31 March 2006

Roosevelt, part 2 (being pigheaded gets me home)

When last we blogged, your intrepid explorer was standing high in the Superstitions astride his trusty Cannondale 'cross bike with Vittoria Pave tires, ready to head out down 22 miles of no-pavement road. Said explorer's wife and father-in-law assured him it would be ridable -- after all, they had just done the reverse trip the day before on his father-in-law's Harley!

And, even as the first couple of miles rolled by, all seemed well ...

... until Fish Creek Hill.

This is a shot of Fish Creek Hill. One lane, probably a 10% grade, all loose gravel. You can see how it was cut from the side of the cliff -- spectacular views, but not so much fun trying to descend the whole way with an outrigger!

The next 22 miles were pure hell. I was able to ascend faster than descend, and the road was washboard in so many places that I felt like my bike was about to completely hop out from under me. The funniest was the A-DOT road maintenance yard in the middle of this crappy, washed-out area! Here is a shot of Tortilla Lake, about 10 miles into it. 12 miles still to go!

There were some spectacular views, but I seriously thought I'd have to stop and change my chamois in a couple of spots. If you look close, you can even see snow on the mountain-top in the distance -- the closest I got was about 1,000 feet under the snow line over at Top of The World. The weekend before, though, there was snow below 4,000 feet!

I spent a couple of hours on the dirt road, fighting a strong headwind the whole way. By the time I got to the Roosevelt Dam, I was ready to be done! But I made it! Take that, you nasty road!

This is a view of the spectacular bridge that runs right next to the dam, on Route 188 from Globe to Payson. Beautiful views all around!

What to do? At this point, I was so demoralized that the trip back seemed an impossibility. At least I knew the route home from Globe -- and it couldn't be too hard to get to Globe, right?

So it was Route 188 to the rescue -- pavement at last!

But what a false sense of security! I was already several miles down the road, still fighting that damn headwind that had shifted to the southeast from the east, when I spied this ahead of me ... yes, I had to climb that to get to Globe!

Uphill, counting down the meters as I went. Into the headwind, 5 miles of suffering. This would have been an awesome descent, but I wasn't sadistic enough to turn around! Remember that 7% is the average for 5 miles -- let me tell you, this climb went well above 7% in several places -- I encountered easier climbs in the Alps a few years ago! Let's just say I've never stopped at the top of a hill, shaking from fatigue before ...

Thankfully, it was all downhill from there to Globe, so I got a good rest. At the junction with Route 60, I took a moment to document the 5 hours and 45 minutes of headwind I'd been fighting -- this flag is huge, and stands above a massive mine, and for it to be that unfurled, let me tell you, there was quite a breeze!

From there on out, it was only about 50 miles to home ... with three mountain passes to climb! Thankfully, I knew these climbs well, and know the area very well, so I knew there were a few good places to stop and refuel without having to carry extra water and food over the hills. Of course, one of the climbs is known as "Top of the World," and at 4,600 ft. is one of the highest passes in the area! But with a tailwind and cross-tailwind all the way home, I finished the last 50 miles in less than 2 hours, 45 minutes, even with the climbing! Superstition Mountain (pictured here) never looked so welcoming!

I think I'll do the trails tomorrow?


30 March 2006

Roosevelt, part I (or, why it doesn't pay to be pigheaded)

This is my favorite sign in the world. Every year, when we head out to visit Kelli and the family, I look forward to my first ride up toward Tortilla Flats -- literally, a one-horse town up in the Superstitions. This is the sign that marks the start of the "real" riding -- a 5km climb, 6km descent, a couple of miles in the valley, then a 3km up and 3km down to town. Then the fun really begins!

This year, I decided to do the ride on Friday, Day 2 of our trip. And I was going to keep on going, even after the pavement ends!

This is a shot of Superstition Mountain. You kind of ride around it to get up into the mountains themselves.

This is a mileage sign, still before the real climbing begins. Note: it's 10 miles to TF, and 36 to Roosevelt.

Once over the fairly easy 5km climb, and then along the road in the valley, I encountered this new mileage sign. WTF??? I know I'm not climbing that well, and I'm in a headwind, but going backwards? Also note the mileage to Globe -- at this point, I was still only planning to go to the Roosevelt Dam and back, not onward to Globe.

This is a shot of TF from above. The smoke in the valley marks the "town." It's a great place to get ice cream!

This is where you come from to get to town. Pretty spectacular up there! The views of Canyon Lake are pretty awesome.

Looking west from town, you can see the steep hills that surround you! That' s the direction to home ... with a tailwind in the mornings!

This is the "Motel" in town. At this point, I did not think I needed to stop. I knew I could keep going. Besides, I'm not sure the beds here would be all that appealing?

This is the view leaving Tortilla Flats, heading east, STRAIGHT UP! It's a 10km climb, plus another 4-5km on the ridge, tough and steep! Vision Quest did their LT tests here a few years ago. Last year, the creek was flooded, so I didn't get to go up. No such luck this year!

This is the reason I ride a bike -- views like this. Every year, I curse myself as I head up out of TF, especially since there is usually a morning headwind (as there was this year). And every year, I get up here, look around, and fall in love again with the bike. (And then, usually, I get to go down -- it's about 25 minutes up, and I've done the descent in less than 15!!)

And here's what greets you at the top! No pavement! This is where I usually turn around and bomb back down -- but not this year!

NO, this year I was bound and determined to make it to the dam! 22 miles on a dirt road, riding Vittoria Pave tires? No problem-o! Will this become my new favorite sign?


28 March 2006

Usery Mountain Regional Park

This is where I spent Thursday (Day 1) and most of Saturday (Day 3). It was fantastic! Just $1 gets you all-day access to the Park (if you ride in on a bike), or if you're feeling cheap you can cut in on the backside. I figure it was the best $1 I've ever spent on a bike!! The terrain was mostly 'crossable, rocky, with mild elevation changes on the main section and a decent climb around Cat Peaks. This was my first time off-road in the desert, and I can't wait to go back!

My first destination -- Pass Mountain Trail. When they say it's not recommended for MTBs, what would make me think I could 'cross it?

What the heck? I'm not recommended either! I made it around, and then when I was getting water had a MTBer from Michigan come over to me. "You did the big loop on a 'cross bike?" "Um, yeah -- I'll try anything once." "The hikers we passed all told us about some guy on skinny tires, but I didn't believe them!"

You know you're in trouble when the best lines go straight through the horse poop. A shot of Pass Mountain -- at the top right is the slickrock that forms part of the downhill if you do it in a clockwise direction.

Another shot of Pass Mountain, visible from the entire park. It's pretty cool to be standing on top of that -- awesome views of the entire valley.

After coming back to earth, I headed out on the lower trails. SO AWESOME! Totally 'crossable, if you skip the super-sandy wash trails, and wicked fast in some areas. Really cool berms in the corners -- especially since you're surrounded by cactii!

Speaking of which, this is a choya cactus. STAY AWAY from these puppies! They're nicknamed the "jumping cactus" -- their "blooms" fall off and lie in wait for unsuspecting riders. I bashed my shin with my pedal on Pass Mtn., and then 2 hours later had a choya jump up and lodge itself in the welt on my leg! OUCH!

In addition to the singletrack, there's a fast doubletrack trail on the south side of the park, along a levee. Up ahead is Superstition Mountain, the one that's just out the front door of my sister-in-law's house.

Here's another shot of Superstition (in the background), from the edge of Mesa and Apache Junction. The eastern edge of Usery is the boundary between Maricopa and Pinal counties, and the back entrance was just an easy 20-minute ride from the house!

Another shot from the county line -- the left-hand hill is Pass Mountain. To the right you can see some of the miles and miles of equestrian trails that border AJ -- also perfect on a 'cross bike!

This is the view from near the park entrance, looking west. Those are the microwave hills, with towers on top, and on the backside is the Hawes recreaction area -- more trails! I'll post those photos as soon as I have a chance ...

Another view looking west, just in case you get lost!

This is me after my first day on the trails of Arizona. What's a road bike?


27 March 2006

More to come

I'm currently working on getting my pics and stories in order. I swear they'll be worth it! In the meantime, here's a photo of the Hawes Mine area above Mesa (24" tread according to the web site. Yeah, right). I think the locals thought I was nuts to be out there without suspension ... no, I'm sure of it.

"How do I get to the Mine Loop from here?"

"On that thing?"


24 March 2006

Stupid with friends = Epic; Stupid solo = Stupid

Text message sent to Kim at 2:15 this afternoon, after fighting a headwind for 5 hours and 45 minutes, with 50 miles and three mountain passes between me and home (including the highest point in the Superstitions):

Windy as shit. Now in Globe. Home via Rt. 60. Not dead yet.


23 March 2006

Chris 1, Bike 1, Cactus 1

Just a quick note to say I'm alive -- great long day today out on the trails around Usery. And I mean LONG! The Pass Mountain trail is not cross-worthy, but the rest of the trails are. I get a point for picking this weekend -- one guy from Michigan told me today was the first day he was able to ride without a jacket!

My bike gets a point for a missed left pedal -- the welt on my shin is about the size of a golf ball right now. And the cactus gets a point for getting me back -- I accidently stepped on one out on the Pass trail when I ran into a rock, but about 2 hours after bashing my shin on my pedal, another sticky cactus jumped up off the trail and landed square on the bruise! This was a sticky, sharp one, and IT HURT!

The riding here is awesome -- sandy and rocky, and the cross-worthy trails are FAST. It's funky going through the washes with all the loose pea gravel, and there are some pretty steep ups and downs. I'm so glad I got talked into liking 'cross riding!

OK, I've got a 5-year-old looking over my shoulder wanting to play with his uncle. Gabe rocks!


22 March 2006

Feeling Superstitious

Not sure if I'll be able to update much the rest of this week, so I'll leave you with this image of Superstition Mountain, "borrowed" from here.

This is what I will see in the picture windows every morning when I wake up and walk into the kitchen:

Have a great and safe weekend everyone!

Party like it's 19 ... 71?

"Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it." Most everybody has heard this quote in one form or another at some point in their lives. So why has the UCI, cycling's international governing body, decided to instead repeat history?

The Associated Press published a very disturbing story yesterday which, in effect, states that any rider who is a member of a UCI-registered professional team can be suspended for a month if they ride in the same event -- sanctioned or not -- as a rider who has been banned from competing. This could mean that if Tyler Hamilton showed up at Ride for the Roses, the Lance Armstrong Foundation charity ride, any current pro also taking part would be sanctioned. How sad is that?

First, some background: There is a non-UCI/USAC sanctioned crit series in Boulder that raises funds for the Tyler Hamilton Foundation (focused on fighting MS). Hamilton is currently serving a 2-year ban (ha, ha) from racing for failing a doping test. However, he won a non-sanctioned hill climb last summer, and then showed up on the start line of the crit series last week, alongside other current pros (not banned). Photos of the event ended up on the 'net, and the UCI went ballistic. There is a great rant about this over at Cyclocosm.

Here's the deal: I can understand sanctioning dopers. I'm all for it. Realistically, most dopers become persona non grata when it comes to cycling events. But the UCI punishing other riders for the actions of a convicted doper smacks of the "professionalism" argument the AAU used to throw around back in the day.

In case you're not familiar, back when the AAU was the governing body of U.S. athletes, they used the same argument to keep competitors "amateur." While on international trips, they'd give athletes $3 per day (while the officials were flying first class) and force them to compete where the federation wanted them to, and not necessarily against the best competition. Any variation from the rules -- such as accepting any cash, or even exchanging plane tickets (e.g., for a red-eye flight which cost less, pocketing the difference) -- and the AAU would declare the athlete "professional" and sanction them. Then, they'd sanction anyone who competed against them, potentially ruining everyone's Olympic eligibility!

Althetes finally rallied against the AAU, and Congress passed the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 that effectively ended the heavy-handedness. When even the U.S. government smells a rat, you'd think that sort of behavior would be hard to re-enact? (The sanctioning was only a small part of the AAU's problems, but still.)

So in today's terms, if I'm on a UCI team, would I have to pull out of a charity race if Adam Bergman shows up before his suspension ends? Why is that my problem? Why is my appearance tied to that of another? I can only control what I do, how can they hold me responsible for the actions of someone else? (Remember, these are non-UCI races. UCI races are a whole different ballgame.)

Again, I'm all for sanctioning someone if they're guilty. But don't make me guilty by association.

Friggin' groundhog

Today is the first full day of spring, right? So why is it that Amarillo, Texas, and Omaha, Nebraska, among other Midwest locations, are suffering? According to the Weather Channel this morning (watched on the flat pannel attached to my treadmill in our new workout facility at work, no less!!!), the high temps in Amarillo and Omaha are 30 DEGREES colder than the highs on the first day of WINTER back in December!

And closer to home, Springfield and central Illinois are digging out from a blizzard yesterday, just days after killer tornadoes ripped through the area ... Is this a sign of the apocolypse?

On the lighter side, Phoenix is forecasted to be between 4 and 10 degrees WARMER than average in the next 5 days ... aw, shucks!


21 March 2006

I think Renee is seriously mixed up

For some awesome photos of skiing in motion, head on over to Renee's Madcross blog -- Renee goes straight from cyclocross into skiing, and laughs at us schmucks who ride in the cold and wet of the winter months ...

Anyway, Renee is back in school (sort of), honing another of her passions -- photography. If you've ever seen her shots of the 'cross season, you know she has the gift, and it's pretty cool to see her publish a few photos of Dave on their last weekend of skiing. (I don't buy much art, but have purchased the 05 WCA 'Cross Calendar and another ski photo courtesy of Renee's site. She takes some pretty cool shots!)

HOWEVER, as much fun as that last ski weekend must have been, IT'S TIME TO RIDE! I had my last cold ride until 'cross this morning, and let me tell you, I'M NOT GOING TO MISS IT! The weatherman is predicting cool weather through the weekend, but I'M GOING TO BE IN SUNNY PHOENIX, ARIZONA, where they're predicting mid-80s and partly cloudy all the way through Sunday!!!

Unlike previous years, where I went out with my road bike and didn't come home until it was dark (and sometimes after), this year I'm mixing things up a bit. I shipped the 'cross rig out there last week, and it arrived early, so it's just waiting for me to mount up and ride ... hmmm, road tires or 'cross tires today? Can't decide? Do both!

I leave tomorrow after work, and after putting the bike together on Thursday plan to head over to Usery Mountain Park and/or the Hawes trails. I figure it's been a couple of weeks since I've been on the dirt, so I might as well start there ...

On Friday I am planning a huge day, all the way to the Roosevelt Dam. This will be a fun one, with at least half the ride on hardpack dirt road -- after climbing up to Tortilla Flats, and then 10km after, where the pavement just ends! I can't wait to see the dam though, as each year I just stopped and turned around ... not this time! (For those of you who did the VQ camp a few years ago, the area on the way up to TF is where you did your LT time trial efforts -- it was weird to see Billy Dwyer's name painted on the road, 1,000 miles from home!)

Saturday morning I have a few hours to play, probably on the trails again, before going to the Cubs game with my nephews. We're not big baseball fans, but Gabe is now 5 and Levi is 9, a perfect age to treat them to a day at the ballpark! After all, that's what uncles are for, right? It will be interesting to see if Gabe can sit still for any portion of the game -- my guess is he lasts about 12 outs before Kim or I need to take him around the park on a walkabout ... he has that much energy!

Sunday I have enough time to do a long-ish road ride, probably back up to TF and then down and over to Usery and King Kong. For those of you who have been there, you know that I will be sleeping well on the flight home after a ride like that!

Somewhere in there, I promised the boys that we'd hit the trails on the federal land across from the house, so I'll have plenty of time off-road this year. It will be a nice change from the chip seal they use to pave, let me tell you! Needless to say, I'm pretty excited -- my suitcase feels too light, though, I think I need to pack extra cycling stuff? No? Don't need a long-sleeve jersey?!?


20 March 2006

On the road again

I am not Willie Nelson. Up until this past weekend, I could have waited pretty much forever to get on the road again. But time marches on, and I need something to do between now and September, right?

This weekend was the second Sunday of the infamous Parkside Training Criterium Series. Each year for the past 27, this series invades the campus of UW-Parkside in Kenosha, taking over their 1-mile oval access drive that rings their Quad. We get indoor registration, nice bathrooms, and a Student Union to hang out in ...

I generally avoid Parkside out of principle -- why would you want to race in often crappy weather in March, when you could be out on a long ride with a strong group? Each year, however, I find myself returning for one Sunday, just to get some racing in the legs before the "real" races begin. And this year, with ABD and Mesa making a Western swing in preparation for Hillsboro, I figured I really needed the speed!

To make it worthwhile, I signed up for the 30+ and the 1/2/3s races, giving me about two hours between to chill out and then re-gear for a second run. I pulled out the Waterford last week, and rebuilt it on Friday night, thankfully getting in a good Judson ride on Saturday to make sure it was set up alright. I completely changed the front end, swapping out a broken stem and raising the shift levers to the level of a 'cross bike -- it sort of rides like my Colnago now!

The 30+ race went well, as I covered and initiated a bunch of attacks in the early going. A break of 8 finally got clear, and after a few more attacks we shed one guy who coudn't seem to figure out how to ride in a paceline. We stayed together for the next half hour, with an attack going every once in a while, until I went hard on the backside to try to force a selection. It worked -- but not the way I wanted!

I came through the start/finish with a gap, with Stephen Spencer (Mesa?) chasing me down. As soon as he caught me, I sat up left while he sat up right. Mike Macedon (VQ, ex-Mack) sat up behind me, as breakaway artist Scott Pearson (Hinkley) rolled through with sprinter Rob Springer (Hayes) on his wheel. Instead of following the move, Springer rolled right, and all of a sudden Pearson had 50 meters. I was gassed, Springer declared that he was racing for second, and that was the race. Pearson rolled it, going clear and almost catching the main pack.

In the meantime, our little group stayed together, no one willing to work hard enough to get Pearson and risk their chances of getting blown. I threw in a couple of attacks but was well marked, and in turn I marked Spencer (a good breakaway guy) and Springer (just in case). Eventually, Springer got away for a short bit, but then Spencer and Macedon organized a chase with half a lap to go ...

... We came up to the last curve into the tailwind, with 450 meters to go. I was on Macedon's wheel, and Springer had just had enough rest to jump hard with 300 to go. He went right, in the gutter, and as soon as I sensed it, I went left ... AND I GOT HIM! At the line, I took second place by half a bike length, against a guy who is one of the strongest track sprinters at the Kenosha Velodrome. Sure, it's only March, but a podium always feels good!

Andy and I lined up for the 1/2/3s race, which was pretty negative. Puffer and an Endeavour guy got away for a while, but their own teammates chased them down, and everyone was yelling at everyone else through the whole thing, and racing like jackasses. I checked out with about 3 to go, lost my good position behind the ABD train, and just rolled it in with the field. Andy did alright, moving up at the right time but letting himself get boxed out in the final.

All in all, a pretty good start to the road season -- it's my best result ever at a Parkside event, and maybe Hillsboro won't be so scary after all? It was nice to get a result so early, and the sensations were good -- all that 'cross riding seems to be paying off!


17 March 2006

Blame Andy

We're 48 hours from Parkside No. 2, the "official" start to my season. It's hard to believe -- it feels like just yesterday we were racing at Montrose, and the day before down in St. Louis for Gateway ...

Anyway, I've been pretty ambivalent about the road season up until now. My rides have been going well, but I've had trouble mentally adjusting to the harshness of aluminum on pavement, the monotony of 3-hour rides without a log to hop, and the realities that I have to dress twice as warm because the rolling resistance is so much less. Even little things, like the fit of my road shoes, have bugged me, and as a consequence I even considered skipping Parkside and Hillsboro in favor of waiting for warmer weather.

Not anymore.

Due to a conflux of circumstances, I found myself making a quick run down to Chicago last night to pick up some stuff from Andy. He graciously postponed his trainer session to run the stuff down to me, and in the package he included Pure Sweet Hell, the 60-minute documentary detailing what cyclocross is all about. I had my own trainer session last night, and popped it in, figuring that even if I was training for the road, a bit of dirt might inspire me.

It did.

All of a sudden, I'm excited to race again. On the road. Even at Parkside. It's not like the movie made the time go any faster, but it was such an amazing film that it really inspired me to ride. And to race. Sure, I'm ready to hit the dirt again -- that definitely hasn't gone away! -- but for the first time since last September, I'm contemplating adding a couple of road events back into my summer schedule.

(Ultimately, I don't think I will -- our weekends this year are pretty filled with social events, and I really, REALLY want to go into the 'cross season with fresh legs. But there's this race in Madison that I do really well at each year, and it's the day after Hillsboro ...)

So this Sunday, when Andy and I line up together for the first time in a road event as teammates, I'm going to thank him. And then I'm going to help him rip their legs off.


16 March 2006

U.S. military leaving Iceland

Anyone who has ever played the game of Risk will surely understand the gravity of today's announcement:

United States to Pull Most of Its Military Out of Iceland Later This Year, Ambassador Says
3/16/06 5:24PM GMT
Associated Press Writer

The United States, which has long provided Iceland with its only military force, has decided to withdraw most of its service members and all of its fighter jets and helicopters from the country later this year, the U.S. ambassador said Thursday.

Iceland's government, which had recently offered to pay some of the cost of its defense to try to keep U.S. forces here, said it regretted the decision.

In an interview with The Associated Press, U.S. Ambassador Carol van Voorst said she and Nicholas Burns, the U.S. under secretary of state, had told Prime Minister Haldor Asgrimsson and Foreign Minister Geir H. Haarde of the unilateral decision on Wednesday.

For more, click here.


15 March 2006

Thoughts from tonight's ride

What does it mean when there are a dozen Chicago Police cars parked in a vacant lot, and a bunch of Howard District officers are randomly checking cars at the intersection outside Andy's building? The corner of Ashland and Howard is sketchy to begin with, and you gotta wonder what's going on when they're doing random searches ...

Road bikes are harsh. 'Cross bikes are much more comfortable.

You know Boston is coming up soon when huge groups of runners are out on the path, doing their mid-week long run in the dark in mid-March.

Road rides over 2-1/2 hours seem very, very long and very, very boring right about now. How did I ever do those long rides last winter? Palos has corrupted me -- I can spend 4 hours there and never get bored!

The porta-potty by North Avenue Beach is locked right now, but the fenced-off garbage area isn't. Not only is it private, it offers great shelter from the wind!

We in Chicago are seriously lucky to have a resource like the Lakefront Path. Especially when you live up north and there's a south wind ... that trip home is heavenly!

And finally, the thought that kept me going all night:

It's hard to feel sorry for yourself as you get ready for the "pain" of microintervals when you pass a double above-knee amputee out on his evening run.

Diminishing returns

I've always had a problem with training plans that invoke the "Law of Diminishing Returns." I understand that at some point, the amount of work you need to do to realize a gain becomes more of a cost/benefit discussion -- and for a lot of people, the small gains aren't worth the large costs.

But I don't buy it.

For me, it's more about the "Law of the Slight Edge:" small improvements, added up over time, make the difference between winning and losing. The 1-2% difference between me and the next guy could be all it takes for me to ride him off my wheel, even if it means I have to kill myself in training to build that difference.

This is never more clear than at this point in my training cycle. I've been in the weight room for 12 straight weeks, and concentrating on upper body/core work for the last 3. (The first two are adaptation, followed by 8 weeks of "total body" work -- upper, lower and core.) Conventional wisdom has it that you realize your greatest gains in about 6 weeks of training, then have two weeks of smaller gains followed by a plateau in which it is hard to improve. My own experience bears this out, and my challenge is to mix it up enough that I don't get stale while trying to fill in that last 1-2%.

This morning was a great example -- I have my routine down pat by now, and literally do some of it with my eyes closed! When I looked back at the tracking sheets for the past 12 weeks, I saw a huge ramp at first, but compared to my current lifting I wasn't all that far away 6 weeks ago.

That said, I do continue to see some improvement, and I am far stronger than I was a year ago -- and my lifting has taken me further into the spring as well. Which is why, on mornings like this when it's hard to get out of bed, I drag myself to the YMCA anyway -- always searching for that Slight Edge.

Commuter tunes: In between workouts peppered with Metallica, Disturbed and Guns N' Roses, I've declared this to be Trampy Diva Week on the iPod. So far, I've worked my way through The Essential Cyndi Lauper and am halfway through the remastered Like a Virgin -- up next will be The Very Best of Cher and Elton John's Greatest Hits. It's fun to be driving to work, bopping along to "Angel" and "Material Girl" ... I'm sure the guy in the car next to me would be mortified!

Because it's all about me: I was just checking out cyclingnews.com, and Canadian MTB whiz and 'crosser Geoff Kabush has a new diary. Turns out, the man is getting hitched, and even has a date -- October 7. Why do I care? ... that's the same day as Gloucester! Which means, hopefully, fingers crossed, that a whole bunch of top NRC guys will be in Victoria for the festivities instead of Massachusetts for the race ...


14 March 2006

Spring training

The life of a big-time cyclist is rough. Next week, I get to drive to O'Hare, jump on a plane, and 3 hours later step off into sand and sun, with my bike all ready to go for a ride ...

What fantasy am I living? WAKE UP!

Actually, thanks to a suggestion from Lou, half of my fantasy will come true. (No, Lou is not part of this fantasy. He just suggested it.) Rather than haul my bike on the plane to Arizona next week, I packed it up and shipped it via UPS -- and my dreams are just about coming true!

O'Hare is a nightmare with a hard-shell bike box, and every time it's a new adventure. So one day Lou told me that he shipped his ride ahead of time to his hotel in Vegas, and there it was when he got there -- a few turns of the Allen wrench, a couple of quick pumps of the tires, and it was ready to go! In the meantime, he was able to just walk on and off the plane, one bag in hand and nothing to check ...

This sounded implausible to me, and I figured it would cost an arm and a leg. Turns out, it was the right thing to do all along! I work about 15 minutes from the UPS hub in Northbrook, so on my way to work today I dropped off the bike, filled out some forms, and away it went! The worst "snag" of the whole thing was that it cost me $8 extra because it was in a hard-shell case instead of a cardboard bike box! But I got to lock the case, so I think I come out ahead ...

And how much did I pay for this convenience? Turns out, it was 25% CHEAPER than taking it on the plane! It came out to just over $1 per pound, and I could have added about 4-5 lbs. more of stuff before I hit the over-weight limit. Sure, I lose my bike for a week, but the ease with which it -- and I! -- will travel to Arizona make it worth the "sacrifice." Besides, this year I'm taking a 'cross bike to hit some trails in addition to the road, and since apparently it's now the road season here, I shouldn't be riding it anyway ...


13 March 2006

... and closer to home

March 13, 2006
Chief of Police Frank Kaminski, (847) 866-5005

Evanston's downtown closed due to strong winds

Evanston, Ill. - Due to safety concerns, Evanston emergency personnel have closed off a section of Evanston's downtown from traffic and pedestrians. Construction debris from the Sherman Avenue Development has created dangerous conditions with falling and flying materials. One person has been struck and has been already treated and released. Cars have also been hit by
falling rubble.

Evanston police, fire and emergency management personnel have secured the following perimeter: Church from Orrington Avenue to Maple; Benson from Church to Davis Streets; Davis Street between the train tracks and Sherman Avenue; and Sherman avenue is closed from Clark to Davis Streets. Visitors to Evanston's downtown are asked to avoid this area until the strong winds subside and emergency personnel release the area.

"One of the problems," said Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky, "is that the winds are so dangerous and high that construction workers cannot even get to the top of the project to secure the materials."

He continued, "And the materials that already have been secured are not holding."

"We realize this is an inconvenience to businesses and residents of our downtown," Chief of Police Frank Kaminski said. "Our first concern is keeping everyone safe."

"We ask everyone to take precautions during these high winds and to please cooperate until the situation is under control," Chief Kaminski said.

The Day After

Our thoughts are with everyone in Springfield right now, and all across the Midwest -- the Weather Gods are certainly in control, and we should never forget that ...

12 March 2006

I won, I won, I won!

OK, so it's a completely hollow victory, and I will surely pay for it with some sort of brutally nasty weather, probably at Hillsboro (which every year thus far has been 80-90 degrees and sunny), BUT, I made it through this week without riding the trainer!

Capped off by 65 degrees and sunny yesterday, and 45-50 and cloudy today -- but more importantly, completely dry both days! -- this training block was my biggest yet, and thankfully didn't include any indoor time. I don't know that I would have minded so much, given all the hours of videos that Andy let me borrow, but it's always better to be riding than slogging, in my opinion ...

So tomorrow is a very well-earned day of rest, after something like 12 or 13 straight days of riding -- I was halfway through it before I looked at my calendar enough to realize that it would be that much of a block, and all told it's been pretty successful. I cut loose a little on the Judson ride yesterday, and with the sun and nice temps took the governor off the engine a bit ... and then today we had a good, steady group from Crystal Lake up around Lake Geneva, in the hills and wind ... former Macker Mike Macedon is looking strong as he starts his "training camp" week ...

So this week is a bit of a recovery week, before opening the season at Parkside next Sunday. I hear Mack had a good group up there today, I'm sure our 40+ guys were dominant! I never seem to go all that well after a recovery week, so next week is just to get out and attack, pushing it a bit in anticipation of the Arizona mountains and Hillsboro soon after ...


10 March 2006

Not No. 1

For the first time in a few years -- in fact, for the first time since I started racing the event -- it looks like I won't be Number 1 at Hillsboro.

I'm an Internet junkie, and for the past several years, I've made it my mission to be the first person to sign up for what has to be my favorite road event. It doesn't really matter (unlike Memorial Day, where seeding is based on registration), but it's sort of fun to dig up the pre-registration site before it's announced, and to get my name on the list early.

This year, I've been snaked.

Julie Carter, DS of the Mesa Cycling Team, beat me to the punch. To be fair, she registered an entire team, whereas on Mack we're responsible for our own sign-up. And the past 2 weeks have been insane, so a bunch of other people found the site before me too. But if I'm going to be totally honest, I would have to admit to myself that it's more indicative of where my head is at right now: October.

My TT-effort workout this week shows that I'm only about 2-3% off where I was at this time last year, despite less training and fewer kilometers in the legs. I feel good on the bike, and I'm at that fun part of the year when the weather is changing (getting warmer) and I feel stronger on every ride. But I'm struggling to get motivated right now -- in the spot normally reserved for upcoming race flyers on my bulletin board, I have next fall's UCI 'cross calendar, and deep down I'm almost more excited about the trails opening at Rock Cut on April 1 than I am about Hillsboro one week later.

Yesterday's ride was a good one, and not having anything covering my ears for the first time this year made me a bit hungrier for those long road rides coming up. But I enter Hillsboro with no real objectives -- I'm going to do my damnest to make an impression on the race, but I'm really approaching it more for fun and training than anything else. I don't race again until mid-May due to family and work commitments, so this is really sort of a one-off -- albeit a hard way to spend an afternoon! (Parkside next weekend doesn't count.)

And I guess that's really what it comes down to. For once, I'm not interested in being Number 1 in April ... I want to be Number 1 in November and December.

Birthday wishes to: Lynne Bessette, member of the powerhouse T-Mobile squad and one of the best female cyclists ever to come out of the cold white north of Canada. She is the reigning Canadian Cyclocross Champion, the 2004 Canadian Road Champion, and the 2003 Canadian TT Champion. And those were her lean years!

And early birthday wishes to: Tristan Schouten, MTBer extraordinare and pro on the TREK Factory Team. Tristan is a regular on the Wisconsin scene who has made a major mark on the national level, finishing a storming ride at Natz in 8th place! His ding-dong battles with Matt Kelly in the early part of the season really livened things up -- and I think he only lapped me once at Badger Prarie ... His birthday is tomorrow, so happy early birthday!


09 March 2006

On this date in history ...

Do you remember where you were on March 9, 2002?

From the February 1 Chicago Tribune:

Settlement reached in Hancock scaffold accident
By Mickey Ciokajlo and Mary Ellen MooreTribune staff reporters

Attorneys representing 10 victims of a deadly 2002 scaffolding accident at the John Hancock Center are expected to announce a $75 million settlement today. Three women in two cars were killed in the accident on March 9, 2002, when a piece of massive scaffolding broke loose in high winds and fell 42 stories to the street below. Eight others were injured, one of whom later died. At the time of the accident, no workers were on the scaffold, which was being used in an 18-month project to caulk the windows and clean the 100-story skyscraper's metal skin.

That day was epic, in every sense of the word. Or maybe "stupid" would be a more apt description. But it's also why I'm such a weather nut ...

I rolled out to the Judson ride, but found no one there. So I headed north on my own, in about 55 degrees and a light rain. No big deal -- I was dressed just right for it. Along the way, I picked up Judsonite Mike Pechnyo, and we headed on the normal route up through Highland Park.

Long about the gas station, Mike turned back for home. I had a long day planned with a couple of TT efforts, so I kept rolling north. Down Everett, right on St. Marys, all was well, if a bit wet. I got to the end of the road and turned left, intending to go around the cemetery ...

... and all hell broke loose. To say that it was apocolyptic is an understatment. This was something out of Doom, with demons and monsters changing a semi-pleasant day into the 7th level of Hell.

I was about 300 meters down the road when it hit, an absolute wall of wind, rain, hail, sleet, and locusts. I swear to god -- it was the plague brought to end the earth! The road up there is four lanes, so it was safer for me to keep going, and turn around the cemetery -- in the span of about 500 meters, the temperature plummeted 20 degrees, the wind went from 5-10mph to 30-40, straight out of the west, meaning I had a headwind at the moment but would be fighting a crosswind on the way home.

I'll admit, it was fun when I had a tailwind on the north side of the cemetery, but in the 15 minutes it took me to get back to St. Mary's, I was going hypothermic. It was all I could do to keep the bike upright, and I had no feeling in my hands or feet as I tried to turn over the pedals. Every time a car would pass, the disruption in the wind would send me across the road -- literally into the opposite-side ditch! Thank goodness there was not much traffic, or I wouldn't be here today ... I was riding on a 45 degree angle, trying to anticipate every car in a vain effort to not slide out ...

I was Lt. Dan on a bike. I screamed into the wind. I swore. I made deals with the devil to make it home. I drained my body of every ounce of energy, feeling reprieve only when I was heading back east -- at 35mph, uphill! I could have -- should have -- stopped at the gas station. But I was afraid if I stopped, I had no way home, and I would be better off trying to stay warm by pedaling. I learned later that as soon as Mike got home, he loaded up the car with hot coffee and mounted a search-and-rescue operation ... but we never did catch up with each other ...

I did make it home, but from that day forward, I vowed never to ride without doing a last-minute weather check, or to go without cash somewhere on my person. I learned my lesson, and when the blood finally began circulating in my extremeties again -- more than 2 hours after getting home -- I swore I'd never do that to myself again. Even now, 4 years later, the memory of the exquisite pain as the blood worked its way back into my hands and feet makes me break out in a cold sweat ...

Speaking of riding: The storm-watch is on, and we had rain last night, with more on the way today ... but we got a ride in this morning! So now I'm 0-for-3 on planned trainer rides, with only 3 days left in the week -- yeah!!!

If you haven't seen it yet: There's some serious bike porn on cyclingnews.com today. SRAM's new group has been seen on a CSC bike ridden by their director, and Shimano is countering with an electronic shifter group ...

Also on cyclingnews.com: Check out the results from the Tour of Taiwan! Wisconsin native and all-around nut-case Garrett Peltonen was sitting in second place overall! Garrett is an awesome guy, but if you think I'm crazy, check this out: He broke his neck in the last singletrack MTB ride of the year last season, rode in and out of his neck brace all winter (while riding with an iPod), and then -- just 1 day before his doctor was to clear him to ride again -- he gets hit by a car! Needless to say, he didn't tell his doc what had happened when he showed up for that appointment!

Update: Check out Garrett's blog -- it's one of the funniest pro blogs going. According to today's entry (or was it yesterday, since they're in Taiwan?), his teammate got into a break and is now the leader, but he has dropped to 6th overall. An awesome ride for HealthNet!


08 March 2006

News of the day

What a day on the news front.

First, the Crystal Lake Park District has voted to allow the Gay Games rowing competition. Big thank yous to the commissioners who decided to reconviene after the initial vote was a tie. I don't care what you think about homosexuality, or the Gay Games, but this is about tolerance and acceptance. Or, as one local who will be competing in softball put it, "It's a dream come true for me," she said. "My dream as a kid was always to be in the Olympics." For her, it's about winning a medal.

Second, there is a new tell-all book detailing Barry Bonds' steroid use. I'm struggling with this. On the one hand, I'd really like to believe that David Walsh's accusations about Lance Armstrong are all circumstantial, accusations published in a similar book a couple of years ago. On the other, I have no problem believing that Bonds is dirty. And get this -- it all started because he was jealous of Mark McGuire, a known user! At this point, I do think there is more hard evidence against Bonds, and just have to say this: it's about damn time the American public wakes up and smells the steroids. It's sad, but how many baseball fans have pointed their fingers at cycling without looking in their own back yard?

Chris 2, Weather Gods 0

My dentist is awesome. I had a 5:15 appointment yesterday, got behind every slow driver in the world on the way home, fell asleep on the L and almost missed my stop, showed up 10 minutes late, and he still had me out of there at 5:45 with a brand-new Number 15 molar. Thus ends the saga of my root canal (which happened before Christmas) ... just one more visit on Thursday for a routine cleaning, and I'm good to go!

Why am I telling you this? Because Doc Nick is such a great dentist, I got to ride last night! I made it home and out the door in just over an hour, hit the Lakefront Path for a 90-minute spin with a nice tailwind for the second half, walked in the door at 8:32, and at 8:37 the skies opened and it began pouring! This was the first of the several promised storms this week, and it missed me by mere minutes!

And then, because the storm blew through, I was able to ride again this morning -- so thus far I have been able to avoid two planned trainer sessions, and it's already Wednesday! I've been able to hit the upper end of my volume targets, and even got through my 2x20min TT efforts this morning -- a workout that is an absolute brain drain on a trainer.

Now, I'm not taunting the Weather Gods. (Unless, of course, they were to become so cross that they make a mistake ...) I know better. They will get me back, surely with interest. But for the time being, I've still got a stack of Andy's videos collecting dust, and more actual road time than expected at this time of year! I'll take it!

One month to go: Hillsboro-Roubaix is just a month away! From today! Must ... stop ... rhyming ... no ... more ... Monty ... Python ...


07 March 2006

It's a boy!

Long-time MACKer, financial whiz and all-around nice guy Dan Eichinger can now add one more title to his resume -- DAD!

John David was born yesterday, March 6, at 12:26 p.m., coming in at 6 lbs., 12 oz., and 20 inches. Both Dad and the baby are doing fine, and Amy should be home tomorrow ... he's "cute as a button" according to Dad ...

Steve even managed to dig up a picture somewhere ... tee-hee!

CONGRATS to the Eichingers!

Time to break out the Ark

According to the WGN news last night, the period of March 7-13, 1998, was the wettest on record. During that 7-day stretch, the Chicago area officially got swamped with 2.35 inches of rain, at a time when the average rainfall is more like 2.69 inches for the month.

We're about to eclipse that.

Some computer models are suggesting that we're in for a 7-day period in which we might top out over 3 inches of rain -- even as temps go from the 20s we've had overnight the past few evenings to the upper 50s and even 60s in some parts of the region. I guess this means spring is here early! So much for Phil's prediction ...

I've been super-lucky so far this season, with just two trainer rides -- one an hour; the other 90 minutes. I don't hate the trainer, but I reserve it only for those days under 20 degrees or when it's wet and/or icy enough to be dangerous. And this year, it just hasn't been that bad!

Andy and I did a video exchange at the beginning of training, and I'm certain he got the short end of the stick. I gave him maybe 2-3 hours worth of DVDs; in return I got more like 10-12. And I haven't needed them! I'll finally get to them this week, I'm sure -- I don't mind riding in the rain when it's in the 70s, but I've been hypothermic enough to know that 40 and raining just doesn't work well.

It's an unfortunate twist that this week just happens to be my biggest scheduled training week yet ... but we leave for Arizona in 2 weeks, so there's a light at the end of the clouds ...

Racing update: If you haven't checked out Wes Hartman's blog lately, click on over -- his TargetTraining team (and he personally) had an absolutely storming end to the Vuelta Sonora-Arizona! I don't want to give too much away, but Wes' head may just be getting bigger again ...


05 March 2006

Got it going ON!

Check out the results from Friday's stage of the Vuelta Sonora-Arizona:

1 Wesley Hartman (USA) Targetraining 1.46.08 (45.226 km/h)


Just when I thought it was safe ...

I spent the first 2-1/2 hours of today's ride blissfully unaware of the weather report and more than happy to finally spend a day not worried about cleaning my bike after the ride. Turns out, I should have paid more attention!

Just when I thought it was safe to put away the 'cross bike, we get a nice little snow storm! It's right at the 31-32 degree mark, so the roads were passable (mostly), and it was only just starting to accumulate -- on the ground -- as I finished my ride. Unfortunately, by then it had fully accumulated on my body and my bike! I was on the Fox River Trail for the last part of the ride, and there were some slippery spots where I was wishing I wasn't on 23cc road tires ...

Now I'm trying to warm up, and not looking forward to cleaning off all the road grime that accompanies frozen slush built up on your frame and gears. BUT, the first road ride of the season is out of the way, and I feel pretty good -- it's kind of fun going faster with no extra effort!


04 March 2006

4:35 a.m.

It's now 4:35 a.m. on Saturday, and I'm eating my Cheerios in anticipation of another awesome morning at Palos. It's just cold enough that the trails should be nicely hardpacked -- any warmer and they start getting mushy, and it's not good to ride on them (erosion, etc.)

It's such an awesome thing to be hitting the trails just as it's getting light -- the peaceful feeling as you fly solo through the trees is indescribable.

Didn't sleep much last night -- I think it's still so early in my relationship with Palos that I still get overexcited?


03 March 2006

That's what I'm talking about

From Roadbikerider.com's weekly newsletter:

We've mentioned that chocolate milk is our favorite post-ride recovery beverage when we've traveled to an event and don't have one of those fancy commercial drinks handy. Maybe it should be our choice all the time. According to the March 6 edition of Sports Illustrated, a new study has found that "athletes who drank chocolate milk after a workout were able to exercise more intensely in a second workout than those who drank commercial sports beverages." The study's coauthor states: "Chocolate milk contains an optimal carbohydrate-to-protein ratio, which is critical for helping refuel tired muscles." Tastes yummy, too!

Yeah baby, YEAH!

Six months

"Six months. Six months and she just dumps me for him."
--Lane Meyer, Better Off Dead

My will has been broken. Starting Sunday, I may just have to ride my road bike.

That may not seem like such a shock; after all, it is March. And I race a road crit in two weeks. But for me, it's a total change of mind-set, and an admission that the spring/summer race season is upon us.

I haven't been on my road bike since September. In fact, when I look back at my September schedule, I can't even figure out when I made the transition -- it's weird, I have notes that we attended my nephew's baptism, and saw the System of a Down concert, but I can't remember the rides I have logged. What a long, strange winter it's been!

Last weekend may have been the last straw, as we had a fast Judson ride with a strong tailwind on the way home -- simple physics dictates that a 48x12 (the tallest gear I had on my Cannondale) with 35cc 'cross tires (even if they are semi-bald) can't go more than about 50kph. And when the group hit 53kph, I faded fast ...

Last time I was on a road bike, the 'cross season was coming up, and I wasn't looking forward to it. Now, the exact opposite is true, and I plan one last blow-out ride at Palos tomorrow morning (while the ground is still frozen) to celebrate. Especially since I saw the latest news from ABD -- they're sending a full squad to the California NRC races this month, at the same time Mesa has a group down at the Vuelta Sonora-Mexico. I have a feeling Hillsboro has never been faster than it will be this year!

Randomness: This morning was a fantastic easy ride, just spinning at 95rpm and less than 125 watts. This is what my coach calls "leg-drop," and it was a welcome change after a couple of hard days. But get this -- I got buzzed by Uncle Rico! This old-school Dodge conversion van, brown, complete with the sleeper cabin on top, goes blowing past me on Sheridan Road -- must have been on its way to making some sweet moola?

Just hope he doesn't get convicted: Saw this on Cyclingnews this morning. I knew that Mayor Daley rode, but didn't know about our former governor!

Cannondale signs freerider George Ryan
After a breakthrough season, dropping the jaws of the freeride world at the end of “Counterparts” DVD, George Ryan joins Aaron Chase, Mick Hannah, Chris Van Dine, Carlo Deickman and Wayne Goss on the 2006 Cannondale freeride team.

Unlike many other trick rider (whoc some from BMX or motocross backgrounds), Ryan is a true two-sixer. A Long Island native, everything George knows comes from mountain biking. Along with his freeride reume, Ryan comes to Cannondale with two New York State Downhill Championship titles in his portfolio.

For 2006, Ryan will ride Cannondale's new Judge DH (with 220mm of staged travel) along with a Prophet MX and Chase—all built to his spec.

If you're not from Illinois, here's an explanation ...


02 March 2006

They moved Christmas! And Easter! And Valentines Day!

A while back, I posted a blog about "Christmas Day" -- that one day out of the year when everything is supposed to come together in a massive peak, when all your athletic prowess and power is channeled through your legs and into your pedals and your mind is totally and utterly focused. But what if they moved Christmas?

It seems to happen every year. Inevitably, hundreds of racers from around the state and even around the country plan their calendars in January and February. But then, right around March 1, all the clubs that put on their races start to publish their calendars -- and all of a sudden, the two don't mesh!

This phenomenon happens at every level in the sport; just a few years ago, USA Cycling had to scramble to change the dates and location for our national road events. These are the national championships! The Stars & Stripes is the goal of so many racers; how can they mess around with an athlete's calendar, rescheduling the event just 6 weeks ahead of when it took place? (To be fair, that was worse-case, and since then USA Cycling and the USCF has published advance notice of Nationals sometimes up to 4 years ahead.)

There are several pillars in the Midwest calendar too, and I tend to plan my schedule around them. This year was already looking a little light -- a vacation in late June, plus a focus on 'cross, made my road season fairly small compared to years past, but there were still some events I was planning mini-peaks for. But then they went and moved 'em!

The first, and biggest by far, is a change in date and structure for the Proctor Cycling Classic in Peoria. This two-day event has always been in mid-June, with a road race on Saturday and a fast, fun crit on Sunday. Until now! For 2006, they have expanded the event to add a Friday prologue, and moved it to the first weekend in July ... I'm afraid that I'll be in Munich, and on a plane home on Sunday! I'm pretty bummed, as that was the entire focus of my early season -- instead, I will probably line up at the Garden Prairie TT instead, a week before I planned on Proctor, perhaps shooting for a 40km personal best. Shoot, if the weather's right, I'll just spend my planned "Proctor weekend" mountain biking with Kim somewhere! Or maybe we'll extend our vacation, since we haven't bought tickets yet ...

Another big change is in the state TT championships, traditionally the last Sunday in July. Because Illinois has been lacking a strong local association for so long, the state TT has been "co-located" with the Wisconsin event up in Milton, about 3 hours north of Chicago. This year, however, it looks like it's been moved ... to Marine, which is about an hour east of St. Louis! The timing has changed dramatically as well -- instead of late July, it's smack-dab in the middle, on July 15. That's a direct conflict with Superweek, the Waukesha Crit to be precise, and my guess is that most of ABD will miss the TT but you can be sure Jeff Schroetlin will be there, even if it is in the middle of his traditional July break.

The last change is hopefully one for the better, as "Parkinglot Forrest" seems to have been moved to Kankakee in mid-May. I'm pretty happy about this, as I wasn't a big fan of the parkinglot crit in a run-down shopping mall, and wasn't particularly looking forward to going back there this year. Kankakee isn't that much further south, although we'll have to map out a better route than the Dan Ryan ...

To be honest, the change to Proctor has sort of thrown my whole spring and early summer for a loop. Proctor was my first big objective of the year -- We scheduled our Germany trip in part to come after racing down in Peoria, and all the racing I'm doing up to the planned date was scheduled specifically to mini-peak.

Memorial Day weekend in Iowa is a lot of fun, but it's so big and crazy that it's better used for training -- and with work and family commitments in early May, it comes too soon for me to be really effective. My best alternative is the aforementioned TT -- I can get motivated to go for a PR, and I know the course really well -- but to be perfectly honest, it doesn't really get me going all that much. To tell the truth, except for Hillsboro, I have half a mind to just bag everything before Germany, hit a few Superweek races and the state TT, and then race a few times in August before getting back on the 'cross bike.

But what would I do with all that free time?


01 March 2006

Oly, Oly, oxen free

The Winter Olympics are over. And for the first time since I was old enough to watch them, I have absolutely no idea what happened.

OK, that's not entirely true. I know Bode Miller flopped. So did most of the U.S. ski team. I know Ohno managed a gold, and helped the team to a bronze in the Madison-esque team relay. And I know that one U.S. skier, a woman who's name I might know if I saw it, crashed but raced anyway in what NBC said was "true Olympic spirit." And didn't the U.S. win its first-ever curling medal?

I can guess at the rest: the skating competition was marred by controversy when people fell and/or attacked each other verbally off-ice. The Austrians cleaned up in alpine events. Nordic events were dominated by, well, Nordic athletes. The U.S. snowboard team did alright in the end. (OH! I did see the method air that cost us the women's gold in the 4-cross, which has to be my favorite sport addition to the Winter Games.) And with the NHL made up of fully international players who go to their home country for the Games, the U.S. didn't have a chance in hockey.

It's kind of sad really. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to compete at the Winter Olympics. My brother and I were going to be the best skiing brothers ever in U.S. history, even if our best training was on the stairs that led to our basement. We would time each other on runs around our downstairs, complete with plastic Hot Wheels tracks taped to our feet.

But something has changed in the past 20 years. I remember a friend of mine in grade school whose parents would only pull out the TV every 4 years for Olympic coverage. What the Olympics embodied meant that much to them, that they shunned the commercialization of life and sport completely, except when it came to ideal athletic competition. I wonder if they'd do the same in today's society? Or have the Olympics lost their lustre?

There have always been big personalities in sport, especially in the Olympics. Their names are burned into our collective psyche: Franz. Ingmar. Katarina. Alberto. Bonnie. Dan. In their day, these "mere" athlete transcended their sport, against the backdrop of Olympic glory, to the point that even 30 years later we still talk about their greatness. The two seconds NBC aired of Klammer's incredible downhill run at Innsbruck still managed to bring tears to my eyes -- his legacy is that enduring.

But what of today's Games? Petty bickering and bitterness. We had a fortnight to celebrate the best achievement of these athlete's lives, and instead we were treated to cries of racism, suspicious drug tests, and a rabid NBC crew that couldn't get enough. (I'm not saying the media should just roll over and play dead, but some of their reporting was despicable.) I watched fewer hours of these Games than any before, because quite frankly today's "stars" sicken me.

NBC made a huge deal out of the fact that Ohno moved back to the training center during this cycle. BFD. If he really cared about getting the best from himself, he would do whatever it takes, wherever it takes, to get it. Maybe moving back was the best option for him; if so, great. More power to him. But the way it was reported made it sound like he couldn't handle training in the "real" world of fast cars and big houses, and so was using the Center as his refuge. I say, give me the pizza store owner/Bronze Metalist curler any day.

And what of our speed-skating federation? In cycling, we have enough problems with the UCI and USA Cycling to understand where Shani was coming from. But come ON! I actually respect Shani's actions more -- between the federation and his fellow competitors, this guy was marginalized and treated like scum for doing what he had to do. News flash: The Olympics aren't about the U.S. Speedskating Federation. Or the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. They're about the athletes, and unless an athlete is actively bringing discredit to the nation (not federation) they represent, leave them alone and let them go win.

I do respect the head of USSA for his stand on "Bodegate." Rather than fall into the trap of crucifying Miller in the media, the head of the federation simply said he and Miller would have a "heart to heart" after the games. That's a conversation they should have in private, and good for him for saying so. (And in the meantime, Nike got screwed, don't you think? Maybe Miller should think about moving back to the Center for the next 4 years?)

My favorite moments of these Games? When a skier would finish a run, and not know that he or she had won a Gold. The ironic tension of the moment, released only when realization set in, and pure, raw emotion came forth, is what the Olympic ideal is all about. These athletes sacrifice, and work themselves to the bone, in order to represent their country in the quest to win a medal. And when they do, especially if it's Gold, everything they've done to get there, all the little things that add up over 4 years or a lifetime, are suddenly worth it. In that moment, it's not about federations, it's not about sponsorships, it's not about controversy. In that moment, that second when they first know, it's all about realizing the dream.