Bike Ride: ‘Great Traver’s Ghost!’

Ron and I embarked on an even more ambitious bike ride on Saturday, with fully 20% more distance (42 miles) and almost 50% more climbing (3,650 ft.) than last week’s triumphant procession.

Plus, we had the moral advantage of starting and finishing at the same point (my house), so we earned every delicious downhill by climbing a matching evil uphill:
An extremely mountainous route from Tom's house to Tom's house.

One of the unstated themes of the ride was, “How well will Ron do, compared to last week?” Because Ron has always, always been faster than I am, overall, except for last week (when I did really well), but on the other hand, Ron hadn’t been on his bike very much in the last six months, until last week, and now he had a significant recent ride under his belt. What would happen?

We got off to an early start at 7:35 am, zipped through Sunland, over the pass, alongside the Tujunga Wash, and onto Big Tujunga Canyon. Everything seemed fine, but then, just as soon as we got into the parts that were even moderately hard, I noticed that my heart rate monitor was reading pretty high, and I wasn’t keeping up with Ron very easily at all. This was Not Good.

He and I traded off as leads on alternate legs, not by any plan, but just by one or the other of us naturally getting the upper hand. But it was never easy for me, not like last week. As we crossed the Tujunga Wash the second time and headed up the really hard part toward the dam overlook, about an hour into the ride, my legs felt weak, in a way that I’d only experienced before (when in shape) after a big rest stop in the middle of a 100-mile ride. I just felt exhausted.

I’m tempted to put it down to my breakfast: I’d had a big bowl of oatmeal and an egg, instead of the Clif Bar I’d had the week before. Or perhaps dinner the night before: a big chunk of brie, and half an apple — no fat there, to be sure. But it might simply have been that I hadn’t finished recovering from the week before, and of course, Industry Figure Tom Harvey says that some natural variability week-to-week is just to be expected.

Whatever the reason, Ron beat me to the dam overlook (he had been leading ever since we started the downhill that approached the second Wash crossing), but then I took the lead again as we climbed away to the first T-crossing where we intersect Angeles Forest Rd. And once again, after the break at the first T-crossing, Ron Traver stole ahead.

We toiled along, and after I came around a series of curves, Ron wasn’t there any more. The road at this point was mostly uphill, but with occasional downhills, and whoa, he must have really taken off down that downhill! We had talked about trying to get to Angeles Crest by 10:15, and he was going for it! I cranked up my effort until the heart rate monitor said 142 beats per minute, which I decided was about as much as I wanted to push things on a long ride. Occasionally I would hit longish straight sections, and…I couldn’t see Ron at all, he was that far ahead.

I pressed on, almost near tears, shocked that he could have gotten such a jump on me. The miles passed. And suddenly, there was Ron, coming from behind…”Ah, Tom, you’re killing me!”

Yeah, he had stopped to take some scenic photos, and I had passed him, and I hadn’t noticed his bike, hadn’t heard his call, just focused on chasing the ghost of Ron Traver as we sailed toward the Angeles Crest. And he had caught me! What an athlete!

Oh, we were tired after that, but on the other hand, we did make it to Angeles Crest by 10:15.

Here’s a photo Ron took of the road below, that we’d been on just minutes earlier:

And here are the rather nice pictures that caused us to race phantoms…

…or to race people who were racing phantoms:

Above is the dammed-up water (lower left), the road, and the dam overlook (above the rightmost part of the road) from where we took some pictures last week.

Ron graciously gave me his last Balance Bar at the top of Angeles Crest, and I had a good half hour to digest it as we sailed down to Memorial Park, where we had a quick break to refill our water bottles.

Here I am:

…and here is Ron, in front of the park’s iconic gazeebo:

We don’t know why Ron looks like an angry prospector here. He kind of shuddered when he saw this, and said, “Eh! I’ve never had any fun, and I don’t like it when other people do!”

We carried on down Verdugo, through beautiful downtown Montrose, and away on Honolulu Blvd. There was a brief, unpleasant climb on Honolulu as we approached La Tuna, and then a sweet, sweet downhill through the La Tuna pass, down to Sun Valley, I suppose, where we joined Sunland Blvd. for the long slog back to my house.

I imposed a pointless uphill on Ron at the last minute, which he surmounted graciously and without apparent effort, and we sailed home to another triumph on scenic (and horizontal) Day St., ending with a downhill on McVine Ave., just slightly less than 5 hours after we had started.

We showered, changed into street clothes, and went off for a delicious, and mostly virtuous, victory lunch at The Black Cow restaurant in Montrose, CA — it’s excellent, if you’ve never been there. Ron tried to broil me by asking for tables outside, but I did not broil, possibly because of consuming a glass or two of healing red wine. After the meal, both of us found it surprisingly hard to walk uphill to our cars. That’ll happen, if you’re immobile for long enough.

I was utterly exhausted, went home for a nap, woke up long enough to think about going to bed, and then went to bed and slept until 10:30 the next morning. Industry Figure Tom Harvey says that I should rejoice in my tiredness; a job well done. I received several e-mails from Ron Traver while I slept; he seemed much better off, the slacker.

On the other hand, “On the Internet, no one can tell if you’re really, really tired.”

Bike Ride: Sunland to Rose Bowl, via Angeles Crest

Industry Figure Ron Traver and I had a great 35-mile ride through the mountains near my house Sunday.

Click on the image below to see a slideshow of the route:
An extremely mountainous route from Tom's house to the Rose Bowl.
Take a look at it if you haven’t already; it’s pretty awesome, with 2,500 feet of climbing.

Those mountains didn’t phase me, though they did show that they are good at blocking the morning sun, if you’re on the right side of them, and that motorcyclists should really think twice before tearing down mountains at enormous speeds. For my part, I gave those “hills”, as we call them, a good dominating, though I suppose I’m lucky that one of them didn’t decide to sit on me, just to take me down a notch.

Ron drove straight to the Rose Bowl from his house, calling me when he was about 2/3 of the way there, so that I could meet him there and bring him and his bike back to my house. We were out the door and on our way by 8:00am, our target time, except that I realized after we were well underway that I had forgotten to have breakfast in the flurry of activity prior to the ride, so I had one of my Clif Bars right away.

The ride is well organized, in six phases:

Phase 1: An easy warm-up phase (before the first crossing of the Tujunga Wash)
Phase 2: A moderate-effort phase (between the first and second wash crossings)
Phase 3: A high-effort phase (from the second crossing of the wash, past the dam, to the first T-intersection)
Phase 4: A second moderate-effort phase (between the two T-intersections)
Phase 5: A long downhill phase (from the second T-intersection all the way to Descanso Gardens in La Cañada)
Phase 6: An easy romp (from Descanso Gardens in La Cañada to the Rose Bowl)

We made quick work of first two phases, beginning phase three at maybe 9:15am. Off we went, up the hill, past the dam, up and up, and…there was the little vista point looking over the dam, a little sooner than we had expected, by 9:40am.

And just in time, too, because my seat post had come loose, and was slowly sinking into the bike. But a little thing like that can’t stop a couple of middle-aged guys (of course we brought small tool packs), and it was soon set right. Between resting, snacking, fixing the bike, and taking a couple of pictures of ourselves with Ron’s iPhone, we probably hung around there 15 minutes, leaving by 10:00am, say.

Here I am, at the dam overlook:
Tom, grinning happily, at dam overlook site.

You can see the dam, and the dammed-up water, behind Ron, here:
Ron, smiling, at the dam overlook.  The dam and water can be seen in the background.

Then, some more relentless climbing, as we crossed three outcroppings on our right, maybe another 20 minutes, and climbed up to the first T-intersection. Time for another quick break, maybe 5-10 minutes. That would put us at maybe 10:30am.

We now entered the second moderate phase, with some nice rolling hills, though still decidedly upward overall. Here’s a picture of the first part of that second moderate section, taken from later in the trip:
Early part of second 'moderate' section.

A slightly later section of that same phase:
Middle part of second 'moderate' section.

And one more, just so you know that we did have some great views:
Last part of second 'moderate' section.

Just short of the second T-intersection, we took a short break in the shade, at maybe 10:50am. We still had plenty of water, because of Ron’s great idea of bringing a third water bottle each in our jersey pockets. I was able to wash some of the salt off my face with the last of my second water bottle’s water, and we still had a full water bottle each for the downhill and easy sections.

We were only on our bikes for another minute or two before arriving at the second T-intersection, as Angeles Forest Rd. dead-ended into Angeles Crest Highway:
Ron, smiling, with bike, at intersection of Angeles Forest Rd. and Angeles Crest Hwy.

We took off down the long 10-mile downhill by 11:04am, only to be stopped before we’d gone a mile. A motorcyclist had gotten a little excited going around a curve, and had broken his leg. The ambulance was going to take too long, so they were bringing in a helicopter. Here’s the helicopter, and the line of 30 or so cars, plus uncountable two-wheeled vehicles, that built up while we waited:
Helicopter ambulance approaching site of downed motorcyclist.

We were blocked there for about a half-hour, which meant that I got a little more sun than expected, resuming our downhill at about 11:30am.

The romp through La Cañada was beautiful, and (even more important) shady, and we arrived at the top of the Rose Bowl at about 12:25pm, and had certainly completed our victory lap by 12:40pm.

After loading our bikes onto Ron’s bike rack, we went over to Mijares for a Victory Lunch of Chile Colorado and beer, which was tasty and refreshing, except that they didn’t have any seating outside for two that was in the shade, and I think it was at this point that I got good and baked, for real. Also, after Ron dropped me off at home, he called me up a few minutes later to say that he realized that he had left his special lock for his bike rack on the bumper of his car, and it and the lock pin had fallen off the car somewhere in the first mile from my house. Incredibly, after not much more than 1/2 hour of searching, we were able to find both the lock and the pin, though here again I got an extra dose of sunlight that I didn’t need. I don’t actually look like a lobster, because of no claws, but there is “a hint of red”.

Ron, by the way, won a huge moral victory on this ride. He hadn’t ridden his bike since the Solvang Century in early March, call it six months ago, except for two super-short easy rides with relatives and one moderate 20-mile training ride the week before. He’s also almost 10 years older than I am. But he was still able to get on his bike and do an advanced ride, more or less cold. Amazing.

I was just powering up those hills, by my lights, and my heart got a terrific workout: I had my heart rate in the 138-142 range (around 85% of my maximum heart rate, well into the “Speed Training” range, and just shy of the “Anaerobic” range that you don’t want to enter during a long ride) for almost all of phases 3 and 4. I only noticed my legs starting to feel tired on the last uphill of the Rose Bowl victory lap, so I guess that was about a perfect ride for me.

“Can we do it again, next week?”

Younger Next Year

My favorite of the half-dozen or so books on health, nutrition, and exercise that I’ve read recently is Younger Next Year.

Its chapters mostly alternate between its two authors: on the one hand, Henry Lodge M.D., a board-certified internist, and on on the other, Chris Crowley, one of his star 70-year-old patients. Harry gives you the science; Chris tells you what it’s like on the front lines.

It paints a wonderful, optimistic look at how really well old age can go: Chris is still incredibly active, riding cycling centuries, downhill skiing, and rowing, and doesn’t expect to slow down too much at all for a while, yet.

How does he do it? There are seven guidelines, but the three most important are:

Exercise hard, six days a week.   Stop eating crap.   Connect and commit.

They do a particularly good job in explaining why we have to exercise, which I’ll synopsize here, but will certainly not do justice: because by using a muscle, stressing a bone, flexing a joint, stressing a tendon, you’re talking directly to your body, in the language that it understands, and what you’re saying is, “I’m using these cells; it would be worth your while to repair and improve these systems. Do not erase.”

Otherwise, your body, seeing that you are sitting around, gets the message that “There’s no point in me spending any energy walking around foraging or hunting, and it’s not because I’ve got a lot of food stored up, because as you know, this is Africa, and agriculture and refrigerators haven’t been invented yet, and all the food spoils super-quickly, so any long-term idleness like this is likely from a famine; at any event, as you can see, I’m not using those expensive muscles and other mobility systems; it’d be prudent to go ahead and tear them down for parts to make some cheap storage fat. Make it so.”

And not just one kind of exercise, either: your voluntary muscles come in two flavors: slow-twitch muscle fibers, for endurance, and fast-twitch fibers, for strength. They are physically different; even the nerve cells that control them specialize, connecting exclusively to one type or another. So if you only run, or only lift weights, then you’re missing a significant fraction of your muscle fibers; they’re not getting exercised, and have thereby been given permission to wither.

Strength training in particular is often neglected, leading to decreased strength, balance, and joint health.

As Harry says:

Strength training is critical to the rest of your life, and you can start at any age. Sedentary seventy-year-old men double their leg strength with three months of weight training. Sadly, men do strength training even less than aerobic exercise. Only 10 percent of Americans over sixty-five even claim to be doing any form of regular strength training.

That’s appalling. It should be clear by now that everyone — certainly everyone over fifty — shoul d be doing real strength training two days a week. You can do a quick routine in half an hour, or spend an hour or more if you get into it, but don’t skip it.

Aerobic exercise saves your life; strength training makes it worth living.

The authors are actively hostile to engaging in extreme diets to lose weight. One of the chapters written by Chris is titled, “Don’t You Lose a Goddamn Pound!” On the other hand, as he points out, if you stop eating crap, and maybe eat a little less, and exercise more, then it’s true, you might end up losing 40 pounds, after all.

“The price of fitness is eternal vigilance.”


Yes, there’s a version of the book for the ladies; it probably has less swearing, or something. My sister Jan says that she really enjoyed it, and loaned it to a friend who said she also loved it and read it in just a day.

The Dark Side of ‘No New Taxes’

Nick Coleman, a columnist for the Minneapolis – St. Paul Star Tribune, has written a damning column about what the horrific collapse of the I-35W bridge says about our government, and our society.

It reads, in part:

…The death bridge was “structurally deficient,” we now learn, and had a rating of just 50 percent, the threshold for replacement. But no one appears to have erred on the side of public safety. The errors were all the other way.

Would you drive your kids or let your spouse drive over a bridge that had a sign saying, “CAUTION: Fifty-Percent Bridge Ahead”?

No, you wouldn’t. But there wasn’t any warning on the Half Chance Bridge…

There isn’t any bigger metaphor for a society in trouble than a bridge falling, its concrete lanes pointing brokenly at the sky, its crumpled cars pointing down at the deep waters where people disappeared.

Only this isn’t a metaphor.

…For half a dozen years, the motto of state government and particularly that of Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been No New Taxes. It’s been popular with a lot of voters and it has mostly prevailed. So much so that Pawlenty vetoed a 5-cent gas tax increase – the first in 20 years – last spring and millions were lost that might have gone to road repair. And yes, it would have fallen even if the gas tax had gone through, because we are years behind a dangerous curve when it comes to the replacement of infrastructure that everyone but wingnuts in coonskin caps agree is one of the basic duties of government.

I’m not just pointing fingers at Pawlenty. The outrage here is not partisan. It is general.

Both political parties have tried to govern on the cheap, and both have dithered and dallied and spent public wealth on stadiums while scrimping on the basics.

How ironic is it that tonight’s scheduled groundbreaking for a new Twins ballpark has been postponed? Even the stadium barkers realize it is in poor taste to celebrate the spending of half a billion on ballparks when your bridges are falling down. Perhaps this is a sign of shame. If so, it is welcome. Shame is overdue.

At the federal level, the parsimony is worse, and so is the negligence. A trillion spent in Iraq, while schools crumble, there aren’t enough cops on the street and bridges decay while our leaders cross their fingers and ignore the rising chances of disaster.

And now, one has fallen, to our great sorrow, and people died losing a gamble they didn’t even know they had taken. They believed someone was guarding the bridge.

We need a new slogan and we needed it yesterday:

“No More Collapses.”

Read the Full Column at The Minneapolis – St. Paul Star Tribune:
“Public anger will follow our sorrow”
by Nick Coleman
August 2, 2007

And, on the Popular Mechanics web site today, an Expert Op-Ed:

The fact is that Americans have been squandering the infrastructure legacy bequeathed to us by earlier generations. Like the spoiled offspring of well-off parents, we behave as though we have no idea what is required to sustain the quality of our daily lives.

Read the Full Op-Ed at Popular Mechanics
By Stephen Flynn
August 2, 2007

A bridge in America shouldn’t just fall down.