Monday, May 31, 2010

Peter Gabriel still haunts me

The dawn of my environmental consciousness came from pop culture, and I partly blame REM, 10,000 Maniacs, and Peter Gabriel. All of them wrote and recorded songs in 1986 that helped shape the questions I still ask in my own work 25 years later.

I had no idea this performance ever occurred. I found it by accident after hearing "Solsbury Hill" on Pandora and then looking for a video on YouTube. I'm supposed to be reading some John Thellwall for my archive chapter, but instead, Peter Gabriel got in my head and won't let go.

"Red Rain" is ambiguous on many levels, as is all the best of Gabriel's work. The rain can serve as a metaphor for guilt, trauma, emotional release, or sexual awakening. But I always read such conceits through my twin lenses of Marxism and environmentalism, and this habit is my greatest weakness as a critic. In this case, the acid rain / nuclear fallout imagery of the metaphor's vehicle breaks open a whole other tenor with the lines "I come to you, defences down / With the trust of a child." The speaker alternately flees and embraces the rain; what it portends, not even he can say. But there's an intersection in this song between psychoanalytic criticism and environmental catastrophe, an interplay that motivates much of the work of my dissertation Chair.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Always doubling up

I've been pretty antisocial since my return to Omaha. Lots of reasons, but that's not the point. Here's the point: I almost never go out. I'm changing that today. I'm heading down to Kansas City to hang out and think with an old friend:
This may be my favorite painting that I've actually seen in person (the fact that I live a day's drive away from the Art Institute of Chicago and have never been is a damn shame). When I was an undergrad at Rockhurst for two long and awful years, I used to walk to the Nelson to sit and study this Caravaggio for hours. Images of John in the Wilderness  pop up again and again in iconographic art, but the chiaroscuro in this one lends the figure a despondency that belies the greatness John would eventually achieve.

So I'm heading to KC to hang out with my old friend Carole and stare at "my" painting. But tonight, the Omaha Symphony is performing a program which includes Vaughn Williams's "The Lark Ascending," possibly my favorite piece of orchestral music and the apogee of the Romantic movement. Let's think: Renaissance painting with Carole, or Romantic music by myself?

Gotta go with Carole and sociability. I've been in the cave for far too long.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Why are pickups driven by jerks? Plus: a sweaty, crusty mess

Yesterday I made my first cycling foray into the Loess Hills east of Omaha. Following the rough outline of a route posted by Skinny Mark Savery, I crossed the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge into Iowa and then skirted the Old Lincoln Highway north toward Missouri Valley:

"Birthday" Redemske warned me that I'd face some traffic on the Old Lincoln, and I did: a red pickup full of teenage yahoos tossed something at me as they sped by, and two white pickups buzzed me. Evidently these motorists were in too much of a hurry to wait for oncoming traffic to pass, so they passed me at 55 without moving left AT ALL.

Why is it always pickups? 90% of my interactions with hostile drivers have been with guys driving pickups. Do I notice them because of their size--a larger and louder vehicle makes more of an impression--or is it the habits of the drivers? Do people who think they own the road tend to buy and drive pickups? Does the size of a pickup create a sense of entitlement? Do the gas bills drive the drivers crazy at the sight of someone traveling for free?

Of course, many drivers of pickups are courteous. But most of the cowardly jackasses who have nothing better to do than harass cyclists from the safety of their two-ton vehicles are driving pickups.

My Aunt Sandye swears that the size of a man's car is in inverse proportion to the size of his junk, and my old friend and teammate Amy Mackey, a Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, used to yell at aggressive drivers, "Nice truck! Sorry about your penis!"

*       *         *
Next topic: sweat rates, dehydration, and post-exercise hypotension. Yesterday, I rode:
  • 2.75 hours at base pace, or LE / Zone 2;
  • It was 89 degrees when I got home;
  • I drank 4 bottles of Gatorade, or 96 ounces, two of which were spiked with Endurolytes;
  • I ate two gels;
  • I felt NO bonk symptoms;I was fatigued, but not crashing from low glucose levels.  
When I got home, I:
  • noticed that I'd lost FOUR POUNDS! FOUR?!
  • experienced severe dizziness after getting up from a seated or prone position.
My jersey and helmet straps were crusty with salt. I mixed a recovery shake of fruit juice, frozen blackberries, glucose, protein powder, and salt, which helped stave off the dizziness. But even after drinking another 96 ounces of water during the next few hours, I didn't pee until four hours after getting home from the ride. 

My math indicates that I consumed over 1200 mg of sodium on my ride, but that I'd need another 96 ounces to offset dehydration. That's 8 bottles in 3 hours. How to carry all that? Any ideas on hydration / nutrition?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

a pretty air-tight syllogism

Applying a synthetic testosterone patch after each stage of a grand tour used to be SOP, according to a coach who knew a coach who knew a coach. It helps recovery, and recovery is what differentiates a Grand Tour winner from the winner of a shorter stage race.  Folks always suspected that Floyd just forgot to take off his patch after his debacle on stage 16 of the 2006 Tour, so I never doubted that he'd cheated with testosterone.
However, it seems that most everyone else cheated, too, and Floyd just can't seem to handle the fact that only he--and Tyler, Millar, Vino, Ricardo, Rasmussen, Basso, Valverde, Zabel, Riis, Ulrich, Virenque, Pantani, Andreu, Museeuw--got caught. Seriously, almost every major name from the late 90's era has been busted, implicated, or confessed, yet NOTHING was going on at Postal, the team that dominated the sport when all this sh*t was going on? Please.

Yet Floyd's allegations of systematic blood transfusions and EPO use at Postal smack of sour grapes. His comeback attempt with Ouch / Maxis last year was a debacle, so maybe he thinks that his only option is to bring down the American gods of cycling.

I heard somewhere that Indurain only raced one TT in a Grand Tour without amphetamines. He still won, but it hurt so badly that he swore he'd never do it again. LeMond was right: it doesn't get any easier as you go faster. Even if all the riders are doped to the gills, riding 120 miles over 12,000 feet still hurts like a motherf*cker, especially when you have to do it again the very next day. If the great ones can win without dope, great. If they were all on dope, okay--as long as the sport keeps trying to catch them.  But if the richest of the teams can buy wins because they can afford better doctors, then the sport is ruined.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

If it moves, I broke it

I now know many things I didn't know before:
  • One cannot put a star nut in a carbon steerer tube.
  • There are very important washers on the bolts which secure the brake caliper to the front fork.
  • Disassembling brake calipers at 2:30 AM the night / morning before a race increases stress levels. 
  • One cannot race effectively when one is half-convinced that one's bike is about to disintegrate. 
  • Many Open Master's riders in Nebraska are sketchier than their Elite 3 counterparts.
I have also been reminded of things I used to know but had somehow forgotten:
  • Fast guys are fast no matter where they're racing.
  • I hate humidity.
  • My back hurts after 15 minutes of really hard pedaling. 
  • No amount of warming up compensates for a lack of anaerobic fitness.
  • Doubling up for two categories of crit. racing demands a healthy aerobic base.
  • Trading a week's training for 12 hours of bike building / repair is a sure-fire recipe for failure.
  • Having the above as an excuse doesn't ease the sting of getting dropped. 
  • Getting dropped is simply getting dropped. There are no excuses. 
Then, there were things I thought I knew but now really, really know:
  • Brandon Fenster, Vaughn Pierce, Joe Savoie, Bryan Redemske, Craig Harding, Lucas Marshall, "Skinny" Mark Savery, The Skibas, C.T. Weatherman,  Dan Spray, Janna "Old Lady" Vavra, and Rich Anderson are cool cats and/or good folks. 
  • The wrenches at both Trek Stores are top-notch. 
  • The Flatwater Cycling Team runs a great event. 
  • I'm slowly, slowly getting less slow. 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Affirming Aphorisms

Here's the first "truth" statement/parable/ideological b.s. applied to bikes:

"If you give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. If you TEACH a man to fish, he'll eat for a lifetime."

I muttered this BS repeatedly as I tried to swap all the Dura Ace 7800 parts from my old frame to my new one.  I've always wanted be a self-reliant bike maintainer, so trial and error seemed like a good way to learn.

But while a man is learning how to catch a fish, he just might starve to death.

I spent 3 hours on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday working on the damn bike. I got everything off the old frame pretty easily, and I did a good job of washing and lubing all the parts. But figuring out how to remove the old rear derailleur cable cost me 2 hours, and trying to tune that rear derailleur was a clusterf*ck of the first magnitude.

The guys at Trek Store Papillion were busy tuning bikes in the shop's queue, but they managed to provide some good advice on cutting and wrapping the handlebar tape. Still, they were swamped, and I didn't want to take up the shop's paid labor time on my personal bike. So I managed to get everything installed, lubed, and greased, and then I drove the bike to our other store in Midtown and begged them for some tuning device.

I know how to turn a barrel adjuster. I know the theory behind the limit screws. I can remove a cassette, clean it, and reinstall it. I can clean and lube the pivot points on a derailleur. But setting the cable tension just baffles me.

With patient work from Bryan, Chris, and Jake, the rear derailleur stopped skipping gears and refusing to shift onto the 11 or 23-tooth cogs. But the job took an hour of frustrated fiddling becasue I screwed up THIS:
See the little square tab that seems to be clasping the cable? That piece helps secure the cable to the derailleur. If that little bastard doesn't face the rear of the derailleur, the damn thing will NEVER shift properly--even after three good mechanics try to adjust it. Chris, a secret Zen Master if I ever met one, finally diagnosed the problem. It was so hard to find becasue they all assumed that a competent mechanic had hung the derailleur and attached the cable. Uhh, no.  

Incompetent might be the biggest understatement of the year so far. I had set the tab facing inward. Major suckage on my part, and it cost these guys a cumulative hour of their lives to fix my error.

I did manage to hang the front derailleur correctly, so that adjustment was pretty quick. Zenmaster Chris and his Furious Four also tweaked my headset, patted me on the head, and sent me on my way. I missed Wednesday Night Worlds becasue the bike only became operational at 5:45.

Eight hours of labor to build one bike. The cumulative advice of FIVE mechanics. Not bad for a first attempt? I don't know--it seems pretty ridiculous to me. And don't even ask about my 90-minute adventure changing the stem, a baffling enterprise caused by my screwing up the headset spacers. I finished that damn job in the dark last night.

Oh, the second aphorism?  

"Every time I wash my car, it rains!"

I sometimes use this sentence in my writing classes as an example of syntactic ambiguity: what "rains," exactly? The car?

Anyhow, the bike is built, tuned, and ready to ride:

But it's pouring rain right now. No, not the bike. Bikes can't rain. But whatever "it" is-- it's raining.

A true Belgian hard man would take the new bike out, weather be damned.

I guess I'm not that hard.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sacramento GP POV

Here's a helmet-mounted camera view of the first three laps of Sunday's Sacramento GP, a Pro 1/2 criterium which preceded the arrival of the Tour of California field in Sacramento.

Look for my Rocknasium boys in their black and white kits with the stone/cave/rock motif; one of them wears bib# 101 and another #106. Watch until the very, very end of the clip....

stymied by derailleur cable

  • Stripped all the parts from the old frame.
  • Used the handy-dandy parts washer at the shop to clean the cranks, chain, derailleurs.
  • Overhauled the headset.
  • Installed headset, fork, and stem.
  • Installed new bottom bracket and newly clean crank.
  • Removed bar tape and shifters.
  • Blew grime out of shifters and reinstalled them on bar.
  • Installed the seatpost, stem, and bars.
  • Lubed and attached derailleurs and brakes.
  • Cut and routed new brake cable housing.
  • Cut and routed front derailleur cable and housing.
  • Cut rear derailleur housing.
  • Spent 55 minutes attempting to remove old derailleur cable from rear shifter.
  • Searched Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance for pointers on removing old derailleur cable from Dura Ace 7800 rear shifter.
  • Searched Google for pointers on removing old derailleur cable from rear shifter.
  • Asked Miah for pointers on removing old derailleur cable from rear shifter.
  • Cursed for about five minutes.
  • Vocally lamented my distance from the snarky and reactionary brilliance of Andrew Wike, my old teammate and favorite wrench. 
  • Patted myself on the back for helping get Andrew's girlfriend into Cornell Medical School.
  • Remembered what I was supposed to be doing and cursed some more.
  • Gave up in frustration and drove home.
  • Calculated that the 6 hours of labor I've spent on this process, billed at $40 an hour (my approximate salary as a college instructor) has far exceeded the $100 this build would have cost me had I asked the shop to do it. 
  • Tried to imagine what kind of beer Redemske and Jacob might like....

UPDATE: this morning, I:
  • Finally found a .pdf of Shimano's instructions online.
  • "Shifted" onto the outside position in the shifter.
  • Removed the old cable. 
  • Realized that I lost the cable I brought home last night.
  • Resolved to work on the dissertation until the shop opens and then go scrounge a derailleur cable, wrap the bars, and beg George for advice on tuning the derailleurs.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tour of California Images

My friend Mark Adkison is a Davis-area photographer who's shooting some great stuff of the Tour of California. Check out his site here. You'll find many shots of my old stomping grounds, including one of my old teammate wearing the King of the Mountains jersey and drafting Tom Boonen.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Breaking Down Is Easier than Building? Duh...

I bought my first Fuji Team RC in 2006 only becasue Fuji sponsored the Davis Bike Club Race Team I rode with as a Cat 5 and 4. I loved that bike. It was my first carbon race bike, and at 17.1 pounds, it felt really light. It was also compliant enough to ease a lot of my back pain.

I destroyed the Cane Creek Volos wheels in less than six months, so I bought a pair of Mavic Kyserium Elites that served me well until my crash in the Ozarks 7 weeks ago. I also despised the shifting of the TruVativ Roleur carbon crank, so I installed a DuraAce version that vastly improved the power transfer.

In the summer of 2007, the front derailleur hanger popped a rivet and tore out some carbon. After a four-week wait, Fuji sent me a rasta red and yellow Team Issue frame, a paint scheme so fugly that narry a picture of it can be found on the interwebs. I threw a fit, and they sent me this:

I didn't run the Eastons or the SRM, but you get the idea....

That one developed a crack in the carbon (enamel?) at the junction between the seat and top tubes, so they sent me a 2007:

Which ALSO developed a crack in the carbon in the exact same spot. Of course, I raced it for two and a half years, so....

Fuji had no 61cm carbon bikes left in North America at the beginning of 2010. None. So they sent me a 58 cm CCR1 made of a lower-grade carbon as a temporary replacement. Now, having waited three months, I finally have this:
Today I spent a few hours stripping all the components off the CCR1, washing them, and attempting to reinstall them on the new Team RC. The seatpost, bottom bracket, headset, derailleurs, crankset, brakes, and fork all went on pretty easily. But tomorrow I'll try the cables and housing--a first for me. I want to finally achieve self-sufficiency in bike maintenance, especially now that I don't have Andrew Wike at Davis Wheelworks to save my ass from botched first attempts. 

Given my history with bike repair and riding new frames, I'll probably kill myself on the first ride around the block. If I post again tomorrow, you'll know I survived. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

the first number's a "1"

Got fat again this winter. Well, fat by cyclists' standards. Well, by cyclists' standards, I'll always be fat.

I've whined plenty about the cold on this blog--but I had a trainer!

Whined plenty about the back on this blog, too--but I had a gym membership!

Here's the excuse: I couldn't pedal a bike without re-aggravating my lumbar spine, S/I joint, and hip bursae, so I hefted iron as much as my back would allow, spent some hellishly boring time on the elliptical at the YMCA, and tried to keep up with the yoga.

But my metabolism only lets me drop weight when I'm doing longish, easy cardio work. It's gotta be long enough to burn into some fat stores, and it's gotta be easy enough so I don't eat the doors off the fridge for two recovery days afterward. 90-180 minutes at zone 2 with some zone 3 intervals on the hills thrown in for flavor. That's the recipe that took me from 221 to 205 my first year of real racing, and that's what got me from 205 to 195 during the season the last three years. If I train much harder, I can recover only by eating almost exactly as much as I burn. If I train shorter amounts of time, I don't really burn fat.

I had the time this year to train long base miles; I had no teaching to occupy my time, just a book to research and write. But this winter, I couldn't sit on the bike without pretty acute pain. And I couldn't endure the mental torpor of indoor cardio for more than an hour. So I just kind of bloated a bit.

But thanks to a new stem and seatpost, I've finally been able to replicate the good fit from my old Fuji on my new warranty replacement frame. I've gotten my hamstrings flexible and my core strong, so I'm riding without any sharp pain. I still get residual tightness and stiffness, but that's slowly fading as the weeks pass. 

So I was pretty excited to see a number this morning: 199.4. That's the first time I've weighed less than 200 pounds since November, when I really re-injured my back. 

During my best day of testing with Judd Van Sickle, MS, Bio-mechanical Engineer and Cycling Coach at the UC Davis Sports performance Laboratory, I underwent a "Conconi" analysis, a graduated stress test performed on a Computrainer.  After a 20-minute warmup, I pedaled 125 watts for one minute while Judd recorded my heart rate. He increased the difficulty in 25-watt increments every minute until I literally blew up and couldn't pedal any longer.

The goal of this test is to determine one's anaerobic threshold by finding a deflection point on a graph plotting the HR on the vertical and the power on the horizontal:

I'm told that my Conconi results are notoriously difficult to interpret. The goal is to find the deflection point at which the vertical increase in HR starts to level off; in this test, it's at 177 bpm. We use this number to determine heart rate-based training zones out on the road. The system's a bit more foolproof when training with a powermeter, but since I was a Collegiate "B" / Elite category 3 racer on a graduate student teaching stipend, I contented myself with a heart rate monitor. All of the "A" guys had power meters, but several of them are now on pro or elite amateur teams and winning races up and down the left coast. I never had that kind of ability.

The other helpful number this test provides is the magical power-to-weight ratio. I weighed 200 pounds that day, or 90.0 kg. By pushing 450 watts in a graduated Conconi test, I set a new Aggie record. It was tied later that day by Paul Mach, who's about to race the Tour of California with Bissell, and Tyler Dibble, a leg-breaker who is now racing on the Yahoo! team. But while I weigh 200 pounds, Paul is 140 and Tyler 160. See the difference? Paul also has a Vo2 max that's off the charts, while mine is pretty average.

My power output at threshold was 370 watts, or 4.07 Watt/Kg. To win the Tour, you need a 6 or higher. To race in the master's 1/2/3 peleton in Northern California (against Kevin Metcalfe, Mike Sayers, Chad Gerlach, Larry Nolan, etc--lots of national and world champion's stripes on the sleeves of those riders), 4.5 to 5 will usually suffice. To keep up with the fast guys around Omaha, I think I'll need at least a 4.5.

This year, my brute power is pretty good--I can still lift a ton of weight with my legs, and I can accelerate on a flat road from 25 to 35 mph at a pretty good clip. But my limiter has always been body mass. I've never gotten below 195 without feeling like crap by May. But this year, I'm not racing 6 times a month from March to June, so I can afford to spend more time on my aerobic base and weight loss goals.

The back injury and crappy weather robbed me of the chance to be big and fast in March. But maybe I can still be lean and weak in June and then grow lean and fast by August? The weight loss is harder to attain, but adding power is pretty easy for me, as is increasing my threshold. The max power's there. If I broaden my aerobic base and reduce my bodyfat, I can then bump up the anaerobic threshold with interval work, gradually increasing my power at threshold. If I can push 400 watts at threshold--and hold it for 30 minutes--while weighing 185, I might just be a wee bit better in a road race.

We'll see. I'm going long and slow this weekend. Wish me and my back good luck.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Irish" Literature vs. Chicano Literature--one's illegal in Arizona!

I'm a great and great-great grandson of Irish immigrants. And I fly that flag proudly. I've read a ton of Yeats, Joyce, and O'Casey; I've collected a fair amount of Irish traditional music; I spent a big chunk of one summer riding my bike through Ireland.

I also indulge a residual anger about the way my ancestors were treated by the 18th and 19th-century Brits. The Irish were viewed as a different race, and the British Parliment instituted specific, discriminatory penal laws designed to repress and/or punish that difference. I'm a Celt, not an Anglo-Saxon, by self-definition and by old British laws. And as far as we can figure, my O'Brien ancestors illegally snuck into the US through Galveston, Texas, on the run from the British Army after conspiring in an uprising against British occupation. 

Know what, though? In the 21st-century, I can PASS for American. Hell, I am American, by birth and by ideological loyalty. The only way someone learns about my ethnic heritage is from my last name. (Just like people know that Shaquile O'Neal is Irish becasue of HIS last name!)

But the grandsons of other immigrants can't "pass" like I can--and now their inability to pass can serve as probable cause for a police interrogation in Arizona.

I once got pulled over in Omaha for an inoperable tail light, and I was ticketed for failing to produce a driver's license because I'd left my wallet at home. If a legal resident of Arizona looks "illegal" to an Arizona cop, he can be pulled over, and if HE forgets his wallet, under their new law, he must be arrested. Race and/or appearance becomes probable cause, and shoddy documentation is treated like a felony.

But back to Irish Studies: I learned a lot about my "ethnicity" in formal classes at both public and private institutions. But again, Arizona differentiates between my ethnicity and that of the grandson of a Mexican immigrant. Or that of a Chiricahua Apache. Under another new Arizona law, it's okay for me to teach a "British Literature" class in Arizona--but not one on "Native American Literature." Teaching a class about the literature written by residents of Japanese internment camps would be illegal, too. But Holocaust Studies? That's okay.

The following paragraph from Salon catalyzed my thinking here:

"What [proponents of the Arizona ban on ethnic studies] would probably say is that there's American history and that's what should be taught in American schools, thank you very much. But what this kind of argument relies on is the assumption that white people's history is history, and everyone else’s is "ethnic studies," or worse, "teaching hate." [. . .] I'd have no problem with taking the teaching of this stuff out of the "ethnic studies" ghetto where it's kept and building it into the universal curriculum. Surely, every kid in Boston public schools learns about the Irish Potato Famine, right? Say it with me: Irish-Americans are white and English-speaking. That doesn't mean their history is more part of the special canon of universal American stories than, say, the mid-20th-century Bracero Program. And it definitely doesn't mean that an all-white class in Boston automatically becomes a breeding ground for racism when it studies the 1840s." 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again."

Thomas Wolfe famously said, "You can't go home again." This whole blog's been about that idea, really: the home you leave endures only inside you, buried somewhere within the detritus of the self. While you're away, "home" changes in your absence, and when you return, the meeting between the new you and the old home--both changed inexorably by your distance--creates a cognitive dissonance that most folks can't really overcome.

The 35th anniversary of the Omaha Tornado of 1975 was last week. My reaction to those memories eluded me until I got into it with my mom on Mother's Day. She and I are still mourning the death of my grandmother last summer, and last week we finally sold her house. Now we're trying to sort out the detritus of a 94 year-old woman's accumulated material life. That's a nice way of saying there's a ton of stuff in the basement we have to sell or throw away. Sorting through all my Nana's stuff reminds me of the inevitable instability, frailty, and mortality of human life. It almost makes me WANT to settle down and opt for some fake permanence as a balm for the anxiety created by last year's recurring experiences with death and transition.

But no. Not yet. I still have some stuff to do with my life, and sadly, I won't be able to do it here in Omaha. Once I finish my dissertation, I've gotta leave again.

But the past I lived in Omaha is a large part of the me who'll decide the future destination--and that tornado 35 years ago showed me at a very early age the fragility and impermanence of our lives and works.
The storm caught my mother at the drug store in the Westgate shopping center--about half a mile from a neighborhood that was quite literally leveled. I was at a day care at the College of St. Mary, a block away from a hospital that was knocked on its ass. The path of the storm ran right between us. My childhood home, my high school, the theater where I did my best work, and birthplace of my first child were all hit by that same funnel cloud; it seemed to blaze a trail in space that I would later follow through time.

I was stuck at preschool for a few hours after the storm; my mother couldn't drive the mile from the drug store to the day care because of the damage and the police lock down. She only got access to the area because an old family friend showed up with his hearse and told the cops at the road block that he was picking up a body. 

Now, 35 years later, I still vividly recall my realization that a single flash can blow away everything that seems so solid and intractable. And you know what? Sometimes that's a good thing. Wounds, traumas, and griefs can be just as ephemeral and transitory as those buildings.

I'm not only grieving  the loss of my grandmother and grappling with her house. I'm also lamenting the absence of my California friends. Some of them are really suffering now, too. Permanent certainties have fluttered away on the breeze. Relationships end, careers disintegrate, families implode.

But one enduring certainty remains: the wind. Obsessive, haunting, inescapable wind. As Shelley called it:

"Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, O hear!"

If my wandering Davis friends see this post, I think they'll understand its conclusion: "I have waited with a glacier's patience...."

Monday, May 10, 2010

Cowardice or Inability?

The long philosophical poem that Wordsworth spent 20 years preparing to write remained largely unattempted. When he was seventy, Wordsworth remarked that Thomas Gray "had undertaken something beyond his powers to accomplish. And that is my case."

Another version of this sentiment comes from Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers: "knowing you had it in you and you never let it out / is worse than blowing any engine or any wreck you'll ever have."

I'm really, really sick of researching 18th-century agrarian rhetoric. I've been hip deep in sheep dip for nine months, and I estimate that I've plowed through 50,000 pages of agricultural pamphlets, books, and periodical pieces. Enough already. It's time to start writing.

I have to read the collected works of Arthur Young this week--another 5,000 pages in his "Communications to the Board of Agriculture." Then, I'll outline and start composing.

I just hope all the research wasn't merely a convenient, chicken-shit way to procrastinate.

(Note the THREE farming metaphors here. Pretty damn slick, I'd say....)

Friday, May 7, 2010

KETV on bike lanes

I hate the local television news here (sorry, C.t.), so I mostly get my news from NPR, the Times, and the World-Herald.

But the KETV piece garnered some chatter on Facebook and the blogsphere, so I checked it out. Here's the comment I left on their message board:

Self-confinement in a 2,000-pound cage dehumanizes people by isolating them from their environment, their bodies, and other people. Perfectly decent folks sometimes act like sociopaths when they get behind the wheel of a car; their stress levels rise as traffic compromises the invulnerability and freedom that cars are supposed to provide.

And when these stressed drivers encounter someone who's willing to escape their confinement by riding a bike, the difference drives the motorist even crazier.

But try to remember—people ride those bikes. They are not roadblocks or lost taxes—they’re people. People trying to get to work, people trying to get some exercise, people trying to enjoy our city.

Just because you're in a car doesn't mean that you have any more legal right to the road than the people on the bikes. But bike lanes will ease car-bike conflicts by getting the bikes out of the way.

In every major metropolitan city, bike lanes have been shown to ease congestion, not add to it. And making a community more livable by curbing suburban sprawl and providing alternative means of transportation has also been shown to attract business and increase the tax base.

Let’s all try to remember that Omaha is famous for its welcoming, friendly people. Let’s try to act like it when we get in our cars and hop on our bikes.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

In a different life, Rollins would've been a cyclist

Hank lifts weights. Here's why:

"The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you're a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds." 

I used to lift a lot of weight. Well, I used to lift weights a lot. But I think cycling is just as demanding. Substitute "the Road" or "the Wheel" or "the Pack" or "the Climb" for Henry's  "the Iron." You'll understand why.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

$100,000 worth of carbon

The UC-Davis Cal-Aggie cycling team is flying to Madison, Wisconsin today to race the Collegiate Road National Championships. However, United Airline's ongoing sponsorship of USA Cycling has put collegiate racers all over the country in a double-bind: the airline offers discounted airfare to nationals, but they also charge $150 to transport a bike. Considering that the racers are hauling TWO machines--mass-start and time trial rigs--flying gets pretty complicated.

Last year, Davis's squad bought a trailer to transport bikes to races up and down the west coast, and now non-racing members of the team are towing it to nationals behind a school van. They're also hauling bikes for teams from Stanford, Cal Poly, and Santa Cruz. 

The three intrepid pilgrims stopped in Omaha to visit a team alumnus for dinner and a night in a free bed. I took a quick peek inside the trailer: 37 bikes, about 20 sets of race hoops, a bunch of trainers, and several disc wheels.

Abbey was amazed:

Do YOU remember being young and energetic enough to drive from California to Omaha?

These crazy little bastards left Davis at 1:30 PM PST on Monday and arrived in Omaha at 9:30 PM CST on Tuesday--driving the entire time. After Jess and I fed them and showed them various guest rooms and couches, they went silent as church mice for about nine hours.

Now they're on their way to Madison--a brief little jaunt of only 8 hours from Omaha. Good luck, boys. And Aggies--three National Team Omnium Championships in five years isn't THAT much to ask....