I Have Not Abandoned This Blog

04.17.2008 | 1:31 pm

How strange is it that I get nervous about going two days without a post on this blog? Feel free to answer that question in comments, if you like.

First, I really want to thank everyone for their comments to my Tuesday post. We haven’t heard back from the doctor yet on the results of her most recent blood draw, but I expect we will soon. I’ll let you know.

The reason I haven’t written the past couple days is that I’ve been tired. Not tired of writing this blog, just emotionally and mentally beat. And that’s because Susan’s been really tired lately. This is because she’s been almost entirely unable to sleep for the past couple weeks. It’s worn her down, and I’ve needed to do a little picking up of slack. By late evening, the time I usually look forward to sitting down and writing, I’m cooked.

(Question to cancer survivors: Has anyone else noticed an inability to sleep after completing chemo? Have you found a solution? I’d love to hear it.)

Anyway, Susan got an OK (not good, but OK) night’s sleep last night, and we’re working hard to figure out a solution for her. And I’m going to find time to start writing on an at least close-to-daily basis again. Because it’s fun.

Again, everyone, thanks for taking the time out of your day to read this blog.


Every Four Weeks

04.15.2008 | 11:58 am

Susan has an appointment with the oncologist today. She has one every four weeks, to get a dose of Zometa and to get a blood sample taken.

Then, in a few days, we should hear back from the doctor’s office on whether Susan’s tumor markers have stayed good, or if they’ve started going up again.

They’ll go up again eventually. We know that. And when they do, Susan will have to start chemo again. We’re both trying to be prepared for that. But I don’t think we ever really are. When Susan has to start chemo again, it’s going to suck. Bad.

Most of the time, to tell the truth, we don’t even talk about when that eventuality comes up, because we’d rather live in the present — where, for now, Susan’s pretty much stopped using crutches altogether and gets around really well with a cane. And — this is very cool — she can take several steps with no assistance whatsoever.

Still, though, sometimes I get can’t help but think about how at some point Susan’s going to have to start chemo again, and the suffering will start for her again, and it sucks all the wind out of me.

I think that’s why I’ve currently got two different posts for this blog — ones that are supposed to be funny — half-finished on the computer. It’s weird, really: I stalled out on the first one and thought, “Well, maybe this isn’t a good idea after all,” and I started writing something else.

That second one stalled out, too.

I’ve been writing this blog for three years and it’s usually so easy for me (that’s the big secret to my blog: it’s actually not hard work). So when I’m staring at the screen and I’ve got nothing to say, I keep asking myself, “What’s wrong with me?” And — strangely — it often doesn’t occur to me that maybe I’m not funny today because I’m worried and anxious about my wife.

Our 20th wedding anniversary is this August. Two days after we get back from Leadville. We’re getting close to the tipping point where we will have spent more of our lives married to each other than not. During this time, I’ve become somewhat attached to her.

So you’ll have to excuse me today — and probably again in another four weeks — while I worry a little bit.

Infernal Racket

04.14.2008 | 8:57 am

There are three broad categories of bike noise tolerance among cyclists:

  • Absolute Silence: Some riders want no noise coming from their bike whatsoever. They regard any click, creak, buzz, or rattle as an affront to them, and a condemnation of their machine. All noises must be corrected immediately, even if it means halting the ride. People like this are almost all roadies. Or, in extreme cases, they may be triathletes, in which case they may need to be treated pharmaceutically.
  • As Long As It Rolls, It’s Fine: On the other end of the spectrum are people who simply don’t care about noises their bikes make. Creaky chain? So what. Chuffchuffchuff sound from the brakes? Hey, as long as they do their job. A loud metallic twang every time you go over even a slight bump? Whatever. These people generally ride wearing iPods, and eventually, they wind up riding alone.
  • As Long As I Know What It Is: Somewhere in between these first two types is the group of cyclists — the sane cyclists — who realize that a bike is nothing but a contraption in service to your cycling experience. As a machine, it will wear, and it will have imperfections. And that means it will make noise. However, it’s a good idea to know what those noises are, so you can be aware of whether they’re serious. Do they need attention now? In a week? Never? As long as we (for I put myself in this group) know what’s going on, the noise is unimportant.

And that is why my ride into work today just about drove me insane.

Perfect Weather
It’s been a long, cold, windy, snowy, rainy winter, so today’s weather is especially welcome. When I rolled out the door at 7:15am, it was cool but not cold. My long-sleeved jersey was zipped up all the way, but I didn’t need the bulk of a jacket. My Ibis roadbike felt smooth and fast.

Even better, I knew I had a wonderful commute home to look forward to this afternoon, where I’ll be able to where shorts and short sleeves. Forecast calls for mid-70’s.

I was just so happy to be out on the road again, and excited at the prospect of getting in about 40 miles a day of riding each day, just by riding my bike to work and back (not to mention the fact that I’ll be saving about $50 / week in gasoline alone by biking to work).

But there was one problem. A really annoying, confounding one.

Just a few minutes into the ride, I noticed a strange sound intermittently coming from below. A clicking sound, with no rhythm to it at all.

I started the ritual of bike noise discovery.

First, does it continue when I coast? Sometimes it does, for a second, but then it stops.

Does it happen always when I pedal? No. Weird.

How about when I stand and pedal? Yes, that’s when it happens. Whenever I stand and pedal, I’m getting that weird clickaclickclickclickaclack sound.

And sometimes when I’m sitting, too, but not always.

So I get off my bike and take a look, trying to figure it out. I can’t. The bike’s totally quiet. Thinking maybe the magnet’s too close to the cadence sensor and is knocking it when I pedal hard enough to flex the frame, I tweak it back a little, and start riding again.

And there’s the intermittent sound. I can’t even tell where it’s coming from is what’s driving me crazy. I turn my head side to side, triangulating, trying to figure it out. I can’t locate it. All I can tell is that the sound’s coming from somewhere below, which isn’t especially helpful.

Maybe the bottom bracket? Hard to imagine it being that — the sound’s too erratic.

By now, this thing had gotten into my head. I was no longer enjoying the ride. I was no longer watching the road. I was just trying to figure out where that stupid random clicking sound was coming from.

And then, suddenly, I figured it out. I made one simple adjustment, and I was on my way, the problem permanently resolved.

Your Diagnosis The Answer
I’m curious to see whether anyone — or maybe everyone — can tell what the source of the noise was, based on how I’ve described it. All the clues you need are here, and I will add that I felt a little bit silly that it took me so long to figure the source of the noise out.

I’ll post the answer here later this afternoon, after seeing what kind of responses are posted in the comments section.

As many — surprisingly many, in fact — of you have deduced, the sound was…my jersey zipper pull striking my helmet strap fastener. Which actually made it hard to discover the problem, because the sound was coming from right below my chin — which is not a spot my ears are used to pinpointing as a source of mechanical issues.

Oh, who am I trying to kid? It was just goofy of me.

Death Valley Marathon Report

04.12.2008 | 6:10 am

A Note from Fatty: This post — rescued from my MSN Spaces Archive — was originally published October 14, 2005.

In February of 2003, a neighbor of mine (John) and I ran the Death Valley Marathon. I figured that since I — theoretically, at least — was going to do an offroad marathon as part of the Mountain Extreme Triathlon that summer [note: I chickened out], I’d better have done at least one marathon beforehand. Since this was to be an all-offroad marathon, it seemed like a good choice.

John and I took Friday off from work, because we figured Death Valley — 2 1/2 hours out of Las Vegas — would be around a 10-hour drive from Orem. Well, there aren’t a lot of curves in that road, not a lot of reasons to go slow, and I have a car that likes going fast. We got there in under 8 hours. We had plenty of time for a little siteseeing (the Devil’s Golf Course is the most surreal thing I have ever seen), a big dinner, and then off to bed. We’d need to be up early for the race.

Saturday morning we got our race bibs and then gathered around the race director for his race instructions. "I was in charge of marking the course," he said, "And I took great care marking all the turns and mile markers." Lots of laughs came from the crowd, which I didn’t understand. Then he said, "Just kidding. There are no mile markers, there are no turns. There’s just one, long road with a finish line at the end." Then he said, "If you want to stop and take some pictures along the way, go ahead and pause your stopwatch. When you get to the finish line, we’ll adjust your time for you." I could tell this was going to be a low-key event.

All the racers (field limit of 250) boarded schoolbuses; the drivers proceeded to take us to the exact center of the middle of nowhere. They parked on a dirt road, which looked like it rose at a very slight incline ’til it stopped at the foothills, very far away. Nothing but flat and sagebrush in every direction. I had heard this was supposed to be a beautiful marathon; what a crock.

Running on a Treadmill
There was no starting gun; instead, we were told that the race would start when the brake lights on the jeep 20 yards ahead of us went off. OK, gotta love the pared-down nature of this race. The lights went off and we all took off up the road.

The strange thing about running on a perfectly straight, very-slightly uphill road, is that it seems like you’re not going anywhere, and certainly nowhere very fast. In particular, though, I was not fast. Within the first couple of miles, I was sorted to the back third of the field. I didn’t care though (so I say); I was just there to see if I could cross the finish line on my feet.

After what I’m going to guess was about 8 miles the perfectly straight road reached the foothills and started twisting upward. That’s when I started being grateful for my big ol’ mountain biker legs. I’ve got horrible running top speed, but tons of torque. Up I went, passing dozens of people. OK, maybe just one dozen. After about 2 miles and I’d guess around 1000 feet of climbing, I caught up with John — we had made it to the 10 mile aid station.

Down We Go
Now for a big batch of downhill — or, what I would have considered a big batch of downhill up until Saturday (you’ll see what I mean in a minute). In a mile or so we descended 500 feet. My feet were bunching up in the front of my shoes, but it still felt good to "coast" a little bit. I was worried, though, by what I could see in front of me: a very steep road, zigzagging up the mountain not far away. I figured that couldn’t be part of the run. Too steep.

It was part of the run.

John and I were pacing each other well now, and I proposed a "run 2 minutes, walk 1 minute" approach to this mountain pass. John ratified the proposal and up we went. The strategy worked; it’s easier to deal with pain when you know it’s going to end in an exact amount of time. We passed a bunch of people who were evidently demoralized into walking the whole pass, and reached the 12 mile mark. I think we climbed almost 1000 feet in 1 mile. John sang the blues (literally).

Now, though, we had nothing but downhill in front of us. 14 miles of downhill, descending 5000 vertical feet. The first 2 miles of it were crazy-steep; you had to shuffle-step in some places to keep from losing control. Now, though, I had a better idea of why people said this was such a beautiful run. Having summitted, we were now treated to beautiful canyons, stark, gorgeous mountains, and giant vistas at unfathomable distances. John and I stopped a couple of times to take a few pictures.

Mostly, to tell the truth, I kept my head down, picking out a good line to run. The road was mostly very good semi-packed dirt, but there were spots where you had to run through deep gravel for 20 feet or so. That slows you down. I stopped to empty my shoes no fewer than 5 times during this race.

By the time we reached the 15 mile aid station, I had hit my endurance groove. Before the race, I expected to have sore knees, ankles and insteps by this point, since I usually have all three of these by the end of much shorter runs. I was surprised to find, then, that I had no aches. I felt good and strong. Running on dirt is much kinder to your joints than running on pavement.

Between mile 15 and 20, John and I hooked up with a 60-year old guy from Santa Cruz; he says he does 4 marathons per year. I don’t doubt it. John and I would pass him from time to time, but he always reeled us back in. At the 20 mile aid station, when John and I stopped to get a drink and some Advil, he continued on. I figured that was the last we’d see of him.

Home Stretch
Most of mile 20 – 23 is through a winding, narrow (maybe thirty feet wide?), but incredibly high canyon. I’d get vertigo craning my neck up, looking at the top. Or maybe it wasn’t vertigo. Maybe I was looped from having run further than I ever had before. Whatever.

We got to the final aid station (mile 23), then, almost immediately, could see the finish line. We were back in the flats, where it was hard to gauge distance. John started picking up the pace. I matched. He kept pushing, I kept matching as best as I could. We were now going at a 7 1/2 minute/mile pace.

Finally, I didn’t think I could match anymore and said, "John, go ahead, I’ll see you in a few."

John replied, "No, we’re finishing together." Then he started singing "Give Me Three Steps." We kept going. John pointed out that it would be nice if we could catch the 60-year-old before we finished. We did, about 50 feet before the finish. Then the 60-year-old showed us who was boss by breaking into a sprint, beating us at the finish line. It’s tempting to say "I hope I’m in that kind of shape when I’m 60," but the truth is I’d be happy to be in that kind of shape right now.

My stopwatch — which I forgot to pause, much to my dismay — shows that we finished in 4:39. I’m happy with that.

48 hours later, I was the sorest as I’ve ever been — especially my quads, which have never taken a 14 mile downhill beating like that. Stairs were not easy to climb now, and were impossible to descend.

What’s Going On With All the Arm-Folding at Astana?

04.10.2008 | 9:36 pm


Like many cyclists, I have visited www.letleviride.com, the website Trek created with the surefire plan that a petition would get ASO to change its mind about letting Astana ride in the Tour de France (because, as you know, ASO is a highly rational race promoter and is always interested in hearing opposing points of view).

And, like many cyclists, I have been struck by the centerpiece of the website. No, it’s not the petition. No, it’s not that there’s no other real content besides the petition.

It’s that photo of Levi. He looks so…so…angry, with his dock-worker’s hat, his piercing stare, his leather jacket. His aggressively closed-off body language, expressed primarily in the form of folded arms.

He’s so angry, in fact, that while the rest of the website is in color, Levi has gone completely desaturated.

240_levi_leipheimerI hardly ever get that angry.

Now, my first thought, upon seeing this picture was that Levi — a spokesman for PETA (see how kind, happy, and unlikely to beat you up he used to look?) –  was angry that somebody made him wear a leather jacket for the photo shoot.

I’ve since discovered to reconsider.

Now the World is Ready for You
So last night I spent some time surfing the web, and I discovered that the Astana cycling team now has its very own website, making them as technologically with-it as the average American elementary school student. While there (at the Astana website, not elementary school), I ran across another picture of Levi.

leviYes, his arms are folded. Again.

Or is it that they’re folded still?

I can’t help but begin to wonder what this means. Is it possible that Johan Bruyneel is forcing Levi to keep his arms folded at all times, so as to facilitate upper-body atrophy? Or is this a special training exercise that Levi is conducting, wherein he constantly squeezes his ribs in toward the center, eventually narrowing his body and reducing his wind footprint ever-so-slightly?

Well, those may be part of the explanation. But — for Levi, at least — part of the explanation may also have to do with the jersey he’s got on.

Tell me: if you had a jersey that looks like it was designed by the same cartoonist who penned Wonder Woman, wouldn’t you cross your arms over your chest?

Think I’m a little “out there?” OK, fine. Here’s another picture of Levi in this jersey design.


Sure, this time he’s not crossing his arms over his chest this time, but just look at his face. Have you ever seen more of a “Please, kill me now” smile in your life?

I submit that you have not.

More Proof
My interest — and my concern — growing, I started seeing if there is a pattern. I looked up Chris Horner’s picture:


Yes, his arms are folded, too. If this had been the first Astana cyclist’s photo I had stumbled across, I would have centered my arm-folding Astana team theory around the fact that it looks like Chris is embarrassedly hiding a paunch. Look at that smile. It’s like he’s saying, “Hey, don’t look at my stomach. Why don’t you look at my head-sized watch, instead?”

Of course, Leipheimer and Horner are probably the only two Astana guys posing with their arms folded in front of them. It’s probably just some American thing, right?

Ha. Here are Sergey Ivanov and Andread Kloden, looking like they’re about to demand you hand over your lunch money.ivanov














The Spaniards — Contador and Antonio Colom, are clearly going for the same look, though I’d say with considerably less success.
















Clearly, this is no coincidence. There’s a pattern here. “But,” I asked myself, over and over, “Why? Why would they be covering their chests like this?”

And then it hit me: By considering what they’re covering up, I could understand why they’re covering up.

I see two possibilities. One of the two must be true, and maybe both are.

Possibility 1: They’re covering up the name of the team with their arms, hoping that ASO will forget that they’re Astana. If you look at Contador — the racer who has the most to gain by getting in the good graces of ASO — you’ll notice he is by far the most proficient at covering up his team’s name.

Possibility 2: They’re covering up their hands. Is it possible that Bruyneel has been handing out beatings when cyclists turn in a less-than-stellar performance? In days of yore, headmasters would whack truant children on the top of the hand with a yardstick, leaving a painful — and very visible — bruise. Could it be that Bruyneel’s secret of success is a literal interpretation of “carrot and stick” motivational techniques?

Take a look at how few hands you see in all these photos — including the ones where Contador and Leipheimer are standing with Bruyneel, their hands behind their backs — and then try to tell me you don’t share my suspicions.

Or is it possible they’ve got other reasons? I’ll let you be the judge.

kiriyevOne Last Piece of Evidence
Let me conclude by showing you a picture of  Roman Kireyev, off Kazakhstan. Here is his actual team member information:

  • Favorite Race:  World Championships
  • Dream Profession: Actor
  • Favorite City:  Rome
  • Message to Fans: Like cycling and have fun
  • Favorite Food: Italian Pasta

That’s so sweet.

Personally, I find it offensive that Astana is evidently hiring 10-year-olds to race. Doesn’t that break some kind of child labor laws?

That doesn’t compare with my main complaint, though. Evidently, they’ve cut off his hands.

Bruyneel, have you no shame?

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