Wednesday, March 31, 2010

cheating on Wordsworth; NOT about the bike

I've had Richard Hugo on the brain for the last two days. This happens sometimes; poets who are unrelated to my dissertation project cut in on my dance with Wordsworth and agrarianism. I suppose I have a hard time remaining intellectually monogamous, but over the last two months, I've had distracting dalliances with Sandburg, Auden, Yeats, and now Hugo.

I worry sometimes that these digressions mean that I'm turning into a dilettante--or that I've always been one. The dissertation phase of a doctorate is supposed to involve a complete immersion in one small aspect of literary study and theory; I'm supposed to emerge from it as an "expert" about that one thing. But there's so much to learn about Wordsworth and agricultural revolution that I can't grasp it all without coming up for air every now and again. So I meditate or ruminate over a different poetics, trying to clear out my vision. Or maybe I'm just fickle--an eternal reader of anthologies rather than collected works.

But the rhythms and cadences of a new or old familiar poet open up new channels in the body, and their metaphors activate parts of the brain that otherwise lay dormant without their influence. It's a lot like a lonely longing for a new friend or lover:  a simple desire to use the crutch of someone else to catalyze the discovery of a part of myself that I thought I'd lost or never even knew existed.

I'll be 40 soon. I've been involved with my wife for almost 15 years. I've been studying Romanticism for almost eight. So I guess a thinker just has to remind himself, every now and again, that despite all the other delectable options, he's most comfortable on his old familiar road.

Hugo and step-daughter, 1974

"Glen Uig"
Believe in this couple this day who come
to picnic in the Faery Glen. They pay rain
no matter, or wind. They spread their picnic
under a gale-stunted rowan. Believe they grew tired
of giants and heroes and know they believe
in wise tiny creatures who live under the rocks.

Believe these odd mounds, the geologic joke
played by those wise tiny creatures far from
the world's pitiful demands: make money, stay sane.
Believe the couple, by now soaked to the skin,
sing their day as if dry, as if sheltered inside
Castle Ewen. Be glad Castle Ewen's only a rock
that looks like a castle. Be glad for no real king.

These wise tiny creatures, you'd better believe,
have lived through it all: the Viking occupation,
clan torturing clan, the Clearances, the World War
II bomber gone down, a fiery boom
on Beinn Edra. They saw it from here. They heard
the sobs of last century's crofters trail off below
where every day the Conon sets out determined for Uig.
They remember the Viking who wandered off course,
under the hazelnut tree hating aloud all he'd done.

Some days dance in the bracken. Some days go out
wide and warm on bad roads to collect the dispossessed
and offer them homes. Some days celebrate addicts
sweet in their dreams and hope to share with them
a personal spectrum. The loch here's only a pond,
the monster is in it small as a wren.

Believe the couple who have finished their picnic
and make wet love in the grass, the tiny wise creatures
cheering them on. Believe in milestones, the day
you left home forever and the cold open way
a world wouldn't let you come in. Believe you
and I are that couple. Believe you and I sing tiny
and wise and could if we had to eat stone and go on.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Letter to Velonews


In your web article about the final stage at Redlands, the first mention of Phil Zajicek in paragraph eight is really confusing: 

"A break went on the next lap and included Andy Jacques-Maynes (Bissell), Davide Frattini (Team Type 1), Pat McCarty (Yahoo!), Tyler Wren (Jamis-Sutter Home), Lachlan Morton (Holowesko Partners), Dan Bowman (Kelly Benefit Strategies) and Corey Collier and Jason Donald (Bahati Foundation). They built a maximum lead of about three minutes.

Collier, McCarty and Pinfold worked the front of the group over the next two laps and the gap went to 50 seconds after Zajicek dropped back to the field to help protect his GC leader."
Paragraph seven lists the participants in the day's breakaway yet fails to indicate Zajicek's presence. Paragraph eight fails to include Zajicek's first name, a violation of one of journalism's most basic rules. The combination of the two paragraphs creates a tremendous amount of confusion for the reader: who is this Zajicek person, and how can he drop out of a break he's not even in to defend his team leader? 
Wait, who's his team leader? We have no idea, because the paragraph also fails to indicate for which team Zajicek races! We finally learn all of this factual data in paragraph 16, but by that point in the story, the reader has most likely lost the plot.

I really, really like Velonews as both a website and print publication, but these types of errors are cropping up more and more often in your stories. I normally overlook minor stylistic and mechanical snafus in the cycling press, because I know that my eye is has been affected by years of grading undergraduate essays.  But this example about Zajicek really ruins your reporting and takes the reader completely out of the flow of the race. If you're trying to build readership by making the sport of cycling more exciting and accessible, such errors create ambiguities that interfere with that objective.

I know that web-based and technology culture necessitates haste and creates impossible deadlines, but some improved copy-editing would make your stories about bike racing much more exciting.  And believe me, that’s all your readers want. 

See the complete piece here

Friday, March 26, 2010

Crashing in the Ozarks: "Ride safe, Aggie."

On Tuesday, I completed a 50-mile ride through the rolling countryside west of Springfield, Missouri. The landscape was classically pastoral: cattle grazing on hillsides, wandering streams surrounded by riparian swaths of trees, open fields of newly emergent green. Once I got beyond the Springfield city limits, I was passed by only two cars in 45 miles, and both of them gave me a wide berth as they went around me.

That Missourian kindness and courtesy became really crucial on Wednesday, when I went down hard on a descent in the Ozarks. 

I parked my car at the post office in Oldfield, a tiny little hamlet southeast of Springfield in the Ozark foothills. The terrain reminded me of Duncan's Mills in Sonoma County, without the redwoods and the Pacific air. Still, I was in a sort of heaven, spinning along in short sleeves, cruising down hills, and trying to power up ascents.

The bike felt good, too. The CCR 1 frame that Fuji sent me to ride until my new SL-1 warranty replacement arrives was solid, if unassuming. It dampned plenty of vibration and seemed to resist torsional flex better than my old Team Issue. The CCR series is Fuji's first entry into the "Plush" category, the sort of bike that Bicycling describes as "performance-comfort."

This ride marked my sixth time out on the loaner frame and the new cables that True Wheel installed when they transferred my old Dura-Ace 7800 gruppo from the old frame. Of course, I know that cables stretch. I know that after a few rides, the limit screws have to be adjusted. And, of course, I forgot about all that as I tucked in for a long descent.

When I hit the bottom of the valley, I started shifting the chain up the rear cassette, trying maintain a high cadence for the climb up the other side. But I realized I was getting cross-chained since I forgot to shift onto the little ring in front. I tried to correct it. I tried--but I threw the chain completely off the rear cassette and lodged it between the cassette body and the rear spokes. That's a rookie mistake, but the cables had stretched just enough to let the chain fall off the big cog in the back.

My rear wheel stopped spinning, and I went into a power skid at about 18 miles an hour.

I thought for a moment about my old teammate Shannon Still, remembering the horror of watching him go flying down the Sweetwater Springs descent during my first year of Aggie training camp. He had a rear tire blowout so severe that the tube exploded out the sidewall and wrapped around the break caliper, effectively stopping his rear wheel. The rim started shooting sparks into the air as it got ground down on the asphalt. He stayed upright, miraculously, and slid into a ditch on the side of the road. Justin Morgan, Brooke Roberts and I all talked long and hard about how close we'd come to disaster. Luckily, Shannon's wife was wine tasting nearby, so she was able to stop and pick him up.

About an hour later, someone who shall remain nameless led our paceline through a rockfall on HWY 116, and I blew MY rear tire apart on a sharp piece of granite. I flatted SEVEN times during the next 17 miles; the sidewall slit was so big that nothing--empty GU packs, tire patches, a dollar bill--could boot the tire, so new inner tubes kept blowing through the slit. Our group of ten guys literally ran out of spare tubes, so I sent them ahead to Bodega Bay on the coastal HWY 1 while I hoofed it on the shoulder. They had to ride 11 miles back to our camp HQ and get a car to come pick me up. After 15 minutes of walking with my bike on my shoulder, a young couple in an SUV picked me up and drove me back to the lodge. But I promptly forgot to call Shannon to tell him that I had made it back safely. He drove up and down HWY 1 for an hour, looking for me, while I sat in the dining hall and told the rest of the team about the day's disasters. Whoops.

As I contemplated the beginning of my emerging Ozark disaster, I thought about Shannon's Kysrium Elite rim getting ground down as he skidded down the hill. I thought to myself, "I hope my tire holds." I think I might have said, "Stay loose. You're going down."

And I did. I tried to lay the bike down and slide on my left ass cheek, the one I've torn up twice before by deliberately sliding out rather than hitting a wall of crashed riders during crit races. But I high-sided it and got thrown hard toward the grassy ditch on the right side of the road. I landed on the back of my right shoulder and rolled at least once, coming to rest on my back about 10 feet off the road. My legs were sticking straight up in the air, my feet still clipped in, holding the bike above my body.

I lay still for a moment and considered the brilliant blue of the spring sky. I felt the soft grass under my back. I noticed the barbed-wire fence stretched just above my head. I studied a dun cow chewing its cud as it decided how to respond to the lycra-clad idiot who had just cartwheeled into the ditch.

I let my extended legs slump to the right of my body and carefully unclipped my feet from the pedals. I stood up and rolled my shoulders a few times; nothing felt sprained or broken. I felt some road rash on my right calf.

Then I looked at the bike.

The rear derailleur was stuck between two spokes and the top of the right chainstay. When the derailleur got caught in the wheel, the stoutness of the the Mavic bladed spokes had severed the derailleur hanger and pulled the derailleur itself from beneath the chain stay, flung it all the way around the wheel's rotation, and lodged it atop of the right chainstay. I've never seen anything like it.

I lacked a chain tool in my seat bag, so I couldn't break the chain and shorten it enough to loop around the rings in the front and the cassette in the back without running it through the derailleur pulleys. I was basically stuck below an Ozark ridge line, about nine miles away from my car. I tried to call my wife, but my cell phone had no signal. No cars had come by in the 10 minutes I'd been fiddling around with my bike.


When a huge F-250 pickup finally came rumbling around the curve in the road, I almost didn't stick out my thumb. I mean, the truck just screamed "bike-hating redneck!" but I thought, "what the hell?" The truck slowed a bit but basically blew right by me, so I shouldered the bike and started to walk up the road. But about 2 minutes later, I heard the truck growling back down the hill toward me. The driver rolled down his window and asked, "Need a hand?"

"I left my car up at Oldfield. Can you drop me off?"

"Can do. Throw the bike in the back and hop in."

The driver's wife told me that she'd asked him to stop because, "You never know who mighta picked you up back in those woods."

I thanked them profusely.

She asked, "Ya'll sure ride around here a lot, huh? We always see bikers in the hills back there."

"Well, I'm from out of town, but I hear it's a popular route," I said.

"Bet you got some speed coming down this hill, huh?" the driver asked. "Where else were you going to ride?"

I described the loop I'd read about-- 50 hilly miles. The wife asked, "And you can do all that in one DAY?"

"Well, not now," I said.

"Wow. Wow!" said the wife. "That's a long way!" She introduced herself: "I'm Randi, and this here's Rob. Where you from?"

"I live in Omaha right now," I told her, "But I've been teaching in Davis, California for the last few years."

"Hear that, Robbie?" she squealed. "You did a short course at UC-Davis, didn't you?"

"Sure did," said Robbie.

"Robbie here's a vet. He took a course on embryonic something or other there at the University in Davis."

Robbie added, "I did my graduate work at Mizzou, but they sent us to UC-Davis for a quarter. Good riding THERE, huh?" he asked me. "Small world."

I didn't know what to say.  

As they dropped me off in Oldfield, Randi squealed goodbye.

Robbie simply said, "Ride safe, Aggie."

I put my broken bike in the roof rack and drove back to my in-laws' house in Springfield.

I resolved to never again assume anything about the drivers of massive pickup trucks.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Springfield Errata: of bike rides, Mamet, and Wordsworth

I saw two signs during my first ride in Springfield this week, and both were laden with irony that made me laugh out loud. 

First, just in case I ever forget why I left advertising, let's thank David Mamet for summing up the art of the deal: "coffee's for closers!"

I guess if I wanted to get back into sales, I could start in Springfield:

Then, about three miles down the road, I stopped laughing about Mamet when I passed another real piece of real estate. Notice the daffodils in the foreground? Readers who have studied British poetry or who know my work will already be laughing, but for the rest of you, here's the bit of Wordsworth that made me nearly crash when I saw the sign:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

This poem summarizes one of the great contributions that Wordsworthian Romanticism made to Western thought: Nature can heal. It steals into our imagination and provides us with nourishment when "recollected in tranquility."

One of the lakes where Wordsworth often "wandered" was called Windermere:

I crashed hard while training in the Ozarks yesterday. More details to follow, but my body's fine. The bike, however, is out of comission. No crit for me this weekend!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Midday Encounters on the Keystone Trail

Force reps today. Blech. The Max Testa lexicon taught to me by Judd van Sickle at UC Davis called these kinds of intervals "SFR," which is an esoteric acronym for something in Italian. Basically, you climb a moderate hill (or ride against headwind while towing two small children in a Burley trailer) at a low cadence like 50-60 rpm. While pedaling, you maintain a heart rate below ME, or medium endurance / zone 3. I had to crank out about six of these, so I rode into the southerly wind on the Keystone.

During one of my recovery breaks, a guy in a Midwest Cycling Community kit rode by me going the other direction and yelled out, "E.O.B!" I'd never seen him before in my life.

That nickname has followed me since high school. I was on the editorial board of the schools nascent literary magazine. Yep, I was English dork and proud of it. We read a lot of submissions every semester, and attached to each one was a cover letter with three columns: name, yes/no/maybe, and comments. I used to initial my name as EOB, and the name stuck.

A high school friend also went to Rockhurst for college and imported it there. How it followed me into my early twenties life back in Omaha escapes me, but it was pretty common then, too. My theatre friends may have learned it from a girl I knew in high school. I thought when I went to Davis for grad school it would stop there, but the race director of the Davis Bike Club used to address emails to everybody by using their initials, and he used EO'B on a lot of correspondence that got cc'd to the whole team, so there you go. "E." "EOB." "Fat ass." I answer to all of them.

I also had a nice encounter with a group of folks who seemed to be savoring the first nice day of the year. As I rolled south and tried to finish a really hard interval, I came up behind a group of 10 or so pedestrians strung out all over the width of the trail. I gritted my teeth in frustration and reminded myself to be polite,  but as I rolled up to them, I saw that two of the group's members were wearing matching polo shirts and trying to shepherd their companions along. One looked back at me and apologized as she tried to steer everyone over to the right side of the trail so I could pass. I was going so slowly by then that I was almost in a track stand, so I told her, "No problem. I've got plenty of room and I'm in no hurry." 

The remaining eight pedestrians were so engrossed by the brilliant sky, the flowing water in the creek, the windswept grass, and the feel of the sun on their faces that they cared not a whit about moving to one side of the trail. I weaved between them, trying to let them know I was passing, but only one looked at me. Her smile literally extended across her entire face, and she waved with every muscle in her upper body as she did a little skip dance with her feet. After I rolled by, I turned and waved back over my shoulder before I accelerated away. I think I heard her say, "Faaassst."

The next time I hear somebody use the word "retarded' in a pejorative way, they're going to get an earful.

Alex Chilton, 1950-2010

Like most people my age, I owe my knowledge of Big Star to Paul Westerberg. I'll insist to anyone who'll listen that "Alex Chilton" is one of the five best pop songs of the eighties.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Uh, oh--he works in a bike shop?!

When my wife gets home in the afternoon, I sometimes act like a dog that's been locked up alone all day: "Hi hi hi hi hi hi hi!"

See, I'm a bit isolated by the writing process. Trying to finish a dissertation is a lonely endeavor, especially when one's advisers and fellow students are 1,500 miles away. I also live in a town with no doctorate-granting schools. I know Creighton University awards law and medicine degrees, but those folks are just a different breed.

No one I know here in Omaha has been through this process of writing a 300-page academic book. I could try to reconnect with my old faculty at UNO, but they have students and projects of their own to worry about. So I have very little human interaction in my work. I basically sit inside all day and read .pdf scans of documents owned by the British or Bodleian Libraries. I try to get out every now and then by volunteering in Abbey and Katie's school and by riding my bike, but lately the cycling's been a bit solitary, too.

I think the riding here in Omaha could be great, but pedaling along the Keystone Trail in late winter is a motivation-killing slog through a succession of browns and grays unrelieved by any aesthetic beauty.  The hills north of town are pretty, but I don't often have time to get out there. I either ride an out-and-back south from Country Club through UNO to the Keystone, or I head east down Burt to the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge toward the levee trails in Iowa. I need to find a more inspiring loop--but then again, I'll never find the Vaca mountains beckoning me, will I?

I used to reach 47 mph on that descent--notice the root word has a "c" that's missing in the video's title. God, I miss Cardiac Grade. 

I'm also spinning alone these days because I haven't met enough people to ride with. I'm a bit too fast for casual recreational riders (although I love riding with slower folks--just not on my harder training days), and I'm still too slow to hang with the real racers. My training right now is all about the long, slow base miles which the other racers all finished by mid-January or February. The Cougar has invited me to sit in on the Bike Masters Wednesday night ride, but a race pace would be really counterproductive right now, especially so soon after recovering from my back injury and with so few base miles in my legs.

That's one of the things I miss most about Davis, I guess: lots and lots of people on bikes. On warm Spring days (which usually occur from November through May), you'll see more bikes than cars on the roads around town. And the racing? Here's the Pro 1/2 field in Winters, CA, a 20-minute drive away:

Popular races would fill 7-10 categories with 50-100 entries each, and many of these events were less than an hour's drive away. I sometimes drove two or three hours to a race, but not that often. And one could race both Saturday and Sunday every weekend from February to September.

If I ever rode or trained alone in Norcal, it was by choice--a decision I made about half the time. But if I wanted company, I could post to my collegiate team's listserv, email my master's team, or drop a note on the message board of the local club. If I simply said, "Leaving Bike Barn at 2:45 pm for 2.5 hours with 5 ME intervals,"  6 random people would show up. And the recurring race rides on Tuesday afternoons, Tuesday/Thursday evenings, and Saturday mornings would average 30-60 people--some of whom were professionals fast enough to string the ride out at 23 mph during warm-ups, 27 during accelerations, and 30+ for the sprints. Imagine pulling through in a rotating paceline with 30 other guys at 30 mph for five miles while another 20 are hanging on the back and 25 more are getting dropped.

Trade that kind of riding for the long, solo, freezing traverses I've been putting in lately? It's been tough. Yes, I know the weather's about to turn. I know that I'll meet a lot of cool people at races and on group rides. I know that nearly everyone who rides a bike is constitutionally awesome, even if there are fewer of them per capita here in Omaha than in Davis. And I've met some great people in the last five months, so I'm optimistic about the season.

But I gotta meet more people. I need to get out of my attic every now and again. So I accepted a job offer from my old friend Miah Sommer: I'm going to work one shift a week at the Trek Store here in Omaha. I know, I know--people who work in bike shops don't actually ride their bikes. I call this phenomenon the "Andrew Wike Corollary," so named after a pretty good Cat 3 racer who's quit riding his bike since he went full-time at Davis Wheelworks. Miah himself supposedly has a custom Serotta hanging in his garage, but I've never seen it.

However, I hereby pledge to use this part-part-part-time job as a cycling-inducing aspect of my life. I'll use the weekly commute to the store as a training ride, and all my earnings will go toward gear and nutrition purchases. And, hopefully, I'll meet a few like-minded members of the clan, fellow devotees of the noblest invention.

Now if I could only find some other doctoral candidates in the Humanities to talk to....
What's that bright orb up in the sky?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Of back injuries, labor unrest, bike training, and Yeats.

A guy I don't know yet writes a blog about cycling and writing here in Omaha. He's also a dad, so we obviously have a lot in common. We're also both reeling from layoffs--he lost a job at a newspaper, my wife lost hers in teaching.  And we also share the scourge of recurring back injuries; his last blog post examined his frustration with his recovery process. 

I thought about that post as I sat in Mark Wurth's chiropractic office yesterday and got the news I'd been waiting five months to hear: full steam ahead. He cleared me to pursue all the athletic training I wanted, with one HUGE caveat: "If it hurts, stop. That kind of back pain," he said, "is your canary in the coal mine." 

Of course, the Marxist in me immediately thought about Thatcher's repression of the miner's strike. I thought about Kevin Green and I watching The Molly Maguires, a great film about Irish nationalists standing in solidarity with labor activists. And this song played in my head: 

The chorus starts: "I'm hanging on. / You're all that's left to hold on to. / And I'm still waiting." That's an apt summation of life after a job layoff, huh? Work falls apart, so we cling to our lovers and friends while we "pray for better days." But we should all be thankful that we don't depend on jobs down in the mine.  (Fans of the esoteric nature of my allusions may notice that my blog's title also comes from a U2 song. I think I've finally lost a fifteen years-long argument with my wife: who was the best band of the 80's?  I argued for The Smiths and The Police, but Jessica always says U2.  Crap. I think she's right. And if any of you freaking Bon Jovi concert attendees says a word, I'm off of you for life.)

So after he unknowingly reminded me that I'm lucky I don't have to risk my life doing my job, the chiropractor cleared me for unlimited training on the bike. And that's a form of recreation, right? A way to have fun? As long as I don't cause myself any pain, according to Dr. Wurth, I can go play as much as I want.

But cycling romanticizes--and demands--suffering more than any other sport. I've played pretty good high school football, wrestled, and run track. I've dabbled in recreation league basketball. I've spent a fair amount of time in weight rooms. But I can honestly say that cycling hurts more than any other sport I've tried to play.

A good friend of mine just finished a half-marathon. Another finished an Ironman in Kona last year. I doubt my bike racing has ever hurt as much as these women did during their races. But in my experience, cycling is all about physical and emotional suffering. Doing hill repeats with Paul Mach up Cardiac almost made me weep--and he usually finished seven trips up the hill in the amount of time it took me to do five.

So yeah, training hurts. And the crashes! Nearly every cyclist I know has broken a bone by falling off a bike. One broke a hip, another a pelvis, and another a vertebra. I've seen friends carted off race courses in ambulances. I can think of six friends with plates on their collarbones. Even an uber-cautious (cowardly) racer like me has gone down half a dozen times. 

Yet we all still ride and race--because we love it. We love the pain. Our souls soar when the suffering ramps up, and our spirits plummet when we get dropped by faster riders. I'll never, ever be able to follow anyone up a long hill, so I hurt every time my teammates disappear up the road without me. But I keep throwing my leg over the top tube and pining a number on my jersey. 

I've won a team time trial with an acute lumbar disc herniation. I've raced crits with agonizing back spasms. Can I even conceive of a race season without some pain? Isn't winning a race all about being able to suffer more than the next guy?

But here's the larger question, for which the bike riding query is just a synecdoche: can I do anything worth doing without hurting myself? 

Lots of things in my life have hurt lately: missing absent friends, watching the kids try to adjust to a new school and home. And writing a dissertation is a protracted exercise in masochism. It ain't coal mining, but it still hurts. 

I just wonder if it has to. Does everything worth doing have to bruise me somehow?

W.B. Yeats was on the fence about this idea throughout his career. On the one hand, he thought writing was supposed to hurt. Here's the opening of "Adam's Curse:"

We sat together at one summer's end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, 'A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.'

Of course, the poem then examines the ways in which life as a woman is harder than making any poetry. Yeats eventually agrees with this claim, but maybe he knew a thing or two about pain since he suffered with an unrequited love throughout his entire adult life. 

In his later years, Yeats again examined the interplay between pain and work: 
Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance? 

After a lifetime spent suffering for art, love, and Ireland, Yeats decided that only play and joy can inspire great work. Scourging our physicality isn't a prerequisite of spiritual cleanliness, and beautiful art doesn't require pain.  

So I'm going to ride my bike tomorrow, and I'll try to write some more of my book. Sure, both things will be hard. Here's another wise man's thoughts on that:


"Avoid the clap." Truer words were never written on a baseball. 

Sure, they're hard, but the book and the bike don't have to tear me apart. All that suffering is self-inflicted. I'm going to try to remember that I'm blessed with the chance to pursue a passion in my work and that I'm extremely lucky to climb back on the bike.  

So if you see a guy laughing maniacally while riding a bike on the Keystone Trail or giggling while staring into a computer at Blue Line coffee, it'll be me. 

Trying to care for my canary.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Today I looked up in the sky and saw a huge, many-vectored "V" of geese that looked 40-50 birds long and two-three echelons deep on each side. Then, I saw about 30 more stretched out over the sky, literally as far as my eye could see. It must have been at least 50,000 birds.

My ride and work sucked.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How in the world do we manage THAT?

Rode 33 miles on to the Schramm Aquarium Sunday with Joe Savoie, Pat Cash, Timmy the Madone Owner, Rich from TT1, and assorted other good-humor mongers. It was a cloudy and slightly wet 40 degrees, but I actually didn't freeze, and my back only twitched a little.

I'm going to head out today for a 90-minute spin, but I have a few new obstacles to navigate as I head east on Blondo:

And THIS road is in relatively good shape. You should see 49th Ave headed south. 50th heading into Dundee is more rutted and torn up than a technical CX course. 

Looks like winter was as hard on the asphalt as it was on my soul.

Monday, March 8, 2010

I missed last night's Oscar telecast. I usually don't watch the Academy Awards.  In 1993, I won $100 by correctly predicting all seven of the major awards while sitting on a bar stool and nursing an Old Style at the White Rabbit. I mean, how could I top THAT?

However, I read about the John Hughes tribute in the Times this morning, so I watched that bit of the telecast on YouTube. It offered a nice bit of high-school nostalgia for a Gen X'er like me; The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink were bellwether moments for people my age, especially those of us who had absolutely no idea who we were or how we fit. And I still show this to my class every quarter when I teach Georgina Kleege's "The Mind's Eye:

That's the Dream Academy playing an instrumental version of "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" by The Smiths, which also appeared on the "Pretty in Pink" soundtrack. I still treasure The Smiths, 23 years later. So thanks to Hughes for that.

But his adult-oriented scripts were pretty amazing, too. Just this last weekend, Blank and I quoted extensively from National Lampoon's Vacation while we stood in the Guthrie Theatre in St. Paul and looked out over the Mississippi River: 
Dad, what river is this? 

That's the Mississippi. The mighty Mississip. The old Miss...The old man..[Sings]: "Old Man River, old man river...."

The moment from the Oscars tribute that truly slayed me, though, was an exchange from She's Having a Baby. The protagonist, played by Kevin Bacon, is about to get married, and he's hoping his best friend, played by a sublime Alec Baldwin, can offer some encouragement to quell his mounting anxiety:
Do you think I'm going to be happy? I mean, honestly?

Maybe it'll work out. Who knows? [pause] Yeah, you'll be happy. You just won't know it, that's all.
Marriage and fatherhood are motherfuckers. Sure, family life is full of joy, love, laughter, warmth, and intimacy, but it's also really, really hard. After moving back to Omaha last fall, forgoing my teaching for a year, and reducing the variables in my life to writing, pedaling, and parenting, I've been forced to re-examine the roles I've played in my wife and children's lives.

So this morning I thought a bit about the dread and horror of impending fatherhood. I'll admit that I was terrified of being a father for many reasons, not the least of which was the utter failure of my own dad. But I also selfishly worried that kids would squash my freedom and my ambition. And in a sense, they did. 

But a wise (and overly tall) poet once told me that men don't truly become fathers until late in the game. Women turn into mothers almost immediately, since their bodies begin to fundamentally change in response to the parasitic demands of a growing fetus. They undergo a fundamental paradigm shift of raging hormones and expanding body mass, and these changes buffet them for nine months of physical and emotional transformation.  We men, on the other hand, just kind of brood and paint and shop and fret through our wives' pregnancies. Some men experience sympathetic morning sickness. Others suffer acute, shadowy "labor" pains. 

Not me. And once we hit the hospital for the delivery, I adopted the role of Johnny-on-the-spot with the ice cubes. I was advocate, defender, nurturer, nurse-caller, doctor-persuader, and push coach. I rocked that maternity ward, and together, Jess and I kept Abbey from being delivered by c-section. With an assist from Wordsworth. But that's another story. 

Yet I only became a dad once they handed me Abbey. THEN my hormones went berserk. 

They're all over the place again lately, nine years later. Which may explain why this last clip has so haunted me today. The best evocation of the terror of childbirth that I've ever seen comes from a Hughes film. Thanks to him, too, for this:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In which three more passions coalesce

My bike-only friends may not know that I consider myself a Romanticist. Everyone calls me an "English major / teacher / professor" (not yet), but my specialization is the literature of the British Romantic period, which ran from around 1770 to 1830. Political, aesthetic, and agricultural revolutions all occurred in this period, as did the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. The period's seminal text is usually thought to be Lyrical Ballads, a 1798 volume of poetry written by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

I love Wordsworth in a way that academics shouldn't. My love for his work often blinds me to beneficial and relevant critical thought and leads me toward the affective fallacy, that brand of non-critique which praises poetry for its emotional effect. But most of my fervently held beliefs originate with Wordsworth: in the power of nature and wilderness to heal, in the beneficence of self-propelled travel and movement, in the leveling power of good art, in a radical Marxian politics, in the restorative sublimity of the imagination. The ways in which our culture thinks about nature, the imagination, the role of the artist, and the transformative power of art all begin with Wordsworth.

So imagine my ass-slappin', whoop-shrieking joy when I saw THIS:

God love 'em, the folks at Rivendell already make a bike named after Tom Bombadil. If you've only seen the movies and not read the books, old Tom, "Eldest," is my favorite Tolkien character, who thankfully didn't make the shooting script:

So a bike named after a Wordsworth character? I'm in heaven. Too bad I can't ride one; it's a women's specific design:

 Remember what I said yesterday? about the sexiest thing in the world being a woman on a bike? Uhh, yeah. How about more specifics: a red-head on a Rivendell named after a Wordsworth character? Jessica would just have to forgive me. Unless I BUY her one. HMMM.....

Anyhow, here's the first three stanzas of "The Idiot Boy," the poem in which the name "Betty Foy" appears:

'TIS eight o'clock,--a clear March night,
The moon is up,--the sky is blue,
The owlet, in the moonlight air,
Shouts from nobody knows where;
He lengthens out his lonely shout,
Halloo! halloo! a long halloo!

--Why bustle thus about your door,
What means this bustle, Betty Foy?
Why are you in this mighty fret?
And why on horseback have you set
Him whom you love, your Idiot Boy?

Scarcely a soul is out of bed;
Good Betty, put him down again;
His lips with joy they burr at you;
But, Betty! what has he to do
With stirrup, saddle, or with rein?

But Betty's bent on her intent;
For her good neighbour, Susan Gale,
Old Susan, she who dwells alone,
Is sick, and makes a piteous moan
As if her very life would fail.

Wordsworth's great contribution (the credit isn't entirely his, but for the sake of argument...) was to make lyric poetry about beggars, tillers, gleaners, shepherds, leech-gatherers, war widows, fishermen and the like. Shepherding this sort of dramtis personae  and speech into the elevated realm of lyric poetry was a radical act, one of many revolutionary sentiments and habits Wordsworth embodied in his early career.

And besides examining the lives of the laboring, rural poor, the "Idiot Boy" also makes heroic the actions of a mentally challenged child. One day I'll write a book about Wordsworthian disability portraits. Disability Studies is a relatively recent field in literary theory, one which I find of particular interest because of my daughter Katie's autism diagnosis and the pejorative use of the adjective "retarded."

But damn! That bike!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sixty-five miles. Napa County. Good friends. Pain-free back.

Plastic and I on Wooden Valley road, west of Fairfield.

 Pete and I at Monticello Dam in Solano County. Two Micks on parade.

In which my passions for parenting, politics, and cycling all coalesce

I got a Facebook update today from Brooke Miller, a woman I've met several times and have come to admire a great deal. She holds a PhD in Evolutionary Biology from UC Santa Cruz AND a few stars and stripes jerseys as both Road and Crit national champion:

We met several years ago, when I was racing for UC Davis and she for UCSC. My daughter Abbey was pretty taken with her and the rest of the female racers, so whenever Brooke was racing as a pro nearby, I'd usually take Abbey along to say "hi."

Brooke has been a great ambassador for women's cycling, so when she posted about a letter on the Velonews website, I took a look:
I think this is bullshit, so I wrote a response:


In my letter, I failed to admit an additional bias: I want Abbey and Katie to have as many opportunities to compete as their talents allow.  I don't have sons, so perhaps I'm blind to some of the reverse discrimination that Title IX supposedly causes; men's wrestling, tennis, and the like are getting cut on some campuses becasue football creates such a huge disparity of male to female participants. Some athletic departments are forced to favor women's tennis over the men's game in order to offer as many spots to women as they do to men. Title IX, however, promises access, not equality, but some administrators like to use it as a scapegoat to defend their budgetary decisions.

So, I think that media should cover women's sports in order to grow them. One of the only reasons they aren't more popular is a dearth of coverage motivated by an ideology which teaches women not to play sports because they aren't athletic enough. Of course, some anthropologists think a female's slower and weaker physiology (compared to men) is culturally (ideologically)  determined, and that in a truly gender-neutral culture, the women can be just as fast and strong as men.

But, and butt: the ways in which we market or cover female sports is often just as sexist as a total absence of marketing or coverage. I call this the "Liz Hatch Effect":

I know that Liz is a looker. She conforms very closely to one of the new standards beauty found in our culture. And I think that glorifying a healthy, athletic body type is much better for young women than trying to emulate the "America's Next Top Model" ideal. And, I'll admit, I like to look at bodies. I'm not a prude. There's nothing "immoral" about Liz's willingness or ability to create these kinds of images. She's marketing herself and her sport. She's empowering herself by taking ownership of a thing about herself that others would like to exploit. That's a good thing, Right? But why is Liz so much more known and admired by male cycling fans?  Why do we pay more attention to women who pose for provocative pictures than we do to women who kick ass and win races without baring their bodies outside the competitive arena? Why is the hot tennis player more famous than the average-looking one? When I see images culled from the Cycle Passions calendar pasted next to exploitative motorcycle posters on the walls of bike shop service areas, I start to ask myself if maybe we haven't lost the plot. 

So, yeah. I think a woman on a bike is the sexiest thing there is. I love watching women race, and a small part of my enjoyment stems from how they look in spandex. But a wise young woman I used to know once taught me that while third-wave feminism offers women ownership of their own sexuality, it certainly doesn't demand that they sell it.