Delightful Reading for Writers

August 30th, 2015

The long evenings of summertime are a special treat during the weekend because my favorite way to relax after a day of ninja gardening or vigorous hiking or biking is to stretch out on my chaise lounge in our natural backyard habitat for a couple of hours of escape through reading. My well-stocked Kindle is truly my best friend when it comes to winding down.

From Amazon

The Little Paris Bookshop

Before the vacation season is over, I want to recommend two books that will be particularly appealing to writers. First, I was totally enchanted by the literary, romantic, travel and philosophical warmth woven through The Little Paris Bookshop, operating (fictionally) on a big, old floating barge. Besides a delicious story with compelling plot twists, pages at the back contain recipes from the region in France where much of the book took place. Following that you’ll find a list of “reading prescriptions” to suit the needs of a human soul — and this book suits just about all.

Amazon cover

Defining the Wind

Second, I believe it was a writing colleague who recommended I read Defining the Wind: The Beaufort Scale and How a 19th-Century Admiral Turned Science into Poetry. The book’s author is a journalist who became obsessed with the life and times of a man who used his keen observational skills, artistic ability, compulsion to categorize, and concise writing to describe what ship captains would find on entering the harbors he visited at the height of Great Britain’s sea explorations. I’ve just started it and it’s clear this book will become a special favorite.

Travel to South America Through Photos

April 23rd, 2015
Dan and Liz on Glacier Gray

Dan and Liz on Glacier Gray

Dan and I took two weeks to trek and hike near the ice fields and granite towers in the Andes of Chile and Argentina’s Patagonia National Park. Our final week was warming up on the beaches of Uruguay near Montevideo and Punta Este. It was very difficult to select the best of over 1200 photos between the two of us, but here are four password-free albums we hope you’ll enjoy.

Slideshow mode is hidden in the drop down arrow at top right of the initial view. Click Slideshow to read our travel story in photo captions.

Patagonia Trekking
Glacier Grey
Trekking Argentina’s Patagonia
Uruguay and Buenos Aires

60 Mile Loop – Am I Ready?

September 19th, 2014

Tomorrow (9/20/14), Dan and I will ride the medium distance loop of the Veterans Victory Velo (V3) fund raiser. Sixty miles is farther than I have ever ridden on my road bike so far. The hilly 52-mile route I did a month ago didn’t trash me, so I’m not too worried.

2014 has been a great year of advancements for me, especially when I look back at my prior bike-related posts.

My off-bike workouts have evolved

I’ve made some adjustments in the gym based on what I’m reading online and what I’m hearing and seeing when I ride with others. It must be working because on routes with lots of uphill climbing, I manage to keep up with fit-looking guys near the front of the pack who want to know how many gears I have on my bike and how I’m training.

  • Hip flexors: I added incline sit ups performed without curving my spine.
  • Upper glutes: I recently added straight leg dead lifts with a light bar bell because I tend to get a burning tiredness in that area.
  • Low back, side waist and abdomen: I do “torso curls” in every direction. I used to skip these but I’ve found that engaging my core on the bike really gives me a stability and efficiency boost.
  • Quads and hamstrings: I continue to rely on balance lunges (front-to-back without touching down in between.) These are great for preventing soreness and maintaining core, balance and strength year-round.

Less death grip on the handlebars

When I feel comfortable with the traffic and roadway, I am able to grab a drink of water, do turn signals, swipe at my wind-caused tears and scratch my nose! That has taken a long time. But on long, steep downhills, my hands feel so stressed by the weight of my torso and constant braking that I feel off-balance, and then I brake even more.  (Fortunately the V3 route map shows easy hills so I shouldn’t drop too far behind Dan’s pace line pack.)

Managing an erratic heart rate

This has been tricky. During early season rides, I’d check my heart rate monitor after a hard effort and see numbers as high as 225! I did not feel awful or overly breathless, but I was concerned.

Two tricks seem to be keeping my heart beat at more reasonable levels (160-185 max when working hard). I learned if I pull over and take a 2-minute rest by the roadside I can “reboot” it back into normal ranges for the rest of the ride. Which means the pack will indeed leave me behind. The last two rides, I decreased my pre-ride coffee intake to no more than 5-6 ounces and my heart rate behaved very well. I’ve always been overstimulated by caffeine.

Planning for 5-6 hours of fuel and hydration

I’ve never bonked on a long ride (up to 3  hours so far), but that doesn’t mean I am immune. With help from Dan and some biker friends, I’m daring to go off the Zone diet on bike days to avoid that. I have had leg cramps at a stop light, and jumped out of bed with horrendously painful calf cramps two times in the past week.

If I’m really serious about getting enough water tomorrow, I’ll wear my bulky Camelback to make sure I sip water every 15 minutes–saving the bottle mounted to my bike frame for chugging electrolytes at stop lights. I’ll pack spare tablets to add at the rest stop refills. High-carb snacks on the list are Cliff Blocks, Cliff Bars and Beans.

Skills that will come in handy someday if not tomorrow

After swearing I’d NEVER be comfortable drafting in a pace line, I have experienced the benefits a few times this summer. I sometimes dare to get my front wheel close enough to see what gear the person ahead is using, but I can’t sustain it for very long. What an incentive, though! That brief respite from leg effort is a dangling carrot I’m now determined to pursue whenever possible.

I continue to be slow on most down hills, though I’ve upped my maximum historic speed to 32 mph. I brake before almost all corners because I don’t trust centrifugal force enough to relax and tip the bike. I need lots more experience doing the nimble weight transitions that result in fast back-to-back S-curves. I’m not even that good making tight-radius turns on the flats.

V3 here I come. Wish me luck!

Local Rite of Passage and a Biking Milestone

July 19th, 2014

Every weekend is another opportunity to test my legs and lungs.

Road cyclists who live in the East Bay area of Northern California like to test their fitness and skill  by riding up and down Mount Diablo. It’s 3,848 feet high, and on a clear day, you can see the Sierra Nevada range across the Central Valley from its peak. A year ago, I swore I’d never ride on that curvy road with its long climb up and fast ride down. This is big time biking: it’s part of the Amgen Tour of California every year.

Mt. Diablo

Mt. Diablo

But there I was with Dan and my fellow Team Chevron riders on a foggy morning in July. We headed east and began to climb. I was worried on the ascent because I had no experience with a long climb like that. How much is in the tank? What if I can’t make the pedals go around?

I was relieved to make my objective for this first time, the junction of South Gate with North Gate roads. I was proud and jubilant! After a brief rest, I watched just about every body else head up for the final third of the climb, which culminates in a brutally steep but short strech to the very top. After supporting me as I made my first (partial) ascent up the hill, Dan rode away with them.

Aftermath of success.

Aftermath of success.

On the long descent, I tried not to brake continuously, but my hands did get tired and I stopped to shake out my arms at a pull out. I was alone except for the two or three guys who whizzed past me.

The following weekend, as Dan joined Team Chevron on a 35-mile loop that included Altamont and Patterson Passes, I was eager to check my progress on something I’d ridden after only 4 months on my new bike a year ago, the hills on Calaveras Road.  I rode the full 32-mile route on my own (with lots of company from bikers I didn’t know). In solidarity with Dan’s harder ride, I also biked the steep hill at the end, which I’d skipped last year.

Braking down that hill felt stressful, and I confess I got off and walked down the S-curve.It’s a struggle to get my fingertips out that far to squeeze the brakes, and the weight on my hands and stress on my thumb is considerable. I think I need to add another pair of shims to bring the brake levers closer.

On the ride back, I practiced banked turns on the curves, standing on the pedals to pass people for the few uphills, and getting into the drops.  I felt amazingly good. I rewarded myself with Ooie Gooie chocolate cake as soon as I got home!

Finally Old Enough for the Draft

June 2nd, 2014

FBPostWith over 1700 miles logged, it’s time to share my latest biking revelations. I didn’t dare hope for this so soon, but my Year of Fear is gradually fading from memory. These days I even dare to brag in Facebook.

My main goal last year was to desensitize myself to the intimidating aspects of riding on streets next to fast-moving cars. I still have plenty of skills to master: hand signals, drinking from my water bottle, and fast cornering. But these weren’t at all approachable with my whole body tightened up with tension. I don’t know how many times I had to remind myself, “Don’t strangle the handlebars!” “Quit hunching!” “Pretend you’re relaxed!” (helpful to my skate students). I know it’s not safe to get too relaxed in the face of these dangers, so lately I’ve had to add “Pay attention, be here now!” when I notice I’m daydreaming.

As 2013 saw the shorter days of fall, I returned to my favorite morning spin class. The noise has always bothered me. I made the mistake of researching the issue of ear damage caused by the high decibels so common in group exercise classes.  When I learned typical music volume matches that of a chainsaw, my attitude began to sour. After two more classes trying out ridiculous-looking ear protection, I finally vowed, “No more indoors spinning for me!”

It’s not so bad riding at near-freezing temps. I learned that layering up in a neck gaitor, extra gloves, and fleece tights and vest works just fine for cold-weather commuting. When the days were at their shortest, I was still able to get just enough daylight before and after work to be safe, attaching a flasher to my handlebars and saddle for extra visibility. Once it became light enough, I found an hour-long morning commute I’m still enjoying this summer. It has a very wide bike path where I can safely practice lifting my hands off the handlebars and drinking from my water bottle. The route also has several long hills, both up and down, where I work on efficient shifting and try hard to resist braking on the fast descents.

Bike2Work2014LiznDanThe best indicator of my 2014 biking progress is that Dan and I are now riding together on the weekends. He’s shown me many of his favorite routes and for the most part, I am able to keep up. In the past few weeks, we have completed two 30+ rides with Team Chevron. (Thus my Facebook brag above.)

Riding behind Dan last weekend, I found myself thinking, “Why isn’t he pedaling harder? I’m gonna have to pass him! Those two guys up ahead are going to leave us in the dust!” And then I realized what was happening: I was drafting! I’ve always sworn I would never feel safe enough to get that close (and I never did on inline skates). But 25-30 miles into a long ride where I’m trying desperately not to be dropped by “the big boys,” my legs don’t care about my fears. I never realized how nice it could be to spend a few moments soft pedaling while the burn in my muscles gets a chance to subside. And actually, our wheels weren’t that close, just close enough.

And that’s where I am now:  just close enough to taste the bright future promised by my sexagenarian fitness program.

My Spin Class Strategies for Road Biking

December 21st, 2013

Last February, I still had my doubts about being worthy of the expensive racing bike Dan got me for Christmas, especially after The Big Crash. But my bike riding skills and confidence slowly continued to improve as the year and miles (1200+ so far) progressed. In late summer, I finally had to admit that the feeling of terror that dominated most rides had evolved to one of FUN!

DVFitSpin

Now, holiday commitments, the ski season, loss of daylight and unfriendly weather make time on the bike difficult to fit in, so I’m back to Spin classes. The outdoor riding fantasies that get me through that intense two hours every week often result in drills and experiments to address issues I experience on the road.

Here are my strategies. Feel free to comment!

  • Remember that Spin class is about fitness, not road-cycling.  The instructor’s training plan and hand and body positions will not always apply to riding a road bike in the real world.
  • Be realistic with RPMs. I realize the slow “walking” pace in spin class is geared towards building endurance, but I try to avoid that on the road.  The indoors advantage is that I can get a feel for my real-world RPMs from the Spin computers. Since it’s pointless to shoot for 150+ RPMs during sprints like some competitive folks in class do, I try to see how many watts I can generate by gradually adding resistance.
  • Study avid road cyclists I’ve befriended. Where does Jimmy put his hands when he’s standing? When does the other Jim diverge from the instructor’s recommended tempos?
  • Get a more efficient stroke (because fitness isn’t enough). After being challenged for falling behind, I figured out I only “turn on the after burners” (pull up on the pedals) to catch up or at the beginning of a hill. As with inline skating, biking power and efficiency have to be learned and practiced in order to become habitual. During spin class, I now try to incorporate my pulling muscles both seated and standing.
  • Standing and the female center of gravity. I Spin where I can check the mirror directly to my left. When it comes to pedaling while standing, I still don’t have a groove. When I try to lean forward as suggested, my power to the pedals feels off balance. Then this timely article, Are Women’s Body Proportions Different From Men’s? showed up on womenscycling.ca. I learned my center of gravity is in my thoracic area rather than my low back. Now I think I need to think less and feel more to master this skill. (But I look perfect in the Spin class mirror!)

My enduring enthusiasm and inclination to analyze make it clear that I’m very happy I decided to take up this new sport in my 6th decade of life. I see many more years of riding ahead!

 

Our Excellent Active New Zealand Adventure

September 29th, 2013

To celebrate our 30th anniversary, Dan and I decided it would be cool to take a summer ski vacation, so we scheduled a visit to New Zealand from August 13 through September 5, 2013. Per Dan’s well-planned but flexible itinerary, we followed the ski trip with sight seeing, hiking and wine tasting on the South Island, and a brief stay in Auckland.

As you’ll see from the albums (a combination of our best photos), New Zealand is a gorgeous country, especially for outdoorsy, adventurous types.

  • The montage link shows the whole album on a scrollable page in Google+.
  • Click any photo on the page to see it enlarged with a caption.
  • Click Slideshow below, then the enlarged photo’s Slideshow link  to follow our journey hands-free.
 Dan skiing at Treble Cone   NZ Skiing Album – Montage or Slideshow

Our Ski Safari was in the New Zealand Southern Alps. The snow and skiing conditions were marginal, but guide Burto and our group of 11 kept things interesting (new love, disgruntled room mates, hangovers, and a noisy tryst in a hostel with paper-thin walls).
 Milford Sound  

NZ Milford Sound – Montage or Slideshow

On our ski rest day, some of us joined a day trip from Queenstown to the famous Milford Sound, starting off with a bus tour, and then taking a ferry west to where the sound meets the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand.

 NZ Kaikoura   NZ Kaikoura Hike and Fur Seals – Montage or Slideshow

After skiing, we rented a car and drove up the coast to Kaikoura, a gem on the Pacific where hikers are rewarded with stupendous views of nature, sea wildlife, and peacefully grazing livestock.
 
 NZ wine country  
NZ Wine Region – Montage or Slideshow

Further up the east coast we stopped for a couple days to visit the wineries of the Marlborough region, famous for its Sauvignon Blanc. I loved our bike ride through the vineyards and was glad to survive our day-long tasting tour.

 NZ Queen Charlotte   NZ Queen Charlotte Sound – Montage or Slideshow
Next stop was Picton, our launching point for a 3-day hike on the ridges overlooking Queen Charlotte Sound, made famous by Captain Cook as an R&R stop. The hiking and accommodations were great, though we had to take a water taxi and miss out on kayaking due to winter weather.
 NZ Driving tour   NZ Drive/Hike Northern Mountains – Montage or Slideshow

We took the scenic route (aka “Divorce Drive”) to Nelson for an overnight stay, bought the best kiwis ever, then made a loop through the beautiful mountains, enjoying scenic hikes along the way.
 
 NZ Auckland   NZ Auckland – Montage or Slideshow

We spent three days in Auckland, just enough time to explore downtown, hike on an island formed by a volcano 600 years ago, explore a museum, and dine elegantly to celebrate the end of a great trip.
 NZCool   NZ Cool – Montage or Slideshow

Just a few final shots of things that impressed me about New Zealand.

Downhill Skate Adventure in the Eastern Sierra

August 10th, 2013
WARNING TO DECENT PEOPLE! Read no further. This piece is not for you. There are f-bombs all over this piece ‘coz that’s the way I f-bombin’ talk. [And retelling such an adventure almost requires it to capture the intensity of feelings! — Liz]

 by George Merkert

I was psyched when I read Scott Peer’s mail asking whether I wanted to head up to the Eastern Sierra for a little skate with him and a couple of his other downhill skater pals.

All I could think was, “Hell yes. I’ll skate it for sure.”

Also, since I was gonna turn 62 in a couple days, I was eager for maximum fun at all times. Real glad I’d been doing those Tabatas too but I’ll tell you why on that later.

First stop on Friday night was Nine Mile Canyon above Ridgecrest, California. I ain’t no whiner, OK? But Nine Mile Canyon has a good name if you want to figure out how far you skated but what it makes up for in name it lacks in thrill. Sorta steep but no braking turns to speak of and inline downhill guys like me like the challenge of having to brake hard, choose the right line, contend with skidding and get that, “I just fuckin’ hammered it!” feeling when you make it through a turn fast and pretty.

So, all in all, Nine Mile Road was a pedestrian beginning to what I’d hoped would be a rapturous 4 day roll down hills on skates …

Anyhow, we rolled down Nine Mile Canyon twice. I labelled the second run “2/3 of Nine Mile Canyon” on my Strava just to make sure everyone got what I was talkin’ about, see?

So just because you probably don’t know what inline downhill is I’m gonna tell you. It’s like a mashup of NASCAR and ski racing except that instead of skis you wear inline skates and instead of sliding down snow covered ski slopes you roll down paved mountain roads and instead of being surrounded by a metal cage your body has a sixteenth of an inch of leather or maybe nothing at all insulating it from the asphalt and instead of gasoline pushing you gravity pulls you down hill. Also, when you fall while skating down hill you slide a lot less than you do when you fall when you’re skiing.

Now I’m not sayin’ I’m brave and I’m not sayin’ I’m scared of a whole lot either but there were some big ass cracks in the pavement and it was almost dark by the time we got to Onion Valley Road on Friday evening. Some of the cracks were full of pothole filler and some were partially full of grass and some were full of nothin’ and I could barely see any of ’em.

My brand new Gravity Master inline skate brakes –– invented by my downhill skater pal and fellow traveler on this very adventure Craig Ellis –– are super effective but, I’m tellin’ you, it was dark. And I was a little afraid (OK. There. I said it) that I might find out too late that two inch wide cracks every 15 feet for three miles might rip the brake pads right off and leave me rollin’ over the edge of forever or, worse, slamming to a quick stop at the foot of an unsympathetic guard rail.

I’d skated Onion Valley Road 10 years ago before Gravity Masters were invented. In that era I used wheels-only braking techniques which basically means skidding in different ways to slow down but mostly snow plowing. It was terrifying.

This screen capture of a Roller Derby babe (see video here) gives you a good idea of what a snowplow on skates looks like from behind.

So, I sat out while Scott Peer and our skateboard pal Ian Thompson –– who on this trip was the main brain when it came to knowing where to find cool descents in the Eastern Sierra –– hammered the lower reaches of Onion Valley Road.

But we’d come back to this stretch of Onion Valley Road in the High Sierra above Independence, California later in this adventure and the outcome would be different …

I was all worried and shit about rain when I got outa bed on Saturday. But me and my pal Scott headed out for Mammoth Crest with ski boards lashed to our packs anyway. After hiking for four and a half miles we found what was left of V Glacier hiding under a rock cliff at 10,500 feet.

It was a sad thing to behold. What used to be not a mighty glacier but a respectable patch of snow and ice has become a quarter mile of soft stuff. Don’t get me wrong. I was sorry I’d forgotten my crampons because climbing straight up it still required kicking toe holds in the snow with ski boots and standing on the top edge where the snow nearly butted up against the rock cliff was still gnarly.

At the top there was a crack between the snow and the rock of about 6 inches to a foot wide that you really didn’t want to slip into. And getting up to that crack was plenty steep so that if you fell you’d for sure slide real fast into the sharp rocks in the moraine at the bottom of the snow patch unless you did an awesome self arrest with ski poles or something.

Later on, while hiking through the moraine after we were done skiing, Scott DID fall onto a sharp ass rock and even though he bruised ribs, leg and ankle he skated the next day. Scott’s a tough guy.

So, up at the top of the glacier I was real careful when I kicked out a flat spot so I could put my ski boards on. Real careful.

I skied slowly out onto the snow to set up my first turn. Holy shit! It was steep, man.

I stopped to reassess.

Scott Peer said, “How long since you skied? Last time we hike/skied summer before last?”

“Uhhhh. Yeah,” I said.

“Well, nothin’ about this is a warm up run so be careful.”

“Uhhhhh … OK,” I said, and made a jump turn. The little ski boards spun like a hard thrown yoyo and I found myself falling over the tips right onto my fa … No! I pulled it out and stayed upright on those little skis. Tried not to lean forward so far on the rest of my turns and it worked out.

Scott Peer made 8 quick turns with aplomb and scampered back up V Glacier for another set.

I got another run to Scott’s three additional and then we hiked back down to civilization.

Very civilized civilization.

Nearly snoozing in the jacuzzi at Craig’s condominium complex, I woke up when two women jumped into the jacuzzi with me. Thirty minutes later I had a new business associate who’ll probably wind up helping us with our Thai elephant project but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

While Scott and I were hiking and skiing on Saturday Ian played golf with a college woman ranked 6th in the NCAA.

“Hardly any women can drive a golf ball further than me but she did,” Ian said.

Like I said, this was a very civilized adventure.

And take no offense, Ian! I’m not calling you civilized. You’re the least civilized golfer I know definitely. And you’re definitely the only guy I know who habitually whacks golf balls into the bottomless canyons off the top of our dh skate routes.

You’re still Mr. Nuclear to me.

Meanwhile, Craig was lapping Minaret Road using the mountain bike bus and Lake Mary Road using that faux SF cable car on wheels that hauls tourists around.

Besides Lausanne and Mammoth Lakes, California, I don’t know of any other city in the world in which you can use public transit to lap downhill skate routes.

Craig’s salt and pepper hair, lean frame and red leathers make him a colorful character. He also gets out in the streets where people can notice him. He entertained other mass transit patrons with 33 miles of downhill skating inside Mammoth Lakes city limits on Saturday.

While skating his dh marathon plus seven miles Craig met up with a 15 year old skateboard kid who was also lapping Minaret Road using the bus. Kid was way impressed when he learned that Craig is pals with James Kelly who is the 2012 Downhill Skateboard World Cup Champion.

After he finished playing another round of golf on Sunday morning early, Ian had us rolling down Tioga Pass by 11am.

You feel exposed on Tioga Pass because the road crawls along the side of several massive rock faces. A trip off the cliff side of the road would be an airy deal for sure.

It’s steep and fast but the turns aren’t very challenging so though we rolled fast and free I’ll rush back to Tioga Pass the next time for the view and not for the downhill skating experience.

Next up is a place I’ll head back to to skate at first opportunity, though. Before I tell you it’s name imagine ski racing down Tuckerman Ravine Trail. It’s steep, turny, narrow, filled with uphill traffic and highly illegal.

So that’s what skating down Sonora Pass east side is like. Especially the steep and turny part. The uphill traffic on Sonora Pass is cars and trucks instead of hikers like on Tuckerman Ravine Trail. The occasional sheriff or CHP you see on Sonora Pass reminds you about the illegal part.

On the drive up we stopped to marvel twice. Once was just as we started up the pass. There was one of those yellow traffic signs with a black icon of a truck slanting up at a hairy angle and saying, “26%”.

You can no sweat ski backwards down a 26% grade but on inline skates or a skateboard 26% is as gnarly as skiing on a slope steep enough that you can reach out and touch it with your hand without bending your knees.

We all laughed nervously except for me (‘coz I was the only one who wasn’t scared) and got back into Craig’s Lexus SUV which vehicle I recommend highly for downhill skating adventures.

The second time we stopped to marvel was at a chicane so steep that it made everyone (except me) choke with fear. The first of the two turns bent to the right and the second, with exactly 0 feet of distance between it and the first turn, bent hard to the left.

Both turns were so steep that we knew instantly that these two turns were on the 26% grade that the sign at the bottom of the hill warned about.

While we drove on up the pass above the chicane we looked for a landmark, road sign, change in the road surface, change of scenery … something to warn us of when we were about to enter this gnarly set of turns on the descent.

Ian said all cheerful-like, “Don’t worry. You’ll know when you’re in it.”

Thanks two fuck-loads for that useful advice, Ian. ‘Coz if we don’t know BEFORE we’re in the turns so we can slow way the hell down we’re not gonna BE in ’em at all for very long. Good thing there are giant bushes with whip tentacles alongside the road in those turns. That way skaters can’t avoid being punished for making a bad turn.

So, we got to the top of the route and took a fast roll down the west side of the pass just to check it out. Ian assured us that we could dare to skate it without scouting it first and he was right. It was steep but not too turny.

Back at the top of Sonora Pass again and ready to skate down the eastern slope of it we all listened to Ian’s advice.

“Steep and straight as hell at the top, boys. Then you got a right hand sweeper. You’ll roll 50 plus easy. Gotta go slower than that on the turn. All I can say is control your speed.”

In business I call those moments when you don’t have enough information but you gotta make a decision anyway “gulp and go” moments.

We gulped (well, everyone except me gulped ‘coz I wasn’t scared) and went.

I rolled out first and did what I thought was a hell of a good job controlling my speed. Craig Ellis, inventor and most experienced user of Gravity Master brakes, thought I wasn’t trusting my brakes enough. He shot past me like a German Shepherd chasing a rabbit and started to disappear into the future.

I wasn’t havin’ it.

I tucked up tight and rolled down the straightaway faster than I was comfortable rolling on this steep turny route the first time I’d ever skated it. I started to reel Craig in and felt good about it too.

I rolled up on Craig and got within a single digit number of feet behind him when all of a sudden I was in that chicane with a 26% pitch and rollin’ WAY TOO FAST!

I panicked and hit the right brake as hard as I could and steered it through the turn.

Without any time to think about what I was doing I slammed on the left brake and steered it through the left hand turn.

Suddenly, at the exit of the second turn I was comfortable again.

That is, until I saw Scott Peer passing me on the left side in a tight tuck and Craig disappearing ahead of me again.

I tucked up tight and tried to track ’em down but it was too late. They were gone.

I hadn’t used Craig’s Gravity Master brakes enough to know that even on a 26% slope you don’t have to use all of their potential to slow you down enough to turn safely. In panic mode I’d braked three or four times harder than I’d actually needed to.

So both Craig and Scott got away from me, goddammit.

So call me a shill if you dare but Gravity Masters change the game. I’ve been terrified plenty enough times on steep, gnarly routes in the Alps, Rockies and Sierras. I like the security of having too much braking power.

We didn’t see Craig for a long time after that. We thought he might be in the ditch and so drove up and down the hill a couple times looking for his body.

Came to find out that he’d skitched a motorcycle up an uphill section of the route that we were convinced was so long that he wouldn’t skate up it in his leathers. So, we didn’t search for him beyond that point even though after the uphill section there’s a couple more miles of downhill left before you get to the floor of the Owens Valley.

After letting the motorcycle pull him up the uphill section, Craig had rolled all the way down to the Marine Corps Winter Training Camp.

When we finally found him we gave Craig shit ‘coz we were lovin’ his Lexus and his Gravity Masters.

We found some speed down Monitor Pass east side too. Monitor is fast and straight.

On one of the long straights on that route I lined up on Scott from about 100 feet behind him with the lowest tuck I could force myself into.

I roll faster than him on straights anyway because I’m way heavier than he is but when I caught Scott’s draft it was like being shot from a cannon.

Not that I mix metaphors except when I have to but I bet that when I passed him Scott felt just like he did that time he was hitchhiking on the freeway and a Greyhound whooshed by and spun him around.

The pitch of the road stayed steep and I kept my tightest tuck on. All those Tabata intervals paid off ‘coz I was able to hold a tight tuck without losing leg strength for much longer than I could have only a few months ago. Maybe those sets of high rep squats played a role too. (http://tabatatraining.org/)

Any which way you look at it tucking tight on a steep slope makes speed, ok?

Next thing I knew my long, six wheel skates were wandering all over the road. I shifted my weight back a little ‘coz that’s the cure for high speed wobbles.

My skates kept wandering.

Holy shit! I’d found the speed limit for these Cado Modus Pro Downhill inline skate frames (designed by Dave Lambert and Craig Ellis). I never thought I’d find a limit to how fast these frames could roll without wobbles but there it was.

Now every move had to be the right move. The wind was strong and gusting and the thought of crashing at that speed made me cold inside.

Veeeeerrrry slowly I straightened my back a little. A gust blew me towards the yellow line. Veeeerrrry slowly I steered back toward the center of the right hand lane.

When I opened my hands I felt the air catch them and jerk me back a little but I was ready for it and adjusted my fore/aft balance to compensate.

As the air pressured each newly exposed part of my body as I stood up I slowed considerably. Soon the wobs went away and I rolled it out.

At the bottom of the hill Scott and I compared GPS data. Scott’s Garmin said he’d topped out at 50mph plus a little.

My Strava said I’d topped out at 61.3mph.

That’s too big a disparity to discount without explanation and I gotta believe that Scott’s Garmin has better circuitry in it than the GPS in my iPhone.

However, I did find the top speed of my Pro Downhill skate frames which is very fast. And I did get one hell of a slingshot off of Scott in a steep straightaway.

But I’m still not gonna put 60mph on my business card like Barbie Bont does because in both our cases it wouldn’t be true.

I’ll claim 55mph, though, and maybe a little more. How about 58?

Monday morning we flew down Lower Rock Creek twice, Pine Creek Canyon (which is a box canyon with thousand foot high cliffs with so many confusing crags and cracks and irregular shapes that it makes you dizzy if you stare at ’em too long) and then headed for Onion Valley Road.

Like I said before I don’t claim to be brave but I’m not scared of all that much either.

One thing I AM scared of, though, is Onion Valley Road west of Independence, California.

In 2003 or so Tim Huber and I cruised up to the top of that 10 plus mile route in his Jeep.

I used skidding to control speed in those days.

Controlling your downhill speed with skidding thrashes skate wheels but since you could buy down the oversupply of inline skate wheels for a dollar a wheel in 2003, it worked out.

Anyhow, I snow plowed through the 10 or so hairpins at the top of Onion Valley Road and very nearly lost it on every single turn.

I wasn’t as strong in the legs then as I am now and so ran out of leg strength by the second or third hairpin. I had to very carefully marshall what little leg strength I had left. I had to find enough stopping power to slow down for 8 sharp turns after my legs were nearly finished. The road was too steep for me to stop completely so it was a balancing act.

It was like being Philippe Petit and running out of leg in the middle of your wire between the World Trade Center towers.

When I reached a part of the road flat enough that I could stop completely, I was beyond relieved. It felt like I’d cheated death.

So, on Monday, July 29, 2013, there I was again riding up Onion Valley Road and getting psyched up to skate it.

The engine in Scott’s Subaru started to get a little hot so we stopped climbing a few turns below the top of the route.

I got out of the car and put my gear on hoping that no one else knew how scared I actually felt.

Scott and I started rolling. I started brake testing immediately. I wanted to be rolling slowly enough that I could stop completely with a snow plow in case the cracks ripped the rubber brake pads off of Craig’s Gravity Masters.

Scott had no such qualms and rolled out confidently.

After testing the Gravity Masters on about 15 cracks I got confident too and let that ole gravity fuel pull me as fast as it could.

Once at at least 40mph I braked hard to see if the cracks would snatch away my brake pads when I was rollin’ fast. But all was well. Cracks had no effect at all on the braking power of the Gravity Masters.

I let it rip.

Somewhere down past the turny part of the route I caught up with Scott. We both braked hard for both cattle guards and walked over them. Maybe next time we’ll have the eggs to jump ’em.

When we got back to the campground we were using for a staging area, Ian was nowhere to be found. He’d told us that the cracks fucked with the steering of his skateboard so much that he didn’t want to skate the Onion Valley route. Thus, we didn’t look for him up the hill.

Besides, if he’d gone up the route we couldn’t’ve missed seeing him since Onion Valley Road doesn’t intersect with any other paved roads, right?

We looked for Ian all over Independence. No one in either of the food marts, the Subway shop, the court house nor the police station had seen him.

After we described Ian to a dog walker the dog walker said, “Oh, if he’s around here someone will notice him. We don’t have too many guys who look like him in Independence.”

After searching him up for more than an hour Craig said, “Independence is tiny. If he isn’t in town then he hitchhiked to Reno or LA. Or else he’s up the hill and off a cliff …”

I said, “Too bad he left his god damn phone in the car.”

Scott said, “It’s not charged. That’s why he left it.”

I said, “Oh.”

Scott went back to the campground staging area while Craig and I waited at the town park with hopes that Ian would show up there.

We were on the phone with Scott when Scott said, “He’s here! He just showed up in someone’s pickup truck. They came from up the hill.”

Ian is a master hitchhiker so I wasn’t surprised that he was hitching. I was still mystified, though, by how come we hadn’t seen him hitching up or rolling down Onion Valley Road when there’s only one way in and one way out.

“Well,” Ian said, “I decided to skate it even though it had cracks so I hitched a ride part way up. On the way down I rolled into a turn too hot and bailed off of my board. I ran it out and didn’t fall but my board flew off the cliff. You guys must’ve rolled by while I was over the edge rock climbing down to retrieve my board.”

Craig, Scott and I stared at Ian. None of us could think of anything to say.

Ian said, “I know. I’m a crazy fuck.”

We loaded up the cars and drove back to LA.

What Testers are Saying About the Flex Brake

August 4th, 2013

FlexBrakeThe Flex Brake is a new approach to inline braking and speed control currently seeking funding through “Kick Starter.” When they reach a certain number of  pre-orders they’ll be able to go into production. Meanwhile, an adventurous few are already testing early prototypes.

I took a look at the Flex Brake video and Kickstarter page and then noncommittally shared links with my skate network. I avoided voicing my concerns about the design because I am not a tester and I did not want to negatively impact the company’s prospects for success.

What bothers me? Today I shared these three points in an email with Paul Kimelman,  a former student of mine who suggested I take a look at Flex Brake.

  • Flex_Brake_LogoThe bent forward stance is problematic. I personally suffer from low back pain, so bending forward to reach the brake leashes would literally be a pain. Secondly, that’s a dangerous position to be in: the skates may stop, but forces will keep the rest of the body moving dangerously forward, a head plant just waiting to happen!
  • The need to remember to grab a leash with your hands for an emergency stop also seems like a big deal to me.
  • The upright solution requires reaching for stuff attached at the waist. Not only is this pretty inelegant but it makes me feel sad to have to fetter a skater’s freedom that way.

Here is what Paul told me in his reply:

I only use the brake with the spring-retracting leash (attached at the waist), which I find less inelegant than knee pads and the like. I am not sure what you mean by fettering freedom. With the spring-retracting leash, it is never in your way and you do not even notice it. But, the loops are always easily available (they hang off the retracting part where your hands are). 
 
I agree that having to bend down to reach something at the boot would be unacceptable to me (my back and impacting balance as you say) but the leash is not like that at all. In fact, you have a much more stable stance than with any other braking that I am aware of, since your feet are balanced over your skates normally (vs. one dragging in some way), and it allows for easy “continuous” speed checking on downhill slopes, and turns just like a bike. Even when using the leash to brake, your hands are not held in any particular place – you can have them away from your body, since only pulling upwards affects the braking.

Read Paul’s full review and other user testimonials , or pre-order a pair of Flex Brakes on their Facebook page to be among the first to get a set when they are in production.

Not Yet One With the Bike

August 4th, 2013

Capture“You go ahead and start, Liz. I’ll catch up,” Dan said on the Friday morning we did a fitness roll before work. I took off, excited to be worthy of a morning ride with Dan, who has been road biking since well before I met him 30 years ago. Two miles later, I was proud when he came up from behind and exclaimed, “That was harder than I thought it would be!” We proceeded to tackle the steep uphill on the next block together, but he screamed past on the downhill, tilting elegantly into a hard right turn leading to our country road route. Sigh. Maybe someday I’ll look like that…

My recent drilling has been focused on how my body interacts with this high-performance tool. It will be a long while before I feel “at one with the bike,” but it has been a great week of accomplishments. (I realize many cyclists will laugh at me for being such a sissy, but this isn’t for you.)

  • I finally drank from my water bottle while rolling. Afraid to take my eyes off the road, I groped down to find the bottle, yanked it from the fasteners, and tipped and sipped to the side. Then groped again (where’s my knee? It’s lower than that!), found the holder and shoved until it clicked. Phew! Didn’t get much to drink but I did it on the country road! Two days earlier I’d managed drinking on the safety of our neighborhood street.
  • I made slalom turns without steering. As with skating or skiing, going forward on a straight path isn’t so hard. It’s all the other stuff–like short radius or high speed turns–that require skill. One day, I did agility drills in the neighborhood. I learned that poking my chin to the right or left shifts my center of gravity just enough to tip the bike into an arcing turn. Tighter and faster turns are still a work in progress, though.
  • I biked “in the drops” and got sore. Dan confirmed that continued practice builds tolerance in the low back muscle groups. So I need to keep doing that.
  • I am getting better at stand-up pedaling. On my drilling day, I chose a low gear and slight hill to figure out the forward stance and proper amount of pressure. The gear I’m in must have just enough resistance so I don’t push too hard and go “clunk!” on the stroke. Then I must pedal with just enough pressure, not all out. When I get it right, it feels like I’m just jogging along, saving a bunch of shifting effort.
  • I washed my bike for the first time. (Thanks to How to Clean Your Bicycle, an article I found on http://www.womenscycling.ca.)  All went well, but since I have not yet had any flat tires, removing and remounting the wheels took extra time and, I’ll admit, pondering.

My computer shows a cumulative 698 miles since I got my bike for Christmas. This being August, that averages out to 100 miles a month. Pretty good for a newbie like me, and it is definitely helping me get the saddle time I know I need to someday become one with my bike.