Ray's Blog

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Huge Tahoe wildfire

I realize that my blog has been pretty poor thus far. I figure it's pretty mandatory to have at least one token entry about the fire that's currently raging around the South Tahoe region.

The fire started Sunday afternoon over by Meyers, maybe 8 miles from my house as the crow flies. Because of how dry things are and the winds, it spread really quickly. That evening lots of "charcoal crispies" showed up at my house-- burnt-up black things that carried on the wind. No live embers came this far, though.

Monday the winds were calmer and the fire fighters were making good headway in containing the blaze.

Today it's been dry and windy, and the fire has fought back hard. It jumped across a firebreak and is causing evacuations in South Lake Tahoe proper, not just on the outskirts. I have heard that South Lake Tahoe High School burned down, but I haven't been able to verify that online thus far.

Things are smoky everywhere. You can barely see across the lake.

So far around 200 houses have burned, and maybe around 3000 acres. It's pretty hard to know how reliable these figures are, but whatever the true numbers are, this is a big fire. Fortunately, the fire isn't catching people unawares, and the last I heard, there's only one minor injury so far. But there are a lot of people who've been displaced and who have lost a huge part of their lives.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

2007 June 23: XTERRA Tahoe City

In 2004 September, I did an XTERRA triathlon with my main man Cedric, and it was a terrific race. Somehow I hadn't gotten around to doing any XTERRA since, but I decided to remedy that this season with the newly-minted XTERRA Tahoe City race.

June 22, the day before the race, I dropped my mountain bike off at Tahoe Sports Ltd to have them do some very minor stuff (I'm quite familiar with the rule that you shouldn't mess with your gear right before an event/race, and I have violated that rule rather flagrantly in the past). An hour later, I got a call telling me that there's a crack in the frame by the dropouts. Oh, no!

The store hooked me up with a Giant Reign something-or-other to ride for the race. I thought numerous times of ditching, given the circumstances, but I decided to go for it anyway.

That night I headed up to North Tahoe, where I planned to stay at Analisa's family's ski house, which happened to be located a mere 12 minutes or so from the race venue. Just before departing my house, in a whirlwind of activity, I grabbed a bag of gels to consume, grabbed my helmet, etc., threw the bike in the car, and ran off. Some time later, on the road, a little voice inside my head told me that I had forgotten my bike shoes. Bugger! (Why don't those stupid voices pop up earlier?!) I thought again-- quite seriously!-- about bailing out, but I had plans to do dinner with the kids up in North Tahoe that night. So I turned around, drove the 20 minutes or so back home, and grabbed my bike shoes. It turned out that I had also forgotten my helmet, gloves, and headband; somehow, in my haste, I had left them in a pile in the laundry room.

Now fully equipped, I started off once more towards North Tahoe. I had a nice dinner in Truckee with the kids and Pavlo, and then went over to the ski house. I set the alarm on my watch for some rather early time, then settled into bed to read my book about the Donner party (which, I should mention, turned out not to be a raging kegger).

A bit later, I looked over at my watch on the nightstand, and it was totally blank. I guess (I haven't verified yet) that my battery choose that time to die on me. Great! I set the alarm on my cell phone.

Next morning, I got up bright and early and realized that I hadn't remembered to bring any of my staple foods (like bananas and energy bars) for starting out the day of an event. So I had a minimalist breakfast of a little bread and some dried mango, and headed over to the race check-in area. Everything with check-in and setting up my transition spot went quickly, so I had a while to wait around for the start of the race. A little problem I encountered setting up was that I couldn't find that bag of gels I had brought. So the only grub I had on hand for during the race was a single gel packet they handed me at check-in, plus an old Tahoe Trail Bar (those things are great!) that happened to have been in my Camelbak for who-knows-how-many months.

On to the race...

The swim leg was two 600-meter laps of a little course in Lake Tahoe. In between the laps was a short-- maybe 60 meters-- beach run. Since I'm not a fan of getting into the water before the start of a triathlon (which some people ironically call "warming up"!), I jumped in at the start, and suffered the shock of entering 57-degree water. Soon enough, I was feeling pretty good, though. The whole course was very clear, and the water was super-shallow-- I wouldn't be surprised if the depth of the course never exceeded 7' or so. Things were so clear and shallow, in fact, that while I was swimming, I saw several crayfish scuttling around on the bottom of the lake. (This makes me feel confident in my plan to begin commercial lobster-farming operations in the lake! Oops-- that was supposed to be a secret.)

The first last took me 12 minutes or so, but I was starting to feel hungry and tired (maybe I shouldn't have lifted weights the day before the race?) around a third of the way into the second lap. Not a good sign! I finished it up nevertheless and ran the 500 meters to the transition area, where I had a devil of a time removing my wetsuit, because my hands were a bit numb from the cold water. My perseverance and cussing paid off, though, and I eventually got myself ready to get going on my loaner bike.

The first part of the bike leg was a decent-sized climb-- perhaps 800' of elevation gain or so. I wasn't feeling all charged up, but I did OK. I started to get really hungry, so I ate my one gel. Because I was wearing a tri-suit that zips in the front and my race number safety-pinned in front, it was kind of a pain to unzip to go to the bathroom. So even though I was feeling kind of inclined to stop and take a leak, I didn't do so, and (worse!) I eased up on my drinking.

The bike course continued with two loops around a reasonably flat 9-mile course, much of it something along the lines of a nondescript fire road. I continued on my merry way, getting gradually slower and slower. Eventually I stopped and underwent the big effort required to take a leak. Once I got going again, I felt a whole lot happier. More willing to drink, too, but the damage was already done, and I was started to feel kind of dried out.

I finished the first loop and started the second. A ways into my second trip around, I did a time check on my Garmin Forerunner 305, and found that it had gone inoperative. This race was looking to be fraught with hardware problems! There'd be no more time, speed, or distance information for the rest of the race for me.

By this point, I was starving, too. In a pathetic excuse for an epiphany, I remembered the Tahoe Trail Bar that I had in my Camelbak. I immediately stopped and wolfed it down. It perked me up some, but it was too little, too late. I kept on slogging through the bike leg, but I was going dog-slow and my heart wasn't in it at all.

Finally I finished that interminable second loop and rode the few miles back to the transition area. I had gone so slowly on the bike leg that right near the transition area, I passed a few people who were just about to finish up their run (the 6-mile run that I had yet to begin). No bueno!

Against all reason I decided to continue the race, although at that point, for me, using the word "race" to describe it was a bit of a farce. How bad could a 6-mile run be? So I started running uphill with the carefree spirits caused by a bonked brain. Because I had done the earlier portions of the triathlon in super-slow-motion, I encountered hardly any people.

The course shortly departed the road, continuing up-- and up-- and up-- on a trail. It didn't take me long to determine that I wasn't quite as enthusiastic and energetic and I had mistakenly believed. I downshifted and started walking. After walking uphill for quite a while, I decided that I wanted to bail out, but I didn't know the "ideal" place to do it. So I kept walking uphill. Finally I came to the start of a loop, where there was an aid station. The guy manning the aid station described the run course as a "lollipop shape", and he said most people were taking around 25 minutes to run around the loop (before they had to head back down to the race start).

"I'm bailing out!" I proudly announced, as I grabbed a cup of Gatorade. Then, ignoring the loop at the end of the lollipop, I walked all the way back down, cleaned up a little at the transition area, and then went down to the race start to bail out more officially and to get my cheeseburger from the post-race barbecue.

You can see proud evidence of my bailage here.

When I got home, I saw that I had left my big bag of gels on my desk. Bad idea!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Beverly Hillbillies theme casino?!

In 2005 October or so, I started a real estate development company, Big George Ventures. We're trying to build eco-friendly housing in Carson Valley, Nevada, about a half hour distant from my home.

In 2007 April, we learned that some folks were trying to put up a casino right next door to our flagship (and only at the moment) development, Georgetown Village. Moreover, it's not just some little neighborhood casino-- it's a huge Beverly Hillbillies-themed casino resort! There are times when fact is stranger than fiction, and this is most definitely one of those times.

2007 May 20: Auburn International Triathlon

This was another excellent Auburn event. Brad Kearns been putting on his half-iron-length World's Toughest Triathlon for a few years, but for 2007, he decided to put on an Olympic-length event (and a duathlon) as well. Since I think that that's exactly the right length for a triathlon, I signed up for that, instead of the grueling half-iron course.

Robbe & I met up in Auburn-- he flew my plane down, and I drove down. I picked up both our race packets and was amused to see that Brad had given me and Robbe bib numbers 1 and 2, respectively, because I'm a friend of his and because Big George Ventures is a sponsor of his races. Just a wee bit of pressure, there! Well, not really-- much as I would love to be a contender in events like this, such a thing is quite far from reality.

Robbe & I had a very tasty-- and extremely lengthy!-- African-style meal at Latitudes in Auburn. Then we went to our hotel room, tried on the Big George Ventures tri suits that Brad had gotten for us (!), plotted strategy for the next day, and hit the sack. Robbe asked me how fast I figured I'd do the race, and I decided to shoot for 3:15-- I hadn't been doing that much biking (er, or swimming or running, now that I think about it), had had a sick spell and two recent weeks on a ridiculous diet, it's a very hilly course, and a litany of other excuses. Plus it's always better to under-promise and over-deliver.

The next day, we got going a little later than we should have. We had to pull our stuff together, eat a little bit, get dressed for the race, check out of the hotel, drive to the T2 area, set up our transition spots, bike around 7 miles (most of it admittedly downhill) to the T1 area, set up our transition spots, get race numbers and sunblock on, hit the Porta-Potty, put on our wetsuits, and get into the water. We were actually so last-minute that although we were indeed in the water, we were still slowly making our way to the start line when our wave started. (So in fairness, you should consider taking around a minute off our swim times.)

I believe that originally, the course was two 750-meter laps around a loop, but it was re-jiggered very shortly before the race began to be a single 1500-meter lap around three buoys. (Maybe it would have been a good idea for me to attend the meeting beforehand where Brad discussed the particulars of the course!) Since I wasn't exactly the fastest swimmer in the water that day, I didn't have to worry about trailblazing and figuring out the correct path all on my own-- I had plenty of people to follow. Nevertheless, until very close to the end of the swim, I continued to wonder if I hadn't somehow screwed up, or if I was going super-slow and actually did have another (slow!) lap to do. Anyway, the swim went pretty well, although it would sure help my triathlons if I learned to swim at a decent clip.

Next up: the bike leg! While I was in the transition area getting ready to ride, Brad offered copious commentary about Big George Ventures and how I really seemed to understand that rushing through the transition can hurt your overall triathlon, since I sure was taking my sweet time transitioning. Eventually I got going and began the gradual climb away from Folsom Lake.

Good bike leg (although faster would certainly have been welcome)! Nice scenery, mostly well-kept roads, helpful volunteers, the works. It felt great to be out there zooming along on my tri bike, which I really don't ride often enough over the course of the year. I finished up with plenty of umph left over-- I have a bad habit of doggin' it a bit too much on the bike leg and having a little too much zip at the start of the run. At least, I do that for Olympic-length triathlons. Empirically, for longer triathlons, I guess I don't really have too much juice for the run.

I ran with my bike over to my running shoes and saw Brad hanging out there. We exchanged a few words as I transitioned, and then Robbe showed up on his bike. It turned out that the cough that had been bugging him on and off for months had started acting up a few miles into the bike road, and so he had wisely decided to bail out on the rest of the day's amusements. This was a tough call for him, because it marked the first time in his long and distinguished career that he DNFed. It was probably even tougher since he was totin' bib #2. But every endurance racer knows that he who bails and walks away lives to race another day, right?

OK, just a 6.2-mile run left. I started running towards the bathroom, prompting both Brad and Robbe to yell at me something like, "No, other way, other way!" By signs and gestures and words I made them understand my short-term mission, which I accomplished admirably. Then I headed onto the trail and into the depths of the run. If I didn't dawdle and take too much more than 50 minutes, I'd break 3 hours, which sounded like a decent goal at that point.

I was shortly pleased to be able to take a right turn at a fork in the trail. Why pleased? Because the Olympic-length run course consisted of a single loop, but the half-iron-length course had two loops-- a first loop to the left, and then a second loop to the right (the run leg in a half-iron triathlon is very close to twice as long as the run leg in an Olympic triathlon). I have memories of that half-iron course from the past few years, and it's a rather long and hilly and difficult run. So it felt good to be able to skip the first loop!

Most of the first half of the run was downhill, although not brutally so. It was pleasant, although it kind of made me think about the fun I was going to be in for on the second half! I was feeling very healthy and energetic for most of the first half, though-- and how hard could it be to rattle off a little 3-mile uphill, after all? Especially when I'm used to living up high at 7400+ feet!

Unfortunately, shortly before the turnaround point, my IT band started bugging me. This is a symptom with which I am all too familiar, but it doesn't normally start acting up during such a short run. From that point on, I had to "run-walk" the rest of the course-- I ran until the IT band got to be too painful, and then walked for a bit to ease it down, and then repeated. I saw my goal of 3 hours slipping away from me! But my Garmin GPS watch kept me informed about my pace, and it seemed like I was making reasonable speed even when I walked,even when the course went uphill (which was most of the time). Perhaps I could make it after all!

Until the very end, I wasn't sure about that 3-hour mark. But you can see here my proud 67th-place finish in an official time of 2:57:58.6.