Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I Was a Fat Kid (Revised)

I still struggle with my weight. Racing is about your power to weight ratio and since I don't have a lot of power, I really try to take care of my weight. But the thing is, everyone at work sets out snacks to share. It changes all the time but below is what I had to avoid today.

I set out edamame beans once; techs are still making fun of me.

(10/3/09 Edit: an anonymous comment questioned just how fat I was as a kid...33 years must have blurred their memory, in a very kind and merciful way)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Possibly the Perfect Day

I left to go riding early this morning so nothing would foil my plans to get in a ride today. A great ride. My legs had recovered from a brutal group ride on Thursday. It was very foggy, I could only see 10 yards in front of me which is really all you need when riding. It felt like I was riding in a cloud, what heaven must feel like. I imagine the bikes in heaven weigh under the 15 lb USCF weight limit. There has to be bikes in heaven, if not I am converting to Hinduism so I can be reincarnated and the next time I won't squander opportunity.

As I was finishing my ride, Mike called and invited me to ride with him and Rene at Island lakes. Em and Allie are at the age where I can leave them home for a bit. Two rides in one day. Nice.

Allie had a birthday party to go to in the afternoon which let Em and I go out on a date. We saw All About Steve. It was good. I had zero expectations.

For dinner we went to Thai Express, the best restaurant in the world. We normally just choose between three different dishes but today we tried something new, Peanut Pad Thai. Excellent.

Before we picked up Allie from the party, Em and I went to Oh My Lolly in Downtown Brighton and got a lolly pop and walked and talked. It doesn't take much to make the perfect day. Actually I guess it does.

Emilie 6 years ago...and for the record, I wasn't as obsessed about riding as she implies.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Another flat tire. Four flats between three different wheels on two different bikes all in one week. What is remarkable is this happens every year: I go 12 months without a flat then get a bunch in a row. If it were the same wheel I would assume it was a rim strip out of position or something but my flats are spread indiscriminately over different wheels on different bikes. Whatever, apparently I’m good for another year.

I am disappointed with myself for letting everything come unglued this season. I have started riding again as if I were training. I am riding disciplined. Last night Emilie and I went grocery shopping so I would have healthy snacks in my office as an alternative to going to the vending machines. Em suggested we make a pack to not eat chocolate during the week. I love her. I even started stretching and I have noticed my knees don’t hurt after long rides, something that was becoming an issue this summer.

It's too late to make any real difference for the Iceman but my aspirations are much higher than race results; there are so many things in life I have little or no control over, I just want to gain back control over me.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

L.A. Photo Essay

I'm back in Michigan and I think we are gong to watch the Wizard of Oz, again. It is a good film, I guess, but it begs the question: "what happens to Dorthy after she returns to Kansas?" I mean, after all the effort to get back, I imagine she found there were chores to do and relationships to mend, and in the end Dorthy realizes the Midwest has no charm to sooth the restless dreams of youth. Now that's an image I might use someday but I am worn out right now and stuck between different timezones and I don't have the energy to take a simple event, like family movie night, and subtly twist it into some convoluted, introspective metaphor that hints at a bigger truth. Instead I will end this series with a photo essay of my trip to L.A.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tree of Shame

Today was my last day working in California. I like it here, I am almost smitten actually. The press seemed to like our cars. I will see when the articles start coming out in a month.

GM used twisty canyon roads to showcase the handling of the new Cadillac SRX, a crossover that is much improved over the current model, the faintest of praise. It will compete against the Lexus RX unapologetically anyway. The route we used was made up of roads that are popular for racing Porsches on. When you crash your Porsche, you are suppose to hang a broken car part on the "tree of shame" which is located off one of these twisty canyon roads. It occurred to me that I am the only kid on the block who doesn't own a 911.

I rode with Juan, a native Californian. The curiosity was killing me so I asked him where all the money comes from (since as far as I can tell, no one works in California; middle-aged men in matching kits slowly ride 13 lb. Carbon-fiber BMCs in the middle of the day). We were in Chatsworth when I asked. Juan said, with a hint of pride: "you know...Chatsworth is the porn production capital of the world." No, I did not know that.

From that point on I told myself that the people driving Porsches were apparently in the porn industry. Of course this isn't true but reality has never discouraged me from feeling smug before and it won't start now. My new insight made Porsches seem a little less like status symbols and more like trees of shame.

Bye Bye California.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Riding in So Cal

By the time I finished work yesterday, rented a bike, and got ready, I only had 2 hrs before it was going to get dark so I spent that time riding around the city of Thousand Oaks. Not the best use of a full suspension bike but a good ride none the less. Today I made it a point to wrap things up for work so I would have enough time to actually ride a trail. Incredible...

I have been mountain biking for a long time but never actually rode on a mountain. I like riding at ski hills where you do a hard burst of effort for a few minutes but today I climbed for over 30 minutes; I mean 30 minutes before I could stop pedaling and coast any distance at all. I got to the top of the mountain, flush with endorphins, and took a minute just to look down at the valley below. Now I get it.


California is beautiful.

I think all the meals in California are served with garnish, not just the main dish...

But the fruit too...

And the dessert...

And maybe the salads, kind of hard to tell.

And even the butter. The garnish serves no purpose really. At first it is just an interesting curiosity, pretty soon you start expecting it, finally you feel entitled to it. I hope I can re-acclimate myself to Michigan living.

I rented a bike today, a beautiful full suspension Giant with the Fox F-series fork I always wanted. I brought two spare tubes from home. I got three flats. Riding has been the highlight of my week.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Setting Up Shop At The Top Of Four Seasons

I just got off a conference call with Michigan and I have some time to Kill before my day begins in California. L.A. (actually Thousand Oaks but it is close to L.A.) is interesting. The money displayed around here is staggering. I am a simple person who lives in a simple house and drives a simple, piece of crap truck. I am working on 2010 Cadillacs that the harsh, West coast media will be driving later this morning. We are working out of the Four Seasons Hotel. It is amazing.

I am not staying at the Four Seasons (of course) but they do let me use their bathroom. The bathroom is amazing.

I am working in the parking lot. Amused wealthy people staying at the hotel come watch me, much like you would watch monkeys swinging from tires and picking fleas from one another's backs at the zoo. They say things like: "so you fellas are from Detroit, eh? We grow lemons, you guys make them. Ha ha ha ha..." Cute.

I brought my SIDIs, pedals, helmet, and riding clothes. I was hoping to rent a bike while I am here. The only shop I found that rents bikes only rents high end carbonfiber road bikes with Dura-Ace components, and at $50 a day. I am on the fence. There are lots of vanity plates in California. Lots of plain vanity.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


I am at Detroit Metro waiting to fly to LA. This my first attempt to post with a BlackBerry. I use to travel a lot for work which worked out well because I liked to travel a lot. There is something satisfying with leaving the frozen wasteland of Michigan behind, rent a bicycle from a bike shop mechanic in some warm Western state, and ride on trails I normally wouldn't have the opportunity to experience.

I don't care to travel anymore. And GM only sends us across the country when there is such an ugly mess that it cannot be fixed through net-meetings or email. I am flying into an ugly mess.

My wife use to drive me to the airport, now I leave my truck in long term parking. I hope no one steals my Yakima rack.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Riding Bitch And Other Weekend Highlights

I really wasn't looking forward to last weekend; with so much chaos going on right now, organizing a weekend up North with other couples did not immediately sound like a great idea. It turned out pretty gosh darn perfect. They were all couples that Cin and I enjoy hanging out with independently but we never had them all together. Everyone got together great. These are pictures from my BlackBerry, better pictures to follow. Maybe.

We just finished the campfire Friday night when we left Saturday morning for the race in Grayling. None of us where feeling all that well when we showed up to the Hatwick Pines parking lot. In the pre-race meeting, Eric, the race director, rambled off so many directions so quickly that Evelin Woods couldn't have comprehended it ("take the trail to mile marker 5 then veer off to your left until you come to this road, take it to that trail, stay to the left where it splits off, bla bla bla"). I figured I would just follow the guys in front of me which turned out to be a silly plan, as if they paid attention. We would charge down a trail and dead end into some DNR storage sheds, look around and say: "this can't be right?" Go back and look for mile marker 5, or did he say 6? I finished down near last place but can't quite figure out what to make of that. There is no such thing as a bad race so I guess this wasn't a bad race.

Sunday Barb wasn't in the mood to ride so I rode the tandem with Denny. I have never felt so out of control in my life. Den is an excellent captain but still, I couldn't see where we were going and had no say in the matter even if I could.
I rode tandems before but never as the stoker; it was much more exciting than I would have guessed but it led to many off-color comments shrouded in innocent amusement ("so, Neil is riding 'bitch', correct?" or "who would be considered the catcher and who is the pitcher?"). Paul, Mike, Rene, Denny, and I rode the Vasa mountain bike trail and then Lake Ann.

Monday morning no one was in the mood to ride except Rene, who had just come back from a 6 mile run. Whatever. She and I rode the Vasa cross country ski trail which will be used in the Iceman. It is very sandy. I tried to teach her my technique for going through sand, it involves clenching the seat between your legs and steering the back of the bike like a rudder, and making yourself lite like the elephant in Dr. Seuss's book: Horton Hears a Who. Hum, that doesn't make sense when I read what I wrote. It works.

Paul's cooking was amazing. I do not appreciate good food. Actually I appreciate it, I just don't care. I like grandma's lasagna recipe she brought over from the old country (Canada) but I am perfectly happy with the frozen kind you microwave. Paul's cooking is an art form. He doesn't use a garlic press because it doesn't have the same flavor as when you peal and roast the garlic, and so on. I would lay in bed at night just thinking about the dinner earlier in the day.

The highlight of the weekend was a text I got as we were packing to go home on Monday. Tom (Sally and Daisy's new owner) said he was having issues with Sally and asked me to call him. Sally wasn't adjusting to her new home and was being aggressive. She is a sweet dog and had never shown any aggression before. Tom asked if I would take her back but leave Daisy. I agreed. I was sick after letting Sally go on Thursday. I knew, in my head, it was the right thing to do but I really cared for her. I am not exactly a warm person so I was surprised by how much I missed her. It was too late when I realized this, the dog was gone and there was nothing I could do. Sally is back and I appreciate her more than ever. I am sure there is some obvious universal truth to this but I won't dwell; sometimes my mistakes have consequences and I'm not always given a do-over.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Traverse City

This is turning out to be a great weekend. Cindy is always the party planner and she planned this weekend. I hijacked it. I'm not sure but I think she was envisioning going to quaint vineyards with me and her girlfriends and their husbands. We would sit in Tammy's cottages and discuss wines and the best way to blanch vegetables. I couldn't imagine anything worse. I am way too white trash for all that.

Laura's husband, Paul, signed up for the Iceman earlier this year so I told him to bring his bike and we would pre-ride part of the course. Paul has a catering business that specializes in small, upper end parties. He is cooking for us this weekend. Amazing. Cindy's other friend, Rene (Emilie and Allie's first and second grade teacher), is a hard core runner who also does the Iceman along with her husband Mike. I contacted Rene through Facebook and casually mentioned there was a bike race this weekend near Traverse City. She immediately pre-registered for the race. I dig her. Typically I just do what I am told (a skill I learned from strict Evangelical Christian parents and honed during 12 years of public schooling) but slowly I was turning this ship around from a wine tasting weekend to a mountain biking weekend, or at the very least, a little of both.

Key to my scheme was to talk Denny and his wife into coming up for the weekend. Denny is very funny and I knew this would change the dynamics of the weekend. Den and his wife are racing the Iceman on a tandem and are getting ready for cross season so talking them into the race in Grayling this weekend was easy. And there was suppose to be a pig roast at the end of the race and they are burning a Huffy, like a sacrificial lamb I guess, much better that nibbling on Bluefish Pate at a vineyard. I called Tammy and asked if she had any more cabins available this weekend for Denny and Barb. She did. Sweet.

We did the Hartick Pines to Hanson Hills race this morning. It was interesting. Everyone got lost. Everyone would have gotten lost even if some hooligans didn't steal the signs on the course. It was a beautiful day and I got in a hard ride. Nothing else really matters right now.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Why Animals Make Us Human

Tom and his wife are back from their tandem tour and are going to pick up Sally and Daisy tonight before we leave for Traverse City. I had to sit Em and Allie down last night and explain this to them...much harder than I thought. Our dogs will be treated like princesses so I know, intellectually, this is the right thing to do.

I heard an interview on NPR with the author of Why Animals Make Us Human, an interesting book on how animals process emotions. The author is mildly autistic and this perspective helped her better understand animals. Animals are prone to what we would diagnose in humans as autism. This explains why sometimes a dog will constantly chase its tail, or a lion paces back and forth, or a hamster digs non-stop. These are just outward signs of internal needs. The hamster doesn't want to dig, it wants to feel safe, and being burrowed deep in the ground fills that need. In captivity it can't burrow deep into the ground so it just digs in the corner of its cage and this act makes it feel safe.

I grab hold of simple things and over-analyse them, maybe this satisfies a need, I don't care, this is a blog about bicycling, not over-analysing and my many other quirks. I was obsessing over animal autism when I took Em to Island Lakes on Tuesday to ride. I recognized an Elite mountain biker on his road bike (a beautiful carbonfiber Look, which isn't relevant to this story but man, it was beautiful). It was the middle of the day and he was riding very hard, which explains why he is an Elite racer. I wondered if he were an animal, and that author studied him, would she conclude he has mild autism? Riding that focused doesn't exactly make sense. He wants to win races, that, I assume, is his need. Training at that level might be like the hamster constantly digging. In other words, training itself satisfies a need.

Assuming he and I both have the same innate ability (and that right there is a stretch), and lets just say I wanted to win as bad as he did (again, a stretch), is it possible that the neurons in his brain just happen to fire in such away that he wants to train at the level necessary to race at the high end of the sport? Since I can't affect his neurons to slow him down, how can I go faster?

Maybe my problem (the problem with respect to my iffy race results) is my attitude towards training. I look at training as a means to an end. What if I focus on training for training's sake and let my results fall where they may? I duno, maybe.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Island Lakes

Jim is one of my few close friends left from high school. He has been looking for work since Thanksgiving. He called me today at lunch to tell me he was working, not so much that he was working but that his new job is going to mess up his plans for bow hunting next month. I really think I might be taking my career too seriously. It was a perfect day outside, and I was questioning the merits of the Protestant work ethic, so I decided to take a half day vacation in order to get in a long ride.

As I was getting my biking stuff together I asked Em, as I normally do, if she wanted to ride with me. For the first time in a long time she said "sure." Emilie, my sweet angle, is reaching adolescence and I don't always pick up on her sarcasm. I said "really?" She said "yes" and she wanted to ride at Island Lakes. Island Lakes? She knows the trails by name? You mean, she listens to me when I talk to my friends? Seriously?

Emilie could win the Pulitzer Prize and I couldn't be prouder than I am right now.