Sunday, September 20, 2009

Trans Pyrenees Challenge, Stage 7: George Scoops My Blog!!!

Editorial note: Due to internet connectivity issues, I didn’t get to post a blog yesterday, and apologize to you for the discontinuation of service and any dark thoughts you may have had about my fate up on the Bagargui. The blog that was written is posted below.

Before addressing the title of today’s blog, I should first attend to a few remaining housekeeping items: I finished the Trans-Pyrenees Challenge today reaching the Atlantic Ocean from the Mediterranean Sea by bicycle under human power, didn’t ride in the van once, and didn’t crash, bonk or cramp. There was cowbell, aplenty. And for all the effort, George scoops my final blog idea! Which, in case you missed his comment yesterday, relates to perspective. That is, no matter how much of a challenge this was, it does not compare to the hardship, duress, privation and hopelessness and helplessness felt by many people every day, either through the particulars of their birth, or through the decisions and actions of their leaders. Nor can it be compared to what real adventurers do, never knowing what to expect or even whether they will survive the journey. We always felt reasonably safe, and to the extent that we did not cycle recklessly we were. Our challenge and ultimate lesson was not to give up til we reached the goal, a lesson that I admit should not require riding a bike 600 miles horizontally and 11 miles vertically in 7 days, but doing so does help emphasize the point. For other satisfactions and justifications, please consult earlier blogs and your spiritual adviser.

Day 7 highlighted the Baragui, a monster of a climb, the hardest of the week. Peter Thomson clearly saved the best/worst for last. 21 km long, it features endless stretches in the red, the color code for slopes greater than 10%, including 3 kilometers that easily averaged over 13%, and the final 5 k at the top, which were advertised to be around 9-10% but were definitely more like 10-12. This is leg-breaking steepness over a few hundred yards, but over 5 km……ayyyyh!!! I was resting at 11%!!! I know you’ve probably never heard of this mountain pass. I hadn’t. The reason is that it is in the middle of nowhere and has few accommodations and towns. So the Tour de France rarely passes through it, even though cyclists in the know consider it to be one of the toughest challenges. It was not only tough physically but also psychologically because after the Tourmalet in the Queen Stage on day 5, we thought we had seen the worst of the Pyrenees. At the top we faced the problem of hypothermia again, as a cold wind and fog buffeted our sweat-soaked clothes. Then rain began yet again as we descended on wet, gravel-covered and sheep-shitted roads at 10-15% grades. After this, we moved on to three other climbs and reached the Atlantic Ocean at 5 pm after being on the bike for 8 hours covering 134 km. There were a few crashes today, fortunately none serious, which served as a reminder of how fortunate we had been throughout the week.

Now that the ride is over, thanks are due to those who made it possible. Thanks to Paul T for the idea of doing this. He is right that I will need some time at home to understand how this experience has shaped me. Before cashing in on your credit for a Tour next year though, talk to me! Thanks to Nancy, Carolyn and Clare for encouraging me to do it, and Nancy especially for coping with its effects on our real life. And to all of you readers for your encouragement through emails or comments. Thanks to Peter Thomson and his staff for conceiving of the TPC and for providing the leadership, organizational skill and encouragement to bring us over alive. Thanks to my Orbea bike for tolerating the stress I subjected it to for 7 days. And finally thanks to all the Rough Riders, especially those from Group C, for their friendship, collegiality and encouragement.
I’m now at sea level again, in San Jean de Luz, France, and tomorrow I will not be riding a bike.

Postscript: Thanks also to Merrill Schwartz from Group C with whom I passed a memorable day in San Sebastian en route to Barcelona, where I am currently writing this. In keeping with the challenge theme of the week, we did encounter a few ‘wee bumps’ that needed to be overcome during the day, but they involved our travel plans, not mountain passes for a change. First, we had to search for a place outside the train station to store our bags for 5 hours til the train arrived, and eventually found a pension that would do it for 40 Euros. Train stations in San Sebastian don’t do this because of fear of explosions from bombs planted by Basque separatists, creating a boom market for enterprising fellows like our pension owner. Next we walked the length of the quai along the harbor which was even more beautiful than I had remembered it from my first visit there in 1975. We went to a couple of tapas restaurants along the way to the spectacular geological formations at the entrance to the bay, which now are also the home of the Wind Comb, an amazing work of iron sculpture set in the rocks. Finally, we retrieved our bags, which included Merrill’s oversized bike box, headed for the train station, hopped on and were immediately thrown off by an uncomprising and unbribable conductor who decided Merrill’s bike box was too big for the train. C group bonding required that I go with him, so we both walked away from our reservations, ate the tickets and worked our way to the airport to rent a car, driving 7 hours over the mountains to Barcelona. Two perspectives come to mind from this experience. First, bike travel can be much more reliable than train travel. Second, that felt like a really long car ride that we covered by bike going the other way. Overcoming mountains can be simple compared to overcoming people. I’m now resting my weary body in an avant garde hotel room by the train station where I will begin the next and hopefully final leg of the trip in about 3 hours.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Here is Day 7 and the dreaded Barangui!!!!!

Trans Pyrenees Challenge, Stage 6: Cannibalism!!!!

OK, now that I have your attention, there was no actual consumption of human flesh today, though conditions were beginning to favor it. The group (I'm having trouble deciding how to refer to us. 'Thomson tourists' is technically accurate but superficial; tourists may eat 6-7000 calories a day, like us, but store most of it as fat, unlike us. 'Crazed lunatics' is another potential moniker, though within our own world we are simple like-minded cycling enthusiasts who judge each other as sane. Moreover, over half the group is composed of doctors and lawyers, whom normal society relies on for sanity and good judgment. 'The Adventurers' implies more unknowns than we are exposed to. Maybe we should be called the 'Rough Riders', because believe me the riding has been rough. Especially today.)

So back to my train of thought: The Rough Riders rode almost non-stop in hard, cold rain today over three major mountain passes, the Col de l'Aubisque, Col de Marie Blanque and Col de l'Ichere, which created major logistical problems. (Paul, help me here and add the ride profile to Blogger.) I refer you to Paul's entry for graphics, since I'm still having trouble with the upload. Layers were essential, but on the way up they caused us to overheat, and on the way down the sweat-soaked garb caused us to shiver. Meanwhile, we hungered and thirsted, but stopped at the bottoms of descents at our peril, since the chill only intensified with inactivity. Lacking enough dry clothes (since the dryer at the previous hotel essentially didn't work), the only way to stay warm was to continue peddling. So I did the whole stage of 105 km and 6500 vertical feet on one stop for a sandwich and one cup of hot chocolate. Reaching the next hotel I was soaked and ravenous, but this was our short day! Where we finished 3 hours before dinner in a town with no stores. Fatigue gave way to a nap, and thus crimes against humanity were averted.

Which brings me to today's quiz. What does Phil dislike most in life? The hint is that the answer is the title of yesterday's blog. If you said war and current US health care policy, you would be close, but wrong. If you said 'cold' you get partial credit. If you said 'rain' you also get partial credit. If you said 'cold rain' you get full credit! And for extra credit, what kind of weather did Phil least expect in the Trans Pyrenees Challenge? 'Cold rain' is again the correct answer. So how is this making me feel? Ordinarily 'miserable' would be the correct answer, but I've actually found some measure of satisfaction in designing new challenges and simple solutions to take the edge off. For example, I pride myself on being the only Rough Rider to have brought a Balaklava. This makes me feel like a most experienced adventurer, and a contributor to the suggested equipment list of the next Thomson Tour. Second, I brought my cheapo Performance bike rain jacket, which when worn under an expensive Gore jacket has helped keep me in denial that I am wet, and denial can be a useful state of mind. Third, I have donned my Nike baseball cap under my helmet to take advantage of the lid to keep rain from pelting the eyeballs. Other Rough Riders look at me like I'm Edison when they see this. Fourth, I have made new friends with whom I gab up the climbs, which makes the time and suffering pass much more pleasantly, especially if you're going at a proper pace to have enough breath left to talk. Today's friend was Mike, a lawyer and triathlete from Colorado, who is on the tour with his dad, with whom he works in a law practice. We actually were on fire and rode ahead of the entire C group, even catching and finishing before everyone from the B group, fueled by a lively conversation. Conversation seems to improve performance, which I should have known from watching enough trash-talking basketball players over the years. In cycling though, we don't trash talk each other, but work on society's ills and each others' biographies. You'll notice I left something out. My ski goggles!! Not that I've given up on my crusade to bring this essential cold weather protection to everyone in cycling, but except in the morning when the temperature has been in the 30's, it hasn't been low enough to need them. I picked up from one of the pro riders the technique of inserting toilet paper to dry wet shoes. The expt is now in progress and I will let you know tomorrow how it went.

After receiving all your feedback in response to my question 'Why am I doing this?', I've given it some further thought, and found that the real answer was not actually among the options listed in yesterday's blog. The real reason is the spandex. It makes me feel secure all over, which is needed in life in general and while hurtling down a mountain pass at # miles per hour. There are very few things that men experience that make them feel more secure than spandex. And life is all about establishing security. Social security, financial security, IT security, national security may or may not be there in the right amount when you need them. Spandex security is a physical feeling felt immediately when it is donned and lasting to the moment it is shed. Try it! if you haven't already. I've got to find out who invented it. I'm sure it's a byproduct of fossil fuel though, so as society greens we will have a new dilemma: how to replace spandex.

Even though today's conditions were brutal, we were treated to some spectacular scenery that we could appreciate in the remotest area in France, and one of the most remote in Europe. We are actually in terrorist territory where Basque separatists from Spain hide out and plan strikes out of the reach of the Spanish police. There is graffiti supporting ETA, their political organization, everywhere. The roads wind through an incredibly pastoral setting with pastures dotted with sheep and goats reaching high up to the mountain crags. Descending is more hazardous for flocks of sheep or cows milling about the middle of the road, than for cars. I saw a gorgeous eagle flying through one canyon, and several weasels up at the top of a col. The only blemish on this scene is the shepherds who now tend their flock using cars.

I really appreciate those of you who have commented on my blogs. I really look forward to reading them in the morning and they picked me up from impending depression towards the middle of the week when I just couldn't face the regimentation any longer, or a morning without the Washington Post, not to mention facing the thought of climbing another ten thousand feet. Many of the guys are starting to talk about this possibly being too much of a good thing, although in general we're talking about incredibly serious cyclists here, people who routinely look for big adventure challenges all over the world, so optimism and triumphalism tend to be the dominant isms here. I'm obviously not 'in their league', that is in terms of looking for big adventure challenges, but I feel like I've been getting stronger every day and hope you would be happy with the way I've represented the State College/Montgomery County Mama's Boys, not to mention my family, my country and my belief systems. You may be wondering what I look like at this point. About the same. I haven't skeletonized, and won't and really feel good. I'm getting very little sleep, 4-6 hours a night, but at this point it's higher quality. Peter Thomson, the Scot and owner of Thomson Tours, who rides the whole tour with us, and has to basically throw two huge sit down parties (lunch and dinner) for 30 people every day and tend to a million other things, conducting business from his jersey pockets and cell phone while riding a bike, always makes sure that the hotel restaurant gets me a vegetarian meal. Although, this is a bit alien over here and I noticed that they slipped some pork into my greens tonight, so Paul, watch out next year! The food in general has been great: fresh, local, ample and varied. The problem has been forcing so much down. Of course great cheese, bread, pastries are readily available along the roads in the villages we pass through, and the vans stock fresh and dried fruit, snickers bars, cookies and water. Masseurs were available in the first hotel, haven't seen any since.

One day left, 134 km horizontal, 7600 feet vertical, highlighted by the feared Col de Bagargui, where Tyler Hamilton won a Tour stage with a broken collar bone a few years ago. This is 21 km long with a 3 km patch of 11% and 6 km of 8-10%. I have two intact collar bones, but wish me luck anyway. I'll be thinking of you, who mean much more to me than riding a bike, and praying for clear skies, warm air.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Day 6 RIde Profile

This is am amazing run!! And they can never never take it away.....

Trans Pyrenees Challenge, Stage 5: Cold, wet and pain

OK, this is what you've all been waiting for, what the TPC has been leading up to: the Queen Stage! See the full profile of this monster in PT's previous blog. Incidentally, PT, how did you manage to pull off this technofeat? Every time I tried, Blogger would eat the upload. The stage included 3 massive climbs, the 14 km Col du Peyresourde, the 12 km Col de l'Aspin and the 17 km Col du Tourmalet. They should rename these summits Cold de___. The Queen stage is as tough as anything in the Tour de France, and I finished it! But the real story can only be conveyed by Gene Wilder's line from the Producers: 'I'm cold, and I'm wet and I'm in pain!!!" The day began cold in the 30's and I was bundled up with long gloves, Balaklava, baselayer, longsleeve winter jersey and Gore jacket, and it ended that way. The Peyresourde and the l'Aspin were both climbed in the sun, so I quickly soaked all of my clothes, leaving me vulnerable to cold and wind on the summits the whole day. Particularly on the Tourmalet, which depleted my intravascular volume and glycogen reserves after slogging up 9-10% grades for the last 7-8 km. This was as tough as any climbing I've ever done. Shivering levels reached those I experienced last year on the Galibier. But somehow I didn't bonk, and rewarded myself to a bowl of French onion soup, two cups of hot chocolate and pie in a summit restaurant. You'd be amused to hear that in this restaurant, it is accepted practice to take off soaking wet clothes and climb into dry ones at your seat. Very cool. As for pain, it wasn't too bad since I stayed in a comfortable aerobic rhythm the whole way up, but I did take unusually close notice of all the signs for 'Pain' on the way up, pain being the French word for bread, but that was not my first interpretation given what I was going through.

It's time to ask the key question why I am actually going through this. Is it for the challenge, as the name applies? Is it a desire to get a good workout? Is it for the health benefits? Is it for the danger or to impress people with a good story? Is it for the fellowship forged with other like-sufferers? Is it to see a beautiful part of Spain and France? Do I do it for you? There are people suffering from non-self-inflicted afflictions worldwide and here I am subjecting myself to pain, and paying to do it. Is there something too self-indulgent about this? Would I do it again? Like anything in life, there are no simple answers to these questions, and somehow a balance must be struck after further reflection when I get home. I don't have time for introspection now since I have to somehow dry my clothes by 8 am tomorrow when we begin our assault on another monster, the Col de l'Aubisque. The names of these cols strike fear into the heart of the cyclist, including your intrepid blogger. I'm going to sign off early tonight so as not to repeat last night when I got only 5 hours bad sleep before taking on the Queen.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Day 4 and Day 5 Ride Profiles

Phil, I think I speak for all of us enjoying this vicariously when I say: YOU ARE DOING A HECKUVA JOB!!!!

Trans Pyrenees Challenge, Stage 4: Mojo Back!

I think I was just deflated by the early flat yesterday, because today I perked up, way up.

We took our first samples of the High Pyrenees that feature frequently in the Tour de France, climbing the 23 km Bonaigua and the 9 km Col de la Portillon, crossing the border at the end from Spain to France. Tough 160 km day in the saddle from 8:30 am to 7 pm. Dropping back to Group C, the day began with a slow 23 kph paceline up an 85 km fairly flat valley to the base of the Bonaigua. This is the kind of ride where we (the Montgomery County riders) would have been hammering away at 18-20 mph at least, but with these two monster peaks up ahead, we went slow. My legs had no business feeling good, but actually felt great, and I was able to power up both peaks quickly in the second chain ring. The Portillon was particularly tough as we did the top half in a cold rain, and you know how I feel about cold. The descent was a nightmare 9 km on wet switchbacks, and remembering my Crash last year on the Madeleine, I rode the brakes all the way down. This is not good for the brakes, the wheel or my hands, but was very good for my overall life. My clothes are soaking wet, and right now I'm trying all sorts of tactics to dry them in the hotel room, including folding them up in dry towels, draping them over lit lamps and blowing them with a hair dryer. The top of the Bonaigua which is at 2000 meters, was also very cold, but sunny so manageable. Still, I wore full winter garb including Balaklava on the descent which was a spectactular 40 km drop on a clean road carved into the canyon wall down to the town of Vielha. Technical at the top, it later became a straight drop at 5-6% so I could really let it rip Mama style.

The tour over here is completely different from what we experience at home. First, it lasts 7 days. Second, it has the feel of a military expedition, with strict scheduling, early rising, obsession with weather reports, injury reports and provisioning, focus on eating and drinking enough to get the job done; male bonding; subservience to a commander-in-chief. Everything but the raping and pillaging, although it's still early days. Also, I think I may have mentioned before that sustenance is based on a completely different philosophy. In the US, we grab a bagel before a long ride and are provisioned at frequent rest stops with gatorade, fruit, carbs, whereas on this tour we eat 3 large complete meals a day: bkfast, lunch and dinner. The ride is broken up by lunch which can take an hour, and at most one other stop for fruit, cookies from the sag wagon, which provides only water, no sports drinks. I'm finding that if you eat complete meals you tend to get most of what you need (could there be a book contract and movie in this idea?). I'm also finding that with proper pacing, I feel pretty good at the end: no bonks or cramping. In general, I think we ride harder in the US rides we do, but we never face 25+ km climbs or these types of hair-raising descents. It's also different from the rides I've done previously in Europe, which were basically just big cols, up and down in 3 hours. I'm finding that I'm getting more confident and stronger as we go along. Two days ago, if you asked me to predict, I would have said that by now I'd be down to my last sarcomere. We'll see about tomorrow though which brings the Queen stage: two category ones, the Peyresourde and the l'Aspin, followed by the Tourmalet,, which is hors categorie. I'm confident I'll do it, but this is not oing to be easy under any circumstances, and certainly not after riding four days in a row. The A group has been ripped to shreds with only 3 guys left from the original 9. The B group is also all over the mountain. I ended up way out in front of C on the big climb today and passed half of B and a few A's who started quite a bit ahead. Still, I'm going with C tomorrow-it's a fun bunch of guys, and anyway it's all climbing tomorrow, and the moutain is going to be littered with alphabet soup.

An interesting observation as we march across the Pyrenees is to see how simple throwaway language can take on new meaning under duress. Simple greetings like 'How are you' taken on massive significance here since everyone is going through so much physical stress, and not everyone is well. We've had some guys need to back off and ride in the vans, and two guys with GI problems both seemingly related to food. Other guys are just fading on the mountains as the vertical feet take their toll. So when I ask 'How are you?' I'm usually looking into the person's soul, anticipating a serious and potentially chilling answer.

There's been one crash I know of, but at low speed and fortunately no broken bones.

Wish me luck and I'll let you know how things go, hopefully tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TPC stage 3: The Descent to Group C

First of all, some business to attend to. Although I realize this should be a technoblog with lots of data about the ride, I would be remiss to ignore the cultural aspects of the Spain we are riding across. I don´t want to force this on you though and like any author the blogger should know his\her audience to provide information that they would find most valuable. Blogger actually provides a mechanism for measuring this in the form of the Comments. So far the "My Barcelona Bano" blog, in which I described my bathroom in a Best Western Hotel by the airport in Barcelona has received almost 3X more comments than any other single posting. So it seems that you want more bathroom blogs. But you´re not going to get them, not from this blogger who happens to also be exerting himself beyond your wildness imagination.

Second of all, another observation about Spain. I¨m writing this tonight on a hotel computer in Catalonia, and to my astonishment the Catalans have adopted the QWERTY keyboard, which is greatly simplifying this effort. They also have other idiosyncratic diacritical marks, but fortunately they are sequestered in remote corners and don´t often come into play.

Back to the ride. Today was cold and I flatted on the first climb, hitting a rock about 30 yards before reaching one of the support vans. Did Mike the driver secretly try to sabotage my day by planting the stones? This is the kind of paranoid thought that arises when you´re burning 7000 calories a day. Actually Mike was just about to take off, so it was fortuitous it happened right there. He jumped out and actually changed the tire for me, which is the kind of service you get when you´re paying $$$$$$$$$ to ride a bike. He also saved me some time, since with my dislocated thumb and splinted middle finger and growing Dupuytren´s contractures, changing tires is not something I look forward to or do well. The rest of the ride was tough but doable and I finished in fine form, but with the C group. It´s clear that I can´t climb with the A´s and even got dropped by the B´s. C is where I belong for now. But since this is a tortoise-hare type event, don´t count me out. I spent a lot of time in the granny and peddled comfortably the whole way, just not fast. There were basically two major climbs today, the first 25 km, the second 15 km, plus several amazing descents includine the last which was 40 km. The quality of the riding is better than France in my opinion. Very remote areas with great roads that get very little traffic. Just the bikes and the road.

I have come to some key insights about myself as a cyclist. Most importantly, I don´t really know how to ride a bike. I´m most comfortable in the big gear, which basically destroys legs on mountains like these. I don´t know how to ride in cadence. Descending terrifies me and I do so the way I ski, that is, not well at all. All the descents here are spectacular and technical, and every time I enter a curve I expect to be hit by a Mack truck coming the other way. I know there is a way to do it, but I am not able to, and don´t really want to. So there: Phil Murphy who rides his bike all the time doesn´t know the first thing about riding a bike! Feels good to have insight into oneself and to make it public. Sort of like going to Confession in the old Catholic days. But don´t worry, my incompetence should not be construed as recklessness. I´m actually very careful, and slow. What I really like is some nice simple flat where I´can hammer away at the big gear til it hurts, then stop and go home feeling victorious. But that´s not cycling.

For you ride fans, here is our daily schedule:

Breakfast at 7:30
Start ride between 8:30 and 9 depending on the group. Since I am now C, this blog will have to end soon, because I have to start 30 minutes earlier than the past 2 days.
Ride til about 5 pm
post ride mtg at 7:30 to go over the next day´s ride
dinner at 8
bed NOW!

I´m feeling like I can do this, and with all your advice and support I will!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Trans Pyrenees Challenge, Stage 2: Quivering Thighs

For those of you who are addicted to this blog, and have been reading and rereading, you'll have noticed that yesterday's ride profile somehow was deleted. This is the picture that makes all my words unnecessary so I'm reposting it below to remind you of the Rat Panat (Hanging Bat) that was not attempted.

So you might think the TPC is already diminished, a travesty and a sham, that I should be banging on Peter Thomson's hotel door demanding a refund, dooming this trip to even deeper losses begun by one Paul Triolo and his hip shot to the heart of said Peter. However, I shouldn't and won't because today's demon stage 2, a rat bastard, made up for the Rat Panat in spades. I went on the A ride again, which was a no-brainer not because I think I'm fast or expect to win the King of the Mountain jersey, but because it left the hotel after the B and C rides and offered 30 minute more sleep. The profile below doesn't convey the true difficulty.

It doesn't have any isosceles triangles like you see with the major climbs. Instead the difficulty was in the pace, the lack of any merciful stops and the altitude gain. 90 miles, 9000 vertical feet with a 15-18% 1 mile godless demon for gods' sake! (also known as a wee bump as Peter Thomson likes to call it in his Scottish accent)
We went fast, so fast that we reeled in the C ride within the first 40 km despite losing 10 minutes to a flat tire early on, and the B ride by 100 km. By the end I was done, and now must see whether I can recover in time for tomorrow's ride. Also a 9 hour harangue. So far nothing hurts. I just am tired at the end, having trouble shoveling in the 6-7000 calories I'm burning. Sleep is also not good, and I have trouble waking up on time because hotels in Spain don't have clocks. In fact I can' find any public space in Spain with clocks. Since this statement is now in the public domain I'm expecting thousands of Comments listing the places where I can find a clock in Spain, but no matter, there isn't one in my hotel room and that's where I need it. In fact if you ask for a wake up call it may or may not happen. So I wind up using my amazing ability to sense time to wake up in time for the ride. I noticed two other oddities today, both during the ride. First we road as I said 90 miles, but without seeing a single body of water, not a lake, stream or river. Second, with all the countryside we passed through I never saw a barnyard animal. We smelled pigs but never saw them. This is not meant in any way to criticize Spain, or more precisely Catalan, which is the autonomous region of Spain we are riding through. It's just ODDDDDD! By the way, Catalan is very autonomous. The language of instruction in schools is Catalan, not Spanish, which is very different, sort of like Italian to Spanish. I know how to read Spanish but didn't recognize most Catalan words. Here's another oddity: you know American riders drink gallons of Gatorade and other sports drinks and eat those nasty power bars on long rides, or even short rides? It hasn;t caught on in europe. They drink water on rides. You can't find sports drinks in stores. This has me concerned since I've always assumed that the reason I hadn't dropped dead during a century is because I had flooded my system with Gatorade. Now that I'm back to bare bones H20 this could be a deal breaker. How do I know what and how much to substitute? Pray for me. Today I threw down a few Enduralytes, courtesy of PT, to whom I owe much incuding my nice single room and being here in the first place, but how do I know what is the right dose. I've been keeping a close eye on my thighs for signs of fasciculations, hoping to forestall cramps with a quick capsule or two. Unfortunately, this not being my practice, I forgot to bring baggies, so the Enduralyte capsules sit naked in my back jersey pocket dissolving in the sweat I produce before I administer them systemically.

I have no photos to share today, because 1. my camera has run out of power and I forgot my cord and 2. we never went slow enough or stopped long enough to take pictures. Maybe this will change. There are 25 guys on the ride, mostly in their 40's and 50's I would say, but it's tough to tell since they're all so incredibly fit. The guy I sat next to at dinner tonight is a 56 y/o (sound familiar) OB/GYN with a busy practice in Cincinnatti who has done 7 full length Ironman Triathlons since 2005! A lot of interesting and extreme stories here. There are at least 7 doctors and we have fun at dinner talking health care policy. I was trying to sell them tonight on my biological doom theory, which holds that no matter how you organize health care costs will always skyrocket as a function of more people living longer lives with higher expectations for quality of life. We have to all be willing to suffer a little, like on this ride, and die a little earlier and have smaller families to keep the Chinese purchasing our bonds. Hate to be pessimistic or simplistic, but I think the biology is the driver here.

I need to put me and this blog to rest. Tomorrow's a big day. I don't ever do this kind of exertion two days in a row so I'm heading into uncharted waters with uncertain outcome. This alone should keep you glued to my blog, although I must warn you it could be my last for reasons other than what you think: we're heading into remotes parts of the Pyrenees, where hotels are not good and connectivity is iffy. If it is my last, and if we do meet again I will fill you in on all the details you missed, if in fact you miss them.
Hasta luego from Solsona, Spain

Sunday, September 13, 2009

TPC, Day 3: Rats (Panat)

And they're off! But not quite. Today I met the riders for the first time and vanned down to Sitges, a charming old Catalan town on the Mediterranean Coast south of Barcelona. The self-photo below from my hotel window documents the arrival but not the charm.

We were to do a warm up ride of 50 km in the mountains around Sitges, which included the infamous Rat Panat, or Hanging Bat in English, which averages over 13% for 5 km with long stretches reaching 23%. See profile below and think 'Hanging Bat' in the middle portion.
Unfortunately, just as we were about to leave, having lusted for this moment for a year in some cases, the second of two spectacular lightning and thunder storms to strike Thomsom Tours this summer hit, and the Hanging Bat became the route less taken due to dangerous conditions there even after the storm passed. Instead we did a 38 km loop to the south with some challenging climbs but nothing greater than 18%.

The atmosphere here is pure testosterone, with 25 serious riders. Lots of bike bling, rounded shoulders and negligible body fat. The serious rider look. One guy is the reigning age group (55+) road bike champion of the state of Kansas for God's sakes! Peter Thomson who began the company in 2002 is leading the A ride, which I took today and will again tomorrow. So far, I'm hanging with them, but it's beginning to sink in that this is no ordinary ride. During his introductory comments Peter emphasized that it's a 'challenge' not a 'ride' or a typical European 'tour', since we are literally riding every inch from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic across 900 km of mountains accruing 56000 feet of elevation gain along the way. The other guys seem to be chomping at the bit at the thought of this, whereas I have to admit, the jury is still out as to whether I can do it not having done anything like it before. That is, a century a day for a week (almost). I've got the Enduralytes and will give it a try. I've also got an amazing bike: a 2009 Orbea Orca with a triple (52-39-30) and 12-27 in the back. I'll be using all of it. You know how much I love my Trek, but this bike is special. They sell them at the end of the season at a major discount.....

I've been hanging out with a bunch of docs from Cincinnatti, who basically ride all over the world with their spare time. They've been telling me grim war stories from the trenches of the American private health care system. Softening the blow was dinner at Claudius' tonight which for me included a sumptious gnocchi, buschetta and two desserts. Peter says we need about 6000 calories a day so I'm taking him at his word.

Tomorrow we do 150 km up to the Spanish Pyrenees. Til then, Adios.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

TPC, Day 2: from Industrial Park to Park Guell

After losing my blogging virginity yesterday, I didn't know how to think about myself today or what to expect from you, my invited guests. The flood of supportive comments helped a lot, but created a new dilemma: I now have fans! Whom I feel responsible to. Should I have added a High School Playbill type blurb to my post, like:

'Phil is thrilled to be making his debut on Blogger. Thanks to Mom and Dad, Nancy, Carolyn, Clare, Wendy and Luna for their undying support and love. Break a leg!'

No. given Paul T's recent disaster, this would have been tasteless. But I must and will post often and hopefully there will be something for everyone.

Is this how celebrities feel? What a burden. Knowing that everyone is out there watching and commenting, judging, expecting more, more, new, new. And what about those who chose not to comment, what were they thinking? Were they snickering silently? I can't lose myself in this. Time to move on, but not to the main event, the TPC, not yet. Those of you just looking for geartalk will have to wait one more day, while I describe what else happened today. This is new for my blog because as you may have noticed, despite the fact that I droned overlong in yesterday's post, nothing really actually happened. It was all about the blog, and the fog of jetlag, and me trying to think of something to say. Today was different, full of drama and insight, so hold on.

I awoke to a massive breakfast which I think set a new Best Western record. Carbo-loading had officially begun, but the other diners didn't linger long enough to notice. I even snuck some food out in a doggy bag, which if practiced widely would make an all-you-can-eat buffet a losing business. Speaking of business, did you all get that email from the exec from Twitter announcing their new rules? Did you see her name? Biz Stone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Short for Businesswoman Stone?

Next, I discovered the hotel was actually located in an industrial park. Thanks to Paul, who made the reservation and then abandoned. Really. I may have set the new record for a stay at this place: 2 days. Although as I said yesterday, it's well-appointed and the food is good. I walked a mile and a half to and from the Metro and saw no one. Just semis with windows up and eyes down. I crossed train tracks, passed through industrial garbage dumps, inhaled really bad air that was still, acrid and fetid with industrial glop, got barked at by a pack of perros peligrosos industriosos (dangerous industrial dogs), edged my way through an unlit tunnel against traffic flying by at 60+ mph (remember Rio anyone?) and finally exited the park appropriately enough at a massive hospital complex where I found the Metro stop that would take me away to....anywhere else! Not sure what my hotel is doing in these parts. It's not close to the airport, or the city, or anything but the industrial park, an oasis of sorts. In case you're really following this and wondering what could be so bad, I took a picture of the entrance to the park to show you I'm not exaggerating. Does the Purgatorio come to mind?

Hopped on the Metro into Barcelona. Not much to report here, except I noticed the fine for smoking on the Metro is 30.05 Euros. .05. Some study probably showed that 30.00 just wasn't stiff enough.
Then I fell in love again. No worry here Nancy, it's with Barcelona! It felt like New York, only where the Spanish-speaking citizens actually completely take over the city. This is only half true, since Barcelona is in a Catlonia, an autonomous region of Spain and Catalan, not Spanish is the official language. I was bummed since I was all set to try my high school Spanish. Couldn't read or understand much.

Very lively and young place, and full of fabulous art. Antoni Gaudi, the local star (an anagram of 'arts' I just noticed), is genius. I couldn't stop taking pictures even though I knew it would hurt my TPC documentary, since I forgot my camera's power cord, because I had to show you some of his stuff. Here's a sampling:

The Sagrada Familia cathedral. Kids try to make sand look like castles, Gaudi made this cathedral look like a sand castle. The photo is not out of focus. The stone and masonry drips towards the ground. Amazing effect.

Next was Park Guell, a turn of the 20th century space designed by Gaudi for a wealthy client but turned into a public park. Here Gaudi took 20 hectares (trust me: a lot of space) high on a mountain overlooking the city of Barcelona and the Mediterranean and sculpted the park from rocks he excavated there. Then added his broken tiling effects on large areas of it, including monumental buildings and a residence, which is now all in the public domain. The effect is that of a park as a complete integrated work of art, not just a recreational area. Everyone should stop what they are doing, buy two tickets to Barcelona and head straight to Park Guell. It trumps everything else you've ever seen. Gaudi had a completely novel and idiosyncratic vision involving anti-gravity effects and multi-colored tiling. You can feel his energy everywhere in Barcelona. The pictures I took really don't do justice to the feel of the park, but here you go:

Notice how the rocks are rough-hewn and look uncemented. Here's a better example:

Then there are the broken tile mosaics, everywhere:

The photo above is of a small section of a park bench that surrounds a huge open space, so use your imagination to extend it a few hundred yards and you'll get the real picture. Different colors and patterns as you progress from one end to the other. Spectacular! I got to sit on this fabulous work of art! No docents or guards. No humidity and temperature probes. Just functional art. Ryan, you would LOVE this! And Carolyn, check out the multicolored tiling. You're favorite style. You were born a Gaudian (a Gordian not). I have to find out the derivation of the word gaudy, because Gaudi is not gaudy.

OK, that's it for today. In summary, I love Barcelona (and Nancy, Carolyn and Clare), and am fundamentally changed thanks to Gaudi. It's late, I have some writing to do (working on a paper here), and an early bus tomorrow, to the airport where I join up with the other TPC team members. I'm sure you're eager to meet them too. Legs feeling good. Let the climbing begin!

Friday, September 11, 2009

my barcelona bano

ok, like with so many things about bathrooms, i couldn't wait. and here's what you've all been waiting to see ever since i began populating this blog. the image on the left is my sink, which you'll notice has a very unusual oblong drain. it's basically a trough with a small hold at the bottom and center of it. the faucet is also quite decorative and unusual, as you can see. the shaving cream can was innovative in its day but is now passe, and placed as a foil. the image on the right is unfortunately rotated 90 degrees and i was too eager to share it with you to waste time figuring out how to rotate it back through blogger. i probably have to do it through my computer file. but anyway, notice the square head and bright shiny stainless steel materials. i'm looking forward to my shower tomorrow, and sunday. the shower stall itself is open, very edgy. Would not make for a good set for Psycho.

Phil arrives for the Trans Pyrenees Challenge, down a domestique

Hi, this is guest blogger Phil Murphy. Thanks to Paul, who is missed already, for the blog site loaner during this year's Trans Pyrenees Challenge. The true challenge, of course, will be for me to maintain the very high standards of blog quality and quantity we've all become accustomed to at this site. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures yet, and cycle art is way in the future if it happens at all, so I'm tasked to describe the full sensory experience here in words. They're coming slowly right now since I'm still suffering from the fog of the flight over, crunched into a subcompact Lufthansa Economy class seat, and the noisy raceway outside my first floor window at Hotel Alfa Aeropuerto in Barcelona isn't helping one bit. Although, I must say, for a Best Western franchise the design and creature comforts here are unexpectedly nice. To keep you glued to this blog I promise to post photos tomorrow of the sink and shower head. Nothing like them in the US. Inspired by Gaudi, or just gaudy? The flight actually went quickly, greased by my new MacBook Air, Kenny Chesney and Alison Kraus tunes (thanks George), and most memorably, the latest Hannah Montana movie, which somehow kept me awake in the final two hours. HM is the new Superman, or Supergirl (was there ever a Superwoman or just Spiderwoman--a Shrew untamed). There, now I'll find out who's reading this. But back to HM, she morphs from plain Jane farmgirl to rock superstar faster than I can downshift on my Trek 5000. There, back to cycling.
One of the many unintended consequences of Paul's memorable descent on the Millennium Trail last week is that I am now tasked with making a drop of clothing and potions to his sister Julie next week. This is exciting since I don't really believe that Julie exists, having known Paul for 24 years and never met her. Hopefully it will happen although if it does it must be between 11 pm next sunday and 5:30 am the next day due to inflexible travel reservations.
I'm suddenly getting a red alert from Blogger, so I may have just wasted my time. I will try to Publish and see what happens. See you next time....

Trans Pyrenees Challenge, Day 1

Hi, this is guest blogger Phil Murphy. Thanks to Paul, who is missed already, for the blog site loaner during this year's Trans Pyrenees Challenge. The true challenge, of course, will be for me to maintain the very high standards of blog quality and quantity we've all become accustomed to at this site. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures yet, and cycle art is way in the future if it happens at all, so I'm tasked to describe the full sensory experience here in words. They're coming slowly right now since I'm still suffering from the fog of the flight over, crunched into a subcompact Lufthansa Economy class seat, and the noisy raceway outside my first floor window at Hotel Alfa Aeropuerto in Barcelona isn't helping one bit. Although, I must say, for a Best Western franchise the design and creature comforts here are unexpectedly nice. To keep you glued to this blog I promise to post photos tomorrow of the sink and shower head. Nothing like them in the US. Inspired by Gaudi, or just gaudy? The flight actually went quickly, greased by my new MacBook Air, Kenny Chesney and Alison Kraus tunes (thanks George), and most memorably, the latest Hannah Montana movie, which somehow kept me awake in the final two hours. HM is the new Superman, or Supergirl (was there ever a Superwoman or just Spiderwoman--a Shrew untamed). There, now I'll find out who's reading this. But back to HM, she morphs from plain Jane farmgirl to rock superstar faster than I can downshift on my Trek 5000. There, back to cycling.
One of the many unintended consequences of Paul's memorable descent on the Millennium Trail last week is that I am now tasked with making a drop of clothing and potions to his sister Julie next week. This is exciting since I don't really believe that Julie exists, having known Paul for 24 years and never met her. Hopefully it will happen although if it does it must be between 11 pm next sunday and 5:30 am the next day due to inflexible travel reservations.
I'm suddenly getting a red alert from Blogger, so I may have just wasted my time. I will try to Publish and see what happens. See you next time....

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Letter to Rockville Cycling Authorities

Dear City of Rockville

I’m writing to alert you to a HAZARD on the Millennium Trail that has resulted in at least two SERIOUS BICYCLE CRASHES in the past year, most recently this past Saturday August 29th. The hazard is located on the part of the trail between West Montgomery Avenue and Oak Knolls Terrace in Falls Grove. As the Trail proceeds towards Oak Knolls Terrace, it descends a steep hill towards a bridge crossing a creek. The descent passes through several curves, the last of which dives at a steep tight right angle towards the bridge. The turn is unbanked and in fact the width of the Trail actually slopes down and away from the turning/descending rider. Worse, the Trail surface is covered with silt here, washed down from the hill, which turns to mud after a rain, as occurred last Saturday. This triple threat: steep hill, sharp unbanked turn, and slippery surface, is a recipe for disaster, particularly since there are no warning signs for descending riders. One year ago, I crashed into the woods at the last second after I realized I could not make the final turn without hitting the bridge. Fortunately I escaped serious injury. Saturday, my friend Paul Triolo was not so lucky when he crashed hard at the same location, sliding out on mud just before the bridge resulting in a fractured hip. He was taken by ambulance to Shady Grove Hospital and had surgery the same day. I should emphasize that we are both experienced riders who have been on all sorts of roads under all kinds of conditions in the US , Asia, South America and Europe, including the Alps, but have never experienced anything this dangerous, right here in Rockville in our own backyards.

At the very least, appropriate signage needs to be installed up both sides of this creek to warn riders of the danger. A speed limit of 5 mph down this hill would be reasonable. In addition, the Trail should be outfitted with a drainage system to prevent buildup of silt, and banked to facilitate the turn onto the bridge.

Thanks for your consideration and I look forward to your reply.


Philip M. Murphy, M. D.

10 Hastings Circle

Rockville, MD 20850