22 November 2009

Of John Denver and Waffle House

When I was a kid, my dad got this great career opportunity in Chicago. I still vaguely remember living in California; still remember his trips east to find a home and the cassette tapes he would send back with messages for me, my mom and brother; still remember the journey halfway across the country towing our small trailer up the Rockies.

What I remember most, though, is the music. My dad uprooted our lives, leaving his childhood home, his parents, all of his and my mom’s siblings - everything they knew - to travel to a flat, cold, barren, cornfield-surrounded exurb of Chicago on the eve of the worst blizzard in recent memory. He found solace in the folk country of John Denver, and between repeated listening to his mellow crooning and frequent camping trips to State and National Parks in nearly every state in the Lower 48, my dad instilled in my brother and I a love for the natural beauty that surrounds us and a desire to explore and experience it for ourselves.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that it was also, at its core, a coping mechanism. Making that choice to leave everything behind, taking his two young children away from family, tore him apart, more deeply than I ever knew. Hearing John Denver sing about the Rocky Mountains, country roads in the Blue Ridge and being lost and alone on some forgotten highway was comforting to him, and experiencing those things for himself with his boys helped him through what I’m sure were some of the most difficult years of his life.

So perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised lately that nearly every morning, when I flip on my iPod, I click over to A Song’s Best Friend, the greatest hits of John Denver. From “Leaving on a Jet Plane” though “Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High” and “Sweet Surrender,” I turn introspective, digging deep to look for, as the song goes, “Something I can believe in/Something that I’d like to do/With my life.”

There’s nothing behind me and/Nothing that ties me
To something that might have been true yesterday
Tomorrow is open and/Right now it seems to be more than enough
To just be here today

And I don’t know what the/Future is holdin’ in store
I don’t know where I’m going/I’m not sure where I’ve been
There’s a spirit that guides me/A light that shines for me
My life is worth the living/I don’t need to see the end

See, over the course of the past few months – years, really – Kim and I have come to the conclusion that our future is not meant to take place in Chicago. We’ve known it for some time really, and it has become crystal clear over the past year: For all that Chicago has to offer, our destiny, and the destiny of our daughter, lies elsewhere.

Where that elsewhere might be has been unclear, and it was with very heavy hearts that we shared these thoughts with our families a few weeks back. But it has become time for us to leave, although deciding to remove Kate from the incredible loving environment of aunts, uncles, cousins and especially grandparents has given us pause and more than a few tears, more than once.

I also shared the news with the folks at World Bicycle Relief, and although they were surprised, they have been very generous and supportive, and have helped me create a transition plan that allows me one last go-round with our annual fundraising campaign – our strongest yet, in my opinion. Perhaps the toughest thing so far has been hearing the stories coming back from the Million Dollar Ride, seeing the videos and pictures, and knowing that I will be passing the torch to someone new to take the lead in helping people in need receive simple, life-empowering transportation in the coming years. I’d like to think I’m leaving the organization in a good place for my having been there, and I am excited to see what amazing future marketing, fundraising and programming initiatives they have in store.

I’m excited for what Kim, Kate and I have in store as well - A move to the garden spot of U.S. mountain biking, and the historical cradle of the Forestry movement: Asheville, North Carolina. Surrounded by the Great Smokies, edged by the Pisgah National Forest and transected by the Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville is home to some of the most accessible, most amazing outdoor opportunities anywhere in the world, from the easy access of Bent Creek or Brevard or DuPont, to the incredible views from Chimney Rock or Mt. Mitchell, to the Class II and III rapids on the French Broad, and on and on for miles in every direction. It’s a sportsman’s dream, and I am looking forward to helping Kate come to love and appreciate the beauty that will surround us.

Ashville – or, more properly, the “suburb” of Fletcher – is also headquarters for one of the bicycle industry’s most iconic brands, Cane Creek Cycling Components. You may know them from their past work in wheels, you may know them from their suspension, you may (hopefully!) know them from their core headset products; no matter which way you slice it, you know Cane Creek, and you know that Cane Creek products help make your bike roll, turn, stop and go better and faster. What you may not know is that Cane Creek is based here in the U.S., in the mountains of good ol’ North Carolina no less, and is the home to a small group of people who are passionate about making sure your ride is as great as it possibly can be.

I’ve gotten to know those folks over the past few weeks, and they’ve gotten to know me, and I have been fortunate to receive an offer to join them. So, starting three weeks from now, on Dec. 14, I will become the Director of Domestic Sales for Cane Creek, working to nurture our relationships with distributors and dealers throughout the country. It’s an exciting opportunity for me to re-engage my passions for presentation and relationship building, borrowing from skills I began to develop way back during high school mock-Congress and debate sessions (thank you Mr. Paldauf!). It’s also an opportunity to learn the nitty-gritty of the sales side of the bike business, working alongside some folks who have been in this game for a very long time … and who are also the ringleaders on the daily lunch rides! It’s a good team, focused on one very important goal: Making Cane Creek products and the brand all that they can be.

Yes, it’s bittersweet. It is very difficult to walk away from an organization like World Bicycle Relief, that does so much for so many people, in such a meaningful way. But I plan to stay involved, and I join Stephen Janes, Nolan LaVoie and other World Bicycle Relief supporters in Asheville – heck, even the local IMBA chapter, Pisgah Area SORBA, is holding a silent auction at their holiday party to benefit World Bicycle Relief! Ultimately I need to do what’s best for Kate, Kim and I, and relocating to a place where our lifestyle will be a better match is a critical piece of the puzzle.

Oh! And one more thing: Asheville, being a city in the South, is also home to my version of comfort: Waffle House. I fell in love with the Waffle House experience a few years ago on a World Bicycle Relief trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, and I blame Nolan, Karen, James and the rest of the Blue Ridge School and CRC supporters for getting me hooked. If I hadn’t come to visit them, I would never have become a Waffle House “Regular” …

Before I go, I’d like to leave you with one more thing I take from my father. The story of Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod, and their voyage upon the sea, was often one of the last things I heard before falling asleep each night. Perhaps, after all, it was the image of the three of them, sailing off in their wooden shoe, that set the stage for me to one day embark on a journey of my own, with Blinkin’ and Nod in tow.

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, one night sailed off in a wooden shoe;
Sailed off on a river of crystal light
into a sea of dew.
"Where are you going and what do you wish?"
the old moon asked the three.
"We've come to fish for the herring fish
that live in this beautiful sea.
Nets of silver and gold have we,"
said Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

The old moon laughed and sang a song
as they rocked in the wooden shoe.
And the wind that sped them all night long
ruffled the waves of dew.
Now the little stars are the herring fish
that live in that beautiful sea;
"Cast your nets wherever you wish
never afraid are we!"
So cried the stars to the fishermen three -
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

So all night long their nets they threw
to the stars in the twinkling foam.
'Til down from the skies came the wooden shoe
bringing the fisherman home.
'Twas all so pretty a sail it seemed
as if it could not be.
Some folks say 'twas a dream they dreamed
of sailing that misty sea.
But I shall name you the fisherman three -
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

Now Wynken, Blynken are two little eyes
and Nod is a little head.
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
is a wee one's trundle bed.
So close your eyes while mother sings
of the wonderful sights that be.
And you shall see those beautiful things
as you sail on the misty sea,
Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three -
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

19 November 2009


Be careful out there, especially if y'all are in Asheville...

Former Asheville firefighter pleads guilty in cyclist shooting

Roll Me Away

Big changes on the horizon -- I promise the key to all the cryptic Twitter postings, Facebook notes and blog musings is coming soon. It's kind of a werid place I'm in now, and I find myself being super-introspective ... and listening to music that perpetuates it. I've always appreciated the music of my parents, but I think in the past couple of years I've come to also discover why they chose particular artists, albums -- and for sure, the past few months have seen a lot of John Denver, show tunes and Simon & Garfunkle.

To that I'll add Bob Seger, blasting out of the speakers as I drove to the Boulder Cup USGP races a few years ago. Forever a Midwest boy, Seger's Greatest Hits album pulls his best in a semi-autobiographical mix telling the story of heading West, his rise to fame, changes and his eventual return to his family and his roots. It opens with "Roll Me Away," and as I drove I-80 through Nebraska, I understood with stark clarity the wanderlust that drew him from his Michigan home, his attempts (and failures) to break through and break out, and the need to take on the world for himself, even if that meant being far from home. I, too, took a look down a westbound road and made a choice. And now here we are.

Stood alone on a mountain top/Staring out at the Great Divide
I could go east, I could go west/It was all up to me to decide
And as the sunset faded/I spoke to the faintest first starlight
And I said next time/Next time
We'll get it right

18 November 2009

Time to go?

I don't like Ms. Schmich generally, but I think she's on to something today:

Chicago has a mood problem.

It seems edgy lately, a little sullen and scared, verging on depressed. Some days, it feels more like the angry, confused place I moved to in 1985 than the exuberant city that has swaggered through the past two decades.

Read it all: City's tough year has it feeling blue

17 November 2009

A week?

Has it really been a week since I updated my blog? Crazy!

10 November 2009

Scary stuff

I read with horror the account of Australian cyclist Stuart O'Grady collapsing following a VIP lap on a superbike the other day -- literally, he got off the bike, went to the hospitality tent, and then went into a full-on siezure a few minutes later. Holy crap.

Well, the theory is that the G-forces from the motorbike ride might have caused a lesion on his brain, on account of a prior head injury that hadn't healed. He's had two serious head traumas in the past 10 years -- one bike-related, one a mugging -- and they think there might have been lingering side-effects from one of them.

Whew. That totally took the wind out of my sails. First off, I really like Stuey -- everything I've ever heard about him indicates that he's a stand-up guy. My thoughts are with him as he recovers -- all indications are that he will. But that has to be so scary.

Second, and selfishly, I have to wonder about one of the things on my life to-do list. See, I turn 40 in a couple of years, and I really want to celebrate with a day at a Richard Petty Driving School. I know the cars don't turn as many Gs as the bikes, but I've had more than two head traumas -- way more -- and so a little part of me wonders if it's a good idea. It's been a few years since I bonked my noggin, so hopefully everything is fine ...

03 November 2009

Inspiration redux

So this weekend I held a big-ol' pitty party for myself -- after spending all day Saturday in the office (except for the quick ride home and back for some parts), working and working on my dad's bike, I woke up Sunday and just wanted to go back to bed. I played with Kate for a bit, until she and Kim went out to see Kim's family (doing much better but health issues still lingering -- thankfully no more hospital!), and then, sure enough, I curled up into a fetal position and woke up several hours later.

Then I dragged myself to the couch, and wouldn't you know it? NBC was showing coverage of the NYC Marathon. Paula was just coming apart at the seams, and Meb was just about to drop the WR holder, and, well, I was riveted. Sure, it sucked that they had commercials, but that just allowed me to jump over to the MLS playoff game ...

Anyway, something in my head sort of snapped while I was watching the bizarre split screen images of Central Park. I haven't been feeling well on the bike, nursing some lingering issues from a very long season, but I hadn't yet gotten the gumption to do any other physical activity. Until then. So I laced up, headed out, and had a wonderful 2-mile run to the lake and back.

And then I did it again yesterday, during lunch.

And today? I feel great. I'm ready for NEXT. Not sure what NEXT is, but I'm ready for it. I still have some lingering bike-related things going on, but I know I can work through them with some off-bike rest and relaxation. And with some relatively heavy travel on my plate in the next few weeks, having the option to run is a good antidote to the do-nothing blahs. Who knows? Maybe I'll even get going on some core exercises like Kim?

* Speaking of bike-related issues -- my hand has been messed up since I crashed at Outdoor Demo at Interbike, more than a month ago. I watched as my right hand crashed into a rock, splaying my index finger outward at an odd angle. I don't think it's broken, but I've had swelling off and on around the knuckle where the finger connects to the hand for nearly 5 weeks now. Unfortunately, it gets re-injured every time I shake someone's hand! Anyone have any experience with this? Best way to heal?