Monday, October 31, 2022

From the Archives - Bike Team Grammar Lesson

Introduction

This is a bit of a hybrid post: about half of it is from my archives, and the other half from memory. (Yes, memory is an archive of sorts, but writing down your recollections is more properly called a memoir.) Enjoy please enjoy.


From memory – bike team grammar lesson, ca. 1991

One evening over thirty years ago, I arrived early to a UC Berkeley cycling team meeting, held in a lecture hall on campus, and sat there, bored, watching the team secretary write the agenda on the chalkboard. (Remember chalkboards?) One of her items had a grammatical error, which I thoughtfully pointed out. She corrected it and then, without a word, wrote “Grammar lesson – Dana” as the next item.

Instead of saying, “Touché,” I sat quietly through the meeting until we got to “Grammar lesson,” then jumped up and headed to the stage. I doubt the secretary (or anybody else) had actually expected me to present anything, but I’d had a few minutes to come up with some material. My lesson went something like this:

Okay, first of all, spelling counts in bike racing. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. [This absolutely barebones gag actually got a few chuckles because the rest of the meeting had been predictable administrative stuff. As I was relieved to discover, this was an easy crowd … at least, if something like 50 people counts as a crowd. Compared to a modern collegiate road cycling roster, I’d say it does.]

[I went on … ] Next, always bear in mind there is no hypothetical subjunctive in proper cycling parlance. It is perfectly acceptable to say, “I won the race,” or “I lost the race.” This is the basic past tense. But it is never appropriate to say, “I would have won the race,” or “I could have won the race,” or—God forbid—“I should have won the race.” We’ve all heard this before and it’s always total BS. You either won, or you lost. Don’t ever tell a bike race story involving woulda, coulda, or shoulda.

My next topic involves an idiomatic expression. You’ve surely all heard the term “head down.” Look, this is just a figure of speech. You’re not supposed to actually ride with your head down; you need to look where you’re going. An old teammate of mine at Santa Barbara rode head down during a time trial and ran right into the back of a parked car. Not a pretty sight.

Finally, I want everybody here to understand the difference between a lectern and a podium. So many people get this wrong. This little stand in front of me, on which I could place my notes if I had any, is called a lectern. That is its proper name, no matter how many people call it a podium. The word “podium” derives from the Greek root “pod,” meaning foot. It’s the thing you stand on if you make the top three in a bike race. This is a crucial distinction because as you can see, any idiot can stand behind a lectern. To mount the podium, you have to earn it. I’m talking about this. [Here I stepped out from behind the lectern, pretended to step on to a podium, and put my arms up. To my surprise, my lesson was well received. And from then on, I was always on the agenda at Cal cycling team meetings.]

From the archives – bike team grammar lesson, November 4, 1992

[This is actually somewhat from memory, because I’m looking at the notes I prepared for the lesson, which don’t amount to a full script. Side note: I didn’t actually ride with the team in 1992 … I needed to knuckle down and focus on school. But I stayed on as grammar coach. I believe this was the first team meeting of the year.]

Today’s topic is attacks.

I’ll start with some review from last year: you have to be careful with verb tenses when you talk about bike racing. There’s no room for the hypothetical subjunctive, i.e. woulda, coulda, or shoulda. Similarly, you should be aware there is no imperfect verb tense for attack. That is, attacking is not supposed to be a habitual past action, because those who attack in every race are just clowns. You attack when you realize the moment is just right, and most of the time this never happens—you’re working for a teammate who’s got the better legs, or you’re waiting for the final sprint. Meanwhile, an attack is never something that happened over a period of time, as in “I was attacking.” If the attack lasted long enough to say that, it wasn’t a proper attack … it was just an acceleration and the peloton was probably snickering at you. An attack is sudden, decisive, and explosive—it starts and finishes almost immediately (whether it gets neutralized or you find yourself in a breakaway). To describe an attack, always use the perfect tense: “I attacked,” or even better (to quote Stephen Roche), “I fucking attacked, man.” 

Now: on to pronouns. Always use a possessive pronoun, not an indefinite pronoun, with this topic. To say “I made an attack” implies that it was one of many—i.e., no big deal. But think about it: if an attack is no big deal, what’s the point? If that’s how you attack, you’re not going hard enough and will never get away. It’s much better to say, “I made my move.” As in, the one real opportunity you might get.

Another thing. Always remember that “attack” is a transitive verb. It cannot be used by itself, like “languish” or “chill.” You need to specify whom you attacked (unless you’re Stephen Roche). If you haven’t attacked the real players, but merely went after the entire field before attrition worked its magic, you’ll just get reeled in. Better to say, “I attacked the remnants of the breakaway.” Note, however, that there’s a counterpoint to this: “detonate,” which is also technically a transitive verb, is properly used without a direct object. This is colloquial. If you say, “I totally detonated after attacking Eric Cech [one of our strongest rivals in the peloton],” everyone will understand.

I have one final thing to cover: there is no superlative in bike racing. No matter how well you’ve attacked, you cannot say, “I was the fastest rider in the race,” unless you attacked at the start line and opened up a massive lead that increased all the way to the finish. Trust me: this never happens (except once, before anyone knew who Eric Cech was). Even the best attack doesn’t make you the “fastest,” because it’s likely that any of a number of sprinters could have out-sped you if they hadn’t been chilling at the back and missed the break. It’s always better to use the comparative: “I rode faster than the field at just the right moment.”

In like fashion, you can’t ever call yourself the “smartest” rider in the race, even if you won, because many a smart racer has chilled at the back of the peloton thinking about grammar.

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Monday, October 24, 2022

Ride Report - Steepest Mile in CA

Introduction

Every few years I get together with my friend Peter for a few days of epic bike riding. We shoot for something brutal and long and, if the weather cooperates (which it didn’t in 2016), we generally achieve it. This year, Pete came all the way out here from Colorado to ride in the Santa Rosa area, where he used to attend training camps. We did four rides and this was the hardest of them. What seemed like a fairly straightforward 108-mile cruise with a mere 11,000 feet of climbing turned out to be much worse, in the best (i.e., worst) way. Read on and slake your thirst for Schadenfreude!




Executive summary

We confronted some lousy weather, a lot of climbs, and then one particular climb that in difficulty not only far exceeded anything we could have imagined, but included the steepest paved mile in all of California and the third-steepest in the country. At the summit was a douchebag in a kiosk who made us turn around, due to a road closure unknown to the Strava route planning app. This dead end cruelly lengthened an already savage ride, as we had to hammer our asses off to make it back to Santa Rosa by dark. Fortunately, we ate very well before, during, and after.

Short version

To make these rides extra epic, Pete and I largely forego training. In the month before his visit, my longest ride had been a mere 76 miles; his, even shorter. This unwise behavior gives our endeavor an extra bit of frisson; after all, anyone could pull off a really long and hard ride by actually preparing for it.

Breakfast was a leftover slice of pizza from Cibo Rustico in Santa Rosa. To be precise (and I’m fact-checking via my receipt), it was “Italian Sauage Muchroom” pizza. (How do you pronounce “Sauage”? Sewage? And much room for what?) The pizza was pretty good, even though our stinky room at the Motel 6 didn’t have a microwave oven. In fact, the fridge cost $6 extra per night … that’s how barebones this place was. And when I say “stinky” I’m not just talking about us stinking it up; it came pre-stank with the odor of stale cigarettes and the chemicals they use to mask the odor of stale cigarettes. (Yes, it was technically a non-smoking room, but when the property overall is basically a giant ashtray, the stench permeates everything.)

Now, I don’t really like cold pizza. I know many people do, but the congealed grease etc. just isn’t my thing. Fortunately, we had large cups of steaming Peet’s coffee (since our motel room also lacked a coffee maker) so I took a trick from the Dutch playbook and warmed my ‘za over my coffee cup like they do with their stroopwafels. It was slow going but worked pretty well.


Is that enough breakfast for such a long ride? Of course not, but then, what would be? The buffet court at Sizzler? So we set out on the ride knowingly undernourished. The weather threatened to be cold and overcast the entire time. (During our 47-mile ride the day before, the sun never did show its face.) Look how much clothing Pete is wearing. (I myself neglected to bring leg warmers because I was foolish enough to trust the weather forecast.)


But then, two hours in, after a couple of painful climbs, the sun came out. Things warmed up, and we did a few more climbs, and then hit the big climb—oh my god, that climb—and that’s when shit got dark. I don’t mean it got literally dark, until it literally did, but that was hours later. First we had a lot of hammering to do. In case you only care about food, I’ll save the details of the climb, and its horrific aftermath, for the full report. Let’s talk about dinner now.

Having seen Los Molcajetes Bar and Grill from the road, and having decided it looked lively (since Cibo Rustico the night before had been a bit quiet), we headed over there to refuel. This was of course after a palliative beer, showering (without shampoo, this being the Motel Sux), and a sufficiently long rest that we could walk again. Los Molcajetes was pretty well hopping, but the music was terrible. It’s not like I’m a snob, but this sounded like somebody’s five-year-old pounding on the keys of a piano, or perhaps a harpsichord. It was a tune of maybe seven or eight notes repeated ad infinitum. And the waitress was powerless to recommend a beer … perhaps she doesn’t drink. She could have just lied and said, “Oh yeah, the Farting Fathers Brewing Scuzzy Suds & Saliva Ale is amazing,” or she could’ve hedged and said “Well, the Locker-Room Lager is popular,” but she seemed almost embarrassed to be asked at all. So we tossed the dice on beers from Laughing Monk and I don’t remember a thing about them. We were pretty out of it, honestly.

But the salsa was good … there were two kinds and they were nice and fiery (or was it just my scorched throat?). There was also some cheese goo that hit the spot, though our motor control was barely up to the task of dipping our chips in it. My chille [sic] relleno burrito was huge and very tasty. (What is it with Santa Rosa restaurateurs and their spelling?) There was this odd orange sauce, almost like a romesco, over the top which was tastier than I’m making it sound. Pete had the carne asada plate and although the idea of meat made all kinds of sense, I almost always get a chile relleno burrito if it’s on offer.

Long version

A couple of hours in, when the gloom lifted, I put on my vest and we descended in the sunshine for a bit. A little over 50 miles in we reached a little gas station convenience store near Lower Lake and I indulged in a couple Hostess cupcakes (chocolate with trans-fat “kreme” filling) and a large can of Coke. At checkout I encountered this big biker guy (well, he looked like a biker, anyway; I didn’t happen to see his hog). This dude had tattoos on his face. The tats were words, and I was really curious what they said, but I was afraid to look at the guy for long enough to read them. I could well imagine him saying, “What the fuck you lookin’ at!” and slamming me into the Doritos display. So I just moved along. Pete told me later that the dude was friendly with the cashier and they were chatting out by our bikes. “Look how skinny those bikes are!” she said, and he replied, “Yeah, those dudes look super fit.” But probably that was just the meth talking.

Okay, that was inappropriate. I really shouldn’t assume someone’s a meth-head just because he has tattoos on his face. He might have been a really nice guy. His tats might have said something like “I’m thankful” or “Love wins.” In fact, maybe it was Pete who was on meth. Or hell, it could’ve been me! No, no, no, take none of this seriously. We did this ride pan y agua! Shoot, I should probably delete this whole paragraph, but I never edit my ride reports. It’s too much hassle.

Clear Lake is pretty.


After Clear Lake we hit a hard section that was mostly uphill for about 13 miles, gaining over 1,500 feet. The scenery was nice and my tasty cupcake snack was serving me well, but I have to admit, the climbing was starting to get old. And then we hit Socrates Mine Road.

Let me say first that we had no idea what we were getting into. Even though I’m the Californian, I did nothing to contribute to the route planning. Pete used this fancy feature of Strava where you tell it how many miles you want and what kind of terrain (e.g., flat, hilly, super hilly) and it gives you several options. There was no disclaimer like “This route includes a climb that will have you PUKING FOR DECADES.” Yeah, we knew we had some vertical gain left to accumulate, but never expected anything like Socrates Mine Road.

This climb is bad enough on paper: as detailed on the PJAMM Cycling website, it climbs about 1,800 feet in 3.5 miles. Discounting a couple short downhill bits, it boasts an average gradient of 10%. But that’s not what makes it so hard; neither is the fact that we started on it over 70 miles into our ride. The tough part is that 26% of the climb is between 10-15%, 17% of it is between 15-20%, and 5% is more than a 20% grade! The steepest mile of the climb averages 16.3%, making it the steepest paved mile in California. Look at this schematic from PJAMM:


Increasing the brutality was the totally crappy condition of the road: it was cracked into rough cubes, like a pan of over-baked brownies. If you rumpled this road just a bit it’d be like the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix. The poor surface could have been due to a big fire some years back. There’s not much scenery unless you like looking at burnt trees.


Fortunately, there’s nobody up there so you can hear a car coming from really far away. (No more than two cars passed us the whole time; in fact, maybe it was just one and I hallucinated the other.) Pete’s gearing was a pretty stingy 34x25. I had a 27 cog in the back; between that and my lugubrious cadence (between 20-40 rpm), I was well off Pete’s pace. (This is always the case when the going gets tough.) At one point Pete stopped for a bit so he could snap photos of me weaving my way back and forth across the road, which was the only way I could keep from tipping over.




God, such misery. Of course I knew I’d suffer on this ride, but who knew a climb could actually be this awful? Climbs I used to think of as hard, like Mount Diablo and Mount Evans, now look, in retrospect, like playgrounds. How long could this go on? I had no idea. It seemed that forever wasn’t out of the question. Fortunately, I knew better than to pretend I had any choice in the matter. I pondered (non-verbally) this sentiment from my Everest Challenge “Pep Talk” post: “The trick is to pretend you have no choice and to take one pedal stroke at a time, riding like a robot.  Climbing stupid, you might say.  Not ‘climbing stupidly,’ which I would never recommend, but ‘climbing as though you were stupid.’” I proceeded with the mindset of pure fatalism, as though it could never occur to me that this climb, this route, this ride, indeed this very sport, were actually optional.

Have my arms ever been worked so hard while cycling? Absolutely not. I logged over two miles more than Pete on this ride, and that’s probably because I was weaving so much. It was ridiculous: I was barely making progress toward the summit. If this description is getting tedious, good—so was the climb. At least you, albertnet reader, don’t have to fucking pedal! You’re just sitting there, feeling all butt-hurt that I’m going on so long about this—but at least your butt doesn’t actually hurt, and you can just close your laptop or toss aside your phone and go do something more fun. I was trapped on that damn climb and everything hurt. If those cracks in the road had been any deeper they’d have stopped me cold and I’d still be out there.

But, eventually, we did reach the summit. Now the ride would get really good: one more climb (surely easier than this one), and the it’d be flat or downhill for the final 25 miles. A well-earned victory lap, you might say. But that’s not what happened. Instead, just as the road tipped downhill, we came upon a closed gate with a kiosk and this big dumb kid sitting in it. “You can’t go,” he said (and these were probably the first words he’d uttered all day). We asked why not. “Not allowed,” he said, after managing his second thought of the day: another salvo in his battle against mental bankruptcy. We assumed the road blockage had something to do with a geothermal power plant up there; maybe they’re afraid of terrorists or something. But Google Maps and Strava had both indicated the road was open to through traffic. Pete asked the kiosk wizard if he had a map. “Of what?” the cretin asked, dumbfounded. Pete replied, “Of your ass. I want to see if I can find your head in there.” No, Pete didn’t actually say this, he’s far too much of a gentleman. Of course the guy had no map of anything. So Pete started looking at his phone, trying to figure out another route. “I’m going to have to ask you to move along now,” the dunce said (and this might have been the longest verbal utterance of his life). I guess he considered our very presence a dire threat to the geothermal operation. And so, contrary to all human impulse, we actually turned around and headed back down Socrates Mine Road.

It wasn’t a very fun descent because we had to brake so hard. Pete’s brakes eventually started hissing even louder than mine. Even at the speeds that naturally result from such a grade (and I note that the road boasts three runaway truck ramps), the descent seemed to take forever.

(A few final footnotes. One: a photo on the PJAMM site shows a “NO OUTLET” sign at the base of the climb, which obviously would have been helpful; our theory is that this sign burned down in the fire. Two: another sign, also no longer extant, warned that “This area can expose you to chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects … including arsenic, benzene, asbestos, crystalline silica, and radionuclides.” Three: I’m assuming that on top of all this, every time a cyclist rides up Socrates Mine Road, God kills a kitten.)

Well, shit. Now we had about forty miles left to go, and two major climbs. Of course we hadn’t budgeted any time for this, so making it back to the Motel Sux by nightfall was going to be a major challenge. Exhausted as we were, we had to hammer. Into a headwind, of course.

“Get on my wheel,” Pete said. “Go as hard as you can. If you start to fall off, yell out and I’ll slow up [a tiny bit, just enough to put you on the absolute rivet so you won’t slow us down too much, you wanker],” he said. (No, he didn’t say the stuff in brackets; my brain filled that in. Accurately.) Damn, it was like a team time trial except I was too lame to even take a turn at the front. And it went on and on. I was no longer capable of pedaling in anything like a circle. Instead my legs took turns throwing punches at the pedals … and I punch like a girl. (Note to my daughters: I didn’t know you ever read my blog! And I’m just kidding! I know either of your could totally kick my ass!)

Our last big climb was 2.2 miles at 6.3%. At the base, some jerk in a pickup truck, in the opposite lane heading toward us, angrily yelled, “Fuck YOU!” I really don’t know what his problem was, other than presumably feeling that the existence of other, probably superior, people on this planet is automatic cause for maximum outrage. “I’m not angry at you … I’m just disappointed,” I did not say to him. It’s actually too bad his outburst didn’t anger me, because anger might have helped fuel my effort. That climb, short and shallow though it truly was, hurt so bad. Amazingly, we made pretty good time up it, staying right around 10 mph. At the top we stopped briefly to split an energy bar. Straddling my bike, I wasn’t even sure I could stay upright. I collapsed onto the handlebars, my arms on the brake hoods, my head dangling between them. Naturally, Pete laughed at me. You would have, too.


We set off again, and I have to say, only in hindsight do I truly appreciate how well Pete and I get along, even under circumstances like this. When he told me to ride as hard as I could so I wouldn’t get dropped, I could have said, “Oh, easy for you to say, Mr. Big-Shot-Former-Pro, with all your talent and strength and character! You’re nothing but a big bully!” and that’d have been well within spec for a knackered middle-aged cyclist with a 40% hematocrit. Meanwhile, Miss Manners would’ve surely forgiven Pete had he said, “Oh, boo-fucking-hoo, poor Mr. Parasite is all bent out of shape because he has to pedal harder than he wants to even though he’s getting a free ride without having to fight this damn headwind for even five seconds because we both know he’s too much of a pussy!” Instead we just grimly, and silently, got on with it. I acknowledged to myself the gift of this draft, no matter how unpleasant the pace was, while Pete presumably thanked his lucky stars I’m not even more weak and worthless on a bicycle.

So, what more is there to say? We hit another convenience store, right around dusk, and I wondered if it might make sense to summon a Lyft car from there (Uber is dead to me), and have one of us stay behind with the bikes while the other fetched my car from the motel. But there was a big sign that said something like, “ABSOLUTELY NO LOITERING. GET YOUR STUFF AND GET OUT OR WE’LL SEND YOU HOME TO MOTHER IN A CARDBOARD BOX.” Plus, we’re not quitters. So Pete ate some more of the little gummy bears he favors, I inhaled two more delicious Hostess cupcakes, and we headed back out. Somehow we made it over Petrified Forest Road (1.4 miles at 9.1%), notwithstanding our petrified legs.

And, eventually, as civil twilight gave its last gasp, we homed in on the Motel Sux. Needless say, in the final mile Pete’s rear tire blew out—PCCCCHHEWWW!—and he didn’t even flinch. Just rode it in.

Well, you know the rest. For $6 a night, at least the 100-decibel motel mini-fridge did a good job of keeping our beers cold. These were Racer 5s, just right for relaxing our destroyed muscles. Here is the obligatory post-ride Beck’st. Note that I’m not in any way mugging for the camera here. This is as close to a smile as I could manage.


So: was this ride even worth it? Of course. This is the kind of ordeal that case-hardens a person. And we’re going to need that hardness as we continue our descent into middle age and, eventually, decrepitude. Wish us luck, and check back in a year or two for a full report of our next exploit.

Ride stats

  • 119.37 miles
  • 8:37:47 ride time
  • 13.8 average speed (ouch!)
  • 11,896 feet cumulative elevation gain
  • 117 bpm average heart rate
  • 151 bpm max heart rate
  • 67 rpm average cadence
  • 3,886 kilocalories burned
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Thursday, October 13, 2022

The albertnet Tier Lists

Introduction

My older daughter suggested this post. She says tier lists are insanely popular. I can’t figure out what the attraction is, but I don’t exactly have my finger on the pulse of … well, anything or anybody. So what the hell, I’ll give it a whirl.

What is a tier list?

A tier list is basically a ranking of things from best to worst … I think. It started out with video game characters (protagonists?) that gamers rank based on how tough, fast, or skilled they are, I guess. “S” is the best and, according to Wikipedia, “may stand for ‘Special,’ ‘Super,’ or the Japanese word for ‘Exemplary’ (, shū).” Next down from S is A, followed by B, C, D, E, and then F, like with grades. (Never mind that students never get an “E” grade, though I once got an F+ on a bio quiz.)

How does one consume these lists? I have no idea. All my google searches simply turn up tier list generators. It’s like everyone is an author and nobody is a reader. I guess if I were on social media I would be exposed to actual lists. My daughter suggested YouTube and I found “Schlatt’s Cereal Tier List,” a 14-minute ranking of breakfast cereals, to be fairly amusing. I suppose this Schlatt guy knows what he’s doing, because his video has over 13 million views, which is even more eyeballs than my fart jokes post got. (Roughly 26 million more eyeballs, if you want to get precise.)

The example tier lists I’ve seen from the various list generator websites are pretty boring; for example, one that ranked best to worst candy (Snickers and M&Ms at the top, Jelly Belly at the bottom) seemed totally arbitrary.

Tier list generator sites

I got lost pretty quickly trying to find the perfect tier list generator. A site called tiermaker.com had lots of ads, including a video that actually had sound, at a super obnoxious volume. It was an ad for edible.com, whatever that is. I will never know, because their jingle, and the very fact of their jingle, are so annoying I’m banning the company for life no matter what they’re hawking. And when I tried to mute the video, it darted away from me, nefariously. 

This site had an insane number of templates. I thought these would just provide background stuff, splashy graphics and fancy fonts, so I chose what I thought would be a playful, fun, modern, and worldly template: “Genshin Impact Characters.” But actually, this “template” was actually a full-blown list creator whereby you drag little characters up to the grid to rank them. But how could I possibly have any opinion about any of these little avatar dudes?


I tried a few more sites and found all of them more or less tedious to work with. I honestly don’t care much about colors, fonts, or little photos I have to drag around. Nevertheless, I persevered, and eventually created…

My first tier list

I finally took some time on a site, edit.org, and created a list of THE BEST ANIMALS, just as a proof-of-concept. I don’t have particularly strong opinions on animals, nor am I really an expert, but for what it’s worth here is my very first tier list:


I hope you agree with my ranking, or—better yet!—vehemently disagree with it, so you can fire the first round in a fusillade of angry comments below this post. As for the quality of the list itself, I know it has plenty of flaws. The most glaring, perhaps, is that the picture next to each item doesn’t match the item, except in the case of Humans. The photo library on the site happened to have a free image of a human. But all the other free images I scrolled through didn’t happen to be of a cat, a shellfish, a bird of prey, etc. I searched the image library for “cat” and was told, “Register to browse millions of free photos and images.” Like hell I will!

Biting the bullet

Well, there’s almost nothing I won’t do for my albertnet readers (other than actually travel anywhere to research anything, or spend money, etc.) so I settled on what appeared to be the most promising site, Canva, and actually registered, and in relatively little time put together what I hope you’ll agree is a better effort:


The problem is, at heart I’m more of a writer than a graphic designer, thus I still found the process tedious. It’s also the case that there’s no easy way to add footnotes, and yet I’m sure you’re dying to know why I ranked human flesh over, say, soft drinks. (If you’re wondering about “sand,” it’s a reference to “Raising Arizona.”)

I really feel I need a template with more room for text (unless I decide the go the vlog route like Schlatt with his cereal). And so I created…

The albertnet tier list template

I needed a template that could be squished, stretched, and otherwise modified at my whim, without some website reigning me in. So, I messed about with tables in Word, with the idea of turning them into simple graphics. Here’s a more verbose take on Dining Options, to showcase my new template.

Dining Options

S

Homemade pasta with heart-healthy Bolognese Ragu or Alfredo, made at home with my kids (who, in this hypothetical scenario, are miraculously visiting their childhood home simultaneously)

A

Very authentic Chinese food at a local place that uses Sichuan peppercorns and MSG

B

Little Star Chicago-style pizza (or Zachary’s, if my kids insist)

C

Super-high-end Italian where the pasta serving is smaller than my fist, so I have to eat it painstakingly slowly, and then the check comes and it’s like $100 a head

D

Leftover beans and rice with extra hot sauce because the rice is starting to go bad

E

Cold cereal that has gone stale and takes like 20 minutes to get soggy in the blue-tinted skim milk that is somehow all we have

F

Sitting for over half an hour in line at a fast-food drive-thru, as miserable as the poor feedlot cattle that gave their lives so I could save a few bucks while giving myself heart disease

 Tour de France winners

Now that I have an EZ template, I can go crazy on my tier lists! Here’s one that just occurred to me:

Tour de France winners

S

Bernard Hinault, who not only won five times, but had the panache to sprint for flat-stage victories when he really didn’t need to, and also liked to throw punches at protesters who interfered with the race

A

Eddy Merckx, who would have won six Tours had it not been for a crazed fan who punched him in the stomach causing some kind of internal organ injury

B

Greg LeMond, who won by the slimmest margin ever (8 seconds), giving us the most exciting Tour ever against Laurent Fignon, the “distant professor”

C

Cadel Evans, the only rider I can think of in the modern era who actually appeared to have raced pan y agua (i.e., clean)

D

Miguel Indurain, who was boring as hell to watch but did have pretty good form

E

Jacques Anquetil, whom I couldn’t pick out of a line-up but who, it must be said, also won five Tours

F

Christopher Froome, one of the most grotesquely awkward riders ever to race a bike, but who is admittedly one of the savviest dopers any sport has ever produced

 Technology

I suppose there’s no reason I have to go with the S/A/B/C/D/E/F scale. Let’s mix it up a little:


Technological innovations

Where has this been all my life?

GPS on my phone and in my car

Game changer

Aerodynamic bicycle wheels

Yes, let’s forestall arthritis!

Biometric smartphone authentication (awesome when it works, maddening when it doesn’t)

Please laugh at my expense!

Camera phones: you’ll never miss another shot of my comically elongated head, like I’ve got the worst case of encephalitis ever

I love overpaying!

Electronic bike shifting: it’s just as good as traditional shifting, but costs way more!

Let’s just give in and be dorks

Digital wristwatches

Narcissism is the new black

Social media

Okay, that’s enough

I could go on and on with such lists, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my readers, it’s that my posts are “too long.” Well, this is probably my shortest in years … are you happy now? 

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Saturday, October 8, 2022

What Hurts?

Introduction

This post is about what hurts right now: physically, emotionally, existentially. I guess it’s also about what doesn’t hurt.

Scrapes and scratches

I have some new scrapes and scratches from a mountain bike crash. (Was this the impetus for this post? Oddly, no … I’d been planning it anyway. Maybe I’m clairvoyant.)


These scrapes don’t really hurt, they just sting a little. Even when I swabbed them with alcohol it didn’t really hurt, per se. It was more like the thrilling zing of eating too much wasabi in one bite.

My back etc.

My back hurts for no good reason and this just happens sometimes. It’s not intense or anything. On a scale of 1 to 10 this pain is only about a 1, but it’s annoying because it’s persistent, and affects how I inhabit my body. I have to bend over slowly to pick something up from the floor, which makes me feel geriatric. It’s also a distraction when I’m cycling. On top of that, I did something to a groin muscle, probably during an ad hoc yoga session my wife led me through. There’s something called a lunge, which would be a huge exaggeration for what I kind of did, but even so I practically maimed myself, so I’ve been walking funny. It hurts a fair bit (perhaps a 2) to put on my right sock. 

Overall, this pain isn’t so much physical; it’s more of a morale thing. The scrapes from my bike crash  are practically refreshing ... I mean, at least they ought to hurt.

Ageing

Obviously the back pain I just described is related to ageing, but at least it’s (presumably) temporary. The groin thing should subside too. But there’s new pain it looks like I’ll have to live with forever: soreness after cycling. Perhaps as recently as ten or fifteen years ago, I could do any bike ride—200 miles, even—with no soreness the next day, as if the ride never happened. Now, I’m sore after my standard 20-mile loop. It’s ridiculous. And age-related pain isn’t just depressing, it’s kind of foreboding … it carries with it the whiff of mortality. It’s like God telling me, “Yes, everything will get harder, and your bodily systems will work less and less well, and then one day your heart will stop.”

Empty nest

There was no intense moment of emotional anguish when (a few years back) I dropped my older daughter off at college, and then more recently my younger daughter. I was kind of surprised, both times, at my casual reaction … this is a really big deal, but it didn’t seem like it in the moment. But after the fact I’ll occasionally be hit with the reality of it at unpredictable times. For example, after my older daughter visited for a couple of weeks recently, and I dropped her at the train station and was driving home by myself, I felt a lump in my throat, and was kind of down. I’d enjoyed hanging out with her, and the fact that that she no longer calls our home home, was, well, brought home.

Of course, my older daughter’s original departure didn’t fully empty the nest; we still had her younger sister at home. I’ve had more of this poignancy since we dropped the younger one off for her freshman year. I felt a prick of it the other day when my wife absentmindedly put three plates down when setting the table, having utterly forgotten for a moment it’s down to the two of us. And I had a sharper pang when I was clothes shopping with a friend recently and bought something for my younger daughter. I was about to explain to my friend that this was for my daughter’s birthday, and this would be her first away from home, without a family party or possibly even a friend party since she’s still new to her college community. Before I could utter a word of this, though, I realized I was unable to talk, and my eyes were filling with tears. So I just stood there, silently crying while also laughing at myself.

Is this actual pain? Yes, and no. It hurts to miss your children, obviously, but all is according to plan. They’re happy to be gone, which means they’re thriving, and what parent wouldn’t want that? And yet, and yet…

Inflation

Does inflation hurt? Well, I sure hear a lot of complaining about it, and about related matters like supply chain and staffing problems that are making it more difficult to get the stuff and have the “experiences” we’re accustomed to. Obviously some people will feel the sting of this more than others, based on their overall financial picture, but as a middle class American I don’t personally know anybody who is so badly affected as to have to worry about homelessness or starvation. And looking at my own situation, I benefit far too much from the unfairness of the world to ever feel butt-hurt about prices going up.

Here’s a thought exercise I like to do when I’ve just paid $13 for a block of cheese and am tempted to bitch about it: I think about thrift shopping. In the Bay Area, you can get incredibly high-end stuff in perfect condition at a consignment store. A lot of the time a garment is brand new, with the tags still on it. This is made possible by people around here having so much money, they can afford to buy this stuff new on a whim and then casually change their mind and sell it for practically nothing, probably by the bushel, to a consignment store, just to have it out of their way. This kind of wealth can only occur in a world where the human experience is massively lopsided. Think of how little money went to the factory worker who made that garment. That worker surely could not fathom the idea of paying, say, $400 for a jacket and then deciding he didn’t really like it after all. The idea that I am a beneficiary of this system disqualifies me, in my opinion, from ever opening my mouth about inflation.

Other people’s problems

There are people in this world who devote their careers to helping others. I don’t mean something trivial like helping smartphone users have a more intuitive interface; I’m talking about people who work to help underserved groups who struggle. I’m glad such devoted people exist. They are making a sacrifice. Let’s consider the experience of a person whose life work is helping the poor. Facing this ongoing, persistent poverty—though they are not themselves poor—does cause them legitimate pain, because it is a professional frustration, and perhaps because they ponder the condition of needy people so as to find motivation.

That being said, for the rest of us, I think it’s kind of an affectation to get worked up about problems that don’t affect us. If I’m eating seared ahi at an upscale outdoor café while sipping an $8 beer, in my opinion it would be poor form for me to talk the whole time about, say, the Bay Area’s housing problem. And this is just a simplistic example; people get worked up about all kinds of problems, many imaginary or exaggerated, that are introduced into the public dialogue by politicians, pundits, talking heads, and the AI algorithms that spread bullshit all over the Internet with the focused intent to fan the flames of outrage and indignation. I am not denying that people can feel real anguish about problems (real or fabricated) that don’t (or can’t) affect them, but is there any point in this?

Here’s a thought exercise to illustrate my point. Suppose you’re traveling overseas and lose your passport. This is a big deal, and throws your whole trip into a tailspin. You’re definitely suffering the loss of that passport. But now imagine that after searching for several hours, you actually find it; ergo, it was never actually lost … but for hours you suffered. Was there any point to that period of anguish? Of course not. Is this different than spending hours and hours fuming about, say, the catastrophic health consequences of 5G wireless networks? Of course not, since both situations concern a problem that does not actually exist. And yet googling “health problems from 5G wireless networks” just now produced 84 million hits.

My point is, don’t borrow pain, from those who (you suppose) suffer it, based on problems you don’t have. That’s my $0.02, anyway.

Loss

I lost my father in 2017 and of course that was painful, and it’s possible I think of him more now than when he was alive. But to be very candid about it, we weren’t great chums and he had lived a long life. His death was not a tragedy.

On the other hand, I do feel real pangs when I think about friends, my age, who have died: M— in 2016 and T— four years later. It’s not only that they were struck down far too early in their lives, with so much left to do … it’s also just that I miss them so much. I saw much less of them than I’d have liked when they were alive (based on busy lives, family stuff, etc.) and now they’re totally gone.

All kinds of things remind me of M—: roads we used to ride together, photos that flit by on my screen saver, components on my bike that I bought from him, brewpubs we drank at together, so many things both obvious and surprising. I often think of him when I’m watching pro bike racing and Richard Carapaz comes on the screen. Carapaz looks a bit like M— he … has the same grin when he’s suffering. It looks like his mouth is trying to form a grimace but he’s just too good-natured.

Recently I was walking by a new-ish Sichuan restaurant in town and paused to look at their menu, wondering if they use Sichuan peppercorns, aka “ma” (spelled 麻). Suddenly, my eyes teared up. I had learned all about these peppercorns from T—, who even recommended his favorite place and advised me on what to order. This was the last time I ever hung out with him, having coffee after a bike ride in late February, 2020. By this point it was too late in his losing battle with colon cancer to hope I could visit the restaurant with him, but I thought I could at least try the place and report back. (His last email to me was, “Let me know how it goes.”) The pandemic kept me from this field trip, and from ever seeing T— again.

Silver lining?

Pain obviously serves a role in providing the kind of feedback that keeps you from, say, touching something that’s burning hot. But beyond this, does it serve any purpose? I believe it can. Pain is very personal, direct, and non-abstract. It pins us down into our immediate reality, and in doing so it can remind us we’re alive. I guess that’s not an entirely bad thing…

Additional reading on pain & suffering

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