"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


2008 - The Best That I Could Do

This time of year, everyone...everyone...puts out a top ten list.

Mostly it is just digging around online or through iTunes libraries to find the most obscure bands from Scandinavia to Brazil to simply enhance hipster cred. A bit more respectable are book and movie lists. I'm lucky to have seen 10 new movies all year - maybe five real books in that time span - so to accumulate a deep pool with which to make a list from is pretty impressive in my opinion.

So in order to get on the band wagon, I've started a bit of a tradition of my own over the last few years - a more personal list of the achievements and highlights (and lowlights) of the year. This year will be a bit more cycling specific (shocker) but this year was still quite well-rounded, I'm happy to say. And for this year, now that I have some depth of my own, I'd like to a take a more retrospective approach, with commentary were appropriate.

I now give you:

2008 - The Best That I Could Do

1. My first full winter of base-training. By time training camp in California arrived not a moment too soon, it was done, in the books, count-it-and-let's-see-where-you-are. I spent endless hours pedaling in place as it snowed and sub-zero winds blew outside, while Prince, Air and The Prodigy droned on in my headphones, and watched I Boonen win 2005 Paris-Roubaix over and over and over..so much it all gave me Dr. David Bowman-like visions. I hit the weights three times a week at the ratty and well-worn Park District gym with Mark, and rode on and on for hours more with teammates in an Oak Park basement. And what did it get me?

2. To the tops of Black Mountain and Mt. Mitchell...

3. And to downstate Illinois, where I was achingly close yet too far away upon the bricks of Hillsboro.

4. I took a huge step in my life - about time some would say (Mom...Dad...shut up), and moved in with the love of my life into a beautiful Logan Square apartment. Our family has grown quite a bit, too.

5. I received my first payout...and then my second just two weeks later. It felt pretty damn good have that .0001% return of my biking investment!

6. Superweek and the rest of the summer racing season came and went with my first ever podium - including one in the State Championship Road Race - a heartbraking crash and lot of mediocrity. But at least I looked good...

7. My hero died. I've listened and hung onto every one of George Carlin's words since I first bought a cassette tape of Class Clown after seeing his HBO special in 1984.

8. I took an active part in the Illinois Justice System.

9. Katy and I watched history roll in on an unrelenting tide of peace, goodwill, and good, old-fashioned relief through Grant Park on November 4th. We enjoyed it with good food and even better friends and huge smiles on our faces.

10. Blago.

Honorable Mention:
- The New Bike
- My First Sonnet
- There was a lot to Hate...


Thursday Hate: Shut UP!!!

What is it with people who have nothing to say, yet seemingly cannot stop talking?

This afternoon in the Metra station I had to endure two frumpy, old Jewish ladies kvetching about the mud on the floor and the newspapers on the seat...not one word of substance passed their lips.Even when the phone rang: "Hello? Hello?! Hello?!? Oh Hiiiii!" In an echoey, brick warming shelter where everyone else just wanted to sit quietly and mind their own business, they prattled on and on for 25 minutes.

Worse, they obviously had no concept of personal space. They walked right over, and with their fupas mere inches from my face, tried loudly and unsuccessfully to interpret the Milwaukee North District Metra timetable. Coat brushing up against me, perfume making my eyes water, it was all I could do not to jump to feet and make a scene: "Jesus CHRIST! What the hell is the matter with you two?! Can't you see I'm sitting right here? Do I even warrent an 'excuse me'?"

It all continued onto the train. Thankfully I couldn't hear them through the vestibule doors but sure enough, in a train car full of quiet people reading or politely chatting, they were across the aisle from each other lobbing wet verbal tennis balls.

I don't understand how people can have no concept. Who's in the mood for that?


Completely unrelated:

"I don't drink water because fish fuck in it." --- W.C. Fields



I drank from the cup
And passed it around
Full to the top
Of a taste more profound
Than anything sweet,
Than a stomach that's full
Of their pain n' defeat
From the charge of the bull.
A more lasting nurishement
Of beautiful contentment.

I was named XXX Racing's 2008 "Super-Domestique" on Sunday night. To my non-cycling audience, domestique is a French term that literally translates as "servant." In cycling it is a rider who works for the benefit of his team and the glory of his leader.

To me, this is the highest honor I could ever receive from my peers, bigger than upgrading, bigger than winning a race. Hearing Brian Boyle (the Good) introduce the as-yet unnamed winner, I could only imagine it was someone in the 3s, who'd spent the summer leading out Ed, Randy, JT, Luke, Peter, or Shane. Someone visible on the road, in Northbrook, and in the mud. Someone without a lick of self-doubt, possessing razor-sharp decision making and a threshold of a masochist. Several names entered my mind and they stayed there right up through "I'm proud to give this award to a fellow Irishman, Brian..."

And still, I feel like I don't deserve it. My three podiums and medals this year happened by the grace of several very selfless teammates working hard for nothing more than appreciation, plus the bonus of a Butterburger on the way home, and a few beers back in town. Maybe some cash if the check was even worth it.

I too, had my share of leadouts and bridges, blocks and sacrifices this season...of course I always put Team first. But who didn't?

I felt extremely humbled to have received the popular vote for this award, given the character and caliber of those who've received it in the past.


Thursday Hate: "He's [Bleeping] Crazy!"

Well, it looks like they're setting G-Fraud up for an insanity plea. Count on it.

My prediction:

Rod stays on as long as the key to his office still works. Shows up to work, tries to make small talk by the coffee machine as if everything is normal. Gradually he starts with an eye tic, and then by next week he's shouting randomly at people, and offering the handicapped stall in the men's room for a $50,000 donation.

By the time he's impeached and removed from office we'll be so tired of seeing his ass on TV every night, we'll be happy just to see him off to Scottsdale, AZ with a lifetime Xanax prescription.


More restroom hate: why do janitors absolutely stuff the paper towel dispenser so full you end up pulling out a square acre of rain forest when you just want one towel? And why, WHY do people insist on taking the middle toilet when you're in the restroom alone? When I come in next I have to sit right next to you to take a shit...a worse variant is the guy who sits in the middle toilet next to you when you're in the restroom alone. That's just creepy.


Check out yesterday's bike post. It has been edited for 15% more humor.


In the Wake of the News...

Choose: Kwame...or Blago.

If anyone needs me, I'll be out on the tollway painting over Blago's name on the I-Pass arches. Strictly volunteer. The State should not have to pay for the indignity.

And let's make it easy on everyone. I suggest Patrick Fitzgerald just take Blago to a nice dark room - oh hell, maybe a lakefront condo with a nice view just to rub it in at what he will be missing - and leave him there with a bullet and a gun and fifteen minutes to think it over.



Fell off the rollers on Saturday in a teammate's garage. It was quite dramatic. A quick transcript:

ACT I, scene 1
(Thursday night @ Goose Island)

Me: "Hey Randy, I got the hang of the rollers pretty quickly, first try! I can do no-handed, drink from the bottle..."
Randy: "Great! Try out of the saddle next...just remember to keep your weight back."
Me: "OK!"

(Saturday morning in Jacques’ garage)
Me: "Hey guys, watch this…"
(4 seconds later)
Jacques: "Dude, are you OK?"
Me: "No."


Yep. That's me, circa January 2001. By next March in 2002, I'd dropped around 40 of those pounds, a year later, another 40. Cycling didn't get me there, but it's kept me there. It may be an obsession, I will admit that. But it's better than drugs and it's way better than Big Macs.


The Lelli is at Mission Bay as I write this. I hate to be cliche, but since I'm the first one to order one, her name will be Maxine. Kinda obvious I know, Max Lelli and all, but I got mine first, so there. Plus a road bike has to have a female name. Your cross bike or mountain ride is your best friend, but your road bike is your lover.


Click here for something to inspire you through the winter. This is not your teammate's ordinary race video. A truly inspired look at the sport, nay lifestyle, that we all lead. Hope to see you next summer. (Choose the very high quality option.)


One of my poems has been selected as a semi-finalist. I know, I know, it's no more "official" than those Who's Who scams, and they're of course asking for fees...but it will be published, regardless what money I give them. At least that's something, because they can't publish every haiku about Aunt Mabel's cat they receive.

And I still could receive $1000. Gotta start somewhere.

I wrote this poem back in October, while up in Milwaukee with my mom who was visiting my aunt, now dead at 64 of cancer. I rode 54 miles round trip from my other Aunt's house south of Whitnall Park to a cousin's place on the Northwest side via the Oak Leaf trail on a brisk Sunday morning...

Their fiery colors warmed the day just born
And ashes just as bright as flames
Gave a way forlorn
New life, new light. A voice exclaims,
"The warmth is gone, but summer I don't mourn!"
The visions of those days still give me pain
A sweetish breath of agony
a mem'ry again
frozen there, tart and wry
To tease me out of thought and to remain.


Thursday Hate

So I was going use this week's Hate to piss and moan about Texas getting screwed out of the Big 12 Championship because the conference used the BCS Ranking as a tie breaker. But I'm sure Texas voted on it themselves, so fuck them. I'm no longer mad about it anyways.

I was also going to rant about pro athletes not acting like the millionaires they are - i.e. Plaxico Buress (or however you spell his name, but I don't care because I'm no longer mad about that either) taking a loaded gun into a Manhattan club and nearly killing himself...but then again, millionaires pretty much act like assholes, so there you go. And this goes for Jennifer Hudson's sister marrying a convicted carjacking murderer (attempter) and Ben Rothlis... Rosthleth... Rossell.... Schnickelfritzwhateverthefuckhisnameis speeding on a rice-burner without a helmet and nearly (or successfully as the case may be) killing themselves in the process...so fuck them. They cheat on their taxes anyways. Who cares?

So since I have to hate something, and we know that's easy:

Fat, whiny, 12 year-old effeminate boys on the bus who talk way too much and say "Mommy!" every fourth word.

I hate them.


Hump Day

First, something's been on my mind a bit...

Let the sunrise speak and sing a song to you
With ripened fruit overrunning with truth,
And words and lines as plain as the day it breaks.
There should be no fear to run along the banks
While screaming, wildly spinning arms and legs
Alone or not, the sand is your audience.

For to be on stage is to read from a script
And be force fed from those golden hands cupped
Holding rancid wine and stale moldy bread.
Intoning outward to rapt eyes his lies whispered
Into your tender ears, unable to cry or scream
Feet nailed to the ancient wood, unable to dream.

I've been reading a lot Dylan Thomas lately, and above is an attempt to emulate it. I find his prose and his rhyming schemes fascinating. I actually don't read a lot of poetry, but his work especially speaks to me for his ability to paint with such vibrant colored words. It really doesn't matter what he's saying, but none it is dry or dull at all. And uncovering the puzzle of his rhyming is so freeing and enlightening. There is no limit to what he creates - lines that rhyme with others right below, or four and five away, at the bottom of the stanza. Or not really rhyming at all, just matching syllables and phonics.

His writing is indescribably beautiful, inspiring, and mystifying.


About three years ago a very good friend named Joe gave me a book for Christmas, over drinks with a few of us at the Hungry Brain. The Modern Drunkard's "Handbook For Drinking in the 21st Century." We got pretty sloshed that night, unironically. The Christmas before, Mat - who was also at the Brain that night and received one in return - gave a me flask full of Jameson at rehearsal on Christmas eve, that I drank and refilled and drank again...and then got us thrown out of Simon's by literally passing out while standing in the middle of the goddamn bar.

As a rehabilitated drunk - not through AA, but rather cycling - I look back on those four or five 3am nights a week with still more than bit of fondness. I loved the socializing that ran like an engine with its oil freshly changed...smoking cigarettes and sloshing the smallest drops of Irish Whisky down my jeans in between laughs and gesticulation...going home with a different woman seemingly every night. It was degenerate to be sure, but I was good at it, had a nice balance. I made it to work on time every morning, for the most part. I never caught an STD...and I never did any drugs harder than weed...

Stopping was hard. I feel as if I've abandoned a lot of people in my life, people I now hardly see anymore. But I know they are they there, and we see each other when we can, and frankly, the mornings after were harder. They aren't awake in the mornings.

I am now.

The sunrise at 25 miles an hour on a beautiful weekend morning is just as good a social lubricant. And no less degenerate if you've ever been privy to a conversation between me, Peter and Newt on those morning rides. The enjoyment and satisfaction of putting in, physically, more in 4 hours than most get done in a week is what pushes me at 6 am without an alarm.

And that hot, strong coffee and chocolate chip cookie eaten and drank as my tired legs rest taste far better than the highest top-shelf Manhattan and cigarette bummed from a woman far out of my league ever will.

Not that I don't miss it. That and my friends. And don't think for a minute that I am a teetotaler. I still enjoy a Manhattan, a Martini, a fine glass of Goose Island - Chicago's finest - and certainly a good bottle of wine. And I still drink with those friends. Drinking to get wasted is empty. So is bringing home a new woman every night.

Alcohol and sex are gifts. Ultimately, doing each for love makes both worthwhile.

My old Christmas present reminded me of that yesterday, after I dug it out of the bookshelf and really began to read it for the first time. A lot of it is stupid, Mad magazine exaggeration, stuff that in real life would land you in an episode of Rehab - but there are some genuinely truthful moments in there.

The tips on pulling off a successful party are a must read:

Think of your party as one of those chimp-piloted rockets they used to send up into space. They were huge, bad-ass rocket ships doing important scientific stuff and did it matter if a wild-eyed monkey was flying the fucking thing? Of course not. If anything, it made those missions even cooler. Why? because most people like monkeys even better than astronauts and - trust me - everybody likes monkeys more than prison wardens.

And the chapter on drinking alone is actually a beautifully written lesson. Drinking alone was never something I was afraid of. In fact, it helped me move from the perpetually paranoid, cringe-inducing, nervous-wreck I was from sixth grade through roughly age 28 to the semi-normal person who laughs at his own jokes and craves attention at all costs that you know today. All human foibles. And drinking alone - and getting to know and learning to love my inner self in the process - gave me the confidence to embrace them.

The best part, though, is when I read the book, I hear Joe's voice narrating it in my head.


Winter's Solace

A heck of a first day of December, eh?

It's not even officially winter yet, but there's white stuff everywhere. Becoming a competitive road cyclist has turned me traitor and thinned my Alaskan blood. Where I used to see snowmen and forts, and then warm whiskey, good wine and rich food, now there's only biting wind and corrosive salt. I can feel myself shrinking and tightening, becoming denser and slower with every day I spend off the bike.

Out of mind, I know that's not true. Now at the end of my coach's two week rest period (taken early due to two unanticipated weekends on the road) I have started lifting weights in earnest and running three times a week. The body needs cross-training in order to refresh and renew, and keep itself stronger and true over the long term.

The running and the weights place impact and tension on the kinetic chain, promoting bone density and giving non-cycling muscles, underused during the season, new life and strength. Joint function and flexibility are restored to their peak, ready for the next three months of base training, followed by the incredible spike in intensity of training camps and races in March and April.

But right now I just feel the heaviness of this past weekend's indulgences squeezed into my belt. Right now look out upon the icy glare in the streets and the frozen breath hanging in the air and feel only ennui. Right now I couldn't ride to work if you paid me.

I don't cyclocross or mountain bike - at least not this season, and after the new road purchase, probably not next season either. Right now all I can think about is the coming near-constant temptation to eat and drink that which I shouldn't, and to get off the trainer earlier than I should.

Yet today, oh on a day such as this, a tiny seed was planted. Planted in my head by that pantheon of all that is anti-bike and materialist : Bicycling Magazine (no offense to Conde Nast, I know you gotta put food on yer family). Bill Strickland was lucky enough to have been challenged and sponsored by the British clothing company Ralpha to climb France's legendary La Marmotte and Etape du Tour, back-to-back in two days.

Their holy grail, of a sort, was the sticker-covered sign that marks the summit of the Col du Galibier:
The purity of having climbed Galibier is almost too much to bear - so raw, so honest that we need to step away, walk off and again convince ourselves that our jobs are important and our world depends...on paying our phone bills and washing our cars and answering our emails.
This coming March, as I did a year ago, I will climb Black Mountain in San Luis Obispo, willing myself on to reach the view of the valley, the immenseness of the weather station, the cheers of my teammates. 48 hours later I will climb The Wall, and then Asheville's Mount Mitchell in April...finding my rhythm, each time immersing myself in 10,000 feet of pain, catching nearly everyone who dropped me in the foothills, to finish alone in a very personal triumph.
We seek the sign at the top of Galibier, at the end of our driveways, at the beginning of the weekend ride...when we've had a bad day at the office...a fight at home...the ATM's broken...last year's slow guy beats us...

Winter, I am ready for you.

Hate Preview

Texas has beaten OU, yet OU wins the division...because a computer says so? A head-to-head tie breaker means nothing? What could possibly be wrong with this system?! And how can straight up voting on the rankings be any worse?

In fact, why play any games at all? Let's just let the computer simulation run from the pre-season rankings and have a big parade in September and save everyone the trouble!

Well, I at least can laugh about this decision to rely on the BSC computer rankings as a tie breaker while it bites Big 12 Leadership in the ass - they very well may have a riot on their hands and they should definitely be careful when passing under the clock tower. But, still...how fucked up is all this? What was wrong with the old system - with it's emphasis on conferences and bowls? Does a national champion really matter that much among so many teams?

More later this week in Thursday Hate. I will be seething about this until then.