Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Why I'm a Republican, and why, perhaps, you should be, too.

I got a card in the mail today that began "dear republican voter," and it reminded me to share a political idea that seems sort of rare, but I don't think it's that farfetched. It involves why in the world I'm a registered Republican.

Just about all of us will agree that both of the United States political parties are pretty stupid, all in all. But if I asked you "which party is more likely to field a candidate that's really, really stupid -- so stupid he's probably going to be destructive?" what would you say? Wouldn't it make sense, then, to be a member of that party, so you'd have the chance to vote AGAINST that candidate in primary elections?

The United States party system is really, really weird. Being a member of either party doesn't DO anything; you can vote for whomever you want in the general elections, regardless, you're never under any obligations to vote for, pay, or do anything in support of "your" party, they don't get seats in congress simply based upon their numbers.

So, in 2000, I had the opportunity to vote for Sen. John McCain from Arizona as the Republican candidate for President. We all know who ended up securing the Republican nomination.

Another one under the belt: Report from my third road race.

This weekend, I raced in the championships for the n orthwest collegiate cycling conference in and around Palouse, Washington. What a weekend! The usual arrival difficulties made starting the race Saturday morning a difficult experience; we'd gotten into the hotel rooms at past midnight, after seven hours of cramped riding in the back seat of a van from Portland, Oregon. Four and a half hours sleep were all that was afforded us before a quick breakfast, then an hour or so drive to the course; we were to roll out just before nine in the morning. The line to register was massive, of course, and after signing in and setting up, I shook off fatigue and got in a quick and entirely insufficient warm-up before heading to the course.

I'd been determined to achieve better results this weekend after a painful 9th place finish two weeks ago, when I had to chase the pack solo for the last half of the race after a mechanical difficulty. I knew I was among the stronger riders in the men's 'C' field, but this weekend, they combined the 'B' and the 'C' groups, and it was the championship race: people would be riding hard.

The course was a rolling 24-mile circuit through countryside that was both beautiful but intimidating; not much could grow in these windswept hills, and the landscape was rocky and very dusty. A clear day greeted the rollout, and temperatures were expected to reach the mid-seventies. Perfect. I clicked the distance-to-go into my cyclocomputer, checked everything else once more, and followed the field across the wooden planks and five train track crossings that marked the end of the neutral start. We'd race for two of the 24-mile laps, and then turn off for about a mile through downtown, followed by another half a mile of finishing climb.

I didn't expect the wind. Brutal, sustained crosswinds slashed across much of the course, making mild grades painful and occasionally scattering dust in our faces. Powerful gusts blew the field around, which I found unnerving. I'm a novice rider, having only ridden a bike since October of last year -- I've only had a multi-geared, freewheeling bike for about two months, and that inexperience shows in treacherous handling situations. I bobbed in and out of the saddle in the first sections, trying to warm my legs up for the attacks I knew would come in the first section as the region's two big teams tried to break apart the field. It wasn't enough. The break came after less than ten miles, up a small incline with the wind at our backs and bit to the side, and the peloton moved fast. I was about three-quarters of the way back at that point, having survived a dicey shoulder-rub in a gust of wind. Nobody went down, thankfully.

I watched the front group pull away as they crested the hill and tried to pursue, but the legs and lungs just hadn't fully warmed up yet, and I couldn't stay with them as the descent came. That was the fastest I've ever ridden a bicycle; my computer indicated 53 miles per hour, and my smallest cog only had 13 teeth. I tucked in and tried to stay as close as I could, forcing myself to keep my hands off the brakes as a couple of times, my rear wheel bobbed frighteningly in gusts of wind. A slightly downhill, windy section with the wind still helping out kept speeds in excess of 35 miles an hour for at least 4 miles, and the aerodynamics of the pack quickly pulled them away from me. I felt terrible; my stomach cramped and twisted, I coughed up a bit of awful acidic taste, and considered pulling out. No way. I haven't come this many miles, paid my entry fee, gotten so little sleep, for that. I forced myself not to chase above threshold, and just kept up my tempo.

Gradually, it got better. The winds shifted to headwinds, the hills got a bit steeper, and after a full lap, I was finally completely warmed up. In ones and twos, riders appeared in the distance and fell behind me as the 'C' riders who'd tried to stick with the 'B' break got shelled off the back. As I heard it told at the end, the front group of about half the 'B' field - 15 riders or so - were the only even vaguely cohesive group. The rest of the field stayed split tiny fragments. I came upon a teammate who was in just such a position, and the ability to trade off pulls to fight the wind was extremely welcome. We passed a few more riders, mostly 'C's, but some 'B's. As we did so, eventually we came upon Jon, third teammate, who was also trying to avenge a nasty series of flat tires in previous races. He'd been paying a little more attention to the breakaway, and told us there really weren't very many 'C's left on the road ahead. Onward we went.

I'd gotten my legs back now, and pulled my teammates up the steeper sections of the climbs; my strongest area, for sure. Unfortunately, they weren't able to hold my wheel in the vicious wind, and so I let off to allow them to catch up. Peter was in the running for the 'C' conference championship -- I'd only been to a couple of the races, so of course I was not -- and I knew I'd appreciate the drafting help in the down hills and flats. My 32-spoke wheels and round-tubed steel frame and fork hardly scream 'aero' anyhow. We stuck it out in that pack until the end of the race, and I was fairly satisfied when I checked with the scorers: we'd finished 4-5-6. Fourth place - not bad, especially considering the field was larger and the racing harder than the previous races I'd entered. My best finish so far! I felt a bit of pride, too, as the conference manager told me our time was 'really good, considering the conditions, and you still look fresh!'

"If only's" aren't worth very much, but I'd like to think, with sufficient sleep and a longer warmup, I'd have been able to hang with the frontrunners for longer. Definitely a learning experience! I'm looking forward to future races, especially stages that are a bit longer, with more climbing. Those should suit me more. If I wasn't before, I'm a total addict now. Allez!

Friday, April 22, 2005

Sunbleached and withering or verdant and flourishing?

I can't decide, but the weather has tipped the balance in the favor of smiles a bit more today, edging out some confounded side of me that's in love with its own macabre self. I've yet to figure out what about me draws me towards "intensity" in all forms, but it at least prevents this lovely modern world's comforts from becoming stifling.

This weekend will see me out of town yet again, so in the odd likelihood that a few entries are read, thanks to my remarks in a couple of friend's journals that may lead them here, I feel compelled to point out this change of heart; it's cyclical, and related to events in my life, but not inexorably tied to them.


In other news, winner of the 'best stripper name' goes to a young lady I met recently who danced under the nom de travaille "cadence."

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Brought on by fucked up dreams last night? It could be. Strange fantasy lives of slummy apartments and betrayal and deep, dark secrets, lived out in sleep and barely tickling the corners of my consciousness when I'm awake.

What next?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

This weekend I competed in my first racing events at the WWU omnium in Olympia, Washington. Saturday had a Team Time Trial of 13 miles, followed by a road race of three laps on the same loop. Though full of complications and confusion, it was a good first experience and it's definitely gotten me addicted to cycle racing.

Pre-race: Disarray and sleeplessness

I travelled from Portland, Oregon, to Olympia, with the cycling club from Portland State University. We're not really even a 'team,' per se; we have no budget, no coach, no kit, just a bunch of men and women who like to ride bicycles. We met up at the university campus at about five thirty PM, finally rolling out at about seven. The trek to Olympia is one hundred forty miles, taking about three hours in the rush-hour traffic out of town. Add in a few stops, motel check-ins, and it was well past ten when we finally got set up in our hotel. This seemed about right to me, as the race was set to get underway at nine the next morning, but several of the men decided to go out for food before bed. I'd thought they were heading to a grocery store to buy supplies for the next day, and so I went with them, but it turned out they intended to go to a restaurant. We ate at a terrible little diner that was still open, finally getting back to the room at past midnight. That didn't bode well for getting enough sleep! Alarms were set for quarter past six in the morning.

Less than six hours later, we were up and eating breakfast; raisin bran, orange juice, bagels, and bananas. My stomach felt tense from the adrenaline, my back and neck a bit sore from sleeping on a cot, and still entirely too tired, but nonetheless I had a lot of fire to race. Putting some loud rock music on my ipod, I tuned out the rest of the group and tried to focus my wandering mind on the task at hand.

Fortunately, there were no major snags en route to the race; we all got registered, numbers pinned, and began to warm up on trainers by 8:00 am. Unfortunately, the organizers delayed the start until 9:45, so we had a little more time to kill than we expected. I rode around the area despite warnings not to 'pre-ride the course;' it seemed like a lot of other people were doing it and it was better than standing around. When I got back, our team captain -- Cage, by far the fastest rider on our team, especially in a sprint -- explained to me the situation. The Team Time Trial for the B's could ride four riders and would take the time of the third wheel, whereas the C team would run 3 riders and take the second wheel's time. It turned out we had seven men, which meant either running two two-man C teams and a three-man B team, or else one full-strength team would be run in each. Obviously, the latter decision was smarter, and that's what they chose, but it meant that one of the C men would need to ride in the B TTT. I learned that two of the other B guys had volunteered me to be that rider; I was both flattered and nervous. The B team, then, would be Cage, Morgan, Ryan, and myself.

Team Time Trial : Rock in an aero place

At the line, I felt really, really nervous -- I did NOT want to let these guys down! All the same, I was the only guy on the team without clip-ons and with box-section, 32-spoke rims. This would particularly hurt me in taking pulls, so they said I ought to just keep the speed up when my turn came round and to get out of the wind fairly quickly. We went out on the thirteen mile, rolling loop, and in the first three miles my stomach was giving me fits. I was really nervous! It quickly became obvious that the pace was getting too much for Ryan, though; this just wasn't his day. He started to get gapped, and I was directly on his wheel. He turns back to me, pointing down the road now at the other two guys. "If you can get up there, just go. Sorry." I felt bad for him; clearly he was frustrated, but what else could I do? I put my hands in the drops and sprinted up onto Morgan's wheel, quickly shouting up what had happened. There was no choice but to leave Ryan and move on. By mile 8 I figured we were doing all right, and was pretty satisfied with myself for sticking with these guys; my stomach was settling down and my legs coming on a little stronger. Cage turns back as he drops off the lead.

"How ya feeling? Can you hang on?" He asked. Guy wasn't even breathing that hard.
"Yeah, I'm good, though pulling as fast as that would cook me," I told him.
"Okay. Just hang on then -- don't pull at all. Morgan and I will trade off, and I'm going to go all out." I gulped in a few deep breaths and nodded. The next four miles went by REALLY quickly; it was a slight downhill and cage pulled in excess of thirty miles an hour the whole time. Then we got to the only tricky section -- A climb about half a mile long, maybe four percent, followed by a 90 degree right turn that climbed up a little more sharply for about a hundred yards into the finishing straight.
Cage took the point from Morgan and went all out up the hill, but halfway up it, Morgan, at the back of the group, shouted "shit, shit, cramp! Damn it!" He sounded really pissed; I fell back a little bit to see what had happened, but the momentum was all gone, and we were halfway up the hill. "Slow up, damn it, my knee's cramped..." he explains, and we do, until he tells us to pick up the pace again. He sticks on my wheel, and we pull him back up to the right hander, where he puts it together, and we give all we've got up that last corner, which hurts, up until the line. I've still got quite a bit in my legs, since I haven't been pulling, so I give a bit of a sprint through the finish line, trying to make this thing look a bit respectable.
I expected us to come in dead last after all of that nightmare, but somehow thanks to Cage's pulling, we ended up with sixth out of eleven; right in the middle. We cooled down a few minutes, waited for Ryan to pull through the line and gave him some conciliatory congratulations, then I lay down on the grass to take a quick nap before the road race, which would start in about an hour.

Road Race: A lea(r)ning experience

The team time trial had proved a good warm-up for the road race for me; though I'd gone hard, I hadn't exactly been a bloc since I wasn't in the wind for most of it, and the jitters had mostly gone out of my stomach. Also, since the road race would be around the same course as the team time trial, I now knew what to expect of the course. The B and the C groups would race in a combined field for this 3-lap, 40-mile race, but they would be scored separately. Our team had their eyes on the game well enough to notice right when they called the riders to the line, so we were able to start out near the front of the pack. Since it was my first road race, my goal was simply to finish with the pack, without crashing. To do this, I planned mostly to hang on the wheel of either Cage or Morgan. I knew that the fairly flat course wouldn't be favorable to breakaways, but I had no idea what to expect beyond that. It was a bit intimidating, lining up with over 100 riders on the starting line. I have only been on two group rides that included more than half a dozen members -- and those only had about 10 riders! Turning round to look at the starting line and seeing all those bikes was a cool sight, but also an intimidating one, as for the first time they'd all be out to get to the finish line before I did.
One additional snafu: our team had forgotten to bring along its box of gear that included energy bars, drink mix, and Gu energy gels. I had brought along a couple of powerbars on my own, and I pre-unwrapped one and stuck it in my jersey pocket, but I was nervous about the safety and time required to eat solid food on such a short race, but I had absolutely no energy drinks or gels to handle the situation. Forty miles, raced in about an hour and three quarters, is right about the threshold where bonking starts to happen if I've eaten no calories, so it would be a tough decision.
Well, there was no more time to be worried about that, as the support car's flashing yellow lights pulled away in front of us, and the race organizer called "Roll out!" With a massive series of pedals clicking, the peloton was underway. I took a few deep breaths to steady myself and rolled away. As I was told would happen, the first lap of the race was relatively uneventful; certainly it was lower intensity than most of my training rides. The peloton just cruised along at about 22 miles an hour, dropping only a few of the C riders that, clearly, weren't much for racing at all. As we rounded the bend towards the start/finish straight, the group began to pick up speed -- I figured, in part, to impress the spectators cheering on the sidelines. After the start and finish straight, there's a section with a moderate descent pointing slightly leftwards, followed by a sweeping right hander. I'm amazed at how much the pack slows up for this section, and I feed through the pack and pick up several of the places I'd lost in the start straight. I think the slowness came partly from the fact that a rider had gone down in the team time trial earlier in the day -- I didn't see it, but I heard they got some pretty bad road rash and I know they left in the ambulance. Either way, the peloton continued at a fairly moderate pace up until the race's sharpest turn, a right-hander of about 110 degrees. I took the outside line of the corner, keeping my speed up relatively well, when I heard a curse and that scraping sound of metal and asphalt, followed by several cries of "Rider down!"
Thankfully, he was okay; someone had simply tried to take the corner a little too sharply and ended up in the gravel, but it accordioned the field back quite a way as riders both tried to avoid the same fate and rubberneck. As I flowed out of the corner, I saw the small group that were ahead of the group accelerating, one of them shouting "Break, break!" Since I hadn't been slowed that much, it was fairly easy to manage a quick sprint up to that group, which accelerated away from the peloton for a while. Being as inexperienced as I was, I had no idea if this break would hold for the duration of the race or no, but I was determined not to get dropped. In all, about fifteen riders were in the first group, included Cage, Morgan, Ryan, and myself. In front of them, another rider had tried a solo breakaway; he only lasted about two miles. For about a lap the break held, but midway through the last lap, on the crest of a moderate climb, I glanced back to see the entire peloton on our heels. So much for avoiding a ridiculously packed finish!
The last lap went by quicker than the first two, though overall it was still pretty slowly moving for the first half. The last climb to the start and finish straight would prove decisive. Though there were no major attacks, the leaders pushed up the tempo, and about two thirds of the pack fell several seconds behind the group. Thankfully, I held onto the lead group, trying to position myself for the end of the stage. One university's team looked very strong, with at least five riders near the front of the field. I held on to one of their wheels as we completed the climb, then turned onto the last road of the race. Here's where I made my mistake. In my haste, I'd thought the finish was just a bit sooner, and burned up my legs too much trying to sprint along with the guy whose wheel I was holding; it was only the third time I'd been out of the saddle all day. When we rounded the final bend I realized my error: the finish line wasn't for another 300 meters or so, and the men I'd been sprinting behind were leading out their own sprinters to win the race. Fifty meters later and I was spent, and riders blew past me in the race for the finish. Cage ended up taking second, edged by a nose by one of the riders from the team that had controlled the front so long. In the C category, I ended up placing fifth -- overall, not bad for a first outing, though I was quite mad at myself for miscalculating the finish. I'll pay more attention next time.

Up Next : Take two - the very next weekend, there will be another TTT - road race - criterium omnium, but the course will be much hillier, with just under 3000 feet of total climbing in a forty-mile road race. I think I'll fare much better in this one, as the B and C fields will be separated instead of mixed, and the climbs should like my 143-pound self and my totally non-aero bike a little better than the sprint-friendly course from this weekend. I be climbed hard today, and will again tomorrow, in preparation, and then I'll take Thursday and Friday really easily to rest up and recharge. Now if only I can get to bed at a decent hour Friday night...