Tuesday, January 29, 2008

wild animals while running (not even wild animals can hold me back!)

this article was in the LA times recently, and i just had to post this.

it's a report about a sighting of a cougar at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is located in Pasadena north of the Rose Bowl. it just happens to be along the trail that i use for my long runs.

the link to the article is:
i've included the full text of the article at the end of this post.

the trail i use is the Arroyo Trail, and winds along an arroyo (what else? duhhhhhh) that goes from Eagle Rock north to the small valley that contains the Rose Bowl, and continues from there up by JPL and up over the San Gabriel mountains. it's ostensibly a horse trail, but is used by neighborhood pedestrians, weekend hikers, trail runners, and even mountain bikers. for most of its length it is a pretty popular, since it is clean, well-maintained, passes through beautiful forest with unobstructed views of the mountains, and goes as far as any person could possibly want (they even use it for the annual Angeles Crest 100 ultra-marathon...yes, that's right, people literally run 100 miles from Pasadena over the mountains to the Mojave Desert).

the catch, of course, is that because it's so well-maintained and runs through mountainous (or hilly) forest along a stream of fresh water, it becomes an avenue for a host of wild animals. they find it all too convenient a travel path down from their mountain hideouts into the city.

i know, i know. wild animals in Los Angeles. you'd think i was talking about the singles scene.

but as funy as it may sound, Los Angeles actually is host to a surprisingly steady supply of wild animals. this is because the city and its neighboring urban communities have spread up into the mountains, displacing many of the native fauna from their habitat. the wildlife naturally look for new surroundings, and find themselves situated next to developed urban (and suburban) streets teeming with easily accessible food and water. the result is a daily flood of animals into the city.

just within the Rose Bowl area--and along the Arroyo Trail--i've seen deer, bobcats, and coyotes. close enough that i've had to dodge them. i've heard stories of mountain lions, cougars, and even bears.

people in Pasadena don't get too alarmed about this. i certainly don't. in a lot of ways, i think we're actually grateful and pleased to see that there is still evidence of nature in the sprawling putrescence that is the city of Los Angeles. in some ways, i think residents along the Rose Bowl Arroyo Trail are actually proud. you can see what i mean by checking out the Arroyo Seco Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the arroyo: http://www.arroyoseco.org/index.htm

not that this means i'm naive to the dangers. on the contrary, i'm all too aware of it, particularly when i find myself running alone out of earshot or eyesight of human civilization in the densely wooded parts of the Arroyo Trail. i try to carry keys in my hands, hoping that the metallic jingle will be enough to alert creatures ahead of me to my presence and engage their innate fear of humans. of course, it may very well be that i may eventually come across a very ornery and very hungry animal that sees me as a very available and very meaty piece of flesh.

you can see the running trails i use that wind through the Rose Bowl Arroyo:

you can see just how much of the arroyo and the attendant trail is within very wildlife-friendly forest and hill terrain. it makes for beautiful runs, even if potentially dangerous. but you know what? i think it's worth it. it's invigorating, it's uplifting, and it's rejuvenating, to know that you are just a creature that's just like any other and part of the greater natural world, and open to share in the elements. i find it spiritual.

of course, this may mean very little if a mountain lion decides to eat me. but i'll take that chance for a greater opportunity to commune alone with my God in the glory of his outdoors...and not even wild animals can hold me back.

From the Los Angeles Times
Cougar sighting at JPL creates a buzz
Foothill residents are reminded that the Southland still has a wild side. Experts say the big cats routinely venture into civilization, but most go unnoticed.
By Joe Mozingo
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
January 26, 2008

An engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La CaƱada Flintridge was walking across a bridge to work about 8:45 a.m. Jan. 16 when he spotted something moving in the creek below. At first he thought it was a coyote, but as he got closer he could make out the low build, hulking forequarters and tawny fur.

Mountain lion.

The engineer, Matthew Dickie, moved to grab his camera, and the animal crouched and froze. Other people walking to work noticed and peered over the bridge too.

I'll be damned.


The mountain lion stood frozen, looking straight up at them, at most 20 feet away, unwittingly providing a rare broad-daylight glimpse of one of Southern California's most storied, feared and elusive animals.

Soon Dickie's photo was ricocheting through local list-serves and websites. And residents of foothill neighborhoods could see what they have been murmuring about for months: Mountain lions are out and about.

On Tuesday, Crescenta Valley High School went so far as to put out a warning in its newsletter to parents:

"For those of you who live near the foothills of So. Cal. There have been several cougar sightings. . . . He is very large (that's why they presume it's male). Don't hike alone in the San Gabriel Mtns."

Wildlife biologists say the sightings are normal, but the buzz is a perennial reminder that Southern California, after a century of urbanization, still has a wild side.

"Most people who live in L.A. see the mountains but don't get that it can be as alien an environment as if someone threw you 10 miles into the Pacific Ocean," said attorney Paul R. Ayers, who posted the photo on an online forum for area hikers.

He said reaction to the mountain lion, also known as a cougar, has included everything from fear to appreciation to awe.

"Wow," one woman wrote. "My children will be fascinated. Glad I don't run on the trails."

Ayers said he didn't want to strike fear with the photo but thought that the public should be aware simply because the mountains around JPL are frequented by so many people -- hiking, jogging and walking their dogs.

"The Arroyo Seco, it's like the backyard," he said. "There are a lot of children in that area. You forget you are on the edge of a system that isn't deterred by our thoughts of civilization. I've seen cougars three times. You quickly realize you are not on top of the food chain."

Mountain lion attacks against people are rare. There have been 12 verified attacks -- three fatal -- in California since 1986, and only three recorded in the century before that.

Wildlife experts say mountain lions routinely venture into civilization. Most go unnoticed, but last week two of the great cats found themselves in a camera lens like wary celebrities caught by the paparazzi.

On Jan. 13, a mountain lion was spotted in an old pump house at the Chatsworth Reservoir. Soon it was surrounded by gawkers snapping photos on their cellphones.

Three days later, the mountain lion at JPL was photographed walking into the mountains. It was 20 feet from a hiking trail, twice as far from a sprawling parking lot and within view of the 210 Freeway. Witnesses said that both appeared to be good-size males.

JPL employees have been spotting mountain lions for years. The NASA laboratory is perched on 177 acres climbing the side of the San Gabriel Mountains into the open wilderness of the Angeles National Forest.

On its east side, the Arroyo Seco -- a stream that goes from dry to torrent depending on the weather -- courses out of the mountains onto a sandy flood basin behind the Devil's Gate dam.

Because mountain lions and other wildlife routinely follow streams, the Arroyo Seco is a natural corridor, funneling a 32-square-mile watershed down to a narrow cut -- where Dickie spotted the cougar last week.

Until last year, when the upper JPL property was fenced, large deer herds roamed the facility's open areas.

"Whenever you have a lot of deer, you are asking for lions," said Lt. Martin Wall of the California Department of Fish and Game.

Two years ago, JPL employees found a partially eaten deer carcass under a trailer.

"That was an eye-opener for them," Wall said.

JPL spokeswoman Veronica McGregor said all sorts of animals -- bears, foxes, coyotes -- roam onto the property.

Generally, when security officers are notified of a mountain lion sighting, officials make an announcement over the public address system and post an advisory on JPL's internal website.

McGregor said this has happened three times since 2004.

Joe Edmiston, director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, said such sightings should be celebrated.

"I think it's the most wonderful thing in the world that we still live in a place that's not tamed, not domesticated," he said.

"We should venerate the idea that this mountain lion is staring up at the engineers in their pocket protectors."

Fish and Game biologists estimate that there are 4,000 to 6,000 mountain lions in the state, from the redwoods to the Laguna Mountains on the Mexican border. One was killed by a vehicle on Angeles Forest Highway near Acton earlier this month.

Depending on how much food is around, a single cat may cover a range from 20 to 200 square miles, said Kevin Brennan, a senior wildlife biologist for the Department of Fish and Game.

Brennan said he gets calls about mountain lions nearly every day, although people often get them mixed up with the much smaller bobcat.

"I've got three calls just this morning . . . in Corona, Apple Valley, Murietta," he said.

The animals generally avoid humans -- but not necessarily their pets.

On Jan. 3, a mountain lion snatched a dog out of a backyard in Altadena and dragged it up into a tree, Wall said.

The owner saw the attack and called a neighbor, an off-duty police officer who shot the big cat out of the tree. Surprisingly, the dog survived.

In August, mountain lions killed backyard dogs in La Crescenta and Altadena.

Residents in the Briggs Terrace neighborhood of La Crescenta keep one another apprised of sightings.

"It's pretty much routine to get a voice mail or a text message that somebody sees a mountain lion, and everybody spreads the word," said George Steele, an attorney.

Steele said he found a dismembered raccoon in his backyard last April, just a few weeks after someone spotted a mountain lion next to his house.

With three children, he is vigilant, but considers the predators an inevitable aspect of living "on the edge of the forest."

"You don't leave the kids alone in the backyard unattended -- ever," he said. "But the dog is really the canary in the mine. I figure it'll go for the dog and not the kids."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

cycling protests - road wars, part 5

so this is the last part of the car-versus-bike debate that ran in the LA Times. i think it finished sometime over a week ago, and i must have missed the timing. this last part dealt with protests involving mass bike rides, and whether they are effective in asserting the interests of cyclists.

the link to the point-counterpoint is:
if the link doesn't work, the full text is at the end of this post.

i have very mixed feelings on these kinds of protests.

on one hand, i do see them as being very good to raise public awareness of cyclist concerns, and i also see them as useful in forcing drivers to be aware that a substantial (or at least non-trivial) portion of the population uses bicycles for transport. these issues may seem obvious, and hence make protests over them unnecessary, but you'd be proven wrong in dense, high-traffic, vehicle-intensive areas like Los Angeles. for places like Los Angeles, where 1) endemic conditions of scale (in distance and time) require frequent motor traffic, and 2) existing public transportation is anemic or inadequate given endemic conditions of scale, the larger populace tends to live within a paradigm of automobiles--meaning that it is all too often an alien concept for LA citizens that anyone would be riding bicycles in this city. making reminders via mass bike protests valuable...some might say even necessary.

on the other hand, i seriously question whether confrontational methods of protest are ever effective as long-term mechanisms for resolution--not just for the car-versus-bike debate, but for conflicts in general. i see confrontation as a strategy leading to tension inciting full-scale perpetration of extreme measures, including violence. confrontation is really about fueling the causes of hostility, by having opposing sides alienate each other. in which case, confrontation isn't about solving the problem of car-versus-bike, but rather about propagating it.

more than this, however, is that this approach tends to frame the debate as a zero-sum game, with an all-or-nothing, win-or-lose worldview in which the only way for 1 party to gain is for another party to lose.

to me, this is problematic, because i don't think this a viable public policy solution. the vision of no-car roads or no-bike roads are absurdities that don't service the reality of modern life--people have to get around however they get around, choosing whatever forms of transportation are available to them...given the finite amount of roads and public funds, the only way to preserve such freedom of movement is to allow both cars and bicycles to share the asphalt and concrete.

i think that if there are going to be mass-bike protests like a Critical Mass (incidentally, this article is wrong...Critical Mass is all over LA--reference: http://www.cicle.org/cm/criticalmass.html) and Midnight Ridazz (reference: http://www.midnightridazz.com/), they should try to be less confrontational. at the very least, they should be less obnoxious. protests shouldn't be about trying to create new enemies--Los Angeles car culture provides too many of them in the car-versus-bike debate--but rather about trying to create common modes of living that can ease the tensions in an already incendiary urban environment.

drivers need to learn to live with cyclists, cyclists need to learn to live with drivers. neither side is going away, and there's only so many roads and so much money available to build them. we have to learn to live together.

i mean, seriously, to quote the LA cliche': can we all just get along?

From the Los Angeles Times
Critical Mass of frustration
January 11, 2008

San Francisco has Critical Mass; L.A. has the Midnight Ridazz -- both can be nightmares for motorists. Do these gridlock-inducing bike rides help or hurt cyclists’ cause? Will Campbell and Randal O’Toole conclude their debate.

Having fun while increasing awareness
By Will Campbell

First off, from the obvious bias within which this final question is prefaced, I'm going to guess that there's been an L.A. Times editor or two leaving work late one night only to get caught up in a Critical Mass or Midnight Ridazz "nightmare." On top of that, by going so far out of town to reference Critical Mass at its birthplace, there might be those who participate in the Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley, Northeast L.A., Pasadena, UCLA and Santa Monica chapters of that famed ride chafing as to why our hometown paper either isn't aware or doesn't care to represent what's going on in its own hometown. Or maybe it's just me.

Certainly where I'm concerned, a bias also prevails — just in the other direction. While I've not rolled with any of the local Critical Mass rides mentioned above, I've only missed four Midnight Ridazz rides since my first in December 2005, and my next will be the one scheduled tonight (Jan. 11) in East Hollywood, departing around 10 p.m. from the corner of Heliotrope Drive and Melrose Avenue, the unofficial epicenter of the city's burgeoning bike culture.

So the loaded question is, are the hundreds of cyclists with whom I'll be riding around town this evening of benefit or detriment to any so-called mission? Well, that would depend a bit on the definition. As for me, I do such rides to increase awareness of and interest in bicycling in Los Angeles and to have fun in the process. So while I'd like to avoid taking a hard line as I did in Monday's post and be far more fair and balanced and Randal-esque in tone, I just can't. These Midnight Ridazz group rides rock my world.

Of course, in doing so, what they also accomplish is a big sloppy wet dis against the status quo, and that's always bound to cause discord. Certainly, the way the tables get turned when a mass of raucous and reveling cyclists takes over the lanes of major streets has an impact on the vehicular traffic as we move through intersections en masse, oftentimes regardless of whether the light is green or red. I wouldn't go so low as to label us "gridlock inducing," but we do cause delays, and in doing so sometimes frustrations and tensions from impatient motorists escalate.

From my many Midnight Ridazz experiences and that of other popular ones such as RIDE-Arc and Sins 'N' Sprockets, the disgruntlement is far outweighed by the desire of people to know more. In vehicles and on the sidewalks, they look on in amazement at one of the last sights anyone expects to ever see in car-crazed L.A., and the questions come at us as we pass. They ask, "Why are you riding?" and I say, "For fun!" They ask, "Where to?" and I answer, "Wherever we want!" They want to know how they can come play too, and I say "Check out midnightridazz.com — with two Zs!"

No doubt plenty of people are adamant that we're a bunch of anarchist hooligans hell-bent on wrecking the system with our reckless antics, and no matter what they'll never change that mind-set. But there are more people then ever before getting out with their bikes at night and riding in Los Angeles and having a lot of fun doing it. To me that's a mission accomplished.

See you on the streets!

Silver Lake resident Will Campbell beat his 2007 goal to bike 2,007 miles across L.A. by nearly 1,100 miles. He blogs at Wildbell.com and Blogging.la and is an editor with Ascend Media.

Share the road as equals
By Randal O'Toole

Will, I have no doubt that Critical Mass, Midnight Ridazz and similar mass rides have done a lot of good by raising public consciousness about cycling. But you have to agree there are dark sides to these mass movements.

The obvious one is that Critical Mass' habit of staging rides during rush hour on busy streets makes motorists mad. When you use such tactics to polarize the debate, you strengthen your side, but you also strengthen the opposition. Critical Mass is betting that cyclists will benefit from such polarization. So far, they may be right, but I worry about a long-run backlash.

A subtler problem behind polarization is that it turns the debate into something more than cyclists and motorists respecting each other's rights to the road. Instead, mass movements make cycling a moral issue: Cycling, its adherents say, is morally superior to driving, so cyclists deserve more rights than auto users.

Admit it, Will: You've sometimes said to yourself, "I don't pollute like autos, so I deserve better." This reminds me of George Orwell's "four legs good, two legs bad" chants from "Animal Farm."

One result: Portland and a few other cities are installing "bicycle boxes" at many intersections. The bicycle box expands a bike lane to the full width of the auto lane at the intersection. Even if no bikes are present, cars are not allowed to enter the box or turn right on a red light.

Instead of treating bikes and cars as legal equals, the bike box gives bikes preference at the expense of delaying autos by limiting right-hand turns. Good for cycling — bad for respecting each other's rights.

There is an even darker, subtler problem behind mass bike movements: Some participants become more arrogant and careless even when cycling alone. This is speculation, I know, but we also know that when people start to feel morally superior to others, they become willing to do things that they would never do to people they regard as equals. That is never good for civil society.

I understand the positive feelings you get from Midnight Ridazz, Will. But in addition to feeling good about ourselves, we have to instill a common respect for others. Almost everyone on the road, from the smallest cyclists to drivers of the biggest trucks, has to realize that some, such as pedestrians, are more vulnerable while others, such as light-rail trains, are bigger and more dangerous. Whether riding or driving, we have to approach the job with humility and care for everyone's rights and safety.

Best wishes to all my fellow travelers.

Randal O'Toole is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute and blogs at The Antiplanner.

Monday, January 21, 2008

cycling and government - road wars, part 4

so the next installment in the car-versus-bike debate in the LA Times deals with the question of whether government (presumably city) should be doing more to encourage people to ride bikes. this differs from the issue if the city should do more to create bike paths, in that it focuses on promoting cycling as an alternative mode of transportation for Los Angeles residents.

the link to it is:
if the link doesn't work, i'm including the full text at the end of this post.

i'm generally all for people using bikes as a mode (and not just alternative) of transportation, and this largely entails public availability of bike paths, bike safety, and bikes themselves. my ideal is always for a transportation system that welcomes both cars and bikes, as well as public transportation systems like trains and buses. in particular, i prefer the European models that i recall so fondly from my youth, with places like Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, Vienna, and Amsterdam coming first to mind.

but i'm not so sure this extends to spending public tax monies on encouraging people to ride bikes. my attitude is that this is something largely within the realm of individual choice, and that people will gravitate to bicycles out of a sense of logic driven by economic and environmental pressures--if the convenience, cost, and safety are competitive enough relative to other forms of transportation, people will naturally include bikes. and they will do so as long-term solutions.

spending tax money on marketing campaigns or incentive plans to citizens to become bike consumers will only work as short-term responses, and hence are doomed to ultimately fail. worse, because they are short-term, they will call for a continued expenditure of money, meaning that they will become a continued drain on public funds, and so represent an opportunity cost in that they are taking away money that could have been spent on longer-term solutions. to me, short-term expenditures are always inefficient government policy, particularly since government policy involving lifestyle patterns are about long-term solutions.

From the Los Angeles Times
Abandon thy car?
Should local governments encourage bike commuting as a way to alleviate the area’s chronic traffic congestion?
January 10, 2008

Don't spend millions on 0.4%

Last June, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that my former hometown of Portland, Ore., had the highest percentage of bicycle commuters of any large city in the country: 3.5%. By comparison, the national average is only 0.4%.

Even 3.5% is an overestimate, however. The Census Bureau asks commuters how they "usually" travel to work. A U.S. Department of Transportation study found that people who say they usually drive to work virtually always drive. But people who say they usually bicycle actually ride their bike only about three-fourths of the time. On any given day, the number is closer to 2.6%.

My point is that increasing bike commuting from, say, 0.4% to 2.6%, or even 3.5% on a good day, will not do much to relieve Los Angeles congestion. Should cities encourage bike commuting? Certainly. Should they spend gobs of money trying to encourage that commuting? Probably not.

Far more people telecommute than cycle to work: 3.6% nationwide, and more than 6% in cities such as San Francisco and Seattle. Telecommuting is growing faster than cycling or transit riding, so if cities could do only one thing to promote less driving, telecommuting would be a better bet than cycling.

Still, there are many low-cost things cities can do to enable bicycle commuting as an alternative. The most important is to provide safe bike routes along or parallel to all major corridors in the city.

Safe bike routes do not require exclusive bike paths or even exclusive bike lanes. Only about 4% of auto-bike accidents consist of the auto hitting the bike from behind. Instead, more than half of all auto-bike accidents take place at intersections. This makes it more important to provide for cyclists at intersections than between them.

Another important step is educating motorists and cyclists about the rules of the road. The basic rule is that bicycles are vehicles just like automobiles and should obey the same rules and yield and be yielded the same rights of way. Cyclists who understand how to safely ride in our cities will be more likely to do such riding. So schools should offer high school students and others training in safe, effective cycling.

A third way to encourage cycling is to remove many of the "traffic calming" devices that planners have inflicted on our streets. Speed humps, curb extensions, rotaries and other blockades that narrow roads and streets make those streets less attractive to cyclists.

Promoting cycling will never eliminate traffic gridlock, so I oppose spending hundreds of millions of highway dollars to build a network of exclusive bike paths. Although popular among recreational cyclists, there is no evidence such paths significantly increase bicycle commuting, so it is more appropriate that bike paths be funded out of recreation dollars

Yet cycling is a valid transportation choice. Transportation planners must make appropriate allowance for bicycles, not because they will relieve congestion but because cyclists have as much right to safe streets as anyone else.

Randal O'Toole is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute and the author of "The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future."

More than just a way to commute
Randal, I'm 98% certain that your percentages are wearing me out. I'm sorry, but I just can't get all fired up about 3.5% being 2.6%, which won't be much better than 0.4% — especially when 3.6% work where they sleep.

What I can get fired up about is getting more people on their bikes and riding in the city, and I say cities have an obligation to support and promote that. But then you go and pull out telecommuting as the better program for municipalities to encourage. Certainly, working from home has its benefits for those whose employment lends itself to that type of environment, but bike commuting is more than getting people on their bikes strictly to go to and from their jobs.

For the better part of two years, I freelanced out of my house and regularly adhered to a five-mile-radius rule: If an errand's location fell within that perimeter and I could transport whatever I was taking or getting on my back, then my truck stayed in the garage and I made the trip either by bike or on foot — and not on that $100-million network of exclusive paths you're so afraid of, but on the streets where bikes belong. Randal, you might look upon my little trips to the market, the library or the bike shop and bank and calculate the infinitesimal percentage effect it had on traffic congestion, but there's much more to it than that.

So the questions shouldn't be whether cities should spend gobs of money building an impractical two-wheeled transit grid to encourage bike commuting, or whether we should choose a telecommuting program over one focused on bicycling; it's whether our elected officials should actively advance alternative transportation on a more personal, local level.

Some have done just that already. Three weeks ago, Los Angeles City Councilman Ed Reyes introduced a motion to make his district more bike-friendly "by creating a bike network linking people to key spots like work, school, shops and museums." And a few months before that, Councilman Tom LaBonge rode the length of 4th Street with a bunch of cyclists (myself included) to see for himself its potential as a future "bike boulevard." These are refreshing and invigorating first steps, but that's all they are. Without further action, they could be last ones too.

Or, if we're lucky, they ultimately could lead cyclists to whole new era of inclusion and empowerment, one in which incentive programs are developed that reward businesses in some way for establishing programs committed to getting a certain number of employees' cars off the road, and one that revives the long stagnant city bike licensing program and actually enforces the still-existing law that a bicycle sold in Los Angeles must be licensed. The fees gathered could fund citywide awareness campaigns as well as specific projects such as Safe Routes To School, or build regional bike stations.

And while I'm daydreaming, what I'd really like to see is the city's bike advisory committee some real power, which would give cyclists a stronger voice in transportation matters. All these things I can get behind 100%.

Silver Lake resident Will Campbell beat his 2007 goal to bike 2,007 miles across L.A. by nearly 1,100 miles. He blogs at Wildbell.com and Blogging.la and is an editor with Ascend Media.

Friday, January 18, 2008

overtraining while sick (training notes 1-18-08)

well, so i came back from the holidays with the best of intentions for a solid build phase. but things became a little bit rockier than i expected. you can see the training plan at:

while i hit my major milestones, things got a little fuzzy in terms of peace of mind:
  • i did my 6-hr. ride on Dec. 28, except that the people i rode with got tired and bailed out at the 5:40 mark--no big deal, except i had to pick up something from one of them, forcing me to bail out as well. my coach said the difference in 20 minutes is negligible in terms of aerobic benefit, but i'm still left with a distinct mental unease about not meeting my goal that's now festering in my mind. remember i told you that this sport makes you neurotic? this is a perfect example. all i can say is: i have another 6-hr. ride marked out for later this month, and that one for damn sure is going 6 hrs.
  • i got sick, courtesy of the 6-hr.-turned-5:40 ride. it think it was a cold, but i'm not sure. it pretty much knocked me out for 3 days while i hedged my bets and rested to make sure i nipped this thing in the bud. of course, that eliminated a run and some core work i had planned. not a big deal. it went away. but it left me feeling a little weak for the rest of the build phase. workouts became a lot harder than i'd expected...or wanted.
  • i got in a 4400 yd. swim. sounds good, right? well...i still felt so weak from the cold that all i could do was muster intervals of 200. not the long aerobic swim i'd wanted. still, better than nothing and i still hit my goal, so nothing added to the neurotic paranoia.
  • i got my long run on sore legs. i had planned on a 3-hr. run on sore legs to 1) simulate race conditions, and 2) get my aerobic base. the 1st part worked fine, since i got in a hard simulated hill session on the stationary bike on Jan. 1, with a heavy leg weight training session for good measure. the 2nd part, wellllllllllll...still feeling weak from the cold (or whatever it was), i ended up having to stagger along on an 11-minute mile pace, doing a run-walk strategy. talk about painful. it was embarrassing. my only consolation is that i kept my heart rate up (courtesy of the Rose Bowl Arroyo Trail, i was in zones 3 & 4 the entire time), and so technically got my 3-hr. aerobic run--small victory, i know, but any victory is a victory, small or big, and i'll take them however i can get them.
if i hadn't gotten sick, i don't think i would have felt so worn out. as it is, i finished the build phase this past weekend (Jan. 13) feeling definitively tired. and not the i'll-be-fine-with-sleep-and-food tired, but the i-need-a-vacation tired. as in weak. lethargic. unable to perform, and unable to care. as in the shell-shock 10,000-yard stare. as in the inability to do anything more than a 100-meter run before crawling to a very painful, very hard, and very weak walk. as in a body that suddenly looks very puffy, very flabby, very sore, and very drained.

as in the dreaded word no triathlete (or athlete) ever wants to hear: overtraining.


i've dealt with this before. and i know the treatment is rest. immediate. and the sooner the better. the longer it goes on, the harder it is to get rid of it. and it can ruin your entire training schedule.

i should have taken a few days off, with no exercise. especially since this was a recovery week. but my neurosis drove me to maintain my regularly scheduled reduced workout volume. i guess i just got paranoid.

i'm going to take this long weekend to do nothing, and then see where i'm at on Tuesday. if everything's good, then no worries and no loss in training and i'm full-on for the last build phase before the taper into Ironman New Zealand. if things are still iffy, then i'm going to have to seriously alter the training plan--and there's only 6 weeks left to race day.

goddamn cold (or whatever it was).

all i can do is hope my body responds to rest.

positive thoughts. positive thoughts...come on, body, you can do it. you can do it. heal! heal!

just a little anxious. can you tell?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

cycling outside LA - road wars, part 3

ok, so i didn't keep up with this series of debates.

this part of the point-counterpoint driving-v-cycling debate deals with how Los Angeles compares to other cities in terms of being bike-friendly. apart from what i consider to be minor points, both largely agree that L.A. can learn from other cities in finding ways to make Southern California more accommodating for bicyclists.

the original link is:
if that doesn't work, i'm including the full text of the article at the end of this post.

i've talked about the cycling environment in other cities relative to L.A. you can reference my most recent discussion at: velib' (la bicyclette parisien). in that post i discussed Paris, and how they were aggressively promoting bicycles as a form of transport within the city, going so far as to create bike-only paths and prominently located bike-rental stations (yes, city bike rentals, imagine that!). i referenced how cycling was so much more accepted--and more importantly, welcomed--as a form of transportation in so much of the rest of the world.

admittedly, i largely drew upon my own personal experiences in Europe, and relied on second-hand information for other places on the globe. still, my own memories of Europe provide more than enough examples of just how much modern, high-traffic, urbanized environments can still be capable of hosting cycling.

in particular, i point to cities like Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Helsinki as cities where major efforts were made to construct bike routes, through both bike-only paths and roads with clearly demarcated (and protected) bike lanes. moreover, in these cities, there is clearly a bike culture, with people frequently traveling to work, school, or daily errands using bicycles.

it flies in the face of critics who say that it is impossible for cities to handle high-density road traffic and cycling at the same time--to me, this is directly contradicted by what i've seen in Europe. clearly, just on the cities i've mentioned, somebody (or some people) have somehow and someway figured out how to have both driving and cycling in the same environment.

i personally can only speculate as to why so many European cities are so bike-friendly (note: i say "many," not "all"--some European cities, like London or Rome, are notoriously hellacious for bikes). it may be the nature of their societies. it may be a cultural aesthetic. it may be because of government encouragement. i have managed to find some sources that discuss the subject--and how it can translate to American cities:
as to whether a place like L.A. can ever become more than the bike-riding-hellhole that it is, who knows. all i can tell prospective visitors considering on traveling in L.A. by bike is: forget it. either that, or just take your life in your own hands. apart from a handful of what i consider to be safe bike trails (reference: bike paths - road wars, part 2), there just isn't any ways for a visitor to get on a bike and ride around this town with any degree of comfort or aplomb.

Los Angeles drivers not only hate cyclists, they actually go out of their way to attack them. i've got too many stories of friends who were riding legally and were run down by drivers who deliberately ran into them. and there have been too many stories in the news of drivers who ran over cyclists. remember: Los Angeles is a driving culture. this city is just too big and too overwhelming to get anywhere without a car. drivers here, unlike other cities in the world, don't see driving as a luxury, or even a right, they see it as a necessity for survival. as a result, they tend to react to any encroachments upon driving as someone encroaching on their survival, with the predictable resulting actions of what might be scientifically described as defensive aggression.

of course, this doesn't mean that L.A. can't change. maybe it can learn from other bike-friendly cities around the world.

but for now, i wouldn't bet on it.

From the Los Angeles Times
The bike world outside L.A.
January 9, 2008

Today, local blogger Will Campbell and Cato Institute senior fellow Randal O'Toole compare and evaluate other cities' bicycle infrastructures. Previously, they discussed motorist-cyclist confrontations and spending public money on bike lanes and paths. Tomorrow and Friday, they'll debate bike activism and commuting.

Shamed by Paris and Portland

As Randal somewhat riskily revealed in his first post, he's never actually biked in Los Angeles. Instead, he's logged many thousands of miles elsewhere. Conversely, the vast majority of my biking has been here in L.A., with little experience anywhere else. I've done the famed Rosarito-Ensenada ride several times, and I started a 475-mile trek down the California coast in 2003 by crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and working my way through San Francisco onto the Great Highway and ultimately back here eight days later. Then there was that time back in 1995 when I decided to bomb the Mt. Whitney Portal Road high above Lone Pine with a huge video camera strapped to my helmet, but my uncanny ability to survive being an idiot isn't the subject of this debate.

The subject is bikeable cities, but I don't see much of a debate about it. I was in Paris last summer and was very impressed with the prevalence of bike lanes in the area around the Notre Dame Cathedral where I stayed. A couple months after I was there, the city debuted its public bike program, installing more than 10,600 bikes available for rent at 750 self-service docking stations. If that's not a good model, I don't know what is.

Two of the cities with which Randal said he has in-depth cycling experience — San Francisco and Portland, Ore. — are notoriously bike-oriented, and I'm certain he can build on my general statement with specifics as to why. Berkeley is another one I've long wanted to visit for the sole purpose of riding its integrated network of bike boulevards. So is Davis, renowned for its efforts to support and encourage the growth of cycling. In fact, the League of American Bicyclists has bestowed on it the highest honor of being a Platinum Level Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) — the only one so designated in the entire country.

What about locally? One might consider Burbank a BFC candidate, but then again in October 2006, when its NIMBY-stoked city council summarily killed established plans for a bike boulevard that would run through that town, connecting the Chandler Boulevard Bikeway to the L.A. River Bikeway, it blew it big time. Pasadena might have been in the running too, until last year, when in response to complaints about the pelotons that circle the Rose Bowl at speeds destroying everything in their path (not really), the city council briefly considered then dropped a proposal that would have made outlaws of any cyclists who ride two abreast. Alas, such actions represent all too well the disconnect existing here that's so absent in places throughout Northern California. And they serve to more sharply illustrate the sad state of the region's dysfunctional network of bike routes, paths and off-street bikeways.

Wait a minute, though! It looks like in Los Angeles there may be a glimmer of hope. On the League of American Cyclists BFC map, it seems Brentwood is one community that has been honored, even if the award is but the lowly bronze level. But wait ... no. Upon further examination, it's not our Brentwood. It's the one near Oakland. Figures.

Silver Lake resident Will Campbell beat his 2007 goal to bike 2,007 miles across L.A. by nearly 1,100 miles. He blogs at Wildbell.com and Blogging.la and is an editor with Ascend Media.

Bike friendly by being auto hostile
Will, you point to many bicycle-friendly cities. But the question here is, where do bicycles and cars happily coexist? In most of your examples, planners explicitly favored bikes at the expense of auto users.

As you note, my old hometown of Portland, Ore., is "notoriously" bike-oriented. But it is also notoriously auto hostile. It is converting busy four-lane streets into streets with three auto lanes and two bike lanes. That's great for cyclists, but it is unfair to give 25% of street space to the 2% or 3% of people who get around by bike.

I used to love cycling in Portland. But Portland has also installed many "traffic calming" blockades, including speed humps, curb extensions that shut off right-turn lanes and other obstructions that narrow streets. These are in both residential and major commercial streets. I personally don't like to bicycle in Portland anymore because narrower streets actually make cycling less comfortable and probably more dangerous.

Like San Francisco, Portland bicycle numbers are aided by land-use policies that made housing unaffordable, so families with children have moved to distant suburbs. The population left behind includes large numbers of twentysomethings who are more likely to cycle than older people and families. For all these reasons, Portland is a poor model for both auto drivers and cyclists.

Davis is indeed bicycle-friendly. But it, along with Eugene, Ore., and other university towns, has a disproportionately large population of young people. Both Davis and Eugene are also somewhat long and narrow in shape, and so can be served by one or two trunk bike paths. These features aren't found in L.A.

You also mention Paris and other European cities. Like Portland and San Francisco, they benefit from a sorting process that has pushed low-income people and families with children to auto-friendly suburbs. Yes, they have bicycle-friendly inner cities, but most European urban areas as a whole are nearly as auto-oriented as Los Angeles.

Of the cities you mention, Berkeley, which pioneered bicycle boulevards, may be the best model for Los Angeles. Bike boulevards are local, usually residential streets open to autos but optimized for cyclists. Ideally, these streets have a minimum of stop signs and bike-sensing traffic signals at busier streets.

To prevent motorists from using these streets as alternative through routes, bicycle boulevards often have diverters at some (usually more than necessary) intersections that force autos to turn while allowing cyclists to continue straight. Because they are well signed as bike routes, motorists know to drive with extra caution.

Many experienced cyclists like myself consider bicycle boulevards a "stepping stone" for less-experienced riders. We still want the option to safely ride on busier streets. That means city engineers need to take bicycles into consideration when planning intersections and traffic signals.

But I object to plans that are bike friendly by being auto hostile. Bicycles and autos can peacefully coexist if cities take the needs of both into account and don't favor one over the other.

Randal O'Toole is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute and author of the new book, "The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future."

Sunday, January 13, 2008

a modest hero (re Edmund Hillary)

this doesn't really relate to anything related to triathlon, or even sport.

except that, in a way, it does.

most anyone with any awareness of current events no doubt caught the announcement last week that Sir Edmund Hillary died. his obituary was featured around the world, and even garnered official condolences from international leaders like Queen Elizabeth and the scheduling of a state funeral in New Zealand, his home.

mountain climbing, on first glance, appears miles, even light-years, away from anything approaching endurance sports. some might even question whether it is a sport at all, seeing that it 1) doesn't really involve competition against other athletes, and 2) doesn't involve organized, regularly scheduled events.

while i agree with these arguments, i still want to focus on Sir Edmund Hillary, not just the mountain climber but also the human being. i think there's certain aspects to his life that do resonate with the ideals of endurance sports, and in so doing probably point to things that anyone involved in sports would do well to remember and respect...and better yet, emulate.

Edmund Hillary, as the public figure who, along with Tenzing Norgay, was the first to climb Mountain Everest, was ironically not universally recognized in his era as a technically supreme mountain climber. he was, however, consistently noted for possessing phenomenal endurance, strength, and above all, mental fortitude. compared to other adventurers of his era, he could simply go longer, harder, and more relentlessly than anybody else. he just didn't quit.

if those aren't the distinguishing paramount characteristics of an endurance athlete, then i don't know what is.

for all his abilities, however, and despite his internationally-lauded achievement, Edmund Hillary the human being ended up being known for a far greater legacy.

and this is where his life story becomes compelling for the rest of us.

you see, Edmund Hillary the human being wasn't like so many of the people we in the modern era have come to label as heroes. in our time, we have come to generate cults of celebrity for people with less than appealing character traits. particularly within the sports community, the most glorified athletes are often the most self-promoting, most self-centered, most obnoxious, and most disgusting personalities imaginable.

Hillary, in contrast, seemed to be the polar opposite. raised as a bee-keeper, he seemed to avoid the international spotlight following his summit of Mount Everest, and instead appeared to return his roots. he clung to what could only be described as a self-effacing, humble, straightforward lifestyle. some of the anecdotes about Hillary point to his shyness--he apparently couldn't bring himself to give a marriage proposal to his wife in person, but instead relayed it through her mother. he even described himself as "just an enthusiastic mountaineer of modest abilities." even as he continued to maintain his adventures, and eventually received a knighthood, he retained a modest home in New Zealand.

what is more remarkable about Hillary was his continued dedication to the people of Nepal, particularly the Sherpa community. coming from an imperial era, the common expectation would be that someone from a wealthier, more modernized society like Edmund Hillary would have left his Sherpa guides and their culture with a friendly goodbye and proceeded blithely on with his life with nary a memory of Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpas, or Nepal.

but he didn't.

instead, with a supreme level of humanity, he maintained a deep connection with Nepal, continuing his personal relationships with Tenzing Norgay and other Sherpas, and building schools and health facilities in the Nepalese mountain communities, which count as among some of the most impoverished and unmodernized regions of the world. it's a testament to his involvement that Nepalese society is mourning his death with a profound expression of sorrow.

Hillary's sensitivity wasn't just for Nepal. i vividly remember an international scandal from a few years ago involving a NOVA-sponsored expedition to Everest, in which the crew found and abandoned a dying climber on their way to capture the summit on television cameras. this erupted into a worldwide debate between the higher ethics of saving a life versus the dangers such an act under extreme conditions posed to other people. for all the rancor, the controversy came to an abrupt and decisive end when Edmund Hillary came out on international news condemning the NOVA crew, saying that they should have made their best efforts to save the dying climber. as Hillary put it: "he is a human being. you can't just leave him to die." his pronouncement that day put the debate to rest, as if there should have never been any question as to what the correct answer should have been: the higher ethics of one life, no matter how tenuous, trumped any risk to save it.

his sentiments even when beyond humanity. throughout his life, he decried the commercialization of the Himalayas, speaking out against the increasing masses of tourism that took to populating the mountain with an accompanying pile of traffic and waste. the mountains, he insisted, should be left alone.

what i draw from this is a person who did remarkable thing, but chose instead to be remembered for more profound ones. people may prefer to recall him for his summit of Everest, but the legacy he created is one of philanthropy and high ideals that echo after his passing. and as modest a person he seemed to be, his actions as a human being point to a testament of selflessness and compassion that mark the greatest aspects of the human spirit.

you see, for all this phenomenal physical abilities, and for all the celebrity he was offered because of the achievements made possible by those abilities, he decided instead to make a difference in the lives of people around him.

he decided to make a difference in this world.

and that's why he's a hero.

it's something the rest of us--as athletes, as people, as human beings--should aspire to remember.

you can get what i'm getting at by reading a selection of the obituaries for him (including, of course, the one in the New Zealand Herald):
more engaging is an editorial about him from the New York Times.
most compelling was a personal note written by a contributor to the Christian Science Monitor. i think it speaks the most volume about Edmund Hillary as a human being. enough so that i'm including the full text of the article below, along with the link:
The higher summit in Sir Edmund Hillary's life
Ascending Everest was momentous, but his modesty and philanthropy are the more enduring legacy.
By Maurice Isserman
Christian Science Monitor
January 14, 2008

I took the measure of Sir Edmund Hillary's greatness last summer, while on a three-week trek in the Everest region of Nepal. In our second week on the trail, my fellow climbers and I perched atop a low adjoining peak and gazed up in wonder at Everest's 29,035-foot summit. It was there, on May 29, 1953, that Sir Edmund stood alongside Tenzing Norgay to become the first men to climb the world's highest mountain.

That was certainly a defining moment in Sir Edmund's life, and he lived the remainder of his 55 years enjoying the world's acclaim for that day's achievement. But the moment I started thinking Sir Edmund was truly a great man came a week earlier, when I filled a water bottle at a public fountain in the small Sherpa village of Khumjung.

In Nepal, trekkers are advised never to drink water from public sources, unless it is boiled first, and it's a good idea to add an iodine tablet as well. Even then it's possible to get sick from treated water, as I found to my discomfort a week or so later. Nepal is one of the world's poorest nations, with an infant mortality rate nearly 13 times that of the United States. In the high mountain villages, human waste and yak dung regularly pollute the water supply. But not in Khumjung, because Sir Edmund gave the villagers there a safe water system. There is also a Sir Edmund school in Khumjung, and a Sir Edmund medical clinic in the neighboring village of Khunde.

The origins of the Khumjung School, the first of Sir Edmund's philanthropic efforts in Nepal, date back to 1960. Sir Edmund, making his first return visit since the 1953 expedition, embarked on a somewhat quixotic search for evidence of the legendary Yeti (abominable snowman). The villagers of Khumjung claimed to have a Yeti scalp in their possession. As part of a bargain with the villagers, who allowed Sir Edmund to borrow their prize for testing in America, he agreed to secure the funds to build them a school. The scalp turned out to be a fake, but Sir Edmund's commitment to improve the lives of the villagers turned out to be quite genuine.

The school went up in 1961. And over the next four decades, the charitable organization Sir Edmund subsequently founded, the Himalayan Trust, raised funds for more than two dozen additional schools in the Solu-Khumbu region, plus clinics, hospitals, bridges, airfields, and projects promoting clean water and reforestation. Every village we visited last summer had pictures and posters of Sir Edmund (locals called him "Sir Ed"), in teahouses, trekking lodges, and wayside stores. But there is one photographic image of Sir Edmund you will never see, in Nepal or anywhere else, and that is one of him standing atop Mount Everest. And that is because it doesn't exist.

Sir Edmund brought a camera with him that day in 1953 to the summit and took a photo of his Sherpa companion, Tenzing Norgay, holding his ice ax aloft in a triumphant gesture. That photo was featured on the cover of Life magazine and became one of the iconic images of the 20th century. Sir Edmund would write in "High Adventure," his account of the expedition, that he did not ask Tenzing to take his photograph because "as far as I knew, he had never taken one before and the summit of Everest was hardly the place to show him how."

Well, perhaps. But as Ed Douglas, one of Tenzing's biographers would later note, "Some climbers might have taken the chance on Tenzing getting lucky." I think the truth is that Sir Edmund, who fully expected to go back to the family business of beekeeping when he got back from Everest, didn't care whether his moment of glory was recorded. He was a strong, ambitious climber, and he had the drive to make it to the top. But he was also a simple, uncomplicated, and deeply modest man. And in the years that followed his day on the top of the world, he went on to do a lot of good.

So when I learned of his death last week, I wanted to raise a toast in his memory. My only regret is that, home in the US, I couldn't do it with some of that icy cold and remarkably clean Khumjung water. Here's to you, Sir Ed.

Maurice Isserman teaches history at Hamilton College. He's the author, with Stewart Weaver, of the forthcoming book, "Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes."

Friday, January 11, 2008

bike paths - road wars, part 2

so i guess this series is going more frequently than i thought. they already posted a part 2.

the latest installment in the point-counterpoint debate deals with bike paths, and whether cyclists should pay a dedicated tax for 1) construction of public bike paths, and 2) the right to use those bike paths. the underlying implication is that cyclists who enjoy bike paths are benefiting from public taxes, with non-cycling taxpayers subsidizing the creation and maintenance of bike paths enjoyed by cyclists.

this is what economists call a "free-rider" problem, with a certain percentage of a population enjoying a benefit without having to share in the costs, which are paid by the rest of the population. this is a negative connotation, and as you may guess, the natural extension is to see cyclists as "free-riders" (and yes, i know, it's a pun, and a very ironic one at that).

the link is:

if that doesn't work, i'm including the full text below.

my take on this is that there's some clarification about the term "bike path" that needs to be made. in Los Angeles, "bike paths" are usually anything but. most of the bike paths marked out on Los Angeles County government maps are usually nothing more than bike lanes marked by fading paint on the right 3 feet of what are too often high-traffic roads in great states of deterioration (read, cracks, potholes, weeds, trash, etc.) and frequented by obnoxious legions (and i mean legions...this is L.A., just think about it) of cars less than enthused by the presence of bikes (or even pedestrians). in short, they're a joke.

yeah, sure, there are "bike paths" in the sense of dedicated paths reserved exclusively for cyclists and pedestrians which forbid any kind of motorized vehicle. but these are few and far between...and many of them are frequented by the homeless, street gangs, or common criminals looking for easy prey. i can count on 1 hand the number of actual, dedicated paths that are bike-and-pedestrian-only and are actually safe enough to ride on without having to fear getting bike-jacked (and just so you know, a common tactic in Los Angeles is for criminals to knock a cyclist off a bike using a rope or a pipe, and then steal the bicycle for parts and street value). you can see just how many of these there are at: http://www.labikepaths.com/

in which case, the best use of money in Los Angeles would be to simply fix the roads...as many of their pot-holed, cracked, broken, over-used, over-trafficked, under-maintained, unfixed miles as possible. and while they're at it, repaint those bike lanes so they're more clearly marked. here's why:
  • there are miles and miles of bike lanes on roads that just simply need repair and repainting. the city and county doesn't have to build new ones--if they just fixed the ones that exist, people would be more apt to use them.
  • this would fix 2 birds with 1 stone: it would improve driving for drivers and cycling for cyclists. this would mean that a benefit used by both populations would be repaired using taxes gathered from both populations, avoiding the "free-rider" problem hinted at by this debate.
as for the dedicated bike-and-pedestrian-only paths, those i could agree as involving a separate payment strategy. but this wouldn't necessarily requires special taxes. to me, these kinds of routes could easily be paid for using a toll system. this would mean that these kinds of paths would be paid by only the people who actually use them, again avoiding the "free-rider" problem implicated by this topic.

but this is just me.

and this is Los Angeles. which means that logic is out the window (because, after all, LA got its nickname of "La-la-land" for a reason), and that money is going to disappear into a great abyss in the city and county bureaucracy (again, "La-la-land").

so go figure.

From the Los Angeles Times
DUST-UP Showing cyclists the money
January 8, 2008

Today, Cato Institute senior fellow Randal O'Toole and local blogger Will Campbell discuss public funding for bicycle infrastructure. Yesterday, they determined who bears more responsibility for the frequent road rage between cyclists and motorists. Later in the week, they'll debate bike activism, encouraging cycling as an alternative to car commuting and more.

If cyclists want more, they should pay

The federal government collects about $40 billion a year in gasoline taxes and other highway user fees. When bridges are falling down and commuters are wasting 3 billion gallons of fuel each year just sitting in traffic, it is important to target this money on the most cost-effective projects.

Yet, as U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters has noted, Congress diverts 40% of federal highway fees to non-highway programs. It has also dictated that billions of dollars of fees be earmarked for bridges to nowhere and other useless projects.

American motorists deserve to know that the taxes and fees they pay to drive on our great highway system are being spent effectively. Unfortunately, too many urban planners have joined the anti-automobile movement, and the name of the game for them is to divert as many highway dollars to non-highway projects as possible.

So many cities are spending highway funds on multimillion-dollar bicycle overpasses, exclusive bike paths and other expensive facilities. When we compare the number of people using these paths and bridges with the cost, they are often not a cost-effective way of moving people.

At the same time, cyclists deserve to know that they can ride on our street networks without taking their lives in their hands. Motorists do not mind if an appropriate share of highway fees are spent on bike facilities as long as they are spent cost effectively. For example, motorists in my home state of Oregon support the dedication of 1% of state gas taxes to bike routes.

One cost-effective alternative to expensive bike paths is bicycle boulevards. This is where streets paralleling busy arterials are dedicated to bicycle use while still open for local auto traffic. For little more than the cost of signage, and some careful planning at busy intersections, cyclists can have a safe alternative to the busier roads.

In the end, it is all about money. A century ago, the League of American Wheelman joined auto owners in the Good Roads Movement. But no one knew how to pay for those roads until, in 1919, Oregon became the first state to dedicate a gasoline tax to highways and streets. Since then, motorists have paid at least 90% of the costs of the roads and streets cyclists ride on.

Today, California motorists pay an average of 2.5 cents in gas taxes for every mile they drive. That's about 1.5 cents per passenger mile.

Will, are you willing to pay a fee of 1.5 cents for every mile you ride? I certainly am. For me, that would be about $75 a year. For most bicycle owners, it would be a lot less.

Paying this fee would give cyclists a legitimate seat at the table when streets are built and rebuilt. It would also give transportation planners an incentive to take cyclists' needs into account. Isn't that a fair response to Peters' complaint?

Randal O'Toole is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute and author of "The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths: How Smart Growth Harms American Cities." An active cyclist who has never commuted to work by car, O'Toole is a resident of Bandon, Ore.

If you build it, cyclists will come
Randal, I find it a bit contradictory that in yesterday's post you wax about how we all share the burden in the ongoing battle between bikes and cars to share the road, and that part of the solution should be better street and road designs, yet today you dismiss some examples of those designs as being ultimately inefficient and therefore not cost effective because of the limited number of people they would serve. This, after you toss off the "billion" word in relation to annual gas tax dollars collected, gallons of gridlock-spent fuel wasted and fees diverted.

Speaking of serving a limited number of people, let's go back to 1912 for a few moments. Combined automobile production for that year topped 187,000 vehicles in a nation with a population of 95 million. For the lack of a good network of roads, getting across town was a task, across a county a challenge, across a state an ordeal. How about across a country? Practically impossible. But that didn't dampen the enthusiasm of one Carl Fisher, who hatched his dream of building the first transcontinental highway at an estimated cost of $10 million — even though only 2% of the citizenry drove and many states sported constitutional prohibitions against funding road projects.

A year later the first section of Lincoln Highway — America's "father road" — was dedicated, and ultimately it traversed 3,400 miles from Times Square in New York to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. As successful as it became, it isn't hard to imagine there were plenty of people who thought such a plan inefficient and wasteful. The biggest automaker of the day, Henry Ford, refused to support the project. He had the crazy notion that building roads was the government's job.

On that note, it would be pretty easy for me to view Peters' remarks as narrow-minded, but I really want to give her the benefit of the doubt and suppose what she meant was that at the current time there are other more pressing highway, byway and mass-transit projects in greater need of fewer federal funds. Maybe part of her point was that integrating a network of bicycle lanes and paths into the grid is a job better left to city, county and state agencies. Or maybe she just expects a modern-day Carl Fisher to step up, and if one doesn't, well, then tough tarmac. Regardless of the context within which she may or may not have been speaking, such a statement doesn't surprise me coming from a Cabinet member in the current administration.

And to answer your question, Randal, I'm all for footing my fair share of the bill if it will help me sit down at that legitimate seat at the table. And I'm totally with you in terms of exploring lower-cost, easily implemented options (you say "bike boulevards," and I start salivating). But like Fisher and his Lincoln Highway, I firmly believe that if you build a dedicated, cohesive bicycling network, the riders will come. Maybe not right away in staggering, cost-effective numbers, but give it time — something of which we cyclists have plenty. One of my morning bike commute routes brings me past a Jeep dealership on La Brea Avenue that, until recently, had a banner that read, "Get ready for the next 100 years!" Each time I'd see it, I'd pedal by saying to myself, "I am."

Silver Lake resident Will Campbell beat his 2007 goal to bike 2,007 miles across L.A. by nearly 1,100 miles. He blogs at Wildbell.com and Blogging.la and is an editor with Ascend Media.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

car v. bike - road wars, part 1

there's an interesting debate being held in the Los Angeles Times on the struggle between cars and bicycles. apparently, it's an ongoing multi-part series, with 2 writers each taking opposing positions on the issues. i don't think it is a permanent feature, but rather a temporary one that'll probably last a few episodes. it's following a point-counterpoint format, with 1 writer taking the position of drivers and the other taking the position of cyclists.

i strongly recommend people check it out. admittedly, it's focused on L.A., which is notorious for being a very bike-unfriendly city (not as bad as say, New York or Rome, but definitely on the far side of Seattle or Amsterdam). still, it's good stuff for anyone concerned over the clashes between cars and bicycles.

part 1 deals with road rage, and who has responsibility for causing problems on the road. from the looks of it, the main focus of the article is arguing who is liable for accidents and confrontations between cars and bikes: drivers or cyclists? the link is:

if that doesn't work, i'm including the full text at the end of this post.

personally, i've had situations where i've taken either side in this debate.

as a driver, i've seen some of the worst, and incredibly dangerous, cycling i'd ever imagine, from a rider going full-bore on a crowded sidewalk who expected pedestrians to get out of his way, to a peloton who insisted on taking up 2 lanes of a major boulevarde at the grand speed of 5 miles an hour rather than falling into a narrower pace line. i've wished for required cycling licenses with mandatory road rules classes for these people.

as a cyclist, i've seen some of the most obnoxious and moronic driving imaginable, from having a nursing home van careen across 4 lanes of an empty road to drive me off into a resident's house, to having people throw bottles at me as they passed. i've had friends who were physically attacked and injured by drivers while riding, and who then were blithely ignored by police officers when they tried to file a report. i've longed for all kinds of corrective tortures for these kinds of drivers.

LA is not a pleasant place to ride a bicycle. i've given up training on the road alone. if i ride solo, i now take river trails, which in LA are actually all concrete (yeah, concrete rivers, go figure) and paved--and more importantly, bereft of cars. i'll only take rides on streets if i'm going in a group, with the reasoning that if we are attacked by homicidal drivers, there'll at least be witnesses to catch the make, description, and license plate of the car (in LA, most crashes are hit-and-run, meaning nobody ever catches the driver).

yeah, i know. fun. cycling as a way of taking your own life in your own hands. imagine that.

From the Los Angeles Times
Huffy vs. Hummer
January 7, 2008

Today, local blogger Will Campbell and Cato Institute senior fellow Randal O'Toole determine who bears responsibility for the road rage between cyclists and motorists. Later in the week, they'll debate public funding for bike lanes and paths, cycling activism and more.

More cars, more blame

Oh, this one's a no-brainer: the drivers. Numbers alone dictate they're to blame. On one of my 13-mile morning commutes to work from Silver Lake to Westchester last week, I encountered hundreds of cars and 14 cyclists. The odds definitely favor the former to be at fault. Certainly poor roadway habits and bad manners are not the sole domain of motorists, but from my obviously biased perspective as a beleaguered bicyclist who's been pelted with pens, cigarettes, coins, beer cans, water bottles, eggs, trash, countless expletives and advice ("Get a car!" is my personal favorite), the city's already daunting streets can be downright inhospitable. There's a reason a canister of pepper spray is mounted to my bike's frame: to defend myself against the rare mad dog and the far more prevalent aggressive, ever-entitled driver. So far, I've never had to use it on either canine or car operator, but on occasions with the latter, I've come close. Let me give you an example from last August. I was on the home stretch of a casual all-day group ride that started in Highland Park and went all the way to Olympic Boulevard and the 405 Freeway in West Los Angeles before coming back to Echo Park. Returning east across town on Pico Boulevard, I wound up out ahead of the pack by a good mile or two. It had been a picture-perfect ride up until a few blocks west of Hoover Street when, while I was riding in the door zone alongside cars parked at the curb, a young man pulled his sedan tight against my left, where he called me an "ass" and flipped me the finger before speeding off — only to have his clean getaway dirtied by a red light at the next intersection.

Rolling up beside him, I inquired what that unprovoked outburst was all about, and in a magnificent display of ignorance, he berated me for riding my bike in the street. His argument was that wherever there isn't a striped bike lane, bikes aren't allowed on the road and must stay on the sidewalk. In my magnificent incredulity, I dropped a few expletives of my own while telling him that of all the idiots I'd encountered in my 20 years of biking L.A.'s mostly bike lane-less streets, he had to be the biggest one ever. Disliking that characterization, he yanked his car out of traffic, ready to escalate matters, at which point I advised him of the pepper spray and my willingness to use it along with my bike pump and my cable lock and whatever other means necessary to subdue him and then to have him arrested for everything I could possibly get him charged with. Somewhat amazingly — and thankfully — common sense prevailed over his belligerent stupidity, and he opted to stay in his vehicle, where I encouraged him to think twice before harassing the next cyclist he encountered and to familiarize himself with California Vehicle Code Section 21202. We parted with him telling me to, yep, "Get a car!"

Point of order, jerk: I have one. But last year, I put fewer miles on its odometer than on my bike's. By choice. Some might see that as a lousy choice because dealing with those motorists whose behavior ranges from inattentive to outright intimidating is a fact of life for urban cyclists on the streets of Southern California. But that's where the numbers come back into play. Because for every bad Acura there are, of course, bunches and bunches of drivers who demonstrate a respectful and considerate willingness to share the road.

Silver Lake resident Will Campbell beat his 2007 goal to bike 2,007 miles around L.A. by nearly 1,100 miles. He blogs at Wildbell.com and Blogging.la and is an editor with Ascend Media.

Cyclists can break the law too
Will, you can't blame everything on auto drivers. The truth is, there is plenty of blame to go around.

First of all, sheer numbers are not a reason to blame automobiles. We have to take a more systematic look at the problem.

I have never had the privilege of cycling in Los Angeles. But I have cycled thousands of miles each in Portland, Ore.; Denver and the San Francisco Bay Area. Drivers (and cyclists) are about the same everywhere. There are a few rude ones, a few careless ones and lots of polite ones who observe the rules of the road.

Many drivers are annoyed that too many cyclists act as though the rules of the road don't apply to them. They run red lights, ride through stop signs without even slowing down and ride on the wrong side of the road. While I am sure that you aren't guilty of these things, some drivers end up blaming all cyclists for the faults of a few. Don't make the same mistake yourself.

One of the most detailed studies of bike-auto accidents was a California report that found that 46% of accidents for which blame could be ascribed were the fault of the cyclist, while 54% were the fault of the motorist. This shows that motorists, while not completely innocent, are not the only ones to blame.

While drivers have to take a test to get a license to drive, cyclists do not. So, many cyclists have no opportunity to learn how the rules of the road apply to them. I am always appalled when I see cyclists riding on the wrong side of two-way streets. Statistics show this is many times more dangerous than riding on the right, but I suspect some parents still teach their children to ride on the left.

But it would be simplistic to blame just the road users. Some of the blame must fall on road and street designers. I have always believed that cyclists and autos can share the same streets, but highway and street designers need to make some minimal efforts to account for cyclists.

More than half of all auto-bike collisions take place at intersections, yet city planners have made almost no effort to figure out how to design intersections that are safe for cyclists. Instead, they frequently install traffic lights that change only when they detect the presence of an automobile. Try as I might, I and my carbon-fiber bike sometimes simply cannot trip whatever magnetic, heat or electrical sensors are in the road. In such situations, even I have been known to run red lights.

So let's admit that the problem is one we all share and try to find a solution that is fair to everyone. That solution should include better street and road designs, better-educated cyclists and more motorists who are willing to share the road with those cyclists.

Randal O'Toole is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute and author of "The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths: How Smart Growth will Harm American Cities." An active cyclist who has never commuted to work by car, O'Toole is a resident of Bandon, Ore.

Friday, January 04, 2008

endurance sports and kung fu (part 6) - relaxation

one of the more intriguing topics i've seen crossing over between endurance sports and kung fu is that of relaxation. not relaxation as in lying around and being a lazy fat turd, but rather as in having a loose body, with no tension in the body (muscles, skeleton, or connective tissue) or the mind. i suppose this makes the notion of relaxation as one where a person is in a relaxed state.

endurance sports--or even sports in general--make this an important issue, arguing that optimum athletic performance requires freedom in motion and thinking, and that this condition is enticed through a relaxed state. the reasoning is that tension, whether in the body or the mind, acts to impede reflexes and movement, thereby increasing demands on the athlete's physical and mental resources to overcome such resistance. this results in decreased performance, or at least much more difficulty in achieving performance.

i think of this in terms of an analogy to a motor engine (any will do, but your typical petroleum-powered internal combustion engine will suffice). an engine operates with many moving parts. without lubrication, these moving parts generate friction. friction creates resistance between parts, which decreases engine efficiency--the more friction in the engine, the more energy it will consume to overcome the friction...energy that would otherwise be dedicated to engine output. lubrication reduces this friction.

to me, relaxation is a way of decreasing friction, like lubrication (okay, sort of, but you get the idea). instead, relaxation eliminates friction by easing the tension that stiffen the athlete's movements. i'm guessing that physical tension creates resistance to motion at a cellular level, so that the body's tissues end up impeding their own movement; mental tension creates hesitation in action, so that the body's tissues struggle to respond to unclear or delayed commands from the mind. a relaxed state avoids both these problems, thereby allowing athletic activity to become more fluid, and hence more free, enabling more energy to be devoted to performance. in essence, it allows the body to be more efficient.

you can see the weight given to relaxation for endurance sports in the following sample of sources:
but the idea that performance can be accentuated by a relaxed state is something similarly emphasized in kung fu. in the styles i've been studying--mostly bagua zhang and tai chi quan, which are among those commonly labeled as "internal" styles--there is a continual stressing of the need to avoid tension, and to free both the body and mind. from what i've been able to determine, the reasoning is largely the same as for sports: tension impedes reflexes and movement, and so prevents the practitioner from acting with speed or decisiveness, and thereby throttling performance.

in the kung fu i've studied (and i suspect in other styles of kung fu, as well as martial arts in general), there is a primacy given to being able to act decisively with speed, since it is understood that combat situations (i.e., self-defense) involve chaotic, frenetic confrontations with little time to think things through. martial arts sees that there is little luxury in wasting energy on anything other than physical performance. as a result, anything that is contrary to performance and anything that wastes energy is inefficient, and worse, dangerous. this means that a thing like tension in body or mind, which demands energy to overcome it, must be eliminated.

kung fu also seems to assert that tension frustrates good form. in martial arts, particularly for the "internal" kung fu styles i've been studying, there is a desire to avoid direct force-on-force confrontations, since this invariably leads to a situation where the stronger party wins. instead, the preference is for redirection and manipulation of a stronger person's force that protects the practitioner. doing so, however, requires 1) an understanding of technique and its physics, and 2) execution of the technique. tension makes it more difficult to perform the required movements of a technique, since it consumes energy and thereby makes it harder for the practitioner to move. hence, tension needs to be avoided.

moreover, at least in bagua and tai chi, i've noticed that the precepts of the styles require that the practitioner be able to sense an opponent's actions, whether through visual recognition or physical detection. this, however, requires that the practitioner be in a state of mind where they can exercise their senses. tension, because it consumes a person's resources to overcome it, disrupts the state of mind needed to attune the senses, and so must be expunged.

you can see the attention given to relaxation in kung fu in the following selection of sources (note: they're largely tai chi-related, but that's mostly because there seems to be more material available on-line for tai chi...i suspect there's similar discussion in other martial arts, but they don't seem to be as readily available on-line):
for further comparison of relaxation in actual practice, check out the following videos that i think indicate how relaxation is taken as an implicit component of each.

1) endurance sports
this is a video from Chasing Kimbia, an organization that i've talked about on this blog before (reference: videos: kenyan marathon runners), and which features a Youtube channel following a group of Kenyan marathon runners in their training and racing. take particular note at the 1:39 mark, where the coach, Dieter Hogen, tells the runner, Baba, to stay "comfortable and relaxed":

2) kung fu
this is a video of Chang Dong Sheng, a noted martial arts master (shuai jiao, or Chinese wrestling, as well as tai chi and chang quan) from Taiwan. at the time this video was made, he was in his 70s. but you can still see how much his training and practice were based on his body holding to a relaxed, flexible posture, with little of the hard or forceful movements typically associated with martial arts:

i find this cross-over intriguing, not only because of the common nature of relaxation to both endurance sports and kung fu, but because it makes me wonder as to the possibility of transposing their approaches. it seems to be a logical extension that the relaxation training of one would work for the other, since they're both effectively dealing with the same problem: physical and mental tension.

endurance sports has already led in this direction, with the ever-present suggestions and advice for yoga practice to supplement sports training. almost every endurance athlete i know does yoga, and for certain every professional endurance athlete i know swears by it. yoga, along with the vaguely related practice of pilates, is prescribed largely to 1) improve flexibility, 2) develop core strength, and 3) develop a relaxed physical and mental state.

i don't deny any of this. in fact, i'd tend to agree. the burgeoning results of sports medicine and sports training adoption of yoga (or pilates) is too much to ignore.

but i want to assert that similar results can be found through kung fu. i won't say all kung fu, or all martial arts. but i do believe that there are certain aspects and styles of kung fu that lend themselves to these objectives. again, my own experience has been that the "internal" styles seem to be most consistent.

personally, and following the journalistic mantra (how, where, when, what, and why), i can tell you that my study in bagua and tai chi has made me far more aware of the extent of tension in my body in terms of 1) how much of it there is, 2) where it is located, 3) when it occurs, 4) what it feels like and what it means to my performance, and 5) why it happens. in addition, it has also helped me deal with tension, in terms of training movement, breathing, and concentration that helps control my body's ability to ease it. apart from the typical forms that are popularly known to so much of the public (e.g., the tai chi you see in the park on early mornings), kung fu also has qi-gong, which seems to do as much to train your mind-body awareness, physical and mental sensitivity, and breathing as much as it trains your relaxation.

i should point out that i tried yoga to help with relaxation, but i wasn't satisfied with the experience. it just...didn't work. for whatever reason, i have found kung fu to be more effective. i'd to like to bring it to people's attention as a possible alternative. if you--like me--aren't happy with yoga, i'd encourage you to try kung fu, albeit styles more suited towards development of a relaxed state (my suggestion: find a good, as in no BS, tai chi, bagua, or xing-yi class).

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


the holidays are different for me now.

when i was younger, and living with my grandparents, the holidays were always a big event. which was odd, given that they came from northern european stock, and those cultures are not known for large, outgoing celebrations. but this was probably a reflection of their family's assimilation into American mainstream society, complete with a formalized canon of rituals leading into the end of December: the careful post-Thanksgiving setting and decoration of the Christmas tree, the laying out of holiday lights and candles and table-top nativity scenes, the display of incoming Christmas cards, and the increased attendance of evening vespers at the church. all this, with the seasonal opening of the wood pile and evening fires, holiday songs, and party tableware.

and it wasn't just for us. for them, Christmas and New Year's were large, elaborate, social affairs that reached outside of family to friends and neighbors. part of this was their annual invitation to individual disadvantaged families in their church. part of this was that my grandparents had somehow found themselves situated in a row of neighbors that shared connections to Scandinavia, the U.S. Navy, federal and state civil service, and a common retirement age--and all inexplicably located by pure chance in the middle of Texas, necessitating the call for frequent common get-togethers at every major point in the calendar. the result were expansive dinners for both holidays, with multiple tables and multiple buffets spread throughout different rooms with guests often numbering well into double digits.

it was nothing raucous. but it wasn't genteel either. just a typical family party atmosphere, and everyone engaged in a good time and various adjoining conversations over food and drink running well into the night.

for me, these occasions were always a bit uncomfortable. they just weren't my personality. i tended to be a bit reclusive, and particularly shy. socializing in large group settings was not something i found natural, even for people i knew.

my favorite times often came after the celebrations, often in the evenings when everyone had gone home, and always in the days following each party. then, my grandparents would retreat to more quiet settings, with just the 3 of us in the house, surrounded by music and decorations and candles and cards and presents by the tree with the fragrance of wood in the fireplace rising up the chimney in the winter chill. my grandmother would knit. my grandfather would watch the fire. sometimes, they'd just read. usually, they'd listen to the radio. always, they'd go through the greetings in the mail. and as the days came to New Year's, they'd add in a shared avocation for college football and the annual slate of bowl games.

those were special moments to me. more quiet. more still. more prone to self-reflection and recollection and thought, and the sharing of the something that lets you know there is nothing so special as time.

even with the accompaniment of the bowl games, the mail, the radio, or the reading, those times invariably settled to a central theme of talking. talking about everything. nothing. whatever came in the passage of silence known to be significant. talking about all that had gone before, all that was yet to come, and all that it meant in that singular point in time together in a way that showed how it all was supremely profound.

i could tell my grandparents felt that way too.

i asked them once why, if they preferred the quiet times after the celebrations, they still made so much effort for the big events for the holidays. my grandmother had replied that it was so we could have memories.

things are pretty different for me now. both grandparents passed away. i grew up. i'm living on my own. and i'm tied up with the usual burden of work and school and bills and responsibilities, compounded in recent years with training for this thing people call Ironman.

as i've gotten older and made my own way, i've tended to follow my personality towards what my nature seems to be suited, and found myself spending holidays in much more quiet ways. there's been no large gatherings, elaborate affairs, or big celebrations. no multi-table or multi-buffet meals. no invited guests or neighbors. instead it's largely been just me with my parents, with not much more than a small tree, a small selection of greeting cards, and a small meal around a small table. sometimes, increasingly, it's even been just me alone.

i do what i can. there's still reading. the radio. the greetings. and the slate of college bowl games.

but there's nothing to compare to the holidays past.

which is why they're so poignant now.

because my grandmother was right. in the back of my mind, in the recesses of my memories, i still remember the celebrations of all the Christmases and New Years of before. as vivid and alive and joyous as they were when they first happened.

and with them, they bring back the echoes of life. mine, and more importantly, others. they bring back the people i miss in every moment. especially the special moments. like the Christmas and New Year of now. with all the ones gone before and all the ones yet to come and all that it means forever together in infinite ways supremely profound and in the passage of silence that is significant.

i think of them often.

i think of them all the time.

and the holidays, as they always shall be, are once again the same.