May 11, 2015 § 39 Comments
In 1995 I started writing a novel about a Japanese family. I was living in the city of Utsunomiya at the time and had tired of all the zen-like, mystical, and reverent books about the inscrutability of life in Japan.
The polite, sophisticated, ambiguous, homogeneous Japanese apparently lived somewhere else, because my daily reality smacked up against people who were as rude, crude, obnoxious, funny, compassionate, hilarious, outrageous, subtle, overt, lying, thieving, honest, honorable, humble, prideful, and contradictory as people I’d seen in every other part of the earth I’d ever been.
For ten years I worked on the novel, then put it aside. A few years ago a good friend who had seen the very first draft asked me how it was going. “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t have it anymore.”
“I think I have the copy you gave me,” she said, and a couple of weeks later she had scanned it and sent it over. I looked around on the Internet for a copy editor, but balked at the $2k price tag, so I began the laborious process of editing my own work, something akin to hearing your own voice on a recording for the first time, only much more repulsive. Each edit was slower than the one before, but after a dozen careful reads I was finished. The final proofing step on Amazon’s publishing platform picked up two more typos — not bad for 100,000 words — and I hit the “publish” button and was done.
The novel is called “Blossoms on the Family Tree,” and I hope you will buy a copy. My good friend Jack Daugherty has posted the kindest and most flattering review imaginable on Amazon, and if he’s even 1/1000 on the mark, then this is a book I can be proud of. And even if he’s not on the mark, I can say this: This is the best thing I’m capable of writing, and it’s got nothing to do with bikes!
Though the novel is hardly autobiographical, every single thing in it is true except for the parts I made up. And one of the parts I didn’t make up is that the Japan of the late 1980’s is gone. I still remember arriving on January 15, 1987, heading out into the provinces two weeks later for my first job, and getting mobbed by elementary schoolkids who had never seen an American and wanted to touch my hair.
I remember the hundreds of bicycles stacked up and around the Utsunomiya JNR station, a time when bikes were everywhere and used by everyone, all the time. Most of all, I remember the young people and what a young country it was, and how, in only that way perhaps, I blended right in.
My relationship with Japan began then and has continued unbroken for almost thirty years, and if I had to say that there is one thing above all others that has molded me in my adult life it has been the Japanese women around me. My wife of course but also the women in her family: Mother, grandmother, aunts, sisters in law, cousins, nieces … women who in a myriad of ways taught me firsthand about strength, resilience, determination, frailty, humanity, and love, and who gave me a Japanese cultural lesson every single day for each of the ten years that I lived there. It’s not a lesson that you’ll find in mainstream writing about Japan and the Japanese.
This novel, after twenty years’ gestation, is as fully formed as anything I’ve ever written or hope to write. The era it encompasses is gone forever, but the women who populated it are still here, some still present in the flesh, all still here with me in spirit.
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The tired radicals
May 10, 2015 § 38 Comments
On Saturday morning I rolled up to the Manhattan Beach Pier and was pleasantly surprised to find a large group of riders who had made the 6:30 AM commitment to pedal north for a couple of hours, take the full lane on Pacific Coast Highway, and then lodge an informal protest at Malibu City Hall regarding the illegal ticketing of cyclists on PCH.
By the time we arrived we had added another ten riders or so, and a handful had only ridden part of the way. The pre-ride publicity was pushed by Greg Seyranian of Big Orange, and I got a lot of help from Mario Obejas at the Beach Cities Cycling Club, as he invited me to come speak to the group about our protest and included ride information in the club’s newsletter. I also greatly appreciated the efforts of the California Association of Bicycling Organizations, who sent their president from San Diego, Jim Baross, and his henchman from San Clemente, Pete van Nuys.
Don Ward of Wolfpack Hustle also put the word out on Facebook and Twitter, and a random and incomplete list of people who showed up includes Dan Kroboth, Steven Thorpe, Robert Cisneros, David Huntsman, Mikki Ozawa, Tamar Toister, Debbie Sullivan, Michael Barraclough, Pete van Nuys, Gary Cziko, Jim Baross, Eric Richardson, Bob Kellogg, Peter Richardson, Connie Perez, Alx Bns, Mark Jacobs, Don Young, and Les Borean.
The day before the ride I got a call from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The lieutenant and I spent close to an hour talking about cycling on PCH. Although the department understands the right of cyclists to control the lane when there are debris or other hazards that make riding as far to the right as practicable unsafe, the bone of contention continues to be what constitutes a substandard width lane, because it is this exception to the FTR law that cyclists use to get away from the fog line and out into the full lane on PCH.
Our position has always been that the statute, CVC 21202(a) is plain. It defines a substandard width lane as one in which a bike and a car cannot travel safely side by side. Some of the sheriff’s deputies believe that on PCH this is a matter of judgment and interpretation, whereas regular cyclists who simply want to follow the law insist that it’s no more subject to interpretation than the rules governing stopping at traffic lights.
Simple math shows beyond any reasonable dispute that the substandard width exception applies on PCH. Why? Because nowhere on the stretch from Santa Monica to the Ventura County Line do the lanes exceed 11 feet in width, 12 at the absolute most. The width of a cyclist, when you add in one foot for variation of the line of travel, is about 4 feet. California law now requires cars to pass bikes with a minimum 3-foot buffer. This puts the effective width of the cyclist at about 7 feet. The width of a car or truck, including its mirrors, is at least 6 feet.
6 + 7 = 13, and 13 > 12. In words, a 12-foot lane isn’t wide enough to accommodate 13 feet of bike and car. And of course along many sections of PCH, the lanes are only barely 10 feet wide.
We took the lane as soon as we exited onto PCH at Chautauqua, and the entire morning we saw only two squad cars, neither of which paid us any attention whatsoever. It’s my opinion that the upper management at the sheriff’s department agrees with our interpretation of the law, but I also think there are deputies on the line who simply don’t accept the right of cyclists to take the lane no matter what the law says. They see a group of riders who aren’t cowering in the gutter and think, “That can’t be legal.” But during our ride we got nothing but courtesy from the law, which was kind of the point: The ride was staged as a protest against a ticket issued to a Big Orange rider several months ago for failing to ride in the bike lane, and at the time there were no bike lanes on PCH.
At Temescal Canyon we took a break, waited for the West Side riders to show up, and tweeted/facebagged our protest ride info to the Lost Hills Substation, the City of Malibu, and the CHP.
The entire ride from Temescal to Cross Creek, about six miles, we got honked at exactly once and were chopped exactly once — by an asshole on a motorcycle, no less. I always find it hilarious and pathetic when the second-most vulnerable users on the road treat us with aggression and hatred.
Although getting our message across to law enforcement and to the City of Malibu was the main purpose of the ride, as it turns out the real impact of this type of cycling is the message it sends to cagers. Hundreds of motorists were educated this morning about the rights of cyclists to take the lane on PCH–it was a lesson worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in radio spots or TV ads. Forcing drivers to see cyclists in the lane and accept the reality that as with a slow moving bus or cement mixer you have to slow down, put on your blinker, change lanes, and pass on the left, are the most important results of this type of activity.
Which leads to a couple of other observations: First, of the couple of hundred cyclists we saw on PCH that morning, none was in the lane, all were huddled in the gutter. Several times we even had riders catch up to us, sit on for a few minutes, and then come racing around on the left, only to dive back into the gutter. Whereas law enforcement seems to be coming around to our point of view, judging from the cyclists on PCH, most riders prefer to be entirely out of the roadway. This is where the actions of large groups like La Grange, Big Orange, and semi-organized rides such as NOW and Kettle need to continue pounding home the message that the lane is legal and it’s safe. In fact, when I did the NOW ride a few weeks ago it was amazing to see the entire 70-person peloton crammed up onto the shoulder.
The most extreme example of the cower mentality was on the BWR a few weeks ago, when riders refused to take the lane even when protected by a police-escorted, full rolling enclosure. Old habits die hard.
On the other hand, you can’t force people to do what they don’t feel comfortable doing, and the main point is that riders who understand that they’re safer in the lane now have a pretty strong reason to take it without too much fear of harassment. Even as I’m writing this the California Highway Patrol from West Valley tweeted to say that they agreed cyclists can ride in the lane as long as they’re not impeding traffic.
A final point was recognizing that despite all of the advocacy and fundraising by the numerous bicycling organizations in Southern California, the most effective thing you can do is to get a group together and take the lane. All the emails and fundraising campaigns in the world don’t speak as loudly as 25 riders legally riding in the lane.
Related to that there’s this issue: Getting riders to commit to a Saturday or Sunday of cycling advocacy is tough because the weather’s nice, the early morning roads are relatively empty, and would you rather get in your workout with your pals … or try to change the world with a little two-wheeled advocacy? Most people will choose the former, but for those who took the time to make themselves seen and heard on PCH, thank YOU!
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Alky bikey lessons
May 9, 2015 § 38 Comments
I’m not a day or a week or a month counter. All I know is that I quit back in November. That’s an eternity for some, an eye blink for others. Here is what I’ve learned so far.
- I don’t know.
- If one day at a time is too long, you better make it one hour, or even one moment.
- I’m not powerless over alcohol.
- Life without beer is less fun but more happy.
- *Still an asshole.* Or, “You’re still the same old girl you used to be.”
- I imagine beer tasting better than it does in fact taste.
- Sobriety isn’t a solution, it’s a step that makes other solutions possible.
- Tomorrow I’m getting hammered, but not today!
- I can’t do it without the support, but in the end I’m alone.
- Different people take different paths, and mine doesn’t lead to a higher power.
- Sober friends who have been through the wringer are there when I need them most.
- I like it when people ask me if I’m still sober.
- Driving at night is legal.
- It’s not that hard to do the dishes.
- If I’m 100% sober, I can’t be 100% at anything else, and that’s okay.
- A bunch of tiny improvements make the big picture better.
- After 5:00 PM the words on the page don’t start to blur.
- Newton’s Third Law of Motion applies to drinking: The misery of watching others drink causes an equal and opposition degree of happiness at awaking without a hangover.
- You can do it.
- We all die anyway, so enjoy the journey if you can.END
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May 8, 2015 § 28 Comments
When I was young I was taller and didn’t have a weight problem. Now I’ve shrunk at least an inch and have for years been engaged in the mid-life Battle of the Bulge. Of course at 51, mid-life is over as 102 isn’t in my genes or my game plan.
With the exception of runway models, jockeys, and wrestlers, few people obsess about their weight as much cyclists. Even though the rest of the world generally looks at us and says, “Fit,” we invariably look at each other, and especially ourselves, and say, “Fat.”
Of course in the Old Person racing categories, weight is largely irrelevant in crit racing, the predominant race type. A certain champion who shall remain nameless regularly smashes everyone even though he barely fits into his skinsuit without a hoist and two giant, greased shovels. He is very jolly about it, too, and he should be, because half of the 84 people he just smashed are fanatical weight obsessives, which is to say completely fuggin’ miserable. He not only gets to win, he obviously gets to eat, and eat again.
In road races weight plays a role, but not really the way you might think. In the hardest climbing races of the season, the old farts in contention are indeed lean, and one or three, who shall also remain nameless, have the terrible stunted and corpse-like figure of someone who has wasted away for years in a prison camp. Gaunt, bony, stringy, and not-good-to-eat-even-when-cooked is how these guys look.
What’s instructive is that when it comes to getting on the hilly road race podiums, it’s always the same guys, give or take a manorexic, which means that the other forty riders who really are starving themselves in preparation for their DNF or 28th placing are not getting any meaningful benefit from their weight obsession and diet misery. Why not just have another helping of butter to go with your ice cream bacon burger and be satisfied with 30th, or with being the 10th-placed DNF, or even the 1st-placed DNS?
Answer: Because weight obsession is another of the simulacra that, along with full carbon wheels that are 100% carbon, fosters the illusion of “We’re pro, too.”
In the past my dieting has followed the pattern of all diets: Quit eating and quit big, wait until the body begins to digest itself, declare success on the scales along with a 50% drop in power, daily energy, and sex drive (make that 95% for the last one, okay, 99%), do a couple of races at the new Cooked Chicken Chris Froome weight, DNF, check into the ICU for intravenous fluids, and then as soon as possible hop back on the burger-and-fries express.
Of course like any problem that you’ve had for a long time, it can’t really function unless the people around you have adapted to it. They are called enablers; mine is Mrs. WM, and she enables me thus:
Me: “I’m going on another diet. Nothing but apples, water cress, and almond skins.”
Mrs. WM: “Okay.”
Me: [three hours later] “I’m tired.”
Mrs. WM: “You want me to fix you a snack?” The alleged snack, of course, has already been fixed, and it is a three-course, 6,500-kcal meal.
Me: [longingly] “Okay. But only a small half-plate.”
Mrs. WM: [shoves fully loaded half-plate in my face] “You gonna get onna wiener droopies if you don’t keep eatin’.”
Me: [after fifth half-plate, groaning] “Dammit! I didn’t want to eat all that!”
Mrs. WM: “Don’t holler onna me! If you don’t wanna be eatin’ don’t be chewin’.”
Throughout the diet, each day of which begins with the utter hell of awakening with the thought of “Diet,” Mrs. WM punctuates every Box Moment of the day with, “You wanna eat some —- ?” The “some” is freshly baked bread, or avocado dip with chips, or bacon-wrapped asparagus, or ice cream bacon burgers topped with carbon sprinkles.
The “Box Moment” is that moment of hunger pain during which, if you want the diet to succeed, you have to crawl inside the box and suffer the hunger. It is the Box Moments, strung together, that lose the weight, and they are about as much fun as eye surgery with an ice pick, only less.
So my enabler makes the diet doubly hard because I not only have to endure the Box Moments but I also have to refuse the mouth-watering fare. What diet can survive this dual assault? None.
In other words, I’m 12 pounds down and have begun digesting bone and hair. And I’m hungry. And we’re all out of water cress.
Where the hell is my enabler?
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May 6, 2015 § 53 Comments
I have lots of unkind things to say about cagers. Like it or not, in general they are the enemy, seeking to kill and maim me at every opportunity. They hate me and want me destroyed; even the ones who stick their hand out of the window and wave are probably just drying their nails prior to reaching for the Glock.
And in general I have nothing but good things to say about the noble bicyclist, even when he’s veering, cursing, scofflawing, spitting, and getting off his bike to urinate in plain view of granny and the littl’uns. The worst spitting, public urinating, middle finger waving, ass scratching, profanity spewing wanker on a rusted out beach cruiser with two loaded beer coozies is, in my mind, infinitely preferable to the kindest, sweetest, most thoughtful and considerate cager.
There is this one thing about some bicyclists that gets under my skin, kind of like the heads of a thousand deer ticks. Now I’m probably going to offend someone you know and love, and for that I am really happy. If I don’t offend you, I’m sorry. Send me a private note and I will try again. As Abe Lincoln said, you can piss off some of the people all of the time, but it’s damned hard to piss off all of the people some of the time.
Here’s the deal: You’re sitting at work getting paid more than you’re worth, fiddling on the computer wondering if you can knock off at 3:47 and still look vaguely occupied until 4:30-ish, when you can begin the pre-exit rumblings and fumblings that show you’re bringing a most productive day of Facebag-checking and Google news reviewing to an end. Suddenly, you get a message. It goes like this:
Hi, Bill — you know our mutual friend, Wanker McGee? He rode his bike off the edge of a cliff while doing front-end downhill wheelies with Manslaughter, and he misjudged the log he was trying to jump backwards and flipped off the cliff and onto the cactus 200 feet below and got LifeFlighted out and it looks like it’s going to be a while before he’s racing again or able to eat without a straw.
Anyway, his medical bills are in the six figures and you know he’s been living in that cardboard box down on 3rd and Main as he’s in his third season of trying to get his first pro contract, so I’ve begun a GoFundMe campaing for him and would really appreciate it if you could spread the word and maybe kick in a few bucks.
If you’re like me, you click on the link and kick in a few bucks. Then, feeling sorry for the poor bastard, you share the link with your friends and hope that the next time an appeal goes out it’s not you with the squashed melon. After a couple of weeks ol’ Wanker has piled up a whopping $5,000 to help defray his medical bills of $354,000. Which kind of raises the question of …
What the fuck is anyone doing riding a bike without health insurance? While I realize that there are a lot of destitute people who use a bike to get to work, the communist-socialist-atheist-Islamist Obamacare program makes it possible for the poorest of the poor, yes, even bike racers, to get health insurance.
In other words, if you can afford the $5k rig, two extra full-carbon wheelsets made of 100% carbon, the wardrobe, the entry fees, the podium cap (still unused) and transportation to the race, then you can afford the $90 communist-socialist-Islamist health insurance offered by our foreigner President who is trying to destroy democracy and our great nation by getting health care to sick people.
In other-other words, if you’re too much of a cheapfuck to get Obamacare but insist on racing the local crit/riding offroad with Manslaughter, I’m not sure you deserve anything from me. To make it even worse, there are bike racers who refuse to get the free (that’s “free” as in “your mom doesn’t even have to pay for it”) insurance because if you make less than $15k (and what bike racer makes more?) you get put on Medicaid, which, in addition to being free, is the Antichrist for many a Republican, welfare-hating, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps bike bum.
In short, the shame of being on socialist welfare free healthcare is worse than getting smashed to bits, asking others to pay for the damage, and then discharging the debts in bankruptcy.
My attitude towards this isn’t because I’m a heartless, unpleasant, penny-pinching Scrooge, although that’s part of it. A famous case here in LA a few years back involved a well-known rider with two kids who tore his face off descending Las Flores, and had to rely on crowd-funded donations to retire his medical bills. I helped promote the fund and donated to it, even though several people pointed out that a grown man (he was in his late 40’s) with two kids giving descending clinics on white-knuckle descents without health insurance was exactly the kind of guy who deserved the old “you made your bed, now lie in it” treatment.
Of course no matter how irresponsible someone is, when little kids are involved even the mostly heartless will reach for their wallets, and I still don’t regret doing so.
The main problem I have with shifting affordable health insurance premiums or even free Medicare coverage onto the greater biking community is that no matter how much your friends kick in, it won’t be enough. First of all, even if you raise $50k, it’s going straight to the hospital or other healthcare providers. Do I want to donate my somewhat-hard-earned money to Kaiser Permanente? Um, nope.
Second, raising money before you’re finished treating — assuming you’re a completely broke bike racer; redundant, I know — is a terrible decision because ultimately you’ll have to file bankruptcy and the money that’s rolled in may not be exempt, especially if it’s over $25k. In other words, Kaiser will still get a bite.
Third, there’s something really wrong with raising a stink about cagers who are uninsured or underinsured, which means they can’t make you whole when they run you over, then turning around and displaying the same financial irresponsibility when you crash out in a bike race and thrust the bill onto friends, family, and sympathetic strangers.
Century rides, race promoters, and other entities that put on bike events should require entrants to show proof of health insurance. USA Cycling (the great useless entity in the sky) should require you to submit proof of health insurance before it will issue a racing license, because unlike many activities, bicycle falling off incidents in bike racing are guaranteed if you do it long enough. 100%, no exceptions.
In addition to health insurance, if you so much as pedal down the block you should also obtain maxed out uninsured/uninsured motorist coverage on your auto liability policy. This will cover you for the collisions when the cager who mows you down doesn’t have enough coverage to pay for your brain transplant, acting in effect as a third-party health insurance policy for you. And if you can afford a car and a $780 set of bike racks, you can afford the few extra bucks a year it costs to max out UM coverage.
So, I wish I could help out all the people who need it, and I don’t regret having done so in the past. But even more, I wish they would take that tiny ounce of prevention so we wouldn’t have to donate the massive pound of completely ineffective cure.
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Letter to a buddy
May 5, 2015 § 36 Comments
Very bummed to hear about your fall. The worst thing about crashing is that it makes you think about crashing. However, there’s a cure. “Get back on the horse” isn’t just an old adage.
I was even more bummed to know you’re questioning the whole cycling endeavor. I ride my bike fully cognizant of the risks and I embrace them. Those risks – death and catastrophic injury – are definitely worth it because the alternative is … what? Golf?
Pedaling lazily down the bike path isn’t my thing, and from what I’ve seen, it’s not yours, either. Our mutual friend’s terror-stricken approach to bicycles (only rides by himself, restricts his cycling to ITT’s on the track) is an equally unacceptable compromise.
In fact, I ride and race precisely because there is an element of danger to it. It is the danger that crowds out complacency and boredom. I’ve had some hard falls too; we all have. Track crash in 2010, head splat on the NPR in Oct. 2013, splat on the back of my skull doing a wheelie in 2014 up Ganado (cracked the helmet and got a “little” concussion), falls in ‘cross races in 2012, ‘13, and ‘14, and a high speed crash on the BWR two weeks ago that miraculously didn’t deliver me to the ER.
That doesn’t even begin to count the thousands of close calls with motorists and the thousands of close calls I’ve had in packs over the years, nor does it include the race crashes and road collisions I’ve had in the 30 years prior to 2010.
I get where you’re coming from about avoiding the dangerous stuff, but the problem with limiting yourself to safe rides is that there’s no such thing. You can only pick less and less congested, less amped-up situations, and the problem with that is that your skill level quickly deteriorates to the level of whatever your average ride happens to be. I’m not an especially good bike handler, so I need the challenging scenarios to stay sharp, or rather to slow the inevitable rate of decline.
One guy I know in his late 80’s only cycles on the bike path because his hearing, vision, and reaction time aren’t good enough to handle riding in traffic. I’m not there yet, and neither are you.
Cycling for me is more than an outlet. It is a source of connection to social, political, philosophical, economic, and personal journeys, 99% of which have nothing to do with cycling. It is a switch or conduit and one that is well worth the risk. It has helped me in my struggle with alcoholism and keeps my nose to the grindstone with regard to work. It’s been a passport and an instant friendship potion.
That said, I don’t descend the local weekend slugfests with others, certainly not with groups. Some riders are crazy, or bad, or simply unable to control their bikes at the high speeds at which they insist on descending. I’ll go somewhere else rather than be anywhere near people who are truly hazardous. Certain riders are going to harm you if you give them a chance.
You ride intelligently and with a high level of awareness, and as you know, the more you ride, the more you will fall down. Isolation is no savior; our other mutual buddy who’s the ultimate road hermit still had that terrible bicycle falling off incident on the track a couple of years back that put him in the ICU.
I’m not encouraging you to keep riding, but I’m not discouraging you, either. Riding seems to have a very important place in your life, and if the only thing you have is a broken bike, some rash, and soreness, then HTFU. The bike is replaceable. You’re not a crash magnet, so don’t let one event overshadow all else. We know plenty of cyclists who have had catastrophic bicycle falling off incidents and they keep on pedaling because the alternative is so very unattractive.
I also get the thing with your family and their wish that you dial it back. As for your kids, unfortunately it’s not their decision to make, and parents who live for their kids don’t, in my opinion, make very impressive role models. Moreover, your life is much more endangered by sitting behind the wheel of your car than it is by riding your bike, and even if it weren’t, quality matters.
Glad the worst you got were some bumps, road rash, busted equipment, and a splash of self-doubt. But unless I’m missing something … get back on the horse.
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Malibu’s middle finger to cyclists on PCH
May 4, 2015 § 41 Comments
When the Rolling Stones released “Some Girls” in 1978 I was in junior high school. Like most rock lyrics, the title track sounded like “Some girls blahblahblahblah some girls blahblahblah everything I own!” The ratio of blah-to-intelligible-words was about 27-to-one, which meant that I, like most kids, had to hum a lot.
Many years went by and thankfully rock music went with it. However, after moving to California and getting initiated to riding on Pacific Coast Highway I was able to encode one of the mystery lyrics of “Some Girls,” and it was the “blah” after “Let’s go back to blah beach, I’ll give you half, of everything I own.”
There it was, in living color: Zuma Beach. And the reason Mick was going to take the girl back there was to ply her with drugs and then, in the paternity suit/divorce settlement that followed, give her half of everything he owned because California is a community property state.
Even 1/10,000th of everything that Mick Jagger owns in Zuma Beach would be awesome because Zuma is stunningly beautiful. It has great surf. It has eye-popping scenery. The first thongs of spring usually alight here, and the section of PCH that runs through Zuma deposits cyclists onto the doorway of famed canyon climbs like Decker, Encinal, Yerba Buena, and the Beast of the Coast, a/k/a Deer Creek.
PCH also winds its way up to The Rock at Point Mugu, another stunning vista that also happens to mark the turnaround point for most 100-mile PCH sojourns from the South Bay. The stretch of PCH that goes through Zuma Beach is like the rest of PCH after you bust out from Santa Monica. It’s easy and safe and pretty much hassle-free as long as you have the presence of mind to take the lane. The flip side is that being a gutter bunny on PCH is nerve wracking and deadly.
What PCH isn’t, is susceptible to “bicycling infrastructure,” i.e. bike lanes that collect trash that you’re required by law to ride through and that make you fair game for motorists and buses who are only staring straight ahead. PCH is thankfully not susceptible to bike lanes because in most places along PCH to Zuma Beach the highway abuts cliff on the left and streetside parking on the right. There is no place for the misguided to build bike lanes into which cyclists must be corralled.
This is great because the absence of a bike lane really encourages you to take the lane and learn how to ride in it.
The City of Malibu, however, driven by bike-haters, non-cyclist city planners, foolish CALTRANS highway engineers, and I suppose a coterie of cycling “advocates” who are worse than ignorant when it comes to the reality of cycling on PCH, has put in a two-mile bike lane on the southbound section of PCH that goes through Zuma Beach.
For 25 miles in either direction there are no bike lanes and then suddenly, bam, a bike lane. To make things worse the bike lane is jammed up against a two-mile stretch of Zuma Beach streetside parking. All of the Some Girls and all of the Kelly Slaters park here. You don’t know fun until you whiz by a parked van at 22 mph only to have the door thrown open and some stoned dude tumbles out with a 7-foot surfboard. Then he yells at you and tells you to fuck off assuming you aren’t now on the pavement and awaiting a life flight.
After two miles the bike lane ends and you’re back where you started — hopefully in the lane, but more likely crammed over onto the shoulder because the bike lane has primed you to cower and huddle and avoid the passing traffic. This is an easy fear psychosis to fall into because the traffic is passing you at 60 when you’re in the bike lane, unlike when you’re in the travel lane and the approaching traffic slows, changes lanes, and passes you in the No. 1 lane with space and speed to spare.
Even if you’re a bike lane advocate (and I hope you aren’t) this one is complete rubbish unless you live in Zuma Beach. For anyone just passing through, and trust me, like Mick the residents really want you to keep on trucking, the bike lanes are the ultimate in confusion and stupidly incomplete infrastructure.
On May 9 I’ll be protesting the illegal harassment of cyclists by LA Sheriff’s Department at Malibu City Hall on Saturday, 9:00 AM and also complaining about these awful deathtrap bike lanes. I’m leaving the parking lot at Temescal Canyon and PCH at Will Rogers State Park at 8:00 AM-ish and will be riding slowly, safely, and legally — in the lane! I’m leaving the South Bay from the Manhattan Beach Pier at 6:30
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May 3, 2015 § 8 Comments
One common thread that runs through every German novel I’ve ever read is that what I think I understood was completely wrong. However, thanks to its brevity, simple vocabulary, and translucent prose, I’m pretty sure I got this much right out of Herman Hesse’s novella “Siddhartha.”
When asked by his prospective employer what he could do, since he’d spent his life wandering around not bathing and doing mostly nothing, Siddhartha answered, “I can think, I can wait, and I can fast.”
Now there may be a better mantra for a bike racer, but if there is I’ve never heard it.
Age lays you low if you like to race. You’re not only not as good once as you ever were, you ultimately reach a point where you’re not even as generally bad as you once were, but generally so, or even worse. The decline is vicious, steep, inevitable, and cruel.
On the plus side, plunging recovery, waning strength, and diluted pain tolerance have forced me to adapt since I ride so much with riders who are so much younger. It is shameful to admit, but I have begun resorting to tactics. Sneaky, wheel-sucking, despicable tactics that are the signature of every card-carrying bike douche and, parenthetically, every successful one.
My only defense is that I have come to it late whereas most of my peers, and whole swathes of younger riders, have never known anything else. And to its credit, tactical douchery does have its rewards.
Take the most recent Thursday Flog Ride. Although the Wily Greek had temporarily vacated for the Tour of the Gila, NJ Pedal Beater was there along with a very small handful of other riders. NJ’s approach is to go out so hard that he immediately drops everyone. Failing that, he deliberately tries to kill you. More about that later.
On the first lap NJPB made short work of half the small group with a repeated series of attacks so vicious and fast, and unleashed at such difficult points in the ride, that after a few minutes the only remaining victims were me, EA Sports Inc., King Harold, and Uglystroke. As an aside, NJPB had done the 140-mile Belgian Waffle Ride the previous Sunday in a scorching 7:11, winning his category and putting him in the top-20 overall even though he essentially time-trialed the entire route.
I knew that any exposure to the wind would be fatal, particularly since NJPB is tiny and provides minimal draft to begin with. I also knew that his vastly superior recovery and excessive tininess meant that any time at the front by me would be rewarded with more searing attacks. Then I factored in this detail: I’d never beaten him on this ride because the handful of times we’d reached the final steeps of 18-percent Via la Cuesta together, he had dusted me off like an energetic maid with a feather broom.
This, of course, is the iron law of cycling: The best predictor of future results is past performance.
So I sat. By the end of the second lap it was just me, Uglystroke, and NJPB, whose attacks had diminished a bit in frequency and ferocity. However, furious at being unable to shake us, NJPB took the approach of “kill what you can’t beat” by insanely attacking into the two wet 180-degree hairpins that are frequently populated with giant peacocks, not to mention oncoming traffic if you cross the yellow line.
The desire to kill people who you ostensibly pretend to like is interesting because it tends to nullify the “people you like” part of the statement, especially when done repeatedly. NJPB was unconcerned with the fact that after each descent we easily floated back to his rear wheel; the goal seemed simply to either terrify us (it succeeded) or crash us out (it failed).
On the fifth lap I tested him with two surges which he easily followed. Then I returned to the not-especially-draftable rear wheel and waited for the finale. Incredibly, when we hit Via la Cuesta he crumpled, something I’d never seen, much less imagined. I sped away, enjoying the fruits of my tactical douchery, never quite believing I’d hold it to the end.
And perhaps I didn’t. He recovered and sprinted up the final 21-percent mini-wall such that he either beat me by a tire or I beat him. In any case, I marked it down as a success to sneakiness.
Two days later a similar game played itself out on the Saturday Donut Ride, where I’ve never beaten or even followed 27-year-old Colin Dong, a Ph.D. dental student who weighs twelve pounds and goes uphill, shall we say, quickly.
On the big climb, a 20-minute-ish effort that really begins in Portuguese Bend and finishes atop the radar domes, I sat. And sat. And sat. All on Colin’s wheel, and briefly on Chris’s before he swung over.
As the pain intensified I simply reminded myself of Siddhartha: I can think, and my plan is to hunker down and suck wheel and don’t counter when he slows and don’t let him trick me onto the front. I can wait, so I simply have to wait for the end. There will be no glory other than the glory of waiting. And I can fast, which, over the past two months, has allowed me to shed enough blubber so that I’ve gone from 165 to 155.
As we hit the final turn, of course, I lost the ability to think as my plan turned to “Quit now.”
I lost my ability to wait as I realized that waiting even one more second wasn’t worth the collapsing pain box.
I retained my ability to fast, but that was only because I’d forgotten to pack a gel.
Colin sprinted away over the final 300 or so yards, but I’d finished with him in sight, and nearly in reach.
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Advice to an aspiring blogger
May 2, 2015 § 10 Comments
I recently dashed off a thank-you note, “Thanks for the support!” to a new subscriber. He responded with a hilarious email, which I won’t reproduce below simply because nothing I write will be as funny, and then everyone will go over to his blog and leave mine. It is a zero-sum game in the world of grabbing eyeballs, unfortunately.
However, here is a link to his blog. His name is Mike Hancock, and he lives in Alaska.
In Mike’s email, among other things, he asked about how he could emulate the fame and financial success of SoCal’s most renowned bicycling blogger. I told him that he should ask Nancy over at RKP directly.
Mike’s inquiry, however, speaks volumes for Alaska’s standard of living that $2.99 x 12 is a standard to which people aspire, but I took the time to give him some advice from the perspective of SoCal’s most reviled bicycling blogger. Here it is.
Thank you for the funny and entertaining email. I can assure you that the life of a hobby lawyer-blogger is gratifying and fulfilling. There are days when sleeping on a park bench hurts my back, but here in sunny SoCal I’m usually grateful for all of this unhoped-for success.
I went to your web site and spent some time on it. “What are you laughing at?” is always a good sign when coming from my wife.
“Oh, nothing,” I told her truthfully.
Aside from the humor I appreciate your attention to grammar and spelling. It’s the first sign, and usually the last, that a writer cares about either his audience or his topic.
You haven’t asked me for a quick guide on how to achieve riches as a bicycle blogger, but you sort of have, so here goes.
- I have no idea.
- The most interesting thing you have going for you, aside from what appears to be an incredibly fascinating middle-aged married white guy’s mediocre bike racing life, is Alaska. To you perhaps this is just where you live, but to me it is like having a blog called “Cycling on Jupiter,” only more interesting. Moose attacks, grizzly bear racing, and run-ins with Iditarod racers should all be standard fare in your blog and daily life, and this is not the time to stand on the ceremony of truth, honesty, or facts.
- If you’re seeking a wider audience you should write less about yourself in the first person. A good way to quickly identify whether a blog is too me-centric is to briefly scan it and see how often the writer uses “I,” “me,” “mine,” and other relatives of the first person. In other words, the personal works best as an accent for the impersonal.
- Consistency in publication. I understand that it’s hard to crank out a blog post more than once every six months, but you can do this!
- Write about your friends. You build readership by making people want to read, first about themselves and then about other things. You will eventually lose all of your friends by writing about them of course, but by then you will have 20 or 30 loyal readers in Ireland and Mauritius, and even a subscriber or two. Yes, mom counts.
- Comparing yourself to the cheap Chinese wheel was awesome. That is a great technique that I plan to plagiarize asap. You have a number of other witty and insightful lines, none of which appears to be protected by copyright, which, again, I appreciate.
- The gold standard for blogging success if Eben Weiss, a hostile, sarcastic, cynical wanker who, despite multiple books, a regularly insulting column in Bicycling, and thousands of readers, still has a day job. Of course the moose-Iditarod-grizzly bear angle, or the cycling-in-a-salmon-run approach may hit a bigger chord than the urban struggles of snobbish biking in NYC, but if you do have a day job, hang onto it at least for the next month or two. I understand that park benches in Anchorage are only really good to sleep on about three weeks out of the year.
- Repurpose random emails. When someone emails you something, copy and paste it into your blog. It saves mental effort, and with a bit of fakery you can usually turn it into a nice placeholder, especially for Saturday or Sunday morning when you’re in a hurry to go do the group ride and don’t have time to write because you forgot to check your tires the night before (the rear is flat), all of your bibs have poop stains and are in the dirty heap, your cleat has come loose and you can’t find the right sized hex key, you haven’t mixed any EPO and electrolyte yet, and you only have five minutes to get out the door and make the eight-minute pedal to the start.
Anyway, a heartfelt thanks again for the funny email and for the subscription. $2.99 doesn’t seem like much until you ponder what a cheap bastard the average cyclist is.
Your obedient servant,
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The great empty
May 1, 2015 § 35 Comments
The verdict is in on power meters, Strava, and computerized ride data. They make you faster.
A professionally designed power-based training plan, scrupulously followed, and including adaptations for the times when you are sick, injured, or beset by the things otherwise known as life, will turn you into someone who turns the pedals faster.
What it will also do — and the verdict is in on this as well — is make you unhappier.
If you are a professional, that is a meaningless consequence. Your sponsors don’t give you money to ensure your happiness, they do it to ensure your success, which theoretically leads to better sales. But what about YOU?
I have three case studies, not including my own, that I’ve followed over the last six years. Here they are. Judge for yourself.
Case Study #1: The happy racer
This guy got into cycling from marathoning and “high risk” action sports. When he came onto the scene he fit the profile we’ve all seen, zooming from freddie to feared hammer in a single season. We’ll call him Tom. Tom rode his bicycle with abandon and zest, and saw nothing wrong with Mile 1 breakaways on the Saturday Donut Ride, breakaways that sometimes succeeded but that always inflicted carnage on those left behind, not to mention those who foolishly tried to follow his wheel.
He rode instinctively, and though his instincts were often wrong, occasionally they were right and they put him on the podium. More importantly, the act of riding was an act of irrepressible joy. Win or lose he embodied the same pleasure that you can find in any little kid zooming full speed down the local hill. Not that little kids are allowed to do that anymore, of course.
As part of his “progression,” Tom’s engineering mind made technology-based training a natural area of investigation. He “computered up,” and over a few seasons mastered the fundamentals of power-based training. His natural ability, an already sharpened knife, became a razor. His grasp of training and innate desire to share made him a lightning rod for new riders in his club, with whom he gladly shared training information, workout plans, and swapped training data.
After about three years, Tom no longer took risks on group rides by attacking early. He became calculating and efficient. If the pace exceeded his training targets, he sat up. If it wasn’t hard enough, he went off and did something by himself. Tom became a slave to his data. It made him faster, but it also turned the freedom of cycling into the prison of golf, where you are constantly reminded that there are absolute numbers beyond which you can never progress. Tom’s beauty, which had always been the bright light in his eyes, had dimmed.
Enslaved to the numbers, when Tom had a really bad year with some significant medical problems that ruined his carefully regulated train-by-the-numbers approach, instead of digging into the mental bucket, bucking up and rallying, he began doing something he’d never done before: throwing in the towel, DNF-ing, quitting. The thing that had always sustained him, his mental attitude and his enjoyment of the sport, had been replaced with numbers and data that had no real strength to carry him through the rough spots other than their unflinching message of inadequacy and defeat. The last time we rode together he was still struggling.
Case Study #2: Escape from New York
I’ll call this guy Snake Pliskin. He was whatever type is more aggro than Type A … Type A positive? He also came from a running background and migrated to cycling when his knees gave out. Mentally tough and physically gifted, for Snake the act of riding a bike was the act of riding away from the stresses of work.
Snake had a grind-em-up attitude to riding. He didn’t race but he approached every ride as a competition. And though he was often put to the sword on long climbs, when placed in his element of flat or undulating road, preferably with a stiff crosswind, he could put paid to all but the very best of the best. Snake finished his rides spent and satisfied, regardless of whether he was the last man standing. The act of full commitment and giving it his all recharged him for the real battles that remained to be fought in his workaday world.
For him, cycling was the beautiful escape.
Somewhere along the way he became a complete Strava addict. Multiple devices to record rides, pages and pages of KOM’s, and a ferocious response on the bike to those who took his trophies. Yet the more he buried himself in the world of Strava, the more he opened himself up to attack, as countless riders took shots — many of which were successful — at his virtual winnings. This of course drove him to ride more, ride harder, create more segments, and further extend his pages of KOM’s.
Along the way cycling mutated from a refuge into a prison. With everything measured and quantified, with every foot of roadway a possible place to take a KOM or lose one, he spiraled from the incredible pressures of his job to the equally crushing pressures of riding his bicycle.
As with Tom, Snake’s numbers told him that however good he was, on some segment, on some day, someone else was better. The awfulness was reflected in the fact that not only had Snake’s escape become a wearying burden, but it was now on full public display. Unlike the real world, where your buddy kicks your ass, rubs your nose in it, and you remind him of the drubbing you gave him the week before, Snake was locked in Strava kudo hell, where anonymous people with strange nicknames have the same right to comment as your closest buddies who suffered stroke for stroke all the way up the climb, and where the interaction is a binary “kudos” or an “uh-oh.”
The humanity of friends trading jokes and trading pulls, laughing at the funny shit that happens on a ride, commiserating about life, sharing triumphs, and making fun of each other’s foibles had been reduced to a fake interface of 0’s and 1’s artfully designed to imitate real people, real relationships, real lives. The escape was now the cage and it wasn’t even gilded.
The last time I rode with Snake he crushed everyone, grimly.
Case Study #3: The old school
I will call her Harriet. She had been around forever and was still dominating the local women’s race scene into her late 40’s, outsmarting and intimidating women half her age. She eschewed data and Strava and wattage-based training plans. Harriet’s MO was simple: ride and train with the fast men. She couldn’t beat them, but she could hang on and it made her strong enough to beat her peers, even when they were young enough to be her daughters.
She paid no attention to technology and refused to join Strava. She’d ridden as a pro and knew three things: how to train, how to win, and how to have fun.
And in her own way, her pleasure in riding a bicycle remained as vibrant and undiminished as it ever was. The last time I rode with her she gapped me out, shouted at me for running a red light, and dusted me in the sprint. Then she pedaled gaily off to work, ready to start the day.
This great empty is hardly confined to cycling. It repeats itself in myriad ways for modern Americans whether they ride bikes or not. When people think about the rise of the machines they imagine cyborgs and androids and sci-fi creations, but those aren’t the machines that rule us. The machines are pieces of software that are piped to us by phones, Garmins, desktops, and laptops, they are algorithms that have reduced the complexity of life and human interaction into 0’s and 1’s.
And they dominate us because at its most basic form, life is that simple. But who wants that level of simplicity? Isn’t life better with messiness, with the nonlinear slop and jostle of emotions and feelings and real human contact?
Of course it is, and that’s the big lie that the great empty has to spend billions to paper over. When your emotions are tugged by the 0’s and 1’s that show the precious pug or the newborn of your best friend or the KOM on that 200-yard bike path segment (tailwind, natch), something deep inside is left empty and unfulfilled, the zipless fuck of the digital age. How do I know? Because after the little jolt you have to hit refresh or like or kudo or scroll eternally and in desperation down the feed.
Answers I don’t have, but this I know — when you ride a bicycle untethered to 0’s and 1’s, you may not become any faster. But you will, over time, become happier and more at peace with the ragged, raging, sloppy and jostling world that, despite the best PR efforts of Facebag, Google, SRM, and Strava, hasn’t yet learned that reality is denser and more complex than two simple numbers.
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