Monday, August 26, 2013

That Happened: A Wknd w/Legend Paul Curley

Tsali, our cat (named after the 2nd best mountain bike trail in the world) is on my chest.  I’m pinned down like he owns me.  He knows I’m not moving.  A human kitty bed, I drift in and out of sleep. I finally caved after a weekend of cycling goodness.  Periodically I hear the hostess at Eli’s BBQ a few blocks from our house announce over the PA that someone’s food is ready.  The blinds are drawn.  The ceiling fan spins.  The cool leather couch soothes my slightly sun parched skin.  I would spend the next ten hours like this.  I showered, made a giant vegan protein smoothie with frozen berries, the cat saw his opportunity and I succumbed.  At 8:30pm, I got up to buy a six pack of Bells Two Hearted at my wife’s request.  The dude abides.  The Bells was a cool reward for her MS150 and my impromptu weekend riding with cyclocross legend Paul Curley and friends. 

Paul Curley hand-slung me.  Wha?  Huh?  The multi-year Cyclocross 55+ Masters National Champion joined us on the BioWheels bike shop Saturday Morning Beatdown.  He was in the Cincinnati area visiting family and called the shop to find an area ride.  With gray hair peeking from his helmet, stars on his shorts and an old Verge CX series jersey, he pedaled stoutly on his small black Cannondale.  His skin looks a bit weathered.  His stocky legs have seen a million miles.  I flicked my elbow.  He pulled through.  He can still pull his weight on the local racer ride.  He rode smart, doing work when he could, sitting on when prudent.  Periodically, like with any guest on the ride, I’d pull even and give him heads up about a particularly nasty stretch of road, an upcoming hill, or wicked descent. 

A Track Hand Sling
On a rough winding farm road in Cincinnati’s Little Miami River Valley, a rider punctured in front of Paul and me.  I coasted back to make sure the rider had what he needed for the fix.  He waved me onward.  Looking back and seeing me trying to bridge my way back up, Paul, the seasoned vet, drifted slightly off the back of the speeding bunch and extended a hand.  “Is this really about to happen,” I thought.  With a thumb up and the back of his hand facing me, this wasn’t going to be a handshake.  This was a straight up Madison style hand sling.  I took a few hard pedal strokes.  With my left hand, I grabbed firm and he hand-slinged me within reach of an easy catch.  He jumped in my slipstream.  The group slowed slightly through a corner and we were both back on.  I get goosebumps thinking about it.  Yes.  That happened, a legendary experience with a legend.  I never expected to ride with him again. 

“Is that Paul Curley?  It is!”  JBV Coach Chris Mayhew was wrapped up in the garage right up until the moment the group rolled out of Loveland.  I was invited on this Sunday ride along with other clients and friends of the JBV coaches who held a clinic the day before.  Chris, maybe too busy with coffee, didn’t catch that Paul’s sprinter type van was parked down the street.  Paul had been planning on doing a nearby race.  It was cancelled at the last minute, so he decided to join us.  It wasn’t until we were rolling through the tunnel of trees of the Little Miami bike path that Chris pulled off the front, only to have Paul roll by on his right.  I was no-handed on the back tucking my arm warmers into my pocket and saw Chris’ double take first hand. 

The genuine excitement was priceless.  The phone came out.  There was a pat on the back, smiles, maybe a tongue in cheek muttering of “go back to the front I’m just a washed up old man,” and a moment was made.  Later, Paul asked me what I did for a living.  I mentioned we had met once before mud covered in the pits at the Masters Cyclocross World Championships in Louisville two years ago.  He was just one of the bunch yesterday.  We traded pulls up the long climb into Devou Park.  To my left sat my teammate Jason, to my right cross legend Paul Curley.  Surrounded by friends and clients of JBV coaching, the Cincinnati Skyline framed a scenic 4 hour 70 mile Sunday ride.  If I had a bucket list, this would’ve been on it.  However, sometimes it’s just as fun to make the most of opportunity and write the list as you go through life.  It seems to work for Paul.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Most Elusive @Strava Segment Ever

In chest waders with a fly rod, I walked back from the creek after striking out fishing for Steelhead trout.  I wasn’t much of a bike rider then.  A camouflaged gentlemen rolled up the double track in a blue sun-faded early 80’s Chevy Imapla with black steel wheels sans hubcaps.  Using the crank on the inside of the door, adding to the backwoods drama, he physically rolled down his window.  Locking eyes, he quizzed me, “Nuttindoinaina?”  I stopped dead in my tracks.  A bit of water sloshed in my waders around my feet.  What the hell did he say?  Nuttindoinaina.  Miles from anything resembling civilization, I wasn’t scared, only caught off guard that I had to translate the native dialect in this land.  Nuttindoinaina was his way of asking, "Nothing going on huh?"  “Oh.  No.  Didn’t catch anything,” I answered.  He thanked me with a nod and a wave and drove off.  A few miles from the town of Gay (really...look it up), that was my first encounter with a real live native Yooper, a person from the upper peninsula of Michigan.  I’m thinking about going back, this time with a bike.

A Pastie is Like a Homemade Pot Pie
Traveling through Wisconsin, there is no physical border going into Upper Michigan.  It’s porous, sort of like Mexico.  The roads get skinnier, the signs for restaurants selling Pasties get more frequent and four wheelers seem to be the preferred mode of summer travel.  In winter they use “sleds.”  We call them snow machines or snow mobiles.  Coming through Lower Michigan however, you have the majestic Mackinac Bridge linking Mackinaw City with Saint Ignace in the UP.  It towers so high and stretches so long; you’d think a northern San Francisco is on the other side, not summer cabins.  As I discovered last night, the Mackinac Bridge is a Strava segment.  As I also learned, it must be the most elusive Strava segment ever.  I kinda want it.

It’s a 4.4 mile segment with 180 feet of elevation gain.  It’s a bridge, up one side and down the other for a zero net pitch.  The KOM is 16.1mph.  Don Kring of Grand Rapids bagged it in a time of 16:24.  I have no idea who Mr. Kring is since his Strava profile photo is a picture of a sock that says “I Heart Beer” but I thought I could easily take this one while on vacation.  There’s nothing better than bagging out of town segments, leaving the locals to scratch their heads wondering who “that guy” is.  It’s an odd segment; only 16 cyclists are on the leaderboard, not the triple digits we see in major cities or tourist destinations.  Still Mr. Kring’s KOM has stood since September 4th, 2011.  Now I realize why he rests easy.  No one will have a chance to beat him for another few weeks. 

“If we go here, we are so doing this bridge,” I said to my wife.  I could average 16.1mph over four miles in cutoffs on a beach cruiser with a puppy in a flower basket.  Then I looked at Don Kring’s ride where he set the KOM on the Mackinac Bridge.  He rolled a very respectable 76.1 miles in 4 hours.  He ain’t no slouch.  He wasn’t riding platform pedals or stopping at the pastie-selling tavern I imagine on the other side.  There’s got to be more to this bridge than data allows.  

It's no bike path noodle.  There are deep dish wheel-yanking jacket-puffing 40mph winds howling across the deck.  I heard rumors of a steel mesh deck, sasquatches and trolls too, but haven’t seen proof.  Reader Holly told me she was once on the bridge in a car over Thanksgiving.  On windy days, the police will caravan the cars to limit the speed.  Halfway across, they closed the bridge.  Ice chunks were breaking loose from the cables and pelting Holly’s car.  I understand Mr. Kring didn’t set the KOM in November’s Edmund Fitzgerald sinking gale force winds.  It was early September, where temperatures are in the lower 70’s, the leaves start thinking about changing colors and Da Yoopers start thinking about their sleds.  Digging into it, nearly all the people on the leaderboard rode the bridge in September.  2nd Place rode on Sept 2nd, 2012.  5th Place rode on September 6th 2009.  

According to our readers on Facebook Jeni and Seldomseen, native Yoopers from what I gather, the bridge is only open once or twice a year for pedestrian traffic, otherwise it’s a freeway.  One event authorities open the bridge for is the DALMAC bicycle tour, which takes place annually from Lansing to Mackinaw around Labor Day.  However, the 2013 application deadline has passed.  It’s a multi-day bike/camping tour.  So now you can guess that Mr. Kring might have set that KOM with some heavy gear as he rode up and over the Mackinac Bridge with strong crosswinds.  Either that or he took part in the Mackinaw City Bike Tour.  This year’s event is on September 15thClick here for details.  There’s still time for that, but only 400 some spots are available according to the website.  Like the Eminem song “Lose Yourself,” also a Michigan original, if you want this KOM, don’t let the opportunity slip.  The Mackinac Bridge is the most elusive Strava segment ever.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Reflections of Rimouski #juniors

I wrote it in my head while driving, riding my bike, showering.  I think I even tried to write this post in my sleep.  This post has been written at least fifty times. When you're behind the wheel of a team car and your kids are racing, you get lost between being a fan and a father.  With the race radio crackling in french and the window down, thoughts escape quickly.

Powerful events are hard to write about. On this blog, we like to keep things light and write about the humorous observation or the part of cycling that you don't read about in Velonews. Sometimes the slice of life isn't handed to you like a #5 at the drive through window.

While most adults head to the beach or the lake with their kids during the summer, I took 7 vacation days to drive a team car at a junior stage race in Canada. Unless you came up through the junior ranks, even most cycling fans haven't heard of Rimouski.  That's okay.  Some Rimouskians, weren't aware either, but impressively stopped what they were doing when the race passed their house or business and watched. Sometimes they were even surprised into watching. Take the plump, older man who was obviously surprised to see sixty bikes flying past his house with a full police escort, ten motorcycles, six organization cars following the race, fifteen team cars, then a broom wagon. I am hopeful that the Rimouski locals don't ALWAYS watch bike races on their porch in a blue thong, but hey, I was just happy he was watching the race. Of course I will never get that vision of him out of my head, hopefully the therapy will help.

However, no one takes 7 days of vacation and drives to Canada for the chuckle of seeing a big man in a little blue thong.  So why do it?  

It would be easy to expound on 150 teens staying in a two star hotel eating cafeteria style pasta every day. With several different languages in play there was no mistaking the guys checking out the French speaking girls and the girls checking out the leg shaving guys. There is a lot to see, hear, sometimes even smell.

However, Rimouski was more powerful than the evident situational humor, powerful enough that dads witnessing it could barely contain themselves. Dads seeing their kids learn that it is okay to be a cyclist, that there are other kids in the world that love their bikes, wearing lycra, and being fast.  That's a special moment.

Remember when you were a teen?  No matter what you were into, it felt weird to be 'different'.  Even if people didn't directly poke fun at you, you thought they were poking.  Admit it, no doubt, whatever circle you were in, you were probably laughing at someone else too.  It's part of growing up, learning who you are and being okay with it.

Spending a week in far-eastern Canada to support kids racing bikes isn't exactly the Dominican Republic beach vacation. I'll tell you one thing however, letting the kids have a week of racing and feeling accepted around other teens that giggle, text, roll eyes, check each other out, and still race bike fast while wearing lycra and shaving their legs is worth whatever drive was required.

Confidence isn't just about knowing how to ride the bike.

Friday, August 9, 2013

#Juniors: Riding Through Butterflies

Four years ago when I nudged my daughter Mackenzie into bike racing we had one consistent concern from week to week - butterflies. Not the kind of butterflies that flutter around your backyard and make little girls run with a net squealing with excitement, but the deep down nervousness that makes the stomach tighten and questions of doubt arise at the dinner table.

My kids were so tight, their stomachs so consumed with butterflies, they were afraid of being sick on the start line or on the bike.  I explained.  We all get nervous, especially when it matters.  Many adult racers go through the same thing.  My friends from BioWheels Gerry and Joe are known for it.  While making last minute equipment tweaks, I've heard them coughing at the team tent.  It happens, even to mom and dad.  It's a reflection that you care about what you're doing.  They'll fly away at the sound of the starter's pistol.  After several minutes of coaxing they'd typically loosen up a bit, at least enough to get them to start line.

Today, probably a few hundred races later, the butterflies before a normal Ohio Valley race have dulled to a mere blip on the radar screen. It's a local race, no big deal.  Occasionally something will rear its head, a misplaced glove or a rubbing wheel, and the wings of nervousness will flutter momentarily, but never long enough to escape the net of reason.  Lately, I thought they had migrated away. 

Not so.  There was nervousness tonight in Rimouski.  They were back, big red maple leaf winged Canadian butterflies. It wasn't unexpected.  It wasn't so much that this is a UCI level international stage race.  On top of that, it is their first time team time trial in a foreign country with hundreds of teens watching, kids their own age, peers.  At Mackenzie's side a French speaking Canadian counted down.  "Trois!  Deux!  Un!  Allez!"

Nothing was familiar tonight in Canada, except for one thing...the butterflies.  Now, after four years of racing, hundreds of start lines, the butterflies were back, but this time they were telling my kids everything would be okay.  This is normal.  This is how it is.  Now it feels familiar.  They were where they needed to be.  Like their colorful pretty fluttering cousins, this time the nervous butterflies we're comforting.  Without uttering a word every kid knew the butterflies would take them to the start and see them to the finish.