Monday, February 18, 2013

Sleep is only a memory to me now...I stare at the ceiling as my mind plays "What if it snows like it did last year?"

The Robert Service poem that I plan to call upon in my memory should things start to go very wrong for me as I navigate the southern aspects of the famed Iditarod Trail...

“When you're lost in the Wild, and you're scared as a child,
And Death looks you bang in the eye,
And you're sore as a boil, it’s according to Hoyle
To cock your revolver and . . . die.
But the Code of a Man says: "Fight all you can,"
And self-dissolution is barred.
In hunger and woe, oh, it’s easy to blow . . .
It’s the hell-served-for-breakfast that’s hard. 

"You're sick of the game!" Well, now that’s a shame.
You're young and you're brave and you're bright.
"You've had a raw deal!" I know — but don't squeal,
Buck up, do your damnedest, and fight.
It’s the plugging away that will win you the day,
So don't be a piker, old pard!
Just draw on your grit, it’s so easy to quit.
It’s the keeping-your chin-up that’s hard. 

It’s easy to cry that you're beaten — and die;
It’s easy to crawfish and crawl;
But to fight and to fight when hope’s out of sight — 
Why that’s the best game of them all!

And though you come out of each gruelling bout,
All broken and battered and scarred,
Just have one more try — it’s dead easy to die,
It’s the keeping-on-living that’s hard.” 
 Robert W. Service

Sunday, February 10, 2013

I do not sleep anymore...I lay awake and think of THE LAST FRONTIER

Whilst many of my contemporaries fret about calorie parameters, lithium batteries, and the pro/cons of compression socks...In contrast, As I prepare for the true EPIC that is the Alaskan Iditarod Trail Invitational, I find great comfort in re-reading Jack London short stories

"He did not complain. It was the way of life, and it was just. He had been born close to the earth, close to the earth had he lived, and the law thereof was not new to him. It was the law of all flesh. Nature was not kindly to the flesh. She had no concern for that concrete thing called the individual. Her interest lay in the species, the race. This was the deepest abstraction old Koskoosh's barbaric mind was capable of, but he grasped it firmly. He saw it exemplified in all life. The rise of the sap, the bursting greenness of the willow bud, the fall of the yellow leaf -- in this alone was told the whole history." From a short story by Jack London 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Help me........

Self-loathing intensifies as a Mountain of Fear approaches…A retrospective piece on the precipitous decline of a once proud man…and the epic Iditarod trail that impassively lays in wait for his arrival…Pray for this man’s wretched soul.

Part I: My Year of Discontent…a contextual addendum to get the reader up to speed on my lack of progress

2012 was not a good year for me in terms of athletic performances.  I love a good old fashioned physical challenge, so like all of my many years, the cycling season began with great expectations, high hopes for deeds of valor and honor.  I day dreamed, as I often do, of remarkable feats of athleticism, kisses from beautiful podium girls, and huge hits off of huge bottles of champagne that awaited me… I drank a toast to the New Year whilst comfortably ensconced next to a roaring fire in a small cabin in the Northwoods near Ironwood, Michigan. The future looked good.  I reasoned that 2012 would be my break out year, the year the pundits would come to regret their years of silence and neglect when it came to the telling (and retelling) of my ascension into cycling lore…My application to that rarefied membership within the pantheon of the cycling legends would now finally earn the scrutiny it so deserved…
January ushered in the classic Arrowhead 135, but instead of turning in a respectable effort, I went out way too fast, (thinking I could ride with the likes of Jay Petervary and the Alaskans) and subsequently lost a brief, weak-willed battle with a troupe of motivated sleep demons not far out from leaving the half-way point.  Soon the proverbial white flag went up and I went down into the warm embrace of my sleeping bag.  Swaddled in luxurious goose-down, I was out for the count, I awoke some eight hours later, packed up, and then sheepishly rode the rest of the way to the finish.  My pathetic effort allowed me to finish way way way back.  Strike One.

My next big effort at securing honor came with the classic Tran-Iowa that commences in late April.  Having already survived a couple of these manly tests and thus fully aware of the pain and suffering involved with finishing, even when the conditions are good, I was completely overwhelmed by the terrible rains and incessant winds leading up to start.  Ardent in my quest to not suffer from the spears and arrows of the tempestuous weather, I packed heavy and thus paid a heavy price for my unwieldy load. As usual, caught up in the moment, I started off too fast and then soon began to falter.  Small groups of functionally integrated riders came and went, but I was never able to find my rhythm.  Not long after a group of four or five had finally dropped me, in late afternoon, some ten hours into it, I made a fatal mistake in route finding and become hopelessly lost.  It was dark by the time I made the last Check Point, within mere minutes of the cut-off time.  I forged onward, but I knew it was folly.  I was going through the motions, I had to walk every hill, I had nothing in the tank, nothing...  A couple hours later, in a merciful act, a friend of mine and under the direction of the fabled race-director (G-Ted) picked me up and drove me back to Grinnell. When I got back to my car I was too depleted to drink a Kalamazoo Stout; thatz how wasted I was!  Strike Two. 

During the late Spring and Summer seasons I raced a respectable number of long distance events and did Okay, but noting to warrant Honor or adoration.  For example, I rode my Pugsley (as a single-speed) down at the 24 Hours @ Red Wing and finished in the top ten but in terms of laps completed I was way way way back when compared to Charles Parsons and a couple of the other top performers.

By early fall, my ego was clearly shaken as a man without honor or glory is a forsaken man with no real friends or direction. In desperation, I launched a plan that would involve racing a series of trail running events that are conducted each autumn on several of the picturesque trails in and around Duluth. I am not much of a runner, I find the endeavor somewhat cowardly (a man should not run away, he should “stand his ground”), but my kid likes to run, so I figured that in order for the plan to work, I’d have to feign a desire to compete as a foot-runner. 

The scheme ultimately involved a bet with my twelve year daughter.  Details included that the both of us had to compete in five of the Wednesday night races.  If I won the majority of the races, my daughter would act as my loyal servant for the whole month of November as well as conceding to contently sit and watch my favorite PBS shows without complaint or negative commentary.  Duties would involve her having to respond immediately to my every whim or wish at night from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. For instance, if I wanted a beer from the fridge or a bowl of ice cream whilst viewing my favorite show (Antiques Road-Show) all I would have to do would be to make my commands know to her and she would have to fulfill my directive. If she won the majority of the races I would have to pay her $100. 

The first race was a 10K held on the Lester River ski trails (with a small portion of the GOGGS single-track added in).  It was a warm day so my comprehensive plan involved a three pronged strategy: 1.) I would discourage off-spring from drinking any fluids before and during the race by feigning to forget to bring adequate hydration; 2.) en-route to the race I would begin a series of verbal assaults, albeit subtly delivered in a manner that would give the impression that I was concerned for her well-being. The oration would be designed to weaken her resolve and to get her thinking that the distance was simply too far for a “pre-teen” girl to achieve.  One line went like this, “Dear child of mine, this is the longest and most difficult race in the series and it is also very hot out.  Combined with the fact that I forgot to bring us any fluids, please do not feel bad if you feel the need to quit the race, for no matter what the outcome we shall always love you:” 3.) I would tactically start behind her and closely track her efforts, towards the end of the race, (which for us would take nearly an hour) I would blow past her on a hill and then turn and give her “The Look.”  She would be psychologically crushed and I would fly to an easy victory. 

In hindsight, I felt overly optimistic waiting for the gun to go off.   The only glitch was that the race organizers had brought water and even though I conveyed to her the age-old wisdom of my high school football coaches that one should never swallow water before the big game, instead only “swirl the water around and then spit out lest one want severe leg cramps,” she eagerly drank down the forbidden fluid.  The gun went off and the hundred or so runners took off.  She fell in with a good group of older women runners which allowed me to follow at the tail in and yet keep an eye on the progress.  The pace was hard for me as I am not a runner, my only experience with running is from the cops, I feel running is un-American.  Soon I was getting gapped, the distance between me and my daughter’s group was expanding before my very eyes.  You know the feeling—you’re working as hard as you can just to hold on to the peloton. All the other pack-riders are laughing and telling jokes, but you are gasping for air…I make a concerted effort at a surge forward to catch back up…

Suddenly some kind of mischievous wood gnome stabbed a dagger deep into my left calf muscle.  The pain was unbelievable. I attempted to soldier onward, but I could only muster a kind of tottering motion…Old old women and men caught up and passed me.  Toward the very end of the throng of runners, one dear old lady that was “power-walking” stopped and offered to call the race official (she was married to him) so that he could come retrieve me on his four-wheeler.  I humbly declined and yet as if to rub salt into my wounds, she called out,” I tell them that you dropped out.  Don’t feel bad you will get better. I didn’t start working out ‘til I was sixty” 

I dragged my useless leg back to the start/finish line to find my daughter in very high spirits.  Strike three.

Postscript: I was out for the whole series with a torn calf muscle.  As if to further hurt me, My kid used her $100 to buy two pairs of those super tight jeans that all the girls are now wearing….

To be continued………