Stuff that Flies

03.5.2009 | 4:20 am

Look, I acknowledge that as a cyclist, I am an interloper. I’m invading the ecosystem in an unnatural way, moving at a crazy rate and in a crazy way. From a natural point of view, I deserve everything that’s coming my way.

But I still hate stuff in the air.

Little Clouds of Teeny Little Bugs
I don’t know for absolute certain why tiny little gnat-like flying insects hang around in cloudlike swarms, but I have a theory: they’re waiting for me. They hover, strategically, over particular roads and trails, just because they know there’s a good chance that eventually I’ll ride by. And when I do, they can fly into my hair, nose, eyes, and — for the really lucky ones — straight down my throat and into my lungs.

This, of course, causes me to hack and spit, which is just what the evil little critters want, though I do not know why.

For the rest of you who have inadvertently ridden into swarms of tiny little bugs, you have my sympathy. At least you can take comfort in the knowledge that it was unintentional. Think how awful it would be if you were me, in which case those stupid little buglets would have meant to pepper you like that.

You want to blow someone’s mind sometime? Point out to them that no matter where in the world they go, if they just watch for a moment, they’ll see a housefly. Which means that houseflies are literally everywhere.

In particular, if you’re riding and stop, even for a moment, a housefly will come over to investigate. It will be especially interested in your eyes and ears. Is it the stinky bike smell that brings them? The sound of rapid breathing? Are flies attracted to lycra? I don’t know. But I do know that thanks to flies, I take fewer and shorter breaks while riding than I otherwise would. So “kudos” to the flies, I guess. Except I still kill them whenever I can, and always feel like I have done humanity a service when I do.

I have a theory. If we ever discover life on another planet, it will be houseflies.

You know, you can’t really tell how much riding someone does by asking them how long they’ve been riding, because a lot of years riding doesn’t mean a lot of riding during those years. You know what the standard measurement of biking seniority should be? How many times you’ve been stung while riding. The more time you spend in the saddle, the more certain it is that you’re going to be stung.

So far, I have been stung:

  • On the head: This was the scariest sting, and the one I remember most vividly, because there was an agonizing delay between when I knew what was going to happen, and what happened. To wit, I felt an angry thrashing between my helmet and head for about one second before I got stung. And the thing is, once you’ve had that happen, you’re freaked out by any insect in your helmet for a good long while. It probably took a full two seasons after that happened before I was able to keep riding when a bug flew into my hair. Which is to say, for about two seasons, any time a bug flew into my helmet, I would immediately stop, throw off my helmet, and swat at my head in a panic. This didn’t look as sexy as it sounds.
  • On the eyelid: You know what makes a wasp angry? Getting trapped between biking glasses and a face. You know what swells up really big in practically no time at all? An eyelid stung by a wasp. You know what isn’t as funny as your friends think? “Rocky Balboa” jokes made at your expense when your eye’s swollen shut in the middle of a ride.
  • Inside my mouth: So I’m just breathing along, minding my own business. I accidentally suck in a bee. I spit it out as fast as possible, natch, but it gives me a going away present. My lip swelled up to comical proportions. Strangely, though, instead of hurting a lot, it went numb. Like at the dentist. The practical effect of this was that it was very difficult for me to drink from my Camelbak without dribbling all over myself.
  • On my chest, inside my jersey: This has happened three, maybe four times, and I’ve seen it happen to other cyclists at least twice that many times. Based on this preponderance of evidence, I conclude that human beings are genetically programmed to simultaneously swat at the bee while ripping one’s jersey off and yelling “Gragght!” So far, I have never seen any of these things wind up being helpful.

Big Insects at High Speed
I have never been shot by a high caliber bullet, but I have hit a grasshopper with the the tip of my nose while descending on my road bike at more than 40mph.

I figure the feeling can’t be too dissimilar.

PS: This post rescued from my Spaces archive. Originally posted 9/29/2006.


Which Superhero Would You Ride With?

03.4.2009 | 3:59 am

In yesterday’s (very, very long) post, Dug equated riding with Rick Sunderlage (not his real name) to riding with Superman. In my in-line comment, I noted that I wouldn’t want to ride with Superman. While I admit that he’d be good at taking long pulls, his cape would always be whipping around in the wind, snapping in your face like a wet towel.

Plus, I have personality issues with Superman: he’s such a boy scout. How interesting would it be to ride with someone who had unlimited power and was altruistic, to boot? And furthermore, I’m suspicious of Superman: he’s clearly so strong that there seems to be nothing he can’t lift, so how’d he get to be so muscle-bound? How does he get a good resistance workout?

In short, I would like to reiterate: I would not want to ride with Superman. Which begs the question, which superhero would I want to ride with, then? This is a serious question, and I’ve given it some serious thought. Here are the superheroes I gave serious consideration.

This is the first superhero who came to mind, mostly because he’s the only superhero who I find really interesting. And he’s got the utility belt, so he can probably fix any mechanical either of us have while riding. And since he doesn’t have any actual superpowers, he’d be less likely to drop me, or at least to drop me quite as hard.

However, once I think about it, I have to admit that while I find the angry, vengeful, ready-to-snap personality interesting from a distance, I don’t think Batman would make a great conversationalist. Plus there’s that whole cape thing again, probably always getting stuck in the chain (though Batman probably has a gadget in his utility belt to prevent that).

I’ll bet Batman would totally kick butt at doing solo 24 hour races, though. He’s good at suffering.

The best reason to ride with Spider-Man is his Spidey-sense. Riding with him, you’d always know when some fool in a car is going to suddenly hang a right directly in front of you. Or when you’re flying down a road descent at 50mph and your tire’s about to blow. Or when you’re going to mix two energy foods unwisely — Cytomax and a Clif Bar, for example.

The problem with riding with Spider-Man, though, is that mouth cover his mask’s got. Oh, sure, he gets enough oxygen for when he’s swinging around from building to building or fighting crime, but if he tried to wear that mask at altitude while cycling up to Alta, while in 100+-degree heat, he’d never make it. And then you’d have to loan him a water bottle and cart his sorry Spider-Butt home.

Also, the hyphen in his name really grates on me.

Green Lantern
With the Green Lantern, you wouldn’t even need to own a bike. You’d just say, “Hey, Green Lantern, let’s ride,” and he’d magically make a bike appear. And it would be a killer bike to ride, because it’s made of light. You can’t get much lighter than actual light. furthermore, you wouldn’t have to choose between road and mountain. You ride on your green-light-bike on the road until you get to the dirt, and then you have him change it to a mountain bike. If you were nice, you could probably get him to adjust the pressure in your tires, too.

The problem with riding with the Green Lantern, though, is you never know which Green Lantern you’re going to get. It turns out they’re some kind of intergalactic police force, and so while you might be hoping you’re going to ride with the happy, easy-going, sure-let’s-use-my-super-powered-ring-to-make-magical-bicycles Green Lantern, you could instead wind up with the Green Lantern who’s going to throw your butt in intergalactic prison for even suggesting the notion.

Really, though, the big problem with riding with Green Lantern is that every so often, his ring’s got to be recharged at the actual green lantern. So if he’s been forgetful lately and you’re out riding with him when the battery in his magic ring goes pfffft, you’re both suddenly sitting in the dirt, bikeless, and you have to listen to him make lame apologies.

The Winner: Daredevil
Sure, he’s “blind,” but the sonar more than makes up for it. And since Daredevil is a lawyer in real life, I expect he has some interesting stories to tell. And if you got hit by a car, he could help you sue the jerk. Or just beat him up, if that were the right thing to do (sometimes it is).

Daredevil’s outfit, while bright, is nowhere near as gaudy as some (Spider-man and Superman, I’m talking to you). It doesn’t look a lot different than a time trialist’s skinsuit, to tell the truth. And his little horns would probably fit through existing vents in the helmet.

And just consider how awesome a “Man Without Fear” would be at the technical stuff on mountain bike trails.

You wouldn’t have to wear a heart rate monitor when biking with Daredevil, either. You could just ask him, “So, what’s my heart rate right now?” And he’d tell you.

Or say you’re riding along and your chain’s about to break, or your frame’s about to snap. Daredevil would be able to hear the creaking in plenty of time to avert danger. And he could also tell you if you need to lube your chain. He’d be the best rolling mechanic, ever.

So yeah, I’m going with Daredevil.

And You?
So, which superhero would you ride with, and why? Or, if you’re in the mood, which superhero would you absolutely not ride with?

PS: Note to Every Straight Man (and Gay Woman) Who Reads This Blog
I know you’re planning to say you’d ride with Wonder Woman. Allow me to try to persuade you to reconsider, for the following reasons:

  • Your significant other will find out. And then you’ve got to say, “No, I’m not interested in her. How could I be? I love you. And your significant other isn’t going to buy that at all.
  • An invisible bicycle would be very freaky and annoying. How can you tell where it is? How do you adjust the cables? Where’s the chain when you want to apply lube?
  • Her uniform is going to be very uncomfortable, and then she’s going to whine, whine, whine. Look at that thing and tell me it’s not going to ride up on her. And when it does, she’s going to be going on and on and on about how she just wants to go home and change into something more comfortable. And if you even think about telling her it was her choice to wear that get-up, she’s going to backhand you with those bullet-proof bracelets.
  • That tiara’s going to be a problem. She’s going to have a devil of a time finding a helmet that fits over that thing.

Mud Ride

03.3.2009 | 3:47 am

Tuesday, I made a grave error: I went mountain biking on Hog’s Hollow. Although, if I’m going to be specific, the error wasn’t in going on a ride. The error was in not knowing when to turn around.

This decision was not without irony. (That’s my obfuscated way of saying it was ironic. The obfuscation is supposed to make me sound urbane, with a dry sense of humor and a raised eyebrow. How’d it work?) I’ll explain in a moment.

Botched, Dug, Dug’s friend Brandon, and Brad were riding the new singletrack in Draper that leads to the saddle of Hogs’ Hollow. (A big “kudos,” by the way, goes to the city of Draper, which, in an era where lots of cities are closing trails, actually paid money to have an excellent stretch of singletrack cut.) Even though it’s been raining a lot lately, the trail had drained well, and there was little mud. It was late afternoon, one of those crisp Autumn days where you wear shorts and a long-sleeved jersey. Truly perfect riding weather.

Brad, Botched, Dug, and I were on our singlespeeds, cranking up at a painfully fun cadence. Brandon, sadly, began the ride under the misunderstanding that because the rest of us were on singlespeeds, it would be easier to keep up. The reality is, when you’re on on a singlespeed, you just can’t climb as slow as someone on a geared bike. Lacking a granny gear, you’ve either got to row your bike nice and fast, or you’ve got to walk.

Anyway, we got to the saddle. Here, Brad, who once bullied me along the worst mud ride of my life (a full, futile day of trying to slog along the Kokopelli trail through mud, rain, and snow), looked up at the next section of the ride — where we’d be climbing to Jacob’s Ladder — and said, “I’ve got to get home.” He turned around zoomed down the singletrack the way he came.

Moments later, we got a call from Dug, who said we shouldn’t wait for Brandon and him. Dug then hung up without explaining himself, which is his way.

That left just Botched and me.

“Let’s keep going,” I suggested.

I am so stupid.

Almost magically, the trail had turned into a caking, gluey, adobe-like mud. The leaves and straw compounded the adobe effect. In moments, Botched and I had big chocolate bagels where our wheels used to be.

This allowed me to make several observations about riding in the mud.

  • Mud rides are not fun. This would seem to be self-evident, but it isn’t, at least for some people. I have heard people talk about how much fun they had on a mud ride. What’s fun about having your drivetrain jammed up, your wheels stuck from so much accumulated crud, and having your 23lb bike suddenly weigh 48lbs? I’m guessing somehow someone confused riding in the mud with having an adventure. But riding in the mud isn’t an adventure. It’s an adventure destroyer.
  • Mud rides make you seek out water. Whenever I came across a puddle of water — the bigger and deeper the better — I’d ride right through the middle of it. Ever so briefly, my bike tires would shed pounds of mud and I’d be able to see my bike chain again. This would last until three seconds after I came out the other side of the puddle.
  • Mud is stronger than gravity. Botched and I tried riding down the South side of the Hogs’ Hollow, which was the dumbest decision I have ever made. While the mud leading up to Jacob’s Ladder can be described as “incredibly evil,” the mud on the South side of Hog’s Hollow must be described as “Too Evil for Satan.” Within fifteen feet, Botched’s wheels were completely locked, and my rear wheel was jammed. Even though we were going downhill — sharply downhill — we could not move at all.
  • You can go further in the mud with a singlespeed than with a geared bike. The simplicity of the drivetrain means there are fewer things that can get jammed up. Is this good? In one sense, sure it’s good. On the other hand, it also means you suffer longer, because you don’t come to the obvious conclusion that your ride is doomed quite as soon.
  • You can go further in the mud with disc brakes than with rim brakes. I’ve never ridden as far without jamming up as I did last Tuesday, because now I have disc brakes. Rim brakes collect mud and reduce clearance much faster, meaning Botched had a lot more mud problems than I did, and a lot sooner.
  • Time ATACs are good pedals for mud riding. Crank Brothers’ Eggbeaters are, too. If you’re going to be forced to ride in the mud, ATACs and Eggbeaters are good pedals for it. They have similar low-tech cleats, and similar open pedal designs. Meaning you can grind into the pedals and go, although getting out of the pedals may not be as easy. Botched (in his Eggbeaters) had trouble getting out of his pedals a couple times in Tuesday’s ride; I (in my ATACs) did not.
  • Mud in Utah is a lot different than the mud in Washington. Back in Washington, the mud doesn’t cling to your bike. I would ride through mud and in mud constantly, and it just falls off the bike. After the ride, I wouldn’t even bother cleaning the bike, because when the mud dried, I could just wipe it off with a towel. In Utah, you need a chisel.
  • The worst thing about a mud ride is after the ride. Here’s what my bike looked like the morning after the ride. I know, I should have cleaned it right after. I was cold, tired, and had parental responsibilities though, so waited until the following morning. Something like this requires 30 minutes of work, bare minimum to get back to riding shape. For a geared bike, it would have been more like an hour.


Getting Away With Something

03.2.2009 | 4:32 am

It’s getting dark earlier, and getting light later. Early morning rides aren’t as appealing, and early-early morning rides are right out. And by the time I’ve got the kids in bed, it’s totally dark. Which creates a tragic irony: Autumn is the best weather of the year for cycling, but there’s no light to go riding.

Unless you’ve got lights of your own.

How to be Smugly Self-Satisfied

You know how there are certain moments in your life that you can recall vividly at any given moment — just go back and relive them? My first night mountain bike ride is one of those moments. As usual, I was following in the footsteps of my cycling friends, spending an outrageous sum of money — around $150, I think — on a VistaLight setup: two halogen lights mounted on my handlebars (one pointing right in front of me, one pointing further ahead), and a third light mounted on my helmet, so I could see wherever my head turned. The whole setup probably added eight pounds to my bike, and my head lolled from side to side due to the extra weight on the helmet. To tell the truth, it seemed like a dorky idea, this “night riding” thing.

Then we went riding. It was up on “Frank,” the trail I have ridden more than every other trail combined. It was close to home and work, so I had ridden it literally hundreds of times. I knew it by heart.

And yet, riding at night, it was completely brand new. All I could see was the trail immediately ahead of me, a vague outline of the mountain’s profile, the lights of the guys riding ahead of me, and the sky. All the familiar landmarks were gone. Everything that made the trail familiar was erased. And all I could hear was my bike and my own breathing. It was the best kind of solitude.

As we rode up Frank’s seven steep pitches, I noticed I was riding much more “in the moment” than usual. When you can’t see what’s next, you stop worrying about it so much. I concentrated on what I could see, and enjoyed the ride.

We regrouped at the top, then began the first part of the downhill. It’s a fast, open stretch of singletrack, but I was much more cautious than usual. Not being able to see anything further than 20 feet away does have its drawbacks.

Just before the final descent, we regrouped at an overlook that has a pretty remarkable view of Utah County. “So,” Dug said, “You’re on the same trail, but it feels totally different. You’re out riding when everybody else thinks there’s nothing to do outside. Doesn’t it feel like you’re getting away with something?”

It sure did.

NiCad Sucks

NiCad batteries used to be pretty much your only option when night riding. And the problem with NiCad batteries is, as I mentioned in the above heading, they suck. Specifically, they’re finicky about how they’re charged, and if you recharge them before they’re fully discharged, they can poop out on you at an inconvenient moment.

For example, a large group of us went to Moab a few years ago, camping at Slickrock. We got there in the evening just as it was getting dark, suited up, set up our lights, and took off on the trail.

Now, the cool thing about Slickrock trail is that there’s a white dotted line painted on this endless sandstone terrain. Follow the white dotted line and you won’t get lost. And you won’t fall off a cliff. The painted dotted line reflects the light from a headlight very nicely too.

Until, of course, two of your three lights unexpectedly go out, and the third one’s kind of dim. Then you get to slowwwwly pick your way back to camp, scanning for the white line, wishing there were a full moon, getting off the bike frequently because you’re not sure whether up ahead is a minor little drop or 10 feet straight down. Or 100 feet straight down. Or more.

By the time I got back, I had promised myself that I would ebay my old VistaLight setup in favor of one of them new-fangled HID setups with Lithium-Ion batteries. And I didn’t care if it cost $400. And the fact that this setup is so bright that it comes with a warning not to shine it into people’s eyes because it will blind them, or not to shine it at anything too long because it will burst into flame? Well, that’s a bonus.

Look Up

The best argument for riding at night, though, is what happens when you get out on a remote ride. Every pair of glowing eyes is — at least momentarily — a mountain lion. And there is truly no sound.

And then you turn your lights off, and look up.

I did this somewhere between Rabbit Valley and Mack, CO, on the Kokopelli Trail, after having been on the bike for around 13 hours. I have never, ever, ever seen so many stars.

Looking up at that sky, I had to sit down. It’s the only time in my life I’ve experienced vertigo.

PS: This post rescued from my Spaces archive. Originally published 9/20/05.

Dude, Where’s the Right Half of My Face?

03.1.2009 | 4:22 am

You know how there are certain moments that you recall more vividly than others? I had one of those last December, just before Christmas. I was sitting in a meeting at work. A coworker said something funny, and I laughed. But it felt wrong. That is, it seemed like the right side of my mouth was lagging a little when I smiled. Weird. The whole rest of the meeting, I was doing diagnostics: probe cheek with tongue — yep, I can still feel everything. Smile: Hm, that didn’t feel right. Hey, what’s that metallic taste in my mouth?

I didn’t want to alarm anyone, so I didn’t tell anyone what was going on. When I got home, I helped with the dinner and kids like always — nobody could see that anything was wrong, but I was noticing more and more that the right side of my face was not reacting properly. My right eye wasn’t closing on its own (I could close it along with my left eye, but I couldn’t wink, and regular blinks were left-eye-only). The metallic taste was increasing. Everything sounded very loud and irritating in my right ear.

Once the kids were in bed, I spent some serious time in front of the mirror, checking what my face could and couldn’t do. If I tried to open my mouth as wide as I could, only the left half opened — the right half just sort of hung there. If I tried to scrunch my face up, only the left half responded. I couldn’t raise my right eyebrow. But I could still feel the right side of my face just fine.

I had become Two-Face, nemesis of Batman.

Finally, around 10pm, I told my wife what was going on. She panicked a little — probably reflecting the panic I was letting slip through — and sent me off to the hospital. During the twenty minute drive to the hospital, I had plenty of time to self-diagnose. By the time I got there, I was certain: this had to be a stroke. It was only a matter of time ’til the rest of the right side of my body shut down.

When I told the emergency room admitting nurse that I couldn’t move the right side of my face and that I thought I had had a stroke, she hustled me right past all the other people waiting in line. As far as I was concerned, that validated my concern. I was going to have to learn to be left handed, and wouldn’t be able to walk, and… and…

Then, the doctor asked me a bunch of questions — did I have a metallic taste in my mouth? Did even moderate noises bother me in my right ear? — and gave me a CT scan. I made some serious personal resolutions.

Then he told me I had Bell’s Palsy — an inconvenient but not dangerous — and usually not permanent — inflammation of the 7th sciatic nerve. He prescribed a regimen of steroids and anti-inflammatories to help rebuild and de-inflame (just invented that word, thanks for asking) that nerve.

Over the next few weeks, I ballooned. I gained 10 pounds and had to buy new pants. I avoided talking to people, and especially avoided laughing around people. And, little by little I regained control of my face.

Which brings us to now. I’ve finally lost that steroid-induced weight, and I’ve actually done a pretty good job of keeping those resolutions — the ones that matter, anyway. And I’ve decided: If that Bell’s Palsy ever comes back, I’m not going to take another round of steroids. I’d rather wind up a little lopsided-looking in the end. Hey, it’d match my personality.

PS: This post rescued from my old Spaces archive. Originally posted June 8, 2005.

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