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March 28, 2007

Belmont Harbor.

Photo taken: March 24, 2007


March 25, 2007

When the audience enters the theater for a performance of "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind," cast members ask them their name to put on a nametag. The cast member is listening to very loud music on headphones, however, so the name written on the nametag is a random word that has no bearing on whatever the person actually said.

Last night my nametag read, "Hello, my name is Road Rash."

I considered that an anti-omen and wore it to today's races, the last of the Parkside series.

The first race after a crash is always terrifying. It becomes impossible to conceive of any outcome other than a crash. Your mind files through all the possible bad ends: Skidding out on gravel. Hooking handlebars. Crossing wheels. It becomes an act of faith that, yes, you actually enjoy doing this.

Fortunately, the anxieties recede once you are rolling.

The masters race seemed a little faster than last week's, and after many aborted attempts, a small break got off. Randy, tired from a long break in the 40+ race, successfully slingshot Mark up to a chase group. I hopped on to a strong wheel and got a free ride up to Mark. If we could catch the leaders, this would stick.

At Randy's tactics seminar this week, he emphasized one point more than any other: When you are in the break, Don't. Get. Dropped. This was on my mind as we traded pulls, but when I took a long pull out of Turn 2, thinking a long pull with the wind would absolve me from working into it, my mind was writing a check my legs couldn't cash.

Both Mark and I were soon dropped. We fought hard in no-man's land, but soon the pack swallowed us up, and our team now had nobody in what would indeed be the winning break.

The 3's race, my first since upgrading, was fairly uneventful. I tried to stay patient and sit in the pack. I think I tried only three doomed attacks, which may be a record low. Each of them withered upon hitting the wind like a vampire stepping into the sun.

It was hard to sit in. I felt a lack of control and power. I had to keep reminding myself that given the wind and the composition of the field, any attempts to go off the front would perish as surely as mine did.

On the last lap I was able to position myself ahead of two teammates, another goal for the race, but I jumped way too late, and they didn't have the gas to come around anyhow. We rolled in 12th, 13th and 14th.

Despite two mediocre placings, I was happy with my sprints, and especially happy to have kept the rubber side down, the shiny side up. I timed them poorly, but I was on top of my gears and navigated well. Not a single person passed me. I just didn't pass enough of them.

Afterward the Get a Grip rider who held me off in the 3's said he read my blog, the second person to say so on the day. "I like it," he said. "I reminds me of when I was just starting out."

Just starting out? This is my third year with this nonsense. But it's true: I still don't know what the hell I'm doing. I wonder whether it's my writing or my riding that betrays that fact.

Parkside is a good fitness check. I obviously have a lot of work to do to get on form.

Parkside's also a nice indicator of progress. Teammates who got spat out the back last year were involved in the sprint this time around. Teammates who finished in the pack last year were now involved in the podium. Everyone had a lot to be proud of, and everyone who was just starting has a lot to look forward to.

Photo taken: March 25, 2007


March 23, 2007

I wasn't always a weight weenie, but here you go. Supposedly the bottle cage on the right, one of many great deals Marcus at Yojimbo's helps us with, saves me a few grams, but the difference is too slight to register on the kitchen scale. And yet having them makes me happy.

My bike is already back following Sunday's crash. Johnny Sprockets was able to turn me around in a single work day, this despite a workshop and basement stacked with bikes brought in for spring tune-ups and cobweb removals.

I don't know whether it's because I'm a racer or because I sometimes bring them beer or because they know I'll blab about them on my blog, but they're always conscientious about getting me back on the road as soon as possible.

There was good news: No major cosmetic damage, and only the right shifter needed to be replaced. Just my luck, Shimano had mis-sent a bunch of right Dura-Ace shifters, so they let me have one on the cheap, and they advised me to continue crashing on the drive side.

Photo taken: March 18, 2007


March 19, 2007

Like all race reports, this one would be much better if I could remember everything.

The Parkside criteriums are insignificant races -- they're short, and there's no money on the line -- but they're eagerly awaited because after five months without racing, everyone is keen to shake the off-season out of their legs. And since the riders are so rusty, it's an excellent chance to get the annual crash out of the way.

For me, it would be my first chance to, as one of my favorite cycling expressions goes, "turn the pedals in anger" on my new racing bike.

My first race was the masters open. It was a big field, although absent was Robbie Ventura, the former pro who the week before had been there with his Vision Quest minions. It was only 40 degrees and windy. Reportedly he's a fair-weather Parksider.

The race was fast but smooth. I stayed active near the front and got in one break that I thought was viable, but by the time the bell was rung, it was clear that things would be settled in a bunch sprint.

With a half lap to go, Ed was a few spots ahead of me. I didn't have any other teammates nearby, but I was in good position, about eighth wheel. Four were off the front and were about to be reeled in. We strung ourselves out in chase.

Two bikes ahead of me, a Team Mack rider started to fade. A gap opened ahead of him. I accelerated up the right to leapfrog him into the next draft. He, meanwhile, looked over his left shoulder for help and drifted to his right, right into my path. I had nowhere to go. I tried to bail onto the curb but failed, wiping out at 30 mph and tumbling onto the grass.

My shifters splayed at unnatural angles, but I was fine. People asked if I was OK. I frantically waved them on to the finish line.

Mike Stanley stopped to help and offered his bike to use in the Cat 3 race. I joked that I supposed this would be my free lap. We walked back to my team's staging area.

It's there that I said, "Guys, I'm starting to forget things."

At least, this is what I'm told I said. From the point Mike and I started to walk back, I remember nothing up until when I found myself strapped onto a board in an ambulance.

I hadn't passed out but I was very sleepy. By now I couldn't remember anything about how I got there. I could remember the crash -- Team Mack, argh! -- but not how I got to the race, or what I did that morning, or what I did the previous day. I could remember what day it was, but only because like all race days, March 18 was indelibly circled in my mental calendar.

I could remember I did not like my job but I could not remember how to do it, so I figured the upside of this would be getting a sick day or two.

Things started to come back by the time I arrived at the hospital. I waited in an examination room, anxious for Ellen to show up so she could help fill in the memory holes. Also, so I could put on pants. I was getting cold.

When she arrived I told her about the last time this happened. "When I was 13 I crashed while dirt biking and had a concussion," I said. "This feels a lot like that."

"Honey, you already told me that. Twice."

Surely if I'd told her that I would have remembered it. "Don't be ridiculous!" I roared. "Now you're just making fun of me." I thought it pretty funny of her. Nurses peeked in to see why I was laughing so hard.

They took a few X-rays and a CT scan. Then we waited in the exam room for an hour, eating figs and watching college basketball.

Finally the doctor popped in and confirmed I was fine. Probably a minor concussion, but nothing to worry about. Contrary to my expectation, Ellen wouldn't have to wake me up every two hours to make sure I was still alive. This relieved her greatly.

There was nothing the emergency room could do about my shifters or ripped shorts, so we headed back to the city, first stopping for frozen custard, the highlight of any trip to Wisconsin.

I recently read "The Echo Maker," an excellent novel about Capgras Syndrome, a disorder marked by the inability to recognize loved ones. In the book, the victim emerges from a brain trauma and can't recognize his sister or his dog. He insists they have been replaced by an impostors. Despair ensues.

Even though I couldn't find my keys this morning, I'm so far recognizing everyone, loved and unloved. This episode, however, was a fascinating peek into the mysteries and fragility of the brain. I certainly didn't feel crazy, but to Ellen my insistence that I'd never told her about my spill on the dirt bike was as sane as the guy with the sandwich board who strolls Michigan Avenue insisting that our government has been replaced by Russian spies.

A day later I hurt only in the shoulder where I received a tetanus shot. Weather permitting I'll be back out there next Sunday. I'll be the one giving Team Mack a wide berth.

Photo taken: March 18, 2007


March 2, 2007

It snowed this morning, part of what is hoped will be winter's last throes. As Ellen drove me to work, gusts of wind whipped the snow and sent it dancing across Lake Shore Drive like huge white wraiths.

Last night was my last fiddle class. It was part of the non-cycling off-season merriment that I wanted us to enjoy before it was back to obsessive interval workouts and weekend roadtrips to backwater racing venues.

Each Thursday we headed to the Old Town School for class, fiddle for me, banjo for her. Folk is a major departure for me. I took 10 years of Suzuki, but I hadn't put bow to string in 15 years. The class was fun, and the mechanics quickly came back to me.

The other night Ellen and I played together in my living room. "You're getting good, honey," she said. "It almost sounds like a real song!"

After months of weight lifting and churning through countless NetFlix and Tour stages on my trainer, the racing season now resumes. My countdown to winter camp in San Luis Obispo sits at 1. The kits are washed, the Clif bars are stacked high, and "The Rider" is packed for its annual reading. I leave at 3:30 tomorrow morning, and 14 hours later we'll be on the road. It will be Leslie's first trip outside since her original test ride.

Last year's camp was a revelation, in which I surprised myself and others. More important than its physical training, it gave me the confidence to have a good season. This time the pressure will be to prove last year wasn't a fluke. The day I return, racing begins in Kenosha.

You know how whenever a plane crashes, there's always one guy who's alive only because he changed his flight at the last minute? I'm that guy. A major computer upgrade is launching Monday at work. There will be pain. There will be suffering. But I will be far, far away, suffering my way up the Pacific coastline. To get farther away from the situation I would need a boat.

Yesterday I remarked to a co-worker that I'll have to do 25,000 feet of climbing next week. "What do you mean you have to?" she asked. "What happens if you don't?"

I could only look at her blankly. How do I even begin to explain the hideous obligations of a Cat 3 cyclist?