28 April 2006

Time to break out the Ark?

From the Chicago Tribune:

New storm could bring Sunday downpours, possibly 2006's largest single rain tally
Published April 28, 2006

Storms like this weekend's, preceded by extended periods of easterly winds capable of introducing dry air at low levels, have been known to slow the advance of precipitation into Chicago. But, predictions of extraordinary 70+ m.p.h. southerly winds just a mile above ground from the Gulf of Mexico into western Illinois late Saturday night, showing up in the supercomputer model projections of more than one major meteorological agency. The consistency of these predictions suggests it's actually likely to occur. Such a wind would lay the foundation for an expeditious transfer of Gulf moisture into the Midwest to fuel what promises to be a very slow-moving spring storm. The system's slow movement could extend sporadic precipitation across 3 or even 4 days and produce impressive totals in Chicago (the Navy and Canadian models suggest 2"+. Even greater amounts--possibly 4-5" or more--threaten sections of Missouri, eastern Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. To date in 2006, individual storms here have generated 1"+ totals only twice. Any total exceeding the 1.20" which fell at O'Hare back on Feb. 15-16 would qualify as the year's heaviest yet. The steadiest rains may begin Saturday night. Stay tuned!

Sources: NWS-Chicago, various supercomputer forecast models
WGN-TV/Zach Albers and Jen Nagle

Systems check

I've been doing the math, and if -- as coach Chris Carmichael suggests -- the foundations for the Tour de France are laid in December and January, then the foundations for a successful 'cross season are laid in April and May (assuming a late October to mid November peak). This weekend is the halfway mark!

It's hard to believe May 1 is on Monday, and that we're already through April. Despite missing a couple of days because of the 'flu, this month was pretty good, and I managed a couple of key workouts that will hopefully bring improvements down the road. I've also kept up my running and weight lifting (and stretching and recovering of course!), which puts it much further into the season than I've ever done before.

More importantly, I've put in some serious time off-road, and feel so much more confident in my 'cross handling skills than I was even 6 months ago, during the racing season. More than anything else, I see that as having a huge impact on 2006, and I'm excited to put it to the test!

We're off to a wedding tomorrow in -- of all places! -- Palos. It's literally across the street from the forest preserve, and Kim and I are heading down early tomorrow to beat the rain and get some trail time. It'll be her first time there, and I'm excited to show her around a bit! We're staying down there tomorrow night, and I'm hoping the weather holds off ... if not, Sunday could be a long, cold, wet day in the saddle, and not on any trails ...

Off-season without 'cross? Those of you who have seen Off-Road to Athens know just how fried Mary McConneloug was after becoming the sole women's MTB representative on the Olympic team in 2004. McConneloug and her boyfriend/mechanic/teammate/etc./etc. Mike Broderick have been a fixture on the NE 'cross scene for years, but elected to take last season off to rest and recoup in sunny (and wet and muddy) Hawaii. Check out this interview on cyclingnews.com for more ...

Finally, props given where props due: I'm not a big fan of Chris "How hard can 'cross natz be" Horner. But I have to give a shout-out for a HUGE win in the Pro Tour Tour of Romandie yesterday, where Horner surprised his companions in the front group and went on the attack 5km from the finish to win by 5 seconds and take the overall leaders jersey. If the people you beat are truly a measure of your success, Horner took some serious scalps in the stage. Maybe that 'cross thing really does help your road season?


27 April 2006

The cyclo-crosser who went up a hill and then came down ... over and over

I've noticed that my ability to come up with entertaining blog entries exists in an indirect relationship to the intensity of the training regime taking place at that time. When you dip back into the archives, those entries that are focused solely on training are usually the ones that come either during high volume or high intensity, or both ... not very exciting, but just about at the limit of my mental capacity at the time.

Today is one of those days.

(I'm even struggling with coherency and typing today -- forgive me if this degenerates into some sort of illiterate physcobabble ...)

See, last night I finally got to do a hill workout. I've had a couple of them scheduled this season, but each time something came up -- back in early February I was supposed to do a few road hill sprints but had to go to the dentist instead. Then two weeks ago was alternate running and riding uphill -- just two days after Hillsboro and in the midst of that nasty 'flu bug.

Last night, though, was the workout I've been looking forward to in some masochistic way ever since Bill sent my my schedule for April. Though we're several months out from 'cross season, I have been steadily insisting that we add more off-road work into my program -- so last night, Bill made me pay for it.

Taking his cue from some of the other workouts I've been doing, he invented "ISCRHS" -- Interval Set CRoss Hill Sprints. (I'll admit, I read it as "ISCHRS" the first time I saw it, and was flattered that he'd name a workout after me. Nope!) One set is three efforts: sprint full-on at a sled hill, dismount as soon as you lose momentum, and then shoulder the bike and run it. 45 seconds of rest between each rep, with 5 minutes of zone 2/3 (not easy, not all-out) between sets. Oh, and to make it fun, add some barriers at the bottom of the hill.

The schedule said 3x. I asked him twice to make sure -- that meant 3 sets, not 3 efforts.

Holy crap.

I had a lot going for me on this one, if you want to take a positive spin on it. I live 10 minutes from the steepest, biggest sled hill on the North Shore, Mt. Trashmore (James Park) in Evanston. I have portable barriers made of PVC pipe that I can sling on my shoulder and carry with me. Tuesday's workout was shortened, so I was "rested." And I was motivated to give this one a try.

And now I'm too tired to think straight, some 15 hours later.

The workout went great. I set up one barrier about 1/3 of the way up the hill to mimic so many of our Midwest runups. I put the other two at the base, set up to be high-speed as I came down off the hill. So I would sprint 1/3 of the hill, run up the rest, and then because the top is so steep and rutted, traverse the hill in a run/jog about 1/3 of the way down until I could remount, ride down, and fly through the barriers.

The first one went really well. The second went pretty well too. By the third I couldn't remount on the high-speeds without throwing in a hop. By the fifth, I was struggling to dismount before the high-speeds. By the seventh, I was struggling to dismount for the uphill. On the eighth, I smashed head-first into the uphill barrier and landed head-first in the grass (but still grabbed the bike and ran!). By the ninth, I was ready to pass out as I crested the hill.

I know enough to know not to do intervals when you lose form or power. Although I was gradually losing all physical and mental capacity to function in a cohesive manner, I still felt really good on the sprint, and smooth on the run-up. (I'm still a slow runner, something else to work on!) I even had a couple of really good high-speed passes toward the end, using the off-hill speed to take them in a full-out gallop of one step each. So I knew I wasn't doing "too much" ... but holy crap was it hard.

Funny thing was, I didn't notice it right away. I had some time to kill after the sprints, so I headed down to Montrose and put in a couple of good laps dodging the springtime "campers" who have taken over the park. It felt good, and although the grass makes the course difficult to see and very slow, my times were OK without really trying. And more importantly, my legs felt pretty OK too.

And then I got home. And sat down to eat dinner. As the adrenaline rush wore off, I began to feel the deep-seated fatigue that only comes with extreme efforts. I was cashed -- Kim got home from school to find a drooling mess of a blob sitting on her couch, salad dressing and crouton crumbs covering its chest. I could barely get myself going to make it to the bed. And 8 blessed hours later, I awoke to find that I hadn't really moved all night, and holy cow did that workout beat me up.

So even though I have the mental faculties of a 3-year-old at the moment (as opposed to the 5-year-old I normally am), I'm happy. I got through a killer workout, one of the best cross-based workouts I've done and one that addresses a serious weakness of mine. Today is a nice, long zone 2 ride to work and home with a lunch run, and some skills work tomorrow ... by the weekend I should be right as rain and ready to go again.

But have I mentioned how tired I am right now?


26 April 2006

We the people?

I'm not going to wade into the immigration debate, leaving that to others who may have much more at stake. But I absolutely must re-post this comment left by "Jennifer" on Eric Zorn's blog entry on the subject ... there is something ironically tragic about someone so opinionated against immigrants who haven't learned English who doesn't do so well herself -- it took me a few reads to understand the last sentence ...
If Spanish speaking people spent as much time and energy changing their way of life in their countries threw protest, standing up for themselves against their government and trying to get rid of the corruption that goes on with the police in their countries they wouldn't have to leave the countries they love so much or give up the language they love so much.Instead they want us to change our way of living and our language and give up our jobs.They want us to accommodate them but they don't want to compromise and do things to blend in with us and the way we live.At my husband's job they are given special treatment.They have interpreters so they don't learn english even thou some have been here for years and if they do something wrong that's not aloud by the company they get special treatment that the american workers don't because the company is afraid outside groups will come in and claim racism toward the hispanic workers.This is making it hard to speak up in America because everyone fears being called racist.But Americans need to be able to speak freely just like the illegal immigrants do.We Love our country the way it is and we Love speaking English.And Our childrens futures depend on us standing up for what we want for the United States in the future to preserve our language and our way of life.Were not trying to exclude people but we are trying to keep America from becoming a different country then we grew up in.That is are right as Americans.

OLN to become The Ocho

Just came across this news from OLN, which has decided to become ESPN8: The Ocho, since Discovery is now the Only Lance Network ... Man vs. Beast? Huh? And will Dodgeball qualify as a "tent-pole" event?

I find it interesting too that the Tour and NHL hockey are now on the same network, since OLN always compared their Tour numbers to NHL broadcasts. And one more thing -- does anyone else remember when ESPN started? Wasn't it founded on "tent pole" events like midget throwing and Australian Rules Football?

Network Will Celebrate Competition and Sports

Stamford, CT (April 24, 2006) – As the NHL Playoffs get underway on OLN, the network announces that, as of September 2006, the channel will be known as Versus. The new moniker, a culmination of a two-year network evolution, was chosen not only for its bold nature, but because it universally evokes competition. Versus will focus squarely on competition and every aspect of the competitive world. Whether it is Man vs. Man, Man vs. Beast or Team vs. Team, the channel will celebrate sports at its best, where athletes and sportsmen compete at their highest levels with the greatest passion.

“Versus is a word that perfectly captures the essence of our brand,” said Gavin Harvey, President. “It is immediate shorthand for competition and has a range that can suit everything from stick and ball sports, to bull riding, to field sports. We felt it was a slam dunk, and sports fans we talked to all agreed.”

The network began soliciting name suggestions – both internally and externally – about a year ago. After sifting through hundreds of potential ideas, OLN began rigorously testing those the network felt had potential. Versus was the name that consistently rose to the top in focus group after focus group. Sports fans felt it was not only strong, but that it conveyed an idea and an energy that suggests a network experience centered on competition.

In addition to network mainstays like the NHL, The Tour de France and the Professional Bull Riders, Versus will continue to acquire tent pole events that
audiences can’t find elsewhere. In the past two years alone, OLN has added a significant number of properties to its stable, including the America’s Cup, the Boston Marathon, the Iditarod, The Dakar Rally, World Cup Skiing and the Arena Football League. Focusing on exclusive events, the network will continue to present fans with the total fan experience for which the network became known for with its live, in-depth coverage of The Tour de France.

(And there will be plenty of tent poles in Providence!)

25 April 2006

4 months, 28 days

The countdown has officially begun.

Sure, I’ve been keeping track of how many days until Natz in Providence. But that’s sort of out there, one of those sugary faux-carrot confectionary thingies on a stick, just out of reach but still within view.

The real countdown started Sunday: 5 months until the first North American UCI cyclo-cross race. That’s the delicious frosting and layered cake gooey goodness underlying Natz, and the focus of every minute I’ve spent in the gym, or on the trail, or on the road this spring.

See, if Adam Hodges-Myerson has his way, I won’t even get to line up at Elite Natz unless I score UCI points. Instead, I’d focus on the not-so-old guys race (30-34 Masters) and any open money race they may run on the course. But let’s face it: I’m not getting any younger, and how many years do I realistically have left to line up with the best of the best in U.S. ‘cross?

So that has become my mantra: UCI points or bust. As it stands now, 5 months out, I’ll have a few opportunities, including Tailwind (Michigan), maybe Gloucester, Cincinnati, hopefully a road trip to Boulder, and if all else fails Tennessee and Kansas City. I’m approaching this objective quite a bit differently than any other I’ve ever had – it’s so real, so accessible, that every choice that comes my way, every “sacrifice” I make, is crystal clear. I want this more than any cycling goal I’ve ever had.

Will I have “noble” intentions should I manage to score enough points to line up in Providence? Time will tell; if my training is any indication, though, making it past the first several laps is surely within my grasp. The best part is, the next five months are going to be spent having fun in pursuit – and maybe, just maybe, come December 16 I’ll get to have my cake and eat it too!


24 April 2006

"Mack" means "V" in Wisconsin!

What a HUGE day for Team Mack yesterday! Out of the 7 senior men's races hosted by the Great Dane Velo Club in Madison, we won THREE of them! All the Wisconsin teams were out in force, and we took it to them in their own back yard!

The day started well, with Andy and I trucking out from Chicago about 9 a.m. Thankfully things had settled down enough that I felt OK drinking my coffee ... finally feeling normal!

We rolled into Mad-town a couple of hours later, just in time to see Macker Don Lowe pull apart his small break in the 45+ race and take the first win of the day in a two-up sprint! Don is one of the super-strong Masters riders we have on the squad -- I think this is only the beginning of his third season on the team, and he is an absolute animal. Nobody can touch him when he puts his mind to it!

Then, in the very next race, Macker Jordan Heimer pulled out the V in the Cat. 5s! Jordan is new to the team, and we're expecting great things from him in the future ... a great way to start the year!

So the pressure was on as I warmed up for the Masters 1/2/3 race with a couple of my teammates. Yes, this was a Masters race -- but for Wisconsin Cycling Assn. races, Masters races aren't "open" ... "Open" Masters means that anyone above 30 (or 35, or 40, etc., depending on the promoter) can participate. In Wisconsin, though, they do it right -- because we're categorized, a brand-new 40+ Cat. 5 won't be lining up with the likes of Billy Jones, only to get his doors blown off in the first 100 meters. Which also makes the racing very fast -- more than half the later Pro/1/2 field was made up of guys toeing the line in the Masters 1/2/3!!

I've always liked the GDVC races, and in fact pulled out a win myself a few years ago as a Cat. 3. This race was bound to be tough, with 20+mph headwinds on the uphill backside, a corresponding tailwind for the backstraight and uphill finish, and a field made up of a who's who of Wisconsin speedsters: guys from Wheel & Sprocket, Endeavour, GDVC, Beans & Barley. The only one missing was Mr. Jones himself, off to get married!

Mack had six or seven guys ourselves, all pretty strong in their own rights: Fleck, McGeen, Lowe, Tim LeRoy, a couple of new guys from Appleton (sorry I can't remember their names!), and a new guy named Lou. I've been in 1/2s races where Fleck and McGeen have pulled the field apart, so I knew we had a chance to keep the streak alive ...

As predicted, the race was fast from the gun, and Fleck patroled the front tirelessly for the first 20 minutes. He was in just about every move, and the one time he wasn't, McGeen was there to cover. Fleck was incredible, putting in a couple of early digs and jumping on everything that moved -- it was awesome to watch him go, and then go again, and then go again. And again! Just behind him, McGeen, Lou, Tim and I were watching and blocking, or covering, and moving around as the pack bunched and thinned in the massive wind and front-side speed.

Finally, as we approached halfway, we came down off the hill and I used the momentum to carry me up the left side of the line ... just as it did, Fleck blasted out from the right, creating an instant gap and taking a couple of guys with him. I sat up, changing to blocking mode, as one or two more bridged ... all of a sudden, there were two Sprockets up there with Fleck, and the small group had grown too big. By the time we made the turn to the uphill start/finish, the group came back and we were all together in the headwind.

That made it my turn, and again as we rounded the corner into the tailwind I took off, burying my shifter into the 11, putting my head down, and HAMMERING as fast as I could. For about 800 meters, I just stamped on the pedals, not looking back and not worrying about whether this would work or not ... I knew my teammates were primed and ready, and at worst I would be able to sit in and recover. Through the start/finish, down the small rise, left into the uphill headwind ... I moved to the left, flicked my elbow, and saw ... WE HAD A GAP!!!

Not only that, but the situation was PERFECT. Along with me, who had blockers back there, were riders from Endeavour, Sprocket, GDVC, and two other semi-strong teams -- all in, who's gonna chase?!?!? We started rolling, and soon our 5 second gap became 10, then 15 ... we weren't perfectly cohesive, and I was struggling a bit after my initial effort, but gradually we stretched the elastic, and then broke it completely with about 20 minutes left to race!!!

Six guys off the front, not working perfectly, but working enough to make it happen. Behind, we had teams blocking every move -- although I hear Sprockets weren't too happy with their guy in the break, and even made an effort to chase us down! Mack was having none of it, though, and my teammates performed incredible work to reel in every attempt and close down anything that dared tried to move off the front. That's what teamwork is all about!!!

Meanwhile, up front, time was ticking down and I was hurting. I pulled through enough to work, and to not cause any problems, and when the pace got slow I made sure to get to the front to keep the effort alive. As we got down to 10 minutes to go, and then 8, I had identified the strong men in the group, and made sure to reshuffle the break to be near them as we got into the headwind ... I also made sure that, when I was really hurting, I was the one on the front up the hill, setting the pace to make sure it didn't kill me!

With 4 laps to go, I knew it was time. I sat out a pull, grabbing a sip of Gatorade and throwing my bottle into the grass. The next pull, I ducked in behind and fiddled with my shoe. I took the next pull, coming through in a cursory manner and keeping the pace steady. With 3 to go, it was time to figure out how to win ...

My last pull was up the hill, again keeping the pace smooth. We saw 2 to go, and I ducked into the back, hunkering down as low as possible on the bike to stay aero and avoid the headwind. No one had attacked yet, which meant no one would be able to ... I identified the GDVC guy as the weakest, and started to set him up ... we got the bell as we creasted the front hill, and as we approached the corner the GDVC guy rolled to the front ...

Around the corner, start the uphill, into the wind, and JUMP!!!!!! With GDVC "blocking" on the right, I made my move into the wind on the left, hammering down on the pedals as hard as I could as I pushed up the rise. My rear wheel skidded slightly, and I almost lost momentum, but in my glance behind I could tell that the chase wasn't organized and this was my chance ... make it to the hill ... crest the hill ... ohgawd I'm pedaling squares ... make the hill ... push ... push ... PUSH!!!

I crested the hill, looked under my arm, and the race was over. I had a 50 meter gap, I was heading downhill and then into a tailwind, and I threw my chain into the 11 and just killed it. Around the first left, driving through the chicane as if it were a straightaway, by the time I reached the left-hander to the start/finish I had 5 seconds, and by the time I was 50 meters from the line the chasers were just coming around the corner. Victory was mine! Another Mack win!!!!!!

It was a fantastic moment, as I had plenty of time to zip up, throw up my arms in salute, and savor crossing the line in first. The race was well-fought, and my breakaway companions deserve all the credit for keeping us alive -- there were a couple of times when I thought Sprocket or Endeavour were going to pull my legs off on the uphill. Thankfully, just a bit of effort at just the right time meant I could keep the streak alive! And from behind, my teammates made all the difference -- knowing they were back there doing all that work made the victory that much sweeter.

Because this is an early-season race, the awards are merchandise ... in addition to a nice Michelin tire, check out what else I won ... I get to channel Tristan even more now!!

In the Pro/1/2 race, I was in a bit of survival mode, watching and trying to help Andy out as best I could. I put in a couple of digs, and didn't wait for the race to just happen, but my energies were mostly spent. Andy had great positioning in the finale, and managed to pull out a 12th place -- that's a great finish in a very fast race with such a large field! Way to go Andy!

All in all, then, a great start to the USCF season for Team Mack ... and we promise to keep it rolling!!


Happy Birthday Levi!

Sunday was my nephew Levi's birthday -- I didn't get a chance to speak to him, but he was in my thoughts! Happy birthday!

22 April 2006

Channeling Tristan

I have this superstition that I can't wear team socks while training, even when I'm fully decked out in Mack kit. Racing in them is OK, but every day use is verboten ... for today's jaunt to Palos I decided to channel Mr. Schouten ... maybe it will help him feel better?


21 April 2006

mmmm ... coffee

As anyone who knows me knows, this blog is going to be painful:

Ever since getting sick last week, I have had to give up my daily coffee fix. Sure, I drink decaf during the week, but those few minutes when I'm enjoying a sip of java are my "escape" from the realities of the work world. If grilled cheese and soup is my comfort food, coffee is my security blanket.

I'll spare you the details, but last week wiped me out. In an effort to get healthy, I skipped the joe, sticking to clear liquids and Gatorade to nurse me back to health. I finally broke down and had a cup at Easter brunch, and another after, and then a weak cup of leaded with Kim's family (who lives on the stuff), but I still wasn't feeling 100% and so decided to start this week going without.

Yesterday I thought I was healthy enough to try one decaf cup of the stuff they serve at work ... bad idea. I'm still not completely healthy, and it didn't go down well. D'oh! We're only two days away from my next race, and no coffee?!?!?!?!?!?!

What's even more frustrating -- and I know it shouldn't be, but it is -- is that my weight continues to climb back up, even though I've cut the coffee (and creamer and sugar) from my daily diet. I'm sure this is just my body returning to full health, but I have to admit I felt pretty good on last Saturday's Judson ride, even though I was still 3 lbs. lighter than the week before! Over the course of this week, I've put on about 1/2 lb. a day, so I'm pretty close to being back to where I was -- stronger, but still a tad heavier than I've been in the past.

Maybe I should skip the Cadbury Caramel Eggs instead?


20 April 2006

History in the making

Well color me surprised. The VeloNews live ticker included a bit of historical perspective on today's course! Check out the 12:15 p.m. update ...

Also of note, the Best Young Rider classification was mixed up after yesterday's stage, and six-time national junior and U-23 cyclo-cross Champ Jesse Anthony has been awarded the jersey! He placed 16th and 15th in the first two stages!

The Battle Above the Clouds

I wonder how many of the riders in today's Stage 3 TT at the Tour of Georgia know the history of the area they're riding through? Probably not too many ...

Not that many of the Euros would really care, but at least some of the U.S.-based riders should know that this was the scene of one of the most romanticized battles of the Civil War. Even if they don't know the history, I would hope there would be at least a recognition of the name?

Unfortunately, though, they probably don't. Nor do most people in the U.S. Except for Gettysburg and "Bull Run" (Manassas), I would doubt very much that folks recognize the name of any Civil War battlefield sites. Which is probably why a group such as the Civil War Preservation Trust has such an uphill fight ahead of it in the coming years ... (forgive the pun please!)

I wonder who will win today's Battle Above the Clouds?


19 April 2006

Back at it

Just in case it wasn't obvious, yes, I am riding again. I spent last Monday (the 10th) on the couch, and then Tuesday and Wednesday were days of rest, doing "training" of the work variety (management go-get-'em stuff). As near as I can figure it, those will be the last days off I have for a while yet ...

I rode again last Thursday, just a long aerobic zone 2 day to work. Then on Friday I tried to re-acquaint myself with some 'cross skills at Montrose, just easy zone 1/low zone 2 stuff like mounts/dismounts and off-camber cornering. Life is different when there's grass on the ground! And all was well until I landed on the back of my saddle and popped it up ... that was a very loooong ride home ...

This weekend went well, felt very strong on the Judson ride and had a nice tempo run on Sunday before heading to brunch. Monday was a repeat of Friday, except this time I set up my barriers at Mt. Trashmore and practiced high-speeds and bunny hops. Sixty centimeters has never seemed so tall!

Yesterday was a killer -- long zone 2 with 6x 30sec microintervals. There's a great spot to do them about an hour out, with a nice gradual grade and a good downhill run-out to clear the legs. The first one went really well, as did the next three ... five and six were TOUGH! The last one was the worst, as I felt as though my bike was ready to throw me into the weeds as I struggled to turn over the pedals. At one point, I had entertained the idea of catching the Pizza Hut ride back to Northbrook, but as I finished and damn near crawled home at 10mph, I realized that would not have been a good idea ...

Today should be fun, with another commute to work and some tempo work. Oh! And all this is in addition to a bit of running (2 times a week) and upper body/core work in the new gym at work (2-3 times a week). Truth be told, I'm feeling just a tad sore -- I'm not sure my muscles have completely regained all the water lost last week. And I haven't downloaded last night's power data to see if I'm still as high as I was a couple of weeks back.

All in all, though, I feel pretty good, and I'm very happy to be riding again. The high-speed barrier work went really well, and my coach invented this super-killer 'cross workout that I'll experience for the first time next Tuesday. I'm also heading up to Madison for the GDVC crit on Sunday with Andy, good times on a pretty safe industrial circuit ...

Nothing earth-shattering today. Just happy to be training again! Oh! And Wes got his name on the Cyclingnews.com live coverage from Georgia yesterday. I have to say I'm jealous reading his blog about being next-door to Floyd Landis ... there's just a certain feeling you get when you're in the host hotel and all the riders are mingling about ... Joe Martin was like that, and I'm a bit nostalgic ...


18 April 2006

Easter Phlog!

The star of the show! When she got home Sunday night, Kaylie insisted on sleeping with her bike in her bedroom ... I swear I'm not trying to influence her at all!

Gotta have your helmet and shoes on!

Of course, how can you have a proper Easter celebration without wearing your "hat?" (And your "TummyTummy" pajamas!)

Pure bliss.

This is Kaylie teaching Uncle Chris how to color eggs on Saturday night -- it's pretty amazing how good a 2-1/2 year old is at stuff like this! And she was very much in charge!

Showing off her handiwork to Grandpa too ...

Aunt Kim hard at work ...

And just look at that devilish grin!

This is Sunday morning with my family at brunch -- CJ wasn't too sure about the Easter Bunny, but he was good all morning!

This is the family, with CJ at the head of the table of course! The dog isn't part of the family, but we let him sit with us anyway.

Good thing Kim was standing in front of me -- that tie needed to be ironed pretty bad!


17 April 2006

Big-girl bikes

... and the tradition continues!

Easter has become the "bike holiday," and this weekend was no exception! Kim and I made the trip out to Woodstock on Saturday to help Kari pick out her version of a "big-girl bike" -- she has a cruiser/comfort MTB-style ride that's a few years old, but she really wanted a road bike ... I know first-hand that when you want a road bike, you don't want to settle!

So we spent some time at Outdoor Recreation on Rt. 47 (we hear it's better than the bike/gun shop out in McHenry), and Kari eventually walked out with her very own Trek 1500! It's a 2005 model, but that was the only compromise -- it's fully equipped with 105 up front (triple chainrings), an Ultegra rear(!), Bontrager components and wheels, and even a "Lance Champion" sticker on the downtube. (OK, that may have to go, but still.) It was kind of fun trying to help her learn STI shifting -- it's so second-nature to me that I forget not everyone has used it!

Then the next morning, Kaylie got her very first big-girl bike! It was pretty magical to be there for it ... she crawled out of her big-girl bed, and wandered through the living room asking "where's mymom?" then, still wiping the sleep from her eyes, she walked into the kitchen and stopped short. Doll in one hand, pushing her hair back with the other, her eyes got wide and all of a sudden it was "Kaylie bike?" It was so cute!

She even got a "hat," a cute pink helmet with bugs and flowers. Which she then proceeded to wear around the house, still in her pajamas! We did make sure she had shoes on before she started to ride from one end of the kitchen to the other ... At first, it was tough, and Uncle Chris had to push her a little. By the time we left, though, she was getting the hang of it, and after an hour or so of trying, she was laying tracks through the whole house!

Her mom managed to capture the best moment on video -- I went for a short run, the excitement had died down a bit, and Aunt Kim was in the shower. All alone, Kaylie picked up her doll, and stood there next to the bike, running her hand over the handlebars and singing "Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are." Life doesn't get much better than that.

I should have pictures tomorrow or the next day -- including maybe a shot or two of my nephew CJ and his first Easter. We went to brunch with my family, and it was pretty funny to watch CJ try to feed a danish to the Easter Bunny! Share and share alike?


14 April 2006

And another thing

One other thing that sort of gets my goat about USA Cycling -- their definition of "communication" leaves something to be desired. In the past 2 weeks, I've gotten an e-mail about the new headmaster, and an e-mail about elections (which was more a spiel to nominate someone ...) -- but did they send an e-mail to everyone announcing that they finalized the 'cross categorization mystery? Heck no! Nor have they published it on the 'cross section of their web site, which still has outdated links that were incorrect when they were posted at the end of 'cross season!

Instead, it was published in the March issue of the newsletter, a PDF version of which was posted to the USA Cycling web site on March 29 ...


Scroll to the last page (page 6) to learn how categorizations were determined ...

25 years ago ...

  • 25 years ago … Ronald Reagan was still in his first 100 days in office
  • 25 years ago … Walter Cronkite had just signed off from the CBS Evening News after 19 years (March 6)
  • 25 years ago … John Hinckley Jr. had just tried to assassinate President Reagan (March 30)
  • 25 years ago … the Academy Awards were delayed by one day because of the shooting
  • 25 years ago … Ordinary People won Best Picture ahead of Coal Miner’s Daughter, The Elephant Man, Raging Bull and Tess
  • 25 years ago … the Ford Escort was hitting the road for the first time
  • 25 years ago … Tom Boonen was 6 months old
  • 25 years ago … Johan Museeuw was 15 years, 6 months old
  • 25 years ago … Lance Armstrong was 9 years, 7 months old
  • 25 years ago … Wes Hartman wasn’t even born yet
  • 25 years ago … Hennie Kuiper had just won the Tour of Flanders (April 5)
  • 25 years ago ... Jan Raas had just won Ghent-Wevelgem (April 8)
  • 25 years ago … a Space Shuttle launched for the first time: Columbia lifted off on mission STS-1 (April 12, Palm Sunday)
  • 25 years ago … also on Palm Sunday, Bernard Hinault won Paris-Roubaix ahead of Roger De Vlaeminck and Francesco Moser
  • And finally, 25 years ago … on Easter Sunday, one week later …
    … I learned how to ride a bike.

Hoppy Easter everyone! Get out and RIDE!!!


13 April 2006

Who's in charge here?

What is it with politicians? Are they so hell-bent on self-preservation that they neglect to remember the reason they're in power to begin with? Or is it that those who have come to grips with their own mortality (and therefore the fact that they are, in fact, replaceable) tend to avoid the political arena?

I've been racing for going on 5 years now. I used to be so afraid of "getting a license" that it kept me from exploring the racing scene for years. Then Kim helped convince me that a license wasn't an end, it was a beginning, and so I went ahead and became a Cat. 5, just in time to take on Snake Alley in the pouring rain.

And for the past 5 years, I've been fairly happy with the way things have gone at USCF. I do have an ABR license, and I race ABR time trials and the occasional crit, but for someone who grew up dreaming of "being a bike racer," the only license that really matters is the one that's affiliated with the USOC and the UCI. I managed to avoid the massive schism that happened in the early '90s by being fat and out of shape, so I also missed the financial difficulties and the mess that was happening in Colorado Springs.

What I didn't miss, however, and what I have been quietly supporting for the past few years, was an improvement in the way USCF does business. Five years ago, I had to mail in my renewal each February, I received a rule book in the mail, and in general my communications with the governing body were pretty hit-or-miss. But then Gerard Bisceglia took over, and things looked to be going in the right direction. On-line registration happened. Rule books were no longer printed, saving us money. Renewals were standardized to the end of the calendar year. Membership rolls began to grow.

It wasn't perfect. There are still some major grumblings on the regional level, mostly as a fallout of the debacle of the 90s reorganization. There are still some pretty stupid things that tended to happen (like scheduling a new money race on top of an established state championship, but I won't mention any names). And I have no idea just how much Bisceglia had to do with any of it; I just know that from my perspective, it seemed like he was trying to do right by the membership -- the riders.

He got canned last week. No one is really sure why, least of all him. I won't go into it here -- it's been covered in other places in much more detail than I have. But then, out of the blue, the membership got "an open letter" this week from the new guy in charge, the one who used to be COO. And check this out -- in one fell swoop, he discredits Bisceglia, and takes away any accomplishments he may have made (emphasis mine):

In light of the recent change in management at USA Cycling, I would like to assure all of you that we intend to stay the course with our current programs and will continue to work on many new, exciting programs and member benefits. The real strength of USA Cycling comes from you, our members, working together with your Local Associations and promoters, along with our dedicated staff, to grow and improve American cycling. In fact, many of the recent improvements, from the local Association and NORBA promoter incentive programs to the enhancements of the website to the creation of effective new athlete programs, have been staff-driven initiatives. Over the past few years, USA Cycling has augmented the staff, encouraged their creativity and supported their ideas in order to serve you better.
I don't know about you, but to me that sounds like a whole lot of mud-slinging, albeit in a nice tone of voice. But it's still mud-slinging. It may be true. These may have all been "staff-driven initiatives." But to basically say your predecessor did nothing for 4 years? Wow, that's some serious CYA.

The new guy got his due on VeloNews yesterday. He reiterates his stance that most of the improvements were staff-driven, then goes on to say that we need to view USCF as a stakeholder organization, not a shareholder organization. Which is to say that it's not one-member, one-vote -- it's voting based on influence. Which makes sense ... except that aren't the people determining the influence levels also the ones putting themselves in charge? (Incidentally, this is repeated at the local level -- in one of the first Illinois Cycling Association [ICA] meetings, it was suggested that there be an athlete representative on the board. That idea lasted about 10 seconds, despite popular support, once the regional rep voiced his objection. The membership [the athletes] just aren't the influencers here.)

I don't know what Bisceglia did or didn't do. I'm reading but not really paying attention to the incestuous relationship of those in charge in Colorado. And you know what? I have a feeling that most of my fellow racers don't care. They just want to race their bikes, and be able to sign up for and utilize the services USA Cycling and USCF have to offer in an easy-to-use, hassle-free manner. If all these improvements are truly staff-driven initiatives, nothing will change. But if not, this may finally be the long goodnight that started 15 years ago.


12 April 2006

I just had to open my big mouth

Lest you think the power of the Weather Gods is not all-encompassing, note that Mr. Skilling informed us today that when tomorrow's temps cross 70, it will only be the second time since record-keeping began that there's been four consecutive 70-degree days in a row April 10-13.

Why is this significant? I'm lying flat on my ass, on the couch, unable to stomach any food and too weak to even contemplate my planned easy ride this afternoon. Why did I have to get so happy in February that I taunted the Weather Gods?


So Hillboro-Roubaix came and went on Saturday. It wasn't quite as Christmas-y as it has been in the past, what with October so far away, but it was still a pretty big deal, and my first major rendezvous of the year. It was also the first time Andy and I would be facing the big bad Midwest domestic scene together in a road race ...

Thanks to Steve and Gina, we had comfy quarters on Friday night, and I was just keyed up enough not to sleep all that well. But I wasn't overly amped for the race, which I thought was a bit weird ... in light of the past 48 hours being spent in the bathroom, at lot of things (like that) make more sense now.

We rolled out and made it down to Hillsboro, a relatively uneventful trip except for the two (two!) potty breaks I needed. Too much good coffee! Once there we quickly registered and dressed, and watched as Uncle Gary got the new Mack Central tent up and running ...

Every year I've done this race (which is each year of the race except for the first), it's been 90 degrees and sunny. And windy, but hot. This year, we had the sun and the wind, but it was cold! It wasn't even 50 when we were warming up, and it was all we could do to stay out of the cooling effects of the northeast wind, blowing at 20mph+. Was I in the right Hillsboro?

Because of the cold, I ignored the first big warning sign of the day -- when I put on my leg embrocation, my legs felt sore. "That's funny," I thought, but I just chalked it up to being cold and not really having a chance to get warm. I felt OK on the bike, although my legs weren't really "up," and for that matter neither was my mood. I was excited, but that edge seemed to be missing a bit.

On the start line, things didn't get any better, as I felt as if my legs would cramp at any moment. This isn't good when you haven't even turned a pedal in anger at the start of one of the hardest races of the year! I figured I'd just warm up as we rolled along, and I also knew that if I complained about the cold, Uncle Gary would have my a$$ when I tell him I'm concentrating on 'cross this year ... how can a 'cross racer complain about being cold??!

Anyway, we roll out, and through the first lap I am dying. I'm not dead, but I sort of wish I were. Andy is well positioned, exactly where he needs to be (about 15-20 guys from the front), and I'm about 20 guys behind him, too far back but not really caring. In fact, there was one point where I asked myself what exactly I was doing there ... am I really up for a road race like this? But then we hit the gravel road, and I flew up the side of the peleton, finding myself in about 10th position ... yeah, this is where I should be!

I drifted back and forth between about 20th and 40th for the rest of the lap, keeping an eye on Andy. Eventually we hit the cobbled false flat in town, and he drifted back pretty far -- I could tell that he was using a lot of energy and was hurting a bit. A quick word of encouragement, and we were in the tailwind ...

I didn't feel any better the second lap, but thankfully knew the course enough to know where I could conserve and where I needed to go hard. At one point, some dipshit opened a gap and I jumped around him, only to have him corner-dive me and re-open the gap on the next straightaway. Get a frickin' clue! (Of course, this is the same guy who crashed behind me last year, giving our small group a clear shot at sprinting for the last money spots ...)

At some point on the second lap, I looked behind me to only see daylight. Woops! Andy was closeby, so I rolled up to him, told him we were only about 8 guys from the end, and tried to get him to follow me up through the field. We made it up a bit, but by the end of the lap the group had shrunk again, and I saw him going through the feed zone about 5 minutes after we had passed ...

At some point on either lap 2 or 3, ABD put in a massive chase to catch two guys off the front. I hid out for the most part, biding my time as the "selection" was made off the back. It was touch-and-go in one or two places, but thankfully I knew when the rest periods were coming up ...

We finally caught the two guys, and I said to myself, "Self, watch for the counters. This is it." Then I made ROOKIE MISTAKE NO. 1: I didn't move to the front. The counter attacks didn't go right away, instead it was about 5km later -- by that time, one of the two escapees was coming back through the group like a rock, and I got caught behind him for a split second too long. If I had moved up even 10 places when I had that thought, I would have been much better off. D'oh!

Instead, I found myself in a small chase group that swept up a couple of other groups as we rolled the course. Then I made ROOKIE MISTAKE NO. 2: Which, really, is a veteran mistake -- I didn't take our group seriously. I thought we were just rolling it in -- in fact, there was still money on the line! Crap! So as we came to the finish, I let myself get pushed out of the sprint, and instead of finishing in the money I was about 4 spots out of it ... Dipshit myself!

For as bad as I felt Monday and today, and as much as my training has changed, my 17th place at Hillsboro (of 110 or so racers and only 20 classified finishers) isn't too bad. It's roughly where I was last year -- in the same group at least, sprinting for the last money spots -- and I felt much more confident on the bad pavement and in the crazy crosswinds this year. I also sort of felt strong in a couple of places, and wasn't climbing too badly ... maybe there's hope for this road season after all?

The best part is, I'm still learning -- only now I'm seeing my mistakes clear as day, and next time I won't let them happen again!


11 April 2006

Power : Weight

I simultaneously have figured out how to increase my power:weight ratio, increase my VO2 max, climb better, and win the weight-loss challenge at work. According to my scale, I'm 6 pounds lighter than I was yesterday. Too bad it hurts so much to even think about food. Hillsboro report maybe tomorrow.


10 April 2006

Not pretty

Sorry for the lack of Hillsboro update -- I'll post as soon as I am able to type for more than 10 minutes in a row. Have spent the last 12 hours praying to the porcelin god, sleeping on the bathroom floor, and hoping like hell that whatever I've got right now goes away quickly. I haven't been this sick since I got food poisoning almost exactly 2 years ago, and I have no desire to repeat what that was like ... come to think of it, this is almost worse. Ugh.

07 April 2006

He's baaaaaack ...

Check out who rounded out the Top 10 at the Sea Otter Super XC, run off in absymal mud yesterday:


Not too bad for a burnout, albeit one who sports World Champion stripes! Way to go Matt!

And lest we forget that it's a big weekend across the pond too, check out Hincapie's assessment of why he's finally going well:


It's interesting to note that he's racing the Classics about 2-3kg lighter than he has in the past -- he says he's down to his Tour weight already! (75kg = 165lbs.) That may have helped him on Sunday on the Kemmelberg, but it will be interesting to see what it does in Roubaix ... he should be good if only he remembers to eat enough! (I may not have the same power output as George, but I am almost exactly the same size, give or take a kg or two throughout the season -- let me tell you, racing rough terrain like cobbles too light is a horrible experience as your body and bike get battered!)

Mmmm ... chocolate milk

This story has been percolating (pasteurizing?) for a while yet, and I saw this in the latest Bicycle Retailer and Industry News:
Speaking of strenuous exercise, the perfect drink for an elite cyclist hopint to recover may just be chocolate milk. So say exercise-kinesiology prof Joel Stager and co-workers at Indiana University in Bloomington after a study funded in part by the dairy industry. In three trials run at one-week intervals, nine male cyclists performed a strenuous workout, then drank one of three drinks: standard 2 percent chocolate milk, Gatorade, or Endurox R4. After a rest, the cyclists exercised again, this time to exhaustion. The upshot ... wsa that the moo-juicers could continue cycling about 50 percent longer than those who drank Endurox R4 and about equally as long as the Gatorade-guzzlers.

Now, I don't know the specifics of the study, but one thing jumps out at me right away, besides the sponsor: how did they control for quantities? If it was a calorie-controlled study, i.e., each athlete took in the same number of calories from each drink regardless of "serving size," then the study has promise. But if they went off of serving size only, it's not worth the paper it's printed on.

See, here's the problem: a serving suggestion for Endurox R4 is two scoops in 12oz. of water. (I use 2 scoops in 16oz.) That's 280 calories worth of chunky goodness. To hit that same number of calories in 2% milk would require me to drink nearly 20 ounces! That's not an insignificant amount of pretty thick milk (I drink skim regularly), which would also include about 25% more protein and a good amount of fat than Endurox. And for those around me who know I'm mildly lactose intolerant, that much milk is a death knell ...

(For the curious, to reach the same calorie count would require 44.5 ounces of Gatorade. That's a whole lot of fluid to hit your system all at once!)

So I just figure I'll keep doing what I'm doing. I drink Endurox R4 after my rides. I drink Gatorade during my rides. And on those nights when we have breakfast for dinner, I drink chocolate milk. Maybe I can just save a lot of people some money and just have them study me for a while?

The countdown is on: 24 hours from now, I'll be finishing up my pre-race meal (incidentally, it includes Endurox R4) as we watch hapless Cat. 5s drive their cars with bikes on the roof rack into the overhang at the Hillsboro Free Methodist Church. It happens every year, the crunch of carbon and the snap of aluminum as racers jockey for the best parking spots ... I was able to squeeze my short zone 2 ride in last night before it rained, but succumbed this morning and did my pre-race on the trainer in the laundry room. Not real exciting, but I did get to read the chocolate milk story ... all in all, I feel pretty good, and my 4x15min TT efforts on Wednesday night were a lot better than I thought, once I downloaded the power numbers ... BRING IT ON!!


06 April 2006

Rock you like a hurricane!

Check out the list of storm names for 2006 at the end of the article ... CANYOUDEALWITHTHAT?

Five Hurricane Names to Be Retired
By Associated PressApril 6, 2006, 11:03 AM CDT

WASHINGTON -- Never will Katrina be so little missed. Nor Dennis, Rita, Stan and Wilma -- four other hurricane names from last year's devastating storms that have now been officially retired.

Normally six lists of names are used in rotation for storms in the Atlantic-Caribbean-Gulf of Mexico region, but names of particularly destructive storms are retired.

The decision to retire these five names was made by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization meeting in Puerto Rico, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced. They were part of a record 27 named storms and 15 hurricanes that occurred in 2005.

The retired names will be replaced by Don, Katia, Rina, Sean and Whitney.

Some 67 names have been retired since storms were first named in 1953. The first to be dropped, in 1954, were Carol and Hazel. Last year's five is the most retired in a single year.

This year's hurricane names will be: Alberto, Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto, Florence, Gordon, Helene, Isaac, Joyce, Kirk, Leslie, Michael, Nadine, Oscar, Patty, Rafael, Sandy, Tony, Valerie, William. If that number of names suffices.

Mmmmm ... bike porn

Even Gary says he'll switch to STI-style shifters by next year, thanks to this:


We're just over 48 hours from Hillsboro, and the nerves/adrenaline are starting to kick in. I'm excited, but even Bill pointed out last night that I'm much more relaxed than he's ever heard me at this time of year before. I guess I figure I've got nothing to lose -- we're looking at a stacked field (ABD, Mesa, Turin, Indy Velo and all the St. Louis teams are bringing full squads), cooler weather than ever before (mid-50s instead of mid-80s), and I still consider this "base" phase for the real season in October ...

That said, I've been watching DVDs of old Ghent-Wevelgems and Het Volks (courtesy of Andy), preparing myself to fight to the death to make it into the front group, even if I do end up outnumbered and outgunned. Another exciting development is that Andy is flying right now, and if his antics off the front of the Judson ride last weekend haven't taken too much out of him, he may have a good shot at being up there as well. He doesn't have experience in races like these, so it may be a tall order, but he definitely has the power right now ... without a big Mack presence this year, maybe they'll let us stay?

(Last year, several Mesa riders were assigned to specifically tag Mack riders to ensure they didn't make it in the break. How sad is that?)

So I say bring it on! Let the road season begin!

On a not so happy note, up-and-coming American Saul Raisin has experienced some pretty dire consequences from a crash the other day in Europe. The full story is available via VeloNews ... lets keep our fingers crossed that things begin to improve ...


05 April 2006

Don't want to jinx anyone, but ...

... check out the preliminary rosters for the Tour of Georgia, especially Jelly Belly and TargetTraining! Pretty awesome!

It's not bombogenesis, but this could get ugly ...

As the West Coast continues to get swamped, and we at home are getting ready for our seventh outbreak of severe weather this year, I thought I'd bring you this little tidbit published by the Associated Press. (Emphasis added, note the location of this year's 'cross Natz ...):

Weather Experts Predict Busy Storm Season

NEW YORK -- The 2006 hurricane season will be more active than normal but not as busy as 2005, and the Northeast will be hit by a major hurricane within five years, a private forecaster predicted Monday.

Experts at AccuWeather, based in State College, Pa., predicted this year's hurricane season won't quite top last year's record number of named storms and 14 hurricanes.

A normal season consists of 11 named storms, with five or six hurricanes, said Ken Reeves, senior meteorologist and director of the company's forecast operations. The season runs from May 15 to Nov. 30.

The National Weather Service counted 27 named storms last year.

The AccuWeather meteorologists also stressed that the Northeast is overdue for a "powerful hurricane." Weather cycles and above-normal ocean temperatures make it a question of when, not if, they said.

The meteorologists likened current weather cycles and ocean temperatures to those in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, particularly the pattern that led to a 1938 hurricane that struck Providence, R.I., and killed 600 people.

Wind gusted to 186 mph, according to AccuWeather. Surges of 15 to 20 feet and waves of 25 to 50 feet left much of Providence 10 to 15 feet underwater.

AccuWeather said Northeast hurricane damage could rival or surpass that caused by Katrina, which inundated New Orleans and was the costliest storm in U.S. history. The company plans to release a more detailed forecast, including landfall and strength predictions, in May.

AccuWeather serves clients worldwide with forecasts, data, graphics, consulting services and computer equipment.


04 April 2006

Arizona phlog

This is a shot of Superstition Mountain as the sun came up on Thursday morning. This is Kelli's front yard, although they're moving -- what a way to start the day! These are the last of my Arizona photos ...

Gabe provided quite the send-off as I headed out for my ride ...

... and when I came home, my bike wasn't lonely!

Giro helmets have GREAT ventilation! Except once it peels, it looks like dandruff!

We went to dinner at the Mexcan place, and there were real horses out front!

Of course, Grandpa and the boys had to check out the wash next to the restaurant ...

And we had a packed house -- I don't think Gabe nor the dog really minded!


03 April 2006

Hawes Trails

How lucky am I that my sister-in-law has not one, but two 'crossable MTB parks just a short ride from her house? (Not drive, mind you -- there are many more trails out there if I wanted to hop in the car!) What have I been doing for so many years on my road bike?

Speaking of road bikes, this is King Kong. Bush Highway, as it is properly known, winds through the valley on the north side of Usery and goes up and out to meet up with Powers Road -- this forms the far western edge of the Usery Pass Road Race course, and let me tell you, it hurts! Even in training!
Snuggled to the east of King Kong are the trails ... this is a shot of the Salt River dam, looking north with King Kong just off the frame to the left.

This whole area is wide open, with trails criss-crossing and sloping up and down and around the cactii!

This is a pretty typical trail for the area -- at least in the lowlands. You get some great elevation changes, and the berms are built up really well -- perfect for RAILING the corners at speed!

Another shot, just before climbing!

This is a shot of the Mine Loop -- "the" trail in the area. You head over to that ridge, and up and over the saddle to the far side. Then, you cling to the red rock face before plunging down -- trying to avoid open mine shafts on the way! This would be incredible on a 29er, but was a lot of fun on a 'cross bike -- even if I did have to walk some of the steeper drops!

This is a shot of Mesa and Phoenix from high above -- I took the hard way out, which climbed above the valley up the side of the microwave hills before plunging STRAIGHT down again onto the namesake Hawes Road. Unfortunately, development has encroached on some killer terrain, but it looks like most of this area is protected for the future ...


01 April 2006

Cubz with the boyz!

This year, I figured it might be fun to go to a Spring Training game over in Mesa -- the Cubs play just about 40 minutes from the house! So the five men loaded up the truck and headed on over ... Troy, Dad, Gabe, Levi and I.

I hear it was a great pitching duel, but 10 innings with no score was pretty long to be sitting in the sun. If it was a pitching duel, what was this guy doing?

We were really close to the field, and since Gabe decided he liked the green uniforms of the Oakland A's, we had to slink down in our seats a bit ... this was a Cubs home game!

Gabe, Troy and Levi hadn't made it over to Hohokam Park before -- looks like they're having fun!

Here's a shot of Gabe -- that kid has some serious pipes on him! I think the third-base coaches were wondering who was doing all the yelling ...

And here's a shot of Levi ... what are uncles for, except to buy popcorn and ice cream and soda? So Levi decided to have them all at once!

Some car place had a couple of nice trucks on site as a display -- d'oh!

They also had a face thing -- first up were the kids ...

And then the other kids!

Even if we're not baseball fans, you gotta get the Cubs logo shot, right?

And finally, there were these statues out front ... does this shot say a lot about Gabe's personality or what?