Monday, December 28, 2009

odds and ends, in abstentia

My ongoing back injuries have kept me off the saddle (and my sit bones) for the last 7 weeks, so I've curtailed my blogging--it's hard to write laying down. And even harder to think about cycling when it's just physically impossible.

However, I've made substantial improvements during the last two weeks, thanks, in part, to the excellent care of Dr. Mark Wurth, DC. Before each adjustment, he uses interferential stem therapy to loosen the muscles and tissues surrounding my bulging discs, which seems to make the "cracking" more effective. I hope to resume training in another week to ten days. Now if I could just take a break from all the damn snow shoveling, I might actually make a full recovery.

Today I'm sitting in a cool, funky coffee shop in Springfield, Missouri, the hometown of my wife's family. We're here until the middle of the week. Missouri State University's campus is expanding, and nearby downtown Springfield, such as it is, seems to be experiencing a slow renaissance and redevelopment. All of the old warehouse buildings and brick storefronts were boarded up as recenetly as ten years ago, but today I passed several cool looking clubs, a few vintage clothing boutiques, a theatre company, brew pub, and a really, really cool bike shop. The shop's owner is a Springfield native who returned after a decade in Chicago, and last year he sold over 200 fixies and single-speed commuters. I guess watching Cavdendish do this two years ago helped build the bike scene just a bit:

On a personal note, I've decided to accept an offer to race next season with Team Type 1, an Omaha-based regional affiliate of the Continental Pro team. I still plan to race a weekend or two with my Rocknasium brothers in Davis next year, but for the Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri races (12 on the schedule, woohoo!), TT1 offered the best mix of personalities. Many thanks to Pat Cash and Brandon Fenster, two proactive Omaha cyclists who helped me connect with the Omaha race scene. I'm really excited to see the results of Brandon's efforts to expand Bike Master's race team.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Justin Hall's Fantasy Bike Ride

A friend and teammate of mine back in Davis is a bit of a card player. Well, he's also a bit of a race-car driver, tech. company manager, and master's bike racer, but he's talked a fair amount about driving to Northern California casinos for "cash-flow positive recreation."

From the Sac Bee:

So how many poker-playing bike racers are there? I couldn't begin to guess. But I know of at least one--and man, do I have a bike ride for him.

Leaving my house in Country Club and rolling east through Omaha's residential neighborhoods  seemed a bit intimidating at first, but with my new-found  Omaha Commuter Map, I pieced together a route along side streets without a ton of stop signs:

For Omahans, I started at 49th and Blondo and followed Lincoln Blvd to 33rd, scooted over to Burt, and then continued east on Burt to the Quest center, using the new Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge as a sightline landmark.

I grew up in this town, and I thought I knew its streets pretty well. But I rode down boulevards and avenues I'd never seen, past some pretty stunning architecture:

When I got downtown after about 10 minutes of easy spinning through idyllic, historically preserved neighborhoods, I saw some immediate signs of Omaha's future:

That's the new home of the College World Series and Omaha's AAA baseball team; to the right is the new Qwest Center arena where Nebraska plays hockey and hosts the collegiate women's volleyball Final Four every few years. I think there's an NCAA basketball super regional scheduled there this year, too. Neither facility was even in the planning stages when Jess and I moved to Davis seven years ago.

Downtown, the riding changed from neighborhood side streets to multi-use bike paths:

That's the bridge over the Missouri River; it's reserved for non-motorized travel only. There's been a spate of vandalism lately, but the bridge provides a vital link from urban Omaha to a trail network that leads to the rural Loess Hills on the Iowa side of the river. 

After I crossed the river, I rolled along a nice, wide, multi-use path that followed the water south for 2 miles. But then things took a surreal, JHall-friendly turn.

See, Omaha let its AK-SAR-Ben horse-racing track die in the mid-1990's by refusing to allow the non-profit foundation that ran it to install slots to compete with newly built casinos on Native American reservation lands 30 miles away from town. However, Council Bluffs, IA decided that it couldn't watch all that gambling money drive north out of town to be deposited with the Omaha, Onawa, and Winnebago tribes, so the little Iowa town allowed Vegas gambling interests to build hotels and Riverboat casinos just across the river from downtown Omaha. 

So I'm rolling south on a perfectly lovely trail, and what do I see? I'll let the pictures tell the story:

The path actually meanders under the walkway from the hotel to the boat, through the parking garage, and past the boat itself:


On the other side? A continuance of the sylvan path. But wait! Wait? Just in case we override our compulsion to freak the hell out of the losers sitting around in a smoky haze and playing quarter slots at 10:00 on a Saturday morning by waddling past their tables in our spandex and cleats, we have another choice just two more miles down the trail:

Let's parlay those roulette winnings into a brunch-time run at the hold-'em table. We already have our Oakley's with us! Or better yet, let's sit down for a few hands of Omaha! There's a prime rib buffet for recovery! 

So, my new version of the 20-mile Davis to Dixon loop includes laboring over steep hills through midtown, surviving a tourist-dodging foray across a twelve-million dollar pedestrian bridge, and buzzing UNDER and past TWO riverboat casinos.

If I keep pedaling south along this trail, I can eventually link up with the Wabash Trace, a crushed limestone rail-to-trail conversion that runs 70 miles into Missouri. Evidently, every hairy-legged Fred in Omaha convenes on this thing for a drunken, often topless weekly  Taco Ride during the Summer. 

Justin, pay me a visit; I'll take you you on a Poker Ride with a Taco Ride for an encore.

Things have definitely taken a turn toward the bizarre.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Walking Home From School in Country Club


One of the pleasures of living this dissertation-writing life is being able to pick up my kids from school every day. Sure, it's sometimes a hassle; their day ends at 3:45, while my research and reading time could easily extend until 10:00 or 11:00 every night. However, the girls are always happy to see me. How often can we say that about the adults in our lives?

Another bonus, at least this week, has been the weather. I've bitched and moaned about snow, frost, rain, clouds, and the general bleakness of this autumn. But the Octobers I remember from my childhood here were always vividly lit with color of primary brightness. We enjoyed a day like that on Tuesday.

I know that in Davis the Sierras would peek out from behind the Central Valley haze on days like this, and I miss the hell out of that. I really do. But the colors I saw on a five-block walk through our neighborhood reminded me of why I so missed Midwest autumns when we lived in California.
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My Nebraska Version of the Twenty-Mile Loop

So I roll right out the door of the house, down a boulevard through a residential neighborhood (on a bike lane), catch a muti-use path through a local park, and then hop onto a trail very much like the American River bikepath in Sacramento. 10 miles out and back, usually with a lot of wind.

The next challenge is technical: get the Polat 625X data into Training Peaks--AND transfer the MapMyRide files from the iPhone onto that platform as well. IO suppose the best solution is an ANT-compatible Garmin GPS-enabled computer and a wireless Powertap, but unless I win a lottery or publish my book WAY ahead of schedule....

Thursday, October 22, 2009

So This One Time, Like, Three Months Just Totally Fell In My Lap?

Wool, like, so, I need to umm, ya know--save some stuff? For my dissertation? I have like, hella sources. Hella sources, bro.

So what I need is a database to, uhh, track these sources? .Pdf's da bombs, man, but I can't be printing those out for reals. Thousands a pages. Okay? So like, I gotta take notes on all these manuscripts too, and, wool, ya know--that's a lotta typing.

Then the bibliography's killing me. Killing, bro. How am I gonna, like, sort all that hella data, keep track of my notes on that shizzle, and cite it all? Damn. Putting together a works cited page with 350 entries? DAMN!

Then, I found this:

This Zotero stuff lets me store all kinds of pages: .pdf's of old-time books and shit, webpages, blogs, newspaper and magazine stuff, scholarly journals.... I can assign tags to track all those muthas, and take notes on it all. And then it builds me a works cited page as I type! Damn! Motherlode, you hear me? Empathize, canine?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Return of the Big Daddy

Irony: an utterance with an intended meaning which differs from its literal meaning. For example, when I tell this guy:

"Nice hat,"  I probably mean to denigrate his choice of head cover. So the expression, "Nice hat!" really means "Good grief, man. Get a clue. You'll never get a girl to talk to you when you have that ridiculous thing on your noggin!"

So, to names.  My female Aggie teammates called me either "Big Daddy" or "Daddy-O," in part because I once compared my protectiveness and concern for their welfare after a crash to a sense of paternal worry. Watching my friends Linnea, Marisa, Amanda, and Amy all hit the deck in various crashes made me sick to my stomach in a way that felt eerily similar to the time my daughter Katie fell off the back of the couch and cut her chin. Compared to Marisa's broken pelvis and Linnea's fractured vertebra, Katie's wound was tiny and superficial, but both categories of wounds affected me the same way--I wanted to destroy worlds to make them safe.

I was also the only member of the team with a pint-sized cheering section:

That's my wife and daughters at the collegiate conference championship road race in 2006. The guy wearing his helmet while warming up on a trainer knew something the rest of us didn't: about five minutes after this picture was taken,  he fell over sideways and took out most of the line. 

My "Big Daddy" nickname also had something to do with the fact that I'm rather, uhh, large for a bike racer. That second year, I raced at 6'2" and 200 lbs--down from 220 my first season. Amongst the young and fit of the UC Davis Cal-Aggie Cycling Team, I was an old whale.

Now that I'm back in Omaha, everyone seems to make comments about how little of me has returned from California. And for the first time in my life on the bike, I'm not the last one to the top of every climb.  I rode again last Sunday with Pat Cash and the Omaha Pedalers, the same group I rode with right before I blew out my back and lost two weeks waiting for the spasms to subside. This time, they showed me a rolling route through the hills and Elkhorn River bottomlands northwest of Omaha. We enjoyed the first sunshine I'd seen in two weeks and some great conversation amidst golden hues and mellow autumn light.

In 50 miles, we did almost 1,500 feet of climbing, mostly in the form of sharp, punchy power climbs. However, one ascent reached 5% and took almost 6 minutes to summit. In contrast, a 50-mile ride from Davis around Cantelow, a training hill about 25 miles from town, features only 900 feet of climbing.

I was able to stay with the lead group over each and every one of these little rollers, and I even managed to cover two attacks when Jake decided to get a little frisky.

I felt pretty good in the saddle, and I've managed to endure two weeks of inactivity without piling on the pounds, a welcome change from the last two off-seasons. Big Daddy ain't quite so big, especially here in beef country.

I still can't sit at my desk and write for more than 30 minutes at a time, but I feel better today than yesterday, when I felt better than the day before. Now if only I could re-trace the routes these guys have shown me.

Oh, and BTW--today, Pat emailed me with the appellation "E.O'B." So it's followed me back here, too. From high school in Omaha to college in Kansas City, from post-collegiate professional life to grad school in California, "EOB" has followed me like a bloodhound on the scent of a criminal. So to all my new cycling buddies in Omaha, let's just get it over with now: my friends call me "E." Or "EOB."

Sheesh. All this stuff about identity....

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Testing mobile blogging. Whee!

Recipe for Disaster

1 195lb stupid human
1 chronically vulnerable L4 / L5 spinal disc
1 bulging S1 / S2 spinal disc 
4 days driving across the country
13 20lb boxes of books
1 flight of rickety stairs
6 built bookshelves
3 weeks of skipped core / flexibility workouts
55 hilly miles
1 skipped cool-down
1 enthusiastic eight year-old girl

  • Actualize the stupidity of man. 
  • Herniate discs playing basketball in 1998. 
  • Drive 1500 miles in four days (with an optional 2 days hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park)
  • Arrive at your destination and immediately start hauling books into your upstairs office. 
  • Meanwhile, completely and utterly neglect any sort of preventative back or core therapy. Allow hamstrings to tighten like spun rubber bands. 
  • Spend 2 weeks off the bike and then jump straight into a 50-mile ride which includes several steep power climbs of 2-3 minutes each. 
  • Ignore ache in back and forgo cool-down or post-ride stretching
  • Attempt to hurry 8 year-old into a Honda Civic the next day
  • Spend two weeks in near constant pain. Serves 1.
So yeah, that sucked.  I can't sit. Imagine that--a reader and writer who can't sit at his desk for two weeks. Now imagine that same poor bastard not riding his bike, an activity which usually alleviates all of his stress.

Back to the ride: I sent emails to several local cycling organizations and received any number of welcoming replies. Pat Cash of the Omaha Pedlers kindly invited me to join their group for 50 miles two Saturdays ago. My other option was a charity century sponsored by Bike Masters, a local shop which sponsors Team Kaos, a local team that sent a rider to Bissell to race with my friend Paul last year. I didn't think I had 100 miles in me, so I met Pat and his merry band of outlaws at Democracy park, a small swath of green space nestled at the northern end of Omaha's Keystone Trail."Look, ma: hyperlinks! I learned how to use hyperlinks! In my blog! Ma! Ma! Ma mamamamama! Didja see me? Didja? Watch, ma! Watch me! I'm gonna use a hyperlink!"

The group reminded me of the Davis Bike Club's Over-the Hill Gang (no offense, Pat--they're really not that old, either): recreational riders out for a spin at near-warp speeds. They showed me some spectacular roads in the hills north of town--and embarrassed the hell out me by insisting that I, as a ride "virgin," pose with one the figures of a sculpture commemorating the spot where Lewis and Clark crossed the Missouri and met with the Omaha Indians.

"There's more of us coming--but we always keep our promises..."

As you can tell from my kit, the weather bit into the skin--50 degrees and windy. In early October. See earlier post for inane anti-winter muttering.

I really enjoyed riding with these people, and they put the wood to me on three different climbs.

Then I spent two weeks (almost, now) crippled. Dumb. Work your core, kids!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Of titles and inspirations:

And you know it's time to go
Through the sleet and driving snow
Across the fields of mourning
Light in the distance

And you hunger for the time
Time to heal, desire time
And your earth moves beneath
Your own dream landscape

[. . . ]

And your heart beats so slow
Through the rain and fallen snow
Across the fields of mourning
Lights in the distance

Oh don't sorrow, no don't weep
For tonight, at last
I am coming home
I am coming home

Transitions are a bitch

As if worrying about where to shop for groceries, when to pick up the kids, how to take care of my ailing mother, where to put the computer, who to ride with, where to ride, how to harvest brussel sprouts, which internet company to use, and all of the other assorted quotidian and workaday logistics weren't enough to occupy my time, now I have to think about Winter? In October?

This blog will serve three purposes, I hope:
1. Keep my California friends apprised of my work, play, and athletic life. They all said, "Keep in touch."  Well, hell. Here we go.
2. Give me a bit of an outlet for meandering thoughts about my work.
3. Force me into the daily discipline of updating the thing each morning, thereby encouraging me to get off my figurative ass and do something productive.

So the above paragraph (the one above the above, actually) serves as an apt example, I hope, of #1. But also, a newly discovered #4: existential musings.

I write about culture in lots of different ways, and the sudden onrush of winter has gotten me to thinking about how change approaches us. I was expecting a slow, gradual transformation from Summer to Autumn, with a Keatsian flair for good measure. Keats: "Ode to Autumn"
 I often lamented that Davis had two seasons: hot and rain. Sure, one could traipse off to the Sierra for a good dose of Winter or drive to the Bay to mitigate the oppressive July heat. But in Nebraska, ya just can't do that. Drive 100 miles? The weather's exactly the same when you get out of the car. 

So the climate is both more and less monotonous here. The difference has to do with spatial and temporal displacement. In Omaha, temporality brings liminality: sit still for not so long, and the weather will change. A lot. In Davis, move spatially for a bit, and the weather changes. A lot.

Problem is, a bike racer / nomadic wanderer can affect change much more easily in Norcal than in Nebraska. Waking up to five inches of snow--on October 11, for chirssakes--is a perfect example of the complete lack of control one has in Nebraska. I was shocked. And because I was expecting and hoping for a long, delicate slide from Summer into Autumn, jumping almost straight into Winter freaked me out.

Sure, the snow melted. Sure, the leaves on the massive oak in my backyard are still green. But damn. The gods said, "Hey, E! Guess what? It's gonna be cold and wet as hell here this Winter, and you volunteered for this! Sucker. The memory of every ride you skipped in Davis because it was too "cold" is going to gnaw at your soul. Bah hah ha ha." 

So, we come to exposition at the end rather than the beginning (I'm a postmodern Romanticist, after all): I have recently moved back to Omaha after six years of graduate school in Davis, California. The reasons for this spatial and geographical shift are legion, but the main ones are:
  • My wife lost her Kindergarten teaching job to CA state budget cuts, and Omaha Public Schools offered her a contract. 
  • My Grandmother died this Summer, and my dear mother really needed (needs) some family support as she tries to deal with her grief. 
  • My department (English, UC Davis) was kind enough to scrape up some fellowship and research money to spare me a teaching obligation for a couple of quarters.
I'm going to set a few goals here, in public, and encourage friends and supporters to call me on them every now and again.
  • Complete my dissertation by August of 2010. 
  • Publish a journal article by June 2010.
  • Present a paper at a major conference by June 2010. 
  • Place top 3 in the Nebraska State Championship / Cornhusker State Games time trial in April of 2010.
  • Finish on the podium in a master's race in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas or Missouri in 2010. 

I also have goals as a father and husband and friend, but really, how do we quantify those? So blog purpose #5 will be to examine my life as a cyclist. But purpose #1 is also geared toward being a better friend, ain't it?

I'm a dad, husband, son, teacher (not teaching and how that's killing me slowly will be a future topic, I'm sure), scholar, friend, and bike racer. I hope to use this forum to investigate how in the hell I can manage all that without losing my mind. In Omaha. In Winter.

Thanks for reading.