Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The mice in our walls

We have mice living in the walls of our house. We found one dead under our sink and I could swear I've heard them scratching the wooden walls of our basement. I decided to write a story from their point of view. Pardon the abrupt ending.

I found my friend Jim's dead body in the dark, under the sink. It's been 7 months since I last saw him. It's horrible that it's still here but we've had no way of burying him. Our only option is to hold our breath as we pass and move on with our day.

I can't help but remember how it happened every time I pass him.

Every winter we move into this townhouse to stay warm. The field is much safer but when it gets cold we have no option. We had been spending the day looking for food, as usual. It was February and we only had another month before we could move back to the field.

Our nest is between the walls of two town houses, far away from any opening where we might find poison or a mouse trap. Every morning Jim and I would wake up early while our families were stil sleeping and we would go out into the house.

There was a trash can in the kitchen with a hole in the bottom. This was our saving grace last winter. The can always had so much food in it, we always were able to carry back armloads of food. Our wives would great us with kisses and they would jump to the task of preparing the food for breakfast.

This went on for the whole winter. Jim and I would make one trip a week to get the food and we could live in quiet and safe for the rest of the week.

It wasn't until the beginning of February that life started to get difficult. The trek to the trash can was always a dangerous one. We always did it early in the morning while it was still dark, before the humans woke up. Our passage ways are usually between walls and beneath floorboards, and we spend as little time exposed as possible. The trash can was in the kitchen upstairs and our nest was almost on the opposite side of the house. The trek started with a vertical climb up a 2 by 4. Last winter Jim and I built handholds in the wood to make the climb safer. We even found a strong piece of string that we looped at the top and used to belay each other up the 8 foot pole. We are good climbers but take no unnecessary risks, knowing how dependent our families are on us.

After climbing up the pole, we traversed along a cross beam that took us to the small bathroom on the second level. We dug a hole in the wall under the bathroom sink a while back. There are several holes around the house that we can use in case of an emergency. We do our best to disguise them so that the humans don't notice.

We had no reason to go into the bathroom that day because we had a bit further to go to get to the kitchen trash can. Walking between the walls, we would soon get to the broom closet. This is where Jim and I get nervous every time, because this is the only part of the trip that we are exposed to the open rooms. We quietly look around the corner for any sign of light. If a light is on or if there is the faintest noise, the entire mission is called off for the day and we have to come back the next day.

This time we saw and heard nothing. The humans were still sound asleep and we were excited to get our food. Yesterday we smelled fresh bread from our nest which meant the old stale bread would soon be in the trash can. We quietly walked across the kitchen floor to where the trash can sat. The hole we entered through is on the outward facing corner, so we quickly climbed into the can to start our search for the bread. We found half a loaf of bread in there! This could last us two weeks if we could get all this bread back to the nest. Jim and I started taking the bread back to the broom closet where we knew if would be safe. He would grab a piece and meet me at the hole, where I could take it and bring it over to the broom closet.

I was on my last trip back to the can to get the last piece of bread. All of a sudden the kitchen light came on and directly above me stood a young girl. Her face went white and she screamed loud enough to shake the entire house. As she screamed she pulled her arms in and jumped from one foot to the other on her tip-toes. "Daddy! There's a mouse in the kitchen! Help, Daddy!"

I froze in place and had no idea what to do. In my confusion, I ran towards the trash can and hid inside. Jim and I were huddled together in there as we heard a rumbling. The father must be coming downstairs. Jim and I shivered with fear and held our breath. I peaked through a crack in the can and saw the father walking towards us with a baseball bat in hand. "They went into the trash can through that little hole!" We could hear the father step up towards us and grab the trash can. If we stayed in there any longer, he would surely trap us and kill us, so our only option was to run. I told Jim, "On the count of three we're going to run across the kitchen and into the broom closet hole. Ready? 3...2...1... Go!"

We darted out of the can and headed straight for the closet. "There they are!" the little girl screamed. Just a few steps from safety we heard a whoosh of air and right when we got into the hole the bat slammed into the ground, cracking the wooden floor. Our hearts were pounding, but we were safe. Our wives must have been scared to death with all the noise, so we quickly made our way back to the nest.

Jim and I embraced our wives and children and we were all crying because of the incredibly close call. I looked at Jim and the look on his face told me that we were thinking the same thing. This house may never be safe for us to live in again.

We went back to the broom closet later that day to get the bread we left there. Every hole we passed along the way had a mouse trap at the entrance. Sure enough, each trap had a beautiful block of cheddar cheese, just waiting to tempt us towards our death. We looked out the hole in the broom closet and saw no trash can anymore. The family had left the house, so we peaked out some more and could not see any hope for more food. I didn't know if we would survive without that trash can. This was a very clean family and there was never a speck of food anywhere on the floor.

Through the next week Jim and I talked it over. Should we leave the house to the unknown neighbor houses? Or should we stick it out for the last month of winter and find food where we can? We decided that we wouldn't give up hope on this house. This had become our home. We knew everything there was to know about the house and we were comfortable there.

The scarcity of food was a huge problem. Jim and I found a way to get onto the counter in the kitchen, but we found every cabinet locked shut. There was very little. The only food we ever found was in the kitchen sink strainer. It was always wet and smelly, but it was food.

So after three weeks of this we grew tired and hungry. The food was never enough and it was just disgusting. With just a couple more weeks of winter left, Jim and I went back upstairs to look for food. The mouse traps had been restocked with fresh cheese and the smell was intoxicating. I caught Jim staring at the piece in the broom closet. "What if we could outsmart the trap?" he asked. "I'm hungry, my kids are hungry and I could really use a good piece of cheese. Look, I could just stick one paw out, grab it really quickly, and we'd be alright." I really wanted the cheese too, so I shrugged my shoulders and gave him a nod of approval.

He inched closer to the trap as quietly as he could for fear of the sound setting it off. His paw reached out slowly. In an instant he grabbed for the cheese and WHAP!

And that's what I think about whenever I pass his dead body that the humans never removed.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Baseball and Physics Unite!

If you watched game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday, you had the joy of seeing infrared video. Fox thought it would be cool to bring an infrared camera along with them to St. Louis and it was, indeed, a good idea. Adrian Beltre of the rangers hit the ball down the 3rd base line but he didn't run for some reason. The cardinals threw the ball to 1st and Beltre was called out. Beltre claimed that the ball hit his toe, which would mean it would be an automatic dead ball and would just be considered a foul ball. But the regular cameras couldn't prove the umps wrong.

The regular, real-time video makes it look like the ball didn't actually hit Beltre, but that he just faked it. Yeah, that's possible, but he sure did a really quick job of acting with the way he reacted to the ball hitting his toe.

FOX had demonstrated their infrared camera earlier in the game when Pujols hit the ball into his own foot. The infrared video showed a bright spot on his left foot light up right when the ball hit it.

Being a physics nerd, that was pretty cool to me. But being somebody who always thinks about applications, I didn't quite get the point...at least until the 9th inning.

Beltre was up to bat. There was one out with nobody on base. Beltre was 2 for 3 so far for the night, so he was hot. Feeling confident, he went after the first pitch-a fastball, and never even left the batter's box because he claimed the ball hit his toe. The umps didn't believe him so they called him out. 2 outs. Nelson Cruz was up next and flew out to left field for an anti-climactic defeat.

FOX showed the replay using the regular video and you couldn't see anything that was conclusive enough to overturn the call. It was pretty hard to believe Beltre until they showed the infrared video.

By golly, the ball barely nicked his toe! That should have been a foul ball. He could have hit a home run the next pitch and sent the game to extra innings! Baseball is a game of comebacks. 9th inning, 2nd out rallies can actually happen in this sport. It's part of the reason I love the game so much. The Rangers were only behind by 1 run and the smallest things can make a huge difference. Oh well.

How it works
Infrared cameras are very cool. Infrared light is just like the light you see all the time, just with a longer wavelength, so you can't see it with your eyes. But cameras can be built to detect infrared light. In fact, the last project I worked on was, in simple terms, a color infrared camera pixel.

Infrared cameras are great for night vision because it distinguishes between things with different temperatures. All the things you see around you are emitting infrared light based on their temperature (and emissivity, which I won't talk about for simplicity's sake). The warmer something is, the more intense the infrared light coming off of it is. So when the baseball hit Beltre's toe, the impact warmed up the spot, causing it to emit extra infrared light than the spot did before it was heated up. It takes time for the heat to dissipate, so the "hot spot" stays there for as long as the temperature at that spot is still high.

Why does the high temperature cause the spot to emit infrared light? If you remember my last post about heat transfer, you remember that high temperature means the molecules are vibrating around a lot more. Well the vibration of molecules causes them to radiate. That's exactly how an antenna works. So when temperature increases the vibrations occur at higher amplitudes and frequencies, causing the intensity of the light to increase. You saw the intensity increase when the temperature of Beltre's toe went up.

This effect is called thermal radiation. At room temperature it happens at infrared wavelengths. But if you increase the temperature the intensity increases and the wavelength decreases because of the higher-frequency vibrations. The following graph shows how the emission spectrum changes as you increase the temperature of something.

If you heat something up enough, you can start to see the radiation in visible wavelengths. This is why metal glows when you heat it up. It's also why incandescent light bulbs work.

Now you know how infrared light gives you extra information that visible light cannot give you. And you now know what thermal radiation is. Pretty cool huh?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Office Physics: Coffee Thermos

There are few worse feelings than when you come back to your coffee only to find out that it's luke warm. Sure you could microwave it, but something weird goes on there and makes the coffee less tasty than it would if it had never cooled in the first place (don't ask me why). Since I've never had a coffee maker at work, I've often solved this problem by putting my coffee in a thermos. They're wonderful inventions. They keep your coffee nice and hot for several hours if you have a good one. But how does it work?

It uses insulation. This is the exact same idea as when you put insulation in your attic. It's also the same idea as wearing ear muffs. Insulation is a barrier between a "hot reservoir" and a "cold reservoir." So when you put your coffee in the thermos, it is the hot reservoir and the air outside of the thermos is the cold reservoir.

When I say that insulation is a barrier, what I mean is that it slows down the transfer of heat. In the case of hot coffee, heat transfer is bad bad bad! I want my coffee to stay at the exact same perfect temperature until I've finished my last sip of coffee, gosh darn it! Sadly that's impossible. And sadly no thermos works perfectly. So if you leave coffee in a thermos long enough, it will eventually get to room temperature.

So why does heat have to transfer from a hot thing to a cold thing? It would make winter more enjoyable for me if all that cold air didn't suck all the heat out of my body. I think there are different ways to answer the question. You need to understand what temperature is first.

Temperature is (for our purposes) a measurement of how fast the molecules are moving around randomly. If the air around you is hot, the air molecules are moving around very rapidly, bouncing off one another in a random way. If the air around you is cold, then the air molecules are still bouncing around off one another randomly, but much slower.

So when your energetic warm skin molecules come into contact with the slow, cold air molecules, the energy is transferred to the air molecules, warming them up and cooling you down. Same idea as billiard balls. The energy in the cue ball is transferred to the other balls when it runs into them.

That's heat conduction, which is part of the reason your coffee gets cool. The coffee heats up the air it's in contact with. But the second form of heat transfer, called convection, is probably the most important reason your coffee gets cool.

Heat conducts more slowly when the temperature difference between the two reservoirs is small. So as your coffee heats up a particular group of air molecules, it has a harder and harder time dumping the heat into them. But the problem is that the air that's been heated up will get out of the way and make room for fresh, cool air to absorb the heat. So conduction and convection work together to cool down your coffee.

Air molecules are actually really bad at conducting heat, which is the same thing as saying that air is a good insulator. So it turns out that you could solve most of the problem by eliminating convection--to figure out a way to keep the air from moving around a whole lot. So for coffee thermoses, a metal shell is placed around the core so that there is a thin layer of air between the two metal cylinders. This keeps the air from moving around too much and slows down the heat transfer.

So that solves the problem. Now we can enjoy our hot coffee.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Moment that Made the Year for Me

Sitting on a plane has always felt like a homecoming for me. Having lived in a different state from my parents for 6 years means lots of plane trips home for Christmas and summer. Like Pavlov's dog, I had it stuck in my head that sitting on a plane meant going back to something familiar-something comfortable. 

I guess that's what made the plane ride such a surreal experience. It felt like the same old flight home, but I had to keep reminding myself, no Jon, you're not going home. You're going somewhere you've never been, all by yourself. It didn't feel real. I had a hard time comprehending what this flight really meant.

Over the previous 6 months I had been preparing to go on a bike tour from the Canadian border to the Mexican border along the Pacific coast. It started as a daydream and as the months passed, it came a lot closer to reality. I started buying gear and training. Slowly but surely I worked up to 40 mile rides and my pile of cycling and camping gear got bigger and bigger, not to mention the money in my bank account started depleting. 

My whole approach to preparing for the trip was non-committal. I started out buying gear that would be useful for me whether or not I actually went on the tour. I saw my training routine as something that would be good for me even if I decided not to leave on the trip. 

I had been telling myself this adventure story, but I couldn't decide if the story was fiction or non-fiction. But sooner or later I would be forced to decide.

Looking back at the experience, I'm reminded of Don Quixote. He lived a boring life as an old man with his niece taking care of him. He sat around the house reading chivalry books about knights and giants. He kept reading stories, but never had a story of his own. But his life changed when he really believed the stories were true. Even under the ridicule of his closest friends and family he chose to believe the story of chivalry and decided to live it himself. He got off his bed, constructed a suit of armor, and began his adventures as a knight. It was only at the point when he believed the story was true that he was changed as a person.

I finally got to the point where I acted like my adventure story was really real. There was still some doubt in my mind, but on May 23rd I packed my gear and got on the plane to Bellingham. I looked out the window and saw the Rockies pass by--a familiar sight that only made the flight feel like my homecoming flights to Alaska. After a few hours we landed in Seattle, the airport I almost always fly through on my way to Alaska. I spent the night sleeping on the Seattle airport floor and it passed by incredibly slowly. So this is what I'm getting myself into--sleeping on hard surfaces for 40 days straight. Great. 

In the morning I got on my connecting flight to Bellingham, which is a town very close to the Washington-Canada border. I had heard that one of the most beautiful parts of the Washington leg of my tour would be the view across Puget Sound at the evergreen covered islands jutting out of the water. As the sun was rising I could look out the window and see the breath-taking Puget Sound view. I wonder if I'll be riding across any of those islands. The flight was short-only about 30 minutes and as we were descending I looked out and saw the roads of northwest Bellingham. I had seen these roads before on Google Maps. I saw the interstate that I'd be riding under and then paralleling on my way to the border. And I saw the airport just to the west of the freeway in the same place that Google showed me. This was starting to feel real.

My knees started shaking and I was, all of a sudden, very nervous. Here we go. The plane landed, I got my gear off the baggage claim, and started assembling my bike. I spent an hour in the middle of the tiny airport putting the bike together and packing my gear. People stared at me, wondering what the heck I was doing. My whole body was shaking out of excitement and nervousness. I eventually changed into my cycling clothes and came out to my bike. It was ready to go. Tires inflated, handlebars attached, brakes engaged, bolts tightened, water bottles filled, and panniers closed. 

I walked out to the drive way and straddled my bike, taking a picture to prove that my odometer did, in fact, start at 0.0 miles. I looked around me with a huge smile on my face. I pushed forward, clipped into my pedals, and started pedaling. 

Finally, I knew this was real. I knew there was no turning back and I knew that this was going to be the greatest adventure I've ever done.

A Note from Jon: This was my submission to my friend Anthony's annual writing challenge. The assignment was to write about an hour or a day that really made the year for you. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Why You Should Consider Commuting by Bike

There are a lot of good reasons to ride a bike. There are also a lot of good reasons to drive. But I think everybody already knows the good reasons for driving, so I'm going to give you lots of good reasons to start biking more.

Commuting by bike is a particularly good way to ride a bike more. You have to go to work everyday anyway, so riding a bike instead of driving a car isn't that ridiculous of an idea. It's still being productive, in that you're getting from one place to another. Work can also be the most stressful time of the day, so a nice bike ride home can be a great stress reliever. Commuting is also a convenient time because you can figure out one bike route that works for you and stick with it every time you ride. Finding bike routes can be difficult if you bike all around town. But if you're always going between two places, it's very manageable.

If you know me, then it's obvious that one of my top reasons for biking so much is that I don't have a car. However, if I had a car, I would still commute by bike regularly. The main reasons I'd keep it up are because it's good exercise, it's refreshing, and it's cheap. And yes I'm saving the environment in the same way that an ocean can be filled one drop at a time. Well la-dee-fricken-da!

Cycling isn't a particularly exhausting exercise, but it raises your heart rate and burns calories. How many calories? About 11.2 calories per minute according to healthstatus.com. If you weigh 170lbs and ride between 12 and 14mph, then your calorie graph would look like this:

So if the distance between your house and work was 6 miles, then you'd burn about 600 calories per day, assuming you rode down and back at 13mph the whole way. That's pretty good. If you're like me and have trouble scheduling time to work out, then riding a bike to work is a good way to force yourself to get some exercise into your day. And we all know what that means...you get to eat more food!

Riding your bike to work can also save you some money. Fuel costs are much lower since you probably won't be burning gasoline while riding a bike. Your food costs might go up slightly, but not by much. If you get 27mpg and gas is $3.50/gallon, then your fuel cost looks like this:

So if you did a 12 mile commute 3 days a week, that would save you enough for an extra Chipotle burrito with guacamole and a drink every week! Just think about how much happier you would be if you could afford to add another burrito to your week. You would also save a bit on wear and tear, but I am way too lazy to figure that out for you.

I wouldn't be so bold as to say that bike commuting is bundles of fun, but it's definitely at least a handful of fun. It's a very refreshing way to start the day and a relaxing way to end the work day. You'll feel good after the ride and will have had some good time to just let your mind relax.

Commuting by bike is a great thing to do and I think you should consider trying it out. There are obvious limitations like 50 mile commutes and evening commitments that can make it difficult. But if your commute is short enough, you should consider riding a few times a week on your days where you have a some extra time.

Plus, I get really giddy when I see people riding bikes, so you'd at least put a smile on my face.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Why Walking South Would Feel Like Walking Downhill if the Earth was a Perfect Sphere

As Treebeard in Lord of the Rings says, "I always like going south; somehow, it feels like going downhill."

Well I decided to put this to test and actually figure out if walking south actually feels like going downhill and that it's not completely psychological. I'm going to solve this problem assuming the earth is a perfect sphere. This is not a true assumption, so make sure you read the Edit section at the bottom of this page.

If you're going to solve this problem, you should draw a picture. In physics, we like to draw free-body-diagrams that show all the forces acting on the thing that matters. In our case, the thing that matters is a man standing on the surface of the earth. Pointing outward from his body are two arrows that show the forces acting on him (at least the only ones I care about).

So gravity is pulling down on the man and I called it Fg. There's another arrow called Fc. This represents centrifugal force. Centrifugal force is only an apparent force. Believe it or not, your body doesn't want to spin around in circles all day, every day. It wants to keep moving in a straight line. But gravity is strong enough that it keeps you on the ground, moving in circles (much to your body's chagrin) for all eternity. So because the earth is spinning you experience an apparent centrifugal force, think Gravitron.

Well we just might be in luck, because look at the direction the centrifugal force is pulling. It's not pulling straight up or straight down. It's pulling you both upward and south, towards the equator!

So the feeling of walking downhill while you're walking south is not 100% psychological. It might be 99.999999% psychological, but by golly, it's not 100% (at least in 99.99999999% of the cases).

The next question to ask is, How strong is this "Downhill Force" at different latitudes? Is it stronger at the poles or at the equator or somewhere in between?

Well I did some calculations and drew this picture which shows the total force on someone at various latitudes in the northern hemisphere, taking into account both gravity and the centrifugal force.
It pretty much just looks like you'd be pulled towards the center of the earth at any latitude. But instead of looking at the total force, let's look at the tangential force. The tangential force is the force pushing you either north or south (not up or down). Here is a similar picture plotting only the tangential force and ignoring the vertical forces.

If you look closely, you'll see points at 0, 18, 36, 54, 72, and 90 degrees. But there are no arrows coming out of the points at 0 and 90 degrees and the forces in between are the strongest. This makes sense. If you're on the north pole, there is very little centrifugal force since you're close to the axis of rotation. If you're on the equator, you have the most centrifugal force, but unfortunately, it's all pointing straight up into the air, which doesn't help push you forward. In the next figure, I've plotted the tangential force as a function of latitude, including the southern hemisphere.

So the places with the most tangential force are at + and - 45 degrees latitude. And it turns out that if you're in the southern hemisphere, walking north feels like walking downhill. For reference points, I've plotted where New Orleans, Denver, Portland, and Anchorage lie. Lucky Portlanders get maximum downhill force. And my parents who recently moved from Anchorage area to New Orleans can happily say they at least didn't forfeit any downhill force by their recent move.

Although, probably the most important thing to look at on that graph is the vertical axis, which is measured in G's. So that means that even in Portland, OR, you only get a maximum downhill force of about 2/1000 of your body weight. Sad day.

Below, Wintergreen pointed out that the shape of the earth is not exactly spherical. The shape of the earth is determined both by gravity and by the centrifugal force. So that means that the earth is somewhat flattened. The equilibrium shape of the earth would be one where the surface is always perpendicular to the combined force of gravity and the centrifugal force. That means that if the earth has reached that equilibrium shape, then there is no "Downhill Force." The downhill force would only exist before the earth has reached that equilibrium shape. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

How to Drink Coffee Properly

Coffee, being the best drink known to humanity (yes better than Grape Kool-Aid), deserves respect. Too many people have defiled the drink and I intend to put a stop to this! Here's how you properly drink coffee.

Cup Selection
One of the most fundamental aspects of coffee drinking is what cup you're drinking it out of. Sometimes you're forced to drink out of one of these, "The Adult Sippy Cup":
Who wants to be touching their lips to plastic while they're drinking. All coffee shops should have the option of non-disposable cups for the in-shop drinkers. I'll tolerate a sippy cup if I can't drink it in the shop, but it's absolutely repulsive to use one of these inside a coffee shop. What's even worse is when people buy these:

ECO CUP...right.

Styrofoam cups are almost as bad. 
At least they aren't sippy cups.

No, you should choose a special, non-plastic/non-styrofoam, coffee cup that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Like this one:

This is my favorite coffee cup I've ever owned, but I tragically broke it a month ago. I've converted to my second favorite cup I've ever owned, which is a NASCAR "Number One Grandpa" cup that the little girl I live with gave to me for a Christmas gift. What could make you feel more warm and fuzzy than a rooster or being called a grandpa by a first grader.

Creamy, Sugary, Syrup flavored with coffee.
The coffee snobs will tell you that cream and sugar hide the taste of the coffee. I say, "Who cares? Drink whatever tastes good." I think a healthy dose of cream with no sugar is the most tasty version of coffee, but I won't judge you for putting sugar in it. I will judge you if you judge people for putting cream and or sugar in their coffee though. I've plotted Cheerfulness of The Coffee Drinker as a function of cream and sugar amounts:

People who put tons of sugar in their coffee are the people who just have to have the sugar to down the caffeine. These people are not particularly cheerful. They're just lacking energy. The black hole of coffee snobs has been studied for quite some time. It seems that whenever somebody enters that region, they not only have zero cheerfulness, but they also suck the cheerfulness out of anybody who chooses to put cream or sugar in their coffee. Maximum cheerfulness from coffee drinking can be found at the healthy dose of cream and no sugar. A recent study even shows that bitter taste preferences are linked to malevolent personality traits," particularly "everyday sadism and psychopathy."

Methods of Drinking

Here is a short list of rules:

  1. Do not drink hot coffee when your drinking location is hot and do not drink cold coffee when it's cold at your drinking location.
  2. Drink slowly but not so slow that the coffee gets lukewarm. Lukewarm coffee is okay, but not ideal.
  3. Only take enough coffee from the pot that you can drink before it cools. Let the coffee stay warm in the pot.
  4. Do not place your hand around the mug unless it is particularly cold in your drinking location and you need a hand warmer. That will cool the coffee too fast. Use the handle.
  5. Handle your coffee with care when you are walking. They may say, "Don't cry over spilt milk," but the other people say, "You should definitely cry over spilt coffee."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How to Ride Your Bike to Work Faster

When I ride my bike to work I really don't think very much. I just turn on the NPR Jazz radio station and try to enjoy the ride. I'll occasionally think about my pace and try to get a good average speed. I was trying to think about how high speeds and low speeds affect my average speed. It was messing with my mind and I couldn't really wrap my mind around exactly how it worked. Back when the Tour de France was happening I was thinking about this too. Nobody is ever very interested in flat stages because the important attacks always happen in the mountains. Why was that? What is it about steep hills that makes the difference in the race?

Finally, I sat down a few days ago and calculated it. I took a nice triangular hill.

The rider goes up the hill at 5mph and down the hill at 30mph. At first glance, it would be tempting to say that the average speed at the end of this 10 mile ride is 17.5mph. 

Well that is correct in one sense but absolutely wrong in the sense that anybody cares about. 17.5mph is the correct average if you are taking a "distance average" Measuring the speed at every position along the way, you would get half the data points saying 5mph and half saying 30mph.

The distance-averaged speed is 17.5mph in this case. Unfortunately, I can't think of a single application for this kind of average. Nobody cares what the distance-average speed is. Everybody cares about what the "time-averaged" speed is. That's the one that tells you how fast you get to the finish line. That is the one that is 

Here we go. The time it takes to go the first half is t1=d1/v1 and the time it takes to go the second half is t2=d2/v2.

That's much more complicated than the distance average. So that means that if you went up the hill at 5mph and down the hill at 30mph, then your average speed would be 8.57mph, which is just a bit more than the uphill speed. I think that this is really annoying. I'd much rather have my average speed be faster than that. So what's the best way to improve your average speed on a hill like this? This graph might help. The colors (from purple to white) represent the average speed at the end of the ride. Purple is the lowest average speed and white is the maximum average speed. 

I've put a point that corresponds to an uphill speed of 5mph and a downhill speed of 30mph like we've been talking about. In order to increase your average speed, you could increase your downhill speed by 4mph or increase your uphill speed by 4mph. I've represented these two choices by the arrows that go out from the point. If you increase your uphill speed by 4mph (vertical arrow), then you cross over lots of contour lines and your average speed is significantly better than before--13.85mph. If you take the other choice and increase your downhill speed by 4mph (horizontal arrow), then you barely improve your average speed at all. The arrow doesn't even make it to the next contour line. This choice would give you a very slight improvement in average speed--8.72mph. Remember the original average speed was 8.57mph!

Hopefully this all makes sense. It basically shows that your uphill speed more important than your downhill speed. You can make a significant difference by making a small change in uphill speed. So now it makes sense why the mountain stages of the Tour are the most important. If you can just make a slight improvement in speed over the rest of the field, it will pay off significantly and if somebody has a less than average day on the mountains, it will hurt them horribly. 

This should also prove to you that if you are running late to work on your bike, you should push really hard on the uphills and take it super easy on the downhills. The downhills will make very little difference in the time it takes you to get to work.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fun Ride: Lookout Mountain to Morrison to Home

It was 3:30 and I was ready for the weekend. Should I leave 30 minutes early or should I stay till 4? I wasn't getting anything done anyway, so I decided to head out. I had no plans for the night, so I needed something to do with my time. So I opened up Google maps and drew out a bike ride.

I had tons of time to spare, so a 30 mile ride was definitely doable. The route went up Lookout Mountain, then at I-70 it takes a mountain road to Bear Creek Canyon and heads down to Morrison. It looked awesome. It was mostly a gradual downhill from the top of Lookout Mountain, just more scenic than the usual way I get down from Lookout. Normally I'll take highway 40 along I-70, then follow C-470 down to Bear Creek. This seemed like a much better option with just an extra 5th category climb (easiest classification).

So I packed up my stuff, filled up 2 water bottles, prepared a peanut butter bagel for a snack, and headed out. All the road cyclists must think I'm some inexperienced nerd with my single pannier on one side of my steel frame bike. But I took pride in the fact that I wasn't passed a single time on the uphill even though I was carrying extra weight. Lookout mountain is such a cool ride. It's a 6.6 mile climb, but it's not super steep. What makes it great is the views. You get the amazing views of Golden, Denver, and Clear Creek Canyon without having an extremely difficult time getting up to the views. I was regretting not having my camera the entire time. I'll leave it in my pannier from now on.

Well Lookout Mountain was as wonderful as ever, but when I hit Highway 40, I crossed over I-70 and took Grapevine Road south. This was a very cool road. I only saw 3 cars the entire time and absolutely no bikes. I came to find out that there are no bikes because half of the road is dirt. The uphill was pretty gradual with only one steep section and the dirt didn't start until I got near the top of the hill. Along the road I passed lots of nice houses and crossed over a small pass and started descending to the Bear Creek Canyon. The dirt was a bit scary because I definitely don't have the right tires for dirt. The back tire has no tread, the front barely has any tread, and they are both pretty narrow for aggressively riding on dirt. The road going downhill was super steep at points and the views were very nice. There were spots of trees and open fields so that made for the good views, not to mention the mountains all around me. I made it to a poorly kept paved road and this was the coolest part. There were lots of houses and the road was really narrow. So narrow, 2 cars would have to be very very careful if they wanted to pass each other. The narrow winding road was a lot of fun to ride down and then I made it to Bear Creek Road.

I sped down the gradual descent enjoying the beautiful views. There were steep beautiful cliffs to the left and Bear Creek to the right. Only about a half mile down the road I heard a noise coming from my back wheel. It sounded like something was rubbing on each revolution, so I stopped and saw that it was a flat. I think the dirt road caused some tiny sharp rocks to get lodged into my tire and puncture the tube. 20 minutes later, I had the tube patched and was ready to move on. Upon close inspection, I realized that my rear tire isn't a very good one. It is thicker than the previous tire I had, but not super thick and it was starting to crack. I've been riding on it since Honeyman State Park in Oregon, so it's seen several miles. So I kept riding through the beautiful canyon till I got to Morrison, a small tourist town right where the foothills start.

The rest of the ride was rather uninteresting, but nice. I passed through Bear Creek Lake Park and then went along some roads, stopped to buy new sandals, then went home.

It was a very nice ride and I definitely recommend it to anyone. Lookout Mountain isn't too difficult and the rest is very manageable. The views and fun winding roads are worth the effort. Once again I'm reminded at how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rained Out-an excerpt from A Boring Life

The night I have a softball game is the highlight of the week for me. I get to play a dumbed-down version of my favorite childhood game and I get to see several of my friends.

I got a ride to the game because I'm too cheap to have my own car. I keep telling myself that I enjoy riding my bike and the bus everywhere, but it's not entirely true. It's really great riding my bike and the bus under the perfect circumstances, which is about 85% of the time. The other 15% of the time I'm either not enjoying riding my bike or the bus or I'm getting a ride from someone, feeling like I'm a freeloader. But I ignored my feelings of being a freeloader and got a ride to the game.

Driving along the highway we talked about not very much. About the most interesting thing I had to say was that it took 4 hours for my model file to open that afternoon and then my computer ran out of memory. At least I got lots of blog reading done.

I do a lot of blog reading these days. Blogs are so great because you just hop from one subject to the next. They are short and concise and you get some variety. So much variety, you don't have to sit back and think about what you just read. Move right along to the next, completely unrelated, but inspiring, blog! Give it enough time to let you feel good about it, then make sure you read something else instead of really considering what you just read. I've also started reading lots of books and the same thing happens with them. I was chatting with Justin while we were both at work last week.

Justin: maybe do something else besides book studies for awhile maybe if you are doing one after another, it's become as procedural as a day of work or a trip to the gym.

We made it to the softball field and it hadn't started raining yet. The skies looked foreboding. Ten softball tosses with Ken and then the rain started. The girls ran to cover because our softball jerseys are white and the guys joined them soon after. When we decided it wasn't going to get better we all went to Chili's for dinner.

As usual, I complained about their lack of good beer and just ordered food. I should quit complaining about that. Lots of chips, a hatch chili burger, and a molten chocolate cake I shared with Liz 1. My internal commentator noticed that the burger was awesome yet messy and that the cake was tasty, had lame texture, and was too strong. Next time I'll get the cheesecake.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Best Grub In Denver

The Mile High City is most known for its lack of oxygen and stuck-up residents who inwardly look down upon anyone who's favorite state isn't Colorado. However, this wonderful city has several other wonderful aspects that are often forgotten, such as skiing, outdoorsy stuff, and 300 days of sunshine every year. Much like any large city on planet earth, Denver needs plenty of food options to support its thriving metropolis. I've taken it upon myself to perform a 6 year study on the eateries, restaurants, and grub joints in town so that I could provide a good survey for those with high food standards such as myself.

During year 1 of this study I discovered Denver's pride and joy when it comes to restaurant chains. No, not Quiznos, that place that refuses to make a cold sandwich. Denver's pride and joy is Chipotle Mexican Grill and I found it at the end of a 10 mile walk to the Denver capital. It's the best cheap mexican food out there and really should never be compared with places like Taco Bell, Del Taco, and Wahoo's Fish Tacos. I often look at the keywords that people use to get to this blog and I saw this today while looking at the keywords for the week:

Somebody had the audacity to seriously compare Chipotle to taco bell. I made the comparison a long time ago, but only in jest. One might compare Chipotle to Qdoba, however, thanks to Qdoba's queso burrito, but the simplicity of their menu, the lack of sticky rice, and the lack of sticky tortillas sets Chipotle far above their "rival."
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Best Dish: Steak burrito with black beans, fajitas, rice, pico de gallo, red salsa, sour cream, cheese, and lettuce.

Year 2 was a restaurant drought for me because I was poor.

Year 3 I was rich again and was introduced to Lebanese food for the first time. My roommates at the Den first introduced me to this wonderful restaurant called Ali Baba's after we stayed up all night working on a cardboard boat and then sank it in the morning in the frigid waters of Clear Creek. Their gyros and hummus were a great pick-me-up as we were all depressed about losing the race.
Alibaba Grill
Best Dish: Gyro with a side of hummus and pita bread.

One Sunday afternoon during year 4, my food research partner Jelly Roll and I worked up the courage to try the Asian restaurant next to Chipotle. This was very difficult since we loved Chipotle so much and we had become accustomed to frequenting it every Sunday for lunch. Nevertheless, we did try out Pei Wei Asian Diner and were pleasantly surprised. They have an amazing selection of asian food including Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and, my favorite, Thai. I've tried several of their dishes and most of them are phenomenal. Now James and I go to Pei Wei as often as we go to Chipotle, which says a lot about how good it is.
Pei Wei Asian Diner
Best Dish: Thai Coconut Curry

Eventually I made it to year 6, which was the best year for discovering new restaurants in the Denver area. I moved to a hispanic neighborhood, which is guaranteed good food, and my research group started going to lunch together every week. I found many new restaurants and loved most of them, but I'll only talk excessively about one of them. That one is the restaurant I fondly call "That One Mexican Restaurant On 1st and Knox." I've recently found out that it's actually called Los Molcajetes Tacqueria. You know this is a good Mexican restaurant because you have a 50/50 chance of needing to order in Spanish. It's exciting to try your luck! Their food is amazing and it's a nice, quiet, relaxed, family-owned restaurant. They also have several items on their menu that I've never heard of before, so there are plenty of opportunities to try your luck at this autentica tacqueria.
Los Molcajetes Tacqueria
Best Dish: Tortas

There are many more delicious restaurants, but I don't have the energy to write about all of them. Here are the honorable mentions.

The Alley, D' Deli, Woody's, The Sherpa House, Tuk Tuk, Paris on the Platte, Jose Oshea's, Tacos Y Salsas, and Tommyknocker Brewpub and Restaurant.

View this map for restaurant locations. You should try them all out and tell me about your favorite Denver restaurants.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Pacific Tour Reflections (I have 20/20 vision, so hind-sight is 20/12)

It feels really really good to be home again. I landed around 8:45 last Saturday, assembled my bike, disposed of my cardboard boxes, and caught the bus back to Denver. It just felt good to see familiar sights--the airport I've been to a million times, the downtown area, the pepsi center, Invesco Field, my bike route I take from downtown to my house, my house, Javier who was inside watching tv when I arrived, struggling to speak to him in spanish, my own bed, a good shower, all those little details that I take for granted when I get them every day.

Anyways, I felt like it would be appropriate to reflect upon my tour as a whole.

It was really cool to see how I transformed physically as I moved south. A great part about touring is that you get in better shape as you progress. My attitude towards hills shifted greatly as I progressed. I was afraid of them at first, not knowing how well I would be able to ride them, but eventually I started looking at hills as something that I just didn't like doing. I knew I could do them, but just didn't want to. Then my attitude completely shifted to actually enjoying climbs, churning along in first gear in order to conquer the hill. I started seeing them as a challenge that I wanted to test my body against.

After having some knee pain myself, the most important thing I would tell someone who is thinking about touring is to make sure your bike fits you properly. Cycling is very low impact, so it's really hard to injure yourself and it's incredibly good exercise for your knees...if your bike properly fits you. My seat was too low to start with and I ended up having some pretty bad knee pain before I got to Oregon. I lifted my seat little by little until the pain went away, but it would have been better for my bike to have been set up correctly before I left. You can really kill your knees if you don't make the adjustments you need to make. Another piece of advice I would give is to make sure you train. First of all, it will just make everything easier, but it will also prevent knee injury. A guy I rode with for a day named John didn't train at all. He exercised regularly, but his knees were not used to the kind of work out they get when riding a bike. He started his tour with a 100 mile day and had excruciating knee pain the next day. For the most part, knee injury is one of the worst things that can happen on a tour and it can be prevented by training, correct fit, higher cadence, and lower gears.

Before the tour, I wasn't a huge fan of camping. It was always cold, uncomfortable, and annoying to set up and take down camp. All the inconveniences of camping made me not like it that much. But after I got used to sleeping in a tent every night I started loving camping. It's pretty much awesome. There's something cool about carrying your house with you, knowing that you could set up camp anywhere. The cool temperatures at night are actually awesome as long as you have a good sleeping bag and warm clothes. The noises like wind in the trees and waves are wonderful to fall asleep to. The sun's schedule forces you to go to bed early and wake up early, giving you the perfect amount of sleep. After getting used to it, all the great things about camping blinded me to the inconvenient things about camping. So now I love camping.

If you asked me what my favorite part of the tour was, I probably would tell you that it was meeting so many interesting people. I'm not an outgoing person, but I met a ridiculous number of people in the 40 days I was riding. My favorite people were always the people I met at the campgrounds who were on a bike tour themselves. There was such a good camaraderie between all the cyclists. We always made friends with each other and hung out with each other for the evening. So many people invited me to join them at their campfire. Some people gave me food. One person gave me a chain cleaning lesson. One person washed my dishes for me. Several people joined me for dinner. It was really great. There were also lots of people not on a bike that I met. Some cheered me on from their cars. Some gave me popcorn, brownies, ice cream, waffles, bananas, sandwiches, carrots, and a yard to sleep in. Some gave me wine and a 2 hour conversation. Most of the people I saw were very nice and I liked them a lot. There were very few people who were rude or mean to me.

Even though the tour was a fantastic experience, there are some things that I would do differently. Here's a list of technologies that could be improved upon: More comfortable saddle, more waterproof and smaller tent, and a better sleeping pad. My route that I took was pretty awesome, but if I did the tour again, I would probably cut over to Olympia National Park instead of going through the boring part of Washington to get to Portland (I'd just make Justin meet me in Tillamook or something). The last thing I would do different is to bring a friend. It was a great tour, even by myself, but it would be a cool thing to be able to share the memory with someone else.

I don't think I gained any huge revelations through my tour, but I did learn some things. Washington made me realize that my circumstances are completely at the mercy of God. I have no control over the rain. I have no control over whether the wind is a headwind or a tailwind. I happen to think that those things are God's decisions and that the only reason there is ever a break in the rain or a lack of a tail wind is because of God's grace and has nothing to do with anything I could ever control.

The tour has also made me want to be a better steward of the things that God has given me. I had to be very intentional about the things that I bought. Every item that I acquired added more weight to my already heavy load, so I tried to just use what I had and not buy extra stuff. An example of this would be my desire I had to buy a frying pan. It would have been pretty nice to have one to cook fresh meat in instead of always eating the canned stuff. But my insight came when I sat there and thought about it. How much would I use it? How much enjoyment would I get out of it? Do I need it? Do I really want to have the extra weight? I decided not to buy one and was just content with the tall, skinny jet boil pot. This is kind of a stupid example, but because of my limited capacity and limited budget, I realized that at the time it was just a luxury that I'd be fine without. Back home, I realized that riding around the city without a load was super easy compared to with a heavy load. Why don't I just ride my bike everywhere? This would be easy compared to riding 50 miles per day with a load. So I decided not to buy a bus pass. God gave me a bike, which works just fine for transportation, so why not just use what I have and save the money I would spend on a bus pass?

So I can't say that my tour really changed me as a person, but it has given me a different point of view on some things. The tour has made me love cycling more though. I'm already thinking about what tour I want to do next because this one was such a good experience that I wouldn't want to leave my touring career and call it good at a whopping...one tour. I'll definitely be doing some very short bike camping trips and some long tours in the future. Who wants to come?!

This concludes my Pacific tour-related blog posts. Stay tuned for my normal blog posts about random things that I feel like writing about.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Day 40

July 1, 2011

Here it is, day 40, my very last day on the road. If you had asked me a day ago (before the world's worst hostel), I would have told you that I had mixed feelings about today. After 40 days I've become accustomed to camping every night and riding every day. Not only am I accustomed to it, I love it. This is really an awesome way to live life for a while. Everything that comes along with it adds up to an amazing experience and every day is an adventure waiting for me to jump in. But reality calls. Bank accounts drip dry, and separation from friends and family becomes difficult. As I was sitting at Starbucks I was talking with a man who asked me, “Would you have done it any different?” I told him no, but thinking about it again, I realize that I would bring a friend with me. You get used to sleeping in a tent every night and you get used to riding your bike every day. It's not that different from life at home, but it would really be difficult for me to be away from friends forever. So that's why I'm excited to be done. I'm loving living off of my bike, but I'm also very excited to come home.

In an attempt to get away from that darned hostel as fast as possible, I woke up at 6:00 and was gone by 7:30, my all-time record. It was so nice to have that hostel to myself this morning. It's not that bad of a place when there's nobody else there. The ride started out on the beach trail in Pacific Beach which was pretty pleasant since there were few people on it and the ones that were were mostly runners. I made my way towards downtown San Diego via some main roads with bike lanes and got slightly lost along the way. My route had me take a pedestrian/biker ferry from downtown San Diego to Coronado, so I waited at the ferry station for 20 minutes and took some pictures of the aircraft carrier.

After a quick ferry ride, I made it to Coronado and jumped on the bike again, heading across the Silver Streak which is a very narrow strip of land with a road and a bike trail on it. It was a pretty fun section of the ride because I had a very nice tailwind the entire time, so I averaged around 15mph for about 7 miles.

The route I'm following takes you to a state park called Border Field Park, which is pretty much the perfect place for a Canada to Mexico Pacific coast tour to end. It's on the Pacific and Mexico is right there. However, in order to get to the park I had to go out of the way to traverse some federal land, which was either a wildlife reserve or military land...can't remember. Anyways, I was getting closer and closer. The hills in the distance were getting closer and then they were right in front of me. I turned right and soon enough I entered the park. It is only open on Saturdays and Sundays to cars, but has a place where pedestrians and cyclists can go through. So I passed through the gate and rode along the half dirt, half paved road until I reached the border. I could tell it was the border because there was a 20 foot tall fence with a big city on the other side. It's such a stark contrast right there at the border. Tijuana is this huge, tightly packed city and the California side has a few small ranches and empty public land. The majority of Tijuana is hidden behind the hills, so I couldn't see that much. But the next day when I flew out of San Diego I could look out the window and see a clear line where the city starts. The Tijuana side was very very hilly compared to the California side and houses are crammed everywhere on the hills, making it look like ocean waves of buildings as far as the eye can see.

I couldn't believe that I had made it to Mexico. As tears gushed from my eyes I tried to restrain the sobbing for long enough to take a few pictures. It was kind of interesting that the fence just stops out in the water, making it very easy to just swim around. But then I noticed that there was a border patrol officer sitting in his jeep only 100 feet away from the border, keeping his eye on the end of that fence. I think that Mexico has a border park too because I saw people on the other side of the fence looking at the border just like I was doing. I saw a sign that had rules for the “Friendship Circle.” As I read it, I realized what it was. It was a little area right on the border where 25 people could go inside and chat with people from the neighboring country. I really wanted to go into the friendship circle, but sadly it was closed.

After a snack and a break at the border I got back on my bike and headed back north along the same route I had followed before. I stopped in Coronado for a pizza lunch and then stopped near the airport to figure out some logistics for my departure the next day. I arrived back in Pacific Beach and the day started to dwindle to a close. I cooked my dinner next to the beach and went on a walk along Mission Blvd before heading back to the hostel for sleep. The hostel was having a deck party tonight, so I had the opportunity to end the trip “with a bang." But the party wasn't exactly a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey kind of party, so I went into loner mode, inserted ear plugs, laid my sock across my eyes, and tried to drown out the noise of the music and the loud drunk people with positive thoughts about my adventure.

A really depressing end to my bike tour, I admit it, but as someone I met several days ago pointed out, When it's all said and done, the memories that will stick will be the good ones, not the bad ones. And as I write this post the next day I'm looking back on my tour with fond memories, excited for my next one. Who knows where it will be and what kind of things will happen to me along the way, but I'm looking forward to it.

Day 39

June 30, 2011

Today was a fun day because the ride was nice and I made $100. The agenda for the day was to ride from Doheny State Park in Dana Point to Banana Bungalow Hostel in Pacific Beach, San Diego. I left moderately early (8:30) and started heading south along the PCH. Only a few miles into the ride some ladies on the sidewalk motioned to me asking if I had a phone. One of them had injured a tendon and needed to call her husband to pick her up. Only a quarter mile down the road I saw a phone on the ground. It was a MyTouch (fancy smart phone) and it looked like it had been thrown out of a passing car. I imagined that some guy's girlfriend got mad at him for texting, took his phone, and threw it out the window. I picked up the phone and since it had no reception at that spot I kept riding hoping to find some reception further down the road. As I rode through the side roads of San Clemente, I kept checking the phone for reception and never found any--stupid T-Mobile. So I finally decided to just call someone using my phone, hoping they would know the person who had lost their phone. Luckily the first person that actually answered their phone knew the guy who lost his phone and 20 minutes later the owner pulled up in his fancy sedan to get the phone. I couldn't believe how happy he was to get his phone back. He was just ecstatic. "Jon! I don't even know you, but I'm gonna give you a big hug!" His name was Kevin, I think, and he had just gone on a trip to New York and had taken all his pictures with his phone. He hadn't loaded them to his computer yet, so the pictures on the phone were very important to him. "I want to give you $100 for returning my phone. Not too many people would have done that." I couldn't believe it. We chatted for a bit about my tour and then I left to head down the road, $100 richer. As I left, Kevin motioned his arms like he was bestowing good karma to me and he said, "You have no idea how much good karma is coming your way, man. Thank you so much."

The rest of the day was a nice ride. I passed through Camp Pendelton, a Marines base, rode up a big hill at Torrey Pines Reserve, and then I arrived in the San Diego area. The first area of town I passed through was La Jolla, which seemed like a very cool place. I rode along the beach road traversing the hill and saw some very beautiful beaches. They had lots of big, smooth rocks and areas with sand. There was one spot that was particularly awesome at Ellen Browning Scripps Park, which had a sandy beach, bordered with smooth rocks where lots of sea birds were perched alongside s a few seals. There were lots of people swimming in the water, snorkeling, which looked like a lot of fun because the water was very colorful, indicating something very interesting underneath.

It wasn't long until i arrived in Pacific Beach where I'd be staying for the night. I found Banana Bungalow Hostel and went inside to check in. As soon as I stepped in the door I was starting to regret my decision to stay there. There were guys sitting around inside drinking Bud Light and who's new motto should be "Bud Light-A Sure Sign of People Who Only Drink Beer To Get Drunk." I checked in with the rude hostess who didn't speak clearly. She gave me a tour of the hostel and showed me my bed in the 12 person dorm, which was coed. I asked where I could keep my bike and she showed me an area behind the hostel where tons of junk was piled. It was at that moment that I spent a lot of time in prayer, asking God to keep my stuff from being stolen. The hostel had 7 blackboards with colorful chalk writing describing the special event for the day. 6 out of 7 were basically different ways of getting wasted. Party Bus, Deck Party, Beer Pong, etc. Tonight's event was a party bus where you get driven around the city to check out all the bars, including 2 strip clubs and a couple places with live music. Why did I come here? I had already paid for the two nights ($40 per night), so I was stuck. I went into loner-mode and didn't really talk to anybody there. One Brazilian guy talked to me for a minute, but that was it. I left the hostel and decided that I would try to spend as much of the evening as i could away from that place.

So I spent a lot of time that evening at the beach, at Starbucks, and at the grocery store where I had the foresight to buy ear plugs, knowing that it would be impossible to fall asleep without them. One pint of Ben and Jerry's, one Americano, and one Passion tea later, I went back to the hostel around 9:00. Still in loner-mode, I got my computer out and worked on a few blogs. As I was working on them, the staff were standing around, talking about how great a community they had there. At 10:00, I headed to my bed, inserted earplugs, and placed a sock over my eyes while the guys in the dorm were standing around chatting, and I was able to fall asleep in about 45 minutes. I was happy enough to fall asleep that fast, given how much music and loud talking was going on out in the common room. I will say that when the guys noticed that I was going to sleep, they left the room and turned off the light, which was much appreciated. What a place though.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Day 38

June 29, 2011

Today was day 2 of riding through the LA area. I started the day with a delicious Belgian waffle breakfast at the Long Beach Cafe where the 60 year old waitress called me 'sweetie.' (You know it's a good diner if the waitress calls you 'sweetie.') The day was quite uneventful. I rode through several smallish beach towns, rode along some beach paths for a while and then the highway.

I passed through Huntington Beach, a place that holds a few of my memory files from when I was in high school. When I was a sophomore in high school I did a construction mission project in the LA area and one of the days we visited Huntington Beach. We spent the whole day at the beach and somehow my sun block didn't block the sun like I wanted it to. I ended up having the worst sunburn I've ever had, blisters and all. It was so bad I had to skip out on a baseball game because it hurt too much to move my arms. That day we also went to Joe's Crab Shack where I ate fried clams for the first time, so I had to take a picture when I rode by there today in memory of the good ole days. Ironically, when I was in high school, I bought a shirt there that claimed, "Joe Plays Hardball," even though I was about to NOT play hardball due to the piercing sun of Huntington beach and my pasty white Alaskan skin. No sunburn this time around thanks to Colorado's 300 days of sunshine.

Along the beach path I met a German couple named Patrick and Peggy, who had been on the road for almost a year and a half. They started their tour in Germany, rode to India, took the plane to Cancun, rode through Mexico, and are now making their way to the Oregon border and flying back home to Germany. They told the that they stretched their money out as far as it would go and were finally starting to run out, so it was time to go home. I talk about bikes and touring gear with most of the touring cyclists I see and this couple noticed my Ortlieb panniers. 90% of cycling tourists have Ortlieb panniers, but they especially noticed mine because the orange colored panniers are near impossible to get in the US. They had only seen them in Germany, so I apparently have uniquely colored panniers.

The rest of the ride was nice. Stopped in Laguna Beach for a Clif bar snack and made it to my campground at Doheny St. Pk. in Dana Point. I spent the rest of the evening either at the beach watching surfers or back at my campground eating dinner. The campground was horrible though. Train tracks nearby, bright light shining on the hiker biker spot, and the ground was impenetrable dirt, which made staking my tent impossible. I shan't dwell on the unpleasantries of the campground, but I will say that it was a lame last camping night.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Day 37

June 28, 2011

Today I rode from Malibu to Long Beach. I was somewhat dreading the experience of riding through the huge city. The ride started with a few small hills in Malibu while I gazed at the highest density of really cool houses that I've ever seen. The route went along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) for a while and much of it didn't have a shoulder, especially in the town of Malibu. I've been desensitized to traffic and the lack of shoulders, so I was hardly phased by it. I got to a state beach just west of Santa Barbara and my route took me onto the beach bike trail. That trail is so amazing! It's so nice to have a bike trail to follow. About half of my 60 mile day was on a beach trail and it was a kind of cloudy day, so there weren't that many people on the trail, which made for perfect riding.

I apologize on behalf of Los Angeles because it doesn't have very nice scenery, so you'll notice the lack of pretty pictures. One interesting sight I saw was the Santa Monica Pier, an amusement park on a pier.

Part of what made the ride through LA fun was the places that I went that I had either been to before or had heard all about from others. I had heard all about the Santa Monica Pier from Rebecca E. and later the next day I would pass through Huntington Beach, which holds horrific memories of the worst sunburn I've ever had and delicious memories of fried clams at Joe's Crab Shack.

I got slightly lost while circumnavigating Marina Del Ray, but a homeless man put me back on track. I didn't spend any significant time on the road in LA till Redondo Beach where I cut inland to Torrance and Carson. The road I went on was pretty nice as it had a bike lane half the time and a very large lane, big enough for a car and a bike, for the rest of it. I found myself at the Los Angeles river, which was a sight to see for its world renown beauty.

I made it to Long Beach and saw a big boat.

 And a nice inlet

I stayed at a hotel in Long Beach that night, taking a good chunk out of my budget, but it was totally worth the extra 30 dollars to be in a hotel of the non-prostitute variety. That evening I went to Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery for dinner and met a cool guy named Jason who is a Colorado native. Woot

Day 36

June 27, 2011

Today was a surprisingly nice day. I didn't really know what to expect of Malibu with its reputation for having lots of rich people and surfing, but I liked it. I spent the day resting even though I wasn't too tired, but I needed to reserve a plane ticket and hotels for LA and San Diego.

It's pretty much impossible to sleep in  for me when I'm camping. The sun rises early in the morning, shines on my yellow and blue tent, and wakes me up at the same time every day. So even on my rest day I woke up at 7:00. No worries.

The day started out with a very casual ride to Malibu averaging about 10mph (pretty slow). Well I didn't ride all the way to Malibu. I just went to the western edge of Malibu since the entire city is 27 miles long. I stopped at the Starbucks in town and used their internet for several hours. Pretty sure I spent 4 hours in there. It was the most productive 4 hours I've had on my tour though. 1 plane ticket bought, 1 hotel in LA reserved, 2 nights at a hostel in San Diego Reserved, and directions to all these places copied into my notebook. To boot, I had a good conversation with Jessica, a girl who was in the big group I had met the previous day at the Orcutt Starbucks. She teaches middle school at a private school somewhere in the LA area, so I might be picking her brain if I'm ever confronted with the choice between public and private (and if I am ever possessed to consider teaching middle schoolers...shudder).

Since I was in Malibu, I figured I should check out the beach. It was just like any other beach I've been to actually. Lots of sand, lots of people, and saltwater. No surfers. I ate my very big lunch of 3 bagels, half a square of cream cheese, 2 bananas, and maybe something else that I can't remember.

I was craving ice cream, which happens daily, and I also felt like going to watch the surfers at the Leo Carrillo State Beach where I was staying. So I stopped by the store and rode the 6 miles back to the campground. Before heading down to the beach I met Maggie and McGee, two smart ladies. They planned to do something like a week long tour, but after their first day riding up to this campground from LA they realized that they weren't physically prepared for a week long tour and decided to turn back the next day. Before my ice cream melted completely I went down to the beach and watched the surfers for a while.

It looked like a pretty sweet place to surf and I even witnessed someone "hang heel," which I didn't even realize was a trick. I thought hang 10 was pretty cool.

Back at the campground I met an older man who looked like he was in his 60s. It was kind of hard to tell whether he was homeless or touring. He was riding some longer distances, but got to LA and just decided to stick around here for a while. He told me he usually sleeps on the beach since it's legal without pitching a tent, but he'll occasionally treat himself to a night at the campground for a shower.

It was a nice relaxing day in Malibu.