Thursday, June 30, 2016

Ask Dr. Chocolate

NOTE:  This post is rated PG-13 for mild strong language and instances of grossness.

Dear Dr. Chocolate,

In the spirit of DIY, I’m going to make my own candy!  Do you have any pointers for the adventurous novice chocolatier?

Sandra M, Cheney, WA

Dear Sandy,

Don’t do it.  You might be a great cook, and heck, you might even be a great baker, but candy is really, really hard.  Just go buy some.  Seriously.

Dear Dr. Chocolate,

In a letter years ago, you said some very harsh things about carob.  In fact, if I remember correctly, you described it the way religious people write about Hell, or the way Berkeley liberals (i.e., Berkeley residents) talk about Trump.  Why?

Mark Hodges
Berkeley, CA

Dear Mark,

The problem with carob is that you don’t see it coming.  If I had my way, the FDA would require carob-infested products to glow bright green, like antifreeze, as a warning.  When I was a kid, my dad’s girlfriend made a batch of what she called “hypoglycemic fudge,” only she didn’t tell us that up front.  She just served it.  Slicing off a giant wedge, I found the consistency to be perfect under the knife.  My mouth was actually watering as I took a large bite.  Tooth-feel was exquisite and for a fraction of a second I thought it was perfect fudge—but then the flavor hit my tongue.  I couldn’t have been more stunned if it had been made with dog shit.  But I had to pretend to like it.  Carob is so bitter, and so was I.

Carob is one of those substitutes that falls so far short, it just reminds you what you’re missing.  It belongs in the Hall of Shame with such villainous products as microwave popcorn, Tang, Velveeta, powdered milk, soy cheese, and Tofutti.

Dear Dr. Chocolate,

Your syndicated column covers all kinds of candy, from caramels to fruit chews to chocolate fudge.  Why not call yourself Dr. Candy?

Louise R, Tempe, AZ

Dear Louise,

It’s simply because my last name really is Chocolate.  It has nothing to do with “Dr. Chocolate” having a nice ring to it, or with “Candy” sounding like the name of a porn star.  And no, I’m not kidding about my last name.  It’s right there on my birth certificate (though it’s spelled A-L-B-E-R-T).

Dear Dr. Chocolate,

I’m thinking it would be really fun to make homemade fudge with my teenage daughter!  Do you have a good recipe to share?

Emily M, Anaheim, CA

Dear Emily,

I get so many letters asking for recipes, I feel like I have to answer at least a few of them—but  as I’ve said before, just don’t do it!  It’s fine to try your hand at a soufflé or at brewing your own beer, but candy is hard—really hard.  I know this from bitter experience:  as a teenager, I tried to make divinity with my brother.  In the process we invented a new kind of plastic.  The cooking pot actually had to be thrown away.  My mom was livid.

Now, if you’re bound and determined to do this, you’re on the right track asking for a recipe.  No, I won’t provide one—I refuse to get involved in your doomed effort—but I will steer you toward a good source.  Go see if “Real Simple” online has a recipe, because I used to get that magazine and once found a recipe for ice cream sandwiches (look, here it is now!).  Just three ingredients (ice cream, cookies, and toppings), and one easy step.  That’s the kind of recipe you want.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the recipe for “Fudge Cockaigne” in The Joy of Cooking.  My teenage daughter made that—or, rather, a failed approximation of that—today.  (Did I help?  No—I refused, even when she was totally underwater and begging for assistance.)  Check out this instruction:  “When nearing 234 degrees, there is a fine overall bubbling with, simultaneously, a coarser pattern, as though the fine bubbled areas were being pulled down for quilting into the coarser ones.”  Are you kidding me?  What’s amazing is that my daughter read the recipe first, three times over, but instead of running screaming from the room, she shrugged and thought, “How hard could it be?”

The answer?  Very hard.  Look at the sludge she came up with, $12 in ingredients and two hours later:

Actually, you know what?  Go for it.  Make Fudge Cockaigne with your daughter.  Destroy a perfectly good cooking pot in the process.  Consider your kitchen a microcosm for the doomed, futile world we’re stuck in.  Teach your daughter to give up on her big ideas—might as well get that over with.  All is vanity.  The center cannot hold.

Dear Dr. Chocolate,

I’ve heard some great things about chocolate, such as its antioxidant qualities and the fact that it raises HDL.  Is this wishful thinking, or is there science behind it?

Tom G, Brooklyn, NY

Dear Timmy G,

If you look closely at any chocolate product, you’ll see this fine print:  “Purported benefits of chocolate have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”

Okay, you won’t see any such thing.  But while you’re looking at the fine print, check the ingredients to make sure you’re really eating chocolate, and nothing but chocolate.  You know what “natural flavors” means?  It basically means artificial flavors.  “Natural” means “not created in a test tube,” but it doesn’t mean your “chocolate” or “chocolate flavored” or “chocolaty” confection tastes like chocolate for the right reason (i.e., being actual chocolate).  If food scientists discover that giraffe semen imparts a chocolaty flavor, they can add it under the “natural flavor” label.  And as far as I know, giraffe semen isn’t an antioxidant.  So whatever the benefits of chocolate, don’t forget that it contains sugar and fat and often a whole lot of other crap that certainly isn’t good for your health.

(Okay, I don’t know that giraffe semen is actually used for flavoring.  But vanillan, often found in “chocolate” products, can be made from wood pulp, creosote, and even cow dung, which would qualify as a “natural” flavor.  Vanillan is also commonly biosynthesized.  Yum!)

Dear Dr. Chocolate,

I read an article about this stoner-type college dropout who, after an epiphany on a ski lift, decided to become a chocolatier (even though he had never liked chocolate), and with some cash from his mother and his uncle, he started a chocolate company called Dagoba that was eventually bought out by Hershey so now he’s rich.  So candy must be pretty easy to make!  Why wouldn’t I give it a try?

Mark R, Grand Junction, CO

Dear Mark,

Go for it.  Just don’t bring my name into it.  And you might take a lesson from the Dagoba guy, who made his first batch by “melt[ing] two batches of organic chocolate,infusing one with milk chai, the other with raspberries and rose hips.”  That is to say, one of the ingredients in his candy was:  candy.  See?  He was following the “Real Simple” model!  So as you go into business “making” candy, try to find the right balance between food science and marketing.

Dear Dr. Chocolate,

Why can’t we have more candy?  It’ll get us out of your hair and stop our petty sibling feuds, and as an added bonus, it will slowly poison us so that you eventually won’t have to deal with us anymore.  From a logical standpoint, the answer to your child-rearing problems seems obvious.  I trust you will take the reasonable course of action and we will be seeing some serious changes in your parenting style soon.

A.A., Albany, CA

Dear “A.A.”,

I told you not to bother me when I’m working!  And I’m not in a very charitable mood right now after your disastrous experiment with the Fudge Cockaigne.  I told you I wanted a forensic level of kitchen cleanup, and the floor in there still looks like a dog had diarrhea on it.  Now get back in there and finish cleaning!

Dear Dr. Chocolate,

What is the deal with white chocolate, anyway?

Martin S, Saratoga, CA

Dear Martin,

It’s a lot of B.S., if you ask me.  It’s not chocolate—not really.  It doesn’t have any actual cocoa, just “cocoa butter,” that fatty stuff they make lotion and ointment out of.  White chocolate is to actual chocolate what Red Vines are to real licorice.

Dear Dr. Chocolate,

Please help—my husband is driving me crazy!  He’s always buying this fancy-pants dark chocolate and with every new kind he finds, the percentage of cacao is higher and he’s that much more sanctimonious about it.  I don’t even enjoy eating it anymore—the bitter crap he’s bringing home is like what my mom used to bake with.  If an authority figure like you stuck up for traditional chocolate, that might finally sway him.

Linda S, Austin, TX

Dear Linda,

I won’t go on record supporting milk chocolate, which I don’t care for, but you’re exactly right—there’s a point of diminishing returns as chocolate goes too far upscale.  You start seeing added stuff like cayenne pepper or bacon bits or 18-karat gold thread or whatever and it becomes absurd.  Remind your husband that chocolate is a candy, not a pissing contest.  And then buy your own chocolate because he’s not going to listen to you.

Dear Dr. Chocolate,

I’m halfway into making vanilla taffy for the first time, and this recipe is telling me to pour the molten candy mixture onto a marble slab.  I don’t have a marble slab!  What can I use in a pinch?  Please reply soon!

Leyla A, Seattle, WA

Dear Leyla,

I guess you’re new to my column!  Who told you making taffy was a good idea?  My advice is to pour that onto something smooth and slick but also expendable, like the glossy cover of an old copy of “Real Simple.”  And then throw it away.

Dear Dr. Chocolate,

There’s this one episode of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” where Mr. Rogers has this cotton candy machine, and this chef stops by to make some cotton candy.  There’s some really intense Alpha Dog stuff going on there, a simmering duel of one-upmanship lurking just beneath the politeness.  Definitely worth watching.  Check it out in the archives!

Sean L, Arlington, VA

Dear Sean,


Dear Dr. Chocolate,

Screw it, I’m going to See’s.  I know that’s not a question.  I just thought you might want to know.

A.A., Albany, CA

Dear A.A.,

Be sure to bring your house key.  And pick me up a couple of Toffee-Ettes.

Dr. Chocolate is a syndicated columnist whose advice column, “Ask Dr. Chocolate,” appears in over 400 blogs worldwide.

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Sunday, June 19, 2016

From the Archives - How Not To Go on a Date


Once again, I find myself with nothing to write.  (Actually, plenty to write but no time.)  And so, I offer you this glimpse into the embarrassing life of my younger self.  This true story from my archives is from almost 28 years ago.  Perhaps in another 28 years I’ll look back this sheepishly at my current self.

How Not To Go On A Date – November 19, 1988

Right off the bat, I don’t consider myself to be an expert at dating.  In fact, if you know me well, you’re probably thinking that this story will chronicle another personal blunder, social faux-pas, and/or abject humiliation.  But actually, there is one person on the UC Santa Barbara campus more inept than I.  And naturally, she’s the one I ended up asking out.

I sort of met her by proxy a couple of weeks ago in the La Loma parking lot, of all places.  See, my roommate T—, from Ethiopia, often recites little sayings from his knowledgeable uncle, and on this night, after a scrumptious meal, he quoted, “After lunch, rest awhile, after dinner, walk a mile.”  So we went for a walk, and as soon as we reached the parking lot, these girls came stumbling down the stairs from the second level.  One was holding up her friend, who was outrageously, pathetically, disgracefully drunk.  It was a vexing sight, as neither my roommate nor I felt like assisting the girls, but feared a life-threatening accident otherwise and couldn’t just stand idly by.

It appeared that the sober girl of the duo was also helpless, not due to alcohol but to lack of common sense.  She had taken her friends to a party, and locked herself out of her dorm room in the process.  She knew she could get her dorm key from her roommate Cindy, and was supposed to meet her at The Graduate, a local dance club catering mainly to UCSB students, but couldn’t leave her drunk friend behind and found her too unwieldy to bring over there.  So she sent me there instead.  This was certainly a novel mission—as you may know, I don’t dance—so I figured what the hell.

Somehow, I managed to find Cindy in the mobbed dance club.  That’s really saying something, because most of these college girls look more or less alike.  Okay, I guess that’s not fair, but it wasn’t like Cindy was seven feet tall, or bald, or had any particularly distinct characteristics.  She turned out to be very attractive, but that’s not really distinctive around here.  (God bless this place.)

I might have overstated to Cindy how drunk her roommate’s friend was, and how much danger she was in, or maybe Cindy was just a good friend ... whatever the case, after only 15 or 20 more minutes of dancing she agreed to head out with me.  (It could be that my horrific attempts at dancing spoiled her appetite for it.)  In fact, in the interests of time, she agreed to ride on the handlebars of my bike.  Now, this kind of thing goes on all the time around here so it wasn’t like romantic or anything.  Nevertheless, this kind of thing doesn’t go on with my bike and my handlebars very often, so I was actually pretty stoked. Frankly, there are a whole lot of things going on around here I don’t personally get to enjoy.  I guess it doesn’t help that I have no poise at all when it comes to females of the opposite sex, and that I look like I’m about fifteen years old.

And yet, surfing the exhilaration of having ridden this cute girl on my bike, I was feeling bolder than usual, and got her phone number.  At least, I hoped it was really her phone number.

(Did everything come out okay with the drunken friend?  I never learned and honestly didn’t really care.  I mean, here I’d met a good-looking chick, and I got her phone number!  The roommate and drunken friend were no longer relevant.  Their minor role in my life had run its course.)

I ended up needing to call that phone number the very next week.  Not like I was suddenly really desperate for female companionship or anything; after all, I’d flown solo most of my life to that point and was resigned to it.  But I really wanted to see a movie that was playing on campus, “A Fish Called Wanda” (two thumbs up from Siskel & Ebert), and I didn’t have anybody to see it with.  The 7:00 showing wouldn’t end until like 9, which ran up too close to my roommate S—’s bedtime.  Meanwhile, T— had seen the movie already and didn’t like it (but I disregarded his critical review after hearing that he liked “Coming to America,” which looked so bad I wouldn’t even rent it, especially since I don’t have a TV or VCR). 

Now, I’ve never gone to a movie by myself in my life and wasn’t about to start, so I was determined to get somebody to join me.  But the sad fact is, though I’ve lived here for three months, I haven’t made any real friends other than my roommates, and I can’t just ask some random guy to go to the movies with me because he’d get the wrong idea.  But it’s never the wrong idea with a girl—there’s no such thing—so I figured there was no harm in asking one, other than getting turned down of course.

Over the last couple months I’d felt that I’d really hit it off with this fly Norwegian girl at La Loma, and two weeks ago I’d have asked her, but it turns out she has this boyfriend she’d never told me about, and he’s a former Marine.  I learned this when I knocked on her door and he answered.  I was just standing there like an idiot, like, “Hey, I just came to ask your girlfriend out.  You wanna come too?”  He looked pretty pissed.  So I couldn’t call her! 

There’s a girl in my French class, Leigh, but I can’t ask her right now.  She’s kind of odd:  if I pay much attention to her, she suddenly gets kind of cool toward me, and it’s only when I ignore her that she’s suddenly friendly again, and I’m in the wrong part of the cycle at the moment.  A week or so ago I called this girl Monica but she never called me back, so she’s banned for life.  So I was left with no other option than to find out once and for all if Cindy, the girl from the nightclub, had given me her actual phone number.  One promising sign was that the number she gave wasn’t 867-5309.  (As you can see, I have a rather lousy track record with girls.  But I never false-start!) 

I considered calling Cindy on the same day as the movie, to make it seem really casual, and to soften the blow of the inevitable rejection by giving her an easy excuse to beg off.  But in my (albeit limited) experience these dorm freshmen don’t do anything spontaneously unless it’s being herded along in packs by whatever dorm pal has the most charisma or social status.  (These dorm types mainly travel in packs.)  But I figured if I called ahead and made an actual appointment I might just have a shot.  So I called on a Thursday to propose the Monday show.  (God, you’d think I was planning a transcontinental voyage given how much forethought I’d put into this stupid movie.)

Eureka!  The phone number was legit, and Cindy answered, and even seemed to remember who I was, and believe it or not she seemed really excited about seeing the movie with me.

Well, on Monday, she called me up, and asked if it was okay if a couple of her friends came along.  Oh, boy, that’s just swell.  As if it’s not hard enough for a social retard like me to deal with a girl one-on-one.  At least if we’re both strangers, she’s as nervous as I am, so we can relate on that level.  But once she brings her friends along, they’re a society and I’m the outsider scratching on the door, hoping to be let in, while she and her friends are probably getting a little kick out of watching me squirm.  Like roasting me alive on a rotisserie while making snide comments to each other about how bad my flesh stinks when it burns.

First-date rule #1:  do not do anything to cause social trauma

Cindy’s question really put me on the spot.  I couldn’t really say no, but was suddenly feeling too grumpy to feign enthusiasm.  “Well, uh . . .” I said, waiting for her to fill in the blanks with, “Oh, it was just a suggestion.  If you’d rather not, I’ll just forget them for tonight, for once in my life.”  Instead, there was just dead air over the phone.  Finally I said, “That’s really not what I had in mind.”  Believe me, I’m wincing as much at recalling that as you are at reading it.  In fact, I immediately wished I could rescind that comment.  It sounded so stiff, and lame, and actually just a tiny bit creepy.

So I backpedaled a bit.  And once the initial shock of her request had worn off, I decided it kind of made sense, since we were going to the 9:00 show, it would be dark, she hardly knew me, and the “date rape” scare is in full force on the UCSB campus.  I also considered that if she brought along two girlfriends, that tripled my chances of hitting it off with at least one of them.  Besides, with her two friends along, I wouldn’t even have to think about paying for Cindy; even at $3 a ticket, economics are an important consideration.

We agreed to meet at the theater.  When I got there, there were two incredibly long lines stretching from Campbell Hall almost all the way to Cheadle.  The problem was, I couldn’t really remember what Cindy looked like, and I figured it would be awkward walking the length of the lines seeing if any face looked familiar.  It would be a bit like going door-to-door asking, “Are you Cindy?  Are you Cindy?”  So I got in line, hoping I’d look familiar to her.  Otherwise, the whole damn scenario would collapse under its own weight. 

Eventually a familiar-looking girl showed up and seemed to recognize me, so I decided she was Cindy.  She was with a friend whom she introduced as Annie.  (I think a prerequisite to living in the girls’ dorms is having a name with an “ee” sound tacked on, so that when you’re close friends, you can leave it off, as in “Hey Barb.”) 

Annie was a real doll, let me tell you. 

First-date rule #2:  do not show up with a better-looking friend

I was trying to decide if I should shift my attention to Annie (who, after all, I knew every bit as well as Cindy) and whether this would mean I was a bad person, when I noticed that Cindy was holding about forty bucks cash.  “Let’s see, I’m paying for Cathy, Marcie, Tracy, Annie, Chip, and Aaron,” she said.  Ooh, Chip and Aaron — instant problem here.

First-date rule #3:  do not bring opposite-sex friends with you on your date

I really didn’t feel like locking horns or fluffing my plumage to compete with these guys.  So I decided to do something really sly, which I’d first experimented with last week in French class.  As I mentioned before, I’d been accidentally giving Leigh too much attention, so in response she was getting all flirty with David, this surfer dude who always wears a visor to pile his hair on.  He also wears Lycra tights sometimes.  To class. (Yes, I confess I’m feeling just a tiny bit competitive here.)  If Leigh had been completely ignoring me, I’d assume she’d forgotten about me or was just really into Dave.  But she’d give me a quick glance every now and then, maybe to see if I looked jealous (or was I just flattering myself?).  So I walked up to the two of them, calculating that she’d think I was going to try to cut in on their conversation and chat her up, which was half true, but instead I whisked Dave away to ask him about the crew team.  (He’s been trying to recruit me so I knew this would work.)  He suddenly seemed to forget all about her, and I pretended to as well, and who knows, maybe I’ll actually go out for crew.

So, with this episode fresh in my mind (to be honest, in my measly little world I counted it as a major triumph), I decided to try the friendly guy thing again.  I looked Chip in the eye, shook his hand vigorously, and said, “Well, Chip, damn glad to meet you.”  Either he’s a nice guy or was working the same strategy because he didn’t laugh in my face.  Hopefully, this planted a seed of fear in the girls that we would abandon them for some more meaningful male bonding later in the evening.  If not, at least I didn’t let her see me sweat.

The movie had drawn a huge crowd, so we were waiting in line for about twenty minutes. While we waited, Cindy talked with her friend about her photography class, glancing towards me only every so often and making no effort to include me in the conversation. 

First-date rule #4:  do not make your date feel like an idiot

Cindy explained to Annie that she hated her photography teacher, who wanted her students to take pictures of “nature”, and exhorted them to create “art” through photography.  “I hate nature!  I hate art!” she said.  What would you rather take pictures of, Cindy?  Your BMW?  Give me a break! 

Suddenly one of the “scouts” returned with his report.  “They aren’t sold out, but it’s pretty full — we might not all get to sit together!” he cried.  I wanted desperately to clap my hand to my forehead and shout, “Oh no!  That’s terrible!” but I thought better of it and kept my mouth shut.  The truth was, I didn’t care if I ever saw any of these people again; forget about watching a movie with them.  “Maybe we should come back for the 11:00 show,” said Cindy.  “Uh, I’ve got a French test tomorrow, so I don’t want to do that,” I said.  At this point, she should’ve said, “Well, why don’t we just see it together then, and not worry about my friends.”  But of course, she didn’t. 

First-date rule #5:  assume you’ll only get this one chance to behave yourself

Nothing was resolved until we got to the ticket counter.  I asked the guy if they still had tickets to the 9:00, and he said yeah.  Since I had spent all this time in line, I was going to see this movie come hell or high water.  I bought a ticket, and then waited for Cindy to buy hers.  She just stood there, paralyzed with indecision.  She kept looking at me, and then her friends (who were babbling amongst themselves, seemingly unaware of her existence).

First-date rule #6:  don’t compare humans as you would grocery shelf commodities

Finally she said, “I think I’d better wait and go with my friends.”

First-date rule #7:  never, ever abandon your date

It’s bad enough to getting stood up for a date; getting stood up during a date is a fate undeserving of even the most boring or offensive companion.  I said, “Well, maybe we can try this again sometime, like when a lousy movie is showing and they can seat your entire dorm.”  I wanted to add, “or maybe when you grow up a little,” but I didn’t have quite enough nerve. 

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie by myself before.  Actually, it was kind of nice because I didn’t have to pay attention to anything but the film.  Nobody was saying, “Oh, I love this part.  Check the expression on this guy’s face when....”  I also didn’t have to worry about a companion being offended or bored by a movie that I picked out.  Perhaps the best part was that nobody attempted to sum up the whole theme of the movie as we left the theatre.  Nothing ruins the cinematic experience like some schmuck philosophizing about the inner meaning of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or “The Terminator.”  Before the movie even started, I was already enjoying myself, listening into various conservations so as to gain insight into the UCSB student’s mindset:  “Gosh, your hair looks redder than usual,”/”Yeah, I know, I had it reddened.  You should see it in the sun,” or “And then, like, Barbie’s boyfriend starts hitting on Christy, and I’m like, no way!”

Still, I was still a bit disappointed with my evening.  I don’t get to go out on dates very often, and I’d looked forward to this one.  (You’d think I’d learn never to get my hopes up, but I guess I have a stubborn, misguided hopeful streak.)  I can’t imagine when I’ll get another chance to go on a date.  Where do you ask a girl out if you don’t have a car?  Walking limits you to Isla Vista, which is a great place to pass out drunk in the street, but not conducive to a romantic evening out.

I guess there’s always coffee.  People are always recommending that for a first date:  simple, cheap, low-stress ... heck, maybe a girl could find a coffee shop such a safe environment she wouldn’t even need reinforcements.  The problem is, I don’t like coffee. 

Even so, in an effort to salvage my self-esteem after the terrible aborted date with Cindy, I put my tastes behind me and the next day I asked Leigh out for coffee.  It went okay, I guess, but it was so low-key it almost felt like it didn’t happen.  I mean, we might as well have still been in French class or something, especially since neither of us actually bought a beverage of any kind.  Even so, afterwards Leigh said, “Thanks for coffee.”  I guess going for coffee refers to the coffee shop, not the beverage.  Maybe I’ll figure all this out by the time I graduate.

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2016 Criterium du Dauphiné Stage 6

NOTE:  This post is rated PG-13 for mild strong language and a lot of things I say that are really not nice.


You know that in boxing there are specific rules, such as no hitting below the belt and no biting.  So it is with mainstream journalism, where announcers have to hold a lot back, such as snarky opinions and off-the-cuff judgments.  Well, my race reporting is the equivalent of a barroom brawl where pool sticks and broken bottles are fair game.  I can say anything I want because who would fire me?  And from what?  Read on for my biased blow-by-blow coverage of the queen stage of this year’s Criterium du Dauphiné, a slightly prestigious warm-up for the Tour de France.

2016 Criterium du Dauphiné Stage 6 – La Rochette to Méribel

As I join the action, which is only available in French so far today, the riders have 34 km to go.  They’re on the penultimate climb, which fact I did not glean from the announcer.  I do not know the French word for “penultimate,” and neither does he.

I’ve joined the action late, thus missing the famous Col de la Madeleine, because the Dauphiné is one of those hind teat races that don’t get covered very thoroughly.  I only get to see the last hour, though probably that’s for the best because I don’t want to wear you down with too much text.

This is the Category 1 Montée des Frasses and they have about 5 km (3.1 miles) until the summit.  “Chris Froome est une merde-tête absolue,” the announcer says, and I have to agree.  And I like how he tells it like it is due to that classic French disdain for authority.  Now, if you don’t speak French, you surely know “tête,” from “tête de la course,” meaning head of the race.  And please don’t tell me you’ve never heard the word “merde.”  If you really haven’t, go look it up.  (Did the announcer really call Froome “une merde-tête”?  I’m pretty sure he did, but then those guys talk kind of fast.  He might have actually said “connard.”)

“C’est difficile pour Aru” (“It’s difficult for [Fabio] Aru [of Astana]”) who appears to be in a breakaway with a teammate and one other guy.  They’re chasing after the lead breakaway, which includes danger men Romain Bardet (AG2R Mondiale) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ).  (No, by “danger men” I don’t mean they’re bad bike handlers.  I’ve adopted the parlance of modern bike race announcers, albeit ironically.)  This breakaway has the French announcers pretty excited because Pinot and Bardet are French.  That’s actually probably why their names are being shown onscreen but no others.  The announcers are talking mainly about Pinot, because hey, he’s their boy!  Not their son, it’s not a married couple announcing the race, though that would be kind of cool.  I just mean Pinot is a favorite of the French because apparently he’s a pretty nice guy, if not a pretty nice wine. 

The teammate with Aru is Luis Leon Sanchez Gil, who is struggling under the weight of all those names.  So many ancestors to honor!  The third rider in their group is … looks like Jens Keukeleire (Orica GreenEdge).  No, I don’t really know Keukeleire on sight.  I went by his number.  Actually, it would be a huge help to me if everybody on the planet wore numbers, because I’m pretty sure I’m face-blind.  That’s actually a thing.  I am unable to remember a face.  The features are just erased—nothing is shunted into long-term memory.  That’s why I’m always having people bob up in front of me saying, “Hi Dana!” and I’m staring blankly thinking “I have never laid eyes on you in my life.”  And then it turns out to be somebody I have talked to on the school playground twice a week for the last several years.  Once a woman with a German accent confronted me about this.  “You have no idea who I am, do you?” she snapped, and went on to say, “You know, I’ve been in your house!”  At first I wondered if she were some kind of criminal mastermind type burglar, because I hadn’t yet realized (actually, I think it’s my wife’s theory) that I’m face-blind.

So, at the front of the chase group Bart de Clerq (Lotto Soudal) has attacked.  He looks pretty strong, but whom am I kidding?  The aforementioned merde-tête, who is all too recognizable without even a look at his face, is going to attack again, destroy everybody, and win the GC.  Yes, I’m talking about Froomestrong, who has four Sky teammates doing tempo for him while he pretends to toil away.  His heart rate is probably like 80 bpm right now.  You know how Ecstasy is reputed to damage your spine?  In the words of the venerable Eminem, “Let the X destroy your spinal cord/ So it’s not a straight line no more/ ‘Til we walk around looking like some wind-up dolls/ Shit’s sticking out of our backs like a dinosaur.”  Well, maybe all the dope Froome is doing is having a similar effect.  Em’s lyrics actually work really well for describing Froome.  He really does ride like a wind-up doll and you can see his vertebrae fanned out because he’s got no body fat and his back is so bent. 

If you’re wondering why I seem so bitter, it’s because I watched the recap of yesterday’s stage where Froome obliterated no less a doper than Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Team).  The Froome-bot just danced away, and only his former teammate Richie Porte (BMC Racing Team) was able to join him.  Just like so many times before, those two made the other racers, and all the fans, look like chumps. 

And then Froome, who is supposedly a nice guy, told the press, “I didn’t expect to gain time on Alberto Contador on such a short climb.”  The nerve of this guy, rubbing it in like that!  He did not go on to say, “I thought he was lubed better than that,” because like all professional dopers, Froome knows to keep his mouth shut about his substances (except when he’s preemptively saying, “I don’t dope, you know,” even when nobody is formally accusing him).  Anyhow, did you catch how he said, “Alberto Contador,” not just “Alberto” or “Contador”?  As though he’s making sure we’ve heard of this guy, since he’s lately been so totally blotted out by Froome’s shadow.  (No, it’s not that Froome is showing respect because in that case he would say “Alberto Contador Velasco.”)

I now have my choice of video feeds:  this French one, or what sounds like a Dutch woman.  I mean, I’m sure she’s a woman, I’m just not sure about the Dutch bit because she could be speaking Flemish or possibly even German.  I really ought to be better at identifying such things, but it’s confusing because a) I have two feeds going at once so there’s cross-talk, and b) I’m still reeling at the sound of a female voice announcing a bike race.  I haven’t heard that since Connie Carpenter in the early ‘80s.  Okay, yeah, this announcer is definitely Dutch.  Not much use to me, or you.

So the leaders are over the summit and have about 20 km (12 miles) to go.  The French guy is saying, “C’est difficile, c’est une montagne” (“It’s difficult, it’s a mountain”), and I can tell from his voice that he’s shrugging, like “C’est normal.”  Whoah, I’ve suddenly found an English-language video feed!  Woohoo!  Hang on, it’s on the wrong computer.  You should see my setup here—it’s like NORAD or something.  No it’s not.  Just two computers.  Both obsolete … if you’re that neighborhood woman with the German accent—the criminal mastermind—please remember how crummy my gear is, from when you saw it.  When you were in my house.

So the Eurosport announcer has shared a tasty tidbit.  Get this:  many of these riders are using this race purely as preparation for the Tour de France.  Damn, who knew?  It seems that the Dauphiné isn’t the top priority of all the riders here.  God, such blazing intelligence and insight.  You know what?  I kind of miss that French feed.  And now we’re on to an ad for that stupid stove with the fancy vent to suck away the awful odor of your cooking.

So anyhow, the current GC going into this stage was Froome at the top, with Porte seven seconds back, and Contador another 20 seconds behind that. Daniel Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step), Julian Alaphillippe (Etixx-Quick-Step), and Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) rounded out 4th,5th, and 6th respectively, and you don’t care about the time gaps because we both know they have no prayer.

Aru did something with his hair this year.  I can’t put my finger on it.  He now looks older and less like his romance novel namesake.  And perhaps there’s a Samson & Delilah thing going on, because he’s just not that strong anymore.  He fell out of his breakaway and some point and now he’s being masticated and regurgitated by the main group.

Contador is sitting toward the back of this group.  Earlier, before the live coverage started, I was following the action on cyclingnews and they claimed he had put in a couple of attacks.  They probably made that up.  I mean, who’s gonna check?  And how?

Walter Poels, one of Froomie’s henchman, detonates and slips off the back.  Even going backwards, presumably completely blown, he has better form than Froome.  Froome isn’t a bobblehead, but his neck seems to be a big hinge.  His head will suddenly tip forward and he stares at the road for a bit, and then he snaps it back up again.  He never actually turns his head to either side.  In fact, he seems oddly incurious about anything going on around him.  He’s just following directions from his radio, I suppose:  “Look Froomie, I know you could solo right now without even getting out of the saddle or opening your mouth, but we need to make it look plausible, so just hang out a bit longer and let your lackies drive it.”  I suspect if you pulled up Froome’s jersey you’d find a giant keyhole in his back when they stick in the big wind-up knob at the beginning of each stage.

Up at the front of the race, Bardet attacks!  Man, it’s a savage attack too, none of this testing-the-waters stuff.  Very, very impressive. 

But Pinot is a scrapper and he’s working his way back toward Bardet’s wheel.  It’s only 8 km (6.5 miles) to the summit finish so these guys have a pretty good shot at staying away.  Their gap is just over two minutes over the GC group (never mind the flotsam and jetsam of the early breakaway).

My cat has a tendency to be jealous of my computer so she comes and blocks my view, just like all those damn pop-up ads I keep having to figure out how to close down.

Very little action in the GC group.  It’s probably hard for Contador to find the resolve to attack because a) there are so many Sky riders swarming at the front, and b) they’re probably all stronger than he is because they’re so jacked up on whatever miracle drug Team Sky has developed.  These dudes don’t even look like they’re suffering.  They look about as stricken as if it were bowling night.  Now this group is swallowing the stragglers from the break.

At the front, Pinot and Bardet are working pretty well together, sharing the work.  These riders are so fast, drafting even matters on a Category 1 climb at the end of a brutal mountain stage.

I guess I’m rooting for Bardet because Pinot has white cycling shorts.  I mean, I’m sure that’s not his fault, but I have to care about something.  Maybe in his contract negotiations he should have said, “I always get the best hotel room, with a bidet in it, and I get to wear regular black shorts.  Hell, I’ll even take navy blue, so long as I get that bidet.”

As for the GC, I’m not the biggest fan of Porte because he still carries with him the stench of having ridden for Sky for several years.  But at least he looks pretty good on the bike, and he’s not on Sky anymore, and (most importantly of all) he’s not Froome.  But over both of those guys I’d gladly take Contador as the winner, even though he’s a proven doper.  Contador impressed me when he broke his tibia in a stage of the 2014 Tour de France and continued racing for a good while.  Contrast that to Froome, who dropped out of that race himself due to a sprained nipple or something, I can’t remember other than it wasn’t a major injury, and then Porte took over the Sky leadership only to fold up psychologically like a small child.  (Not that I have anything against small children; I just think they shouldn’t be given blood bags and made to race bikes.)

Pierre Roland (Cannondale Pro Team) is starting to fall off the back but he digs deep and starts to catch back on.

The break has 3 km (1.8 miles) to go and the gap is 1:40.  Still no movement in the GC group.

Bardet attacks!  It’s a great move, but Pinot is strong like bull and stitches it right up!  Bardet attacks again!  Nice!

Back in the GC group, Porte loses his last BMC teammate out the back.  And look at this, Mikel Landa (Team Sky) is actually human, and finally blows after being part of that all-Sky-all-the-time pacesetting effort!

Contador is bouncing along out of the saddle as usual, keeping Froome in his sights.  This group has been gradually whittled down so it’s only like 8 or 9 guys.  Contador still has a teammate here but hasn’t needed him yet, with three Sky guys still taking up the front positions.

At the front Bardet and Pinot are really hauling ass.  Both out of the saddle, now both seated, bobbing a bit, wobbling around on the road because they’re going so hard.  They keep switching from sitting to standing, surely in the hope that one set of muscles or another will seem to have more zip left.

God, who is this Sky guy who is drilling it so hard at the front?  Whoever he is, he now pops, and flies off the back like a strip of toilet paper thrown out of a car window at highway speed.  (Did you also do that as a kid, during long, boring road trips?  And did your parents yell at you, too?  “I’ll turn this car around right now!”)

It’s 200 meters to go!  Bardet leads it out!

But Pinot starts to come around!  It’s a very close sprint!

Pinot pulls ahead for the win!

And back in the GC group, some guy in the blue of Etixx-Quick-Step takes off, Dan Martin I’m pretty sure, and takes Froome with him!  Contador can’t respond!  Yeah, it’s Martin, I’d know those giant teeth anywhere.  (I’m not tooth-blind, apparently.) 

Martin finishes just ahead of Froome, and will probably move up to third on the GC since he distanced Contador by like 8 seconds and (I think) picked up a time bonus.  Anyhow, a fine result for Froome, as if that were ever in doubt.  Hey Froome, could you tuck in your elbows for once?  Where’d you learn to ride a bike … Barnum & Bailey?

Here are the final stage results:

In the GC, Froome took 14 seconds out of Porte, thus tripling his advantage over him.

“Bardet is looking pretty cheesed off,” the announcer says.  God, I love the British.  I doubt the French have an equivalent of “cheesed off,” and I know we Americans don’t.  I’ll have to start using that one.

So, Pinot was 3:29 down on GC going into this—he must have had a really bad day at some point—but Bardet started the day only 1:34 down.  So that kind of explains the dynamic in the  GC group today:  Sky wasn’t just setting tempo to keep Contador at bay; they were drilling it extra hard to bring down that gap to Bardet.  I’m sure they timed it just right to keep things reasonably close, for appearances.  If Bardet and Pinot had had four minutes, Sky would have just dialed it up a bit higher, probably with no more discomfort than adjusting the thermostat on your fridge (though to be honest, that particular dial has always confused me).  So the pace was so high, Contador just couldn’t try anything … he was probably on his limit. 

Career-wise, Contador rose to power at the wrong time, with Froome so dominant.  If Froome weren’t such a prima donna, maybe Contador could ride for Sky too and get on some of that high-test shit they’re using.  It is rumored that Contador is looking for a new team right now.  He’s probably told Tinkoff, “Your drugs are all so old-school and Eastern Bloc!  I need some damn technology here!”

So that’s pretty much it for the Dauphiné this year.  Tomorrow’s stage has a couple Cat 1 climbs, and finishes at the summit of a Cat 3, but the way Sky is riding, let’s not kid ourselves that anybody can take 21 seconds out of Punky Froomester.  He’s got this one in the (blood) bag.

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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Ode to Lomas Cantadas

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


Years ago, I posted here my Ode to South Park, about one of my favorite cycling climbs.  Ever since, I’ve had this nagging feeling of something left undone:  an ode to another climb, that’s my very favorite.  So, here it is.  (Photos included here are of my daughter, who first rode Lomas Cantadas a couple of years ago.)

The Poem

Ode to Lomas Cantadas

El Toyonal is a beast of an uphill;
Pedaling here is a bit self-defeating.                                      2
Lomas Cantadas will sweeten your beating:
Insult to injury, sweet overkill!

Most riders wisely take Wildcat Canyon.
Half the uphill, after all—and you’re tired!                          6
Wisdom, alas, is a flaw when you’re mired
In glory, in notions of being a man.

  Sometimes caprice is much better than ease:
  Radical freedom is here to be seized!                                10

Footnotes & Commentary

Title:  Lomas Cantadas

What does “Lomas Cantadas” mean?  That’s a bit tricky.  Google translate says “sung hills.”  Hills that have been celebrated in song?  Perhaps.  But the spelling of “Cantadas” isn’t consistent.  Google Maps says “Cantadas,” but the street sign says “Contadas,” which would be “Counted Hills.”  Aren’t all hills counted, or at least eligible to be counted, making this modifier pretty much meaningless?

Among my riding pals, I’m always the one pushing to do this climb.  In fact, I tend to try to foist it on everybody I ever ride with.  Occasionally, someone will ask me what the name means, and I tell them, “Lomas means hills, and Cantadas is actually an acronym for ‘Can’t A Dana Albert Suffer?’”

Line 1:  El Toyonal

Okay, I admit this is a confusing start to the poem.  Why do I mention this other road?  Well, the only way to get to Lomas Cantadas is from El Toyonal.  But it’s possible to ride up El Toyonal without continuing on to Lomas; you can bail out and cut over to Wildcat Canyon and save yourself a lot of suffering.

Line 2:  self-defeating

Defeating yourself is really the point here.  An East Bay Velo Club teammate of mine, Muzzy, who is kind of the Obi Wan Kenobi of our club, says that the course doesn’t make the race—the racers do.  That is, any course can be hard if your competition is tough.  But for those of us who don’t race anymore, and do a lot of riding alone, motivation can be a problem.  That’s where it’s nice to have a gradient so severe that you couldn’t loaf if you wanted to.  You yourself become the foe who must be defeated.

Line 3:  sweeten the beating

A jolly good beating is one of the great joys of cycling (and similar athletic disciplines, I’d imagine).  The long term rewards (e.g., stress release, fitness, the freedom to eat whatever you want whenever you want in whatever quantities you want without getting a big gut like E.T.) are well and good, as is the worthy knackered feeling you get in your legs after a ride.  But on top of all that, the immediate, in-the-moment, muscle-searing, chest-heaving discomfort of extreme exertion can provide a strange kind of tactile pleasure, if you do this often enough to acquire a taste for it.  There’s a purity to athletic struggle, a distillation and concentration of what it means to be alive in your body, and it can be habit-forming.

Line 4:  insult to injury

The injury mentioned here is metaphorical; of course I’m not advocating going out and harming yourself.  But the insult is literal:  I find it impossible to tackle a climb like this—averaging over 10% with pitches of 15-20%—without feeling sheepishly insufficient to the task.  On top of that, I doubt I’m alone among cyclists in instinctively comparing one’s current effort to one’s past best, which so often recedes ever further into history.  For ageing bikers like me, this can be disheartening or even humiliating.  So we disparage ourselves.  We can’t help it. 

Case in point:  I haven’t trained hard in six months and am at least ten pounds heavier than usual.  I’ve been afraid to ride Lomas this year, but yesterday I finally bit the bullet (despite being totally fried from four days of riding in a row).  My time (including El Toyonal) was 22:27, whereas my personal best was 16:47, set about two years ago.  So I’m almost 30% slower now, a difference which manifests as a grotesquely slow cadence and a lot of weaving back and forth like a paperboy.  I didn’t just feel slightly off my game yesterday morning; I felt borderline incompetent.  The insults I hurl at myself in such cases are nonverbal, but nonetheless vicious and cutting.  And yet, even as I lament my poor form, I enjoy the satisfaction of doing something about it.  

Line 4:  sweet overkill

You could accuse me of being redundant, with “sweeten” in the third line and “sweet” in the fourth.  But “sweet” as an adjective has taken on so many meanings in modern vernacular, I’d argue it has almost nothing to do with the verb “sweeten.”  You might tell somebody he has a sweet bike, but if you asked a bike shop guy, “How can I sweeten my bike?” he’d find your usage highly nonstandard.

Line 5:  Wildcat Canyon

East Bay cyclists do all kinds of short rides in the Berkeley hills, but our longer rides invariably take us across these hills to destinations east, such as Mount Diablo.  Our last obstacle to getting home from these adventures is crossing back over this ridge of hills.  Wildcat Canyon Road is the logical choice, as it’s a pretty mellow climb and usually you’ve done plenty of suffering by the time you reach it.  Zoom in on the below map and you’ll see the three possible routes:  Wildcat (farthest north); El Toyonal with the cut-through to Wildcat; and El Toyonal to Lomas.  (Note the “Decision Point” callout in the lower right of the map.)

Line 6:  half the uphill

Wildcat gains only 187 meters (614 feet) at an average gradient of 5%.  Lomas, on the other hand, is essentially twice as hard, gaining 372 meters (1,221) feet over about the same distance.  In other words, it’s twice as steep, and takes you to a much higher summit than you need to reach.

The problem is, on the way to Wildcat you go right by the turnoff to El Toyonal.  To me, this is a gauntlet thrown down that cannot be ignored.  To continue straight, toward the easier climb, is to acknowledge my own laziness and/or weakness.  The turnoff taunts me, and I, in turn, taunt myself, along with anybody else who’s riding with me—unless my pals beat me to the punch.  It’s like a dare.  A double-dog-dare.  You reach the intersection and—if you ignore the sober, serious, and completely reasonable voice in your head, and listen instead to the gonzo, irrational troublemaker in your skull, or on the bike next to you, you turn left.  You know it’s a bad idea and that’s essentially why do you it.  One moment of rash decision, when you make that turn, is followed by around 20 minutes of paying dearly for it.

Lines 7-8:  mired in glory, in notions of being a man

We really are mired.  Modern men, the sensitive and enlightened kind, can tell themselves—and others—that they’re over all that macho bullshit, but they aren’t.  No, not really.  They might deceive themselves, but we all have vainglorious impulses, chronic ones, rooted in testosterone and savagery and a lust for combat (whether it’s man-vs.-man, man-vs.-nature, or man-vs.-himself).  If a male completely subjugates or denies this impulse, he will face the consequences.  Maybe that’s the root of all this emo nonsense. 

Myself, I see sport as a great way to get this stuff out of our systems in a healthy, consequence-free manner.  I suspect that the truly sexist men among us, such as the ones who belittle their female colleagues, are reacting to feelings of unresolved inadequacy, which they senselessly blame on the women who (they fear) harshly judge them.  So when I see a male cyclist taunting his pal, casting aspersions on his manhood based on whether to take the harder climb or the easier one, I call that good clean fun.

Usually, this climb isn’t one where I’ll encounter other bikers.  But occasionally I do, and once or twice a battle has occurred.  Here’s an entry from my training diary, from August 2013: 
I had a smackdown with a d’bag on a really expensive bike, clad in really expensive clothing.  He took a good while to overtake me, and then rode just ahead of me, and he fricking stunk!  I don’t mean he reeked of sweat, which is normal and understandable, but he smelled like shit!  If he’d just been faster everything would have been fine—he’d have gone on ahead and I’d be rid of him.  But it was as though it took everything he had to pass me, and now we were in lockstep.  I wasn’t going to slow down just to escape the stench, especially because my gearing is just barely low enough for this grade to begin with.  So I sat on his wheel tolerating the odor.
I figured this guy would try to be in the lead at the place where the road splits [one route has a bit of a descent before eventually joining Lomas], so he could take the easy route and pretend he won something.  I didn’t want to give him that satisfaction so I passed him and drilled it just before the junction, where it’s is super-steep, hoping to Cancellara him.  I did get a pretty sweet gap and in the process made the halfway point in record time.  Alas, the rich & stinky d’bag ended up doing the same route I was, so I had to keep hammering.  At the really steep parts I dug extra deep and increased my lead, hoping to shatter his morale.  I managed to extend my gap to ~30 seconds by the end.  I hope he felt good and slapped-down.  Anyway, the really great part is that I have a new lifetime PR for Lomas [17:05]! 
It’s worth pointing out that solo, self-motivated trips up Lomas, after your pals have turned off, are just as common (and in my case more common) than getting shoehorned into the effort by your pals.  (I’ve done this climb well over 500 times, but only a few dozen times with teammates.  Huh, I guess this is a “counted climb.”)  Choosing Lomas is a manner of personal pride, of knowing you didn’t slink away from a challenge.  Beyond that, dudes sometimes do check up after the fact:  “So did you do Lomas on the way back from Diablo?”  The mere chance of this inquiry, and the glory of saying, “Of course” rather than, “Well, no, I kind of had to get home” is sufficient motivation, for many of us, to take on the extra suffering. 

This was even the case after a brutal group ride up Mount Hamilton a few years back, when the day’s most stalwart rider, Kromer, diverged from the group to ride the Morgan Territory Road solo, and then—on a whim—climbed Mount Diablo.  On the way home, after more than 150 miles in the saddle, he decided to take on one more challenge.  In his e-mail to the club that night he wrote, “You know what’s next. I knew you’d ask, and I knew I had to say yes. So. Lomas.”  Many of us, particularly the ones who’d cheated and took Bart home (under the Berkeley hills), had to bow down before him.

(All this male competitive stuff aside, of course I acknowledge and respect that other drives than machismo exist, and women also challenge themselves and each other.  But I only see these behaviors; I cannot experience the motivations behind them.  I’m telling my story here and cannot tell theirs.  I thrill to the yarns my teenage daughter has been writing about her high school mountain bike races, and if she ever has her own blog you can bet I’ll link to it!)

Line 10:  radical freedom

It isn’t the case that a cyclist is strictly compelled by male ego, peer pressure, or insecurity to take the harder climb.  We are fully capable of saying “screw that” and riding up Wildcat, and we often do.  But by the same token, we are not compelled by logic or fatigue to ride up Wildcat, either.  Any rationale we could apply to either decision is flimsy, and to pretend otherwise takes us toward self-deception.  We are not doomed to take one route or another in the way that a chair is doomed to be a chair.

Meanwhile, we are free to throw all rationale out the window and exercise our radical freedom by behaving perversely.  (This freedom carries responsibility, but very little is at stake here other than lactic acid buildup and residual soreness.)  Steering the bike toward El Toyonal, while thinking “This is a bad idea,” is a reckless act, and perhaps that’s the point.  Humans behave recklessly all the time, but usually it’s eating that second bag of chips or giving in to the temptation to buy something we can’t afford.  (Nike’s slogan “Just do it” is a brilliant strategy for helping make this happen.)  An extra serving of pain and struggle is a pretty minor consequence for getting out your irrational, impulsive ya-yahs.

Appendix:  Why did I write about South Park years before Lomas Cantadas?

It’s been more than four years since I wrote my Ode to South Park.  Why did that one come first, and why has it taken me so long to honor my very favorite climb?

It comes down to laziness, frankly.  As poems go, I’m most comfortable writing sonnets, as I’ve done a lot with this form and consider myself something of an authority.  Knowing what I do about the iambic pentameter featured in a sonnet, I’m well aware that the phrase “Lomas Cantadas” is fundamentally incompatible with this meter.  Consider:

I really want to ride up South Park Drive

Works great, right?  The inflection naturally falls where it needs to.  But check this out:

I want to ride up Lomas Cantadas

Everything is fine until the last word, and then the meter breaks down.  Unless you force an emphasis (inflection) on the last syllable (i.e., CANT-ah-DAS), you break the rules (which the reader grasps intuitively) of iambic pentameter. When you pronounce this word properly, within a line of iambic pentameter, you experience the poetic equivalent of being clotheslined.

Having recently reviewed a couple of my old Kroopian poems—which are based on dactylic trimeter—I was emboldened to finally tackle this ode.  In case you’re wondering, this was a lot harder than writing a sonnet.

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