Up in smoke

October 14, 2019 § 6 Comments

The great awful horriblemendous smoke storm wildfire season of October 11, 2019, will never be forgotten. By me, anyway.

A big fire broke out Friday in the San Fernando Valley, which is like saying it broke out in Utah.

Fires, if you have ever heard of global warming, are now a permanent fixture on earth and especially in Southern California in October. (Note to John Candy Trumpers and people whose environmental statement is a Lamborghini: They are going to worsen.)

Where there is wildfire, there is smoke, and where there is smoke and cycling, there is bad air quality, which is why on Friday afternoon my phone started to rattle non-stop. People who I rarely if ever ride with began bombarding me with air quality maps and texts to watch out, be careful, consider not going north. One friend showed his commitment to clean lungs by riding all day Saturday with a facemask.

Another friend, in a blue panic, wondered if I were truly crazy enough to stick with my mad, suicidal plan to ride north on Saturday. I affirmed that I was.

Unsurprisingly, at 5:30 AM when I drifted over to CotKU, there was only one person waiting. I knew this had nothing to do with the air quality and everything to do with:

  1. 5:30 AM.
  2. Deer Creek, the hardest climb in the Santa Monica Mountains, which was on the menu.

Several riders had already sent 5:00 AM panicky smoke-alert-so-can’t-ride texts disguising, or trying to disguise, the real message: It’s-too-hard-a-ride-so-gonna-breathe-the-bad-air-elsewhere-going-slower.

Because if you live in LA and cycle, and if air quality is a real concern of yours, you don’t cycle. One rider texted me to say he wasn’t going north because it “seemed unhealthy.” I thought about all the hotshot crews out fighting the actual fires and wondered if it seemed unhealthy to them, too. It turns out that if you are a wildfire firefighter, and you are right there in the thickest of the thick smoke, especially in the smoke after what’s called “initial attack,” your risk of heart and lung disease + cancer goes up about 25%, more if you do it for more than ten years.

Sounds like a great reason to abandon your plans to go ride up Deer Creek, especially since you weren’t planning on doing it anyway.

But there’s a problem. If you cycle here, you cycle in America’s most polluted air, and that has nothing to do with a localized wildfire over in the San Fernando Valley. How bad is the air in Los Angeles? It’s so bad that the only way to feel good about it is to remember that even though it’s the worst air in America, it’s less worse than it was in the 70’s. “Less worse.” But not by all that much.

Oh, and something else. The horrific air quality here that is shortening your lifespan every breath you take isn’t caused by burning trees and brush. It’s caused by your car. Yes, yours. I’m talking to you. Your car, not San Fernando’s wildfire, is fucking it up. So rather than sending out alerts about air quality, why not quit driving? Or take the bus?

Answer: Because few cyclists here care anything about air quality, and by “care” I mean “do something about it” and by “do something about it” I mean “drive less.”

On the day in question that I was repeatedly warned of the hazards to my health, I followed up with those who had warned me, and learned that they’d ridden anyway, just not north. Instead, they’d ridden south, where I live, and where, due to prevailing winds, the stink was actually worse. The coast road all along Malibu and the climb up Deer Creek was marked with some of the bluest skies I’ve seen all year.


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August 14, 2019 § 10 Comments

I learned a proverb from my Chinese teacher yesterday, “In youth, use health to get money and in old age, use money to get health.”

Like a lot of proverbs and received wisdom, this one gets it totally wrong. Everyone I know who used their health to get money is now a broken-down, worn-out old shoe. You can’t buy health. All you can buy are remedies for the shit that is broke, and most of the remedies are half-assed patches at best.

Of course it’s possible to wake up at age 65, discover cycling, and ride your way into much better health than you would have had if you’d just stayed on the couch. Likewise, money lets you extend life, get better treatment, blah blah blah.

But the idea that the purpose of youth is to accrue wealth so that you can purchase health later is b.s.

For one, if you spend your youth building health, you don’t wind up broke down and wore out in your 60’s. To the contrary, rather than shuttling from doctor appointment to doctor appointment, from hair plug treatment to liposuction, you get to go about your business with a minimum of aches, pains, and health issues. That’s the benefit of using youth not to get rich but to maintain and grow the only capital you’ll ever have: Your body and your mind.

Which takes me up to yesterday morning. It was five o’clock and I’d already been at it for the better part of an hour, with a whole stack of shit staring at me from my inbox, my task list, and my endless pile of paperwork.

“No way I can ride this morning,” I thought. “No way I can justify it.”

That thought kept popping up for the next two hours. “I can’t justify going out for a ride. Not today.”

By 7:00, though, I sat back. “If I can’t justify doing it now,” I thought, “when can I justify it? Isn’t the whole point behind going out and riding the fact that you do it precisely when things are most stressful and harried? What part of my life is going to go down in flames if I go ride? No part. That’s what.”

I thought about how the incremental choices to forego riding for work are what kill the habit of riding. It’s foregoing even the short, life-and-mind saving quickies that leads to foregoing the longer stuff, until you’re only a weekend rider, then a once-a-month rider, then my-bike-lives-in-the-garage-unridden rider.

So I shucked the guilty conscience and pedaled for a couple of hours. I finished and wound up with a day that was far more productive than it would have been had I simply kept grinding away.

Moral: The only ride you can’t justify is the one you don’t do.


Van Gansen tattles in Wanky tell-all

June 25, 2019 § 5 Comments

Perhaps the biggest news in all of professional sports broke a couple of weeks ago when it was revealed that several riders accused team manager Patrick Van Gansen of inappropriate behavior. CitSB sat down with “Boxers” Van Gansen to get his side of the story.

CitSB: So it’s all out there. Sexual harassment. Fat shaming. Asking women riders to clean and cook. What do you say?

“Boxers” Van Gansen: This is all so what, no? But when they say I walk around the house in my underwear, I draw the line. I will make the strong defense.

CitSB: You’re denying that you walk around in a house full of young women in your tighty whities?

BVG: First of all, I do not wear the jockeys but the boxers. Second of all we had two rules in the house. 1) I never walk around in my underwear. 2) Unless the girls ask me to.

CitSB: And did they?

BVG: All the time.

CitSB: You’ve also been accused of fat shaming.

BVG: What is this?

CitSB: Humiliating a person because of their weight.

BVG: You are kidding, no?

CitSB: No.

BVG: I never do such a thing, only to the fat ones. And they are usually the ones asking me to walk around in underwear, by the way.

CitSB: Your accusers have also said that they weren’t paid.

BVG: This is true.

CitSB: Why is that?

BVG: As you know, they refused to cook and do the house clean.

CitSB: How has this controversy affected you?

BVG: As I have said in the interview with the CyclingNews, and I will quote, “Every day I receive messages from all over the world, telling me what a fat bag, dirty butt, bastard and so much more I am not.”

CitSB: Wow. A dirty butt bastard. People actually called you that?

BVG: Yes, it is true, they say such things but I am not dirty butt or bastard or fat bag.

CitSB: You say that your accusers were problem riders?

BVG: Yes, of course. They don’t like to ride in a little Belgian sprinkle. ‘It is too wet,’ they say. But I say ‘Get your fat ass out on cobbles and pedal, bitches.’ And for this they become angry and call me dirty butt bastard?

CitSB: Well, it is kind of strong language.

BVG: This you call strong language? Pfffft. It is little love whisper, my friend.

CitSB: How has your title sponsor, Health Mate, reacted?

BVG: They understand me completely, perfectly. They stand by me like big horse.

CitSB: Any concern that they may pull their sponsorship?

BVG: No, this good publicity for them. Excellent press coverage. Now whole world knows Health Mate is company that encourage women not to be fat.

CitSB: What about the formal complaints lodged with the UCI?

BVG: It is nothing. Trust me.


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Sugar on a stick (of butter)

June 24, 2019 § 6 Comments

Cyclists are really weird about food.

In case you hadn’t noticed.

Like the time I went on the kimchee diet. Weird as that was, it was NOTHING. A friend of mine once confided that for a period of years he lived on Cheez-Its, which he thought was odd until he went to a pro cyclist training camp.

This was many years after he’d kicked the Cheez-It habit and had fallen into the even more bizarre, unhealthy, fringe behavior of veganism. “Isn’t it better to die at age 28 from a massive heart attack, corpulent, arteries swollen with Cheez-Its, than to live until 100, fit as a fiddle, and to never eat anything that tastes better than shredded paper?” I once asked him.

“No,” he said. “It isn’t.”

But anyway, back to his pro cyclist training camp that he had been invited to, not as a pro, but as a pro-hanger-on. He’d get to do the team rides, and since he was sick fit and crazy fast he’d be able to keep up, but more fascinatingly he’d get to learn all about how pro cyclists really eat. Their diets, their careful balancing of calories, their perfect analysis of each food item’s component, in short, he’d get the detailed, fine-grained equivalent of an invasive rectal exam with regard to a professional cyclist’s diet.

Before the first day’s training ride he had packed his lunch. It was gonna be seven hours in the saddle with more climbing than Annapurna. He’d eaten perfectly the night before and even more perfectly the morning of. He’d metered out exactly the calories he’d need for the ride and had packed the ideal combo of food items, each one carefully composed to fuel his fine-tuned machine while saving Mother Earth from a messy, fat, disgusting, carbon footprint of dead animal protein.

Down in the breakfast area he waited for the pros to arrive. They did, late. “Oh,” he thought, “there goes our schedule.”

But no … everyone skipped breakfast, and to add to his dismay the team’s star scooped up a couple of Snickers bars from the breakfast buffet’s candy tray, and off they went.

It was the hardest seven hours of his life. He barely made it back. He was shattered. And the pros weren’t much better. Everyone had that pasty dead look. “Now,” he said, “I’ll get to see how the pros eat!”

The DS gave everyone $10 to buy dinner at Trader Joe’s. My friend was appalled. “That’s junk food!” he said to himself, trailing the pros as they made random selections of various badly made, unhealthy, slightly wilted, pre-packaged dinners. But not the team’s star, who we’ll call “Geoff Not His Real Name.”

Geoff Not His Real Name simply bought a gallon of milk and drank it on the curb. No one seemed to notice except Friend. “My dog!” he thought. “This isn’t possible! All my dreams are dying outside the Trader Joe’s in Santa Barbara, alongside an almost expired jug of cow juice!”

Friend, who was rooming with Geoff Not His Real Name, awakened at midnight as GNHRN groaned, then vomited up the entire gallon of now-curdled milk. Friend covered his head in the blanket, which was hard because the budget-minded team had put four people in each room, and his bed partner was GNHRN. No one even woke up, least of all GNHRN, who went back to sleep in the puke after stripping off the sheets.

Friend never saw nutrition the same way again.

My point is that a couple of days ago I decided to make some chocolate chip cookies for lunch. And although I know mostly everyone in America has made hundreds if not thousands of CC cookies in their life, it was my first batch, and like Friend in the bed of milk puke, I was blown away.

You will not be.

But … for the one or two people in America who don’t know, here is some facts:

  • Chocolate chip cookies are essentially two sticks of butter smeared with sugar.
  • You have to mix the butter and the sugar with your bare hands, and after that you have to lick your fingers, then your palms, then the backs of your hands, then if you’re lucky, your wrists. It’s obscene, and like most obscenity, delightful.
  • You are supposed to dump the whole bag of chips into the dough even though it says 1/2 bag.
  • Once you finish eating 12 of the 24 cookies, you have eaten an entire stick of butter.
  • Once you have eaten all the cookies you have eaten two sticks of butter but it feels like you have eaten a sandbag.
  • CC cookies are not a good substitute for lunch, but they are an excellent substitute for lunch and dinner and self-respect.
  • Cleaning up means licking everything.
  • The best way to freeze the dough for later is, are you kidding me? If there was leftover dough, your cookies sucked.
  • I need to take a nap now.


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Listen up!

May 14, 2019 § 14 Comments

Every six or seven years my right ear goes out, which is a problem because I rely on my hearing when I ride, unlike the countless idiots who cycle with earphones.

When my right ear goes out I wait as long as I can, usually a couple of weeks, and then I go to the doctor and they “irrigate” it with a “lavage.” It is pretty gnarly.

This time I went to Kaiser. I enrolled in January and haven’t had any reason to go there until now. They did a bunch of tests and were very skeptical about my low heart rate and blood pressure, you know, in hospitals they don’t like it when healthy people show up because there’s nothing to fix.

Plus, they spend the entire day dealing with sick people, so they have a hard time relating, i.e. not making you feel like a freak.

The nurse looked in my ear with the ear-o-scope. “Yes,” she said, “you have a lot of wax build-up.”

“I know,” I said. “That’s why I’m here.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll get that right out.” She was pretty confident as she put a bunch of towels around my shoulder and neck, but she was plainly unfamiliar with the tenacious nature of Wanky wax. “If it hurts or you feel any sharp pains, let me know.”

With those reassuring words she put this small fire hose into the side of my head and started blasting away. This went on for a while and then she turned the nozzle to warm, which felt better. After another while she turned off the hose and then got out the ear-o-scope.

“Hmmm,” she said, like a mechanic who just torqued the shit out of a bolt only to find out that he hadn’t torqued it quite enough. “I don’t think we got it.”

“I know you didn’t,” I said. “I’m still deaf as a post.”

She stuck the thing into my skull again and really blasted it, this time for twice as long. She pulled it out and looked at me, satisfied. “I bet that got it.”

I didn’t say anything because I couldn’t hear her. She stuck in the ear-o-scope and grimaced. “Well, that is persistent. It looks like there is a deep wall of wax that has hardened and is very thick. You’ll have to use ear drops for a week or so to loosen it, then come back so we can wash it out.”

That sounded good to me. “Since most of my head is wet now, can you also throw in a shampoo and a rinse?”

She didn’t laugh. My head hurt and I knew she hadn’t made much of a dent in the wax hockey puck inside my head; if she had there would have been wax shavings spewed everywhere, like some crazy topping at a Cambodian restaurant.

“Let’s give it one more shot,” she snapped. She was personally affronted by the wax and was going to blast it out of my head or kill me in the process. I submitted as she nozzled me again, but at the end it was Hockey Puck 1, Kaiser Multibillion Dollar Healthcare System, 0.

She sent me home with instructions to buy some earwax softener at the store, and told me to come back in a week. “Will I get that shampoo if I do?” I asked.

She scowled.



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Death and the over-achiever

March 13, 2019 § 4 Comments

I read this story a couple of times about Kelly Catlin’s suicide. It was a disturbing story on many levels and one worth thinking about.

Kelly was an over-achiever. She graduated with a degree in math and Chinese, enrolled in Stanford’s graduate school, and won a silver medal at the Rio Olympics … all by the age of 22.

She was a classical violinist, a heavy-metal aficionado, a skilled gamer, and a community volunteer.

At 23 she was also dead.

Poring over the news story for clues, they were all there, in her own words and the words of her family:

Talented at literally everything she did. She just felt like she couldn’t say no to everything that was asked of her …

Disciplined, strong, and endlessly hard working … There wasn’t anything Kelly couldn’t do …

She was strong and cold, austere and terrifying.

Kelly always had a nihilistic and occasionally morbid sense of humor.

It ain’t all it’s cracked up to be

Of course Kelly herself had a tall order explaining how one person could do so much and be so superlative at all of it. In a statement that sounds like it was crafted straight out of a PR department, she described her reasons for pursuing such an amazing array of interests at such a high level thus: “Through a synthesis of these interests, I aim for a well-balanced life and the opportunity to touch people’s lives.”

Yet candor about the obvious impossibility of being the best at everything you attempt came out in this VeloNews interview: “But the truth is that most of the time, I don’t make everything work. It’s like juggling with knives, but I really am dropping a lot of them. It’s just that most of them hit the floor and not me.” Most.

In a sentence that looks prophetic, like all post-hoc attempts to piece together self-inflicted death, she adds, “You cannot plan for the unplannable, and — to go back to the juggling analogy — sometimes those knives will hit you.”

A factor in Kelly’s suicide may well have been that in addition to an impossible lifestyle in which everything teetered on a knife’s edge, she suffered a horrific concussion several months before her death. Whether she received psychiatric counseling for its after-effects is unknown, but her family talked about how after the concussion she seemed to be suffering in a variety of ways that affected her mental state.

No one to talk to

What is clear, at least from the news reports, is that Kelly had no one in whom she could confide. The closest she came to talking about the unbearable pressure of her life was in an interview with a stranger in a bike magazine.

It’s easy to chalk up her death to the extraordinary stress of an extraordinary life, but people kill themselves all the time under much less over-achieving conditions than these. What suicide has in common is that the victim feels unable to talk to the people closest to her, a kind of estrangement from intimacy that becomes its own self-perpetuating wall of eternal isolation. Where did that come from?

I think John-Paul Sartre wrote a play about being locked in the cage. No Exit.



Good-bye, map

February 24, 2019 § 1 Comment

A few years ago I bought two maps, one was a detailed street atlas of Vienna, and the other was a big, fold-out map of Lower Austria. The street atlas I have used every visit. The fold-out map? Never.

But still, I have always brought it with me.

I think the museum would be happy

Since visiting the mini-storage museum exhibit a couple of days ago, I have had one of the displays on continuous loop. It’s the one where the guy without a home says that “Ownership is an outdated concept,” and follows it up with something like “What matters is use, not ownership.”

This was the iron law I laid down in 2012 when we downsized. If a thing had not been used in the past six months, it was thrown away, wherever “away” is.

But this idea that possession is an outdated concept is pretty interesting, especially since we live amidst such a surfeit of things. Do you need to own anything? And if you do, once you pair it with the concept of actual use, how tiny is that universe of possessions going to ultimately be?

The mark of a wonderful museum exhibit is that it leaves you with unfermented ideas bouncing around in your head for days, soaking up juices in the boiling, roiling kneading-trough of thought.

Light travelin’

In my own mind, the lightness of my travels is legendary. Ten days in Europe with one tiny backpack. And I don’t even smell bad yet, much.

But one of my travel companions is that map of Lower Austria, and when I think about leaving it here in the flat for someone who might actually use it, it makes me happysad. Happy because I’ll be going home with one less thing, wherever home is. Sad because while I was here I acquired a book, and back home I have about fifty or maybe sixty unread books, and this will make 51. Or 61.

The solution is to go home and get rid of all the unread books. Most of them have been on the coffee table for 2-3 years. It physically hurts to think of donating away an unread book that I actually plan to read, kind of like tossing a pair of arm warmers that I know I may need for that one day when, after ten cold days in a row and no time to do laundry, I actually need that one pair.

Which leads to another problem, the problem of bicycle clothing and bicycle things.

I have one drawer with all my arm warmers, leg warmers, and similar items. Few of them would ever survive the six-month rule.

And then of course the rhino in the room, my tool bag. Of all the people who don’t use tools, I am he, with ten thumbs and blind.

Oh, and there is the closet shelf with the nine unread Japanese books in the series Sangoku-Shi. And the t-shirt drawer and the extra safety razor.

And the …



It’s not a Viennese flat without a grand piano.

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