Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

16 August 2017

Across Siberia, To The Extreme

Some say the Tour de France is the world's most difficult bicycle race.  Some have even called it the world's most challenging sporting event.  It's not difficult to understand why:  Nearly every day for three weeks, cyclists pedal through all sorts of conditions, climbing mountains, sprinting across flatlands and fighting heat, wind and fatigue.

Others might say the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana are as unforgiving as the Tour.  After all, each of those races is, like the Tour, a multi-day, multi-stage event that presents similar challenges.  

I can't help but to wonder, though, how each of them compares to the Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme Race. This year's version began on 18 July in Moscow's Red Square and ended on 10 August in Vladivostok, a port city near the Chinese border.

At the starting line

Over the course of 24 days, the riders pedaled 14 stages covering 9211 kilometers (about 5700 miles).  That's nearly three times as long as any of the Big Three races in Western Europe.  And, because it goes across Russia--in contrast to the other races, whose courses are loops or rings--the riders cross seven time zones before reaching the finish line.

That feat was accomplished by only three of the ten riders who started.  Russia's Alexey Shchebelin won the general classification for covering the stages in the shortest time, followed by Pierre Bischoff of Germany and Florentino Marcelo Soares of Brazil.  They did what none of the riders could accomplish in last year's edition of the race, and what only one rider did in 2015, the first year of the Trans-Siberian Extreme.  

Interestingly, the race is open to women as well as men.   Shangrila Rendon, a Filipina and Thursday Gervais Dubina of the USA were the only two female contestants.  Paul Bruck, a race organizer, says he wants to make the race "more attractive" for women but is not sure of how to do it.  

One option he might explore is one used in the Race Across America, in which women are given 21 hours more than men (who get 12 days) to complete the 3000-mile course from California to Maryland.  Riders who do not complete the race in the required time frame are listed as "Did not finish" although they are allowed to complete the ride if they wish.

Another option might be to allow the women to compete in two-person teams rather than solo, which would give them the opportunity to hand off and get more rest.  Rendon and Gervais Dubina found that as they fell behind, they lost time for meals and recovery between stages.  

Whatever the race organizers decide for next year, the riders--whatever their gender--will have to prepare for the same sorts of weather and topographical extremes riders encounter in other big races, in addition to the roads themselves.  From what I've been reading, I gather that the road conditions are even worse than in any of the three major Tours.  If anything, they seem like the pave of the Paris-Roubaix after an earthquake.  

No, Alexey, we're not in "Breaking Away"!

Worst of all, those roads aren't closed to traffic for the race.   That, rather than the speed of the race, the weather or the mountain climbs, is what caused Gervais Dubina to withdraw from the race.  "I had three instances in which traffic was coming straight at me on the shoulder," she explained.  "It just got too much for me."

I'm not so sure changing the qualifying times or other rules would have kept her, or very many other riders, whatever their gender idenities, in a race with such conditions.

15 August 2017

Heather Heyer Didn't Deserve It. Nobody Does.

By now, you've no doubt heard about the awful events in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend.

If anyone didn't deserve to die the way she did, it was Heather Heyer, the young woman run over by  "white nationalist" James Allen Fields Jr.,  who drove his car into a group of protesters at high speed, then backed up to flee the scene.

Heather Heyer

His action is despicable and cowardly.  So is the reaction of Justin Moore.  In an e-mail, he said, "I'm sorta glad them people got hit and I'm glad the girl died."  He went on to denounce Ms. Heyer and the other protesters as "a bunch of Communists out there protesting someone's freedom of speech, so it doesn't bother me that they got hurt at all."

Such a tirade, shocking as it is, shouldn't come as a surprise from Mr. Moore, who is the Grand Dragon for the Loyal White Knights of Ku Klux Klan, based in the neighboring state of North Carolina.  Nor, I suppose, should it surprise us that he praised Fields as the sort of man who "made the great white race strong" and who will help to make it "strong again."

When I first heard the news about Heather Heyer, I immediately thought of the former Park Slope neighbor of mine with whom I encountered in Paris last year, some two decades after we last saw each other.  Now she, her husband and daughter live in Charlottesville.  I knew her reaction would be strong, not only because the clash took place in her backyard (more or less), but also because of her convictions:  She has spent all of her professional life in the service of women and children who are vulnerable in physical, economic and other ways.

After corresponding with her, I checked some of my other e-mail.  I found a message from a professor who heads the Italian American Institute of the university system in which I teach.  He pointed out that because Italian immigrants (like my grandparents) experienced hate and bigotry--back then, they weren't considered "white"--we should stand with others who are hated for their race, ethnicity or any other intrinsic trait.  I responded to him with this:

The murder of a peaceful protester by a hater is tragic in and of itself.

The President's response is salt in the wound of our grief  At first, he denounced "all sides" which, of course, implies that the young woman was run down was somehow complicit in her own death  Until he was pressed to do so, he did not specifically name the sorts of people who foment the hate expressed by the driver of that car.  Then, he used only labels, some of which overlapped each other (white nationalists, etc.).

Even more important than denouncing the act of hate and the person who committed it--as well as whatever group(s) supported the hate he espoused--is to understand, and fight, the ignorance that makes it possible.  They do not understand the profound effect racism and slavery have had upon this country, and they seem to think that whenever someone different from themselves is finally gaining the same rights they've always taken for granted, they are somehow "losing out."  To them, blacks and LGBT people and whoever else you might name are "taking over" "their" country.  

Sadly, I have relatives who share this mindset.  Never mind that their parents or grandparents were among the people who earlier generations of haters and resenters tried to keep from "taking over" their country.  (My Italian grandparents were not considered "white".)  They say that blacks, LGBT people, Hispanics and others are getting "special privileges" at their expense.  (As a transgender woman, I can only dream of having such "privilege.!) Not surprisingly, they thought Hillary is the she-devil (I'm no fan of hers, but I also know she's not that powerful!) and voted for Trump even though much of what he promises can and will hurt them.

Some would say that such ignorance is a result of the way history is or isn't taught.  That is one part of the problem.  Another part is ignorance of what the definition of "American" is.  Nowhere in the Constitution is this country defined by a race of people or a culture.  To this day, we don't even have an official language.  I always had the impression the framers of the Constitution wanted it that way:  To them, the definition of "American" would change over time but still be bound by principles to which all who call themselves "Americans" would subscribe.  In short, this is a country founded on ideas, not on racial identity, national origins or religion.

In other words, white nationalism or white supremacy i nothing more or less than the expression of a notion that white people, however they are defined, are the only "real" Americans:  Never mind that blacks and Native Americans were here long before any of their ancestors--and that some of them were gay, lesbian, transgender or otherwise gender non-conforming long before anyone came up with names for them!

The War Between Blue And Orange

Everyone knows that New York is a big city.  How big is it?

Well, in terms of population, it is about three times as large as Los Angeles or Chicago, its nearest competitors in the US.  Its population is also that much greater than any European capital except London. (I know:  Some will say England isn't really part of Europe!)  

As for its geographical size, the Big Apple doesn't come anywhere near that of those sprawling municipalities found in the American South, West and Southwest like Jacksonville or Phoenix.  Still, it is a good deal larger than the aforementioned European capitals or even some American cities like Boston or San Francisco.

When most people talk about "New York City", they are referring to the island of Manhattan--which, until 1898, was indeed the whole.  But in that year, as the US was taking Guam, the Phillipines, Puerto Rico and Cuba from Spain in retaliation for something the Spanish didn't do*, New York City annexed the counties of Kings (Brooklyn), Queens, Bronx and Richmond (Staten Island).  As a result, the city was ten times as large as it was in 1897--and larger, in area, than almost any other city in the world:  at that time, those sprawling Sun Belt cities either didn't exist or were hardly more than villages.

To put the city's size in perspective:  You can cycle from the Porte de Clignancourt, at the northeastern end of Paris, to the Porte de Saint Cloud, in its extreme southwest, in 50 minutes or less, depending on your pace and route.  However you go, you won't have to pedal more than about 12 km, or a little less than 8 miles. On the other hand, a ride from Columbus Circle, in the center of Manhattan, to Rockaway Beach stretches for about 25 miles, or 40 kilometers.  If you ride about 25 kilometers (16 miles) in the opposite direction from Columbus Circle, you can go to City Island, near the northeastern extremity of the Bronx.

I am thinking about this because a San Francisco-based bike share company Spin announced a plan to bring its services to the Rockaways and other outlying areas of the Five Boroughs.  The city, however, put the kibosh on that plan, citing the "revenue contract" is has with Citibike.  That agreement gives Citibike gives exclusive rights for its first two phases, which include Manhattan, Brooklyn and parts of Queens--though not the Rockaway area.  

Long Island City, the Queens neighborhood closest to Manhattan, is part of the area included in the agreement.  But it didn't receive its first Citibikes until last spring, some three years after the blue bikes first appeared on Manhattan streets. Astoria, where I live, borders on LIC and is slated to get its first Citibike stations in the coming months.

That begs the question of just how long it will take for Citibike to reach neighborhoods like Rockaway Beach which, in the summer, has some of the most crowded bike lanes.  The district's City Councilman, Eric Ulrich, has said that allowing Spin--or, for that matter, any bike sharing program--in the Rockaways should be a "no brainer" because, among other things, "it doesn't cost the taxpayers a dime."

So why won't the city allow Spin to operate in the Rockaways?  I suppose the places that rent bikes might object, but I don't think they are a terribly large constituency.  And they're all seasonal.  I'm not a lawyer, but I should think that there would be a way to provide a temporary or provisional permit for Spin to operate, at least until Citibikes come to the Rockaways.

The reason why the city won't do that, I believe, is this:  Spin charges only $1 for 30 minutes:  less than Citibike's rate.  Also, Spin's technology is more advanced, so it is easier for someone with the right app to access one of Spin's orange machines than it is to use a Citibike.

In the meantime, in Ulrich's words, the Rockaway Beach--a location for bike shares if there ever was one--is "deprived" of such services, all over a war between Blue and Orange.  In this city, it makes no sense.

*--This event is commonly called "The Spanish-American War."  I think of it as the American lynching of Spain.