Friday, September 19, 2014

Ready for Everest Challenge 2014?


The one big race I do every year, the Everest Challenge Stage Race—two days of racing with 29,000 feet of vertical gain—is  coming right up.  In case that “29,000 feet” description doesn’t tell you much, consider that each stage of this race is like climbing a 5-mile staircase with 24,000 steps that would take you to the top of a 1,160-story building.  The first day is bad enough, but the second day is murder.  The third (and last) climb on the second day is, by itself, the equivalent of a two-mile staircase with 10,000 steps reaching the top of a 490-story building.

A friend asked recently, “Are you ready?”  It was not my wife who asked.  She knows better, having had quite enough of my blather.  It was my friend John who asked; he flew out from New York to race the EC two years ago.

I could have simply answered John directly, since he was reckless enough to ask and might actually be interested in the answer.  But why answer only him, when I could blog about it on albertnet, where other people, like my mom and a Russian hacker, might also see it?  Plus, maybe you’re considering racing the EC, or have already signed up, and are wondering more generally, what does it take to be ready for it? 

(Perhaps most importantly of all, this post will come in handy later, when the EC is over, as a retrospective building block for self-flagellation.)

My gut

My gut tells me that I’m ready.  But then, what does “ready” mean?  I’m very confident I can finish, since I have five times before.  Beyond this minimal sense, “ready” begs the question “Ready to do what?”  To a snowboarder, “ready” means “Ready to shred this gnar’!”  Which I’m totally ready to do, unless you’re talking about descending, where my modern chickenshit approach and undersized “big” chainring keep me decidedly within non-shredding, non-gnar territory.

So, what am I trying to do this year?  Well, after all the solid training I did last year, I ended up setting the wrong goal.  (I should have followed my own advice and not set a goal at all.)  I’d been so miserable on the final second-day climb in 2012, I vowed to take it easier in 2013 and pace myself better, especially on the first day.  (Day-to-day recovery is my Achilles heel.)  Did this strategy work?  Well, I certainly felt better on the second day’s last climb last year, but I was only 3 minutes 40 seconds faster ... and I was 20 minutes slower the first day.  So whatever suffering I saved myself then has been dwarfed by the year of self-loathing I’ve subsequently suffered.  (I’m reminded of a Steve Coogan line:  “Remember:  death is but a moment; cowardice is a lifetime of affliction.”)

So, this year, I’m going to try to man up and go as fast as I can, both days.  I know that sounds simplistic, but go try racing for more than twelve hours over two days and then decide if you still think this all-out business makes any sense at all.  So:  am I “ready” to go utterly destroy myself?  Well, can you ever be “ready” for that?  And conversely, aren’t we all born ready?

Of course, “my gut” doesn’t refer only to a subjective sense of readiness.  It also refers to whether or not I’m fat.  “Fat” in cycling parlance means having an abnormally low amount of body fat that is nonetheless still higher than what you wish you had.  I’m pleased to report that my fancy electrode-equipped scale tells me, as of a couple days ago, that I have 5.9% body fat. 

There’s some fine print, though:  you have to configure the scale with your height, age, and whether you’re an athlete or not.  This last setting probably tells the algorithm to simply lower the number so that the self-styled athlete doesn’t get pissed off and demand a refund on his crappy scale. 

The numbers

I keep a really detailed training diary.  I know, I know, I should use Strava for this, everybody keeps telling me that, but I don’t feel like sharing all my details with the world, especially if I’m updating the comments right after a workout and might write something untoward.  (The pro team Omega Pharma-Quick Step has a rule against riders tweeting within an hour of competition “when when emotions can be running high, and logic and reason can go out of the window.”)

Old-school Excel training diary in hand, I compared this year’s EC training to that of 2012.  (Of course how I prepared in 2013 is irrelevant, that race being an ugly smear on my memory.)  The below chart shows a comparison of the EC training period (beginning after vacation and ending in mid-September) for both years.  What I’ve discovered is that my preparation has been almost eerily similar:

Look at that.  Only ten seconds difference on Mount Diablo.  The biggest contrast is the number of Diablo ascents, but this year I did two fairly comparable rides in Colorado  (click here and here for details).  The difference in vertical gain might look like a lot, but actually, I gain that much vertical in just a couple of weekday (i.e., evening) rides.

Now, if I were a proper bike dork, I’d have a power meter and could look at all kinds of extraordinary numbers.  And in fact, it would help me during my rides as well.  I saw this in action last weekend when, on the second trip up Mount Diablo of the day, my pal Craig dropped my other pal, Ian, and me.  Craig just walked away from us (figuratively speaking).  At the summit, when Ian commented on this, Craig said humbly, “I was just watching my power meter and trying to keep it between 300 and 350 watts.”  To which Ian replied, “Yeah, I was just trying to keep mine between zero and 200.”

The requisite lugubrious day

I think it’s pretty unlikely that anybody training for a race like EC, and then racing it, will escape having a truly lugubrious day.  If he does, he’s either loafing too much (like I did last year) or is egregiously lubed like the pros.  (Yes of course I noticed that “egregiously lubed” is an anagram of “lugubrious leg guy,” except when it isn’t really, which is always.)

The trick, I think, is to get that lugubrious day out of the way during training so that you won’t have it during the race.  It’s like an insurance policy against having a particularly bad day when it really counts.  This almost worked in 2012 when I did a double-Diablo training ride fueled entirely by greasy dim sum, as chronicled here.  But I wasn’t quite miserable enough that day to call it lugubrious, which perhaps is why that last EC climb became my crowning lugubrious moment of the year.

What exactly do I mean by lugubrious?  Well, you know, just mournfully, pathetically, almost comically sad (though too sad for it to be funny).  This photo, I think, captures it pretty well.  Yes, I’m actually sobbing into my orange slices (after totally cratering in the 2003 La Marmotte).

So, you may be wondering, have I had my 2014 lugubrious moment?  Well, I almost got it out of the way really early, on January 1, when I raced the Mount San Bruno hill climb.  I went into the race angry, and was hoping to channel that anger into a great performance.  But as I wrote in my subsequent race report, “As I got dropped, I discovered that it’s possible to be bitter without being angry.  In fact, I just felt sad.”

Fortunately, that wasn’t my most miserable biking moment of 2014.  Nor was a frigid ride in the rain in February, though that experience was also awful enough to write about.  No, my worst ride of the year so far—which certainly deserves the lugubrious label—was my first double-Diablo after getting back from vacation (i.e., from missing almost three weeks of riding). 

Man, that ride was just awful.  I clocked abysmal times on the climbs, and couldn’t even keep up with my pals on the flat section back from the mountain.  (Because I’d taken so long on the climbs, Craig had to really motor to get home on time, and couldn’t wait up for me anymore.)  I finished up with over an hour of solo riding when I was barely able to turn the pedals.  By the end I was just totally shattered.  Everything hurt ... my legs, of course, and my butt, and also my forearms, my biceps, even my hands.  Even coasting hurt.  I came away from that ride feeling that the “good base mileage” rule is bogus—that I’d have been no worse off had I done no riding at all during the spring.  After that ride I was totally useless for five days straight.

(They say misery loves company, and I was duly cheered to learn that another pal on that ride fared even worse than I had.  Despite skipping the second trip up the mountain, he had to stop to lie down three times on the way home.)


All those stats I provided earlier may end up meaning nothing, as stats often do, so I should probably hedge my bet a bit with an omen.  I certainly have one to share, though whether it’s a good omen or not remains to be seen.

Last week I was hammering home through Tilden Park, at the tail end of an evening training ride, in the last moments of weak daylight before dusk set in, when I saw something swoop down from out of a tree.  Its trajectory was totally unlike that of a bird.  It came right at me and then swerved at the last second, but in the wrong direction so instead of going over my head, it went down and actually hit my thigh on its way past.  “What are you, blind?!” I thought, before realizing that yes, in fact, it was.  It had to have been a bat.  Moments after seeing it, I saw another creature of the same size and odd flight style, but this one was silhouetted against the horizon and was definitely a bat.  I got home and googled “bats Tilden park Berkeley,” and sure enough, bats can be found here.  Or they can find you.  (The other odd creature I’ve been seeing lately, but on Mount Diablo, is the tarantula.  I’ve seen three of them in the last month.)

So, what does it mean to be hit by a bat while riding?  Stay tuned to albertnet, because in early October I’ll give you the a full report on the 2014 Everest Challenge:  what I ate, and how badly I destroyed myself, and thus whether being hit by a bat is a good or bad omen.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Biased Blow-By-Blow, Vuelta a España 2014, Stage 20


I know nobody follows the Vuelta a España.  It’s not nearly as prestigious as the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, and it comes during football season when even the most diehard cycling fan is glued to ... wait, what am I saying?  It’s impossible to be both a cycling and football fan.

Anyway, since you can’t be bothered to wake up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday (except to ride), and no major cable network carries this virtually unknown race, I’m doing you the service of fighting with messy Internet feeds to get some live coverage so I can give you a blow-by-report that differs from, say, the cyclingnews one in a couple of major ways.  First of all, I get into much more detail about what the racers are thinking, where they get their hair done, etc.  Two, I spell everything correctly.  Three, I don’t have to bite my tongue when (right or wrong) I don’t like something a rider is doing (e.g., doping, being inelegant, having a funny name) and so I pretty much tell the whole story.  The real story.  The as-I-see-it story.  Sometimes an unrelated story here or there.  So here you go.

Stage 20 – 2014 Vuelta a España

It’s a great stage today.  Arguably the hardest of the whole Vuelta, with certainly the most brutal mountaintop finish.  Here’s the profile.

My Internet feed absolutely sucks.  It’s going about as fast as Cadel Evans in this Vuelta.  It’s more of a slide show, really.

As I join the action, the riders have got 47 km to go.  There’s a breakaway of four guys:  Wout Poels (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Maxime Mederel (Team Europcar), Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida), and Jerome Coppel (Cofidis).  Wout’s manager is surely yelling “Wout, Wout, Wout!” through the radio.  Przemyslaw’s manager just calls him “Slaw,” and in fact nobody on the team can pronounce this guy’s name.  His parents can’t even pronounce it.  It doesn’t matter, though, because none of these names will become a household word because the gap is down to under five minutes and there are still two huge climbs to come:  the Category 1 Alto de Folgueiras de Aigas (Climb of the Folgers Crystals) and the Beyond Category Puerto de Ancares (Port of Apathy).

I’m on some Spanish site.  I knew I should have studied that language!  There’s a chat window alongside the video feed and the astute comments I see are “Vai!!! Vai!!! Vai!!! Froome!!! :-)” and “aru!!!”  So it’s nice to see Americans don’t have a monopoly on lameness when it comes to the amateur pundit game.

My online correspondent is having no luck with his Internet feed either.  Maybe the hacking group, Anonymous, is behind this:  shutting down certain video streaming websites to protest the jocks that used to pick on them in junior high gym class.

So, while I’m waiting for Eurosport announcer (and former champion) Sean Kelly to finish the sentence he started 30 seconds ago (before my feed froze again), here’s what’s happened so far in this Vuelta (since I know you haven’t been paying any attention because it’s only the Vuelta).  The Colombian favorites are out (Rigoberto Uran Uran and Nairo Quintana).  Quintana crashed in the time trial while leading the race, which is a shame.  And Uran Uran is too young to understand why older guys call him “Duran Duran,” which is also a shame.  Plus he got sick and dropped out. 

It’s 27 km to go and I’ve missed most of the last 20 km but I have a solid feed now.  The gap from the break to the peloton is down to 1:25.  The leaders are still on the penultimate climb.

So back to the recap:  the American hopeful, Andrew Talansky (Garmin Sharp) is way down in 56th place.  My favorite rider, Cadel Evans, is doing scarcely better, in 46th.  The defending champion, Chris Horner, didn’t get to start the race because his team decided he was just too damn old and with these new “elder abuse” laws on the books, they couldn’t afford to take the risk.  Well, I guess that’s not exactly what’s going on.  They decided his cortisol levels were too low so he wasn’t healthy enough to ride.  This is in keeping with the MPCC (Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Credible) which Horner’s team, Lampre-Merida, is voluntarily participating in.  Team Sky, meanwhile, doesn’t participate in MPCC because, according to their spokesman, “We don’t need to be a part of that program because we asked our guys if they doped and they clearly said no, and they would never lie.”

Speaking of Team Sky, I see that their domestique Vasil Karienka (who is wearing “the horse face” according to Kelly, whatever that means) is at the front of the Sky train hammering the pace at the front as they’ve been doing all day and for the last few weeks.

So, getting back to the status of the race overall.  Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) is leading the GC by 1:19 over Chris Froome (Team Sky).  Froomie had a lousy time trial, which puts his pharmacist in a really tough spot, but Froomie has lately been riding better so he might well try something on the brutal Puerto de Ancares, which is 13 km (8 miles) at 8.7%, with pitches of 18%.

Contador crests the final summit of the sawblade Alto de Folgueiras de Aigas in first place, perhaps to send Froome a message but more likely because his mom is watching the stage today but will miss the finish due to a hair appointment.

So, this stage may be the final battle of this Vuelta because tomorrow’s time trial is really, really short.  The GC contest is really between Contador and Froomestrong, because the perennial Spanish stage-race also-rans, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Team Katusha), are no better than they ever are.  I think those two always vie for the final podium spot but get no higher than that, which is fine with me.  Valverde is a known doper, and Rodriguez has this thing where his upper lip gets pushed up way above his teeth, which combined with his overbite is aesthetically unsightly.  I know I should be kinder than that, especially since the poor guy has to put up with everybody spelling his name wrong all the time (i.e., Joaquin, as cyclingnews spells it) and he deserves better.  But that’s just how I roll.

The gap is down to 48 seconds between the doomed breakaway and the peloton.  They’re on the final descent before that brutal finishing climb.

The other big thing you have to know about this race is that a few days ago, a couple of the racers got in a fistfight, while riding!  It was awesome ... everybody else in the pack started chanting “Fight!  Fight!  Fight!” just like in junior high.  No, of course I made that part up, but the fistfight was real.  You can see here a video of Gianluca Brambilla (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) being told by the race officials, who are yelling at him from their car, that he’s out of the race.  (Footage of the actual fight starts about a minute into the video).  You should check it out ... it’s something to see.  Brambilla keeps gesticulating, as angry Italians often do, and then sitting up and riding no-handed.  I guess he figured “That’ll show ‘em!” and I can only hope he doesn’t do that when he’s riding in traffic and some car cuts him off.  That could be dangerous.    

So, were Brambilla and his foe, Russia’s Ivan Ronvy (Tinkoff-Saxo) ejected due to unsporting behavior?  No, it’s a bit more complicated than that.  The director of the race simply felt that their fight was disgraceful because they were such pansies about it.  And I have to agree.  They punch like little girls would if little girls threw punches.  I’ll bet any boxer could do a better job climbing the Puerto de Ancares than these guys did duking it out.  So needless to say, neither rider was given the day’s Combativity award.

It’s not the first time poor fighting skills have gotten people into trouble.  I got in a fight in my junior high gym class and landed what I thought was a pretty good punch.  It made the other guy’s mouth bleed, which I kind of felt bad about and kind of felt great about.  So then the guy started screaming and trying to kick me, and I dragged him over to the gym teacher.  To my amazement, the teacher—a war veteran, it was said—yelled at me:  “I saw the whole thing!  What is this—you land one good punch and then you come to me for help?  You don’t just hit a guy once!  You hit him again and again!”  I was bewildered.  Was this some reverse-psychology thing?  Anyway, I didn’t actually get in trouble, but having a crazy war veteran yell at you is overrated, as life experiences go.

The break is down to 17 seconds.  Sky is absolutely drilling it on the front.  It’s nothing but black jerseys and they’re taking the field apart.  Froome is sitting in third.  He’s easy to make out because his elbows stick out to the sides.  It’s really awful to look at.  The Eurosport announcer, Carleton I think he’s called, said the other day, “Froome is not flicking his elbow out to ask Contador to help ... his elbows always stick out.”

Is Sky setting the stage for an awesome come-from-behind GC victory for their man?  Could be.  Brailsford, the Sky team manager, said yesterday, “I think Froome can still win this Vuelta.”  But Brailsford also said, back in July, “It’s best not to put Bradley Wiggins in the Tour,” and said a couple years ago, “Blackberry doesn’t need to do a touch-screen ... the iPhone is a flash in the pan.”

Wow, Anna is calling me!  And she has pretty big hooters!  How do I close this pop-up without accepting the call?  I can’t handle that kind of distraction!

Man, this grade is brutal, and the road surface is medieval.  Rodriguez makes an attack!  It’s a pretty good one, too.  There’s 9K to go.

The lead group is really small now, like eight guys.  J-Rod, or “J-Wad” as he’s unaffectionately known in some circles, is still looking quite strong.  My online correspondent says of him, “He’s like an untrained porn star,” by which I think he means that J-Rod often attacks too early and blows his wad long before he’s supposed to.

Froomie is drilling it on the front with Bertie right on his wheel, out of the saddle, doing that slightly duck-footed lazy mongoose sway he’s so fond of (and which seems so effective).

J-Rod is bobbing a bit, but looking pretty solid, and he’s not doing the white man’s overbite yet.  Maybe today is finally his day.

To Contador’s credit, he isn’t wearing red shorts to match his red leader’s jersey.  His gloves and shoes are the same yellow his teammates get.  For that reason, and because his elbows don’t stick out, I’m hoping he’ll keep the lead today even if he is a filthy doping scoundrel.

It’s 17 seconds between J-Wad and the GC group.  Valverde is off the back.  Anna is calling again.  Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team) is clinging for dear life.

J-Rod is only 2:29 behind Contador in the GC, but they can give him a bit of leash.  Contador has been doing this a lot:  letting, for example, Froomie go on ahead so that Valverde and Rodriguez have to chase while he, the accountant, sits on.  I’d have to say, those two podium hopefuls have done a lot more to help Contador than his Tinkoff-Saxo team has.

Wow, J-Rod is making it happen ... his lead is now 26 seconds.  There are time bonuses in this race, too.  Maybe he’s hoping Froome and/or Contador will blow up trying to close the gap.

Aru is just barely hanging on to the others.  Froome starts totally hammering on the front!  Whoah, Valverde is totally getting dropped!  It’s unbelievable how quickly he’s going backward.  Froome is going incredibly fast, and looking really awful with his long, skeletal arms out ahead of him like a zombie’s.

It’s 5.9 km to go and my feed has evaporated, straight up vacated.  Dang it!  I’ve hit refresh but all that’s done is get Anna calling again.  Okay, now I can at least hear again and eventually can close these pop-ups.

The next kilometer averages 13%.  In case you have no idea what that means, it’s just really, really steep.  Probably twice as steep as that awful climb between your house and the video store.

Froome and Contador have caught J-Rod.  Froome sits up and rides no-handed while he futzes with his sunglasses or something, and has now stepped up the pace.  I guess he’s trying to psych out Contador. 

Man, this grade is nuts!  It’s 14%!  Froome looks solid though he’s bobble-heading a bit.  Contador looks a bit tired, but I mean, duh!  He’s been racing for three weeks!  He’s wagging his jaw, but then he always does that.  Probably does that at the dinner table.  Froome’s neck must be tired as he keeps staring at the ground and then looking up, again and again.  Maybe he’s trying to burp.

It’s 4.4 km to go.  Camera switches back to Aru to show how he’s all alone and just suffering away.  Aru punched Froomie’s ticket at the end of a recent stage and took the win, so he can’t be too bummed now.  So the top five on the GC are the top five on the road at the moment.

J-Wad is dropped!  Did I call it, or what?

Froome is so gaunt, he’s at real risk of having his jawbone slice through his flesh.  It can’t be comfortable having less than 1% body fat.  I mean, how does he even sleep at night?  And how does he shave?  What does he even eat ... rice cakes?  He’s a mystery, this guy, or maybe a space alien.

It’s just Froomeboy and Bertie on the front now, about 3 km to go.  I’m starting to think this is a stalemate, unless the race officials command them to ride no-handed from here on out just to make it more interesting.  Wouldn’t that be great, if race officials could issue such commands, like the DJ at the roller rink who would sometimes say, “Now, skaters, turn around and skate the other way!” or “Everybody skate backwards!”

Carleton says, “The road is only 2% now, that’s nothing, but soon it kicks up rather rudely!”  I love these British announcers, in a strange way.  No, not that way.  I mean I love what they say.  Or more precisely, I don’t love what they say but I like listening to them say it.

Valverde is suddenly bearing down on these guys with a quickness.  

Froome is frowning, as if thinking, “I don’t like this at all!  I don’t like Contador and I don’t like this climb and I don’t like this sport!  But it pays better than being an extra in a zombie movie, which was my only other offer, so I guess I’ll continue on.”  

My daughter Alexa has pointed out that Froome’s jersey sleeve says “FROOMEY” on it.  Are you kidding me?!

Now he’s out of the saddle and his elbows are sticking out farther than ever ... it’s really ghastly.  But it’s no good, Contador cannot be dropped.  So all Froome is achieving is to help Contador pad his lead over the other Spaniards.

Contador will probably make a huge effort at the very end—the first time he’ll face the wind all day—to get the bonus seconds, since you can never have a big enough lead facing the final time trial.

Wow, there he goes!  Contador has attacked.  He’s grimacing and just absolutely killing it.  He really has the edge.  He’s got that George Mount grin (and if you don’t know who George Mount is, don’t sweat it—he’s even older than Duran Duran).  Dang, Contador is really pulling away.  I can just see the slight scarecrow figure of Froomie, in his cadaverous black kit, back in the distance.  Man, this finale is super-steep and Contador knows what the hell he’s doing.

I just hope that, when the time comes, he won’t do that pistolero victory salute where he mimes shooting a handgun.  This guy’s upper body is so spindly, he couldn’t take the recoil of a cap gun.

He’s got the win!  And he actually put both hands up in the air, like a proper winner!  What a pleasant surprise! 

Froome staggers in a bit later ... 16 seconds the final gap.

Valverde crosses the line almost a minute down.  And here comes J-Wad, upper lip stuck way the hell up there, totally bummed.  The rest of the peloton will come over in dribs and drabs over the next couple hours.

“I’m not suggesting he’s yodeling,” Carleton says of Contador.  Does this Eurosport announcing gig have a two-drink minimum or something?

The big loser of the day is Irishman Dan Martin (Garmin Sharp) who lost over 3 minutes, slipping from 6th to 7th overall.  He remains the only English speaker in the top 10.

And Contador gets his penultimate red jersey and a kiss from the podium girls.  I hope these women get hazard pay, having to kiss a sweaty cyclist every day.

Well, that about wraps it up ... this stage, my coverage, and the overall race since tomorrow’s time trial is only 10 km in length.  Nothing more to see here, move along, move along ... go mow the lawn or something ... make yourself useful.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

I Don’t Smell a Rat


What is this expression “I smell a rat”? It’s weak on two levels. In the strictly olfactory sense, it makes no sense: I’ve never smelled a rat, even when in close proximity to one. (“I smell a skunk” makes perfect sense, but not rat.) Two, in the figurative sense, why does a rat connote something unsavory? Why is it, when someone commits a treacherous act, we call him a rat? I can find no zoological basis for this. Why not pick on the cuckoo? It parasitically lays its eggs in another bird’s nest, and then the cuckoo chick, soon after hatching, pushes the host’s eggs out of the nest. Now that’s treachery.

I’ve been thinking about rats lately because I have one. Not a pet, but an interloper, hanging out in my backyard eating seeds and/or their shells which fall from the bird feeder. I am deeply conflicted about what I should do, if anything, about this rat, and how I ought to feel about it. This post explores those feelings in an effort to make you (and me) laugh, think, and feel uncomfortable.

Why we hate rats

If you look closely at a rat, you’ll see that—wait, probably you won’t see much because you’ll have this automatic gross-out response and won’t really look that carefully. But if you look closely at a photo of a rat, or at a rat that’s securely confined, you may conclude that it’s almost cute. It’s just that long, thick tail that is so unpleasant. On top of this we equate rats with the bubonic plague. (Rat lovers point out that the disease wasn’t the fault of the rats, exactly, but of the fleas that bit them; I’m reminded of the NRA slogan, “Guns don’t kill people—people do,” and Eddie Izzard’s rejoinder, “Yeah, but I think the gun helps, you know?”)

I’ve done a cursory Google search on why people hate rats, and the only unexpected thing I turned up was this conspiracy theory: the scientific community teaches us to hate rats so we won’t mind when cruel experiments are done on them. I’m not sure I buy this; I don’t think that the Animal Testing Industrial Complex has influenced me much at all. I’m aware that a) this research saves human lives, and b) lab rats really are cute. So, it’s a toss-up whether or not it’s okay with me. Given world enough and time, I might think harder about the ethical implications, but I instead I just lump animal testing into the same category as “ugly, hairy people having sex.” That is, I’m aware that it goes on, but it’s not happening right in front of me, and I don’t have anything to do with it, so I’m fine shoving the fact of it into a dark corner of my brain and forgetting about it.

Lots of amateur Internet pundits decry the poor treatment rats have in movies, TV, and other media, and I think that’s a fair criticism. Even E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, while making the death of a pig and even a spider seem unthinkably tragic, reinforces the image of a rat as gross, greedy, and opportunistic. There are limits to how persuasive such media are, though, because I really do think the typical human response to a rat is more visceral than rational. We’re not taught to hate rats … it’s instinctive.

Being a homeowner, of course, gives me particular sensitivities. As a renter I thought earthquakes were kind of fun; now I find them horrifying. Similarly, when I see a rat in my backyard, I’m not just responding to the rat itself. I’m responding to the idea of an infestation—after all, rats breed like, well, rats. Whereas one rat might be aesthetically tolerable, a dozen or two would bring on abject terror, like something out of Hitchcock.

People keep rats as pets, and I’ll bet I could find somebody’s pet rat cute. Rats are known to groom themselves, just like cats. But the big difference, I think, is domestic versus feral. A rat in your backyard is not the equivalent of the neighbor kid; it’s the equivalent of a finding a filthy homeless dude sprawling in your deck chair.

Is it okay to kill rats?

I’d be lying if I said it never crossed my mind to knock off this rat.  The first time I saw it, I threw a shoe at it.  There was no moral dilemma here, because I knew full well I had no chance of actually hitting it—my arm isn’t that good.  I just hoped to scare it off.  Well, it scurried out of the way, but didn’t even leave the yard.  I fetched the shoe and tried again, and this time it left, but only for awhile.  This technique may work on housecats, but only because they have very little to gain from being in your yard.  A rat is of course totally unfazed, which is just one more reason we don’t like them.  We humans are accustomed to striking terror into the hearts of lesser beasts, and when we don’t, it’s natural to feel offended.

I’m disinclined to make sweeping moral statements about man’s right to kill animals, because I eat meat and wear leather shoes.  (Though a vegan can claim higher ground, he may be a bit of a hypocrite if he puts flea medicine on his cat, allows countless insects to splat on his windshield, or subsists on an agriculture that surely disrupts habitats, displacing all manner of wildlife.)  Obviously I have no problem with killing animals, but I also don’t believe it’s okay to be cruel.  (This means, of course, that I have to eat organic eggs,  organic chicken, and grass-fed beef.  The package of some beef I bought recently said not only that it was organic, local, and grass-fed, but that the cows were encouraged to socialize.  Hell, I was never encouraged to socialize.  Those cows may have had a better life than I have!)

I have killed one rodent in my life.  This was back in the ‘90s.  I was sharing a tiny apartment in San Francisco with my wife.  Upon discovering a mouse, she jumped up on a chair, shrieking and flapping her arms.  After I recovered from my laughing fit, I went to the hardware store and bought a trap.  I think it was marketed as a non-cruel trap, as it had no spring.  But it worked by trapping the mouse’s feet in goo.  This ended up being cruel because the mouse would have worked itself to death trying to escape.  Its piteous squeaking got to me, and I put it out of its misery via swift, blunt force.

Cruelty, ethics, and affectation

I took a trip to Boulder, my hometown, recently and while I was there I fell into conversation with a very interesting blue-collar guy.  (I’ll call him G—.)  G— has a friend who runs a coffee shop.  This friend (I’ll call her F—) is dog-friendly—she even has a water dish on the premises for dogs—but she freaked out when a rat showed up.  So she poisoned it.  Per the directions on the poison, she removed the doggie dish, because if a poisoned rat can find water, it’ll drink enough to dilute the poison and will live.  This rat staggered out into an alley, where some college kids found it. 

For the sake of the story, let’s assume—because it’s how this was described to me—that these were silly trust fund kids taking a break from their drum circle.  They gathered around trying to rescue the rat, but weren’t sure what to do, other than blow the smoke from their medicinal marijuana in its face.  (Okay, I made that part up.)  F— was afraid they’d bring the rat into her shop and ask for water, which would put her in an awkward position.  So she called G—.  He showed up and wasn’t sure what to do either.  Fortunately for him, the rat soon entered its death throes, at which point G— went into the shop and fetched a broom and dustpan.  When he returned to the alley the rat was dead, and the trustafarians were standing over it looking grief-stricken.  G— asked, “Are you guys done with that rat?” and then, getting no response, swept it into the dustpan and chucked it in the dumpster.  Whether or not G— was callous enough to poison a rat himself, he evidently couldn’t resist the temptation to tweak the do-gooders.

It’s the kind of story I laughed hard at, but then felt sheepish about enjoying so much. After all, the concerned citizens were just trying to be good, just like I do. But they were getting all worked up about an individual member of the species, whereas it’s not at all clear they care much about rodent welfare in general. They have to know that in countless urban environments rats are killed by spring traps and poisoned as a matter of course. How much of their concern in this case was ideological, vs. a cozy, brief indulgence in a warm bath of virtue and magnanimity?

I try to be good, but I also try not to be sanctimonious.  For example, I quietly forego pâté de foie gras, because I’ve heard horror stories of how its producers force-feed geese to enlarge their livers—but I acknowledge inwardly that, pâté being expensive and not that tasty anyway, it’s an easy enough thing to boycott.  And I haven’t joined any campaign against pâté, because a) I’m a busy guy and can’t chase down every societal ill I come across, and b) given the widespread knowledge of the hellish conditions facing factory-farmed cows, pigs, and chickens—which everybody eats—doesn’t it seem odd that there’s such an outcry against a food so expensive that practically nobody eats it?

Rationalizing rat-icide

Getting back to whether or not to kill this rat:  if I decided to let it be, might I not feel pretty stupid if it bit one of my kids and gave her a terrible disease?  Perhaps.  But before using my kids as an excuse to rid my home of vermin, I should really do some research.  After all, many a Marin County parent would look pretty stupid applying such rationale, because so many of them are creating a much larger risk by refusing to vaccinate their kids against terrible diseases that—far more recently than the bubonic plague—have been epidemics.

I could argue that, my own kids having been vaccinated, killing this rat is just taking the next step to prevent the spread of disease.  But then I’d have to admit that I know nothing about the rate of disease in rats versus squirrels, and can’t be bothered to research it.  A squirrel has been raiding our bird feeder for months, but he’s a cute fellow with a big bushy tail, and it’s fun to watch him climb straight down the string toward the feeder, and we wouldn’t dream of killing him.  The fact is, squirrel and rat behaviors are roughly the same, whereas the rat alone is icky—and that’s highly questionable justification for rubbing him out.

The elegant solution

Of course there’s a very simple solution to this problem:  the cat.  Except in the case of toxoplasmosis, a rat will generally avoid a cat’s hunting ground, and our cat is probably why our backyard has been rat-free for so long.  But perhaps this rat is smart enough to realize, having had hundreds of opportunities to witness our cat’s laziness, that she doesn’t pose the slightest threat.

So the last time I saw the rat, I ran inside and grabbed Misha.  I brought her outside, hoping the rat would still be there.  It was.  I set Misha down about four feet away and she’s either totally blind and unable to smell, or simply has zero interest in hunting.  She didn’t make a single move toward that rat, which trotted away with what seemed like an annoying air of joie-de-vivre.  Misha then plopped herself down on the warm flagstones to relax.  I snapped this photo moments later.

So, as far as removing pests, Misha is worthless.  Many argue that all cats are useless.  Of course I disagree; a cat is very elegant, and nice to have on your lap or in your bed.  But as easy as cats are to keep, their companionship has a price.  As I sit here typing, Misha is meowing her head off for her dinner.  Plus, I have the ongoing ritual of fishing her turds and clumped-up urine balls out of the cat box.  At night she sometimes scratches at the door.  When we go  on vacation we have to get somebody to look after her.

The rat, meanwhile, is utterly self-sufficient and quiet.  If I can get past that tail, and its classification as filthy vermin, and start to look upon it as a pet, maybe my problem will be solved.


Do you smell a rat?  Because I don’t.  All I smell is the cat box.

Epilogue:  Our hero!

Well, less than a day after I originally posted this, the rat ordeal is over.  It seems I have greatly underestimated Misha, our 14-year-old cat, and I owe her an apology.  Her finest hour came this afternoon:

She was so proud.  She paraded the rat around, bringing it to every door hoping to be let in so she could take a victory lap around the house.  Honestly, I didn't think she had it in her!  I guess that rat didn’t either....

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 Epic Colorado Mountain Ride - Part 2

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


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.


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.


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?  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.


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


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.


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, über -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.”

Update:  you can read about the Day 2 ride right here!

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