Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pave` Maria

This is the first post-France post. I'm starting with the most recent part of the trip only because it's the freshest thing in my brain.
On Tuesday morning, I made a pilgrammage to the Arenberg Forest where the most famed stretch of cobbles can be found. For you non-cycling folks, this is the hallowed ground of cycling where the Paris-Roubaix race is raced and usually decided. This is where bikes are broken and legends are made. It's our version of the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field or the Boston Marathon's Heartbreak Hill . It's said - very dramtically - of this race that "no one wants to race it, but everyone wants to win it". This second photo speaks volumes. Those pave` beat the living shit out of bike and rider. Even when riding slowly, your brain gets jumbled, your eyes twitter, and your back is going to feel it for three days.
They actually race on this stuff.
We Americans get our view of the race on tape-delayed broadcasts and mail-order DVDs. Scant few of us actually see it live on TV or in person, and very few visit this remote location. When they do, it's a pilgrammage to a revered stretch of road inhabited by cycling ghosts; a sports shrine.
I went. It was pretty magical. It's not easy to get to, but it's definitely worth the effort. You can't ride the cobbles without imagining the epic battles that have taken place there or the famous names that have rolled across it. You also can't ride the cobbles right after lunch.
Still, one must keep it in perspective. It is still just a road (albeit closed to vehicular traffic); a path from Point A to Point B. The locals use it as we would a rail trail. Where we see ghosts and faded images of legends, they see a quick ride home for lunch. This helps in reminding us that at some point even the Champs Elysees becomes just another street.
But it was damn cool to ride on the same road as Merckx, Hinault, Lemond, Museeuw, and Hincapie. Albeit much much slower. And I have a much better appreciation for the race and for the next generation of cycling stars.
And check back with me in a day or two; I'll cover the topic of the Champs Elysees in a post soon.

Monday, July 28, 2008


ALLO from France. Of course my Mac DIED immediately after I arrived so I have no access to technology. This hotel keyboard is AZERTY qnd not QWERTY so i zont even bother trying to type q blog today. but please tune in on thursday for the first of ,any insights from a very cool TdF 2008.
Am enjoying all the bread i can eAt!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Endurance Event (lengthy)

A few weeks ago, some good friends convinced me to ride the bike portion of the Interlochen Triathlon relay. The race was yesterday. My head is still spinning.... like the altimeter of a crashing plane.
First of all, I'm no time trialist. I get bored easily, and I hate pain. But not wanting to let Team Inter-rockin' down, I spent a week working on my TT skills. The practice paid off; the race went fine.
I waited in the transition area for 53-year-old Paul to exit the water. He was in the third wave, so I figured I had plenty of time. Nope. He's a former All-American swimmer who came out of the water in about 20 place overall, which means he passed the entire 2nd wave and most of the 1st. He came in so fast, I thought he had taken the subway (wiki: Rosie Ruiz).
I'm off and riding into a huge headwind. I'm catching riders, but frankly there aren't too many of them in front of me thanks to the work of the Incredible Mr. Limpet. In fact, it got pretty lonely out on the course. Lonely, bored, and in pain. The trifecta.
My spirits soared when I saw the turn-around sign. Man, that was quick! I must be flying! (Wait for the crushing blow. You know it's coming)
Nope, my mistake. That's the shorter "Sprint Distance" turn-around point. I'm doing the "Olympic Distance", so I have six more miles of headwind to slog through in complete solitude.
The rest of the ride went well. I love a tailwind. None of the Relay participants (marked with an "R" on the calf) passed me, so our runner had a lead to play with. Our runner was Paul's daughter. She's 14 years old and can do pretty much anything. She simply had to bring it home ... after getting up and down Soul-Crushing Hill. Thank god they didn't make us ride that! Let the 14-year-old tackle it!
The real endurance portion of this event is not the swim-bike-run; it's the waiting around for the computers to sort out the results at the end. HOURS and HOURS went by as we waited. Finally the results were posted. Paul's wife, Bonnie, won the women's overall title. We finished second place by .... what the ?? .... 15 minutes? Who were we racing against? A cyborg? A subway rider?
The results aren't the point here. My observations are just for entertainment:
- In bike racing, we know the winner right away. We don't wait 3 hours for a computer to sort it out (and get it wrong each weekend - turns out that the cyborg that beat us was in another age group.)
- In bike racing: no chips. Blech!
- In bike racing, we compete based on ability level, not age. It means nothing to me if I had a faster time than that of Mr. Couch Potato Head who is fulfilling his New Year's Resolution (But I hope he comes back next year.) I want to beat or be beaten by the same ilk. (Or in Northern Michigan, elk.)
- In bike racing, the entire awards ceremony is over in under 7 minutes (including interviews). In triathlons, they take a little longer. For example, when they were announcing the top three finishers for the Sprint Distance men aged 45-to-49 born on even-numbered days in July, a crew was cutting the tree down in Montana to get the wood to make our plaque. They had time.
- After a bike race, Roadies can discuss what each other did out on the course because we all saw it. In a triathlon, every re-telling is a personal account of their own race. "At mile 4, I felt great. I asked for water but got Gatorade. I just about puked. Then at the hill, I ..." Your turn. "At mile 4, I ..."
- In bike racing, the bike is treated differently. With more care and thought. It's hard to describe, really. But at a triathlon, since the bike is only a small portion of the picture, I noticed bikes ... brace yourself ... leaning against trees and lying on their side unattended. I almost called the police. Then I realized that this is a different world, and I am but a guest.
I have a feeling I'll be doing this again. Happily, I'll know what to expect. I'll know to pack a lunch for the post-event-a-thon. I'll know to take a book with me to read during the ride. I'll know who my teammates are going to be: Paul and his daughter. And his younger daughter was amazing in a support roll. We made a great team.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Lucky Idiot

While preparing for a trip to Europe is NOT the time to lose your wallet and passport. OK, so I broke that rule today. I drove away from a gas station with the wallet on the roof of my car.
Last week, I drove three miles before noticing my cell phone resting on the hood of my car. "Oh, I suppose I should pull over and fetch that off there, huh?"
(My passport is in my wallet because Canada is right over there, and I was there last weekend.)
I was 5 miles away before I realized my mistake. I turned around and did a re-con of the roads near the gas station. It wasn't laying in the road or along it. So I went home and decided to sit by the phone (I don't have an answering machine at home because all I get are solicitors.)
(Speaking of solicitors, I got an email stating "Enlarge your organ overnight!" and since I only have a piano, I forwarded it to a church in my town. They'll be listening to some sweet music tomorrow!)
I sat by the phone for 7 minutes before someone called.
Pay it forward.