27 September, 2009

Yesterday I rode with Mike D.--it was the first time ever in our long friendship. I met him at his local stomping ground (literally, because Mike runs here all the time), Aliso-Wood Canyon Regional Park. It's amazing to have such an extensive network of challenging trails right in the heart of a city--miles and miles of trails both difficult and easy, with lots of nature's beauty surrounding you--cool!

The mountain bike experience is different than the road bike ("ten-speed") experience in some interesting ways. On the road bike, it's all about speed and distance. Improvements in your performance creep up on you; you manage to ride for three hours instead of your usual two; you cover 50 miles instead of 35, you manage a 19 mph average speed instead of 18, etc. These are important markers and tangible in their way and feel good. But on the mountain bike, even small improvements feel like big achievements--why? It's the terrain--and the technique.

Example: I have now ridden Aliso-Wood three times in the last two weeks. I've taken the same 10 mile loop each visit, and it contains one major climb. It's nothing a good mountain-biker would sweat, but for me it was tough! I had to stop many times on my first visit, and even walk the bike up a few stretches. This failure to get up the hill clean is not all about fitness, (though I need improvement there, too). A lot of it is technique. On a road bike you're never off the pavement so you never have to really worry about balance, or choosing the most passable line through an uphill hairpin on a slippery trail of sand and rock--but it's real different in the dirt! So the first time up this hill I was wobbling on the bike and bouncing against the rocks and losing traction because I'm not positioning myself correctly on the bike. Next time up, I'm a little less ragged, and therefore able to carry my forward progress further with less energy expenditure, and also I know the trail a little better now, so it just feeds on itself and each ride gets easier and at the same time better (read, "less life-threatening").

Another tricky thing to get used to technique-wise is the small front chain-ring on a mountain bike--we call it "the granny gear." For the steep hills you need a low-resistance way to crank the pedals over, because your forward (and upward) momentum evaporates if your pedal-speed slows. Either you have monster, Lance-Armstrong leg power to crank the big gear uphill, or you whimper and fall over. So your thoughtful MTB manufacturers added a chain-ring the diameter of a tea-cup's rim to your typical MTB--it looks impossibly small next to the already dainty saucer-sized small cog and the salad-plate "big ring" of yr typical road bike. But it tri-partite goodness opens a new level of power and versatility to the MTB'er.

If you're just riding on the flat-o-the-land and downshift to the granny gear (also known as "the weenie wheel"), you find your legs spinning like a lumberjack dancing on a log in a lake. Your first thought is, "What could you possibly use this for?"--your very next thought is, "Well, I'LL SURE NEVER NEED IT!"

Amazingly, on yr first true dirt uphill, you can't find that gear fast enough.

But the problem (in addition to fitness) is the technique it takes to not (1) bounce out of the pedals when you are spinning up such rough terrain with both (2) so little resistance from the pedals themselves, and (3) so much downward pressure from the grade, trying as you do this to keep from losing any fwd momentum, knowing otherwise you'll (4) come to a stop.

We try to avoid (4). At all costs.

Which results in some funny pictures! Like trying to force the bike forward even when you misdirect your front wheel and hit the berm along the trail-side--and this little ramp redirects your furious forward-and-upward effort so that upward takes-over, and you are suddenly trying to reign-in a bike that's reared-up, and is going over backwards (ouch!). Etc., etc.

But by the second visit, (yesterday, with Mike D.), I was much better on the hill, and my near-crashes were fewer and my (gasping, panting, chest-clutching) stops less-frequent.

And then today I made it up the complete hill without a stop or mis-step (just one steadying foot applied to the ground as I snail-paced up).

My fitness level hasn't improved all that much over one week (if at all!), but because of the easily measured challenge (a single half-mile uphill trail), suddenly I've got a very tangible sense of accomplishment. God bless the little goals.

So that's cool about mountain bikes!

CREDIT to "Cousin Steve," who rode with me today and last week--you're picture is up next!

25 September, 2009

Just home from a day in LA traffic (almost 3 hours to get home--no surprise). Second day spent that way, hence the light posting (no excuses!).

One day I will have to tell you the story about sculpting a headstone for my Grandfather Davis. The sculpting wasn't really the problem--it was (and continues to be) the unpredictable agents of the burial industry. A story for later, after the headstone is cast (in bronze) and set in place.

For now, here's a shot of the clay, (from about two weeks ago, in a state of not-quite-finished).

I have to add a GINORMOUS "THANK YOU!" to all my recent contributors--thank you for honoring Paul's memory, and his fight! LIVESTRONG, baby! I have something special planned for you donors....

22 September, 2009

I am on this Chris Carmichael training program, "The Time-Crunched Cyclist." It's all based on interval training--seems like good stuff. But to really do the intervals properly, you need to calculate your average heart rate during two 8 minute, all-out efforts (as all-out as can be sustained over an 8 minute stretch with a 10 minute break between).

So I had to do this.

Today was the day.

What's that old adage about pacing yourself, "the-tortise-and-the-hare," the race does not always go to the swift, etc.? I completely flamed. Blew up before minute four on my first run. Blew up so bad I couldn't get it back together for a reasonable second run. Didn't help that last night Blair and I had enjoyed the richest meal either of us had eaten since we'd returned from France. Not as good second time around.

Today: just bad.

To lift my spirit, here is a favorite drawing of mine from way-back. For our dear Tara's birthday. At least I'm thinner now!
p.s. the heart rate I'm going to go with is 170. Such a let down!

21 September, 2009

Just back from a great anniversary (number 7) dinner at The Napa Rose in Disneyland. Fan-tab. Staff was great--we sat at the bar looking into the kitchen, which was great and got us lots o' freebies. The super-nice pastry chef, a young lady named Kristine, gave us each a lavish desert when we'd only asked for one scoop of ice cream. It was heavenly!

I don't like that previous drawing, (all except the tree), so here's something better: my anniversary card for Blair. Happy seventh, baby!
A note on fitness: I've been riding for a little over a month now. And I don't mean just in training for the LIVESTRONG Challenge ride--I mean at all. I hadn't been on my bike in almost 2 years.

Having a deadline like a big event always helps you focus and improve your effort, but in this case I've been really surprised by how large a health benefit I've enjoyed in such a short time.

Before I started riding I'd been hobbled by a bad knee injury that just wasn't healing. I used to run (when I worked out at all), but the blown knee has made running impossible. Combine bad eating, no exercise and a bad attitude (felt hopeless with a bum knee), and soon I was woefully out-o-shape.

Then I started riding.

What a difference!

I have to give credit here to the much-maligned City of Irvine, and the greater O.C.: there are a LOT of great bike trails here, and especially out in the east end, where all the roads have decent bike lanes. Having a great area to ride has made all the difference in the world. I hated riding in LA, and as a result stopped riding--but here it's a pleasure. And the O.C. enjoys an even greater minutes-from-the-mountains-or-beach ratio than LA--it's very cool to do some great mountain biking at altitude and then roll down to the coast.

And I haven't gotten any tickets yet.

So in about six weeks I've dropped more than 10 lbs, and with the combined increase in fitness, it feels more like 20. Having turned 40 this year, I wondered if I'd ever get back to decent fitness. A steady program of biking has really opened my eyes--I honestly didn't expect this great a benefit!

It does help if you can stay on the bike.

Deep sand--it gets me every time!

p.s. It's our seventh wedding anniversary today--love you, baby!

20 September, 2009

It just feels totally wrong now to post a simple face without a story. There are those who would argue every face tells a story--or maybe, every face properly observed and recorded tells a story. But where's the bike stuff, the humor, the drama in that?

Where are the fund-raising pleas?

They're here.

And even though this lady is crying, I am feeling less blue thanks to our latest donors, Debbie Fix and Heather Volkoff! Your donations are wonderful and most appreciated. Debbie is Paul's sister and one of the coolest people you could ever hope to meet. I call her the conscience of Team Sunscreen--not that the members of Team Sunscreen lacked for conscience--! And Heather is an amie from my grade-school days who had never even met Paul, but was moved by his story (and my badgering).

Thank you ladies!

19 September, 2009

Horses...on the trail!

Drawn (two weeks ago now?) on a mountain bike ride. That's right--I packed my pad and a brush pen in a zip-lock bag, and packed that in one of the convenient pouches that come sewn into the rear panel of any cycling shirt.

The dissolved sections of the image are honest sweat drips--they were generated by the noxious climb to Four Corners at Whiting Ranch. Lots of riders on the trail, then we ran into a trio of horses at the top of the climb. That was cool!

p.s. my horse drawing needs work...hey, I was tired!

18 September, 2009

This is sad me.

Sad because the donations have slowed. And I've been writing and drawing and riding so hard. C'mon now, people.

Help cheer me up--and help fight the modern scourge that is cancer!

Every little itsy-bitsy helps. Bigsy-wigsy helps even more, but I leave that to your discretion. As the Dali Lama once said, the point is to give.

You'll feel better after you do--honest!

17 September, 2009

On Monday's ride I passed a sight I've seen a couple of times--a bicycle inner tube draped over some kind of public sign. It annoyed me--guys doing things like that give the rest of us law-abiding riders a bad name. And I hate litter. Seriously. I am the guy who carries the wrapper from my dinner mint around in my pocket if there isn't a trash can outside the restaurant. I'm sure you share the sentiment. So this was an ugly, annoying sight. Really, what were they thinking?

Then the little indignities of a committed long ride began to pile up.

First, I dropped my GU. What is it? It's a little packet of electrolyte/carb/"energy" gel that you can eat drink imbibe while under way. It seems ridiculous and like a fake product marketed to phony athletes, but in truth it works and so I brought some along. While taking my third draft on the thing, I dropped it. I was hauling at this point, on a trafficky street, clipped into the pedals...you get the picture. I didn't turn around and pick it up.

I littered.

Karma kung-fu chopped me a dozen miles down the road: on the rotten stretch of road between the nuclear plant at San Onofre (with its immortal surfer appellation, "The Twin Titties"), and the state beach/camp ground a few miles south, I suffered a blow-out.

--which is always a drag.

For those non-riders reading this, when biking, one always carries an extra inner tube in case of flat--you just roll it up and stow it in a little pouch you can strap beneath your seat (like a traveling glove-box under yr rump). Very handy. My case also carries my driver's license (for the cop when you get ticketed for endangering those poor defenseless 6,000 lb. S.U.V.'s), a credit card and Starbucks discount card, my iPhone (verrry handy), and a patch kit. And one of the coolest biking inventions, a CO2 canister.

This little thing, which is not much bigger than a roll of quarters, holds enough compressed CO2 to inflate a 27" bicycle tire to the recommended 120 or so pounds of pressure. Yes, that's how much air pressure these tires take--compare that with the asthmatic 35 lbs or so required by a car. (Which means when your tire blows on a road bike, you can really hear it--and feel it. It blasted my back wheel off of the ground when it burst under me--exciting!). But the coolest thing about the CO2 can happens when you fire it off to inflate the tire--once released, the gas cools rapidly--and deeply. In the 6 seconds or so it takes to blow through a can and fill a tire (they are one-use only, so don't blow it!), the can and nozzle and valve stem all freeze. It's really cool and strange, esp'lly when you are standing roadside under a blazing sun and suddenly there's ice on your wheel--and your fingers.

In the blow-out my actual tire was damaged, so I had to patch that.Then I put in the new tube and triggered the CO2 can and off I went.

Only, once I got home, I couldn't find the blown tube in my under-seat kit. I must have forgotten it in the rush to get the bike going again...then I remembered where I left it....
p.s. and I'd hung it there so I wouldn't forget!

16 September, 2009

I got a flat on Monday's ride, the second time my tires have been smote (smote?) while out on one of my "long" rides. I'll tell you more about my flat on Monday's wonderful 70 (or so) miler a little later, but I was reminded of my last flat, which happened a couple of weeks ago while my grandmother was staying with us. I was shooting for a forty-five miler or so, but lost the tire at 37 and although I changed the tube, I wasn't able to get my CO2 canister to work (it was my fault, I'd forgotten how to use the thing in the year-and-a-half since I'd stopped riding). So I found a Starbucks in the unknown neighborhood where I was stranded, (like the once-mighty 7/11 network of yore, there's always one nearby when you need it), called Blair, told her where I was, and settled down with a smoothie in one hand and a coffee in the other to wait.

And then I was witness to a most tragic scene--or rather, as the kids of today are wont to say, "a most epic FAIL."

At a table in front of me sat a pair of college age girls, laughing, gossiping, entertaining each other. Usually at a Starbucks you find the middle-aged and the post-college grads outnumbering those between 18-22 by a large margin, but this place seemed to be much younger in demographic than typical (turns out we were near a high school and a community college). So young kids were working the register, young girls and a fair number of similar vintage dudes were in and out of the place, occupying most of the tables, setting the vibe. I was the old man in the bike shorts (always creepy in a public space), huddled in the corner.At some point, I'd wanted to use the restroom, but it remained occupied the two times I'd tried the door. So I sat and waited, sipped my coffee, slurped my smoothie.

Then out came this guy.

He was a nice looking guy--in fact, he struck me right away as a good match for the girls at the table in front of me. My drawing makes him look a little too old and a little to pudgy/scraggly--he was none of that, and he had a nice collared shirt on over the tee-shirt--this is a hasty, hasty sketch from instant memory. You could tell he was just beginning to fill out, look less like a kid. In his self-conscious walk he was still getting used to living in an adult-sized body--but he was at pains to seem approachable, and attractive, if in a studious way. It seemed like he was just beginning to try to figure out this girl thing, and that in his reckoning going to Starbucks with his nice Apple laptop to hang out and get friendly with the staff and maybe meet somebody was a big part of his strategy. It wasn't a bad strategy. And he was not without his appeal. Seriously, I wanted the guy to succeed. I would have been overjoyed if one of the cute girls in front of me had wound up taking a shine to him. And really, I thought they should. It wasn't a stretch. They'd make a completely convincing couple. This is the way we hope the world works, right? Everyone finding a happy match....


From behind the bar one of the staff greeted him in a familiar way. Our man was making his way to the little island for milk and sugar and coffee-prep, which was just beside the table in front of me with the vivacious girls. And as he turned to add whole milk to his latte, I could see that dangling from beneath the hem of his shirt, like the unnatural white tail of a circus pony, was the white paper tail of a sanitary toilet seat cover. And not just a little piece--stuck in his waist-band and falling nearly to the floor, unwinding its maximum possible length due to a lateral tear that allowed its innate donut shape to uncoil, he was about to become a spectacle.

At this point, no one else had seen it. But in an instant they would. The horrible implications of this moment flashed before me and I was torn--if anyone saw this, how could he ever return here? I realized I should walk quickly over to him and just snatch the thing away before anyone saw. Thank Je-heesus it looked "clean". It was clearly the only humane thing to do--perhaps the future of this poor sap was at stake. But could I just grab it?? "C'mon, you dope," I kept mouthing silently,"Notice it! Idiot! Can't you feel it slappin'your bare calf?! Save yourself, man, before it's too late!"

I began to rise out of my chair. He was not close to me, so I'd have to cover a stretch of ground before I could reach him--then what? Tell him? How would that be any better? I sat back down. Where was my humanity? The girls beside him were still laughing at their own jokes, still oblivious--but he was conscious of them, and--in a painful irony!--he was lingering, trying to invite their attention with that psychic appeal the lonely and/or attention-starved use. "You fool!" I wanted to scream--"Back to the bathroom and sort yourself out!"

But it was too late. Another Starbucks worker walked past him and they had a brief exchange and then the worker noticed his predicament even as the fool--THE FOOL--turned back to the coffee-prep island once more and continued to linger, his tissue-thin shame flapping in plain sight. I saw the worker begin to recognize the full dimension of the imminent FAIL, and he seemed to sway for an instant, stunned, trying to decide what the hell he could do. Was it even sanitary to intervene? Was it a health code violation NOT TO? He kept moving. I was wrong--the full dimension was just beginning to creep up on him as he staggered away to stand behind the counter--behind the counter with its protection and its moral certainties--to leave the open field of friendship and acquaintance and return to the security of the "employee" ("Sorry 'bout that, dude--I only work here.").

The following scene haunts me still: he turns, he slowly saunters past the girls--his fierce mental imprecations finally take hold and they grant him their graze--sick irony! cruel, cruel fate!--quickly their gaze goes down to the pale wavering wraith trailing him...? attached to him...?


Their apprehension of his FAIL--the stun on their faces, still innocent-ish for that last little second before collapsing into the inevitable and all-the-more-horrible-for-it cruelty that such a scene begets. Then the other girls, at the other tables, witnessing same and reacting similarly; and the collective wave of horror and hot ridicule rising in our cheeks and now sweeping the entire place--it was palpable!

And amazingly, he remained oblivious. This because it all happened in his wake. Oblivious as he walked out the front door, all of us riveted, watching as he turned to pull out a chair at an empty table--now the outside patrons noticing the two feet of ghostly shimmer dangling from his haunches; and the wave of shock and shame expanded. And he remained oblivious as he sat down, a movement I couldn't watch, a movement I was sure would provide tactile proof to his senses that something was terribly wrong. I half expected him to flare the tail behind him like some concert pianist sitting down to perform! I couldn't look. I didn't want to see the horrible moment of realization.

But no realization. He opened his laptop and logged onto his free two hours of Starbucks WiFi, the tail--amazingly--neatly folded beneath him. And we were all left to wonder, some in our trauma, others in their glee, when would the moment come? When would he realize he could never come back to this Starbucks again? All those carefully groomed friendships, all that gone....I was sick for the rest of the day. It seemed like enough to crush a soul.

That was the last time I got a flat.

15 September, 2009

Zonked from yesterday's ride--the odometer said 68.7, but let's just round it up and call it 70, shall we? Took 4 hours and 11 minutes of riding time. Need to be a little faster. But I made it. And my biscuits are burning.

Out the door right now but here's a filler (his biscuits are burning, too):

14 September, 2009

I am in shock--I am feeling the cold creep of fear. I just downloaded the course map and elevation for the 90 mile LIVESTRONG ride in Austin--the one in 'bout six weeks?

Well, see for yourself.

Almost 3,000 feet of climbing! I'd given this a look when signing up, and it didn't look SO horrible--I mean it goes up, it goes down, but there's no mountains, right? I didn't read the fine print.

I thought Texas was flat!!

I find this daunting. But not impossible. In the spirit of this revelation, I am heading out on a 60+ miler that will take me from our front door in Irvine to someplace in Encinitas by noon today.

Yes, on my bike, you wiseacres.

13 September, 2009

Rough morning on the trail. Blair and I set out for the 4-plus mile loop at Casper Wilderness Park--her running, me riding. This sounds like a bad mix, runner vs. rider, but it's been fun the two times we've done it--I get ahead and then ride back to check on her, then re-ride the trail forward--and she's never that far behind me!

Why do I check on her? There are many signs in this park warning of MOUNTAIN LION ATTACK. Yes, a lady was slain by a wild mountain lion here years ago, and apparently the lions still roam freely. Less than a mile in on our run today we were treated to a sign of their evil ways: a blanket of white feathers scattered over a crest in the road. Blair said she saw lots of tracks, too. "Lion tracks?" I asked. "Yes--big, cat-like tracks. Mountain lions."

We remained wary.

But today's drawing illustrates an unhappy moment that happened where Bell Canyon ends and we veer onto a suddenly steep and scrabble-surfaced hillside trail. I knew from the first few minutes out this morning that I was going to have a subpar day--my legs were still sore from physical therapy and I don't know what, because I haven't ridden much this week. But once we hit this hill, I blew up. Couldn't make it up the scrabbliest opening stretch, even after taking a second run at it. Walked the bike up to a little flat stretch where I could remount and assault the next leg. Blair was waiting for me. We took off together and you can see what happened in the pic. She killed me!

Sometimes the bike just seems like a liability.

Should I mention that this stretch of the trail is called "Cougar Ridge"? I don't mean anything by that!

But I came home to great news--we're up over $1,000!! Thanks Ed & Erin, you guys huffed us over the top of that first big hurdle. I am grateful.

Go ahead and join in the fun!!

12 September, 2009

On our way home from coffee this morning, Blair let me coax her into the neighborhood bike shop--"for just a few minutes," I promised. The place is packed with a majestic line-up of Specialized bikes, particularly their mountain bike offerings. We wandered around a bit and I began to wobble under the strain of "new bike fever."She got me out of there before any damage was done.

Yes, I do have a practically brand new mountain bike--so what's my beef? It's one of the lowest models Cannondale sells and I like it, but already some components need replacing. And my bike shop (not Rock n Road Cyclery next door with their seductive sea of new Specialized, but Sand Canyon Cyclery down the road, with it's concentration of Cannondales) has been good at offering to upgrade the parts that are strained by my riding (a lethal combination of over-ambition and ham-fistedness). But my bike is also heavy, and when I struggle to conquer some hill (which I do on all of 'em), I like to fantasize about riding a bike that's about 15 lbs lighter.

And man, do I struggle on those hills....

The donations have been pouring in--thank you! We are tantalizingly close to hitting $1,000! Total stands at $987 and .68 cents (Mike Dietz!).

Just fer that, here's that Mike/Ed/Marty drawing--or the closest I can come right now (it's a daguerreotype of a a work on dry-erase board).

More drawings later today--check back often!

11 September, 2009

Last night I sent out my letter asking/imploring/badgering friends to donate to The LIVESTRONG Challenge in memory of my pal Paul Fix. And the response has been great! It is really a good feeling to be supported by so many. If you've donated, thank you! And if you haven't yet, it's easy!

And as if on cue, who should show up in L.A. yesterday but none other than Mr. LIVESTRONG, Lance hisself. A few hundred people met him in Griffith Park and went for a ride--check it out in the L.A. Times this AM.

My knee's a little sore so I'm just going on a little ride to lunch--lunch with the estimable Mike D., Ed Schofield, and J.Q.--all the top-notchiest of top-notch animators. I'll put up a Mike/Ed/Marty drawing after lunch! Fer now, here's this...

10 September, 2009

Drawn at SBUX following a ride on the 1st (I've got a sizable backlog of these things).I went to physical therapy yesterday for my sore knee. They taped it up and instructed me to stay off the bike today.

"Dammit man, I've got a race to train for!"

It is getting better, so I think I'll be OK for the LIVESTRONG Challenge in October.

Ride: 20 miles on the road bike

09 September, 2009

Success! A celebratory drawing, done after a ride last week. I tell you, this guy's head looked just like this!
Blogger is fighting me tooth-n-nail. I am posting this from Dear Wife's computer (it's a new MacBook (non-Pro)) and it's so damn nice! My computer is five years old and beginning to flag...better pick up some more freelance quick.

OK, so I'm working on getting my drawings from my machine over here. New posts to follow....