Advice to an aspiring blogger

May 2, 2015 § 10 Comments

I recently dashed off a thank-you note, “Thanks for the support!” to a new subscriber. He responded with a hilarious email, which I won’t reproduce below simply because nothing I write will be as funny, and then everyone will go over to his blog and leave mine. It is a zero-sum game in the world of grabbing eyeballs, unfortunately.

However, here is a link to his blog. His name is Mike Hancock, and he lives in Alaska.

In Mike’s email, among other things, he asked about how he could emulate the fame and financial success of SoCal’s most renowned bicycling blogger. I told him that he should ask Nancy over at RKP directly.

Mike’s inquiry, however, speaks volumes for Alaska’s standard of living that $2.99 x 12 is a standard to which people aspire, but I took the time to give him some advice from the perspective of SoCal’s most reviled bicycling blogger. Here it is.

Hi, Mike

Thank you for the funny and entertaining email. I can assure you that the life of a hobby lawyer-blogger is gratifying and fulfilling. There are days when sleeping on a park bench hurts my back, but here in sunny SoCal I’m usually grateful for all of this unhoped-for success.

I went to your web site and spent some time on it. “What are you laughing at?” is always a good sign when coming from my wife.

“Oh, nothing,” I told her truthfully.

Aside from the humor I appreciate your attention to grammar and spelling. It’s the first sign, and usually the last, that a writer cares about either his audience or his topic.

You haven’t asked me for a quick guide on how to achieve riches as a bicycle blogger, but you sort of have, so here goes.

  1. I have no idea.
  2. The most interesting thing you have going for you, aside from what appears to be an incredibly fascinating middle-aged married white guy’s mediocre bike racing life, is Alaska. To you perhaps this is just where you live, but to me it is like having a blog called “Cycling on Jupiter,” only more interesting. Moose attacks, grizzly bear racing, and run-ins with Iditarod racers should all be standard fare in your blog and daily life, and this is not the time to stand on the ceremony of truth, honesty, or facts.
  3. If you’re seeking a wider audience you should write less about yourself in the first person. A good way to quickly identify whether a blog is too me-centric is to briefly scan it and see how often the writer uses “I,” “me,” “mine,” and other relatives of the first person. In other words, the personal works best as an accent for the impersonal.
  4. Consistency in publication. I understand that it’s hard to crank out a blog post more than once every six months, but you can do this!
  5. Write about your friends. You build readership by making people want to read, first about themselves and then about other things. You will eventually lose all of your friends by writing about them of course, but by then you will have 20 or 30 loyal readers in Ireland and Mauritius, and even a subscriber or two. Yes, mom counts.
  6. Comparing yourself to the cheap Chinese wheel was awesome. That is a great technique that I plan to plagiarize asap. You have a number of other witty and insightful lines, none of which appears to be protected by copyright, which, again, I appreciate.
  7. The gold standard for blogging success if Eben Weiss, a hostile, sarcastic, cynical wanker who, despite multiple books, a regularly insulting column in Bicycling, and thousands of readers, still has a day job. Of course the moose-Iditarod-grizzly bear angle, or the cycling-in-a-salmon-run approach may hit a bigger chord than the urban struggles of snobbish biking in NYC, but if you do have a day job, hang onto it at least for the next month or two. I understand that park benches in Anchorage are only really good to sleep on about three weeks out of the year.
  8. Repurpose random emails. When someone emails you something, copy and paste it into your blog. It saves mental effort, and with a bit of fakery you can usually turn it into a nice placeholder, especially for Saturday or Sunday morning when you’re in a hurry to go do the group ride and don’t have time to write because you forgot to check your tires the night before (the rear is flat), all of your bibs have poop stains and are in the dirty heap, your cleat has come loose and you can’t find the right sized hex key, you haven’t mixed any EPO and electrolyte yet, and you only have five minutes to get out the door and make the eight-minute pedal to the start.

Anyway, a heartfelt thanks again for the funny email and for the subscription. $2.99 doesn’t seem like much until you ponder what a cheap bastard the average cyclist is.

Your obedient servant,

Wanky

END

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The great empty

May 1, 2015 § 35 Comments

The verdict is in on power meters, Strava, and computerized ride data. They make you faster.

A professionally designed power-based training plan, scrupulously followed, and including adaptations for the times when you are sick, injured, or beset by the things otherwise known as life, will turn you into someone who turns the pedals faster.

Faster.

Faster.

Faster.

What it will also do — and the verdict is in on this as well — is make you unhappier.

If you are a professional, that is a meaningless consequence. Your sponsors don’t give you money to ensure your happiness, they do it to ensure your success, which theoretically leads to better sales. But what about YOU?

I have three case studies, not including my own, that I’ve followed over the last six years. Here they are. Judge for yourself.

Case Study #1: The happy racer

This guy got into cycling from marathoning and “high risk” action sports. When he came onto the scene he fit the profile we’ve all seen, zooming from freddie to feared hammer in a single season. We’ll call him Tom. Tom rode his bicycle with abandon and zest, and saw nothing wrong with Mile 1 breakaways on the Saturday Donut Ride, breakaways that sometimes succeeded but that always inflicted carnage on those left behind, not to mention those who foolishly tried to follow his wheel.

He rode instinctively, and though his instincts were often wrong, occasionally they were right and they put him on the podium. More importantly, the act of riding was an act of irrepressible joy. Win or lose he embodied the same pleasure that you can find in any little kid zooming full speed down the local hill. Not that little kids are allowed to do that anymore, of course.

As part of his “progression,” Tom’s engineering mind made technology-based training a natural area of investigation. He “computered up,” and over a few seasons mastered the fundamentals of power-based training. His natural ability, an already sharpened knife, became a razor. His grasp of training and innate desire to share made him a lightning rod for new riders in his club, with whom he gladly shared training information, workout plans, and swapped training data.

After about three years, Tom no longer took risks on group rides by attacking early. He became calculating and efficient. If the pace exceeded his training targets, he sat up. If it wasn’t hard enough, he went off and did something by himself. Tom became a slave to his data. It made him faster, but it also turned the freedom of cycling into the prison of golf, where you are constantly reminded that there are absolute numbers beyond which you can never progress. Tom’s beauty, which had always been the bright light in his eyes, had dimmed.

Enslaved to the numbers, when Tom had a really bad year with some significant medical problems that ruined his carefully regulated train-by-the-numbers approach, instead of digging into the mental bucket, bucking up and rallying, he began doing something he’d never done before: throwing in the towel, DNF-ing, quitting. The thing that had always sustained him, his mental attitude and his enjoyment of the sport, had been replaced with numbers and data that had no real strength to carry him through the rough spots other than their unflinching message of inadequacy and defeat. The last time we rode together he was still struggling.

Case Study #2: Escape from New York

I’ll call this guy Snake Pliskin. He was whatever type is more aggro than Type A … Type A positive? He also came from a running background and migrated to cycling when his knees gave out. Mentally tough and physically gifted, for Snake the act of riding a bike was the act of riding away from the stresses of work.

Snake had a grind-em-up attitude to riding. He didn’t race but he approached every ride as a competition. And though he was often put to the sword on long climbs, when placed in his element of flat or undulating road, preferably with a stiff crosswind, he could put paid to all but the very best of the best. Snake finished his rides spent and satisfied, regardless of whether he was the last man standing. The act of full commitment and giving it his all recharged him for the real battles that remained to be fought in his workaday world.

For him, cycling was the beautiful escape.

Somewhere along the way he became a complete Strava addict. Multiple devices to record rides, pages and pages of KOM’s, and a ferocious response on the bike to those who took his trophies. Yet the more he buried himself in the world of Strava, the more he opened himself up to attack, as countless riders took shots — many of which were successful — at his virtual winnings. This of course drove him to ride more, ride harder, create more segments, and further extend his pages of KOM’s.

Along the way cycling mutated from a refuge into a prison. With everything measured and quantified, with every foot of roadway a possible place to take a KOM or lose one, he spiraled from the incredible pressures of his job to the equally crushing pressures of riding his bicycle.

As with Tom, Snake’s numbers told him that however good he was, on some segment, on some day, someone else was better. The awfulness was reflected in the fact that not only had Snake’s escape become a wearying burden, but it was now on full public display. Unlike the real world, where your buddy kicks your ass, rubs your nose in it, and you remind him of the drubbing you gave him the week before, Snake was locked in Strava kudo hell, where anonymous people with strange nicknames have the same right to comment as your closest buddies who suffered stroke for stroke all the way up the climb, and where the interaction is a binary “kudos” or an “uh-oh.”

The humanity of friends trading jokes and trading pulls, laughing at the funny shit that happens on a ride, commiserating about life, sharing triumphs, and making fun of each other’s foibles had been reduced to a fake interface of 0’s and 1’s artfully designed to imitate real people, real relationships, real lives. The escape was now the cage and it wasn’t even gilded.

The last time I rode with Snake he crushed everyone, grimly.

Case Study #3: The old school

I will call her Harriet. She had been around forever and was still dominating the local women’s race scene into her late 40’s, outsmarting and intimidating women half her age. She eschewed data and Strava and wattage-based training plans. Harriet’s MO was simple: ride and train with the fast men. She couldn’t beat them, but she could hang on and it made her strong enough to beat her peers, even when they were young enough to be her daughters.

She paid no attention to technology and refused to join Strava. She’d ridden as a pro and knew three things: how to train, how to win, and how to have fun.

And in her own way, her pleasure in riding a bicycle remained as vibrant and undiminished as it ever was. The last time I rode with her she gapped me out, shouted at me for running a red light, and dusted me in the sprint. Then she pedaled gaily off to work, ready to start the day.

This great empty is hardly confined to cycling. It repeats itself in myriad ways for modern Americans whether they ride bikes or not. When people think about the rise of the machines they imagine cyborgs and androids and sci-fi creations, but those aren’t the machines that rule us. The machines are pieces of software that are piped to us by phones, Garmins, desktops, and laptops, they are algorithms that have reduced the complexity of life and human interaction into 0’s and 1’s.

And they dominate us because at its most basic form, life is that simple. But who wants that level of simplicity? Isn’t life better with messiness, with the nonlinear slop and jostle of emotions and feelings and real human contact?

Of course it is, and that’s the big lie that the great empty has to spend billions to paper over. When your emotions are tugged by the 0’s and 1’s that show the precious pug or the newborn of your best friend or the KOM on that 200-yard bike path segment (tailwind, natch), something deep inside is left empty and unfulfilled, the zipless fuck of the digital age. How do I know? Because after the little jolt you have to hit refresh or like or kudo or scroll eternally and in desperation down the feed.

Answers I don’t have, but this I know — when you ride a bicycle untethered to 0’s and 1’s, you may not become any faster. But you will, over time, become happier and more at peace with the ragged, raging, sloppy and jostling world that, despite the best PR efforts of Facebag, Google, SRM, and Strava, hasn’t yet learned that reality is denser and more complex than two simple numbers.

END

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Excommunicated

April 30, 2015 § 41 Comments

I received this letter yesterday:

Notice of Revocation of License

Dear Mr. Wankmeister:

We, the Standing Committee on Safety and Proper Cycling Behavior of the New Pier Ride, regret to inform you that after an emergency plenary session which was convened via Facebag on Tuesday, April 28, 2015 from 2:00 PM until 11:35 PM, you are henceforth prohibited from participating in, observing, commenting on, or otherwise involving yourself with any and all activities associated with the bicycle ride occurring twice weekly, on Tuesday and Thursday from the hours of 6:40 AM until 8:00 AM, and commonly referred to as the NPR or New Pier Ride.

This ban, effective immediately, shall continue until further notice and shall be enforced without right of appeal. You may, if you so desire, do independent laps around the Parkway with Nancy but only between the hours of 10:00 and 11:00 AM in such small and easy gears as may be, and always are, selected by him.

It was brought to the attention of the Standing Committee on Safety and Proper Cycling Behavior that your actions Tuesday last were among the most abominable, dangerous, hazardous, anti-safety, and despicable in the annals of our illustrious event, such that even the cavalier attitude and disrespectful riding habits of former attendee Josh A. and the previously excommunicated Wily Greek are deemed to be pale in comparison.

The general charges laid against you we hereby set forth as follows:

I. That on the morning of April 28, 2015, at approximately 6:37 AM, you appeared at the starting site for the NPR with what eyewitnesses have independently corroborated as a “mean, unfriendly, hostile attitude clearly intended to make other participants feel uncomfortable and perhaps sad.”

II. That after exiting the alleyway onto Vista del Mar, you intentionally assumed a hostile and unfriendly position on the drop portion of your handlebars and were seen to shift your chain onto the larger of your two chainrings while simultaneously lowering your chain onto the smallest rear sprocket. Eyewitnesses have confirmed that it was an eleven.

III. That immediately after passing the traffic signal at Grand Ave., you “hunkered down” and “began hammering like a maniac.” More than fifty of the assembled august personages who you later were heard to disparage as “wankers” generously offered to hop onto your wheel but you refused their assistance and pedaled away.

IV. That, being deprived of a rear wheel, the august personages of the peloton were rudely forced to give chase at a time during the ride when each of them was normally accustomed to friendly chatting about wattage, training plans, and other important items, and that this chase made each of them tired, induced burning sensations in their legs and lungs to which they were were not accustomed except on such days as Daniel H. and the aforementioned Josh A. are present.

V. That, with the exception of your despicable henchmen Surfer D., Man S., Tumble W., and a handful of other reprobates, the remainder of the decent and dog-fearing peloton were forced to continue painful pedaling without a wheel to sit upon all the way to the light at Pershing, which made each of them unhappy and uncomfortable and sad.

VI. That, rather than politely stop behind the long line of cars queued up at the light and give the noble and extremely pleasant wheel-followers in the peloton a chance to rest and attach themselves to your rear wheel, you blindly, recklessly, dangerously, and meanly sped through the narrow chute between the cars and the large brick wall, thereby endangering all who attempted to follow, and forcing the safety-minded and decent personages of the peloton who would otherwise have gladly assisted you by attaching themselves to your rear wheel, to come to a complete halt which further enhanced the unfair, illegal, dangerous, and unsportsmanlike gap you had created by willfully pedaling your bicycle hard in the manner of Josh A., who thankfully does not come here any more.

VII. That, once on Pershing, you continued to exploit your cruel, dangerous, and unfair advantage by repeatedly pushing down hard on the pedals such that when the decent and hard-working members of the peloton who had expended so much energy to reach you finally approached, each and every one of them was tired and felt meanly used and sad.

VIII. That, once the hop-in wankers atop Pershing who always wait there so they will not have to rush up the small bump on Pershing merged with you, additional bad-mannered henchmen such as Hair W., NJ P. Beater, Jon D., Man S., and repeat offender Surfer D. pushed the pace even harder until the fair and honest members of the peloton, unable to pull through and unable to sit on a wheel, opened up large-ish gaps and wreaked havoc amongst themselves, causing extreme unhappiness, sadness, and considerable discomfort.

IX. That, once on the Parkway, you and your henchmen continued your bad habits and reckless disregard for safety by running red lights and continually pedaling so hard such that the decent and honest peloton could not get close enough to sit on your wheel, assist you from the rear, and helpfully come around you at the finish.

X. That, in addition to your dangerous red light running and mischievous pedal pounding, you formed a final group consisting of yourself, Hair W., NJ P. Beater, Old F., and First O., refused to slow down or stop for traffic signals such that the honorable members of the august peloton could attach to your rear wheel and assist you from the back or otherwise float to the front and lower your unfriendly pace such that they could diminish the pain, discomfort, sadness, and general feelings of antipathy aroused by you in them.

XI. That, in addition to refusing to slow down and thereby forcing the august personages of the peloton to choose between chasing in earnest and suffering additional discomfort and sadness, or to give up and cede the victory to your unethical and dangerous riding and thereby diminish each of their feelings of self-worth, and thereby making them sad as if they were on a ride with Josh A., you insisted on continuing to ride like a maniac from Pershing all the way back to CotKU, thereby depriving the august personages of the peloton the opportunity to voice their displeasure, critique your awful behavior, provide you with useful training and racing tips, and castigate you for causing them so much needless danger, discomfort, and generalized feelings of sadness.

Therefore, be it know by these presents, that you are hereby excommunicated from the community of the New Pier Ride, that your seal clubbing license is peremptorily revoked, and that we, the members of the Standing Committee, will ensure that your behavior is monitored through Facebag postings and private email exchanges.

Sadly yours,

The Standing Committee on Safety and Proper Cycling Behavior of the New Pier Ride

END

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BWR 2015 recap: After the dust has settled

April 29, 2015 § 27 Comments

The story of the 2015 Belgian Waffle Ride was the story of a bunch of people, the majority of whom didn’t even do the ride.

My slog across the dirt and somewhat-paved roads of North County San Diego was essentially a mosaic image of good-hearted volunteers, beginning on Saturday morning when scores of orange-shirted SPY employees began setting up the expo area. The weather was rainy and cold and it seemed as if the day of the big ride would be a true Belgian mudfest, but no one seemed in the least bit perturbed. Dispositions were as sunny as if the sun had been out and forecast for the next 48 hours.

Led by Victor Sheldon, volunteers like Logan Fiedler, Brian Zink, Stephen Lavery, Tait Campbell, Dan Cobley, and a whole host of others sallied forth to put up markers and hammer in wooden staked directional signage for over 125 different turns, many of which were set along dirt paths miles from pavement.

The pre-registration tent was staffed with people who cheerily took on the task of putting names and ID’s to packets, and of course dealing with the inevitable registration snafus of “Where’s my fuggin’ packet?” and “Can I register for my pal Dilbert?” and “I ordered an S but do you have an XXL?” Didn’t matter. They were equal to every task.

The day of the ride everything was more intense by orders of magnitude. A giant start/finish area had to be set up and a short cobbled section was installed, but participants saw none of that effort because we were welcomed to the area, seamlessly and flawlessly, by more orange-clad volunteers. It’s easy to believe that they were smiling at the beginning. It’s incredible that 8 or 9 or 10 hours later they were still smiling and cheering us on as we crossed the home line.

For sheer survival the vast majority of riders could not have finished without the volunteers who staffed the refreshments stands. The bananas, electrolytes, energy gels, cokes, and gallons of water made the difference between finishing and not, and the aid stations provided their services under incredible stress: A group of 20 or 30 would roll up, screaming, gasping, choking, famished, begging, elbowing, and in a matter of seconds each rider would have multiple refilled water bottles, pockets filled with food or gels, a pat on the back, a shout of encouragement, and a push to get going again.

The volunteers did this for twelve solid hours.

Our survival was further abetted by the turn volunteers. Tricky or potentially problematic turns like Lemon Twist and Questhaven (staffed by my friend Serge Issakov), or the turnaround at Del Dios, had small crews to slow or stop traffic, wave us along, and make sure that our safety was paramount. They did all this with smiles and extra bottles of water for those who needed them. The small crew who had set up their own tent en route to Fortuna saved my BWR by plying me with the last two bottles of GQ6 electrolyte. Without it I’d still be out there somewhere, mumbling, dessicated, looking for the beer garden.

Getting back in one piece was also a function of the sheriff’s deputies and city law enforcement who stopped traffic at intersections, provided rolling enclosures for the leaders, waved us through intersections, and made sure that the cagers gave us a wide berth. They were professional, expert, and seemed to appreciate Sam Ames’s giant waffles heaped with ice cream, fruit, and chocolate fudge after their shifts finally ended.

The physical act of survival was one thing, but the mental part was a whole other world. My mind had come unhinged going up Double Peak when up jumped the devil. “Want a push?” he asked.

“Hell yes!” I said, and he gave me a fiery lunge that propelled me yards up the road.

Another bystander watched me flail and gave me another huge push (was that you, Kelsey?), and just as I caught my breath cresting the top I got the cheer of all cheers from Jenna K. who made me feel, despite my earlier faceplant and ragged appearance, like the champion of champions.

Each person who shouted, cowbelled, cheered, encouraged, handed up, and stood out in the hot sun for our benefit made the ride, to say nothing of the bikini-clad babes and guys at the Oasis who bathed our sore eyes in the most beautiful of sights while simultaneously offering us kudos, cold cokes, and a hug if we needed a shoulder to cry on. And we did, right Marvin and Pablo?

Once the ride finished “we” had done our job, but the people running the BWR still had hours of labor ahead of them. The Strava validation table worked feverishly to ensure that riders had in fact completed the route; the Gear Grinder folks cranked out miles of sausage and yards of chicken; the Lost Abbey beer tent loosed the heavenly fermented waters; and David Wilcox at the Rapha tent slung the world’s tastiest espresso like it was last days on earth.

And none of this even touches on people like Maddy I., who poured out the pre-event PR and made sure our inboxes were populated with funny and enticing emails. Trina J. is probably having nightmares from the thousands of emails she got asking if “I could move my registration to next year ’cause I got a boo-boo on my bo-bo,” and if Phil T. ever reads another message starting “Can I get into Wave 1?” he will probably shoot his iPhone. Roving SPY johnnies-on-the-spot like Aden, Zach, and slew of other people whose names I don’t know were always there and always getting ‘er done, whatever the ‘er of the moment happened to be.

In sum, this year’s BWR was so big and so seamless and so well executed that it transcended ride status and ascended to the status of cultural event. And how did that happen?

I’m honored to say that it happened by dint of the imagination, inspiration, originality, and relentless quest for improvement of my friend Michael Marckx. Great things only happen with great vision, and the BWR has, thanks to Michael’s efforts, turned a fun gathering of friends into a broad-based cultural event that spotlights bicycles, food, drink, fun, camaraderie, challenge, and Belgium in the epicenter of Southern California’s bike culture.

Michael’s passion for cycling and his restive will to always make it better than it was before have infused the BWR with a new and funny way of looking at the world. And while I wouldn’t say that pounding the pedals on some dogforsaken stretch of gravel-studded mountain path made me any happier, finishing my fourth BWR and relishing the accomplishment sure did. For that little piece of serenity, we’re all in Michael’s debt.

If you missed this signal good-time-gone-great in 2012, 2013, 2014, or 2015, don’t worry.

We’ll be back!

END

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Karma’s not a bitch, it’s a myth

April 28, 2015 § 62 Comments

The end of the road isn’t really near for Lance Armstrong. He lost the suit by SCA and is now on the hook to repay $10,000,000 that he probably doesn’t have, or if he does, will have a hard time scraping up. The Justice Department nixed a settlement agreement between Floyd Landis and Armstrong’s henchmen, Bart Knaggs and Bill Stapleton, which puts further pressure on Lance to cough up millions more to settle the False Claims Act lawsuit brought against him by Landis and the U.S. government.

No matter that Lance is a complete douchebag, that he’s an arrogant jerk of a sociopath who caused a lot of harm to a lot of people. When you begin thinking that cycling is really just a metaphor for the broader community and the people in it, maybe Armstrong is a victim.

How? How in the world can the Darth Vader of cycling be a victim?

Well, that depends on what you think about fairness. Our government has thrown its full weight behind Landis’s False Claims Act lawsuit. When they get finished with Armstrong, whose sole defenses are that USPS knew he was doping and thus wasn’t defrauded, and that they suffered no economic damages because of the publicity Lance brought them by winning the Tour, he will be penniless.

Lance Armstrong will have been punished to the full extent of the law, and some will even say he got off easy because of Andrew Birotte’s decision not to pursue federal criminal charges a/la Barry Bonds. In the end, even if he wins — which he won’t — the legal fees will bankrupt him.

This isn’t fair. It’s unfair because the government is focusing its resources on the smallest of the small timers and letting the big fish go free. Examples? Name one single criminal investigation from the 2008 crash that targeted a banking executive. Let me help you. There were none.

Now, consider this. The banks that caused the crisis were first let completely off the hook for their crimes, crimes that had far worse consequences than the hurt feelings or derailed career of a bicycle racer or his masseuse. Then the American taxpayers were forced by their elected officials to reimburse the banking thieves who stole the money and wrecked the global economy. There is a story here, and the story line goes like this: Make an example of the minor crook and reward the greatest thieves with a kingdom.

That’s why the prosecution and attempted extradition of Briton Singh Sarao is such a complement to Armstrong’s prosecution. In the same way that MLB, FIFA, the NBA, and the NFL have made billions through the performance of drugged athletes, Wall Street has made hundreds of billions through sophisticated computer programs that buy and sell with sophistication and efficiency that ordinary investors can never match. As in poker, when you’re investing your money if you can’t tell who the sucker is, you’re the sucker.

As the Department of Justice continues to roast alive Armstrong the small-time thug, one of its other tentacles prepares to extradite Sarao for causing the Flash Crash of 2010, an allegation that is kind of like blaming a tsunami on some kid who tossed a pebble into the ocean. But the story line is real. Mask the greatest of crimes by punishing the smallest of crooks, especially when they are personally revolting as Armstrong most assuredly is.

The Armstrong saga plays itself out by analogy in so many other arenas as well, often on the same day in the same newspaper on the same page. Congress approves the CIA’s drone assassinations and gets weekly briefings that show people being blown to bits. Civilians are murdered in the process, most recently an American and an Italian hostage, oops, but that’s a cheap price compared to actually going to Yemen with troops or committing trillions to building peace.

A few columns later we learn that Western governments are outraged that Indonesia plans to execute nine more drug traffickers … No due process! … The judiciary is corrupt! … The punishment doesn’t fit the crime! …

It’s strange how these same curses of unfairness apply to drone strikes, police murders, and Wall Street’s get out of jail pass for its great predation of 2008, not to mention its aggressive attempts to roll back the trading regulations imposed by Dodd-Frank. But the way we keep the hypocrisy out of the public eye, especially leading up to an election year, is by focusing on something we can all agree on, especially Betsy: Lance Armstrong is a bad guy, so off with his head while the real Hydras thrive.

For once, I’m finally pulling for Lance.

END

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Purple haze

April 27, 2015 § 21 Comments

The 2015 SPY Optic Belgian Waffle Ride is a wrap.

It was uneventful for me, except for that one part where I was on Sandy Bandy behind some wanker who was in turn stuck behind a woman who had gapped us out. The guy said, “I’m passing!” and the gal said, “Pass me on the left!”

He did and she moved hard to the left as he passed, sending him sprawling in the sand and scratchy planty things. I was now terrified, and sat waiting for an opportunity to sprunt past. I did but then had a big gap to make up on the receding leaders.

Turning onto a wide dirt road I shifted the U.S.S. Aluminum into the biggest gear and raced to catch up. Dropping my head briefly, when I looked up I noticed:

  1. There was a 90-degree turn immediately in front of me.
  2. I was going way to fast to make the turn.
  3. This was gonna hurt.

And it did. I launched like a SpaceX rocket, hands out, legs akimbo, and face exposed to fully absorb the full impact of the rocks, cactus, and gravel. I lay there for a few seconds, then jumped up and tied my chain into a double half-hitch trying to get it back on the chain ring. A SPY van rushed up and got me going again. My neck throbbed and my legs dripped a mixture of blood and gravel slurry. With more than a hundred miles to go, it was going to be a long day.

But it wasn’t. I had been sent off in the Wanker Division, a/k/a Wave Three, and spent the day sweeping up and spitting out countless riders who had gone off almost half an hour earlier in Preen Wave 1 and Women’s Wave 2. At the end of the ride, numerous finishers came up to me, test-lifted my 30-lb. behemoth with its 38mm bulldozer tires and said, “Think how much faster you would have gone on a road bike!”

Of course, on a road bike I would have died on the very first dirt descent, and if I hadn’t I would have shattered the frame and wheels on my SpaceX launch. Far from hindering me, the heavy bike with massive tires reminded me early on to go slowly and conserve– and it all paid off with a finishing time of 7:42:04, fifteenth in the Wanker Division and good for about 50th overall. Most importantly, I beat Surfer Dan with whom I’d carpooled (he still owes me ten bucks) by .5 second.

There were amazing displays on offer throughout the day, but none more impressive than James Cowan, who attacked early and rode the thing in 7:11, good enough to eviscerate the Wanker Division and faster than all but fifteen riders for the entire day. Moreover, he did it without the help of the Cat 1 peloton’s shelter and speed.

So many riders got to savor the joy of simply finishing. Guys like Dan Kroboth, who dropped 75 pounds over the course of the year and endured a tough training regimen, came away with his first BWR finish. Behind the scenes the event “seamlessly” happened thanks to people like Victor Sheldon, who marked the course, then when the markings were rained on and blown down, remarked it again on Saturday, after which they were blown down again, requiring him to remark the entire course a third time, finishing at 2:00 AM on Sunday. The turns were impeccably marked and made the difference between the BWR being a ride and an Eagle Scout project in orienteering.

As expected, the food at the Gear Grinder grill was off the hook, as finishers were treated to sausage, chicken, and Belgian waffles heaped with ice cream, chocolate fudge, and cardiac arrest. Those who didn’t die immediately were carried off the Lost Abbey beer tent.

For my own selfish purposes, nothing was as important as the hand-ups of GQ6 and Coca-Cola. I swilled both throughout the ride, and wouldn’t have finished without them–that and my secret stash of Trader Joe’s trail mix, of which I ate an entire half-bag.

I was going to write an epic review in twelve parts, but this will have to do. My neck hurts. See you in 2016 … as a volunteer!

END

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Note: What follows was sent to me by my friend Denis Faye, a fellow sufferer and finisher of this year’s BWR, who followed the strict protocol for requesting a mention something on this blog: 1) Be nice. 2) Hit the “subscribe” button.

From Denis: “I started cycling in earnest 2-3 years ago when my friend Steve Edwards (former La Grange, now a dirty MTBer living in Utah) gave me his old Cannondale Cat 5. We’ve been friends for 25+ years and he’s one of the great human beings. Currently, he’s going toe-to-toe with Lymphoma. I wanted to do something to both honor him and make a difference, so I’m doing a Birthday Challenge to raise funds for the Lymphoma Research Foundation. On May 30-31, Kevin Nix and I are riding  from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two days. (That’s a little over 450 miles in 45 hours for my 45th birthday.)”

Here’s the FB page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1447394325551415/

Here’s a blog post going into more detail: http://denisfaye.com/2015/03/26/450-miles-in-45-hours-my-birthday-challenge-to-beat-cancer/

And here’s the donation page: http://www.lymphoma.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=306330&supid=418211276

Those who forget the past are generally maroons

April 25, 2015 § 39 Comments

Today is supposed to be a happy day, as 800+ bicycle riders try to come up with reasonable-sounding excuses as to why they can’t actually participate in tomorrow’s Belgian Waffle Ride despite having paid the $136 entry fee, purchased $3,402.71 in new cycling equipment, and retained the services of a professional coach.

But for me, even though I’m going down to San Diego in an hour or so to help mark the course and pick up my number, it’s not really all that happy. I can’t stop thinking about the refugees from Syria and Somalia who are drowning as they try to cross the Mediterranean from Libya in dinghies, rubber rafts, and leaky vessels, all in order to reach Western Europe.

Consider this:

The US State Department in Washington, and refugee agencies were all aware of the situation.

[The owners of the boats] knew even before the [boats] sailed that its passengers might have trouble disembarking in [Europe].

The voyage[s] of the [refugees] attracted a great deal of media attention. Right-wing [European] newspapers deplored its impending arrival and demanded that the government cease admitting [the] refugees. Indeed, the passengers became victims of bitter infighting within the government [s].

Many [Europeans] resented the relatively large number of refugees whom the government had already admitted into the country, because they appeared to be competitors for scarce jobs. Hostility toward immigrants fueled both [anti-Mulsim sentiment] and xenophobia.

This is not an edited clip from a newspaper describing the refugee crisis in Europe. It’s an edited clip taken directly from the online story on the website of the U.S. Holocaust Museum about the voyage of the St. Louis, a German ship filled with Jewish refugees who in 1939 were refused entry to Cuba and to the United States as they fled Hitler’s campaign to exterminate European Jewry, a campaign whose earnestness was shown to all who cared to look in the Kristallnacht attacks of 1938.

Most oblivious to the historical implications of denying entry to refugees are the Australians, who have advised the EU to deal with refugee boats the same way that they do, by simply telling would-be immigrants that they will never set foot on Australian shores, that they will be turned away by military vessels, that no aid will be given, and that if their boats are not seaworthy, they will drown under the watchful eye of the Australian coast guard.

Australia touts the effectiveness of the program. Before implementation, over 1,200 people drowned trying to reach the continent. Today no one dies at sea because the PR campaign has effectively discouraged people from trying. Instead, refugees flee to New Guinea, Cambodia, and other places where the Australian government pays those governments to take in refugees. The governmental payees pocket the money and let the refugees try to “find a better life” in the squalor and poverty of some of the world’s worst slums. “There is lots of work in Cambodia,” one Aussie official was quoted as saying.

But at least the refugees aren’t dirtying up the streets of Sydney, stealing the jobs of white Australians and contributing to crime and unemployment. As in America, white Australians are apparently falling all over themselves to do the brutal, back breaking jobs typically done by immigrants.

As I was doing a BWR prep ride with a small group a couple of months ago, I chatted with a fellow rider about the failure of Congress to pass the Dream Act, which would have given amnesty to undocumented immigrant children brought to this country by their parents and who, through no fault of their own, quite literally live in the shadows.

“Well,” he said, “those kids … that was me.”

“What?” I stared in disbelief.

“Yeah. I didn’t have a green card until I was eighteen. I lived my entire childhood as an illegal, and it wasn’t until the amnesty of 1986 that I stopped living in daily fear of arrest and deportation.”

There we were, riding bikes, getting ready for the ultimate expression of privileged, middle aged faux athleticism, chatting about wives, kids, and the “travails” of white-collar jobs. We were both productive members of society–sort of–,responsible husbands and fathers–sort–of, and the beneficiaries of limitless opportunity, but one of us could only have gotten where he was by the stroke of a legislative pen.

And here we’re about to go ride our bikes again as thousands of others are about to embark on a deadly venture across the open sea, ruled by cut-throats, smugglers, and gangs, risking starvation, disease, and death because every one of those outcomes is better than what awaits them if they remain at home.

The Belgian Waffle Ride is about to happen with its supposed hardness, toughness, and difficulty … indeed.

END

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