Friday, July 21, 2017

Ride Report - Sierra Nevada “Almost Death Ride”


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

Introduction

You might not have known this about me, but I’m one of those big-shot bike racers on an elite racing team. Wait, that’s not quite right. More of a shot, baggy-eyed bike geek in a book club. Wait, that’s too harsh. I’m somewhere in the middle: an ageing former racer on the East Bay Velo Club. EBVC is a group of classy old veterans, some of whom still race and make the podium regularly, and all of whom love big food, good coffee, biking, and race reports (roughly in that order).

Well, I did race once this year but that was off-road and probably doesn’t count. So in lieu of a glory-filled tale of my peloton-crushing exploits, here is my food-filled tale of crushing myself on an epic mountain ride in the Lake Tahoe region with my EBVC pals Craig and Ian.

Executive summary

It was brutally hot. The climbs were brutally hard. Ian, Craig, and I are brutally old. We ate brutally well. Hydration was a problem. Mother Nature treated us brutally. Verdict? Epic PASS. We got in touch with our inner brutes.

Short version 
  • Ride stats: 117 miles; 8 hours 3 minutes ride time; 12,080 feet of climbing over 32 categorized climbs (at least, as categorized by Strava), including Monitor Pass (category 1) and Ebbetts Pass (HC)
  • Pre-ride dinner: huge plate of pasta, BBQ chicken & peppers, French bread, salad, one “hydration” beer (Stella Artois)
  • Breakfast: bowl of cereal that was organic but 90% sugar; bowl of fake Cheerios; 1% milk; banana; 1 NoDoz
  • During ride: 2 or 3 energy bars, 1 gel (2x caffeine), 3 sleeves shot blox, 2 Hostess cupcakes, 1 20-oz. Coke, about 10 bottles of water
  • After ride: 3 “Greek” wings, pita bread, baba ghanoush, ½-pound lamb burger with feta, big pile of seasoned fries with aioli, 3 huge glasses of water
To make the ride especially hard, we all failed to train properly. We also added on two more weekend rides as garnish: a 35-miler on Friday evening just to wear ourselves out, and a 67-mile “insult to injury” ride on Sunday. We modeled the main (Saturday) ride loosely on the Markleeville Death Ride, but did two trips over Luther Pass instead of the backsides of Monitor and Ebbetts so we wouldn’t run out of water.



The average temperature was 90 degrees. For long stretches, it was well over 100. The campground 2/3 of the way up Ebbetts Pass, where we’d planned to get water, was oddly dry. Nevertheless, we avoided heatstroke and completed the ride, though we were pretty well hobbled by the end. High spirits and sophomoric humor dominated the proceedings.

Long version

Who are Craig and Ian, anyway? (Since this post is destined to be a cult classic like Deliverance, The Osterman Weekend, and The Blair Witch Project, I suppose I should develop my characters.) Craig is a big friendly giant, who used to play football and now drags us around in his slipstream across the flats, never bothering to draft us because that would just slow things down and anyway he never needs to rest. Craig can climb like the dickens, which has never made sense to me given his size.

Ian, on the other hand, is not a giant, but he’s from England and has that cool accent that makes him sound all intellectual and authoritative, and he has that overseas vibe that makes you feel automatically inferior as a cyclist. Vague impressions aside, Ian holds a 5th-place Strava KOM—just behind four-time national champion Freddie Rodriguez—on the legendary Lomas Cantadas climb. Needless to say, I went into this ride very worried that my pals would hate me by the end for slowing them down so much.

I should also point out that my normal road bike was out of commission for this ride so I was riding my backup bike, which is pretty decent except the oversized aluminum tubes transmit all the road shock right the way up to make my ass and hands super sore, which causes whining. On the plus side, this bike has a really cool head badge. (I pointed it out to Craig, who said, “Oh, a photo of when your kids were younger and still loved you!”)


For a summary of our route consult Appendix A. The climb up Luther Pass was a decent warmup. It’s not that hard a climb, gaining 1,359 feet to a summit of 7,740. It was a beautiful day, with no rain forecast (a pleasant change from my last would-be epic ride).


After a short descent we made our way up Carson Pass, braving a headwind. I’m not complaining, mind you—the wind actually made it easier to suck Craig’s wheel.


It was weird doing Carson so early in the ride … every other time I’ve ridden it was toward the end of the Death Ride, when I was already worn out. The temperature was perfect at this point. Still a fair bit of snow at the higher elevations. In case you were wondering, this pass is named for Kit Carson, an illiterate trapper and frontiersman whose idea it was to pioneer this route through the snow (against the advice of local Washoe Indians), causing the expedition to have to eat their dogs, horses, and mules for lack of game.


At the summit we fared better than that expedition had. Though there was no running water, the visitor’s center sold us bottled water for the low, low price of $0.50. I feel bad for all the wasted plastic but I guess it’s better than eating our pets.


Here’s the requisite glamour shot. The real point of this photo is the elevation sign over my shoulder. It’s a little too small to read, but the summit elevation is 8,574 feet. I’d have liked to get a better shot of that sign, but Ian and Craig seem to have some problem with standing out in the middle of the road and getting run over. These signs meant a lot to me during the ride, because they were my only indicators of progress: my backup bike has no computer and I wasn’t even wearing my watch.


After Carson we descended for a glorious 15 miles, then had some rollers through Markleeville. Is there anything interesting to be said about this little town? Well, it’s named after Jacob Marklee who lived there for many years before dying in a gunfight. Also, according to Census data, 100% of Markleeville’s population live in households, 0% live in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 0% are institutionalized (at the moment). That photo of my bike (above) shows this town in the background. (Yes, that’s pretty much all there is to see.)

It started getting really hot as we headed south on Highway 89 towards Ebbetts Pass. Ian’s bike computer registered 104 degrees, Craig’s 106. I think we had a bit of a tailwind as well. My energy bar was sweating in its package and came out covered in a snot-like film. Melted frosting, maybe. Not that I minded. What I do mind is how so many modern energy bars are full of seeds. My kid has swiped all the basic flavors from our stash, leaving me with the weird ones, like “Berry Pomegranate Chia” which is mostly chia seeds.  Worse, I have all these “Nuts & Seeds” bars that have actual pumpkin seeds in them, as though people actually eat those other than after carving Jack-O-Lanterns (in which case most of the seeds end up on the floor anyway).  After eating one of these modern bars, I spend the next five miles running my tongue around dislodging all the seeds from my teeth.  A tired, sore  tongue is just that much more suffering I don’t need.


See that sign in the distance? That marks where Highway 89 heads east toward Monitor Pass, which we’d hit later. But first we went straight to take Highway 4 up Ebbetts Pass, our hardest climb of the day. Ebbetts Pass is named for John Ebbetts, another pioneer, who naively recommended this route for the transcontinental railroad because he mistakenly thought it didn’t get much snow, based on his one visit there. He planned a second trip but was killed in a steamboat explosion before he could go. I get the impression lives were more exciting, and shorter, in those days.

Ebbetts Pass is a beautiful and very hard climb. My backup bike lacks a compact crank; I thought the ensuing boost to my mojo would help me handle the grade, but it did not. (At least both my legs were working right … last time I did this climb, I was recovering from a broken femur and dealing with asymmetrical power delivery.) At times my gearing limited how easy I could take it on a steep pitch, thus this photo.


For the most part I couldn’t keep up with Ian and Craig, but could at least keep them in sight. Here, I’d planned a scenic photo with my pals in the distance, but by the time I got my camera out, they’d rounded the bend.


There’s a campground about 2/3 of the way up that we were counting on for water, but none of the spigots worked. We asked a couple of campers about it and they said, “We know nothing. We’re so stupid we don’t even know our own names. Please bother somebody else because we’re about to cry. We just don’t know what else to do.” (I’m not sure I heard this right, but it’s the gist of their response.) We found the camp host, who was hiding in a giant RV and pretended not to hear Ian’s salutations, despite his commanding accent. Finally the host mumbled, “No water, go away, I hate you,” or something to that effect. He had this giant water tank but offered us nothing because his misanthropy and selfishness were limitless. Note: we were not bitter.

Near the summit of this pass is a beautiful lake, Kinney Reservoir to be precise. This reservoir was dug in 1896 by frontiersman Joseph Kinney, who never got to see it filled, as he was fatally garroted with fishing line by his six-year-old nephew in a freak fishing accident. (Okay, I made that up.)


We thought about filling our bottles in the lake, but it’s full of filthy, drooling, peeing fish such as brook, rainbow, and cutthroat (!) trout.

At the summit of Ebbetts we encountered a friendly biking couple in their 60s who had parked their car at the intersection of Highway 4 and 89—that is, the start of Monitor Pass, our next big climb—and offered to meet us there (after we all descended Ebbetts) to give us water. The nice couple also snapped this photo.


Zoom in all you want, you still can’t read the elevation on that sign. It’s 8,730 feet, which is higher than the summit of the Col du Galibier, the highest point in this year’s Tour de France.

Ebbetts is a glorious descent. I must say, it was really nice riding these roads without all the Death Ride throngs: safer, and quieter, and less chaotic. Of course I wasn’t able to get many photos—just this one.


Along the way down we stopped to fill up bottles at a fast-running section of the creek. That is, Ian and Craig did. I am far too afraid of waterborne parasites to drink anything that doesn’t come from a tap. With creek water there’s a giardia risk, of course, and I particularly had in mind this description by Anthony Bourdain of the aftermath of ingesting an amoeba: 
It slammed me shut like a book, sent me crawling to the bathroom shitting like a mink, clutching my stomach and projectile vomiting. I prayed that night. For many hours. And, as you might assume, I’m the worst kind of atheist.
I should point out that when fact-checking this, I discovered that it was a bad mussel that made Bourdain sick, not an amoeba. But that doesn’t change the fact that during this ride I was more willing to risk dehydration than waterborne illness.

Monitor Pass was a mother. The heat, which had subsided somewhat on the higher elevations of Ebbetts, was back into triple digits. A long, straight section of 10% grade felt like it would never end. What with my tired legs and old school gearing, I had to weave quite a bit. Fortunately, there’s absolutely nobody up there, so you can hear a car coming from a mile away. (Okay, maybe not actually a mile, but a right fur piece anyway.)


This section of highway is one of the newest in the Sierra Nevada mountains, having been paved in 1954. According to Wikipedia, “The highway project was promoted by Robert M. Jackson of Markleeville, who worked for the Alpine County Public Works Department for more than 30 years until he perished in a grisly wood chipper accident.” (Yeah, I embellished that.)

The summit of this climb marked a milestone for at least two of us: we were now 80 miles into this ride, making it the longest we’d done since the 2014 Everest Challenge. This gave us a sense of accomplishment, sure, but also dread, as we had 37 miles left to go.


Craig got a front flat. His tire had developed a hernia. We had to boot it, using a rubber boot I had and a duct tape one from Ian. To be extra safe, Craig put only 70 or 80 PSI in his tire. The point of this photo, of course, is the sweat salt on Craig’s jersey.


Craig kept dragging us along. Even 90+ miles into the ride, I honestly don’t think he’d drafted either of us once. Drafting him all day must be what it’s like to be Chris Froome ensconced perpetually in the womblike slipstream of Team Sky (except I’m not jacked up on performance-enhancing drugs).

As we rolled along I had an in-my-body experience: this sudden full realization of living my life right now, moment by moment—that what I was seeing before me wasn’t a dream, a memory, a flashback, an illusion, or a vision of the future.  Gone was the sense that my life is all cerebral and abstract; I was aware during that moment of being a living organism processing and reacting to immediate stimulus. I know this all sounds obvious, but actually this real-life sensation, this sense of bearing real-time witness to my own currently unfolding experience, is for me the exception and not the rule.  I experience this feeling from time to time, and find it exhilarating. (I’ve talked to at least one person who finds it terrifying.)

We stopped in Markleeville again for water and goodies. At this point I still had an energy bar on me, but it was a “Cloves, Peppercorns, Grape Nuts & Gravel” variety and I couldn’t bring myself to eat it. I also had a gel, but it was an expired tangerine flavor that is the wrong kind of sour and should really be called “Tangerine & Stale Cigarette.” I was really craving a Hostess fruit pie (which packs like 600 calories) but the general store didn’t have any. Fortunately, I got something almost as good.


The first ingredient in these Hostess cupcakes is sugar, but don’t worry, they also contain high fructose corn syrup, along with “vegetable and/or animal shortening.” These cupcakes are sold as “Pingüinos” (i.e., penguins) in Mexico. Could these actually have penguin fat in them? Possibly. But the point is, they’re light and fluffy and really easy to eat, unlike a standard energy bar, which is hard to chew when you’re 100 miles into a ride and knackered.

Craig ate an energy bar and a small bag of potato chips, one or both of which, as we headed toward Luther Pass, started to mess up his stomach. (I momentarily wondered if it was the creek water, except Ian’s stomach was fine.) The upshot of this was that Craig no longer felt like dragging our asses along into the headwind we found ourselves facing. Fortunately, I finally started to feel pretty good. Clouds had appeared and it was a bit cooler, and I think I’d hit that perfect level of dehydration: not enough to affect my power, but enough to cut my weight by several pounds, improving my power/weight ratio.

My gearing still wasn’t as low as I’d have liked, so I had to dig pretty deep in the long run-up to Luther Pass.  Strava calls this stretch “Death Ride Carson Pass Part 1” and reckons it a category 2 climb. I guess that’s about right, especially since we had a headwind. It was a real slog, but my legs did this odd thing they sometimes do really far into a ride:  they just kept turning, as if unbidden, surprising me with their tenacity.  Their motion was utterly without pause, as if the turning of the rear wheel was dragging them along instead of the other way around. I was kind of mesmerized watching them go, wondering things like “How are you doing that?”  My legs didn’t even hurt that bad, though my butt, feet, and hands were in agony.


After a subdued final descent (subdued owing to the low pressure in Craig’s front tire) we reached the car, triumphant because we’d conquered a seriously hard ride without having really trained for it. Yeah, we’re fricking old, but maybe we’ve still got some heat left in our coals. Here I’d thought winging it was the privilege of the young ... but it turns out the cussedness of age is highly compatible with reckless ambition.

Here is the requisite “after” shot. The point of this photo, of course, is the pair of ridiculous dents in my forehead from my helmet.


Look , I know this report would be more exciting and fun if our ride had been a disaster, like this one, but things turned out really out well, especially when it was time for dinner. Due to poor planning, we had no bike lock for the car rack, so were restricted, when choosing a restaurant, to a place that looked out on the parking lot so could see our bikes. Fortunately there was a Mediterranean place with a picnic table out front, which was doubly handy because when Ian’s hamstring cramped and he cried out in pain he didn’t scare anyone. Check out these kind vittles:



On that note, I just realized I’m starving, having been on the South Beach diet for two weeks (excepting this Tahoe weekend, when I ate like a king). Time to go eat some squash and other assorted vegetable nonsense.

Appendix A – route and climb stats 
  • Parked at the junction of Highway 50 and 89 (elevation 6,381 feet)
  • Rode up the west side of Luther Pass (a category 3 climb, summit elevation 7,740 feet)
  • Turned right on Highway 88 and headed up Carson Pass (cat 2, elevation 8,574)
  • Turned around and descended to Woodfords, where we turned right to stay on 89 and headed to Markleeville (elevation 5,489)
  • Continued on 89 and then Highway 4 and climbed Ebbetts Pass (huis categorie, aka HC; elevation 8,730), failing to get water along the way
  • Turned around and dropped back down to the junction of 4 and 89, elevation 5,827 feet
  • Turned right and headed east on 89, climbing the west side of Monitor Pass (cat 1, elevation 8,314)
  • Turned around and descended back to Markleeville, then retraced our route along 88/89 to the Luther Pass junction (this bit is listed as a cat 2 climb)
  • Turned right on 89 and climbed the east side of Luther Pass (cat 3, elevation 7,740)
  • Descended back to the car
Appendix B – What does “Almost Death Ride” mean?

I say “almost” because our ride was almost as hard as the Death Ride. And it was better because we didn’t have to fork out $125, share the road with thousands of others, and endure all the fuss of registration, etc.

In case you haven’t heard of it, the Markleeville Death Ride is a popular century ride (not a race) that traverses five mountain passes over its 129-mile length. I’ve ridden it 12 or 13 times, and (as described here and here) always very much enjoyed it. These days, the main purpose of the Death Ride is to make people like me feel old. I first rode it in 1993, half my lifetime ago, and last rode it in 2005, a quarter of my lifetime ago. Where has all the time gone?

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2017 Tour de France Stage 12


Introduction

The Tour de France can be hard to watch. It’s usually pretty boring because, being the most important stage race on the calendar, it draws out the best dopers, which for the most part are on Team Sky. The way Sky dominates this race, it’s a bit like if the Chicago Cubs were up against a minor league team for the World Series. Worst of all, the announcers have to play along like this is legit and say nice things about everybody.  Well, as you can see, this blog is different.  Being an unpaid nobody, I can gnash my terrible teeth and roar my terrible roar as I see fit, which might just breathe some life into my coverage.

Today my blow-by-blow report covers a pivotal mountain stage of this year’s Tour.  Since this is the first Tour stage I’m covering, I’ll also catch you up on what’s been going on since July 1 when the race started.



2017 Tour de France Stage 12 – Pau to Peyragudes

As I join the action, the riders are on the penultimate climb, the aptly named Porte de Balles.  I think that’s the name, anyway … kind of blurry.  It’s a huis categorie climb (i.e., it could beat up your dad’s climb).  The peloton has got 44 kilometers to go. There’s a breakaway of eleven unimportant riders 4:23 ahead.

A couple of other nobodies attacks.  They’re Fortuneo-Vital Concept teammates Maxime Bouet and Brice Feillu. I guess I’ve heard of Feillu.  Kind of a strange story how he got his first name:  it was a typo.  It was supposed to be Bruce, but you know “i” is an adjacent key.


So here’s what’s going on in this year’s Tour so far.  There are only two time trials in this edition, and they’re pretty short ones at that.  Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas won the first one, which was the prologue, and kept the yellow jersey until his teammate Chris Froome took it from him on Stage 5, the first mountaintop finish of the race.  Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team) won that stage, taking 20 seconds out of Froome.  (Thomas crashed out of the Tour a few days later.)  After a couple more mountain stages, Froome retains the lead but has only 18 seconds on Aru on the GC.  Looks like a close race, eh?

No, not really.  Aru lost 40 seconds to Froome in that measly 14-kilometer time trial, so the Italian climber will have to take at least two minutes out of Froome over the remaining four mountain stages if he wants a shot at winning the GC.  I suppose two minutes is possible, but Aru has finished the Tour just once in four tries, and was only 13th place last year.  Meanwhile, the rider currently third on GC, Romain Bardet, is 51 seconds back on GC and lost 39 seconds in the first TT, so he’d need to be like 2½ minutes ahead of Froome before the final TT.  If Froome were a normal rider, all too human and subject to bad days and so forth, that wouldn’t be insurmountable.  But Froome isn’t normal, obviously.  Anyway, of the guys who beat Froome in the opening TT, the closest on GC is Stefan Krug (Team BMC), who’s over an hour down, in 100th place overall.  ‘Nuff said.

It’s 38 kilometers to go, with the breakaway’s gap down to 3:17.  The GC group is starting to pick it up and riders are going off the back so fast it’s like they’re being clotheslined.  I saw a guy actually get clotheslined once while riding a motor scooter.  It was brutal, and he had this big red welt on this throat, like a grisly red line, for like a week. I know that has nothing to do with this bike race but it’s a lot more interesting than what I’m seeing on my screen, which is Sky predictably swarming the front, all in yellow helmets, while the Astana team, supporting Aru, lurks just behind them.


Froome’s closest rival ought to be Richie Porte (BMC Racing Team), who brought some serious high-test lube to the Criterium du Dauphiné a few weeks back.  How doped was this guy?  Well, consider that although he’s a pocket climber (i.e., 5 feet 8 inches, 137 pounds, rides a 48cm bike for crissakes), he handily won the Dauphiné time trial, beating not only Froome but Tony Martin (Team Katusha-Alpecin), the reigning time trial world champion.  When a climber wins a major TT against top riders, I get suspicious.  The surface area to mass ratio of a climber just isn’t suited to cutting through the wind in a fast TT.  Size does matter ... why do you think sprinters can’t climb?  (And what other little climber dudes have won major TTs?  Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer, and Tyler Hamilton, all known dopers.) Anyway, I feel like a dick bringing up Porte’s probable doping, because sadly, the Aussie is out of this Tour after a terrible high-speed crash on Sunday. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody, of course. Also, Porte would have made this a much more exciting race, and I’d rather have seen him win than Froome.  Oh well.

Oddly, Feuillu has dropped his teammate, Bouet. Why would he do that?  This is probably a coincidence, but Bouet now has a dark stripe up the back of his white shorts. What’s that all about? I don’t see a stripe on anybody else’s shorts and the road isn’t wet or anything. Maybe he shat himself! I know it’s not nice to cast aspersions like that, but then again, the dude is wearing white cycling shorts.  I think he’s got it coming, and his whole team as well.

It’s 6 km to the summit of this climb and still no attacks in the GC group.  Maybe nobody wants to get a lead before the final descent—given what happened to poor Porte—and are waiting for the last climb.

Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) attacks the breakaway!  He has a beard.  Not many racers do. Will this help or hurt his chances?  I’m not sure but in the Eurosport post-stage review with Juan Antonio Flecha we’re bound to find out how De Gendt’s beard played in to the ultimate stage result.

So, to continue my review of the rest of the Tour so far, the green jersey competition is pretty much doomed to be a yawner this year.  Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) has virtually no competition, having won five stages so far.  Two of his main rivals are out.  Peter Sagan (Hora-Hansgrohe) was disqualified for crashing Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) in stage 4.  Cav, meanwhile, was too badly injured to continue this Tour.  Besides Kittel, the only sprinter who has won a stage this year was Arnaud Démare (FDJ), who—amazingly—was cut from the race for losing too  much time on Sunday’s mountain stage.

Why “amazingly”?  Because Démare is a great climber!  He’s that one-in-a-million sprinter who can climb like the dickens!  In fact, he holds the Strava record for the famous Poggio climb in the Milan-San Remo road race!  Okay, I’m bullshitting you here.  Not about Démare’s Strava record for the Poggio, which he actually did get, but about him being able to climb.  He won last year’s Milan-San Remo because he blatantly cheated, hanging on to his team car all the way up the Poggio.  Read all about it here! So yeah, I was stoked to see Démare fall behind in the points competition and then be sent home for missing the time cut.  What a douchebag.

The peloton continues to thin out as Sky chases.  The gap is down to 2:41 (though I can’t tell if that’s to De Gendt or the rest of the break).  Bouet has been absorbed and Feuillu will be soon.

Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data) has attacked out of the breakaway and caught De Gendt.  I didn’t see it happen … he either faked out the cameraman, or me, or both.  He’s a sneaky little bastard!  Interesting tidbit:  Cummings is the grandson of e.e. cummings, the mediocre poet whose contribution to poetry was to be the first one to eschew all punctuation and capitalization.  (Maynard, please run that down post-production and fact-check it … I’m pretty sure it’s true but am starting to wonder if I made it up.  About being the grandson I mean.)

Vasil Kiryienka (Team Sky) detonates and is going backwards, off the back like a comet.  It can’t be easy setting tempo for Froome, no matter how lubed you are.  It’s no matter though … Sky still has plenty of dudes at the front (and in fact a highly “not normal” number, though that’s normal for Sky).


Any scandals in this Tour?  Well, there was a lot of bickering about whether Sagan should have been disqualified.  I don’t have much to say on that because I only watched the video footage like 100 times, and most of the Internet pundits have watched it at least 1,000.  The other scandal is about Aru attacking while Froome was having bike problems.  The announcers and post-race commentators zealously tore into this one, with all the Internet trolls adding their considerable expertise to the debate.  Aru defended himself, saying he didn’t notice that Froome was having bike problems, and I tend to believe him … after all, Froome’s head is down half the time anyway.  What is it with Froome and mechanical problems?  Remember the 2015 Tour when his gears were mashing or something and Vincenzo Nibali attacked him?  At least this time around, post-race, Froome declined to take the bait and cry foul—maybe he read my diatribe about this and learned his lesson!  (No, of course he didn’t.)

Anyway, I totally support attacking the GC leader, whether he’s crashed, had a mechanical, or had to take a dump on the side of the road.  All this “unwritten rule” talk is pure BS.  What other sport or contest doesn’t let you take advantage of the leader’s bad luck?  Imagine if you’re playing Monopoly and one guy has like all the monopolies and all the money and has like a dozen hotels and is gradually bleeding everybody dry—and then he gets the Chance card that says, “You are assessed for street repairs.”  What are you gonna do, appreciate the relief, or say, “You know what, just take another card, we wouldn’t want to harm your chances, since you’re already winning and everything.”  Luck is supposed to be part of this sport—it makes things more exciting.  And any Tour with Froomestrong in it needs whatever twists and turns it can get.

With under 10 km to go in the stage, Sky is still dominant at the front.  Needless to say.


Wow, Spain (I’m reduced to watching a foreign-language video feed today) has really racy commercials!  Lots of scantily-clad women!  Who knew?  Now it’s back to the race, I guess, but it’s just some unknown person blathering away about the time trial course.  WTF?!  Time trials are boring enough to watch, much less talk about.  This coverage sucks.

Okay, I’ve dismissed that silly all-TT-blather-all-the-time feed and now have nothing.  Wow, cool!  I tried a third browser and now have the Eurosport feed.  What a relief.  It’s the good announcers and everything.  Wait … okay, now it’s vanished.  I sent a note in the little chat to the admins, and they replied, “both are working. the problem is at you.”  Story of my life.

Now I’ve switched to a different PC and a different Internet feed.  Gosh, I’ve missed a lot.  Cummings is still the leader, solo, and he’s got 2 minutes on the GC group with 12 km to go.  He’s on the last real climb of the day, the Category 1 Col de Peyresourde.  Its summit is just 5 km from the finish, which is atop the supposedly Category 2 climb to Peyragudes, which looks so short on the profile I can’t imagine how it got that rating.  It doesn’t really matter though, because my feed has dried up again.  Should I just stop now?  Let you go about your day?  Okay, I’m back to the first PC. 

Wow, Kwiatowski (Team Sky) blows sky-high!  The hammer has truly gone down in the main GC bunch and Cummings’ lead is suddenly down to just over a minute.  The GC group is down to 11 riders, three of which are Sky.


Man, within the last minute Cummings’ lead went down to under 30 seconds … he’s doomed.  Oh man, suddenly he looks deflated … he’s really suffering.



And just like that, they’ve got him. 


And now Cummings is spat right out the back!  Poor dude.

Dang, while my feed was AWOL, it looks like Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) got dropped!  I guess he’s no longer even an outside contender for this Tour.  Must have tired himself out trying (in vain) to win the Giro.


Not a single non-Sky rider has seen the front of this GC group all day.  And Froome hasn’t faced the wind for more than about a minute or two, cumulatively, since July 1.  I guess that’s how it’s supposed to work, but I wish something would break down.  The Giro d’Italia was really exciting because winner Tom Dumoulin’s team was so frail, he had to do a ton of work himself and he only just barely got it done.

Aru is just sitting on Froome’s wheel, as he’s been the whole day.  He’s brashly told the press that he’s not afraid to attack Froome, and my reaction is like, duh!  Are you a racer or not?  It’s not like he’ll do anything in the TT, so sitting around and hoping Froome’s clockworks finally wind down isn’t much of a winning strategy.  But we’re 1.4 km from the summit of this climb and it’s just Sky slogging away on the front while Froome sits there and Aru, Bardet, and Uran just sit there too.  I guess the pace is just too high for anyone to attack.  Not since the Indurain years has a Tour stage been this boring.

Wouldn’t it be cool if Froome sucked at descending, like Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)?  Then you might see people trying to take advantage.  But I have to hand it to Froome, he’s a very good descender, and deserves full credit for it.  After all, there’s no syringe for descending fast.

And just like that, the GC group is over the summit of the Col de Peyresourde.


I guess it’ll be exciting to see who gets the stage win. With bonus seconds on the line Sky won’t be giving anything up to anybody. Meanwhile, if Froome can’t put in his first real effort of the day up this last little section and increase his GC lead, I’ll eat my hat.

Of course, even if everything suddenly goes sideways for Sky at the end, remember that Aru needs to accumulate a two-minute lead over these climbing stages before the final TT if he wants to win.  If he doesn’t even have enough strength to mount a single attack today, he might as well give up his GC ambitions.  Then he could pick a stage to go off the back and build up a huge deficit so Sky no longer cares about him. Following that, he could go hunt for another stage win.  It would be pretty sad if he had to resort to such dregs, of course.

Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) is somewhere off the back.  He’s crashed several times and is completely done, not just for this Tour but for his career, I’m afraid.

It’s just 1.5 km to go and still Sky, Sky, Sky. 

Warren Barguil (Sunweb), the current KOM leader, is off the back with Quintana.

With 1 km to go, Froome moves up to second position, the closest to the front of this GC group he’s been all day.  Dan Martin is moving over to the side, as if to prepare for an attack, or at least center the football for a field goal attempt.  And ... my feed freezes again.


And look at this!  George Bennett (Team LottoNL-Jumbo) attacks!  


But he’s instantly shut down!  And there goes Froome!  But this footage is just a slide show now!  I can’t see shit!  And now Aru is somehow in the front!  He’s drilling it but the grade is severe!


Now suddenly Bardet is in the lead!  Every time my feed restarts the positions are different!  Now I see why this short climb is a Category 2 ... the grade is unbelievably steep!

Froome is over the line but I can’t tell who won, I missed it!  Internet Tour coverage sucks!

Looks like Bardet got the win, with Uran getting second and Aru third.  Unbelievably, Froome lost like 20 seconds right at the end there.  Maybe his legs froze along with my feed?  Wow, I guess I need to eat my hat now! Froome is clearly not so dominant as in years past.

With the time bonuses, Aru could be the new GC leader because remember, he was only 18 seconds back. 

Here is the stage result, which is as much news to you as to me:


Okay, after some more scrambling for feeds, I  see the new GC, and sure enough, Aru has the yellow jersey, but only by six seconds.


The jersey will be a nice souvenir for Aru, and maybe he’ll even survive tomorrow and keep it for a while.  It’s too bad for him he didn’t (couldn’t?) try something earlier.

It’s tempting to think Froome could still lose this Tour.  Among the GC contenders there’s only one guy who can really time trial, that being Rigoberto Uran.  Uran did win a long time trial during the 2014 Giro d’Italia, but remember, notwithstanding his climbing prowess right now, he lost 51 seconds to Froome in this Tour’s first TT.

Meanwhile, the support Sky gave Froome today was pretty unbelievable (in every sense of the word). Time will tell, but in my biased opinion, Sky’s overall Tour campaign is looking alive and all too well.

Epilogue

I have now gone and watched the finish via freeze-free replays, and can see that I obviously missed the most exciting part of the race by far. I have also heard commentators weighing in on the controversy (recounted here) around Landa totally dropping Froome in the final sprint and taking 17 seconds out of him.  Here, I have to totally disagree with anybody who finds a problem here, and even with Landa for claiming not to have known what was going on.  Landa has nothing to apologize for.  That grade was unbelievably steep and the speed was not that high, so drafting would not have made a big difference ... and meanwhile, if Froome couldn’t find a wheel to follow that’s his problem.  At some point, you just may not have the legs, and he didn’t.  And let’s not forget that Landa is a totally legitimate GC contender and Sky’s best shot if something were to happen to Froome (e.g., crash, terribly timed mechanical, failed dope test, or one really bad day).  Why would you make Landa wait, with only like 300 meters to go? How much moral support could he even give Froome? I’m getting kind of tired of how everybody is trying to baby the yellow jersey.  He is (or was) a Tour leader, for crissakes, not an infant!  And we’re supposed to be rabid spectators, not helicopter parents! Dang.

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Ode on a Belly: Mine


Introduction

As I’ve commented before in these pages, I find vanity distasteful in a male.  That being said, shamelessness is probably worse.  In this spirit of shame I must now fall on my sword.  (As you shall learn, it’ll have to be a pretty long sword.)  Can self-loathing actually take the form of an ode?  Decide for yourself.

The Poem

Ode on a Belly:  Mine

So, “Eat to ride and ride to eat” is said
By almost any biker you might meet.                       2
A pile of pasta bigger than your head?
That’s just the kind of thing we like to eat.

But age, in time, makes fools of us all
(Except your oddball masters racing geek).            6
Our training programs finally start to stall;
Our bodies falter when our will is weak.

So now, alas, my belly’s on a roll.
It’s now convex that always was concave.             10
Instead of being thin, I’m Moomintroll.
By gluttony I find myself enslaved.

For years I faked it, sucking in my gut.
The camera and the mirror were deceived!          14
But now my belly’s found a way to jut
Out sideways, all the time—hard to believe!

     I’ve never actually thought about a diet
     But now I think I’ll finally have to try it.           18

Footnotes  & Commentary

Title

As I’ve explained in a previous post, “ode on” sounds a lot more sophisticated than “ode to.”  But I couldn’t title this “Ode on My Belly” because that might summon the image of somebody lying on his stomach (i.e., prone).  And “Ode On a Belly” is misleading.  I have never cared about anybody else’s belly, certainly not enough to write poetry about it.  I want to be very clear that this is my belly we’re talking about.  A belly that never before existed.

Line 2:  biker

You might think I wrote “biker” instead of cyclist because I needed to conform to the iambic pentameter of the sonnet form.  But actually, being a veteran of this sport, I prefer the term “biker,” as it teases the relative newcomers who insist on being called cyclists.  (If you don’t believe me, check out this biking glossary I wrote all the way back in 2008.)

Line 3:  bigger than your head

This is of course an allusion to the excellent book Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head by B. Kliban.

By the way, you might think I’m exaggerating about how much I eat.  And while I can’t say with certainty that I ever ate a pile of pasta bigger than my head, I did once eat a giant hunk of tri-tip that was.  And that’s not all:  I ate it as tacos.  Like thirty of them.  The giant hunk of meat just got smaller and smaller until it was gone.  Years later, wishing I’d somehow verified this past feat of grilled excess, I had the great idea to weigh myself before and after a barbecue, with spectators.  The half dozen people present witnessed that I gained more than ten pounds in one sitting.

Line 5:  Age, in time, makes fools of us

This alludes to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, “Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks/ Within his bending sickle’s compass come.”  Literary references like this showcase the kind of highbrow literary aspiration you can expect here at albertnet, even when I’m just grousing.

Line 6:  oddball masters racing geek

In case you’re not a cyclist, this refers to the “Masters” categories (35+, 45+, and even 55+ age groups) in American road racing.  As lamented here, there are some really fast old guys whom I assume made a killing in tech and then retired early, and have all the time and energy in the world to train.  These guys set the bar really high when it comes to physique.  It’s hard to cut myself slack with them strutting around (or more to the point, riding around) being all lean, reminding us what Lycra is supposed to be showcasing.

Line 7:  training programs

This line may be a bit misleading.  Most of the older guys I ride with—accomplished racers in their day—don’t follow a formal training program.  (As detailed here, only 4% keep up such a program year-round.)  Most of us follow the very general program of riding fairly often and jolly hard.  Based on this rather sloppy regimen, we feel entitled to eat whatever we want whenever we want, in whatever quantities we want.  The slop in the program works great until it doesn’t, which in my experience seems to be the second half of my forties—i.e., now.

Line 8:  bodies falter when our will is weak

This flips around the old ditty about “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (originally from the New Testament) that has been celebrated in an anecdote about artificial intelligence:  a computer attempted to translate the line into Russian and then back to English, with the comic result,  “The vodka was good but the meat was rotten.”

Line 9:  belly’s on a roll

Any suggestion of rolls of fat, and/or a jelly roll, is of course entirely intentional.

Line 10:  now convex that always was concave

If you have a hard time keeping straight convex vs. concave, try out this brain teaser.  That’s how I keep these terms straight.

Line 11:  Moomintroll

In case you’ve never heard of Moomintrolls, get thee to a library!  I didn’t want to steal a picture from the Internet because these books are still in print, so I asked my younger daughter to draw me a Moomintroll. 


To be completely honest, Moomintroll wears his belly a lot better than I do.  Not all weight is created equal.  Henry VIII was a huge man, but his size gave him an air of gravitas.  Falstaff was also very large but this just added to his bonhomie.  With wiry slow-twitch endurance athletes, though, the belly is just this isolated bulge attached to narrow limbs, which conveys neither gravitas nor bonhomie ... just a fit body going to seed.  Instead of Moomintroll, I perhaps should have compared myself to E.T., the extraterrestrial ... but I’m trying to be compassionate with myself.

Imagine a big belly on this guy...


Line 12:  gluttony ... enslaved

This line may seem so obvious as to be meaningless, but it’s not.  I think in many if not most cases, overweight people aren’t actually gluttons, but just have bad habits like drinking sodas or juice, resulting from lack of information.  But cyclists tend to know a lot about nutrition; we blather on about complex carbs and glycemic index, and know to drink sugary beverages only during exercise.  We’re just so used to indulging in gluttony without consequence that it’s hard to stop when the intensity of our riding naturally declines.  We know it’s wrong to keep up our gastronomic abandon, but we can’t help it.  See?  Slaves to gluttony.

I say “we” and “our” here because I’m trying to convince myself I’m not alone in my weight gain.  But actually, my biking teammates are holding up really well, and it’s wrong for me to try to drag down this community.  I could fix this, but I’m going to let it stand, as part of my shame.

Line 13:  sucking in my gut

As I alluded to a bit ago, when a cyclist does put on weight, it’s often extremely localized.  Some have theorized that we have oversized livers, to store all that glycogen.  Or maybe it’s the position we ride in that gives gravity a clean shot at our bellies.  Whatever the case, the thick midsection can even be seen in some professional racers, such as the German star Jan Ullrich:


The difference, in Ullrich’s case, is that he was thick through the belly while in top racing form.  So, despite his reputation for gaining more weight in the off-season than other pro racers, he could reasonably shrug and say, “I’ve just got a big liver or something.”  But since my own belly is obviously the result of slacking off at my exercise regimen, I have nowhere to hide.  And it’s not just my new physique that’s on display:  the extra weight slows me down on the bike, to the point where I’m reluctant to ride with my pals for fear of slowing them down inordinately.

Line 14:  the camera and the mirror

I discovered years ago that when a bunch of bikers line up for a group photo, a great way to invoke candid, genuine smiles is to call out, “Everybody suck in your gut!”  This invariably gets a laugh simply because it’s so absurd to think we’d actually need to do this.  In my own case, though, I hereby confess that I have actually been sucking in my gut in photos for at least a couple of years, to compensate for my gradual weight gain.  Case in point:  in this picture (from early 2016) I appear as flat-bellied as the rest!  (In case you’re an albertnet newcomer, I’m the guy third from the left.)


As for the mirror, that’s where things really get ridiculous.  I’ve long taken to being embarrassed by my own reflection unless I suck my belly in.  I’ve even dabbled in the delusion that all that sucking in would develop my stomach muscles and actually fix the problem. 

Line 15:  found a way to jut

Line 15?  WTF??  Since when does a sonnet have more than 14 lines?  Well, first of all, I never said this was a traditional Shakespearean sonnet.  Meanwhile, I decided that, excess being the major theme of my poem, I’d throw in a whole extra stanza, like that side of fries I didn’t really need.

I really do feel as though my belly were its own thing, not just a section of my flesh.  It’s like it’s got a mind of its own, like octopus arms or sea star limbs do.  I wonder if my belly dreams of escaping and heading for the door, dragging a trail behind it like a slug.

Line 16:  out sideways, all the time

When sucking in wasn’t enough, I found that by also raising my arms over my head I could look exactly like the weedy guy I used to be.  Now, even when I try this desperate measure, the fat sticks out sideways like little ears (or “love handles,” as they say).  I suppose I can still fake thinness while wearing Lycra, but not while also breathing (i.e., certainly not while riding).  My dad was visiting recently and while I was shoving stuff in my jersey pockets before a ride he remarked, “You still have a flat stomach.”  Two things instantly crossed my mind:  1) this flat stomach is an illusion caused by the fact that I literally suck, and 2) he might have been saying one thing to imply the opposite, whether consciously or not.  His remark could not have been made if the issue of my having a big tummy were not already on the table.  It’s not like he could reasonably say, for example, “Both of your ears are still intact.”

Line 17:  diet

The astute reader will notice the extra foot at the end of this line and the next (i.e., instead of 5 two-syllable metrical feet, each line in this couplet has 5½).  For extra credit, I challenge you to explain why I chose to do this.  (Answer:  like my extra stanza, this extra foot is symbolic of my tacked-on, interloping appendage.)

While I truly never have considered dieting before, my paranoia about a fat belly (or “aero-belly” as a teammate affectionately calls it) is nothing new.  Click here for an albeit slippery, quasi-fictional account of my past weight issues.

Line 18:  try it

In fact, I am three days into deliberately following the South Beach diet.  This isn’t my first time being on the diet; it’s my first time wanting to be.  As described here, I was involuntarily immersed in this diet years ago, when my wife did it and cooked our family meals accordingly.  This time I won’t be gorging at lunchtime to compensate.  So far, South Beach is working okay:  I’m down eight pounds.  (That may seem like a lot, but remember that ten-pound barbecue I wrote about.  For me, eight pounds is a rounding error.)

Stay tuned, because in the coming weeks I may blog about a) an epic road ride I’m unwisely planning; b) how the diet is going, or c) both.

Epilogue - July 24, 2017

You know how in the comment to Line 11, above, I asked you to imagine a big belly on Chris Froome?  Well, I was just looking at coverage of the final Tour de France stage, and caught a gander of this:


I wouldn’t say Froomie’s belly is huge or anything, but given how skinny the rest of him is, his thickness there is not insignificant.  Maybe a cyclist’s gut really isn’t fat ... maybe it is an oversized liver or just extra guts or something, or maybe the way we’re bent over creates a true illusion (since our bellies do tend to vanish when we stand up straight).

Or maybe, just maybe, all cyclists are extraterrestrials.

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Bring Back Home Economics!


Introduction

Yesterday my younger daughter begged my wife to teach her how to use a sewing machine, so she could make a stuffed animal. This kind of “quality time” is a mixed bag for parents.  We love our kids’ enthusiasm and creativity, but sewing is really tedious. I thought, “Why hasn’t my kid learned this in home ec?” The answer, of course, is that home economics class is seldom offered anymore.  Wikipedia estimates that 5 million American students study home ec, only a tenth of the 50.4 million total elementary and secondary students tallied by the National Center for Education Statistics.

This begs another question: why the hell did we get rid of this?  Herein I provide a little history, and present my case for bringing home ec back—but in an improved version.

(By the way, here is the stuffed cat my daughter made.)


Why home ec died

The celebrity chef and writer Anthony Bourdain explains the demise of home ec quite well in an essay titled “Virtue” from his book Medium Raw
Back in the dark ages, young women and girls were automatically segregated off to home-economics classes, where they were indoctrinated with the belief that cooking was one of the essential skill sets for responsible citizenry—or more to the point, useful housewifery. When they began asking the obvious question—“Why me and not him?”—it signaled the beginning of the end….  “Home ec” became the most glaring illustration of everything wrong with the gender politics of the time. Quickly identified as an instrument of subjugation, it became an instant anachronism.
The problem, Bourdain goes on to say, was the lack of any parallel effort to address the flip side of this sexism: the equally ignorant notion that men who cook or sew are somehow lame. (Similar to this was the stereotype I encountered in junior high about typing only being for girls. Typing class was thought to be solely for the future secretaries of America, so I was the rare boy who took it.  Needless to say this skill has served me very well.)

The solution to the sexism of the traditional home ec approach was all backwards.  Instead of killing home ec, why didn’t the education establishment simply make this class mandatory for both boys and girls?

My home ec experience

When I was in junior high, home ec was at least offered, and due to the way our curriculum dealt with electives, lots of students ended up in this class without having actively sought it out.  Thus, a lot of us were exposed to cooking and sewing who might not otherwise have been.  Were we happy about it? Not terribly, I’ll confess. I learned more about cooking from watching my mom, and meanwhile my home ec teacher was a total flake who kept forgetting (or perhaps “forgetting”) to buy the groceries we needed, so we wasted a lot of time with BS like home ec themed spelling tests. (I remember spelling lasagne “lasagna” and campaigning, successfully, to have my alternate spelling accepted. I’d have respected the teacher more had she stood her ground.) One thing I did appreciate was being taught how, when preparing a meal, to sync everything up, so the entrée isn’t getting cold while you’re making the salad, etc. I mocked this at the time as being so obvious, but actually it hadn’t occurred to me.

And the sewing lessons, I have to admit, were pretty cool. I felt a sense of accomplishment learning how to work a sewing machine, and made a pretty fair stuffed animal (though nowhere near as cool as my daughter’s creation above). My brother fell in love with sewing, and bought his own sewing machine so he could make cool parkas—first from a kit, then a pattern (both available, amazingly enough, from mountaineering stores) and then from scratch by copying commercial designs. I remember going to the North Face store with him to be his mannequin, standing there wearing a $300 parka while he sketched it out and noted all the measurements, wielding a tape measure as skillfully as a tailor.

Are home ec skills still germane?

No, I’m not delusional:  I’ll be the first to admit that sewing is pretty much dead. My brother was an anomaly and almost nobody sews anymore. It’s hard to justify the time you’d spend, when Chinese sweat shops turn out such great stuff for so cheap, and thrift stores sell perfectly good clothing for less than you’d pay for fabric. Even my talented and skilled brother rocks an authentic North Face parka these days … I’m pretty sure his sewing machine is just gathering dust.

But home cooking? As Bourdain laments, that really is a dying art, though we all still need to eat. I’m amazed at the growth of restaurants since I was a kid. Back then, going out to eat was a big deal—not just for my cash-strapped family but every family I knew (and this was in Boulder, Colorado, a fairly affluent community). Nowadays eating out is a regular feature of life, to the point that kids are downright jaded about it. The problem is, restaurant food is no good for you. As Bourdain pointed out in Kitchen Confidential, the calorie information provided on menus is pure hokum, based on some hypothetical version of the entrée and not accounting for lack of quality control. Line cooks use way more butter than you’d have the nerve to use at home. And the giant portion sizes are absurd.  I’m a notorious glutton possessed of a cyclist’s appetite, and yet I can generally get my fill at a restaurant via a single entrée. In a sane world, I’d need two entrees. Restaurants are teaching us how to overeat.

My kids are lucky: they have a stay-at-home mom who’s a great cook and happy to teach them.  But so often, this isn’t possible because both parents work and don’t have the time or patience to let the kids help (or often, to serve a homemade meal at all).  All the more reason to teach cooking at school—nothing fancy, no fois gras, no lobster foam, no standing rib roast; just the basics so that the next generation of adults isn’t completely hopeless at it, and kids are exposed to cooking as a legit, fun, salubrious thing to do. Exposing kids to cooking early might inspire some to develop a passion for it (like my brother going on to make those parkas).

So yeah, let’s bring cooking back.  And fine, we can jettison the sewing. So wouldn’t this just make it a cooking class? No, because I want to add something, which was theoretically a part of home ec all along but never showed its face in my class:  the economics part. (Bourdain doesn’t mention anything about this, either.)  I’m not just talking about how to be frugal, but a more fundamental understanding of how money works—how it shapes the reality of your household as much as your income level.

Putting the “econ” in home economics

I think this cooking/finance combo makes more sense than cooking/sewing ever did. Having serious, important instruction in basic finance might appeal to any boys who are still so insecure in their masculinity that they think cooking is for girls.  Meanwhile, adding the study of money ought to appease any girls who think this class is grooming them to be housewives. Switching between the two subjects would keep the class from getting too dry. And the knowledge imparted could change lives—far more than teaching our kids largely trivial stuff they’ll never use, like trigonometry.  (Am I calling for decreased math instruction?  Hell no! Keep that around too because it builds mental stamina, and because a few of these kids may actually go on to build bridges.)

For starters, some nuts-and-bolts book about building wealth, such as Rich Dad, Poor Dad, should be required reading. Budding adults need to learn about the miracle of compound interest, the meaning of opportunity cost, the real cost of consumer goods (i.e., the thing’s price tag plus the tax you paid on the income required to purchase the thing), and mortgage amortization. This isn’t hard math—it’s far easier than what you’re required to learn just to graduate—but it’s important math that can affect your daily life.

None of this is currently taught in my kids’ schools. You get the normal fundamentals without any context about how to use them (other than a few word problems), and you get some weird, abstract, theoretical math that you might use in your career but most often just forget.  What’s needed is instruction about how not to be a chump, with plenty of real-life examples.

Here’s one.  As I explained to my older daughter recently, I worked with a guy years ago who—though sufficiently strapped that he carried credit card debt—bought a brand-new SUV on credit.  I was dismayed, though to be honest, also a bit smug:  my dismay carried with it a certain amount of self-congratulation because of course I knew better. (I know I shouldn’t admit this, but I’ll do so in the service of promoting fiscal education.)

To increase my self-satisfaction, and as an exercise, I calculated the true, all-in cost of that vehicle: the delta between what it cost and what a used equivalent (with the same warranty) would have cost; the interest on the monthly car payment; and the impact on my colleague’s overall net worth of having bought a used car with cash and putting the savings toward paying down his credit card.  The punchline?  The real cost of that SUV, I calculated, was about $140,000.  This kind of waste explained why my colleague, whose income was similar to mine, carried that balance on his credit card (which of course led to even more money down the drain).

Wasting money like that doesn’t just lower your standard of living, but limits your maneuverability so you can’t take advantage of sudden investment opportunities. Here’s an example of the kind of opportunity I’m talking about. Many years ago, my mom decided to sell her condo and buy a smaller one. She was being sweet-talked by a mortgage broker into taking out a bigger loan than she needed, so she could renovate, etc. I recommended she borrow only what she needed, and offered to loan her money as needed for renovations. She decided on a nice, small mortgage.

I also counseled my mom on stipulating no pre-payment penalties, so she could pay down her loan’s principal faster. I used an online mortgage amortization calculator to model multiple scenarios for her, so she could appreciate the impact this makes.  Six months or so later I happened to ask if she was paying extra principal when she could. She replied, “No, because the bank makes it difficult. I have to mail the extra principal to a different address.”  Those thieving bank bastards! Clearly they’d created this obstacle deliberately, and it was working perfectly.  I decided to punish the bank, save my mom some money, and get some income for myself all at the same time. Being a frugal guy with a used car (and, if I recall correctly, in the process of saving for my own home), I happened to have a decent amount of cash lying around, and was able to pay off my mom’s mortgage in one lump sum, and then let my mom pay me back instead of the bank. I split the difference between her former interest rate and what I could get with a money market investment, so she saved on interest and I made some nice cash with virtually no risk.

None of this is rocket science—and yet based on articles like this one, it appears household finance is blind spot for many families.  My mom surely had home ec classes as a kid, but despite being a great cook and even sewing a lot of clothes and stuffed animals back in the day, she never got formal instruction in practical financial matters.

Think of all the classes you practically slept through in middle school or high school, that never captured your imagination … shouldn’t one or two of such classes be supplanted with something more useful? This revised home ec wouldn’t necessarily be a hard sell for students.  “It’s not actually liberating to be dependent on restaurants or Kraft mac-n-cheese,” we could tell our nation’s girls.  And to the boys we could point out, “There’s nothing masculine about being broke.”

I don’t know how to influence our school systems toward this end, and will leave that up to the administrative geniuses who (in my dreams) will take this essay and run with it.  But I do have a suggestion for a name for this reinvigorated class:  how about “home econ”?

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