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.