the agony

The Agony ride is an annual charity bicycle ride and fundraising event for Christian Encounter Ministries, a home and school for troubled youth. My friend Zoya invited me to ride the Agony every year for the past few years, but I’ve always had an excuse to not ride. Last year I ran (ok more like waddled) the San Francisco half marathon, but I told Zoya I’d rather have done the Agony ride. I forget what my excuse was the year before that. This year I didn’t have an excuse.

The ride starts in a town called Loyalton, which I had never heard of. When I searched for Loyalton the first page of results had the site “Loneliest Town in America.” I suppose that’s not a bad thing– I mean you’d want a bike ride to be in a place without much car traffic…

The ride starts at the elementary school in the lonely town of Loyalton, which also serves as the main SAG (rest stop in bicycle terms) area. There are two more SAG stops, one at Vinton and one at Beckwourth, which actually seemed even more lonely than Loyalton. In fact there’s literally nothing at Beckwourth– the ride organizers bring in trailers and RVs and setup a mini camp there. The entire Agony ride consists of riding to Vinton, then riding to Beckwourth, then riding back to Loyalton. You repeat this loop until 24 hours are up or you feel like giving up.

I had pledged to ride 200 miles, but I honestly wasn’t expecting to ride all those miles. The longest training ride I had done was maybe 50 miles, so I was fully expecting my legs to give out before the 24 hours were up, well short of 200 miles.

The ride starts at 1pm on Friday, but check-in starts at 9am. Loyalton is about two and a half hours from my house, so to arrive at 9am I had to wake up at 6am. I woke up, barely functional, not having slept well the night before. I had stayed up late looking for random bike gear, stuff like arm warmers and bike lights that I rarely use, so I have no idea where they’re stashed away. And I didn’t sleep well, I tossed and turned wondering if I was missing some important gear.

I arrived at around 9am. I was pretty tired, and I hadn’t even started riding yet. I ended up parking next to a guy named Chris. It turned out that it was also Chris’s first agony ride, and he had really only started road biking 3 months ago. I’m pretty terrible at chatting people up, but Chris was really friendly, and talking to him put me at ease. I didn’t really know any other riders at the event, so I stuck with him at the pre-ride lunch. We ended up sitting next to Beau and Aaron. It was also Beau’s first Agony ride, but Aaron had ridden it before. We asked him for advice, and his response was to basically pace yourself and ride at an easy pace at the beginning so you don’t burn out before the end.

That was sort of my plan. I planned to ride a relatively easy 15 mile per hour pace. I figured at that pace my goal of 200 miles would take 13 or 14 hours, so there was plenty of time to take long breaks at SAG stops and even get in a good 6 or 7 hours of sleep. The ride started at 1pm, so I figured I could ride about 8 or 9 hours until dark, then try to sleep, and then ride the rest in the morning. I didn’t really want to ride much at night, I wasn’t sure how many hours the batteries on my lights would last, and besides riding on unfamiliar country roads in darkness sounds kind of scary.

At 1pm the riders gathered to start. I lined up next to Chris. I figured we would at least start out at a similar pace.

Because we all started en masse the cyclists form a long line leaving Loyalton. But the line would soon break up as the fast riders move to the front. I had heard some riders say their goal was 400 miles– at that pace they’d have to average close to 20mph, which to someone who doesn’t bike maybe doesn’t sound all that much faster than the 15mph I was planning to ride, but believe me it’s a huge difference.

I ended up riding with Aaron, Beau and Chris, the only people who I had met before the ride started. At times we were joined by a John and another Mike, but the core of A, B, C, and me stuck together for the entire first day.

As I mentioned earlier, the Agony ride is a charity event for Christian Encounter Ministries, which obviously is a Christian organization, so I guess it’s presumed that most of the riders are Christian. While we were riding Aaron had asked what our favorite verse was. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite verse, but the verse that stuck out to me was from Ecclesiastes, which my small group had been studying. It’s “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”

The verse seemed relevant at the time. The route we were riding was completely flat, but at times there were stiff winds. After a certain point endurance cycling becomes more of a mental exercise than a physical exercise. It takes a certain mental resolve to keep pushing when your body is agony. Nothing breaks that mental resolve faster than riding against a strong wind. But because we were riding together and taking turns pulling (being the rider in the front), the wind wasn’t breaking my resolve. A cord of three strands is not easily broken; a group of four bikers riding in a line is not easily broken (by the wind) either.

At around sunset I took this picture of the silhouette of our group riding together. After 7:30 pm you can’t leave a SAG station without your lights. It was getting pretty close to that time. I figured I’d pick up my lights and arm warmers and then ride one more loop before calling it a night.

After we had finished our loop after sunset, it was pretty dark. But A,B, and C wanted to continue riding at least one more loop. I was pretty wary about riding at night, but with them I felt comfortable enough. I was worried about running out of batteries, and it turns out my fears were justified. I ran out of batteries halfway between the leg from Vinton to Beckwourth, but thankfully riding with three other people with powerful lights I was able to see well enough to ride to the Beckwourth SAG stop. Thankfully they had batteries at the SAG stop.

We arrived back at the Loyalton SAG stop at 4am having completed 4 loops together for a total of 152 miles. At this point I was exhausted and couldn’t ride any more. It turns out the rest of the group was too tired to move on too. At Loyalton there were sleep rooms, and we all found spots to turn in for the night. I thought it would take me a while to sleep, since my heart rate was high from riding, but I crashed–no wait, bad choice of words for a cyclist–I knocked out as soon as I lay down.

I guess I was the most exhausted, because I woke up a little past 7am and found that A,B, and C were already gone. I ate a leisurely breakfast, stretched, and hopped back on the bike a bit before 8am. At this point there was just under 50 miles left to reach my goal of 200, and I had a little over 5 hours to do it. Plenty of time. Whereas the day before I had spent the entire day riding with other people, I spent most of the second day riding alone. The area around Loyalton really does look like it could be the loneliest town in America. It’s an isolated valley, surrounded by the Sierra foothills on all four sides. Thankfully though, because of the way the ride is set up, you see people riding on the other side of the road pretty often, and you often get a wave or a cheer from them. Because I was alone I rode at my own pace, kind of slow at first, but as I started to approach 200 I picked up the pace, averaging between 18-20mph on my last leg before 200.

I arrived at the Vinton SAG stop with 202 miles on the odometer and a little over an hour left before the 1pm cutoff. I had met my goal, and I was feeling ecstatic. At the SAG stop there was one other rider, Jeffrey. He seemed pretty tired, but I asked him if he wanted to ride with me and try to ride one last leg towards the Beckwourth SAG stop.  We ended up not quite making it to Beckwourth, so we stopped on the side of the road when his alarm went off at 1pm. We were picked up by a support vehicle and taken back to Loyalton for the post ride meal and checkout. It turns out it was Jeffrey’s first Agony ride as a rider, but he was a SAG volunteer a few times before when he was a student at Christian Encounter Ministries. I was thankful that I got to ride with him for the last leg and hear his story. I had known that the Agony ride was for a good cause, but hearing real stories about CEM made it feel all the more worthwhile.

Here’s a picture of me (in front) riding with A, B, C, and John. Notice I’m sorta smiling. This picture was taken pretty early on. I’m sure I was smiling less and less the farther I rode. By the end I could say I truly felt agony, my whole body was in pain. But I could honestly say that I enjoyed myself as well. The camaraderie and support were incredible. Out of all the rides I’ve ever done this one had among the best food and SAG support, but more awesome than that was the fact that all the SAG supporters and fellow riders cheered each other on every chance they got.

My final total for the 2017 Agony ride was 213 miles. I want to thank all of my sponsors. In the end we raised more than $1000 together. To read more about the agony ride, you can go visit the Agony Ride website. And please visit the Christian Encounter Ministries website for more information about CEM.

running and writing

It’s been a while. There was a time when I committed to writing on here once a week. Then once a week became once a month, now it seems it’s almost degenerated to about once a year. After not writing for so long I find it difficult.

About a year ago I began training for my first half marathon. I began at just half a mile, slowly ramping up the mileage on my weekend run by half a mile each week. In July of last year I completed the San Francisco half marathon. Notice how I didn’t say I ‘ran’ the marathon? I finished just barely fast enough to get a finisher medal, which is to say I completed the 13.1 miles in under 3 hours. I did run a good portion of it– I made it to about mile 10 before my legs started cramping up. For the last three miles I did a mixture of walking, stopping to stretch my calves and painfully jogging when my legs would cooperate. As I crossed the finish line I felt relieved, then joyful for finishing, then painful misery as my legs completely locked up from cramping. I vowed never to run another half marathon, let alone a full marathon.

True to that vow, I have not run anything close to another half marathon. I actually didn’t even run at all for a few months after the SF half marathon. It was well into fall when I decided to try giving running another chance. That first run after laying off for so long was eye opening. It was shocking to find how difficult it was to run even a couple of miles.

Running is very different in that respect from biking. I’ve laid off of biking before–in fact I pretty much hibernate from biking every winter. As much as I love biking, I don’t love it enough to bike when it’s cold and wet. But even after several months of hibernation, once spring rolls around I’m able to hop back on the bike and do something like a 50 mile or 3 hour ride. With running I find if I stop for even a few weeks my running muscles are completely gone, and running for even twenty minutes is painful.

This is my first time writing after a long time off. I’m finding it kind of painful–but it’s not physically painful like running. My calves aren’t cramping up and I’m not gasping for air. It’s more like a mental weariness, as if my brain is a muscle that’s atrophied over time. Strangely enough, it’s the pain that actually keeps me running– it’s a reminder that my body is getting weaker if I don’t run. I don’t run a lot, mind you, and I’m pretty sure I’ll never run anything like a marathon. But just the fact that starting again after stopping is so painful keeps me motivated to go out and run at least a couple of miles each week. Maybe struggling through this first post will make me want to be more consistent about writing as well.

dating data reporting

I’ve been working in the Data Reporting Office of the California Department of Education for about a year now. The logical and analytical left brain part of me enjoys the challenge of writing SQL statements (SQL is a database programming language) to extract the data needed for reports. The end result of my work is mostly reports filled with numbers. It actually sounds kind of boring when I describe it this way.

In general I like to do things that tell stories. I think that’s the creative right brain part of me. I like to take photographs and write on this blog, both of which are inherently methods of story telling. I think that’s why after a year in my job I’m still not bored– My work requires logic, but it also tells a story, albeit in a slightly different way. The numbers in the reports I generate tell the story about the successes and failures of education in California. For example, there’s a lot of interest in English learner students in California, and a data set I worked with recently seems to tell the story about how our state is failing to educate these kids– many of them never achieve English fluency.

On a completely unrelated note, it seems like there’s a lot of interest in my dating life (or actually the lack thereof). So I’ll try to tell the story of it. Unfortunately the usual modes of story telling don’t apply here. I don’t really have any interesting anecdotes to write about, and I don’t take pictures on dates (that would be awkward). But I’ve been on my fair share of first dates, so I suppose there’s enough data and numbers to tell some sort of story about my successes or failures. So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll try write down any statistics I could think of– hopefully at the very least it’s an interesting story.

Let’s start with some big picture numbers. I’ll start with cost, since that one’s easy. I am currently on 4 dating apps– Match, eHarmony, Coffee Meets Bagel, and okCupid. Coffee Meets Bagel has costed me the least amount of money, a grand total of ZERO dollars. okCupid is free too, but I spent $9.99 for one month of their premium service, mostly out of curiosity, which I’ll explain later on. For both Match and eHarmony I’ve spent about $240 each. Interestingly enough I started both of them about the same time and I initially bought a six month subscription with each of them for around $120. I forgot to cancel both of them, and now I am about a third of the way through my second six month subscription with both. The total cost for each has worked out to about $20 per month.

In terms of bang for the buck, Coffee Meets Bagel (I’ll call it CMB since I’m tired of typing it out) has been the best for me. (That’s kind of a misnomer– there’s not actually any banging going on, neither literally or metaphorically.) CMB costs the least amount of money yet it has gotten me the most connections. The way CMB works is that you are matched with one profile every day, which you can either like or pass. If your match likes you as well, you are connected and can communicate through their messaging system. On a typical month I seem to connect with two or three matches, though not all of them will lead to first dates.

Next in effectiveness for me has been eHarmony. Like with CMB there’s some sort of matching algorithm which selects profiles for you to see. It’s slightly less structured than CMB because instead of needing a mutual like to initiate communication, either side can start the conversation by sending questions. In eight months I’ve gone on three dates matched through eHarmony.

I’ve had little to no success with Match and okCupid, mostly because of apathy on my part. With Match and okCupid you browse profiles and send messages to the people you are interested in. I find that it doesn’t work well for me. It takes a lot of messages to get a response, and even when I do get a few messages going back and forth none have ended with a date. So lately I haven’t been using either of these apps much.

Actually, now that I think about it, there’s an additional matching “app,” though it’s not a website and doesn’t exist on a smartphone. It’s my family. In terms of dates per dollar it’s actually the most effective, being the only one that’s actually been a financial gain. (My aunt in Korea actually gave me money to go on a blind date.) In terms of number of first dates it ranks pretty highly too, about on par with eHarmony.

I’m not sure if my results are typical. I have friends who have had success with both Match and okCupid, so my results there are probably not typical. But I’ve heard from several friends that CMB seems to work well for them, and I know of several married couples who have met on eHarmony, so in general it seems like within my circle of friends I’m fairly in typical in leaning towards CMB and eHarmony. In terms of match rate or number of first dates I have no idea if my results are typical, though if I had to guess I’d say they’re probably lower than average. All of the dating apps have a way of selecting preferences for matches, and in these preferences I am very selective which most likely severely lowers the number of potential first dates.

The reports I generate at work are typically aggregated or filtered based on several demographics– typically gender, race, age (or more likely grade), location (typically county or school district) and subgroup (typically these include demographic information like if a student is homeless or a foster child.) Similarly with these dating apps I filter my matches based on gender (females only please), race (Asian or Pacific Islander), age (25-35), location (typically just far enough to include the Bay Area) and subgroup (typically it’s Christian, never married, no kids currently, non smoker).

I don’t have any hard data on this, but I’m fairly certain my stringent preferences shrink the potential number of first dates significantly. The only thing I have resembling a statistic comes from okCupid. I briefly mentioned earlier that I paid $10 for a month of premium on okCupid, which they call A-List. okCupid lets you ‘like’ a profile. You can see a list at any time of the profiles you’ve liked, every single one of them fit the demographics I mentioned earlier, i.e. Asian girl between the ages of 25-35. It also shows you mutual likes for free. At the time (this was several months ago) I had liked a few dozen profiles but had only a single mutual like. I had twenty people who had liked my profile. If you pay for A-list you can see who likes you, so out of curiosity I paid for one month. Something like 95% of the people who had liked me were either white, black or Latino, the one mutual like was the only Asian who had liked me. I guess that’s the (dating) story of my life. The girls I like are not interested in me, and the girls that like me are the ones I’m not interested in…

Anyways, now we get to the heart of the report, the numbers. The numbers will basically be about whatever I feel like. Like my work reports the numbers will be broken down by demographics. We’ll ignore gender since they’re all female, race will mostly be either Korean or Chinese. I won’t report on age or subgroup (or like we say at work, that data is redacted). Location will basically be Sacramento or other. The numbers are mostly from memory so they may be off by one or two, and if you try to sum up the numbers you won’t get any meaningful result due to missing data (this often happens with work reports too), but hopefully the numbers tell an interesting story.

Here we go.

Out of 3 Korean girls that I met for first dates in the greater Sacramento area, 100% were through CMB. 100% were at purveyors of caffeine. Out of those, 2 were at Starbucks, 1 was at a boba place. Only 1 of those went beyond a first date, the 1 that was NOT Starbucks. Clearly Coffee Meets Bagel should not be taken literally…

Out of 4 Korean girls that I met for first dates outside of the greater Sacramento area but within the US, 25% were from CMB, 25% were from eHarmony and 50% were from family. One date was at a purveyor of caffeine (Starbucks). Out of the original 4 a total of 50% forgot to bring their wallet. Out of those that forgot to bring their wallet I thought 100% of them were really cute. Sadly out of those cute forgetful girls 0% went past a first date.

Out of 4 Chinese girls that I met for first dates outside of the greater Sacramento area 50% were from eHarmony and 50% from CMB. 0% forgot to bring their wallet. Out of the original 4 a total of 50% were grad students at UC Berkeley. Out of the original 4 a total of 50% of the time I went on the first date with a bicycle on my car. Out of those I actually only rode my bicycle on the date 50% of the time. Out of the original 4 only 1 was at a purveyor of caffeine (Philz!)

Out of 2 Chinese girls and 1 Japanese girl I met in the greater Sacramento area 100% were through CMB. 100% were in the medical field yet 0% were doctors. Two were at purveyors of caffeine and one was at a purveyor of beer (is there anything to do in Sac for a first date besides coffee or beer?) 0% forgot to bring their wallet.

Out of 7 blind dates that my family has tried to set me up on, 100% have been Korean. Three of them were located in Korea, two were in California, one in New York, and one in Seattle. I have gone on 100% of the ones in California, 33% of the ones in Korea, and 0% of the ones in Seattle and New York.

The farthest date from home was the one in Korea, over 5,000 miles away, which was organized by family. The farthest that was not organized by family was nearly 2,400 miles away in Washington DC, initially met through eHarmony.

The most expensive date I can remember was nearly $200, though that wasn’t a first date. It consisted of dinner and musical tickets. The most expensive first date I can remember was around $20, which was two cheap entrees at a Chinese restaurant. The cheapest first date was closer to $2, one small coffee at Starbucks for myself (she paid for her own, obviously she didn’t forget her wallet). Maybe I shouldn’t cheap out so much on first dates…

If I tried harder I could probably come up with more statistics, but I’ll stop here. In hindsight my dating life isn’t all that interesting, maybe someday I’ll have an interesting anecdote to share instead of these boring numbers.

the new year, the new resolve, and up with the old

As I write this the first month of 2016 is already almost over.

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In 2015 I had planned to write more often. In fact, the first post of 2015, “promiscuous writing,” was a long spiel about planning to write more on this blog. If anything 2015 was the least promiscuous (what’s the opposite of promiscuity? celibacy?)– with a grand total of three posts.

It’s not that 2015 was uneventful. If anything, it was more eventful, at least in terms of blog worthy events. I sold a house and bought a house. Ended a job and started a new one. I crossed off some major items on my bucket list. I drove the Icelandic Ring Road (well most of it anyways.) I hiked the John Muir Trail (well like half of it, which I suppose still counts).

I suppose I have excuses. I was busy. I was without a permanent home for part of the year, so the desktop computer that I do most of my writing on was not setup. There’s not a lot of traffic on this site, so no one would even know if I stopped writing. Ultimately it was just laziness and lack of motivation that kept me from writing. But now when I look at my blog, it looks almost like a piece of me is missing. I have some good memories in 2015, but none of them are chronicled here.

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Thankfully Google Photos has an amazing timeline feature, with which I can go back and piece together my memories and hopefully make coherent blog posts from them. So that’s the plan at least– I’ll go back and write some posts for 2015, then get back on track and post at least once a month in 2016.

the plan

The plan, if it can really be called that. When I actually type it out it does sound kinda crazy…
 
  • Ride Uber or Lyft from my house to the Sac Airport.
  • Rent car at the airport and drive 250 miles to Florence Lake.
  • Take ferry and hike (or just hike if ferry is closed due to low water) 11 miles to Muir Trail Ranch.
  • Hand keys to my rental car to two guys (who I still actually haven’t met in person) who will drive it back to Sac Airport.
  • Hike on the John Muir Trail approximately 110 miles from Muir Trail ranch to Whitney Portal.
 
That’s the part I had signed on for, because I thought I had a ride from Whitney Portal back to my house. But that ride seems to not be a possibility anymore. So now in addition to the above I’ll need to:
 
  • Hitchhike or hike 11 miles from Whitney Portal to Lone Pine.
  • Ride the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority bus from Lone Pine to Reno.
  • Take Amtrak or Greyhound bus from Reno to Sacramento.

For some reason it’s the second portion of this that’s giving me second thoughts. That’s crazy huh…