Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Feet of Clay....

If you say someone you admire has "Feet of Clay" you're usually referring to the fact that that person has hidden faults or a character flaw.  The analogy actually goes back to the bible where Daniel interprets a dream had by the then current king of Babylon, Nebechadnezzar in which he saw a great statue who's feet were made of half iron and half clay. The premise being there was a large, heavy object with a brittle, unstable base.

Last night, as I watched the premier of The Levi Effect, knowing that he and a whole slew of professional riders had recently confessed to doping led to some very conflicting thoughts as I sat there in the theater.

There have been events and decisions in my life that I would not be proud of and while feeling fully justified at the time of their making, have regretted them later. I would love to say that in every instance when facing a decision, I've chosen the moral and ethical path, but that's not the case. I have always made those choices though, knowing that were they to come to light I would own up to them, but in my heart of hearts I always hoped they would just pass by without ever coming due.

I think its interesting that there has been such an outcry and villianization of the pro cyclists that were caught. And yes, the majority of them were "caught". Very few have actually confessed and came clean and most would probably have tried to hide their dirty little secret forever had not the anti-doping agencies, the government, the cycling bodies, whatever pursued them to the point that they had to confess.

I was struck last night as I thought about the whole doping issue that yes, all of the riders had a choice to make and need to be responsible for their own decisions.  BUT, it's really not as black and white as many of us would like to think. For us, who ride recreationally, it's easy to say we wouldn't have done it.  If it was our livelyhood though, and you had bills, a mortgage, a family to feed, whatever......would it be that easy to say no?

Take this same scenario to other sports where people have dedicated their lives to acheiving their position. Many, to the exclusion of school, learning a trade or developing a market-able skillset and put them in a position where in order to keep their jobs, feed their families or put a roof over their head and ask them what they would do?

It's easy for us to judge and condemn these people. We've put them up on a pedestal and made heroes of them. People we don't even know. People that are above all, human, frail, prone to err and when they do come crashing down for any variety of reasons we feel cheated and angry and want to make examples of them for their transgressions.

Did the cyclists use illegal and banned substances, yep.
Should they pay the penalty, yep
Did they damage the sport in some way, probably
Will a witch hunt and public flogging of them fix the sport? Not at all

Many say punishment is a deterrent to crime and I actually agree that if you think you'll get caught, you are less likely to commit a crime - after all, most criminal never think they'll get caught. But, I think that the doping issue is much bigger than just the users. I think that a society that rewards victory at all costs and an industry that promotes, condones and even makes excuses for illicit behavior like professional sports has done for years carries a large part of the responsibility for curing itself.
I imagine, had some of the cyclists attempted to take the high road, the same teams that so quickly dropped them and denied any knowledge would have replaced them with riders more willing to "do what it takes to win"

Like I said at the beginning of this post, the movie generated some conflicting thoughts and I haven't come up with any hard and fast answers, but something has to change.
I've also come to a few conclusions:
 - These are basically good, decent people that made bad choices in the pursuit of their dream
 - Many of these supposed "villians" have leveraged their fame and noteriety to do tremendously good things
 - It's not like taking a performance enhancing drug made their lives easier - they still worked their asses off and rode their bikes for hours and hours in all kinds of weather

Friday, October 19, 2012

Donner Lake Rim Trail.....

It's 4:30 am on Thursday and there's an annoying ringing in my ears....its not until I realize its the alarm and I shut it off that I I get to ride my mt bike! In Tahoe!!! with my friends!!!instead of going to work!!!

We've been trying to put together a Tahoe trip all summer and its just never quite worked out until this weekend.  Chris is off work and heading up, I have a bunch of vacation days I need to use or lose and Jerrry...well Jerry's retired and he can and does ride at every chance.

By 5:30 I'm ready and standing at the window looking for Jerry's van.  Ok, maybe I 'm a little excited.  My wife, my kids and most of my friends are working today and I'm going to be in Tahoe riding my mountain bike....what could be better than that?

The drive up goes smoothly, except for the part where Jerry forgets to put his FastPass on the dash going over the bridge.  Yep, there's a ticket in his future, but I guess its better him than me...yeah, I'm selfish like that.

Soon enough we're pulling in to the Tahoe Donner community and from there into Chris' driveway.  I love how my friends tell me they have cabins in the mountains only to find when I arrive that this is no cabin.  It's a house in a really pretty setting.  His place is really nice. 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, hot running water, indoor toilets, and a high speed internet connection....evidently I need to adjust my definition of the word "cabin".

Chris had an amazing breakfast waiting for us with bacon and blackberry pancakes and fresh ground coffee....I'm guessing he didn't want us running out of gas on our ride today.
One of the coolest parts of today's ride was the fact that it was going to start and end at his house.  There would be no loading up and driving to the trailhead, we would go from his front porch to pedaling.  Not a bad deal at all.

First we rode over to the equestrian center/bike shop but, as expected, they were already closed for the season.  From there we headed up the road to the trailhead and began to climb.  The downside to living at sea-level and heading to Tahoe for a quick couple of days is that there's no time to acclimate.  We went from 0 to 7000 ft and my lungs were definitely feeling the effects.
 The first climb is a loose, rocky, dusty fireroad that at some points actually forced me off the bike.  It's not that it was just steep, and it was, it was also this loose, rocky decomposed granite that provided no traction whatsoever.  (yes, that's the story I'm going with although you'll note I already mentioned how much my lungs were suffering)
Once we got to the top, the fun really begins.  The next half hour was an amazing single track journey down through the trees winding our way through and along the canyon to the bottom where things leveled out.   The next section was mostly level with some up and down, a couple bridge crossings and a few sections of fire road.

It was a perfect day.  Weather was cool, but not cold and my choice of a lightweight, long sleeve jersey proved to be perfect.

Eventually, the road turned up again and once again became a loose, rocky, lung-busting climb.  At several points along this climb, staying in the saddle and red-lining, with my lungs crying for mercy, I was wondering if I was burning matches I was going to need later. Thinking that I'd just have to pay that bill when it came due, I put my head down and concentrated on making the pedals go round and round.

As we reached the top and pulled up to Summit lake I was overwhelmed by just how perfect today was turning out.  What could be better than spending a day with two good friends, riding great trails and stopping for lunch at one of the most scenic places I've ever seen?

It was here that a decision needed to be made. We had started the day without a real plan other than riding up to Summit Lake.  From there, we had talked about either continuing on or finding a different way back but hadn't really thought too far beyond that.

After eating our PB&J sandwiches, trail mix and cookies, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that a nap sounded better than getting back on the bike.  The dark clouds coming our way discouraged that idea and also helped confirm our decision to head back the way we had come and towards the ice chest full of beers sitting on Chris' porch.

The loose, rocky climb that hurt so much on the way in, was now a loose rocky descent which, although less painful, was still a bit of a challenge.  Traction was sketchy and the descent required our full attention.  Once that was over though, the ride back along the fire roads and singletrack to the bottom of the canyon went by way too quickly and soon enough we were faced with climbing the long downhill we had enjoyed so much just a couple of hours before.

Its interesting in that we were actually talking about this climb at lunch and saying at least its a long moderate climb and not very steep.  Funny how your perspective changes when you're going up a hill instead of down, this was turning in to a serious climb.  The narrow singletrack, the switchbacks and the elevation were all combining to push me well into the red zone and it wasn't too long before I was soaked.  Mostly from sweat and but also from the sprinkles that had started falling from dark clouds looming above us.
As all things do, the climb eventually came to an end as did the showers and we were able to enjoy a nice long downhill to the bottom.  At some point I realized I was having a blast but was completely alone.  Pulling to the side, I waited.....and waited....and finally, not wanting to, but without any other choice, I began again climbing the hill I had just come down and had climbed earlier in the day.

As I came to the first major intersection and the last place I remember seeing anyone behind me I stopped and started to dial Jerry or Chris' cell number.  Just as I began though, Chris pulled up and explained that he had pulled over earlier when he realized we had lost Jerry.  After much deliberation, we continued to the bottom and the road thinking he was just on a different path but should end up in the same

The next hour was spent playing phone tag, trying to talk Jerry back on to our route and finally deciding to head back up the trail to meet him.  Once regrouped, we continued down a different route which turned out to be a really good twist since it took us through a stand of Aspens that were in all their Fall glory....

Soon enough we were back in the neighborhood, then back on the porch and enjoying an ice cold beverage.

Total for the day was about 20 miles and 3500ft of climbing - we definitely weren't breaking any speed records, but that wasn't our goal and the fun and beauty points more than made up for it.

 - video from the day

Sunday, October 7, 2012

I was THAT kid....

This thought continued to run through my mind with every bike I put into the clamp of my workstand this past Sunday. The only difference was I didn't have this resource.

The TurningWheels for Kids Tri-Valley chapter held our first ever Free Bike Clinic in Livermore last Sunday. And, although it was over 100 degrees, we still had over 30 volunteers show up to help us fix 60 bikes.

As a kid growing up with a single parent who was doing his best just to get by, there was a good portion of my childhood where we didn't have money for a bike. Most of the time, I just did without and when I did get a bike, it was either one that someone had grown out of or a friend of the family had found, fixed up and given to me.

I can remember one instance in particular when I had just moved back in with my dad after a period living with my aunt and uncle. We lived in San Jose in the early 70s, BMX was just starting to take off and several of my new friends had converted their stingrays to bmx bikes by taking off the banana seat and the high rise bars and putting on an old 10 speed seat and some bmx bars.

I was so excited when one day after work my dad walked in to the apartment with some junk pile find and the promise that we'd fix it up just like "one of those fancy bmx bikes". That excitement eventually dimmed as Saturday after Saturday there it sat on the patio waiting for him to keep his promise.

Its memories like these and my later passion for biking that first got me involved with TurningWheels for Kids. Too often, for reasons beyond their control, kids today don't get to experience the liberation and freedom that comes with owning a bicycle.  And they pay for it in ways that will affect them the rest of their lives. In addition to never being able to experience the joy of the wind in their face, we've got a generation of kids growing up with ever increasing obesity rates, diabetes issues, health problems and an attitude of laziness from being shuttled and chauffeured everywhere they need to go.

As we were setting up our pop-ups and organizing ourselves and our tools, I noticed a kid out on the curb looking at us and I could almost imagine the thoughts going through his it really free? what if they ask me to pay? What if the labor is free but I have to pay for parts? As we waived him forward he came tentatively, broken bike and the flier we had passed out at his school in hand...soon enough though, he was smiling and happy as one of the teams loaded his bike into the repair stand and began to get it back up and running.

As the day wore on, and the kids kept coming, I heard the same story told over and over again only in different voices..."yeah, I used to ride it everywhere but then I got a flat, my pedal broke, my brakes quit working, my handlebar came loose, etc, etc....."
For the majority of the bikes, the issues started out as minor fixes but turned into bigger jobs as a result of sitting un-ridden in a yard somewhere.

I actually spent a couple hours in the afternoon with what was obviously a hard-ridden, low budget bike in my stand. The wheels were so bent it barely rolled and brake pads so worn that if you did get it going there was no way you were going to stop. As I worked on it for a guy not that much younger than me, I kept thinking, "why doesn't he just break down, pony up the 100 bucks this thing cost and buy a new bike? It was only when he came over and said, "are you going to be able to fix it? I have to ride it to work tomorrow" that the reality check kicked in.....I spent more on my recent set of pedals than this guy has invested in his daily transportation.....yes, I admit it, I really do forget sometimes just how blessed I am.

Eventually, as the afternoon came to close and the last of the bike stands were folded up and put away I looked around. Everywhere on the faces of our group of volunteers, along with the dirty hands, greae stained clothes and tired eyes was something else...something more...something real....there were smiles. There were looks of attitude of having done something worthwhile....of something good....

To a person, every single volunteer said, "that was a great experience, when are we doing it again?"
 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’