Sunday, July 28, 2013

Whatever it takes

Well, the TDF is long past, and I can hardly remember most of it other than specific moments that are somehow etched into my few remaining brain cells. Work has overtaken everything else in my life for now. Our spacecraft is here and demands our full attention. It arrived from the factory back in early May, and has been the primary focus of LOTS of people since that moment, and will continue to do so until it leaves the earth exactly one month from today (hopefully!).

I'm at work (again) on Sunday. It's rather quiet today as we are a skeleton crew, and as usual the weather  SUCKS out here...foggy, windy and cold...yadda yadda yadda. It's like another country out here, or even another planet. There are no booster people here today as far as I can tell, just us for the payload. It's been a very busy week, beginning last Tuesday for me (I had Monday off, as I had just completed 14 straight work-days as of last Sunday). It's an agreement with our customer that we get one day off with pay for every 14 straight days we work. My shifts are still 4am to 4pm (this is the 'day' 'shift, the swingshift is the opposite, and we work round the clock). I need to leave my house by about 2:50am to arrive at the pad (Space Launch Complex 6, or "slick-6" as it's commonly called) by 3:45 for shift turnover. SLC-6 is located about as far as you can go on Vandenberg towards the south, and the speed limit on base during darkness is 35mph (there are LOTS of fog and deer). Last week at this time the spacecraft was still at the big payload processing facility on Vandenberg Northbase (which is about 18 miles closer to home for me). As of last Tuesday morning we began the preparations to move the vehicle (which is safely encased in it's protective 5 meter fairing) to the launch pad. It was lifted and placed on the KAMAG transport, and then bolted into position for the long ride. We (us electrical people) kept an umbilical cable connected to the vehicle the entire time, as we provide constant monitoring of the very expensive payload's health at all times, right up until the moment the MEU (Main Electrical Umbilical) cable detatches as the rocket starts to lift off the pad during launch.

After the vehicle is sucessfully mounted on the transporter vehicle it was then driven outside the payload 'clean-room' facility and connected to the mobile power unit which is part of the transport vehicle (the KAMAG is entirely electric, so it carries it's own giant diesel generator unit everywhere it goes, and also a fuel tank on a tow-behind trailer along with a large air-filter/handling unit to provide perfectly clean chilled air to the payload). The KAMAG has some awesome features...the most amazing is that the deck the spacecraft is mounted to can be tilted, so as the transport is going up or down a hill the deck can be tilted to keep the verticaly mounted spacecraft/fairing assembly as straight up as possible. It also travels at a lowly 2-5mph, and has roughly a 20-25 mile journey to get to it's launch pad. As it crawls along it's constantly surrounded by walking technicians that are all wearing headsets tied into a common channel, so that they can all instantly convey any pertinent info to the driver of the transport so he can make the vital decisions involved with ensuring the payload arrives at it's destination safely. Along with the transport there is a veritable convoy of support vehicles of interested parties that probably stretches a quarter mile. That journey began last Tuesday evening at 6pm on swingshift, and ended about 6am on the following dayshift, with us 'day' crew swapping out with the night shift a few miles from the pad at 4am at a convenient temporary stopping point in the route.

After finally arriving at the pad the spacecraft was lifted WAY high into the tower and finally set down on the top of the booster, which for this launch is a mighty triple core Delta IV heavy. At the moment I believe this booster is the largest/most powerful one in our arsenal. It took all day to get the gigantic vehicle/fairing combination finally set down and mounted, as it's just a HUGE job with lots of potential for disaster (pretty much everything involved is EXTREMELY expensive). This is all done inside the confines of the humongous MST (Mobile Service Tower) here at SLC-6. Actually I don't believe it's technically called an MST at this pad (the rest of the pads on base have an MST, which is typically a single huge 'building' on giant train-type wheels/tracks, where they open doors on one side of the tower and then roll it back away from the rocket which is left standing on it's pad attached to it's UT (Umbilical Tower) ready for launch. The tower here at SLC-6 is actually a 2-part 'clamshell' building if you will, with the UT and rocket in the middle. For launch both halves back away from the rocket in opposite directions, leaving it clear for launch. I think it might technically be called the SAB/MAB, (it's an Air Force pad on an Air Force EVERYTHING has initials and acronyms), and was actually built up for launching space shuttles back in the 1980's (which was cancelled after the Challenger disaster). I'll continue to refer to it as the MST as that's just so much easier.

Here's what the entire assembled rocket with payload looks like in the tower (these are all pictures of the first Heavy from back in 2009, this current one looks exactly the same). For some help in figuring how big this is, if you follow the uppermost gantry (the gray structure that goes from the UT on the left over to the middle rocket, and actually that's the top of the 2nd stage and the bottom of the fairing/payload), that is actually on level 15, which is actually 17 stories up from the ground.

If you are interested in seeing how the heavy booster gets to the pad go to this link:

Delta IV Heavy photos courtesy of

And if you're really interested, from the link above on the left side near the top there is a column called "The Mission" and below that are links to many photos...these were taken from them, and you can go link after link and follow all thru launch if you are so inclined.

Here's a view looking thru the ocean-side half of the 'MST' right at engine ignition. The UT Gantries are still attached to the rocket/payload, and will be released VERY soon. It's hard to see in this shot but the other side of the MST has backed quite a ways off from the rocket so it isn't damaged by the launch. 

After the mating of the payload to the booster on Weds afternoon our end is nearly complete (electrical)...all we really have remaining until launch is continuous monitoring of the vehicle's health and a few final tests of systems here and there, and probalby some battery maintenance. The mechanical folk still have lots to do, including the final fueling of the spacecraft so it's ready for it's lifetime in space. Multiple times a day I make the journey up to the payload levels in the MST (levels 16 and up). Being as I'm not getting ANY bike rides in (being as I'm working pretty much every single day) I have vowed not to take the elevator unless I HAVE to. So nearly every day I do between 3 and 6 climbs up/down the stairs of the tower. The first 2 levels aren't even numbered...and my work is actually on level that's technically 20 floors I go each time. I can usually beat the guys in the elevator, though it's a rather pathetic elevator I have to admit. Today I brought in my diving weight belt so-as to add a few extra pounds. I have twelve pounds of lead on it, making my climb that much more difficult, and I hope to add a few pounds every week or so. We shall see how that goes...but so far so good.

This is what it looks like in flight just after it has cleared the UT. In this shot you can clearly see the top of the 2nd stage (in the white above the 2 cones of the outer boosters you see an orange band...this is the top of the 2nd stage and the bottom of the payload/fairing). That fairing is over 6 stories tall, and if you can imagine that entire assembly bolted to a transport vehicle standing straight up as it is for launch, that's how it's moved from the processing facility to the launch pad. Up close the fairing is just HUGE beyond belief, and it's hard to believe we can actually launch it into space!

And so...a new week begins tomorrow. August is pretty much here as July is almost in the history books for another year. I'll keep you posted when anything is published about this launch, including links to any of the gazillions of  pictures taken throughout the process. So far nothing has made the news, but I'll keep watching. The date for launch is set for August 28th, but due to the nature of the spacecraft (it's a classified government bird) the launch time is classified until 24 hours of launch. I'll keep my fingers crossed that it goes off on schedule...I want my life back! My bikes hang in the garage, constantly whimpering and whining (which only I can hear) every morning as I climb into my car, and again around 5:30 to 6pm when I return home from my long day. I don't expect my next ride to be until next Tuesday, which will be the next '15th' day for me. I expect the month of August to zing on by, as have May, June and now July. We are all just hanging in there doing 'whatever it takes', and some of this madness will all be missed when it's over. I'm hoping to go backpacking in early September with Greg, it's been our tradition for years now. We don't seem to make it every year, but don't miss too many. I'm hoping my many trips up and down the tower stairs will in some way compensate for my near complete lack of cycling and help me pull off our trip in style. Time will tell...I'm sure Greg will arrive at our trip in AWESOME fitness, and will do his best to grind me into the trail (in a friendly way). Not that we're competitive or anything.'s almost quitting time, night shift should be arriving within the hour (woo-HOO!). Then it's the hour drive home where I begin my less than stellar 3 hours of daily family life, and then off to bed around 7:30 to 8:30pm. Tomorrow I get to do it all again. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. That is the story of my life right now. I've just got to hang in there.

Have a great week, and here's hoping you can get out and ride.

And stay frosty!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Now what do we do?

Well...Le Tour is done. Over. Ka-put.

And with it, July is nearly done also. This is always a sad time of year for me...when PTDS (Post Tour Depression Syndrome) sets in. The good news is it doesn't last too long, as we've got the Tour of Utah and the US Pro Championships (Tour of Colorado) hot on Le Tour's heels! YAY!! And the Vuelta (not that I ever see any of it, as it's not televised).

My final thoughts on this years Tour...I didn't post yesterday as I wanted to chew on them for an extra day. I think the ASO did a very fine job on this years 100th edition, and loved the spectacle in the dark after. Especially awesome was using the Arc de Triumph as the basis for an anamzing light show...must have been a substantial amount of work put into that, and having it as a backdrop for the podium was the BOMB!

I was a bit disappointed that Jens didn't get Most Combative rider overall...that honor went to a Frenchman (not that I'm dissing him, his win on stage 18 was quite dramatic, and very Jens-like. Knowing that this is Jen's last Tour (PLEASE say it isn't so! He hasn't actually SAID that for SURE, has he?), I just can't think of anybody day in and day out so willing to ATTACK. How many times this Tour did we see him out there?

Also I just saw that Stuart O Grady is calling it quits also...another hard-working veteran that has been a great ambassador for the sport...he will be missed. Speaking of 'missed', not seeing Chris Horner out there riding his guts out this year was just WRONG.

I see Froome has said that his yellow jersey "will stand the test of time". I sure hope so. For now I will give him the benefit of the doubt and hope and pray we don't later find this just another case of what we've had WAY too much of already. I saw an article on Velo News talking about this subject last week...all the riders must know that in this day and age, and after what we've been thru, that a win is subject to recall YEARS down the road. All their drug samples will be saved for a very long period of time, and as progress is made in testing in the future they will surely be re-tested. I truly hope Froome is as honest as he seems. If that be the case, then congrats to an AMAZING win Chris! He seems too good to be true, and I hope he is someone I can believe in.

Also amazing this year was the overall 2nd place kid from Columbia Nairo Quintana. He came out of nowhwere back in the first Mt stage down in the Pyrnees...can you imagine placing 2nd OVERALL in your very first Tour at the tender age of 23? His smile on the podium is infectious and I can't imagine that he won't be giving Froome a real run for his money next year. If he learns to Time Trial, he will be a force to deal with.

And Cathy already mentioned it...but the 2nd and 3rd places on Stage 19 by Kloden and Bakelants was spectacular! It will be very interesting to see how Radio Shack firms up after switching to full American sponsorship next year. I can only assume it won't include Andy Schleck..which is sad as I think he is just now getting some confidence back, and have no doubt he'll be back in the top echelon of GC contenders next year, whichever team he finds himself on (with his brother Frank no doubt).

Watching Contador crack and having Quintana and Rodriguez jump him to the podium on stage 20 was tough, but it was an awesome stage to watch unfold. I'm hoping he continues his comeback and also will be at the pinnacle of GC cycling next year. I'd LOVE to see a real shootout where maybe 5 or more guys are all within a minute of each other (much like this year's race for 2nd thru 5th) only having that include the Yellow jersey...maybe changing hands back and forth throughout the race.

Valverde had a very tough day WAY back (was it stage 7 I think?) when he flatted and was left behind the charging peleton in the wind and went from 2nd to 14th (I think) place, losing over 10 minutes. THAT was a sad day for him, however it opened the door for Quintana to fly free, so it wasn't all bad. I think he was in pretty good form and if not for that bad luck would have been a real protaginist throughout the race, and could very well have made podium. It's moments like that when I think back to "he who shall not be named" and SEVEN consecutive years in a row of NOT having even one moment like that. I don't care how strong your team is...bad luck in the wrong moment = loss of ANY chance of winning. Even on the final day...can you imagine if the race was close and a mechanical drops you from the speeding peleton on the Champs? Would the entire peleton slow and wait for the yellow on the final stage? Or what about a touch of wheels and the yellow jersey crashes in the final day....wonder if that has ever happened?

Anyway, I did enjoy watching it this year, even if the winner was a foregone conclusion...seeing the battles for 2nd thru 5th, and the Polka dot jersey, and the battle for the white was just a great race! Also I really liked Todd, Bobke and Scott...I wish they would have been allowed to commentate the prime time version...I would have recorded that one instead of the morning 'live' version. Not that I don't still like P&P, but I have to admit I'd just prefer to listen to Bobke. I was also sad there was only like 2 zany Bobke commercials...and both were for American Classic wheels. Would have loved to see a few more.

OH...and also, I recieved my FREE Pearl Izumi Tour of California jersey in the mail last week (THANKS Rae for the link to that back in May!). It's a pretty nice jersey, and I wore it yesterday on a nice long ride! Yes...for ONE day I was a professional cyclist! You see...Sunday was my 14th straight day of work, and we have an agreement with our customer that after 14 straight days you get an 8 hour day of paid time off (and I'm not talking vacation or sick leave...this is actual pay from the customer!) So I actually got PAID to ride my bike yesterday! I left the house at 9am sharp (after FINALLY watching the finale of stage 21...I fell asleep Sunday evening early into the stage (10 of those 14 days were 12 hr shifts, and I was plain whipped). So after watching the END of Le Tour I hit the road and did an 80 miler. It all went very well until mile 55. That's when Evil Mr. Wind made a grand entrance and kicked my ASS all the way home...25 miles of headwind so strong I could barely hear my ipod, and as I rode Foxen Cyn north (which is a 1 to 2% descenet) I was averaging 11 to 12 mph, which even with 'normal' winds would be about a 16-18mph ride. I felt like I was moving so slow I could walk it faster. Nothing sucks your morale faster than the wind. By the time I got home I was truly crushed. But hey...I got paid for how bad can it be? Looking back, forget the pain and remember the good parts. I was WARM for a change, which was WONDERFUL!

OK. It's 5am now (I'm back on my 12' much for my 1-day break!) and I've finally found a way around big-brother and his internet blocking tactics, so not only can I comment here, but I can even POST!

Here's hoping you find a way out of your PTDS too.

Stay Frosty!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

It's all downhill from here (except for the uphill parts)

Well, le Tour is OVER half way thru already! July is just FLASHING by before my weary eyes, just as it always does.

I think baring disaster we all know who the winner will be. Just watched Stage 11 (the ITT) and my feelings after Saturday are back in full force. I just can't help it. In this day and age, it's hard to believe (in the "CLEAN" peleton) that any one guy can be THAT much better than everybody else. And it's not just Froome...Richie Porte had a heck of a TT also, who if you recall was one of the siamese-twins demolishing the best riders in the world on the VERY FIRST mountain stage.

I wish I didn't feel this fact, I HATE it that I do. But to watch him CRUSH Cadel (who is in pretty good form actually) not only in the mountains but in the just raises my hackles as the little angel on one shoulder is crying FOUL! (and the little devil on the other shoulder is going "uhm, er...what?") And it's not like Contador is such a shabby TT'er himself...however I do look back and think about  how just a few years ago when the Pistolero suddenly 'appeared' in amazing form in le Tour, and now have to wonder about that too.

Susie, you said something today about in this modern nearly dope free peleton, wouldn't a doper stand out? Hmm...I can't help but wonder if that isn't EXACTLY what we are seeing? The rest of the GC wanna be's are all looking quite mortal, and it's just Sky who is invincible. And I think I mentioned in the comments that I'm suspicious as to the entire teams opposite performance on Sunday...the collapse also seemed too good to be true, and it appeared almost right out of the gate that the other teams were going to get their time back and more. But in the end after 5 mountains, zip, zilch, nada. Not ONE SECOND was gained back, even though Froome was isolated all day long and just hammered by the other teams, notably Garmin. Quite honestly, that's also too good to be true in my new book of 'real'. If everybody else on the team (who put in such a huge performance the day before) utterly folded right from the first climb, then how on earth was Froome (who put in an equally huge performance) the only one who didn't?

OK..enough negativity...maybe it's all spewing out because I'm so tired...not getting a lot of sleep lately. Ill try to do better (fingers crossed...HA HA!). As to the TT itsself, I loved the backdrop...don't recall ever seeing that little castle/island amazing! They really knew how to make impressive homes back in those know what they say.....location, location, location! THAT was a pretty awesome location. Not to mention how difficult the construction must have been. I'm thinking any bad guys rode up (to the wet bottom of the bay) and said forget it..lets go find a different castle to pillage. And, well..back then they didn't have any sewer everything just went over the side into whatever river or whatnot was available...I"m thinking the ocean would work pretty good. Tide goes out, so does all the kibbles & bits & bits & bits.

I need to hit it...have a great day, and STAY FROSTY!

Viva le Tour!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Mountain time!

Well, first the bad news. Can you believe that the tour is already 1/3rd over? Didn't it JUST start?
Lots of drama as surprise thus far this year, there's no debating that. Crashes galore as usual, but I think the thing most surprising (so far) was during Stage 6. It's the first time in my memory of a pro race with NO breakaway (I don't count the one guy...he gave it a go and not ONE other  rider would go with him. It was just crazy! Sure, they're going to get caught...but just ask Jan on Radio Shack if HIS breakaway was worth it? SOMETIMES they don't get caught...and you can't guess which times that will be. Maybe with all that crosswind, a good break with 6 or 7 unknown guys all working together all the way, it could have gone the distance. But now we'll never know. 
Certainly the crashes have featured heavily...lots of beat up riders trying to survive on off the back. I must say the teams have all done an admirable job of hiding their GC guys thus far…Froome, Evans, Contador, Schleck, Ryder (cuz I can't spell his last name)…and then poor CVV and his crash…on his LAST TDF…I was really hoping he could just stay upright this year thru to the end….there’s just so many guys riding hurt…I thought sure it was his collar bone when they were helping scoot him off to the side of the road...but then a few minutes later he's up and riding..I thought sure he was gone. And then there's poor Ted Kind…yeah,'s the TDF and they have rules, blah blah blah...I can’t BELIEVE they didn’t grant him a pass on 7 FREAKING SECONDS after the TTT…I mean, come ON....he rode the entire thing solo…he could have just stopped or abandoned at the start...but no, he soldiered thru in pain for the entire agonizing distance (at a pretty fast pace mind you). If that isn’t a show of bravery and defiance worthy of allowing him a one-time gift and letting him stay in the race, I don’t know what is. I certainly don’t agree with the decision to eliminate him…I think that was pathetic judgment from whoever is in charge of that...just my 2 cents's actually worth far less than that sadly. 
I haven't seen today's stage yet (7)...just got home from work a bit was a rather quiet day (seems like there were maybe 15 of us from the typical 100 or so in my main office area...I just didn't want to burn a vacation or sick day...I had stuff to do and it was a good day for it...nobody was bothering me. ANYWAY...tomorrow we hit some MOUNTAINS...ta-DA!!! FINALLY!!! Sure, the flat stages are important, yada yada yada...what can I say...I live for the mountains. And quite honeslty, in person I detest the flat the big scheme of things I'm an OK climber, but I'm quite pathetic on the flats/rollers, and seems like EVERYBODY descends faster than the climbs are the only thing I've got going for me! The longer and steeper the better (up to a point anyway)
 Anyway....I'm assuming today's stage will be another bunch sprint....maybe their last for a while as the mountains will shed the sprinters like a duck sheds water... and we can finally see the GC hopeful’s come out of the woodwork to play. We'll also get to see how the GC guy's teams stack up in the mountains.

Hopefully everybody had a safe and wonderful 4th of July. My brother Greg sent me a link this morning of the big fireworks display in Simi Valley (his hometown) last night that went awry. The professional display started and just a few big booms after it began something went terribly wrong, and one of the big stands tipped over, firing the big mortars INTO the crowd of around 10,000. There were no deaths, but there are some severely injured and LOTS of lesser injuries...mostly from shrapnel and burns (imagine that!). Nobody he knows was there sounds like it was a real terrifying ordeal...there was some video and it looked horrible....those big mortars shooting their load parallel to the ground into the crowd...explosions everywhere...that would be SO frightening! It's just amazing nobody was killed.

OK. Summer is FINALLY upon us. Yesterday (the 4th) I had my first HOT ride of the year. I'd forgotten how bad HOT can be, and went for my solo Tepesquet ride, thinking " bad can it be?". Turns out pretty bad. I have no idea how hot it was (my Garmin 705 doesn't have temperature, though I wish it did)...but as I descended over the top of Tepesquet into the Cayuma valley it felt like I was suddenly riding into a giant hair-dryer. I got to my half-way turnaround point down at Rt 166 and stopped....briefly. It was HOT, with the heat just radiating off the blacktop, standing there was horribly I kept going just to get some tiny shred of breeze. I hit the base of the climb and knew I was in trouble....I typically do this ride with just 2 bottles of water. As I climbed I sprinted from small shade-spot to shade spot (sprinting meant I upped my speed from around 7.1mph to 7.2mph as I CRAWLED up the mountain in my granny just trying to keep the bike moving).  I finished the 2nd bottle on the climb back up to the saddle, figuring I only had about 7.5 miles of downhill and could refill at the winery....(my usual spot for hot days water). 
WELL...they were CLOSED! I hadn't counted on that at ALL....and I was totally out of water! I altered my route to cut a few miles off and take me past a small deli/market in the town of Garey...praying it would be open (if not I'd be knocking on somebody's door). IT WAS!! I was toast when I got there (the temps were much cooler on that side of the mountain, however the stupid WIND was howling...and I was about as wasted as I've been in a LONG time....holding 15mph into the wind on a 2 to 3% downhill grade was very sad. I chugged the first of the 2 bottles I bought...the 2nd went into my bottle cage for the remaining 9 miles home. The lady who sold them to me said she lives over in Cayuma...and yesterday (the 3rd) it was 120 at her house.... the hottest she's ever seen it (and she's been there over 10 years). I know it wasn't THAT hot when I was climbing (it was only 11am thankfully) but it was surely around 100 or more. I'll certainly remember that one for a while and choose my routes more carefully for the remainder of the summer...(at least until I get a little bit acclimated to the heat). The first hot ride is the hardest.
But I survived...on to the WEEKEND! 
Make it count!