The SkywalkerSwartz Blog

Monday, May 12, 2003

Looking at traffic

An odd observation: When crossing a street, either on a bike or on foot, people tend to stop if you look at them, but they'll continue (without stopping) if you look away. On some level, this makes sense: If they stop and you're not looking at them, you won't realize that they've stopped to let you by, and this will cause a problem (and, on some level, they won't "get credit" for ceding the right-of-way). Still, on another level, it seems odd: Hey, that guy's not looking at me--let me barrell through the intersection!

Thursday, May 08, 2003

It's as good as being there

I recently found a link to, which specializes in full-screen panoramic images like this neat one of a mountain near Mount Fuji. And, while you're feeling cold, you can check out my fifth-grade cousin Connor Noda's excellent webpage about the arctic fox! (My favorite line: "They are good at following Polar Bears and snacking on the leftovers. When they do this they better watch out, because a Polar Bear would probably just love a little Arctic Fox for dessert after a seal.")

Thursday, May 01, 2003

My near-death experience

Well, it wasn't really a near-death experience, but apparently for a while they couldn't find my pulse and it gave my parents quite a scare. But first, the context:

I had decided to do a triathlon last quarter, as part of my assignment for ME 315 ("The Designer in Society" with Bernie Roth) to "Pick something you've always wanted to do but never done...and do it." Thankfully, Stanford has an excellent triathlon team (one of the club sports--which, incindentally, I think do a much better job of cultivating scholar-athletes than the varsity sports...although we certainly do better than most of the Pac 10); in fact, a fellow ME 315 student, Ross Venook, is on the team. So, I joined and signed up for the 2003 Collegiate Triathlon Nationals, an Olympic-distance (1500m swim, 40k bike, 10k run) triathlon in Peoria, AZ (outside of Pheonix).

Fast-forward to Saturday morning. I'm in the sixth wave, which is more than half Stanford guys, most of whom are much faster than I am...such as Mike "T-Bone" O'Neil, a former varsity swimmer who finished the swim course in 16:41 (!?!). Not long after the first bouey turn, I drank a good amount of lake water and felt like I was going to drown. I ended up swimming sidestroke to keep my head out of the water. I was coughing so much that one guys on the safety boat yelled "Hey, are you okay?" I waved a thumb's up and continued sputtering and sidestroking my way along. This continued for quite some time...until the next wave (a women's wave) started to pass me. After about half of them had passed me, I finally caught my breath and courage enough to swim freestyle. I was able to keep up a fairly good rhythm for the rest of the swim, although I must have gone about 200 extra meters, thanks to zig-zagging many a time!

T1 / Bike
I ran out of the water, finishing the swim in about 32 minutes...not too much worse than the 30 minutes I had figured I might take. (I really should be able to do less than that, but I figured 2 minutes per 100 meters was definitely in my grasp.) I had one of the worst T1 ("transition 1") times on the team, wrestling off my wetsuit, but I figure I'll get to practice taking off wet clothes a bunch after the Sub School Wet Trainer. I set off on the bike course on my trusty Trek 820 converted mountian bike ("converted" meaning that it had a set of Specialized Fatboy slick tires). I'm sure that it weighs a bit more than the average road bike, and perhaps one's body position is better on a road bike, but I really don't think it's that big of a difference...with the slick tires, I was able to pass a bunch of people. However, I was pretty much only able to pass on the uphills--on downhills, the mountain bike gears just don't go high enough (pedaling feels like "spinning your wheels"...sadly not literally). Still, I'm very happy with how I did--finishing in an hour and 22 minutes, beating my coach's prediction by over 20 minutes. I also managed to avoid getting a flat--not a very easy thing, since they forced us to ride on the rough, glass-covered shoulder. Poor Josh Alwood got not one but two flats and, having used up his one spare tube, finished the remaining 13 miles on his rims! What a stud!

I ran back into the transition area with my bike, careful to dismount before "the line" (they had made a big deal out of this at the pre-race meeting). My T2 should have been very quick, since I didn't have to change shoes (most of the road bikers have "clipless" pedals, which require special shoes), but I couldn't find my bike rack! Note to self: take better mental notes about where I'm parked on the next triathlon. Anyhow, I racked my bike, ran out of the transition area, and on the way out, my Mom yelled, "Luke, your helmet!" Yep, I was that guy. I handed it off to Mom and continued...

I began the run feeling pretty good cardiovascularly (when you can't pedal on the downhill, it's fairly restful) but in a good amount of pain muscularilly (not that that's a word...basically my legs were sore, and especially my right buttcheek for some reason. I know, "thanks for sharing, Luke"). The run course was quite hilly, beginning with a 2-mile incline and continuing with lots of up-and-down hills. I started out pretty slow, I'd say...just keeping pace with the runners around me. I started to push it near the end of the first, long incline, thinking, "I don't want to regret not pushing harder." I started passing people, and actually ended up passing some teammates who were faster swim/bikers...they were all very encouraging. Along the way, I stopped for water at the mile safety stations, often walking for a bit to gulp down the water and stretch my leg. On the way back from the turnaround, I spotted--of all things--a donkey, which had apparently wandered in from a nearby ranch. Anyhow, as I passed the fourth mile station, I thought, "Hey, there are only two miles to go...I should really push it now." The night before, many of us had talked about wanting to push beyond "the moment when you realize it's not fun" and do our best to "leave it all on the course." I thought about that as I started to move closer to sprint pace. I can't remember whether it was the fifth or sixth mile station that I approached, thinking it was the finish line (or close to it), since a lot of people were in front. Sadly, the people in front were just water people for that mile station! I grabbed a bit of water, and continued toward the finish line... and...

Regaining Consciousness
That's the last thing I remember before feeling as if I was asleep, with someone yelling my name. I say "as if I was asleep," because it felt a bit like when you're asleep and comfortable and don't want to wake up...I wonder if that's what near-death experiences feel like, when one has to "choose" to a degree, whether to accept the comfort of death...or if one chooses to live. Perhaps every sleeping and waking is a small near-death experience? Anyhow, I "woke up" and noticed a bunch of people over me, including my parents. It took me a while to realize that I must have passed out on the course. "Can he finish the triathlon?" somebody asked. "No," said someone else, presumably an EMT. I was a bit disappointed that I wouldn't be able to finish...had I come that close just to pass out on the last mile? At some point, somebody mentioned that I had been out for 20 minutes. That was weird--not remembering twenty minutes of your life. At first I was worried that I had some kind of spinal injury...I tried wiggling my toes, and they felt okay. The EMT asked me a few questions, and to explain that they were going to take me in a helicopter (!) to the hospital. For some reason, I thought that they were going to fly me back to the Stanford hospital...still not thinking straight! I tried continuing to talk with the EMT, since I knew from lifeguard training that you're supposed to talk with people, lest they go into shock. I remember thinking, "Shouldn't this guy be trying to keep me from going into shock? I bet Mike Ross would do a better job than this..." (Mike Ross is a friend of mine who is trained as an EMT.) At some point, the EMT left, and I was just staring up into space...actually at the blue tarp of the medical tent. It's a bit odd, but I started trying to recite pi to myself. "Three point one four one five nine two six...ummm...three point one four one five..." I also remember thinking, "I have to remember all this stuff so I can blog it!"

The various medical people were still doing tests, and I asked where my coach, Eric, was. "Right here," he said, and leaned over so I could see him. "So, how did we do?" I asked. "First for the men, and fourth for the women..." he replied, which I took to mean that the team placed first and fourth...except those were individuals (the team results wouldn't be available for some time). Eric explained that the "same thing" had happened to Mike (O'Neil). Eric mentioned that he had been in my shoes as well, and that I looked a lot better than he felt the time he passed out. I saw another person on a stretcher to my left, and yelled out "Mike? Mike?" It turned out not to be Mike, but someone from another team. Of course, in hindsight I should have realized that, since Mike's so much faster than me, he would have left some time ago...

A Helicopter Ride
Eventually, the helicopter arrived, and they readied me for transport. I turned to my parents (who had been wearing fairly frightened expressions the whole time...apparently there was a point where they had trouble finding my pulse...) and told them that I loved them--I knew that everything was probably going to be alright, but I knew I couldn't live with myself if I passed away and didn't say that. Although I guess that if I were to pass away, I literally couldn't live, with myself or otherwise... :-) They got me on a stretcher and wheeled me over to the helicopter. A "Flight Nurse" started asking a bunch of questions, which were hard to hear over the blades of the helicopter. They slid me in so that I was lying on the floor, so I couldn't really see out of the windows--in fact, I didn't really notice when we took off. They continued to ask of them was "What month is it?" I couldn't for the life of me say what month it was. I started thinking, "Hmmm...well, the foothills are still green, so it could be March...but maybe it's April? Is it too early for May?" Then, I started to worry about maybe having brain damage...could I continue at Stanford? Was my life ruined? I suppose I'd still be the same person, but so much of one's personal identity is in one's mind (I could go on, but Philosophy 80 is the better place to muse about this). I tried thinking about other academic things...some of the computer science I'd done the last quarter was the first thing to come to mind. I eventually decided that, if I did have brain damage, it was perhaps just some kind of specific problem ("failure-to-remember-months syndrome"?) and, even if it wasn't, worrying about it wouldn't make it any better.

We finally touched down, and they took me into the hospital. The rest was pretty boring by comparison--they basically just ran some tests and discharged me. We're still not exactly sure why I passed out. Probably some combination of the heat, dehydration, and over-exhaustion. I think that the last one was the biggest factor, since it wasn't that hot, and I had been pretty good about taking water at the aid stations. I think the body is pretty good about saying, "Hey! Enough of that!" If the brain isn't smart enough to stop, then the body will do it for you by turning off the brain--for its own damn good!

Well, I guess I'll have to let Prof. Roth know that I still haven't completed his assignment!

(Photos from the trip to nationals are here and here.)

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