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Sept. 28, 2007

After two years of spectating I finally did my first cyclocross races Sunday. My goals were modest: Don't hurt anyone, finish in the top half.

Everything I knew about cross I'd learned from watching a few online tutorials. While Ellen studied contracts and torts in the living room, I would be studying barriers and "suitcasing" in the dining room.

Amazingly, I had no problems with the obstacles. My mounts and dismounts were clean and quick, and I'm quite proud of my shouldering skills, thank you very much. I fell only once.

What killed me was the bike handling. There were several tight U-turns and chicanes that gave me fits every time, especially as the ground deteriorated and turned to dust.

In the 4's race I got a good position at the beginning of the race and hit the first barriers in the top 10. Each time through the chicanes, however, I would lose a position or two.

On the third lap I dropped my chain and had to get off to fix it. This turned out to be a windfall, because it set me back with the slower riders, and I spent the rest of the race passing people. Turns out that passing people is much more fun than getting passed. I should drop my chain in every race.

I went home not knowing how well I did and not even really caring. That's the great thing about cross: It's fun no matter what. Last place has as much fun as first. Most everyone in the 4's is there for a good workout or to dabble in a different discipline. There's none of the pressure or tension of road racing. It's just go go go, fun fun fun, wheeze wheeze wheeze. I think I'm hooked.

(Two days later I found out I got 13th out of 79.)

It takes a lot to bother me, but some of the reaction to last weekend's road rage incident has left me dispirited. Some have used the attack as an opportunity to launch angry, hateful rants against cyclists, in particular those who don't obey traffic laws with the to-the-letter vigor that drivers do. It's a blame-the-victim mentality that doesn't make a lot of sense. It's like taking a mugging and turning it into a discussion about jaywalking.

I turned off the comments on Chicago Bike Racing after one person wrote a particularly degrading comment, taking issue with the size of my testicles and insulting the two teammates who have died this year.

I responded as any rational person would: I invited him to lunch. On me. I figured if he felt that strongly, he'd welcome the opportunity to insult me and my dead friends in person. We could enjoy a burger and have a civilized conversation about what a humorless idiot I am. I promised him I would not cry.

So far he has not responded, He has declined, which I take to be a white flag vis-a-vis the question of who has the bigger cojones.

Photo taken by E. Wight: Sept. 23, 2007


Sept. 25, 2007

Jeff was on the phone to 911 and battling bad cell reception.

"What was the license plate?" he asked me.

"Foxtrot, echo, 'S' as in Sam, 4-3-3."

"Say it again?"

"Foxtrot, echo -- What's 'S'?"

"Sierra," Peter said.

"Oh, right. Foxtrot, echo, sierra, 4-3-3."

Five minutes earlier about 15 of us had been in a single-file paceline near Libertyville. We'd just turned onto St. Mary's Road and were ramping our pace up over 25 mph. Suddenly a white truck passed us, moved to the right and slowed. My initial thought was that he was turning. But when he came to a halt, I realized there was no road, and he was not turning.

This was an attack.

The first few riders were able to ditch into the gravel, but the rider in front of me endoed over his handlebars. On his way down, the truck's tailpipe sliced his shin, and I think it was his foot that swung up and broke the truck's taillight. About five others went down in the ensuing pileup, but fortunately the wounds were minor. (Bob would be taken to the emergency room for precautionary X-Rays, but they came back negative.)

I stayed upright myself and pursued the truck far enough to get its plate. I started yelling it so I wouldn't forget -- "FES! 433! FES! 433!" -- and immediately txt'ed it to myself. (Unfortunately, I couldn't make out the state. Our guesses included Utah, Arizona and Idaho. It turned out to be Florida.)

Everyone was OK, thank goodness. I have the rest of the tale up over at Chicago Bike Racing. Long story short: The guy turned himself in, as is apparently common with hit-and-run's, and the outstanding Lake County sheriff's deputies who responded to the scene didn't buy a word of his story (he claimed he was avoiding a squirrel). He would spend the next 48 hours in jail and now faces felony charges.

It helped immensely that two other drivers returned to the scene to give statements. They were able to confirm to the deputies that we had been riding single-file and as far to the right as possible.

It's an amazing feeling to see and hear the handcuffs put on someone who has just tried to do you harm. Most car-on-bike attacks don't end this way, so we are of course thrilled with the outcome thus far.

The positive reaction from the bike community has been wonderful. Yesterday set a record for visits to Chicago Bike Racing. People are promising to help see that the driver is not undercharged. It's nice to know that as a group, we refuse to be bullied.

The best outcome will be publicity. Cars and bikes need to be reminded to share the road. Reckless driving needs to be stigmatized, but cyclists also need to be aware of the impact we have on local residents. We demand patience, but we must return courtesy. Every time we ride more than two abreast or take up more than our share of the road, we aggravate drivers unnecessarily, and more cases of road rage will be inevitable. Next time it might not end with cuffs, and next time it might not end with everyone riding home safely.

Photo taken: Sept. 22, 2007


Sept. 9, 2007

After spending a week at home with my family, I have come to speculate that the joys of being a happy 3-year-old, and the joys of being around a happy 3-year-old, could very well be the reason God came up with people in the first place.

There are many adorable things my nephew does. He picks flowers for people. He makes cell-phone calls to his uncle at the dinner table. He goes pee-pee in the woods, and then beckons loved ones to come admire the wetness on the stump.

But the most adorable thing he does comes when he is doing something he really likes, such as playing in the park or eating a cookie. He'll ask, in his whispered, lispy voice, to tell him the story of whatever it is he's doing.

"Will you tell me about when we had ice cream, pwease?" he will say, said ice cream not even finished yet. And so you will tell him about how you drove downtown, played with the pigeons, walked to the ice cream parlor, asked about what flavors there were ... and so on.

He will sit rapt during the telling. And if it's an especially good time, he will ask you to tell it to him again. (Suzie tells me he did this even before he could speak. To hear a story, a story about the present, he would lean over and pat his fingers on her mouth.)

Stories about cookies and trips to the park don't have much in the way of plot development, but they make up for it with the characters, strokes of genius each.

Photo taken: Sept. 3, 2007