Thursday, August 17, 2006

Overnight Number One

I'm recovering from Sprockids camping trip number one and preparing for number two. We took twenty-five kids into the woods Tuesday evening, played cards, roasted marshmallows, stayed up late cracking jokes and telling riddles, played team-building games, went swimming and most importantly, took them on some of the area's gnarliest trails.

They did great! I was very impressed as even the littlest kids tried the biggest obstacles. We spotted them over the toughest stuff, and they got over their fears and tackled huge chainring logs, wheelie drops, tall log piles, and skinny bridges over smelly, wet muck.

We take a smaller group of only the older, advanced riders to Highland Forest this weekend for our advanced clinic. After seeing how great everyone did on the technical trails at Vanderkamp, I'm thinking there's not much more we can challenge them with! The older kids though don't tire as quickly as the little ones, so we'll keep the pace up a little higher, cover more ground, and run them (and us) ragged this weekend.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Tonight I head up to a local backwoods camp for the first of two overnight trips this week with Sprockids, a summer mountain biking program run by my wife Sue and several other volunteers including me. We'll be overnighting with the big group at Vanderkamp midweek, then taking the older kids to Highland Forest for a weekend camping/advanced skills clinic session.

It's rewarding to see kids' skills grow and have them get really excited about riding. A few of them have even gotten themselves road bikes over the past couple years and are starting to think about hitting the junior racing scene. Yeah!

See you on the trails.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Bee Battle Begins

I launched the first attack of my War with the Bees yesterday. We have a very well established honeybee hive in our eastern attic wall. The little buggers come and go through a hole between the cedar shingle siding between and below the attic windows.

It's been very easy to procrastinate with this project. When you're thinking of dealing with a big hive in the wall filled with, who knows, up to 100,000 bees, it's easy to find other things to work on first.

At first we thought it'd be great to get rid of the bees while keeping them alive, and maybe give them to a local beekeeper. Bees are awesome, after all, and flowers and crops need them, and they make honey and all that. I'd seen an episode of Dirty Jobs that showed a professional bee man cutting a huge section out of the siding on a church to remove a honeybee hive. The idea of someone cutting a huge section out of my outside wall didn't thrill me however.

Further research though, indicated that people who keep bees buy their queens for new hives or gather up new clumps of bees when they "swarm", when a new queen sets off with a bunch of workers in search of a new home. Bees can be trapped by placing a wire cone over the entrance of the hive so they can't figure out how to get back in, and then placing a replacement hive near the entrance so they immigrate to the new home. Great, but it takes something like two or three months, requires attaching the new hive near the current one, and in the end, you still have to dig into the wall to remove the hive and the old queen and old bees that don't leave the hive. Yeah, I don't think so.

So, unfortunately, it appeared extermination was the way to go. We thought about hiring an exterminator, but I, in a moment of what may prove in the long run to be bad judgment, decided that this would be a fun D.I.Y. project.

A trip to a couple hardware stores and a fabric store netted me a set of white coveralls (apparently bees aren't as ornery on light colored clothing), some PVC gloves both for sting protection and for handling insecticide, some wedding veil fabric for my head, a big roll of duct tape (always handy), some wire screen, a long thin tube, and a carton of Sevin-5 Dust which contains Carbaryl. I have no idea what that stuff is but it's apparently very bad for bees. There are cautions on the carton about accidentally getting it near bees when trying to kill other insects because it'll kill them so well. Sounds perfect!

I read that the poison dust could be placed on the bee entrance, but if the hive was far from the entrance, it might take a long time and might require many applications. The recommended way was to access the hive from inside and put the dust directly into the hive. So, okay, here we go.

I donned the bee outfit, stretched the veil material over a bike helmet to keep the veil from touching my face, and headed into the attic. Let me tell you, by the way, that wearing sealed coveralls and rubber gloves in an 85 degree attic is a great way to loose some water weight. I was soaked in about five minutes.

I located the studs between the attic windows, and drilled a small hole through the drywall to see what I could see. Nothing. I poked at it with a screwdriver. Something moved then rebounded. Ah yes, the paper cover over fiberglass insulation.

Feeling more confident that the hive was on the other side of the insulation, I drilled some bigger holes to verify, then cut a big square of drywall away, from the middle of one stud to the middle of the next one.

At this point, I took my big square of screen material, and stapled it tightly along the bottom beam. If I exposed the hive, I would then flip up the screen and quickly staple it shut, hopefully before too many bees got out. I picked at the insulation, moving it carefully and slowly. Through a dark space on the right, I aimed a flashlight. The light beam fell upon the inside of the outer wood wall, and it was teeming with bees. Deep breath... I couldn't see the hive itself, but I'd certainly gained access to a major thoroughfare.

I stapled up the rest of the screen, then broke open a hole just big enough for my tube. I threaded the tube through the hole and back toward where I'd seen the bees. They were not happy with the intrusion. A couple bees popped out of the passage and circled the tube on their side of the screen nervously.

I carefully shook some of the dust poison into an open container, then tamped my end of the tube into it several times, slowly packing a nice dose of the powder into it. I then put the hose end into the head of an old bike pump - it fit nice and tight - and gave a couple pumps. I couldn't see where it went, but the tube emptied, and the bees were definitely not too pleased.

I checked this morning and the inside of the screen had several bees on it. About half were dead and some others didn't look very healthy. On my way to work, I glanced up to the outside wall and there was zero activity. It's probably because it was early morning and still cool, but it'd be nice to think that it was already having an effect. I'll apply several more doses over the next week or so, and if I continue to see no outside activity, or when I dare, I'll open up the screen a bit more and pull away some more of the insulation to see if I can get a glimpse of the hive itself.

Once (if?) I get all the bees killed off, it's going to be a big, nasty job removing the actual hive. Without bees to keep the honey cool, it can melt and stain woodwork throughout the wall. It can also attract other bees, honey moths, mice, and other critters, so it's got to go, and it's got to go relatively soon after the bees are gone. I understand the smell of many thousands of bees decomposing in the wall is none to pleasant as well.

It will be interesting to see if I can follow through with this project until the end, or if I bag it at some point and call in the pros.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Another Country Heard From

What the heck, I'll weigh in on Floyd Landis' test results at the Tour. I don't know anything about endocrinology so all this is based on my layman's view. If anyone out there can clear up any misconceptions I might have, please let me know.

Here's what I think we know now:

1) The average guy has a testosterone to epitestosterone ratio around 1:1

2) A 4:1 ratio is the highest ratio legal for cycling

3) Floyd's ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone suddenly spiked to 11:1, from previously tested levels up to but not over 4:1

4) He tested positive for synthetic testosterone (unnatural carbon isotope ratios)

5) His absolute levels of testosterone stayed relatively constant throughout all tests, negative and positive, so the 11:1 ratio was caused by a drop in his epitestosterone of at least 64% (if his previous ratio was a max T:E of 4:1, then a 64% drop in the E would result in around 11:1, and if his previous ratio was less than 4:1, then we need an even greater percentage drop in E to account for the spike. E.g. if he were an average male at 1:1, we need a 91% drop. Wow. I hope my math is correct there.)

Possible "Floyd is GUILTY" Scenarios

1) Floyd was juicing all along with synthetic T and E, carefully managing his ratio to keep it below 4:1, but ran out of, or forgot, or incorrectly measured the E in his latest dose before the test, accidentally spiking the ratio. (Oopsie!)

2) Floyd took just enough synthetic testosterone to boost his levels of T back up to where they were before, but failed to boost his levels of E to make sure he would test below the 4:1 ratio. This would imply he was monitoring his natural levels of T and E very carefully and noticed a big drop, and that the synthetic testosterone was administered by someone who was a bumbling idiot or didn't have any epitestosterone handy. Also, by most accounts, the effects of the dose wouldn't have been seen for at least several days, so taking a single dose seems silly. (Oopsie again.)

Possible "Floyd is INNOCENT" Scenarios

1) The lab intentionally or incompetently got both ratio tests and the isotope test wrong. (The French are sick of Americans winning their Tour, and are willing to sacrifice the reputation of the Tour and the sport of cycling.)

2) Someone slipped Floyd a dose of synthetic testosterone without him knowing it, and coincidentally, Floyd just happened to have a huge drop in his natural T and E levels at the same time, and his drop in natural T levels matched the amount he received from the secret dose. (Uh huh. Riiiight.)

3) The positive ratio test was correct, but the synthetic test was a false positive, and Floyd had a natural drop in epitestosterone (at least 64%) without a corresponding drop in testosterone. (Can that even happen? What do the experts say?)

4) The experts in the field of testosterone and epitestosterone don't know enough about it, and someday we'll find out that the body can naturally produce testosterone of varying isotope ratios that look synthetic, and that the ratio of T to E in the body can fluctuate wildly under stress of bonking, having a couple beers, and eating French cuisine. (Hey, you never know.)

Possible Defense Strategies?

If the samples haven't been discarded and it's possible to do so, it seems Floyd could help his case by ordering his urine from previous drug tests tested for synthetic testosterone. If they all come back negative, then that effectively rules out guilty scenario number one and leaves him with only one scenario where he's guilty, and a complicated and bumbling one at that.

Attack the lab and other authorities for their lack of procedure and link their reputation for leaking results to their trustworthiness. Discredit the B sample result by showing that the lab wouldn't have been blinded during the test because of the leaked information, and that bias may have skewed the results. Getting the B sample result thrown out could then result in getting the isotope result thrown out, and although he'd probably still be guilty, he could get away with it because of the lab's shoddy procedures.

Unless Floyd can come up with a reason his natural epitestosterone dropped suddenly irrespective of his levels of testosterone, and a reason why the synthetic testosterone test would read a false positive, it would seem he's going to be guilty of doping, whether or not he gets away with it because of procedural problems by the lab or cycling authorities. I hope someone smarter than I can come up with a defense that can prove Floyd is truly innocent, but I won't be holding my breath.

It seems the most likely scenario has Floyd being guilty, and having been on a regimen of careful doping all along with one screw-up at an inopportune time. That's sad, and I'm considering deleting the coverage I have recorded on the hard disk and not burning it to DVD. That was several wasted hours of cheering in front of the television I'll never get back. Watching professional cycling seems a little like watching professional wrestling now.

I have to go ride my bike now. See you on the road.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Treadmill Winding Down

Wow. I don't know where to start. It seems like the past two or three weeks had me on a treadmill at full steam. Things are winding down now, and it feels better.

July 22-23 Owasco Stage Race Report

I loaded up the car in showers Saturday morning with all the time trial gear. Aero helmet, trainer, TT bike, etc. It was warm, but the rain persisted. It let off in the hour before my start time, and I got in a pleasant warmup on the trainer. I was already soaked with sweat by the time the rain started again, fifteen minutes before my start. I packed up the car and headed out on the two-mile ride to the start line, hoping that I wouldn't get a flat halfway there. At my start the rain was pouring down. Buckets. The twelve-mile course was quite hilly for a time trial, but the start was flat and downhill for quite a while. I concentrated on holding a high cadence, especially on the climbs. I felt good and had ripped past two guys by the halfway mark. One was my 30-second man, and the other guy had missed his start time and had started about 45 seconds before me. On a climb on the way back, I pulled past a clump of three more guys, and while that was motivating to catch my 1:00, 1:30, and 2:00 men, I could feel my legs starting to go to rubber. On the final climb up to the finish line, I went to shift into the little ring and the chain got hung up between the rings. I slowed to almost stopping by the time I got it down, and two of the guys I'd passed came by. Ack! I stomped back up to speed and managed to bring them back and put about ten seconds back into them by the finish. I was pleased with the effort and ended up third overall going into the afternoon's circuit race.

The excitingly technical downtown criterium had been replaced by a boring circuit out in the middle of nowhere due to unexpected road construction. The circuit had a sharp little climb in it, not enough to drop me, but enough to take the sting out of the climbing muscles, not good preparation for Sunday's monstrous road race. There was no centerline on the rural roads, and despite the officials warning us about staying right, the pack was almost always curb-to-curb. A downhill section brought us into turn three at 40+ mph, and it seemed pretty hairy in the pack. After a few laps, the hill took its toll and we shed several riders that at least made things a bit safer. I was happy to sit in and not contest any of the sprints, sprinting not being one of my strong points. I lost two places overall due to time bonuses, but hoped to make it up in the road race.

Sunday morning brought beautiful weather and a road race that promised to be brutal, with a total of seven miles of climbing spread over six major climbs, with lots of rollers in between. I felt great at the beginning, and watched the guys around me in general classification closely. The first short KOM was no trouble at all, and I rolled over near the front of the pack. I knew that eating and drinking properly would be key, so I concentrated on that. As we entered one of the towns along the way, the pace car took a wrong turn onto the women's course, and then turned again, completely off all courses and up a steep hill. Our pack followed, but it didn't take those of us who knew the course long to convince everyone to stop. We turned ourselves around and rode back to continue on the proper course. We decided to ride at a "neutral" pace until the lead car got back in front of us. I was in the first couple rows of riders as we hit the steeps of the first climb. I glanced at the PowerTap. Yikes. Our "riding neutral" pace had me at 350 watts already. I tried to chat up the neutral pace thing, but others were getting antsy because of the KOM line approaching in about a kilometer. First one, then two, then several guys took off up the hill. I tried to stay within a reasonable distance while at the same time trying to keep it near my own pace. I popped off the back of the lead group of 25 guys or so near the top. I chased solo for several minutes and finally caught back on during a very steep downhill. It didn't look good though, because I'd spent way too much time at redline and the next steep hill was approaching quickly. I got up over the first steep section of the next climb at the front of the group, but that was all I had. I settled in pushing a hard pace, but it wasn't enough and rider after rider passed. Over the top, I was working with a teammate and a couple other guys, and we spent the rest of the race picking up stragglers and not killing each other on the climbs. I fell off that group on the last three sprinter's climbs right before the finish, to end up about seven, yes seven, minutes behind the winner. I rocketed down the standings from 5th to 16th, if I remember right. Not a good day. On one of the climbs in the middle, our group way off the back, another guy said, "You know, I thought I was a climber until today." He couldn't have summed up my thoughts better. I looked at my wattage report later. It was obvious that on those length climbs, max power over five minutes was the most important number. Mine had been very close to the best I'd seen in training, but not quite there, probably due to having raced the day before. Looking at the numbers which showed me at 4.8W/kg for the critical five minutes of the first climb, I would have normally thought it wasn't that bad, but unfortunately I estimate from the time gaps at the top that the real players were putting down about 5.0W/kg. Oh well. At least I brought home a little cash from the third place in the TT, and some good wattage data I can use in training. That is, don't anticipate being at the front in a competitive cat 4/5 race unless your MP(5) wattage climbing is 5W/kg or better.

July 27-30 Empire State Games Report

Thursday of the next week, I headed out to Rochester for the Empire State Games. A 10-mile individual time trial, followed by a 75-mile hilly road race, followed by a 39-mile criterium followed by a 40 mile team time trial, all makes for a fun long weekend indeed.

The ITT passed uneventfully. I was 38th of the 55 or so guys. The course was pretty flat, but the pavement was concrete, with seams and broken and patched sections throughout. Hitting those rough spots was far from comfortable in the aero position. A fairly strong sidewind was coming off Lake Ontario as well, so the going felt slow. Indeed, my time over 24:30 was a couple minutes off what I felt I could have done on smooth pavement with no wind, and everyone else's times reflected the slow conditions as well.

The light rain at the beginning of the road race quickly turned to a downpour near the top of the big climb at the end of the first lap. As we descended at 45-50 mph towards the run up to the finish line, I curled my lips in because the drops of rain hurt so much. Other guys with contact lenses were squinting with their eyes almost shut to keep their lenses in place. The first climb put me on the back of the pack, getting gapped a little then catching back on. With three more climbs up that hill to do, it wasn't looking good. Since every place counted though, my job would be to hold on for as long as possible, then stay ahead of guys who'd already been dropped. Sure enough, the second time up the hill popped me for good near the top. On the flats that followed, a stronger teammate who'd flatted behind me caught me, and we worked together to catch another teammate and the three of us made a push to try to catch the pack. No go. I popped, then they broke apart on later climbs. I really hoped the officials would pull me after the third lap, but they instead gave me encouragement, so I slogged, legs buckling and back aching, through one more lap to the finish. By that time, the rain had stopped and my bike had dried, and was now making some nasty noises from all the road grit that I picked up. I rolled across the finish, managing to stay away from small groups of riders who had been behind me.

The criterium was on a very short (.62 miles) course. There was one 90-degree right turn at the bottom of a slope, which fed into a gently turning uphill to the finish, followed by two more very gentle and slow turns. Experience definitely played a big part at the criterium. With a strong headwind on the uphill to the finish, I was able to stay in contact by just picking the right wheels to sit behind. I'd rest on the top of the course and the downhill, even letting myself drift off the back of the pack. Into the downhill turn, they'd usually hit their brakes and with the gap I'd let grow, I could always just swoop through the turn at top speed and get right back on the tail of the pack for the uphill without losing any speed and having to accelerate hard. After the halfway point, we'd dropped a huge number of guys, many of them quite a bit stronger than I am. I began to contemplate becoming a criterium specialist. If I could improve my sprint, my experience can usually get me to the front near the end, and I might actually do well. In this race, a pack of really strong guys got off the front, and we let them go, content to try to finish with the most guys at the head of the main pack. It worked pretty well, and we mopped up quite a few points just by being consistent.

The last day brought the team time trial. We divided up into two five-man teams. The course was the same as the individual course, except the turnaround was five miles farther, and we'd have to do the course twice for a total of forty miles, and the time would be taken on the third guy, so we needed to finish with at least three. On the first leg, we were flying. The New York City "B" squad was within sight at the first turnaround, and we passed them just as we were approaching the second turn at the end of the second 10-mile leg, which had been a little slower with a headwind. That's when it happened. I was in my aerobars and a bit cross-eyed from the effort. My brain whispered to me, "Pssst. You know, you're a little close to that wheel." I let off the gas as I came up a little on the left side of my teammate's rear wheel. Still in the aerobars, seemingly in slow motion, I was now drifting back away from him, but at the same time, I was heading a little to the right and/or he was heading a little to the left. VVVWWWIIIIPPPP! My front tire met the left side of his wheel for a split second as I leaned to the right into his wheel. I was sure I was going down, probably right onto my right shoulder for a snapped collarbone as I was still in the aerobars. The wheels released suddenly and I went rocketing off the road, a ways down the bank and into rough grass. Reflexes somehow got me out of the aerobars and I stood and sprinted in the big gear I was in over all the lumps of grass back towards the pavement. My teammate behind me was yelling, and the NYC guys were yelling and scrambling to avoid both me and my other teammates who were in the process of slowing down to gather me up and complete the turn-around at the same time. I'm sure the spectators were entertained by the mayhem. With a nice adrenaline rush, we got back together and were rolling again. NYC got past us as we were reorganizing, but then we passed them again. Farther down the road, one of our guys said he was cooked and popped off the back. NYC came by again, and this time, we just settled in about 100 meters off their backside and held that distance. At the last turnaround, we passed NYC again. A few miles later, our fourth guy who'd been mostly sitting on for a while gave a monster last pull and then popped off for good. Our third teammate soon started taking very short pulls and then they declined to zero length pulls. With just two of us driving the bus, it was purgatory. The bumps in the road now looked like foot-high speed bumps and each one tore a little bit more skin off the saddle sores I'd started during the wet road race and fully opened up the day before in the criterium. Combining the physical effort in those last five miles with the flames in my crotch from the raw skin on bumpy concrete, and I think it was the worst hell I'd ever been through on a bike. If I'd felt that bad during any other race, I'd quickly be off the back and riding my own tempo, but here I was one of two guys left with power to get the three of us to the finish as fast as we could go. There would be no stopping the pain until that thin white line on the pavement passed under the front tire.

In the end, with some great efforts from everyone, the team brought home the silver medal. In addition I brought home another ESG jersey, some pride from working that hard for team goals, some fun of meeting and riding with a couple new guys, and a really bad case of the runs. I don't know if it was the four days of dorm food, something in the water in Rochester, something I picked up from the wet road spray in the road race, or what. I actually think it might have been my guts saying, "Listen here, moron. If you work us that hard, we're going to do something to make you sit down."

After seven days of several long bathroom visits each day over the last week, I was just about to make an appointment with the doctor, when I noticed that my digestion was starting to feel like it might be getting back to normal. I'm putting off a doctor's visit pending the next big explosion, if one comes. I hope I'm through with them for a while.

Luella M. Whitaker Williamson
August 4, 1912 - August 2, 2006

Just after getting back from the Games, I spent some time at home visiting my grandmother. She passed two days shy of her 94th birthday. Her health had been quite good right up until near the end, and for that we were all grateful. She was a fantastic lady and a loving grandmother. I learned so much about how to live and how to love from the example set by her and my grandfather. I was incredibly lucky to have grown up on their farm and to have really known them well. She will be with me always.