Monday, November 30, 2015

I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues

The last time three times I went biking in Utah, I came back with some sickness or injury—flu (Fall Moab 2013), heat exhaustion (RAWROD 2014), broken hand (15 minutes into Fall Moab 2015). This year, for Fall Moab 2015, I told myself that I was going to come back healthy. After all, I had only been on one mountain bike ride since breaking my hand, and that was an hour-long ride with Wendy and the boys.

For the Friday ride, I vowed that I ride clean and easy with no falls. I did just that, and it felt terrible. Perfectly terrible. For the first time, whenever I saw Kenny or Cori* try a move that I could possibly pull off, I stood back and watched.

* Not a typo. His name is Cori, not Cory. Cori is short for Coriantumr, who is a character in The Book of Mormon.

It hurt to ride that way. Outwardly, I probably looked calm to the other guys. Inwardly, I felt like I was putting my hands on my hips and exclaiming in a squeaky voice, "Oh my goodness! I do NOT want to try a move like THAT, or might might FALL and get HURT!" Or maybe my inner voice was more like Marvin the Martian's: "This ride makes me so very very terrified."

On Saturday, I battled for a few hours just to keep up with my friends on a smooth, flowing downhill section from the top of Gemini Bridges down to the start of Gold Bar Rim.

Once we got on Gold Bar, I decided to stop riding like a sissy and go back to riding like an idiot. I made a couple of nice moves that had given me problems in the past few years, including this one, where you ride up a scramble, turn left and plow over some rocks, make a hard left turn, and ride along a narrow pucker ledge with a 6-foot drop to the left.

I was feeling good, back in my element. We got to the blue dot trail, where the trail itself is so difficult that some very good riders need to get off their bikes and walk about half of it. Of course, Kenny, Cori, and Ryan rode all of it, and Dug, Ricky, and Brad rode most of it, while Elden (he of the 8:12 Leadville time) and I walked a lot.

For one downhill drop, a combination of boldness and fear fatigue got the best of me. I planted my front tire at the bottom and crashed hard. It wasn't really an endo because with an endo, you go over your handlebars. I went through my handlebars.

For about 15 seconds, I wasn't sure how injured I was. Based on the level of pain, I seriously considered the possibility that I had broken my femur. That's a helicopter ride. I was finally able to move my leg. Whew. No injury. I finished the ride with some difficulty, and I even did most of the Sunday ride before the pain and fatigue got the best of me and I broke off early.

Fast forward 10 days later. I had been riding my bike gently to work, but my thigh was purple, swollen, and numb. I limped to a karate and couldn't wait for the class to be over. That's it, I decided. No more exercise until my injury heals.

Fast forward 4 days later, with no exercise in four days. I was sad. Depressed. Blue. Gloomy. Disconsolate. All I wanted to do was sleep. That kind of feeling usually hits me only once every couple of years, usually on a Monday in mid January.

The swelling is down, my thigh isn't as numb, and the doc says it's fine to ride my bike again.

I just realized that this has been entirely about me. Me, me, me. How are you doing?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Conversations from Fall Moab 2015

[One guy tells a long story about visiting an acquaintance who lives in a big house in a wealthy neighborhood.]

"I don't know real estate but I'm guessing this is a 7- or 8-million dollar house."
"I feel weird in places like that."
"Me, too.”
“I usually try to sneak off somewhere and steal something like silverware.”
“I’ll burn a cigarette in the carpet.”
“And then pee on it.”
“Right, but just a little bit, so that the smell isn't too obvious.”
“I don’t like it when the owner follows me around the house.”
“Am I a guest or a fugitive?”
“And then I'll pull out a check book and say, ‘How much for that lamp?’”
“What do you mean it’s not for sale? Everything is for sale.”
Everything is for sale!”
“And then I soil my pants.”
“That changes the subject.”


[While getting ready for an all-day ride.]

“Does anyone need nipple cream?”
“Is is pomegranate?”
“No, um, it's tangerine.”
“Can I borrow some?"
“You can have some.”


[In the car, one guy tells a story about family struggles. The second guy follows with an even more heartbreaking family story.]

[Third guy] “Hey, have you guys seen the second season of Fargo?”


[While a rider is dropping down a series of steep ledges, he shifts his weight behind his saddle and snags his shorts, trapping him. With each drop, he slams his groin into the back of his saddle, racking him.]

[First ledge] “Ouch!”
[Second ledge] “Shit.”
[Third ledge] “Fuck.”
[Fourth ledge] “Fuck!”
[Last ledge, after stopping and struggling to clip out] “Ow.”


[One rider attempts a ledge drop that requires speed. The rider gets his wheel stuck, endos, and crashes hard. He lies crumpled on the ground during that brief period of time when no one knows the extent of the injuries, including the guy who just crashed.]

[Different rider in concerned voice] “Let's get his pants off.”


Fall Moab 2015 was a wild success.

Friday, November 6, 2015


So I was riding my bike to work, casually, listening to an audiobook. (I'm on the fifth book of the Game of Thrones series if you're really curious.) Whenever I listen to an audiobook, I don't ride particularly fast or hard. I cruise along.

A woman wearing full-length jeans and a backpack passed me. Again, I wasn't riding hard, you know, because of Westeros and the coming of winter. The woman had to stop at a red light, and I pulled up next to her. A train was crossing parallel to the road we were riding on, so I paused a moment and then rode through the red light, knowing that no car would be turning in to the passing train. It was illegal but safe.

When the woman caught up to me—have I mentioned that I was not riding hard?—she said, "You're a good rider."

The Mormon Boy Scout part of me wanted to say, "Thanks! You're a good rider, too!"

"What's up?" I said.

I knew what was coming next.

"Your wheel isn't seated right. It's at an angle."

That's true! I had a flat tire and wasn't able to get the wheel back in properly. It caused the brakes to rub, so I fixed the problem by loosening the brakes.

"You can't have everything," I blurted, happy not to be told that cyclists need to follow the rules of the road.

As she rode ahead, I wondered if she always takes that approach, giving compliments before providing feedback. Excuse me, you have a lovely shirt, and your fly is open.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Negotiating by Violence, Part II

I had made it to the finals of the open sparring tournament. Before the final match, the two other semi-finalists sparred to see who got the third-place trophy. The guy that I had defeated was beating the other guy handily until my ex-opponent punched the other guy in the face, knocking him to the ground and making him dizzy and bleeding. When the guy's nose failed to stop bleeding, the other guy was disqualified, and the bloody nose guy was declared the winner.

That wasn't the only injury. Here's one of those photos that would have been awesome if I had shot it thirty seconds earlier. In the foreground, two competitors got out of control and started throwing haymakers at each each other. In the background, a different guy who had been punched in the face was knocked out and complained about neck pain when he woke up, so they strapped him to a board and carted him off on a stretcher.

You can see the stretcher in the background.

In the final match I sparred against a guy who was roughly my height, size, and age. In my mind, that means that I should defeated him easily. It's always the younger and taller guys who give me trouble.

When the match started, I bounced around a little bit and then moved in for a quick sliding side kick. I touched my foot against his rib cage for what would have been a quick point in our mild form of sparring. I paused to wait for the judges to shout "Call!" He countered with a back fist to the side of my head. Call. Point.

Hmm, maybe I didn't kick hard enough. I moved around a bit to change angles and then did a sliding front kick that was a little harder. Again I paused and again he countered and won a point. In retrospect, I should have been doing three things differently.

  • I should have been making my slide kicks look more like kicks than foot placements.
  • After my attacks, I should have been defending myself against counter attacks. I had learned a great way to defend my head—high block, reverse punch—but it never registered until after the match. 
  • I should have varied my attacks. For example, I could have switched my stance and tried a spin reverse kick. I usually avoid that move because it's hard to control the kick, but that didn't matter in this open tournament.

I also had tunnel vision. I stubbornly kept trying the same two or three moves. I got a few points, but he sat back and kept his lead with counters. It seemed like he had five different coaches on his sideline shouting advice and helping the refs to call points.

Even if I had varied my techniques, he would have adjusted quickly. He was crafty. At one point, I charged him for a back fist and he ducked and made himself vulnerable. While I tried to strike him with a hammer fist, he reached up and flicked me in the back of the head for a point. I shouted and clapped my hands together in frustration, which isn't like me. He had me rattled.

He ended up winning 6-5 or 7-5 or something like that. I talked to him afterwards and it turns out that  he competes regularly in these tournaments and wins.

I returned home with a pair of second place trophies, an odd feeling of failure, and a sense of what I need to do to get better, which is more valuable than the trophies, and perhaps as valuable than donuts.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Negotiating by Violence, Part I

Last Saturday I competed in a sparring tournament down in Tacoma. It was an open, cross-discipline martial arts "classic" that featured contact sparring.

I've been doing the karate thing with my family for a little over four years now. We practice Tang Soo Do, which is a Korean form of karate that emphasizes art over sport. It's closely related to Tae Kwon Do, which is the Korean national sport. Both disciplines involve forms, self-defense basics, and sparring. While sparring seems to be the primary focus of Tae Kwon Do, it's not emphasized much in our discipline.

In the rare times that we do spar, it's light-contact sparring. No touching the head. Kicks and punches can only come close to the body or barely touch it. Kicks to the head cannot make contact. It still requires athleticism, skill, and mental acuity, and there's even an occasional injury. Still, it's not particularly combative or dangerous. It's like touch nerf football.

Our studio master teaches the light style of sparring used in our competitions, but he also wants to teach us how to defend ourselves. In our style of sparring, we don't have to worry too much about protecting the head, and we don't attack the head either. He's been trying to introduce more advanced sparring techniques, but they don't make sense in our no-contact sparring world. So he decided to pick a few students like me who enjoy sparring and could probably handle a more rough-and-tumble competition.

This being a martial arts tournament, we also competed in forms. I finished in second place in the non-black belt division, and got a nice big trophy for my efforts. Question: What does a 50-something-year-old man do with a trophy? I would have traded it for a fresh donut.

A couple hours later, the sparring started. Competitors were there from all kinds of disciplines—Korean, Japanese, Chinese. I was sore and stiff from having sat in the bleachers all day. I tried to warm up quickly. In the quarterfinals, I went against an opponent who didn't seem particularly experienced or athletic, but he was oddly sneaky. It took me a while to get used to him, but I figured out a couple ways to get points off of him and won.

Here's how the scoring works. You get one point for a kick or punch to the body and one point for a punch to the head gear (not the face, unless, you know, you do and there's no blood). You get two points for a kick to the head and three points for a jump-spinning kick to the head.

In the semi-final, I went up against a white guy who wore a Chinese uniform with no belt. Kung Fu? In his previous bout, he wailed on his opponent, physically overwhelming him. I noticed that he left his side open during attacks, so at the start of our match, I did a sliding side kick to the ribs for a point. Then I did the exact same move, and no point. Too boring for the judges? We went back and forth for a while. He kept coming after me, which is great for my style. I like to counter. I kept kicking him in the ribs, sometimes getting points, sometimes not. He received warnings for a couple of low kicks that I didn't feel at the time but have me limping a couple days later. One bruise is the size of an orange. I had a small lead for most of the match and then I pulled away when I remembered a back-fist-to-the-head attack that our master had been trying to teach us. I did that a few times, and then the towel flew in to indicate the two minutes were up. I made it to the finals.

More later.