Monday, June 25, 2012

Fate plays no favorites...

“Fate determines many things, no matter how we struggle.”
Amid a beautiful landscape and a bicycle race that is pure and simple, today’s themes include wishful thinking, desire, desperation, defiance in the face of certain cruel fate, and gaps between reality and fantasy.
The Chequemegon 100 is the quintessential grassroots cross-country mountain bike race.  It is a free, back-to-the-basics mountain bike race, devoid of all the surreal and frivolous trappings of the for-profit operations that afford the masses a myriad of various categories, distances, and trinkets to hang around their necks.  And yet, encouragingly, despite its lack of fanfare, it attracts many of the Midwest’s finest bike racers.  It crosses through nearly one hundred miles of amazing single track that is the obvious result of tremendous labor and attention to detail.  The CAMBA trails are a treasure to behold.  This is simply a great event!
So there is little wonder that the beginning of this race day brought forth great optimism even for an aging cyclist that has endured for seemingly endless months a slump in performance that would shake up even the most stalwart of men.  On such a day, on such a course, anything is possible!…Such was his soaring mindset as this once proud man made his way to the starting line…But alas…“Fate is the endless chain of causation, whereby things are; the reason or formula by which the world goes on.”
As he confidently rode his steel steed to the start line that lay a couple kilometers down a gravel road, he regaled a throng of youthful confidants of past heroics, little did he suspect that a large and evil stone would jump out and bite his rear wheel, breaking a spoke on a wheel that only had twenty-four to begin with… suddenly what had been a moment of great expectation turned to a moment of nervous trepidation.
The wheel had been compromised and he knew deep in his psyche that he would pay for this transgression.  He knew the truth behind the adage that “All things are subject to decay and when fate summons, even monarchs must obey.” In other words…
He knew that one can only ”go with ones fate, but not beyond. Beyond leads to dark places.“  But a healthy human mind is an optimistic organ and thus he searched for the kind of public comment that would bolster his chances for a compromised wheel that would hold together for a hundred miles of single track riding at race pace.  The youthful Jay Barre, perhaps feeling pity for the aged one, offered up a hopeful insight, “if you ride light and avoid any big hits, you should be alright.” Another offered, “just ride like Scotty Kylander-Johnson or Todd McFadden, you know, ride like a pro and you’ll be fine.” He, of course, rejected any mention of the fact that the lightweight wheel was doomed. One guy, a realist, stated the obvious, “Charlie there is no way that wheel is gonna hold, especially the way you hit stuff.”
So the die was cast.  But the author could not help but recall the wise words of the Buddha: “I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.” He knew that he must at least give it go.  And thankfully the wheel did hold for over sixty miles during which the rider was treated to a most excellent experience including riding with many old and new friends.  Then abruptly, he hit a boulder and two other spokes snapped and the wheel went too wobbly to continue on the course.  A kind Samaritan stopped and manhandled the wheel to a semi-circle enabling the rider to continue pedaling, albeit a lot of rubbing of rubber on the frame.
The good news is that he still made nearly nine hours in the saddle as he was able to gingerly ride the bike back to the start via a series of ATV/gravel roads to Seeley and then back to the start via Highway 63 to Cable and then back to Lakewoods Resort.
History shows us that other highly developed forms of civilization have collapsed. Who knows whether the same fate does not await our own? Things fall apart...
A sincere and enthusiastic THANK YOU to the Salsa Guyz that put on this wonderful event!!!! 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Perfect Script: Levis-Trow

Levis does not disappoint.

The course is fun, challenging, and follows the classic script or recipe of a great Hollywood movie. 

·         Act 1: The first four to five miles is where the plot development occurs. Its light and playful consisting of fast turns and quick dodge moves between trees. Here is where they “hook” you.  The characters are assigned roles. The riders are having fun and optimism soars.  At the start the geared community took off. Leaving my buddy Jason Buffington as the pacesetter whilst Martin Rudnick and I gave chase.  Like any great Hollywood classic this segment of the course builds interest, optimism, and momentum.

     Act 2: Miles Six through Nine…Now that the story is Set-Up with the basic characters and the challenge of the story, a great film has to focus on creating lots of Conflict and Increasingly Difficult Obstacles for your main characters to overcome. This is typically the hardest part to write because you have to makes sure that it builds upon itself and doesn’t become repetitive. Here Levis shines as the course heads up into a series of steep climbs and wild descents along a ridge lined with limestone cliffs. Act 2 is where the real story begins. The climbs are tough on the first couple of laps and then become nearly impossible on the middle laps and then simply impassable for the writer on the last two laps. Jason was running a 32X20 and given his amazing strength he was able to ride most of the hills for the entire race. I was pushing a 34X20 and I was forced to walk the steepest three hills on the last four laps. Act 2 is hard, but fun. As stated above there are steep climbs, two of them are so steep that one is not dishonored by simply walking them.  The audience is compelled to be empathetic and compassionate in the second act. They see the angles of ascents and they are rightly led to believe that only true maestros are able to ride through such terrain. While the audience marvels at Buffington's ability to climb the headwalls, they can more closely identify with those that are forced to walk (like me). They also delight in the fast and furious descents through wild Lord of the Rings-like stone towers.

·         Act 3: Miles Nine through Twelve…”Your Third Act starts with a turning point and builds to the Climax of the story with the big confrontation between your main character and their opposition.  This is where your character either achieves his or her goal or fails — usually it’s best to have them win.” On the Levis course herein lies what my friend and training partner, Tim Ek, refer to as the Valley of Tears.  In this grim place is where the writer meets with the big confrontation.  Years ago in the Valley of Tears, Eki and I were slowly, with weary heads held in shame, walking up an incline when a youthful Jesse Lalonde came by us so fast that he had a “rooster tail” flying in his wake! The juxtaposition was of such weight that we both quietly wept tears of indignity. History, of course, repeats itself especially for the maladapted. So it should come as little surprise, that this segment nearly broke me once again on one of the the latter laps of the race.  I believe it was Lap Six; I was forced to dismount and attempt to relieve myself as I felt a sudden burning sensation reminiscent of chapping in the private area.  In doing so I wobbled and fell…rolling down the side of the hill with my once proud manhood exposed. But alas the man-thing has shriveled to that of a prepubescent child’s so the task was more involved. To add to the humiliation, a group of 50-Mile riders suddenly approached as I wavered there in the wood, hands at the ready to do my duty, bike well above me on the race trail. The group was forced to stop as my bike was blocking their right-of-way.  One man looked down upon me and sternly inquired, “Is this your bike?“Yes, I am sorry, I have fallen and I…” But before I could finish, he matter-of-factly pushed my bike off the trail and they all took off.  So sad…

·         Final Act: After the climax, then you have the Resolution to show how it all works out and things get back to a basic, simple life again. Of course, I am but a bit player.  Buffington goes on the win the single speed class in perfect form.  He also takes fourth overall losing to the second place overall finisher by less than ten minutes.  And yet I too am a winner as I have the wonderful opportunity to ride with Martin Rudnick for several laps and I also very much enjoyed my time with Buffington as well.  

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Tribute to Loki

In troubled times, I have always found solace in writing for it helps me descramble my thoughts into coherency. It seems to me that one cannot truly understand a complex sentiment, such as grief, without writing about it. Perhaps this explains the sociological necessity of writing obituaries.

Our beloved Loki, the Man-dog, collided and was killed last Monday (by a motorist) as he flew across Superior Street in hot pursuit of his buddy.  Essentially, in an effort to follow Tim Ek and me, as we embarked on a training road ride, Loki made the impulsive and fatal decision to take a whopping electrical shock from the invisible fence that surrounds our yard as payment for the right to run with us.  We thought that we had trained him to stay put as he had consistently resisted the urge to bolt across the fence for the last few months. He was very smart and had repeatedly demonstrated that he had made his peace with that damned invisible fence, but at that moment he just could not contain his desire to run.  Of course, I had no idea that Loki had jumped through the electrical fence and was chasing us full speed ahead until I heard that horrible albeit unmistakable sound of a car desperately skidding to avoid a collision. It was a terrible scene that I shall never forget. 
Loki was a magnificent companion that even in his youthfulness possessed the kind of endurance that is hard to fathom unless one is knowledgeable about the ├╝ber-abilities of Alaskan Sled Dogs.  His father, Hobo, was a famous multiple Iditarod winner and member of the Dog Sled Hall of Fame and his mother is a multiple participate in the John Beargrease race held here in Duluth.  Even as a puppy of barely sixteen months, for hours Loki could tirelessly lope at fifteen to eighteen miles-an-hour along the Lester Ski Trails while I would frantically try to keep up on my mountain bike. Then in an instant he could ramp it up accelerating to a speed that was a marvel to watch as he left me in the dust.  It was simply amazing to watch him run; it was like watching an Olympic athlete. His efficient gait and fluid motion reminded me of the running motion of a greyhound, but he also possessed a great leaping ability as well. He seemed to love bounding and leaping through techy single-track. I often caught myself in silent awe as I spied him flying through the dense woods.  He ran with an unbridled joy that was so natural and so thrilling to observe that if was an undeniable conclusion that he loved to run as fast and wild as he could go. Sometimes he was forget he was a pet and he would bound off in search of his wild brethren, but he always quickly returned, if not a bit sheepishly.  Perhaps with age his zealotry for speed may have been tempered, but I doubt it. In short, in the eighteen months that we were together I never ceased to be astonished and wholly impressed by his sheer physical abilities. Yet, he was much more than a highly gifted athlete. Loki was not just a dumb jock.

Loki was the full package. He was very bright and a quick learner, graduating number one in his class at the Arrowhead Dog Training Academy (while maybe not number one, but clearly in the top echelon).  Loki was also a very affectionate dog that was always pumped to see his friends.  He was easy to spoil and we did so with gusto. My wife fed him a doggy dream diet including raw meats, lots of big raw bone treats,  and even occasionally a sip of good ale (to keep his blood thin, he loved Kalamazoo Stout). My daughter loved Loki and Loki returned the favor unconditionally. She would come home each afternoon from school and release him from his spacious outdoor kennel and take him for a nice walk around the neighborhood.  Then on most weekdays, after work, I would load him up in my car and we would go run/ride/ski on the many local mountain bike, hiking, or ski trails. It is certainly true that the quality of my training decreased when we adopted Loki, but I was content to make the change.  At my age and stage in life having a great training partner like Loki is more important to me than seeking to pursue personal bests in cycling.  The fact of the manner is that I simply had begun to really enjoy my time in the woods with my dog, more so than grinding out miles alone on the road. 
My wife, Crystal, also relished her trail running forays with Loki.  It was often the case that she would leave the house grumbling about having to run the dog only to return all pumped up about some adventure she had experienced while chasing Loki. It was more than once that she would enjoy double sessions running with Loki.  At night she would affix a light to Loki’s collar and they would head out for a long walk along the shores of Lake Superior. Loki was ALWAYS up for a dose of exercise.  Loki knew that Crystal was the one to go to when on that rare late night or early morning that he had to go outside to relieve himself. He would, without fail, saunter into our bedroom around 5:00 a.m. and wake us up by licking our faces. Once done with us he would move to Sophie’s room.  It was a morning ritual that we grew to cherish.  He was a great dog.

At indicated above, Loki had made peace with the invisible fence.  This truce was made easier to comply with because throughout the afternoon and the weekends Loki would entertain a wide assortment of canine visitors.  It was not uncommon for Loki to receive visits for five or six different dogs during an average evening and many more on the weekends.  He was not the Alpha male and instead simply loved to chase and be chased by other dogs or by Sophie and her friends.  The outpouring of condolences has been truly remarkable and represents further evidence of his impact. 
Loki was a great dog.