Thursday, June 27, 2013

Parking Lot Pigeon

Denizen of the Parking Lot

Occasionally, my mind goes off on a tangent, especially when I am bored. Grocery shopping will do that to me. I was inspired to write this poem when I saw this humble creature.

He wanders among the cars.

Head bobbing.

Grocery store parking lot.
Bird feet oblivious to the
hot, black cracked, asphalt baking
in the sun-blasted 110 degrees.

He pecks at a torn hamburger wrapper,
discarded and forgotten.
French fry eaten, he ambles on
among the grocery carts.

Inside, shelves full of food; outside only crumbs.
His coat of feathers is a unharmonious collage of hideous colors.
He struts unfazed by his ugly .
Beady dull eyes regard the world.

Does he feel? Is he happy?
Mere existence only numb
eating, pooping, mating?

People walk by, unseeing.
He watches.
Mothers, babies, construction workers, old people in motorized carts.
Fat people, uniformed students, clerks in aprons.
They come, then leave with bags.
He is a phantom.

He hops onto a truck;
deposits a large, wet, white mound,

Feathers whoosh in flight.
He is gone.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Deuces Wild Olympic Race Report

I wish I could have summoned up enthusiasm for Deuces Olympic. I knew from previous experience doing this race in 2011, and the 2010 Xterra , not to expect much. People love it for whatever inexplicable reason. It’s a tough, and hilly ordeal , at 6,000 feet of altitude in the White Mountains of Arizona. Sometimes the wind howled. It was usually hot, always dry and I always felt miserable and tired at the end. But it was a training race for a high altitude ironman that I was doing in the fall, so I thought I should do it. Never mind that “should do” and “want to do” are two different things.

I also didn’t want to be in lovely Show Low. I am sure Show Low is fine town, but I couldn’t bring myself to like it. I don’t know why. Maybe because there wasn’t much there. It was a town you drive through on your way to somewhere else.

I didn’t have an auspicious start. The night before, I lost a contact and looked for it in my eyelid, poking my eyeball for hours. I wondered how I was going to get it out when it seemed imbedded in my eye. I didn’t know how I was going to swim blind in one eye, since I am extremely near-sighted. After a restless night, I finally found the contact on the counter. At least I could see where to swim.

I had to bundle up against the pre-dawn cold -forties until the orange sun lit up the Ponderosa Pine mountains. The air heated up quickly and the sun seared my skin. The wind was calm and the water temperature was sixty-four degrees, which was warmer than I expected. I waited around the dock a long seventy-five minutes to get into Fool Hollow Lake. I watched the half iron people swim and talked to people. The cold water made me recoil when I first got in, but I got used to it. I wasn’t happy with the temperature, but it was bearable.

I always dread the start of the swim, especially high altitude ones. The specter of a panic attack always loomed over me . It had happened to me in Flagstaff races at 7,000 feet and in this one in 2011. The sensation of no solid ground under my feet when I couldn’t get enough oxygen was very unpleasant. Thrashing around while hyperventilating just made it worse. I started easy in the swim and rested a lot in the first 750 meter lap. I concentrated on being calm and avoided this scenario. A current seemed to go north which helped, but the surface was choppy. The water conditions weren’t nearly as bad as the last time I did this race, when it had one foot waves that slapped me in the face with howling sixteen mph winds and twenty-five mph gusts. The second lap, the chest tightness usually associated with altitude eased up and I could swim steady without stopping. The end time wasn’t much worse a time for me than swimming at normal altitude. Changing the one-lap to a two-lap swim was a good move on the race organizer’s part because it is closer to shore and feels safer.

Starting out on the bike course, I was mostly alone because everyone else had swam and biked faster. I am by myself in races a lot and I hate it because it’s a reminder of my athletic inadequacy. This was a hazard of being slow and I was uneasy. I rode past woods and rolling hills and tried to stifle my anxiety. At times, I wondered if I was on the right road . Would anyone notice if I got lost? Did I miss the turn off and was on my way to the next town? Then I saw the leavings of previous racers-a wayward race number or a discarded gel pack and I knew I was not lost.

The bike was easier than last time I did this race in 2011, since the wind was only ten mph instead of the 17-22 mph I had to fight in the past. Except for a big hill near the end, it was otherwise a fairly fast course. The weather was cool, but I felt hot and a little dehydrated , despite drinking a lot of fluids and taking two salt tablets. I tried to keep up on nutrition as well because I didn’t want the experience that I had last time of being totally exhausted going into the run. Unfortunately, I had to waste three minutes in the port-a-potty peeing. Unlike most people, I don’t pee in the water. Even if I did, I would have needed to stop anyway because I can’t race fast enough to avoid this bodily function.

Off the bike, I felt better than I expected. but still tired. My legs had no life. The run is a mixture of trail and pavement. I appreciated the decorated fake skeleton that greeted me in the campground and the cheering volunteers. I was hot, though, and had to use sponges down my top to keep me cool. I imagined that my race photos were going to look stupid, with foam rubber sponges bulging in my top like a mutant Gumby. I didn’t care.

The long gravel road out and back was an energy suck. I hated it from the last time I had done it. It’s boring, long, no shade and hard to run. If I have to run on dirt, I want it to look like a trail, not some road I didn’t want to be on. I had just started to get a good pace when I got abdominal cramps. I could only ignore them at my own peril because they lead to bad things. No port-a-potties were in sight, of course, so I had to slow down. The pain eased off, but didn’t go away. I made it to a rest room, but that was more time wasted. I regretted the fried fish I had eaten the previous night. The rest of the run was better.

My objective for this event was to avoid feeling totally wasted at the end. Normally, I get tired, but altitude with exertion will drain me, like a life-sucking vampire. The wind didn’t help the last race, but I was probably low on nutrition and dehydrated as well. That time, I had no energy to go back to my car parked four miles away at a school and had to get a ride. This time I was drained and tired, but I could still function. I think the altitude and heat was a strain on my body and it took more effort to stem the energy loss. The thought of fighting this for an entire ironman is daunting. Final time was 3:48:54, which was disappointing, but better than the 4:06 from the last time.

My expectations for this race were met–because I didn’t have any. Just get through it and get it done. It was time to get the hell out of Show Low so that I could go home and nap.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


This bike route was stupidly difficult. It’s not something that I would have attempted a few years ago, but since I had already done some races with insane bike courses, I was more inclined to try Mt. Lemmon to see if I could do the whole climb. I was training for an ironman and the journey towards that goal sometimes involves physical activity that common sense would tell you not to do.

Other bike riders liked this route, judging by the number of cars in the nearest public parking area, which was four and a half miles from the mountain. To get to this shopping center involved a drive through the congested streets of Tucson, which are perpetually in various stages of repair. This many people couldn’t have been going to McDonald’s especially the muscular ones with the skin tight spandex. Many riders must like pleasant stabbing sensation in the muscles that comes from riding constantly up a steep road.

I had partially done this road before on a bike, but I had not gone to the top because I wasn’t ready at the time to ride that long. The first time, the rocky formations and mountain views so amazed me that I wasted a lot of time to stop and take pictures. I had wanted to return for more suffering. Now, it was all business because I could only ascend about six miles per hour. The climb up Mt. Lemmon was from about 2000 feet to over 8000 in twenty five miles.
The first mile gave me a glimpse of what was in store. The road immediately switch-backed and turned sharply upward into a steep ramp soaring to the sky. It’s wasn’t as bad as it looked, but it was still intimidating. The first time I saw it, I thought I wouldn’t be able to climb it.

My friend and I didn’t get an early start, so I sweated profusely with the effort in the hot morning sun. My bike computer wasn’t working once again, but my Garmin watch buzzed at every mile and showed the excruciating slow time. Nine minute miles might be decent for running, but they were a glacially slow time for a bike ride. I longed for the cooler climes farther up the mountain. Occasionally a breeze would bring relief from the heat.

I wondered why I did this to myself. It was a good idea a few days ago. The miles crawled by slowly and this ride was getting longer and longer. My right knee hurt from the constant pressure of pedaling. I worried about running out of water. The ranger station at mile twenty had some, but nothing in between, even at the campgrounds. It was hours away. I was consuming it at a rapid rate. The ascent never let up.

The road slithered around the mountain. At four thousand feet, desert flora still dotted the slopes, but the air was slightly cooler. I was tempted by the lookouts, but we stopped only occasionally to stretch leg muscles. I didn’t want to admire the view where the crevices plunged thousand of feet down the side of the road. A mere short guard rail would not prevent a free fall to certain death.

At five thousand feet and after three hours of riding, the cactus gave way to trees, which provided more shade. The road had yet to make the slightest dip, just relentlessly tilted upward. The more sedentary in cars whizzed by, in a hurry to go nowhere. Bike riders that passed by seem to mostly be going downhill. They were probably locals who had the sense to start early in the morning.

Windy Point Vista at fourteen miles and 6,000 feet, made me nervous. “Windy” with narrow twisting road did not seem like a good combination. The air was benign and didn’t threaten to blow me off the road. By now pine trees had taken over the mountain. The jagged, cracked rock formations looked like monolithic Easter Island statutes, with one resembling a face. The thinner air didn’t bother me, but I panted more.

The Palisade Visitor Center at 7,850 feet was the water stop. I had sucked most of mine down in the heat. I contemplated turning around. Three and a half hours ridden and five more miles to go. The ride was only supposed be four hours today and it would take an hour to get down. The amount of time that six miles per hour was to get even this far was scary. But I figured what the hell, I don’t come up here very often.

While filling my water bottles, I noticed a cute little gray Junco with yellow eyes and orangish back hopping around on the ground near the water pump. A bird that I had never seen before. I was delighted. One more for my life list of birds.

We rode on, stopping at an “8000 foot” sign to take a photo to prove we had gotten that high. Sometimes the road provided views of the highway way below us that we had traversed. Sky Island was an apt name. The flat desert floor was visible way below in the hazy air. Tall Ponderosa Pines dominated the landscape.  The wind that blew through the pine trees with a sound like ocean waves.

The road dipped at twenty-two miles and went up again before finally it dropped into Summerhaven, at the top of the mountain at 8,200 feet. I was really tired of climbing. My legs ached and my back muscles felt tight.

Although it appeared normal, the town was still recovering from a massive forest fire that had decimated it in 2003. The fire had burned 4,000 acres and three hundred homes, businesses and cabins. Sadly, the slopes still were studded with the trunks of burned trees. The Cookie Cabin was an obligatory stop for us with its plate sized cookies.

A four hour, twenty-five mile ride from the desert floor to the forest was surreal. A drive to the same climate in Flagstaff is two hours from Phoenix. Even stranger was that I had climbed an epic six thousand feet, my hardest ride to date. The mountain was conquered and I felt stronger and more confident. A 112 mile bike trip to ironman crazytown seemed more possible.