Thursday, August 30, 2007

Breaking Up

So, I've been listening to podcasts on my bicycle commute, and I truly believe that you, dear reader, should work out a way to listen to podcasts that interest you. What would be even cooler is for you to listen to the same podcasts that I listen to so that if we're ever at a party together, one of us can say something like "Did you hear the great 'This American Life' podcast about detectives?" and the other person can say, "Totally."

The great thing about podcasts is that not only you can pick and choose the program you want to listen to, but you can listen to it whenever you want. I can't emphasize this enough. For example, while I love two or three NPR programs, I can't stand listening to NPR. "All Things Considered" just depresses the hell out of me for some reason. That woman's voice is enough to make me vote Republican.

Which brings me to this week's Podcast of the Week: "Break-Ups."

There's some kind of inverse relationship when it comes to telling and hearing stories about falling in love and breaking up. People would much rather tell their break-up stories than their falling-in-love stories. But when you're seeing a movie or reading a book, everyone wants a falling-in-love story, and no one wants a break-up story, with the possible exception of the Danes. I suppose there are exceptions to this rule. For example, every single country song ever written is about breaking up, so maybe it has something to do with scope. People can handle break-up stories only in short bursts -- poems, songs, and blog entries. If a novelist or director goes on and on about a nasty break-up, we can't handle it. I need a name for this theory. (No, Glen, not "Bob's Stupid Theory.") Something like, "The 5-Minute Rule for Break-up Stories." I'll think of something.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Listless Lists

While reading one of my daily web sites, www.imdb.com, I saw a link to the Greatest Directors Ever. I couldn't pass that up. And it just so happens that it may have been the most infuriating list I've ever read. I'm still agog. In the 51-100 section alone, I saw at least 12 directors who should have been in the top 5. (Ba dum ching!) Seriously, did I really see Paul Verhoeven ahead of George Lucas? I don't care how much anyone hated Jar Jar Binks, American Graffiti by itself is better than anything Verhoven has ever made, and Black Book by itself qualifies Verhoeven for the Top 10 Worst Directors of Time and All Eternity.

The safe thing to do when putting together a list like this is to fill the top with dead directors and European directors and especially dead European directors, so I suppose the dimwits who made this list should be given credit for ranking comtemporary American directors highly. But aren't they going a step too far in putting Peter Jackson and David Fincher in the top 10? When I saw that, I did a double-take -- that's right, I closed my eyes, bobbled my head, and then looked with moon eyes at the screen. Are we talking about the same David Fincher -- Fight Club, Se7en, and a few Madonna videos -- that David Fincher? He's ahead of contempories like Joel Coen, Quentin Tarantino, and Paul Thomas Anderson, not to mention David Lean, Robert Altman, and Woody Allen? Wow. On the same list that has Fincher in the top 10, how could they think about putting Fran├žois Truffaut at number 44, Krzysztof Kieslowski (3 Colours, Dekalog) at number 47, Fellini at 67 (!), Almodovar at 68, and Milos Forman (Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus) at 75?

I may have to get the Top 5 staff back together.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Broncos' Running Back Is a Stud

The NFL regular season starts in 9 days. I've been doing a lot of reading to prepare myself for the upcoming season. I call it prep work. I'll offer a more detailed preview in a different post, but I wanted to focus on a sleeper team -- the Denver Broncos. They have the best cornerback tandem in the league, another great offensive line, and they've just added an excellent running back named Travis Henry. He's perfect for the Broncos -- a slasher who hits the hole hard. I expect big things out of him, but I'm a little worried about off-field distractions. You see, he's sired nine children with nine different women in four states. What worries me is the fact that his lawyer says he wants to be a good parent: "I know these are a lot of kids, and there might be some questions about it," he said, "but he's a really committed father." If he's going to be a committed father to nine children living in nine different homes in four states, can he really be committed to the Broncos?

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Taste Is Gonna Move Ya

I'm not quite sure how to lead in to this video without making myself sound like too much of a loser. But I ask you, what's the point of having a web log (aka "blog") if you're not going to expose your foibles? So I'll just lay it out. In the early 1980s, I was a college student at BYU trying to adjust to life knowing that the woman I loved was married to another man. I wanted to fall in love again -- I probably missed being in love more than I missed my freshman girlfriend -- but every time I went out on a date, there was just no chemistry. Mix in the unrequited love with a tablespoon of shyness, two cups of sexual repression, and a dash of voyeurism, and I had all the ingredients to become a 40-year-old virgin with bicycles and cats and vaseline coupons.

When I first saw this Juicy Fruit commercial, I fell in love again. It's the blonde with the purple top. Again, this is embarrassing, but I used to study on the living room couch in my apartment with MTV turned on so that I could catch a glimpse of her whenever this commercial appeared, which was about once every four hours during its peak rotation. I had to endure awful videos by the likes of Duran Duran and Cindy Lauper just to catch an infuriatingly quick glimpse of my beloved. I had a whole story built up around her. Maybe her car broke down in a remote area, and it was hot, and she needed to remove her sweatshirt . . .



An odd thing about seeing this commercial again for the first time in more than 20 years is how it does nothing for me anymore. I was hoping for a rush of emotions similar to what the guy in Mumford experienced when he opened the box of his adolescent smut. You'd think there would at least be a residual tingle.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What a Total Vick

A whole lot of people want me to set aside my fading cycling career to concentrate more on pop culture, so here are my thoughts on Michael Vick and dogfighting:

Executive Summary

For those of you who may not be familiar with all the goings on in the sports world (yes, Glen, it's hockey season), a quarterback named Michael Vick recently pled guilty to federal conspiracy charges related to dogfighting. So he'll probably be in federal prison for between a year and 18 months, and then he'll likely be suspended from the NFL for at least a year after that, which means the earliest he'd be back in the NFL is 2010. He'd only be 30, but still.

How good a football player was Vick?

Back when Vick was in the draft, the Chargers had the first pick. They made a trade with the Falcons to give up the first pick in exchange for several other picks. The Falcons drafted Vick, and the Chargers used their picks to draft Ladanian Tomlinson and Drew Brees, along with a couple of other decent players. For years, a lot of people thought the Falcons got the better of the deal, even though Tomlinson is the best back in football and Brees is a top 10 quarterback, maybe top 5. It's difficult to compare Vick to other quarterbacks since his style is so unique. He's the fastest player on the field, which is unheard of for a quarterback, and his scrambling abilities make him fascinating to watch. So he sells tickets. But he relies too much on instinct and doesn't study as much as he should, which means he's lousy at reading defenses. And while he's got a strong arm, he's erratic. Still, whenever he was playing on television, I'd tell Wendy, "Here's the blazing fast quarterback I was telling you about. Check him out." And sure enough, he'd go on a breathtaking scramble that would make the other NFL players look like Pop Warner kids, and then he'd drill a perfect 30-yard spiral to his tight end, and just when you're ready to proclaim him Great with a capital G, he'd overthrow his back on a simple swing pass and then throw into double coverage to end the drive. That's Vick. Tune in next week, same bat time, same bat channel. Even before the jail term, I thought the Chargers had gotten the better deal, and now it looks like a downright steal.

Why is this news?

Has any other superstar athlete in his prime ever been sent to prison? There's Mike Tyson, but he was past his prime. A running back for the Ravens (Jamaal Lewis) went to prison for a few months for selling drugs and ended up missing a season. A few other athletes like Paul Hornung and Alex Karras have been suspended for a year. Vick is without question among the most entertaining football players of all time, and he may never play another game in the NFL.

Do you hate dogfighting as much as everyone else seems to?

I'm not sure what to think about the dogfighting thing. I'm a white guy who grew up in suburbs, so I don't know that much about it. There's a cool dogfighting scene in the movie Fresh in which the main character's buddy puts his sweet dog in the ring, and you think the serene dog is going to get destroyed by the aggro dog, but no. And that's about it. After reading about the Michael Vick saga, I now know about rape stands, which have become necessary since the pit bulls are trained to be so vicious that they can't even make love in the sensitive manner that dogs are accustomed to. Oh, and the fighting dogs that don't perform well are hung or drowned, and Vick was said to participate in these killings. It seems like a nasty hobby for ugly low-lifes, but when you compare it to the way cows, pigs, and hens are abused en masse, our society has a serious problem with mistreating animals. We're in a big glass house with plenty of stones.

And there's one other factor that either clouds or clarifies my outlook, depending on what I eventually decide. Ever since my paper route days, I've been terrified of mean dogs. I hate them. And their owners. I've read too many newspaper articles in which pit bulls attack unsuspecting people. Here's an article I read this morning on the front page of my local paper.

Some people intentionally breed dogs for fighting, and others are just sloppy or mean enough to make an animal in their care menacing. Either way, I hate those people to an irrational degree. And Michael Vick is one of them. When you read about assholes who breed pit bulls for fighting, Michael Vick is now their poster boy. Wow. So why don't I hate Michael Vick yet? Because he's fast? Because he was keeping it real?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

No Man's Land

Now that the Leadville race is over with, I don't have anything to train for. My original plan was to do Leadville in under 12 hours and then forget about it until I turn 50. Since I finished in over 12 hours (12:26 to be exact), the race haunts me. Why didn't I take my Power Pill Pack (3 ibuprofens & 2 Tums) sooner? Every single time I've taken this PPP dose, I've felt fresh and shiny new within ten minutes. It worked on Gold Bar Rim when I was really fat and out of shape. It worked during the Seattle-to-Portland ride. And it worked on Leadville -- but I didn't take it until near the end of the ride. Why didn't I take one PPP dose when I first bonked on Columbine? What was I waiting for? Instead of popping the pills, I sat around the last aid station for 25 minutes in the hot sun waiting for a miraculous recovery. As Mel Gibson said in The Bounty, "I AM IN HELL!!!"

So here I am, fit and somewhat trim, and nothing to train for. It's too depressing to work out hard for next year's Leadville, so I need something else to look forward to. So here it is. Ready?

Triathlons.

Yes, dear reader, as of this morning, I am now a triathlete. Unfortunately, I have a bum knee, and the doctor who did surgery on it told me not to run more than 6 miles, so I'm pretty much limited to Olympic- and Sprint-distance triathlons. I'd love to do an off-road Ironman triathlon (3.2 mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26-mile run), but I'd have to walk 20 of the 26 miles. But so what? Maybe I can still make the cutoff time. As of now, I am an Offroad Ironman Triathlete in Training. Just call me OITT. Or Oittment.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Young Democrats in Training, Part I

When we visited Robert and his kids, Jack and Katie, we discovered that their vegan nanny has left an impression on her subjects:

Katie: "If you kill animals, you kill yourself."

Wendy: "Really? I'm still alive, and I'm eating chicken."

Katie: "If you kill animals, you kill the earth."

Jack: "Uh huh, by killing anything, you're hurting the environment, you're hurting yourself, and it's bad."

Wendy: "Then maybe you shouldn't eat your chicken."

Jack: "No, I like chicken."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Young Republicans in Training, Part II

We're staying in a 3-level condo, so the basement is a scary place for Luke and Max. According to the boys, it is very possible that there are Decepticons and possibly an Iron Giant lurking in the basement. I told them that I didn't think Decepticons were in the basement because none of us had a allspark cube, but I couldn't offer any such assurances regarding a cellar-dwelling Iron Giant. So I just said, "So what if there is an Iron Giant? What would you do?"

"I would kick him in the knee! And then I would grab his arm and squeeze it!" said Max.

"Yeah, and I would bite him," added Luke, talking at the same time as Max. "And I wouldn't stop biting him until he said, 'Ouch! You're hurting me so I'm going to leave the condo and never come back because you're hurting me!'"

"Yeah," agreed Max. "And he would say, 'I'm never going to bother you again because you bit me and pinched me and hurt me, and I don't like that.'"

Sounds like a fool-proof plan.

[Photo courtesy of Minette Layne. Check out her photos.]

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Great Movie Scenes - The Best Years of Our Lives

One of the odd things about studying liberal arts at a university is that college kids are exposed to works that often require more life experience or maturity to appreciate. I've recently enjoyed going back over some of the fiction I read in college. As an English major, I had enough in me to appreciate works like Macbeth and Huckleberry Finn, but as a naive Mormon kid, I missed the boat entirely on The Scarlet Letter. And I didn't have the patience to avoid daydreaming while reading certain complex stories like "Flowering Judas."

Same with movies. One of my favorite classes was a film appreciation course I took as a freshman. I was able to get into some movies like Shane, Buster Keaton's The General, and Citizen Kane. (I fact, I loved Orson Welles' movie so much that I sat through it twice on a Friday afternoon/evening, even though I was hungry and blowing off a date with a girl I was in love with.) I also despised a couple of other movies -- Truffaut's The Story of Adele H and Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives. I haven't seen Adele H again, although I think I would actually enjoy it now that I can tolerate subtitles and appreciate unrequited love -- in fact, I struggled for years to get over the same girl I blew off to see Citizen Kane a second time.

I have seen The Best Years of Our Lives again. It's now one of my favorite movies, if not my favorite movie. As an 18-year-old, I was hoping a World War II movie would offer a little more action. I was all set to see a gruesome depiction of war so that I could write a paper that explained why war is hell while secretly envying those who fought and suffered. But the movie was about three soldiers coming home from war and struggling with their relationships. Yawn. There wasn't a single gun shot or explosion.

In today's featured movie scene, here's a clip that shows a former bombardier visiting an airplane graveyard. What I didn't get as a college student was how much more can be shown by showing less. When the former bombardier played by Dana Andrews is having his flashback, it's up to us to imagine what the soldier experienced. The military citation read by the bomber's father in the previous scene offers some direction, but since the action isn't overwhelming the screen, the audience can think about that and more. We think about the former bomber who once had a heroic role in life and has been reduced to looking for work as a soda jerk. We think about how the bomber dismissed the military citations as trash ("those things came in packages of K-rations"), and wonder what really happened. And I'm fairly certain that back in 1946, with more than 400,000 Americans killed during the war, the airplane graveyard represented more to the people watching the movie than just recycled airplanes.

This is just one of many great scenes in a great movie. If it were played in the theater now, I'm pretty sure I'd sit through it twice.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Betrayed!

In my previous post, I listed five things that could have prevented me from completing Leadville in under 12 hours: Elevation, Crashing Out, Bonking, Mechanicals, and Bad Weather. I realize now that the first item on my list should been been Slowness. I had no crashes, no mechanicals, and the weather was fine (it was hot, but the course was fast and a tail wind kicked up in the afternoon). I trained hard all year for one main purpose -- to ride the Leadville 100 in under 12 hours. I daydreamed about riding Leadville constantly. I pushed myself on long rides. I did bursts. When I was taking a shower, I would draw S-curves on the steamed-up glass to represent the switchbacks that go up Columbine Mine. I was obsessed.

It took me 12 hours and 30 minutes to finish the race.

Before I go into the awful blow-by-blow account of this disappointing day, I wanted to report a conversation I had with my psychologist, whom I called in a state of panic shortly after the race.

Me: I blew it, Doc. 12:30. I wasn't even close.

Shrink: It's not your fault.

Me: What do you mean?

Shrink: Blame the disease, not the patient. You suffer from what we in the medical community refer to as the, um, Speed Slowness Syndrome, or SSS.

Me: But I used to be fast enough to finish in under 12 hours. I did it twice, both times comfortably under 12.

Shrink: You have Adult Onset SSS. Listen to me. It's not your fault.

Me: I know.

Shrink: No you don't. It's not your fault.

Me: I know.

Shrink: It's not your fault.

Me: OK, now I'm depressed.

But where are my manners? Let's start from the beginning.

Pre-race jitters

A bunch of us caravanned down to Leadville on Thursday. Dug, Brad, and I stayed in a tent that we pitched on a little patch of grass in an RV park, while the guys who came down with their wives stayed at an old hotel a few blocks away. After we did the mandatory Friday morning check-in, we had nothing to do all day but sit around the camp picnic table and talk about the upcoming race. This was a fantastic day. No work to do, no responsibilities, justing talking and resting and jittery chit-chat. We did a quick warm-up ride along Turquoise Lake, ate a huge spaghetti dinner, and turned in early. I slept well, only waking up about 17 times.

The start

The alarms went off at 5:00am. While still in my sleeping bag, I ate a bran muffin, a banana, and some of Elden's Oatmeal Surprise. I packed up, took care of some personal business (dropped the boys off at the pool?), and rode over to the start, where riders were setting themselves up according to their projected finish. I had thought about putting myself in the 9-10 hour group with Nick, who passed me a dozen times or so at the STP, but I decided to ride in the 11-12 hour group where I really thought I belonged. To my surprise and delight, Dug was suddenly standing next to me with his trusty steed, a singlespeed with a handlebar basket and purple tassels. I noticed a guy a few feet away from us who looked comically intense. His jaws were clenched, he was wearing a Breathe Right strip on the bridge of his nose, and he was staring at a fixed point in space, as if he were expecting the Huns to charge over the hill any second. Before I knew it, the shotgun went off, and a thousand riders of varying expertise wound their way through the city streets.

I knew I didn't want to take it out too fast. It was going to be a long day, and I certainly didn't want to blow out my legs during the first few miles. My plan was to ride my own pace, stay on my bike, eat and drink well, and fight to a glorious finish.

The first 40 miles

The two climbs up up St. Kevin's and Powerline (see the course profile above) were actually pleasant, or at least they would have been if my stomach hadn't been gurgling. My legs felt strong while the rest of me felt weak, as if I hadn't eaten enough. The descent down Powerline seemed endless as I picked my way semi-cautiously through loose rocks and gulleys and slower descenders. At one point I saw a guy fixing a flat tire. As I skidded past him, I heard him say something like "heygottaxtratube?" As I continued to drop, I tried to figure out what he was saying. Tube. Extra tube. Do I got an extra tube? Why, yes I did, but now I was a hundred yards down from the guy by the time I figured it out. Too late. Still, I felt guilty, because that's how I'm wired. I finished the descent, joined a paceline, and felt good for the first time that day. I even took a long pull myself. At the first aid station, I stopped only to have my Camelbak refilled.

The next 15 miles down the valley went smoothly, but there was one nasty descent known as Clavicle Hill where a whole bunch of people were cautioning us to slow down. I noticed an ambulance at the bottom of the hill. One volunteer said that someone had broken his femur. As I rode past the guy, I was going to shout an encouraging word, but he was giving instructions to the EMTs. I heard him say, "You don't understand..." That seemed odd to me until I learned later that he was an orthopedic surgeon. I arrived at the 40-mile aid station feeling a little too worn out for the amount of effort I was putting in. I shouldn't have been that tired.

Columbine Mine

At the start of the climb up Columbine, I was on pace for an 11-hour finish. Perfect. I dropped into the valley and saw the turn to the road of the mountain. While I was choking down an energy bar, I noticed two riders flying down the hill. It was Floyd Landis followed by Dave Wiens, who'd won the last four times. This rattled me a bit. I've never seen the lead riders in previous years until I was halfway up the mountain, so either they were flying or I was dragging ass, or maybe a combination of both. I started to climb. I climbed and climbed and climbed up over the switchbacks, just as I'd drawn up on the shower door.

Then I bonked.

It happened all of the sudden. I just felt terrible. I was mentally prepared for working through a bonk, but not until well after Columbine. I dialed back to granny gear to try to recover, but that didn't work. I got off my bike and started pushing up a section that I should have been climbing easily in the middle ring. After a few minutes of this nonsense, I got back on my bike and tried to grind it out as rider after rider passed me. I'm not sure what the best way is to describe going up a long climb in a bonked state. The experienced is reduced too easily, kind of like saying, "Major Trapman was tortured for 36 straight hours." That doesn't sound too bad, does it?

As I pushed my bike up the climb, I noticed all my friends coming down. Chuckie was in about sixth place. Kenny was on a singlespeed in about 30th place. Brad was close behind him. Then I saw Elden and Bry and Rick S. By the time I got up to the 2-mile section above timberline where most cyclists push their bikes, I'd seen all my friends except for Dug. At long last, when I got to the top of the mountain, Dug was waiting for me. He too had crashed on Clavicle Hill. He'd injured his shoulder and elbow and messed up his crank so that it kept loosening ever mile or so. I don't remember the conversation we had at the top of Columbine because I was dizzy from the altitude, but we agreed to ride down the mountain together and then we'd see what would happen. If we both recovered and rode strong, we still had a chance to break 12 hours.

The unending bonk

I thought my bonk would go away if I ate and drank and dropped back down to a more reasonable elevation at 10,000 feet, but it didn't. Dug and I got crossed up somehow at the 60-mile aid station. I had to double-back because we'd passed the kiosk with all the water. When I returned to where I'd left Dug, I didn't see him, so I thought he kept riding without me. I took off. It turns out that Dug, for some crazy reason, didn't want to do the rest of the ride on a singlespeed with an injured elbow and shoulder, not to mention the fact that he would have to stop every mile or so to tighten his crank arm. At this point, I was jealous of Dug. He had a good excuse to drop out.

I rode way too slowly up the valley into the next aid station just before the dreaded Powerline. The volunteers, as usual, were fantastic. One person grabbed my Camelback, and another person grabbed my bike. I asked to sit down in a chair, even though it was out in the hot sun. Someone asked me if I'd rather sit in the shade, but I said no because I was too tired to move. I asked another person what time it was, I repeated the time she said to me, and then I couldn't remember what time we'd agreed upon. I cleverly decided to go sit in the shade, and I somehow forced down a banana chunk and a PBJ without puking. One volunteer told me I looked awful and asked if I wanted to drop out. I told him I'd be fine once the dizziness and tiredness wore away. Another volunteer assumed I was dropping out because I'd been sitting in the shade for fifteen minutes, and she told me and the guy sitting next to me that a car was waiting for us.

I was really hoping I could recover. I asked someone else what time it was, tried to do math, and failed again. I pulled out my iPod, got back on my bike, and hoped for a magic recovery. When I rode up the first little hill after the final aid station, my legs had no power. I'm not sure whether to write about what happened next because it's embarrassing. I realized at this point that I had no chance of making it in 12 hours. I needed a full recovery to ride up Powerline, but there was no way I could make it while feeling weak and dizzy. So I burst into tears.

I kept riding until I got to the section of trail that goes up the powerlines. I didn't have any leg strength to ride up the steep hill, so I got off and started pushing. Part of me kept saying that I was being stupid. I should have taken the ride into town. Another part of me was saying to shut up and push. I battled the bike in front of me and the demons behind me. The thought of my friends waiting for me at the finish line when 12 hours went by caused my eyes to well up again.

When I'd ridden down Powerline earlier in the day, I counted the number of sections that would appear to be false summits on the way back up. I counted five. Well, dear reader, it turns out that the Powerline section has one hundred and forty-three false summits. The sun was beating on me so hard that I stopped at one point to slap some sun block on my face, arms, and left leg. Then I decided to take some ibuprofen and Tums. I'd heard that it's dangerous to take ibuprofen in high altitudes or I would have taken it earlier, but I was desperate. I didn't want to be out on the course when the sun was setting.

I pushed my bike up pitch after pitch for a couple of hours until finally, mercifully, there was no more climbing to do. I rode recklessly down the long descent, part of me hoping that I'd crash hard enough to end this nightmare.

The Finish

The trail turned into the paved road that goes up St. Kevin's. Maybe it was the ibuprofen, or maybe it was the pavement, or maybe it was the fact that the worst part of the ride was over, but for whatever reason my bonk went away and I started to feel good again. I was able to ride hard. I felt tired but normal. I passed a dozen or so weary cyclists on the way to the top of the climb when the aid station appeared after what seemed like a few short minutes. I ate some food and drank some water, and then a volunteer told me I could still make it. What? Maybe my calculations were off! He said I had 38 minutes to ride 11 miles. I told him I'd give it a shot, so I hopped on my bike and sped off. When I thought about it, I knew there was no way I could do 11 miles in 38 minutes, not even on a road bike. Still, I wanted to try.

That thrilling 11-mile ride back into town made the whole ride seem worthwhile. I loved the feeling of being on a bike as I dodged downhill obstacles and powered up climbs. It was exhilarating. The only thing that brought me back down to earth was the fear that I would collapse in tears at the finish line. As I rode into town and heard the clapping and cowbells and shouts of encouragement, I thought tears were going to stream down my face. But when I got to the finish line, I was all smiles. I finished. It was a terrible day, but I finished.

Denouvement

A bunch of my friends were waiting for me at the finish line. I asked Elden how he'd done, and he said 9:14. Ouch. All that training, all that sacrifice for what may have been his last realistic shot at breaking 9 hours, and it just wasn't his day. Kenny and Brad finished second and third in the singlespeed category. Chuckie had two flat tires and still finished in the top 25. Dave Wiens pulled ahead of Floyd down the stretch and won his fifth title in a row. Dug was dealing with the remorse of having dropped out of the race. If I had been in his situation, I would have dropped out out of the race when he did, if not sooner, and I would have felt even more regret for having done so.

We all sat in chairs around our camp swapping stories and eating delicious bratwursts that Fish grilled. I felt drunk and delirious, happy and sad, ashamed and proud. Good times.

I'll be back next year, lighter and faster.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Top 5 Things That Could Go Wrong in Leadville

If you asked me what kind of shape I was in a few months ago, I would have said I'm in decent commuter shape but nowhere close to being in racing form. After training hard all spring and summer -- and especially after finishing the 206-mile STP in one day -- I started to think that I was actually getting into racing shape, even though I was still 10 pounds overweight (now 13 after the Alaska cruise). Until this morning, I had no way of comparing my fitness level to previous fitness levels. I do different rides now than I used to do, so I didn't have any benchmarks to guage my progress. This morning, when I met up with Elden, Dug, and Sam to do Tibble Fork, I would finally be able to compare apples to apples. The results aren't good. Compared to the apple of my former self, my current apple is soft and mealy. When I was in top form, I could do the ultra-steep first mile of Tibble Fork without having to stop and catch my wind. This morning, I had to stop every few hundred yards to avoid collapsing. Part of the problem was that I just flew in from Seattle the night before, so the elevation change from sea level to 7,000 feet may have played a factor. But I was still disappointed. To make matters worse, the little 6-mile ride wiped me out today. I took three different naps and still feel logy. Getting old sucks.

For this week at least, it feels like the only thing I care about in life is to finish Leadville in under 12 hours. Here are the top 5 things that could keep me from reaching that goal:

1. Elevation

The race starts at 10,000 feet and tops out at 12,600 feet. That's not exactly Camp IV at Mount Everest, but it's still pretty thin air for someone living at sea level. Even if I drink more water and go a little slower than usual, the high elevation could make me light-headed and weak. As I learned this morning, I'm nowhere close to being in top form, and the thin air is going to take just that much more out of me. Still, I think I can deal with it.

2. Crashing out

I've only been on a mountain bike a handful of times, which makes me tentative while downhilling. I'll be on a full-suspension bike known as The System, so I think I can stay away from trouble on the steep, washed-out sections around Powerline. What's more likely is crashing during the start. Both times I did this race back in the late 90s, I witnessed nasty crashes on pavement during the first mile of the race. I would really hate to have trained so hard to finish Leadville the past few months, only to end up riding the first five miles and then drop out with a separated shoulder.

3. Bonking too hard

I know I'm going to bonk. My fitness level isn't good enough to avoid a bonk on a 100-mile mountain bike race with that much climbing at high elevation. The only question is how quickly I can recover from the bonk. Or bonks. Here are the most bonktastic sections of the course:

Columbine Mine - This is the eight mile climb up to the top of the mountain. It's only at mile 50, but the altitude may get to me, especially if I take it out too fast.

Twin Lakes - This is where I first bonked the last time I did this race back in 1999. After getting to the top of Columbine, I had it in my head that the next 25 miles were all downhill or flat. The first ten miles or so were downhill, but then there were some nasty little climbs and hike-a-bikes that took me off guard and made me despair. And Satan enveigles those who despair.

Powerline - It's not a question of whether I bonk at Powerline. It's how bad I bonk. This is the steep, washed out section at around mile 75 that nearly everyone struggles with. I'm saving my iPod Shuffle to make it through this section. Attention other riders: if you see a fatish guy wearing an orange Fat Cyclist jersey on Powerline, don't talk to me.

St. Kevin's - If Powerline doesn't sap all my strength, this 4-mile road climb might finish me off. In both of my previous Leadvilles, I cruised up this section without too much damage.

4. Mechanicals

I'm not very good with a wrench, so a broken spoke, a jammed chain, or a bent derailleur could cause too big a delay to overcome. When combined with other misfortunes, even a flat tire could be my undoing. I don't even want to think about this anymore.

5. Lousy weather

A strong headwind in the afternoon would slow me down. The freezing late afternoon thunderstorms in the Rocky Mountains would dampen my enthusiasm. Still, I need to stay positive. I kind of like the sound of hail bouncing off my helmet.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Texas Hold 'Em

I played in my first Texas Hold 'Em tournament on the cruise. Before I tell this story, there are two things you should know. First, I do not like to gamble. I think Las Vegas is one of the ugliest towns in the world, and I think your average hotel casino is depressing in a nearly perfect way, and not just because of the stereotypical old women who cash in their social security checks and play the slots without expression until their buckets of coins run dry. It's more than that. Second, I get incredibly, irrationally nervous before events like this. After Mark and I paid our $60 entry fee the night before the event, I had a difficult time going to sleep.

When we went into the back of the casino the next morning, I looked for my name on the big board. I was in table 5, seat 6. I sat down with six other players, and we all got $2,000 in chips. I noticed the guy in seat 1 looked nervous. His hands were shaking as he peeked at his cheat sheet (the list that tells you a flush beats a straight), and his expression made it seem like he'd just pooped his pants and didn't want anyone to know. I immediately liked the guy and hoped he'd do well. It didn't look good during the first hand. He stayed in the betting all the way to the end, and all he had was a pair of 4s against 3 Tens. He didn't even need to look at his cheat sheet to know he lost that one. He and I both stayed out of the next hand, and then it was my turn to be in the big blind. After getting dealt crap in the first two hands, I was dealt Ace-King unsuited. The nervous guy bet $200, and the guy next to him raised to $500. I called, and the nervous guy went all in. The other guy called quickly. Now I had a decision to make. I sat there for about 30 seconds trying to figure out the odds of beating these guys with Ace-King, which is a good hand. I figured that both of them had a pair or they wouldn't be betting, and as long as neither one has Aces or Kings, staying in was reasonable. If I won, I'd be in the driver's seat with more than $5,000 in chips. I called. We didn't turn over our cards yet because we could still have a side pot.

The flop was Ace - Ten - Four with two clubs. I checked, and so did the third guy. The next card was the Ace of clubs. I had three Aces, so I put the other guy all in. He called. We all put down our cards. The nervous guy had a pair of 8s with one club and the other guy had a pair of Jacks, just as I was hoping for. The last card was the 3 of clubs. The nervous guy won the big pot with a flush, I won the side pot with my Aces, and the guy with Jacks was the first one to bust out. Ouch.

I was down to about $500 in chips, so I knew I had to take a few more risks. To my delight, I actually won three or four hands to build up my stack, and then I got dealt pocket Kings. Two people called the big blind before me, so I figured I needed to push my advantage. I bet half my stack, $600. The woman called. When the flop came up Queen - Ten - Six, I went all in. When she called so quickly, I knew I was done for. I showed my Kings, and she showed her Queen - Ten. The other two cards didn't help, so I handed in my name tag and staggered away from the table.

I went over to see how Mark was doing, and he was shaking his head. Not only was he not getting dealt any cards, but there was an annoying past-her-prime trophy wife from Texas at his table who kept saying things like "Oh, can I just give these chips to my husband?" and "Well look at that! I have four Jacks! I might have to miss my facial at noon!"

As I walked out of the ship casino and walked drunkenly around the ship, I tried to figure out what I did wrong. Was I too aggressive? Not aggressive enough? I thought I played my cards right, which was hard for me to take. I can tolerate being unskilled, but unlucky? That sucks. Poker isn't my game.