Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Thundering Hoard

I live in your standard American "Pleasant Valley Sunday" neighborhood. It's well-kept. Normal Rockwell would approve.
As I drive through my neighborhood, I love looking in people's garages. It's probably wrong to do, but I can't help myself. And I only glance inside when I'm driving or riding through the neighborhood. I don't specifically walk the streets looking into people's garages. That would be weird. It would be fun, but weird.
I'm fascinated by how much STUFF people have in their garage. Boxes and strollers. The brightly colored Fisher Price toddler cars. Mowers. Golf clubs and bikes and bike trailers. Gardening tools. Garden hoses. But mostly boxes. Tons and tons of boxes. I'm amazed at how many of my neighbors can't fit their cars in their garages due to the piles of stuff.
As I was formulating an opinion about it - OK, judging it - I saw a promo on TV for an A&E series similar to "Intervention" (in which they address drug and alcohol addictions). The new show is called (and is focusing on) Hoarders. So I immediately went to the online pantheon of knowledge, Wikipedia, and started my exploration.
It's a serious affliction.
You never hear people say, "Gosh, I love all this junk!" or "I just wish I had more stuff lying around!"; you hear just the opposite, yet almost ALL of my neighbors (informal survey) have tons of STUFF stacked floor to ceiling. I wonder, at what point does it go from just poor organizational skills to an OCD-type problem? And do cyclists suffer from it?
Here's Jef's illustration from "Roadie".

We laugh about how many bikes a Roadie will own despite being able to ride only one at a time. While it's true that we need different types of bikes for different types of riding, we also tend to hang on too long to too many.
When a cyclist dies and their wife asks us to sort through their cycling stuff, we get a true peek into their life. Sometimes, the amount of Cyclephernalia they've accumulated is mind-boggling, yet we understand. We're all that way. One of my friends had 22 Rubbermaid tubs filled with cycling stuff dating back to 6-speed. It took me months to scatter it to the masses. Another rider in our area had 22 high-end bikes in his collection.
We save our old bikes because we tell ourselves that we'll make a "single-speed" out of it someday, or maybe we'll make a "townie" or a "fixie" out of it. And they hang on the hooks like meat in a locker. Again, bad org skills? Or "a collection"? Or OCD?
I recently made a move in the right direction, I feel, by resurrecting two of my old bike frames that I haven't used in a while. They'd been hanging on a hook in my basement since the elder Bush was in office. In my book (Roadie. Available at Amazon or - get yours today.), I go so far as to declare that I'm holding onto one of them for sentimental reasons. What a bunch of hooey! No more! I refuse to hoard. From now on, if I can't ride it, I'll make wind chimes out of it.
Did you hear me Motobecane? I said I'll cut you up into varying lengths, hang you on my front porch, and let the wind make music out of you!!
(Carbon fibre bikes are exempt due to their non-resonant nature.)
I am pushing back the encroaching tide. I have been, and will forever be, able to park my car in my garage with ample room on either side. I will not lose ground.
Fellow Roadies, I encourage you to take a good long look at your hoarding tendencies and ask yourself, "Do I really need to hang onto this stuff?" Chances are: no.

Of course, my garage is perfect ... once you get past the display of nine functional bikes, and as long as you duck under my scull. And please try not to knock over the golf clubs. And don't trip on the ski equipment. I've been meaning to tidy all that up.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Reflections on an Iceman

The 20th running of the Iceman Commeth Challenge is behind us. Here are my observations:
Long ago, I made a promise to Skip Obermeyer that I would follow his Rule of Music: play a wide enough variety of music to annoy every member of the audience.
Check that one off the to-do list.
I played the Libera Me movement from Verdi's Requiem. And no one complained. Only one person commented on it: "I sang this in college!"
My point is, pretty much anything goes at a mountain bike race. If they let me play Verdi, they're an OK bunch.
I had a lot of fun at this year's Iceman. It's a great way to end the season (even though 'cross continues to bound along for another few weeks).
This year's event was energized by the addition of 2000 more riders. Promoter Steve Brown lifted the restriction of 2500 entries, and the people came in droves to Traverse City. Now let's just understand why the event exists in the first place: to bring people to Traverse City at a time of year when things are pretty slow in that resort town. This year's inclusion of 2000 more maniacs created an instant family-friendly air of Woodstock. Every other car in town has a rack full of bikes. Every restaurant is full. Hotels and bars are jammed.
Yes, there were glitches, and there were some traffic jams on the course, but the overall feedback was that everything worked. The city of Kalkaska was thrilled. Riders were also happy. And that bodes well for the event that's entering it's third decade on the calendar.
For those of you who don't know what it is, it's a 29-mile long point-to-point mountain bike race through Michigan's northern woods. It rolls over old logging trails, snowmobile trails, and single track and dumps itself into an RV park on the edge of T.C. Michiganders look for any reason to go to Traverse, and this is a good reason.
I was assigned to the finish line in the Timber Ridge RV park. In the morning, it's a pretty quiet place. There are about 300 riders ready to tackle the shorter circuit course at 9am while the longer races leave Kalkaska in waves. Having never really seen a mtb race, I can only guess that this is what most of them look like. Most promoters would call 300 riders "a successful event". Just wait a few hours.
When the short races wrap up, the longer races start rolling in. Then it's a parade of enormous proportion for the next 5 hours as wave after wave of age group and ability come to the finish. Some of them on foot.
Each year, we get a handful of finishers who were forced to run the final miles of the course carrying bikes with horribly disfigured derailleurs and broken chains. Many of the riders have dirt on them. Some have blood. Most have smiles.
One of the best parts of being the announcer for this event is seeing everyone that I've seen all summer one last time before winter chases us indoors, meeting new people from all over, and reconnecting with riders who I haven't seen in ages. For example, Mike Lantz from Indiana and Chip Ellison from Cincinnati. Seriously, it had been YEARS.
The crew that puts this event on deserves 4500 heartfelt thanks. And Steve "Iceman" Brown is one of Michigan Cycling's champions for keeping this thing on a positive upward climb.
The family vibe is alive and well. The party vibe is stoked by a busy beer tent. The brotherhood/sisterhood of cycling is strengthened. Events like this one are what make this sport awesome. On your left is a photo of the East Bay taken from the Grant Traverse Resort. For those of you who aren't aware, Traverse City is one of the things they don't want you to know about Michigan because we have enough damn tourists here already, thank you very much. Wait a minute, WE'RE the damn tourists! Hmmm.
At the end of the event, everyone goes out into T.C. and celebrates the end of training season. And they all make pledges to work harder next year to do better.
We'll see.

Iceman Report coming soon. In the meantime...

I'll get around to writing down my many observations about the monster mountain bike event called Iceman. I promise.
In the meantime, the delay can be blamed on Book #2.
I'll only say that writing Book #2 is totally different from writing Book #1.
Book #1 was written without ANY research, ANY notes, ANY outline, ANY planning, or ANY forethought. It was almost entirely off the top of my head. If you have dreams of writing a book, don't do it this way. It's not the most efficient way to go about it. (But since I wasn't worried about efficiency, it worked for Book #1.)
Book #2 is underway. Like Roadie, it's not directed at cyclists. You'll understand when you see it. I can't go into it.
For now, all you need to know is that I've spent the past few months laying all the groundwork so that no all I have to do is fill in the gaps with the story. I don't have a working title. I don't have a character's name. But all that can come later.

And that's why the Iceman report is late.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


I'm normally one who embraces change. But every now and then I'll see small things that have changed, and I'll turn into my "cranky old man" persona and rail against the change.
And let me preface this by telling you how SMALL these things are in the Big Picture.
1. Fig Newtons: they changed their packaging so that it's re-sealable. Why? They went 100 years (I round UP) with the same sleeves of cookies. Why the change now?
The new packaging is slicker. It holds in freshness. But it also makes it harder to get the cookie out. Crumbs everywhere.
And I suspect that there are fewer cookies in the new packaging. I didn't COUNT them, but something tells me that they did it to skimp a little. No problem. I expect that sort of stuff.
You know how the sleeve of cookies had them all in a row? Except for sometimes you'd get one cookie that somehow got turned 90 degrees in the sleeve so that it wasn't like the others? I loved it when that happened. It indicated that one cookie had personality. In a machine that produces consistent results, having one cookie act differently than the others indicates that it had the desire to be different. That's pretty cool. And on further review, frightening. I guess I don't really want my food to think.
Anyway, they changed the packaging.
2. Michigan State Police flashing lights. Forever, the MSP light was a single revolving light on top of the blue car. Today, that light is an LED beacon that flashes.
Small, I know. Big deal.
But there's something very Wal-Mart about it. Like it came from the Christmas display. Chintzy. Fake.
The old red light would shine out across the land and travel in a circle coming back to your eye at regular intervals. It was authoritative. It meant business. It was great when it was behind someone else, not you.
I'm sure we're just lucky to have one MSP car patrolling the roads of Michigan nowadays after all the budget cuts.
3. Televised football with a zillion graphics on the screen.
Do we need the yellow line to tell us approximately where the first down marker is? Really? I mean, it's not exact, so what's the point? I can add 10 to any other number in my head and get an approximation.
Is the score necessary if it hasn't changed in the past few minutes? (I know why they do this. It's so that the guy with the dish can surf across the channel and not invest 30 seconds in the game to find out the score.)
4. I can't think of anything else right now, but I'm sure there's more.
I'll get over it. Kvetching about the small stuff allows me to ignore the big stuff.
Have one of your own? Feel free to leave it in the comments box.