Stan’s Obligatory Blog


Once more, with feeling

Filed under: — stan @ 10:46 pm

Thursday night is Art Walk night in downtown Los Angeles. Kathleen and I were planning on meeting up there to go see the art, so I planned to go practice on the stairs beforehand. This time, I remembered my watch. I also brought along my big fancy-ass camera, since we were going to be going Art Walking. That turned out to be a bit of bother to carry up the stairs, but that’s all right.

This time, I clipped my split times note card to the back of my glove. I made it to 20 a few seconds ahead of schedule. I was right on schedule at 32, but I fell a few seconds behind by the time I got to 44. I was just getting going on my final dash to the finish when I came around the corner at 59 and one of the building guards was sitting in the middle of the staircase. He said they’d just painted the stairs above, so we had to stop at 59. I was a bit startled by this, and it was several seconds before I realized that that meant I should stop my watch. At that time, it said 10:04. So I think my actual time if I’d been able to go on to 60 would have been right around 10 minutes. Which is not bad for being in recovery mode still.


You know what they say about getting back the horse

Filed under: — stan @ 8:41 pm

It’s Tuesday, and that means practice at the Aon building. I’m still coughing from the weekend’s ordeal, so I decided I’d just go and do it at a slower pace than usual.

I rode the train downtown again. When I got to the station, I had my first “oh crap” moment when I realized I’d forgotten my camera. And when the train was about halfway to downtown, I had the second when I realized I’d forgotten my stopwatch. So that meant that my cue card with the split times written on it was going to be useless. I looked to see if my phone had a stopwatch function on it, but it doesn’t. The closest thing I could find was a timer in the alarm clock function. So I figured I’d just set a 10-minute timer and see how far I got before it went off.

When I got to the building, I got changed and headed up. There’s no point in sitting around at the bottom, dreading what I’m about to do. I started the timer, put on my gloves, and headed up.

It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. I managed to maintain a steady pace, and the 10-minute timer went off when I was passing the 57th floor. That’s about 30 seconds from the top. Since I took about 15 seconds at the bottom putting on my gloves, I figure my time was about 10:15 or so. That’s slow by this year’s standards, but still faster than anything I did last year. So I can’t complain.


The Coughing Game

Filed under: — stan @ 10:42 pm

This year’s Scale the Strat stair climb was a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I took almost 40 seconds off my best time for the tower. But on the other hand, I blew out my throat and lungs breathing the extra-dry desert air, and I ended up coughing so much that I couldn’t race on in the finals on Sunday. And on the third hand, Saturday was Lucinda’s 13th birthday, so she got to have a fun weekend in Las Vegas with Trinh. So overall, it was a good weekend, even if I didn’t get to do my best performance on the stairs.

We headed out there on Friday morning. The idea was to get there before dark. We stopped at Alien Fresh Jerky in Baker, since the girls all like their jerky. I don’t really get the appeal of jerky, but the place is amusing. When we got to Las Vegas, we got checked in to the hotel, and the girls went off on their own. Kathleen and I went up the tower to scout it out. I’ve been on a mission to get a fully-detailed layout of the stairs there, and I wanted to have a peek into the stairwell at the top to count the steps on the last two flights. I figured they’re be the same for all eight levels of the pod at the top of the tower.

After the scouting mission, we all headed over to Circus Circus for dinner. I got the obligatory prime rib that I always look for in Las Vegas. And after dinner, the girls all got some faux-ice-cream thing that I tasted and thought was horrible.

Saturday morning came, and I’d made up my preliminary map of the stairs. And based on that, I figured out split times that I’d need to make for the three major landmarks on the climb. The first was the first rest area, 1/3 of the way up the tower shaft. The second was the other rest area, which is about 2/3 of the way up the shaft, and the final landmark was the first fire refuge level at the bottom of the pod, right at the top of the tower shaft. I made up split times, aiming to be at the top in 11 minutes. Then I wrote them on a little card and safety-pinned it to the back of my glove, so I could see it at the same time when I looked at my watch.

I made the first landmark about 10 seconds ahead of schedule. The second and third landmarks were right on schedule. I managed to put on a burst of speed at the end, and I stumbled out of the stairs in 10:43, which is 37 seconds faster than my previous best time for this climb.

After the climb, Kathleen was signed up to do the Sky Jump off the tower. So we got cleaned up and headed down there. They got her suited up, and I had a seat on one of the lounge chairs they have set up by the landing area next to the tower. When they announced that it was her turn, I turned my big zoom lens up and shot a bunch of pictures as she came down. It was over pretty quickly, but she said it was fun, that is, it was fun after she got over having to take that first step off the edge.

Saturday evening, we went to the Peppermill for dinner with the whole West Coast Labels/X-Gym stair climbing team. All afternoon, I’d had a bad case of the Climber’s Cough, brought on by breathing the dry desert air in the stairwell. But by dinnertime, it seemed to be getting better.

After dinner, we headed downtown so that the girls could do the zipline on Fremont St again. But when we got there, my cough came back, worse than before. I’ve coughed a lot after stair climbs, but never before so hard that I thought I was in serious danger of barfing. When I nearly lost my dinner on Fremont St, I knew I had to pack it in. So Kathleen and I gave the girls enough money for cab fare back to the Stratosphere, and we headed back to our room.

By this time, I was starting to have serious doubts about running in the finals on Sunday morning. But I figured I’d just go to sleep and see how I felt in the morning.

Sunday morning came, and I felt slightly better. But my throat was pretty raw, and all my chest muscles were sore from all the coughing. That was when I came up with a plan to salvage the situation. I knew that running all-out was out of the question. But on the other hand, I’d wanted to do a scouting trip up the stairs to get an accurate map and step count. And since I’d qualified for the finals, I had my ticket into the stairs. So I wore my shorts that have pockets, and I brought along a pen and a notepad. When it was time to start, I started out like normal, but as soon as I was up the first couple of flights, and out of sight of the starting line, I pulled out the notepad and started writing notes. I counted the steps on every flight, which was pretty easy, since the majority of the climb is just 20-step flights, with a landing and a 180-degree left turn. At the second rest area, I even took a minute to look over the side of the stairs and contemplate the 250 or so feet of empty space below my feet. That was impressive. I shan’t be looking at that again, I think. At the end, I walked up the last flight and strolled out of the stairwell, notes in hand. It was a bit of an odd way to end the race, but at least I got some useful information out of it.

After the climb was over, I went over my notes, and I quickly determined several things that we’d all been wondering about:

  • How many steps are there?
  • How high is the climb itself?
  • How many floors are there in the pod?

And the end product as a complete chart of the stairs. The observation deck level of the tower is 855 feet above street level. It turns out that the 3rd floor, where they start the climb, is 47 feet above street level. So the climb is 808 feet, and 1,372 steps. This is, as I’ve been saying, about the equivalent of a normal 60-story building. So even though they said it’s “108 stories”, they’re exaggerating. And the published step count of 1,455 is wrong. And finally, there are 8 levels in the pod. So this will be an aid to planning and computing split times for future climbs.

The last thing we did on Sunday afternoon was to go to New York New York to ride the roller coaster there. Kathleen and I rode it last year when we were here for the stair climb, but we couldn’t ride it when we were there in May, owing to the wind being too strong that day. So we finally all got to ride it. It’s a pretty good ride, even if the 200-foot lift hill at the beginning gives me the willies.

Overall, it was a nice weekend. And we didn’t even get stuck in much traffic on the way home.


Last practice before Las Vegas and the Stratosphere

Filed under: — stan @ 10:36 pm

Tonight was my last big practice session before going to Las Vegas this weekend to climb the Stratosphere Tower stairs. I had read Kristen’s account of climbing the Hancock building in Chicago, and I liked her idea of setting milestones and time goals along the way as a method of knowing whether or not one is ‘on pace’. So I thought I’d try that this evening.

I took a guess, and figured that the few short hallways along the way up the Aon building probably add up to about 30 seconds or so of non-climbing time. Using my best time of 9:48 as a guideline, I figured on about 9:15 of actual climbing time for the 56 floors. That gave me 9.9 seconds per floor on average. So I made up a little chart with milestones and time goals. The floor milestones represent the places where the stairway changes, except for 32, which is just the halfway point of the practice climb. And this is what I got:

Floor Time goal
20 2:38
24 3:33
32 4:52
42 6:31
44 7:05
60 9:45

I wrote this up on a little piece of paper, and I put some packing tape on it to protect it from sweat. Then I rubber-banded it to my arm.

As it turned out, I was pretty close. At 20, I was at 2:35. At 24, I had 3:32, and at 32, the watch said 4:55. All this was good. In retrospect, I think I could have cut the time points down to just 20, 32, and 44. There really wasn’t much point in having two time points separated by just a few floors. And I’m pretty sure that looking at the watch that many times cost me a couple seconds. I also found out after the fact that I’d whacked my arm against something, possibly the fire hose pipe that runs up the landings from 24 to 42. It’s really sore and bruised now, but I have no memory of hitting it on anything. But in the end, I came out at 60, and after doing the traditional face-plant on the floor, I saw that I had 9:51. That’s only three seconds off my best time, and very close to my goal time. So that was a Good Thing all around.

I spent a few minutes on 60 looking at the sunset. It wasn’t quite as nice as the one from last week, but it was still nice to look at. Then I took the elevator back down and got dressed to go home.

It was a good outing, and I feel pretty much ready to attack the Stratosphere stairs.

End of an era

Filed under: — stan @ 6:45 am

I canceled our DirecTV service today. Kathleen and I used it to watch the Oscars on Sunday. And I got to thinking that before that, the last thing I can remember watching on it was Punkin Chunkin back at Thanksgiving. We used to use it to watch “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report”, but since we got Hulu Plus on the Roku last July, we watch those over there. And Lucinda pretty much only watches streaming things from Netflix on the Roku. For as much as we’ve used the DirecTV since last summer, it works out to something like $60 an hour for the few things we’ve watched on it. It’s just not worth it.

So that’s that.


Everything is more interesting with the word ‘naked’ in front of it

Filed under: — stan @ 5:41 pm

Today’s adventure was a trip downtown to see “Naked Hollywood: Weegee in Los Angeles” at MOCA. Having seen some of his work before, and reading the reviews of this exhibit, we knew we had to see it.

We rode the train downtown from Pasadena, and it felt odd to me to be on the train, going downtown, and not dreading having to run up the stairs at a 60-story building. I guess I’ve been doing that a lot lately. Still, the Civic Center subway station is pretty far underground, so we took the stairs up.

The exhibit was a lot of fun. Weegee sounds like he was a real character. They said that his accent was the inspiration for Peter Sellers in his portrayal of Dr. Strangelove. He also developed methods of distorting photos in strange ways. It was a lot like he invented a physical version of Photoshop. And he said that people think anything is more interesting if you put the word “naked” in front of it.

After Weegee, we wandered around the rest of the museum. It’s kind of a grab bag of all different things, but then we came around the corner and saw a painting by Cy Twombly. We know about him from having read John Waters’ book, Role Models.

“Isn’t Cy Twombly beyond a doubt still the most cutting-edge artist working today, even if he is over eighty years old? According to my close friend and former museum curator Brenda Richardson, he can make even the most seasoned art collectors and accessions committees seethe in skepticism and rage over his work.”

And we could see why.

Also, there was a painting by Roy Lichtenstein that included a note for him to call. I don’t recall if he ever did.

After the museum, we walked around Bunker Hill a bit. It’s very quiet on weekends there, but I got some nice photos of buildings reflecting each other in the late-afternoon sun. Then we rode Angel’s Flight down the hill and got on the subway to come home.

It was a fun afternoon.


They can’t all be gems

Filed under: — stan @ 7:12 pm

I went downtown at lunchtime today to do the stair practice at the Aon building. So far this year, I’ve been going pretty well at this, turning in times that are about 30 seconds faster than I was doing last year at this time.

As always, I was dreading it all the way down there on the train. When I got there, I got changed and I didn’t wait around before starting up. There were a few people who started before me, but I caught and passed them within the first ten floors. And then I was alone the rest of the way. I took a look at my watch at 32, and it said something like 5:10. So I knew this was not going to be a record-setting climb. But amazingly enough, I was able to pick up the pace a bit, and I did the second half of the climb faster than the first half. I looked at my watch again at 54, and it was right around 9 minutes. So I knew I had a fighting chance to come in right around 10 minutes, and I managed to pick up the pace some more for the last four floors. And after taking a couple minutes to catch my breath, I looked at the watch again, and I saw that I’d done 10:03. It’s a measure of how much faster I’m going this year compared with last year that I look at that time, and I think, “Meh, that’s only so-so.” But last year, I was struggling to get under 10:30. So there’s really nothing to complain about here.

I took a couple of minutes to look at the view. I took a picture of the same view from last time, but it’s really not the same without the spectacular sunset colors.

On the way back, I had a few minutes to wait at the 7th St/Metro Center station, so I had a look at one of the new Expo Line trains parked in the station. We’d seen a test train running on the new line last Sunday. So I guess they’re getting close to opening it.

All in all, it was a pretty good outing, even if I didn’t get a new best time.


Bright city lights and endless staircases

Filed under: — stan @ 10:03 pm

It’s Tuesday, and time for another practice run up the Aon Center stairs in downtown Los Angeles. Last week, I’d done my best time yet at 9:48, so I wanted to see if I could beat that.

I’d washed my gloves over the weekend to restore their stickiness, and wow, did it ever. They really gripped the railing, and the little rubber-squeaky noises were louder than ever. I made a point of not trying to think about going fast, but rather just to concentrate on doing the proper footwork for the least steps. That makes climbing more efficient, and it’s also a useful distraction from the thinking, “OMG!!! What the HELL was I thinking signing up for this again!

After all these practice runs, I’m getting pretty good at the stepping pattern. I only got confused once, around the 54th floor. And I’m usually pretty cross-eyed and confused by that point anyway. I had a quick look at my watch at the halfway point at 32, and it said something like 4:50, so I was on track. I passed 9 minutes at about 54, and I managed to put on a little kick at the end, from 56 to 60. I came out of the stairs and did the traditional face-plant on the floor. And when I looked at the watch, it said 9:50. Not the fastest, but the second-fastest, and not bad at all for just showing up to do the climb without really trying to set any records.

After a few minutes, I went to look out the windows for a bit. And it turned out that tonight had a very nice sunset. So I found a dark corner of the 60th floor and braced the camera on the window sill to take some pictures. I also went to the other side to get some pictures of the other skyscrapers on Bunker Hill, since we’ll be racing up the U.S. Bank Tower in the fall, as well as practicing at Wells Fargo and One California Plaza.

All told, I’m having a really good practice season right now. Not really trying for speed, but still consistently doing times that I could only dream about last year. There’s nothing not to like there.

Working out my power production:

1236 x 7.5 = 9270 inches = 772.5 feet
9270 x 2.54 / 100 = 235.5 meters
235.5m x 77kg x 9.8 = 177677 joules
177677 joules / 590 sec = 301 watts
301 watts = 0.4 horsepower

Yup. Nothing not to like here.


A bit of forgotten history

Filed under: — stan @ 10:52 pm

Today’s bike club ride was a sightseeing trip to Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles to visit the grave of Lincoln Perry. Mr Perry was the first black movie star, and he is remembered for his character, “Stepin Fetchit”. His movies are rarely seen any more, and when they are, most of his performance is edited out. His character embodied all the worst racial stereotypes of the day, and he’s widely regarded as an embarrassing footnote now. But still, he was the first black actor to become a millionaire in the movies. So his is a conflicted legacy.

We rode south through San Marino and San Gabriel, and then west along the 60 freeway to get to East Los Angeles. When we got to the cemetery, there was a guard at the entrance. He said we couldn’t just go riding in there, but we explained why we were there, and he was very accommodating. He led us to the section that had told us was where Stepin Fetchit was buried, and he helped us look for the grave marker. But after about 10 minutes of all of us walking around looking, we couldn’t find it. So there is a distinct possibility that his grave is unmarked. The guard told us that we could call the office during the week and ask them, and they would know.

After the sightseeing stop, we headed west to downtown Los Angeles. We rode across the 4th Street bridge, which gave us a very nice view of all the skyscrapers where I’ve had the incomparable experience of climbing the stairs. Then we turned south, where we saw a test train running on the new Metro Expo Line.

Our snack stop was at Noah’s Bagels in Larchmont Village. And after that, we headed home by way of Benton Way in Silver Lake, and then up Figueroa Street.

It was a nice, if slightly-longer-than-usual ride.

49 miles.


Like I said, this is a little creepy…

Filed under: — stan @ 10:57 pm

It’s Thursday, and I was able to go downtown at lunchtime to do stair practice at the Aon building. That’s the usual practice climb from 4 up to 60. Today was my second time climbing with the sticky football gloves. I decided that when I’m using them, I sound like a dog playing with a toy. Lots of panting and little rubber squeaky noises. But they work really well for getting a good grip on the railing to help pull me up the stairs. So that’s a good thing.

When I got there, Theo was there. He is very fast, but he likes to walk down to the ground-level door to start. So when we got to the 4th floor, he went to walk down, and I headed up. My goal was to make it to 60 before he caught me.

I’m getting pretty good at the footwork to change leads so that I equalize the loads on each leg. Since most of the flights are 11 steps, that means that one leg will work harder than the other when you do double steps. So I’ve worked out a way to switch which leg leads off so that I even out the load. And I can feel the difference. It’s getting close to being automatic, which is a good thing. And it’s also good in that I switch leads every even-numbered floor. So that’s a useful mental distraction. When I get to 6, I think about having to switch leads, and that I don’t have to switch again until 8. I don’t think about having 54 more floors to go. So that distraction is a Very Good Thing.

I had a look at my watch at the halfway point at 32, and I was just under 5 minutes. So that meant I was on track to do a time just under 10 minutes. And when I got to 54, I had another look, and it was just under 9 minutes, so I knew I had to hit it to have a chance to beat my time from Tuesday. Also, I was concerned that Theo was going to catch me. So I managed to put on a burst of speed for the last few floors before coming out on 60 and doing the traditional face-plant on the floor. When I looked at my watch, I had 9:50, which is 2 seconds slower than on Tuesday. And like I said before, this is a bit creepy.

But no matter. This year, I’m doing times that I thought would be impossible last year. So there’s really nothing to complain about here.

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