Okay, so a while back my friend Selene asked me to write an intro for some website interview thingy called 18 Questions on Fat Tire Fests. Then they asked me to answer 18 questions. This was a while ago. All of a sudden it’s up! Another friend, Dave, wrote my intro. Dave just happens to also be married to Selene. I’m not very interesting anymore, but it’s still nice to be asked. Here’s the thing: http://www.fattirefests.com/category/features/18-questions/
I’m not sure if I’m just out of things to say or if I’m exhausted from the idea of social networking and everybody having something to say. In either case, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. I did extend my domain license for another couple of years, so it’s not like I’m ready to quit altogether.
I’ve clamped down my Facebook security as tightly as I can. I don’t want to be that available. It’s why I don’t have a cell phone. I actually closed the account at one point last spring, but panicked at the thought of being electronically self-shunned. I think I’m ready to pull the plug for real.
What got me thinking about all this was the recent death of a young old friend—someone I’d known since her childhood. I’ve buried perhaps more than my fair share of friends over the years. It’s a function of running with a thrill-seeking, high-risk crowd (Guen died in a para-sailing accident). But this was the first time I’d helped bury a friend’s child. Sitting in the town meeting hall next to my good friend who was born in a tepee on my wife’s family’s lawn, I surveyed all the old friends–the guy I crossed Scotland with on mountain bikes, the guy who hired me for the most important bike shop job of my life, the woman who dubbed me “Dondo,” the guy who joined my wife and me in civil matrimony (now there’s an oxymoron), and, up in the front pew, my old ski and bike buddy Kendall—the father of the girl I rode with, coached on the xc ski team, and now mourned.
Simon, my pew mate, had known Guen since before kindergarten. When the final song was sung, “How Can I Keep from Singing,” we both broke down and wept like real men. Simon used to mow my lawn and stack firewood for samplings from my then-extensive swag collection. I also coached him in xc skiing and cycling. He went on to become a teacher, a most noble profession, and preceded me at The Putney School where he learned “How Can I Keep From Singing” at Thursday morning Sing, as did I after he had gone. We sang it the morning of 9/11 because we were too stunned to do anything else. There is power in many voices joined in song. It will really rock you when it’s people who know and love you.
So there I was, feeling more at home than I had in a long time, and wondering why I only see these people when someone’s getting married or buried. Raising three children of my own, 22 teenage boys on the other side of my apartment door, and another couple of hundred on campus leaves me with very little time for anything else—even catching up with old friends and reminiscing about adventures past. It was somewhere in this inventory that I caught myself up short and realized that my life was full of people who need me and make me feel like my life is well worth living. In other words, seeing my old friends so seldom is pretty much a Cadillac problem. I’ll never see Guen again, but I hadn’t actually laid eyes on her in something like 17 years. She’ll stay in my heart for as long as I draw breath. That’s plenty.
Which brings us back to Facebook. I’ve reconnected with old high school buddies, former colleagues, absolutely zero old flames (thank god), and a handful of stalkers I’d rather not cross paths with ever again. I hate to say this, but I don’t have time for any of them. I’m in the here and now and don’t need some stinkin’ electronic social network to make that happen with the people currently in my life. As for the past, I have my memories. I think I’m going to leave it at that.
So the other night I was loading the dishwasher and squirting the soap thingy full of the Earth-friendly stuff that also seems to be crud-friendly as well. I’m not sure if the soap that actually cleans the dishes is bad for the Earth, or whether the stuff that says “good for the Earth” actually is, but I’m not in the decision loop for purchasing dishwasher soap. That’s my wife’s job. But I must admit I have a just a tad of resentment toward the Earth-friendly stuff that doesn’t actually clean the dishes. Actually, it’s more than a tad more than a tad.
Anyway. I was loading the soap thingy and the bottle was empty when I finished. So I threw it in the trash, then dumped the morning’s coffee grounds on top of it. And it was in that moment that I realized just exactly how much of an asshole I can be. And in the next moment I decided I didn’t want to be that asshole, so I took the bottle out of the trash, wiped off the coffee grounds, rinsed it out and put it in the recycling bin where my wife would prefer it to be. It might have been the most grown up thing I’ve ever done.
The next morning I climbed in the shower and the usual cascade of shampoo bottles got knocked off the bathmat side and into the tub. Why we need so many varieties of shampoo and conditioner is beyond me (says the guy whose hair is rarely over an inch long anymore). Why anyone would put them on the side where the shower curtain inevitably knocks them into the tub is also beyond me. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t. I think they were there because the night before my wife was helping my eight-year-old son wash his shoulder-length hair. It was probably easier to put them on the mat side than reach across him and the tub’s expanse to put them on the other side. So, instead of leaving them to ooze (the caps also never get closed) in the bottom of the tub like I usually do, I put them on the wall side ledge where they wouldn’t get toppled by the curtain. But, regardless of the motivation to put them on the mat side, I decided that it would just be nicer to put them where they belong than leave them in the tub.
I don’t know what’s come over me. I’m acting like a grownup. Or maybe I’ve stopped acting like a grownup and I’m actually being one. I don’t hate my wife (I always put the toilet seat down!), despite the behavior I just described. I’ve just been naturally spiteful for a lot of my life and feel most comfortable being passively aggressive with those closest to me. What amazes me lately is how easy it is to not be that way.
After my shower I went to work and had a brainstorm. My wife and I are short on two precious commodities: regular exercise and time alone with each other. It dawned on me that we might be able to make time in the morning for a 30-minute walk together, so I sent her an email suggesting it. Those of you who know my athletic history might understand why I would dismiss something as pedestrian as a walk in my understanding of exercise. I mean, it’s not a 200-mile mountain bike race on the Iditarod sled dog trail or 250 road bike kilometers over ancient Roman cobblestones–how could it be exercise? But the truth is most days go by at my desk at the “nothing” end of the all-or-nothing spectrum of what I would consider proper exercise. That’s just dumb.
By accepting my invitation, my wife gave me an excuse to get out and get moving at some minimal level for 30 minutes. We’ve gotten out two days in a row and have plans for tomorrow morning as well. She’s been able to unload her anxious thoughts (she’s a major-league flaming sword juggler and multi-tasker for our family) and we’ve sorted through some decisions and just basically been there for each other while doing what many health professionals consider a pretty good way to keep our cardiovascular system in proper order. It seems like an excellent recipe for resentment prevention. Also, we’re pretty unlikely to try and compete with each other on a walk. Cycling, skiing, or tennis would be very different experiences. We aren’t entirely baggage-free.
So she still goes off to tennis matches and I’ve rolled up enough loose change to afford a season’s pass for mountain bike downhilling at Killington, just in case you fear we’re becoming Ozzie and Harriet. I spent last Sunday with JD, Flow, and D-Bass, dressed in carbon and lexan from ankles to head, hurtling down trails at upwards of 45mph while a steady stream of happy juice pumped into my brain. It’s a beautiful thing.
And she says I can just put the uncleaned dishes I unload from the dishwasher in the sink and she’ll touch them up and put them away. That beats the alternative by a long shot. There’s no need to ruin a 20-year marriage because I’m pissed about soap brands—or shampoo placement for that matter. I could get used to this.
I didn’t think there’d ever be another movie that rocked my world after Klunkerz came out, but I was wrong. If you’ve ever been a media-driven, two-dimensional public character who got lost in being that character, you gotta see Mickey Roarke and Marisa Tomei in the The Wrestler. I got a good glimpse of who I’d be at my age had I not broken free of the grid that was Captain Dondo and put my energy into the mundane world of work, family and friends. Captain Dondo was as close as I ever got to being a rock star—and I can’t say the allure isn’t still there (otherwise we wouldn’t be having these little public chats)—but I’m so glad I got over it in time to salvage the rest of my life, not to mention a chunk of my dignity. Wow. I love mountain biking. Don’t ever doubt that. (I’m seriously considering going out for a ride on the refrozen crusty snow on Big Pink before the afternoon snow storm shuts the Opportunity Window.) And I don’t think I ever took my position in the bike world as seriously as some people I’ve worked with. But if I ever try to turn this into anything more than the occasional blog entry, Dirt Rag story or Kenda Fest apprearance, just shoot me.
Here’s the report we’ve all been waiting for. Well, okay. Here’s the report I’ve been putting off for the longest time because I wanted to have good news for you all.
The good news is that my magic CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine really is magic. I’ve gone from years and years of interrupted deep sleep (93 interruptions/hour when I had my sleep study) to sleeping like a regular person (96% success rate with only 2 interruptions/hour). Well, okay. I’m sleeping like a person who looks like he’s wearing the Darth Vader Starter Kit. The thing rams air up my nose at a pressure that would raise some unknown column of water 12 centimeters–not quite enough to blow up a balloon, say, but enough to keep a small plastic paratrooper aloft indefinitely. It took me, oh, about 45 seconds to adjust to the pressure on the first night. I closed my eyes. I opened my eyes. Eight hours had passed between and I hadn’t moved at all. I had a cramp in my right buttock all the next day from not moving. I slept like a dead guy for the first week.
Now I can roll over and do several other tricks short of begging for breath. I have so much energy, most of the people around me (except maybe my kids) can’t stand it. I have enough juice to fully form an opinion and the will to argue my point of view. That’s scaring a few people and I have had to figure out how to get that roped in. I’ve had to refer to my mantra, “Better happy than right,” more than once since my rebirth.
I’m back in the gym. My weight had topped out at 250 lbs., pre-CPAP, so I was looking forward to almost instant weight loss when my hormones rearranged themselves to convince me that I wasn’t starving to death anymore (excess cortisol + exhaustion = let’s eat!). I gained eight pounds in the first two weeks. Yikes! But I also went down a belt notch and a half. I normally put on 2-3 lbs. when I start lifting again in the fall. I think what we’re seeing is evidence of real recovery, thanks to a new diet of deep sleep. But I think that’s it for freebies.
The parameters are these: Regardless of sleep patterns, I’m still a grossly overweight 49-year-old former bicycle road racer and cyclocrosser who moved into the ranks of recreational mountain biking 15 years ago. All those exercise articles out there will tell you that diet alone won’t get you where you want to be fat-wise. You gotta do the work. Well, if you read the diet articles, they say that exercise alone won’t get you there either. This is news to me, in a way. So this week I added the cardiovascular part of the program back in and started shaving calories (eat the corn nuts instead of the Pop Tarts and save 200, pick roast beef sandwich over double cheeseburger and save another 200, etc.). I’ve lost two pounds and another half belt notch. I like where this is going.
I’m an old dog, but these are familiar tricks. I like how I feel, for the most part. I find I actually have to stretch now, if I want to avoid feeling stiff. And running is a bad idea at 258 lbs. I got to the mailbox and back before I felt something starting to tear in one of my calf muscles. I’m hiking, treadmilling (big incline/low speed so I can walk), trying the elliptical trainer and trying to get Tattoo Dave to give me back my indoor bike trainer. Pretty soon I can add x-c skiing and snowshoeing. The plan is 30 minutes of activity a day during the week and some longer stuff on the weekends until I get light enough to think about improving performance. I’ll get on the bike at least twice a week and do some snow riding in preparation for this year’s Jay Challenge. That’s the plan. Simple, but not as easy as it sounds. Gotta be mindful, hopeful, diligent, and adaptable. This is Vermont. The weather is a variable.
Meanwhile, back in the boudoir. The other night we had a power failure, which woke me up instantly when my throat slammed shut in the absence of what’s described as an “air splint.” I took my headgear off and attempted to go back to sleep. I couldn’t do it. I’m addicted to breathing in my sleep. I wondered what Darth Vader would do if his batteries ran out. (Thus the title of this little ditty. Hey, it was 3 AM–not my best hour for reasonable thoughts.) It was a little after 3 AM so I reasoned that I’d gotten four good hours in, which is four more than I got for a decade or two BCPAP (before CPAP), so I’d just read my book until the sun came up. The power came back on after 45 minutes and, not having reset the clock/alarm, slept another seven hours. Anyway, the thing can be adapted to DC with a $130 inverter, so I’m going to have to look into that. The power goes out up here all winter long. And I have to figure out how to adapt my new toy for summertime camping adventures. But these, as they say downtown, are Cadillac problems.
I’ll leave you with this erudite poetry recital and images of last fall’s final mountain bike season moments. The structures and trails are all the brainchildren and muscletude of Dr. Dizzle. Enjoy:
Here’s the URL if the embed isn’t working for you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tVjlYcNVd8
As the wise old Jedi once intoned, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” And so I’ve fallen into the abyss of lift-served downhill mountain biking. I admit it. It’s why you haven’t heard from me in so long. You could cut the shame with a knife. Since last we met, I’ve been to Killington four times and Mount Snow once. I’ve sawed off the bottom of my seatpost so it’ll go all the way into the frame. I wear Kevlar body armor from my ankles to the top of my head. My skills outgrew my stock tires and I’ve moved on to Maxxis High Rollers. I jabber about berms, booters and drops as if anyone knows what I’m talking about. And I’ve found a gland in my head that dribbles happy juice every time I peg top end on an open stretch of access road. I’ve even bottomed out both of my 6-inch shocks so hard they went “bang” when I compressed into a gully. And though I haven’t had a 50 mph ragdoll event, I’ve fallen off my bike more times in those five days of gravity-assisted thrill seeking than I have in the last ten years of trail riding. I think I’ve found a challenge.
Yeah, I know. People look at me and think, “Well, he’s gotten so fat. No wonder he doesn’t want to ride up the hill anymore.” Fact is (to steal an overused device from a colleague), there are no more fat people on downhill bikes than there are on cross-country rigs. It’s, as usual, pretty much just me and Dr. Dizzle representing for the plus-sized off-roaders. I find a four- or five-run day of downhilling is as exhausting as a four-hour trail ride. And I’m sore for many more days after downhilling. It’s not the crashing. It’s all the standing on the pedals. Well, standing while the earth gets shoved up at you many times per minute. That’s what if feels like, at least. It’s beyond isometrics and full on into plyometrics. Sorry. I jargoned. Exercises such as leaping off of picnic tables onto the ground qualify as plyometrics. The flexed muscle is forced through a range of motion while the muscle serves to decelerate the force. Translation: If I ride on Sunday, I can’t walk downstairs with both legs until Wednesday. And I’m still prone to making espresso machine noises as I descend.
So I’m looking at eight- and nine-inch travel bikes with lust, but probably won’t go that far. I’ll probably top out, equipment-wise, at three-inch tires, a full-face helmet and maybe a spine protector. My tailbone-padded shorts have paid for themselves as have my knee/shin and elbow/forearm guards. Either I’m going faster each time, or somebody’s moving the trees closer together. It’s amazing how fast 20 mph seems on singletrack in the woods. That’s where most of the body bashing occurs, although Daq, Brad and I had our inside feet down in a graveled flat-track right-hander last Monday (we closed out the Killington season that day) that had me wondering for a few moments whether we’d all make contact. I wasn’t worried. One of the advantages of greater mass in those situations is that I’m not the one who bounces off when we collide. That’d be you, Stringbean.
I’d also hoped to have some happy news for you about an amazing comeback I’m hoping is going to happen. After a lot of soul searching last summer (those damned Ancient History photos), I came to the conclusion that my friends are right and that I probably suffer from sleep apnea. Sure enough, I took and overnight test and learned that I wake up about 40 times per hour from my throat muscles relaxing enough to close my airway. I don’t wake up enough to notice–just enough to prevent me from getting to the deeper sleep stages. What’s that got to do with a comeback? Everything, my dear Watson and Crick. I’ve been putting on about three pounds a year for the last 15 years, which is almost exactly how long ago I quit drinking and a few other bad habits. It’s also about when we started having kids and I reached (if 70 is the top end) the beginning of middle age. I believe it’s when the apnea started to really kick in, judging from how I got booted out of the bunkhouse during the 24 Hours of Canaan by my teammates and I was the team mechanic—the guy washing and adjusting bikes at 3 in the morning.
Apnea starts as snoring. Gets louder, louder, LOUDER, then stops. I’ve heard reports that I can go nearly two minutes without breathing. Then there’s some gasping and the snoring recurs and the cycle repeats. The net result is I wake up tired every day. But I’m such a horse, that it’s taken me 15 years to get tired enough to realize that something’s wrong. I’m nodding off at my desk in the afternoon, want a nap after breakfast, snore myself awake at the movies, etc. Kinda funny, but not–especially when I nod out at the wheel now and again.
Now, hormonally, all kinds of bad juju is happening in my nightly suffocation fest. Cortisol is running rampant. Cortisol is great stuff when it’s released during exercise, but hampers recovery and boosts appetite if it doesn’t get gobbled up during recovery. Ever heard the phrase, “The Tour de France is won in bed?” It’s not about sexual prowess of roadies. It’s about human growth hormone released by the pituitary, but only when the body achieves deep sleep. More deep sleep, more recovery. I believe this is why the period I can train for any one event has shrunk over the years to about eight days. I don’t recover. Training, therefore, does not occur. What is the goal of training? Children? That’s correct: muscular adaptation. What causes adaptation? It’s the response to stimulus. Riding the bike is the stimulus. Training occurs the moment you swing your leg back over the seat and call it a day. I gave it a shot at the end of August and started road riding on a daily basis. I made it about eight days until I was just completely exhausted. I can’t recover from day to day with the way I sleep. And I haven’t even mentioned diabetes, hypertension and a few others that apnea helps foment.
Okay, some part of this is age. I turned 49 a couple of weeks ago. I understand that. But I have plenty of 49-year-old friends with as much zeal for the sport as me who aren’t 45 lbs. overweight and can still ride a good four-days-on/one-day-off schedule. I look at the guys in the 50+ road racing results and it’s the same guys I chased in the 70s and 80s. I can’t imagine they got that way be being hungry for most of their waking hours. My exhausted body is looking for energy anywhere it can get it.
So what’s the holdup? Why am I not on the Yellow Brick Road? I did what’s called a split study. I spent half the night having my apnea episodes monitored. Then Dale the tech woke me up, plugged me into a CPAP (an airhose that blows yer flaps open while allowing you to breath) and spent a couple of hours dialing in my ideal pressure. The next morning I woke up fresher than I can remember ever waking up in my life. It was truly amazing. It had taken two months from my initial exam to get into the sleep clinic. That was two weeks ago. It’ll be another week before the results are back from New Mexico (!) and my ear/nose/throat guy can then write me a prescription for the magic CPAP machine. Can I tell you how much I don’t look forward to going to bed every night right now? I dream about all sorts of struggles, waking up sweaty and out of breath. But I’m oh so veddy close. And I’m so glad they didn’t say, “Don’t hold your breath,” when I asked how long it would be until I could get this situation squared away.
That’s the long and short of it. I’m harboring thoughts of downhill racing next year. Hell, my father-in-law won the 65+ Natz at Mount Snow this year at age 73 on a hardtail bike that belongs in a museum, not on a race course. My racing age next year is 50. It could be a fun way to spend a few weekends next summer. I’m feeling hopeful.
And my son wanted to be famous, so he and his buddies came up with this swashbuckling adventure:
Here’s the URL, in case the embed isn’t working: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nc1I7hHFiOY
And last, but not least, I’ve been over to Keene Motorsports, speaking of midlife crises, to see my old road biking/mountain biking/cyclocrossing buddy Randy Martin about quenching this life-long motorcycle obsession with one of these:
The last time I had money down on a bike at Keene Motorsports was 25 years ago and everybody I told about it looked at me like I was already dead. Okay, I had some issues back then, thrills being among them. So now I’m nearly 50, married, have three kids and a career and I’m looking at a cruiser with no windscreen—not a crotch rocket (which have a government-issue upper limit of 186 mph, but rumor has it there are ways to beat that and get a full 200-just FYI)—upon which I intend to stylishly putt around the back roads to my various meetings and, if Mommy will let me, occasionally pick up my daughter from her New England Youth Theatre sessions so her friends can be impressed. I’ve survived 37 years of two-wheeled travel among the internal combusters. I think I’m ready to have a motor now, too.
Thanks for tuning in.
A coupla weeks have slipped by since I loaded up the Man Van with Dr. Dizzle, Frank the Welder, Daq and a quiver of bikes to spend a long Saturday at the Kenda Fest (formerly Pedro’s Fest) in Hancock, MA–right in the shadow of Jiminy Peak ski area. I must admit I’ve spent most of those weeks wishing I was still part of that traveling road show known as the bicycle industry.
We rolled into the registration tent and identified ourselves. Daq, the only of us who uses his real name (and who wouldn’t, if you parents named you Daquiri?) pretended to be Tattoo Dave, who had to meet with the Lost Boys of Sudan (no kidding) as part of his work. And Karen, bless her editor’s heart, had us listed as “Captain Dondo, Dr. Dizzle, Frank the Welder and Tattoo Dave.” That was the first hint that I’d come home.
We rolled on in and went hunting for the Dirt Rag tent, which was easy, thanks to the miracle of sublimation printing. Finding Charlie Kelly was even easier. He’s one of the few race announcers I know who could get the gig done even if the PA system crashed and burned. Charlie, or SeeKay as he’s sometimes called (C.K. Charles Kelly, SeeKay–get it?) is many things. The reason he gets flown out to Hancock, MA from his Bay Area California home is because he’s a founding father of the sport. One of the original inductees into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, SeeKay was partners with Gary Fisher when they started the first-ever mountain bike manufacturing company. After that, he was a founder and editor of the Fat Tire Flyer—the first-ever mountain bike magazine. I’m telling you all this because Charlie is a regular guy who could easily be forgotten if not for guys like me who still honk his horn for him. There are still a lot of people out there believing the Trek media blitz of the late 90′s in which they positioned Gary Fisher as the inventor of the mountain bike. Didn’t happen that way. Charlie was at Kenda Fest to show Billy Savage’s ground-breaking documentary on the origin of the mountain bike, in which Charlie Kelly, Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, Otis Guy, Charlie Cunningham, Wende Cragg, Tom Ritchey, and a whole host of others played very important parts.
But I digress.
We scrambled into riding clothes and headed across the road to a mile (or so) long paved climb to the top of some singletrack. JD and I made sure no one got left behind on the climb, doing a thorough, arduously slow examination of said climb. At the top, party favors were passed around—something I haven’t seen on a group ride in years. Not that I partook, or even got downwind, but it was still heartening to see the funhogging, clubcar ethos of the sport hasn’t been choked out of it completely by the marketing firms and body nazis. The descent was gnarly, to say the least. Twelve inches of rain in the week prior to the event had been pretty well absorbed by these well-crafted trails, but there was no dodging the inch of greasy baby shit-consistency mud lurking on top. Coming around the first corner, I slipped on three consecutive roots and found myself pointing in the opposite direction. Even without the befuddling benefit of said party favors, I managed to do the same loop twice with JD while the rest of the gang had moved on. “I think they took the blue pill,” I said to JD. “We’re still stuck in the Matrix.”
Finding the missed turn, we rejoined the group for a much mellower lower section of trails that I couldn’t ride well, either, because I was so hammered by the upper section. Whatever. Some days you bite the bar. Some days the bar bites you. It was a mountain bike ride with Charlie Kelly, Frank the Welder (another hall of famer–look him up), Daq (my young apprentice from West Hill Shop days) and Dr. Dizzle (my long-lost twin). Baby shit notwithstanding, it was awesome.
Post ride, I grabbed the two acoustic guitars I’d stashed in the Man Van and tracked SeeKay to the Dirt Rag tent. We whipped them babies out and got to work. SeeKay was, among other things, the chief roadie for the Sons of Champlin for 13 years and has jammed with many, many famous rock musicians. His own band, The Aphids, is a Fairfax/SanRaphael institution at this point. I never pass up a chance to jam with the man. He set about teaching me the Allman Brothers’ arrangement of “Stormy Monday,” but I was just too retarded from the ride to get it right. But that didn’t keep the paparazzi from showing up. As we’re dicking around on a coupla chairs in the back of the tent, three guys with real cameras start snapping away. Here’s one. It was a little unnerving. I tried to find a pen to write the chords on my leg, but no luck. So SeeKay, in his infinite wisdom, says, “Quick, play something you know and I’ll fake it.” So I launched into “Before You Accuse Me” in E and we had at it. The willies went away and I belted out three verses between swapping leads with SeeKay a few times. T’was a gas, it t’was. But then we got booted out so Frank the Welder could hold court and lecture on the wonders of bicycle frame building.
FTW is as good a fabricator as he is as designer. The guy sees shit the rest of us can’t see, but also knows how to get it into a solid form that doesn’t fall apart. He’s currently designing and building for Sinister bikes, but he got on the map as the torch behind Yeti. He held the audience rapt for as long as he wanted to keep talking. He’s that good at explaining it all as well.
After a round of gigantic burritos and some beverages, I hung out at the mud bog competition with another old friend, Francis Bollag. Most of you wouldn’t know Francis unless you were in the bicycle retail business. Francis is a wholesaler and, for a long time, maker of Kingsbridge bicycle tools. “I never had a repeat customer, so I failed,” says Francis. But you have to know him well enough to know he doesn’t mean the tools sucked. He means they were so good, nobody ever had to replace one. I used many Kingsbridge tools in my grease monkey career. They were that good. Fish around any shop that’s been going 20 or so years and you’ll find them—still sharp and unbroken. Francis is on the brink of retirement and has discovered the wonders of SCUBA diving with his wife, although he’s still riding his road bike—still without a helmet. We’re talking old, old school here, babies.
Francis has a new chain lube which he begifted me. It’s called Chain-L No. 5 and, yes, you have to say it a few times quickly to get the joke. Even the graphics match the fragrance maker’s. I spent a rainy week camping with the family at Emerald Lake State Park where my bike was never under cover and the stuff didn’t wash off. It reminds me of Phil Tenacious Oil, but with better penetration. Smells like chainsaw bar oil but, hey, you’re not supposed to be sniffing the stuff.
Anyway. Day faded to night. One band gave way to the next. Much beer was being consumed. I’m glad the Starbucks cart stayed open so I had something to drink as well. The Dirt Rag salon became the Dirt Rag Saloon with a bourbon “tasting” event that started out pretty sedate and ended with many “you’re my best friend” speeches. I took the opportunity to have conversations with as many Dirt Rag staffers as I could. Maurice, the publisher and co-founder, is an old, old friend. We yapped about the wonder of non-competitive events such as Kenda Fest and then wondered where they’ve all gone. That was my beat: Fat Tire Bike Week, Canyonlands, West Virginia Fat Tire Festival, Pedro’s and so on. Where have all the good times gone? Well, it’s all cyclical, so some bright young thing will stumble on the concept, make it his own and we’ll have another go at it soon, I imagine. Maurice made sure he met everyone in my entourage and understood how they fit into the puzzle. He’s that kind of guy.
I just sent Karen Brooks, Dirt Rag’s editor of a year or two now, a most embarrassing email in which I blurted something like, “You don’t photograph that well.” Then babbled on about how much more attractive she is in person. And tiny. I mean, what a bonus. The attractive part, I mean. She’s already a mountain biker and more tech savvy than most shop rats. I’m a groupie. I admit it. I also had the pleasure of shaking Ruthie Matthes’ hand, another ultimately cool mountain bike female. Oh, and Amanda Zimmerman. She’s the art director for Dirt Rag. Take a good look at the mag some time and marvel at the wonder of her work. It all makes sense. Had a great chat with Jeff Lockwood and Karl Rosengarth, who are technically not staffers, but run the online aspect of the biz as part of a separate company. Karl wants to set me up with some blog space on the DR site. Not sure if I’ll do that in addition to this or instead of, but I’ll keep you posted. I like the idea of having a roost at Dirt Rag. Nobody there is getting rich, but there’s so much love of the sport there you can spread it on toast. Whatever that means. I just made it up. I also got to meet Justin Steiner, the circulation guy (makes sure the mags get to where they can be bought), who’s also quite an adept photographer, judging from the mud bog shots he’d gotten earlier. Hung with Andy and Eric who do the advertising and partnership stuff that keeps the money wheel rolling. Really thankless, but absolutely essential, jobs. But everybody on the team seems to have a hand in the editorial voice, so there’s none of that front office/back office BS you see some places.
I’m really nattering on here. We hit the road at a quarter to midnight in search of more food. Oddly enough, the Friendly’s was open in North Adams, but inundated with teenagers. We were seated toward the back, out of the fray. Poor JD ordered some barbeque chicken sandwich that was just plain wrong. I’ve seen JD chug down three double cheeseburgers from Mickey D’s, despite his career as a chef. He’s no sweet pea when it comes to eating crap. Which is why we were blown away when he set his sandwich down after one bite and marched off to the men’s room. What happened next was, soundtrack-wise, somewhere between Jurassic Park and Quadrophenia. Seems JD doesn’t reverse digestion easily. I looked at Frank and said, “Did he just yell ‘Ralph O’Roarke double parked my Buick?’” “No,” says Frank. “That was the third verse of ‘Inigaddadavita.’”
Actually, truth be told, Frank didn’t say that. He just rolled his eyes. But it really would have been funny, had he said that. Regardless, the bugling moose calls from the can pretty much cleared out the teenager infestation. This part is also true: the waitress wanders back to the table after JD returns and says, “I’ll just take that off the bill for you.”
We parted ways around 1:30 a.m. in JD’s driveway, after a hellish traverse of VT Route 9 in a lightning storm. I wobbled home, head full of joy, heart full of wonder, brain full of caffeine, and read my book until I finally unwound at 2:45, placed the bookmark, turned out the light and…
KAAAABOOOOOOOOM! The lightning storm had one last laugh, shorting the dorm alarm system and setting off the klaxon in the kitchen. Everybody up and into the van to wait for the Putney fire chief to come and reset the alarm.
I do recall saying it was a long Saturday. If you’re still with us, thanks for tagging along.
Somebody’s got the answer and it ain’t me. And before you hit that comment button, assuming you’re human, you ain’t got it either. Even if you’re not human, it’s going to take a lot of convincing because I’m out of ideas, pissed off and confused.
Why are we here? Did some alien litter here on a picnic stop long ago and leave the building blocks, like the microbial stuff that grows in the unscrubbed toilet? Are we here to scrub the toilet? Are we actually slave bots designed for converting food into turds? Is there some enormous turd harvester due back here in another millennium or so? I’m growing tired of wondering all the time. Are we here to wonder why we’re here? What purpose does that serve? What’s the mission, over?
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Yeah, yeah, it’s been a long time. Quit yer whining and listen up. My “little” sister (okay, she’s 44) brightened my day today by sending a bunch of slides she’s been scanning from my dad’s 35mm slide collection. (Click on them to see them bigger.)
This one is the lineup of my first race, sponsored by Ski Market on the New York State Office Building Campus in Albany, NY. Junior men went five miles. I’m back a few rows in a CCM hockey helmet (thanks to Bob Maswick) on my repainted Sears 10-speed sporting tube socks, cut off jeans and Nike running shoes. I led the entire last lap and got fourth, not knowing any better.
This was my second race. Bike’s been upgraded to a Peugeot PX 10 LE–the first of two bikes I ever financed through my dad–but the rest of my kit is still pure dork. That’s John Connaly, I think, behind me. Three got away and I took the field sprint for fourth.
Oh. My. God. I’d had shoulder-width hair prior to racing. I think I put my helmet on and cut off whatever else stuck out. Coulda been worse. Coulda had man boobs. That’s little sister on the right looking on in awe. Or is that horror?
That’s Leslie Moore’s bike I’m holding a year later, lining up for the next year’s Cohoes Crit. Her hands were full and I was agog. Leslie is the only person I’ve ever seen race in mascara. She used to do the men’s races in New York, so we actually got to know each other a little as packmates. This year I stomped on the pedals, intending to break right from the start, and cocked my rear tire against the chainstay when the hub slipped in the chrome dropout. I hopped off, made the fix, then chased the three man break in a solo pursuit for fourth place. Are you starting to see a pattern here?
Did a bunch of training that winter. Those are wool shorts made by my mom, silk-screened in art class by me with my last name. Small diameter rollers gave lots of resistance. I used to kill myself down there all winter, rocking out to Chicago and/or Paul McCartney and Wings. Gimme a break. It was the 70′s. Disco was the other choice.
Dad thought it was funny to open the freezer door to cool me off. Felt pretty good, actually. Look at the size of that head tube. I’m all legs.
Did a spring break bike tour in March with Les Young and Alan Wozniak, two of my Colonie Central High School classmates. We rode from Albany to Lake George for a campout and pretty much frozes our heinies off in all that lovely polyester. Still the 70′s, remember.
Good summer of racing, yadda, yadda. Now it’s late summer and time for the Cohoes Criterium. Solo guy takes off, three of us chase, including John Connaly (far right). That’s me in Serotta red/white/blue on my soon-to-be-retired Peugeot. (Phil Fisher would have my custom bike finished the following May.) Okay, so it comes down to the four of us sprinting for the finish. I got fourth. Just kidding. I won finally. Best ten seconds of my life…until the pain burst through the adrenalin rush. Spent another 19 years chasing that dragon, but it was never as good as that first one. The junkies are all nodding their heads.
There. Aren’t you glad you checked back one last time?
Here’s a bonus: catching air on the second-ever bike my dad financed for me. Rye Airfield, Rye, New Hampshire, May 2008.
Cover your eyes and keep reading. I was in the shower this morning with a headful of shampoo lather when the water temp went from pleasant to “drop the lobster.” I immediately thought, “What a great test of spirituality or humility or patience or something desirable like that.”
I couldn’t quite get my brain around what I was testing, but I knew I was having an okay day because it didn’t completely derail because somebody in the house flushed or ran the tap too hard rinsing their toothbrush. I stepped back and waited, enjoying the rising steam and keeping my feet clear of the spatter, rather than ranting like a, well, dropped lobster.
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