Sunday, July 29, 2018

Lance Armstrong - redemption?

The Tour De France ended today, and for another year I not only missed seeing a single minute of it, I barely knew it was happening and only knew pretty much two names in it (the two most famous: 4-time winner Chris Froome and 3-time world champ Peter Sagan).   This has been a pretty big change for both Ash and I, considering that not only did we watch many stages of Le Tour on TV back in early 2000's, but we actually went and rode through the Pyrenees in 2003 and saw three or four stages come by.  But now we pay about as much attention to the tour these days as we do pro basketball, which is to say not at all. Why?  In a nutshell....because of Lance Armstrong.

I probably know more than I care to admit about Lance; I remember being ecstatic watching him win the 1993 world championship road race and followed his results closely as he won national championships (one or two in Park City!), tried the tour, got and beat cancer, and then of course riding and winning the Tour.  I read his first two books (It's Not About the Bike and Every Second Counts) and even as the drug scandals kept rocking the sport I believed the likes of Lance, Tyler Hamilton, and Floyd Landis who all had good reasons/rationale for not doing performance enhancing drugs, and like a lot of people I wanted to believe that they were clean, so I did.  But even as I followed the sport and admired Lance's work ethic, singular focus (the Tour), leadership, and raw cycling strength and prowess, I had a big reason to not "like" him (as if he cared):  basically, he was a complete and utter asshole. 

I have friends who worked with him at Nike who told me that Armstrong was ferociously difficult to work with, and at one point Lance told Nike's president Mark Parker to fire the guy who had started and championed the Livestrong deal at Nike even as that guy was one of the Nike prez's oldest and best friends because my friend dared to stand up to Lance and call bullshit on him (and Parker did indeed fire my friend), his vicious character asassinations of detractors - including ex-team members like Hamilton and Kevin Livingston who naturally wanted to go to lead teams of their own was disturbing, and it was well known that he was obsessed with what people said about him.  It was quite clear to me that despite his fame and success that he was still ferociously insecure, and that insecurity manifested itself in a pathological desire to arrogantly dominate literally everyone, all the time.  The same unfortunate characteristic that our current president has.  Their brashness and braggadocio is widely perceived as confidence, but in my notso-humble opinion, it's exactly the opposite. 

Of course, the rest is history:  over time the house of cards started to crumble and the longtime testimonies of investigative journalist David Walsh ("The Little Troll", according to Lance) and "That Bitch" Betsy Andreu turned out to be true, defrocked Tour winner Floyd Landis filed for protection under whistleblower status and testified that Armstrong had defrauded the US Postal service, the US Justice Department joined Landis' lawsuit, and that was the beginning of The End for Lance (this April, Lance was ordered to pay the USPS $5M and Landis $1.1M).  In the meantime, Lance had his infamous confessional with Oprah, where he admitted guilt but was still clearly not very contrite about it, and it confirmed yet again that he was a total dick. 

This spring, despite my better judgement, I saw a copy of The Wheelmen and read it; it's a quick read as the comprehensive story of Lance and the other players in the "Greatest Sports Controversy In History."  Apparently my apathy for the sport that was generated by the concept that "they are all cheating and are all assholes" was overcome by my curiosity regarding the lurid details of the actual drug use and the fascinating machinations of both the business and legal details that these guys - who fundamentally are primarily "just" really good at pushing pedals around and suffering mightily - have had to learn and deal with at a very high level with high stakes (being convicted of defrauding the US government doesn't sound appealing). 

So I was quite curious when I heard that my favorite podcast Freakonomics Radio had done a recent interview with France; Freakonomics' Stephen Dubner is a very deft interviewer who is able to ask difficult questions of very impressive people, and I knew he'd do a great job.  Here it is:

After listening to it I gotta say.....maybe Lance Armstrong is not such a dick any more.  He fully admits that at the time of the Oprah interview he was indeed not really contrite - at least, enough in the first segment that made people think that he was anything more than still dickish - and it took a chat with a woman who works at the Livestrong org who told him that she felt "complicit" in his actions.  He knew he had betrayed his sponsors, his fans, the sport, etc., but the realization that he had also made people feel complicit in his betrayal hit him like the brick that he needed.  It reminded Ash and me of a This American Life episode recently where a guy had been cheating on his wife for 20 years, and it took all of a therapist's skills to make the guy understand the importance of acknowledging the depth of the effect that it had on his wife.  Empathy is clearly not a common characteristic associated with perpetrators of long term fraud. 

Lance talks a lot in the interview about the unusual nature of bike racing; the "teams" are just gatherings of riders with sponsors and very few actual assets (as opposed to NFL or other teams that are actually "owned"), that despite the huge global TV viewership of events like the Tour none of the TV money trickles down to the cyclists the way it does to football players, and that the cyclists union isn't as tight/effective as the NFL players union so there isn't as much internal watchdogging.  But the meat was there:  yes, he took a lot of EPO because there wasn't a good test for it, and when a good test came online they transitioned quickly to blood doping, and the reason that neither he nor others were caught is that they "managed the timing"of tests very well.  But what was surprising is that he said that he has recently traveled far and wide to try to make amends to the people he's wronged, he's understanding of people who still think he's the anti-Christ, and he knows that he was wrong.  At the end he even relates a story about a bunch of people on a bar patio yelling "Fuck you!" at him and saying "I had to do something; 10 years ago I woulda started throwing punches" but he instead called the bar owner, gave the bar guy his credit card number, and paid for everyone's tabs. 

However, even as I listened to The New Lance, I couldn't help but notice how he sounded a bit defensive as he complained that Alex Rodriguez and even Michael Vick have basically been forgiven by the public but he hasn't (Dubner gently reminded him that it may have something to do with Lance's passionate insistence on his innocence and his venomous campaign against his detractors).  I also remembered how he regaled his fans with stories in his original book of how much of a dick he was in his early days in the peloton and how he was so much mature in the early 2000's, even as he was spearheading this huge doping campaign essentially throughout the peloton and impugning all who spoke against him.  So I couldn't help but wonder to myself:  "is he doing that again now?"  The difference is that now he doesn't have any looming situations that will test his commitment; he can't really compete again due to lifetime bans (even in trail running?!), so he can't put his values to a true athletic test. 

I've heard it said that America loves stories of redemption, and perhaps to date it's the lack of contrition that has continued to make Lance Armstrong the poster boy of Cheating rather than the best candidate for Redemption Boy.  But perhaps this relatively obscure interview (?!?  It was picked up by Business Insider, whatever that is...)  is the first step towards Lance Armstrong's long road to true redemption. 

And if that happens, maybe I won't think he's such a dick, and maybe I'll even watch a stage or two of The Tour next year. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Pack Rafting the Alsek - part 3

Once we hit the coast at Dry Bay we had ourselves a walk ahead of us.  Before the trip began it sounded so simple:  "just walk to Yakutat!"  But peering up the expanse of beach the prospect of plodding along a slanted beach for 45 miles seemed impossibly long; inexplicably longer than covering the same mileage through the mountains.  But there wasn't much to do about it besides start marching, still lugging our too-heavy packs.
At least we had nice waves to look at. 
The first day was pretty challenging because we got a late start due to a morning of paddling, we were carrying a fair bit of water in addition to our gear, and we had 10 or 12 miles to make to get to our next water source.  The map indicated a possible ATV track inland, but off the water the sand was soft and beyond that the alders were thick.  But as dusk approached (late, right around the Solstice in AK) and the rain finally started to fall we spied a break in the forest and indeed found an ATV track that led through the woods to not only a fresh water river but also a shed owned by a fishing guide (who showed up in the morning and was happy to see us, fortunately).

The river that was inland turned out to be great; the Akwe parallels the coast for quite a ways, and in the morning we blew up our boats and were able to paddle a dozen miles of river, all the while being able to literally hear the waves crashing just over the dune.

many years ago on the day I met Greg Hanlon he did a first descent of a big drop that he dubbed the "Aqua Elevator":

By contrast, I would call our little inland river the Akwe Moving Walkway:
Not only a fair bit of water, but there was actually current, which was hard to believe given the sounds of waves crashing a few hundred yards away.  
Also shown on a map was a cabin, and since it was again raining we harbored a little hope that it might be something more than a decrepit shed.  As it turns out, it was sweet:

Propane, wood burning stove, etc; we were stoked
Brad is as tough as they come, but even he appreciated our little backcountry palace. 
Once the Akwe finally turned and headed for the ocean, more beach walking ensued
"I enjoy camping, pack rafting, and lonnnngggg walks on the beach!"
The beach was good for the fact that we could see a long ways, because by walking inland we had the potential for bothering these guys:

That pic is not poached from the interwebs; Tim took it (with a pretty good telephoto lens).  We saw a momma with two cubs, and another bear as well.  When we saw the momma I was a little concerned about being upwind of the bear, but the Alaskan veterans said that's best; one way or the other they'll find out that you're there, and it's best to have them smell you at a distance than surprise them up close (and believeyou me, after wearing the same clothes for about 12 days, the smell zone for us was quite large).  And contrary to my belief, the theory holds that the momma will only come for you if the cubs are threatened, and as long as you are a ways away, you aren't a threat per se.  That said, I was still nervous; when I saw these bears they seemed ridiculously big; a fair percent larger than the arctic grizzes we saw a year ago.  

there were some other signs of fauna:
here doggy doggy! 
and some beautiful flora

Once we left the Akwe we had one more stretch that was devoid of fresh water that was long enough that we had to camp dry, so Gunnar offloaded some white gas weight
And then we got onto an inland bay where wew were able to walk the dogs up against the tidal current

Rest on huge logs periodically

And paddle some
Under the watchful gaze of a flock of Alaska's badass pigeons

Until we made the ferry over to a small fishing village
The village was almost completely empty, even though it was the height of fishing season; apparently that part of Alaska has had almost no salmon runs this year, even in the biggies like the Copper River.  

We rolled boats and started plodding again through the woods towards Yakutat
But soon enough a couple of nice natives with a pickup stopped to give us a ride
Perhaps an impure way to end the trip, but we were stoked:
And thus we were in Yakutat and were done.  

Once back in Anchorage my adventures weren't quite done; I was able to connect with my old friend Trip Kinney who was kind enough to lead me down the exciting and cold Six Mile "creek" (here in Utah we call that a huge river):
pic poached from the web

and Little Susitna river
Not poached; some 4th of July river visitors got a shot of me running a rapid
And a Trip-advised great mt bike ride  into some big terrain  above Seward:

And a stellar ride/run combo up Anchorage's go-to big local hike Wolverine Peak
the view back to Anchorage.
Thanks so much to Tim Kelley for having the foresight to get the permit, the patience to deal with the various bi-national bureaucracies to get us actually on the water, and to Tim, Gunnar, and Brad for being great pards on a super fun adventure. 

ps - and if you want to see some real pics by a real photographer with a real camera, here's a link to Tim's pics  

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Pack Rafting the Alsek Part 2

I can't really believe I'm so wordy that I can do a whole post on a trip and only really get to the first camp.....oh that's right, I can believe it, because I get carried away all the time.....

Not far below our first camp we found a cool northern desert dune:

water.....water!  if only there were 40,000 cfs of water flowing anywhere nearby!  
The next stop was Lowell Lake at the foot of the immense Lowell Glacier, which stretches up forty miles to a trio of 14,000 foot peaks:  Mounts Hubbard, Alverstone, and Kennedy.  The latter was named for JFK, and the first ascent was done by Bobby Kennedy, Jim Whittaker, and others in 1965 and inspired a recent climb by some of the sons of those guys and is portrayed in what looks like a fun movie, and I remembered that my old friend Jack Tackle had a fair epic on it putting up a new route in 1996 on the unclimbed north face.  We were hoping for good weather there, because there's a classic Alsek hike up Goat Herd mountain that provides an incredible view of the lake, glacier, and mountains, and fortunately we lucked out:
Big lake, big 'bergs, big glacier, and big peaks. 
Brad told me that each of the stripes is a function of the individual glaciers that feed the mothership glacier.  

hiking up....

and trying to soak it all in
The water was high enough that we needed to paddle across a slough to actually access the hike:
a guy paddles across, and the next pulls the boat back for the next ferry
As recently as 2010 the glacier had surged forward to the point where it blocked the entire river channel (apparently global warming has created enough water underneath that the glacier slips forward!).  And the glacial striations are pretty evident:

and create some cool shapes and designs:

a branch that survived the pressures of the glacier?  
There was some interesting evidence of local fauna
I'm no bear biologist, but that looks ginormous

Gunnar trying to look big and scary in case we see Mr. Bear. 
We found this feature that was clearly an Altar of The Ancients, and thought it was appropriate to do a sacrifice to appease the Great Bear God:
And in case we popped one of our humble little vessels
We found a potential replacement, even if it wasn't very packable....
Gunnar is so comfy in the water I have no doubt he'd be fine with this new old craft.  
Wind on the lake can be a big deal; brother Paul's trip was only able to make a mile or two in a full day.  But our crossing day was benign:

And we weaved our way through the ice bergs

I try to avoid anthropomorphizing natural shapes, but it's ok if a 'berg looks like a chicken glancing over it's shoulder.....
Soon enough we were back in the current

The scenery was as big as the river. 
the boats in the lower right put the river into it's big perspective. 
 At camp Tim was doing his training for the Highland Games Big Stone Carry:

and both Gunnar and Tim were putting their impressive backcountry NOLS chef skills to good work, including a featherweight backpack-worthy Dutch Oven (the pan at his knees). 
Everyone on the trip was very studious
And we saw some impressive climbers:
Those two black spots are bears.  Mountain goats beware; blackies apparently climb rock as well as they ascend trees!
This is approaching the burly Mt Blackadar, which indicates that Turnback Canyon is not far away. 
The typical last raft camp before Turnback is on the left a mile or two downstream on river left.  But the glacier portage is on river right, and even though it added a coupla miles to our walk, we had a nice camp up higher and weren't sure what either the camping was like further downstream or the ability to get onto the glacier.  
And thus we rolled up, packed up, and headed out for the portage
One "problem" that we had was that all of us had kinda packed more for paddling than for carrying and the big water meant that we were well-ahead of schedule, so we were on the heavy side.  We didn't want to confirm how much our overloaded packs weighed, but our specially-calibrated bodies knew exactly:  Too Much!

So slowly trudging, off we went to the galcier
the glacier is up over that horizon
the gratuitous flower/beach shot:
and of course the gratuitous wow that is a big bear shot....
We weren't sure what to expect from the glacier:  would there be open crevasses?  slippery ice?  tons of small moraine-scree ups and downs?  The moraine on the side looked ok:
and then we mounted the ice:
and to our (well, at least my) surprise, the glacier was super benign
it was so buffed that I realized that mountain biking on glaciers - ala Curiak and Dial et al  -may indeed be possible
The views from the glacier were as big as those from the river
 And provided a different perspective/experience than we had on the river
Even though it was flat and easy, we needed to give our shoulders a break from the weight, and soon enough got to the moraine on the other side of the glacier
The glacier itself created a lot of interesting little micro features
this manhole cover was welded to the ice underneath

I couldn't figurer out why these lumps were there

this crack was pretty bottomless with water running down into it.  But the rocks on the surface created good traction
and finally the river loomed and we scree-d on down to it
Not quite as easy as strolling along the white ice.
Back at a riverside camp we had a nice thunderstorm show
And were back on the river the next day
A couple of river notes:  Besides Turnback Canyon there are two other rapids that people worry about:  Lava North and Sam and Bill's rapid.  At our high water these turned out to be pretty inconsequential; just big roly waves, since the rocks that create more turbulence at lower flows were quite a bit deeper.  That said, we had the beta to stay right of the island at Sam and Bill's, and looking upstream at the left side from below indicated some biggish action.  At the risk of being a bit of a snobbish purist, it's disappointing to me that "they" (whoever they are) gave the biggest rapid on the Alsek a moniker that references another impressive river feature (Lava Falls in the Grand Canyon). Yes, there are some similarities, but in my notso-humble opinion the Alsek is so iconic that it should have its own very distinctive names.  

Also, the river started out not nearly as cold as I anticipated, but much of the volume pump comes from glaciers (just upstream of our end-of-Turnback camp was a gigantic upwelling) and the water temp goes down to a temperature of wow, that's really cold water.    Even though we had mild air temps and not as much wind as some folks experience, I had pogies on most of the time (though my tougher Alaskan compadres were mostly gloveless). 

Soon enough we got to the Tatsenshini confluence where the river probably doubled in size, so   -with the other smaller Alsek tribs  - we were probably on around 100,000 cfs of silty rolling sea, still with Big Views

And below that was the Walker Glacier camp, which provided some nice reading time
Part of the weight I was carrying was a coupla books; I think I'm going iPhone books exclusively now....
When we did the Tat a dozen years ago going from camp to the Walker Glacier was maybe a half-mile and it was clear why it was called the "Walker" (because you could walk on it, not because of some dude named Walker).  But the glacier has receded so far that hiking to it is pretty much not an option, there's a mile-long lake at the base, and the glacier itself is absolutely not walkable any more.
And we stayed away from the shore under the seracs in case they fell.  I'm no global warming expert, glaciers are always dynamic, and for sure my sample size of exactly one is not very statistically significant, but seeing this monumental change in a relatively short time was stunning to me. 

Alsek Lake is the next major feature, and due to its size with many glaciers feeding it, can be a bit of a challenge to navigate due to the proliferation of ice bergs and which way the wind blows them around (ie the river charges into the lake, and if the wind has pushed the 'bergs to the river mouth, you can basically be swept straight into a solid mass of ice bergs).  But for us there were just enough bergs to be beautiful but not pose any problems.
The wind blows a lot of driftwood onto the shores
We shared the Alsek Lake camp with two other raft parties, who were pretty amazed by our little boats:
Brad holding forth on pack rafting

This guy just couldn't get over the concept. 
and just to ensure that our packs stayed nice and heavy for our coast hike, just as we were getting ready to "prepare" our joyless freeeze-dried dinners these guys showed up with dutch oven-baked turkey, potatoes, cranberry sauce, and beers for us....hard to pass that up, even if it means we were doomed to continue to carry uneaten food out!  (I actually offloaded a bit of lunch food to these guys; probably the first time in history that self-contained kayakers gave food to rafters!). 

On down the river we went, watering up at our last non-silty, non-salt water source:
And on out to the bay where the mighty Alsek finally meets the Pacific
Looking back towards what would be an amazing view of Mount Fairweather:

Mt Fairweather was named by Captain Cook, apparently on one of the 6 days in the last few centuries that this 15,000 foot peak 20 miles from the ocean actually had Fair Weather.  

Our exit at Dry Bay was guarded by a few of these guys:
and then we began our coastal trudge
Enough for now; will do a (shorter!) post on the last leg of the trip later.....