Thursday, June 30, 2011

At this a long time . . .

Bikes have been a large part of my life since I was 5. That was the year that the training wheels came off and I taught myself to ride in my front yard. By 6 or 7 I was riding a "Huffy Knock Off" and I was so small that I needed a cinder block to get on it and start pedaling. I actually had one cinder block at my house and another one down the street.

I grew up on a dead end street. Literally not figuratively. We rode bikes all day every day. We raced up and down the street and built jumps, daring each other to see who would hit them first. When we weren't riding we were sitting around in the grass dreaming aloud "What if a Diamondback Turbo just fell out of the sky for each of us."

As the years have gone on, bikes have continued to play a large role in my life. Recently Tim O. and I were reminiscing about the time we were taking a photography class in high school and we decided to do a photo shoot including: 1 Jump, 1 Diamondback Silver Streak, 1 Pond, and my Pentax K1000.

This picture is the result of that "photo shoot." Last weekend I went to my parents house and with the help of my mother, I was able to get my hands on this picture. I'm afraid the negative is long gone, but I was able to get a pretty good image of the picture with my iPhone.

If I had to guess, we were probably 17 at the time. We went to a local pond, built a sketchy jump at the end of the dock, and took a few quick pics. After I was pretty sure I had a decent picture, I decided to give it a go. As a 17 year old "roadie" I hadn't hit a jump in more than a few years and as soon as I hit the jump, my front wheel dove forward into the water and I landed in a lame headfirst splash. At that same time, the property owner rounded the corner on a tractor and saw it all unfolding. He was yelling, I was trying to drag the bike out of the pond, and Tim and I grabbed our stuff and sprinted out of there. I was in the dark room as soon as humanly possible and this was the best shot on the roll.

I'm not entirely sure what the point of this post is, but suffice it to say bikes have been and continue to be a big part of my life. I'm fairly certain that if a Diamondback Turbo was to finally fall out of the sky and land in my front yard, Tim or Drummroll and I would have a jump built with minutes of the landing. We'd dare each other to hit it first, and after Tim and Drumm hit it, I'd finally be shamed into giving it a go. I'm also fairly certain that I'd endo the jump again.

Love to ride your bike!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Butt head

For those looking for a Wilmington/Whiteface post, here is one that I wrote for a sponsor and our "official" team blog:

It was a great race. Not the most technical, but definitely hard for a guy that is used to racing an hour at a time. The ride/hike a bike up Whiteface was cool as well. I know that there was a little grumbling, but it was a Leadville qualifier for crying out loud.

This post has been rattling around my brain for a few days. I tend to write positive posts for the most part. Sometimes sarcastic, sometimes with dark undertones, but positive or humorous none the less. This post will be less positive.

The fact of the matter is that sometimes there are butt head's in races. That's not really the term I'd use on the streets, but . . . butt head will have to do in this case.

By and large I find racers to be decent enough people. There are the stories of doping in the pro's and even in the amateur ranks on occasion. It's a fact of life that people cheat. Just watch the news. It isn't a cycling specific phenomenon. Frankly I don't give it much thought. I'm racing my own race and for the most part, I trust that the guys I'm racing against (or at least the guys I'm concerned with competing with) are racing clean. I know a lot of these guys. We've ridden many miles together and done a lot of racing together. I particularly trust the CX and MTB guys. The pure roadies always weird me out a little, but I'm sure they find my lackadaisical attitude toward road racing equally vexing.

. . . crap, I'm too nice. I can't write the rest of this post. Suffice it to say, sometimes people don't need to dope to cheat. I wasn't planning to name names or anything, but it's too specific of a story to not end up creating a problem. The internet is a big place, but we're in a microcosm of the internet here. Someone almost cheated. They tried to down play it. Thankfully someone else talked them into letting the promoter know and their results were removed, but it took a lot of talking to get them to see the light. Cheating on purpose or cheating by accident is still cheating once you know you did it.

Concessions to "sportsmanship" like that go a long way to explaining how people justify cheating in other ways. As a guy who finished in a lowly 86th place, I'm glad I didn't finish in 87th. 99 people were going to be awarded belt buckles as awards. It would have been a bummer if the guy who came in 99th didn't get one because someone wasn't man enough to do the right thing, or to be more specific, someone wasn't man enough to tell that person they were a butt head if they didn't do the right thing.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Wait, what? There's two of us???

It's funny, a couple of times recently someone has told me that they liked my post (which wasn't mine), or as was the case on Tuesday, asked me how my nipples were. Thankfully I knew what they were talking about . . .

In any event, there are two of us contributing to this blog. Myself and my teammate Drummroll. We both have a similar self-effacing sense of humor, occasionally have decent results, but more often strive for mediocrity. It would be easy to understand why folks might think we are one person doing the writing.

So, I'm Skinny Phil. He is Drummroll. Collectively we are the GREATEST ROCK N ROLL BAND ON EARTH . . . er uh . . . two so so writers trying to race bikes and occasionally write something interesting.

Five of us are headed to the Wilmington/Whiteface 100 this weekend. Hopefully we'll have results or stories that are fit to print . . . and hopefully Drummroll doesn't have any further chafing issues!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Black Fly Challenge

I wish I had a better picture to go with this post. After looking at a number of on-line pictures, I just couldn't find one that captured the essence of the race, so I went with a boring one and I'll do my best to describe the race.

For those unfamiliar with the Black Fly Challenge, it is a point to point race that on alternating years begins and or finishes in Inlet and Indian Lake. To quote the race promoter "Over half the 40 mile course traverses the rugged Moose River Recreation Area on mountain roads composed of dirt, gravel, sand and exposed boulders with several steep elevation changes." Originally conceived as a mountain bike race, most of the faster racers use cyclocross bikes. Since Team Ommegang-Syracuse Bicycle is largely made up of mud, blood and belgian beer loving cyclocrossers, we attend this race in great numbers and talk about it throughout the year. This year we had ten Ommegangsters make the pilgrimage to "BF."

Going into the race, we all knew this year was going to be different than previous years. The Moose River roads, if you can call them that, had been decimated by a rough winter followed by spring floods. To say that sections of the road had been washed away would be something of an understatement. Pictures posted by the promoters illustrated the point. An already difficult race on a 'cross bike was going to be made more difficult as the importance of correct tire pressure and bike handling skills were going to be magnified. The race day weather further "enhanced" the experience with pouring rain that turned the course into a power sapping wet sand fest.

390 people signed up for the race. Unlike most road races, there is no on-line registration, and you need to mail in your race application or sign up the day of the race. This means that you don't really know who's racing, which I kind of like. Rumor had it that some local favorites were headed to the race, but when we got to the start line, most of them were missing. Scared by the weather, afraid to get sand in their . . . uh . . . drive chains? At the start line, I told my teammate Ray to keep racing no matter what happened. In a race like the Black Fly there are plenty of flats and crashes and there's always a chance of grabbing a few more places. You never know who's going to flat or if the past predicted the future, overcook a turn and fly off into the woods.

The race started in Indian Lake this year, which meant the first eight miles would be on the road. In previous years the race started slowly which meant everyone was bunched up and there was a lot of bumping and yelling. This year in a hard rain everyone went hard from the gun which immediately stretched out the field. By the time we hit the dirt it was every man for himself. The mud and sand were brutal and climbing hills required extra power, and descending them required pedaling as opposed to the typical coasting and braking. Racers weaved around looking for firm ground, but it seemed that whichever line you chose, it was simply soft. The whole race played out in a very painful super slow-mo. In reality the super slow-mo was probably for the best because many of the washouts required picking the right line in single file. Even in slow-mo it was fast enough that picking the wrong line could have dire consequences, particularly on a 'cross bike. Eight miles of the course were actually unreachable by car, so the DEC had a couple of 4 wheelers to keep an eye on everyone in case there was a bad crash or mechanical.

I won't bore you with the blow by blow events of the race. Actually, I spent a lot of it by myself toiling in the sand. I did spend some quality time riding with and then chasing my teammate Ray W. It was funny as we were climbing a hill I said "I see footprints, we're going to catch somebody!" On the next hill Ray saw more footprints and like a couple of starving hyena's chasing a wounded gazelle, we chased with new found enthusiasm. Unfortunately the footprints weren't from a wounded gazelle, it turned out to be our teammate Fred who was a Division 1 Cross Country runner. Ray and I were left hungry as Fred probably ran the hills as quickly, or slowly, as we were riding them. Sadly, Ray had an untimely flat. As I went by I yelled "take your time" or something like that. It occurred to me that Ray might take that as sarcasm, but luckily he took it in the spirit in which it was intended and slowed down for an efficient tire change. Ray got a second flat right before the finish and actually ran his bike over the finish line to much applause and cheering with a tube hanging around his neck.

As I reached the road coming into Inlet, I caught teammate Greg D. as he was putting his wheel back on after a flat. Greg quickly caught up and I rolled into the finish behind him. At the end of the day, all ten Ommegangsters finished with four guys in the top 10 and five in the top 15. Three of those guys had flats during the race, so results are all the more impressive. Tim O. came in second after getting a flat about half way through the race. He couldn't get his front brake closed and raced the rest of the race with only a rear brake. The Black Fly will certainly get you out of your comfort zone.

On a bad note, Tim's brother-in-law and team friend Steve had a very bad crash. Crash Report:

1 broken collar bone
3 broken ribs (one in a few places)
1 punctured lung
1 overnight in the Hospital

The Black Fly is an amazing race, and more than other races brings a new experience each year. Sadly racing is sometimes dangerous, but for most of us the rewards far outweigh the risks. Ride safe and enjoy the ride. Even, or especially, if its a sufferfest like The Black Fly Challenge!


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Black Fly 2011: Aches & Ageing

Yea, yea, none of us are getting any younger ... not exactly a newsflash.  As a triathlete sort back in the day (my late 20's/early 30's), I was always mildly mindful of the ageing process as  the "older" guys seemed to have more than their fair share of various aches and issues (i.e., back, knees, feet, etc.).  Of course they always reminded me of my mortality by noting, "wait 'til you get to be my age" or "wait 'til you hit 40" or other similar prediction of what was to come.  And if you didn't hear it from your older peers, you probably heard it from your parents and/or grandparents (even if they were not doing an Ironman).

Now here I am in my mid 40's and yup, major back issue last year.  Over the past few years I have definitely noticed that while I generally haven't slowed down much (at least it doesn't seem like it), I cannot thrash myself all week and expect to be in any kind of condition to race on the weekend.

So I completed the Black Fly this past weekend and unsurprisingly, was fairly beat up afterwards.  This year seemed extra hard with the course conditions as they were.  A review of the finishing times over the past few years showed a considerably slower race this year which was definitely attributable to the "tougher" conditions.

Now the being a bit beat up post race was expected -- you probably know the drill .. heavy legs, maybe a little soreness in the quads or calves, or maybe a tight back and probably sore hands (especially if you were on a CX bike).  These post race aches and soreness, while perhaps a little more pronounced to an "older dude", are quite manageable and in some ways, are almost a badge of honour in knowing you rode your a$$ off.  This all comes with the territory -- 40+ miles of a beating on a CX bike for over 2 hours at 40+ yrs of age = sore.

But the soreness & aches story doesn't stop there, the ageing thing has revealed another post race situation that until now, had never been encountered ... and dare I say it did not reveal itself until I got home and hopped in the shower.  I had just rinsed the pound of sand out of my hair and then stood up and turned to face the shower and realized my little man nips were on fire.  Being a bit concerned and confused, I examined a bit closer and hmmm, looks like a frictional issue.  Now I had worn the same baselayer as I had countless times previously with no issues (CX, MTB, etc.) but apparently there was more, umm movement (i.e., bouncing) here than in the past.  So I am a bit demoralized to have discovered, thanks to ageing, my boobs have grown and/or gone mushy and must now be bouncing when I ride over rough terrain.  It is bad enough seeing your middle section get mushier as you age but c'mon, I got freaking little scabs on my nippies that hurt again today when I showered.  How the he!! did that happen?  When did it happen?  A quick internet search and I am faced with "he-teets", "man-mammaries", ads for reduction surgery, and this ....  ...... AUGHHHHHHHHH

All I know is that if you call me "A-cup" at the next race, I will kick you in the nuts -- and when you get to be my age, that still hurts too.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Walking into the Light

This post sort of came to me Tuesday night as I was trying to bridge a large gap during one of our TNTS races. The concept is a little morbid, but dark thoughts can creep into your head when the gap becomes insurmountable.

I think that athletes at all levels routinely dig deeper than the general population. Most people have no idea what it's like to get their pulse up to 190 beats per minute. They don't understand what it's like to have their muscles fill with lactic acid and to experience searing lung pain as they gasp for air.

Even in the world of sports, I don't think there are many sports that are as hard on the collective mind and body as bike racing. Mixed Martial Arts is a notable exception since getting dropped on a bike doesn't include getting repeatedly punched in the face, but bike racing is hard. Our sport and its inherent suffering are often described in terms that attempt to describe the pain, but also put a romantic spin on it. Phil Liggett usually puts it best: "The elastic has snapped." "He's wearing a mask of pain." "He's really having to dig deeply into the suitcase of courage."

Sometimes we dig into the suitcase of courage and we come through the other side and contest the sprint. Other times we dig deep but the mind and body simply can't make it happen. When this happens, I would imagine that it feels a lot like "walking into the light." I don't want to trivialize the concept of death, but unlike most athletes, we often lose in slow motion and have time to think about it. We then have time to ponder our fate while riding off the back of the break or pack. We've all been there. A gap opens or a break happens. Initially there's a shot of adrenaline and the mind and body respond. The gap starts to close quickly. The only problem is that the racers that created the gap had the same shot of adrenaline. They also had a head start and you've lost the draft. The legs start to hurt, your pulse spikes, your lungs gasp for air. The distance between you and your goal yo-yo's. You might take a second or third or fourth dig. You might yell to those around you to pull, but sometimes it just isn't going to happen. Your legs and mind finally give out in a whimper and you'll "walk into the light." Ten yards looks and feels like one-hundred. You'll quietly scream to yourself "HOW CAN I NOT CLOSE THIS GAP." Everyone in front of you rides away. Some of them are glad, and some of them may pity you, but you're a dead man either way so it doesn't really matter.

The general population simply isn't going to experience what it's like to face the grim reaper and lose. At least until late in life ideally. I don't know that this experience makes us better people. It only makes us different in ways beyond the more obvious shaved legs and bad tans lines. Extreme athletes may stare death in the face, but unless something goes wrong, they don't get to experience it, they just get an adrenaline rush.

Love to ride your ride your bike and love the ride in this life or the next.
Skinny Phil