Friday, November 27, 2015

It's Looking Like Spring.

The snow that I shoveled last week is almost gone, swept away by rain and warm temperatures. That's the reality of an El Nino year in Anchorage. The resorts were able to make a lot of snow last week when temperatures were in the single digits or lower, so hopefully they'll survive this recent turn of events. I certainly hope so, because Mighty Mites is just around the corner and I don't want to shepherd my little flock of 9 year olds down a ribbon of death, dodging teenagers baked on Alaska-legal marijuana, riding snowboards Mom and Dad gave them as an early Christmas present for managing not to be expelled this semester. Yeah, I'm still not 100% fired up about the prospect, but all reports say it's gong to be better than last year. I hope so, because my nerves were about fried.

A collective whine can be heard around town from all of the fat bikers, because the trails are getting absolutely trashed. They'll have plenty of time to ride this winter, and besides this time of year is all about carbo-loading for next race season. At least, that's my excuse.

Actually, I'm trying (and mostly failing) to maintain my current weight. I'd prefer to drop a few between now and New Year's, but just holding steady would be a significant victory. Sprint training has added a small amount to my leg muscles, but I don't think my fat/muscle ratio has altered. The sad truth is that I have to learn to shut my mouth once in a while.

So, as I watch the green grass take over from the receding snow and I try not to think about the giant bags of Goldfish in the cupboard, I dream of next season and how I will absolutely dominate the road division, bringing the attention of ProTour teams and resulting in fat, multi-year contracts. 

These delusions are what keep me going.

At least until spring gets here.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Long Goodbye.

It's been relegated to the trainer for the last two years. Months of sweat crust coated it. The cables should have been replaced two seasons ago, but it still kinda shifted well. Well enough to get from a random hard gear to a random easy gear. Precision shifting isn't always a requirement on the trainer. The chain had exceeded its service life, yet had never left the garage. The brake calipers were sticking from years of neglect, although their utility in this particular application is limited. The bar tape had been on there long enough that rudimentary fossilized tools were found in the lower strata of funk that had been deposited there.
It was grungy.
The bike didn't deserve that kind of abuse.
Once it was my absolutest favoritiest thing in the world. I used to gaze at it with the sort of adoration I reserve for small puppies and babies that aren't actively crying and/or pooping. It was my first carbon frame, and the first time I had built a bike to my own specifications, rather than copying the spec sheet of a similar bike. Over time I upgraded it heavily, adding components usually reserved for people with far more talent and/or money that I possess.
I loved the bike so much that I bought an identical model to use for a training bike. I didn't want to ruin my good bike by riding it too much in the rain or on anything but perfect days. The twin was set up exactly the same, so that when you closed your eyes was hard it was hard to tell them apart. It was also hard to stay on the road when you did that, so I tried not to do that too much.
In reality, it was a mid-grade frame that was built more for durability than to be an ultra-light climbing machine. It was slightly on the small side, requiring adjustments that likely affected handling characteristics. I didn't care, such was my affection for the bike. It was my race bike, and I felt faster when I rode it. Reality be damned.
Looking back, most of the races I won were on that bike. It was my talisman, something that assured me that I didn't suck when all evidence pointed to the contrary. It was unique enough in a sea of Treks and Specializeds and Cervelos that it had a certain exclusivity to it- like I was part of the Belgian heritage the name suggested. It didn't matter that it was just another hunk of Taiwanese carbon fiber like the rest of them.
Reality be damned.
Eventually I found a bike that actually was more suited to me. Then another one. Then another one. The twin was sold off, and the golden child was relegated to training bike duties, then subjected to foul weather, and finally chained to a stationary trainer to serve as a repository for bodily fluid residue. Oh, how the mighty had fallen.
A week ago I put on some gloves (HAZMAT precaution) and pried it off the trainer. One by one, the fancy parts were removed, the worn stuff thrown away, until I was left with a blank canvas to work with. Gallons of industrial-strength cleaner were brought to bear on the layers of gunk, until the frame began to resemble the one I fell in love with the first time I saw it.
Little parts that you never think about until they seize up or break were removed, cleaned, and lubricated. In place of the high-zoot, ultra fancy components, new solid, workhorse parts were installed that better reflected the price point the bike once occupied. I could have installed used parts, but I felt like I owed the bike to do this right.
I'd install a part or two, step back, make a couple adjustments, and then walk away. The next day I'd bolt on something else. Maybe I'd string up a cable or tweak something. The frantic nature that characterizes my normal bike builds because I waited until the last minute to complete it isn't part of this one. A little here, a little there...
Last night I told my wife I wasn't rushing this one because I wasn't sure I wanted to get rid of it.
" So why sell it? You can just keep it as your trainer bike".
I hugged her, because that kind of response is what every cyclist dreams of. My spouse just blessed the multiple bikes she doesn't know I already own, and those that will follow them. That may not be what she meant, but that's my interpretation.
I thought a bit and sighed.
"No, it deserves better than that".
It deserves an owner that will look at it like I once did.
I'm not going to give it away. I'm going to sell it for what I consider a fair price, and hopefully there will be someone out there willing to treat it better than member of their family. Hopefully it will be pampered and lavished with new components on a regular basis. Hopefully it will be ridden and raced, taking its new owner to the podium and inspiring the sorts of delusions of talent I once held.
It deserves it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Greener Grass

Most of my riding is defined by solo trips to whatever hills or roads I can fit in the time I have available. As much as I try to stay consistent, it shifts a bit here or there, or doesn't happen at all. It's mainly just me, sweating or freezing or whatever, alone with my thoughts. There are occasional rides with a friend, very rare group rides, or road races to break up the solitude, but for the most part I'm on my own. This is the result of the nature of the local cycling scene, time constraints, the Anchorage road system, and my own introverted nature.

Other people's riding experience is defined by the social component of the sport. Their weeks and months are scheduled around group events, with solo rides just filling in the cracks.

Sometimes I envy them.

Riding with a group of like-minded individuals who push each other for no other reason than because it's fun... well, that's just a great way to spend a day. Every time I leave the state for a business or personal trip, I bring a bike and try to look up with a group ride. The vibe is almost always positive, I get to ride route I wouldn't have otherwise known about, and I see things I might not have noticed while riding alone.

Knowing that I could pick and choose from any number of weekly rides based on how hard I wanted to work and what terrain I wanted to cover... my head would probably explode.

On the other hand, riding is my time to re-center. Kinda hard to do when your experience is at primarily dictated by other people. While I enjoy that dynamic too, getting away from the social and figuring out what's flitting around between my ears is what drew me to the sport.

Anchorage isn't built for a huge group road ride culture. Some pop up seasonally, but usually fizzle as the temperatures warm, trails dry out, and the bike riding populace gravitates towards whatever it is that floats their boats. A couple guys here, a handful there... that's about as big a group as you'll see throughout the warm-ish months.

Instead, we race. Not so much as in some places, but a lot more than others that have a much larger riding population. Our races aren't for money or swag or anything else of a tangible nature. Mostly they're for pride, bragging rights, and to exert a sort of social order based on physical capacity. A meritocracy. The strong pay to beat up on the weak. The weak pay to get beat up by the strong.

I like the race-oriented culture. I like how things are categorized and quantified, so I know how low on the totem pole I sit. I like competing in a semi-controlled environment instead of sprinting around cars to get an edge on the competition. It just suits my demeanor.

The grass is always greener, especially when it's smeared all over your nice white jersey after a red-lined newbie on a touring bike took a corner hot and edged you off the road.

Yeah, racing is better.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


I was forced to skip two workouts last week for various reasons. Another was delayed significantly in the day, which is something I never like to do because it messes with my sleep schedule. All of this made me extremely irritable.

Funny, riding can make you feel incredibly great, as you ride the endorphin high and all of the negative energy is channeled into something positive. It can put your life in order like few things can.

On the flip side, you can become like a tweaker, always looking for the next fix. Extended periods of inactivity can make you twitchy, and for me my temper gets short. My anger is usually intense and extremely short-lived. I blow up and then it's over, mainly because I can't remember what I was angry about in the first place. My toddler and I share this character trait, although his staying power is much more impressive than mine. If we could channel that energy into cycling, he would be the new hour record holder.

I blow up less often and less intensely with a steady diet of riding. The more energy I use up cycling, the less I have for irrational rants. Perceived slights that would have me kicking stuffed animals around the house are instead greeted with a mild, "gee, that's disappointing" after a ride. It completely flips the switch.

The two workouts weren't scheduled to be all that long or intense, so it only took one solid workout to blow away the black rain cloud over my head. It's not something I want to make a habit of, because the cumulative effect is never a pretty sight. This far from the race season they really don't matter that much, but I'm a creature of habit. I'll get back in my groove and see if I can prevent a repeat of last week.

It's just better that way.

Monday, November 23, 2015


This Sunday's group at the Dome was the biggest yet. For every face that doesn't show up on a given week, it seems like two more take their place. That's a great thing for the cycling community, as hopefully the management sees the benefits of having the time slot open to cyclists.

Last week the SRM power meter I got off of eBay was dropping power significantly at random points, which is never a good thing to see when you're doing TT intervals. A quick call to SRM's US office told me it had been almost exactly 3 years since it had been in for service, and the batteries probably needed to be replaced. These batteries have soldered terminals, and since I possess that archaic skill I figured I would do it myself. However, I did some searching on the internet and found that the couldn't be procured locally and the cheapest price I could find them for on the interweb with shipping was $70. To add insult to injury, they would be shipped ground because they are hazardous materials. It would likely take two weeks for them to show up. The service through SRM would cost $100, and the power meter would be tested and calibrated as well. I figure I might as well get a solid baseline.

With the TT bike crank-less, I dusted off the Storck. Trying to keep up with TT riders and guys with much larger engines became that exponentially more "interesting", since I neglected to put on aerobars and was pushing a bit more air than usual. Some people would call that a better workout, but I spend far too much money trying to avoid working so hard. After a couple rounds of 15 minute time trial intervals, I was feeling the burn a bit. The kick I had on the trainer the day before was gone, and I was left with a marginal grind to get me around the track. What doesn't kill you only weakens you for a later execution.
Tomorrow is a rest day. I'm really liking the sound of that, although I don't think I did enough this week to deserve one. Maybe I'll just do a short, easy spin to loosen up the legs and numb the feeling of worthlessness.

Worth a shot.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Begrudgifcated Volunteer.

The recent single-digit and lower temperatures haven't done much for my morale. While we have more snow on the ground than last year at this time (not saying much) and the resorts are making as much of the man-made type as they can pump through the guns, I'm just not feeling the winter love just yet. Maybe it was the abrupt transition from dreary and chilly to butt-ass cold that prevents me from acclimating. Maybe it's the memories of leading groups of Mighty Mites down icy and bumpy ribbons of death, watching the snowpack melt away with every trip up the chairlift. Maybe I'm just getting old.
A lot of guys in the fat bike community are all giggly about riding in -12F temperatures. They post pictures of themselves on Facebook, sporting icicle-encrusted beards like badges of honor. I think they're pushing the season a little bit, risking burnout before the trails get properly covered. Then again, what do I know? I cower in my relatively-warm garage (50F-ish is warm, right?), making pools of sweat that mingle with the dust and dirt on the garage floor. Different strokes for different folks.
Wednesday night I was summoned to the annual Mighty Mite coaches' shindig. Pizza, beer, and hours of listening to Mighty Mite Head Coach Lumpy talk. It helped to lift my spirits and get my mind right. A month from now I'll be squiring packs of little monsters down Alyeska, so now's a good time to get motivated. Hearing about all of the behind-the-scenes administrivia made me happier than ever that I no longer am required to deal with that stuff. I coach my little group, try to make sure each day ends with a giggle or at least a smile, and my day's work is done.
My past experiences with boards of sports organizations have taught me that I tend to take on far too much responsibility, until it becomes a burden. Often, the only way I've been able to unload that burden is to leave or outright shutter the organization. It's not a feeling I enjoy, but like this blog, in the end it's all about me. Killing all the joy one feels for the sport is not a great way to end an association, so when old board members successfully make their break for freedom after years of service, I honestly hope they enjoy life on the outside. I've been there more than once, and will likely go there again.
Every time the Road Division president asks for volunteers to take responsibility for a specific role and is greeted by nothing but the sound of crickets (and we don't have an excess of those up here to serve as volunteers), I feel guilty when I don't jump up and take it on. So far I've been able swallow my shame and hide behind other board members, even as they try to hide behind me, but eventually I'll cave. That's what I do.
Eventually I'll take on obligations that will cause no end of marital strife. I'll commit myself to tasks that are ill-defined and ever-expanding, because that's just how these things go. Good-intentioned people (I'm sometimes classed thusly by the ill-informed) are always ground into small pellets and fed into the machine that drives the organization. When the fuel is spent, the machine will either find a new source or grind to a halt. The best take little hunks at a time out of a variety of fuel sources, making for a more sustainable organization, but in the end we're all just soylent green. How fast we burn just depends on how volatile we are and how we're used.
So, as I gird my loins for another season of Mighty Mite fun and for helping lay the groundwork for next season's road racing, I take time to remind myself why I even bother in the first place- at their core, I think both activities are pretty awesome. I think more people should do them. I know that these activities don't exist without a lot of very tedious work going on in the background, but the more people have the opportunity to participate, the greater the chances that there will be others that are willing to be ground up to keep the machine going. Maybe we'll reach that point where we're only chewed up a little, and can eventually make our own escapes, leaving others to carry on in our stead. There might even be a small chance that we'll still be more or less intact at the end.
Then again, I can think of less-worthy causes to dedicate yourself to.
Like fat biking.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Sense of Completion.

Thursday the Cannondale SystemSix was disassembled. Parts were removed, cleaned (somewhat), and boxed for future projects. What remained was the frameset I bought last spring at the Arctic Bike Club swap after selling my 'cross bike.
I wasn't looking for a project, but I had a wad of cash burning a hole in my pocket and it was pretty. I'm not exactly an evolved man. Besides, the Storck was nothing but frustration at the time and I was tired of beating up my race bikes on the early-season roads. I built it, rode it, raced it, wrecked it, repaired it, and loaned it out. It was never my favorite bike, but then again Cannondales have never made my lady parts tingle. As I understand it, symptoms like that should be referred to my physician, but that's beside the point. As much as I tried, as many as I've ridden, I never really warmed up to the brand. Solid, well-made bikes, for sure, but not my cup of tea.
I started bolting on the parts I removed from Pete's old bike, most of them tracing their lineage back to one of my old bikes. The wheels, durable 32-spoke, box section rims, were my old commuters. The handlebars were from my old BMC Road Racer. I always liked the looks of that bike. The derailleurs were from a short-lived 'cross build. The crankset was originally on one of my Ridleys. The brakes from the parts bin and a project once contemplated but never fulfilled. As I built it, I realized that none of the parts were left from Pete's DBR. All of them had been replaced or upgraded over the years. For the last few years, we've been slowly building Pete a new bike. The frameset was just the last piece. Pete had the Cannondale on layaway.
Since Pete won't have me as his personal Julien DeVriese (Google him) when he moves down to Arizona, I replaced most of the consumables on the bike and threw all of the old parts and 9 speed junk I had laying around so he can keep it rolling for the next couple years. From what I've heard, they're a bunch of heathens down in the Lower 48. Best to go prepared.
Finishing up a bike always gives me a sense of accomplishment. No matter how much I'm behind in the rest of my life, ham-fistedly assembling a bike to the point where it's only partially dangerous lets me mark the day down as a success.
I completed something. In today's world, that's no small feat.