"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


The Smells of Spring

One of the great paradoxical things I love about spring is the welcome return of some very foul smells that announce loudly the arrival of warmer weather.

For example, from November to Late March my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska lies frozen under as much as 3 feet of tightly packed snow. Through the winter, layers of dog shit deposited by Man's Best Friend on morning walks accumulate within the snow and lay undisturbed, their odor locked away in winters ice-cold lock box.

But come April as the snow retreats and exposes the brown little seed pods to the warming sunlight, they bloom to life along with the tree buds and dandelions, and it is not uncommon to hear an Anchorage-ite, standing on his front porch and breathing deeply of the morning air, exclaim:

"Dog shit! Ah, spring is here!"

Such was the feeling this morning as a Waste Management truck pulled in front of me on my morning ride and the smell of the rancid slurry sloshing about in the back, newly-freed from it's winter state as a greasy ice-slick, wafted back to me.

"Hot garbage! Ah, spring is here!"


Lesson Accomplished

Photos by Luke Seemann.

I finally did it. And it felt so much better than just thinking about it.

"It" would be racing a bicycle for the first time.

I won't say I wasn't nervous, but, instead I was more just anxious to see how I'd take to finally immersing myself in the next level. One of my favorite cycling quotes is from Ned Overend:

"There's a feeling that you can get only from racing and finishing - the feeling of pushing yourself beyond what you're capable in training."

This dynamic, of course goes, far beyond cycling. In order to better yourself within any paradigm, you must take on challenges by which you are nowhere near guaranteed success.

When I first started riding about 4 years back on the black Nishiki Oly 12 I bought from Play It Again Sports for $50, I thought I was fast cruising for 10 or 15 miles along the lakefront in my baggy shorts. And I was fast. Relatively. And I was happy, going on about two 20 mile rides a week, and commuting to work when the weather was nice. I got slightly faster, a lot fitter, and developed confidence and the first, almost pre-pubescent buddings of my suplesse.

As my desire grew to go faster still, along came a better bike, and an exploration into club rides. I'll never forget that first training ride. I took off with the Chicago Cycling Club roadies from the Dunkin Donuts that chilly Monday evening last May and achieved speeds I didn't think possible. And this was the slower, introductory training ride. I was so excited as I got to the front of the paceline cruising west into the sunset on Church Street through Niles that blew right off the front of it at 24 miles an hour. 2 weeks later I rode with the CCC on the regular Wednesday night ride and found myself, exhilarated and drenched with sweat, hanging tight onto the wheel in front of me at 27 miles an hour. I was completely hooked. A bike junkie to the core.

The next logical step was joining the racing team and yet another bike.

My first month with xXx fittingly came to an end Saturday at Whitnall Park. I arrived exactly 2 hours early, following to the letter the "Surviving Your First Race" white paper I found in the Google Forums. After registering I watched the race currently running, the 30+ Masters, spotting several team members in the pack as it came around the first tight corner and up the hill. Afterwards I rode up to meet them, and then put on the borrowed xXx kit for the first time and started my warm up.

The feeling was similar to what I felt as I rode to my first club ride with the CCC except magnified about 100 times. Like I said, it wasn't really nerves. It was anticipation. But the ritual of the warm up helped me to focus and not think about it too much. Which felt great because that was seemly all I had done since joining the team. I came back to the car and met back up with Joe, Jeff, Kevin, Brian, Jaques, and Jason...and Josh (too many J's! How's a new guy supposed to learn these names?! Although I'm at least the 3rd Brian, so...) and we did a few easy laps on the park roads together. The anticipation grew more still. Not only was I wearing a team kit, I was now riding with the group at an honest to God race. The plan was actually coming together. We turned left on the last warm up lap and headed to the start.

Standing at the line, waiting, I glanced at my computer. I was warm and relatively calm, the HR meter read 120. Then the race marshal went through the rules and format, and finished with "have a great race!" Suddenly I felt a flush in my face that flowed down though my shoulders into my chest. My breath quickened and I shifted my left foot in the pedal as I gripped my bars a little tighter. My HR had just jumped to 145. Ah! There were the nerves! And then we were rolling.

All at once I was aware of the giant "whoosh!" of all those expensive free-hubs and dérailleurs and cranks. I was in the middle of the pack, fluid and comfortable. All my worries about handling myself within it were gone as my focus narrowed and I began carving my line down the first easy turn. I hit the tight corner before the hill, down shifted cleanly and began my first climb.

At the top of the first hill was where the wind first hit, and it was almost comical to me to see the pack narrow and tighten into a long, flock-like V, each quickly looking for shelter in the draft, as we began climbing another short hill. Then almost immediately was a quick drop, curving to the right, and a final steep climb past the yellow distance markers to the line. Lap 1.

Everyone told me to just try and hang in there the first 5 laps. That it would be furiously fast as everyone jockeyed for position and the weaker riders were weeded out fast. Just hang in there and the speed will come down until the strategy kicks in with the final laps. But in actuality, I felt really strong the first 5 or 6 laps. I was having the time of my life and thoroughly enjoying myself. It was far beyond the exhilaration I felt of my first training rides. The speed felt manageable, I carved a smooth line, climbed strong on the hills, recovering in the draft on the crest, and hanging right in the middle of the pack. I would fall behind a bit on the climbs, but would, with increasing confidence, scramble back into the thick of the riders.

Or so I thought. By about the 7th or 8th lap, I was falling behind too much on the first climb. I began to sense there were no riders behind me and I realized I was clinging on to the end of the pack. According to my computer, it was the 9th lap that first got gapped at the top of the first hill. I stood up on the pedals and spun furiously to get back in the draft. That was my fatal mistake. That draft felt like a warm blanket once I was back in, but it would be the last time I felt it that day. Ironically, this was my best lap, according to the computer.

We roared down the hill after hearing the marshall yell 2 laps to go. I was increasingly having to concentrate on focusing in order to cut my line, as oxygen-deprivation was setting slightly and my mind was starting to wander a bit. The first hill came back around again, and as we climbed, I fell back immediately, and desperately tried to hang on. But the pack began to slip away like rope through my fingers, and with it the soothing relief it's draft offered my burning legs.


Mentally, I just closed down like a lead curtain. I could not muster up the strength to get up on the pedals to catch them. I slumped, cursed loudly, soft-pedaled for a bit, and willed myself together to finish it out. Physically, my heart was a trapped June bug in my chest and I could taste chunks of lung in my mouth.

It was a small victory to be able to see the pack up ahead on the next turn, but there was no hope. In my oxygen-depleted state, I rolled in across the line, and was genuinely surprised to hear from Luke I didn't finish dead last. Really, this the one fear that came close to paralyzing me before my first race. I didn't want to embarrass the team, and I was terrified of coming in last. But as I cooled down, I allowed myself the small consolation prize that, of those who did get dropped, I held on the longest.

And as should be in a first race, a valuable lesson was learned. Do not get gapped. While it may seem like the reason I got dropped was of a lack of endurance, in reality it was almost completely the result of a tactical mistake. Had I been more aggressive in staying at the front of the pack, even while falling back on the climbs, I would have stayed with in the draft at the top. The recovery would have been quicker, and I could then work to regain my forward position on the fast downhills.

In the end, athough disappointed on getting dropped, I was extremely happy with having completed the race safely and grateful for having learned a lesson that will stick with me in every race forward from that day. Knowing that I had pushed myself past yet another theshold that would have been unattainable only a year previous, and the feeling of riding alongside teammates who all shared the same goal and passed along encouragement - regardless of my lack of experience in tactics - has me jumping at the chance to race again.


The day wound down perfectly. My cousin, Rick, from Milwaukee is as big of a cycling junkie as I am, yet our styles could not be more disparate. The day as whole was the perfect realization of this difference, as I jumped on his ancient Trek 820, all 60 pounds of it, and we pedaled off for a relaxing ride on the rail-to-trail down to Waterloo and back. We chatted and caught up, and we traded our impressions of the race.

We ended the day with dinner at P.F. Changs and caught a showing of Hot Fuzz at the Mayfair mall, just up the road from Whitnall Park.

Today, I rode from Milwaukee to the Kenosha Metra station, down Highway 32 into a strong headwind. It was difficult to make good time and still keep it a recovery ride, especially with a 20 pound backpack on, but I found a quiet focus, worked on my spin, and enjoyed the new pavement that had just been laid down.


It sure doesn't look it...

...but the summer is here. Stay inside tonight kids. Drink it up. The beer and the wine. Stay close to your friends. Or not and meet somebody new. Listen up. The music is electric, the lights are dancing, the soul is real. But save your energy.

For tomorrow you will want to run and spin in circles until you fall down, giggling, the grass tickling your toes and that grinning Labrador licks at your face.

You'll play with the hose.

Maybe you'll catch a foul ball, and you'll definitely get that second hot dog.

You'll find the perfect painting for your living room at the art fair, or that one pair of jeans you've had the yen for at the thrift store.

You might see somebody famous, or somebody will see you. Look good and be playing hard.

And if the kiss could happen, make sure that it does.


The Race to Suplesse

"I'm fascinated by the sprinters. They suffer so much during the race just to get to the finish, they hang on for dear life in the climbs, but then in the final kilometers they are transformed and do amazing things. It's not their force, per se, that impresses me, but rather the renaissance they experience. Seeing them suffer throughout the race only to be reborn in the final is something for fascination." -- Miguel Indurain

My very first bike race is this weekend in Milwaukee.

I'm kinda nervous I guess, but more than anything, just anxious to get it out of the way and hope I don't finish last.

I feel like I have been getting outclassed at my team's sprint practices for the last four weeks. Well, maybe I'm being a bit hard on myself. The whole racing thing is very new to me, as I've previously stated. But I do have a ton of base miles logged already due to my daily commuting and my weekend and extra miles - probably about 9 hours a week. Add to that my Certified Personal Training experience and my general fitness level is pretty decent. It's just that cycling training is so damn...well, cycling specific.

What I mean is, your running threshold pace or lifting weights for endurance will only get you so far. Confidence and suplesse (a pretty French word for cycling form that really means a lot more) both figure so much more into the equation.

Trying to build your confidence and hold form on a bike is one thing. It's a completely different experience as you try desperately to hold onto the wheel of a guy 10 years younger who has a maximal heart rate you haven't seen since you were 14 as he accelerates past 25 miles an hour into a head wind. Now, while you're at it, really dig deep: shoot off his hip and try to sprint past, even as your legs begin to feel like lead slugs and the pain moves from dull to a scream and slowly climbs throughout your body.

Such were the 4-man sprint drills in yesterday's final sprint clinic. Riders A, B, C, and D would shoot around the final turn and, at no more than a wheel's length apart, quickly accelerate into a simulated sprint to the finish line. The idea is that A leads everyone into the wind. As he tires, B-man, fresh from A's draft, keeps the train moving and still accelerating, then giving way to C. And so until D-man, continually accelerating in the draft the whole time, is literally slung forward with about 10 seconds to go toward the finish line. Sprinting, balls-out, eye-bulging, teeth gritting. Wide. Fucking. Open.

There is nothing like the final sprint.

A newbie searching for his suplesse in this environment is like trying to catch the fly with chopsticks as Mr. Miyagi waxes on and off, up-down, side to side, in your face.

I realized as I rode home yesterday that I missed really crossing over the threshold into that all out effort. It's very hard, I've heard. Randy, our coach, said before we started that we could expect some vomiting as our bodies adjusted to the chemical imbalances that can come with pushing yourself so hard for the first time. I didn't get that far. I mentally just could not push myself into that realm. The data confirmed it, too. My heart rate only made it 177 at it's highest point that night. Yet, in my fitness-check time trial last month, I did 10 miles in 29 minutes in very windy conditions and maintained a heart rate of 163 the entire time. If that was my threshold, my max should be somewhere around 186. But when I thought about standing up on the pedals at that point in the last sprint, I felt as if I would just veer to the right, and crash into the pavement. My legs were cement.

I have found my suplesse before. I also believe it is the French word for cycling Zen and I have written about it before. From my now-defunct myspace.com blog:

The Zen Ride. Oooooh, the ZEN ride! Let's go for a ride on my thoughts.

I went out looking for a little toughness, following no particular form or path, and ended up finding the perfect circle. A little uncertain at first, I quickly relaxed in the feel of things end felt the stress begin to melt away. Then the low buzz-of quiet self-confidence took over as I noticed the eggshell light of the sun meeting the charcoal rain clouds at the horizon. And as the wind whipped into my face, I saw an abyss and the End of the World.

Millions died right in front of me. I could see them, up on the hills miles away, dying like insects. Like fleas. Unable to escape the paralyzing rain, the pounding winds, and rolling walls of water that came unrelenting. In the end, we could no longer keep it bay. My last memory is of the door, unable to keep the growing wind out, slapping open violently, and blowing out our last match.

Then I saw an angry little red and squeezed gently, slowing well-ahead of the danger, and then rolled around the thoughtless manuveur.

Things came to me much sooner and it was a little like playing chess with myself. And what should've been a painful and aggravating experience was actually kinda like the feeling you get when you find $20 in your pocket. It's easy. You just take something you're really good at and love, and twist it, bend it. Or just hold it in a way you normally wouldn't. Don't think too much...wait...

Now let the bottom fall out.

But you stay exactly where you were. You didn't change. But at the same time your entire composition is different just by that one element being taken away. And with it gone, how can you possibly dwell upon anything else, but whats in front your 6 senses RIGHT NOW.

That was a great ride. It was a casual ride, with a very good friend, in the pouring rain and blinding wind. We were "doping" obviously, but more along the lines of Willy Nelson than Willy Voet. The weather was absolute shit, yet you couldn't have punched the smile off of my face. It was my singular focus on being out and feeling fine that made the weather move beyond inconsequential and into the realm of poetry.

The next step is then to take the lesson learned on singular focus and apply it to every ride (sans Willy, that's the point). To quiet the analytical self - always criticizing and nagging - and focus only on moving like the wind and the water you have learned to love.

That will be my focus on Saturday. My attention to speed and heart rate will be only at the periphery. I will only try to keep up, find a wheel to hang onto, and enjoy every second of the ride. I will ride until I puke.

"There's a feeling that you can get only from racing and finishing - the feeling of pushing yourself beyond what you're capable in training." -- Ned Overend
"Cycling is like a church - many attend, but few understand." -- Jim Burlant


National High

Getting off the Blue Line Subway this evening at Division I was assaulted by a little kid almost as wide as he was tall, a crusty little snot ring lining his right nostril, wielding colorful little sticks.

"Would you like to buy a Pixie Stick?! Would you like to buy a Pixie Stick?!" he repeated over and over, almost too fast to understand, to everyone who came up the top of the staircase leading to Ashland Avenue. I looked him in the eye and said, defiant and snide, "No."

He just kept on blathering at near light speed, almost shaking, his pre-teen rolls of fat jiggling under his stained yellow polo shirt. He and his cohorts had obviously eaten more of the candy than they had sold. I looked over to the right and saw his guardian or whatever watching over the supply of goods, doing nothing to teach his kids one iota of manners, or salesmanship, for that matter. At one point, three of the little bastards took off running, while he just looked on, and I swore they were going to head right into traffic on Milwaukee Avenue.

Is this how low education as a national priority has sunk? That at 6:30 on a Monday evening, a kid must sell candy at a busy intersection so that his baseball team can afford to buy uniforms? Those kids should have been home eating a nutritious dinner and then doing homework.

Somebody please tell me again why the Pentagon eating up almost half of our national budget is a good thing?

Condition Critical

Will the real Michael Bloomberg please stand up?

Late last week, just in time for Earth Day 2007, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his intention to impose a so-called "congestion tax" on all vehicles entering the busiest parts of Manhattan. At $8 per vehicle, the plan is closely modeled after the program that has been in place in London for quite some time.

My question, then, is why does Mayor Bloomberg continuing to persecute people at the very heart of the solution to traffic jams and pollution vexing his overcrowded island metropolis: bicyclists?

On Friday, August 27th, 2004, the New York Critical Mass ride participated in the protests of the Republican National Convention. Over 1,800 people were arrested, including over 400 cyclists, many of whom never saw their bicycles again after they were confiscated. A documentary on the night can be seen here: Still We Ride.

Since then, New York has passed or is reviewing a series of reactionary laws designed to curtail and discourage riding within the city. In addition to wasting city funds policing Critical Mass in the city (by some estimates up $1.3 million), the city has arrested nearly 500 cyclists since the 2004 protest, and around 50 or 60 cyclists are ticketed each month. Many of these tickets are deemed faulty and dismissed, yet the reaction continues. It is also illegal for more than 50 bicycles to travel in a "identifiable group" without a parade permit, and the city in considering a bill that would drop that number to 30. There is no telling what constitutes an "identifiable group". This is left up to the police department's discretion. Pedicabs will also be restricted to a total of 325 from their current number of around 450, and will also be restricted from bridge bike paths and parks.

New York's anti-cycling stance continues even as it moves towards the congestion-tax and their pledge to have America's "cleanest air" by 2030.

Started in 1994 in San Francisco by urban cyclists fed up with car-drivers casual dismissal of them often resulting in injury and death, Critical Mass is a forceful assertion of cyclists rights, and a mobile protest of Car-Culture. If you have ever been on a ride, or have been corked at an intersection for that matter, you certainly know it is an obnoxious and boisterous affair. In fact, it is parade-like. On any given ride expect to see freak bikes and roadies, triple tandems and recumbants, little old lady commuters and militant-communist-manifesto-bearing messengers, people dressed up as super heros or wearing suits or simply dressed in nothing at all.

The event's power, and it's weakness, lie in it's anarchy. There is no leader. Aside from various people who volunteer to run a website or own a bullhorn, the entire operation is run by consensus. The only rule is to meet the last Friday of every month at a predetermined location and ride together. Sometimes a route is voted on, sometimes the entire ride is as random as the people within it. Attendance can very from a couple dozen in the winter, to as many as 27,000, set in Yugoslavia in 2005, protesting a national election. Yet, as previously mentioned, it was too successful for it's own good that 2004 night in New York. As it had no organization, it was powerless to immediately fight the police.

The opinions on Critical Mass are wide and varied. People may, rightly, argue that Critical Mass is a selfish, bullheaded way to get a view across that bicycles are the way to go. After all, if you are convincing people that they need to ditch their cars, pissing them them off at rush hour on a Friday when they are trying to get home might not be the best way to go about it. And yes, there are the "bad apples." Those in the group who vandalize and spit on cars. The behavior that paints the entire group an awful color with a wide brush stroke.

Yet, aren't there assholes in every segment of society? There is a bigger picture, others argue, rightly. How else has any Status Quo been overturned without a fight and pissing off those who have the power? As early as 1971 in New York and elsewhere, cyclists have been crying out over needless deaths caused by nothing more than impatience and a lead foot. Motorists are most often only charged with a misdemeanor in an accident involving an injured or killed cyclist, when many times a felony of manslaughter or worse is warranted.

Car congestion and oil demand are at an all-time high worldwide. It is obvious that supply is dwindling and cannot keep up with the increasing demand. Oil-wars and diplomacy are upon us. Yet, in 2006, bicycle purchases outranked car-purchases in the United States for the first time in in 35 years. We, as a civilization, are at a critical juncture.

If you have the luck, or unluck, as your attitude may have it, to be stuck on that final Friday, corked as that boisterous bunch of bicycles blows by, think of cycling commuter's average day the other 353 days of the year. Think of the sound a revving V-8 engine makes from behind to a cyclist slowing for a yellow light (I know what you're thinking - and you haven't?). Or the sight of a car in the left turn lane, jerking back and forth, it's driver unable to make up it's mind as a cyclist, with the right of way, enters the intersection.

People like to say, "Tough shit. The roads are for cars." People who subscribe to this view point certainly wouldn't stand for the status quo continuing on any issue they're against. Car-culture, the vehicle's insulation against the outside world, it's false sense of power, and our self-entitlement blind us to the real issue. And that issue is we have constructed a society built on a model of unsustainable growth and nonrenewable resources. And a large part of society that has been speaking up about a viable solution is being marginalized, simply out of inconvenience. After all, it's far easier to drive. But the time will come when there will be no choice, inconvenient or not.

But no matter your current position on the issue. The mantra of Critical Mass should ring true for everbody. A mantra you should keep in mind the next time you are stuck in your car behind one bicycle for 20 seconds, or 27,000 for an hour. "One Less Car" equals one more parking space, one less engine spewing carbon dioxide into the air, one less demand on non-renewable resources, and one step in the right direction.


The War is Over!

Today is going to be 65 F.

Tomorrow and Sunday could even reach the 70s.

I'm looking about my window at the golden sunlight spilling westward like God has tossed a bucket of juicy, ripe, nutritious fruit rolling and bouncing down my street.

No more full-leg tights. No more neoprene gloves. No more loading up with baselayers and rainshells. No more breaking plastic, followed by my exasperated sighs. BikeWinter is over. It was badge of honor, to be sure. But a badge now frayed with age and wear. No longer relevant to the throngs spilling out onto the streets to the strains of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony on shiny new rides and creaking, rusty deathtraps alike. Pedaling off to barbecues, the beach, and baggo games in the park.

The joy is growing to an unrestrained feverish pitch!

Turn up the heat. Bring on the rolling rivers of sweat and hot, black pavement. Bring on the paceline chatter, the impromtu King of the Mountain contests, the races and all the new friends.

Bring on the casual evening ride into the sunset to meet at the bar. Wearing nothing but your t-shirt and jeans.


Now we know why Alec Baldwin was so good in Glengarry Glen Ross:

He wasn't acting.

Although to be fair, this is nothing. My dad has yelled at me far worse for far lesser infractions. For example, when I was 12, I finished all the ice cream, except for maybe a spoonful, and left the carton in the freezer. My dad was on the way out of the house after dinner and wanted a little dessert before he left and couldn't have any.

He bounced the empty box off the top of my head.

I would've done the same thing. I totally deserved it.


V02 Smacks My Bitch Up

I was absolutely brutalized today.

For the last 3 weeks the cycling team I have recently joined, Triple X, has been putting on a sprint clinic for team members down at Northerly Island. Each Tuesday we meet at 5:45p out on the driveway of the abandoned terminal at the old airport. The weather has never been above 40 degrees out there next to the lake, and if it wasn't raining, it was gale winds. Frozen fingers, mouthfuls of wind, numb toes.

I am pretty new to all this. Not to biking, of course, but I have never been around this many cyclists who are so strong. You may think you're fast, out there on the lakefront in your Lance Armstrong replica jersey, dropped in your aerobars, "training." (I hate those guys - they're always rolling through the busiest part, not going fast at all, and in no position to suddenly hit the brakes if they needed to.) Biking to work every day, holding yourself in high-regard as the "cagers" and CTAers at work "ooooh" and "aaaaah" over your resolve to ride in with a little bad weather. (This would be me.) Uh huh. Get yourself out there with some guys who have been racing for years and constantly competing and trying to one up each other daily. Then you'll see what you're really made of.

And that is Jack Shit.

Sprinting usually happens at the end of a race. At a full sprint, a rider is totally anarobic: his/her heart rate approaching it's maximum limit. This won't kill you, but at a certain point, every person has a limit to the amount of oxygen that their heart can uptake. This is limit is called the VO2 Max. When this happens you have about 7 to 10 seconds left of energy as your muscles use up their available stores, since no more oxygen is coming in through the pulmonary system and aerobic pathways. At eleven seconds you feel like you're gonna throw up and shit your shorts at the same time, and your legs are shaking like a Kronos Gyro log caught in a paint shaker.

Previously we'd been only in very small gear-ratios. In other words, very easy to pedal. Never out of the small chain-ring and using the bigger cogs. The goal was to spin out, hitting a high cadence and forcing yourself to hold your form. If you have bad spin, foot and leg work, you'll get all herky-jerky, like the TinMan, and not get very much speed.

Today was our first day in the big chain ring. After warm ups we got ourselves organized into teams of three, going into the wind doing 2 on 1 leadout drills. This was to replicate a race situation in which you and your teammate find yourself in a breakaway near the end of a race with another rider. A and C riders were teammates, B was the other rider. Once the 3 got lined up and up to speed, the C rider would jump, sprinting to the finish line. The theory is that the B man will chase and, out of the draft of the rider in front of him, will lose his advantage and begin to tire. Meanwhile, the A rider is now sucking on his wheel, and soon pounces, fresh for the last few seconds to the finish line.

All this was going into a 25 mph headwind. I thought I was in shape. Not. Even. Close. Actually my endurance isn't too bad. I hung fine on the ride up to Highland Park and back on Saturday. 40 miles. But the sprinting is terrible. I was so winded I couldn't stay on the wheel to jump off the other guy, or when I was the "other guy" I couldn't pass the guy I was drafting on when I made my move. It was pretty humbling. I have got some work cut out for me. Time is needed in the nether regions of my heart rate.

Finally on the second to last sprint we got the wind behind us...we were all hitting 35mph, very fun. And then the worst part of the day. We went back to 39 x 23 (the lowest gear ratio, easiest to pedal) but back into the wind. I immediately spun out, and by that time I was so wrecked from the previous drills I nearly puked.

And then the topper was a 9 mile ride home into a 25 mph wind. And you know what?

It was an incredible way to spend the evening.


Austin. San Ysidro, CA. Killeen, TX. Columbine. And now on Monday morning in Blacksburg, VA, 33 people were shot to death by a psychopathic student named Cho Seung-Hui.

Each time it happens we seem a little bit less shocked. As a nation, I mean. Austin was before my time so I can only imagine how the country must have had trouble coming to terms with it. Nothing like it had ever happened before. When I got the notion to write about this, I first looked up the worst shootings in history, for some perspective. Not only was Austin 1966 the worst shooting in US History until Monday, it's also considered the first. Yes, there were others. St. Valentine's Day, for example, or a bombing in Michigan in the '20s that killed over 40.

However, these and other massacres were for power, money, and protest. The difference here is the crazed lone gunman, with no agenda, no motive, killing randomly. The line that made Austin the benchmark was this complete lack of reason, however twisted it used to be. Without knowing why such a horrible thing happened, we lack the power to prevent it. And that makes it much scarier. For example, there all kinds of movies about gangsters, bank robberies, cowboy outlaws, and war. All kinds of genres where scores of people get killed. Yet, these movies can be comedies, dramas, actions, or even chick flicks. Movies about serial killers and mass murderers? Nuh-uh. There's pretty much one genre there: thriller or horror.

The most common trait I've read among mass murderers is that they are psychopaths. That is, they lack a conscience. A sense of morality, of right and wrong. Many of us have wanted to pick up a gun while waiting in line at the post office or when we got cut off on the freeway (OK, bad example if you live in Los Angeles), but before we act, this impulse is checked by our conscience. And if this check is removed, it's probably conceivable that the resultant psychopath is much more likely to visit these edges of their soul. The human being at it's core is a very selfish animal and it will commit any act to get it what it wants if there aren't limits or accountability. That's a scary proposition right there.

I was talking with a co-worker while walking to lunch on Tuesday about all this. He noted these mass shootings always seem to happen in rural or suburban areas, and that the perpetrator is always a downtrodden, picked-on soul, or in this case a minority. He kind of placed the onus on the parents for keeping their nerdy, minority, or weaker kids out of the types of environments to protect them from the torture usually doled out by the cool kids and the frat boys. He gave our culture it's due, with the gratuitous violence plaster all over our movies, TV and video games games. But at the core it was the weak individual stretched to the snapping point finally lashing out.

Well, yeah, of course, to a point. Environment has place in all of it. All of these killers had something behind their anger. Usually revenge. But there's something deeper. If it were just environment and keeping your kids away from frat boys, not only would towns like Littleton and Blacksburg be overrun by serial killers and mass-murderers, there would be no individuality. None of the demented creativity that continually pushes our society forward culturally as well as scientifically.

Because here's the thing. It's the torture, the picking-on, that enforces our individuality. Like the old saying goes, "if it's doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger." Think of all the individuals in the world who have truly made a difference in their lives. Would they have become the people they did if their individuality wasn't challenged on a daily basis? Becoming a psychopath in response to this life-challenge is certainly the exception, not the rule.

Because, like I said, there's something deeper within the psychopath that's wrong. It's hard to imagine that such an absolute hole where their conscience should be is caused wholly by environment. Once our brains are hard-wired shortly after birth, there's little that changes, according to many scientists. All throughout nature, and life, things just go a little wrong sometimes. Chaos theory, right? A baseball manager's game plan doesn't quite pan out in the ninth. You burned your Pad Thai. A kitten is born with two heads. You get a divorce. Cancer. Things sometimes just turn sour.

Within the formation of the psychopath's brain, something turned rotten, or was just left out, early on. And as those individual's lives played out, their personality simply had to form around that rotten or missing part. When you have a hole in your soul, people around you are apt to notice. And as the human herd tends to do with someone abnormal in their midst, they ostracize and try to nullify, bring him back to the fold. A normal abnormal (forgive the expression) either becomes subdued and maybe spends their life as a mild mannered insurance agent, or grows stronger with his anger, checked by the moral compass, and uses it positively to become a much more dynamic person. He begins to contribute great things to his society because of his unique perspective and thinking.

The psychopath has no checks on his anger. As he sees in our popular culture, and our own human nature, violent reaction is often the easiest solution. He entertains these thoughts, enters these nether-regions of his psyche much more often. As Soon-Hei was, the psychopath is withdrawn, and people are further distanced from him, treating him poorly, or marginalizing him, and he becomes even more angry. It perpetuates itself to an inevitable conclusion.

Here's the interesting thing. We've always been violent in nature. This is why Austin as a beginning doesn't seem so strange. As our civilization has grown as a whole, it seems our violent behavior has been pushed back farther and farther to where it now shows itself in shocking outbursts like Monday's rampage. The blood used to flow on an almost institutional scale. The Romans filled the Colosseum by the thousands to see the carnage. Nearly every male member of society used to partake in war throughout history. There were public beheadings and executions for much lesser crimes than through which we comically debate "humane" capital punishment today. Even today, some less-developed cultures still participate in public executions today, and in Iraq, public death by violence is a daily occurrence on a huge scale.

Yet it seems we have deluded ourselves as too just how "civilized" we really are. As much as we seem to have banished public violence, our society is tearing at the seams, always about to blow like an overheated boiler. Our "Violence Quotient" has remained the same. Our most popular movies and video games are gorefests. Even as we try to reign in Boxing and Hockey, much bloodier contests like Ultimate Fighting have become enormously popular. Ostensibly, this would all seem a much better alternative to the blood-soaked gladitorial and public execution arenas. But underneath it all are human the time bombs, for whom violence is a real option, watching, learning, and being continually desensitized.

Things just go wrong.


If you have been walking down the Mag Mile at all this week, you've certainly noticed the giant inflatable Axe Body Spray can that was in the middle of Tribune Plaza, complete with mini-skirted 18-year old "actresses" jumping around inside it, much like the Moonwalk at the carnival. Written on the side of it: "Now, With Added "Bom Chicka Wah Wah." What great place for this thing, four blocks down from the Disney Store.

Anyhow, notice I say, "was."

I was walking back from the bank about an hour ago and just happened to glance at it when a huge gust of wind blew the thing nearly sideways. Almost immediately, the top of the monstrosity split open with a huge "bang!" and immediately collapsed to the southeast down onto the grey-tiled plaza. I just stood there gaping for a couple seconds, then started applauding and whistling.

Made my day. I hope who's ever idea that was is getting shit-canned at this moment.


The Car Whisperer

We flew down Augusta, east from Oak Park through the Austin neighborhood, no blinky lights so as to keep a low profile. Taking turns pulling into the wind with this year's Tour Da Chicago winner and another former messenger, we covered almost ten city miles in under 30 minutes.

The disappointment of the previous night had already begun to wilt as I wrote down my feelings, but was nearly dead upon finally waking up to the sun and warmth outside today. I sat on my back porch drinking coffee and reading, feeling every pore in my skin fill up with the light. The day ahead promised action, new friends, and knowledge.

You just sort of blend in with the area when you are riding with others, because you are focused on staying together. It's confidence, not cockiness. Alone, in a rough neighborhood, you might be a little more worried about who is approaching you, and you are not pushing as hard, so you aren't making as many lights. Tonight we glided with traffic, communicating wordlessly with it, flowing through the intersections in synch with the city's heartbeat. Being pushed from behind, as if by pressure at our backs, down the arteries, carrying much needed energy and nutrients to a body clogged by laziness and apathy.