New eyes

February 19, 2023 Comments Off on New eyes

The more you look at a thing, after a while, the less you see.

No matter how beautiful the landscape, with time your eyes adjust. The extraordinarily beautiful becomes ordinary. Seasonal changes, sunlight, heavy snows, a freshening rain, these things can all reawaken your mind to the beauty of a landscape, but soon it becomes background again.

This is mostly neuroscience. Your brain is trained to decode what’s new, store it as memory, and built new transitions atop the old landscape. It’s the efficiency of not having to be stopped dead in your tracks every time you gaze upon the astonishing beauty of nature. And although conscious looking can keep your mind taut, the more you do it, the more difficult it becomes to see the old as if it’s new. To paraphrase Greg Lemond, it doesn’t get easier, you just see more.

I was returning home from my walk yesterday and saw something truly new: a jogger coming up Old State Road. People don’t jog up here because it’s rather remote and because it’s very uphill. The only jogger I’d seen before was an Air B&B denizen who had made it less than a quarter mile up the mostly flat, paved, bottom section of the road. When she got to the hairpin she simply stopped and whipped out her phone. We could hear her telling her boyfriend how her “workout was over” and “it was super hilly and hard out here.” Minutes later he came by in his car and scooped her up.

But this person was way up above the paved section, and laboring mightily. Snykes and I watched him slow to a crawl, then to a walk. We continued down the road until we met. Snykes lunged at him to say hello, and he was terrified. I felt awful.

“I hate dogs,” the small, old man said. “I was bitten badly once.”

I pulled Snykes back. “I’m really sorry. He’s friendly but all dogs bite. I’m really sorry for scaring you.”

The man smiled. “It’s okay. He looks friendly but I’m afraid.” Then he looked at me, ragged beard, ragged hair, red plaid woolen shirt, suspenders, green wool jacket. “Do you live here?”

“Yeah,” I said.

His face opened up in a smile bigger than Dallas. “You are so lucky!” he practically shouted. “This mountain air! It’s incredible! It fills my whole body with life! This is the real America,” he said, sweeping his hands at the snowy peaks. “This is real life! This!” he repeated, “is the real America. You are a lucky, lucky man to have this!”

“You’re pretty lucky, too. I’ve never seen anyone jogging up here before. So you’ve got a million or so acres of wildlands to yourself.”



“It’s incredible!” Then he frowned. “Los Angeles is so horrible! Do you know LA?”

“I’m not crazy about it.”

“It is so horrible! You have to work so hard to make money and then you have to work even harder to pay for the things you bought with the money you made. It is endless! I hate it! In the end you can only get ahead if you lie, cheat, steal, become a horrible person like everyone else.”

“Sounds about right.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m retired.”

“No! You are too young! It can’t be!”

The man had a strong accent but I couldn’t place it. It wasn’t Chinese, or Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese. He was in his 70’s, wiry, and decked out in the most expensive running outfit, replete with new shoes. “Well, I didn’t say I’m rich. I said ‘retired.'”

He shook his head vigorously. “You are rich, my good friend. You are more than rich. You have what is not for sale, what cannot be bought. You have this!” He swept his hands again, shaking his head at the beauty, and snorting as he inhaled. “Do you see my shoes?”


“They are brand new, best model, very expensive, big cushion. Do you know why? Because in LA everything is asphalt, hard, paved, it breaks your bones. So I have to buy these expensive shoes to protect my joints. But out here the ground is so soft! It is like running on a mattress! It is amazing!” He paused. “Are you married?”


He nodded. “She won’t come to the mountains. My wife, I mean. She hates nature. She loves the city. I have begged her to move, to leave it all. We have money, a nice house, we could live here. I’m an old man. I am tired of working. I want this. I need this. But she won’t.”

I nodded. “Not many would.”

“But how many years do I have left? Not long, that’s for sure. I dream about taking a bunch of credit cards and running away in the middle of the night.”

“Don’t do that.”

“No, I couldn’t. I’m too old. There is either divorce, or acceptance, or running away. That’s it.”

“It’s called three bad choices.”

“And I’m OCD. Do you know what that is?”

“I think so.”

“It helps me be successful at work but it makes me miserable.”

“Nature can help you if you let it.”


“See that giant stone way over there?” He shaded his eyes, looked and nodded. “Now ask yourself, ‘What am I looking at?’ Are you doing that now?” He nodded. “Notice how your mind is empty except for that one thought?” He nodded again. “That’s your OCD medicine. When a compulsive thought enters your head, just look at the natural world and ask what you’re looking at. It will vanish like chalk wiped from a blackboard.”

He turned to me. “This is true! It really worked! You are a very wise man!” He was getting emotional.

“I’m hardly wise. But nature can soothe what ails you if you let it.”

“This meeting. It was ordained. It was meant to be. I know it.”


“Tomorrow morning I’m going to church with my friend and I will thank God for you and your kindness and your wisdom.” He put his hands together and bowed towards me.

“Well, I have to thank you, too.”

“Me? What for?”

“For the new eyes,” I said.


Dastardly home break-in!!!!

February 17, 2023 Comments Off on Dastardly home break-in!!!!

Yesterday I opened the back door to let Snykes into the small fenced yard. He spent a few minutes out there and then came in through the doggie door. The back door is in the back bedroom, so when he came back in I closed the bedroom door.

Late that night at 2:00 AM I awakened to the deep growling of my guard doggie. I listened intently and heard footsteps on the porch. We quietly sneaked over to the window and looked out. Two very fat, hideously ugly, despicable raccoons were searching the porch for food. They looked inside my shoes, which was a good bet but yielded nothing.

Snykes barked and I turned on the porch light. The two cowardly marauders with their ugly little bandit masks ran off. Snykes and I curled back up on the floor and were about to drift off … or so we thought. Suddenly we heard the tell-tale snap and flap of the doggie door.

Those little motherfuckers! We leaped up and ran to the back bedroom, where we could hear the noisy little shits running around in the room. I shouted and Snykes barked. I cracked the door and one of their ugly little masked snouts poked out. I yelled at it, and it disappeared. Raccoons make horrible, ghoulish little clicking, squeaking noises. They scurried out the pet door, which flapped shut.

Snykes and I fearfully dashed into the room and switched on the light. I opened the back door to see the two nasty little miscreants climb the back fence and disappear in the dark. My flashlight scanned. Nothing.

Snykes ran out to investigate. At that moment I heard a sound. Turning the beam I saw that the biggest, fattest, meanest little bastard was climbing over the fence to attack Snykes! They rushed at each other and a horrible battle began. The raccoon, shrieking like a ghoul, and Snykes, snapping and barking and growling, joined combat with the wail of Mordor. And worst of all, the other little motherfucker raccoon was standing on the other side of the fence scowling, hissing, and egging them on!

They fought and battled for at least two minutes. I was terrified for Snykes. Surely he’d be clawed to pieces by that nasty, filthy little antisocial rodent. But then they separated! The raccoon’s coat had numerous bite marks on the back but no blood. Snykes was panting. They stared at each other, the raccoon hissing, and his piece of shit buddy screeching on the other side of the fence. Snykes snapped again the fight resumed. Surely one or the other would be torn to shreds! I was rooted to the spot in horror.

Snykes cornered the fat and vicious little bastard against the fence and pulled back for a second, assessing his final attack. The scurrilous rat grabbed the chain links in the fence and hoisted himself to safety. Then, he and his rascal brother stood at the fence and hurled insults at Snykes! They didn’t even run away!

I called my little doggie and he came inside, panting and clearly terrified and traumatized by the vicious attack. I calmed him down with a pork chop and cuddled him. But he was bleeding. The filthy, rabies-infected rat had scratched my little doggie’s paws. Two tiny cuts bled onto our bed. He licked his paws and I gave him another piece of pork chop.

Frightened and shivering, we both went to bed and slept fitfully, dreaming of attacks by waves of nasty, stinky, killer, rabid raccoons with ugly snouts that were obese and rude.

The next day I read up on rabies and determined that Snykes’s risk was real, so I called the SPCA. Great news! He was fully vaccinated! Those dastardly rabies germs would have to go infect another animal, hopefully those nasty little raccoons’ own brood. We celebrated with another pork chop and a nap.

And I made sure to lock the doggie door shut. No more midnight burglaries for us, thanks very much.


Hoppy little doggie

February 16, 2023 Comments Off on Hoppy little doggie

The sun did not shine. It was too cold to play. So we sat by the fire on that cold, frigid day. I sat there with Snykes, we sat there, we two, and I said “How I wish we had something to do! Too cold to go out, too much wind to play ball,” so we sat in the house, we did nothing at all. And all we could do was to sit, sit, sit, sit. And we did not like it. Not one little bit.

I checked my laptop and it said “Enjoy your empty inbox.” I think what it means is “Email is a horrible affliction that ruins your life, and every moment you don’t have to devote to it is a check in the win column.” This little message used to say “Enjoy your day!” until they realized that email means your day sucks, and the overlords at Microsoft didn’t want to re-emphasize what you already know. But it begs the question how you’re supposed to enjoy something that’s empty? Stare at it with relish? Give it the finger? Stick out your tongue?

The best way is to turn off the computer, which is the last thing the overlords want. So I turned it off.

Snykes and I headed up the road. The sky had cleared and it was even colder, but so beautiful.

Snykes stood in the middle of the road to check on my progress. He always does this. “Hurry up! You’ll miss things!” Snykes was wearing his pink sweater.A couple more lovely vistas unfolded. On the hillside a small herd of deer looked down on us, then nimbly disappeared. Snykes smelled their trail and dashed away. I walked up the switchbacks and he was waiting for me. He bounded over. He has the biggest and happiest hops. He is a very hoppy little doggie. Look at the little dust cloud he kicks up!

We walked farther. Further? Shortly past the 2.5-mile mark, with 1,134 feet of elevation gain, we decided to turn back. It was so cold. The wind cut through my wool jacket, wool shirt, undershirt, and through my wool gloves. My toes were even cold. Snykes wasn’t cold at all. He much prefers cold to hot. He bounded along and didn’t seem especially eager to get home. We saw some more pretty views. Finally, he stood at the edge of the road and surveyed his dominions. It is nice to have dominions so vast. Especially when you are a little doggie in a pink sweater.


Mind control

February 15, 2023 Comments Off on Mind control

Although it’s a fake, materialistic, corporate-created non-holiday, Valentine’s Day makes me sad because in addition to the preceding, it’s the day three years ago that my ex moved out, or better put, it’s the day I told her to leave.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

If you reach my age and have no regrets, you’re a psychopath. Regret is the inevitable consequence of things said that shouldn’t have been, things done that you wish you hadn’t, and their converses: things unsaid and things undone. Regret is the consequence of reflection, and reflection the consequence of a conscience.

The problem is that if you let it, regret can block the way forward. You get stuck in the world of “What if?”, a terrible, endless worm-hole that behaves like a frightening fun house with no exits, or rather with exits that lead to even more distorted mirrors.

Regret tends to function more intensively the older you get because hopefully you have less to do, which means fewer distractions. I think this is why so many retirees orient their waking hours to the TV, #socmed, and the alcohols. Whatifland can turn the golden years into rusted iron, shot through with gaping, jagged holes if you don’t have some way to manage the sadness and regret.

One thing I’ve learned about being up here in the high hills is that you can control your mind, and it’s not hard to do. The only drawback to this technique is that you need the natural world in order for it to work. It doesn’t work indoors, and it absolutely won’t work if you’re looking at a screen. The easiest place to employ it is on a walk. Bicycling can work, but as you’ll see it’s easier and safer ambling along on two feet.

Here’s the trick: go outdoors, and when the unwanted thought enters the room, focus your eyes on some natural feature, whether it’s a bird, a tree, the sky, a stone, a hillock, a flower, an insect … the object doesn’t matter. And then as you focus, consciously ask yourself “What am I looking at?”

You will find it is absolutely impossible to focus on anything but that thing. Our minds are designed to answer this question about the natural world instinctively, but psycho-social stress and the requirements of urban-community living have diverted our thinking into anxieties, worries, and of course regrets. All of these are normal, but having them dominate is not.

When you develop the ability to begin asking “What am I looking at?” you will find that your mind clears instantly as the natural gearing of your senses attempts to make sense out of the stimuli. It is not possible to think a negative thought at the same time you are trying to puzzle out what you’re looking at. This need to understand is central to our existence and our evolution and it can bring extraordinary peace and calm even in the most tumultuous moments.

What’s so beneficial about this technique is that it’s infinite. The more you ask what you’re looking at, the more you will see. Objects you’ve taken for granted will reveal themselves in new ways, and your eyesight will become sharper. In the last two years my vision has actually improved, to the amazement of my eye doctor. Even better, when you return from your mental excursion you’ll find that the other things loom much smaller, or don’t loom at all.

Try it. I hope you’ll like it.


Foot conditioning

February 14, 2023 Comments Off on Foot conditioning

Winter is a time when everything gets out of shape, especially my feet. In summer they are rough and callused. I can walk most anywhere, and do. Last summer I did the bulk of a 16-mile hike unshod over rough terrain.

It doesn’t take long for foot fitness to go away, like any other fitness. The mDNA get instructions that no more extra foot skin is needed when you start wearing shoes and bam, the mDNA stops producing it. So now my feet are soft and tender and they hurt when I walk on sharp gravel. There is a lot of sharp gravel in the yard. It’s either a perfect training ground or hell.

Walking barefoot is great for your brain. It improves cognition and memory. It also improves sensory awareness of eyes and ears, especially eyes. When you are getting started with your calluses you can hear your brain analyzing everything beneath your feet. Is it sharp? Is it soft? Hard? Warm? Cold? Cool? Hot? Rough? Smooth? Spiky? Bendy? These are all crucial things your brain has to sort out as you walk barefoot.

As your brain catalogues things as pain-inducing or not, you then lose awareness of them. It’s synapse building-as-you-go.

Calluses don’t take away feeling. They protect the skin from cuts and punctures. Studies comparing the feet of flabby-footed Westerners with villagers who never wear shoes show that the villagers’ feet are every bit as sensitive as the flabby-footed folks. But the villagers’ feet aren’t damaged by walking, a novel idea, and the habitually barefoot have a much more sophisticated ability to discriminate between painful and non-painful sensations.

It’s almost as if people evolved to walk without shoes, almost.

Once you’ve spent the better part of a year walking shoeless, it doesn’t take long for the calluses to build back up. Like other kinds of fitness, having done it in the past makes it easier to do it in the future as long as too much time hasn’t gone by.

It is a very nice feeling, getting in touch with Mother Earth this way. You feel so much more, literally and figuratively, when your skin is in contact with the unpaved surface of the world. And since you stare at the ground a lot, you notice more. You notice little things fighting for life, just the same as you. Little flowers. Tiny shoots of green. Extra-tiny bugs scurrying here and there on important missions, just as important as yours.

We can learn a lot from bugs, none of whom wear shoes, and from dogs for that matter, who generally go bare-pawed. Snykes has extraordinary proprioception. He rarely misplaces a paw, and his rear paws never hit sharp things. How does he do that? His rear paws are behind him. Maybe he memorizes everything in front and then his brain calculates where his rear paws need to land to avoid the ouchies.

It has to be more complicated than it looks, and it looks darned complicated.

By the time April rolls around my calluses should be back, along with my foot muscles. I have told people that walking barefoot is easier than walking shod because in fact your foot muscles do all the work when you walk, not the calves/thighs/glutes. It seems counterintuitive but it isn’t. Your feet are evolved to make you walk with maximal efficiency, and barefoot walking builds up the arches, ankles, and the hundred-plus ligaments/tendons/muscles in the foot itself. The larger muscles in your leg evolved to stabilize and support the weight of the upper limbs and body.

Cover the foot up with a shoe and the foot muscles atrophy, and since they’re constricted and can’t flex, the work shifts to the bigger, less efficient muscles in the legs. Shoes are the reason that even runners can have fat feet with weak connective tissue. And people who don’t even run, like most cyclists and the population at large, simply have flabby and inert feet.

It takes a long time to build up your feet, but when they finally get strong they start to look fundamentally different. The muscles and tendons become pronounced and the foot itself gets skinny and elongated. Your arches start to raise and your toes splay out. And you find that you can walk so much farther with so much less effort.

We still have some cold, therefore shoe weather ahead, but spring foot training has begun.


Super weekend

February 13, 2023 Comments Off on Super weekend

On Friday morning, Snykes and I hiked up the 5 Hills, then up to the big lookout. It was a 6-mile walk with 1,316 feet of climbing. At the bottom of the Big Hill, Snykes let me know that he was tired by lying upside down in a ditch.

But I knew he was just taking a break, so we continued on to the lookout, looked out, than tramped the 3+ miles home. He was super tired. He is a little doggie with short legs. Running up steep hills is hard. He does it anyway.

After a few hours I decided to go on a bicycle ride up Old State Road. It took me an hour and fifty-two minutes to go just over thirteen miles. The sand was deep. The road was steep. The melted snow made everything muddy. The road above Wagy Flat was washed out from the the snowmelt. Cars couldn’t go on it and they hadn’t, it months. There was a downed tree in the middle of the road. I pedaled very slowly but it was hard as fuck.

Finally I got to the snow. I tried to ride it for a few yards. I couldn’t. It was only going to get deeper, so I turned around. But dog it was beautiful. When you are high in the mountains it is so quiet. You can hear rushing water from the creeks and freshets below. An occasional scrub jay squawks; that’s about it.

That night Kristie arrived. We got up early on Saturday and went to Lake Isabella for groceries and bird seed. Snykes loves the car because he thinks we are going to McDonald’s. He also thinks he is a lap dog. He sits in my lap in the passenger seat, usually crushing my thighs and occasionally my nuts. I don’t mind. He is happy with his nose out the window. Snykes’s approach is good. He thinks we have to do everything together because we are pals. Pals are like that.

Next, we decided to enjoy the pre-game show, not the one that everybody else saw, but rather our own private one along the M-99 en route to the Johnsondale Bridge. I think we saw less than a dozen cars in three-and-a-half hours.

We decided to ride heart rate and I averaged 121 bpm for the whole ride, which although that’s only the top of my Zone 2, ended up being a really hard 52 miles with 3,100 feet of elevation. It’s the same ride I’d done earlier in the week but I felt great and rode faster, finished faster, and ended much less tired. It’s almost as if training works. And when you’re on a 30-lb. aluminum bike with fat tires, it almost feels like you accomplished more. Almost.

On the way back we stopped at Brush Creek to marvel at the little falls. Usually there’s hardly any water in it. We also stopped to check out a downed power line. The cliff fell over on it and buried it. SCE had better things to do on Super Bowl weekend than repair downed lines.

We got home and were really tired, but we both had that satisfied feeling of having done a hard ride. Coming into town I pretended I’d gotten clear on the Poggio and had made it alone to the Via Roma, only to be chased down at the last second by Merckx, Zabel, de Vlaeminck, Cavendish, and Kelly. Catching my breath I dropped back, then swung wide and hit out early, catching them by surprise and taking the first classic of the season by a tire width, right there in front of the adoring toothless lady standing in front of Charlie’s Grocery Mart.

On Super Sunday we were super tired. Snykes was not happy because he’d been excluded from the bike ride. He has always wanted to win Milan-San Remo, too. We decided to do a ten-mile hike up Cannell Meadow Trail.

There were two other people with dogs but we soon passed them and had the trail to ourselves. We made a detour before turning around, scrambling a half-mile up a crazy steep wall that ended atop a peak looking down into the river valley. Snykes loved it so much. He is a good little doggie and such a strong little hiker.

We climbed over 3,100 feet in five miles of ascending. It felt steeper than it was because of the hard ride on Saturday. The air was crisp and chilly but not cold. At times the sky cleared and at others it looked stern and wintry. Snowy Sierra peaks cut the skyline. We had the whole million acres to ourselves.

Back at home we all three collapsed for a long winter’s nap. During that time someone threw a football somewhere and lots of drunk people got drunker and half of them got happier and half of them sadder. I hope it all worked out for everyone in the end.

I know it did for us.


Best Tour rider ever?

February 11, 2023 Comments Off on Best Tour rider ever?

I said best, not greatest.

With seven straight TdF wins, Lance Armstrong surely holds the title as the greatest Tour rider if the point behind racing is winning. Since all seven wins were stripped after his doping confession, that possibly leaves the title up for grabs between Merckx, Indurain, Hinault, and Anquetil, each with five Tour victories.

But were they the best riders? Merckx, with his 34 wins across every possible type of stage from sprints, to mountain stages to time trials, was obviously the best Tour rider of his generation, to say nothing of the three points classifications and two mountains classifications he won to go along with his five GC wins. Oh, and most professional wins of all time, etc.

At the same time, Merckx himself has argued that you can’t properly compare modern racing with his generation. The fields were much smaller, less international and dominated by four countries, and most importantly were controlled by a rigid hierarchy. Merckx has also often said that were he racing today he would never have amassed the same record.

Cavendish, at first blush, hardly bears being mentioned in the same breath. He has abandoned the Tour to prepare for the Olympics and been kicked out for failing to make the cutoff time, unthinkable for Merckx. He earned many of his wins behind one of the best leadouts of all time, Mark Renshaw, whereas Merckx earned his sprint victories in an era before sprint trains existed, most often taking the win out of a mass scrum to the line. The sheer variety of Merckx’s wins was astonishing. As an example, in the 1974 Tour he won eight times including three time trials, three sprints including the final one in Paris, and two mountain stages.

But there are some holes in Merckx’s claim to being the best. Foremost, his career was riddled with doping accusations and three separate positive tests, one of which got him thrown out of the Giro. As late as 2005 Merckx has said that doping is inevitable at the highest level of sport. Armstrong would certainly agree, not to mention five-time winner Indurain, generally believed to have been the first major Tour success story using EPO. And of course another five-timer, Jacques Anquetil, famously said that to deny the necessity of doping in cycling makes you either a liar or an imbecile.

In contrast, Cavendish has ridden his entire professional career squeaky clean. Even though he began in the EPO heyday, had to compete with the biggest drug cheats in the sport, and saw the demise of countless riders and teams at the hands of doping confessions, exposes, and failed drug tests, Cavendish was never implicated in illegal drug use, ever. Merckx and Anquetil can say whatever they want, but riding and winning clean counts for a lot more than winning dirty.

Nor did Cavendish ever ride like a doper. Unlike the supermen who could do everything, Cavendish could barely do one thing: sprint. As a professional bike racer he lacked the power and the endurance to be successful; as an aspiring racer he narrowly avoided being excluded from the cycling academy that brought him to the pro ranks because he was too slow, too fat, and too weak on the ergometer.

Instead of the cookie-cutter figure and awesome power numbers that were used to define supposedly successful pre-professionals, Cavendish had one thing and one thing only: desire. Like Sean Kelly, Cavendish was willing to endure anything to avoid losing. This meant an entire career of struggling over climbs in the autobus, narrowly or unsuccessfully missing the time cutoff, and generally getting to the finish line on a wing and a prayer.

But if he did make it to the last 200m, you had a fight on your hands. It’s not for nothing that the Franco-Continental-centric Christian Prudhomme called Cavendish the greatest sprinter in the history of the Tour.

Mountain-top solo finishes like the drug-addled performance of George Hincapie at Pla d’Adet in 2005, when the giant one-day classics man easily distanced mountain specialist Oscar Pereiro in one of the Tour’s toughest mountain stages, were never going to happen to Cavendish because he didn’t dope. Searing time trials, with the exception of one 5-km TT win his entire career, were never going to make up his palmares. He lacked the motor and the drugs and the physiology.

However, as my mentor and idol Jeff Fields used to say, “You can’t measure desire,” although in Cavendish’s case you actually can, and it’s called “number of wins.”

With 161 professional victories, Cavendish is the third winningest rider of all time, behind Rik van Looy with 162. Merckx is uncatchable, at 275, and no active rider is anywhere near Cav’s total. Peter Sagan, who retires at year’s end, has 121 wins. No one else is even remotely close, not that Sagan is. My point is that when you look at Cavendish’s Tour stage wins, you see a rider who has literally done the absolute most with the absolute least. No drugs. Wrong body type. And worst of all, no team stability. He’s ridden with eight teams in nineteen seasons, and often he’s had to score his victories as a virtual privateer with no team structure to help.

Compare that to Merckx, who rode with three teams for all but two of his thirteen pro seasons, and with the exception of his three seasons with Peugeot, was the undisputed leader, team boss, and patron not simply of his team but of the entire pro peloton. As recently as 2021, when Cavendish was a last-minute add-on to Deceunick, he was paid minimum wage (40,000 euros), had to bring his own sponsor, and only got to ride the Tour at all because Sam Bennett ran afoul of general madman and team psycho Patrick Lefevere. As a footnote, Cavendish won four stages and almost took a fifth. Lefevere’s thank-you? Keeping him off the 2022 squad and releasing him from the team.

Beyond his limitless will to win, Cavendish was a true innovator. He was one of the first sprinters to understand that aerodynamic factors could add feet or even inches to a finish in a sport where the win is often measured in millimeters. Meticulous about the aero setup of his bike, helmet, and clothing, Cavendish developed an extraordinarily aero sprinting style that is now widely copied by Sagan, Ewan, Groenewegen, and virtually every other small sprinter. But my favorite kudo thrown his way was by Groenewegen, his much younger and promising rival: “He’s the smartest guy in the peloton.”

Cavendish has an extraordinary mind and he uses his photographic recall of course topography as another unusual weapon in sprinting. One interviewer challenged his supposed recall, and Cavendish spent five minutes detailing the entire ten kilometers leading up to his only classics win, Milan-San-Remo in 2009.

When it comes to greatness, it’s pretty easy to decide: look at the win column and move on. But the best? In my opinion it’s the rider who works the hardest, plays by the rules, overcomes adversity, and uses intellect and desire to get level with the playing field.

Cav has won so many stages in the Tour that he never should have even been there to contest. That alone makes him the best. But he’s also on the cusp of taking the most stage wins of all time away from Eddy.

That won’t make him the greatest, but if it doesn’t make him the best, who is?


A hard ride

February 10, 2023 Comments Off on A hard ride

It’s the gravel season here in somewhat-southern-California, with incredible tales of pre-epic badassery, online malls of once-in-a-lifetime-til-next-year bicycle costume collections, finisher’s trucker caps, commemorative beer, and tens of thousands of fingers knuckling down to the amazingly tough job of posting everything on #socmed.

In my little corner of Redneckia I’ve settled for something much more mundane, that is, simply riding my bicycle upriver for twenty-five miles.

Sounds easy.

And not too long ago, it was.

With a mere 2,700 feet of elevation and no steep climbs of any kind, six months ago this was one of the two main throwaway rides, the other being a 38-mile sally around the lake.

But here’s the thing. When you are old, your fitness goes away with astonishing speed. Given my readership’s demographic, there are plenty of people who will read this and say, “Old? You’re only 59! Still in diapers, sonny!”

Alas, no matter how you parse it, muscles, hearts, lungs, and minds could care less about exhortations or about relativistic theories of aging. Fifty-nine isn’t the new thirty, it’s old as fuck. As I continually remind myself, by the time Mozart was my age, he’d been dead for twenty-three years.

So my modest goal was to modestly ride upriver, keeping my heart rate above 120, which is Zone 2. Shortly into the third roller I realized that I had my work cut out for me. It doesn’t matter how many hard rides you’ve done in the past. How fit you were. That race you won that time. Detraining is a real thing and it hits you like a hammer in the face when you confront it with actual work.

Last October, when I rode to Los Angeles on a fully loaded bike, I cracked out much harder rides with far less misery to show for it. Not so yesterday. By the time I reached the Johnsondale Bridge, two terrible things had happened.

First, my legs were fucking shot. Second, as I turned for home, it became clear that a bonk was imminent and the next food supply was an hour and a half away. Bonk. At 25 miles. Then I recalled that no one rides for an hour and a half on a bonk.

As the glycogen depletion set in, on the downhill no less, as the ride out is all uphill and the return all down, I considered my options. Hitch a ride? Try to catch and eat some raw fish? Cry?

That’s when I saw two anglers doing what anglers do best, which is be overweight in the sunshine as they smile with no fish biting. The overweight part brought joy because I surmised that these two fellows would not be out in the wilderness without snacks.

“Hey, man,” I shouted. “You got any food?”

They weren’t happy to see me because it punctured the illusion balloon that they were alone on the river. I also looked ragged and haggard and lost and rather desperate. “Lemme check,” the one guy said, climbing up the bank. He opened the passenger door and out plopped the mother lode: a full pack of Girl Scout peanut butter cookies swaddled in chocolate. “Take all you want,” he said.

All I wanted was all of them, but I gobbled eight and left the rest, leaving much thankfulness in my wake.

I got home wrecked. It’s going to be a long road back.


Why AA didn’t work for me

February 9, 2023 Comments Off on Why AA didn’t work for me

“If you want AA to work,” the wisdom goes, “you have to work the steps.”

The wise are referring, of course, to the twelve components of AA therapy, which begins with admitting you’re an alcoholic. The other eleven components aren’t steps in that they follow each other like a staircase. They are admonitions about ways of thinking, and the adoption of those ways supposedly leads to the cure.

I have to say that my brief experience with AA was overwhelmingly positive. It’s the only community or club I’ve ever joined with so little judgment, so much acceptance, and so much mutual support. If you attend positive AA meetings and can’t see the goodwill and warmth, you have a heart of stone.

But back to the steps that I never “worked.” I stumbled over the first one and really never made it any farther. The third step requires you to invoke dog as the solution to your problems. I’m an apatheist, and drinking is supposedly a medical condition, so no thanks, and the rest was pre-history.

AA would point out it’s not that AA didn’t work for me, it’s that I didn’t work the steps. They would say that my failure is like claiming that an antibiotic didn’t work which you refused to take, and they have a point. It’s a bad point as I’ll explain, but it’s the one they build into the daily morning reading: the inability to be helped by AA is due to the patient’s inherent moral failings. “Some people are incapable of being honest with themselves. They seem to have been born that way.”

Before I get to why AA didn’t work for me, it’s instructive to note that it didn’t seem to work for many people. There were the regulars at the meetings, but I’d say that half of them were still drinking on and off. A few came to meetings high or drunk. But far more noticeable were the unnoticeables, people who showed up once and never returned. Even the people who stuck it out for a couple of months were the exception. The meetings were a revolving door of people with substance abuse problems for whom AA had no answers.

The hardened cadre of people who were able to beat their drinking problem came in various flavors. The kindest and most empathetic people with long-term sobriety were the women. The men generally preached and mansplained it to you, whereas the women were far more reflective and less didactic.

But whatever.

My anecdotal observations were surprisingly accurate when you look at the scientific research regarding AA’s effectiveness. Controlled, randomized studies show that AA doesn’t work. Even the most favorable research, which concludes that AA is effective, only follows members for a few years. Of course by AA’s own definition of sobriety, you’re either sober for life or you’re a drunk. One ill-advised shot of tequila after 40 years of sobriety is just as big a failure as a 4-day binge after your first week. So studies affirming AA, but that only look at results for a few years, are performing a bait-and-switch because in AA you have to quit drinking completely, forever or you have failed.

Twenty-seven studies meeting the rigorous standards for a Cochrane Review were analyzed in 2020, finding that Twelve Step programs in conjunction with AA were effective.

The authors found high certainty evidence that clinically delivered and manualized TSF programs designed to increase AA participation can lead to higher rates of continuous abstinence over months and years, when compared to other active treatment approaches such as cognitive behavioural therapy. The evidence suggests that 42% of participants participating in AA would remain completely abstinent one year later, compared to 35% of participants receiving other treatments including CBT. This effect is achieved largely by fostering increased AA participation beyond the end of the TSF program.

This sounds like a ringing endorsement, and the study’s lead author, John Kelly of Harvard, has long been a vocal cheerleader for AA. But when you read the actual study results, they conclude that AA’s effectiveness is measured only one year later to achieve the best outcomes, with abstinence dropping off significantly after that, and measurement eventually ceasing after seven years. Anyone with severe alcohol use disorder knows that continuous abstinence for seven years is great, but if you resume the severe abuse at year eight you are right back where you began. What’s also misleading is that the studies use AA as a treatment modality but ignore AA’s measure of success, which is complete and permanent sobriety. To truly measure AA’s effectiveness you’d have to look at the number of people who are completely “cured.” Since the timeline is too long, the studies invariably redefine AA success, but make no mistake, AA does not. One drink and you’ve lost all the gains of a lifetime of sobriety.

What’s also left to the reader to figure out is that the best outcomes, which occur after a year, are only 7% better than other treatment modalities, including no treatment at all. In other words, your chances of getting sober by simply going cold turkey aren’t that much worse than a lifetime committed to AA meetings. And when you look at the time suck, the requirement that if you’re an atheist you change your entire worldview, and the demeaning necessity that you daily call yourself an alcoholic, the benefits are slim, indeed.

Perhaps the worst indictment of this seemingly positive assessment is that it only occurs when you have received clinical, manual teaching of the fundamentals of Twelve Step systems, and are then released into the wild of AA treatment. In other words, for AA to have even the small benefit shown in the Cochrane Review, you have to be hospitalized and inculcated in AA methodology.

Of course very few people come to AA in this way compared to the vast majority who, like me, simply show up, recognize the religion when we see it, and leave. AA is no more effective than anything else.

In my case, I’m back to drinking. Since quitting AA I have a drink, sometimes two, about five days a week. This is very close to my pre-AA level, and as I’ve written before, one or two drinks for me has a stronger effect that than that small quantity might suggest. However, there are some very positive changes, and frankly, I chalk them up to AA.

First, there’s no way I can drink more than two of anything. There is no trend to drink more, which was always the end game for me after a couple of years: way too much drinking that I couldn’t control. Since going to AA, listening to all the stories, reading extensively, and examining my drinking habits, I’ve developed an internal limit. This is incredibly significant because in the past I always became more dependent over time, which is what you’d expect from a drug that is ten times more addictive than heroin. Part of this I attribute to the process of liminal thinking I’ve discussed in other posts, in which you have to deconstruct what you believe and rebuild it according to a different set of experiences and observations. If you haven’t read “This Naked Mind” and the book “Liminal Thinking,” on which most of the former was based, they are excellent reads and may help you reduce and manage your alcohol dependency. I would have never discovered these two books unless I’d gone to AA, though their concepts are completely rejected by AA.

Second, my favorite form of alcohol now doesn’t taste very good to me. To say I drink it reflexively is a perfect statement. Wine doesn’t taste as bad, but I can’t have more than a couple of small glasses, and I think I owe these reactions to AA. By listening to the havoc that alcohol creates, and by reading about its toxicity and inherent bad taste, the belief that alcohol is somehow fun, yummy, enjoyable, or a way to unwind has left me.

AA influenced this because each meeting was so redolent with struggle. The people at the meetings, whether sober or intoxicated or somewhere in between, were battling a truly destructive addiction that seemed to consume their every waking moment. Even the people who had been sober for decades were struggling, not perhaps with the desire to drink, but with the aftereffects and with the daily reminder that they’d be “rebuilding” forever. It’s melodramatic to compare it to visiting a war zone, but the daily emotional beatings that came from watching people win, lose, and draw really affected me.

Third, going to AA affected what I considered to be alcohol’s hold over me. I’ve had so many bad experiences with it, and in addition to self abuse, those experiences almost always involved being abusive to others. Although AA’s message is that we are powerless over alcohol, I learned the opposite by attending the meetings. I learned that people do in fact have choices, and when it comes to alcohol, there is free will. You can control it or be controlled by it, and studies bear this out, again and again: some people get better, and some get worse because it occurs on a use spectrum and because different approaches work for different people.

AA’s insistence that I give my life up to dog, submit to alcohol’s mastery, and confes powerlessness didn’t work for me, at least not in the way they intended. But whatever problems I’ve had drinking, attendance at AA meetings has reduced those problems to an astonishing degree. By reading other perspectives and understanding it as a disorder rather than an incurable, semi-moral, semi-physiological affliction, I’ve been able to get out from under alcohol’s allure and see it for what it is. And in case you missed it, alcohol is a toxic, extremely addictive drug. The most recent research emphatically concludes that the only safe amount you can consume is none.

Best of all, AA taught me that you don’t have to be perfectly sober, though that’s their goal. It’s okay to drink now and then, at least for me, and each drink doesn’t represent some kind of “reset to zero” that erases all of the previous gains. My last bout with sobriety lasted seven-and-a-half years, and the resumption of drinking didn’t eliminate the gains of that time.

For me, AA’s methods were a failure, but there are a lot of drugs you don’t take even though they can cure your condition because the label warns you of side effects and contraindications. Not taking a drug that helps your heart condition because it will kill you doesn’t mean you’ve failed to follow the drug’s protocol, it means that you’ve followed the instructions, and it means that not all drugs work for all people.

AA’s that way. I’d rather keep my belief in free will and a random, uncaring universe than buy into the more frightening reality that everything is directed by an Invisible Friend whose orders for how I have to live were transcribed by a bunch of goatherd mystics, even if that means I have a drink now and then.

The biggest hurdle to working AA’s steps, believing in dog, I actually got over by going to the pound and getting one. He’s asleep right now, and though I don’t believe in him as a higher power, he does appear to be a source of happiness and peace. So maybe they were right after all.


In dog we trust

Fatness trends for 2023

February 8, 2023 Comments Off on Fatness trends for 2023

I did a search for “Fitness trends 2023,” well, actually my girlfriend Kristie did, well, actually she did a search first for fitness trends in the 1700’s followed by the 1800’s. Only after realizing that nothing ever changes did she forward me the results for fitness trends in 2023, and surprise, nothing ever changes.

If the definition of “old man” is “misanthropic person over the age of 50 who despairs,” that would be me.

And I despair after reading what wonderful new things await us in 2023 when it comes to getting fit, because that would be nothing. The only thing that awaits is more fatness.

Please don’t rail on me for fat-shaming. Being obese doesn’t make you a bad person and it doesn’t reflect on the special inner glow you give off each time a peach-flavored unicorn fart comes out of your ass. Being obese is a physical quality, nothing more, but as the rather mundane field of something called “medicine” shows, we are physical beings and our physical state affects everything else. Lung cancer from smoking doesn’t make you a bad person, it simply inhibits your ability to breathe, generally resulting in death.

Journals with happy titles like “Obesity: The Flagship Journal of the Obesity Society,” and “International Journal of Obesity” are mere drops in the research puke bucket of scientific reporting that concludes in less colorful language what doctors were saying in the 1700’s, which in those days, according to Dutch physician Steven Blankaart, “Exercise, is a most powerful, and prevalent thing to preserve Health.”

Better was English doctor Thomas Marryat: “Exercise is so absolutely necessary, that it is impossible to continue long free from disorders without it: nine tenths of those which are incident to human beings originate from indolence.” Dr. Willich, in 1799, said that without exercise the body and mind become “indolent and lifeless.”

As I’ve often observed here, and the motorized bicycle is but one example, the trend is to do less so that we can eat more, get sicker and fatter and less mobile, and thereby complete the chain of wage slavery as a result of dependence on material consumerism. That chain is built with the links of moving around with motors, greater consumption of food, and greater consumption of medical services to fix what would never have broken if we weren’t so fucking fat and lazy to begin with.

So what are the Fatness Trends for 2023? And will they really deliver on the promise of more fitness, I mean fatness? Yes, they will!

First on the list is wearable technology. Of course it’s first because it requires buying something. My Garmin Nimrod cost $350, and better devices can punch through the $1,000 ceiling easily. How will these things make you fatter in 2023? Let me count the ways. They give you something to fiddle with rather than exercise, which is key. They let you set lame parameters so that your do-nothing routine gives you a backpat for taking, say, 10,000 steps. Walking five miles a day in a sustained, vigorous walk might count as a workout, but the mere waddling around from TV to fridge to couch to toilet isn’t exercise and won’t slim you down, no matter how many steps you take.

Wearable technology is key because it continues to expand and sensitize the market to virtual reality exercise, which is the Holy Grail for consumption. Once you can stop looking at your real self and focus on the avatar in the goggles, it doesn’t really matter how many more bags of Doritos you scarf before your second breakfast.

Next on the list of fatness trends is the home workout/home training module. This requires you to buy home workout equipment and tie it into the dumb technology of your watch/phone/computer. Remember how you lost all that weight working out at home during covid? No? Well it should work even better this time because all the equipment will be new.

When I think of home workout equipment I think of the guy who lives down the road from me. He has an amazing Nautilus home gym. It is in his backyard. It is covered in rust and bird shit. The only sweat anyone ever broke over that thing was the day they lugged it down the stairs and dumped it in the yard.

Home workout equipment also makes me think of a guy I once shared office space with, Bruce Brusavich. He was a tiny, skinny-fat old guy, soft and puffy and lazy and the kind of person who looked like he would keel over if he had to jog around the block. One day he put up a sign that said “Home workout equipment–free to a good home” or something like that. It was so perfect, an anemic guy who’d probably spent $10k on a bunch of unused junk that he now couldn’t pay anyone to take. Rest assured that your new home gym will end up as yard furniture or as a donation, it’ll be pristine, and you won’t have lost a single pound.

The third most popular fatness trend smells an awful lot like the first one. It’s called “virtual reality fitness.” How this differs from wearable technology is unclear, but what’s certain is that although your mind can be tricked into thinking you’re a kung fu guru, your sagging ass and drooping belly will still get exhausted after three or four tepid punches, requiring more gels, gus, and cookies.

Virtual reality fitness was created by the same cynics who coined the word “e-sports.” You know, where people pay to watch other people watch a screen. It makes perfect sense except for the word “sports.” How it differs from “watching TV” is unclear except that e-sports are now more popular in many schools than PE, a trend expected to continue, enhanced no doubt by virtual reality fitness.

Don’t think that fatness trends are predictable, because number four, “building a smart home gym,” sounds crazily identical to “home workout/home training.” How do they differ? Well, with home workout/home training you get fat because it’s boring and you give up, and with a smart home gym you get fat because it’s boring and expensive and you give up. See what they did there?

Of course there are other trend lists, and the SEO competition is tough out there but seems to know all the cutest algorithms. Their list is impressive in a different way. Whereas other lists recycle the same old crap that didn’t work last year, either, Bustle has a list including events that actually redefine fitness.

They start with “workout stacking,” the idea that it’s just as effective to do six 10-minute workouts during the day as it is to do a single one-hour effort. Now we all know that if it’s a royal pain in the ass to get ready for a single barely-motivated jiggle session on Zwift, it’s going to be even more impossible to do it six different times. But that’s okay because “stacking” sounds powerful and strong, the opposite of you.

Along with “group fitness” Bustle discovers that 2023 will be the year of “gym as community.” Because there’s just been so much hard core badass workout-ery at the gym, where people never even have time to exchange personal porn, so in 2023 it’s going to become much more social. A “hang-out space,” for “post-sweat bites” and (again) “hangouts,” there will be “lounges” where you can “work” or “chat” before workouts.

If you can repackage something to be something that it already is, you are a marketing genius, because if there were ever a synonym for “meat market,” “gossip shop,” or “social media scroll place,” it’s a fucking gym. But at least they’re honest, admitting that after burning 76 calories you’ll be all fired up for a killer burrito with guac and all the trimmings.

As the folks at Bustle were bustling about to make the deadline for this stinking pile of dogsnot, someone came up with two great ideas. 1) Movement as exercise and 2) Rest & recovery. This first one is more genius at work. Take the normal things you do in a day like open the car door, bend down to get the Cheezits out of the pantry, lift a thunder thigh to pull on a sock, raise a flabby arm to firm up a ponytail, and call all of it “exercise.” In addition to not needing any equipment, you don’t have to do anything at all. You can even program your wearable technology to record squats down onto the couch as a “customized workout.”

Yet … we also have “rest and recovery” as … exercise. And to show that Bustle is NOT racist or into fat-shaming, they have a photo of an obese black woman sitting on a pillow “chillaxing.” Give Bustle an “A++” for truth in advertising, because sitting your ever-widening ass on a comfy pillow and not moving is going to make you look just as enormous, immobile, and unhealthy as the model.

Do any of these things work? Of course they don’t. America is fatter, sicker, less mobile, and more dependent on overpriced healthcare than ever before, and all indicators are that this is only the beginning. Even the word “obesity” has lost its meaning. Whereas it once meant “disgustingly fat” it now means “pudgily healthful.” And all of this fatness is accelerating even as the ways to lose the blubber proliferate.

I’m still waiting for the ultimate fitness workout, which will be something like this: firing up the obesity engine in sixteen easy daily meals, turning you into a roaring furnace of digestive power!

Of course the one trend that will never make the list because it’s not for sale and no one knows where to get it, is “motivation.” This true unicorn lives in the unlikeliest of natural habitats, a preserve called “necessity,” long razed by the Industrial Revolution and turned into a Trader Joe’s parking lot. Motivation is of course the one fitness ingredient that makes the actual activity irrelevant. You can get fit in prison, for example, with nothing but a floor if you’re motivated to avoid your daily ration of beatings and rapes.

And motivation is the one thing that all these gizmos and faux routines are designed to fake. But you know what?

They can’t.