Friday, February 15, 2008

When bad things happen to bad that bad?

Part II…To the cabin or Don Quixote swallowed up in quick sand…

People, who even remotely know me, know that I am an eternal optimist to a fault. If I imagine there is an infinitesimal chance that things will go well; if I see a glimmer of a probability that things will go my way, then I am eager, without any further cognizance, planning, or forethought, to bet the farm and go for it! This approach to life is why I am the consummate happy-go-lucky amateur, as surely a professional would have figured out the pitfalls of such a philosophy long before he or she had gotten to this point. Now this is a race recap for a specific event, namely the AH 135, not a platform from which to communicate the myriad of occasions in which I have gotten myself into trouble by only seeing the metaphorical glass of beer half-full (it’s a metaphor because I drink beer really fast and so with me, the glass is almost always empty). Yet, a quick browse down thru this blog-site will offer plenty of recent examples of an amateur’s self-induced folly, not to mention the decades worth of ill conceived, albeit cheery-eyed plans-gone-awry that most of my buddies and ex-buddies can bear witness to. I know this is reading like a rant, however, I am going to get back to the race recap shortly, I just felt a little background on my avant-garde decision-making methodology may be helpful to the readers in understanding why while everybody else came to the Arrow Head Ball donning the Large Marges coupled with flamboyant Endomorphs, I showed up dressed conservatively in a 29er equipped with a lightweight 19 mm Mavic Open Pro wheel-set designed for cyclocross racing affixed to the same ensemble that I rely on in attending many summer weddings and other important spring/fall socials. Essentially, upon reflection my plan for success was all based on the slimmest of hopes…that the course would be just like the ones in my dreams!

In terms of my general approach to bike racing, it is this chronic propensity toward quixotesque optimism that always sends me franticly to the front of the pack once the gun goes off. Like the proverbial cookie jar, I just can’t help myself, I know better, I know I am gonna crash & burn and yet I get myself so darn excited and I start hearing and seeing in my deluded brain all that inspirational Madison-Avenue hype; you know, like when they are trying to sell ya life insurance and they start playing motivational music, depicting great-looking people doing wonderful, awe-inspiring things, and then a majestic voice is overlaid preaching about how you too can do or be anything that you want to do or be, as long as you really try your best and really really believe that you can do it or if you believe hard enough you can be anything, maybe even the President or a center in the NBA… (And of course, you will need to buy their insurance to cinch the deal, as well). So I start every race really believing that even though most, if not all, of the guyz lined up next to me are way better athletes, younger and way more fit, way smarter, with better genes, better equipment, better diets, more money, higher G.P.A.s, superior cardiovascular systems, clearer consciences, healthier moral convictions, less clogged arteries, superior livers, more patriotic, better balance, bigger muscles, faster fast twitch muscles and slower slow twitch muscles and yet I still maintain there is a pretty good chance, well maybe not “good” but there is a chance, however slight, that if everything goes well for me (and really bad for everybody else) I could bloody-well win the race! With the start of the 2008 Arrowhead 135, my mindset was no different; looking around and having studied the roster, I was well aware of the fact that I lining up against better people than me, people that are pillars of their perspective communities, people of integrity, athletic people, people that work for a living; yet I still lined up thinking I had a shot. What if Pramann’s frame breaks, what if Gray is viciously attacked by feral cats, what if Joel takes the wrong turn? What if they all get desperately and hopelessly lost?

Even though a quick check of trail conditions on Sunday near the Gateway store had indicated a soft and squirrely trail, I dismissed it as an abnormal sampling tainted by the fact that the examined trail segment was too close to several major thoroughfares to provide an accurate assessment of conditions. The idea about the high-traffic causing the loose snow appealed to me and so quickly manifested into a even higher appealing and self-satisfying hypothesis that hinged on the premise that just a few mere yards ahead from my flawed sample, the trail would be significantly harder and therefore icy fast and perfect for my trusty Gunnar 29er and the light weight wheel/tire set. If the course was set up hard and fast, I would enjoy a major weight advantage in that even the lightest Pugsley’s would be 20 lbs heavier than my ride. After all for the last few weeks in Duluth (nearly 140 miles south) I had been riding my cross bike on trails that were rock-hard fast. I had so convinced myself of this dubious theory that I was really surprised when Dave P. conveyed to me his intention to forgo his record-setting Bontrager mountain bike for the snow bike.

I tried not to let it bother me, but Monday dawned warm and humid, plus in the overnight nearly two inches of snow had fallen. Although I had hoped to get all the bikers to start together at 8:00 a.m., most riders started earlier. Next year I hope we can get more of a real bike race start put back together. Digression Alert! The Arrowhead 135 is billed as a race and when all’s said and done, if you are on a bike, it’s a bike race; not a sojourn for truth, not a personal odyssey, not a spiritual journey, not even an individual time trail…it is a bike race! According to Webster, the term “race” is defined as “a contest between two or more people seeking to do or reach the same thing, or do or reach something first…” I know that the logistics make it tough to get everybody there at the same time and Cheryl and Pierre always do a great job dealing with transports. In 2007 with the frigid temps, it was tough if not impossible, but this year with the mild weather, the bikers should have been able, on their own and without negatively affecting the other competitors, to figure out and agree upon a consensual starting time. I’m telling ya dear reader, in my world, one of the best aspects of bike racing is the START and then the immediate subsequent lead group and chase groups that form. For example, there are few things in life that can compare with the sheer excitement of the start of both the Ore-to-Shore and the Chequamegan 40. Getting in there real tight and forming a cohesive organic pack, living the dream, pretending you’re in the Tour!!! Taking pulls, taking turns at the front, relaxing while in the middle, slapping other guys’ butts, bumping wheels, knowing full well that in the very near future someone is going to make a break; its all top notch stuff, the stuff of dreams!!!!…and its an essential part of bike racing and the first 10 to 15 miles of the Arrowhead is a perfect course for putting together a fast string of bikers.

Four of us did start together including Dave P, Greg P, and Dave S. and it was a blast trying to hold Pramann’s wheel. We all took turns at the front, but Dave P and Greg P were clearly the strongest in the group. That Dave P was strong was no surprise, but I remember thinking, “Who put the quarter in Greg!” I also recall at one point early in the race when Dave S and I were riding in the back, pulling off of the front two, we looked at each other and we were both smiling, total thumbs up…I remember thinking, “What a great kid!” For lack of a better descriptor, it was SWEEEET! Although, the sweetness soon enough turned bitter for by about 10:00 a.m. the temps rose well above freezing and I started to “melt along with the snow.”

And so it goes…for alas, all good things come to an end and therefore with about two and half hours into it, like the BEATLES, we all split up to ponder our own inadequacies, failings, and of course our futures as solo performers. By the time I got to the Gateway store, some forty miles down the line, I was already 46 minutes behind Dave P and I knew that racing near the front was over for me. So I sat up and started to concentrate on pedaling a smooth even cadence with the goal being to find a nice enduro-rhythm that would get me to the half-way cabin. But I was still optimistic as the second half of the course is the real test and if the temps sufficiently dropped, I would still have a chance at a top five finish. It was fun riding into the cabin; I remember humming the theme from the Wizard of Oz. It was appropriate because there were segments of the trail that made me think of that classic cinematic climactic moment (CCCM ) when Dorothy inadvertently threw the water on the Wicked Witch of the West, "You cur-sed brat!, look what you've done!, I'm melting!" "What a world! "Who would've thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness!" Joel passed me and was very pleasant as he sped away and then Terry Brannick came by at an impressive pace and was equally sociable. In both cases, I attempted to put evil spells on them, but to no avail. When Terry went by, in desperation, I even looked skyward for some kind of malevolent intervention, I recall uttering in a whisper, "I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!” but again to no avail. No scary flying monkeys came to carry him off!

Anyway, I see-sawed for a time with a most impressive skier, Phillip Finzel. I would out distance him on the flats and the descents and then he would catch me up on the hills. On every round, we would exchange pleasantries and I’d like to think that I helped in a small way with his record ski effort by offering him some comic relief as on two occasions I crashed the Gunnar while he was in sight, one in particular sent me diving into the woods which caused even this stoic, focused, extraordinary athlete to momentarily chuckle!

Greg, then Don, then Lance all caught me as I floundered towards the redemptive cabin. I very much enjoyed seeing Greg and Don as they embody the yang in my Yin and Yang! Not far behind this duo was Lance Andre. He was in need of a stiff drink, so I offered him a pull off of my camelbak. He was very gracious, I must say that he is a fine man and that I look forward to riding the Trans Iowa with him in just a couple of months. All four of us arrived at the half way point within about thirty minutes…”Come in, she said, I’ll give you... shelter from the storm.” To be continued…

Part III...A working draft on an appropriate title for the second and third halves-- Death and transformation or When in doubt, take a nap…..

Feeding the Rat: 3 hours and 5 minutes all on single track (where else can you do that but in Duluth, MN!) with 10 below temps...perfect training for the Trans Iowa, baby!

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