17 November, 2013

Butterflies and Cyclocross

L-R: Maricel, Me, Lauren, Tim, Conner, Maura, Kevin, Mason, and Kenny post-race!
There're still times when I get butterflies in my stomach:  hanging out with Karen and the start(s) of races.  More about the latter...

Staging's a fairly important deadline for the race participants hence, at least an hour before, we all are getting our numbers, pinning said numbers (hopefully you haven't got stuck by a safety pin, or in my case, two races ago, I was wearing a base layer with my long sleeved skinsuit and a teammate's wife pinned me in such a way that my base layer was attached to my skinsuit.  Didn't think that through well enough because I had to go boom-boom right before my race...), checking for the green flag so we can warm up on the course, meeting other teammate's wife's/girlfriends so if I bring my kids and they have theirs they can become a flock, going boom boom because of all the nervous energy, drinking for the last time because we are cageless in CX, and finally staging.

Another CX race?  Not today.  Today's kinda special.
Kevin staying loose on the course.
Today a friend and teammate was doing his first CX event ever, and I offered beforehand whatever race you pick, I'll line up with you; and, I did so poorly at this event two years ago I needed some karmic redemption.  He picked the Cyclo-X event at the Louisville Rec Center and that's where the convergence of other teammates, Kevin's family, and I met up.

It's quite a production getting my posse ready for an event but thankfully since they're all older and wiser it gets easier.  They still argue and that gets my blood roiling but they eventually settle down because Dad has the mental wherewithal to pack Pringles and Gatorades in a cooler so their tapeworm's settled which makes for happier kids.

Four days before the event, at Kevin's, we practiced dismounting and hurdling/portaging (our bikes) over Home Depot buckets to simulate the barricades.  Taught him the 4 contact point, scooter body position (as taught to me by another teammate-Kenny) to assume before you leap and hold your bike over the barricade.  Even though there are more curvy off-cambered singletrack on the course than there are barricades it's still good to be prepared.  I used to ride the brakes a lot on the curves but now I can flow (relatively speaking).  For example, I can lay it down on the straightaways (barely measurable with modern technology) but my competitors usually closed down the gap on the flowy sections because I couldn't be nuanced with my body english to pedal through the curves and keep my momentum flowing.

Kevin and I notice the green flag waving fiercely because the winds at this point are blowing!  Yea!  On top of being a difficult course we have the added value of a stiff and rather cold wind.  We insert ourselves on a part of the course where it's super snakey and downhill and rutted.  You know, terrain that makes your spinal cord and arms say, "Thank you sir, may I have another?"  Off we go to warmup!  We notice the parts where we have to drop it in the granny for the three super stiff climbs,  we also notice the section of the course where the headwind's howling, where the mud boggy sections are (just one today which would cause my Time's some difficulty in pedal re-entry), where the sand pit is, and the flats.  So what do after noticing all of these sections of the course?  Easy.  Go faster....  What I don't like is how heavy we're breathing from our "warmup" lap.  Kenny shows up and the Red Flag's out so we warm up on the road.  Of course, when we left Denver the weather was nice and now it's dropped in the fifties and wind is rip roaring.  Eventually we noodle our way to the staging area and we warm up in circles and then the call ups begin...

The lanes here are 14 wide for the callups.  Kenny gets his,  Tim, then me.  I line up a row behind Kenny.  This is like the mental purgatory part.  All 57 of us are lined up like ducks in a row champing at the bit to bleed out of our eyeballs to crush each other-or to have fun.  Okay that was a wee bit of a hyperbole but you do this because there is a competitive side of your personality/alter-ego.  There's always small talk about how you did on your last race, how freaking cold it is currently with this nasty wind (everybody's exposed skin is chicken skinning-y'all call it goose bumps), and where the parts of the course you should pay particular attention to.  The announcer says, "13 seconds!"  I say, Self?  That's a rather odd number to begin the countdown-izzle?  Then it's so quiet you can hear a pin drop, the butterflies in your stomach are rebounding off your insides with higher pressure, and you can hear the wind rush past your ears.  For 13 seconds your mind is either calm or it's like the guy on the movie "Waterboy."  That part of the movie, Adam Sandler's kicker's deciding in what direction to kick and on-side kick based on body expression of the opposing team's player and you're the guy, they're kicking to.

Dead silence...the whistle blows...then BLAM!  Kenny explodes from the start and is like third!  Tim as if they choreographed it, lines up like 10th?  Me?  I line up like 20th-not bad!  Brother Kevin (2/3rds of the homey trinity's racing today!) is somewhere behind me.

Controlled sliding baby!
There is a near 90°, left hand turn onto a barricaded run-up that begins the selection.  I say to myself, as I'm running up, "Self?  You're doing ite!" because nobody else is passing me and I pass a couple of people.  Next section super hard, right hand switchback into the rutty, near muddy section.  You look ahead and see where the packed down section is.  Which is fine if it's a single pace line but we have 57 people fighting for the lead and we're hitting the next selection 6 people wide, screaming with our hair on fire, dug in like ticks, with the singular goal of making that holeshot come hell or high water (whatever that means)!  We're all aiming for the packed down area in the mud that's only passable for one person!  Here's where people hit the brakes or dismount or fly off course.  The loudmouths yell something stoopid here and I make it a point to pass these people.  The flats are here and everybody in front of me buries it!  I'm on the drops keeping my position and we hit the flowy section.  I pass a couple of people from late braking and cutting off their apex but in a non dickheaded, safe (for racing) sort-of-way.  Next up, another barricaded runup.
Barricades plus runup= pain.
I get passed here.  Next a flowy, whoop de doo section with full-on head wind.  Keep my position here too.  Next a sooper gravelly section where you can mash the big ring.  I mash the big ring but it's like turning on wet rail road tracks and my front tire nearly washes so I get passed again.  On the last lap, the guy I had my sights on crashed on the downhill, off-cambered g'd out section, so thanks mister!  Also, thanks to Airborne for making my second year of cross racing mo' bettah on a quality rig-the Delta (affectionately and anthropomorphized as my trusty steed Delilah).

Cut to the end, I finished 27th.  Kenny unfortunately flats but would've finished his usual top five.  Tim?  That savvy, twin-turbo diesel finishes 3rd-a podium for Natural Grocers.  Kevin?  He finishes third from last, no mechanicals or flats, with a smile on his face as his family watches their Daddy in their first CX event.  Cool!
Tim, representing NG right (far left)!

I remember:  Samer, my kids, Nicole (Kev's lovely wife) and her kids yelling as we flew by lap after lap; being in too big a gear on one of the grunt climbs and having to dismount like a novice; passing a guy on a fast downhill, off-cambered section because he had a spectacular crash in front of me that didn't take me out!; finishing and finding my teammates and it turns into cough-fest; and, why is my heart still in my throat?  Improvements from last time?  My start.  Passing on the flats.  Riding the sand pit (first lap a dude biffed it forcing me to dismount).  Flowing.

Butterflies man!  Makes you do crazy things...

02 November, 2013

My Most Bestest Fall Break Evah (complete with our version of "Life Below Zero")!

You have to bear with me here because my ADD inflicted mind is coming off one the more surreal, super joyous, nearly spiritual, super connected, endorphin and oxytocin (um, I'm not nursing, just bonding with Karen) releasing, caloric and culturally rich October Break known to Mike.

Cali (yeah, I know you Californians hate that moniker for your state).
Two great women!
     I celebrated my Mom's 80th birthday in Orange county California with Karen.  It was a fast trip.  A two nighter near the Circle K of  "My Nifty Summer Break" blog entry-the Fairfield Inn.  It was awesome seeing my brothers and especially my Mom.  What made it so endearing for me, well, was a lot of things.  Not going to be too gushy here but my Mom was truly appreciative of all the hard work that went into her celebration.  Usually she and my Dad would go out to dinner chilly-chill style as they would always do.           Unassuming and low-key (as opposed to Thor's mischievous brother mind you), just two people enjoying each others' company, insulated from the goings on from their surroundings.  Neil invited her closest friends and family and he did it right.  Mark, a nascent Annie Lebovitz and Neil's brother in-law, was capturing all these sweet moments in photographic 1s and 0s along with all the participant's facial nuances of elation, happiness, and tenderness whose foci was the celebration of my awesome Mom!  Too special and endearing, if I was secure with my masculinity I would've cried right there on the spot.  You know who did cry though?  Neil's friend's father.
    Karen and I were introduced to this gentleman.  He was a retired teacher, so of course there were common interests, which lead to a conversation about teaching...As this gentleman was talking about his illustrious teaching career, I saw his eyes tear up when he talked about some innovations he implemented.  At first I thought he coughed due to water going into the bronchial tubes as opposed to the esophagus, but indeed he was getting a smidge lacrimose.  As the trajectory of his soliloquy continued, it brought up the passing of his lovely wife of 52 years.
    She just passed a month ago and obviously the wounds were still fresh and his remembrance of her truly painted a picture of a companionship worthy of the movies.  Karen and I were in awe of his story, recounting milestones before and during their marriage.  He was unabashed at this point of his water works and as a guy-ee, guy, I said something feigning manliness, "Dude, you need a hug."  So my little, 5' 7" frame was hugging this Ursine Man, Gentle Man, Teacher Man, Loving and Devoted to wife Man, because we were both moved by his tale.  As he was talking, I would steal glances at Karen where we would briefly lock eyes and she would smile.  Ahh!  Afterwards as Karen and I were talking about this, we both agreed, while it was a tender tribute about his life it was surreal!  My Mom's geburtstag celebration with a lacrimosal tale spun by a tender giant-stranger in one room.  Hmm!  'Twas bad enough that my mind's hyper aware from the red-eye air travel and it lead to  stimulus overload.  It was a combination of leaving a cold Denver, arriving in a picture postcard SoCal Saturday, people dressed up for this event, Karen looking thoroughly prepossessing in her lavender/blue dress (which kinda matched my blue shirt-yeah, I'm a crip-right!), walking around the neighborhood beach club hand in hand with Karen trying to identify water fowl paddling in the artificial but beautiful lake, hanging out with my brothers, eating Thanksgiving style, hanging out with Neil's in-laws, sun being super bright (duh!), all contributed to the buzz in my reptilian brainstem.  Then, quicker than you can snap your finger, we were back in a picture postcard Sunday afternoon in Denver.
    Nice times y'all.  Extravagantly simple. Unwieldingly elegant. Straighforwardly convoluted.  Ate me some cake too!!  Sunday lead to Monday.  Coincidentally Monday shares three out of four letters of one of my favorite places on Earth.  Moab.  Yes, Monday we go to Moab.  We meaning Hez-chilly, not Karen (boo!); but, Karen did go to Moab the week before!

Moab (yeah, I know you Californians hate that moniker for your state).
      We take a new guy.  Sean.  This means chilly-chill.  First ride?  Sovereign.  Interestingly, this trip to Moab will be my first ever dually suspended ride on Delilah.  My Airborne, DS, 29er, XC specific steed.  Sean has skills but lacks the elusive cycling:  iron buttocks and leg fitness.  He has great potential though.  He cleared obstacles during his logarithmical learning curve out on this trail that ranges from chill single track to technical rock formations/obstacles in obtuse spatial arrangements.  He did well.  While he was going slow, Billy and I were determined to clear any obstacle in our path.  The deluxe time of going slow for Sean allowed us to work on our form and angle of attack, and the tweaking of our centers of gravity as we sussed out gnarly stuff to attempt to clean.  Time got out of hand, the sustained winds were getting awful as two fronts were battling it out, so we called it.  As we made our way South, we stopped at all potential lodging to inquire about prices.  The best one was the Rodeway Inn.  They had three, full sized beds in one room.  Unheard of!  The surreality of this was passing snow as we left Denver entering a sunny, sunscreen using Moab playground/pilgrimage.  This was Monday.
Sovereign Trail
     Tuesday we plan for Amasa Back to Captain Ahab, then Pipedream.  The hype of Captain Ahab could potentially make it a bust once we got there.  It's like reading The Milagro Beanfield War, expecting the movie to be equally as good. Which reminded me of a conversation Karen and I had about movies, which was:  Is it a good movie if it's a high fidelity, verbatim portrayal of the book, or because the producer did a great job of taking tasteful liberties of it through his/her translation?  The movie version I saw of the Nichols novel was just awful.  Thankfully, Captain Ahab wasn't.
    To get to Captain Ahab you have to climb Amasa Back.  Amasa Back is fairly tame, except when it isn't.  It's a fairly technical climb.  My Airborne is like my mid-phat skis:  technology to equalize the terrain.  I mean you still have to ski or pedal but once you hit the point of proficiency-I might be partially proficient-it makes the terrain less daunting but not less painful should you biff it.  Also thankfully, the videos I saw of it were of people hucking their bikes off of ledges.  I don't have that kind of skill; furthermore, my mantra is:  there's no shame in walking.  As Billy and I traded off leads I would see how the terrain unfolded and when he cleared nasty stuff, I would watch the angle off his butt using his saddle as the angle of reference whenever his tuckus was airborne (as opposed to my tuckus on my Airborne!) to see where my center of gravity needed to be along with the angle of incidence (imagining it off a horizontal plane), not to be confused with the angel of incidents.
One of many drop-offs at Captain Ahab
     We were at our skill's performance envelope.  There were these chute-y runoffs where the trailmaker would lay a path of rocks to transition the angle smoother to the dirt singletrack.  These rock singletracks were thin (imagine a skinny flight of stairs without handrails)!  Any deviation off-center would truly lead to an endo; or worse yet, telescoping your top half into your bottom half as you go head first following the rules of gravity.  Some of these tight drop-offs were near a cliff or near super sharp rocks so you really had to bring your A-game and her friend velocity.  It's a 29er playground.  The big wheels are like my mid-phats i'm telling you!  It rolls over everything if you have the confidence, velocity, and center of gravity to attack it.  I was flowing! When that happens, a channel in your brain opens and your bike talks to you.  It dares you/pushes you sometimes and today it also highlighted my (visual) fall line in phosphorescent yellow as I was scanning the singletrack like the former lifeguard that I was.  Thanks Delilah!  I swear, I dabbed only once.  Twice I went back and cleared stuff where initially I had to stop.  To quote Billy when he rode his friend's 29er, it's almost like cheating!  It makes me really consider getting a DS carbon as opposed to an HT carbon.  I felt invincible.  That's not good though, because that's when you make silly mistakes that lead to injury so I had to mentally ratchet it back a bit to respect the terrain.  It was indescribable fun.  Technically difficult (it's rated two double black diamonds like skier terrain).  The price of failure could be lethal (not crashing but falling off 20' drops); yet it produced so much endocannabinoids/endorphin I had a Cheshire cat-type grin afterwards.  Nobody wanted to do a second lap with me so off we go to do Pipedream.  Again, there are these two competing fronts and the clouds are getting heavy with precipitation rolling south or north as we see our riding envelope of time shrinking.  Made for this beautiful, otherwordly scenery atop a geographical/topographical contour found only on Mars.
    At the Pipedream trailhead it's getting colder and it begins to rain.  It was chilly all day but sunny.  Enough for me to keep my leg warmers on.  Drew did this trail and he said it's a trail that Karen would absolutely hate.  I see why.  It's exposed, the singletrack's super skinny, where you have to thread the needle between large rocks, and the singletrack blindspot's usually over steep embankments, all the while the trail's cut in the higher elevations of the side of the mountains.  Billy and I called it when the rocks were no longer polka-dotted with rain but when the whole rock changed color due to saturation.  We had a prearranged spot to meet Sean at the Moab Brewery.  Now the story gets even more interesting...
the one and only H-ball!

At the Moab Brewery I meet the one and only Greg Herbold, Downhill World Champion and holder of many National Titles in the same discipline.  Had a beer with him while he told me of his Denver, Colorado upbringing and his R&D job at SRAM.  What a great guy, and as a consolation gift, he gave me his autograph and his baseball cap.  What a great guy!

Life Below Zero.   Here's a quote from National Geographic's website, Life Below Zero follows six people as they battle for the most basic necessities in the state with the lowest population density in the United States. Living at the ends of the world's loneliest roads and subsisting off the rugged Alaskan bush, they battle whiteout snow storms, man-eating carnivores, questionable frozen terrain, and limited resources through a long and bitter winter. Some of them are lone wolves; others have their families beside them. All must overcome despairing odds to brave the wild and survive through to the spring. Talk about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, I don't think they get past the third level it's so absurdly difficult.  The scene would begin with a person's distance from the AC.  For example:  the narrator, in his best radio, DJ voice would begin the scene saying Noorvik, 13 miles north of Arctic Circle, John would have a 24 hour window to trap enough muskrat to make coats for their children to survive the Winter!  while they would film him attempting this task.  We were captivated watching this show like a moth to lunar light.  Our attempt at a humorous spin to this was when Sean and I walked to the Rest Stop Area atop Vail Pass where it was snowing.  In my best DJ voice, I said Twenty-seven hundred miles south of the Arctic Circle, Sean and Mike wear their flip flops in freezing weather to the Rest Stop and their toes get cold!  Try it for yourself, it's funny....dammit!  At the hotel in Moab, Billy said, 2700 miles of the Arctic Circle, Bill's remote control in the hotel room dies attempting to change channels!

'Twas an AMAZING show!
Twenty one pilots.  Karen and I go to the soldout Twentyone Pilots show Friday, thus ending the World's Bestest Fall Break Evah!!!    Tuesday Karen, Drew, and I go see The Book of Mormon!  Okay gots to pay it forward now for the Karma Bank, being this Fall Break was the inverse of a logarthmic function in units of sublimity.  Pinch me y'all!