Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Gray Day at Dachau (1964)

I took a year off from school after my sophomore year at UC Santa Barbara to travel in Europe. Planned studies in the fall at the beginning of this period (Goethe Institute in a small village south of Munich) and at the end in the late spring-early summer (University of Goettingen) served as bookends for 6 months of intentionally unplanned travel. The travel began in Munich in late fall. Gowing up in southern California spoiled me for weather.  I hardly knew what it was like to have your breath visible in the cold air.  I sure had some lessons to learn about the real world, and the fact that in the winter things get very cold many places was the least of my world lessons.

I stayed mostly at youth hostels during this unplanned travel time.  One of the best things about staying in youth hostels is the local color you can get from other travelers. One evening I asked what I shouldn’t miss when in Munich. More than one fellow traveler told me to make sure I visited Dachau, which was not far to the north. The next morning I made my way to the Autobahn and hitchhiked north towards the infamous destination. Drivers who picked me up would ask where I was going. When I replied “Dachau”, the response was uniform; the conversation quieted to silence. In retrospect, the response shifted from awkward embarrassment to naked shame.

I had to walk the last 2 or 3 kilometers to the entrance, as it was far away from any settlement. There was no commerce or residence in the area. The day was very gray, and it was as if the whole countryside was sterile. As I approached, there was a very long border of high wire fence. Walking through the entrance I found no one in attendance. I moved in turn through all the buildings and the displays. I never found a soul the entire day, at least none that were living. The dead were extremely prominent. I recollect photos of bones covered by skin, of “scientific” experimentation by hypothermia, of long, unheated wooden buildings (still standing at the time) where the inmates slept and became infected with lice and typhus.

It wasn’t the crematoriums that impressed me. What hit me hard was the fact that the crematoriums turned out to be far too slow at processing bodies, so they were largely abandoned, in favor of firing squads and tossing bodies in large pits dug by bulldozer.  Although plentiful, I'm not including any photos of this, because the images are ones that I don't want in our minds more than they already are.

My other memory was the undeniable stench of rotting flesh. I know it can’t have been actual odor because this was 20 years after the war, but the smell in my nostrils was nonetheless visceral.

Monday, December 28, 2009

My Daughter, the Naturalist

My son and daughter grew up with their Mom in Davis, California. I haven’t been able to live with them closely since they were very young.  While being away from them has been very difficult for me, they are now grown and we sometimes now have wonderful times together.

My daughter graduated from UC Santa Cruz last June, and she decided to stay with me while applying for grad school and work. She wanted to take a year off before continuing with school. Unfortunately she made that decision well before the economy went to hell, and she hasn’t had the job opportunities that she hoped for. She has always been fascinated with the natural world, and wants to do field research on marine mammals.  Due to a great deal of effort and persistence, she recently managed to land a four month internship in Gloucester, Massachusetts studying humpback whales starting in February. 
She and I decided to take some vacation time this fall.  We followed a fantastic clockwise loop through many of the national parks in the Four Corners area. I won’t attempt to do a full narrative, but here are some highlights, along with a few photos to illustrate the wonder of these places, and some of the wildlife we saw there.
Zion – This was our first stop. We hiked Angel’s Landing. If you haven’t had the pleasure, try not to miss it. It’s a wonderful climb, especially for novice hikers. We both qualify by that measure. It’s promontory pinnacle that juts out into Zion Canyon. You have to climb up a knife ridge, but there are ample manmade handholds to help in climbing.

Bryce – After leaving Zion, on the way to Bryce, we came upon some Big Horn Sheep crossing the road. Only time I’ve seen them in the wild. Bryce is amazing. Richly sculpted landforms in reds, yellows, and browns that just don’t stop.

Capitol Reef – We climbed the Golden Throne, an area that doesn’t get many visitors. Beautiful vistas, some small, like this circular patterned lichen beside the trail.

Arches – We got seriously dumped on one night. I thought we were going to get washed away in our tent, but it kept us dry. The next morning, waiting to hike the Devil’s Kitchen, a bolt of lightening came within a few hundred yards – no delay at all between the light and the crack of the sound. While we were here and in Moab, we read to each other from Ed Abbey’s books, especially Desert Solitaire.

Fisher Towers – After having hiked many of the Arches best areas, a ranger suggested we hike out of the Park. Fisher Towers is southeast of the Colorado and east of Moab. It’s an area that’s as spectacular as Arches, but hardly travelled. We took this photo with a self-timer by setting the camera on the tip of the overlook. I stepped past it very gingerly to lie down beside Danielle, because the drop was several hundred feet straight down.

Mesa Verde – We visited these cliff dwellings, but some of the best times we had there were hiking the snake trail where we spied a pair of falcons (prairie falcons, we suspect) at the top of a sheer cliff.

Natural Bridges – Like many of the vistas in the national parks area, you can drive very close to the 3 huge natural bridges and get a great view of these bridges. There’s another way to see them, however, by an 8 mile loop hike in the bottom of the creek bed that has formed the bridges. This was the way we enjoyed the bridges, and the effort it takes to get to them makes the views that much more satisfying. Also, because they can be seen by car, few enjoy this hike, which means you have the place to yourselves. It had rained the night before, and there was only one hiker ahead of us (we were the last for the day, just extricating ourselves from the canyon as night fell; now that was a close call!). Well, there was one other traveler on the creek-side trail that we followed for about 3 miles: a good sized cougar! We never saw the animal, but it saw and heard us, because it was only a short while ahead of us, and the canyon was narrow, with only one trail through it.

Grand Canyon North Rim – This was our last National Park that we visited. It’s vastly more enjoyable than the South Rim, but both have a very large number of visitors. Being high on the North Rim, you can look down on the hawks and vultures, some soaring below you; some resting on rocky prominences below. I visited South Rim a couple years ago, and my main recollection there was the huge number of tour buses. Give me the North Rim!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bike Stories - Me 'n Lance (2002)

In 2002, I had a business meeting in Austin , Texas in mid-April. I decided to travel early, the weekend before, to visit a friend, Chris Williams, who lived in Austin. Thinking I would try to get a bicycle ride in, I borrowed another friend's Bike Friday to carry with me on the airplane.  A Bike Friday is a small-wheel travel bike that fits in a suitcase and can be carried on a plane, generally at little expense.

I also looked on the Internet for Austin cycling clubs, and when I looked at the Austin Bike Club's ride schedule for Sunday, April 14, it said "no rides scheduled ... supporting Lance Armstrong's Ride for the Roses." What luck! I went to the link that was displayed on the bike club’s website, and signed up for the ride. I registered for the 100 mile ride. There are shorter distances as well, but being a distance rider I opted for the longest one shown.

I arrived Saturday and had a wonderful supper with Chris. We took plenty of time to reminisce. Chris and I shared two years in the Peace Corps in the late 60’s, teaching English as a second language in the Marshall Islands, a group of atolls in the middle of the Pacific.

Sunday morning Chris drove me to the starting location.  When he dropped me off, he took the photo shown above.  It turned out I was almost too late. But, by blind luck, this worked to my advantage. At the ride start I looked across the huge staging area where the riders were assembling for the start, and I saw several huge groups of cyclists waiting for their turn to begin the ride.

As I was puzzling over where I was supposed to assemble, I heard an emcee announcing the ride start. I could hear him exchanging quips with, of all people, Robin Williams. I knew he was a cyclist and friend of Lance, but I didn’t know he was expected to ride that day. As I looked across the thousands of people, I saw an area with a large banner above it, and a cadre of photographers with cameras raised high. I had brought a camera in my jersey pocket, so I made my way to where the commotion was and ... Egad! ... There was Lance, and next to him, Robin Williams, Eric Heiden, and Davis Phinney! There was just enough time to grab a couple of quick photos with my camera before the announcer blew the horn for the start for the first group, the group with Lance, where I was standing. I jumped on my Bike Friday, and we rode out of the stadium.

We started through the western outskirts of Austin, heading further west. At first, we were on a well-traveled highway. I could see Lance farther forward in the group. I could tell it was him because of his US Postal Service cycling clothes and his rapid cadence, which stood out from that of the others. Leading the group was a stake-bed truck loaded with paparazzi taking pictures of the celebs in the front.

I was reluctant to go farther forward and snap a picture of Lance riding in the peloton for fear of making the congestion at the front worse than it already was. I thought there might be an opportunity later when the front pack thinned out. But when we got further out of town, the pace picked up to 25-30 mph and it was all I could do to stay with the group. Finally, at about mile 35, I had to drop from the front pack. I've never been a great climber, and having extended myself just trying to stay with the group on the flats, I was quickly dropped when we went over a small rise. But I'm happy I was able to stay with them as long as I did. I heard someone say that we averaged about 25 mph for those first 35 miles. When the next group came by (the fastest riders of the next group to start), I jumped in with them and continued at their fast pace. Later I heard someone say we did the first 60 miles in 2 1/2 hours.

Riding with one such group, I started talking with a female who was asking about the Bike Friday. I mentioned that I rode with the front group that included Lance for 35 miles. She replied "Oh, then you started with the VIP group!" That’s how I learned that the first group consisted of specially invited people, including those who had each raised at least $1000 for the Cancer Research Foundation. So that's why I said I was lucky to have come late, because I got to ride with the VIP group without even having to feel guilty about it. I didn’t know that I had crashed the party!

The weather was perfect. We had a cloud cover that kept us from heating up too much, and it even sprinkled a few drops of rain a couple times. I continued the pattern of riding with a fast group until I got dropped on a hill. I’d then wait for the next group coming through and jump in with them. And there were plenty of fast groups, so I had ample opportunity to ride in fast pelotons.

At about mile 80, after having exhausted myself trying to keep up with these fast groups, I was on the verge of cramping in my calves. I only stopped once before then, to get more liquid. I was drinking fairly dilute powdered Gatorade, with a small amount of powdered milk for protein. I also had a banana the one time when I stopped. On that occasion, I stretched a bit. When I resumed, it was at an easier pace, and I was able to recover quite a bit. There was a final rest stop at mile 92, where I got more liquid, some orange slices, and a few pretzels. That was enough to get me to the finish, with no more threat of cramping.

When we arrived at the finish, I found out that we rode the 100 miles in about 4.75 hours! It was the draft from the fast riders that enabled such a fast time for me. At the finish, there was a wonderful music group playing old Beatles songs, especially Sergeant Pepper tunes. There was also free beer at the end, courtesy of a local micro-brewery. Chris finally picked my up, and after a long shower to clean up from the effects of the high humidity, I took a nap. Life was good that day!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

“She Could Kill Herself There!”

In my early 20’s I was a novice in a monastery in Santa Barbara. The religious tradition doesn’t matter; the story I will tell could have happened in any tradition.

I was one of two young men who staffed a small residence used by the church’s cleric when he visited on weekends. We also did other landscape and household maintenance for the church and for the convent across the street, which housed a small group of nuns.

One night an obviously mentally ill young woman showed up on the steps of the church. She had come to talk with the cleric. The nuns in charge (they were the first to come upon the young woman) told her that the cleric wouldn’t be there until the weekend, a few days away, and that she should come back. The young woman said she’d wait.

The woman was known to the church, and had come before in similar circumstances. The staff had contact information for her parents, but they lived over 100 miles away, and it was too late to arrange transportation for her to return to her parents’ home.  The parents had to retrieve the young woman from situations similar to this on prior occasions.

One of the senior nuns said to me: “She can’t stay on the church steps. She could kill herself there.” The nuns told her that she could come back in the morning after staying in a motel overnight, one that they would arrange for her. I was called to drive her to the motel. She was reluctant to go, but the nuns convinced her to allow me to transport her to the motel.

I did as I was asked. This was my first occasion to be around someone who suffered so obviously from mentally illness. As I drove, she talked to herself, quietly at first, repeating various phrases over and over. Her self-talk got louder as the sound of the car speeding through the night got louder. I was able to get her to go to the motel, but she was not at all happy with the arrangement, and I felt uneasy in the situation.

As I fell asleep that night, I realized what had been bothering me, which was this: the nuns’ fear wasn’t that the young woman might take her life, but that she might do so on the church steps, with the unwelcome publicity that would bring.

The young woman didn’t take her life; at least not that night. I don’t know what happened to her, other than that they sent her to her parents house on a bus in the morning. I also found out that they never intended to let her see the cleric. That morning I packed my slim bag and left, and never looked back.

You could say I was inexperienced and overly idealistic. Of course, you’d be right. But just as I know the sun comes up in the east, I know that place was no place for me.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Life and Death, Part II

Driving to Mt. Palomar this morning with my friend Chuck Chen, we talked of the recent deaths.  Chuck also knows David Slaton, who was riding with Don Murphy when he was killed in the hit-and-run described in my last post.  Without knowing exactly what was amiss, I expressed my uneasiness with many of those in attendance, including the family, saying that they knew they would soon be reunited with Don in the next world. 

Now, I'm not one to challenge peoples beliefs if they help them make sense of the world.   You can't argue with what works; "whatever gets you through the night".  But the cavalier and glib reaction of some of those speaking about this death simply did not do justice to the present.  My goodness, this is someone that was cut-down in the prme of his life.  Passing it off as a temporary inconvenience (ok, I'm exaggerating, but you get the idea) seems to me to cheapen life, not honor it.

On a positive not, the riding and company today was terrific. It was Chuck Chen and myself, and two other riders:  Mark Pavelka from San Diego county and Blake Barnett from Aliso Viejo.  We did the South Grade of Mt. Palomar twice. We planned to climb up south grade, then down east, then up east and down south, but on the first climb up south grade there was a strong northerly wind blowing and it was especially windy around the ridges, so we figured it would be so windy on the east grade that we decided to repeat the climb on east grade rather than trying south.  After the second climb up to the top, we rode to the viewpoint at the campground from where you have almost a 360 degree view:  to the east and north, San Gregornio, San Jacinto, even Mt Baldy, and to the west and south and west, Catalina, Coronado Islands, and Mexico. Terrific day.

Above:  Mark and Chuck

Above: Mark, Blake, Chuck, and Dan

Above:  Dan and Mark

Friday, December 18, 2009

Life and Death

Life and Death

What’s to say? I went to 2 memorial services in as many weeks.

Don Murphy - Today was for Don Murphy. I didn’t know Don, but a bunch of people did. There were about 1500 at the service. He left a wife and 2 almost grown daughters. He volunteered at a half-way house, working with recovering men, helping them get their GEDs, and otherwise doing what he could. He gave out 20 dollar bills to some of those at the half-way house to help them setup their first-ever checking accounts.

He was struck in a hit-and-run before dawn on Wednesday of last week while he was out riding his bike with 2 of his best friends. His friends gave him CPR while the car sped away. The driver was later found and has been charged. Unlike the man who killed Armas last June, she wasn’t drunk She was apparently just not paying attention … but how could she just drive away after he bounced off the hood into her windshield, shattering it?  She dragged his bike under her car for a mile and a half before she stopped.  She was later found (bike debris littered her path) and taken in custody.

My friend found a pulse as they continued CPR, but after the EMTs transported him to the Trauma Center there was no brainwave. His family donated his organs which were parceled out yesterday, saving several other lives in the process. But it’s such a waste … such a heart-breaker.

Joanne Penseyres – Joanne lost a very long battle with depression a few weeks ago, at 65 years of age. There was a memorial service for her last Saturday. She was life-partner with Pete Penseyres, legendary ultra-distance cyclist. She crewed for cross-country bike race teams something like 13 times, supporting the cyclists’ dreams. There were so many people that spoke of all the support they received from Joanne. But she didn’t save quite enough support for herself. She was also a very articulate poet. Here’s one she wrote “for all cyclists”:

Come Share Their Dreams

I’ve been there many times,
To care for the men who ride after their dreams,
Seen their foreheads glazed with perspiration,
Their faces taut with concentration,
Even pain.

To the public they’re crazy men, gone insane Over riding a bicycle,
But I know them better; I’ve been there.
They’re riding their dreams.

If you doubt me, come see them.
Look past the pain, the sweat, watch their eyes.
You’ll see the dreams coming true.
Come share their dreams,
And you may catch a dream or two.

Rod Armas – About 25 years ago Rod Armas bicycled the Grand Tour Double Century put on by the Los Angeles Wheelmen. This past June he wanted to introduce his 14 year old son the this great adventure, so he dusted off the helmet he used on that earlier occasion and started out with his son. I saw them in mid afternoon. I was sagging the ride, and they were the last riders on the course. We gave them some water and drove ahead to the lunch stop, where they arrived a bit later.

They were in good spirits, but the lunch stop was almost closed. We scraped up something for them to eat. I noticed that they didn’t have anyplace to keep their route slips, and I taped a metal binder to the handlebars on each of their bikes and put a fresh route slip in them. I didn’t see them any more that day, but Jim Watrous took the attached photo of them after they left that rest stop. I had to drive someone who had DNF’d to the end, and drove home after that, not seeing them again. You probably know the rest. They were hit by a drunk driver along PCH not far from the finish of the ride. Rod was killed; his son Chris had many broken bones, but survived.

What’s to say? Life is so precious and fragile. Don’t miss any opportunities to tell those close to you how much you love them, and how much they mean to you. No, don’t miss those opportunities ….

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Joanne Penseyres Memorial Service, 2009

Joanne Penseyres

Today I attended a memorial service for Joanne Penseyres. Several hundred family and friends were present. Some knew her from ultra cycling, some from her teaching at Bonsall Elementary School, some from her community affairs. A large number of people shared stories of their lives with her, and how deeply affected they were by her generous spirit, tireless enthusiasm, and dare-devil encouragement. You can read or post a memory by clicking on the title of this post.

She crewed for her husband Pete, and others, making Race Across America and other ultra cycling events possible for them. Among other accomplishments she wrote poetry; this “for all cyclists”:

Come Share Their Dream
by Joanne Penseyres

I’ve been there many times,
To care for the men who ride after their dreams,
Seen their foreheads glazed with perspiration,
Their faces taut with concentration,
Even pain.

To the public they’re crazy men, gone insane
Over riding a bicycle,
But I know them better; I’ve been there.
They’re riding their dreams.

If you doubt me, come see them.
Look past the pain, the sweat, watch their eyes.
You’ll see the dreams coming true.
Come share their dreams,
And you may catch a dream or two.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bike Stories - Tony Almost Calls Home

In the fall of 2007 I rode the Joshua Tree Double Century with one other rider, Tony Martinez, a terrific cyclist and home-builder from Cherry Valley, east of Redlands. The finish of the JT Double is very challenging because it ends with a 50 mile return at a 2%-3% gradient into a very stiff headwind. Both times I've done it, it’s also been very cool as the sun was setting in the desert. Anyhow, Tony and I had plenty of opportunity to visit as we rode the 13-14 hours it took us to finish this double. At the time, we both thought this was the first time we talked to each other.

I next saw Tony on the 2008 Mulholland Double Century, the next spring. I had experienced some challenges early on durng this double and lost time to some of the other riders. At about mile 160, the route turned up Decker Canyon, a 2500’ climb, the first half of which is steep, averaging 10% or so. Part way up, I passed Tony who was climbing a bit more slowly than I. As I approached him, I slowed and we visited for awhile, exchannging observations about the day’s ride. I then continued up Decker on my own. After a time I came upon a recumbent trike rider climbing very slowly. I was surprised to see that it was Peter Pop.

Peter is a terrific rider who had to back-off from his competitive riding when he developed some very bad back problems. He didn’t ride at all for several years, and then was only able to ride a trike. I slowed to visit with him and we talked for some time. I learned that he had come out on this climb to see if he saw any of his old double century riding buddies. He told me of a recent visit with a friend of ours, Hugh Murphy, who used to be the promoter for a large series of Southern California double centuries. Hugh had moved to Lone Pine (he now lives in Cartago) after selling the DC series to Planet Ultra. In any case, Peter and I visited for quite awhile as we climbed at Peter’s pace. Part-way through this visit, Tony rode past us, giving a greeting as he passed. Eventually, I rode on ahead, leaving Peter to his own climbing speed. When I later caught up with Tony toward the top of the climb, he called out to me, and told me this story.

Tony Tells His Story … he says: I just remembered when I first saw you … It was on last year’s Mulholland DC. I was at the bottom of the climb heading up Decker Canyon. I had stopped along the side of the road, leaning against a call box, about ready to call my girlfriend to pick me up. You rode past, looked at me, and shouted out: “What are you waiting there by that phone for? Are you going to call your mother to come pick you up?” When I saw you continue up the road I thought to myself: if that old guy can get up this climb, I can certainly do it. And I got back on my bike and finished the double.

After he told me this story, I recalled the incident from the prior year … and I had to laugh. My comment wasn’t intended to be malicious, just to tease him a bit to challenge him to continue … and it worked. Also, the curious thing is that neither he nor I recalled this initial contact with each other until a full year had passed, even though we rode the entire Joshua Tree Double together in the intervening period! Tony’s done many doubles since then, and finishes them without fail, and with good humor. Thanks, Tony, for this wonderful memory.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Furnace Creek 508 2009.doc

2009 Furnace Creek 508 – 2X Team Sandhill Cranes
50+ Mph Winds Fail to Ground the Female Bird

At the RAAM parade start in 2007, Isabelle Drake said to me:  “Dan, in 2009 you’ll be 64 and I’ll be 56.  How about doing the Furnace Creek 508 as a 60+ Mixed 2-person relay team?  We shook on it, and that’s how we got to the start this year.  Isabelle is a wonderful ultra rider from Laguna Beach.  For crew, we recruited Jim Cook, an ultra promoter and distance cyclist, and my daughter, Danielle, who recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz and who is now staying with me, to my great delight.

Santa Clarita to California City (Dan’s leg):  The local police gave us a lead-out that included stopping the cross traffic all the way to the left turn on Francisquito CanyonHow fun for a start!  As we turned up the canyon, a small group stayed together all the way to the beginning of the False Summit climb.  It was cool, and the anticipation of the start kept me with the lead group until this point.  After cresting over the real summit, and the descending down to Elizabeth Lake Road, I turned right on Johnson Road and dropped my empty bottle that I’d drained, picking up a new one from my daughter, before summiting over Johnson pass 7th out of the 38 teams that began the race.  I’d later pay for this exuberance, but in the meantime I was enjoying being toward the front.  I flew down the descent to the high desert flats with a tailwind blowing me along.  As I crossed the flats of the high desert, the wind began as a crosswind.  I drank another bottle across the flats, then got a new one as I began the climb up the windmills.  The wind turned to a headwind, as I climbed and it got increasingly strong as I approached the pass (there's a reason they place the windmills there)

After I crested, I dropped my empty bottle at the right turn to Oak Creek Road.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have a replacement for me.  Neither was the crew able to give me a bottle during the descent as I was flying at 40-45 mph or so.  I finally got a bottle at the left-turn stop at the bottom of the descent, but it was too late.  I was already starting to cramp.  This is the third time it’s happened to me, at the same spot.  You’d think I’d learn … Duh!   While I unclipped one leg, then the other, allowing it to dangle, while I tried to shake it our, and peddle with the other leg, a number of riders passed me.  By going easy, and drinking as much as possible, I managed to fend off the worst of these cramps, and never had to actually stop.  But I lost several  positions during this bit of cramping trouble.  After a short wait for a passing train before Highway 58 (business), I turned left and eventually made it to California City and began my rest and recovery. This was the only time cramps threatened my riding.

California City to Trona (Isabelle’s leg):  Isabelle took over and powered north.  It’s very hard on the “B” rider, because there’s a huge amount of anticipation that builds up over the morning, but without any outlet.  Now Isabelle had the chance to let out some of that energy and positively flew north.  I tried to lay down and rest.  She summited over Johannesberg (seemed to me after only a very few minutes), then turned north toward Trona.  By this time the wind had changed to a tailwind, and she cruised along with ease at a very fast speed.  She averaged over 20 mph for this leg.  After the rollers, we drove forward to get ready for the next exchange.

Trona to Furnace Creek (Dan):  I headed north while the crew put Isabelle’s bike on the top of the van.  They then used the restrooms, before continuing north.  In the meantime, I came upon another train crossing, and had to wait a couple minutes.  After I rode a few miles north I felt a big bang as I pushed down with left leg and everything broke loose and something heavy hit the ground.  I almost fell as a result, but luckily I was sitting at the time.  I looked back, and found that my left crank-arm had come off completely, and was laying in the road behind me.  I got off the bike, walked backwards and picked up the crank-arm.  I realized almost immediately what had happened.  A couple weeks earlier, I had replaced the bottom bracket bearings, which had failed.  I had an FSA K-Force Light crank with ceramic bearings in the bottom bracket, and they had failed a few weeks before.  I had ordered and installed a new set, but when I didn’t use locktite when installing the crank-arm.  The original installation had been done with blue locktite, but it was very hard to get the crank-arm loose, and I thought that the locktite residue in the threads would be enough to hold things together on reassembly.  Now, looking back to the crank laying on the road, I realized how wrong I was.  I didn’t have tools to reassemble the crank, and stood there wondering what to do.  Another rider, solo I think, came by and saw me in extremis, and tried to use a walkie-talkie to ask his crew to find my crew (both crews were still at Trona), and come forward to help.  I needed an 8mm allen wrench to install the crank-arm.  He wasn’t successful in getting the message through.  I thanked him and told him to ride on, since my crew should be coming along before long.  After waiting, to no avail, for several more minutes, I put the loose crank-arm in my jersey pocket, mounted my bike, and began riding one-legged.  I figured some speed was better than none, and I had nothing better to do.  It wasn’t too long before I saw my crew approaching.  When they overtook me, I told them to go ahead and get my tools out.  After we stopped, I looked through my tools and at first thought I might have left the 8 mm home.  But then I dumped all the tools on the ground and found it.  It took only a minute or so to install the crank, and I resumed the climb out of Trona.  It wasn’t too long before I found that the crank was coming off again.  This time I asked my crew to find a small tube of  blue locktite that was with my tools, and we stopped a second time to reinstall the crank-arm, but this time with the blue locktite.  I was worried that it might not have time to dry, and would come off again, but it stayed together for quite a long time.

I continued approaching Trona Pass, and a strong tailwind pushed me up the climbI eventually crested the summit, then descended the windy road down from the pass.  After the windy part, there’s a very long gradual descent to Panamint Valley, and the tailwind pushed us along very fast.  It became dusk somewhere in the bottom of Panamint Valley.

I almost missed the left turn toward Townes Pass Road, but luckily there was another van at the turn waiting for their rider, and I saw it in my peripheral vision and turned left.  Otherwise I don’t know how far up toward Emigrant Pass I might have gone.  As I continued north, I felt the very strong tailwind pushing us north, and I realize we were going to have a very tough return toward the south. 

We made the right turn on to Townes Pass Rd at about 7pm.  I now had a very stiff crosswind or quartering headwind.  I had a similar situation in 2004, so I figured that the wind would become less as we got closer into the canyon of the pass and got some shelter from the mountain itself.  But it was quite awhile before that happened.  It was pretty tough for at least the bottom third of the climb.  I recall seeing the 3000’ elevation sign and thinking that I still had almost 2000’ to go and that it would take a very long time.  But it wasn’t too much after the 3000’ sign that the direction of the road up the pass changed to a north-east direction and the wind became a tailwind.  Before I knew if we were at the top, and I stopped to get some extra clothes for the very long descent into Death Valley.  I did this descent in 2004 under similar conditions, but then I was riding solo, and it was earlier.  I did the entire descent in daylight.  This time it was dark, but I knew it would be very fast with the tailwind.  Jim was driving, and he knew to stay very close behind me so I wouldn’t drop into the blackness created by headlights too far behind.  With this confidence, I was able to let the bike fly.  Jim told me later that for much of the descent I was going between 60 and 65 mph.  I believe it because I passed

I eventually rode through Stovepipe, and continued a more gradual descent for another few miles. Eventually we began to climb again and to swing toward the south.  That’s when the winds began to really get my attention.  First it was a quartering headwind, then a direct headwind as I turned south.  The next 20 miles riding into Furnace Creek was really a strong headwind;  not as bad as 2004, but still a steady 25-30 mph or so.  Furnace Creek was a very welcome sight, when I arrived at about midnight!

Furnace Creek to Shoshone (Isabelle): Isabelle was also at the 2004 508, crewing for Wade Wren Baker, so she thought she knew what to expect, but in reality the 50 miles between Furnace Creek and Ashford Mills was much worse this year than in 2004.  But initially I was oblivious because I promptly fell asleep after leaving Furnace Creek was sawing logs for about a couple hours, though it was fitful.  At some point I woke up and realized that the wind had strenthened.  I eventually sat up and tried to take in what was happening.  Isabelle would sometimes take a short break from the bike to rest her back.  But the wind was so strong that when she began riding again, she wasn’t able to just clip-in and peddle.  She simply couldn’t get going that way.  Instead, she’d go in back of the van while it was stopped, and clip-in behind the van, get up some speed, then edge around the van and then continue down the road as the wind blew her back and forth across the lane.  .

I worried about Isabelle’s suffering out in the wind, and at one point I told her that if she decided to pack it in and head home I wouldn’t be disappointed.  It was just so hard watching her struggle out there.  I could hardly open the door to get out of the van the few times I did so.  But her reply was that when the sun came up (it was about 5 am at this point), the wind would die, and that she wasn’t about to quit; no way!  

And sure enough, when we got first light, then daylight as she passed by Ashford Mills, the wind slowed significantly.  It was then a long slog up and over Jubilee, then Salisbury passes, but she was very pleased to have the long, hurricane-like night behind her.

Shoshone to Baker (Dan):  It took Isabelle about 10.5 hours for her typhoon-leg, but it gave me 10.5 hours of rest.  I picked up at Shoshone and felt very strong riding south.  Before long I crested the Atlas climb and flew down the long descent that followed.  It was mid morning by now, and after the descent, my crew handed me a repair kit, then sped forward to Baker to gas up and get some eats.  I followed, with a pretty strong crosswind buffeting me around.  On the way I came upon solo-rider George Vargas, who had taken some sleep during the night.  We visited a bit before I moved on, having had plenty of rest during the long night.  Later, I also came upon solo rider Jon Snoopy Schellenbarger, who had stopped for awhile to rest.  He asked if I needed anything, and I said, “Yes, I need Baker”, and continued riding.  This stretch didn’t take too long, but it seemed like a very long time, and at one point, while I was riding alone and hadn’t seen anyone in ages, I wondered if I had somehow gotten off course and was lost.  I thought I might see 29 Palms around the corner!  But I eventually saw the giant thermometer, and pulled up to pass the baton to Isabelle.

Kelso Climb (Isabelle):  While I had 10.5 hours rest before the leg I just finished, Isabelle had only 3.5 hours rest after struggling 10.5 hours over the night, so she had to be very fatigued.  But she looked fresh, and was ready to go when she took over.  After she left, I got a Mad Greek hamburger and rested in the van while the crew visited with other riders and crew. We eventually drove forward and saw her well along the climb to the top of  Kelso.  She eventually crested and began the long very rough descent from the top.  I got out at one point and laid the camera on the road surface and took a picture of her coming toward the camera with the very rough, rocky road in the foreground. 

Granite Pass Climb (Dan):  One big reason I prefer to be the “A” rider is that by Sunday almost all of the A riding is done.  The only one left is the short 35 miles over Granite Pass.  The climb was cool in the late afternoon and I finished before it got really dark.  There’s often a headwind on the descent from the Pass, but this was late enough in the day that I wasn’t slowed down much on the descent.  In fact, I motored right down to the bottom at Almost Amboy, then passed the last stretch to Isabelle, who still hadn’t got much of a rest.. 

Almost Amboy to 29 Palms (Isabelle):  The climb over Sheephole Summit isn’t bad, and the descent to the bottom went pretty quickly, but then there’s a very lengthy and arduous slog uphill to the southern end of 29 Palms.  This section always takes a very long time, and tonight was no exception.  Riders reactions are typically something like:  “I just want this to be over!”  It was about midnight by the time we eventually arrived at the finish, but we were all smiles after the ordeal was in the past!

Here’s our stats:
Dan's Stats
Seg Dist

Seg Time
Avg Spd
Seg 1
Seg 3
Towne P
Seg 5
Seg 7
Granite P
Dan's Totals

Isabelle's Stats

Seg 2
Seg 4
Seg 6
Seg 8
Isabelle's Totals

              Page 7 of 7

Sunday, August 23, 2009

2009 Ontario End-of-Season Crit

Ontario End-of-Season Crit, August 23, 2009: Well, today was the end of season crit, and there was a pretty full field for the combined 55+, 60+ race. The course is wide and safe, and I didn’t feel nervous around the corners. It was warm, so I was happy with our early 8:00 am start time. Also, I remembered to use my inhaler before the race, and I didn't have any asthmatic reactions. Thank Goodness!

I stayed fairly far back most of the time. About ½ way through I cruised up on the outside left to see how difficult it was to move through the group. It turned out to be pretty easy because the pack would slow near some of the turns.

Before the race, John McKee asked if I’d try to lead out the Paramount racers with about ½ lap to go. The idea was that Monte would follow first, then John, if all worked out. So, moving up gave me a bit of practice when the time came for me to lead-out. However, as we approached the finish line for the bell-lap, I was moving up gradually so I wouldn’t be too far back when the time came to lead. But all of a sudden everyone else slowed, so that I was ahead by myself. Not really what I had planned. I probably should have slowed also, and kept my powder dry, but there I was in the front and I decided to do my best in my current position. Another Paramount rider, Howard Miller, racing 55+, was on my wheel. It turned out that Monte was behind him. By the time I got to the place I was supposed to lead out, I didn’t have much left, but gave it what I had. I pulled off after my leg and let the pack go by.

There was a group of 55+ racers off the front, who took the 55+ race. Monte took 3rd, and John was back a bit more. Loren Stephens took 2nd, behind John Rubic.

I didn’t have anything left to even stay with the pack, so I let them go, and came in a bit after the main group. All-in-all, an excellent day racing. There were no crashes, and no close calls, at least none that I could see. Glad that I managed to get through the rest of the season without any more crashes.

Now, on to preparing for the Furnace Creek 508 (Mixed 2-person 60+ relay with Isabelle Drake).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Run-up to 2009 Furnace Creek 508

I’ve raced or crewed the Furnace Creek 508 each year since 1997, except for 2008 when I was laid-up due to a torn thumb ligament ("gamekeeper's thumb"). The race has gotten in my blood, and I look forward to it each year.

At the parade start for RAAM two years ago, I visited with Isabelle Drake as we returned from Bonsall to Oceanside on our bikes. “Dan”, she says, “in 2009, I’ll be 56 and you’ll be 64. How about doing the 508 as a 60+ mixed 2-person relay team?” I jumped at the chance, and here we are in the run-up to the race.

Jim Cook, a distance rider from San Clemente and my daughter, Danielle, will be crewing for us. Dani just graduated from UC Santa Cruz (I started in parenting late in life) and is staying with me while she looks for work and applies to grad school. I’m excited about the prospect of having her crew for me. It will give her the opportunity to see her dad doing the crazy stuff that distance riders do.

Isabelle and I had a short crew-training session with Dani on Saturday. We drove up Antonio in southern Orange County, practicing handoffs and support-car following. Isabelle was practising being cranky, whining and complaining to give us all a preview of what was to come. Should be be loads of fun!

I recently looked over some narrations of earlier 508’s. Here’s a link to my story from the 2006 race, which should provide a pretty good window into this epic event:
2006 Furnace Creek 508

Sunday, August 16, 2009

2009 Ladera Ranch Grand Prix Crit

Ladera Ranch Grand Prix Crit, Aug 16, 2009: Ladera Ranch is in southern Orange County, north-east on Crown Valley, in the residential area in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains. There were about 30 55+ and 60+ starters. Weather was cool in the morning. Didn’t feel cold at all after the start. Amazing how that works! The course was a 4 sided 0.7 mile loop with about 40’ of climbing per lap. A couple of the corners had somewhat narrow exits, but otherwise the course was quite safe. No crashes, at least not in this race.

It wasn’t too hard for me to stay with the group. There were a few who dropped off the back however. I think there were about 23 finishers. I stayed fairly far toward the back until the last few laps. I found if I stayed on the wheel of an experienced rider around the corners, I felt much more confident. On turn #1 about mid-way through the race, I failed to check who was around me as I entered the turn. As I exited and drifted a bit wide, I heard “Dan” … “Dan” and felt someone leaning into me. It turned out to be Loren Stephens, and I was crowding him to the outside. Luckily I was able to give him plenty of room, and no damage was done. Lesson: on entering each turn, make sure to check who’s around me, so I can leave plenty of room for the other racers.

As we approached the sprint in the last lap, I moved forward a bit and came across mid-pack, rather than in the rear. As I crossed the finish line, I had another round of exercise-induced asthma, reminded me that I failed to bring my inhaler and use it before the race, same as the prior week. I need to keep it somewhere close so I'll be reminded to use it before these races. In any case, I finished 6th out of about 10 60+ starters. The other Paramount guys did great: Monte took 1st, and John 3rd.

Afterwards I went on a social ride with Bruce and Theresa Steele, up Crown Valley, then up Antonio most of the way to the top. Terrific Day!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

2009 Brentwood Grand Prix Criterium

Brentwood Grand Prix Criterium, August 9, 2009: This race was held on a boomerang shaped 1-mile course with a 180 degree turn at each end. There were about 55 or so racers, 1/3 of them in my 60+ age group. I didn’t feel at all comfortable with the U-turns, so I stayed at the back, only going forward when a gap developed. The problem with the back, of course, is that there’s more accordion effect the farther you are from the front; that is, more slowing as you approached turns and more acceleration required after the turns to stay with the field.

I tried the inside at the turns and found that it was more likely to require braking if other riders ahead of you slowed or had to touch their brakes. Also, there was some water near the inside apex of the south turn, which had caused a crash in an earlier race. Neither did the outside work very well for me, especially at the north end which was narrow at the exit. Between the slowing for the turns and the fast acceleration needed when coming out of the turns to stay with the group, I was using alot of energy and breathing pretty hard. Then on the last lap, I began developing some exercise-induced asthma. I managed to stay with the field to the end, but I was seriously wheezing by the time I crossed the finish line, 13th out of about 17 starters. Gotta remember that inhaler next time! I finished with the field, didn’t crash, so the day's got to be considered a success.

My daughter wanted to see the race, but didn't realize how far it was from Irvine, and didn't arrive until the race was over. We hung around the race a bit, met a few people, then went for a rec ride in Brentwood, up Bundy to the end and returned to the car. On the way home, we stopped at the Carson Velodrome and watched some track racing for awhile, including an 11 man scratch race. We both enjoyed watching the lead racer go up to bank after a pull, then dive back down to the back at the end of the turn to hook on the back of the paceline. The event was a qualifier for nationals. Being able to watch track racing was new for her, and recently new to me, and we both enjoyed it.

2009 Comeback from Injury and San Marcos Crit

Comeback: After a month of no riding because my hand was in a cast, I dipped my toe in the water with a recreational July 4 ride with friends. I still had my cast on, but took things easy. I wasn’t able to use my right hand at all for braking, and I shifted the rear derailleur only when absolutely necessary, and then from the inside, not outside, which I couldn’t manage.

The next weekend, on July 11, I did the Grand Tour Double Century staff ride. I finished with Rolland Hoffman, a distance rider with the ADO Gang, a group of distance riders from LA and Orange counties. Rolland and I finished in about 13:20, but slowed a lot over Grimes, Dennison and Casitas pass when the temps got up in the high 90’s. We had a great return to Malibu along the coast with a strong NW wind pushing us along.

The Friday after the GT, I got my cast off; replaced by a Velcro splint to provide some support. On Saturday, July 18, I rode Glendora Mountain Road, up 39 from Encanto Park, to Camp Andrews, up the backside to GMR, along the GRR to Baldy Village, then return GRR to GMR, down GMR, then along the foothills back to Encanto. It got hot on the return, but was otherwise a wonderful ride.

San Marcos Criterium, July 26, 2009: This was a 5 sided loop of about 1 mile with a 4-5% climb along one short leg, and a 2-3% climb on the following leg. At the end of the first long leg there was a right turn that was a bit off camber due to the slope of the concrete at the apex. It was a little chancey, and about the 3rd time around, I came upon a crash. It turned out that one racer went wide at that corner and hit a boundary cone, spinning it around. Then the next racer hit the spinning cone and went down, taking the following racer with him. Luckily by the time I came around the path was clear and the crash was no problem for me.

I stayed with the group for several laps, but there was such a short recovery period before the next climb started that I was done after 5 laps and faded off the back. I continued alone, but was never lapped by the pack. I eventually passed 2 other riders, and wound up finishing 5th out of 11 60+ starters.

After the race, a group of us (Monte, Jim, John, Bruce, Phil and me) did a rec ride to the coast and back. It was nice to chat with these wonderful competitors.