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.