Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hometown Bicycles

Cindy and the girls were in Mason OH this weekend at a national dance competition, leaving me home to watch the Tour and ride all I wanted. With Lance, Levi, and well heck, all the Americans out of reach of the podium, the race lost something for me. And it rained at home. And I missed the girls. But still, it was a vacation of sorts.

The trails were muddy Saturday so I decided to ride to the Ann Arbor Art Fair. If I could choose my skill set, instead of being at the random mercy of the DNA my parents gave me, I would be an artist, an elite bike racing artist. I am neither but I do respect those that are. Typical of my poor planning, I got to Ann Arbor right as the art fair ended. It was interesting to see the artists close up, a side of the art fair I haven't seen before. Like everything, selling art is a business and a lot of effort goes into it.

Since I am considering selling my Tomac, I figured I better fix the spongy front brakes. I bled bicycle brakes for the first time today since all my other bikes had V-brakes. I'm still not enamored with discs. Hydraulic brakes work great but V-brakes are light, cheap, simple, and they stop a moving bicycle. Hardly a problem that needed solving in my simple way of looking at things.

I did a bike shop ride this afternoon. Sean recently left another local bike shop to open up his own: Hometown Bicycles. If I couldn't be an artist or professional bike racer, owning a bike shop would be a close third. Being an Engineer is way down on my list. The riddle goes: "What is an Engineer's best form of birth control? It's their personality." Meh. Sean does a lot of neat things as a shop owner, like letting us drink beer behind his shop after rides, things the big stores just can't do. He is a good mechanic too. I told him my brakes were spongy even after I bled them. He asked if the hose around the compression fitting had a clean cut. I noticed it didn't. He said that's the problem, the little stringy things that stick out from a poor cut affect the movement of brake fluid through the lines. It is nice knowing someone who really knows bikes.

The shop ride itself was an eye opener; I got my ass kicked. I wasn't expecting that even though I haven't been riding hard this season. I struggled on Thursday group rides and my race results have been poor; in fact, I dropped down to Sport geared for The Big M race a month ago. Before the race I told myself I would stay in second until the very end so I wouldn't win by too much. I didn't want to get tared and feathered for sandbagging. The previous time I dropped down to Sport geared for a race was a few years ago and I won by 7 minutes, I didn't feel right about that. I finished The Big M in the middle of Sport. I need to get my act together before the Iceman. And I will.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tell Me Why I Don't Like Mondays

Monday started off as usual, I looked through mail while I had breakfast. I noticed my Sprint bill was about $4,000 higher than usual. I looked closer and saw apparently I made about 4000 calls to Jamaica. Funny, I don't remember calling Jamaica once. I called Sprint Customer Support. They are looking into it.

I cleared brush around my house on Sunday. Apparently I cleared Poison Oak in the process because after I got to work I broke out in itchy blotches. Nice.

I had an off site meeting after lunch. I didn't want to walk in late so I decided to eat my Greek salad while I drove. This plan worked flawlessly until I pulled into the parking lot and the damn salad jettisoned itself off the center console and onto my lap. I went into the men's room and tired, in vain, to wash the Greek dressing out of my pants. Classy.

Monday evening we met with an Orthodontist. Em needs braces. I feel bad for her. I never had them but I had friends who did and it doesn't sound fun. For the last 100 years GM paid all our dental expenses. This year they stopped. Braces cost about what a full XTR Carbonfiber Tomac is worth. It looks like I will be single speeding it this summer. That's fine, I dig my Inglis.

After sorting out my Sprint bill, dressing my poison oak, washing my pants, and considering the fate of my Tomac, I went for a ride. An excellent ride. That kind of ride that makes the other 22 hours of the day worth it. I'm not bitter anymore.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Emilie is 12. She has a boyfriend. I am the poster child for neurotic, over protective fathers so this makes me uncomfortable. She has been asking a lot of questions about my past girlfriends, which makes me even more uncomfortable. I try to gloss over this subject like unsavory parts of my past. I imagine if I tried to explain ex-girlfriends to her, they would come across like fictional characters, as if I were making it all up. How could she understand girls I dated, girls like Lois Lane.

I dated Lois Lane before she was with Superman. I liked everything about her, even her name. Lois my tongue tapped the uvular ridge at the base of my front teeth to make the "L" sound and how I would drag out "Laneeeee....." until it faded into nothing. I adored her sassy wit. She was self confident and an excellent writer. And she was gorgeous. If all this wasn't intimidating enough, she hung around with the super hero crowd. She didn't talk about them much and said it was platonic (not in so many words) but I felt a little self conscious the entire time we were together. She was sweet and didn't mean to make me feel that way but she would say things like: "Your arms are soft...", and I would pause, and she would correct herself by saying: "Oh no, I mean in a good way, I love the feeling of your warm, soft arms."

I met Superman before I knew Lois. We actually did a race together, I said hi to him at the starting line. He was pleasant but imposing; his deep voice reverberated in my bones, my scrawny little hand was swallowed in his when he shook it, and his eyes seemed to look right into my soul. I came in last place, he won; in fact, he lapped everyone. It was a point to point race. This was an amazing win but afterwards he did something a bit odd, something that maybe only I would dwell on because I see reality different than most, he circled the Earth at the speed of light to reverse it on its axis and go back in time, sat with his buddies, and watched himself win. Not once or twice but 70 or 80 times.

Things between Lois and I went well for a while but often she would talk about Superman, not in a giddy, love struck high school girl way but just matter of factual, like: "I wonder if Superman wares his suit, you know, commando..." I would try to come up with a witty response, one that didn't indicate I was jealous, like: "I suppose since he can travel at the speed of light, he might want something supporting his boys," but this just came across awkward, and left her thinking about his junk. And so it went for a while.

I knew things were falling apart when I saw he was a friend of hers on facebook. I considered the real possibility she had feelings for him. She was truly amazing so I pushed these thoughts aside but I think at that point I stopped investing in our relationship. If I had it to do all over again I would have done things differently but that's silly to dwell on, in life we are seldom afforded do overs. The end came when she casually mentioned Superman was taking her flying. I could imagine them talking about me as they sored across the sky. He would say something clever and belittling, like: "Well, you don't need ex-ray vision to see Neil is a poser, ha ha ha...." and Lois would giggle in agreement. After that we saw each other less and less until one day I came home and saw she had removed everything in my life that might remind me of her. And we didn't talk again until she called me up and announced she was dating Superman. This seemed strange to me since I knew this, and I knew she knew I knew but I figured she needed some closure. I still adored her so if listening gave her the closure she needed, then I would listen, and be polite, and say good bye, and that was it.

Right then I decided to allow myself to be bitter for one year. It is difficult to give things like this a time limit but I find I do better with a certain amount of finality. During that year I imagined what it would be like to be a super-villain and hold Superman at bay. I would monologue like all good super-villains do: "Superman, eh? You don't know what it is like to be human. Everything comes easy to you, you can't feel pain, you have no idea what it is like to have your ass handed to you in might be super...but you are not a man," and I would throw in an evil laugh.

I won't tell Emilie about Lois Lane because it makes me seem a little ordinary. My daily victories are things like getting Em to dance and putting money in her 529 college fund, all of which pale in comparison to traveling at the speed of light.

I wonder if Lois ever thinks about me, and maybe accidentally calls Superman by my name, and if he would even notice if she did.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Vacation Photo Essay

My job provides me a decent number of vacation days; however, most of those days are spent taking care of things, not really a vacation. This last week was nothing but vacation. A great week.

There is a festival in Ann Arbor (Top of the Park) that has been going on for the last three weeks. This is a brilliant nightly event with bands, good food, and outdoor movies. Often the girls bring friends.We went to a water park during a rain storm. Emilie and Allie didn't seem to notice.

The riding this week was casual but great. It started in Traverse City.
I did a couple rides around home with friends, which was good because I was lacking motivation, especially to ride in the rain. Somehow peer pressure will get me to ride in anything. Bill and I rode Poto, a trail that I think is the nicest in Michigan, in lower Michigan anyway.
I did a road ride with Bill (AKA 40 dollar Bill) and Dan (AKA Cyclo-Dan). I want a road bike. I'm planning on winning one from either or The 1 in 50,000 odds of winning hasn't discouraged me in the least.
Denny, Barb, Cindy and I saw 311 and The Offspring at the DTE amphitheater. It made me feel a little old, an excellent concert regardless.
Em, Allie, and I saw Despicable Me. I was secretly looking forward to this movie. It was even better than I expected. Sometimes I feel like a kid trapped in a middle aged man's body. It's more like I was a kid, fell asleep, woke up and I was 44. What the heck happened?
Perhaps the best part of vacation is waking up without an alarm clock. My biological alarm clock still goes off before the rest of my family wakes up. I have a cup of coffee out on the deck and read blogs and email and bicycle classifieds while I wait for the Tour to start on Verses. I have vacation down to an art, it's reality I struggle with.

Friday, July 9, 2010

I Think I Need a Road Bike

I pretty much watch TV just once a year, really 21 times, all during the first three weeks of July. I can't get enough of the Tour De France but, probably because I don't get a lot of sleep, it puts me out like a cure for insomnia. Cindy paitently waits for me to nod off so she can pry the remote from my hand and watch The Bachelorette. She took this picture to show her friends, my hand still in the remote holding position.

I know this sounds sappy but every Tour I think about buying a road bike or, since the roads are so bad around my house, a cyclocross bike. This week while I was considering how complete my life with be with a new 700 cc wheeled bike, I received the following email from someone in Japan asking if I still had my Bianchi road bike for sale:

Re:Re: 50 cm Bianchi EV2 Dura-Ace/Ultegra $1200 δΌŠθ—€ εšι“ to you - 2 days ago

Thanks for reply.
I see this bike at


-- wrote:
>Sorry, I sold it 5 years ago. Where did you see it for sale?
>Thank you,

I sold this Bianchi 5 years ago so I could buy a cross bike; however, I squandered the money I got for this bike on a mortgage payment or something.

I forgot all about posting an ad for this bike. It is amazing that once you put something on-line, it can float around indefinitely. I wonder if I have unwittingly launched something out into the cyber universe that will come back to bite me squarely on the ass? More than likely.

So I start to obsess over getting a cross bike some more.

I stop by Denny's. He just got a beautiful metallic green Salsa cross bike.

I obsess a little more.

Bill calls me up this morning and shames me into doing a dirt road ride with him and Dan. I try to put my Geax 1.5 slicks on my mountain bike but the tires are dry-rotted. I ride my bike with 2.0 Kenda Karmas on paved roads. It feels like I am riding a tank. Bill and Dan glide effortlessly on 29" skinny tires. I really need a cross bike.

Dan works for a bike shop. One problem with this is we cannot go but 20 miles without someone recognizing him; they pull over and talk bikes. The bigger problem is he is a rolling encyclopedia for all the really cool bicycling stuff out there: Paul center mounted cantilever cross brakes, fixed cogs that mount to the 6 bolt disc stuff I didn't even know I needed until today.

I get home, all worked up into a frenzy. I cannot possibly carry on one more day without a cross bike. I check the mail. The mortgage payment is coming up. I have just 18 years left to pay on my 30 year fixed-rate mortgage. Once the house is paid off, I am going to buy a cross bike. I mean it this time.

Monday, July 5, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Cindy and I went up North for the holiday weekend, along with everyone else in Southern Michigan. I have never seen traffic like this. Maybe it is a sign the economy is improving. I always look for the positive. Who am I trying to fool, the traffic really sucked; really, really sucked.The plan was to drive up to Traverse City, pick up the girls, then drive home. Just as we were leaving the house, the family the girls were staying with offered to let us stay at one of their cottages near beautiful Torch Lake for the long weekend. This was very kind of them. I saw this as an opportunity to do the Boyne Marathon. It is my favorite course in Michigan but it is 250 miles North of Brighton. I can't really justify driving that far for a bike race but since we were going to be in Traverse City, I would be a mere hour away. I grabbed lots of water bottles and Gu, threw my bike in the back of the truck, and we were off. I checked the race schedule on the way up North and, typical of my piss poor planning, saw the race was next weekend. Without a race to worry about I was free to ride for fun this weekend. The girls had things to do so they wouldn't miss me. I suppose this is a good thing.
There are a few nice trails near Traverse City but I stayed on the Vasa Trail. The trail is beautiful and flowy and it is used in the Iceman. There is one point in the trail that always causes a bottle neck at the Iceman: two trees are only 20" apart. It shouldn't be a problem, you just fish your bars through the opening by flicking them from the left to right but there always seems to be an issue at this spot. I see someone recently notched these trees so handlebars will clear. It struck me as funny. Wrong and irresponsible, but funny. The Vasa trail isn't very technical but there are signs all over indicating that by attempting this (flat and smooth) trail, you may surely die. Cute. I don't get it but still, it is a beautiful trail.
Not just beautiful but stunning. I saw lots of deer and turkey and at one point, when I was chuck full of endorphins, a hawk flew a few feet over my head and straight down the single track in front of me and I was overwhelmed with a feeling that I am suppose to live in Northern Michigan, not Brighton which is a crowed town a mere gun shot away from Detroit. And I am suppose to do small engine repair, not work for a large corporation that has me bound by golden handcuffs.
I considered the real possibility that every decision I have made was poorly thought out; I have been shooting from the hip and not considering life seriously. Maybe I am not suppose to be at this junction in my life; this isn't how it is suppose to be.

As I was obsessing over this revelation I was passed by local inbreds in a Dodge pick up with confederate flags and an exhaust that went up from the back of the cab up to the roof. Exhaust that was routed up because, well, because they were inbreds in a Dodge pick up with confederate flags.

Maybe I don't belong in Traverse City. Maybe my life is as it should be. I think every decision I ever made was poorly thought out but still, I ended up where I belong, and I am grateful.

Allie wanted to go for a walk with me today. We walked to Skegemog Point and picked through rocks. It made everything worthwhile.
It took us 5 hours to get home, a trip that normally takes us 3. The kids didn't care. I felt a little guilty letting them entertain themselves but they were content. Em asked to stay in the car after we got home to finish her movie. I guess technology is grand.
I guess this is normal.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Parent's Love

I took the day off work yesterday to help my dad around his barn. He had a list of things he needed help with but really he just wanted to go over things I might need to know someday. He reviewed the combinations of the locks, where he hides keys, how to start the tractors, where stuff is. He had another heart attack this spring and seems to be planning for the future. And should he go home to be with the Lord, he doesn’t want me trying to hotwire his 1959 Ford tractor. This was the closest thing to a display of affection I have seen from Paul.

I have great parents but still, they are, you know, parents. Emilie and Allison were spending the night with my mom and dad last week. I stopped by under the thinly veiled premise of wanting to have tea with my mom and saying good night to the girls. Really I was giving Allie and Em a chance to bail. I lived with my parents for 18 years so I developed immunity to their stick German Evangelical mannerisms, their disapproving glares would bounce off me like marshmallows off armor. Emilie and Allie haven’t developed this skill to that level yet. Em came home with me and Allie stayed.

When I got to my parents, the girls were looking at photo albums from when I was their age, and laughing it up. My mom did a good job documenting everything in pictures with little captions underneath, an analog blog of sorts. Thousands of pictures, including this one where I took Judy to a BMX race and locked my mom’s keys in the trunk. I didn’t tell Em or Allie this story as they didn’t need anything else to laugh at me about; I have worked very hard to create the illusion of having my shit together so the less they know the better. I normally don’t post pictures of people without their permission but Judy will never see this. If she knew I had a blog, she wouldn’t look at it just out of spite. Every girlfriend I ever had now hates me in direct proportion to how much they once loved me. Judy hates me just a little.

Another photo shows me after the first of many disappointing races. My mom’s caption reads: “Almost won.” If in “almost won” she means almost finished in the top half of the quarter final heat to qualify for the semi finals at an entry level BMX race, then sure, I almost won. Maybe my mom really thought I almost won. That right there is the love of a mother, a love than transcends reality.