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, September 28, 2006

Back in the UK

Very struck by how sweaty this place is after living in zero humidity for so long and also very struck by how much GREEN there is everywhere.

Caught up with loads of people, friends and family. Swimming club gave me a great welcome home.

Had some fish and chips (nice) and IPA (very nice and flat and warm).

Gained a couple of pounds in weight from inactivity and cake but managed a couple of runs (not helped by having a cold). Aches and pains normally experienced from activity all disappeared though.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Visisted Dave and Alison for Dave's 40th

Alison had secretly arranged for me to meet them at a restaurant for Dave's 40th in Atlanta. He had no idea I was coming so I had a disguise. Actually a terrible one, just a false moustache glue to my lip and sun glasses. The restaurant staff were great! As they sat down I was sent to give them the menus. Dave got me in about a millisecond. I had hoped my poor disguise would fool him as he hadn't expected me in the town at all, but alas no. So we had a fun meal and hung out for a bit.


We visited Stone Mountain, one highlight of which was a ride on a DUKW amphibious vehicle from the second world war the speed of which, in water, gave rise to the expression 'a sitting duck'. Dave had been very keen to go on the DUKW but things started to go wrong before we boarded. The "captain" has quite a sense of humour and handed every passenger a duck beak shaped quacker. Dave refused his but the Captain was having none of it and eventually put Dave's on in Alison's hand. Right from the start the trip was full, well, over full, of kwacking sounds. Dave's face was the funniest thing on the planet!

We took the cable car to the top of Stone Mountain and marvelled at the stone relief carved into the side of it. Nice views of Atlanta from the top of this funny rock.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Cyclocross in Sacramento at Folsom Rodeo

The race briefing was excellent and the competitors had a great spirit. Someone piped up, 'let's be a bit careful, we all have to go to work on monday'. Fortunately I'd arrived early enough to do a couple of laps of the course and have an idea what I was in for. It was like no other kind of riding I've ever done - a very tricky business.

Julie took some excellent photos as did a race photographer (you can buy those from the latter here... Sacramento Cyclocross Photos.

My group was a popular one so they started us with a run across a playing field...

...then over a pile of wood chips (see me and Scott in our Alta Alpina shirts?)...

Off the wood chips and onto the bikes...

Off we go...

Into the dust...

Some people even contemplated overtaking...

You could run or ride this one (scott rode it)...

Scott still on the bike tailed by runners...

Well, you can't ride all of it...!


Found some tarmac at last - the downhill section...

Our very vocal support team...

Well, it was fun. I reckon I was nearly dead last but the results actually say I was 24th out of 33. There were quite a few flat tyres so there were not so many people actually still riding that finished after me! Scott was 8th, which was pretty impressive given the field.

Riding a cross bike, which is essentially a tough road bike with slightly knobbly tyres on it, down steep and rocky terrain was tricky. My hands bounced up from the brakes a few times making it hard to stop. I'm not entirely sure I'm cut out for this kind of racing but it was very much fun to try it out!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Run 12 miles / then Beer Festival

Went to Sacramento for the weekend. We ran 12 miles at a slow training pace in the morning (11 min/mile+). I was surprised it hurt quite a bit. After a shower and clean-up I had a residual pain in one of the joints of my right foot which stayed with me for a week. A couple of people told me it could be a stress fracture. I'm not sure but it certainly was quite painful. Sometimes I think that running slower encourages a heavier running style which is harder on the body.

In the afternoon we went to the California Brewfest beer festival and met Scott and his friend Damon there. The beer fest was a bit different than a UK one. At the door we were given 10 tokens each to spend on 4oz at a time of beer. In the uk the normal minimum measure is a half pint so you have to drink a lot more to sample a wide variety of beer. The token method was a bit more civilized and kept down the quantity of beer we were forced to drink. Another odd aspect of the arrangements were that all the beer pulls were mounted on ice boxes in order to achieve the appropriate temperature. Very odd.

Damon very kindly invited us to join them all for BBQ dinner at their house. Very nice indeed given that we'd only just met. A very nice evening!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Cyclocross Training

Mel took us out lunchtime to show us the right way to mount and dismount a bike when doing cyclocross. The dismount was pretty tricky but after an hour we'd done a few and it seemed ok (Scott had done this a lot before).

The dismount involves uncliping your right foot and swinging your leg over the left of the bike, leaving your hip resting on the saddle (this looks a bit like you see when people scoot along with one foot on a pedal on the pavement). The next step is to grab the top tube of the bike with the right hand. Then you move your right leg to the ground in front of the pedal as you unclip the left leg, step forward, pick up the bike and run. It sounds awful but it works ok really.

Getting back on the saddle is also an art. You run along, have your hips facing the saddle and then fling your right leg over so your weight lands on your thigh. Then you slide on and pedal. This sounds easier than it is - the pedals really need to be in the right place to do this fast.

I was quite surprised to have managed to learn all these new skills in just an hour. I think it may take another 20 years to perfect them though!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Dinosaur Rock Carson City - Rock Climbing

Brian from work took me rock climbing at Dinosaur Rock near Carson City. I'm keen to do a route at Yosemite but haven't climbed for a lot of years. I'd like to claim it came back to me fast. Well, some of it did. I got my gear on ok and belaying was easily remembered. I hadn't realized but in the US people often climb on one rope, whereas in the UK we often use two. I still haven't worked it out but I felt that two would be safer but perhaps not. One rope, a thicker one though, is certainly simpler.

Brian led off and made good progress with flowing moves and good balance but taking his time to get it right. I think the route we did may have been called The Gash, which is listed in the picture at 5.7. As I was belaying I was thinking it looked ok. Then it was my turn and the rock face, up close, was much more vertical than it had looked (a familiar feeling).

Brian had positioned himself to belay from the top so he could see me and help me out. This didn't help with the first move though, which took me quite some time. I eventually got going and was pretty nervous the whole way up. At one point I was hanging on with both hands to a granite flake which has a horrible hollow sound to it like it could break off at any moment. I was pretty slow all the way up and probably far too slow to do a 14 pitch route in Yosemite.

Brian was an excellent and solid lead though and very considerate and helpful.

After one route it was already getting a bit dark so we headed off for some mexican food. Nice to climb again but a good reminder of how hard it is.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Latest product - a bumper sticker

My shop now has this great bumper sticker - you can buy one if you like!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Alta Alpina at The Big Kahuna Half-Ironman Triathlon (1.2 mile swim; 56 mile bike; 13 mile run)

After a wrestless night I decided to finally fully awaken at 5am. I lay there thinking, why am I just about to go and jump in the sea at 7am. It seems in recent weeks I have done a lot of open water swimming involving jumping into cold water before most people wake up. The thought was not motivating at all but having spent $200 to enter The Big Kahuna I was sure going to get on with it.

I sneaked into the dining hall and had some Grape Nuts and tea and dutifully washed up my bowl. I threw everything in the car and headed to Jeff and Pike's hotel to dump my car.

Whilst I was driving, Pike was up and about and setting up his bike in transition to make sure of getting a good spot and getting organized. For a triathlon - this is a very smart thing to do. Note for future reference.

I arrived a bit late and dashed to transition with my bike and big rucksack and laid out all my stuff in some kind of order. I got numbers written on my limbs and my age on my calf (so everyone knows who is racing who) and jumped into my wetsuit (after applying a bit of 'body glide' to my legs, neck and arms. I dumped a pile of vaseline on my arms too, in the hope it would keep me warmer. I looked around wistfully at people with full arms on their wetsuits (which was most people). Pretty soon we were told to hussle to the beach for the race briefing so we plodded the 400 yards or more from the transition area to the beach. I had my wetsuit around my waist and no shirt on and was warm enough, perhaps 7am isnt so bad in Santa Cruz.

I later discovered that the right thing to do in triathlon is to wear your cycling shirt underneath your wetsuit. Putting on my small (tho' Large size apparently) Alta Alpina shirt on cost me a lot of time in transition but I wanted to wear the shirt to support my club.

Photos available to purchase from www.brightroom.com.

Preparing to start The Big Kahuna Half Ironman in Santa Cruz

So we Alta Alpinas (Me, Pike, Jeff Bryan and Mike Sharp) arrived on the beach and met Lisa, Cindy and Taylor. I think all of us were wearing sleeveless wetsuits and were in the minority. In the end, it didn't matter though, they worked fine for 59 degrees (15 degrees C). Pike took the opportunity to spray Pam (sprayable vegetable cooking oil) on his legs and wetsuit. We figured this was probably more palatable to sharks than our Body Glide.

After the race briefing I decided I needed to get used to the water. So, with 10 minutes to go I waded in. Through the waves and it was already waist height. The last lurch into the water brought it over my head and then I quickly came up gasping. I tried to be cool and swim a bit but it was awful. I did a bit of breaststroke but even that was tough when it came to putting my face in the water. After a while though I acclimitized and it felt ok. A girl was suggesting that taking a pee would be a good way to warm up. When I explained that I couldn't she thought I was being silly so kept telling me what a great idea it was. Thing was, I had already exhausted that option! (highly recommended!)

Pretty soon it was getting near the start time for our wave of 90 people in the 35-39 age group. We lined up and nervously chatted with fellow competitors - those in sleeveless suits finding a special thing in common. Then the race was under way and we ran towards the sea, almost like we were keen to get in the water. Thankfully my acclimization trick worked very well and I was quickly relaxed and able to swim. None of the hyperventilating I did during the 3 mile Donner Lake swim. I was also pretty cool about swimming with the pack and being clambered over as I tried to swim. To be honest, with all the sea life around it was nice to have some human company in the water. I stayed with some of the pack for quite a while before things started to separate. On reaching the first bouy, near the end of the pier we were swimming around, I looked up for the next one and realized the swell in the sea was noticeable and I couldn't see it. There were loads of people around though, and kayaks and such, so I just followed the crowd until I saw it.

Here's me (aka Biggles!)
The Big Kahuna Half Ironman

On rounding the next bouy I was able to head for shore. The sound of the sealions barking as they sat under the pier was perhaps an extra motivation to get out of this unfamiliar environment. The tide heading towards the shore also seemed to provide a little welcome push. As I finally neared the shore I wondered about being careful to time my landing to not coincide with a big wave. In the end though I just floated in. Jeff wasn't so lucky. He's the best swimmer of all of us by a long way and he got picked up by a wave and tumbled on his way in, nearly losing his goggles!



Here's Jeff...
The Big Kahuna Half Ironman - Jeff Bryan

Out of the water with a hint of jelly legs and over the timing mat. Thanks goodness. The 300 yard run to the transition area was a nice change. In transition there was a slow person next to me and I think that mentally slowed me down too. I spent far too long in transition which cost me a lot of time. I really must sharpen that up next time. Pike is something of an expert at transitions with absolutely no messing around at all.

Glad to finally get out on the bike. The commentator called me out as I left and made a big fuss about me being from Gardnerville since it was his home town. The theme continued throughout the day.

It took a little while to get going on the bike. I was going fast enough but the miles seemed to take a long time to clock through. After what seemed like ages it said 3 miles on the odometer. Settling down though I started riding hard. It was very satisfying to start catching people from my agegroup and from previous waves in the swim who started 7 or 14 minutes ahead of me. The new aerobars on my bike seem to add a lot of speed but I was a bit worried about the toll it would take on my back if I stayed leaned over like that for 56 miles. The bike course had gently rolling hills and lovely views of the coast. Riders ahead seemed to bunch up on the hills as they struggled up them but as an Alta Alpina rider I had grown somewhat used to climbing and used each hill as an opportunity to overtake - very satisfying!

Here's Pike...
The Big Kahuna Half Ironman - Pike Reardon

After a while there were a couple of cyclists around me doing a similar speed and both in my agegroup. We took turns at the front, each of us confidently firing past the others at various points, thinking we had dropped the others and none of us every achieving it. This went on for quite some time, perhaps 25 miles. I began to realize that what would separate us would be our running ability. In preparation for running I got out of the saddle a few times on climbs on the way back. I was a bit alarmed at how hard that was and how tired my legs were. I thought taking Pikes advice of just 'racing hard until you fall over' was unwise but I was happy to have made an average of over 20mph on the bike and hoped I could still run 13 miles.

Happily, we started making our way back through town and began to see people on the run leg. In to transition again I quickly racked the bike and got my running shoes on and out. Pike's bike to run transition was I think the fastest of everyone in the whole race.

Out of transition, more commentary about Gardnerville and the great haunts there, and starting the run. As if bike to run isnt hard enough it started with a hill. Fortunately the number of spectators around shouting encouragement provided motivation. Pretty soon I was up the hill and feeling surprisingly good on my running legs and was quite cheerful about it all and moving pretty quick.

After about 7 miles the running got a bit tough. Mike overtook me looking strong and it was nice to see Pike and Jeff on the way through too - it all adds to the motivation to anticipate seeing your mates on the course ahead.

Here's Mike...
The Big Kahuna Half Ironman - Mike Sharp

My running seemed ok. I very occasionally overtook someone in my agegroup, which was always a thrill. Then, about mile 8, 3 guys in my agegroup came past me fast and I couldn't stay with them. It annoyed me a bit to be so mentally weak. The another guy came past about mile 9 and he wasn't so quick so I stuck to him. I followed him for the next 3.5 miles at a pace slightly harder than I wanted to run at. It worked well. I was focussing on my sprint finish which would let me sail past this guy. After 3.5 miles of pacing too fast I lost it and wound back a bit. The course wound its way to the beach and into thick sand. If that wasn't awful enough we had to run under the pier with the tide coming in. This meant running in the sea. Sea water is extremely corrosive stuff so I was pretty fed up at having to run in sea water in my best running shoes but I did that and then spent the next 200 years dodging waves and skipping between deep soft sand and sea water in a very graceless finish.

The Alta Alpinas, Jeff, Pike (also from the UK) and Mike (who I'd not met before) had great races respectively - all getting agegroup 3rd places. This is more impressive than it sounds - Mike (48) was 8th overall and Pike (42) was 11th! If there was a prize for transitions I think Pike would have been first in the bike-run transition!

I was age group 25th, and looking at the stats I can only really be disappointed with the transition times, which alone cost me several places. The run wasnt great either at 8:38 pace - room to improve there too I think. My lungs felt were GREAT throughout the race, I hardly felt like I was breathing at all. The muscles in the legs were the limiting factor. This living at 7,000ft business seems to work!

Here are the results (official results are on The Big Kahuna Triathlon website....
Alta Alpina Big Kahuna Overall Results

Alta Alpina Big Kahuna Individual Results

Great to meet Lisa, Cindy and Taylor too and hang out in Santa Cruz for a bit. The Land of Medicine Buddha (retreat) was fun too.


Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Land of Medicine Buddha (Buddhist retreat)

I took the afternoon to drive to Santa Cruz. It took about 6 hours to get there, which was a bit slow. I finally rolled up at The Land of Medicine Buddha at around 7.30pm not knowing what to expect.

This buddhist centre/retreat was about 6 miles from The Big Kahuna and had reasonably priced rooms and vegetarian food. I could hardly go wrong really.

On arrival, I got my key and followed the map to my room, which looked a bit like this....
As I walked through the door there was a mosquito on my leg. I halted my arm from swatting it as I realized it would break one of the precepts I had agreed to follow. So, I simply shoed away the mosquito. The other precepts were easy too, apart from the thing about the beer. I spent a weekend with a alchol free St Pauli's larger and that was it (quite nice though).

The other precepts are described thus:
In order to develop the practice of love & compassion towards our fellow beings, we ask our guests to observe the 5 precepts of no killing (even bugs), no lying, no stealing, no sexual misconduct and no usage of intoxicants (tobacco, alcohol, drugs) during their stay.

I swifty went to find dinner, for which no time had been specified in the copious instructions I had received. It transpired that dinner was from 6-7pm, which was a bit of a mix-up since I said I would be arriving at 7pm and had arranged to have dinner! A nice lady (called Paula, who runs the bookstore) went and got me some excellent soup and salad. Not really the carb loading I needed for the race but very tasty.

In the morning I had a huge breakfast, which I felt a bit bad about since there was buddhist monks and nuns there having very little to eat whilst I piled in.

I'm very much afraid that I didn't engage much in what was going on at this place during my stay. People were friendly enough but I would like to have spent more time there getting to know the place. I found the dinning area a bit odd with self-service tea and coffee always available but with little notes everywhere like, "if the coffee is dripping don't try sipping! use the thermos instead". Well, lots of little notes like that. I guess they get all kinds of people there who need guidance in various ways!

Well, on balance it is a very peaceful place, with nice people there, clean rooms and excellent food. I wish I could have stayed longer. I was very impressed also to learn that it was set up by Tibetan Buddhists too. One of 100 or so places around the world.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Big Kahuna - wish me luck!

This is probably the hardest thing I have ever done, though it is shorter than the Death Ride so I'll have to re-assess that at the end.

The 1.2 mile swim in the sea is a bit worrying. The water temperature is 59 degrees. There will be seals sitting under the pier that we are swimming around, and no doubt, some in the water. Visibility will be poor. There will be a huge mash of people, with arms and legs everywhere. And of course, "when you get seals you usually get sharks". Kyle told me this is the biggest area for Great White sharks in the world. OK, statistically I'm probably more likely to be struck by lightening but still, I don't suppose statistics will be going through my mind as I plough through the water. Who knows, perhaps this will speed up my usual swimming leg! I have to say I'm looking forward to the bike and run!

Wish me luck

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Life after GE - some early experiments

I figure I'm not going to make a living as a professional bike racer or triathlete so I should try something else.

Yesterday I took home my yogurt making starter kit from Vas (a pot of his home made yogurt). Now I have a pint of milk that has a vague yogurty taste, like someone just put 2 spoonfuls of yogurt into it, funny that. It does not seem to have grown into anything much yet but we'll see. Vas technique was handed down from his Grandmother in India and seems like a much cheaper and more healthy way to eat yogurt without all the crap they put in the shop stuff, though to be honest. I don't think there is a whole lot wrong with shop yogurt, I was just curious to try and knit my own!

Well, tonight I have tried my hand at becoming a fashion designer darlings, and you can indeed buy, for real, from my new line of garments but you'd have to visit my new shop to do that. It's a CafePress.com store called litsl. What do you think of my designs? I have several more ideas up my sleeve too.

My protest T-shirt about the state of Tea making in this country where it is the norm to supply a cup of tepid water and a separate tea bag - unacceptable!

A more serious t-shirt bringing attention to the fact that this high fructose corn syrup is the cheapest sweetener available here and is chucked into a HUGE range of foods, some even claiming that they are health!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Steve Irwin's Death

I was very sorry to hear of Steve Irwin's tragic death today. An ardent conservationist, animal lover and ethically motivated showman. A sad loss for all of us. I don't suppose we ever expected Steve to die of old age but it is a great shame he will not be there for us to continue to educate and inspire us about the natural world.

Hiked from Big Meadow to Carson Pass (8 miles - easy)

Me and Julie did an excellent and quite easy 8 mile hike from Big Meadow Trailhead on the Rim Trail to Carson Pass (where we dumped a car). This is an awesome and quite easy hike that is highly recommended. We passed some mountain bikers too and this does indeed seem like an excellent MTB route as well.

Our guidebook had this listed as a 10 mile hike but the total mileage included a side trip to Dardenelles Lake (we thought, as is usual in guidebooks, that a sidetrip would be extra mileage and not counted as a part of the total!).

Some of our photos from the day are here.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sprint Triathlon (0.6 mile lake swim; 15 mile bike; 3.8 mile run) - Lake of the Pines, Auburn

I was planning to do a long bike and run at the weekend in preparation for The Big Kahuna Half-Ironman on September 10th but Jeff told me I should be doing short high intensity work this close to the big event. So, I decided to do the Auburn Sprint Triathlon. There apparently may be some photos of the event on Photocrazy.com at some point.

The event seems to have originated as a triathlon organized by and for local residents of Lake of the Pines but is now much bigger and is in its 25th year. It was a very inclusive event with all kinds of people taking part, a great number riding mountain bikes with knobbly tyres!

I'd been assured the water temperature in the lake would be reasonable but I didn't believe it so I have my wetsuit with me. After registration I sorted out my gear, put the aerobars on my bike and went for a swim to test the water. I was extremely pleased to find it very warm - 78 degrees!

After some considerable faff we had the American National Anthem and then were under starters orders. The swim was done in waves. Every male doing the long course started first. I kept telling myself that this was just a training run and the thing I needed most practice of was the swim in crowded conditions. That being the case, this was perfect. A 30ft wide stretch of triathletes at the starting line would be aiming for the same bouy to make the first turn. As we got under way we were climbing over each other in that typical triathlon way and what surprised me most was that I wasn't too bothered. None of the hyperventilating I'd experienced in the Donner Lake swim. I guess the warmer temperature must be something to do with it. This is not really good news since the sea at Santa Cruz is likely to be 60 degrees or less next week.

My swim didn't feel particularly impressive but nor did it seem terrible. Looking at the results, it was pretty terrible! I was 53rd overall (of 145) for the swim (though 10th out of 27 in my agegroup).

Coming out of the water I was glad to be heading for my bike. I grabbed my Death Ride bike jersey and stood on my towel to dry my feet. The Jersey wouldn't go on easily and I faffed a bit getting my gloves on, but overall not a bad transition at 1:54 (though the winner in my group was 50 seconds faster here).

The ride was fun. As I got going a young lad in a green cycling jersey shot off in front of me and I couldn't catch him but apart from that nobody overtook me during the 3 laps (since most people were ahead of me due to my slow swim!). It was fun riding people down on the first lap, since I was racing those folks. On the second lap we were joined by the folks doing the Medium distance triathlon and many of them were struggling with the rolling hills and it felt very odd to rocket past them. I felt generally slowed by being surrounded by people going pretty slowly.

The course was challenging with several short sharp climbs. Marshalls were generally excellent and much needed as we flew past Stop signs. I was a little dismayed at one Stop sign though. The roads were still open to traffic so we depended on the marshalls to be our eyes and ears at the crossing. At one, a young girl was sitting back from the junction in a chair on the phone for the duration of the race. This always worried me as I flew past the stop sign and it seemed pretty negligent and dangerous to me.

After the third lap I headed in for the transition area once more. I put my running shoes on and grabbed my Garmin Forerunner, swigged a bunch more Heed drink and headed off. The first mile was tough. The transition from bike to run does something horrible to your legs making them feel like lead. After a while though I was picking our targets ahead and was catching them. One guy in front looked reasonably strong but I caught sight of him walking on a hill and spotted a weakness. I gradually closed the gap. He stopped at a water station and I didn't so I gained on him considerably there. Eventually I pulled in behind him and waited for my moment to put my foot down and get past him with a spurt of energy. I did that but I heard him speed up. He seemed to stay with me for a while, which was disappointing - my speed-up tactic didn't work. When I eventually looked around though, he'd gone.

Nearing the end of the race I spotted someone else to run down. He was running well and I didn't have much time left. On the last climb I sped up and as I began to catch him we had a very steep descent to the finish line. By now I was sprinting and he'd seen me so he was too. Normally this is where I catch 'em but this guy was on to me and beat me over the line only to collapse from the unexpected late exertion. I quickly reached over and shook his hand. He was 45 so we were in a different category but he still beat me fair and square!

So, my agegroup placing was 4th of 27 and my overall placing in the long course event was 16th of 145. Not bad but I was convincingly beaten by the guy in 3rd place in my agegroup 4 minutes 3os! I'd managed to maintain an averge speed of 20.5mph on the bike and more satisfying, a 7:48 minute mile pace on the run (pretty good considering the first mile was an 8:04).


PS I included Levi's finish results here too (I work with his Dad). He totally whooped me in the swim!