"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer



A cat fight outside woke me up this morning. As in real cats fighting or wailing or humping or something. Sounded like someone was making tennis rackets out there.

And I turned on the TV tonight and Braveheart was on. Melodramatic gravitas. Right wing nationalistic pus. Gawd I hate that movie.

10 years...

800 miles behind me. 4 hours to go.

I lay on a strange mattress and watched worldly memories that I shared with everybody but now already felt a life away. I can still taste the truck stop egg salad sandwiches washed down with two 40s of Miller High Life. After a full day of being alone, and being in between home was and home that isn't, the simple room was pure bliss, an escape to my own garden of Eden of mass produced paintings and cable TV.

And still even the previous seven years had been nothing but transition as well. Wandering aimlessly on the dreams and expectations of others. That night I was wandering on, however, to the more concrete order of a grid that was to help me make sense of my life. I've always been a confused soul. Lost on the idea, clueless to real meaning, and blind to intuition. But since that night, perched halfway in the middle, I have taken some big steps to finding my way. Myself.

I am Peter Pan. I do not want to grow up, and am still a child in many ways. But it seems we always come back to home, and I do not know if this will be my last stop. Soon, it could be, ultimately, back across the ocean, to hills and inlets where my name was first spoken.

Ten years...


Fake Racin'

Last night I drove down with xXx teammate Jeff Holland to Matteson, IL to race the South Chicago Wheelmen's training criterium series. What an incredible evening it was.

From 6pm until dusk A and B teams race around the Ace Hardware paint factory out there, on a smooth oval "track". $7 gets you three races, and thetr are cumulative points for the evening, and overall the night counts towards your USCF upgrade. There is no faster, easier way to gain experience and points towards your upgrade. I mean, 3 weekends of racing experience in 90 minutes? How could you pass this up.

There were 5 of us racing in the B's, which is the equivalent of Category 4 and 5. Maybe less. The first race was only ten laps and it was over before I knew it. I think I managed a top 5 finish on that one, but overall the whole night was a bit of an oxygen deprived blur.

The next race was the longest, with 25 laps. One teammate, Nick, crashed on the 2nd or 3rd lap, almost taking out 2 others, including me. But instead of heading into the fence, I stayed loose and recovered my line and came out of the turn strong. I took a 4th place on the sprint in that race, and got confused at the end. If you are too close to the A's race, which leaves 30 seconds before, they will call our race with 2 laps to go. So the last lap, what I thought was 3 to go, I broke away and attacked, thinking it was prime. I was the only xXx-er going, as Nick was out, and Terry and Eric had been dropped. My goal was drive the pace early in the lap, and then let them sprint for the points, while I recovered, then attack again just after the sprint. Well, the race ended, on what I thought was the end of the 3 to go, and I was still in pretty good position, but sandbagging. Had I kept my head out of my ass, I could definitely have pulled a 1st place on that one.

The last race was a great showing by the team, and the most race of the night. 20 laps, and Nick had a new rear wheel on, and Eric and Terry were back on. Immediately Nick jumped out to a huge lead. On the home stretch of the first lap, I let off a ridiculous flyer into the wind, smiling as I heard "whoa!" and "there he goes" from the pack as I blew past them all on the inside. I was gaining ground on Nick and caught him just after the first turn, and slid right in front of him. By the 2nd turn, Eric and his friend Allen were with us, and we worked the breakaway with a four man paceline for about 3 or 4 laps. By time the front of the pack caught us, they broken up over 2 lengths. I sat in for another couple of laps, until it was time for the sprint. I hammered into the wind again, up to the front where Nick was pulling the pack behind a small breakaway. I said to take my wheel and I'd give him a leadout. I bridged Nick, and I guess the pack, up to the breakaway, and then sucked wheel all the way to the wind stretch. Right on schedule, the Mack rider slowed, I hit it and took the turn as fast as I dared into the home stretch, and Nick blew past me like a bullet. I sprinted as hard as I could, and then heard a "whoop!" behind me from Eric. "One, two, three, baby! Good work guys!"

The last ten laps are completely foggy, but we spent a lot of time at the front, attacking and pulling and driving the pace, trying to tire the pack out. The most brilliant move of the night came heading into the last lap. I'd been pulling for the last two lengths, and just after the last turn, the girl who'd been sitting in the whole night, not taking a single pull, suddenly flew past all of us and opened up what turned to the be the winning break. It was a dumb move to pull so late, and got a very late jump to try and catch her. Truth be told I thought she'd crack the way she was moving so fast and I'd catch her by the 3rd turn. But I wasn't gaining nearly as fast as I needed to and it would be apparent I need to sprint far longer than I had the legs to catch up. So I hammered it out, fading very fast, and lost several places.

But I still got points for the two sprints, and that was enough for a top 5 finish for the night. I think I'm going to save that bottle of Gatorade I won.


Snake Alley: In the Belly of the Beast

"Do not give up when you find that you will have to suffer greatly in order to get results. Never forget that the winners are the ones who can suffer the best. It's the no-hopers who cannot suffer. The inability to suffer is almost always the real reason riders do not succeed in our sport. He who can suffer the best has the best chance to get to the top."
--- Charles Ruys

I first heard of the Snake Alley Criterium from fellow xXx-er Bob Willems on my very first team ride back in April. His words, "the single greatest bike race on the amateur midwest circuit" and description of it defied imagination, yet not for wont of my trying: the Mind's Eye could see nothing but the steep brick switchbacks, flanked by chanting, revelrous spectators, one of them placing the famous charitable beer into the outstretched hand of a rider who, moments before, had simply toppled over when his legs were unable to turn his bicycle crank one more time.

It is simply the best bike race you will ever ride, he said. A short course in downtown Burlington, Iowa, the race makes use of - according to the Guinness Book of World Records - the crookedest street in North America. Officially a 248 foot climb, Snake Alley is paved with brick and features 6 switchbacks, in order that the horses of 1894 could walk down it. At first I told him I think I'll wait until next year, since at the time, I had yet to race at all. Yet his words struck a chord with me, and I said I would give it serious thought. While the race seemed far above my current abilities, it also was far enough into the future that who knew where I would be, developmentally-speaking when late May rolled around.

2 weeks later, when Luke Seeman emailed the team that registration was open, I coerced myself into quickly filling out the registration form and check before I could think twice. When I was physically dropping the envelope into the mailbox at work, however, my rational side asked, "What are you getting yourself into? Why are you doing this?" and the answer came immediately: "Because there is nothing worse than regret."

My training for Snake Alley was of course, both physical and mental. Starting two prior to this weekend, I did 3 sets of hill repeats consisting of 8 reps each. First was the Highland Park boat ramp Mother's Day weekend, then the same scheme on Tower Road's ramp after a 50 mile ride with the team, and finally just this past Wednesday on the small hill on the lake front path at 47th Street, with some grinders in the 53 x 12 followed by a rep in the 39 x 23. I also mediated several times this past week, visualizing my race. I climbed, broke away, sprinted, carved tight lines, and most importantly tried to feel, and break through, the pain.

I did find some latent climbing legs in my run up to Snake Alley, but the two things that truly got me through the race were along the course itself and also in myself all along.

All Hail the race weekend Road Trip!

We started the day watching the Women's Cat 4 race and teammate Tamara Fraser, and then a quick review of the course before our warm ups. I deliberately avoided going up the hill (the less I knew about that the better), but my concern began to grow as I rode down the descent back into downtown. It was fairly steep with 3 hairpin turn over not very smooth pavement. At the bottom I noticed the bales of hay outside of the last turn, and then it was flat along three more turns to the line. One side-effect of not having hills in Chicago to practice climbing on is that a cyclist is also can't practice descending.

But before I could really think much more about it I was at line, waiting for the starting bell. along with fellow xXx-ers Adam Clark next to me, and Josh Greene, Leonard Hatcher, and Jon Dugas back there as well. I had secured the equivalent of the pole position in the race by getting my registration in for the Category 5 race first. It's a great place to be in this race, crucial in fact. As Luke told me over the past 2 weeks, be sure you take advantage of your starting position to get as far up front as possible on the first lap. The riders up front always open up a gap because any stronger riders can get hung up on a slow wheel the first time up the Snake. "Get clipped in as soon as you can and burn it," he told me. All week I practiced extra on snapping my cleats smoothly into the pedals.

But at the starting bell, my lack of race experience and focus was exposed through Murphy's Law. I, of course, fumbled with my pedals, and in a flash at least 20 riders were ahead of me. After what seemed like minutes, I was finally merged with my bike and I hammered on the crank to get as much speed as possible before shifting to the small ring at the first turn. The front of the pack was already at least 10 seconds ahead as I hit the first "pre-hill" and the pace began to slow. Ahead, Snake Alley loomed like the Death Star.

Jon and Adam lead out of the first turn:

"That's no hill." I deliberately avoided looking up, and focused only on keeping my speed and spin up as the threshold where pavement turned to brick approached. I had a sudden flashback of Bob Willems first telling me about the race, and suddenly, I was inside the Snake.

Solidly in the middle of the pack, the repercussions of my slow start were wholly apparent as I was stuck behind a slower wheel and also had at least 2 riders on either side. I kept my spin going as fast as I was able and focused on not falling over and staying in the center of the Alley. Luke's words again reverberated in my head like Obi-wan: "Stay in the middle and don't think. Just spin." And empty my brain I did. About the third or fourth switchback the pain began in full, and was almost shocking. I was out of the saddle and standing on the crank, applying power to all 360 degrees, and my wheel slipped a bit at the last turn before the exit of the Alley.

I finally crested back out onto pavement and, completely out of breath, switched to recovery mode on the descent. I lost more ground as more confident riders took the three hairpins with more speed. But I wasn't worried. I had survived the first climb, and felt drained, but certainly not empty. I looked for a good line on the way down, avoiding the rough spots, and knew that I had seven more laps with which to climb back in this race. I knew the Snake would begin to exact it's toll on the field.

I soft pedaled my way through the flat, and there ahead of me, was Josh Green, offering his wheel. I love racing for this team, and that we have experienced, focused riders even in the 5s races who will be thinking "Team" all the way through the pain and the sweat. I am feeling a bit guilty now for not having looked behind to do the same on subsequent laps. I can promise you that in future rides I will have more focus as my experience grows.

I rode in Josh's draft, trying to apply as little power to my momentum as possible, banking my calories for the next lap up. Back at the turn, the draft was no longer needed, and I ramped the prehill again, gaining spin, speed and momentum. The Snake was back, all to soon.

The laps fell one by one. My strength came not only from the voices inside my head, but from the voices in the grass as well. At the base there was Jeff Holland's measured and steady words: "Spin it Brian. Lookin good..." Farther up Luke barked orders to "get that guy! Get up there!" And at the top was Tamara's enthusiastic, "Keep it up, Brian! You're looking strong! Triple X! Triple X!" I never saw their faces, and other voices I didn't recognize. I only looked ahead at the ground, watching the brick pass my wheel, instinctively feeling my way towards the crest. The words of encouragement went into my ears and metabolized into pure power down my legs and out onto the pedals.

I was a panting, sweaty, frothy mess. The pain had become a drug: the worse it felt the faster I pedaled. There was no way I was giving up in front of all those spectators and teammates. And the strategy I'd discussed with Luke over the previous two weeks was playing out. After the first lap, stay within yourself, measure your pace, and pick off the competition on the hill. Do nothing but recover on the descent. On at least 3 middle laps I passed a rider. Others it seemed I was the only one in the race. I crested each time wanting to vomit, and needed to focus hard in order to even go in a straight line as I began my recovery descent.

Alone on the Snake:

The wits came back sooner and sooner, and soon on the last half of the race I was carving clean, fast lines, and passed 1 or 2 riders on the descents. I occasionally found a draft, or had someone drafting on my wheel on the flat stretches, but for the most part I was alone coming back to the Start/Finish, and again measured my power to my momentum to save for the next climb.

Approaching the line with one lap to go I was among three other riders. As we turned onto the prehill, I passed two of them, and enter the Snake for the last time with the third, but quickly picked him off as well. Ahead, I saw two other riders, one climbing slowly, and the other giving up. I got angry seeing that. All that pain, only one more lap to go, a recovery descent and a short flat stretch is all you have between you and the finish. At least run the bike up! You're home free! I picked off the last rider on the hill, and crested strong, tongue hanging out, and got up as much speed as I dared taking the turns on. I passed two more riders on the way down to the flat, and from there, I had the final meters to myself. I didn't want to look behind, and only focused on getting to the line as fast as possible with my remaining energy.

I finished 16th out of 40 who started and 33 who finished. The fumble with the pedals and squandering my prime starting position aside, I felt a good-sized sense of accomplishment with my effort because I worked so far back into it, especially on the last lap, just as I had planned. Of the races I have under my belt so far, and will accumulate in the future, this day will last in my memory for a long. I signed up for it when I absolutely zero experience, and on the other end of it all, I not only finished, but finished strongly. The aggressiveness I need will come with time and more races, and the sooner Snake Alley comes around again, the better.


I owe Josh and Leonard an apology however, for not returning the favor of the wheel. My only thoughts on the descent were of recovering and saving for the next climb and I didn't even think somebody would want my decelerating wheel. The next race, if I get the chance, count on it.

We spent the rest of the day watching women's 1-2-3s, the Men's 4s and 3, and the beginning of the the Men's Pro-1-2. Turns we newbies had the best weather of the day. Jen Greenburg's race was absolutely brutal as poured rain the entire time. Her wheel slipped out from under on several of her 12 crests of the Snake, but through it all her dark look of determination never wavered and she finished very strong. The 4s race was inspiring to see, as well. Joe, Jeff, Jason - fighting through mechanical problems, and Pieter - with that smirking grimace of his, all climbed hard.

Jen Greenburg digs deeper:

The only downer of the day was Luke's crash. But even then he still had a smile on his face through what turned out to be a separated shoulder and broken collarbone, and he showed me you never know how far you can go until you push yourself past it.

I won't soon forget this day.


Leonard and I rode back to Chicago, chasing the storm clouds east, and made good time in the rental car on cruise control on the empty highway. We stopped for Steak n' Shake, and were back by 9pm.

My cousin from Milwaukee was waiting for me at the corner bar by time I got home, having taken the Kenosha train down for Bike the Drive. We dropped the rental downtown, and by time I finally set up my lugged steel for him to ride the next day, it was 1am. Turns out Snake Alley turned me into a harder man already, as we were up by 5am, and out the door in the pouring rain, downtown by 6am.

My cousin Rick is a confirmed tortoise on his knobby-tired bike, and my late-80's Cilo and minimal rolling resistance were a bit of a revelation to him. He was quite surprised to find himself easily cruising along at 18 - 20 on the flat stretches of Lake Shore Drive. We missed getting onto the south loop since we stupidly went north first, and missed the no-new-starts door by about 2 minutes. However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We hit the pancake breakfast, caught a bike polo match, and then headed south on the lake front path in the new found sunshine. We cut through Hyde Park on 55th Street to MLK and cruised back north to Albany Park. All told we got in 50 miles before noon.

The day ended in the cool breeze on a rooftop in the west loop, in the sunset's reflection off of the skyline. We drank wine and cocktails, visited with friends, and ate with the appetites that it seems only cyclists can have.


Hey you...

Yes...you. "Right?!"

My breath stops short, just a bit
When I see you walking though
I hope to catch the end of the rainbow
That your smiling eyes are trailing.
When I do get just a bit of that color,
I'm flushed with blood, and want so much more.

That first night when you stood
on your tip toes to reach me...
The firmness of your conviction
caught me completely by surprise
I wanted to stand there forever,
to never leave the front of your house.

Dee Cee? Doo-Zee.

(The following is a repost from 2006.)

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The All-American Boy Series, Part VII: "Dee Cee? Doo Zee."
Current mood: drained

So I just flew in from Baltimore and boy is my liver...gone.

It started boringly enough, with me missing my shuttle bus from BWI airport to the Metro station where I catch the train to my friends John's apartment in Arlington, VA. I was there for the annual Conrad Family Reunion, at my Uncle Dick and Aunt Chris' house in Baltimore. But first I was going to get a couple days in with good friend John, whom I met in Chicago working with at Y&R. He'd then gone to law school and had been working in DC for the last couple years. The missed bus only added about 30 minutes to my total commute and I got to his place around 8:30 that night.

My brother was already there. His flight got in from Alaska around 1, and John had arranged access to his apartment for him. We bear-hugged each other, then drank the last of John's Knob Creek while talking on the phone with him at work, getting directions to DuPont Circle in DC proper.

We literally met John at the front door of the Big Hunt as we approached. We found a booth and spent the night bullshitting, drinking, eating chili-fries and wings, and catching up. I hadn't seen Duff since my trip to Alaska in March, and John had been to Chicago for work-related things a few times this year. We stayed 'til a little before closing time and then took a cab back to John's place. Two actually, the first less than a block.

For you Chicagoans, DC Cabs are pretty sketchy. There is no fare-box, only a zone-map. The distance covered by a $10 cab ride in Chicago could cost you up to $20 in DC. In the first cab, ever-frugal John started a coversation with the driver, casually asking the price to Virginia. About 30 seconds later, the cabbie was telling us to find another cab. About 2 minutes later, we in another back seat, and sure enough, the quoted price was about $3 less. Lesson learned: ask first and keep a mental record. Home, James.

Upon getting back we hung out on John's deck, smoked a few cigs, washed 'em down with the last of his beer and crashed. Tomorrow would be a long day. Longer-than-this-blog long.


The next morning, after shits, showers, and coffee, we headed to Georgetown and the neighborhood the Exorcist was filmed in. Driving through you instantly recognized the streets and aura of the area, feeling that you were in the movie, any minute expected to see a couple of nuns walking down the street against a brick wall, their robes flapping in the fall wind. The church in the movie was right next door to the house by the way. The stairs were immediately recognizable, and there were others already there snapping pictures. Several residents took ours. They didn't seem annoyed in the least at us, who must have been the 500th tourists that week. I would've been annoyed at me.

Up next was the National Mall. This was my first trip to DC in the summer. Previously I'd been just after a snow storm, in February 2003, or just before one, in January 2005, for the counter-inaugural party, with my then-girlfriend Kat. Gone were the barricades, the snow-banks, and the desolate, lonely monuments. I welcomed the green grass, the warm, not-too-humid weather, the sunshine, and the American pilgrims all around us. Although, with school already starting, the crowds were not too bad at all.

First was the Vietnam Memorial. The power of the monument lies in its understatement. It is nothing but granite and names. Go visit it, watch a veteran break down in tears at the sight of one name. Then imagine everyone that name was connected to: friends, family, and the effect that one person's death had on all of them. Then imagine that rupture, that chaos, that grief multipied 56,000 times. That sublime power is further represented by the structure's inherent femininity - an aspect that spoke to the nation's need for a healing, nurturing mother's touch. To speak for a generation tired of war, and repelled by its traditional imagery and symbolism. The "V" structure of the monument is evident in two dimensions: in the wall itself, and in its depression into the earth. John related a class discussion in college where the professor asked what words "V" could stand for. "Vietnam" is obvious, but "Vagina" was the answer angled for. Designed by 21-year old Chinese-American undergratuate student Maya Ying Lin, I imagine the monument also as an affront, as a denial, to the surrounding power-base that prosecuted the war. To inspire guilt, as did President Andrew Johnson when he ordered the new national cemetary be built in Arlington, VA, the hometown of General Robert E. Lee.

But at it's simplest, the memorial is a woman's take on the war. A woman's focus is naturally on war's effects, it's reprecussions, it's wake. War is an extremely masculine act. In almost all cases one of violent penetration and rape. In the words of George Carlin, "The rockets, guns, and bombs are all shaped like dicks."

I was listening to Sinead O'Connor while writing those paragraphs. I think it had an effect.

Duff snapped this shot of me and John:

The Lincoln Memorial was next:

The Korean Memorial:

World War II:

And my personal favorite, the Jefferson ("What? Was Lincoln too busy?") Memorial:

Next was the Holocaust museum. I can't really bring myself to write about it other than I felt guilty for even having witnessed it. To come from such a priviledged life, with relatively little cares, your world-view kind of comes to screeching halt at some of those exhibits, and it was one of the more harrowing things I've experienced.. It was too hard to hold back the tears at the sight of the room with all the thousands of shoes. People actually wore those shoes. Next to it was a truck frame used as a pallet in a human pyre. It was warped and blackened by heat. It was good to get back in the sunlight afterwards. I say in all seriousness, I needed a puppy to sit on my lap for little while.

So! Who's up for an Orioles game?!? On to Baltimore!!!

Sandwiched in the backseat lengthwise of John's '96 Ford Probe, we drove to Baltimore to meet my cousins Andrew and Philip (aka Honson, Flollop) for the Orioles game. Traffic was brutal, but we still managed to get there in time to meet with Philip and visit at his apartment, which was just down the block from Camden Yards. We grabbed Philip's six prepared "road sodas" - hyped all week, yet nothing more than rot-gut vodka and gatorade. The prime selling point of these is that the security staff at Camden doesn't really give a fuck what you bring into the park and doesn't check bags. As we walked to the stadium, the comparisons to Wrigleyville were striking. Even though both the Cubs and Orioles are compartively pretty bad, downtown Baltimore was still pretty desolate, even for a Friday night game against a division rival, the Toronto Blue Jays. We all know what a mess Wrigleyville can be even on non-game days. I sometimes wonder what it would be like if Chicago actually had a stadium in the loop. It would probably be the same.

We found our seats in the outfield, and met up with Andrew, and his college buddy, Rudy and his younger brother. High jinks then ensued.

My brother is Harley Nation's Santa Claus (w/ John):

Andrew, Me, John, Duff, Philip:

Somebody get Andrew in here for his close-up:

Andrew, Me, Philip:

After the game, the idiocy began in earnest. We said goodbye to John, and the rest of us decided to head out and go Duckpin Bowling in north Baltimore. If you are from Wisconsin, you might know this as minibowl. However, first we had to get there. As the establishment we were heading to was BYOB (best idea in bowling. Ever.), we grabbed three 12-packs of the local version of Old Style: National Bohemian, AKA Natty Bo, and jumped in the back of Rudy's little brother's pick up. (Worst idea in bowling. Ever. Cue the banjo and baying blue-tick hound.)

Such a smart idea, riding in the back of a pick-up with a half-drunk driver. He thought it was super funny to slam on the brakes at stop signs and wait to the last minute for those turns. Ha ha. Very funny.

I am getting too old for this shit:

Duckpin bowling in Baltimore uses regular lanes, but with much smaller pins and balls:

I've saved the best for last: the price of bowling was $15 per person, and included all you can bowl, and all you can eat pizza. This is with the BYOB. Ah'd like tah FALL OUT, BOY!!!


Rudy and his brother:

The bowling alley kicked us out at 1am. We passed on getting back into the truck, said goodbye to the Brothers Beer, and caught a cab to a little place called the Ottobar.

We walked in and headed immediately upstairs to get away from the horrendously bad band on the stage. On the second floor was a chill crowd, a juke-box, and a pool table. We queued up some songs, and racked up. Halfway through the game this aging hipster with a grey soul-patch and a fading sleeve of tattoos approached us and began to front his pool skills. Started telling us about how the table was re-felted, how fast it was going to be, to hurry up so he could get in and play us.

Andrew and I finally beat my brother and Philip and the aging hipster began racking the table. He said he was going to play us by himself, but Andrew deferred to me. I said fine and waited for the aging hipster to break. He sank one or two balls, and then headed to the bar, and animatedly demanded the talc powder. Jesus, this guy wouldn't stop.

He missed his next shot, ironically enough, the talc must have threw him off. I then sank one, two, and then three balls. Suddenly I was on a roll. I could beat this guy. However, the next thing I know, I'm breathing in a thick cloud of talcum powder. Andrew has this sheepish grin on his face, Duffy and Philip are cracking up laughing, and in about two seconds the bartender was asking us to leave. They had already turned on the lights after last-call but they weren't hassling anyone yet.

Andrew's version of the story was basically: "Let's make fun of this douchebag," so he pulled his pants down halfway on the crack of his ass and told Duff, "Hey, man! I'm chafing! Give me some talc." So of course Duff gives that bottle one big old squeeze and white powder goes everywhere. There were foot prints in the carpet and the back of Andrew's legs were white. I can't believe no one thought to take a picture but I guess we were laughing too hard.

It was a cab back to Phillips to crash. We raided his fridge first and played a little Mortal Combat on his old Sega Genesis. I think he has every generation of video game system since Coleco Vision through the last X-box.

Duffy slept-walked that night and apparently tried to piss in Philip's closet...

OK, this is getting super long so I will wrap it up. We were up relatively early considering and off to Ellicott City by 11:30. We stopped and picked up more beer and got the reunion in time to start drinking, visitng, drinking, snacking, drinking and playing badmitten and drinking. The best part was when we went back out for crabs and brought back 2 dozen steamed blue crabs in a brown paper shopping bag. Fun to eat but messy. The trivial pursuit game tradition was revived in a big way. In past years we put too much emphasis on dividing up teams and it had gotten a little acrymoneous. Is that spelled right? Whatever, the cousins, I, Duff, and a couple uncles decided to just start playing and soon everyone was involved. We made a beer run in the middle, Duff broke a chair, and everyone had a lot of good laughs. Duff, Aunt Judy, and I won the first game. Then most people headed off for hotels and/or to bed, while some of us played a second game.

I'll close with a few pics for the family members who'll be reading this...

My mom and stepdad Laurie:

My uncle Jack's daughter Kara:

Dick Conrad:

Andrew can balance ANYthing on his chin:

And Matthew (Andrew and Philip's older bro) and his (5/23/07 update: now ex-) girlfriend Emily:


Don't Lose Your Edge...

All the paceline and path riding with the bike team I've been doing lately has had me missing riding in traffic, I found out this morning.

I left my apartment in Albany Park early to meet up and ride in with a friend who has to be in to work at 8 this morning. My usual route to work is Kedzie and Irving down to Elston, then Courtland to Macy - which runs parallel to Clybourn - to the Goose Island Brewery, where Clybourn opens up quite a bit and I can have a roomy ride down to Division. Then it's over to Orleans, and finally a right on Wells at Chicago, ending up heading east down Hubbard to the Wrigley Building. Here's a taste of it (this is the video I made to recruit my office for last year's "Bike to Work Week"):

She works at Adams and Racine, so after a couple of doppios (maybe you should've stopped with that "dope" Floyd) at the Logan Square Starbucks, we head south to the first leg of the "Cool Kids Route" over to Damen, and take it all the way down to Jackson. I wish I had my camera with me. In fact, I plan on getting a shot of heading east on Jackson at sunset as soon as possible. A wide open, one-way street, and the sun-drenched skyline filling your entire view. It's those moments where I am still amazed that I actually live in this city.

After dropping her off, it was straight into the loop on Madison. Even though it's a full rest day for me it was impossible to resist pacing along with the traffic. Riding through downtown on a solid vintage steel bike gets my heart racing like nothing else. Shooting a narrowing gap between a bus and an Escalade, accelerating with one hand on the down-tube shifters to get to the open blacktop beyond. Using your larynx as a "horn." Belting out a good, hearty "Share the road" to the cager honking behind me.

It just gets my heart rate going and endorphins flowing. It's the only juice I need. And training-wise, it's actually good speed work.

Don't lose your edge. Never pass a chance to ride in traffic.


Sturm und Drang (Lightning and Natural Light)

It was hot.

The dog met us out front as we got out of the van. His usual full body wag was clamped down and muted to a few lethargic tail circles, his energy mostly concentrated on panting. It was the kind of hot, where when the wind blows, it burns your skin. He looked up at us, putting on as pathetic a face as possible in hopes this might be one of the rare afternoons we breech flea protocol and let him into the air conditioning.

The parched grass crunched under my feet as I walked toward the porch with a bag of groceries in one hand, and Styrofoam soda cup in my hand - long since drained, it's last drops among the quickly melting ice slurped noisily, like ants, up the straw. The dog followed close on my heels, his eyes never leaving the sliding glass door within the screened porch.

I set the cup down, and slid the door open. The air conditioning meeting my wet skin was like falling down, naked, into the snow. The dog stood with me at the icy threshold, front paws up on the linoleum, his rears still on the concrete step, enjoying it with me. He held his chest high, closed his eyes, and sniffed. He immediately came back to life, turning a couple of circles between our legs, tail wagging. I looked at my dad over my shoulder.

"Can he?"

"Yeah, let him in. Make sure he stays on the blanket." A southern dog needs to stay outdoors, no matter how many times he gets a bath. Fleas and ticks are a way of life.

"Come on, Le Mutt!" and the French Bouvier/Labrador mix happily bounded into the kitchen. He laid down straight away on the blanket, eschewing the unfamiliarity of the rest of the house and opting to make the most of his time in the AC.

After putting the groceries away, we settled into the afternoon. At my dad's house, those North Carolina summers were spent on the back porch. On the wicker furniture, scratching the dog's ears, and watching the horses mill about, twitching away the painful bites of the horseflies (I swear to God, lying dead behind the plastic cover of the fluorescent light above the tack room in the barn is a mummified green-eyed monster at least an inch long. I could feel the searing heat of it's sting between my shoulder blades, out of my reach as I ran around in circles, screaming and trying in vain to stretch my arm behind me to scrape it off, every time I looked at it). But with the heat outside, it looked to be a day indoors watching Tour De France coverage or Oprah, or maybe a video if we'd stopped at the rental place.

As my dad stood in the kitchen opening his first of many Natural Lights that afternoon, he noticed a breeze hitting the trees, and dark clouds building up from the west. "Storm's comin'. That'll cool things. C'mon, turn that thing off. Its porch time."

I stepped back outside through the sliding door and definitely felt the new breeze stealing away the heat from the back of my neck. It had a heavy dampness to it. I breathed in and felt, I knew, the sky was about to let loose like a soaked sponge being squeezed by a large hand. The leaves were rustling steady now, and though there was plenty of sunlight coming through them on our side of the house, the tobacco field across the road was quickly being covered by a gray blanket of shadow. The wind picked up and with it the spirits of everything around us. The cats came scampering back to the porch door, and meowed to be let in. The horses out in the pasture galloped and then walked, galloped and then walked, their manes waving like flags along with the trees. The new life in the air felt as good to them as it did me, stealing a sip of my dad's beer, it's salty, yeasty foam breaking the heat as much as the breeze did and I watched him scratch his shirtless, hairy chest, waiting for the show.

The first crack of thunder came like a car crash as soon as the last of the sunlight was blotted out, and it sent the horses into a full out run. Huge, sloppy, boulders of rain began to fall, hitting with a visible splash and spreading out within the dry blades of grass like thick ink on newspaper. Faster and faster until I could no longer make out the individual drops, until it was a curtain of water, until it was swirling down from the banging clouds, riding the wind to the ground.

I sat in safety on the porch in my tank top and shorts, and shivered almost sexually when a cool gust hit my skin. I laughed over the thunder, along with my dad, at the horses running, zig-zagging in the field, nipping at each othe,r as they made their way back to the barn. I laughed harder as he dared my 11 year-old brother, Duffy, for 50 cents to take off all his clothes and streak out into the field, touch the second closest horse jump and run back. "Tim! He'll get hookworm!" my stepmother warned as my dad howled while my brother's pink bare ass bobbed up and down as he made his way out to the jump. I could feel the splash of the rain through the screen and it was just warm enough. It must have felt like going for a swim out there.

It stormed until just before dinner, I took a few more sips of dad's beer, and when the sun came back out, it felt as though the entire outdoors were now freshly clean and hanging out to dry on the line. I took the dog out to play fetch and stretch my toes in the wet grass. Summer evenings in Central Carolina are about the closest thing to heaven I know. As the sun dropped toward the horizon, the pine trees began to whisper and seem to glow golden as the thunder faded away to nothing.

Dad finished his beer, and went inside to start making the hamburgers for dinner.


Learning From the Crowd

There were a lot of lessons learned in today's race...where do I begin?

Coming out of my first ever race two weeks ago at Whitnall Park, I had one goal in the Category 4 race at Monster's of the Midway- don't get gapped, and consequently, don't get dropped. As I stood at the line waiting for the whistle to blow, I felt much more nervous than at that first race, as now I had a benchmark that had been set for myself. The course was flat, a lot of guess work had been removed from what my abilities were through the first race and initial team rides, but the wind that beat me before was there, and the field was much bigger.

There was a bit of an unnerving moment 2 races before my Category4 event. As the 1-3 Men's coming to a close, a former teammate now racing for another group came down the stretch sprinting for 3rd place. He was going to get it, too except he was extremely far forward over his handlebars, and well, so was his center of gravity. About 20 yards from the finish line and a top-five finish, his back wheel began to skip and his feet came out of the pedals at around, oh...38 mph. He sort of surfed with his chest on his seat for a bit before finally rolling off onto his ass and back, and then into the curb. That he was able to hang onto the bike for those few precious seconds is what saved him from going over headfirst. I later saw him talking to a teammate, with only some skin missing on his palms, and probably a bit on his legs, as well.

And that wasn't the only crash of the day. Immediately after the whistle, a rider went down straight in front of me, taking around a fellow xXx-er, Matt Moran. I barely dodged the bouncing frames and spinning wheels, deliberately trying to not to watch beyond getting myself past so as not to loose my focus.and settled into the first lap. I first "zenned" in to staying on pace, periodically peeking up to see where the front of the pack was. I found myself alternating between sucking on good wheels, and...well, sucky wheels. There was many a lap where I would rest my legs for a second after burning after a turn only to see a gap opening up on the rider I was drafing on. But this was actually a blessing, as it would keep me honest, and I have to jump out into in the wind, and bridge up to the next rider keeping up with the pack.

The turns were chaos. People shouting out constantly "slowing!" and " hold your line!" as thought it were a training ride. Too many brakes, and it was impossible to find a steady wheel on which to carve a clean line. Yet I found it easier to make up position after the turns, and felt really strong on the straight aways, heart racing and legs burning.

My one change in approach to this race coming out of Whitnall Park was to be more aggressive. Getting dropped in that event taught me I needed to stay up further and longer. But, intuitively knowing where I am in the pack is going to take some more experience. Maybe it could be surveying the size of the field more objectively. Or it could simply be to focus on where the pullers are, and stay close to them. Probably a combination of both.

Yet at the same time, I since my goal was to not get dropped, I wanted to make sure I didn't blow myself out at any point. While I have established a lot of personal growth in my first 6 weeks on the team, my threshold is a crap shoot, and I still have no idea where my real limit is, especially on just my second race, which had such drastically different conditions as the first one, when I bonked and got dropped on the second to last lap after getting gapped in the wind. I really wanted to make sure I had some gas left in the tank for a strong finish.

Along the way there were a couple of dumb moves, including trying to take a gap that narrowed immediately and I found myself crowding a teammate way too closely. He was an experienced xXxer though and casually mentioned that "whoa, dude...you are WAY too close" as we bumped handlebars. I should've announced my presence before my presence announced me. The field was just too crowded for my lack of experience, but ironically I will need to work in this crowd in order to get my upgrade and find the room I crave in tighter fields up the ladder.

While I was more aggressive than in my first race, and my placing was much better percentage-wise, I was somewhat upset at a finish of 46th. I had a bit left in the tank, and I certainly made up many places on my last spint, but I was held up by my trepidation on the chaotic turns, and not being able to yet intuitively pick out the stonger riders onto which to hang on. There were also many opportunities for me to hammer up farther to the front, yet I hesitated, unsure of how far to push myself, and how far left it really began to count.

Yet in the end, I will rank today's ride a success, as I definitely improved on the last race, which is really all I could ask for. I thoughly enjoyed the day: the ride down with Leonard from Albany Park along the path, the massage and all the little nuggets of incredibly useful information I picked up from bantering and hanging with new teammates. Having a team like us to ride with certainly helps me deal with the anxiety of competing in such a new sport. Not to mention the inspiration of Newt getting a top 20 finish in his first ever race, Matt Moran - who crashed right in front of me at the very beginning finishing 4th, or a high schooler, 20 years my junior, schooling everyone with a ballsy move and outsprinting 4 other riders for the win.

The ride home was the best part of the weekend, heading up north on MLK and on to Logan Square, into the sunset, chatting with Newt, Andrew, Al, Ben, and my mechanic Doug from Boulevard Bikes who'd come down to watch the races, as well as two other racers from other teams. There was light traffic, and as we flowed along with it's rhythm, I noted, with a smile on my face, the contrast between the current utilitarian use of the machine I was riding and the casual, friendly chatter I was surrounded by to the all out effort and hyper competitive smack I was immersed in just hours before.


Mini MD Pics

Hey there...

Just got my hands on some pics from the Mini-Mad Dash on Sunday in Madison. Enjoy!

Up the creek:

On foot:

9th Place (out of 15):

I'm sorry

I'm sorry if you feel I've changed.

That I am not the Wolf anymore.

But I'm in the shadows, watching

and will show myself from time to time

I need to do this, see how far I can go

The late nights around the fire

Drumming, screaming, dancing

Paint streaked faces and howling cavorters

Were killing me.

I want to be able to risk it myself

While reaching for the Sunrise instead.

There's nothing worse than regret.


Think before you compliment

Today at work, a coworker was "complimented" on her recent weight loss, being told she looked "emaciated. But good, though!"

Last I checked, the word "emaciated" was an adjective used to define beaten dogs, holocaust victims, and Ethiopians. And speaking of Ethiopians, in most African cultures, being "fat" is almost unheard of. The concept of such an over abundance of food that it rots in storehouses, is thrown away, less than half-eaten on paper plates, that people actually overeat and then vomit intentionally is mind-boggling to them. Most of them spend all day on their feet searching for food. Their entire purpose in life is just to get enough to eat.

But just as our culture has evolved along a path of wastefulness and overindulgence, it is simply a product of our human hardwiring to constantly search for food. In times of abundance we gorge, like a grizzly bear in fall, to make it though the times of scarcity. It's just that in our modern society, for the most part, there are no times of scarcity. Not on the level of Africa, and of course, for some in our country scarcity is a reality, but you understand.

It's because of this I don't blame anyone or group or ourselves for our wasteful lifestyle. However, as there is a definite reaction against it, through everything from Deal-A-Meal to anorexia to a genuine movement towards a healthy lifestyle, I expect better of ourselves since we at the very least, as a group, understand the problem. Recall my last blog, I did make some rather disparaging comments about an overweight person I saw at the Daley Center. I won't apologize for those remarks because that person has a choice. He knows he has low energy, constant back pain, low self-esteem, and because of this, the only way he knows to feel good is to eat and be sedentary. Watching TV, drinking, and eating.

I know this because I was exactly the same about 6 years ago. Up until that point I exercised exactly zero, ate like shit, was in constant pain with a bad back, and never dated, much less had regular sex. Usually for breakfast I would have doughnuts or poptarts, lunch was fast food, and dinner was either pizza or a massive plate of spaghetti. I had been keeping this up for years. And years. Finally, one day, the system just broke down.

Long story short, I spent the next three months worrying I had colon cancer. From the initial positive test to the lucky day just after New Years when I finally got to ride the Silver Stallion and found out I was clean, I also spent that time learning that colon cancer is the second leading cause of death of American males, and the true story about the American Diet. Truth is, my systemic "break down" was nothing abnormal for the average American. At first my doctor just told me, hey, that's the American diet for you, and gave me pills. Unlike most people, however, I began to listen to what my body was telling me, and questioned what the doctor told me.

At that point I was about 260 pounds, and even though I hadn't really begun to think of myself as "fat", I did have very low self-esteem and certainly didn't feel useful or attractive, let alone "good looking". I would say even I could've been depressed. I don't know why I was able to understand what my body was telling me and why so many other can't, but I did.

I learned what fiber really is and why it's so important. Learned just how laden the average meal out is with salt, fat, cholesterol and empty calories. I began to eat healthier, replacing the junk with whole grains, fruits, lean protein, and taking responsibility for what I put in my own body and not leaving that decision to some company who packages it all in a pretty colored box and tries to tell me my identity lies in a can of a certain Diet Soda. And about a month before the "rodeo" somebody first mentioned I looked like I was losing weight.

It happened again the next day. And the next. And the next.

For 8 months, a day didn't go by that someone didn't comment on my weight loss. Don't get me wrong, as I know it can seem like a weird thing to complain about. From that Thanksgiving Day 2001 through the following summer, I lost over 60 pounds. Another 20 came over the following year when I began to run and bike on a regular basis. I was beginning to experience life in a whole new way. I felt confidence in talking to women for the first time in my life (and I was going on thirty), which had inevitable results, and my "depression" began to lift as I began to experience the first real rush of endorphins, resulting from my tentative first forays into exercise. It is no coincidence you see nothing but advertisements for sexual dysfunction pills and antidepressants and at the same time read how we as a culture are gripped in a crisis of obesity and sloth.

It is this culture that I am complaining about tonight. It wasn't just comments about my weight loss. Much like this coworker of mine received today I was asked, point blank, sometimes by people I only saw for 2 minutes a day waiting for the elevator, if I had an eating disorder, or if I had cancer, or what personal problems I was going through. The constant barrage of weight loss pills, diet plans, Oprah Winfrey sobfests, support groups, and most importantly, flat out impatience, has people brainwashed into believing smart choices and adopting a healthy lifestyle simply isn't enough. That finally taking control of their own life and seeing positive results out of that dynamic choice is out of reach, and that somebody else who actually does it actually must have something wrong with them.

This was a bit of a diatribe over one thoughtless word. In fact, in our pop culture of eating disorders, wafer-thin supermodels and hypocritical manifestation of thinness being presented on TV to legions of snacking couch potatoes, "emaciated" could've actually been a compliment. I don't really blame her for saying it, but I do blame us.


Let it be, I gotta be me, but hold on, I have to pee.

The brain dump.

The worst form of blogging. I know everyone hates the daily journal blog, but after the weekend, the Monday back, and the week ahead, it's just got to be done.

I'm sitting outside, taking in the residual warmth of this glorious day - not entirely wasted on a Monday. A glass of merlot is to my left, and my feet are up on the railing as I type this. The strains of Ike and Tina are wafting out of my living room as the pasta boils on the stove. It's 10:30. This is the first I've really had my thoughts to myself all day.

I've been accused of not having enough focus, and biting off way more than I can chew. And having no room for a serious relationship in my life, and no hopes of ever settling down...blah, blah, etc, etc. This is all true. One begets the next and the next. I rehearse with 2 bands 4 nights a week. I ride about 170 to 200 miles a week, and the next 3 out of 5 weekends I will be racing with my new team. My parents constantly ask when am I going to meet someone nice and slow down.

How do I ever get anything accomplished? they ask. Good question I suppose. I've never really had a singular focus because I get bored way too easy. I've never been able to hold my attention on one subject for very long. Except 2 things. Music and bicycling. So I wouldn't really have it any other way. I'm never truly happy unless I have an instrument in my hand, making alive the bouncing beats and melodies that constantly dance in my head or...or flying down a path, breeze in my hair, the solid, steady, calm rattle of finely-tuned drivetrain emanating from between my spinning legs...or writing down these very words.

Why do anything else?

Well, for one thing, it can be a little hard to keep up. Starting from Saturday morning, this past weekend:

I came above from slumber at quarter to 6, just enough time to read the news over coffee and oatmeal, stretch, don some tights and head out the door for my team's Saturday morning training ride. The gains are coming fast and furious with xXx Racing. Once we arrived in Highland Park around 8:45, I joined a longer loop with some of the team's strongest riders, and once again pushed myself farther than I thought possible. We reached speeds upwards of 30 miles an hour in flat stretches, chased each other down on mock breakaways, joked, bantered, traded stories and bites of energy bars alike - interacting like a pack of wild dogs playing in a field of morning sunshine for the next two and half hours, all the way back to Chicago.

After a brief stop in Evanston to give a band mate some money I owed her and devouring a PB&J she graciously offered me, I headed home to pack for my trip to Madison. My drummer from the other band picked me up, along with a coworker of his, and we drove to the Wisconsin capital, in under 2 hours (!!!), just in time to register at the Sheraton hotel for the Mad Dash, an annual adventure race held near the University of Wisconsin campus. We spent the rest of the night walking around the capital hill area, searching in vain for a bar that was showing the Pay-per-View boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya.

We actually competed in the Mini-Mad Dash, at 10am the next morning: approximately 3-4 hours long, with about a mile of canoe paddling, 3-4 four miles of "trekking" (in reality, running like mad, oddly enough, up and down State Street), and then 15 miles or so of biking, completing a circle around Lake Mendota. The real Mad Dash is over 5 miles of paddling, 50 miles of biking and 15 miles of trekking. The winning team did it in just over 7 hours. We did OK, finishing 9th out of 15, in just over 3 hours. We could've conceivably finished as high as 6th, but we were passed in the canoe stage by one team, and past on the biking stage by 2 other teams, when the girl on our team had a series of mechanical problems on her bike. It was an ancient ten speed, that weighed about 60 pounds, with a Sears and Roebuck stamp on it. Solid to be sure. Too solid. But we were there to have fun, and that was a complete success.

After the BBQ they threw for us we hit the road back to town around 3ish, and I got home about 6:30, after we stopped for gas and some coffee a couple times along the way. Once inside my apartment I relaxed a bit, by finishing the repairs I had been putting off doing on my commuter bike, a Jamis Coda, redeeming myself in my own mind a bit, mechanically. I was able to properly adjust the indexing on my both my front and rear dérailleurs after running new cable to both of them. Not too shabby. I then finished watching "A Sunday in Hell", an award winning Danish documentary on the 1976 Paris-Roubaix, the world's most celebrated one-day cycling race.

Today was back to work, spent excruciatingly indoors, mostly, as the sun teased me as I moped endlessly back and forth between my cube and laser printer. But, being the cycling enthusiast I am, at least I had the leg up on everyone else who had to sit on the train or in traffic this morning. I already had 30 minutes on my bike by time I sat down to push paper and pens. I did get outside for lunch, but anything positive gained there was negated by the fact that I was heading to the Daley Center Special Services Office to obtain a copy of an old speeding ticket. I there I had to endure standing next to a gentleman who had, quite possibly, the worst body odor I have ever experienced.

You know the kind of smell I am talking about. It's that rancid scent of not-quite-shaken-off urine and not-quite-completely-wiped ass, compounded by the smell being locked away in a morbidly obese body, sweat pants, and a Gracie Jiu Jitsu shirt. Why is it grossly overweight, out of shape guys condescend to the rest of us by shaving their heads, sporting "Bluto" van dykes and topping off their sweat pants with some extreme athletic branded shirt, and as though they're really headed to the UFC championships, instead of just not being able to find any other actual pants that fit? He was literally out of breath just standing there, shift his weight back and forth.

I know, I know, that's a defense mechanism and I am being incredibly insensitive, but I was once 260 pounds, not that long ago, I might add, and I can do it (if you knew me back then, you wouldn't have thought I could do it) anyone can. Most of all "tough" guys with facial hair.

Anyways, back to the topic at hand - not being able to focus.

I ended the day with a 20 mile recovery ride on the southern portion of the Lake Front Trail, doing my damnedest to take full advantage of the dying day. The evening was actually quite warm tonight, and even though I kept my pace to less than 70%, I worked up a bit of a sweat. It was hard to restrain myself coming back north with the wind at my back. Hard not to chase down too quickly the hairy-leggers dropped into aero-bars on their $4,000 bikes and go above my heart rate ceiling for the day. A recovery ride is a chance to rest the heart and give it some light work, to focus on form, and pat yourself on the back a bit with a reward for the hard work just completed.

I went straight from the path to the xXx team meeting at the Goose Island Brewery, where I dropped off my uniform order, said hi to some of the new friends I have made over the last 5 weeks, and headed off to rehearsal in Logan Square.

It's now 11:40, and I'm up a bit later than I intended, but this little brain dump was necessary tonight. If you're still reading, thanks. Sometimes you need to stop and reflect, and catch up with youself, and ask, if only cursory, if it's worth it. And of course, after letting it all out to a willing ear, if you will allow me that analogy, it is all worth it.

I have 3 more nights of rehearsal ahead, 4 hard training days, 1 gig, and my second ever bike race, all before Monday.

Why do anything else than what makes you happy?


I wanna be on a bike

I actually wrote this last year, in the dead of winter...thought I'd post it here, finally. This will be the first of several archival posts from my old myspace blogs.


I wanna be on a bike. With no shirt on. Just shorts and sunglasses. Flying.

I want it to be summer. To be hot outside. A hot, humid dusky evening. Really hot, where you get sweaty from moving just a little. I want to see a storm in the distance. With big grey feathers of rain coming down from it. And see the red/orange light from the sunset reflecting off of it. I wanna feel a breeze from it coming up behind me, pushing me gently, easing the pain in my legs and cooling my wet skin. To look down and be hypnotized by the white line passing under my circling feet. And look up and not recognize where I am.

I wanna hear my breathing, smell a barbeque, see a big dog, feel leather on my hands, and taste cold water.

I wanna be on a bike.


Arrrrrr! I'm not a real Captain...

Well, no mechanic anyways.

I stayed in last night, rather than go a second ride that day, to clean my bikes. That morning I joined a couple teammates from xXx for a ride. Like I've said, I've got a lot of work to do on my threshold (maximum sustained endurance) and these guys really dragged my ass up up and down the lake. Back up, anyways. We had the wind to our backs on the way down, but even then we were hitting some good speed, and I was feeling the burn. We got down to the golf course where South Shore BLVD starts around 75th street, took a quick turn around breather and then started north into the wind. It's pretty amazing what just a couple mph difference can make into a stiff headwind, even when you're in a rotating paceline. Just this past Sunday, I did 35 miles from Milwaukee to Kenosha into a headwind the whole way, but was able to keep it a recovery ride coming out of my race the day before by keeping below 16mph. Yesterday, we kept it chugging all the way back to Soldier Field at around 17 - 18 and pretty much immediately my tongue was in danger of getting tangled up in my crank. My biggest problem was coming off the pull (leading the paceline) and getting immediately back in the draft. If you're not quick you can get immediately gapped and blow yourself out trying to catch back on. This happened every rotation and it was killing me.

It's the little things that can make or break you energy-wise.

I had been planning on hitting the Chicago Cycling Club's first Wednesday night training ride of the year, which leaves at 6:30 from the Dunkin' Donuts at Lincoln and California. It's about 25 miles, usually done in an hour and change. But, it can be a bit of a Dick-Measuring contest, and I was feeling a little fatigued, still from the weekend, the weights on Monday, and definitely the ride that morning. Don't tell Rudy (he'd wanted to rehearse), but, I stayed in to clean bikes and hit the sack early.

On my older steel bikes I get a little lazy beyond a quick wipedown of the chain and frame. I'd taken my chain and crank off of my Nishiki fixed gear:

which had been soaking in gasoline since the night before. The chain was still good, but the grit in there wasn't coming off any other way. I know you're actually not supposed to soak your chain in solvents, as it can remove the factory installed lubricant between the links, but, when that much grit gets in there, you need to get it out if the chain is still good, and just be careful to lube it properly afterwards. My dad used to race amateur in the mid-80s and he removed all his components once a week for a gasoline bath.

My Cilo was another story. That chain was shot, but the rest of the drivetrain was still good, at least, but embarrassingly filthy. It took me a good 15 minutes of spraying degreaser and working a rag back and forth between each of the cogs. Big molded chunks of a mixture of salt, oil, dirt and God-knows-what-else kept falling out.

Then in order to get at all the same stuff on the chain-rings, I decided to get that crank off as well. Pulling a crank off the spindle involves using a tool called, oddly enough, a Crank Puller, and is an exercise in patience. This is a crank-puller:

It's pretty simple. A smaller piece inside a bigger one, you just thread it into the hole on the crank's axis, nice and snugly, mind you, and be careful not to cross-thread. Once it's in, start turning the smaller piece so it threads in, and begins pushing the crank off of the spindle.

It takes a while to get it threaded right, that's where you need the patience. You never want to cross-thread, especially on your crank (they're expensive). After several failed attempts to get the tool to seat properly, it finally started to go in smoothly. I hand-tightened it until it went as far as it could, then I got my crescent wrench...and started to pull the crank. BIG mistake.

I should have continued to tighten the puller into the crank with the wrench, first. I don't know what I was thinking, except that I'm really paranoid about fucking up my crank. So I start torquing the hell out of this wrench, slowly, at small angles, like they taught me at West Town Bikes, which begins to press the inner part of the puller tool up against the spindle the crank is attached to. It barely moves at first. Then I start to make some ground, so I think. I continue to turn the puller, feeling the crank coming off, and I hear a metallic-y splintering sound, and the crank puller falls out of my wrench and onto the floor.

I don't know exactly what I 'm looking at, at first, or why there's a growing sinking feeling in my stomach, which culminates in a muffled little squeak of despair as I then see the destroyed threads of my crank poking out of the hole like silver little pubic hairs. The crank itself hadn't moved at all. But destroyed threads = destroyed crank. It will have to come off, probably with the aid of a blow torch and a hammer, not to mention the at expense of my bottom bracket, as well.

I replaced the tightening screw and dust-cap and just decided right there to leave it where it was until the end of the season, since the crank was still tight against the spindle. I finished cleaning it, put the new chain on, aligned the dérailleur and felt bad for my poor little crank. The thing had probably never been removed since it was installed in 1988 or whatever. Who's to say the thing isn't completely rusted on there and a qualified mechanic wouldn't have done the same thing? We'll never know will we? since I didn't tighten the tool like I should have.

So there you go. You are more than welcome to borrow my tools, but please think before you ask me to work on your bike.