Sunday, May 30, 2010

Gotta look safe out there.

(My racing friend asked me to dress "visibly" for the feed zone of the MO State Cycling Road Race last week so that he could spot me quickly as I handed him his hydration and nutrition when he rode by. He assured me that EVERYONE would. Everyone did not. Only me.)

It has taken me some time to adjust to not being "hot". I think that I was cute when I was young (at least I had hair). I can say with some pride that I don't have any empty places on my romantic resume even as far back as 7 years of age.

A couple of years ago, however, as I was driving my gas tanker through Princeton Indiana, I passed by a gas station where the local high school cheerleaders were having a car wash. Two of these young ladies, dressed in modern fashionable bikinis, were near the street trying to entice drivers into the car wash. It looked like it was working. As I drove past they began to pump their right arms up and down, giving me the signal to pull the cord on my air horn. To their delight, I obliged. They smiled at me and waved a most friendly wave.

All of a sudden I realized that they were not seeing me as potential romantic material, but probably as a grandfatherly figure. A grandfather who pleases his grandchildren by blowing the air horn for them. In fact, I reasoned, just the thought of a romantic encounter with me would have probably made them feel a little sick. That made me feel a little sad. If I ever had "it" to begin with, "it" was gone, and would never return.

Fast forward to last weekend and the bike race in Ste. Genevieve Missouri. Do you remember the woman who had Duchess on the lead? She was hot. So hot, in fact, that a teen-age boy near us had his mouth hanging open and his tongue hanging out as he stared at her. She was so hot that when I took the photo of the dog, I asked her not to be in the photo. I told her that my wife would kill me if I took pictures of other women while I was out of town. This woman was so hot that when I pointed her out to my friend later, he said he had been checking her out earlier.

But she considered me safe enough to leave her dog with, and later to sit with. I looked safe. You can see by the picture, that I looked like a nut. Looking nutty is probably interpreted as looking safe.

In fact, as I began walking back to the start/finish area later, another good-looking woman near us offered me a ride with her. And she actually said, "You look safe." (Gone are the days when fathers locked up their daughters when I came to town in my Marine Corps dress blue uniform.)

In fact, I maintain that if you want to ride your bike safely, you need to look just a little nutty. I have style conscious friends who will ride in a complete "kit" that is mostly black. They have no reflective tape on their bikes, and their headlight and tail light only have one LED each. That's ONE for the front and one for the back. ONLY ONE! They want to look like racing pros not a little nutty, like me.

I wear a high viz reflective vest when I ride, and I have two headlights on my bike and one on my helmet. (I leave them attached even in the daytime.) I have two tail lights on the rear of my bike and at least 6 pounds of reflective tape covering every vertical surface of my frame. AND I fly an ORANGE SAFETY FLAG on a 6 foot long fiberglass pole!

On a group ride, most of the riders pretend they don't know me. I don't blame them. I don't look "hot" like them - I look safe. There was a time that "hot" would have been the deciding factor. Today is not that day. Today, I want to look safe. At least to motor vehicle drivers. They may think I look a little nutty, but if they have seen me and are able to make this assessment, then I'm probably a little safer.

I will admit, however, that I still wish that father's would feel they need to lock up their daughters when I roll into town. Once a Marine, always a Marine.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Neutral Water

On Sunday, 23 May, I traveled with a couple of friends to Ste. Genevieve Missouri for the Missouri State Championship Bicycle Road Race. Both of my friends were racing.

Rob Landes was racing Masters 40+ class and his race would be two laps on a 35 mile course. At the beginning of the second lap the racers would pass a "feed zone" where a crew member would be able to hand up extra bottles or food to the racers. The day was hot and muggy, so having that crew member ready with extra water could be the difference between winning and not finishing.

The feed zone was a little over two miles from the start line, so I walked up, carrying the cooler with Rob's extra hydration and nutrition. By the time I got there, I was sweaty and thirsty. I couldn't imagine riding in this heat without extra water.

As the riders passed the zone, each crew member held out bottles or bags to "their" racers as they whizzed by. When most had passed, a lone rider came along asking for "neutral water". He rode by the crowd holding out his hand asking for "neutral water". Neutral water would be water not designated for someone else, just extra water that any rider could have.

None was lifted out to him. He kept riding with his hand out all the way past the feed zone, but no one was prepared with neutral water. I immediately felt the wrenching feeling of deep compassion mixed with deep guilt at having nothing to put in his outstretched hand. It was a bad feeling.

So you wonder why I have posted the picture of the dog with this story?

The dog's name is Duchess. Nearly everyone drove the two miles to the feed zone. There were only two people who walked to the feed zone on Sunday. Me and the woman holding the leash attached to Duchess. She had cached her cooler, to avoid having to carry it, but now that she had arrived, it was nowhere to be found. In vain she searched the weeds where she had left it, dragging Duchess behind her.

I asked if I could watch the dog. Thanking me she handed me the leash. Duchess is a Pit Bull who is 40 pounds of pure cane sugar. I fell in love immediately. Duchess was also a very hot dog thanks to the walk to the feed zone. The woman who brought Duchess hadn't yet found her cooler. Duchess needed "neutral water". I had already finished all the water I brought with me. So I dug into the ice of my cooler and held it in a cupped hand for Duchess. She greedily licked the ice to cool herself. We repeated this twice more. Eventually, her owner found the errant cooler and poured Duchess a proper drink. And then sat down beside me, for which I was grateful as it offered me more time with this wonderful dog.

You see, the racer with his hand out came to the race without a crew member to help him. He chose to be there. He could just as easily drop out if the struggle with the heat became too much. Duchess didn't choose to be there. There was a 5 foot lead attached to a chain around her neck. And she couldn't leave when she felt the need to find an open gas station so that she could purchase water. She was depending on either her owner to provide for her, or someone else with "neutral water".

Dogs are usually completely at the mercy of the people who keep them. They can't go where they want, or leave when they need to. If they are indoor dogs, they can't even go to the potty unless someone lets them out or they risk punishment by pottying indoors.

Dogs on chains in the back yard have it the worst. They usually live in a dusty (or muddy) 10 foot circle of their own filth. Their water, if they have any, is dirty and hot. If they have a dog house, it is flea infested and stifling. Is this any way to treat the animals which God gave us for companionship? Given any small chance at all, a dog will be the most loyal friend you'll ever find. And what does her loyalty purchase for her in return? Decent treatment? Sometimes not, I'm afraid.

I doubt if Duchess would remember me. But I'll always remember her. Will you? Next time you see a dog on a chain, perhaps you might remember Duchess and offer some "neutral water".

Sunday, May 23, 2010

You can buy love, but you can't buy cool.

Which one is my bike and which one is Pee Wee Herman's bike? Can't tell? Don't feel bad, most of my friends can't tell either. (Hint: my bike has an antennae on the rear with which I can contact the mother ship. I've cleverly disguised it as a safety flag.) Read on...

Let's try one more...

Which one is Captain Kangaroo, and which one is me? This is easier only because Captain Kangaroo didn't use a bike helmet (although his hair looked like a helmet), and I always do (I even sleep in mine in case I fall out of bed. Safety first!).

I haven't always had a beard. I used to wear only a mustache. Several years ago a young woman once said to me,"You look like that guy on that TV program."

Knowing that Sean Connery didn't do TV, I began to suspect that she meant Tom Selleck. She went on,"You know, he had that rabbit and that moose, and ping pong balls were always falling on him."

"Captain Kangaroo?" I offered.

"Yes!" She exclaimed. "You look just like him!"

I thanked her.

'Cool' is a genetic possibility for some and not for others. You can't "be cool" if you're not. If you try, you wind up looking like Napoleon Dynamite's brother. (Napoleon Dynamite IS cool.)

The moment you give up trying to be Dean Martin and accept that you're Jerry Lewis, you take a huge step forward towards peace. Bicycle marketers make a good living trying to convince us that by purchasing Lance Armstrong's bike and clothing, you will suddenly become cool, too. If you will mortgage the house just one more time to get that Ultegra gruppo, and have it installed on a custom carbon frame, they say, you will finally have real men looking at you with the respect you've always craved. Not so.

If you don't have the "cool gene", you won't ever have it. It isn't a matter of hair or not (think Telly Savalas); it isn't a matter of wealth or fame (you've often seen some very cool young men in the local sub shop). It's genetic. And you either have it or you don't. You can't upgrade from who you are to cool. You might as well discover how much fun Pee Wee Herman had on his bike, and have your own Big Adventure.

"I don't have to see the movie, Dottie, I lived it!" (Pee Wee Herman's Big Adventure)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

No longer a bridesmaid, now an ABO

The registration table is ready. My bike is ready. I'm the only volunteer today. I had others, but life intervened. So my plan is to start the brevet then ride to the DuQuoin checkpoint. After that I'll ride across country to meet the riders at the 100 mile mark to encourage them (not really a secret control), and meet them back here at the finish.

John Jost, my Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA) is training me to be his newest Area Brevet Organizer. He says that ladder of success in RUSA is: Rider, Route Owner, ABO, RBA, President. He assures me that if I can succeed as an ABO, I'll be well on my way to the top job in our organization. I hope he's right. I can imagine it now...RUSA President Miles....

John Jost (the RBA from St. Louis) and his faithful sidekick Dennis Smith arrive to ride the first Marion brevet. (They rode Last Chance together last year.) One of John's goals today, besides a really fast time is training me as his newest ABO.

I asked a citizen to take this photograph. He seemed reluctant and a little embarrassed. I suspect he has seen Borat or Bruno and wondered if it was a set up. After all, how often does a middle-aged man wearing lycra ask you to take his picture?

One look at this sky and you'll know why I had several inquiries, but only two riders today. Randonnuering is about riding regardless of the weather, not with an eye on it.

John and Dennis roll into DuQuoin. One look at the riding style of John, and you'll understand why 'bent' riders never ride in skirts.

At DuQuoin, I am happy to sign Dennis' brevet card. Dennis' Clark Kent is being a judge in family court. He says that he is used to signing ceremonies which become photo ops.

Note: Check out the official Little Egypt Randonnuers T-shirt with the official iron on transfer. No expense is spared in Southern Illinois.

Despite the nearly 110 miles in his legs, John seems to always ride with a "laid back" style.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Tired but happy, John and Dennis roll into the park. And just as I had planned, I was standing there to hand them a banana and say, "Good job!". (If statistics are important to you, I logged 112 miles today as well. In fact, they wondered out loud why I didn't just ride the brevet with them, sign their cards at all the checkpoints, and get credit for the ride. Now they suggest it. Oh well.)

Epilogue: Since John, Dennis and I (along with others) just rode the 400 kilometer brevet last Saturday, I'm sure that are not here because they needed a few more miles. They came down to Marion to ride "my" brevet out of friendship, despite the fact that I've only recently met them. This is the heart of our sport. It's not about the miles we ride, but about the friendships and the memories we make.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

When Young and Thin are Gone

Every day that passes leaves me a little older. The hair I have left is a little more gray, and the body I bicycle, work and love in is a little less able. There are only two times now that I completely forget about my age - when I'm sound asleep or when I'm dreaming.

Bicycling helps my fantasy of youthfulness. When the atmospheric conditions are right (tailwinds); when the Earth's geography cooperates (downhill); when I have friends along for the ride, then I'm young again. Then I forget my age.

Recently on a ride with Dale and Kevin, who are keeping up with me chronologically, we raced and laughed like 12 year old boys. It is increasing more difficult to remember being 12. But cycling can help. I can ride with someone half my age and as long as we're not racing, we can be laughing. It's one of the reasons I ride.

Sometimes I wonder how much longer until I'm left to live in the basement, grouchy and a little lonely, like our cat Kiwi. She was a rescued cat; she had been abandoned as a kitten. In fact, judging by the wounds my wife treated after finding her, she had been thrown from a moving vehicle. Over the years she has outlived all of our other cats. And she has grown fat and grouchy. (I'm starting to see my future!) Now she lives in our basement, alone and untouched. She's not the best at self-cleaning, and sometimes my wife will put her in the tub and using latex gloves will clean the parts that Kiwi should keep clean. As an unfortunate result of her inability to stay fresh, she is not the cat you would pick up and put on your lap for a little cuddle time. And without some cuddle time, we all will get grouchy and hateful. It's inevitable.

So I cycle. Mostly alone since my cycling goals are different from the cyclists I know and ride with. But sometimes, I have (make? take?) the opportunity to ride with others. Soon enough I'll be that old guy who used to ride around Marion on his big tricycle with an even bigger cigar sticking out of his mouth. Everyone hated to come up behind him in traffic. It often looked like a parade with an old man on a tricycle as the Grand-Master. Now he is gone, and his place in the parade is unmanned. But not for long?