Friday 8 November 2013

Cross 2013 Race #8 - To the riders, to make much of time

Image posted by Woodcock Cycle Works

This shot was taken  on the fourth lap of the 40 minute race at the Provincials, which was race eight, which was the last race of the season, which was held at The Forks in Winnipeg, and which will be the course (more or less) for the Canadian Nationals next year! This shot exemplifies three of the unbeatable elements of cross racing: diversity, egalitarian participation, and the ride(run)-your-ass-off-while-you-may-old-time-is-still-a-flying spirit. 

On the far left, U13 female racer, MH, is grinding away at it with the rest of us (Did I mention that she's an U13 racer!?). Next left is me, a 40+ master (oh the misnomers!), knowing there will be one more lap to go, and wishing they'd hoover up the sand we've just plowed through, so I don't have to do that again. In the middle left is LK, a senior (23 - 29 yrs) female who some of you may recognize from other significant pursuits in other cycling realms, suffering along with the rest of us. In the centre, and overtaking me is DL, who plays the wait-and-see game first, and then the go-faster-now game in the later laps - great tactic ... if you've got the lungs. On the right is DS, a 50+ MASTER (never was there a truer category bestowed) who started in the second wave 2 full minutes behind the wave the rest of us started in, and he's sending us all out of the classroom, and up to the office. And the front right (you can just see his rear wheel and right pedal) is GF, another 40+ master who LK and I have been battling back and forth with (forthwith?) the whole race. 

This is our provincial championship race and the above panoply of types of racers are on the same field of battle, at the same time! We are meeting at The Forks! The cross-road! Name another sport where that can happen! Full intensity! Full range! What I'm marvelling at here is that all 6 of us are fully, fully, fully engaged in this thing. We are making much of time. So much. Sure our results will be posted in 4 different categories, but here we 6 are, hammering hard up the same run-up, getting in each others' way (well, we were all friendly and cooperative, but it wasn't like we could just ignore each other and do our own thing), and getting things done! 

Why? Why is this awesome? Because we are all at once and at the same time in the flower of our youth when we're out there in the smiling to-day of the moment, and we are also all at once and at the same time riding in the knowledge, some of us more than others, that each of us, to-morrow will be dying.

I'll leave the rest of this cross-season eulogy to the last three stanzas of Mr. Herrick's imperative:

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,        
  The higher he 's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
  And nearer he 's to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
  When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
  Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
  And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
  You may for ever tarry.

Saturday 2 November 2013

Cross 2013 Race #7 - Some observations

First off, a big thanks to the people who take pictures at the races, and then share them on FB or a blog (RC! and NP!). It's a great thing to have the pictures to help you relive a part of your life, even if it was a difficult (read: Holy hellish) 40 or so minutes (this race was actually 37'52" for me). Second off, the CrossTastic course was sweet fast flowy fun! Thanks for that too! Now, in a lamer, more "frame by frame" version, I will imitate the #Svenness Vimeo series to de/re-construct last week's race.

The hole shot: You only have a chance at a hole shot if you start in the front row, and if you've got the legs that day, or just have the legs period. I had one of those two going for me, but I missed my chance and the start kind of turned into an (ass)hole shot. I dropped from starting 5th, to rolling something like 12th into the first corners.

Run-ups and little barriers: If you look angry on the way up, on the first lap - if you look angry because you feel like you should be puking, on the first run-up of the first lap - it will be a long race. A long, long, long race. There is no way to fix this (GeeVs!) except to put your head down, puke if you can, and ride on because you must.

Carrying the bike: Is it more efficient (read: less tiring and/or faster) to shoulder the bike (like a classic (classy!) cross racer), or to pick it up by the top-tube and shifter (like an ungainly suitcase)? I don't know, but I think it makes a difference. I also tried the pick-it-up-by-the-top-tube-over-the-barriers-and-then-set-it-down-and-roll-it-between-the-barriers once, and that was way more work than I thought it would be. Though my personal practice is not consistent, I'd bet that the classy-cross-carry is the best way to go here. At the very least it looks great. And generally, it seems to me, that smooth looking form translates into efficiency and better use of energy. Carry on.

Cornering: Sweeping through a fast set of corners without the brakes and right on the wheel of some guy (PT!) who's riding just a bit faster than you is just the best best best part of a cross race!

Barriers: These barriers were just the perfect distance apart for me. Two steps between and then over the next one and then push the bike up a hill to a gravel straight. This section went well. Anyway ... and also, when being followed: it goes like this. I really am only aware of who's just ahead of me. Maybe once in a while I'll get a sense that there's someone behind me when I hear a grunt, or a missed shift, or I see a shadow in the trees, but usually I'm just looking forward. At this point in this race I really thought that there was some significant distance - says three seconds worth - between me and the next guy. How wrong could I be? Well it's pretty clear. BVDB is just on my ass, and I believe The Impaler is just behind him. Geez. I think we were on the third lap of five here. BVDB passed me (he always does - he says I'm his bunny - nice to be useful for something) on the fourth or fifth lap. So that means that for more than a full lap he was on my wheel. Weird. I don't know if it would have been better if I'd known all along. Probably not. I get nervous when people follow me.

Straights/Downhills: I'm always tempted to rest on these, but resting during a cross race is dumb dumb dumb. You can do that when it's over and you have a beer in your hand. During the race it has to go like this: Take a bigger gear! Go faster! Even so, JL blew by me at the finish. Damn. And that's it from #dbness

Monday 21 October 2013

CX 2013 Race #6 - You had to be there!

Back in the day we high school boys would, each of us on one occasion or another, try to tell each other these stories about the super-duper incidents and events we'd experienced or witnessed but couldn't quite communicate using words, and then end this failed storytelling with "You had to be there." I feel that way all the time when trying to explain to people at work, who have never seen a cross race, much less ridden in one, why I had a good race, or a not-so-good one, or why I think it's completely okay to keep on racing with (virtually) no hope of winning a race - in fact, that I feel that placing eleventh is a win for me. It's exactly like "you have to be there" in order to get it. You have to be at a race, to get some sense of it. But to really get it, you have to be in a race.

Southern Cross was awesome! You had to be there! What else can you say to explain it all? That's what I'm thinking as I'm standing in the doorway of a colleague's office and trying to answer his question, "How was your race this weekend?" (He's just bought a cross bike. He likes it. He wanted to try a race this year, but he couldn't this weekend because of family matters. I believe him, I really do.) So, since he's asked, I start to explain about the twelve times riding up the hill, or describe the six times you had to get past the sand - was it faster to ride it? or run it? and that you split the difference and rode it three times, and then decided it was faster to run it for the last three - or explain the race wisdom of always dropping into the faster gear when your "go harder even when you can't" cx soul demands it, rather than giving in to the "take it easy" betrayal suggested by your mind and body's screams asking you to shift up for a break. Even as you're saying all this, you see that he's looking back at you like a nineteenth century portrait, you just know there's no way to do this right. He's just holding position. He wasn't there. He has no idea. He can't, because he's never been there. 

I believe that if Martin Heidegger would have ridden a few cx races, he may have had an easier time explaining and illustrating his version of being in, or dasein. When you ride a cross race you are existentially compelled into the fullness of yourself in the world. You are involved in a moment. You participate fully in it, and then the next one, and so on, one moment after another. You are driven into the breathing in, the solitary gasping, pumping and running and pushing and heaving of yourself into and against the world. On your own on your bike during a cx race you are completely present. You are your own existence and you are lost in it within the world. You can hardly tell the difference between you and the hills you climb or the wind you flout or the barriers you hurdle. You can only be involved in it all then. You can only be aware of yourself there. It's absolutely hellish in its beauty. 

But there you are. And when you stop there are others who are there too. They are with you, and they have their being too, and you have yours, and you are being there together. And it's eye-cryingly marvellous. Stick-in-the-eye-cryingly marvellous. For once you've been there alone, you can be there with the others who have been there too and you can all say bullshit to a bunch of this empathy crapola. You can heckle the hell out of me if you've been there. 

What could be more appropriate than the damned cheering on the damned as they navigate the winding road into their own hellish haven of self-discovery? So bang a gong! 

Hand up a pierogi.

Hand up a beer. 

Give me a hand up when I fall.

You have to be there. 


Wednesday 9 October 2013

CX 2013 Race #5 - Results

Okay, so this season has been going pretty well for me. At least I feel like it's been going pretty well. Pretty well enough to be seeded to start in the front row for two races! What? I know. I can't really comprehend it either. That's me with my head down. I think my heart knows what the cross gods are going to serve up.

But like I said, I'm starting in the first row. I'm getting good starts. I've got new brake pads. The BeachCross course looks like it should work for me. I'm not sick. I'm not even sick at heart. 

And the start is fine too. I'm feeling good and the right guys are ahead of me, and right guys are behind me and it's already the third lap, and we hit the windy, grassy, leaf-covered section, and I look up and over to see who's coming up behind me (you know how it goes during a cross race where you start meeting the same riders and the same place on the course and you think, Huh, I thought/hoped I was going faster, but it looks like we're actually all going exactly the same speed) and sure enough there's RF about a turn and a half behind and I'm thinking that he might be gaining on me and I'm thinking some more (too much too much too much thinking - stop with the thinking already and keep your eyes on the track and ride hard dammit!) and then I'm watching my hand push its way through my front wheel, and I'm down. Off the bike. 

So I get up and get back on and push forward, but the wheel doesn't turn, at least not easily. Shit. It's probably just the quick release, I think. So I duck under the tape and pull it off the course to loosen the wheel and line it up again and spin it. But there is no spin, there is only a lot of wobble and bind, and I look up then at the line of riders that are long by and into the sand section, and then I'm thinking about stopping.
You know what it's like to want to stop. If you've raced a cross race, you know what it's like to want to stop. You also know what it's like to want to keep going. To need to keep going. Which is what I did. 

This all reminded me of two things. First the wise words of some fellow rider while on a technical mountain bike ride a few years ago: "Look where you want to go! Your bike will follow your eyes." Which makes so much sense. Which I hadn't been doing, because I was thinking about results and about who was behind me and by how much. And then I remembered a race two years ago at La Barriere where I was catching up to JS. I was sure of it. And I was looking ahead at him on the third time through this windy stretch and I was telling myself that for damn sure I was closer to him on this lap than the last one and I really wanted to beat JS because I should! I just should be able to beat him ... and then I was looking at the tape and then at the grass, and then my wheel was jammed against the brakes, and that time I could put it back and it was okay, but JS was long gone, and that was that. 

This is not a moral, this is a fact. Worrying about riding hard and well and watching the course and keeping your brain on the race works. Worrying about results and who's ahead and who's behind can and will fuck you up. So, here's me really smiling while racing. I'm usually looking pretty intense, or pretty gassed. I'm sure it was taken after I went down. After I'd given up the results and just decided to ride and enjoy the course, and riding after a whisky hand up changes things too.

So here's to riding with your kid (!) and recovering with friends, and not worrying too much about results. 

(But I'm terrible at following my own advice, so I'll probably be anxious as hell again, after the Thanksgiving break. Still Southern Cross will be awesome!)

Wednesday 2 October 2013

CX 2013 Race #4 - What a difference a year makes!

Mennocross 2012 was memorable and momentous for me (and others, I'm told) because it was hot (30'C) and sunny and before my race was over, I looked like this:

Passed out. DNF. Pale and ugly. There's another picture of me that ran on the front page (online) of a local newspaper:

This picture was taken before the "fallen soldier" image above (snapped lovingly by my good and kind friend and fellow front-end curler, JPD, who then sent me a copy of it, but otherwise kept (keeps) it on his phone for safekeeping - and to show me on occasion as a remembrance of things past, as he did in the bar on the Thursday night before this year's MennoCross. "Remember last year?" he says, and smiles and fuszchels with his phone (a Blackberry! - they need all the good press they can get these days) for a few seconds and then shows me the picture that you have now seen as well) The caption on the more upright picture of me reads "A cyclocross racer competes ..." Right. At the time that picture was taken, and I remember the moment actually - this photographer crouching on the ground - this camera-wielding dude using a flash on the brightest day of Fall - popped it in my face just as I'm thinking, stay with it man, stay with it, just stay on your bike. Just ride and everything will be okay.

And in another minute or so, I was falling off of my bike and losing consciousness in the lovely arms of MS (my Neubergthal neighbour who'd come out to watch no less!) who laid me down and called for help. And then big T came around to help out (a lot), and then GeeVs, and after about an hour, I could stand up again.

But this year! This year! What a difference a year makes! This year the course looked like this ...

... and this ...

... and this ...

... and this:

And at the end of the race, I looked like this:

Pretty sweet actually. Sure I like the sun. Who doesn't? What with its right to claim primoridial authorship for life, etc. Pretty hot stuff. But me, when I'm cross-racing, I'd rather be a rain dog. Make it rain!

Wednesday 25 September 2013

CX 2013 Race #3 – The 3rd Course of Action

My bike looked like this after the race last weekend, which was hosted in Portage at the Manitobah Park and it featured a mud pit (which was actually a dip, or drainage ditch of some sort, flooded with water from a tank on a three-ton truck, which sat beside the pit so that more water could be added, should riding it become too easy.

During the first two practice laps, I rode around the pit thinking, what’s the point in mudding it up before the race. But as much as that seemed like a good plan, I could also see the merit in riding it at least once, which I did. Better to get over the shock of hitting the mud hard and spraying your bike and yourself with that thick Manitoba wet-clay "goodness" before the first racing lap, than during it. 

In the parking lot before the race there was debate amongst some of us as to whether such an artificially created mud obstacle was cool or not. Some suggested that if the mud isn’t naturally occurring, it’s not cool, or not in the spirit of the sport, to put it there. Others assume that since the whole course is artificially put together, to force us to ride over many things (tree roots on a straightaway to break your kidneys and your arms, barriers up a hill to force you to run up, taped lanes to force you to turn in awkward directions while climbing the other side of the hill, and so on) that we would usually avoid, what's wrong with enhancing the whole experience. From this point of view, really, creating a race course on and around a grassy public park is an exercise in making shit up, so why is adding water to one spot on the course outside the spirit of the thing? 

Which, ultimately, raises an organizational question. Since we're past the halcyon days of this (most pure) sort of cross racing and course "setting up" and we're into the regulated world of waivers and insurance and liability, how do the course designers know what's reasonably and "safely" (Whatever that means?) ride/run-able? Of course, I don't have to ride the course if I think it's unreasonable. And of course if I do start racing, I'm saying that I accept the battlefield as fair enough, then I'm in for it all the way to my surrender, or to victory (which, in this case, for me, is completion). It is, once again, a question of fairplay and sportsmanship. Traditionalists would say, let's work with what's given - if it's flowy and fast, then it's flowy and fast - if it's rainy and muddy, then it's hell. So be it. You take the good times with the bad. 

Right now, the weather forecast suggests that we'll have rain for CX #4, Mennocross. If that's the case you won't be able to blame the course designers for artificial obstacles, or mud, or slick grass, and no one will save you when you fall on the field of battle. It'll be ridiculous, and it won't matter who you are, or how well you ride. Still, there'll be a course, and there'll be a race, and I'll be riding it.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

CX 2013 Race #2 Ego Cross – Differences

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest piece for the New Yorker, Man and Superman, re-approaches the Lance story. He makes the obvious point that each of us, given a particular physical activity, and given our genetic situation, are given particular advantages and disadvantages. Some of us compete and rise above disadvantages, some of us compete and make the best of advantages, and some of us compete when we don’t even have a chance. From all of this Gladwell poses the question, how much may an athlete do to offset his/her built-in disadvantages, or how much of her/his natural advantage is within the bounds of fairplay in the first place. As if, he implies, we could make things fair for everyone, and then … we’d all race the race and … what? cross the line at the same time and join hands to sing a song in Who-ville?

I don’t know how much of this matters for the results of Sunday’s race, but some differences became obvious during the day. For instance, it became clear that some of us like racing on grass better than on hard-packed dirt track. I, standing at just under 5’ 7” and weighing around 150 lbs, don’t really mind the grass that much at all. My driving to the race friend, L, standing at around 6’ 8” and weighing more than 200 lbs minds the softness of grass and sand a lot. He loves the hard-pack though. Still, we raced in the same race, along with everyone else racing in B, and thus the results were somewhat different. At Dark Cross L beat me by nearly a minute. At Ego Cross I beat L by nearly a minute. Sure there are variables other than grass vs hard dirt, but the illustration stands: one element favours one rider, and another element favours the other. That's just the way this shit falls out.

5'7" me (photo courtesy of Rod Colwell)
6'8" L (photo courtesy of Rod Colwell)

For further consideration: L (left), me (right) (photo courtesy of FJR) 

Michael van den Hamm (photo courtesy of Rod Colwell)
Further to said differences, Michael van den Ham (above), a 20-something Brandon-area farm kid who rode at last year’s CX worlds and placed 31st in the U23 race, was out to run a cross-clinic in the city on Saturday, and then race with us (well, some of us, the A-race some of us - which isn't me) on Sunday. Which he did, winning and finishing about a minute ahead of the second-place rider. Which also makes plain the difference between us out here, and the pros out there. Did I mention that van den Ham placed 31st in the U23 race, and in this interview said that he was happy to have been able to stay on the lead lap?

With differences like these, a schmuck like me might well be tempted to pick-up a cruiser bike and relegate himself to commuting in comfort and style. But that’s not what I do. I do keep on riding, and accepting the differences in elements, terrain, energy-level from one day to the next. Why? Because the one thing that Gladwell doesn’t address is that these differences are actually what fair competition is about, and mature people confront and accept differences with both eyes open. I want to race L, and beat him, because he’s 6’ 8” and I’m not. When I start thinking (pitying myself most likely) that he was faster than me because he had some sort of immutable, unassailable, advantage on one course or another, I’m being an ungrateful, weak-kneed, little douche-bag about it. Because the best truth of all this is, that L and me, we buy/build our own bikes for whatever we can afford, we make sure they fit and work, and then we line-up on them at the start line and compete, “fair and square.” Our own differences are not the issue on any race course because on this day, this course is the same for both of us. We talk about it. We accept it. We take it. We leave it. We register for the next race. 

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Cross 2013 begins or Who's up for a little bicycle BDSM?

Really it begins long before you wake up on the morning of the first race thinking this is the day that it starts. This is the day that I dread to love. This is the day that I will be reminded that I'm not as prepared as I think I am. This is the day that says that there's nothing much more I can do to prepare, except drink water and eat the right food at the right time. It begins long before all this and the loading of bikes onto racks, and the remembering of gear and bottles and tubes and tools and always bringing your pump. It begins long before this, the day of pressure and pleasure. It begins like it might have for my brother T yesterday, when you just happen upon someone you know and trust and care about who says that they're going to race cyclocross today, and if you want to spend time with them, well it'll have to be at the race, why don't you come along? It begins when you say, well I guess I'll try that. It begins when you enter your first open race with that motley bunch of novitiates. It's all starting to sound evangelical here, friendship evangelism in fact - the worst kind - but just because one bunch of crazies uses this tool to its nefarious ends does not mean that it can't become a force for good: Cyclocross racers don't let friends miss cyclocross races.

From a few hours east of Toronto he came for business and pleasure, and like a good old door to door evangelist, I invited him to a cyclocross holy of holies: Dark Cross. And, like a good old dupe, he came, and he rode. Now I wanted to offer a photograph of the brother T and his journeys around the dirt and grass track, but my source has not taken the time to upload any of his pictures. This source assured me that he had images of T, since he's larger than I am, and he was moving around the course at a pace that you might expect of a first-timer. Even T admitted to taking a somewhat leisurely approach, although he did manage not to get lapped by the 15 year old race leader. If you're going to be duped into anything, Dark Cross is a quality master to choose, for, like cyclocross itself, there's not much to do but give yourself to it. As for me, for the last nine weeks I've been a slave of Dark Cross in one way or another.

And for the next seven weeks I'll think about cross everyday, and for seven days of those seven weeks, it will be the only thing I can think about. It's a kind of self-flagellation, a kind of bondage, straight-up submissive sadism - a bicycle BDSM sort of situation. The process is pain and hope and anticipation and dread and ecstacy and it's only after you finish the first race, and the next one and the next one, that you remember why all of that obsession is so magical. Still you're at a loss as to how to explain why you would voluntarily, for shits and giggles as it were, do something so gruelling. The facts are that there's no way to race cyclocross without spending a significant amount of time thinking to yourself: "This hurts. I don't really have to do this. I could quit any time." But it's also true that when you finish the race you would say that you were lying to yourself when you thought those things, except for the part about it hurting. But you really do have to do it, and you couldn't quit at any time, even if you wanted to. 

Dark Cross 2013 - Wallace&Wallace run-up (an ABES photo)
I've stopped in the middle of a race once. I've fallen over unconscious. I'll call it an involuntary withdrawal. I did not choose to stop. My cyclocross soul, that part of my spirit that resides, I imagine, somewhere between my heart and my legs, did not want to stop. My brain and body just stopped working together on the project of moving themselves around the track on top of my bike, and I came to, lying on the ground beside the track. It was not a proud moment, but a noteworthy one: I learned that my cyclocross soul may require more of me than I can deliver, and it's my duty to do my best to push my body to be up to this soul's demands. 

What I'm learning from this, from racing cyclocross, is that the best things in your life, the things that are worth doing, that one best thing for your soul, will make you do it until you drop. Until you've done it good and proper. Until when you're doing it, that is all and the only thing that you're doing. When you let cyclocross into the house, it takes over completely. You're completely possessed by it. The success and the failure. The pain and the love. Sometimes people use sports as metaphors to help them understand, by object lesson, life and living: golf & baseball often get the nod. What boring shit that is though, to imagine life as being about standing around and hitting small balls. I'll gladly take the crazy-assed hard work and real risks of cyclocross, followed by a party with friends! After which you collect yourself, take a day off to recover, and start in on it all over again. 

Sunday 1 September 2013

Navy Sweater, Straw Hat

You bicycle because you want to. Because you can remember  the first time you rode a bicycle with training wheels and the first time you rode without. From Spring to late Fall a day without a bike was a lesser day. Incomplete. Insubstantial. You’ve lied to your parents to get a new one. You’ve lied to them to ride a better one. Going for a bike ride gives the day weight. Materiality. You can say that you’ve ridden for more than an hour, or that you’ve ridden fifty kilometres,  or that you’ve ridden south on Road 1N for two miles and then across on Road 3N for six miles, until the gravel and packed dirt miles cede to an overgrown field lane and you’d thought better of it and turned North on Road 7W, which was newly-graded gravel, and soft and marbly, but the extra work of it made you feel better, and you rode it for another six miles until you turned East on Road 9N and though about completing the square. Covering six square miles – 36 sections, 24 miles. A reasonable ride, for gravel and dirt – the wind coming in at thirty kilometres from the Southwest. You’ve been somewhere, and you’ve been back again.

When you slow to turn South on Road 1W, to complete the square, something about the regularity of it, the predictability, made you decide to ride one more. You had the energy today – the legs, as they say – and you’d seen the arched wrought metal of the Eigengrund Cemetery entrance in front of its lone Cottonwood, set out in the middle of the section, a cornfield to the West, canola to the South, Wheat to the East and Soybeans to the North. An odd patch in the regularized industrial agriculture quilt.

Destinations help. Sure the destination is the journey, or vice versa, however it goes, but a stop, and some time off of the bike, to stand back an admire it, lean it up against a tree or lie it down on the grass and then walk the new land it’s carried you to, there’s simple pleasure in being somewhere else. Somewhere you’ve taken yourself to. Somewhere out in the middle of something, or even toward the end.

The lane that follows from the wrought iron arch that stands at the gravel road divides the cornfield from the canola. The corn is more than six feet high, but not yet tassling. The canola has finished blooming and has begun its turn from green to grey and then to brown. The lane is a half-mile and at the end of it is the cemetery. As you turn in to ride it, you see a pick-up truck at the end of it, and a figure wearing a straw hat pushing a lawnmower. You’re disappointed, but in a way enervated by curiosity. You’ve heard of this woman, Tina Heinrichs, who tends to this garden of the dead. This poetic maiden to the grim reaper. You ride up and she pushes on, the mower buzzes in the heat. She wears a dark cardigan sweater that, at first look, seems black, but as she rounds the corner and passes near you, you can tell that it’s navy – deep deep blue. Whether or not she sees you, you cannot tell. The wide and deep brim of her straw hat covers her face, and she seems intent on the path of the mower. She passes you and continues on to the next corner. She’s nearly finished. The grass around the graves has already been mowed. She’s finishing the edges – one or two more passes will complete the work.

You want to know. Who doesn’t? But she mows on, and you do what you’d decided to do three and a half miles back. You walk to the centre of the cemetery. You walk North along the West edges of the lines of the markers. You’ve remembered and impulsively followed the suggestion of some adult from your youth that you don’t want to disrespect the bodies of the dead by walking overtop of them, so you walk along the lines that must divide them – heads and feet lined up facing East – rows of sleepers in pods waiting for the Lord and his second coming. At the stone cairn in the centre of the yard you stop to read about the unidentified graves that have been marked by six-inch concrete disks embedded in the earth to mark the spots.

The story goes that the living relatives of those buried here, with the help of a local excavator who uses a backhoe with astonishing dexterity, digs pilot holes, exploratories, and notes where the soil is or is not uniform black loam and, by such observations of the mixing of the grey clay with topsoil, knows that these disturbances are signs of burial. Rows of grey disks and a cairn name and place the unknown that a flu epidemic in the 1920s took – children for the most part. My aging father tells me he remembers it well. No vaccine to save them. Not enough water to keep them cool and wet. Nothing to be done, and the children died as though they were the only ones to hear the Lord calling. As though they were the only ones with the sense to desert the hard cold and heavy prairie gumbo. As though they rebuked their parents for this paradox of humility and hubris. And here you stand, still alive (your aging father would have been six or seven years old at the time that he survived, just a half mile North of this spot, while others succumbed) flouting these obvious endings.

The mower motor hums and rounds again as you step away to walk back to your bike. Mrs. Heinrichs looks up as you reach for it, as she passes along in front of you. In that moment you see each other, her small, gentle face lightens into a smile, and you smile too. It was you who had the vision of a harpie, or Virgil, the Medusa grimly circling to introduce you to the horror and consequence of human folly. Rather here you confront the lines and crows feet of a grandmother who tends and gathers memories. She invites. She makes the way. She reminds, sure enough, but she says, there but for the grace of God, and she moves along.

You ride off past her, still mowing between the corn and canola fields, the land now more or less entirely tamed and settled. Death set aside by bike rides for fitness, pharmaceuticals, and genetic modification. And still you smile with her above the hum of her mower and the steady cycling of your feet on the pedals.

Friday 19 July 2013

How's the kid doing?

The reason I'm out here in Illinois, staying in Woodstock, about an hour and fifteen minutes, by train, outside of Chicago, is to transport, support, advise, coach, and generally accompany GeeVs. She's taken up road racing. Having competed in five races in the Tour of America's Dairyland in Wisconsin (and learning a lot), she needed/needs more experience racing, so we're out here for four races. 

Her first race was in the Sharon Cycling Classic (like mine), racing in the Cat 3/4 race, which is 20.8 miles (33.5 kms). She rode conservatively, and got a conservative result: 8th. Still this placing allowed her to collect more points that, when she's earned enough, will allow her to move up to the Cat 1/2 races in the future. 

The start.

The pack.

Heading through West through town, and then onto the highways. 
After a day off on Thursday, during which we spent about six hours in Chicago, she raced the Superior Ambulance Elmhurst Cycling Classic criterium today, in Elmhurst. We'd talked about how to be more aggressive today, and that she ought to make a plan, and then execute it. Her criterium was a 40 minute race around a short circuit of about one mile. They are more intense than a road race, as you are cornering every 30 seconds and then accelerating out of the corner.

The plan was to use her strength and fitness to hide in the front group for the first 30 minutes, and then breakaway with about four laps left. Which she did. She opened up a gap of 15 seconds and then over the course of the next three laps expanded it to between 20 and 25 seconds, and she won! This is more impressive given that the temperatures were up around 100'F (38'Canadian), and there was a stiff South wind on the home stretch!

In the breakaway.

Making a break.

Crossing the line!

(A sweet jersey, a bag of coffee beans, and $50!)

Need I say more? No. Except ...

Our hosts, Steve Middaugh and Laura Witlox, and their family - Noah, Ethan, Alise, and Lauren - are just completely fantastic and supportive hosts. I can't really say enough about these folks. Steve rides and Laura organized one of the races in the series. 

Two more races to go, tomorrow and Sunday. Both criteriums. Stay tuned. 

My first road race

"They" say better late than never. I have taken this to heart. During my week-long role as support/coach/parent/cycling-buddy for GeeVs, out here in Illinois, I took the opportunity to use my racing license to race in the Sharon Cycling Classic, on July 17, 2013. I registered in the Cat 4/5 race, to be safe, and joined/competed beside/contested with 70+ riders in a 45.6 mile (73 km) road race.

It was hot. It's been hot all week here. 95'F hot. That's 35' Canadian. The course was four laps of the 11.4 mile circuit. We did that in 2 hours and I managed to finished 12th in my category. Here are some pics:

The thing about road-racing in a pack/peloton of 70 riders, on narrow roads, is that you get close to people. And you have to stay on a line, follow the wheel in front of you, and take whatever the road gives you: potholes, gravel, cracks. It was a great experience. I'm not sure I'm up for criteriums out here yet, but I may try them next year, back home.

And how's GeeVs doing, you ask? Check out the next post, or check out her Facebook page.