Posts

Showing posts from 2011

Back to the Barn

Image
It's that time of year again. It's cold. It's dark. It's windy. It's rainy. Every bike magazine will tell you to suck it up and get out there and ride. Loving suffering is part of cycling and this time of year you don't have to wait for it. You're suffering the moment you open the door! I should be thrilled! The 'cross people actually look forward to this weather! Honestly, I would be out there except for one thing: it's also hunting season. That means that in addition to the usual army of firearms enthusiasts that line the Gooseneck fire road system, I've got a whole bunch more in the woods shooting in every direction. It's a wonder any of them make it out alive.

So, for most of November I spend a good deal of quality time in the barn on my old Bridgestone hooked to a stationary trainer.  I don't really mind. It's kind of a relief to just throw some shorts and shoes on, grab a bottle of water and go beat myself up for an hour inste…

A Pause in the Action

Image
This is dour me sitting in the Waterford NY public library, the nearest open wifi network to my in-laws. I'm printing boarding passes, doing a few work notes and updating iPhone software. This is what passes for fun in my odd little world these days. Waterford's a pretty little town at the intersection of the Hudson and Mohawk rivers. this place is old in the way that only Eastern towns can be. I see it in the layers of paint, the pipes shooting through my in-law's house. I see it in the slope of the house, the ceramic door knobs, the 60's wallpaper over plaster and lathe walls, the stone curbs, the slate roofs, the sensual, curving banisters and the general settled quality of everything. This place seems so permanent.

That's an illusion of course. The simple fact that I have to write this in the library brings that home. For the last five years or so, I've been able to slum on an open wifi network from a neighbor of my in-laws when I visit. Unfortunately all …

Thank You Steve

Image
There's been no shortage of eulogizing on the passing of Steve Jobs. Sweet, touching graphics, long essays ruminating on who he was and what he did. Though it may be a sad reflection on my increasingly juvenile worldview, my favorite was the Onion's "Last American Who Knew What the Fuck He Was Doing Dies" Somebody visiting from another world might wonder why we openly grieve for a CEO. Fair question. I doubt Bill Gates will receive the same send off when his time comes. In some ways that would be a shame. While Microsoft will best be remembered for making most people's lives miserable, Mr Gates has contributed billions to charity and medical research. Steve Jobs will certainly not be remembered for his charitable giving.

So why am I writing this? Simply put, I wouldn't have the life I have if it hadn't been for him. It's not that I couldn't live without my iPhone, iPod, Macbook or any other gadget. It's not the gadgets at all. It's the i…

Fat 55: An Eight Hour Teachable Moment

Image
I'm looking out the living room window at the freight train that is Fall in Oregon. It plowed into us last night around 10pm with high winds and now some rain. If I was inclined to anthropomorphise the weather I would say this was something of a kindness as it held off the twelve hours needed to compete in the Oakridge Fat 55, the last, and toughest race of the season.

It was sunny and warm in Oakridge and I wish I could say I had a great race but it went bad early, around mile 20 when I found myself hung up in tree branches with my bike on top of me, having overshot a switchback and gone over the edge of the hillside that was decidedly cliff-like in that particular section. Any race where you end up suspended in tree branches with your bike on top of you is a race that's gone bad. I didn't really know it then. I was too busy trying to get out of the tree and back on my bike before someone saw me.

I soldiered on and actually looked pretty good at the halfway point but in t…

A Beautiful Heart

Last month was "Let's touch base with everyone who's given me an anal probe" month.

Seriously, it was. It's been a year since my last visit with the urologist and I was due for a physical with my regular doctor. It's actually really convenient blocking it all at the same time. Only one trip to the lab for blood work.

I was a little disappointed that nobody did the digital rectal exam. I thought maybe one for old time's sake; just so I could prove that I still have no problem surrendering my dignity. I'm a big boy now! Nope, just checking the heart, lungs, eyes and nice chats with the people who took care of me. I guess that's what happens when you're a success story. The cancer hasn't come back. My weight is down. I'm fit. For a Kind of Old Guy, I look pretty good.

It was good to see Mandy and Dr. Eriksen again. We mostly talked around me. We talked about our vacations, we talked about Gil and how fast cancer took him away. We talked …

Circumnavigation

Image
For ten years we've looked out our living room window at the modest range of mountains that separates the Gooseneck drainage from the Mill Creek drainage. I spend most of my riding time up there on a variety of dirt roads. I can get to the top of Dorn Peak and home in a couple hours and know I've done a couple thousand feet of hard climbing. For years it hasn't been much more than a suffer-fest. I never thought there was much to look at except my front tire. It's basically plantation ecosystems in various states of harvest or restoration. Pretty to look at from a distance but the charm seems to fall off fast when you're up there.

When you go on a hike, you almost certainly follow a trail. That trail exists to take you someplace lovely. When you take a mountain bike on a trail established for riding, you get to go fast through challenging terrain that provides a different but in many ways equally rewarding experience defined as much by movement as scenery. When you …

Hubris

Image
In spite of, or perhaps because of Gil's sudden death, I've been packing in as many races as I can and I'm actually having fun. I promised myself I'd do two new ones this year so after Mudslinger, I went out to Bend for the Cascade Chainbreaker and a month later, back over to Sisters for the Sister's Stampede. In between I squeezed in the Spring Thaw down in Ashland. I've had strong mid pack finishes in most of them and I had a great time racing in all of them.

I suppose it was my way of thumbing my nose at Fate for taking someone away so dear to us. Sure, life comes to an end for everyone, but in the meantime, I'm going to go out there and race my flabby alcoholic heart out just because I can. I'm strong, smart, and I can put the hurt on people half my age and I'm going to enjoy it when I do! 

Then my bike frame broke.

It wasn't even a spectacular break, the kind that gets you free beer after you've limped to the finish bloody, bruised, …

On Saying Goodbye

Two Saturdays ago we loaded up the car, walked next door to Gil and JD's in Oakland, went into the bedroom one at a time and said goodbye to Gil for the last time, knowing we would never see him again. This was made all the more difficult because he was saying goodbye to us for the last time too.  We spent the week dreading this moment. What should we say? What can we say?

I marvel that this moment happens at all. How long have we lived in a world where it's possible to depart from your daily life in the place you call home, travel thousands of miles, be present at the threshold of someone's death, then return home in time to refill your pet's water dish? There's something cinematic and strange about saying a final farewell to someone who's still very much alive.

These moments used to belong to the people around the dying - immediate family, friends and partners who understood the end of a loved one's life as part of a physical as well as emotional continui…

Resurrection

Image
The day the 1988 Trek 400 that I won on eBay arrived, Gil called to tell us his cancer had spread to both lungs, his liver, and rib cage. He had discontinued treatment and hospice was called in.

That was last Thursday. Carolyn and I drove down and arrived at Gil's on Monday. There's not much for us to do except hold his hand, talk a little, keep JD smiling as much as possible and take care of any small things that need doing. Mostly we look on as someone we love so much slips away from us with alarming speed. He sleeps most of the time now and eats very little. His pain seems to be manageable though Gil was always pretty stoic when it came to these sorts of things.  He's certainly ready to be done with this. He's not afraid. I think he's mostly annoyed. This is a messy way to end a life and Gil always hated clutter.

I'm struck by the destructive process cancer works on an individual. It's not enough to end a life, it has to consume the person, deface that…

Mud

Image
I didn't like "Hornings Hustle" much the first time I raced it. I was about 10lbs heavier and really suffered. I had just learned I needed a prostate biopsy and, after the race, a friend came up to me and said: "I just heard you're getting a prostate biopsy. Those really hurt!"

Setting aside my lack of fitness and my associating the race with painful anal probes, I still didn't care much for it. It's a multi-lap cloverleaf course and I just don't like racing laps. My inner old school boy racer prefers to get somewhere in a race, preferably with some nice scenery, a few fire road climbs, and a sense that you are a little bit better informed about where you are riding when the race is done. This race takes place in a private compound called "Hornings Hideaway". It looks like people have actually been hiding there. There are abandoned vehicles slowly rusting into the forest floor. There are houses with lots of blue tarps and random additi…

Echo Red to Red: Racing as Clarity

Image
I had intended to write in lurid detail about Echo Red to Red, this crazy race out in Eastern Oregon. It's the first race of the season, held in high desert mesa country south of Umatilla. Though the mesa country around here has only a few hundred feet of elevation gain, you go up and down that continually so it's an especially tough race with few places to recover.

I had a blast and a good race but shortly after returning home, the world seemed to come unglued around us. America found itself engaged in another military adventure in the Mid-East. Elizabeth Taylor passed away, and Carolyn's cousin Gil, who's been a very close part of our West coast family as long as Carolyn and I have been together was diagnosed with what appears to be pretty aggressive lung cancer. That last event, of course stopped us in our tracks and our waking hours are filled with concern for him and fear of what we can't control.

As a culture, we tend to frame cancer as a battle many of us h…

How many people with assault rifles did you see on your ride today?

"Why do I do this?" came back as a recurring question yesterday while I was riding up the Gooseneck fire road, the same road my sister nearly killed herself on. I've been up this road maybe a couple hundred times in the last three years. It's a nasty steep hill you have to be in pretty good shape to clean even in your granny gear. There's no view to speak of and there's a fair amount of truck traffic so you have to hug the shoulder if you have an ipod on. And you have to have an ipod on to dampen the noise from the shooters. Gooseneck road is the unofficial shooting range for Polk county and they love guns out here. Most of the shooters are friendly. Sometimes we'll talk a bit. Usually I just wave and crank by up the hill with music drowning out the gunfire and giving the whole experience a sort of redneck "It's a Small World" theme park ride kind of vibe.

The sun is out for the first time in as long as anyone can remember today so a long r…

New Year

Image
Holidays at our house are always something of a contact sport. Christmas day bike rides, shoveling snow off a neighbor's barn roof, running, baking, cooking, there's not much sitting around when my sister's family comes to town.

This vacation began with a near miss. My sister went over the bars on her mountain bike going about 30mph down a dirt road. She doesn't remember what happened. She might have contacted Joe's rear wheel with her front. She might have caught her front brake. The net result was she used her head to protect her bike and clothing. The good news is they survived the crash just fine. The better news is my sister's helmet did what it was supposed to do and it probably saved her life. She ended with a concussion, strained shoulder and a cracked scapula. Someone with a pickup truck heard the crash, drove down and gave them a ride home. Joe took her to the hospital from there.

Mallory rallied pretty quickly and the rest of the holiday was as fun as…