Thoughts and Adventures From Greenlite Heavy Industries

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ah to be Fifteen

Yesterday Sam and I rolled out the mountain bikes and went in search of some secret spot here on the island known as Snake Hill. We found one hell of a lot of steps, it was like climbing to the Monkey Temple or something, but no riding. We'll have to make another attempt next week.

One cool thing we did find was a trio of nutty skateboarders going down this uber steep hill. They wore work gloves with a chunk of plastic taped to the palm in order to do this sideways slide move. I wish we'd have come up with that back when I was fifteen.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cool Blog

Every morning I enjoy turning on my computer and spending five or ten mintues browsing the web, checking out what's new. This morning, via a series of links, I found the blog of author Tim Ferris (The Four Hour Work Week). It's worth checking out.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Human Power

Seems ironic that just three days after giving a dire address from the Oval Office regarding the pitfalls of an oil addicted economy President Obama was cutting the ribbon on the ten thousandth roads project funded under the Federal Stimulus Package. Here is a portion of what he had to say:

“I think that it’s fitting that we’ve reached this milestone here in this community, because what you’re doing here is a perfect example of the kind of innovation and coordination and renewal that the Recovery Act is driving all across this country.”

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m no Obama basher and frankly barring Al Gore he’s the best guy out there for the job, but for goodness sakes he’s got to pull his head out of the sand. First I have to ask myself what “innovation” is he talking about, I don’t know how you innovate a road. The automobile is the downfall of our nation and here our President is celebrating yet more pavement. I’ll bet there isn’t a bike lane on that “innovative” stretch of blacktop.

The only thing Republicans have right on the energy subject is that there is no substitute for oil. James Howard Kunstler put it succinctly when he wrote in the Washington Post:

"But the truth is that no combination of solar, wind and nuclear power, ethanol, biodiesel, tar sands and used French-fry oil will allow us to power Wal-Mart, Disney World and the interstate highway system -- or even a fraction of these things -- in the future. We have to make other arrangements."

Well said.

The magic bullet, the only alternate energy source that offers any hope is human energy. Every family is welcome to have a car, but they should also have raincoats, good shoes and bicycles. Automobiles should only be used occasionally and we should ride and walk either to our destinations or to mass transit centers. The major obstacle in implementing this new way of life is the American belief that one shouldn’t be uncomfortable.

Over the past forty years our lives have become so easy and so comfortable that we’ve lost sight of the fact that we don’t melt in the rain. We are not sugar, we are not the Wicked Witch of the West. We Americans are going to have to face the truth that just because something is easy that doesn’t make it right. Or conversely if something is hard that doesn’t make it wrong.

It is going to take some courage on behalf of our leaders to tell us straight – the party is over, now get your butt on a bike and pedal, and when you get off that bike have a cheese Danish, you’ve deserved it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cave Man Power

Monday night Sam and I went into Seattle to listen to a lecture by one of my favorite people, Dr. Spencer Wells. The author of The Journey of Man and now Pandora’s Seed and the driving force behind the Genographic Project, Dr. Wells possesses one of the most intelligent minds currently on the planet. Despite his Harvard, Stanford, Oxford pedigree the guy is incredibly down to earth and can explain complex theories in a way that even a dunce like me can understand.

In The Journey of Man Dr. Wells used mutations in the DNA chain to trace human migration patterns all the way back to an “Adam” and “Eve” couple living in central Africa. It’s even possible to send in a sample of your own DNA to the Genographic Project in order to obtain information about your own distant family tree. What I like about Dr. Wells is the fact that he doesn’t seem to forget that he’s not only dealing with bit of protein, but also that he’s dealing with individual human beings and human history.

Dr. Wells along with a few other researchers have begun to notice that even though we homo sapiens have been around for about two hundred thousand years, it has been only in the last ten thousand years that we’ve experienced massive amounts of evolutionary changes. What happened ten thousand years ago: the invention of agriculture.

Ironically the fossil record shows that the switch from a nomadic hunter gatherer lifestyle to a sedentary agricultural lifestyle was extremely detrimental to human health. In short our hunter gatherer ancestors were much healthier than their farmer descendants, a trend that continues even today. The human body has gone through great changes in the past ten thousand years, like developing the ability to digest milk after childhood, but still we are primarily suited to the active lifestyle and meat and plant based diet of our ancestors.

Check out his interview with John Stewart.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

All Out

Though I’ve ridden my bicycle tens of thousands of miles and I’ve entered well over one hundred running and triathlon races I have very little experience with actual bicycle racing. Yesterday I got a chance to peek into that fascinating subculture by competing in the Mercer Island Time Trail. As part of The Senior Games the race was open only to those forty and over, and while you might think that would limit competition this really isn’t the case as some of the most competitive athletes out there are in the forty plus age categories. My theory on this is that you have to be over forty to have the time and money to seriously compete in these races as they take a lot of both.

I really enjoy being a fly on the wall: just sitting back observing the common traits and characteristics of different subcultures. I discovered that the dress code for showing up to a bike race is knee length, typically plaid, cotton shorts, some sort of slip on shoe (flip flops, Birkenstocks or Crocs) and either a tee shirt or polo – no serious contender showed up in their bike kit.

I thought triathlon was an expensive sport, but it’s nothing compared to bicycle racing. These guys were rolling ten and fifteen thousand dollar rides out of their VW turbo diesel Passat wagons. Funny thing was that these probably weren’t even their primary bikes as I’d assume most of the team riders were road racers first and time trialists second.

I learned that when you start a time trial you roll off the starting line clipped into both pedals. This requires the assistance of a couple of guys who hold your bike up. This is a strange sensation, and I was simultaneously nervous and jacked up. I was nervous about falling over the second the guys let go of my bike and I was jacked because the 5-4-3-2-1 countdown had my heart rate flying even before I took one pedal stroke.

I live on Mercer Island and have ridden the course dozens of times and that initial three mile climb never gets any easier. I hit the hill at full speed and by mile two I was seriously considering pulling over as I feared cardiac arrest. I couldn’t get air and was sucking and puffing hoping for some relief ASAP. Cresting the hill didn’t offer much relief as it rolls for another three miles before hitting the final insult: a ten percent grade with little to no downhill run-up. I reluctantly dropped my chain into the small ring and powered up the hill.

With the hills behind me I began to see light at the end of the tunnel as I entered the grand prix curves portion of the route. This is why bikers love Mercer Island: the road twists and turns like three miles of human intestine. An orange sign marked the final kilometer and dang that wasn’t the longest six tenths of a mile in my life.

I did fine considering this was my first experience with serious bike racing. Crazy how my brain works though; I wasn’t five minutes finished before I started plotting ways to do better next time. Are aero wheels in my future?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

U District Commute

Got in a 50 mile commute to the Universtiy of Washington Hospitals - had to do a bone scan, bad news there, but that's a different story. I left home at 6:00 AM under what has become a rarity as of late: a sunny sky. I was happy to see so many two-wheeled commuters. I had a little extra time so I cruised up Universtiy Avenue, or as it is known locally "the Ave." Except for a couple of open coffee windows the place was dead. What an odd mixture of life and decay.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dr Mike Has Got The Cure

No doubt that the United States of America is sick. Just like the human body seeks balance through homeostasis, a nation must also operate in a sustainable fashion. If a doctor were to review the health of the U.S. her list of symptoms would probably look something like this:

Destruction of home (namely global climate change)
Addiction to foreign supplied fossil fuels
Overconsumption of unhealthy foods
Under consumption of healthy foods
Lack of physical movement
Overly dependent on pharmaceuticals
Lack of appreciation of the natural world and the place human beings occupy in that world
Easily swayed by short term gain over long term loss
Lack of common interest – too much “me first” and too little community consideration

What a daunting list of symptoms! My God what’s a fella to do? Fortunately there is a cure.

The U.S. has existed in an unbalanced state for quite some time now – over thirty years ago Jimmy Carter saw us slipping and tried to pull us back but then we elected Ronald “let’s keep the party rolling” Reagan - but I fear we’ve finally reached the tipping point. Five thousand dead American troops, possibly a million dead civilians, fifty million gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico all because of our demand for cheap oil, enough is enough. I hope that the unwinnable war in Iraq and the open spigot in the Gulf will finally convince enough Americans to stop listening to Rush Limbaugh and to embrace change.

The change that we need to incorporate is to make the bicycle America’s primary source of transportation. Daily use of a bicycle by a majority of Americans would cure every ailment listed above. Alternative energy is a con. If you think we’re going to replace easily transportable fungible oil (which is basically just billions of years of stored solar energy) with wind power, tide power, bio mass, bio fuels you’re seriously smoking crack. The only thing that comes close is nuclear power, and that’s just jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire (which is probably why we’ll go down that road). Oil is irreplaceable, we had a good time with it, but the party’s over - sorry. Time to move on.

We need to rethink our daily lives. We need to live closer to work. We need to use more human powered and mass transportation. We need to rethink the design of our cities to eliminate automobiles and welcome walkers and cyclists. This may sound like wishful thinking, and it probably is, but it’s high time we actually did some thinking.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mental Training

Mental training via numbing of the mind.

I had a 5000 yard swim on the schedule today, normally I would have done it in the lake, but it's still cold and wet here in Seattle so I took to the pool. Down and back one hundred times, that must have killed some brain cells. I thought about adding another eighteen laps to make it an even three miles, but I came to my senses.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Onion Man

Bradley, Joe, Stephanie, Kris and I all drove across Washington state over Memorial Day weekend to compete in the Onion Man – an Olympic distance triathlon in Walla Walla. This was my first time to the home of the famous Walla Walla onion, and the greatest thing in American wines since Napa Valley. I was seriously impressed. Despite the imposing gray maximum security prison just outside of town, Walla Walla has the air of a touristy college town. I’m a sucker for a Main street lined with independent coffee shops and serious, yet affordable, dining.

We arrived on Saturday afternoon only to discover that Joe had left his wet suit hanging in his garage. Normally a wet suit is nice but not necessary; unfortunately that wasn’t the case for this race. Bradley and I took a dip Saturday afternoon; the water was cold, headache cold. The official position was fifty eight, but I think out in the middle the temperature was closer to fifty five. Water below sixty degrees is cold – really cold – and I was worried about Joe because even though he hadn’t admitted it at the time he was going to do the race with or without a neoprene second skin.

The race started at nine, but due to limited parking we arrived early: sometime around seven thirty. The weather didn’t look too bad; as a matter of fact it looked perfect: blue sky low fifties. On the downside a stiff wind was raking across the lake, if it’s blowing that hard down here in this hole I wondered, how is it going to be up there on the bike course. Oh well it’s the same conditions for everyone.
Luckily Joe managed to borrow a shortie off of this really talkative gal from Idaho; she was full of positive energy, just the kind of person you typically meet at one of these races. As I set up my transition area I couldn’t help but notice the serious nature of this race. I did a few races in the mid eighties and back then more than half of the folks showed up with mountain bikes, and only the really “serious” racers wore biking shoes. Those days are long gone, this transition area was a sea of carbon; you were the odd man out if you hadn’t dropped 3K on a set of racing wheels.

The gun blew at nine and we were off on a two lap swim. My golden rule of triathlon swimming is to never stop doing the crawl; just keep grabbing and pulling grabbing and pulling. If I keep swimming and get over the initial panic phase I know I’ll be able to hold my own, but if I let my nerves get the better of me it’ll be a struggle from beginning to end. Well sadly I took a few breaststrokes short of the first turn buoy; it was going to be a long swim. I struggled for about twenty minutes before finally turning it on as I headed for the boat ramp. My fingertips touched concrete and I jumped up and sprinted up the ramp convinced that I was nearly dead last.

When I reached the transition area it was nearly devoid of bicycles and so I buckled down my helmet strap, cinched up my bike shoes and took off ready to make up some time. Normally I’m so far back on the swim that I quickly start passing bikers, but by the time I’d gotten out of the park I’d only passed maybe two or three riders, and once I hit the rural road leading out to the turnaround two gals and a guy came by like I was on a tricycle. The first twelve miles were brutal: uphill into a headwind. Thankfully I didn’t turn on my bicycle computer because I didn’t need to be reminded that I was only doing fourteen miles an hour.

I finally reached the turnaround and put my back to the wind. I must have been knocking on the door of twenty five miles an hour. At about mile twenty the party ended as the headwind returned. I only passed one rider on the way back and I started to get worried as I was riding completely alone; where was everybody.
My left thigh has been bothering me and I fully intended to dismount the bike and call it a day, but as I neared the transition all the cowbells and shouts of encouragement got me thinking, well maybe I can try the run. I racked my bike and this big volunteer guy was yelling, “go man go” right into my ear; I got all excited and after only spending forty six seconds in transition I was out on the run course.
Over the course of the first mile I slowly reeled in a forty seven year old guy, I passed him, he passed me I passed him. I was having difficulty finding my stride due to the pain in my thigh, by mile two my left calf was cramped and by mile three my left foot was numb. I caught Bradley at the turnaround and two minutes later I spotted Stephanie coming on strong. I shouted a challenge for her to come catch me but she didn’t hear. Kris and Joe came by a little while later both looking good. The weather was warm but not hot and I passed the aid stations without stopping.
The final mile was on a rough trail and I had to keep a close eye on my footing as I didn’t want to twist an ankle due to my numb foot. The forty seven year-old dude came by with two hundred meters to go, he must have been on my butt for the last four miles. I tried to stay with him, but he was a little stronger and crossed the finish a second or two in front of me.

Everyone ended up with a good race, Stephanie took fourth in a very competitive field and Bradley took home a wine glass for finishing number one in the Clydesdale division. Despite some potentially damaging pain I’m glad I did the race.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Turn the Page

As my allotted time ticks away I’ve come to view my life as a series of short stories. The tales may all have the same author and the observant eye may detect commonalities, but each story has its own opening sentence and final punctuation mark. I’ve discovered that the trick to a happy successful life is recognizing when to end one story and when to start another.

A good gambler pushes away from the table before the deck goes sour – anybody can walk away from a poker table broke, and every once in a while even the most inept player takes the jackpot, but on balance it’s the guy with a good nose and the discipline to act on his instincts that wins the big game. You gotta know when to let go, when to move on.

As the Couer d’Alene Ironman quickly approaches I realize that the endurance sports phase of my life is quickly coming to an end. For the past twenty years I’ve considered higher, further, longer to be better: if you’re going to climb, climb the high mountains, if you’re going to run triathlons run the Ironman.

I don’t have a lot of natural athletic ability but I am mentally strong - I can pedal a bike for ten straight hours, and I can haul a big pack up a snow slope as good as anyone – and this is why I gravitated towards the go long instead of the go fast endeavors. Unfortunately, however, being able to push through boredom and pain is a double-edged sword. Your mind tells you to stop long before your body really needs to, and so the line between being smart and being a pussy becomes blurred. Every successful endurance athlete has pushed through pain and obviously it is possible to push too far.

Perhaps I have pushed too far; perhaps it’s time to start another story