30 August 2012

'Nuff said


From the house: 191 > School House > Old Turnpike > Kimsey > SMR Rd. > Whitaker > NMR Rd. > 1206 > 5000 > BRP > 816 (needed water) > BRP > 215 > Indian Creek > 475 > US 276 > US 64 > Glade Creek > Old Hendy > Crab Creek > Talley/Pleasant Grove/River > Big Willow > Willow > Finley Cove > Hebron > Laurel Park Hwy/5th Ave > Blythe > 191

All so I might get one of these in a couple of weeks.



22 August 2012

Character builder

Across the street.

I saw the dog first, then the man. They emerged from the bushes downhill, ahead of me and slightly to the right. I had been dreading this day for most of the year. I let go of the handle, and the lawn mower slowed itself to a stop.

I pulled off my glove and steeled my nerves. "Hello!" I waved, and as I walked toward him, I offered my hand. "My name is Chris."

"Hello, Chris, my name is Dennis, and this is my dog, Tyler."

I knealt down and patted the golden retriever on the head, certain that I'll forever make the mistake of calling him Tugboat. "Hello there, Tyler."

Dennis -- and Tyler -- live in the house that's across the street and just downhill from mine, and so carry responsibility for the small piece of land on which we stood. This 8-foot-wide strip of grass abuts the road and has a stop sign, and is separated from his house by a hedgerow some 6 feet tall; though it belongs to his property, it could easily be forgotten.

For me, however, it is the first thing I see when I pull out of the driveway each day, and earlier this year I grew tired of the flowering grass and weeds which had reached knee height. Now, I hate mowing -- hate it with a passion, and am very allergic to grass -- and I specifically chose a house that would require the bare minimum of lawn care. Instead, I found myself dragging 200 feet of extension cord across the street -- still plugged into the outlet on our driveway light -- and cutting someone else's weeds every couple of weeks. This was my mower, my electricity, my time.

Needless to say, I wasn't happy about it.

At first, I wasn't sure the house was occupied. But then a few weeks ago, just before Wausau, I could hear a dog behind the bushes, and was pretty sure they were home while I was out there cutting their lawn. But they didn't appear, so I never met the folks living there, never once had an inkling that they even knew the grass was theirs. So I went on cutting, muttering under my breath each time, too stubborn to walk over and knock on their door. I took to calling it my "Agenda 21 mandate;" my thankless sacrifice to our home owner's association.

Saturday was particularly epic: it's been a few weeks since Wausau, and we've had our first appreciable rains of the season. Each blade was heavy with dew, and the crab grass was 4 feet tall if it was an inch. I was fighting for every foot, lifting the mower up and over, dragging it back and forth, stopping to clean it out every other pass. It was slow going, and despite the cool, early-morning temperature I was sweating behind my dust mask. I wanted to be done, I had other things to do, and it was taking four times longer than it should.

And then I saw the dog.

Even though I believed I was doing this guy a favor, I was nervous. This is North Carolina, after all, where even so much as stepping on another man's property can get you shot. And here I was, halfway through the year, cutting his grass by trespassing every so often. He would have been well within his rights to tell me to piss off, to mind my own business.

I needn't have worried.

"I want to thank you," Dennis said. "I've been trying to figure out who has been cutting this all year; I figured the county sure wouldn't. I really appreciate that you're out here."

Dennis, you see, is a cancer survivor. The chemo required to treat him had nearly destroyed his bladder, and when he began renting the house in March, he knew he'd be unable to keep up with the lawn care, meager as it is -- the surgery needed to keep him alive prevented him from doing anything physical. His next-door neighbor has been helping his wife with the front yard, but this back part was a bit too much. And so it sat, unless I was home to cut it.

We chatted for a few more minutes, and like the good Southern gentleman that he is, Dennis was able to get more information from me than I from him. Still, I learned enough to know that he's got a pretty interesting backstory, and it turns out we have some acquantances in common over in Columbia, South Carolina. It is indeed a very small world.

And that was that. Dennis shook my hand one more time and told me thanks, I patted Tyler on the head, and they disappeared behind the hedgerow. I put my gloves back on, moved the electrical cord out of the way, and fired up the blade.

There was a lawn to be mowed.

17 August 2012

Everything hurt

Image stolen from here:  http://outdoordestination.org/hike/bearwallow

I finally got the break I needed.

But holy cow, that hurt.

After a full week and a half off the bike, I started back easy last week. My plan was a couple of easy rides, then a few more over the weekend at Southern Spokes. The rain put paid to that, so I ended up with two rides, then two more days off, then two fun spins with EFred from Salsa, giving him his first Pisgah experience.

Which brought me to Wednesday. And the base of Bearwallow.

Starting back up after a layoff is painful. Starting back up after a layoff with an ascent of Bearwallow is ... just stupid. I should have known better. But I figured what better way to jump-start the last part of my season than a 9.5km climb that starts with 500m averaging nearly 20%?

To be sure, the descent was a blast. And I did make it to the top. With the countdown on, I needed something to make me suffer. It's a good thing, too, since Kevin reminded me that the Monster climb doesn't end at the Inn. With four weeks to go, it's crunch time ... and crunches hurt.

10 August 2012

Ante up

Marvin Hamlisch died the other day.

Now, for some folks I know -- even some long-time friends -- the fact I know that might result in an instant revocation of my man card. I mean, c'mon -- this is a guy who snuck away from his studies at Julliard to go play show tunes on the piano, and would go on to write songs and collaborate with the likes of Barbara, Liza  and Linda Ronstadt. But he was also a genius prodigy, one of only two people in the world who is an EGOT with a Pulitzer, and he won two Golden Globes in addition.

Still don't believe me? Then here's a pop quiz: Name the composer who scored both The Sting and The Spy Who Loved Me, adapting Scott Joplin for the former and co-writing "Nobody Does it Better" for the latter. I now challenge you to go the rest of the day without "duh-da, duh-da, duh-da ... duh-duh-duh da duh-duh da, duh duh duh" in your head.

At any rate, I've written at length about my Mom's love of A Chorus Line, for which Hamlisch composed the score in 1975, earning a Tony and a Pulitzer (not to mention the longest-running show on Broadway until 1997, and fifth all-time) in the process. Growing up, my Saturday mornings began with John Denver, and after a breakfast of French toast and sausage, morphed into doing our chores while listening to "I Hope I Get It," "One," "At the Ballet" and of course, "What I Did for Love." I hated that music, until I was about 14 or 15, when I finally realized what Val was saying, and what Richie was talking about ... because yeah, there is no scholarship to life.

More importantly, that music infiltrated my subconscious. As cool as it was that Val was talking about T&A and Richie was swearing (gasp!), Maggie's dancing fantasy, Diana's experience in the classroom and eventually Cassie's self-definition and the company's sacrifices for the love of their craft helped shape my world view. This became clear to me, more than ever before, in the summer of 2009, and has stuck with me ever since.

You know there's no such thing as coincidence. And in a weird twist of universal Force, I had a dream on Sunday night that involved A Chorus Line, the night before Mr. Hamlisch died. And when I found out on Tuesday that he had passed, I spent the rest of the day blaring the soundtrack through my car stereo speakers, singing along until my lungs gave out.

And just like in 2009, that provided a moment of clarity for me. I'm a racer. A racer races. I'd already determined that I was going to come back stronger in 2013, but now I realize that 2012 isn't over yet. I still have more to give; it's time to throw in the chips for another hand.

Kiss today goodbye and point me toward tomorrow. There's a Monster to slay.

06 August 2012

Single-minded

I alluded to it a bit earlier, but the truth of the matter is, I had a pretty serious crisis of conscience after BURN this year. Sure, the race went well, and yes, I felt good afterward (good recovery), but something else happened that weekend that put paid to my efforts and called into doubt everything I needed to feel confident.

Morgan Olsson won the Masters category.

To be more clear: Morgan smashed it. He did 30 laps out there at Dark Mountain, in 90-degree heat and 95+-percent humidity, in his first 24 solo effort - ever. That's four more laps than the Open winner did, and five more than me. And you know what? He did it a week after placing 4th - overall - at the Pisgah 111K. Heck, he signed up for the Masters category "because [he] wasn't sure what he was getting into." (Want more proof? He beat more than half of the 5-person male teams, would have been 6th in the 5-person coed category and lapped - LAPPED - the entire duo field.)

I'm not afraid of Morgan, that's not at issue. I've never been afraid of anyone I compete against - they may beat me, but I'm going to make them work for it (hopefully). But I do have a healthy respect for Morgan, and quite frankly, was awed by what he pulled off. And what really put a bee in my bonnet, is his age - Morgan is 46 years old, 7 years older than I am. The Masters class starts at 40, and here he was, crushing us in the Open, closer to 50 than 40.

Next year, I will be a Master too.

I've always vowed that as long as I was competitive in Open, I won't focus on Masters. Age, for me, is not an excuse to stop racing for the win. Doubling up might be OK (especially on the road), and Nationals is a whole other ball of wax, but when asked to make a choice, I won't self-identify as an age grouper. I'm not quite ready to admit that I'm no longer in my 20s, and I'm lucky that my training is able to reflect that - so I don't feel any particular pull to line up with guys who don't have the same opportunities to ride, even if they're the same age with a wife, two kids, two mortgages, and a couple of car loans ... (oh, wait. That's me!)

And then Morgan had to go and kick my ass.

See, Morgan isn't the only one. There's "Sideshow" Garth Prosser (3rd overall in the 111K and 1st Master). There's Andy Applegate. Art Odell. Chris Schotz. Heck, even Dicky has beaten me, though he's chosen to grind his knees into oblivion on one gear, so I'm not sure it counts. All of them are "Masters." And damn fast ones at that. When I saw Dicky before the 111K, I was kind of shocked - he really had been training, and he was svelt - looking good in that sickly, athletic sort of way. I, on the other hand, spent most of May and June celebrating my birthday and Father's Day, and carried a spare tire to the start line at Wausau - and not the one strapped to my bike.

What I am lacking as I enter my fourth decade, and I know it, is the single-minded focus and dedication to their craft that guys like Morgan, and Andy, and even Dicky (when he puts his mind to it), have. To wit: Dicky stopped driking beer in an effort to win the SS class at the 111K. Which he did, despite suffering an early-race crash. I, on the other hand, had near-flawless execution at both BURN and Wausau but was hampered by the delicious gluten-free chocolate cupcakes, soda, ice cream and cookies that were consumed in copious amounts beforehand.

I used to have the necessary myopia, but I'm not quite sure I'm that guy anymore. I have reached the point where I don't really enjoy working on my bikes. I'd rather sit in the living room watching English-subtitled, soft-core Swedish psychological thrillers. I ride when my schedule tells me to, and am off the bike as quickly as possible, with nothing "extra." I eschew discussions about racing; heck, I don't even talk bikes unless it's work-related. I feel guilty heading out to the woods, knowing there are kids to play with and laundry to be folded, and even the idea of refinishing my basement elicits more adrenaline and excitement than dreaming of the start line. And then there's the cupcakes.

For the first time in my career, I'm deeply doubting my commitment.

I've been through some dark times before, and this isn't the same. Normally, for other folks, this might mean stepping back and racing "for fun." But then Morgan had to go and muck it all up with his 4th-place finish backed by a record run in his first solo. And Chris - who is 41 this year - had to beat me at Wausau. If they can do it, why can't I? As Liz pointed out at dinner last week, and as Kim has said to me on a couple of occasions - I'm too darned competitive, and whether I've admitted it to myself or not, I'm not quite ready to hang it up, even if I'm doubting what it will take to keep going.

Because that's the kicker - I know what it will take. I've spent the last 2 years avoiding the sacrifices I need to make, content to take things as they come - they've been two very good years, but the next two can be better. In order to beat the guys my age and older - not to mention guys half as old - I have to go higher, get faster, be stronger. I always get inspired while watching the Olympics, and this year is no exception - thankfully, my "cycle" is not a full 4 years, and instead I'll get to test myself as early as January, just four short months away. Is it in me?

If Dicky can do it, why can't I?

03 August 2012

Nine Mile

There was a moment last week, on the Wednesday night Midweek Classic, when I thought Wausau just might go well. We were coming back into Evanston, jamming along Sheridan Road, and just past Plaza Del Lago, I went to the front to take a pull. Bit by bit, I ramped it up, until we hit the base of the hill at Baha'i and I pulled off, letting the sprinters go for the town line sign. It had been more than 2 years since I did that. And it felt awesome.

I needed that moment, more than I knew.

The lead-up to Wausau this year hasn't been bad, but it wasn't good either. Truth be told, after BURN I was sort of lost; the Fletcher Flyer felt great, but following that I was just kind of floating. Hard rides didn't go that hard, and easy rides became a chore -- really, the only time I felt good was getting out in the woods to mess around, which I did frequently. I wasn't completely burned out -- I still really wanted to ride (thanks mostly to the awewsome Salsa Spearfish!) -- but I was on the edge, and, really, slightly over it. I wasn't watching my diet, wasn't stretching, wasn't sleeping well, and wasn't really taking care of myself except to try to hit the workouts I had planned.

In a word, the month of June and most of July was pretty much, "meh." I was thankfully already registered for Iron Mountain and Wausau, otherwise I would have pulled the plug -- possibly for good. There was a gaping hole in my calendar after July 29, and for a long time I considered extending the post-24 recovery for a long, long, long time.

I'll touch on that more another day.

But then my best childhood friend got married in Springfield, Illinois. It was a fun chance to see a lot of folks I haven't seen in years -- sometimes decades -- and what followed was a relaxing week at my Dad's house, tooling around on my road bike, visiting my old haunts at SRAM, and checking out the old Turin Midweek race ride. I was even able to grab dinner that evening with Liz and Jon, and Liz pointed out that I'm still too competitive to retire just yet ... I thought she was crazy, but maybe she's right, too.

Then Friday came, and I found myself once again turning a lap at Nine Mile. I started doing the math while I was out there -- I have literally done somewhere in the neighborhood of 125 or 130 or more laps out there, in various configurations. And as I tooled around and dialed it in, I realized: I love it there.

At the end of my lap I ran into fellow Salsa-ite Daneille Musto, who would go on to win the 12-hour solo again this year. "You know," I told her,"I thought I was done with 24-hour racing. But then I ride here, and I realize I'm not. This place is awesome!"

And then I rolled out to finish my pre-ride.

And then I bonked.

For all the love, this was not going well.

Riding on instinct and fumes, I found the quickest way back to the chalet, and my dad and I packed up and headed to the hotel. Family dinner with Kim and the kids, and then off to relax -- watching the opening ceremonies was inspiring, and I'll admit, Proctor & Gamble managed to make the tears flow. Nine Mile is the only mountain bike race my Mom ever attended, and it has always broken my heart that it was the year I collapsed.

Last year's 2nd and 1st places - me and Ronsta. Thanks Scott Cole for the photo!
Twelve hours later, I was standing on the start line again. Looking around, I finally came up with a plan: Ride my race, and pace myself (for once!). I was far from ready, especially for the run, but once they said "GO!" there was nothing to do but ride. I had the fitness, hidden somewhere deep down, and a fantastic pit crew (supplemented by our friend Kristin from Minneapolis and her two kids), so it was game on, and just have fun out there.

Thanks Scott for the photo!
The race itself was pretty tame. Chris Schotz stormed out hard, as I paced myself (for once!). I saw Justin out there and asked if Chris could hold it -- "This year, he can," was the reply. Alrighty then. Ron ran into stomach trouble, Chris kept rolling, and I kept pace -- by nightfall, I was catching and passing Ron and Chris was a couple miles ahead of me. The demons set in, as they always do, and I suffered through a few rough laps toward dawn, having drawn within 7 or 8 minutes but then giving it all up rather quickly. Mark Cole helped us out with some mechanical expertise; the dust was choking; traffic was bad in the singletrack (and somewhat discourteous, to tell the truth); and I kept on, keeping on. I never gave up, but I didn't have any left in me, and I set out on my 23rd and final lap thinking it would be a parade, that I wouldn't be returning to Nine Mile for a long, long time. I was mostly OK with a second-consecutive 2nd place, knowing I did what I could.


The finish was sweet, getting off the bike was sweeter, and Muddy Paws Racing managed to round up some amazing prizes -- I walked away with a Contour camera complete with mounting assortment. Kate got to join me on the podium, which was fun, and she proudly showed off my medal with dust all over her face. What more could you ask for?


And then we returned home, a long journey in which Kate and I competed for the crown of who needed the most bathroom breaks. The 24-hour-racing fluid retention was in full swing, as my legs blew up like sausages, and by Knoxville it was already well past bedtime with a couple of hours to go. Only a pair of Wendy's Frostys sneaked by mom and dad while the kids slept could make this any better ...

I read a quote on Wednesday from an Olympic cyclist. I think it was Kristin Armstrong, refering to her run-up to London. Basically, what she said was, this past cycle wasn't as clear as it was 4 years ago, given that she's a new mom. That she would have to live with her race, no matter what, because "as all of us know, you're only as good as your last result." And then yesterday, Thursday, I watched live as Michael Phelps capped off his career with a dominating performance in the 200m IM, almost his last Olympic race ever. He went into that race knowing that Saturday night he could cut loose, and on Sunday he was officially done.
And something inside me clicked. I realized: I'm not finished yet.

I'm not satisfied with going out second. My last result needs to be more. I have yet to win a 24-hour lap race, let alone win at Wausau. That large, gaping hole has been filled, and I'm determined to make it happen. A lot can go wrong in the next year, but a lot can go right, and Kim says she's on board.

I need that moment, more than I know.