cyclofiend.com - peripheral thoughts & notes

August 2008
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One Possibility
Filed under: general
Posted by: The Cyclofiend @ 10:22 am

Haven’t seen this one in print yet, but it’s possible that all of the folks who had been vetted, preselected and staged to accept the Republican VP nomination spent Thursday watching the Obama’s speech in Denver and decided right then and there that their chances were cooked, called the Powers That Be and said, “Dude. No way am I going to be steamrolled in November.  I’m out.”

Your Mountain Bike Etiquette Moment
Filed under: general, rides, unfortunate events
Posted by: The Cyclofiend @ 9:08 am

This past weekend had a high percentage of chore-catchup tasks. Rugs to steam clean, garage sections to clean out, rooms to be reordered and reclaimed from tides of inevitable detritus. All stuff we’ve needed to do for a while. At least we’re getting the spring cleanings done before we hit the honest fall.

I snuck in a breeze-buffeted road-n-trails ride on Saturday afternoon, and then an honest-to-goodness MTB ride on Sunday evening. The cool kids were out finishing up the SF Randonneurs 200K to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of RUSA, but even if I had the time to join them, I’m pretty sure I lack the reserves right now. Saturday’s ride had been no more than an hour and a half, and I definitely felt it. Adding another 9 or so hours to the effort would be a serious pipe dream.

But, I wasn’t really too worried about that - I’ve been in better riding shape before and may be able to approximate it in the future.  Right now, it’s all about taking small bites and chewing thoroughly. Enjoy the ride - something that is seldom an issue for me on a bike. 

And so, I found myself tiredly spinning along the road Sunday.  Nudged along by a helpful tailwind, seeking the trails of China Camp. Knobbies buzzed on pavement and my brain notched into the pace of the ride. Reaching the entrance, I pedaled past what seemed to be more cars than expected for late in the day.  It was a weekend, which gets my radar tuned a bit, and the extra vehicles pushed that up another notch.  Easing onto the trails, I rolled past some hikers, said “hidy” and looped around behind the campground area.

Over at the primitive camping parking lot, a pretty good gaggle of folks had collected.  There were bike stands and lines in the sand and little red-roped squiggles in the dirt, and I recalled that a skills clinic had been advertised for Sunday.  It seemed as though it was winding down, as most people were off their bikes, chatting and enjoying the post-ride vibe. 

I began climbing. Whatever else there is to say about singlespeeding, sometimes it’s just hard. Even the easy inclines bit into my legs and back, and I tried to find a cadence and some momentum. It wasn’t going well, but it was going. I paused at powerline point to gobble a clif bar - guess I’d forgotten to eat a proper lunch during my chores - and stretch a bit. While I wasn’t feeling great, it wasn’t gettting worse, and I rolled back onto the upper section of the climb.

The next bits pitch up a bit, and, as I should explain if you aren’t familiar with the trails, there are a couple of sections which are reasonably narrow. There’s really nowhere that two bikes couldn’t get by one another with a little bit of care. I’m working my way up, and have reached a section where the stakes area reasonably high.  The downhill side of the trail drops steeply away - such that you would have a long time to consider things if you went that way. The uphill side is also steep.  It feels like a wall as you ride past it. This section does have a reasonable line of sight, so that usually you can see other riders and avoid getting truly pinched.

I heard the clanking and chain slap of a full suspension rig before I could see it. The rider appeared, I put my tires as far right as I could and they breezed past with little room to spare.  A little too fast for the conditions it seemed to me, but not entirely off the charts. If I hadn’t have been slightly winded from the climbing efforts, I might have mentioned it as they went by. It was a tad annoying, but I wasn’t going to get overly vexed.

Things changed an instant later. A second rider came into view and all the alarms went on at once. The rider didn’t seem to have any of the authority or control of the first one and were coming in hot.  They’d hammered the brakes hard, and both tires skittered and locked on the loose rocks.  I had a front-row seat of the failing of a braking system - the tires need be attached to earth to slow down. It was a clear “oh shit!” moment, and I plastered myself against the uphill wall to my right. Avoiding the first rider had sacrificed my momentum and all I could do was make myself as small as possible. Through their iridium-or-whatever lenses, I could see the whites of their eyes growing as large as saucepans.  They had locked onto their target, and it was me. They are skidding and looking exactly where they are going to go.  I remember clearly thinking, “This is Bad.”

Nothing to do but brace for impact.

Which I did.  Full body flex and tension.  Hands on the bars.  Bent elbows.  Pressed against the side of the mountain. Maybe those years of Pop Warner and High School football would pay off.

We hit.  It starts as tire to tire and they glance off to my left. I see their bike lift into a sort of nose-wheelie and hear a solid “klock!” as our helmets hit.  Our bars tangle a bit and they bounce back to two-wheeled mode.  Silence. The dust settles a bit.

Before I go into the specifcs of what’s next, I’d like to say that this is not bad. I ride a fair amount on legal, narrow trails and periodically, there are user, um, “interactions”.  In all my years of riding, I’ve had very few and I’d much rather it be between members of the same user group (hiker v. hiker, equestrian v. equestrian, cyclist v. cyclist) than any kind of cross-pollinization betwixt them.  Most of the time, interactions are of the “Whoa! Dude!” variety - a sharp veer and maybe an arm bump. In fact, I’ve not had a tangle quite so intertwined as this one, which, though deeply annoying, seemed no one had been hurt and damage would be minimal. 

It did not, however, prevent me from hissing, “What the heck* was that?”

*I must disclose that I actually used a word of Anglo-Saxon origin which ended in the same two letters.

I’d also like to skip forward in time slightly to analyze the group dynamics involved here.  Only because I think I’ve seen this a great number of times while riding.  Enough to feel that it’s ready to be a theory. 

There were two more riders in this group who haven’t shown up yet. The lead rider was long gone. But, it was this second person who was not able to maintain control. In a group of four riders going downhill, inevitably the one with the skills ends up leading.  Oh sure, there are times when they relinquish control out of kindness, but generally, they are the point person.  The folks off the back are a little less sure of themselves, and once the lead riders go out of sight, they have found a pace that can comfortably hold.  It’s that second person who is always the danger. They probably have the skill set of the riders in the rear, but some chase-response has kicked into the reptilian portion of their brain, and they are doing their damnedest to follow the wheel of the leader. They are insulated in a feeling of adrenalin and safety, hyped on the group energy and out of touch with the reality of their riding conditions. This is a dangerous rider. They’ve probably gotten themselves a notch or two past their skill set - and I actually do think you can become a better rider this way - but if things go south, they are well and truly screwed.

Which is pretty much where we are now.  I’m panting - having been climbing pretty steadily in a big gear for the past four or five minutes.  Still plastered against the wall - not quite pinned, but I’m not moving any more and can’t easily go anywhere.

This is when the other rider says, “Why didn’t you give me right-of-way?”

I have a moment of zen clarity.  Of all the things they could have said, this was so far out of the realm of expected comments that I get a big bubble of thoughtlessness. It hovers for a second, then pops.

I look up and in a frighteningly calm and measured, but a bit hissish voice, reply, “Because uphill traffic always has right of way.  Don’t you know that?”

Silence.  No response. Guess they didn’t.

Which takes an annoying incident and makes it into an eggregious transgression.

Again, for those who don’t ride at China Camp, a bit of topographic background.  There are many places where the trail is more or less level.  After this climb, there’s a 4 or 5 mile runout which is basically contouring the hillside.  The slope definitely favors eastbound traffic, but I wouldn’t suppose to push an uphill-right-of-way issue for most of its stretch.  Same down on Shoreline trail, where the rolling curves mean that you have to be aware of your line of sight, make some noise and be ready for other trail users.  In other words, you work it out.

I’m also aware of mountain biking situations when the drop-in is tricky enough that you don’t push it.  I’m thinking about  chutes for the testosterone-testing, and they are generally best avoided in the uphill direction, simply because the folks coming down it won’t be able to stop, even if they have appropriate bike-handling skills.

This current situation is neither of those.  I’m clearly climbing.  I have right of way.  It’s always been that way, as the uphill rider has a harder time re-establishing momentum. There is adequate line of sight on the trail and enough surface to pass. 

“…give me right of way”? 

I’m plastered against the friggin’ hillside giving you as much trail as I can. Give you right of way…

They were riding in a manner which prevent them from controlling their speed within the event horizon. Worse yet, they made the common error of looking at that thing which they did not want to hit.  You go where you look.  Now they are pawing at my front brake which they believe is tangled in their cables. Since I can’t move my bike further to the right, I take a handful of stem and move their front wheel to my left.  Magically, we are no longer intertwined.

I just want to get out of there.

The other rider moves a little downhill.  I hop off my bike and begin pushing it. She calls out that there are two more riders coming.  I retort that I hope they are riding with a little more control.

They are.  They appear and see dust in the air and me pushing uphill, probably with those cartoon frazzled sweat drops and a tornado and “X’s” above my head. They ask what happened and I hear the other rider say, “We hit.” 

Both riders ease past me and the grade lessens enough so I can hop back on and pedal once again.  After a little bit, something seems wrong up front, and I find one of the brake pads got tweaked a bit. Easily fixed.  The rest of the ride passes without incident. In fact, the rest of the ride is great. I’m reminded once again why the singlespeeded MB-1 is one of the truly great handling bikes.  While riding, two points seem to distill themselves:

1 - Uphill traffic has right of way.  However, it is safe to assume that newer riders may not know this.
2 - Ride in control with respect to your event horizon.  This is constantly changing offroad, as trail conditions and line-of-sight both can suddenly shorten this variable. There is actually an appropriate cartoon by William Nealy in his book,  The Mountain Bike Way of Knowledge where he shows a brain travelling a couple seconds in front of the rider, which the admonishment to always ride with your brain two seconds ahead of you.  I’d scan it, but I can’t easily lay my hands upon that book this morning.

Anyway.  No damage, and maybe the other rider learned something.

A Step
Filed under: general, photos, bike tech
Posted by: The Cyclofiend @ 11:04 pm

Clambered onto a bike today for the first time in…crikey… I’m not really sure. The last long, memorable ride was with JimG and Gino way back in July - almost a month ago.  I came off antibiotics and perscription decongestants on Monday of this week, immediately felt even worse on Tuesday & Wednesday (guess it was coming off the drugs).  But, then today I found that there was air in the Quickbeam tires, and headed off to errands, a bit of work and a loopy ride home.

Made myself nose-breath for most of the ride, and tried to sit up and spin for the most part.  Topography got a good gasp or two out of me, but nothing lung-torching.  My strategic plan is to just take it slow and easy, not worry about cross season or the October brevet that the SF Randonneurs seem to have scheduled.  Just sleep regularly for a while, make efforts and recover fully. I’m suprised how easily I can sleep ridiculous amounts right now. But, I’m starting to feel some inner resilience forming again. While walking the little dog tonight, with the near full moon jumping in and out of the clouds, I actually felt OK.

On the way home - the “loopy” part of the route - I buzzed out to see the NiƱa, which had just arrived in the local harbor for a few days.

It’s interesting to see what was state-of-the-art for international exploration half a century ago. It’s a stout little ship, but climbing on that thing and watching your home sink below the horizon off the stern… takes more guts than I gots.  Hung out and snapped a few photos, listened to it creak a bit and then worked my way home.

Along the way started thinking about swapping bits around on the bikes. I was thinking it might be a fun change to strip the Hilsen down to a cross-oriented setup - doff the fenders and rack and such, then put on some knibblies - and keep running the Quickbeam as a roadish rig for a while.  I feel like the longer mileage on a fixed setup will be beneficial, and the geary goodness of the Hilsen might be helpful for the nasty little hills and pitches that make up the trails in this neck of the woods.

I’m also contemplating a slight position change on the Hilsen. There’s nothing uncomfortable about it, but I find when I get back onto the Quickbeam, it feels just that much more “right”.  The Hilsen has a slightly wider set of handlebars, and the stem is maybe 10 mm’s longer, so there is a basis for this.

Then again, it sort of bugs me that these little differences are noticeable, and I’m not altogether sure they don’t exist solely in my brain.  I’m a bit reluctant to swap things around, as the bar tape is still pretty clean, and it will mean getting a new stem (I’ve got a stray Soba bar hanging out in the parts bin).  It probably makes sense to take some careful measurements to see just how different things really are.

So, that little set of brain loop occupied my attention for a bit. Rode along and felt the cooling breezes coming off the bay, enjoyed the minor discomfort of riding in regular shorts and realized that even though it was not quite 7 pm, the sun was dipping pretty close to the horizon. Getting to be “lights time” once again.  Ah well. Summer has skipped past a bit fast this year.

Got home a bit rubbery legged. Not that I overdid things - it was just the muscles kind of remembering how to trip in proper succession, casting out the rest of the antibiotics and gunk that had lodged in them during the past weeks, and heaving a sigh of relief at once more getting used.  It helped.  Riding always helps.

Week of Sad Days
Filed under: dogs
Posted by: The Cyclofiend @ 4:10 pm

This one is hard to write.  Not sure if this one will even get published. We’ll have to see when it’s finished.

Then again, if you are reading these words now, it clearly means I’ve posted it.  So, I ought to tell you up front that there’s not likely to be much about bikes or riding in this missive. And, I think it’s going to be kinda sad in places.  Won’t try to dwell there too long, but, it’s a bit unavoidable given the subject matter.

The facts are this:  this past Wednesday, Dr. M came out to the house and helped our dog Tashi to move on to whatever is next.  She expired a little after 1 pm as my wife and I held her.  I’m pretty sure he doesn’t make that kind of housecall for many clients, and it has to be one of the tougher things he gets called upon to do.  He was tender and efficient, smooth in his voice, caring both for us and Tashi. The injections went quickly and by all visible signs pretty painlessly.  Well, for her.   For us, it still hurts.

We’ve picked up her beds, cleaned her food and water bowls and rolled up the mats that kept her from slipping on the slicker parts of the floor.  Now, the house feels large and echoey, yet quiet in a very bad way.  Too much room in the corners where her bed and mat lay, and hours are no longer punctuated by the clacking of her nails or the mild thump of a 30 pound Cocker Spaniel hitting the floor when she stumbled, tumbled or sagged.  For the first time in a couple years, we haven’t been driven by the clock to be home so she can get her pill on time. It’s oddly disorienting.

So is sleep. It had been a slow but steady adaption to the demands of her failing biological rhythms. She’d always gotten up early - normally 6 am or so.  I haven’t had to set an alarm most days for years. But as she aged, she’d stay up a bit later and then get up closer to 5.  In the past year, she began waking up in the hours between.  We couldn’t let her wander around, as she tended to get stuck in or behind things she’d nosed her way into.  Or she’d fall, which sounds pretty damned loud at 3:30 am.  Or, there’d be cleanup duty.  No fun at any hour of the day. Finally, it was to the point where if I was getting a couple hours of uninterupted sleep at a shot, it was a good night.

Rereading that last paragraph, it’s beginning to sound more like a complaint. That simply isn’t at all how I feel.  These past months have been maybe a bit of payback - us helping her through the difficult times after she’d brought us so much joy.  I’d sigh a little, get out of bed and hang out with her until she could get comfortable again. Now and again I’d get a little cranky, particularly if sleep had been fleeting, or if she had slowly eased herself into a lying position only to suddenly decide to pop up and do more laps around the house. I’d try to breathe a bit more calmly, remind myself that there would be a time when she wouldn’t be there to hold up. Kinda like now.

She’d come to us in July of  2000.  Originally, we were just going to “foster” her.  The rescue group we’d worked with - Hopalong - worked to place adult dogs who were getting passed over at the shelters.  In this case, she was on the 15th day of her stay - which was only supposed to be 14.  If someone didn’t take her out of the clink, she was going to be put down.

I’ll never forget that first time we saw her.  We were in the main chamber of the shelter and a myriad of dogs anxiously barked in every pen. They put us in a “meeting room” with a door and one of the volunteers appeared with the “unclaimed cocker”.  She looked tiny in the doorway, and seemed to be trying to look smaller still, her large dark eyes scanning the room to see what other incomprehensible thing would befall her next.

She’d been found wandering, tagless and clearly having had a recent litter.  When they closed the door to the room, she just kind of walked up to us and sat.  We greeted her and petted her a bit.  The volunteer asked if we wanted to go out to the lawn, so we could get to know each other in a nicer setting. We all went outside, where the dog gratefully did her business on the grass.  She was housebroken, the volunteer said. We nodded a little and walked a bit further along to a bench. After a little more petting, she rolled onto her back and looked up at us. She’d pretty much decided that we were hers.  It only took us a little longer to figure it out.  We agreed to take responsibility for her on a trial basis - to foster her “at least.”

As we drove away, with this dirty and matted Cocker Spaniel lying in a blanket on the back seat of the car, both my wife and I knew it would be a bit more permanent.  We didn’t even have to say anything to one another.  She’d pretty much found us, and we all decided that was OK.

The volunteers had directed us to the a local groomer, who donated her services to bathe and give a quick trim to the dog. We walked around the town for a little bit and came back to find she’d lightened at least 4 shades to a buff color.  She was quietly sitting in the center of a cage, but when we came in, her ears dropped and she clearly recognized us - she made a furtive little nose nudge of hope and excitement. We  brought her home and let her sniff around the house a bit.  She made her way into the back yard and then under a tree, where she just sat for a while and caught the smells of her new home.


We called her Tashi.  It was a name we’d heard up in Ashland, OR at the “Tashi Tea House”.  The server had told us that it was Tibetan for “auspicious”.  It fit well.  There was someting auspicous about her arrival.

She wasn’t too well for a while. Underweight, worn out and a bit sickly, she liked to just sit and be petted while she panted lightly.  Walks weren’t a lot of fun at first, as she didn’t have much energy. She’d poop out pretty quickly and just sort of trudge along.  Her back end was pretty weak, so we took little micro-walks, researched everything we could about diet and showered her with love.

As she gained strength over the next couple months, more of her personality began to emerge. She had an unerring ability to catch tossed food - we figure that served her well when she was living on the streets. She tended to “herd” us along toward the kitchen, particularly at meal times, with a soft bump of the head into our ankles or calves.  We finally heard her use her voice - she had a good strong bark.  She also tended to snore lightly when she slept. It was endearing rather than annoying.  Her coat began to grow in more fully, and she began to get stronger.

There were some tough and even tougher times ahead.  I ended up falling asleep on the floor with her the night after we had her spayed.  She had come off the anestethic some time in the night, and groaned and moaned softly for a bit.  I scruffled her ears and rubbed her chest and the two of us fell asleep at some point. I think it was then that she knew we’d truly take care of her, and she began to trust us fully. 

The first mammary tumor felt like a large grain of rice.  She always loved having her belly rubbed, and both my wife and I noticed the change.  The vet said that it wasn’t uncommon with adult spayed dogs.  It was worth watching.  It kept growing, and we found another as well. The vet wanted to do something, and so she went under the knife.  This time, it was a couple more uncomfortable nights.  But, it seemed to do the trick.

I remember feeling another growth maybe 6 months later. This one was pretty weirdly shaped, almost like a corkscrew.  It was also deeper and could at first be felt only when she stood. We had another doctor do that operation. It took longer than he thought it would, and afterwards, he said it was “pretty tricky” to get everything.   We both shook a little when we saw how many staples were in her belly.  She looked like she had train tracks on her stomach. She was kinda miserable for a few days, along with us. But, she slowly regained her spirit and movement, and the long scar and missing teets became her badge of honor.  She was a tough little monkey.  We changed her diet  a bit and used the supplements which the doctor recommended, plus others we’d found in our research.

Every day with us was a blessing.  That second operation just helped to crystalize that thought.  Her strength came back again and short walks became longer, her movements grew fluid again and she began to once more become the tricky little minx we loved.  Tashi remained cancer-free for the rest of her life.

We used to explain to people that she wasn’t spoiled - just “well tended-to.” She always would help herself to soft chairs and couches, and certainly any food that was within reach. We’d take her over on visits to our parents’ houses, get involved with eating or conversation and find her nestled nicely in the corner of their fancy couch, softly snoring. I got involved in a phone call at home one day and looked up to see her delicately lifting my sandwich off the plate I’d left on our just-low-enough-thank-you coffee table.

One time we had her with us in the car, coming back from a walk and trying to do a few quick errands. We’d been to the market and had to stop in a bookstore briefly. Returning to the car, we realized with a panic that she wasn’t lying down in the back seat as she tended to do.  Then we saw her in the hatchback area of the car,  sitting up and trying not to look guilty. She’d managed to hop over the seat (not an inconsequential trick for a small dog), get the cover out of the way, and make her way through about a half a loaf of french bread and a quarter package of cheese.  She just gave us a sorrowful “I know I shouldn’t have done that, but you guys really shouldn’t have left such good smelling stuff in here with me…” look.

The dog parks were never really a favorite of hers.  When we were caring for Jubilee the Poodle, we’d go there.  Tashi never really romped or played with the other dogs, but she did seem to find some of them interesting - we used to say that she liked the idea of other dogs, but didn’t really care for dogs specifically.  Although, she always got very inerested in Bernese Mountain Dogs when they showed up.  She would go up to them and look directly into their face as though asking a very important question.  It was always a curious sight to see a stocky 30 pound Cocker Spaniel going nose to nose with a 100-plus pounds of big, furry, black white and tan dog.  Never got a photo of that, but it’s burned into my mind indelibly.

In fact, she seemed to have no fear of anything. The biggest, bounciest dog would come up to her and she’d just look up at it, calmly saying, “um, yes?”  One time on a walk up in the hills, we met up with three horse riders, and the lead  horse lowered her head down, down, down until she could get a closeup look at this little furry thing.  Tashi looked up a this huge thing and studied it just as closely, but didn’t shake or tremor or even get too excited.

She came with us on trips, vacations and errands.  Tashi enjoyed the car and would sit up watching the world come towards her through the windows. Or she’d sack out on longer trips, knowing something interesting would be happening once we arrived.  She was always interested in whereever we took her, happy to be with us discovering whatever the day chanced to bring our way.

Like most dogs, she loved the beach and would get incredibly playful - trotting out in front, circling back to make sure we stayed nearby, then tossing her head and loping around on another loop. We’d chase each other around and just enjoy the salt breeze and the sure maneuverability of damp sand.  One time, a sneaky wave caught her and washed her up the beach a bit. She gave the most incredible look of  “What the hell?”, shook herself off and happily nestled under my wool shirt until she warmed back up.

I could continue with small stories for a long time.  After the operations, she had a good number of great years.  Tashi reminded us constantly to expect to find great things in the world, to enjoy those moments and relish the afternoon nap, when you could sneak one in.

Those are the things I want to think about right now: Tashi getting into good-natured trouble, the big furry feet and heavy floppy ears, the way she wagged her tail by wiggling her entire butt, sitting and watching us eat and silently willing us to save her a bite (she was particularly fond of salmon), all the tiny little events that made up our day.

The tougher stuff - the heart stuff, more recent difficulties - none of that really matters too much right now.  When I felt her last few breaths on my fingers the other day and the hollow knot in my chest hardened and grew heavier, all that stuff just evaporated.  Right now, I just want to remember the good stuff that made up most  of our time together.

As I alluded to earlier, this kind of writing is probably more therapy for me than anyone else. If you read this far, I appreciate it. Maybe we often write about what we don’t understand.  By describing it, we might gain some insight, a partial understanding, somehow come to grips with the tougher bits.  But, right now, I’m still very sad and I miss her.

Sweet dreams, little cocker spaniel…