Doing it all the hard way...

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Give me Lumens or give me death

I bike commute a day or two each week.  When I don’t ride, I drive.  This morning I was driving to work along a relatively busy street and I was struck by how dark it was. There were street lights which seemed excessively high considering the task at hand and appeared only to illuminate the tree branches immediately adjacent to them.  The darkness was overwhelming.

My selfish mind quickly personalized the situation. “A cyclist would be invisible on this road,” I thought to myself. Ahead I could see the flashing yellow light where a bike route crossed the road.  I slowed because while I couldn’t see anyone there; the light was so bad I also couldn’t see that people weren’t there.  I had the same uneasy feeling when you outrun your headlights in the fog.

It served as a reminder that when it comes to visibility, as cyclists we have to assume one hundred percent of the responsibility to be seen. That isn’t a legal opinion, it is a self-serving way of life. A pinstripe of reflective material and a $20 light don’t cut it.  You might as well wrap yourself in a black blanket and lie on the road at midnight.
The Ninja look (all black) with token light also known as "I want to be an Organ Donor"
Ladies and gentlemen we are talking about your lives here. 

I will gladly defer to your personal preferences when it comes to how you light up the road in front of you for your visibility when riding in the dark. However, when it comes to the lights that exist so that others can see you, there is no acceptable reason not to have multiple strong lights pointing behind, in front and in fact covering all 360 degrees.  These lights must be bright, even bordering on offensive. It is good to remember that pulsing is better than blinking and irregular patterns are better than simple on, off, on, off.

I recommend an ambulance as your target lighting configuration.  If you can’t manage the rotating blinding lights on top then I suggest pulsing lights facing forward and backward that feature side visibility as well.  Two or three lights in back and a forward facing flasher in addition to a headlight should be a starting point.

Your objective is to be seen by people who are NOT looking for you.  You have to “interrupt” their visual trance.
We all have our favorite flavors when it comes to lights. Evo is a fan of Light & Motion products.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Intervals. In the rain. In the dark.

This is the time of year when the sport loses a portion of its glamor.

You can ride on a trainer indoors and stink up a room whilst flogging yourself in mind-numbing isolation. Yes, I know there are a whole new crop of diversionary tools that let you pretend your suffering is fun. A few of us still prefer our medicine to taste like medicine.

Alternatively you can get outside and muck up your bike and hope not to slide around on the wet pave’.  When you have to alter the timing of your intervals until you pass the section with all of the slippery wet leaves it illustrates the desperate nature of the workingman’s Cyclocross training.  My post-ride laundry is triple what it is in summer.
If there is something enjoyable about cold, wet feet I have not yet found it.

Wet or dry, this time of year the cycling fun quotient is low and the hurt factor is high. Intervals are amazingly effective so at least your pain makes you faster. With our races parsing age, gender and ability we can all dream of being the tallest dwarf in our given racing category. 

Even the lowly bike commuter dons storm-worthy clothing as seen on “Deadliest catch” and plods along to and from work in the dark.  This isn’t a time of year when people look at cyclists and comment, “That looks like fun.”

Only the dedicated need apply. 

I love this time of year.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Racing 2016

In the days leading up to the race yesterday I did a quick sort through the plastic tub that I take to cross races.  The tub contains a small tin of safety pins, embrocation, my clear racing glasses, some gel packets, cowbells and whatever else has accumulated over the years.  The bottom of the tub has some bits of dirt that might bring me luck so I don’t clean them out.

In my rummaging I came across a flyer from the 2005 Cyclocross season. Reading the names of the venues brought a wry smile to my face; as did the year, 2005. Counting on my fingers confirmed that this is season number twelve for me. I should have learned by now.  It is time I resigned myself to the fact that just like Forest Gump, “I am not a smart man.”
I felt confident the weathermen and weather babes would be wrong and overblow the forecasted Stormageddon. I can say “weather babes” because sexism is alive and well in broadcast media. Show me a female weather broadcaster over forty years of age and I’ll show you a hundred male forecasters over forty. We like our men trustworthy and our women pretty. Sexism justified by market research is still sexism. 

Alas, I digress.

Rich sent out an email to find out who was racing Sunday and he said the weather forecast predicted perfect conditions.  I love Rich. Grown men and women going to play in the mud. Maybe we aren’t as grown up as people think.

The days and hours leading up to the race followed the usual routine I found myself at the back of the starting grid waiting for the signal to go.

The start was predictably fast but I wasn’t expecting the rooster tails of water in my face and front of my body. The rain and wind had let up but the standing water was icy cold on my bare legs. I moved my line to the right to avoid the water coming off of Coz’s back wheel.
Tacos El Magnisun
As we left the pavement and hit the bumpy grass I was mindful as I rolled across the brass memorial plaque marking the spot of El Chefe’s wheel tacoing tumble from a year ago.  I was on some fat 40mm tires that soaked up the bumps from tree roots and grass clumps.

My Nano tires aren’t just wide and fluffy, they are aggressive and the hungry tread and low pressure bit into the grass like saw blades and I was able to rail the sweeping loose corner.  The mud in Randy’s Crack is tacky until it gets too wet and then it is a greasy mess and carnage quickly follows. Lucky for me it stayed tacky for my race.
 Randy's crack
The grassy sections were a diabolical mix of lumpy roots and rutted mud bogs.  I piloted my fat tires around the ruts whenever I could and they absorbed the lumps better than narrower tire options.  I moved up and was able to count riders in my cat as the course doubled back on itself.   There were three off the front then a group of four with Coz among them that had a small gap on me.  Coz had been sick otherwise he would be in the leading mix instead of having me anywhere near him. There were three guys chasing just behind me so I focused my attention on the riders in front and tried to keep in contact with them.
The mud around the tennis courts was like some gravitational hyper-vortex that sucked your strength and held your tires in its sloppy grip. The mud slowed you to a comical speed. 800 watts to go four miles an hour.  Riders tried to hug the fence line which was faster but brought its own risks. This option cost El Chefe’ his left shift lever.

Bunker Hill took on a Portlandish persona of slippery cream cheese-like mud that necessitated both finesse and brute strength.  Then onto the gravel road that is usually fast but was saturated with water on this day and was painfully slow.  When I pre-rode the course I had tried multiple lines, left, right and center and there were no fast lines. This was a tough day at the office.

The climb up Kite Hill is always good to me and this day was no exception. We were catching riders from the open Cat 4 group and I started picking them off.  As others feathered their brakes on the blind downhill I let my fat tires fly.

The sharp corner at the bottom reminded me of one of the unique and hard things that define Cyclocross. Accelerating from a near stop to full speed again and again makes the sport feel like an hour of intervals with insufficient recovery.

Passing the finish line and seeing three more laps gave me hope. I thought I felt pretty good for an old man in Zone 5.
 Sure enough; I'm 38.  And Yiddish!
In the grassy switchbacks I spotted two guys in my Cat still chasing me. I had a gap but I didn’t feel safe. I feared I might fade on the later laps. We were now in the thick of the Cat 4 open field so it was hard to see who in front of me was in my group.  A healthy sprinkling of mud on my glasses didn’t help either.

I focused on good lines and keeping speed through the corners. I am trying to make this the winter I don’t break a rib so I was conservative on the really loose stuff.

On the third lap a couple of the 35 plus guys passed me and I tried to leverage their draft and get pulled along.  It didn’t really work but since racing as an old man involves pretending you’re young and fast, another incremental lie wasn’t that far out of place.

At the end of the third lap I heard the sweet sound of a cowbell at the finish line telling me I had just one more lap.  I looked ahead and lapped a rider from my own cat.  Wow.
People often refer to “old man strength” and I can assure you that it is real. I can handle almost anything if I think of it as the last one.  I would later see that my lap times were remarkably consistent and my final lap was the fastest.

After the mud followed by Bunker Hill I redlined the engine on the gravel and up Kite Hill. I let it fly on the downhill and had my target rider in my sights. After the turn at the bottom I accelerated out of the saddle. My legs were screaming and I wanted to catch my target, a 35 plus guy who had passed me and I had been chasing him the whole last lap. Back in the saddle I spun with all my strength.

Picking up speed I ticked through my cassette and passed two Cat 4 open guys who were blown.  As if he smelled me, my target was out of the saddle sprinting for the line.  I came up next to him and we held even for a second before he slowly pulled in front.

I crossed the line at full speed then grabbed the brakes as I was two seconds from hitting the grass and El Chefe’s taco spot.  I finally rolled to a stop and unclipped.

As I fought to catch my breath I slumped over my bars. Even though I was stopped I had to consciously work to maintain my balance and stay upright. At this moment I wished it was socially acceptable to lean over and just fall off your bike and lie on the ground.  Doing so would result in calls to 911. Such is my demographic.

This moment of ecstasy and agony was what I came for.  This is why I pinned on a number and got myself and my bike covered with mud. I felt absolutely alive. I am still a racer.

After a short warm down I made my way back to my car where I washed the mud from my legs and threw my muddy clothes into a big plastic bag. Endorphins were still swirling around my bloodstream keeping me warm and excited.  
 Afternoon engagement........
An afternoon engagement forced an uncharacteristically rapid departure and as I drove off I chomped on a bagel that had been intended as a pre-race snack. I drove faster than usual. Another side effect from racing. 

Racing.  I love that word.

For a handful of people racing is about winning. For most of us it is a chance to find out more about ourselves.  Racing is hard.  Doing hard things is good. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Do you still race Cross?

The sand at Lake Sammamish is a gift that keeps on giving

Growing old is a never-ending sequence of humiliating realizations. 

I remember the first time someone called me “sir.”  I’ve been too old to die young for decades. My oldest son will be able to race masters before I age out of my current race category.  My ice axe and mountaineering boots are both more than thirty years old.

Yes, I am old, however, in my head I am still a bike racer.  And in all my pathetic vanity I want everyone else to think of me as a bike racer also.

I’ve watched the Cyclocross season start with incredible personal ambivalence. I am excited for my racing brothers and sisters but I’ve been very happy to remain on the clean side of the course tape.
Last weekend Julie asked me if I still raced.  I wouldn’t say I was offended but I would have felt better if she had assumed I was still racing.  I did provide a predictably clever answer that implied I would race when the circumstances aligned.

It looks like they are aligning for this weekend.

Mud and rain are forecasted and I’m pleasantly excited.  I’ll mount a pair of aggressive tires on the bike, dress in the costume and pin on a number so I can suffer like the desperate dog that I am.  I will finish hypoxic, filthy and exhausted.  I can’t wait.
 At work I walked by someone’s desk and they offered me a donut from a big pink rectangular box of sin. I smiled and told them, “No thanks, I’m racing this weekend.”

Monday, October 10, 2016

Cut me

After all the nostalgia about fall riding, it isn’t until that first icy rivulet gets past your collar and runs down the back of your neck that the reality of winter training hits home.  Despite all of the miracle fabrics that one drop of water cuts to your core and sends a shiver down your spine.

Hard efforts, even in cold weather, generate a lot of heat.  Sweating and being cold are both unpleasant sensations. When they are happening concurrently it is even more so. Cold and clammy is a seasonally appropriate, though undesired, condition.
 Hottie took this one......
It has been months since I’ve had cold fingers or cold feet. My riding laundry has been cantaloupe-sized and now it is as big as a turkey.  My assortment of full finger gloves has been on the sidelines awaiting the call to duty. 

On the ride I added and shed layers based on ride duration, sky cover and ascent or descent.  It felt weird to have to be so deliberate. Reach the top of a climb, even though I’m warm, before I head down I put on more clothes and zip up.If I wait until I'm cold I'm screwed.
I recall how in the spring my shoes look strange after being hidden under booties for so long. Now my booties look unfamiliar.

When I finished my ride I took a quick moment to lube my chain before going in.  I cooled down so quickly that by the time I went inside I was starting to shake. I stood in the shower longer than I have for a long time. 

Summertime is over.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Not a victory

Pretty much everyone in my racing category is a grizzled veteran in more than one way.  The only guys without grey hair don’t have any hair. As far as bike racing goes; anyone on the downhill side of their fifties is fast or they don’t bother pinning on a number. If you think the 55 plus racing category is like a social group ride you are dead wrong.  These are tough guys with more time to train and they have egos that have been fed by decades of winning.  Serious MoFos all.
Likewise in my professional career the decades have given me lots of experience and a well-developed set of skills.

My experience and skills form what I heard the Silver Fox describe as “T-skills.”  That is great depth (skill) in one area and a little depth across a broader area.  If I may be so bold I would say that in addition to the broad technical expertise I have, I also possess the ability to lead, communicate and facilitate amongst my peers.

This dangerous combination gets me thrown into a lot of challenging situations. Sometimes I rely on my technical skills to find the solution and other times it takes all of my leadership and charm or persistence and force of will to find a happy ending.

What has been consistent is my ability to achieve my objectives.  This gives me a positive reputation which is both good and bad.  My track record means I get adoration from my clients as well as their nastiest projects. 
When Doug comes my way he is usually bringing a figurative flaming bag of shit. 

In this spirit I was pulled into a messy situation and asked to facilitate.  The company was at a crossroads and was evaluating two paths forward. The company solicited proposals from two outside suppliers and internally two groups aligned, one with each supplier. 

I knew there were strong personalities involved but management believed a review relying on facts and data would drive a logical conclusion. They asked me to champion that event and since we really don’t say “no” I found myself in front of a divided room.

The senior leader defined the objective, asked everyone to work together (also knowing the personalities), pointed to me to run this and left the room with purposeful haste.

I would be diplomatic if I said the participants were passionate. I would be more accurate if I described them as belligerent and petty. In my role I don’t have the organizational authority or responsibility to correct individuals’ behavior and my defined objective was technical in nature so my belief was it wasn’t my responsibility.  

I would ask one group for a technical answer and they would respond with the answer and include a personal jab aimed at someone in the other group.  My focus was to dig out the technical solution so I captured the fact and ignored the jabs. 

I wasn’t the target of any of this and I certainly didn’t throw any stones. I did make some efforts to diffuse the situation but I did not let it distract me from my objective.

Over the course of two intense hours I managed to wrangle agreement for a single path forward.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say one group reluctantly conceded almost under protest.

In terms of achieving the objective of agreement on a single plan I completed the task.  Indeed over the next twenty-four hours I was complemented several times by virtually all of the participants as well as the senior leader who had conscripted me into this mess.
I refuse to count this as a victory. 

Despite lacking organizational authority I should have claimed authority as a human being and stopped the petty behavior that made the meeting of a group of people, all of whom (except me) work for the same company behave like scorned lovers.

I recall thinking their parents would be ashamed watching them. Then I realized they all were old enough to have children or grandchildren who would be embarrassed watching this. Nobody in that room had cause to be proud.  Even the one or two that remained silent should have spoken up.

I have always felt my ability to sift through the bullshit to get the facts was a skill. The lesson I learned here was that at some point the bullshit really does overtake the facts and my job is to demand civility and respect. 

I did my job as a professional just fine.  I need do a better job at being a person.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Coffee and Lies # 197 The season of falling leaves

Now in the afterglow of a summer blessed with life giving rains the once vibrant green is finally giving way to gold.  Bright reds and yellows boldly contrast the blue sky.  Chilly sunrises cast long shadows that resist the warmth of the morning sunlight.  The rains of fall are yet distant; the golden leaves tumble and roll in the wind.

Just as winter grew weary, ultimately yielding to the eagerness of a youthful spring now the summer sun is tired and retreats earlier each day. The cool air clings in the shadows, reminding us the carefree days of summer are waning.

There is a freshness to the cool breezes, now it is the afternoon sun that feels stale and weak. The coming winter can no longer hide it’s rejuvenated, impending power.

Man and beast hasten to prepare for the coming snows.  Some look ahead with dread or fear, others with anticipation. The bold colors of the trees proudly signals the change in seasons.  Like a flash of lightning this vibrancy will disappear as quickly as it began.  

Summer is long. Winter is long. Their birth and death are dramatic and inevitable. Both are miracles in their own right. To think that winter is the absence of summer or that the opposite is true is to diminish the beauty of the balance of nature. 

The gift we enjoy is to witness this yearly cycle and try to reflect it into our own lives.  Rebirth, rejuvenation, reflection, rest as well as forgiveness, service, love and appreciation for all that is and is not around us.

Time to make waffles.