"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


My 15 minutes of fame

My mug is out on the internet.

I posed here at the agency for a character in an online video game promotion for Jim Beam. I periodically see it out there.

It's where I got my avatar from.

It sucks I'm wasting my 15 minutes on this instead of winning the lottery or making it huge with one of my bands, but I guess I'll take it.


Nothing, really...

I just love this picture and I wanted to post it.


Cliff Bar AND The Gatorade, dude...

I guess I'm writing this more for me than you but I wanna get it down so I can learn from my experience tonight.

Chris and I had a ball in the B races in Matteson tonight. xXx thoroughly dominated - only on the second race for me, but Chris was the man of the evening.

The first race started very slow. Everybody was sitting in taking it easy, when with 8 laps to go Chris made his first break, saying, "Come on, Brian, let's go!" as he passed me, riding third wheel.

I jumped and grabbed on to get his (very early) leadout, but somebody used me to bridge up and it was 3 of us for the next 4 laps. One more guy, unattached I believe, bridged up on his own over another 4 laps, and was with us for the group sprint. There was a 5th as well I believe.

Not a smart move, at first. I should've sat in and blocked for Chris, but before tonight, I didn't understand the concept. I ended up getting 4th in the first race. My sprint just wasn't very good tonight. I But 4th was in the "money." 3 points.

2nd race was a real breakthrough for me. We started off slow and orderly, in a single file pace line. Everyone was taking nice 1-lap pulls. Sitting third wheel I started wondering just how long I could hold a breakaway. How long would it take to reel them in? And if I was reeled in, could I get it up again for the sprint - or even the win. I toyed with the idea of breaking away on the next lap, but I drafted again. It was when it came for my turn to pull that I made my move.

It was really early, everyone was complacent and in a rhythm, and it was the perfect time, especially in a training race because your there to learn and test your limits.

So I flew right off the front, and got out to about a 1 length lead with 20 laps to go, 5 to the sprint lap. I would cruise in the tailwind and then sprint on the wind stretch. Chris was blocking for me for quite a bit, it seems, as nobody was chasing me down for quite a while. Blocking involves sitting in and disrupting the rhythm of a paceline so it can't work efficiently to move up to reel in a teammate that has broken away. It is basically not taking your pulls, not letting the lead man off the front, and making the guy behind you skip you in order to relieve the lead rider. Once somebody attacks to bridge up on their own is when you grab their wheel and get the free ride up. I learned this the hard way a bit later in the evening.

On the sprint lap I found a renewed energy and hammered again, getting my speed back up. Two others had bridged, and so did Chris, drafting on a wheel. And then I got my best break of the evening. An unattached rider slipped right in front of me, just before the 3rd turn, giving me a free ride through the wind to the last turn. I gave it everything, grunting, snot running down my face, and took the sprint.

And then they all dropped off. And Chris got me my win in the race, by pulling me for at least 6 laps while I recovered. I was hurting. Dying. Could barely hold his wheel, but we were increasing our lead over the pack as they basically took the rest of the race off. We encountered the A's several times, and it felt good to hear words of encouragement from those guys, Bryan and Nick in particular. When I finally did recover, we took turns pulling at half-lap intervals and increased our lead to over half a lap. The end was no contest. 17 points.

The next race everyone was pretty tired and Chris had a good strategy, just chase down breakaways and have a great field sprint. So we sat for quite a bit, rolling easy. I pulled for a bit too long, and just didn't know how to get out of the pull. The guy behind me was not taking over. I was veering way right after turns, but couldn't shake anybody. Chris told me later I should have just stopped pedaling. But, I had trouble way earlier in the season with getting back on after pulls so I didn't want to slow down too much. But because I wasn't, nobody would pull through. Until Chris made his break.

It was here I should've blocked until somebody else tried to bridge up, but I stupidly chased him, thereby giving somebody else my wheel. But Chris said later he didn't have the legs for it anyway, but I should've saved mine.

Coming through on the last lap, I grabbed the lead and prepared to empty the tank. As I came by Chris, I slapped my ass, signaling I was his leadout. I wanted to give him the win for pulling for me so hard earlier. I also suspect he was still feeling strong even then and could've taken me in that 2nd race, so I really wanted to give some back.

I held the lead until the final stretch, and my lack of a good sprint technique cost me second place. I geared up way to fast before getting my spin up, and was already in my 12 tooth cog and not going fast enough. Chris came flying around me, so my leadout was good enough, but the unattached rider who'd given me the draft on my sprint in the 2nd race also came from behind and passed us both for the win.

4 points for the race, 21 overall. For second place overall. I've been told 11 points had been good enough for 2nd recently, so even still, it was a pretty good night.

Learned lots, burned a lot of calories, and had a hell of a time. The Cliff Bar guy said tonight better be our last race in the B's.


The Dragon

I shouted for the dragon to turn around, and he whirled his giant head around to face me. He looked shocked to see that I had talked back to him.

"Take me somewhere different," I demanded.

He looked at me understandingly, and with what I thought was a smile, he turned back around, and I grabbed his tail and we flew off into the night.

How can the beginning of a day end so drastically different. My mood at approximate 9:55 am was of disappointment and disillusion . Tonight, I feel like I have traveled the breadths of human existence, at least in my world. Tonight I learned never to pass up an opportunity. To never fear saying "hi" to a complete stranger. That those you feel most different from are, in fact, the closest people you know. Who make you You.

I never thought I could spin that fast. Even while up there I felt like my knees were cinder blocks. But every time, Red emerged the winner. The first time I went up I got lucky. I was really powering away at the crank. But I won. Kirby gave me a hand slap and a shout. He said to me, "It's got nothing to do with power, it's all spin." You got to get your feet moving in sync with the pedal. The contact between the foot and the crank. It's pushed along only after gravity has done it's job.

I watched Jeff mow everybody down, even the Big New York Messenger (and I mean that in no disparaging terms - for the Chicago crowd, he was more of a concept). While everyone else was wrenched down over the handlebars, losing out to entropy through their shoulders and neck and elbows, Jeff was the picture of efficiency. He never broke a grimace, never once moved above the waist. Every calorie was being used to make the muscles in his legs form perfect circles as though he were absentmindedly knitting a sweater. The concentration never broke.

After finishing the first time, I felt dinner lurching a little. I was probably a little dehydrated. After the race this morning, I first rode to Ukrainian Village and then up to Evanston to have dinner with my bandmates Jan and Tami. Then it was back to Ukrainian Village for the spin party. I forced everything on that first one and was lucky to win. I climbed up onto the bike the second time, and approached the next heat 180 degrees differently.

I no longer slowed at the end and I wasn't nearly out of breath as before. I barely looked up, spinning like water, and won again. It wasn't supposed to happen this way.

Arriving from Evanston, the day had already been long enough, and I wanted to head over to the other party I was going to pretty soon. This party was abuzz with the events of the day. It had been racing in Kenosha at the velodrome for nearly everyone there. Andrew and Jen from the team had won tickets to Dublin to compete in the World Championships. We stood outside of the garage, chatting and downing PBR and told each other the tales of the day.

Val asked if I wanted to complete in the night's sprints. No thanks, I said. My legs are shot. She said OK, but her look said, "D'uh! Who's here aren't?!" The bikes stood inside on a makeshift wooden platform bathed in two bright floodlights. An office projector splashed light and sponsor logos against the wall. I planned to stick around and see a couple heats and then head over to meet Mat at Shane's party. It seemed like a lot of people were passing on sprinting. A lot of time was going by as the bikes lorded above everyone, glinting mischievously. I felt nervous about getting up in front of so many messengers and revealing my true self. What a way to find out you have a terrible spin.

photo courtesy of ffonst

I don't know what made me decide to sign up when Val returned and added pressure. Not many people were signed up yet, she said, and everyone's been at the track all day. Nobody's got fresh legs. My main goal this year is not to pass up any opportunity based on intimidation, so I guess my subconscious spoke up and gave her my name. In any case, I figured I'd be one and done and on my way to the other party. It was quite a wait until the first sprint, and then another until my name came up, but there I was an hour later, working my way up the standings.

The riders would climb on and after a few minutes of seat adjustments, the crowd would begin to chant along with the count down on the display on the wall. The "zero" moment would be silent as the DJ's finger hovered over the play button, the pressure building, and then boiling over the top with an explosion of music, screaming, whistling, and the buzzing of the bike chains. The progress was for all to see on the wall, looking like the Tron LightCycle game. In close heats I'd scream myself dizzy as blue and red ran neck and neck around the oval to the finish line.

Gradually as the night got older more people began to leave. I came up for my fourth sprint and the room was half-empty. I'd really no idea how I got this far. Even though I was winning, and spinning without a lot of effort, it certainly didn't feel like I was going very fast. The computer software and connection to the bikes was somewhat makeshift and there were several false starts as one or both bikes wouldn't register on the screen. We'd start spinning madly only to stop a few seconds later.

After a false start on the latest sprint, we went off again once everything was reset. Not sure what happened, but I was way out to a big lead again when he gave up halfway through. Maybe he thought it was another misfire, but they scored the race for me. Someone told me later he got sick. It was rough starting like that only to have to go again seconds later. We took a long break while the computer cooled down, and then woman's final was decided. The night was called at that point. I was set for a match against Jeff, my inspiration and teammate, but thankfully he was just as tired and unmotivated to continue as I was. I really didn't want to have to compete against a teammate, and I was glad to leave it at a draw.

I said my goodbyes, wheeled my bike outside, and rode off north to meet Mat, still reeling from the last 20 hours. It's the days where you give in to the word "yes" that you find the most within yourself.

The dragon had always called the shots before now. Never giving a second thought to my desires. He seemed to have a constant look of disappointment on his visage, snorting with resentment as we never diverted from the plan.

But tonight we glided with a new fire, lit within by an awakening desire. To leave Regret behind.

We dove for the ground. He looked back me, as the lights grew closer and closer.

"Yes," I said.

I left for the Ali G. Cat on Friday evening, taking my usual route downtown. The meeting point was under Michigan Avenue, at Grand, just up from the Billy Goat. An Alley Cat is race popular among messengers on live city streets. This was no different, except for the Ali G. theme. I knew I had to do this race when I found a second pair of sunglasses at Kozy's that day. I was buying new helmet and sunglasses, replacing the ones ruined in my accident the week before. The Ali G. in me was coming out and it was the perfect way to get back in the groove.

There were several of us down there, even Leonard. We milled about after getting registered, waiting to get our first number. It was an out and back race to five separate checkpoints: Upgrade Cycles at Milwaukee and Chicago, Division and Wells, Wacker/Franklin/Harrison, the Hip Hop Globe at the Museum Campus, and the Diversey Harbor overpass at the Lake Front Path.

I would never have had the motivation to ride that hard had I not teamed up with Kirby, again proving the rule to never ride alone when you have a goal in sight. We flew all over the city. Not sure of the mileage, but assuming was about an average of 3 and a half each way, you can safely assume 35 - 40 city miles total, in less than two hours. I saw for the first time ever a track skid. I heard it at first - a "pop! chhhhhht! pop! chhhhhhht" and then looked to see it happen again almost to fast to register. The fixie messengers shot in between cars like a shark feeding in a school of fish and I saw some moves I would never have the balls to pull off. Heavy, steel balls.

Kirby made the prime at Upgrade Cycles with me right behind him. He snuck in ahead when Adam made the mistake of trying to come in to the check point from Milwaukee just north Chicago. Kirby and I shot through the intersection behind an SUV running a red light and came in through the front.

On the way back I saw the same skidding messenger take the intersection of Milwaukee/Halsted/Grand at about 25 on the red light, hitting a gap of about 2 seconds in the Halsted line of traffic. I just stood at the red light, unable to ever get it up to pull a move like that. Kirby and I were probably the among the fastest riders there that night, but we just couldn't hit the red lights that aggressively and recklessly. In fact, I was probably slowing Kirby down much of the time at the cross streets, and I hung on like hell through some clever moves.

"Be the ball, Danny."

We hit the loop checkpoint second and took Lower Wacker Drive the whole way there. We took turns pulling through and holding 30mph for a bit. I let out a huge and barbaric "yawp" and listened as it bounced and echoed among the concrete walls and fell into my wake behind and followed back up into the sunset and cool summer air. We got our card signed and headed back beneath into Chicago's guts as quickly as we arrived. Kirby pulled me about 100 yards and then grabbed another rider's wheel. I pulled immediately through, slapping my right butt cheek, and we dropped the other guy quickly.

photo coutesy of Alforque

The rest of the evening saw us getting lost in the Millennium Park Garage, hoofing it up the stairs like a cross race, and riding as far north as Diversey. It was there that Kirby and I got separated looking for that last checkpoint. It finally dawned on me that he was headed back downtown as I went back looking for him after getting my card signed on my own. I took the lake front path all the way back. The tailwind grabbed me and I flew quickly along on the curving line to get my manifest signed for the last time.

I arrived at the finish at the Milwaukee and Division Triangle to see a crowd of maybe 15 riders who'd finished before me. I was completely beat as I took off my helmet and wangster do-rag and ran my fingers through my drenched hair. I now realized I'd probably taken way too much out of the bank for the night before a criterium race, but it was too hard and no fun not to ride all out. It was the most fun I'd had since the Spring Prairie road race over two weeks ago. Thursday was the first real day back on my bike since the wreck and even that was on the trainer. So I felt I needed some real "real" time. But regardless, damage done, no way back. So I just headed home to get as many calories back in by pigging out and heading straight to bed.

I didn't get a whole lot of sleep. I was pretty jacked from the race, and I was getting picked up by Chris at 6am. Luckily I'd packed everything before heading out as my wangster alter ego the afternoon before, so I could sleep walk my way through smoothie preparation and cheerios consumption.

It was a quick drive out to Kankakee and we were disappointed to find it pouring rain at the course. And it was a beautiful course. The pavement was fresh and new, but it was drenched and slick. We registered and while Chris warmed up on the trainer, umbrella in one hand and an apple in the other I got changed in the car. He had to give up after a few minutes because the wheel couldn't get any traction on the trainer's roller. I did a few laps, hitting it and sprinting as hard as I dared and then came to the line.

The race was a disaster from the start. A younger rider whom I met while taking a shit in the bathroom, who said today was his first race, crowded me as we got rolling and I lost my concentration clipping in. It's already an issue for me and now is getting psychological. I started to panic as more riders passed me. Everything was wet and I kept slipping on the pedal. By time I was attached to my bike I was already gapped and the race was over.

The pack was already stringing out by the first turn and weaker riders were popping off the back. I was trying to pass them and take the first wet turn at the same time. Soon I was on the back stretch and it was just soaked pavement between me and the 8 or 9 riders up ahead. They teased me for the next 4 laps, and at one point I was gaining. I though for a moment that I would reach the oasis of their draft, but it was too fast a pace. I was hammering for a good 5 minutes on my own at about at least 27mph, and finally when I couldn't see them ahead as I rounded the turn, I gave up trying to bridge and settled in to avoid getting lapped.

Towards the end of the race I grabbed the wheel of a South Chicago Wheelman who'd just gotten dropped and we teamed up to the finish. At one point we took the wide turn into the remnants of the crash that had just happened. One rider was picking himself off the grass between the pavement and the river, and another was headed to the wheel pit. I found out later this was what caused the breakaway that ended up lapping us on our second to last time around. The race marshal told us it was over but I was determined to finish the allotted distance and not have the morning finish on a completely embarrassing note.

It was too hard to get it back up to put the wet kit back on after our break before the Master's race. And I'm not too proud to admit it. I just felt cold and wet and tired and very unmotivated. And perfectly happy to rationalize my additional $13 as payment for the free muffins, sandwiches, and the chance to ring the bell on the last lap.

I could blame it all on the car that hit me, my time off the bike, lack of focus, or the lack of sex lately. And it was all of those things, and none of them. They really all come under just hanging on too tight. I get so amped before a race I rob myself of my suppleness, my clarity of thought, my suplesse. As I rode home that night I had all of it. I was going at good speed and feeling as if I were walking. I felt the day working it's way out of my body, flowing from my muscles, and calmness settling in. I could feel the heat escaping from my eyeballs.

I'm always hypersensitive to group dynamics, especially at parties where I'm under an influence, and I can get stressed by any sort of negativity - I absorb it like a sponge. I see the unspoken communications between people about people and it hurts. It wasn't as though the next party was bad...I was just tired, queasy from the sprints, and a little paranoid (guess why.) We listened to great music and everyone was dressed to the theme of the party: Miami Vice. But there is nothing like a solemn bike ride home to put me at ease. My brain just reshuffles itself back into order as I focus on the here and now of making my way to bed safely.

I need to loosen my grip. At race day. Loosen up and merge with the self I find at riding at 3am on the tail end of a journey of self-discovery.

And I grabbed onto his tail, and we flew into the night.


The Ali G Cat

My first Alley Cat ever tonight. Dressed as Ali G. No shit.

I am spent. Probably not a smart idea since I have two races tomorrow, one in less than 12 hours. I am trying to chow down a bunch of calories before I go to bed.

More later, but what a BLAST. 5 out and back checkpoints - 2 in Wicker Park, 2 along the lakefront, and one in the loop. I'd have to say my favorite part was taking turns pulling with Kirby on Lower Wacker at 30 miles an hour.

What a hoot.

More after the weekend, when I can focus and have tomorrow's races to help put everything in perspective.

Let down

The storm was a complete letdown last night. It was as if the weather front split in two like an amoeba as it got to the city limits and went right around Chicago. Whatever thunder and lightning, Sturm und Drang, waited until I was fast asleep.


Do any of you remember the first time you saw "Raiders of the Lost Ark"? I will never forget it, and that first viewing has influenced each subsequent time I see that movie, and it's why I'll never get tired of it. All my dad told me, when I was 8 (I think) was that we were going to see a movie. I went in with absolutely zero expectations. Although, what range of expectations can an 8-year old really have? No kissing, no crying, plenty of sword fights and car chases. That should've been enough, right there.

But we all recall our sense of empathy towards probably the first "real" main character in an action-movie, laughing and cringing along at Indy's fear of snakes, and feeling his pain as we heard those punches from that crazy shirtless German guy land on his face in THX surround sound. The feeling of awe as the Ark shimmered goldenly on screen, our anxiousness driven to a fever pitch by John Williams musical score. And what could top a movie for an 8-year old than screaming ghosts and laser beams from God melting off the Bad Guys' faces?!

When the movie was finally released on home video, starting from the first day of summer vacation after 4th grade I watched it 12 days in a row over my bowl of raisin bran, after my parents went to work. They finally had to hide it from me so I would go outside.

"Raiders" made another Top 100 list this week I heard. Definitely makes mine.


Stormy Weather

Storm is coming. I give it another 30 minutes. This is first really big one I think we've had this summer. I'm gonna head out to the back porch and crack a beer, for old time's sake, when it starts raining.

Speaking of summer, I know it doesn't start until tomorrow (or was it today?) but it feels half over already. Yet looking at my calendar, I know this isn't true.

I have only started to race, started to write, started to sing. Although I must be anxious for some reason. I've been having this recurring dream where I in college, and am failing this really hard history class because I keep forgetting to go to class. Right before I wake up I am staring at my calendar realizing I have the final exam and I haven't been to class in weeks. I start to freak out and try to cram. Once I tried to make an appointment to see the professor but he refused to let me in during his office hours. Think this is work related?

My shoulder is almost back to normal. I started riding hard again yesterday, with a great lunchtime session on the south lake shore path. This morning was 6 reps of spin drills on my way to work, and a set of under/over intervals on the trainer when I got home. I'm feeling the quickness and suppleness return to my legs. I just got the Trek back from the shop. They had it for a week, thoroughly inspected the frame, and gave it an amazing clean bill of health. If I'd been going any faster this probably wouldn't be the case.

I'll be participating in my first Alley Cat race tomorrow, a specialty of the messengers. A scavenger hunt of sorts, we race to several checkpoints and collect signatures to prove we were there, then it's back to the finish. I will be going just for fun, and I'm sure I will get passed by many at all the stop lights. I am just not ready to play Chicken with the Chicago taxi cabs, so soon removed from my beat down Thursday.

Early Saturday I am driving out with teammate Chris to Kankakee (can you see it on the map? it just about to get hammered.) to race a couple heats in the Cobb Park Criterium. It's a beautiful flat course along the river. I was going to do the Fox River Grove Criterium on Sunday, but I've changed my mind. I would pretty much need to turn around on getting home on Saturday and head out on the Metra to my buddy Chris' place out in the Northwest 'burbs. I just have too many buddies playing gigs, friends in town for not-a-long-while, and I just need to spend a bit more time nurturing my social life before I wake up to find out I no longer have one. There will be plenty of races this summer.

Superweek is approaching. 10 solid days of racing, and I've taken 3 days off of work to race in 5 of them. It's going to be amazing. The camaraderie, the new friends, the sprints, and the finishes. The pain and the experience. It's all waiting, as potential, growing stronger and storing more momentum with each day closer.

I had to cancel a gig this past weekend as well, because of the crash, but I am playing again. It's a little difficult because the bass on the shoulder brings out what pain remains, and not all the feeling has come back into my right hand. Another is coming this next weekend, however; at the Note, with the soul band, The Midnight Shows. We have a street fest gig this summer, among others and will hopefully get into the studio soon. Shrieking Violet, too. Definitely the most talented band I've ever played in. Please come see us. You won't be disappointed.

I can't think of another way to bring in the summer than with a banging symphony of thunder, a cacophony of roiled air and pelting rain. It's starting. Gotta go.


Chicago: Inside Out

My brother visited Chicago last week. He arrived on Tuesday morning. We relaxed for a bit, drinking coffee and unpacking. Once on the go, we took a trip to my bike store, and then walked over to introduce him to the wonders of Hot Doug's. We're both big meat fans, so, natch.

We chilled at home for a while, then headed to the White Sox game, versus the Yankees.

We headed home after the bottom of the 8th, when it was pretty clear the Sox weren't going to pull one out. I was up early for a 30 mile ride while Duff slept in. We hit breakfast at the Golden Nugget, and then headed downtown. I figured it would be cool to hit the Architecture Cruise if we could get tickets, and we were in luck.

We headed for a walk in the loop, next...

...stopping at Cereality for a snack...

...and then to Cal's for a drink...

...and then finally out to Little Italy for drinks and dinner at Rosebud. I wish I had pictures of our martinis and my plate of gnocchi but I ran out of batteries. Duff came to rehearsal after with us and then we headed home for sleep. I woke up at 2am to hear Duff stumbling around looking for the bathroom. I found this on the coffee table. It was purchased just that evening, and I had one glass.

Friday, while Duffy was in Indy for the weekend, Ethan and I hit Bluesfest:

Breaker Biker!

It's finally happened.

I've been very lucky my years of biking not to have a serious accident (and, in this case, still am, it turns out), but if you bike, you'll fall. And if you bike on the streets, you're going to get hit by a car, eventually. No matter how defensive, safe, or conscientious a biker you are, the law of averages is going to catch up with you sooner or later. It caught me finally Thursday night.

It had been a very good last two weeks. I did three races the weekend before, increasing my placing in each until the last one, which was an extremely fast Masters race that I was just a bit fatigued for, physically and mentally. My brother was in town as well, in Indianapolis for the weekend, but staying with me earlier in the week, and then returning on Sunday after my Wheaton races for dinner and one more night in Chicago. He accompanied me to work on Monday morning, and after lunch with my friend Loren, I showed him to the Blue Line for O'Hare.

It was a week for recovery and fundamentals. After the previous weekends races, Duffy's visit and the racing the weekend before that, I had taken a lot out of the vault. It was time to hunker down and save a bit up. So Tuesday I did a fantastic sprint workout with my two teammates Leonard and Kirby at Northerly Island. They were filming the Batman movie down there, and there a show at the amphitheater, as well. Loads of traffic but were able to carefully work about 10 sprint drills up to 250 meters in an hour. Wednesday was a nice recovery/endurance ride with another teammate Chris. Chris can really hammer. That is the main reason to ride with other people. Just as racing gives you motivation to go faster and harder, other people do the same than if you were just riding alone.

However, Thursday I was riding alone. Thursday is interval day, the most painful day of the training week. It's a day to push yourself, by yourself, to the limit. Intervals are a series of timed bursts and rest, and each burst you try to take yourself to the maximum. Sometimes it is more sustained, others you work with shorter and shorter efforts and rest. It does no good to do intervals with another person, because if one of you is faster, or stronger, you will get either separated, and it's really a session of individual mental strength-building. This is the day when you put the most pain in the bank for withdrawl on Race Day, when adrenaline masks everything.

I finished up my set of descending intervals father down on the lake front than usual due to the tailwind, and then time-trial-ed back north into the wind it to the Wrigley Building to pick up my bag and head home. Tonight was going to be nothing but relaxation. Little did I know the pain from earlier was what was nothing.

My usual way home is affectionately known as the "Cool Kids Route" among Chicago's cycling community. From downtown on Dearborn going north, I head west to Orleans on Chicago, then job west on Division to Clybourn. Heading northwest I take a left on Willow, by the Goose Island Brewery, and this where you can start taking back streets to avoid the intense traffic through the near Northwest Side. From the Brewery it's north on Marcey, west on Courtland all the way to a little northwest angled street called Wilmot, with quick jog on Damen in the middle, and then you reach Armitage.

From here you can either take left on Milwaukee, or continue a bit to Stave, where you can avoid the traffic for a bit longer. I usually don't take Stave, however, as it's potholed and littered with broken glass, and the traffic on Milwaukee isn't too bad. Thursday was Puerto Rican day however, and, as Milwaukee's primary neighborhoods at this point in the city are heavily Puerto Rican, the traffic was bumper to bumper. For some reason, though, I just turned onto Milwaukee. The traffic didn't look to crazy, I could see a line down the bike lane for what seemed all the way to California, which is where Stave would deposit me anyways. So I turned right early onto Milwaukee.

I stayed to the left of the bike lane, to avoid the "door zone," cruising at around 15 mph or so. Despite the heavy traffic, drivers were calm, not much honking, nobody was trying the douche bag move of darting around to the right in the bike lane. I was happy with my tough workout earlier, and was looking forward to a glass of wine and downloading the pictures from my brother's visit and doing the write up. Then there was a flash of silver - I yelled, hit the brakes, and...

A very dangerous aspect of the bike lane, aside from the door zone, are the cars turning left into parking lots and alleys during bumper-to-bumper traffic. To motorists, cyclists are out-of-sight, out-of-mind. In heavy traffic, once a car gets position for the left turn in front of the on-coming car, the decision is made. The bike lane in this case is almost 100% ignored, and the driver hits the gas.

The silver Chevy SUV came left in front of me with out so much as a thought to yielding to the second lane of traffic. It didn't help that I was as far left as possible to avoid opening doors to the right, but the law is that the bike lane is a lane of traffic, and has the right of way. But he didn't stop as I yelled, and I had about a half a second to react, and brake to stop short was all I did.

It really did go in slow motion from that point. I clearly remember thinking, "Shit, this is finally it. I'm gonna hit this fucker." The pain as my face, body and bike hit the right side of the truck happened faster than I could register at first, but I do recall my upper lip smacking metal and the asphalt, and flipping upside down, finally landing on my side. I got up on my hands and knees for a bit, trying only to see where my bike was and make sure I wasn't spitting out any teeth. Then the pain came into my right arm in flaming arrows of white agony.

I flipped over and dropped onto my back, clutching at my arm. I was sure it was broken and I began to yell and curse. My entire summer flashed in fast forward at that moment. The racing bike and my arm broken. All the time and effort I've spent over the last three months, which had put me just 3 races from my upgrade to Category 4, wasted. From a trivial collision with a careless driver - a selfish, wasteful subscriber to the car culture destroying our society.

He just looked dumbly down at me, and in a space-cadet way, asked, "Hey, man, are you, uh...all right?" As though this bicyclist with a bloody face who'd just gone flying over the hood of his truck and was now lying on the pavement, holding his arm, screaming and cursing, was just going to get up, dust off, say, "shit happens, man. Don't worry about it!" and bike off and he could just go back to his evening without any consequences for his actions.

"No I'm not all right! Jesus, my arm hurts! Call a fuckin' AMBULANCE!"

He said he was going park his car and call the ambulance, which was fine with me, but when two cops showed up on their little 4-wheeler ATVs, among the crowd of gawkers around me, it seemed this was also a hit and run. They asked me which way he'd gone, and took of down the alley, as a waitress from El Cid came out telling me to keep still, an ambulance on the way.

The ATV cops came back, and handed me the plate number somebody had thought to write down. I was strangely gratified. The pain in my arm had subsided and I was also beginning to realize it wasn't broken. A fire truck showed up, and I could hear the ambulance siren growing closer. One of the ATV cops said into his radio it was a hit and run.

I was standing as the ambulance pulled up and the EMTs got out. They seemed a bit relieved. I told them I was sorry, that before I thought my arm was broken, but I guess everything here was pretty standard, the whole to-do and everything. The firemen took my bike and told me I could pick it up at the station at Damen and Cortland later. I was told to have a seat in the ambulance.

I climbed in and we reviewed my condition. My right arm no longer was in the agony it was earlier, but it was a bit numb, ending down in my thumb and index finger. My neck was in pain, too, and I couldn't move my head much. At that point another set of cops appeared at the window of the ambulance, apparently to file the accident report. I was surprised and happy to see it was an old friend from the Kiss n' Ride days - my old band - Mike Komo.

He was a bit shocked to see it was me who was the subject of the call. I told him I was OK, and then noticed the guy who hit me was standing next to him. He'd apparently gone to park his car, he lived right at the site, and he'd called the ambulance. The EMT asked if I wanted to go to the hospital. I thought for a bit, and said yes. When you are hit by someone else, walking, bike, or car, always to to the hospital, for insurance claim purposes. Besides, the numbness in my right arm was left over from the extreme pain minutes earlier, probably the result of a janked nerve. I once had a client when I was a personal trainer who'd had her arm paralyzed when the camera she was holding got caught on a passing Metra train, pulling the entire main nerve for the arm out of the spinal cord. The numbness was a bit worrisome, and the EMT instructed me to lay down on the back board, and they put the collar on to immobilize my head and neck. Mike said he'd see me at the hospital, closed the doors, and the siren started and we drove to Norwegian Hospital in Humboldt Park.

I spent the next 3 hours staring at the ceiling, growing more impatient every minute passed that someone didn't tell me what was going on. I had nothing to think about but the run down looks of the ceiling panels, the peeling paint of the tops of the walls, the tape pulling at my hair, and the sharp plastic edge of the neck collar digging into my chest. My cleated bike shoes were still on.

I finally got X-rayed about 9:15, I think, by a very nice technician named Fernando. I don't mind waiting in the ER. I've done it before for hours. It's the complete lack of any attention or details that I hate. Just stop by and give me a 2 second update. I then waited again for another hour or so until the doctor told me nothing was outwardly wrong with my bones and that the collar could finally come off. My neck was too stiff to move much anyways, but at least I was free from that prison. He then told me the 7th vertebra of my cervical spine (my neck) was a concern and I would need a CT scan.

Bernard helped me there, a friendly black guy who'd been a technician for 27 years, he told me. The scan took only a few minutes but I waited over an hour, again, for someone, an orderly, to even talk to me. He said he'd go find out what was going on with my nurse.

I walked out of my room a few times, just to put myself in view, to get them to remember that I was still in the ER. I asked a nurse if there was a vending machine nearby, or maybe some snacks available - I hadn't eat anything since noon save two packets of energy gel. She tersely told me to tell my nurse about it. I hadn't realized I had an assigned "nurse" let alone talked to one in over 2 hours. The orderly came back, and said they were still waiting for CT scan results, and brought me four of the best tasting, stale, dry cookies I'd ever eaten. And the first cup of juice with a foil cover on it in about 15 years.

The hospital was filthy, and understaffed. On my way up in the wheelchair to received the CT scan, I'd noticed a bloody gauze pad in the elevator. An empty juice-cup sat on the counter of my ER room. The staff wasn't lazy: they were always on the move, but every time they said even two words to a patient they would need to seemingly fill out five pages of paperwork.

Finally the CT results came back, negative, and I was free to go. I had almost just packed up and left several times during the night, out of impatience, but my logical side stopped me, knowing I would need a complete diagnosis for the insurance claim on the driver's policy. I received my orders to stay home from work, rest, as well as a doctor's note and prescription for Motrin, 600mgs.

I thanked the orderly, and once my cab came, headed off to get my bike from the fire station. They were expecting me and let me in. It was a quiet night apparently. The bike was in the back, and they'd even put the chain back on. I gave the wheels a test spin, and amazingly, there will still in almost perfect true. They are hand-build Ksyrium SSC's, however, meant to withstand brutal punishment, incredibly strong and light. The frame seemed to be OK on a cursory inspection, as well. As strong as it is, aluminum and carbon can be frustratingly fragile. So I will be taking it for two frame inspections this week, to make sure I get a second opinion.

Aside from the numbness in my right arm, and a small amount of pain that had been growing in my left shoulder since earlier after getting to the hospital, I felt fine. The most ironic part of this whole affair was that the next morning, in approximately 5 hours I was due to lead a ride of the members from work who'd signed up for the Commuter Challenge, as part of Bike to Work Week to the Bike to Work Day rally in Daley Plaza. They were all pretty nervous about riding in traffic, and here was their gung-ho leader, having survived a brush with every commuter worst nightmare.

Upon waking the next morning after 3 hours of sleep, however, I nearly screamed when I sat up in bed, the pain in my left shoulder had continued growing through my slumber into a giant mouthful of sharp teeth biting into me. I figured the sleep would do me better, and I called into work. I spent the day on the phone with Allstate and my doctors office, and out in the afternoon, taking my Trek to Boulevard Bikes for a thorough frame inspection, and to get a haircut. The pain grew bit by bit, my neck got a little stiffer and stiffer. My thumb and index finger stayed numb. My good friend Mat was back in Chicago from his year abroad in Italy, and I spent the rest of the evening at our buddy Joe's condo, self-medicating with pizza, vodka and Old Style, and also broke my True Romance cherry. The Big Lebowski was also required viewing.

This morning my left shoulder is even in more pain, and I am probably going to get that Motrin prescription filled. The thumb and finger are still numb and I hope this is not an omen of more treatment needed. No matter, for today, at least. Mat is on his way over and we're heading to Delilah's annual vintage motorcycle show, and maybe a bloody mary along the way. This weekend has already been a nice break, the pain notwithstanding. The first weekend were I haven't been completely booked with a riding and or/racing and/or show since March. It's sort of God's way of telling me to take a rest for once I suppose.

As if you needed proof, the show I'd planned to play with Shrieking Violet tonight is canceled, at least our slot. I can't tolerate the weight of the bass around my neck and can't control the pick or rest my thumb on the picks-ups, because of my numb right arm. Velcro Lewis and his 100 Proof band will likely just play a longer set.

I won't be riding to the doctor's on Monday, but hopefully will be well enough to racing soon. When you ride, you fall. And then you ride again. If not, why were you doing it in the first place?


I Should've Eaten My Wheaties

I definitely upped the volume with my first full weekend of races: Spring Prairie on Saturday, then two heats at the Inaugural Wheaton Criterium in, oddly enough, Wheaton, IL.

I had originally only planned on doing the Masters 4/5 race, as I was going to take the Metra out to event. But, at the same time I was reading on the Metra website that bikes were banned that weekend due to Bluesfest, I received a forum email from Arun Ramachandran saying he had an extra space in his car. I figured somebody must really want me to race the fives on Sunday.

The directions on the flyer were completely bogus, but we found our way to downtown Wheaton with more than enough time to register, and get some warm up laps in with Josh, Nick, David, and Jason. Stupidly, when the announcer told us we had time for at least another warm up lap, Josh and I left the line, only to return and find ourselves now at the back of the pack. Lesson learned.

It was one of the faster criteriums, and scarier, I've done this year. The turns were all over the place, and on the 3rd lap Josh was unlucky enough to be behind a rider who got a little to close to the curb. He said later if he'd not unclipped he would've stayed up right, but Josh ran hit him and 3 of them went down. Josh's tire blew out like a gunshot, and with it, his race.

I was all over the field, up and back, but with 5 laps to go, Jason was pulling for a couple lengths and pulled ahead to give him a break. However, half a lap later, the eventual winner Bryan McVey - who also took 2nd in Spring Prairie - pulled through and I drafted on him until the 4th, and then stupidly pulled the entire 4th lap. On the home stretch I was trying unsuccessfully to get out of the draft all the way to the line, when McVey jumped hard, and I was swallowed by the pack and lost more ground on the first two turns.

As I sit here writing this, it's occurred to me I should've jumped just after the cobbles - and just made it or broke it, or found a wheel at the front earlier on and clung to it like Velco, and waited for that inevitable jump, by McVey, or somebody else.

I clawed my way back up on the final two laps, making up most of the ground on the back stretch and on the third turn. Coming into the final stretch I got a good full sprint and it was there in the last 50 meters I cracked the top 10.

I had an hour or so to watch an unbelievable finish in the 4s. Seeing the field rounding the last turn and Jeff Wat take the race on an amazing jump, I let out a huge yell. Jeff Holland also cracked the podium for the first of two times that day.

I got in my third race of the weekend with the Masters 4/5. Not much to write about here that I didn't already say in my Spring Prairie write-up. I found myself at the front late in the race, and while I was able to do some good, giving Brian Stockmaster a breather, I really had no idea of what do. I tried to get on a train of three other xXx-ers a couple laps before Brian, Kirby, and Joe's successfull leadout, but was blocked out. The fatigue I was feeling, plus the faster pace, kept me from ripping anything stupid off. At this point I am trying to learn from the those who've been there before me, and I didn't want to upset any game plan that was brewing.

In over my head in the Master's 30+ 4/5 race:

And brewing it was. Kirby and Brian had found themselves together near the front, and then there was Joe. The got the leadout train going on the final lap and catapulted Joe to his second place finish. The pace really got really quick and the pack was strung out a long way by time I got to the homestretch and I faded fast, unable to sprint. It was the first time I was passed at the line ever, and I took 30th place. It didn't feel good at all.

I was able to get a wealth of knowledge, however, and I am very glad I did both races. Talking with Kirby and Brian about how the winning move came together had me thinking about all three of my finishes for the remainder of the day. It's really about instinct, intuition, having the balls to make the first move, and stick with it even when you belatedly realize it's the wrong move.

If I may make a comparison, music is much the same dynamic. A bassist and drummer must have a very close (musical) relationship, entirely non-verbal, and based on trust. You need to feel the beat, know where it's going and be confident that when that fill comes out of your brain and out of your fingers onto the fret board, that it's finally realized out of the amplifier it is going to line-up perfectly with what the drummer has going on in her brain. It's almost impossible to do at first, but the very suble nuances between the two of you begin to form the basis of a commonality through rehearsal after rehearsal after rehearsal, and finally, at the risk of sounding hokey, you have a shared conciousness through sound and time.

What happened Sunday in the winning leadouts was much the same, a shared consciousness, this time realized through space and time. When you ride with the same people enough, you begin to know what you're all thinking.

"When you finally disconnect...the [race] will be different. There will be no obstacles. You'll see it like a canvas or piece of paper on which to express yourself." --- Bob Roll

"Guitarist Larry Coryell once told me that the spaces between the notes are as important as the notes themselves. So it is with bike racing; the time between attacks is vital to appreciate the game." --- John Derven

"The real race is not on the hot, paved roads...the off road course...the velodrome. It is in the electrochemical pathways of your mind." --- Alexi Grewal


Breaking the Seal

After doing the Matteson training races a couple weeks ago and getting my first taste of team tactics and being at the front of the pack, the seal apparently stayed broken for this weekend's trio of races. After making incremental gains in my placings during the first 3 races of my fledgling amateur racing career, late in the 2nd to last lap of the Spring Prairie Road Race I found myself in the front of the pack. The big question that has now reared it's head is: "now what?"

Josh Green and I drove to the race that morning in his sporty, little (little being the operative word) Beemer, and we arrived late due to a traffic accident just north of Chicago. With about a half hour until they called us to the line, we only had time to get our numbers, change, use the facilities and join the pack that was already staging. The neutral start was apparently all the warm-up Josh and I were going to get.

Even after all the discussion on the team webforum and seeing the race course and profile, I was still a bit mentally unprepared for the hill that greeted us before the bell rang. As with Snake Alley, I'm still glad I didn't really get a chance to think about it. The pack moved easy enough up th climb, the riders saving themselves, a few jockying for better position a bit within the right hand lane.

The race became official at the line and I was probably towards the back half of the pack. The speed was easy, the turns roomy, and altogether early on completely different than the criteriums I had been experiencing. During this first lap I concentrated only the carving good turns, noting the rough spots in the road, and marking other rides which I would passing as I worked farther up on the next few laps. The road was very smooth, and I was glad I'd changed my tires the night before in favor of the slicks. I had some problems at Snake and Matteson with rear-wheel traction (even with the 5's dry weather), but I was really sticking the turns today.

The first time up the hill wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. I've been working on my spin with my sprinting drills, and I am beginning to find a climbing rhythm. The next hurdle is to find the proper ratio and shift to ensure that your suplesse continues uninterrupted up the climb. When I happened upon a good ratio - by accident - I made the most ground up than at any point in the race. Passing someone on the hill is the best way to make your gains stick. Other times, I would stupidly downshift in mid 100% torque, my spin jerking like a dance party as the needle is scraped off of the record, and there would go two places, powering by me.

Nothing motivates me more at this point than passing someone on a climb. I am still too nice of a guy to be a successful racer, but I am working on it. Seeing someone quickly pass me as I am in the wrenching agony of three-quarters of the way up is like getting hit with a baseball bat. And when I can do it to someone else, it is one of those rare moments where I can express myself with confidence, power through pain with immediate gratification, and I grab at.

The mental challenge of the climb increased with each lap, however. I really had to zero in on my spin and visualize my bodymachine propelling faster and faster up the hill.

I see-saw-ed my way - two steps forward, one step back, towards the front. Usually after the turns. As I said, the gains on the climbs usually stuck. One of my favorite little quirks about the intense focus of racing within such a competitive pack is that you can pass a teammate, and then, thinking they're still behind you, pass them again. It's all a mass of constant fluid motion, your mind operating at a very base level of reaction. The only thoughts are of your next moves. As I have increased - and am now realizing - my physical abilities, it's dawned on my that physicality is only a very small percentage of racing. Is the mental game that is the biggest challenge. The hard part is now working to see your moves farther and farther ahead, and remaining patient and confident that they are correct. I now see more chess games in my future.

Right now the "seeing ahead" part is pretty much anticpating where the gaps are going to open and give me a space of which to move up. It's mentally where I have been spending most of my racing as I am working to move up most of the time. The starting positions have been less than optimal and, like I said, I'm a bit too much of a miquetoast early on, letting the pack swallow me up.

But eventually I was there to stay going into the last lap. The wind in my hair was alpine, rushing around me at the top of a mountain. Seeing the open road in front of me instead six of seven wheels was like looking out over a valley, miles below. And hearing the almost clinical chatter of my plotting, scheming teammates gave me a shiver of excitment.

And I was completely lost.

The nice guy in metried to get a place in the paceline, but not wanting to upset the fragile balance, I rode along the outside, sometimes in a draft, sometimes in the wind. Mark Watkins made a bit of idle chatter about the team ride last Saturday but when he heard my hyperventaliting reply, he told to me conversve my breath. I bated my time, waiting for something to just come to me. Maybe instinctively. Maybe not. It came in the form of Kevin's voice.

"You said you wanted to do some today, right?"

"Yeah," I responded breathlessly.

"Well, why don't you bridge up to the breakway?"

And there it was. I didn't think, didn't steel myself against any pain, I just exploded. A ridiculous flyer off the front was what happened. I didn't intend for it to be attack, I should have smoothly pulled to the front and accelerated the pack. But a physical outburst was dying to come out, and it was if I'd thrown an entire bucket of paint against the canvas, or I'd just held the guitar out and wildly strummed all the open strings at once. Dumb moves happen, I am learning, and once you've commited to it, stick with it anyways.

"Not so fast! Not so fast!" Jeff Watt yelled behind me, but I was already well on my way. I decelerated as the match began to burn out, and was soon in the draft of the 3 riders in the closest break. I looked behind me, and there was the pack, but my flyer had flipped a switch, and it was On Like Donkey Kong.

The pace accelerated greatly, and I stayed in the top 6 or 7 riders through the long fast descents, but at the third turn I was soon swallowed up by the front pack and firmly in the end game. Faster and faster we went. I had no computer on and I was now just an engine for my bike. There was no thinking in my head beyond hitting gaps and making up places. Just before the last turn and the hill, a long one opened up outside and I shot past at least 10 riders on another flyer. I shifted to the small ring, made the turn, and was on the hill for the last time.

I had found a good ratio and I passed two riders, keeping Jeff Holland, about four spaces ahead, in sight the whole time. Adam Clark (sing to the tune of the Beastie Boys' Shake your Rump: "My man Adam C's got legs like a billy goat! Ooooo-ah! Ooooooo-ah!") came shooting past me as though there wasn't a hill. The fatigue slammed me hard just before the top, but I kept spinning, only thinking don't let anyone pass. No pass you.

At the crest I made the rider in front of me my mark and got out of the saddle and sprinted as hard as I could. I luckily passed him before it was apparent I was going to run out of gas before the line so I sat back down and hammered hard, and then it was over. I was slumped over the handlebars, joyously gasping for air and suppressing my gag-reflex, with a 14th placing.

The race at the front is a completely different view. As the joke in Alaska goes, "unless you're the lead dog, the scenery never changes." That is the motivation I need to move from a pack rider, a sitter, to a leader on the front end, instictively making decisions that will effect the outcome of a race, and not be afftected by them through happenstance.

Physically I've got it to reach the front. Now, I just need the brains to stay there.



Tension is a tough nut to crack. It can destroy anything it touches, leaving the bodies of formerly healthy dynamics in its wake.

I usually avoid it all costs. I hate tension, and I always look for a back door to go around it or escape it. Because once tension is realized, it must resolved someway, because, as a dynamic itself, it is not a static thing. It can release slowly, as though air through a leaky valve, or the pressure will keep building until catastrophe strikes, as with an earthquake.

But tension can also be a useful tool for these same reasons. Because it demands resolution, it can be harnessed to improve the dissonance in the system that is causing it.

"Tension is good!" I said last Wednesday.

"No, it isn't!" was the reply.

There we were at a convergence of musical styles and it had pretty much finally come to a head. There was no more room for either side to move. We had a drummer who couldn't bring himself to lock into a set beat for any length of time for fear of stifling his own creativity, at a cost of not being rock solid for the performance. Two back up singers who could not sounded more different from each other. Both very talented, but one who was far more focused on her own sound, and really just having fun singing in a band. The vocals were a mess, the back up singers fighting with Rudy's lead and making chaos out of everything.

The dissonance was then multiplying across the group, making the sound very cloudy. It got worse when Rudy kept asking me to turn my bass down thinking it was I that was keeping him from hearing vocals clearly. It was the vocals themselves, the contrast in styles, that was causing that that problem, but I had problems of my own.

The drummer had yet to find the fills he wanted for each piece. Not that they shouldn't change, but I am a firm believer of dialing in and locking down that stuff as a performance nears. And there is nothing more frustrating and that will sour a relationship between a drummer and a bass player, which is an almost mythical bond, than when one of the two cannot play in time. I am at my most comfortable when I can feel that beat like a conveyor belt, and can literally see my musical phrase forming ahead, and place each idea, each note, right where it needs to be. But when you are still experimenting with beats and fills, still not sure of what is going to work, of course your time is going to have problems, and I don't think that should be done at all with a performance coming up.

The tension right after that rehearsal was so thick you could've eaten it in an ice cream cone. And there that little line of dialog was found. That tension needed to be resolved. We had finally reached the point of exasperation where trying to ignore or pussyfoot around the problem was pointless. I asked the other backing singer to address my concerns with the girl I thought was the problem. The drummer was another story. He just was not comfortable yet with locking in on a set of fills for each song. Even after ten months. With more simple music this may have been possible, but the songs Rudy writes for The Midnight Shows are pretty tight and require impeccable timing. It was here that we agreed we'd probably need a new drummer. One that will be able to set a beat and not deviate for a some weeks on end while we prepared for an upcoming show.

The gig this weekend was the final release. We played loose and free, thinking we'd not be accepted at The Cubby Bear, with their clueless, Cubs Fan Partier crowd. But, it turned out they were a lot more accepting of us than our supposed "real" audience of the Wicker Park hipster scene. They danced, they were drunk, they clapped, weren't afraid who saw them doing it, and they definitely wanted a LOT more. The sound tech gave us a very strong mix and the girls naturally backed way off.

At the Cubby Bear on Saturday night and me rocking some orange pants:

In rehearsal today we addressed the style differences, and focused hard on listening to one another. In college I myself experienced an epiphany when I realized I had to stop listening to myself and instead focus outward. It is there you will hear when you are not blending in, with either pitch or timbre.

It was pretty much an instant fix. The transparency that appeared made each sound in the band clear and available to everyone's ears and nobody had to fight with each other to be heard. Loren was even more focused on his time and playing with what was familiar in respect to the time.

We'll have to see how much we can keep the newfound dynamic. I know from experience it be tough not sliding back into old habits. But with vigilance, we may make it stick.

I think we just took ourselves to a new level this week.