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

Afraid of the dark

July 29, 2022 Comments Off on Afraid of the dark

Sleeping out on the little dirt patch behind the garage, now that the ants leave me alone, and now that I’ve removed all the rocks, well, it’s sublime. Black skies, cloudy skies, starry skies, and the lighting variations that come with each phase of the moon make for an endlessly interesting ceiling to stare at, though in fact the stare-time is short. I rarely lie in my catbed more than ten or fifteen minutes with the cool breeze in my hair before I’m deeply asleep.

I call it a catbed because sometimes Pepper will come out and join me. I’ll be very asleep and then hear this deep sniffing sound around my nose, and when my lids lift I’m looking into the biggest jet black inkpools on earth. The famous tiny slits set in amber that characterize cat’s eye during the day become massive and massively black pupils at night. It’s not hard to imagine the cat’s head being five or six times bigger, jaws wide open, and huge fangs poised to sink into your neck. It’s always a bit unsettling.

I suppose once upon a time it was really like that, and so deep in our gene bones we fear the dark.

Out on the catbed, the fear seems rational. The coyotes are constantly making a racket. What if one of them, or a pack, skulked up the hill to try their hand at some man flesh?

Once we found giant cat tracks just a few inches from where I now lay the catbed. What if a hungry cougar, tired of chasing deer, happened upon a lump of human rolled in a blanket burrito?

A neighbor sent us a video before last year’s fire of a neighborhood bear who routinely went through the trash. No amount of dog barking, yelling, or threatening could make him leave until he’d gotten what he wanted. What if Brer Bear decided that old man was more filling and less work than 400 pounds of juniper berries and garbage?

Reality, though.

Coyotes don’t hunt people. Cat attacks are extremely rare. Brown bears are afraid of humans.

So none of it disturbs my sleep, though I’ve considered the angle. What I can’t understand though are the people who live indoors, sleep indoors, do EVERYTHING indoors, and yet they have a dozen outside lights illuminating their palace or their shack.

Is it to deter thievery? I mean, there’s nothing in this part of Kern County worth stealing, and the local thieves are so drunk and high in the wee stealing hours that it’s all they can do to find the Fruity Pebbles, much less make off with Elmo’s vintage unrestored Airstream that doesn’t have any wheels on it.

Is it so that they don’t drunk-stumble in the driveway late at night? Can’t be … no one is ever outside, ever, day or night. Yesterday I saw a neighbor in a baby’s wading pool on his porch and count that as only the third time I have ever seen him. The first time he’d been standing in the middle of the road, half dressed, doing tequila shots. It was 10:00 a.m.

Some folks don’t use night lights, but most do. I think they’re afraid of the dark, which is a shame. The darkness amps up the night beauty by orders of magnitude, and it allows the full spectrum of natural light to come into play as the earth slowly rotates into the pre-dawn of the sun. And of course on truly black nights when the Milky Way is smeared across the sky, it’s even prettier without the dumb twinkling down below of some yahoo’s sodium beams shining on his trash cans.

This fear of the dark is inside, too, with lit-up microwaves and refrigerators, bedside night lights, phones, illuminated clocks, lights left on in the bathroom, and every other manner of light to chase away the dark. Who knew that cougars and bears were indoor threats as well as out? More realistically, when the leftover pizza or Sara Lee cheesecake calls, it’s an emergency. Ain’t got time for no turning lights on.

For all that, it’s still damned dark and damned quiet outside. No cars or sounds of anything at all except the one neighbor who uses her air conditioning at night. And when the dark gets pushed away in slight shades by the spinning earth as day begins to break, it makes the daylight more precious and more welcome.

Pepper didn’t roust me from the catbed this morning. I was awakened by the faintest of eastern glows and that’s all. He was waiting on the steps, I fed him, made some coffee, and sat on the porch, taking deep, lung-filling draughts of the silence and the dawn.

A few days before I’d made a bird bath out of an old kitty litter box, filling it with gravel and rocks and then topping it off with water. It had already rewarded me with the antics of bird hygiene, and now it was playing an equally lovely role as a still body of water catching the first sunrays of the morning in its reflection.

I snapped, quickly. The night had gone.

Who’s afraid of the dark? Not me.

________________________

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

A story with a lesson

July 26, 2022 Comments Off on A story with a lesson

Now that I have begun writing regularly again, a few people have written to say hello.

Two years ago I was camped somewhere in Washington, I think it was not too far from Seattle. Kristie and I had gotten settled in and were excitedly talking about the most amazing thing we had ever seen at a campground, a junk hauler whose occupants had the foresight to carry the most indispensable item that any camper will ever need, a table saw. They had set it up and although it was idle, they were ready for any major construction projects that might need attending to such as building a house or a bridge or simply cutting up a stack of 2×4’s.

It was darkening. I don’t recall whether we’d eaten, but suddenly a man and his son appeared at the edge of our campsite. “Seth?” he tentatively asked.

“Yes?” I tentatively answered.

“Brent. I read your blog. Here’s something for you.” He handed us a jar of jam made from hand-picked berries. We spoke for a few minutes and then they left. It was one of many unforgettable moments, but especially sweet because of the jam and because he had brought his son, a handsome young man of twelve or maybe thirteen years.

This morning Brent sent me some photos of him and his son. They had been hiking in Washington and the backdrop was summer ice and craggy peaks. The beauty didn’t look real, it was possessed of such depth and breadth.

But the most beautiful thing in the photos wasn’t the glory of external nature, it was the beauty of internal nature, of a dad and his son hiking together in what’s left of our wild world.

There is nothing more profound than a father passing on lore, knowledge, and time with his son, and by father I mean mother, and by son I mean daughter. This is how our human race evolved, parent to child and then, all grown up, child to the child of its own.

When you are me, the ship has sailed, the window closed, the brief moment passed forever. They were young once and once only. Each day, each hour, each moment was precious, and you either buried yourself in it or you lightly skipped over it with “later,” “I’m too busy,” or “not now.”

The lesson? Now never returns.

END

Hobbits, windmills, and rocky trails

July 25, 2022 Comments Off on Hobbits, windmills, and rocky trails

I read Don Quixote in junior high school. Several years before that I’d read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Some weeks ago I found a new translation of Cervantes’s masterwork lying around the house, by John Rutherford, a huge improvement from the Modern Library version I read in the 70’s, as Rutherford’s creative and exacting translation has surgically removed almost all of the humor and Iberian-ness of the original, replacing it with a kind of perfect translation that says everything but captures nothing.

Translation is notorious, and when done well is always a monstrosity that gives the canvas and grammar of the immortals to people who are neither artists nor writers, but almost inevitably deep and brilliant scholars, and therefore the archenemy of art, alchemists who think that the right admixture of newt and spider web will turn their leaden prose into gold. For all that, here’s what you can’t escape from the Quixote, no matter the translation: madness is in the eye of the beholder, so behold well.

Although the Quixote is the greatest book ever written, its antithesis and therefore equally influential is J.R.R. Tolkein’s great epic. My dad read The Hobbit to me, a chapter a night, when I was eight years old. I still remember his big arm snuggling my small shoulders in bed as he mimicked accents, invented pronunciations for dwarvish names, and scratched the top of my head with his bushy beard. I remember the sadness of the ending, not the ending of the book, but the ending of the reading.

I descended into the Rings trilogy on my own and like many people was waylaid by it, living much of my elementary school years as Frodo Baggins. No one ever knew it except my mom, who one day asked me why I was crying.

“Because,” I sobbed, “Frodo is going through so much! It’s too much for a small hobbit!”

“Who?” she asked. “And what’s a hobbit?”

“You’ll never understand!” I shouted, and ran off to my room where I cried inconsolably for an hour or more, even though I knew the ending, having read the damned books several times.

Now that I’m at least chronologically older than when I was eight, I see the Rings trilogy a bit differently. It’s bad writing but imaginative, poorly plotted out and filled with ridiculous, gaping holes, yet still charming and infused with Tolkein’s love of Chaucer and Middle English, and still able to draw me in, a little, just enough so that even though I know the Nazgul’s knifepoint won’t be fatal, I still get nervous enough to have to put the book down and busy myself with a bit of dusting, vacuuming, or chopping wood.

The Rings trilogy was of course the very bane of Cervantes. Its modern take on Amadis of Gaul and tales of knight errantry, or in this case hobbit errantry, performs the selfsame mental capture of gullible readers that made Cervantes so wrathful. With dragons and trolls and weird figments that behave foolishly and contrary to all reason, Tolkein’s was exactly the prototype literature that drove the good hidalgo Don Quixote mad, not to mention the countless people still stumbling around this earth scrawling “Frodo lives!” and “All who wander are not lost!” To add to Cervantes’s genius, an impossibility, is the fact that he made fun of the Rings and the saps it ensnared almost 300 years before Tolkein was born.

And yet these two books circle back upon themselves as journeys. The Quixote, a journey of madness cloaked in knight errantry, and the Rings, a journey of hobbit errantry that makes readers mad, if madness includes falling headlong into the fantasy world of Middle Earth with minimal coping mechanisms to escape from it. For the Quixote, we look at the tragically insane hidalgo as he jousts with windmills. For the Rings, we look at a fantasy world of the wholly unreal and imagine that it is genuine, thereby becoming mad ourselves.

In both cases the mainspring is journey.

There is a 7-mile hike up behind the house that goes from about 3,000 feet to about 6,100. It starts sandy and rocky, high desert scrub interspersed with stunted oak and ghost pine, and turns into manzanita, massive ponderosa, towering lodgepole, giant red cedar, and eventually sequoia itself. It starts hot and finishes cool.

You will almost certainly never see anyone else on the trails that lead from here to there, though bobcat, cougar, and bear are always possible. Scrub jay, trending to Steller’s jay, is a certainty as you ascend. Underfoot your bare feet will transition from hot and rocky sand to softer, cooler loam.

All along the way your mind will seek and find contact points with reality, contact points of sky above, ground below, and the mountainous relief all ’round. Yet your mind will simultaneously disengage from reality and float into a kind of madness, “Do the trees hear me? Is the birdsong a secret code? Have I completely lost my mind, wandering these deserted mountain paths unshod, looking for a purpose and an enlightenment that does not exist?”

END

Quittin’ time

July 24, 2022 Comments Off on Quittin’ time

I was never tired. So why the hell would I want to be retired?

I look around me and see the wasteland of retirement, people who quit because they were so fucking tired they could no longer see anything except the money. One guy kept talking about retiring but he never did because he could “stay on” as a “contractor” and “keep getting paid.”

What the fuck was he talking about?

Another guy I know bought a bunch of land in Hawai’i and was going to retire as soon as he built his dream house. But he never did. Never could. Never will. All he ever saw were the four corners of that fucking office and the moneys. He died years ago, but still goes to the office. Every. Fucking. Day.

I know a guy who might be worth a billion dollars by now; got his start buying foreclosures and now owns a $15M house on the Strand in Manhattan Beach, among other palaces. He’s fat, sickeningly stressed, and once confided that he wasn’t ready to retire because he “wanted to mentor the young folks in his company.” Haaaaaaaa! The “young folks” in his company were praying every fucking night that he would step aside and make room for them. Go out to pasture. Enjoy the fruits of his rapine labor. But of course he never did because moneys.

Then there was the guy who was going to retire in style. He was so bone tired from making all those moneys that he couldn’t wait to be retired. So eventually he bought a junk hauler, quit his job, and retired by driving it around to parking lots where other tired people could check timber and moneys and ruminate about how free they were to no longer be so damn tired, only retired. That guy aged ten years in the first six months.

The problem with being retired is that you may have been sick of work but you were never really tired. You were worn out but not tired. And when they enter retirement, most people see it as some kind of reward for some kind of thing they did for all the time they spent doing something they hated, in a place they couldn’t stand, around people they detested.

What happens when they retire is that they quit moving. They reason that they worked so hard and were so dogdamned tired that it’s time to REST.

Well, the fact is that if you weren’t doing manual labor, you weren’t doing anything worthy of the word “tired.” And I’m speaking physiologically, not emotionally. Sedentary desk jobs where you send emails, talk on the phone, read things, have meetings, and accrue moneys don’t meet the physiological criterion of work. In short, work means movement. Motion. The contraction of skeletal muscles such that more energy is consumed than is taken in, a condition resulting in caloric deficit that can only be remedied by eating.

And the bad news? By rewarding yourself in retirement with a life of ease and leisure you are literally killing yourself. Not softly and not slowly, either, but fatly, slovenly, lumpily.

The first myokine, interleukin-6, was only discovered in 2008. Before that, people thought that muscles existed to move things, and that’s it. But with the discovery of interleukin-6 as a myokine, biologists learned that the skeletal muscles, which comprise up to 40% of your body mass, are a core part, if not the core, part of the human endocrine system. Myokines, which are created and secreted by skeletal muscle, play an astounding role in every aspect of human health.

Myokines affect cognition, the growth and development of neurons, fat oxidation, tumor inhibition, and a slew of other activities throughout the human body, enhancing health and fighting disease at the molecular, cellular, and organ level. Our understanding of myokines is faint, to put it mildly: with over 600 of these protein and protein-like substances identified to date, only a tiny number have been investigated in any depth at all. Hundreds more are suspected to exist that haven’t even been discovered.

So why should you, as an inert, “retired,” sedentary slob in an RV care about myokines?

Because they are created as the result of muscular contractions. In order for myokines to do their job, you have to move. And the motion isn’t limited to our beloved aerobic activities such as cycling and running/walking. Anaerobic activities, especially those that involve weight resistance, are also key to the production and secretion of myokines from skeletal muscle. Sarcopenia is suspected to result from the lack of muscular contraction, and simply riding your bike won’t remedy it because the types of activities that stimulate production and secretion of myokines are diverse. It’s almost as if humans didn’t evolve riding bicycles.

The very concept of retirement, that you are so tired out and now need to sit on your ever-widening ass as a reward for all your hard work, is a complete and total physiological fallacy. The only thing that will keep your retirement from degenerating into the immobile, alcoholic stupor of chronic TV-watching ensconced in a recliner, is motion.

And a lot of it, along with putting down the fork.

Not only a lot of motion, but a lot of hard, continuous, vigorous motion such as wood chopping, 10-mile hikes, grueling bike rides, hours and hours spent practicing ballroom dancing, heavy lifting, hard labor, and a veritable cornucopia of challenging, stressful activities that engage your skeletal muscles and force you to move A LOT.

Retired?

You don’t know tired.

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Tour viewership declines for tenth straight year

July 22, 2022 Comments Off on Tour viewership declines for tenth straight year

Interest in the Tour de France continues to decline as fewer television viewers tune into the world’s largest sporting spectacle. With 150 million viewers across Europe in 2021, the 2022 edition of the Tour will have less than 110 million people tuning in, according to Nielsen Global, a firm that tracks worldwide TV audiences.

“In 2012, when the Tour was won by Bradley Wiggins of the UK, viewership was at an all-time high, with more than 500 million viewers. Next year’s projections are for even fewer viewers than 2022,” said Lacey Throckmorton of Nielsen.

The UCI, as well as Amaury Sports Organization, parent company of the Tour, have been concerned about the spiraling value of cycling’s marquee event. A joint study funded by the UCI and Amaury revealed some surprising answers to the question, “Why are fewer people following the Tour?”

The first and by far most important reason is the continued string of non-doping offenses, and its corollary, the visible decrease in over-the-top-doping that took place from 1904 until 2012. Cyrano de Bergerac, head of the study, says this: “People are sick of all the non-doping offenses. It has made an impossibly boring sport even more boring, if that is possible, which I suppose it is.”

Statistics show that since the retirement of the last Big Juicer to win the Tour, Sir Bradley Wiggins, interest has waned. “Wiggins brought a lot of fans, people who loved seeing a 6’3″, 185-lb. track specialist get so sotted with PEDs that he lost 25 lbs., gained the physique of a Michael Rasmussen, and went from winning 5-km track events to 4,000-km endurance races. That was spectacle,” says de Bergerac.

“Once Wiggins retired, Chris Froome was unable to sustain the massive and obvious drug use, opting instead for small amounts of mostly-undetectable drugs, although he, too, went through the radical body transformation that Tour aficionados love,” adds de Bergerac. “But with each passing year the riders simply got more credible as non-offenses kept piling up. And who wants that?”

Wim van Wim, head of marketing at the UCI, agrees. “Look at 2022. We have one guy weighing in the 130’s and another in the 140’s duking it out for the yellow jersey. They are skinny and short, easily mistaken for a prepubescent girl if it weren’t for those tight pants. You’d expect people like that to climb well, sprint poorly, and have to race strategically to win, and they do. Fans can’t stand it.”

Van Wim pointed to what he called the “heyday of hay days,” when George Hincapie, at 175 lbs., dropped an entire breakaway of newt-sized climbers and beat uber-newt Oscar Pereiro to the HC mountain finish at Pla d’Adet in 2005. “This kind of absurd thing that boggles the mind, spoofs reality, and confesses to the pharmacopia coursing through the veins of the peloton, this is what cycling fans want to see,” said van Wim. “Not some clean, snot-nosed kids who believe in sportsmanship, whatever that is.”

Unfortunately, drug testing seems to be effectively deterring the most blatant violators, leaving the peloton with not much more than smallish, light endurance athletes who are evenly matched. The UCI has convened a new committee, the Working Group on the Restoration of Full-Gas Doping, to look at ways to remedy this threat to the existence of cycling’s most cherished event.

According to van Wim, though, all is not lost. “If you still want to watch freaks do freakish things with every doping product known to man stuffed up their butts, I’d recommend you start watching gravel races. There is some great shit happening there,” he said.

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Minimalist “barefoot” running shoe review

July 21, 2022 Comments Off on Minimalist “barefoot” running shoe review

Minimalism was born from the simple “less shoe, more you” premise. The idea is that less cushioning and support from your kicks means you’ll engage your feet more, and strengthen the muscle fibers that get neglected when you’re all laced up. With stronger accessory muscles in the foot, injury rates were expected to drop and running efficiency would improve. Minimalism sought to reconnect runners with that organic barefoot experience, allowing the runner to run barefoot with the absolute minimum of material between your foot and the road or trail.

But what is a “minimalist barefoot running shoe”? The Journal of Foot and Ankle Research defines it as:

Footwear providing minimal interference with the natural movement of the foot due to its high flexibility, low heel to toe drop, weight and stack height, and the absence of motion control and stability devices.”

The Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, Aug. 19, 2015

After extensively testing a variety of minimalist barefoot running shoes, our team has selected one that is flat-out superior to every other model on the market. This conclusion has been reached after researching the market, surveying user reviews, consulting with product engineers, and using my own experience in these shoes to determine the best options. Our experts have handpicked this pair based on value, test impressions, expert recommendations, and how the shoe performs overall. Here, then is the top pick to consider if you’re making a move on minimalism—just be sure to ease them into your running routine gradually.

The Sapiens Ped, World’s Best-Selling Minimalist Barefoot Shoe

Where do we start? These kicks work for running, agility training, weight lifting, chopping wood, trail running, rock climbing, foot-fetish websites, and more. With only one model to choose from, the Sapiens Ped incorporates an epithelial footbed that softens the step-in feel without adding too much cushioning. While extremely heavy in the footwear category, weighing in at about 5.4 lbs per pair, the no-lace, always connected attachment mechanism can’t be beat. The midsole stays almost completely off the ground, and the shoe uses an internal support skeleton with a few light overlays for a bit more structure through the upper. “This is a minimalist shoe so I did not expect it to be cushioned. However, it had enough cushioning that I felt protected from the road—although I wouldn’t wear it on technical trails,” said one neutral-footed tester who runs about 40 miles per week. “I noticed some Achilles fatigue after about 8-9 miles; I usually wear 4mm drop shoes, so I imagine my foot will adapt with time and consistency in this zero-drop pair.”

A few of our shoe testers are highly-experienced minimalist runners. We asked Don K., a decade-long member of the team, for his thoughts on the Sapiens Ped after he ran a full marathon in his sample pair. “These are a good bridge for runners who want more grip on trails but also need a shoe for flat and even surfaces. The outsole is well made and lived up to the durability of any other shoe I’ve tested. It has an incredible feature where the more you use it, the tougher it gets. Darned if I know how that technology works! The upper is a bit thinner than other minimal shoes, and if you hit rocks or sharp branches with the top of the shoe it emits a red fluid, no biggie as it dries quickly and eventually falls away, but it leaves something to be desired from an esthetic standpoint. The Sapien Ped comes with a lifetime guarantee as well, which is cool.

“The support is all internal, which I suppose is why it’s so heavy. The zero drop is also a positive, for me, as it provides a more natural feel while running, almost like wearing nothing at all,” Don added. “Probably the weakest feature of the shoe is the laces. It doesn’t really have any. But nonetheless, it fits incredibly snugly. Never slips or rubs.”

Other users comment on the shoe’s unparalleled traction, which compares favorably with the best rock climbing shoes.

World’s most waterproof shoe ever?

Whether on the trail, through a creek, or simply on a rainy day outside, the Sapiens Ped has unmatched waterproofing thanks to a unique coating that surrounds the upper, heel, shank, toes, and sole of the shoe. Extended use of the shoe in extremely wet conditions such as World War I trenches can result in something called “trench shoe,” causing the protective layer to rot and fall off, exposing the internal structure to permanent damage. However, normal use in water for many hours at a time causes only temporary wrinkling. Set them out in the sun for an hour or two and the wrinkling goes away with no damage to the exterior material or the fit. The manufacturer strongly recommends NOT putting them in the washing machine. Care instructions state, “Wipe with a cloth using soapy warm water to restore to original luster.”

Says one long-time user, “The breathability of these shoes is amazing. They wick out moisture better than Gore-Tex.”

The Sapiens Ped also comes with a unique design called the “Free Toe-Box.” Essentially mimicking the function of a human foot, the Sapiens Ped, through use of its proprietary extensible outer material, allows the toes to move freely without coming into contact with any material that might cause chafing, rubbing, or blisters. According to James Watson and Francis Crick, lead shoe developers with Double Helix, LLC, the company that designed the Sapiens Ped, “The free toe-box allows the toes to grip, flex, and absorb impact without bumping into the body of the shoe. There is also a degree of foot flex that you get with the Sapiens Ped that other shoes simply can’t match.”

However, the Sapiens Ped’s most revolutionary design is its proprietary “EverTough” sole. Chemicals sent through complex signaling pathways actually repair the sole of the shoe as it wears, paradoxically creating a stronger, more resistant, and more puncture-proof bottom the more you use it. Crick & Watson remain mum on how this works, but our lab testers and road testers were astounded at this apparently “regenerative” sole.

Samuel Tiras, one of the lead testers, remarked on how the heel and big toe of the shoe became incredibly hard after only a few weeks of use. “We’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “This stuff works.”

Nothing’s perfect …

Despite all these amazing benefits, the Sapiens Ped isn’t without a few downsides. First is smell. Excessive use without proper cleaning will result in unpleasant odors, according to Pepper the Cat.

Moreover, the appearance of the Sapiens Ped, although not the functionality, severely degrades over time. When fresh out of the box they appear pinkish (also available in black, brown, and olive), and are incredibly soft and cute. Since this is a long-term purchase, and since use causes thickening of the sole and other contact points, after 40 or 50 years you probably wouldn’t want to take these kicks to Cinderella’s Ball.

One final warning: these shoes are NOT dog-proof. An unlucky strike by a nasty little Dachshund, for example, can result in fibrous tears of the upper. Although messy, the self-repairing red fluid contained under the inner lining of the shoe will restore the integrity of the shoe’s integument. Scarring, however, may result, adding to the shoe’s diminishing esthetic value if you’re also planning to wear it to your wedding.

In sum, we recommend these as the most minimalist barefoot shoe on the market. They’ve been around for several million years and the design has literally withstood the test of time. Of the models we tested, they also came in as the cheapest; consumers report that the average market price is “free,” although delivery can be expensive depending on the length of the hospital stay.

Whether minimalist barefoot running shoes are for you, it’s a certainty that after just a few runs you’ll take these kicks with you wherever you go.

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