Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Aestheticism v. Daniel Woodrell

James Wood, in How Fiction Works, talks about “aestheticism,” using as one of his examples a passage from John Updike’s Terrorist. In the passage, Updike’s young protagonist, the high-school–aged Muslim American Ahmad, walks down a street. We are in his thoughts as he ponders a recent growth spurt, then Updike suddenly takes over and launches into his own authorial exploration of Islamic theology, his exquisite lyrical prose replacing the direct rhythms of the young man’s thoughts.

One of the wonderful things about Wood’s little book is that it beautifully articulates thoughts we have already had, and in this case, he is articulating what has been my recent tendency to acknowledge and disparage aestheticism in many of the books and stories I’ve been reading. This will sometimes lead to my reading passages to my wife, absurdly embellishing them in the reading, laughing, and rolling my eyes.

It was my intention at the start of this post to find just such a flowery passage in Daniel Woodrell’s 2006 novel, Winter’s Bone, and to reprint it here for comical contrasting against the hillfolk dialog sprinkled elsewhere in the novel. But what I found instead were passages of description that, while certainly stretching the distance between themselves and the drawling Ozark Mountain dialog, do not break that distance. The tether is taut, but sill intact.

Here, the protagonist, Ree Dolly, is walking back from squirrel-hunting on family land with her brothers, two young boys she cares for as a mother:
The sun was taller though light had not yet broken through to the ground. The path was narrow and iced on the north slope. These rough acres were Bromont acres and they’d never been razed for timber, so the biggest old trees in the area stood on this ground. Magically fat and towering oak trees with limbs grown into pleasingly akimbo swirls were common. Hickory, sycamore, and all the rest prospered as well. (pg. 105)
While this is remarkable writing (phrases like “pleasingly akimbo swirls” could even be called magical), what is most amazing is how it stands in harmony with the very real speech of Ozark Mountain youths found in dialog like this, on the very next page:
Harold said, “Ree, are these for fryin’ or for stewin’?”

“Which way do you like best?”

Both boys said, “Fried!”

“Okey-doke. Fried, then. With biscuits, maybe, if we got the makin’s, and spang dripped on top, too. But, first thing is, we got to clean ‘em. Sonny, you fetch the skinnin’ board. I think it’s still leanin’ on the side of the shed back there. Harold, you go for the knife—you know which one I want.”

The one I ain’t s’posed to never touch.”

“Bring it to me.” (pg. 106)
I’m sure those comical passages are in there and just not presenting themselves at the moment, but I think it’s safe to say that by and large, Woodrell has succeeded wildly in writing as his Ozark Mountain family and neighbors spoke, and in either recapturing or inventing the words and rhythms of the most eloquent of those family and neighbors for use in his exposition. The result—despite the sniggering of a sometimes pretentious Californian—is not only stylish writing, but easy reading.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Movember - Shameless Plug for Donations

Okay gang, October is behind us, which means it's time to get the pink off the football fields, shift the focus to the men, and start growing some facial hair! (Word: We strongly encourage ongoing support for breast cancer and women's health causes throughout the year, so always do what you can.)

This MOvember, I've joined a team of colleagues from Cisco to support the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Livestrong by growing moustaches for men's health. Go to the Deucerman's MoBro Page and do the following: 1. Watch the day-to-day progress of my pathetic liphair struggling to the surface, and 2. Kick in some scratch! We have a set a stretch goal for our Movember Team, the MoMigos, of $250 Million, so we obviously need every penny you can spare. So ask yourself: Does that kid really need those braces? Does Grandpa really need that knee replacement? Does Grandma really need that hip replacement? I mean, God gave us chairs and couches, right?!

Okay, enough goofing. Let's get serious for a minute:

The Problem 
  • Based on rates from 2005-2007, 1 in 6 men born today will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetimes.
  • Based data from the same period, nearly 3% of men will die from prostate cancer.
The Solution
  • The Prostate Cancer Foundation has funded more than 1,500 programs at nearly 200 research centers in 12 countries.
  • Movember and Livestrong are teaming up to offer free, confidential navigation resources to any man affected by any cancer at any age.
  • In 2010, over 64,500 US Mo Bros and Mo Sistas got on board with Movember, raising $7.5 million USD.
So give us a hand. Go to the Deucerman's MoBro Page and make whatever donation you can.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

In the Market for a New Lawnmower

My response to the person who showered the Occupy Wall Street protesters with copies of this little missive.

Dear Person,

Thank you for your missive. It was very revealing. A minor edit and a message to you: To the list of things you would sell, you forgot a few: your mother, your children’s future, your country…down the river…just to name a few. And that doesn’t make you vicious. It makes you a greedy coward and a traitor. And yes, occupiers didn’t take to the streets when the markets rose. Congratulations. You pulled the wool over our eyes. There were those, people smarter than you, who tried to warn us, but we didn’t listen. And the occupiers’ message to you now is, that isn’t going to happen again.

Now let’s clear a few more things up: The markets you manipulate are not “just like gambling.” What you guys don’t get is that Wall Street is not a casino, it is a system designed to capitalize good ideas, not make a pack of punk-ass bitches like you rich. (And no, capitalized debt obligations, derivatives, and mortgage-backed securities do not qualify as “good ideas.”) The other thing you don’t get—well, actually, you do (see below)—is that in a democracy, that system is dependent on the people. If it does things the people don’t like, the people will either change it or shut its ass down. Welcome to your nightmare.

And no, you’re not going to take employment away from any occupiers, for two reasons. First, most of them aren't employed, thanks to you. And second, those who are employed are doing things that will find no value whatsoever in your snakelike acumen for “positions” and “gambling.” In case you need a primer, that’s how the market works: you ain’t a software engineer, you ain’t a physics lecturer, you ain’t a social worker or an occupational therapist or an electrician or a structural engineer, so ain’t nobody going to hire you to do those things. I don’t know what cloud of self-delusion led you to believe that the occupiers were mowing lawns, because I can tell you, any occupiers who are mowing lawns or making sandwiches are only doing so because their college degrees aren’t dong them any good in a system where punk-ass bitches like you suck up all the capital that is meant to fuel ideas, innovation, and the American future. So no, you won’t be taking anyone’s jobs, because clearly, you are incapable of teaching third-graders.

(And by the way, your time is near. I’d suggest you start looking for lawns to mow.)

And that car of yours? It never should have cost $85K in the first place. And the occupiers aren’t going to “create jobs” that depend on your 35% tip. They’re going to rebuild the system, and then they're going to create vocations, and those vocations are going to drive stronger, steadier, and more stable economic growth than any of your ingenious collateralized debt obligations ever could have.

But of course, you know all this, because you took the time to craft this little missive, give it to your admin to copy, and climb onto the roof to throw it down. And why would you do that? Why on earth would a snake like you do that, an asp, a cobra, a python like you, who could have spent that time “making” what, $50K, $100K, screw it, a million dollars, let’s say? The message of your missive is clear, my friend: you are afraid. You are quaking and pissing yourself like a crackhead right now, which is why you think you need an 85,000-dollar tank to protect you from all those baaaad people out there.

Word, dude: You don’t. They’re just people trying to make a better world.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Josh Rolnick and Treasured Elements

Josh Rolnick is certainly an accomplished young writer: Winner of the Arts & Letters Fiction Prize and the Florida Review Editor’s Choice Prize, nominated for a Pushcart, Iowa grad, and an impressive list of publication credits. He has also “lived around:” Raised in the East and educated in the Midwest, he spent two years here in the Bay Area and has had stints in places as far-flung as Jerusalem and London. Hearing him read and talk about writing, and reading his penetrating new collection Pulp and Paper, one learns quickly that in all those places, Josh Rolnick was listening. Watching and listening, the two primary skills a writer must possess.

Take this tidbit, from the story "Funnyboy." Here, a grieving father is in the midst of recollecting the memory of his young son Richie, who has been tragically killed:
Quick quiz: What is the name of the light stripe that separates an earthworm’s head from its tail? Time’s up. It’s called the clitellum. Do you know how I know that? Of course you don’t. My son taught me that. He also taught me that, when nightcrawlers are cut in half, they don’t die. They regenerate.

Imagine that. Losing half of yourself and becoming whole again.

There is a thing that crawls in the dirt and eats shit that can do that.
This searing, ironic first-person portrayal of an angry grieving father captivated me from the first lines of this piece, and so I asked Josh about it. Did this voice appear organically, did it just emerge from among the loaves and fishes of his psyche, or did he have a lengthy, painstaking struggle to conjure it? His response was that he is certainly a writer who writes a lot of drafts, and “Funnyboy” was no exception. A piece that had its genesis in a story he’d heard in New York of a man who had been found laying dead on a sidewalk, “Funnyboy” had gone through many transformations in its journey to publication. But as it turns out, the one thing about the piece that was there from the start was indeed that voice. It was one of the key elements, in fact, that had given the story life and kept it alive through its many incarnations.

I personally found this to be a wonderful lesson, particularly for writers who have podmates and/or writing-group colleagues bleeding all over their pages: Even as we hold fast to treasured elements in a piece—a voice, a setting, a particular character’s particular flaw—we must also consider virtually everything else to be negotiable, if not expendable. The well-meaning commentary of our readers often intensifies our struggle, I find, to recognize those elements that hold special meaning for us, those germs of thought and emotion outside the “murder your darlings” rubric that impelled us to put pen to paper in the first place.

Some other observations on Pulp and Paper:
  • The treatment of time in the very short piece “Carousel” is subtle and sublime and would serve as an excellent example for teaching this critical element of story. Finishing the piece, we’re left with a resonant mystery: have we just witnessed the death of a character, or a hallucination portending his death, or something else entirely? Really lovely.
  • Rolnick achieves a superb balance between vivid description of the physical world and extended expositions of the emotional. He tells us this is, again, the result of doing lots of drafts, of reworking and reworking until the balance is right for the story. The key to that, of course, is patience, so it’s not surprising that early on, when he was at Iowa, Josh had gotten a stone imprinted with the Chinese character for patience, and that this stone adorns his writing table to this day.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Finale – Death Ride 2011

The big day, Death Ride 2011 on Saturday July 9th, was a struggle, but ultimately a success. Our starting peloton was me, my wife Caroline (Carol), Bill Wilson, Ann Togasaki (the Annimal), Robert Bley (Bob), and Ryan Moore, Bill’s cousin. We all rose at 3:30 a.m. in our rented house in Meyers and fueled up with a breakfast of huevadillas, cereal, coffee, and juice, as well as lots of sunscreen and chamois butter. We then loaded up the machines and headed out at just before 4:30. Arriving at Turtle Rock Park in plenty of time for our planned 5:30 start, we actually mounted the machines closer to 5:15 and headed up to the park for a quick natural break. Ablutions completed, we had a surprise as Carol managed to snap the left temple off her Oakley sunglasses. Unfazed, the Annimal took command of the situation and within a minute had the temple snapped back into place, and we were off.

Monitor Pass

After riding pretty much together from Turtle Rock through Markleeville and to the start of the West Monitor Pass climb, we quickly splintered as Bob, Ryan, and the Annimal went up the road. As Bill, Carol and I settled into a comfortable pace for the climb, surrounded all along by the thousands of other riders on the pass, we were surprised to see a neighboring rider break his chain—a huge coincidence because it happened at just about the same place on the climb where the Annimal broke her chain back in 2008. She, however, was fortunate enough to have been chatting up a fellow rider who happened to have both a chain tool and the skill to use it. As a result, her chain was fixed within 20 minutes and she was back on the road. This young guy, on the other hand, seemed quite at a loss, and we had no facilities to be of assistance.

Continuing on in breaking daylight, we saw the sun emerge and then reached the top of the climb, where we reconnoitered at the summit monument and celebrated the first of the five passes complete. We then settled in for the 10-mile descent into the high desert below. At the bottom, we rode past the rest stop and availed ourselves of some of Bill’s “local knowledge:” the clean rest rooms at the fire station just past the rest stop, which allowed us to avoid the long lines that had accumulated at the rest stop porta-potties. Our water bottles refilled at the rest stop, the climb back up the East Monitor was long as always, but in the nice cool weather (a marked contrast to the 100+ degree temps Carol and I had faced there just 6 days before), it was entirely tolerable. Once again, we reconnoitered at the monument at the top for a celebration, this time of the second of our five passes.

Ebbet’s Pass

At this point, Bob and Ryan had pretty much separated themselves from the rest of us, and Bill and Ann were riding up the road from Carol and me, but not far enough that we didn’t reunite at each rest stop. After the fast descent to the bottom of West Monitor, Ann, Bill, Carol, and I got back together, took a quick natural break at the rest stop there, then took advantage of the next bit of local knowledge, the Silver Creek Campground. Here, we took a break to remove shoes, fuel up, fill water bottles, reapply the “butter baby,” and avail ourselves of the clean campground rest rooms. Back on the road, we settled into our usual pattern – Bill and the Annimal up the road, Carol and me pounding out a steady rhythm further back – until we reached the beautiful, wooded top of East Ebbet’s Pass, waterfalls crashing all around us. At this point, all were feeling strong, so we made just a short stop at the top of Ebbet’s before descending down the back side to the west.

Starting in Hermit Valley, at the bottom of West Ebbet’s Pass, the 60+ miles of tough riding was beginning to take its toll. There, we found Bob with his feet in the snow, but seemingly fresh as a daisy nonetheless. Carol and I were desperately feeling the need for real food at this point, but no juicy steaks in sight, so we settled for bananas, potato chips, and small cans of V-8. Bob headed up the road first, followed by Ann and Bill, who couldn’t wait any longer, and then Carol and me a few minutes later. Up the West Ebbet’s climb, Carol was making noises about being unable to make it, but with one simple admonition of “Just be sure (before you stop on the hill),” she hung in there and made the top. There, we found Bill suffering from hot foot and making noises about stopping at the truck at Turtle Rock park (he didn’t mean it). With a plan to meet up at the Centerville Flat rest stop at Wolf Creek, near the bottom, we launched into the very technical East Ebbet’s descent. Along the way, we encountered a med-evac helicopter at Kinney Reservoir, pulling a crashed rider out. I then went up the road from Carol and encountered Ryan, who had been having severe cramping problems and had had to walk much of the way up West Ebbet’s. After a quick chat, he rocketed ahead again down the descent and was part of our rendezvous group at Wolf Creek.

Markleeville / Turtle Rock Grade

After another quick break that included as much food as we could find (including a nice Cup o’ Noodles for me), we remounted and beat the wind with a nice paceline for several miles out of the canyon toward Markleeville. From Markleeville, the short climb to Turtle Rock Park tested the legs, but our goal now was to hit the 4:00 cut-off time at Woodfords, just a few miles up the road from the park. There, we would have 100 miles and over 12,000 vertical feet under our belts, but more than 25 miles more ahead of us, including the nasty Woodfords-to-Pickett’s Junction climb.

A hammer through the canyon got us to Woodfords well within the cut-off, and that rest stop, clearly the best on the DR route, was a sight for sore eyes. First, you ride your bike right in under a rain shower provided by a young volunteer on a ladder, then a bike valet parks your bike for you while another young volunteer tops off your water bottles and returns them to the bike. All you have to do is step off and enjoy a snack, a soda, and a stretch. Alas, however, they – like all the rest stops before them – had run out of Coca Cola before we got there: motivation to go faster if we’re ever crazy enough to do this again.

Woodfords to Pickett’s Junction

At this point, the real Death Ride begins. Bill paced us for several miles up the grade out of Woodfords, but eventually had to pick up his pace and pull away. As I led Carol up the 7-mile, 7% grade toward Pickett’s Junction, she was again making noises about not being able to finish, and who could blame her. This is a bitch of a climb, with heavy traffic, a tiny shoulder on the road, and the heat of the day weighing you down. We made it to Pickett’s Junction, however, well within the 5:15 p.m. cut-off time and took a rest and some more nourishment before mounting the final climb up Carson Pass. My dad and stepmother, coincidentally, were in the Tahoe area for the weekend, and I had made what turned out to be the precise prediction that we would arrive in Hope Valley (just beyond the Pickett’s Junction rest stop) between 5:00 and 5:30. This is a gorgeous little valley, with an idyllic stream running through, that was the point where Carol and Ann’s friend Paul waited for us to pass through back in 2008. I rode out of the rest stop ahead of the group, and voila, there Dad and Marjorie were, hanging at the corner, cameras in hand, with their friends Mike and Hilary. It was a high point for me, and very inspiring at a critical point in the ride, to visit with them for 10 minutes or so while the others rested some more, then rode out and continued right past us (no time for visiting for them!)

Carson Pass and the Run for Home

Bill and the Annimal again paced Carol up the road for a few miles, until I was able to catch up. At that point, I did not pace her up the rest of the Carson Pass climb, but rather followed behind as the little Energizer Bunny hit a rhythm and slammed up that sucker, clearly anxious to be off her damn bike. She zipped by dozens of other riders, some laboring up the climb, some surrendering by the side of the road, and I followed. Unfortunately, we passed Ryan along the way, walking his bike again as his cramping leg muscles had again abandoned him. He would eventually give up about a mile from the top to grab a SAG Wagon back to Turtle Rock. We continued on, however, and were rewarded just one turn from the top, where Bill waited for us so that all three of us could cross the line at the top of Carson together. That was another huge highlight.

At the top, we celebrated our completion of all 5 passes, fueled up again, signed the massive Death Ride 5-pass finishers poster, and waited for Ryan. Watching the large numbers of riders who would bail out of the ride at the top of Carson, friends and relatives waiting there with cars onto which they could load their bikes, Carol began to waver again, considering a SAG Wagon back to Turtle Rock. This notion was, of course, soundly rejected by the rest of us, who assured her she would regret not having finished every mile of the ride. She acquiesced, and when Ryan didn’t arrive and the weather started to get a bit cool, we donned arm warmers and jackets for the Carson descent and the run for home. Bill and the Annimal, both fearlessly fast descenders, blasted out ahead of Carol and me, as we took our time and stayed safe in our exhausted state. Laboring each time the road turned uphill even a little – as one tends to do at the end of a century ride – we nonetheless kept up our steady rhythm and rode up to the truck just before 7:30 p.m., relieved and joyous at completing DR 2011 in just under 14 hours.

Post-Ride Celebration

The Israeli Army – Amnon, Mark, Zack, Udi, Guy, and Roz – had finished well ahead of us and were waiting for us to arrive at a post-ride celebration they were hosting at their rented house just a few miles up the road in Markleeville. Despite our late arrival, at nearly 8 p.m., our gracious hosts treated us to one of the finest Ch√Ęteauneuf de Papes I have ever tasted, as well as chips and salsa, grilled steak, prawns, chicken, franks, and pork, and salad. New friends were made as we shared tales of our various exploits on the roads of Alpine County, and we called it a night at around 10 p.m. Many thanks to Bill and Bob for transporting us all safely back to the rented house in Meyers, where we tamped down pumping adrenalin and managed a solid night of rewarding sleep.

The Data

My data shows what happens when you forget to turn your bike computer off when you take it off your bike. (No, I did not ride 155 miles, but we did drive about 26 miles or so after we completed the ride, all of which is figured into my data. I also did not ride my bike at 60.9 mph.) I include a link to Carol’s Garmin data to add a little sanity.

7/9/2011 - Death Ride – Bruce’s Computer

7/9/2011 - Death Ride – Carol’s Computer

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Part 5 – Death Ride Tapering IV

The final day before the big ride had us all, except Caroline, trooping back up to Markleeville for one last quick look at the DR 2011 start. From Markleeville, we rode out along the Carson River and up the early miles of Ebbet’s Pass. My goal was to put in 20 miles, no more, and that’s essentially what we did:

7/8/2011 – Death Ride Taper IV – Ebbet's Pass Scenic Byway

Paceline practice coming back down from Ebbet’s Pass went well until Bill and Bob decided 22 mph in a stiff headwind wasn’t good enough and kicked it up to 26 mph+. That’s when I said to the Annimal, “This is a stiff wind, and I’d rather not be in it, but I don’t need to go that fast.” Her answer: “I can’t go that fast!” (She was lying.) Anyway, the boys had their fun, and we made it back in one piece.

Ryan, Bill’s wife’s cousin’s husband (cousin-in-law??) arrived in the afternoon to round out our 6-person peloton. Great guy, the youngest in our group by a few years, but with the oldest bike: an aging but workable Giant. With the whole peloton in the house, the afternoon and evening before the big day included carbo-loading on spaghetti, salad, and garlic bread (and just a few drops of Chardonnay) and a viewing of just half of “Taladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” The idea here being, watch a slapstick movie and grab as many funny lines as you can to throw out at your fellow riders in the middle of the nastiest, most relentless bit of the steepest hills, get 'em to crack up, get yourself to crack up, see who falls off bikes (no one ever does--a commentary on the state of American humor). After all that, it was sleep—what little we could get, in some cases—before the 3:30 wake-up call for DR 2011.

Part 4 – Death Ride Tapering III

Thursday's run up Pioneer Trail was just what the doctor ordered: Get the legs moving, don’t hammer or overexert, make sure all the moving parts—both man and machine—are sound. The biggest pleasure of all: the weather is improving with each passing day. Temps are getting milder, the wind seems to be settling into a nice calm, and no sign of rain clouds. I felt well enough when I hit Ski Run Blvd., about 8 miles in, that I decided to take a run up the end of road toward Heavenly Valley, which features a 0.1-mile pitch at 12–14 percent grades. You’ll see that sucker popping up like a thorn on a rosebush right in the middle of the Elevation data:

7/7/2011 – Death Ride Taper III – Pioneer Trial

Afterward, I took the machine out back for a good cleaning. Got the last couple weeks worth of road grime off the chain, frame, and wheels, so we’re looking good for the big ride. Caroline and Bob returned a little later with tales of a successful run up Blue Lakes Road, and Ann and Bill decided to ride back to the house, which included a trip over Luther Pass. They rode up in surprisingly short order, and then we grabbed some huevadillas (an invention of a friend of Bill’s: fried egg on a corn tortilla, which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s really in the preparation), then loaded up to head out to Turtle Rock Park in Markleeville to register. Bike and jersey numbers in hand, we took in some of the Death Ride history on display, including posters from the final Carson Pass climb for several past editions of the ride, all signed by most all the riders who had traversed the 5 passes, including, in 2009 and 2010, Bill and friends. Shrimp and veggie skewers and rice graced the training table, and “Snatch” was the DVD of choice, after which all settled in for a good night’s rest.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Part 3 – Death Ride Tapering I-II

More on this in subsequent posts, but as our friends have been arriving (Bill and the Israeli Army on Tuesday, Ann and Bob yesterday), we’ve been heading out for short, comfortable rides to keep the legs moving, but little else. On Tuesday, Bill, Caroline and I started by first catching Cadel Evans’s first Tour de France stage win on the computer, then heading off for one last trip up West Monitor Pass before DR 2011.

Then, yesterday, after we watched Mark Cavendish’s bunch sprint win in Stage 6 of the Tour, we met up with two Israeli Army members for a nice little 12-mile loop along gorgeous Diamond Valley Road. Ann and Bob arrived yesterday afternoon and headed straight out for what turned out to be a very short ride, as Ann snapped one of her shifting cables just a few miles in. We took her bike to the bike shop in Stateline, where they made a quick, competent repair while we enjoyed a lunch of salads and mimosas (bloody mary for Bill). We returned to the house for a dinner of grilled chicken and salad, then watched the animated classic The Triplets of Belleville before turning in. Today the bulk of the group are off to Blue Lakes Road for another quick tapering ride, while I plan a very quick trip up Pioneer Trail. More on all of that tomorrow, our final day before DR 2011.
7/5/2011 – Death Ride Taper I - West Side Monitor
7/6/2011 – Death Ride Taper II - Diamond Valley Road Loop

Part 2 – Death Ride Reconnaissance IV

We returned to the alps on July 2nd, a week before DR 2011, with plans to get in that 4-pass run we’d missed out on the week before. Our arrival in the Tahoe area was delayed by weekender traffic, but we took it slow, enjoying a nice lunch and browse through the cavernous antiquarian bookstore in Jackson. We made a late start the next day, Sunday July 3rd, for our final DR Recon ride, which covered 4 of the 5 DR passes. As a result, faced the east side of Monitor Pass (at 10 miles, the longest and most difficult DR climb) in temperatures over 100 degrees. Click below to see the data from the bike computer, but don’t believe the 1 RPM cadence number. After a ride like that on Sunday (88 miles with over 11,000 feet of climbing), we laid low on Monday, resting and recharging for the final stretch of short tapering rides we would do during the week.
7/3/2011 – Death Ride Reconnaissance IV - 4 out of 5 Passes

Part 1 – Death Ride Reconnaissance I-III

After slamming in rides totaling over 500 miles and 62,000 feet of climbing since the rains started to let up in May, Caroline and I made a reconnaissance trip to Markleeville a week before the Death Ride. The idea was to get a look at the passes beforehand and test our fitness at altitude. For those of you who enjoy data—things like how many miles we rode, how many vertical feet we climbed, and what kinds of temperatures we faced during the rides, the links below will show you the readouts from my bike computer. It turned out to be a bit of a surreal weekend, as our friend Bill, with whom we had planned to ride, had a strange incident at his rented house, where some vagrant apparently wandered in, started fixing him/herself a meal, then snatched Bill’s truck keys and ran out the back as Bill was riding up from his first ride of the weekend. This changed up our riding routine a little, but the bottom line was that we faced nasty winds we will not have to face this Saturday, and we fell short of our goal of riding the first 4 DR passes in one go. Not a concern, though, as we had rented a house for the full week prior to the DR, so we figured we could do that the following week. We rode all 3 days we were there, but because of Bill’s mishap, the last ride was the only one the three of us were able to do together.
6/24/2011 – Death Ride Reconnaissance I - Monitor Pass
6/25/2011 – Death Ride Reconnaissance II - Ebbet's Pass
6/26/2011 – Death Ride Reconnaissance III - West Monitor

Death Ride Journal - Introduction

Since this has been my major occupation in recent months, I figure it’s worth writing a little about. Caroline and I joined several friends in signing up for this Saturday’s 2011 Death Ride – Tour of the California Alps. When we signed up last fall, we had big plans to train for 4 months in advance and get ourselves ready for the grueling 129-mile trek through some of Alpine County’s most challenging mountain passes. But by the time Caroline had finished her last term at Santa Clara University (congratulations to her on her MBA!), giving us time to train in earnest, California had slipped into one of its wettest winters in memory. We therefore had lots of catching up to do in the last 6 weeks or so, which we’ve been working hard to do. So while we’re now settled into our rented house in Meyers, near South Tahoe, for the home stretch before the ride, the next several posts will give you a brief account of our recent reconnaissance and training efforts.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dorst Delivers Deathly Surprise

I went to see Doug Dorst read when Alive in Necropolis came out, got my copy in hardcover, had him autograph it, and reminded him of who I was—a former student from his days at Stanford. “Bruce,” he wrote, “Keep it up – Can’t wait to read more of your stuff!” Doug's a good chap.

But then it took me a long time—could it be 3 years??—to finally crack this thing and read it. I had tried once, as I recall, but the hook didn’t get set. This time, however, no such problem. I was drawn in from the first scene.

I guess the short version is, Alive in Necropolis surprised me. For some reason, I was expecting something like a romp, with the living dead in some form or another appearing on nearly every page. But what I got instead was a multi-layered tale of love, longing, and belonging, set squarely in the very real modern world. That last one, belonging, is one of my favorite subjects in fiction, as it is for many of us who have struggled both to be a part of something larger than ourselves, and also to derive comfort instead of anxiety from that something when we find it. In Necropolis, the protagonist, Mike Mercer, thinks he finds that something in police work. As a member of the Colma Police Department, he is able to free himself from the wagging tail of his twenties by applying himself, as many young soldiers do, to something structured and demanding. He believes he has found himself, but finds to his growing consternation that love and meaning are also important, and in these arenas, he meets one failure after another. Against such forces, the structure and consistency of police work are no match, and Mike is forced in the end to look hard at himself, to be ruthless, to find and deal with the human connections—connections he had gotten into the habit of pushing away—that will truly give his life meaning.

Interestingly, while the dead are there in Necropolis, acting throughout the story as Mike’s antagonists and allies, their presence and the story within the story that they convey do little more than reinforce and complicate the real struggle, a struggle that could have and would have ensued with or without them. In the end, in fact, just as one is beginning to wonder whether they were ever there at all or just a figment of Mike’s imagination, the dead appear in a closing scene that seems designed to assert their presence and their role in the story—and, perhaps, their role in many other stories happening in and around Colma. A minor, minor character—one who has appeared only twice in the entire novel to that point—holds his girlfriend in his arms and waits for them. “He hopes they’re not bound for Boston,” Dorst writes, “because he likes having them here, and he can’t wait to share his discovery—his secret—with Mindy.”

Alive in Necropolis is a story of discovery, of love, of longing and belonging, but don’t shy away, because it’s also one hell of a lot of fun to read.

Interesting links:

Doug’s website

Penguin Books Reading Guide for Alive in Necropolis

Mark Costello’s review of Necropolis in the New York Times

Doug’s latest book, The Surf Guru – Stories, on Amazon

Robin Romm’s review of The Surf Guru in the New York Times