My 9/11 Story

09.11.2006 | 5:41 pm

A word of caution from Fatty: I’m not at all certain that this kind of post belongs in a goofy cycling humor blog, but it’s what I want to write today. For what it’s worth, there is a part about biking, so this story isn’t entirely out of context here. Of course, I understand you may be coming to Fat Cyclist for relief from today’s 9/11 media inundation, in which case I recommend reading Review of Several Items I Recently Purchased from the Hammacher Schlemmer Catalog, which I just posted in the Random Reviewer blog.

A Progressively Bad Drive to the Airport
Back in 2001, I worked at Fawcette Technical Communications. I lived in Orem, UT, but made frequent trips to Seattle to meet with Microsoft. On September 11, I was driving to the airport for just such a trip, listening to the morning show on an alternative music radio station. I had only gone a mile or so — I wasn’t even on the freeway yet — when the DJ said a twin-prop airplane had hit the WTC.

That barely registered with me. I don’t think I thought anything more than, "Stupid pilot," and continued on.

Then, during the next traffic report, the woman said a second plane had hit the WTC. "We already talked about that," said the DJ, thinking she had her story mixed up — there was no way two separate planes had hit two separate towers.

They finished the traffic report and then went on to their "Really Stupid News" segment.

I changed the channel, surfing for a real news station on the radio. Turns out there wasn’t anyone with a better idea of what was going on. Lots of conflicting reports, lots of confusion.

So I finished my drive to the airport.

At the Airport
By the time I arrived at the airport, parked, checked in, and found my gate, it was obvious that something was going on, though I had no idea what. Flights were being delayed, but not — technically — canceled. Everyone was standing around the TV monitor at an airport bar, transfixed.

And that’s where I saw Dug. He also worked for Fawcette, was also scheduled to travel that day, from the adjoining gate.

So at least I was standing by someone I knew when I saw the first tower collapse.

I called my wife, who I knew for sure would not be watching the news at that moment — eight months pregnant with twins and getting two boys ready for school, she’d have her hands full with other things. "Turn on the TV," I said. "Doesn’t matter which station."

I went to the gate counter to confirm what I assumed was obvious: flights would be canceled for the time being. I was behind a woman who was completely panicked — she was demanding a refund immediately; she was never going to fly again, she had to get out of there. I remember feeling bad for her, but also a little bit amused. If my flight had been available, I would have gotten on without concern.

Things hadn’t really sunk in, yet.

Back Home
I drove home, switching radio channels. Now they were all talking about what was going on, but the quantity of misinformation was incredible. Cars were exploding. The White House was on fire. No, the White House wasn’t on fire, but something in DC was. Another plane had crashed, this time into a field.

I got home, and my wife was crying, watching the towers collapse, over and over. Watching the smoking hole in the Pentagon. Wondering what the deal was with the plane crashed in the field. Wondering what was coming next.

We watched for a couple hours, then I said I may as well go to work; we weren’t going to learn anything else. I got there, and an hour or so later, Dug got there too. Like me, I think, he didn’t have the stomach to watch any more.

Of course, neither of us got anything done. We either surfed for news — I remember that news sites were slow because of being overwhelmed with traffic — or talked about what we knew. Which wasn’t much.

Get Away
Eventually, I had had enough. "How about we leave early and go ride Timpooneke," one of us suggested — I don’t remember which of us it was, but it sounded good. Of course, we channel-surfed the radio as we drove toward the mountain. Of course, we didn’t learn anything new.

We got to the parking lot, got dressed, and got our bikes ready without saying much of anything. Then we started the four-mile dirt road climb.

And I started feeling better. Somehow, getting away from the media, being in the mountain, on a mountain bike, on a beautiful late-Summer day, helped things. I started going faster. Dug did too. I don’t think we were racing, but we were both going for it.

By the time we got to the top, I felt clear again. I hadn’t forgotten what was going on, but I no longer felt like I was in shock.

The descent down the Timpooneke singletrack requires your full attention. Hairpin turns come out of nowhere. Waterbars surprise you. You’ve got to descend through gauntlets of loose, fist-sized rocks.

It was just what I needed. Forty minutes of insanely good singletrack downhill, punctuated by three gut-bustingly-difficult climbs, is a good reminder that life is good. When Dug and I got back to the parking lot, we were both smiling.

We put away our bikes and started driving home. I didn’t turn on the radio, and Dug didn’t ask me to.


Return on Investment

09.8.2006 | 4:44 pm

On Wednesday I asserted that I would write on both Thursday and Friday. I had very specific topics in mind for those days. Here are the things I planned to talk about:

  • Thursday: A fun new contest. I expected more participation in this one than in any contest I have done to this point. Not so much because the prize was great (although the prize was in fact pretty great) but because I was pretty sure that the idea of this contest would catch everyone’s imagination. However, the contest required the participation of a certain outside party, whose partner did not give permission to go ahead with this contest. I am being vague about what the contest is, who the certain outside party is and why permission from a partner would need to be granted, because I hope that at some point in the future this contest will still happen, and I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Anyway, that’s why I didn’t write yesterday. Sorry.
  • Friday (Today): Today, I was going to write about my plan for riding in the Lotoja event, and about how it would be an interesting experience to go do a ride where I seriously had no finishing time goals or completion ambitions whatsoever. That is, I didn’t care how long it took to do the ride, or whether I even completed the ride; I was simply going for the sake of a roadtrip and a long ride with friends.

Then, Wednesday afternoon, I crunched some numbers and made a decision, which means that today’s topic changed, too.

Why Do I Race?
Until Wednesday, I had never considered the "why" in "Why Do I Race?" It didn’t seem a question worth exploring. The thing is, though, take a fast guy who races (Kenny) and a slow guy who races (me). Kenny’s reasons for racing are bound to be different than my reasons for racing, right? And my reasons for racing, while compelling for me, must not be very compelling to someone who chooses to not race at all.

So the question is: why do I race? What benefits do I get? In order of importance:

  • To spend time with friends: preparing for, talking about, and doing the race. Yeah, believe it or not, the road trip aspect of a race is my favorite thing about racing. I like the trip there, the trip back, and hanging out. This is perhaps one of the main reasons I look forward to the Leadville 100 each year: it’s a big trip where I get to hang out with my friends for four days. And because I’ve been doing this race for so long, I’ve made a lot of friends associated with that race, and make more every year. For me, going to Leadville is like going to Cheers.
  • To test myself. At some point in every race I’ve ever done, there comes a point where I am in pain. In short races, that pain is mostly in the legs and lungs, and is pretty intense. In long races, the pain can be everywhere and anywhere — including and especially in my head — and may even migrate around a bit. I like this pain, because I am pretty good at living with it, which to me feels like I’m pretty good at beating it. Even while I’m suffering, I get an enormous amount of satisfaction thinking, "This hurts, but it’s not stopping me."
  • To have an adventure / to have a story to tell. While I expect that most people have at least an aspect of the first two items I listed as motivation for racing, this one may be a little less common. The thing is, though, even as I ride, I’m usually composing pieces of the story in my head. I’m usually writing the conclusion to the story in my head, too. That conclusion changes several times during the race.
  • To win! No, just kidding. I know I’m not going to win.

So, there you have them: the benefits of racing, as I see them. Now let’s look at the flip side of this coin.

The Costs of Racing
If racing were nothing but upside, I’d be entering every race in the world, right? But there are a couple of things that keep me from doing that, once again in order of importance to me:

  • Time. Time away from the family and time off work (especially when you’re fairly new in a job and haven’t yet accumulated a lot of vacation time) are the biggest gating factors for a race (or for any event)
  • Money. Entry fees, gas money (or plane money), food, hotels: By the time I add it all up, most big races cost me between $500 and $1000, depending on how long I have to be gone, and how far I have to travel.

Return on Investment
So, when you think about it, for any given race, the benefits I’m going to gain have got to outweigh the costs: I’ve got to get good value for my time and money.

And so I’m not going to Lotoja. Here’s why:

  1. Costs were high. I would be away from my family for three full days to do a 12-hour race that is in actuality not a race at all. I would be spending upwards of $500 in hotel, gas, and food (I am ignoring the entry fee; that’s a sunk cost, spent before I had done a cost/benefit analysis).
  2. Benefits were low. The "test myself" aspect was never really a component of this ride; I already know I can do this kind of distance and difficulty, and wasn’t shooting for a fast time. The "spend time with friends" part was the main driver for me going on this trip, and it turns out that instead of a member of a road trip with the guys, I’d be an awkward third wheel (or, technically, a fifth wheel) on a romantic second honeymoon / double date (which just happens to have a big ride stuck in the middle). No thanks.

So, instead of Lotoja, tomorrow I’m going on an epic mountain bike ride with Kenny and Brad. I’ll be spending time with friends, definitely testing myself (Kenny and Brad are each roughly four times as strong as I am), and should have a great story to tell this Monday. Meanwhile, I’m earning massive brownie points with the wife by being gone only six hours instead of three days, and saving around $500, to boot.

Hey, run the numbers yourself; I think you’ll see the math checks out.

Learning to Ride Again, Part 2

09.1.2006 | 9:22 pm

At the beginning of August, I unveiled the Weapon of Choice, my highly-modified Gary Fisher Paragon. Here are the things I changed on that bike:

  • New wheels
  • New handlebar
  • New stem
  • New brakes
  • New fork
  • New shifters
  • New derailleur

The question I expected someone to ask, but which nobody did (for which I am very disappointed in each and every one of you) is:

So now you’ve got a really nice set of wheels, a handlebar, stem, brakes, and a fork just laying around, unused. Why don’t you spend a few bucks on a frame, a saddle, and some cranks and build a singlespeed?

Which is exactly what I did. In fact, the carbon fork came with the singlespeed frame, and brought the total cash outlay for the singlespeed frame (a Gary Fisher Rig) to close to nothing.

Thanks for the suggestion, Fatty. You’re a genius.

[Here is where I would insert the picture of the bike if I had remembered to take a picture of it this morning. Also, I would include a caption along the lines of "Simple + Sexy = Simply Sexy."]

Wherein I Act Like Something Really Great is a Problem
There was just one problem. Racers Cycle Service finished building my singlespeed the same day it finished building up the Ibis Silk Carbon. Well, "problem" isn’t precisely the right word for getting to pick up two really awesome bikes the same day.

But still, I had to decide: which should I ride first? I picked the Ibis.

And then I picked the Ibis again.

And then I picked the Ibis again.

You see what the problem is? I loved this new road bike so much that I kept wanting to ride it, while a nagging voice in the back of my head kept saying things like, "You know, you have another brand new bike you haven’t ridden even once yet. How long are you going to let that go on?"

Well, I let it go on for exactly a week. Every day, a different ride on the Ibis. Every day, falling a little more in love with that road bike. In fact, it increasingly seems that the problem I’m going to have when it comes time to review this bike for Cyclingnews will be sounding fair and balanced.

Anyway, back to the singlespeed.

How Do You Shift This Thing?
This morning, I finally took the rig out on our maiden voyage. Now, I’ve ridden a singlespeed before–for about ten minutes. That’s a bunch different than riding Hogs’ Hollow to Jacob’s Ladder to the new Draper trail, which is a two hour ride even on a geared bike.

Now, about half a dozen people were supposed to join in on this ride, but pretty much everyone bailed by 6:00am, when we had agreed to start. It’s possible they bailed because it’s completely dark at 6:00am this time of year. As in "Hey, look, I can see the stars" dark.

Note to self: no more rides before 6:30am this year. Alas.

So I started the half-hour-long climb, using sonar (Yeah, I have sonar. It’s my superpower) and broad guesses about land contours to get me up the mountain. As I got close to the saddle of Hogs’ Hollow, I came across Rick Sunderlage (not his real name), whose superpower seems to be always being available for a ride. (Admit it: now that you think about it, that’s the superpower you would choose if you could, isn’t it? I would.)

By the time I got to Rick, I knew I had a problem: I was already tired. Turns out that if you’re used to sitting and spinning a nice light gear up hills, it’s not easy to stand up and pedal at maximum effort, while rowing the handlebar for extra leverage, for three miles.

Good Things
On the rare occasion the sound of blood pounding in my ears subsided, I noticed how quiet the singlespeed is. And not just the audible kind of quiet. The bike, by virtue of it not having a cassette or derailleurs or multiple chainrings or a suspension fork, has a quiet litheness about it that I had never noticed my geared bike lacks–simply because I had never ridden anything different. But even on my first ride I noticed: all else being equal (and the geometry of my Paragon and my Rig are pretty close to identical) a singlespeed feels more nimble.

As we started descending, I tried remembering the techniques BotchedExperiment taught me earlier this week: stay back and behind the saddle. Do quick wheelies. Hop forward and up. Rolling through the rough stuff fast is safer than riding through it slow.

And you know what? It worked. I don’t think I’m quite as fast yet as with my old style, but considering that this is the first time I’ve tried riding the way Botched is teaching me, I’m very confident I’ll improve and be faster downhill in short order.

Or it’s possible that I’ll rack myself on the seatpost and will die in horrible, agonizing pain.

Hey, life’s full of risks.

By the time I finished riding with Rick, my arms and lower back hurt like they never have on a bike. I was totally worked. Without questions, that’s a good thing. It seems to me that the strength I build on a singlespeed will translate to benefits on any other kind of ride, too.

So here’s the big question: do I love singlespeed riding?

No, no I don’t. Not yet. But I can see how I could learn to.

« Previous Page     Next Entries »