Monday, October 27, 2014

From the Archives - Why Girls Dig Cyclists


In my experience, there is not much overlap between the so-called “Greek system” (i.e., sororities and fraternities) and a college’s cycling team. Cyclists tend not to drink (at least during the season), and Greeks tend not to ride bikes. Thus, their paths almost never cross, except in class. This tale, which I just realized is a quarter of a century old, explores a rare exception to this rule.

Why Girls Dig Cyclists - May 4, 1989

You know that old stereotype that all sorority girls are luscious babes? Well it’s true. And you know the one about how they’re all airheads? Well . . . who am I to judge, especially when they feed me? And what are they feeding me? Spaghetti, of course. I’m a cyclist, so that’s pretty much all I eat. You may wonder how it came to pass that I’m dining at a sorority house. Well, wouldn’t you, if given the chance? My bike team pals and I are here for a benefit dinner. The sorority is raising money for a cyclist who was hit by a drunk driver and faces $1 million in hospital bills.

I suppose there are plenty of guys who would jump at this opportunity even without a spaghetti addiction, just to have a chance to chat up the sorority girls. After all, if you’re not in a frat, you may not have that many opportunities. That’s been my experience, anyway. This one girl in my French class seemed really into me until she asked what “house” I was in and I said some version of “none,” at which point her noise crinkled up like somebody had stepped in dog shit. That’s when it struck me that where sorority girls are concerned, for a guy not to be “Greek” is a real liability. (Or is it just me?)

Fortunately, I’m here with my teammate Randy, who is the right guy to hang out when you’re at a sorority house. He seems to know all the girls. I thought maybe this would lead to some introductions, but he’s too busy flirting. Myself, I’m too busy not flirting to actually flirt. I occupy myself noting the things that make this unassuming building a true sorority house. (Besides the hot chicks, of course.) For one thing, the lifestyle is really structured—look at all the charts on this bulletin board. Up top, we’ve got the “OVER 3.75 GPA” listing, and below that, the “OVER 3.00 GPA” listing. At the bottom is the voluminous “NEEDS MOTIVATION” list. Oooh, I’d hate to be on that one. Kind of like being in stocks.

Over here is a really unique list. Seems that when you’re in a sorority, they inspect your room every month and fine you if it’s not up to snuff. I’m not kidding! Here’s a sample (note that the names are approximate):

Bambi Barrette . . . . . . . . poorly dusted . . . . . . . . $ 2.50

Fifi Forbes . . . . . . . . . . not vacuumed . . . . . . . . . $ 2.50

Cindi Smith . . . . . . . . . . hole in wall . . . . . . . . . . $ 2.50

Julie Johnson . . . . . . . . . total mess . . . . . . . . . . $10.00

Why “hole in wall” doesn’t carry a heftier fine is beyond me. I figure if my room was a total mess, I’d go ahead and punch a hole in the wall to get my ten bucks worth. I wonder what it would be like if our landlord charged us fines like that? Maybe might look something like this:

S.H. Brickhouse . . . . . . . door torn from wall . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $50.00

S.H. Brickhouse . . . . . . . dirty dishes hidden behind fridge. . .  $10.00

S.H. Brickhouse . . . . . . stinky green sweats . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $10.00

S.H. Brickhouse . . . . weird curly hairs embedded in soap . . . . .$10.00

(I used an alias in the above example. My roommate likes to go through my stuff and might find this letter. What would be the fine for snooping? And how much for a beat-down?)

There’s another chart on the wall: “WHAT’S IN/WHAT’S OUT.” The term “girls” is out, while “women” is in. The rest of the guidelines seem to concern the complicated political structure of the sorority, so I have no idea what they mean. Anyway, boys will be boys, and we’re coming up with a few really good guidelines of our own, which I can’t share with you.

The cooking is going real slow, so while we’re waiting in the hall, some of the sisters bring out Kool‑Aid and Honey Grahams. The Kool‑Aid is the standard summer camp mass-consumption recipe—one package of mix to ten gallons of water—but I’m really enjoying the graham crackers. They make me feel about ten years younger, since ten years ago is the last time I had them. I can see by the look on the girls’ faces that the sorority motherhood training is working. But as beautiful as these maidens are—and believe me, they are beautiful—nobody can serve up the graham crackers quite like a real mom.

My friends and I are getting extra graham crackers. That’s because we’re wearing our “UCSB CYCLING” sweatshirts. I’ll bet you that each and every one of these girls is envisioning herself in one of these sweatshirts; that’s how cool they are. See the guy in the “Top Gun” aviator jacket? At over $200, it’s no match for what we’re wearing. These sweatshirts testify that yes, we are actual bike racers. Each day we live and breathe cycling with undiminished passion. And it is this passion that the girls want a piece of.

(Would we give these girls UCSB CYCLING sweatshirts? Naw. First of all, sweatshirts cost money. Second, though the sweatshirt’s bagginess is great for obscuring the underdeveloped upper body of a cyclist, we’d prefer that these girls—er, women—wore something more form-fitting.)

In the dining room, a girl is standing on a chair, shouting at everybody. I guess she’s the supervisor. “Sisters can’t eat!” she yells at two other girls. I think about asking, “Is that because of the sorority dieting policy?” but think better of it. Suddenly, I see a sign on the wall: “LOAD YOUR PLATE HIGH CUZ IT’S ONLY ONE TRIP THROUGH!” Oh my god, I’ve been had. I’d heard it was all you can eat!

Oh, well. I’ve gotten out of tougher spots than this. My three pals and I level the entire tray of spaghetti—and it was just put out. The people right behind us in line are griping, but those farther back (who have to wait anyway) are shouting encouragement. Suddenly, disaster strikes: plate failure. My paper plate is buckling, threatening to dump my entire haul. Without a moment to spare, the girl behind me in line gives me another plate. Then the sauce starts to run off the edge. Panicking, I bolster the leak with garlic bread, narrowly averting disaster. As I make my way to a table, I hear her say, admiringly, “What’s scary is that he’ll probably eat it all, too.”

The other diners have to stand there in line awhile longer waiting for the next batch of spaghetti, but I’m sure they’re not angry. They know my friends and I are representing the UCSB Gauchos in the West Coast Collegiate Cycling Championships this weekend. We command a lot of respect on this campus. In fact, if you look at the girls carefully (which you’ll do anyway, if you’re male), you can easily see how smitten they are. It takes a lot of guts to tackle such a big plate of spaghetti, I know. But hey, I rode today.

Does it seem like a lot of the girls have left? Yeah, they probably went out front to see if we rode our racing bikes here. Girls just dig our bikes. I saw this one eyeing my Dura-Ace eight-speed derailleur the other day, and I could tell she wanted to talk to me but was just too shy. That’s normal; we cyclists are so much bigger than life, our admirers get overwhelmed sometimes.

A couple of Randy’s lady friends at our table have finally gotten him to tell some war stories. We cyclists don’t like to brag (which is what describing our races frankly amounts to), but girls have a way with these things. “Yeah, it was so rad,” Randy says. “I’m coming around the last corner and suddenly I’m on the ground, just going, whooah, what happened. Last lap, too. Rotten luck.” The girls are obviously enraptured. “But, like, why did you crash?” one of them asks. I pick up the ball: “We crash because crashing is fun. It’s as simple as that.” The guys start laughing, but she looks concerned. “Doesn’t it hurt, though?” she asks. John takes this one. “Yeah, but we’re s’damn tough that, well....” He shrugs. John likes to flirt, but his intentions toward her are honorable. (If that sounds familiar it’s because I’m paraphrasing a fortune cookie.)
Speaking of cookies, that’s what we raid next. It’s really crowded up there, and I’m trying to get what’s mine when everybody starts laughing. “What happened?” I ask. This dude answers, “Some geek just ran into the sliding glass door.” Dammit! It’s Randy! I feel really bad for him ... after all, I did that once. But the door I ran into was a lot cleaner. Boy, I hope he’s okay. I guess he got caught up in all the excitement.

As we’re eating our cookies—Randy and I got enough for everybody—a girl walks by in some really interesting faux-cycling shorts. Most faux-cycling shorts look almost like the real thing but lack the chamois pad. But this girl’s shorts differ further in that they’re really short. Really, really short. One of the girls at our table says, “Oh my GOD! Look at those shorts! Those are so cute!” I know she likes them, and well, I do too. “Oh my GOD!” I echo her. Why does it sound so different when I say it? Language sure is strange. The guys are all laughing. She is not. But hey, it’s cool. I can tell she digs me. Of course she does—I’m a cyclist!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

“Glycogen Window” for Sports Recovery - Proven!


Haven’t heard of the glycogen window?  It’s a period of time, roughly half an hour immediately following exercise, during which any carbs you ingest provide extra benefit in restoring muscle glycogen.  In other words, if you exercise good and hard, you not only deserve a treat but are well advised to have one because it’ll help you recover.  Among my racer pals, post-ride chocolate milk is all the rage.  (Protein, calcium, and antioxidants are also touted as important recovery aids.)

I suppose I should add that this glycogen window thing isn’t widely viewed as hard science.  I first read about it in “Bicycling” magazine back in the ‘80s; cycling hero Andy Hampsten wrote about it.  I’d link to the article, but I doubt “Bicycling” has archived all their issues electronically like “New Yorker” has.  (Perhaps “Bicycling” assumes their readers have no patience for text, especially old text that has been regurgitated countless times anyway, with articles like “It’s you—fit, fast, and self-trained!” and “10 easy ways to improve your power!” run in constant rotation.)

Naturally, I believed what Hampsten wrote because he won the Giro d’Italia and the Alpe d’Huez stage of the Tour de France.  I began eating things like ice cream, fruit, or yogurt right after a ride or race, and immediately noticed an improvement in my recovery so I’ve stuck with it over all these years.  (Yeah, it could be a placebo, but if so, it’s a strong one.)

In this post I will make a cursory examination of the evidence against the glycogen window theory, before presenting substantive proof, recently obtained from a very talented young scientist, that the glycogen window is for real.  Here is the scientist, enjoying the fruits of her labors, both scholastic and athletic.

The case against glycogen window

It didn’t take long to find “evidence” against the glycogen window theory.  The first Google hit came from an online magazine called  I won’t summarize their arguments—you can read them right here—but suffice to say, I’m not impressed.  This article depends entirely on a) other people’s research, and b) sentences beginning with “there’s little evidence that,” which only show the lack of information available to the author.  Perhaps will retract the entire article after reading this post and seeing my evidence. 

One other thing:  their headline is really wishy-washy:  “Why Most Endurance Athletes Don’t Usually Need to Eat After Workouts” (italics mine).  It wouldn’t hurt to define what an endurance athlete is, and why some would sometimes benefit.  Meanwhile, this glycogen window thing (according to what I’ve read in support of it) only works if you do it as a standard practice—which means that nobody needs to do it sometimes.

That said, one thing mentioned in that article does present damning evidence against the glycogen window theory.  It’s one of the footnotes, linking to an article that supposedly supports the notion:  a book called “The Lance Armstrong Performance Program: Seven Weeks to the Perfect Ride.”  Obviously, if Lance Armstrong—a known liar—says the glycogen window is legit, then it must be a myth, right?  Well, it’s not actually that simple.  You see, it’s clear Lance didn’t really write that book, but merely lent his celebrity to the project.  So we’re still good.

You know what?  I’m tired of paying lip service to the glycogen-window haters.  You can research their silly positions on your own.  It’s time to get to the proof that it’s valid.

Hard science

Occasionally, I make the time to carry out scientific experiments on my own.  For example, I proved that cyclists have extremely high pain thresholds (click here) and that rinsing—the practice of tasting something sweet without actually ingesting any calories—actually does increase athletic performance (click here).  But I don’t have time to test every theory I come across.  Thus, when I had the opportunity to leverage the considerable brainpower, time, and energy of my daughter Alexa, I jumped on it.  (As I’ve documented here, I’ve long dreamed of exploiting my children’s intellect for personal gain.)

Here’s how I got my chance:  my daughter was assigned a science project having to do with heart rate.  It was supposed to be a fairly simple affair, such as measuring the heart rate of each test subject before and after eating chocolate.  (Needless to say, it’s never a problem finding subjects for such a study.)  Obviously Alexa could have done a really easy project like that, but you can guess what happened:  I got involved and pressed my personal agenda.

It wasn’t hard to get Alexa to tackle a difficult research project, because a) as a budding athlete and lifelong lover of sweets, she has a vested interest in validating the glycogen window theory, and b) she knew she’d get some treats, in the form of candy and accolades, during the testing process.

Of course, using heart rate to measure the benefit of sports nutrition is not particularly straightforward.  Alexa’s methodology involved measuring the change (i.e., delta) in heart rate between lying down and standing up.  On the morning after exercise, this delta is usually greater than if the subject didn’t exercise the day before.  Alexa sought to determine if getting a snack during the glycogen window reduced this morning-after effect.  (Where did she get this idea?  From me.  I read it somewhere, ages ago, and a coach once explained it to me.)

You know what?  Alexa describes all this better than I have: 
One way of testing your recovery time is by comparing the delta of your heart rate between lying down (first thing in the morning) and standing up.  After physical exertion, your muscles are tired, and standing takes more effort, raising your heart rate.  This assumption is based off of the existing studies on the subject. My experiment will in part test this hypothesis. However, the main point is to examine the effects of  getting a sugary snack within 35 minutes of exercising (i.e., during the so-called “glycogen window”).  It has been proposed that getting this immediate sugar helps replace muscle glycogen (which is like the fuel in your car’s tank).  This greatly enhances recovery (i.e., getting over fatigue).  In my experiment, half of the test group will have some form of sugar after exercising, during the glycogen window.  By comparing the delta of their heart rates, I will be able to see how the heart rates of the people who had sugar compare to that of the people who didn’t.


Alexa’s project got off to a fine start:  she baked cookies for her friend’s soccer team.  Half the team would get cookies right after soccer practice, and the other half would take cookies home to eat later.  (Just try recruiting kids for the control group without offering them tasty snacks, too!)  Unfortunately, the soccer practice got canceled, and though Alexa tried to get half the team to forego snacks after the next game, they all (predictably) flaked.  So she got pretty far behind on her project. 

I always try to strike the right balance between giving my daughter too much help versus letting her make her own mistakes.  So, in this case I helped my daughter find replacement test subjects, but made her drive the project.  This resulted in a real nail-biter:  Alexa didn’t have all the data she needed until the morning the project was due.  At 6:00 a.m. she was frantically collecting the final test results, writing her report, preparing her graph, and putting the whole thing together.  (Perhaps this was the best thing about the project:  she learned the hard way not to procrastinate, and got some good practice working well under pressure.)

Here is Alexa’s procedure, in her words: 
Procedure: People participating will:
  1. Take their heart rate first thing in the morning.
  2. Stand up and take it again, recording the data, to get a baseline heart rate increase (aka “delta”).
  3. Exercise in some way (something aerobic) at some point during that day.
  4. Half of the group will have something sugary within 35 minutes of completing exercise; the other half won’t.
  5. The next day all will measure their pulse again, first lying down and then standing, and recording the data.

Alexa ended up with ten test subjects, their ages spanning 12 to 50-something.  One subject was herself.  I participated twice:  I served as a with-sugar subject and then (a day or two later) as a without-sugar subject.

In the table below, a row shaded in yellow indicate a sugary snack was received within the glycogen window.  I’m subject #1 and #2.  Alexa is #3.  My brother Bryan is #7.  As you can see, getting a  snack resulted in much less of an increase in the delta; that is, subjects recovered better when they had a glycogen-window treat.

Here is the conclusion Alexa wrote: 
I have concluded that my hypothesis is correct, and having sugar after a workout helps you recover.  The percent change in delta was in every case greater in the people who had no sugar after exercising.  This shows that getting up was more of an effort for them, meaning that their muscles had not recovered to the extent that others had.  This is illustrated by the graph.  The red indicates people who did not have a sugary snack after exercising, and the blue indicates people who did.

Just look at this graph.  The data unequivocally support her thesis.

 Every responsible scientist notes certain caveats that could make the results less compelling, and Alexa is no exception: 
In one case, the data set was not complete, and without a proper baseline delta, I couldn’t calculate that person’s percent change.  If I were to redo the experiment, I would try harder to get that data in time.

Her final sentence is my favorite, with its unexpected twist at the end:
This evidence supporting my hypothesis could prove extremely beneficial in the area of after-sports snack debates.

Happily, Alexa’s findings guarantee that she (and her sister and I) will continue to get glycogen window treats after every serious workout.  For me as a parent, this is a win-win because this coveted sugary reward guarantees my daughters will continue to do serious workouts.  (Alexa will do a 45-minute trainer ride for just five or six jelly beans.)  It’s touching to see these kids racing into the kitchen after exercise, jockeying for position and throwing elbows, yelling “Glycogen!  Glycogen!”

A final note

I realize that neither Alexa nor I made any effort to prove that the lying-down versus standing heart rate delta actually means anything.  But hey, we can’t do it all.  If one of you would study that on your own and send me your results, that would be great.  Or better yet, get your kid to do it!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Race Report - Everest Challenge 2014 (Stage 2)

NOTE:  This post is rated R for mild strong language.


Ideally, you’re reading this because you’ve already read my race report for Stage 1 of the 2014 Everest Challenge and are dying to find out what happened in Stage 2.  If, however, you stumbled upon this page by googling “pastrami not lean” or “Jennifer Lawrence nude cycling burrito race,” please don’t leave!  This post really is where you need to be … just go read about Stage 1 first.  That way, much of this report will make more sense (though, honestly, probably a lot of it still won’t).


On Saturday night, I was filled with near-absolute dread.  Given that Saturday’s race had featured dire cold, rain, sleet, and snow, you might assume that I dreaded a continuation of awful racing weather.  Well, not exactly.  In fact, I was dreading the prospect of the weather not being bad enough.  I was holding out some small hope that the cold and wet would be so grossly extreme that the race would be shortened in the name of safety, or my pals would say “Let’s bag it,” so I could shrug my shoulders and follow along, thus escaping both the race and the disgrace of cowardice.

I voiced this strategy when chatting with my daughter Alexa on the phone.  “Dad, you can’t quit!” she protested. “No matter what the weather’s like, you have to race!  If you drop out, you’ll never forgive yourself!”  Translation:  “I’ll never forgive you!”  And imagine the repercussions:  every time my daughter gives up on something, she could throw it in my face.  “Yeah, I’m a quitter!” she’ll say, “and I learned it from you!”

On Sunday morning I dressed in a long-sleeve Patagonia thermal top, shorts, jersey, leg warmers, arm warmers, Smartwool socks, a jacket, and Craig’s extra pair of full-finger gloves.  (Yes, I was humbled by his superior planning, just as I’m humbled by his greater strength every time we ride.)  

I confirmed at the check-in what I’d gathered the day before:  I was sitting eighth in the Masters 45+ category; in ninth was the Talented Mr. Ridley, some four minutes behind me; and in tenth was Marco, whom I’ve seen every year at the EC, another ten minutes behind.  So all I really had to do was finish this race without completely cracking and I could hold onto eighth.  Sounds simple, eh?  Well, considering I’d completely cracked two out of the last three times on this stage, and I hadn’t held anything back this year on Stage 1, things didn’t look so hot.

Stage 2 – 73 miles, 14,030 feet of climbing

There was a mile or two of neutral riding before we crossed the highway and started the real racing.  My teeth were chattering uncontrollably.  I hoped everybody would chill out (pun intended, sorry) for a  good long time before dropping the hammer; it takes enough energy just staying warm.  But as soon as we reached the end of the neutral section, a guy went to the front and laid down the smack.  This was Chris Walker, who had finished third the day before, and was obviously wanting to turn the tables.  I saw my heart rate go into the 150s and decided my legs weren’t complete shit as in years before, which was kind of nice.  On the other hand, this meant I had to actually try.  (You see what a frail ego I have to work with?  Go ahead, pity me.)

I hung in there for a couple miles, but this was all too much.  I let eight guys roll away.  I looked back; the peloton was shredded like confetti behind me.  As the front group continued to distance me, it shed another guy:  Bobby, who had finished four minutes ahead of me, in seventh, the day before.  I was soon joined from behind by Marco, his teammate Jaycee, and one other guy.  We eventually caught Bobby, to form a group of five.

I was stoked to have riders to work with, but they were going a bit too fast.  I couldn’t bear to let them ride away, so I just had to suffer.  Can a person get better at suffering?  Of course.  Does suffering ever become any less unpleasant?  Please.  Read my lips:  it sucked.  It’s kind of funny how I train hard for like ten weeks for this, and my reward is abject misery for six hours, two days in a row.  It’s kind of an odd thing to plan your summer around.  Maybe my kids are right (“Dad, you’re crazy!”).  I’m reminded of what my brother Max swears my dad said to me when he heard I’d ridden over Trail Ridge Road during a thunderstorm at fourteen:  “You’re not very bright, are you?”

At least we weren’t being rained on.  It was really wet at the top, though, enough that the spray got our legs and butts all wet.  There’s a distinctive squeaky sound a cyclist’s wet shorts make when, after climbing out of the saddle, he sits back down.  It’s like a windshield ice-scraper being dragged across ballistic nylon, and we were all making that sound.  At the Glacier Lodge turnaround I took a bottle of water, mainly as ballast.  A minute into the descent I saw the Talented Mr. Ridley heading up toward the turnaround.  I reckoned we had three minutes on him.  My group took the descent easy due to the wet, and he caught us just as the road leveled out at the bottom.

I needed more Cytomax, but as we came through the parking area before heading up Waucoba Canyon, I couldn’t find my team’s cooler. So I pulled a baggie from my jersey pocket and mixed up a bottle while riding in our paceline.  “Really?” someone said.  The Talented Mr. Ridley rode away from us.  Marco seemed surprised.  “He’s kind of a lone wolf,” I explained.  Some twenty minutes later, the guy reappeared ahead, gradually drifted back to us, rode next to us for awhile, and then fell off.  “There goes Lone Wolf,” Marco said.

I’ll get right to the point:  our group of five got to the second summit turnaround together.  It may seem like this took no time at all, the way I’m reporting it, but believe me, it took a good while.  The race organizers lengthened this climb a couple years back, and I’ve never adjusted.  Imagine going to the dentist and having the hygienist poke and scrape at your teeth and gums for the entire normal duration, and then—just when you think it’s all over and you can get your new toothbrush and leave—she starts all over again and goes another round with her poking tool.  That’s the new, improved Waucoba Canyon climb.

We worked well on the descent and were still together when we reached the cars again.  We’d all agreed to stop to refuel and shed some clothing (it had warmed up a bit).  A couple of the roving race volunteers gave us some encouragement.  “You’re our favorite racer!” one of them told me.  I must have looked as bewildered as I felt because she went on to explain, “You smile more than anybody else!”  Now I was more confused than ever.  Could I have actually smiled at any point during this race?  She must have mistaken my rictus of pain.  Still, as misguided as the statement was, it’s still the nicest thing anybody has ever said to me, and I suppose I was encouraged.

Good thing, too, because that last climb—over 20 miles long and gaining over 6,000 feet in elevation—is a monster. At least I wasn’t facing it alone—I was happy to be in this small group, with nobody in it a threat to my GC placing. Not that it was windy or anything, and drafting wouldn’t make much difference at such low speed, but the miles go faster when you have company. As the Coen brothers put it, “There’s a spirit of camaraderie that exists between the men, like you find only in combat maybe, or on a pro ball club in the heat of a pennant drive.” The Coen brothers were talking about prison, but it’s an apt comparison; indeed, when (just a couple miles into this final climb) I couldn’t hack the pace anymore, and I had to let the other guys go, and was distinctly bummed at the long, silent miles stretching out ahead of me, I wondered if this was like going from the prison yard to solitary confinement.

I toiled away solo, buried in my lowest gear, starting to actually get too warm for the first time all weekend. Paul and Ken drove by in the Intimidation Van. “Do you need anything?” they called out. I did—I needed a lot of things, starting with a higher VO2 max and improved lactate threshold—but I didn’t need anything they could provide. I hoped I didn’t look too pathetic, pedaling away like a girl scout fighting the fierce current of Lake Chabot in a crappy little paddle boat.

Paul drove ahead and parked so I could ditch my jacket and arm warmers as I came by. Ken was quick enough to snap a photo. Look carefully at my crow’s feet—which are actually longer than an actual crow’s actual feet—and Paul’s waiting hands at the right edge of the frame.

The group of four that I’d dropped from was still visible at various points, and it disgorged another of its riders, whom over a period of twenty minutes I caught and dropped. Then Jaycee fell off the pace, and I gradually made up ground on him for another thirty minutes until, along a straight, shallow section of road, I saw him off the side of the road peeing. It seemed a pity to pass him under such circumstances, but my supersized bladder is one of my only athletic talents and I suppose I should take advantage of it when I can.

Not long after thus moving into ninth on the road, I suddenly felt completely nauseated. This happens sometimes, particularly at altitude (I was at about 7,000 feet elevation), and I truly hoped I wouldn’t hurl. Barf is really caustic so even just a mouthful can make your throat burn for hours. Fortunately I only dry-heaved. I did this a number of times. You know things are bad when you “only” dry-heave and feel fortunate about it. I retched wretchedly for a couple of minutes, and then felt a bit better and soldiered on.

Paul and Ken drove by again. I’m sure they felt a bit awkward trying to say something encouraging to somebody locked in such a seemingly pointless struggle, with so far still to go. What could they say? “Almost there!” No, that’s not true. And “You’re doing great!” might come off as sarcastic. But these guys know what they’re doing. “Dana, there are two bearded riders behind you!” Paul called out. “You are leading the bearded division!”

The temperature steadily dropped. The next time I came upon the parked van I got my arm warmers and jacket back from the guys and put them back on. Riding on, I was aware of a rider gradually catching up to me, but knew by his form that it wasn’t the Talented Mr. Ridley. Eventually the guy caught me. It was one of the bearded guys, and he pulled level right at the 5-KM-to-go sign. I felt oddly demoralized: not because I was getting passed (this guy wasn’t even in my category), but by how tired this guy looked. I thought he’d just roll away from me, but he couldn’t; it was like catching me had taken all he had. He was a living reminder of how hard this was. And for the first time all weekend, I began to battle despair.

How could I, with just 5K to go? Well, they’re long kilometers. I had about 1,000 vertical feet yet to climb. And it just suddenly seemed as though I couldn’t do it anymore. My legs simply didn’t want to turn the pedals. What if I stop? I wondered. Just for a minute? Just a little rest? I knew, of course, that these were the crazed delusions of a madman. I was like a car with an almost-dead battery: if I shut off the engine, I’d never get it going again. But 5K? It couldn’t be done! I reminded myself what was at stake: Marco (in tenth) was surely only a couple minutes ahead, and The Talented Mr. Ridley was behind me and unlikely to catch up, much less drop me by four minutes. All I really needed to do was finish. But that made it worse: so close, yet so far.

And so: I just kept pedaling, somehow. And after a few minutes, the damnedest thing happened: I started to feel better. Not so much physically, but emotionally. My mind relaxed. Yes, I can do this, I realized. Perhaps the grade had let up a bit, or the energy drink was doing its thing. Whatever the case, the despair melted away and in fact now struck me as having been silly. This was an epiphany of sorts: the idea that despair can just be a passing mood, that goes away all by itself. I suppose I’ve heard words to this effect before, but now I’ve experienced it. I’m going to remember it.

I reached the finish, made sure the ref got my number, rolled down to the refreshment station, grabbed a couple Clif bars, got my medal and t-shirt, and rode immediately back to the van before my tired body could cool off.  Even still I froze my ass off before reaching the van.  Ian and Craig rode by after a bit, and made a quick turnaround after the finish themselves.  We didn’t even pause for a photo-op; this was the only shot I managed to get.


We showered at the hot springs.  I had a beer stashed in the cooler and chugged it:  doctor’s orders.  We went to Erick Schat’s for sandwiches, where we encountered (at like 3 p.m., spang between lunch and dinner) a crazy mob of people.  We had to sit outside in the cold.  Here we are.

Here is my sandwich.  It became more glorious when I’d stuffed the tomatoes, pickle, and sauerkraut into it.

Not shown:  the crazy bird that attacked Paul, and then attacked Craig.  Also not shown:  the little kid who started crying when Craig violently shooed away the crazy bird.  Seriously weird goings-on.  At least there wasn’t a group of firemen seated next to us, as there had been at Astorga’s and then at the Italian joint the next night.  For them to have joined us a third time would have been too much.  Instead it just started to rain.  We finished our lunches standing under the eaves.

We got on the road earlier than ever before, only to see on a flashing roadside sign that Highway 120, through Yosemite, was closed, along with the next highway to the north over Sonora Pass.  Getting home looked like it would take forever, meaning our merry band would go the way of the Donner Party, or the guys in “Deliverance” or “The Osterman Weekend.”  Fortunately, Highway 120 was open when we reached it.  Look closely in this photo (taken at the park entrance where we stopped to pee) and you’ll see the blowing snow.

We stopped at the pizza place in Groveland.  The staff seemed really out of it, bickering over who had to make the pizzas.  Ken asked if we could get a basil and tomato pizza and the cashier said, “No, we can’t make that.”  He asked which ingredient they couldn’t do, and she absolutely could not parse the question.  When I described this to Ian (outside) he said, “But that’s a classic Margherita pizza!”  I replied, “If I tell her that, she’ll say they don’t have a liquor license.”

I think the pizza-making job finally went to this fat guy in a filthy t-shirt who was chewing on a toothpick.  The poor cashier took a long time miscalculating the check.  I asked for a receipt and she had to write it out by hand on a scrap of paper, misspelling the name of the restaurant.  We got the two pizzas to go and ate them in the dark (the dome light seeming unwise as Paul was driving us down Priest Grade).  Ken said, “Dana, I’m gonna be pissed if I come across that guy’s toothpick.”  The thing is, it was nevertheless pretty dang good pizza.  Or were we just insanely hungry?


On my third (short) ride after the EC, I went to shift into my big ring and my front derailleur cable snapped.  Bizarre.  I can’t help but feel grateful that this hadn’t happened during the race, when—despite the awful weather and rote suffering—nothing major went wrong.  And now I’ve been clobbered by a virus, which so easily could have struck earlier.  I’m pretty jazzed about this race, really; on my sixth try, I feel like I pretty much finally got it right.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Race Report - Everest Challenge 2014 (Stage 1)

NOTE:  This post is rated R for mild strong language and mature themes.


As I begin this report, it is the Wednesday evening after the Everest Challenge.  I was going to go for a bike ride—just because it’s so nice outside and I want to know again what warm sun feels like—but my wife put the kibosh on that.  “Your breathing still isn’t back to normal,” she says.  She’s right about that … it’s like I’m still trying to catch my breath.  I told her I’d already talked to my doctor about it.  She knows “my doctor” means my friend who’s a doctor who specializes in pulmonary problems.  She asked if he had any theories.  “Nope, he wasn’t concerned,” I told her.  “And I know what he’d say if pressed him:  ‘You’re a pussy!’”

This Everest Challenge, my sixth, was different from the others.  For one thing, I actually caught the names of a few of the leaders, including the guy who I think ended up winning.  But don’t worry, I won’t bore you with such details.  This report focuses on the food, the difficulties, and the deranged culture of the event.

This was also my first year in the Masters 45+ category.  But the biggest difference was that instead of being unbearably hot, the weather this year was unbearably cold.  So don your fuzzy slippers, grab a nice hot cup of joe, forward your phone, and prepare for some highly indulgent schadenfreude!


We met at Ken’s place, where we loaded up Paul’s kickass Endurance  team van, which—being all modern and sporting a custom paint job and a giant bike rack—is so pro that we’re vicariously intimidated by ourselves.  New for this year is that all five of our bikes were badass black.  (I guess that’s not such a coincidence when almost all road bikes, it seems, are now black.) 

I was a bit late meeting the others because I got held up performing an emergency Epley maneuver.  At least I had an excuse the guys probably hadn’t heard before.

Our group has only two rules regarding the Everest Challenge:  1) don’t talk about the Everest Challenge; and 2) bring baked goods for the drive.  I think as long as I obey the second rule, the guys will cut me some slack on the first.  My daughter Alexa baked us a bunch of butterscotch brownies.  They were so good.  So were the cookies and chocolate the other guys brang.  (Yeah, I know “brang” isn’t a word, but that sentence was getting boring.)

Lunch was at Priest’s Station again, though it almost wasn’t.  We got there unusually early and the host told us they weren’t serving lunch yet.  He seemed relieved to be turning us away.  We were on the brink of leaving until Paul, who’d been outside when we got the news, came up with the brilliant idea of finding out when they did start serving lunch, which turned out to be just ten minutes away.

I won’t go into everything everybody ate, but we did have some intrigue when Ken tried to order:

[Ken]  “I’d like to get the vegan sandwich, but can you add cheese?”
[Waitress]  “No, I can’t do that.”
[Ken]  “Why not?  Isn’t the customer always right?”
[Waitress]   “I’d like to, but that sandwich you describe … it cannot be.  It does not exist.”
[Ken]  “Look, I grasp that it wouldn’t be a vegan sandwich anymore.  But I want the cheese.”
[Waitress]  “The addition of cheese obliterates the very essence of the vegan sandwich.  Not being our vegan offering anymore, the sandwich thus vanishes from our menu so you’d be adding cheese to nothing, to a phantom, to a lack.”
[Ken]  “Seriously?”
[Waitress]  “Hey, I’m just a waitress … I cannot alter fundamental ontological laws.”

Okay, I confess that I’ve exaggerated that exchange a bit.  What really happened is that Ken wondered aloud beforehand about whether he’d get any flak for adding cheese to a vegan sandwich.  When he (almost sheepishly) asked, the waitress said something like “Of course!” which suggested that the word “vegan” meant no more to her than “cowboy” in the context of my cowboy burger (grass-fed beef, bacon, BBQ sauce, onion rings—very tasty though it made a mess in my beard, which may be why hipsters so often order non-messy things like tahini pita).

When we stopped for gas at the eastern edge of Yosemite, we couldn’t believe how windy it was.  The forecast was for unseasonably cooler weather, which started on a promising note (mid-‘70s) but become ominous, with some websites forecasting rain.  (We enjoyed a long discourse on the probable evolution of weather forecasting, which must have started with Ouija boards but evolved to include almanacs just to get predictions into a saner range.)  But when we got to Bishop and headed out for our traditional spin-the-legs ride, we enjoyed sun and temps in the mid-‘80s.

Dinner was at Astorga’s, the Mexican joint, again.  They seated us in a back room, away from the decent guests.  We were all clean and presentable .. .what gives?  Maybe we’re too thin.  Anyway, something big was going down in the kitchen and nothing was coming out.  We ate at least a basket or two of chips apiece while waiting.  I wanted the combo with a beef taco and chicken enchilada and Craig ordered the opposite, just to spleen me.  I was unfazed until I got a beef taco and beef enchilada and both of Craig’s items were chicken.  “Boo-ya, motherfrockles!” the waitress did not say.

When we left, it was significantly colder out.  At the motel we set about pinning our numbers and mixing up bottles.  This year I even got organized and put a little sticker on my handlebars telling the mileage of each summit so I could mark my progress.

Craig, knowing he’d be groggy in the morning, wrote a to-do list for the morning:

The order is important.  If you dress before shitting, you’ll have to take your jersey and jacket back off to drop the bib shorts.  If you eat before heating your food, your food will be raw.  Etc.

Stage 1 – 89.2 miles, hella climbing

I say “hella climbing” instead of the normal precise number because the course had a last-minute change due to road construction and/or an evil troll crouching near the roadway.  So we did the traditional first climb (to South Lake, elevation 9,835’), then the standard second climb (to Pine Creek, elevation 7,425’), and then the first climb again.

I woke up dark and early, full of butterflies, and groped for my smartphone to check the time.  I was pleased by neither the time nor the active-background weather update for Bishop:

Craig was using some fancy-pants Weather Underground app to predict the weather at the higher elevations, and the forecast for South Lake was for snow turning to rain and then back to snow.  D’oh.

We began our day.  I burst out laughing to see Craig’s oatmeal in the microwave:  a serving the size of a grapefruit.  I opened the door to snap a photo and the oatmeal sank.  It was mostly air, bubbling up as it cooked.  Still, a hearty helping.

I’m never eating Uncle Sam cereal pre-race again.  It’s just like cardboard and is like 30% flax seeds.  I also ate a tasty old-school granola bar 2-pack that had expired during the Clinton administration.

I fretted over whether to save my wool socks for Sunday (which had an even worse forecast) before discovering, to my delight, that I’d brought two pairs.  These were not only Smartwools but were a Christmas present from my mom, so you know I was super-stoked.  Alas, I only had one long-sleeve thermal base layer and saved it for Stage 2.  The rain had stopped before we mobilized but it was still plenty cold.  Less cold, of course, than what we’d be facing at South Lake.

When we got to the start line, my bowels asserted themselves again and I had to ride off to the comfort station and do one last purge.  It was farther away than I’d remembered, and I rolled up to the starting line about 15 seconds before the start.  The ref laughed.  “There’s one in every peloton,” Paul said.

The first climb was brutal.  Determined not to wuss out and over-conserve my energy as I had last year, I dug good and deep and was still with the leaders until about halfway to the summit.  Then some damn climber type got a little aggro, others responded, and eventually my heart rate got too high for too long and I had to let six guys roll away, lest I detonate 13 miles into an 89-mile race.  When the grade flattened a bit I eventually made it back to them, along with Ken and a couple big rolleur types.  We latched quietly on the back of the lead group and sat in.

A few more dropped riders got back on, and right about the time I was thinking, “Wow, this is kind of a big group for this far into the climb,” Ken said, “Wow, this is kind of a big group for this far into the climb!”  The climbers must have heard, because the hammer went down again.  Plus, the road pitched up with a vengeance.  It was freezing cold up there, there was snow on the side of the road, I was carrying 175 pounds of blood and guts and my solid penguin-style bones, and a gap started opening.  I saw the 0.2 KM sign and figured whatever gap the pocket climbers got, I’d be able to close it on the downhill.

Suddenly I heard this isk-isk-isk sound and looked at my rear brake.  The rim was hitting it!  Had I broken a spoke?  No wonder I was hurting so bad!  I turned around at the turnaround (as one does) and stopped to put on my jacket.  Craig (racing in the 35+ category with Ian) was there, zipping up his.  I asked him to check my wheel.   He said it was fine.  (I discovered later that one of the decals had started peeling, and that was all that was hitting the brake, which wasn’t centered right.) 

Seeing as to how the leaders we already underway, I said to Craig, “Let’s go!”  I couldn’t believe my luck:  descending behind Craig is a wonderful thing.  Encountering him here looked like the best thing to happen to me since I missed my transfer (by like a mile) riding a San Francisco city bus and the driver, having just finished her shift, actually drove me home.

But here I was deluding myself.  “Sorry dude, Ian’s taking a piss,” Craig said.  “You better get going—your leaders are down the road.”  He didn’t need to add, “You bozo!” because this was implicit.  I’d have hauled ass down the twisty, narrow road except I was afraid of frost and ice.  I took it easy for awhile.  When I got back into the sun I chased like a mofo and eventually caught the leaders.  In fact, after I passed them I accidentally dropped them all via my aerodynamic tuck and my penguin bones.  So  then I had to coast awhile, untucked like a slob’s shirt, and let them catch up.  I kind of missed the hammering I’d been doing … at least it had kept me a bit warmer.

Those poor climber bastards.  They’re even skinnier than I am and a few weren’t even wearing leg warmers.  A couple of these guys were shaking so badly they could barely control their bikes.  I gave them plenty of room.

(A note about my constant climber-bashing:  I actually have nothing against climbers and in fact hold them in high regard.  But their ability to roll away from me on pivotal uphills just isn’t something I can take sitting down.  Or standing up.  It rankles.  It would be dishonest not to share with you the feelings I had during the race, even if these feelings evaporated immediately afterward.)

On the flat section it was really windy and I was hoping to put more distance between our group of 11 and the couple dozen guys who’d been dropped.  But the climbers wouldn’t help.  Their attitude seemed to be, “Who cares how many guys latch back on?  I’m a climber and another climb is coming up and I’ll just drop them again, ha-ha!”  Fine.  But they don’t get to self-identify with draft horses or oxen … just little ponies or maybe lapdogs.  Ken and I did most of the work until the second climb.

Four miles from the summit the pace got too high and again I released myself from the leaders on my own recognizance.  Fortunately, two big guys decided to detach with me.  One of them, Marco, I’ve raced with pretty much every year at EC.  The other didn’t look familiar but he had a cool Belgian-themed bike and good form.  I later learned his name was Bobby.  So we suffered along together for awhile before Marco said, “Hey, welcome back” to this fourth dude.  This guy was particularly lean, with really veiny legs and a fancy Ridley bike.  But he didn’t hang around … he went by us and gradually pulled away.  This seemed kind of stupid to me.  I mean, he wasn’t going to catch the leaders, and we were bound to catch him on the descent or the flat section later, so what was the point of expending extra energy opening up a gap on us?  But hey, free country.

Sure enough, after reaching the summit together and sharing the wind on the descent and the flats for about ten miles, our trio caught the veiny-legged Ridley guy.  As we approached the road where all the cars were parked, I thought about stopping for a couple fresh bottles.  (The race-supplied energy drink tends to give me debilitating gas, along with others I know who have used it.  Paul said it once blew his belly up like a balloon, and when he was finally able to begin farting post-race, each passing of gas shrunk his belly visibly.)  Of course it’s a shame to break up a group, so I was contemplating suggesting to the other guys that we all stop at our cars and then sync back up.  At that moment the veiny/Ridley guy suggested exactly that.  So we all stopped at our cars—except him.  He just kept right on going!  “Aha,” he must have thought, “I tricked them!”  Bobby said mildly, “That wasn’t very sportsmanlike.”

We had a strong, cold crosswind on the final climb.  Marco must have fallen off at some point.  Bobby and I picked up a couple other good riders (from other categories) and were steaming along pretty well when I saw the Talented Mr. Ridley ahead in the distance.  I knew I wouldn’t last in this group for the whole climb, but hoped we’d pass and drop this guy before I had to back off.  When we went by him I didn’t even look back to see if he’d latched on.  I just settled in and suffered.  I know the road would turn eventually, so the wind might not be so bad.  When I finally eased off  and peeked over my shoulder, the Talented Mr. Ridley was way off the back.  This stoked my coals.  I don’t mind telling you, I hoped we’d completely crushed his morale.

Of course, he was not all I had to worry about.  Survival was very much on my mind.  It was getting ever colder as I gained altitude, and then it started to rain.  No, it wasn’t a deluge, but enough but enough to soak my chamois, which makes Hank cranky.  How much weight does a drenched jacket add?  Oh well.  Then the rain turned briefly to sleet before becoming snow.  Again, not a lot, but—snow!  Dang!  And there was that damn wind.  I won’t go into tedious detail about how long the next ten miles felt.  If you really want a taste of what it was like, read this paragraph repeatedly for the next hour while punching yourself with a bag of frozen peas.

Paul drove up next to me in the Intimidation van and called out encouragement.  He would go on to park it as far up the climb as he was allowed, so we wouldn’t have to descend the full twenty miles to the start area after the race.  HUGE.

I eventually made it to the finish, though this required some paperboy-style weaving on the steepest pitches.  (Despite having already disgraced myself with a compact crank maybe I’ll use a wussy 27-tooth cog next year—there, are you happy now!? )  In case you’re wondering, I reached the finish almost four minutes ahead of the Talented Mr. Ridley.

Fortunately it was dry at the top and the sun even managed to poke through a bit.  I was drying out nicely.  A volunteer handed me a cup of hot cocoa which was so perfectly appropriate, it almost brought me to tears.  It even had a few clumps of un-dissolved cocoa mix, like chocolate croutons.  Then I had a bowl of hot noodle soup or two and various sugary treats.  I found the sag vehicle  and my (sadly under-stocked) warm-clothing bag.

Steve Barnes, the race director, recognized me despite my beard (which is more than I can say for many people in my community, such as the shocked school mom who wondered who this dangerous-looking stranger was walking along with my daughter).  Steve asked how the beard was treating me, and I pointed out that not only did it keep my face warm, but the moustache traps snot, which can be harvested later for its valuable electrolytes.  He’d not been aware of this, perhaps because I’d just made it up (though I think it’s actually true).

Craig and Ian rolled in and had themselves some calories.  Here we are.

This next photo is intended to showcase the dusting of snow on the mountains, and I suppose it does (though such things never look as good in photos).  Bonus:  it also showcases two other bearded racers.


We had just started our frigid descent to the van when I realized nobody had grabbed Ken’s clothing bag.  (He’d ended his race at the van on the way up, having suffered a moment of clarity about our absurd situation and an ominous tightness in his chest.)  So I screamed for Craig (ahead of me) to stop, and the three of us re-climbed the 200-meter 16% finishing wall.  That really hurt, in every way.  I felt like I should have something to show for such an effort, so while Ian fetched Ken’s bag I had Craig take my photo with a couple of local superheroes.  If you look closely at this photo you’ll see that the snow had started up again.

By the time we got to the van I was completely frozen.  Hanging around at the finish line and diverting all my blood to my stomach had serious consequences, as had neglecting to bring full-finger gloves.  Craig reported that my lips were purple.

Dinner was at our old standby, the Upper Crust Pizza Company.  For some reason I listened to Ian and Craig, who thought that last year’s strategy—splitting an XL pizza among the three of us as an appetizer—was overkill, and that we should just get two smalls.  That place has seriously good ‘za and (though I say this every year) next time I swear I’m going to get my very own pizza appetizer.  But the ‘za, some bread, a bowl of soup, and the yummy chicken marsala pasta did a good-enough job of replacing my lost calories.

To be continued…

I was pretty happy with how I rode on the first stage.  (I was 8th in a good-sized M45+ field.)  I was less happy with the weather, and with the forecast for Sunday.  In fact, the wimp in my brain was half-hoping the weather would be so bad for Stage 2 that we’d be able to bag the whole thing without completely sacrificing our dignity. 

But I’ll tell you right now, Stage 2 did happen.  And as I’ve pointed out many times before, recovery is my greatest weakness:  the better I go on Stage 1, the more I pay for it on Stage 2.  So if you’re not satisfied with the level of misery I’ve described above, check back because believe me, there’s more to come.