Monday, January 30, 2012

"Fast Is Better"

Hunter S. Thompson is a punk. He's dead now, but if he was alive, I would tell him to his face. If you don't know who he is/was, don't worry about it. He was a writer and a good one. Most of what he wrote or said was crude and foul and his political ideology and mine don't/didn't exactly line up. Ever. He was acerbic and abrasive. Sarcastic and abusive. Just a real big jerk. If I had ever had the opportunity to meet him in person, he is/was the kind of fellow that I would have a strong urge to punch in the face. Multiple times. But I saw a quote from him today and it boggled my mind. I thought for sure he was talking about cycling: "faster, faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death." Amazing.

That's exactly how I feel and think when going downhill on my bikes. Can you ever go fast enough down a hill? I can't. I wondered if he was a cyclist as well as a writer so I checked as best I could and couldn't find any evidence that he might of been. So even though I think he's a punk, I spent some time seeing if I could find anything else he might of said that I thought related well to cycling. Most of his quotes are not fit to print here, either due to language used or subject matter, but I did find quite a few, and many more than I expected, that I thought could be rubbed over and rang out on the sport of cycling and I'm going to share them with you here:

"A man has to BE something; he has to matter." How true. I know I am a son, brother, father and a husband and all are very important and noteworthy endeavors. Hopefully I'm good at them all and I and it matters too. And that's fine but I have to have something else. I have a job and I think I'm good at it and it matters too. And while being a father and a husband really do help define who I am, I think of them and the other stuff in my life as a painting. I am a cyclist. And being a cyclist defines who I am TO ME. My cycling is like an etching. Etching is the process of using strong acid to cut into the unprotected parts of a metal surface to create a design in intaglio in the metal. That is cycling - going into the surface of me - into my metal so that I am and am able to BE something that matters to me. Intaglio.

“Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.” How true. To do it right, you've got to know how. And a large part of my enjoyment of cycling is in the learning about it. Cycling's history. The bikes. Myself. Reminds me of Uncle Jim and my older boys one year when we were out hunting for a Christmas tree at the Caprock in New Mexico. Uncle Jim said "You see these? Those are pine nuts. You eat 'em." And so my boys who were 6 and 8 years old at the time picked some up and ate them, because they wanted to be a cool outdoorsman like Uncle Jim was. Trouble is those were deer pellets not pine nuts but they didn't know any better. They didn't know how but they learned quick. Learn how and do it right. It's important.

“On some days you get what you want, and on others, you get what you need.” How true. Cycling has a way of humbling you. Breaking you down and putting you under it's thumb. You can find out who you really are pretty quick when you climb a steep hill or try to hang onto the wheel of a much faster rider. Want. Need. Cycling has a uncanny way of knowing when you need either and can give it to you in pretty much overwhelming doses. Sometimes cycling will give you both.

“THE EDGE, there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.” How true. Where is that "edge?" The edge of the envelope. The edge of your ability. The edge of the road. The edge of your tolerance for pain and suffering. The edge of promise. Cycling will dangle that "edge" out there like a tasty tofu vegan veggie rice wrap (or a donut) on a string always seemingly within your grasp but never quite within reach. Right when you think you have gotten to the edge of whatever it is you're trying to find on your bike you will realize that you're not quite there yet.

The Great Eddy Merckx
"I understand that fear is my friend, but not always. Never turn your back on fear. It should always be in front of you, like a thing that might have to be killed." How true. I think this is something Hunter S. Thompson's dad told him. On the bike when you move to that point of thinking you know it, that you've got it, that's usually when you run into problems. You have to respect cycling and respect your bike and the road. If you don't it will kick you in the teeth. Hard. Just look for the scars.

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” How true. Are you sure Hunter S. Thompson was not a cyclist? This sounds like something Eddy Merckx might have said. Read that again. Sounds like cycling to me.

“Some people will tell you that slow is good – but I’m here to tell you that fast is better. I’ve always believed this, in spite of the trouble it’s caused me. Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube." How true. The holy grail of cycling - to be fast. To be faster. To be the fastest. To dish it out. To drop your friends. Fast is better. No doubt. When you ride, you want everyone else to feel like they're being squeezed out of a tube. Well said Hunter S. Thompson. Fast is better.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Get To Have To

Chase:  "One of those days where my ride was like pulling teeth..."

Me:  "Next time you have one of THOSE rides just come over to my house and watch my 4 kids so I can get out and have a ride. Deal?"

Chase:  "Steve, keep in mind that an off feeling day on the bike is a little different when riding goes from "get to" to "have to" :)"

Me:  "Even when you "have to" I hope you never lose at least a little bit of the "get to" as well. I don't know much about cycling, but I do know that that will make you a better "have to" cyclist."

Really though, I don't know anything about "have to" when it comes to riding my bikes. I have never "had to" ride my bikes. Not ever. I've had conversations along those lines with my wife though always trying to flesh out reasons why I "had to" go for a ride, but her and I both know that it's not a "have to" thing with me. I don't "have to" ride. I "get to" ride. There is a huge difference.

The Chase in the facebook conversation above is Chase Pinkham of the Bissell Pro Cycling Team. Riding is his job. He has to ride. It is how he gets paid. It is what he does. He's a pro cyclist that races on a pro team. For him it is a "have to." I can't imagine that. At first I think "wow how lucky is he?" And then I wonder. Really? When you "have to" do you cross that line that goes past "get to?" If you have one, do you lose the other?

I don't know on Chase's end of the spectrum because I have never "had to" so I just don't know. I hope for his sake, and the sake of all pro cyclists, that they can keep and have at least a little bit of the "get to" in their "have to." I know on my side of the spectrum it is ALL "get to." I "get to" go for rides. It is something I get to do. It is a privilege and a joy. Not a job. But I wonder - what would it be like if I could put a little "have to" in my "get to?"

The stronger and faster I have become on my bike the more fun I have found it to be. Is it possible for me to take my fun and effort it up right to that point where I am almost crossing that line from "get to" to "have to?" I'm not sure. After all I don't even really know what a kilojoule is or what a watt or two even feels like. I don't know what zones are or which one I'm in when I ride. My perceived-level-of-exertion-o-meter is not really very accurate either because most anything above a 3% average grade feels pretty hard on the bike most times. And heart rate? Who knows. Not me. I even took the computer off the old bike last year in deference to the purity of riding.

2nd from the right - lined up at the start of the 2011 Utah Tour de Donut
So how do I get more serious? I am thinking about trying to race this season. Race the crit series at RMR. This should be interesting because I don't know anything about racing or crits or anything like that. But I am imagining that putting myself into competition with other cyclists at that same beginner level will push me to improve. After all, I don't like getting my butt kicked so I figure putting my butt out there might push my "get to" a little closer to the level of "have to" which hopefully will make all my riding a little more fun for me.

I wonder: can I push myself right up to that line of "have to?" Is that possible with "get to?" I'm not sure but I'm going to find out this season. I have made up my mind that the only time I am going to pay to ride my bike is if I am going to race. I'm still going to do the Snowbird Hillclimb and the City Creek Bike Sprint because those are races. I'll probably still do the Utah Tour de Donut because that's a race. Sort of. I'm going to do the Dream Small Rides I have planned. And I'm going to add the crit series out at RMR. This should be fun. I'm going to add a little "have to" to my "get to" and I'm going to see how close to "have to" I can get.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Coffee At The Top

When I got home and was pushing the buttons to enter the code on the garage door opener I couldn't feel my finger tips. My fingers had gotten really cold and with the lack of adequate circulation most of them had become numb. As I was riding up Rose Canyon I had stopped a few times to take some pictures and unfortunately in the snow and wet and crud I must have been smitten with the Speedplay curse and I was having a lot of trouble clipping in. My windproof full fingered gloves had gotten pretty wet between the riding and trying to force the springs in my cleats back to working order and the ride back home from where the road turns to dirt at Yellow Fork is all downhill which means a 25 to 30 mph headwind and subsequent jump in wind chill factor when the temperature is already below freezing.

The garage door finally goes up and I get the bike inside the living room, balance the rear wheel against the edge of the couch and peel off the winter layers. It seems everything is wet. The balaclava, the gloves, the windproof top, the bibs, the leg warmers,the socks, the shoes and especially the toe covers. Wet and muddy. Splatters of mud are all over the place. All up my backside - bibs, top and helmet - and all over the bike. Whoops. Had I sat down to take off my shoes? I hate a dirty bike and frankly so does my wife. Some people have inside dogs right? Well I have inside bikes and when they are dirty I get in trouble. So all my muddy wet crap is laying all over the ottoman and the muddy wet bike is on the carpet and leaning against the edge of the couch and I notice a little splotch of snow that was clinging to my front hub finally let loose in the warmth of the house and seemingly in slow motion fall to the carpet. Plop.

I decide to get out of there quick and with my 5 year old daughter there to tote my shoes, gloves, sunglasses, balaclava and helmet downstairs to my office I hoist the bike up on the rear wheel to walk it back through the living room and down the stairs so I can mitigate the damage. That's when I notice that, yes, my rear tire has been leaking air and is now flat. I thought there had been a little bouncy spring that my bike had been adding to my pedal stroke for the last two miles of my ride. I thought I had a puncture but amazingly the tube made it home and got me to the living room. I don't know how to put into words the sound that a clincher tire makes when the last of the air is leaving a tube. I'm not sure how to really describe it but it's not a sound that I like to hear. To me it sounds like money evaporating out of my wallet. And there's probably not a worse physical sensation of touch than pinching a flat tire on a bike. I would rather put my hand on a hot burner.

What a day. I rode 21 wet cold and muddy miles and made my way up Rose Canyon. It was freezing. Literally. I climbed about a thousand feet as fast as I could go, burning my lungs with the freezing air and then got to descend the same which combined with the sweaty wet muddiness of the climbing made the temps feel about twenty times colder than they really were. My face got wind chapped and my eyeballs froze and my fingers went numb. I got wet and muddy and dirty because the roads were wet and muddy and dirty. My brake pads sound like they've been replaced with 10 grit sandpaper. My bike got even more dirty than me and then when we got home my bike leaked that dirty in the living room right along with the air out of the rear tire. I punctured on the last 2 miles of my ride and had to bounce pedal the homestretch. Now I'm down to my last tube. My Speedplays aren't playing anymore. The cleats on my shoes have decided that they have had enough of this winter riding. I've got to clean the carpet and now I've got some laundry to do. So basically what I'm trying to say is that I had a great time on the bike. A fantastic ride. I can only think of one thing that could have made it better. I wish somebody had met me at the top with a hot cup of coffee. That would have made it better - to have a coffee at the top.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

25 Things I Don't Need

Tour de Alpine photo by Ben Kuhns of Real Cyclist
I got inspired today. About cycling I mean. I didn't get a ride in or even a stint on the trainer. I thought about it though and I looked at my bikes a couple of times. Outside is was colder and rainy then it snowed and then it rained some more and then it snowed a lot more and got colder. Big wet fluffy snowflakes that kind of dance and flutter down out of the really gray sky when the air is super wet. I hate the snow. I hate it a lot. Inside it was a comfortably lazy day of an over-indulgent circus waffle brunch sandwiched between hours working here and there and pretty much doing not much else. I drank a lot of coffee mixed with hot chocolate, flirted with my wife a little bit, laid down and rested some, watched stage 4 of the Tour Down Under and spent 2 hours at Maverick with my 5 year old daughter so just me and her could "go get a special treat together" as promised and it took her that long to pick out two pieces of candy. But I got inspired about cycling today.

Chase Pinkham - Bissell Pro Cycling Team
It really kind of started yesterday when Real Cyclist posted a photograph on their facebook page taken by Ben Kuhns of a couple of pros and Chris Mackay riding/racing up the backside of Suncrest last weekend during the Tour de Alpine (second annual). When I saw the photo I was saying to myself "what the heehaw? how did I miss that?" Frustrating. But I knew nothing about it. I would have really enjoyed the opportunity to be the very last man up the hill. Twice. In one day. I decided to get a little more plugged into the cycling scene around Salt Lake in hopes of not missing out on stuff like this again. So I sent a friend request on facebook to the two pros in the photo and they were gracious enough to accept. Then today they inadvertently teamed up and gave me a double barrel shotgun blast of 12 gage cycling inspiration buckshot.

Nate King - Competitive Cyclist Racing Team
They got on the trainer and posted it up on facebook. First it was Chase Pinkham who rides for Bissell Pro Cycling Team. Then not to be outdone (I guess) Nate King who rides for Competitive Cyclist Racing Team put his photo out there. I have included the pictures here because I think it is important that you can see what it is that I'm talking about here. Suffice it to say that I saw those pictures and I got inspired about cycling. No I didn't jump on my trainer and join them on this virtual group ride. I did glance at my trainer though and I thought about it. For a second. I got inspired none-the-less - super inspired. Mega-inspired even. Yes today I got inspired about cycling.

I'm not saying that I have the genetic potential like these two guys by any means. These guys ride for pro teams. These guys are studs. They are fast, strong, thin and tough. They know how to suffer. They know how to spin and hammer and mash. They can climb and time trial. These guys can dish it out. Basically in my opinion they are freaks. In a good way I mean. I am not a freak in a good way. I am not fast and strong. I don't dish it out really. But I can spin and hammer and mash. I can be as strong as my genetics will allow and I can be as tough as my potential will let me. I have it. Looking at these two guys training today inspired me and made me realize that I do have what I need to be a great cyclist. I have what it takes. I do have everything I need. Looking at these guys on the trainer today inspired me. I got inspired about cycling. I was inspired today to realize that I am too fat. I got inspired to lose some weight. These two pros inspired me today to realize that I have 25 things I don't need either: 25 pounds.

This was the snowstorm I was talking about...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Black Hoods

We had a heat wave today so of course I had to beg my wife to get home as early as possible so I could get out and ride. It was a great ride too. 52 degrees and an 11 mph wind out of the south. It sure didn't feel like the middle of January even though it had snowed a tiny bit yesterday and rained some too. The wind was perfect today also. At least as perfect as wind can be. It was blowing hard enough to make you work extra hard when facing it and it was blowing hard enough to make you feel like a real cyclist when it was pushing you down the road going the other way. And you know how sometimes when you go for a ride and something works ten times better than it normally does or at least seems to? Well today was one of those days when I had one of those rides.

I was trying to figure out what was making the difference on this ride - what was causing that ten-fold improvement. I have changed some things on the new(er) bike since last year after all and I knew those changes were not making the difference. I am on my third set of bar tape since I rode in the Tri-States Gran Fondo in early November. I had fallen over on that ride and taken a little rice size chunk out of the tape where it tucks into the end of the handlebar. That really bugged me at the time. Not only was the little missing chunk an annoying reminder of my lack of awesomeness approaching checkpoint number one but it was also the last package of the Ambrosio Grade yellow-fade-to-white bar tape I had been able to source from the 1980s.

I love thin hard retro bar tape but I can't find any more in that color so I switched to some plain yellow vinyl bar tape that looked retro but is not. The cool thing about the switch was that the retro looking new yellow color matched my yellow hoods perfectly just like the yellow in the Ambrosio Grade tape before it faded to white. And it came with yellow bar end plugs. Sweet. It was cheap and seemed plentiful so when I got tired of how my windproof full fingered gloves seemed to not be gripping it effectively I decided to change it to some old school Hunt Wilde orange translucent vinyl tape like you might have found on a 10 speed Schwinn back in the mid seventies. After a couple of rides I decided I didn't like the way that looked so I decided to change it out too.

I had a box of PRO (Shimano) handlebar tape that I had bought a while back intending to use it one day (perhaps) on the old bike. The trouble with that tape is that it was very cushy and the yellow was off. It didn't match well on the old bike and it totally did not match the yellow hoods on my new(er) bike. I've got a box in blue as well because one day I'm sure or was sure that I am going to have a bike that blue bar tape will look good on. I think. Both boxes have been sitting on my desk for a couple of months now begging to see use so I figured what the heck and grabbed the yellow yesterday and made the switch.

Once I got it on the bars it was obvious that the yellow tape and the yellow hoods were a bad match and all that cushy padding will absolutely take some getting used to for me. In my minds eye my bars look twice as fat as they used to and it will take some getting used to. My wrists will appreciate the more generous amount of cushy than they have been accustomed to because even though my left wrist feels completely healed from the hard landing suffered on the back side of Suncrest last spring my right wrist still sings with the twinges of pain from landing hard back in November. I'm sure the more padding will do nothing but benefit my body arms wrists and stamina as I ratchet up the miles going into next spring. If the tape makes it that long.

Back to the bad match on the hoods. Something had to be done so I dug my black hoods out of my desk drawer and dusted them off and paired them back up with the levers they came with. That's going to take some getting used to too. I like the yellow hoods but they are going to have to sit in the desk drawer for a while as I try the something new that is black hoods and super soft cushy bar tape from the modern era. I don't know how long I'm going to be able to suffer through ordinary but I'm going to give it my best effort. I promise.

But the black hoods were not what was causing the ten-fold improvement today. Neither was all that cushy yellow comfy padding even though I must admit that it sure felt good and did smooth the ride some. There is one other change I have made on the new(er) bike since last year too but there is no possible way that this change could lead to any ten-fold improvement in anything like I was immersed in today. No way. I have added 14 pounds to my bike. That's right. I have blimped up to 184 pounds. And for everyone who reads this in some country other than my country that is basically 84 kilos. That is not light for a cyclist. What the heck?

What went wrong? I bought the magazine that said "NEW YEAR NEW YOU. GET LEAN NOW. A SIMPLE PLAN." There was an article with information on how stay warm on the bike in the winter but I already stay pretty warm on the bike in the winter. There was information on 101 reasons to love cycling but I already know 1001 reasons to love cycling. There were the golden rules of bike maintenance but I already have riding buddies that make fun of how clean and maintained my bikes are. There was information on how to tackle America's nastiest climbs. Pedal up them right? And something about the art of the head badge. Who cares?

There was propaganda on the best new $2000 road bikes. OK. My new(er) bike was less than two thirds that cost and is probably better than any best new $5000 road bikes. So what did I do wrong this winter? I've been riding some. I've been on the trainer some. I've even been walking a bit too to try and stave off the blubber. I decided I better read that article so I did and I learned that I have been eating too much. Actually I already knew that and felt powerless to stop as I saw myself doing it over and over again over the last couple of months. I could blame the holidays or my wife's fantastic cooking and baking of treats. I could blame the triple chocolate gingerbread cake or my Mom's Mom's brownies or the Amish friendship bread or or or.

Bottom line: I am to blame. I got fat. I ate too much. Somehow as I read that magazine last year right before the holidays I skipped right over page 26. I didn't learn how to pick power carbs by incorporating beans in my diet. I didn't learn to order surf not turf and get two essential waist whittlers from eating salmon. I guess hot dogs and wienie wraps and corn dogs aren't going to do the trick. On page 28 I somehow missed the lesson on using a smaller plate to downsize my dishes. Who would have thought? I didn't learn to watch for invisible calories while I helped my four kids clean their plates or swap bubbly beverages or leave my kit in full view all the time. Somehow I missed all that and have gotten fat. Bummer.

On page 28 I learned and I quote: "Extra weight leads to physiological changes that can affect your cycling long term." No kidding? Genius right? Or as I like to say it's hard to pedal faster when you're fatter. My ride today was 23 miles with 500 feet of elevation gain and roughly two and a half miles of flat with an 11 mph headwind one way and an 11 mph tailwind the other. I could barely average 17 mph and unfortunately my mental edge kind of evaporated right away as I wondered the whole ride how fast I could go if I just weighed 160 pounds. It dawned on me that it was just like I was riding around while I was carrying an extra bike around too. How sad is that?

So it wasn't the extra weight that created the ten-fold improvement. It wasn't the black hoods or the soft yellow extra super-duper cushy bar tape either. And it sure wasn't the certainly not stellar average speed on an almost spring like day in the middle of winter. The part of my ride that was ten times better than normal was my sense of smell. Wow. I could smell the cows and the horses and the farms and the hay better than I can remember ever smelling them before. I could smell the fireplace smells and the fumes from the cars and the black diesel smoke when I got crop-dusted and the farmers burning trash better too.

I don't know if it was the light snow and rain from the day before or if it was because it seemed so warm that my nose wasn't dripping snot the whole ride or what but I can't remember ever having had this potent a sense of smell on the bike as I had today. My senses were on fire. Today was one of those days when I had one of those rides. Ten times better sense of smell today as I was toting around my 14 extra pounds of blubbery fat barely averaging 17 mph and thinking about maybe trying to eat less as I wondered what it would be like to ride up a hill weighing 160 pounds. I gripped my yellow super cushy comfy bar tape and thought about picking power surfing essential waist whittling carbs on a smaller invisible plate while I wear my kit all winter long and not just when I'm on my new(er) bike sagging forward on my black hoods.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

War Is Hell

You don't see taunting in professional cycling. At least I never have. I guess the closest thing to that would have been "The Look" that Lance gave Jan Ulrich on the climb up Alpe D'Huez during the Tour de France in 2001.

They have penalties in most sports for taunting because society thinks taunting is bad sportsmanship. And even so you see a lot of taunting anyway. And trash talking. I'm sure there's some trash talking in professional cycling too but I just haven't seen much taunting.

In most sporting endeavors there is a mental side to the preparation and performance of whatever you are engaged in. I guess trash talking and taunting are a way to try to gain an advantage over your opponent by chinking away at their mentality. A mentality that is probably melting away slowly from the pressure and strain of whatever contest you're engaged in and the more something hurts the less mental edge you are going to have anyway. Concentration is key and if you can cause your opponents to lose their concentration it will definitely affect their performance and give you a better chance at victory. Right Lance?

Cycling is a very physical sport. One of if not the toughest in the world. It requires a lot of concentration.  So I wonder why we don't see more taunting. It probably is because of the sportsmanship involved. Cycling is different from other sports. Even in competition there is civility and respect. There is respect for the effort. Respect for the preparation and respect for the pain. There is a lot of pain in cycling and therefore a lot of respect between cyclists too.

Cycling is not hell. War is hell. There is no respect or civility in war. You can disagree with the war - or not - but if you're there and involved in it you are there because you are a combatant. A combatant is paid to kill the enemy. A combatant has a duty to kill the enemy. A combatant's training and preparation have seared the conscious and dulled the senses to the point that ending another human life becomes second nature. Instant and automatic. In combat you don't respect the enemy. You don't hold them in high esteem and wish them well. You kill them. As many as you can. Hopefully before they kill you.

Breath. Relax. Aim. Stop. Squeeze. Where is the civility in that? There isn't any. Nor should there be. Every angle and every point of leverage can and should be utilized to gain the advantage in combat. The entire point of enemy engagement is to bring maximum fire power to bear on the enemy and destroy them in an overwhelming way. Does that sound like a place for civility and courtesy? Does that sound like a place for rules? For respect for the enemy's beliefs? For sportsmanship? Hell no it doesn't. And it shouldn't.

Should we worry about making the enemy mad at us? What are they going to do? Kill us? Well yes that's what they're trying to do now isn't it? Are they going to kill us better or kill us more or kill us faster or slower or with more cruelty? Ridiculous thoughts right? Kill means dead. Are they going to kill us deader? Who cares how the enemy feels or what they think. What about our freedom of expression? They are the enemy. We are trying to kill the enemy. The enemy is trying to kill us. It sucks but war is hell.

So unless you have been in combat. Unless you've had the duty to end an enemy's life. Unless you've heard the sound of bullets whizzing by your head as the enemy is trying to kill you. Unless you are a combatant - shut up about combatants. You have no place to say anything. You have no place to judge anything. General William Thornson of the US Army said: "There are only two kinds of people that understand Marines: Marines and the enemy. Everyone else has a second-hand opinion."

General Thornson got that exactly right. Perfectly correct. Not politically correct. If you're not one or the other - shut up. You have no place to say anything. War is hell. If you don't want to kill or be killed stay away from war. It is messy. It is hard. There is pain. Just like cycling but the results are a little more terminal. And there is taunting. There has been taunting since the first ever combatant killed the first ever enemy. War is not a place for civility and sportsmanship. War is a place for warfare and killing and part of that warfare is mental warfare. War is a place for victory. If you don't like taunting stay away from war. War is hell. If you're not a combatant - shut up. If you are a combatant you pick a side. I have picked my side and I just want to say: "Scoreboard. Job well done, Marines. Semper Fi."

Friday, January 13, 2012

My Long Shadow

PAIN. Someone had taken the time to spray paint the word PAIN in all caps in red and with an arrow pointing up on the shoulder of the road. I wasn't sure quite what to think of that right then. PAIN. I was heading up the "Draper Wall" section of Wasatch Boulevard on the way to Hidden Valley Park and I was actually feeling pretty good riding with my long shadow. It was painted there about one quarter of the way up and I don't know if it was a leftover from the Tour of Utah back in August or if someone had put it there more recently. It looked more recent but I had no idea and I wished it had said COFFEE instead.

It was cold today. Right at freezing and I was quickly plodding my way up this steep hill wishing I had a cup. Quickly for me anyway and it was the last hill of the day. I had decided to ride some hills today. Hills as in two hills. I had already made my way up to and back down from the South Mountain Golf Course and was heading up to Hidden Valley park to turn around and head back home. Almost 1800 feet of elevation gain on a 36 mile ride and when I saw the word PAIN there it was illuminated by that perfect light of the day where the sun is almost ready to set but still has a bit to go.

My ambition always seems so high right before I go up a hill. I'm always optimistic. I think I might hammer up this hill in the big ring and use the 17 tooth rear cog. It's only about a mile and a half so I'm going to stand and mash all the way up and I'm going to make it look smooth and easy. Yeah OK. Then reality sets in as I plod away seated crawling in the small ring using every gear I have on my hubcap size cassette. If I stopped pedaling I would fall over.

The wheezing muscles on the sides of my quads and back of my hamstrings feel like they're herniating through slits in my bibs and I swear I can hear them screaming. My right knee is popping out a little tiny bit at the top of my pedal stroke as I fight to maintain good form. My aching lungs are pumping like a bellows as I fight to hold 80 then 70 then - please - 68 for a cadence. I would tell my legs to shut up too but I don't ever have enough breath.

PAIN is right. There is pain in hills and every cyclist knows that but someone had decided to paint it right there on the shoulder of the road anyway. No problem. I was feeling pretty good riding with my long shadow. I love to ride my bikes when I have a long shadow and I'm not talking about in the morning in summer. I'm talking about riding in the winter when it's freezing cold. Riding when the sun never quite feels warm and never gets to arc that high in the afternoon sky. When I see my long shadow riding with me I feel like I have been given something extra. I feel like I have been granted something special. Something I should be grateful and appreciative to have.

That long shadow means I have an opportunity to turn out the weakness and listen for hope where instead I might have been expecting snow covered roads or icy wind. It means I have been gifted a day outside instead of inside. It means I can enjoy the fresh air instead of a fan. I have been given the special privilege to pedal fast enough to go 6.5 mph or 45 mph and that pedaling is going to mean something. That long shadow means I'm going to be cold and sweaty with snot dripping and eyes watering. It is a gift and a treasure and - like an old friend - something you can always count on. Just like PAIN. And when I can ride with my long shadow it's an almost perfect extra special and welcomed kind of PAIN.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mt. Fuji

I went for a ride yesterday and I tried to make it as flat as I could. I only had about an hour before some family obligations and planned to ride about 19 miles. Half against an 8 mph frigid headwind straight out of the north and about half of it letting that cold wind push me back home. The ride itself was great even though pushing the wind was very cold. The 17 mph average was a comfortable pace and the new(er) bike performed flawlessly as it always does. My one year old was awake when I left which he's usually not so I found myself thinking about him as I headed north against the wind.

The day before yesterday he got his first haircut. We went to Todd's Barbershop having learned my lesson not to try and do it myself about three years ago on his older brother. He did pretty good as he sat there on the booster under the cape with me holding his hands and arms down by his side. When he was done he looked like a whole new kid. I hardly recognized him as it was quite a change. Then he whistled and I knew it was him.

He has been whistling for almost six months now. I think that's pretty rare for a kid his age and as I rode north I thought back to when I whistled for the first time. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting on the back of my Dad's bike on the metal rack that was mounted over the rear fender. I don't remember what kind of bike it was but I remember my Dad riding it a lot back and forth to work. It was green. It had a metal spring loaded cargo holder on that rack and that rack was at least twice as wide as my four year old butt.

I was going to work with my Dad sitting on the back of his bike on that metal rack while he pedaled however far it was to the shop where he worked and I remember hitting every bump as I held onto his canvas uniform belt. I don't remember how or why but on that ride to my Dad's work that day I whistled for the first time. I also remember him pedaling past the "Yankee Go Home!" demonstrators that I could see outside the chain link fence that separated our insulated existence on Yakota Air Force Base from the real and seemingly angry Japan.

As I turned east and then back south on my ride yesterday I was remembering my first bicycle ride without training wheels in the grassy field somewhere near the BX there at Yakota AFB. I remember the exhilaration I felt and the freedom and what seemed at the time like speed. It took my breath away. It was exciting. That ride ended up with me and the bike laying on the ground in the grass as it seemed at the time like the best way to stop. It didn't take long and I would ride everywhere I could ride and I would even ride some places I wasn't suppose to ride.

Heading south on my ride yesterday I was going almost twice as fast as I was heading north amazed that a little bit of frigid north wind could help so much and I remembered Kindergarten and making pictures of Mt. Fuji. I remember scribbling crayons all over a page and covering it up with as much color as I could and then brushing some matte black paint over the color and then scratching the paint off with the end of a Popsicle stick to reveal the color underneath in the shape of that great mountain.

I remember learning about the rabbit churning butter in the full moon. I remember the big hill next to where we lived where I would wait for the bus to take me to Kindergarten and first grade. I remember the snow in the winter and the earthquakes any time of year that would rattle me right out of my bunk bed and send me and my sister running into the living room to seek shelter under the arch from the hallway. I remember tormenting my sister with the robot that had the grabbing claw that I got one Christmas in Japan.

Heading back west yesterday I was pushing my way up that little 2 to 3% rise that always means I'm almost home and I remember my Mom being hospitalized for a while there in Japan. There was something wrong with her blood. Something about sugar and blood and blacking out and not being able to eat bacon and corn. It's all kind of fuzzy but even as a little kid I knew something was wrong and I realized that nobody could seem to make it right. That was 44 years ago and now today I have the same problem but with the technology and the insulin analogs to effectively deal with it.

I went back to Japan and to Yakota AFB 25 years ago on deployment with the Marine Corps. I looked at the grassy field where I learned to ride without training wheels. They had built high rise family housing there. I looked at the big hill where I used to wait for the school bus. The hill was gone. It had been replaced by a slight incline and I realized that it looked totally different to a four year old little boy looking at it from a much lower to the ground perspective. The big hill was still there after all. It just wasn't so big any more.

25 years ago I blew up some pine trees in the nature preserve near Mt. Fuji with some white phosphorus 81mm mortar rounds and almost sparked an international incident with my inaccurate call for fire. I ran almost everyday at Camp Fuji and lifted weights and ate a lot of yakisoba at the White Tiger in Gotenba. I went to a movie theater and saw Sylvester Stallone in Cobra with English subtitles and I climbed to the top of Mt. Fuji which is probably the hardest and most painful thing I have ever done in my life. It is also one of the most meaningful things I have ever accomplished.

And when I got home from my bit over an hour bike ride yesterday and brought my bike inside and leaned it against the couch as I removed my winter layers I saw my little one year old come whistling down the hallway all excited to grab my front wheel. He looked great sporting his new and first haircut and he seemed happy to have me and my bike back home. He whistled down the stairs into the basement hallway as I maneuvered my bike on it's rear wheel around him to put it on the stand in my office. He whistles in and grabs the crank and starts turning it until I tell him no and he runs out of my office whistling down the hallway to go back upstairs.

I wonder what he's going to remember. What is he going to remember about his Dad? What is he going to remember about his Mom? Will he remember earthquakes or riding without training wheels or big hills on small inclines? Will he grow up to see the rabbit in a full moon churning butter? Will he scrape paint off a page full of color or ride his bike where he's not suppose to? What is he going to remember? Will he remember learning how to whistle and turning the pedals on my bike as it sits in the stand in my office? I wonder what is going to happen in his life that is going to make him who he will become. I wonder if he will have a Mt. Fuji.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

On The Trainer

Well crap. It's back to the trainer for a while. I don't know how long the snow is going to stick around but it came back today after having been a veritable no-show for most of this winter so far. I can't say that I missed the snow because I didn't. I didn't miss it at all. And hopefully it won't take too long to melt and dry up because I'm going to miss riding out on the road if it sticks around for too long. I guess this means that for now I'm going to have to do the thing I like the least about cycling and that is to change my rear skewer out and set my old bike up on the trainer.

It's called the "pain cave." I'm not sure if the majority of the pain comes from the effort of the training or the mind numbing pain of the boredom I suffer through when pedaling indoors. I don't get very far. In fact my bike doesn't move at all. Hopefully I can find some good low-key hillclimb videos on YouTube to watch because I really like those. It's almost fun to mimic the effort that whoever recorded those went through but frankly it's not nearly the same.

If I had had some time today between work and the circus waffle brunch my wife prepared I might have just taken out the new(er) bike today to ride in the snowfall just for a show of defiance. If only. If I had a cyclocross bike I would get it out there right now instead of sitting here typing this. If only. If I had spiked tires I would get out and ride in the ice and snow that I'm sure will hang around the roads a lot of the remaining winter here. If only.

Instead I'm going to hit YouTube and move some things around in my office. I'm going on a low-key hillclimb later. I know I'm not going to puncture or be stranded with a mechanical. I won't need to call for my wife if I run into trouble. Instead I will just go upstairs. I won't be cold and it won't be windy. Instead I will be hot and sweaty. I will be staving off the fat and lazy later today. I will see you in the "pain cave." It won't be fun instead I'll do the thing I like the least about cycling and that is to change my rear skewer out and set my old bike up on the trainer.

Friday, January 6, 2012

2 Hours

I have 2 hours later today and that's just about the perfect amount of time. That's thanks to my wife for adding a little more inconvenience to her day so I could add a little more convenience to mine. I plan to spend that perfect amount of time out cycling. My first ride of 2012. That's right I didn't go out on New Year's Day. I decided to do something new this New Year and I spent a lot of real good quality time with the wife and I played a little bit with my kids. It was a great New Year's Day.

Now it's been five days since that day and I feel like there is something inside of me that has been clawing and scratching trying to get out for at least four days now. I feel panicky that the soft and weak is taking over for the hard and strong. I can feel the fitness seeping and leaking out of my body as this week has conspired with work and other obligations to keep my body from joining my mind out on the road with my bikes.

Looking at my bikes and thinking about riding them just doesn't seem to bring about the honing of my fitness to that sharp razor's edge that I want to move toward. Even during the winter I feel an urgency to feel alive but it's usually too cold or too windy or much much too snowy or too smoggy or too dark or too something so instead I eat goodies and get fatter and lose fitness. It's a slippery slope that is much too easy for me to slide down.

As each day passes without a ride a little bit of will leaks from my mind just like the fitness is leaking from my body. As my legs and lungs get weaker my mind gets weaker too. My will slowly evaporates in the cold winter air. Tomorrow turns into tomorrow's tomorrow which turns into tomorrow's tomorrow's tomorrow and on and on all winter long until that magic day near Spring when you suddenly notice the little buds on the naked winter bleached tree branches and realize it's going to be warm enough that day to ride in just a jersey and bibs.

That day is the day when you are out on the bike and realize that too many days of fat and lazy have eclipsed too few of aiming to make yourself harder. That day is the day you find your mind has grown as marshmallowy soft as your stomach and legs. That day is the day when you try to think back and remember when it was that your lack of will took over for your force of will and your body caved to the peer pressure of the mind to just put it off till the weather was a little bit nicer or the wind a little bit softer or the air a little less smoggy or something was a little more or less something.

I know that day is coming. It seems forever off in the distance now but I know it will be here sooner than I realize. It is a day of heartache and disappointment. It is a day of suffering and pain as your mind tries to spring back from the guilt of slackness and attempts to pull your body back with it to a level of performance it is no longer capable of. It is the perfect day to ride alone because while the day is perfect for a ride it is an embarrassing ride on that perfect day.

I know that day is coming. That is why I love my wife so much. She knows that day is coming too. That is why she is going to go out of her way to make sure that I have that perfect amount of time today. That is why she is going to make her life harder so I can make it easier on my body and mind to stay hard and strong. I am going to plug the leaks. A little. I am going to harden my resolve. A little. I am going to claw my way back up the slippery slope. A little.

I know that day is coming and that is why today is the day I'm going to get out there on the old bike and push myself to the limit of my capabilities. I am afraid. I fear the weakness and the softness and the disappointment and the lost fitness. I fear the fat and lazy. I fear my lack of will will overpower my best intentions. I fear that day of the little buds on the naked winter bleached tree branches. But I have today. I have today and thanks to my wife I have that perfect amount of time today. I have today and today I have 2 hours.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Why Can't I Stop?

Why can't I stop? My wife thinks I have some kind of disease. A true sickness and it makes her mad. Every time I see a nice set of vintage rims or a part or component or frameset - it really doesn't matter what it is if it has to do with road bikes - I want it. If I like it I want it. Want not need. I don't NEED anything else as far as bikes go. What I have works fine. I have two very nice bikes and both can function well beyond my ability to perform on them. And I can only ride one at a time. So why can't I stop?

Do I need another frame? Or a different frame? NEED. No. Want yes. I have found a frame and have fallen in love. Again. Could it be that I see the road bike as a form of art? When I built my new(er) bike this spring I thought really long and hard about wants versus needs and really worked hard to keep costs down and value up. My new(er) bike has a frame that weighs 1070 grams. That is amazing for an aluminum frame manufactured in 2005 with a rider weight limit of over 100 kg.

My frame looks good with a cool red fading to black through orange and yellow flames paint scheme (or colorway as the industry is so fond of saying in 2011-2012). It has specially formed tubes to reduce deadness and harshness and is SUPER smooth for an aluminum frame and very stiff through the bottom bracket and rear stays. My frame on my new(er) bike is awesome and I love it. So why can't I stop?

Do I NEED to "upgrade" my frame to one that weighs 1814 grams? That thing is a PIG. I might not even be able to pedal that thing up a hill. It doesn't even come with a fork! But it's a Serotta Fierte. It's orange and blue. It's titanium and carbon. It's cool and has panache. It would ride like a dream. It could be the last bike I will ever need. Trouble is I don't need it. Can't afford it. I just want it and unfortunately I can't think of a single rational or logical reason why. I don't understand this. I feel like I'm the mouse in the book "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie." Why can't I stop?