Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Best Intentions

I'm rather unsure of what I want to convey in this post, but I'd like to start of by saying it'll be the last one. Perhaps another site will come up in the future, and you can find me writing there, but my personal rant/diary/productreview page is done. Don't worry though, I'm not going to leave you with just 3 sentences. I'm going to say a few things about my sport, myself, and then it'll be over.

Cycling is hard. There are some people who labor under the delusion that you can simply swing your leg over a nice bike and go, they're probably not reading this. There are other people who think of it as a hobby, and there are numerous slow riding organizations that cater to this mindset, but the truth is cycling is more than a paragraph for anyone who is truly involved in it. I stopped riding for the "feel of wind in my hair" or "the challenge" almost as soon as I got on the bike. I just wanted to go faster, and now I'm obsessed with being the fastest. I've loudly and repeatedly said how much I want to be on the World Tour, how much I want to be a tour rider. This is where you encounter the pessimism of cycling at its finest. That dream is all but impossible for a lucky 200 men every weekend. I always have asked how they got there, what did they have that I didn't, what kind of man does it take to be the fastest in the world.
Perhaps, it's something that can be quantified, like Watts or VO2 Max, or it's something less tangible like morals, sheer will, or something darker. I've been trying to find the answer, and it wasn't that surprising.

There is nothing special about a grand tour rider. They are nameless and faceless riders from small European towns. Some of them are "Giants of the Road" in every way, and some, in fact most, are little men. I thought for a moment that doing impressions of a motorcycle up a mountain was some holy art; it's not. Cycling is a man on a bike hammering away at the pedals for his ego and his wallet, not seeking something higher, or championing a cause. Cycling is being ridiculously self-absorbed in every-way, from your body to your attitude. I know there are the nice pros, the ones who sign autographs and talk to fans, but they're entertainers doing their jobs.

Still, despite the motivations, I wanted to find and follow the path. I still wanted to carry water up a mountain for a star, or get in a break with 120k to go. So I kept looking, and asking and searching, and I found more answers. The answer is not really important, as it doesn't mean much to me anymore, but I'll tell you anyway. The answer was: Be 16-years-old, ride a bike fast, have money, have connections, and win.

The must be very offensive to a large portion of the audience, but I hope that if you're still reading you might understand why I say this. It's because hard-work is the snake-oil of cycling. The idea that one can simply bust their brains out on a bike 6 hours a day and become pro is not true at all. No matter how much yoga you do, how many perfectly portioned meals you make, or how many repeats you do, you're probably too late for the show. You need other people to get you to that level, the directors, coaches, and managers of teams and federations control the entrance into the upper echelons, and if you're not a superb U-16, you missed the boat. So yes, I'm jaded because I'm about to turn 23, and have officially missed the boat by a long shot, but that's not why I've decided to shut this whole charade down. It's because of the farcical nature of the whole thing. How many days can you get up to ride, if you know the race is lost? How many repeats can you do, if you know that you won't be the one conquering the summit or smashing the records? How much will you sacrifice and fore go, if you will never be the fastest? I can't lie to myself about it anymore. I'm not going to be a pro, I probably never had a chance. The world has other plans for me, and I hate it. I still want to be on the tallest step on the best podium in the world, and who knows, it could happen. Today though, I am a nobody. A mediocre domestique, in the backwaters of cycling, does not suddenly find himself on the world tour. I can't build a career, attend university, work, and train to the exacting level that it would take for me to turn pro, I can hardly keep tires on my bikes. I just wanted to be open with everyone who has ostracized or promoted me, I just wanted to say thank you to all of you. I wish I was going to be pro, but I'm not fast enough.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Influence

     It's a small hour of the morning, and I can't sleep. This is mainly because I'm thinking, it hurts a little bit. There are lots of things I want material and otherwise. Some of them are easy to come by, and others are not. Each of the desires has its own gravity with a push and pull. Some have a swell that lift you up and push you right towards another dream and make life feel easy, others have an undertow that feels like it will leave you miles out to sea. Every person I know exerts a spiritual tide on me.
     There's Ed, who's experienced most of what life has to offer, and still is out for another helping. Who goes out for a 100 miles on a bi-weekly basis, and finds himself chasing anyone up the road. Despite being twice their age, he catches them. Ed does not know how to give up hope, and coincidentally enjoys every moment he's on the bike.
     There's Damian, who pulls legs off riders like a child tormenting insects.Who has every piece of carbon you have ever dreamed of, and will beat you to a pulp on a 30 pound rig with 32mm tires. He's a great leader, because despite having won every Pro title in the state in every discipline, he is a figure of terror for being a super-domestique that will crush souls for his teammates. He's unrelenting and has an exceptional vision.
     Most of my teammates and friends may not have an undying optimism, unstoppable legs, or laser sharp focus, but they all benefit from riders who have the attributes they don't. They push each other to continue, whether or not they know it. I've heard riders quit because they don't have enough fun, or they feel the being pack fodder isn't worth the effort. Part of it might be that the influence of the people around them pulls them back from their goals.
      I know those people, who help motivation wane, my former teammate who refuses to join a team because the kit won't match his bike. The guy who is convinced he can make up for not training with better wheels. My friend who's sold of his arsenal of bikes and wheels to live in the real world. Every one of my classmates who has asked if I want to get wasted Friday night.
     The more I think about what people I like, and choose to hang out with on Saturday morning, the more I know that it's a question of the influence they exert. The people around me hopefully are pushing me to be more like them, to reflect some of their strength as my own. Everyone one of the people that joins your life becomes a part of you. Their gravity influences your shape and behavior. It leaves a mark.
      Despite all that, there's one current more pervasive then all the people around you, it's your own. The part of you that tells you that racing is not worth the hurting, that mundane dreams are better than monumental ones. That voice that says drinking and studying, beats studying and training. Why not just comment to being ordinary, everyone else is doing it? Sometimes maintaining focus in itself is excessively difficult and the internal influence drags you away from what you want. The question really just comes down to whether or not you let he undertow drag you out into the ocean, or if you going to start swimming parallel to the shore. You could always just stand on the beach and think about what you might do if you went swimming.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Überleben

This season has been a test for me. There have been glimmers of form and power, and at times nothing. The legs show up on a Saturday and then by next Friday are nowhere to be found. It would  be logical to say there have been extenuating circumstances that have affected my racing, but I don't want to make excuses for myself. I don't want to accept defeat, no matter the cause; instead I'm angry and think only of how to recover how to come back to the front and control the race again. What can I change about my training, my nutrition, my equipment, my mentality? What in me is weak? What part of me must I kill?
I'm not the only one who comes back to the races week after week striving for something more. Why do we choose to add this to our lives? What is the point of a pack finish? Why hurt and endure the unpleasantness of pinning your motor at threshold? Why is survival important?
The German word for survival is überleben, and I can't help but think of it as a metaphor for the desire to ride. If you translate it literally it means above living, across living, by way of living, and I think in terms of those of us who end up as pack fodder, it describes our survival and its meaning. This is our way of living, the way our lives are above the ordinary, the way we venture across the mundane and find something extraordinary. Maybe if we survive long enough we will rise above our own frailties and be survivors, maybe we will become Überlebende.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Off The Rack: Castelli Diluvio Gloves

It's going to be a cool wet day on the road, the temperature is going to hover above freezing, and you have base miles to get in. The standard long finger glove you've been wearing all fall isn't going to make the grade today. You need something waterproof and insulated, but not so thick you lose a good grip on the hoods. Castelli's Diluvio gloves are the solution; the neoprene construction keeps the water out and the heat in.
When first donning the gloves it's a strange sensation, the neoprene does not conform to the hand but compresses gently. It's not incredibly flexible or particularly bulky, but it doesn't impede dexterity on the levers. They won't be any good for typing on the iPhone at the coffee-shop, but you'll be able to flick the controls all day while it sleets.
The extra grippy texture of the palm
The palms have an incredible texture, and for the first rides the palms would actually stick to each other. The grip feels secure on the bar, and I didn't feel my hands slip, but is a little vague because of the thickness and cushion of neoprene. Unlike most gloves there's no extra pads in the palm, but I had no trouble with them for 4 hours at a time. After the initial odd feelings the gloves felt almost like a second skin and were incredibly comfortable and the level of padding was delightful.

The biggest drawback is that the gloves are too effective; they don't let anything in or out. My hands would become particularly clammy after only a few minutes and well pruned at the end of my rides. The sensation is not particularly bothersome, but for some it is a deal breaker.

On the whole the Diluvios are a pleasant experience and completely different from any other winter glove. The thin insulation is wonderful by comparison to the ski-glove like options from the other companies, and if it's going to open-up with some sleet or rain, they're the best option. There are more tactile gloves and warmer gloves, but the former trades off warmth and the later lacks waterproof finish. Castelli has made a truly unique product, there's room for improvement, but this version is a pleasant new entry into winter gloves.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

24 Hour World Time Trial Championships

I am back, after what seems like a week. I am sitting down in a nice padded chair and a bathroom is a few steps away. I'm pretty happy about both of those things. In a little while, I'm going to lay down, and not move for a nice long time. In reality, I've been away from home for a little more than 72 hours, but I have packed enough emotions and riding in for a week. Riding my bike as part of a 2-man team for a 24 hour event was basically a perfect introduction into ultra-marathon racing. I'm already hooked after one go.

My good friend Scott and I I decided to enter the race about 3 weeks ago. I had little idea what to expect; Scott has won Race Across the West as part of a team and been riding and racing bikes for 30 some years. I was tasked with taking care of logistics, which really meant reading the rules, and I read them. Then the trouble started. Scott left his full light rig, and extra batteries at home, and I missed the essential Rule 4, "Racers riding unsupported on the long loop must wear reflective anklets and vests." Both avoidable mistakes, both pretty damning. Luckily, we found a bike-shop within 20 miles that had all of our needs, and were able to get to the course in advance to set up our base camp.

6 o'clock quickly came and Scott started out into the dusk on his first long loop. I ate a sandwich and tried to go to sleep. After only an hour and a half I woke up, the music blaring from the Start-Finish line, and the air-mattress completely deflated. I still had 4 hours before I would have to get on the bike, so I migrated to the car and tried to sleep. As Scott passed through halfway on his 120 mile trek he shot me a text and a ping so I could see where he was; the time for his return soon came and went.

At some point, about two hours, after his check-in Scott's light had gone out. I was following his position on the GPS and 3 miles before the finish he was off-course. I shot him a slew of texts and calls hoping to quickly reroute him, and then he came to a stop. Then my phone rang.

Scott had collided with a road gator on the side of the busy highway and taken a spill in the dark, I did not know any of this until I pulled up in the car to see him on the side of the road bleeding and angry. I quickly loaded his bike in the car and drove back to the point where he had gone off-route. At this point the wheels had come off for him, but I was determined to make the best of it. I hopped on my bike cruised through the start-finish and set out on my lap. Maybe it was the Red-Bull or maybe it was the nervous activity in my brain, but I took a wrong turn 20 miles into my night time adventure. After I rode 3 miles to a road that ended in sand, and some iPhone navigation I got headed back to the course, and only put myself 20 minutes behind. Despite it all, I was feeling exuberant about being out on the course, and was still pretty chipper when my light started to check out. Whne I rolled into the bag drop, and chatted with the official I was still having an awesome time.
I kept going, as at this point I was "In severe need of a pooper." My light finally went out, right as I reached the only open toilet for 60 miles. I called Scott to come drive behind me, as I didn't want to suffer a similar fate at the hands of tire ejecta. I was starting to feel my pace grind me down, but with the car behind me I just started going faster unitl sunrise. The inner monologue was pretty positive.

Urination/Inspiration break
As the sun came up, I started to feel a little less elated and a little more realistic. It was  cold, I was tired, and I was thinking about continuing to race for another 12 hours solo. This didn't seem particularly appetizing especially as the wind started to pick up, but as I stopped to urinate I watched the sunrise and decided to finish no matter what. I made it back to the start in about 40 minutes longer than I had anticipated as a slow time. I felt giddy though, and headed to the base-camp. Unfortunately my team-mate was still resting, licking his wounds. I said a few words and started to get his bike ready to roll. He promised that I would be able to get some sleep before we started, and I was going to get it.
Then a switch flipped, and we were hamming it up as a nurse looked at Scott's wounds, and as I told the grapes that they were not as worthy for breakfast as the raspberries. We ate breakfast, and wasted about an hour, when my friend rolled out to start his first short lap.

After that it was smooth sailing, I wasted a bit of time before getting my skinsuit on, and switching out, but it worked after that. It was amazing how far my body would go, despite the fact that my mind was roller-coastering back and forth. At times I would become incredibly dejected, becoming convinced there was no way to complete the race, and at other times I would be pushing the gears harder and faster than the last lap. I'm grateful the my mind mainly turned to optimism. I saw, briefly, on my 4th lap a Grumman F7F flying, mistaking it for a P-38, and thought it was a good omen.

I learned so much about myself and riding my bike during the time I was out there, and I would like to write it all down and share it, but the fact of it is, you had to be there. I feel like this was just a place where I could quietly temper my will, and I am so grateful to have competed with my friend and lots of other great people. The organizers were especially awesome, and I think I will enter again next year, or perhaps try something grander. I realize, while we may have won, we didn't ride nearly as hard or as far as some more serious ultra-racers, but for my first ultra, it was a big deal. It was a great 416 miles.
It's over and we're World Champions and I look slightly retarded.



Thursday, October 25, 2012

Suffering

suf·fer
verb (used without object)
to undergo or feel pain or distress
to endure pain, disability, death, etc., patiently or willingly.
I think there's been a proliferation of the word suffer, and it's adverb suffering in the cycling community. Cyclists suffer through the rain, they suffer through repeated attacks, and they suffer the long miles; how are so many people capable if enduring such a large amount of pain they feel the need to declare how they suffer? Hopefully, the italics of irony are foreshadowing.
I am dismayed by the proliferation of this word; Strava has even found a way to quantify it. It makes the most mundane of rides seem like battles that exacted a toll on the rider, instead of what they are: bike rides. I have definitely at one time or another said I was suffering, but I've given it quite a lot of thought, and suffering is going to be stricken from my ride vocabulary. When was the last time you suffered on a bike, where the pain had evolved out of your control to stop it, where the sensations your body extolled to your brain were unpleasant?
So, there is pain and distress that we all push through, whether in a race or on our favorite hills, but it is not truly suffering. We demean ourselves and our lifestyle by claiming we suffer. Starving is suffering; war is suffering; abuse is suffering; lying in the French mud with a broken femur is suffering. Pain does not equate to suffering for me anymore, because what I do, I do for the love of the sport. What I do is an entirely different word.
 
mas·och·ism
gratification gained from pain, deprivation, degradation, etc., inflicted or imposed on oneself, either as a result of one's own actions or the actions of others, especially the tendency to seek this form of gratification.
We're a cult of indoctrinated masochists. We emulate and mimic professionals who have perfected the art of hurting themselves for gratification into a profession. We chase the burn in our lungs and the stiffness in our legs that only comes from pushing closer and closer to our I imagined limits. I am not forced to ride my bike. I swing my leg over my bike and clip-in to feel a giddy excitement at what might happen as the group rolls down country roads or as I climb into frigid morning mists. I seek only gratification from plying through the valleys and plains on two wheels; I know when the pain will come, and how to avoid it, but I find myself looking forward to it instead. I chomp at the bit to reach the top of long climb where my veins pump battery-acid, and I inhale air that feels like sandpaper. I may return exhausted in my body, but my spirit is almost always refreshed. It is a hedonistic and narcotic rush to feel these sensations, and every time it seems to be harder to reach them. If nature should unleash showers on me, I smile to know the drudgery will increase just to push the ride from average to epic, if the wind whips, I push harder against the pedals to feel the exacerbation of resistance. I do not suffer, and I do not suppose we deserve to call it suffering.
 I've been sitting on this blog for a little bit, but if you are a reader of Red Kite Prayer, then you recently read about someone who is doing some real suffering. Patrick Brady, who's writing we can all enjoy, had more than his share of suffering, so please donate to end his suffering, and allow him to continue his masochistic ways for all of us to read.
Tailwinds 

 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Lance Armstrong, Pro-Cycling, and Amateurs

If you consider yourself a cyclist, chances are you've had some time recently to be bombarded with the fact that the sports 2nd greatest grand tour rider, has been implicated in a massive doping scandal. For those of you who don't know who Lance Armstrong is, he is a cyclist from Austin, Texas, who won the Tour de France from 1999-2005, not only breaking the record for most consecutive Tour wins, but the most Tour wins ever. For me, and many other young men and women my age, Lance was a large, if not the primary, inspiration for swinging a leg over a saddle. His numerous commercials through Nike, Livestrong, Trek, and his multiple books became a sort of holy testament to cycling greatness. Phrases like, "Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever." became little mantras I picked up to prove to myself that this would be worth it. The alienation of riding a bike, the solitude of being the skinny guy with shaved legs, who doesn't party, that rides his bike everywhere, that goes to sleep at 8 o'clock, was eased by thoughts like that. The attitude that despite the greatest obstacles, even the imposing shadow of death, could be overcome, was something that, for me, not only made life a little more bearable, but also helped me to lift my head and look forward and strive for something outside of myself and my limitations. Then it collapsed.
Sure, there have been a few chinks in the armor, after all the first tour I watched from departe to arrivee was in 2006. Lance Armstrong was my hero, but I strove to emulate Jan Ullrich, and when Operation Puerto struck him down, it only hardened my resolve, that Lance was an even truer champion. If Lance could beat out the frauds, then I could do it too. I could balance out the disparities in life with hard work and guts, like his. It turns out though, that everything that truly inspired me to enter into this game is built on lies. The lesson is drugs win Tours; hard-work won't even get you on the team.
Not even big corporations have the wherewithal to stand behind cycling, as Nike and Trek abandon Armstrong, and Rabobank ends it's 17 year relationship with cycling, it seems the sport has become toxic. How did this happen? Where did we go wrong?  It comes down to one thing, the men and women involved. Companies, teams, and fans put their faith into weak, selfish individuals, and then perpetuated this weakness. Money contaminated a sport that is cleansing and pure in it's simplest form, and made it into a profession and a business. This is sport not business, and while business may attach their names to it, there needs to be a point where riders accept that they're not businessmen, they are sportsmen. They are role-models and heroes for people from all walks of life. they need not be super human, only extra-human. The pain is what makes the glory; the prize purses and bonus checks don't make the heroes. We revel in the agony of our heroes, not in their pay checks. We strive to be like them in our attitude towards wind and rain, to be hard and calloused through hours of laboring in the saddle. We do not dream of contracts, we dream of glory, and the elation of crossing a finish line with arms held high.
So how do we remedy these differences? If the trend continues on, sponsor after sponsor will leave the sport, and teams will collapse as the truth finally catches up. If the leaders in the UCI aren't held accountable for their failures, if doping controls can't be stringent enough to stop the cheating, then the sport will spiral further down into darkness and eventually its destruction. I can't truly provide an anser for what will fix the sport, but I have a feeling about what may be the cure.
The passion that an amateur feels is the only thing that propels them forward. For many the choice between a race and rent is not even a choice. The race is all that matters, riding is all that matters. Amateur sport is not impervious to doping, we've seen that. However, when there is no money, and only the intangible feeling of victory at stake, will it really be worth the money of doping? If the Tour were raced by 18 teams of amateurs, competing for jerseys that will fade in time, for miniscule prizes that might buy dinner for the crew, would there be drugs? I hope not. Perhaps there needs to be a movement towards amateurism, where sponsors provide only the bare-minimum to their riders. Bikes, kits, and enough to scrape by for training between events. I crave the ability to compete in races, and I have given away my prize money as thanks to those who make it happen, and have done it without sponsors. Why could the greatest events not work in the same way? Why can the money not be removed from the sport? Why is the greed of promoters, managers and riders still a factor? I understand that every person involved in running an international team, in running an event, needs to be salaried, and it's only fair they be allowed to do their jobs and be paid, and the same goes for riders, but why do they have to make hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars to do that? I am so passionate for a sport that I sacrifice basic necessities for it, why are the people at the highest level not the same? If a rider or director has the passion that propels them to the highest level, then why are they so concerned with making more and more money? In America alone you could find an massive number of support staff and riders willing to commit themselves to such a dream, I know I am one of them and have ridden with people who would sacrifice well paying jobs, and comfortable lives to be a part of something which we view as magic. Why are our professional heroes not of the same caliber in their commitment to sport?