Completed! 100 Kilometers to Mt. Wilson Observatory

We finished the ride, and we both did great, and what’s more, no one was killed,
which is super neat.

Details and photos to come — right now I’m trying to catch up with being really, really tired, which I didn’t have time to do properly during the ride itself.

Click on the picture to see a larger image:
A 100 km. loop from Tom's house to Mount Wilson Observatory and back.
(A 100 km. loop from Tom’s house to Mount Wilson Observatory and back)

This morning, Ron Traver and I embarked on our most ambitious ride yet — a round-trip from my house in Sunland to the Mount Wilson Observatory at the summit of…Mount Wilson, you know, where the famous observatory is. It’s near Mount Disappointment, by the way, which has its own story.

Spectacular views, of course: it’s an observatory!

We left my house, went clockwise around the loop, southeast to Mt. Wilson, back to Angeles Crest, continued the rest of the loop, and returned the way we came: 35 miles, basically up, 27 miles, basically down. Yes, weirdly, we elected to take the less-steep leg up, rather than down.

We were both a little keyed up about it, because it’s without a doubt a big ride, but it turned out to be totally doable: it’s only 1,000 feet, or about 24%, more elevation than we did in our last Sunland ride. And, from another angle, this gets us even with the Solvang Century: Solvang is 5,000 feet of climbing, and this ride is 5,000 feet of climbing. Wow, 5,000 feet! Do that 6 times and you’re past Mount Everest!

“September 30, 2007: The Mile-High Club.”

Ooh, might have to work on that name a bit.

Bike Ride: ‘Just an Easy 50 Miles’

My old friend Larry laughed when I used this phrase to describe today’s ride, but that’s how I pictured it: no heat, no ghosts, no celebrities, living or dead.

And that’s how it turned out, so there’s not really too much to discuss, apart from how very badly Ron beat me.

Both of us turned in our best times of the season, so we both did quite well, by our lights, and we both enjoyed the heck out of the ride — a beautiful fall day, a lovely route (the same route as for the horrible hot ride), and not too many cars. We were both doing well on the hills, and by mile 28 on Agoura Road we were taking turns catching and passing each other, just for the hell of it.

And then, somewhere around mile 30, Ron realized that we were getting close to our half-time rest stop, and decided to go for it. He passed me on a hill, and disappeared into the distance.

After the rest stop (water, restrooms), I never seemed to be able to get it together, vis-a-vis crushing Ron. He was amusing himself by arriving at a waypoint, taking a picture of the empty waypoint, and then taking it again when I (finally) arrived. Let the photo timestamps tell their tale of woe! And he never lost his endurance, either; he just crushed me for the whole last half of the ride.

We didn’t bother taking any breaks, other than for water and restrooms, unless you count Ron waiting for me to catch up and grinning, while taking my photo.

By the time we were done, he had finished 11 minutes and 31 seconds faster than I had, saddle time:

 total ascent:   1,574 feet
     distance:    50.9 miles

  saddle time: 3:38:59     (not counting breaks)
average speed:    13.9 mph (not counting breaks)

  saddle time: 3:50:30     (not counting breaks)
average speed:    13.2 mph (not counting breaks)

“Come on, we’ll rest on the downhills!”

Bike Ride: Ron Comes Roaring Back!

Click on the pictures to see larger images:
An extremely mountainous route from Tom's house to Tom's house.
(A 54-mile loop from Tom’s house to the Rose Bowl and back, via Tujunga Canyon, Angeles Crest, and La Tuna)

An extremely mountainous route from Tom's house to Tom's house.
(The same ride, in another view that shows mile markers and elevation per mile)

For our fifth big ride, we returned to the wilds of Sunland — my turn not to have to get up early and drive, yahoo!

Ron was really trying to be here in time for us to get started by 7:00am, but he forgot his wallet, and remembered it soon enough to turn around and go back for it, so we didn’t get going until 7:20am. Still plenty early, with temperatures in the area predicted to go no higher than 79 degrees.

As we started the first hour’s steady climb along the wash, things settled into their old rhythms: Ron horribly faster than I on the uphills, for one thing. About 45 minutes into the ride, around mile 8, I was trooping along by myself, trying to go fast enough to get my heart rate higher, when I was suddenly passed by James Coburn, wearing a Merrill Lynch cycling jersey. Of course, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t him, especially since he died five years ago, but the resemblance was uncanny, and the age wasn’t that far off, either. Actually he was probably only 10 or 15 years older than I am, but it’s still kind of striking to have a craggy white-haired guy pass you without apparent effort, still just settling into his ride.

I made it to the second wash crossing around mile 10 (starting the climb to the dam overlook) by 8:28am, and I pulled in to the dam overlook proper around mile 12 at 8:45am. Ron beat me by almost two minutes; he was much faster than I was on this ride, on average. We made it to the Angeles Crest peak, around mile 17, by 10:00am.

I was having a few problems shifting; the chain tended to jump gears on the rear wheel, and several times careened into the spokes as I tried to shift into my lowest gear, but in general everything went pretty smoothly, up to Angeles Crest, down to Memorial Park in La Cañada, over past Descanso Gardens to the Rose Bowl, victory lap!, and back we started for home, no real issues.

And hey, geez, there’s James Coburn again, around mile 37, passing us one more time on the return trip, from whatever much farther place he’d gone to, just so we’ll know that we’ve been good and passed. You’ve got to admire that! I’d have caught up with him and quizzed him on his route, except that he made a quick right-angle turn just after passing us and took off up a hill.

There was some sort of street fair going on in Montrose — oh, yeah, it was Sunday…the Farmer’s Market is on Sunday! No problem, though, we just detoured around it, and were soon back on Honolulu heading West, out of Montrose, when my rear wheel broke a spoke: twang! Wobble wobble wobble.

Luckily, we were just a mile from the Montrose Bike Shop, and the wheel was still ridable, so we just rode back to the bike shop and they were happy to do an emergency repair and get me on my way. The repair was a little dicey, though; the guy didn’t have the exact kind of spoke that my bike wheel takes — they’re all much less standard nowadays — and had to bend another kind of spoke to make it fit. “How far do you still have to go? 15 miles? Hm. Go easy on it,” he advised, as he was handing it back. It didn’t give me any further trouble, but I’ll have to do something about it this week.

We zipped over the La Tuna pass, which is fun, but a little bumpy and ill-maintained. I took it easy, as advised, and Ron racked up some more delicious tenths of miles per hour.

I had plotted out a new return route that avoided Sunland Blvd. (a real high-traffic main drag), going instead through the residential horse country in Shadow Hills. It looked good in the car when I preflighted it, but there was this one hill that looked steep, and if a hill looks steep in a car, it’s scary steep on a bike. Sure enough, it was definitely the hardest hill on the whole ride, and sitting proudly at mile 53 or so. But we surmounted it all right, and we both agreed that this was a much better route than taking the horrible Sunland Blvd.

In the end, I spent 5:15:15 saddle time to go 56.28 miles and do about 4,100 feet of climbing, 10.7 mph. I was sore after the ride, but I didn’t have to go sleep it off like after ride #2. It’s a little daunting to think of doing that same ride, plus another 48 miles and 850 feet of climbing for Solvang, but at least we’ve got the bulk of the climbing accounted for, and more than five months left to train.

By the end of the ride, I had more energy left on the hills than Ron, but he can always point to the fact that he had a faster average time than I did, so he had been doing more work, which means that I just have to be quiet, sad and beaten. He was much faster than I was on the uphills in the early part of the ride, and he was faster on the downhills as well, which doesn’t seem fair. The old Ron, come roaring back.

 total ascent:   4,100 feet
     distance:    56.3 miles

average speed:    11.1 mph (not counting breaks)

  saddle time: 5:15:15     (not counting rests)
average speed:    10.7 mph (not counting rests)

“Geez, there goes James Coburn again!”

Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy?

The Sunday New York Times had an article which at first I thought I wasn’t going to like at all, but which turned out to be fascinating.

It described several factors that can confound prospective epidemiologic studies, especially those that report risks or benefits in mere tens of a percent (+10%, -20%), arguing for extreme caution when these claims are not backed up by clincial trials, where they are so frequently shown to be wildly wrong:

The Healthy-User Bias:

…people who faithfully engage in activities that are good for them — taking a drug as prescribed, for instance, or eating what they believe is a healthy diet — are fundamentally different from those who don’t. One thing epidemiologists have established with certainty, for example, is that women who take [hormone replacement therapy] differ from those who don’t in many ways, virtually all of which associate with lower heart-disease risk: they’re thinner; they have fewer risk factors for heart disease to begin with; they tend to be more educated and wealthier; to exercise more; and to be generally more health conscious.

The Compliance Effect:

people who comply with their doctors’ orders when given a prescription are different and healthier than people who don’t.

The lesson comes from an ambitious clinical trial called the Coronary Drug Project that set out in the 1970s to test whether any of five different drugs might prevent heart attacks…

As it turned out, those men who said they took more than 80 percent of the pills prescribed fared substantially better than those who didn’t. Only 15 percent of these faithful “adherers” died, compared with almost 25 percent of what the project researchers called “poor adherers.” This might have been taken as reason to believe that clofibrate actually did cut heart-disease deaths almost by half, but then the researchers looked at those men who faithfully took their placebos. And those men, too, seemed to benefit from adhering closely to their prescription: only 15 percent of them died compared with 28 percent who were less conscientious. “So faithfully taking the placebo cuts the death rate by a factor of two,” says David Freedman, a professor of statistics at the University of California, Berkeley. “How can this be? Well, people who take their placebo regularly are just different than the others. The rest is a little speculative. Maybe they take better care of themselves in general. But this compliance effect is quite a big effect.”

The Prescriber Effect:

“A physician is not going to take somebody either dying of metastatic cancer or in a persistent vegetative state or with end-stage neurologic disease and say, ‘Let’s get that cholesterol down, Mrs. Jones.’ The consequence of that, multiplied over tens of thousands of physicians, is that many people who end up on statins are a lot healthier than the people to whom these doctors do not give statins…”
— Jerry Avorn, Harvard epidemiologist.

Read the Full Story in the New York Times:
“Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy?”
By Gary Taubes
September 16, 2007

Solvang Century 2002, Remembered

I tracked down an old e-mail about the joint and separate triumphs Ron and I celebrated at the Solvang Century in 2002, which I’ve posted in the appropriate timeline, though you can see it here.

We were much faster than I thought (if my math is right, I completed the 102-mile course in 13.9 mph saddle time, and Ron was even faster). Also, the total ascent was a mere 4,680 feet, not much more than the 3,650 foot Sunland loop that we’ve done twice in the last month.

Though in 2008, it’s going to be 104 miles, with 5,000 feet of climbing. But still totally doable! Why, the difference between 3,650 and 5,000 is just the addition of a whole ‘nother wacky, wacky Foxen Canyon Road, and yet another big hill on top of that — yay!

Bike Ride: Not Too Hot!

The weather in the Conejo Valley (where Ron lives) was forecast to be about 20 degrees cooler Saturday, so Ron and I decided to ride there again this week, to wash the taste of last week’s Desert Heat Blast out of our souls. Ron had been sick through Thursday, but by Friday was feeling much better, and said that he thought that he had 30 miles in him for sure, so we planned that I would start at his house and do last week’s ride in reverse, barreling through the “hot” part of the ride in Agoura Hills while it was still early. I would call Ron from De Anza park, about 21 miles into my ride, and he would then start out from his house, meeting up at East Coast Bagels at my mile 27 and his mile 7, and then ride the last 23 miles together in the “cool” part of the ride in Newbury Park, so that Ron and I would end up with 30 and 50 miles, respectively.

Since it was going to be so much cooler, and since one of the themes of today’s ride was going to be “fewer and better rests”, to better simulate our century behavior, I didn’t have to get off to as early a start, but I still managed to be off and away on my bike from Ron’s house at 07:24am.

The first part of the ride, as I worked my way up Hillcrest, was sort of a slog; I wasn’t really warmed up yet. But then the climb up Westlake to Kanan was much better than I had feared. In another reversal, and just as Ron had warned me, Kanan introduced surprise uphills almost all the way to Lindero, but after that it was a sweet downhill pretty much all the way to Liberty Canyon, and just two hills to climb to make it to De Anza park, 21 miles into the ride.

I was really trying to keep the break times to a minimum, and was pleased to see that my total time spent waiting at lights, using the restroom etc. so far was only 8 minutes. I gave Ron a quick call and turned around, climbing back up to Agoura Rd., after which there was a straight shot on Agoura to the bagel place on Westlake.

The weather was so beautiful! I was dutifully sipping my water bottles, especially for a little energy from the go juice they contained, but wasn’t very thirsty. I didn’t refill any of my water bottles at De Anza park; they’d hardly been touched at that point. Even after doing the whole 50 miles, I only ended up drinking one and a half large water bottles of fluid.

Ron arrived at the bagel place 3 minutes after I did, and we took off for a small lap around the lake at Westlake before cliimbing up into Hidden Valley.

This was a bad mistake on my part, because this lake loop is Ron’s principal lap course; he knows it intimately — where and how much to push, where to slow up a little bit, etc. He murdered me on the thing, getting many blocks ahead in just 2 miles. This was pretty much was how the whole rest of the ride went, though there were at least a few legs where I took and held the lead.

There was an evil headwind through Hidden Valley, and we stopped briefly to stretch a bit before tackling the short, steep uphill out of the valley and down to the Lynn Rd. area, where we weaved in and out, going up one hill and down another, finally rejoining Lynn Rd. for the return trip home, arriving at Ron’s shortly after noon.

All-in-all a lovely ride, though I like just about everything about the ride better when it’s done in the other direction. You don’t have to work as hard so early, and the headwind off the ocean hasn’t built up so much while you’re working against it, and then later, when you’re exposed to it again and it’s heavier, you’re going the other way and it becomes a glorious tailwind. Both rides are nice, though.

Back at Ron’s place, we tried Hammer brand’s Recoverite, and both of us feel better today than ever, though it’s possible that that’s just a result of getting in better shape.

     distance:    52.3 miles
 total ascent:   1,274 feet
   total time: 4:42:00
    rest time: 0:24:03     (traffic lights, restrooms)
  saddle time: 4:17:57     (not counting rests)
average speed:    12.1 mph (not counting rests)

Ron averaged 12.4 mph on his 30-mile ride. Still faster than I am!

The 50-mile ride was almost the same course as the ride from last week, and though we completed it about 80 minutes faster this week than last week, my saddle time this week was only 3 minutes faster! All the rest of the speed-up was due to fewer and better breaks.

We’re going to hold our distance at about 50 miles for the next several rides, and focus on trying to improve our strength and speed.

New Product Introduction!

Back in 2002, Andrew Card, Bush’s White House Chief of Staff, famously declared, regarding the administration decision to put off pushing the War Against Iraq until after Labor Day, 2002:

“From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”

Well, here we go again.

From Juan Cole’s group blog, Informed Comment Global Affairs, a post by Barnett R. Rubin:

Today I received a message from a friend who has excellent connections in Washington and whose information has often been prescient. According to this report, as in 2002, the rollout will start after Labor Day, with a big kickoff on September 11. My friend had spoken to someone in one of the leading neo-conservative institutions. He summarized what he was told this way:

They [the source’s institution] have “instructions” (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don’t think they’ll ever get majority support for this–they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is “plenty.”

With updates as they happen:

August 29, 2007:
    Original Post, Barnett R. Rubin

September 1, 2007:
    Update #1, Barnett R. Rubin

September 6, 2007:
    Update #2, Barnett R. Rubin:

At UPI’s “Outside View” feature, David Isenberg of the British American Security Information Council and the Cato Institute provides a summary of the campaign for war with Iran so far. He missed the Newsweek article by [right-wing think tank] AEI fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht about why war is inevitable, the Washington Post’s shameless reprise yesterday of its 2003 attack on Mohamed El-Baradei of the IAEA, the Anti-Defamation League’s opening of its No Nuclear Iran campaign, and William Kristol’s call for attacks on “Terrorist Training Camps” in Iran.

Christ, can’t anyone stop these crazy motherfuckers?

Bike Ride: Home-Court Advantage Evaporates in Heat

Click on the picture to see a larger image:
A 50-mile loop in the Conejo Valley.

Ron and I went on our third bike ride in as many weeks, in a move that Industry Figure Chris Ravenscroft characterized as “just stupid.”

Why would he be so vehemently opposed? Jealousy, you’re probably thinking, but you’d be wrong. He had some crazy objection to going on a 50-mile bike ride, with 1,600 feet of climbing, on the hottest day of the year, in what anyone would have to admit is a desert.

“But Chris,” I explained, soothingly, “I’m going to try to show up at Ron’s house by 6:00am; we’ll do most of the ride in the cool of the morning. And plus, Sunday’s probably going to be even hotter, so this won’t actually be the hottest day of the year, just the hottest day so far.”

With his ‘heat’ objection so neatly disposed of, you’d think that he’d have been cowed, but again, you would’ve been mistaken: he brought up some other paltry concern, something to do with it nevertheless being just crazy hot — yeah, I didn’t get it, either.

When I walked out of my house, at 5:30am, the air was already ominously muggy — in a desert, too! Hmm.

I managed to get to Ron’s by about 6:30am, and we tottered off at 6:50am. I hadn’t taken any chances with dinner the night before; I had had a meal of bread and olive oil, a small piece of steak, mushrooms, fruit salad, some wine, and a small scoop of ice cream, and told my body to pick whichever it needed for the big ride; I’d done my job as provider. No breakfast, except for a Clif Bar, just like the first ride that had gone so well. And I was well hydrated; I’d downed about 9 cups of water as soon as I’d gotten up, and again just told my body to keep however much it felt that it could use.

At first, I didn’t feel all that great. Perhaps 6 cups of water would have been better than 9. But by the time we’d done about 10 miles, I was in the groove. Ron and I traded first place periodically, as we had last week, and the first 15 or 20 miles were just lovely. But about the time we joined Agoura Rd. at mile 25 or so, Ron was starting to fade. It was weird, actually: he’d been doing great, so far, and it really had been much easier than either of the two earlier rides.

We arrived at the 32-mile mark, the little park at the bottom of Lost Hills near work, without incident, and Ron and I downed some apples that Ron’s wife Georgia had bagged up for us, and split a bag of Skittles. Ron also had a Snickers energy bar, which he said was delicious.

The next 10 miles were going to be basically an uphill slog, as we gained 700 feet. And slog it was, because by the time we left the park, 10:10am, Mr. Sun had found us, and was pummeling us with his X-ray and infrared vision. An old guy, his voice already quavering a little, who looked like a somewhat-thinner Wilford Brimley passed us as we were getting onto Agoura Rd. for the return trip, and before we’d done much more than pass the police station, he had crested the hill. He was going at least twice as fast as we were.

We zipped into a bike shop so that I could pick up a spare inner tube, and also grabbed some recovery powder for after the ride. We were underway again by 11:00am, and Ron speculated that we could be at the intersection of Kanan and Lindero by 11:45. I laughed: “No way, we’ll be there way before then!”

There was another reason, apart from sheer hubris, to try to get home fast; there was a huge temperature differential. Ron’s iPhone reported that where we were, it was 98 degrees; back at Ron’s house, it was 80. That’s a difference you can feel in your bones.

Off we went up the hill. I was feeling great at this point; Kanan just keeps going up, but I kept going up with it. I stopped just short of where I thought the Lindero waypoint was, in some convenient shade. As far as I was concerned, it was right around the corner, and up a small hill. Ron caught up, and we waited around a little bit more so that he could have a rest, too. It was 11:27. As Ron put it, “We’ll make it by 11:30, no problem.” Ha!

We got back on our bikes, and Ron took off at good clip. But wait a minute…where’s all my energy? No, it’s gone. Darn rests! You never, ever know how you’re going to come out of them. Let’s see: I had refilled some, but not all, of my water bottles at the park. Fool! Yeah, I hadn’t wanted to dilute the Cytomax that I had left in one of my big bottles. Rats, I was down to just one small water bottle of water. But wait…I still had a packet of Cytomax in my jersey pocket. Perfect, more energy and better electrolyte replacement while I was going up the last of these hills. All that was really left was the push to the Westlake Blvd. waypoint at mile 42 or so, the literal high point of the trip.

So, armed with part of a small water bottle of Cytomax, I took off again in the 98-degree heat. All right, this was feeling better. Yeah, I must have been close to bonking, back there, but now, things felt good, actually, and getting better! OK, let’s make sure that I can at least make it to the Lindero waypoint by 11:45; it should be right around the corner. But…no, it’s not there, and it’s not there, and Ron’s not there either, and man, when 11:45 came around and I still hadn’t seen Lindero, sailors would’ve had nothing on me.

But ho! At 11:46, suddenly, there’s the Westlake waypoint, and Ron waiting for me. I had blown by the Lindero waypoint without noticing it, probably because I was trying to figure out what to do about the weakness immediately after the break. Chasing ghost roads, now.

Nothing of any consequence was left. A beautiful downhill on Westlake, some rolling hills on Hillcrest, and a short sharp uphill on Hodencamp. I charged off, just enjoying the heck out of things, and came upon some guys on bikes on Hillcrest. They had all the equipment, were at least 20 years younger than I was, and they were clearly putting in an effort, but they badly needed to be passed. I blew past them in a way that would’ve made the Wilford Brimley doppelgänger proud, just effortlessly going much faster, and kept on going, because they also needed to see me receding into the distance.

At this point in the story, Sean said, “I sometimes forget how insanely competitive you are!” This surprised me, because if you forget that, then you’ll never know what I’m going to do next, which is a shame when dealing with someone who is as predictable as the sunrise (“Gotta pass ’em!”).

I arrived at the Hodencamp waypoint, where Ron might’ve expected me to wait for him, to show that I hadn’t missed the turn, but it was important that those guys that I’d passed a while back not think that I had to rest before tackling the hill on Hodencamp, so I just went up it a mile or so, and waited for Ron in the shade of a tree, drinking the last of my water. Man, was it hot.

I had been waiting for a while, and still no Ron. He had said that he was going to call Georgia soon to let her know that we were almost home again, and he might also have tried to call me at Hodencamp. Where was my phone? Ah, I’d left it in the car, great.

But here came Ron, after all, having indeed called Georgia and having tried and failed to reach me. He pulled alongside me, and then executed a perfect fall from a dead stop on his bike, just like they used to do on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. The problem with bicycle shoes that lock in to the pedals is that you really have to remember to unclip the leg that you’re going to be leaning on, and it’s surprisingly easy to unclip your right leg (because you always unclip that one), but then lean to the left, as if to lean on your still-clipped-in left leg, and by the time you realize your mistake, it’s almost always much too late. Pretty much every cyclist I know has done this at one time or another, including Tam Pham and myself, but it’s never much fun when it happens, because it’s quite a bit farther to fall than from the Laugh-In tricycles, and no raincoat.

We had a break, to cool off and to wait for Ron’s adrenaline from the fall to dissipate, and then got home uneventfully about six hours after we’d started:

 total ascent:   1,574 feet
     distance:    51.9 miles
  saddle time: 4:21:38     (not counting breaks)
average speed:    11.8 mph (not counting breaks)

Oh, it was so hot. We mixed up our sport recovery drinks and downed them, along with copious ice water. Ron said later that even so, he was still 3 lbs. lighter after the ride than he had been before the ride.

Afterwards, it turned out that Ron had been coming down with a cold for the whole ride. He had felt a little iffy the night before, but had thought, “Well, maybe it’s an allergy.” But no, by nightfall after the ride he had a pretty good cold going. So, at least we had a reason for his his mystifying fade at mile 25 on Agoura Rd.

I think the sport recovery drink after the ride made a big difference; my legs felt almost normal the next day, whereas usually they’re pretty thrashed. Something to try again on the next ride, though not (if I can help it) in record heat.

“Geez, it’s hot. Man, this was stupid. Ha, I passed those guys! Great ride!”