Monday, November 29, 2010

how cool is this?

So last year one of my bike racing pals started up a seasonal business delivering Christmas trees by bicycle. It was so successful that he hired additional riders and is doing it again this year. He also added Chanukah candle delivery; and today I received three boxes of Chanukah candles at the shop, delivered by a nice young man clad in a stylish messenger bag. Yessssss!

Forget about the future -- bicycle delivery is the wave of the Right Now.

(Sadly, Chanukah is a floating-time-sensitive holiday -- it starts Wednesday night -- so Max is already out of candles for the year. Mark your calendar and plan ahead for 2011, when Chanukah will begin at sundown on December 11 and end at sundown on December 19.)

However, If you live in Portland and are in the market for a Christmas tree, this is one cool way to get your greenery. Give Max a call and set it up. (BTW, Max's riders are allowed to accept tips, so feel free to kick in a little extra when you get your tree.)

I promise your tree cannot possibly arrive in grander style than this, at least not in Portland.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


This weekend I had no racing scheduled. Thankfully, the deep-freeze of midweek had given way to warmer temperatures (mid-40's) so we got out and finished putting the garden to bed for the year. Not all of these pictures were taken this year, but this gives you the general idea of the steps to take to put a garden plot to bed for the winter:
1. remove any leftover, rotting vegetable plants, tomato cages and bean trellis;
2. weed as needed (a scuffle-hoe makes this easier);
3. lay down alternating layers of compost, cardboard (hose down if necessary -- this shot was taken 2 years ago in a dry spell -- we did not have to wet it down this year) and some kind of mulch material like leaves and/or straw over the top;
4. Let nature do the rest over the next few months, until planting time.

Believe it or not, that cardboard actually does degrade quite a lot during the winter -- especially if we get lots of rain and perhaps a good snowfall -- and by next April or May it will have become part of the enriched soil, nice and loamy and perfect for planting.

The great thing about gardening is that, in addition to growing our own vegetables I get some time to work out with other parts of my body besides my legs. Hauling multiple loads of compost and mulch and shoveling onto the beds is not a bad way to get outside and move around, especially with help from Sweetie.

Still, I hope to get in a short ride today. Of course.

Friday, November 26, 2010

the state vocational school of new york at albany

(Thanks to Grant Peterson at Rivendell Bicycle Works for turning me on to this letter.)

Colleges and universities all across the country are shrinking and even slashing programs in an effort to stop the fiscal bloodletting that is the result of a down economy. It's simple, really; humanities courses make virtually no money for a school, while the sciences rake in the big bucks in the form of large gifts and research grants. So it was no big surprise when the president of SUNY (State University of New York) - Albany announced last month that the decision had been made to completely eliminate several foreign language departments, the Classics department and the entire theater arts program from the university's course offerings.

There's just one very large problem with the logic behind this move: it assumes that the best way to run a university is to run it like a business, weighing everything offered against that most sacred of cows, The Bottom Line.

Gregory A Petsko, Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry at Brandeis University, wrote a scathing letter to the president of SUNY-Albany in response to this decision. It is long, and if you care at all about the state of education in this country, absolutely worth reading.

Full disclosure: I was a music education major when I began my college studies in the fall of 1981. I went to school for four or five years, until I couldn't afford to anymore, then I dropped out -- for almost 15 years. When I went back to college in the spring of 1999, teaching jobs in the arts had all but dried up across the West and there was no longer any point in pursuing a teaching degree. So I decided to simply complete my education, and specific job qualifications be damned. I was lucky; I came back to my school -- Portland State University -- at a time when there was still a rich and varied selection of humanities offerings. As a result, I could parlay my 15-year-old music credits (of which there were many) into what eventually became, on paper, a BA in Arts & Letters. In addition to the heavy concentration in Music, I was able to add a significant concentrations in Middle East Studies and Philosophy to my educational program. My course of study was fascinating, enriching, and gave me the focus to hone my existing skills and grow some new ones with a new sense of discipline and a surprising passion for learning. I finished my degree in the spring of 2001 and felt not exhausted, but invigorated by the experience. Today my diploma hangs on the wall in our home office and every time I look at it I smile. It's mine, this thing called an education; it's something I earned for myself and can call upon today, and no one can ever take it away from me. As the first person in my family to earn a University degree, I can tell you that my education is precious, a gift I gave to myself.

Today I am not a working musician or even a music teacher, but instead I'm a co-owner in a small retail business. Am I using the skills I developed in college? I would say yes, at least indirectly. I have to engage in cooperation with co-workers; use analytical thought to arrive at creative solutions to the daily challenges of running a small business; and discipline myself to seek out and develop as many new resources and tools as possible to help our business remain on stable ground. I no longer have to write lengthy research papers on the Arab-Israeli conflict or read endless chapters of Kant and Spinoza; but I would definitely not be as good at my work today without the time I spent in college, because it helped make me a more complete, thoughtful and well-rounded person.

The problem is that we are so fixated on the market value of everything we use, buy or do that we end up questioning our very motives and desires based on a time-money correlation. Time is NOT money. You can always make more money, but once you spend time, that's it. You can't get it back, or make more. This false correlation is hurting the quality of our educational systems, as more schools buy into courting the Bottom Line to the exclusion of entire programs of study. Worse, it's creating a divide between those who are educated and those who are not; and out of that grows a mistrust of the educated that discourages community and government support for educational institutions at every stage of life, from kindergarten to college.

Read Petsko's letter and see what you think. Consider how your education has helped you, directly and indirectly; and see how you continue to use it today. Then think about what you want the next generation's educational opportunities to look like, and how we can all help keep their choices varied and plentiful.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

gratitude is a state of mind

It seems a shame to reserve the Giving Of Thanks for only one day a year.
It seems especially a shame when that one day is slowly being eaten alive by the machinery of marketing for Halloween candy and Christmas gifts.
Still, it gives us -- most of us, at any rate, those who don't have to work today -- time to pause and think about what matters most in our lives, and to remind ourselves of just how much abundance we have in our lives.
Even if that abundance can't be materially measured (because of job loss/downsizing, the burden of too many bills to pay, health concerns and a host of other responsibilities and worries that can weigh us down to the point of being One With The Floor), it's still there.
The very capacity for living, for being, as my mom's hospice helper used to say, "upright and breathing", and all that means to each of us, is the first thing to be thankful for, this and every day.

There is a prayer observant Jews say every morning, before they swing their legs over the side of the bed, before they even sit up, a prayer for the moment you open your eyes and realize the most amazing thing of all: I'm still here. Basically, it goes something like, Thank You God, for giving me back my soul for another day of living.
Remembering the miraculousness of my being this thing called "alive" each day brings all the rest of my blessings -- and there are many -- into sharper focus. It makes those other blessings, I think, a little bit sweeter and more dear.
I am grateful that my soul is back in my body for another day -- so I get to enjoy everything else I have in this life. I am blessed with a loving partner; family and friends; meaningful (if not highly-paying) work; a way to use my skills and talents to help others; food on the table and a warm, dry place to live; and time and energy for my own pleasure. I try to sustain this gratitude all through the year by silently beginning each and every day with that little prayer. And although it seems corny as hell, it actually helps remind me of what's important.

What's important is being here.

I took a bike ride this morning. I usually go for a bike ride every Thanksgiving morning, a vain preventative measure against the Tryptophan lethargy I will know later in the day. This year, between recovering from all the racing I've done this fall and the intense cold of the last few days, my usual 20-mile loop around the lakes was out. I opted for a shorter ride around N-NE Portland to enjoy what was left of the fall colors and the new, always surprising bitterness of the first blast of winter air. It was exactly what I needed, and the focus brought about by my awareness of living, the snap of the frigid air in my nose and lungs, the motion of my legs turning perfect circles and the soft purr of my tires over damp pavement, the cold mist that partly obscured the downtown skyline from my vantage point on the Bluff, and the moss on the now mostly-bare trees above the Slough -- all contributed to some of the sweetest, loveliest miles I've ridden this year. I came home and gave Sweetie a big hug and kiss and the entire morning felt Completely Right.

May your gratitude be awakened in an excellent way this Thanksgiving, and may you find time and energy to sustain it through the year.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

i think i'm outgrowing extreme darkness.

I rode to a committee meeting this morning, after a light dusting of snow and plummeting temperatures last night presented me with streets that had icy patches all over the place. When I left the house it was an unusually cold [for Portland in November, anyway] 25 deg F. I found a slower-but-steady pedaling tempo and managed to make it to my meeting only a few minutes late after what felt like a pleasantly bracing ride. A co-worker who lives only blocks from me didn't make it to the meeting; apparently he was uncomfortable riding his skinny-tired bicycle on icy streets.

The temperature never got above 30 degrees all day. The pot-pie place down the street was so busy I had to get my lunch to go and eat it back at the shop. The air stung my cheeks. When it was time to go home, the same multiple layers of wool covered by a shell were suddenly no longer sufficient to keep me warm while riding -- and with the fall of darkness, my ability to see plummeted with the temperature.

I've had night-vision issues since I was a teenager, a non-intestinal manifestation (yes, they really call it that) of what would later be diagnosed as Crohn's. My night vision has gotten slowly and progressively worse over the years, but this was the first year that I noticed just how bad it had gotten. Roads I used to ride comfortably with ambient glow of street lights now became downright scary -- and with the icy patches that had never melted from this morning, those same streets were now absolutely nerve-wracking to ride. The glare from car lights only made things worse; glare blinds me at night, sometimes for up to five whole minutes until my eyes have readjusted enough to see again. The ice was still there, only now I couldn't see it.

So tonight, instead of a full commute, I rode downtown (taking the sidewalk on the Burnside Bridge because the bike lane was apparently completely covered with black ice). I hopped a MAX train to the light-rail stop closest to my house, still a good two mile ride from home. I wobbled nervously and felt my back wheel skid out from under me a few times in an icy patch I didn't see before rolling over it. Each time I would put my foot down to keep from falling. Then I would resume pedaling, peering vainly into the darkness of the next block and hoping another car wouldn't come from out of nowhere and blind me again.

I slowly made my way, carefully riding over the largest icy spots I couldn't safely thread my way around, until I finally arrived at home pretty much a nervous wreck -- and a sort of sad one. Because tonight I know that I will need to come up with some new transportation strategies, modifying my choices little by little as the aging process begins to get in my way. I am not depressed, exactly, but still sort of sad. I am my father's child, not someone to grow older gracefully but to go down fighting, screaming and shaking my fist in indignation at a world and a life where getting old may be part of someone's plan, but certainly not part of mine.

I can still ride at night, to be sure; in fact I can probably still ride home most nights of the year, especially if it's dry. I just can't ride every night anymore -- not on the icy, howling gale, or rain-stormy nights, not comfortably, not confidently and therefore not safely. So a small but powerfully perceptible piece of my fierce independence is changing, shrinking a tiny bit. And that is just one of those things that I knew was coming, but the knowledge doesn't make me feel much better.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

OBRA CX: evidence photos and random bits

(Evidence photos, taken by Craig Ruby)

1. At the starting line. The Womens' Singlespeed field was 15 strong...

2. ...and we got our own call-ups. How cool.

3. Pretty sure this was my second lap. This drop-down, the only one of the course, should have delighted me; but by the time my 1 pm race was underway, several previous heats had degraded the course to the point where there were no decent lines left and it got a little dangerous. Pick the wrong line and you'd go into the tree at the bottom left of the track. I watched someone do this on my first lap as I was on way out to that section and he hit it head-on, pretty hard. I missed the tree every time, but it was a blind drop until you were right over it and it was a little scary.

This morning my body is reminding me that actually, I did crash, during my warmup. It was near the end of my hot laps, I was feeling fairly loose and, in preparation for the curb hops that I knew were part of the course, I decided to hop the curb near the tent and Mielle's car. I mis-timed the hop-up of my rear wheel, the tire caught the slippery curb in just the right place and began to fishtail out from under me -- and I absolutely bit it. I landed on the grass just above the curb, partly on my hip and partly on my backside, against both the curb and the waterbottle in my jersey pocket. Ow! Still, I had to laugh, and I did, right out loud, turning heads and causing a few smiles among the onlookers who had witnessed what became my graceful attempt at a pratfall.

I assume there will be a bruise there at some point.

The rest of me feels quite tired, wiped out actually. Stompy is still in the shed, as dirty as when Mielle brought me home last night. If I don't get to it today -- and I may not, if it stays cold and I feel pooped -- then I will take it to work tomorrow and give it some TLC at the end of my shift.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

race report: OBRA Oregon State CX Championships, Salem

This will be a slightly truncated report, because my personal results were not spectacular and because tonight the tank is officially empty. I left it all out on the course: a very, very hard course, a brutal course, with mud-cum-paste, sickly slick off-camber switchbacks, and an absolutely soul-draining run-up (yes, I know, some people rode up it, but a lot of people did not, could not, and I fell into the latter group) that makes the Stagecoach Road at the Sherwood short-track course look like a freaking cakewalk. (If you remember, I rode up that one on my last lap, in 97-degree heat, after ingesting nearly half a pound of dust. This run-up was simply stupider, longer and harder.)

So to say that I suffered on this course would be an understatement. I suppose that, in the world of cyclocross, suffering to the point where your eyes fall out on the course is sort of the point (for some, it's the only point, but I digress). And if that was all that had happened it would've been fine. But on top of that, I came dangerously close to repeating an experience from my short-track season, where I was the absolute last person on the course and they were about to send off the next heat of racers. In this case, I was close enough to the end of my final lap that they went ahead and sent them off anyway, with two "sweep" riders (who were there to keep pre-riders from being on the course while a race was happening) riding behind me shouting encouragement, yelling at me to push and to keep going.

(A guess as to why this happened: on my second lap, at the top of this stupid, stupid run-up, I felt suddenly and dangerously short of breath, and was forced to pull off to one side so I could use my emergency inhaler. It took me fully three whole minutes to regain enough breath to continue, and I'm sure that lag-time contributed to my race result along with my walking sections of the aforementioned stupid, stupid run-up. Excuses? Sure, I guess. But the reality is that today I was racing at a state championship, in a category where I was in over my head, on a course where I was in waaaaaaay over my head. And all of that is probably why it went down this way.)

On the bright side of things, OBRA did give me credit for all of my laps and did not pull me, allowing me to finish my race. And although the going was very rough -- there were boggy sections of Nutella-like mud that gave even technical-loving ME pause, and would certainly have scared the crap out of someone coming from, say, southern California -- I managed to handle my bike reasonably well, not crashing once (though I did come close).

Another bright spot was watching friends race: Mielle, who is a freaking Rock Goddess on a steep, fast, upward trajectory to Superstardom and who kindly offered to transport me and Stompy to Salem today. (Thanks to her, I got to see how The Other Half races: a tent, chairs, a portable power-washer, and a nice comfy place to dump my stuff during the race. This is living!)
And Kristin, who raced Womens' Singlespeed and finished two spots out of last place, then immediately turned around and raced with Beginner Women where she got 8th out of 15 racers there. Ah, youth and strength are beautiful things to have in tandem and it was so great to see her enjoying the benefits of both all at once. She truly rocked it.

Finally -- and for me, this was the brightest spot of all -- there were 15 women on the starting line of the Womens' Singlespeed category today; the largest number to date and a definite sign that more race promoters really ought to make room for this category to blossom and grow. The fact that I got my head handed to me by some well-trained, super-fit, truly fast women did not bother me in the least; anyone who medaled today earned it on a crazy-hard course.
Once again I want to say Thank you to all the women who had enough faith to sign up for the category, and to the race promoter for including the category at the state championship race. Between today's showing and the fact that there will be National Champions' jerseys on the line in Bend for Mens' and Womens' Singlespeed categories, I am hopeful that Cross Crusade can find a way to include the category in next year's series.

My result: 15th place in a ridiculously talented and strong Womens' Singlespeed field.
I did not get many pictures at all, and few of them worth sharing; but I am hopeful that eventually some decent photos will surface on the Web that I might be able to download and share with family and friends.
Tonight, post-shower, dinner, a footrub (thank you, Sweetie!), hot tea and a teeny-tiny nip of vodka before bedtime, I am utterly completely spent, having expended a degree of energy and sheer will that I did not know I possessed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

callups for womens' SS tomorrow = stoked

Callups for tomorrow's OBRA cyclocross Championships were announced today.

Through the mathematical intersection of 2009 OBRA finishes, Cross Crusade series placements, and BAR (Best All-around Rider) points in various categories, they figure out who gets called by name to the starting line in each category. if your name isn't called then you line up behind everyone else who got called and fight your way forward somewhere on the course.

Since there has been no Womens' SS category at Cross Crusade, they had to use other information to compile a callup list, including overall BAR points and the series totals from the PIR short-track series (the only other big race series in Oregon to offer the category this year).

As a result, the callup order is pretty much the same order of placement for the short-track series overall. And so, for the first time in my short racing career, I will enjoy both a separate start for Singlespeed Women (and the attendant holeshot opportunity), meaning the absolute fantasticness of lining up with possibly a dozen other women all racing singlespeed bikes (yesss!); and the added pop! in the psyche of being called by name called to the starting line. Even if I finish last, it simply cannot get better than all of this.

Saturday's forecast for Salem and the Willamette Valley: Showers; low of 36, high of 43F.
Wardrobe: LS wool base layer, LS Bella jersey, Bella shorts with full-length leg-warmers (tights seemed like overkill above freezing), wool socks, neoprene gloves and a wool cap of some kind under my helmet. I hope I'll be warm enough.

I hope I can get a decent night's sleep. Excitement has officially overtaken nerves.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

baby, it's cold outside: help keep your neighbors warm

Fri Nov 19 Showers Sat Nov 20Showers Sun Nov 21Partly Cloudy
Showers 45°/38° Showers 45°/35° Partly Cloudy 42°/33°

At this time of year, we are besieged by five thousand different charities, all doing good work to help those less fortunate. Sure, there are great organizations helping folks get on bicycles, feeding them and helping them take care of their kids.

But when the weather turns really cold -- and it has finally begun to do so here in Oregon -- it gets harder for poor families to stay warm and therefore stay healthy. Choices must be made: Do I pay my [natural] gas bill or do I pay for my medications? Do I try to fix the [electric] baseboard heater or do I simply buy a heavier, warmer coat to wear indoors? Do I buy more oil for the furnace (yes, many Portland-area homes still use oil heat) or do I buy groceries?

So this year, all my charitable money went to one place: Oregon Heat. Oregon Heat accepts donations from folks who can afford to pay their heating bills, in order to subsidize the cost of heating for folks who cannot afford it. With the economy still in the crapper and unemployment in Portland hovering at nearly 10 per cent, more people will have a hard time paying the cost of staying warm this winter. So if you're a Portland-area reader of this blog, I invite you to consider making a contribution to Oregon Heat. If you live somewhere else, ask your local utility providers for electricity, natural gas or home heating oil if they have a subsidy program you can contribute to.

Being cold in the winter really, really sucks. I'm grateful that I'm in a position to help make it a little warmer for someone else in my community this year, and I invite you to do something similar where you live. Bundle up!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

hype of the week: 1984 spirit of atlanta

(File under: "Forget quality, rip my face off")

Seriously, these guys ARE quality. But back in the day, they were also the loudest damn drum corps in DCI. I was in Atlanta in the mid-80's, working part-time for my mom's company (Georgia-Pacific) and, in my free time, hanging out with some guys from the Georgia Tech band. We were helping out at the stadium during morning rehearsals for the DCI South Regional. When Spirit took the field and began to play, a guy next to me asked, "are these guys a Senior [over age 22] corps?"

"No," I answered, "they're a regular DCI [age 21 and under] corps. Why?"

"Because that's got to be the loudest damned corps ever."

That was Spirit. Whatever else they were good at -- and they were good -- they had a hornline so loud it could part hair, shatter windows, and crack the cement. The Senior drum corps, weekend units mostly back east for folks who'd aged out of Junior drum corps but couldn't stop playing, were traditionally known for being really loud. But Spirit could play louder -- and they were amazingly clean. One time, the rumor goes, they played in a parking lot, pointed their horns at a rival's tour bus, and made one of the tires explode. It's just a rumor, but now you know why a whole generation of drum corps alumni are walking around with hearing aids today.

The volume of Spirit's hornline in the 1980's is sort of like cyclocross is now -- it's exciting, utterly ridiculous, and therefore a little dangerous, the kind of dangerous that makes you grin crazily even as you take chances with your health and safety. Listening to Spirit Of Atlanta in those days was, like racing cyclocross now, probably an OSHA violation.

So crank it up, and enjoy having your face ripped off.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

hot laps through north portland

Going to OBRA Championships next week involved staying home from Barton Park today.
The deal was that I wanted to attend an event later today with Sweetie and I could not do that and race at 2 pm at Barton Park. After considering all my options, I decided to skip Barton altogether and race next weekend.
Never mind that Barton Park is the final race of the Cross Crusade series; or that at least two different outdoor sports shows are covering the race for future broadcast; or that Barton is one of the best courses in the series. If had gone to Barton Park today I'd be racing in Womens' Master 45+. But by skipping it, I get to race next weekend in a Womens' Singlespeed category that OBRA has seen fit to award state championship medals for. We will get our own start, and perhaps our own chance at a holeshot before they send the next round of racers off.

Is it worth it?

I had a window of free time this morning, while Sweetie ran errands in preparation for our event tonight. So I dressed, embrocated, and pulled out Stompy for a short, brisk ride around North Portland. I decided that, after a brief stretch, I'd hop on and go wherever Stompy told me to. I ended up doing a very large hot lap out to Willamette Blvd along Rosa Parks, then did a big loop around Overlook and back towards Ainsworth. Then I looped all the way around again, not quite as hot but still at a fairly brisk pace. A couple of these laps allowed me to clear my head, breathe hard and admire the last of the brilliant fall colors still on the trees. By the time I finally rolled back to Woodlawn Park, I decided not to go hard in the mud and wet grass, but to save it for a short mid-week session if time allowed. I arrive home, having ridden hard if not terribly far; and feeling much better.

Ahhhh. Better now.

Friday, November 12, 2010

product review: showers pass club pro jacket

alpenrose 10-3
Originally uploaded by periwinklekog

(Note: this is an unsolicited review.)

In short, the Showers Pass Club Pro jacket, a revision of the company's original Club jacket, is a good example of a company using feedback from users to improve a product.

I tested the Club jacket two years ago, and passed it around for a couple of my co-workers to try as well. Our conclusion was that the feel of the fabric and the very race-oriented fit would not serve our customers very well, and we opted not to carry the jacket in our product line that year. I shared our findings with the folks at Showers Pass, and they responded with a significantly improved version of the Club jacket, now called the Club Pro. Since I was due for a new rain jacket (my 15-year-old Burley having finally given up the ghost), I decided to buy one for myself and try it out. I have ridden about two hundred commuting miles in the jacket so far.

My only complaint is that the pit-zips were redesigned so that they run below the armpit and just behind the chest at an angle, rather than in line with the underarm seam the way most jackets have them positioned. I find this location for the zipper to be much harder to manage with one hand, and I either have to risk riding no-hands in traffic or pull over and stop to adjust my ventilation there. Since I'm not actually racing while wearing the jacket, it's a minor issue; but if I was in a situation where I needed to be able to work the zipper one-handed every time, I'd probably be bothered more by this change.

--Fabric has a better hand inside and out and appears to be more durable than that used for the old Club jacket; It is also surprisingly breathable considering the material used, yet repels water very well. All seams are sealed with what appears to be a durable tape.
--Zippers are all sealed and include pull-tabs with a tiny spot of rubber or silicon melted into the tab for extra grippiness -- ideal when trying to use the zipper while wearing gloves.
--Better color choices than the old Club (that neon orange HAD to go; and if you don't like the neon yellow now offered, the jacket also comes in a deep sea blue in mens' cut and a pastel blue in womens' cut).
--Good reflective striping and accents all around (however, the rear horizontal stripe tends to get lost when the rider is wearing a shoulder bag or backpack, so perhaps a little more reflectivity on neck and/or sleeve is in order).
--Best of all, the fit was changed to be a little boxier and roomier, allowing for more layering options in cold weather and also fitting wider-hipped bike commuters who aren't necessarily "athletes". At the time we ordered our jackets for stock we chose to carry only the mens' cut, and I was pleased to find that a mens' medium fits me without any trouble. The front side pockets are also a more commuter-oriented feature that I appreciate, yet they don't make the jacket appear especially bulky. (We have since added a small number of the womens' size to accommodate our more petite riders.)
--Overall this is a good-looking, bicycle-specific garment that could just as easily be worn around town as a windbreaker or rain shell.

The jacket retails for $100.00, which is now considered the more affordable end of the range for a bike-specific jacket. Based on all the features offered in this attractive package, I think it's a good buy for the money.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

how big is too big? questions for OBRA and USA Cycling

A discussion has come up on the OBRA mailing list that speaks to the incredible growth of cyclocross participation. OBRA officials do an incredible job of keeping track of the largest start fields in US Cyclocross, sometimes under ridiculous conditions (racers at Hillsboro were hosed down as they completed their final lap to remove mud from their numbers). But it's only going to get harder to manage so many racers at a one-day event, and current discussions are focusing on electronic timing chips as a way to more easily process a rider's final placement in a field where there could easily be over 300 people on the course in any given hour.

I think the larger issue is a question of how much OBRA really wants to grow the sport, and in what way.

If we are seeing 1,700 racers at Alpenrose on opening day of Cross Crusade, that's an overwhelming number of racers to handle in one day -- and not only from a tracking standpoint, but from a safety standpoint as well. Can you imagine what PIR [road] crits would look like if there were 200 women in your race, and there were three womens' fields running simultaneously on the oval at any given time?

Last week, the Juniors got their own race slot, without adults on the course. They liked it more, and so did the adults who didn't have to race with them. But there are only so many hours of daylight for a race day, and I fear that we will approach a crtical mass with the sport -- especially with 'cross -- that will require OBRA to take steps to stem growth. I kicked these ideas around with a friend and am putting them out here:

--offer online pre-reg ONLY with a strict deadline, after which no one can sign up to race. NO on-course or day-of-race registration. Limited numbers of racers on the course for each start time. This is harsh but may prove necessary; USA Cycling is already enforcing something like this for Cross Nats (apparently, Cat 4's can't race for a jersey anymore) and I think it will catch on at the regional level. (USA Cycling recently added a national champion's jersey for Singlespeed cyclocross at the 2010 Cross Nats, meaning that even the grass-roots, homegrown discipline of singlespeed racing will now have rules and regulations to limit and control participation at the elite level.)

--limited numbers of racers being allowed to upgrade at a time, to avoid overfilling a category (I see this mostly as an issue with talented Beginners moving quickly to B's or A's, rather than Master C's moving to Master B's, but it's still an idea).

--Novice-only events where skill-building is the focus and then skills testing allows you to sign up for other races (similar to pro baseball's Rookie League in the minors). This would require more folks to stop up as event organizers and/or sponsors and may not be practical from either a logistical or financial standpoint, but the need is certainly there.

--A careful and nuanced discussion of exactly whom the target group is as far as attracting new participants to bike racing. If we restrict registration at races we run the risk of discouraging potential new participants. If we don't restrict registration then we will see larger and larger start fields at Alpenrose and elsewhere, until the start fields become completely unmanageable and unsafe.

So I think the tech thing matters, but I also think OBRA needs to ask itself how big they want to be. Certainly, I was taken aback at my first cyclocross race. I adapted, dealt with it and survived. I went on to love participating in the sport. But I will never make a podium or set the world on fire; at what point does participation by someone like me need to be sacrificed (or at least severely limited) in the name of safety and/or common sense?

This begs the stickier question about USA Cycling, the national organization that sanctions bike racing in most regions of the US (except for Oregon and a couple of other place which have their own independent organizations).
What is USA Cycling FOR? Is it to encourage participation in bike racing as a fun, healthy sport with friendly competition between racers of all ages and skill levels; or is it to find and groom the very best racers for international competition where large purses and possibly endorsements are at stake? Is it possible -- or, admittedly, desirable -- for USA Cycling to do both?

We certainly can make room for everyone to participate in bicycle racing who wants to -- there are millions of kids playing Youth Soccer, Pop Warner football and Little League baseball across the country and somehow we seem to make room for all of them. How can we best manage the mere thousands (by comparison) who want to participate in bicycle racing and create a system that is fair, equitable and continues to welcome new people to the sport?


Monday, November 8, 2010

hillsboro evidence and results; future racing plans

Cyclocrossers of the Serengeti, engaging in the ritual bike wash at the communal watering hole:

(Special thanks to Einer Traa for the photo)

Results are in: I placed 28th out of 31 racers in Masters' Women 45+.
Over half of us managed three laps on a tough, muddy and long course.
I had a fantastic race experience and couldn't be more pleased.

I also had to make a decision about my next races. I was originally going to race at Barton Park next week but there's another event that I really want to go to the same day; and I would have had to race with Beginner Men in the morning in order to be at both events with transportation and clean-up time in between.

Then, Mielle told me that the OBRA State Championship race, which will be on November 20th in Salem, will offer a separate category for Womens' Singlespeed. To say that I had a Pavlovian response to this news would be an understatement.

Finally, Sweetie reminded me that we needed to dig a third bed and put the other two vegetable plots away for the winter; and, um, we really need to do that before it becomes winter for real. I looked out the window at our little garden and knew it needed some serious love, in the form of compost, cardboard, straw and some heavy lifting.

My choice became clear. I knew I would have to skip the Barton Park race and stay home next weekend, and try to make it to the OBRA race the weekend after that. I am still trying to score an ideal ride situation to and from Salem but I think that will happen soon. I am truly sorry to miss Barton, it's a really fun course and I was going to go out with my bike buddy Maria. But I need to maintain The Balance, and sometimes juggling all the pieces means I have to drop one.

So I am officially done with Cross Crusade this year. I am glad I went out on such an excellent note! I hope to make it to OBRA Championships, where I'm pretty sure there will be more than three women in the Womens' Singlespeed race and a medal is not such a sure thing by any means. I am still committed to (and signed up for) USGP-Portland next month, after which that will definitely be IT. (Hopefully, my bike -- whose bottom bracket and hubs are beginning to sound horrible, in spite of my best efforts, will make it to December 5th.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

race report: cross crusade # 7, hillsboro

Yesterday, I wasn't sure I'd be up for racing. I'd had some cargo-hauling rides at work the previous week, had not ridden at all last weekend and was feeling strangely unexcited about my race. That all changed when I unloaded my bike at the Washington County fairgrounds and saw the mud.

Instead of a blow-by-blow, I'll just share some key points from the day:

1. The mud began as a sort of paste, similar in texture to Nutella (which was being offered folded into waffles at one of the booths). I watched as several races preceding mine degraded the mud bit by bit, and then a gloriously heavy shower did the rest of the job, turning the mud into snot-slick happiness, punctuated here and there by several sections of soupy goop several inches deep.

2. Race Organizers listened and brought out the famous Cross Crusade Six-Pack; all six orange barriers lined up in succession on one of the straightaways near the sheep barns. I hate running, and I hate barriers, but I ran or at least jogged them on every lap, all six, every time. They sucked.

3a. The course, which was flat, should have been fast, and on a drier day it would've been (in which case my race would have completely sucked). But the mud was the great equalizer. On flat, long stretches without too much mud, the roadies passed me handily and basically ruled the roost. But -- joy of joys -- as soon as we hit the deep mud, quite a few of them suffered, and I found I could just power through the mess and keep going.

3b. Once again, I had the unbelievable and exquisite experience of passing other riders. In a race. In most cases, it was a roadie-turned-crosser who would get ahead of me, then get bogged down in the mud, then fishtail or almost endo over her bars because something jammed up and she panicked on the brakes or otherwise lost control of her bike; meanwhile, I would politely call out which side I was passing her on, stand up and stomp on my pedals, and push through the mud. It wasn't pretty and it certainly wasn't fast, but it was fun.

3c. Best moment of the race was when I politely passed a rider who almost endo'd in the thick, gloppy mud, and I managed to not only avoid tripping over her but stayed upright through the slippery part and saved myself from fishtailing out. A guy on his still-filthy bike looked on and shouted out, "Niiiice! Way to maneuver, singlespeed!" It was my last lap and I was pooped, but I glowed all the same.

4. Another Hillsboro race, another five broken derailleurs and a dozen dropped chains. It happens. So far it hasn't happened to me. (I am spitting superstitiously on the Evil Eye as I type this...) In one case, the derailleur snapped so hard it bent a friend's derailleur hanger, and she will need to take her frame in for some work. Yikes. I should mention that the combination of mud, water and -- get this -- sawdust (laid down through one of the barns to reduce slippage on the wet concrete underneath) was probably to blame for most of the mechanicals. Honestly, with this much mud, I don't now why anyone would race with a multi-geared bike. And I was thrilled at how many women I saw racing on singlespeeds in various categories.

5. The final lap finished with a chute, into which riders were directed two at a time, so that those whose numbers were completely obliterated by the mud could have the number squirted down with a water bottle for the officials to record.

6. The line for the free hose was simply too long. I was too cheap to pay someone to carefully and professionally power-wash my bike (and he had a line for his services as well). Twenty yards away was a nice deep muddy puddle. Five of us decided to skip the hoses and the line, and we all gently dropped our bikes into the puddle and splashed off the worst of the mud before heading out. It was cold, wet, hilarious and surprisingly effective of you took your time.

Inyo, the Wonder-Dog and his person Joel were gracious hosts and lovely company for the carpool trip to and from Hillsboro.

I do not have results yet but there were at least thirty women in Master 45's alone today and easily over 1,000 racers in all categories; so probably results won't be up until tomorrow afternoon at least. I managed three tough laps (each lap was a little over 2 miles long) and finished strong -- and crash-free. I will assume that I finished last in my category. The key is that I finished, and I am satisfied customer.

I am hopeful that someone got pictures of the womens' race. Inyo had had enough of the sensory overload (and the frustration of all that beautiful open field space and not being able to run amok), so we left as soon as I was cleaned up and I didn't stay for the end of the A's race.
I did manage to get some photos of the Master C's, Master B's and Juniors which show parts of the course pretty well. They can be found here. (Scroll down to the seventh row from the bottom of the set for the beginning of the Hillsboro pictures.)

Tonight I am tired in that really excellent way, the way of having exerted myself and powered through to a strong, satisfying finish. The racing was hard but it felt so good. And I was thrilled to discover that, when the conditions degrade, I seem to have more fun, even if I'm not any faster.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

a memory

April 1975. I am twelve years old and living in Gresham, Oregon, recently arrived from Concord, California. I am the New Kid. In spite of how much I get made fun of for my boyish looks and dress, for my adult vocabulary and 12th-grade reading level, and for my utter ineptitude at ball-centric, team sports, I love riding my bike and my skateboard everywhere. The skateboard I ride in downtown Portland, where the boys can't see me or make fun of me. Skateboarding is not a girl thing in 1975, and I am the only girl I know who rides one. On the rare occasions I take my board to school, I sneak it there in two overlapped shopping bags and leave it in my locker until after school, then I skate the beautifully paved playground area alone.

On Saturday mornings, I ride into downtown Gresham on my cheap Huffy BMX-copy bike (it is pink with black trim, and has a coaster brake! Ugh! SO pathetic). I arrive at the tall dirt berms, like little cliffs, really, that overlook the back of the Gresham K-Mart. I spend the morning trying to keep up with the boys on their real BMX bikes, with names like GT, Redline, Mongoose. I lust after their bikes, and envy their fearlessness; they are jumping off an improvised ramp made from a stolen road sign and two-by-fours, positioned at the edge of a steep drop-in, and getting massive air. I avoid the ramp -- too scary for me -- and stick to the whoops and the rhythm section, trying to go faster and faster on each lap and to find the perfect line through the banked corners that the grownups' motorcycles have carved into the clay-rich soil.

Mount Hood looms in the distance, the sun rising from behind the silhouette of the mountain and lighting up the dirt as we ride harder and harder, wearing ourselves out in that immortal-youth way. The boys watch me for a time, and return to their jumps. We tolerate each other but do not interact much. They are mostly from blue-collar backgrounds, with stay-at-home mothers, and fathers who work in construction and metal fabrication and drink Budweiser or Oly and watch football on the weekend. My parents are professional musicians from big eastern cities, mad for books; they are lovers of art, music and culture who take me and my sister to plays and galleries. At home, I listen to rock and roll with my sister and I listen to Broadway soundtracks, opera and jazz with my parents. My father's idea of a great drink is a very rare glass of Merlot with dinner. My parents don't understand my desire to be more like the children of construction workers, outdoorsy and rugged and "ordinary", or my sorrow at never being able to fit into the fabric of our sturdily American suburb. My parents don't fit in, and neither do I. But I keep showing up at the berms behind K-Mart to ride my shitty little Huffy in the dirt and after awhile the boys get used to me, and to my preference for pretend-racing over tricks. A few will eventually race me, and almost always win. They are stronger and faster than me, but no one seems to mind my being there. We're all just there to ride bikes. The Saturdays go quickly and the summer flies by.

One weekend, someone's dad brings an odd contraption in the back of his pickup truck. It's a homemade start gate, a cobbled-together copy of the ones found at the BMX tracks. It's rickety, made of sheet metal scraps and a wood frame, but it has slots for three bikes, a throw-lever and it works just like the real thing.

We help him set it up on the improvised course, and for the rest of that glorious afternoon, we practice standing starts and going for something the dad calls the "holeshot". I discover that I'm not bad at standing starts, my balance is actually quite good; but my holeshot needs work. By the later afternoon, I have beaten a couple of the boys to the holeshot out of the three-man gate and I am getting the hang of it. I am having fun. The boys aren't sure what to do with a girl who beats any of them to the holeshot, I can see the confusion on their faces, but we all keep riding.

At length, the father who brought the gate takes me aside and gently suggests, with a kind smile, that it might be more fun for me to go find some girls my age to hang out with. I totally get his tone; what he really means, and is not saying, is that it would be better for his son and the other boys if I left. The truth is that girls my age are cruel, manipulative and do not trust or like someone like me; they have made it plain time and again at school and I do not waste my time on them anymore. I thank the father politely and return to riding the berms. I show up a few more Saturdays after that, but now other fathers are showing up, fathers who would not know what to make of my father if they ever met him (but who himself would never spend a morning on the berms next to the Gresham K-Mart). Their presence changes the game, reinforces the idea that BMX, at least in this time and place, is strictly a boys' club. Their presence changes the way the boys interact with me. By late August the situation is intolerable; the boys who once welcomed me with neutrality now yell at me to get out of their way, they call me names and their fathers don't reprimand them. The last straw comes when one of the youngest boys, a scrappy 8-year-old, calls me a vulgar, R-rated name in front of his father, tells me to get lost, and kicks me in the shin for good measure. The father does nothing; I see a tiny hint of a smile start to form at the corners of his mouth as his son storms off in annoyance. Other boys and their fathers stare at me, waiting for something to happen.

I say nothing. Surrounded by all those boys and men, I don't even try to defend myself against the kick. I simply resettle my glasses on my nose, pick up my bike, hop on, and ride home. When I am two blocks from K-Mart, the tears flow and the sobs rack my chest but I keep pedaling. I go home, park my bike in the garage and shut myself up in my bedroom, to cry myself to sleep. I tell my parents I don't feel well and I miss dinner that evening. I don't try to explain to my parents what happened. I'm not entirely sure I can explain it to myself.

I don't go to the berms on Saturdays anymore. Instead, I go on Sunday mornings, very early, while all the boys and their mullet-haired, ripple-muscled fathers are at church. I ride alone, and wonder if there will ever be a time when I can enjoy riding bikes with others who won't chase me off. I keep going back to the berms on Sunday mornings well past the start of the school year, up until the end of October when it finally gets too cold and wet to ride my fake-BMX bike there.

I cannot know then that one day I will find a whole bunch of folks who love to ride bikes as much as I do, and who not only don't chase me off, but welcome me with open arms. It has taken 35 years, but today I have found those people, and I am happy; and believe it or not, that actually makes up for what went before, at the Gresham K-Mart all those years ago.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

hype of the week: 1984 velvet knights

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I do this for fun. I go out and ride as fast as I can, and even though my "fast" is everyone else's slow, I do my best anyway. And when I finish in last place again, it's important to retain some perspective, and remind myself that I do this for fun.

This week's hype is for what promises to be a flat, fast Hillsboro course (where I will ride until my eyeballs fall out and still finish DFL), and for drum corps fans of, well, a certain age. Ideally, you should be old enough to remember vinyl. There's lots of very sly, subtle humor all over the place; but the vinyl reference ought to be enough (near the end of the tune, after it goes into hyperdrive). And above all, it's about having fun.

BONUS: If you hang in there for the entire 3-plus minutes, then you can enjoy this treat below. Drum corps fan will need no explanation. Everyone else: it's VK's drum majors at Retreat (where they annouce winner of the contest, very formal and ritualistic), being assisted by the way-more-uptight Blue Devils drum majors. Have fun.

Monday, November 1, 2010

are we capable of more?

Tomorrow is Election Day in the United States. Those of us who haven't already voted-by-mail (it's good to be an Oregonian) will cast ballots for measures concerning school and library funding, property tax adjustments and whether or not to completely legalize and regulate small amounts of marijuana. We will also vote for whom we want to represent us in the halls of power in our state capitols and in Washington, DC.

I am unimpressed by the Tea Party. They may win tomorrow (at least according to the pundits), but it will be temporary, the way all election outcomes are temporary. A recent editorial in the New York Times suggests that if the Democrats lose big tomorrow in Congressional races, it will serve them well when Barack Obama runs for reelection in 2012. The rationale behind this pap that passes for sophisticated political strategy is that we need a bad guy as a political focal point, something to rally the voters (and donors) around in anger and rage. According to this line of reasoning, if the Democrats become the enemy in 2010, that means Obama stands a better chance of looking like a hero by 2012, after the Republicans have had a couple of years to screw things up again (or more, depending on your outlook).

In short, thanks to a two-and-only-two-party political system, a dumbed-down American educational system, and our historic mythology of absolute, utter independence on both a collective and personal level, Americans are either unwilling -- or, more likely, truly unable -- to have a national discussion about anything that is more nuanced than good guys versus bad guys. Take away the white and black cowboy hats and an alarming number of us cannot participate in anything resembling real political discourse, which would include the many complexities involved in our most pressing national issues, and which would require the utmost patience to solve in the long term. American voters and politicians generally suck at thinking longer-term.

That's why I vote while holding my nose. Not because my vote only has so much reach (and realistically, it's not a lot); but because we are too big, too ungovernable, and too historically independent and short-sighted a nation to ever be capable of deeper, more thoughtful, and more patient political discourse -- and our current political system reflects that.

Here's a thought: if, assuming that a two-party system incapable of coalition-building simply swings back and forth between two parties, each taking its turn at being in charge for ten to thirty years, what's to stop anyone from voting contrarian? That is, go ahead and vote for the guy you don't want, help him get into office now and muck things up sooner, so that he can show his idiocy and get voted out again that much more quickly. It's a cynical tack, of course, but who cares? What does my vote really matter when I'm one of hundreds of thousands, or of millions? The only thing that can be guaranteed in our system is a real lack of continuity over more than a generation or two, before someone else takes control and changes course. If we can't change the system, why not just accelerate it a bit? The idea is that, by pushing the river just a little, we may live long enough to see at least some real progress before the next crop of dumb bastards steps in to mess it up again. Because the real truth is that, in addition to being undereducated about the political system and unable to form original political thoughts, most Americans are also unbelievably fickle. We are nation of Cecil B. DeMille crowd scenes, and if you don't believe me, go back and watch the videos from the Tea Party and Jon Stewart rallies, respectively, and see how each brightly-clad mob made their statement, their fantastic scene, for the cameras.

This past weekend I saw a performance of a stage adaptation of the Kurosawa film Throne of Blood, which was itself an adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth. In Throne of Blood, the action is transplanted from 12th-century Scotland to 16th-century feudal Japan, and although the adaptation uses none of Shakespeare's lines it uses the visual and physical techniques of Japanese Noh theater to drive home the same point. The tale is a familiar one, with a lesson: absolute power corrupts absolutely, in one way or another, and leaves a messy trail of destroyed relationships and lives in its wake.

In the Japanese version of the Macbeth story, political power passes quickly and violently. Soldiers who support Washizu in his quest for ever-bigger spoils -- first the North Garrison, then Spider Web Castle -- ultimately turn on him when his corruption becomes too great for even them to bear. In the modern United States power passes peacefully -- albeit expensively, as zillions of dollars are spent on advertising instead of on solutions to the national crises of hunger, poverty, and racial and social injustice. We would rather not have to participate in -- or even see -- the bloodletting and self-compromise that is a part of the power game called politics. So, in exchange for electing others to do the dirty work (and paying them handsomely for their trouble) while we stay safely removed from the mess, we can sleep soundly at night. Or at least we get to tell ourselves that we can. So we vote, and get on with our lives, and ignore the great disconnect involved in the enterprise. And another generation of our nation's worst problems -- poverty, hunger, inequality -- go unsolved on our watch.