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.