Narcissus' Echo

Thoughts, tears, rants, ruminations, hopes, fears, love(s), and prayers of just another being passing through this wracked sphere...

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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Peloton One again, this time with reporters

August 14, 2005
By Sal Ruibal, USA TODAY
CRAWFORD, Texas — The leader of the free world is now leading a Boomer Generation fitness trend. At age 59, President Bush is ripping around on a mountain bike, beating stress — and his fellow riders — with aplomb.

President Bush rides his bike with a group of journalists at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas, on Saturday

Bush invited me and a few other reporters for a mountain bike ride on his 1,600-acre Texas ranch Saturday.

His escapades on the bike have been well documented: an over-the-handlebars crash here at the ranch and a wet-pavement wipeout in Scotland that injured a pedestrian policeman.

But the truth about the Biker-in-Chief is that the man can really ride. Over the course of a two-hour Tour de Crawford, Bush humbled every rider in Peloton One with a strong and steady pace over scorching hot paved roads, muddy creek crossings, energy-sapping tall grass and steep climbs on loose and crumbling rock.

"This is not a race," he insisted at the start of the ride. "This is a chance for me to show you a little slice of heaven, as far as I'm concerned. You know, some guys go on their ranch and ride horses — I like to ride my ranch on a mountain bike."

Follow the leader

But there is one rule: don't pass the president.

No problem. Keeping up with Bush — whose fitness level was recently rated in his annual physical exam as being in the top 1% of men 55 to 59 — was as difficult as any race I've entered.

I started out riding next to him at the beginning of the ride, but when we left the dirt trails and hit the rolling asphalt the pace accelerated to more than 20 mph, which is pretty good for road bikes but absolutely blazing for heavier, knobby-tired mountain bikes. And did I mention that the only factor mitigating the mid-80s temperatures was a very strong headwind?

President Bush poses with USA TODAY reporter Sal Ruibal at a waterfall during their two-hour ride

"I like speed," says Bush, who wore a red-white-and blue helmet and a Western-style bike jersey, complete with pearl snap buttons. His loose-fitting black shorts bore small rips from his crash in Scotland. "There's something exhilarating about heading down a hill at 35 mph on a mountain bike — or trying to grind up a hill at 9 mph."

Need for speed

The president does prefer the speed zones to the technically difficult traverses up and over loose limestone and mud, but his abilities in that area are increasing rapidly.

He began riding two years ago when a knee injury ended his running routine, but his skills already are quite advanced.

"I love the outdoors," he says, straddling his $3,000 Trek Fuel mountain bike. "If I'm not exercising here, I'll be fishing over there. If I'm not fishing, I'll be working with the chainsaw. I really enjoy being outside, and mountain biking is a way for me to spend a fair amount of time — four or five days a week — outdoors.

"I love exercise. Prior to learning about mountain biking, I was a jogger. And then, like a lot of baby boomers, my knees gave out. I believe that mountain biking is going to be an outlet for a lot of people my age. I'm 59, and people are going to realize you get as much aerobic exercise — if not more on the mountain bike — without being hobbled."

His observation is borne out by the experts. According to Freddie Fu of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Sports Medicine, one of the nation's leading orthopedic surgeons, boomers are suffering knee and other leg injuries brought on by years of pounding the pavement. Fu recommends that they take up soft-contact sports, such as cycling. Fu even sponsors his own cycling team.

"Riding a bicycle gives the cardiovascular benefits of running without the impact," Fu says.

Chris Carmichael, who coached Lance Armstrong to seven Tour de France wins, says the president is doing the right thing.

"He's a shining example of the benefits of having an active lifestyle," Carmichael says. "If you stay fit for all of your life, you can switch sports and also maintain a high level of performance."

Carmichael is familiar with the trend: more than half of the athletes who use his online coaching service are age 40 or older.

"The president is wise to emphasize his aerobic training: heart disease is the leading killer of American men. That should come before resistance (weight) training."

Good spin on benefits

Bush's physical exam also showed that mountain biking has been beneficial for him in several areas. His resting heart rate was 47 beats a minute — the adult male average is about 68 and pro racer Armstrong clocks in at 32.

During the Saturday ride, Bush's heart rate will average 139 beats a minute, with a maximum of 177 on one of the hill climbs. He will burn about 1,500 calories — enough to erase a McDonald's Big Mac, large fries, milk shake and apple pie.

But you won't find those items on his personal menu. He weighs 191.6 pounds, 8 pounds less than a year ago. His body fat percentage is 15.79, down from 18.25 and well below the "normal" range of 16.5-to-20.5 for his age group.

"Baby boomers who were exercise folks are beginning to realize that there's got to be a better way to get exercise than running, because we are pounding ourselves," the president says. "And I'm hurt — not terribly, I don't limp — my right knee. The doctor said, 'I can fix it for you, and then you can run again. And then I'll replace it.' And I would rather not, at the age of 60, have a knee replacement."

The president recently began using so-called "clipless pedals" that attach a rider's bike shoes to the pedals with a mechanical system similar to ski bindings. The downside is a steep learning curve that can be brutal when the rider can't release out of the pedals.

"They told me that I could be 15% more efficient with them," he said. "I was a little nervous at first — you know, kind of being stuck to the pedals made me worried, since I had fallen before."

Despite the seemingly flat Central Texas terrain, he took Peloton One on a very scenic route that included a secluded waterfall and eight creek crossings. He seemed to take particular delight in announcing his pet names for each spot.

Achilles Hill, for example, is a rugged ascent where he once crashed and gashed the back of his ankle on his bike's chain rings.

Balkan Hill, another climb on Saturday's route, got its name because it's "where Condi Rice gave me and Laura a lecture on the history of the Balkans."


Here are a few pictures of the President cycling again, this time at Quantico on December 12, 2004. His favorite ride is the FBI Obstacle Course out there which features miles of twisty trails, jumps, berms etc. He even has a kick-ass garage to store his bikes.

I wonder if the back of that device is etched, iPod One?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Mount Hamilton Ride

Warning: dial-up users take note: many pictures (26).

Was a trifle bored on Monday, so I decided to do some road cycling.

Go to a mall? I don't do malls. In the words of my housemate, The mall??? WTF are you? Thirteen?

And so, to Mount Hamilton I go. From Wikipedia: one of the tallest mountains overlooking the Silicon Valley at 4,213 feet above sea level (and above San Jose); only the nearby peaks of Kepler, 4230-foot Isabel, and 4360-foot Copernicus, are higher, but there is no road access to these peaks. Lick Observatory sits atop the mountain, for which its 19-mile access road was constructed.

A view of Mount Hamilton (4213 ft / 1284 m) in the distance (red arrow) from outside my apartment.

A map of the route (courtesy of UCO).

A higher resolution map of the route (highlighted in red).

Elevation profile of the route. The two valleys encountered along the way are also represented: the first involves a descent of 329 ft over 1.91 miles (3 km), and the second goes down 226' ft over 1.05 miles (1.7 km).

Making a right from Alum Rock Avenue on to Highway 130 aka Mount Hamilton Road. It's 19 miles (30.4 km) and 4213 ft (1284 m) of climbing to the summit from here.

Someone's brand of humor: the sign says, "KEEP GOING!" Distance accrued at this point is 2 miles.

A view of Alum Rock and the city of San Jose as I make my way up the foothills of the Mount Diablo range.

Another funny sign at mile 3: "ALMOST THERE! A LITTLE MORE!" Strangely enough, there are no more signs after this. Maybe the joker ran out of energy or something.

The road begins to hug the side of the slopes from here. Here's a paranoma of the valley. After this, the grade steepens somewhat and enters the forested and shaded region (a relief in the 90F heat).

1 hour of climbing later, before the first descent into Halls Valley. Mount Hamilton (tiny red arrow) looks relatively close, but is actually quite a distance at 14 miles away and 3350+ feet of climbing (taking into account the elevation lost by the 2 descents into the 2 valleys).

Mile 8. Joseph D. Grant County Park sits at the bottom of the 1st descent, Halls Valley, formed by the still active Calaveras Fault. There is a water fountain for refilling water bottles / Camelbaks here. It is actually possible to drive here, park, and cycle up Mount Hamilton (although you won't really have cycled up the mountain then). Plenty of mountain biking trails here as well.

Lick Observatory at the summit of Mount Hamilton looks deceptively close (click on picture for a better view), but there is actually 11 miles more to go and 2800 feet to climb, and one more descent into another valley before the final climb begins.

After traveling 9 miles from Alum Rock Avenue.

View uphill. Ordinarily, this will be cause for joy on the return trip, but not on this particular day. Why? Read on.

Turning 180 degrees, the view downhill.

If you ever want to re-enact the finale of Thelma & Louise, you know where to go. Make sure you hook up your stereo to an iPod though. Having your swan song skip as you, your car, and your buddy/lover tumble to the valley floor, thousands of feet below, will be anti-climatic.

At the bottom of the 2nd descent. As a stream runs through this valley, a fire station is strategically located here. The road to the summit switchbacks through multiple hairpin turns.

2 miles from the summit. Feeling pretty tired now. Ran out of water 45 minutes ago. The sun has almost set, and I haven't reached the summit yet.

The signs announce the end of Highway 130, that the city of Livermore is 50 miles away, and there is no gas until then. A right turn and 200 yards brings one up to the Lick Observatory.

Me, my bike and myself on the summit of Mount Hamilton. Lick Observatory's official link. A picture of one of the five telescopes: the 36 inch. It has quite an interesting history. For instance, do you know Mount Hamilton Road was constructed with a grade under 7% so that horse-drawn carriages could pull up the huge 36-inch telescope lenses in 1888?

Took this picture for Scooby: panorama of sunset over Silicon Valley.

After scouring around for a water source, I finally located an outdoor tap. Since there was no sign warning, "Not for drinking" or "Non-potable water," I filled up my 2 water bottles for the return journey. A left at this junction takes one back to San Jose. (Yes, it's dark). Climbing Mount Hamilton via Livermore is more difficult, with longer distance of 50 miles (80 km) and a steeper grade. The remoteness and scenery is worth it though. Check out these pictures by another cyclist: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

As I grossly underestimated the amount of time it took to ascend Mount Hamilton, I didn't bring along any proper lights (and it's dark now). All I had was this US$20 Gerber Tracer Headlight with two tiny LEDs (none of those gorgeous Luxeon 1W babies), and a 2-AA Maglite. As the Maglite was pretty much useless without some form of mount (I only have 2 hands, and they are both needed for braking on the long, twisty descent), all I could really use was this headlight. Oh joy.

Anyways, I discovered that my new helmet fits over the headstrap of the headlight; and that the slim form factor of the Gerber Tracer headlight (official product site) fits under the slightly-higher-lid of the bicycle helmet. Ah, desperation and improvisation.

The start of Highway 130: the descent from 4213 feet (1284 m) begins; 19 miles (30.4 km) to go. If my tiny LED headlight had only 1/10 the power of that camera flash. Gerber claims that their Tracer headlamp had an effective range of 30 feet. That was not what I experience. Maybe the battery was low or something. I could see 20 feet ahead (of roadmarkings) at most. And I was doing 25-30 mph most of the time. Just treat it as a high-stakes video game where you only have one life.

One more picture of Silicon Valley at dusk at this elevation.

The return journey was, in two words, "worrisome" and "tiring." As the entire park and general area of Mount Hamilton, CA 95140 (until I reached civilization) was isolated (population 35) and a habitat for mountain lions, I couldn't stop and had to maintain speed, even though I was exhausted. Getting eaten by a hungry cat wouldn't be a fitting end to my bike ride. The two 329 ft and 226 ft uphills (remember the two descents earlier?) were the worst. My thighs were burning from the lactic acid, but I decided against getting off my bicycle to walk noisily--and slowly--in my cleated bicycle shoes up a pitch-dark road, alone, at night. Once I completed the 2 ascents, all I needed to do was to avoid crashing (the weak LED light only revealed road markings--20 feet ahead), or going off the road. Empty space and asphalt tend to look alike in the dark. Geronimo.

Covered 15 miles so far on the return leg, the worst is over. I'm 4 miles from my car. An unsuccessful close-up picture of Silicon Valley at night. Elevation here is about 1000 ft.

Located beside Mount Hamilton Road, this house is for sale. Anyone have change for a twenty?

It was 10 PM when I reached my car. Oh, yes, I did this ride solo, but you already knew that, didn't you?

*Chalking this one up as another epic to remember.*

The average grade of Mount Hamilton Road is 5.8%. Next time I attempt to assault Mount Hamilton, I will try it via the fearsome Quimby Road. It climbs from San Jose's Capitol Expressway at a relentless 9.5% grade before kicking your ass at 11.5% for a quarter mile, and then backing off to 8.3%, before dumping you on Mount Hamilton Road with 2800 feet worth of climbing left to go. A short description.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Stuff this fun should be illegal

How to make your own helmet-mounted digital camcorder for $35 (props to my housemate):

10 minute singletrack video

*Take note that mounting the camera in this manner (i.e. with the bolt) is unsafe. If you fall and land on the camera, the bolt will go through your skull. According to a commenter, one of the early hang gliding pioneers died in this manner*

But first, you need to get your hands on a $30 CVS Disposable Camcorder to hack:

Here's how to hack it (Mac and PC):

An alternative method: it's pretty much the same as the technique employed above but uses a Palm III sync cradle instead.

PINOUTS for the CVS one-time-use camcorder: Pin 1 starts at the end where J5 is printed on the PCB. 1 no connection, 2 ground, 3 no connection, 4 Battery + (probably used to verify the battery level when recycling), 5 no connection, 6 USB +5V, 7 ground, 8 USB Data +, 9 USB Data -, 10 ground, Pins 6 - 9 is the only pins needed to connect to a USB port.

Tom Vickers also hacked the $20 CVS Red Disposable Digital Camera. Longs Drugstore rebadges and sells it under their name. It is still recognizable by the "red label" though.

So, I was just remarking to crufty last night that Evos are few and far in between around here... and lo and behold, I spotted one parked beside me this evening:

It had Pennsylvania plates. I sure hope he hauled it over on a flatbed. That's a lot of miles!