Monday, February 22, 2010

The Green Jacket

Oh, believe it or not, this blog is not actually about cycling. I know, you are probably a little concerned about me. It’s okay! I’m fine! I will get back to cycling shortly (trust me…blogs are brewing now in my French press brain). I had a request to write about my personal life and I often shy away from this…because readers are going to discover that I am a sensitive chick…then, they might actually like me or think I am cool…and well, I do not wish to MISLEAD any of you. Instead of cycling, I am going to tell you a story about a green puffy Patagonia jacket.

When you are single, your friends have your best interests at heart when it comes to your love life. I spent a lot of time hearing, “oooh, you need a cycling boyfriend”, “I know someone”, and “I have this friend you should meet…” I refused to feign any interest often rolling my eyes to punctuate my discontent and making jokes about becoming the crazy cat lady (it’s always the backup life plan and I had completed my subscription card to Cat Fancy just for giggles). I have always figured and practiced the old fashioned art of just meeting people. After finishing the century ride and nursing my excruciating sunburned lips (ohhh) I made the acquaintance with another rider I had not encountered before. I referenced his shiny legs in a previous Going Pro blog. Our entire conversation that day was two lines or less but I caught him looking over my bike…almost touching it (STEP AWAY FROM THE BIKE BUDDY BEFORE I THROW SOMETHING AT YOU!!!). I inquired only about who he was (as best I could with swollen lips) and it was quickly explained that he had reunited with his ex for the 100th, 200th, or 300th time and literally I was told to “stay away” to which I easily obliged.

Several weeks later, I romped around the fields of the USGP following the riders through a muddy, murky day, while cheering by an obstacle known as the “Green Monster”. This contraption is a large constructed green bridge that riders dread because as the race wears on, those 6-7 steps seem like a mountain, especially when you are hauling your bike up each time. I stood there with a few friends, cheering, sharing a cowbell, and chocolate brownies I had in my bag (yes, I carry brownies with me, you don’t?). Across several lines of tape, I spotted said person who was standing there in a Patagonia Green Puffy jacket drinking a beer. My friend leaned over and said, “you should talk to him” and I replied, “Um, no thanks.” Even after he came over and offered me a beer which he never went to get me from his car, I walked off and left later that day without giving much attention to him but instead admiring his very green jacket. Green has always been one of my favorite colors…and this jacket is sharp…one might say, “pro.”

I was surprised to get an email from “green jacket” later reading: “Wanna grab a beer sometime?” Hmmm, I like beer...I even like food with beer. Hmmm. Once I confirmed there was no girlfriend in the picture (I do not do drama) and I was pretty certain he was not a stalking axe murderer, I said yes, and walked into a local restaurant with no expectations.I figured if the night truly sucked, I could fake sickness or beg a friend for an emergency text (yes, girls do this). My friends, because they care, would do this for me.

A very funny thing happened….not only did he show up in the green puffy Patagonia jacket, which I complimented, but we closed down the restaurant, only drank one beer, finished off four pots of coffee and then talked by the car for another 45-minutes. I drove home and gave myself 3-hours to sleep only to work a 12-hour day the next. I honestly had not done that in years. Even more odd, is that I had not met someone whom I felt so comfortable with, instantly. We talked for hours…LITERALLY HOURS…he did not seem put off by my “odd” humor (oh I tested the limits) or the fact that I had a sense of humor. We talked bike stuff (a lot)…we talked politics (uh oh)…religion…cars (my dad is mechanic-I am obligated to talk cars)…and about coffee.

I have simple rule…I cannot be with someone without passion. It is not an option anymore as I have encountered too many lifeless individuals waiting to find that spark that drives them. I am in my thirties and I no longer have the patience to coddle someone while they are trying to find that “something.” Whether they enjoy cycling, basket weaving, or puppet making …I have to be with someone who has passion about something in their lives. If they have passion, then hopefully they will understand my passion and support what I do. Rather than closing with some gushing, oozing, emotionally sappy one liner, I will simply say, I am happy and I threw away my subscription card to Cat Fancy. Would I really have time for a magazine that was NOT about cycling anyways? The answer to that question is no, by the way.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Roooooad Trip!

This morning on the weather channel it was confirmed yet again that Louisville is due for another round of wintery weather sometime this weekend. My disappointment is even obvious to the cat at this point. He mocks me by using my bike as a rubbing post for his back (Damn you kitty). It is so nice to know that my perfectly sized road bike doubles as a cat toy. They never mentioned that in the marketing packet! Accepting that Louisville may never have green grass or visible asphalt has caused me to fantasize longingly for next weekend. In fact, it is the only thing that keeps me going right now.

This time next week, I should be loading up the car for a get-a-way weekend to the North American Handbuilt Bike Show (NAHBS) hosted in Richmond, Virginia (Virginia is for lovers…bike lovers, that is). Only six hours separates me from a Mecca of bicycles, dealers, and craftsmen who have spent years if not a great portion of their lives crafting handmade bicycles. This is not a flea market where mismatched Huffy’s are sold along side discontinued Beanie Babies. No, this is a tradeshow with thousands of people hovering over hundreds of bikes each artistically made by hand. You will not see Huffy, Diamonback, or even Trek booths. What you will see instead are a slew of small shops from all over the country displaying some of their finest works.

Because of my lust for something so finely crafted, not only am I attending the show, but I will be the personal assistant to the director of the show. I admit, I was incredibly excited to learn about this. What better way to quench your lust for such beautiful bicycles than to put yourself in the middle of the action. The parents did not raise a shy kid—so I will be all over the showroom and God knows I will talk to anyone about a bike. Although it is painfully obvious that this show is attended mostly by male cycling enthusiasts, I have no qualms being one of the notably insane chicks that will be pouring over brazing techniques, color swatches, while inspecting various tubing choices. I will drool over finely crafted leather saddles, ergonomic handlebar grips, and the tiny details that make these bikes truly works of art. It is more than color schemes and paint chips…it is about the craftsmanship that goes into it.

There is a saying about champagne taste on a beer budget. I actually prefer beer to champagne but when you are fortunate enough to own a custom bike, it is hard to ever look at anything stock again. Truth be told, I do not even have the budget for beer which is why attending this show is so important. It is about imagining the cycling world without limits and what you would do if someone handed you thousands of dollars that you HAD to spend on a bike. Any fanatic can spew off exactly how they would spec out their dream bike in seconds if you ask them.

Somehow I also like to imagine that if I spend two days pouring and ogling bikes, it will be the equivalent as if I had actually put myself on a bike. Yeah, I know that is not true but it is just easier if I lie to my thighs right now.

Friday, February 12, 2010


I have resisted road riding with my i-pod for several reasons:

1. I am easily distracted, not only by shiny objects but the things I hear and in the past when I have ran with my i-pod, I have missed turns, trail heads, and the end of my run to finish out a song.

2. On the bike, I need to hear most things around me such as the screeching sound of rubber sliding on pavement or the horn blowing of sudden jerking of car going around me so that I can react appropriately (this includes loud cursing, occasional fist pumping, and several middle finger gestures).

3. I like to sing along with my i-pod and in doing this on the bike distorts my breathing and could cause extreme embarrassment to anyone around me (it’s okay to pretend you do not know me).

4. I need to hear the noises my bike makes….any creaking, clackty (nope, this is not a word), squeaking noises so that I can obsess about it, attempt to diagnose it while I ride, and then obsess about finding someone to tell me what the noise is and fix it.

5. I am usually lost in my head when I ride…

This fifth reason is the main explanation. The greatest thing I love about the bike is the ability to disconnect from all that is around me. I do not talk on my cell phone, text, or check email on my bike (for those who know me personally—this is a big deal). My head is like a small dusty apartment crammed with unpacked boxes full of STUFF. When I am off the bike, my mind is going, going, going. When, I ride, I am usually focused on my ride experience, my cadence, my speed, and making circles. While giving attention to these variables, I find my mind wanders to an undisturbed place where I think about family, friends, love, life, work, sex (yes, I have thought about sex on the bike, who hasn’t?), music, bike stuff, politics, gossip, cars, bike parts, car parts, my house, my cat, or any other life object. I have had complete conversations on the bike without a rider next to me. So, you can appreciate that the addition of music to my churned mind could slide everything into a chaotic unresolved state.

However, on alone rides this year, especially in the winter when the park is desolate, I found the need for some sound (other than the puffing of my out of shape ass) and the past few rides have been with the i-pod. I dangle one ear bud out so that I can still have some awareness of the world around me although there is little I can do if a car is going to crash into me (tuck and roll). With some 7,000 songs in my I-tunes library, I had the enormous task of creating the perfect road ride mix. It could not be too “whiny”, “emo” or “enya-esque” and yet my collection of music could be mistaken as a rebirth of Woodstock (I like the hippie stuff). What I have ended up with is a mix of Metallica (okay, not so hippie), Cary Brothers, Grateful Dead, Mindy Smith, Band of Horses, Iron and Wine, and Neil Young. The goal was to find a balance that matched my rides…warming up, sprinting, hill work, and cooling down all wound into a 2-3 hour set. My eyes nearly bled as I scoured list after list of songs, artists, and titles but I am content with my menagerie. However, I do apologize to fellow riders and critters now for the partial riding concert that may pass you at some point come this spring.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Different Strokes

When piecing together my road bike, I had to use the tools and components I had lying around or could save enough to purchase. Unlike cyclists who have been at this for years and have a mass, if not a garage full, of parts…(or the added discount of a shop) I have a small pile that fits into my tool box that I can carry (insert sigh here). Oh…and I pay RETAIL. When it came time to put pedals on, I slapped on an old pair of Shimano SPD’s left over from my mountain bike. At the time it made sense…they were lying around, I had a spare set of cleats…so why not? HOWEVER, the time has come for a new transition…new pedals…a new system…more learning….more change.

As awkward and backwards as it sounds, I fell in love with the SPD pedals. On the mountain bike, I started with a pair of Crank Brothers and they were acceptable pedals except in a quick hurry my ankles lacked the wrenching dexterity to unclip when I found myself facing an oncoming tree (BAD TREE!). I earned a few gashes, scabs and bruises from these episodes but chalked that up to learning until I came upon other pedal systems. I started using the SPD’s and found them easier to maneuver for my small frame. So, of course, I put a pair on the road bike and yes, I took a lot of grief for the WRONG pedals on the bike. I felt like that kid whose parents packed the sardine sandwich for lunch while everyone else had peanut butter and jelly. Nobody wants to sit next to the kid with the sardine sandwich. I have a hand gesture to those that kept stopping me to insist I upgrade to better, more acclimated road pedals…and yes, it only involves one finger.

My argument always was “it works for me”. I put in 150+ miles a week and completed a century with those pedals. They felt comfortable and I did not feel the need to succumb to this change based on some near stranger’s comments in my local park. I had them worn in “just right”…I could stand out of the saddle for long periods of time without any worry or concern of face planting. In other words, my relationship with the SPD’s was kosher. We coexisted together without much clashing. Now, when someone sat me down to explain how the pedals affect your efficiency and skill…then I started understanding why I had to part with my SPD’s and end our near perfect relationship.

It sounds nerdy but the basis of my goals lies in the simplistic pursuit to be a better cyclist with each passing year. I can set goals to race, complete tours, increase my speed, or any other variable I choose but each task leads to me being a better, more accomplished cyclist. In doing so, I have to learn everything I can on and off the bike. This is includes the valuable lesson of pedals, their design, and why my SPD’s HAVE to come off.

With that said, my bike is awaiting some time with a pedal wrench to unlock my SPD’s and put on a new set of Speedplays which I am being told I will like although they will feel ‘different.’ I need not explain what that word does to someone who is a diligent task master addicted to routine and all things simplistic. My experience with ‘different’ has always yielded positive results and I suspect this time will be no different. I just wonder what’s next?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

F*&k You Winter!

I have never killed a man (thank goodness)…and honestly I am not sure I actually could unless my life was in imminent danger. However, if I could get my hands around winter’s neck, I would bleed the life out of this season! This NEW year has been a meteorological clusterf*&k! Blame it on global warming, blame it on El Nino, El Nina…whatever, this winter is similar to the ones from my early childhood. The only difference is, I am too old, feeble, and disinterested in being covered in ice to care about sledding and building a snowman. Stick figure arms SUCK anyway! I want to ride my bike! I want to be outside without 6-10 comfort layers, without hand warmers, and actually burn some calories off this catatonic body.

I am wound pretty tight and without some outdoor activity soon, I may literally crawl out of my skin, snap on some elderly person, or yell at babies. Yes, I may yell at a baby—just stand back! You know who I intend to blame for my rude, inconsiderate outbursts? WINTER! I am blaming everything on this sucky craptastic nightmare of a season. My pale white Elmer’s glue colored skin….is because of WINTER. My dirty, filthy, brine covered car can be blamed on WINTER. My lack of patience with ordinary people, may actually be blamed on my upbringing, but for now, I will blame that too on WINTER! My disinterest in socialization and malaise about life in general can only be blamed on ONE THING….DAMN WINTER!

For the record, if Spring decides to be a self-centered needy rainy wet b*%ch…then I warn you now world, my anger and disgust will only build. I will have to blame Spring for my jelly like legs, my slowness on hills, and my discontent for all things wet. I think it is obvious that my state of being is basically permanent PMS and if I will yell at a baby, then I will yell at you too. Winter has turned me into a nasty creature…I apologize now for my rambling discontent (blame that too on Winter).

Monday, February 8, 2010

I am dumber than a shoe (which is the equivalent to a box of rocks)

Let’s do a quick educational life review…I have spent a total of 23 years in school from the time I was 4 (mom started me young with preparatory classes!) until I was 27. There are two degrees hanging on my bedroom wall to prove that at some point I had enough hours to earn 2 huge pieces of paper and acquire significant debt. My transcripts include electives such as statistics, calculus, and French literature (which was NOT taught in English-quel dommage!)…so there are a few things you would assume after reading this…

1. I spent waaaay too much time in school (I took my time in grad school trying to “find” myself when in actuality a divorce interrupted my studies)

2. I am extremely narcissistic and think of myself as one smart tart

3. Obviously I did not understand the term “electives”…who the hell takes a calculus class as an elective?

4. With all this supposed knowledge, I should easily be able to master the buckle on my new Sidi road shoes

Well…unfortunately with two degrees, the ability to read Le Petit Prince, the useless skill of understanding exponential functions, and the truth of the matter that I battle constant insecurity everyday leads me to the last point, I CANNOT UNDO THE BUCKLE ON MY NEW SHOES!

Imagine my extreme excitement to FINALLY locate a pair of “pro” road shoes that were stylish (no pink anywhere to be found), in my size (37 or US6), and affordable ($269.99 shoe for $33.00)! What girl does not love shoe shopping? Saturday when I came home to find them on my doorstep, I reacted like a kid on Christmas morning literally ripping the ample packing tape from the box faster than a rodeo wrangler. Tossing the Sidi tissue aside (nice marketing), the note from the seller begging for positive feedback on Ebay, and the little Sidi postcard, I stood there with my new shiny shoes….PERPLEXED. The buckle, now several years old in design is a ratcheting mechanism that increases your maximum output while keeping comfort intact. In other words, it’s awesome! Well, that is the theory, anyway. I would not REALLY know how they feel on my foot because they are in my floor, waiting for more capable hands to work them.

You see, I sat on my couch wrestling, digging, pawing, and fingering the buckle until my fingertips were red. My friend (also in grad school), attempted the same maneuvers without so much as moving the buckle a millimeter. The new shoes had been ratcheted down as tight as they would go. Upon further inspection, the postcard I tossed aside actually was a set of instructions (English and Italian, no French!) detailing how to buckle and unbuckle the shoe. There are ONLY four illustrations and even after I wrinkled my face and made guttural grunts, the shoes stared back at me with their buckles FIRMLY locked down. SHEER MOCKERY I TELL YOU! In desperation or possibly my “game show” moment, I phoned someone who has as many years on the bike as I have behind a desk. Even with explicit phone directions (some laughter), the buckles remain unmoved.

Discouraged and disappointed, I was told that getting the buckles undone is a common beginners fault. It takes a little know how and strength. Apparently, I have neither of these qualities as it relates to this pair of shoes and in even more general elementary terms, I SUCK. So what have I learned from this experience?

1. Italian and English directions are not helpful, even with illustrations and directional arrows

2. I need stronger fingers

3. I have been outsmarted by a pair of shoes

Good thing I did not go for that Ph.D.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dear Phil…

What a silly tradition….to pull out a rather sluggish, tempered, obese ”land beaver” (literally, a rodent) from a tee stump to either announce the early arrival of Spring or another six weeks of winter. What a silly charade for people to get caught up in. It does not warrant a day on the calendar or people parading around in top hats but for some reason, it happens. It’s not like this tale is TRUE. It is not like this mammal with a single digit I.Q. is actually a scientist during the other 364 days of the year and able to predict the weather, right? RIGHT? SOMEONE AGREE WITH ME!

Wives tale or not, Phil, I am here to tell you that you had better not see your damn shadow tomorrow. If you DO see your shadow, which traditionally proclaims ANOTHER long SIX weeks of winter, I am merely putting a warning out there that you had better watch your spiny-haired back. While I like my Ksyrium's, I am not afraid to taco my rims and take you out if need be. I suspect hundreds or thousands of other cyclists may be thinking (or plotting) the same thing. Basically, I am merely throwing caution your way-- alerting you to the fact that should you frighten your ol' self (Really? Over 100? C'mon buddy) with your gray shadow, you may also want to join th witness protection program for groundhogs. If you cannot locate such a program (I suspect this really does not exist, sorry), then I would lay low for a while, at least until cyclists can enjoy back to back days of riding, spinning our legs out, and stretching our limits.

You see Phil, like you, cyclists who live in a quad-season land, are forced to endure weeks without cycling, sunshine, or warm temperatures. Unlike you, however, we do not hibernate. Life goes on, without riding. We can fake a ride on a trainer, rollers, or find some other cardiovascular activity but it is not the same. You understand? It would be like pulling your svelte jiggly body out of a tattered box, rather than the traditional tree stump….it just WOULD NOT BE THE SAME.

So, I am encouraging you Phil to think about tomorrow….mull over how your senseless, tireless tradition has drug on and for the love of God, do NOT locate your shadow tomorrow morning. I know there is a lot of pressure with cameras, music, children eagerly watching for you to pop out of the tree stump. You have a full day of activities and I respect that. But Phil, you need to dig deep and think about all the cyclists out there who are sitting around at home bustling with energy. We need Spring and we need it now…NOT six weeks from now. I would advise for the health and safety of all around you, please IGNORE your shadow, find a new hobby, consider retirement to Hawaii or Peru....and then we can all live happily ever after.