June 30-July 5, 2010
Making a Mesa Things
click on photos for full-size versions

It’s been a lonely 3½ weeks. On June 30, I set out for Mesa, Arizona. Last year I raced the Mount Evans Hill Climb, also known as the Bob Cook memorial hill climb, and my biggest problem was the altitude. My biggest curable problem, that is. I could’ve lost another 15 pounds and doubled my power, but I’d

be dead or insane by the time I figured that out, and since I’m not working this summer, I could spend weeks at altitude, drive myself nuts and learn a new appreciation of Evansville, home of my traitor ex-friends/fiancé/church. I stayed in Shamrock, Texas the first night, taking my sweet time and using hypermiling techniques to see how much gas mileage I could squeeze out of my Accord. This car is powerful with a V-6, 1997 technology, rated 26 miles per gallon, highway, but I had one tank where I averaged 36.3 and another where I exceeded 35, both of them the best I’d ever done in this 12 year-old car. It’s supposed to average 22 miles per gallon in mixed driving, but I’ve exceeded 30 for the past four months (so far). I did lose a lot of time because I didn’t drive that fast. Gizmo and I traded off driving. We were both pretty tired.
Video of Gizmo tired Video of Michael tired.

My old cycling buddy Tares lived in Mesa, we hadn’t seen each other in almost 21 years, and since I thought it would be more interesting to stay at high altitude at more than one location, I decided to stay in Flagstaff for a week and visit him and his family a few times. After figuring the logistics of driving 2 ½ hours each way from Flagstaff to Mesa a few times a week, I thought it might be best to leave a day early and just stay in Mesa, visit over the weekend, and then head up to Colorado for my high-altitude training camp.

The drive was not that smooth because when I was about 100 miles out, traveling mostly secondary highways, highway 87, my only route into Mesa, was closed because of an accident—not delayed, but closed. After waiting in a traffic jam for 20 minutes, the dude directing traffic forced me off the road with his finger. I cruised around a bit, looked at my atlas and mapquest print for a way around 87 (I don’t have a gps), but there was none, and my Tracfone had no signal, so couldn’t reach Tares. I went to the back of the traffic jam again and when I reached the front, I pulled to the side and tried talking to the traffic director. A lady with cleavage had beaten me to him—and what he told her didn’t sound good. I’d have to go back the way I came, catch I-17 and come into Phoenix from the north. This would add about two hours to my trip, and I had no directions to Tares’ house from the north. Fatigue had made my judgment a little weak, so I decided to follow that lady. She was driving a Prius at 80 miles an hour on mountain roads marked for 55. I wanted to kill her, but I kept up because my short term memory is not that reliable, and because it’s more comforting to be in the company of confused people than to be confused alone. I had a heck of a time keeping up with her even though I had 80% more power and a wider, lower, heavier car with wider tires. I’m not good at going downhill fast, even in a car. After I got to the point where I could make it on my own, I hoped she’d get ticketed.

An hour outside of Phoenix, Tares reached me on my phone and told me to look for highway 101 west. So I did—I-17 was a long drive through twisty mountains and I don’t remember the speed limit, but I was too tired to reach it. Most of the trip I asked myself,”Why am I going 800 miles out of my way to see Tares?” It seemed that it had become a huge hassle, for me and for him, but I knew that after a few days, unless it was a total disaster, I’d look back and tell myself,”That was a really good idea—I’m glad I did it”. If only I knew they wanted to see me, if only I knew I hadn't invited myself and thought I was invited, the hassle on my part would be well worth it. I speak to myself a lot, don’t I? Yes you do, Michael. I got off on 101 and within a mile, it was closed too, and I was directed off the road. I need to phone John McCain about this! I tried to reach Tares but his phone was dead and I reached voicemail from what I can only assume was one of his boys. I was on Shea Boulevard, heading east through Phoenix, and it was just about midnight, Evansville time. I knew 101 was a loop road, so I figured if I stayed on Shea, I might catch it at the eastern end of Phoenix, which was now Scottsdale. I was right, and after about 30 minutes of driving blind, I was back on 101. I looked at the last three roads going into Tares’ neighborhood and kept trying to remember them, but my short term memory, as I wrote before, is not good—the result of traumatic events in my life, I’m told. But my plan worked, and I was on a main road that was only two roads from Tares’ neighborhood. I still wasn’t out of trouble though, because I didn’t know which way to drive, and in the night, probably wouldn’t have known the right road if I saw it. I’d been driving for 17 hours by then. I reached Tares on the phone and he talked me into his neighborhood. By the time I got out of the car and shook his hand, I’d been driving for 17 hours, 39 minutes. I saw a giant white T-shirt in the night, and it was my old buddy. I was too tired to get emotional, and too embarrassed that I caused him so much trouble having to talk me in to his neighborhood, but he was so happy to see me, I don’t think he minded at all. He insisted I stay at his house with his wife Greta, and his two boys Andrew and Jordan, and their pet scorpion that he later tortured and killed slowly in front of me.

I had a bad dream that night where I was staying at Tares' house, and the entire house had the strong smell of flowers. Smell is such a strong influence on thoughts. When I awoke I hoped and prayed I could make this stay worth their while first, and worth mine second. Of course, I was way more concerned of them than myself. I like to make people happy, and that makes me more happy than pleasing myself. Tares' family was more welcoming and gracious than I could have ever asked for, but because we hadn’t seen each other in so long, and I’d never stayed at his house ever (even in Japan), and he was the only one in the house I knew, and because so many people I knew, loved, and trusted have recently told me I need psychiatric attention, was ruining their lives, and always embarrassed them, and because I’d been accused of stalking three times in the past year, twice by friends I knew, loved, and would've gladly given my life for, I didn’t know how I’d be. Who knows--I could flip out and attack them with Gizmo. Now there’s someone who has mental issues! Gizmo gets upset at thunder. Besides that, I wasn’t working. People don’t respect men who don’t work. What do I know? But I found out after all these years of inhaling oxygen and exhaling poison (as a former friend told me I was doing) that you have to first respect yourself before anyone else can respect you. To that end, I tried not to take advantage of myself while under Tares’ care.

Gizmo got along great with Tares’ dogs, and he had a nice, nice, nice house and family. I wanted to take photos of it just for memory. After about a day, I was given the map to the coveted chocolate syrup stash, which was off limits to Tares’ under aged boys Jordan (17) and Andrew (14).

That’s where it all starts—first chocolate syrup, then dark-chocolate syrup, and the next thing you know you’re on Jerry Springer after being pulled out of the Wonka chocolate river, obese, toothless, and crying over your disaster of a life. I started helping myself to food in their refrigerator, turning on their television, and once, just once, I marked my territory in their back yard (shhh). A few more days and I might have been handling their finances and being referred to as Jeeves. We had a party every night! It was nothing like old times! The Tour de France was live on television and Tares and I watched the first two stages, and about three replays throughout the day. We laughed and laughed---and we discovered that Bob Roll was the love child of Bruce Willis and David Letterman. You be the judge:

Good times! Everyone was so good to me I was wondering if they’d been hitting the chocolate syrup a little hard themselves. Although I was uncomfortable by my own fault (I’m shy and horribly screwed up in the head), Tares told me the first morning that he told Greta when he went to bed the previous night,”I can’t believe Michael is sleeping down the hall”. I think he meant that in a good way. I mean, no cops showed up, so I can only assume…

Video of Tares Clearing Misters for Party

Jocelyn came over—Tares’ oldest, who was born 11 days after I met Tares in 1988 and was the only baby I’ve held in my life. She’d put on some weight since then (I didn’t tell her, I mean, I’m not Abraham Lincoln), and it looks like her neck injury healed pretty well—how was I to know she wasn’t a bobble head? Jocelyn was a delight to talk to, had grown into a very beautiful and interesting lady, and I may have paid a little too much attention to her. I couldn’t help it—she had me captivated. Besides, Tares was busy fishing scorpions out of the sink for supper, so the boys’ time was making me a little nervous.

Video of Tares Killing a Scorpion

Gizmo was a big hit, as always, because he's just naturally loving and beautiful. If I could bottle his personality and inject it into my brain without all of the unwanted social liabilities, I’d be the happiest guy in the world! He laid down the law to the bigger dogs just like a little bossy Yorkie does. As far as people, he was an angel to everyone. One of the dogs peed on my foot, but I refuse to give the name. It was pretty funny, so I must have been in a great mood to have someone mark their territory on my foot. I guess the dog wanted me to take a message back to Evansville.

I’d planned to leave on Sunday, July 4th, but Tares and Greta begged me--implored me to stay. They were so pathetic. And they also told me their boys wanted me to stay, which was really touching (although I never did tell them). They loved me, they really loved me! So while getting my hair burned off in a 101 degree bicycle ride, and almost crashing on a descent, I thought it would be a good idea. How often do I get the chance to be good to people whom I enjoy being with? I was really enjoying the friendship. Tares’ boys loved my stories of all his crashes when we raced together. Here’s Tares, relaxing in the pool on the 4th (this one's for you, Art):.

The whole time, Tares' wife Greta was the backbone, going behind the scenes and working, working, working to make sure I was taken care of. After the way I was treated by people who allegedly loved me in Evansville, I thought I must be crazy to want to leave. When it was just Tares, Jocelyn, and I together, we had a blast. The three Musketeers. We made breakfast on the morning of the 4th, and I found a way to multiply two pieces of toast into four, a little lesson I learned from Jesus.
For a while, the bitterness and anger were gone. Hospitality always does that to me. It’s always when I start to feel comfortable or trusting, that the bomb goes off. A long, failed marriage and a series of leaching subsequent relationships have shown me that it’s best to leave when they ask you to stay, because if you don’t leave then, you run the risk of them asking you to leave. Monday, July 5th, I headed out, and Tares gave me an escort out of town. Here’s a photo we shot in his back yard, and three from 1988:

July 5-25, 2010
Winter Park, Colorado
click on photos for full-size versions

Since many of the roads were two lanes and not very clear on my atlas, I hadn’t noticed how close I would be getting to the Grand Canyon. One sign said I was 29 miles from the North Rim. I figured it might be worth it to blow an hour to see the biggest hole in the world. So I did a hit and run visit, peering over the rim, shooting some videos, some photos too, and trying to stop Gizmo from jumping over. He was a little overactive that day.

Video of Gizmo at the Grand Canyon
Video of Gizmo trying to kill Michael at the Grand Canyon
I arrived at Winter Park, Colorado around 2am Colorado time, after another 17 hour drive. Since then it’s just been wake up, eat, ride in the rain, sun, wind (I usually get all three on every ride) and dread the July 24th race simply from terror. I don’t send or receive much of anything—Mom calls me every night, we have nothing to say, and Gizmo is with me as long as I allow him to be. I had an old imaginary friend phone me and scream and cry at me for 30 minutes, so I cut her off too. Another phony friend. You just can’t trust people, period.

Gizmo loved the room: Video of Gizmo eating socks. Video of Gizmo relaxing in the room.
The motel looked a lot more expensive than it was. Winter Park is a big ski resort area.

I love this town! Everyone here seems to love dogs and bicycles. There are some 600 miles of bicycle trails here, and on the July 17 weekend, the Mountain Bike National Championships were held here. I didn’t attend. It was Gizmo’s birthday, so I paraded him around and shot videos of him, my favorite, most loyal, most loving, most dependable friend ever, period.

By the time I left Winter Park, the people in the motel didn’t want to see Gizmo leave. A lady came to me as I was walking out the door and said,”Ahhh…this must be the dog I’ve heard about!” Some funny little incidents with Gizmo—he soon learned where his room was, and if I would say,”Go to your room”, he could usually make his way through the maze of the motel, and I’d find him standing at the door of room 608.

Video of Gizmo going to his room
There was a Filipino Heritage conference on the weekend of July 17, and Gizmo made so many friends that at one point, he walked right in to a conference. I was taking him to the mezzanine, the only place in the motel where we could get internet access, so I could update myself on the Russian Bride/Asian Porn sites, and suddenly he disappeared into a banquet room. There were about 60-100 people there, and a speaker. I whispered,”Gizmo!!!” but couldn’t find him. Yes, you can whisper a scream--it sounded like a mighty wind. I crawled on my hands and knees into the room, full of people at dinner tables and kept whispering,”Gizmo!” He was playing to the crowd, soliciting pets and licks. After about a minute, a nice gentleman moved to the door with an adorable Yorkshire Terrier in his arms. I thanked him.

Later that night, we walked past the bar and I heard someone call out from the bar,”Gizmo!” It was that same guy. He ran out of the bar, got down on his hands and knees, and played with Gizmo for about two minutes and then exclaimed, “I love this dog!” When he left the next day, he gave me his email address so I could email him photos of Gizmo. No one wanted photos of me. By week three it got tiresome. We couldn’t go anywhere without being stopped by fans. People drove by in cars, slowed and opened their windows and yelled,”Gizmo!” I had no idea who they were. Gizmo was set up on the

checkout counter at times, so the people coming in could see him. I was simply his escort. Now I know how Jack Kennedy felt when he escorted Jacqueline to France. But she didn’t pee on the Eifel Tower.

Gracie and Cash were two large dogs who were kept behind the front desk of the motel. They were big but very cute and Gizmo would often want to get up on the counter to interact with them:
Video of Gracie and Cash checking out Gizmo's girlfriend (squeeze toy):

The evening before the race, Gizmo chased a chipmunk around the parking lot for about ten minutes as I shot photos and video taped him. After it looked like he was going for the jugular, I pulled him away and picked up the chipmunk to save it. I videotaped the rescue attempt. I showed it to some people who drove by as it was happening and they were blown away. The guy handed the camera to his wife so she could see Gizmo and the little chipmunk in my hand. It tried to bite me, but I think that after it realized I was saving its life, it just didn’t move and looked at me. Maybe it thought I was God.
Video of Gizmo torturing chipmunk:

Video of Michael saving chipmunk (this is really cute)

On my last day there, I walked around the outside of the building to find four crows, two on each pole, taunting each other in stereo. It was extremely loud and was interesting for about 30 seconds and then became annoying. Robert, one of the people who works the front desk, was outside smoking and frowned at me, “Lovely, isn’t it?” and rolled his eyes. Those crows were making such a racket! Then I heard a low growl, I let go of the leash, and Gizmo charged the light pole with two of the crows, and went,”Ruff, Ruff, Ruff!” All the birds left and it was dead silent. Robert and I laughed and said,”Great job Gizmo!!!” (they all knew his name).

The biggest problem I had with the race was my nervous riding. The longer I was in Colorado, the more nervous I became on the bicycle. I can’t figure what it was, but I’ve never been great at descending on a bicycle, and in the past few years, I’ve become pathetic. I guess you’re thinking, “But Michael, the race is all uphill!” True, true, Grasshopper, but for training, if I wanted to train on a long climb, I had to ride down it myself. I did a few climbs of about six to ten kilometers, but coming down was scary. We had the climb to Berthoud Pass, which went up to near 12,000 feet, but I only did about a third of that pass. I would go across Highway 40 and do repeats on a climb that was only about 1-2 kilometers long. I could handle that descent. It was guarded and low in traffic. The winds in Winter Park made descending more treacherous than usual, sometimes gusting to 30 miles an hour. I also rode down the Fraser Valley trail, which was a narrow, paved forest trail that was twisty, and I actually loved the trail! I went much faster down that than I did down the straight highway next to the motel.

On Gizmo’s birthday, July 17, he turned eight. He was my buddy, my best friend, I guess you could say, love of my life, because I’ve lived with him longer than anyone I’ve ever known, other than my parents, and they never slept with me or licked my face. I took him all around my motel and around the Winter Park Ski resort across the street, telling everyone it was his birthday. I was drunk, but that just made me more cheerful. I wanted everyone to share the joy of my little naked boy (please don’t take that remark out of context).

See video tour of motel, part 1 See video tour of motel, part 2 Video of Gizmo trying to climb over guard rails

After that I started getting more comfortable on the downhills, although, for the record, I never even reached 30 miles an hour on a single downhill for the entire time I was in Colorado. During many of my rides, I was going faster uphill than I was downhill. I did a lot of changes and adjustments to my bicycle during those 2 ½ weeks to make it more stable, repositioned my frame pump, bought a shorter stem, took a lot of weight off my clothing to lower my center of gravity, give myself a little more confidence, and perhaps get back to how I used to be. I used to be fairly comfortable taking 45 mile an hour corners on the Blue Ridge Parkway as late as 2000. What has happened to me? (That’s not rhetorical---I’d really like to fix this).

So, I told Mom that whatever happened in the race, happened. I didn't train as much as I wanted to in Colorado, but considering I held back a little my first week because the altitude was choking me, I still rode 631 miles from July 6 to July 24th, which was a lot of hard riding, and my improvement in my uphill riding from July 6 was alarming. I chatted and joked with aa lot of guys at the start and when one fellow competitor asked me how I did last year, I frowned and gave him my time. He laughed and said,"I was about 20 minutes slower than you". I replied,"Thanks! I'm glad you're racing then!" We laughed. He was sweet. I never saw him again.

The first 10 kilometers are always some of the least steep, and last year we went out at about 23 miles an hour on a slight uphill. This year we were headed into a block headwind, and the fastest speed I saw during the first 10 kilometers was less than 17 miles an hour. Once the climbs started, despite living and training between 8400 and 9800 feet for 19 days, I didn’t feel any stronger than last year. My breathing was much better, and my technique was a lot different. I was in my bottom gear most of the time, pounding out a Lance-Armstrongish 105 rpm but only achieving about 8-9 miles an hour most of the time. At the water bottle exchange in Echo Lake, some moron in front of me decided to stop and wanted the organizers to “fill” his water bottle rather than just exchange them. I was the lucky guy who was stuck behind him, a little ticked off, and politely yelling,”WATER! WATER! WATER!” As the gentleman was filling this guy’s water bottle, he handed me a water bottle. I probably lost about 15-20 seconds there. I had a good tempo ride to the top, but nothing in reserve to kick up at the finish. It did disturb me that last year, during the opening miles, I wanted to break away, but this year, the thought never entered my mind. Did I enter the race too tired???

At Summit Lake, over 12,000 feet, there is a downhill of about one kilometer. The problem with this is that once you get past Echo Lake, the roads become very bumpy, and I may have hit 20 miles an hour at Summit Lake, but it was so treacherous, you couldn’t control the bicycle much faster than that. I even had to hit my brakes a few times because the road dips sharply a lot, and quite violently. Summit Lake got me a little choked up, because it’s the first place you can clearly see the summit of Mount Evans—like an old friend who likes to make you suffer. I looked up and there she was, towering over me. When my father, who was a big cowboy movie fan, used to talk about Mount Evans, I thought it was a porn flick about Roy Rogers’ wife. Now I know. Perhaps I should move from Evansville to Mount Evans.

We rode into the mist, and the overcast sky was a little scary. The temperature seemed to drop about 20 degrees. One thing I can attest to is that I don’t recall being passed during the entire race. I was steady, unlike last year, and the only time I dramatically slowed was when I had to take a drink of energy drink. I couldn’t breathe, so that slowed me down. During most of the race, I came to a conclusion--I’m not a climber anymore. I told myself this, and sadly, it was true. Although I’d marked the last one kilometer, I could only dial it up to ten miles an hour, and even that I could not hold, but I still blew past about four riders, effortlessly. I was about five pounds heavier than last year. I think that made a difference. My finishing time, my official finishing time, was 2:51:36, and to be realistic, take about 15 seconds off that for the bottle-exchange fiasco, but it still puts me six minutes slower than last year. I was pretty disappointed and have yet to figure what happened. I was only 37th of the 56 finishers in my category (last year I was 57 of 82 finishers), which is a slight improvement in placing. It appears there were a lot who did not finish—I don’t blame them---it was a very hard race. Based on the starting list, there were over 80 starters in my race. Ned Overend, mountain biking legend and winner of the first ever world mountain bike championship was racing that day too. He finished second.

I got to the top and someone came up to me and said,”Welcome to the top. Do you have a bag up here? (queue Groucho Marx comeback) Can you see it from where you are? Do you want some water?” Wow—the last two times I did this race, they ignored me at the top. I was just one of the herd, trotting to the top, and no one would help me down. So I said,”Uh, yeah--it’s over there (pointing)—were you going to ask me out?” About a minute later, someone came up to me and asked,”Do you have any warm clothes”—I replied,”Yes” and he said,”Would you please put them on?” I was thinking,”Don’t you mean *wink, wink* take them off?” Was this guy wanting to ask me out or what? Last year I was afraid of getting pushed off the mountain by a goat, and now this guy seemed to be paying special attention to me. I was on low oxygen, but I still didn’t like men.

Then he got a little more aggressive and I was about to reply,”Okay, look, I’m tired and on low oxygen and lonely, but that doesn’t mean you’re getting any”, and he said,”Look, I’m in the middle of an emergency--we have a big storm heading here and I need you to put on your warm clothes and get off the mountain as soon as possible” I was thinking to myself,”The storm I asked the organizers about at the bottom of the climb when they laughed at me???” He was kinda cute, in a Pug sort of way. So I replied,”Okay, I will if you can do me a big favor—I need you to take a photo of me before I put my warm clothes on”. He obliged, and wanted to shoot the photo of me against the backdrop of a storm moving in.

Disgusting video summary of race

I limped down on my bicycle, pulled over to pick up a water bottle I’d thrown out on the way up. On the first five miles of descent, every time I’d stop to cool my brakes, some car would pull up next to me and ask if I was okay. I wasn’t--I needed to be held, but I didn’t want them to know. It was a hard descent, especially at the upper part because the roads were very rough, not allowing me to get up a good speed without my hands banging off the bars, and it didn’t completely stop raining and blowing for the first 15 miles down. Even when I didn’t feel any raindrops a falling on my head, I could see the roads were wet, and not too safe, with no shoulder and a sheer drop of close to 2000 feet. I had to stop about every two miles just to loosen my shoulders and hands because they’d cramp. I’ve never seen so many cars coming up the mountain! There were many forest service and cop cars driving up the mountain, as well as many which were part of the race caravan, and after a few miles I could hear the thunder clapping above me as the 'emergency' hit the mountain. They were panicked to get the riders off the mountain, and the storm was literally following me down the mountain. Every time I'd stop for a minute or two, I'd look around and think,"Ah, the rain stopped--it's safe" and on queue, I'd feel rain and wind, so I'd have to get going. They were very afraid someone would be killed by the storm. So nice to be part of an emergency evacuation of a mountain! They offered me a ride down from the top but I refused—near death experiences awaken the soul.

One last view of Berthoud Pass:
I made it down fine, got my T-shirt, got a special band of deep sunburns on my upper arms, and a cute photo of me taken by a guy who never called or touched me in an impure manner. And now I’m back in Evansville, one of the most boring and evil cities I’ve ever lived in. That’s all from me.

Eat your vegetables or die.