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April 27, 2006

Fifty things to bring to my first stage race:

  • Messenger bags (2)
  • Camera bag
  • Camera
  • Lenses (3)
  • Jerseys (2)
  • Bib shorts (2)
  • Arm warmers
  • Knee warmers
  • Rain shell
  • Long-fingered gloves
  • Short-fingered gloves
  • Shoes
  • Cleat covers
  • Aero booties
  • Caps (2)
  • Helmet
  • Sunglasses
  • Chamois creme
  • Allen wrench
  • Grease rag
  • Lube
  • Endurox
  • Water bottles (3)
  • Accelerade
  • Protein bars (3)
  • Clif bar
  • Clif Shot Blocks
  • Suntan lotion
  • Race number
  • Riding wallet
  • Cycling computer
  • Spare tube
  • Heartrate monitor and mount
  • Heartrate strap

Not pictured:

  • Bike
  • Wheels (4)
  • Trainer
Photo taken: April 27, 2006

April 26, 2006

"HOLY CRAPOLA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

That was the subject of Tim's e-mail. He'd just learned that Indiana University's Little 500, an annual bicycle relay race, was happening the day before our race near Indianapolis.

Ever since it was featured in "Breaking Away," a movie that is to cyclists what "Rocky" is to boxers and "Richard III" is to hunchbacked monarchs, the Little 500 has been a touchstone for the Lycra set.

To see the race firsthand, we'd have to leave at the crack of dawn. There never was any question that we would.

Until we missed the turn to I-65.

We had seemed to have been heading east for an unsually long period of time. "You know where we're going, right?" I asked our driver.

"Sure," he said. "Indianapolis!"

About 30 minutes later we hit South Bend and realized we did not in fact know where we were going. Around the same time we discovered that Indiana was in the Eastern time zone, not the Central. Also, our car started spewing smoke.

So we didn't get to Bloomington until 100 of the Little 500's 200 laps had already been ridden. By this time Alpha Tau Omega had long ago lapped the field and was on its way to an easy victory, and the crowd-favorite Cutters were fading from contention.

The race is primarily an excuse for college students to drink while their fraternity brothers go 'round and 'round a dirt track. Normally the only Greek system I support involves olive oil, oregano and handfuls of garlic, but I still found the Little 500 pretty awesome. I felt like I was in a Bizarro world, one in which cycling is cool, thousands of people pay $15 to watch an amateur race and buxom co-eds announce their favorite cycling clubs across their ample chests. Priorities were in order.

I don't think I would like to live in this world, but it was nice to visit.

Photo taken: April 22, 2006


April 25, 2006

You should attack if you want to win. Men who wait are not right. OK, I didn't win, but still.

Leif Hoste, second place, 2006 Tour of Flanders

Tim attacked first, going off with a Bolla rider on the first of eight 4.5-mile laps. It didn't last long, but the way that the Bolla riders blocked -- lining up four abreast and taking up more than half the narrow road -- made it was clear that a successful break would have to include Bolla.

Before the race someone said they'd never seen a break stick in an Indiana road race, but fortunately Tim and I aren't ones to let prudence get in the way of a good attack. We took turns attacking and counterattacking until two other riders -- one Bolla, one Tortuga -- went off on the third lap. I jumped to bridge and was able to do so without dragging anyone with me. I went directly to the fore of the break and saw we already had a good gap. "If we work, this can stick," I said, only half believing it myself.

We rode smoothly and fast and our gap grew as we traded pulls. Bolla fell off the pace when we hit the rolling hills. This turned out to be the decisive moment. We still had more than 20 miles to go. I thought maybe we should wait for him, so that we could count on his teammates to block.

"No," Tortuga said. "We're better off without him."

On we rode.

The story of a break is about as thrilling as the story of a time trial: I rode hard. I rode hard some more. A couple of times I turned. Yawn.

I've always visualized being in a break. I've also visualized playing shortstop for the Cubs and forgetting to wear pants to work -- I never thought it could actually happen. And yet here I was, alone with another person, a situation teeming with both reward and risk.

I should have been thrilled to be there, but I was too anxious, too worried we were about to get caught. I was filled with questions -- Is he going to drop me? Do I really deserve this? Should I be working harder? -- that I couldn't answer. Body and mind were in time-trial mode. All nonessential functions, question-answering functions among them, were switched off.

Tortuga proved to be a pleasant riding companion. When he dropped me on the climb with three to go, he was polite enough to let me catch up. When he ran out of water I offered some Accelerade, hoping that if not for my wheel he'd let me stick around because he liked my company.

We had conversations like:

Me: So, is there a Waffle House nearby?

Him: Yeah, in Bloomington.

Me: If this sticks, lunch is on me.

Him: Fuck yeah!

My team had only three riders in the chase, but they may as well have been 30 for as hard and as smart as they worked. In fact, they probably had to work harder and smarter than me. I merely had to ride hard -- they had to ride hard and think about tactics.

That's one of the hardest parts of cycling, to ride smart after you've spent hours riding at the brink. Fortunately my teammates were on top of their game, and they shut down attacks like it was a game of Whac-a-Mole. Only rarely could we turn around and see their pursuit.

It wasn't until after our last trip through the rollers that certainty set in. At this point I was too gobsmacked by our success to consider tactics. I didn't think about form or timing or what gear I wanted to be in for the sprint. I put in a half-hearted attack with a half-mile to go, but it died an early death, and Tortuga out-legged me after the final turn.

I was happy to settle for second place. I'm one of those deranged people who feel victory should go to the strongest and the nicest -- I'm hoping hypnosis can cure me of this pathology -- and Tortuga was definitely both. Eventually I will be stronger, nicer and, more important, less surprised and anxious when good things happen.

Photo taken: April 23, 2006


April 12, 2006

My nephew sensed I needed some direction.

Photo taken: April 11, 2006


April 11, 2006

Photo taken: April 8, 2006


April 8, 2006

On three, smile.

Something you may not know about my father is that he was an accomplished ice fisherman back in Minnesota. His secret was to use a baseball bat and a can of peas. What he'd do was, he'd cut a hole in the ice, line up the peas around the edge, and then when a fish came up to take a pea -- BAM! -- he'd hit it in the head with the baseball bat.

OK, so maybe you've heard that one. If you knew him, you probably did. If you shared an elevator or a grocery line with him, you probably did.

He loved to make people laugh, or at least to laugh himself in the attempt. What his humor may have lacked in sophistication, it made up for in repetition and gusto.

Has favorite gag was to ask a woman, whether he knew her or not, why she was wearing only one earring. As she reached to her ears in horror, he'd start giggling like a child.

The rest of us would cringe. It led to the Dad tax. Whenever we left a restaurant, I would run back in and leave a few extra bucks for the waitress, my way of saying, "Sorry he made you look." And so, to all the women in the room, I say, “Sorry he made you look.”

He loved laughter, and he loved newspapers. The elbows on his bathrobes were soiled black with ink stains from leaning on the kitchen table. Each morning he would read three newspapers cover to cover. Then he would go online and read a dozen more, starting with his hometown Minneapolis Star-Tribune. When we talked on the phone he would tell me about the Chicago weather, which he'd just gotten from the Tribune Web site. "Yeah, Dad, I know. I'm here."

Our mother says she knew his health was bad when, as of a few weeks ago, he lacked the strength to go outside for the morning papers.

He loved laughter. He loved newspapers. And he loved his students.

I fondly remember when The Lumberjack editors would come to our house each semester for dinner. Dad would put on some Woody Herman -- the later, funkier stuff -- especially the arrangement of "Fanfare for the Common Man." I never knew him as a music fan, but I figured this selection, a mixture of big-band jazz and contemporary funk, was his way to bridge the generations.

I once read that at the end of his career, Woody Herman couldn't afford the best musicians for his Thundering Herd, so he would hire college students. Instead of paying them much, he would be generous in allowing them to solo. I think of Dad's hands-off approach to teaching in the same way. He let his students solo. Sometimes they'd be flat, but when they were “on” under his direction, boy could they thunder.

I never heard him called Professor Seemann. He was always Howard or Howie. When I went off to journalism school myself, it was strange to not be on a first-name basis with any of my professors. There wasn't a single one with whom I could casually belch and fart. I transferred as soon as I could.

An aside: About that flatulence. He was full of it, was he not? I have no qualms about saying this because as the journalists here know, you cannot libel the dead. And, as you know, truth is a defense against libel.

Our house was full of, he would claim, barking spiders. Talk about a thundering herd! It drove us nuts. He never seemed to acknowledge our upturned noses. But if you yourself let one rip, he would smirk and laugh, as if to say, "Good one, my boy."

This week I went through his address book to find his former students. It was a roll call of the country's best newspapers. San Francisco Chronicle. L.A. Times. Honolulu Advertiser. The Chicago Tribune. He taught us everything he knew, and we still don't know anything, but we turned out OK, and he was so proud.

He loved his Macintosh. This week Apple announced that Macs would be able to run the Windows operating system. I'm somewhat relieved Dad never had to see that.

He was a pioneer in introducing the Macintosh into the newsroom. The Lumberjack was one of the first five college newspapers to do layout on a Mac, years before it became the industry standard. Later he was quick to embrace the Internet and digital photography. His foresight jumpstarted hundreds of successful careers, including my own.

He was his students' toughest critic, but also their biggest fan. He never complained about grading, no matter how high the stack of papers, no matter how much red ink was spilled. He attacked mistakes like a pigeon attacking a pile of seed. He was determined to show them that if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing right.

Wednesday afternoons were spent poring over that day’s Lumberjack. Between handfuls of popcorn he would scribble and circle, turning the newspaper into something that truly was black, white and red all over. Afterward, he would write his homilies -- "All the views fit to print" -- and fix himself a martini before dinner.

We will remember him as an apostrophe cop. A slayer of the comma splice. A vigilant defender of the dash. A brave soldier in the war for subject-verb agreement.

I suspect there are opportunists in the audience who think that now, finally, they can start using the plural "they" when it should be the singular "it" just because it sounds better that way. You do so at your own peril. Professor Seemann -- Howard, Howie -- will still be hovering over your shoulders, hoping you get it right, and admiring you when you do.


Photo taken: April 8, 2006


April 6, 2006

Teacher man.

Photo taken: 1976


April 4, 2006

Six recent moments:



On April Fool's Day, a 73-year-old man suffering a range of maladies is hospitalized. One possible diagnosis is hinted at when he is handed a brochure titled, "Living with Heart Failure."

For three days I laugh at the oxymoron. "Living with Heart Failure." Its wit is in its brevity, as it's a topic you would prefer not to be such a quick read. More comforting than a flimsy brochure would be a bound, 10-volume manual, perhaps with an inscription on the title page: "Take your time, Mr. Seemann. No hurry here."



How strange. My brother is calling from my parents' phone.



It's midnight. I don't know what I have to say, but I need to be talking to someone.

For a few moments, the accented voice of a United ticket agent is strangely soothing. He is awkward and uncomfortable but polite and helpful, and his English is outstanding. Twice, however, he stumbles when his script would have him chirp, "Thank you, Mr. Seemann, and have a great evening." Across the world and across the cultures, he seems to realize how thin on gravitas this salutation is to someone who is calling for bereavement fares, and he sounds apologetic.

And then I start calling West Coast friends.



Now more than ever I thank God for having given me the prudence to have set my phone to vibrate and not "La Cucaracha."



It's 3:30 a.m. and I can't sleep. I don't know whether to drink wine to bring myself down or whether to make coffee to wake myself up. I decide on coffee and spend the hours before sunrise writing and flatulating and reading the news and playing poker. So begins the period of tribute.

At 4 I trade e-mail with my sister in Greece.

At 5 I start calling East Coast friends.

At 7 I go for a ride. I self-time myself on a practice time trial. I don't do well.

At 10 I start calling my Midwestern friends.

At 11 I go to work. They send me home.

"I wanted to work today."

"Go home."

"He was a journalist. He'd want me to put out the paper."

"Go home."

I go to Greektown and buy a bottle of retsina for a toast to come.



I pull a suit from the back of the closet. I own two: one blue, one gray. I can't remember which one actually fits, so I examine their breast pockets and grab the one containing the most recent wedding programs.


April 2, 2006

The crash was probably my fault.

It was my team's weekly group ride. After getting stuck towing a weak rider the last 2 miles into Highland Park, I was eager to proceed to some long, fast miles with our stronger riders. Finally, after a short warm-up, the pace turned hot and it appeared we were off to the races.

Halfway up a false flat it looked like someone might get to the top before me, and per usual I would have nothing of it. (Oh, to think how many grams I could trim if I left my ego at home.) Just as I jumped left to pass, someone swung around on my left and my front wheel clipped their rear. Down I went, hard.

Fortunately, my body broke the fall so my bike was mostly fine. I also had the foresight to land on my back, so I was able to reach up and catch the two people who landed on me. My hip and elbow took the worst of it, but nothing was broken, save for my helmet, which cracked. I'd wanted an excuse to buy a new one anyhow. The shock wore off after a few queasy minutes, and I was able to ride the 20 miles home.

At least it wasn't a race, and thank goodness I was using my crashing wheels instead of my Ksyriums.

A teammate insisted I pop in at the physical-therapy clinic that sponsors us. I checked out fine, and I had my single square inch of road rash cleaned by their first-aid specialist, a former Army medic fresh from Iraq. Our conversation went something like:

"You've probably seen worse than this, huh?"

"Uh, yeah. Nice Spandex, by the way."

Afterward I went straight to the bike shop down the street, which was hopping with fair-weather cyclists. Nonetheless, my guys gave me an even faster check-up than the clinic, truing my wheel and nursing my derailleur for only $7.50.

The special service may have been thanks to the case of beer I bought them last summer. It always pays to tip your mechanic in currency they appreciate.

The shop has a very "High Fidelity" feel to it, and I've come to like the guys who work there, even though I'm sure that behind my back I'm not spared their expert heckling. I like how they always ask about my Ksyriums, the way obstetricians also might ask about the babies they have brought into the world.

The one lingering issue was my training. With Saturday's ride cut short, I'd have to ride 5 hours today in order to make my weekly goal. Without intending as much, I did it, the hard way, the hard way being to get lost in the northern suburbs, the hard way being in the cold and the rain, the hard way being without enough food. But if I can do 90 miles in the rain today, next week's 44-mile race will be soft indeed.