Monday, July 25, 2011

I Find Out on Wednesday

In 72 hours, I'll know whether I'm at risk when people yell "Bang!"

Lost in the Supermarket

Political critique of consumer culture is too easy: ideology inculcates an imaginary relationship with a real mode of production, blah blah blah. There's a Lacanian "lack" in ourselves that ideology tries get us to fill by buying stuff. Old news for my academic friends. For others, here's a Clif's Notes version from recent pop culture:

Joe Strummer's take on this critique is equally accessible:

"I'm all lost in the supermarket / I can no longer shop happily / I came in here for that special offer: / a guaranteed personality." The speaker either won't or can't assent to the idea that what we buy helps configure our subjectivity. Brands don't make us who we are. But maybe we're so deep in the ideological maze that we can't see any other way of defining ourselves.

Some of us try opting out. Romantic / progressive / back-to-land / hippie / punk / hipster aesthetics have all been about abstaining from consumerism. But always, that act of abstention gets co-opted: see American Apparel's capitalization of the dirt-bag, DIY vibe of current hipsterism. See Proctor and Gamble making "green" cleaning supplies. We still buy shit to show who we are--it's just that we buy different shit to show that we're different.

I do it, too. I've written here before about how I rationalize my cycling. Yes, riding a bike instead of driving a car to get somewhere is a subversive act that might help free us from expensive health insurance premiums and high gas prices. Both outcomes are anti-corporate. But biking is still an act that says "Hey, look at me on my cool new / retro metaphor for alternative thinking! Yipee!" And I still sometimes drive places in order to ride my bike.

I rode my mountain bike alone through Swanson Park yesterday. Swanson's where I first rode with my friend Miah all those years ago. I had gone to Ireland and rode all over the island for six weeks, but after I came home, I put the bike away and rarely got on it again for two years. But once Miah got me riding it at Swanson, I was hooked, and I've ridden a bike at least 5-6 times a month ever since.

Here's where the Clash song "Lost in the Supermarket" comes in: I got lost in Swanson yesterday. Cue laughter. For you non-Omahans, Swanson is a municipal park with about 5 miles of tightly looping single-track running through second-growth, deciduous hardwood forest. Dense foliage and underbrush surround very narrow and twisty clay trails that frequently double back next to themselves.

I've ridden there scores of times, but only once or twice since I've been back in Omaha. And they've changed some stuff. One loop is completely closed off, the entrance / exit trails have been moved, the climb up to Tetanus Ridge--where exposed iron and steel scrap juts up out of the ground for 50 yards and threatens an eponymous shot if you crash--has been closed. All those changes are pretty easy to figure out, but somehow I missed a turn in the deep woods. See, there are new little signs at most of the forks in the trail: A1, B1, etc, with directional arrows pointing the way. But I somehow went from C1 or D1 to J1 and skipped a whole bunch of stuff. I tried to backtrack and figure out where I went wrong, but I got caught in a loop starting and ending at the long bridge that leads to the J1 and the climb up and out of the woods to the fire station road.

After a few minutes trying to figure out the route, I found the road crossing and entered the switchbacks through the prairie grass and sumac. I found the new exit trail, too. But during my second lap, I paid more attention to the letters on the signage, and I found the trails marked D, E, F, and G that I'd missed the first time. But I have no idea how I'd missed them. I couldn't find the bad turn I took during my first lap, with one exception: during the second lap, I followed a "difficult" arrow instead of an "easy" option at a fork in the trail. I dropped down a really steep hill toward a creek bottom and then popped up a sharp rise 200 yards later. Taking the "easy" fork must have led me to the wrong turn. Hmmm.

I always knew where I was and how to get out of the woods. Only that missing fork eluded me. So I wasn't lost so much as ... displaced. But I marveled at how I could get so turned around, even in deep woods, on a piece of land I'd ridden so many times before. The world just felt askew. Trees loomed larger, grass radiated deeper. Swanson's grown more wild since I've been gone, and that wildness might be what disconcerted and displaced me. Of course, without the new signage assigning an alphabetic symbol to each of the loops, I might not have noticed that I missed a turn. Maybe the park's new civility is what disoriented me. That's what ideology is made of, after all: language and metaphor.

But for a sense of self partly constituted by the act of riding of a bike, getting lost on familiar territory was a revelation. "Home" felt "away." If  Ulysses is right when he says "I am a part of all that I have met," then finding the new where I expected the old might mean that I'm not exactly who I thought I was.

And sometimes, that is a comforting thought. Being lost someplace as familiar as Swanson--or the supermarket-- might mean that I'm not so dependent on habits and patterns. That I am not, after all, my khakis. That I'm not consigned to repeating the same choices and following the same patterns that got me into this mess. That it's still possible to take a different fork.

Friday, July 22, 2011

More Numbers

Good cholesterol: way high. Bad cholesterol: way low. I'm a cholesterol rock star. My liver and kidneys and thyroid levels are all great, too.

But they still want to do a stress test to figure out the weird EKG results. Maybe the glitch in my heart has something to do with why I've struggled to recover from hard surges on the bike this season. Maybe it's also got something to do with why I sometimes get so dizzy after exercise.

I've undergone Conconi and lactate threshold testing in a sports performance lab, but the doctor wants a cardiologist to have a look at a more specific test. "You're getting into your forties, Eric. We don't want you to just drop dead now, do we?"

My response to all this crap has been pretty stoic. But I can't help thinking about Steve Larsen, one of the first guys I met after I moved to Davis. He owned Steve Larsen's Wheelworks, the best roadie / tri shop I've ever seen. I didn't understand the significance of the name until I flipped through The Cyclist's Training Bible, which quotes him a few times. A Google search revealed that Steve raced the Giro as a member of the Motorola team, won a MTB national title, and won an Ironman Lake Placid and top-ten at Kona.

He sold me some tires the first week I moved to town and gave me some good ideas about places to ride around town. He was really welcoming and encouraging, and he reminded me of Kent McNeil, owner of the old High Gear bike shop in Omaha and the founder of the Trek Bicycle Stores in Omaha, KC, and St. Louis. 

The next time I went to Wheelworks, Steve had sold it and relocated with his family to Oregon. In 2009, word reached Davis that he had died of a sudden heart attack while training. A world-class talent and the father of five kids, dead at 39.

We later learned that Steve may have died of complications from a virus or an allergy, but the heart-attack theory is what stuck with me. 

Even though I can't pedal up a hill and suffer from a weak lumbar spine, I'm in pretty good shape for someone my age. But Steve Larsen was among the elite athletes of his generation. If it can happen to somebody like that, it can happen to anybody. The results of my EKG may mean that I'm a higher risk of a sudden heart attack. Or they could mean nothing at all.

Hence the stress test. It'll probably be on a treadmill, which only reinforces my oft-repeated assertion that running sucks. But I suppose it's better than never running again.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Good and bad numbers

My math PhD / bike racer friend Paul Mach might argue that numbers are inherently neutral, but I disagree. As symbols, they mean many things.

The trinity, for example: 3 IS a magic number. How many skyscrapers lack a thirteenth floor?

Here's some more numbers: I push 325 watts at threshold, for a total of 3.71 watts/kilogram. That came up in conversation last night. It used to be 370, or 4.2 watts/kilo. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I burned 1625 kilojoules on my "easy" version of last night's Wednesday Night Worlds--no more than 250 watts for 2.5 hours.

Numbers: I'm about to turn 41. I though that number might mark the appropriate time for a physical, so I had some stuff looked at.

Resting heart rate: 44. Blood pressure: 108 / 60. Good numbers, all.

But as always, it's the ambiguity of words that trip me up. My EKG showed "early repolarization,,' which, according to recent studies, means that I might be at significantly higher risk of heart attack. It could also mean that I'm a young male athlete.

I have none of the other associated symptoms of a heart condition associated with early repolarization, aside from my persistent problems with low electrolyte levels and dehydration after exercise, which often leads to low blood pressure and dizziness when I get off the bike.

Now we're waiting for a whole bunch of additional numbers from the blood work to show us what those words mean.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

You're Stuck in a Metaphor!

This is so damn meta, I don't even know where to begin. In medias res, perhaps?

Here's what happens to an improvisational actor (Steve Coogan) who's spent entirely too much time reading the Romantic poets. The fact that I laughed as hard as I did means that I'm reading (watching) this as a metaphor for the two parts of myself; one who attempts something palpably, stupidly ambitious and gets stuck, and the other who stands on the bridge and mocks his friend's attempt.

But I'm also stuck in a metaphor, you see: my damn book's symbology just won't resolve itself. I unpack metaphors all day, sometimes so many that I'm beginning to think I've discovered a Gordian knot of them. I'm stuck in a metaphor (perpetually halfway finished with an impossible task) made up of metaphors (Romanticism as agricultural upheaval).

Plus, Blank once fell off his bike while trying to cross a stream. That was pretty damn funny, too.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My memory lied!? Images refute my version of a race win

Thanks to North Iowa Spin for their permission to use these images and for their hospitality all weekend. The Monson & Sons / Bicycle, Blues, & BBQ race weekend was a blast. I hope we can arrange another visit next season.

Calm and focused before the race. Actually, I was still really pissed about the day before and desperate to make amends.

Monson and Sons Road Race
I could have sworn that I swung way over the center line when I jumped and started the sprint.

Monson and Sons Road Race
Digging deep and ramping up.

Monson and Sons Road Race
"Don't stop pedaling!"

Monson and Sons Road Race
"Did I win? Where's Shim? Don't barf in front of all these people."

These pictures have confirmed that my memory of the road race is deeply flawed. I was positive that I sent my bike all the way to the other side of the road when I saw the 200m / open road sign, and I was sure that I sprinted up the left-hand side of the road.

I also had no idea that Karl Rosenberg was that close to my wheel as we approached the line. Knowing wouldn't have changed anything I did, but I must've stayed in the group's side draft as I jumped and held my line all the way to the finish.

Karl was one of the solo riders who did so much of the chasing every time Scott Wall tried to get away. He did a ton of work in the race, probably because he trusted his sprint as much as I did mine. Those chase efforts might have burned a few too many matches and cost him the ability to come around me at the end of the race.

This was a good group of guys to race against. The course suited me and resulted in a somewhat easy race, but lots of us tried to animate it. We also took pretty good care of each other; there was a lot of communication and a lot of safety precautions. That's a good excuse to race masters events: we race smart and safe becasue all of have to get up and go to work the next day.

Except me. I just have to stumble downstairs and turn on the computer.

Monday, July 11, 2011

"When your luck turns, Sully, it TURNS"

Between races this weekend, I spent a little time talking about my father and the past. I spent a little more time berating myself for bad choices, but I did that only in my head. I even lost track of my humanity just a little bit, and that may have been the worst part.

But then, everything turned; the weather, the roads, the legs, the pedals. My luck. Now that I'm standing on the other side of what seems like a paradigm shift in my Omaha stopover, I'm torn between writing this story as a random convergence of forces or as a culmination of preparation and intent. I tend to blame myself and my decisions when things go poorly and attribute positive developments to luck. That makes living kind of hard, sometimes--especially when I accept blame for crippled mothers, disabled kids, disenchanted friends, lost jobs, unfulfilled potentials. But when my writing goes well or my kids achieve something, I chalk it up to fortune or happenstance. Resolving such negative thinking has been an ongoing challenge of subjective evaluation.

But on the bike, the numbers and the results don't lie. Maybe that's why my "fun' writing focuses on the bike: it's easier to explain.

Or maybe it's not: sometimes the strongest guy doesn't win. Sometimes you find yourself hurled into the abyss on a descent or hit by a car driven by an idiot. Sometimes you launch a heroic attack that doesn't work or suffer a mechanical failure that ruins months of training.

But sometimes, the gods smile on you and offer what Wordsworth calls "abundant recompense." Such was my weekend.

I drove to Clear Lake, Iowa for a weekend of Bikes, Blues, and BBQ with my teammates Leah and Shim. (I learned that Shim really doesn't like being referred to in social media, so I suppose we should call him "He Who Must Not Ne Named." But since that cat's already of the bag, let's just stick with Shim). 

Shim and I both raced the Master's 30+ crit through downtown Clear Lake, which meant that Cat 1/2/3 "youngsters" Ian Robertson and Lee Baumgarner from Flatwater Cycling in Lincoln also toed the line. The course was a semi-technical, eight-turn affair that started and finished next to the town square and ran alongside the ubiquitous lake for two blocks. It featured a block-long power climb and two potholes at the apex of two of the turns.

I failed to get enough intensity in my warm-up, so I hoped to sit in for the first half of the race until my legs opened up. How many times have I made that mistake? If you see me before a crit, remind me that without two five-minute ramp-ups to threshold before a crit, disaster awaits. Disaster.

I felt okay during the first three laps of the race. While Ian and Lee both blazed along at the front, I let the confidence I gained from cornering through Lawrence last weekend help me move up in the corners while drifting back on the little climb. But when I hit a pothole and heard an audible "clunk" at the end of lap three, I started to panic: I couldn't shift into the lowest gears on my rear cassette, and my breathing went to hell. the pedals just wouldn't turn, and my handling felt wiggly and unpredictable. I got gapped off the back twice and then dropped really badly.

When I looked down at my rear derailleur, it hung askew beneath the cassette. I hopped off the bike and realized that the impact of the pothole had jarred loose my derailleur hanger--the same one that fell off just before the start of the Lawrence Crit last weekend. Because we had to order the missing bolts directly from Trek, I had spent the week riding the bike with the hanger held in place by the force of the quick release skewer, but I evidently didn't get it properly aligned when I changed wheels right before the race. The tire was rubbing one of the brake pads, and the derailleur cage was way out of alignment. Race over. I blamed myself, as I should have, for not getting the bolts in time. But I ordered them as soon as I could, and I visited the shop and tried to find a solution. But I failed to properly secure the hanger in place. But Trek made a bike that allowed the bolts to pop out. But they popped loose because I misused my trainer in Lawrence. On and on, ad infinitum. Bad luck or simple negligence?

I threw the bike over my shoulder and did the racer's walk of shame through the backside of the course as the race continued. Wayne's Ski and Cycle had set up a tent in the town center, so I wandered over and told Wayne about my dilemma. He pulled bolts from his personal Trek Speed Concept Tri bike, but they were the wrong diameter. A QBP rep's loaner Cannondale, however, proved a better donor--its bolts worked just fine.  He and Wayne also re-tuned my rear derailleur and got the bike back in fighting form.

I watched Shim take third in our Masters race and saw an unfortunate crash in lap two of the Cat 5 race. I thought I was having a bad day:

No matter bad your luck gets, it can always get worse.
That's a total loss of a 2011 Trek Madone 6.5. Ouch. Even though I watched it happen, I have no idea what caused the crash.

Crashes feature prominently in the history of Clear Lake, a pretty little town with huge lake-front mansions alternating with charming Victorians. It's famous for hosting the last show that Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens played before their plane went down the Day the Music Died.

After a bit of food and some rest, Bryan and I kitted up for the cat 3 race. I was confident in my bike and my legs, but I was wrong. I couldn't recover from even minor surges in speed, and I got pulled after 20 minutes of racing. Bryan stayed in the race and gutted out the heat and humidity until the finish, while I tried to stop coughing and was inexplicably rude to a passer-by who wanted to chat about the racing. I was still in the process of peeling off my jersey when he wandered over to our van, so tried to tell him that I couldn't breathe or think coherently, but I think I bungled it. As a guy who always tries to serve as a positive ambassador for the sport of cycling, I totally blew that exchange. Bad timing-- or negligence?

After decompressing for a bit, I walked the course and tried to give Leah some positive vibes during her Elite Women's race. Look at her, all bad-assed and focused on the startling line:

She was outnumbered by the racers in the blue kits who attacked one by one until the winner got away and won by several seconds. Shim and I watched in horror as Leah eased off the pedals just before the finish line and got pipped for third. She was justifiably upset, but Shim's bellowing "don't stop pedaling!" would prove prophetic the next day. Still, her fourth place in that field and on that course was a great result.

Shim dropped his chain in the Pro 1/2 race, which was won in a solo attack by Nick Frey of Jamis Sutter Home. Fellow professional Gregg Brandt of Kenda / Five-Hour Energy chased valiantly for 5 laps but couldn't close the gap, while Clear Lake native Tom Zirbel controlled the pack and finished fourth. The crowd numbered in the hundreds:

Yeah, we race bikes in the Midwest!
As pleased as I was to see such a great turnout for a crit in Northern Iowa, I was really disappointed by how poorly my racing had gone. All the travel time away from my family, the entry fees, the expense of the new bike, the missed writing time: all of it seemed like a total waste as the day wound down. Shim and Leah and I met some good folks for dinner in Mason City, but I brooded throughout the rest of the evening.

We awoke the next day to rain and awful humidity. All three of us dragged a little as we loaded our stuff from the hotel and drove back to Clear Lake. The road race was staged in the parking lot of the Surf Ballroom, which has been restored to the way it looked the night of the gig that preceded the plane crash. One wall of the lobby is covered by Buddy Holly memorabilia, and on another wall hang pictures from hundreds of bands that played the room during the last 40 years.

My dad loved Buddy Holly. His was the generation that danced to that music and watched in horror as it died.

By the time Shim and I started our Master's 40+ race, the rain had stopped and the roads had started to dry. Temperatures were pretty mild, and Shim commented that we had covered the first 10 miles in what seemed like no time at all. I didn't know the course, but everybody commented on its lack of climbs and constant wind--two factors that usually play into my favor. I won my first race over the Dunnigan Hills in Northern California on a hot, windy day, and last year's Nebraska State Championship road race was run in similar conditions. But the wind was non-existent as we rode through flat corn and soybean fields. It felt like an easy recovery ride, just 30 guys chatting and spinning along.

Besides Shim and I, there were two guys from the Central Iowa Cycling Club, two from Sioux City Velo, two from River Valley Cycling in Minnesota, and three locals from North Iowa Spin, the host club. Assorted singles rounded out the field. I chatted about the course with Scott Wall, a lean, chiseled-legged hard man from Central Iowa CC, and a few guys from North Iowa. All of them said that the wind usually broke up the fields because there just weren't enough hills.

Nothing happened until the 15-mile mark, when I took a race-pace pull at the front to loosen my legs. When I pulled off, Bob Gregg from Sioux City tried an attack that Shim and a Minnesota guy covered pretty easily. I thought that if either Shim or I and one rider each from the other teams got into a break, we'd have a chance to stay away, but each time Shim or I tried to go, the pack would jump really hard. A solo rider escaped for about 5 miles but simply dangled ahead of us, and after we caught him, Scott Wall tried to launch 3-4 times in the next few miles. I tried to bridge up to him with a Minnesota guy on my wheel, but my jump must've scared the pack, because they roared to life and caught us just after we reached Scott.

Two solo guys did a lot of the chasing, which I found odd. Shim and I and the two Central Iowa guys did most of the animating and attacking, but the two solo guys chased while the local host club never appeared at the front. They probably ride these roads enough to know that no breakaway was going to stick on such a calm day.

I focused on scarfing down salted Clif Blocks and caffeinated Gu shots to stave off cramping in the humidity. No back pain ever crossed my mind, and despite heavy sweating in the sultry air, my legs felt supple. I did my best to cover most accelerations so Shim didn't have to, and when the pack converged, I slotted in ahead of him and tried to give him my huge draft.

Shim asked me how I felt with about 8 miles to go, and I told him that if the race ended in a sprint, I had the legs to win. We tried to pick one of the Minnesota guys to start a break with, but we just couldn't get the right combination of guys, so we resigned ourselves to mass finish.

A solo rider tried  to escape with 2k to go, but he came back on his own soon afterward. A few surges failed to string things out, so I side drafted into about fifth position as the group converged at the 1k sign. The referee had told us at the starting line that the route was closed to oncoming traffic only at the 200-meter mark, so I sat on the yellow and watched passing signs that reminded us not to cross the center line. I was chomping at the bit. I told myself over and over to wait, wait, wait.  Patience, patience, patience. Wait, wait, wait.

When I saw the "open road" sign allowing us to use both lanes, I swung out hard to the left and surged with everything I had. I stood up and threw the bike from side to side, flicked through the shifting, and felt my wheels fly beneath me. I passed the head of the group immediately and felt myself gap them off my wheel. I hit my biggest gear in about five seconds and then tried to punch through it. At about 75 meters to the line, my vision started to blur and my heart wanted to explode, but in my head, Shim bellowed at Leah, "Don't stop pedaling!" I crossed the line with my head down, still sprinting as hard as I could, terrified that someone would come around me. No one did.

I'm not sure how much of a gap I had, but I think I probably crossed the line alone. A few dozen people snapped pics and cheered as I won, but I saw none of it--I just tried not to pass out.

I was too wrecked from the sprint to feel anything other than nausea; the next few minutes after the race are still a memory-less haze. Shim picked his way through traffic for fourth place, and we rolled back to the finish line in time to watch Leah take fourth in her race, as well.

The host club fed us some beer and BBQ as they waited for the Pro 1/2 field to finish their 82-mile slog. Leah lamented my failure at race van organization when I haphazardly spread my stuff all over the place like a zombie, and Shim itched to get on the road for home. We left before the podium presentations (family and sponsor-disappointing FAIL on my part), but it felt good to leave town a winner.

Shim's power numbers prove that it was an easy race, but we animated the thing as well as we could. And I learned that I still have my sprint, even if I seldom get to use it.

How in the world did I go from dead-legs awful on Saturday to easy-race winner on Sunday? The different nature of the courses, for one. A good night's sleep, for another. A supportive teammate. A solid eating and drinking plan. Smart tactics in the group. Patience in the final kilometer.

Or was it all blind, stupid luck?
*       *        *

Richard Russo wrote one of my favorite books about an affably charming, Irish-American loser of a sixty year-old man. Sullivan's barely getting by, estranged from his family, allowing his unfulfilled potential to sadden the people who love him. But then an accidental visit from his son offers Sully a shot at redemption and a chance at repentance. All in the name of luck.

Or is it conscious choice?

The bike's a metaphor for many, many things. In my immediately post-race, finish-line hypoxia, I thought of something else Shim said, or asked. About my father.

Perhaps some failures aren't my fault.

But that doesn't mean I can't help rectify them.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Marx Was Right, Baby! (A Cycling Dialectic)

Here's conclusive proof of Marxist historiography from my old friend (ie: total stranger) Bike Snob NYC:
You'd imagine that at some point Americans would wake up to the fact that they're being sold a very expensive illusion of safety that is in fact killing them and opt for practicality and efficiency over sheer size, but until that day there's nothing illusory about city streets filled with light-running SUVs driven by a gentry who are more or less free to maim with impunity. And when it comes to cycling for transportation, the fact that your safety--indeed your very life--is not a consideration is what you might call a "barrier to entry."
The illusion of safety that BSNYC describes here is a function of what literary theorists call ideology, or an imaginary relationship to a real mode of production. We NEED cars. Cars MUST exist. You CAN'T live without one. You have to get from your suburb to your office every day, right? Because ownership of a McMansion with an acre of lawn is the AMERICAN DREAM, right? And so to protect ourselves from death and dismemberment, we should buy cars that are SAFER (ie: more expensive) than anybody else's car. Escalade! America!

The other salient point I find in the BSNYC quote is about "gentry." Marx argues that "the [written] history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle." So it's the "gentry" (ie: rich whiteys) in their Yukons and Escalades who are endangering proletarian cyclists? (ie: working stiffs) Right? That's why more people don't ride bikes?

Is that what makes me a radical? I ride a bike?

But wait. The average retail cost of the bikes ridden on an average American "race ride" is ~$3,000? And most of the riders drive their SUVs to the start of the ride? Well, crap.

So I guess the revolution will be led by super-commuters Rafal, Munson, and Sarah, none of whom have updated their blogs in weeks. How about Matt Martin and the Community Bike Project? They're getting working stiffs on bikes by recycling old parts and teaching folks how to fix their bikes.

I'm certainly not in the vanguard. The only cycling-based class struggle I saw last week was when an exemplar of white-trash hickdom in a broken-down pickup truck tried to run a bunch of doctors, lawyers, and middle managers off the Omaha Trace Road as we spun along on our snazzy pieces of carbon. Workers of the world, unite -- and kill all the freaks wearing $250 bib shorts!

Know what else? I don't care what the crime statistics say: the safest place in Omaha, Nebraska is along Florence Blvd and North 24th St -- when you're riding a bike. These neighborhoods are riddled with drugs and gang-related crimes, but at least the motorists there don't value their time more than cyclists' safety. They'll get their vehicles around you eventually, so what's the hurry? Most all of them return my friendly wave as they ease past me.

That courtesy doesn't happen in Millard very often. No one in in the predominately bourgeois Omaha suburbs has EVER yelled "Hello, beautiful white people!" when a bunch of Union Pacific executives rode by, at least not when I was around. And only a hillbilly meth-head has ever stepped out from behind a Redwood tree along the the Bohemian Highway in Norcal and yelled "Peace on earth! Wanna see my tits?!"

Rhetorical support for the revolution: that's gotta count for something.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Rules for Old Men in the Rain

photo courtesy John Clayton

With all due respect to the Flatwater Criterium, Norfolk Classic, and Papillion Twilight Criterium, last weekend's Tour of Lawrence was the first time since I've come back to Nebraska that I felt like I was in a real bike race. Maybe it was seeing Brad Huff in his Jelly-Belly kit, or maybe it was the throngs of spectators lining the start / finish line and creating walls of of sound on three of the eight corners. Maybe it was the other racers--both the masters and Elite 3 races had fields of over 50 guys, and everybody came to race. Maybe it was me--I stayed with the pack the entire race. But this day of criterium racing felt just as charged as the Merco or San Francisco events I used to race.

The new bike made its debut and performed like a champ; cornering was much smoother, and my out of the saddle efforts resulted in noticeably quicker surges. My back hurt a lot during the second half of the Masters race, so between events I borrowed a stand from Sunflower Bike and Outdoor and adjusted my saddle forward a centimeter. That helped a lot.

Aching spinal erectors were the least of my worries, however. Black sheets of rain started about ten minutes into our masters race and continued until just after we finished. I saw at least ten guys go down, and one of them slid on his back alongside me for 20 feet as I ripped down a long straightway at 25 miles an hour. I saw him after the race, and he didn't have a mark on him. The water was that deep.

 The Cat 3 race was also a crash-fest, but none of the carnage seemed to faze me. I was squeezing through gaps, moving up in corners, and covering surges like a racer who's been doing this a while. Which I have. It's just nice to rediscover that fact. I finished 17th out of 50-something after losing Lucas's wheel in turn seven when a Des Moines rider chopped me by diving for the inside of a corner. He took out another rider, so I watched Lucas pass a few guys for fourth. But I had the legs at the end. That's a first this year.

Once again, I marvel at the equanimity and decency of my teammates. These are good folks. 

Lucas Marshall, Matt Tillinghast, and E.O'B. Photo by Jill Tillinghast
After the races I drove into Kansas City and hung out until the wee small hours with Carole, Tiff, and Erin. Too much whiskey and way too much laughter helped squeeze the weekend well into the fourth of July. How in the world did I survive four hours in the car, two hours of crit racing, and five hours of drinking, noshing, and gabbing? Good company helps--in racing and in socializing.

After coffee Monday morning, driving back to Omaha proved harder than I'd imagined, especially since I-29 is essentially closed. But winging through northern Kansas and southern Nebraska has it's advantages, especially when my bike wasn't the only new blue addition to the family:

Meet Blue Roo Sally, the Aussie Cattle Dog & Abbey companion extraordinaire. Having these two waiting for me at home made the trip fly right by.

This weekend I'm off to Clear Lake, Iowa for a crit and road race with Bryan, Shim, and Leah. I'll race the masters and the Cat 3 criteriums and the masters race on the road.

I can't wait.