Riding and Eating on Hot Days

The Pacific Northwest waited until Labor Day to get summer into high gear. We’re having the warmest days of the year with temperatures daily reaching the 90s and there’s even a rumor we’ll reach 100 by the weekend.

On most days around the Willamette Valley when I ride it’s only in the 50s or 60s. So, riding in heat is a rare treat. I’m perspiring before I even get to the hill climbing.

Naturally, I drink more liquids when it’s this hot while pedaling along our lovely country roads. Although I know the advantages of sports drinks, I prefer water. 

I also think it’s important to eat more often when it’s this hot. Not a lot. Just little nibbles every ten miles or so. It helps keep my salt level steady, which is critical. There’s a great discussion here about how and what to consider for nutrition while riding in extremely high temperatures. The gentleman from Dubai certainly knows what he’s talking about.

My preferred food these days are Odwalla’s Sweet & Salty nut bars. They have a good balance of carbs, protein, and salt. As a side benefit, they’re easy to open while riding and hold together nicely so you can take a couple of bites, a swig of water, and barely break stride, as it were. My one complaint is that you can’t easily cover them up once they’re open; unless you finish the entire bar, they always leave sticky goo in a shirt pocket or on my fingers.

I’m glad we’re having this heat wave. It’s almost like taking a vacation to some place tropical, but without the hassle of flying. Still, I won’t mind too much when our typical cool weather returns. It’ll mean less perspiring and fewer sticky fingers.



Dew Tour’s BMX Riders Defy Gravity

The good folks at the Dew Tour were kind enough to give me a press pass to witness their BMX events in Portland this weekend.

Wow. Those boys can ride.

Watching the cyclists breeze through their runs at the outdoor track along the Willamette River with city skyscrapers and multihued bridges in the background was fantastic. Better even than the gorgeous view was watching the skilled riders, who all seem to have a cavalier attitude about gravity; some of their feats would send Isaac Newton back to his calculations about how the earth’s central force controls us all. From my observations, BMX riders are immune to gravity. They fly.

The pleasure of watching riders from around the world (US, UK, NZ., Australia, Hungary, Brazil…) defy the laws of physics was matched by observing how casual, uncorrupted, and enthusiastic the athletes were. Unlike NASCAR, MLB, NBA, and NFL sports figures, the young men careening up and down the hard-packed sand berms seem to actually love what they do. They’re irrepressible. They’d be doing what they’re doing even if they couldn’t make a dime. Or so it seems.

Each and every contestant practiced incessantly before the judging began. The course inspired them. If the broad smiles on their faces indicated anything, they were having enormous fun, even when they crashed, which happened frequently, though mostly without incident in the cushioning sand. 

From where I stood trackside, the Dew Tour did not enforce a strict protocol on how often and when athletes might embarrass Mr. Newton and his gravitational theories. Riders, seemingly bored by lulls in the judges decision-making, simply leapt off the podium and sailed down the track for another go at the course in between official runs.

When riders had a particularly good run they’d return along a barricade wall of fans who extended their hands in congratulations. The riders I saw slapped each and every palm and fist pump offered.

Although the event itself is loaded with logos heralding sponsors like Toyota, Sony, J. C. Penney, and, for some inexplicable reason, Paul Mitchell, the riders themselves are mercifully devoid of sponsored stickers on their threadbare outfits. BMX is the antithesis of NASCAR and it’s all the better for it.

Like figure skating, BMX events are determined by judges. Not quite like umpires in baseball who determine a specific play, judges render their verdict on an overall performance of an event, such as a long program in figure skating or three runs in a BMX competition. So, there’s bound to be subjective interpretation of who’s actually the best in either sport. But no matter who wins this weekend’s Dew Tour BMX contest, there will be one big loser: Isaac Newton.

Gravity. What’s that?

Copyright 2011 Mark Everett Hall


Trade Publishing Demise Is a Career Killer for Kids

Trade journalism was once a thriving business that kept writers off the streets and editors fiddling with their fat expense accounts. There were print publications about everything. Cars. Chemicals. Coal. Computers. Construction. And that’s just a subset of C subjects.

Every year large and small trade publishers would launch new print magazines in emerging markets and well-established ones. Almost as often, publishers would shut down a title or two. The trade journalism market was a perfect example of the economic theory of creative destruction.

Now it’s just destruction. There are websites devoted to the death of print magazines, most of them trade journals, complete with morbid slideshows. With the elimination of those pubs, jobs disappear. As such, enjoying a lucrative writing or editing career in trade journalism, such as I did, has become less likely for coming generations.

More people need to “touch” the content in print than to produce something for online. For example, while blogging at Computerworld I was able to post my pieces directly to the Web. No news editor. No copyeditor. No production editor. No designer. No pressman. Occasionally, after the fact, the copy desk would attend to my editorial shortcomings and fix things, but it was rare. With the layoffs and the pressure to edit massive volumes of content online and for print, the desk was lucky to have time to breathe let alone bother with bloggers.

I’m not going to bemoan the indisputable fact that online content tends to suffer more misspellings, missing words, poor grammar, and other errors than do print publications. Although there, too, as layoffs mount in print publishing quality is deteriorating.

My beef here is with diminished career opportunities for people entering the workforce. When I hit the work-a-day world after college I was formally trained to do precious little of value in the marketplace. According to my first professional manager who hired me, my masters degree only showed her that I could be trained, not that I actually knew anything that would benefit the company. As ego-crushing as her observation was, she was right.

However, my education did prepare me to write. Once I learned a bit about a topic, I could produce some (presumably) coherent words about it. With luck, I stumbled upon subject areas in the very early 1980s that were taking off (LANs and Unix), but had relatively few people able to understand enough to write about them. As a result, I got plenty of excellent jobs with good trade publications for nearly three decades. Almost all of those magazines are gone now, replaced by websites, where much of the content is produced for free by readers.

(Type “reader-generated content” into Google and you’ll get 110,000,000 results. That’s a lot, even by Google’s standards. Editors and publishers love it because it’s free and it is often controversial, helping to lure and keep readers like car wrecks on highways attract rubberneckers. And, as we all know, most of it is sheer crap.)

With the ongoing and increasing demise of trade journals, a deep and diverse career pool for smart, educated people beginning their worklives is drying up. While I do not expect to see these young folks starting Tottenham-class riots in their frustration, I do expect it will mean more of them living at home for much longer than they already are, or, if mom and dad are lucky, the kids will be joining an unemployment queue while living somewhere else.

Copyright 2011 Mark Everett Hall

Ouch. Another Cycling Injury

I’ve had my share of falls and road rash, usually as a result of me not paying complete attention to the road or to my fellow riders. In other words, just being plain stupid.

I don’t count those as bike injuries. They’re simply dumb-me accidents, which happened to occur while cycling.

To me, true cycling injuries happen because I’m riding–not falling. I wish I could say these problems were rare. They’re not. And they occur even when I’m doing everything right. For example, as short as I am, it’s difficult to find a bike frame that fits. But in 2002 when Torelli offered a deal on its Gran Sasso line of bikes, I found one that matched my slight stature perfectly. Or, so I thought.

Within the first 100 miles my lower back was killing me. Michael Wolfe, my mechanic and owner of South Salem Cycleworks, suggested a handlebar neck extender. I was doubtful because my back howled in despair each time I rode my new bike. Then, on the third try, I rode pain free that day and every one since with the new extender.

Pain free in my back, that is. Other parts of my body have suffered from cycling.

Once, I was three-quarters through an 80-mile ride that took me into the Cascade foothills. Cruising comfortably on an easy downhill, my right knee suddenly felt a twinge, then quickly throbbed with pain. A slight tear from fatigue in the meniscus, as it turns out.

As some of you undoubtedly know, a mangled meniscus can hurt. I rode the rest of the way home that day using my left leg alone or standing up to pedal, which hurt less than when I was sitting and pedaling. This time there was no cure by swapping out some bike parts. Rest was the only way to heal my knee.

Right now I’m suffering from a toe injury. My right bike shoe is too loose and the foot is banging around inside it, resulting in trauma to my big toe. I may lose the toenail.

Better fitting shoes might be the answer, you’d think. But the reason I have these shoes a half size too large is that a few years ago I was plagued with searing pain in my right foot, which was diagnosed as coming from too much pressure on the metatarsal. My doctor prescribed looser cycling shoes

I can’t win.

Some weeks ago, I was criticized (somewhat correctly, I think) by some for my essay “Fun,” wherein I chastised riders for taking their cycling far too seriously. Go slow, I said. Take a look around. Enjoy the ride. Critics here, on Reddit, and elsewhere suggested that maybe some of the fun from riding had to do with the pain and anguish that came with each ride.

I don’t necessarily disagree. But the pain and anguish I am having right now is no fun at all.

Copyright 2011 Mark Everett Hall

Seeing & Cycling: Unexpected Views

Riding the country roads in the lush agricultural expanse of the Willamette Valley offers many charming views for the cyclist. Great fields of wheat line the roadsides and a plethora of blueberry, cherry, peach, hazelnut, and pear orchards appear around almost every corner. Vineyards abound. There are rivers and streams galore and impressive sights of the Cascade Mountains and their looming volcanos.

But these are all views I expect to see as I ride from one end of the valley to the other. Occasionally, I encounter something unusual, something less charming and more puzzling as I pedal here and there.

Take, for example, this motorcycle mounted on a building in the central part of the valley.I suppose it could have been put up there as an advertisement for a bike repair shop, but there does not appear to be a business in the building or anywhere else for miles, nor has there been in the eleven years I’ve been riding past the place. So, I wonder, why did the owner put it there?

Spying ancient farm equipment is a common sight. But some of the gear is strange to behold, such as these old plowing discs rusting near a dilapidated barn.

However, what I find most unusual are the occasional public proclamations made by residents to whomever passes by. Most announce the landowner’s religious faith in a highly visible way. But some offer a less spiritual message.

Here’s a straightforward declaration to all government workers to steer clear of this person’s property. I can only imagine the grievance the property owner felt to compel him or her to put up such a sign along the road.

That individual, though, does not hold a candle to the apparent anger boiling inside the owners of this house. It’s one thing to paint and display an anti-government sign on the edge of your property. It’s something else entirely to paint your house explicitly to decry lawyers and judges while “publishing” your “Fuck List” of professions on your garage doors. Perhaps starting a spite-filled blog would have been more effective and done less damage to property values.

Most of these visual oddbits revealed themselves to me because I was on a bicycle and not whizzing by in a car too fast to notice. They may not make for a pretty ride. But they do make for an interesting one.

Copyright 2011 Mark Everett Hall

Pricing Your eBook: 99 Cents Is All You Need to Know

I’m an old fool. When I published my ebook on Amazon for Kindle readers I was thinking in 20th century terms. I was comparing it to a paperback book. So I considered my $7.99 price a bit of a bargain, given that most softbound books go for $9.99 or more.

What a dufus I am. In the not too distant future all ebooks will cost 99 cents, just like mine does now. (Or will by tomorrow when the change takes effect.)

What prompted my new “pricing strategy” was getting my first royalty check from Amazon. And a big promotional story for me and other local ebook authors. First, the royalty, while surprising and nice, was not that much money. Second, the big story about we ebookers generated all of two sales for me.

The reason, I now believe, is that the pricing model for ebooks is simple: cheap wins. Always. Don’t believe me? How about this writer or this one or that one?

My theory is that Kindle owners browse what’s available on Amazon, buy what they are searching for, and then make a series of impulse buys. Spending 99 cents is easy. If what you buy is lousy, no big deal.

Since I’ve decided to join the 21st century of publishing through ebooks, I better have 21st century pricing policy, too.


Among the many practical reasons given about why we should ride bikes, such as weight management, endurance training, overall health improvement, and saving money on gasoline, one of the most practical is seldom discussed. It’s fun.

Having fun is one of the important things that keeps us sane in our increasingly stressful modern world. Enjoying life can be hard with all the pressures we feel day to day, so having an emotional outlet for simple pleasures can be the difference between being a well-adjusted person and a nutter.

Sadly, not all cyclists enjoy themselves while on two wheels. For them, each ride is a challenge to always go faster or further, to climb higher or pedal longer. As soon as their butt hits the seat they push themselves to their maximum physical limits. When their rides are done, they are completely drained.

That’s not fun. That’s boring. 

Although I am adamant that I cycle hard for parts of every ride, there are also long, leisurely segments where I enjoy the countryside. I’ll stop to watch a flock of birds taking off or landing, or maybe just to stare in wonder at hop or blueberry fields. I like to chat with riding partners about things other than cycling. I’m never bored on my bike.

When kids get on their bicycles and race off to an adventure, they use their bikes as merely a means to an end. Biking is simply a part of what they do to play. Playing is what matters, not the bike.

It’s well known that play and health are linked. The better you are at playing, the more likely you are to be in good physical and mental condition. But playing is more than just running or riding, it includes the element of fun. There’s always a light-heartedness included in the act of playing.

Too many adults take riding, as well as the rest of their lives, far too seriously. I can’t. Cycling is too joyful.

Often I catch myself riding along with a big, stupid smile on my face for no reason. I’ve even been known to simply burst out laughing like a crazy person while on my bike. But I’m not crazy. I’m just having some fun.

© Mark Everett Hall 2011