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Well, it's been a long time. A long time since I've posted here, and a long time since I've checked an item of my never-ending to-do list. But thanks to having done the latter, I'm now going to do the former.

 

In keeping with my place of employment, I've lately been pursuing endurance sports. And just yesterday, July 12, I pursued a doozie. I participated in the Fireweed, the trans-Alaska bicycle race. The Fireweed begins at Sheep Mountain Lodge, a rustic outpost on the Glenn Highway, about a hundred miles northeast of Anchorage, and runs 200 miles (well, 194 if you must know) to the coastal city of Valdez, essentially circumnavigating the eastern half of the Chugach Mountains in the process. The course features withering climbs both subtle and extended, and short and crippling. Throw in some cold rain and beautiful sunshine, giggle-inducing descents and some of the most beautiful scenery you'll find on the planet, and you get an event that's been on my radar for some time. I've been registered for the past two Fireweeds but due to circumstances beyond my control, I hadn't been able to make it to the starting line. Not this year. Needing some AK Time, and thinking myself in sufficient condition to survive the race, I went for it.

 

I spent Friday evening in tent pitched beside a grass runway just off the Glenn Highway about a mile from Sheep Mountain Lodge. When the first raindrops started falling around 11 p.m., I had a hunch I was in for something the next morning. I awoke to low clouds and fog, and sporadic rainfall. With echoes of the mocking I'd done of soft Southern Californians, with their jackets and wool hats and long pants and sleeves, ringing in my ear, I ached for a hat and something warmer (and dryer) than the leggings and sleeves I pulled on before exiting the tent. I'd contemplated buying a pair of full-fingered gloves, just in case, but hadn't pulled the trigger. Whoops. Oh well, what could I do? Whine about the weather...and then ride? Or just ride? I chose the latter.

 

My mantra heading into the Fireweed had been clear: just ride from aid station to aid station, don't race, don't get caught up in the emotion and the competition. That lasted all of a hundred yards. When the 7:15 a.m. starting gun went off, I began pedaling solidly but in control. I looked around and saw one peloton moving ahead slightly faster than me and another riding slightly slower than my pace. I latched on to the faster group. Whoops No. 2. By the top of the initial hill that forms the start, this group was motoring and I was laboring to hang on to the tail, thinking that I could just draft my way to a good start. That's when the rain began again. Hard. And cold. Observation: being at the end of a pace line in the rain isn't much fun. But I held on. Up a few hills, down a couple, I held on. Even took a couple of pulls of my own. But it wasn't sustainable. After about 10 miles I realized this was insane and dropped off the back. And since the slower group was nowhere to be seen, I rode by myself for a bit wondering just what the **** I'd gotten myself into.

 

Fortunately, that lead group splintered further and I was able to reconnect with the slower half. We made great time and after about 20 miles, the rain had let up. Observation No. 2: being in a pace line in nice conditions is exhilarating. So exhilarating that I blew right by the first aid station. Oh well, I still had plenty of Gu packets and Shot Blocks and Twizzlers, and some Gatorade and water. I'd be fine, right? I held on, in fact, to the second aid station, at about 47 miles when I needed to refill my water bottle. My *** was killing me (a sign of things to come) but by and large, I felt all right. I was even harboring visions (not hallucinating, that would come later) of finishing in 10 hours, given the pace we'd been keeping. I even noticed a guy from the faster group in the aid station, just a bit ahead of me...maybe I could even reconnect with some of those fast dudes. When I finished chowing a couple of bananas, he was gone--and I never saw him again. I rode the next 30 miles, miles that would have been perfect for a pace line (mostly flat, nothing major, a good opportunity to go fast with little individual effort) solo.

 

In fact, I rode most of the rest of the race solo. I connected with another guy from that slower half of the first group for a stretch, and there was a pace line that appeared out of nowhere around mile 125 and made it possible for me to get to the fourth aid station that was nothing short of a gift from God. But other than that, I rode alone. Observation No. 3: given the choice between a pace line and a solo ride, take the pace line. That pace line would have been a big help on the 50-mile climb to Thompson Pass, just north of Valdez. On top of an excruciating, never-ending ascent, with several steep, mile-long sections thrown in just for good measure, in this year's Fireweed we got to enjoy a 20- to 25-knot headwind coming down from the peaks. Speeds at times were in the 2- to 3-mph range. I'm not kidding. And hey, that wind blew out all the clouds so the scenery was simply stunning.

 

And remember: what goes up must come down. The descent toward Valdez from Thompson Pass was hair-raising...fast, yes, but that headwind was still going. No matter...once you've made it that far, another 10 or 15 miles of flat into town and the finish line are no big deal. You just do 'em.

 

Well, the bottom line is: I made it. I survived. I don't have the official time yet but by my clock it was an elapsed time of about 11 hours, 35 minutes. Time in the saddle actually pedaling was 10:35...I stopped five times: that second, third and fourth aid stations, and one other time to fix my shoe. Total rest time: one hour or so. So I'm pretty stoked about my performance. I not too fond of sitting down right now (and I'm about to get on an eight-hour redeye flight back to SoCal...pray for me), and I'm not getting on my bicycle anytime soon, but I'm glad I did the race. And I think the next time I go anywhere in Alaska, I'm taking a Cessna.

 

 

Update: Results are in. I finished in 11:35:46, in 14th place out of 25 in the 200 road race. I'll take it. And here's a photo for proof...

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For you shaved-leg freaks out there, I'd recommend looking into the Fireweed. There are several versions of the race, including 50- and 100-mile races, and the monster of them all, a 400-mile to Valdez and back to Sheep Mountain. Those races are all out-and-back, and how the 400-race riders descend into Valdez and then turn right around and climb Thompson Pass from sea level, I'll never know. There are also relay divisions (if I do this race again, that might be how I go), tandem divisions and no-drafting decisions. But I'd recommend the 200-miler...then get a room in Valdez on Saturday night and take the Alaska Marine Highway ferry across Prince William Sound (the most beautiful place on Earth) to Whittier and back to Anchorage, thereby making it a truly special weekend. Again, you get wilderness scenery the likes of which you'll find in no other bike race, you get a well-run and safe race, and you get the experience of doing something out of the ordinary, even by bike-racing standards (which, you gotta admit, can be pretty out there). But don't race out of Alaska just yet: stick around another day for the post-race party and awards at the Bear Tooth Theater in Anchorage. Trust me on this one.

615 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: cycling, alaska, fireweed-400, fireweed-200

The Newest Reality TV Series

Posted by Luke_Active Nov 30, 2007

OK. Cool. Thanks, Mark. My peeps will call your peeps and we'll do lunch on Monday. See you at Ivy. OK. Ciao, baby.

 

Oh, sorry. Didn't see you standing there. I was just in the middle of my latest and greatest production. Hey, it's all about synergies and cross-promotion and tie-ins and cross-platform media these days, right? Well I've come up with the latest and greatest money-maker. It combines several things we in this country regard as uniquely American:

  • Reality TV

  • NASCAR

  • Conflictnot contactsports

  • Beautiful people

  • The Weather Channel

 

It's a combination of "Dancing with the Stars" and the Nextel Chase for the Cup and Jim Cantore doing hurricane coverage from some soaking beach somewhere in Florida. I call it, "Driving in the Rain with Californians."

 

Think about it: you'll see more hard hitting than you get in most NFL games (have you seen the 49ers defense lately?) and instead of having two guys on the same NASCAR team being all lovey-dovey while they race for a driving championship, you'll have hundreds of people bumping and pushing to squeeze through a yellow light at an I-5 on-ramp meter--and in Beemers and Mercedes and Lexuses rather than Chevys and Fords! Talk about swapping paint...we'll resurrect the ol' No. 3 car for this shindig! "Who's the New Intimidator?"...that'll be our slogan. It's brilliant! This'll be bigger in the heartland than when Paris and that other blondie were slopping pigs down on the farm.

 

I see a dedicated channel on ESPN's website and a ride at Disneyland. I see the cover of next year's Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue being shot in the rain in the center median of the 405 in Orange County. Instead of having the Loch Ness Monster eat that truck in the Nissan commercial, they'll show how tough the pickup really is by seeing if it survives a season on the show! Oh, baby, the licensing rights alone...

 

I'd love to chat more but I gotta run. Gotta make some calls, ya know?

 

Hey! Get me Dale Juniorno wait, make that Tony Stewart (we need a snarler and some dust-ups, don't you think?)on the phone, willya? Thanks, babe!

740 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: reality_tv, socal, freeways, driving, dancing_with_the_stars, espn, nascar

"Best of all, he loved the fall," wrote Ernest Hemingway. Don't go looking for it in any of Papa's stories--it's from a eulogy he delivered for a Ketchum, Idaho, local and hunting companion of Hemingway's who was killed in a hunting accident. No, Papa wasn't involved (and neither was Dick Cheney); the only human Hemingway ever targeted was staring back at him in the mirror.

 

I cite that passage of Hemingway's because it's a sentiment I share. No matter where I've lived in the world, autumn has always been my favorite season. So it's been a bit of a disconnect living in coastal Southern California this year, as there are no discernible seasons hereabouts (except, perhaps, for fire season this particular year, but I digress). But this past weekend I reentered a time when the natural order of things once again reasserted itself (hmm...as the fires did, too, a few weeks ago) when I journeyed to Joshua Tree National Park, about two hours northeast of San Diego County.

 

I left the office at midday on Friday in hopes of nabbing a campsite in the northern. Mojave Desert part of the park. No such luck. The Veteran's Day Weekend invasion of climbers in this rock-dancer's mecca squelched that game plan.

 

I wound up at the Cottonwood campground, near the southern border of the park and a thousand or so feet lower in elevation than the sought-after campgrounds, with nary a joshua tree or climbable rock in sight. Cottonwood is in the Sonoran Desert part of the park, where the vegetation is chiefly low, scrubby and dusty. To one whose desert experience comes from many years of living and playing in the red-rock deserts of the Colorado Plateau of southern Utah, the Sonoran Desert is a bit too, well, desert-y. Instead of the yucca of the four-thousand-foot level of the Mojave, Cottonwood is ensconced in the creosote of the three-thousand-foot level--a grim, pushy plant whose harsh nature reflects the challenges of that particular ecological niche.

 

The Cottonwood campground also presented, on the human front, the family with the young girl who is the only binary person I've ever encountered. She had two states: asleep or crying. Then there was the climber dude whose dog apparently wandered off around 11:45 Saturday night. He let everyone know that the dog was gone with an expletive-filled tirade that filled the otherwise empty desert sky for at least half an hour. (Whether Giovanni the dog wound up as coyote kibble, I never found out.)

 

On the flip side, the early arrival of eventide both Friday and Saturday included glimpses of autumn in the otherwise urban expanse that is SoCal: Orion climbing in the mid-evening eastern sky while Lyra and Cygnus were already on the wane in the west; the tinge of coolness in the night air offset by the smell of a campfire over which moose steak is grilling; that unique shade of magenta in the western sky just after sunset that only occurs in November.

 

And daytime hours spent in the higher reaches of the park were equally magnificent. Being serenaded by feeding coveys of quail at the five-thousand-foot Keys View overlook; enjoying a strenuous road-bike ride on a newly paved road with not a single car driving past; bouldering for the first time in more than a decade (at the site where musical legend Gram Parsons   was cremated, no less)it was a return to the outdoor life that has been usurped in my time in SoCal by the proximity of the Pacific Ocean. It's so easy to get caught up in the world of swell direction and tides that the joy of escaping to the high countryand realizing how close that land is to San Diego Countygets lost. It was such a treat that I've already replaced the falling-to-dust climbing shoes I blew out this weekend. And now I'm looking forward to experiencing winter in SoCalas long as it's in Joshua Tree.

725 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: climbing, camping, joshua-tree, gram-parsons

A Heathen Among the Devout

Posted by Luke_Active Oct 12, 2007

The chief purpose of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.

--Jack London

 

KONA, HAWAII--I hadn't gone more than a mile from the outdoor airport here in Kona when it occurred to me that all of the people running and cycling alongside the highway had less combined body fat in a dozen bodies than I carried in just one of my legs.

 

The interesting juxtapositions are many on the Big Island of Hawaii these days. On the one hand, you have 1,800 athletes whose intensities rival someone defusing an atomic bomb while the timer winds toward zero...and you have sunset-watching tourists who get winded walking to the hotel restaurant. You have miniscule Euros with lithe bodies that are transparent when held up to a bright light...and you have rotund "island boyz" cruising in monster trucks. You have the urge to follow the herd on a quick 20-mile run...and an urge to order a second mai tai while watching the sun set into blue Pacific.

 

The Ironmen and Ironwomen prepping for tomorrow's world championship  are an inspirational bunch, and the feel-good stories here in Kona this week definitely provide some perspective. One might not feel an urge to go out and swim 2.4 miles, then cycle 112 miles, followed immediately by running a marathon. But if you don't come away from hearing about the double amputee or the 70-something-year-old people competing tomorrow and NOT feel an urge to do everything you've ever wanted to do -- without an urge to simply LIVE more -- well, find a mirror and breathe on it...steam might not appear because you might already be dead.

 

One thing I can't figure out: How do these triathletes cut out the cookies and ice cream?

687 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: ironman, kona, jack, london

The front desk of the Hotel Life woke me with a start when I rode my bike to the office this morning. The last time I rode to work it was 3 degrees Fahrenheit, still nighttime dark and I was on a mountain bike with studded tires crunching through snow and ice along the Campbell Creek Trail in Anchorage, Alaska. Conditions for today's ride were much more conducive to performance save for one item: MY condition.

 

Guilted into riding by the young turks  on the consumer media team here at Active, scared to death by what looms on[ July 29|http://www.active.com/event_detail.cfm?event_id=1399347], and jealous of my friend and former coworker who was out riding the Russian Lakes Trail  on the Kenai Peninsula yesterday, I clipped into my road bike for the first time in at least two months. Not that it was a particularly difficult ridehalf an hour, just under 10 milesbut the realizations that came from being unable to hit the snooze button on this particular alarm were profound:

  • Cycling is a lot easier with 1,300 cubic centimeters of internal combustion built into the frame...my usual mode of commuting.

  • Not eating or drinking a thing before riding probably wasn't smart.

  • That final climb into the office park is a lot steeper than I thought.

  • I reached my granny gear a lot sooner than I expected.

  • There's no shame in walking.

  • Hallucinating was a lot more fun in college.

 

658 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: cycling, bike-commuting

Here we go...

Posted by Luke_Active Jun 27, 2007

The first thing I did after accepting an offer to join The Active Network was check out the 2007 schedule for my beloved Boston Red Sox. That I was in Anchorage, Alaska, at the time should go a long way to pointing out how big a stake the fortunes of this particular ballclub play in my life. As my best friend pointed out a few years ago--a married family man, I might add: "I'm always amazed at how much better life is when the Red Sox are winning."

 

I checked the Sox's schedule because I had a sneaking suspicion that the Boston nine might be playing their interleague games against the National League West division. A drive to LA from my soon-to-be new home in San Diego seemed a small price to pay; a weekend in San Francisco a delight. That there might be games half an hour down the road never entered my mind. And to have those games take place over a weekend? Perish the thought.

 

It happened this past weekend. My boys took two out of three, including a marquee pitcher's duel in an afternoon game on Sunday. But what was most interesting and entertaining about the weekend was the marked difference between Padres fans and Red Sox fans. And this is where we get into the SoCal bashing...er, observations.

 

Petco Park is a beautiful stadium. The San Diego Padres are a great baseball team. And the team with the best record in the Major Leaguesa team the Padres see only once every six years was in town. And yet, the ballpark was 70 percent (or more) Boston fans. Where were the hometown partisans? Every time a Padres fan appeared on the Jumbotron, he or she was flanked by at least three Sox fans. How is that possible? Were San Diego ticketholders just out to make a buck on the Boston invasion? Was the Deadheadesque influx of Red Sox Nation too intimidating? Are Padres fans just not that intense?

 

The couple three rows behind me on Saturday night was so into the game that she had earphones on (what could she have been listening to?) and was knitting. Every time I got up to cheer they were quick with a "Sit down!" Apparently they wanted to pay good money to act as though they were watching the game on TV.

 

Those were the most involved Pads fans I encountered all weekend.

 

Perhaps Dodger fans are differentthat team traces its roots back to Brooklyn, after allbut I wonder if it's a West Coast-East Coast thing? Is it just that teams out here haven't been around long enough for that insanity born of generational continuity to take root? Is it a lack of success--when West Coast teams win championships, will fans follow? I don't know about that: for every Laker fan there are 20 Southern Californians who don't even know that a team 30 miles down the I-5 freeway now holds the greatest trophy in sports (the Stanley Cup, for those SoCalies who are wondering). The California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels (the Spanish Angels Angels of a Different County?!) won the World Series but it's not like people are banging down the door to the Big A.

 

So, apart from the Lakers and perhaps the Dodgers, the question begs to be asked: What does it take to capture the attention of Southern California sports fans? Everyone in this sector of the country notices when a ditzy heiress with no redeeming value whatsoever gets sentenced to three weeks in jail, but when some of the best athletes in the world are practicing their trade in magnificent coliseums under cloudless skies right under the nose of tens of millions of Californians, all one hears are the cheers of those from elsewhere.

 

Talk about jaded.

617 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: baseball, boston-red-sox, san-diego-padres, major-league-baseball, los-angeles-lakers, anaheim-ducks, anaheim-angels

What was I thinking?

Posted by Luke_Active Jun 22, 2007

In a fit of -- What...Hubris? Stupidity? Dementia? -- I signed up for the Solana Beach triathlon this week.

 

Ever since watching the 2000 Olympic triathlon from Sydney (I was fortunate enough to have CBC on a satellite dish at the time so I enjoyed the entire event, not just snippets wedged in between pontificating by Bob Costas), I've thought, "Wow. That looks kinda cool." I can't conceive of doing an Ironman, mind you (that strikes me as a pure survival race), but the shorter-but-still-long-enough-to-be-silly Olympic distance seems strategic and tactical as well as fiercely physical. So this sprint-distance tri in the town I'm calling home is a good starting point.

 

The fact that it has a 40-plus Clydesdale division sealed the deal for me.

 

So on the morning of Sunday, July 29, I'm going to be wading into the water at Fletcher Cove with a horde of shaved-body Californians who own $6,000 bicycles and monitor their every calorie. I'll make a few concessions: I won't drink beer the night before. I WILL actually train over the next month, at least a little bit. And I won't wear a pair of surf trunks for the swim. Beyond that, I'm just gonna wing it. And midway through the run I'll start hearing Christine Lavin singing the song, "What Was I Thinking?!"

 

With apologies to Martin Dugard , my kicker line: Keep Puking.

612 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: triathlon, dugard, solana, beach, clydesdale, ironman

And they're off!

Posted by Luke_Active Jun 8, 2007

"Ask and ye shall receive," posits a wise old book. "Be careful what

you ask for," posits my wise old mother. In response to a call for

blogs, I offer this, an outsider's view of the sporting life in

Southern California.

 

No one can argue that SoCal is a sports mecca. The climate, the natural

surroundings, the obsession with physical appearance...it's a recipe

for a culture that takes its sports and recreation seriously. By the

same token, no one can argue that the SoCal take on sports can be a little,

well, different from that back in America. And from this vantage point

deep within the Active Network's command center, I should be able to

call out some of the silliness that Californians shrug off as normal

behavior.

 

It is my hope that this blog will be entertaining and, on rare

occasions when serendipity strikes, actually insightful. We'll see if I can pull it off...my

mother also told me to always set lofty goals.

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