Monday, June 24, 2013

Tri State 6 Hours Versailles: The Truth Is, It Never Comes

Pre-race Meeting: Courtesy Scott Herrmann
“I don’t get it Dad,” I remember a young bike racer saying while sitting with legs stretched on the grass  after a criterium.  With the clank of the cowbells and whiz and flash of the next race behind, being fatherly, he said in more or less words, “it’ll come.”  The racer nodded reassured and hopeful.  It was a soft way to speak the truth.

Courtesy Kent Baumgardt
Holding our 2nd place at the Tri-State 6 Hours Co-Ed Duo race in Versailles, IN by a thin margin, as I struggled to get my flat UST tire off my bike, I was faced with the hard truth.  “It” doesn’t whistle down the sidewalk and politely ring your doorbell.  “It” doesn’t tap you on the shoulder and ask you to follow through the peloton.  “It” doesn’t appear at the side of the trail like a bearded wise-man with a reading of the Barnett Bicycle Manual.  “It” never really comes.

This isn’t going to be one of those immature whiner bike racer stories that take away from the preparedness, strength and skills of the competition.  Gerry and I clung to 1st for a while.  We  finished 4th.  Those other teams earned every bit of it.  So here’s to you: Jason and Janelle, Maria and Brandon, Cooper and Christian!  You were strong, tenacious, skilled, and dialed in your transitions.  Bravo!  Chapeau!

"Tent Alley" Courtesy Nick Lucas c/o Tri State 6 Hours
For goodness sake, Brandon and Maria had diapered twins in their tent.  Cooing and saying all kinds of goo-goo ga-ga gibberish, I overheard Dad baby chatting with them between laps.  He played with and fed them.  They were right next door on tent alley.  As I wolfed down recovery mix surrounded by every bike racing luxury a team of 8 could house under our sponsor’s 20x10 tent, he wrangled diapers and smooshed peas solo in a pop-up.  It was adorable. 

Out of the hour or so we had between laps, he spent 59 minutes making sure his little girl and boy were fed, clean, mosquito free and entertained.  With minutes to spare, he grabbed a bite for himself, pulled a water bottle out of the cooler, changed his shirt, picked his bike off the ground, gave his duo-teammate the kid-status update, handed her the keys to the crib, and was off again. 

So to blame our 4th place position on a stick that flew into my spokes and a subsequent flat would be for him to place blame on two of the cutest babies you’ve ever seen.  I’m not kidding.  Those kids are stuff ‘em in a cabbage outfit and call Anne Geddes cute.

Courtesy Kent Baumgardt
You can bet, right now Brandon is diabolically dreaming up a quicker way to spoon peas just as I am finding a thinner tire lever to quickly get under a stubborn UST.  We’ll both train harder to be able to pad our gaps better should a flat or a dirty diaper come at an inopportune moment.  I’m patting myself on the back for quickly bending the broken spoke out of the way.  He should give himself kudos, because I heard nary a cry in the 3 hours I lived next door to his kids.  He’s obviously practiced his routine better than I have.

The truth is “it” never comes.  You have to go out and get it. 

(Note: The Tri-State 6 Hours Series gives special thanks to CORA and IMBA National MTB Patrol.  The next race is July 14th, 2013 at East Fork State Park in Ohio)  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Handlebar to Handlebar at 30mph

“Let me get the door for you Premium Rush,” my witty coworker greeted me as I wheeled my Niner mountain bike off the elevator and into my office.  I work at a radio station full of clever creatives.  I get it all the time.  I have to say, it made me chuckle.  He was the morning show host of our sister station.  After a day at work making commercials, in anticipation of a 6 hour race this weekend, I had planned to hit the dirt of Versailles State Park for a fast pre-ride yesterday.  Maybe his comment was a premonition, because I never made it to Versailles.  The day turned out to be a rush, but I rolled with it.

In bike racing things rarely go as planned.  Anywhere else it’s ugly old adversity, we call it the beauty of the sport.  Fitness, finesse, courage are balanced with luck, mechanics and nature.  We add grams to our side of the scale by learning, through experience, to put ourselves in the best possible position to succeed.  If that doesn’t work, there’s always a plan b.  We look ahead.  Calm, we find clear-headed serenity handlebar to handlebar at 30mph.  We note which wheels to trust, which to avoid.  We learn to read breakaways, counting the riders and teams up the road, anticipating who will attempt to bridge or bring them back.  We put wheels in the pit and pack a tube.  We pre-ride mountain bike courses to know ahead of time where we’ll need to lay down the power and where we can afford to coast and reach back into the jersey pocket for a GU.  Those same adaptive skills transfer into everyday life.  I’m convinced, athletes make better employees.

So between projects, with my mountain bike blurred out of focus in the shadow of my computer monitor, I checked the Hoosier Mountain Bike Assn. website waiting for a “green light” on the trails at Versailles State Park.  After a brief, but heavy rain the evening before, the trail status was a cautionary “yellow,” but with a warm less humid day to dry, I hoped it would change over 24 hours.  Plan B, was to make the 7pm mountain bike time-trail at England-Idlewild Park only 20 minutes from work.  Back and forth I went, mixdown Adobe Audition session to stereo 128Kbps 44100Hz mp3, check trail status.  “It’s pretty light commercial-wise here today,” I let slip to a coworker. 

Knocking on wood is bullshit paranoia.  What’s real and true is that if you ever let your lips slip out loud about how you haven’t had a flat tire in months; you will get a flat tire within the day.  Can a bike brotha get a “truth” high-five?  Smack!  A similar law applies at work.  Never mention how easy it is, a challenge demon lurks under the mixing board waiting to pounce at your words.

At 4:30pm the demon, or our chief engineer, crashed the computer.  Not my computer, THE COMPUTER.  The computer that holds every song, every commercial, and every jingle on every single one of four radio stations, took a big electronic demonic dump.  With no music or commercials, the DJ’s scrambled for words live on the air.  They filled with traffic, weather, and entertainment news, anything while someone grabbed some CDs. 

From the frantic rumble of voices in the hallway outside the main studio, my boss cracked the door to my studio directly across the hall.  “We’re going to miss some commercials,” she said.  As calm as if I were handlebar to handlebar at 30mph, I told her I had already notified the department that does the scheduling and was in the process of seeing if my system was operational.  Over the next 2 ½ hours we reverted to back up and re-did all the commercials since the last back-up on Monday. 

Right around the time the computer was restored, my wife texted that she was leaving for her ride, alone.  Bummed, I checked the HMBA website again.  Still yellow.  I looked at the clock, nearly 7pm.  It’d be fruitless to drive an hour only to be turned around by muddy trails.  Completely outfitted for a mountain bike ride, but too late to make the time trial, I rushed home by 7:20pm.  I left the Niner in the car, switched into my road shoes, jumped on my road bike and pedaled up to the local crit at Cincinnati's Ault Park.  A friend pinned the number on my back at 7:52pm, and by 8:01pm I was at peace at my first road race of the season, handlebar to handlebar at 30mph.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Being Eastwardly Challenged

Your internal compass functions equally in all directions.  Mine?  Not so much.  Maybe you lived your whole life in Indianapolis, the Circle City.  Columbus and Cincinnati are like Indianapolis, you can travel in all directions for miles and miles.  Count your blessings native buckeyes.  Same goes for those growing up with a baby bottle of Bourbon in Louisville.  Others, like me, grew up in a world devoid of easterly travel by land.  

A Milwaukeean by birth, while I have a wine aficionado type appreciation for the variety of cheese curds, I am forever directionally disabled.  So is the guy from Miami I met via email this week.

Aside from the Browns, I can relate with people in Cleveland, northwardly challenged.  Being from Milwaukee, like those who grew up in Chicago, I have no concept of east.  I’d assume riders in LA have a hard time with west.  West is ocean.  I was born with east meaning Great Lakes.  Joe go no east.

East is brow furrowing confounding to me.  When I give directions to someplace east of Cincinnati, I lack the typically manly confidence.  I slur out the word east with a slow point to the right.  “It’s about 8 miles eeeeaaaast of here.  Yep.  East.  That way.  That’s east, right?” 

Being eastwardly challenged has its rewards.  Anytime I’m east of town, I feel like I’m only a few minutes away, even if it’s 20 miles.  Being east of home has always meant close to home.  I could never stray too far without getting my feet wet.  My brain is lopsided.  If I were to create a graph, it’s nearly a 2 to one ratio.  2 miles west = 1 mile east in terms of feeling far from home.  This can be dangerous.  What feels like 14 miles, can easily be 30 miles.  Due to my condition, I’m more likely to bonk on a ride east of home.

I got an email from a guy living in Miami last week who asked for advice on the best area to live in Cincinnati and be close to good riding and far away from busy roads.  It was obvious he suffered my disability as well.  Logically, appearing a short drive to the city and an easy escape into rural riding on a map, he was considering Mason.  Mason!  I had to save him from the six-lane freeway as a main street hell-hole.

Mason is a suburban heaven, surrounded by a purgatory moat of traffic jams.  The only saving grace is the right hooks and middle finger throwing come from pretty women driving Lexus SUV’s.  I had to open his eyes to the circle city concept, where living more central to the city affords more pleasant riding in all directions, and consequently, living on the fringes, limits your options.  I live 5 miles from downtown Cincinnati.  I do most of my riding out my front door in all directions, even east.  In 13 years, I’ve never ridden my bike through Mason.  In fact, it’s avoided.  Conversely, the amount of riders passing the end of my urban street on any given week is probably in the hundreds.

When a city offers travel by road in all directions, people and traffic are more spread out.  Imagine how the dynamic of understanding a city would change if you took all the people on the Eastside of Cincinnati or Indianapolis or Louisville, and moved them all west from a centerline through downtown.  Welcome to Chicago, Miami and Milwaukee.  The size of the suburbs is double.

You can’t blame Miami guy.  In Miami, there’s a whole lot of life crammed in that little corner of Florida, let alone King James’ and Pitbull’s entourages.  It was obvious he has no concept of east as well, and occasionally wrestles with south.  There is definitely no east and only a little fart of outlet store highway leading south of Miami to the keys.  Every day, he has to navigate a dense suburban choking hell to lay wheels to peaceful asphalt somewhere north and/or west of the city.  I must have blown his mind when I told him the best places to live and ride in Cincinnati are actually closer to the city. 

The beauty of the circle city is on any given day, I can ride south in to the hills of Northern Kentucky, past the riverboats west along the Ohio River, north on the bike path to Loveland, Xenia and Dayton and yes, east.  Glorious east past the riches of Indian Hill, I can pedal through a covered bridge, down miles of one lane farm roads which eventually turn into switchbacks up the Appalachian Mountains and back down for hundreds of miles before east ever comes to an end with soaking wet feet.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Cyclist’s Time is Fluid

Pictograph of Hands in Red Rock Canyon, NV
This blog has always been about the trailside tree with the tumor; Mike the grey haired commuter on the maroon Miata, lining up the 80 water bottles from my pantry end-to-end and performing dare devil stunts over them.  They’re slices of bike bread.  I’m sure you have a fave like the Sink Shower, Ault Park Mary, or the Competitive Couple.  Sadly my creative bottle has been a bit empty since February when I puked in my hat at Worlds.  Perhaps I peaked.

When Gumbo boy occasionally writes a guest blog I always remind him to look for the unusual, the details that raise an eyebrow, something that makes you smile.  A week or so ago Corey explained the relationship between a lazy eyed llama and motivating junior cyclists.  It was a good example and reminder of the reason you read, like us on Facebook, and follow on Twitter and Strava.  Cycling is just as much of who we are as our relationships, our professions, and our homes.

If your racing, doing a charity ride or planning a bike vacation this summer chances are your car is painted in bird crap, the cats are licking the dirty dishes in your sink, and you have a family of baby bunnies in the tall grass that used to be your backyard.  I completely understand.

I’ve been doing the opposite.  For the past four months, since racing Masters Worlds I’ve put my focus on some things that took a back seat to training.  My buddy Frank calls them “domestics.”  I planted daisies and an Azalea bush, had great conversations on neighborhood walks with my wife,  and used a toothbrush to get the last bit of Louisville mud out of the shifter box in my 4-Runner.  I ran the beach in the Dominican Republic, hiked down the White Rock Trail to the Colorado River in Arizona and visited Booger Hollow in Georgia.  As a result, I haven’t really had an interest in writing for a while. 

It’s not that I don’t love writing or racing anymore.  I do.  I also like pulling weeds out of the garden.  I like reading good books like “The Art of Racing in the Rain.”  Producing radio commercials for a living, I also like freelance money.

The beauty of cycling is that our lives aren’t on schedule.  We don’t eat dinner at six o’clock every night, get the oil changed every 5000 miles or put the trash on the curb the night before pickup.  A cyclist’s time is fluid.  What a shame to arrange your life’s activities by minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. 

We save laundry for rainy days; cut coupons on the couch at night, only make the bed when company is coming over and hide unopened mail in the pantry.  You discover how to live among a thriving population of dust bunnies, how to romanticize a drippy faucet, and smile at peeling paint. 

I was going to apologize for not writing a whole lot in the four months since cyclocross worlds.  However, I know you get it.  To do so would be apologizing for living the wonderful life we share with bicycles.