Progress Report on My Mountain

I had a good ride yesterday, 41 miles after I remembered to start the tracking software. It was a good ride through some awesome territory, but that is not the ride I want to tell you about right now. (Except to drop the official tease that 40 miles is about all my left foot is willing to do in my current shoes.)

No, today I want to tell you about a ride I took a couple of weeks ago. It was my most recent assault on Mt. Hamilton, or, as I call it, My Mountain.

My Mountain is a long, steady climb up a twisty-turny road, with an observatory at the top. After the first six miles of climbing (about one-third of the ride), there is a brief respite. My goal that day was to get farther than I had before; my stretch goal for the ride was to get to that 6-mile mini-summit. And I did it! 1500 feet of elevation gain (not counting the climb to reach the official start of the climb), just crunching along. After that point there is a small descent. I didn’t go down there, because I wasn’t sure I’d get back up.

It took me almost an hour to cover those six miles. That’s… not fast. In fact, one of the reasons I made it that far is that I have gotten better at riding very slowly. After the descent and the ride back through town to get home, I was demolished.

When I related the speed of my climb to my buddy John, he said (more or less) “Your goal is to get up there before you’re sixty? You should probably start now.”

Strava, the app I use to track my rides, happily compares my efforts to others who have ridden the same route. Out of curiosity, I checked how I compared to others who have made the same climb. My effort, compared to the best efforts of 14767 other riders is… pretty close to the bottom. I’m a little confused because looking at the numbers tonight I am no longer as close to the bottom as I was (by a long shot), but I’m still way, way, down in the basement.

But Strava compares each person’s fastest times. So of the 14767 other people who have ridden that segment, almost all have better bests than I do. But that doesn’t mean all their efforts were faster than mine.

And you know what? I take a certain perverse pride in crawling up the mountain at 6 mph and not quitting before I got to that point. It was not a sexy ride, but it was a testament to sheer bloody-mindedness. As an athlete, that more than anything else defines me. I am not stronger, or faster, or more graceful, but I am a stubborn SOB.

I just have to find the legs to triple that effort by the time I turn sixty in 31 months. Piece of cake, right?

1

A Helping Hand for Vets

We love the official little dogs of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas — even though Guilfoyle is a pretty major a-hole — and we love the people who have dedicated their lives to helping us keep the ODoMRHBIs healthy, even as their muzzles turn gray and their legs don’t have the spring they once did.

Lady Byng with blep

People who gravitate to that calling do it out of love, and let there be no doubt that the pups in this house are much better off for having a good doctor. And therefore I am better off as well.

I was surprised, and then not surprised, to learn that the suicide rate among veterinarians is awful. That job has some tough, tough, days. In fact, even the easy days are tough. So this month I’m riding at least 400 miles to raise awareness (and cash, of course), for an organization dedicated to giving these kind people some of the mental health resources they need.

If you have a caregiver for your pets whom you appreciate, or if you just think maybe mental health needs a bit more attention, then please consider joining the fundraiser yourself (you can even be on my team!) or simply donating and letting me do the work. Either path can start at my page over there.

My circle of friends is small, and not all y’all are living as comfortably as I am. So I want you to know right from the get-go that while I plan to do more to raise money for causes I believe in, there is no way in hell I expect any of my friends to answer the call every time. We all have to choose our battles. So thank you for reading this far, and if this is not the cause for you, that’s fine. (But if you know someone…)

1

Hope It Floats

Today I rode Stevens Creek Trail for the first time, and it’s pretty cool: a tiny jungle wedged between a freeway and suburbs, with lots of engineering to overcome highways and the occasional railroad. As I approached the south end of the bay I passed Moffet field and the NASA Ames Research center. Just past that there was a pair of fancy new buildings going up.

“Huh.” I thought to myself, “I’d have thought that NASA people would know better than to create grand new structures at sea level.”

Ames Research Center and something Big and New

The hue of the image is due to smoke; this is the “new normal”, as the kids say. So – two big buildings with Major Architecture going up (only one pictured here), on land that is almost certain to be under water within the intended lifespan of the buildings.

I wondered how NASA could be so short-sighted, but it turns out they’ve worked a pretty good scam. After I got home I did some research.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to one of Google’s new flagship sites. I imagine the NASA people who leased Google the land are cackling at the prospect of getting anything at all for that doomed real estate. And maybe if Google is there, they will spend their billions to protect their investment, constructing dikes and pumping stations that not only will prolong the agony for Google but also give NASA a few more years in their own facilities next door.

The people who paid for that new fancy building must know that the ocean will soon be taking ownership of that land, right? They must know that clever geothermal piles (which sound pretty cool) will not alter the simple fact that the ocean is rising, and cares not how many dollars you have sunk into your new building.

I have many unflattering things to say about Google, but stupid was not one of them. But if the shoe fits…

Maybe the End of a Story, Maybe the Beginning

She stood naked looking out the window, limbed by the lights of the city. “You people,” she said.

From the deep hotel bed I said, “what people?”

She shook her head and after a moment looked back over her shoulder at me. It seemed, in that light, that maybe her light brown eyes were lit from within, but it was just the way her they caught the glow of the the television, I told myself.

“You people,” she said again. “You need something to fear. It’s wired in your brains.”

“Uh huh,” I said. The night was getting a little weird. I was for sure going to end up paying for the room, I could tell, no matter what she had said.

She snorted. “If you don’t have something concrete to fear, you will invent something.” Her eyes were definitely glowing now.

I pushed myself up against the headboard, pulling the sheets up with me to cover my frailty. My gut told me that there was no need to invent something to be afraid of at that moment. She watched me.

“You’re cute when you’re terrified,” she said, and turned to look back out the window. “It’s an honest fear.” She took a deep breath. “Delicious. Left to yourselves, that fearful instinct, combined with the power you suddenly wield, will certainly destroy you. There’s no doubt. That’s why I’m here.”

“To… help?” I was starting to feel the heat radiating from her body. She didn’t seem like the helpful type.

“Maybe,” she said. “Or maybe just to speed things up. I’ve been sent to simplify things.”

She waited for my obligatory leading question but my throat was dry.

She laughed. “I’m giving you something real to fear. It’s as simple as this: you people learn to work together and kill me, or I will cleanse this planet of life.”

“Simple enough,” I croaked, as I kissed my planet goodbye.

1

A Sign of the Times

My local bike shop published a nice intro to indoor bike trainers today, breaking down the different types and the pros and cons of each. There was one section of the article addressing why one might want an indoor trainer, that included this:

You can get a great ride in regardless of rain, wind, smoke, or snow.

Smoke. A new weather condition driving us indoors. One we created all by ourselves.

Almost There

The Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings & Half-Baked Ideas cut my hair today. She did a good job, but when done said, “I’m not an expert, and I hope never to be.” Amen to that.

I had gotten pretty shaggy, as the pile of hair in the picture will tell you. We thought, Official Sweetie and I, that my next haircut would be by a trained professional. We were almost there.

But it turns out we weren’t almost there. The groundhog poked his head up, saw rich people exploiting fear of the vaccine for profit and political power, and dove back into his burrow for six more months of plague.

As a result, I got my best home haircut since I was a kid this afternoon. I hope it’s my last.

 

Hmm…

I’m just going to leave this here.

The Beginning of a Fun Space Opera

“Everything will be all right.”

Tommy thought he heard those words, anyway; a soothing alto whispering in his ear. A lie, he was pretty sure. He tied to open his eyes, but he couldn’t, and he became aware that his head was wrapped tightly.

But as he emerged from his sleep he wanted to go right back. He was aware, distantly and intellectually, that half his body was on fire, but it was the other half, the parts he couldn’t feel at all that frightened him.

He had been flying, dodging, cursing, ducking between hulks of weird alien… things, sending the Feds crashing into each other while Mags did what she could with their little popgun, extracting every possible cost to those trying to kill them, but knowing, all along, that there were just too many of the bastards. Knowing all along that he was going to die.

He jerked in the restraints that held him now as he remembered the last hit his little ship had taken, reliving the moment his craft had been vented and Mags had gone cartwheeling into the void.

“Please try to remain still,” the voice said. “I am currently testing your mental function, then you will sleep again. Everything will be all right.”

His mouth was not bound. He worked his jaw, tried to force words through a throat that would not respond.

“The next time you are conscious, you will be able to speak,” the voice said.

He felt sleep return, but now he feared his dreams.

“Do not be afraid. Everything will be all right.”

* * *

The second time up the well, it was a slower climb. The pain was closer now, but still he was shielded from the worst. Out there somewhere his left arm was in agony as it slowly repaired itself. The right arm felt… odd. But it didn’t hurt. Tommy was pretty sure that was worse.

He could feel himself breathing now, he could feel the air passing over scorched and raw tissue in his throat and lungs. He could feel his heart beat. The top of his face was still wrapped tightly, but he could sense the room around him now. He was surrounded by almost-silent machines, machines that no doubt were keeping him alive.

A simple fact: shitbags like him did not get this sort of medical care. Ever.

The voice again, so soothing, but tinged with concern. “Are you able to speak?”

He opened his mouth, closed it, tried again, moving air through his abused throat until noises started coming out. “Huh..hii… is… everything going to be all right?”

She didn’t laugh but her voice sounded like it was colored by a smile when she said, “I believe so, yes.”

“Where am I?”

“You are in a medical bay, undergoing repairs.”

The million-dollar question: “Why?”

Did he hear that smile again? “I like the way you fly. Now sleep. You are safe for now.”

He felt sleep coming to him unbidden, and knew it was sedatives in his bloodstream. “For now?” he whispered.

He was sure he heard a chuckle as he drifted back into the blackness. “As safe as any of us are.”

Somehow he was all right with that.

* * *

Tommy might have been dreaming while he was under, but as his mind was released from the drugs this time the memories came.

Scavengers all lived for the big score; most of them died for it as well. When word filtered down about a new find of Old Tech, probably Gamma, it flashed through his little circle like a supernova. Someone who knew someone said that some of the Old Tech was fully intact. Even if that was an exaggeration, they were talking about El Dorado.

There are two kinds of people in the universe; those who stupidly believe Old Tech is valuable, and those who sell the shit to the first group. The equivalent of selling tunnel drives to cavemen. But some of those cavemen had serious cash, and dreams that they would be the ones to decipher the Old Tech and rule the universe.

Three kinds of people if you count the Feds, but they’re not actually people so much as cogs in a machine that understands that the devices are a source of power, but like cavemen they just hit the things with rocks to see what happens. They are organized cavemen, and what they have that the other cavemen don’t is a navy, and they will to use it to keep all the shiny objects they will never understand to themselves.

This interfered with the desire of the scavengers to sell the Old Tech to stupid rich people.

The ageless artifacts came in distinctive styles, which were named using the Greek alphabet in the order they were identified. Gamma sold the best. “Experts” at hitting mysteries with rocks said Gamma was the most advanced, as if they had any hope of actually understanding any of it. Gamma was bank, but most of it had been thoroughly demolished by weapons of power beyond comprehension. Intact Gamma tech was the Big Score all the scavengers dreamed of.

It was late when the three of them got together to discuss the news. They were drinking, and Mags wanted that loot. She leaned in towards him, her crazy blonde hair flying in every direction as she skewered him with her perceptive squint. “My friends say it’s incredible. Tons of fully intact… stuff.” Stuff. A supercomputer, maybe, or perhaps a sex toy or a recipe book. Ask again in a thousand years. “People will pay out thier dicks for this shit.”

Aggie kicked Tommy under the table to get his attention. She was like the Cheshire Cat in a way; once you saw her eyes, brown and clear and endless, you didn’t see anything else. She could rob a person of their soul with those eyes, and she had stolen Tommy’s, more than once. “We got an image from the site. Big things, small things, in a cluster, orbiting a red giant. Spread out over time, though, so there’s a good chance some of the shit has been knocked out of its original orbit. We find a piece like that, no one is ever the wiser.”

“Counterpoint:” said Mags, “Rather than spend months looking over our shoulders for patrols while we hope to find a stray widget that will fit in our hold, we go in hot, grab something choice, and get the fuck out of there. If anyone can do it, Tommy can.”

Ultimately, as always, Mags got her way. And the Feds got theirs.

* * *

He was awake now, almost as much as he was asleep. The pain gradually crept closer and closer to his mind, until his entire left side was a constant throbbing ache. The right side was a collection of sharp pains here and there, but otherwise nothing.

“My right arm’s gone, isn’t it?” he asked his caretaker.

“It is. I am fashioning a replacement.”

“My legs?”

“The same.”

“My… eyes?”

“The same.”

“Fuck.”

“Do not be too discouraged; the replacements will in some ways be superior to the originals.”

“You said you are fashioning replacements.”

The soft voice paused, as if she knew what the next question would be. “That is correct.”

“You used the singular.”

“That is correct.”

“Are you the only one here?”

“No,” she said. “You are here, too.”

“You’re not with the Feds.”

“I am not.”

“Who are you?”

“I am waiting for a name. But your people call me ‘Gamma’.”

1

In It To End It Update

I am participating in an exercise-themed fundraiser in support of a group of organizations working to help end domestic abuse. The short version of the outcome: Miles! Lots of Miles! Dollars… not so much. The goal of the fundraiser is $25,000; as of this writing the amount raised is less than $4,000. Yikes. But there’s time! And now, thanks to our friends, there are PRIZES! Lots of prizes!

Across the country, shelters for victims of domestic abuse have been pushed to the limit, reserves exhausted while trying to do what they could with shelter-in-place restrictions. In some cases this has meant putting people up in hotels, or finding other, more expensive options.

When the shelters run out of resources and can no longer provide help, vulnerable people end up stuck in dangerous, abusive situations — or homeless.

Meanwhile, you, my friends, have already far exceeded my expectations on this fundraiser. You are awesome and I am humbled. Thank you.

But if you have read my posts, and thought maybe you want to pitch in but haven’t yet (believe me, I know all the little obstacles that lead to “I’ll do it later”), maybe right now is the time to click this link: In It to End It — and toss a few bucks to a good cause. It doesn’t have to be much to make a real difference.

Which brings us to PRIZES! To help pump up the fundraiser, the Official Sweetie of MR&HBI tapped into her community of creatives and managed to pull donations of awesome original art and other fun stuff – some even customized just for you! Any donation of $5 or more at the above link will make you eligible for a cool prize! (Those who have already donated are eligible.)

I will be publishing the full list of prizes shortly (I’m really just piggybacking Official Sweetie’s hard work), but that’s no reason to wait. Vulnerable people need your support now. Please help!

A Brief Encounter with the Underground Economy

Where to start, where to start. My longest ride ever? The things I saw? The nearly-endless interval sitting on the concrete, my legs stretching out into the sun, in emotional and medical shock, staring at my water bottle lying in the middle of the sidewalk as I reconciled myself with never seeing my bike again? The stunned disbelief as two strangers brought my bike back to me?

I’ll start with water. I drink a lot of water, even when siting in an air-conditioned office. I have convinced myself that my second-biggest obstacle to climbing my mountain (It’s not “Mt. Hamilton” anymore, it’s My Mountain) is water. Unless I pull a trailer with one of those big ol’ coolers behind me, I’m going to have to find ways to replenish on the climb.

So, I’ve started to be more conscious of the places water is available, even on my more modest routes. Trying to get it into my rather thick skull that’s it’s ok to load up at any opportunity. (I do not know if there will be opportunities on my mountain.)

Eight days ago I set out on a ride, not sure exactly where I would go, but confident there would be a lot of miles. I knew when I was done that Strava would congratulate me on my longest ride ever, and I was looking forward to that pat on the back. Machines are notoriously free with their validation, but some machines are more worth impressing than others.

So a long ride north exploring what is intended to be a bicycle artery, which is really well done except for two stretches that are terrible. I was on roads I didn’t know, and the sun was straight overhead, but I knew I was going the right direction by the headwind. If you’re riding into the teeth of the wind, you’re traveling roughly parallel to the runway at SJC. I hate headwinds, but this one at least I know will pay me back when I was heading home on weary legs.

But… all this riding around isn’t what I teased above. I was a good ride. I found some cool things I will have to explore again. I made my way over to Alviso and began my tailwind ride home south on Guadalupe River Trail.

The trail includes a stretch of roughly ten miles with no interruptions — no traffic signals, no cross streets — that you just cruise and enjoy. But when I got to the south end of that, thirty miles into my ride, I had consumed all the water in my big bottle and the Gatorade I put in the second holder as well.

By now, I was not far from home. I could have made it without too much discomfort. But I told myself that I needed to start to get used to finding water on the trail if I planned to do longer rides. So, just for practice, I stopped at a little park to fill up my water bottle. This may seem like a strange thing to practice, but for me “stop pedaling for two minutes so you don’t die later” is not as simple as all that.

So I stopped for water. It was at a little park with public restroom made out of the same brown faux-stone that all public restrooms are made of in all city parks west of the Mississippi. There were people outside as I rode past, so I guessed that the covid water shutdowns had been canceled. I would fill my bottle. I doubled back.

The park is separated from the street and the sidewalk by a low metal fence – not a barrier In any real sense, but a symbolic demarcation. As I rolled through the gate into the park and turned back toward the water, I decided I didn’t trust the people hanging out there so much, so rather than leave my bike near them, I leaned it against the fence, a few feet away.

That was a very bad decision.

I said hello to the couple standing in the shade of the restroom blok. He was, let there be no doubt, a fan of the Oakland A’s; he was garbed in yellow and green from neck to toe, with plenty of logos. She was dressed for the summer heat, a light top but still blue jeans.

This next bit is hard to tell, because of how stupid I was. The drinking fountains on the outside of the building didn’t work. “The taps work inside,” the A’s fan said.

It would only take a moment. Pop in, fill the bottle, back out. Just a few seconds. I went in, and for five seconds of increasing anxiety I tried to make water come from the spigot, alll the while thinking “my bike is out there” and finally dashing back out, in time to see a stranger reach over and hoist my bike over the fence.

“NO!” I shouted. “No! No! No!” And I started to run after him.

An aside here, and an important one. Many times I have told myself that in a situation like this, I would do my best to be a witness, not a hero. Be smart. Really look at the person, so that in court I can be confident. Get the details. Consolidate them before lawyer questions can shake them. I failed at this. Absolutely flunked the course. I chased, vaulting the little fence and still shouting. Maybe a shitty mustache? When talking to the police I was also able to offer that he was wearing long pants, which seriously narrows the suspect list.

Instead I was a hero. I chased the guy, vaulting the fence in what might have ben an impressive maneuver. But I was in bike shoes (SPD so better for sprinting after bike thieves than others) and after about five strides past the vault I knew my left leg was blown. Still I was not being a good witness. My eyes were on my bike, the rear safety light still blinking. A folding knife dropped out of the thief’s pocket as he rode away. He headed South and took the first turn to the east and he was gone.

I staggered forward far enough to collect the knife (carefully – fingerprints, after all) then limped back to where my witnesses were standing. They asked If I was OK, and told them that actually I was not. “Do you know that guy? I asked.

“I know him, but I haven’t seen him around for a while,” the guy answered.

I will not reproduce the entire conversation, but as they assessed the damage I had taken, and my long white beard, the woman said, “do you want us to go after him?”

I heard that as “can we sound helpful and leave?” but I answered “If you really think you can find him, then yeah, sure.” And they left.

I’ll fast-wind ahead through remembering my watch is also a phone and calling The Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas and calling the police and sitting, staring at my water bottle which I had carried at least long enough that it was on the street side of the fence, the lid a few feet farther along, in the shade of a tree that was small enough to only be a promise of a future idyllic neighborhood. My head started to spin, and I laboriously stood only to cling to the damn brown brick so I wouldn’t fall over again. I was not in a good way.

And then there they were. With my bike. With my fucking bike.

“I’m so glad you’re still here!” she said, huffing and flushed with the effort of a quick ride. “I was worried if you were gone we’d never find you.”

There were some moments of joy and simple gratitude that followed, snd she (and he, to a lesser extent) seemed of a mind to chat. “He was heading for the labyrinth,” she said. “It’s a place they sell stolen bikes. But he took a wrong turn.” The labyrinth is well-named. “When we found him, he was looking at the back gears and having a hard time.”

“This bike shifts differently,” I said, and she laughed. We talked about the bike for a bit, about how this outfit in Utah was making great bikes. I opened the pouch on my bike that also held my wallet, and was happy to find some cash inside, that I keep in reserve for waitstaff. I offered it to her.

“You don’t have to,” she said. Twice, before taking the money. It was fifty dollars. In this city, that’s not much.

In our conversation, she proudly proclaimed that they had paid for their bicycles. But I haven’t mentioned that the two of them had three bikes, and both were skilled at “ghost riding”: pedaling one bike while pulling along another. It’s an important skill for bike thieves. She also said “I offered him this bike in exchange, but he just gave me yours back.” For her, bicycles are generally fungible. My bike was unique, which made it more dangerous, but also I was a graybeard with a blown leg who clearly didn’t know how to deal, and I think it was that more than anything else that led to my happy reunion.

I mentioned to them that I had managed to call the police, and he said with a laugh. “I’m no interested in talking to them.” and she laughed too and they rode away with their three bicycles.

I am not angry, not even at the asshole who snatched my bike and rode away. There is a world of necessity that festers in our cities, a world invisible to the Uber class. On my favorite ride I pass a camp filled with chickens and stolen bicycles. This is not big-time organized crime, it’s people struggling to survive. They’re living in tents for crying out loud. The underground economy of stolen bicycles is not the disease, it is a symptom of a deeper ill.

So, I lied, actually. I am angry. I am angry at a nation where people eating too much is a major health crisis while we also have kids gong hungry. I am angry at a nation where the homeless problem is solved by making them go somewhere else. We have enough. We have enough to put a roof over every head. We have enough to put food in every belly. But we don’t. Honestly, we don’t even try.

I rode home, slowly, on my own bike, pedaling with a very unhappy leg — a person of privilege who had somehow found sympathy from people who have far less than I do. I will pay that back.

8

Bicycling’s Ultimate Wingman

It was a hell of a day on the bike today, but I’m not ready yet to tell that story. So let’s talk about the Tour de France instead.

Today, a rider named Mark Cavendish tied the record for most stages ever won in the Tour. The Manx Missile once seemed to be on track to shatter the old record, then injury and misfortune almost ended his career. After a brutal few years, he got his last chance on a major team, and likely because of internal politics he was selected to ride for that team in the Tour.

There are a lot of different ways to win at a stage race like the Tour de France. The most-remembered winner is the rider who completes all the stages in the smallest aggregate time. But there are also awards for the best in the mountains, and the fastest in the sprints, and each day is a mini-race; winning a stage is a great accomplishment. winning lots of stages, over many years, makes you a legend.

Cavendish, with his come-back story, adds an element to this year’s Tour that would not be there otherwise. He is crafty, knows just what he can do, and especially knows how to work with his teammates.

One of those teammates is Michael Mørkøv, my new favorite rider. Yesterday he did such a good job pulling Cav through a confused and chaotic 100 meters to the end line that he nearly won the stage himself. But his job is to get the main guy to the line, and he does it well. I looked today and in his long career he has won exactly one stage in a major race. But his teammates have won many.

If you watch a stage race that ends with a sprint, you will see the star of the show about four wheels back, behind teammates who are creating a draft the star can ride it, saving energy. In the last few hundred meters those teammates will peel off, and other teams will make their moves, driving their own trains toward the line.

If you’re that sprinter, having ridden 100 miles already that day just to get to this moment, as your crew peels off one by one and the pace of the final dash to the line builds, there is no one you want in front of you more than Mørkøv for those last few meters.

I have oversimplified the role of the leadout rider; there is a lot of strategy involved to set up your teammate for the last dash. Wind, the tactics of the other teams, the strength of the rider you are pulling, of course the terrain — all of that matters.

Cavendish has a burst that no one else on the tour can match. Those same twitch muscles that put him across the line first in the sprints are actually a liability through the mountains. So let’s not forget the rest of the team that kept Mark Cavendish in the race (those too far behind the lead are mercifully eliminated). It was the effort of many that even put Mark on the road today.

It has been the effort of Michal Mørkøv that allowed him to make history. Let us not forget that.

Blogging for Dollars

I was reading an article the other day about Facebook’s brazen attempt to spend another competitor into the grave. In this case the competitor is Substack.com, which is a platform that allows writers to create “newsletters” and have their fans subscribe for actual dollars. Substack, of course, takes a slice of those dollars for themselves.

But Facebook thought that was a pretty cool idea, and decided to launch their own clone of the service, but (at first) they will not take a cut of the writers’ subscription fees. So, they’re dong it for free, but the writers creating these “newsletters” don’t have to give up a slice of their pie.

From The Washington Post article:

Asked for comment on Facebook Bulletin, Substack spokeswoman Lulu Cheng Meservey said, “The nice shiny rings from Sauron were also ‘free.’ ”

I put “newsletter” in quotes because these are blogs. Bloggedy blog blogs. These are platforms to allow bloggers to make money.

And… hang on a second… I’m a blogger!

So after reading this, and deciding instantly that I would not be participating in the Facebook thing, I was still left with the thought… maybe I could make money by blogging.

Fear not, good reader(s), Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas will not be disappearing behind a paywall. Be assured that this is not out of any altruistic impulse, but is rooted in the calm belief that MR&HBI is fundamentally unmarketable. If you don’t believe that now, just wait for the next episode.

To be one of those blogs that people read, there must be a theme. I can’t just spew whatever nonsense crosses my mind and expect people to pay for it; I have to wrap that nonsense in a central theme, and have that nonsense resonate with people who have never actually met me. There has to be a connecting point.

Like maybe an overweight greybeard trying to climb a mountain on a bicycle. That might sell, if the “newsletter” built a larger story about goals and effort and self-loathing and it was written well enough that people who read one installment would look forward to the next. There might be a formula for the episodes — some logistics, some details of ride to the base of the mountain, then getting to the grind of the climb with a juicy piece of crazy thought that went through oxygen-starved brain, then the discomfort and pathetic fear of a timid descent. Some background, here and there, about the world, about life, about whether pursuing happiness is an oxymoron.

I think I could do that.

I also think that because I am completely hopeless at marketing, that the “newsletters” will die in obscurity. But is that any reason not to do it? It’s an autobiography, and Lord knows I do like talking about me. It’s a story, but unlike serial fiction each episode is built on my latest run at the mountain. “I got this” one week turns into “I don’t got this” the next. There might be discussion of bicycle infrastructure. Or blimps.

But my two subscribers will be pushing me forward, lifting me, and when I get to the top of that damn mountain, our roar will be heard all the way to next door.

2

They are Not Like Us

Clearing out the email today and found one from Strava, the bicycle-centric performance-tracking app. It turns out that some of the riders on the Tour de France are sharing their rides with the rest of us.

Poking around today, I got the data for Ben O’Connor, the rider who won Stage 9 today, and I also found the data for a serious contender who today lost concentration for a second and went off the road. The full list is here.

O’Connor doesn’t share his heart rate data, but some of the others do. There was one guy who I can’t remember the name of whose heart rate almost never broke 150. Another guy climbed a near-vertical road for a minute, pushing his heart to a casual 149, before it dropped right back to 108 a minute later, while coasting downhill.

I’m only starting to appreciate the power numbers, as on my rides power output is a very rough estimate based on slope and speed (I could buy toys to give much more precise power readings, but I don’t think I would actually benefit from that information.) Here we see athletes who can sustain more than 400 watts of power for half an hour, and then do it again on the next hill, and then be able to get back on the bike and do it all over again tomorrow. The riders, even the ones with no hope of winning, are capable of producing crazy amounts of power pretty much forever.

But while all that’s impressive to me, it’s all quantifiable. That changes when it’s about going down the mountain. I will tell you right now, despite the hardship, I prefer going up to going down. I was watching a repeat of last year’s Giro a few months back and a Slovenian kid got his first stage win by smashing up the mountains and then barely not crashing on the way down the other sides. There were times my heart went up into my throat as his rear wheel skidded on the winding roads. He is a beast, but a crazy beast at that (I think I was watching Tadej Pogačar introduce himself to the world, and who has in the last three days turned the Tour de France into a race for second place, but there’s another Slovenian kid who is also a monster.)

It should come as no surprise that the riders who qualify for one of the world’s most prestigious athletic endurance events are superhuman. It’s extra-fun for me, though, because when I look at one of those riders, Strava helpfully puts my recent and career stats next to theirs. (But please note that my post-return-from-Prague career miles are roughly twice what is shown there, since I didn’t start using Strava right away. So it’s not really so different, right?)

By the way, here I’m being compared to Ben O’Connor, who won Stage 9 today. I suspect that his longest ride is much more than 160 miles, so maybe only half his work is showing up in Strava as well. Even from what we see here, he’s closing in on one million feet of climbing. If he did that all in one climb, he’d officially be an astronaut and then some, but he wouldn’t quite reach the ISS. It would be a hell of a ride back down.

I couldn’t find any names on Strava that I knew to be sprinters. They are bigger-legged riders who can put on amazing bursts of power (and therefore speed). I’m really curious what their numbers look like in the final meters of a closely-contested sprint. If I find anyone in that category, I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, I’ll push the pedals, and while I will never produce huge power numbers, I am about 120% of a climber right now — I just need to shed 20% of me to be in good trim for a romp up a mountainside. I’ll leave the descent to someone else.

Punkstalgia

When writing I used to listen to music much of the time, but not so much anymore. But for some reason tonight I was inspired to put the pods in my ears and fire up some Stiff Little Fingers, starting with Suspect Device, one of the best Punk songs ever, then through Alternative Ulster and Can’t Say Crap on the Radio.

For a band with such an incendiary start, they have stayed together for a long time, and they produced memorable music for a couple of decades (it seems they are still making music together, which gladdens my heart). But those earliest, raw anthems that sing about “them” are my favorites. Stiff Little Fingers are punk, but the musicianship is there, always twisting, sometimes surprising, never dull.

Like all true punk bands, they were political. As a band in Belfast during the Time of Troubles, they were playing in a war zone. Those early concerts must have been damn near riots. I wish now I could have been at one, but I probably would have shit myself.

I haven’t got much writing done tonight, but I’m not sorry. It’s been a long time since I performed Suspect Device at Punk Rock karaoke down in San Diego (Yeah, I fronted a band with Greg Hetson (Circle Jerks) and Eric Melvin (NOFX) for one awesome and really loud three minutes. I’d like to believe Jennifer Finch (L7) was there too, but things are fuzzy), and it’s time to get back in touch.

Punk still lives today, but it’s not white guys with guitars who are making punk, it’s hip-hop and the countless variations I am not qualified to enumerate that carry that political torch of protest and disruption. But I like the guitars.

CODA: As I make my way through their catalog, I am reminded what pioneers that band could be on occasion. “This sounds like what <insert band here> did, only… [checks date] before them.”

1

In It to End It — With Your Help

Domestic abuse is a problem as old as humanity, but the last couple of years have been particularly bad for vulnerable people. The first step to recovering from abuse is often, “just get out of there,” and that’s never a simple calculus, but during a pandemic it gets ten times harder.

Several Bay-area organizations have banded together to make things less awful, and now that group is running a fundraiser. It’s a fitness-based endeavor, where participants set a mileage goal. Bikes are welcome, but it’s calibrated for running, so on a bike I can rack up a significant portion of their overall mileage goal.

And you can participate, too! You have two options: Sponsor me or put on miles yourself.

This is a local charity, so if you would rather support people closer to where you live, go for it. But please, please, support someone.