Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Oceanside 70.3 or Things Didn't Go According to Plan Part II

In training for a hilly half ironman, if the race has bike climbing of 2400 feet, then surely riding 3500 feet must be good self-abuse training? My plan was to at least officially finish under eight and a half hours, not end up feeling like I had hot pokers in my butt. The hills bit back.

Two weeks before the Oceanside 70.3 race, I rode my usual route, but added a section on Bartlett Dam Road. Bartlett Dam road is evil. Trucks hauling boats to the lake with not so sober drivers threaten to blow a rider off the road. The pavement is rough and parts have steep, winding grade. But boring, it’s not. I wanted to explore Horseshoe Dam Road, since I had not been on it. 

The first sign of trouble was an aching knee. Then my right foot hurt. My legs were tired. The hills felt steeper than usual and the way back to the car was pathetically slow. 

The next day, walking hurt. This was a bad sign. I hoped the pain wouldn’t linger, but it settled in to stay in the following days. Running was almost impossible with a stabbing sensation every step I took. By the end of the week, it was better, but then I stupidly did another long bike ride. Healing up then became a bigger priority than training.

With a week to go, I debated not doing the race at all. It’s a giant hassle with all the beach traffic and it’s difficult to park. Transition was a mile from the finish line. Chances were very good that I couldn’t finish the run, since I could still barely walk. Still, the swim and the bike would be worth doing. The bike in Camp Pendleton was scenic and challenging and one of the best rides around. Plus it was amusing to see the marines were standing around with machine guns to keep the spandex clad invaders in line. Soldiers were always blowing up things. I had done this race three times, so I wanted to try the bike, even if the rest wasn’t finished. Ideally, to do the entire thing would be great, but it just didn’t seem possible. Maybe a miraculous recovery would save me.

The drive to California was the usual ordeal on a hideously boring, ugly road. At some point, all the monotony always drove me crazy. Endless desolate desert punctuated by half dead shrubs and bare mountains. It cried to be put out of its misery of existence. Even the Palm Springs windmills weren’t doing it for me.

 From the hotel parking lot. I don't know what the large mound of dirt was for.

Due to my lack of planning, I ended up in the same cheap motel as my last trip. Weird noises emanated from the room at night. Somewhere nearby, a loud woman who didn’t appear to sleep, talked loudly or argued with her boyfriend every night. This place was real classy. Maybe for revenge I could make loud noises in the day to wake her up. At least I got a free breakfast .

Race morning, I got up at the ungodly hour of 3:15. Was the stress and lack of sleep really worth it? I got ready to leave, trying to remember the thousand things I had to bring. The car had dew all over it, which was a mystery that I never know what to do about. It was just not an issue in the desert. The defrost and A.C. didn’t do much and the windows were still fogged over. In desperation, I wiped off the windows with kleenix.

I missed seeing my designated parking garage and had to turn around. They are always invisible in my half bleary early morning state, plus driving in the dark sucks. On the shuttle bus, the driver lady was cheery. I felt like I was going to my doom and tried not to dwell on it. The thought of the swim was terrifying–a cold, un-welcoming ocean with strange creatures swimming around in it. Hypothermia, sharks or drowning awaited.

The air temperature wasn’t warm out, but it was better than I had feared. One year I got hypothermia from the forty degree air and cold water during the swim and had to go into the med tent afterwards. Thawing out had been a slow process. That had to be avoided at all costs.

The swim start was a self-seeded rolling start at 6:50 a.m. This was part of my undoing because I erroneously assumed it wouldn’t take more than twenty minutes to get every one in the water and I was at the back of the line. It took forty minutes. The chute was narrow and people were squished together while trying to move forward. It was way too much humanity, though they blocked the wind. I stuck in the back, trying to avoid bodily contact, but ultimately wished I pushed towards the front. This did not give me a lot of leeway with a slow swim and transition since everyone had to be on the bike course by 8:50. 

Bird party on the beach.

Wading in, the calm water was a shock, but it felt better after a while.  It was much easier to swim in than 2016, when the chop and swells tossed everyone around. The water temperature was 62 degrees, which was bearable. On Thursday they said it was 59, which is hypothermia territory for me. It was hard work to swim the 1.2 mile and all the while I worried that it wasn’t fast enough to beat the cut off. The bright idea of a beach start had been proposed after everyone had signed up for the race, but abandoned for this race by the organizers. This would have been a deal-breaker for me because swimming in the harbor was difficult enough without fighting the surf. Hopefully, that stupid idea will die a painful death. Anyone who was disappointed can go screw themselves.

The only advantage to the self-seeded start was less bodies to deal with. Kayakers got in my way and the occasional swimmer. The way back was difficult to see, facing the sun with the blinding glare. I just went where the other people were going, siting off a tall building.

In a  post swim daze, I got out and hobbled to transition. I had forgotten to start my Garmin. Maybe the swim was about an hour. It turned out to be 59:03, which was better than expected.

Transition was a real struggle. The wetsuit stuck on my hands and feet and I lacked strength to pull it off quickly. Getting my bike gear and peeing took way too long, which ate up time to finish the bike before the cut off.

Torture device.

The first ten miles of the bike were good. The weather was sunny perfection with a gentle breeze and cool enough for a jacket. Then the pain set in and stayed. My seat was uncomfortable–like sitting on rocks and the two pronged Adamo seat padding had broken down. The pressure was right where the sit bones felt the worse. Standing up in the pedals was the only way relieve the discomfort. This wasn’t an option to help climb the hills, though, because it caused too much pain. 

I encountered surfers on the No Pass zone at the Trestles,. One guy was riding a mountain bike, carrying a surf board and weaving all over the pathway. This was an unexpected obstacle, but I managed to get by without being taken out. Where the hell did all these people come from, anyway? Californians are weird.

 In the hills, Meadowlarks sang in a melodious flute-like call. A brown hawk flew by. The wildflowers were in bloom. The beauty took my mind off the misery. Then loud booms penetrated the air from explosives or gun fire. Camp Pendleton contradictions. 

The injury affected my speed, bleeding the output of a fairly hard effort.  San Mateo, otherwise know as “Hell Hill” tempted me to walk like everyone else, but that would have been a capitulation to weakness. It was aptly named. I could barely keep the pedals turning over with the pain in my legs. This was the worst climb, as the other two weren’t as agonizing. I wasn’t going fast enough, though.

About mile forty-six, I realized  the cut off would be missed, but stressing about it was useless and too much effort. My mental resignation reminded me of past races, in which the despair hit that the time had slipped away too fast and the race was over. The run probably wasn’t possible anyway, but it would have been nice to finish on my terms. Then the twenty-five mph headwinds started and the course got uglier. This was not fun. Other riders were blissfully unaware of their doom and that they wouldn’t be able to continue. Maybe there was a cut off at this point, but no one stopped me. Racers standing around at an aid station  looked like they had given up.

Back in transition, as expected, an official was waiting to pull our chips. I wasn’t upset, but surely others were. I felt for them. It was an ignominious end to the race and rather depressing, but I accepted the inevitability of it. Total bike time was 4:20, my worst ever in this event. Even if I had started earlier, with my long transition I still wouldn’t have made the 5:30 swim/bike cut off.

I think I was about five minutes over, but officials wiped out all my split times, even the ones legitimately finished, so I wasn’t sure. How rude. They take my money, but they don’t care enough publish the damn time splits. My complaint about it to them has so far gone unheeded.

Not finishing felt unsatisfactory and like undone business. It was depressing, with no credit for the attempt. That water was cold and those hills were brutal, even for a partial race. The pain from the injury was constant. It was the risk of showing up, though.  Better to definitely know the outcome, then to wonder what might have happened. Things Definitely Did Not Go According to Plan.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

2018 Messier Marathon or Things Didn't Go According to Plan

My yearly ritual is the Messier marathon. I join my fellow astronomy club members at a remote site to try to view 110 Messier objects in one night. I seriously debated not going, though because the predicted weather was awful. The cloudiness was supposed to last most of the night and it would be windy and cold. This was the desert’s WIND season, which usually occurs when I have some outside activity that requires no wind to be optimal. The eternal debate was to go even with predicted bad weather and hope it gets better, or to stay home and wonder what fun I missed.


Rural Arizona desert is un-welcoming. It’s beautiful in its own bleak way, but it doesn’t want humans to stay. It shows no mercy for the hapless. Cattle eat the ground vegetation, so what’s left is scrub and dust. The site  is 120 miles from home, west on I-10, off an exit off the freeway, that immediately turns into a dirt road that goes to the middle of nowhere. The place elicits a sense of unease.  

Since it is so far, the car has to be loaded up with a tent, sleeping bags, the telescope equipment, a chair, a table, food and generally, the kitchen sink. It is not an easy trek. If the weather is cloudy, I go anyway, since the diehards will still show up. In that case, people stand around and talk or go to sleep. The clouds rarely last all night.

At the site, no signs were on the road to indicate direction. I knew the way, but it would have been reassuring to see some signs of civilization. People were set up, but no one that I knew. The diehards weren’t so much and had stayed home. I parked near the porta potty because it’s hard as hell to find in the dark. 

Clouds weren’t totally covering the sky, but the breeze was a persistent, relentless slap. Wind will usually die down at sunset. However, the tent had to be set up before it got dark. It can be calm, but pull out a tent, and the wind starts howling. Every time. I hate camping, but sleeping in the car is even more uncomfortable.

Since  the wind was unruly, my strategy was to weight down the tent corners, then stake it. The system was a dome tent with bendable rods that attached to the corners and erected the tent. Normally, I put up the tent, then try to stake it before the wind blows it away. Secure one corner and the other lifts up. Before I know it, the whole thing has shifted and I am cussing up a storm. Staking it down first made it crooked. It was an hour struggle to make it work and a stake bent in the hard ground. My “shelter” was sad looking, misshapen and rattling in the breeze.


My mood was dark. The sky was cloudy and the telescope couldn’t be collimated. This was the worst Marathon ever! The strong wind chilled me. I retreated to my car to brood.

A car left and I was envious. Briefly, I wondered if I could leave without ending up in a ditch. Leaving a star site required not using headlights, otherwise raving astronomers will yell at the hapless driver for blinding their night vision. The dirt road edges are not easy to see and it would  have been easy to veer off and get stuck in soft sand.  From experience, driving in the dark from star parties years ago resulted in getting lost, which was terrifying because it’s disorienting.  I just stayed. I didn't drive 120 miles into the godforsaken desert to quit now.

Finally, a few stars popped out. The viewfinder and the Sky Commander computer thingy that tells where to point the telescope could be set up. The targets briefly appeared through the clouds, before they got instantly obscured. It was an exercise in futility, but I outwitted the weather occasionally. Maybe the situation wasn’t totally hopeless.

After a few hours, the Sky Commander decided it was lost. Re-aligning by siting on two stars was too much effort, so the hunt was manual. This took forever because the method was inexact. Look at a map, figure the object is maybe, kind of, between certain stars and hope that it’s there when looked at. Star hopping is tedious. Exhaustion set in.

It was colder by now, the temperature into the forties. I had on long underwear, jeans, a long sleeved t-shirt, a cashmere sweater, ski bibs, long socks, a bike jacket and a long wool coat. It wasn’t enough in the biting wind. Standing outside was a test of determination and endurance.

Someone came by and chatted. She was trying to find the porta potty in the dark. We discussed the dismal state of affairs. A gust of wind blew my list away. I ran after it, barely seeing it in the ambient light, and tried to catch it before the wind blew it farther. I finally caught it with my foot after a sprint through the desert. Could this night get any worse?

She left, and I worked for a few more hours. The sky had mostly cleared by now, but the wind still blew hair into my mouth. The Milky Way was out and the sky was filled with sparkling stars. Conditions weren’t crystal clear, but still beautiful. At 2:30 a.m., I decided to sleep a little, because driving 120 miles home in the morning required at least some level of alertness.

I went into the tent to sleep, but the wind still rattled it loudly. Would it blow down on top of me? Sleep was impossible. I got out and scrunched into the back seat of the car. Setting up the tent had been a total waste of time. The wind whistled around the car and the sleeping bags barely fended off the cold. I slept until 4:30 a.m.

When I awoke, it was difficult to  get up and step outside into the cold. The wind had at least died down. I wandered to find the porta potty, but got disoriented in the dark twice. I saw vehicles, but had no idea where my car was, nor the porta potty. I stumbled over bushes and found my car again by following the camper that was near it. I briefly considered just peeing by my car, but decided against it.

I now had a bunch of galaxies to search, and not long to find them, so I sucked it up and re-aligned my Sky Commander. The Leo and Virgo constellations has many galaxies and the fuzzy balls look similar. To try to distinguish one from another was a descent into madness. The Sky Commander still had problems, but at least located the objects. Time was limited as sunrise would be soon.

I found 68 objects total by the time the sky lightened. The “marathon” was not so much finding them, but defying the weather and not quitting. It was an emotional roller coaster of misery, despair and fun.

With more light, the porta potties came into view. How the hell did I miss it when it was that close? Of course, if it had had its usual red light instead of nothing, it would have been found easier to find.

The elusive Porta Potties.

Was it worth it to go through all this? The whole affair was a clusterfuck with the clouds, the wind, the cold, the misaligned Sky Commander, the list blowing away, the woebegone tent.
The theme of my life this year is Things are Not Going According to Plan and this certainly fit that category. A difficult experience was better than no experience. I could have stayed home and slept in my warm bed, but what would have been the fun in that?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Keys Matter

I lost my key.
Dropped out of my pocket on a trail.
Gone forever.

Lost my spouse.
He didn’t want to be around.
Gone forever.

I looked for the key.
Up the trail; down the trail.
Six times.
Where did it go?
Swallowed by the earth.
Barely controlled panic.

I didn’t look for him.
No need.
I was calm.

My phone in the car.
A spare key as well.
A kind stranger helped.
Locked out–not the first time.

No spare spouse.
No replacement.
Alone–not the first time.

Valentine’s---get lost!
Be gone forever.
Take your red hearts
and sap.
Stab yourself with an arrow.

I lost my key.

I didn’t lose my mind.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The War on Christmas

The cat doesn't care about Christmas

The war on Christmas?

No, the war on me.

 It’s July and dark days approach. Plastic Christmas trees already.
Outside, a blazing 115 degrees.
Yet, synthetic pine wears a mantel of pretend chemical snow.
I shudder and turn away from the conflict to come.

By August, the skeletons of Halloween appear. The shells of dead people cheer me.
But the Santa demons with blank eyes lurk in the back store shelves. They await Halloween’s demise, ready to induce a retail frenzy of mindless manic mayhem. I dodge a whizzing bullet.

 The store ads hatch out of their rotten, stinking corporate lairs in September. Not daring to fully emerge, but enough to hint of the chaos to come. Dread creeps into my mind. Random firefight.

Mindless, droning, torturous Christmas music seeps out; a cancer on my brain. Only October, but skulls give way to over-priced strings of holiday lights. I mourn the end of Halloween knowing the nightmare begins. I retreat to the trenches.

Outdoor decorations appear on homes, though it’s not yet Thanksgiving. What the hell is wrong with you? I fight the urge to punch cutesy blow-up figures. Vile Santas and reindeer; elves in helicopters.

PLEASE, NO! Already war weary.

Full on December assault. Inattentive drivers  fill the streets, shopping, shopping, shopping. Horrid music invades every public space. Jingle Bells–stab my eyes out. My mood sinks lower. Vapid ads everywhere for cars, flooring, clothes, electronics, food, candy, perfume, booze....IT NEVER ENDS.

All the F**KING CHEER. I fake enthusiasm and put up a tree. Wait for the end of the battle.

Finally, it stops. Blessed calm. Peace.

Then the post war sales begin.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Estrella Mountain 8k XterraTrail Race Report

This race was a replacement for Black Canyon Xterra, which got flooded out. In Arizona, where it rarely rained. The local news showed a raging wall of water in what normally is a timid creek. The massive rain storm made the requisite stream crossings hazardous, so the race organizer probably didn’t want to have to do water rescues. I had the option of transferring to another race, so I picked Estrella Mountain. It was the wrong choice.

I had done trail races in this park before. At the last one, I fell and my lacerated knee required six stitches to repair. This weighed on my mind because I was nervous about it happening again. Trail running always had this danger of self-inflicted injury. It was fun when I was relaxed and not worried about bodily injury. It was not fun when I belly-flopped against the stony, unyielding ground and bled all over my leg. I would pick up my knees and run with small steps and still sometimes trip on a rock. I ran slower than I would on pavement out of fear. Sooner or later, though, my clumsiness caught up with me.

This area had many rocks; so many rocks. I hate rocks. I did training runs on rugged trails, but not like this. This park had it in for me, just waiting to catch me off guard. I knew it was coming at some point.

The race started with the typical lack of fanfare. Xterra is usually pretty laid back. Most times, I am left by myself, as much faster runners bolt away, but for some reason, I always had people around me. I couldn’t believe they were as slow as I was. I ran cautiously, tripping a few times, but always caught myself. The hills were a lot of effort, but not extreme to the point that I thought I was dying. I felt tired, though. I was 1.5 miles in and thought, how the hell am I going to finish? This was not a good feeling when I had some three miles to go. I kept climbing.

 On the last mile and a quarter I passed someone I knew and said “Hopefully, I won’t trip,” and promptly did so. Four whole miles I had made it without harm, but the downhill waited to snare me. Out of nowhere, I caught my foot and suddenly hit the ground, with no chance to slow my  momentum. My first thought was I hope I don’t need stitches. My second thought was I am stupid. Oh my god my knee really hurts! It was bleeding profusely. I got up gingerly and brushed the dust off my leg. I tried to wash the wound off with some water, but it was hopelessly dirty with mushy tissue. People stopped to ask how I was doing. How the hell should I know? The blood was dripping down my leg, but all I could do was keep going, limping like a lame pirate. I was alert, but not happy about my crippled state.  I tried to “run” because I was about .75 miles from the end. 

I hobbled towards the finish line, passed a photographer and managed to trip again. Now I had two wounded knees. Trying to run in pain didn’t make for a fast time. Undoubtedly, my two bloody, dripping knees were a spectacle as people cheered at the sight of my finish. Total time was 64:27 for 4.79 miles. 

I got a medal and medical bills.

The first aid guy tried to clean the dirt out of the raw flesh. He lifted a big flap of loose flesh and predicted fifteen stitches. Great! He suggested I go to an ER, rather than urgent care because the wound was deep. Medics at Xterra races can’t do much because they lack the equipment. This was depressing. I dreaded huge medical bills and a long wait. I usually go to urgent care to have my wounds cleaned, but they can be hit or miss. Some don’t have x-ray machines. Some have doctors who don’t know what they are doing. Sometimes, the wait is still not short. 

I had the foresight to bring my insurance card with me, because what could have possibly gone wrong running on a rocky trail? I stopped at an ER on the way home. They cleaned up the wound, washing out still more dirt. They numbed the knee, sewed eleven stitches and put on vast amounts of dressing. An x-ray showed no broken bones. They wanted to do an MRI, because some radiologist who probably wasn’t on my insurance plan thought the knee might have a tear. I was tired, dirty and hungry after being there for four hours and I didn’t want to wait  indefinitely to have a procedure that I may not even need. I refused the crutches they gave me. Why do I have to battle with these people? I broke down and wore the knee immobilizer only to the car. I couldn’t get my leg in the car with it on, so I ripped it off and tossed it on the seat. Who knows what I will end up paying for this device that I had on for five minutes?

I didn’t bother mentioning my banged up elbow at the ER, but I noticed it was painfully swollen when I got home. It still hurts two weeks later, but I will ignore it. I never got the MRI. The swelling was in the front and not in the knee, anyway, and was fine once most of the skin grew back.

So, not only did I incur medical bills, I lost the entry fee for another triathlon race the following weekend. Immersing a stitched wound in dirty Tempe Town Lake water at that race wasn’t recommended. I would have probably end up banging it again, anyway, and it hurt to even walk. I couldn’t bend my leg enough to ride a bike.

Damn rocks.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


Sometimes, I get a stupid notion that I want to do something. Organized bike rides are usually fun or at least a chance to ride somewhere different. Biking new places is interesting and makes me happy. This ride was one that I had always wanted to try. With an event name, “Skull Valley”, it had to be cool. It would be hilly, but I could deal with that. Or so I thought. This “challenge” would turn out to be in the “I thought it was a good idea at the time” category.

Since I had been training for the hilly Santa Barbara Triathlon in August, I would supposedly be in somewhat good shape for this ride. The summer heat sucks out my energy, though, and most of the rides, I was miserable and tired and didn’t average more than twelve miles per hour. I optimistically thought I could finish in four and half hours based on my mediocre training speed, but the climbing elevation was estimated from 2900 to 5000, so completion time was uncertain.

These events always attract the demented cyclists who usually finish in half the time that I do. I never see these people after the start. If I was lucky, a few stragglers would accompany me to the bitter end. My plan was not to mosey too long at the aid stations, but not to kill myself either. Fifty some miles was a long way, since I hadn’t ridden that many miles in training.

The morning of the ride, I drove up in the dark. This was stressful, but I was too cheap to get a hotel. Living in Phoenix, I forget that this state has a whole lot of nothing once past the urban areas. I drove past empty country side. The roads were deserted, which was great because other drivers irritate me.

Prescott Courthouse

I blundered around Prescott, which isn’t all that big anyway, parked and got ready. The cold shocked me. What the hell was I supposed to do? I didn’t know how to dress and debated whether to wear a jacket on the ride. Phoenix had been in the high sixties to low seventies in the morning. Fifties was just strange after driving only an hour and a half. The ride started by the Prescott Courthouse. This part of town reminded me of the Midwest, with the tall trees that graced the square.

The ride started and of course I was in the rear. We had a police escort through town, which made me feel like I had to hurry. I didn’t want to keep the cops waiting. Usually, I don’t like to start out hard because I pay for it later on. 

We climbed for eight miles. Was this hill ever going to end? I noticed a fair number of roadside memorials of crosses with flowers. I wondered how hazardous this two-lane country road was.

After the hill was a long descent for nineteen miles. I could live with that. The countryside was bleaker, like a high altitude chaparral with few trees.  About mile twenty was Skull Valley. The town looked like it had a water source because it was so green. Tall, lovely cottonwood trees lined the road. Skull Valley was named for all the Indian skeletons white settlers found. A massive battle between two tribes resulted in numerous unburied bodies. Then the settlers had to deal with the Yavapai Indians who remained. Ultimately, another massacre occurred. Maybe the place is haunted with ghosts seeking revenge against the present inhabitants. 

At mile twenty-six was an aid station. I got off the bike to use the porta potty. It was on a trailer, which meant I had to walk up a ramp. My legs were shaky. This did not bode well as I was only halfway through the ride and I needed functioning legs. 

The aid station had boiled potatoes, which I liked, and sliced cucumber, which mystified me. Whose idea was that? Cucumbers have few calories, no carbohydrates and no salt. Basically, it was a useless food, especially for strenuous physical activity. Maybe it would be good if it was hot out, which it wasn’t.

The first half had taken me less than two hours. Maybe I would make the second half in about the same time and finish under four hours. Unfortunately, what goes down, must go up.      
Someone told me that the rest of the course went downhill for six miles, then uphill for fifteen. This was utter bullshit. Maybe her version of up and down was different from mine. The climb started right after the aid station. The wind was picking up by this point and not to my advantage. After the turning point, when the route went north again at Highway 89, it really started to suck. The road was straight and monotonous. It looked level, but I was only going eight miles per hour. This was what cyclists refer to as a false flat, a particular evil phenomenon that played tricks on the mind. This was a discouraging affront to my ego and made me despair. At this rate, it was going to take three more hours to finish. I stopped at mile thirty-six to recover from my mental funk at the aid station. A bar was located in the back part of the lot. How tempting to just chuck it all and have a beer.

After that, the twisting road really climbed. At least it wasn’t so boring that I wanted to stab my eyes out. Normally, riding a bike up hills was fun, but this was more work than I wanted and it was exhausting. Just when I thought it eased off, it climbed some more, like some evil dream. It was almost humorous and certainly insane. At one point I saw the road in front of me steeply climbing the mountain and thought you have to be kidding! I kept waiting for a downhill to come that didn’t. I tried not to think about how much time I was taking. 

The hills had some stunning vistas to take my mind off the pain. The mountains were rocky, with tall pine tree forests. The green valleys were far below. The road cut through the side of the mountain and the terrain steeply dropped off below. 

At about mile fifty, the road finally descended towards Prescott. At a sharp descent, going thirty miles per hour, a side wind threatened to blow me over. I had to slow down. Even  downhill was difficult. I finally rolled into the courthouse square. OH MY GOD, THAT WAS SO HARD. I saw the time, with all the stops, I was at 4:55. Really? That time was disappointing. Moving time without all the stops was 4:35. The climbing elevation was “only” 3,700 feet, but it felt like 5,700 with all the undulations. The 5,000 foot altitude probably didn’t help. Altitude is sneaky and tiring. 

This ride was humbling and it kicked me in the butt. It was over my abilities and training. I couldn’t decide if it was a good idea in the end to do it, but it certainly was an “experience.” Experience as in I will never do that again

Until I forget how hard it was and foolishly sign up for another round of punishment.  

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Santa Barbara Long Triathlon Race Report

I like California beach towns. They have ambience, sand and surf and, best of all, cool weather. The environment is totally different from summer-hell-on-earth Phoenix. No heat exhaustion. I have lost interest in subjecting myself to that. Plus, after seventeen years of triathlons, I was bored with local races.

I had been thinking about doing this race for a long time, but hesitated to do so. The course is open, so cars and people are a problem. The swim is in the ocean, which can be unpredictable. The distances are weird: one mile ocean swim, 34 mile bike and a ten mile run. But southern California races tend to be well-run and worth the trip for the scenery alone. Plus, it was an excuse to see my cousin and her husband, who had moved to Ventura from New England a few years ago.

While beach towns are nice, driving to them is not. The drive is 460 miles and most of it is either boring, annoying, or both. The stretch from the Arizona border through the desert past Palm Springs is a test of an effort not to turn into a raving maniac from the tedium. While I like the Sonoran desert, this part of the Mohave is so butt-ugly, that it has the menacing power to render life meaningless enough to drive off a cliff. How do people live there and not go crazy? And why are there still palm tree stubs with no tops in Desert Center? Do they not have enough self-respect to tear down the monuments to their futile existence?

Once the ass-end interior of the desert is past, the endless suburbia begins and continues for hundreds of miles. I stopped several times to maintain my sanity. Driving is not my joy. Too long, alone in a car, and I want to tear my hair out. The road was clogged with trucks. Why the hell do they have to occupy ALL the lanes? Get the hell out of my way.

I hit an inexplicably clear patch and breezed through the Hollywood area on 210. Then I hit the 101. The 101 in California is cursed. Cars inexplicably slow down for no reason. This can go on multiple times for as long as a car is on this damned highway. I had sixty miles of stop and go and it tested my patience. California, you suck! How can anyone live here?

I finally reached my cousins’s house in Ventura.

The next day we drove to Santa Barbara in an RV. I could never drive these tanks–I can’t back up a Corolla, let alone this monster. It wasn’t that huge compared to other houses on wheels, but it was beyond my meager backing-up skills.

Surfers futilely waiting for waves.

The ocean in Santa Barbara was blessedly smooth. Surfers floated on their boards in the water waiting for waves that never came. Some of these races I have done required fighting surf and risking being pummeled with the force of waves. It could be the Xterra of swimming–a rough, exciting adventure that I never wanted to repeat. I could deal with smooth. Smooth salt water is good. Smooth salt water is fast. Rough salt water is death.

Race morning, I rode my bike to the site in the dark. I had a headlamp and hoped no one would run me over, though not much was stirring. The temperature was in the low sixties, but it was so damp that it didn’t feel cold. Fog hugged the coast.

I was in the next-to-last group to start. I was nervous and only wanted to get the swim over with. We wouldn’t venture very far from shore, but it was still too much for me. It was a beach start, so when it was time, I got past three small waves and started swimming. Really, that’s the best you can do, ocean? Weirdly, it was easy, like the current was pushing me out. This was unique. I got past the first buoy and swam the outside length. The water was a little choppy in the middle, but I had been in much worse. I tried to keep going and time dragged. I wanted to be done. At the turn around, the water was unnaturally smooth and unbelievably lake-like. At the final length into the shore, I swam faster just to get the swim over with. The sixty-five degree water made me feel cold by that point, even with a full wetsuit.

Finally, at the shore, I struggled through eight inches of loose sand and promptly did a face-plant. Really embarrassing. My watch said 49 minutes and the swim cutoff was 50 minutes. I could still race if I didn’t make it, but I wanted to reach the timing mat before the time expired. With sand all over me, I ran and beat the cutoff by six seconds.

Transition: not flow-through and of course I was at the far end.

I shed the grit and got on my bike. The fog still hung around and was in no hurry to leave. That was fine with me. The start of the bike was relatively flat, then climbs the first of three hills. The route goes past plant nurseries, avocado and citrus farms and large houses. I wasn’t sure if the houses were private or commercial, but they looked massive. Lots of rich people live in this area, so some of them might have been mansions for the landed gentry.

As I climbed the hill, the distant views were obscured by mist. Even my sunglasses were dewed up. This was an odd sensation when most of the time in the desert, the moisture is being sucked out of every pore in my body. I welcomed the coolness.

The bike course was a byzantine series of loops connected by straight road. Luckily, the route was well marked or I would have been hopelessly lost. My speed was in between lollygagging and killing myself. I rode past large trees overhanging the road. Shade is good. 

At about mile twenty-five, the last hill began. The first two hadn’t been that long or steep. This one climbed. And climbed. And climbed. For two miles. Just when I thought it was done, it wasn’t. It was enjoyable in a sick sort of way. Me against the hill. Just try to crush me. I actually passed weaker riders. Yes, you got dropped by an old lady.

The last part was flattish going back into town. I passed the park two miles from the end. The fog hadn’t burned off yet.

I rolled into transition and began the run. Of course most people were done. Hopefully, they wouldn’t eat all the food before I got to it.

I didn’t feel exhausted, but not peppy, either. The run course isn’t closed, so I had to watch for pedestrians, cars, pedicabs, skateboarders and whatnot. At least they had the sense to stay out of my way because I get really cranky at this point in a race. If you got in my way, I would just as soon run you over. Unfortunately, in the beach parking lots, cars would randomly cut in front of me, then stop for no reason. Come on, already! One lady cut in front of me, then was counting her money for the valet parking, all the while blocking my way. I fought the urge to bang on her expensive car.

The route was marked with chalk arrows on the road. Unlike the bike marking, these were ambiguous. Unknown to me, I missed a critical turn into a park that continued onto residential streets. I realized that I was lost when, after four miles, I came to a four lane intersection with no indication where to go. I was screwed. Where do I go? This is the worst feeling in a race, when after all the effort, it comes to nothing. I didn’t know what to do, so I started back, hoping that a jog in the road would make up the missing miles. At the mile nine marker, I knew I was two miles short. After all the effort to get to this point, I wasn’t going to have a short run. I did what I do when I was hopelessly lost; make up my own route. I doubled back to for the missing miles.  

Embarrassed, I hoped no one would notice my folly. I ran past a clip-board guy who said a rather unfriendly “hello.” It was less “hello” and more “what the fuck are you doing?” I ignored him and went on. Someone commented at an aid station that I had been past here several times. I told her I had screwed up the turnaround. No really, I just wanted to wander randomly around this race course.

I made up the miles and ran to the finish line. What a letdown. Somehow, it wasn’t as fun when I screwed up. I searched for race food and couldn’t find it. Most people were gone. I felt like crying. A kind volunteer took pity and steered me to what was left. The food was fruit and pasta salad, but it was better than nothing. Who knows what they had before everyone else ate it?

The run took me about two hours, which was what I figured in my low expectations. If I had known the proper route and had not stopped to wonder where the hell I was, it might have been a better run. Getting lost ruined my motivation to hurt myself and go harder.
Total time was five hours, thirty-seven minutes, which was better than the six hours I thought would be. I had survived the swim, and the bike course was worth the trip. The weather had been perfect. I didn’t have a great race, but the experience was unique. I don’t think I will be riding a bike in fog again anytime soon. But I will be back to race in a California beach town–as soon as I forget the awful drive.