A return to spring – if only for one day…
Kansas weather has never been something to depend upon. There are average temperatures on the books that can give you a general idea of what to expect from the weather from week to week, season to season, but for the most part Kansas’ weather is a tad fickle. This makes commuting during the 'off-season' pretty difficult, and suddenly your backpack gains 5-10 pounds from all the extra layers of technical clothing you are forced to carry in order to be prepared to deal with whatever the sky may hurl your way. Fall is a dark time for most cyclists and winter even darker; even though you're only 70 or so days away from spring at the beginning of winter, it seems an eternity away as each dull, grey, frozen day blends into the next. Forecast after forecast of temperatures in the mid-twenties, with a chance of a ‘wintry mix’ popping up in the outlook every week or so can take the sporting spirit right out of you. Pleasant weather surprises are rare, and have to be acted upon in the moment - which is why I couldn't wait to climb onto the bike today.
It's December 21st in Kansas, and it's nearly 60ºF outside. Impossible! Although it's not record warmth, it's certainly the first time in recent memory that I could actually leave the jacket at home during a fall ride - especially the last day of fall. Of course, you can't ever really have it ALL -- there was a inflexible south wind along with the near-record warmth, but it would provide a nice boost homeward -- in typical fashion I left the driveway and headed into the wind for the first leg of the ride. Even better than the high temperature, I noticed that the roads were dry, what with all of the previous weeks' snow and slush having melted away, and so I grabbed my summer race-bike to enjoy a ride sans fenders for a change. After a few hours of some good spinning, rhythm climbing and steady cruising at a reasonable level of exertion (it is the 'off season' after all) I returned home, with even a few more layers shed than I had left with. Riding along with exposed skin in December is something for Californians and Floridians to enjoy, not Kansans! It may have still been a little chilly by June or July standards, but after a fall season full of commutes, sometimes in temperatures well below freezing, I was well acclimated to a little thermal discomfort. When I arrived back in the driveway to 57º on the thermometer it might as well have read 80º - it was a heat wave compared to the 15ºF I had fought my way home in only a few weeks before. Getting undressed afterwards for a shower was SO easy, compared to the endless un-layering of winter fabrics, gloves and headgear. The last hill on my daily commute home is always enticing -- so I push it every time, even in the off-season when maybe I shouldn’t. It's just such a satisfying end to the day to slam home that last roller and then float down into the driveway with that last remnant of burn in your legs slipping away, but from stopping so quickly after such an effort it's nearly impossible to get my backpack, jacket, helmet, head-cover, gloves and whatever else, off of my body fast enough to avoid meltdown, no matter what the temperature is outside. The neighbors think I'm absolutely nuts; on Thursday nights after arriving home I've often taken the weekly trash to the curb in the coldest of weather wearing nothing more than I would wear on a summer ride, steam billowing off of my exposed head. I would never actually ride dressed that lightly in the winter of course, but at that point I'm never far from the heated comfort of the house - those extra few minutes in the cold air are perfect to bring down the internal furnace so I'm not reduced to a sloppy ball of perspiration in the laundry room immediately after my ride. It's so much easier in the summertime, when I can just get off the bike and waltz inside to the air-conditioned bliss and catch a chill or two as I stand in front of the nearest vent to cool down for a few minutes. Throw in the additions of earlier sunrises, later sunsets, and low temperatures in the upper 60's --- ahhhhhhhh..... Spring and summer, baby --- cycling's glory months. Only a thin layer of technical fabric separating you from the grandeur of nature’s best offerings: warm sunshine, gentle breezes, and endless miles of ice/salt/sand-free pavement to enjoy day after everlasting, untroubled day.
Cut back to reality, 24 hours following my December brush with springtime, and it's unquestionably the first day of winter. The near-60º temps of exactly a day ago are a memory, and in their place is a swath of cold and unfriendly rainfall. It's appreciatively above freezing- but still only 39º as I depart work in the afternoon. Spring feels as far away as next fall - but even as I turn over the pedals and pull the zipper of my rain jacket higher, I smile to myself with memories of the recent past. Nature in Kansas is a fickle mistress, but even when her heart turns to ice and you think that there is no way to crack it, she warms to you and reminds you for a little while what her good side can feel like. My body is cold, my nose running, my leg warmers soaked with icy rain, but deep inside my head is a warm vision of spring - and it's only 70 or-so days away.
[ /<(- ]
12/07/2003 Cycling Naked.
I’m a numbers FREAK – from bank statements, to my jobs – numbers are everywhere…deep behind the characters on this page are numbers – it’s maddening, but numbers are important for just about everything that anyone does. It’s no different in the cycling world. From heart rate monitors, cycle computers, hub-driven watt-meters, and the software to gather all of the raw numbers they produce and turn them into valuable training data – numbers float around modern cycling everywhere, from racers to reccies. I’m no stranger to numbers in cycling. The cyclo’puter is usually the first thing I install after a bike is complete, and ever since I took my first real road bike out for a spin, I got home and jotted down the mileage and time. Even commuting, I arrive home each evening and, not long after my helmet is hanging from a hook, I’m methodically scribing the days numbers onto my Graham Watson cycling calendar – nothing quite sets off the masterful photography of Graham’s work than a grid full of numbers; mileages, times, averages, and weather notes directly below them. Often on the road, I wonder how well I’m doing – and my faithful electronic companion strapped to the handlebars is always there to let me know. A few glances, and the demons in my head are at peace – at least for a few dozen miles. Additionally, nothing is quite as satisfying as hitting the usual training loop, arriving at the first rest stop and checking your stats to find them a few notches better than the week before. It’s exactly all of these positives that ran through my head this afternoon as I clipped away the zip-ties that held the wires of my cycle computer in place, and as I turned the screwdriver that loosened its mount from my handlebars.
As I performed my reverse installation, I imagined cycling down the road and simply not knowing the information I had become so accustomed to having at my fingertips. I wondered what life would be like to simply arrive home in the evening, hang up the bike, and go inside. Would those regained minutes once lost to logging mileage give me an edge, perhaps some extra sleep, or would I instead LOSE sleep by not knowing how I did today compared to the day preceding? How would I react the first few times I would look down at the handlebar, to see my constant companion absent? Would it matter? Would I still push myself for the big numbers if they were no longer there to record? I suppose I will know by the time I check in next, but in their stead I’m hoping to find something else entirely: solace. In abandoning my old friend, I have a certain amount of trepidation in what my reaction will be and how I will be able to handle the lack of information. In essence I will be cycling naked, but I hope to be clothed by a certain warmth that may come to me thru the newfound simplicity. The joy of cycling goes back over one hundred years – while today’s cyclists are driven to perform based on numbers and are inspired to try and try again thru the advent of specific information-based training, one must look back at the champions of yore. Not to draw on the trite, but names like Anquetil, Coppi, Bobet, Gaul, Kubler – any number of cycling’s legendary alumni from before the early 80’s. No matter what their riding styles, they were winners – winners that were not slaves to numbers while riding. They may well have had their directors sportif leaning out of a car window, pointing to a stopwatch for motivation, but once the encounter was over the rider was alone with his pain, his thoughts, his bike. Champions were bred without heart-rate analysis, without watt-meters, without knowing how far they had ridden down to the hundredth-kilometer. Certainly with the introduction of all of these technologies we have seen old records fall, speeds rise, and athletes defy odds – but with decidedly less magic. Not often does the modern cyclist with superior training and tactics fall to a lesser man – the numbers have proven it. Gone are the days where storybook wins littered the cycling press – two men, near equals on the road, and one simply had more hunger, more drive, more passion for the win – and the champion falls to the underdog, a no-body – someone that just rode their bike harder. In a post race interview back in the highlight of his career, the great Eddy Merckx was asked by a member of the press how one should train to race so well, and Eddy’s reply was simply “ride your bike…lots.” Such questions from the press today would warrant a several-minute explanation of the finer intricacies of modern training techniques accompanied by lots of numbers. Granted, those numbers are valid tools – but everyone forgets that many great riders were crowned without giving such numbers a thought – and some of those riders won their races on bikes weighing several pounds more than today’s machines, with fewer gear ratios – and in the earliest days, only one gear. Arguably, bringing such athletes forward from the past to compete against today’s highly trained champions would provide a very close race. Wherein today’s training techniques can mold any willing body into a competitive athlete, the peloton of yester-year was lead by men who indeed had a unique gift and passion for cycling. They did not need numbers to motivate them.
So, I dive headlong into this misty past of microchip-free handlebars and magnet-less spokes – and will spend the remainder of my winter training in the darkness of a data-less cycling existence. No numbers to witness. No high marks to shove for. Just me, the bike, the elements, and the magic of not knowing how fast, how far. We will see how far into the spring I can carry it, as a return to competitiveness will likely have me looking to find some numbers if for no other reason than to see why I lost. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more scenery, feeling a lot more in touch with the bike and the air I rush through – no so pre-occupied with numbers that do me little good in the off-season anyway. After all, in the heat of the moment on that next ride you take, when you see that distant blip on the horizon up ahead, just to the right of traffic – you know only one thing, as I do: catch him. Right at that moment there are no averages, no heart-rates, no watts, no adjusting your mental spreadsheet to prepare for a chase. You shift, you spin harder, and you put your head down into the wind that separates you from your new adversary, letting the slipstream strip away everything else from your existence but the task at hand. In that magic moment – computer on the handlebars or not – you are alone with the pavement, the bike, the sweat, the burn in your legs, the target on the horizon. Throwing numbers into your head during such moments would just take something away from that magic, don’t you think?
[ /<(- ]
12/03/2003 Respect and perspective
This is a difficult subject for me to speak about because, as a cyclist, respect is not something I’m accustomed to getting. Cycling in this country is a sub-culture, and no-one outside the realm of the local club ride or track event takes you seriously. This is true for just about everyone that rides a bike. You can be a perfectly nice person, lots of friends, kids at home, whatever - as soon as you climb onto a bicycle and ride down the road, you are subject to the barbs and lashes of an unappreciative and apathetic world. That may be a fatalistic approach, but it’s largely true. You’ll probably only get elbow room from drivers that happen to also be cyclists or those that are just overly cautious. Nine times out of ten, you’re just in the way. Until, of course, people start to realize that it’s not just a hobby for you. Never are motorists more respectful of (or just flabbergasted by) the die-hard winter cyclist on his way to work. I got two offers for rides this morning. This second guy in the big Lexus SUV is the same guy that would have run me off the road if it was 70º and sunny out. Ok, maybe not.
It’s amazing how much someone’s perception of cycling changes when the temperatures drop a few dozen degrees, and there’s fresh snow on the roads. What was once just a passing abnormality has become a talking point for everyone you come across on the roads and in the workplace. Suddenly, people that normally hang out in the background of your life spring forward from the woodwork and ask you questions. I am guaranteed at least one encounter like this, as soon as the weather turns sour while I'm at work.
“You didn’t RIDE today, did you?”
“Yup…every day, man”
“Holy crap…that’s hard-core, dude!”
I just graduated from ‘freak’ to ‘hard-core’, and the only thing that changed was the weather. Those same people will pop forth from the bushes of hum-drum and ho-hum when the temperatures swing the other way, too. There is nothing quite as satisfying as walking in to work from 100º mid-July heat and humidity just in time to overhear two co-workers in the midst of idle banter about how oppressively hot it is outside. They pause, and suddenly quiet down as they realize that that guy in the bike clothes with the backpack isn’t complaining - he’s SMILING. Quiet whispers follow - probably sorted guesses about the cyclist’s mental state. Everyone has gotten so comfortable in our society that they have forgotten how life affirming it is to SUFFER once in a while. This is fast becoming the time of year when even fellow cyclists think I’m insane. Certainly riding a single-speed bike seven miles to work in a driving mix of snow and rain, with a headwind, on a hilly road with only a few layers of fabric between you and frostbite doesn’t sound like a formula for affirmation, but trust me - better yet, mount up and try it for yourself. I’m no Superman - if I can do it every day, certainly you can try it once or twice, right?
You’ll start to live life the way people USED to: like not growing a beard because it’s “in”, but growing a beard because it’s cheaper than a PolarTec balaclava, and keeps the icy wind from sneaking into the top of your jacket. Like buying Gore-Tex because you’ll actually use the fabric to its potential, which, I’m sorry, doesn’t include the 50-yard walk from your heated car to your heated office - that’s another issue entirely: consider that for every trendy $250 leather jacket, there’s a homeless guy downtown that would trade his legs for it in December. Buy a cheap zip-up sweatshirt with a hood and pay the fashion-police for the ticket they’ll issue you. It’s cheaper. Better yet, buy two, and give one to your local shelter. I remember helping my Dad with yard work many years back while living at home, and he would always pull on the same faded, reddish sweatshirt jacket with hood and silver zipper -- it's warm, and it works. He still has it in the hall closet at the ready, I'm sure. Yeah, yeah - I’m getting off the subject a little - but consider that as we slowly rise from the ashes of a scorched economy, we should make strides to make our lives and the lives of those around us better by not immediately jumping back into an excessive lifestyle. You won’t see me hanging up the bike if the gas prices suddenly drop, for instance - yeah, I should just give myself a friggin’ medal, right? Not at all - I simply submit that doing the right thing for the environment, my health, and my personal economy should not change just because I’m not saving ‘as much’ money. In my eyes, what I’m doing is the right thing to do, no matter what the gas-price or the weather. That opinion doesn’t make me any better than the guy climbing into his Lexus SUV every day for his seven mile drive - it just makes me more passionate. Society needs us both - I’d just like to believe that I’m on the greener side of that comparison. I have respect for that man because with a flick of the steering wheel he can alter my existence forever. The only thing I seem to get in return is a couple months of respect from him when the temperatures drop enough to make him wonder if I need a ride, because 'no one in this day and age would ride a bicycle on purpose in this miserable weather'.
"No, thanks .. I'm actually doing this on purpose."
"WHY???" he asks, as if anything on the subject will pierce thru his merino wool beret and sink into his brain. It's difficult enough explaining why I ride year-round to a fellow cyclist, much less a total stranger in a $70,000 SUV, so I reply
"Because it's a perfect day for it, eh?"
He shoots back a confused look, waves, rolls up (electrically, or course) his passenger-side power window and advances up the road.
I think everyone out there has heard at one time or another the stories told by dear, old Grandpa about having to walk 6 miles to school in ankle-deep snow, uphill both ways.
"Why, when I was your age we didn't even HAVE running water."
Too many of us dismiss this aged attitude as humbug, when in fact we should be weeping for a lost age. Ok, going without running water might be taking it to the extreme - but as far as some things like hand-cranked ice-cream, manually raking your yard, splitting logs with an axe, hand-shoveling a driveway -- well, with store-bought frozen treats, power leaf-blowers, chain-saws, snow-blowers, and more, we have abandoned activities that would require us to use some muscle, all in the name of convenience. Again, this smacks of me wanting to move to the woods and live in a cabin, but seriously, you can probably see my point here. Inventions like the "Segway" make me absolutely livid. Someone thought it was a good idea to develop a machine that will prevent you from having to WALK??!! Ok, those little scooters for the elderly so they can get around the mall - that's one thing - but this "human transporter" is marketed (and priced) toward the affluent and otherwise-perfectly-capable-of-walking crowd. Upon it's introduction, I dismissed it as a fad invention - but there are some psychos in Hollywood that have actually purchased and use these things. Uhhh, we are REALLY headed down the wrong path, people. That contraption has 'lazy' written all over it - and if I happen to have a can of spray paint on me the day I see one in this town, you can take that literally. The 'human transporter' was already invented, folks -- it's called a bicycle. Oh, and by the way, I love riding them. They are so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.
I dunno -- on principle, I would never really take a ride from a stranger -- you can thank my Mom for that life rule -- but maybe I should have hopped into that Lexus and taken the opportunity to educate one of the 'lost'; at the risk of my reasoning falling on deaf ears I would have at least made an attempt. I just have a personal rule -- if I leave the house on a bike, I come home on a bike. Total commitment, no matter how tired I might get. The weather has got to do a lot worse to keep me off the saddle, and certainly a lot worse to accept a ride in a Lexus SUV. That alone should have earned me a little more respect from the guy driving.
[ /<(- ]
11/24/2003 “Dawn patrol & saying goodbye to an old friend”
It’s been weeks since I ventured out for a good weekend ride, and certainly a while since I had logged any distance greater than my normal daily commute total, so I got all of my gear together and prepped for a little Saturday AM jaunt. Of course, I don’t want to miss too much of the weekend, so I planned on a short ride and to do most of it in the darkness of pre-dawn. I love dawn-patrol rides, and I hadn’t done one probably since early spring on one of the brevets. I start every morning in the saddle pretty much before the sun comes up anyways, but it’s always rising above the horizon after I have already dropped into my desk for the day. It’s a rare and special thing to catch the sun’s very first rays as you ride along in the saddle. After having stared off into a headlight beam for a few hours, there are no colors anymore – only shapes and shadows – as a result, that first vague, orange-purplish light from the east has a very marked brilliance to it, the kind that must have inspired impressionist painters to attempt its recreation on canvas. The low clouds of that November morning captured all of those nuances with perfection – orange, purple, bright blue; all cascading from the horizon and setting off the south Johnson County landscape magnificently. Equally singular is the opportunity to see such a sight when the temperatures have fallen for the season; there’s nobody on the roads at this early hour on a Saturday – no joggers, no cars, no other cyclists for that matter – which really drives home the fact that you are alone in your quest for early winter mileage.
Technically it’s not winter yet, but the 35º temperature and my slightly numbed fingers say otherwise. I ride down streets that are normally so choked with traffic they would be out of the question during the lit hours of the day. I ride 30 miles before I encounter a single automobile, oncoming, and with a rush of air and noise it is gone and forgotten. The only sounds are the steady spiraling of the chain, the low whirr of my tires against the pavement, and a rooster in the distance greeting the dawn with me.
This is another one of those magical times on the bike I’ve spoken about many times before. Arguably, the intensity and speed of a 25-cyclist-strong double pace line flying down some deserted county highway with a monster tailwind is pretty magical, too – but there is something to be said for these moments that can only be experienced and appreciated in utter solitude.
I make my way south on Switzer, a popular cycling route-way that treks a hilly path southward into rural Johnson County, to visit an old friend for the last time. Not a person, mind you, but a certain section of road. Before you dismiss me as some romanticist freak-show, bear in mind that it’s 35º and I’m riding a bicycle in the dark. There should be no doubt about my mental state, but in my defense I submit that there are literally hundreds of popular songs that have been written about roads, highways and trails. My consideration of a piece of road as an old friend is, therefore, perfectly acceptable! Anyone that has a favorite stretch of highway they drive on the weekends knows what I’m talking about. So, how would you react if that curvy, hilly, endlessly pleasurable section of road was suddenly bulldozed and made arrow-straight and flat? Pretty depressing, right?
I mean, sure, it’s just a road – but it’s one of those little additions to the ordinary that makes the customarily dull task of driving a little spicier, eh? Well, one of my many ‘friends’ is a section of road on Switzer between 167th and 175th streets. It’s fabulous – a nice fast downhill, leading on to a bridge that passes over a little creek, then a sweeping S-curve to the left, back to the right, and a solid uphill climb to 175th St. Heading north, it’s just as entertaining – it tasks the cyclist with his ability to descend, then corner hard, twice, then climb hard before losing too much momentum, all in about 1/8th of a mile, complete with a rushing creek, and a stand of old trees to shade it all. It makes the dozen or so miles of straight pavement leading up to it very worthwhile. And it’s currently on death row. Not for anything it did wrong, I don’t think – there are no memorial crosses or flowers on the roadside marking some teenagers’ fast Friday-night driving error -- it’s just the long arm of progress, holding a broad brush to the landscape of future residential property-tax dollars. I won’t spend too much time on the soapbox here, but little sections of road like this are what make certain areas more unique than others. It seems to be the goal of the establishment to straighten and make the map as grid-like as possible, in the interest of future land division and build-up of homes and strip-malls. Frustrating.
After reading about this favorite stretch of road going on the chopping block, I was determined to ride it again, if only a few more times. Construction is already long-since approved, and the road will likely be closed before many spring-time cyclists get to opportunity to enjoy it again in 2004, so it was time to head south and bid it farewell and snap a few pictures in the process. Someday, when my son or daughter asks me where I used to ride, I can show them. I can show them pictures of rural intersections where traffic counts were in the dozens-of-cars-per-day that will have since evolved into multi-lane speedways lined with convenient shopping – and no bike path, of course. Certainly there will still be places to ride a bicycle in 2018, but I’m sure they won’t be as interesting as my old friend on Switzer. It might seem strange, but I’ll probably journey down there when they finish and post my own memorial next to the fresh concrete slab. A memorial to old friends passed, so many miles ago. It’s too bad the city council isn’t swayed by emotional and sentimental appeal, or I’d have a pretty strong case – but you can bet that I won’t see any more friends fall before I have an opportunity to speak on their behalf.
[ /<(- ]
11/18/2003 --- The magic of the fall morning ---
Someone recently asked me why I bicycle so much. Not wanting to take too much of their time, I searched for a short answer. “It’s magic,” I told them. This response opened me up for a ton of questions, but in return I simply got a confused look. They expected the usual, health-related reasons, or lectures about the environment and gas-prices, pollution, and the like. While all of those are valid reasons, the MAGIC is probably the most forgotten reason to ride.
Getting someone to ride a bike these days is a difficult prospect. Very few people will willingly hop onto a bike and ride when presented with traffic, bad pavement, dogs, renegade joggers, squirrels, motorists, poor visibility, weather and the rest of a never-ending list of obstacles that can take the fun out of cycling. After all, as I am occasionally reminded, it only takes ONE bad brush with any of the above to ruin a perfectly good ride. Anyone that puts in as many miles a week as I do has to realize that they are not all memorable, magical miles – which explains why I struggle sometimes to get more than one update here per week. I sometimes glaze over the fact that my own perception of ‘normal’ is pretty far removed from that which everyone else considers it to be. Much like what happens when you drive everyday, many of my commutes become fairly cookie-cutter in nature until I step back and dissect them. Sometimes the biggest highlight is a new broken bottle in the curb to watch out for, but that’s about it. Most days, however, are indeed magical. Where most folks pick up cycling as a method to achieve fitness, few stick with it long enough to discover what cycling is really about, especially when taken in context with this high-tech, time-is-everything world. Others, like myself, pick up cycling and are bitten so hard by the ‘bug’ that they never fully ‘heal’.
For example, the last twenty miles or so have been particularly enjoyable. Starting last night after getting off the clock from job#2, I started my run home on the single speed, chosen for the chance of thunderstorms in the forecast. Mother-nature had delivered, but I hit the streets about thirty minutes after the heavy stuff had already passed through the area. In the wake of those storms was clean, fresh air – practically void of pollen, pollution and any other particulates. I took in a big deep breath, my head instantly felt clearer, and there was a stiff breeze from the south that would help push me homeward. Perfect. Temps were in the 60’s, which is amazing for November in Kansas. I rolled along over the wet pavement, wet leaves practically concealing the street below them. The endless array of fall colors flying underneath me, illuminated only for a split second by my headlight beam, created the illusion of floating over some mystic path, deep in some storybook forest…until I pass by a few parked cars, of course. A few miles later, another round of showers begins to fall, and I zip up the rain jacket. There is also something endlessly magical about riding in the rain – so long as you can avoid being trapped in a maze of traffic-choked streets. Alone after dark in residential OP, the gentle symphony of raindrops hitting my raincoat and helmet while the tires spin water onto the inside of the bicycle fenders is quite unique. After a few miles in a cool rain, nothing is more satisfying that arriving home, hanging up wet rain-gear and hitting a hot shower. A little bit of tea, a warm bathrobe, and a sound, sound sleep. Ahhhhhh.
After a few hours of that sound sleep, I’m awake for another round – I check the weather as I head out the door – more showers, but there is a large dry window – no rain jacket needed today. The roads are still very wet, and the conditions are perfect for dense fog – there is a heaviness to the air, and the mystic fog is thick enough that I can see my headlight beam complete from the glass to the pavement below, and my taillight forms a blob of blurry red light behind me. This must be what cycling in England is like. Wet, foggy, and cool. Foggy mornings are spooky; the heavy air transmits sound many times farther than normal, making sounds that are normally only in the background jump to the foreground of consciousness. A train at a railroad crossing a few miles to the west sounds like it could be only a few blocks away, its lonely whistle piercing the grey mist around me and echoing off the trees and houses. All of the streetlights cast an eerie light from their bezels, and approaching headlights from cars are announced with a bright, glowing haze on the horizon of the road in front of me accompanied by the high-pitched rushing of tires on wet asphalt. Neighborhood cats on their way home from a night of carousing and the occasional nervous rabbit fill in the blanks between my thoughts as I fly effortlessly through the mist towards my destination. It was an excellent morning.
If it was always like it was this morning, maybe a tad warmer, EVERYONE would ride a bicycle. There is magic and mystery in rides like this mornings’, but I suppose that it was the difference between this morning and every other that makes it so appealing. Having thought that this was probably what riding in England must have been like, it’s fair to say that the average Englishman would find such events rather droll. It’s that occasional diversion from the norm that makes things exciting, no matter what it is you examine. However, you can’t find the magic in such things unless you experience that normality on a daily basis. When that exception finally comes along, it is even more magical than you could have imagined. There are quite a few things in life that are like this, but it should be no surprise that driving a car is not one of them. Certainly I have some bias here, but let’s face it: you crawl into the safety of your car each morning to drive to work, and the only thing that changes is the scene rushing past the glass in front of you. You have temperature control, you’re shielded from the elements, the sounds, the smells of your surroundings – the only thing you experience is the environment inside your car, and the only thing that will cause a diversion from the norm is buying a new car – which is exactly why people are so happy when they do so! Only the finest automobiles can transcend this, but that’s only because you are comparing them to what you would normally drive – even in the most expensive performance cars, it eventually becomes just another boring drive – the edge dulls a bit over time.
Being on a bicycle, you are completely enveloped in your surroundings. Cutting through the air at speed, catching the aroma of someone’s fireplace, the smells of breakfast cooking at a small café, the sounds of birds greeting the twilight of dawn, and having the last demons of sleep chased away by morning’s sharp, sword-like chill – it’s magic every day; some days indeed more poignant than others, but that magic is always there under the surface to be discovered…which is precisely why you should ride a bicycle in the first place. Life is long, and cycling is a terrific way to enjoy many of its finer points, as well as taking care of your fitness plan and your transportation all at once. See, you just got back some of your life…magic.
[ /<(- ]
HOW LAZY ARE WE GETTING???
Ok, ok, ok -- before you start reading too much into the title of this weeks' update, let me openly admit guilt in this arena. I am a big believer in shortcuts and quick fixes. If I can program something to help perform my job with fewer keystrokes, I'll do it. If I can fix a mechanical problem on one of the bikes without full disassembly, I'll do it. Such practices are not so much laziness, but elimination of possible errors. The more steps a process has, the more likely it will get screwed up - and those extra steps will make it more difficult to find the source of the screw-up. Automation and simplicity keeps things neat and tidy, and I'm all for it.
On the flip side, there are several things in this world that following the old-fashioned and time-consuming way is preferred. Oddly enough, a perfect example - perfect for this particular venue - is bicycles. You have your department-store bikes that are cranked out by the hundreds, cheaply painted, poorly assembled and sold for a few hundred bucks -- conversely, you have bicycles that are painstakingly handcrafted in small shops, exquisitely detailed and fussed over, and sold for a few thousand bucks. This is true for almost anything in the world; from bowling balls to beer, wrist-watches to wine, and violins to vinegar. For each of these things, there is a quick and dirty way to do it, and a tedious way - with appropriate results and price tags - and it's easy for everyone to see the benefit of doing something the old-fashioned way, but it's also convenient that there is a cheaper way that also fills most people's needs. Everyone is happy!
There are several things in this world, too, that have always been easy. For decades, there has been a way to do things that has never been argued with. Drinking from a cup, for example. Ever since early man first cupped his hands together at the bank of a small stream to take a drink, there has been a way to do this. It has translated smoothly from hands, to wooden bowls, to silver, to china, to tin, to glass, to plastic. Even with the advent of sports bottles and sippy-cups for children, the process is roughly the same - tried and true. You do it correctly, you get a drink; do it wrong, you spill and make a mess. Simple. But, someday, somewhere, somebody will decide that this is too pedestrian a task for the average human and will create a unique new product to solve a problem that has never existed. The 'problem' will be created by clever marketing jockeys, and probably delivered in a commercial that goes like this:
"Tired of having to lift your cup to take a drink? Ever been soaked at a restaurant after an embarrassing spill? Tired of waking up with sore arms after a night of drinking? NEVER LIFT A CUP AGAIN! That's RIGHT: presenting the Drink-O-Matic automatic beverage assistant!! Thirsty? Just clap your hands together and 'viola-presto', the Drink-O-Matic delivers a cool sip of your beverage with no mess, no spills! Use it for milk, tea, sodas, hot, or cold - the Drink-O-Matic delivers! Only 16 easy payments of $19.95!" Ahh, yes -- that magic price-point.
Mark my words -- I'm CLOSE on this one. SOMEday. I came to this realization that we, as an American society, are becoming lazier each year. I may be getting older and more cynical, but I have seen commercials this past week for some amazing products, but they are all products that breed laziness. The automatic jar opener for those that can't quite get a twist on that jar of spaghetti sauce. The automatic CHEESE GRATER. Uhhh, don't they already package pre-grated cheese these days? Besides that, would not a food-processor accomplish the same thing for a few extra payments of $19.95? It's downright Romanesque. In much the same way the Romans were eventually overthrown by the very people they enslaved to make their lives easier, we are marching along a road of technological wonder that can only end in our eventual demise, and very few of us will see it coming. If someone invents the automatic nose-wiper or hands-free toenail clippers, by cracky - I'm clocking out and moving to Liechtenstein.
Of course, you're probably thinking that the bicycle-ridin' dude that writes this dreck is a card-carrying member of the Amish Republican Army (I certainly have the beard for it) and wants to shun off all invention and live in a cave with only large blocks of un-grated cheese for food. Quite to the contrary. I own a bread machine, for example -- okay, it was a gift - but I DO use it, and it's great -- because with my work schedule and the way weekends usually last, I can throw some ingredients into it, press a button, and three hours later I have warm bread. It's the forthcoming machines that remove, slice, toast, butter and deliver that bread to my mouth that I have a problem with. This path we are on certainly leads there! Another point: I also own a car - I am just of the mindset that cars are for long trips. For traveling a few dozen miles to rot in an office chair 12 hours a day, the bicycle works just fine. Plus, with two kids a car is a necessity - if the boy, say, gets a sinus infection I can't exactly bungee-cord him to the rear rack and pedal down to the urgent care center without child services coming down on me like a Bee Gee's fan at a Pantera concert. Steve Martin had it right back in the mid-seventies on his live comedy album "Let's get small". Inventions that didn't make it: electric dog-polisher, gasoline-powered turtleneck sweater, etc. He had a point. Of course, he also played the banjo.
I just think life is complicated enough without having to find an extra outlet to plug my jar-opener into when I get the urge for a kosher dill pickle. Just smack the jar a few times like mamma used to do, and give a good twist. Don't like to slave for hours over a hot cheese-grater? Fine - aisle 12 near the milk - pre-grated cheese in a handy re-sealable bag. Or, like those craftsmen in that small bike shop, you could go ahead and buy a brick of cheese and give it the old college try. You'll get a strange sense of satisfaction, some fresh cheese, and it won't cost you any extra. These inventors are certainly creative, but come on. They should focus their creative energies towards something we can actually benefit from, like the automatic stick whittler. I can grate my own cheese, but crap let's face it, whittling sticks is a PAIN.
[ /<(- ]
“Busting a cap in your rear reflector” 11/6/2003
It's been a few days since the last update - been busy trying to get some of the finer points of website content ironed out, and playing with different visibility packages on my daily-grinder bike. I did a fair amount of poking around in the garage over the last weekend, and finally found the PERFECT red retro-reflectors at a local hardware store - the good, large SAE-type that are designed for boat trailers or other automotive applications. They are horribly large and mal-proportioned for bicycle use, but extremely effective. I have a shot somewhere on this website of one of these outshining a 5-LED taillight when exposed to a camera flash - very impressive for the dollar or so it cost for the two-pack! Unfortunately, I am a stickler for perfection. For some reason even my daily beater-bike must be tight, rattle-free and should perform flawlessly - and of course, everything must be symmetrically aligned down each axis of the bike. I tried having one of these monster reflectors mounted off to the side of the rear axle on an L-bracket with a bolt to one of the rear dropout braze-ons. It was solid, didn’t rattle, and was aligned quite well - BUT it was off there to the side by itself, and when a car approaches from the rear, the whole bike ends up looking lop-sided, as the LED taillight and new reflector are not vertically aligned - not that there is anything FUNCTIONALLY wrong with that setup...but I just can't let it be! I could utilize the full potential of my two-pack purchase by simply placing another reflector on the opposite side of the bike, right? Hmmm....maybe that's a little TOO much back there? Besides, my close-to-bottomless bucket of left-over reflector brackets and mounts and other bits of plastic was not producing a mirror-image version of the bracket I'd already fashioned up for the first reflector. Bollocks.
This should be the LEAST of my concerns - when it comes to safety, it’s function before fashion - but for some reason I have trouble following my own advice in that arena. I’ve often said that it’s a darn good thing that I’m not into cars as much as I used to be; although I would LOVE to someday have an older Porsche product tucked away under a car cover, I would probably squander any savings account and credit card limit in my immediate possession trying to make it perfect again with endless restoration projects and having to constantly re-do EVERYTHING - i.e. scouring the globe at no-expense-spared to find that last tiny bolt for the battery tray, something like that - a $3.00 bolt that would cost hundreds to track down and eventually get into my greasy hands. Sure - a metric bolt from the bin at the hardware store would work fine, but unless it's got that stamp from Zuffenhausen on it, it's junk. I just can’t leave stuff like that alone. Even though that hardware store bolt is hidden under the bonnet, AND under the battery, for no-one to see or scrutinize... I still know it's there.
Thankfully bike stuff is cheap, so the wife and I can still have a speaking relationship when it comes time to do the bills every two weeks. After the kids go to bed I can go crazy in the garage for hours wrenching on something as trivial as this reflector mount, and it costs me next to nothing. That isn’t to say I don’t get into situations where I just can’t be satisfied, such as this latest quibble with mechanics. Despite the fact it had completely solved the ‘problem’, I quickly abandoned the side-mount bracket and found a way to get the reflector mounted to the very back of the rear fender, placing it where the older English 3-speed tour’ers used wear them. My bike gets decidedly more 'Euro' every day, and I love it. This solution placed all the reflective material in a perfect vertical plane, and the bike was ‘good’ again AND more visible – plus I suddenly felt the need to run out and buy a shiny bell for the handlebar and a derby. Unfortunately, harsh road vibrations and too-tight a mounting arrangement would quickly kill that euphoric feeling of having solved another ‘problem’.
Monday night I did my usual hammer-home-after-work session on my residential street route and, on a particularly rough section of road, the vibrations at the back fender were finally too much for the SEEMINGLY solid mounting I had rigged up the night before. I heard something give way after a pretty big bump, and suddenly the back-end was a little louder than before - not quite so ‘rattle-free’. Ugh. Two miles from home, no sense stopping to check it - it was immediately apparent to me what had happened. Eventually I got into the garage, and plainly there was a nice large crack across the center of the reflector. Sure, it still reflects light, right? Too bad - can’t have anything that nasty looking mounted to the back of my bike, now can I? I reluctantly loosened the fixing bolts had I fashioned only 24 hours before, and was left with a naked rear fender once again.
This, I reasoned, is probably why those reflectors come in a two-pack (at least for MY purposes, that’s why they do) and I can try again this coming weekend - with a better mount, of course. This is unless I chuck the idea entirely and invest in more red reflective tape for the fender instead – to cover up the holes, or course. Either way, this is the great thing about having bicycling as a hobby and a mode of transportation both: It always leaves me something to tinker with, something to fix or re-align - and I never tire of it. Good thing it’s cheap. Relative to classic German sports cars, anyways.
I’m planning to maintain at LEAST one update here per week – things happen slow in the bicycle commuter world, as it should be. Little stories like this that hold as much entertainment value as a Dixie cup holds motor oil will be the norm, but this is a ‘rant’ page, by title; when I actually find something to ‘rant’ or complain about I’ll include it...otherwise, prepare yourself for literary doldrums! Heck – I enjoy writing them, so I hope you enjoy reading them! Of course – if you have a RANT for me, bring it!
[ /<(- ]
10/28/2003 “For whom the jelly flows…”
I love Monday Night Football. Seriously.
But don’t take that the wrong way. I don’t like football much, nor do I have time to watch much television… But I love Monday Night Football. Now that the hometown Kansas City Chefs – I mean Chiefs – are an amazing 8-0 for the season so far, this normally football-crazed town has gone absolutely ape-crazy-nut-bag for the game. For the second week in a row, the streets of Kansas City were DEAD after dark on my way home from job #2. It was almost creepy how LITTLE traffic there was. Even on my decidedly residential route homeward which is traffic-free by design, I still have the occasional encounter with vehicles of the four-wheeled variety, and there is ALWAYS a busy cross-street to ford. These last two Monday nights, however, I have seldom had to unclick from the pedals as I trundle home. Simply awesome. It makes me nostalgic for the heady days of 10-years-ago, when these streets were much like this on any given night. Unfortunately, I hadn’t discovered the bicycle then – I was too busy eating fast-food Tacos at a dozen a pop, and – ironically – watching too much TV. Cut to today, where I exist as a mere shadow of my former self, in stature and attitude both, and I can’t catch a break on these roads. Much the same as my luck with the music industry, I fear I was ‘born too late’ for enjoyable bicycle commuting. Just like I missed seeing live shows with Hendrix, Zeppelin, John Lee Hooker (in his prime), Foghat or (oh, I dunno) Strawberry Alarm Clock (yikes) – this list could go on and on and on – I also seem to have missed riding my bicycle on the over-built and nearly vacant Johnson County streets of only a decade ago. Streaking home in record time these last couple Monday nights has me grinning from ear-to-ear, thinking that “ahhh, this must have been NICE…”. With the magic of a steel bike and a sensitive traffic-light trigger, I just float a little in a track stand at intersections and wait for my light to turn green, just as life should be. No cross traffic, no near-death brushes with the ebb and flow of the bar-district moron-a-thon – instead, the teeming masses are all glued helplessly to their idiot-boxes counting downs while I spin away care-free miles in the middle of my lane. So, at least for approximately 16 weeks in the fall, I can live like the Romans did – in a small sense – as I enjoy my weekly world conquest on these otherwise hostile, SUV-choked suburban byways. It gives me occasion to spout something positive on this ‘rant’ page for a change – loaded with the requisite CommuterDude ‘fluff-and-filler’ writing style that I enjoy so immensely. Just like that new-fangled EZ-squeeze jelly for your toast or PB&J sandwich; what is normally an easy knife-in-the-jar-to-the-bread process was not good enough, so some team of design engineers jumped into Auto-Cad and developed an elongated squeeze-spout that lays a ¾” bead of jelly perfectly across your bread. Why? Besides presenting a venue for practicing your caulk-laying skills, simply because they could - I really doubt they received a ton of letters stating that using knives to spread jelly was passing out of vogue, or had suddenly become too difficult. Heaven forbid making a sandwich should become pedestrian – must develop space-age jelly delivery device! This is a problem that didn’t need a solution. It’s a solution that created its own problems: Not only do I still have to use a knife to achieve uniform jelly coverage (after all, what’s the point of making PB&J if I can’t have proportionally equal amounts of jelly and peanut butter in each bite, I ask you???), I concurrently have to deal with a slowly developing blob of dried grape-spooter left-over under the handy flip-cap. It’s a calamity and a quandary, all wrapped up in a plastic bottle of pulverized fruit. Such is the woeful plight of the weary peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich maker.
Much like the predicament I leave you readers in: what I could easily accomplish in only a handful of poignant sentences, I prefer to embellish and embark upon the high-road to literary genius and prose mastery – whether or not I actually achieve either is up for serious debate. In any case, I think you’d agree that this website would be far too boring if I jumped on here with: “I like Monday Night Football. It keeps cars off the road. I get home faster. Yea.” I can’t imagine Moby Dick on this philosophy;
“Call me Ahab. I like boats. Hate whales. Saw a big one once, and it was pretty rough, man.”
Any joe-job keyboard jockey can do THAT. It’s the fluff that makes it melt like a s’more and run down your chin like its literary snack-time. Mmmmm….s’mores. Of course, there’s a toaster version of s’mores now, isn’t there? Ugh. Can open – worms EVERYWHERE.
So, basically I like to let my thoughts steep in a big cup of hot and complicated water, and then slap them all over the page with a big paint brush.
Heck, I even whipped out the word ‘fangled’ in there somewhere… you know you like it. If I use the word ‘gumption’ in a sentence, however, you may beat the crap outta me with one of those squeeze-jelly bottles. I probably already got the NASCAR crowd all rawled up when I dropped the ‘fangled’ bomb on them. Whooooooooo!
BUT, I DIGRESS. (shocker!)
I love Monday Night Football. Go Chefs.
I’m gonna go make a sandwich.
Thanks for reading. (that one’s for you, Dave.)
[ /<(- ]
Today was a rare lesson in ‘knowing when to give up’. Every cyclist at one point or another will have a run-in with a motorist. It’s almost like a rite of passage or something. You spend enough time on the roads, and it will happen. In my thousands upon thousands of miles on these streets, I have been lucky. I attribute this to knowing and following the rules of the road, and generally not getting in anyone’s way. Sometimes, however, it just doesn’t matter. Tonight, on my way home from work, my time was due.
Strange things happen to people when they get behind the wheel of a car. Some strange sense of power or invincibility takes over, and they can do no wrong. As I made my way home, deep in residential, I slogged along a fairly straight piece of road and approached a usually quiet “T” intersection, at which I have the right of way and traffic approaching from the left must stop. Unusually, tonight there was a car there – just in time for a convergence, of course. I look as I pedal – he stops, then goes, then stops again rapidly – having finally seen me after a second look. Not a big deal – it’s happened a few times in the past – I roll past his front bumper and on my merry way. In typical fashion, he’s a bit perturbed that he had to stop longer than expected, so he accelerates heavily away from his resting place, and floats a bit on my rear corner for a second – I wave him ahead with a large sweep of my left arm. He complies and advances up the road – he’ll be on his way and out of my sight soon, right? WRONG. Apparently, this little encounter was not satisfactory enough for him, so he pulls to the right up ahead, slowing rapidly and opening his car door!
“What the….?”, I’m thinking to myself as I roll past him – just in time to hear him begin the mutterings of a confrontational sentence – an older guy, driving a fairly new Buick LeSabre (read: old codger-car). Not interested in participating, I roll on – but this only seems to frustrate him more, because now in his eyes I have ignored him. Perfect. He makes quick work of devouring the distance I’d placed between us with his 4-wheeled nursing home, and proceeds to shadow my six fairly closely.
“Hit me,” I’m thinking, “go ahead, and we’ll sort the details out in my favor later….wonder how many vowels there are in ‘vehicular endangerment’?” Just about then, he advances up the road from behind me and ends up directly to my left – just long enough for me to size up his passenger – an older woman? – suddenly he swerves, slowing, to block me in at the curb. At this point it’s a little difficult to exercise my right to be on the road when it suddenly disappears and is replaced by a front fender, so I ditch to the sidewalk. Two driveways later, I’m back on the road itself looking at his taillights, as he has since re-accelerated. I pedal on, half expecting for him to slow down again for another round, but it seemed the game was over. He advanced up the road, without even touching the brakes again. Thinking his passenger was his old lady, he might have been getting an earful about then. Awesome.
No battle wounds, no words exchanged, and I didn’t even have to unclick from the pedals – but for some reason, I was ANGRY. In the confusion, the light and shadow of streetlights, and adrenaline from the close-call, I never got close enough to get his license plate number. Figures. Not for lack of trying, as I averaged over 30 mph for the next 0.75 miles, keeping his taillights in sight with the hopes I might catch him at a red light just long enough to capture those digits… but it was not to be, not in this neighborhood – not even a 4-way stop for miles. Looking back, what was mildly funny was the fact that he had no problem running me off the road – but after he had ‘won’, he continued on his way at the speed limit. Most Johnson County drivers I know would have sped off recklessly into the night, but it seemed that I was now the one doing the speeding, eventually making it home in record time. After all, that is one of the best things about riding a bike – no matter now frustrated or angry you get in traffic, you can hammer as hard and as fast as you want to get it out of your system, and you probably won’t break any laws in the process. Angry-old-man, on the other hand, got frustrated and broke a BIG one. I got my anger out, and the only thing that got hurt were my legs after my speed run – I made it home, tucked in my kids, and took a few dozen deep breaths. I find justice in the fact that he’s probably still angry, and since his ear got chewed off by an unhappy passenger, he probably ain’t getting any. Another Viagra saved. Bonus.
Remember, fellow commuters --- you have every right to be on the road, but when a car is determined to take it away, just let it go. It ain’t worth it. Car vs. bike; bike LOSES – every time.
Just make sure you get the license number. /<(-
October 18th, 2003
I don’t know what’s worse – motorists that have absolutely no regard for cyclists whatsoever, or the OVERLY cautious motorists that not only SEE you, but seem to be scared of you for some reason. Like some wild, jumping spider that will suddenly leap from the safety of the right side of the road and latch onto their front fender with teeth bared. Yeesh – I had one such encounter earlier this week while spinning down a nice flat stretch of road on my way to job#2 in the afternoon. It’s a 25 MPH zone, and with that day’s slight tailwind I was actually having a hard time staying BELOW it. Now, this is Johnson County, KS, so it should be clarified that the notion that cars on the road obey the speed limit is a false one. The general rule is drive as fast as you feel like until you get behind someone else, then drive however fast they are going – but whatever you do, don’t let them see your headlights.
So, despite my speed I get passed a few times – even if I am doing the speed limit, I am on a bicycle – I must be passed! Until – well, I’ll call her ‘Betty’ – comes up behind me. I hear her slowing down behind me, then a glance back to assess the issue. She is not planning on turning up ahead, she’s simply not passing me. Kinda refreshing, I think, so I do my best to keep at or above the speed limit. Finally someone obeying the law of the road – weird! But things start to get a little shady when the road pitches upward a little and my speed naturally drops a few miles per hour… she remains at my ¾ position. As my speed drops into the high teens, Betty remains…as does the dozen-long line of cars behind her. I raise my left hand and rotate it in a circular motion, indicating she should not only pass me, but it’s safe to do so. No result. A few horns sound from the growing line of cars. No movement from Betty. I decide to help her with her decision, so I stop pedaling and coast a bit, slowing even more in the process. Nothing. BETTY, COMMON! Finally, a car BEHIND HER passes on the left, waves a select appendage at her, and proceeds up the road. That seems to give her the hint, so she accelerates and pulls wildly into the oncoming lane, giving me a nearly 25 foot berth as she passes. As she rolls by only slightly faster than I am pedaling, she displays this frantically frightened look as she glances my way, probably to make sure I wasn’t about to slam into her suddenly from the other side of the street. Even though for the entire ten-block encounter I had given her no indication or erratic behavior, I had held my line, and waved her ahead, she looked genuinely worried that I would suddenly lose control in the massive wake of turbulence her car was cutting through the air at a whopping 20 MPH. Surprisingly, none of the cars in the advancing line that had built up behind her had any remarks, verbally or physically, for me as I continued on. Normally, the cyclist would have gotten the blame for that whole deal, but this time it was obvious to everyone that Betty was the culprit.
Poor Betty – I’d like to meet the cyclist that struck such fear into her life. He’s probably a real terror. Come to think of it, there were some really nasty looking claw marks on her front fender. After all, it is October now – the month of Halloween, when normal looking cyclists transform into their true forms. We are all wretched, spandex-clad creatures of the road preying on hapless motorists, preferably in residential areas. I think I’ll pick up a tube of fake blood and some plastic fangs this weekend, see if I can find Betty again. He,he.
Peace, and chain grease… La Dude
October 3rd, 2003
Knowing where you stand…
Ahhhh, life…and the many lessons it teaches… Recently, my department within the company I work for decided to have a little gathering/picnic at a local park. Not one to derail my personal training, or to add to the congestion on our streets, I (of COURSE) ride my trusty steed out to the event. Not a big deal to me – it ended up being about 33 miles round trip, from home – to work – to park – to home. Good training, and an excuse to eat a little more at the picnic! I show up, about 30 minutes after many of the ‘workers’ have already arrived, and instantly I can hear the chatter from some of the people milling around. It’s a close-knit department, and although many people there don’t know ME, I know all of them – at least their names and general “M.O.”.
Thinking ahead, and to lessen the blow of showing up on my bike, I retreat to the men’s room and throw a pair of jeans on over my tights before heading down to the shelter where the food is being dished out. My jersey and jacket, bright, tight and loaded with local sponsor names, still screams “outcast” as I move thru the crowd of people that I thought I knew well enough for it not to be a big deal. Even as I rolled towards the parking lot from the road I noticed a few guys I know, busy throwing a football around, who had stopped what they were doing to point me out to one another. “There’s the freak, boys.” Granted, I was WAY out of earshot, but it doesn’t take a genius. Even more fitting was me, getting my plate filled and looking for a place to sit – the only open spot being near those same men. Despite our previous working history together, it was abundantly clear they did not want to admit even remote association with a cyclist.
It matters not, because I am not on a mission of acceptance in this world – well, maybe from motorists that happen to share the same piece of pavement with me at any given moment – regardless, I couldn’t help chuckle to myself when I was served abject denial after attempting on a couple occasions to join in conversation or simply say ‘hey’. Otherwise a normal guy, throw on a few layers of Lycra and I’m from another world, not even worthy of simple pleasantries from co-workers.
Props, however, to the select few who simply know the dude, and don’t care whether he’s dressed in biz-casual or wrapped in cellophane. I met a few new colleagues, shared some laughs with friends, exchanged parenting stories with a new mommy who’d recently returned to work, exchanged a little handgun conversation with some like-minded law-abiding citizens, wondered when the beer would show up, engaged in the inevitable work-related shop-talk/frustration-sharing , local politics – even a little talk about gear-inch calculations and climbing technique with someone who hadn’t been on a bike in a couple decades. THAT makes a guy feel welcome, indeed.
Granted, those few that simply can’t fathom riding a bike for transportation, or accept that you can spoil your kids rotten with the gas-money savings, are genuine, down-to-earth, GOOD guys… they just don’t get “IT”. What exactly “IT” is, is a complicated equation – only cyclists know the answer, and it’s not worth trying to explain to ‘non-believers’. Perhaps to over-simplify, there is one universal truth in this matter: not all people are cyclists, but all cyclists are people. Okay, okay… there may be that ONE guy who happens to ride a bike back and forth between ritual killings – HE might not be ‘people’, but I ain’t that guy! To those guys at the table; you don’t have to ride, or understand why I do it… but if I bump into you at the local watering-hole, I’ll still toast a pint with you. That’s what people do.
Another wicked hot day in the saddle --- 108º is the forecast heat index, and I feel every degree of it this afternoon -- I retreat to the bike trail for some shade on my way to job #2.
In Johnson County, you can usually gauge how severe the weather is by how many or few people you meet on the bike trails. Today, the only other soul I saw was another road cyclist heading east, wearing an MS-150 Lifetime Rider jersey (which reminds me what I have to look forward to in almost two weeks) -- but that is the only encounter. It's blinkin' hot out here!
My frozen solid waterbottle that I put in the breakroom freezer this morning is nearly liquid after about 30 minutes, but at least it's still cold -- I start taking gulps from it and give up on my other bottle which now contains hot water. Part of me knows this is good acclimation training, but another part of me can't wait until the days where I start the morning with hot coffee in the bottle cage.
Yeesh, it's HOT. Even the usual bike trail companions are hiding out today -- no squirrels, rabbits, birds, nothing is moving but the falling leaves ---- leaves that are falling not because it's nearing fall, but because they are just dead. It hasn't rained significantly in months.
I cut thru the hot, humid air, carve a dozen or so corners and climb a few hills, and I'm back on the residential streets for my final approach to work - and unfortunately I'm back out in the sunshine which make the situation even more uncomfortable. Still, it beats baking to death in my air-conditioner-less car in traffic.
That's one of the little things that motivates m to keep riding no matter how hot it gets - with technical fabrics and just constantly moving thru the air, I still end up less sweaty than if I'd driven to work.
Plus, I can eat more when I ride. Bonus. Besides, a day that starts in the saddle is far better than one that does not.
And there is nothing quite so refreshing as walking in from the heat into a severely air-conditioned office building and feeling that sweat start to do it's job --- whooo! A chill...
There is nothing quite like it.
It's the third day straight of oppressive heat, and it just seems like everything is a few degrees away from melting -- the humidity today doesn't help matters.
At 6:00am on the road it's still relatively dark, but it's 82 degrees already. I start to make my way south to the workplace, as usual, but what is un-usual is the company I have.
Normally totally alone in my morning spin, I pass not one, not two, but three other riders - none of whom appear to be in transit to anywhere. No backpacks, no messenger bags -- just jerseys and shorts, waterbottles and blinking taillights. Out for an early morning ride to beat the heat.
Fresh and excited, I pass the first rider - a lady, mid-30's (?), sleeveless black jersey with purple accents - I pass on the left on the way up a small rise in the road with a cheerful 'mornin' -- but the reply is a labored "hey" -- half of a huff, really -- sweaty and out of breath, she has been riding for a while now, obviously.
I don't have the heart to mention that her blinking taillight was pointing at the ground - possibly from a big bump or pothole -- it's still visible from the rear - but it's not bright.
I carry on --- and just before 83rd St., my second encounter -- a late-20's looking guy, yellow jersey, red helmet, out of the saddle and flying the opposite direction. He is focused, looks strong - getting his training in before the sun takes over. No time to exchange waves -- our closing speed is close to 35 MPH, most of it him as I climb another hill -- so it's over in a flash.
Next, also in the opposite direction, an older gent on an older steel road bike -- making his way north up the last of a series of pesky climbs, he turns his head towards me - seemingly mesmerized by my headlight beam, which is still switched on as a marker in these dawn-light hours - no wave, no smile; the hill has taken it all away from him, but he is clawing back.
I suddenly get the feeling that I'm going the wrong direction --- in front of me, nearly in a straight line, is work. Behind me are at least two riders that would make for an interesting paceline.
But, I press on southward - the responsibilities of adult life eventually talk me out of pulling a u-turn to join the chase of the young 20-something.
There will be other opportunities to play.
It was too late to tell that to my nerves, however -- I lift my pace, and begin picking off the last of the risers and rollers on my commute route, and manage to catch a few green lights -- just in time for the lead-up to the 1-mile long climb to the interstate overpass at I-435. I click out of the big chainring to get the cadence up a bit, and go to it. Aside from the promise of triple-digit afternoon temps, the morning is perfect. The rising sun peeks around the corner of the high-school football stadium on my left as I creep into the high teens on the bike computers speed readout. It's not fast enough...
"They're coming up fast -- push! push!" The 'race radio' squawks in my ear as I shift up a gear, and stand on it. The pavement winces at the extra wattage, and then yields to the onslaught of my charging front wheel as I fly up the climb, throwing bits of gravel and drops of sweat everywhere. The crowds don't seem to mind. Three deep to the curb, I hear them shouting my name and assorted words of encouragement in languages I don't fully understand.
The road reminds me of the task at hand and I fall back into the saddle, but someone is watching me...
"Your advantage is dropping -- if you have anything left, now is the time to use it -- the finish is inside 2 kilometers! ALLEZ ALLEZ!"
I stand again - I don't have to turn around. I can see them in my mind -- a yellow jersey, a black and purple sleeveless number, and an old steel bike -- they are gaining on me, I can almost feel the wall of air they push dancing on the back of my neck -- NO! I shift again! The light at the top of the climb is green, and I throw the bike across the intersection in a cacophony of chain-slap, derailleur clicks and labored breath. There is no pause for rest -- the road still pitches upward, and I can see and hear the traffic on the interstate below as I approach the overpass and the summit of this, my personal col. The cheering from below is deafening, and the guardrails become barricades to hold back the crowd - inside 1 km to go...
In perfect rhythm, I sit into the saddle and rotate over the perfect gear - accelerating away smoothly from my rivals on the road behind me -- a few cars pass; the race director and my team car more than likely, but I do not notice -- my eyes fixed on a spot of road a few meters ahead, I lay down the last few pedal strokes and float over the summit.
Now it is time to conserve what I have built on the climb --- instantly I am on the big ring and the speed rebuilds. One more roundabout thru the center of this village, and I am nearly to the line --- but I can hear the unmistakable sounds of chains climbing onto teeth behind me -- the light at College Blvd turns green, a rarity!
"300 meters! They worked together on the climb to catch you -- it will come to a sprint! You must leap now! They are coming fast!"
I rise from the saddle, flick my right index finger twice -- the rear cluster responds and I sprout wings with my bike --- across the lanes of traffic, into the parking lot and across the line to my usual parking spot by the building.
I lock my bike - I check my stats. It's my fastest ever time-to-work, by nearly 45 seconds; a mark I'd been trying to better for months. Apparently all I needed was a little inspiration.
Thanks, purple, yellow and steel. It was good riding with you.
3/29/2003 -- The 200K Brevet!
Well, it's been a year since I totally over-estimated myself and rode my first 200K ride ---- Back then, I figured it's only the first day of the MS-150, and 25 more miles. WRONG. It was an absolute suck-fest. But, I finished, and I have the medal to prove it. But I could not have done it without Dale's help. His tireless pull back south into Liberty from Plattsburg was the only way I made it back. The interesting part about the 2003 200K, is that the tables were turned!
I was in good form --- after a successful winter campaign of heart-rate training, spinning, and dropping about 40 lbs. of fat off of my body, I was READY and WILLING to tackle the 200K and knock it our of the park. No matter how bad last year was, at least it was about 60-70º all day. This year, it never got above 45º - and a stiff northwest wind made the first half of the ride fairly unbearable. The sizeable pack fought its way out east, and then into the wind for the trip NW to the first and only checkpoint of the day. After about 25 miles, the pack began to spread out -- each group was warmed up and beginning to find their own pace. I was managing to stay in the second group, not wanting to blow myself up too early - knowing the hills were coming up north. I maintained a solid pace that put a huge rift between Dale and I, and most of the rest of the group behind me. At 45 miles out, I was about 30 minutes ahead of Dale -- shocking! I was doing well, but I should not have been doing THAT well -- Dale was not having a good ride. Fatigue, lack of training and the wind were taking their toll early. We struggled on, and after a stop (at 45 miles) we tried to stay together for a little bit, but I was feeling good and broke away again -- not 100% intentionally, though. I wanted to help Dale stay focused, but soon he was nowhere to be found again. After some serious climbing outside of Camden Point, I finally made it to MO-371 and the trip south to Platte City and the checkpoint at the Casey's station. I got checked in, and met Dale's Dad -- and waited, and waited....and waited........almost 40 minutes later, Dale was finally making his way around the bend and up to the parking lot. Crazy -- he did not look like himself, and this was only the halfway point. Some pizza and rest, and we were ready to roll out again -- Dale set pace for a while, then me, then a third guy (Gary?) whose name I can't really remember....he's in some of the pictures I have, though - courtesy of Dale's Dad! -- we motored for a while, and eventually dropped 'Gary' -- a broken spoke on some low-spoke-count wheels knocked him out of the pace -- I'm really hoping he finished safely... Dale and I quickly got to Camden Point again, thanks to the new tailwind, and then proceeded north and east to meet up with the monster hills on MO-116 highway. Just as I remembered them, they came one after another -- but I was not having nearly the same problems as last year -- I found myself waiting for Dale, however, at the midway point of each riser; the once champion of the hills was not on form -- too much flat-land training. I was content to wait -- in a way, I was paying him back for the previous year with each gust of wind I sheltered him from. Despite my smaller waistline, I hope I was offering a little shelter! I just love that now --- me: once the king of descents, was now not so fast on the downhills, and was not much fun to hide behind in a paceline. Heh,heh.... But the payoff is MUCH faster climbing. That's where it counts, after all. We hammered on to Plattsburg, hit another gas station for a rest and refuel -- and were off again. Some dark clouds above, however, were about to reveal their secret cache of moisture.
SNOW. On a brevet? In late March?? Yup. Although it was not terrible, and the temps were above freezing, it began to snow almost five minutes after we left and turned south, and it was coming down about until we hit the Junction at Hwy "C" -- during that time, I stayed firmly on the front of our two-man paceline and hammered as best I could with the help of the tailwind to get us out from under the cloud deck -- Dale hung on as best he could, huffing and puffing after putting 90 hilly miles in his legs, but holding on - the flat-land training paying off. We slammed south at between 23-27 MPH, passed another rider in the process, and then Dale popped on Plattsburg Rd -- right at the beginning of the last batch of hills.
The last 20 miles seemed to take an eternity, but Dale struggled on -- we were both encouraged by the fact that Plattsburg Rd was now freshly PAVED from last year -- Awesome. It made the last stretch more than bearable in comparison -- I was loving every minute of it, taking in the scenery as Dale carefully negotiated each rise in the road so as not to completely pop and fall over. We made ourway, a few clicks at a time -- each pedal stroke was one closer to the finish. At least the wind was at our backs! Eventually, I managed to get us pulled all the way back to the parking lot, for another successful 200K finish -- and I was ready for more, surprisingly. E-Caps WORK, Hammer Gel WORKS, Sustained Energy WORKS, and Advil WORKS ---- although I need to find the solution to my left shoulder pain before the 300K -- Advil solves the pain, but not the root problem. Something doesn’t fit right…
125 miles of headwinds, hills, chills and SNOW -- what an EPIC ride!
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