Thursday, February 26, 2009

Add Water, Mix Well

On Thursday, we went to have a look at a well we’re digging. We don’t know whether there’s water here. This is a test well. The stake on the right side of the frame marks the corner of the property.

I actually had to explain to a friend what the water could be used for.

Some activities just go better with water.

Water is also good for farming. After a long detour, we came around to a different site where we have another well out for maintenance.

To get the water out of a well, you nest several diameters of pipe, each with a specific purpose. This pipe and shaft has all been taken out of the well (which itself is a long pipe sticking straight down into the ground), while we run a camera down the well and take a look at what shape its sides are in.

This is the column pipe that has come out of the well. The smooth sections of pipe hang in the well above the water level. The lengths with blisters and rust all sit below the water level in the well. At the bottom of all this pipe is a set of impellers attached to a shaft. When the shaft turns, the impellers send the water up to the surface.

The general idea is to run the water into one of these rigs, which then deposits the water in the field where the plants are. This one isn’t running right now, because we’re repairing the well.

We picked up a passenger who wanted to come down from the ranch to town for a while to visit family. We had received a phone call after leaving the first well site in the morning, to let us know that the test bore had struck water. So we stopped by again on our way out and back to civilization, to see what we could see.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Race: Coda

When you’re leading a multi-stage bike race by 30 seconds or so, you have to defend your lead everywhere: on the flat and on the steepest slopes. Levi Leipheimer had led all week, and he had shown in the individual time trials a few days before that he could outrace anyone else in the peloton on the flat, with no team members riding in front to break the wind.

This day was harder in some ways: an hors-categorie mountain climb, where one by one his teammates fell away after protecting him as far as they could. Floyd Landis attacked on the lower slopes, riding out in front of the peloton, but Levi didn’t have to react, because Landis was so far behind in the standings that he could gain several minutes and still not be a threat in the overall.

Then Floyd fell back into the peloton, and, after a flurry of other positioning, Mick Rogers (from Australia) and Dave Zabriskie rode out ahead, together with a few others. Only seconds separated these guys from Levi in the overall standings, so he had to answer. It’s easy to lose whole minutes on a mountain climb if you can’t keep going at 110% all the way up and over the top. That would have cooked Levi’s race and made all his efforts over the past week futile.

Here he is, duking it out with some of the very best, toughest, strongest riders in the world. Above you can barely see Levi off on the left, half hidden, in blue shorts and a jersey with yellow sleeves. After a climb that wrecked a lot of riders’ legs, this was the first group to get to the top of the hill. When the race came to Palomar, none of the hotshot sprinters who led breakaways on the flat earlier in the week could match the legs and endurance of the big dogs.

That’s Mick Rogers in the yellow-and-white jersey in the middle of this handful of riders, and Dave Zabriskie (who races out of Utah) in blue shorts (Garmin) and white jersey right behind him. These two guys, plus Levi, plus a couple of the others in this group, are among probably the dozen best riders in the world. It was a treat to have them ride by.

This picture was actually taken several dozen yards up the road from where I was standing before. I ran alongside the riders, as fans on the upper slopes do, cheering them on in the last excruciating piece of the climb.

The word only came out a week later about how hard Levi had to fight to match these guys every inch of the climb: It turned out that since the third day of the race he had been riding with a fractured sacrum, the result of a collision on the road. He got up and kept riding that day, and climbed on the bike every day after that to defend his position, knowing how much it hurt to ride, probably not wanting to know why.

One of the most famous forearms in the industry. That’s Johan Bruyneel in the car, the guy who coached Lance Armstrong to seven consecutive Tour de France victories, still managing Lance (and Levi, and Albert Contador, and Chris Horner, and a bunch of Lance’s other old teammates), coordinating strategy via race radio while the riders wrestle their way up the road. That forearm spends thousands of miles every July weaving through France, passing water bottles out the window, gesturing, collecting rain gear when the sun comes out.

Next to him I think is Jani Brajkovic, but I'm really not sure (except that it looks like him).

Note that this bottle matches the one on the bike above. I honestly don’t remember which Astana rider chucked it off into the dirt as he rode past where I was standing, but I went straight over to retrieve it. I didn’t bring home a lot of souvenirs—posters or shirts or buttons or anything. But this is something I’ll be able to use.

Race: The Road to, Well, Hills

Last weekend I took an interesting drive. It started when I found the road blocked to where I wanted to be. But I had done my homework and knew there was a back way.

After a short stretch, a sign let me know the pavement was going to end, and I started rising above the orange groves . . .

. . . and rising . . .

. . . and rising.
If you study the first picture, you’ll see the road I’m on here, switchbacking its way up the side of the hill. The dirt road had a lot of moderate slope, but I started hitting steeper bits and tighter turns.

With every hairpin turn, I was getting higher . . .

. . . and higher.

The road looked like this. I was in an ordinary sedan, nothing with four-wheel drive. That’s fine, as long as the road doesn’t get any hairier. On the flat, this kind of rubble road is fine. As you start heading uphill, the drive wheels start fishing around for traction in the soft dirt and sand and gravel.

I never hit a patch of road where I was worried about going over the side, but I knew if I got in trouble up here—if I cooked the transmission or hit a stretch too steep to make it over—I was a long way from a tow truck.

That’s a long way to steer down in reverse.

Around a bend and on my way up (I was going from about 3,000 feet elevation to 5,000 feet, something like a 600-meter climb), I started seeing patches of snow off on nearby hilltops.

Still the road kept rising.

A lot of this area burned pretty badly a few years back. Note the fire-watch tower on the left end of the ridge, next to a microwave repeater tower.

Vegetation shifts as you get to higher altitude.

The snow that had been over on adjacent hillsides now was at the side of the road.

Always an interesting sign.

What my transmission really wanted wasn’t just a steep climb on a soft dirt-and-rock road. What my transmission wanted was a steep climb through snow and mud.

I actually had snow chains with me, in the trunk. But I sure didn’t want to have to get out and put them on in the muck and mire. Even on the flat, traction was getting dodgy as I slid through puddles and tried to hold momentum until the next high, dry spot.

I had gone from California February, with orange groves in full green, to the February the rest of the world is used to seeing.

By the time I reached the crest, I was a mile high and well positioned for the show I had come to see.

Race: Fan Scene

The store at the top of the hill was doing a brisk business.

This is the top of the Palomar “King of the Mountain” grade. The course had three other KOM climbs, but none so daunting. Two were Category 4, which is the lowest rated climb (to earn points for the overall best climber prize); one was Cat 3. The Palomar grade is in a whole different class; it was rated HC, for “hors categorie,” which in French translates to “what, are you nuts?”

The French use the same word in the phrase “hors d’oeuvres,” which means “nuts from a Hitchcock film.”

Hey, if the store can make a buck from the race . . .

The audience was captive: All roads leading off the peak were closed until after the race.

These guys had a great rig. They had an RV with all the conveniences, and under the red canopies they had a satellite TV (dish is behind canopy on left) so they could watch the entire progress of the race in comfort. They also had just about the best seats in the house for watching the riders come up to the crest of the hill and make that right turn.

Not so much that it takes all kinds, but we’ve got all kinds. The sign in his hand says Ulrich Fan Club, if that tells you anything.

I settled in right around 5,000 feet. The summit was at 5,123 feet, at mile 47.8, which makes the climb from here about a 3% grade—not coasting, but not horrible.

The Pope was stationed just uphill from me. He had a busy day: Many police cars, bicycles, bicyclists, Chargers fans, and helicopters needed blessing.

This guy shows up at lots of bike races; you’ll see him in TV coverage at the top of various climbs. All kinds.

When life gives you snow, make an innovative way to store bicycles.

Someone had trucked bleachers up to about 4,500 feet above sea level so folks could watch the bike race.

Many people along the way had food out on tables; it wasn’t always clear to me whether it was for sale or for sharing or just for conversation. In this case, the food was from Mother’s Market, a local consortium with generally healthy food. Like the Diet Coke there on the table, for example.


San Diego’s downtown skyline, with offshore islands behind it. This is looking south by southwest; the islands are actually off Tijuana, which makes them . . . far away. Someone said 100 miles, which looks about right on Google Maps.

For all the haze, the air was clear.

Race: Chalking It Up

There’s chalk in the boxes. Yellow chalk.

Not a lot of “Where’s Sheryl?”

Lance had Tweeted about this play on words just a couple of days before. It was all over the road here.

Note the snow. And that no part of this road is flat. This is near the end of about twelve miles of steady climbing, parts of it hellasteep. The last five miles see a 2,000-foot rise, which means the average is about 7.5%. Parts are steeper.

Your name in yellow chalk on the road = good.

Your name in yellow in the snow = ???

I guess the message either way is “Go!”