Sunday, August 27, 2006

Rising in the West

We do it all for guys like this.

A while ago I mentioned a new bridge going in on one of my favorite routes across the tidal flatlands south of where I live.

The purpose of the bridge was to allow a new channel to be created where the highway blocked tidal flows from flushing through the marsh.

In the olden days, water flowed in and out; more than 100 years ago, some folks blocked off the outlet to the ocean so they could hunt ducks in the lagoon; later on, the highway went in across the same artificial sandspit, and an electric railway too.

The electric railway stopped running when they made "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." The highway remains, and is used by thousands of cars every day, probably tens of thousands.

Also by many bicyclists.

This week they tore down the berm separating the new inlet from the sea, and for the first time in over 100 years, the marooned lagoon can breathe free.

The earthmovers broke the berm around 4 a.m., at low tide. They said it would take about six hours (the span of a rising tide) for the ocean to flood in and fill the marsh.

The new bridge has a gracious design, including little viewing platforms where cyclists and pedestrians can stand out of the flow of traffic and have a look at the water flowing underneath.

The last step required before letting the water through into the inner lagoon was the construction of a second bridge for utility traffic to and from a series of oil wells that sit near the entrance to Bolsa Bay. This bridge was finished a month or so ago, and water now flows underneath it too on its way into the estuary.

After all that work to open the waterway, it was gratifying to see native species clambering over the rocks almost right away, reclaiming the territory they had been denied for years.

As of this week, the tide (which was quite strong flowing through this channel) was still stirring up a lot of turbulation from loose sand and silt in the water. I imagine that will persist until the new channel bottom stabilizes a little, and native seaweeds take hold to help clump things together. (This picture exaggerates the visibility of the clouds in the water.)

Before . . .

. . . after.

Meet the Beetle

Ran into this little fellow yesterday while I was trimming my roses. He seemed comfortable, so other than photographing him I left him unmolested.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Here's a ride that looks like it would really suck:

I could complain about this one all year. And it happens in January, so that's nearly 365 consecutive days of whining.

Oh, and I think it would be hot too, even in January. It's so far south, it's practically in Mexico.

I wonder if it's all upwind.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Going Down

Today we are two months from the summer solstice, one month before the autumn equinox, four months from the winter solstice. The sunset has gone one-third as far south as it will get on the horizon.

This is where it set at the solstice.

And this is where it set tonight, viewed from the same vantage. The red arrow points at the spot where it set at the summer solstice.

We've lost about a half-hour of daylight at the end of the day. To get home before dark, at the solstice you had till a little after 8. As of today, you have till 7:35.

It's still summer, but the seeds of fall are planted.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hasta la Pasta

Registration, alphabetically. I felt bad for the folks whose names were in the list on the far right.

I rolled under the arch at 8:34 a.m. Skies were overcast, wind light.

Different people see different things here. A cyclist looks at the flags and thinks, "Light crosswind." All day long the wind stayed lighter than it might have, which was welcome.

Typical stretch of Highway 101, going north. I don't think we took the highway north last time I did this ride, though I distinctly remember the fun it was to ride it southbound on the way back, right next to the water.

People have this notion that all bikers have to do to stay safe is wear a helmet. They don't realize there are all kinds of hidden roadside hazards.

This was an organized ride, and very well supported, which is to say they had several well-stocked rest stops along the way, and "sag wagons" that patrolled the length of the course watching for cyclists who needed help. This is a typical rest stop, with volunteers (the ride was a benefit for the Kiwanis) serving cookies, lemonade, water, bananas, trail mix, peanut butter and crackers, and other quick energy food.

As you ride, along with following the instructions on the paper "route slip" you're carrying, you keep an eye on the pavement for arrows like this that tell you when to turn. The different colors are for different routes. I was on the yellow route, the 100-mile century route. Green was the metric century, 100 kilometers (about 65 miles). They turned around after this rest stop, which was a little over 30 miles from where we'd started. Orange was for the lunatics, the folks on the double metric century, 130+ miles, over hill and dale. They also had some much steeper climbs than anything I wished on myself.

MrJumbo, standing roughly on the roof of the route. I didn't carry a route profile to know when we hit our highest point, but it was somewhere around here. I met a couple of other guys who had stopped to rest and bask in their accomplishment, and they cheerfully offered to take my picture. Note the yellow "route slip" clipped to the front of my bike, which includes directions for which turns to take.

Nice valley shot. The key thing to observe here is how far down the valley floor is. Remember that just a little while ago I was riding at sea level.

This also will give you a sense of our elevation. The palms in the distance are on the coastline. (We had climbed about 800 feet by here--not too high compared to some rides, but it felt like work.)

Uh, sure--we climbed this hill next. Actually, we didn't even go up this road; we turned right before going into the ranch. This is just up the road from our lunch stop.

Every uphill has a downhill; this was on the way back to the coast. Many shots on the road are taken about 15 seconds after the image I wanted; here you can see the hang glider just ducking behind the hill on the left. But do note the yellow and orange spray paint on the shoulder, which was fresh and put there by the ride organizers. It warns riders to touch their brakes; the turn ahead is sharper than they can see from here. For the most part the route follows good bike roads; here and there the organizers had to mark a minor hazard.

My absolute favorite part of the ride is coming down this hill to join Highway 101 on one of the most beautiful stretches of coast California has to offer. The ride is 85% over, and it's hard to imagine a more exciting place to ride.

There are plenty of pictures not posted here, including several I didn't stop to take. These are just a few highlights. Along with lots of beauty along the way--from passing trains to nurseries stocked with colorful flowers to rich mountain pastures--I also particularly noticed the smells that touched my nose along the way. Wild fennel grew along the first several miles; I smelled bacon as we went past RVs parked roadside; wood smoke rose from beachfront houses. We rolled down lanes lined with sharp-smelling eucalyptus and aromatic redwood, and we passed backyard barbecues. Naturally there was the full salty smell of the sea breeze, and as we rode home past more RVs parked along the highway, I smelled shampoo from someone taking an afternoon shower inside. All that's hard to catch on a digital camera.

I came back under the arch at 5:15. Subtracting for breaks, I averaged 13.68 miles an hour--better than I had maybe hoped for, but no Olympic speed. Just fast enough to have fun, and faster on the hills.

The organizers of an event like this always emphasize that it's a ride, not a race. I passed some people on the road; some people passed me. Often we'd see each other at rest stops and play touch-and-go on the road.

I had a great time.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Got the Pasta

The short form: Yes, I made it back for the pasta. Everything went great, or at least there were no catastrophes (or apostrophes or epistrophes). Had a tremendous day.

For more details, you'll have to wait till I've had a shower and a beverage.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Gear Check

I should be rolling around Ventura in under 12 hours.

Made my final pre-century checks this morning, on an easy ±12-mile ride.

The past couple of times I've been out have raised questions about derailleur adjustment.

Nothing to demolish you like finding out on a stiff slope that you can't shift into the lowest gears.

This morning both front and rear derailleurs behaved smoothly.

Everything else seems fine too. As of a week or so ago, I finally got the fussy rear wheel aligned so it doesn't chafe against the brakes every time it goes around. The chain's been recently greased, and I've broken in a new set of gloves.

(I normally don't like riding with gloves; they feel like an affectation resulting from gear lust. But on longer rides I've taken lately, I've noticed handlebar chafing getting close to raising a blister, which would be more annoying than having my hands confined in gloves.)

I've always veered away from wee-hour awakenings; all the early bird ever got was a worm. But tomorrow I expect I'll be out the door at oh-dark-thirty so I can get to Ventura and start the ride as early as possible.

My brother is able to post to his blog from his cell phone.

Me, I'll have to wait till I get home.

If you're looking for entertaining reading between now and then, have a look at a recent Rand Corp. study on the town I call home these days.

Here's to cool, clear weather with tailwinds in every direction!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

What Goes Up Must Come Down

I went off for a jaunt around Palos Verdes Peninsula again yesterday, on my own this time. I had a curiosity. I've ridden elements of the loop route separately, but I hadn't done the whole thing yet.

On this map (which is not exactly the route I took), I live over on the right side, about where the A in Angeles is. So I ride west, across the road labeled as 103, and intercept the route that's marked on this route, then I typically head south, instead of taking the road north as shown on this map.

Palos Verdes Peninsula is ringed by four roads: Palos Verdes Drive East, South, West, and North. Until yesterday, I'd never done the whole loop. I've gone up Palos Verdes Drive East to the top before, but the day I did that I didn't know the elevation profile for the rest of the ride, and I decided not to take the chance they all had wicked steep climbs like the one I'd just finished.

Since then, I've had the chance to ride the rest of the route, which has rolling rises and falls but is mostly quite pleasant.

I stole the route profile above, by the way, from someone else's site. It would be nice to be able to generate elevation profiles like this myself. I hope someone at Google Earth is working on that right now.

I attack the route in the reverse direction from what's shown, so I go from right to left across the profile you see. The first peak (going from right to left) is about 800 feet in elevation; the second is still under 1,000--probably around 900? And the horizontal scale is very compressed, so it looks more daunting than it is.

But it's still a real grind to get up there. The sign I photographed before that said the road ahead was not suitable for bicycles was in Miraleste, which is on the map above; it sits in the valley between the two peaks. The shoulder's narrow, but other than that the road is fine.

After I ride Palos Verdes Drive East, which has the bulk of the hill climbing on this route, I head west, then north, then east again across Palos Verdes Drive North (not highlighted on the map above), until I come back to the start of the loop. Then I just head east again till I get home. Simple, no?

As you come over the top of the hill, you see this view off to the west. The road follows the top of the bluffs. Yesterday a stiff wind was blowing from the west, which meant that even on the downhills I was fighting to keep going.

This is the view to the southeast. About a third of the way in from the right edge, you see a large container ship just entering L.A. harbor. You can see the breakwater that encloses the Port of Long Beach. (Click on the picture to see the enlarged version.)

Here's the road down to the top of the bluffs. Nicely graded S curves. No cover from the sun for riders headed uphill on this road. I was on my way down.

Further along, you get to Portuguese Bend, which is slipping gradually into the sea. There's not much the road engineers can do to keep the road smooth here, short of building a suspension bridge so the roadway wouldn't rest on constantly moving earth. It makes for entertaining riding and driving.

Roadworks crews do all they can to keep the road drivable. Mostly that means putting down patches as quickly as cracks open up. Even so, the patches only last so long before the ground settles and slides again.

Here's a detail to show the level of bumpiness in the road. This is a major thoroughfare around the peninsula; anyone who has to get from one side to the other doesn't have a lot of choices.

I'm tossing this picture in to keep the record complete. It's from a ride I took last week. This is looking back down a hill I'd just climbed. I didn't think it looked that steep in the picture, but my brother was impressed. When you look at it, tilt the monitor back and see if it doesn't look steep. It was a stiff ride up, probably a 4% or 5% grade for 2.5 miles.

Last week's ride supposedly had 2,900 feet of climbing in it, which was a taste of what I expect to get next week at the Cool Breeze Century, with 3,500 feet of climbing. Last week's ride was 54 miles, the day after I'd gone 50+ miles on the (mostly) flat. From recent rides, I'm comfortable believing I'll make it through the century (100 miles), but I expect I'll be pretty drained by the end of it.

It seems easier, and it's definitely more fun, when you're sharing the road with other folks who are feeling similarly punished. But 3,500 feet is 3,500 feet, and the last time I rode the Cool Breeze, I remember a draining crosswind for the last several miles. I'll be glad to get to the pasta dinner by the end, when the spinning wheels can stop going round.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Enjoy Every Sandwich

It was Eddy Merckx who famously remarked: "You don't win the Tour de France by eating sandwiches and drinking mineral water.", June 6, 1997

You can find that remark elsewhere on the Web if you run a Google search; I haven't found it anywhere authoritative enough yet to convince me it's definitely not apocryphal.

Eddy Merckx in 1969 was thrown out of the Giro d'Italia (the Italian equivalent of the Tour de France) after he tested positive for drugs. He cried real tears in front of the press. He said someone must have monkeyed with the samples. He said only a fool would use performance enhancers before such an easy stage.

Eddy Merckx set the gold standard for what it takes to be the best cyclist ever. Without getting into the tussle over whether Lance Armstrong (or anyone else) outdid Eddy Merckx, I'll just say that many people--and not just Belgians--still consider him the best ever.

Eddy Merckx won the Tour de France five times (his first win was the same year he got thrown out of the Giro). Another great rider of the same era, Jacques Anquetil, who also won the Tour de France five times, also was plain about his feelings on performance boosters: He said that just as a geography teacher might use a painkiller if he had a backache, so he could focus better in class, so should professional cyclists be allowed to use medicine to help them perform better. You can look it up; it's in Wikipedia.

Jacques Anquetil was famous for preparing for a race by staying up late and partying the night before. That was back when men were men and cyclists were heroes.

A D.J. down here in Southern California says heroin never did anything worthwhile for a musician, but it sure did a lot for the D.J.'s record collection.

Having said all that, I sure do wish the sport of cycling weren't diluted by so many additives.

More than many sports, cycling is a test of a rider's raw ability to crank out energy. Running and swimming are similar. Basketball, soccer, and hockey also rely on a player's ability to keep performing at high-watt output, all the while engaging in tactics and strategies to move the ball or puck toward the goal. So if you can find something that will boost your sustained performance by even one or two percent, it's tempting to use it. That's why rules have been written to forbid performance boosters.

Floyd Landis, in the 17th stage of this year's Tour de France, turned in a performance everyone agreed was amazing, finishing nearly six minutes ahead of the next guy after five grueling climbs up alps. Six minutes ahead, in a race that took Landis 323 minutes to finish, means he outperformed the next guy by a little under 2%.

This was considered the definitive stage of the race. Any stage might have made the biggest difference, but Landis made this stage his own, and he essentially clinched the victory with his heroic ride.

If you can trust the kind of people who leak information to the press, Floyd's testosterone level was 11 times as high as his epitestosterone level after the 17th stage. A normal ratio would be more like 1:1 or 2:1. The rules of cycling say that anything higher than 4:1 is enough to warrant an investigation. Not only that, but--again, if you can trust the people who spread these remarks--an isotope scan of the testosterone indicates that the carbon atoms in its molecular makeup are a different isotope from what humans usually carry around with them. The carbon isotope in the testosterone from Floyd's test specimen matches plant sterols, which is where synthetic testosterone is usually derived.

It appears Floyd's heroic performance--an exploit, to use a French word that has lost some of its panache as it made its way into English--was very much along the same lines as those of past heroes of the Tour like Mercx and Anquetil.

Appropriately enough, one of the inspirations he credited with his stunning stage win was a conversation he had the night before with none other than the man many hail as the greatest cyclist ever: Eddy Merckx. Eddy's son Axel was racing on Floyd's team, supporting him all the way. One certainly wonders what advice Eddy gave Floyd in that phone call the night before Floyd's historic effort. The official version is that he told Floyd he had no other choice than to attack.

Some argue that steroids and blood doping (essentially transfusing your own blood back into yourself to boost your performance) should be legalized in sports to level the playing field: Make the best equipment available to everyone. I understand the argument but won't wade into the whole tangle here.

I understand the motivation Floyd Landis may have had to take a chance on a testosterone patch the night before Stage 17: If he didn't use the patch, he had certainly lost the race. He was due for a hip replacement after the Tour finished, and he might never get another chance to win the Tour. Floyd knew his options were to lose the race for sure, or to take a chance and--if the chance panned out--maybe win. Or maybe get caught. He chatted with a cycling legend who had been known to say Tours aren't won on mineral water and sandwiches. Floyd had a beer or two and a couple of shots of whiskey, by all accounts. I've given in to temptation plenty of times, even when I knew I shouldn't.

But I will say: From the bottom of my heart, I wish Floyd Landis had won without a testosterone boost.

No matter what anyone did in the good old days, if you do something that breaks today's rules, you're a cheater. No matter why the rule was written or why a person broke it--or whether that player got caught--the one who goes outside the limits spoils the game for the rest of us.

And of course there are all kinds of fine shades of gray and complex rationalizations and situational ethics to consider, but as a rider and as a fan I still deeply wish Floyd Landis could have claimed a clean win.

None of us is without flaws, and all of us have broken rules before and will again, and I'm not passing judgment on the rider to say he's a good guy or a bad guy. Poets break rules all the time and win awards for it. I'm only saying I wish the winning ride had been above reproach.

That would have been an exploit to toast through the ages. With mineral water, or anything else that was around.