Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Right Tool for the Job

Most Boston area MTB riders have been bemoaning the recent snow-freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw pretty aggressively, and not without reason.  We were out in the woods last week, and as you can see it was a little "slick".  In fact, the looks I got when cruising confidently by people holding onto trees in order to keep their feet under them were rather impressive.   Now I'm a pretty solid rider, if I don't say so myself, but as much as I'd like to believe that I can defy the laws of physics (or have Eric make up some new ones for me), I have a pointy little secret:  The Schwalbe, Ice Spiker Pro (more here).  With these things underneath you, ice simply no longer matters.  

It's not often that I am totally impressed by a product, but I am utterly floored by how well these things grip on glare ice.  With a little finesse you can even do this:

Having owned/ridden other studded tires before, I can say without a doubt these are seriously in a different league.  Not only do they grip tenaciously, they also wear excellently.  The carbide studs show no wear from close to 50mi of pavement riding, and after 5 rides or so on mixed snow/ice/rock the tires are missing exactly 0 studs.  This is more than I can say for the Nokian Extreme 294, which wears well but does occasionally pop studs (which Nokian does not sell separately), and the Innova budget tire that was effectively useless after 6 rides.  Rumor has it that Schwalbe will provide replacement studs upon request as well, though at this rate it may not ever matter.

The one negative of the tire is that for all its giant knobs, it was outperformed in loose snow by the good ol' Panaracer Fire XCs Eric was running.  Still, Eric was impressed enough to buy his own set of studs.  It's only 4 months, 3 days to BCBR.  Gotta get the miles in...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Well, hello Hanscom

Two months out of the saddle, the road saddle anyway.  But we're back in the game, training, and what''s more important, training with a mission.  Just having registered for BCBR, having made the commitment, has already changed the meaning of things.  This is for real now.

On Sunday Keith, still recovering from the Afghanistan atrophy holiday, and myself, still warming up the legs after a long six months of decline, made our way out to Harvard and back  by way of Concord and Hanscom AFB.  Perhaps it was too little to eat during the endeavor, or perhaps the cold, or the memory of our former strength compelling us beyond our limits, but by our return both Keith and I were on the edge, focus fading, the cold penetrating further with each mile, a slow slide into caloric deficeit.  Keith's buffalo chicken wings and my cheesey poofs were perhaps not the ideal ride food.  This was a good reminder of the attention we must give toeverything.  In retrospect, it is obvious that BBQ sauce, with more sugar than Buffalo sauce, and cheesey crunches, which have less air than cheesey poofs, would have been more intelligent choices.

But cheesey poofs are a natural segue to matters of philosophy.  Given the options out there, why do we choose cheesey poofs over pita crisps, and stage races over marathon sessions of TV or chess, and what does this say about our purpose?  There are many ways to contribute to the great mission - we all have a responsibility to contribute to society in a productive way, and this also means that we should contribute to culture.  For me, racing is a form of service to society, it is my culture.  It is certainly not the pinnacle of service, but it can be done with this element in mind.  Competitions are more trials of our will in the long months prior.  A great performance is something that may last only a few brief moments, but the effort required in getting there is something that permeates and defines a life.  Competitive sports, and cycling especially so, is a way which holds focus, grace and sacrifice as its highest virtues.   These are noble virtues, ones very much in need of a voice.  Ultimately, racing and competition is a platform for introspection and awareness, cutting into the deep questions of identity and existence.  This is my religion, my bike my church.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

BC Bike Race Here We Come!

It's been a long time in coming, but of the three contenders we laid out in November, the BC Bike Race has won out, we're registered, and all systems are GO. As you can see from the marketing hype above, we chose BC Bike because we were searching for "The Ultimate Singletrack Experience". We also clearly also wanted the most expensive race, and the one that comes earliest on the calendar. We felt that both these secondary factors would motivate us to train more...

But seriously, BCBR (as it will henceforth be referred to), is going to be an epic adventure. 7 days of some of the most intense racing in North America, in one of the most incredible locations on earth. (how's that for marketing hype?) For those of you who have been reading closely, you may remember us talking a lot about the Breck-Epic and a blogger grant competition. While the contest was in the process of being delayed for two months, Eric and I got to really thinking about what we wanted out of this adventure, and realized that a full 7-Day point-point event was the sort of challenge that made us drool in a way that no cloverleaf 5 day event ever could. That being said, Mike McCormack will be putting on a great event on a good budget, and if you want something that fits into a little more sane schedule, the Breck-Epic will be the race to ride this year.

Now that all the choosing is over, it is time to get serious about preparation. The "Freebase" period went on a little longer than expected, and with me on the opposite side of the globe for nearly 2 months, base didn't really get started the way it should have, but the training plan has been resurrected and Eric found a battery for his HRM (though getting him to wear it is like getting a 2year old to wear a bib on spaghetti night) so we'll be talking (and doing) plenty of training in the near future. I'm going to go out on a limb and set the pretty aggressive goal of a top 20 GC finish, which I think is attainable if we stay motivated. We may not have all the gear of the pro teams:
(This is Gary Fisher - Cannondale from BCBR 2008) but with a good work ethic and maybe some help from a local shop, we'll be tangling with the big boys come Independence Day.

And on that note, I have some ridin' to do...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Thaw

Keith has returned.  A month off the bike, I'm not sure what he's trying to do here, some kind of praise of the Fells I suppose.  Or perhaps it is his way of adjusting to a different look at things.  Either way, he looks happy on the bike.  Four days back now and he is still recovering from a serious case of jet lag and the experience of traveling forward in time by about 600 years.  Life here may move faster than in Afghanistan, though perhaps with more distraction too, but I should let him comment on these matters.

We managed to make it out to the Fells on Monday morning before the warm weather and rains washed away our trails.  These last few weeks motivate a desire to move further north, where the winters are long, the sky sharp and the stillness pervasive.  As harsh as the winters are, they offer a peace like no other season, a hibernation or sorts, a time to retreat into deep thought, to dream on the adventures that summer will bring.  Already the ice is thawing, and the big motions of the coming months are peaking out, slowly, steadily they will be done.

 I officially started my thesis writing this week (I feel like I wrote this once before, but it's for real this time).  It is a messy work, so far.  Like riding, you need to get traction before you can move.  Finding a place to bite into the endeavor is key.  I'm starting where I should have four years ago, qualifying the code I've been using and its sensitivity.  But this is a boring and tedious work, and even the scientists that have been doing this work far longer than me have yet to bother with this stuff.  It is not a glorious work, nor remotely interesting, but it must be done, like many of the jobs in this world, the pieces must be picked up and assembled, the picutre made whole.  Today was a big step in the beginning of things, my first figure entered into the thesis.

Just 2.5 pages per day and I will make it by May.  Already I have something like 16.  Indeed, the ice thaws.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

In Dubai

Can someone bring my bike to the airport? I think I want to ride it home...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Philosophy of the Fells - The Gods

In seemingly random conversations, through exchange of histories, we are nearly as often lead astray as we are lead toward the light. In the constant murmur of crunching snow beneath the wheels, the Fells offer sublime wisdom of right action. While there is a place for powering through obstacles with a great stroke there is no simple rule for triumph over even the smallest bump. More often the snow-covered ruts of the trail catch the wheel and guide it astray. An attempt to power through such a parry brings one to deeper snow, leaving all motion behind. Far better to have a conversation with the road, responding… not gently… but intentionally and aware. It is no thing of weakness to come to a halt, tires mired in the powder, wheel off kilter, and by complete focus compel the earth to move as you ask. We must become Atlas himself.

I will not hesitate to paint too much a pantheon on it, for the great god of exaggeration brings understanding in one hand and takes away all confusion with the other. In this world, in this very place where we leave our foot prints and tread marks, live also the gods and the immortal deeds, their noble triumphs and sad defeats, the stories of yore and of those who yet speak with us. They may not drive thunderbolts out of the sky or ride on moonbeams or transmute water into wine, but they do have great strength. Sometimes it is a will that shapes the world, sometimes the ability to speak with machines or convince ancient rocks to share their stories, sometimes it is the power to give others the vision they see. Who among us will rise from the rank of mere mortal and take the throne with the gods? It is not a place of rest, for who more than they are known for unimaginable endurance and suffering. Perhaps in our competitions we may achieve such singularity of purpose that we can claim to have touched perfection, if only briefly.

Life is hard. In so many small ways. It is hard because we are ignorant of the meaning of things, the intentions of others, and most significantly, of the fundament of our being. I believe that if only I knew what I meant by “I”, much confusion and struggle would vanish. It is not easy to strike at the core of things, the hidden mysteries, but sometimes you find a trail that brings you close.