my thoughts and observations about what lies along the trails of existence linda paul bascom tim mary rachel

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Slow Speed Exit

I only looked down for a fraction of a second, but by the time I looked up I had no time to react. The pro woman rider from the Quark Team who had stopped in front of me never saw it coming. I ran right into her.

I was already nervous about this race, from when I woke up at 6:30 that morning all the way through the 3-hour drive to the town that was hosting it. The course was pancake flat, very narrow in a few sections, and presented at least a dozen technical corners on each lap, some reinforced with hay bales. I was almost sure it would end in a bunch sprint, just like the flat courses that make up the opening stages of any Tour de France. Thirty plus riders pumping their legs madly at 120 rpm, bikes swinging wildly back and forth, hips and elbows checking each other like hockey players as riders jockey to grab a wheel that would catapult them to the line; that's how this race would finish. It was far from the kind of race that suited my skills. I'm a climber, and this was a sprinter’s race.

As I rummaged through the gear in the trunk of my Subaru, unsuccessfully trying to relax before the start of the race, I kept imagining myself plowing right into a hay bale, or worse, into one of the temporary fences they had lining the last few hundred meters before the finishing stretch. I was tense and unfocused. I put my jersey on before my bibs, and then had to take it off again in order to slide the shoulder straps of my bibs on. I couldn’t decide how much food to stuff in my jersey pockets, and I was having trouble pinning my race number to my team jersey. By the time I mounted my bike to take a few warm-up laps I was already stressed and my heart rate was up as if I had been riding for an hour.

I was only going about 10 mph when I hit the rider from Quark, and I don’t remember falling. I do remember feeling the back of my head hitting the asphalt HARD and the sound of my helmet splitting open, although I didn’t know that that’s what it was. I thought it was the sound of my head splitting open. I momentarily panicked, thinking, “I hope I didn’t just kill myself…am I still alive?”

When I stood up dazed and confused and saw the Quark rider dusting herself off I felt more apologetic than sorry for myself. I kept asking if she was alright, and I’m pretty sure she was, as she answered in her thick European accent that she was going back to her team mechanic to get her bike checked out. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a team mechanic and the bent derailleur on my bike took me out of the race before it had even begun. But I wasn’t too disappointed, I was just happy to be in one piece. The crack that ran all the way through my helmet showed where my head had struck the ground and was proof that I was lucky to have walked away with only a bloody elbow, a rattled noggin and a slightly bruised ego. This brings me to the point of my story: ALWAYS WEAR YOUR HELMET! I was going so slow, but went down SO FAST. You don’t have to be at the races to suffer a fall, even a slow-speed one like mine.

The helmet worked and I just bought another one to replace it. And the pro woman I ran into? She won her race.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Birds of Paradise

Birding is for geeks, right? Well…not exactly. Sure, having a pair of binoculars constantly dangling around your neck and a bird book in hand may look a little funny, especially when it’s accompanied by the occasional “Oh my God honey, look, there’s a ------. Let’s find it in the book!” I never thought I would be one of those binocular dangling, bird-book toting exclaimers. Boy was I wrong.

In the Amazon you can’t help but notice birds, because they are everywhere. They represent some of the most socially interesting and colorfully resplendent animals on earth. When the only birds you previously knew by site were pigeons, seagulls, pelicans and hawks, seeing a bird with a bright neon-blue ring around its eye and full-on punk rock mohawk adorning its head is pretty exciting.

Before we left for our trip to the Amazon Gussy and I were given a book by an ornithologist friend called “Common Birds of Ecuador.” Although we were in Brazil we were able to spot 75% of the birds depicted in the book and this in itself was pretty cool. Standing on the top deck of our riverboat gave us a great vantage point for looking into the jungle through high-powered binoculars as we motored down the Amazon River, and seeing as many as 20 to 30 variety of bird within an hour's time was not unusual.

Many of them were beautifully exotic feathered creatures that could produce other-worldly songs. Quietly paddling along in kayaks or canoes was a perfect way to listen to the various whirs and whistles, chirps, chimes, ticks, hums and throaty calls that many of these feathered fauna created. Combine all this with the sounds of the myriad of insects, monkeys, frogs and other creatures of the tropical forest and you get an idea of the cacophony of sound that oozes from the Amazon jungle. All you had to do was close your eyes and listen and you couldn’t help but notice that the forest was VERY alive.

Here is a list of the birds that, with the help of our ornithologically knowledgeable guide, Junior (see below), we spotted and identified.

Horned Screamer
Snail Kite
Squirrel cuckoo
Blue-Gray Tanager
White-Breasted Wren
Black-Collared Hawk
Roadside Hawk
Black-Fronted Nun Bird
Tropical Kingbird
Black-Headed Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Greater Yellow-Headed Vulture
Oriole Blackbird
Large-Billed Tern
Black Heron
Stiated Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Wattled Jacana (Butterfly Bird)
Yellow-Rumped Cacique
Masked Tityra
White-Necked Heron
Capped Heron
Red-Headed Caracara
Yellow-Headed Caracara
Ring-Necked Kingfisher
Fork-Tailed Flycatcher
Yellow-Throated Spine Tail
Straight-Billed Woodcreeper
Long-Billed Woodcreeper
Black Caracara
Greater Ani
Black-Capped Donicobius
Purple Gallinule
Great Potoo
Brown-Chested Martin
Amazonian Kingfisher
Green Kinfisher
Social Flycatcher
White-Winged Swallow
Yellow-Tuffed Woodpecker
Red-Headed Woodpecker
Orange-Fronted Yellow Finch
White-Headed Marsh Tyrant
Scarlet Macaw
Plumbeous Kite
Brazilian Hawk
Black-Tailed Trogan
Masked Crimson Tanager
Blue-and-Yellow Macaw
Festive Parrot
Night Jar
Bat Falcon
Red-Billed Tuocan
Yellow-Hooded Blackbird
Barn Owl

Thanks for reading

Monday, June 28, 2004

A Day at the Races

Race: Pescadero Coastal Classic
Teammates: Josh and Cameron

This was my first road race race and it was a beauty: beautiful course just inland from HWY 1 full of nice smooth roads, lots of climbing, a few fast descents and some gorgeous coastal redwood forest. I was nervous pulling up to the starting line but was reassured to see my temmate Josh already there. As we road away from the start things were a little hectic in the pack for the first lap of this 1.7 lap 28-mile loop. I had never ridden in such close formation before, just centimeters away from the riders around me and everyone constantly jockeying for position. I made an effort to stay close to the front for most of the first lap and with the help of Josh and Cam we did just that. I survived the first 2 tough climbs over stage road, although midpack, and the descent was a little hairy with other racers taking some unorthodox lines shoving me to the edges of the road. I almost went off the asphalt at least once. I know Josh experienced the same thing. Lesson one: if you’re a ‘good’ descender, try to go over the top of a climb near the front. It’s too hard to pass ‘bad’ descenders and not worth an adventure over the edge of a mountain road.

Once we hit the flatlands it was a fast pace of 25-30mph and people tried to stay out of the wind as much as possible to conserve energy for the 3 km climb up Haskins Hill. Josh, Cam and I stayed in the first 15 places and once we hit the climb it was an all out effort on the front of the pack. I decided to just settle into my own rhythm so I wouldn’t blow up and instead wanted to save as much energy for the second lap and give it my all there. I’m a good descender so I figured I could just latch back onto the peloton on the way down. BIG mistake! I shot right out the back of the pack. Lesson two: Never lose site of the pack. If you're not in it or in front of it, you probably won’t see it again.

So, I never saw the peloton again after going over the top of the climb. Well, I actually did see them up the road around a couple of bends every now and then, about a minute in front, but the 4 other guys I was with just couldn’t put together a decent pace line and we never gained on it. That was probably the most frustrating part of the race. Seeing the pack but not getting enough help from the few other guys with me to latch back on. Two of the weaker riders dropped off, so then we were three. But with only three guys to share the effort into a head wind it’s an almost impossible task to gain any ground on a rapidly moving peloton full of 40 riders. We rode hard, though, and went up the Stage Road climbs together.

I was stronger on the climbs than they were, but when we hit the flats I didn’t have much left to give. I was on the point of 'bonking', going into glycogen depletion and emptying my reserves of energy. I put in my turn at the front, though, and the other two rode quite hard. The stronger of the two flatted in front of me as I was drafting only centimeters off his wheel and I moved right around him and kept going, along with the one guy I now had left with me. We hit the bottom of Haskins Hill together and I left him behind pretty quickly. Somehow I still had a little left in my legs. I put in a strong effort and turned it up a notch near the top passing a few last guys in the process (although I don’t think they were from my category). I don’t know my official result, but I am guessing that out of a field of 50 I placed 45th. I believe Josh, who stayed with the pack the whole time, came in around 12th. And Cam, who got left behind the first time up the climb, DNF’ed.

I’m actually not disappointed with my result as my only real goal was to finish the race, and I did that. I had never ridden at race pace before and it was hard! 19 mph avg over 48 miles. It was a great experience and I know where I made my tactical error. Once you get dropped by the peloton it is VERY hard to get back on. Lesson learned.

I look forward to my next race more than ever, and now I have specific things to work on. It should be a great season, one filled with many learning experiences, and hopefully with a few better results.

Thanks for reading

Wednesday, June 16, 2004


Over the past few years Gussy and I have started collecting art. Some by friends and family, some by noted masters and others we just saw and liked.

Jade Relief 16"x16"
polyurethane resin
Cathy Hopkins, c.1974

Fruit Lady 36"x40"
oil on canvas
Cathy Hopkins, 1966

Untitled 4"x6"
oil on paper
Alexander Crokus, 1985

Morning Light 30"x36"
oil on canvas
Kevin Piyatilake, c.2002

Self Portrait 12"x18"
pencil on paper
Katie Hopkins, 2003

untitled 10"x14"
wood block print
Utigawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), c.1850

Untitled 25"x46"
oil on canvas
L. Paivia?, 1968?

T-Mobile International 10"x18"
Frank Revi, 2003

Wednesday, May 26, 2004


Junior dropped his machete into 20 feet of murky Amazon river water.

When without a second thought he climbed over the side of the canoe and slipped into the water to join the piranha and caiman, disappearing below the surface for 15 seconds only to return with a huge grin on his face and a machete in his hands, I knew I was in the best of company. He said he had found it by stepping on it. Apparently it had stuck into a tree branch as it drifted towards the bottom. Junior’s definitely the guy you want in your canoe.

Junior gets water from a vine.

What else does Junior do? Junior catches caiman and boas so that you can get a close-up look at these animals. He also likes to grab bats, lizards, tarantulas and a huge rat we saw swimming across the river to find some dry ground. He knows the names of hundreds of birds and the calls of many of them, and often lures them closer by recording their songs and playing them back over a tape recorder. Junior speaks English better than a few people I know and can order a beer in at least 7 languages. He makes a mean Caiparinha and dances Forro and Samba like a true Brazilian. He’ll whoop you in Dominoes and give you a run for your money in Backgammon. Junior looks you straight in the eye when your talking to him and when he’s talking to you. He has a great aptitude for teaching you the things he knows and loves about the Amazon and you can’t help but become infected with his enthusiasm. Junior’s the guy that won’t just drop you off at the airport at the end of your trip. He’s the guy that’ll come inside to have a few last beers with you at the terminal bar and try to teach you last minute phrases of Portuguese before sending you off to Rio.

That’s Junior.

Piranha Popcicles

Everything in the Amazon is edible…the first time .

This is what Junior liked to say. In my case, it also applied to the Piranhas, because I didn’t think they tasted very good. They are quite boney and the meat tastes a bit stale, probably due to their diet of only jungle meat and not enough plants and berries. They'll eat any defenseless living thing that falls into the water, such as small birds falling out of nests or baby monkeys falling from trees or playing too close to the water. They definitely don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.

Of course, since they don’t taste very good, they are very easy to catch. Just lower some line a few feet into the water with a piece of raw chicken on the end and WHAMO! - you have a piranha. You have to be careful pulling them off the hook because the 2 tiny rows of 1/4 inch razor sharp teeth would love nothing better than to bite off the end of your finger. If you put a twig (or a plantain chip) in their mouth they snap through it like it was a Dorito. It’s pretty funny watching everyone in the canoe lifting their feet and hopping around because they don’t want to get bit by flopping piranhas. Valdoo was easily 'king fisherman'. Gussy and I started timing how long it took him to catch his fish: less than 10 seconds from putting the line in to pulling the piranha out.

After putting them on long wooden skewers the crew bbq-ed 'em on the grill we had on the top deck of the riverboat. Mmmmmmm...Piranha-on-a-Stick. I prefered the other whole fish they would throw on the grill: catfish, sardines, jaraque, otoombo. It was incredibly flavorful, and would always be served with a nice helping of manioc and often rice and beans. This was one of our favorite ways to take meals, right from the river to the grill to our mouths while watching the sun go down or storm clouds roll in over the Amazon.