Carless, three years in

August 23, 2022 Comments Off on Carless, three years in

I quit driving on August 19, 2019. Or maybe it was August 18. I was driving back from Santa Barbara to LA, stuck in traffic on the 101. I looked at myself in the rearview mirror and said, “This is the last time you will ever drive a car.”

I was almost right.

Except for a brief 100-yard excursion behind the wheel of a rental car, I’ve not driven for three years. I’m pretty pleased with myself when I think of how Greta it makes me, all the trees I’ve saved, how much holier I am than thou, and how much less my shit stinks than yours.

Pretty pleased, that is, until Kristie deflates my bubble. She is very good at this, but to be fair, my bubbles are more numerous than a waterspout’s, and if you don’t get good at bursting them you eventually are encased in the delusion bubble yourself. However, I get the feeling she had this skill before we met.

“You fall into one of two modes, or both, neither of which is good,” she said.

“Only two?”

“With regard to the carless thing, two. Probably more if I think about it.”

“What are they?”

“The first mode is what I call ‘Man who lives on a rowboat three miles out to sea.'”

“What’s that?”

“It’s you. You’re like a person who lives in a rowboat three miles out to sea for moral or philosophical reasons and says that anyone who wants to see him, talk to him, or have anything to do with him has to either get in a boat and go visit, or wait until he happens to row in.”

“It keeps down on unwanted visitors, though.”

“But for those who do visit it’s massively inconvenient and selfish. Especially when, with a little effort, you could live on land. But no. You choose to live on a rowboat at sea and everyone else can go pound sand. It’s so selfish.”

“What’s the other mode?”

“The other is your Greta mode, which is wholly bogus.”

“How? I saved a hundred trees this morning.”

“Yes, but by making me drive all the way from LA up here to see you, I had to kill about a thousand. You’re still totally car dependent, you just make other people do all the driving.”

“I’m glad I don’t have to choose between being unreasonable and selfish, and can be both.” That comment didn’t seem to smooth things over.

She’s quite correct. I still benefit from other people’s cars, whether it’s her driving up here, or ordering online and getting stuff delivered on a UPS truck. Plus, I live in a house. Houses are very non-Greta. The most Greta and unselfish I’ve been was when I lived in LA, in an apartment, without a car. I did everything on foot or by bike. Canceled my Amazon account. Rarely if ever had anyone pick me up or take me anywhere. If it was too far to ride, and it almost never was, I took the train and biked. I think at one point I had gone an entire year without sitting in a car at all.

But once I left LA, my reliance on cars increased a lot, along with my carbon footprint.

On the whole, though, it has still been an eco-success and a health success. The vast majority of time I’m alone and really do have to go everywhere on foot or by bike. But since everything’s so far away and the weather is often really fucking hot, I don’t go “everywhere” anymore. Shopping is highly surgical.

And when I do shop, there are massive physical limitations on what I can carry. So I buy less and eat less. Also, I tend to buy lots more vegetables and fresh food than I used to because it’s cheaper and tastes better than prepared stuff. Buying gasoline, paying for car maintenance, insurance, and the general malaise that comes from being in a steel box are all things I’m better off without.

What’s important is that I have no desire to drive or own a car. Even riding around in one is uncomfortable and feels like I’m being a bad person. But what’s also important is realizing that having a car is the global exception and a huge luxury. Even here in the U.S., so many people are carless because they are too poor to own one. I recently saw an article that said new cars are no longer within reach for the average American unless you’re willing to buy them on a 7-year note … after which time, of course, the car is most of the way to useless.

But the luxury to choose not to have a car? That’s the biggest luxury of all.


END

Sprint, ride, walk

August 20, 2022 Comments Off on Sprint, ride, walk

Two days ago I sprinted. Rather, I did sprints. Rather, I did eight 30-second sprints with one-minute rests. I’ve been doing them once a week now for a month.

Kristie persuaded me that high intensity intervals were incredibly beneficial to doddering, mostly dead old fucks, and she did it the way she usually does. She sent me a bunch of research to read. Fortunately it was lots easier than the stuff about myokines and lactate and phosphorylation and the Cori cycle. Basically, in this study they took some old fucks and put them in a lab and made them do:

  1. 60 seconds of jumping jacks with 90 seconds rest
  2. 60 seconds of squats with 90 seconds rest
  3. 60 seconds of sprinting in place with 90 seconds rest
  4. 60 seconds of squats with 90 seconds rest
  5. 60 seconds of jumping jacks and hopefully a cold beer

Then they made a different set of old fucks do the same thing at home with no supervision.

Then they made a different set of old fucks do nothing.

The incredible results were that the old fucks who did nothing DID NOT CHANGE.

And the old fucks who did a few jumping jacks and stuff CHANGED. And, crazy, I know, it made no difference whether they were being supervised (a/k/a gym) or on their own. The gym industry is not stoked about this study, I guess.

Their blood pressure lowered. The pennation angle of their muscles increased (go look that up, lazy). Their VO2 max increased. Their LDL dropped. All this with five lousy minutes of intervals, three times a week.

Of course Kristie, whose nickname at work used to be Bitch Pudding, makes me do intervals way harder than that. To even start my intervals I have to climb a thousand feet, barefoot. Then when I sprint I have to do track sprints. Still not sure what these are but they involve much nausea. You might be wondering how these have affected me?

Well, on sprint days, when I wake up I get pre-nausea. Then after the sprints, the rest of the day is a fucking piece of cake. The more I do them, the more I realize that no matter how fast I run, I’m not outrunning death. He’s just having to work harder to catch me.

After the sprints I rode around the lake. This is one of two throwaway rides here. It’s 39 miles and 3,000 feet of climbing, along with about 5 near-death encounters with RV’s and pick-them-ups. When you start the day with running sprints, the bike riding is really easy. According to my coach, this is because sprinting is what’s known as acute VO2 max training, and its effects last up to 48 hours, making whatever subsequent thing you do seem incredibly easy. Of course since the subsequent thing is almost always sleep, I’m not sure this proves a lot.

The next day I felt like shit so I stayed home.

This morning I felt great so I left the house at 5:20 and walked to the grocery store in Kernville, which is just under seven miles away. As I walked along the highway a car pulled up. It was Mike, the butcher. “You walking by choice?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. You’re usually on a bike, so just wanted to check. No ride?”

“No, but thanks. See you in a bit.”

I got to Kernville and went to the meat counter at the grocery store, where Mike dished up a pound of hot Italian sausage. I got the rest of my stuff, including two half-gallons of milk, but they were in glass bottles. When loaded, my pack was about 30 pounds.

You see a lot more when you walk. For example, I found a little dirt road that parallels the main highway that I’ve never seen despite a hundred or more rides along this stretch of road. Some local fellows had painted a start line for a quarter-mile race track. I bet that after a few beers and the exercise of 2nd Amendment rights that gets even more exciting.

I also got to examine the two dead people memorials that have been there for a long time. I guess that having high speed limits and no meaningful DUI laws makes the deaths worthwhile.

The local tattoo parlor is pretty cool in the early morning light. But I noticed a tiny placard in the window for a lawyer in “Suite C.” Lawyer officing with a tattoo artist. Sounds about right.

The walk home was miserable, hilly, and hot. Now I know why PCT through-hikers don’t carry a lot of glass bottles. But when I arrived, Pepper was waiting for me. He’s like a dog. He meows when I come home and then wants to be petted and fed, but not in that order.

I like dogs, too.


END

The retired cyclist, Part 2: Death

August 15, 2022 Comments Off on The retired cyclist, Part 2: Death

If retirement has a physical aspect with many moving parts, the emotional side is easier to sum up but much harder to deal with: Retirement is a euphemism for death.

When the first federal retirement scheme was passed in 1935 and the retirement age set at 65, life expectancy for men in the United States was 58. This meant that in order to begin receiving Social Security benefits, the average man had to be dead for seven years, a rather difficult hurdle for most corpses to clear.

This was hardly odd. The first national retirement scheme, passed by Germany in 1889, set the age of retirement at 70. Life expectancy was about 40. The idea that one worked until death was a fundamental underpinning of capitalism, and only the threat of Marxism and the high cost to business of older workers was able to ring in the era of retirement.

Leaving aside the economic swindle of retirement for the moment, retirement in fact introduces death as an inevitability around which all subsequent life must be planned. However, it was important for economic reasons not to introduce retirement as death but instead as rest and leisure so that people would accept it.

And accept it they have, only with the greatest imaginable difficulty. Of the six retirement lifestyles in the US, four involve working, an outcome as ridiculous as the notion that in order to collect benefits you have to be dead.

If retirement were posed as the final life stage ending in frailty and death, people might make vastly different choices, and governments might be forced to set up schemes that dealt with decline and death rather than ones that dealt with money that is ultimately funneled back into more employment, the healthcare industry, and the financial services industry. Nonetheless, when you are the retiree, it comes as a shock when you realize that you’ve been gaslighted. You shouldn’t have been preparing for financial security, you should have been preparing for the best way to die.

And since the death stage can last for thirty or forty years, and since it rarely ends in a happy demise with arms linked in bliss on the golf course, when you finally understand the bait-and-switch, it’s a pisser. Recently, the retirement swindlers have recast retirement not as your “golden years” a/k/a a soft and lovely landing, but as a “new beginning” in an attempt to make the whole thing sound like you aren’t going to die after all, and to thereby continue the application of pressure and coercion through fear.

What fear? The fear of scarcity, the fear, of course, that you will run out of money, when the real fear you should have taken note of is the fear that you will live the final stage in an unhealthy, sedentary, sickly, and immobile state. While the hucksters and scammers promote Internet imagery of happy, thin, active old people, statistics tell the truth: 41% of Americans over 60 are obese, according to the CDC. Not overweight, OBESE. And the number is growing. When you factor in the number who are also overweight, the percentages are staggering. This is another way of saying that the best pension on earth won’t help you climb a ladder, dig in the garden, hike up Half Dome, or get an erection when you are not simply old, but morbidly fat as well.

If retirement were packaged as death prep, there would be a much smaller emotional price to pay when you quit working. You’d see retirement not as a new beginning, a time to take up tennis and volunteer at the library, but rather as a shit-or-get-off-the-pot turning point where you’d better spend every waking moment plotting and planning on how you’re going to stay lean, fit, and extremely active. Of course confronting that reality would lead to a radical reduction of the purchases and lifestyles that make people so sick to begin with, and which underlie the functioning of capitalism and consumerism. Retirement planning would become healthy living and it would start in your 20’s and capitalism would come crashing to a halt.

Instead of being pitched as a health and end-of-life proposition, retirement is sold as a business deal, which is about what you’d expect capitalism and big business to do.

My father died with dementia, barely mobile, overweight and alcoholic in a retirement that lasted barely ten years. His wife, a horribly obese woman many years his junior, took early retirement from Exxon and has struggled with more maladies than you can shake a stick at in a retirement that to me seems nightmarish at best.

My mother, thanks to a total inability to even imagine life without a paycheck continues into her 80’s doing contract psychiatric evaluations for the VA despite multiple cancers, what appears to me to be greatly diminished cognition, and incredible frailty. Her husband’s lifetime of being overweight has resulted in heart problems, knee surgery, and an existence that has locked him into the shell of a greatly enfeebled body, at least compared to when he was younger.

These examples are actually good outcomes because, miserable and relatively immobile as they are, these folks are orders of magnitude better off than the millions who “retire” into facilities where the only life management strategy is sedation and restraint. And what’s ironic is that many people in the worst retirement scenarios, that is, sick and institutionalized, have great retirement portfolios that accounted for these very eventualities. Yet is that a good outcome? Wouldn’t it have been far better to retire with extraordinary health and a less robust portfolio instead of a great portfolio and dementia?

Dementia, obesity, and metabolic disease are precisely the outcomes for millions who have taken the bait and focused on the question “How much money will I have?” rather than “How healthy am I going to be?” All the money in my dad’s portfolio couldn’t save him from dementia or his wife from obesity, whereas an extremely active and vigorous life from his 40’s on would have greatly increased the chances that he’d be alive and happy today.

Retirement is preparation for death writ large. Ignore it at your peril.

———

END

Bicycle riding lesson

August 10, 2022 Comments Off on Bicycle riding lesson

I went riding with a young fellow this morning. He is about 20 years younger than I am and so I thought it would be a good opportunity to give him some instruction on the finer points of bicycle riding. It is always a great feeling to be able to give back to the younger generation.

One of the things I taught him right away is not to push down so hard on the pedals. This causes a lot of lung turbulence and cardiac disorientation for the person who might happen to be behind.

Another thing I taught him is that when the road goes up it is important to greatly reduce speed. Otherwise the person behind might happen to become behinder.

As we rode along I gave him a lesson on conversation. Often times the person who might be behind is not slower or weaker but is simply desirous of conversation. So it is important when the person who might be behind, even though he appears to be gasping, is allowed to talk about something, but this means that you must push down on the pedals a lot less.

Stopping. Many young and ambitious cyclists do not stop enough. This can be a huge problem for the behind person who usually is just as fast and strong but who wants to show scenic highlights to the younger, inexperienced bicycle rider.

Downhill pedaling can be treacherous. Young bicycle riders often move the chain onto the littlest cog and push extra-super hard on the pedals in order to go much faster. This is okay. But the behind person can lose the ability to see clearly, concentrate, and breathe which could result in a bicycle-falling-off incident, so I instructed him how to downhill pedal with more of a coasting technique.

Few new bicycle riders appreciate the importance of full-body breathing. This is what you do after the bicycle ride and it allows full perfusion of the heart, lungs, intestines, teeth, etc. I demonstrated this after the bicycle ride by lying down for a few hours and breathing with maximal depth and power. Closed eyes help the person who might have been behind, too.


END

The sun doesn’t rise in the west

August 9, 2022 Comments Off on The sun doesn’t rise in the west

For a couple of decades now, biologists have been trying to patiently explain that all the things they taught us about lactate were, well, how do I say this diplomatically? Completely fucking wrong.

Wrong on the scale of “sun revolves around the earth.”

Wrong on the scale of “bleeding with leeches fights infection.”

Wrong on the scale of the “spontaneous generation of germs.”

Unlike religion, where once mistaken, always mistaken, science at least has the potential to reverse itself because it doesn’t claim infallibility but rather accuracy as far as we know now, subject to being disproved tomorrow.

And the “old school” mistaken view of lactate really was a temple of sorts for performance sports.

Remember how when you got serious about cycling and you learned that once your body runs out of the ability to produce energy aerobically, it kicks into anaerobic respiration by using the waste product lactic acid? And how it’s the lactic acid that causes the burn?

None of that is true. Your body has virtually no lactic acid in it ever because lactic acid cannot exist in the blood’s neutral ph, and is therefore instantaneously converted into lactate. And far from being a waste product, lactate is the fulcrum for all human metabolism: It is the inexorable product of glycolysis, it is an omnipresent and abundant fuel, it is produced anaerobically and aerobically, it is the brain’s preferred energy substance, it fuels other internal organs, it is created when exercising and when at rest, and it performs complex signaling and shuttling on an inter- and intra-cellular level that have earned it the moniker “lactome” for its pervasive effects and importance in human metabolism. Nor does lactate cause your muscles to burn. That’s caused by a molecule named “hydrogen.” You may have heard of it.

So the next time you hear someone talk about their lactic acid burn, just imagine them saying that the sun rises in the west. They are clueless.

Although this “news” is more than twenty years old, I was still living in the world of “lactic acid burn” until a couple of weeks ago, when Kristie sent me a review published in Cell Redox by G. A. Brooks, the scientist who began unraveling the secrets of lactate back in the 1980’s. Kristie likes to send me complex things that I can’t understand so that she can later explain it to me with simple words and gestures. Her pantomimes for “Cori cycle” and “oxidative phosphorylation” are Oscar-worthy, to say nothing of “peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator 1-alpha.”

After reading Brooks’s review, along with some ancillary reading about lactate signaling and shuttling, not to mention looking up the phrase “cell redox,” I tried to figure out how or why any of this matters.

So what if everything I knew about lactic acid was wrong? Who cares? How does it affect my cycling?

Here’s why you should care, and you can thank Kristie for this handy-dandy explanation, which I have twisted up in my own words and likely made a mess of: Viewing lactate as a waste product used only in anaerobic respiration obscures its real function, one of which is the body’s single most important fuel and as the crucial fuel for virtually all cognition. Once you understand that lactate is pervasive as a fuel source, leaving aside its other signaling/shuttling functions, you have to ask why that matters? Why would the breakdown of glucose, not to mention exercise, result in the creation of an even more abundant and metabolically important fuel source?

Answer: Because humans were ALWAYS MOVING. Since hominids could not depend on Gu trees, Gatorade creeks, and Energy Chew bushes for instant, massive supplies of sugary energy, we evolved with an always-on, system-wide energy supply system that fueled muscles, organs, and especially the brain without needing a constant supply of glucose. This makes complete sense. Sugars like sucrose and fructose are only very recent additions to our food supply. In the past we obtained less energy with greater difficulty from relatively energy-poor sources.

In the past, food sugars were harder to come by and often large periods of time elapsed between meals. In the interim, the body still had to fuel itself, and most crucially the brain had to obtain a continual energy substrate regardless of whether or not there was any food in your belly at a particular moment. So we evolved a lactate-based fuel system that could create an energy source even as glucose was being broken down, and that would simultaneously serve as a the major precursor for the formation of glycogen. Glycogen is the molecule that allows the body to store glucose and then make it available when needed. All of this would take place whether at rest or exercising, aerobically and anaerobically, between cells and within individual cell mitochondria.

The point to all this is that humans were always on the go. They didn’t sit on the couch for ten hours, or sit in a car for five hours, or sit at a workstation for eight hours, or spend most of their waking time with their neck bent over their dumbphone with only intermittent activities loosely described as “exercising.” They did not adhere to the lunacy that we need, according to current U.S. national guidelines, a piddling 2.5 hours of high intensity, or 5 hours of moderate intensity exercise weekly.

Humans evolved moving much of their waking time and it wasn’t simply to lumber over to the fridge for some more alcohols. A more realistic activity guideline comporting with evolution and the proper functioning of our bodies would be something on the order of 5-7 hours of activity per day. That is certainly what the molecular biology of cell and brain fueling indicate.

Early hominids, and humans up until agriculture, walked an average of 10-20 miles every single day. Warrior Zulus ran more more than double that distance … daily. The human body evolved to move and to move a lot. Rather than motion being the exception to sedentary ass-spreading, sitting was the gross exception to a hominid’s waking hours. Doubt it? Look no further than our evolved sitting position: It’s a squat. You can hold it for a while, but certainly not for hours at a time.

Understanding lactate provides a crucial key to understanding cycling, and sports in general, which is this: Sports and exercise are dumb. They are modern inventions that turn human physiology on its head. Humans were made to move while waking, and be sedentary while asleep. Lactate’s real function is to support a fully-engaged, always-moving, mobile organism.

Anything less? Might as well be measuring lactic acid to feel the burn.


END

Couldn’t stand the weather

August 4, 2022 Comments Off on Couldn’t stand the weather

I was standing at the counter. It was a big shopping day for me. Milk, an onion, a green bell pepper, a pound of brown rice, five mushrooms. The clerk looked at me. “Another hot day,” he said, and he looked miserable.

I suppose it was hot. 105 degrees or thereabouts. But he was sitting behind an air conditioned counter. I was on a bike and about to ride 1.2 miles up a long hill.

The weather is just one more excuse to stay fat, lazy, and indoors. And when people complain about it, it’s always underlain by this implication: If the weather weren’t so fucking coldhotrainymuggywindydry then I would be out there killing it.

Which brings to mind this saying of Tore the Norwegian: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.”

I’ve spent a lot of my life out in bad weather, but not as much as Russell DiBarbieris, a/k/a Ol’ Grizzles from Houston. One day it was about a hundred degrees with 95% humidity and he, Tore, and I were doing a hundred mile ride. I collapsed at mile 80 on the pancake flat feeder road of I-10. Russell and Tore nursed me to a Stop-n-Go, gave me change to buy a Gatorade, and left me for alive, barely.

Russell was 62. Tore was from Norway. Apparently the fact that it was “another hot day” didn’t have much meaning for either of them, other than the fact that it was, well, hot.

Fields was another character who viewed weather as a variable to which one adapted rather than an iron law that dictated whether one cycled or sat on his ass. If it was really cold, he wore really warm clothes. If it rained, he wore a rain jacket. If it was hot, he took a lot of water and suffered. He also did that wacky thing you do on hot days, he left really early to minimize his time in the furnace.

The problems with letting the weather tell you what to do are twofold. First, it makes you fat and lazy. The weather’s never perfect. Even in the Weather Heaven of LA, it’s never perfect. Some days it’s too cool. Too warm. Or it might rain for five minutes. Or it’s windy, a wee bit. Very wee. When the weather tells you what to do, you do nothing.

The people in Wofford Heights are always inside even though they live on the doorstep of the world’s most astounding playscape. In summer it’s too hot and in winter it’s too cold. In spring it’s too windy and in fall it’s so beautiful but hey, NFL. People here are fat and lazy. Outdoors to them is anathema, which is fine except for the underlying implication that if it were just a little different and more perfect and more fill-in-the-blank, they’d go out and fucking set the world on fire.

The second problem with letting the weather tell you what to do is the fallacy that there is such a thing as “weather,” some kind of fixed atmospheric condition that only Dog can overcome. In fact, weather is a many-colored thing. In the early morning it’s cool and breezy, in the late morning it’s cool, in the afternoon it’s hotter than fuck, and in the evening it’s cool again. Compare that to Texas, and its four seasons of summer-summer-summer-winter.

When the clerk complained about another hot day, we both knew that whatever the weather he was going to go home after his shift, flick on the TV, crack open a beer, eat some bad food, and jerk off on #socmed until bedtime at 3:00 am, all under climate-controlled temps.

And the more you grovel at the feet of the weather, the less your body can adapt to it. Fat is antithetical to thermoregulation. The fatter you are, the less you can adjust your temperature to the heat. One guy I know told me that his wife “is allergic to the heat.” And even if you’re not fat, the more sedentary you are the less you can adjust to the swings in the day’s temperature gradient.

As Kristie said, “It’s global warming. The earth is hotter and will get moreso. Better get out in it and teach your body how to adapt.” Because your body can and will adapt, but only if you force it to do what it was designed to do.

Funniest of all, it’s only by being outdoors that you realize what a load of crap the “weather” really is. I went for a walk this morning on a day that should have been scalding, a short 3.6-mile stroll with 1,300-feet of climbing. It was cool, breezy, beautiful, refreshing, invigorating, mind-clearing.

Then I came home and had breakfast, got on my bike near ten o’clock, when the last vestiges of cool are going to be replaced by the blast furnace of the day. It was hot until I got to Limestone, when I experienced a first–a huge summer rain in the Southern Sierra. It had rained so hard on the pass that the river ran black with the runoff. The road was soaking wet and so was I. Rather than baking in the heat I was cooled in the blissful summer shower.

There were a few miles homeward bound that counted as hot, but as soon as I left Kernville the clouds reappeared, and the final climb home was anointed with the sweet smell of ozone and the miracle of rain. Can’t stand the weather? Maybe it’s life you can’t stand. Put down the phone and the TV and the excuses and do what you are uniquely evolved to do: Live and move outdoors.


END

E-excuses

August 2, 2022 Comments Off on E-excuses

Don’t hate the rider, hate the bike. Or is it the other way around?

Please don’t remind me how each e-bike means one less car; it doesn’t. Each e-bike means one more lazy, weak, fat person on a bicycle who also has a car.

Please don’t remind me how delivery people use e-bikes for their livelihood. I’m not talking about them.

Please don’t remind me that e-bikes provide mobility for the old and impaired. I’m glad that e-motorcycles are available for all.

And please, please, please don’t remind me that e-bikes aren’t motorcycles. Because they are.

E-motorcycles with Pedals, or EMWP’s, as I just now decided to call them, have overtaken bicycles, which I define as things you have to pedal to make move.

And even though I think they are silly for 99.9% of the people who use them, believe that they encourage obesity, laziness, and weakness, and though I understand that they aren’t simply the future, they’re also the present, that’s not why I hate them.

I hate them because the riders talk to me, and I can’t understand why.

I’m on a bicycle, they’re on a motorcycle. We have nothing in common. Before e-bikes, I never talked to internal combustion motorcyclists and vice versa. They were for the most part arrogant pricks who thought that because they could twist their wrist and flop their ankle that somehow they were badasses. They buzzed me, flipped me off, and oozed attitude because it’s easy to feel superior to a car but really hard to feel superior to a person lugging a bicycle up a mountain or riding through traffic with nothing but their leg power.

If anything, motorcyclists were nastier than cagers because they took such affront that there was another two-wheeled vehicle on the road doing exactly what they were doing, only doing it without the force multiplier of an engine.

But for some reason, EMWP’s think that we’re not only allies, but friends. And even though I look through them, scowl when our eyes have to meet, and am the least friendly person they’ve seen all day, they ALWAYS want to chat.

And the chat? It’s always the same thing. The EMWP’er always explains to me two things: 1) He’s not using the throttle. 2) It’s just as hard as riding a bicycle.

One time Kristie and I were riding up the back side of Ganado with 35-lb. backpacks. We dismounted to squeeze through the gate, and up came an e-motorcyclist. “Hi!” he said, with great enthusiasm. Of course he was in his 40’s, fat, and barely sweating. Kristie and I looked like we’d been standing under a hose.

“Wow, you guys are in good shape!” We said nothing. “This is tough on an e-bike, just as tough as a bicycle. In fact, there’s only a 15% advantage.”

“Really?” I said.

“Yeah!” he answered, twisting the throttle and zooming out of sight as we slogged our way up the impossible grade.

Another time I was riding south to Ragged Point and a guy on an e-motorcycle pulling a fucking trailer, fully loaded, roared by. I almost caught him on the downhill but when the road turned up he blazed away, twiggly legs barely even moving. I got to Ragged Point and sat down on a bench to eat. He came over, sipping a latte. “Mind if I sit here?” he asked.

I said nothing. He sat. “That’s a fully loaded bike you’ve got there.”

“Yes.”

“I used to ride just like you,” he said, belied by his gut, his toothpick legs, and his pasty face.

“Really?”

“Yeah, but now I’m too old. I just turned 58. And this e-bike is amazing. It’s just as hard as a regular bicycle.”

I looked at him and telekinesed “You are full of shit,” then I went back to my tortilla and peanut butter.

“Well, bye!” he said. I grunted. I hated him.

I descended off Ragged Point into a fairly stiff tailwind. About five miles later I saw Mr. E-Motorcycle parked in a lot, bent over his bike. I swung over. “You okay?” I asked.

He looked like a different man. His hair was matted with sweat. His face had turned green. His hands were shaking. He looked like he’d been sitting in the trenches at the Somme in heavy rain and artillery fire for a month. “I think so.”

“You look like shit. What’s wrong?”

“My, uh, battery died and I had to pedal to here before I could pull over to change it.”

“Okay,” I said, and continued on. There it was. Five fucking miles with a tailwind big enough to blow a locomotive and he was a melted mess of flesh and flab. Just as hard as a regular bike … without wheels, maybe.

On Sunday Kristie and I were coming back from our bike-and-hike up Brush Creek. It was 105 degrees. We were destroyed. About halfway up the 1.2-mile climb to home, down came a trio of e-motorcyclists. They were all fat and old. The fattest was a woman.

Suffice it to say that going up Old State Road isn’t for the faint of heart on a bicycle. It’s long, soft sand, windy, and bitter. These three nabobs clearly thought they were the most badassedest things since the invention of the wheel, riding up it on e-motorcycles and then, even more badassedly, descending. They were chagrined to see two old, tired, sweaty people with large backpacks daring to go up the same road.

I’ve been riding longer than most people have been alive. And I’ve never had a passing cyclist shout out what the fat lady sang: “How far are you going?” she said, angrily, doubtingly, denying that skinny, sweaty, old people on bicycles could even dream of doing what she’d done on her e-motorcycle.

I glanced up. “Home,” I said.


END

That thing you was gonna do

July 31, 2022 Comments Off on That thing you was gonna do

Everybody has that thing that they were gonna do.

That place they were gonna go.

That person they were gonna see.

That adventure they were gonna embark on, lead where it may.

We were gonna ride our bikes out to Limestone and then lash them to a tree and then hike up Brush Creek to the giant natural slides and the waterfall.

We were so gonna do that.

We were gonna do it a whole bunch of times but each time we got ready to do it life got us ready to do something else instead, so we never did it.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. The road to Brush Creek is paved with good intentions. We’d be 24 miles in and beat to snot and it would be the perfect day to do what we’d been saying we were gonna do, but we never did. This is people, never doing what they were so gonna do.

Then she showed up on Friday night after an unforgiving drive and a beatdown of a work week, and on Saturday morning, with the dawn sky breaking, she said, “Are we gonna do it today?”

And I said, “Yes, we are.”

We saddled up and she found the eleven, me hanging on for dear life and doing my damnedest to pull through and the heat smashing down and the headwind plowing into our faces and the 15-mile climb sapping the fuck out of my legs and what normally takes me over two hours took us one-and-a-half and when we got there I was spent and she was looking fresher than a lie on Instagram.

We hiked up the trail a ways, locked the bikes, and continued on up the creek past pools and tall pines, hidden swimming holes and green-lined banks, over rocky outcroppings and giant boulder scrambles, ascending a hot dirt path strewn with rocks until there were no more footprints but ours.

Down the last giant stones we heard the rush of water and were greeted by the clearest pool, the most translucent stream, the slickest chute of rocks plunging off into a blue depth of the chillest mountain water, fed by secret springs or melting snows a hundred miles deep in the Sierra hence.

I clambered over the boulders, time-smooth, and slid off the ledge into the icy pool. The dirt and sweat and exhaustion of triple digits vanished and was banished.

We hiked back down the long trail and blazed home.

That thing we were gonna do? We did it.

You should, too.

_______________________

END

Local motion

July 28, 2022 Comments Off on Local motion

“Are you local?” the nice lady asked me.

“Yes. I live in Wofford Heights.”

“You look local. We have an account for people who live around here in case you forget your wallet or something. You can just put it on your account and we bill you every month.”

“That’s awful nice but I won’t forget my wallet again. It’s a one-hour round trip of hard pedaling. I sure appreciate you trying to just run my number.” I keep a photo of my debit card on my phone.

I was once friends with a guy who was always trying to be a local wherever he was. Even if he was just passing through, he was never a mere tourist. He always knew something about the place or someone who lived there or who had lived there, a friend of a friend whose friend knew someone there important.

He had grown up there, so he was a local, went to college there, so he was a local, worked his first job there, so he was a local, played a gig there that time with his band, so he was a local.

Always a local, even the time he went to Shanghai on a business trip.

Of course this never fooled anyone except the non-locals. Locals know their own. I learned this in Miami, Texas, when an old boy and I were talking one day. “It ain’t that hard to be from here,” he said.

“Really?” I said. Because the place seemed incredibly insular.

“Yep. Ain’t nothin’ to it.”

“So what’s the trick?”

“All’s you need is to have grandparents in the cemetery.”

From that conversation on, I stopped trying to be from anywhere besides where I was from. I’d been schooled on “where I was from” at age 17, working as a phone sales agent for the Houston Post. I was in the middle of my pitch and the kindly old lady said, “Where you from, honey?”

“Where’m I from? Here, ma’am.”

“No, you ain’t.”

“Yes, I am. I’ve lived here all my life. My mom is from Daingerfield and my dad is from a ranch in West Texas.”

“Where was you born?”

I swallowed. She had me. “New Jersey.”

“I knowed it!” she said, and hung up.

I can’t really describe what it’s like to look local around here, but unwashed, same clothes all the time, no car or car from the 80’s, deep sunburn, hair in a ponytail, pays in small change, rear windshield missing from the car if you have one, shaggy beard, and no apparent source of employment is definitely one genre of local in the southern Sierra. Tattoo, riding everywhere on a bike or walking, going into the store and buying odd stuff like a single onion, or a jug of milk and a jug of wine, or being really stoned and trying to figure out if you have enough for the Fruity Pebbles AND the extra-long Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, these are all indicia of localdom. Smelling kind of gamey doesn’t hurt, either.

No one cares. At all.

It had been a crisis there at the Sierra Gateway supermarket in Kernville because I’d ridden all the way there, 6.2 miles, and had a backpack ready to be filled with a half-gallon of chocolate milk in a glass bottle, two onions, some mushrooms, a bunch of green onions, two grapefruit, two steaks, a pair of Triple A batteries, and some multicolored hair bands for my ponytail.

But I’d forgotten my wallet, so it was a stroke of great luck when the lady was able to run my card anyway.

After getting everything rung up, I opened my bag to load it and realized that it was filled with trash. You see, it costs $30/month for garbage service, and why pay that if you don’t hardly have much trash, and if there are public dumpsters at the campground on the highway, and all you have to do is drop it off on your way into town?

Problem is, I’d forgotten to drop off the trash, so first I had to take it out of my backpack, along with a couple of glass bottles I was going to get the deposit back on.

“Just a sec,” I said. “Gotta dump my trash.” I hurried outside to the gas pumps and dropped the plastic bag into the can.

I came back in, and loaded up.

No one batted an eye.

No one.


END

No. 5

July 27, 2022 Comments Off on No. 5

Kristie sent me a list that Michelle had sent her of the biggest and baddest climbs in California. Out our back door is No. 9, CA 155 to Shirley Meadow. Not out our back door is the 84-mile round-trip, 8,500-feet of climbing beast called Sherman Pass, a/k/a No. 5, topping out at 9,200 feet.

Funny thing is, there are much harder climbs nearby, like the Sawmill-Portuguese Pass debacle, 28 miles and 6,000 feet of climbing up dirt, much of which is soft sand. I did that with Boozy P. back in May, with fully loaded bikes.

We walked a lot and it only took 4:49 to go less than 30 miles.

And then there’s the unmentionable, Bodfish to the back side of the climb up Piute Mountain Road. Kristie and I gave up at 7,500 feet, but still clocked 8,500 feet of climbing in less than 60 miles. Oh, and the front side, up a 19-mile dirt road to Cold Spring Camp, just below Piute Peak at 8,200 feet. We walked a lot on that monster, too. She forgot her sleeping bag and it was a balmy 17 degrees that night. Pro tip: loaded bikes and backpacks are slower going, but sleeping bags are worth the extra weight.

But back to No. 5.

I lit out at 4:53 today because the ride is bitter no matter what, but unbearably so if you get a late start and have to make the 15-mile climb in triple digits. I have done this climb ten times and only made it to the top in seven of the attempts. Actually, the climbing starts way before the turnoff to Sherman Pass. The whole ascent is 31 miles, but it’s the last fifteen that really wreck you. Me.

I always keep an eye out for Summer Sale goodies, items that thoughtful tourists toss out the car to beautify the pristine Kern River, and this morning I was rewarded for my keenness. At first it looked like a pink t-shirt all wadded up, which would have been a perfect addition to my bike cleaning rag bag after a wash. I stopped and uncrumpled it and it turned out to be a pillowcase. Even better!

But then I noticed there was a portion of the material that would not uncrumple, as if it had been stuck together with some type of organic material. On closer inspection it did indeed appear to have been used as a mop-up for some sort of car-based extracurricular activity, so with deep regret I let it fall back to the roadside, where it will eventually get washed into the river and wind up in the LA or Bakersfield water supply, which is fitting, since the amorous folks who deposited it likely came from one of those two places.

I reached the base of the climb and got up it quickly, for me, in under 3 1/2 hours. Along the way I stopped and snapped photos of each 1,000-foot elevation marker, except for 8,000, which is no longer there, and 9,000, which is within an infographic at the overlook. From the overlook you can see Mt. Whitney, the highest bragging point in the lower 48.

I was going to eat my pancakes when the rain started. It had been incredibly cool the entire morning, but rain at 9,200 feet is extremely cold if not freezing, so I headed down the hill. About a mile into the screaming descent I almost hit a bear that leaped across the road and dove into the trees.

“Seth Davidson, 1963-2022. Killed in a bike-bear collision. Helmet would not have saved him.”

Not the best epitaph. But not the worst.

At the bottom it was very hot. I slogged along for a few miles before pulling over and eating my pancakes along the river. It was a nice day-use area that visitors had decorated with cigarette butts and my favorite item, shit-stained Kleenex thoughtfully wedged into the bushes.

I’d planned to get a half-gallon of chocolate milk in Kernville but had forgotten my wallet. So I rode home hot, worn out, bonked. I wondered what numbers 1-4 were like.

END

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