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April 28, 2005

On upper Illinois near Michigan.

Photo taken: April 15, 2005


April 27, 2005

Near Bryn Mawr.

Photo taken: April 19, 2005


April 25, 2005

He was tethered high above the construction pit for the Trump Tower. It was one of those rare instances where a person could be at ground level and still fall to his death.

Photo taken: April 15, 2005


April 23, 2005

Boy, what a hassle. So many strange bumps and corners. I'm compelled to salute and thank any woman who has ever shaved her legs on my behalf.

There is schism in the cycling community about whether a rider should shave his legs. The principal argument is that smooth legs make life easier after a crash. (The counterargument is, If you're crashing that much, perhaps racing isn't your destiny.) Most riders, however, would probably concede that shaving is mostly about showing that you're in the club. It's about showing your hairy rivals that you're more serious than they are and that they needn't bother chasing after your attack. One cyclist put it to me in Kesey-ian terms: "You're either on the bus or off the bus. Shaved legs says you're on."

Plus, we work really, really hard to achieve OED-quality definition on our leg muscles. Why hide them behind foliage? It's like hiding a nose job behind a burqa.

In an odd twist, I have in the past year shaved my mother's head and now my own legs. I didn't pay attention enough during college to know what Freud would think of that, nor what he would think about how much I've enjoyed fondling my smooth legs. (Steve Martin said he could never handle being a woman because he "would stay home all day and play with my breasts." My guess is that he could never handle being a cyclist for the same reason.)

I'm sure my co-workers will heckle me next time I wear shorts into the building, but I just shaved my legs for my passions and desires. What the hell have they done for theirs?

Photos taken: April 22, 2005


April 22, 2005

He wore blue jeans and cycling gloves to the Foster Avenue courts and shot from the chest. When younger players made a shot he would squint and give a thumbs-up, but they pretty much ignored him.

Photo taken: April 19, 2005


April 21, 2005

Near Foster and the lake.

Photo taken: April 19, 2005


April 20, 2005

"What's out there?"

"Salmon, I hope."

It took about 20 minutes for him to set up. First he laid out his gear on the rocks: a long net, a bucket, a wooden tackle box and a fire extinguisher(?). He tied his line to a small bell. Then he went to his van to get his dog, Jack, and some lunch. Jack took a leak on the rocks. The guy took a leak into the lake. Finally he was ready to sit down, light his cigar and get to work.

Photo taken: April 19, 2005


April 19, 2005

Three recent moments:



I drop an open can of coffee on the floor. I quickly grab a dustpan and wonder, Does the three-second rule apply to coffee grounds?



For the fifth time in a week I am downtown and am asked for directions. I don't mind. I never mind. I love showing off my Chicago chops. And much more than extended daylight or flowers peeking through soil, this is the true harbinger of spring: when suddenly there are people in Chicago who care where Navy Pier is.



It's Tuesday, which means speedwork on my running schedule.

It's nice out, which means instead of the treadmill I do sidewalk fartleks: arbitrary distances fast alternated with arbitrary distances slow.

It's really, really nice out, which means I do my first shirtless run of the year. (Neighbors of Edgewater, you have been warned.)

Usually I think of my fartleks as fire-hydrants runs. I'll sprint to one red plug and lollygag to the next. Today I notice my slow intervals coinciding with glass storefronts, all the better to admire myself in. When I run, my belly rolls jiggle in such a way that I can pretend they are abs, and that my man-breasts are pecs.


April 18, 2005

It was drizzling when Cam, right, picked up me up at 7 Sunday morning to go on a group ride with Cynthia. He'd later tell her that carrying my new bike into the rain for the first time I had the terrified look of a father taking his child to the first day of kindergarten.

By the time we got to the ride's starting point at Governors State University, the weather was clear and on its way to warm, blue skies.

Cam and I opted for the 68-mile loop but the riders we were with kept getting strung out. It seemed a waste to be breaking the wind and not have anyone on my wheel. Eventually I was alone with an older rider and we realized we had missed a turn. Fortunately he knew the area, but once we got back on course I dropped him and rode the last 25 miles solo.

Amazingly I felt stronger as the day wore on, and my pace riding alone was faster than that while riding in a group. Granted, these were recreational and not competitive riders, but charging past one after another on the hills was reassuring after Saturday's difficulties.

Photo taken: April 17, 2005


April 17, 2005

Once I had decided to get into racing, I started looking for a team. I needed a group whose rides started in the city, had morning events and was open to beginners. Most teams I found were based in the suburbs or came across as too insular.

Judging from its Web site, xXx Racing-AthletiCo seemed like the right fit. There were a few xXxers at the alley cat I did in January, including Anita, above, and though I didn't talk with them much, they gave off just the punk-jock vibe I was looking for. Later that week I sent in my first membership dues.

I finally went on my first team ride Saturday morning. It's a weekly ride 16 miles north to Highland park. There were about 40 riders of varied abilities, which kept the pace moderate, around 18 mph.

I'm glad I finally got to meet more members of the team, although it's a funny thing when everyone is in the same jersey and wearing sunglasses and you're processing them out of the corner of their eye: You attach names to bikes rather than faces. "The orange Orbea is Bob ... the black Trek is Phil ..."

In Highland Park we broke into smaller groups. Some would ride straight home. Others would go almost as far as the Wisconsin border. I ended up in a group of six who wanted to do a loop through Ft. Sheridan, another 10 miles.

It was good paceline practice. I was chagrined, however, at how much I struggled to get up the single tough hill we came across. I sprint like a school bus, but my theory has been that my body would be more suited for hills: I'm lighter than most other riders, and running has developed my slow-twitch muscles. So much for that theory.

As a group of six we went faster than before, about 21 mph, and into the wind and with a smaller draft. About 10 miles from home I started to be a drag on the group. I lagged, letting gaps develop and slipping into anaerobic respiration just to keep up. Dropping out became an option, an ominous thought given that my next competitive race would be about as long as this ride and with many more hills and less collegiality.

Just in the nick of time my bike seized. Two calamities had struck: My rear quick-release had come undone and I had a flat. I'm not sure which caused the other, but I was in trouble.

I half-heartedly told the others to go on, but I knew I'd need their help. Fixing flats on a road bike is my bane. I know, I know: Calling yourself a cyclist and not knowing how to change your tire is a bit like calling yourself a fashion model and not knowing how to change your clothes.

Within ten minutes -- hooray for co2 cartridges -- we were rolling, and there was minimal grumbling from my teammates. The worst came a few minutes later: "Let's try to get a rhythm going, eh? We were doing fine until that flat." For me, however, the flat offered the perfect breather, and I was strong the rest of the way.

xXx is notorious for having been started by bike messengers. It now has corporate sponsorships, committees and other trappings of a grown-up racing team, but it still feels like a good fit. Obviously I'm not yet a perfect fit for it, but the plan is to change that by the end of the summer.

Photo taken: Jan. 9, 2005


April 16, 2005

The building behind the Intercontinental has been demolished. For a week a dozen unskilled laborers have been sorting through the rubble and picking out intact bricks to be bundled and sold as antique building materials.

Photo taken: April 15, 2005


April 15, 2005

Where are all the faces?

Chicago is a city of 3 million people, but you'd never know it from its photoblogs and Flickr entries.

With rare exception -- Derek Powazek comes to mind -- we're a timid lot, we photobloggers. We're fearful. We're wary of offending strangers, sensing their nervous looks and desires for privacy. We fail to convey that our cameras are signs of affection.

So instead of taking pictures of people and bringing life to the Web we shoot buildings, quirky signage or, in our most daring moments, the backs of people's heads on the train.

Reluctance to offend or discomfort is a revolutionary concept these days, but it's driving me crazy. The facelessness that results approaches misanthropy, and it gives the false impression that Chicago is a cold, vacant and inanimate place.

I'm as guilty as anyone, but here's my summer goal: More faces and less fear. More smiles, more crying. Fewer parking lots, fewer industrial sites, fewer empty seats.

People are beautiful, and Chicago people are the most beautiful of all. We should show them off.

Photo taken: April 9, 2005


April 12, 2005

I have a routine for my lakefront runs. I carry with me the bare minimum of keys I'll need (four). I put my iPod in one pocket and energy gels in the other. If it's cool I'll throw a T-shirt over my running singlet. Then I bicycle the .75 mile to the running path, where I lock my bike to the Mile 0 signpost and tie the T-shirt to my top tube. I take a minute to pick an album and set my watch, and off I go.

And usually I have remembered to put on sunscreen. Yesterday I did not. Thus, the annual first bad burn of spring.

My next marathon is in seven weeks. Training has not gone so well. I've been sick, busy with cycling and nagged by a blister. I've skipped more runs than I would have liked, including last week's 19-miler.

Yesterday's 20 miles was the year's first run on the path, 10 miles down to Soldier Field and back. It was nice getting reacquainted with the path's characters -- the smelt fishermen, the chess players, the nannies with their strollers -- and my favorite vistas, turns and places to pee.

One good thing about being outside rather than on the treadmill is that it's impractical to quit. Once you're at Soldier Field, the only way home is to run home, especially if like me you lack the prudence to have brought CTA fare with you.

With much consternation I found that not all the water fountains have been turned on, but I still made my time, even with slight cramps around Mile 18. I hope this bodes well for when I'm properly hydrated.

Long runs are good for discoveries and decisions, and on this one I decided that I probably will not run Chicago this October. I'll be missing it for the first time in five years. Instead I'll focus on cycling all summer. It's a tough call: It's my hometown race, and it's the event that first got me into serious running. I know its turns and characters almost as well as I know those of the lakefront. I'd contemplated taking it on as a fun run and not worrying about time, but as my father said to me once or twice growing up -- and by "once or twice" I mean "once or twice a week" -- if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. I'll wait until I have the time and focus to do it right again.

Photo taken: April 11, 2005


April 11, 2005

National anthem at Wrigley Field.

Photo taken: April 9, 2005


April 9, 2005

Cubs 4, Brewers 0.

Photo taken: April 9, 2005


April 8, 2005


Photo taken: March 27, 2005


April 4, 2005

My three goals for my first criterium were met. I didn't die. I didn't crash. I didn't come in last.

The women above who raced after me were not so lucky. I couldn't tell exactly what happened, but two of them went down hard on the final sprint.

There were no crashes in my event, a relief given that it was a Category 5 race. My understanding is that Cat 5 races are full of beginners with dubious bike handling, but everyone seemed confident and experienced. I wonder whether this is like spotting the fish at a poker table. If I look around and can't spot the squirrelly rider, does that mean the squirrelly rider is me?

I have no complaints with my performance, though I made two first-timer mistakes.

With five laps to go I launched an accidental attack. I'd taken a turn too wide and then overshot the pack when I tried to reenter. Suddenly I was about 10 meters ahead and going as fast as I could into the wind. It lasted about 2 seconds as the pack reeled me in faster than anyone could say, "What does that idiot think he's doing?"

Then I misjudged the final sprint. I was in the front third on the final turn and wondering what was about to happen. While I wondered, everyone else was starting their sprint and passing me with ease. I jumped a second late and had to settle for 19th out of 24.

It surprised me how stressful the criterium is. I'm accustomed to marathons, where I'm not competing against anyone but myself. In a bike race, I'm competing against others, and it was strange to have to take them into account.

I sat in the passenger seat on the way home. With every brake and swerve, my fingers twitched as if they were still on the handlebars. My eyes scanned the road for holes to fill and steady wheels to draft behind.

Photo taken: April 3, 2005


April 1, 2005

I am now a three-bike household.

Her name is the Colonel. She's fast, sleek and double-butted. Just like I like 'em.

It came down to this Jamis Quest and a LeMond Croix de Fer. I'd wanted to like the Lemond, but I had to concede it was mostly for aesthetics. Lemonds look sexy and European but are made in America. (Just like I like 'em.) The Quest, though, had more jump and better components, and although I'd made made-in-America the tie-breaker, this was no tie.

My first race will be in two days.

I'm sure this is insane, to compete before I've become fully acquainted with a new bike. It will be like driving the Indy 500 in a new car and spending the first few laps fumbling for the cigarette lighter and windshield wipers. But I've been hepped up to race since November. I can wait no longer.

Sunday's race is a 30-minute criterium in St. Charles -- about a dozen laps around a milelong street course.

For weeks I've been visualizing. In the past I have visualized my marathons, but it's always been a single vision: smooth and swift from start to finish. In my mind, dropping out of a marathon is as unimaginable as winning one. For the crit, however, I have four visions, each as likely as the next:

  1. I get dropped hard and early. My only prize is for being first into street clothes.
  2. I keep up with the pack but lack the tactics and skills to break out.
  3. I keep up with the pack but lose confidence on a turn and brake. I start a chain reaction that takes out a dozen riders, several of whom come up to me afterward and offer bribes to ensure that I never race again. As I am lifted into the ambulance I wiggle my toes in the Morse code for "OK, never again." Meanwhile, the race director places a Styrofoam cup in my hand. "Don't forget your teeth."
  4. A winter of bike commuting pays off. Not only do I keep up but on the final lap I join an attack and sprint my way to a podium finish.

More details as they develop.

Photo taken: April 1, 2005