Monday, November 26, 2007

165 what?

Miles. 165 miles. In about 7 hours, 21 minutes, and 48 seconds.
I'm talking about a bike race from Mt. Pleasant to Mackinaw City, Michigan. It was called the Big Mack Attack and was a pretty cool albeit low-key event.
In the final edit of the book, I deleted this story in the Time Trial chapter. It was way too long and not at all pertinent. And I figured I could add it here instead. Here it is shortened where possible>>>>>>
Despite the name, the Big Mack Attack has nothing to do with the burger from Micky D's. In fact, the race predated the marketing campaign by several years.
The course traveled to the Mackinaw Bridge that residents of Michigan lovingly refer to as the Mighty Mack; hence our race was named for the bridge, not the burger.
165 miles is an uncommon distance, but this race was created as the result of a wager between two rival teams, so logic was never a factor.
I'd never ridden that distance before, but I thought I might be able to do so when pressured by teammates. In the months prior to the event, my teammates constantly pestered each other to ride as many training miles as we could in preparation for the race. I assured them that I was on schedule, and like any good Roadie, I lied about how many miles I was riding which caused many anxious moments leading up to the race. “O lord, why didn’t I train for this as much as I said I did?”
Even in the last week before the race, I considered backing out, but at this stage of the game, there was no way out. Our two support crews were formed and ready to go.
The rules stated that we would have one support vehicle following immediately behind us in the event of a mechanical problem; the second support van would scoot ahead to four designated feed zones where they would hand us food and water. There were now ten people counting on me. Backing out was not feasible.
At 5:30 a.m. on the day of the race, I dragged myself out of bed to join the team at the Flap Jack Shack restaurant in Mt. Pleasant. On the way there, I made a deal with myself that if I could just make it to the halfway point of the race, I could pull out at any time after that. The rules clearly state that only three riders must finish the race. Surely my teammates weren’t expecting me to be one of the finishing three. C'mon!
At breakfast, I noticed two distinctly different moods. The support crews were chipper, talkative, full of energy, even giddy. Why not? They're going on a road trip. The four of us dressed in cycling clothes were stone-faced, slack-jawed, and silently wondering what possessed us to race 165 miles.
The actual start of the Big Mack Attack was almost as glamorous as it sounds. Twelve teams in the parking lot a farm supply store surrounded by mid-Michigan farmers who were looking at us as if we were from Planet Dorkoid. Every five minutes, one of the teams would roll up to the starting line, wait for the officials to say the magic words, and then they’d ride off in pursuit of the Big Mack. When it was our turn, we followed suit. There was little fanfare.
At the seventy-mile point, it happened. I felt the first hint of a cramp forming in my right thigh. At the eighty-mile point, the cramp worsened. Here we were not quite to the halfway point, and I was nearly cooked. Time to quit.
And I made that decision just a few seconds too late.
Just as I was about to quit, I was beaten to the punch by someone who had a legitimate excuse, or at least a better plan than mine. A teammate stood on the shoulder of M-27 and began to purge his pancakes to the horror of passing motorists (and standing teammates). He would not get back on the bike. The deal I had made with myself earlier in the morning was no longer on the table. There was no way I was going to let my teammates down. I had find a way to complete the next eighty-five miles.
This is common for Roadies. It’s one of the unspoken rules in this sport: if you commit, you must follow through. So for the next ninety-five miles, I blocked any thoughts of pain from entering my mind. It was easy to do because after a certain point, everything hurt about the same. The last twenty miles were the hardest. Not because of the all-consuming pain, but because we could actually see the gleaming white towers of the Mighty Mack from twenty miles away. The bridge stood there in the distance taunting us for the entire final leg.
To this day, I remember that our finishing time was 7:21:48. We finished in fourth place twenty minutes behind the winners. It took a full week to recover.
The final word on this story is that my two teammates who finished the race with me later admitted that they too had been on the verge of quitting when our rider fell ill at the eighty-mile point.

I want to thank those of you who stuck around to read the whole thing. I hope I have impressed on you three important lessons. First, never sign up for a race unless you’re prepared to finish the distance. Second, if you need to withdraw from such an event, try to do so before the other guys have a chance. Third, northern Michigan is much better enjoyed from the front seat of a support vehicle.
Spectacular? Let's not pretend. As events go, it's pretty dull. But it is a challenge.
And as crazy as it may seem, there's talk of bringing it back to life. Call me if you're interested.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Epic Ride

In Chapter Four I discuss this rare event in the life of a Roadie.
Here's an excerpt:
Every now and then, a Roadie will experience a ride that lasts longer than expected, goes farther than expected, and runs into more challenges than an ordinary ride. We call these epic rides. They are completely unplanned.
To qualify as an epic ride, the training ride must contain some or all of the following elements:
-§ Being chased by a dog
-§ Being chased by a motorist
-§ Bonking
-§ Staying out long after sunset
-§ Getting rained upon.
-§ Getting snowed upon.
-§ A 15 degree change in tempurature
-§ A mechanical problem.
-§ Getting horribly lost

At some point in an epic ride, the objectives become less about training and more about survival. On safe return, a Roadie will be tempted to kiss the ground, though few actually do. It will become a topic for discussion for a while until it fades from memory. Eventually, it will be replaced by another epic ride.
Oddly, a rider could simply end the battle by using their cell phone to make a simple phone call for help, but that would take all the fun out of it, wouldn’t it?
Ask any Roadie to tell you a story of an epic ride. I guarantee they will have several.
In that list, I left out a key component of an Epic Ride. You can probably guess.
Last weekend our small group's dirt road ride turned into a small-scale epic when we decided to go off road and take a loop through a network of easy mountain bike trails. Mind you, we were all riding mountain bikes or 'cross bikes, so we were at least partially prepared for it. But because we're all Roadies, we were out of our element.
As is usually the case, when we were a sufficient distance from the road (that is, deep in the woods), one of our party crashed heavily on a short steep rocky, rooty, nasty hill.
I didn't see it happen, but it must have been ugly; her bike landed in a tree. (Hey John, note the semi-colon!)
She was hurt. Now we were concerned with getting her out of the woods as the temperature dropped. Well, she was a trooper. Bruised, battered, and a little bloody she insisted on walking the two miles of trail to get to the road (might have been a shorter route, but we didn't know the trails) and riding the entire 13.06 miles home at a very slow pace.
Her mountain bike was in bad shape. Not because of the crash, but because she's a Roadie. Roadies won't tend to the mechanical needs of their mountain bike with the same fervor as their road bikes.
Like I said, it was a small-scale epic ride this time. Could have been much worse. We'll thank the Cycling Gods and move along.
The next Big Epic Ride is waiting around the next corner.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Formulaic Hollywood

The worst ritual of the year happens this week: hauling the Rollers up from the basement and setting them up in front of the TV in preparation for winter indoor riding season. No one really likes riding on them; they are a necessary evil. You just have to find a way to get through it.
While most people follow a regimented training program involving zones and plateaus and scientific crap, I follow the Hollywood Formula.
It's no secret that today's action movies are designed to have regularly-occuring peaks and valleys. If goes something like this: Talk talk Boom! Ka-blam! talk talk talk Boom! Ka-blam! talk talk kissy kiss Boom KerPow! ad infinitum. The 'talk talk talk' part is where they try to develop a storyline, but it's really just there to build tension until something explodes.
So I set up my trainer/rollers in front of the TV and start the movie.
I pedal (or peddle - if you read my previous post) easy while they develop the characters, and then I sprint like crazy through the entire chase/fight/pyrotechnic scene that follows. When they start talking again, I pedal easy.
I'll continue this program through the entire movie. Fast slow fast slow.
The same program can be used for Musicals. Or so I hear. You pedal a medium pace while they talk, and you go like crazy when they're singing - mainly to drown out the singing. (Warning: If you try this technique with Disney's "Mary Poppins", be aware that "It's a Jolly Holiday" goes on for about an hour! Holy crap, whoever wrote that scene was on acid.
That's my training program from December 1 thru February 15. And it's probably why I get my butt kicked from April 1 thru September 15.
On the days when I want a more steady meaningful workout, I'll rent a foreign film.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Done and Done

It's out of my hands.
VeloPress sent the manuscript to me for the final edit. I've made all the changes/deletions I could think to make and sent it back.
What a wild experience this has been, especially this last bit. Let me explain...
Remember that term paper you turned in for your English Comp class? The one you wrote after a weekend's bar-hopping, mixed drink-swilling bender? The one you never bothered to proof read? And after it was graded, how did it come back? Covered in red and marked up like an NHL face?
That's what Roadie looked like after their proof-reader got her hands on it.
Holy Frijoles, she's good.
If there's a shortage of the color red in your Microsoft Word software for a few days, I apologize. I know where it all ended up.
I'm a little skeptical about starting another book until I've had a chance to learn English. Or maybe I'll just avoid pronouns and antecedents altogether. Yeesh!
Anyway, the people at VeloPress do amazing work. And in case you're wondering where Roadie currently resides, it's in tiny particles floating over Nebraska on its way to Colorado. I just hit 'send'. There's no more to be done on this end.
Godspeed John Glenn.
Um, I think Godspeed is two words.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Call it a Career Move

This is a very long post, and a true story. If you're a true Roadie, then you've probably come close to living your own version of it. If you haven't, then feel free to live vicariously through this story, and avoid the hassle.
While working at a small radio station in northern Michigan in 1987, everyone said I had a bright future. I had the morning show on two radio stations at one time (done through the magic of radio. Unfortunately, one was top-40 format, and the other was easy listening. Both were housed in the same building overlooking a golf course. Talk about cruel.)
My boss was the typical anti-bike racing person who regularly mocked the whole lifestyle. To put it mildly, we never quite clicked.
When the town folk wanted to pave a bike path around the City lake, he was instantly on board with a fund-raiser called "Pedal the Path", a bike-a-thon where you take pledges based on the number of miles you're going to ride, then you collect about half the money pledged because most people turn invisible when it's time to collect.
Sounded like a fun plan until his assistant went wedding-planner-crazy with all kinds of events like a lip-sync contest, bike decorating contest, doggie parade, fun and games, entertainment, bake sale, etc. to be held in the City park. The event grew to an all-day affair.
Catching the spirit, I offered up a wild publicity stunt of my own to attract, well, publicity. I said I would ride around the lake continuously for 24 hours. How absurd is that? The local radio morning show guy riding his bike non-stop for 24 hours? Surely, that would attract interest from across the region (there ain't much else goin' on up in northern Michigan). What they didn't know is that I had recently completed the Wolverine 200, and a couple other similar events.
Doesn't matter. They shit-canned that idea. They wanted me to MC the lip-sync contest.
Insulted? Oh, heck yeah! But that wasn't the broken spoke that ruined the ride. And it wasn't when she unveiled a poster that said "Peddle the Path". (So unfamiliar with a bike was she, she didn't know how to spell "pedal".)
Here's what turned me against them: while sitting in a meeting listening to them list all the jocularity that was planned (and it had grown further since three paragraphs ago), I asked a simple question to the power-crazed assistant: "So, what do we do if it rains?"
She turned to me, paused, glared, and said, "It's NOT going to rain."
Inside me, the big light switch of interest had been turned off. This pompous fool was presuming to be above the weather. Say it with me: "kiss of death".
Outside me, I said, "Oh, OK."
As luck would have it, there was a three-day bike race in Battle Creek on that same June 17th weekend. I instantly decided I would call in sick and go to the race instead. Sounded like a workable plan. (I was young.)
I had a cycling friend who lived in this town. Ben Neff was doing an internship with the National Forest office. Together, we made up the entire bike racing population of Cadillac, Michigan: two riders.
According to our plan, I had "taken sick", and Ben was driving me to my family doctor located downstate on Thursday night. In actuality, we were off to the races.
The race weekend was extraordinary, as most racing weekends are. I won't bore you with the details. It was fun. I had some good results.
When I got back to town late-Sunday, I contacted a co-worker to get a report on the weekend's event.
It poured buckets. It rained from sunrise to sunset. It was a disaster of biblical proportion. They raised a grand total of $47. Presumably from people trying to buy their way OUT of participating.
My co-worker also mentioned that the station owner was out for blood.
Long story short, I got fired. He somehow found out that I wasn't sick. To this day, I still don't know how. But the result is the same: my bright future in radio suffered an abrupt dimming.
It took me about a day and a half to get over it. My parents took a little longer. It ended up being the best thing that could happen to my career.
And as I sat in the boss's office waiting for my final paltry check to be cut, the tone was somber. No one was speaking. He was very upset. We sat for about five minutes in stone silence. And then I finally spoke up in true Roadie spirit: "So, don't you want to know how I did in the race?"
Oddly, he declined. And if it were possible to get more upset, he did.
Absolutely true story.

Friday, November 2, 2007

It's not cheating if you don't get caught. It's 50 Swiss Francs if you do.

Leave it to me to show you things that you can't find anywhere else. Not even on the vast Interwebwidenetworld thing where you can find e-v-e-r-ything and more.
This clip shows how riders who get dropped from a bike race make their way back to the group. OR, if they stop to relieve their bladders. OR if they have a mechanical problem. With the help of their team car, they can simply draft back to the main group.

I should point out that this isn't exactly legal. The Officials will allow riders to leap-frog their way back through the caravan, but they usually issue fines to team directors who get caught doing this maneuver. Team directors usually reason this away by saying that it's better to pay the fine than lose the rider for the rest of the race.
And this next short clip shows a couple of things: 1. that every team does it. and 2. what the back of their car looks like after they rub their wheels on the bumper a couple hundred times.

Of course, now it's time for the disclaimer. Professional drivers on a closed course. DO NOT ATTEMPT. blah blah blah.