Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Dojo time

Karate is kicking my ass. In a good way, but kicking my ass nonetheless. Last night was private class, which is generally a less cardio-intensive session. I wasn't huffing and puffing, but I worked up a prodigious sweat anyway. Sheesh. Today I am S-O-R-E!! Left knee, right foot, left flexor ... what doesn't hurt in my lower body? LOL. So I complain, and will trot off to group class tonight (the one that IS cardio-intensive) and then I will REALLY complain.

Last night, my sensei tells me that he's going to do a kata, one that I won't study for a while & has moves that I haven't learned yet, but to follow along & try to do what he does the best that I can. The kata is slow, powerful, almost like tai chi with few explosive moves. I am hopelessly lost about five seconds into it but keep trying to mimic his moves. Sometimes I do everything backwards because I am watching him in the mirror. (Oops.) It goes on for a while. Eventually, he bows & ends the form, saying, "That's the just beginning of it." Only later he tells me that, yeah, that's a black belt form, you won't be getting to that for a good while!

I am loving studying at the dojo, but I really do need to get more sleep.

Monday, July 26, 2004


Just got back from another trip to Sacramento, for another football game. This one was the IWFL championship, featuring the New York Sharks versus the Sacramento Sirens. I'm so glad I went, it turned out to be one HELL of a game.

Of course, I rode the motorcycle up again. I'm getting a little more used to these 400-mile jaunts, which is good news in view of my upcoming summer plans. The mid-day heat was still crushing, but I was in not as much of a hurry to get up north (earlier start time, later kickoff) so I went easy on the throttle, took longer breaks and actually stopped for a real lunch along the way. Uneventful ride. I didn't obssess about fire as much this time. :)

Arriving in Sacto, I hooked up with some friends & scoped out the stadium. A good crowd was already on hand & excitement was building. The teams were going through their pre-game warmups. The sun was about an hour away from setting & a nice breeze had sprung up, so the heat started to lose its edge. I mingled & chatted for an hour or so, and then got settled in along with everyone else to watch the big game.

It was a good one from the opening kickoff. Both defenses came out fired up, and neither team could do much with their first two possessions (NY got one or two first downs, Sac went three-and-out both times.) New York scored on a short pass play to make it 6-0 near the end of the first quarter. Sacramento took the lead in the second, on two Julie Wicher touchdowns - one a long seventy-yard scamper down the left side, the other a twelve-yard sweep to the right, both PATs were no good. New York came roaring back, and blocked a punt when Sacramento was pinned deep in their own territory, taking over around the 15 yard line & scoring on a slant pass. They converted the PAT kick to lead 13-12 at halftime.

All around me in the stands, fans were LOVING this game. The see-saw battle, the players' intensity, the big hits had everyone cheering themselves hoarse!

The Sharks took control in the third quarter. Their defense held the Sirens to just one field goal, while the offense scored twice on runs by Monica Marsh. They converted a two-point attempt after the second touchdown, and New York led 27-15 as the final quarter started. Great teams never give up, however, and I've played against Sacto enough to know they are a great team ... now was the time for the Sirens to dig deep. (Football cliché!) They marched downfield and scored on a 2-yard quarterback keeper, the PAT kick was good, cutting the lead to five points. Diamond Lil came up with a key interception (we later teased her about her runback, which was much more east-west than north-south) to snuff out a New York drive, and set up the next Sacramento score, a 25-yard run by Michelle Kahler. The PAT gave them a 29-27 lead halfway through the final period. I was back on the Sirens side of the stands by now, and the fans were predictably going crazy! But there were a whole lot of minutes left on the clock at this point. New York drove downfield again, but I can't remember how it ended ... turnover? turnover on downs? did they kick to pin Sacto deep? ... no score, anyway, and Sac had the ball and eighty-some yards of green in front of them. I remember looking at the clock and seeing seven minutes, and thinking, "They gotta grind it on the ground now. Get a few first downs, and whatever you do, don't turn it over."

Grind it they did. The Sirens ground game moved the ball past midfield and ate up five and a half of those seven minutes before the unthinkable happened. Sacramento fumble, New York recovery. Quick check of the clock - 1:33. Ball spotted around the NY 40. The Sharks are ninety-three seconds and sixty yards from glory, and a bunch of gold helmets are standing in the way.

Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view, glory was not in New York's cards that day. The Sharks looked rattled on their final possession, and after an incomplete pass on first down, committed three (three!) consecutive dead-ball infractions ... false start, illegal procedure, illegal formation ... making it 2nd and 25. A short pass over the middle netted little to no gain and kept the clock moving. On third down, the QB was sacked (and the clock was still moving. NY had used their timeouts in the third quarter.) On 4th and forever, with the seconds tick tick ticking away, the Sharks could only complete a ten-yard pass over the middle, and time expired as the ballcarrier was tackled. Sirens win!

Wow. I gotta hand out kudos to both teams for giving the fans one hell of an exciting game. Some folks were predicting a Sacramento cruise to victory (even I sorta halfway expected it, or at least a two-touchdown win) but I'd rather watch a nailbiter stuggle to the finish any time! New York, my hat's off to you, you played tough and came up just short against one of the best teams out there. Sacramento, congratulations on defending your title and bringing it home for the West, you guys are great.

After-game parties: I went over to the Sirens' bash first, where everyone of course was very jolly. Not just Sacramento folks but players from a whole bunch of other IWFL teams thanked me for coming up to the game. I was decked out in my old Quake gear, first-year white jersey, which I figured I earned the right to wear even though I have retired. I was the sole representative from Long Beach, which surprised me, I thought at least one or two others would come up for the championship. Oh well. Caught up with lots of old friends, some going back to the WAFL days. Later I zoomed over to the Sharks party. I had met up with Trina after the game (she plays corner for NY and is related to a member of my motorcycle club) and she said come by later & she would introduce me around. I had met a few of the NY people before, and a few more knew who I was by my website. They were all awfully nice to me & I hung out and chatted with them for a while. It was pretty late by the time that party started breaking up.

I rode about 100 miles south before getting a cheapie hotel room, very late. Slept in, then made the rest of the trip in the heat of the day. Ugh, it was brutal. Being in no hurry, I made lots of rest stops & cooled off the best I could. Thank the Goddess for air conditioning. Ten minutes in an AM/PM can do wonders to revive you :) I lost track of how many bottles of water and Gatorade I drank, but it was quite a few!

Friday, July 23, 2004

Fire notes

During the last ride up to Sacramento, I was obsessing about fire ... the day after my return, the first large fire of the season broke out. That was the Pine fire (near Lake Elizabeth) quickly followed by the Foothill file (in Santa Clarita) then the Crown fire (in Acton). A bunch of bad ones, and it's early in the season. If it's this nasty in July, what is it going to be like in August and September, our usual fire season? A bad year, indeed.

Where I live, we never got bad smoke and ashes falling, so I am thankful for that. Just general bad air quality, particulate matter and haze. I've been wheezing a bit more than usual.

Fire crews (heroes, those men and women) have knocked the fires down by now; all are under control & some have burned out. One was due to "natural causes" (if you consider a bird flying into high-power lines 'natural') but the others were almost certainly arson. I hope the Goddess has a special place for arsonists ... and She will give 'em their due, whatever it may be. It's beyond my ability to forgive someone who does that sh*t on purpose.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Riding to the IWFL West Conference game

(Getting ready for my cross-country trip this summer, I am going on longer rides to build up my road endurance & generally see what types of riding are within my capabilities. Here's the story of my latest long ride, up to Sacramento to see a football game.)
I left Los Angeles late morning, a bit before 11:00 am, heading north. Whew, hot already, but I knew I'd be riding after dark when it was cooler, so I wore my leather jacket & kept it mostly unzipped. Wind kept me cool enough, except there was a huge traffic jam in Valencia (folks going to Six Flags Magic Mtn + construction + a fenderbender), which slowed me down to lanesplitting speeds! I was glad it wasn't REALLY hot yet, like it would be in the afternoon.

On I-5 heading over the Grapevine, I kept thinking the hills looked so very dry. Tinder dry. Explosively dry. Our hills in California are only green for a few short weeks after our spring rains, then quickly turn a golden brown -- that's how the chaparral usually looks. This summer, drought and heat are baking the hills to a toasted-dead looking color, and warning alarms go off in my head whenever I see it. "It's gonna be a bad fire year," I mused. Sure enough, I passed a burned-out area just below Pyramid Lake, where fire had been through so recently that you could still see little white ashy patches which mark the spots where bushes are instantly consumed in the hottest parts of the blaze, leaving no charcoal; the ashes are blown away in wind or washed away by even small amounts of dew, so they aren't there for long. I was amused by a big red patch on the freeway -- one of the tanker planes, dropping fire retardant, had missed the hill and dumped it right on the road, SPLAT! -- thankfully it wasn't getting kicked up as powder by car tires, so my boots & jeans didn't get covered with red chemical crap.

Coming down the north side of the Grapevine, that short steep drop into the Central Valley, I saw a fully loaded car carrier with a rear tire just BILLOWING smoke. Lovely smell of burning brakes. Whoo, danger, stay well clear of that! Dunno if his brakes were failing or if he was about to throw his tread ... other trucks were following him, riding herd on him, everyone was talking on their radios ... he was about half a mile short of the runaway truck ramp, but there was no way I was slowing down to see if he needed to use it! I mentally wished the driver luck & got the hell out of there.

Tanked up at the bottom of the hill & started the long straight stretch up I-5. This road bores me to death in the cage. Who knew it's fun on the scoot? LOL. I was running wide-open throttle, and the VLX actually can cruise over 80. Heh. What's that, hitting reserve already? I've only gone 78 miles! And thus did I learn that running at wide-open throttle absolutely KILLS my gas mileage! Next stop was Kettleman City, where I looked at the time and saw it was just about 2:00 pm ... hmm, that's 5:00 pm Eastern, the Sharks should be kicking off in a few minutes ... called Tee to wish 'em luck. By now the heat was awful, so I would get a cold bottle of water each time I gassed up, drink about 3/4 of it and dump the rest down my shirt. That really helped a lot. Also just getting off the bike kept me from getting too fatigued. I'd break for about twenty minutes after riding an hour and a half. Next stop was Santa Nella, then again in Lodi ... I was working my way up to Sacramento, making good time without being in a god-awful hurry.

Each stop featured the person wanting to talk to the chick on the bike. The guy admiring the Shadow, thinking it was a Harley. The woman who beamed with happiness, told me how she just LOVED my bike, and how wonderful it was that I was riding. The elderly gentleman eating nectarines - his wife had just bought them at a fruit stand, admonishing him to eat them OUTSIDE the car, they were so juicy - who had a friendly wave and a "you be careful, miss!" The fellow biker, whose patches announced him as first officer of a club I hadn't heard of, who engaged me in a little "where ya headed" gas-station camaraderie. The flock of children, released from back-seat imprisonment, who stopped dead in their tracks and stared as I pulled up, and who broke out in smiles and enthusiastically waved back when I waved to them. The middle girl was the bravest, and ventured to ask, "Is that YOUR bike?" "Yup," I said, pulling off my helmet. "Cool," came the chorus, before they ran off up a hill burning off their pent-up child-energy.

Covered the last bit of ground before getting into Sacramento proper. Even Northern California looked dry as dust; sometimes it's green up there well after the southern part of the state dries up for the year. Yup, it's gonna be a bad year. I can't help it, I was born and raised in the SoCal hillsides, fear & fire awareness were bred into me, and seeing those desiccated hillsides just makes me edgy. The American River looked low, too. I think this is our fourth year of drought? That's about when it starts to get pretty visible.

I got to Sacramento right before game-time, buying my ticket as they were singing the National Anthem. What timing! The game itself was pretty boring. Sacramento dominated from the opening kickoff, and Corvallis never had much of a chance. But even a boring football game has some fun moments, and one of the most crowd-pleasing thunderously big hits was Robin getting HAMMERED by an enormous girl from Corvallis, who she never saw on the lead block. The trajectory of her suddenly backwards flight was something that makes one wish for instant replay. LOL. I hung out with my Sacramento buddies for a little while at the post-game party -- they were all a bit incredulous that I had ridden up to the game on a whim -- and headed south again around 10:00 pm.

Once I worked my way past the cities, traffic was middle-of-the-night light and I passed the occasional truck & flew through the blessedly cool air at an easy 70 mph. I wanted to get a good part of the trip back to L.A. done before I stopped to sleep, because I had to get back in time to pick up my roommates at LAX before noon on Sunday. Right around where the Gilroy/Hollister/San Jose highway leads off (I think that's I-580?) I saw a strange thing, couldn't figure out what it was ... an orange zig-zaggy light thing ... what the? Getting closer, I realized it was a brushfire, the thing I'd been fearing all day. The hills were burning west of the highway (the contours of the canyon made it look zig-zagged) probably about 3-5 miles away. The smoke must have been carrying in the other direction, I never got a very strong smell of it, and not a lot of ashes were falling around me. But it was close enough to distinctly see the wall of flames, which looked hellish and eerie in the dark canyons. I kept moving. I made about 150 miles before I thought I'd probably better stop, which put me back in Santa Nella. Motel 6, an early wake-up call, five hours of sleep, and I was on the road again first thing in the morning. The rest of the ride was uneventful, getting hotter and hotter, and I was pretty tired of riding by the last bit of the trip. I felt grimy, my shoulders and legs ached, and I just wanted to be off the bike. Eight hundred miles in about 25 hours. It was fun, but it was ENOUGH. And yes, I swapped the bike for the car and made it to LAX in time to pick up my friends at the airport -- just by the skin of my teeth!