Friday, August 27, 2010

Heading East, bikeless

I'm going to Philly, DC, and Chicago in the next few days. When I return, I'll have a new roommate, at least for a short while:

Brad, Thomas, and EOB together in one town for at least a year. Carnage.

I love Fall. While I'm excited about racing my first season of Midwestern 'cross, my anticipation of Autumn stems from one thing. No matter how much California changed me, one constant remains:

Go Big Red.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Essential Passions of the Heart

Redemske pulled me up and over quite a few of the Ponca Hills yesterday. We rode about 35 miles and climbed over 1500 feet. For once, August relented; when we rode under the Mormon Bridge at 10:00, the temperature hovered around 70 degrees, and it stayed under 80 throughout the ride.

Because the summers here in Nebraska are so humid and the winters so cold, spring and fall are pretty sacred. Yesterday was glorious preview of what's to come next month. We spun through old-growth elm forest, horse pastures, and terraced grain fields. I even tackled some of the famous gravel beloved of so many riders here.

I told Bryan I'd forgotten how green Nebraska can be in August. And it was a rumpled, big sky green:
photo by Bryan Redemske

These kinds of rides are helping me reconnect with everything I love about Nebraska. I can't wait for fall.

I also felt integrated with the countryside. Getting away from the desk and smelling the earth helps my project, because it reminds me of why I chose to spend three years of my life writing about local agriculture and its origins in Wordsworth:
Humble and rustic life was generally chosen, because, in that condition, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language; because in that condition of life our elementary feelings coexist in a state of greater simplicity, and, consequently, may be more accurately contemplated, and more forcibly communicated; because the manners of rural life germinate from those elementary feelings, and, from the necessary character of rural occupations, are more easily comprehended, and are more durable; and, lastly, because in that condition the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature.
"Essential passions of the heart." Pretty good reasons to do pretty much anything.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Catch the Wind

Tomorrow there are three races around Omaha: a stage race in Sioux Falls, a crit in Des Moines, and Gravel Worlds in Lincoln. I'm missing them all in order to see my daughter's first soccer game. She played last season with a team of 3rd-4th graders who had all played together the year before. They simply annihilated teams, and since they finished undefeated, Abbey's never lost a sporting event.

But this season they're moving up to play against 5th and 6th-graders. Most of her team's that old, but Abbey's still only in 4th grade. She's big, fast, and pretty brave on defense, but many of these girls will be two years older than she is. The days of crushing other teams are over.

I can relate. I raced pretty well as a 4 and got killed when I made the jump to race Master's 1/2/3 with Rocknasium.

I'm going to ride hard in the morning before the game. I'm going to find the headwind and punish myself by attacking straight into it, over and over again. Maybe grappling with the wind will finally help me grasp the metaphor I've always rationally understood but never truly believed.

Fitness is slippery: sometimes you can touch it, but you can never hold it. You have to go slow before you can go fast, and sometimes you have to get weaker in order to get stronger. And no matter how tough you think you are, the legs, lungs, and heart will sometimes fail. Form comes and goes, and trying to hold on too long causes disaster. But I can't seem to stop trying.

With people, either. So there's the wind.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Maclean was a fisherman; I'm a cyclist

"Poets talk about 'spots of time,' but it is really fishermen who experience eternity compressed into a moment. No one can tell what a spot of time is until suddenly the whole world is a fish and the fish is gone. I shall remember that son of a bitch forever."  

So writes Norman Maclean in "A River Runs Through it." I think a lot about Maclean every time I head toward the mountains. His relationships with his father and brother are the sort I always wished I'd had when I was a boy.  

But what I find most compelling about his work are its attempts to use his passion for fly-fishing as a metaphor for the nature of his own existence. That's a recurring strain within Romanticism: poets (and their critics) try to figure the interplay between ourselves and our surroundings as a union of the self and the other. Meditating upon an object like a Grecian urn, a meteorological phenomenon like the west wind, or the shelter created by the shade of a linden tree becomes an act of self-disclosure and unification with the world. If the phenomenon that we call the world is wholly contained within the imagination of the individual, then things like urns--or activities like fly-fishing--can join with the person and break down the isolation that so many of us feel when we're faced with an apathetic world. We flow out of ourselves and violate the boundaries of our own existence, becoming one with nature or another person through the merest observation and contemplation.

So sometimes, time stops, and if we're lucky and attentive, we can feel the enormity of life contained in one crystallized moment. More importantly, we experience this sense of the sublime not as an isolating and self-destroying aesthetic, but rather as something which expands our sense of self in order to encompass everything we see. The world stops being elsewhere and becomes a part of us, just as we become a part of it. 

That's why I ride. I've written here before about the ways in which pedaling through an environment makes me feel like I'm immersed in it rather than "floating dully along." But when I've been pedaling for so long and hard that I start to lose the ability to define myself, I sometimes become hyper-attenuated to the world. In those moments, life takes on a grace and an artistry that it seems to be lacking most of the time. I don't really care whether or not this perception shows me life as it is or life as I dearly wish it to be. I just know that in those moments, "there is life and food for future years."   

Here's Maclean again: 
Life every now and then becomes literature--not for long, of course, but long enough to be what we best remember, and often enough so that what we eventually come to mean by life are those moments when life, instead of going sideways, backwards, forward, or nowhere at all, lines out straight, tense and inevitable, with a complication, climax, and, given some luck, a purgation, as if life had been made and not happened.
Riding the bike on Trail 401 in Crested Butte felt like writing the story of riding the bike. There was poetry in the world as I bombed down the trail: a lyric about myself, my friend, and mountains.

But Wordsworth knew--as does Maclean, as do I--that only in poetry can such moments endure, that "life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last:"

Why is it that all wonderful things seem so fleeting, yet the pain of their passing endures? 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Teammate's 'Cross Bike For Sale

One the guys from Rocknasium, my Norcal race team, is selling his 58cm 2005 Raleigh Team 'Cross with a mixed-Campy drivetrain, FSA carbon cranks, Ambriosio Excellence wheelset and POS bar, stem, and post.

I know that buying a used bike can be dicey, but I can personally vouch for Dan--he's a stand-up guy who takes good care of his stuff. Have a look, and contact him at if you're interested.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Master Samwise achieves Nirvana on the trail

I'm baffled by how I managed to look so snarky in this photo.

Blank and I had just climbed 5 miles and 2000 feet up a dirt road, then gained another 700 feet of elevation in half a mile of wet and twisty singletrack. We had picked up two more riders along the way and formed one of those magical ad hoc trail groups that happen you're mountain biking. But when we rode off the top of the ridgeline and out from behind the trees, this valley opened up beneath us. I pulled a Sam from Lord of the Rings and "burst into tears."

THIS is what we had driven 13 hours and trained countless more to enjoy: the East River and Emerald Lake flowing down to Crested Butte. Shoulder-high wildflowers. Rocky mountain vistas from 11,000 feet of altitude. 45 minutes of rolling, plummeting-down-the-mountainside fun. The tangible awareness of death, life, majesty, and verdancy blowing the sublime up your nose and into your soul. Barbaric yawps were sounded and "spots of time" recorded.

If you have a chance to ride only one more trail in your life, make it 401. I've never pedaled in Moab, so maybe I'm wrong, but I've done a ton of spinning in the Rockies and Sierra, and this 20-mile loop in Crested Butte is the very, very best.

The oldest of old friends, partners through many a mile of agony and exultation.

 New friends from the trail.

going underground

Sorry for the dearth of posts during the last two weeks. If you want details on the Crested Butte trip, see Blank's entries.

I'm having trouble readjusting to life on the plains. The fact that we've enjoyed 110-degree heat indexes this week hasn't helped. I picked up some extra time at the Trek Papillion  store to keep myself a bit busier, helping with the Cervelo demo, the Women Who Tri mixer, and our rest stop at the Livestrong Wear Yellow Ride. I met lots of cool folks at all three events, so I'll go ahead and remind you to visit the store's blog every now and again.

Carole visits this weekend, and our time together is always therapeutic. I'm also planning a trek to the East coast at the end of the month to see one friend and help another.

The book project has taken a good turn, but it's too nebulous to write about at the moment. Suffice to say,  the farmers in the "Dust Bowl" could have spared themselves a lot of trouble if they'd done the sort of theoretical work that the English Board of Agriculture attempted in 1796-1802. If you haven't seen it, read this:

First Chapter 
They had been on the road for six days, a clan of five bouncing along in a tired wagon, when Bam White woke to some bad news. One of his horses was dead. It was the nineteenth-century equivalent of a flat tire, except this was the winter of 1926. The Whites had no money. They were moving from the high desert chill of Las Animas, Colorado, to Littlefield, Texas, south of Amarillo, to start anew. Bam White was a ranch hand, a lover of horses and empty skies, at a time when the cowboy was becoming a museum piece in Texas and an icon in Hollywood. Within a year, Charles Lindbergh would cross the ocean in his monoplane, and a white man in blackface would speak from the screen of a motion picture show. The great ranches had been fenced, platted, subdivided, upturned, and were going out to city builders, oil drillers, and sodbusters. The least-populated part of Texas was open for business and riding high in the Roaring Twenties. Overnight, new towns were rising, bustling with banks, opera houses, electric streetlights, and restaurants serving seafood sent by train from Galveston. With his handlebar mustache, bowlegs, and raisin-skinned face, Bam White was a man high-centered in the wrong century. The plan was to get to Littlefield, where the winters were not as bad as Colorado, and see if one of the new fancy-pantsers might need a ranch hand with a quick mind. Word was, a family could always pick cotton as well.
Now they were stuck in No Man's Land, a long strip of geographic afterthought in the far western end of the Oklahoma Panhandle, just a sneeze from Texas. After sunrise, Bam White had a talk with his remaining horses. He checked their hooves, which were worn and uneven, and looked into their eyes, trying to find a measure of his animals. They felt bony to the touch, emaciated by the march south and dwindling rations of feed. The family was not yet halfway into their exodus. Ahead were 209 miles of road over the high, dry roof of Texas, across the Canadian river, bypassing dozens of budding Panhandle hamlets: Wildorado, Lazbuddie, Flagg, Earth, Circle, Muleshoe, Progress, Circle Back.
If you all can give me another two or three days, White told his horses, we'll rest you good. Get me to Amarillo, at least.
Bam's wife, Lizzie, hated the feel of No Man's Land. The chill, hurried along by the wind, made it impossible to stay warm. The land was so threadbare. It was here that the Great Plains tilted, barely susceptible to most eyes, rising to nearly a mile above sea level at the western edge. The family considered dumping the organ, their prized possession. They could sell it in Boise City and make just enough to pick up another horse. They asked around: ten dollars was the going rate for an heirloom organ - not enough to buy a horse. Anyway, Bam White could not bring himself to give it up. Some of the best memories, through the hardest of years, came with music pumped from that box. They would push on to Texas, twenty miles away, moving a lot slower. After burying their dead horse, they headed south.
Through No Man's Land, the family wheeled past fields that had just been turned, the grass upside down. People in sputtering cars roared by, honking, hooting at the cowboy family in the horse-drawn wagon, churning up dust in their faces. The children kept asking if they were getting any closer to Texas and if it would look different from this long strip of Oklahoma. They seldom saw a tree in Cimarron County. There wasn't even grass for the horse team; the sod that hadn't been turned was frozen and brown. Windmills broke the plain, next to dugouts and sod houses and still-forming villages. Resting for a long spell at midday, the children played around a buffalo wallow, the ground mashed. Cimarron is a Mexican hybrid word, descended from the Apache who spent many nights in these same buffalo wallows. It means "wanderer."
 I read the book by headlamp in a tent in Crested Butte and scribbled notes the whole time. The day after I finished it, Blank and I heard this song while sitting at the bar at Maxwell's, sipping Crested Butte Brewery's Rodeo Stout Oatmeal. It was an eerie bit of synchronicity.
Flatter than a tabletop
Makes you wonder why they stopped here
Wagon must have lost a wheel or they lacked ambition one
On the great migration west
Separated from the rest
Though they might have tried their best
They never caught the sun
So they sunk some roots down in the dirt
To keep from blowin' off the earth
Built a town around here
And when the dust had all but cleared
They called it Levelland, the pride of man
In Levelland

Granddad grew the dryland wheat
Stood on his own two feet
His mind got incomplete and they put in the home
Daddy's cotton grows so high
Sucks the water table dry
Rolling sprinklers circle round
Bleedin' it to the bone
And I won't be here when it comes a day
It all dries up and blows away
I'd hang around just to see
But they never had much use for me in Levelland
They don't understand me out in Levelland

And I watch those jet trails carving up that big blue sky
Coast to coasters watch 'em go
And I never would blame 'em one damn bit
If they never looked down on this
Not much here they'd wanna know
Just Levelland
Far as you can point your hand
Nothin' but Levelland

Mama used to roll her hair
Back before the central air
We'd sit outside and watch the stars at night
She'd tell me to make a wish
I'd wish we both could fly
Don't think she's seen the sky
Since we got the satellite dish and
I can hear the marching band
Doin' the best they can
They're playing "Smoke on the Water", "Joy to the World"
I've paid off all my debts
Got some change left over yet and I'm
Gettin' on a whisper jet
I'm gonna fly as far as I can get from
Levelland, doin' the best I can
Out in Levelland - imagine that
"They never had much use for me," indeed. But what happens when events conspire to pull you back, and your decisions bring those events to fruition?