Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Thin Blue Bicycle Line - Are You Privileged?

Before we get into the meat of today’s post, let’s start with a salad.  A shit salad.

Yesterday, I sent this picture to a good old friend. 

In response, he wrote:

If someone were to take the worst parts of the Grinch, Guy Fieri, and the lead singer of Nickleback and put them in the body of a misshapen Mr. Potato Head, I would rather spend the rest of my life with that unholy combination than talk to Dan for five minutes.

And thus my eulogy was written.

Transitioning from people who are worse than Guy Fieri to those who are not, I have been mulling over a piece of dialog from the TV series Fargo.  In it, the writers explore the tension between the freewheeling youth of the late 70’s and early 80’s and the return to conservatism that followed.  One of the lead characters (a cop) has just listened to an arrestee explain why it wasn’t her fault that she killed several people, because her own life path was beyond her control. 

In response, the cop told about his experiences in the Vietnam War and “man’s” task of providing for his family and community.  “We call it a burden,” he said, “but it’s really our privilege.” 
The fictional cop in question
Setting aside the sexism and paternalism in this statement, I love the concept.  Caring for others is privilege indeed, whether that care comes in the form of protection, service, or support.

What I mean by “privilege” is that one must come from a position of strength to help others.  That is to say, you have to have your shit together.  Privilege means that you are able, through your own hard work or good fortune, to serve others.  And serving others is the highest use of one’s limited time on this planet.      

This is not to say that providing can never be a burden.  Indeed, it can, and often is.  But our privilege is to shoulder that burden.  To be able to carry the weight without collapsing. 

Some folks seem particularly well suited to serve others.  One such person is my friend Steve Mason. 

Steve is on my race team, Breakaway Quickdirt.  Steve is also a police officer.  He’s one of those guys who would serve regardless of job though.  It’s just his personality. 

At one race this year, my 14-year old son was racing too.  Steve and I had already finished and were hanging out at the team tent, eating and talking when a woman rider rode up.  She had quit the race after seeing Calvin crash and had left the course to come and find me.  Calvin had wrecked pretty badly, and she was worried that he would be hurt.

Steve’s reaction was textbook for what you’d like to see in an emergency responder.  Steve set down his food and calmly suggested that I drive in one direction of the course to look for Calvin, and he would drive the other.  He took my cellphone number and left. 

After a couple minutes of driving, I found Calvin.  He was being walked out of the woods by another teammate of mine, Chadd Hartman, who had also quit the race to help.  Chadd saw the wreck too and took responsibility to get Calvin off the trail.  (Incidentally, this isn’t the first time Chadd has helped me on the trail.  He’s a great dude too).  Steve called to check in and I told him that we found Calvin and were on our way to the hospital.  He was glad to hear it.  (Calvin was shaken and scraped up, but checked out okay with no major injuries).
Steve’s reaction reflects that for him, helping others is his privilege.  He does it for a living. 

Steve first became interested in police work in high school.  He had moved with his single mom to Pataskala.  Police Chief Wilson came to Steve’s high school and spoke about police work.  Steve stopped and talked to him and Chief Wilson took him under his wing.  He let Steve do ride-alongs, and inspired Steve to consider a career in law enforcement. 

From there, Steve went on to college and the Columbus Police Academy.  He’s worked various precincts in Columbus including Old Town East, Linden, and Campus.  He has observed the great turnaround of Old Town East.  In Linden, he particularly liked working with the older residents, who have held on to their homes as this neighborhood transitioned from a working class family neighborhood to a little rougher and higher crime.  Many of the older residents can’t afford to move, and so keep their homes proudly in good shape, sometimes as islands of calm on their streets.  These older folks were the motivation for Steve when he patrolled their neighborhood.

Steve is currently a Patrol Sergeant serving the 5th and 2nd Precincts, supervising officers and coordinating high-risk runs. 

Steve got his start with biking when he weighed too much and was looking for some fitness.  So, he sold his boat (always the right choice) and bought a mountain bike at Breakaway Cycles.  He lives only 10 minutes from Alum Creek Phase 2, and considers it his “home trail.”  His favorite trails also include Mohican and Scioto Trails.

This year, he started racing mountain bikes, and got some great results, taking podium spots in three of his four races.  Next year, he hopes to win the Novice Clydesdale category. 

At the end of this summer, Steve signed up for certification for bicycle patrolling.  There are currently two main organizations for police cycling certifications – IPMBA and LEBA.  IPMBA will be hosting their annual summit in Delaware Ohio in 2017.  Should be a great event, and they have already reached out to COMBO to get involved.

Columbus uses LEBA, which teaches skills like cycling in traffic, how to approach a suspect on bike, community policing, bike maintenance, and slow speed cycling skills.  Certification requires 40 hours of training. 
Bike officer helps fix a flat
Columbus has the largest full-time bike patrol in the country.  How cool is that?  Each precinct has two bike officers, and there are “walkie crews” in Campus and Downtown.  Policing on bikes has paid dividends.  The Campus crew recently caught a sexual assault in process and arrested the rapist. 

Photo from the Lantern
But more than just crime prevention, police on bikes are more a part of the community.  According to Steve, people are more comfortable talking to police on bike than in a cruiser.  People approach him all the time to just talk, as questions, or even request a bike ride.  (You don’t want one, by the way.  It ends in jail.)  Steve has mostly worked as a “flex” bike patroller, during OSU football games.  He says that before and during the game, his job is slow.  The goal is mostly to be proactive and to be seen.  Occasionally, they break up fights near the stadium.  After the game, the job gets more interesting.  The roads are gridlocked with 2-hours’ worth of traffic as people leave the stadium.  Bikes are the quickest way police can get around and respond to a situation.  They may respond to thefts, fights, disturbances – anything.  So, they station two bike police every couple blocks.

An OSU Yule Log
And Steve has seen some crazy things on bike patrol.  Probably the most astonishing was when Steve saw a cyclist on a fixed-gear bike, wearing dark clothing, and no lights, riding at night WHILE WATCHING NETFLIX.  Steve suggested to the cyclist that perhaps the show could wait until he got home.

Image from Yehuda Moon
I’m glad to know Steve.  He’s the kind of guy we want on our police force.  And he views service as a privilege.  He’s got his shit together.
Be brave, and be privileged.    




Wednesday, November 11, 2015

I Am Not an Athlete - Iceman Race Report - Pure *ichigan

 I’m at the end of my first season racing mountain bikes, and have been taking stock.  As I have previously explained, I don’t view myself as a racer or an athlete.  But has my self-image changed over the course of the season?

Yeah, he's smoking
Some people seem to never reflect on themselves at all.  Like a lot of politicians.  This may be based on extreme narcissism – why reflect when you’re already perfect?  Or, it may be that self-reflection is too hard, because they may not like what they see under the surface. 

Remember this vocally anti-gay US Senator who was caught soliciting sex in a men's bathroom
Others cannot meaningfully reflect, because they know only one way to be and have nothing to compare it to. 

from here
 For my parent’s generation, self-reflection is for dreamers and layabouts.  There is work to be done, and it is not always fulfilling.  For them, self-reflection means reflecting the tangible facets of success that their community finds meaningful. 

My generation, I suspect, engages in too much self-reflection.  I’m guilty too.  No surprise—this self-indulgent little blog is little more than a place to publicly self-reflect.  Gross, right?

The difference may be that my generation has more choices because our world is becoming smaller – more diverse and we are more mobile.  You see, meaningful self-reflection requires options.  That you have choices of jobs, friends, lovers, locations.  Self-reflection of this kind may involve painful separation from the values of your family and community.  And self-fulfillment is the sort of undertaking that only a really privileged group of people can afford to undertake. 

But what happens when your self-image changes? 

As I said, I have never considered myself an athlete.  So I had initially abandoned the thought of racing altogether.  It was easy enough to do – there’s already a crowd of people whose mantra is “racing sucks.”  This mantra is so appealing, that an entire bicycle brand bases its marketing on it. 
Don't get me wrong  - I love Surly bikes, and I own a couple.  Just calling the marketing out for what it is.  They are marketing a "lifestyle" just like any other big bike brand.
But this felt dishonest to me.  True, it may be that some people legitimately dislike racing bikes.  But, I had never raced, so it felt phony to adopt the mantra.  How could I say that “anything” sucks, if I have never tried it?  Seemed more like a cop out—like “I can’t do that, so I’ll claim I wouldn’t want to anyway.” 

A better motto for me is “you don’t know whether you’ll like it until you’ve tried it.”  This attitude has gotten me in trouble a few times in my life (bourbon!), but it has also opened some wonderful doors (bourbon!).  And, it’s led me to realize that I don’t care for golf, stinky cheese, or church.  At least I can say I tried.

But I love mountain biking and I thought I’d give racing a go.  After talking with some experienced racers, I decided to enter the local race series this year as a Novice.  And, I entered as a Clydesdale (200lbs or more).  It was the least competitive class available to me.  The thought was, I’m not an athlete and couldn’t hang with more competitive riders, guys with 10% body fat and training regimens.  In Clydesdale, I might be able to place at a few races and enjoy some success. 

So, I suited up to race.  And guess what.  It doesn’t suck.  It’s really, really fun.  Training sucks, but it’s a good suck.  It’s hard.  It’s hard to force weakness out. 

And I surprised myself this year.  I won my division.  To win, my top five places from the season’s races were tallied.  Out of my five best races, I had four first place finishes and a second, for six points.  Because I had the lowest number of points of all Novice Clydesdales, I won.  Pretty cool.

This week, to test my limits a little further, I raced in the Iceman Cometh Challenge.  This is an amazing event.  Something like 4,000 people raced.  It’s a 30 mile race that starts in Kalkaska Michigan and it ends in Traverse City. 

Last’s year’s race was brutal because of the weather.  Wet, cold conditions made giant mud holes and slippery hills that racers had to walk with their bikes.  Finishing times were abysmal.  In other years, the race was done in snow and sleet. 

Iceman 2014.  From
This year, the weather forecast looked good.  It was unseasonably warm, although there was a threat of rain before and during the race.  I packed a lot of gear and hoped for the best. 

My favorite item was my new Bontrager Old Man Winter boots from Breakaway Cycling. I love my old Lake boots, but they are wearing out, and winter is approaching.  Now, I don’t normally talk up gear, but these things are baller.  Warm booties slide into a water-proof and seam-sealed outer with a combat-boot style lugged sole.  My only gripe is that if Bontrager had rubberized the bottoms of the inner booties, they would have worked as camp shoes too.  Maybe I can try some Plasti Dip.   

My teammate Joe Worboy and I left at early-o’clock on Friday to head out.  We were set to represent team Breakaway-Quickdirt for this race. 

I expected Joe would post a good time.  For myself, I was hopeful that I could finish in under 2 hours and 30 minutes, although I really didn’t know what to expect. 

The Grand Traverse Lodge, where we stayed and where the Expo was.  It was a great place to stay.

We arrived Friday with a little daylight left, so we decided to preride the last few miles of the course.  I was still sore from working out on Thursday, and I probably rode a little too hard.  But I couldn’t help it, I was jacked! 

Joe is fired up too!
Then it was off to meet Andy and to check out the Expo.  Andy was running the IMBA booth.  He had already been there all day and was hoarse from talking and was a little sick.  But he was still grippin’ and grinnin’.  And his booth was bumping.  They signed up many new members for the local IMBA chapter, NMMBA 

Andy is not in this picture.  He took it.

NMMBA does a great job taking care of these trails and cleaning up after the race, so, if you have been there and enjoyed the race, consider throwing a couple dollars their way.   It’s less than you spend on gels for the ride.

We also talked with our Ohio homies at the Kenda booth, who were in force.  Great folks there, who are committed to the local MTB scene.  I like the Kenda Karmas on my 29er.  I know a bunch of folks run the Honey Badgers too.

Joe and I shopped for a while and picked up some Iceman gear and some clearance merchandise from the vendors.  Bells beer is a sponsor of the event and I particularly enjoyed the tallboys of Two-Hearted Ale on offer. 

After the expo, we hung out with my good buddy Gary Fisher for a while.  Seriously, I think he was tired of having his picture taken at this point, but he was still his same super friendly and kind self.  Then we headed for the hotel buffet to carb-load. 

Gary Fisher photobombs Heidi
 At dinner we were joined by some of Central Ohio’s finest mountain bikers, Heidi Coulter, Jeff Rupnow, and Austin Francescone.  Austin told me that carb loading is a myth.  I did it anyway. So did he.  Or else the guy just eats like a horse.  I wanted to add value for this group of experienced racers, so I explained to the group how I learned that packing beers to drink during a race is not a good strategy.  They didn’t seem surprised by this revelation, although they were surprised that anyone would consider such an option.  I wanted to hang out and party more, but we had an early start and a long race the next day, so we headed off to the hotel room to crash.

The next morning, it was back to the buffet for more carbs.  And bacon.  Joe and I were starting in waves 15 minutes apart—his at 10:30 and mine at 10:45.  This meant that Joe was starting four waves ahead of me – so there were round 250 racers starting between him and me.  It was early, but we still had to park at the finish, catch a shuttle to the start, and make sure our drop bags were on the truck for the finish.  So we ran out of the hotel at 8:00. 

The line for the shuttle.  Transportation to the start went really smoothly.
We made it to the race start about an hour early.  What a crowd!  Joe and I were amazed at the people and their bikes. 

We watched a few waves leave and then posed for the obligatory team photo. 

It was cold—in the 40s, but the sun was out and the trails were still dry.  Idea conditions for the race.

Pretty soon, Joe was off.  Then it was just me.  That’s when it hit me.  I’m racing today!  My adrenaline started flowing and suddenly the happy faces around me turned into evil competitors that must be squashed. 

My wave came up quickly.  There were over a hundred of us, and about a dozen of us elbowed each other for a spot in the front line.  When the announcer shouted “go” I went out as fast as I could.  I knew I had a few road miles before we hit the singletrack, and I didn’t want to get stuck behind a rider who was not skilled in the woods (in the end, I came in 6th of the 67 riders in my wave). 

Almost immediately, my speedometer came loose.  Tough choice: do I stop and fix it, or go the whole race without.  I opted for the latter, pulled it off and shoved it in my jersey pocket.  It would suck to not know my speed or mileage, but I was going to pedal full out the whole race anyway.

Most of the race was on doubletrack, wide enough to pass.  About 2,400 racers started before me, so I was constantly passing.  It reminded me of marathon running.  Passing in the singletrack was much more difficult, but more necessary because people were bottlenecking behind less proficient riders.  This is where my season of OMBC races paid off.  I was used to passing in tight conditions, and could often pass six to ten people at a time.  On the hills, the same was true.  Many people were walking the steep hills, causing a bottle neck.  I was able to charge up past quite a few people on those spots as well.  Still, hopefully next year I can start in an earlier wave and save all the time I lost to passing people.

Throughout the race, one rider from my wave kept dogging me – rider 3486 – Mark Miller.  He’d pass me, then I’d pass him.  He was panting every time he passed, so I know he was hustling.  I lost sight of him around six miles out.  In the end, Mark beat me by two minutes – Mark, if you’re reading this, great race!

Anyway, I blew through the first aid station without stopping.  A light rain started, which turned to hail.  Fortunately, it was over in only 15 minutes or so and hadn’t made the trail any worse for wear.  Then I passed the second aid station.  Then the third.  My heartrate was redlined the whole time, but I was still feeling strong.  As the last five miles approached, I burnt myself up, knowing that there was no point in conserving energy any more. 

The hecklers started about a mile out.  I loved it.  There jeers and taunts had me pushing even harder.  And at the finish, when we rolled under the Bell’s banner, I heard my name called.  What a rush. 

The finish
I had finished in 2:20!  Far from winning, but better than I expected.  I was the 1,481st finisher of 3,666 a top 40% finish.  I’ll take it.  Joe finished in a fast 2:11 (top 25%), Austin in a very fast 1:56 (top 8%), and Jeff in a smoking time of 1:47 (54th place, top 1%). 

The first person I saw at the finish was my friend Jeremy from Detroit. 

He pointed me in the direction of the bike corral, the drop bags, and most importantly, the beer tent. 

After a beer and I shower, I found Joe.  We had hamburgers and I had more beer.  We strolled the finish area for a while, found our results, and packed up to head back to the car.

Back at the hotel, we had some much needed rest and I might have found some bourbon.  Then we met up with Heidi, Jeff, and Austin again and headed out for some grub.  We met up with Greg Ratcliff and Jeremy at the Blue Tractor.  They had Founders beer on tap and some great pizza.

Austin and I had worn our Ohio State gear into the bar.  We struck up a conversation with some locals wearing Michigan caps.  They didn’t really want to talk about it.  When Austin struck up a cheer of “O-H . . . “  I figured it might be time to find our table.  We had hoped to watch the OSU game on one of the many TVs, but with an MSU night game on at the same time, the best our server could say was “I’ll ask, but I doubt it.”  We tried a second bar – same deal.  This was NOT Buckeye country.  Nothing left to do but go back to the hotel and watch the game in our rooms.

The next day, Joe and I decided to get up early and do a “recovery ride” on some local trail that Jeremy had told us about.  We headed out in frosty temperatures to Glacier Hills trails, near Bellaire Michigan. 


That was one cold toilet seat
I have to admit, I was pretty jealous of Joe’s minivan by this time.  The interior space was huge – it was comfortable to change in.  Yeah, I got naked in Joe’s van.  Haven’t you?  But seriously, why doesn’t everyone drive a minivan?  Back to that self-reflection, I suppose.  Folks identify themselves with their cars.  And most 40-year old guys want to project an image of “cool,” not, “I’m practical and I have kids.”  Viewed that way, driving a minivan is an act of rebellion, an act of non-conformity.  It’s like wearing ruffled sleeves- a man’s gotta be pretty comfortable with himself to do it. 

Anyway, I left a little donation for the trails crew and rode on.  The trails were professionally built.  The layout of the trails made the most of the very hilly landscape and the benching and grades were excellent.  Glacier Hills trails are seriously fast flow trails.  My only knock on them is that there were no technical features at all – no rocks, roots, drops, bridges, logovers, anything.  Even flow trails need a few features to break up the monotony.  Still, we had a blast and, if you find yourself near Traverse City, I highly recommend giving Glacier Hills a try.

On our ride, Joe stayed behind me.  If he had gone in front, he might have dropped me in parts, and we wanted to stay together on these unfamiliar trails (although they were the best marked trails I have ever seen).

A lot of the people I regularly ride with are still faster than me.  But I’m getting faster.  If I want to be as fast as them, it will require a level of intensity in diet and training that I’m not sure I’m ready for.  This leads me back to my opening on reflections.  Has my self-image changed?  Do I think I’m an athlete?

Here’s the thing.  I don’t feel like I’m entitled to call myself an athlete.  When I race against other guys my age, whether running, riding, mountain biking, or triathlons, I’m not setting any records.  I’m usually somewhere in the middle of the pack.  I lack the natural ability that some guys have.  And many of the people I ride with are faster than me and more proficient at bike handling.  I have a desk job.  I’m still overweight.  I’m not ready to worry about bike weight, or my VO2 max, because I’m still struggling to keep myself from subsisting entirely on donuts, bacon, and beer.  Seriously. 

But it would be unfair to the guys I raced against all year in the OMBC class to say that I’m not an athlete.  It would demean the hours of training that they have done.  And it would fail to recognize the tough races we had and how good at riding some of those guys are.  And, if I’m not an athlete, what does that say about the other 60% of the racers at Iceman that I beat?  And maybe it’s not fair to me either.  I do put in hours of training.  I run, even when there’s no race coming up.  I get up at 5:00 am to go to the gym.  I have logged at least 5,000 miles on my bike this year. 

Still don’t know what it all means.  But I’ll be racing again next year.  And I’ll try to go faster.

Be brave and take a look at yourself.