Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Words of a Feather

I hadn't heard the words soul-mate, touchstone, or unconditional love until I was well into adulthood, and yet now they weave in and out of my daily life. The first time I heard someone use the term soul mate it was on a winter day in Oregon. The restaurant was slow and most of the staff were sitting on the floor of the dining room talking and drinking coffee. A waitress had just broken up with her boyfriend after months of her friends telling her that she was too good for him. He had moved back to Utah and found someone else. He wrote a letter back to his ex telling her all about how this new person filled him up. He even referred to her as his soul mate. The girl sitting across from me was shattered. They had been together for years, and he had never thought of her as his soul mate. I was in no place to judge. I had just married my college girlfriend for the sole reason of not wanting to move cross-country alone. So I sat and listened and thought. Throughout the next decade I learned that a soul mate is the one person whom not only fills your heart, but also connects with your soul. Some people find theirs. Some don't. Some find their mate, but never get the chance to be together. To some people it's a mere Hallmark sentiment. To others, it's as personal as a religion. I met mine in 1989, but didn't realize it until ten years later. I consider myself lucky.
In the wake of connecting with my soul mate, I learned the term unconditional love. Now this one gets tricky. It's got to be the most complicated emotion in the love spectrum. The easiest example is the bond between parent and child. That love is unconditional. But can anyone out there honestly say that their relationship with their parents was never messed up? Unconditional certainly doesn't mean pain-free or uncomplicated. Since adding these words to my vocabulary, my life has become exponentially richer, but it has also become more complicated and chaotic. The line from the James song rings true: "If I hadn't seen such riches, I could live with being poor." Does this imply that a more complicated life is a richer life? In recent years I've been struggling with down-sizing so I can enjoy life more by removing the clutter. Granted there's a vast difference between emotional and physical clutter, but both need to be dealt with before they weigh us down. Having said this, I introduce two other word that have become prevalent in my recent vocabulary: Touchstone and Zenning. Zenning I pretty much made up by using a noun as a verb. It refers to relaxing, meditation, or soul-searching in any form. After a bike ride, I like to take a bit of time at the trail head and just relax and detach for a little bit before facing the day ahead. Between a hectic lunch and dinner shift at the club I sometimes sit by the river and read to collect myself before returning to the chaos of my day. Any time I take for myself and use it to organize my thoughts in such a way that I leave the moment more calm and peaceful that I started out is Zenning. Summer allows many more opportunities (if you noticed, I mostly Zen outdoors) to steal time for myself. I also find it much easier to detach when surrounded by nature.
In conjunction with Zenning, is touchstone. Which is what I use as a focal point for my Zenning. This can take almost any shape. It has been everything from a specific person to a rock(see photo of my son holding some of my favorite touchstones), for me. I guess it all depends on what it is I need during that specific time. Over the past year, my life has changed. Things I thought should be easy became more difficult. Things that were once difficult became simple. Relationships of all sorts are complex and ever-evolving entities. How we evolve within them reflects not only on how we feel about these relationships, but also how we ourselves evolve and learn. Whether it's my bike teaching me about my own limitations or my son teaching me about patience or my wife teaching me about unconditional love; they are each lessons to be learned. Unless I take something away from these lessons, I am only adding to the stuff that I have to carry around. Only by learning, growing, and evolving, can I get rid of emotions and notions that weigh me down and revise my beliefs. Beliefs are like T-shirts (stay with me here): sometimes we out-grow them -- they just don't fit any more and need to be replaced. Every relationship we have has the ability to teach us about ourselves. If we don't learn --we don't grow.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Indian Summer of the Mind

Riding on Sunday, November 8th I surpassed my totals from the entire month of October in both miles and number of rides. It's true that the weather was warmer and less squishy in these first weeks of November, but some of it has been mind-over-matter. I realized that given the gear I own, if it's not pouring. pitch black, or ice covered, I can ride. I probably don't want to ride in a plethora of other conditions (or combinations of conditions), but that doesn't mean I can't ride. I have accepted that I have to dress a little warmer, give myself a little more time, and be more alert to my surroundings seeing that I almost got hit twice this week...at the same intersection! Apparently motorists stop being aware of cyclists some time after Labor Day? I must have missed that memo.
This whole 'change of perspective' has been an all-around healthy thing for me. The word 'can't' is a pretty strong and absolute word. I'm trying to be more aware of my use of it. Am I using it appropriately or am I using it as an excuse for 'won't' or 'don't want to'? Realistically, I can always ride. Ride before work. Ride to work. Ride on break. Ride on my days off. Ride in the rain -- it just makes the post-ride shower all the better. It's not just riding: I can clean, rake the yard, return e-mail, and just be a better and more patient person. All I need to do is stop thinking 'can't'. This past weekend, after knocking off three rides in three days, I raked the yard I'd been putting off for weeks, gave the basement a comprehensive once-over before the winter, and finally got my bikes cleaned up and put inside for the season. All except for one, that is. The one I will keep riding unless it's too dark, icy or otherwise too just unsafe to get out there. Is it really that I can't do things or is it that I'm too damned lazy to try? Ultimately, we can't do very few thing if we really set our minds to it. I just can't lose these last ten pounds.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hero Worship

Is it a 'middle-aged thing' when you realize that your heroes are now younger then you are? I only ask because I recently found myself e-mailing a complete stranger to tell him little more then how cool I think he is. On the one hand, I think to myself, "What am I thinking? This dude's going to think I'm nuts." On the other hand, I think I've picked some pretty sensible role-models to look up to throughout the years. My first idol was Gene Simmons back in the 4th grade, and he's still around and (tongue-in-cheek) pretty entertaining. Bono, Steve Yzerman (the great Detriot Red Wings captain), Lance Armstrong, and of course, Gary Fisher are all proven stand-up individuals that have hung in there for years as 'good guys.' So who is worthy of joining the exclusive crowd of people I admire, you ask? The last two years it's been Jesse Lalonde who has owned the WORS Elite Race division. I think I really get a kick out of him because if Gary fisher were 30 years younger, he'd probably look a lot. act a lot, and be a lot like I imagine Jesse to be: out-spoken maverick and champion. Jesse looks like a blend of tortured-junkie-artist and rock star. You wouldn't look twice at him staggering down Hollywood Boulevard or strutting around Time Square. But when he's in the woods on his bike, Jesse is at home. To top it all off he rides for Team Gary Fisher, so immediately he's alright in my book. In fact, I just saw that he's in the 2010 Fisher catalog. Which may be his doing, seeing that he got a job with Fisher Bikes last year. To top it all off, he thumbs his nose at conventional competition by riding (and winning) on a Gary Fisher rigid single-speed. A RIGID FRAME SINGLE-SPEED! How can a sponsor even sell that? 'He owes it all to our product!' Bull-shit. If you are part of the 1% of riders who can climb Sheboygan's 'equalizer' (on a rigid single-speed nonetheless), you're not just good at something; you're a god -- regardless of the equipment you use. Hell, he could probably climb that monster hill on my son's Big Wheel. When I have raced.... well, when I've been at events where I've crawled (usually bleeding) across the finish line firmly entrenched in the lower half of my division; Jesse and his brother Marko have torn up the same course at twice the speed and did so going usually four times the distance.
I've been on a bike as long as I can remember. I've played sports as long as I can remember. But competition has never been my strongest suit. I don't know why. I have a dad who played every game imaginable with me (and never let me win, so that should have pushed me). I spent every night of my youth playing something in the street until it was too dark to see. I just never 'rocked' at a sport. In my older years, I suppose I bought into the commercialization of sport a little much. I own the best bikes and the best gear out there, but I still lack what it takes to own the rides. Which perhaps explains why, at 41 years old, I still have idols. On the surface it's not hard to imagine a celebrity not having a care in the world -- money, fame, adoration, babes... But we often forget, or ignore, what got them there: patience, hard work, passion, drive, sheer will, and did I mention hard work. Maybe it's easier to have idols, then to put in the hours it takes to be an idol? If you read my last blog, you may may be picking up a kind of 'feeling sorry for myself' vibe. I hope that is not really the case. I know that my confidence is a little shaky. I had a rough riding season this summer. By the time I hit a groove, I had become disillusioned into mistaking faster on an easier trail meant I was becoming a better rider. The only way to get better is to ride more and keep challanging oneself. It's not a complicated formula for success. I will never be Jesse Lalonde. And I may always look up to him. There's nothing wrong with that. Having accepted that truth however, I have come to the conclusion that someday I want my son to idolize me. No one else has to, but it would be pretty cool to have Kovi think I was the best mountain biker in the world (not just the best dressed) and want to ride with me everywhere I go. So, the purpose of idols is to motivate us to be better, not to make us feel bad about ourselves? Hmmm. I can live with that. I'm glad we had this talk. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going for a ride.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Why Do I Ride?

Please take note that this isn't called 'Why I Ride'. The reason for this is that I had a shaking of my faith recently. I am not an adrenalin junkie. I don't do 'big air' or 'gnarly jumps' or 'epic descents'. I even gave my If it's too steep, you're too old t-shirt to Goodwill during this year's spring cleaning. I like a more PG-rated version of mountain bike trails. More like high-speed hiking. Long winding trails with rolling hills and lush surroundings. Trails that allow me to become immersed in the woods. Not trails that constantly have me fretting if the next obstacle will be the one that shatters my collarbone. Or a trail with two-story downs with a 45-degree corner at the bottom. Or bouncing over protruding rocks (the insider term is 'baby-heads'), roots, and logs until my spine is numb. My faith in my own desire to ride, as well as my ability as a mountain biker were called into question yesterday when, upon arriving at my favorite trail, I discovered that the trail is now closed to mountain bikers. Alas, I suspected this day was coming. The network of trails that I have been riding in Greenbush were originally solely for cross-country skiers. When mountain bikers starting showing up en mass, locals decided the area needed 'proper' mountain bike trails. My hat's off to the group of advocates that planned, mapped, and built the 12-15 miles of new single-track. It's beautiful and I'm sure it will stand as a benchmark of trail building in the area. BUT, it's not what I had come to the kettles to ride. I decided not to play the renegade and ride my favorite, albeit closed, trail. I studied the map and opted for loops 1, 2, and 3. Loop four is still under construction, and I had planned on a ten-mile ride. The three loops totaled what appeared to be a little over eight. The trails were really rough, winding and technical. I was on X-cal and getting bounced all over the place. The new single track isn't as well marked as it's cc trail cousins. I ended up way out of bounds on what I can only assume was the unfinished Loop 4. I walked practically as much as I rode. I was timid on the downs and ill-prepared for the ups. If I am ever to strap on a number again, I was definitely going to need to buck up. I was grateful when it was over, 12 miles and an hour and fifteen minutes later. I leaned my bike up against the jeep and glared back at the trail-head. "Now what am I going to do?" I asked the still cool morning air. At one point during the ride I even considered selling my garage and going back to road biking. At least a road is a road is a road, right? No, that wasn't an option. I would either come back here with the right tool for the job -- Sugar or Pro-cal -- and ride this beast until my confidence is restored, or I'd find a new trail. The Kettle Moraine National Forest has literally hundreds of miles of trails. I belong on a bike and I belong in the woods. I have called a lot of trails home since I took up this sport. There have got to be some 'high-speed hiking' trails out there somewhere. Now I just have to decide where to call home.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Father and Son (Day 3: Same Pair of Underwear)

Have you ever seen the print ad for...I think Patagonia underwear (it better be Patagonia, or some ad executive is going to get sacked because he failed to instill brand recognition in the reader once the president of whichever company it really was sees this)? The ad shows a very rugged traveler hiking through a very exotic scene and the caption reads something like: 'Two weeks, 300 miles, one pair of underwear.' Well perhaps he's not that cool. Perhaps he just forgot to pack more underwear. Or, perhaps he was just like me. I packed as though I was going to be either biking or sleeping. For the three days we were going to be gone, I packed two pair of biking shorts and one pair of underwear (and yes, is was Patagonia underwear). I didn't realize I had packed so light of essentials until after the first day's ride (if you recall from 'Day 1', we set out on our ride before checking in to the hotel) and we had settled into our room and were changing for dinner. Day two had me climbing cliffs, and now we're gearing up for day three.

Tuesday morning started just like Monday had ended: mostly cloudy, high-40s, and WINDY. We decided to try a ride, but agreed to turn around if it got too cold. The ride to be our 'other ride' was much shorter (12 miles round trip). The plan was to ride the Omaha Trail to its big dark tunnel and back before leaving town. We layered up, made arrangements to check out late (pending the need for a shower to thaw out), and headed out. The wind lashed straight at us. Gusts actually lowered the temperature on my bike's computer from 47 to 42 degrees. We knew that the 'getting there' part would be brutal, but this was something else. We had plenty layers to keep our cores warm, but without tights and proper head-gear this was foolish. Dad and I pulled up at the Elroy Station Trail-head, snapped some pictures, and turned around. The ride back saw the sun start to burn through the clouds, and riding with the wind behind us made it 20 degrees warmer. Back at the hotel, we changed into regular clothes and checked out. Once on the road, dad starting giving directions, "If we turn here we can probably drive to the tunnel." That was a great idea. I figured we were headed home. Now it appeared there was one more adventure to be had. The road should have taken us right over the tunnel, but the woods below were too dense to see anything discernible. So we took a detour that made us thankful we had taken the Jeep. We found the trail on a ridge above the road we were on, so we found a break in the trees and started hiking. The tunnel was about a quarter mile from where we picked up the trail. These tunnels are awe-inspiring when you stop to consider the era in which they were built, the means the workers had to complete the task of building them, and the trains that roared through them all those years ago. Again, we stopped for some pictures, and proceeded to hike back to the Jeep. On the way through Mausten, the first of many small towns we'd be driving through, the railroad crossing gates came down, and Amtrack's Empire Builder came flying through at 70-plus mph. What a sight that was to punctuate the 'rails' part of our Rails-to-Trails weekend. After a fast food lunch and a McCoffee dessert, we were home in time to drop off dad and pick Koval up from school. It had been a great trip. I came home, doled out hugs to the fam, unpacked, and started laundry. At least I only had to wash one pair of underwear.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Father and Son (Day 2: Why I Hate Switchbacks)

The perfect name for this blog would have been 'Stairway to Heaven.' But since I'm not a Led Zepplin fan, I had to call it something else. Switchbacks are zig-zaged trails with hairpin corners that wind up and/or down the steep side of a hill. On a bike they can be particularly tricky because the sharp corner is usually to go around an obstacle like a huge rock or a tree. You can't very well lean into a turn if it means smacking your face on a huge rock or tree. That's why I hate switchbacks. Here's the other reason:
Day two saw little improvement on the weather front, so biking wasn't really an option. We looked at a few other things to do. The first was an artisan cheese maker nearby. That made for a great snack, but only accounted for an hour of the day. Pouring over some of the travel guides we had along, we found that pretty much anywhere there are mountain bike trails, there are hiking trails. So we decided that we'd try some two-legged adventuring. I suggested Devil's Lake State Park. When we got there it was cool, cloudy, and windy but it was still warmer walking than biking. We picked a 2-mile trail that wound up and around a bluff to view a huge rock precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff, and then back down the other side. Naturally the flat, two-dimensional map was stupidly deceiving. The route up was literally a series of granite 'steps' that made up a 500-foot vertical climb strait up a cliff. It was slow going, but the views were as life-affirming as they were spectacular. Once to the top, the views down on the lake and valley were amazing. You could see forever. Making our way to the trail that was to lead us down, we ran into a couple of rock climbers who had just scaled one of the many routes straight up the rock face. They said climbing that way takes 15-20 minutes to reach the top. It had taken us the better part of an hour. The route down was easier in some parts and harder in others. The other favorable part of walking, is that afforded us the opportunity to take a bunch of pictures that would notify our next of kin what we had been attempting. Eventually we made it all the way down without incident and followed the trails through the oaks back to where we started. Upon emerging from the woods we saw a bald eagle circling the lake. In all that wind, he didn't appear to be working too hard to keep himself aloft. Dad and I had a late lunch at Culver's on the way back and toasted our summitting success with a round of ice cream.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Father and Son (Day 1: Rain or Shine)

Fifteen years ago I took my dad on a bike trip. There are two past-times he is passionate about: cycling and trains. Rails-to-Trails gives him a chance to enjoy both bicycling and railroad history. Wisconsin has some of the best R-to-T rides in America. The crown jewel being the Elroy-Sparta Trail. It's a 32-mile (one way) trail that includes three huge tunnels, the longest of which is so deep and dark you can't see one end from the other. My dad was obviously fascinated by this adventure and I knew he'd never do it alone, so for his 55th birthday, I took him. We took a long weekend, packed my Jeep, and headed west. We had a great time and created memories and stories I talk about to this day ("Eat the last chicken strip, dad!" could be a blog of its own). On the drive home I suggested we do this every year. Six months later, however, I moved to Oregon. So much for my great intentions. This year my dad turned 70 and the family turned it into a national holiday. The fact that everyone was around was gift enough for him. But being the only one of his kids who lives in town, I felt I needed to do something a little more than just show up. After all, he sees me all the time. When I got my Nat Geo Adventure magazine that month, there was an article about Wisconsin's 400 Trail. Another R-to-T ride that actually begins where the Elroy-Sparta Trail ends. So this past Sunday morning we packed up my Jeep again (albeit a newer version) and headed west.
About an hour into the drive my dad pulls out a big map of the state and puts on his glasses. He just spent a couple hundred dollars on a GPS system, but since we are men there would obviously be no need for such a device. After a a couple minutes of studying the map in silence, I became curious, "What's up?" I asked. "I can't find Tomah, " he replied.
"What's in Tomah?"
"Aren't we staying in Tomah?"
"I don't think so. Mom made the reservations. I just wrote down the phone and confirmation numbers."
"Really? Where are we staying then?"
"Sparta, I think. Where did we stay last time?"
"I don't remember."
(Long pause)
"I think we have to call mom."
I swear that man, as a species, probably had to ask directions just to get out of the stone age! We actually deducted that we were staying in Elroy by retracing out last adventure's actual ride. We knew we weren't staying in Sparta because that's where we stayed last time, and because last time we took a shuttle one way and ended at our hotel (in Sparta).
We got to Elroy about 10:30a.m. Our room wasn't ready, but we were essentially ready to ride. It was mostly sunny and 74 degrees. My dad suggested we just go ahead and start. Okay, I was thinking to myself, a little warm-up before we start the actual trail. Ten minutes or so into the ride, I asked "how far is this trail (we had considered doing another smaller ride or two while we were in the area)?" "22 miles," was the answer I got. "Round trip?" "No. One-way." Clearly my mother had not heeded my plea to tell dad to go easy on me. There were four towns along the way (the fourth being the end town that we'd turn abound in), where we'd stop to drink or stretch or have a snack. The ride was beautiful. The tree were turning color and the sound of crunching leaves and twigs under my tires were a sign that fall is right around the corner. We arrived at the Reedsburg Station (our end of the line) around 2p.m. Since we hadn't had lunch yet, (I was riding on a cup of coffee and a maple nut Clif Bar) we decided we'd lunch here and head back. While we were scouting the neighborhood for a restaurant, we realized that the sky to the north (the direction that would take us back to our hotel) had become somewhat ominous looking. We had to make a decision: stay in Reedsburg to eat and hope it blows through while we're eating or race back and hope we're safe before it gets too bad. We opted for the latter on the grounds that we didn't want to be 22 miles from our hotel in the pouring rain and have it start to get dark. So without as much as a commemorative snapshot of our accomplishments so far, we headed back up the trail. Before the station disappeared behind us, it started raining. It never poured, but it came down steady enough that we were soaked to the skin. We stopped at one of the towns along the way to rest. It had stopped raining and there was a kayak outfitter/bike rental shop I wanted to stop at to see if they had some spray lube. After 20-plus miles of rain, mud, and sand; and a night outside, the bikes were bound to need a little TLC before being ridden again tomarrow or the next day. We talked to the owner for a little while before heading out. No sooner were we back in a rhythm, and the rain started up again. At the next town it happened again. We stop -- nothing. We ride -- rain. I was starting to worry about the temperature. It had dropped 14 degrees from when we started and we were both in shorts and a short sleeve jersey. So, dad and I ducked into a little trail-side diner for a cup of soup and hot chocolate. We laughed at how covered in wet sand we were and watched the Packer game for a little while. A half-hour later, we stepped outside to finish the ride. Want to guess what happened next? You are absolutely right: it started raining. Not that it mattered much at that point. There's really no such thing as getting more soaked to the skin. It was during this last section that I thought of something that made me smile. I was looking down at the beads of water clinging to the hair on my arms, when I remembered seeing a bumper sticker that said, 'a bad day fishing beats a good day at work.' Now I know first hand what that means. We got back to the hotel and tried to brush off wet sand with wet sandy hands. I gave up on that exercise in futility and headed to the shower in an attempt to disprove the theory that a hotel can't run out of hot water. If that wasn't the best shower of my life, it was certainly the most deserved. Fourty-four miles (22 of them in the rain) and three-and-a-half hours after arriving in Elroy Wisconsin, we sat down to a well-deserved dinner of steak and shrimp....and a second helping of chocolate pudding for dad for dessert. Back in our room, we watched the National Geographic Channel and made our good-night calls home. When I heard him on the phone with my mom, I wanted to tell him to thank her for not telling dad to go easy on me.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Tale of Two Tires

Saturday marked the 10th anniversary of the Maywood Earth Ride. I've been lucky enough to ride in eight of them. The first year, I didn't live close enough to get here for the ride, and two years ago I couldn't get out of work. I've rode with every combination of family members: with dad, with Sydney, with Koval, with Lori, Indigo, and Kovi......... You get the idea. The ride itself offers something for every rider, from the 100 mile trip to the 12 mile 'family loop'. This year it was to be Lori, Kovi, and I. Lori, who has been on a bike once in the last 6 years, was excited to ride since she's been running and getting healthy lately. I, as always, was looking forward to the ride, but wasn't looking forward to pulling a 60lb Koval and his 40lb Burley. This is definitely his last year in a trailer!

Our scheduled time to leave was 10:30am. We planned to leave early to get some breakfast at the park before we took off. Fortunately for us, we live only a couple of miles from Maywood, so we didn't have to deal with the parking congestion at the park. About half way there, I blew a tire. So Lori rode home, put her bike and my other hardtail on the Jeep and came back to the parking lot where Kov and I were waiting. As slick as things were working out....it was not meant to be. My other bikes disc brakes wouldn't allow the Burley to connect. So plan B sent me home in the Jeep with both of my bikes, while Lori and Kovi headed to Maywood to wait for me. I rushed home, parked the X-Cal, put a new tube and tire on the HKEK and headed to the park. I took a short-cut through the bike trails of Evergreen Park and arrived at Maywood in time to meet up with the fam (including my mom who was meeting my dad whom was out on one of the longer rides) in time to grab a couple of donut holes and still leave with the 10:30 wave. On the ride, Lori decided single-speed is the way to go, as she never got the knack of shifting. The weather was great, which made for a really nice ride through the all-too-rolling Sheboygan County country-side. The rest stop was even at a petting zoo to show that there is something for everyone. Once we peeled Koval away from the jungle gym, we headed down the final stretch of the 12 mile ride. We were maybe 1000 yards from the end when my tire blew again! So now we sat and waited for the support car to come and change my tire, as I had already used my spare earlier this morning. A half hour later we were back at Maywood munching on a sub sandwich and hot soup and laughing about our tire-popping adventure. We still had to ride home to our regular lives, where Lori spent the afternoon painting Kovi's room and I headed to work. Another day, another tire, another 16 mile love affair with cycling.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Race Day/Life is Good

Yesterday was race day. There are two races in the WORS series that fit my riding style very well. Unfortunately for me, the first of those takes place in June, while I'm usually still pretty out of shape. The second race is the Reforestation Ramble in Suamico (just north of Green Bay). It's a 12-mile route consisting of about 7 miles of ultra-fast double-track (my top speed was over 23 mph) and 5 miles of technical single-track, sharp turns, and steep sandy hills. It's always fun for me to be around so many like-minded people whether I'm watching or riding. 500 racers and their crews/families/friends all gathered at a forest sevice park to do what they love: tear through the woods on self powered machines. Machines that are treated like priceless works of art until the starting gun goes off. Then they are stomped down on, pulled and pushed to the very limit their aluminum or carbon frames can withstand. It's beautiful. The race went well for me. The single-track was harder (which, for me, translates to slower) then last year and the groupings were different which meant we left in a more general group so it took longer for riders to sift into their comfort zones. After a rather short lead-out, we shot into the woods pretty much aligned by speed. I'd keep with a group going into single-track stretches, and when we'd hit a wider double-track section, I'd make my move deeper into the pack. At the 7-mile point I had a Clif-shot to give me a kick for the end. It must have worked because my first thought upon seeing the finish was, "already?" My time was slower then I had been gunning for, but the ride felt good (and I didn't crash), the weather was perfect, and I was with my family. I had no complaints. After my race, we hung around to watch the pros race. We got a coffee drink and sat in the grass watching the Elites fly by on bikes worth more than my car. What is it about biking and coffee? That will have to be a blog for another day. We ate at Krolls -- an American burger institution -- in the shadow of Lambeau Field on the way home. I was a little sore, but it was a good day. A very good day. Riding is life. And life is good.

Landing Moby Dick

Upon hearing my last story about my bad luck on eBay, an old riding partner of mine commented, "Damn, you've been shopping the X-Caliber for years. It's like your white whale!" That was good for a chuckle for both its irony and its truth. But as luck would have it, lady luck gave me a second chance. The exact same model bike came up for auction from a shop in Colorado. Right down to the same starting price and buy-it-now price. Again, fate was tempting me! Do I snatch it up for the buy-it price or take my chance getting it cheaper in the auction? The clincher was that the auction was to end while my family and I were on vacation. When my wife read my blog, she too couldn't believe I had come that close...again. Now, she too, had an interest in the cat-and-mouse game that I continued to play. In my head, I knew exactly what I was and wasn't willing to do for this bike. She really wanted me to 'just buy the damn thing and be done with it.' But that's just not my way. So we left for vacation and the time counted down-- zero bids three days left. On our last morning in Door County, before checking out of the hotel, we used the courtesy computer in the lobby. Still no bids. I had to be home by 8:30pm to snipe it at the last minute. On went our last day up north. We played mini-golf, swam at my favorite state park, did a little shopping and headed south to have some dinner and head home. On the way out of town, Lori suggested stopping at the hotel and using the computer to put a bid in, in case we didn't get home in time. No dice, someone was using the computer. We were 2/3s of the way home when Lori had another brain-storm: we stop at a hotel off the highway, run in and use their computer to quickly put in a bid. I hemmed and hawed at such a notion, but I pulled into the parking lot of a hotel I had no intention of staying at anyway. Lori ran in, logged on, and placed a bid, all under the curious eye of the front desk clerk. An hour and a half later we got home, unloaded the car, and logged on to find out...I (actually my wife) had landed my white whale. It was a good vacation.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"I Was Robbed!"

I'm what's known on e-bay as a sniper. That is, I watch something but don't bid on it until the very last instant. In doing this I don't tip my hand and usually can grab something out from under somebody without ever showing prior interest. Yesterday e-bay karma hit me with all it's wrath.
The one style of bike I do not have is a '29er.' The Gary Fisher 29ers (29er stands for the larger wheel size) are built for speed and ease at overtaking obstacles. I've had my eye on a particular model for several years now. My desire for this bike is more of a curiosity than either a need or even a want. But I've been shopping for one all the same. Twice I've pursued one on e-bay, only to have it reach a price I was unwilling to accept. Last December I found one at the bike store in Green Bay on our monthly visit to my son's doctor. I told myself that if it was there the following month, it would be mine. It was sold by the time I returned. About a week ago, I started to look around again. My usual bike connection in Milwaukee came up empty handed. There were NONE in my size let alone the model I was after. Then, out of nowhere, one materialized on e-bay. The right model, the right size, the right condition, and the right price. The seller was a bike shop dude and had made same savory upgrades. And to make it truly enticing, he was offering it at an exceedingly reasonable price. The model new ran for about $1700. The auction was opening at $1100 with a buy-it-now option of $1300. Even the $1300 was a deal for that ride. There were two days left and not a single bid. I began working up a sale pitch for my wife. Certainly she'd remember me mentioning that I still wanted a 29er to round out my collection, right? I also starting studying my finances. This would be a hard sell on both fronts coming as it did, a week before our family vacation. All night at work I ran through my numbers and my speech. When I got home, I quick went to e-bay to stare longingly at the bike to gain confidence before going upstairs to talk to my wife. But low and behold, the bike was gone! Somebody...the FIRST somebody...realizing what a deal it was, grabbed it via the buy-it-now option and was now the proud owner of my bike! Damn karma.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Familiar Ground

Ten years ago I dusted off the Gary Fisher HKEK I had bought years earlier when I lived in Oregon and headed into the woods. I had just moved to Sturgeon Bay in Wisconsin's Door County peninsula. The restaurant I worked at was mere blocks from some prime hiking/mt biking trails. I hit that trail five days a week either before or after my shift. It was here that I became an addict as well as an ambassador to mountain biking. I loved the solace of riding solo, but I'd drag any of my co-workers out to ride with me. Ivy, one of the cooks I became tight with, introduced me to some more trails further north at another state park. On my day off, I'd make the 35 minute trek up the coast to Peninsula State Park to ride that trail. Penn Park became my favorite ride, so it was a special treat for me to ride there. I'd ride the 12 mile loop and treat myself to a lunch of soup and bread at Door County Coffee on the way home.

All this came at a very trying time of my life. Yet even though I went through the birth of my daughter, separation from my first wife, being fired from a job, starting a new job, and a bankruptcy all during a 3-month span of time; it's the mountain biking I choose to remember. Very possibly because it was the mountain biking that got me through all those challenges.

Though that original GF has been retired, I set out on those rails again last weekend. My wife and I brought our youngest to Door County on a spontaneous weekend getaway. We had a great time attempting to recapture some of the magic we had originally created there in the door peninsula. It was definitely a highlight of my summer. I addition to a great bike ride at Penn Park, we had some fun games of mini-golf (my 6-year-old got his first hole-in-one), dinner at the restaurant we ate at the day we got married, and a dramatic thunder storm to lull us to sleep at night. So much of my present life has its roots in Door County. Going back is always full of mixed emotions for me. Every one's lives contain 'what ifs', but its hard to get a grip on how many of my 'what ifs' happened while I lived up there. Decisions made that changed my life for better or for worse. But when it comes right down to it: at least I had (and have) my bike. It was good to be back on familiar ground.


I have had a rotten summer. It has had a few shining moments: a nice weekend in Door County, an uncommon amount of visiting family and friends, some decent zen rides. But, by-and-large, the last several months have been marred by lack of sleep, injury, heartache, pain (both physical and mental), and crippling frustration at what's become of my life. I met someone recently who has been through some really tough times. She is a middle-aged athlete who credits her pain as her inspiration. How can anyone do that? How is it possible to credit beatings from an alcoholic father as inspiration to finish a triathlon? I can barely pull myself out of bed when things aren't going well. Well, that is an over statement. But when my home life is sub-standard, my work suffers, my health suffers, and my riding suffers. They all effect each other. If my wife and I fight, I can't concentrate whether it be at work or on the trail. My mind is always elsewhere doing (or rather obsessing on) something else.
I love hockey. When I'm watching a game, it'll show a player so immersed in the moment -- so single-minded in purpose, that it's hard to conceive that anything exists outside the rink to this athlete. How does someone separate life from sport? Because I can't. Every aspect of my life touches every other aspect of my life. And right now my life is wrecking my life.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Independant Days

4th of July weekend was about as chaotic and stress filled as they come. Work was a circus and stress at home led to near melt-down levels for me personally. Thankfully, I have a bike. The fam bailed for the weekend, so I found myself alone again. Friday night at work we got absolutely crushed, but my crew rose to the occasion and we got through it. Saturday morning I decided I was going to hit the Kettles for a post-crushing (Friday)/ pre-crushing (Saturday) ride. So with the top down and music cranked, I headed west on highway 23 for the 25 minute drive to the Kettle Moraine National Forest Greenbush Group Camping Area (now you see why I just call it 'the Kettles'). I munched a Clif Bar en route for breakfast and hit the trail head by 10a.m. The first lap felt good, so I decided to knock off a second lap for the first 11-mile trail ride of the season. A Clif Shot (double espresso) just before lap two kept me from bonking during the 115 foot up-hill that beats your quads and glutes into submission for the first quarter mile of the trail (yes, I wore my altimeter watch for this ride). I finished the ride in 1:04.05 averaging 10.3mph, which is respectable. I shoot for an hour for the 11 mile version of this trail and aim for anything better than a 10mph average. I spent a little time in the vast empty parking area cooling down and meditating before heading back to town to treat myself to an iced mocha before heading to work for another holiday clobbering.
Sunday morning's weigh-in had me down just over five pounds, but my body mass index was up a little. Meaning I lost muscle. Unfortunately a lot of the weight loss was probably due to dehydrating and starving myself during the two pounding nights at work.
Monday I found the time to repeat the Kettles ride again. I was still lagging from the weekend and felt it on some of the later stretches of lap two. I never quite found that zen groove where it doesn't feel like work to fly through the woods. I was plagued by that dead leg feeling that makes riding feel like I'm slogging through 6 inches of jell-o. All-in-all the ride was an improvement over Saturday's ride. I finished averaging 10.5mph and knocked out the ride in 1:00.48. Not bad considering it was only the second time I attempted the whole (2-lap) ride. Again, I spent some time unwinding and zenning before heading back to town for an iced coffee and Clif Bar lunch. I'm hoping to get my Pro-Cal back on the trail soon. The hydrolic brakes locked up during winter storage and the shop urged me not to try fixing it myself. The Sugar's been treating me very well so far this season. What a deal that bike was! $600 virtually new on e-bay.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Back in the Saddle Again (part ll: Into the woods)

At long last, I stole a couple hours for myself and went out to the Greenbush Group Camping Area. Home of my favorite trail. It consists of a 5.3 mile outer loop that is primarily a cross-country ski trail. I little while back, the area became so popular with mountain bikers that they added four additional smaller loops inside the original. The new trails offer more technical stuff and more often. I really love the original because you can go fast. There is enough technical stuff to keep you on your toes, but not so much that it keeps you from really opening it up and flying. In about the middle of last season I started doing two laps because I felt guilty about spending almost two hours in the car for a 35 minute ride. My goal is always to finish the 10.5 miles in under an hour. 10mph is a pretty respectable average for me on a mountain bike. The hardest part of this trail is that it begins with an absolutely punishing set of up hills. I bought myself a altimeter watch for Father's Day, but wasn't wearing it on my ride this morning (it's my 'day-off' watch). I really want to know just how much climbing is in that opening section. By the time you get to the top, you just pray the end of the ride is near. But after a nice relatively level stretch, your heart stops pounding in your ears and the fire in your legs stop burning and you begin to remember why you're there. I only rode one lap today. I knew I should take it easy and the weather was stifling. My computer measured it to be 96 in the woods! Forty minutes and a Nalgene of water and a second of Gatorade later, I was headed back to town.
This hasn't been a very exciting blog. And I hope they stay this way for a while. I'm sick of getting hurt. It takes way too long to heal, and the chicks in my life aren't impressed by my bumps, bruises, and scars. They just say, "Poor daddy," and keep playing.

Back in the Saddle Again (part l: Doctor's Orders)

"Doctor, doctor give me the news....." I've got how much weight to lose?!
One week after my rib-cracking crash, I went back to my regular doctor to have him take a look at me. I wasn't recovering as fast as I hoped and besides, it had been thirteen months since my last physical. In addition to the all too uncomfortable things that transpire during a man's physical, the doctor also told me I was obese. Not overweight -- OBESE. Okay, I know I'm a long way from modeling for Hollister, but obese? So what's the magic number, doc? 15? 20? He looked at this handy wheel calculator he had in his lab-coat pocket and said, "54." "54?" I replied, "54 what, grams? Ounces? Certainly not 54 pounds! That's like one whole leg!" I need both my legs, so that wasn't an option. I'm trying to eat less. A lot less. I eat three meals a day, but now two of them are cereal. And I try not to eat after work (9p.m. or later). I bought a scale the same day and weigh-in every Sunday morning. The first 12lbs went pretty easy, but this weeks 1lb loss was really frustrating. I've got a few early morning road rides in lately, but pain and family stuff has kept me out of the woods. It'll be a long while before I get up the guts to go back to Evergreen and the Kettles trail I love so much is 40 minutes away, so that's at least a two hour commitment. The road rides have felt good and my times have been respectable. The ribs have only hurt when I get out of the saddle to charge up a hill. Unfortunately, road riding and mountain riding have about as much in common as distance running and sprinting. It won't be 'til I get back on the trail that I know how hard I need to work to get back to a respectable form. I'd really like to race in Green Bay again this year. That race is about five weeks away.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

When Nature Goes Bad!

It's been a slow road to recovery. Thankfully some crappy weather has kept me from pushing it. A salesman joked with me the other day that "This is pretty good weather......for October!" In any case, I haven't been on a bike since my spill. I was hoping to try and get out on the road once or twice this week, but the rain and wind and fog kept me inside.

This past Sunday I just couldn't take it. It was raining on and off and foggy. I was pacing like a caged animal: antsy, moody, restless, and anxious. Finally, I decided I'd go down to the waterfront, get a coffee, and go for a walk on the beach. When I got down there, the entire lakefront was covered in fog, so I decided to go hiking at Maywood in the drizzle. The hike started off fine. I stuck to the woods to keep the dripping off of me. I worked my way down out of the woods to a trail that leads to the spring-fed ponds. I forced myself to find a four-leaf clover as I needed to work on my patience. It took some time, but I found one! As I began to head down the trail, something caught my eye on the edge of the grass. I thought it might be a chipmunk or other small rodent, but it wasn't moving too quick. At the very moment I realized it was a small bird, a really pissed off (and I'm almost certain -- rabid) mother turkey came flying out of the long grass behind me and chased me backwards down the trail 50 feet! Once I was at a distance the mama turkey deemed as safe, I looked back to see a bunch baby turkey chicks and mom meandering down the trail. So, I picked a new route. I took a trail along the river. It was pretty swampy given all the rain we had just had. There were typical sounds of ducks and songbirds everywhere, but one call was starting to dominate. The closer I edged along the wetlands, the more serious the urgent the cries of a group of re-winged blackbirds got. I figured I must be close to their nests. That suspicion was for the most part confirmed as the dominant adults were buzzing me as the rest sat in the cat-tails scolding me.
By now, I was thinking 'I'm never coming here without my kids again (they're so loud, they scare off all manner of wildlife before we're all out of the car).' I crossed the river with the intention of walking the loop i usually ride (the 'M' part of my MEQ trail). The rains had turned the trail into a virtual stream of mud and water, I decided to stay on the north side of the river and do the Upper Prairie Loop trail instead. I saw a pair of muskrats washing in the natural spring where I usually stop to fill my Nalgene, but opted not to risk another ill-fated animal encounter. On the upper loop I saw a pair of deer eating buds off a tree. I took their picture and continued down the trail as not to disturb them. Eventually I realized that the trail would loop around right along side their snacking tree. I decided to reverse my course and leave them alone. As I made my way back, I heard crunching behind me. I instinctively turned to look and realized one of deer was following me down the trail! "Are you kidding me!?" I thought out loud. I'm done! I'm going somewhere safe.....like the mall!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Roots: Nature's Railroad Tracks (or: Today I Hit a Doctor)

Being a chef, father, and husband, my schedule is pretty chaotic. The only fairly consistent times I have to ride are Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday mornings. My weekend riding was going well. A good ride at MEQ on Saturday. A decent road ride before picking up my daughter Sydney on Sunday. Monday, Lori and I were planning on taking the kids to school and heading to the river for a day of kayaking. When I got home from dropping off the kids, Lor was still spent from working the night before. I figured I'd knock out a quick ride, and we could paddle after lunch.
The 'E' (Evergreen Park) portion of MEQ is just that: thick evergreen Forest. So thick, in fact, that I've rode in there while it was raining without getting wet. Evergreen trees in this part of the state are shallow rooted and thrive is sandy soil. Which is why, every spring we have a new trail to ride due to washout and blown down trees. The roots are terrible due in part to the popularity of this high-traffic trail system. Any kid who learned how to ride a bike in the city has probably at one time or another wiped out because they hit train tracks at the wrong angle. At Evergreen Park it would seem EVERY root is at the wrong angle! They bring you to a stop while you're grinding up the last few feet of a hill. They'll kick your back tire out from under you while trying to make a sharp corner. They can launch you air-borne as you shoot down a hill. And sometimes they just throw you off your bike. Twice in my time riding in Evergreen I've had bad crashes and have had no idea what caused them. Yesterday was one of those times. I was headed towards the Maywood corridor down a bone jarring section of roots. I've never fallen here. It's bumpy, but that's what mountain bikes are built for. In an instant I was on my back, my bike was on top of me and I couldn't breathe. I had clearly landed on my handlebars on the way over. I pushed my bike off and rolled on to all fours. My lungs were deflating with a horrible grown and I couldn't reverse them. I thought about dialing 911, but I couldn't speak. It seemed like forever before I got a little gasp into my lungs. Followed again by more raspy exhaling. Little by little, the process reversed itself until i could again fill my lungs with air. It was the most scared I've ever been. When I got my wits about me, I looked around for what had done this to me. I couldn't find any one root that seemed more dangerous than the others. Riding on adrenalin and endomorphs, I continued riding a shorter, easier route back out of the woods and home. It wasn't until I bent down for my water bottle, that I concluded something was really wrong.
When I got home, Lori was up and I told her I was taking myself to walk-in. She drove me to the clinic and thankfully there was no line. Not like in winter when everyone with the sniffles is there. The nurse insisted in giving me a sponge bath for all the other bumps and scapes I had incurred which actually kind of creeped me out. But she did say the nicest thing that i could hear in my current situation, "You must have a really high tolerance for pain. You blood pressure is only 120/80." When the doctor came in, he listened to my lungs and probed my gut looking for internal owies. When he got to the bottom of my rib cage, I yelped and swatted his hand away. "I guess we found where you hit, eh?" He laughed and sent me to radiology. Twelve x-rays (three of with were taken twice), later, the staff deducted that I had not broken a rib, but had in fact incurred quite a bit of trauma to the cartilage that attaches the rids to the sternum. With that diagnosis they sent me home with a girdle and some vicodin.
The real pain of this ordeal lies in the fact I didn't get to go kayaking with Lori, and I was planning on treating myself with a trip to the kettles to ride my favorite trail after I took the kids to school Tuesday morning! The doctor says a month before I start feeling better. I wonder how long it will take to feel 'good enough'?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Crash Test Dummy

In the movie The Rock, Nicholas Cage's character says, "The second you stop respecting this stuff -- it kills you." He is referring to nerve gas. As it turns out your seemingly harmless local mountain bike trail has a lot in common with said nerve gas. On the morning of Memorial Day, I headed back to MEQ for another go at it. I had customized my route to cut out some technical switchbacks and add a mile plus stretch through the back part of Maywood. I wasn't a mile in, when my mind started to wander, "If I make one more hill then I did yesterday, I will improve my time." The next thing I remember was watching my front tire sink into 4inch deep mud and come to a stop on a root. This launched me over the handlebar and flipped me into the air. I landed on my right shoulder and rolled onto my back, looking up at the tree-tops and sky just in time to watch my bike land on me! That part of the trail is right on, or immediately below a natural spring that ensures that it is ALWAYS wet and sloppy. In fact, before the WORS race, they dump a load of crushed limestone on it before the race to try and dry it up. By the time practice laps are over -- it's a mess again. I got up and shook it off. At 41 years old, I live with the knowledge that it now takes a month to heal what would have taken a week ten years ago. Luckily, the fore-mentioned mud made for a soft, injury-free landing. I was a mess; but unharmed. My bike, however, snapped a cable stay (or so i thought). So I'd have to do the rest of the ride without my back breaks. I made it up the rest of the killer hills and did shave a little over a minute off my 7-mile ride. When I got home, I washed my bike and had to hose off all my clothes BEFORE i could throw them in the laundry. Just another day at the office!

Memorial Day Weekend/Back to the Local Haunt

Sunday was an amazing day when it comes to 'playing outside'. It started with a 7:30am bike ride and ended when Lori and I pulled out new kayak out of the river at 6:30pm.
My ride was my first trip to my local trail. The ride encompasses three different parks: Evergreen, the Quarry, and Maywood Ecology Center. I'll call it my MEQ ride. It plays host to one of WORS (Wisconsin Off-Road Series) biggest races. It's a nasty trail. Tons of technical crap that slows you up and knocks you down. I hit the trail talking myself down, "Enjoy the ride. Pick a good line. Don't race." I had a decent ride. I made it up 'the puker' (but I didn't throw-up), I intentionally walked a hill, and slick roots kept me from making another hill. The log jump was down-graded over the winter: a fallen tree now forces you around the jump and the water-cossing got harder in the off season. Other then that, it's pretty much the same trail. It was, all around, a respectable first ride. When I got home, Lori, Koval, and I headed to to the beach (via a coffeehouse) to chase seagulls. We cooked out in the afternoon and headed to the river for a couple hours after dinner.

First Trip to the Woods.

On May 19th, I headed to to kettles for the first run of my favorite trail. Unfortunately my trail was closed. I rode a different path that i was unfamiliar with and didn't have a great ride.
It never fails. I spend a chunk of sping riding a nice 10-mile route around town. Patiently waiting for the trails to dry. Along the lake, in and out of the river valley, a nice not-too-boring route through town. It's nice.....but it's NOT the woods. 2.77 miles into the kettle trail, i was puking over my handlebars. My cardio and lungs can never seem to get in shape as quickly as my legs. Lessons learned.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Mr Repair Man

When I was 12 or 13, my father and I built my first road bike from the ground up. We started with a $10 police auction bike and spent the winter creating my first real ride. That bike lasted a few years until I got a new Royce Union bike that weighed about 45lbs! I pampered that bike season in and season out. Every spring, my friend Jim and I would field strip our bikes and re-grease the fittings and clean and oil everything that couldn't be re-greased. The reason I bring up my credentials, is because today I realized I'm an idiot. I am now 41 and can barely figure out how to put air in my tires! I have three bikes and can do most of the basics. Or at least I feel I can. I still get looks at the bike store for what I consider repairs the average guy can't do. I may be wrong. Last weekend I crashed. A spectacular crash that I will elaborate on later. The spill left me without rear brakes for the rest of the ride because I snapped a cable stay. Today I brought my bike to my favorite shop because I don't have the means...or the will, to re-string a cable. I walked in to the shop and Harley, the owner, came out and asked "What's up?" After I told him, he reached down and found the cable-stay still on the cable. It had snapped free and simply slid down. An observant 6 year old could have fixed it. Now, if only I rode with a 6 year old!