Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Don't force it. Just ask. Ask quietly and expect it to be answered, but remove your emotional self from the outcome.

I think every religion has a version of this, and with good reason. It's how the game of life is played (as much as it may go contrary to what some of our culture desires.)

I have long known this technique, having first learned it on reading the Inner Game of Tennis back when I was a teen, then nearly memorizing The Game of Life by Florence Scovel Shinn over several years.

I have forgotten this over the past few years, but it never went completely away. More recently, as I find myself dealing with loss, loneliness and uncertainty about my future in work, business, love, it has become subsumed in a quagmire of emotions.

But, during the hard times, it becomes even more crucial to follow the path. I finally started again just recently. A matter of weeks even.

There is one constant these days. The bike. Music is still there, but it's mainly in my head. I am taking a bit of a hiatus from playing music at the moment while I sort out some of this stuff, but it will always be playing inside. The bike has been my companion though, and has helped me through times of friends leaving, work disappearing, loss of love, all of it.

So I am using the bike as a way to get back "on the path". I have been asking for little things along the way. Simple things like asking for just a little relaxation during a hard effort or asking for a quieter mind when the thoughts of "I don't know if I can do this" come up. I might ask for just a bit better mechanics in my pedaling, or just a bit more efficiency, or just a bit less effort for the same speed. Little tiny things.

The things that make up everything. It helps get me in the habit of staying on the path.

I had one primary goal with the Corning Circuit Race this year. I signed up for the 1/2/3 race as it was the longest race. Again, I was uncertain about whether I belonged in this field. I could have done the 40+ and been pretty sure of doing rather well, but I had a hunch that the right thing to do was to go for the tougher race.

Never violate a hunch.

My plan was simple. Stay in the race no matter what. Don't get dropped and a pack finish in the 1/2/3 is to be considered a success.

The field was small. 20 of us rolled out, including a few heavy hitters. Mt. Borah had four in the field, and Corning had three. I figured that once a breakaway with riders from both got off the front, it was going to stick.

The first six laps were tough. Numerous attempts were made by people to get away and were all eventually chased down. We would go from moderate to breakneck speed often, and the fastest laps for the pack in general happened at this time. My fastest lap was 8 minutes flat (something on the order of 25.5mph which is impressive on a lap with 65 feet of climbing per mile.)

By lap seven, the proper combination of riders made it off the front and the pack shut down the chase. I was expecting this and actually counting on it, as we still had over an hour of racing left to go. I made sure I didn't take any more wind than I had to during this time, conserving my energy for when the race would get hard again toward the end.

This slow pace kept up for laps 7, 8 and 9 until someone said that we were about to get caught by the breakaway from the 40+ (which had left one minute after us.)

I thought to myself "it's going to be Pete and Bruce".....

The car goes past.

Then, sure enough, Pete and Bruce, breakaway of two, way way off the front of the 40+ field. I was gleeful and shouted my encouragement to Pete. We cat-and-moused them for the rest of lap ten and most of lap 11 when I pulled our group off to the side to let them sprint for the win in their race, and then back to ours.

Attacks had already begun during the cat/mouse lap with the 40+ break, causing us to speed up a bit, catch the guy, slow down, and so on. Once the 40+ race was over, we had 4 laps left to go and our race was most definitely back on. Two guys had gotten dropped from the breakaway and were now dangling in front of us, as well as some guys in our field getting antsy to get clear for the finish. We were all pretty tired at this point, and our lap times were starting to suffer, but the racing was actually harder, since we would surge like crazy and string out chasing the attackers, then slow down dramatically looking at eachother once caught.

During all of this I was asking up a storm. Every time there was a surge and a little gap, instead of thinking about the pain or wondering if I could make it, I would simply and quietly ask that I could succeed in closing this break or jumping on this attacker's wheel, or whatever.

It worked, every time. I am not saying it did not hurt. It did hurt, but I didn't need to think about the pain since I was occupying myself with asking.

Lap 14, we are getting to the 2 hour mark in the race. Lots of guys got dropped. Some have already pulled out. It's starting to look good for me as endurance is one of my best traits. I was first wheel coming into the boot and going up the hill at what I thought was a reasonable pace. I look behind me and they have let me go. I give it a bit more gas to gain a bit of separation, hoping that they won't decide to chase until it's too late. The legs felt fair, but the power coming out of them wasn't terribly high, so this was iffy at best. I made it to halfway into lap 15 this way before getting caught and sitting up.

A couple of late attacks. I answered all of them, using my ask technique, plus downshifting and using a fast cadence burst which had been keeping me in the game throughout the race. We were together for the final sprint, but only 6 of us remained in the pack.

Yaco went early and I made a mistake. I should have jumped when he did. I had a hunch to do this and violated it. I had allowed feelings of fear and inadequacy to overcome it.

Never violate a hunch.

I waited for the rest of the group to sprint, lost the draft and sprinted in the wind for 10th.

Had I jumped when Yaco did I might have gotten 8th. Live and learn.

But I accomplished my goal. I survived a hard 1/2/3 race. I finished 10th in a race of 20 and never got dropped. And it was excellent practice for the Game of Life.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Is quality a losing strategy?

Everything breaks. It's just a matter of time. It has always been that way.

The only real question is how much time.

To misuse a term that has been misused often, it should be considered entropy (a gradual increase in disorder) simply fulfilling its purpose. So how much time is appropriate? If one were to construct a highly ordered system such as a stone pyramid, and then have the system reduced to completely random rubble in one year, I think that would be considered an inappropriately short time. Conversely, and at the opposite extreme, if I created something like a pastry, returned to it in a million years, and then found it to be exactly as I created it, that time duration would be excessively long. One always has certain expectations of how long lasting any object will be.

So have our expectations changed?

What brought this on was my steam iron. I don't do much ironing, but I do have to iron my gig clothes on occasion. I bought an expensive "best in class" iron made in Germany with all the bells and whistles. This was something you'd expect to last a long time, especially with the intermittent duty cycles to which I would be subjecting it.

It broke. The thermal cut-off switch failed, causing it to stop producing heat, even when at normal operating temperature. An expensive paperweight (and a few wrinkly clothing items to serve as the "paper" for now) with a non serviceable failed cheap internal part.

So I think to myself, how should I go about replacing it? Buy another highly-priced so-called high-quality item to take a chance on? Should I spend money on a product that will last? Didn't I already do this and have the plan backfire on me with a product that lasted only a few years and then fail, losing me a large sum of money. Why not just buy a cheap model with the expectation that it will fail within a few years? That way I won't be out too much money and the only problems would be increased landfill use and possibly a substandard ironing job.

(I'm not liking where this is going)

Come to think of it, I had been paying top dollar for a certain brand name of tubular tires. They had just come out with a "new improved" (more expensive) version. Every single "new improved" tubular that I had purchased had been rendered useless within a few months of installation by flats (which seemed to shred the rubber) or sidewall failure. It may be coincidental, but I did not have the same problems with the "old" version.

I decided to never buy another. I also decided to never buy another product from the expensive fancy German iron company either.

Hey, this is sounding familiar. I have a lot of tools in my woodshop. Many of them are old. Some of them are newer boutique tools, made by small companies. A few of them are mass-produced well-known items that have TV commercials and are sold in home centers and hardware stores.

Care to guess as to which of these three types are the ones most likely to fail?

I've even been told as much by people selling tools or refrigerators or water softeners or whatever. They don't make them like they used to.

So, we all have heard that axiom before, but is there an underlying purpose to it?

If I am certain that an appliance will fail, then why bother buying quality? Wouldn't I be more likely to be angry and not buy anything from that company again since I spent so much money and felt like I was cheated? Damn right I would!

So I decide to go and buy the cheapest iron I can find that will do the job, and expect it to last a year or two.



Multiply that by a few million and you get the math. That many people, whether they are consciously thinking it or not, are making the same decision every day. They've all been through this time and time again, with products that just seem to stop working far far before their expected time to live has expired. It has become part and parcel of our culture. We even have come to change the way we think about stuff like cars. I have heard that the average car buyer gets a new vehicle every three years or some such duration. Very little impetus to build a lasting product when the consumer is trained to expect that nothing will last, and the best way to deal with stuff breaking is to simply throw it away and buy another.

And the companies know it too. They know where their profits are coming from.

What is the eventual result of all of this? What happens when projected to its extreme conclusion? How will we be after one hundred more years of this trend? Will we laugh at anyone who labors to construct something good? A waste of time? Not fiscally sound?

Consider the fiscal viability of a Beethoven symphony.

Will such a thing ever be possible to create again?

I have my doubts.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Chain and Suck

(Strawberry Festival Road Race)

I have never done this race before. Every previous season I had been working on Father's Day. This year is different in a number of ways, with the most resonant reason being that I have about zero work, but that is an issue for a different post.

It's not an easy course, but I wanted to do a relatively long race (as my current build cycle is mainly about increasing volume and endurance.) I signed up for the 123 race, hoping that perhaps a whole bunch of 3s would sign up at the last minute and I'd have a decent sized field to hide in for a larger part of the race.

That was not meant to be. I'm not sure how many of us were lined up at the start, but I think it was less than 15 (and certainly fewer finished the race.) There was also an option to race in the 30+ and still be in the same field, but that was looking like a field of two, so I stuck with the 123.

I knew most of the riders in the race, and knew I was not among the stronger ones. I also had a pretty good idea of how the race was going to play out. It wasn't tough to see the tactic behind Mt. Borah's early move to put Hunter off the front and then sit in for a while, letting him get a bit of a lead on everyone which stretched out to have him still in sight but receding by the time we got to the heaviest climbs past the middle of lap one.

Then Housler made a move to bridge up to his teammate. Again, a move which I figured was going to happen, but from my standpoint of fitness was something I could do no more about than simply watch happen. The result from this move was disastrous for the field (I use that term loosely at this point. Is it still a field when you have only ten?) though as panic ensued and four or five riders went into full-on chase mode, dropping the rest of us.

I formed up with Sloan and we rode together for a while pretty well, then joined with two others from our field. It seemed as though these four would stick together for the last two laps but that was not meant to be either.

Bam! Just around a right-hand corner and onto a steep climb and I shift my front derailleur to the little ring (something that has gone flawlessly now for over two full seasons) and the chain falls off. I push the shifter back onto the big ring and spin. Nothing. Bike slowing. Crap.

I have to get off.

It's jammed.

I wrestle with it for a while (38 seconds!) and get it back on, throw my leg over and get started again.

Now they are so far up the road that I can no longer see them over the crest of the hill.

Well. So much for that.

I now have one and a half laps to finish this race completely alone. Crossing the line on lap two I am acknowledged and I keep going.

This is where things get weird. This course has a LOT of turns in it. Not all of them are really easy to see, and a few are missing markings. We've had a good set of marshals pointing us in the right direction for the last two laps and I thank them!

But somehow, some way, it was decided that I no longer existed out here. They were all gone. No cops, no signs, no marshals, no follow cars, no SAG vehicle. Nothing.

I can't really understand why either. Even though we had a tiny field doing three laps, and the vast majority of racers had only done one or two laps, it's not too hard to simply set an estimated time on the three-lap race. I was only out there for 2:36 anyway, but they still left their posts (I guess they were told "nobody is left, you can go home")

Crossing the line I got my DFL, and was told by the riders who came in before me that not all that much time had elapsed, so I guess the staff all left the course just a few minutes before I rode through.

Very humiliating and demoralizing, but at least the finish area was still set up (although they weren't watching for any more riders). It made me think of that stupid song "The Distance"

Perfect example.

Wishing I hadn't dropped that chain.

(Now I have one of those chain catchers)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Getting back on track - Wilmington/Whiteface Road Race

After the fallout from the crash, and weeks of pain and expensive road rash care, and a disastrously horrible Killington I decided to skip Rochester. I needed time to get my head clear and let my body heal some more. I still cannot sleep on my left side, but it is getting better, and all of the road rash has healed (thanks in large part to Tegaderm, what a lovely product!)

So I had been monitoring my power numbers and general feelings on the bike over the past few weeks, and decided to take a chance on the Adirondack Race Weekend. I had done it last season and knew what to expect.

The first day's road race is billed as 55 miles (although my computer read 58 or so when I finished the race) which has us doing three laps of the main course, with three ascents of the hill leading to the feed zone, plus the final 1.6 mile ascent of Whiteface (just up to Santa's Workshop where the finish line is). I have wondered what it would be like to climb the entire 8 mile Whiteface after a race like this, but I think it might just be too much for me at my current level of development.

The word for the day: rain, and lots of it. It would affect the race quite a bit, as some of the twisty descents would have to be a lot less speedy if we wanted to stay alive. Not very warm either, maybe 60 degrees at the start. I went out with arm warmers, base layer, and a vest and cap. My number was pinned to the jersey beneath, and hence the vest would have to be removed at some point before the race finish.

Again they ran the Masters 35+ and 45+ together, with separate scoring. We had 50 pre-registered, but the official counts were only at 42 by race start. We roll out, and immediately I sense the antsy feel. Riders are already fighting for position even during the neutral start. I guess it's going to be that kind of a day.

Unwilling to force the issue, I allowed myself to be shuffled back. I know this course and I'm not in any danger here tailgunning as long as I make it back to a reasonable position before the climb. I do this, sort of. Actually, I was near the back at the climb but with fresh legs I got a chance to see how my improved form would work on the first time up. I worked my way through the riders, passing those who were on their way out, and even working my way past some of the stronger ones in the middle. I crested the hill in perfect position, about 8 wheels back. From this point on, there was a lot less of the ants-in-the-pants coming from the pack. Maybe the climb burnt off some of the jitters.

(starting to think this might just work out well for me)

Of course, there was a break up the road at the time, and few of us were willing to do much about it, and they just got further and further away as the race went on. We would generally keep a moderate pace, only going hard on the climbs. The few surges were pretty brutal though, stringing us out at 30+ at times. You had to be careful not to get behind the wrong wheels on the downhills though. Some folks were downright timid today, taking the "slower in the rain" idea way past the point of usefulness and into the "forcing myself and everyone behind me to burn a match to catch back on because I can't go downhill" realm.

And a very strict yellow line rule made it tough to move up at times and I was bitten by this on the second time up the hill. The rider in front of me has clearly used up his energy, and is destined to be never seen again. He's hugging the yellow line and a line of riders is passing him on the right. I'm screwed. I wait until there's a hole. I go. I work my way back up through these riders only to see the inevitable attack and stringing-out of the field in front of me and a gap appears in front of some rider ahead. The gap grows larger. I know if I stay where I am, my race is over.

I dig deep. I pass all the riders around me and focus on the back end of that shrinking field in front of me. Keep your form clean! Keep your upper body relaxed! Keep breathing! I put my head down and look at the road. I keep pushing and pushing. We clear the attack zone ( I mean feed zone) and they are still drilling it but I'm making progress. Keep pushing! Go! Go! Go!

Shut up legs!

I make it.

No sooner did I arrive at the back of the now-much-smaller field then I receive a hearty pat on the back. Turns out I had pulled two riders all the way back to the field with my chase. Hopefully they will remember this if I need a favor.

Now there are maybe 25 of us left. The final lap plays out as expected, with no real issues until we hit that awful hill for the last time. I wasn't in good position but it didn't matter this time. I had kept in contact for basically the entire climb, but the attack came again at the feedzone, splitting the field into two groups, with me chasing them.

I had to chase for the entire distance to the corner to the return road, and then two more miles into it when I got caught by a couple of riders (including, in the best stroke of luck, one of the guys I had helped earlier) who looked after me for a bit. I skip two pulls, then go to the front and drill it, bringing us back to the field (now only 19 riders) and home free until Whiteface.

Having burned such a huge stack of matches in my chase I wasn't sure if I could do much on Whiteface, but I was already pretty satisfied with my race performance, considering the crash and loss of form, and was really just thinking of this as a "first race back" kind of day.

They go, I try to follow. It's not going to happen. I settle in to my rhythm and just deal with Whiteface on my own. A few glances at the power meter revealed that I was still able to push threshold, maybe a bit more even.

But that was not going to be enough for me to hang with these guys, at least not until I can up my threshold a bit more.

I cross the line alone, 13th in the 35+. Possibly 25th overall, and the last of the men still standing in the peloton. Everyone else was either dropped or DNF.

Getting back on track. Yes.