, of course.) 
  • 146.1 miles
  • 8:41:14 ride time
  • 16.8 mph average speed
  • 71 rpm average cadence
  • 11,161 feet cumulative elevation gain
  • 37.2 miles total climbing
  • 13,747 feet cumulative elevation drop
  • 61.7 miles total descending





Wednesday, August 20, 2014

2014 Epic Colorado Mountain Ride - Part 1


Introduction

If you’ve been following albertnet awhile, you may recall that I did a road trip with my family a year ago April to visit Boulder, my old hometown.  One goal of that trip was to do an epic ride with my friend Pete.  Alas, the drive out was marred by a massive blizzard that almost did us in, and all the mountain passes were closed throughout my visit.  Pete and I did a 40-mile flat ride among the snowfields but that was it.  I’ve vowed never again to drive to Boulder in the spring, and Pete and I hatched a scheme to do a 2-part, double-epic ride during August, when snow is much less likely.  Last week, we finally pulled it off.

Who is Pete?

The short answer is, Pete is a former professional bike racer whom I met in the 1985 Red Zinger Mini Classic, where—despite his costing me the overall victory—we became friends.  The long answer requires some background.  When I was a teenager my bedroom was an unfinished basement.  It was pretty dark down there, so I could sleep in good and late during the summer, at least in theory.  Unfortunately, Pete would invariably phone me up first thing in the morning.  I didn’t have an answering machine, nor would I pick up, so it became a battle of wills as I tried to fall back asleep while he let the phone ring and ring.  After like twenty minutes of this continuous ringing, I’d finally go upstairs, pick up the phone, and yell, “You bastard!”  He’d laugh, and then we’d go ride.  That tells you pretty much what you need to know about Pete.

Food

My bike pals and I like to send around e-mail race reports, which sometimes end up on our club’s blog.  My race reports—and also my ride reports, since I almost never race—tend to focus on the food.  Why is this?  Well, food and bike racing are tightly intertwined.  Do we eat to ride, or ride to eat?  Both.  Without massive consumption of starchy food, we’d never be able to finish the super-long rides we like to do.  And without the super-long rides, we’d all be too overweight to get around on our skinny-tired, ├╝ber -light racing bikes, and/or we’d be embarrassed to ride them.

So, yeah, food.  Pete and I ate big the evening before our big ride.  We went to the Gondolier restaurant, a Boulder institution since 1960. In our teens we used to eat there every week because they had a Tues/Wed Spaghetti Special:  all you can eat, brought to the table, for $1.99. I always ate at least five plates, my record being seven.  Here’s what a plate of Gondo pasta looks like:


My wife has pointed out that watching me eat such vast quantities would be a disgusting spectacle if I weren’t so skinny.  How true this is.  The joke would wear thin if I had to pay for my overindulgence.  During this Boulder road trip, I went to Squeeze In, a celebrated diner in Sparks, Nevada.  There was a wait, and I had to stand around because the bench in the waiting area—which would have accommodated at least five cyclists—was filled by this giant tattooed guy and his wife.  The guy was interrogating the hostess about whether this was the place featured on some TV show, and whether his burger would be like on the show, with the cheese oozing out past the bun onto the plate.  (He gestured very precisely to illustrate this.)  The hostess replied, “I’m not sure if the cheese will do that, but if it doesn’t, just send your burger back and have the cook add a few more slices of cheese.  Don’t worry, we’ll do whatever it takes to make you totally stuffed.  We’ll roll you out of here on a damn gurney if that’s what you want.”  (Did she really say this?  Of course not.  But I’ll bet she was thinking it.)

Anyway, at the Gondo I had some garlicky rolls, three plates of pasta, and four slices of my brother’s large everything pizza.  This was definitely less than I used to eat as a teen, but I do have some fat reserves now, and anyway I’d had a big lunch.

Six Dark Thirty

Our ride would be something like 100 miles with over 10,000 feet of climbing.  That might not sound very hard, but Pete’s house in Golden is at about 6,000 feet elevation and we’d be climbing to an elevation of over 11,000 feet, twice, and finishing at around 9,000 feet.  That would give us a net elevation gain of about 3,000 feet.  We figured we’d better get an early start.  I set my alarm, which was a pity because I was crashing in Pete’s basement, which was nice and dark and would have been a great place to sleep in good and late, just to right an old wrong.

My alarm went off, I dragged myself out of bed, and I headed up the stairs, huffing and puffing because my sea-level lungs were ill equipped for the altitude.  There Pete was, slouching on the sofa, flipping me the bird.  He was ticked because his little daughter had climbed into bed with him at 1:30 a.m., following which he hadn’t slept well.  This came on top of several nights of very little sleep due to his occupation.  Of course none of this was my fault, but he could legitimately begrudge me all the sleep I’d been getting during my vacation.

Here we are, early in the ride, at the Red Rocks Amphitheater.  At least, I think that’s where we are in this photo.  To be honest, I know Pete said something about it but I wasn’t paying enough attention.


After Red Rocks we climbed Squaw Pass for like two hours straight.  We’d both had some knee trouble leading up to the ride but for now our knees (and legs) were behaving.  I clicked through the data screens on my bike computer and was thrilled to discover that we’d climbed for over 25 miles, meaning we must surely have broken the ride’s back … right? 



Well, not really.  I mentioned this impressive stat to Pete, who said, very casually, “I guess that means we’ve got about 30 more miles of climbing to go.”  Man, that really took the wind out of my sails.  I could almost hear my resolve hissing out of me, like air from a punctured raft.  Or was that my breathing?  Near the top of the pass we stopped for a breather.


 Pete is trying to smile, but you can see it’s faked.  Look in his eyes:  they tell the real story.  There is definitely suffering there.  You see, he forgot to train for this ride.  His longest ride of the year was 80 miles, his second-longest 50 miles.  And then there’s the sleep deprivation.

I wasn’t doing so hot either.  If you look closely you’ll see fear in my eyes, because I’d already drawn 100 miles worth of breaths in half that distance.


We descended to the Mount Evans visitor center at Echo Lake, which is about halfway up Mount Evans.  If we’d been real men we’d have taken a left and ridden to the summit, which at over 14,000 feet is the highest paved road in North America.  But since we know we aren’t real men—this is made embarrassingly evident by our compact cranksets—we had nothing to prove and stopped at the visitor center for Cokes and to get out of the rain, which had just started up in earnest.

We were in the visitor’s center awhile.  It was pouring rain and I went two rounds in the restroom.  I was tired enough that I found the noise of the high-powered hand dryer almost intolerably oppressive.  In the gift shop were all kinds of bumper stickers, t-shirts, and other stuff saying things like “I made it – Mount Evans, 14000 feet!”  I guess some people consider that making it all the way up there in a car is a pretty big deal.

Out on the porch I saw a middle-aged motorcyclist putting on waterproof rain pants.  To make conversation, I said, “I wish I had some of those.”  She retorted, “You should have brought some.  It rains all the time up here.  Are you from out of town or something?”  I allowed that I’d lived in California for a couple decades, and she snorted, “That’s what the weather report is for.”  I could have pointed out that any weather report that didn’t forecast possible thunderstorms at this altitude would be delusional, so actually the forecast was immaterial.  But that wasn’t the point. 

The point is, bike racer types don’t have saddlebags to carry all that gear, and we’re prepared to suffer accordingly.  I’ve been caught in plenty of rainstorms, and even snowstorms, without sissy waterproof pants.  I could have pointed out that I’m made of better stuff than she, that I don’t need a gasoline engine, and that what she might consider hazardous—e.g., a cold rain—is to me just a nuisance.  “At least your jacket is orange,” she said.  “Yep, it’s pretty visible,” I replied.  “No, that’s not what I meant,” she continued.  “I mean it’s orange like the Denver Broncos.”  Maybe my parents were right all along:  I shouldn’t talk to strangers.

The weather gods, as if to mock this motorcyclist, shone on Pete and me:  the rain stopped at the exact moment we climbed back on our bikes.  We had a sweet descent to Idaho Springs, getting a bit cold and wet before becoming warm and dry again, and then began our second long grind, this time up Berthoud Pass.  As we regained the higher elevations, the sky darkened again and we heard thunder.  We were getting close to the tree line, aka timberline, which (as you can see in this photo) looks a bit like male pattern baldness.


By the way, in addition to energy drink and gels, I ate a lot of Lara bars during this ride.  Not only are they yummy (or did they just seem yummy because I needed them so bad?), they pack more calories for their size and weight than other energy bars.  No, I’m not a weight freak, but when your jersey pockets are overstuffed, and you have like four bars in there, every bit helps.  (I am not sponsored by Lara bars or I’d be forbidden to tout them like this.)

I forgot to wear my Road ID bracelet, which was unfortunate because it seemed like any moment Pete might just ride away from me, leaving me for dead.  So I reminded him that his best protection against being struck by lightning would be to crouch low over his bike and ride right next to me, so I’d be the tallest object around.  People do get struck by lightning up here, so maybe I shouldn’t joke about it, and perhaps I should take the threat more seriously.  But compared to the threat of being run over, how serious is the lightning threat, really?  And what are we supposed to do, skip the ride entirely?  Stay home and ride the trainer?

I was breathing good and hard all the way up the climb, but at least it was that delicious-smelling air that you get before and after a rainstorm.  I was hit by about half a dozen raindrops before we made the summit of Berthoud Pass.  A friendly motorcyclist, who found it in herself not to chide us for our foolish lack of raingear, snapped this photo.


I would like to point out that Pete’s bike doesn’t actually have a giant sheepskin-covered saddle.  That’s just a rock in the background.  It’s also not the case that we deliberately set up the photo so as to be on opposite sides of the Continental Divide, as my wife had thought.  We’re not nearly that clever, especially when our brains are deprived of oxygen.

The point of this next photo is the sky, but it didn’t come out right.  I forgot my camera on this ride and had only my smartphone.  That’s why there are so few action shots:  it’s hard to handle the phone while riding and I’d hate to drop it.


So, yeah, we did finally get really rained on during our descent to Winter Park, but I didn’t mind.  After all, we’d defied the odds all day; we could have just as easily been rained on for hours.  Besides, we knew we’d have a hot shower waiting for us at the end.

Food, revisited

We chilled out in the condo for awhile.  (Actually, we warmed up.)  Outside, it rained steadily up until it was time to walk into town for dinner, at which point the rain stopped.  At a little brewpub Pete knew, we started our feast with nachos, which were terrible because of vulcanized faux-cheese goo, but it didn’t matter because we subsequently hit upon the pure genius of ordering both sliders and burgers. 

For a place with such crappy nachos, the sliders and burgers were delicious.  I ate all my fries and most of Pete’s.  And I broke my vow of temperance (undertaken to prepare for the upcoming Everest Challenge) because beer does such a nice job of relaxing tired muscles.  After all, this had been just a warm-up ride, to get us fit for the real ride two days later.  Visit albertnet again soon, because I’ll be posting that story next.  Here’s a little teaser though:  Pete showed me the Strava-generated Day 2 route on his phone beforehand, saying casually, “I think it’ll actually be a bit less than 170 miles.”

Stats and maps

Since I’m not on Strava and you wouldn’t be following me if I were, here are some statistics and a couple maps of our ride.  Most of these stats are from my bike computer, which understates the climbing due to its dependence on barometric pressure measurement, which isn’t very accurate when the weather is spotty. 
  • 97.3 miles
  • 6:18:40 ride time
  • 15.0 mph average speed
  • 73 rpm average cadence
  • 10,581 feet cumulative elevation gain
  • 49.6 miles total climbing
  • 7,153 feet cumulative elevation drop
  • 39.3 miles total descending




Tuesday, August 12, 2014

From the Archives - Cleaning the Preschool Yard


Introduction

I have a difficult relationship with volunteer work.  On the one hand, of course I want to be a helpful person.  On the other hand, when I do volunteer my time to an organization, I don’t always perceive that they make the best use of me.  After all, if they don’t, it’s not like they’re wasting their money.  Maybe my help was really needed, maybe it wasn’t—it’s all the same to them.  (My other altruistic behavior, donating blood, entails no such misgivings, since a unit of blood is worth about $5,000.)

When I wrote the story below, about cleaning up the playground at my kid’s co-op preschool, I was a bit bitter because our daughter’s application for the next year had been turned down.  The school was oversubscribed, with a long wait list, etc., and technically my daughter’s birthday was just outside their (seemingly arbitrary) cutoff.  That story has a happy ending—the school ended up bending the rules and accepting my daughter for the next year—but I didn’t know this at the time.  So I wrote this tale while in a cranky mood, which probably improved it.  (The tale, not the mood.)

Cleaning the Preschool Yard – April 23, 2008

Last Saturday we had to clean up the preschool yard again.  I was feeling incredibly fatigued to start with, unnaturally so.  I even passed out for ten minutes in the car when we got to the preschool, from this crushing fatigue just sopping the life out of me, and then when I joined my wife in the yard she’d snagged the push-broom.  Dang it!  That’s supposed to be my job!

Using that broom is the only thing I feel qualified to do at that playground:  sweeping sand back into the giant ground-level sandboxes.  The yard looks really nice when the sand is all flush with that spongy ground surface, but I wish they’d install a lip there to keep the non-sandbox areas from being invaded by great dunes between clean-ups. 

I guess there’s technically one more job I feel qualified to do, which is extracting dead leaves from the sandboxes, but I hate that job.  The scritch-scritch of the rake is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. And it’s a fool’s errand, trying to get the leaves out, because most of them are these tiny things like the crispy onions that lousy restaurants put on salads, and there are thousands of them, podlike, floating continually down from the trees, making me want to not only cut down the trees, but to fund the design of a sophisticated herbicide that could eradicate that species of tree from the planet.

So I wandered over to the water play station, which is this crazy tri-sink apparatus.  Surveying it, I was reminded how much I like this preschool, even though it’s expensive and they rejected my daughter for next year.  Some part of me can’t shake the thought that they’d have bent the rules for Lindsay if they liked her more.  This is irrational, but there it is.

So, yeah, this playground sink thing is a tribute to the school, having obviously been built by a very, very smart parent, not just a skilled plumber but somebody who understands how to educate a child.  A physics professor couldn’t have devised a better way to demonstrate the water table effect to children.  There are all kinds of valves to open and close, and sprayers, and tubes that feed water, via gravity, to other sinks, and it’s just a masterpiece except that it’s in this play yard with all this sand, and the less sophisticated students (probably the boys, frankly) evidently think there’s nothing more fun to do with this engineering marvel than to fill it full of sand. 

What is it with boys and sand?  When at a playground, my daughters play sophisticated games of psychological and social intrigue, their favorite being Incarceration, where they pretend they’re in a prison  and have to orchestrate daring escapes.  And what do little boys do?  Dump sand all over the slide, in the sinks, in the playhouse, everywhere, ad infinitum.  I’ve watched this play out at playground after playground.  It doesn’t usually bother me, except when it’s here, because every time I clean this sink, I am removing massive amounts of sand from it.

This time was particularly bad, as the plumbing was completely clogged.  I decided to drain the standing water from the sink manually so I could sweep the bulk of the sand out before tackling the plumbing itself.  To make the sink-draining process less tedious, I tried to teach Lindsay and Alexa about siphoning.  With each unavoidable mouthful of filthy water I got starting and re-starting the siphon, I consoled myself that at least I wasn’t siphoning gasoline.  The scumbags who steal gas out of our car, right in front of our house, have that to deal with; once there was a pile of vomit next to the hose the dude left behind.  Of course, when we’re paying through the nose to live where we do, it’s not actually all that comforting to think that gas theft is going on in our community.

Anyway, my kids were reasonably attentive with the siphon lesson, until they both realized that instead of listening to me, they could dig an extensive network of canals and such to make use of the water suddenly at their disposal.  I can’t very well tell my kids not to play, because the only saving grace of this particular work detail is that we don’t have to get a sitter as long as those two stay out of our hair. 

At one point Alexa killed my siphon by lifting up the end of the hose, and the prospect of another mouthful of filthy water doubtless influenced my reaction.  Here I marveled at my own grumpiness:  I should be glad that my kid is even halfway listening, whether or not she absorbs the lesson, because most kids would be ignoring me completely, flipping me off and/or dumping more sand in my tri-sink apparatus.  Which was proving to be my Waterloo. 

I scraped most of the sand out of there, to the detriment of my already wind- and ice-water-chapped hands (girlie-hands that should take real work in stride but have been softened by office work) and then set about trying to unclog the sinks.  Between flossing the pipes with a hose and trying to build up enough pressure to blast out the sand, I got confused and turned on the wrong valve and got a full sprinkler going, right in my face, soaking half of my dry-clean-only sweater.  Did I mention that there was a cold wind howling through there?  I thought this was spring!  I thought this was California! 

Anyway, I eventually got the drains basically working, and Lindsay and Alexa complained bitterly when their water supply was finally cut off for good.  It was sort of hard to tell what Erin had been working on this whole time.  The place looked better, sure—the sand was smoother, there was a bit less of it on the non-sandbox surfaces—but it seemed like I’d been fighting with the sinks for ages; surely by now everything else should look good as new?  I’d hoped so, because my contribution would be practically invisible, and one little boy in five minutes would probably re-clog the whole sink station before any adult laid eyes on it.  But there was no metamorphosis in the yard, and—worse yet—Erin still had control of the coveted push broom.

Oh how I envied her that push broom.  I think the best thing about the push broom is that you can just stand around leaning on it, feeling like a government-employed janitor killing time until his shift is up.  Whenever I do schoolyard cleanup I fantasize about living in a socialist country, taking comfort in the idea that when that whistle blows, I’m done, whether or not I accomplished anything during my time there.

Our actual situation is quite different:  we don’t get to leave until Erin is satisfied that we’ve done a kickass job of cleaning, one that will bring glory to the Albert family within this preschool community—never mind that they’ve already rejected our daughter and by extension our whole family, so it’s too late anyway.  And never mind that most of the other volunteers probably show up, set a tipped-over pail upright, bury a few dog feces, and bail after five or ten minutes.  I looked around and made the mistake of being obviously between tasks, and Erin asked, “Are you ready for our special job?”

Man, I thought this whole thing was special.  You mean we have some extra tacked-on thing to do this time?  Yes, we do.  We have to organize the tool shed:  she’d signed us up for this.  Now, if there’s one thing I’m really uncomfortable with (actually, there are actually a great many things I’m uncomfortable with), it’s organizing some area that isn’t mine.  If somebody went and organized the tools in my garage, I’d be really annoyed.

Actually, that’s untrue.  I’d be really pleased if somebody organized my garage, but only because there is no organization there—I’ve got house tools (coarse, ugly, practically unusable) and household gewgaws (incomprehensible, crummy, made in China) all mixed up with bike tools (beautiful, perfect) and bike parts (precise, precious, expensive).  But this isn’t my garage we’re talking about.  It’s an established preschool, and if there’s one thing worse than performing manual slave labor to incrementally beautify this doomed child-ridden environment, it’s putting out similar effort to actually lower the quality of the adult-focused subset of that environment.  Somebody who actually cared about the tool shed probably spent a fair amount of time and energy figuring out how to organize it, and it’s pretty well organized.  What could I do to show that I’d put in my time, besides changing things around arbitrarily?

So I hauled everything out of there, swept, and hauled it back in.  This took a great deal of time.  Most of what I was hauling out were tricycles:  really awesome, heavy, bulletproof tricycles, the coolest I’ve ever seen.  At least a dozen of them.  Glorious, surely European-made, some with trailers, some with cargo bays, most of them swept back like choppers, with the sleek yet burly industrial look of WWII-era aircraft or Kitchen-Aid mixers.  Where did these things come from?  The newer tricycles among them—also Euro, also cool—were already wearing out.  The older ones suggested an earlier time, a golden era, when the preschool was either totally flush with cash, or had a kid whose dad was either a tycoon or just very, very fond of exquisite trikes and children.


I suppose handling this fleet of sweet trikes could have been pleasurable to me, but the sad fact is, my appreciation was lessened by the thought that Lindsay doesn’t even ride the trikes, because she’s not strong enough to pedal them.  (I’m not surmising this—she’s told me so.)  Alexa tried to ride one while we were there, but the effort of running over a hose or a tree-root-lifted concrete lump was enough to ruin both her forward movement and her resolve.

So anyway, I got everything out, sorted some rubber balls (a grown man, sorting balls!), flung some things back behind other things to create the impression of tidiness, swept a bunch of sand out of there, and then brought everything back in, and half the sand with it.  Meanwhile, another family had shown up to clean the inside of the school, and their kids ran through the puddles, joined by Lindsay and Alexa.  Those two completely forgot their very clear instructions, and tracked sand all over the play structures until they looked exactly like they did when we arrived.  I kept a close eye on the tri-sink area, ready to intervene should anyone go near it with so much as a pinch of sand.  Another gust of wind came in and broke loose a mind-boggling flurry of leaves, which settled down over the sand  like a blast of confetti in an operating room.  (Don’t over-think that metaphor.) 

To my amazement, at this moment Erin declared we were done.  And for what?  By the time we found Lindsay’s and Alexa’s shoes, put our equipment away, and hauled ourselves out of there, the place looked like a war zone.  Two and a half hours, and the teachers will probably think we never showed.  Sweet.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Review - Da Crack Taqueria, Poipu, Kauai


Introduction

As I discussed in my last blog post, I took a vacation to Hawaii recently, and though I know you don’t want to hear how great a time I had, and conversely nobody wants to hear any complaints that start out “When I was in Hawaii,” everybody loves a restaurant review, right? Well, given that it’s a review of a hole-in-the-wall on the most remote archipelago in the world, and you will probably never go there, maybe you’re not that interested.

But wait, are you a foodie? And do you like taquerias? Are you curious about one man’s effort to find good spicy food in the land of poi? (If you haven’t heard of it, poi is a paste made of taro corm that ancient native Hawaiians allegedly ate, and which you can still get, and which I did try, and which has a flavor a lot like Spackle or Bondo but not as intense. And yes, “corm” is a real word, and yes, I did enjoy using it just now—first time!)

Okay, what if you’re not a foodie? Might you be a tech-weenie? Well then, read on, because—lacking a laptop PC in Hawaii—I dictated this entire review to my smartphone. That leads to all kinds of fun: you can decide for yourself how impressive the voice-recognition software is; laugh at it biggest gaffs; and try to decode (via context) the intended words lurking beneath best-efforts like “dustless pros,” “whole ten toes,” and “run Russian unicorn.” I’ve left the haphazard capitalization in place, such as the so-called smartphone’s decision to capitalize “Chipotle” and “Thunder” but not “hawaii” or the first word of any sentence. I’ve also left misspellings uncorrected, because poor spelling seems to be an island tradition.

(Note: I originally sent this via e-mail as a race report to my bike club. My race reports focus almost exclusively on the food, to the point that it simply doesn’t matter that I lacked a bicycle during my vacation.)


Restaurant Review – Da Crack Taqueria, Poipu, Kauai

Greetings,

This is a non race report because I’m not doing any racing much less riding while I’m in Hawaii but I’m going to give you a report anyway because not riding racing should never stop you. the food is what’s important I’m going to regale you with the tale of our taqueria here on Kauai because you like to try different taqueria is at least some of us Lindsay of course being the notable exception who hates all Mexican food. okay now I’m really ticked because my whole last sentence all of which was dustless pros has been lost because it couldn’t connect. you see, I’m using the voice recognition because I have awkward stubby fingers to type like the dickens on a proper keyboarding but don’t do so well with these smartphones. stupid anyway, the place we went to as this little hole in the wall taqueria called Da Crack. it was highly recommended on Yelp or whatever those one of those sites one of those rating websites. the logo was a crew leader on cartoon of a guys butt crack. on that basis Alexa refused to eat there but we didn’t give her a choice. Lindsay meanwhile hates all Mexican food on principle making me wonder who the father really is.

so what’s a walk up place just a counter no tables no chair there’s a little tiny bench along the wall outside but it’s really a carryout deal. the whole menu is on a chalkboard but they are also selling their logo bearing hats and shirts. so it’s a combination of small time and self congratulating big time. not that I have any problem with that my favorite place ever la fiesta sold really groovy t shirts. but now I have stolen my own Thunder by mentioning la fiesta because you know that I can’t possibly given to Sterling review to any place having summoned the ghost of my long lost favorite place. this is Andy speaking not Andy and right now I’m eating with a weird seeing images.


Erin has a fish taco for $11 and I do mean fish taco, singular, but hey Islands prices, right? Alexa and I both had pork burritos, but they were not carnitas, they only had shredded pork, which is a shame, and is matched by the offering of only whole ten toes or whole black beans, not the refried beans that I think should be required in all talk worldwide. but the burritos to come stalk with cheese and sour cream, which is pretty nice because of some expect to be nickel and dime stood up on everything when you’re traveling in hawaii.

so one of the unique things is that they offered two kinds of sour cream or perhaps it was dressing for the fish taco and that was either Chipotle or what sabi and I had to guess that erin would want massage me because she had wandered off to supervise Alexa who refuse to be seen standing in front of a place called Da Crack. Not “what sabi” or “massage me” but wasabi, geez. the burritos were un remarkable and run Russian unicorn remarkable in terms of choices except that it was Mexican brown rice, and cabbage instead of lettuce. Unicode Lindsay ordered see Keiki kids cheese quesadilla, which route was about five dollars, and wish we could have easily made at home which we should have done because of course we took these back to our condo to eat on the lanai.

okay, down to brass tacks. how was it already, you surely want to know. well, the fish taco have these little bricks of fish that looked slightly funny, and meet us a little nervous, at least me, because you know this is the land of spam. not spam as in unwanted email like this one, I but I mean real spam, as in shoulder of pork and meat, or whatever spam stands for. you know, Hormel spam. but the fish, which was probably mahi mahi, was not at all like spam and in fact was quite tasty, and those hotties sour cream, which you’re going to have to figure out what I mean kama because surely this voice recognition software is going to butcher wassabi yet again, was quite tasty. it was a flour tortilla, oddly enough, but there’s a silver lining in that in that the taco, there being only one of them, it was fairly big. it had a side of pinto beans and that aforementioned Mexican brown rice, which were both pretty good, and if there was any complain I had with this thing is that there wasn’t enough salsa, but we had some handmade store bought salsa from the island heater that was fairly good. plus we had some dose Aki’s beer, the special lager with the green label, which wash everything down real good.

so on to the main item that being the burrito, the tortilla was grilled rather than steamed which is great, and the size was pretty good, and the beans were black which of course is not as good as refried was pretty darn good I actually like the rice pretty well. the cabbage was good, & I think I’m going to start using that in our home made make your own tacos, an albert standby, because it gives a little extra crunching is probably better for a kids at being cruciferous. the meat of course is the star of the show, & I couldn’t help but to wish that my shredded pork was carnitas, or that I’ve gotten beef, because it turns out most of the beef on this island seems to be local grass fed beef, but I forgot that and when you’re getting something at a sketchy walk up counter called Da Crack, there’s something that causes you to hesitate about taking any gambles on your meat.

the salsa was okay, but I ordered hot and this stuff was pretty darn tame. they did have a great nation called fire but I avoided it on principle because I think it’s lame to call something fire, and by the way didn’t Taco Bell already steal that name? so anyway I said it was a good burrito, but not a great burrito, and then Gertrude Stein punch me in the face.

so, a little background about the name of this place, which I have to admit did not entice us to eat there. according to the counter person, this place was huge in the 70’s and had some sort of standard name, play pou taqueria or something, but everybody nicknamed Da Crack, and then when it folded in 2007 it was a great opera and everybody back for them to open up again and so when they did this time they just gave it the official name of Da Crack. so what has the script loyal following, almost every review you read says its where the locals go, & I guess I can’t blame them because it’s one thing to come from the Bay Area, possibly the best place for burritos in the entire world, but another to be on some isolated island where most of the food is not Mexican, and where most of the food probably shouldn’t be Mexican, if I’m to be perfectly candid.

bottom line? if I found this place in the mission I might think it was kind of neat because it was a little different a little island inflected, a little islandy you might even say but I wouldn’t go back there because it was perfectly mediocre. but if I found this plays in Saint Johnsbury Vermont, or in Ashburn Virginia, or in an airport, or hell, even in Boulder Colorado, I would think I was a revelation and be very glad to have it around. but that doesn’t mean anything could ever have me rocking a Da Crack baseball cap.

Mahalo.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Misspelling in Hawaii


Introduction

Earlier this month, my family took a vacation to Kauai.  (There, I typed “Kauai” without misspelling it.  That word, and all Hawaiian words, often trip me up, as “Hawaiian” did just now, and it’s a good thing—perhaps—that  my word processing program instantly flagged the error.)

Where was I?  Oh, right, Hawaii.  I can’t blog about how great a time I had there, because nobody wants to hear about it.  But I also can’t complain about anything, because any complaint that starts out “When I was in Hawaii” isn’t going to generate any sympathy.  And yet, this having been a terribly expensive vacation, I feel like I should somehow get some good blogging mileage out of it (as I have done with an overpriced museum visit and a pricey pair of cycling shoes).  So in this post I’m going to examine the strange sense I got that nobody in Hawaii can spell.

Not that I’m not saying Hawaiians can’t spell.  Somehow, visitors to Hawaii also can’t.



Misspelled food

My family is a foodie bunch.  (Can “foodie” be an adjective?  It can now!)  So perhaps it’s not surprising that the first misspellings we spotted were food-related.  The very first was a section on a menu called “Desert.”  I cut people slack when they (incorrectly) write “just desserts” because when the word “desert” is used as a noun but (correctly) pronounced like “dessert,” to indicate “something that is deserved,” we’re into some pretty arcane English-major territory.  But when a restaurant misses that second “s” in “dessert,” you hope they’re better at hygiene than spelling.  Still, we’d have brushed it off had not another restaurant, a day or two later, made the same error.

Later on, we saw “TACO’S” on the banner for a taqueria called Da Crack, and I decided this wasn’t a deliberate error (along the lines of “da” for “the”) but just an uneducated approach to spelling that treats apostrophes like garnish.  (Too bad Da Crack didn’t have any really good garnish, like cilantro.)


In the case of ethnic food, particularly Asian food, I’m very quick to forgive misspellings, and often count them as a sign of authenticity (along with their cousins, the weird word choices you see like “Fire Burst Stomach Trips” or “Eight Precious Rice Pudding”).  And sometimes Asian restaurant misspellings can be really funny, like “Braised pork in spicy Human sauce.” 

I’m less understanding when it comes to Western misspellings, like we found in our condo.  The hosts had left a handy list of restaurant recommendations, and it had some pretty blatant errors.  For example, a burger place was touted as “a much healthier choose than McDonald’s.”  The name of this burger place?  “Bubba’s Buger.”  This led to lots of corollary jokes (especially popular with my daughters) such as, “Anybody feel like eating boogers tonight?”  But the funniest misspelling on this list was a recommendation for a health food restaurant where we should “order the Acai bowel, full of antioxidants and pure energy.”

Misspelled journal entries

Perhaps you’ve stayed in a bed & breakfast or inn where there’s a nicely bound little journal in which guests can record their feelings about the place.  This journal doesn’t function like Yelp, since you’ve already paid for and occupied the place, so most guests just gush about how great a time they had and how wonderful everything is.  So there’s a lot of gloating, and perhaps some one-upmanship as well (i.e., attempts to be more thoughtful or articulate than the last guy).

Almost every entry in the little book at our Princeville condo had misspellings.  Here is a partial list, courtesy of my older daughter who read them out to me as she went along: 
  • beutifil, beutifilly
  • foget
  • eastun (for “eastern”)
  • beatifull
  • evere (I had to see this one myself to make sure it wasn’t just a handwriting flourish)
  • do able (for “doable”)
  • awsome
  • well (for “we’ll”)
  • what so ever
  • cando (for “condo”)
  • click our heals (within a “Wizard of Oz” reference)
  • use to (for “used to”)

What I found particularly strange about all this is that the people writing in the guidebook didn’t seem slapdash about it; their handwriting was neat and their sentences well-crafted.  None of the entries looked to have been penned by a sloppy t(w)een  (other than that of my own daughter); and there weren’t any LOLs or FWIWs or GR8s or other signs of Gen-Y shorthand.  And yet it costs big bucks to stay in this “cando,” so it’s not like these were uneducated people.  I was, and am, deeply perplexed.

By the way, here is my own condo journal entry, which you can scrutinize for misspellings and/or one-upmanship:


Why so much misspelling?

I suppose it would be very imperialist of me, almost Manifest-Destiny-ish you might say, to judge Hawaiians’ spelling of English words when their native language is so very, very different.  Throughout our vacation I struggled to pronounce the native Hawaiian words that frequently popped up as place names and other proper nouns.  I fared far worse than our GPS narrator when saying, for example, “Ala Kalanikaumaka Street” (though we noticed that the GPS Lady pronounced it a little differently each time).  And yet this is actually pretty straightforward compared to words like “pu’uwai”  and “ku’uipo,” with their surplus of vowels and weirdly placed apostrophes.


Still, I can’t explain away the English misspellings based on the oddities of Hawaiian spelling.  After all, plenty of people are able to master two entirely different alphabets; as a high school student I was pretty good at spelling Russian words correctly.

Could poor spelling be related to the blissful, carefree apathy that comes from drifting your life away in an island paradise?  Well, it is the case that the lovely Anini Beach had been called “Wanini Beach” until the “W” fell off the sign, and rather than fix the sign, the Hawaiians just shrugged their shoulders and let “Anini” become the new name. 

But, as you’ve already noticed, these theories don’t explain why visitors to Kauai, like those writing in the condo journal, can’t spell.  It’s not like something comes over us in the week or two we spend here.   Even my daughter’s journal entry had only one typo—a missing apostrophe—which is exactly the kind of sloppy mistake she makes at home.

And those comical misspellings in the list of restaurant recommendations provided by the condo owners?  Well, the owners don’t actually live in Hawaii.  This is their just guest home.  If memory serves, they live in Texas.

And so, after much reflection, I’ve decided that the misspellings have little to do with Hawaii, and mostly to do with technology—and the lack of it.

Huh?

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the journal in the condo is that it’s the rare example of non-typed text.  Think about this for a second:  how often do you read something handwritten?  The non-typed text I come across generally falls into one of two categories:  1) graffiti, and 2) my kids’ schoolwork.  Do I see misspellings in these kinds of text? 

Why, yes.  Perhaps the only words I see among graffiti that are consistently spelled right are the profanities.  Everything else reflects the fecal-mindedness of the graffitist.  Meanwhile, my twelve-year-old isn’t bad at spelling, but my younger daughter, age ten, still has much room to improve.  A sonnet she wrote recently— which  had very good meter and perfect rhyme, and which was very deep, being a letter to her future teenage self, bagging on herself in advance and promoting nostalgia for a time when she wasn’t “blotet [sic] and lazy”—contained no fewer than twenty-three spelling errors.

Aside from graffiti and kids’ stuff, virtually everything I read is typed, and our modern means of typing have all kinds of built-in technology to (help) eradicate misspellings and typos.  The original tool, the spell-checker, not only identifies errors but arguably helps people learn from their mistakes.  The spell-checker is not a perfect tool—for example, it’ll catch “buger” but not “Acai bowel”—but it’s been masking poor spelling fairly effectively for about thirty years now.  (At least, when it’s turned on.  I’m going to assume that restaurant people just aren’t very good with computers.)

The problem is, the classic spell-checker is losing out to more modern tools that are less educational.  Smartphones have features that enable you to type sloppily, generating character strings that only remotely resemble words; the operating system is smart enough to make good guesses at what you’re trying to type.  I can type “t-y-p” and it suggests “type,” “types,” “typo,” and “typed” and I can touch any of these to accept that word.  This is especially handy with trickier words like “beautiful.” 

When I’m on my smartphone I use the Swype technique, aka slide-typing, where I drag my finger through the letters of a word and, amazingly, the OS recognizes these words, no matter how sloppy I get.  It’s not so good with “Acai” or “mahalo” but does great with most common English words.  If I Swype “beutifil” it seamlessly corrects it to “beautiful,” just as it discreetly turns “awsome” to “awesome.”  Typing in this way, a person could generate readable text for decades without ever learning how to spell.  This is just great, until you’re suddenly forced to use a pen and paper to compose your message.

So, if you think the spelling is bad now in handwritten messages, just you wait.  We’re seeing the mere lack of spell-checker now; in another couple decades, when Gen-Y starts making enough money to rent “candos,” they’ll be even less well equipped to work out tricky words like “bowl” and “awesome” on their own.

Epilogue:  voice recognition

Do people also use voice recognition software to compose messages?  I don’t know.  I suspect that this technology is mainly used for giving instructions to your phone, and that the modern generation prefers the silence of typing and Swyping.  That said, it’s hard to really tell.  When you see a guy walking down the sidewalk yakking on his smartphone, he could either a) be having an old-fashioned voice conversation, b) be dictating a message to his e-mail program, or c) be a crazy person talking loudly to nobody or nothing at all, with the phone held up as a prop.

As it happens, I did investigate the efficacy of voice-recognition for large bodies of text:  because I find Swype typing tedious (and didn’t have a laptop with me on vacation), I dictated a restaurant review to my phone.  Needless to say, I’ll be making that review available on albertnet:  maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.