"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


Brian's Dairyland

It was quite a bit shorter than the full 11 stages that began last Thursday in Shorewood and ended today in Waukesha. I also didn't get any chocolate milk or a spotted cow jersey, but my own tour of Wisconsin included plenty of cheese, Spotted Cow beer, and lots of fun racing.

After transferring all my gear from the I-Go Honda to the O'Hare rental and kissing Patty goodbye, I was on my way to Greenbush, Wisc. for the stage 8 road race in the Tour of America's Dairyland. Light traffic and a 7am departure netted me a great parking spot on the grass two full hours before race time.

Randy and Luke arrived as I spun and sweated on the trainer, even in the less humid, lower temperatures. It was going to be a perfect day for racing, in lots of sunshine, and I was very excited to be in the same 35+ Masters field as these experienced and wily vets. The only snag of the morning was finding a definite hole in my racing tubulars after hemming and hawing about a slow leak the night before. Oh well, SRAM was present for neutral support, just one more PRO aspect of an apparently very well run series.

Our 50ish-sized field rolled out on time, just behind the Pro/1/2 field, and neither Luke or I were familiar with the course, beyond what people had told us about from last year. But, even then, the 10-mile lap was reversed this year, so we'd just have to ride out and experience the first couple of laps and hope nothing got away before then.

The course profile went something like this, if memory serves:

A short uphill followed by a steep drop, then another up and down roller. Here, you had to be careful of the hot tar strips, very hard to see on the new blacktop. Very squishy, and your rear end fish tailed at the high speeds going downhill over them. Then a left turn and a false flat, followed by a quick drop, another fast left turn, a couple rollers, then downhill to a right hand hairpin turn. Here it got interesting with a series of uphill stairsteps which led to a fun downhill series of banking turns through thick forest (watch out for those potholes). This shot out onto rough chip and seal pavement through farm fields, which brought back the wind, and then turned left into it. The downhill speed quickly slowed and the pack bunched as riders looked to move up for the final series of downhill, banking turns, back through the trees and then into town.

Immediately riders were attacking but couldn't get away. The pack could chase too easily on the downhill, and there wasn't enough support that early on through the headwind. Much of the time the pace was downright comfortable and it seemed everybody was taking it pretty easy, saving energy for the hills or attacks later in the final laps.

Out on the chip and seal on the 4th lap, I was moving up when I heard Randy call me over. "Luke's off the front!" he semi-whispered. This caught me completely by surprise as I still thought he was behind me, but you all know how much I pay attention in races. Sure enough, there also must've been IS Corp in the break because they were up blocking and a dedicated chase was forming as soon as I moved to the front to do our part.

I sandbagged on two hard chase efforts, but coming through to start the final two laps, the break had slipped out of view, and the field's speed came down to almost leisurely for much of the next time around.

The final lap was a bit more competitive, especially up the rollers, where I really had to fight to keep my position and not to cramp. Through the twisty downhill section and out in the crosswind, Randy came by tapping my hip and we moved up to the front before the pack bunched up, where we held a great position. However, he was on the outside, while I remained up against the yellow, which was my undoing amidst the final argy-bargy of the last two miles. A lot of sketchy moves came past my left, squeezing me further and further and back.

If those guys really wanted to pull that shit for a 6th place $50 check, they could have it. I still had to go to work on Monday. Randy managed to hold his position and finish 7th in the field sprint, for 11th overall. I came in at the back for 37th, and heard Luke on the sideline giving me an encouraging yell.

4th place for him, out of a final five-man break. What a stellar result in such a talented and stacked field as an open Masters race! The man is crafty as hell, and can be counted on to find the one place on the course to make the move that counts. In this case, on those stair-step hills, and then leverage the wind and the blocking behind to get out of sight.

After saying our goodbyes over the requisite post-race Culver's, I was on my way to overnight in Milwaukee at my cousin Rick's place on the northwest side of the city. Friday I'd be headed back to Fon Du Lac, but tonight was dinner, beers, and visiting.

Rick met me at his house and we went and got some pretty good Mexican food, fish tacos for me:

After which we each got a haircut at his regular place, where they offered us a glass of wine while we waited, and I also got some locally roasted organic coffee. The woman who cut my hair, Christinia, was a triathlete and we talked bikes the whole time.

The next morning after Rick left for work, I spent a few hours at Milwaukee's successful local coffee chain, Alterra, over some housemade granola and a pot of French-press:

Then I departed for Fon Du Lac, the site of the series' stage 9 criterium, and to meet former teammate and good friend Rick Dearworth for lunch before the race.

The Fon Du Lac Grand Prix has been around for many years in one series or another, and is famous for it's fast speeds, with the long home- and backstretches. Today's trip past the start-finish would be blazing as well, with the tailwind down Main Street.

I was the only XXX-er in the field, along with a few other solo riders, including a Wisc.-based Pegasus rider who'd had some success in the series, and the venerable Voytek Glinkowski, of WBD-Allvoi. Verizon and IS Corp had several riders each, so I'd be watching their moves in the headwind of the backstretch.

It was a very dynamic race. Attacks were constantly going off in the wind, and the field was either chasing, or giving out the hangman's rope, and then chasing. I managed to be in a couple of early attempts and bridges, but midway through the race I found myself at the back recovering when the real assaults came.

Rick and Jared Rogers (who'd raced earlier) screamed at me to move up, but the chase was committed and wicked fast between laps 15 to go though seven or eight to go. I could only hang on to the end and try for another chance when, and if, it slowed. The good thing was that it was completely single file the entire time, so there was no rubberband effect, even at the end.

No brakes, just breaks.

(photo by John Gray)

Coming up on six to go, the field slowed just enough with indecision that I was able to move up and hear the announcer say, "Field prime! Set of tires to the field, starting with Triple X rider number eight-sixty-nine!" I had no intention of contesting a prime while leading the start of the lap, and after turn two I got out of the saddle for a medium intense effort to keep the pace up for the chase. I was waiting for the jump, and when none came, I looked behind and saw a huge gap.

Talk about the right place at the right time. IS Corp was blocking, the field was tired, and I'd just ridden away. I took the prime with five to go and started thinking about my chances to bridge up. I could see them about a quarter lap up, and I couldn't let the pack catch me.

(photo by John Gray)

The break was shedding a few riders, which I then caught, worked with for a half-lap or so, and dropped in the head wind. Approaching one to go, I was with one final rider, who, from the depths of my pain cave I can't remember, either bridged to me or I caught him.

Either way, I pulled though turns 1 and 2, and into the wind, then shook him off my wheel and fought his gap effort to come though turn four in perfect position for a pounce. Which I of course botched. I waited too long, with me just behind him; we started sprinting at the same time, and that's how we ended up, 7th and 8th.

"Sorry for screwing you," he said. "That's racing, dude. Great sprint!" I replied. I was pretty happy, feeling the 100% effort and having salvaged a top ten in a bridge attempt after having missed the move, not to mention avoiding having to go shopping for tires for a while longer.

Rick and I enjoyed a Spotted Cow together and watched the Women's Pro race from the AC comfort of the corner bar along the course, and then said our goodbyes.

I was in the town my parents grew up in, Kenosha, two hours later, despite all the construction and Summerfest traffic, to greet my dad and stepmom, and my aunt and uncle at their house. We enjoyed a classic lakefront Friday fishfry and cocktails and spent the night catching up.

After a morning active recovery ride to the lakefront, checking out the Superweek criterium course and getting some espresso, the next day we attended the family picnic in Madison. This long-running reunion includes Baers, O'Keefes, and Scharches, in addition to the Morrisseys. It was my dad's first time attending in probably 40 years, and it's been going on for longer than that. It was complete with several rounds of bocci and one dude bringing a full martini set up. But since I was driving, I had to wait until I got home for that much needed beer to end a pretty long day.

It was a pricey weekend to be sure, but a chance like that to merge family and racing can't be missed. I probably won't be racing again until the very end of Superweek, in Kenosha at the end of July. The Tour of America's Dairyland was an excellent series for the small portion of it that I experienced, and I definitely will try to plan next year's visit around the family picnic again.


Review: Cook au Vin

A few months ago, Patty bought two 2-for-1s on Groupon for a cooking school on Elston Ave, Cook au Vin. I’d not heard anything about it, so it was only a curiosity on my several rides past it over the past five years.

We decided to make a double-date out of it with her friend Emily and her husband Marcus. Once we agreed upon the menu choice – French onion soup, coq au vin (chicken and wine), scalloped potatoes, crème brulee – the date was set for this past weekend, Sunday afternoon.

I arrived first on my bike, with a couple bottles I’d just picked up from Wine Discount Center just down the street; very helpful, those folks. In 10 minutes I was set up with a bottle each of Bordeaux and Vouvray, total cost of under $60. I waited in the sunshine a bit for the doors to be unlocked at the appropriated time of 3 pm.

Right on schedule the door clicked open, and Chef Amanda welcomed me inside to the cool air-conditioning. I was impressed at how clean everything was. And that, despite the vast amounts of cooking equipment within, there was still an inviting amount of space, especially around the dining table and prep area; both a dining-experience and user-friendly.

Amanda immediately opened my red bottle after suggesting we chill the white and pair it with the chicken, and I let it breathe while waiting for everyone else to arrive. It was the prefect complement to the bleu and goat cheeses, plus the chorizo and grapes on the appetizer plate offered.

We started with the dessert first, since the crème brulee first needs to bake, then chill. Amanda gave easy to understand instructions and key visual queues; such as suggesting we notice the color the egg yolks become as we whisked in the sugar (pale yellow is the ideal). She never lost her professional air and smile, even while I constantly ADD’d through the entire exercise, missing lots of steps and direction. The smell of the real vanilla beans being hollowed out was almost as intoxicating as a bottle of extract, and soon we had our dessert dishes filled and ready for the oven.

Her little cook’s secrets added a ton of value to the class. One such tip is to place all the dessert bowls in a tray of water for a steam bath while baking. This keeps the crème brulee (or other desserts, such as cheesecake) smooth and free of caking and clumping. She was a great leader who had an entire team of four couples working together.

The French onion soup prep was just as easy. Onions sliced, garlic minced, and into the pot they went with lots of butter. Again, Amanda’s color cues helped out, and it was easy to tell when we needed to add more onion. This particular recipe was modified from the traditional, very filling one with which we are all very familiar. To keep everyone’s hunger stoked for the chicken and potatoes, we next added broth to the onion and garlic, and then set it aside to simmer. Rather than baking each bowl with large amounts of cheese and bread, we next made lightly-cheese-crusted toast points, with sliced French bread, to add to the soup just before eating.

Next we mixed up whole milk and heavy cream, while others sliced large brown baking potatoes and minced fresh garlic. We layered all of it, garlic first, then the potatoes, topped with a level of cream, finally salt and pepper, until the baking dish was filled. It was topped with a couple sprigs of thyme, and away it went to bake.

Since the chicken needed to be marinated a minimum of six hours prior to final prep, the initial roasting was already done, and set to work with a large, cold container filled with the birds, carrots & onion, and red wine. There was still plenty left for us to do.

First, the chicken came out and went into a pan with butter and oil. Another cook’s tip: the flavor of butter, with the higher temperature of oil, without burning. Then Amanda had us add the veggies from the marinade, and get some searing going on. Once we had the browning and heat, we transferred the meat and veggies to a larger dish, and we reduced several ladlefuls of the wine down, finally adding some flour in with a whisk for body. When it was smooth and thick, we poured the mixture over the chicken, carrots, and onion, and then put in the over to finish cooking through.

My stomach rumbled and grumbled more and more through the whole process, but Chef Amanda kept us on track. I only snacked from the left over appetizer plate a couple times, but Patty and I did finish of the Bordeaux fairly quickly. Finally we could sit down and eat what we’d been slaving over. I popped open the chilled bottle of vouveray, my hand becoming wet in its condensation.

I’ll simply let the pictures speak for themselves. Our toast? "Salud, Groupon!"

First course:

These were pretty damn good:



The complete picture:

Using fire is always fun!



Talking heads, bikes and the city

Talk about your fortuitous Fridays.

If my early morning train to Northbrook hadn't been canceled, and I didn't need to be on an 8am conference call, I definitely would've been stuck waiting out the afternoon's epic storms on a late train or worse. And probably would've missed seeing David Byrne of the Talking Heads speak about the future of cities and bicycles, alongside Luann Hamilton (CDOT), Jacky Grimshaw (Center for Neighborhood Technology), and Randy Neufeld (SRAM, formerly Chicagoland Bicycle Federation).

So when faced with the choice to wait an hour for the next train and miss my call, or head home to take it, then"work" from home the rest of the day, instead of biking in later (actually I did put in two or three solid hours after), you would've done the same. Even on Bike to Work Day. And since I rode to the train and back, I could count my miles for the Commuter Challenge.

As I rode home and then sat inside, dying to get out and play in the nice weather, I couldn't imagine the forecast for storms later that afternoon would be accurate. After I was off the phone I took Jack for a nice walk to grab a coffee (and a McMuffin...I wasn't lovin' it, but I sure was cravin' it for some reason).

The nonsequitur of the day came shortly after placing my order, just behind two frumpy, middle-aged, female cops. They kept coming back up and asking for extra cups and spoons and shit. A few seconds later I felt a pleasant sensation that I only associate with Patty, namely her wrapping her arms around my waist. The freakout came when I realized it was one of the cops, fully enveloping me in a creepy hug while asking for another cup.

"Excuse me!" I spewed as I recoiled from her grasp.

The arms came off and she continued with the counter help, not even acknowledging me in the least, just a free grope at the MacDonald's.

Well, the sky started to darken a bit, and soon it appeared that fat bastard Skilling had nailed it. I decided to race the rapidly approaching storms to Daley Plaza and the Bike to Work Day rally, to pick up my tickets for the David Byrne event. I thought I had more than enough time from the looks of the radar, but riding down Elston not even at Fullerton I started to get rained on. Little pockets of teasing moisture passed with intermittent sunshine, but looking west at the turmoil churning towards me, I started to wonder when I'd need to find shelter.

This was the sight before all hell broke loose (my shutter just missed a lightening flash by a second or two):

That's Milwaukee overlooking the I-90/94 Ohio St. entrance ramp. Just past Halsted and Grand, the wind really picked and started driving all the dust from filthy Kinzie Ave and the overpassing Metra tracks, nearly blinding me. I barely had time to get under the awing at the new Jewel on Des Plaines before it opened up.

And there I sat waiting it out, watching much braver souls than I trying to get where they needed to be, in much difficulty. It seemed like the end of the world, as trees bent sideways, the skyline disappeared in the gray doom, and thunder ripped apart the air almost on top of the seizure-inducing lighting flashes.

When I finally reached the site of the rally in a remarkably pleasant and soothing drizzle, the plaza looked as though a giant hand had come down and swept all the tents, umbrellas, and picnic tables into a huge twisted pile of metal stacked up against the windows of the courthouse:

I was told I could simply pick up my tickets at the event venue by a friendly leftover volunteer from the rally, so next I pedaled over to the Cultural Center. There I found the XRT kids (it was the station's event, big thanks to Richard Milne!) and then ran into Ethan, of Active Trans. We sat chatting for a bit and I actually saw the head Head himself enter. Then I split to go meet Patty at The Gage pub, a fantastic Michigan Avenue small plates bar, a bit pricey, but unique dishes, such as the house poutine, with elk ragout and Wisconsin cheese curds.

The forum was a couple hours later, as I mentioned an XRT event, featuring David Byrne as the celebrity guest, basically on a book tour for his "Bicycle Diaries," of a round table discussion entitled, "Cities, Bicycles, and the Future of Getting Around. " It was certainly a who's-who of Chicago cycling and alternative transportation advocates, for I recognized many, many faces from past similar events.

David Byrne took the stage to a huge round of applause, and started the presentation with his slide show. I've heard both good things and bad things about his book - haven't read it - and his presentation. I found that I enjoyed it. It would've been no different had I been in his living room seeing pictures from his most recent music tour. He was stream of thought, one leading to the next, basically taking the audience through modern city-planning's watershed wasted opportunites, the current sad state of affairs, and hopefully where we can go. Lots of slides of 1920's sketches and city plans, blighted parking lots and overgrown shopping malls, and beautiful trails and thoughtful examples of complete-streets planning.

Luann Hamilton of CDOT showed us a good amount more specifics, including some teasers on the Bloomingdale Trail, the Navy Pier Flyover, and a planned traffic diet of Lawrence Avenue between Ashland and Western. She gave us one amazing and joyous traffic figure: during rush hour, the current traffic make-up of Milwaukee Avenue can be as much as 20% bicycles.

Suck it, George F. Will.

Jacky Grimshaw of CNT gave a rundown on the engineering thought and theory that goes into planning liveable cities, such as how to build a 1 mile walk instead of a 3 mile drive from point A to point B.

Finally, the accomplished Randy Nuefeld, the former CBF director and now director of the SRAM Fund, gave the most direct-action presentation we'd seen yet. As he began, I realized there was no way David Byrne could've gone last. He could not have have followed this. I knew when finished, Randy would get the biggest applause by far, and we'd all leave, pulling at the harness to get to work and make things happen.

I'll let Steven Vance take you through Randy's presentation.

BTW, you know you've been commuting a long time when you recognize Andy Daley, in full Clif Bar kit, in one of Randy's presentation photos of the Milwaukee/Ogden/Chicago intersection.


D. Dowd Muska: Asshole of the week

Is your latest column, "Four Wheels Good, Two Wheels Bad," supposed to be some sort of joke?

I suppose not, and Dowd is short for "dowdy".

I didn't think it was possible to be a bigger jerk than some of the people I encounter on my daily ride to work, but I'd genuinely fear for my life if encountering you on the road.

I suppose it never occurred to you that most people begin bike commuting because of gas prices and relief from stress (although that can be difficult with people like you out there). I suggest you take a trip to either Belgium or the Netherlands (where up to 40% of the population commutes by bike), and see how many of those people think of their chosen mode of transportation as a children's toy.

Maybe you'd like to give a lecture to World Bike Relief about how that organization is just wasting time by providing thousands of "children's toys" to address Third World poverty, malnutrition, and AIDS prevention.

However, I'm gonna guess you've probably never been outside of this country, as your fear of anything outside of the status quo indicates extreme xenophobia.

You must be some sort of a US history buff, too, as indicated by your Original 13 Flag header on your site. Maybe you should double check on how popular bicycles used to be in this country before laziness, carelessness, and sloth allowed the automobile to cocoon us into our present mess of unlivable, unwalkable, unbikeable cities.

And while you're stereotyping cyclists, take a good look at your own raging, speeding, aggressive-driving, stop-sign-rolling, red-light-running, no-lane-change-signaling reflection in the mirror. The machine you're hogging the road with carries a helluva lot more risk and liability than those "children's toys" you're defaming, and are the number #1 killer of children in this country. What's the bigger danger here?

I sure hope your attitude changes over the next few years, because gas isn't getting any cheaper, and there's a lot more of us on the way. Actually, it would be pretty funny to see you petulantly stomping your feet at the gas station over the $8 a gallon price displayed, while happy person after happy person rides past you waving and ringing their little bike bells, glad to be moving and active than still stuck inside that fucking cage.

Please learn to share. There's enough road for everybody.