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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Dispatch from the Front Lines (Through an Interpreter)

I've been asked to play Charlie McCarthy to the Badger's Edgar Bergen. He's off at the first race of the season, the onerous Boulevard Road Race. From the requisite shanty racing weekend motel, he was able to post to his blog last night, but this morning the internet connection flits in and out like a small rodent popping in and out of its hole. He's tried to e-mail, he's tried to post to his blog and he's tried to comment on this blog, all to no avail. The reader should know he has thoroughly enjoyed the poetic tribute in my last post and he will be commenting to all the contributers either when he can get his words out of Boulevard or when he returns to Las Vegas. In the meantime, he has asked me to post an update and the race results once we know them this evening.

The cyclist's own accounting of his passion for road racing should not be missed and his blog is replete with writing about cycling in general and some very specific races. I am not a cyclist. I am an observer of his preoccupation as I am an observer of all things human. But I know about cycling and races and the equipment and the garb. I know what 53:11 means and I know the ins-and-outs of embrocations because I pay attention. If it's important to him, it's important to me.

A year ago this weekend he raced at Boulevard for the first time. He did not possess the confidence he has earned over last race season. Conditions there were miserable the entire weekend and he sent an e-mail from his BlackBerry at the starting line. "*#&!, it's snowing and sticking to the ground." 380 miles away, I was his support team. I could see the gun would go off in three minutes. I knew how deeply he'd had to reach within himself to even be on that starting line. I had to reach deeply within myself to take a hard stance with him, likely the only time I've ever done it. I e-mailed back:"You know what to do!" He rode that race and during it he had his epiphany that formed his training program over the past year: he doesn't lose races on the climbs, he loses them on the descents partly due to his fear of the fast downhills. He was 59 years old, riding in a group of age 45+ riders in a field where people were dropping like flies. The rain and snow rained and snowed. Riders weren't properly dressed for it and had to pull out. He finished 14th in his category. He was the last cyclist to complete the race. The photo is him at Boulevard in 2009. It must have been early in the race, because there is daylight. When he finished, it was almost completely dark.

Fast forward to the 2010 event. Last year, rain was pretty much guaranteed, with the mostly likely precipitation predicted for the time he'd be on the race course. Ditto today. 30% chance at 11:00 a.m., 80% chance at 1:00 p.m. when he goes off and throughout the afternoon. Last year the radar showed a massive wall of water aimed at San Diego County. Check! Same thing today. There are mudslide warnings, with a chance the crumbling, ancient race course road will be mud slicked. A few minutes ago he e-mailed from the start: "Pouring." I sent back my hard line statement. "You know what to do." Earlier this morning, in one e-mail he told me, "I feel compelled to go do this whatever the conditions are now." I like observing a mad dog.

So for those who like the minutiae: On his skin he's applied a double layer of Mad Alchemy's medium embrocation for some protection against the rain and cold. There is nothing medium about this stuff - it is hell for hot. He's wearing 3 underlayers beneath last year's Paramount Racing Club kit and knee warmers. He has put on his red Assos jacket and topped it off with his rain jacket. On his head he wears the cycling cap I gave him as a Solstice gift and his helmet. When he mounts up, he'll be in the saddle on his favored Cervelo R3 upon which he has put rain tires.

Phone call from the starting line, 29 minutes to go: He's all checked in and has given my phone number in the event of emergency. He holds the phone up to the roof of the car so I can hear the pounding rain. It sounds like rocks hitting the roof! His fellow cyclist, John Rubcic, has just gone by on a motorcycle (he's doing rider support this race). Rubcic is soaked to the skin and reports that the road has running streams of water throughout. In some places the water is deep enough to have come up through the cattle guards. The Badger is watching a rider out the window. The man sits in the saddle in cycling shorts, a jersey and arm warmers - nothing against the rain and nothing on his legs. Incredibly, given his lack of attention to weatherproofing himself, he's got shoe covers on. I guess he values the shoes. "So are you going, Badger?" He says he'll start the race and weigh it lap by lap. "Can I do anything for you?" He asks me to check the hour-by-hour weather and the radar. Serendipity! When the gun goes off, there is 100% chance of thunderstorms. However, by 2:00, there's only a 75% chance of light rain and by 3:00 and 4:00 it says "cloudy". The radar shows the storm is breaking up somewhat. If he can get through the first hour or two without mishap or hypothermia . . . my computer says 1:01 p.m. He's off!

Now I pace or work distractedly for 4 or 4 1/2 hours or maybe 5. When he dismounts, he'll have to wipe down the bike and put it in the car, wipe down himself and put himself in the car, and then the phone call will come. I already have some interview questions sketched out. I'll update this post as soon as I can and we'll have it in his words when he finally busts out of Boulevard.

At the (at least) halfway point:
3:00 p.m. No phone call announcing emergency. No phone call from him to say he has had to pull the plug. The radar looks significantly better, although the hour-by-hour says it's still raining. Two hours into it. Up to two hours left to complete it. The speed will certainly have been affected by bad road conditions. No way to guess how much it has slowed the pace.

He's had to pull the plug - 3:40 p.m.:
He is not hurt, nor is the bike. He made two laps - 45 miles. The wind and rain were so remarkable he barely had his wits about him to speak of it. More details on his blog or here when he gets warm and dry.

In my ears right now: The Rolling Stones. Start Me Up. Good starting line music. Good music to which to pace quickly (and dance just a little).

Something that charmed me: He called on me to help get his story and experience out. I found I knew how to tell about a cycling race. I like both of those things.


  1. Ahh, Mother nature can be a bitch. I was watching the NOAA Satellite Loop for awhile. I admire him for even leaving the motel. Ride On.
    wv: it was raining so hard we couldn't see where the vinizat.

  2. @ Tag ~ She was a mean old mama today, and that's for sure! Wait until the Badger writes about the race. I've never heard anything like it. I don't want to put out all the details ~ it's his story to tell and it's a remarkable one. I just gave the intro because he couldn't. We hope he'll have internet, but if not, he'll write when he gets home. Funny I used the word hypothermia in this post and when he called me he said, "I may have hypothermia." Funny as a heart attack.

  3. This was unexpectedly fascinating reading....there are a lot of things I profess not to like - cycling being one of them - but when it catches me unawares I'm all caught up in it and engrossed before I know it....and you do write really well!

    I've been spending the weekend watching my daughter compete in the Auckland Surf lIfe champs and that's something else i don't like -swimming- but there I was shouting and cheering the loudest and upsetting my daughter with my tips for the perfect strategy "what would you know - you can't even swim!"...No...quite...but it's all about the moment.

  4. 5:36 p.m. and it's still pouring! Despite the weather forecast, it never really quit for more than a few minutes. I think too much hoopla was put on this race. Remember, I think of it as a glorified training ride! I know how to have fun.

    Limes - you know how to tell a story!
    Tag - where the vinizat is on the bedstand right next to me!

  5. @ my dear friend, Rachel ~ I thank you for chiming in. I totally understand you! Cycling and swimming are not for me. But connecting with other humans IS for me. I am a grand cheerleader for those whom I love. I can memorize the details and rather blow them off, but I truly GET and FEEL the emotion surrounding the events.

    I wonder how old that daughter is. I know your son is still in nappies.

  6. Hullo you - I am now more understanding of your affinity for VW...my daughter is 8, almost 9, but has the sass of a much older and learned woman! I have, in my misfortune, given succour to my mother and am to be punished to the grave! Seriously though, I am a dog and she is a cat!
    I could cry a river about my family but there is no shortage of water in NZ so I'll suck it up and move on!

    She was all mine until she turned 6 and then...well, I doubt it gets much better until after the dreaded puberty now...still, I'll be at the next swim, and the next....

  7. That should have read "given suck" but I've just submitted a piece to "Succour" magazine and have my brain all over...succour seems quite appropriate though in hindsight..

  8. I fear I am losing my mind - wasn't there a second, older, post about cycling earlier?

    Don't put this on the blog - it'll look like I've got nothing else going on today!

  9. If I'd known the weather would be so bad, I would've rhymed 'wind' with 'Shwinn'

    (actually, Kermit the Frog came up with that rhyme first in "The Muppet Movie")

  10. I wish I had a friend like you. Your support of Badger is admirable.

  11. @ GJ ~ you landed at a magical time! Your post today, meshed with my posts of this weekend ... cause me to cogitate. More to coms, very soon.

  12. You may be Charlie, but you're no dummy. Great read. I'm trying to catch up on my blog reading after spending the week trying to help Mom adjust to life in the "In Between."

  13. @ Kass ~ Welcome back, Cookie! Good to have you here. It was fun for me to write about a cycling race, because that's not what I do. I had to really draw from stores of information gathered across years of listening to him. I liked the challenge. It was a grueling race for him. When my cell phone rang and his name came up (too early), my heart sank. He doesn't pull the plug on races. But the next comes up in 3 weeks and it's here at home and it's hilly - his forte . . . ;~}

  14. Amazing. You're both an inspiration. LOVED what you did with the poem, L!

  15. @ Erin ~ I thank you for popping over today and for being the first contributor to the poem. I think that poem is the most touching thing I've ever seen. Truly, I thought one or two good sports would ring in with a line, but it just went on and on. When we talked about it last night, I got all choked up about how good people are - how much people want to cheer for other people.

    "Inspiration" is probably too strong a word to apply to me, Erin, but perhaps I'd be considered a pretty good chick to have on one's team.

  16. @ Rachel ~ Something struck me in your words. You spoke of crying a river of tears, and that's separate and distinct from what I'm about to say. You said ". . . there is no shortage of water in NZ . . ." and I was dumbstruck. That is so foreign to life as I know it, I don't have the words to express it. Although this has been a wet winter in the desert and we'll get cactus flowers in the spring.

  17. @ Kirk (and Kermie) ~ "Schwinn" and "wind" are good, my friend, but I don't know how you could top the contribution you made! I surely appreciate you.

  18. @ Rachel (again) ~ It's about mothers and daughters, from my perspective. My daughter is 20. We don't see perfectly eye-to-eye about many things, but we seem to be of the same species, at least. My mother and I are more "dog and cat" as you say. Simply no ability to understand one another at any level about anything. Sometimes we're pleasant and sometimes we are not with one another, but I doubt there's ever been a moment of shared understanding in 57 years. I've often felt cheated, as if I don't really have a mother.