Monday, December 24, 2007

Rick and Cindy on the Continental Divide

Velonews published our picture in their gallery.

That's us at Logan Pass at the top of the Going to the Sun Road. Day 2 of the Glacie-Banff-Jasper Bicycle Adventures tour.

They got to JFK; they can get to your cable box too.

Just in case you're getting a little bored with watching the foolishness in pro cycling involving ASO, UCI, WADA, and USADA chasing their own tails ("What can we do to make sure Iban Mayo gets screwed?" Or "We don't care what anyone says, Floyd didn't win. So there. Neener neener neener...") there's a much better conspiracy to watch unfold. Say what you like - sure refs are human, and yes, when refs screw up, that's part of sport. But pro sports is a multi-billion dollar enterprise at the NFL level. Ya gotta wonder just how much money might change hands for coach Belichick to be persuaded to play all the starters on 12/29 against the Giants. After all, the ratings for the NFL channel would go up - its a win-win. The NFL calls Coach and says "start Brady. Start last week's roster, and we'll make it worth your while." And this isn't like someone cheating. After all, the NFL gets to make the rules, just like the ASO. The NFL can decide just what rules they think are appropriate for their game. Right?

Looks like I'll have to get the domain

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Being a fan of the CAS

We learned in October 2007 that Floyd Landis will appeal the split decision of the arbitration panel that ruled 2-1 to uphold the penalty for his doping offense during the 2006 Tour de France. The "appeal" will be heard by the Court for the Arbitration of Sport. This Swiss based “court” is frequently misunderstood: it is not a court proceeding any more than the arbitration hearing in California in May 2007 was; essentially a further arbitration proceeding. As it turns out, this is probably good news for Floyd, as most appelate proceedings, at least in the US judicial system, would be resticted to a review for errors of law, not fact - in the CAS, however, there will be a a “de novo” review of the evidence, with another panel to rule on the evidence and law.

Many legal experts are watching these events unfold, as there are many interesting and important personal rights at stake. There are issues of fairness and due process. There are issues involving the anti-doping movement, and indeed issues involving ethics of sport. But for me, the issue is fairly clear: this is an opportunity to set to rights a process that needs systemic reform. Floyd was screwed. Along with him, sports fans and athletes were screwed. We were cheated out of a great moment of sport. This is not the first time this has happened. While I’m not particularly interested in watching track and field events, except for about 10 days every four years, I couldn’t help feeling cheated when I saw Marion Jones confess to being a doper. Did I want to believe it when I saw her on the medal stand? No, and I remember questioning the validity of the evidence against her when she called the accusations against her “a kangaroo court.” Well, gee. Guess she was lying. Guess the court was on the right track. (!) I guess the testers got it wrong when her B samples didn’t confirm her positive A. I guess she was really a doper that played the cat and mouse game very well, and got away with it for a long time. One wonders if she would have confessed, and if the truth would have been known if the BALCO investigation had never occurred. Mrs. Jones says she’s sorry, and her tears seem genuine. But how much of that is sadness that she was caught, and the jig was finally up? Imagine how thrilled her relay teammates are at giving back their medals, their prize money, and the joy that must be felt in the Nike boardroom over her sponsorship.

I didn’t want to believe it when Alexandre Vinokourov turned up with someone else’s blood in his body during the 2007 Tour. Knowing the unreliability of the LNDD testing done on Floyd, I wondered if they’d again screwed the pooch. But science is science. When presented with the facts of Floyd’s case, when you see the actual data and lack of adherence to the procedures, you get a hinkey feeling something just ain’t right. Not so with Vino. When you see homologous blood doping, you can look through a microscope and actually see the dope. A witness can nearly say “I saw the cells from someone else’s blood.” Not, “we just use our experience, and can sniff out a doper because the curves seem to be reasonable” as in Floyd’s case.

I watched Michael Rassmussen get kicked out of the Tour because he lied to his team about his whereabouts while training. He was wearing the mallot jaune at the time – leading the race, and had it sewn up. I was cheated again, after watching him survive everything Cadel Evans, Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer had to throw at him in the Pyrenees. Have to say I was never a big Rasmussen fan. Don’t know why – he just seemed too damned skinny to be a tour champ. Wish I could have been a fan of his, but I wasn’t. Still, jerking him out of the race just before the finish…sucked. Was he a doper? It appears he broke the rules. Well, Levi broke the rules too, and it cost him 10 seconds of penalty time, purportedly for hanging onto the medical car too long. They called him a cheater, and added the difference between second and third place in time.

I love watching pro bike races. It is a great spectacle. As the promoters like to point out, it is the only sport that doesn’t take place in a stadium or fixed venue. It happens on the roads, out in the beautiful countryside. It looks great on TV. I can’t wait to watch one in HDTV. But what will really make me cheer is the day that CAS gives us back what was taken from us in 2006 – Floyd’s great stage 17 comeback in the tour. When I see the tapes of it, I laugh at Liggett and Sherwin’s commentary of “this is a stage win that will be talked about for years to come.” They had no idea how true that was going to be. At the finish, I punch the air with Floyd – I do that on my own bike when I have a great ride myself. And I wait for the day I read when the CAS gives it all back to us.

What will that day be like? The decision likely won’t be until March or April of 2008. A bare few months before the 2008 Tour. But the consequences will be staggering. What will become of the yellow jersey the ASO has awarded to Oscar Pierero? The Tour officials have unequivocally declared that Floyd will never be considered the 2006 champion. And Floyd might not want to get too combative about that. He already has pointed out he knows he won the tour. About all that would be at stake would be the prize money awarded. Sure, $900k might come in handy, but I wouldn’t hold my breath over the ASO ever paying that to Floyd. There is still a troublesome pending civil proceeding in France involving the matter that has essentially been stayed while the USADA/CAS process works itself out. When Floyd prevails against an obviously corrupt system based at a French lab, how will the legal system react to protect its own national interest and reputation?

When I read the headline (most likely at Trust But Verify) vindicating Floyd, I will celebrate a great moment of sport, just as if I saw a winner cross a finish line, and cheer a great champion. Then the realities of what has become of the champion will relegate my enthusiasm to the backwater footnote of history. Will other athletes be afforded greater protections because of the good fight? Will we see cleaner sport as the anti-doping movement gets the message, and stops sloppy work, and gets more proficient at catching the cheaters? After all, didn’t Marion Jones “get away with it” because of the same sloppy work?

I just want to see Floyd on the road again, kicking everyone’s ass.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Money and Power

I haven't seen anything so elequently said:

"Money is not evil. Power isn't necessarily evil. The use of power to take fundamental rights from any person is evil."
-Bill Hue, Trust But Verify

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

297 days

We made our reservations for next summer's Bicycle Adventure. We're going on the Crater Lake trip at Bicycle Adventures. I can't wait. The countdown is on.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Those pesky unintended consequences

ASO will be giving Oscar Periero a yellow jersey next week - anyone know if they will also be giving him the GC winners prize money? Will he be distributing it to his teammates? And will UCI be updating the points lists for 2006 because of the change?

And while we're on the topic, isn't there prize money awarded for stage wins in Le Tour? What happens to the prize money form Floyd's S17 win? IIRC, Floyd also won the final time trial. Prize money for that? And wasn't there some issue with exo-T in B samples from that?

Even more questions: aren't we supposed to test the GC leader after every stage? So by awarding the yellow jersey to Periero, doesn't he "win" without the associated testing? If Floyd should have been DQed after stage 17, why wasn't Oscar tested after stage 18? Where's Oscar's subsequent B samples to be tested?

Maybe we need to start thinking about testing everyone, with procedures that are reliable. Expensive? Yeah. My heart bleeds for the ASO and their lost profits. They sure didn't care about what they did to Floyd with their sloppy shenanigans.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The 24-hour reaction

Twenty-four hours after hearing from Trust But Verify about the 2-1 decision against Floyd Landis, I've been able to come up with a few coherent thoughts. Upon learning of this incorrect result by the arbitrators, I was dismayed, disappointed and angry. I was very demotivated - I had planned to bike to work on Thursday, but just couldn't seem to muster the energy needed to get on a bike. I am very demotivated to participate in the first competition for my sport this weekend. I'm theoretically an olympic athlete subject to this WADA and USADA incompetence, but only to the extent that my sport of fencing is an Olympic Sport. I guess I could go to the Olympics...if I bought a ticket. I dallied with the idea of openly doping for this competition simply as a matter of civil disobediance, and as a way of showing Dick Pound and his ilk just what I think of their keystone cops routine. Interestingly, ethanol is on USADA's list of banned substances, but it isn't on the FIE's (our version of the UCI.) Go figure. So yeah, I guess I'm a confessed doper, in that I had a beer once before a final bout. Go ahead, take away my national points, classification and my medals. USADA and their goons are welcome to show up and reposses them anytime they want - that's what I signed up for when I joined the USFA at $50/year to be able to compete and share in the Olympic Glory that is amateur sport.

So, the coherent thoughts I have now while we all digest the foolishness that Brunet and McLaren have presented us with, are these:

1. Fairness in sport is illusory. Even if you compete cleanly and fairly, there is a reasonable chance the system will persecute you for something you did not do. That system is designed to keep the powerful and wealthy that way. Talented and dedicated athletes need not apply;

2. Science is in peril. Courts struggle with competing evidence all the time, and the standards in American Courts arefairly rigourous. This AAA proceeding had none of the hallmarks of showing that the decisionmakers embraced the concept of peer-reviewed, objective science. In an age where there are people embracing non-scientific doctrine as fact, the light of science is being snuffed out. I recommend to all the book "The Demon-Haunted World" by Carl Sagan. It should be required reading for all high school students. It chronicles the history of the scientific method. That we accept as scientific proof an analysis without proper procedure, repeatable results and quantifiable assay is beyond me;

3, Is it possible Floyd is lying to us? Indeed it is possible, but I don't think so, and that isn't the issue. While the american justice and legal systems are not perfect, it is better than any other system I have studied. The US system embraces on a constitutional level the ideals of equal protection and due process of law. These are basic, immutable rights of citizenship that you should not have to check at the door when you go abroad to demonstrate your worthiness as a human, as an athlete, or as a tourist. In the US, we have the "exclusionary rule" in place to exclude evidence that is obtained in violation of our constitutional protections. This means that in fact that we must turn a blind eye to evidence of wrongdoing *even if that evidence is reliable* if that evidence was obtained improperly. Does this mean the guilty sometimes go unpunished? Yep. Why? Because we value our protections against an oppressive government above all else. I am far more afraid of the government with unchecked powers than I am of any terrorist. And now, the sport I love to watch and use to motivate my own development as an athlete has relegated these priciples of protection as subservient to maintaining their own power, wealth and prestige. I am angry - you've stolen from me, and I resent it;

4. Floyd: do not dispair. I can't imagine how disappointed you must be, but this decision does not change who you are - a champion and hero to many. I am inspired by your courage. Please accept my small donation at the Floyd Fairness Fund to your cause of protecting all of us as a small thank you. I support you, encourage you to continue the fight with a proper and compelling appeal, but understand that this is a very personal decision to make. I wish you all the best, and will stand beside you anyplace, anytime with respect and honor.

5. In a world haunted by great injustices, I am unsure why I am so incensed and emotional over what may to some seem to be a trivial matter: the outcome of a sporting event. But where does it end? In starting a new job recently, I had to submit to medical and drug testing. As I was putting a bit of head on the demanded fluid, it dawned on me: "what if they send this to some fucked up lab like LNDD?" We do need to think about perspective. There are many without food and shelter in my country, and that is tragic. But Floyd's issue - my issue - is one of fundamental fairness, and it can strike close to home at anytime. What if I came up positive on that drug test? Could I ever hold a job again? Who would know, and how would they find out? How quickly would I lose the ability to feed and shelter myself? Think about it. Then visit the FFF.

6. I hope to read more from other experts about the serious flaws in the outcome so we can understand the issues for possible appeals, and how we can keep cheap, shoddy "science" from destroying anyone's life, and a beautiful sport, ever again.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Adopt Me!

I'm Danielle, a 2 year old(ish) retired racer. I can be adopted through Greyhound Pets Inc. I'm being fostered with Bronson and Violet, but really want to find my Forever Home! I'm really good with other greys, but haven't been around cats or kids. I know the dog door, and can handle stairs with some encouragement. Send me email and see more info about me at the GPI website!

I still have a lot of puppy energy, but am very well behaved in my new home. I like to play with stuffies and run with my people, but am adapting to retirement very quickly.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Floyd Landis: Thought Control?

While Floyd may be Comfortably Numb, perhaps it is the arbitrators that should be getting further attention.

While the silence from the panel has been deafening since the proceedings in May, we learned recently that the panel intends to meet with their technical expert, Dr. Botre, on September 12. Dr. Botre runs the WADA accredited lab in Rome, and the meeting 9/12 will be in camera; what is discussed will not be known, unless the panel later decides to release that information.

What are the arbitrators thinking? While there may indeed be a lot of technical information to digest, it seems like ample time has passed for the panel to have completed significant review. So why the need for further education? And why from Dr. Botre, a person who may have a conflict of interest in pointing out errors made by a WADA lab (LNDD.) What will be going on September 12 behind "The Wall?"

Pink Floyd lends further enlightenment. While our panel hasn't posted any tidbits on bulletin/chat boards, surely they've heard the very famous "Another Brick in the Wall Part 2":

We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it's just another brick in the wall.
All in all you're just another brick in the wall.

We don't need no education
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it's just another brick in the wall.
All in all you're just another brick in the wall.

"Wrong, Do it again!"
"If you don't eat yer meat, you can't have any pudding. How can you
have any pudding if you don't eat yer meat?"
"You! Yes, you behind the bikesheds, stand still laddy!"

Could the panel believe they've established "The Wall" between themselves and the litigants, in an effort to assure us that their version of Justice is indeed blind? When Pink points out "we don't need no education," perhaps they already know the answer they seek - Floyd is guilty - it is predetermined. He's indeed just another "Brick in The Wall" that assures no need for deeper inquiry. On one side of The Wall, the powers in cycling already know what and who is guilty, and those who are guilty are responsible for The Wall.

Even perhaps more sinister is the reference to "we don't need no thought control." While an arbitration is very much not a courtroom proceeding in the sense we are used to them in the US Judicial system, they mirror courtroom procedures nonetheless. We use the "adversarial system" where each side presents is evidence and argues how these asserted facts demonstrate The Truth. Do the arbitrators think this is "thought control?" Are the arguments brought before them "dark sarcasm in the classroom?"

The admonition to "leave those kids alone" seems reminiscent of our desire to maintain a status quo - Floyd's "Team Wiki" has attempted to demonstrate the errors made in the lab procedures, and they're "teaching" us that not all evidence is fact. The "kids" need latitude to play. As Mongongu and Frelat seemed to assert at the hearing, they need to "use their experience" to arrive at the results they wanted. Kids have active minds, and play without structured rules is part of their development. Could the procedures of properly running chemical analysis merely be more "dark sarcasm in the classroom?" And when the results are wrong, they're told "do it again" to get the "right" answer, the one we know from "our experience" shows someone had their pudding first. Perhaps a bit chilling?

But in the end, could the panel be shocked that Floyd asked for pudding, even though he hadn't finished the meat? How can someone enjoy the accolades of victory without first consuming what everyone knows is good for you? Floyd bonks on stage 16, so when he crushes stage 17, do we assume he had his "meat," his "PEDs," overnight? How could he have that pudding without that "meat?" This seems to be the Dick Pound analysis - there's no way someone could go up that mountain as if they were on a Harley without consuming that "meat."

And lastly, the difficult to hear and interpret instruction to the laddy behind the bikeshed. Stand still indeed. Is this where the panel thinks Floyd belongs? Behind the bikeshed? Standing still?

Eerie coincidence? Perhaps we will soon see. Closed door meetings by judicial decision makers with individuals with a stake in the outcome of the proceeding make me worry. Tear Down The Wall! *buzz* *buzz* "Time to go-o!"*buzz* *buzz* "Time to go-o!"...

[With respect and admiration for the authors at Trust But Verify; most specifically Judge Bill Hue - thanks for giving reign to my satirical side.] :-)


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Arbitration Policymaking?

In a comment to a post on Trust But Verify, bill writes:
Comments about how long the arbitrators are taking keep appearing here from a variety of sources. But, when you consider the daunting task the arbitrators are facing, their protracted silence is quite understandable. Their options are to:

1. Find in Floyd's favor while minimizing the damage to the anti-doping establishment or

2. Return an adverse finding against Floyd that overcomes (or ignores) the substantial evidentiary (sic) record of errors, omissions, and outright fabrications at multiple levels within the anti-doping establishment.

Clearly a Hobson's Choice if ever there was one.

I tend to agree that the arbitrators hearing the Floyd Landis case have a difficult task. There's an underlying assumption that the arbs are considering the effect of their decision on not only the parties (USADA and Floyd), but on ProCycling, the anti-doping movement, and professional and amateur athletics as well. They may well be, but is this their job?

Public policy choices by courts of law are the cornerstone of the common law heritage we enjoy in the United States, and indeed, most countries connected to the British Commonwealth. Judges are expected to form their own judicial philosophy, be it ultra-restrained or completely activist, or somewhere in between. Many liken judicial philosophy to "conservative" of "liberal" views, but this isn't wholly accurate. What is clear is that many judges lean toward a view that public policy choices are the province of the legislatures, or other elected representatives of the republic. Many others see the role of the judiciary as an important representation of the people in a basic sense, protecting the rights of the minority and serving the changing needs of society. And of course, there's everything in between, with a huge standard deviation in the analysis - many judges also exhibit varying forms depending on the equities of a case before them. They "swing both ways" as it were. When faced with deciding a case, activist judges may feel that the law they make should reflect the needs of the people, while others are much more restrained, feeling this is a change to be affected by legislatures, but not by the courts.

But arbitration proceedings are not "courts of law." Arbitrations are creatures of contract. People agree to submit their disputes under some very specific rules to a private party decision maker. While some disputes are required by law to be submitted to arbitration, the vast majority of arbitration proceedings are conducted by the "consent" of the parties. Consent is very much a pliable term - many contracts that contain arbitration clauses are hardly negotiable on this issue. Try obtaining a credit card by striking the mandatory binding arbitration clause in the application!

It is likely the arbitration proceeding involving USADA and Floyd Landis is a creature of the contract that Floyd agreed to when he applied for a racing license through USA Cycling. This is required to participate in the Olympic sport of cycling, as USA Cycling is the US National Governing Body for the sport. All this was created by federal statute (Congress) and the rules of the IOC.

With all this as a background, it occurs to me that it is something of a Leap of Faith to assume that we should expect or allow arbitration proceedings to set public policy in a way that courts of law do. Arbitrators, either in a panel or solo, don't need to, nor do they make rulings with stare decisis value - they aren't bound by binding precedent. Indeed, if the arbitrators make an error, the appeal to the Court for Arbitration of Sport (CAS) is a proceeding de novo - they start over. This being the case, shouldn't arbitration panels only answer the very specific question presented them: who should prevail *in this case.* Arbitrators are not elected, nor are they subject to judicial censure and/or impeachment. Indeed, they are "hired guns" in that they depend on selection by parties with a dispute for future employment. Given that the anti-doping movement has many, many more resources than athletes, either collectively or individually, isn't it possible that arbitrators may wish to preserve their employability by venturing into making public policy that suits the needs of their most likely employer? Perhaps. I do think arbitrators are bound by a professional code of ethics, but given that ethics can be a pliable thing, I'm unsure of the "checks and balances" in place. To allow privately employed individuals to make policy, even policy that reflects our entertainment culture, is wrong. They answer to no one, are not accountable for their mistakes or lack of judgment. There is a significant possibility for unethical behavior and double-dealing. We can do better.

When amateur athletics really were amateur, maybe this made sense. The stakes now are much higher. We've come to a point where entire sports are at risk, not just athletes' reputations, sponsorships, and the future of an entire organized sport. Some sports have chosen to simply not go down this path. Non-Olympic professional sports have their own respective drug and substance abuse adjudicative procedures, established in cooperation with the athletes' respective labor unions. Some pro sports that are Olympic status (e.g. the NHL) have both systems.

Perhaps a solution is to replace the arbitration proceedings with a level of adjudication that reflects a much more modern approach. In a perfect world, we'd simply employ our courts to resolve our disputes. But judicial resources are scarce, and fairly, there are other more pressing matters in society. A reasonable alternative should be a quasi-judicial administrative proceeding, with rights of appeal to the federal courts.

This would require action by the U.S. Congress for athletes answerable to the US NGBs. To be effective elsewhere in the world, it would have to an effort by the IOC. The IOC's influence in the various nation states' legal systems is certainly questionable, but the IOC could require NGBs to provide a system of dispute resolution that requires due process and impartiality of decision makers.

Would this cost money to implement? Plenty. As it stands now, there is a significant disparity in the funding resources for the anti-doping movement and the athletes. This already puts athletes at a severe disadvantage. When fighting city hall, this is not unusual, but in the US, a potential litigant in an government agency dispute with the US Government potentially can recover some costs through the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA.)

Who benefits from clean sport, without corruptive influence? Well...we all do. Who can best bear the costs of an improved judicially centered dispute resolution system for athletes? Perhaps the sport organizations that have the most to gain: the leagues, teams, promoters. The IOC, UCI, ASO, USOC, USA name a few.

Or do they have the most to gain? Rolling over athletes makes the problem go away, and no one is the wiser. But when the system in place allows changes to be made in the middle of the game (I wonder just what kind of race we would have seen if Michael Rasmussen hadn't started Le Tour, as was seemingly required under "The Rules") people (particularly those footing the bill) do become wiser. And they wonder just what kind of monkey we were sold to watch.

An important responsibility of government is protection of the vulnerable. The viability of an entire sport is at risk and vulnerable - we all have a vested interest in preserving clean sport, with clean athletes free from corrupt influence. The policy choices must be made answerable to the people, not by "hired guns" to save money for the already wealthy.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bicycle Adventures: Glacier - Banff - Jasper 2007

We left from Seattle for the Bicycle Adventures Glacier - Banff - Jasper tour on Friday morning. Even though the tour didn't start until Saturday morning, we decided this year to take our own bikes. BA has very fine rentals - we used their Rocky Mountain bikes last year on the California Redwoods tour, and they were reliable and comfortable - but Cindy has a new Cervelo, and I've just become accustomed to my Trek. At 6'3", a bike that fits is kind of important to me, and I had mine professionally fit to me some time ago. Besides, the departure point, Whitefish Montana was certainly within driving distance (about 9 hours) and any time I have a chance to avoid air travel, I take the opportunity. We stayed at the Grouse Mountain Lodge in Whitefish Friday night after a very hot July drive across central Washington , Idaho and Western Montana. Grouse Mountain Lodge is a very nice place. Our room was comfortable with a king size bed (NB: this is something of a Big Deal to me. Remember why I brought my own bike? Yeah. Me and small beds don't mesh well. See this recurring, but manageable, theme below....) BA even set this pre-trip lodging up for us, so check-in was easy, even though we had plenty of gear with us. We verified with them directly that we could leave our car at the lodge during the trip.

We dressed for bike travel and headed down to breakfast the next morning. Arriving at a restaurant in spandex biking gear will make you stand out in a crowd, and we met up with some folks similarly dressed, and surprise-surprise, they were there for the same trip we were about to embark on. We joined Fred and Mark for some early carbo-loading, then packed our gear to the front door to meet our guides.

What a great site to see the BA van and trailer at the front door! There is just something about that van and smiling guides that impresses you with "you're about to have a great time!" I met up with Brandon, who was our guide from our tour with BA last year. Brandon had called me last week, as is the tradition with BA, to chat a little about the trip. As we were repeat travelers, we had a better idea of what to expect, but this is a nice touch by the company. You can let your guides know if you have special needs or requests, or just chat a bit to find more out about the terrain or weather. Brandon reminded me of one of the "quirks" of this particular trip: since the van can't take the trailer over the Going to the Sun road, we needed a separate "day bag" for the first night. As it turns out, this "day bag" idea is a good one for the entire trip. It's nice to have a bag of stuff on top for easy reach inside the van. Having this kind of "heads up" a week before even packing made things really smooth.

We met our other guide Chris as he was already loading bags. Chris stands a few inches taller than me, and you could sense his quiet confidence immediately. As we were about to learn when the group got all together for the first time, this was Chris' first season with BA, and his first trip on the GBJ tour. If he hadn't told us that, we would have never known. Here's a guy who seemed to know all the tricks of the trade. He was totally comfortable with all the equipment, and seemed to know exactly how to plan the schedule to meet the needs of the travelers while taking advantage of everything the route had to offer. Where BA finds these pros, I can only speculate.

Once our gear was loaded up, we're ready to meet the other travelers and have our first route talk. We met Fred and Mark at breakfast, and met another solo traveler, Peter. The other couples were Rob and Adri, Dave and Dayle, Ken and Nancy, and Murray and Emily. There was a total of 13 guests, a nice feature of all BA trips. This is the number that fits their very comfortable vans, and also has many advantages when traveling. BA points out these smaller groups allow for more personal attention and for the smaller inns and restaurants to accommodate. All true. As it turns out, our group was much the same age and cycling ability. It was easy to make friends with this group. Everyone liked cycling together, seeing the off the track sights, and sharing the trip. This was a wonderful group of people, the company of which we enjoyed immensely. Together with the guides, we were about to set off on a marvelous adventure.

Each day is a mini-vacation onto itself. It starts with a route talk and safety briefing. We received our route directions from Brandon, and he posted a large map on the side of the trailer. He took us turn-by-turn through the ride to lunch. The route directions throughout the trip were flawless. I carried a recording GPS device along on the trip to simply track where we went, and unless you really tried, there's no way you'd get lost on a BA trip. Brandon also reminded us of the dos and don't of cycling. It's all too easy to forget that at times you're cycling with other users of the road, and that carries certain responsibilities to be careful, not just for your own safety, but for others as well. I surreptitiously took a glance around the group to see who might be taking this lightly. None were. I was in good company. At the very end of the trip, the guides confided in me that this is their biggest worry - that someone will be injured. This attention to safety is never lost, but it never gets in the way of the trip, either. Funny, but when I think about it, this says a lot. It is the one thing the guides really don't have any control over. I get the impression that with all the variables on a lengthy trip like this, the guides could overcome just about any contingency. Forest fire? No problem, we'll re-route. Someone lose a bag last night? No worries, we'll get someone to pick it up. But if someone is injured, it is hospital time, and this could have lots of outcomes. I do know the guides are extensively trained in first aid, but there is a limit as to what can be done. Knowing this, the ounce of prevention technique is a strong lead. I felt very safe and looked after.

Time to hit the road! BA points out there isn't a "travel day" to waste time on. When you sign up for an 8 day trip, 8 days of activity is what you get. And this is a good a place to emphasize just how important the literature from BA is. If there is one way to induce stress in a traveler, it is to introduce some uncertainty as to what they're going to do. BA will have none of this. Their web site is not just professionally well-designed and navigable, but it serves a most important function - display of *everything* you would want to know about what you're buying. There was never an opportunity to say "this wasn't in the brochure." It was. All of it, and more. Don't miss the "slideshow" feature!

Out first stop down the road was only about a mile. We saw one of our group had stopped last night at the Glacier Cycle shop in downtown Whitefish, and had on a really nice "Going to the Sun" jersey. We decided we each had to have one. The shop was small, and prices reasonable for a mountain resort town. The sales folks inside were *really* nice. Visit them; highly recommended!

It took only a few pedal strokes to get out of "town." The stop light next to cycle store was the last one we'd see for a week. We cycled through the outskirts of a growing farm community, and as we moved from civilization to back country, it only took a few minutes to leave the stress of civilization behind. We were now on "cycle time" and with a van full of support, it took only moments to sink onto the bike, and forget what day, what time it was.

Lunch was served by the Flathead river. Fresh fruit, cold drinks of every type, and today, smoked salmon and bagels, complete with capers! The ever-present bag of peanut M&Ms (a BA tradition) right along side nightly "beer cooler" are the comfort foods on the trip. We ate a leisurely lunch, and watched river rafters drift by. Normally, we'd ride out from lunch, but today, we had a post-lunch route talk, then loaded up to transfer inside of Glacier National Park proper. We then cycled to Apgar, a small village at the south end of Lake MacDonald. We sampled the huckleberry ice cream, and cooled off in the lake. Plenty of leisure time here, since the park, for very obvious safety reasons, limits the times bikes can be on the Going to the Sun road. We passed some relaxing time off the bikes on the shore of the lake, then rode into Lake MacDonald lodge.

The Lodge is very, very nice, right on the lake. One of the really nice touches of a BA trip is that your bags don't show up by the curb - they are taken to your room for you. All you pick up at the curb is your key. Man, is that nice. Rooms were lodge-type, but comfortable. No king size bed here, but given the surroundings, not really expected. As it was still pretty hot, I scored us a room fan that made the evening sleep very pleasant. Dinner in the lodge was good, but it seemed like everyone was really tired from the first day of cycling. Oddly enough, the appetizers and deserts were the highlights here. Yum!

Up the next morning, we were greeted with the first of many buffet breakfasts. This was the norm for the first meal of the day, and all had fresh fruit, as well as hot selections, eggs, and the usual American breakfast meat. Always juices to select from, and there was always an option for waffles straight from the iron. I'm not a big breakfast eater, but there was everything I could think anyone would want. We started a bit early, wanting to be on the road early so as to maximize the time available for the climb to Logan Pass. The Park Service requires cyclists to be off the road by 11am, so BA would have to scoop up anyone still pedaling then. Yes, this is a mountain climb, no it is not undoable. You'll have plenty of time. BA rental bikes (and my Trek) come equipped with a triple chain ring in front, and I suspect even the most moderately active person would have no trouble ascending the climb in leisurely fashion in the allotted time. But if not, the ever-present van is at your side, and the view from its windows would be equally thrilling. And, you'd have your choice of music on the stereo - Chris brought a well-stocked iPod, and if you brought your own, there was ample support for you to share. Chris had on "Here Comes the Sun" as we grouped around the van for the ascent! Ha! What a great morning this was going to be. After some attention to dental hygiene, and the loading of bags, we were off.

As is the tradition, one of the guides drives the van, and the other joins us on the road with a bike. Interestingly, the guides ride a BA Rocky Mountain bike identical to the rentals. As the guides are clearly accomplished athletes, I rather suspect they have their own bikes at home that maybe they'd be more comfortable on. But how cool is it that they ride the company bikes? That's confidence, hunh?

Today, Chris drove the van, and Brandon was on the road with us. The first part of today's road was in a gently sloping valley. After yesterday's heat, starting off in a cool valley was great! The van was strategically parked just where the road starts up in earnest. Time to stock up on water and carbs. And of course, you always know which way to the van - it is equipped with a distinctive sounding bicycle bell that the guide jingles for you as they pass. A thumbs up, and you know the van will be at the next appointed stop. A thumbs down, and they know to stop at the next pullout to see what you need.

Cindy took the lead on the road, and I discovered how to climb a mountain. While it might seem obsessive, I wore a heart rate monitor, just so I could figure this out. Turns out if I turn at a pace that keeps me below 165 bpm, I can pretty much go all day and enjoy the view. Yes, that might sound a little excessive, but that's the way I'm built. Oddly enough, sitting on Cindy's wheel, I could just do this without using the small chain ring. Could be that spinning the little gear uses more energy? I dunno, but the trip up the Going to the Sun road was marvelous. What a view! And you can just see the Logan Pass sign about half a mile from the top. Meaning I could meter my energy, jump on the pedals, and sprint to the line to feel like Floyd winning le Tour! A punch at the air, and I could look forward to the downhill after seeing the visitor's center on the pass. If it wasn't for the time restriction, I would have gone down the west side and rode it again. What a great climb!

Plan to spend some time at the very nice visitor's center. It was much larger than I thought. There is a very nice trail behind the center that provides for a nice hike out to the glacier field. We opted out of the hike, mostly because it was very busy that day, and we wanted to relax a bit. And here's a tip: put some light hiking shoes in the van each morning. I use clipless pedals as a safety device, and you really can't walk far in shoes like that. But I'm told there was ample wildlife to be seen on the trail, and the view of Hidden Lake worth the steps.

A note about the Going to the Sun road. It is easy to see why this road took years to build. The engineering feat is obvious, as is the care taken to preserve it. As we biked it on a Sunday, the road work crews weren't out. The descent was fun, and just as we were briefed. Places to be careful, places to let the bike run a bit. And I discovered the best way to control speed is to use my wide body for aero braking, rather than use the rubber things on my rims. You'd think I'd have a clue as to how to modulate drag in an atmosphere to control speed, but I think the days of me really understanding that stuff are long past. Something about the simplicity of a bike makes me not really care about drag coefficients.

We stopped at a roadside ravine to admire a great waterfall. Cool clean water spilling down to the lake, and we noticed a tourist viewing the opposite side of the lake through a telephoto lens. They were kind enough to offer us a peek, and we saw a bear and cub from far away. Don't forget, we're in their house now. Look, but don't touch.

We met for lunch where Chris had dropped the trailer the night before, having driven all the way around the park because of the road restriction. Again, a gourmet meal of chicken salad with all the usual desert and drinks. A quick, but thorough briefing of the route ahead, and we're off again. Watch for the big U-Turn by the lake! It opens up in front of you on a down hill, and the whole lake is in front of you. What a great view!

The road in to Many Glacier Lodge was beautiful, but was one of the few places where the road maintenance was marginal. From Babb into the hotel was hot, into the wind, and uphill. I stupidly ran out of water about 5 miles from the hotel. Fortunately, Cindy had two full bottles. As it turns out, Adri and Rob were in close proximity, and Adri is a triathlete. Even she was having trouble in the shifting wind. We sure were glad to see the hotel, right on the lake as promised.

Many Glacier Lodge is very nice too, and seemed a bit bigger than Lake MacDonald Lodge. We had a room by the lake, complete with a deck. Two beds, and our bags met us in our room. The room by the lake sure was pretty, but being by the beach by a large lodge also meant a lot of traffic by our window late at night. Tip: score a room fan for some white noise to drown out the loud voices of people than can't figure out they're not alone next to a large lodge next to a lake in peak travel season.

OK, I've just got to say something about noise. I understand the idea that humans make noise with their mechanized contrivances. Indeed, the BA van isn't silent. I don't object to the Very Large Tour Buses that bring many visitors to see the national treasures that are our national and provincial parks. I'm willing to share, and indeed, I like company. But I draw the line at those ridiculous two wheeled, motorized contrivances made mostly by a company that rhymes with Barley Ravingson. There is just no reason for these things to make the amount of noise they do, but I recognize that the emission of this offending noise qualifies as "freedom" to some people. OK, I'm a big believer in the idea that acts can be speech, but taking these unbelievably noisy things into a national park to practice some act of freedom at the expense of polluting the experience for all is offensive. More than a few times I'd be cycling along on the shoulder of the road (not just on this trip, either) admiring the beauty and natural wonders about us, only to have the experience cut short by a annoying "BRAAAAAAA!"of at least one motorcycle. There is *no reason* why these things must make that many decibels, and when I'm In Charge Of Things, owners of said annoying technology will have the option of demonstrating installation of a non-removable hush kit, or paying a hefty tax at the gate of all national parks. Wanna pollute with your annoying hog? *Pay for it.* Freedom ain't free.

End of rant. Sorry. But hey, it's my blog, and they interrupted my vacation. ha!

Back at the lodge, BA put on a wine and cheese party out on the deck. The wind was now a relaxing breeze, and we sampled some red that went nicely with some unique cheese Brandon found. (Funny - how many skills will these guys show? Now they can pair white and red wine like senior sommeliers.) We had dinner not at a large table, but in a couple of smaller groups. We had dinner with Rob and Adri, and it was nice to chat more with them. Dinner was again excellent, and maybe I was less tired than the night before.

Next morning, after yummy buffet breakfast, a short route talk, and taking care of those teeth, we headed out the way we came. There was a hint of smoke in the air, and Chris shared some of the photos he took of the forest fires he narrowly skirted while repositioning the trailer. The road out to Babb was calm and pretty, this time downhill and cool. We passed a deer on the road while we noodled along in the cool air. At Babb, we headed out the highway toward Chief Mountain. This road was a steady climb, and we we well briefed on it. As with practically all the chosen routes, the road surface was great, and traffic quite sparse. Today, though, the complication was some hot weather. Again, we were prepared for this, slathered in sunscreen, each of us with two water bottles and plenty of snacks. What made this an interesting day on the bike was that there was very little shade. I had to stop a bit in some places where I found it. It was nice to have some quiet, peaceful time off the bike. And the van was always ready to take me on. We regrouped at the top of the climb, enjoyed some of Chris' iPod offerings while watering up, and go a closeup of Chief Mountain. Back on the bikes, we passed a car stopped by the side of the road. I didn't pay too much attention, but did notice the windshield had been smashed. Later I found out that they'd hit a deer, and the occupants were a bit shook up. A reminder that we are guests here.

We transitioned across to Canada, and right after the crossing, had a great downhill to lunch. Some rolling hills lead us to a great downhill into the river valley in Waterton, where a few miles of wind to the hotel finished off a great ride and great day. The Price of Wales Hotel was perhaps the most picturesque place we stayed, and we had a balcony room (two beds) overlooking the town across the lake. Walk in the front door of this fabulous building, and the windows on the other side open out onto a fairy tale view of the lake and town. Bags met us in our room (!) and we changed for dinner, and stopped off for a drink in the Windsor Lounge (a nice stock of scotches, btw.) Dinner was in Waterton, a nice change from in-the-hotel fare. We visited an Italian place with a friendly staff, and I had the best Chicken Parmigiana I think I've ever had. Some opted to walk back to the hotel; we vaned back and took a short walk around a small lake next to the hotel. On the trail back to the hotel, we ran across about 5 deer grazing in the pasture. They were predictably tame. As Fred pointed out in town, where the deer were perched on the lawns of some of the houses "they're like squirrels here."

The next day, we dressed in "civvies" for breakfast, and prepared to van up to the Bow River and the Icefields Parkway. Bags packed, teeth brushed and we had a short trip by van north. Lunch was a tortellini salad, and we changed into cycling gear for the ride up to Lake Louise. What a great ride! On a short downhill, I glanced over to the river valley to see a bear strolling along the railroad tracks. We stopped, and watched as s/he strolled into the river and swam to the other side. I'm guessing black bear, but too far away to be sure. A big creature, nonetheless.

Rolling into Lake Louise, I heeded Brandon's caution about the last 2 mile climb to the hotel. "Not real fun" due to the nature of the road. A bit narrow and somewhat steep. I took the van, Cindy a few others rode on up. Cindy reports it wasn't real bad, but while we were visiting the sport shop in town (new Canada jersey!) I got a few minor cramps in my calves that said "take the van." Beer cooler at the top, again my favorite brew (how did they know?) iced and ready.

We stayed in Deer Lodge at Lake Louise. Bags met us in the room, as did a king size bed. (!) Deer Lodge is a good choice by BA. The other natural choice is the Chateau, the largish, monolithic resort by the lake. Deer Lodge was much quieter, and very nice. The Chateau was opulent, but seemed something like a shopping mall. The staff at Deer Lodge even made the call over to the Chateau to set up an appointment for us at the spa for massages the next day. Ahhh..... Don't miss the hot tub on the roof at Deer Lodge. Amazing to sit in a hot tub, and enjoy the vertical cliffs of the Canadian Rockies. The hot tub is up the stairs right next to the hotel front desk.

The next day was a "layover day." This means we stayed at Deer Lodge for two nights, so if you wanted, you could lounge about all day, and do whatever you wanted. We opted (as did the entire crew) for the hike out to the tea house and glacier. For a bicycle trip, it's somewhat amazing that a hike was one of the highlights. Don't miss this: the tea house is a few miles along the well maintained trail. The staff stays there in week longish shifts, camping out to make goodies and supply tea in the best Swiss-style chalet you can imagine. I couldn't help myself:


After tea, we hike another few Ks ("Know what they call a quarter-pounder with cheese in France?") out to the glacier. What a view! Not a hard hike, but be sure to heed the guides advice to bring lots of water. As the view of the Chateau shrinks across the lake, the view of the glacier zooms into view. Chris gave us the short course on how to tell pine from (flat, friendly) fir from (sharp, square) spruce.

There is something vaguely spiritual about glaciers. These river/conveyor belts of ice are the mechanism that carved these great valleys we were cycling through. Soon, they will all be gone. The evidence of their decline is overwhelming, and the force of nature they represent with their monolithic presence is inspiring. Still, I'm conscious of just how much carbon footprint I am responsible for in coming to see them. Sure, I'm using a bicycle, but surely the infrastructure supporting the vacation facilities I'm availing myself of surely aren't carbon-footprint free. As Lt. Dunbar said in Dances With Wolves when he asked for assignment to the Dakotas, "you want to see the frontier?" "Yes, sir. Before it's gone." You must see the ice. It will soon be gone.

We hiked back, showered and changed for the scheduled massage (ahhhh....) and dinner on our own. BA does this on most tours - one day is left open, so you can dine at your leisure for lunch and dinner. It is a great change of pace. We had a good burger at a restaurant in the Chateau.

The next morning, with another good buffet breakfast down, bags loaded, teeth flossed and polished, and we'd be headed north on our bikes. Before we left, I had my first "mechanical." Before our route briefing, I thought I'd recheck the pressure in my tires. I use pretty high pressure tires (140psi) and I wasn't familiar with the type of attach mechanism on the BA floor pump. To make a short story long, I tore the stem out of my rear inner tube. I felt like such a klutz, but didn't want anyone to have to wait while I changed the tube. I hung the bike on the front rack of the van, popped the wheel off, and pulled the tube out. I had the new tube in my hand, and without even asking, Brandon appeared by my side. "Let me get that for you." I really didn't expect the guides to deal with not only my own non-rental bike, but to deal with a problem I had caused by being incompetent. I sheepishly handed over the wheel and tube, and seemingly in seconds, Brandon had the wheel inflated and reinstalled on the bike. Took him a tenth of the time it would have taken me, and he never seemed rushed or lost his smile. I swear if I'd been in his shoes, I'd have wanted to smack me for being a fumbling mess. It's these seemingly little things that make stress non-existent on a BA vacation. Even when I tried to make stress, the guide refused to let me do so. Ha!

With full tires, ride briefing complete, it was time to hit the road. That first two miles was now downhill, and chilly. Bring layers, and use them! (In case I didn't mention it, while the first few days were hot, we were treated to spectacular weather throughout. Could Brandon and Chris be responsible for this too? Is there anything they can't do?) We biked into Banff National Park, and cycled past glaciers hanging on the walls of the canyons. Lunch at Bow Lake included polenta and salsa. Don't know where they found the ripe cherries, but they were as sweet as the view. Wow!

Back on the bike, the road had fresh treasures in store at every turn. One thing to keep in mind was to remember to look back the direction you came - the view changed so dramatically and so quickly, you'd tend to focus on what was coming into view, rather than take the time to see how the view changed behind you. Just when you think you'd seen it all, the next turn opened yet a new vista. A short side road with a steep climb to Peyto Lake gave us a view of the valley ahead.

Beer cooler at The Crossing had a fresh stock of Moose Drool. I slowly pedaled in, while Cindy took a side route to check out a few more miles. We found our bags in the room (two beds) and the comfortable rooms were surprisingly quiet. For the fist time in days, I discovered a TV in our room. The moving pictures just weren't all that remarkable, though. The view of the mountains out the window was amazing, and the colors on the rocks changed as the sun dipped lower. No remote required. BA again had a wine and cheese party for the guests. We gathered at a picnic table behind the lodge, and the company and surroundings couldn't be beat.

The Crossing is something of an outpost along a road that is closed in the winter. There are not only nice accommodations, but a fairly extensive shop, restaurant, cafe, and sports lounge. Dinner was again excellent, again with a very nice staff.

The next morning we again had hot buffet breakfast, and after more toothpaste and floss bit the dust, and the ride briefing done we were ready for the Big Climb of the day along the Icefield Parkway to Sunwapta Pass. Again, the morning started cool and clear, and again, I not only misjudged what to wear (needed to keep a jacket nearby) but discovered another flat tire. This time, I was clued into the idea that maybe I should not rush a repair. All I did was reach for the pump, and Chris said "let me take care of that for you...." Interestingly, when it was all done, Chris also pointed out I had a wobble in my rear wheel. Out came the spoke wrench, and he proceeded to true the wheel for me! This is one of those repairs I leave to professionals, and interestingly, just had the wheel trued at a bike shop at home before the trip. Chris showed me the wobble and fixed it in a few seconds.

As we were getting ready for the ride briefing, we noticed a smallish black bear back behind the lodge. S/he was lazily munching on berries, and we respectfully kept our distance. That is, until some bonehead that was staying at the lodge decided he had to get the bear's picture. I reached for my camera in preparation of getting a YouTube video of this moron's death. How many times do people need to be told not to approach bears? And this idiot had his wife and young son with him. Fortunately, all he did was annoy the bear, the latter ambling off in search of a quieter berry patch. It would have been nice to watch the bear for a while, but Mr. Bonehead had to spoil it for everyone. I was tempted to tell him off, but I was the American on vacation in Canada, and decided to try to demonstrate some civility. At least he wasn't traveling by motorcycle.

Out on the road, we noodled along the parkway for a few miles, and I ran across Brandon with Murray contemplating a flat tire. Brandon had the hand pump out, and finally, I could make some sort of contribution to the Karma Bank. I carry not only a hand pump, but CO2 cartridges and a shooter. Brandon already had the tire fixed, so all I had to do was hit the inflate button. Voila! We're all back on the road.

The climb to Sunwapta Pass is different than the Going to the Sun road, but no less beautiful. The road is perhaps steeper, but it is in really nice shape with a wide shoulder, and it has flatter places where you can recover some. There are many pullouts to stop, admire the view, and carb up. There's an extensive flat curve in the road just as it kicks up, and the van and trailer were there waiting. The view is unequaled, with amazing geologic features nearby. Climbing with us that day was a couple on a tandem. This one was individually freewheeled, in that either rider could set an independent cadence. But as is usually the case, Cindy hit the climb and disappeared ahead of me. Must be the bike.

The climb levels out in front of a glacier, and the summit isn't a dramatic pitch, but a gentle roll across the other side. Only a few miles down the side was the Columbia Icefield visitor center, and fairly extensive facility with a restaurant, viewing deck, and museum (free!) exhibits. The van had already arrived, and the weather on the pass was breezy and a bit colder. The cool weather was quite welcome, and somehow our guides knew the perfect lunch was hot roasted red pepper soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Have to say that was one of the more yummy lunches we had. How do they know?

Also here is where you can get a lift on a special bus type tractor that will take you out onto the ice. Having done this in the past, I opted out, but several of the group took a side ride out to walk out onto the ice. I started downhill from the visitor's center, and didn't get far before I ran across mountain goats grazing by the side of the road. These are pretty docile creatures, and there was ample time to snap a few photos. I left some very sparse rain showers behind, and rolled along the road. This is the other section of road that isn't particularly bike friendly - when the road was resurfaced, they didn't do the shoulder. The shoulders are wide, but the surface is akin to rumble strips. It is dangerous to ride out onto a highway that carries large RVs and tour buses, but the shoulder was...challenging. Here's a situation where a rear view mirror would be handy. I don't ride with one, but sure wish I had one here, as you could keep an eye on the traffic from behind to use the highway road surface. I don't like a piece of glass sticking out in front of my face, and having something like that attached to the bike also seems to invite glass shards in falling flesh. A compromise might be to put a mirror on the back of a glove, so as to be able to flash it up periodically, yet keep it safe from impacts.

The sky ahead threaten rain, but it didn't materialize until later that evening. We arrived at the Sumwapta Falls resort to find our bags in our room, and a king size bed as well. These are *really* nice cabins. A short walk of 1k or so takes you to the falls, and it is a very, very peaceful place. Dinner at the resort was a planned BBQ, with the choice of steak, chicken or trout. I opted for the latter, and it was great! The trimmings and desert seemed to replace all the calories I left out on the road. After dinner, a park warden visited us to chat about the wildlife. Peter volunteered to play dress-up, and we had to guess how to tell if he was a black or brown (grizzly) bear. Peter was hilarious, and we couldn't stop laughing! What a great group of folks.

After dinner, we joined in a short game of "LCR" a dice game that Chris had gotten us all addicted to. Once again, Dayle won, so we began to wonder if the fix was in. Nancy took the next game, so perhaps there was a visit by the gaming commission. I succumbed to the need to check email, and found a WiFi connection out by a picnic table. As I suspected, there is never anything in email that can't be left behind. Leave your laptop home. I brought mine to recharge my motionlingo Adeo recording GPS receiver.

A gentle rain came and went periodically throughout the night. It was very peaceful, but somehow sad to know this would be the last ride briefing and post buffet breakfast tooth brushing. It was finally cool enough for me to succumb to long cycling gear. Only a few miles down the road did there come some misty rain, and even that cleared off after about 30 minutes. We visited another set of falls, transitioned to route 93A, and enjoyed pastures and streams on a nice ride into Jasper.

Lunch in Jasper was at a nice park. Across the street, the city was having an outdoor festival. Jasper seems like a pretty relaxed town, and the architecture was very, very interesting. There were log homes right downtown, as well as Victorians and traditional ramblers. I think Jasper is a ski town, but I really wonder what it would be like to live in a small Canadian town like this. I guessing cup fever breaks out when the NHL is in season.

After lunch we were treated to the BA "graduation" ceremony. We get certificates good for discounts on future trips, and a heartfelt thanks from our guides. I now know this is the point where the guides can finally relax - all the riders in with no injuries or casualties. It's at this point it starts to sink in that the adventure is coming to a close. My cyclometer shows about 335 miles total for the trip. In some ways it seems like it just started, and too soon to be over, but on the other hand, it is overwhelming to think about all that we've seen, done, and been to.

We shuttled back to Calgary in the van. Just outside of town, we stopped for dinner (separate checks this time, but totally expected.) Everyone laughed at how much I ate. Appetizer, dinner, and a huge desert hit the spot. We stayed at the Calgary Delta resort at the airport. I'd never been to Calgary (or before this trip, to Alberta at all) and the town was bigger than I had anticipated. For reasons I can't explain, I suddenly realized while we were driving in that each and every home in the seemingly endless string of housing developments were painted in exactly the same color. Well, that's deed restrictions and homeowners' associations in Canada for you. Or was it? Maybe Canadians all like their houses to be that color. Or maybe they just all like being the same. Dunno.

The Delta is very nice, but it is a bit formulaic and branded. I know this is comforting to business travelers, and the Delta Calgary does have a nice pool right in the lobby. But it brought home just how nice it is to travel to Inns than are unique and off the beaten path. Sure, the Delta had a king size bed for me, but I sure missed that mountain view from my bed at Lake Macdonald. Most of the group had early flights, and we said our goodbyes. We all promised to stay in touch (BA circulates a contact list at the "graduation" you may opt in to) and to share our pictures and snapshots. These folks really made the trip pleasant and fun. I miss them, but hope we can stay in touch and maybe go on another trip with them.

We hopped a ride back to Whitefish with Chris and Brandon in the van the next morning. Nancy and Ken did the same, and although long, it was nice to just watch the scenery roll by. As we got to Whitefish, the evidence of the forest fires was thick in the sky. Lots of smoke. Our guides dropped us back at Grouse Mountain Lodge, and we unloaded back into the car. We were staying the night at the lodge, as the 9 hour drive back to Seattle was going to not be pleasant after a drive in from Calgary. Besides, border crossings can be unpredictable. I'm really glad we did stay over; the lodge is really comfortable, and Brandon suggested a good Cuban restaurant in town. But reality set in for Cindy as the van pulled away after we said our final goodbyes, and she started to cry a bit.

"I had such a good time...."

As a post script, we passed along this letter to Bob Clark, the BA owner:
Bob Clark
Bicycle Adventures
P.O. Box 11219
Olympia, WA 98508

Dear Bob,

We wanted to drop you a note to thank you for the marvelous, memorable vacation we just had. We started the Glacier – Banff – Jasper tour on July 28, and it was fantastic.

This was our second trip with Bicycle Adventures, and once again, we were delighted. Your trips are so very well planned, organized and executed that each day is not only an adventure, but also a complete vacation unto themselves. We could feel the stress melt away with each day as we passed the spectacular scenery in complete awe.

What really made the trip, though, were our guides: Brandon Ott and Chris Mader. You should be very, very proud of these gentlemen. They are wonderful, professional people that took great care of all the travelers. We felt, at each step and pedal stroke of the way, Taken Care Of in every sense of the words. It is our understanding that Brandon and Chris hadn’t met before our trip, but it appeared to us they were lifelong friends. Theirs is a tough job - they have many duties, and all the travelers depend on them for so very much in a week. They never missed a beat along the way, knowing exactly how to keep a conversation going, how to entertain, how to cook great meals, how to be informative about the wonders of geology and nature about us, and perhaps most important of all, how to just be there when you needed some support. It seemed as though they could just look at any need, and with a glance fix or solve the problem. Thank you for finding these fine people for us.

As we mentioned last year, we are sold on your tours, and have again begun planning our next. We know that it will be as marvelous as each of these past trips have been. Your web site is one of the best we’ve run across, and of course, we couldn’t be more pleased with the service and support we get from both Heidi and Julie at your central office. Each question and request was fielded with speed and efficiency – we had no problems with the arrangements or paperwork. Your service continues to exceed our every expectation.

Please accept our heartfelt thank you for a wonderful experience and a lifetime of memories. Please also pass along our gratitude to Heidi, Julie, Chris and Brandon.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A few pictures from our tour

Our tour group, all 13 of us at Lake Louise, AB

My small tribute to Floyd with the obligatory summit photo. Note the GPS receiver on my left arm. Sadly, it ran out of battery 7 miles back.

And the ever-present Bicycle Adventures van. Thank you to our guides, Brandon and Chris!

Random Update

1. I watched the tour, and it reinforced my massive love-hate relationship with pro cycling. I love this beautiful sport, but hate how it makes me feel when I see cheating. And there's lots of cheating - not just by athletes. I missed the last few stages on Versus - I was on a bike vacation (see below.) I like how I feel on a bike, and seeing pros move so effortlessly on theirs inspires me. France looks so beautiful, and conquering any one of those mountains seems like a lifetime achievement. *sigh*

2. I went on a bike vacation with Bicycle Adventures. Pictures of their Glacier - Banff - Jasper tour (and some GPS data too) coming soon. It was *fantastic*. What a great company!

3. "...Dr. Christiane Ayotte from the Montreal WADA lab [is quoted] as saying the labs need to be creative as the rich athletes and their lawyers are." Ya know, I don't have much problem with that. This is how our adversarial justice system functions to find The Truth. I am all for creative scientific investigations, properly equipped labs and training of lab personnel. Anti-doping labs need to be *accurate* and this takes funding. Indeed: Trust, But Verify, and that goes for the labs too. And just as an aside, I don't think *all* athletes and *all* lawyers are as wealthy as Dr. Ayotte might think. (I'm both, and sure don't feel wealthy.) Maybe we should tax pro athletes or pro organizers to pay for these labs? :-)

More later.

Friday, July 13, 2007

I met The Champ!

A quick synopsis to TBV

And I'll reiterate it here: it was *thrilling*. He's really someone I wish I could be more like in many, many ways.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

This ain't legal advice: The UCI Pledge

Press release : The UCI unveils the "Riders’ commitment to a new Cycling"

There's a few things in here worth noting. I'm not sure if this is a translated document. French is the official language of the IOC, so this might be the English version.

It's my understanding that athletes must apply for a license through their National Governing Body (NGB) to participate in IOC sanctioned events. (For me as a fencer, this is the USFA as required by the FIE. For cyclists in the US, this would be USA Cycling on behalf of the UCI.)) I'm only vaguely familiar with the sport of cycling, so I apologize in advance for any errors. I assume as part of applying for a licenses through an NGB, a rider generally accepts the requirements of that NGB contractually. Likely most (if not all) NGBs allow the NGB to unilaterally change its current rules, and probably one of the rules is that you have to abide by whatever the NGB rules are. It is very unclear if this declaration is a required change to UCI rules. The ASO certainly has made it a requirement for the TdF. Even if this is a "contract" (and I'm not sure I see clear evidence of the necessary consideration, other than 'sign this or be barred from future opportunities') it has some...problems.

Starting at the top:

"The Puerto affair highlighted the serious problem of doping in cycling."

OK as a recital. I take everything not bolded as mere recitals, and not necessarily thought of as substantive contract requirements. Still, the first three words reference something with a very vague meaning. Just what exactly is "The Puerto affair?" Indeed, the Spanish authorities (and other law enforcement subsequently have) investigated and/or conducted a police operation that produced some evidence (including bags of blood), only some of which has been disclosed. Does "The Puerto affair" also include a discussion by a rider about the hazards of doping with their own personal physician? "Hey doc...I heard some riders stored some blood for later infusion. Isn't that dangerous?" "No, not if done in a controlled situation. People do that for upcoming elective surgery. Do you want to do that?" "Ummm...not really. Just asking...." Is that rider now "involved with Puerto?" And what if he was *actually* considering some elective surgery?

"This, like all other doping cases, greatly harms my sport and me personally."

There's at least 2 ways to read this sentence. The plain meaning one is fine: "I and my fellow athletes abhor cheaters." Another construction is "all doping cases, including the ones that expose cheaters, harm me and my fellow athletes, so we'd prefer silence, thank you." Don't think that's what the UCI has in mind....

"The uncertainty surrounding the identity of riders and other people who could be involved in the Puerto affair is also very harmful and will continue to be until the case is closed."

Well, the case was closed by the Italian Authorities at least once. That worked out well for Ivan Basso, IIRC. Much of the uncertainty also springs from the fact that doping was not a crime in Spain at the time of the investigation. The case is open, and will continue to be open in many countries, under various requirements of law and confidentiality for some time to come. *Nothing* the UCI, NGBs, WADA or the IOC can do will change that.

Interesting the use of the word "persons" and not "individuals." Maybe a translation issue, but of course, corporations (like cycling teams and their sponsors) are "persons" under US law.

"Currently, there is a climate of suspicion. It is undermining the credibility of my sport and is eroding the trust of the public, authorities, organisers [sic] and my colleagues."

We all laughed when Louis said "Major Strasse has been shot. Round up the usual suspects." (Casablanca, 1942) After all, we know who is to blame, so let's just get on with it. Is there really a climate of suspicion? Yeah. But ya know, coerced confessions are inherently unreliable. It didn't work real well when we were looking for witches in Salem MA in 1692. I also recommend reading Miranda v. Arizona 759 U.S. 436 (1966) I'm not real big on the "so what have you got to hide?" theory of prosecution. It's all too easy to toss out a pledge/declaration to have people sign, but maybe, just maybe, we could have some sound police work (like reliable labs?) done between helpings of donuts? Oh, wait, no, that would cost the UCI money. Can't have that. Easy to print out a "declaration" and stone to death the non-signers.

"For these reasons, I want to make a contribution to putting the situation right and making cycling clean by signing the statement below, to demonstrate that I fully adhere to the principles defended by the International Cycling Union (UCI)."

I like the "[f]or these reasons" preamble structure. Not "for these reasons, and many others, including if I don't sign, I'm a witch. And the UCI burns witches." Cf: The second amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Association with an organized militia needed to bear arms? Dunno, but likely you'll get differing answers depending who you ask.

"...I fully adhere to the principles defended by the...UCI." Hmmm...I wonder exactly what those principles are? Why couldn't we say "adhere to the anti-doping requirements of the UCI? (Like it says below....) Or does this declaration carry with it a greater commitment?

OK, so now we get to the nitty-gritty:

"I do solemnly declare, to my team, my colleagues, the UCI, the cycling movement and the public that I am not involved in the Puerto affair nor in any other doping case and that I will not commit any infringement to the UCI anti-doping rules."

I'm not sure what it means to "...not [be] involved in the Puerto affair...." A rider called to testify in any investigation suddenly "becomes involved" don't you think? We presumably know what they meant: "I'm not a doper under the code." But that isn't what this says. How about a rider that rode behind Basso in the Tour of California? Or took a draft from Jan Ullrich? Didn't those riders benefit from a Puerto conspirator? And is signing this statement *knowing you did* subject that rider to strict liability penalties? Ugh.

"...nor in any other doping case...." OK, so Greg LeMond can't sign this one. He's involved as a witness in the USADA case vs. Floyd Landis. How about roommates or teammates of known Puerto clients? Are they "involved?"

And what about a doping event that hasn't become a case?

"I will not commit any infringement to the UCI anti-doping rules." OK, if not a bit clumsy. Oddly, it doesn't say "I didn't commit any infringement in the past...." I'm uncomfortable with the term "infringement to." That means something else to me, although fairly, I think they mean "violation of."

What if the rules change after the signature?

"As proof of my commitment, I accept, if it should happen that I violate the rules and am granted a standard sanction of a two-year suspension or more, in the Puerto affair or in any other anti-doping proceedings, to pay the UCI, in addition to the standard sanctions, an amount equal to my annual salary for 2007 as a contribution to the fight against doping."

This looks like an attempt at a liquidated damages contracts clause. Under US law, it is likely unenforceable, since it attempts to enable tort-like damages. Aside from that, I wonder what "my annual salary for 2007" is. Does this include bonuses, prize money or endorsement fees? Is the cost of team travel considered "salary?" Is the cost of team gear (including a bike) "salary?" If the rider "pay[s] the UCI" when is it due? If it is a "contribution" is it tax deductible (haha!) and does the UCI have to spend it to fight doping? What does it mean to "fight doping?" Isn't extracting the Dick Pound of Flesh in the form of one years' salary sufficient as a fight, and we pay that salary to the UCI lawyers that wrote this thing? Just thinking ahead....

"At the same time, I declare to the Spanish Law, that my DNA is at its disposal, so that it can be compared with the blood samples seized in the Puerto affair."

Uh oh... I have no idea what "the Spanish Law" is. Sadly, about the only thing that comes to mind is the word "inquisition" but I freely admit this is horrible cultural bias and prejudice on my part. I apologize.

Still, if an individual is going to open up a vein full of DNA to someone, you'd think you'd want to be real specific about who that someone is. Is a Spanish Insurance Company wanting to know if you're insurable "the Spanish Law?" How about someone wanting to know some parentage issues? Well, we do limit it to "so that it can be compared with the blood samples seized in the Puerto affair," but this still seems awfully vague. Is this the only purpose the DNA sample can be used for? And what assurance does the rider have that the DNA won't be used for other purposes? Or that there will be some sort of chain of custody of the sample?

"I appeal to the Spanish Law to organise [sic] this test as soon as possible or allow the UCI to organise [sic] it."

I'm not sure who has access to the Puerto evidence. Likely "the Spanish Law" and I have no clue how that system works. In the US, it seems like a civil suit would suffice. Not exactly sure how that would go either, since a pending criminal trial would also need to be "speedy." But is there enough Puerto blood to test against the entire pro peloton? Again, I'm not sure, but I don't think you can run one test of the Puerto blood, and compare it independently to the hundreds of samples collected. Any doctors care to comment? Don't you have to look for markers by comparing 2 selected samples?

"Finally, I accept the UCI’s wish to make my statement public."

"Major Strasse has been shot...."

In the end, I can see why the UCI may wish to secure a public statement by each rider that says "I didn't dope. I won't dope. I accept the rules of the UCI. To the extent allowed by applicable law, I will cooperate with any investigation, criminal or civil, involving violation of the UCI rules." The UCI can make a rule change to require posting of a bond by a rider, forfeiture of which happens upon conviction of a doping offense, or of proof of perjury of this statement. The value of the bond can be determined objectively by some means proportional to the rider's winnings. The teams can be required to post bond as well. UCI winnings and earnings could be subject to escrow. But it all gets expensive. Imagine that...controlling doping becomes expensive for a sport. Who'd a thunk it?

As Judge Hue points out at Trust But Verify, the attempt to use this "pledge" as a prerequisite to secure presence in a sporting event may be a violation of anti-trust law. Still, the authority of the NGBs are grounded in national legislation, so the conflict might be resolvable.

I would just have written the declaration differently. And maybe a little reciprocal respect from the UCI for the athletes it is supposed to be supporting would go a long way too.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Positively good reading

I completed Floyd's book the other night. It's a good read, very thought provoking and informative. I recommend it.

I believe in Floyd and his cause; perhaps now more so, because the book feels like first person perspective.

As TBV points out, there isn't really anything "revealed" that we didn't already know, but a few things didn't escape my notice:

While Floyd has Lots Of Important Things To Say about Dick Pound, WADA, USADA, LNDD, and the UCI, he is very measured about what he says about ASO, L'Equipe, and Le Tour. I think this is wise on his part, although it would be very easy for him to point out how badly he's been treated by the tour organizers. Still, Floyd's fame is directly linked forever to the Le Tour. He's the 2006 champion, and it will always be in his best interests to respect the event that brought him his fame. Some might be tempted to lash out at "the French," but Floyd never does. He does explain the situation with the parallel suit by the AFLD that is something of a hiatus, but his tone is fairly objective, even if he makes it clear he still isn't given a fair shake by that organization either. His criticisms are quite focused on those he has firsthand evidence of being responsible, namely WADA/USADA and LNDD. The resulting credibility boost is substantial, at least to me.

The caption of the photo of him with Amber is "...I am one lucky dude." After all that has been done to him, he still considers himself lucky.

At the beginning of the book, he describes his life as a kid, and what his family is like. Floyd and I have something in common: "I can say with 100-percent certainty that [my] parents are the most wonderful parents I could possibly have." Say what you like, and be skeptical as necessary, but Floyd writes about how he had to call his mother about the breaking news of the failed "A" sample. His Mennonite mother encouraged him to "tell the truth" and Floyd writes that he told her "I didn't do it." Well, golly, I can understand people perjuring themselves in front of grand juries, but given Floyd's background, I just can't believe he'd do that to the little old lady from Farmersville. Call me naiive....

The back cover of the book is the famous photo of Floyd winning stage 17. I hate to admit it, but while I love that picture (and I think of it when I punch the air in victory in my sport) it does remind me of the horrible things that happened next. Interestingly, the front cover with Floyd wearing the Malliot Jaune, complete with the trademarks of Le Tour visible, hasn't sparked some sort of uproar. Since the ASO doesn't consider him their champion anymore, I'm a little surprised a cease and desist letter hasn't gone out.

The appendix of the book has a thumbnail sketch of the Wiki Defense science. IIRC, part of USASA's case was to try to actually show a pattern/practice of different testosterone delivery methods, not just that it was used on stage 17. But the T/E ratio failure seems to be a result of too little epitestosterone, rather than too much testosterone. Is that possible by using the delivery methods USADA charges?

Floyd credits his power meter many times, explaining how he used it to win stage 17. He also explains how he won the Tour of Georgia that year, saying that the win surprised him. The peloton seemed to let him walk away with the win. Well, that also seems to be what happened on S17: no one believed it could be done. Like I say, there's dope in the peloton, but I think alot of it is is above the neck, and in the team directors.

Floyd denies there is a "culture of doping" in cycling. This is a bold statement, but it makes sense that he'd believe that. If he didn't personally encounter dopers, or pressure from his team, why would he form an opinion otherwise? Floyd does seem to consistently recognize the unreliability of hearsay. And given his development as a kid, it makes sense. While Floyd sure looked dazed and confused in the first few days after the story broke, he is not an unintelligent person. While there is surely lots of ghost writing here, it does come across as very Floyd. Lance, of course, is discussed rather plainly. Nothing remarkable or surprising, but it is nice to find someone that respects Lance as a peer, rather than demi-god. We love Lance, and I support his cause too, but Floyd speaks about him in pretty objective terms.

So, another batch of letters go out to my Congressman, Senators and the usual committee members. Likely the USADA arbitration is just the first step. Even the CAS appeal may not be the final say - the civil case in France is still something of an open-ended story.

The book is good, certainly food for thought. It doesn't have a happy ending though. Yet. And as Jack Handey says, "never criticize someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes. Then you'll be a mile away from them, and you'll have their shoes."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Coincindence or irony?

I received my Velonews 2007 Tour de France guide the day before I got my copy of Floyd's book. Oddly enough, the masthead got my attention: "The Official Guide to the Tour de France is produced under license from (ASO) by L'Equipe..."

I freely admit I have a real love-hate relationship with Le Tour: it has to be the most beautiful and intriguing sporting event in the world. I decided long ago that the one thing that will make me buy into HDTV is when I can get TdF coverage in hi-def. And then, most likely, I will look to see what electronics company sponsors a pro cycling team, and buy their product.

But, the tour organizers and owners are a corrupt lot of annoying fascists. When a person wins a sorting event, that person is the winner, plain and simple. Yes, if that person is proven, under whatever rules he sport adopts prior to the event, to have violated the rules, they can be declared to not be the winner. While due process and presumption of innocence are a deeply ingrained American tradition, I see no reason why they can't be the rule of the day in sport in other parts of the world. The cliche' "the rules are made to be broken" also carries the corollary "if you break the rules, you will be penalized." This is always to be expressed as a simple "if-then" proposition. Le Tour bosses don't seem to recognize this simple basic tenet of fairness. ASO President Patrice Clerc recently said: "What is clear it is that Floyd Landis did not win it, at least for the Tour organization. ... But the UCI has yet to remove his title, and I suppose that Landis is going to go to all the courts he can to defend himself."

First he will be given a fair trial. Then he will be convicted, bankrupted and disgraced.

To those ends, I want nothing to do with ASO or the French tabloid L'Equipe. (As to the latter, there is still the issue of their presumption of guilt of a certain multiple TdF winner from Texas...) I had a yellow TdF cycling hat. I now use it for a chain rag.

As Bob Roll puts it, "V is for Velonews, without which nobody would know shit." I like VN, and will likely renew. But thanks to ASO and L'Equipe, everyone knows lots of shit. Or as my dad says "they know lots of things that just ain't so."

Anyway, back to Floyd's book. Ask yourself this while you read it: would you trade places with Floyd? Would you go through what he is going through?

I know my answer, and I'm only through the first chapter...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Trust But Verify

Trust But Verify is grassroots journalism at its finest. TBV tracks the status of the doping allegations against 2006 Tour de France Champion Floyd Landis. The arbitration hearing last week at Pepperdine University involving Floyd and the USADA was covered first hand by the bloggers, and the play-by-play and color commentary was *exemplary.*

Writing for TBV is Judge William Hue. His articles (co-authored by the blog owner David Brower) on TBV "Judging Floyd" are outstanding. So far posted in 5 parts, this is the kind of coverage that is sorely lacking in mainstream media. *Thank you* for all you did in covering this proceeding. We owe all of you at TBV a debt of gratitude.

Courtrooms often resemble theater more than a search for truth, justice or fairness. While the instant proceeding was an *arbitration* with significantly different rules that one would encounter in the American system of justice, there are some common elements. The basic "adversarial system" is used; the premise being that if both sides are dedicated to forwarding their clients interests, then "the truth will out." This is an interesting and oft debated proposition in our system of justice, and the Landis/USADA arbitration gives us a prime example to examine it not in the abstract, but in actual application.

Did the truth out?

This is a tough question. Philosophers have debated what "truth" is for millennia. But when following the progress of the hearings at Pepperdine, I was struck again by the awesome power of the State. USADA is funded largely by public funds; US taxpayer dollars. When they decide they have a case, they don't need to go to a Grand Jury, nor do they need permission of a neutral magistrate. As an administrative body (and just who they work for is a little hazy in my mind at this point) they get to make make the rules, decide what they mean, and then enforce them. Interestingly, you come to their power (or popularly, their "jurisdiction") by contract, voluntarily. Still, our US constitutional notions of equal protection and due process are so deeply ingrained that we expect it even when we seemingly have waived these basic civil rights.

So when we do that, can the "truth out?" Hmmm...

The analysis can proceed from a very different prospective. What if both parties are telling the truth? Or, what if both are not forwarding truthful information? How can we know what truth is more important? Ugh. Unsavory considerations.

Our instinct in these situations is to rely on our notions of fairness. The US Constitution requires exclusion of tainted evidence - the familiar "exclusionary rule." When evidence is seized in violation of Constitution protections of due process or equal protection (or any other protection recognized by the constituion or other law) that evidence (and all evidence gathered using these "fruits of the poisonous tree") *must* be excluded from use. And therein lies a contradiction - we have to ignore what would seem to be The Truth(tm) in favor of protecting the innocent, vulnerable and powerless. To keep the State from overreaching their authority, we have to put in place what would seem to be a draconian rule: where The Truth is discovered wrongfully, we must ignore it.

Is this a good or desirable system? Perhaps not. But it is superior to any other justice system I have studied. I am more afraid of what the State can do that I am of letting a liar, chaet, or yes, even a murderer, off the hook. "Good enough for government work" is not good enough, as the power I have granted to my government is powerful indeed. If those with that power demonstrate any level of unreliability, I expect and demand instant withdrawal of that grant.

So it boils down to this: when I cannot tell what The Truth is, I have to rely on knowing what truth is more important to me. Could Landis have doped and deceived us all? Maybe. But I see no evidence that is certain enough for me to conclude that. The powerful state entities did not carry their burden sufficiently. Could LNDD have used their "power of the state" to act incompetently or with careless disregard for evidentiary standards? I think so. Could the USADA have acted to demand the highest standards of proof to wield their power of state with judicious wisdom? They could have, but to me it appears they did not.

Floyd should win. I believe the champion. I distrust LNDD, USADA and WADA.