Last week I talked about wanting to go fast and light (Its call Randonneuring by the way), on my bike tour. I did go reasonably fast, for me I guess, but I certainly could have gone lighter. I had planned to make the trip a four days, but after I got over being nervous and scared I realized I was moving really well that first day and I decided to combine day one and day two. That made for a 190K day. Which is the longest I’ve gone in a while.
I was scared out of my mind before leaving. Scared that I was going to get totally lost. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to actually do the miles. Which means I was doing the right thing. But like I said Monday I’m saving the details for now.
At the end of the three days I had done nearly as many miles than my biggest week. I was back on Wednesday, and I had planned on spending Thursday writing and sitting with my legs up. Instead I did some writing, had coffee with a friend then went into Seattle to hang out with Jason at Cascade Bicycle Studios. After which I rode the fifteen miles to home. The next day I rode to work, well home from work after getting a flat and having to get a ride from Signe’s Mom. Then I rode to and from work on Saturday, claiming that Sunday would be the day that I didn’t ride. But then I rode down to Phinney Ridge, another 15 miles or so.
I know I need the rest and I’m hoping that today will be the day that I don’t ride. I say that as I think about riding out to a park in Mulketio and laying in the grass. Hopefully I’ll stay home, read, write and rehabing my bike. Problem is (and this is good problem to have) is that this trip has filled me with so much passion for riding that I feel I just have to do it.
The trip opened my mind to what’s possible on a bike, which is pointing me in directions I didn’t think I’d ever go. I’m also finding that I no longer identify as a “racer”, and I’m hoping to just be able to identify as a cyclist. Even if most the people at work think cyclist are bullshit.
Four years ago this month I lost the job I found my way into when I first moved to Portland. I was interning at a backpack company and looking to start my own thing. That was only kind of working out, and it was suggested that I take a trip, that I needed to go on a trip.
That trip was four days in the Mt. Stuart range just a smidgen north of Cle Elem Washington. Signe and I had been dating just long enough that I was meeting her family for the first time, and I asked her to drop me off before she headed back to Portland. It had been years since I’d gone backpacking and this trip was my first true alpine experience. The combination of loosing my job and not having any true prospects on the horizon, and some intense interpersonal battles along with feeling a little lost provided a perfect environment for self assessment. A bit of the feeling I was talking about in last Wednesday’s post.
Monday morning I leave on the first proper adventure I’ve gone on in a long time, when I start pedaling a path through the Olympic Peninsula. I’m doing it for a story so I’ll keep the details of the trip on the down low for now. I can say that I choose to do this ride so I could create the gig, my first true gig. Now I’m finding that this is type of ride is exactly what I need.
Lately I’ve been thinking about ways to combine the ideals of “fast and light” alpinism that I aspired to, but was never strong enough -mentally or physically – when I was climbing. I had a small inkling then, but its clear now that I was a fraud then. I knew where I wanted to be, but knowing I wasn’t there I faked it, hoping I would eventually make. I did all the training, rarely went on the trips. I got close to the ideal a few times and I failed trying to achieve it more time than I can recall.
When I first conceived this trip I saw it as traditional bike tour. Steel bike, laden with panniers, self supported; tent, sleeping bag, stove, extra clothes, all the stuff they tell you to toss in. Kitchen sink style. Problem was I didn’t want a bike that was just for that. But over the months of planning I’ve settled on doing this fast and light. Maybe two overnights. Small sleeping bag, tarp for cover, stove for boiling water, coffee, noodles and oatmeal.
I said I failed a lot when it came to Fast and Light Alpinism, but it wasn’t because I didn’t know how to go light. Near monthly camping trips between the ages of eleven and sixteen taught me how to do that, climbing just refined that idea. So I’ve got that down. Now I just have to do the pedaling.
There’s still the story I pitched. That will get written. There is also another theme emerging and I’m excited to dig into that story as well.
Of course that means there won’t be any posts this week. I need to unplug for a week. See you when I get back.
A lot of pixels have been misaligned here talking about racing, The PRO’s, my own insignificant racing – back when I first started riding again and thought that my suffering was worth reporting, and the fact that I haven’t been racing this year. This is probably going to be another one of those posts.
For two years I organized my life around riding and racing. Training plans, long rides and sets of intervals. This year, with the move and all I had a really hard time getting into that head space again. I have come to peace with the fact that, at this moment I am much more content to ride without doing sets of intervals. Now my rides are defined by the things I saw and felt or the swooping feeling of nailing the series of ninety degree turns that is Goat Trail Road. I’ve stopped training, at least as I used to do it, fuck time at threshold, because well… let’s be honest here: I’m coming on thrity-four years old and fifteen pounds overweight. I’m willing to bet that even if I was allowed to quit my job and do nothing but ride for the next five years I wouldn’t be able to win a Stars and Stripes jersey at thirty-nine.
I’m ok with this. Totally ok with this in fact. I don’t want to be paid to ride a bike. I do want to be paid to write however. Part of giving up on actual training this year was the knowledge that this year would be the year I would become a better writer and not a better racer. There is a chance of that happening. Though I’m clearly not qualified to judge that.
That doesn’t mean I don’t miss the racing. I have tried so hard to be alright with not spending one weekend day a week racing. A few Thursdays back I was talking to John about how I miss it. “Do you really miss though?” He asked. My answer was an emphatic yes. Not the paying for and driving to and certainly not the intervals but the teamwork, and the hurt, and the fun, and the jumping from one fractured group to the other.
A few years back, Bill Strickland wrote a post for his Sitting In, blog where he wrote (during a period of not racing and I assume heavy workload.) “It reminded me that somewhere inside something inside me was dying.” I don’t feel that something in me is dying, but I do feel part of me has changed or is in the process of changing.
Lately I have this feeling that I’m no longer confronting myself. That I have moved from a state of near constant struggle to one of resignation – that this is the way I am. That I am doomed to always be an also ran, and all attempts to make myself into the human I want to be will fall short. I feel like I’m losing my ability to fight to become that person I want to be.
Racing is not fundamental to who I am. But that fight, and my seemingly lost ability to just barely pull some kind of victory from defeat. That’s a big lost for someone who’s track coach once nicknamed him “Bulldog”. Not because I won, or ever came close to cracking top five in race, but because I was tenacious enough to hold on and run through whatever pain I was feeling and still finish mid pack. Mark Twight wrote, or at least that’s where I read it, “You become who you hang out with”. I get to ride with some great people every Thursday. The rest of time I ride by myself or I’m at work… with the people I work with. Spending two hours a day with good people doesn’t balance it out.
I feel like the fight is coming out of me and that scares the hell out of me.
The Thursday ride had through four rain showers by the time we reached the bakery. Today’s pace was sedate and my jacket – its waterproofness long worn-out and washed away – had soaked through and dried out three times, and the warmth of the bakery had it working hard on its fourth time through this cycle. The ride had been uneventful, with equal moments of dry sunny weather and the light yet persistent rain. Still another 20 minutes from the shop, the five of us stared into the pastry case debating what exactly we’d earned or didn’t but wanted to eat either way.
I’ve been leaving the northern suburbs for the city for this ride just long enough that I can’t really recall how long I’ve been doing it, but not long enough that I know all the places we could possibly go on a ride through the city. Seattle, from a population standpoint, isn’t much bigger than Portland but still feels so incredibly vast that I fear I will never be able to learn it.
Today we covered some familiar terrain, over the Fremont bridge and through downtown out to West Seattle. Going through Downtown I was passed by a white BMW close enough that had there been a passenger I could have reached out and rubbed their head. The driver kept such a careful eye on me that I was unsure if she was shooting me the evil eye or was just overly concerned of the prospect of me ending up under the wheels of her beamer. She held her line and I recalled a bit of the skills I acquired when I was courier and rode confidently between the truck parked along the curb and the woman’s car.. When she felt it safe she pushed the accelerator and glided past.
Last week we were riding with bare knees and arm warmers rolled down to our wrists under a blue sky. This morning the sun is blotted out by a thick layer of clouds giving the light a gauzy feel in those moments between rain showers. There was only one climb today, which in a town filled with climbs of the short and steep bastard variety seems to be an accomplishment in and of itself.
Today, for the first time, I am chatty. Feeling comfortable enough to talk about this and that with the only people I’ve been sharing rides with. For the first time since I left Portland I feel part of something – a group that could eventually be a set of people that I call friends.
We’ve all chosen our treats, earned or otherwise, and park ourselves on stools lined against the front window. In turns we talk to the group, then splinter into groups of two or three, before turning our attention to a story someone is telling in a smaller group till our coffees are finished and our small plates are holding crumbs. Derek shows us a back way to the bike path toward downtown before turning off toward his home. There are four of us now, riding in pairs, Barry and I at the back, chatting away about family, and dividing time between those responsibilities, work all while finding time to ride. This thread continues through Downtown and back to the shop. I know I’m going to be late for work, but I sit down anyway, while we talk about the bike John is going to order next. I don’t mind being late today.
In two weeks I am heading out on my first freelance assignment, a difficult one that will find me bike touring the Olympic Peninsula and stopping at various breweries along the way. Difficult, I know. My writing has appeared else where and I’ve even been paid for one of those stories. The problem is they are all about me, but this one is about what’s out in the wilds surrounding the Olympic Mountains.
Thing is I’ve never been on a bike tour before, the bike I’m going to use is heavy and has some large ass gears (for touring anyway) and I have a terrible sense of direction. I can read a map and use a compass, which I plan on doing (strictly old school here). I’m excited, but also pretty frickin freaked out right now.
Getting my writing in front of a larger audience, having something to write about that isn’t about me, and – yes – being in print is something I’ve been working toward for the last couple of years. I’m terrible at pitching ideas. I’ve blown a couple of chances to bring this blog to the next level. You can dig through the archives and find read how I blew the Dan Harm interview. I somehow blew the chance to embed with a team at the Cascade Cycling Classic, first after I failed to write a descent enough pitch to two publications, and then was unable to convince that team that I should write about them on these pages. One only has to flip through some of these pages to see why. I know there are other factors, but when you get down to it I’ve failed somehow.
If you also read these pages regularly you’ll know that this is a constant struggle for me. Balancing the moments of confidence, hubris and near crippling self doubt has made it difficult for me to get it together. Well that and the fact that I hired a terrible editor (me). This up coming tour is maybe an opportunity for me to get it together. Prove to myself that I’m capable of pitching and following through with my ideas. That’s how I’m trying to see it at least.
USA Cycling has taken a lot of hits this year, with all that Lance shit. Earlier in the year there was lots of talk about people opting out of getting licenses this year as a form of protest. Then there was the (needed) hoopla over what races PROs could actually take part in without having to use nom de plumes. One could wonder what they could do to make amends. How ’bout live streaming the US PRO races in Chattanooga? Yeah okay. But how about also streaming the Woman’s races. YES!
The Olympic road race demonstrated to the world that Woman’s racing is every bit, and most the time MORE exciting than the Men’s races. Sadly, its often pretty damn hard to watch a woman’s road race. Which is a goddamn shame. Today’s US PRO Woman’s race showed why woman’s road racing needs more attention.
When I finally made it over to the coffee shop to watch the race Mara Abbott was off the front and trucking. With teammates in the chase group it looked like she was going to nail it. Jade Wilcoxson made a bold move to bridge just as Mara Abbott was struck with a puncture, then a difficult wheel change, then a broken derailleur hanger. It was, excuse the phrase, an epic mechanical. It was heart breaking to watch.
That moved Wilcoxson from being the chaser to being off the front. Kristen McGrath bridge and the two worked well together. Both riders were lucky enough to have teammates in the chasing group.
The two worked well together until the last small rise when Wilcoxson dropped the hammer and dropped McGrath. I’m not an Oregon native, but I lived there long enough to feel a bit of investment in here result. She soloed off, hammering in the drops. It was all over when she hit the descent. There was just a left hander between her and victory. Then, just like when Van Summeran won Roubaix, tears fell from my eyes.
That win was fucking beautiful.
I fucked up the rotation. Twice. It had been awhile since I’d ridden with a group, especially like this. Six of had us met for the Thursday morning ride and now we’re headed South on Lake Washington BLVD toward Seward Park. At first we rode two up, but now we are single file. Sorta. I’m supposed to hit the front then pull through. What I do is hit the front and sit there for a moment, like I’m used to.
I don’t ride with others much anymore. When you are used to fighting the headwind alone, going for long rides alone and free to jump around or over potholes without signalling, one becomes a little stressed when suddenly thrust into a fast moving, well working group. Even when I was riding with others on a consistent basis one of us would hit the front and then sit there until they were ready to pull through. Often times, with my riding friends, we weren’t trying to one up each other, but take care of each other. We worked well together, but in a way that was about protecting the others, not about moving quickly.
I hear “car back!” when I go to pull through, and not knowing what else to do I stay on the front. A moment passes, but the car doesn’t.
“Bob, we hit the front and pull through” Zac, who is on my wheel, tells me.
“Sorry” I say.
I pull off the front start the drift back to the tail of our tight little pack.
I mess up the second pull by not sticking close to the wheel in front of me, taking longer to actually hit the front and take my turn. I haven’t ridden this close, to either the wheel in front of me or the wheel next to me in eight months.
I’m afraid of tapping the wheel a cm in front of me. I’m afraid of swerving around a pot hole and tapping the bars next to me and bringing down the whole group. Which would be infinitely more embarrassing than not pulling through correctly.
Instead of confidently pulling through and coming off the front. I coast or tap my brakes, just enough to not run into the wheel in front of me, but not bring everyone else to a stop. In some ways I still associate the brake levers with control. A behavioral carry over from my life, where I often have to apply the brakes in order to feel in control. That doesn’t work here. I — no we — need the momentum.
“You want to put a little force into the pedals when you hit the front to make up for hitting the wind.” Terry yells from the back.
The Thursday ride is my one chance to ride with people. I wake up early, ride the thirteen miles down to Fremont, do the two hour group ride then ride the nineteen miles up to work. Nearly sixty miles before my eight hour shift and the chance to meet and ride with other people. Can’t really beat that.
A few rotations later, and without much notice, the group is working smoothly. I stop giving the wheel pulling through next to me more attention than it needs, while giving the wheel in front of me just enough attention to stay in its draft. Hit the front and pull through, hit the front and pull through, hit the front and pull through.
Each of us ride low. Hands on the hoods, torsos lowered, pushing or spinning the pedals, each of us finding a way to keep the speed of the group. Each making their own contribution to being the whole.
I’m not fast this season – yet – maybe it will come. Today I can at least fake the feeling. Before my next turn I move to the drops and slide my bare hands down the contour lines of the bar tape till I feel the double wrapped bulge at the end of my bars, which is there for just this purpose. It’s not boxing style, that is my hands in the rounds of the drops, but it feels right. Hitting the front and pulling through feels right. Hit the front and pull through.
One night, after Portland’s Tuesday night PIR race I was riding home with Otis who lived in the same neighborhood as I did. It was our first time meeting in real life though we’d been talking on twitter a fair amount, but that doesn’t really give you sense of what each other does for a living. That lead us to copy writing and branding agreeing that part of selling a product was telling a story that customers could get behind. One they could see themselves in. That lead us to Rapha, who are the kings when it comes to spinning that narrative.
At the time I owned a few Rapha products.
- 3 caps
- Essentials Case
- Old Prototype of a Softshell Jacket
- Old Prototype of the Stowaway Jacket (now the classic wind jacket)
The jackets aside (which I picked up 50 and 60 dollars on craigslist!) I owned only products that my customer service salary could allow. Later I would work past my salary, save some pennies and bought a Long Sleeve jersey this past winter. I love it, but since I bought it on clearance there was only Large left. I figured I would fit a “Rapha Large”, just like people will tell me, “I wear a medium, except in Castelli, I wear an XL” Well, the Large is too big, which doesn’t stop me from wearing it, but it doesn’t fit right so I’ve refrained from writing a review.
Two weeks ago I took the plunge and purchased another jersey. This time it was the Club Jersey, which gets a new set of colors (3) every year. Each jersey is colored and named after a cycling legend. This years color ways are Fig, Black and Light Blue. I picked up the last of CBS Fremont’s Fig jersey – in the proper size this time – which is named after English Cyclist Tommy Godwin a track and endurance cyclist who was capable of putting down 75,065 miles a year. You can learn all about him on the linked wikipedia page, or you could just peep the label inside the right jersey pocket. That brings us back to the story.
Aside from looking good, being comfortable and functional, good kit should inspire you. It should raise in you a desire to set out and have your own version of the adventures you see the Rapha Continental having. In addition, any brand pedaling road wear should have a focus ON THE HISTORY OF THE SPORT which Rapha does beautifully.
Regardless of what you may think of the black and white aesthetic and use of the word “epic”. Regardless of what you may think about the pictures of riders sprinting against each other sans helmet (get over it I say!) you can not deny that this is some of the best cycling ware around. The fit on my jersey is perfect. It doesn’t sag when the pockets are stuffed and despite the quarter zip, it keeps me cool when the temps rise. I wore it yesterday and immediately washed it so that I could wear it again today. Simply put it is the best jersey I’ve ever worn. Now I just need to save up for a pair of bibs so I can stop mixing my kit brands.
As with previous reviews this item was purchased (with a small discount) with my own money from one of my favorite shops (studio).
The Thursday Morning ride was on the early pitch of Norway Hill. The guy from Recycled Cycles had shot himself out of a cannon when the climb started while four of us made up a chase. I hung in the draft of John and Derek debating whether or not I should “strike out for glory” as the Eurosport commentator says, or if sitting here was where I needed to be. The last three weeks had me putting in miles like I was getting ready for races again. This week I took a couple of days off, then rode easy for a couple of days and today I was feeling pretty good, for being overweight and under raced.
I hung there, in the wheels for what felt like a long time. I had moved up next to John, the two us trying to pull what little advantage we could from the Derek’s lead. The road ahead twists and the guy off the front keeps vanishing from our view, only to reappear a moment or two later. At the moment he’s been gone – out of sight – for a bit. I was still in the wheels, not comfortable, but not struggling either, which felt like a big accomplishment. Like the first time I hung on – barely – in a Cat 1/2/3 race. Sometimes the smallest victories are the best ones.
The pace was high as we came to the stop sign where we would turn right. Derek said something that was either “right turn” or “your turn” I wasn’t sure which so I assumed he was telling me to take my turn at the front. I came through on the inside line as we turned right at the stop sign.
Maybe it was because I felt bad about sitting in for so long. Perhaps it was because I had taken some time off and had freshish legs. Or, what happened next had to do with the fact that I haven’t been racing, and wanted to reacquaint myself with that pain again. But it could be as simple as just wanting to catch the guy from Recycled Cycles who was off the front.
The force I put in caused John and Barry to pop, or decide that it wasn’t worth it. Later, John would tell us that he needed a bathroom break and he pulled over. Derek and I took up the chase.
I was spinning, little ring, in the bottom third of my cassette, but not near the big cog. I knew we’d dropped the other two because it became quite. I alternated riding with my hands on tops, or in the hoods. Going to the hoods each time I needed to convince myself that I could hang on with this pace.
The pitch of the road would relent, giving the impression of flattening out, but always continuing its upward slope. The story was the same. The Recycled guy would disappear behind a curve, then come back into view a moment later. He was going slower than when he’d first started, but still kind of a long way off. I kept thinking I should go, I should go, I should go, but I don’t know what’s up ahead so I stay put. I also know that I can’t drop Derek.
I’m heaving my breaths now, but my form wasn’t failing. My hands are on the tops again, but I haven’t started doing that thing where you climb with your whole body, pumping your arms and torso, willing the bike skyward. It never works, so I’m happy to not debase myself with such terrible form. My breathing is so loud that I can’t hear how well Derek is doing behind me. He comes around and gives some words of encouragement “Nice work”. He is spinning smoothly, hands in the drops, and now I know how he is going. I drop in behind him. Did he tell me “right turn” or “your turn”. I need to sit up.”
There’s the seed of doubt.
I need to sit up I think it again.
Rest weeks give the mind a time to catch up. Earlier in the week I read an essay about Kierkegaard and how his doubt caused him to believe even more strongly than he did before those doubts surfaced. After reading that I made the jump – as I am warrant to do – to my own riding, meaning life. When confronted with my life I always stack up the evidence of my past behaviour, and often times I end up doing the opposite of what I want. Always setting myself back. What if I took all the evidence and decided that despite the fact that, for all intents I am a fuck up, I decided to believe that I’m worth giving myself what I want.
I’m blown, I should sit up
There is the evidence.
I keep on Derek’s wheel.
I come through one more time. The guy from Recycled Cycles is stopped at the sign reading Norway Hill. Hit the top next and pull over into the grass trying to catch my breath. Derek does the right thing and keeps pedaling. I push off after him to spin out my legs. Did he say “Right turn” or “Your turn” ?
Monday is my rest day and this week it just so happens to coincide with the first of Giro’s rest day. Which, when I break it down really only means that I have one less thing to do today. I used to roll my eyes when friends of mine would drone on about how the Giro is really the better of the Grand Tours. There really is no way to compare the weight of two beauties, but when it comes down to it the Giro is, in general, much more fun to watch.
Partially because its in Italy, partially because the mountains are cut from a different cloth, but mostly because its really hard for teams to march up categorized climbs. The reality of it is that the Giro goes down in similar fashion to a Spring Classic, where chaos rules the days and makes things difficult for those who come in to Italy after leaving in the positive feedback loop of out of the way islands and not rubbing elbows in the Peloton and working on crucial Spring race skills like – I don’t know – descending in the rain. (In all fairness I can’t go downhill worth a goddamn – wet or dry – but I’m also not paid to ride a bicycle.)
The Giro is beautiful, not just because of the chaos, but also because it, in some ways, harkens back to the Golden Era of cycling (which happens to be the Golden Era of cycling Journalism). But maybe I’m wrong.
However there was some journalistic drama after dogged pursuer of Lance, David Walsh posted one of his No Hiding Place series, as he embeds with Team Sky. The piece is about Wiggo, and lets not beat around it here, because that’s who English readers want to read about, so there’s not problem casting him as the protagonist. Walsh did catch some shit however for striking out at Time Trial winner Alex Dowsett, who at some point last year called Lance a hero. Walsh struck out, telling people via twitter to make his day. He seems to have forgotten that Wiggo has been confused about Lance as well. This is how it goes when you are embedded with a team.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Walsh comes out with a new book based on his time following Team Sky. He mentions in his dispatch that the staff know when to leave Wiggo alone. I’m sure Walsh knows those moments as well. Truth of the matter is this: No team would invite a Journalist of embed with them if they didn’t think it would serve the team well. David Walsh didn’t sign up to be a Sky PR hack, but by following the team its hard to not become that.
Giro, you are beautiful.