Friday, December 05, 2008

Bloomington: Hoosiers on Parade

I drove down I-65 in pursuit of witnesses for one of my cases and on my vain quest to complete my 50 state sweep of places where I have ridden my bike (now up to 25 states). In the winter Indiana is a pretty cold and vast expanse of white corn fields. It brought back to mind the commercial for Indiana Beach that I saw repeatedly in my youth. It would always end with "...there is more than corn in Indiana." If that is the case, where is this other stuff?

There are a surprisingly large number of used car dealership in Bloomington. I imagine that the movie Breaking Away somehow spurred the creation of these dealerships and they have been living on the momentum of that movie for the past 20 years? Sadly, Dennis Quaid did not join my on my ride that day. However, this is a great pose for him.

Even though I escaped from the frozen tundra of Chicago, the frozen part stayed with me. Fields were still covered in snow and the wind still was like an icy iron fist in my face.

While I could imagine how pretty the area could have been, this picture just did not match the cold gray reality of this particular December day. However, I am working on perfecting that particular pose to be used next season.

I enjoy riding around college campuses. It's interesting to me to picture what it would have been like had I chosen to go to there. I took in the locale fare at Nick's and Opie Taylor's, both excellent recommendations; however, I did miss out on a game of Sink the Biz. I promise that I given my numerous Hoosier friends in DC that I have played my fair share and have surprisingly little talent at the game.

After a solid ten days of resting my legs are now, hopefully, ready to be opened up again and it's back to hard training. As I take a deep breadth, and think of the miles to come, I remind myself that it's all in the pursuit of some higher purpose-- the perpetual quest for HMF points.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Road Salt White

Hayden and I have come to realize that we may have taken the wrong turn when we left DC. Instead of turning south and heading to the warm sandhills of North Carolina we headed north towards the frozen tundra of Chicago. I should have known I was in trouble when the VDub hit PA and saw fields of white and I'm not referring to cotton.

Winter riding is about finding balance. The balance between too much and too little clothes; between riding too hard or too slow; and knowing when the trainer is the better option. I dislike the trainer and do everything in my power to avoid riding on it except for warming up for crits. I miss the hot days of summer right now.

I enjoy riding in snow, not on icy roads but the first couple of moments when the snow starts to fall. I got that opportunity today and am a happy camper to be back inside now. It was a cold day outside and makes me wish for those days of 90 degrees. There is something disturbing about that stinging when slushy snow hits you in the face. I know that these are the miles that I need to ride to get better. These are the days that I need to keep going so that when it comes down to it in April and May that I'll have that endurance in my legs to put in that final push.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Coffee Makes Me Happy

My coffee intake has not slowed down; however, the hours I spend on a bike has decreased. As a result my sleep pattern has been thrown way off. I'm living it up at home in Naperville for the next couple days prior to heading back out into the cruel world of lawyering. This occasion has allowed me to get back to my roots and reconnect with a few neglected friends.

It's a well-known fact that I am addicted to Facebook. Of course the joy of Facebook is finding people you once knew and seeing what they are doing. It's all the fun of reunions with none of the awkward silences or the necessity of saying "remember when" all the time. The best part of this cyber-phenomenon is to see what bizarre paths people have taken and how one person's life actually does effect so many others.

I count myself lucky to know so many incredible people. When I was younger I would marvel at all the "stuff" or the "famous" people that adults knew. Slowly, as I am forced to consider myself an adult, I find that this trend isn't the result of being well-connected or even famous yourself, but the natural outcome of growing up. I'm sorry for all the people who I've lost touch with over time. I rarely have a good excuse and shouldn't even try to explain myself because it all ends up sound like pathetic lies.

I wish I could say that I vow in the future not to let this happen but that would be the worst kind of lie. At least with Facebook and an over-abundance of espresso drinks coupled with way too much sleep I have the ability to catch up a lot easier. Now, if only I could answer the age-old question "what the heck was I thinking dating her?" Maybe they should make a website for that one too.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Winter Training 2008: Chapter 1

Periodization is one of the greatest developments in training since the discovery that dopers really do suck, see e.g., Ricardo Ricco. While the details behind the science of exercise physiology escapes me the one thing I enjoy about periodization is that every so often a rest phase gets tossed in and training becomes easy. I came to cycling after swimming where periodization was not utilized. The swimming theory of training was simple-- if you swam 15000 meters today you should swim 15500 meters tomorrow and 16000 the next day. Looking at it from hindsight this is the equivalent of fighting dehydration by drinking a cup of Drano.

I have no idea if that is still how swimmers are trained but the poster boy of periodization, Lance Armstrong, was winning Tours when I was swimming so it wouldn't surprise me that very little has changed. In my 20 years of swimming the most technical piece of equipment I used was an electronic clock. When I go riding nowadays, I monitor my heart rate, speed, time, cadence and wattage. Everything is scrutinized afterwards and trends are studied.

While my training lately hasn't been as intense as it was towards the end season I've definitely put the miles into my legs. My trip to the West Coast cracked my tired legs. It's been a long time coming for me but I have arrived at a rest period. A blessed rest period to repair the damage that has been done to my tired muscles. The rest period marks the end of one training cycle and the beginning of another one. It's like a muscular new years; a time to recharge and ask what's next?

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Emerald City

I have reached the far corner of the continental US and the last stop on my trip. Seattle is one of my favorite cities and a place I enjoy coming to. This time, I'm lucky enough to have a couple extra days to help enjoy the local scenery. Plus, it's NOT RAINING.

When I come to Seattle I make sure to take in the coffee and the sushi; both are the best around. However, tonight I ate at the Metropolitan Grill and had a steak the size of my head. It was simply one of the best steaks I have ever had. It rivals anything I've eaten in Chicago or Kansas City. I am in a state of absolute bliss. The scenery around here is pretty too.

Riding in Seattle is no joke. There are bike lanes everywhere and they are free from the garbage that normally finds its way onto the DC paths. There is even a bike lane along the side of I-90 and runs across the surface of Lake Washington which is almost as eerie as the sidewalk along the Golden Gate. However, don't let anyone fool you, I saw no cougars while climbing Cougar Mtn. However, the view from the top was worth the trip.

On my first ride in town on Saturday I crossed no fewer than 10 group rides. I had heard rumors of the "Seattle rules" to group rides but I imagined that they were exaggerations. However, at least one rumor is true -- they use fenders on their rear wheels. It makes sense in a place where the roads often have a layer of water on them and knowing that there are few things less pleasant than riding through someone else's rooster tail. Using a fender eliminates a lot of the road spray but it's just odd to see.

Since I've been here I've been in the best mood. It's possible that super strong caffeine highs are putting a smile on my face but I really think it's just getting in some great rides and have getting to unwind which is doing it for me. The return of the Peppermint Mocha at Starbucks doesn't hurt, it's my favorite dessert drink. Kelly, my gracious Seattle hostess and tour guide, opined that it's the northwest lifestyle kicking in making me happy. I try not to think too much about the cause but just enjoy the end result.

Seattle would be a great place to live, but I'm not sure I would be accepted into polite society. I'd have to totally rework my wardrobe. I don't own a hoodie and the only stocking caps that I have are for bike riding. Until that time I think I'll stay comfortably back on the East Coast.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The NorCal Hustler

I left behind the safety of San Francisco for California's Wild Rivers Coast. About 4 hours of driving through some of the tallest trees I've ever seen landed me in Eureka, CA and the foggy shores of Humboldt Bay. Eureka is a small town by most standards, but for this area of California it is one of the largest and it attracts people from all walks of life.

After a days work I set out on what I wanted to be a three hour ride. There are scant details on the interwebs about good rides in the area so I headed out in one direction to do an out and back. After the day before, I wanted to ride somewhere with fewer hills but that was not to be the case. I ended up heading inland after a few miles on the 101 and found myself deep into a California redwood forest. The road appeared to end but soon I learned it switched back on itself and headed straight into heaven. I had no idea how long this climb was going to last but I knew that it wasn't going to end soon. An hour later I had gone up about 2200 feet and had been riding for over 6 miles up to the little town of Kneeland, CA.

The scenery got to Hayden and brought out her environmentalist side. When we paused at the crest of the climb before turning back she decided to hug one of the local inhabitants.
She got upset when she realized that the tree was to wide to hug and threatened to cut it down to use as our new Christmas tree. She realized that it was a wee bit too tall to fit in to our house. Surprisingly, Hayden had gotten a little moody but I realized she just had a nasty case of the munchies. I thought the fog I had been riding through was caused by the weather, but really it was just smoke from all the pot that was being smoke in the valleys below.

The descent back down into the flat lands was incredible. The street was wet from the heavy fog and it made the switch backs quite treacherous. By the end of the decent my hands were cramping from grabbing the brakes. This was two days in a row that I had been more challenged by going down than going up a hill. The folk in the area were pleasant but after all, when the fog lifted the views were so impressive that who wouldn't be happy.
Hayden wanted to see the Pacific so we headed out on the sand dunes. Hayden's sister Yoko has spent some time in the sand pits racing cross but this was Hayden's first trip to the beach.
I walked for about half a mile but the fog was so thick that I could never find the ocean. I knew it was out there and I could hear it rolling in but I could never get to it. Next stop, the Emerald City.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mt. Tam and the Pacific Coast Highway

I love my job. Something has to be said for Emerson and taking the path less traveled. When I came upon a fork in the "legal" road I took the path less traveled and it has made all the difference in the world for me. I woke up in San Francisco and was determined to find a ride that befit such an opportunity. The day prior I had run into a fellow customer at the Bike Shop who alerted me to the climb up Mt. Tam and how it would change my perspective on bike riding. He didn't lie. By the end of the day, I had climbed more than 4000 feet and lost my cycling innocence forever.

While Hayden is only a year old and has trouble with her reading, she knows that a sign such as this means trouble ahead. At least this time she knew exactly how long we would be in pain. Before beginning the ascent, a brief pause to look at the scenery:


Then I was off. Mt. Tam is a nasty set of switch backs that lasts about 5 miles past this lake and took me up to 2000 feet. It is wooded most of the way up. The trees are right on top of you and with no traffic it's an awe inspiring close in experience. You feel alone and in a tiny bubble of a world. The whole trip from the city of Fairfax to Stinson Beach I passed one vehicle.

At what I thought was the top I paused to shot this picture:

I would say that this is the face of determination, but in reality it's not. I later learned that this wasn't the top but the beginning of the steep section. I had rode above the clouds and the protection of the trees and the wind began to pick up as I summitted. The drops of sweat and the fog that I descended through turned my arm warmers white with frost. I was smart enough to put my arm warmers back on but the gloves didn't make it on till I reached the Pacific Coast Highway. That made for icy fingers.

I've ridden mountains on the East Coast, Colorado and So. Cal, but never before have I encountered as technical a section of road as the descent to Stinson Beach. I'm sure that the locals dive bomb that section without thinking, but for me it was a serious challenge. I think I almost fell off the edge no fewer than nine times. My power meter recorded 40 mph speeds right next to 5 mph. Perhaps I have a weakness in descending?

I reached Stinson Beach and thought that the hard part was over. Somehow I had gotten it into my head that the route back on the Pacific Coast Highway was going to be cake. I imagined with the word "coast" in the name that the highway would be somewhat flat. I was dead wrong and about 5 miles later I was unhappy.

The entire ride was incredible, but the best part of the whole thing was taking Hayden across the Golden Gate bridge:
It was so cool to ride across the fogged in bridge. This has to be one of the most famous bridges in America and the idea of being that high up over the water was amazing. I was however, very excited to get back onto dry land on the other side.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Road Trip

Tomorrow starts a great odyssey that seeks to put to shame my previous bike riding voyages. Tomorrow I am getting on a plane in DC and getting off a plane in San Francisco. I am staying in the Bay Area for a day or two then driving up the California coast to Eureka for a couple days. This stay in NorCal is followed by the long drive up to Seattle for the weekend and part of next week. The bike box is in my living room, laundry is being done and the weather has been checked. All seems to be a go.

For good measure, I'm stopping in Eugene, OR to ride my bike too. I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity of adding another state to the list of places where my bike tires have touched pavement. I'm bringing the camera and have my route up Mt. Tam planned. Everything else, I leave in the hands of Providence.

Friday, November 07, 2008

I AM

I am the listless wanderer of the earth,
the singer of songs and the teller of tales;
I am a profit and the historian,
the oracle and the reporter;
I am cursed to a love of the open road,
the never-ending journey without a home;
I am a citizen of the world,
the child of everywhere and nowhere;
I am the Bard.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Riding Along

The anatomy of how a vessel blows up when you introduce an open flame to fuel and combustible vapors is thrilling and some would argue commonsense; however, at the moment it has my head spinning in a variety of different directions so I decided to take a break and ride my bike. I don't always travel with an IPod, or in my case a new nifty IPhone, but today I decided to rock out my training ride to a couple tunes.

The right song can make the miles go by in a flash...conversely the wrong song, i.e., a terrible re-make of "Pour Some Sugar on Me" (which I downloaded accidentally), can cause irreparable damages to my ears. Sometimes, when I get beyond the pale of Georgetown and cars that make random U-turns in traffic, I find myself lost deep inside my own mind. A song starts playing that gets me thinking of a time or a memory and the next think I know I'm ten miles down the road without realizing how I got there. I'm conscious but operating with a mechanical functioning and repeated muscle memory.

I can reach a state will riding which allows me to escape. It's this escape which I love so much and has provided numerous opportunities for me. It's part and parcel of the reason why bike racing has become such a part of my life. The races are great and help me satisfy the competitive part of my personality. However, in order for me to be good at those races I need to be out there for the long rides. I need to have the passion to ride for hours in situations where there is no glory and no prize money at the end of the road.

My training rides are the opportunity for me to sort out those issues which I have dealt with during the course of the day. To think things through and to plan out what my next steps will be. I use them as the opportunity to break away from what is consuming me and in that breaking away to look at things critically and from a different angle. I guess it all boils down to this-- bike racing is how I stay sane.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rain Days

Sometimes the powers that be just be. The weatherman has been predicting bad weather for today all week long and well they weren't wrong. So I'm here on the couch watching my Jayhawks play and not out on the bike. These are the days that I need to help slow me down. Sometimes as a bike racer/lawyer/super type A personality I get spun up on something so much that I forget to relax.

I believe that you have to slow yourself down periodically or you end up missing everything. I get mired in details and workouts and motions. It runs the risk of burning you out and it's my natural tendency to fight burnout by working harder, riding longer and trying to do more which ends up driving me further down the path. So sometimes it takes a little rain to get me slow down and reminds me to take a break.

Monday, October 20, 2008

NBBOS Redux


In the Summer before my final year of swimming eligibility in college I moved to Ft. Lauderdale to focus and train. It was a great Summer. How could someone not enjoy a life geared around training, eating, sleeping and enjoying the beach which was less than a mile away from my bed. When I started that Summer I came up with this philosophy of NBBOS which stood for No Babes or Booze Only Swimming. In a nutshell it was a dedication to a singular purpose that was swimming.

It would have been ridiculous to think that I actually adopted the entirety of NBBOS. In fact that was the Summer that I remember spending $10 on a Bud Light without batting an eye. Largely because it was served to me by a bombshell wearing a silver bikini at the Baja Beach Club. However, it was the dedication to the cause of qualifying for the Olympic Trials that I took from NBBOS.

As I sit here looking forward to offseason training and toward reaching a similar level of cycling I think about the dedication I had back then. I'm not advocating divorcing myself from enjoyment of life's other pleasures but on focusing in on a goal. From this point forward I am reinvesting myself in the NBBOS; not literally because I could never give up the BBs of life. However, by this time next year I'm going to write again about this topic. When I do I'm going to say that I achieved my goal.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Joe's and Changing Washington

Joe has gotten mad press lately. By that I am referring to Joe Sick Pack and Joe the Plumber. Since there is only one person not from the US who is likely to read this blog, and he's at the London School of Geniuses anyways, I don't feel compelled to explicate the above pop culture reference.

The only thing getting more press than Joe right now is the repeated phrase made by politicians nationwide that "we need to change Washington." I, speaking on behalf of all Washingtonians am here to say to the rest of America "thank you, but we are fine and don't need anything." The political rallying cry of "change Washington" is the most ludicrous of them all. However, at the same time it is the least politically costly too.

For those who don't live inside the Beltway and don't spend your time dodging tourists trying to feed squirrels in Lafayette Park (I promise you I say a German women attempting to do it earlier today) I think a little explanation is necessary. Washington is the federal city. The vast majority of people who live in DC work either for or with the Government doing the day-to-day tasks of making sure it doesn't collapse. Very few Washingtonians find themselves in policy making positions and are content to work for government wages, i.e., way less than what they deserve, because they believe in the system and want to make America better.

Washington is a city of museums, good restaurants and national treasures (not the one's that the crappy movie with Nick Cage alluded to). It is not a place filled with vice where every individual carries a wad of $20s and is ready to bribe or be bribed by anyone. If change must come to Washington, than perhaps it is the people that the rest of the country sends here who must change. These are the individuals who control policy and establish the rules of the game. This isn't Washington's fault, but rather the fault of Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Albany and countless other cities.

Politicians take cheap shots at Washington because they can. Nearly half a million people live in Washington, which makes it larger, by population, than the State of Wyoming. However, Washingtonians have little control over what happens within our territory. It's easy to target those who are least capable of fighting back. I can vote for three people-- the Mayor, the President and a city commissioner. None of these individuals decides on how funds are appropriated to my LOCAL government.

Plus, my fighting back is like throwing a tiny stone in the Potomac and imagining that it will miraculously stop the river from flowing. It's easy for people from a thousand miles away to join others a thousand miles away and target one specific location as the source of all their troubles. It's easy to displace the failures of their elected officials on some mythical corrupting force such as Washington. It is much easier than looking within the confines of their own voting booths.

If you want change in your world the better approach is to change those people who represent you. Don't blame those who are just trying to help.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lunacy = ???

10 1/2 hours in the saddle on my first long weekend back into the world of off-season training. Maybe I'm a bit over zealous? It was just a lot of long long long riding out in the Blue Ridge. I found myself spending a couple days west of the Beltway, enjoying society events by night and long rides by day. My adventure into horse country and blue blood society culminated on Sunday with me on the far side of Mt. Weather heading toward the gravel top of Blue Mountain.

I view climbing as a semi-religious experience. The longer the hill and the higher the peak the closer I feel I am coming to the All Mighty. Literally this may be true but there is also something euphoric when you look out through the trees and see nothing to the sides of you except an open expanse of air and a valley way below.

My view of the cycling landscape is shaped by the relatively flat world of Kansas. According to Ben I have waxed poetically about my origins quite a bit. I agree with his assessment, however, when you come from some place where the horizon is visible beyond the curve of the Earth and the ocean is days away you get a new appreciation of terrain and the enormity of nature.

There is also something beautiful in the sound of silence. Climbing is about rhythm. It's about finding that comfortable spot in between pain and suffering and then continuing on. When I reach that rhythm I find myself in a silent world where all I can hear is the slow ticking of my cranks and the pavement under my wheels. It's like a symphony of silence.

There are many different types of silence and each has it's own emotion behind it. There is the silence of being caught on an elevator ride with my ex-girlfriend who I am no longer on speaking terms with. The silence where you are uncomfortable and undirected emotion boils over into a reddening of cheeks and a desire for it all to end. Then there is the silence of a rush hour DC bus where 40 people can be packed in like sardines yet not breadth a word. That is the silence of motivation and determination. Of people trying to start their day in the most positive light while using the least energy possible. Then there is the silence that proceeds a first kiss with a girl who I know that I will love. The one so pretty and so smart that I can not believe she is there standing inches away from me and I find myself just overwhelmed by the situation.

The silence of climbing borrows from all of these moments and creates its own. It's a time of fire and motivation combined with passion and determination. It is a meddling of feelings and a result of desire. On top of that, the silence makes you crave it even more.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Seafarers for Obama

After four hours in the saddle life has ways of making itself amusing; better put, I come up with ways to make life more amusing. At first trying to figure out obscure vanity license plates can be a lot of fun; but, on some of the roads I ride on there just are no cars. In these situations other diversions have to be created. This afternoon while riding back into D.C. I came across a car with a bumper sticker which said "Seafarers for Obama." I immediately went to the Obama website to find this bumper sticker but was unable to do so.

However I did find this sign:

Call me old fashioned but can you be an "independent" when you've committed to vote for either a Republican or Democrat? I understand that these individuals are probably not registered for one party or another but the sheer fact that you have decided which candidate you are going to vote for inherently means that you are not independent for purposes of that election. Prior to the next election cycle you can go back to being an independent but let's call a spade a spade.

I understand that it is politically sexy to consider oneself an "independent." The independents in our nation are the ones that every politician relentlessly courts. They are like the hot ditsy girl in the bar who has had too much to drink. Suddenly she let's out the official ditsy-girl-in-the-bar mating call "I'm so drunk" and everyone comes running. Thus, it is with independents and the election cycle.

These classifications encourage the fragmentation and itemization of the electorate. As a nation we have encouraged the compartmentalization of society. Everyone wants to find his or her unique social sub-class. If we can only objectify ourselves a little bit more then we can package society into neat boxes that can be taken out at election time so that media buys can be effectively used to target voters.

The issue that I see is that every election cycle the American public ends up being treated like every one is uneducated and worse yet uneducatable. The electorate is taught what to care about rather than the candidate listening to his/her voters' concerns. Churchill once said "the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." However, in the same breadth he said "democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." An educated electorate is the most powerful tool for progress and the ideal of supporters of democracy going back beyond the ancient Greeks.

I was reading an article in The Washingtonian yesterday which spoke of partisan databases (Catalist for the Dems & Voter Vault for the GOP) which track voter characteristics and attributes over time. These databases are used by political action groups and election committees to predict voter sympathies so that they can micro-target swing areas and successfully campaign in places that may not have previously been thought of as "in play." This is a such a powerful tool however, it's not being used for it's ultimate purpose. I am sure that the owners of these databases can reap huge monetary rewards from politicians seeking office but what their creation should be used for is the education of the public.

Tracking this amount and type of information can bring within the electorate such a consciousness about specific issues as to achieve the dreams of our democratic founders. It is hard to comprehend the vastness of political space from where I live. With a loud bullhorn I can hear someone from Capitol Hill in my bedroom. However, that distance and thus that level of convenience, is not shared by everyone.

It is a long distance to Abingdon, VA from Richmond and its an even greater distance from Washington, D.C. to Redmond, OR. Those who live in places not so proximate to the palaces of politics reap both the rewards and the deficits of that distance. While some are politically conscious and remain intent on the minutia of issues that concern them, others are not so motivated. This leads to a lack of public awareness of issues of great import but limited mass appeal. This problem is compounded as a result of the proliferation of "national" news media with its generalist approach and headline news tickers which spend as much time talking gossip as it does exploring issues. Sadly, "sexy" stories or sensationalized news sell and their technical
counterparts get mired in obscurity.

These databases should be used to raise awareness in specific issues for target groups not just during election cycles but at all times. If you can micro-target a group then do so not for just the benefit of the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November but so that these groups can educate themselves and become grass-roots players in the political process. Targeted media and the availability of the internet can be used to create a new market place of ideas wherein genuine discussion of an issue at the highest levels can occur. These people can then direclty interact with their representatives

No longer need debates be had between only those with the monetary ability to purchase massive media outlets and blanket an entire metropolitan area. The debate can be brought into the home of those who are most directly effected thus raising awareness and giving more people the education necessary to participate in the market place of ideas. Whether they ultimately participate rests in their hands.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Virginia is for Lovers

While it is true that Virginia is for lovers, Maryland however is for crappy drivers. It might as well be said that DC is for everyone else. There of course is no shortage of bad drivers in DC too. Given it's proximity to Maryland and the fact that many of the latter's residents drive into Washington to work one must expect that like a rat carrying the plague these drivers would spread their disease all over the city.

Worse than people from north and east of the city, DC's single biggest problem on the roads is the presence of unregulated, untrained and irresponsible cab drivers. Today, in a two hour ride only 30 minutes of which was done within the reach of this breed of cockroaches, I was nearly killed 4 times. That is a little too frequently for my tastes. I prefer to keep near death experiences to a maximum of once a week.

(short commercial break)

So, I knew this would happen. I took a break from blogging for the evening and in my 10 minute bike ride commute home I found myself getting hit by a car. I guess my luck had just run out. Thankfully it wasn't bad and I didn't get hurt that badly. However, to add insult to injury, literally, the police who responded gave me not one but two tickets. One for failure to yield the right of way and the other for failure to use a turn signal.

This is how the accident happen. JRA (just riding around) I cross an intersection while I have a green light. I'm riding in the right hand lane and as I get to the far side of the intersection a pedestrian steps into traffic. In an effort to avoid that person, I move slightly over to the left while still remaining in my lane. In a simple 1 foot move to the left I come into contact with the leading edges of a car passing me in my lane. This sends me right to the ground.

So this is my fault how? Should I have signaled to indicate that I was moving over in my own lane? When I asked that was clearly the officer's theory. So from now on should I signal with each pedal stroke because inherently I'm likely to get a little lateral movement each time. Or is there a de minimis movement that I don't need to signal for? Kind of like the 12 inches I moved over before getting hit. Should I always give up the right of way to cars that are driving behind me? I mean that makes sense right? By doing that I imagine that I should just stand on the side of the road in my kit and watch cars go by for a couple hours and call it a good ride.

The officer was nice, given that she didn't know the "bike statutes" and had to phone a friend. I didn't know that we were living in the real-life version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. I guess the next time I have a question about an objection at trial that I should request a recess or poll the audience. I think I might be challenging this ticket.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Back to the Drawing Board

It rained in DC for 4 days straight-- Thursday through Sunday and, as if it was not already bad on Sunday we raced bikes around lily pads. This was my first ever cyclocross race. I had taken the bike out the day before for the first time and practiced the art of jumping on and off a bike while it's moving. I see little kids do it all the time in the park but for as a grown-up it's a touch more complicated than it appears.

Cyclocross is mountain biking on a road bike or better put a test in bike handling skills. I think a lot of people can say that they are good bike riders but until you get out there in six inches of mud on a 10% slope and pedal up it you are an amateur (still haven't accomplished that myself). Pictures were taken of me at this race but because I was such a pathetic version of my normal self I am posting pictures of Taylor Jones, a true esquire of cyclocross:

(credit to Jim Wilson for this shot). Taylor raced about 3 hours after I did and during that time frame the course dried out and the sun rose. My race featured a 200 meter long ankle-deep mud pit, two short steep run ups and some of the slowest single-track I have ever witnessed (not a far stretch of the imagination since this was the first that I have witnessed).

As this was my first cross race, I definitely did not get a call up and with a field of 63 guys I started dead last. I tried a couple classic crit manuevers to move up in the first corner and succeeded in passing ten guys only to find myself in a full on stop as the single-track section began. Every single obstacle that I encountered in this first lap was a first for me, i.e., mud, grass, barriers, dismounting, near death experiences. So the fact that I made it through the first lap was nothing short of amazing.

Troubles for me started on lap three when I somehow landed flat on my back going through a little mud section. Normally this wouldn't have bothered me but the trajectory of my fall threw me right off the course and three feet into a patch of thorn bushes. Admittedly I have crashed into some unique places before like hay bales, light posts, car windshields, car doors, ditches on the side of the road; but I have never crashed into a thorn bush. It took me a couple moments to extricate myself from that experience and needless to say I got passed by a couple guys.

Later on during lap four of five I was mocked by the guys in the beer garden because my soaking wet hands missed the beer hand-up. In my defense I was running up a wet grass hill carrying my bike over my shoulder with so much mud in my eyes that I could only see the back of my eye lids. To the contrary, Taylor was able to take two beer hand-ups during his race. Clearly, I have quite a bit to learn.

On lap five I had my second crash of the race when the course suddenly turned on me and I found myself back on my butt. Two guys saw this happen from the roadway above me and chuckled. They assured me that no one had seen it but to our dismay this was wrong as a 12-year old girl warming up for the women's race happened upon me right as I was getting up again. Again, I was passed by a few folks at this juncture. There is symmetry here, in that in my first crit I crashed twice--once into a mailbox and the second time into the aforementioned hay bale.

Despite all of my efforts to finish last, I ended up beating a couple people finishing 49th and not getting lapped by the leaders. A rather interesting start to my cross racing career. My bike was covered in mud and grass. I had leaves and sticks hanging out of kit. And now a desire to try it all over again on Saturday. First I have to let my body heal a bit. My encounter with the thorn bushes left me looking like I had picked a fight with a particularly frisky feline (and lost). Not the sexiest image ever but it's not for me to make up the facts.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Off Season

I woke up on the floor of Princess Lillian's house two days ago. This was the end result of a comedy of errors which began with my hatred of carrying keys and ended with me locked out of my house and office. I went to sleep in Washington, D.C., but some how woke up a couple hours later in Belgium.

The weather turned from 80s and 90s to thirty degrees colder with no sun and lots of rain. All we are lacking is the women with wooden shoes and the tulips. It's that time of year when the arm warmers, gloves and shoe covers come back out from storage and long slow rides predominate. It's a great time of year to sit back, have a drink and just enjoy the results of a good road season.

Of course drinking leads to excess and sitting around leads to watching way too much college football. Actually the two go hand-in-hand. For a lot of folks when they get drunk they'll do something crazy like get a tattoo, meet a girl and fly off to Vegas to get married. However, when I get drunk I buy a cross bike, decide to race cross and make plans to go to Kansas.

My first cross race is Sunday and I am actually nervous about it. I've watched Taylor dismount and re-mount his bike a ton of times and have practiced myself doing the same but nothing prepares you for the first time you have to do it in a race. It's been raining now for a couple days and I'm sure the ground out at the course is going to be good and muddy. My nice white kit is bound to turn a shade of brown.

From my spectator's position this is what I've learned about cross. You start off sprinting like crazy to get into the front. Then you make some crazy turns on grass/mud. This is followed by dismounting and remounting your bike as you leap over barriers and other obstacles. Occasionally someone throws sand or snow or some other terrain in your way. You sprint some more and then you finish. Sounds easy enough. Maybe I won't end up in the hospital.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

ING Crit: Racing in the Shadows of the Capitol

Part of the squad that went to battle this day:

Thinking of all the history and architecture, it's awe inspiring to ride your bike down Pennsylvania Ave. I do it on a weekly basis and I never get tired of riding past the FBI building, the Archives and right up to the Capitol Building . The idea of racing on this same street was beyond a dream. That is until it happened on Sunday morning. The first ever ING Crit is now my favorite race of the year.

It was a technical course, a short steep hill and a 180 degree turnaround over .6 of a mile was what we were up against. The Harley team had been called up to the invite only pro-race which was the headline of the day, so the 1/2/3 race was more wide open than a lot of our other races. The thought was also that it might decrease the horse power in the race too. However, the thought of racing on Pennsylvania Ave, brought out the best of the Mid-Atlantic this morning.

A short steep hill in a crit is typically enough to separate the wheat from the chaff and today it did; however, add in the 180 degree turnaround it turns the course into textbook example of cycling darwinism. Each lap you were required to go from 30 to 5 to 30 mph in the course of 400 meters.

My old car found such an acceleration challenging. After an hour of doing so my legs found this process to be down right soul-breaking. After 20 laps I found the sweet spot in the field and rode out the hardest parts of the course until I could move up in the technical 4 corners in 4 blocks section (this came right after the uphill and right before the 180).

I tried to move up every lap. My thought was that if I could get to the front then it would make the accordion effect less. So I kept passing two or three guys at a time. I'd look back a little later to find those guys blown off the back of the field and myself again hanging desperately onto the end. I made a lot of bargains with myself that day to stay in the race looking for an opportunity to get up the road. You know those bargains where you say to your legs "just give me five more laps and then I'll pull out." All along I kept looking for an opportunity to exploit, a momentary slowdown, but none were forthcoming. I was very content with my field finish and am looking forward to next year's version of this race.

One of the real highlights of the race was the cowbell which I received from the promoters. A toy which came in handy when I voyaged with the legend of cross racing Taylor Jones over to the Charm City Cross Race that afternoon (it's a loud cowbell and would put those used at MS State to shame). It was my first experience at a cross race and I have to say I am impressed. I cannot wait to get my try at one of these. However as of today I am launching the Taylor Jones Supporters Groupe. We are an organization dedicated to cheering on Mr. Jones in all of his upcoming cross races so if you are interested in joining this organization (first give me a couple days) and then check out facebook for more information.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Urban Wonder

Living in the great mindset that is Washington, D.C., you come to expect certain things that you would otherwise not expect anywhere else. First, that the staff at the Washingtonian magazine has an unnatural obsession with Ben's Chili Bowl on U St. I admit that they make darn good food but why must this restaurant make an appearance in every single issue of your magazine(this month it's even the answer to a crossword clue)? I mean is it really the only restaurant on U St. that makes good affordable food? A simple Google search shows more than 20 restaurants on U St itself between 18th and 12th streets.

The second thing that you become accustomed to is the ever present political wind. It seems every politician in America, be it the senior senator from your State to the county committee chairperson comes to DC to announce a new agenda. That's great and wonderful, because I do like to stay informed on the news and politics. However, it leaves you in the middle the geographic equiavalent of a conversation with that other person who is simply waiting for you to shut up before it's their turn to talk. I guess it's the natural result of being so close to power yet having none of it yourself. It's like being talked at all the time and never being talked to.

However, one thing that struck me as odd today, and which I have not come to fully understand is the manhole epidemic DC faces. I had noticed previously a large number of manholes in DC streets (especially in Georgetown) but today on my ride I came across the following image:



This is the corner of Columbia and 14th St. It's a regular location for me to cross because I live a few blocks away and it is near to my local Target, Best Buy and a dozen other stores that I love to get lost in (thankfully there is no office supply store there otherwise I might not make it home). This image is just a portion of the intersection but you can clearly see no fewer than 12 manholes. I promise you that when you add in the remainder not seen it is more than 20. My question thus is why on earth did this intersection require that many manhole covers?

Can't we consolidate a little here? Or is this a classic example of pork barrel spending. If it's the latter I can support that as I am a huge fan of pork and the American steel industry. I am glad that my neighborhood has put the children of Bethlehem, PA through college through this kind of behavior. Sadly, this is probably the end result of a bad acid trip for some civil engineer. He woke up one day and realized the mistake of his recommendations unfortunately too late to stop the city planners from going through with this intersection.

I guess as long as they stay in place I cannot complain. On a side note it has become clear that Russia's worst beer has officially made it to America. The below poster is from the market half a block from my house. Baltika 7, advertised below, was the terrible beer that I drank on occassion while living in Russia. Even the Russians I lived with admitted that it was terrible and drank it during hotter days as a substitute to water or kavas (fermented bread served in a two gallon bottle like pop).







It's clear by the add campaign they are using that the bottlers of Baltika are seeking out the more sophisticated beer drinkers of the world.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Giro di Coppi: MABRA Championshps

I haven't done this race in four years and I had forgotten how hard this course is. It shadows Sugarloaf Mountain and you would think that since it doesn't go up the mountain that it would be an easy flat course. This is quite to the contrary. This course is hard and can wear away a field.

We started with something close to 50 guys and finished with fewer than 30 and the lead group was down to 12 or 13. People out west talk about how only they have "real" climbs in their races but I argue that the east coast races are equally challenging. Admittedly in the Mid-Atlantic we are lacking the Rocky Mountains which eliminates the 2 hour long 6000 foot climb. However, the rolling courses like ours provide a lot of challenges because you can never get into a rhythm and spend your time adjusting to the newest climb, decent, turn, twist etc..., that just popped up in front of you.

This course had two challenging hills and a series of flat twisting descents. One of the hills was on the back side of this 12-mile course which wound its way through a forest. It wasn't that long of a climb but at the outset I knew that it would be the climb that would separate the field out and I knew that I had to be in the front. With two laps to go I looked back after we crested the hill and our field was destroyed. What had been 50 guys was down to 30. One of my teammates snuck away right there and solo'ed away for what would be a win 15 miles later. Another strong time trialist got off the front at some point during the final lap and stayed off too.

We crested the hill for the last time a lap later and then it got serious. With about 2 miles to go I joined a small group of two guys off the front. Another guy joined us and this group comprised a lot of the horsepower left in the race as it included the BAR leader and last year's MABRA road race champion. Unfortunately we couldn't get organized and the break got caught by what was an unorganized chase.

The finishing stretch was a 1-km long rise up to a hill top. The last 200 meters peaked out at over 18%. I was holding myself back about 4 guys deep at the 1-km mark. I knew that at 18% there was no way that I could hold a 200 meter sprint so I decided to wait for the 150 meter mark. That was a small mistake on my part and I should have waited for 100 or 75 meters. At 150 meters to go I jumped and put in a full 10 second sprint and looked up to find myself still 100 meters from the finish. I sat down in the saddle and started spinning. My sprint had given me a strong lead on the rest of the field but I lit every match doing so.

I dug deep and I kept going. I got passed by one guy, then two, then three. I just kept going and the finish seemed to not get any closer. Mercifully I crossed the finish line for my first top ten of the year. In fact looking back this might be my first top ten since catting up. I'm really happy about this result because it was on such a hard course and required every tool in the toolbox to be used.

Friday, September 12, 2008

As If The Work Day Was Not Tough Enough

Since leaving the green hills of Mississippi behind for the urban jungle of D.C., I have become deeply involved in a niche law practice. I have had the great fortune of landing my dream job and am so wonderfully happy that I cannot imagine doing anything else. For the most part I practice admiralty, which sounds like an arcane phrase best reserved for life at court in England in which the Queen or P.M. would call for the The First Lord of the Admiralty. However it is a real life area of law.

In a nutshell, admiralty is the law surrounding events like this:


Or sometimes like this:

Or when your clients get particularly frisky you end up with moments like this:


None of these are particularly good situations and sometimes are rather tragic. However, they almost always lead to me getting involved and when that happens I am a pretty excited guy.

As in law and athletics sometimes you are forced to raise your performance to the level of your competition. My Grandfather, as most do, gave me many great pearls of wisdom. The most poignant of them was "never engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed foe."

video

With this logic, I cannot argue.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Progress: It's not Just a Campaign Promise

The weird thing about progress in athletics is that if you work hard it actually finds you. The even weirder thing is that a good coach has a way of sneaking up and showing you how much you've progressed.

Adam was being his typical sneaky self this week and threw a pair of tough workouts at me early in the week. It came as a rather unpleasant surprise to me because I had grown used to the idea that the road season was coming to an end and that it was time to transition back to 5-hour endurance rides. You know the rides where you remind your friends that you only have to go fast to outrun the dog that chases you. Even in that situation you only have to beat one person in your group (sorry Joe, you were young and full of promise, but we had to leave you behind).

On Monday I go to check the calendar and there suddenly appears a set of intervals, darn it, a set of I-have-to-go-hard intervals. [For Kelly Longergan's sake, an interval is that point in time in a cycling workout where you have to ride hard for a while.] Normally these intervals were short in duration and few in number. This time, they weren't, they were triple the number and double the time that I had recalled. Despite that fact I still housed them and it didn't kill me.

Today it got worse. Today was the day when you have to suck it up and know that by doing this workout you are making yourself a stronger rider. I realized about half way through the workout that I had done it before. In fact I had done this exact workout about 2 months prior. At that time I failed miserably. I didn't complete one of the three sets. Today was a different story. I'm not going to say that it was easy or that there was never a time that I couldn't hold my pace, but I did the workout. I had improved by more than 150% and this was on legs that were worn from the day previous. This was evidence of that elusive goal of progress.

Today may be a sad day, however, because I fear my beaver might have departed this world. Of course by beaver I am referring to:

yes, the small woodland creature that populates rivers like the Potomac. Training routes are slowly created over time as you learn new roads and new areas. There are different routes of course: 1) long let's get lost on the back roads routes; 2) shorter let's get focused and ride a workout routes; 3) specialized routes for specific workouts; and 4) I hate the idea of riding today let's find a route that goes from my house to a coffee shop and back.

Today I was on my training route for doing a workout which required no stop lights and was close to the office so that I could get back easily once my legs cracked. It uses a road that follows the Potomac as it snakes it's way from suburbia into DC. It's a great road that most cars don't know about and as a result I love. Along this road a beaver normally sits and watches me ride by (I typically do loops on this road). I've seen this beaver maybe 6 times in a row now. I'm starting to think he/she was my first real groupee. However, today the beaver wasn't there and I am of course unnecessarily concerned.

It's strange what things you come to expect along the road. Adam and Ben once believed that there was no such thing as a living armadillo.


We had passed millions of armadillos on our rides but they were always the victims of road kill; likewise, with opossums (playing dead in the middle of the road is not a good defense mechanism by the way). We spend so much time out there and a great deal of it is by ourselves. I just find it funny to think of what we end up spending our time thinking about. This is the randomness that goes through my head. I hope my beaver is just busy building his dam.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Return to DC-- Crossing the Rubicon

[In the saga of Gateway Cup, if you are interested in knowing what happened, at U-City it's quite simple, sometimes you got nothing. Then there are times that you find yourself riding behind another set of idiots who crash uphill on a straight away. This time they broke my cleat and my race was over 20 minutes in. Lesson learned from that, McDonald's Sausage Egg McMuffins do not sit well with me while racing. I thought I learned that lesson earlier this season but it appears that I did not.]

Tropical storm Hannah made her way through DC yesterday. She brought with her a lot of rain, a little wind and a day off the bike. After being gone for two weeks I had a lot of chores around the house to do. It took me two days to get them done. Today, equipped with a new pair of shifters, a new fork, cables and housing on my bike I set out for my first long ride back on the roads of Montgomery County and elsewhere [thanks to Taylor for all of the above bike work.]

I have crossed some metaphysical Rubicon in my life. After some great and very unexpected success at work coupled with my results at Gateway I have a whole bunch of happy energy. I admit that top 20 finishes aren't what I train for but rather are the gateway to better things. Through Adam's help and my bullheadedness I feel that I have found something that I lost about two years ago-- racing form. Two bad years of terrible training and worse racing had worn me down to a dull lackluster unvarnished shine.

I'm hoping that my discovery of form with three races left on the road calendar is a great sign for the end of this season and the beginning of the coming season. I've found a great set of training partners (if Bodge ever forgives me...please?) and have finally figured out this whole training thing.

I found myself today riding back in on the Rock Creek Parkway. A little unusual for me because that's normally my way out of town on a Sunday but what fun would life be without a little change thrown in? The creek was swollen from the rain the day before and I was rolling along with the little rapids. I had gotten a late start today because I was visiting with a childhood friend for coffee this morning. So by the time I made it back to DC it was already after 3PM and the park was filled with little kids, picnics and couples lounging along the side of the road. It was picturesque and reminded me of a Seurat painting and my high school days at the Art Institute.

On longer slow rides by myself I listen to an IPod. It helps to pass the time and helps me forget about the klingon whose sucking my wheel all the way down McArthur Blvd (did you have fun going up the hill on Falls Rd there little buddy?). My IPod appears to have enough music on it right now to last about three hours before it starts repeating itself. If anyone has any suggestions about music to download I'm all ears.

On a side note, the new song by Kelly Pickler, while catchy and empowering to women and girls of all ages, doesn't really help me all that much while riding. This is just another example of how easily persuaded I can be and how ITunes might actually be too easy to work. At $.99 per song (in England that's just about free, right Ben?) it almost feels like their are no consequences. I'll be the first to admit that I enjoy her picture when it pops up on my IPod and the thought of her in red high heels is pleasant but it's just not cutting it when grinding out miles. I can almost hear Princess Lillian (and the Southern Belles she represents) quoting some age old adage right now..."only women of the night and little girls wear red heels." But you'll never hear me complain when a woman wears them.

I digress, a lot, well when I arrived back in the park today, J-Tims had popped up in my ear, and together we are definitely bringing sexy back. I'm sure that I could have been taken for an idiot riding down the street bobbing my headed to the beat, but darn it I was happy. It was warm, sunny and I was doing exactly what I love doing. It's a long trip from here back to the rider I was in Kansas. Six years and a lot of miles between then and now but I've finally found the same love that I had for the sport that I had back then. And this time I'm not letting go.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Gateway Cup: The HIll

If the Gateway Cup has a queen stage, the Giro de la Montagna would be that stage. It's been happening in the same neighborhood for over two decades and everyone there has come to expect and enjoy watching the race. The race has adapted to the neighborhood too. It starts later in the day so that everyone can go to the small Italian-American church and after lunch they can turn to watching some top notch racing.

The Hill is a perfect little Italian neighborhood and reminds me a lot of some of the places on the southside of Chicago where my Mom grew up. The grass out front of the stoops of the little houses is perfectly manicured and lush. I was watching another race and heard a passerby remark to the owner of the house I was sitting in front of how nice her grass was. The woman who owned the house seemed to beam with pride when she heard that, as if someone had just told her that she had won the lottery.

The last time I did this race I was joined by a blonde-haired New England woman of Italian decent. It was her first trip to St. Louis and she fell in love with the neighborhood. At one point in time she turned to me and said that "we" could move there and just be so very happy. That's the kind of neighborhood The Hill is, a warm and inviting place where you forget about cell phones, traffic and political corruption. The race through it however is not that kind.

It's a four corner race with narrower streets than the two previous days. Aptly named there is a long slow hill that rises up on the backside of the course and that you quickly descend on the finishing stretch. Along the backside someone was nice enough to string a sprinkler along a telephone wire which stretched over the road. When you passed under it the cold water which came down gave you a refreshing "take your breadth away" shower.

This race was a battle of survival, not from the fast pace, but from the million crashes that seemed to happen for no good reason. No doubt the guy who won was the guy who didn't crash. The crash that I got involved in was going up the hill. I'm not sure what manner of stupid one has to be to crash while going up a straight-away on a hill, but the two guys right in front of me where that manner of stupid. I saw it slowly develop for about 30 feet. One guy leaned into the other. Then shoulders came together, elbows followed and finally handlebars locked. I looked to my left and to my right for an escape but there were guys on either side of me. When the two in front of me went down I joined them.

The field dodged us but a few others joined in the fun. A spectator asked if I was "ok." I responded by saying yes just "fine," but that I was going to have to get a beer from him after the race was over to be "good." A quick smile on his face and I took off to cut the course and head for the pit. The pit was located at the bottom of the finishing stretch where the field would pass with the most speed. This made it a little hard to get back into the race at the front. About 2/3s of the field passed me before I was able to get up to speed. I spent the next 10 minutes fighting through crashes (I counted a total of 7) and corners to get back to the front.

My plan had been to slingshot into the first spot through corner 3 at the top of the hill and then jump going into corner 4 for the sprint. It's still a good 400 meters from there to the finishing line but it was all downhill from there and it would be hard for a lot of people to come around me. I took the outside line in corner 3 and found myself rubbing elbows with a guy who thought he could go even wider than the road would allow. A 4 inch tall curb separated the pavement from the grass and he found himself dancing along it scratching his carbon wheels up for good measure. A little angered by this and all the other crashes I started my sprint for the front from midpack. A top 20 finish in another 140+ person field made me fell good and helped ease the pain of a cut up elbow.

Still missing the elusive victory story I resigned to try again the next day.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Gateway Cup: Riding for the Brewery

The largest American-owned brewery in St. Louis is for a beer known as Schlafly's. It's a crisp no nonsense beer that pours easy and goes down great with a french dip at any restaurant in U-City. The brewery in which this beautiful amber liquid is brewed served as the site of the second day of racing at the Gateway Cup.

The course was a lot more technical than the first night. It was a little more than a mile figure 8 loop which formed the shape of a bowl. Each end was up a small hill and the middle, where the 8 came together, was down a pair of fast downhills. The top of one side of the course was a minefield of potholes, ruts and manhole covers which would take their toll on my arms and knock my handlebars down a few mm by the end of the day.

The backside of the course was up a long chip & seal road (slag for those in the South) which was literally strewn with remnants of bottles drank at the night-before's party. Having lived in college towns for the better part of a decade I've become used to broken glass just not in the middle of my crit courses. Beer bottle throwing is an art mastered by a great many fraternity pledges and perfected by their seniors. In fact in colleges in the South Eastern Conference I have heard that competitions are occasionally held. A few houses are rumored have applied to the IOC to make this a competition in the 2012 Olympics. However, I digress.

The race started off weird. A crash in the final corner of the previous race sent one of the riders to the hospital. However, it took a long time for them to clear the road so my field sat at the start line for a while. We sat so long that the officials called upon us to take a neutral lap. I cut the course and returned to the start finish line but many people didn't move. Suddenly the calls from the back of the group, i.e., the former front of the group because they had done a full lap, began in earnest complaining of how this was unfair. The officials responded by making everyone do another neutral lap. Both of these laps were probably the fastest of the whole race...so much for neutral.

I ended up in the middle of the pack. I knew that in order to make this a good race I would have to get to the front quickly. It's another one of those moments in a race were I looked inside and said, aw hell this is gonna hurt for a while. The whistle went and I clipped in. I hit the first two corners like a bald eagle aiming for a salmon in a river. I chopped a dozen people in the first corner and took the sidewalk line on the second corner. By the time we reached the third and fourth corners I was riding in about 15th wheel. I was gassed from the effort but happy that I had found the front.

140+ guys started this race and only about 50 would finish. The field would get ragged going around this figure 8. A lot of accelerations and the heat took its toll on the field. A small break of 3 got up the road and was joined by 2 others shortly. I missed out on this one and am kicking myself for that. I tried to bridge to the group of 2 but when I moved going up the chip & seal backside of the course. I ended up pulling the entire field. So I sat up and waited for another move or for the finish.

With 5 to go I got into an elbowing contest with a douchebag from a St. Louis team. Since we were so far from the finish and only riding in about 15th wheel I let him have it. It wasn't like that particular corner was going to be the end all of the race. He gave me a smile, like he had just won a big pink elephant at a carnival. I thought to myself "you douchebag, what are trying to prove?" The last laugh was all mine because he bit it hard on the final corner of the race and opened up a huge opportunity for me in doing so.

There is an old lesson that I learned back in my early Jed-Adam-Ben-Kansas days: there is always room on the inside. I took the inside corner as we lined up for the field sprint in the last two corners. In the final one my new best friend went down and slid to the outside blocking a whole crowd of people. I went inside and accelerated. It was a long drag race down to the finish line. In the end I took 13th in the field sprint. I was satisfied with that finish after a hard day of racing.

Afterwards I joined the HRRC/Trek guys for a couple beers and a few co-eds at the Tap Room. All-in-all a solid day of racing.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Gateway Cup: Racing at Night

Now to begin the process of telling the stories of four days of racing and the tomfoolery that comes along with it. From Lawrence, KS it is a short four hours to St. Louis and the site of the Gateway Cup. The weekend is comprised of four crits in and around St. Louis. Each one offers its own unique challenges and come custom made for someone.

The first race is Lafayette Park which is done at night. The course is a flat 1-mile four corner course. It takes the term not technical and raises it to the next level. It's wide open and the corners are all 90 degrees...oh and did I mention it was flat? It's the kind of course where you can push 30+ mph without actually being clipped into your pedals.

Every time I've done it, the race has ended in a field sprint, but that sure didn't stop me and others in the field from jumping off the front like mad men. About 20 minutes into the race a small break of two was about 5 to 10 seconds up the road. They rang the bell for a prime and it seemed destined that those two would fight it out on the next lap for the prize.

I had been riding at the front of the 140 man field and jumped about half way into the lap. I bridged the gap within 5 seconds and just rode right past the two leaders like they were waiting in line for ice cream. I took the corner-next-to-last fast and then took a quick look over my shoulder to see who I had brought with me. To my surprise no one was on my wheel. I had gotten clean off the front and had 100 meters on the field going into corner four. It was a quick sprint up to the start/finish line and I took me a prime.

Looking back at my cycling life, it turns out that this was the first contested prime that I had ever won. I have no idea how I've made it this far without winning one before but the omen was great. I stayed off the front for another lap before being swallowed by the field. I sat in for 10 to 15 minutes and then found myself in a small break dangling off the front by about 5 bike lengths. I jumped the break and got clear again. However, again the field swallowed me up a lap or so later. At least I heard the announcer say my name this time, which would have made Mom and Dad happy.

Racing at night is an odd experience. The course is lit at each corner with huge flood lights but in the middle of each stretch only street lights show the way. You go from dark to light and back to dark again rapidly. It gives off the impression of moving in a giant strobe light. However in this one you get to hook handlebars and dodge potholes; oh and try to go fast too.

I sat back in the field and waited for the field sprint. With a course like this one it has to be assumed that a field sprint will decide the race. In order to get away someone has to be some kind of strong and determined, it would take almost a herculean effort to do it. With 140 guys chasing you down and frankly nowhere to separate yourself from the field with anything other than pure power, it just makes it too easy to get caught.

With 3 to go I was swamped in. I fought and scraped and dug to try to find any room to move up. Holes would open and close in the field quicker than one could react. Suddenly with 1 lap to go the field paused for a second. I shot to the front and around 30 guys. I realized at that moment I was a player in this race again and not just along for the ride. I prepared myself for the fact that it was about to get stupid fast. I looked inside myself for a second and said...aw hell it just hurts for a second anyways.

I took the final corner in good position but had chosen the outside line. Almost every single lap up until that time, the outside line was the better one. This was not that time. With only about 10 guys in front of me in my line I took to the sprint. One by one they started popping under the pressure of 300 meters of massive wattage. I just couldn't get around enough of them and the sprint went to the guys who took the inside line.

My prime covered my entry costs and was a great sign of things to come. Plus racing ended that night just as the little bars that flanked the park closed which made for endless entertainment as we cleaned up and headed for the hotel.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Walking Down Memory Lane

I've reached the furthest west on my road trip and have placed my feet on the solid ground of Lawrence, KS and the hallowed halls of my alma mater. It's been four years since I was here last. It was early Spring then and I really didn't get the opportunity to get back to and enjoy a lot of the sites that I had enjoyed while I was in college. This time I'm not letting that opportunity go by.

Alot of this road trip has been about retracing steps. Whether I actually thought about this when I came up with the idea or not is question, it's been about looking back at where I came from and maybe, just maybe, looking at where the road heads from this point on out. My path has been a twisted one and required many different roads. Literally it's take me down I-88, I-80, I-35, I-70, I-40, I-20, I-85, I-81, I-66 and I-95. That's the path from Chicago to Kansas to Mississippi and then to DC. However, figuratively, there's a lot of country roads, some made of gravel and some of red dirt, that have helped along the way.

My path hasn't really gone all that far-- from Naperville to the top of Mt. Oread, to the Grove and now to Adams Morgan. A common thread I'm sure can be found somewhere therein. However, I'm not sure what it is but I encourage Mr. Coles to create a testable hypothesis that eventually will come to an answer that none of us can understand but it would make a lot of sense. I've second guessed a lot of my decisions to move to or from various places. I try to play it out in my mind...how each different change would have affected the outcome. Would I be in the same place? Would I be just as good? Or just as bad?

Lawrence does hold a special place in my heart. I have a special affinity for it unlike any other place that I have been. It's the only place where hippies freely mix with trust fund babies and where I could meet so many random but fabulous people. It's a one of a kind town and to be honest I lucked upon it. When I was deciding where to go to college I am sure that Kansas was nowhere on my radar until one day a random coach named Zhawn showed up at a meet in Alabama. Thankfully I actually swam well that day.

Sitting here now, with hindsight on my side, I wonder if I enjoyed my college days to the fullest. If I used that time as well as possibly could have. Could I have done more? Should I have tried harder at doing X? Or less at Y? Should I have dated this girl or that one? If you ask Chad what he thought of my girlfriends during college I'm sure you'd get a couple crazy stories. So basically please don't ask him. After all these thoughts I pause and think to myself, sure I could have done it different but I had so much fun the way I did it, why would I want to change a thing.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Rogue Racing 2: Tour of Oak Brook

The cycling world of Illinois descended upon the quaint upper class suburb of Oak Brook. You know your suddenly not in the ghetto cyclist world when the pace car for your race is a Lamborghini or when you get to park your car on the nearby polo fields:
A slightly smaller race than Downers Grove, about 40 guys lined up for a 3.2 mile loop that was to be done a bazillion times. I grossly underestimated this course, the heat and the tenacity of flat land racing in the Midwest. However, that doesn't mean that I went down without a fight. Oh no, I was going to live up to my rap as the Rogue Warrior or as I am known in certain towns in North Carolina-- the Thunderbird.

The first couple laps I sat in as we went around. A pair of small power hills were on the back side of an otherwise flat flat flat road course. With the tailwind we could easily push 30+ mph into the finishing stretch. I followed a couple moves in laps 5-7 but nothing seemed to stick. I'm not sure how I was getting marked by the field, as I'm sure almost no one in Chicago remembers me from my Cat 5 days when I last raced there; but I was definitely marked.
Three guys had gotten off the front, one of whom was a member of the largest squad represented. They were content to let them get a couple hundred meters on the field and not push the pace. However, when I jumped to bridge that gap suddenly the field sprang to life. I crossed the gap in quick time but the field was so animated that they dragged us back in. With 6 laps to go I had had enough of this and was not content to sprint it out at 40 mph. So coming over a little rise into the head wind section I jumped. I got clear and stayed clear-- han solo.

The backstretch of the course was full of little twists and turns through multi-million dollar McMansions (honestly, McDonald's corporate headquarters is in Oak Brook's neighboring suburb aptly named Oak Brook Terrace). So I got out of sight quick. Up the two power climbs and into the long finishing stretch. However, once I got there the field saw me, turned up the pace and dragged me back in. I had been off the front for over 3 miles and had lit most of my matches doing so.

I retired to the field and resigned myself to the field sprint to come. With about half a mile left in the race the pace went to ludicrous. My early moves weighed heavily in my legs and then I exploded. Someone luckily was there to take this picture of the moment:
On a positive note, the stars and bars of NCVC/Inova Health System are distinctive enough that the Illinois boys who I was with remembered seeing them a couple years previous in another race. So I must give mad props to the likes of Greg Abbott for pushing through the jersey change when he did.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Rogue Racing: Downers Grove

For close to two years prior to moving to DC I raced by myself and for myself. No teammates. No support. It's a lonely world when you race without a team; when you race as the rogue warrior in the field. You have to be quick and take risks and fend for yourself. I've come to count on my teammates. A little help now and again chasing down a break or making sure that no one chases you down for a while. My trip back to Illinois is without teammates and I was quite alone in this race. As with the next four races in this season and in the terms of Leon Turner, if I am to win I am going to have to do so "han solo."

Downers Grove is a quick race. It makes the shape of a figure eight with four corners uphill and four corners downhill. There were close to 90 guys in the race at the time the whistle was blown. As is my tendency I started at the back of the field and would have to work my way to the front. With that many corners and only .8 of a mile worth of a course there wouldn't be much time to pass on any straight aways.

I started picking my way through the field in the corners and found it pretty easy to move up. The pace was moderate and quite unlike any crit I've ever been in because the speed was even. Normally, the accelerations make a crit a competition in whose heart rate can peak and come back to normal the fastest. By normal of course I mean something like 120-140 bpm.


The first downhill corner started on a wide open four lane road and fed into a three lane road. It was 90 degrees and perfect for carrying speed and moving up in the field. At about the half way point I came to realize that this race was going to come down to a field sprint. A couple guys tried to go early but the field was so big and no team was willing to take control so every break got run down quickly.

I road in the top 20 most of the race and my plan was to use that wide open corner to move up in the final lap into the top 10 and then up into the top 5 by the final corner and sprint it from there. The plan was working perfectly until I ran smack into the slowest moving object in the entire field just as I passed through that first downhill corner. I had to scrub a lot of speed and then move back into the field. Instead of being in the top 10 I was in the top 30. I was a little angry and suddenly put into a defensive mode. There was a quarter mile left to go and I was nowhere near where I wanted to be.


Two more corners followed and I moved up a little and I could still sprint for the top 15 which is how deep the field was paid. I was still in contention. All the way up to the final corner when two guys got tired of racing their bikes and decided to lay them down right in front of me. I rode between them and reaccelerated but by the time I got up to speed it was too late and the field had rode by my. It was a disappointing finish for such an incredible race.