Killing Time…

…with Killer Sudoku.

Since this is a cycling blog, let me say that I discovered Killer Sudoku puzzles on a cycling vacation in France. On Sunday I would wander down to the bakery before they closed for the day, then head to the tabac to buy The Sunday Times. This London publication was the only English language paper available in our little village and provided an interesting slant on news from the British point of view. “Two peoples separated by a common language”. Indeed!

The paper had a puzzle section, with a crossword that was completely beyond me. But there was also a new-to-me puzzle: the Killer Sudoku.

Sudoku puzzles are everywhere, and I have been doing the standard version for years. But these were different, and to my way of thinking much more fun. Here is an example:

The grid is the same, but you have groups of cells (called cages) bordered by broken lines, with a number in the upper left corner. That number is the sum of all the digits in the cage. Look at the bottom right: there is a cage with two cells adding up to 17. Those two cells must be the digits 8 and 9 in some order. If you see a cage with 3 cells that sum to 23, you know the digits have to be 6,8 and 9. Also digits are not repeated in any cage even if it crosses into different regular 3×3 Sudoku boxes.

The 9 3×3 boxes of a traditional Sudoku still contain the digits 1 to 9, which means they add up to 45. Look at the upper right 3×3 box. It contains an 8 cell cage adding to 43. That means the 9th cell (lower left of the 3×3 box) must be 2. This is a very simple example, and things get much more complicated very quickly.

These are perfect pandemic puzzles. The harder ones take a lot of time and require concentration. I don’t guess. I examine possibilities and find which ones lead to contradictions. Some of the inferences are long chains and demand complete attention.

During the last 9 months, I probably have thought about Covid and its implications for life in the US and the world and for Stoker and me every single hour I’m awake. Even asleep I’ve had Covid dreams where I am on a bike tour or in a store or at a party (remember those?) and everyone is maskless, to my horror.

But give me a level 9 Killer Sudoku, an erasable pen or pencil, and a quiet couch in a sunny room that I share with Luke, and for an hour or two I bury myself in the digits from 1 to 9 and Covid thoughts leave my brain. Two puzzles after a bike ride and I’m good until the vodka/local news hour at 5 pm.

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They also serve…

…who only stand and wait at regroups.

Roberta commented on my A, B, See? blog:

Thanks for the ride review! Glad I didn’t show up. Knew that B ride was not for me. Though I know I could depend on you to return with me at my pace and even fix a flat for me 😁.

It was nice of her to notice. I think that I do what I can to ensure that other riders, especially those with mechanical issues or who are a bit less fast than me, enjoy (and survive) the club ride. Even if doing so means I have to modify my ride a bit.

Roberta, you made my day!

Roberta and Margaret and Terry and Dorothy know that I will get in front of them and block the wind for them. If a gap opens I will see it (I use a mirror remember?) and ease off a bit. But I know I can ride pretty darn hard and these four women are strong enough to stay on my wheel. And they know they can rely on me to make sure they get flats fixed or chains back on.

And I wait for slower riders. There are not many riders in our club slower than I am, but they do exist and I wait until they get to the regroup spots.

People may not like me. They may think I’m a denier, a racist, a fascist, a misogynist, a product of white privilege. Considering the way I choose to vote, the commentators on MSNBC and CNN would characterize me as being all of those things.

But anyone who says I’m a selfish rider is lying. Just ask Roberta.

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A, B, See?

Yesterday’s Club Ride bucked the recent trend of low turnout on Saturday. There were 12 of us.

The Ride Schedule called for two start times, a B Group at 9:30 and the A Group at 10:00.

Having two start times can be very useful. Riders who are slower (or less fast) can get a head start and not feel like they are slowing the group down with long waits at regroups. The faster riders can stay closer together and not worry about dropping people too far behind.

But what constitutes A and B is subjective. In our club A might be B in a stronger, faster club. On the other hand our B group might be A in a more relaxed bunch.

So when Dean announced on the club Facebook page that he was starting at 9:30, I had to chuckle. Dean is definitely not a B rider by Stockton Bike Club standards.

Neither am I, usually. But I’m not in great shape and my attitude toward riding is pretty apathetic just now. So I decided to join Dean with the B’s at a more relaxed pace.

I was not alone. When Ilia pulled his Tesla next to me in Howard Park at 9 am, plenty early for the B start, I was surprised. Ilia is an SBC A rider for certain. So are Bill, and Margaret and Steve and Al, who along with Dean and me decided to start at 9:30. We were joined by Richard (another one, not me) and Ken. These two were strong cyclists when they were younger, but both have some health issues that limit how hard they can ride. But both have purchased very nice e-bikes with electric motors to supplement their effort, which makes them A+ riders.

E Bikes not B Bikes

Later, at 10 am, Lauren and Lyle and Eric and Frank, who are all A riders, actually started as an A group.

Our B group ride was anything but B. I was in front on Irish Hill Road, not racing but not lingering either. Ilia joined me and we rode briskly. For those of you unfamiliar with SBC routes, Irish Hill is 5.7 miles long. It is rolling with some very steep but short climbs, and almost no traffic. It is a wonderful cycling road, and also a Strava segment.

Al caught us and passed us, and he stayed about 30 seconds ahead. Ilya kept easing ahead of me but I dug deep and manged to stay with him to the top of the last hill. I averaged 211 watts for 21 minutes, with Normalized Power over 280. I’m not going to explain NP here, but I’ll just say this is about as hard as I can ride. My heart rate got to 160 (my max, measured in a lab test, is only 163) and I hit 580 watts for a few seconds.

When I got to Plymouth after only 1 Hr 15 Min of riding time, my NP was 205 watts. I haven’t done anything like that since the Mortirolo climb in Italy back in August 2019. This is a B ride?

There were two route options. I chose the shorter version and headed back to Ione. Not so much because I was tired, but because to go east of Plymouth you have to ride on Shenandoah Road, which is narrow and has a lot of traffic, especially on Saturday afternoon. And there was that deadline…

I had Dean and Al and the E Bikes for company on the short route back. I spent about a mile behind one of them going into a headwind, enjoying the draft.

We got back to the car just as the 12:59 PM Stay At Home Order went into effect. We were in Amador County, which in not in the San Joaquin Valley according to our Governor’s guidance. But I want to be a good citizen and not question authority. So I drove straight back to Brumby Road and hunkered down, lest I violate any mandatory stay at home order-guidance under penalty of law, which isn’t law. Confused? Me too.

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Throw Away the Key…

We are in lock down mode again. This one is for a minimum of 3 weeks, through December 27. Merry Christmas!

a. All gatherings with members of other households are prohibited in the Region except as expressly permitted herein.
b. All individuals living in the Region shall stay home or at their place of
residence except as necessary to conduct activities associated with the
operation, maintenance, or usage of critical infrastructure, as required by
law, or as specifically permitted in this order.

There is a lot more of course. No dining indoors or out; take out or delivery only. Stores limited to 20% capacity and entrance must be strictly monitored. Look for lines outside just like in the old Soviet Union. And don’t count on finding any toilet paper. No movies or haircuts or massages (I miss those) or bowling (I don’t miss that).

Only outdoor worship is allowed, although the recent Supreme Court decision, which determined that the Constitution has not been suspended (yet, give the new administration time), gives churches the right to be treated at least as well as Costco. “Freedom to Big Box” is not mentioned in the Bill of Rights, but Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Assembly are, whatever Newsom says. So churches should be able to operate indoors at 20% capacity, just like Costco.

Is a ‘club ride’ a necessary activity? We shall see what our officers decide. Today’s ride is OK, since the order does not go into effect until 12:59 pm. And then there is a 24 hour implementation period. They aren’t going to start putting people in jail until tomorrow afternoon. So if you need a haircut, get moving.

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A Silly Century

France is back in lockdown, and their rules are much stricter than even ours here in California. In fact, until last week they could not venture more than 1 kilometre from their residence except for one of the permitted reasons, which did not include riding your bike. And you have to carry an ‘attestation’ which you must produce on demand to show why you are out and about.

Macron and his minions finally realized that it was not a public health danger for a bike rider to be out on the roads, so they created a cycling bubble. Now it is okay to be on your bike within a 20 kilometre radius of your home.

Gerry lives in Nimes, and his bubble contains some very nice riding. There are no major mountains but plenty of hills and lots of little quiet roads. It is kind of like riding in the area around Ione or Wallace, but with a lot more roads to choose from.

That got me to thinking about my own cycling bubble. I found an app that allowed me to draw a 20 km circle around Chez Brumby. Here is the result:

The southwest quadrant of my bubble is mostly urban Stockton and not really the best cycling. But the entire eastern semicircle is rural, and so is the northwest quadrant except for Lodi, which is very bike friendly with wide streets and bike lanes. And there are many quiet roads to pedal on.

But these roads are almost devoid of hills. There are a few rollers out towards Farmington or on Brandt Road near Clements, and a couple of overpasses across Hwy 99 and the train tracks on Eight Mile Road, but that is about it. And nearly all the roads are straight and at right angles to each other. None of the delightful twists and turns that greet you pedaling around Malaucene.

But even with these shortcomings, I am fortunate to have plenty of places to pedal right out of my front door. I set myself a route planning challenge: Devise a 100 mile ride inside of the Chez Brumby Circle that never crosses itself or backtracks, and stays entirely on cycling friendly pavement. I did it!

The route heads east past Linden, then into Morada where we wander around a bit before heading west. We have to ride on Eight Mile Road for about 2 miles, but then we pedal around Mickie Grove and head west on Armstrong. We work our way west and then north of Lodi, through Lockeford, and the we ping pong between Jack Tone and Tully Road to add a few miles. Finally we take Live Oak Road west to Alpine and roll back to Brumby in the opposite direction that we started from. No backtracking except for 1/3 mile on Hwy 88 and Brumby.

It is a pretty silly idea, riding 100 miles without ever getting more than 12 miles from home ‘as the crow flies’. I’m really not in shape for such a long ride, but if I pedal slowly I could probably do it, and I just might. A Covid Century! Without the virus I never would have considered something so silly. But Covid doth make fools of us all.

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Gavin’s Gathering Guidance

From the State of California:

This guidance provides an updated plan for Californians to gather outside their household…

Mandatory Requirements for All Gatherings

All persons planning to host or participate in a private gathering, as defined above, must comply with the following requirements. Local health jurisdictions may be more restrictive than this guidance. Refer to your local guidance for what is allowed in your area.

1.    Attendance

  • Gatherings that include more than 3 households are prohibited. This includes everyone present, including hosts and guests.Remember, the smaller the number of people, the safer.

There is a lot more to this ‘guidance’. I will leave aside the question of how ‘guidance’ from the government can be ‘mandatory’. When the government makes something mandatory I thought that was called ‘law’. I guess my vocabulary is not as good as I hoped.

I will also leave aside the question of whether this ‘Guidance’ applies to politicians and lobbyists at The French Laundry. Remember, this is not a political blog, so we won’t go there.

I am wondering how this Mandatory Guidance is going to affect the Salami Making Season.

When I moved back to California in 1983 to start farming with my father, I began my apprenticeship in the art of salami making. The Avansinos have been making salami and sausage in the basement of their home on Comstock Road since the 1930’s.

My first tutor was Amerigo Cortopassi. At the time I was 25 years old and he was in his 70’s. Amerigo was known as a legendarily hard worker and a stickler for quality work. But he patiently instructed me and gently corrected my mistakes and put up with my fumbling fingers trying to learn a new skill. When I finally tied a salami with perfectly spaced loops he inspected my work and pronounced it “Number 1”. I had arrived.

Now when I say I make salami, I am exaggerating. I contribute my labor to the cutting and tying, but the organization and recipe and curing are the purview of my father’s cousin Ray and his sons and nephews. But I will say that over the 35 years I have been doing this, I have gone from the slowest salami tying worker to the fastest and neatest. No one ties more casings or does it better than I do. My one great skill! Useful only one day of the year.

The history of the people who have made salami in that basement is incredible. Mostly of Italian heritage. Mostly involved in agriculture, mostly family or neighbors. When I’m in the basement tying, I see ghosts. My Nonna Alma, Amerigo and Teresa, Luigi, all gone now. But I see them. There is a Genoa Bakery calendar on the basement wall from 1975. Time really does stop in the basement on Comstock Road on salami making day.

I could write much more about the Salami Day tradition, or about the really delicious cured meat and sausage we produce and enjoy through the year. But what I’m really wondering is if this ‘Gathering’ is going to happen in 2020. Or if it should.

This ‘Gathering’ is everything that Governor (French Laundry) Newsom and Fauci and the CDC abhor. It involves at least 25 people from 10 or more households, in a basement of about 900 square feet. It starts at 6 am and ends around 4 pm. There is minimal ventilation. We work shoulder to shoulder at two tables. We converse like Italians, at a high volume. Around noon we stop for a delicious lunch at a long table, again shoulder to shoulder. If there ever was an environment for spreading a virus, this is it.

Lunch Time at a Salami ‘Gathering’. Not CDC Compliant, but this is from 2003.

I can’t imagine that a mask would help much in this space, even if you could get everyone to put one on. And how are we going to eat Marilyn’s amazing lasagna through a face covering?

So far there has been no announcement from Chief Ray about the status of this ‘gathering’. If he says it can’t happen this year, I’m fine with that. I’ll just add it to the list of things I’m angry at missing in 2020. It is turning out to be quite a list.

Close Quarters in 2003
Chief Ray and my Dad settle the bill for our share

But if the event does happen, I have a dilemma. I personally am not too worried about getting sick. I know people who have had Covid and recovered fairly quickly and easily. But my father and mother, who also attend Salami Day in normal times, are in their mid 80’s, healthy but in the supposedly high risk group. And right now Stoker is not completely healthy either. I worry about all of them getting sick with serious consequences, either directly at the event or from me if I go and get exposed.

On the other hand, I don’t want to be seen as a coward, or a government toady, or Newsom’s serf either. Or lazy, which I think no one who has seen me work at the salami table would ever say about me.

Newsom ‘gathered’ at the French Laundry, indoors, and got away with it. And if the Salami Day happens I don’t think we will be arrested and jailed. But I don’t know if I’ll be there to find out.

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Aging Has Some Perks…

This is not a political blog. I’m just going by the numbers.

Until 2015 Diane and I had terrific health insurance at almost no cost. She retired from the City of Stockton and both she and I were covered under a very generous plan. That all ended with the bankruptcy.

The retirees’ health benefits made up the largest single creditor in the bankruptcy. The court appointed administrator determined that the present value of what the city owed Stoker and me was around $400,000. We got a check for less than 1% of that and were thrown out on our own for health insurance.

For Stoker this was not much of a problem. She was over 65, that magic age when Medicare kicks in and all you have to do is buy a quite affordable supplement to cover what Medicare doesn’t.

I am Stoker’s ‘trophy husband’, so I was too young for Medicare. But since the Affordable Care Act had just passed I could go shopping.

My first trip to Covered California back in 2015 to peruse plans was a shock. The least expensive plan was $412 per month. For one person. With a $5,000 deductible. And significant co-pays. And a $15,000 out of pocket maximum. Since I am generally pretty healthy I bought the cheapest non-Kaiser plan I could. Actually Kaiser was on the Covered CA site too, and they weren’t that much cheaper.

Sticker Shock Site

Since then, every October I receive a nice letter from Anthem telling me what next year’s premium is going to be. I recently received my 6th such letter. $921 per month! Over $11,000 per annum! With a $6,300 deductible, $20,000 max out of pocket, and those ever increasing co-pays. My premium is 123% higher than 6 years ago, an annual increase of 17.4% compounded.

I went back to Covered CA to see if this was my best option, and unless I want to go to Kaiser to save a very few dollars, it is.

But wait, Covered CA reminds me that there are subsidies available to pay all or part of the premium. I was asked a few questions, then told I was out of luck, but more nicely: “It appears you do not qualify for assistance at this time.”

I don’t think Stoker and I are rich, but apparently Covered CA does.

Now if this were a political blog I might write that calling this law the “Affordable Care Act” is something straight out of 1984’s Ministry of Truth. Mr. Orwell, how right you were!

But since this isn’t a political blog, I’ll just say that I turn 65 in June, finally eligible for manna from Medicare.

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The End of the Affair…

with cycling? Perhaps.

The really discouraging year reached a new crescendo of misery over the last 3 weeks. It started with the possum. Luke the Dog does not like possums and possums don’t like Luke the Dog. Stoker tried to separate the two and got a small bite from the critter.

I look cute but I bite.

Possums do not often carry rabies, but they can. Out of an abundance of caution her doctor advised a series of rabies shots and antibiotics.

Stoker developed a severe digestive side effect from this Possum Problem Protection Program. Very severe. After a week she called her doctor for a virtual consultation. He said it was the antibiotics and it would go away. But she was still having problems a week after the pills stopped.

She finally saw the doctor in person Tuesday. He was concerned and ordered some tests. I had been urging her to get to urgent care or an ER for an IV for days. Her sister who has medical training said the same. And finally, at 8 PM on Election Night we arrived at the ER.

They did some tests which showed a ‘critical’ low potassium level and poor kidney function. They gave her two IVs and and a potassium IV, and were thinking about keeping her overnight. Finally at 4 am they decided she was well enough to go home. We got less sleep than the candidates did.

So what with worry and running around driving a very weak Stoker to appointments and ER visits and chasing down medications for her, I haven’t been out on the bike since last weekend. I did two club rides last Saturday and Sunday, the first time I’ve done that in many months. I actually felt pretty good. I always lose some fitness during walnut season since I work ‘counting nuts’. But last weekend gave me some confidence that I might not be too far out of shape.

On Thursday Stoker was much better, and later that day she saw her MD who was pleased with her improvement. I had an appointment myself that afternoon for yet another bank draining dental appointment, so I couldn’t do the club ride. Since I hadn’t ridden for 3 days I went out for a morning spin, planning to do about 2 hours with a few hard efforts to continue getting back to pre-walnut season shape.

I rode two miles, but I was actually hating being on the bike. That never happens. I rarely quit a ride before I had planned to. When I do it is because I’m sick, or the weather is bad, or I’m dehydrated or exhausted from consecutive days on tour.

None of that was the case on Thursday. I didn’t have any pains or injuries or sickness, the weather was great, and I was well rested, at least as cycling goes. It is true that I slept only 2 hours on Tuesday (because of the ER visit, not the election) and 4 hours on Wednesday, so I certainly wasn’t at my best.

But this was something new. I didn’t want to be on the bike. I hated the idea of turning the pedals and just wanted to go home. I thought I loved cycling but in that moment on Pezzi Road I hated it. I didn’t care if I ever got on a bike again.

To Ride or Not to Ride? Thursday the answer was not.

I will probably keep riding. It keeps my weight down and my good cholesterol up and helps control my blood pressure. But my love affair with cycling is on hiatus. Temporarily? We shall see.

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Signs of the Times

This blog is not about politics. I make a big effort to keep it politically neutral. It is about interesting observations from my keen and perceptive eye.

Recall I take a job in September and October ‘counting walnuts’. There are spreadsheets and databases involved, but that is the gist of what I do. There have been more and more walnuts to count each season since I started back in 2007. This year there were so many my spreadsheet tables had to be reformatted to make room.

So during the pre-election months of September and October my cycling is entirely from Casa Brumby. There is no time for club rides or road trips in search of some hills. Instead I ride nearly every paved road within a 10 mile radius of my house. And I keep my eyes open.

Back in 2016, there were no signs or flags for either of the two candidates for President of the United States anywhere to be found in my neighborhood. None. It was as if there was some kind of CCR (conditions, covenants and restrictions, a homeowners’ association staple) regarding the matter. I have to laugh at the idea of CCR’s existing on Brumby Road, where dogs run loose (save Luke of course who is always fenced or on a lead) and the 2nd Amendment is taken seriously.

This year on my neighborhood jaunts, I have noticed something startling. There are lots of signs and flags for candidates for President. Well, at least for one of them. The ratio is something like 100 to 1. At least. One candidate has but a single sign in the upmarket part of a Morada subdivision. All of the rest of the signs and flags are for the other guy.

Yes I have, but I don’t brag about it on Facebook. And if you have done so, why?

There is no sign or flag at Casa Brumby. I don’t discuss politics with anyone who might not share my opinions, and I certainly do not argue for my point of view. Despite my absolutely sensible and fair and correct ideas of what makes good public policy and protects constitutional rights, and despite my unquestioned writing and verbal skills expressing same, I know that I will NEVER change anyone’s mind about anything. So the political signs stay down and I don’t have to worry about the CCR’s.

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A Flicker of Hope…

…or not. But they make me feel a bit better.

Gerry, co-owner of 44|5, is a tour operator in France, but I’ve been on so many trips with him and have gotten to know him so well that I consider him a friend too. Since March, when France and the US were both in a state of lockdown, we have been exchanging regular e mails that have nothing to do with future tours. This exchange has been really good for me, allowing me to keep in contact with someone I hope to see, and ride with, again.

If you read this blog you will recall that I started lighting prayer candles in France. I do it to ask to keep Stoker and me safe. I don’t know if it does any good, but I am soothed by entering a quiet and old church (really old, our local one in Malaucene dates to 1200), dropping a couple of Euros into the coin box, and lighting two candles. It has become a daily habit when I’m cycling in Europe.

This year, of course, no prayer candles were lit. So I got the idea to ask Gerry to do it for me. He obliged.

The church where Gerry did this favor for me is in the Vercors, another little mountain range in le Sud. It is only a couple of hours away from Malaucene, but I have never ridden there. Gerry says there are some fantastic roads although they are not really ‘tandem friendly’. That is ok, Stoker will allow me a couple of single bike guided rides when we get back to France…

If we ever do get back, that is. At present we are still in a state of nearly complete pandemic protocol priorities, where the government decides what we can and cannot do. And for now we cannot even go to a movie or to get a haircut, let along travel to France. I hope those candles hurry up with their good karma for a return to normal life.

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