Trail Rat Runner, Bicycler, and Apolitical Views

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Silent Riding

I have been ruminating on this a while now. I ride for peace, pleasure, and sometimes punishment (when I eat too much). But I mostly ride for peace. You know, get out the frustrations and get some exercise in the great outdoors. Just be at one with nature. But, some rides I have been on are the noisiest, least peaceful places I can think of.
HOLE!
CAR UP!
STOPPING!
I know these callouts are for safety, but many rides and riders seem to take pleasure in disrupting the beautiful silence of riding sometimes. So, I have started do some things of my own to try and be more quiet and efficient without jeopardizing the safety of other riders.

Here  are my voice warnings.
UP, BACK, LEFT, RIGHT – I never use the UP voice warning on striped road. The car has their side, and we have ours. No need to break silence for the obvious. I don’t add the word CAR… we know what’s there.
STOP – saying “stopping” is wasted breath… I need all the oxygen I can get! LOL If I am mid-pack or back I use hand signals instead.
CHANGING – When a light is going to go green. This means pay attention and get ready to clip in and go.
HOLE – Only to be used when there is a large and dangerous road defect.

For almost everything else I use hand signals.
CRAPPY ROAD SURFACES – Point to it… especially if you are among the front riders.
JOGGER UP or passing a cyclist – use the right arm behind the back signal (aka Hammer lock pose)
CLEAR – Well, unless you are willing to take responsibility for the rider(s) behind you or put your life in the hands of the rider(s) in front of you, you should NEVER call clear or follow that signal without looking yourself. I might say clear quietly, so only the nearest riders to me can hear it. Otherwise I use a tomahawk chop above my head with my finger pointed. Kind of like signaling “charge!”
LEFT/RIGHT TURN – Stick out your arm!
SLOWING/STOPPING – Put your left or right arm down and palm facing behind you.
HELLO/THANK YOU/BEING NICE – Wave or give a thumbs up to everyone else you see out exercising, running, cycling, etc. Also give this signal to the friendly drivers that yield.


There may be other signals and warnings, but these are the main ones. Don’t get me wrong here… you can talk to your fellow riders all you want. But in terms of riding signals and commands… a quiet ride is a peaceful ride, and usually a safer one.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

SuperZeros


One thing I have been thinking about for a long time is our ever-increasing thirst for all things extreme in amateur athletics. I really am not sure if it is natural. I have done some self reflecting on this, believe me. I don’t want to come off as a hater.

It is I who sometimes can’t sleep because my right shoulder hurts from mountain bike trauma. It is I who can’t feel anything on the top of my right knee due to nerve damage from a dropped weight. I have broken and cracked bones in bike crashes… mostly off-road and alone. High risk? Indeed! I have frantically hammered in a snow picket at 17,000+ feet in the Andes after walking across the “snow bridge of death.” But all of this pales in comparison to what I see nowadays.

Everyone wants to run a marathon, adventure race, ride a century, or more. Try ultra runs. Try multiday adventure racing. Try Ironmans. Try a deca-ultratriathlon. That's right... 38K swim, 1800K bike, and 422K run. The men's world record is 192 h 8 m 26 s, and the women's WR is five hours FASTER!!! And on it goes. Now we even have the Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder and a host of other novelty races for those who can't find enough challenge in just running. 

People are crazy. It used to work like this… people did activities realizing they MAY encounter risk, hardship and injury. Activities where the ever-present risk was death were left for the nut jobs. Now there are legions of free climbers. There are people flying under bridges in wingsuits. Office jockeys pay two years salary for a guide up Everest. A mother of three “abandons” her family to train for an Ironman. A father of five “abandons” his family to train for an Ultra run. People leave families to train. People quit their jobs to train. They plaster their cars with 13.1 and 26.2 and Ironman logos and 70.3. And on and on THAT goes.  

But a closer look may point to a natural origin to all of this. Some people may chalk the adrenaline craze up to hypercompetitive people. But human beings are not naturally HYPERcompetitive. We are naturally spiritual and seeking. Consider what a Yosemite Park Ranger once said in an interview… “Climbing is not overtly competitive, but it certainly is competitive in a lot of ways. It's not a place, perhaps, to be competitive because people will get killed. It's also seen as more of a spiritual thing. It's a very real experience - a spiritual, inward experience - so people talk about it less. It goes around the parking lot - it gets around - but it doesn't tend to get as publicized in the media as much as other exploits."

Author and psychology PHD Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written a few books about what he calls “flow.” Most of us know this state of being as “in a zone.” When a basketball player can’t miss a shot. When a skater lands every jump softly and smoothly. When a runner or bicycle rider is at their redline, but comfortably performing there for extended periods with little distress. When a bowler rolls a 300. Flow is spiritual in nature. In flow, you have purpose. In flow, you have satisfaction. Bruce Lee was famous for making the spiritual statements. My favorite has always been “When the opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit--it hits all by itself.”

So, perhaps what we are looking for in this world of extremes is a spiritual moment with ourselves, and perhaps God, if you are so inclined. Maybe we confuse the adrenaline rush with the spiritual rush… of being close to self… close to God… close to our purpose. I think that is more the case. One can find the rush of peak performance in the simplest of tasks. For, after all, Csikszentmihalyi points out in his books that even mundane activities can be broken into a complex series of interdependent performances. To perform at your highest level, to be spiritually connected with yourself and/or with God in the moment, you have to get so many things just right. I can run 6 miles right now. But can I do easily? With perfect form? With rhythmic breathing that soothes me? With awareness to my surroundings, yet a disconnection from them? Immersed completely in the moment, second, millisecond… of each step. Does the world become a slow motion event in which I am the key player? THAT is being in the zone, in flow. You almost HAVE to be there if you are doing a high risk activity. But you do not have to be there in your everyday activity. So I submit it may be HARDER to get there when nothing is on the line but your greater satisfaction.

So, how do we grapple with the growing legions of common men and women who suddenly think they are great athletes? Who obtain glory at the expense of family, career, or even health? Who advertise their greatness on their car windows as if anyone else really gives a rip or that it matters at all? In short, I don’t know. I don’t like any of this, actually. I used to have the roads and trails and mountains to myself. Now I feel like I am on an ant farm and the majority of ants either are incompetent and/or have a death wish. Maybe that is the answer… that people are going to further extremes to distance themselves from the throngs of idiots? I still do not know.

What I do know is that none of this matters. None of the events, accomplishments, trophies, personal bests, records… nothing. These are all self-indulgent things.  There are very few athletes I admire and want to emulate. The ones that stand out try to give as much as they take from the sport. The race leader who stops for a fallen competitor and gives up the chance to win (Jan Ullrich, TDF 2003). A great performer in any sport that mentors younger players (Annika Sorenstam). Anyone performing at the highest levels and still having fun (the Harlem Globetrotters, Usain Bolt).

So, the next time you set a goal to be what I call a SuperZero, ask yourself why. I suppose it is okay to do it for yourself. Jan Ullrich famously said "My motivation doesn't come from rivals, but because I love cycling. That's what motivates me…. I don't get my motivation by putting the picture of my rival on the mirror" Modern translation? "Don’t hate the player, hate the game!" But why not look for a loftier purpose?   
The moment of victory is much too short to live for that and nothing else.
– Martina Navratilova, tennis player
If all I’m remembered for is being a good basketball player, then I’ve done a bad job with the
rest of my life.
– Isiah Thomas
I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.
– Mikhail Baryshnikov

I've had a few interesting discussions about this over the years, believe me. I have figured out a few things in life. I am lucky in that regard. But this area is a tough one for me. I suppose I could offer my own tips on how to "excel" at whatever you do in a sporting sense. These 7 tips may work for you. They may not. But I would say if you follow them, you will not feel unhappiness about what you do. You will not feel pressure. You will never lose. And maybe most importantly, you will never quit. When it comes to sports and athletic endeavors...
  1. Pick something you love and do it for that reason, and PRIMARILY that reason. Nothing beats the power and purity of love. You aren't doing your activity for any reason other than to DO it. Once you let other factors, goals, and reasons gain importance you risk everything. Love never fails, and you will never fail at something you love. 
  2. Pick something you can do often and easily. If you can't you will eventually quit, which is the worst feeling in the world.
  3. Set goals relative to yourself and nobody else. As soon as you start comparing yourself to others you are a loser. All records will be broken. All the greats will be eclipsed. You need only master yourself.
  4. Share those goals and achievements with nobody but your spouse, or only with those who ask or who are closest to you. Or with God. The reason for this is people are haters unless they love you. And even then, people who love you can be down right discouraging. They don't understand, and you can't make them. 
  5. Don't put any activity ahead of the health of your immediate household. Family and relationships first. No exceptions.
  6. Master the fundamentals and remaster them and remaster them again and again. The devil and the joy is in the details. Drill down to those details and become a master again and again.
  7. You will never master the fundamentals. But if you are ever arrogant enough to think you've mastered them, pick a new sport.

You are better than (your) AVR.


Tonight I rode without my GPS. The mere thought of that may strike terror in the souls of some who read this. Garmin this. Strava that. Average MPH obsession. KOM ranking. Blah blah blah. Here’s a clue, Sparky… nobody cares. But you. Does that surprise you? It shouldn't, unless you really ARE the center on the universe.

You see my friends… the vast majority of people who ride do so for pure enjoyment and fitness. They don’t care about averages and pulls and GPX files. To them, KOM probably means “killed or maimed.” And you stat freaks look like a braggers. Maybe you are a braggers. Or oblivious. Unless you are the center of the universe.

So tonight I rode the 75th Street Brewery ride. Reluctantly. I do not like the ride. It is too combative. Sometimes dangerous. Often unfriendly. I know a lot of people on it that I really like, too. But many are very concerned about staying up front, so the only real fellowship comes after the ride. But I have to go home and cook and prep for work because I have a real job sometimes, so there is little point in riding this group ride for me. : )
But tonight I hung back with one of the many fast guys I know and chatted. Yeah, I know guys that are faster than you. He said we’d catch the front again. They were completely out of sight when we started the chase. We did catch them and I bid my friend farewell. I took the short route group back home.

During our chat I was talking about my absence of GPS. We talked about how that is a GOOD idea sometimes. Just ride. He showed me his cycle PC screens. In one day over the weekend he did 175 miles at a little less than 17 miles an hour. Now, if I just said 17 MPH without that distance reference some of you would poo poo that average. But when I add the distance in… ah hah! We talked about urban rides and hills and flats. We averaged 17.8 on Hoopers last week. There are 38 stop signs or lights on our course. I counted them. How fast were we really going? (The answer is 20++, but NOBODY cares). I used the speed as a reference to our stated average on the ride calendar... are we giving the people who ride with us what they expect? Back to the Brewery, we talked more about riding solo and in groups. And then we had to STFU and chase. But the whole conversation showed me that my friend just enjoys riding. I have ridden with him. I should know.

Now, before you think I am the oblivious one, I DO think there is a time a place for sharing stats. After a ride, it is a good way to compare to previous rides. Be careful though, weather makes a big difference… even on the same course. And AVR means nothing when courses vary. What about hills? Did you do any pulls or suck wheel for the entire ride? That affects what the AVR number really means. Before a ride, it can be good to announce a target average speed range if that is one of the goals of the ride... like the Hooper example I gave above. Finally, post your AVR on your own social media page/wall. You can put anything you want there. People will either read it or they will ignore it. User choice. Post it in a forum and you look like a bragger, or worse.

I will say it again. Your GPS data. Your KOM rankings. Your AVR... If anyone gives a crap, they will ASK for the info, believe me. Instead, try sharing a gap in the paceline. Or your knowledge. Or your strength. Or compassion. Or encouragement. Try sharing something that MEANS something. To a friend on a bike. To a complete stranger on a bike.

So tonight as the ride was coming to a short/long split, a guy on my left asked me if I was going right/long. I said no, but said I would drop back and call clear so he could take my spot. Then I’d pull left into his spot. We did the rotating switch seamlessly among other riders with good communication at a very high speed. He said “Thanks.” I said “That’s the way to roll bro!” That was the best part of the ride. Not the AVR this or that. But helping someone out. Being safe. Giving a spot to a fellow rider. I don’t always succeed at being the man I am supposed to be or the rider I should be. But tonight I did. I hope you did, too.

I hope we can let these words resonate without being compelled to comment on them. They are for all of us… me included… to contemplate… not to argue.
My dad was a clever guy. Never went to high school. He was more clever than me. More clever than you, too. Old school. He told me once than when people just had to make counterpoints, either their confidence was shallow or the truth had likely been spoken from the start. Or both. Today we just say STFU and ride. That works, too. : ) 

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Group Riding Rules: 1st in a series

I don’t make the rules… I just research them! The first rule from Lost art of the group ride

“To ride for months each year in the small ring.”

Wow! Really? Yes! The SMALL ring??

But... Why is this a rule? What is the point? What is the science?

The Point: Well, let’s go back a in time. Remember when Lance was a stage winner? A world champ (1993)? Maybe not, but that was YEARS before 1999 and the first Tour win. He was an accomplished cyclist. Pushing generally big gears. Very strong. Great on shorter climbs. Terrible time trialist. Not so good a extended climbs either. Then the cancer and the whole body change thing happened. But more important, his cadence increased almost 20% in some events later in his career. You think he did could do that by training in the big ring all spring? You think he mashed high wattage potatoes in Spin class in the winter? No way. Lance became better in all areas of cycling by becoming more efficient and more durable.

The Science: Spinning faster lowers required torque. The formula for torque in lbs/ft is

T = 5252 x HP
rpm

5252 is a constant derived from the stated force of one horsepower and ½ Pi. With this formula, you can see how, all else being constant, a higher RPM means less torque. The basic torque calculation is the same as for Work. Work = Force x Distance. Sooooo… less Torque means less Work. Are you starting to get the picture? If you use the right gear often enough you work less and increase your time until fatigue. You now have more endurance. End of the engineering story!

What else? Well… this rule is NOT saying you should avoid using the big ring. Choosing the right gear, especially in groups, is the more appropriate message. It is saying that spinning, in any gear will make you smoother. Less surging. More consistent effort on hills. This makes you easier to ride with in groups.

So what is the downside? There is one. You still need to build strength. Big gears do that... not small ones. But hold on there… the place to mash is not in a group ride pack or a pace line. Before you know it you’ll have everyone yo-yo-ing or you will demolish the pack. Not good. Mashing is for your solo rides. You do ride solo, right? Better yet… weights and weight machines help. And a recent issue of Bicycling magazine concurs. If you want strength, leg extension machines work great.

Meanwhile... when riding in your groups... keep it smoooooooooth. : )

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The art of guilt - Living in a post Deep Water Horizon world

What a cool name, huh? Deep Water Horizon. Sounds even more cool than Valdez. But now it is just a synonym for cataclysm.


Today the largest oil blow out [it is technically NOT a spill] in history continues to spew untold, misreported quantities of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. And the people grieve. Everyone should grieve over this. As stewards of the earth, we have just slapped our mother in the face. Oh, she'll get over it quickly enough, but if we don't grieve properly she may be left worse off - not better - in due time.

The Wall Street Journal has a great timeline, if you are interested, at the following link...

So let me track our collective grief from a layperson's point of view. I am just a man. Fairly well educated and traveled. I am not a student of the arts or classical music, but this has little relation to baroque genius like Bach. There is nothing structured or melodic going on here. It is more abstract, maybe even chaotic.

This blog will be short, because we are only on the second/third of seven stages.

The first stage is shock and denial. I might even add wonder to that. I remember watching the news April 21st, one day into this disaster. Just like everyone else [except for BP, maybe] I had no idea what was transpiring a mile below as the rig burned spectacularly on the water, then listed, and finally collapsed. It was an awesome fire. They were lucky, I thought to myself, that the fire would burn up much of the stuff we don't want in the water.

Then I heard grumblings about the blow-out below. About BP memos excusing short cuts to constructing containment countermeasures when deploying the rig. Reminiscent of hexavalant chromium in Hinkley CA... that water will not hurt them, right? And where is the mighty USA in all of this? We trust BP to do it all? Why not help with every resource available and then back-charge them?

So now we are at pain and guilt. Pain is good. It keeps us out of additional trouble, unless we are sick enough to enjoy pain. That is "fuel" for another blog... pun intended. The guilt part is very problematic. Guilt is a stifling emotion. Wayne Dyer named it as an 'erroneous zone' in one of his earliest books. Guilt tends to stick us in place, unable to move forward [moving backward is not an option, folks]. So, many people today that are fortunate enough to have a few bucks in the bank, a car in the driveway, a house in a hip neighborhood [or a plain-vanilla burb, if that is your thing].. those people are guilty enough to project that guilt in weird ways. Like oil consumption, relative to the DWH/BP blow out. Huh?! So let's all consume less. Let's all drive less. Let's all have less convenience. Let's all get rid of oil. We live too richly with oil. We are too fortunate. We don't deserve this privilege. Whoa...

First of all, none of us deserve a damn thing. You get what you get. Cruel bastards get rich every day while idealists suffer in poverty. Sometimes the opposite happens. Yin yang is alive and well.. and karma never lived. Think about it. What goes around SOMETIMES comes around. Life isn't fair and all of our attempts to make it fair will benefit fewer and fewer people. And, if anyone DID deserve a majority of the wealth it is the PEOPLE of United States of America. Not because they are in my country, but because as a people they are far and away the most charitable and giving of any nation in the history of the planet. We have no reason to feel guilty as a people. Plenty of warts accompany the charity we have. Our government could give more [as a percentage of GNI]. But the good far outweighs the bad. And for the record, we need to be much more nationalistic with respect to the intended goodness of our country and it's people. So let's either move on or move abroad, shall we? I surely would not live in a house where I hated the structure and the people.

So that leaves the tired arguments of overconsumption and transportation and big-evil-oil. Let me tackle them in order and with brevity.

Overconsumption is a myth conceived of guilt. The US has a way to go in terms of green energy. But make no mistake about the strides [i.e. not baby steps] that are being made. We are not as good as maybe 30 countries depending on which report you read, but we will be in the top 10 soon enough. If you don't believe that, then we certainly will fail and be a miserable polluting pig of a country thanks to your negative "support." Where are you from? Be proud and be proactive and be positive! Outside of the energy arena, consumption is what it is. We are not going back to subsistence living. If we do that, we will be Ethiopia, who ranked dead last 141st in a ranking of green countries in 2007. And we are no China. Their own wave of consumerism is going to be their biggest challenge soon enough. We all just need to be smarter. It is both a conservative and a liberal thing, too... something everyone can embrace. Stewardship is also at the foundation of Protestant, Jewish and Catholic faiths [I have no knowledge to speak to other faiths]. I remember my church talking about "time, talents, and treasures" in terms of stewardship many years ago. It stuck. I no longer go to church, but the spirit of stewardship is alive in how I live. So we simply need to teach the concept in our schools, churches, and communities. I don't believe any intervention beyond that is needed. It feels good to conserve and momentum is building fast.

Transportation is more of a problem, as we have waited too long and the costs are very high to adopt/adapt mass transit to metro areas lacking in such systems. In my estimate, all metro areas in the 2 to 3 million population range should have a four-spoke light rail system to a downtown core. This is expensive nowadays. I think this is where our government needs to take the lead. I am not into looking to the government for answers to things. But this is a place we are way behind the curve and we should strive to lead the world. We should also start emulating and supplementing the interstate system with a long-distance high-speed rail system. We have vast spaces that present challenges that Japan and Europe do not have. We just need to connect the major "dots." Interstates 10, 20, 70, and 90 for east-west routes. Interstates 5, 35, 55, 75, and 95 for north-south routes would be an excellent plan to start with.

Finally, let's get real about big-evil-oil. It is not evil, people are. It is big now, but not for long. Technology will change that. And BP is not even an American company, it is based in the UK and listed on the London Exchange. They will pay for all of this, and will suffer mightily in doing so. Thousands of people will lose their jobs over time due to this, and many of those will be here in the US because of public fallout and degradation of the BP brand. This is a terrible situation and the cost goes way beyond environmental.

So as we transition to the bargaining and anger phase of grief, let's temper the anger a bit. It is not going to do anyone any good to make hasty decisions or come to irrational conclusions. Things will work out. We don't need to cause more damage than the oil itself.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Enlightened Europe? Perspective!

Dec 2009

OK. I am fresh off a trip to Europe. Switzerland and France this time. I have been reflecting a lot about what I hear sometimes from friends. It goes something like this…

“Oh! Europe is so enlightened. They have health care and mass transit. They are not so hung up on nudity. There is sooo much more culture. I am healthier when I am there because I walk more.” Blah blah blah…

Of course, this blathering dialogue just makes me want to puke. I have found that people who say this have gone to Europe for vacation… ONE TIME. They have no basis for an opinion on what Europe is (or isn’t) at all. Most often they heard or read something from some idiot who is equally unqualified and repeated it. Some have ‘real’ Europe LIVING experience, like I do, and are certainly entitled to a bad opinion based on that experience. Harsh? I don’t think so. You see, if you think it is so much better elsewhere I suggest you LIVE THERE! Why are you here and raining on my days with this garbage?

So, I am going to offer some bulleted realities here that are based on several months of LIVING in Europe with real people… not just running around like a tourist.

  • Europe has more culture. Culture is a word derived from cultivation. Cultivation takes time. The USA is a young country. Older countries will have more culture. But how is culture, defined as “enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training,” really that important? If culture is more developed [there] than evolving [here], don’t you want to be where the action is? Just a thought.
  • Health care is less costly [per capita expense] there and more accessible, but certainly not better in quality of care. You get what you pay for. The current debate will determine how we handle our health care dilemma going forward.
  • Mass transit is much better there. BUT, that doesn’t mean it is the cheapest and best way to travel. Traveling light and alone, mass systems are the usually the best. Otherwise the automobile still rules. I have done the math, and can show anyone upon request how much cheaper a car is with a party of two or more. And the freedom of motoring is without parallel. Our major cities have great mass transit in the USA. It is our rail lines that need upgrading. And remember, in the USA we have the challenge of covering vast distances [more time and money].
  • Nudity? Please! Sure, some Mediterranean beaches allow nudity. It is in some advertisements. But MOST Europeans I have talked to do NOT like this. What good comes from being naked on a beach or in provocative TV ads children can watch?
  • Healthier? Yes... but Europeans consistently smoke more and are getting fatter on bad convenience foods just like the USA. They may benefit from more walking. But you can walk here! Don’t be a lazy ass!

That covers the major points people seem to come up with, but here are some of my own likes and dislikes that affect how people live there. Some of these are minor things, and are meant to be shared in a fun way.

· Grocery things…

o Grocery carts have swivels on all four wheels. I find them hard to handle.

o Grocery carts can only be retrieved with a $1 deposit. This makes sense.

o Grocery stores charge for bags now, but that cost has always been built in. Going green is now a money maker. No surprise there!

o Charcuterie [meat and butchering] is MUCH better in Europe, with an amazing selection of cold cuts, terrines and other items.

o Ditto for baked goods.

o Produce is consistently better and MUCH cheaper there. This may be due to lower transit costs/distances. If I were vegan I’d live there, not here.

· Car things…

o Gas is way too expensive. It should cost more in the USA, but not that much!

o There are more car choices there, but the operational costs of a car and maintenance costs are much higher [perhaps due to economies of scale].

o Privately owned interstates have tolls that are too expensive.

o Traffic is terrible. I have been in 50 mile backups. Yes. 50 miles. I have had a 5 hour drive turn into 11 hours. That is virtually impossible in the USA.

o Rest areas are insanity. Crowded. Filthy.

· General things

o Diversity is not greater there… just different. Their muslims are our latinos. Everything else just falls in line [blacks, Asians, eastern Europeans].

o Metric is better. Period. We are idiots here for not adopting it.

o People are generally rude and ignore personal space there. Southerners would have a hard time there… no pleasantries are offered.

o Returning merchandise there is a real hassle, if not impossible. You buy it - you own it. You gotta break it here before that is true!

o More people smoke there. Smokers are everywhere. This is a big deal for me personally, because I just hate the smoke.

o The air is terrible in the cities. Diesels dominate there and the exhaust is pervasive.

o Cell phone service is cheaper.

o Broadband is cheaper.

o There seems to be a lot of people milling about that are not working… you wonder how anything gets done.

o Kids there are just like kids here. Pierced. Tattooed. Weird.

o Perfumes are a big deal. You can encounter some toxic combinations on the Metro, combined with bad hygiene/body odor.

o Convenience is not a big consideration.

I hope some of these things are enlightening. I am not Euro-hater [why would I continue to go if that were true?]. Nor do I think the USA is always the best. Western Europe is not that different from here. In some ways it is better. In some ways it is worse. It is older and has a certain charm. If you live there you would take it for granted… so charm means nothing. I would suggest this… If you want a good comparison take a trip to DC and use only Metro or your feet. Stay for four days. Then go directly to Paris for five days and do the same thing. The sights, sounds, culture, people, are very similar. DC is greener and prettier. Paris is older and more charming in the neighborhoods. But the ‘feel’ is similar.

And to those of you that vacation in Europe but never drive there, never get out of the cities, never go to the grocery store, never talk to [or stay with] locals… mind your opinions and comparisons. You can’t compare what you don’t even know. There is a difference between vacationing in a place and actually living there.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Punisher

The Punisher

Punisher is what I sometimes call our male cat, Pantoufle. He is always sneaking up on our female and whaling away on her. She pays him back though.

So it goes for the Prairie Punisher Duathlon. The darn thing snuck up on us and we registered 11 days prior to the event. Good idea? Probably not.

I was thinking that we run and bike so much, a Duathlon is almost like a long workout. Not so much.

And so there is really no prescript to tell you about. No long training rituals. No leg-burning, mind-searing workouts reminiscent of middle-ages gladiator training. No blood. No tears. No drama.

Until the morning of the event…

I have learned a lot over the years doing these things. I left my running shoes on top of my car on the way to a marathon once. I actually went back and found them on the highway after arriving at the parking area, realizing I was an IDIOT. I have left things at home like sunscreen, or my race packet. You name it, I have brain-farted it away. So the bikes were loaded. Packets were made for the transitions. All was ready… except Mother Nature.

Gardner KS is about 22 miles southwest of the house. As soon as the drive there had begun the skies were noticeably threatening to the southwest. Figures. We kept a close eye on the sky. The roads became wet about 6 miles from the starting area, and the rain shafts coming out of the clouds were visible in the area. Surprisingly, things dried out right around the starting area north of Gardner and the event was a go.

Check in was no sweat. Bathrooms WERE a sweat box. Humid and cramped with a line of guys about 10 deep, you’d think they’d have a few porta-potties on site. Nope… just a two-header men’s room with too much business and smells you can’t describe.

I came out of that gas chamber and into the wet sticky air. I got all of my equipment and marked my arms with my number at the car by myself… my purple Sharpie matched my bike color. At least I had that going for me!

After a short speech and instructions we were off. The course was damp and difficult. The run was a wave of drainage basins and hills. Down-up-down-up-down-up-false flat. Then we turned around and the reciprocal was our “gift.” I finished on schedule and my thoughts drifted to the pain of doing that nonsense again later. I had no idea how right those thoughts were!

The first transition was a little slow. Just over two minutes to put on shorts, change shoes, and don a helmet. That was a little disappointing actually. I may have felt better about it if I had fallen down putting on my bike shorts or something.

The bike rolled pretty well though, and the roads were dry enough not to be dangerous. There were no curves on the roads, just 90 degree turns at intersections. Those spots were the only places were caution was required. The bike course itself was just like the run… either up or down or false flats. The first half I rode pretty well, but my lungs were not very efficient in the thin humid air. The second half of the bike portion I could feel my legs start to build with lactic acid. Slowly but surely, I was losing my top-end. And, was I thirsty?! I should have thrown a few swallows of water and sport drink in the furnace on the first segment and transition.

By the time I reached the transition I was ready to run. Right. Just over a minute to change shoes and shirt, and I was off and running. NO… I was NOT! My calves seized as soon as I tried to run. Each time I tried to go they’d lock up again. I had no choice but to stretch them on a curb at the edge of the park used to stage the race. After that I ran and walked portions of the first ½ mile or so. Then I jogged really s-l-o-w the rest of the way. I had not trained for the transition. I did not drink anything on the bike. This, my friends, is the perfect recipe for muscle cramps.

Right after I finished the skies opened and a steady rain began to fall. It seemed to be all around us before and during the event. The rain after the event seemed to be only over the race area. Incredible. It did not take long to pack and leave… or find the nearby Mexican restaurant to refuel!

I finished two minutes behind my target time. I could have finished 5 minutes better with a proper first transition and by meeting my 2nd run target time. I was not too disappointed. It is called the Prairie Punisher for a reason. I am not sure that is good marketing beyond attracting the masochistic. I may do it again, or more likely another duathlon at some point. I’m sure something else will humble me if I correct all of my mistakes. That’s life unless you live in an ageless, fantasy world of perfection. I am none of those things. Some people climb to summit. Some people race to win versus others. My race… my climb… my battle… is against myself.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Touching Wheels – When two cycling worlds collide

August 7, 2009

First off, let’s get some things out of the way. I have been biking seriously fast, on and off, since 1990. I bought a Giant ATX 760 and modified it to a crazy mountain machine. I then bought a Giant Cadex carbon frame and modified it to Triathlon readiness. In 1993 I bought a Cannondale Super V 3000. I broke the frame twice riding off drops and stairs. It is now a cobbled together Jekyll, and C’Dale is still my favorite bike frame builder… EVER! I also bought the world’s lightest production bike in 1993, the Trek OCLV 5900. I changed to a few heavier components for everyday riding, and that is still my road bike. I can ride your wheel. I can pull. I can stand or sit up hills alongside lighter people. I can sprint with bigger and stronger people. I can do a really good track stand. I bike.

But you’d never know it by looking at me. I wear a cotton t-shirt and a backpack sometimes when I bike. I have some rust on a few bolts on my bikes from living on the coast. I don’t wear bike jerseys too often, nor do I don the ultra chic eyewear bicyclists like to wear. Sometimes I wear long fingered gloves in the summer. Sometimes I show up to road rides on my mountain bike… and KEEP UP! All of these things leave me wide open to the hell-fire and venom of “elite” riders. They hate me. I do not conform. I do not bow. I do not back off. I obey more traffic laws. I do not like to be judged by them and tell them so.

The things I have heard from fellow cyclists in the Brookside Thursday Ride, The Blue Moose Thursday Ride, The Chelley's Wednesday Ride, and the 75th Street Brewery Tuesday Ride [all in Kansas City] :
“Why do you only have a mountain bike?”
“If you can’t hang up front you have no business being here.”
“You need a “faster looking” bike.”

But it is mostly what I DON’T hear that is bothersome.
No “Thank you” after I bunny hop to the sidewalk and hit the crosswalk button for a group to get the green light.
No “You are new… welcome” when I show up the first time for rides.
No communication before turns and curves at high speed to coordinate lines of travel.
No “Grab my wheel” when I am struggling to stay with a peloton on a bad day.
No “Take the gap” to allow someone to join the pace line.

You see, biking reminds me of a couple of other sports.
Surfing. Things a surfer might say:
“You are stupid, dude. You deserve to freeze out here in that cheap wet suit.’
“Dude, if you grab my wave or take my line I’ll thrash you.”
“I’ve never seen you here before, dude. This is OUR break.”
Swimming. Things a swimmer might say:
NOTHING. They are just right next to you one minute and in the water the next trying to kick your ass and destroy you. Afterward, there is usually no acknowledgement or exchange. It is just over.
This is typical in riding, too. It is blood sport even at the recreational level. Kill or be killed. Eat or be eaten.

Where does this attitude come from? How does it get into club and recreational riding? Look no further than our professional cycling heroes.
Greg LeMond – Perhaps the most physically gifted cyclist ever. Also a gifted whiner, trash talker, and instigator. By the way, I own a LeMond indoor bike... so I am not a total hater.
Bernard Hinault – The Badger thought he owned the peloton. He still has a really big mouth. He is opinionated to a fault. It was actually great to see him and LeMond do battle. They deserved each other.
Mario Cipolinni – His last name means little onion in Italian. But there is nothing little about his style. Style doesn’t get you through the mountains, though. And sprinting is only a small part of being a good cyclist.

Where all this whining and whipping leads is to stagnation. For example, basketball is dominated by unbelievable athleticism AND trash-talking, thuggish behavior. Even though population has grown since 1990 there has not been an increase in numbers participating in the sport at all levels, according to the USA Today in an issue this week. I predict the same for Cycling.

Let me offer my solutions and thoughts:
You can be an ambassador for the sport and still kick ass. Think Eddy Merkx.
*Say hello to fellow riders of all types. If you are out of breath, wave at them!
*Make trash talkers shut up.
*Defend weaker riders. Remember the weaker riders get stronger, and your ass is the first one they’ll remember to kick if you are the snobby club rider.
*Don’t be an equipment snob. Again, that rider on the beater bike may kick your ass on a bike like yours.
Be the last person in the group every once in a while. You need to do your turns at the back and the front. Someday you will not have a good day. Who is going to be there to encourage you?
Obey the traffic laws. If you want to be heckled by drivers and targeted by police, by all means keep blowing stop signs and lights. If you want respect, you must also show respect.
Learn to bike! Seated. Seated sprint. Standing climb. Standing sprint. Decending skills. Shift strategy and timing. Most of the “elite” riders I ride with don’t even switch to a lower gear before stopping at a traffic light. Then they struggle and clunk through gears to get going again. Elite? Not so much. Learn to bike… that slow rider may be behind you, but they may also be, technically, twice the rider you are.

The bottom line is we all need to be domestiques. We need to be respectful and encouraging to each other and the sport will prosper. You can still kick ass, just be graceful about it. Your turn at the front will always end. If you are one of the problem riders with a bad attitude, I be somewhere in the peloton laughing when it does end for you. I may be at the front or in the back… but I’ll be there. You’ll hate me. And I’ll love it.