Friday, March 29, 2013

My Brush with Team 7-Eleven

I recently picked up a copy of Team 7-Eleven: How an Unsung Band of American Cyclists Took on the World--and Wonby Geoff Drake and Jim Ochowiz (the former team director). Those boys were a fun bunch -- quirky, enthusiastic, optimistic. Their high spirits keep the book lively throughout. I got to thinking about how I really missed the boat on them. But there is precedent on that...

My dad lived in Chicago in 1950, a senior in high school, home at night studying his American History like the good boy he was, while just across town from him -- a bus ride away -- Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf were nightly tearing off the roof and redefining the future of American music. Dad would grow up to be a ravenous fan of American music... but he never took that bus.

As a teen in 1978 New York City, I became a huge Yankees fan, going up to the stadium a few times a year and watching a ton of baseball on TV. I jumped for joy when they won and cried when they lost. But I entered the fold exactly six months after the mind-boggling Bucky Dent playoff game, which I'd barely noticed.

Finally, in the early 1980s, I had two years of all-consuming teen bike obsession. During that time, the 7-Eleven team was born, and promptly stood the American cycling world on its ear.  That iconic band of youngsters transformed the face of American bike racing, thanks to being the first U.S. team of professional cyclists, the first to compete on the Euro-pro scene (including the grand tours) and just generally a bunch of indomitable, handsome, cocksure heroes.

I don't have one memory of reading a news story about them at the time -- or even hearing the name of the team. It makes me sad.

However, I do have a one-degree-of-separation connection to the team, even if I didn't recognize it when it happened:

As a rabid sports fan, I was fully awake and aware for the historic 1980 Winter Olympics, and while I thrilled to the Miracle on Ice (and have worshipful drawings of the team in my old notebook to prove it), I was even more impressed by Eric Heiden. His unprecedented five individual golds certainly caught my attention, but it was his freight-train-like presence on the ice that kept me watching. He was really something to see.

Fast forward one year, past the alchemy of seeing the iconic cycling movie Breaking Away and also falling deeply in love with a new burgundy Saint Tropez ten-speed. One day, I read that Heiden had made the switch from two blades to two wheels, and I sat up and took notice. I eagerly scoured the papers for news of his exploits.

Finally, I learned that the man himself was going to be taking part in a bike race through Central Park and up Fifth Avenue. So close! I hied myself over there and camped out by the side of the road, my first time at a bike race. I'll never forget the thunderous blur of the pack whizzing by, the 10-second blizzard of human-generated wind and mechanical buzzing and guys yelling, and -- gone. Silence. Like they'd never been there.

But even more impressive was glimpsing Heiden himself after the race, casually leaning on his bike and chatting with someone, his mere physical presence radiating power and health.

I didn't go over to him. Hard to explain why, but it doesn't bother me to this day. I didn't have to shake hands with him, or hear him speak. He was a god -- descended from Olympus, for crying out loud -- and history has imbued us mortals with a genetic awareness that those who try to touch the gods had best be chosen, or they might get well and truly singed.

Heiden was the first superstar bike racer I ever laid eyes on, and though he never dominated that sport as he did speed skating, in my youthful, yearning eyes, it didn't matter. I didn't even know about Team 7-Eleven. I was focused on him, standing at the pinnacle of grace and power. I had managed to glimpse that summit up close.  I felt freakin' great.

Important things happen right next to us all the time. Sometimes they are just outside of our ken, but we discover them later, and fold them into our personal narrative, letting time and re-telling transform them into a vital key to who we are -- and who we were.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Apologies to the DPW

My apologies to the local DPW for leaving a long, black streak down Route 47 this morning. I know you guys work hard.

But today was my morning time trial, and I was under my baseline time by 1:03.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bear Down. Or, Ease Up.

For all those who have something left to prove, who are sure that your salvation lies out there one half-wheel ahead of the rest:  Bear down.

For all those who are a little burnt out, sick of training in the frigid cold, dealing with too much elsewhere in life, or are just generally in need of a little more lighthearted, two-wheeled exploration: Ease up.

Now you know why they call me the Velosopher.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Art, the Cure for Chronic Winter

What do you do when it snows for the umpteenth time, and on the day before the first day of spring?

Why, that's easy. You go out in the snow and make art out of it, just to show Old Man Winter you don't care, he can snow all he wants, makes no diff to you. Then, like a bored bully, maybe, just maybe, he'll leave you alone.

From Tuesday:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Note to Myself

Don't ride in order to become something that you're not now. Ride as yourself, for yourself, today. Ride where and how your legs tell you, your heart tells you. Where the wind blows you.

Pack up your beautiful new handlebar bag or your snappy new pannier and hit the road. Seek adventure, seek fun. Chasing fitness, trying to compete or fit in, has always led you away from yourself, from joy, from health. You've ended up with pneumonia, knee injuries, glum and isolated on the couch. That's not where you belong.

Listen to your body, your heart, and the terrain, and follow them over the next hill.

American Youth Hostels tour of the West Coast, summer1981

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Lucky Us

They told me low 40s. That's what the weather site said yesterday. And yet, as Todd and I rolled out from my house this morning -- not early mind you, late enough that the frost should have been gone -- it was 30 degrees. Oh, well, another long, cold one.

Which turned out to be lovely -- of course. This is New England.

Winter provisions, including precious Thermos of hot tea

Thirty-five miles of New England peace and quiet, frosty farm fields, snow-capped hill tops, a small country reservoir with ice skein melting, glints of flowy reflection peeping through. Horrible road surfaces (March in Massachusetts), reasonably low winds for the season, and even a beam of sunshine here and there to warm our backs.

Amherst, Leverett, Shutesbury, Montague, Sunderland, Hadley -- names out of a hoary past, roll-calling the English settlers who carved a rough living out of this undulating, alternately frigid and steamy, scenic land. How lucky they were to be here, and how lucky we are, gliding along in their cart-prints, retinas absorbing the long, winding mirror of the Connecticut -- a swerving slice of sky embedded in the land. After the climbing was done, we followed that sweeping mirror home.

Lucky us

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Azure All the Day

Thirty base-face miles today in unseasonably warm and welcome temps. Thermometer stayed in the forties all the way, and the skies were azure all the day.

I wended my way to the other side of the Connecticut, on a route I've titled Rive Gauche. Gave me a chance to check in on how the other half of the Valley weathered the winter. All the hills were still there. The long, steady incline of North Farms Road was quite the same, the foothills of Haydenville perhaps a bit steeper than I remember, the sweeping views over the river to Sugarloaf and the hills of Pelham was still inspiring (even in the stiff late winter wind over the snowy fields) and, as I approached the river on the way home, Sugarloaf loomed to my left and Norwottuck was way off to my right, to reassure that I was headed east, toward River Road, and the 116 bridge, from which I snapped a memento of a chill, bright, day and a good pre-season ride.