26.08.13

37 days and one year later: part 3: mileage, elevation, and scenery

This is part three of a series of posts discussing various aspects of a bike trip I did across the United States in 2012. Part one discussed the start of the trip and choosing a route. Part two discussed my daily routine and nightly shelter. This post discusses mileage, elevation, and the state-by-state scenery.

Mileage and elevation change

Excluding the first day, my daily mileage ranged from a low of 57.63mi to a high of 161.47mi. For the first “half” (psychologically) of the trip til Pueblo, I aimed to not lose ground from my overall target pace but didn’t sweat falling slightly short, and I averaged slightly under 100mi/day (even including that farce of a first day). Nevada’s emptiness strongly regimented my stops and pace. At one point I faced three ~70mi stretches between water, with further logistical challenges beyond: given my time constraints, I had to do two in a 135mi day, then the last plus a bit more the next day. But normally I biked shorter distances til the TransAmerica.

The end of the Western Express in Pueblo marked the start of the Great Plains, where I began to make up lost mileage. In Kansas I discovered 120-130mi was my maximum sustainable pace if I didn’t adjust my schedule to start earlier. Any further and the next day would be an invariably “short” 90-100mi. 120mi let me start somewhat later in the morning (I am absolutely not a morning person), eat reasonable lunches and dinners (if sometimes as gas station takeout), and read awhile before a decent night’s sleep. With more focus I might have started earlier and biked further. But I was on vacation, and I was, er, relaxing. If strict discipline wasn’t necessary, I wouldn’t force it.

That said, 120mi wasn’t always possible. The Missouri section had no difficult elevation, but it did have the Ozarks with an unrelenting sawtooth profile: not enough to exhaust, but enough to slow down the entire day. I eventually gave up on playing mileage catchup til Illinois and settled for not losing ground with ~100mi days.

Elevation profile from Cedar City, Utah to the top of a 4000ft, 25mi climb
Cedar City, UT to the red line is around 25mi: uphill but comfortably gradual

East of the Mississippi had arguably more difficult elevation than west. (Carson Pass might be an exception, as a very long ascent so close to the start.) Virginia’s section has more total elevation gain than any other state’s section. Eastern ascents were shorter but much steeper: nothing that couldn’t be handled shifting to lowest gear and spinning, but more exhausting. The steepest lengthy climb was around 4mi/2500ft to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. In contrast the climb to the Continental Divide was 10.5mi/2800ft.

Scenery and attractions

A view across to Marin from underneath the right side of the Golden Gate bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge, and the start of my trip

California was the least interesting of the western states. The first hundred miles from San Francisco were mostly flat and unvarying: not bad at the start, but still not interesting. The gradual multi-day climb to Carson Pass had its attractions, particularly along California’s SR 88. But California was a short and mostly undistinguished state to bike through, at least along this route.

Of the western states, Nevada was the most majestically desolate. Pass through a basin (carefully winding between mountains), climb to a pass, descend to a basin, and repeat through the entire state. All around were mountains and emptiness; it was the state where I felt most truly alone. (Which as an introvert I consider not a bad thing.) The climbs were never particularly steep, and the descents never astonishingly so, yet I hit ~40mph most days through it. Strangely, of all the states I passed through, I think Nevada is the one I’d most want to return to on bike, even tho it has “nothing” to recommend it.

The road stretches straight for miles into the distance, through flatland bordered in the distance by minor mountain ranges
Nevada’s scenery doesn’t change very quickly, but it’s all beautiful like this

Utah and the mountainous portions of Colorado were much more varied: good in their own ways, yet not in Nevada’s unique way. After that initial 84mi waterless stretch (from just in Nevada to well into Utah), I encountered irrigated farmland, red sandstone rock formations, and a good variety of desert vegetation. The empty stretches didn’t have the consistency of terrain that Nevada’s did. I did pass through emptiness, but that emptiness carved across mountainsides, descended into and out of valleys, and passed through several national parks with incredible scenery. Nevada’s uniqueness aside, Utah and Colorado were the best states of the trip.

This arid, rugged Utah landscape nonetheless has a smattering of green scrub, and a canyon in the distance shelters trees and bushes
A sampling of Utah’s varied vegetation and scenery

West of Pueblo turned into the Great Plains: the tail end of Colorado, and Kansas. The riding is basically flat, with mercurially-shifting prairie winds kicking in to keep things interesting. Even crosswinds that aren’t actually impeding you can really sap energy. The Colorado portion wasn’t particularly different from the Kansas portion, except that the local towns along CO-96 banded together to create the Prairie Horizons Trail — a naming and sprucing up of the stretch to particularly accommodate touring cyclists, complete with map listing services at locations along the way. It was definitely a nice touch. ๐Ÿ™‚ Kansas was much the same, excepting that the route traveled many different roads, slowly cutting south as it crossed the state. Both routes were notable for their sheer emptiness: not in the desolate manner of Nevada, but in the way that, leaving one town, you could see the grain elevator in the next town, and the utter lack of anything but fields of grain before it.

Sunset in Kansas
Sunset colors in Kansas as nighttime riding beckons

Missouri was my least favorite state for two reasons. I’ve already mentioned its sawtooth climbs and descents. The second reason is that Missouri was one of only two states where I was ever aggressively chased by dogs. This was not a rare occurrence: it happened multiple times, including a couple times in complete darkness. Fortunately, I was able to bike just fast enough that dogs that appeared to have every intention of attacking me could only just keep pace with me til I left their home ranges. I evaded them all, but always with a fast-pounding heart afterward. Missouri did have Al’s Place, the nicest hostel of the entire trip — a former (converted) jail run as a hostel for cross-country cyclists.

A signed Tyler Hamilton Tour of Missouri jersey; written across it are "Olympic Gold Medalist" and "US Pro Champion '08"
A jersey that, er, “graces” Al’s Place; my timing seeing it on August 12 was impeccable

Illinois was a short and sweet state I passed through in about a day, near the southern tip. It had the Mississippi and Ohio rivers at start and end to recommend it, but it was mostly uneventful. It played host to the worst rainstorm of the trip, which passed over me during a brief gas station stop. I delayed leaving an extra fifteen minutes to avoid biking in briefly-torrential rain; it would have been impossible to see through it while riding. Its other attraction was the milk shake at Rose Kountry Kitchen in Cave-In-Rock. I ordered it sight unseen before looking at a menu. When I looked at the menu I discovered there were two sizes; I quickly upgraded my request to the 32-ounce (!) size, to much astonishment from the restaurant staff. There’s nothing better than that many calories, as ice cream, while biking.

Looking back toward Cave-In-Rock, Illinois from the public ferry across the Ohio River
The ferry across the Ohio was one of my more unique moments of travel

Kentucky, sad to say, was at times the grungiest state of the trip. The graffiti on the state welcome sign just past the Ohio didn’t bode well. And the many run-down homes and trailer homes on the many back roads on which I traveled only confirmed this. And Kentucky’s dogs were probably the worst of the entire trip. TransAm cyclists told me of other cyclists who’d had to get stitches from dog bites suffered in Kentucky. I evaded any bites, but as in Missouri, it was very stressful doing so. The best part of Kentucky, however, was the Utica Fire Department, which lets cyclists stay in the volunteer fire station overnight; I particularly appreciated it after a ~142mi day. I just wish I’d been able to say hi to more firefighters while I was there.

A welcome-to-Kentucky sign with spray paint graffiti across it
Welcome to Kentucky ๐Ÿ˜

Virginia presented the Appalachians, the Atlantic, and the end of the trip. Virginia’s route paralleled the Appalachian Trail for awhile, giving me the opportunity to briefly revisit many places I’d visited four years before. I stopped early in Damascus, partly from tiredness, partly to stay at The Place, a hostel I’d visited while hiking the A.T., partly for a good dinner, and partly to make an early start on the mother of all days the next day. (More on that later.) My mileage worked out just right so that my last day was a pleasurable hundred miles into Yorktown — made slightly hectic by two broken rear spokes with 25mi remaining, yet leaving me several hours in the evening for a good dinner, ice cream, and a beer. Grace Episcopal Church hosted me as a cyclist on this last night, giving me an opportunity to wash laundry and clean myself up before heading to Norfolk to fly back to California the next day. (Yes, this cut it close, but I was fairly sure it was always going to be that way.)

Next time, mileage extremes and water.

18.05.10

Esoteric Supreme Court trivia question

Mystery images!

A couple months ago various travels took me within a mile or two of the location where an important Supreme Court case concerning freedom of speech originated. Naturally, I took the opportunity to do a little side trip to see the place and take a few pictures:

A shot with a building in the background and parked cars in foreground
First view...
Panned right, cars in the foreground with low building spanning width of picture in distance
Panning right a little...
Panned right further, building continues in background with parked cars in foreground
Panned right further

The question

Which Supreme Court case was this? (Or, where were these pictures taken?) I’ll give readers a little time before I make a new post giving the answer, unless someone knows or manages to guess the answer.

A few hints

The first hint is barely a hint if you know much about me, but it seems worth mentioning for the benefit of readers who don’t. The second hint may be quite helpful if you’re familiar with well-known First Amendment cases and their holdings. If you’re not, I doubt it will be of much use. The third arguably trivializes the problem of answering the question — but only if you choose to use the business names in the picture while trying to figure out the answer.

22.12.08

California: a bastion of sanity

(Pre-emptive snarky notice: nothing Mozilla-related here, so if that’s all you care about, scram. ๐Ÿ™‚ However, if you’re a non-Californian who enjoys the occasional dash of schadenfreude, even moreso if your local political unit is fiscally responsible, read on.)

Two quick news stories in California crossed my field of view in the past few days which I found, er, interesting, to say the least.

First, if you ever happen to visit California and I happen to be in a car crash while you’re present, do not under any circumstances move me out of the car if you think the car might explode. If you did, you’re liable for any harm that might cause me, and I might be able to find a convenient excuse to sue you for lots and lots of money. The relevant section of law (1799.102) is below:

1799.102. No person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for any civil damages resulting from any act or omission. The scene of an emergency shall not include emergency departments and other places where medical care is usually offered.

The California Supreme Court case is S152360; I don’t know enough about the California Supreme Court to know how the case is to be officially and permanently cited. (Anyone who does know should comment and inform me on this, please. ๐Ÿ™‚ ) The opinon, released on the 19th, ruled 4-3 that moving an injured person from a believed-dangerous location at the scene of an emergency (judged so by the mover, although at odds with the judgments of others at the scene) does not constitute emergency medical care; thus Torti, who in this case moved her (presumably now former) friend Van Horn from such a location is liable for civil damages resulting from moving her. Where did the term medical come from? According to the California Supreme Court:

While section 1799.102 is certainly susceptible of Torti’s plain language interpretation, a “[l]iteral construction should not prevail if it is contrary to the legislative intent apparent in the statute. The intent prevails over the letter, and the letter will, if possible, be so read as to conform to the spirit of the act.” (Lungren v. Deukmejian (1988) 45 Cal.3d 727, 735.)

In other words, the term medical has been read into the law by the Court from the other legislative provisions which surround it. (It wasn’t even done reasonably, either, as the dissenters in the case aptly show in their dissent.) Ergo, since moving a person from a dangerous situation in an emergency isn’t medical care, the Good Samaritan in this case can be held liable for damages caused by that action.

I believe I can confidently state that at least four of the justices on the California Supreme Court are not textualists.

(It’s worth noting that others present at the accident apparently contest that there was an actual emergency at the scene, because they saw no evidence the crashed car was going to explode. If that’s the case, the correct action would have been to contest that there was an emergency and thus prevent the Good Samaritan exception from applying. [In fact the dissent in its closing paragraph noted precisely this point.] This particular situation sounds to me like more a matter of nerves than anything else, but as that argument seems not to have been raised, it’s somewhat irrelevant now anyway.)

Second, it’s no big secret that California’s in the midst of a pretty hefty budget crisis (which, to the best of my knowledge, has been around since before the current economic upheavals — a situation also shared with Michigan, my immediate past home state). California’s legislatures have been attempting to address a projected $18 billion (or so) deficit for some time now. There’s merely one small roadblock to avoid in doing so: the California State Constitution in article 13A section 3 says that:

Section 3. From and after the effective date of this article, any changes in state taxes enacted for the purpose of increasing revenues collected pursuant thereto whether by increased rates or changes in methods of computation must be imposed by an Act passed by not less than two-thirds of all members elected to each of the two houses of the Legislature, except that no new ad valorem taxes on real property, or sales or transaction taxes on the sales of real property may be imposed.

To parse that out a little and omit irrelevant text, it says that any change in state taxes for the purpose of increasing revenues must be part of a legislative act passed by two-thirds of each house of the California legislature. So unless the California legislatures can get two-thirds of each house to agree to a bill to do it (and they can’t, not in the middle of an economic downturn), they can’t combat the fiscal emergency by increasing taxes.

What should then be done? Clearly, if you can’t make more money through taxes and you can’t make money through bond sales because nobody wants to buy them, the only other option is that you should spend less money (or, most probably, a blend of the two). Instead, however, we have the following (and more like it) as described by California State Assemblywoman Noreen Evans:

Specifically, the bill enacts a new $0.39 per gallon fee on gasoline. This compares with the existing $0.18 per gallon excise tax and the 5% general sales tax on gasoline which is assessed per dollar. It enacts a new $0.31 per gallon diesel fee, and this compares with the existing $0.18 per gallon diesel excise tax.

(The source of that quote is an audio file at around 27:30 into it; I transcribed from the audio. My Google-fu on this topic isn’t up to snuff at least partly because I’m still new to California politics and don’t know the right names to use in search queries, so I’m having trouble finding the quote in text format online.) So what’s happening is our spades (“taxes”) are now shovels (“fees”), except super-sized, and that rule that applied to spades no longer applies just because we’re calling them shovels rather than spades. Instead, an increase in a “fee” requires only a majority vote, not a two-thirds super-majority vote. The Governator™ vetoed this constitutional end-run (or will be doing so, not sure about the exact timeline), but that the legislatures would have the sheer audacity to attempt this is breathtaking.

There’s a lesson to be learned here, kids: if you don’t like your constitution, just ignore it. Also, blame it on an obstructionist minority if you can; it’s not your fault you had to violate the constitution to which you took an oath/affirmation of allegiance.

(also cross-posted on RedState)