July 24, 2008

The Last Thing I Saw

The first thing I saw was a man doing a flip in the air. Then again, maybe the first thing I saw was the black SUV, it's hard to recall. It is also possible that the first thing I saw was the bike. It happened so quickly, some of it is a blur. I was also about three or four cars back, so I couldn't see everything. But the sequence of events can only work in one way, so I suppose that has affected my memory - logic always trumps perception.

The cyclist was coming south at a fairly good clip. The SUV was going north on the other side of the road at about 25 miles per hour when he took a quick left. Cyclist hits SUV, flies into the air, does flip. His head bounces on the ground. Literally, it bounced. I saw it. It hit the ground, bounced and smacked into the ground again.

I cringed. The SUV was still moving and I cringed and hoped that he didn't run over the cyclist. I was three or four cars back and couldn't quite see. I prayed. Sometimes you can say very long, thoughtful prayers in a millisecond. I could tell that the cyclist was on the ground and that the SUV was still moving and all I could do was cringe and pray and hope he didn't get run over.

He didn't.

I immediately grabbed my phone and held down the 9 button. "Would you like to pre-program this key?" the phone prompted me. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! I yelled to Verizon. NO, I DO NOT WANT TO PRE-PROGRAM THE KEY. THE KEY IS ALREADY SUPPOSED TO BE PRE-PROGRAMMED!! Since when is the goddam 9 key NOT already pre-programmed to dial 911?!

I swore at Verizon. I stumbled with the phone. I was shaking.

My fingers felt like tree trunks, the number pad mere pinholes. I somehow pushed the numbers, 9-1-1. I gave them all of the information about the cyclist lying in the road, the SUV parked on the side. I pulled over, got out of my car and rushed across the street.

People had already come by, they were standing around him staring. Don't move, they said. Did anybody call 911, they asked. I did, I said. They're on their way.

I'm a doctor, a guy said as he knelt on the ground. Move away, everybody please move away.

What's your name? he asked as he scanned the body for broken bones.

Christopher, he replied.

Can you feel this? he asked as he squeezed fingers on his right hand, his left

Yes. Yes.

How about this? as he squeezed his left foot, his right.


OK. Don't move. Don't get up.

The paramedics arrived, the police arrived. They talked to the witnesses, they examined the victim. The victim. He was a cyclist, now he's a victim.

They asked about the car, they looked at the SUV. They asked questions about the traffic lights, the speed, the incident. The man that was driving stood next to me, silent. He was 65, middle eastern, scared. He opened his phone and began to text. Probably his wife. He's going to be late for dinner.

Who is the driver, the police asked. I pointed my finger. Him.

He was scared. It was a mistake.

* * *

Mandeville wasn't a mistake.

Mandeville happened three weeks ago. The mass of cyclists were on top of the 5 mile climb. They were coming down when a friend fell over, broke a collar bone. The two friends waited while the rest of the crew continued. They called for help. The ambulance came and began to take care of the fallen one. The two friends bid farewell and began to ride down the hill.

Halfway down a car came up behind them. Honking. The cyclists moved to the side of the road in single file. The car came up next to them, he was yelling. They stayed single file on the side of the road. The driver pulled in front of them.

And then he slammed on his brakes.

The driver of the car, traveling just a few feet in front of the cyclists, purposely slammed on his brakes.

The first cyclist jammed his bike, clipped the car and was thrown onto the ground. Banged up, broken arm. The second cyclist hit the rear bumper of the car, flew off his bike and went through the rear window. Not INTO the rear window... THROUGH it. His body was destroyed. His nose was practically ripped off. He'd get 90 stitches on his face alone.

The man got out of the car and continued to yell. I'M A DOCTOR! He added amidst his rage. But he's not the type of doctor that is compassionate and caring, because he wasn't. And he's not the type of doctor that helps people when they're hurt, because he didn't. He just yelled. And nearly killed two cyclists.

The second cyclist pulled his battered body off the ground and lay his body on top of the car. We can't let this man get away, he thought. I must keep him here at all costs until help comes.

Help came. It was another cyclist - and the ambulance from higher up the hill that had been helping their friend with the broken collarbone. The ambulance stopped and took care of the cyclists. The ambulance called the cops.

The driver was arrested. Road rage. A felony, up to 7 years in prison. And he's a doctor. Hopefully he'll lose his license.

The pictures are horrendous. The story is everywhere.

Los Angeles cyclists are hit by cars every week. Cyclists die every year. It's not getting better, it's getting worse. People are angrier, more stressed, they don't pay attention, they don't care. People are on their phones, their blackberries, they're reading books while they drive. People read books while they're driving.

I want to help, but I don't know what to do.

I feel it's not a matter of if I'll get hit by a car, but a matter of when. In the past two years I've been hit by one car and run off the road by two others. But it could get worse. I'm still alive. Next time could be worse.

I'm nervous when I ride, scared when Catherine leaves. I fear my friends will fall victim.

We want to be cyclists, not victims.

July 22, 2008

Post Apologies

I need to apologize to everybody. I haven't posted a gosh darn thing in awhile. It's not for lack of caring. I've had oh so many things to say but, honestly, work has been so incredibly crazy busy. To top it off, Catherine and I were just in New York City for a bunch of days where we went to our friends wedding. And now I'm trying to get a magazine article done. As if that's not enough, Catherine and I are headed out east again next week to celebrate her big birthday.

Excuses excuses.

I'm going to try to say a little something or other before we leave, but no promises.

Thanks for your understanding.
It's why I like you so much.

July 11, 2008

Running In Place

Remember when you were in fourth grade PE class and you had to run in place? You know, jogging without going anywhere. In hindsight, it seems fairly ridiculous. I can't imagine it's the type of activity that would teach kids any type of valuable lesson besides, say, learning how to skip PE class.

It seems to me that forcing a group of highly impressionable children to run in place may just be some sort of displaced analogical representation of a sad and lonely gym teacher who feels like he's going nowhere in life. Making kids run in place is his way of forcing the rest of the world to suffer the failure that his mother thinks he is. If he'd only gotten married and applied himself a little better, maybe he wouldn't be such an embarrassment to the family and maybe, just maybe, he could've grown up to be the successful, well-respected man that his brother Frances turned out to be.

This line of thought began last night when Catherine came home from work and told me that she needed to do leg strengthening exercises. She changed into her very sexy tights and jog bra (as women tend to do in such situations), came back into the living room, put on some random Madonna album (as women also tend to do in these situations) and began to read her workout instructions.

Suddenly she looked at me with somewhat of a blank star on her face. I'm supposed to start with a five minute warm-up on a spinning bike, she said. I don't have a spinning bike.

And, with nary another word spoke, she began to jog. In place. Going nowhere.

She tried her darndest not to look at me while I tried my hardest not to laugh. All I could do was stare in amazement. I hadn't seen anybody jog in place in decades. Probably since Coach Reznicki's PE class. (Rez-o was a douchebag).

I stared in disblief. The smirk turning to a grin turning to a smile turning to...

Catherine glanced over at me with one of those looks that says "What's your problem, chump?! You never see somebody jog in place before?!". And then she quickly looked away.

I really tried my hardest not to laugh, but, c'mon people, she's jogging in place! Finally, like a balloon that expanded beyond it's limit, Catherine burst out in hysterics.

I can't believe I'm jogging in place!! she spat out. You have to promise not to tell anybody about this!

You've got to be kidding, I replied. You're jogging in place!! Hell, I'm telling EVERYBODY!

But, alas, apparently jogging in place doesn't have the same cache when you're an adult as it did when you were a kid (assuming it had any cache as a kid). Within about two minutes, Catherine's jogging in place turned into endless laps between the living room and dining room. Keeping in mind, that the distance between the two extends about 10 feet. Yet somewhere amidst all of this nonsense, it got me thinking about my life.

As I've grown older, I've learned to despise running in place. I thrive on forward movement. I want to continue to grow, to move, to learn. If there's one thing that is guaranteed to chew me apart from the inside, it's the concept of standing still. Granted, I can lay on the couch and read just as well as the next guy. Put me in front of a TV and I'll stay potatoed there ad infinitum. But, believe it or not, part of that is about learning and growing.

The reason I love watching the Olympic Trials and the Tour de France and the Bass Master Classic and any other sport I can put my remote on, is because it ignites the fire of inspiration within me. Believe it or not, sitting on my ass and watching a couple of guys play billiards actually drives me forward. It helps me to be the best, most inspired person I can be in whatever I am doing.

And isn't this a reason for life - to be the person you want to be?

If nothing else, the purpose of life is about experiencing life. It's about capturing emotion and memories; about exploring and teaching and keeping the world spinning around. Life is about learning how to grow a tree from a seedling, so the next generation can grow a forest from the tree. It's about moving forward. It's not about getting to the finish line as much as moving away from the starting line. In life, there is no running in place.

And I suppose within that is how we take triathlon as the great analogy of life. Working hard, challenging ourselves, learning, growing, achieving. It's not about the time at the end, but the time we had getting to the end.

Let's keep moving forward.

July 08, 2008

The 7 Worst Sounds in Triathlon

1. POWWW!!!-SSsssssssss: The deafening sound of a blown tire the moment you step into the water

2. Five words uttered when you're at mile10 of the run, when 100 degree temperature is considered "cooling off", when the very last drop of moisture in your body has just evaporated, when you finally reach the aid station that appears like an oasis in the Sahara, that's when you hear it: We're all out of water

3. The screeching of car tires right behind your bike

4. Ambulance sirens

5. "WATCH OUT!!" screamed by the douchebag riding his bike right behind you

6. "Shaark!" yelled while you're swimming. Even if you're in a pool and they're clearly joking, it's still not funny.

7. Four words: "No more toilet paper"

July 02, 2008

The Art Of Stuffing A Kielbasa

Every week, the LA Tri Club puts on a Wednesday morning ocean swim that has become quite the festive fete. Though it starts at the early hour of 6:30am - on a school-day nonetheless - it consistently attracts about 50 to 100 people. If you close your eyes and force yourself to throw up, it almost feels like the start of a triathlon, which is kinda good, because that's the whole purpose.

The swim is a "speed circuit," which may not be the best name for the activity. Perhaps it's better simply named a "swim circuit" - or maybe just a "don't drown circuit". Either way, this so-called circuit pretty much entails everybody starting en masse and running from the sand into the ocean, then swimming 250 meters out to a little buoy, rounding the buoy and swimming the 250 meters back to shore, running out of the water, across about 50 meters of frustratingly deep sand, then back into the water to repeat the whole thing again as many times as you please, or until your toes get stung by a stingray, whichever comes first.

This past Wednesday was the first time I attended this particular swim, despite the fact that I've heard all the hoo-haa about it for years. Catherine and I got there at about 6:15 and pulled into the parking lot with the rest of our early morning brethren. The parking lot was full. Doors were ajar, trunks were open, goggles were defogging, bodies were lubing, flip flops were flopping and everybody was getting themselves prepared in their own special ways. I looked around at the masses in their own worlds with their own processes and you know what I discovered? I discovered that there are many different ways to squeeze into a wetsuit. It almost seems like an art.

So I decided to do a little research on this whole thing. What I've found is a wealth of information about putting on a wetsuit and in just a short time I've become the world's foremost expert on wetsuit putting-on-ing. Just because I like you, I'm going to share all of my knowledge with you right here, right now. Don't you feel lucky? I thought so.

Basically, the art of putting on a wetsuit can all be boiled down to five different techniques: The Fold, The Frog, The Jump, The Leap and The Tush. Let me explain...

The Fold
The Fold is perhaps the most popular technique for putting on a wetsuit. Some of you folks may also know this as The Fingernail, The Pull or The Shimmy method. Whatever you like to call it, it's pretty simple and is the technique usually taught to new-comers.

The Fold begins with two feet in the wetsuit (having feet firmly back inside flip flops is optional, though recommended). In the early stage, the suit rests just above the knees. If required, the user can stand up and waddle to the other side of the car with the hopes of not falling down, in the same manner as one might do the moments before the start of a burlap sack race.

With wetsuit bunched on quads, the user reaches down and proceeds to pull and yank the bottom of the suit leg, massaging the suit up the leg until the mid-leg bunching has been maximized and you can create none more bunching.

For those wishing to be certified in The Fold method, one essentially utilizes a wetsuit rolfing technique to manipulate the suit (this is a trick question in the certification test - just a heads up.) When maximum bunching has been achieved, user then pulls the suit above the hips and continues the folding technique on the legs and arms until the tightest fit possible has been achieved.

The Fold technique is a favorite of Type A personalities. The problem with this is that, because they are Type A personalities, there is always more Folding and pulling that can be done.

The Frog
Though The Fold is most effective for the common body types, The Frog is apparently a very effective assembly system for those people with wetsuits that need a little extra lift in the crotchal region. The process entails getting the suit almost halfway on, where the legs and hips are fully covered with only the upper body remaining (a Fold technique may or may not be used in the early stages of this process). To an outside observer, it may seem like the user is but a couple of arms and a zip away from being done and ready to waddle to the water. But, alas, there is one more step to be had.

Prior to even beginning the upper body maneuvering, you will find The Frog-ger suddenly bending the legs and squatting very low to the ground, as if they just had sudden flashbacks to their last time in a Chinese Port-A-Pooper. And just when you think they're going to fall right onto the ground - kablaaam! - they straighten their legs and grab their crotch in one fell swoop without their feet ever leaving the ground.

The overall purpose of The Frog technique is to lift up the crotch area of the wetsuit for a tighter, more snug fit. But The Frog maneuver is not easy. It requires a level of leg-hand-crotch coordination that is not common to multi-sport athletes. If done properly, it is a thing of beauty. But for The Frog neophyte, well.... let's just say there are certain triathletes who will no longer be able to make babies. If you are interested in learning the proper, USAT-sanctioned Frog technique, please feel free to contact Catherine. She is a certified Frog instructor.

The Jump
Certain people unfamiliar with wetsuit placement have confused The Frog and The Jump, assuming they are different parts of the same maneuver. They're not. Don't listen to those people.

The Jump is a very controversial method of putting on a wetsuit. Certain pundits have claimed that The Jump is not actually a technique but rather a "flair". One often cited study reports that "...[The] Jump, though widely accepted as a viable method for getting into a wetsuit, has been proven to have less than 3.86% effectiveness in decreasing Hogan's Air Displacement..." (In case you don't know, Hogan's Air Displacement is the amount of air - in cubic millimeters - that exists at any given time between one's wetsuit and one's skin. It was named after a Captain Hogan that was a prisoner of war in Germany and escaped by swimming 300 miles to England with nothing more than a Hefty trashbag and a package of rubber bands to keep himself warm. Hogan's Heroes was loosely based on him, though after the Glad bag lawsuit, the story line was changed and Captain Hogan died a poor, lonely man with nothing to his name but a lifetime supply of trashbags.)

The study continues, "...we can safely surmise that The Jump is nothing more than a self-serving technique that aids only in battles of ego and self-confidence. "

Arguments aside, I must believe that people find true value in executing The Jump. The technique is rather rudimentary and occurs in distinct sections of the wetsuit assembly process. Specifically, once the legs have been fully inserted into the suit and such suit has been firmly raised up around the hip region, the user slightly bends the legs (though not as deep as with The Frog) and, with hands grasping the edge of the suit, bounds off the ground while yanking the suit higher up the hips. The Jump can be executed between one and three times during any single wetsuit dressing. To qualify as a true Jump, one's feet may not leave the ground by more than 6 inches.

Flip flops are optional with The Jump; it is recommended that the user be aware of their terrain and use proper judgement accordingly. The Jump may also be combined with The Frog (though please only attempt this with sufficient experience and support).

The Leap
Unlike The Jump, there really isn't a lot of controversy about The Leap. Most everybody is in agreement that this method adds absolutely no actual value towards putting on a wetsuit. The Leap is just like The Jump, with the one exception being that the user bounds well over 6 inches from the ground. Leapers oftentimes jump for heights in excess of 1 foot. The Leap is usually only done one time in any single wetsuit dressing and is most often followed by the rolling of eyes from all nearby witnesses. You'll know you have just missed witnessing a Leap attempt when you hear bystanders muttering under their breath such words as "douchebag" and "blowhard".

The Tush
The Tush is a rare and dying technique, and perhaps one of the most difficult of all methods to put on a wetsuit. It is believed that The Tush was originated by surfers in Costa Rica, back before Costa Rica was a safe place for whitey. Somewhere in the 80s, The Tush became quite popular amongst the surfing community and even edged over into scuba diving for a few years in the early 90s. By the mid-90s, triathletes began to fiddle with The Tush method but it never really caught on.

The Tush technique entails performing the entire first two phases of wetsuit placement while sitting down on the ground (or, originally, on a surfboard). Though some articles have claimed that sitting on the trunk or bumper of a car still qualifies as The Tush method, the true connoisseur would disagree.

Putting on a wetsuit with The Tush technique is extremely difficult. Though getting the feet into the wetsuit is not overly challenging, moving the suit over the upper legs and onto the tush is a feat only reserved for the most experienced. Unfortunately, once you get your feet into your wetsuit, you're really at the point of no return with The Tush for standing up with a wetsuit around your ankles is a nearly impossible task.

I don't recommend you try The Tush without proper support and instruction. I've seen people try and, frankly, it gets ugly.

* * *

As far as I have been able to tell, those are all of the modern day wetsuit assembly techniques that are currently recognized by the KSAA (Kielbasa Stuffing Association of America, the national governing body for putting on a wetsuit). If you've heard of anything else, let me know.

I hope this has been helpful.