31 May 2006

What's next?

Thanks to Chief Hiawatha for confirming my self-assessment. I really think I should start listening to my iPod when I ride, so I stop doing all this crazy introspection. Which is more dangerous -- music in your ear, or dimestore self-psychology?

I seem to have contracted a bit of a cold this weekend -- I thought it was just allergies, but now I'm not so sure. I get really moody just before I get sick, and Monday definitely qualifies, plus I seem to be pretty congested and it's trying to get into my chest ... I skipped my weightlifting workout just in case, but I did ride this morning. The back is still tight, but not any worse for wear. Fingers crossed!

If you had asked me 48 hours ago what was next for me, I would have told you I was ready to pack it in and wait for September. I have a 2-week enforced break coming up, so it wouldn't have been hard to bag the TT I'm signed up for and just ignore the Wisconsin State RR.

A funny thing happened yesterday afternoon, though. I read the flyer for the road race, and its description of "65 miles with hellacious climbs" made me smile. That's when I knew I'm still ready to race my bike.

... still just 200 days to go ...

Insecure

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this past weekend and my performance in the races. That, of course, has led to a lot of thinking about my performance in general, and where I’m at at this point in my career. And I’ve come to a very important realization: I’m insecure.

Not only am I insecure, I take myself way too seriously. That’s a deadly combination in a sport as hard as bike racing, and is a clear recipe for burnout. Thus far I’ve been relatively lucky to avoid that fate (mostly), but I’ve come close to hanging it up on more than one occasion …

On the way home Monday, Andy and I were talking about the local peloton and the people we race against. I consider myself a “tier two” rider – able to place in (and sometimes win) local events, and every once in a while pull out a big result in a larger regional race. The Midwest has a lot of “tier one” riders capable of winning regional events and placing nationally, and even more “tier two” folks like me, fighting for the money spots and minor placings at races like Snakey Alley and Quad Cities.

I find myself judging my results against the tier one guys, as I should – those are the guys I race against. My problem, though, is that I don’t race up to my potential – other tier two guys on the same “level” as me, or even a bit below, somehow manage to sneak into the results while I find myself listed on page 2 or 3, if at all. It’s not because I don’t know how to race – the results I have confirm that I’m not that bad – I think it’s because I’m insecure.

How else to you explain going off the front at Monsters only to sit anonymously midpack at Willy the next day? Or why, at both Melon City and Quad Cities, I just let myself get swallowed up after a great start, getting passed by other tier two and even some tier three guys? I had great legs on Monday, and I’m not sure I ever even breathed hard the entire race – but for some reason, I just didn’t fight it out. And if you look at my race resume, you see that over and over.

The events I “don’t care” about are the ones I do well in. The ones where there is no pressure, and no teammates or director to watch and tell me what to do, or at the very least don’t have any expectations for me. At Proctor last year, I flat-out told Steve that I wasn’t going to ‘race’ in the crit, I was just going to roll around. I ended up in the winning break. This year at GDVC, I was just there to have fun. At Monsters, I was there for a workout.

On the other hand, when Gary or Steve or Robert or anyone tells me it’s “my day,” or that “this is a big team day,” I inevitably screw it up. I can’t say that I choke – I don’t think it’s so dramatic as that – but for some reason I get into some sort of survival mode, and try so hard not to do anything wrong that I mess up what chances I have.

That’s why everyone knows I screwed up my back on Monday. You never see Raby or Tilford or even Crater on the ground, icing an injury during a race. But when I pulled out, I did it dramatically – I wanted Gary and everyone to know that I wasn’t dropping because I was out of shape. I have a history of such actions, and I really think it all stems from insecurity. I don’t want to disappoint, so I have to make sure there’s an excuse. And in the end, it doesn’t really matter, does it? I still didn’t finish the race, even if my legs felt fine.

Ultimately, I put enough pressure on myself that I don’t need anyone else to do it for me. So I’m going to turn it off – the first phase of my road season is winding down, so at the Wisconsin State RR in two weeks, I’m just going to go and get in a good workout. Maybe play off the front for a bit. If I finish or don’t, who cares? I’ve been around long enough, and am strong enough, that just finishing a race isn’t an objective anymore. I need to do something, and do it for kicks. Just to see if it can be done.

And when I come back, and am racing again, I’ll let it all just flow. I can’t care as much as I do, or I will crack. It happened last year, and I’ve still got some lingering emotions from that. I can’t let it happen again. The great thing is, once ‘cross starts, I’m on my own, no expectations and no history. That’s when the fun really begins.

ONLY 200 DAYS TO NATZ!!

30 May 2006

"Back" in the day

Just a quick update before I actually do some work today ...

I finished the road race in 55th, my worst placing since I was a Cat. 3. As I've said before, though, it didn't matter to me, and I wasn't going to make any efforts on Friday.

I ended up 36th at Snake, four back from where I was last year. It's pretty obvious from the results who made it through the carnage on lap 1, and I take some solace from the fact that even former pro riders were just barely in the money, or just out of it. Kind of a frustrating day, but I felt "better" than I did a year ago, and it really was good 'cross training ...

Sunday went pretty well. It was again sweltering, this time topping out at about 93 or 95 degrees. They allowed a feed in this race, which was a godsend -- I went through four bottles in less than 90 minutes. I again felt like dog crap in the early part of this race (getting to be a yearly thing on Sunday), but was better than a year ago ... I let myself get too far back, but never lost contact, and again saw great improvement in my bike handling and awareness over years past. I started feeling better as the laps counted down, and with four to go I was in great position. As expected, we got swamped on the hill with three to go, so I went from top 10 to 35th or so ... I fought like hell on the last two laps, missed the mid-hill pileup as we came into the finish, and rolled in at 26th, four up from last year ... so far, even-steven for the two days ...

Things were not good on Sunday night. Between Snake and Melon City, and packing the car, and sitting in the car, and hauling bags, I did something to my lower back. It started to tighten on Sunday after the race, and despite a healthy dose (overdose) of Aleve, I was having trouble walking by the time we were done with dinner. Kim did a bit of a rub-down, and I stretched as much as possible, but when I woke up on Monday I was hurting. I popped some more Aleve, and went for a morning spin -- I felt OK on the bike, so I figured the race would be alright ...

The temps cooled slightly, down to 87 or so, and I had a fantastic start. But then I started to lose concentration, and let myself slide down about halfway through the pack of 130 -- I was worried about the heat, thinking too much about my back, and at one point even saw lightening off in the distance ... At half-race, I decided to get back into it, and from 25 to go until 15 to go steadily progressed until I was in the top 30 or so. My plan was working, and I wanted to be in the top 15-20 by 10 to go. At 15, I popped a Clif Shot, and as we came around corner six I stood and tried to jam ... nothing. There was no power there. And my lower back muscles twinged. Crap.

I held position for the next lap or two, but after we saw 12 to go, I again tried to stand, and it was game over. My back seized up, I couldn't hold my body position, and I slid out of line and watched the pack roll away. I actually chased for a lap and a half, seated the whole time and suffering all sorts of pain, but finally gave up the ghost and rolled over to the team tent, where Tammy found a bag of ice and Kim gave me some soda through a straw as I laid on the dirty cement since I couldn't sit upright in a chair. That sucked.

My back is still screwed up this morning, but is better, and I can at least move around and sit in my chair at work. I am disappointed, however, and am second-guessing my decision to pull out yesterday ... maybe if I had held position instead of trying to move up ... maybe if I hadn't let myself slide too far back ... maybe ... maybe ...

Truth is, though, yesterday felt super-easy physically (notwithstanding my back), but mentally I just wasn't there. I was having fun during the race, but I knew I wasn't in a position to do anything, and I started to question why I was there. Had I rolled in with the group, my results this weekend would have been more or less exactly the same as a year ago, and although I felt better, can I really say that's an improvement? Especially when my teammate Robert, with only 900 miles in his legs this season, so easily sat in the top 15 all day while I languished in 50th? So when my back locked up, it may have been a bit too easy to sit up, rather than try to push through -- granted, my objectives are down the road, and I probably did my body a favor, but that doesn't mean I'm not at least a little disappointed ...

I feel slightly better when I look at my race resume and see that this is only my third year racing Memorial Day at this level, and I did "feel" quite a bit better than last year. But I have to admit to more than a small bit of self-doubt, wondering why I do this if my results aren't improving. I still sit way too far back in the pack, even if I am better at moving up. Question is, do I care enough to spend the energy to make those moves? Right now, I'm not so sure ...

Hopefully this is all post-race fatigue talking. Probably is. I may race again in two weeks, depending on how my back feels, but either way I have a long vacation coming up with no bike and no racing. And then all of a sudden it's July, and 'cross season is just around the corner ...

That bloated feeling: Remember when I lost 7 lbs. in one day a few months ago? How about gaining 10 pounds in five days? That's right, when I stepped on the scale this morning, I was 10 pounds heavier than I was last Thursday. OUCH! It's all water weight (I hope!), as I drank soda this weekend, took Aleve (which has sodium), and drank a bunch of salted drinks to ensure I stayed hydrated ... still, when I look at my toes, I can see how tubby they are ... water only for the next few days!

ONLY 201 DAYS TO NATZ!!

28 May 2006

The Prophet

Remember when I said Snake was just a big cross race? Well, call me St. Christopher The Seer ...

I got a GREAT start, and was sitting between 12th and 15th as we hit the cobbles. The only other time I started this well in such a tough field was at Natz last year ...

So I was totally on track to be in the money, great position and feeling good ... And 30 feet into the Snake, on lap one, we were all of a sudden back in Providence.

Eight or nine guys got through, but theb 10th wheel, on the left, lost it. He got twisted sideways, taking out the two guys next to him, and forcing those of us with good position to put a foot down. So, just like Providence, my day was over before it began.

I didn't go down, but running up a 12.5% BRICK climb on brand-new Look cleats is not a recipe for success. I went from 15th to 50th in about a minute, and my goal was gone.

The rest of the race was hard, as Burlington suffered through record 90+ deegree heat. The guy who finnally set up the sprayer at the top of the hill was an Angel, while the Devil kept calling me Gary Doering ...

All in all, I am very dissapointed in my 30-something placing, but there was nothing I could have done. Sometimes you do evreything perfect, and it just doesn't work out ... That's bike racing ...

27 May 2006

Counting down

We have 3 hours to go until Snake, and Kim and I just watched UMass upset Maryland in the semifinals of the NCAA lacrosse cships. I am totally phyched - I can't stand MD. UMass played awesome D, and their frosh goalie was unbeatable.

Yesterday was OK, I rode exactly like I wanted to, conserved but was in a couple of moves. I really disappointed Clarke - just when Toyota United massed at the front, Clarke had me on his wheel and was taking me up there ... Well, I decided to sit back, and of course, that was the break ...

I was in a second group with Tilford, who got dropped from the break ... That is how hard it was at the front ...
We got caught, and that was that ...

Anyway, I'm on Crackberry, and my thumbs are getting tired ... On to Snake!!!

25 May 2006

SNAKE ALLEY

I've heard it said that the definition of clinical insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome.

If that's the case, punch my ticket to Bellevue.

This weekend marks the 5-year anniversary since my first race as a licensed Cat. 5 -- the infamous Snake Alley. And year after year, I find myself returning, hoping against hope that things will be different ...

Actually, this year things are different. For the past two years, I've had team obligations to fulfill in Friday's road race, each year taking just a little bit of the edge off my legs for Saturday's suffer-fest. Before that, I was just clueless, plowing my way around the course with gearing that had no business being on my bike ...

This year, though, I'm ready. Snake is basically a 'cross race -- clip in as fast as you can, go like hell for as long as you can, and hang on in the end. There are no tactics, no strategies. That's why the field is as diverse as it is -- this year's start list includes road national champions, pro mountain bikers, and legends beyond their time. And this year, I'm better prepared than I've ever been.

But what's the point? I know I'll never be in the front group at Snake, I'm just a bit too big and a bit too under-powered. But this year, for the first time, I have a legitimate shot of making it into the money -- the coveted top 25 in a field that numbers more than 100. That's my "noble goal" for the weekend. I somehow managed to bully my way to 32nd last year, and if I take it easy in the road race, conserve and rest up, I know I can do better. It'll be a tall order, but I'm lighter than I was and far better prepared mentally. I'm also better rested, not having done a full spring campaign -- all that remains to be seen is whether I'm in as good a shape as I was 12 months ago. And you know what? If not, no worries. There's still four months to go ...

My favorite Snake memory was two years ago, the first time I raced in the Pro field. Jason McCartney, then racing for 7-Up, absolutely shredded the field -- I completed only 7 of the perscribed 20 laps of the race. Thing was, J-Mc had 2 minutes on second place, that early in the race -- I would have lasted at least to the halfway point if he hadn't been there. That's some serious power ... no wonder he was racing the Giro just a year later ...

This is last year's hurt, courtesy of Steve Daggs ...
ONLY 206 DAYS TO NATZ!!

24 May 2006

OK, this is addicting

How about this? Me as Gary Sinise, Steve Driscoll as Formula One star Kimi Raikkonen, and Robert Kron as ... Jackie Chan?!?!?!?!?!

... or maybe not

I have this weird thing going on with the Chicago Tribune. For the past several years, they run features on stuff that is going on in my life -- usually travel stories, but sometimes other news features as well. And we're not talking travel features like Germany for the World Cup -- no, we're talking running stories on St. Louis the week before Gateway, Galena just after Kim and I were there, even the Quad Cities area last May. Very strange!

Anyway, guess what I saw just a minute ago? That's right, a story on celebrity face matching! With a site that will do it for you!

So much for Bull Shannon, hell, I look like Alicia Keys!

TV look-alikes

I showed someone at work the photo of Kim and I from our wedding 10 years ago, and he made an interesting connection ... I was told back in the day that I looked like Jerry from ER:

... and now they say I look like Bull from Night Court!

On a similar note, I hear that Kaylie asks Kari to see photos of me and Kim when their computer is on ... but when Kari showed her the wedding pic, Kaylie said "Different picture!"
ONLY 207 DAYS TO NATZ!!

23 May 2006

Movin' on up

This was me a week ago:


This is me now:


Why the change? I got an office!

I've been with my company for 2 years, and during that time we've built an addition onto our building. That addition included some more space, which meant I was in line to get an office ... with a staff of three, I'll no longer have to give performance reviews in the hallway! Woo-hoo!

I'm trying to not let it go to my head, but I can see how offices are such ego trips. There is power in being able to close your door to yell at someone ... just because you can ...

Sunday's racing went well. The Masters 1/2/3 race was fast -- 44kph average -- and Clarke spent a good deal of time off the front collecting primes before being reeled back in. Once he was, I launched for 3-4 laps, also grabbing some cash, until I too was sucked back in and spent the rest of the race sitting in. Mark McGeen took 4th, so a good day for Team Mack!

The Pro/1/2/3 field was huge, with 99 riders -- and it was Superweek fast. 44.4kph average, and with that many guys it was a slugfest. No crashes, which was surprising, and I went off the front very early before settling in about 30th and working on cornering and pack skills. I love Wheels on Willy, but I'm not going to go balls-out the week before Memorial Day just to move up five places. Eventually my legs decided they didn't want to work any longer, and with 3 to go I hid out and rolled it in.

On tap this week is rest, rest, rest! Easy day yesterday helping a coworker pick out a bike from The Pony Shop, then today I'll hit the Pizza Hut ride at sort-of race effort. Tomorrow easy, Thursday race prep ... and then it's go time! I'm actually looking forward to Snake this week ...

ONLY 208 DAYS TO NATZ!!

21 May 2006

Po-did-lium!

I’ve decided that Andy Anderson is my good-luck charm. I added the GDVC race in Madison to my schedule only because he was headed up there, and likewise I broke my longstanding avoidance of the Monsters of the Midway criterium this weekend because Andy asked me to. And you know what? At GDVC, I won the Masters race, and on Saturday on the South Side, I forced the winning break and took a podium place in the Pro/1/2s!

I’ve always skipped Monsters because a) it was on Mother’s Day weekend, b) it’s a huge, wide-open, fairly boring course, and c) it’s only 45 minutes long, even for the Elite race. I didn’t know what I’d been missing – it was quite a tough 45 minutes!

The order of the day was to watch Team Nerac.com rider Todd Yezefski, formerly of TIAA-CREF and the only pro in the field. He’s also a U of C student, wicked smart, and super talented, as this Windy City Sports feature alludes to. Other than him, ABD had a half squad, with the strong TT riders down at TriPeaks, and Turin had a huge contingent. Unlike in previous years, where 8-10 riders took the line, we had a full peloton!

The action was fierce from the gun, despite the wide-open course and the long headwind section through the start/finish stretch. That meant, of course, that there was a long tailwind on the backside, so one rider after another took their chances to try to create something, knowing they could “rest” before hitting the wind again. Team Mack 40+ ringer, Clarke Priebe, was an animal, covering move after move until he would attack himself, jumping and juking like he was 20 years younger.

I tried my hand on a couple of occasions, creating a couple of small breaks, one of which lasted for a few laps (see below). Each was pulled back in turn until the midpoint of the race, when head Macker Gary Doering grabbed me from the back, told me to get on his wheel, and LAUNCHED me into turn 1 after a long drag up the frontside headwind. It was the perfect move, and I was away!

I dug hard on the tailwind, around turns 2, 3 and 4, and into the headwind realized I had a passenger from ABD. I motioned for him to come through, but it wasn’t going to happen … before too long, we had been joined by Yezefski himself and local powerhouse Scott Pearson – was this going to be a repeat of Parkside? We had the legs, we had the gap, and the race was on!

On such a wide open course, I really didn’t think we had a chance. Our lead snuck up to 15-16-17 seconds, but as time wound down, Turin put in the chase – it was going to be close! The ABD rider sat on the entire time, never taking a pull, while Todd, Scott and I traded pull for pull despite the wind and the effort. Eventually Clarke somehow bridged and took two MONSTER pulls just as I was dying, giving me an excuse to sit out for a few seconds and regain some composure … I pulled through hard, and as I drifted back realized Clarke had blown … I was on my own again …

Four to go, and it was going to be close. Three to go, and Pearson began to sit in. With Todd trying to encourage us to a breakaway finish, Luca Fagundes from ABD sitting on and refusing to work, I just wanted to stay away and avoid cracking – I didn’t want a repeat of Proctor last year! Todd grabbed the ball, and just drilled it pull after pull … at one point, I looked down at my PowerTap, and saw 353 watts – and I was DRAFTING in a TAILWIND!!! With two to go, he and I were trading pulls as the gap came down …

Who would have thought I’d have to bundle up this much to ride to work in May?

This is the start of the Elite race, with Todd Yezefski on my left and John Puffer from ABD on my right. That’s some serious leg power…

This was the break with Trevor Listor from Turin. We thought we had a chance, until they started throwing money at the pack to catch us!

This is the winning break; at this point, Clarke had bridged and was giving me a much-needed rest. Whew!

This is corner 4 with one or two laps to go … check out the pack right behind - it was going to be close!

In the end, our ABD passenger jumped and took the win, with Todd accelerating away and Pearson cracking. I’m in third place here, digging deep on one of the longest finishing straights I’ve ever seen … the line just couldn’t come fast enough as the peloton was eating us up! John puffer is just over our shoulder to the right of the picture, coming fast and ready to throw his bike in the sprint …

And this is the finish, as Luca cradled his arms (one on the way?), Todd took second, and I just barely held on for third by a tire width over Puffer! It’s not quite vindication for last year at Proctor where Puffer helped crack me in the break, but it felt pretty good when I found out that they only paid three places!

So it was quite a race, as I finished on the podium of an Elite race for the first time in a long time. I’ve been knocking on the door for quite a while, often in the top 5-10, and I have to say it feels pretty good! It was cool, too, when Todd recognized that he and I were doing most of the work at the end, so it wasn’t like I was just waiting for the podium to come to me … I owe a BIG thanks to my team, with Clarke covering all the early moves and making a key bridge when I needed it, Gary for reading the race just right and springing me for the break, and Andy for some serious blocking – that’s a hard job, and to do it for so long against a very determined Turin team had to take some doing! Also a big thanks to Kim for taking such awesome photos. Thanks to all!!


I have seen the future: Former Macker and SRAM employee Mike Macedon has entered the Star Wars realm – he is now riding Force, SRAM’s new road gruppo . Wow. I didn’t get a chance to try it out, but from the looks of it, SRAM has a winner on its hands … now I can’t wait to go 10 speed!

Class act of the day: For all the negative racing, there was at least some class in the race. We had a three-man break going early on, with me, Trevor Listor from Turin, and one other rider. As we worked to get established, they called out a $20 lap prime – Trevor proposed that the three of us split the kitty, and we all pitched in a bit to keep the break going. Trevor pipped me at the line to take the cash, and when they called a $40 prime on the next lap the writing was on the wall – we might have split the $60 total if we had stayed away, but ABD’s John Puffer had other ideas. In the end we got caught, but despite that, Trevor stopped by after the race and offered to split the $20 anyway. That’s a class move from a classy rider.

ONLY 210 DAYS TO NATZ!!

19 May 2006

Happy birthday!

Birthday wishes going out to Dan Brown ... no, not that Dan Brown, but Dan Brown the running/riding/tri stud who lives in the Western 'burbs. How ironic is it that DaVinci Code comes out today?

Speaking of namesake birthdays, a big birthday wish to Lou Kuhn as well -- owner and leader of the awesome crew at The Pony Shop in Evanston ... I did a Google search for a photo of Lou, and could only come up with this doctor in Germany ...

HAPPY B-DAY!!
ONLY 212 DAYS TO NATZ!!

18 May 2006

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away ...

It wasn't love at first sight. In fact, the first time Kim and I met each other, I was being a jerk about an ex-girlfriend, and she refused to follow my directions home from Milwaukee. But then, a couple weeks later, we were on a campout together, and since everyone else there were couples, we were left with each other ...

I still remember the line I used: "What's the deal with marshmallow fluff?" Not very original, but somehow, some way it worked -- I've never been very smooth when it comes to relationships, but there was something magical about that night, and I still remember when I started holding her hand, when we had to rearrange the sleeping bags because we had water pouring into the tent, and how it felt to crawl out into the campsite the next morning only to find that we were the only ones who braved the storm.

We were married 2 years, 10 months later, at 2:10 p.m. on May 18, 1996. Ten years ago today. You know how they say "the more things change, the more they stay the same"? Well, for us, that's just not true. Everything has changed. I flipped through our photo album to pick out a couple of shots, and I came across faces I haven't seen in 10 years, and faces I will never be able to see again. Photos of us tell the story: we were very different people then. We all were; hell, the world was different. But every time someone asked me why I wanted to get married so young, I always said the same thing: "I have a lot of life left to live, and I want to experience it with Kim."

Since then, we've been on an amazing roller coaster of a journey. And you know what? Through it all, we've braved every storm together. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Happy anniversary Kim. These first 10 years have been amazing, and I can't wait to see what the next decades may hold. I love you.


This is us at our rehearsal. Who ate Kim's fiancé?

Throwing the garter -- the reception was not one of my finest hours. And yet, she stayed with me ...

How is it that Kim looks so happy next to my sour puss? I realize now just how lucky I was!

17 May 2006

Long overdue

By the way, a long overdue welcome to the blogging world to Christina Miller, one of my oldest and dearest friends. (I can say oldest because she pointed out that she's younger than me last week ... I'll just say "not by much!") I've known her since 7th grade -- how many people can you say you've known that long, outside of your family? Especially since we met at summer camp, and our homes were 2+ hours away from each other!

I couldn't help but think of her when I heard Poison and Cinderella were on their way here for a 20th Anniversary show ...

Check out ... and then there were 5 ... for a humorous look at life with three little ones, two of them twins! She and Tom definitely have their hands full -- their oldest, Brodie, is already memorizing lyrics to Beatles tunes, and can apparently name the track number of songs from CDs they listen to ...

Crazy week

This has been one of the crazier weeks on the books ...
  • Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes. The b-day was great, my aunt was in town from California and it's always fun to see her. Plus we got to visit Kim's family and mine for Mother's Day, so we got to run around with Kaylie (she INSISTED on going for a bike ride in the rain!) and see CJ crawl (he's been monkey-scooting). And I got great leftovers from my birthday dinner at Buca di Peppo's.
  • This week has been crazy at work, with the business wanting one thing and my boss wanting another. For a great indication of how I feel, check out Renee's blog ... at least I don't have to track the use of staples and pens. Oh! And I finally get an office tomorrow!
  • Tristan Schouten has been off-and-on blogging about how "ghetto" it is in Racine these days. As bad as it might be, I think we of the ChiCrossCup can one-up him in a big way: Our state championship cyclo-cross course has people living on it! Not near it, but on it! I went down to Montrose last night, and there's a small tent city on my favorite part of the course. They've got chairs set up and everything -- I sort of felt strange riding through someone's living room.
  • Kim's in Vegas for work until tonight. I wish I could say I've been living the bachelor life, but it's been kind of sad -- last night I rode, came home, ate, went to bed about 9:30, only to get up at 4:30 this morning so I could fit in my ride before the storms blow in this afternoon. In the meantime, I've done laundry, emptied the dishwasher and taken out the trash. My mom would be shocked and awed at how domestic I've been.
  • Tomorrow's the big day ... at 2:10 p.m., Kim and I will celebrate 10 years of marriage. Dang. Hard to believe -- but very glad to have made it!

ONLY 214 DAYS TO NATZ!!

15 May 2006

Shifting gears

We were out in the 'burbs (aka The Land of Make Believe) yesterday for Mother's Day, and as the afternoon wore down I found myself parked on the couch channel surfing to see if Kim's aunt had OLN. Along the way I flipped past ESPN2 and its coverage of the NHRA National last weekend in Atlanta ...

After subjecting the in-laws to the last 8km of the awesome Giro stage (at one point, the heart rate ticker showed one guy at 93% of his max going just 19kph!), I turned the remote over to my father-in-law, who promptly switched back to the drag racing. I started packing our stuff, not really paying attention until I heard something I couldn't quite grasp at first -- Marty Nothstein had just won his first NHRA National race!

Marty Nothstein? The "Blade?" WTF?

Sure enough, Nothstein has figured out how to shift gears (quite literally) just in time to take on his second season on the funny car circuit. They did an interview with him, and he's lost a lot of weight -- even more than before, he looks like an older version of Chris Mosk from The Pony Shop (Mosk is in the middle, white shirt). Seems he's doing OK for himself, except that he made it through qualifying only to have his team take off when the first drops of rain started falling ... without telling him! D'oh! When the track dried, he was left with a DNS ...

I just have one question -- he does know that "top fuel" means something different in motorsports, right?

ONLY 216 DAYS TO NATZ!!

13 May 2006

Of course, *everybody* knows ...

From cyclingnews.com today (emphasis added, of course):


A final note: Belgian cyclo-cross team Fidea will also come to Japan, with world cyclo-cross champion Erwin Vervecken and Bart Wellens. Although there are no muddy roads in the Tour of Japan for them, everybody knows that an excellent cyclo-cross rider is also an excellent road rider. Will they be a dark horse for the Japanese race? Veel succes!

Good luck to Garrett Peltonen, riding the Peace Race with a huge hole cut in his saddle (I think he grew a "Ross?"). Also to Wes, down Arkansas way for Joe Martin ... And of course to all the local folks, including Andy up in Wisco for the Muskego crit ... back to racing in 1 week!

Oh, and Happy Mother's Day to all of you out there with little ones! We get to play Aunt and Uncle a lot this weekend, and of course spend time with our own moms. Happy Mom Day!


ONLY 218 DAYS TO NATZ!!

12 May 2006

Happy birthday Tootie Ramsey!

(Da na na na na na) ... You say it's your birthday!
(Da na na na na na) ... It's MY birthday too yeah!
(Da na na na na na) ... You say it's your birthday!
(Da na na na na na) ... Happy birthday to you!

Big old birthday wishes also to: Florence Nightingale, Katherine Hepburn, Burt Bacharach, George Carlin, Yogi Berra, Emilio Estevez, and ME!

So get out there an celebrate International Nurses Day and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Day ... if you've ever known a nurse pulling a double shift, you know that the two sometimes go hand-in-hand!

ONLY 219 DAYS TO NATZ!!

10 May 2006

Look who went local

Check out the results from the first WORS race of the year -- Erik Tonkin in the house! I bet he wasn't on his 'cross bike though ...

And here's a link to why I may never race MTBs ... click on the overall results for Sport and Comp. 243 Sport finishers and 141 Comp. Holy crap! That's a lot of traffic! I suppose it would be good practice for Natz though ...

Uh, oh -- this can't be good

I did a road ride last week that took me past the entrance to the singletrack at Skokie Lagoons -- I've never visited the Lagoons outside of 'cross season, and was surprised to see a giant bulldozer sitting there! I was on my road bike, and could only go about 100 meters into the forest -- the bulldozer had driven through the small tree opening and laid tracks down on the path ...

I asked Lou about it, but none of us have been on the trails since last winter -- as fun as the trails are, the Lagoons are essentially a giant retention pond, and drainage is horrible. It hasn't rained that much this spring, but our guess is that the trails aren't in good shape yet, so we've avoided going down there.

Then, this morning on my way to work, I took the bike path from Highland Park that passes on the opposite side of the Lagoons. And there, just at the point where the island with all the good trails is at its widest (and where the far end of the big singletrack loop is located), and where the bike path veers away from I-94 enough to make it quiet, I could hear the distinctive sounds of construction over in the vicinity of the trails.

I know there are some illegal BMX/MTB jumps back there that kids have built up over the years. But this was the sound of heavy machinery (the bulldozer?), and getting a rig to the "aircraft carrier" or some of the other structures just to tear them down would require an amazing amount of de-forestation ... so what's going on? I can only hope it's something out of the Holy Grail, and the next time we head in there we encounter a giant Trojan Rabbit ...

I'm on my road bike today, so no chance to get in there to find out. Tomorrow may be a possibility, if it doesn't rain tonight and wash out the trails even more. If not, maybe Friday morning I'll do my easy ride over there. I'm curious to know what's going on, and what better way to find out than on a 'cross bike?

ONLY 221 DAYS TO NATZ!!

08 May 2006

Orlando

No update today, and probably not tomorrow (Tuesday) either. I'm in Orlando, Florida, right now, which is trying to do its best to immitate Southern California with brush fires shutting down freeways and stuff. This conference center is surreal, it's so huge that you have to walk almost a mile to get from one room to the other -- on the same floor!

Awesome ride at Rock Cut on Sunday. Stuf that scared me 6 months ago, before I went to Palos, was nothing. They have serious erosion problems there though -- the trails at Palos are in much better shape. I know the Trail Crew does a boatload of work, and I even got to ride on a new trail they just opened, but the ground isn't as firm as Palos and is pretty sandy in a lot of spots, so some of the long downhills (the elevation changes there are pretty long) have serious ruts right down the middle of the trail. Good 'cross practice though, with the sand and sone knarly log crossings (the ones they didn't cut out over the winter).

Think it would be fun on a mountain bike?

Oh, and I fell off the wagon a bit tonight. They had both espresso and coconut petit-fours at the function we had for work, and I just couldn't pass them up after missing out at the wedding last weekend (they were gone before I could get to them.) Wow, definitely worth the wait. Snake Alley is going to hurt just that much more ...

ONLY 223 DAYS TO NATZ!

05 May 2006

MTB-curious

I'm coming out of the closet. I think it's time, and it's been building. I'm not ready to fully commit yet -- the budget doesn't allow for it -- but I'm finally admiting it to myself, and now to the world: I'm MTB-curious.

It really hit home today when I popped open VeloNews.com, and instead of clicking on the ubiquitous Giro d'Italia preview featuring a close-cropped Paolo Bettini, I went straight for the write-up of the NORBA opener about to take place in California. Maybe it's because my family is from the region around Fontucky, and I know the area, but I think it's more than that. (Kim hates it when I tell people I'm from California, but truth is, I was born about 20 miles from the location of this weekend's race. The Redlands road race runs through my uncle's neighborhood. My grandfather is in Riverside, and my aunt's family is in Corona. And yes, there are some killer mullets up there!)

See, in the past couple of weeks, I've noticed something very curious: Roadies aren't very good bloggers. Mountain bikers, on the other hand -- and especially those who also race 'cross -- are much more inclined to put their thoughts into web form, and are usually much more entertaining when they do. They're also more regular with their updates, and so over time I've developed a "relationship" with riders like Tristan Schouten, Nick Martin, Todd Wells, and others. I've read stories about killer gravel road races in Iowa. I've encountered Pentabike (awesome logo, by the way).

Between web browsing at work and marathon trips to Palos, I've started to ask questions. Just what is this suspension you speak of? If the Alpine Valley stage of Stupidweek is so hard, just how difficult is an MTB race at the ski mountain? How awesome is a whole, self-contained series that visits various points in the Northland each year, now in its 15th year?

I think it all started when I first saw Off-Road to Athens. All of a sudden, these men and women who were hiding in the trees had voices, and faces, and skills. I began to understand the beauty of clinging to an off-camber trail on the side of a volcano only barely wide enough for your tires. Coupled with a newfound obsession with 'cross, I now found myself dreaming of log hopping and trail riding instead of time trialing and high-speed cornering. Even the way I approach my web surfing has changed -- in the past, with road opponents, I read their blogs and web accounts in an attempt to find their weaknesses. Now, even with guys I will face head-to-head, I read more for enjoyment and fun, reveling in the freedom that being deep in the woods, lost beyond belief can bring.

I still take myself WAY too seriously to yet become a full-fledged mountain biker. (No, please, don't disagree. Really. I know of what I speak.) But the seed has been planted, and who knows? Maybe after another season of killing myself on the 'cross fields of the Midwest, 26-in. tires may just be in my future. (But then there's 29ers ...)

ONLY 226 DAYS TO NATZ!!

04 May 2006

Der Zug ist in die Dusche!

Our tickets have finally arrived! They came via DHL yesterday, and now it's official -- we're going to a World Cup game!

Eight years ago, in a "carpe diem" sort of moment, Kim and I went to the very first Chicago Fire soccer game at Soldier Field. (The real Soldier Field, not that thing by the lake that's there now.) That night changed my life -- I was so inspired by the Fire goalie, Zach Thornton, that I decided now was the time to get in shape -- and soccer was the way to do it.

That was the summer of the World Cup in France, and I even used it to quit smoking -- for one very long weekend in June (the 19th-20th-21st to be exact), I locked myself in our one-room apartment in Berwyn with videotape after videotape of Spanish-language games, vowing not to leave until I got all the nicotene out of my system. We didn't have cable, so tapes off of Univision and Telemundo were all I had -- hour after hour I watched the best football players in the world do battle, and with each passing match my body rid itself of more and more toxins. By the end of the weekend I wasn't cured, but I was well on my way to a new life. (Ironically, I even learned a bit of Spanish along the way ...)

Kim and I played that whole summer, and attended every single Fire game, and eventually I took up running to make myself a better player. Each day we became more healthy, and more happy, until by the next spring I was actually running in my first race! Through all the craziness, all the changes that happened during that time, we stayed the course to become the people we are today, a far cry from the people we once were.

I also made myself a promise: if Germany were ever awarded the World Cup, we would do our utmost to get there. When it was announced a few years ago, I was psyched -- it may not have been the most political of choices, but by god, Deutschland was getting the World Cup! And we were going!

Tickets were awarded by lottery, and I bid on the cities we most wanted to visit. We eventually got in, our trip is planned and booked, and we finally got the match tickets yesterday!

Leipzig isn't the garden spot of the country, and the match is Iran vs. Angola (we're going to dress as Canadians that day) -- but we're there for the atmosphere, and to see the country of Kim's ancestors. We're spending several days in Berlin, a few in Heidelberg, Innsbruck and Salzburg (Austria), and a couple in Munich before coming home after two weeks. No bikes, no daily plan, just a general idea of everything we want to see in these beautiful cities ...

In the meantime, Kim has picked up some basic German language tapes, and we've been listening to them in the car. I'm still good with most of the vocabulary (after 10 years of study in high school and college), so I'm having more fun making stuff up, and messing with Kim as she tries to learn. That's why the title of this blog is "the train is in the shower" -- it sounded better than "the young lady is on the tracks!"

ONLY 227 DAYS TO NATZ!!

03 May 2006

Jackpot!

I'm such a dork. Those of you who know me, know that I eat pretty much the same thing for lunch every day. Yogurt, a Clif Bar, and a South Beach Diet bar. The only thing that varies is the flavors.

Today I hit the jackpot: Raspberry yogurt, Maple Nut South Beach, and Chocolate Almond Fudge Clif. My three favorites all in one day. Yeah baby.

USAC

For those of you interested, I have posted a couple more thoughts in the comments section of the last entry, mostly in response to comments from others. To everyone, I will repeat what I said last week: I will leave the immigration debate to those who have more at stake, more immediately than I. My blog entry had nothing to do with illegal immigration, or the burden on society, or anything like that -- I was trying to make the point that if a Spanish-language "Star Spangled Banner" pisses off Joe Voter enough, much-needed immigration reform just may happen. This country is made great by all its influencers, and peaceful change, with input from all sides, is how we ("Americans") get things done.

... and now for something completely different ...

Looks like USAC finally got their 'cross clarifications published in HTML. Whew. I was getting worried! It even made it to cyclingnews.com ...

This also prompted a fun discussion on the NE Cross listserve. Actually, someone was asking about the dates for Natz (duh, just check my site!), it morphed into questions about categorizations. AH-M answered a few folks:

I wrote the blueprint for USAC, but I take no responsibility if it bombs.

As for what promoters can do with their races, it's completely up to them what cats to combine, just like it is on the road. However, my recommendations to USAC included the following suggestions:

At local races, the Men's A race would be pro/1/2/3, the B race would be 3/4, and the C race would be 4.

At UCI races the Elite race would be Elite (pro/1), the B race would be 2/3, and C race is 4.

In this way, someone who's a cat. 2 'cross rider can race B's at UCI races and A's at smaller ones, just as they do on the road. Most of the NRC races on the road are P/1, with a separate cat. 2 race. (ed. note: Not NRC races in the Midwest!) This is the same approach.

For the women, the same rules apply. In a local race, the A women's race is 1/2/3, and the B race is 4 only. At a UCI race, the Elite race is 1/2, and the B race is 3/4.

Of course, all you have to do is take out a UCI Elite license to race in the elite men's and women's races.

I also agree that the Masters A races should be 1/2/3, and B races should be 4. That's a great suggestion, and one we're using for the Verge Series this year.


He also responded to my question about Natz qualifications:
Not to my knowledge. I don't think that discussion has happened yet.

And finally, my favorite e-mail from him yesterday, in response to a questioner asking about how promoters will approach being able to use more barriers this season:
... I plan to tackle the barriers the way I always have: at full speed, slightly out of control, dressed in spandex.

ONLY 228 DAYS TO NATZ!!

02 May 2006

Hey man, look at me rockin' out ...

... I'm on the RADIO!

I've gotten back into listening to morning radio in the past couple of weeks, mostly because the Tom and Lisa Morning Show on 95.1 FM WIIL ("95 WIIL Rock") is a lot of fun. They keep things pretty light-hearted, and it's obvious that the cast and crew get along really well ... it's broadcast out of Kenosha, and like so many things out of southeast Wisconsin/northeast Illinois, they're like their own little community, having gone to high school together and hanging out and working together for a couple of decades. Oh, and they play good "angry music" in between all the hijinks (including Disturbed's "Just Stop" this morning, perfect for the subject matter!).

Well, this morning Tom decided to get heavy, and took on the Spanish "Star Spangled Banner." His point was that it was a sign of respect, and he tried valiantly to keep the discussion wholly separate from the immigration debate currently going on. I think it took a lot of guts for him to take this stand -- this is Kenosha, after all -- and he was dutifully taking his licks from all the red-blooded, red-necked "Americans" who picked up the phone and dialed in.

When I was about halfway to work, some guy called in and asked "What language is the Constitution written in?" Tom tried to set him straight, explaining that there is no official language, until the guy went down this strange path about the French and German constitutions not being written in English. When Tom tried to explain that a lot of folks in France and Germany (India somehow made it into the conversation too) speak English, the caller was incredulous, disbelieving that people in other countries bothered to be multi-lingual.

This hit two of my hot-button issues with "Middle America" -- one, an education system that doesn't start multilingual learning until students are 13 or 14, and makes a mockery of it by only mandating 2 years of a "foreign language;" and two, a huge chunk of the U.S. population who thinks everyone in the world is just as xenophobic and closed-minded as they are, and who refuses to believe that someone in Europe or India speaks better English than they do. WAKE UP, dude, THE WORLD IS PASSING YOU BY!

So I had to call. I wore out the redial button on my cell phone, getting a busy signal over and over again. At one point I got through, but it just rang and rang so I gave up, thinking it was a phone-company mixup. D'oh! So I tried again, and vowed to let it ring until I got to work ... just as I pulled into my parking space, Tom himself picked up the phone!

So if you were listening at about 8:26 this morning and heard a guy tell Tom he had a lot of guts, and say that both France and Germany have legal language requirements but that -- as in the case of France -- that can lead to stagnation and a lack of influence in the global community, and that a lot of folks in other parts of the world speak better English than most of the people you meet on the street, and that one of the things that makes the U.S. a good place to live is its ability to assimilate the best of all cultures ... that was me! I was nervous as all get-out, and when I hung up I was shaking, but I think I was pretty clear and fairly concise ... at least I hope I didn't sound like a dork!

Of course, the next caller started by asking Tom "What universe did you wake up in this morning?", so there's a good chance my points were lost on a lot of the listenership ...

Speaking of France: Check out the Top 10 at the Trophée des Grimpeurs ("Climber's Trophy") from last Sunday! This is a pretty prestigious UCI 1.1 race that has seen some major players take the win in the past ... and coming in 10th among all the Jacques and Jean-Lucs was Wisconsin's own Garrett Peltonen! His teammate Karl "Ten" Menzies took 7th, and there's a good account on Garrett's blog. That's a pretty impressive way to start a European campaign! Congrats!

ONLY 229 DAYS TO NATZ!!

01 May 2006

Funniest moment

I just remembered the funniest moment from this weekend's ride at Palos. Kim and I were on one of the trails, just coming off some singletrack. This guy on an MTB, riding with his buddies, sees my 'cross bike and says:

"Dude, you're brave."

Kim, riding a fully rigid "hybrid" bike (not an MTB, more like a 'cross bike with straight bars and road brakes instead) gets all pissed off that I'm "brave" and she got nuthin'. So we spent the rest of the ride trying to figure out if I was brave because I was on a 'cross bike or if I was brave for bringing my wife out there on a fully rigid hybrid bike and making her jump logs ...

Happy May Day!

What's not to love about a pre-Christian, Pagan holiday dedicated to fertility and procreation? Oh, yeah, and socialist/communist worker's rights too (but that came much later). HAPPY MAY DAY EVERYONE!

Awesome weekend down in the south suburbs -- Kim's cousin Andrea got married in a castle across the street from Palos. It was a beautiful ceremony and a fun reception -- she and Adam have a long and happy life ahead of them!

We got down there early on Saturday for Kim's first time at Palos. We beat the rain, and had an awesome time doing a couple of loops together before I headed out on my own. Kim was a total rock star, cleaning terrain that I've seen stymie grown men! The best was when she miffed a log crossing on Out and Back, went down super-hard into the dirt, got up, (was obviously a bit disoriented), looked at me and said -- deadpan -- "I'm not sure I did that right." Then, 10 minutes later, she asks me if we can take the harder trail on the way out of the parking lot!
It was goofy in a married-almost-10-years kind of way that we both wore Pony Shop jerseys ... most days I'm really not into looking "cute" out on the trail ...
I got a couple of good shots of the trail system -- there's water off the trails in some places that have created these wicked-looking swamps. Very cool!
The trails were in good shape, and it was a lot of fun to get out there and mix it up -- just by showing Kim around, I found a trail I hadn't been on since January!

Sunday dawned rainy and windy, so I headed over to Waterfall Glen instead. The crushed limestone there isn't super-bike friendly when it's wet (and definitely not very clothes friendly!), but it was fairly sheltered and nice and hilly. I called Kim and her sister Kari when it wasn't raining and told them it was perfect ... of course, by the time they got there it had started raining even harder! But they headed out anyway, and the three of us had a nice ride. I was impressed that neither of them had a bad thing to say, despite the nasty conditions -- even I cut my ride short!

Back at the hotel, it was fun to have Kaylie supervise the bike cleaning until she got too cold ... and then it was off to my family for CJ's 1st birthday -- never a dull moment!

Maybe that's why I turned the alarm clock off in my sleep this morning?

ONLY 230 DAYS TO NATZ!!