Tuesday, May 30, 2017

No time like the Salt Lake Gran Fondo

I participated in the Salt Lake Gran Fondo the other day. This was a supported bike ride of a hundred miles and change that circumnavigated the Oquirrh (/ˈoʊkər/ pronounced “Oak-err”) mountains. The course featured 3 miles of police escort along I-80 to start, and a timing chip to accurately record one’s time; unfortunately a bunch of participants’ times were lost to an overheating laptop.

After slowly dodging rumble strips, orange traffic barrels, and random freeway detritus we traveled south on the west side of the Oquirrhs to five mile pass, and then North along the East (Salt Lake City Valley) side of the same mountains back to the start/end at the Saltair palace on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. The weather was perfect, and I only got a little sunburnt.
I got a sticker like this in the swag bag.  Don't know what I want to stick it to yet.


I’ve long been confused by Utah names like “Oquirrh” or “Tooele”. These are ostensibly names from the Shoshoni branch of the central Numic group of Native American languages. However, this language group does not have a written component so, at some point, somebody thought it would be a great idea to write it out in a way that had only a passing relationship to the way it was pronounced.
OQUIRRH \ö’ kərr\. From Gosiute (Numic) /uukkati/ [uukkaRᏐ] ‘wood sitting’, containing /uu-/ ‘wood’ and /katł/ ‘sit’ – Native American Placenames of the United States (2004) W. Blight attributed to a personal communication from J. McLaughlin.


Part of the idea behind the creative spelling is, undoubtedly, to emphasize specific linguistic elements, and the Central Numic languages are purportedly identified by certain elements of pronunciation that might easily be lost. Among these are “voiceless” (sound produced without vibrating the larynx) fricatives and vowels. This means that the names are not so much Goshiute as they are an academic code that looks like it could itself be language, but instead it just describes the actual languages that people use; as with any academic code there are enough disagreements about how to use it to spawn shelving units full of dissertations.

The meaning is a bit ambiguous too. Oquirrh used to mean “glowing mountains”, and then it was re-interpreted to mean “wooded mountains”, and now it is widely reported as meaning “wood sitting”. I have no idea what “wood sitting” means. It sounds kindof like it could mean something, but try to focus on what that meaning is exactly it becomes obvious that it does not. A Google search suggests that it is a bad way of saying “chair”.

About half way around to the return leg my hydration strategy caught up with me and I stopped at a support station to relieve myself. In hindsight I have begun to doubt that the support station was actually for the Gran Fondo; it just happened to be where the courses of two events overlapped. I ended up waiting for 15 minutes while a very large pleasant volunteer stood at the door to the porta-potty trying to coax out her autistic son who was hiding in there; she would wheeze and sweat in the sun for a couple minutes, and then crack open the door to try and lovingly persuade the child into coming out. When the child finally did emerge he marched over to the food tent with his head held high and proud; I envied him a little.

The people before me in line were fast and efficient once the porta-potty was freed up. When I emerged the volunteers were packing up their tent, and one asked me if I was “the last one”. I became embarrassingly aware of the time I had lost at this stop, and decided to pick up the pace.

The East side of the mountains featured busier streets, and many more intersections. There was also, as I would find out later, another bicycling event taking place on those same busier streets. At one point I followed a cadre of Gran Fondo riders who were themselves following the wrong sets of multicolored arrows up a long hill away from the course. I didn’t remember there being a large hill on the course map so close to the end, but I was tired, and the riders I was following were on really nice bikes, so I followed them up to a dead end near one of the entrances to Rio Tinto’s big Bingham Canyon open pit mine operation. The nice-bike crowd had stopped and begun chatting with their smart phones to find a way back to the proper course.

The confusion spent the energy I was saving for a strong finish.

Back on course I caught up with a woman I had passed on the return leg before the nice-bike spur. It is amazing how unrecognizable someone can be when dressed in skin-tight spandex; it is the sunglasses and helmet that obscure the head and face. I recognized her from earlier on the basis of the number she wore; it was just one greater than mine. We exchange banal pleasantries, and, when I couldn’t find my number on the finishing list I looked for hers as she finished at about the same time. Her time was recorded, and when I saw her name, which was somewhat distinctive, I realized she was someone I had gone out on a couple dates with a while ago. She was pleasant enough then. I suppose that if it is going to be a small world it is nice that there are some pleasant people in it.

The finish feast was a jumbled stack of Little Caesar’s pizza, but I was just pleased to have finished an event, once again, in the top 90% of the field.


The same event organizers are putting on the “Utah County Gran Fondo” near Utah Lake in a few weeks; the jersey for that event features a picture of a mangled carp like those the shores of Utah lake is famous for. There was a century ride that used to circumnavigate Utah lake that I rode several times several years ago; in fact I was wearing an ULCER (Utah Lake Century Epic Ride) jersey for the Salt Lake Gran Fondo.





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