Archive for July, 2010

Tour de France Diaries: Final stage – time trial from the Pyrennes to home

July 30, 2010

Stage 13 – Time Trial from Southern France to Home

So we got off the Col d Tourmalet at around 9 pm, and I had a flight to catch at 11:20 the next morning in Amsterdam.  Only one problem – the GPS said it would take 14 hours to get to Amsterdam and I still had to return the car and pack up everything.  Why I didn’t realize this math wasn’t going to work out before I booked my flight is beyond me.  I’m pretty optimistic about things.  Sometimes it helps me, sometimes it hurts.

Lei and I traded off driving all night.  I hadn’t slept much for the last few days, was freezing from the day in the rain and tired from the whole two weeks.  The last thing I wanted to do was a 14 hour drive.

About 8 hours into it I realized we weren’t going to make it.  In America I can usually outrun the GPS, but in France my Garmin always gives me way too rosy of drive time projections.  Every hour we drove, it would push back our arrival time.

I had about 10 minutes of phone time left, which I used to call my wife, Olivia, to ask her to change my flight.  I called her back and she told me that the new fee was $800 more and that the earliest I could leave was on Monday.  My flight was originally on Friday, so I’d have to spend the whole weekend in Amsterdam.  The Gods were conspiring against me.

We finally made it to Amsterdam and by the time I returned the car and took a train back to the hotel, it was 9 pm.  Our hotel room was actually smaller than our campervan, which meant that Lei and I would have one final night of cuddling .

Amsterdam is great.  It has such a popular cycling culture.  I biked around town a bit and on almost every road there is also a bike lane filled with cyclists.  It is definitely a place I’d like to visit again.  And some of the architecture is incredible.  Here are a few photos.

We ordered the largest taxi we could find and used every inch of it to carry our two bike cases and bottle cases.  I really need to develop a collapsible bottle costume.  I figure I could develop something kind of like a pop up tent, it would look 90% as good and be so much more portable.  Lugging around a 5 foot tall costume throughout Europe makes for great blogging, but horrible travelling.  If anyone knows someone who can make something for me please let me know!

I got to the airport and spent another hour trying to talk down the airlines from the price they were quoting to transport the Bottle Boy costumes (they wanted 300 euros each plus 200 euros for my bike bag!).  Then I wheeled the boxes around and got on the flight.

outside the Amsterdam airport. So close, yet so far away . . .

Lei is smiling but he secretly wants to punch me :)

I had a layover in Detroit and actually had to pick up the bottle boxes and bike case and check them in again.  I couldn’t believe it – why couldn’t they check them in all the way through?  I half expected Ashton Kutcher to jump out and yell “surprise – you’re punked!”

Damn you, Ashton!

I finally made it home and as I walked out toward baggage claim I saw my Dad waiting to greet me.  He yelled out, as loud as he could, “hey look everyone, its Bottle Boy!!”.  Gotta love the parental pride.

So, the trip was tough, but it was SO worth it.  It was incredible to get the flood of emails from people telling me how much they loved seeing Bottle Boy run at the tour.  People told me they’d bet one another to see who could find me first.  One guy told me he had a drinking game with his friends where they’d have to do a shot every time they saw me.  I guess there was something about a crazy looking giant Bottle running in the middle of nowhere in the midst of a serious, dramatic bike race, that is funny and it feels great to know I gave people a laugh.

And the sales have been incredible.  Prior to the Tour we received 10-15 online orders a day, which I was very happy with.  In ONE day during the tour we received 570!  My dad, who was managing the orders while I was gone, was freaking out!  I’ve been back now for a week and we are just now catching up.  And right after the flood of online orders came the flood of retail and distributor orders.  We’ve hired 6 high school and college kids from the neighborhood to help us pack.  We are also quickly running out of inventory, which is a good problem to have, but still a problem.

We filled up an entire USPS truck. And that was just half a day's orders.

Rachael, from UPS, rides clean

My hope is that this is the beginning of something great for Clean Bottle.  I believe we are solving a real problem that people have with cleaning out bottles and are doing it with a high quality product at a fair price.  It’s my goal to keep all of our customers happy and smiling. This is going to be an amazing journey and I am excited for it and look forward to continue to share it with all of you.

Thanks for reading!

Tour de France 2010 - thats a wrap!

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Tour de France Diaries – Stage 12: Col d Tourmalet

July 29, 2010

Stage 12 – Col d Tourmalet

I will never complain about hot weather again.  Never.  The hottest weather in the world beats rain and cold hands down when you are Bottle Boy.  I found that out today.

The Col d Tourmalet stage is the “Queen Stage” of the Tour.  It finishes at the top of the Col d Tourmalet, one of cycling’s most famous climbs.  We drove up and parked on the backside of the mountain, about 8 k from the finish.  The front side of the mountain had been closed to traffic for 4 days, that’s how busy it was.  The mountain was totally socked in with fog and storms regularly came through, totally soaking the parking lot.

This is worse than San Francisco in the summer!

Just as we went to sleep a group of Spaniards parked right next to us and started playing their car horn like a musical instrument for half an hour or so.  No bueno.

I prayed for better weather the next day but my prayers weren’t answered.  In fact, it was even colder and wetter than the day before.  Lei decided it wasn’t worth the risk of getting sick to go out, so I was left to finish the last stage on my own.  Lei has been a great help for the past week, but now it was time to fight the mountain on my own.

We used some good old American Ingenuity to tape Bottle Boy with plastic bags so that he wouldn’t get too wet or soggy.  You can see some photos of it here. I then packed up and headed to my date with destiny.

Lei taping up Bottle Boy. What a good caretaker.

4 kilometers from the top there was a police officer stopping everyone with bikes.  Only foot traffic would be permitted up further.  The Tourmalet was really throwing everything it had at me!  I trudged up the climb towing Bottle Boy, constantly hearing all the comments about “must be your mother in law in there” or “is that a dead body” for the one millionth time.  The nice thing is that I could pretend I didn’t understand whatever language was being spoken to me, even if it was English.  That way at least I didn’t have to explain what the costume was.  In case you didn’t notice by now, I wasn’t in the best of moods.

On my way up I passed by the production booth of the ASO, the organizers of the Tour de France.  These are the folks that take down videos of me from Youtube and are probably pretty pissed that I have turned the national pride of France into one big Clean Bottle commercial.  I had to chuckle as I walked right by them with Bottle Boy.  I could just picture the scene inside the room when they see me run by in costume every day.  There is some French guy with greasy hair, a thin mustache and constantly smoking a cigarette and pacing back and forth as the Tour plays in several monitors around him.  Then Bottle Boy runs with the riders and Frenchie sees it and shakes his fist and screams “Ack, Le Bottle Boy!  I will get you!”  That image in my mind is what kept me going.  Nothing beats pissing off the French J

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse I got to the top and saw the crowd.  The road was extremely narrow and they were only letting people pass on one side of the shoulder.  Both sides were fenced off and the side of the road abutted a huge wall, so there was only about a two foot wide walking path to summit the road.  This was also prime viewing space, so people were lined up.

I had to carry Bottle Boy through this.

I walked about a kilometer in this narrow space before it finally opened up.  I couldn’t believe I made it through, it was almost the last straw for me.  Here are some photos of how tight it was.

I made my way down the mountain and ran into some friends, Glen and Franz, I had met at an earlier stage.  They are following almost the whole Tour and they have serious Bottle Boy potential.  I’d be more than happy to fund someone’s Tour trip next year as long as they ran with Bottle Boy.  They were both in great moods despite the fact that it was dumping on all of us.  Their disposition cheered me up a bit.  We talked about how crazy cycling fans are.  Franz and Glen had been on the mountain for 8 hours, and we were still 4 hours away from seeing the race go by.  Imagine telling a football fan to wait in a cramped space for 12 hours, with no bathroom and no beer and in the rain, just to see about 1 minute of the Superbowl.  That’s basically what 100,000s of fans do every day at the Tour.

It cleared up for a while . . .

. . . and then the fog came in again.

We hung out for a few hours and then I made my way down the hill a bit more where it was more mellow.  I donned the costume and walked around a bit and came across a pack of rowdy Spanish fans who had obviously been drinking cervezas all day.  They took one look at me, started chanting something and then before I knew what was going on they hoisted me on their shoulders and started throwing me high in the air.  Now my Tour experience was complete.  I wish I had a photo of that, it really was incredible and I just had to laugh at my whole experience.  What a way to end it.

The riders came by and I ran like hell as Schleck and Contador passed.  It was my last run and I wasn’t stopping until my legs gave out.

I made my way back up and then back down the mountain and finally got back to the car at around 8:30.  Lei and I need to be in Amsterdam the next day around noon, and it’s a 14 hour drive so we hopped in the car and went for it.  I guess that is the Time Trial in my own personal Tour de France.  Stay tuned to hear about how the drive went .

Thanks for reading!

Tour de France Diaries Stage 11 – the Worst Hotel Ever

July 28, 2010

After the Aubisque the lack of a proper shower and bed for two weeks had just become too much for me.  So we decided to go to a hotel.  We drove down into the more major towns and found the Hotel Printania.  It looked okay from the outside, but I should have ignored the clear red flag when they advertised their two star rating as you can see in the photo.

That’s like saying “come to our hotel, we’re just so so”.  You actually see a bunch of hotels advertise that they are two stars.  The first time I saw it I cracked up.

Hotel "We're Just Okay!"

Well as it turns out, those two stars were awarded in 1995, which I believe is the last time they cleaned the place.  The shower was a bathtube with shower hose which wasn’t attached to anything.  It looked like it had a wall mount at one point, I’m guessing 1995, but it was cracked and busted up.  So you had to hold the shower hose with your hand, which makes it tough to soap up at the same time.

Plus there was no shower curtain.  And since you are holding the shower hose, the entire bathroom gets wet, turning the floor into one giant slip-n-slide in a matter of seconds.  Lovely.

Check out the peeling and decaying wallpaper as wel.  That was right next to the shower – not as if you needed any more reminder that the hotel sucked while you were taking your shower.

the lovely view from the shower. How can the hotel owner sleep at night?

The thing I needed most besides a good shower was an internet connection and a television.  Right outside of our window, as you can see here, was a satellite.  Despite this proximity, neither the internet or the television worked.

Apparently the satellite was an elaborate weather vane or something because we didn't have a working TV or internet in the room despite being 5 feet from it.

There was no real shower, or internet or television but there were a ton on flies.  If you’ve just eaten, don’t look at the picture below.  Right outside our balcony it was covered in flies, a moving, swarming mass of them.  It was truly disgusting.

These people are definitely not riding clean.

I went down to the front desk to complain, hoping to get a discount or something.  All I got was a response that “In France we take baths so we don’t need showers”  and “the TV used to work”.  When I showed the lady a photo of the flies she said “you have a nice balcony”.

She offered to just let us give her the key back, but this was really the only room in town, and I now understood why.

I miss America.

Stage 10 – Col d Aubisque

July 27, 2010

The Col d Aubisque is one of the more famous climbs in cycling.  For this stage, they have it 60 kilometers before the finish, so it won’t be as decisive as in years past, but that didn’t stop the fans from coming out in droves.  Thursday’s stage, the Tourmalet, is nearby, so they have closed all roads going to the Aubisque and the Tourmalet since Sunday – two days ago.

The Aubisque is about a 11 mile climb.  Usually we can park a few miles down from the backside of a climb and that way we don’t have to climb the whole thing with our bottles in tow.  That wasn’t the case here.  Bummer.  I knew the Tourmalet was going to be tough, but I wasn’t expecting this stage to be this logistically challenging.

So Lei and I did what we had to do and climbed up the 11 miles.  My legs are still throbbing from it.  Most people didn’t want to bike that far, so there were some good spots to run and we ended up getting on TV 3 times!

Proof that I made it up

My arch rival the Yeti. The dude takes a car up the climbs. What a wussy!

Just as the last group passed it started to drizzle.  Bottle Boy does not like the rain so we packed up as quickly as possible and tried to out ride the rain.  11 miles of descending with these contraptions makes for a good adrenaline rush, and by the time we got to the bottom I was exhausted.  Our car was full of flies, the shower drain wasn’t working so we’d have a mini cess pool below us every time we showered, and it was damn hot.  So, I made the executive decision that we were going to grab a hotel room.  I just needed space and a decent shower.  And the next day was a rest day so we didn’t have to get going super early.

See my next blog post for the Hotel Report.  Its entitled “The Worst Hotel Ever”.  You think I liked it much?

Tour de France Diaries Stage 9 – Cote de Bales

July 21, 2010

Stage 9 – Cote de Bales

This Tour is turning into my own personal Groundhog Day.  It goes as follows:

1)      Get woken up by flies buzzing my face at around 9 am.  I am bleary eyed, groggy, sniffly, sweaty and I turn and realize a 6’2” 200 lb Chinese guys is 2 inches away from me, snoring.  For those of you who don’t know – I somehow talked my friend, Lei, into coming with me.  I got him a costume as well so the two of us could go up there and maximize TV coverage.  He thought he was in for a fun, relaxing vacation in France.  Sorry Lei!

2)      Get up, take some allergy medicine, drink some water and wake up the “Beast from the East” (Lei’s nickname)

3)      Try to find food.  Strangely, in France the culinary highlight of the day has been the breakfasts, where we go to a “Patisserie” and buy a sh*t-ton of food.  Lei and I wait in what is invariably a long line.  When we get to the counter we mumble and point and take way too long.   We hear the French hissing to themselves behind us.

4)      We gorge ourselves on pastries.  I love pastries but to me they almost have to be accompanied by coffee.  Patisserie only serve Pastries.  No coffee.  Major bummer.

5)      Lei & I head back to the campervan and begin to pack up and get ready.  I love Lei but he is not the fastest guy in the world so usually I take out the costumes, load them onto the bikes and pack the bag, all in the time it takes for him to find his sunglasses.

Bottle Boy's three rigs.

6)      We make our way up the climb.  This involves a lot of knee smashing, slow RPM climbing, where we are constantly cheered on by people who can’t believe we are climbing with what appears to be either a huge set of golf clubs or a coffin.

"Allez Bottle Boy!"

7)      We scope out our running spots and sit together and eat lunch.

8)      The crazy caravan comes by.  The caravan is great the first time you’ve seen it.  After the 11th time, its still cool, but you don’t need any of the hats or key chains or signs they are throwing out as you pass by.  When I first saw the caravan I tried to jump for everything they threw out, but I got nothing.  Now, I just lay on the side of the road and get pelted with stuff.  It feels as if they are aiming right at me and throwing as far as they can.

9)      When I hear the helicopters I put on the suit.  First the pants and then the shoes  – Even Bottle Boy puts his pants on one leg at a timeJ   I wait until the last minute because its hot in there and I don’t want to attract too much attention.

A motor powered mascot. Someday, Bottle Boy. Someday.

10)   I say a few prayers to the costume Gods that I don’t take out the peloton but still manage to get a good shot.  So far the Gods have smiled on me.

11)   Run

12)   Run

13)   Run

14)   Take off the costume, pack it up and descend to Lei’s spot.

15)   We get to the car.  By this time we are sweaty, overheated and overtired.  I usually have a beer to decompress and then we pack up.

Its beer thirty.

16)   Drive for 3 hours, stop for food and pray we can find a gas station that is open.  In addition to needing gas regularly, our car also has a slow leak in the left tire, so we have to find a place that is open.  In France and in the evening, this is easier said then done.

17)   Get as close as possible to the final climb, usually around 1 am or so.  Try to find a parking spot, which is usually very difficult given it seems that most of Holland and Belgium and every man woman and child from Luxemberg are following the tour via campervan.  Eventually we find a spot .

18)   2 am, get into the bed in the campervan, which is really just a giant shelf space.

19)   See step 1.

So that’s pretty much how it went today.  This stage was exciting because Andy Schleck dropped his chain right after attacking and Contador didn’t wait for him.  I guess I was running alongside Andy right after he re-mounted.  I should have given him a push 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Tour de France Diaries – Stage 8 to Ax 3

July 21, 2010

Stage 8 – Ax 3.

This is a stage us Bottle Boys dream about.  An 8 kilometer climb at the very end of the stage and near a town so you don’t have to park 15 miles away and bike the costume a long way to the base of the climb.

Here is how we carry these costumes by the way.

From all the reactions to this bag I've now learned how to say "is that your mother-in-law" in French, Spanish and Dutch.

It isn’t the most elegant solution, but it works.  I have no idea how we are going to get these up the last climb of the Tour, the Tourmalet.  Apparently they close the road down a week before hand, it is so crowded.  And it is a 22 kilometer climb.  So, we will have a long journey up it, that’s for sure.

Now that we are at the Pyrenees we are close to Spain.  We are also closed to something called Andorra.  Will somehow tell me what the hell Andorra is?  Isn’t it a city in Star Wars.  Anyways, it was cool to hear a lot of Spanish being spoken out on the course.  I actually know a little bit of Spanish – so it was nice to be able to communicate for a change instead of point at things and say ‘Merci’.

The Spaniards come out in full force for their cyclists.  The road was absolutely packed and it was quite a scene.  Check out these photos of an actual bar a group of Spainards had set up on one of the corners of the climb.  It had several working taps, loud music and of course a bunch of men dancing in women’s underwear.

The bar 3 kilometers up the climb. Unbelievable. And I took this the day BEFORE the stage.

I think "Fetard" is French for "cross dresser"

We made our way up to the top, getting cheered on by all the spectators because of the load we were carrying. I met some great Spanish guys who helped me transform into Bottle Boy and had a good run with the riders.  Lei did well as well, lets see if we get some TV time.

We’re on our way to the top of the last climb of tomorrow’s stage, the 20 kilometer Port de Bales.  Pray that we can find some room to park somewhere on the climb.  I don’t think I have two more 20 kilometer climbs in my legs.

Thanks for reading!

post-stage hydration

Tour de France Diaries – Stage 7

July 18, 2010

Stage 7 – Revel

This was a sprinting stage, but it had a little 2 kilometer kicker near the end.  It was unlikely we were going to get on TV, but i figured that we are in France anyways and you miss all the shots you don’t take, so why not at least try?

So getting on TV was our main goal, but a close second was to fill up on supplies before entering the dreaded Pyrenees.  From Revel we hit 4 Pyrenean stages and a rest day, and there was a good chance we’d not encounter any gas stations or stores that were open by the time we finally got done with the stage.  We badly needed food, water and gas.  We were also in need of a bathroom.  Finding a public bathroom in France is harder than getting on TV.  And finding one with toilet paper?  Its like winning the lottery.  So, it was a funny coincidence that the store that met all of our needs and more was named “Casino”.

Casino is a Walmart-Lite.  Very lite.  But after dealing with gas stations that only took French credit cards and stores that closed at 5 pm, this was manna from heaven.  It had all the food we needed, a section where Lei could get a blanket since he had forgotten to bring a sleeping bag (he was getting tired of spooning with me to stay warm) beer, gas, water and best of all a public restroom WITH toilet paper.

We filled up (and emptied out) and then walked up to the hill.  On the course I met two couples from America and they mentioned they had seen us on TV.  Cool!  I gave them a few bottles and they helped me suit up and away we went.

It was about a 6% climb but the riders were FLYING up it, going at least 20 miles an hour.  How they can do that after riding 100 miles is beyond me.

We then hit the road for the ski resort of Ax 3.  It was a beautiful drive, with miles and miles of sunflower plants in full bloom, just like you see on TV.

Unfortunately I also had a bit of a run in.  A parked car jumped out from the middle of nowwhere and sideswiped the campervan.  These campervans are the bane of my existence.  They are so damn wide and bulky!  Next year it is mini-van all the way!

I wonder how many bottles I will have to sell to pay for this?

Thanks for reading.

Tour de France Diaries – Stage 6: Bourge-De-Peage to Mende

July 17, 2010

Stage 6 – Mende

In Sisteron I finally met up with my buddy, Lei.  He was supposed to make the flight out with me on July 9th, but then he ran into visa issues that set him back a week.  Then his flight was delayed and he misses his connection so he has to stay overnight in New York.  Then, the NY to Nice flight was delayed, then his train to Sisteron was delayed AND THEN we have to drive 6 hours to Mende.  We didn’t get into town until 4 in the morning.  We could have made a sequel to Planes, Trains and Automobiles with Lei’s schedule.

We park in a parking lot at 4 and get to bed at 5, only to be woken up at 6 by the Police telling us to get the hell out (I’m guessing at the translation).

We slept a few hours more and then got up and rode around town.  I was amazed that Lei was still functioning after all that.

The Mende stage is probably my favorite of the Tour, in terms of profile.  It has rolling hills until the finish which is 4 kilometers straight up, with the grades as steep as ten percent.  This kind of short, steep hill makes for such an exciting finish, not to mention ideal running grounds for Bottle Boy.

France has been hot this entire trip, and today was no exception. Between the lack of sleep, the heat and my general fatigue I was exhausted.  And the waiting doesn’t help.  The racers don’t come by until 5, but you have to be out there by 2 so you can get a spot and have free access to the roads before the caravan comes through.

Lei and I both had costumes, but it was his maiden voyage.  I told him all the tricks of the trade and then left him about 800 yards down the road.  When the riders came by I saw this giant bottle running his ass off.  Lei ran so fast and so long he almost caught up to me!  We gotta space ourselves out a bit more next time!

No campervan adventure is complete without almost getting stuck in a road that is too tight.  And that’s what happened to us.  We were trying to get out of town, which is nearly impossible after the Tour given that all the teams are trying to get out and they have priority.  So Lei and I start driving down the side roads and I see a sign with a campervan and a red circle.  In the back of my mind I know this means ‘don’t go down here’, but as usual I ignored that voice.  Ten minutes later we are basically stuck in a turn like the scene from Austin Powers.  8 cars are behind us and it is absolutely pouring rain.  I am outside of the car trying to direct Lei.  We’ll at least I got my shower and clothes washing in.  It was so bad, we had to ask all the cars to back up because we couldn’t drive through the turn but eventually we made it.

Next stop, Revel!

Stage 5 – Sisteron

July 17, 2010

Today I didn’t go to the finish, but instead went to the start where the team at VERSUS interviewed me about Clean Bottle.  I towed the bottle into town and met up with Robbie Ventura and the production crew.  Robbie took one look at my contraption and yells ‘screw the bottle, THIS is the story!’  He couldn’t believe that I biked up the mountains carrying the costume all the way up.

The interview went well – I’ll let you know when it airs.

Sisteron is a BEAUTIFUL town, by the way.  Definitely a place I’d visit again.  There are these rock faces that outline the town, here is a picture of them.

Tour de France Diaries – Stage 4

July 17, 2010

Stage 4 – Chambery to Gap

Damn it is expensive to live in France!  I’m writing this from the back of our campervan and it seems like every 30 miles we have to pay a $15 toll – and we aren’t even going across any bridges.  Combine that with the high tax rate and the high ‘fashion tax’  – they actually have to dress nicely and not wear flip flops and board shorts all day like us ugly Americans – and things get pretty damn expensive in France.  This is probably the Tea Party’s version of hell.   / rant J

This stage had some hills on it but the last one was 30k from the finish, which is where I plotted my attack.  I went about 15 k down the road and then did the climb and then descended the back side and climbed up.  Here is a few photo of the descent.

It is some of the most technical descending I have seen.  That is what you don’t realize about cycling.  Not only do the y have to go full gas all day, cycling so hard they are cross eyed, but then they have to focus all of their attention on descending so they don’t lose precious seconds or crash and risk losing much more than time.

Once again it was a beautiful Alpine stage.  The views were amazing and I can’t get over how steep the faces of the mountains are.  As I was staring up at one of them I saw the landscape start to shift a bit at the top of one of the steeper faces.  I realized it was a heard of sheep grazing and what looked like a 60 degree angle.  Those sheep must have super glue on their feet.

There was a break of a few riders that I jumped in on.  Then the main peloton came flying by and even though it was a pretty steep climb, they were all together going gutter to gutter.  I made a judgement call not to run ahead of them.  I would have definitely taken a few of them out.  I’m all about getting publicity, but I don’t want an international incident on my hands!