Stan’s Obligatory Blog

8/26/2013

Another half-mile death march

Filed under: — stan @ 9:39 pm

Tonight at stair practice, I wanted to try an experiment. After last Wednesday, when I was able to do four consecutive climbs all under 11 minutes, I wanted to see if I could do four close to 10 minutes each. I knew I could go under 10 easily on the first climb, so I wanted to see how close to 10 I could get on the subsequent climbs.

Of course, it was probably a Bad Thing that I forgot to bring my water bottle along tonight.

The first time up, I was aiming for a pace of 5 floors per minute. That’s reasonable brisk, without being punishing. And I got to the top in 9:48. So the trick was going to see how close I could come to that pace on the second time up.

As it turned out, the answer was, “well, sort of close.” The first climb, I averaged about 11.5 seconds per floor. On the second, I did about 12.5. The third was about 13.9. I think the lack of water was taking a toll. After the third, I was pretty tired. But I still wanted to go up again, just for the sake of obstinacy and to have a vertical half-mile for the evening. But I was pretty well wiped-out by that time. So I didn’t even bother timing the last time up. I don’t really want to know how slow I was going. But I made it to the top.

After I came back down, I made a point of stopping at Famima!! across from the Aon building on the way back to the subway station. I got a quart of Gatorade and chugged it down on the sidewalk. And then I felt slightly better.

Oh well, they can’ all be gems.

8/25/2013

Vacation in Tehran

Filed under: — stan @ 2:00 pm

It’s the last Sunday of the month, and that means it’s time for our ’slightly longer’ Sunday morning bike ride. Today’s destination was the Veterans Administration campus in North Hills. One of the buildings there was used for filming some of the scenes outside the American Embassy in Tehran in the film “Argo“.

The route out there was basically the La Tuna Canyon ride, but with about an eight-mile side trip at the apex of the route. We rode out across Glendale and Burbank until we got to Sun Valley, where we’d normally turn right and head up the canyon. But instead, we turned left and headed out into the San Fernando Valley. It was a fair distance to get to North Hills, but it was very flat. The only real downside was that it was a very hot day.

When we got there, we had to look up which building it was. Then we followed the signs to get there. As it turns out, the part of the building that was used for filming was on the back side, so we didn’t get to see it directly from the road. Also, the main building near the entrance is apparently used in “Grey’s Anatomy”, which I didn’t know, but one of the other people on the ride recognized.

On the way back, we stopped at a gas station and got some cold drinks. I sucked down a 1.5 liter bottle of cold water. It was hot.

When we got back to familiar territory, we’d ridden a bit over 40 miles, and now it was time to ride up La Tuna Canyon. That was a real grind. I was almost happy that I got a flat along the way. At least it was a legitimate reason to stop for a while. We regrouped at the top, and then headed down the other side, in to Montrose.

We stopped for bagels at Goldstein’s in La Cañada. Then, from there it was downhill all the way home.

56 miles.

8/21/2013

Pushing the pace

Filed under: — stan @ 9:16 pm

Last week, I went to stair practice and did a vertical kilometer. That was the evening that George said he wanted to try and beat my previous time of 59:12 for the five climbs. And with that, I found I had the strength of Ten Grinches, and I managed to push the pace and do the kilometer in 55:43. So this evening, George said he was going to attempt to beat my 55:43 for the kilometer. And thus, I had a goal for the evening. My goal became to also beat the 55:43, and to do it in a convincing manner.

I started off planning a pace of 4 3/4 floors per minute from the start. That works out to about 10:45 for this building. Of course, the first couple of climbs went a bit faster, since I was fresh, but overall, I was able to maintain the pace for the first four climbs. This is the first time I’ve done four consecutive climbs under 11 minutes each.

In the elevator down the fourth time, I heard George talking. I was sitting down, trying to get the maximum rest. I looked through the forest of legs in the elevator, and I saw George sitting on the floor on the other side. We compared times, and his first four times were comparable to mine from last week. That meant he had a good shot at beating my 55:43 from last Wednesday. My first four were considerably faster than last week’s, so I knew that if I could just keep pace with him on the last climb, I’d have a better time for today. And I knew that if I did any reasonably fast time, I’d get my total under 55, which was my goal. So we decided to go up together and I was going to try and keep pace with him. Just before we started, he asked me if I thought I might get under 54 minutes. I didn’t think so, but I hadn’t taken the time to do the math and see.

The fifth time up, I was pretty tired. I was aiming for my 4 1/2 floors per minute pace, which gets me to the top in about 11:22. I knew this would be fast enough to still have the total under 55. I managed to keep pace with George up to about the 35th floor, but then he seemed overcome by something, and started pulling away from me. I tried to keep pace, but by the time we got to the 49th floor, he was about 1 1/2 floors ahead of me. I could hear his footsteps and breathing, and he was obviously working hard. Just knowing this was the end, I managed to eke out a little burst of speed at the end, and I stumbled onto the 51st floor landing in 11:22. Right on schedule.

On the way home on the train, I added up my times. They came out to a total of 53:57, which was quite a bit faster than I’d expected to be able to do. I really can’t complain about that. And George did his vertical kilometer in 55:39, so we both achieved our goals for the evening. So all told, it was a good outing.

Many thanks again to George for lighting a fire underneath me.

8/19/2013

“the least pleasant form of recreation ever conceived”

Filed under: — stan @ 9:39 pm

Tonight was yet another stair practice in downtown Los Angeles. I went with essentially one goal, and that was to do my first climb for speed. I worked out a pace, aiming to be at the top in about 9 minutes. Not the fastest I can do, but a reasonably brisk pace. This worked out to about 5 2/3 floors per minute.

I got changed and got in line for the stairs. I started my watch and headed up. At each time point, I checked the watch, and I managed to stay on target almost all the way up to the big landing on the 49th floor. The last two floors are bigger than the others, and I heaved up onto the 51st floor in 9:06. Close enough.

After a too-slow freight elevator ride back down, I headed up again. This time, my target pace was 4 3/4 floors per minute. This was aiming to get to the top in about 10:45, and the magic worked. I got to 51 at 10:44.

I headed back down again. Checking the time, I knew I wasn’t going to have enough time to make five climbs tonight. But I wanted to try my ‘easy’ 11:22 pace the third time up. I’ve done this pace for four consecutive climbs before, and it’s usually pretty easy. I started up, and almost immediately, I hit the proverbial Wall. What is usually an easy climb up the stairs quickly turned into a Death March. It was so bad that I just turned off my watch about halfway up.

Of course, after that horrible experience, I had to do it again. You know. Get back on the horse and all that. I didn’t even start my watch the last time. It was just a struggle for survival to get to the top. But I made it. Four climbs. A half-mile vertical.

Fun times.

8/18/2013

Johnny Ramone and John Waters

Filed under: — stan @ 11:35 pm

This evening was the 9th Annual Johnny Ramone Tribute at Hollywood Forever cemetery. This year, the event included a screening of “Cry Baby“, and a personal appearance by John Waters to introduce the film. Add to that that Johnny Depp, Traci Lords, and others from the movie were going to be there, Being a big fan of both the Ramones and John Waters, this was an event not to be missed.

Since Kathleen was laid up at home recovering from her surgery last Thursday, Lucinda and I made plans to go to this, along with my friend Lisa from the West Coast Labels stair-climbing team. I made us a too-big picnic to bring along, and dug out our Tommy Bahama chairs, and we were ready to go.

We set up camp on the lawn, and Lisa got in line to get autographs from John Waters. I didn’t bring anything for him to sign, largely because everything I have by him is already signed. And as it turned out, that was a good thing. She waited in line for a long time, and then they cut the line off just before she got to the front.

Lucinda spent some time sightseeing in the cemetery and taking pictures. They had Johnny Ramone’s statue decorated for the occasion, and they turned on the lights as darkness fell.

Before the film, they held question and answer session with John Waters and the others from the film on the stage. Lucinda was excited when she found out that the panel would be introduced by none other than Dita. They took some questions from the crowd and talked about making the movie. Then John Waters took the stage by himself to introduce the film. As always, he was very funny to listen to. After he finished, we watched the movie, and as always, it was very entertaining. It had been years since I saw “Cry Baby”, so all around, this was a very fun evening.

More Los Angeles History

Filed under: — stan @ 3:16 pm

Today’s ride was a visit to what’s referred to as the Corralitas Red Car Property in Silver Lake. This is a strip of land that used to be the right-of-way for the Pacific Electric Glendale line. It runs from right next to the Glendale Freeway to the top of the hill overlooking Fletcher Drive and Riverside. At one end, the tracks used to run where the present-day freeway stands, and at the other end, there used to be a high trestle across the valley where Fletcher Drive runs now. The footings for the trestle are still visible on the hillside.

We rode out from from Pasadena, across Eagle Rock and Glendale, and then down to the L.A. River bike path near Griffith Park. We took that to Fletcher Drive and then took some streets to get to Riverside Drive, near the Glendale Freeway underpass. Then, after a short side trip up the hill behind the school on Riverside, we were there. The right-of-way is essentially a dirt road now. The people in the neighborhood park cars on it, and the tire tracks show that it’s driven on a fair amount. We rode out to the end where the trestle used to be. From that angle, the footings for the trestle make it pretty obvious where it used to be. I looked, and I found a good picture showing the trestle from about the same angle here: http://www.pacificelectric.org/pacific-electric/western-district/the-final-days-of-fletcher-trestle/

From there, we turned around and rode the length of the trail back to where it ends by the freeway. Then we got back on the streets and rode down Riverside to Stadium Way. After our experience a few weeks ago, I’d looked to make sure there wasn’t a Dodger home game today, since we’d be going right past the stadium. We rode through and down into Echo Park to Chango Coffee.

After the snack stop, we rode up the steep hill out of Echo Park, passing the gates of Dodger Stadium. We also passed the Los Angeles Fire Department academy, and the World Trade Center memorial there. Then, we turned east up Broadway and headed for home by way of Huntington Drive.

It was a perfect day for riding, and an interesting bit of Los Angeles history.

38 miles.

8/15/2013

Scouting the West Side

Filed under: — stan @ 8:00 pm

Kathleen had to have surgery today, and due to the requirements of it, we had to go to the West L.A. Kaiser hospital. They said it would take 2-3 hours, and that I should be available during that time. Since just sitting in the waiting room is just excruciating, I made sure they had my cell phone number, and I brought my bike along to scout out some possible sightseeing for the Sunday morning bike club ride.

Since we’ve done a couple of rides to see different aspects of the history of the Los Angeles oil fields, I’ve done a bit of reading about this. And I ran across an article about fracking wastewater disposal that mentioned polluted water bubbling up out of the ground in a dog park on the west side of L.A. They weren’t very specific about where it was, and when I finally tracked it down, it turned out to actually be in Culver City. But as it turns out, this is just a couple of miles from the Kaiser West L.A. facility, so I had my first sightseeing destination.

To get there, I rode down Venice Blvd, which isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds like it would be on a Thursday morning. There is a bike lane, and it was really only a problem going under the big bridge under construction for the Metro Expo Line. Then I turned on Culver Blvd and rode over to the park in Culver City. There was a line of pawprints painted on the sidewalk marking the way to the dog park. When I got there, it was an acre or so of dirt, complete with oil wells pumping away just up the hillside beyond the fence. There was also a little fenced-in enclosure across the street from the entrance, with humming equipment inside that was pretty obviously something to do with the oil field.

Another recent sightseeing theme on the Sunday morning ride was to see the Mulholland Dam and the Hollywood Reservoir. This came out of having gone to a talk about the St. Francis Dam disaster in 1928, which is considered to be one of the worst civil engineering failures of the 20th century. During that talk, they mentioned that the dam collapse is largely forgotten in Los Angeles, possibly because all the death and destruction it caused happened far outside the city. So during the question-and-answer period, I asked the panel to compare this to the 1963 Baldwin Hills Dam collapse, which is also kind of forgotten, even though it happened within the Los Angeles city limits, just about 8 miles west of downtown. They said that they thought that that was probably because of the combination of the fact that the destruction it caused was much less than the St. Francis Dam, and also because it happened in December, 1963, just weeks after the Kennedy assassination. In any event, I’ve wanted to go see the site of the Baldwin Hills Dam for some time now, and it’s only a few miles east of Culver City and the dog park. And to add to the connection, the prevailing thinking now is that the dam collapse was probably caused by ground subsidence due to operations in the Inglewood oil field just south of the reservoir. The remains of the dam and the bowl of the reservoir have since been landscaped and turned into Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area.

So I rode over to Baldwin Hills, and I headed up a street that looked like it might lead to a way in to the park. The main entrance to the park is on La Cienega Blvd, but on the section that was built decades ago as a section of the planned Laurel Canyon Freeway. Even though it’s officially just a street, I really don’t want to be riding my bike on the freeway, so I was looking for another way in to the park. I rode up a steep hill to a place where I had a good look at the former dam, complete with the dip in the wall where it broke. I continued on up to the end of the street, where there was a locked gate. So I asked someone who was out walking in the neighborhood. She said that she thought there was a way in off the street on the other side of the former reservoir, so I rode back down the hill and up the other side, only to find more locked gates. I finally did find a gap in the fence with that looked like a goat path that may have led into the park. But that’s not really what I was looking for. The only lesson I can draw from this is that for some reason, the powers that be REALLY, REALLY don’t want people to come to this park by bicycle. Still, I did get a pretty good view in through the gates to see the nicely landscaped bowl of the former reservoir.

On my way back down the hill, my phone made some noise. It was a message from the nurse that Kathleen’s operation was nearly done, and that everything had gone well. So I headed back to the hospital. As I’d learned back in 2007, going for a bike ride is a good way to pass the time while waiting for these sorts of things. So it worked out well for both of us.

8/14/2013

Fire under my feet

Filed under: — stan @ 9:19 pm

I went downtown today with a distinct lack of planning or ambition. I didn’t want to try going for speed again tonight, but I didn’t have any other ideas of what to do. But when I got there, George said he was going to do a vertical kilometer. He had added up my times from when I did it a couple weeks ago, and they totaled 59:10 of climbing time. So he was going to try and beat that total. And with that, he lit a fire under me, and I had a goal for the evening. My goal was to do the five climbs again, and to improve on my time, and to beat George.

The first time up, I was fresh and ready, and I turned in a 10:30. Not blazing fast, but a good brisk pace. The second time, I went a little slower, but still was under 11. Each time up, I was aiming for my usual 4 1/2 floors per minute pace, and I hit that on the third and fourth climbs, coming out at the top in 11:18 and 11:25. At that point, I checked my watch, and it was 6:58PM, So I knew that I’d be able to make it back down to the start before they closed the door at 7:10.

At the bottom, I had a couple of minutes extra to spare before the door closed. So I stopped and had some water before heading up the stairs for the fifth time.

In the past, when I’ve done five climbs in one session, the fifth time up is a real slog. It’s hard to keep moving, and I just keep thinking, “Who the HELL thought this was a good idea???” But this time, all the way up the 51 floors, I just kept chanting to myself, “Beat George! Beat Geoge! Beat George!” It was a good mantra, and I was almost able to maintain my pace, even on the fifth time up. And when I got to 49, I could see that I had a chance of making the top in under 12 minutes. Somehow, I managed to run up the last two floors, coming out on top at 11:47.

So my total for the five climbs was 55:43, which I found pretty remarkable. This is the first time I’ve done five climbs and had them all under 12 minutes. And the average was about 11:09, which is not bad for doing five consecutive climbs up a 51-story building. Nothing like a little friendly competition to gin up some motivation.

Of course, that means that the next frontier is to push the average below 11. Maybe that’s my goal for next week. In any event, it was a good evening.

8/12/2013

A startling revelation

Filed under: — stan @ 9:59 pm

Tonight was yet another practice session on the staircase at the Wilshire-Figueroa building in downtown Los Angeles. I went there this evening with the goal of trying to climb it in 9 minutes or less. And after that, I planned on climbing it again at a moderate pace as many times as time would allow.

When I got there, I got signed in and started up. My planned pace was 5 2/3 floors per minute. At each time point, I checked my watch to see it ticking over the one-minute boundary. And at each time point, having to mentally add 5 2/3 to it to calculate the next time point was a useful distraction from wondering why the hell I’m doing this insane sport in the first place.

I was able to maintain my pace up to about the 38th floor, when I was suddenly overcome by a wave of ‘What-the-f#ck-are-you-trying-to-prove-here’, which briefly slowed me down. I managed to somehow keep going, and when I hit 49, I did my best to sprint up the last two floors, coming out on 51 with a time of 9:07. It’s not quite as fast as I’d wanted, but it’s still my fastest time in this round of practice, so I can’t complain.

After the elevator ride down, I climbed the stairs two more times. In both, I was trying to do my ‘moderate’ pace, which gets me to the top in about 11:20 – 11:25. It worked once, but on the third time up the stairs this evening, I was starting to fade, and it ended up taking 12:34.

By this time, I was pretty tired. But there was still time to do it again. George was there, and he’d brought his 25-foot tape measure, so we walked up together and took some measurements on the staircase. It turns out that from the door where we start up to 2 is 9 feet. Then from floors 2 to 3, it’s 14 feet exactly. The two floors from 3 to 5 the floors are 14 feet. And then from 5 all the way up to 49, each floor is 13 feet. The last two floors from 49 to 51 are 25 feet and 19 feet each. And doing the math, it works out that the steps on that staircase are 6.8 inches high, and the climb up to 51 is 669 feet, 204 meters. I can now correct my staircase chart for this building. And even though it’s slightly shorter than I’d thought, four climbs is still a half-mile, and five is still a kilometer. This is good for those of us who are irrationally goal oriented.

Fun times.

8/11/2013

Just Another Dam Ride

Filed under: — stan @ 4:10 pm

A few weeks ago, Kathleen and I went to a talk at the downtown library about the St Francis Dam disaster. Back in 1978, I rode in a bike race that went up Francisquito Canyon, and I remember seeing the ruins of the dam during the race. At the time, I didn’t know the history of it, but I could see that they were ruins of something big in the canyon.

To this day, it appears that there is still some disagreement about the fundamental cause of the dam collapse. But one thing that they talked about that I’d never heard before was that the St Francis Dam was one of two dams that William Mulholland and the DWP built to store water from the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The St Francis Dam collapsed not long after being filled to capacity, while the other dam still exists, holding back the Hollywood Reservoir. Apparently, soon after the St Francis disaster, people looked up at the dam above Hollywood and realized that it was essentially the same dam as the one that had failed catastrophically in Santa Clarita. So the DWP embarked on a program to basically fill in the canyon in front of the dam with dirt, and then to plant trees on the slope. Ostensibly, this was to reinforce the dam, but it also had the effect of making the dam much less obvious. From below, it just looks like a little bit of concrete wall on top of the hillside.

“Dam? What dam? There’s no dam here!”

Of course, I decided that we needed to go see this close-up. I’d heard recently that the path around the reservoir is open now for hiking and bicycling, so I dusted off the “Chris Brown’s House” route and, with a few modifications, we were ready to go.

I told everyone that I thought that this might be a slightly easier ride than the others we do that go by Lake Hollywood, since we would not be riding up the hill all the way to the Hollywood sign. But it still turned out to be pretty hard. The climb up the canyon to the dam was quite steep. But when we came around the last bend, I could see the dam. Sort of. It just looked like a hillside. The trees that the DWP planted are all quite large now, and it’s not obvious at all that there’s a dam there.

At the gate to enter the path around the reservoir there was a sign saying that photo and video equipment is not allowed. In the modern age, I don’t see how they could possibly expect that anyone would follow a rule like that.

We went in the gate and rode across the dam. I stopped to look over the side at the slope and trees, and over the other side to look at the lake. It really took a stupendous amount of dirt to construct that slope. I found a picture of it from Popular Science from 1933 or so. Look how small the dump truck is, and then imagine how many loads of dirt it took:
look how small the dump truck is

On the far side of the dam, I found a little display case with a faded certificate in it. It was dated 1966 and signed by the chief engineer for the DWP.

Continuing on around the lake, we got back to the main road and groaned up the Lake Hollywood hill. Then down the other side into Burbank for snacks at Priscilla’s.

On the way back, Martha showed us how to get to the Glendale Narrows Riverwalk. This is a short walking and bike path they built along a stretch of the L.A. River. It was a nice little shortcut.

All told, it was a nice day for riding, and an interesting bit of history, too.

38 miles.

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