Thursday, December 22, 2005

The legend of Dan

The subtitle to this piece should be, "proof that 98% of us are nothing but whinning, puke-faced punks." Anyways, this is about a buddy of mine who just might be the toughest motherfucker I've ever known, or at least he's the bravest.

Dan was my best friend in high school and we've kept the connection all these years, through thick and thin--and believe me, there has been a shitload of both. Dan never raced bikes, but he passed along an object lesson once and told me to share it with my bike racing buddies when they needed to ask themselves the question ("the" question being, am I really hurt or am I just being a pussy?).

In high school, Dan was one of the studs of the football team. He was one of those 200-lb kids who knocked people on their ass on the line and then come spring he had the speed to run one of the legs of the 400 relay for the track team. I thought about that every time I got my ass kicked by some big-legged sprinter in a crit. Dan would have made one hell of a crit rider. And I'd probably have him talked into it by now, but a few years back he found out he had a congenital liver disease. The folks at the Mayo told him he indeed had inherited the disease that killed his mother and that he would need a liver transplant ASAP. But that wasn't the worse news they had for him.

They told him his liver condition had damaged his heart to the point that he would need a new one of those as well. My buddy wouldn't live too much longer without a double organ transplant. How's that for perspective?

By the time the Mayo found a donor, the disease had done some peripheral nerve damage. The grip in his hands seemed to manifest this the most and he had trouble with many mundane tasks. When he finally checked in for the transplant, he also had lost a lot of muscle mass. They did the heart first and had to sew him back up without the new liver because his new heart wouldn't kick off on its own while he was under what they menacingly referred to as a "drug-induced coma."

Recovering from open-heart surgery is a baby-step process. Energy is almost an abstract term and strength you pretty much get only in your dreams. Add to that the nerve damage that Dan still had and, well, suffice it to say . . . well I could go on and on about that, but I'll just give you the thing he told me to tell all my bike racer buddies to think about when they thought they had it bad.

In his weakened state and with the reduced grip in his hands due to the nerve damage, Dan said that when he took a shit, before he could wipe his ass he had to spit on his leg and rub his hand in the spit so that the paper would stick to his hand enough so that it wouldn't fall off when he reached back to wipe. So he told me to tell all you guys that when you're in a race or out on a ride and you think you have it bad, that I knew a guy who had to spit on his leg just so's he could wipe his ass. So there you have it.

About six months after his heart transplant, Dan got a new liver. All that was four years and one wife ago and Dan's doing okay. Since then he raised his nephew and put him through high school and has moved on with life. Another thing about Dan is that in addition to being a fine athlete, we voted him "wittiest" in high school and he has never lost that omnipresent sense of humor. Weight loss and appetite is a very real problem for people who've gone through procedures like this, and the last time I saw Dan he was ecstatic that he had resumed a life-long love affair with cheeseburgers. Later.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The True Meaning

It's that time of year. We get slapped up side the head with the continuum of the true meaning of what supposedly happened one night a couple thousand years ago. Yes, it's true that this phenomenon defines, indicts, convicts and uplifts our society. It is simultaneously all things to all people--a damn handy phenomenon at the very least. If it didn't exist, someone would have to invent it just so's we could make it through another day without ripping each other to shreds. And that brings us to what is truly on our minds here at the 2nd Church of Gravity, because this season also ushers in the wonder, the doubt, the questioning, as in . . . "tell me again why the hell I'm pulling on ten layers of shit just so's I can go ride my freakin' bike."

There are many reasons to do this, but really only one that wins the day--really only one that will get you out of that warm bed and house and onto that cold, hard pavement. For your health won't do it. Your new year's resolution won't do it. That new weight loss program can find another way. Lookin' good in lycra becomes a joke with the second layer. There's only one that works: you honestly want to race, come springtime.

This, then, becomes the true meaning of racing: it gets you out on the bike many, many times more than you otherwise would.

I tried to explain this to my dear non-cycling-non-racing friend, Shannan, at a dinner party the other night. She said that since I was going out for three-hour rides in the cold, that I no longer had the license to bitch about the cold. I told her that it wasn't that I enjoyed going out there, cause I don't, but I had to do it. I told her I know lots of guys who would love to race and go fast come springtime, but guess what? Springtime is when they start riding.

Shit don't work that way at the altar of gravity.

There are a lot of members I haven't seen at church in a while. But I'm sure they'll show up soon enough. Columbia's youth class is looking downright righteous. Columbia's patron saint of pain, Ethan Froese, has schooled these kids right. They are learning that old-time religion. This year, it will be fun to see what these kids accomplish. If they continue to worship faithfully, Nolan and his possee, Jan and Luke, will have some fun this season. Those boys are gettin' fast. When some of those tardy members finally do show up for worship, they are gonna be very surprised by the progress of these young brothers.

It is written: if the children keep showing up for the winter noon poundage, there will be some hurtin' egos come springtime.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Druber + Kathy

I gotta give a shout out to my man Big Mark Swartzendruber (say that ten times fast). I just found out that he and the lovely Kathy just runned off and got hitched up. Off course they both are old enough to know better, and to know how for that matter, so it probably is a good bet.

Mark races for Turin over Illinois way. He use to do the Mack-the-knife two-step, but Mark's a quick study and it only took him a season or so to realize a man is judged by the company he keeps. There are some faster guys around, but you won't see many sub-20-pound bike frames with more horsepower strapped onto the saddle. And he writes a damn fine racing column for, for which he catches a bit of grief from racers who are devoid of either a sense of humor or a sense of honor or a sense of perspective or some combination of the three.

Big Mark's one of the only people about whom I truly can say I liked him from the moment I met him. And don't try to coax an admission out of him, but the man loves to race. He's a player. Nuptiality will not change that. I know some guys just like him who walk the line (sorry, Mr. Cash) and have to negotiate, whine, bribe, lie, cheat and steal just so's they can genuflect at the altar of the Second Church of Gravity. If history is any indication, Mark will not have to do this. If history holds, I will see two things the next time I see big Mark: Him with a number pinned on and absolutely punishing a crankset, and lovely Kathy on the sideline flashing that 1,000-watt smile. Here's to you, dear friends. Later.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Green. That's what I was at cyclocross nats. Never raced in conditions like that. Huge fields and a singletrack course of half-frozen mud ruts. The middle section looped back and forth through a series of big bowls that made for some very tricky descents, sharp climbs and off-camber stuff. Where the sun saw the course, the ice ruts filled with really nasty water. Every runup and barrier section looked like a feedlot for livestock.

Tough conditions, sure, but not impossible. In fact, a lot of people went pretty damn fast. The conditions were the same for everyone, but it sure helped to know what the hell you were doing. You could see the guys who knew that. From the start they knew they had an advantage. They knew how to go fast on this shit. Some women went pretty damn fast, as well.

But most people didn't go fast. A lot of people took mud baths, even some of the people who were going fast. Tilford (who won the 45-49) likes to say you don't know how fast you can take a corner until you crash out in it. Honestly, though, I never went down when I was on the bike. All my mud meals came when I was off the bike running around someone who had gone down. It was that slick in some places.

So I managed 14th place in my category. Not the top-ten I hoped for, but honestly all I could come up with on this day. I was riding it much better the last few laps, but by then I was so far off the podium and so damn wet and cold that I was just hanging on for whatever I was sittin' in. The guys who know what they're doing know that you will be in this mode after the first couple of laps. The dude who won my category (Dan Norton) didn't pull on his tenth stars-n-strips cross jersey through luck or just because he's that much better than anyone else. The asshole has the recipe and all the ingredients. We'll see, Goddamnit.

By far the best move I made all weekend was to take a pair of rubber waders. They were absolutely perfect. They gripped the icy stuff and kept out both the wet and the cold stuff. In conditions like these, when you're wearing a pair of these, you truly feel superior to everyone who is not. Those boots were Muhfuggin' MOJO!

And speaking of perfunctory equipment, if you ride with Butthead, go to an electronics store and get him a headset for his umbilical cord (cell phone). That way he can stay constantly connected to all that is familiar to him while simultaneously keeping both hands on the wheel. If using a cell while you drive ever becomes illegal, after about his eighth ticket, Butthead may be talking baby talk to a different kind of bubba, if you catch my drift. I can hear Butthead describing his crime to his fellow inmates: "Yeah, that cop mouthed off and I had to punch her--er, I mean, him, right out, yeah, right, that's the ticket. I punched out a big cop. How big? Well, Mr. Bubba, sir, I mean not as big as you, but he was big enough, allright. What's that? Have I ever seen a man as big as you totally naked? Well, no, sir, not exactly, but did I tell you my doggie is named Bubba? No, I didn't mean to insinuate that you were a dog, sir. Yes, of course, you're an attractive man. How attractive? Ummmm, by any chance you don't happen to have a computer that you need some help with, do you, please? Oh God, please!"

Now that's what you call green. Later.

Friday, December 09, 2005


So we're here at the national cross champs. We're staying on a freakin' island. It's beuti-fucking-ful here. It's yuppie paradise. We're in downtown Newport, which is right out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Downtown all the shops look like those fuckin' catalogs you always get in the mail and you can't afford any of the shit, but it looks great on all the beautiful models. This place we're staying is like way, way out of our price range. It's like a freakin' mansion for Chrissakes. I could describe it, but suffice it to say the rooms go for like $250 a night. But it's out of season now and no one is here but Butthead and me. Mike Weiss hooked us up with these friends of his who own this place and we are mighty beholden to him. But right now it's nightime and this place is huge and I'm afraid Butthead might have one of those Shining moments. I swear if the fucker starts writing a lot of shit I'm gonna pay attention and if it's some version of "All work and no play makes Joshie a dull boy," I'm gonna whack him and you'll never see him again--it'll be Omaha all over again.

Now for the race today. I really can't describe the conditions I witnessed but to say it was the gnarliest, most heinous race conditions I have ever seen. First it snowed lightly, then heavily, then it rained, then it poured rain and the wind started gusting at 30-50 mph and all at about 31-3 degrees. Steve Tilford held up his end of the bargain for the midwest by winning the 45-49 and pulling on the stars and stripes jersey. Conditions were so bad that I overheard guys bragging about getting passed by him. But things only got worse.

By the time the 35+ guys lined up, it was as cold as it could get and not freeze, so it rained hard in a driving wind. Dudes were pulling out and trying to take refuge in the big tents, but they were hurting so bad all they could do was hop arond and groan. Butthead came to the aid of one guy who was almost gone and just seemed lost. He was hugging one of those heater vents like it was his last hope for life. Josh finally got him to take off his frozen gloves and then josh (yes, I'm talking about Butthead here) put his dry gloves on the guy and pulled his sopping and frozen jacket off him and put his own jacket around him. The guy couldn't even speak he just sat there shaking like he had some kind of vile disease.

The big circus tents almost blew down to the point they had to open up the flaps. Freezing water was shoetop deep in so many places that some of the vendors were forced to move all their shit to higher ground. Driving back to our mansion (never thought I'd say that) it was whiteout conditions to the point you couldn't read any of the road signs. We got stranded in Jamestown as the bridge to Newport was closed for a while due to high winds.

Tomorrow is Josh's turn. It looks to be a 3.4K mosh pit of mud, gears, assholes and elbows. Should be interesting. Pray for him. Later.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


This shit falls under the heading of ill-advised. After work today I'll be hitting I-70 with a guy named Butthead--next stop, Providence, RI. But that doesn't even sound like the worst part. To most people, the worst part is that we're going there to race bikes. In the out-of-doors. In December.

At this time of year, this is a part of the country that you often see depicted on X-mas cards, and we're going there to race bikes. Suffice it to say, this bike trip doesn't have the usual get-list. For instance, I'm packing three levels of gloves: chilly, cold, and well digger's ass. But no-doubt the most telling article is that I went out to Orchelin Farm & Home and picked up a pair of big rubber pig-shit waders. When I tried these on in the store, I felt like Ethan and Erik out in a field chasing down sheep.

We're taking buckets and big brushes to scrub mud off of derailleurs, brakes and rims, and cans of de-icer to spray on rims and brakes. And this could happen, like, once a lap. In these races, which are called cyclocross, it's a good idea to have two bikes: one to ride while a buddy de-muds the other one.

Cyclocross has been around a long time. Way longer than mountain biking. Apparently it started in Europe around 100 years ago when road racers were sick of just training and were jonesin' for the race rush. They set up short courses in city parks with barriers that forced you to get off your bike and carry it as you ran. This was the only way they could keep their feet from freezing. Makes sense. There's something about just rotating your feet around on pedals that just won't get the blood down there. I guess the quads are hanging on to most of it. Luckily you don't see much road porn in city parks, so even more blood doesn't get diverted to the shlong, besides when it's really cold, you're vision gets a bit blurred and you wouldn't be able to appreciate the talent anyway.

So, all these people I work with are all like, "Oh, you're driving to RI, that's really neat." (Then they hear I'm going there to race.) "You're going there to race your bike?" And you can insert a really quizzical look here that's more like a you-really-are-fucking-nuts look.

If we survive the interstate, it'll be cake. I've got the new Dylan CD and the re-issue of Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison and Halberstam's book on Michael Jordan, and I'll be able to keep busy straightening out Butthead--which can be a full-time job. I'm an old hand at crazy road trips. I used to be a professional fussball player. Believe me, bike racing road trips are tame compared to some I can almost remember from those days. Later.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

This is a pic of some of me and some of my Ethan Pork, which currently is "at stud" because it is just too beautiful to race. And yes, that's real 24 carat gold-leaf painted by my talented brother. Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 05, 2005

Frozen KC Strip

State Chumpionship cross race--KC--sub-30 degrees.
I'm sorry, but you know what stupid is? Stupid is when some guy who's in his 40's lines up for a race in bare legs with no jacket and almost no gloves when the temp is in the mid-20's. I saw the guy hopping around, shaking his hands and groaning in pain after the race. What a fucking idiot. He must be descended from people who didn't have enough sense to move south when they could have had the land for the taking.

I can hear it now:

"Sven, me and zee kiddies are freezing. Vy don't vee go south like zee geese?"

"Only zee strong can take zee cold, Heidi. I stay, so I am strong, yah?"

"Yah, Sven, you are strong okay, but you don't have to squat in zee snow to pee, so take your strong and shove it where zee sun won't shine, which is zis place here."

This is why these guys love the cold so much. They are covering for the stupidity of their forefathers. When it's cold they have to prove that it gives them an advantage, and that they can take it more than you. You know, guys down south do the same thing with eating hot peppers and every now and again, they bite off more than they can chew and then you just don't have one bit of sympathy for them.

That's the way I felt about that dude who was wallowing in all the self-inflicted pain in the parking lot after the race. My old buddy Erik Feather would have laughed out loud and yelled, "Hah, hah, serves ya right, ya fuckin' dumbass!" I didn't go that far. Just grinned and shook my head, even after I saw his teammate sitting just a few feet away from him talking on a cell phone about " . . . we got a break going and I just put it down on the last lap . . ." I'm thinking yeah, sure, you're such a badass, in the big race yesterday you got your ass handed to you by a banjo player. Wonder who he called when that happened? Maybe the suicide prevention hotline.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Is the pain in your ass or in your head?

I'm driving to work today and I'm switching the radio stations trying to home in on as many weather forecasts as I possible can. As if a weather forecast can do you a damn bit of good in this part of the country--it's a bit like a fat girl shopping for a bikini. I'd buy a good one even if it was no way it could work out. No luck. We're heading off to Kansas City (which always has the worst weather in the state) to race in weather that will be colder than a witch's tit in a brass brassiere.

Freezing temps with the possiblity of freezing rain and snow. This will be an old-time revival campmeeting for the faithful congregation of the 2nd Church of Gravity. There will be visions. The righteous shall speak in tongues. The all-mighty will be invoked, as in "Fuck this Goddamned shit." But the true believers will soldier forth. Chains will suck and break, derailleurs will snap, toes and fingers will burn, and asses will smack the cold, frozen earth. False prophets will be revealed. Two true believers will bear witness and make a joyful noise: Brother Ethan Froese and Brother Steve Tilford.

Both these guys love to race in shitty weather. It's like the gods are smiling on them while dumping shit on everyone else. Every groan makes them stronger; with every whine they hit a harder gear. Shitty weather strips everything down to the basic element of bike racing: mine's bigger.

Here's a handy rule of thumb for everyone planning to do the CBC training rides this winter: if Ethan shows up with shoe covers on, turn around and go back home, it's too damn cold to ride. Tom Brinker, who should know a thing or two about sprinting, laughed out loud when someone remarked that Ethan had won a sprint in some race somewhere. "Every race Ethan ever won, he did it one way and one way only," Tom said, "and that was by breaking everyone's legs."

This will be a good race for me, because I fucking hate cold weather. I hate it worse than the Showpony does--talk about vintage whine. So that shit you sometimes hear about how we're all winners just for getting out there--it will be God's word this weekend. Later.