Tuesday, December 30, 2008

US Airways = Bad service, no fun. Boycott US Airways

It turns out that according to both USA Today and Consumer Reports, US Airways is the best at sucking. They are the #1 airline for consumer complaints in the US.

I am stranded in Charlotte, NC because they got our flight in late, and then refused to let us board our connecting flight, even though the plane was still there, right at the end of the jet way. This is after they lost our bags on the way to San Francisco, to say nothing of the cynical price gouging--it now costs $15 to check a bag, all meals and drinks including coffee and tea are for sale, not complimentary. It's really frustrating. Funny thing, too, because oil has settled down to around 40 bucks a barrel, all of the flights seem to be full, and the tickets aren't cheap. So money is being made somewhere, right? It seems the airlines discovered they could get away with charging for extras and gouging the hell out of the customer and now it doesn't matter what their overhead is, they can keep charging.

Mash 'em, smash 'em, put 'em out of business.

The customer service personnel were completely unhelpful, barely even rhetorically apologetic, and basically only offered pat, scripted answers and no help at all.

Down with US Airways. Sell your stock, use another carrier, tell your friends.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

2008 Year In Review, and Sponsor Thanks

Part I: The Scene and The Racing

Whenever I find myself reading a vocation or avocation specific sort of blog, like this one, a key determinant of my interest is always the ability of the author to situate her personal experience and perspective in a broader context. The interdependent and co-constructive relationship between individual and community is the site at which the specific experience of the I can speak to, and shape, the collective experience of the We, and vice versa. I say this to introduce my reflections on my own 2008 'cross racing season and the shape of things in the 'cross community at large, from my perspective, in hopes that the account may be received as something other than self-reflexive navel gazing. In a blog...no, really.

So to begin with, I would like to extend a sincere nod of appreciation and respect to Eric Schillinger and Pete Avitable of NYcross.com for growing the NYcross series from a tiny, 3-race local series in 2005 to a popular, quality 6-race series this year, with excellent turnout, truly quality courses, and good prize money. The Uncle Sam GP of 'Cross, held in Troy, NY's Prospect park, for the 4th year running this past October 4th, drew the strongest elite men's field in NYcross history, and the largest turnout yet. The NYcross races, including the generally applauded Bennington 'cross race and the new and truly DIY, grassroots first time effort of the series opening Kirkland CX, have begun to consistently draw not only down-staters, but New Englanders as well. This is thanks to the consistently solid turnout, great race venues, creative and quality course design, stellar volunteer ethic and general organizational mojo of the NYcross crew (ably though quietly backed by the CBRC club's core of enthusiastic and die-hard volunteers). The 'cross scene in the Albany area is a beautiful thing and seems only to get better as it grows.

And of course, on the bigger stage, Adam Myerson, Alan Atwood, the Verge crew, Richard Fries et al get huge props for continuing to make national and international caliber racing easily accessible all season long due to the Verge NECCS.

As for me, my season went more or less as I had hoped, with perhaps fewer standout rides than I would have liked, but enough solid performances and spikes here and there to keep me motivated and believing I can set myself up for a possible breakout season next year.

I learned this year, with the able counsel and on and off the bike coaching of my Bikereg.com /Joe's Garage teammates, Matt White and Al Donahue, that the 'cross season is a lot like a single 'cross race: it's important to get a good start, making up ground is hard or sometimes impossible, a single bobble can cost you and more than one may cost you the race. If you get burned out in the middle of the road season, you can usually afford to take a week off, use a race or two as group rides to get your speed back and then get back to hard training, often experiencing a boost in both motivation and performance as a result. In the whirlwind 3 months that is the U.S. cyclocross season, however, there isn't a lot of room for recalibration.

Following a pretty rigorous road season with Targetraining that ended with the Green Mountain Stage Race, I took a solid two week break from training and racing--in fact from riding at all--in order to recharge my batteries, recover a bit, get acclimated to my new semester, and hopefully set myself up for November success by not trying to sustain road fitness for too long and then fizzling, as is so easy to do. My thinking at the time was that , while it would be humbling to be struggling in September while a lot of guys were still super fit from the road or Mtn Bike season, I would be feeling reasonably fresh in November and hopefully all the way through Nationals.

My plan worked, more or less, but it was sort of like getting a bad start in a 'cross race and feeling progressively better as the laps tick by, but running out of real estate before catching the lead group. I now fully appreciate the recipe of a late Summer break, followed by lots of training and racing in August leading to a high level of fitness, and good recovery time. That allows for quick recovery from racing and makes hard midweek training in September possible. That, in turn, equals early season UCI points, which amount to good start position, which amount to more results, etc. Instead what I did was struggle to build form, rest between races because I was only recovering well enough to go hard on the weekends, and finally I ran totally out of gas Northampton weekend and came completely unglued, which resulted in a soul-sucking DNF on Saturday at Noho and an ignominious 18th on Sunday. For perspective, though, had I finished 18th in that race in '07 I would have been ecstatic so, if my standards are getting higher, I must be improving.

I am pretty pleased with the fact that through a combination of adrenal rest (no coffee for 3 weeks. Those of you who know me appreciate the gravity of this. ), solid intervals and endurance rides, good sleep and general keeping-of-the-faith, I rebuilt some form and scored my first UCI point ever at Southampton on 11/22, just three weeks after my meltdown. It was hard keeping perspective through the Toronto races, which were excellent, though hard, but it paid off and I felt like I got back to my better self for the last few weekends of the season with good rides in Sterling--where I managed a couple of more UCI points--and in Rhode Island the weekend before Nationals. Not to mention the fact that, due to consistency and the fact that Justin Lindine didn't do enough of the races to qualify for the overall win, I managed to win the NYcross series overall, which was pretty cool, as well.

The most important thing I began to learn this season, though, by far, was how to really race a full hour. It is pretty easy, especially when you race the same guys every weekend to get into a rhythm of racing hard on the first two laps, and hard on the last lap, but just riding tempo to maintian position throughout the middle of the race. I started to realize, again with the supportive guidance of my teammates, that scoring UCI points isn't rocket science, it's a matter of showing up fit enough to go the full hour, and then making sure you get into the right group with other guys who are actually racing, as well. I only felt it on a handful of days this season but on those days--Saturday at Southampton, Sterling, The Uncle Sam race in Troy--when I was sprinting out of every corner, churning the big boy gears on the flats, and big ringing all the hills, I began to feel like I can learn to be a pretty good bike racer. I moved up a group or two this season, in terms of my peer group in races, and it was motivating, if humbling at times to get used to racing with a more experienced breed of racer. If nothing else it did wonders for my technical skill, and I feel like my bike driving improved a ton this year, which was nice to see. Interestingly, I spent almost no time practicing dismounts and carries this year, I was sloppier than I have been in the past over hurdles, and it didn't seem to matter. Go figure.

So a quality season with a lot of growth, and a lot of room for more growth has me motivated to train better, ride smarter and race faster next Fall, and see what I can do. The nice thing about making training mistakes and sloppy lifestyle and diet choices is that it makes getting faster a lot easier!!! Just cut out the dumb shit and fatty snacks, right? Right.

Part II: The Team and The Sponsors. Thank You!!

Reynolds Cycling
And of course all of this would not be possible if not for my incredibly supportive sponsors. Sure it's nice to say that, but really, I feel like during the 'cross season I have the privilege of flying colors that I am proud of and that feel like home. Joe Mai of Joe's Garage in Haydenville, MA (just North of Northampton--the best little bike shop in New England) has been friend for several years now, ever since I started riding bikes seriously, in fact. Over the last few seasons I have had pleasure of watching his shop grow from a little hole-in-the-wall operation to a full-on, packed to the gills, full-service, boutique shop with an enormously dedicated following. Parlee, Pinarello, Redline, IF, Reynolds and Mavic are the core house brands, and Joe has a close personal relationship with Bob Parlee and a neat hand on the fit cycle. So if a custom bike is in the offing for you, you really can't do better than a Joe-tailored Parlee. And for bang-for-buck, off the rack road or 'cross bikes, dollar for dollar, I really do think that Pinarello and Redline have just about everyone else beat. Yes, Joe has been taking good care of me on his 'cross team since I was a B racer, but I was making all of my major purchases at his shop before that, and would continue to if he never sponsired the team again. Shop there, you'll be glad you did. And as for our other title sponsor, Bikereg.com, if you've ever used any other online event registration service, you already know why Bikereg is the best. Use it.

This year, on top of Joe's usual great support we also had the moral, financial, and guy-in-the-pit support of the aforementioned Steve Roszko of Bikereg. And in addition to Al Donahue and myself we legitimized the elite squad with the addition of the one and only Sleep Machine and king of the hole shot, Matt White. We had ourselves a Team! With industry support from Reynolds, Louis Garneau, Time and Sram, we were ridiculously well taken care of. A sincere thanks to all of these companies and people. It is humbling to have your support.

For anyone interested in some good deals, our team bikes (Redline Conquest Team, size 54-58cm, Sram equipped) and team wheels (Reynolds Stratus DV 46's) are for sale. Give Joe a call or shoot him and email in interested.

Corporate thank yous aside, being on a well meshed team is a great experience, and one I am looking forward to having more of on the road in '09 on the Spooky/NCC presented by Kenda road team. Until then, it's lots of books, lots of base miles, a little cross country skiing, and another family sailing excursion to the BVI. This is the time of year I remember what it's like to relax. Now let me go find my pirate hat...

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Who Stole The Internets?

Coming up: 2009 year in review, and an extended thank you to my sponsors.

But first, a little reflection on the last 36 hours or so....I'm tired.

Delayed flight, lost bag, 4:00 am bedtime plus jetlag, my daughter off to her Mom's for a week, post-Christmas madness...two weeks off the bike and I feel almost more tired than when I was training and racing. Need more sleep.

So I'm here in San Francisco, for the first time, actually, because my girlfriend is on the job market this year. So we're hobnobbing at the annual MLA conference, which is the must-do shindig for English scholars--think Interbike for wordy-nerdy book people. I intend to crash a panel discussion or two, considering that a couple of my pedagogical heroes are out here representing. Maybe I'll get my learn on a little sumthin'-sumthin'.

San Francisco seems a little shy about publicly accessible Wifi, huh? Funny with Silicone Valley being right here and all. The most provincial, out of the way places back East have free Wifi but here in SF it seems free Wifi is not so common. Maybe I need to go across the bay to Berkeley? For the time being I have been ghettoized and I am posting from an Internet cafe. The indignity!

It feels kind of fun to be thinking about books instead of bikes for awhile. But I'm starting to miss the bikes. Bike-heavy post to follow this evening or tomorrow.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Due Diligence - a brief follow up to Kansas City

In my initial post, I suggested that I had words with Page's brother-in-law after the fact. I would now like to apologize and clarify that it was Cale McAninch with whom I spoke, this has been made clear to me by the several pictures of him now infamously posted all over the net.

Watching the Cyclofile video in this thread
it is clear that, whatever happened off camera, it seems Wade was the first to bail out of it, which I remembered one guy doing, but had my wires crossed as to who was whom.

For what it's worth, and perhaps this was shortsighted on my part, I hadn't anticipated quite the size and scope of reaction to this post that it has attracted. In retrospect I wouldn't change my observation at all--I saw what I saw--but I probably ought to have done more homework to make sure I had correctly identified all three of the guys before posting my account.

I am not letting Wade off the hook--that isn't mine to do, of course--he was involved, and as I said all along I was not in a position to *hear* anything over the generators, but I did see. He is probably not to be faulted for asking the guys to shut up, they should have been asked to shut up and it isn't *that kind* of a free country, as I said the other day. How he followed up his request is open to interpretation, and like I said: in junior high, everyone involved gets in trouble for the fight, and when adults act like they're in junior high, maybe the same should apply, no?

However, what stands out most in my mind was my interaction after the fight with a belligerent, unapologetic guy who didn't seem at all sorry for what had taken place. Having mistakenly identified this fellow as Wade, JP's bro-in-law, my take on his involvement may have been skewed unfairly. Or maybe not.

In any case, journalistic ethics ought to apply when a blogger chooses to report on public events. I don't so much care about saying the popular thing, but it was a mistake to name names without being sure I had them straight. Mea culpa.

Now on to brighter things, getting chubby in the off-season, base miles, and Spring training races. Shall we?


Done (a non-bicycle related post)

Thought I would talk about school for a bit this morning. This is what I get up to when I'm not on a bike. The two things, studying literature and education along with bike racing, actually overlap to a great extent for me. But that is a post for another day.

I just saw the final grade of my MA coursework. It was an (questionably deserved) A!
So now I'm done with classes, and it's on to a large stack of books for my thesis. I should post about that some time soon, and will. Basically what I'm up to is looking at the figure of the teacher as an intersection between individual and institution, trying to get at the nature of how society shapes educational institutions, institutions shape teachers, and students are burped out the other end, which seems largely incidental.

So I'll be starting with John Dewey, and working my way up to current quasi-radical rhetoric and composition texts. The interesting bit, I hope, is that I'll be using the poetry and essays of Charles Olson as one of my sources. Olson wrote on teaching quite a lot, both in the concrete and the abstract, and his Maximus figure functions in much the same way as does the trope of teacher I describe above. Plus he was influenced by Dewey and taught at Black Mountain College.

All of this is quite the catharsis for me, the Angry Young Man who refused to stay in high school.

Next time, an end of 'cross season recap, and a hearty and detailed thank you to my sponsors.



Sunday, December 21, 2008

'Cross Nationals Part IIb: The Thug Life + an Anti Heckling PSA

Like I said yesterday, you just can't go letting a bunch of white people get together in a large group, shit always jumps off.

By now everyone has heard about the brawl between a couple of drunken hecklers and Jon Page's brother-in-law that took place while JP was being interviewed post race. So why am I taking it up here? Well, because I was standing there when it happened. So, here's my bird's eye view account.

So Justin Lindine and I were making our way back to the car from the staging area and were slow rolling along on our bikes, stopping to chat with people here and there. We were standing behind the Verge trailer where there were a couple of dozen bikes laid out on the ground all waiting to be packed up for shipping back East, including all or most of the Richard Sachs team bikes.

I didn't hear any of the conversation leading up to the fight, and I had no idea who was involved or the fact that there was heckling going on or anything like that. All I saw was two guys on one side, another guy and a woman on the other, angry faces, quasi tough guy posturing, and then the bigger of the two hecklers pushed Page's brother in law, he pushed back, then little chubby troll dude (Heckler #2) in work coveralls shoved, they sprawled onto the bikes, chubby troll was the first to run away, etc. Pathetic.

The thing is, though--and this is what I haven't read anywhere else--from my perspective, yes Page's brother-in-law was pushed first, but he not only pushed back, he also stomped hell all over Richard's bikes, and the others lying about as if they weren't even there. All three of them did.

I know what it feels like to take a punch, and I know the moment of primal rage, the urge toward self defense and pure, simple ego that surfaces in that instant. I know it doesn't always feel manful to walk away, sometimes it feels dishonest, unrealistic, not true-to-self. And sometimes it is, genuinely, righteous. And I know that, as Myerson eloquently described on his blog last night, sometimes, if you're a real badass, you walk away.

There was nobody in the right from where I was standing. The problem was not who pushed whom, the problem was the over-arching discourse under which these individuals define themselves and set parameters for their behavior. There is a sense of all too common, petty, middle-American entitlement at work here that folks imagine gives them the "right" to heckle, to play their car stereo loud outside my window, to stick a confederate flag on their truck window. "Dammit this is America and I have the right"... no, jackass, you have responsibilities first, rights after. The first amendment to the constitution was designed to protect us against being stripped of the right to resist. In no way was it intended to be, nor should it be interpreted as being, a preemptive weapon or verbal billy club available to individuals with which to mark their social territory.

I read yesterday on one of the cycling websites, CX Magazine, I think, that one of the two hecklers was grousing about having to pay more than "his share" of the damages. And I shake my head. He should be writing a formal letter of apology to USAC and the event promoter and explaining to as many junior racers as possible why what he did was selfish and wrongheaded.

And for all three of them, at the point that the first guy landed on a bike, they should have woken up a little. You know the saying, your right to swing your arms stops at the end of my nose. Once the private property of innocent third parties was involved, these Baby-Hueys should had the restraint to minimize the damage to the bikes and move the hell on. Instead they stomped all over the place like a gang of Tolkein's mountain trolls playing whack-a-mole with their feet. And the shit heel who started the heckling wants to quibble about his "share" of the damage? Words fail me.

The funny part was that after the fracas was over, I rolled past Chubby Overalls Troll, whom you will remember as Heckler #2, and the tallest and thinnest of the three guys (Page's in-law, I think. Could be wrong) and I said, to Heckler #2 "pathetic, you're an embarrassment". He walked away, but the other guy took offense and got in my face. "What was I supposed to do?" he said. I told him he was supposed to be the better man and walk away. I told him he should have been thinking about where he was, the presence of kids, event sponsors, the media, the police, and that all of that should have been more important than defending his manhood. I do feel for the guy, he did get pushed, that sucks and he was right to tell the hecklers to quit it. Maybe he was the wrong guy to tell off, but it all reminded me of junior high when the teacher doesn't care who started the fight: the assumption is you were both wrong, and you both get punished. And yeah, sometimes that's unfair but you know what? Not usually. At times in my life when I have been making bad choices, I have had to worry about getting punched. When I'm making good, socially responsible choices about the way I carry myself? Not so much.

On heckling: stop it. This seems to be the issue of the season. I have read about it on several blogs, and had many conversations with friends. More than once I have heard people speculate that, like the surge in interest in "Alternative" music after Nirvana's "Nevermind" came out, and the jocks and kids just looking for a fight found out about mosh pits, and the genuinely other-than-mainstream music scene began it's true death roll, 'cross might just crush itself under its own success and popularity.

But really, let's keep this simple up front: saying mean stuff isn't nice.

There isn't so much positive energy flowing around the universe these days that we can afford to piss on the genuinely large and meaningful emotions we manufacture for ourselves by the racing of bicycles. We do it to feel good about ourselves. So why knock that down a peg? I have been a part of a lot of communities in my life: As a musician I've been a part of everything from what was left of the hardcore/punk scene in the early 90's to the New England contra dance and old time scene, as well as the Jazz world. I've played tournament chess, obsessively, and had all sorts of eccentric hobbies. One of the things I think is really inspiring about bike racing is that in order to be any good at it, you have to be reasonably positive and take pretty good care of yourself. Honestly, compared to other circles I've traveled in, the most maladjusted bike racer is still not nearly as misanthropic as your average chess player, believe me.

There's nothing clever or smart about being too cool to care. Particularly about something you spend large amounts of time, money and natural resources to pursue. If you're going to travel to another state, or even just across town, and spend your day at a bike race, and then hang out and watch the elite race, why not act like you care? Show some respect and learn something. Why not support the guys that are still doing hill repeats and motorpacing on the road in December? Why not appreciate that the best 'cross racers in the country--to say nothing of the Europeans--are so much better than the rest of us it almost isn't the same sport? When I was about 13 I thought affecting an air of jadedness and been-there-done-thatitude would gain me entry to the Cool Kids Club. I soon realized that the real Cool Kids--the ones I actually began to look up to then, or do today--are the ones who claim their space in the communities and experiences that matter to them, work to make them better, and ignore the haters and naysayers.

Trebon may not be the most outwardly friendly guy on the circuit but you know what? He's a professional athlete and how many people do you know who are as good at what they do as he is at 'cross? If he wants to be serious, he's allowed. He doesn't owe anyone a beer hand-up. And why heckle Page? It probably stings enough not to be the best in the U.S. anymore, and he seems able to be pretty gracious about it. But man, who has done more to put U.S. 'cross on the map than him?

I guess we each have to make a choice about what kind of community we want to have. And understanding that our individual choices matter and affect the world beyond the ends of our respective noses is already a long way toward taking responsibility for "our share" of our community.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Cyclocross Nationals part IIa: The Race Report (long)

Well first of all, thanks to everyone who has posted a comment, signed up to follow the blog or sent an email to say hi. For those of you out there with your own blogs, feel free to tack me onto your link list. And if I haven't already, let me know if you want me to do the same.

So to wrap up nationals:
Saturday was a race that was really easy for me to get motivated for. Over the course of the season doing UCI races, often against some or all of the best guys in the country, I am not realistically racing for the win most of the time. The Master's 30+ race at nationals is an opportunity for guys like me to race for a big win, and I had been looking forward to this race all season. I had a lot to prove to myself and, while the W wasn't looking too likely if AJM decided to race, (reality is reality) I was confident that I could podium, all other things being equal. In the end I didn't have the best legs, the hill was hard, I got schooled in the sprint, etc. but I told the rest of that story yesterday.

On Sunday, however, I started really feeling that it was the last race of the season and the temptation to spectate and just cheer for my friends actually started to loom pretty large. Not so much because I didn't want to race, --although the temperature did drop a dramatic 20+ degrees in a matter of minutes and the prospect of a windy race in the high 30's, following Saturday's mid October weather was a bit hard to take--but because I didn't want to feel superfluous.

I remember last year lining up way the hell in the back, something like 12th row and looking at the guy in jeans, and the Rolling Prime dude who had dollar bills pinned all over himself, and thinking that I wasn't really racing, I was more part of a circus.

/Begin Lengthy Philosophical Digression/
Yes I know there are 'cross nuts out there that really feel the costumes and shenanigans are more important than the competition, but I absolutely do not agree. I think 'cross should be fun, and I think that goofing it up is fine, particularly at local races. But I also think that part of the appeal of heckling, mocking competition, and not taking racing seriously, stems from a generalized, postmodern social apathy and post-Gen X ennui that dictates irony and sarcasm as the shibboleth of humor.

Or more simply, it takes a bit of sack to stand up and be counted, to pin a number on and give a damn, and to take seriously--and enjoy, yes enjoy the hell out of it--the business of finding out what you're made of on a given day. Isn't that why we race? Racing bikes is one of the only things I have ever experienced that genuinely stops time, and brings me face to face with the core of who I am and what I can do. I am a pretty lighthearted guy, I appreciate a good prank, and I can take the piss as well as anyone. But I'll be damned if I'm going to drive halfway across the country to act the fool in a national championship.

And understand, I'm not slagging anyone for experiencing racing the way they want to. But I have a 10 year old, and I notice things. It seems like it just isn't cool anymore, in mainstream American culture, to actually try hard. I see a level of pre-teen disaffection in my daughter's peer group that I find kind of sad. So many of our experiences of life are mediated, medicated, softened and made indirect, that I think there is real value in immersing yourself in The Genuine when you can find it. That's one of the things I love about cyclocross.
/End Lengthy Philosophical Digression/

So. Sunday, cold, sitting in the car with Justin laughing, 30 minutes before the race, finally getting psyched to race because, dammit, it's nationals. Watching Will Dugan win the D1 Collegiate race had been pretty inspiring--that boy can hurt when he wants to--and I had actually started to have some of those Great Moments In Sports kinds of feelings.

We stage, we line up, we false start (no it wasn't Myerson's fault) and we're off. And I'm moving up, and I feel pretty good, and my measly handful of UCI points got me a 6th row start, but I'm up with the third row guys 20 seconds into the race. Then the first crash happened, just traffic, someone rode across my front wheel, no big deal, lost a bunch of spots, up the hill, a guy goes weirdly wide, I'm in the tape, the hell with it, I ride it out, break the tape, a spectator says quietly, to himself "that's gonna hurt" I keep it under control and get away clean, leaving Mr. Wobbly Wide-line for good. Down the descent, through the first s-turn, almost t-bone a guy crashed in the middle of the track, next corner and someone else is down in front of me, I lost a lot of ground with my mishaps but now I'm picking up steam and picking off guys in clusters of 1's and 3's.

Eventually I put in as inspired a chase as I could muster and hitched onto a group containing Brandon Dwight, who had just impressively repeated as 35+ national champ, Adam Myerson, Justin Robinson, my good friend and race-dueling partner this season, Matt Kraus, who had been a strong 2nd behind Brandon in Saturday's 35+ race, and Spencer something from S&M racing out West. While farther down than I would have liked to be, realistically this was a good group for me, and those are all guys I respect and feel good about racing with. So I settled in for a lap, trying to recover. A lap later and a couple of guys were shelled, a bobble in the run/ride up buttonhook at the top of the course cost me a few seconds and I lost the group, which was basically how it ended. The S&M kid and I played touch and go for awhile until the last lap when I put in a few hard accelerations and he popped, and I came upon Adam, demotivated and soft-pedaling it in after his now much-publicized run in with Jon Baker. For all of that, I ended up, once again, rounding the last corner onto the pavement just a few feet off of Justin Robinson's back wheel. He got me again. Funny how in 'cross, as I said to him later, your guys are your guys and, most of the time, good start, bad start, call-up or not, you'll find your group by the end of the race. Sure there are exceptionally good and exceptionally bad days to be had, but the statistical consistency of cyclocross is pretty interesting.

So I landed 31st out of 76 finishers, 94 starters. I was one of 33 guys to finish on the lead lap of the race, and as Adam pointed out to me later, that puts me, I suppose, in the top half of elite riders in the country. The thing is, though, all I can see most of the time is how hard it seems, how unimaginable hard at times, to move up from top half, to top quarter, to top...where's my ceiling?

Well that's the thing isn't it? I keep racing because I haven't found my ceiling yet. And when I do, I hope and suspect that I will find new ways to make meaning from racing my bike. But man, running a 4 minute mile is infinitely harder than running a 4:30, right? And in rock climbing, Chris Sharma's new 5.15b route is exponentially more difficult than any 5.14d out there; and Ryan Trebon put 7+ minutes into me in that 60 minute race. That's humbling.

All things considered, I am happy with my season and my ride. My goals this season were to score UCI points, place top 10 in a New England Verge series race, and podium in the 30+ race at nationals. Two out of three, and missing the podium in a sprint feels pretty good for my second season of UCI elite racing.

Nationals part IIb will follow, including my eyewitness account of the now infamous hillbilly throwdown.

You just can't go getting a bunch of white people together, shit always jumps off...


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Forever? Forever-ever-ever? - Cyclocross Nationals Part I

If I were to start this post by saying, simply, that it is a long, long drive to Kansas City, I would feel like I was succumbing to my generation's tendency to default to understated irony for funny.
But really? It's a long, long drive to Kansas City. Made longer by the fact that it seems juuuuuuust close enough to be an almost-easy trip.

I had managed to convince my friend and former Targetraining teammate, Justin Lindine, that driving to nationals would be great fun. He, of the short memory, had actually made the drive last year, in a blizzard, and yet for some reason was easily convinced. Anyone who has ever ridden in a breakaway with Justin will understand that he likes to suffer. I once rode 4&1/2 hours with him in January on a 28 degree day. He forgot his shoe covers and did the whole ride in summer-weight racing socks. I should have been alarmed at his ready acquiescence to this trip.

With me planning to race both the Junior Old Guys race (aka the 30-34 master's race, aka Andy Jacques Maynes TV show where he beats up little kids and takes their lunch money) on Saturday, and J-bomb and I both racing the Elite race on Sunday, we decided to drive all of Thursday, crash somewhere in Indiana for the night, and get to the course in KC Friday afternoon in time to pre-ride. That's more or less how it went. Left Albany, headed to Windham (where? exactly) to collect Justin, re-packed all my gear in his car and we were off.

Only Justin drove the whole way to KC. Booyaa.

We arrived at Tiffany Springs park in KC Missouri at about 4:32 on Friday afternoon. But, not to worry. By my calculations our Westerly location should have purchased us roughly an additional hour of daylight more then we are accustomed to back in the NE. Well, kinda.
We did manage to get on the course, already fast and tacky after the earlier mudfest the juniors were subjected to, and got in about 4 quality laps and a little road spin before it was properly dark. I went from "oh man, why bother?" to "hell yeah I live for this!" in the span of my first lap. I have to say that while the course was relatively straightforward and lent itself to nothing other than a genuine, old fashioned ass-kicking contest, it was a hell of a lot of fun. The uphill was brutal, but reasonable, the obstacles were well placed, and the downhill was super fast, fun and slalomish. The only problem was that after climbing for 3 minutes or so--an eternity in a 'cross--you lost all of that elevation in less than a minute. Ouch.

Anyway, with our legs opened up a little, we settled into the Econo Lodge, and headed into the wilds of suburban Kansas City to find the Chipotle we had seen from the highway. Yes, corporate America, sponsoring a bike racing team will, in fact, pay dividends and create brand loyalty.

And about that burrito hunt: OK, so I'm not the math, numbers and engineering type, but I am not altogether incapable of tying my shoes or reading a map, either. Nevertheless, I cannot begin to imagine what goes on in the minds of traffic engineers. Every road around that wacky place (KC) seems to lead exactly where it seems not to, and you are always routed to another consumer friendly shopping plaza, just not usually the one you set out to find. We ultimately decided on the counter-intuitive strategy of heading away from our destination in order to arrive at it. Zen in the Bible belt, baby.

Anyway, we eventually (and I mean 45 minutes to travel a mile) found the damn Chipotle so we were all demographically appropriate in our dinner choice, as evidenced by the fact that we bumped into Tim Johnson, Jeremy Powers and Lynne Bessette at the next table. Bike racers stick out like (skinny) sore thumbs in the midwest. Food in, magazines browsed next door, back to hotel, TV, sleep.

Saturday was warm for this time of year, a little overcast, pretty windy but definitely dry. The Master's 30-34 race went about as I expected it would with AJM kicking us all in the nuts. I had a bit of a sloppy start from the 3rd row, missed the boat when Schempf and Ali Goulet got away after Andy, also missed Sam Kreig, and settled into the race for 5th and the last spot on the podium with Justin Robinson and Nate Rice. We raced hard, dropped Justin, slacked a bit, he came back, some surging happened, I felt stronger than the other two, and on the last lap I attacked into the last set of stairs, figuring holding the lead through the last 3 turns was a sure way to win the very short sprint on the pavement. The thing is, I had done quite a bit of surgey-surgey and at the top of the stairs, when I jumped back on my bike, I had a bit of an "oh dear" sort of moment, during which Robinson passed me, and proceeded to prove me right that it was in fact an if-in-doubt-lead-it-out kind of sprint. Dang. Justin (Lindine) says I eased up too much trying to be cute and stay in the draft to jump around late. He is so right. Head down, elbows in, don't look at the other guy, because he's only looking at the line. Poop. I never have the sprint during 'cross season that I do on the road, but I think I blew that one no matter what. Anyway, no shame in getting beaten by Robinson. He's been around forever, national team and world's and all, plus he's big as a house and puts out large watts. C'est la vie, and good ride by him. I regret a little bit that I didn't make a do or die effort to drop Robinson and Rice and bridge up to Kreig in 4th place. It was so hard on that hill and so windy at the top that it was pretty confidence draining, or soul sucking, depending on the lap. I didn't slack, and did the bulk of the work in our group, but I just might have been a little too conservative. The good news is my 6th place gets me a front row call up for next year. Andy, I'm comin' back for my lunch money.

So this post has been a pleasant (in segments) diversion from the paper I have been whinging about finishing: Arundhati Roy's "The God Of Small Things" in a cage match with J.M. Coetzee's "Diary Of a Bad Year" with Althusser and some contemporary post-colonial hepcats as a cheering section with Naomi Klein.

The thing about this paper is that it signifies the end of my coursework for my MA. (fanfare, parade, huzzah, fireworks, Souza band, etc) Then I get to spend next semester studying for my thesis exam, which means reading the hell out of all sorts of progressive pedagogy books and Charles Olson's poetry, and then I'll be done. DONE. Charmaine will be DONE with her PhD this Spring as well (yes you will!) and we will parade across the stage together. Still trying to pick a theme song for that cuz, y'know, they let you pick. Right? Seriously, school warrants its own post, and will soon have one.

Next time, Nationals part II: 7 minutes off a Tree Farm, Success, Perspective, Random Redneck Violence, and 24 Straight Hours in the Car.


Welcome to me: some thoughts on blogging

I read a lot of blogs.

Some I find to be inspired, some are pretty droll; some are written by people I know well and consider friends, some are written by acquaintances or complete strangers. But I read so many that it has started to feel a little one sided. Or perhaps voyeuristic is the better term. I have absorbed so much of the minutia of other people's lives that it hardly seems fair not to share some of my own. It is The Internets, after all.

One of the things that I really appreciate about the blogosphere, and one of the reasons I find it so fascinating, is that it is one of the much ballyhooed, but rare-as-unicorns ways in which I find technology actually does bring people together and create community.

What I'll be doing here is largely talking about Me Me Beautiful Me because, hey, it's The Internets. Apart from that I hope to share the ups and downs of my life as a bike racer, graduate student, parent of a 10-year-old, and citizen of the Universe.

Looking forward to sharing my thoughts and adventures.