Dec. 10, 2007

Randy says to always throw your bike when you practice your sprint. With that advice in mind, I encourage people to throw whenever they cross the finish line, no matter where they finish, because you never know when you're about to get pipped for 27th place. Often it is unnecessary -- I am either last in the break, or I'm well behind the field sprint, or I've been dropped -- but I throw anyhow. For the practice.

And so here I am, throwing to end the cyclocross season. My nearest competitor, a teammate, was at least 5 seconds back after having wiped out on the course's last tricky turn.

I wore antlers and had wanted to find a red nose. That way people would have been compelled to let me go first and guide their way. Instead, sans red nose, I got to my typical bad start and proceeded to spend the rest of the course picking people off. I'd pass one person, sprint to the next, and then spend a quarter-lap waiting for space to pass, space that was scarce on the slushy, muddy course.

I don't think anyone passed me, and I must have climbed from around 20th to my eventual 11th. If the race were an hour longer I might have had time to win.

Seth threw snowballs to motivate me on Cricket Hill. I had expected the snow and slush would make my handling a liability, but it proved not to be so. Nobody was taking these turns very fast, and those who did did so at their peril. I just took the turns nice and easy, sticking a leg out when it seemed prudent, and let the people ahead of me make mistakes, which they obligingly did.

And so ends the 2007 season. Cross was excellent for me, and having done it means I now go three months until my next race instead of what would have been five.

As I browse through this season's photos, it boggles me to be reminded of all that has happened this season, from early-season concussions to mid-season tragedy, from lucky breaks to unlucky breaks. I have to check the time stamps to confirm that the all the photos are indeed from the same season.

I've already booked my flight for spring camp in California. We leave in 89 days. Once again that trip will be the official transition from winter to spring, and as each day of winter passes, I feel like I've chalked another tally on the cell wall.

Photo taken by E. Wight: Dec. 9, 2007


Nov. 19, 2007

I'm not gone, just busy. News you've been breathlessly awaiting:

» We hosted a Halloween party. Ellen was a corked bat, I the Black Sox scandal. Howard Hughes, Bob's Big Boy and disgraced NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak all showed up. (The theme was "Scandal!" It turned out to be harder to dress for than we thought, since most scandals are perpetrated by white men in suits, and it takes a special person to make that fun.) We had way too much food and enjoyed a net gain of 12 beers.

» We bought a tandem. I still haven't taken a picture yet, but it's a 35-year-old Schwinn, canary yellow, made in Chicago. The brakes could use some modernizing but otherwise it runs great. We should all run so well at 35. There are two great things about a tandem: You cannot help but smile when you are riding it. Likewise it is impossible not to smile when you see two fools riding one down the street. It is a smile maker.

Between us we now own 10 bikes: Two mountain bikes, three racing bikes, a track bike, a cyclocross bike, a touring bike, a fixed-gear bike and the tandem.

» I've gotten better at cyclocross. I'm still terrible at the technical aspects, but I'm learning to ration my energies, and several of the courses have been well suited to my inabilities.

I've discovered one more reason why it appeals to me: It's slow. It's an odd confession for a bike racer, the fact that I don't actually enjoy going fast. But it's true: I've always preferred to go up mountains than down them, and motoring across the grass at 15 mph is a much happier time than riding elbow-to-elbow in a criterium at 30 mph. Plus, falling is less traumatic.

» I've taken on the redesign of my team's Web site. It's a difficult job: The site has to be complex enough to meet our needs but simple enough that even a cyclist can use it.

It's been about 12 years since I taught myself Perl and HTML -- back in the days when we bloggers had to write our own darn CMS's, back before we even had the word "blog", back when Pico was my text editor of choice and 28.8 baud felt fast -- and I haven't taught myself much since. I feel a little bit like unfrozen-caveman coder. So much has changed!

The challenges that pop up are great, but the greater a problem, the more satisfying the "Aha!" moment at its resolution. Several times I have leaped from my desk to celebrate a minor victory. I bounce into the living room and try to explain to Ellen why being able to rescue a deleted MySQL table is a big deal for me, if not a minor miracle.

As if this isn't enough to keep me busy, I'm also on a task force to improve safety at races. And I'm part of a four-man team to guide the development of new racers. And I'm trying to keep CBR fresh. And I'm trying to finish my test for my Level 2 coaching license. And I'm trying to get back into serious training-mode.

» I didn't write about it at the time because I didn't want to alarm my mother more than I already had, but I lost a second teammate this summer in a freak racing crash. One of the many cruelties of the loss was discovering what amazing young man he had been. We had hints while he was alive, but few of us were lucky enough to have seen him in full bloom.

Among other things, Pieter was an accomplished photographer, I came to learn, and this week his work went on display at a Michigan Avenue gallery. He was his own subject in many of his photos, so visiting the exhibit was like a reunion with an old friend. And as I rode by on my commute this morning and saw him through the window, I had the urge to wave hello.

Photo taken by E. Wight: Nov. 3, 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


Aug. 30, 2007

On the last day of my trip, I spent three hours wandering through Caracas, killing time before it was time to go to the airport. Gazing across the city from a small hill, I saw in the distance what had until this point been a rare sight in this car-crazy country: A road bike. Then another. Then a pack of them.

It was a race! It looked to be a criterium of some sort. I scrambled down as fast as I could while carrying all my luggage. Meanwhile, my mind raced, trying to conjure a way to enter. In my bag was a Clif Shot leftover from Superweek. Would someone lend me their bike? Who would watch my bags? Would I be OK in a T-shirt and street shoes? How do you say "One for the Cat 3 race, please" in Spanish?

Alas, my heart sank as I got closer and saw the numbers painted on the riders' arms and thighs.

It was just a silly triathlon. Pbbbt.

Photo taken: Aug. 5, 2006


Aug. 21, 2007

Standing at the start line, I knew this was a test. The lesson from Snake Alley was that it was OK to pull out if I didn't feel right. And here I was, not feeling right. I'd practiced on the Downers Grove course that morning, but then the rain started with the first race, and things looked dicey.

Could I pull out with everyone looking at me? What about Matt, behind whose hopes of winning the team was throwing itself?

I decided to stay in and see what would happen on the first lap. In my pre-race visualization, I attacked on the first lap and stayed off long enough to benefit Matt. I even pre-visualized his podium interview, in which he thanked me and my Web site. Heck, I even visualized winning myself and apologizing to Matt from the podium. (A guy's got to dream.) Surely I could give it one lap to see.

Well, by Turn 3 it was obvious that this was not going to happen. On the wet roads I had trouble getting any acceleration, and as we came down the descent into Turn 5, I knew I wanted no part of it. "Pulling out! Pulling out! Pulling out!" I headed straight into the wheel pit, my bike pitching from left to right as I applied the brakes. Somehow I stayed upright and didn't clip anyone behind me.

"Get back in," the official said. "You can still get on the back!"

No, I told him. I was done.

A lap later I was in dry clothes and taking pictures, in time, unfortunately, to watch Matt wipe out in Turn 1. He's one of the most experienced riders on our team, but he'd break his collarbone, our fourth this year. (Mine is the only one to have been self-inflicted out of personal negligence.)

And so it went. Nobody looked to be having any fun. The rain fell harder on Sunday, but with national championships on the line, the riders who stayed in raced as aggressively as ever. I count seven crashes that I saw myself, but I expect the actual number was five to 10 times that. As I've mentioned before, there are two, coincident sensations in watching a crash. On the one hand, it's unnerving to watch, the sound shakes your spine and your heart goes out to the riders. On the other, it's exhilarating and almost comic, and I am quick to the swing the camera to the unnatural sound of wreckage.

Next week: My team's criterium in Sherman Park. Maybe a crit on the North Shore the next day. I should be out riding right now, but it's still wet, and as they say, the hay is in barn. It's quite possible these are the last races of the year.

Until cyclocross.

Photo taken: Aug. 19, 2006


Aug. 15, 2007

People ask how the clavicle is. The clavicle is fine, I tell them, it's the rest of the body that has gone to shit.

I've been back on the bike for five weeks now, equal to the time I was off it, but I haven't been training well. I've been eating junk. I haven't gotten enough sleep.

Most of the sleep has been lost to the Web site, which has an endless to-do list. People have offered to help, but I want to keep it under tight control for now, and managing helpers would probably be more work than doing it all myself.

This weekend there were big, international-caliber races in Elk Grove. Because Ellen is still in Venezuela and thus not here to tell me go to bed, I stayed up until 2 a.m. each night editing photos and posts.

I could just dump my photos online, but I like to adjust each one individually and make sure they all have enough information to be useful. People don't realize how much labor goes into this. Taking pictures may not be easy, but at least it is not time-consuming. It usually takes only about 1/250th of a second. It's the post-capture production that kills a guy.

Fortunately I love what I'm doing, and the response from readers has made everything worth it.

Yesterday I took a half-day off work and went down to the practice crits in Matteson. I could tell the fitness was lacking and considered dropping out during the first two races. In the third race, however, I got in a three-man break that took off from the whistle.

There's nothing more beautiful than a successful breakaway. Andy from Clif Bar was in it, as was a kid from South Chicago Wheelmen whom Andy had told me was strong. Coincidentally, the last time I was at Matteson I was in a three-man break with Andy. He won that time, but afterward told me the secret to winning a three-up sprint. Here we were again -- and for the life of me I couldn't remember what he had said!

Sure enough I could only get second. Afterward he reminded me: Gap yourself and then start sprinting from off the back, thereby passing the others with too much speed to be caught. Of course!

Photo taken: Aug. 12, 2007


July 25, 2007

I told Sandy and Sarah that if they wanted to see me in Sunday's criterium in Evanson, they'd better be there in the first 20 minutes of the 40-mile race. I didn't expect to last much longer than that. By then I'd have either run out of fitness or have crashed on the course's technical turns.

Happily I stayed upright despite a few close calls, and happily I lasted a full hour, much longer than expected. Looking at the photos that Ellen took, however, it was obvious I was in over my head. My mouth was agape the entire time, and I lurched precariously from the tip of my seat in a desperate effort to grind every extra watt out of my body. Even if I could have lasted, I would have been useless to help set up the sprint.

With 10 laps to go I was able to make my way to the front and pulled for a block to help chase a break. By the next lap, however, I was back in the rear and when I took a tricky corner extra conservatively, a gap opened. Teammate Chris was also on the back and gave me a push, but it wasn't enough. I was done. I took a few laps of shame, then pulled out in time to get the camera to shoot Ed's victorious sprint.

It was fantastic to be able to race so close to home. I cheated and used Ellen's car, but I easily could have ridden or even walked to the course. All day long, curious and enthusiastic spectators watched the races, something we amateurs are not accustomed to. Technical crits aren't my bag, but I can't wait to return next year.

The next day was more up my alley: a 70-mile road race through the rolling hills of Wisconsin. The sole objective was to support Ed and defend his lead in the overall. Unfortunately there were only two of us to do so, and we lost Matt around the 50th mile. I didn't race smart at all. I drilled it at all the wrong spots, and when it came time to chase a break, I didn't do it smoothly or cooperatively. Instead I twice found myself off the front by accident, where I would be useless. Meanwhile, other riders counted on the vast army of XXX riders -- both of us -- to be doing all the work.

There was a tricky, milelong stretch of chip seal where the road was covered with loose, sticky gravel. It began with an off-camber turn that hit us immediately with steep climb. Then came a long, straight descent that we took single-file at close to 40 mph. Gravel flew up in our wakes, requiring us to close our mouths lest we lose a tooth. I took several off the bridge of my nose. Someone remarked that the gravel bouncing off bikes sounded like storming a beach at D-Day: Ping! Ping! Ping!

Each time I had trouble turning into the hill. I'd always find a bad line and end up climbing up last, then scrambling to regain contact on the descent. The 7th time up, after 60 miles of racing, the gap was too big and I couldn't reintegrate. I rode the last lap alone and at times with another dropped rider before rolling in for 23rd place. (About 45 had started.)

The breakaway was never caught, and Ed had to settle for 8th place. It's a shame I didn't quite have the tactical know-how or fitness to make this work. I love races of attrition like this, and in many respects it wasn't all that different from April's great Hillsboro Roubaix. Oh well. Maybe next year.

Photo taken by E. Wight: July 22, 2007


July 19, 2007

Were I in proper fitness, Tuesday's race through the rolling roads of the Whitnall Park botanical gardens is another one that should have been up my alley. (I got fifth here in April.) Happily, early on I could tell that I was feeling better than the previous day. I was lingering at the back, sure, but I was able to make up dozens of positions on each climb.

But 4 miles in, I felt a strange wobble in my rear wheel. I might have been bumped. I might have slipped on a groove in the road. It might have been pyschosomatic. Regardless, I didn't feel right, and I didn't feel confident taking turns at speed. I didn't want to risk falling on my glass shoulder, let alone take anyone else out with me.

"Brian," I yelled to a teammate. "Is my rear wheel shaky?"

"Yes!" he said emphatically.

So I pulled off and tightened my skewer. I chased for a bit, but even with motopacing from the support vehicle, there was no hope of catching. I rode on for the training. Friends and teammates encouraged me on, but others merely averted their eyes as I rolled past in shame. After five laps I called it a day.

Brian, an honest man and a chaplain by trade, later told me he had lied. My wheel didn't look shaky at all, but he knew an emphatic "Yes" was the answer I needed at that moment. Sometimes there is greater truth in the lie.

Nonetheless, I spent the rest of the day in a dark place mentally. Watching the pros, with their lean legs and their Zipp wheels and their dexterous turns, I didn't feel like a cyclist myself. I felt like a guy with an expensive bike and better things to be doing.

I wanted to imagine this being fun again. I wanted to imagine having confidence.

Wednesday was more fun. Wednesday I was more confident. Wednesday I had fewer things I'd rather be doing.

After reeling off two consecutive second-place finishes, Ed woke up in first place overall. Nico and I would be riding in his defense at the proving grounds, the course where I cracked a rib two years ago.

It's not something I've had much chance to do, but this kind of riding is an aspect of the 3's I was looking forward to. In some respects, playing a role and riding for someone else is more fun and more satisfying than riding for yourself. It's just as hard -- harder? -- but there's less pressure and tactically it can be more interesting, and I've enjoyed watching the more experienced Nico selflessly and expertly thread Ed through crowded packs.

In the second of six 10-mile laps, I was sitting near the front and feeling good. The pack had just reeled in a two-man break, but I rode tempo to make ground on a solo rider who remained away. The guy who'd won the previous day on a long flier was off the front and out of sight.

"Take it easy," Ed said.

"No, that time trial dude is off the front. We gotta bring him back before he gets too far."

"No he's not," he said. "Look, the pace car is here. The pace car stays with the leaders. That means there's nobody off."

"The pace car could be wrong," I said. I was certain I'd seen this guy's bright yellow jersey slip away. "Look, you stay here. I'm going to float back and try to find him."

As the pack strung out on a descent, I coasted back, back and further back. Sure enough, riding last was my yellow jersey, and as I floated back one more position, it became me who rode last.

I spent the next three laps weaseling my way back up to the front. It was hard on the congested roads, and I can't deny I crossed the centerline, mostly out of necessity, occasionally out of greed, all the while knowing full well the danger, knowing full well the hypocrite it made me.

Finally I was near the front again, keeping an eye out for any last-lap attacks. I motored up to a few, but the one time I made a sudden acceleration, I cracked hard after a mere 5 seconds of hard effort.

Eventually a rider in green got away by himself. A handful of people traded pulls at the front, including Ed. I went up to relieve him. "That was your last pull," I said as he coasted by me. I wanted him to save himself for the finish.

When it was my turn, I slowly accelerated. Next thing I knew, I looked back and nobody was with me. I didn't mean to attack, I swear, but there I was in no man's land. This would be my last chance to be useful, so I plowed ahead toward the green beacon on the horizon.

I got about halfway across the gap when a Brone's rider I knew to be strong bridged to me. "I'm happy with third," I quickly conceded in order to keep him motivated, but it was wishful thinking. We were soon joined by a third, and after a single rotation we were swallowed by the peloton.

The effort cooked me, but I'd like to think it contributed to catching the escapee a few miles down the road. I stayed with the group until the final mile, where two tricky turns led us back into a racetrack for the finish. As expected, several riders tangled up on the first of these turns, and the gap it created was just the excuse I needed to soft-pedal the rest of the way.

As I crossed the finish line, I heard the announcer say "Oak Park," and I knew that Ed had won.

Photo taken: July 17, 2006


July 17, 2007

I'm back, sort of.

Ordinarily today's road race at Alpine Valley would have been my favorite of Superweek. But after two uncharacteristically challenging group rides last week -- getting dropped when I ought not to have gotten dropped, wheezing when I ought not to have be been wheezing -- I knew that I'd lost quite a bit of fitness since the Snake Alley crash in May. I'd be lucky to be pack fodder.

Within the first 5 of 60 miles I was on the brink. My heart rate soared to 193 in the flats. One single hard effort sent me floating to the back, where I clung to keep contact. I had mechanical worries, too. I got a bad case of speed wobbles on the first descent, and the bumpy second descent loosened the screws of my bottle cage.

Just as I was contemplating how to safely secure my cage, I heard a loud "Pisssssh" and felt pressure give away behind me. "It's me," I said and raised my hand for a new rear wheel from the support truck. Unfortunately I hadn't put a wheel in and there were no compatible wheels available. I wouldn't have been able to get back in the race anyhow, but it would have been nice to get a training ride in.

A rider from Austin, Texas, stopped to give me a lift back to the start/finish. I had a nice chat with him, then balanced the karma by taking Ed's car and giving an Australian rider a lift up the feed zone.

Maybe there's a good race in my future, but I doubt I'm going to get the fitness back this year. I haven't had any quality intensity in six weeks, just spotty endurance rides. I don't feel that taut invincibility that comes with being in shape. Maybe I'll be fine by August, but those are all short crits, and even at my peak I'd have trouble.

The good news is that the shoulder is fine. It didn't even cross my mind during the race, and it is now rare when it twinges or throbs.

And that's all fine. What I have lost in fitness I have gained in perspective. I felt happy out there, and I felt safe and protected in the fold. Maybe next year.

Photo taken: July 16, 2007


July 11, 2007

Waiting for Floyd

Photo taken: July 10, 2007


May 27, 2007

"A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."

WOPR, "War Games"

Snake Alley. Probably my favorite race of the year.

It takes a big man to win Snake Alley.

It takes a stronger man to sit it out for the sake of torrential rain.

I'm neither of those men.

I had a bad feeling about the race, not to mention a nightmare or two during the week, but I hadn't driven four hours to stand under an umbrella.

The rain stopped right before my race, but the roads were still soaked, and it disrupted my pre-race routine.

I'd been sulking over the weather ever since I left the house before dawn. I wasn't visualizing the climb or going over the mechanics of descending. It didn't even dawn on me to under-inflate my tires because of the rain, and I passed on Pieter's suggestion to use vinegar to keep the oil off my tires. (I don't know if this would improve grip, but he's Belgian, so he should know.)

My head was so unscrewed that I couldn't even clip in properly at the start. What was more troublesome, however, was how unbothered I seemed to be by it. A cyclist depends on urgency and lust, and I had neither.

I found the Snake impossible to climb, mentally so more than physically. My legs were fine. It was my head that couldn't work fast enough, and it frustrated me to not be able to pour my everything into my pedals.

Normally I would get out of the saddle, yank on the handlebars and bound like a gazelle. The bricks yielded too little traction, however. Too much force in any direction sent a rider sliding. Even sitting I had fits, and yanking on the handlebars would pull my front off the ground. Damn my new light bike! A pox on my 680-gram wheels!

Obviously other people were figuring it out because they were passing me. I lost even more ground on the turns of the descent, worthless, tentative descender that I am. On the second lap I braked heading into one turn and sent a spray of water into the rider behind me, who scolded me accordingly.

On the third lap I was gapped so badly by the bottom that I had nobody to follow and had to make my own line on the last corner. The turn worried me so much that I spent one second too many worrying about it and one second too few actually executing it. This was a physics test and by hesitating, I was failing.

I tried to lean to save the turn, but given the speed and slickness I lacked the nerve to lean far enough. My caution would be my downfall, literally.

As soon as I knew I wouldn't make it, I had two choices: Try to continue the turn and skid out at 35 mph? Or do I jam on the brakes and continue going straight?

I continued straight, straight into a hay bale. The bale saved my bike but I tumbled over, landing squarely on my left shoulder.

As I limped to the first-aid station, a second rider plowed into the exact same bale. But he was lucky: He shredded his skinsuit, but other than road rash he was fine. I would be another story.

An hour later I walked out of the hospital with my left arm immobilized. In my good hand I held a prescription for Vicodin and a diagnosis of a broken clavicle and separated joint.

(The immobilization device included a large foam strap around my waist. Two of me could fit in it, and the nurse struggled to fit it to my 150-pound frame. "It's not designed for cyclists," she said, part apology, part compliment. "It's for us corn-fed people of Iowa.")

I'll see an orthopedist this week, but the ER doctor said to expect to be out 5-8 weeks, plus 5-8 weeks more if surgery is required.

People will say, "It's a shame for things like this to happen to the nice guys." And they're right! It is a shame, and on behalf of nice guys everywhere, I'll note that it's really starting to piss me off.

And so now I spend Sunday morning listening to the Adagio in G minor, reading the Giro d'Italia ticker and generally feeling sorry for myself. I'm going through photos of people cycling and thinking, "That looks like it might be fun." I see a picture of someone raising both arms in the air and think, "That looks like it might be fun."

I'm trying to think of a worse time for this to have happened. In September, this would be a get-out-of-painting-free card and a welcome excuse to be lazy. But now, after hundreds of hours of winter training and spring preparation, I'm close to being on form. The season is coming into bloom. The weather is almost pleasant. I feel like a groom left standing at the altar.

Somewhat on a lark last week, I ordered the correspondence course to become a licensed cycling coach. I have no desire to coach, but I thought it might help me as a rider, and since I'm always doling out advice to newer riders, it might make sense to know what the hell I was talking about.

Suddenly I'll have plenty of time to study, as well as work on this other new project of mine, and do all the fun summer things that normal people do. And just think of all the entry-fee money I'll save. Yay.

Photo taken: May 26, 2007


May 20, 2007

On our fourth and final approach to the milelong, 700-foot climb of the Denzer road race, riders started saying their farewells and exchanging their final pleasantries, like prisoners on the morning of their trip to the firing squad, or soldiers heading once more into the breach. Many had had to catch back on after being dropped on the prior lap -- I was one of them -- and knew they would not be so fortunate this time.

All eyes were on Seth, Get a Grip's ace climber. It was no secret he'd be attacking on this climb. He advertised as much leading up. Sure enough, he set off early in the climb and the field shattered in his wake.

Ed and I urged each other on. I told him I didn't think I could hold on and thus it was up to him. He told me he didn't think he could hold on and thus it was up to me.

I was standing on the pedals and close to cracking when Ed started fading in earnest. Seth was floating away, but I knew I'd be OK if I just stuck with the lead bunch. I started to pre-emptively organize. "Let's take it easy and stay together," I said. "At the top we can paceline up to Seth and drop all the mopes behind us."

Indeed, a group of six formed at the top and we caught Seth, who'd sat up to wait for us. Ed was not among us. A half-mile down the road, the course took a soft, gravelly right at the bottom of a hill and hit a steep climb. It was here that Seth attacked again. And it was here that my gears misfired, costing me just enough momentum to lose the move.

I ended up alone between Seth's group of three and a group of three chasers. "Seth!" I screamed in desperation, but that just caused his group to accelerate. (I'd given the guy a ride two weeks earlier, and this was the thanks I get?) I made progress but I knew if I pushed any harder I'd risk cracking and lose everything, so I fell back to the chasers.

And that's how we finished. I thought I was doing a good job sucking wheel and being patient for the sprint for fourth place. When I jumped I unleashed a fury I've rarely unleashed in a race before. I felt great. Finally! Finally I was going to beat people in a sprint!

Alas, I unleashed it 2 seconds too early. The fury ran out 10 meters before the line. A rider came around my right. "Damn! Fifth place!" A second rider came around my left. "Damn! Sixth place!"

"Nice leadout," one of them said to me afterward, about as back-handed a compliment as one can give to someone you just beat in a sprint. I know I can work on my jump and be less stupid, but one needn't rub it in.

Ed said later that this was the first time he'd been dropped since our first ride at camp last year, when Randy, George and I rode away from him. He also said that that experience motivated his training for the next 12 months. I can only speculate how getting dropped in a race will motivate him.

Photo taken by Newt Cole: May 19, 2007


May 16, 2007

"Everybody hates for a crash to happen," everybody says after a crash has happened, but it's not completely true.

Within a race, for example, there's no sweeter sound than that of mangled components -- if the sound comes from behind you. The surviving riders feel a small euphoria, for each crash means fewer people trying to take your prize.

Opportunistic riders accelerate at the sound of metal scraping against pavement. Part if it is the survival instinct, to get as far from danger as possible. But it's also a natural point of attack, to drive the stake deeper into the unfortunate.

The unscathed rider doesn't look back but secretly imagines the entire balance of the field writhing in a heap. He counts n riders ahead of him and fancies that the race has been reduced to n+1. Alas, even the worst-sounding crashes typically take out only one or two riders.

And photographers love crashes. We train our long lenses on each sprint, secretly hoping this will be the one that provides the perfect shot. The image of the unfortunate rider floating helplessly away from his bike is a decisive moment that carries as much portent and energy as Henri Cartier-Bresson's classic shot of the man leaping across the puddle. The proper crash photo, in which a hovering rider has not yet hit the ground but is about to, is a piece of kitsch that every cycling photographer dreams of adding to his collection.

In this case the unfortunate rider is Ansgar, one of the area's best sprinters but one who sometimes underestimates his own strength.

Ansgar was one of the first friends I made in racing. I confess that I enjoy crash porn such as this, but I do so only by knowing he walked away unscathed.

According to the time stamps on my photos, it took only 20 seconds from the time he started going down to when he was upright on the curb and beginning to laugh it off. In those 20 seconds his skipped across the ground like a plane ditching into a field. He must have gone 15 meters. If he'd gone 5 meters more, he might have salvaged a top-10 finish, but he ground to a halt just short of the line.

Something I enjoy about this series is the reaction of the spectators. Some recoil in horror. Others stand agape in disbelief. Some don't react at all. A father shields his children.

Speaking of wrecks, my body is a bit of one at the moment. At my team's practice time trial this morning, I had one of my worst times ever, 10 percent slower than this time last year. My head wasn't in it, and neither were my legs. I'm not sure what's going on. Perhaps staying up until 2 a.m. editing race photos wasn't a good idea?

Photo taken: May 13, 2007


May 6, 2007

You come in fifth in some, you lose some.

After last week's good finish, it didn't take long to find out whether it was a matter of luck or of talent.

The Baraboo road race was my first road race two years ago. I didn't stand a chance, but since then I'm persuaded my team to make a big deal out of this event, and both I and my teammates have done better each year.

Nominally Saturday's edition of Baraboo was my target race for the year, but I knew that even after tailoring my training toward it, Ed would be the stronger of the two of us and would have the best shot. That's what I expect the case will be all year, and I'm more than comfortable with. That's the nice thing about the 3's. Compared to the 4's, races are much more about team success than individual.

Coming down with a cold on Thursday didn't help.

Sure enough, I struggled as soon as we got over the first major climb. The climb had reduced the field of 32 to about 20. People started to attack. Once three were off, I told Ed, "Next person who goes, you go with him." He obeyed. Soon enough there were two discreet groups, Ed in the lead group, me in the chase. One by one, riders bridged from my group to his as some collegiate hotshots drilled it in a heavy crosswind. Finally the "chase" was a chase of one: me. I was dropped.

I spent the rest of the race in no-man's land, occasionally riding with others, getting dropped a few times, dropping others a few times.

For the last 10 miles I cooperated with a Brazen Dropout. I attacked on the final climb, 2 miles from the finish, but he covered it. I proceeded to suck his wheel, declining his invitation to let me pull. It was a meaningless maneuver -- we were battling for something-teenth place -- but I felt I needed the practice of actually coming across someone at the finish line. I sucked wheel, I sucked some more ... and then I sucked. He continued to ramp up the pace and I somehow lacked the legs to come around.

The good news is that Ed had both the legs and the experience to win the race. The day had a silver lining, and I found some solace in Seth's assessment that this was one of the hardest Cat 3 races he'd ever seen.

Afterward Ed tried to thrust $20 of his winnings into my hand. It's common for a winner to share his windfall with teammates who helped him win.

"What the hell's this?"

"Your share."

"Screw you. I didn't do anything for you."

"You were there."

"I was there for 20 minutes."

"Take it."

"No. You can't give me cash. You buy me lunch or get me a beer."

"Take it."

"No. This is like leaving $20 on your girlfriend's nightstand. You don't do that. You buy her flowers or chocolates. Would you give your wife $20?"

"Take it."

And in the end I took it, just to shut him up, but it sure was annoying. He'd better not make a habit of winning.

Photo taken: May 5, 2007


April 29, 2007

After not racing for a month, I persuaded Ellen to lend me her car so I could go to Milwaukee and do the Whitnall Park criterium, mostly just to stay sharp ahead of next week's target race in Baraboo.

Whitnall Park is a milelong crit course with three small climbs in quick succession. The first comes after after a sharp right turn, the second puts you into a stiff headwind, and the third deposits you at the start/finish line. King of the Mountain points are available on laps 4, 7 and 10.

With the wind as stiff as it was, I didn't expect anything would stay away. Since I was without teammates, I knew my only chance was to sit in and be patient. I knew it would be a waste to burn any matches early. I knew I should stay as anonymous as possible.

Knowing all this, then, it surprised me to be trying to cover anything that moved in the first few laps. What can I say? Sometimes in a race my body has a mind of its own. Why do I chase everything? For the same reason the scorpion strikes the frog: It is our nature, doom us though it may.

About three laps in a Homegrown Racing rider was alone off the front. I hopped onto the wheel of a second Homegrown as he moved to bridge up. Just as we got clear I noticed the first guy was already fading. Great. Another wasted move. Ten minutes in I already felt my race was done. I started to anticipate the ribbing I'd face from racing friends afterward. "What were you thinking? Who let a bonehead like you into Cat 3?"

When we caught Homegrown No. 1, he revived. But even though the three of us worked well together, I didn't expect us to get anywhere, for surely the pack wouldn't let two teammates get off together. Since we were approaching the first King of the Mountain lap, however, I figured I'd help keep the break going for that and score some points, then try to get lucky later on, after we'd been absorbed back into the pack's unsympathetic maw.

I won the KoM, and in the next lap we lost one of the Homegrown riders. He was replaced by four more riders in the pack, including two Get a Grip riders. One of them would be dropped, so we ended up with a group of five: me, Homegrown, Steven from Get a Grip, a Baraboo Shark and an unattached.

It took a while but we got a good paceline going. Our gap rose and fell: 30 seconds one lap, 20 the next, then back up to 30. Each time we headed up the first hill we peeked back to see how close the field was. If they were closer than the previous lap, we went faster. If they were farther away, we let up a bit.

Steven urged us to be neutral for the second KoM lap. Many a break has died when the riders get greedy for primes. But I wanted the points, so Steven arranged for me to take it uncontested. This kept our momentum going and effectively clinched KoM for me.

There's a point in every breakaway where the objective stops being to stay away and starts being to win. There's a point where even I have to stop being nice and go for the throat. In most of my successful breaks -- all four of them -- I am late to realize that this point has arrived. While I'm trying to keep the tempo up and cajoling others into working together, everyone else is smartly skipping pulls and plotting their endgame.

Coming up the hills on the penultimate lap, it finally registered with me that we were away for good and that I should start scheming. I decided to experiment by soft-pedaling and letting a gap open in front of me, thereby letting Steven and the unattached rider float away. Homegrown and the Shark had been conserving their pulls, so I wanted to make them work.

They showed no interest in chasing, so the gap grew. As the bell rang ahead of us, however, the leaders were stalling on the final hill, so I jumped. I got clear and caught them by surprise. With a lap to go, I was on my own. This was a brilliant, brilliant move.

Or it would have been, had it worked. Instead, Steven caught me on the descent. We worked a little bit together, but not well enough to hold off the others.

As we started up the three climbs, the cat-and-mouse game started in earnest. Steven was first, I was second, the three others sat on my wheel. We slowed to a crawl as we hit the wind. In front, Steven kept looking back as though he'd dropped something. Suddenly he jumped. I hesitated and missed my chance to grab his wheel.

At this point I had a choice. Do I chase, or do I sit? I could chase after him, but in this wind, all that would accomplish would be to pull the other opponents to the finish. So I thought: "Well, Steven is a nice guy. He worked hard in the break. I'll let him go. Either he'll stay away, or the others will chase and I can grab their wheels and let them tow me to victory."

Fortunately for Steven but unfortunately for me, the other opponents didn't respond until it was too late. I jumped with them, but I couldn't pass. Steven crossed the line with arms raised. My throw was too late, so I settled for fifth, last in our group.

I could have won, I know it, but I'm not sure exactly how. I'm still trying to unlock that puzzle. (As I've mentioned before, it's puzzles like this one that make cycling so fascinating.) In any case, knowing that it is possible to win is one of the most important steps in a racer's development, and I'm glad I got there so early in the season.

Fifth place earned me $10, and King of the Mountain earned me a $10 gift certificate and a box of Clif bars. After the entry fee and the flowers I'd buy Ellen for giving me the car, I just about broke even for the day.

Photo taken: April 28, 2007


April 22, 2007

At the Milwaukee Art Museum

Photo taken: April 21, 2007


April 2, 2007

Upon returning to the city from Saturday's race, sweat salt still caked on our brows, Mike and I headed to Logan Square's Mutiny, a dive bar renowned for having a urinal the size of a phone booth, for the debut of IRO Sprints, an event put on by the local messenger/hipster/fixed-gear scene.

We were both out of our element -- our element being considerably quieter, squarer and less smoky -- but it felt like an important cultural exchange, like America shipping teenagers to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Our team is trying to help messengers get involved in sanctioned racing, and the messengers no doubt feel out of their element whenever they're surrounded by gratuitous Lycra and carbon fiber. Participating in one of their events was the least we could do in return.

The format was simple: Two track bikes are positioned on rollers, their forks mounted to a stationary stand, their rear wheels wired into a laptop. The rollers offer zero resistance, so the contest is to see who can most quickly spin 36 times, the equivalent of a 250-meter sprint at the velodrome. The spins get ridiculously fast and violent. Progress is projected onto a wall. Winners advance to the next round; losers go drink some PBR. Meanwhile, a rowdy, inebriated crowd is screaming at the riders to go faster.

The set-up was very impressive, as was the stone-soup way in which it came to be. As I understand it, one person wrote the computer code from scratch, someone else designed a GUI, someone else got the frames donated from manufacturer IRO, and various others cobbled together the necessary parts and know-how and put it all together, all in less time than it takes an Amish village to raise a barn.

The bar was crowded and hot, the punk music was deafening, and two days later my jeans still reek from the cigarette smoke, but it was the most fun I've ever had on one wheel.

I didn't even do that well. What do you expect from a climber? I squeaked by the first round, then got crushed in the second. (Between heats I sneaked to Ellen's car to wolf down a Clif Bar, which I think violated IRO Sprints etiquette on multiple levels.) Mike got into the quarterfinals, but after he got beat at 2 a.m., we were both too exhausted to see things to their end.

Photo taken: March 31, 2007


April 1, 2007

The Hillsboro Roubaix is one of most anticipated road races in the Midwest. It fills up fast and draws riders from Missouri to Wisconsin.

Its inspiration is Paris-Roubaix, perhaps the most legendary one-day race in the world, otherwise known as "Hell of the North" or "Queen of the Classics."

Like Paris-Roubaix, Hillsboro's principle feature is a long stretch of brick, unmaintained brick littered with ruts and potholes and gravel.

Riding over the brick is bad enough, but you also enter it coming out of a long descent and, on this particular day, aided by a 20 mph tailwind. One second you're screaming down a hill at 40 mph and then you hit the "pavé" and suddenly your bike is bucking you like a mechanical bull at a Texas honky-tonk.

Between the bricks, the hills and the ridiculous crosswinds, I knew this race, a combined 3/4 field, would be a brutal affair. It would also be my first serious race as a Cat 3 and at 66 miles my longest.

I couldn't help but think of a training ride I went on with a local Cat 3 team last fall. They dropped me in the first 10 miles. That was a casual training ride. How on earth could I fare any better in competition?

Hovering over all this uncertainty was the threat of thunderstorms, the chance of which hit as high as 60 percent. The only thing I knew for sure was that his would be a race of attrition that would spit people out the back from start to finish. I just wanted to be spit out last. My strategy would be to sit in, hang on and hope for the best.

I spent most of the first lap near the back. The roads were narrow and the field was large. It was impossible to move up through the congestion. At the back we felt the brunt of the frequent braking and surging, and we had to fight the hardest to not get gapped in the crosswinds.

I touched base with Seth from Get a Grip. We shared the same frustration over the braking. "Are all Cat 3 races like this," I asked, "or is this just because there are so many Cat 4's in the field?" He could only shrug. Fortunately Seth is a smart, agile rider. As we approached the two hills that led into town at the end of the first lap, I followed his wheel as he navigated his way up to the front. I suddenly had breathing room.

Approaching the same two hills at the end of the second lap, I predicted to Ed that Seth, an excellent climber, would attack. Sure enough, he did. I scrambled up the second hill to catch him, as did Ed and a few others. We rattled our way across the bricks with no regard for bike, limb or dental fillings and soon enough were with Seth and tried to get a paceline together. As soon as it had begun, however, Seth saw that the field was right on our heels and smartly called off the effort. The good news was that the pack exiting town was a little bit smaller than the pack that had entered it.

It was on this trip through town that I learned that there was someone well off the front. I had no idea.

Starting the third lap I rode some tempo and attacked once. At one point we had a very viable group of a dozen, including myself and two teammates, but none of the others wanted to work, and the field caught us. By this time, however, the field was down to about 30. Mark, Ed and I were the only ones from our team.

Two and a half hours into the race, I kept up the pressure into the headwind, figuring that there were some dangerous riders that could catch back on if the pack relaxed. But 20 seconds into any hard effort my left hamstring and quads would cramp up. I would make do with those 20-second bursts: I'd go to the front, drive the tempo, cramp up and retreat back into the sanctuary of the draft ... and then I would do it all over again.

During one such effort someone asked, "Are you attacking, or are you just going faster?" I think he was making fun, and indeed it's one of my weaknesses: It is sometimes hard to tell whether I'm attacking or "just going faster."

Riders started to slip off the front. I was in no condition to chase or bridge. When Seth and a Mesa rider got a good gap together, I asked Ed whether he wanted to be up there with them. I figured I could jump and get him halfway there. But he declined. Sure enough, they would stay off, thanks to some solid blocking from their teammates, and I think both Ed and I would regret his decision.

Normally I would think about trying to wait to lead Ed out at the end, but with my cramping I didn't think I would be useful in a sprint. So I reported my condition to Ed and went back to driving the tempo as well as I could, hoping to pop more and more riders off the back.

Finally we neared town. Quietly Ed sneaked off the front and started to drift away as we hit the hills. Mark and I went up front to soft pedal, the only job a guy with cramped quads can perform, thus vexing the chase. Few had the energy to come around, and I moved into the path of any that did. Ed's lead grew. "Go, Ed!" I screamed into the wind. "Go!"

Finally people surged past us as we hit the bricks. I mentally urged Ed on. Mark and I were sacrificing our results and we were happy to do so, but it would only be worth it if Ed could hold people off.

Which he did, of course, finishing a few seconds ahead of everyone else to get sixth place. I held my own in the sprint and despite getting boxed and not knowing where the finish line was got 11th.

Given the situation it was textbook teamwork. What impresses me most is how it came to be almost telepathically. We never talked about what we would do in such a scenario. Nonetheless, Ed knew exactly when to go, and Mark and I knew exactly what to do in response. It's only a shame that five people had already gotten away.

So, a successful start to the season. This was one of the hardest races I've ever done, but the Hillsboro Roubaix earns its designation as "spring classic" and joins Snake Alley and the Circuit of Sauk in my list of favorites. I need to figure out why I cramped up, but I think I can stop worrying about getting dropped.

Photo taken: March 31, 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


Feb. 21, 2007

I bumped into this guy on my ride this morning near Diversey Harbor, whose sheet of ice was still thawing and breaking up. His name is Ioseph. "I am from Russia," he said, "but I am a Jew." He also said he swims there every Saturday, but it's hard for him to find friends to join him.

It was a pleasant encounter, and it almost made up for the rear axle that broke on me. And the banana that exploded in my bag. And the treacherous black ice and ominous radio warnings of "freezing fog," which sounded like a spell out of "Harry Potter."

Photo taken: Feb. 21, 2007


Jan. 1, 2007

9 dinner guests, 7 menu items, 2 fondue pots, 1 smoke-filled kitchen. Happy 2007.

Photo taken: Dec. 31, 2006


Dec. 26, 2006

For several years I have been saving my pennies, emptying my pockets each night before bed. In doing so I have filled a pickle jar, a peanut jar and about 10 percent of a Carlos Rossi wine jug.

For several months Ellen has been asking me to get rid of those silly penny jars. She wanted me to redeem them at the Coinstar and then do something fun with the proceeds.

I was reluctant. I harbored this fantasy that one day my nephew would visit. What if it rained and we couldn't go to the zoo or the park or the bar? We could stay home, count pennies and learn about the rewards of thrift! Because surely nephews love counting pennies, almost as much as uncles love nephews who do chores.

Finally I relented, but stealthily and without Ellen's knowledge.

As I walked to the grocery store, my messenger bag groaned from the weight of the jars. The Coinstar there was defective and counted only one of every five pennies, of which I had thousands. Every few minutes I had to take handfuls of rejects and reload them into the intake hopper. The transaction took about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, the machine shook like an epileptic R2 unit, hemorrhaging pennies into the aisle.

The clatter reverberated through the Jewel. I scrambled to nab coins that had rolled away. I heard clerks and shoppers raising their voices to be heard above the disturbance, and I felt their accusing stares: "Who's that asshole with the pennies?"

This asshole with the pennies ended up $50 to the good. I took it in the form of Amazon credit, which enabled me to afford Ellen's Christmas present: an iPod. I miss my penny jars, and if my nephew ever visits on a rainy day we will have to play poker or fold laundry instead of any penny-related merriment, but it was worth it to see her face light up Monday as she tore through the newspaper in which I had wrapped my gift.

Then it was my turn to open her gift, and my greatest fears were realized: She had sold her entire CD collection -- in order to buy me a coin-sorting machine!

Ho ho! That last part is not true, but a day later my witty reimagining of the "Gift of the Magi" still makes me laugh. (O. Henry? Oh, brother!)

In truth, Ellen and her family spent the weekend burying an undeserving me with chocolates, casseroles and various wrapped delights. The highlight was a scarf made with yarn Ellen and I had selected this August at a rural Arizona truck stop/trading post/yarn emporium, a magic scarf that somehow keeps me warm even when it does not slither around my neck.

Homemade gifts are always the best, of course. I had hoped to make her an MP3 player out of twigs, plastic bottles and other found objects, but I could not find enough lithium ions for the battery and had to abandon the project just as I'd finished soldering the circuit board.

Photo taken: Dec. 23, 2006


Dec. 4, 2006

Mom, from behind a model plant in the children's room at the Garfield Park Conservatory.

Photo taken: Dec. 4, 2006


Nov. 25, 2006

Women's cyclocross, Jackson Park.

I went riding Thursday, enjoying what was surely the best weather we'll have until May. I haven't ridden more than an hour in six weeks, so it was going to be a short, easy ride with Mark. Then Ansgar joined us, and nothing is easy when Ansgar is pulling. Then Soren showed up in Highland Park, and it's never short when Soren is leading the way. It turned into a challenging 4-hour ride -- and one of the year's best.

Afterward I celebrated Turkey Day by eating at the Turkish restaurant around the corner.

I'm not yet excited about the long, boring rides of base training. I've been following Seth, a collegiate Cat 3 studying and training in Germany. Last week he rode 31 hours. Between the weather, work and my inability to stand more than two hours on the trainer, I'll be lucky to get in a few 15-hour weeks this winter. 31?

Photo taken: Nov. 12, 2006


Nov. 14, 2006

Cyclocross in Jackson Park. Just like last year, I wished I were out there. Even the people who got lapped seemed to be having fun. Heck, even the guy puking against a tree after his race seemed to have had a good time.

My excuse for spectating was that I don't have a proper cross bike, but the course was flat enough that if it were a little drier and I hadn't forgotten my cycling shoes at work, I would have pulled a Super Rookie and ridden it on my Steamroller, fixed gear be darned.

In other cycling news, the off season is officially over. Ellen took me to the Y this morning and introduced me to the weight-lifting regimen I should be doing for the next 12 weeks. Afterward I didn't puke against a tree, but I was a little wobbly riding my bike to work.

Photo taken: Nov. 12, 2006


Oct. 25, 2006

Photo taken: Sept. 21, 2006


Oct. 23, 2006

I ran a marathon this weekend. Which is to say, I ran in a marathon.

Levi was running the Indianapolis Marathon, and since Ellen was due to visit family nearby, we drove down early Saturday to watch.

It's been almost a year and a half since my last serious run -- a happy, regret-free year and a half, I should note -- but I've always wanted to be someone's rabbit, and I was pleased when Levi accepted my offer to jump in around the 21st mile. I told him I couldn't promise to last very long, but I'd help him keep his 8-minute pace as long as I could.

I would be sore the next two days, but it turned out that the running muscles haven't atrophied as much as I had expected. I stayed with him the balance of the course, peeling off with 385 yards to go and cutting across a park in order to cheer him at the finish line as he set a personal record.

The highlight of the morning came at the beginning of the run. We'd just rendezvoused but I desperately had to pee. (The coffee required to leave Chicago at 6 a.m. is great.) So I told him to keep going, popped into a Porta-Potty and then sprinted to catch up.

This sprint created the illusion of a marathoner having an improbable gale-force second wind. "Good job!" spectators yelled as I bounded past bonked runners. "You're looking great!"

And of course I looked great: I'd only been running for 30 seconds.

Chicago's marathon was this weekend too. Walking down Michigan Avenue this morning, I saw tell-tale green ribbons around necks. Full-page newspaper ads congratulated runners. At the office, someone wanted to surprise a colleague with a standing ovation. I rolled my eyes.

In the past 15 or so years, the marathon-industrial complex has elevated the race from fringe stunt to Oprah-approved rite of passage, if not outright act of heroism. Enough is enough. It's time to stop lionizing marathon runners -- and not just because cyclists train so much harder.

Marathoners deserve congratulations and support -- just as all loved ones deserve congratulations and support for following their bliss, whether their bliss is running 26.2 miles or darning socks or performing the banjo -- but they are not heroes, and I'm tired of Nike ads that allege that they are.

Runners neither cure cancer nor survive it. I should know: I ran seven marathons. The world isn't any better for any of them. The world may even be worse for my narcissism. Those seven marathons required thousands of hours of training that could have been spent doing something useful, like learning a trade or teaching people to read or baking cookies.

Is running hard? Sure. So is parenting. So is teaching. So is driving a CTA bus. As the Dread Pirate Roberts said to Buttercup, "Life is pain, Highness."

Levi knows I'm not talking about him. He's the type who races in order to train, not the other way around. He would be mortally embarrassed by a standing ovation, the first person ever to be clapped to death, and I don't expect he wore his medal to work today. In fact, he rightly allowed that if the weather had been any worse Saturday, he would have bagged the race and felt not one pang of regret.

And just as cycling requires a greater devotion to training, so is it an even bigger waste of time and an even bigger act of narcissism. The difference is that we don't expect to hear the "Beaches" soundtrack when we cross the finish line. We don't expect mortals to pour oil on our feet the day after a race. And we only give medals to winners.

The co-worker? She didn't get her applause. She called in sick with sore legs.

Photo taken: Oct. 21, 2006


Oct. 10, 2006

The cycling season wrapped up this weekend.

(It occurs to me that I've been saying that for months: first after the last of the road races in July, then after the criteriums of August. But this time I mean it. We are out of races.)

As I rode home on the lakefront last night, a tailwind freshened my legs and made me mournful for the sudden competitive void. "If only," I thought to myself, "there were someone up the road to chase." As I glided up and around the 18th Street bridge, I thought, "If only this were Snake Alley."

The past two weekends comprised the Fall Fling: one time trial, two crits, a road race. I was most excited about the road race, which happened to fall on my birthday. It was a 40-mile race over rolling terrain that I knew would include exposure to heavy winds.

One particular team has been a bane to me all summer. Their etiquette is questionable but their sprinting is not. My hope in the road race, then, was to make sure it was a race of attrition and did not come down to a field scrum.

I was successful, sort of. I attacked several times and rode tempo in the crosswind, hugging either the gutter or the yellow line to maximize the effect. (One time I attacked because one rider from this team was being a jackass near the front. I wasted precious energy but got 45 seconds of peace and quiet.)

The field gradually shattered. At one point we were down to 13 riders, but I was too cooked to look back and realize it. My obliviousness allowed a chase group to catch back on.

Unfortunately, my efforts did not drop any of my targets. Instead, I found on each lap more of my teammates cheering from the sideline in street clothes. Oops. Sorry, fellas.

I ended up 10th. I might have done better had I not had to swerve into the gutter to avoid a crash during the downhill sprint. My criteriums were even more mediocre, 20th and 21st, and I ended up in 10th overall, two spots out of the money.

All weekend I've been replaying the races' finishes. If I'd only chosen a different gear, or taken a different line, or taken one less flier... The next race won't be until March, so I'll have five more months of these reruns.

Ellen is helping me put together an off-season training plan. I'm supposed to ride 300 miles this week, then rest a bit before attacking the weight room. She seems to think I need to develop enough upper-body strength so that I no longer need to press the handicapped button to open heavy doors.

This morning I did two things with 2007 in mind: I applied for an upgrade to Category 3, and I resumed my NetFlix subscription, so as to pass the dozens of trainer hours ahead. As I write this I am noticing the radiators clang and gurgle for the first time. It may snow Thursday.

This will be fun.

Photo taken by E. Wight: Oct. 7, 2006


Sept. 19, 2006

I'm not sure what normal boyfriends get in trouble for. Leaving dirty dishes on the table? Flirting? Emotional unavailability?

The angriest I have seen Ellen was this Sunday.

I had been in a break of eight at the masters criterium at Parkside. Just sitting in put my heart rate at 105 percent of its theoretical maximum. When the attacks started, two others and I were summarily dispensed out the back. It was when I chose to drop off the chase group, thereby abandoning hope, that I looked to the sideline and found heretofore unseen disgust. Clenched jaw, daggers out of eyes, smoke out of ears, the works. You'd think I'd just bogarted her chocolate shake. I could only shrug. I limped in in eighth place, either last of the winners or first of the losers, depending on your outlook on life.

This was the masters open race. The field wasn't stacked in my favor like last time, so even at peak fitness I would have been outclassed, plus I'd taken a week off because of a wedding and some unrelated gastrointestinal issues. My goal was merely to get in the winning break. Better to have made the separation and lost than to have never separated at all, right, baby? Maybe?

I hoped to have recovered by the end of the subsequent 4's race, but I was still too dead to make any move at the end, neither a planned suicide flier nor a sprint. On the bright side, I successfully advised young Jeff toward a fourth-place finish. If only he'd believed me about the headwind. He might have won.

This was the same course we raced this spring when patches of snow still dotted the barren landscape. Then, more than 80 riders rolled up to the line, and in the weeks leading up to each race our online forum was active with excruciatingly detailed tactical chatter. Now, despite Sunday's ideal weather, the fields were only 20 strong, and our boards were eerily silent.

All that remains is the four-race Fall Fling in October. I closed my season with this last year. Most people have wisely ended their seasons with the August crits and moved on to weekend brunches, TV binges and painting projects, or whatever it is normal people do with their lives. But I'm happy to have these bookends to the season. Even though I didn't do well, I was happy with how much I sat in Sunday. It was evident -- to me, at any rate -- that I'm a smarter rider than I was in March. This time it was fitness, not impatience and naivete, that did me in, which in a way is progress.

Photo taken by E. Wight: Sept. 17, 2006


Sept. 12, 2006

Mazel tov.

Photo taken: Sept. 10, 2006


Sept. 3, 2006

Photo taken: Aug. 31., 2006


Sept. 1, 2006

Edmund White between keirin heats.

Photo taken: Aug. 31, 2006


Aug. 31, 2006

While I was a course marshal during Saturday's race, I let three neighborhood kids play with my camera. They were captivated. It was nerve-wracking to watch as they juggled the telephoto and fought over who got to use it next, but it was an effective way to keep them within reach. It proved less nerve-wracking than watching them run into the street and into the path of the charging peloton.

Photo taken by Maia: Aug. 26, 2006


Aug. 28, 2006

Road racing imitates life, the way it would be without the corruptive influence of civilization. When you see an enemy lying on the ground, what's your first reaction? To help him to his feet.

In road racing, you kick him to death.

Tim Krabbe, "The Rider"

A strange thing happened Saturday. I won a race.

It was fun. I should try to do it again sometime.

It was the masters race at Sherman Park, the criterium my team hosts on the South Side. Because there was a competing race and because most masters riders don't like the idea of bringing their nice bikes from the North Shore into a shady part of the city, the field was small, only 20, and 10 of us were xXx.

I'd just finished the 3/4 race, in which I'd wiped myself out to support teammates in the break and the field sprint. I was just hoping to finish the masters race.

Randy got off in an early break of six. After a few laps, I was feeling recovered and decided to join two teammates in attempting to bridge. We got off hard and clean, dragging no one with us, and by working together it was elementary to get up to Randy's group. By now there was a rider off the front, but xXx now made up four of the eight-man chase group.

Our chase was disorganized as we figured out who wanted to pull. Gaps formed, and the pace rose and fell. It turned out that nobody wanted to pull but us, so we formed a rotating paceline at the front until we got within sight of the leader.

Then Randy attacked. Two others marked him, so I counterattacked immediately. It was the perfect set-up: After surging to catch Randy, nobody was inclined to catch me -- or they didn't take a guy in tube socks seriously; fools! -- and my teammates went into blocking mode.

I caught the leader with about five laps to go. As soon as I did, I was thinking of how satisfying second place would be. "Pull me around," I was about to say, "and I won't sprint it out." Such is my killer instinct. But he beat me to it. "Pull me around," he said, "and I won't sprint it out." Deal!

I pulled for 3/4 of a lap and let him take a turn. Shortly after I took over again, I turned around and he was nowhere to be seen. I had no idea he was so close to the brink.

I rode hard and kept riding hard, trying to not look over my shoulder but failing. It wasn't until the last lap that I felt certain I was going to do it. Coming out of Turn 4, I slowed as much as I could without being obnoxious, trying to savor the moment.

Naturally I did a throw at the line.

This would be Race 54 in my racing log, and it would be my first win.

I like to say that in cycling, victory doesn't go to the fastest. It goes to whoever crosses the finish line first. This race supports that truism. I don't pretend to have been the strongest in this race, or even the strongest on my team. I just caught the lucky break and managed not to blow it, and I know I wouldn't have done nearly as well if xXx hadn't stacked the field.

I raced again Sunday. I raced stupidly and burned too many matches along the way but managed to get fourth.

Assuming all my races qualify, I've now earned 20 points, exactly what I need to upgrade to Category 3. I remain torn.

I've finally become a good Cat 4 rider. It's equivalent to being a B student in the first grade. Who on earth would go to second grade and remain a B or C student if you could repeat first and be an A+++ student?

Photo taken by Cecile Redoble: Aug. 26, 2006


Aug. 25, 2006

Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty ... [I]t might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body ...

Genius is not replicable. Inspiration, though, is contagious, and multiform -- and even just to see, close up, power and aggression made vulnerable to beauty is to feel inspired and (in a fleeting, mortal way) reconciled.

David Wallace, "Roger Federer as Religious Experience"

Photo taken: Aug. 20, 2006


Aug. 22, 2006

So, right. Bicycle racing.

Heading into last week's Elk Grove criterium, a race with an unprecedented $2,500 on the line, I hadn't raced in more than a month. More pressing, I hadn't known success in more than two months.

Success begets confidence. Confidence begets success. Treacly, but true, and in racing confidence may be more of a decisive factor than fitness or tactics.

When you have a good position and a rider steals it from you, there are two reactions. The non-confident rider says, "I guess this guy is faster than me. Maybe next time." And then he floats back to 40th place and stays there. The confident rider, on the other hand, says: "The hell you do. That's my spot, I worked to get it, and I deserve it." And he fights to get it back, more out of rage and entitlement than anything.

I know this because I've been both riders. Sometimes in the same race.

About that rage and entitlement. I'm learning the role these feelings play. I don't have a lot of either, but I'm learning how to fake it during a race. My guess is that great athletes have plenty of both all the time, which is what makes them great but also unpleasant to be around.

Back to success. The goal going into Elk Grove and the other end-of-season crits was to sit in, be patient and salvage some success and confidence to carry me through the off-season, like one last kiss to carry you through a loved one's absence.

Elk Grove criterium: 2.5-mile course with two treacherous 180-degree turns. I tried to sit in, I honestly did, but on a prime lap I found myself off the front and decided to go for it. The prime went three deep. Surely I could hold off all but two of the field, right? Sure enough, I did, winning my first prime ever, a bike fit worth $150.

I had decent position in the last lap, but let myself get swarmed and boxed in. I barely negotiated a crash in the last 400 meters, then could pass only enough people for 21st, one spot out of the money.

This Saturday was the historic Downers Grove criterium. Since it's the same course that the national championship is contested on the following day, it draws the summer's largest and strongest fields and even a few spectators. I watched several of the races last year, and I'd been studying race reports all week. I hadn't visualized a race this precisely since the great road races of May and June.

Category 4: Again I accidentally found myself off the front, despite the plan to sit in the entire time. I had a good breakaway companion, however, and even though we stayed off for only two laps, that was enough for us to exchange two $25 primes.

Alas, same thing on the last lap: Good position, but I allowed myself to get swarmed and boxed in. A massive crash had reduced the field to only 25 riders, and I could do no better than 19.

Masters 4/5: This time I was full of rage, entitlement and Accelerade. We'd gotten to the staging area late, Bob and I did, but we I weaseled a position at the front. (We had a choice: Create a new first row and get yelled at, or go to the last row and start the race in 110th place. We chose the former, knowing how important it was to have good position at the whistle.)

I hit the first corner in the front 10 and spent the entire race there. Any time someone came up the side I pounced and grabbed their wheel. Even after I contested two primes -- losing both of them carelessly -- I fought to retain my positon. Position was crucial. Eight turns meant eight chances to crash. By being at the front, I could pedal through the turns single-file and choose my own lines, rather than riding in the pack and praying someone wouldn't go wide and take me out. Just in case, I let my inside knees hang wide to discourage anyone from bombing past.

This time I succeeded in sitting in and never "found myself" off the front. Ellen was in Mexico, but I could hear her coaching: "Sit in, you silly fool!" The pros should be so lucky to have such dulcet advice piped through their race radios.

There were so many primes that they never announced three or two laps to go. Suddenly we were on the bell lap and I was in the front 10. When I sensed people moving up the side, I moved over to block them, preferring to eat the wind rather than risk losing spots.

With the exception of two Lot riders, it was a jumble of teams at the front. Lot has a reputation for, among other things, having good sprints, so I grabbed their draft. In the confusion of the last turn, however, I lost it, and they executed a perfect leadout for themselves. One of them won, but I held on for fourth.

This was not the best finish of the year, but given the strength of the field and difficulty of the race, it was among the most satisfying. Most satisfying of all may have been the urge to vomit. I felt like I'd just done a time trial, so hard and non-stop had I been working for 35 minutes. After most races I feel I could have gone a little harder. Here I knew I'd given everything I had. Exactly 100 percent of my being had gone into my pedals, and if fourth is as much as my being yields, so be it.

Photo taken by Michael Barran-Stanley: Aug. 19, 2006


Aug. 21, 2006

Downers Grove USPRO national championship. Race report TK.

Photo taken: Aug. 20, 2006


Aug. 8, 2006

Last week I helped Ellen move the last of her belongings from L.A. to Chicago. I didn't think it could be done, but after a yard sale and trip to the thrift store, we packed nearly everything into a rented minivan.

The most troublesome items included a mountain bike, a curvy coffee table and a snowboard, not to mention five years' worth of photographs, kitchen accoutrements and sociology texts. Seeing it all stacked in the carport, I was certain that tough choices would have to be made -- choosing between taking the boyfriend or the bicycle among them -- and prepared to provide consoling hugs as Fiestaware and statistics assignments were dropped into the Dumpster, but Ellen somehow got it done. I never should have doubted. We even had enough room to accommodate a spree at the outlet stores in southeastern California. Later, a new pair of flip-flops, my first, fit nicely in the glove compartment. (Strangely, the van did not come with a flip-flop compartment, despite having been rented in Santa Monica.)

Helping a significant other with a cross-country move is an important rite of passage, one I recommend everyone do exactly once. I'm happy to report that after approximately 224 straight hours in one another's company, we are still talking. Which is not to say the week passed without its icy moments. A week is a long time. I don't know how you married people do it.

Photo taken: Aug. 2, 2006


July 25, 2006

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

Photo taken: July 22, 2006


July 22, 2006

Family portrait.

Photo taken: July 17, 2006


July 18, 2006

My nephew is not yet talking, but he has a large vocabulary of signs and gestures. Drawing a circle in his palm is for cookie, and that's good enough for me.

Photo taken: July 15, 2006


July 13, 2006

Seems like yesterday I was layering up to race the crits at Parkside, and now my Superweek has already come and mostly gone. Three days, three road races, three mediocre results: 12th, 19th, 26th.

As usual I wasted too much energy on early breaks -- "Never again!" I promised after each attack, 24 hours if not 24 seconds before launching or chasing one again -- but in at least two of the races some late sacrifices helped teammates get well-deserved placements in the top 10, so I'm not totally disappointed.

The feelings of burnout I wrote about earlier haven't receded. When I finish one race I'm not immediately counting the hours to the next one. It could be related to performance: I had five top 10's by Memorial Day but have had only one since. Maybe I peaked too early? Maybe I loaded the early season with easy races? Maybe I was never as good as I thought I was?

I have probably done the season's last road race. All that are left are the criteriums of August, where because of upcoming travels and my longstanding aversion to crits, I expect I'll be racing mostly to keep teammates company.

Lately I've been having flashbacks to all the base training I did this year. Riding the fixie to Highland Park in the dead of winter. The January alley cats. Watching the entire Super Bowl on the trainer. Riding the lakefront one Wednesday morning and seeing trees burdened with icicles. That epic 5-hour ride through the rain with Ed and Bob.

All that hard work, and I can't do better than 26th? And in four months I'll have to not only do it all over again but, if I hope to improve, do more of it?

The chatter in the carpool this week has been about when we should upgrade to Cat 3. I can't do it on points, but I can on virtue of having 20 pack finishes, sort of like the booby prize for someone who has bought 20 losing lottery tickets.

I don't think Cat 3 will be significantly harder, but Cat 4 is fun. I'm enjoying lining up and knowing I have a decent chance at success, recent results notwithstanding, and I want another crack at winning certain races, Baraboo and Snake Alley in particular. I also like having as many as 20 teammates in a race; I'd be lucky to have four in any given Cat 3 race. On the other hand, Cat 3 races would be smoother, and, I am told, the teamwork is more organized and consequential.

Be a good Cat 4, or an average Cat 3? Good thing winter will be here soon. I'll need all that trainer time to meditate on my decision.

Photo taken: July 11, 2006


July 5, 2006

Maxwell Street Market. The taste of Chicago.

Photo taken: July 2, 2006


June 28, 2006

The narrator in "The Rider" starts his career at the age of 29 and races more than 200 times in his first two seasons. I, too, started my career at 29, but in my first two seasons I've raced only 44 times, including alley cats and practice time trials.

Even so, I'm beginning to think I've raced too much.

It's hard not to. The winters here are as hard as they are long. Racers emerge in April desperate for action, hopeful to never ride the trainer indoors again. Skip a race? Ha! We waited five months to race, so once the snow melts, of course we spend each weekend driving across the midwest, springing for hotels and tanks of gas and abandoning our friends and families. (We'll reacquaint ourselves with them in November, unless we do cyclocross instead.)

I raced three times this weekend and despite plenty of hills, spills and chills -- and my first in-race shouting match! -- I lack the energy to write about it here. The minutiae and trivia of every turn and attack don't excite me like they used to. If I'm not burned out, I'm very close.

The state championships are this weekend. Supposedly they're the most important races of the year, but I'm not as excited as I was for the throwaway races of April. My heart doesn't skip when I daydream of the tactics. I haven't even shaved my legs for them yet.

Ironically, all the racing has seriously cut into my training. I used to love leaving the house with pockets full of Clif bars and nowhere to be for six hours. I can't remember the last time I logged more than 50 miles at a time. There are good cycling friends with whom I haven't ridden at all.

I'm also sad that two of my favorite teammates may be done for the year. One is running out of money. The other is running out of knee. A part of me regrets encouraging them to race so much with me early in the season. (I offered Superweek fees to the first; he declined. I'd offer my knees to the second if I could.)

That said, there aren't many races I regret having done. Each one has at least one moment that makes me smile weeks later. Each one has in some way made me a better rider.

On the other hand, there's not much racing left. I'll do the road race Saturday, and then I'll do four races during Superweek. After that? Maybe a crit here and there, but I'm also due for some non-cycling fun. Summer, my favorite time in Chicago, a time of bare feet and naps in the park, a time of kuchens and fresh basil, a time to sit contented on the back porch and say, "Oh, right, this is why I live here," is speeding by. It's almost July, for heaven's sake, and the hammock remains in the basement.

Photo taken by E. Wight: June 25, 2006


June 26, 2006

Warm-up lap.

Photo taken: June 25, 2006


June 23, 2006

I'm pretty sure they ended up OK. At least one raced again, one cheek hanging from a hole in his shorts.

Photo taken: June 22, 2006


June 20, 2006

If it's going to storm during a camping trip, there's only one good time for it to do so, and that is while the two of you are making a grocery run. And when you walk out of the grocery and are greeted with a rain as hard as any you've seen, there is only one course of action: Look at each other, look at the beer under each arm, look at each other again, and then sit underneath an eave, split a Spotted Cow and watch as the wind carries grocery carts from one end of the parking lot to the other.

Photo taken: June 17, 2006


June 12, 2006

I don't believe the rider who ... told me how he had seduced a woman during a criterium. She was standing behind a crush barrier when he discovered her, or she him. (If she'd told me, I would have believed her.) Every hundred seconds he came barreling past, and so their love blossomed as prettily as a flower in one of those time-lapse films. Ten laps long they smiled at each other, for another ten laps she winked, they began running their tongues over their lips, and by the time the race was approaching its decisive phase their gestures had become downright salacious.

He said so, but I don't believe him, because he's a very good racer. It's impossible.

Tim Krabbe, "The Rider"

But nothing is impossible if you are not a very good racer.

My team had four people in last year's Spring Prairie Road Race. Only one finished with the pack, and it wasn't me, not by a long shot. This year would be different.

With a killer hill right before the finish line, it was a course suited to me. As soon as I noticed registration was open and that the field would be limited to 75, I started recruiting. Since it was Wisconsin's state championship, I figured the field would fill up quickly. I wanted as many teammates as possible.

A teammate was the first to register. I was second. Other teammates were third and fourth.

And sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth.

And 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th.

By the time capacity was reached, xXx constituted 23 of the 75-person field.

Alas, my fiendish ploy to hijack Wisconsin's championship was foiled when the promoters created a second field, separating the Wisconsinites from out-of-staters like us. (With our 2006 palmares -- victories at Parkside, Cobb Park and Baraboo, podiums just about everywhere else -- who could blame them?)

Rain fell in buckets Saturday morning. At 6:30 I checked the radar and found a green and orange blob spread across the Midwest. I drew an appropriate shirt, from Ride Across INdiana shirt, out of the drawer.

I'd been obsessing about this race for two weeks, but I hadn't thought to consider weather. There's nothing worse than a crowded race on wet roads.

Miraculously, rain, darkness and sorrow yielded to sunshine, warmth and glee once we crossed the state border.

As I greeted friends in the parking lot, I asked, "Ready to break some legs today?" To a person they answered in the affirmative. I had teammates who could drive the tempo in the flats. I would do the same on the climbs. It was entirely possible that someone could beat us, but we would make sure they earned it.

We would do six laps, ending each one with a steep hill that promised to damage the peloton each time up. It was this hill that would teach me an important lesson this day, that of not getting cocky about one's strengths.

Ever since San Luis Obisbo, I've relished opportunities to show off my climbing abilities, and I spent each of the first three laps showing off my nonchalance.

The first time up I casually glided to the fore and waved to spectators, as if I were a parade marshal leading a caravan of elephants and marching bands.

The second time up I made a show of drinking from my bottle and gargling.

The third time up I planted a kiss on Ellen. (I was going so fast, her head spun. Neck injury was narrowly averted.)

After the frst three laps whittled the field from 60 to 40 to 20, it was time for a selection to be made. A Northwestern rider joined Ed and me in setting a punishing tempo after the fourth climb, and the final group of 12 was established. Five were xXx: Me, Ed, Kevin, Ken and new teammate Pieter, who not having a uniform was riding incognito.

Once this group was established, only a few took pulls. Others moaned about how they were isolated without teammates. They'd just sit in back, thank you very much.

Ed and I spent the last few laps whispering about how we were going to win this race. It was pretty much a continuation of exhaustive discussions we'd been having over e-mail all week. Do we attack? When? Where? Both of us?

That's why I love cycling so much more than running, and it's why I enjoy writing these race reports as much as you enjoy reading them. Each race is a new puzzle waiting to be solved, a Rubik's Cube that continues to shift and change colors just as you think you have it figured out. If you've run one marathon, on the other hand, you've pretty much run them all. Strategy is the same, independent of course or competition: Run hard, run hard some more.

Heading into a stiff wind in the backstretch of Lap 5, the pace settled into a mosey. Naturally I did the same stupid thing I always do when I'm in a pack and I'm bored and impatient: I rolled off the front. And naturally the pack did the same smart thing it always does: It let me go.

I was surprised but pleased with the gap I got. 400 meters? This wasn't anything Ed and I had discussed, but I thought maybe I could expland it over the hill and make it stick for a lap. It was only 6 miles. I had blockers. What could go wrong?

We were starting to lap riders. When I passed a teammate, I yelled, "When they come through, tell Ed I've cramped up real bad!" Then I made a show of shaking out my right leg. I figured if the group thought I was injured it wouldn't chase so hard. Such is lesson No. 1 of cycling tactics: When you can't be fast, be sneaky. (I'd read about this stunt in a book some time ago. It worked in the book, but it didn't here. Nonetheless, I had fun trying. )

Halfway up the hill, I could tell I was going to get caught, but I was startled to see myself get caught in such a blaze of glory: Here was Pieter screaming up the left! He flew up the hill faster than anyone I've ever seen climb. Great! A counterattack! The move was brilliant.

Except it wasn't an attack: Pieter had thought we were on the last lap, and this was his big finish. It was a shame, because nobody could have ever matched his rapid ascent. (Afterward, impressed with his amazing tuck as much as his climbing, I asked him, "Where'd you learn to ride like that?" "Belgium." But of course.)

And then the last lap. Again we moseyed through the finishing flat until Ed moved to the front and set tempo to keep people honest and discourage attacks. He pulled off and other riders started to attack, but none got separation.

I came into the final corner in third. And here's where I blew it.

The first five times up the hill I'd done it by the book. I nailed it each time. Great form, smiling for maximum oxygen intake, spinning in my largest cogs. This time I got cocky and tried to assault the hill in a smaller cog. The gear was too high. I couldn't turn it over fast enough, and I had too much hubris to shift down and get into my proper rhythm.

I tried to grind it out. I had plenty of gas and had been feeling great even after my flyer, but I was sputtering. Meanwhile, the rest of our group started to pass. Ed almost looked upset at me as he went by, upset to be picking up my slack when this was supposed to be my moment. I came close to catching two riders, but I ended up ninth. Normally this would have satisfied, but I couldn't help but think that this had become a 12-man race, and I could claim no better than fourth from last.

Happily, Ed showed his usual excellence. He came in second, finishing behind the rider who had moaned the loudest about his lack of teammates. ("He didn't pull!" I would pout over lunch. "Yes, and he won," Ellen would remind me.)

Afterward Ed and I bowed our heads solemnly and crossed our arms. What happened? How did we not win this? What was the right solution to this puzzle? Sure, we broke some legs, but there's no prize for top leg breaker. There's only a winner and then everyone else.

This was a course and a field tailor-made for us. When do we get a chance to crack it again?

Photo taken by E. Wight: June 10, 2006


June 5, 2006

Happy birthday, Malcolm. May two be twice as fun as one.

Photos taken: June 5, 2005, through June 5, 2006


June 1, 2006

I wasn't planning to race Sunday. I was just driving to Indiana with Matt so I could rendezvous with Ellen and join her in Monday's road race. But an hour before Sunday afternoon's criterium, only 12 people had registered. That sounded like an active-recovery ride to me. Plus, what kind of rider would let a teammate race alone?

Ultimately about 30 riders entered in temperatures that again topped 90. The course was a basic four-corner downtown race: 1 kilometer long, 45 minutes plus 2.

About 25 minutes in I was near the back and noticed the guy next to me complaining about the heat and appearing like he was about to cry. I figured if he was on the brink, others would be as well, so this would be a good time to accelerate and shake things up.

There I went, gliding off the front. I was foiled, however, by the very clever thing the pack did next: nothing. Instead they let me get a 200 meter lead, and with 30 minutes to go in stifling heat, they were smart enough to let me keep that lead for about four laps. Finally they started to chase, and as soon as my lead started to recede, I stood up so they could put me out of my misery.

Back in the pack, I occasionally let a gap open in front of me, hoping it could cleave the pack, with Matt in the lead group. This didn't work, and racers would scold me for allowing the gap. I feigned fatique. "I did Snake Alley yesterday. What the hell did you do?"

We were down to 20 in the sprint. Nothing special. Matt took 7th. I was near the back in 13th. One of these days I'll learn to sprint, or learn not to attack so early.

By the next morning I had still not learned not to attack too early.

Ten miles into the 44-mile road race -- and in the same 90 degree heat -- I rolled off the front and the pack let me go. I maintained a 20-second gap for about five miles. The question is, Why? Did I really think I could hold off the pack for 34 miles? Who do I think I am? Will I ever learn?

If I never learn not to attack so early, maybe I can at least learn to abandon the effort once it's obvious nobody is going to join and help. Instead I dangled. The only joy was passing Amish women on their bicycles. I tipped my helmet and bid them a guten Morgen.

With 10 miles to go an unattached rider was off the front. He looked strong, so on a hill I attacked to bridge. I caught him easily and we started trading pulls. A minute later we were joined by another unattached rider, a guy I recognized from April's McCormick's Creek race. He had came in third, so I knew he was strong and, just as important, friendly and cooperative. It took a few cycles, but soon we had a great rhythm and a huge gap. I had two teammates blocking in the pack, and the first unattached rider said he had two confederates as well. There would be no stopping us.

And then I made the biggest blunder of my young cycling career.

There was a spot about 8 miles from the finish where the course turned right at a dead end. There was too much gravel on the right side, so riders had to turn left, then slow and make a 180-degree turn.

As fate would have it, there was a very similar intersection about a quarter-mile prior. When we got to it, I had just come to the front and thought we had arrived at the second, more complicated turn. Indeed, a marshal waved his flag from left to right, which I took to mean, "This is where you turn left, then right." I alerted my break partners: "Here comes that U-ey!"

I was wrong. This was in fact a normal left turn, but when I slowed and veered right, the two behind me collided and crashed to the ground. Our break -- and my first real shot at a victory -- was done for.

That was crash No. 1.

The orginal attacker was hurt and couldn't continue. I stopped to express my horror and remorse, but when the pack came by 30 seconds later, the third rider and I hopped back in.

Climbing with 1.5 miles to go, I attacked yet again and got a small gap. I don't know whether I could have held my lead, but it became moot when I took a bumpy downhill turn too wide and rolled onto the grassy shoulder. I stayed upright, but by the time I got back on the pavement, the pack of 20 was several bike lengths away.

That was crash No. 2.

The pack drifted away. I was certain I was out of it. Then, my salvation: another hill. I scrambled up in time to reintegrate with the pack.

The course was windy and undulating, so nobody was sure where the finish line was and started jumping way too early. I, however, had noticed on the second lap that there was a Prudential "For Sale" sign about 600 meters from the finish line, then cones at 200 meters, so I waited until the Prudential sign before I became aggressive about position. By this time people who had jumped were losing steam. I was able to hop from rider to rider and took fifth place with a throw.

Oh, to think what could have been ... if I hadn't attacked so early ... if I hadn't crashed out my break partners ... if I hadn't ridden into the ditch ... if I hadn't raced four days in a row ...

Rolling through the cool-down area, I abruptly turned around to catch the finish of the women's race. Naturally I did this without looking to see whether anyone was behind me. There was. He was going slow enough that neither of us fell over, but there you go: Crash No. 3.

After 11 races in 30 days, maybe it's time to take a few weekends off?

Photo taken: May 29, 2006


May 30, 2006

I work with a bike racer who hates watching bike races. For sport, I often ask him how he's enjoying the latest events, just to hear what he'd rather be doing than watching Paris-Nice, or the Giro, or whatever. Mow the lawn. Pluck out his eyeballs. Die.

It surprised me, then, to see him become wistful when I told him I'd be doing the Snake Alley Criterium in Burlington, Iowa. It's a race notorious for a steep brick switchback that brings even professionals to their knees.

"Snake Alley!?" he said. "That race -- That race is the best event to watch."

"In all of sports?"

He thought a moment.

"Yes. In all of sports."

And so it would prove to be, but first I'd do Friday's road race.

I have a tautological rule about bike racing: All races are fun, no matter how well I do. Even if I crash or get dropped, it's bike racing, and bike racing is fun. Ergo, every race is fun.

My rule took a holiday Friday with my first race ever that wasn't fun at all.

It was a flat, 31-mile course from Wapello, Iowa, to Burlington. With no hills to cause separation and no attacks being attempted, there was nothing to break up the field. Just about all 110 of us stayed together, even the dude wearing the Camel Bak.

A tailwind kept us going between 24 and 30 mph. It was the 24 mph that was the killer, because it sent a ripple of "Slowing! Slowing!" through the pack. The air was thick with the smell of burning brake pads.

I never got closer to the front than the 10th or so row. It was too damn congested to do anything. As soon as I moved up a few slots up the side, the middle would surge forward. As soon as I moved up a few slots up the middle, the sides would surge. And then we would slow. It was as frustrating as a traffic jam: nowhere to go, nothing to do. If I could have gotten to the front I would have happily hammered it just to string it out for the sake of the race, but there was no way to get there.

The first crash happened with five miles to go. I don't know what caused it, but I was surprised by how calmly the pack glided around it, perhaps because we had been anticipating it for 20 miles. Crashing was inevitable from the get-go.

The pace picked up with 2 miles to go. With 1 mile to go, I swerved to avoid a chunk of asphalt the size of a shoe. Unfortunately, my teammate Terry wasn't so lucky and hit it square on. He went over his bike, slid across a sidewalk and slammed into a rock face. It sounded like a gunshot. Miraculously he walked away from it with only a bump to the head and a stapled-shut wound on his elbow. He would not only race another day, but would race the very next day with Snake Alley.

With half a mile to go we were dumped into Burlington with a straight descent to the finish line. Finally the course spread out. I was able to make steady advancement, hopping from train to train. My maximum speed was 41 mph, which I think is a PR for my sprint.

Then there was even more crashing. All around me were the sounds of violence being done to bikes and bodies. It was too much. It sucked away my will to race. I had plenty of gas to crank up my sprint even more, but I no longer cared. I just wanted this to be done with.

This was no race. This was no test of endurance or strength or tactics or handling. This was a gumball machine, with victory going to whomever got spit out first.

I think I ended up in the top 15, but I must have been obscured in the official photos. I didn't bother to contest the results. Instead I rolled around to make sure we were all accounted for and doubled back to look for Terry. Somewhere along the way I crossed the finish line a second time, so my official result was 89th. Whatever.

And then the Snake!

I wasn't so worried about the climb. I like climbing. The longer, the harder, the better. I was mostly concerned about the descending. Watching riders warm up and practice their descents, their inside knees splayed as they took turns in excess of 30 mph, I could already feel my tires giving out under me.

In the morning's junior races, several riders keeled over as they tried to ascend. They'd get halfway to the top and then their eyes would roll back and they'd lean over and fall to the grass. It reminded me of the scene in "Empire Strikes Back" when Luke's ton-ton collapses beneath him on the frozen planet of Hoth.

Bob would be my only teammate. Some Snake veterans had given us some excellent advice, chief among it the importance of winning "the race before the race." By having registered early, Bob and I were entitled to start in the first two rows. Getting around Turn 1 and to the Snake first would be crucial. If you get bogged down behind slower riders or crashes, you're done for.

Bob and I both did fine sprinting to the Snake, but he lost momentum behind a crash. I, however, was able to hump it up in good standing and didn't feel too shabby. The field was already spread out over several blocks, which was a blessing because I did not want to be descending in company. My fears receded.

But then I had to do it 11 more times. Each time to the top I wanted to throw up. It topped 90 degrees and even though I'd been hydrating all day, I was overheating. In the interest of shaving weight, I had brought only half a bottle of Accelerade with me. I briefly wondered where the safest point would be to vomit -- the start/finish area sounded good -- and whether I could do it on the go and be able to find water to rinse my mouth out.

Beyond the Snake, it's important to have a routine for getting around the course. My brain was too fried to think -- on the last lap, the rider in front of me lost concentration and took a turn too wide, crashing into hay bales at 30 mph; I myself bounced a pedal on a turn but stayed upright -- so I eliminated the need to think. Instead, I just tried to remember the cues. Shift here, swing wide here, tuck here, drink here.

The leaders were quickly out of sight, but gradually I picked people off. During one climb I actually snarled "Get out of my way!" at a rider who was losing the fight against gravity.

This was a good lesson in what our coach calls "staying within yourself." There was only a short stretch where drafting would have been beneficial, so I didn't kill myself trying to bridge forward. Instead I stayed within my means and let the people ahead of me crack first. Often I'd be able to suck someone's wheel in the flat headwind section, and then as they started to quiver in the homestretch I'd attack around them and ruthlessly leave them behind. (Once I did this just as the announcer was saying, "Look at these two riders working together!")

Spectators played a huge role on the Snake. I could see nothing but brick in my field of vision, but I could mark my progress based on who I was hearing cheer me on. Clif Bar guys at the bottom, Alvarado and Gigi in the middle. As soon as I could hear Phil near the top I knew I was almost home.

A teammate watching at the top tossed some much-needed water on me on Lap 10, just in time. As important as water was information. Around Lap 6 my allies told me I was somewhere around the top 15. Had I not known this, I very easily could have given up. I've broken ribs in races and not given up, but this was too much.

Then another saving grace: The leader lapped me on Lap 10. This meant I had only one lap to go, not two. I pushed as best I could on the descent to pick off one last rider and came very close to picking off a second, but my throw came a half-second too late.

I crossed the finish line in 13th and wanted to die. I found an unattended bottle of water at Turn 1 and helped myself, then crashed to the ground.

Next: Reports for the weekend's other two races, in which we will learn how many crashes I can cause in a single race. (Hint: Less than four!)

Photo taken: May 27, 2006


May 28, 2006

Abbreviated race reports from Iowa:

Friday, Wapello-to-Burlington Road Race: I've never had to work less in a race. I was miserable!

Saturday, Snake Alley Criterium: I've never suffered more in a race. It was great!

Photo taken: May 27, 2006


May 26, 2006

Junior national team and xXx member Sean Hopkins.

This was my first time onto the velodrome. I had fun, but I can't say I was seduced. It didn't help that I was on my street fixie and not a proper track bike, and some allege that Northbrook isn't a proper track.

Photo taken: May 21, 2006

May 22, 2006

Put your index fingers between a rubber band. Spread your fingers as far as they can go. You have just created a model of the Monsters of the Midway criterium course.

I'm slowly coming to appreciate crits (slowly being the operative word) but with its long straightaways and tight spaces between turns, I knew Monsters would be fast and dangerous. Sprints would be inevitable. My only hope, the break, would be a longshot.

As we ate cookies on the curb after the races, Ed asked me a question about the masters race we had done. I drew a blank. What masters race?

Oh, right. That one.

I raced twice: masters in the morning, Cat 4 in the afternoon. Both were harder and faster than any others I've done, but for as much of an impression as they left, I have almost zero recollection. There were some attacks, some chases, some sprints. I was too preoccupied with keeping up and moving up, however, to transfer any details into long-term storage, let alone enough details to contribute to the debriefing.

Perhaps I should take notes during races. A peloton, after all, is a complex system, too complex and too fluid to record unassisted.

Krabbe calls it "the continuosly shifting braid," a rope of a hundred kinetic strands that is woven and rewoven. When a race is as fast and as hard as these were, it's impossible to save enough data to process later. It's like staring at a ceiling fan and trying to count the individual revolutions. One can isolate one or two passes, but then it all becomes a blur again.

That may be what I like best about the breaks. Suddenly the system is simple enough for even me to comprehend. Suck, suck, pull. Suck, suck pull. Suck, suck pull. Smile for cameras. Suck, suck pull.

I know at one point -- I think it was the Cat 4 race -- I was in third wheel and didn't feel the first two wheels were working hard enough to bring back a dangerous break. "Pull hard or pull off," I growled before moving moving forward to do it myself. Then I counterattacked.

I remember being terrified heading into each corner and having a "phew" moment each time I left one upright. I got the jitters any time I rode more than two abreast, which may have been why I worked so hard to string out the front. This was a welcome difference in the masters race: They knew how to ride. With the inexperienced riders in the 4's, each corner would be accompanied by a panicky chorus of "Inside! Inside!" and "Hold your line!" Miraculously, there were no crashes.

In both races I had nothing left at the end and lumbered across the line around 25th place. Teammates later told me I was smiling less than usual and working too hard. I can deny neither accusation. I'm still not smart or patient enough to hang out in the back where it's easier.

I wouldn't have minded if the work had contributed to team results. In the masters race Randy got into the winning break, but it was another team's blocking that made that possible. In the Cat 4 race, I rode tempo near the end, but at a very indecisive moment, and we didn't assemble a good enough train to get the victory. Instead we settled for second and third.

Is second and third a better team result than first and tenth? I say yes, but I bet sprinters would disagree. My co-worker the track sprinter likes to say that second place is merely "first loser."

And that, dear reader, is as close as I'll get to sulking. I see no use in dwelling over missed opportunities or poor performances. I get enough of that at work.

It was a beautiful day not only to race but also to watch racing, from the juniors in the morning to the Cat 5's late in the afternoon.

As I was photographing the Cat 3 race, two Northwestern riders came up to me.

"Are you Luke?"

Urr, yes.

"We read your blog!"

Blush. They'd apparently seen somebody taking pictures when he should have been warming up for his own race and naturally concluded it was me.

One was a Cat 2 racer who looked not much older than my nephew. Once again I cursed myself for not getting into this 10 years sooner. What the hell was I doing in my 20s that was so important?

I had fun watching the Cat 5 race. I'm fond of our new riders. They're almost as adorable as our juniors. In their first few races they are as overenthusiastic as I was -- am? -- and I'm excited to watch as they find their legs. I trust they won't get discouraged when they, as was my fate last year, get lapped and yelled at. This year it was me doing the lapping and the yelling and a little bit of the swearing. Their turn will come.

Photo taken by Sandy Weisz: May 20, 2006


May 8, 2006

A year ago I rode my first road race, in Baraboo, Wis. I didn't do very well. I darn near fell off my bicycle in the warm-up. But I knew I could do better, and I couldn't wait to return to find out for sure. Planning out my 2006 season, I made Baraboo one of my top priorities.

Then I learned that Baraboo is where Eric Sprattling passed away, and my commitment doubled.

My team wears two hearts on its sleeves. One is for Eric. He was a member who in 1999 suffered a fatal aneurysm during a race. I never met him, but this memorial spells out the great loss to Chicago and to cycling.

I read the memorial often. I'm always touched by how Marcus put it: "He went out doing the thing." I love that. Doing the thing. The racing, the training, the camaraderie, the thing that possesses us to overcome every difficulty, to make every sacrifice. Whether my time is this year or in a hundred years, I'm proud of the fact that I will go out having done the thing.

I decided to make Baraboo an important race not just for me but for the team as well. We are extremely fortunate to have this team, and I felt doing well at Baraboo would be a good way to honor the pioneers who made it possible. I talked it up for months, reminding everyone of our history there but also what a fun and challenging course it was.

It worked. Even though the race was at 9 a.m., we had 14 men drive four hours and stay overnight, some in a nearby campground. This was by far the most teammates I've had in a road race. Usually I'm lucky to have four or five. I especially appreciated the rookies, the ones who knew that, as I did last year, they would probably fail to stay with the pack over the first climb, but who came out anyhow.

The course had two significant climbs. We'd do two laps. When I made it over the first climb not only with the pack but at the front of it, I felt victory, having tangible evidence of how much I'd improved since last year.

Even with our numbers, I didn't think we would want to attack much. I figured we should let the hills do the work for us. Surprisingly, though, the pack didn't shatter nearly as much as I thought it would. After each climb I goosed the tempo a bit, but let up once I saw it wasn't having much effect. In retrospect, I wonder whether I underestimated how much everyone else was suffering, and whether one or two more hard pedal strokes would have broken things up. That's something Tim Krabbe writes about: "Shift, when you're really, truly at the end of your rope, to a higher gear."

With 4 miles to go, the field was about 25 strong. Once again it would come to a bunch sprint. I'd spent most of the race near the front and didn't have a good read of our composition. Word got passed from the back: We didn't have our ace sprinter with us. It was time to improvise.

I saw Ed up ahead. I scooted forward and checked in.

"Ansgar's not with us."

"Oh, shit. You're kidding."

"That's the memo from Tim. So you're our guy, Ed."

"OK. I still have some leg left."

"Good. More than I can say for myself."

Ed let me in ahead of him. I'd moved up just in time. The pace turned extremely hot as the course descended into the final milelong flat. We leapfrogged a bit, but I focused on staying ahead of him, glancing back often to make sure he was still on my wheel.

With 800 meters to go, someone jumped on the left. This was way too early, and once he got into the wind he slowed, creating a brief bottleneck. Ed capitalized, squeaking past on my right.

Suddenly I lost the wheel I was on and couldn't find a new one. Oh, familiarity; oh, contempt. It's always so crushing to have people pass in the sprint. They don't even go that much faster. It's like falling down a hole in slow motion, clutching blindly for a handhold. With each wheel that passes, I sink further in the standings, and all the hard work sinks deeper into the realm of all-for-naught.

I got 10th place. Crossing the line I saw fatigued and beaten riders congratulating Ed. He'd done it. He had won. The team had what it had come for.

I know it sounds like a platitude every time I say it -- and I've now had the fortune to have said it twice -- but seeing a teammate win is just as sweet as winning myself. It means the race wasn't for naught after all.

And then the masters race.

Since the races were only 27 miles this year, I decided to do the masters 4/5 race that started immediately after. I knew I'd be gassed, but I actually looked forward to getting dropped. I haven't gotten dropped since Superweek last July. I needed to be reminded of the terror and despair of fading from the pack. I needed to be reminded that the pain of gutting it out was nothing compared to the pain of being alone.

The masters race was more intense than the earlier race. Ed and I struggled just to hang on, but we managed to keep good position and even shut down a break or two. We were encouraged by the younger riders who stuck around to cheer and heckle. I was sure to flash Tim a cowboy, ninja or bear every time I passed.

The nice thing about masters racing is that there's not the surging and slowing that you get with the youngsters. Often in the elite fields, kids fly to the front and then grind to a halt once they remember: "Oh, yeah. Pulling is hard!"

Ed flatted after the first lap, leaving me alone when we returned to the big climb. This time the pack would shatter.

An exploding field is about the most beautiful thing to see in cycling, even better than a well-timed leadout train. Naturally it depends on your perspective. For me, the view was pretty sweet. I started the climb in the middle of the pack, but soon I was doing slalom around popped riders. The chaos was rapturous.

The first five riders up the hill quickly organized into a paceline. I spent a half-mile chasing them alone. I was so beyond my limits that my navigation system shut down and I drifted into the gutter. I recovered, but this was my cue to sit up. It wasn't long before I heard two riders behind me. I accelerated and joined their chase.

It was me, an Atkins rider and a Brazen Dropout. The leaders dangled a tantalizing 40 meters ahead of us. The Dropout refused to pull, as he had a teammate up the road. Talk about brazen, but, hey, that's racing. Negative racing, but racing nonetheless and better than just riding in circles.

Atkins and I worked well together, yet the gap grew. After a few miles I tried to persuade the Dropout to help.

"So you've got one of the five up there, huh?"

(Head nod.)

"Wouldn't you rather have two of eight?"

"I'll have to think about that."

"Well, don't think too long, because we're dying here."

Finally the Dropout decided to take some pulls, but it was far too late. I tried to break away on the last climb, and when that didn't work I tried to set Atkins free. That didn't work either, and in the sprint the fresh-legged Dropout dusted us both for sixth place.

My fixie has had funny noises (funny strange, not funny ha-ha) coming from its bottom bracket, so I took it into the shop last night. My racing bike needs some repairs, too, though with all the shops experiencing the annual fair-weather rush, I don't know when I'll get it done without missing anything important.

And this body of mine. It could use a tune-up itself, if not a complete overhaul. Next week's rest week can't come soon enough.

Photo taken by L. Alton: May 6, 2006


May 2, 2006

We were pretty deflated after Saturday's road race, the first of three stages in the Anderson Mayors Cup. There had been no challenging climbs to separate the field -- on the course's modest hills I amused myself by heckling those who struggled: "Why are we slowing? Is there an obstruction ahead? Are those gears I hear being changed? For this?" -- so after 43 miles the race came down to a bunch sprint. Since I was still recovering from an aborted break, I volunteered to lead Tim out. We had great position, me in fourth and him in fifth, but we got anxious and jumped way too soon. Riders zipped around me like two sides of a zipper zipping around something that ought not be stuck in a zipper. Tim got a disappointing 10th. I settled for 17th.

Then a funny thing happened: Tim killed the time trial. Must have been his skinsuit. He would enter Sunday's criterium in fourth place in the general classification.

Waking up Sunday, however, I wasn't even sure I'd race. Rain was forecast for the entire day. Crits are dicey enough when it's dry. A wet surface was a prescription for road rash, busted heads and, worse, dirty components.

The rain worked to our favor, however. It kept our field small, around 25, scaring away even the riders in contention for the overall prize, including second and third place. First place had a prohibitive lead, but if we could keep anyone from scoring points on Tim, he'd finish the weekend in second place.

Four of us stuck around for the crit. At the starting line we did a head count. One. Two. Three. Three?

Where was Tim, our great GC hope?

The promoter was ready to start the race. "Second place had a mechanical," I said, making something up, "but he'll be here soon!"

The promoter shrugged. We tried to stall.

"Is there a wheel pit?"

"Where is the feed zone?"

"Can you tell us more about the wheel pit?"

Apparently Tim had taken an extra warm-up lap and gotten stuck behind some pokey masters riders. Finally we saw him come around Turn 4, trying to catch up to us as if he were, as he'd put it later, the neighborhood fat kid. He was still about 50 meters away when the whistle blew, just in time for him to help himself to a flying start.

My job during the race was to chase down any moves by rider nos. 459, 460 and 485. Those were the threats to Tim's standing. Whenever someone attacked, I could count on hearing Tim behind me, saying either "Let him go" or "We need to shut that down," and I reacted accordingly. (Racing is much easier when I don't have to think for myself.)

The course proved not nearly as treacherous as I'd feared. We let the overall leader escape on a solo breakaway, and then a few attacks and counterattacks broke the lead group into a pack of nine. We took the corners single file, nice and easy.

With three laps to go, Tim and I settled into fourth and fifth wheels again. We spent the entire last lap discussing our leadout so that we wouldn't make the same blunder as in the road race.

It turned out to be moot: I led him hot out of Turn 4, but then another rider jumped way too early. Tim hopped onto that wheel and sprinted around it for the win, claiming second in the race and locking up second in the GC. After topping 35 mph in the homestretch, I threw for seventh, squeezing into 8th overall and into the money, insofar as winning $25 for a race that cost $65 to enter and $60 to drive to is "in the money."

Afterward, two different riders told us how mad they were that they had heard us blabbing about our plans but still weren't able to beat Tim. (Note to selves: Stop blabbing so much!)

Photo taken by E. Wight: April 30, 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 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


March 30, 2006

The greatest moment in studying a foreign language is the first breakthrough of fluency. Suddenly you no longer sit in a chair but in a Stuhl, you accidentally say "Merci" to the grocery clerk, and your first thought in the morning is, "Ach du lieber, Morgen bereits?"

At least, this is what I would assume. After two years of German and a year of Italian, I crapped out before making it to that breakthrough.

But I feel as though I'm finally fluent with the racing. Last year I struggled -- and more often than not, failed -- to keep up, but now I stay at the front with ease and am in position to make tactical decisions. I'm making the wrong tactical decisions, but I'm asserting myself nonetheless. (Me? Assertive? WTF?)

I did two races Sunday. I hadn't planned on doing the masters race, which went off right before my Cat 4 race, but teammates cajoled me. "It's only Parkside ... It'll be a good warm-up ... It'll be good prep for the longer road races." Ed finally broke me. He was the one who went on the crazy flyer on the second lap last week. Joining him for back-to-back races was the least I could to repay him for his audacious display of chutzpah.

I would give a blow-by-blow account of the races but A) that would be boring B) I don't have a good recollection of the races. I was working too hard to register many details. My mind shut down and my body and intuition took over, which is what's supposed to happen in racing. The point of training, after all, is to strengthen the body and hone the intuition so that they know what to do without the chaperone of the mind.

I remember surging to shut down a lot of attacks, and I remember going off the front in the finish/start area not because I thought it would work -- a tailwind guaranteed that it wouldn't -- but because that's where the spectators were. I don't, however, remember whether this was the masters or the 4's race. And there are some details that I included in my wrap-up for the team that, in retrospect, I clearly misremembered.

That's why my team's post-race debriefings are so valuable. We all have limited vantage points. I'm amazed by the nuances my teammates noticed, and there are some things I saw -- like Robbie Ventura barking out commands to his Vision Quest riders in the masters race -- that they were oblivious to. We are like the blind men poking at the elephant. Only in the sum of our accounts do we approach truth.

My finishes? Around 15th in each race. Fair, but nothing to get excited about yet. I surely could have done better had I done only one race on the day, but I learned much more by being mediocre in two races than I would have by being excellent in one. The races I care most about are more than a month away. Excellence can wait.

Photo taken: March 29, 2006


March 20, 2006

If only I'd come down with a puncture. How often ... have I longed for a flat tire? A puncture, permission from beyond to stop the dying ...

A lot of praying goes on in the peloton, especially to God and to Linda. Please let me get a puncture. But the speed of prayer has its limits, so the rider occasionally resorts to more drastic measures. He pounds his wheels through potholes, through gravel, searches for sharp rocks and, perchance, when he has a race to ride but no morale, he'll even mount a carefully selected tube that's ready to blow ...

At the start of Race 129 ... I was extremely tense. There were a multitude of signs that something terrible was about to happen, but not a single excuse not to start. Criteriums in Holland! Curve, sprint, brake, curve, sprint, brake, curve, sprint, brake, curve, every twenty seconds a curve, a hard-riding house of pain, two-and-a-half hours long, unimaginable if you've never been in it yourself ...

But when no heed is given to your longing for a puncture, there's nothing left but to suffer. Suffering is an art. Like the downhills, it's a non-athletic art in which the great champions nevertheless outstrip all amateurs.

Tim Krabbe, "The Rider"

I didn't get much of a chance to suffer in Sunday's criterium, the long-awaited first race of the year, but I was tense nonetheless.

My front wheel stood on the starting line next to Ansgar's, just as it did at last year's Winfield criterium, where a flat at the line had given the reprieve I longed for. "Quick quick and hush hush!" I wanted to whisper to a teammate on the sideline. "Whip out your shiv and slash my tires! Take care of my spares, too!"

The tension wasn't solely because I fear and loathe criterium racing. Mostly it was performance anxiety. I looked around, admiring rival bodies and the bikes they were clipped in to. I expected to not only keep up with these guys, but lay on some attacks? Get it up? Keep it up? Ha!

All winter I've been a chatty Cathy on my team's message board, giving wise counsel to rookies and discussing graduate-level tactics with the veterans. What I declined to mention was that I've never actually finished a Cat 4 race with the pack. I got dropped from all eight Cat 4 races I did last year, including in the first lap of the only 4/5 crit I braved. Now, I feared, I was about to be exposed as a hack and a fake.

Suddenly there was no more time to cringe. We were off.

The jitters receded quickly. Racing's rhythms came back to me. I saw my lines and took them, feeling comfortable navigating the pack. Sitting around 40th wheel at one point, Matt asked how I was feeling. "Pretty good," I said, "except I wish I were further up." Soon I found a hole on the left. Matt found a hole up the right. Seconds later we rendezvoused at the front.

My teammates put on some impressive attacks, including several by riders competing in their first races. An attack on Lap 2 by Ed, who as of two weeks ago was determined not to race at all this year, was particularly inspiring. My heart swelled with pride. Ever since I saw him outclimb me in California I'd been badgering him to give racing a go. He would get reeled in, as would all our attacks and breaks, but at least we kept the race interesting, and I imagine it will take dozens of more attacks before we get the knack for making them stick.

Hurting my chances in the breaks was my inability to discern real opportunities from mirages. Twice in this race I bridged to what looked like viable breaks -- the riders had nice legs, they seemed to beckon, and it looked like we would get along -- only to have them fizzle as soon as I made contact. Whether the unions were destined to fail without me or whether they failed because of me, I don't yet have the expertise to say.

This is something to work on: knowing when to be assertive and be off with another rider, and knowing when it's better to be safe and mousy in the pack. God grant me the patience to sit in when I cannot affect a race, the power to attack when I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I thought I'd have one more chance to get away but the officials started flipping the lap cards early. Before I knew it we had three to go, and now my job was to get to the front to help lead out Ansgar in the sprint. This was our plan: Attack, attack some more, and then get a three- to four-man train ahead of our strongest sprinter.

It wasn't to be, however. The pack slowed considerably and spread across the entire road, blocking any lanes I could have used to move forward. The 10 or so riders between me and Ansgar proved impassable. Happily, it didn't matter. Even without anyone's help, Ansgar was able to sprint his way to victory. When I came out of my own sprint -- for 17th -- the first things I saw were his arms raised high.

This was the first time I'd been on the road and witnessed a teammate win a race, and it felt great. I found one last attack in me and surged forward to pat him on the back.

The first thing I did when I got home was shave my so-called beard. I'd had it for the 160 long days that had passed since my last race, a whimsical way to mourn the passing of the 2005 cycling season. But it's now a whole new season, the mourning period is over, and I urgently need to be as aero as possible.

We return to the same course next week. Nominally these are "practice" criteriums, in that there are no cash prizes, but nobody at this level races for anything but love anyhow. Race, learn, race again. And, it is hoped, win again.

Photo taken: March 19, 2006


March 1, 2006

Like his predecessors who sojourned in the villages of Africa and the remote islands of the Pacific, a missionary drops into Uptown and uses watercolors to gain entree to the natives' souls. He is met with a combination of gaping and ambivalence, which surprisingly prove to not be mutually exclusive.

Upon seeing this photo Levi writes in to wonder about the status of the Red Rooster, a dive bar that, Levi says, shows signs of being closed. Granted, the best dive bars show nary a sign of being open in the first place, but if it is indeed closed, it would be a great loss for Uptown. Such 7 a.m. bars are like proctologists and lawyers: I hope to God that I never need one, but I sleep better knowing they exist.

Photo taken: Feb. 25, 2006


Feb. 26, 2006

Breaking in my new remote.

Photo taken: Feb. 25, 2006


Feb. 15, 2006

Union Station, where I catch the Van Galder bus whenever I visit family in Madison.

Did I ever tell you about the time I got kicked off a Greyhound bus?

This was in 2002. I was headed to Wisconsin to celebrate my grandmother's 80th birthday. The plan was to take a bus early Saturday morning to Milwaukee, where a cousin would pick me up and drive me to the party.

I've always taken pride in my patience and even keel, but there were a few extenuating details to irritate my temperament on this morning. I'd worked the late shift the night before, so it was on 4 hours sleep that I left my apartment around 6:30 a.m. to go downtown. A few weeks earlier I had broken my wrist and was still in a cast, making it difficult to get around with my bags. And the Greyhound bus terminal? A Zen garden it's not, what with all the winos and the children and the screaming and the Funyuns wrappers, and neither is it a pleasant place to sit waiting to board a bus that is 45 minutes late.

When we finally board I'm worried about my cousin Peggy and whether she'll still be waiting for me in Milwaukee. This is the era before cell phones -- read as, more than five weeks ago -- so I have no way to reach her.

The bus is packed. It's another 10 minutes before the bus driver boards. Instead of apologizing for the delay and getting on his way, he stands at the front of the aisle and in a mournful dirge reads the rules.

"There will be no eating on this bus."

Mournful pause.

"There will be no loud talking or radio playing on this bus."

Mournful pause.

"You'll see that I'm standing on a yellow line."

Mournful pause.

"There will be no crossing of the yellow line."

He's like "Cool Hand Luke"'s Carr on valium, detailing the infractions that will result in a night in the box, and just like Cool Hand Luke, I'm exasperated. I throw up my arms -- one broken, one whole -- and moan, "Can we go already?"

The driver pauses again. Mournfully. He stares me down. In the tone of a junior high disciplinarean he asks a question that, as the clown in many a junior high class, I knew well growing up: "Is there something you'd like to share with the rest of us?"

I immediately realize I'm in trouble and that any further dissent is just going to delay us more. "No, no. I'm sorry, sir. Please go on."

And that's when I got kicked off the Greyhound bus. I was in disbelief and continued to apologize, hoping to suck up enough to change his mind. When he motioned for the three Somali security guards it became clear he wasn't bluffing. Together the guards were as intimidating as a coat rack, but I left peacefully, making a big show of struggling with my cast so that the driver could feel guilty about doing this to a cripple.

I'd just started dating a gal and thought about calling to borrow her car, but I didn't want her to think I was the kind of maniac who gets kicked off public buses, so I rented one instead. I got to the party in time and told Grandma and cousin Peggy that I'd overslept.

I've never taken Greyhound since, and the worst to happen on a Van Galder bus has been a corny joke from the folksy, sing-song driver.

Photo taken: Feb. 11, 2006


Feb. 13, 2006

Photo taken: Feb. 12, 2006


Feb. 4, 2006

I fell for the shell game once in college. My grandfather had died that week and I was feeling cavalier and careless. Someone else in my frame of mind might have loaded a backpack with textbooks and walked into Lake Michigan, but I took to the Red Line and put $20 on the middle bottlecap. A 1-in-3 shot seemed like a risk worth taking. I hadn't noticed that the pitchman was slipping the ball into his sleightful hand, nor had it occurred to me that 1-in-3 is actually a terrible way to go about doubling your money.

I've never regretted it, however. Instead I've considered it a lifetime subscription to one of the best shows in Chicago. The shell game hustlers are con artists, sure, but artists nonetheless: magicians, actors and emcees. Thus it delights me to see action one or two Saturdays a year.

The con is a link to old Chicago. I'd even suggest that the game is an honest living. The players are not picking pockets, they are not panhandling. They are merely separating fools from their money. Such a transaction, writ large and writ billions of times a day, defines the capitalism that has made this country prosper. Where would we be without fraud and duplicity? We'd be in Canada. At peace, insured and modest. God bless America, and God bless its hustlers.

Either I am developing better street sense or the practitioners are losing their touch. Each time I see the game the confederates -- the pitchman's alllies who "win" in order to show that the game is on the level -- are getting easier to spot. Today's troupe had three: a surly, skinny guy, a jolly fat man, and a toothless woman who boarded the car after the others and put $40 on a cap without even hearing the pitchman run through the rules. She won, naturally, but appeared neither surprised nor thrilled. The pitchman, on the other hand, was in great form, full of wit and rhyme, although not enough wit or rhyme for me to remember any of his patter.

One can interact with the game without playing. Take a picture and hear the pitchman say, "What are you, the papparatchi?" Make the passengers laugh by saying, "Yeah, man, I'm Pavarotti." Or ask one of the confederates, "So how often does someone fall for this?" and hear him say, "Kiss my ass, little man."

And I am genuinely curious in how often the game works. I've seen these same people for years, so obviously it works often enough to make it worth their time and the risk of arrest.

When the game moved to the other end of my car I saw a suburbanite's eyes get big and it looked like they'd reeled one in. After the pitchman and his crew left the train I went down to inquire. No, not even close. The suburbanite and his friends were having a good laugh. "Duh," one wag said. "You'd think that someone with $40 to spend on the shell game would get her teeth fixed first. Ha!"

I got off at the next stop. Walking down the platform I saw that the game hadn't in fact left the train: It had just moved to the next car. I made eye contact with the jolly fat man and laughed. He smiled and waved discreetly through the window, like a child in the school play waving to his parents.

Photo taken: Feb. 4, 2006


Jan. 22, 2006

Series leader and teammate Ansgar at Stage 2 of the Tour da Chicago. Race report TK.

Photo taken: Jan. 22, 2006


Jan. 2, 2006

Games played during Sandy and Sarah's second annual Incredible Day of Games: Blokus. Ex Libris. Pirate's Cove. Boggle. Perquackey. Settlers of Catan: Seafarers. Puerto Rico. Zombies!!! 221B Baker Street. Carcassonne. Pit.

And my favorite: Eatalottapizza (best enjoyed with the expansion set Andsomebeertoo, or Vielegroßebiergetrunken, as it appears in Klaus Teuber's original German).

Photo taken: Jan. 1, 2006


Dec. 30, 2005

Chrismukkah 2005.

Photo taken: Dec. 30, 2005


Dec. 26, 2005

I've never seen the beauty salons of Argyle Street busier than they were on Christmas Day. (Nearby, my lunch of par-pei duck was delicious.)

Photo taken: Dec. 25, 2005


Dec. 22, 2005

Pike Place Market, Seattle.

Photo taken: Dec. 20, 2005


Dec. 13, 2005

My nephew's egg scrambling technique is unstoppable.

Photo taken: Dec. 12, 2005


Dec. 4, 2005

Illinois state cyclocross championships, Montrose Harbor.

Photo taken: Dec. 4, 2005


Nov. 13, 2005

Lincoln Square Lanes.

No black lights or lasers, no computerized scoring, and at the bar, no cosmos, just domestic bottles and a half-dozen barflies smoking and watching the Bears game.

Photo taken: Nov. 13, 2005


Nov. 1, 2005

Levi has all the ingredients for a pleasant fall day: Patch of sun ... check. Fruit jar of Strongbow ...check. Fighter pilot/reading cap ... check.

Commence laziness.

(I think he's reading a book about polar exploration. He'd already read the Libby indictment a dozen times -- a half-dozen of them out loud -- and was now waiting for the Rove and Cheney sequel: "Lying, Cheating Motherfuckers II: The Reckoning.")

Photo taken: Oct. 30, 2005


Oct. 27, 2005

At the Jackson Park cyclocross race. These two Killjoy guys owned the single-speed race, during which I got a chuckle out of the roadie spectator who heckled: "Derailleurs! On sale at Performance!"

Photo taken: Oct. 23, 2005


Oct. 25, 2005

Saturday I woke on five hours sleep and rode 20 miles down the lakefront to Jackson Park, where my team was hosting a cyclocross race. I'd volunteered to help set up and marshal the course. For the life of me, however, I couldn't find the damn thing. Jackson Park is big, but all I could find were soccer games and fishermen.

After a frustrating hour I finally saw two guys on cyclocross bikes. Are you here for the race? I asked.

"You mean tomorrow's race?"

So Sunday I woke on five hours sleep and rode 20 miles down the lakefront to Jackson park.

I'd never seen cyclocross, a discipline that combines elements of road racing with elements of mountain biking, but it looked like fun. I liked how the slower speed minimized the effects of drafting. There were no weasels here, and all the huffing and puffing suggested that the riders were working much harder than your typical pretty-boy roadie.

When I compared cycling to poker, I speculated on how one could dress and behave like a Fred in order to be underestimated by one's opponents. I wonder whether that's what this guy had in mind with his hairy legs, gym shorts and vintage basketball jersey. (To understand how this was received, imagine someone showing up at a pick-up basketball game in bicycle shorts and jersey.) If there were any race to attempt such a stunt, cyclocross would be it, since there doesn't appear to be any advantage to form-fitting Lycra. I didn't pay that close attention to his single-speed race, but he seemed to know what he was doing, at least more than what one would guess from his get-up.

Photo taken: Oct. 23, 2005


Oct. 20, 2005

At Stan Hywet Hall, Akron, Ohio.

Photo taken: Oct. 15, 2005


Oct. 14, 2005


Photo taken: Feb. 5, 2005


Sept. 24, 2005

Luxury seating is one of the more regrettable developments in baseball, more regrettable than the designated hitter, more than steroids, more than Bud Selig, more than the Yankees.

More regrettable than a juiced Bud Selig playing DH. For the Yankees.

I find skyboxes anti-democratic and contrary to the game's working-class origins. By pushing upper decks even further into the clouds, they degrade millions more fan experiences than they enrich. They are like the modern city's parking garage, which provides convenience to some but is an eyesore to all.

That said, who am I to refuse an employer who offers a free seat in the company box?

The best part of the skybox? It's not bypassing the lines and bag searches at the front gate. It's not the dessert cart or beer fridge. It's not even the dry, warm shelter during the hourlong rain delay.

The best part of sitting in a skybox is looking down on all the little people, huddled and massive, and thinking: "Hello, little people! Don't you wish you had cake?"

And then thinking: So this is what life would be like as a Republican. I had always wondered.

Photo taken: Sept. 24, 2005


Sept. 14, 2005

Sherman Park Criterium.

Photo taken: Sept. 3, 2005


Sept. 4, 2005

Of all the races I watched or participated in during Saturday's Sherman Park Criterium -- full race report TK -- the most enjoyable were the children's races. They certainly had the most pathos and drama, even more than the Cat 1/2/3 race in which two rivals spent many of their 30 laps loudly squabbling and swearing at each other.

The contestants were mostly neighborhood kids on an array of BMX bikes, mountain bikes and beaters. In the one-lap race for boys ages 13-15, the riders took off like madmen with the enthusiasm and panache I like to see at the start of a race, but around Turn 1 they realized that a mile was much, much longer than they had imagined. Ten minutes later they dragged themselves across the finish line, thirsty and weary. Many headed straight for the water trough to dunk their heads. The rider above splayed himself across the sidewalk, too exhausted to move another inch.

Photo taken: Sept. 3, 2005


Aug. 15, 2005

I didn't finish last. I didn't crash. I didn't die.

I didn't start.

My bike felt loagy toward the end of my warm-up before yesterday's criterium in Winfield, but I chalked it up to fatigue or nerves.

And nervous I was. In the front row of the starting line, standing ahead of more than a hundred riders, the largest field I've ever been in, I had, as George Lucas would put it, a bad feeling about this. I was almost looking for a reason not to compete, and when I felt my front tire, a reason was found: It was flat, probably the victim of a slow leak caused by glass on the ride down to Logan Square in the morning. There was no time to fix the tube, and I had no spare wheels in the pit. I pulled out, changed clothes and started taking pictures.

It sure would have been nice to have had a spare set of wheels.

For weeks I've been debating whether I could afford to upgrade my wheelset. I spent a lot of time in Yosemite thinking about this. Over one shoulder a toga-clad angel squawked something about saving for retirement. Over my other shoulder, a bearded devil in Lycra danced from foot to foot and made promises about visits to the podium. I can fund my IRA later, his airtight logic went, but the only time I could only win races was now.

I resisted temptation. I even went to the bike shop last weekend expecting to buy wheels, but when 20 minutes passed and no salesman had come to help -- because of a coupon I had gone to a place other than my regular local bike shop; never again -- I took it as a sign. (I bought new shoes instead.)

When there is something I want to do but know I shouldn't, I'm big on signs. On destiny. On deflecting responsibility. In the vending machines at work there is a candy bar I like to indulge in that costs $1.10. When the sweet tooth strikes I will say to myself, "If there is a dime in this drawer, it is my destiny to buy a candy bar." I make massages contingent on whether I win at the poker table. If there is gelato across the street, I will say, "If that light turns green within three seconds, it is a sign that a higher power wants me to have some gelato."

Sometimes that three seconds turns into 20 seconds, sometimes into 20 minutes. In any case, there apparently is a higher power that wants me to eat a lot of candy bars and gelato, and who am I to argue? (It's a bit like the joke of the preacher who throws all the offering money into the air. Whatever God takes, God gets. Whatever falls to the earth, the preacher gets.)

So yesterday morning I prepared myself for the possibility of a sign, a revelation, a Post-it note from God: "Buy those wheels. --G."

I wondered what the sign would be. Doves of peace? A hundred-dollar bill in the gutter? A crash? Suddenly there I was, walking my flat tire down the sidewalk because I had no spare, and my destiny was clear. Whether I could afford it or not, I would buy those wheels.

I'm just glad I didn't have to make the decision on my own.

Photo taken: Aug. 14, 2005


Aug. 13, 2005

While we waited for "The Night of the Hunter," orange-jacketed security shooed several dozen Canada geese that had been calling Grant Park home, often from one patch of trees to another and then back. It was like a giant game of keep-away.

The geese flew in large, panicked flocks, an activity that to those of us on the grass was more disconcerting than had they remained standing quietly under the trees.

"Whatever you do," someone nearby said, "don't look up!"

"At least not with your mouth open," I thought to add.

Photo taken: Aug. 9, 2005


Aug. 11, 2005

It usually takes about 14 months for me to make a good impression. Right on schedule, then, a great stride was made last week with my nephew, 14 months after I first met him: At the beginning of the trip he would cry as soon as I entered the room. By the end of the trip he'd cry when I left it. (It helped that I would sometimes leave the room carrying his favorite toys. It's a dirty trick to make an uncle feel wanted, but I love him so; all is fair and all that.)

On the trip's last night I stood around the campfire after my brother's ranger talk. He was chatting with visitors and mentioned he was from Wisconsin. Two young women next to me started tittering.

Do you think it's him? He said he's from Wisconsin. It's gotta be. Let's ask him. Yeah, ask him. No, you ask him. No, you ask him.

Hank looked their way and they were silent for a beat, then burst together: "Are you Malcolm's dad!?! He's the GREATEST!"

They'd apparently waited for a shuttle bus with Malcolm and his mother and become big fans.

They were sort of cute, too, but I resisted the urge to point out that I was Malcolm's uncle and, unlike his father, single. Still, it reminded of what great company Malcolm could be around Chicago. Prop him up on the bar and so long as he keeps his fingers out of my Schlitz I'm set.

It wouldn't even have to stop once he's too big to carry. I'm imagining a scene in 20 years when I am 50 and he is 21 and he visits his doddering, still-single uncle in the city. We'll ride our hoverbikes through the park. "This is my nephew," I'll say to the fawning women, "with whom I have common DNA. He pooped today!"

Or maybe I'll just buy a puppy.

Photo taken: Aug. 4, 2005


July 30, 2005

What a great Chicago day.

It began with BBQ on the South Side. In the evening, Critical Mass wended through the North Side and wound up at Foster Beach, where the water was warm and the waves were high. Dozens of riders dove in in street clothes, a few in nothing at all. It had been awhile since my last spontaneous night swim. I'd forgotten how fun they are.

Afterward, my friends and I convened at Levi and Stacey's. A man tried to sell us a rubber shark on the way. We declined. We changed into dry clothes and discussed everything from Santorum to santorum over martinis and potstickers.

(Levi has made the martini, forged in a penguin-shaped shaker and served in a proper martini glass with a half-dozen olives, a part of his evening routine. I have yet to acquire the taste for martinis, but I can fathom why one would endure the agony of doing so. What I like is how it mandates patience and lingering. You take a sip, and only after you have forgetten its foulness do you take another sip. An hour later, when you look down into an empty glass, you experience relief and accomplishment. "Well, that's done with, and I am a stronger man for it." (It is also possible that I misunderstand the point of a martini.))

In a few hours I leave for a week in Yosemite, where I'll see my 14-month-old nephew. I imagine that 14 months is an impressionable age, sensory wise, so I'm tempted not to shower. This way can I arrive stinking of BBQ, gin and Lake Michigan and it will lock an association in little Malcolm's mind. The hope is that the next time he ever smells one of the three again -- whether in 10, 20 or 60 years -- he will think fondly of his uncle, and he will follow his nose to the good life.

Photo taken: July 29, 2005


July 29, 2005

At Comiskey a few weeks ago someone mentioned that 35th was the farthest south they'd ever been. "So where do you go for your ribs?" I asked.

In the conversation that ensued it came out that although she worked in Hyde Park, Stacey had never had proper South Side ribs. Today we filled that void in her life. I picked up some ribs, tips and links from Barbara-Ann's and met her, Levi and Sandy on the Midway. She brought Diet Cokes and a large roll of paper towels, and God smiled upon our plans by delivering perfect weather.

A month ago I found one serving to be too much for one person, but two servings today turned out to be the perfect amount for three people and a vegetarian, Levi, who dove into the fries and bread.

Photo taken: July 29, 2005


July 11, 2005

I'd give anything for a picture of this:

I'm climbing Alpine Valley's toughest hill for the fourth and final time. It's the same hill that the junior above is wiggling up. I try to spit, but full expectoration is not achieved. A stream of saliva dangles from my bottom lip all the way to my top tube. I could fling it away with a finger, but I need both hands to tug at my handlebars. I could spit it the rest of the way out, but that would take energy and focus, and my reserves of both are already completely devoted to the climb. So on it dangles for a good 20 seconds.

And it's great. This, friends, is why I cycle, and this is what cycling has done to me: It has literally turned me into a drooling idiot. (I wrote as much in a cranky e-mail to a local newspaper columnist who had belittled the Tour de France. He seems to find golf exciting. Wake me when Michelle Wie is working so hard that a giant loogie dangles from her lip.)

When I tell people how important racing has become to me, I often add, "And just think how much fun I will have once I'm actually competent." Truth is, I still stink. In today's race the pack shelled me after the first of four laps, thanks in part to some tactical miscues that wiped me out heading into a climb. (Bridging to a breakaway? Who do I think I am?) Once again I had to watch as a peloton drifted tantalizingly out of reach.

After I got dropped I was scooped up by a few other riders, one of whom organized a rotating paceline. Unlike at my first race, this time I knew how a rotating paceline worked, so I was able to stick with them.

We finished in a group of six. Even though we were contesting God knows what place, I attacked at the 100 meter mark. I thought it strange, though, that I couldn't see the finish line, and also strange that everyone else was content on my wheel. Nobody was sprinting. Then we passed the 200 meter mark. Blast! They'd put the signs in the wrong order! It was here that everyone jumped and left me in the dust.

As it turns out, that sign didn't say "100 meters." It said "1000 meters." It's not unusual for my vision to be double at the end of the race, but this was the first time it had been decimated.

This is Superweek, so there are races every day. I'm doing another one tomorrow, at a course aptly called the MGA Proving Ground. Another chance to prove myself worthy of calling myself a cyclist.

Photo taken: July 11, 2005


July 9, 2005

Last Night was the Beverly Hills Cycling Classic, the first event of the 17-day "Superweek," a series of races in Chicago and around Milwaukee. I'm registered for three of them, road races all. If I do well enough, I'll try to squeeze in a few more, maybe even a crit, but I'm not counting on it.

Beverly was a 60-mile criterium for pros and Cat 1's and 2's. The field was a mix of international pros and regional hot shots. This was my first exposure to racing of this caliber, and I was amazed: They were racing at speeds I could probably not even reach, let alone sustain for 2 hours.

I was also amazed at Beverly, a quaint haven of smalltown life on the far South Side. Rolling hills, well-tended lawns, large lots, kids at play, neighbors gathering to gossip, brats grilling in every other driveway -- I had no idea such a diverse neighborhood existed within Chicago city limits. Clean, quiet and pleasant without being overtly upscale or tony. Reminded me of parts of Minneapolis. I almost forgave its many violations of the Chicago grid.

Not that I'd want to live there, or even dine there. I left immediately after the race and hit Lem's BBQ on 75th on my way home. "Your ride all the way here?" said one of the guys behind the bulletproof window, knowing with a single glance that I had come a long, long way. "That's a regular Tour de France. We'll set you up with extra fries for that." Which he did, and which I enjoyed while sitting on the sidewalk outside. (My experience with BBQ suggests that quality is inversely proportional to available seating.)

Photo taken: July 8, 2005


July 8, 2005

Photo taken: June 24, 2005


June 30, 2005

How hot is it? Hot enough to take a plunge in street clothes at dusk? OK, good. Then it's almost as hot as I like it.

Photo taken: June 24, 2005


June 28, 2005

Sandy putts the 27th hole in Baraboo, Wis., a tough par three that I triple-bogeyed, costing me the game.

Photo taken: June 20, 2005


June 27, 2005

A thousand bicycles, their riders wilting from the heat, stream through a gushing fire hydrant.

A panhandler sitting in the shade, his shirt piled on top of his head, accepts my full water bottle on my way into the grocery but still asks for change on my way out.

I yell "Eamus catuli" to the Bridgeport Sox fans and they smile and I am a half-block away before they translate.

A staggering, shirtless wino politely watches our volleyball game. He is confused about a great number of things, most immediately why none of us is subbing out to let him play.

A single loud fan keeps cool the all-night taqueria where the tacos al pastor reveal faded chinese writing on the plate beneath.

These are the moments of a Friday evening in summer. These are the moments for which I choose Chicago as my home. These are the small, satisfying moments I spend all winter looking forward to.

Photo taken: June 24, 2005


June 14, 2005

At 31st Street Beach.

Photo taken: June 9, 2005


June 13, 2005

Suzie was having trouble feeding Macolm yogurt without a spoon when I remembered an anecdote Hank told more than 10 years ago. He was at a baseball game where a boy nearby was having the same trouble, so his father whittled a spoon from a carrot. Problem solved.

I asked Hank whether he remembered this. Of course he did. And this reminded Suzie that there happened to be a bag of carrots in the cooler.

So like the pretty girl at the bar who ties a cherry stem into a knot with her tongue, Hank put a baby carrot into his mouth and a minute later withdrew a baby spoon. Voila.

Photo taken: June 11, 2005


June 6, 2005

You've come a long way, Sweet Baby Malcolm.

Photos taken: June 5, 2004, through June 5, 2005


May 27, 2005

On Michigan Avenue, another brave soldier resisting the mayor's crusade against public music and streetlife. He played with enviable whimsy, but when he sensed the camera he masked it with a very serious, concentrating countenance. Once he had adopted just the right gravity he beckoned the photographer with his pinky, as if to say, "Here, this is the picture you want, not the one where I am smiling at the little girl."

Photo taken: May 25, 2005


May 26, 2005

Washing the fourth of the 45 floors of the Kluczynski Federal Building.

Photo taken: May 23, 2005


May 25, 2005

A dancer checks his hair before taking the stage at the city's Asian-American Festival.

Photo taken: May 23, 2005


May 24, 2005

At the Foster Avenue Beach basketball court. The players put on a good show, but it was all slop. Took 'em 40 minutes to play to 10.

More at Flickr.

Photo taken: May 22, 2005


May 23, 2005

The other team had an ingenious strategy.

  1. Hit the ball to the pitcher. Run to first.
  2. After first baseman drops the ball, run to second, third and perhaps home.
  3. Repeat.

The first base coach was a regular Wendall Kim: "Runrunrunrunrun! Runrunrunrunrun! Runrunrunrunrun!"

Photo taken: May 21, 2005


May 22, 2005

Summer is almost here, meaning the following scene will be re-enacted dozens of times each weekend: The limos will park illicitly on Michigan Avenue, discharging their passengers into the crowds of tourists. While the drivers stall the traffic cops, the photographers will herd the wedding parties into Pioneer Court and frantically capture every permutation of subject: bride and groom, bride and family, bride and maids, groom and best man, ad infinitum.

Photo taken: May 21, 2005


May 19, 2005

Sith happens.

After work I killed time at Cambridge House, one of River North's last diners. It's doomed for demolition within the year, so as I read and sipped my coffee I took note of all the usual late-night characters. The tourists, the young couples taking breaks from clubbing, the second-shift employees from neighboring hotels picking up their burgers and francheezies. And the truck driver who scolds the waitress for having missed "American Idol" because, Honey, now how is he going to know what happened to Vonzell?

Around 12:30 a.m. I took my place in line at the theater, surrounded by college students and middle-age fans quite amused by the sounds of their own Yoda voices. (The dorkiest of the young dorks had quite fetching girlfriends in tow. WTF? I screwed my fists into my eyes to make sure I was indeed seeing what I was seeing and it wasn't a sleepy-headed hallucination, but it was true: They were hotter than a summer day on Mustafar.)

A dozen screens were in use for the midnight show. It took awhile to flush them out. Then there was a problem with the digital projector. Then there were 20 minutes of trailers. My 3 a.m. show didn't start until 3:50. When I finally got home at 7, my alarm was going off, still set from when I'd woken 25 hours earlier for time-trial practice.

Photo taken: May 19, 2005


May 7, 2005

On Michigan Avenue.

Photo taken: May 6, 2005


May 6, 2005

Young blue eyes.

Photo taken: May 1, 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 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 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 11, 2005

National anthem at Wrigley Field.

Photo taken: April 9, 2005


April 9, 2005

Cubs 4, Brewers 0.

Photo taken: April 9, 2005


March 19, 2005

Good morning.

Photo taken: March 13, 2005


March 15, 2005

Separated at birth?

I worry about his lung capacity, however, and what it means for his trumpet career. He didn't cry or wail once over the weekend. Instead he expresses distress with series of hoarse bleats. Sounds like a ton-ton from "Empire Strikes Back."

Photo taken: March 12, 2005


March 14, 2005

This is how my nephew Malcolm occupies himelf when he isn't blogging.

He's not quite crawling. When he pursues an objective -- his father is a frequent one -- he rolls over and over until he reaches it. Or he'll do a five-point army crawl, with his elbows, thighs and belly touching the ground. He tends to favor one of his legs when he does this, so it's as if he's a wounded soulder dragging a bum leg across no-man's land, except with more giggling.

Photo taken: March 12, 2005


Feb. 28, 2005

For four years Sandy and I have volunteered at the Inspiration Cafe, an organization that provides meals, job training and other important services for those in need in Uptown. The Cafe's major fundraiser is an annual art auction, a gala sale of dozens of juried pieces donated by local artists.

It was at last year's auction that I bought my very first piece of art, an abstract painting of an El platform at sunrise. What's funny is that earlier that day I had helped hang the art and came very close to hanging it upside down. Such is abstract art.

Later, during the silent auction, an older gentleman was looking at it and asked for my help in seeing the El. "I just don't see it," he said. I studied it and suggested where the platform was. A few more moments and I could make out the El speeding by. The more I looked at it the more I liked it. It reminded me of countless Thursday mornings bicycling down Broadway, parallEl, to cook breakfast at the Cafe.

"Well, I just don't see it," he said, "but I like it." He put in a bid at $55. Once he left, I put in a bid at $60 and later increased it to $85 in order to win.

This year's auction is March 18. This weekend Sandy and I photographed all the art to be auctioned. Sandy will put the pictures online. There are a lot of great pieces this year, some of which I'll surely bid on. Perhaps I'll make my second art purchase, though you are encouraged to try to stop me.

Photo taken: Feb. 26, 2005


Feb. 18, 2005

Gus watched through her Treo.

Photo taken: Feb. 5, 2005


Feb. 8, 2005

Sandy won by 20.

Photo taken: Feb. 3, 2005