Saturday, April 9, 2016

Midlife Middling and Humble Bragging

You ever heard of a "humble brag"? My friend Sutton introduced me to the concept.  The idea is that you say something that sounds self-depreciating, but it actually contains a brag.  Michael Scott in The Office was a classic humble-bragger.  Remember when he bought himself a coffee mug that said "World's Best Boss"?

There's an entire Twitter feed dedicated to reposting humble brags.  Some are funny, most are cringe-worthy.  Go ahead and check it out.  I'll wait. 

Social media is thick with humble bragging.  People want to share their achievements, but they don't want to seem like they're bragging.  It's hard to talk about your achievements without alienating people.  So, folks add a little self-depreciation to make the pill go down a little easier.

Indeed, most of social media is curated content - the story of who one would like to be.  And maybe that's okay.  Stevil over at All Hail The Black Market recently did an introspective post on the issue that got a lot of interesting comments.  But that's another subject. 

The point is, after I wrote this post, I re-read it, and I hope it doesn't come off like a humble brag.  But I'm posting it anyway.  I hope you'll forgive me. 

At dinner with friends the other night, my friend Beth teased me about my frequent bike trips and my constant exercise. Seems like I'm always outdoors or in the gym nowadays.

She said it was my "midlife crisis." 

Crisis or opportunity?
At the time, I just laughed and the conversation moved on to other topics. But I took her comment home with me, a little worm in my brain that kept burrowing into my consciousness for the next couple weeks. began to wonder whether she was right. 

To me, a midlife crisis usually manifests itself in hair plugs and a corvette, right? Or a "trade in" wife. 
Do I look hot in this car?
A midlife crisis is an attempt to grasp desperately to an idealized version of youth. And it's a tacit rejection of one's current phase of life. I believe that the crisis is rooted in fear of mortality or the realization that your "best" years are behind you.

I won't deny, I was a pretty sexy beast when I was younger. 

And true, I had let myself go. At one point, a decade ago, I weighed 287 and I was headed for diabetes and heart meds. A flight of stairs was exercise for me. 

I have made radical changes since, incrementally. I lost a lot of weight. Started cycling and running. Rekindled my love for the outdoors. 

Recently, I have ramped it up. Right now, I am at my lowest adult weight (194). I'm running and cycling faster.  Although I still get passed by children and the elderly when I'm swimming laps in the pool. 

Don't get me wrong - I have no illusions of athletic greatness. I realize my own limits. I will never play in the NBA, or even podium in a local 5k fun run. That's not what it's about.  

Last October - I did catch a few podiums last year in the local MTB series. 
Hope I can get a few this year too as I move up to a more competitive class.
Maybe it's silly to take this all so seriously.  After all, I am just a middle-aged man, riding my bike around local parks with other middle aged men.  I probably spend too much money on exotic bikes and gear.  I probably log too many hours outdoors, while my bathroom needs to be painted, and my backyard is overgrown with weeds.  I pay good money to drive somewhere, sweat all over myself, and then post a middling result. 

This may be folly.  But is it a crisis?  I'm healthier and stronger than I have ever been. And I've found a community of healthy, positive people to spend time with. 

My best years aren't behind me. They're here, now. I could kick my 20-year old self's ass. And those races and travel, they keep me motivated.  I train more and eat better when there's an event coming up on my calendar. 

Last week
So, I wouldn't call this a crisis. I consider it a middle-age renaissance.  What do you think?  

Be brave, in the now. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Best Me I Can Be - Sedona MTB Fest Part II

What can you say about Mr. Rogers?  A beautiful person, who just wanted to let everyone know that they were special and he loved them just the way they are.

Some people think he was too soft - they claim that his message led to a generation of people who were emotionally entitled and not able to deal with the cutthroat nature of life and competition. 
I  think his message was simpler; the healthiest way to live is to be true to yourself and that best, and most honest version of you is worthy of love and respect.  He exemplified a way of living with yourself and others based on embracing our own differences.
For competitive people, that advice may be hard to swallow.  Because it means accepting that your limitations are as much a part of you as your talents.  And those limitations are okay and they make you special.   

I learned all about my own limitations on the trip to the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival.  See, I had been riding a lot, and I knew I was in top shape.  Still, guys with tremendous athletic ability, who don't ride nearly as much as me, like Jason and Jason, kept up with me on every ride. 

And guys with decades of age on me, like Larry and Rick, showed their technical skills, riding over stuff that I balked at.  Larry and Rick showed me what the next couple decades will look like for me - and I like the look of it. 

Ed showed some nifty line-choosing, and Pack consistently pointed his bike at the biggest obstacle on every trail (and then rolled over it). 

And Trent and Jeremy, who had not been riding as much as me, were up for every ride, every day.  Trent kept me in stiches the whole time and Jeremy is an inexhaustible source of trail knowledge. 

As I rode along with these guys, my own shortcomings and limitations stood out against theirs - I lacked their bike handling skills, I was too quickly annoyed by terrain or mechanical issues, and I kept getting lost.  Wonder what Mr. Rodgers would say about that?

More details on the trip follow, in proper blogular format:

March 2, 2016:

Heading to Sedona on outbound flight, I sat next to Ed.  We chatted the whole time, both stoked to ride in Sedona.  We shared trail maps.

My group (Bryan, Ed, Trent, Jeremy, Rick, Jason, and Larry) all wanted to visit the Grand Canyon after we arrived.  I decided to skip the Grand Canyon.  My boss and wife can’t understand.  Ed gets it.  The Grand Canyon will always be there, but how often would I get to ride bikes in Sedona?

The guys agreed to drop me off at Absolute bikes where I picked up my rental for the week, a Specialized Stumpjumper 6fattie. 

While the fellas drove off, I picked a trail route to ride back to the hotel.   I rode Slim Shady, Templeton, Easy Breezy, the HT Trail, and Hog Wash and then the road home (I climbed Climbed 179 then 89A).  The nice thing about getting around Sedona is that the trails connect up with roads that have bike lanes, even on the highways, so it’s easy to do your whole route on a bike.  By the time I finished the trails, it was getting dark and the long shadows were making trail riding difficult. 

When I arrived at the hotel, the guys were ready to go eat.  I have been dieting, but working out a lot.  This makes it hard to get nutritionally balanced meals on the road, and I often find myself ordering two meals – a full sized dinner salad and then some protein and veggie-based hot dish.

March 3.

In the morning I ran from the hotel to some trails to the right of the hotel, the Ledge-n-Airy Trail.   The run was a great way to start the day.

Back at the hotel for breakfast, I stuffed in some oatmeal and some of the Southwest Inn’s famous bean burritos.  Wanted to pack in some carbs for the long day of riding ahead.  The festival hadn’t yet started, so I headed out with the gang to pick up their rental bikes. 

While most of us rode big-travel full-suspension bikes, Jeremy chose a rigid fat bike, which, through the course of the day he managed to crush, by breaking a cassette and bending the saddle rails (too much horsepower!)

Early on, we had our first crash.  Rick wrecked on Templeton and slid 20 feet down a cliff face.  Fortunately, he wasn’t badly hurt, and after he got bandaged up, was able to continue to ride.  He shook it off like it was nothing and kept smiling.  Me, I'd have been a whiny bitch all day if that happened to me.

We rode the Bell Rock Trail and Big Park Loop (easy, fun, fast loop), Slim Shady, Cocomino, Templeton, Baldwin, and Cathedral Rock trails.  

March 4.
Fun run
I woke up early for another trail run again, this time at Thunder Mountain, left of the hotel.  Another big breakfast.

Pack made a friend
This was the first day of the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival, and we were all anxious to try out some of the sweet demo bikes on offer.  I rode the Trek Remedy, which turned out to be my favorite bike of the trip. 

We rode the Adobe Jack “blue loop,” comprised of Adobe Jack, Grand Central, and Manzanita.  (The event organizers had put signage out on this system for a “red loop” and a “blue loop,” because it was closest to the festival grounds, and would see the most demo bike action).  The demo bikes were only supposed to be kept out for one-to-two hours (oops!).  At Adobe Jack, I had a painful low speed crash as I attempted to pass Jason, who was stopped at a trail head. 

After lunch, I demoed a Rocky Mountain Altitude. 

We took the shuttle to Dry Creek, and rode Airport, Bandit, Old Post, Ramshead, and Ridge trails.

Then, back at the fest, we sampled some beers and ran into the other big group from Columbus, who had come down as a crew from Paradise Garage.  Dan, the shop owner, and his wife Emily had lived in Flagstaff, where they had their first bike shop.  As I spent time with Dan, it seemed like everyone at the festival knew him.  How cool!

The festival was a blast, with several local craft beers on offer and vendors of every stripe.  The music tent was rocking too!  Even the Forest Service and IMBA were on hand for the fun.  And a big shout out to VVCC, the group of mountain bikers who build and maintain these trails.  Well done!

A fond farewell to my favorite sunglasses
Then back to then hotel for some Coors Light (What?  It’s local!) and some hot tub time.

March 5

No run today.  Saving legs.

Today I rode a Santa Cruz Hightower. 

We went back to the Airport Loop, and rode Airport, Bandit, Old Post, Ramshead, and Ridge. 

These folks were on a group ride with Absolute Bikes and cheered us up the last few feet of a rocky climb.  Great atmosphere at the Fest!
Poor Larry was not feeling good, and had to bail.  Turns out he had the flu!  The poor guy had to spend the rest of the trip in bed at the hotel.  Bummer!  Larry’s the best and this really broke our hearts.   

After lunch, I wanted to ride a Trek Fuel EX, but they were out of my size, so I rode a Santa Cruz Bronson.  At least the bike matched my socks. 

This time we rode the Adobe Jack “red loop,” which included Adobe Jack, Javelina, Coyote, and Jordan.  And the big old sinkhole, the “Devil’s Kitchen,” which we took turns daring each other to ride.

Trent wrecked on Jordan.  Bike hit first (“kabam!”), then his body (“kerflump!”).  Somehow, he managed to fall into a crevice in the rock tax perfectly contoured to his body and, fortunately, he wasn’t hurt.  Then back to the festival for more beer, music and fun. 

Liz enjoyed the band
At the hotel, I cooled my legs in the pool and then cooled my belly with some more Coors light in the hot tub (in strict violation of the posted hot tub rules – so sue me).    

March 6.

At the festival again, I still wanted to ride that Fuel EX but the only one in my size had a broken seatpost, and I wanted a dropper post out here for sure.  I guess I’ll just have to try out the Fuel at Breakaway Cycles back home.  This bike is a strong forerunner for my next bike purchase (It’s between the Trek Procaliber and the Fuel EX). 

So, I took out a Salsa Bucksaw instead, and we rode at Chuckwagon, Gunslinger, Mescal, Canyon of Fools, and Snake.  Canyon of Fools and Snake should not be missed!  At the festival, a lot of the talk was about the Hiline and Hangover trails – two very advanced trails with a lot of exposed Cliffside trail and crazy downhill chutes. 

But, on the advice of our shuttle driver from Hermisoa Tours, we rode Canyon of Fools and Snake.

These trails offered a very unique riding experience, carving a fast flowy downhill through a dry river bed.  In some sections, the trail snaked back and forth across the bed to big berms on each bank, and in others, there was fast rock ledges, to chunky downhill drops.  So fun!  When we finished these trails, everyone was grinning!

After lunch, we wandered over to the IMBA booth, where we met Kevin Adams, VP of Chapter Services, and planned to meet up the next day and ride with him.  We had three COMBO Presidents with us (Ed and Bryan – past and me – present).  We were stoked to talk with him and share our thoughts on the IMBA Chapter program.

After that, the guys headed off to see the Grand Canyon, but I stayed behind to ride some more.  I stumbled upon some of the PG crew while they were having lunch.  We had beers and talked for a while in the cool, windy grass. 

Then I headed out to ride back to the hotel alone in the high winds and cloud cover.  Ed gave me a jacket, Pack gave me water. 

Along the way I took a trail only known to locals (recommended to me by a guy at the festival.  This trail - the "Crucifix Trail" could be best described as a game path.  It was unmarked and difficult to follow.  Midway through, I found a semicircle of rocks around a craggy old tree.  In the center of the rocks was a pile of animal skins.  I got the feeling that I wasn't supposed to be there, so I hurried on. 

After that,  I rode Adobe Jack, Coyote, Grand Cetral, Javelina, Jordan, then Teacup and Thunder Mountain.  More on that ride here 

Back at the hotel, I met up with my roomie Jason, who had taken the day off riding to rent a four-wheeler to explore some of the local Jeep trails. 

He had quite an adventure – having wrecked the ATV on a boulder.  Ouch!  We headed out for dinner alone, where I treated myself to a filet with beets and polenta.  Yum!

March 7:

The festival was over, but we wanted one more day of riding, so we headed out to pick up more rental bikes.  Larry needed some meds, so we were too late to ride with Kevin.  He waited a while, but by the time we reached the shop, it was too late and he had to take off to keep his schedule for the day.  Rats!  Oh well, I will talk to him at the IMBA World Summit in Bentonville, AR in November.  Meantime, I will email him some of our thoughts on the chapter program. 

Even though our legs were pretty much destroyed at this point, we still managed to ride Slim Shady, Hiline, Templeton, Easy Breezy, Llama, HT Trail, Bell Rock Loop. 

Hiline was ridiculous.  I probably walked as much as I rode for the first half.  And the Waterfall Chute – forget about it! 

After four days of riding in the red dust, my rental bike was pretty crusty.  The dropper post was sticking, the shifting was out of whack, and there were cactus needles in the tires (don’t pull them out)!  But when I dropped it off at the shop, they said this was normal rental bike stuff.  Bike maintenance out here must be a nightmare! 

After dropping off our bikes, we headed to Phoenix to stay at our final hotel for the flight home tomorrow.  We had some of the best Mexican food I have ever tasted at Loco Patron.  Ed knew the place from his time in Arizona.

Then, it was back to the hotel to apply Neosporin and Band-Aids and pack for the flight home. 
Total miles in Sedona: 130 bike, 7 running.

PS: here's Pack's video of the trip.  Pretty sweet!

Be brave, and do it on new trails!