Monday, December 29, 2008

Bethel Spring Series - Entry Fee Calculations

So I got the nice letter from Bethel regarding the 2009 Bethel Spring Series. It's a go!

Although I try and give very little reason to have Bethel reject my request to hold the race, it's always a bit of a nervous time for me. I feel like I can't move forward with anything - no numbers, no sponsor type things, no organization. If I make the assumption it'll be okay and move forward, it's just inviting an unexpected rejection.

So I waited.

Now that I have permission, I should be cranking along, right?

Well, not really.

In case you're not from the area, we just got severely dumped on just before Christmas - snow from Saturday until Sunday evening, altering our landscape until it resembled the Battle of the Bulge.

Meaning the World War II battle, not the one I'm currently fighting with myself.

The snow meant a lot of energy spent outside, in the snow, not cleaning the garage, not cleaning the basement, using energy that could have been used to, say, do Bethel things.

And speaking of the Bulge... Today I weighed myself on the only teeter-totter scale I know of, the propane tank scale. I decided to weigh myself after filling a 100 pound tank (which weighs about 72 pounds empty, at least this one did, so the scale was set at 172 pounds). After I filled the tank and dragged it off the scale, I stepped up on it.

The lever stayed down.

I moved the weight over a bit.




I jumped to make sure the scale still moved. Maybe it froze in the last fifteen seconds and that's why it's saying I'm so heavy.

Nope, the lever bounced.






The lever finally floated.

Granted I had a coat on, steel toed boots, flannel lined pants, keys, and who knows what else, but when I balanced out the scale I weighed 196 pounds.

One hundred and ninety six pounds.

88 kilograms.

Holy Hey Seuss Chris Toe.

I walked back into the store. I clomped up the steps, knowing that when I lifted one foot, the other foot was holding up 196 pounds. I stepped down and lifted the other foot. 196 pounds of weight on my foot.

When I hold a 50 pound bag of grain, it's 246 pounds. A 60 pound bag of sand, 256 pounds. An 80 pound bag of RockSalt (we're out of it now, thankfully), 256 pounds.

It's hard to think about Bethel when you're trudging around with almost 250 pounds on your feet, especially when they want 36 bags of feed or something absurd like that.

But I have thought about Bethel, at least a little bit. A few people have already emailed me and I realized that there will be a LOT of questions regarding entry fees, because of some "restructuring" I'm doing behind the scenes.

So, for 2009, this is how it's going to be.

First off, USA Cycling has seen the need to increase the insurance surcharge to $3 per day, up from $2 per day. Therefore we (or I) will need to charge one more dollar regardless.

Now for the entry fees.

If you pre-register for the Series, or even pre-register for just a few of the races, you make life a lot easier for the promoter. Therefore you get rewarded. The best way to reward a racer paying entry fee is to reduce such fee.

So, pending my budgetary calculations, my goal is to increase pre-registration (PR) costs to the racer by as much as $1 as compared to 2008's entry fees. This means the actual cost of the entry remains the same because the increase is due solely to USA Cycling's insurance surcharge.

However, "day of race" folks will need to pay a bit more. I will raise the "day of race" (DoR) fee to approximately $20 total (including the insurance surcharge). Since we charged $17 (or was it $18?) last year, this would equate a $2 (or $1) increase for the race fee, with a $1 insurance increase accounting for the last dollar increase.

That's simple.

The next part is complicated.

Although I said this last year, I didn't act on it. I couldn't do it for a number of reasons, but those are all gone now. In 2009 Bethel will be, for the first time, a for-profit race. This means that the race benefits the promoter. Since the race has always been a not-for-profit venture, any money we've earned had to go back into the race. It was a legal requirement.

In 2009 that changes: we will become a "for profit" race.

However, we don't want to throw away all the not-for-profit money, especially since we need it to seed the 2009 race (permits, numbers, deposits, fees, etc.) Therefore the 2008 not-for-profit company will be sponsoring "You The Racer".

Yes, you.

Each week that you race, the 2008 Carpe Diem Promotions will help cover your racing costs by paying a portion of your entry fee.

Again, since pre-registration makes life easier for a promoter, I will reward those who pre-register by applying the sponsorship money to their PR entries before the DoR entries. This is sort of automatic because, by definition, PR entries arrive before DoR entries.

The sponsorship runs until we exhaust the 2008 Carpe Diem Promotion's funds. Then the price climbs back to the (normal) higher price.

I have yet to calculate about how many racers (and at what rate) the 2008 CDP funds can sponsor. My goal is to run out of 2008 CDP money at the end of the Series, not before. I will have a final number for the cost increase, but I don't have it yet. This means there will be an official increase in the registration fee for both PR and DoR entry fees, above and beyond the +1 and $20 I mentioned earlier.

I'm guessing it'll increase about $3 each. This means PRs will go up about $4 total, DoRs about $6 (or $5). I think they'll be $15 PR and $23 DoR, but, again, I'm not sure.

Remember, the 2008 CDP folks will cover approximately $3 of that entry fee. This is why I mentioned my ultimate goal for cost to the racer, because we need to advertise a higher entry fee.

Once the 2008 CDP money runs out, PR and DoR fees revert to the full price. Legally we cannot discount your entries in 2009 unless another entity steps up and covers part of your fee. Again, my goal is to have as few racers as possible get hit by the full entry fee. If necessary, 2008 CDP will sponsor a few entries in 2010, giving some pre-reg folks a surprise break in their entry fee.

In a near future post I'll explain some of the new benefits to the racers as well as some of the "back office" improvements we'll be making. I don't want to mess with the prize money, nor will I be making huge changes to the schedule (at least not at this point). My goal is to have a smoother, more efficient Bethel Spring Series that doesn't lose its friendly and budget-conscious nature.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Life - Building Bikes

Blind bike mechanic.

And I thought building bikes while seeing can be tricky enough.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Training - Dungeon 2.0

We moved from our apartment a few months ago and that means that I have a new Dungeon. Since I have a lot of upgrades planned, I'll call it Dungeon 2.0 so that I can update the name as I update the space.

(Technically it should be, where it's Version.Functionality.SubFunctionality.Fixes, or something like that, but I won't go into that amount of detail. If a bug fix is, say, clearing the floor so I can get to the bike, and setting up rollers or the spin bike count as functionalities, and finally setting up non-cycling things like the TV count as sub-functionalities, then I'm at version or something already.)

I have no "doorway" to enter, no outside trip necessary to get to my current dungeon. Just go out the bedroom, cross the hall, and go down the stairs.

Bottom of the stairs. I didn't neaten up for the picture. Really.

The cardboard box on top of the pile is chock full of kit. Specifically it has outdated kit - my gearbag has a lot of current kit in it, but the gearbag post contains now-outdated kit. Only CCC stuff or warm non-team-specific gear lives in the gearbag now. The bottom two bins have summer and winter clothing in them. The third bin has waterbottles, mainly from my now defunct store (I had 5,000 bottles or something at one point, now I'm down to a precious few).

The yellow gym thing sits unused - no room to set it up. Instead I have some dumbbells and other small exercise items. You can just see the unused Park workstand, something I'll eventually move into the room.

Which, by the way, is located to the right of the above picture.

Once you turn right, and more right, you lay eyes on my current setup.

A broader view. Note spin bike, rollers (to the left of spin bike), and "control island" on blue bin.

I say "current" because I have a feeling it'll change relatively quickly. However, you can see some key elements in the current setup.

1. Fans - one for my face (on stand), one for my whole body (floor). The stand one has a remote so I can adjust it without dismounting, but the floor one requires a dismount. Therefore the floor mount is the base setting (low, med, high, depending on effort) and I fine tune with the stand fan.

2. TV and DVD player - I like watching movies and such on long rides, where I'm just trying to get my body into shape for some longer rides out west. My mini-DVD player (visible just to the left of the left brifter) just died so I got another one from work for $29.99 - $10.00 rebate. It's located halfway between the TV and my bars. I use earbuds for sound, and they conveniently plug into the front of the DVD player.

(Note: I've tried using my Playstation2 while on the trainer but it forces me to sit up and my butt goes numb. Therefore I don't do anything that requires hands to distract myself - no Playstation, no browsing the web, no blogging. Your results may vary.)

3. Laptop for MP3s - when lost in the depths of effort, I prefer to block out a lot of visual stimulation a la Lon Haldeman. He did this lack of stimulation to a hard core degree - riding rollers in a dark basement. I don't do that but I frequently close my eyes and focus on my pedal stroke. Music helps bury the pain. By the looks of the earbuds (plugged into the DVD player and not the laptop), I haven't ridden hard in a while.

4. Hydration - specifically electrolyte drinks. I have both Gatorade and Powerade, buying whatever is on sale, and although I like the Rewards points from Powerade, I don't care which I drink. I also prefer it not-too-cold. I usually have a bottle of water somewhere too. A Rockstar peeks out from behind the towel but that rates a very hard workout - at $2 per can, it gets expensive training on the stuff. My most expensive indoor rides see me consumer perhaps $10 or more worth of drinks, bars, and gels, but they last a couple hours or more. It's like paying for a weeknight training race.

5. Cap with holes and no brim - a Kelme cap, I bought it because it matched my kit and, since it was a drug-adled team, I figured I'd help a local distributor by buying 10 or 20 at a time. I'm down to one new cap and about three well used ones. I've removed the brim from most of my caps for indoor use, saving a few of said brims for the sunny days outside. I cut holes into only one cap so far.

(Note: I ride in a full kit, shorts, jersey, socks, cap, and now, in the colder weather, I'll ride in a long sleeve jersey to simulate hot weather riding. I have stacks of kit and I feel like I ought to use them before they disintegrate from old age.)

6. Storage in front of me, with some inspiring parts. The red bar things are 3ttt's version of the Cinelli Spinaccis, and I want to use those bars for training. I have all sorts of obsolete parts in front of me. Eventually I'd like to build up one of my old frames, restore a bike back to its glory. We'll see.

7. To the far left of the wide shot you may notice the corners of some posters. Those will be framed and mounted on the walls. Inspiration for the rider.

8. You may also notice some white cardboard leaning up against the wall. These are mirrors for studying position and inspiring weight loss. Nothing makes me feel fatter than seeing a side shot of me riding. I have 9' x 4' of mirror to mount to the wall.

9. It's my "good" bike, with its good wheels, good tires, good seat, good bars. I don't have good tape on it but that'll wait for version 2.1. I want to ride what I will race so I have my race bike on the trainer. The SRM isn't on the bars but I use it every time I get on this bike. Keeps me honest.

10. Finally I have some AV entertainment. Some samplings of what someone peruses while pedaling away in a basement:

This box has been picked through already.

I can't recommend Alexander or Doom for a variety of reasons, but most of the other flicks are good for trainer riding.

Okay, I just realized some of the missus's movies ended up in there. Those are for the easy days.


Some of the hard day flicks.

The Bourne series is probably one of the best series for training. Consistently spaced action scenes means a lot of intervals with good buildup, good length, and well defined "restart" times.

The missus cracks up over Boondock Saints, but I love the flick. I first heard about it during my CounterStrike (CS) days (from 1.5, to irritate those boasters, because 1.5 is like saying "I'm a Cat 3" - it doesn't mean a lot). The folks in the group talked about it constantly so I finally went out and bought it. A lot of up-down action-pause, good for training hard.

On that note, Assault on Precinct 13 was cool because they used CS weapons. The movie itself needs a little something though, and it doesn't work that well for training. Too much down time.

The Professional (or Leon, the full version) is one of my favorites. I need to review how the movie flows regarding training pace.

Hammer and Hell is a great, great video from the Tour du Pont, directed and edited by some local Connecticut cycling yahoos. I love the music ("alternative"), the sarcasm of the narrator (one of previously mentioned yahoos), and some of the "views of the inner workings of a pro peloton" things they get on tape. The songs inspire me. I even got to see one of the stages in person, but that's for another post.

For now that's all I have. I have a few projects simmering for this room. Unspecifically I want to upgrade the dungeon, perhaps to - one addtional functionality, three additional features, and one bug fix (well, I really ought to clean up a bit). Of course I'll be posting when that stuff gets done.

Oh, I almost forgot.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

(And, no, I didn't ride today.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Life - SFBTC

(SFBTC - Stories From Behind The Counter)

Working in a hardware store differs from working in a bike shop. Someone who bicycles is, by definition, an active person. They may be missing a limb or hearing or something but they'll be relatively fit and healthy.

Hardware stores are different because everyone needs them, just like everyone needs a supermarket. Therefore the clientele differs from a bike shop - you get a wider range of people walking into a hardware store.

This includes a new section of society, at least for me: elderly people.

I don't even know the proper term for "old people". It's a bit deceiving too, the term. Is over 60 elderly? Is over 80? Part of it is how you view yourself - there are guys in their 80s who act very sprightly and others decades younger who seem to have lost the will to live.

I've learned one thing about elderly people - it's tough being old. They can be very lonely, aching for human contact and interaction. They make up for it by taking care of animals, either domesticated ones like cats and dogs, or wild ones, usually birds, but in this area people feed squirrels, chipmunks, deer, and even bears. It's illegal to do a lot of that, against the rules for others (especially in condo areas), but they insist. They love their animals, but it seems a bit more desperate because they may not have people to love too.

Elder people have physical problems, problems with walking, hearing, hearts, knees, all sorts of things. I sometimes walk out bags for people, taking four inch long steps to match their pace, taking a minute to cover fifty feet of floor to the front door. I can't imagine having to quickly run away from something in that state, a wild animal or a house on fire.

For many of them the hardware store is part of their social outlet. Since a lot of them have lived in town their whole life, they've known the store just as long (since it was here for at least 50 or 60 years). They come in to catch up on news, to say hi to a friend, or to see how people at the store are doing.

Today an older woman (60s or 70s), a customer known to the store, came into the store to buy some light bulbs. Light bulbs in a hardware store are like tubes in a bike shop - you have tons of them and you sell tons of them. Nothing special about this purchase.

The woman asked about the kittens though, the ones that have been dominating the blog recently. Specifically she asked if I'd found a home for them. I replied that had - mine. I told her the super short version of the story, which goes something like this:

"Well, we couldn't find a home for them so we decided to keep them."

That's my version for those people who really don't care about the kittens, or at least act like they really don't care. This woman acted differently though. I'm not sure what indicated that to me but I felt her concern.

Unusually for today there were no customers waiting behind her so I asked if she had a minute to spare. I explained that I had a bunch of pictures of the kittens on one of the computers, initially meant to "sell" them to prospective adopters, later to show the kitten-fan customers how the kitties were doing.

I did a simple "Preview" for her, forwarding through the pictures. Since I only saved them from the blog, they were pictures previously posted here. They start with the three (Bella, Hal, Riley) on the cat bed, then Mike, Grey (the mom), Tiger with Bella, then ending with Bella and Hal (I think I thought it was Riley) warming their paws on the baseboard heaters.

When I finished she smiled and said something like "Bless your heart" and "Oh, you really care about them" and other nice things.

Then, because it's bitterly cold outside and everyone seems to have the sniffles, she pulled out a tissue. We have a box of tissues hiding under the counter so I offered her a tissue. But when I opened my mouth to ask if she needed a tissue, I said something even I didn't expect to say.

"Are you okay?"

She looked at me and I realized that the biting cold didn't cause those watery eyes. Emotions had. She smiled weakly and told me she was fine in a way that makes you realize that, no, she really wasn't fine.

Apparently she felt like she could tell me her one trouble without feeling self conscious, without feeling like I'd ignore her, and so she did, quietly, murmuring to me.

"I'm sorry. My husband died recently. It's been very difficult for me and it's so nice to see that someone somewhere is doing something good for someone, or something, else."

I think at that point her carefully protected facade started to crack. She smiled through her tears and walked away.

Karen, one of the owners of the store, came walking back to the counter. I mentioned that the woman's husband recently died and did she know about it.

"Yes," Karen told me, "and I gave her a hug when she left the store. I think you helped her by showing her the pictures, that was very sweet of you."

(Karen is a mom with two adult children, can you tell?)

I think the biting cold must have invaded the cozy store because suddenly I needed to blow my nose too.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rock Racing... Rocked

Did I ever mention that my cat is psychic?

Let me introduce him as someone introduced him to us, a feral kitten in Southern Connecticut:

Being lured in by food.

Small cat in small room.

Hiding in the closet when we moved last month.

In case you didn't see where he was.

Really. He knows when I'm going to put food down (wet food, the tail quivering kind), he knows when I'm about to play with the Stick (it has a string with a zip tie at the end, and it's extremely entertaining for him to run after the zip tie), and he knows when strangers are approaching. The last bit I have to guess but basically he runs under the bed and hides. This usually means "impending doom for orange cats".

Today he sat next to me (I have a chair for him next to the computer) and looked at me, blinking every now and then. I started thinking free form, kind of whatever came to mind.












Tiger didn't blink.

Um... Rocks?

No blinks.

Err... They have cool kits?

Tiger yawned.

Going away?




I can buy the full kit and go Rockin' on some training rides?

Tiger looked at me sternly.

Actually, Twitter was all a twitter with the news earlier. Tiger just blinks every now and then, although, to me, he seems prescient in many ways.

Now that Twitter has superseded Reuters as the quickest way to find a rumor, it remains to be seen just how accurate this report really is, but it seems pretty likely.

If this is true it is unfortunate in so many ways.

First off, there are the inevitable casualties - three current US champions, now without a team. A couple black sheep who found a spot on the black and white sheep Rock Racing team, who, I suspect, will be pressed to find a team this late in the year, in this zero percent from the Fed Reserve economy. I hope for both Justin, Tyler, and Rahsaan's sake that they land new squads.

There are a lot of others too, Fred Rodriguez is one guy that comes to mind, Baden Cooke (how did he end up on that team?), and Michael Creed. I figure Cooke should find his way onto a ProTour squad, he just seems like he belongs on one. Fuji have another spot for him?

Of course there's the support staff, the unsung heros of the team. All their people depended on their jobs to pay bills, to get them through the holidays, and now, well, if what's rumored is true, it'll be a grim holiday season.

I'm disappointed, too, because Rock Racing really stirred up the pro racing pot. They injected some excitement into the scene, some collegiate naughtiness with their controversial signings, loud and obnoxious presence, and even their superhero (or villain) skull and crossbones kit.

Michael Ball lured Cipollini out of retirement, however briefly. I think that this prompted some other retired racers to think about un-retiring themselves. One biggie has announced his intention to return to racing at the highest level, but another, when asked informally if he'd race for them, smiled and shrugged.

"I don't know, it's possible," he said, or at least something to that effect.

Unfortunately he just received a suspended jail sentence. I don't know how that affects potential pro contracts but it probably doesn't help too much. That's not the point though. The point is that if Cipo hadn't come out of retirement, the answer would have been something like, "What, are you crazy?" Cipo's little foray back into the pro peloton opened a previously closed path to pros who still have the itch to race.

Hopefully tomorrow I'll read that, in fact, Rock Racing is here to stay.

But if not, well, I think they have a perfect kit for a nice R.I.P good-bye page.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Training - Random Thoughts, Kittens

Last night I watched Parts 3 and 4 of Band of Brothers. Okay, technically I climbed off the bike just before the end of Part 4, but I spent a good amount of time on the bike. The night before I watched Parts 1 and 2. I've been doing some database collecting and will be reporting on some of my findings soon.

I've also been ignoring my power and heart rate numbers, focusing primarily on cadence. I want to spin better in 2009 so I want to get more coordinated on the bike. Focusing on "human" training I guess, rather than going by the (power) numbers.

A few random thoughts I've had over the last few days:

1. I read that Astana is "experimenting" with tall profile wheels, like over 80 mm tall.

With all of Bruyneel's experience in leading his racers, I always wonder how his team is a few years behind when it comes to equipment design. They didn't use taller profile wheels for forever and they had relatively ordinary frames. Compared to a CSC type team, they've seemed to be behind the curve. I know that as Discovery/USPS they won races, but it just seems like they've been stacking the deck against themselves.

Speaking of which, I've been doing some homework on the aero front. I don't expect any solid results for a while (probably months) but it'll be interesting learning.

2. Floyd is.. I dunno.

3. Riding hard is hard, hard mentally.

I ride easier because of that. But I don't get as fit doing "easier" rides.

4. In 2009 I will be using almost no new equipment.

Maybe a tire or two, probably a set of brake pads, but that's about it. My bike evolution will pause for a year while my fiscal flexibility becomes more flexible. Hopefully. My ultimate dream would be to have sub 1400 gram 58+ mm wheels but I think I'll have to get by with a 440 front rim (58mm) and the Reynolds rear (46 mm).

11 speed? That'll have to wait a bit.

5. I'm honing in on a California trip date.

I figure just over a week, hopefully two weekends, a trip long enough to exhaust myself, short enough to avoid getting sick. Getting the trip solidified is important for my motivation because as significant as Bethel is, the trip is the "first test" and therefore a "first goal". Without what had been a regular January trip to Florida, the California trip becomes a bit more significant. Contrary to my #3 above, I'm going to have to motivate myself to ride hard before California because the trip will be the honing of form, not the building of it.

6. Petacchi chose his leadout man over Danilo Hondo.

Of course he did. A sprinter needs his posse, not a rival sprinter. By keeping his leadout train together he builds their loyalty, and their loyalty will let them get through the tough spots. If Petacchi loses five wonderfully led out sprints in a row, a less loyal team could lose faith. His guys, though, will just think, "Next time, next time he'll do it."

And they'll kill themselves the next time to lead out the whole field.

7. In 2009, if I get some reasonable training in, I'd like to do a road race or two.

At the worst, if it's a circuit race, I can feed other racers after I drop out. At the best I can, well, hope to finish off the back (being realistic, based on about 15 years of doing road races). I think the 2-4 hour threshold riding (with a few deep anaerobic spikes) is critical towards building fitness, and I've skipped out on this for a long time.

8. I want to set up my workbench soon, maybe even today.

I haven't had an operational workbench since 1997, and I really miss it. It's actually the same bench so it'll be good to use it once again. It'll have a new vise, a much heavier one, but otherwise it'll be the same. Same tool board (although it may need some freshening up), same wood, same paint. There's a history to the bench which I'll have to write about one day.


And finally, onto smaller and furrier things. The kittens. I can't help but coo over the kittens since we've decided to keep them.

Admiring the missus's wreath and the "never smelled it in my life" pine scent.

Bella likes to warm her paws when the heat kicks on. It looks like she's playing piano when the heater is really hot.

So does, um, Riley. Or Hal. I think it's Riley.

Bella checking out Riley.

Bella will run to a baseboard when she hears the water start to flow, and wait until it's nice and warm. Then she'll stick her paws between the slats or just lay them on top of the heater. When the water stops flowing and the metal starts to cool, she'll jump on top to get as much heat as possible. She used to stand on the baseboard at first heat but the intense heat (about 150-160 degrees F) would make her hop around until her paws seemed like they should be smoking. Then she'd revert to the "sit at the bar" pose, a much easier way of regulating how much heat her paws receive.

Riley, it seems, learned from the more inquisitive Bella.

Relating to the kittens, we visited the vet last night with the four of them. They all checked out nicely, even taking their shots with just a narrowing of their eyes. I have to admit that I cringed more when they got their shots than anyone else did in the room, kitties included.

We also saw the quarantined cat, the one that bit me. To get the glue trap off they had to shave the poor thing (mineral oil helps but just won't do a 100% job), but otherwise it seems pretty healthy. Physically that is. It was hiding behind its litter box, tail curled up, eyes out of sight, so I think it's been traumatized by the whole experience.

My hand, too, is doing well. Antibiotics are an amazing thing. My wounds are healing so fast that if I'd observed this on another person, I'd swear they were using steroids or HGH. I guess fighting off infection slows down would healing, but that's just a guess. Whatever, a wound I received the week prior is still healing (but painless). In contrast, one of the four glue-trap-cat punctures is already gone, and the other three are only slightly uncomfortable when I apply a lot of pressure on them.

The kittens are officially ours now - they've been "entered in the database" at the vet's office. I guess in this computer age that's what makes something official. I think, though, that anyone who knows us knew that it would be official, long before anyone typed it into a computer.

For some things you don't need a computer to know it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Training - Back on the Wagon

You know, these antibiotics are pretty amazing. The cat scratches I got from the glue trap kitty, a poke I got from a yet another feral cat (a black one, currently in a foster/permanent home), and a variety of our own kitten's enthusiastic claw marks are all disappearing fast. I feel like I'm healing inside out, which, when I think about it, I guess I am. The cool thing is that I feel like I don't need to protect the would from infection because the protection is oozing out from within. In fact, by letting blood flow from the black cat poke (it was getting pretty inflamed for a 2 mm wide, 2 mm deep "biopsy") made it heal almost overnight.

It's gotten pretty cold here recently - this morning it was in the high single digits (like 8 or 10 degrees, but it "feels like 1" according to With my hardware store job taking me into either unheated grain storage or outdoor propane tank storage areas, it's easy to tell when, say, my hand is hot and inflamed. Saturday it was pretty inflamed, pink and warm even after an outing in the cold. Today the pinkness is only a few millimeters wide.

I guess now I know why folks like taking antibiotics when they really shouldn't. And why, therefore, there are more instances of various superbugs that shrug off this and other miracle drugs.

Along with recovering nicely with the aid of antibiotics, I've also seen some immediate results with my return to doing some core type exercises. In the middle of the night, when I needed to sit up, I just... sat up.

I actually felt like a Frankenstein person ("It's alive!") sitting up on the table - it was that smooth, that effortless. I didn't have to twist and turn like normal to leverage my body upright, and I know this because nowadays sleeping on the bed is really tricky, like trying to park an eighteen wheeler between a bunch of cones with only a few inches clearance on each side.

See, the kittens we've been fostering, the ones we've been trying place in homes, well, they sleep on our bed. So when I wake up, I have three tiny bundles of fuzzy fur (Bella, Hal, Riley) curled up into little balls placed randomly around me, a slightly larger and softer bundle of fur (Mike), the ever present and Optimus Prime like Tiger, and Lilly, the matron of them all. The latter two have learned to avoid sleeping next to potentially rolling humans, but the little ones think sleeping against the small of my back is perfectly acceptable.

So when I need to sit up, I have to do it without tilting in any direction, lest I accidentally crush a kitten.

I know, I know, why haven't we given the majority of them away?

We tried. We tried for a long time, pretty much from the middle of October, when we caught them. And, frankly, no one really wanted them.

So we decided to keep them.

It was sadly predictable, and I even told people at work that I thought we were going to become a six cat household. The whole thing sort of happened by accident really. On the way to an internet-less (by choice), bike-less (by choice), workout-less (by choice) "Dad and Brother's House", I had one of those random thoughts that I shared with the missus. I thought about how, in the last few days, I went from thinking of Hal and Riley and Mike as "well, I'll miss them when they leave" to "well, it wouldn't be too bad to watch them grow up to be big healthy cats". I wasn't thinking that this would necessarily happen, I just observed that I'd grown attached to them.

So I said something like this to the missus.

"You know, in the last few days I went from feeling like 'oh, when are the cats going to be adopted' to 'oh, maybe it wouldn't be so bad if we couldn't find homes for them'"

"Me too!"

Then, at my dad's place, the missus blurted out, "He made the decision to keep them, so we're keeping them."


I must have had a shocked look on my face, but, when I think of it, it was inevitable, from the moment we made the kittens feel so miserable when we spent hours bathing them, trying to get rid of their fleas.

As I told the missus then, we were getting the best part of the deal with them. We suffered to help them, investing time, emotion, and even money into them. We spent hours bathing them, wet, cold, miserable, holding confused, scared, and cold kittens, water turning brown with their blood (from the fleas trying to hold onto their skin). We (or, in this case, the missus) tiredly cleaned up their poop that they scattered everywhere while they had digestive problems. We washed their bowls three times a day, making sure we could feed them three square meals (of an anti-flingy-poop prescription food) a day. I started trimming their claws regularly, teaching them that the "cradle" position is one that is not threatening but that they have no choice but to accept being held like that. I also pet them afterwards and gently put them down each time so that they know that such cradling never hurts them. And so on and so forth.

In return we watched them in their cutest stage, toppling over when they shook their heads, awkwardly chased each other around, did all sorts of wiggly cute things while learning how to "hunt". They gradually learned how to go to the bathroom more neatly, started bathing each other, and did all sorts of fun things that would make me go scrambling to get the camera just one more time. When, on my 4 megapixel camera, I had 350 megabytes of pictures in ONE DAY, you know that, well, we like the little ones.

So what's all this got to do with training?

The kittens are a metaphor, if you will. They required an inordinate amount of time and energy at the beginning. There were miserable times, the poop cleaning, the bum-wiping (they were too young to clean themselves), the food messes, everything. We learned how to deal with things and started to streamline operations.

It's kind of like learning how to race a bike, to train, to become a cyclist.

Now, with the "base work" out of the way, the kittens are much more enjoyable. Instead of worrying about the most basic problems (like wiping their butts), we worry about other things. For example, we need to think of a way to keep them from falling from the second floor walkway, especially the somewhat clumsy Mike, and we have about two weeks to make it happen. But this is a good problem, kind of like trying to decide which carbon aero wheel is best for doing a particular race.

In the kitten example we're seeing a reward within weeks of starting the whole process. Hopefully the training goes as quickly.

There are other things too.

My back problems forced me to focus on my core strengths (and weaknesses), and since I used to do a lot of core exercises, the strength came back pretty quickly. My "sit up without putting a hand down on a kitten or toppling to one side on top of another kitten" illustrated that vividly.

The attempt to help the glue trap cat led me to get a tetanus shot and take antibiotics, something that conveniently got rid of some lingering wounds and enabled me to both heal and to relax about potential future injuries.

And I couldn't ride while I was laid up for those various injuries, building motivation even more. Now all this pent up energy has motivated me to get on the bike. So, with a stutter start, my season started going.

Today, at work, I checked the calender, and tried to pinpoint when I could make it to California for my now-traditional February California training camp. With the Tour of California hitting Palomar Mountain this year, I want to be there for the race, and this will be the first time that I'll actually get to be around at the same time as all the pros.

I also started thinking of all the things I'd been doing in the previous few years to try and get in shape over the winter. I tried to remember what I ate, how I lifted, things I did.

Then I made some lists of things I need or want to do. Of course.

Tonight, after a meal of some pasta and coffee, I played a bit with the cats and then did something on that list.

I went downstairs and got on my bike.

For a nice, solid, two hour ride.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Life - Cats, Backs, and Tires

This morning I made it to work, my hand wounds red and swollen. The physician's assistant yesterday pointed out that cleaning the wound regularly would be somewhat redundant since the bacteria is deep in there and cleaning won't help. Plus I'm on some powerful antibiotics so they'll get the bacteria from inside-out. I figured the various swelling, bursting, and reducing of my wounds was sort of normal.


One of the first calls at work came from a doctor who was there when I got bitten. I heard the owner on the phone.

"Yeah, he's okay. He got a tetanus shot and he's taking antibiotics."

A pause.

"What? No, no, no, the employee, not the cat!"

The missus had a similar conversation with a friend of ours. The friend asked how things were with the cat and myself.

"Well, we dropped the cat off at the vet. They're going to quarantine it for two weeks for observation. But he looked fine."


"What? Oh, him? He's fine."

It's not hard to figure out why a boatload of illegal immigrants got shipped out while the dog on the ship got thousands of adoption offers.

(okay, I can't find a link to the story, but I think it was in Vancouver)

My hand is aching quite a bit, my finger splitting open regularly (minor split, nothing crazy). My tetanus arm isn't sore, but I've studiously avoided lifting too much stuff today.

I also got an update on the MRI from the other week. Someone from the office called and reported the results.

"The MRI showed a few bulging discs and some minor tearing, but this is not serious. You can continue with your exercises if you are not in pain."

A "few bulging discs"? "Minor" tearing?

I'm going to be doing my exercises, but it seems like they're taking things a bit lightly. Maybe it's just me though. So I'll do my exercises and see what happens. I did read that such things will heal themselves over time so I figure they will.

Before the cat bit me I did get a chance to revisit my high school days (which is when I started racing bicycles). A couple days ago I went to a local high school to borrow their car shop (I happened to know one of the shop teachers). Specifically I went to mount and balance eight car tires, snow tires to replace the all seasons. We now have two steep hills to deal with just to leave the house (driveway and road) and I started having visions of our cars blissfully sliding off the road on inadequate all-seasons.

When I pulled up to the three bay shop, I knew right away I was at a high school. Boys being boys, they flocked around the missus's car after I got out. They peered in the windows, saw the all the tires, checked out whatever mods the car had, and assimilated their observations.

Then one of the bolder kids walked up to me.

"Do you listen to John Mayer?"

Now, I have to admit that I proposed using one of his songs as our wedding theme song because that's the popular song off of his CD when the missus and I first started dating. But I should also point out that I don't listen to him when I am driving along on my own. So I answered from that latter perspective.

"No, I don't. It's my wife's car."

The kid turned to his friend.

"Dude, I so called it!"

Ah, yes, high school.

Another brief exchange illustrated things a bit too.

"Dude, how much did you spend on the tires?", this from a wide eyed kid taking in what had to be months' worth of pay in Michelin and Dunlop products.

"About $750-800."

"Wow... you could buy some nice rims for that..."

I quickly thought of a few things. Since I worked in IT I used to think of $400 for tires as, well, normal. I would only have to get paid a couple days to pay for them. The tires for the blue car would be "expensive" - the rears would have been over $800 a piece, the fronts about $400 or so each. Now, like the way the kids figure it, the tires are worth much more "work time" to me. I have to count in weeks to figure out how to pay for an order of tires, not days. I'm in their boat now.

And that's not all. When I got paid more, I got paid no matter what. I got paid when I was sick. I got paid when I took vacation. Heck, I got paid when I was out riding a bike in California! Now I only get paid when I'm working. I can go train in California but I won't be getting paid.

Man, what a bummer.

I gave up a good chance to pipe up about the value of education, so I decided I'd say something the next time I showed up. I mischievously told my friend there that I'd bring the blue car as a treat and change the oil or something. He pointed out that I wouldn't be able to leave the shop for a second with the kids there. I think it would be okay but, well, I wouldn't leave it there for a day, that's for sure.

Whatever. The kids enthusiastically took over the tire mounting bit, a few even staying after class to finish. I felt like I had my own little F1 crew. The noises of a garage cut through the air, the whining lift, the burping impact wrench, the whirring of the tire machine, all with a background of kids running around, yelling, talking, and grunting as they moved the heavy-ish wheels and tires around.

I didn't do much at first. I pointed out which tires went on which wheels (kind of easy as there was one set of 14" wheels and one set of 15" wheels). Later I did some real work - I started balancing the tires, a process that took much longer due to the fact that I had to scrounge around for weights (apparently some of the kids chuck them at each other).

The kids were generally good though, a couple of the older ones taking charge, making sure the directional tires pointed in the right direction, giving tips on how to mount tires quicker and easier, making sure that the 14" tires were stacked here and the 15" over there. Everyone gravitated towards the tasks that suited them.

The whole thing reminded me of how I think things ought to work with, say, a cycling team. An excuse brings together a bunch of kids with similar interests, or interests that allow them to participate in some activity together.

The latter is key because bike racing is not just about racing bicycles. It's about promoting races, organizing clubs and teams, putting together a clothing order, getting legal things handled and done, and other sorts of non-cycling stuff. An example - my calls and faxes to the town of Bethel. One doesn't need to be a cyclist to do that, but one does need to know how to communicate in a business-effective manner.

Cycling teams need all sorts of people. The riders are the easy ones to find - just go to a race and start looking around at the unattached folks. It's the other contributors which are harder to find - the organizers, the detail people, the analyzers, the managers.

It was kind of like the mounting and balancing tires thing at the high school. The process could be construed as just mounting and balancing tires. That would have precluded a petite pink haired girl in all black from participating since she'd probably topple over had she tried to pick up a wheel.

Instead, she decided to contribute in a different way.

She picked up a clean shop rag and started to primly, carefully, meticulously, wipe down the hub caps.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Life - Hidden Costs

So we still have four kittens at the house. Technically three are still up for adoption, just to set the record straight.

Bella, she's been well integrated into the family. She seems to be the only one willing to jump into a cat box with Tiger, she is trying hard to displace him as the feline that cuddles up under the blankets with us, and she's always the first to come exploring when something new happens.

Tiger, except for the "under blanket choice" thing, seems to take it in stride. He scoots away quickly if Bella ends up under the blankets, but otherwise, well, he's pretty good about things.

Tiger sitting in the recently liberated cat carrier. An idea of scale here... compare it with this shot:

Three kittens in that same carrier.

Bella just delirious with comfort.

Tiger is a friendly cat.

What a smirk.

The other cats are integrating well too. We now have a taste for their personalities. Hal, the white male (straight-across mohawk pattern) is most like Bella. He's a human Geiger counter - walk into his vicinity and he'll start purring like crazy. He'll poke his nose into everything, boldly curious, loves to chase the Stick (a set of "fishing rod dowels" with a zip tie or a broken Livestrong Band tied to it via a long string). He chirps like Tiger does when he's happy or satisfied or making an effort - he'll run somewhere, chirp, run somewhere else, chirp, and so on.

Riley, his twin sister (V-shape in the mohawk) is more cautious. She'll check all around her spot for the best way down, carefully weighing her options before deciding on one. She'll play, but she'll let the others play first, then when they're worn down, she'll jump in. A tactical cat, if you will. She doesn't purr except when she's really sleepy, and she'll hide (and stay hiding) if she has any doubts about what's going on.

Mike is the big soft bruiser. Mean looking, he's the most skittish of all the cats. Usually my first sight of him when I come home is his tail as he dives for cover behind the bed. But a minute later he'll come trotting over and plunk himself down, content to hang out near the Humans. He loves to drape over the edge of furniture, dangling his paws, swiping half heartedly at any kitten wandering by. He, too, is a human Geiger counter, and when he's less rudely interrupted (i.e. the storm door and front door don't slam shut), he'll purr before you can touch him. He meows his quiet, cracking meow when he wants out, and he does this every now and then.

Hal, Mike, and Bella. They scaled the mattress (leaning against the wall) and looked outside for a while. Mike was still looking when I took the shot, a bit longingly I think.

Mike looking mean. Or tired.

Mike doing his flounder pose. Or bear rug, but flounder sounds better. I always think of that Gary Larson "Boneless Chicken Ranch" thing when I see him like this.

Mike (underneath) with Bella, with the matronly Lilly looking on.

So, yes, the cats are all happy, well behaved, and acting like cats in human households should act. They're nice, playful, and technically Hal, Riley, and Mike are up for adoption.

I describe their temperament because, frankly, I never understood what made a cat a feral cat. I mean, yeah, this is what I think of when I think of a feral cat: Grey. We caught her, we gave her to the vet, and after an aero wheel's worth of medical bills, she was fixed, innoculated, and cleaned of fleas. She also gained a lot of weight, looking much better than her initial 7.5 pounds.

She seems to have maintained her weight, partly because of a generous effort designed to keep her well fed. The owner sometimes feeds her, her daughter too, but I feed her at least 5 days a week. The other day I took the camera and used it as a flashlight under the store.

Where is Grey?

I put the cat bed there on the left (fuzzy brown thing), the yellow box next to it, and laid out the roofing shingles to keep the dust down. I liberated two of the feeding bowls from inside the store (we used them to feed the two labs that the owners have) and I cleared out the poop and litter from the area. I think Grey learned about feeding in her few weeks of captivity. She's consistently there when I go feed her.

(Note - she's actually in the picture above, between the cat bed and the concrete block to the left.)

She makes it easy for me to spot her though - she moves around to three different spots most of the time. One is behind the left concrete block, one is behind the right block, and one is directly in front of me, but at the other side of the building. When she moved to the "in front of me" spot, I finally got a decent picture of her.


She looks healthy, well fed, alert, and agile. I peeked in about a minute after leaving her a couple bowls of food and found her at one, eating. She scampered off as expected. The next morning, she was there again.

Tonight I'm typing a little slower than normal. In the course of the past week, I received word of a cat walking around with a glue trap stuck to its side. I felt it my civic duty to capture, clean, and fix said cat (hoping it wasn't Grey), and set about trying to put action to my thoughts. My first trapping attempt failed because I set a "both sides open" trap and baited only one side.


I told myself that I was just trying to feed the cat wet food and that I wanted to just get it used to the cage.

Today I set the trap correctly, and, predictably, I found a cat in there.

Luckily, it had a glue trap on it.

Unfortunately, it was not a cat we'd ever seen before.

In fact, in looking at the cat, it looked like a Mike-aged Bella. Perhaps Mike's sister (or brother, but her cautious nature makes me think it's a she, so I'll call her a she for now). She calmed down in the office, and after some consultation with the owner, I went to the bathroom to clean the glue off of the cat. I planned to use mineral oil which, at worst, would act as a laxative if the cat licked it up. I took my heavy duty gloves, long sleeved shirt, and gently let her go on the floor.

Then I reached out to pick her up.

When she bit me I was half crouched, the cat just above the top of the toilet. I could feel her teeth work their way into my hand, a deep, rich, solidly anchored bite.

It hurt.

I must have had a shocked look on my face - a cat, biting me?! I grabbed her jaws, opened them up a touch, and pulled her away. I realized right away that I had gotten into something I couldn't handle, and I had to get the cat back into the cage.

I went to grab her again, to switch hands, to get the cage open, and she sank her teeth into me again. Deep and solid, I could feel her teeth working their way in, an act of desperation by a creature fighting for its life.

This one really hurt.

I can't imagine getting stabbed or something - this was like getting jabbed with a pencil or something. I couldn't get her jaws off of me so I put her on the floor, held her in place with a firm push of my (steel toed) boot, and grasped her cuff just about as tight as one can grasp a cuff. I pulled her away from my hand.

She finally, reluctantly, let go.

I whipped my hand away, my glove sliding off because her fang had totally impaled it. Blood, I noticed, was started to drip everywhere.

With the cuff-grab, the cat was frozen in place. I managed to open the cage on its end and stuck the cat inside. The glove fell off her tooth when the glove hit the cage edge, and when I let go of the cat, she jumped in the cage.

I closed the cage door, and then, dripping blood from my hand, tried to clean it up. My hand started throbbing, I got sort of dizzy, and my finger felt like it was ballooning up (but my analytical mind compared the two fingers and basically they were the same size). I tried not to drip blood everywhere as I walked back to the office, to report the unfortunate situation.

Feral cats are feral. They are not cute kitties. Bella and Hal and Riley and Mike are not feral cats. Sure they were born to a feral mom.

But they are not wild animals.

The glue trap cat is a wild animal. A wild animal that is scared, and when I tried to pick her up, a wild animal that feels threatened.

I called our vet, the one that handles all of our cats. I described to him what had happened, how we'd found this cat, and that it was really a kitten, blah blah blah. I didn't realize how well he knew us until I said, "Well, the kitten is maybe 12 to 15 weeks old, because it's about as big as our big kitten."

"You mean Mike?"


Then he laid it out for us.

"We can put down the cat, have it tested, and act accordingly. Or we can quarantine the cat for two weeks and we'll know well before then if the cat is okay."


"Knowing you, you'll take the second option."

Am I that easy to read?

Twenty minutes later we dropped off the poor cat at the vet. Wild feral cat, yes, but one that was in pitiful shape thanks to a glue trap and most of its fur matted in gluey material. The doc (Hal, i.e. we named our kittens Hal and Riley after our vets) said they have tools to deal with wild animals - plastic head balls to keep them from biting, assistants to hold their legs, and if it came to it, "chemical sedation".

What did I get? I got a nice walk-in clinic visit, a tetanus shot, another bill to add to my mounting medical expense list, and a quick trip to CVS on the way home to pick up some antibiotics. And while we were there I picked up replacement hydrogen peroxide (I used up all of the stuff we had at the store) and some first aid spray (we had none at the store).

Apparently a cat's claws resemble bacteria injection weapons. Bio warfare, if you will. Accordingly I had to take some antibiotics. I didn't know but now they include a description of the pill. This way you know if someone's been messing with your meds.

"These are huge pills!" - the Missus.

The first bite marks are visible at the base of my index finger. The second marks are covered by the bandaid. They all hurt.

I couldn't stop talking about Tiger through all of this. Tiger and Lilly and even the kittens. They are, as I now realize, about as civilized as a cat will ever be - they only need to eat using the outermost utensil first to become snooty class citizens. I realized the only reason why the cat couldn't bite deeper is because she'd bottomed out her fangs on me, and the thick gloves took up a precious couple millimeters of "fang penetration depth". If Tiger had bitten me like this, well, I'd be in the hospital dictating this post, not typing it.

So I learned a lot today. I learned about the difference between a wild animal and a tame one, a scared animal and a threatened one. I learned that I will select gloves (if I ever need to handle a feral cat) based on the animal's expected fang and claw lengths, and to select a glove that would force even a long fang to bottom out before it got too deep into my skin (ditto jacket and pants).

I've also learned to appreciate just how precious our cats are, how friendly they are, and to not take them for granted.

And yes, this means I didn't train tonight. Drat it all.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Training - Motivation

Dateline - Jan 18, 2007

(imagine the teletype noise chomping away in the background...)

I started writing this post at the beginning of last year, and although I peeked at it for the next twenty odd months, I didn't have the "stuff" to finish it off.

Now I do.

Yeah, I can say I get burnt out now and then. It's usually a function/result of non-cycling life events or stresses like work, family, personal, etc. But if the other things are under control, or if my escape for those stresses is cycling, then my cycling stays pretty consistent. Once I got into the rhythm of consistent racing when I was a kid, I rode about 50 weeks a year for 10-12 years, taking time off only for sickness (usually strep throat). Somehow, at the same time, I was extremely motivated virtually every month.

Now it's not like that too much.

I figure there are two or three levels of burnout.

An obvious one is where you are physically unable to recover, even after a day or three of rest. This type of physical burnout is difficult for me to attain because I simply can't push like that mentally anymore. The year I turned "Senior" (18 years old), though, was a different story. I started it off by doing well in a bunch of races, and thoroughly inspired, decided that I had to suddenly train 300-400 miles a week to attain my Cat 2 dream. I cranked the mileage way up and my speed dropped way down. I think I finished one race out of 50 or so, and I was slow whenever I got on the bike. I never allowed myself time to recover and kept digging myself deeper and deeper into the training hole. I stepped down the mileage and did much better the next year.

Physical burnout is difficult to handle. You are motivated to train so you've pushed yourself too far. The motivation is the problem - you have to keep it under control, allow the body to recover, and let the body recover before going crazy again. I found it extremely difficult to cut down my training time but I finally used my motivation to do so. Since then I half jokingly say that I've been recovering a lot, i.e. not training. But resting does help if it's preceded by a heavy training schedule, one that requires rest and recovery.

Sometimes the physical burnout is actually a symptom of a real problem. Deep rooted fatigue can be a sign of various viruses and such. I remember reading about various pros losing a season due to Epstein-something virus ("mono") or Lyme or some other seemingly minor inconvenience.

The other types of burnout are usually mental, one where the rider finds it hard to ride or race mentally, even though the body is capable. One is where you hate the bike, don't want to go near it. I've rarely been at that stage but when it happened I just accepted it as how it should be and stayed off the bike. This happened when I had serious problems in my life, beyond a selfish level, like when the shop closed, or when my mom was very ill. These thing transcended anything at a more self centered theme like relationships or school or other more transient things. I never hated the bike but I could walk by it and not think twice about it. I recall thinking that I'd been walking around a bike leaned up near the washing machine for weeks - I was so unconcerned with cycling that I didn't even feel like wheeling the bike elsewhere.

Another level of burn out is when I'm not motivated to train too much. I want to race but I find it hard to go out and do an hour or two on the bike. This type of attitude has dominated the last ten years of my racing - I find it extremely difficult to go and train consistently, even when working through various cycles of peaks and valleys. This happens because of being "busy" and not having time or energy to work out, although I also learned the hard way that a block of 150 hours is about my limit without taking a focused break from the bike. This means I can ride 150 hours in a pretty intense schedule (it took me about 3 months), then I need to take some time off the bike, then I can think about doing it again.

In this type of "mental fatigue" state, I try and allot times to work out, pinpointing nice days, writing off poor weather days for mental breaks. I think group rides are excellent for working through these periods, and group rides like Gimbles basically saved my riding many summers in a row.

Finally there are the days where I just don't feel motivated to ride, even though it might be, say, a nice weather day where I targeted a ride. Since this is the most common problem I have with training, I thought of ways to "fix" it.

I realized I rely on a few things to keep me focused when I feel less than motivated. This works for the second and third examples.
1. Coffee, Coke, etc. Any caffeinated drink with sugar.
2. Music to get my psyched. Videos don't work as well because I end up watching the whole thing and get engrossed in the race itself. This is on a trainer, but I'll play MP3s on my phone through my hands free earbud. I don't blast the music - I keep it pretty low, letting my memory fill in the musical blanks. The combination of memory and the subtle reminders emanating from the earbud gets me psyched though.
3. Try new equipment, or use race equipment. Sometimes I'll go out on race wheels to reward myself on a day where I need to make hard efforts. The light weight and fast acceleration makes it difficult to control myself just pulling away from the first stop sign.
4. Don't try and do mentally difficult things. This means going out to do two or three 30 minute efforts, or to try and get to a certain landmark in less than 90 minutes (a California thing for me). That's very hard mentally. But if I go out to get some sun and chase buses and trucks at three or four spots on my loop, well, mentally it's much more relaxing. Sometimes, if I take a time check at that particular landmark, I'll find that, hey, I got there in 87 minutes, and that was without trying.
5. Mental imagery during the ride. I used to do this all the time on easy rides. I'll do things like practice bike throws at shadows across the road, climb slowly but pretend I'm climbing fast, etc. When I learned hard musical passages on the violin, I'd play them slowly first, get the form and technique down, then accelerate the pace. These easy days are like that, going slow, honing technique, but not actually making the efforts physically.
6. Work on form. Pure cycling form, not the stuff I just described above. I'd focus on pedaling smoothly, no upper body movement, relaxed arms, etc. Keep track of cadence, keep it steady, ride the white line, and time starts to pass pretty quickly.
7. Do a big loop instead of a couple little ones. This is my favorite way of getting longer rides in - if I end up 50 miles away from home, my minimum ride is 50 miles. In the cooler months the shorter days add another motivating factor - darkness. I ride a lot quicker as the sun sets, and time really flies when you don't want it to.
8. Finally, I find that long rides on the trainer have enabled me to churn out some decent amount of time on the bike without getting overly burnt out. Because I've stuck out increasingly long rides on the trainer, I build endurance in a safe and controlled environment. Then, when I finally get outside, I end up riding a lot before I start getting those twinges and such. Time really flies when I'm outside, and I'll find myself doing 2 or 3 hours before I start wondering how long I've been out. I should point out that some of my trainer rides can extend well past a full movie (120 minutes). A regular ride is about an hour, a regular long ride is two hours, and a long ride is anything over 3 hours. This is actual pedaling time since that's what the computer seems to track.

Having said all that, with my job, house stuff, family stuff, Bethel stuff, car stuff, heck, even my back, I've been riding relatively infrequently. The house stuff is especially important since it's unsettling to not be settled.

I figure it's okay for now but this is building my motivation to ride dramatically. Although I'm not riding too much, my "burnout" level is actually quite low.

This means I just have to make time to ride.

Which means... I'm heading downstairs to ride.

After we move the new mattress to our bedroom.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bethel Spring Series - Planning For 2009

Ah yes, the next Bethel Spring Series. If I'm not thinking about the Series going on right now, I'm starting to stress about next year's Series. In the fall the stress level gets beyond sketching and writing lists and stuff - it turns into action.

So, the other day, I called and faxed the town. Once they approve of things then everything goes forward.

Remember that if you're promoting a race - get the town's approval first! Without approval from the municipalities whose roads you want to use, well, no race.

I've been sketching and listing things for Bethel somewhat compulsively for, oh, maybe six months now, starting the month after Bethel ended. The first month I usually bathe in the relief that another Series is done, but after a few weeks of that, well, I start thinking again. Plans for quicker tent set ups, plans for better sweep devices, even plans for having a more equipment.

It's sort of an interesting process. I suppose I always brainstormed, or thought about things, or whatever you want to call it. Obsess over them?

Something like that.

Brainstorming, though, I actually learned about in school when we helped an engineer living on the floor to get over 400 ideas on how to save people from a burning skyscraper (this was back in the mid/late 80s). I learned to think about ideas with no regard for reality, cost, or execution. For example, one of our "save people from a burning skyscraper" ideas was to make a lot of Jell-O so that people could just step out and land in some Jell-O.

The stickiness, suffocation, cost of making a few million cubic feet of Jell-O, that wasn't the point.

The point was that we had one more potential solution to the problem.

So, along those lines, I started thinking about Bethel. How to improve it, how to make it easier on the staff. The latter includes me, and since I stress about Bethel, my goal is to make the race easier on me too.

I started thinking of the crazy things, dismissing some of them pretty quickly. I still thought of them though, and eventually it'd be cool to make some of them a reality. But for now, they're just fanciful whims.

- Flying camera, mounted on a plane or similar. A friend with a pilot license wanted to take a picture of the race from above, even take video, but he found out the race is in an approach zone for Danbury Airport. Scratch that idea, but apparently there is someone out there shooting video from RC planes.

Now that would be cool.

Since I don't have an RC plane, nor any cameras which will broadcast that far, that idea went on a backburner.

This idea led to one of setting up wireless, self-powered security cameras all over the course so we could have a live video feed of the race at the start/finish line. I haven't thought this through so for now that too is on a back burner.

- Portable registration office. I was thinking a large trailer, heated, lighted, that we could use as a registration desk (imagine one of those food vendor trailers at a summer fair). Such a trailer wouldn't get blown over by even Bethel Spring Series winds, it wouldn't need to be put up and taken down each day, and it'd be easy to store. I even priced some trailers from a wholesaler and came up with lots of ideas on how to make it work. I want to do this eventually but I ran into a huge obstacle - money. We could buy a trailer at wholesale, but we'd have to buy five of them, which kind of blows the budget. At retail, well, we can't buy it.

Trailer goes on the Hold list.

- Efficient sweeping machines. I debate over this internally. The annual Sweep Day really brings together the folks that help out, racers looking to help and also looking for some free entry. Last year I think 30-odd people helped, which, if you figure out how many races I gave away for that, saved themselves $2100.

That would have paid for the rest of a single trailer at retail.

A few years ago, I decided that I'd try to make Sweep Day what I thought would be ideal - "a one hour, two man job." Or something like that. The problem is that it would then eliminate that community building Sweep Day. I really don't want to do that.

Nonetheless, over the years, I've thought about how to sweep the road better. The wet sand likes a broom run over it so it readily gets moved by the blower(s). The blowers are great except we can't put sand onto the lawns next to the road, so it would be ideal to vacuum the dirt into a bin in the van.

Following those straightforward principles, I've sketched a lot of Da Vinci like sketches of home made street sweepers. It's usually some variance of "three to five brooms clamped on pipes in front of two wheeled blowers blowing the loosened sand into a ramp like tube leading to a big bin to collect sand", but when I started pricing the parts, it got a bit crazy.

I've decided to compromise. I think that power tools help, even if they burn up some irreplaceable fossil fuel, but the Etch-A-Sketch slash DaVinci gizmos are a bit too outlandish, even for me. So, with the help of the understanding hardware store for whom I work, I'll be getting some Echo modular power tools with a rotary brush head. Since I know their cost and retail and all that, and that they make like $10 on every gizmo, I'll pay retail.

They cost about $800 for each set up.

Okay, so I think I'm getting one of them.

Combined with judicious use of a quiet generator in the van, a Wet-Dry vac plugged into said generator, and a big container for sand (like a wheelbarrow), I think it'll be possible to walk behind a backing-up van, loosening sand, and vacuuming it up into the van. We'd dump the sand in some subtle place (like in a cul-de-sac, or in a sandy dirt driveway). I figure we can clear the course in, say, 1 hour with maybe six people (three for the van-vac-powersweeper, and three more to do miscellaneous sweeping and such) . Or something like that.

Then later I'll make the enormous DaVinci-like homemade street sweeper. Heh. And if it works I'll market it as a low-buck alternative to those enormous, heavy, expensive, and unreliable street sweepers.

- Generators. Speaking of generators... I hate yelling over the generators. We have two requirements for power. The first is that we need it for two locations, the tent and the start/finish. The second is that we need to hear ourselves think, so we place the really noisy generator between the two locations. This way it's just an annoyance, not a downright crippling soundwave producer.

So the solution? We'll get two quiet ones, one for each spot. This avoids running the power cords all over the place, keeps the wires off the ground (since the generators will be right there, and everything can hang out together), and allow both ends of the race crew (officials and registration) to run smoothly. The problem is that each quiet generator costs twice that of the one big noisy generator we have, about $800 for each quiet one to $500 for the noisy one. I put this on a "must have" list though and I intend to keep them there.

- Tents and sides. Since we can't have a trailer for 2009, we have to stick with the tents. This is a big disappointment but financially I just can't justify it. The tents take forever to set up, so I started thinking of ways to make things quicker.

One is tying things down - using tie-down straps correctly (I learned this after the last Bethel we did) will help a lot. This beats what we use now, the stretching and unpredictable ropes which take forever to set up.

Another tent issue is dealing with the sides. They're a pain, they're big, and they like to blow around. We need some way of storing the sides (8' high, 10' wide) in a smooth and efficient way. I was thinking of a huge bar and rolling the sides up on it, kind of like a 10' wide paper towel roll.

We also need to attach the sides quickly. I've been perusing the hardware store's catalogs, looking for the quickest way to attach the sides. I can't say I've been successful but I hope I can come up with something. It should combine making the sides more rigid, making them more windproof, and make it easier to put up and take down.

Finally we need heat in the tents. We don't need it, but it would make life immensely nicer for the helpful registration souls if it was heated. A big hint is the fingerless gloves the missus has knit. It was good practice and, as she put it, "We can use it at Bethel."

Okay, I got the message. Find heat.

Right now we have a big LP heater but it's sort of primitive and not shielded at all. It melts things like tent sides, jackets, and anything else that touches it. I did briefly think of a wood burning stove (like a pot belly stove) but I figure that would probably bring down the wrath of the Fire Marshal. I'd like a safer heater but I haven't thought of one yet.

- Registration setup and process. We have the registration bit down pretty well but it takes too long to set up. I'd like a "pull up, park, and go" kind of registration process. Part of this means having everything prepared in advance, which, thanks to Gene, we do. But part of it means having computers and such plugged in and ready to go. That we don't do.

I want to build a big portable shelf unit thing, sort of like the things that bands use when going on tour. Or vendors use to pack their displays and product when going to Interbike. Wheels on the bottom, strong sides covered in some fabric (or unfinished, like a big crate), shelves inside, power cords all organized, just plop down a laptop, plug in and go.

Since this seems plausible, I'm leaving it on my "Do It" list.

- One bit of registration is the back and forth of printing start lists and results and stuff. If we could avoid some of the running back and forth it would be good. But this would mean having a second computer at the start/finish for the officials, synchronizing the data, stuff like that. And that would mean...

Two laptops, a network printer, and therefore a network.

I have extra wireless routers, I bought a second laptop specifically for this reason, and we have our printer. The big crate thing would hold the wireless router, a UPS, and some other stuff so that we could have a big network (i.e. two laptops) up and running within minutes of arriving at Bethel. We'll share the registration document on the network and go from there.

A bonus would be to have a database we can update in real time, but that's beyond me for now. So we'll have two spreadsheets, results and registration, and we'll keep the printer at the registration desk.

- Finish line camera. I always, always wanted to have all the finishes saved on a hard drive, and with the second laptop, we can record directly onto the hard drive. I have to figure out if we can replay it as easily, but I figure we can. As a bonus I know the finishes are on there, and we can, for example, put them on YouTube or similar.

With the network, we could even share it and play it at the registration table. Maybe on a regular monitor, not a laptop one.

But if we have a regular monitor, we could use a regular keyboard. And if we had that, and a mouse, we could just use a regular PC.

- That brings me to another point. A server would be nice, to save the master copies of spreadsheets and video. Since, as the missus pointed, I have extra desktops, such a machine could reside in one of the aforementioned "band boxes". If I figure out how to program a database, we could save everyone's data there and just type in a license number and "blip" everything would fill itself out.

Heck, I even have a bar code reader - we could issue riders a Bethel Series card and scan their license number off that!

Okay, that's a bit much. So it's on sort of hold, this whole server idea. But it's worth thinking about.

Now, all that is moot if the town doesn't approve of the race.

So here's to Bethel and a great, great town in Southwestern Connecticut.

Even greater with the Bethel Spring Series in town.

Hint, hint.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Equipment - $2 For 2 Screws?

He'd gone into an LBS (where, a few weeks earlier, he spent $120 on bike gear) after he noticed that he'd lost a couple screws off his shoes. He asked for, and received, two screws for his cleats. The shop guy actually took his shoe and fitted the screws, thereby verifying that the screws indeed fit.

The shop guy then charged him two dollars for the screws.

The rider went and found the same kind of screws at a big box department store for a lot less, I think $1.13 for four more such screws. I think this made him think that perhaps the LBS had ripped him off, or was expensive, or something. It just didn't seem right. So he posted his question online.

He got a bit of a response to his question, ranging from folks questioning his financial status (why worry over a couple of bucks), the amount of free time (questioning online the value of two screws), to the predictable HTFU.

I've been on both sides of the counter on transactions like this. Let me point out that my bike shop failed in part because I was too nice to the good customers. They didn't make me do it - I'm the one that gave them the discounts, priced the product, etc. But in the scheme of things it's the little things that add up to whether a shop stays open or closes.

So, are two screws worth two dollars?

First, figure the shop guy's time is worth, say, $60+ an hour. That's conservative I think, but that's what mechanics needed to make the shop 10 years ago. If he spends 2 minutes finding the screw (i.e. he is helping you and only you out, not keeping an eye on the store, not assembling a bike while chatting, etc), then his labor needs to be covered. $2 is about fair for 2 minutes at $60/hour. At $90/hour (seems like the standard car mechanic rate around here) it's worth 90 seconds of rummaging.

If the shop is a mess then you subtract a little, but if it's spotless, figure it's worth a bit more money (since they're "more efficient").

Second, the screws are a little unusual (they were screws for Carnac shoes, ones that require a bit more length than normal). A quick way of getting them would be to strip a pair of shoes for its screws, then hoping that someone that buys them gets pedals that doesn't require those exact screws.

But that's not the best way of doing it. Buying the screws separately (and not stealing them from another complete product) is "correct".

And to do that costs money.

For them to order a couple screws (from a bike distributor or even a McMasters) will cost them probably more than just $2. I work now in a hardware store (little one, not a big box one). We ordered screws for a very, very good customer, one comes in 1-3x daily, four boxes total. One box of screws wholesales for $13.72 and retail for $15.12 (Midwest brand, the ones that you find in the little pull out drawers). Okay, so we can't give the 10% discount, right? The kicker was the $9 in shipping (!!) for 4 boxes. Now the boxes cost us almost $16 each (forget about ordering time etc) and they retail for less.

It comes to that saying "You can have it fast, good, or cheap. Pick two of the three."

Our customer got the screws at $18 per box ($20 - 10% discount). He waited 3 days for them. The original online questioner got his two screws at $2, and waited, hopefully, a couple minutes for them. The convenience of not having to walk through Home Depot on a ride is worth something, maybe a not-stolen-bike, not slipping on the floor, something. The cost of the screws are not the point, it's the time efficiency and the fit (of the screws).

However... I've also been a customer. Even at large bike shops (Supergo somewhere in CA) I understand that things are not free. I bought 5 chainring spacers there when I realized I'd lost the spacer (but not the bolt) off the 5th hidden chainring bolt on my Record crank. The shop gave me a plastic bin of spacers to rummage through (took 10 seconds for the guy to pick it up and hand it to me). I know that this bin costs something like $50 wholesale, no shipping, not worrying about minimum orders, and the place that sells them requires, typically, a $600-1000 minimum order. After a minute I found the chainring spacers, took pretty much all of them (I think I needed five of them), pointed this out to the mechanic, and asked him how much for the spacers in my hand. I felt a fair market value was $5 ($1 each), a discounted price $2 (40 cents each), and a high price $10 ($2 each). I decided I'd pay $5 for the five spacers.

"A buck."

I protested. This was below even a "good" price.

"A buck? It's got to cost you 20 cents a spacer. It's got to be more than that."

"A buck."

I've never seen him before, never saw him since. Since he stood his ground, I let him. I went to the register and let the guy know there that the mechanic told me it was a buck. Because I felt bad about basically stealing from the shop, I also bought energy bars and tried to convince myself that I needed some carbon fiber dropped bars (they didn't have my size). I also came back to buy a cheap mtb frame (house brand, $150 for the frame) but they didn't have my size in that either, but I was too far away to carry it on my back while on my ride when I got the chainring bolts.

I know that the original questioner spent about $120 at the shop a couple weeks before, but that's not a huge transaction in the scheme of things - a couple tanks of gas now, or one tank a month ago. It could have been huge if he had engaged one of the smarter employees in some discussion about his love for cycling, how he's looking to buy an electronic DA bike in a month, etc etc. Then, if the shop (and its employee/s) was smart, he'd be on the very short "potential good customer" list. But if he was not engaging, not outgoing, shrugged when someone asked if they could help him, then he didn't make it on that list. He's a "regular guy" to them. Therefore there are no exceptions made unless that's how they are regularly.

Keep in mind too that even huge bike shops are closing due to various economic forces. That guy who helped out the original questioner might have just gotten a big lecture on how "we're letting the shop bleed money from the little nuts and bolts we give away for free". And then the guy comes in and ask for two screws.

I don't think that the $2 is the point here. It's the principle of the transaction. It seems to me the guy hadn't thought about the other side of the counter, and apparently, after he got a bunch of responses, he hadn't. At this point he's happy.

But when he found the screws at Home Depot, he wasn't.

He was a disappointed and upset customer, the kind you do not want to have in any kind of economy. However, by asking the question online, and even putting up the poll, he asked the rest of us to address the principle of the question.

My answer?

If he had ordered the screws and they came in a couple weeks later (i.e. the shop scrounged together a minimum order to cover shipping, or at least an order large enough to absorb the insane shipping costs nowadays), and they charged him $2, that might be on the high side. Better would be "Well, they're supposed to be $2 but we're charging you $1".

If he'd bought a bike or two there (and the pedals and the shoes, which seem to have been bought elsewhere), I bet the screws would have been free no matter how much the shipping ended up costing them.

If the guy helping him said, "Look, I know the price is high, but that's what I have to charge, I'm really sorry, you can buy them or I can put them back in the drawer", then I think the original questioner might have been soothed enough not to say anything.

The communication between the shop and the customer is key.

If effective communication occurred at the original transaction, the original questioner wouldn't have felt a bit ripped off. He wouldn't have posted his question online.

And this post would be... not here.