Bubble in the desert

A blog I started whilst on a GE "Bubble" assignment in Nevada. I'm back in Cambridge (UK) now but still miss the desert and my friends out there.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Diamond Valley Road Race in Reverse - 1 lap - I WON !

It's still hard to believe it but I finally won a race!

We raced the Diamond Valley race in reverse and only did one lap due to the failing light at the end of the season. The first half of the race seemed like it would be down hill but it was much tougher than I expected, particularly due to the wind.

I guess there were around 10 riders in the C group, with Jeff, my main competition as usual (though I have learned not to underestimate any of these guys).

We started a little slow. I thought I could ride faster so I tried to make an early break. I messed up my gears in a really stupid way and pretty soon the pack were back with me. During the first 4 miles I had a couple of tries to get away but I could tell from the long shadows that people were with me. The surprising thing was that it seemed to be anybody's race for a long time. Every time I looked back i saw a different face.

At one point Scott said, 'let's go' and as he came past I was disappointed to see him pulling a train of 4 other riders!

Finally on a little climb preceeding a big descent someone went for it but not especially hard. I went after this guy in the purple top and then as we headed downhill Corrie flew past us.

Turning the tight left onto the climb Corrie later told us he had the bike well leaned over to make the turn. The guy behind him actually missed the turn and ended up in the dirt, doing well to hold on and rejoin the race.

As we climbed the Carson River Road, Jeff was doing a lot of leading the pack. Eventually I looked back and realised there were only 4 of us in the main pack - Jeff, Jennie (looking very fresh), the purple shirt guy and me. I was hurting and tired, I thought I'd be lucky to get 5th place. My early attempts at making a break had cost me dear. Jeff and Jennie both looked extremely strong. I wasn't sure about Purple Jersey but he was worth keeping a careful eye on.

We climbed and climbed. I tried to take a turn at the front but Jeff raced me as I tried it so I fell back. As we neared the end the Purple Shirt guy got out of his saddle to pass Jeff with about 300m to go. Jeff responded by climbing out of his saddle too. Still in my saddle I realized I was staying with them so I kept pedalling. Pretty soon I was on Jeff's wheel. He seemed to pull over and let me by but I don't think he would give up a place so readily so perhaps he peaked too soon. As I headed for the line I realized I could catch the other guy too, by staying in my saddle and pedalling fast. So I did. I past him and perhaps had 10ft on him by the time I crossed the line to win my first race of the year.

People congratulated me on my finish, which was well received! Garth said, "Exquisite Finish". I later learned he'd won his first one too (in the A's). The asthma was giving me a bit of a problem at the end but winning was sweet! The whole season Mel has told me to hold off my sprint until late. For the first time I finished right, a bit like Scott did on a previous Diamond Valley Race.

As the last race of the season we headed out for Pizza at the end (after a 10 mile lap of honour). Awesome! What a nice crowd. I'm very pleased I spent $100 to change my flight so I could race tonight!!!!

I'm still not 100% sure but I think I have won the race series in the C group this year. I'm pretty thrilled about that - it's not something I'll ever forget.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Pete finally left today

Pete popped back to Minden for a last dental appointment today before hopping on a train to New York to begin art school. The 'lunch club' (Sienna, me and Pete) had one last meeting to say farewell. Sad to part our club but great to see Pete on his way to a new adventure.

Here's a silly little video we made at his leaving do after hiking on Sunday.

Pete Robino's (Captain Protein) Leaving Do - Hiking Mount Tallac (10 miles?)

Sienna, our 'leaving do' and general party consultant, worked with Pete to arrange a small leaving hike on Sunday.

We started the day by meeting at the awesome Alpina Cafe on the Emerald Bay Road. Wow - this is a really nice cafe with a huge selection of tea and some really nice food.

A little late in starting again we eventually were getting on with getting up Mount Tallac. Here we are in front of a patch of snow (in late August!!!).
Pete's Leaving do Hike - Tallac

As we neared the top we walked past a kid throwing rocks over the side of the mountain, apparently trying to start a rock slide. We stopped and stared in disapproval. As the Father picked up a rock and threw it down the mountain I could not hold off any longer and had to say something. I was planning to be pretty calm about it but got a bit annoyed. Well, at least we said something, though I suspect they would do it again. Needless to say throwing rocks over the edge of a popular mountain is not smart and could kill people.

Here's Pete at the top pulling an appropriate superhero face as he consumes huge quantities of milk. This picture was taken shortly before Captain Protein was accosted by a chipmunk who ended up eating half a Cliff Bar (needless to say he was quite a fat little fellow - who gave us considerable cause for concern later as we read on a poster that the chipmunks carry bubonic plague around here).
Pete pulling faces on top of Mount Tallac

We did a bit of yoga up there too (well Sienna is our yoga teacher). Here is a failed attempt at Crow pose.
Carl doing the crow pose (again)

And here is The Tree (Apple variety)...
Carl doing The Tree pose (again)

We couldn't be bothered to walk over to the snow to make snow angles so we made some granite angles instead...
Granite Angels (too lazy to walk to the snow) on Tallac

View from the top...
Beautiful View from Tallac

And a view towards South Lake Tahoe (the lowpoint in the distant mountain range is where I live - Heavenly Village)...
Fallen Leaf, Lake Tahoe, South Lake Tahoe

Sienna and Julie...
Sienna (with

And we topped off the day with a little excellent beer and pizza at The Brewery...
Sienna (with

Julie, Pete and Scott with a little Ale

Luckily we got a little tipsy otherwise we would have become quite quite sad about our friend Pete leaving...
Had a few bears at The Brewery (South Lake)

We ended the day with some late night indian coffees at Nikki Chaat Indian restaurant.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A nice long run - 13 miles

Joined Julie this morning for a training run. The Sac Fit running club has a huge turnout and seemed a very inclusive group with a very with range of ability and fitness level. We joined the half marathon training group and were paced out at 11 minute mile + pace. Julie turned around at 5.5 miles to put in 11 miles. I carried on an extra mile to do the 13 miles, with the thought that i might catch her up on the way back. After the first 6.5 miles at a slow pace I felt really good and accelerated away from the group at the turn-around.

For a couple of miles I was gaining on an older guy who was running well (it later turned out it was Julie's friend Dave). My pace wasn't much stronger than his so I had to play a few mental games. I pulled in behind him and rested up. Then as he was overtaking some other folks I did a bit of a pickup, racing past him at quite a pace. It seemed to work and I lost him and eased back my pace.

I eventually caught up an English guy from Eastbourne called Keith. He was running a bit slower than I expected and we ended up slowing down quite a bit as we chatted our way through the next 4 miles. Overall, a very nice 13 mile training run.

huge and very impressively inclusive running club Sac Fit

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Pete's Leaving Do Meal - at Nikki Chaat's Indian Restaurant, South Lake Tahoe

Pete, Sienna and Scott at Pete's leaving do.
Pete Robino's Leaving do (aka Captain Protein)

A very funny evening with good food. We presented Pete with his Captain Protein T-shirt which I made and had printed with cafepress.com (I was really impressed with the printing).

We had lots of laughs tonight and Jesus seemed to spend a lot of time in our conversation for some reason nobody can fathom.

Thankfully we had a hike planned for Sunday so this wasn't our last farewell for Pete.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Bear Chasing - a new sport

Got home tonight to the sight of a large fury blob on top of the bins. As usual, someone had not secured the bins properly. Partly this is a problem with the design of the bins - the steel cable attaching the clip is frayed and is a nuisance to fit so people leave it off, leaving the door open to the bears.

I'm not sure if this was the same bear as before or not but it sure looked bigger. I reckon this one was well over 200lbs and perhaps 300lbs. I was a little wary of jumping out of the car and scaring him off. As I approached he eased himself between the two bins and behind them with all the dexterity of a monkey. He turned around and popped his head between the bins and then ambled over the edge of the hill (it's a steep drop to the forest from there). I drove the car up to the bins and got out armed with head torch and bear spray. I did my Englishman hand clapping method of scaring bears and peered over the edge into the darkness of the trees disappearing down the slope. I think the may have been the big shadowy shape sitting under the base of the bin's shed but I wasn't sure. I just made some noise and secured both bins.

I felt less scared this time but still very wary. If this thing decided on a whim that I was pissing him off he could come at me. I think that is highly unusual but I was pleased to have bear spray in hand.

Beautiful creature. I just hope his taste for our calorific food doesn't end up getting him shot.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Genoa Time Trial - 2nd (again!) - 38:09

In my recent attempts to actually win a race this season, instead of just being at the top of the leaderboard, I did some work on my bike this week. Specifically I added aero bars (or tri bars as they are sometimes called). Pike and Jeff had urged me to try these out since they will also be useful for the half ironman event we're doing in a few weeks at santa cruz (the big kahuna).

These aero bars clamp on your handlebars and let you reach out further forward also bringing your arms closer together, all aerodynamic like. Keith at Big Daddies also told me to turn my stem upside down to make the handlebars lower too, and push my seat forward. $100 later and some extra training and I had aero bars ready for the race.

So, bike all tricked out I showed up at the race. During last minute faffing I added my new heart-rate monitor to the handlebars and put my odometer back on too.

I was pleased to see Jeff was there but he wasn't signing up early. During a time trial riders set out 30 seconds apart and the ordering used is always the order people sign up in. It seems a massive disadvantage to go first so I prefer to linger around so there are people ahead of me that I can try to catch. Jeff was adamant that he would ride behind me today. I suggested we flip for it but he said because I was leading the series I should go first. Out of respect for the race organizers I just signed up, with Jeff behind me. I was feeling pretty confident with my new aerobars and how much I liked them already - a mental and aerodynamic advantage.

We lined up and pretty soon I was moving. I was immediately using the aerobars and did so for most of the race apart from a couple of climb sections. I really moved off the line. My heart-rate was 160+ immediately and stayed like that for the whole race (Jeff's was higher for the whole race - he's 50 and I'm only 38 !).

After a while I had ridden down the club president (sorry Jenny) and a couple of other folks. After about 6 miles I came to the U-turn in the road. As I turned, Jeff was on my wheel. I uttered some expletive as he passed me. By now he had got 30 seconds on me. I was determined not to let him win so easily so I overtook him again. I couldn't make it stick though and after a few minutes he overtook me moving strongly on a climb.

As I followed him at times I would catch him a bit. He even sat right up a few times like he was cruising but even as I narrowed the gap he put his head down and got more distance on me.

I was following Rick for a while. This was extremely helpful as he was really moving. I eventually started to catch him on the 2nd to last climb. Unwilling to let go of the aerobars to change gear I powered up the climb and reeled him in. As I went past he said in jest, "that's not very nice Carl" - meaning that we both knew I'd taken over a minute out of his time. Going past him was good mentally too. I know Rick is a good rider and didn't want him overtaking me again so I moved it.

As the finish line appeared on the hill I gave it everything I had left as I saw Jeff crossing the line. I finished in 38:09 and Jeff in 37:09 - a full minute on me again.

It's hard to compare previous results because the wind is quite variable at Genoa but we've done a couple of Genoa TTs before and here's how we did (I added Mel for comparison):

April 26th
Carl 45:50 (I ran at lunchtime before this race!)
Jeff 41:54
Mel 36:37 (first place overall)

May 31st
Carl 40:55
Jeff 39:54
Mel 34:41

August 23rd
Carl 38:09
Jeff 37:09
Mel 33:55 (approx)

Well, over the course of the season I've taken 7 minutes 41 seconds off my time (though the first race was windy as you might judge by Mel's time). Since the last attempt at this I've taken 2 minutes and 46 seconds off the time.

In the first TT I was 9 minutes 13 slower than Mel; in the second, 6 minutes 14 seconds behind him; in the 3rd race 4 minutes 14 seconds. Perhaps comparing against the ever fit Mel is a more accurate way to measure my improvement over the year. Chatting with him earlier he says he's been pretty consistent over the season, so comparing against him is a pretty good measure and will account for wind differences on the day and such. Overall, this looks like a good improvement!

So, needless to say Jeff was pretty pleased to beat me and to knock 2 minutes 45 of his last time. I was disappointed not to do better but pleased that we both rode well.

Only 1 race left this season - can I win the last race?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Hiking/running near Point Reyes, Marin - 12 miles

Headed up to Northen California, well, Marin County, north of San Francisco at least. Julie had a hike she'd wanted to do near Point Reyes.

On the way we stopped for the "restroom" at the Marin French Cheese factory and ended up having an early lunch. We ate far too much bread and excellent cheese. This place is very nice indeed and is perhaps the most European feeling place I've come across in a long time (though it felt more English than French).

We arrived at the popular Point Reyes trailhead somewhat late but were soon on the way. The first couple of miles were uphill but after a while it levelled off so we ran for a bit to make up for our late start. We eventually we emerged on a hilltop to be rewarded with sea views.

We wended our way, well we ran, along the trail to the beach. I was pretty soon totally captivated by the sea birds. Huge things in flocks with big bills, which I later discovered were Brown Pelicans. They would flap their wings once or twice and then glide like a haunting flying machines in formation, seeminly preferring to glide just above the sea (where they get better lift).

More seabirds...
Seabirds at Point Reyes

Lush greenery near the coast (snapped by Julie!)...
Coastal Hike near Point Reyes

Turning inland once again we ran a couple more miles. Julie had explained it was all downhill from here. It may seem that way hiking but as we ran we were very much aware of the gradual uphill! It was getting a little dark when we got back but the trail was wide and easy going so it wasn't a problem.

A very enjoyable hike/run and a great bread and cheese lunch to start with!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Bently Adventures Hike (well run) up to Velma Lake (10 miles)

I emailed Sienna to suggest that if there was no interest in her weekend hike, we could run it instead. I copied Tony on that too and he was very keen as well.

So, we met up at a reasonable hour and went for a little run. Sienna bought Scott (husband) and Heyduke (pretty dog) and they picked up Tony on the way.

The trail, on the South West side of Lake Tahoe in the Desolation Wilderness, led up to Eagle Lake. It was pretty steep going up but a reasonable trail and we walked the really steep sections. Here's a lovely view down to Eagle Lake (a nice spot for a swim it seemed).

On we ran, up beyond the lake, looking back to some amazing views...

We eventually caught sight of Lake Middle Velma but we above. I ran on expecting the trail to turn and lead us to the lake shore but after a while it appeared that it wasn't going to do that, so we sat down for a lunch of Cliff Bars and Sports Gel.

On the way back I got ahead a bit and scouted out the way to the lake shore. I eventually found it and called to the others. They had run on a bit and when they emerged over some rocks I realized there was water between me and them. Heyduke made short work of the crossing. I was being a bit lazy and decided to wade across too. It was a little deeper and more slippery than I expected, not to mention rather cold. Very refreshing though! Looking back, it was clearly another beautiful Desolation Wilderness lake.

I never cease to be amazed by seeing snowy peaks in August...

The run back was nice but the trail a bit rocky. Scott had fallen over on the climb up, pretty nastily and coming down was a little more dodgy. Everybody complained about the trail being unsuitable for running but I've found that running on uneven surfaces like this are a good strength training exercise. Running on tricky trails with people who descend extremely quickly is something I seem to have done a bit of before. Steve Field introduced me to that and more recently Dave Adams similarly disappeared out of sight very fast on a trip down Job's Peak (both are excellent climbers!).

Yet another awesome day out in the hills!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Running club

Although Terry couldn't make it today (did I mention she used to be ranked 32 in the world in the Marathon?) we had a good turn-out for the run. You can see Job's Peak and Job's Sister in the background.

And here's me instead of Jeanie in the shot.

Here we have Jeanie, Pete, Tony, Siva, Scott and Tom...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

East Valley Team Crit versus Reno Wheelman - came 2rd in the Cs

At the start of the race a number of us Alta Alpina crowd were keen to work out a s-tragedy (strategy) before the race other than the usual, 'ride fast and don't fall off' thing. We had some ideas but basically, if they shot some guy off the front, we planned to fire one off to in order to catch them, or 'cover them' in appropriate parlence.

It was really nice to see so many people out there and so many Reno Wheelmen who had made the hour long drive to be here. There were a lot of them and some looked very strong, though I've learned it is hard to judge by appearances.

Things started slow and thick. There were a lot of riders out there, perhaps 20+. We rode pretty close at times to stay out of the wind - it was a pretty windy afternoon but as usual the wind dropped ready for the As and Bs to race.

So, everything started seeming slow. Jeff gravitated towards the front to wear everyone down but stayed there the whole race. I tried to take a lead from Scott and hung back, nearly at the back - things were pretty easy going back there. A couple of times the Reno guys made a little break but nothing major. Each time a shout went up from our team to alert us to someone pushing on suddenly.

After a while I pulled out of the pack and made a little dash to the front myself. I wanted to fein a break and a couple of times I think it worked, unsettling the Reno lot and letting me stretch my legs a bit. Sometimes this left me at the front of the pack but I eased right up when that happened and was surprised the pack stayed behind me. It felt slow.

One slow lap, the pack was close, drafting into the wind when I heard a shout and that cringe-making sound of bike hitting road. We slowed up at the front and wondered if we should stop but it was a race. I saw an orange shirt and I thought it was Rick but then I saw him in the pack, then I realized I hadn't seen Scott for a while but he was ok too. Turns out it was the other Scott (? I think - not remembering all the names) and he was ok. Christine stopped to check on things, and with her new svelt cyclist form (achieved by not eating) she managed to rejoin the race.

Things started gettig a little jumpy at the front of the pack. A Reno guy in a yellow shirt tried to make a break but we soon had him reeled in. Whether by accident or design there was soon a counter attack from a lean, young looking wheelman. I was in the right place at the right time and feeling ok so I jumped on his wheel and flew after him. I was quite surprised when I looked back to see we had broken from the pack. We didn't seem to be riding very hard. In fact, I wasn't! I mainly took a pull from the Wheelman's wheel and when I took my turn at the front I pushed a moderate pace and tried to conserve. Basically I was doing my job. I hadn't planned to win the race only to cover breaks that occured. The break was covered so I didn't need to work.

After a while the guy turned to me and said, "are you going to pull or sit up and wait for the pack". I vaguely responded that I hadn't figured that out yet (which I actually hadn't, though I had realized he looked lean and strong and that played on my thinking a bit). On that note he got out of the saddle and raced off. Ever the sheep dog I chased him. After the turn I played ball and did my bit, though still not pushing ultra hard (nothing like as hard as I worked with Jeff at Blue Lakes the week before).

I was pretty staggered to look back and see the pack getting even further behind us.

We rode on for the next 10 minutes working together, then the '3 laps' sign came up and we continued working together. I was a bit disappointed at having to shout several times at the same people warming up for the next race, totally in the way of our race. I've learned that a lot of cycle racing is about being super observant - you can lose if you miss something. So having other people on the track is not just an obstacle, it's confusing.

As we got stuck in with only 2 laps to go I saw a red shirt move out from the pack and start to close on us. My Wheelman buddy saw it too. At first I thought it was Jeff, he is certainly strong enough for such stunts but it wasn't. It was someone I didn't recognize so I assumed it was a Wheelman. The Wheelman riding with me seemed quite distracted by it and I thought he was working to some team orders and was hoping to slow me down enough to let this guy through, thereby getting the Wheelmen more points. It transpired that he didn't know who it was either. We later found out it was an Aussie guy from the As warming up - not very helpful. He even said he thought he'd helped us by motivating us.

When the last lap came around the pack still looked too far to worry us (despite the red shirt guy and he hadn't closed enough to worry us). So the race was on between me and the Wheelman and the front. He took a pull but let me take the final drag into the wind. I perhaps should have raced smarter and not done so. He hit the gas bigtime 2 corners from the finish, which was far too early but he made quite a break on me. As I made the last turn I was convinced I'd lost it but could see I was creeping back. I just couldn't find a decent sprint to catch the guy and he won by a bike length or two.

A good ride but I don't feel that I worked hard. It was a team event so me getting 2nd was really just because I did my job in the team not because I was faster than the rest. There was some real work going on in the pack to contest the other places, and I think Reno got 3rd, 4th and 5th. As a team we snatched 2nd place. Again, the cerebral part of the sport is what we are losing on. We have a great bunch of variously talented riders but don't have a good way to make it work for us.

For the first time in ages I had a camera at the race so here are a few random shots.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

New pictures from my recent run with Tony


My new retreat...

My new house - note balcony maze!
the house

Quite a view into the forest...
view from my house

And down to the valley (where I work)...
view from my house

Bear goes the neighbourhood

On my way home tonight I drove the proper way around the summit village one-way loop and used the extra 1.5 mile drive to look for wildlife (bears). Not seeing any I pulled in towards my house, and tutted at the garbage left next to our bear bin (again). My first job for the night would be straightening out the bear bin.

As I pulled up, something didn't seem quite right. The bear bin lid was open and before long I noticed a furry head poking out of the bin too. Our bear's natural habitat is apparently the bear bin.

bear in our bin Kingsbury summit village

What was I to do? I kept the engine running, pointed my lights at the bear and tried to take a couple of pictures. After a while the bear clambered out of the bin and went behind it. I knew the right thing to do was to scare it off so I flashed my lights and honked the horn a little, and even did a bit of clapping of the hands from the security of my Chevy (even though I know a bear can pull a door off a car with not too much trouble).

After some time he reappeared and then sat watching my car. Both of us got bored I think (he certainly didn't looked too bothered by my presence) so I parked up and armed myself. I took the magnet off my bear bell allowing it to jingle nicely, I packed my bear spray in its 'holster' in case of extreme emergencies and plonked a head torch on my bonce.

bear Kingsbury summit village august 2006

As I got out of the car the bear seemed a little less at ease. Walking towards it clapping and jingling my little bell seemed to convince it to head off. I stood looking at the garbage bin still open and couldn't bring myself to secure it. Apparently the bears are more scared than we are, so that baby must've been totally petrified! At one point whilst standing there all exposed I remembered that bears are incredibly strong, can run 30 mph and climb trees - this helped with that 'exposed' feeling.

I made my way down the rodent playpen that is the balconys and stairs leading down to my door. It soon became clear that Mr Bear liked it down there too as I saw a startled furry backside disappearing off the other way after he'd realised he'd come towards the human by mistake. Finally, heart in mouth, I turned the last balcony into the darkness outside my front door. No bear. Phew. Confident now that my door was unlocked I went a bear hunting along the banister. I could see him about 20 yards away, eyes white in my head torch. I reckon he was waiting to go back to the bins. I scrabbled about, clapped a bit and threw a couple of stones his way - I saved the John Denver songs for a more serious encounter.

Stupidly confident now behind my low balcony railing and having 'chased off' the bear (narrowly avoiding crapping my pants), I went back to the bear bin to have a look around. I looked around carefully with my torch but couldn't really see behind the bins so well. I took a deep breath and put the garbage back in the bins and secured everything. I then went to the edge of the road and tossed a couple of rocks in the general vicinty I'd last seen my furry friend. I'd rather we stayed distant friends than a dead furry friend, which is what he will end up as if he cannot kick the habit of eating our garbage (though this is 100% a human problem - carelessness).

So, I have finally met the other neighbours!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Donner Lake Swim (2.7 miles +++) & Extras 30 miles cycling & 7 mile run

Pike (42, from Yorkshire, UK) and Jeff (50), from Alta Alpina cycling club, persuaded me to do a little "triathlon training" at the weekend. They are both training for The Big Kahuna Half Ironman in Santa Clara in September and I'm getting tempted to try it too.

Pike piked me up at 6am and we arrived at Donner for about 7.30. I managed to sign up for the event after some wheeler dealing. After a bit of last minute peanut butter bagel munching, sipping water and general faffing with our stuff, we headed down to the water front. Pike and Jeff decided the water seemed pretty warm, and sure enough, near the edge of the lake it seemed ok. I was staying with the wetsuit idea though and even added vaseline to my little arms in case they got cold too.

As we waited we had some banter and chat with a girl called Stephane and her brother. She was particularly thin and thought that if she was doing it without a wetsuit, so should I. My resolve was solid. It was about my 4th swim in 8 months and I wasn't fit enough - I needed all the bounancy I could get. Stephane was making a bit of a fuss about things but we secretly thought she was a really got swimmer and would blitz us. Even Jeff seemed nervous, despite his thoughts of doing the whole thing in 55 minutes (Jeff, it turns out, it quite a swimmer).

After some standing around, applying vaseline to bare skin and chatting, the time came to start. Some race instructions were mumbled from somewhere (I must be getting old) and then something sounded and everyone ran into the water. I followed, lemming like, into the cold abyss.

For a pool swimmer, there is something not quite right about jumping head first into a cold lake amongst a lot of people thrashing about hither and thither. My first thoughts were 'race' and 'crawl' and then 'breathe'. Pretty soon my thoughts became, 'breathe', and I found myself doing so at every stroke in some kind of panic.

Pretty soon I was unable to get my head in the water at all and was having a pretty tough time. I kept trying but each time I came up gasping again and could only do breast stroke with my head up. After a few minutes of this I heard Stephane telling me to calm down, swim breast stroke and relax. She said, "you are probably a really good swimmer". Right about then I was ready to completely quit. I just could not calm down and could not make myself swim. Stephane said, "how about a little backstroke?" and we both did a little, facing the large morning sun. A bit more panicy head-up breast stroke, a bit more chat, and then I tried crawl again. It still was not working and the rest of the field were getting away by now. I tried everything to calm down but was not in great shape. Stephane kept talking me through it and told me she was hyperventilating too, though she looked fine to me. Eventually, I managed some crawl. I looked back and saw Stephane still not able to do it yet. She said, "don't wait" and much as I thought I should, my friends were way ahead by now and I knew would be waiting - and Stephane would be ok with the kayaks.

So, finally under way I plodded on. Eventually I got into a rhythm of doing 100 strokes of freestyle and then 20 of breast stroke to have a look around. This is NOT the way to swim open water. Really you should do just a few strokes of crawl and one of them with your head up to steer yourself. I was a bit beyond all that and just stuck my head down and plodded. I'm not sure how far I swam but it was very probably somewhere between 3 and 3.5 miles.

On reflection, my pool grown crawl stroke is not great in open water. I normally look directly downwards as I swim, which makes it really hard to swim with others in open water, because you need to see where they are, and get a draft off them if you can.

My counting of strokes was what kept me going, each time reducing my breaststoke in between and once getting to 200 strokes. At times, my counting got a bit delirious and I found myself doing three strokes to one count but then was quite pleased with that because it felt as if I had done more for my 100 count.

From the start we were heading to an orange dot at the end of the late 2.7 miles away. After what seemed like forever, the dot seemed to grow a bit and then it started looking the shape of a finishing like on the beach. I guess I had been swimming an hour by then. I kept thinking, 'in another 100 strokes that finish line will look bigger', and it never did. It just sat there the same bloody size for quite a lot of sets of 100 strokes.

At one point I paused to look around me and realized I was in the middle of an enormous lake, pretty much on my own. There was what looked like a small stream of swimmers and kayak guides off to my left. I figured they had the best line and the shortest distance to the finish so I tried to head over that way. Unfortunately I never quite got there. After every 100 strokes I seemed to be over to the right too much. Such a long way though I decided to swim rather than think too much and hope the orange finish line shape would eventually begin to get bigger.

One time I came up for air only to see a heavily bearded guy laying on a surfboard looking at me. I guess he was 'support' but it was a little spooky to see someone floating just above the water like that. I couldnt help notice he had a Nalgene bottle full of water but I thought it was probably not for sharing with swimmers. I tried to ignore him and moved on. He seemed satisfied that I was not about to drown imminently and drifted on.

The whole swim was very tough but in open water swimming terms it is clearly a beautiful swim. The water is fresh and tastes clean (if a bit fishy) and the surface was pretty flat and the scenary awesome.

Eventually I could read the words 'Finish' on the orange flags and made a concerted effort to get there. Another 100 strokes and I thought I'd be almost there, then another, then another and then, at last, I could see sandy shallows and swam on until it was too shallow to swim. I dragged myself up onto the beach, jelly-legged, crossed the finish line, and prompty sat down.

After a couple of minutes I asked someone the time and they said 10:18. Oh DEAR, it had taken a long time, we left at 8:30. I couldn't see Pike or Jeff anywhere. I staggered up to get some food and water and saw the results posted. I saw Jeff had done 1:15, which was a relief - we were all slower than expected. Eventually I found them at the finish line and pretty soon we bumped into Stephane again, shivering uncontrollably as her husband wrapped dry clothes around her. I was glad to be able to express my thanks. She had a pretty tough swim, with 4 of the kayakers stopping to ask if she was ok, and despite that she was only a couple of minutes behind me!

Then us men went to catch the bus ready for the bike ride. At this point I wasnt entirely sure I could do the bike ride but was so glad to be out of the water I went along with it. On the bus ride back we got to see just how long Donner Lake really is. Wow.

donner lake swim 2.7 miles

Bike gear on and we rolled. We started at the other end of the lake than is the norm for the Donner Lake Triathlon but otherwise did the same course (just with the extra 6 miles). We climbed, and climbed and I began to marvel at how Pike and Jeff could push so hard up a climb after such a swim. They certainly dropped me but I wasn't completely hopeless. At one point Pike came up behind me having done "the roper dope" on Jeff. So Jeff is riding ahead to try and catch Pike and he's hidden somewhere and come up behind. They are both extremely strong but such messing about shows that they weren't without a sense of fun and were not taking it ultra seriously.

As I got to the top Pike and Jeff were waiting. I went to pull over too and Pike said, in his Yorkshire English accent, "no rest for the slow" and off we went. Eventually things flattened out a little and even descended a bit. Once I got to the front as we decended and really hit it. I must have been doing over 30 as Pike came past me shouting, "get on my wheel". So I did. His bike is quite a bit more aerodynamic than mine and he is extremely strong. We cruised together at around 40mph for quite some time. I even got past him to take a little turn at the front. Awesome fun.

Heading back isn't any breeze either and I was relieved to finally get to the top of the big descent. We rode down motorcycle style as some great speeds, though caution winning out to heriocs.

About a half mile from the car I heard a ticking sound and realized it was me. I'd picked up a staple in my tyre and as I pulled it out I realized that was that. Luckily the puncture was slow and let me get back on it.

As I arrived Jeff mentioned that, "the transition clock is ticking" and we changed into running gear and ate some more. Off we went. Jeff claimed to know the trail but in the end we went a bit further around the lake than planned, probably more than 7 miles. Jeff said that running wasn't his best thing but he still made good time and i couldn't stay with them, legs just too heavy. I walked up the hills and it took every bit of mental discipline to run at all. Finally hiting the flat tarmac 3 miles out I found a bit of a rhythm and managed to keep going.

Back at the car, Pike handed me a Red Bull - my first one ever I think. Ice cold and very welcome. Jeff just got back from a jump in the lake, which he heartily recommended. Then we headed back, a bit later than planned due to the slow English guy. I don't mind being slow as long as the others don't get shirty about it - Jeff and Pike just seemed pleased I showed up and joined in, which was pretty cool. I bought the coffee on the way back, small consolation for the slowness and small thanks for Pike's driving but generally, a jolly good day.

I believe I need to get a bit more training in!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Blue Lakes Road Race - 2nd Place (by a wheel!)

Blue Lakes is an awesome spot for a road race. It's a road off to the left about 3 miles past the turning to go to Luther as you head up Carson Pass. The Blue Lakes road has been freshly paved and climbs from 7,000ft way up there (!) along a nice twisty road.

Jeff and me have started looking fast on time trials (he's faster than me) but we don't always do that well in road races. So this time we planned to work together a bit, from early on in the race. It normally takes me a while to warm up and settle down so going early in a 22 mile race was a bit of a stretch.

As soon as we started a couple of guys made a little break. This wasn't to plan at all. I bridged the gap bringing the rest of the pack with me but used more energy in doing so than I should. After a mile or so I could see the same poor guy was being left out there at the front to do all the work so I pulled ahead to take a turn and give him a rest. Again, not great given our plan of making an early break.

At about 2 miles, on something of a climb, Jeff said, "follow me" and he broke away. Some of the guys had figured we might try this and came with us. The break needed a big burst of energy. After following Jeff for a while I pulled in front to take my turn. I worked a bit too hard here and got well away from Jeff and then didnt know what to do. I relaxed a bit to see if they would catch me. Pretty soon Jeff was with me but so were a couple more guys and the pack close behind. Not a very clean break at all.

After a couple of miles I looked back and the 2 that tried to go with us had dropped back and the pack were falling behind. The road is nice and twisty so we pretty soon gained a big psychological advantage of being out of sight. So we ploughed on.

Jeff is a big guy and so is easy to draft behind, so after our early break I was able to sit back and get my breathing under control and let my heart-rate drop a bit. It's amazing that drafting you can continue to go fast but get a decent rest.

After Jeff had been pulling for far too long I got past him to take my turn. I think Jeff just likes to ride fast and isnt much in to drafting. It was quite tough to get past him at all, he seemed to speed up, and then when I did he often didn't draft that much. He would still get the mental pull of working with someone else who was pushing on but didn't use the drafting to rest much. I felt quite guilty about drafting on his wheel given that he didnt let me tow him so much.

After a while of riding hard up some hills I began to wished that my pre-race banana had come earlier. I figured I might learn what Scott's expression, "blowing chunks" really meant since I wasn't planning to stop if I had to be sick (don't worry Mum I wasn't sick in the end).

On one of the climbs we began to catch some of the D group riders who had started 5 minutes ahead of us and before long we had overtaken all of them.

The last climb was a biggy and when we finally got there and hit some flat, we quickly came upon race cones indicating it was time to turn around. As we did I expected to see nobody behind us for ages and was quite surprised to be confronted with a motley crew not so far back at all. The question we had was, 'are they C's?'. It was hard to tell, I thought a couple were C group riders but it later turned out that they weren't, they were really B's and later A's that were catching us (having started 5 and 10 minutes behind us - wow, how humbling).

Seeing this lot really spurred us on and we really kicked it on the last big climb before the mostly downhill descent to avoid getting caught up.

About 5 miles from the end I looked around and there were riders just behind (Bs). They were really moving as they came past us but we were still not beaten and managed to overtake them again (just for fun). Coming up to about 2 miles out, Jeff and me were now racing each other, spurred on by the Bs were were racing alongside.

I seemed to have the edge on the last climb about a mile out. Then Jeff put on some speed and one of the Bs came past him on the left. Thinking it was me he raced on. I was thinking it was all over but was hanging on. It occured to me that Jeff had peaked too soon and I was catching him. Finish line in sight I went for it, pulling up on his right. He looked over and saw me and really pushed it. So did I! We raced absolutely flat out with everything screaming, resisting muscle weakness from overdoing it and fighting with everything left to be first over the line. We went over the line, Jeff in front by a wheel. I hadnt anything left to even stay sitting on the bike and stopped to breath for a minute. An awesome and fast ride but humbling too by the couple of Bs who caught us up (two guys who have ridden together for 10 years and worked like clockwork as a team). The rest of the Cs came in some minutes later (as did the rest of the Bs). Me and Jeff should probably be riding Bs now, and the other guys should have been in the As. But at the end of the season things stretch out like this I'm told.

So, 17 points but still no win - but I'm still ahead on the leaderboard with 3 races to go! Great fun!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Bear in local casino - on video

Bears are making the news around here at the moment. There is even footage from the security cameras showing a little bear (150lb) going to the local casino in South Lake Tahoe

We're going to shakespeare this week so I expect we'll see the regular bear down there.

To be honest, going home to my new house is a bit tricky. I make sure I have my bear bell ringing nice and loud, head torch on, bear spray handy and my camera. I wonder when we shall meet and how big it is. I just hope one of us has a good escape route and I hope the one that does is the hairy one. My new landlady said, "yes the bear is fond of our lovely condo too". Fear not, I sleep with bear spray and try to shut out all the noises scampering around outside on the walkway, be they people or other mammals. It's a little hard to tell the difference but some of the scampering seems to have that faint sound of claws touching wood. And frankly I don't know who was snoring last night. It may have been a neighbour (human) or it may have been something a tad more wild.

Don't get me wrong - I love the new house. Come and visit (PLEASE!).

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Running 9 miles; Watched swimming gala

Julie is training for a half marathon and running was scheduled for today. I casually agreed to go along too before I realised it was a 9 miler. It was a nice flat run along the river at a reasonable pace. I seem to have run 22 miles in 3 days, which is not wise so I will hold up a bit for a while.

In the afternoon we went to San Francisco, through thick traffic, to watch Julie's friend Tamara swim in the Butterfly of the World Masters. I was also really pleased to catch up with my old Cambridge swimming coach and buddy John Cochrane - we got a beer in the evening in preparation for his impending breast stroke exploits. GOOD LUCK JOHN.

I was VERY DISAPPOINTED that Phil wasn't coming along to try and break the UK record for breaststroke - he is so close to it that it's TOTALLY PERPLEXING why he didn't come out here.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Moved house; Ran 10 miles with Tony; Dilky's birthday

A busy day but pretty chilled out.

I got up early to drive up to my new house up at the Summit Village of Heavenly Ski Resort, arriving at 6.45am. I was going to move some stuff on friday but there was a lightening storm and I chicked out. Tony arrived right on time and helped me shift some boxes of stuff in.

Here is home now...


I met the neighbour, a nice chap called Mark. He warned me of the bears. Told me he came home from a concert last night, came around the balcony (you have to go on it to get in) and thought something was not right. He saw the backside of a black bear just leaving from outside my front door. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

So, pleasantries exchanged, Tony helped me move some boxes in and then we went for a 10 mile trail run. We started at the Stagecoach Heavenly chairlift, which looked exactly like an alien space ship (obviously a troop carrier).

stagecoach chair lift

We hit the trail and headed for Monument Pass (1,800ft gain I think), well, we walked the steep parts too. The trail felt a little like the flume trail at times, quite narrow with a bit of a steep drop - not perfect for cycling but excellent for running. Along the way Tony pointed out all of the Heavenly ski runs, which were quite hard to imagine without snow and strewn with huge boulders but fun all the same. It was about 5 miles up and as we turned the corner right at the pass, we were treated to awesome early morning views of Job's Sister and Friel Peak, still with patches of snow. This gave an ideal opportunity to try my new 7 mega pixel waterproof camera - wow! The rest stop gave us a chance for a bit of sustinance before heading back down.

Job's Sister...
job's sister

Tony chilling out...
tony at monument pass

With a mostly gradual descent, the trail was awesome in reverse though I stumbled a few times on tired legs. It was a truly beautiful day but our trail was a bit busier than we expected. It turned out the fire fighters had closed the nearby trail (Kingsbury-Spooner) because there was lightening caused fires up there and the planes were out dropping water and chemical on it.

Forest fire caused by lightening...
forest fire - kingsbury

We came back to the new pad, had some tea and then Tony headed off for a beach party whilst I explored my new pad. Pretty similar to goldilocks and the 3 bears, I was sleeping in one of the unfamiliar beds when I heard a scampering around the walkway outside (the walkway only goes to the front doors, nowhere else). I first froze, then jumped up and banged on the inside of the door. On reflection, it sounded a little light for a bear, but I have a feeling it's only a matter of time. This week a bear went to a casino in South Lake, and another one enjoyed some of the Salmon and Tritips on the go at the local shakespeare on the beach (thanks for the link Kyle).

If you think I'm going anywhere near that walkway to my front door without bearspray, head torch, whistle and camera you are madder than me! And if the neighbours are expecting me to walk quietly outside they need to THINK AGAIN. I just hope we don't end up with a human at either end of the walkway and a bear in the middle.

In the evening I drove to Sacramento to see Julie and wish Dilky happy birthday.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

official death ride photos now available

The official death ride photos are available so I've added them to my Death Ride Blog Entry

(thanks for finding the pictures Mum!)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Luther Crit Race - 36:38 (2nd place)

Luther Criterion was really my big chance at winning my first race in the C group because it is a time trial which is mostly all up hill (it climbs the whole of Luther pretty much). Although I'm at the top of the leaderboard of the Cs, I really would like to win a race.

I headed out over to Luther with Scott in the truck. Scott was pretty sure I would beat him today because he hasn't been training much but he's such a good climber I didn't believe it. Though being a bit lighter than usual gives me a bit of an advantage. In particular it gave me an advantage over my rival (and good buddy) Jeff, who usually wins the time trial races but weighs 220lbs, so on a climb I should have him.

I felt the asthma was more under control today and I was breathing fine during the warm-up.

A huge turn-out made for an interesting ride. The 'D's set out 30 seconds apart and then the 'C's. I made sure I was not the first to sign up today since I like trying to catch people up (I think I was a sheep dog in a past life). Scott offered to sign up ahead of me to let me chase him down - quite an advantage.

Time came and Scott flew off as I sat waiting for the 30 seconds to elapse before I could go. I set off and moved it. It took a while before I could even see Scott because the old Luther Road was pretty twisty with some bumps on it. After a mile or so I saw him and saw that he had already nearly caught the person in front of him (so had already gained 30 seconds). I decided to focus on the person in front of Scott since I figured I would not catch Scott, at least not quickly if at all. Scott seemed to be moving pretty quick.

As Scott past the guy in front, the guy pulled onto his wheel and drafted him. This is not allowed in a time trial and it made it a little tricky to figure out what was going on. After a while I realised I was reeling them in but I wondered at what cost. Since the start line my breathing had turned to panting and I wondered how long I could breath like that. I told myself that if I could ride the Death Ride fairly hard I could probably ride one smaller climb hard.

I pulled up alongside the guy behind Scott and as I did so we turned a corner to see a sheep dog standing in the road right in front of my wheel. I braked hard and lost precious seconds as Scott ploughed ahead. I told the dog owner there was a bike race coming through and turned around to hear a yelp from the guy I'd just past - I don't know if the dog bit him or not but perhaps that would be karma for the drafting! I wonder how many seconds I lost to the dog but that is just racing I guess. I found it hard to be mad about it since I felt pretty much akin to sheep dogs with my bike chasing mentality.

Pretty soon I got moving again and chased Scott again. I overtook just as the road surface turned poor, we went over a bridge and then looked at some vertical looking tarmac. This was the climb.

I'd ridden this road a year ago but was taking my time then. I knew it would be steep but not how steep nor for how long. Seeing a couple more riders ahead gave me some motivation to attack the first climb. A couple of folks with kids on the corner shouted encouragement, which is always helpful, as I turned the switchback to the next climb.

The switchbacks went on a while with some scattered riders ahead to ride down. As I went past I rasped "this is tough" to offer some commiseration with the people I was crawling past. At times I stood on the pegs, mainly to stretch my legs but partly for a bit of extra speed.

After a surprisingly short while I heard the sound of traffic on the main road ahead through the trees. This was a bit of a mental lift and helped me pick up the pace a bit. Thoughts of Scott not too far behind were also in my brain.

Finally the smooth tarmac of the main road up luther appeared. The grade of the climb lessened but it was still pretty hard. A couple more riders ahead provided a bit more motivation for some speed and I managed to hold 9-10mph up this section.

Very gradually the gradient began to lessen and I explored harder gears whilst maintaining high cadence. I knew the flats were ahead and I had been warned about not "lolly gagging" on the top section as it's natural to ease off a bit up there.

As the road flattened and straightened I could see Jeff's blue shirt ahead but found it hard to judge how far ahead he was in time. Seeing my big rival was enough to get me to really give it some welly, well, as much as I possibly could. About now I got a stitch in the right of my chest. I'm not prone to getting stitches so it was annoying. I tried to ignore it and race on.

As I hit the flats I got it into top gear and went for it. The stitch moved to the centre of my chest and was getting irritating and tight. I figured this was yet more exercised induced asthma and did my best to ignore it and pedal like hell.

With the finishing cone in sight I was surprised to see Christine drive past. She is generally supposed to get to the finish line before the riders do! We'd been a bit quick and got there before her. I knew the drill and made sure to note my own time - 36:38 which I was very pleased with.

At the top the pain in my chest was massive and I quickly got off the bike and crouched down. The guys got me to walk around a bit to make the blood move around my body a bit and I used my asthma inhaler. The pain was quite severe but after 5 minutes or so, the inhaler began to kick in and things eased off. During this time Jeff came by and we asked each other what time we'd done. He knew he'd done very well and got there in 36:19 or so - pretty impressive for a big guy. It's great to have some excellent competition out there, and to compete against people I like. Jeff's a star so I don't mind losing to him too much, especially when he is putting in a stellar performance like that.

Scott appeared soon after and I'd beaten him by a few minutes. Somehow it's not satisfying beating Scott because he's such a strong cyclist it feels like a temporary victory. Still, I am pleased with second place and a pretty respectable time. I'm a little disappointed by the continuing asthma hassles but lots of people are having similar troubles right now it seems, they say due to the Sagebrush.

Getting dropped off at Scott's house to get my car was a good opportunity to check out what was left in the kegerator, hang out and say hi to Amy.

Wrote an open letter to the CEO of Barclays Bank about appalling Woolwich service

I'm hoping that google finds my Open letter to John Varley, CEO, Barclays Bank (BARC), from a Barclays shareholder concerning spectacular failure of The Woolwich Mortgage Retention Team. The Woolwich have some nice mortgage deals and some awful service - the Co-operative bank have some decent deals too and fantastic service, and an ethical policy. No competition!