Thursday, October 30, 2008

And so it begins...

Not only did I ride my bike yesterday merely for the sake of doing so, but today is the day that this blog gets launched fo' real. If you were one of the lucky few to have been given a sneak preview of the site, you've heard the history, ranting, and promises of real content about mountain bike racing for about a week and a half (if not, read the previous three posts). Now you get to hear the plan:

As was previously mentioned, Eric and I are training to race a to-be-determined ultra-endurance mountain bike stage race next summer. After much deliberation, it has come down to three races, two countries and one mountain range. The Rockies are the destination, and the options are (in no particular order):

1. TransRockies Challenge (CAN): 550km, 17,623m of vertical gain. Known for it's mind-blowing brutality (and pretty decent singletrack). This option is probably the best suited to our strengths, as about half the distance is made up of fast miles that favor time trialists and roadies, but I've already done it three times...

2. BC Bike Race (CAN): 531km, 1100m of vertical gain (estimated). Known for it's totally mind-blowing singletrack. Popular sentiment suggests that BC Bike is better riding than TR (read: more awesome singletrack), but a higher decree of technical difficulty will be less suited to our collective strengths.

3. The Breck-Epic (USA): A totally unknown new race for 2009, being organized by Mike McCormack of the Rocky Mountain Championship Series around Breckenridge, CO. If you click on the link to the site at the time of this posting, it's probably not even up yet. Normally, I'd toss this one for still being a wild-card going into the planning period, but Mike has an ace up his sleeve. He's running a blogger grant contest whereby four individuals will be selected to blog about their experience in the Breck-Epic, and will get their race expenses covered to do so. Entrants to the contest will have their applications posted on the Breck-Epic website and the public will vote for their favorites. The four applications with the most votes by January 3 will be selected as the bloggers for the race. In case you haven't noticed, this is a blog, and at least one of us is a broke-ass graduate student... We'll let you know when our App. is available for voting.

Over the next two months we'll be watching our vote-count on the Breck-Epic site and the Canadian dollar, which is currently at 1 U.S. dollar = 1.22319969 Canadian dollars, and by the first week in January we'll pull the trigger on one of the three events. In the meantime we will be posting about our training, techie bike stuff, etc.

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Freeze-dried, black and piping hot.

About when I was thinking I might be writing this blog all by myself, I got an email from Eric (you know, that guy I'm doing some silly race with next summer) at 3am with his first entry in the impending saga of our conjoined lives.

Let me set the stage:

Just as I was sitting in a coffee shop in the midwest last week thinking about bikes but not getting to ride them, Eric was likely sitting in a dark basement laboratory, or the dark basement he lives in, grinding away at his PhD thesis last night, thinking about bikes and similarly not riding them. (Don't worry, we promise this will change soon) It says a lot about who he is, why he's here, and what is to come over the next few months, and once we get all that important stuff out of the way, we can talk about racing.

******** Begin Eric********

Again, it is far too late for any reasonable effort, yet it seems these are the hours of my day. Slowly, steadily, I’m slipping into that lifestyle where, under the burden of too much to do or too little done, everything gets packed into the midnight hours in hopes of making up for lack of direction. It’s my job (a blessed one) to understand, and understanding comes only by thinking, which like racing, requires the courage to face the unknown and the daily patience of training. It's just that training is no substitute for competition. How I dream of the day when I publicly challenge my advisor to find chink in my logic. Wake me after I’ve defended my thesis.

That other kind of training--the kind with wheels--seems so far away now, unless an elevated heart rate from continuous ingestion of coffee can act as substitute. Unlike some other cyclist’s taste for low-fat half-caf lattes with no-fat foam and carob sprinkles (just a few, thank you), I take mine richly roasted - the slow accumulation of reheated flavor from a seldom washed lab coffee pot. But I diverge, my plan for the coming months is the “one-a-day” plan in which I try to hold on to as much as that hard earned endurance as possible, mitigated loss. I have yet to run it by my training partner. But, as I’ve never stuck to more than the vaguest notion of a plan, unless throwing down with Keith on hammer rides can be considered training, I don’t have high expectations for it. I did make a valiant attempt tonight. I polished off a super burrito, slipped into my favorite chamois and jersey, and then let set off on my trainer ride, letting the inspiration flow from that Hollywood classic “The Fast and the Furious”. It's actually an exceedingly good film if you rate it on the frequency of eye candy, seriously. I mean the care that went into crafting this totally plebian film is captured in these lines, [Brian] "You sure know your machines, you should be going to MIT or something." [Jesse] "Yeah, but I have this know..." [Brian] "Attention deficit disorder?" [Jesse] "Yeah that's it." Quality. But almost anything is better than a 22nd viewing of “Floyd Landis: Hero or Villain”. Perhaps motivated by the evening’s entertainment, needing to clear my head I found myself considering for a moment the possibility of a midnight ride in the thrashing winds of an Autumn storm bearing down on New England. In an earlier day I might have done it, but tonight, after a triumph at lab four years in the making I feel that I’ve learned a bit about how to choose my battles. When I first entered this grand culture of cycling I might not have resisted such temptation. That might also be why some triumphs take four years.

So here we are, starting this grand adventure with a new element, the blog, for which I have three main aspirations. First, that we can use it as a reminder of the goal and the deal we have made, to motivate each other to train and prepare for this adventure. Second, that in doing so we can tease out some of the more elusive meanings to our motions. And lastly, that we may entertain ourselves and others by our words. I think that in making a commitment to this effort, it would be prudent to start with an account of what we have, that is, our dreams and ambitions.

When I think of the ideal life, it’s one where I might greet my colleagues tired and battered, but walk yet with the levity of victory. It’s one where on the starting line my competitors might call me Dr. Edlund, though I might suffer more because of it. It’s one where the suffering we endure makes us gracious and wise. We should aspire to live a passionate life, drawing from and giving to the stories of legends. I am honored to be embarking on this mission with Keith, and hope that with the courage to ride what comes, the coolness to flow with it, and the patience to try again, that I can learn some of his grace.

I’m not sure what I’m in for, but know that it’s good to dream of the future. With the inception of my thesis writing and graduation looming it’s hard to say where this year will take me. It’s good when heading off into new territory to take a survey of the land and set your bearing by some prominence – I think a mountain top somewhere will serve well.

******** End Eric ********

Monday, October 20, 2008

triple grande, half-caff, non-fat latte

I'm starting to get warmed up with the whole blogging thing (your muscles put put out 15% more power for every degree Celsius increase in muscle temperature, maybe that works for the brain too), though I think this still counts as setting the stage. We haven't officially told anyone the site even exists yet...

October, the end of the summer racing season, is a time of rest and reflection. There are plenty of options--transcendental meditation, morning walks on the beach, wrenching on your busted ride, cyclocross--but I like to start off by staring my insanity right in the face. Sometime in late September I hang up my race bike, peel off my mud-spattered jersey and stand in front of the mirror to take stock of the scars I've collected from another season of hammering full-bore through the woods. The internal monologue usually goes something like this: "Endo, Endo, Endo, IT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA TO HAVE A FEW BEERS WITH YOUR BUDDIES AND THEN RACE YOUR FIXED GEARS AROUND THE PARK AT NIGHT WITH NO LIGHTS, Endo, Endo." It is at this moment, which often coincides with the arrival of my credit card bill from August, which includes my credit card bill from July, which includes my credit card bill from June--minus the minimum payments--that I question the rationality of my favorite pass-time; and every year, without fail, I manage to convince myself that perpetuating the yard-sale that is my life with racing on top of the task list is a great idea. (thank heavens it's 'cross season already...)

General sentiment seems to be that I wade a little farther into the deep end than your average Joe (plumber), but the thing is, I am far from alone on the bottom of the pool. Globally, adventure sports such as MTB Endurance racing are exploding. When the Jeantex TransAlp began 11 years ago, it was the only major Endurance MTB stage race. Today there are 5 major ones (TransRockies, TransAlp, BC Bike Race, LaRuta, and Cape Epic), with as many as 10 other minor ones, depending on how you define them, along with 24 hour and marathon events in the US and Europe that have been multiplying like rabbits on ecstasy for the last 5 years or so. [EDIT: The La Ruta website now says it is the hardest MTB race in the world. C'mon TransRockies. You gonna take that? Also, LaRuta has technically been around the longest, but those first few years were less than fully organized...]

Better yet, these events are all stepping on each others' faces for the unofficial titles of most difficult (TransRockies), longest (Cape Epic), most technical (BC Bike), most deadly (La Ruta), etc. This year on TranRockies, the 100+ mens' leaders crashed on day 5 and the race organizers were on their sat-phones uploading pictures of the injured guy on a stretcher to the website so fast that he didn't even have time to call his wife before his bloodied self was pasted all over the internet. Seriously, if it's that important to make it look like your race is killing people, marinate everyone's number plate in salmon entrails and take the bear spray off the equipment list. Nobody brings the stuff anyway.

Despite my sarcasm, I'm really not that surprised that so many people will pay good money to go out and push their limits on a solid adventure--especially if it is packaged up neatly with medical support, feed stations, and a big party at the end--when they live with a status-quo so sterile that soccer moms drive 4-ton SUVs for fear of being crushed in car accidents, we use antibiotics on everything from our laundry to our pets, and our government issues a terror alert every time a guy in a turban buys a bag of fertilizer. Heck, if you actually listened to everything you were being told about how big and scary the world is, you'd be cowering in a corner with a mop and a bible 24 hours a day. If you don't, it's easy to be critical.

Maybe I'm just antsy because it's 4pm and I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Madison, WI where I'm drinking hot cider with cinnamon at 4 in the afternoon (this is the first of two coffee shops today). 1,100 miles from my bike I've done nothing but eat, drink, sleep and stare at my laptop for four days (haven't ridden in eight). Although the YouTube mashups of Palin/McCain faux pah are very amusing, I'm genuinely worried that if I don't get stabbed with an epi-pen soon my life is going to become the languid whine of the radiohead-clone indie band playing on the speakers behind the counter.

Make my epi a double.

Bike racing isn't about having a deathwish, or an ego, or needing an excuse to spend $5-10k on something shiny to impress your friends, it's about feeling alive--alive with real pain, real fear, the ecstatic joy of success and the devastation of defeat. It's about learning to appreciate the coffee shop and the hot cider because they're the polar opposite of everything you experience in racing. It's about having your life be more than a flatline of comfortable homogeneity that you trace from office to couch to restaurant until you get married, you have kids, you get old and you die. We race because we love life, and life is best experienced at its limits.

Bring on next season.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

My name is...

The first post is always the hardest. Why am I here? Is this worth reading? What's the point of it all in 200 words or less. I can keep your attention for a couple of paragraphs, right?

Here's the nutshell (the posts will be funny later, I promise). I've been riding mountain bikes for 11 years. I'm also a bike mechanic, mountain bike coach, engineer (day job), a human projectile into all sorts of objects--trees, rocks, other people riding bikes, various branches of law enforcement--and I have this silly thing for endurance racing, particularly the epic, off-road, multi-stage sort.

This fall I managed to convince my good friend Eric, a rather speedy plasma physicist out of MIT and a recovering roadie, to be my partner for a yet to be determined stage race in the summer of 2009. After puttering around on the interwebs a bit trying to decide which race to do, we noticed that the internet was fun and resolved to spend more time with it by writing about MTB endurance racing and all surrounding things (gear, training, personal stories of Eric faceplanting every week as we hone his tech skills) in the magical land of blogosphere.

From now until the end of sumer '09, and possibly longer if anyone is still reading, Eric and I will chronicle our preparation for and racing of [insert stage race here] and muse regularly about all things mountain bike. I'd like to hope that we will provide an objective and practical look at mountain bikes and endurance racing, but who knows? We might just make a mess...

As an added wild-card, if you have a MTB-related question you want answered or something you want us to cover, hit the email link on the right and let us know. As an engineer and a physicist, we can sometimes get our heads buried in the geek sand. Having to pull them out and answer the outlook "you have mail" ring once in a while keeps us moderately in-touch with the outside world and makes us feel loved.

Game. On.