Friday, about 4:30AM, I woke with a start — a terrible truth racing through my head.
“The Hammer,” I said, gently shaking The Hammer awake (while wishing I had given her a nickname that didn’t start with “The,” due to the awkward sentence constructions it creates during ordinary conversation), “I just realized: I haven’t boiled the bratwurst for RAWROD.”
“Mmm,” replied The Hammer, helpfully.
So I headed downstairs and got the brats boiling in my own special blend of PBR, chopped onion, and store-brand Worcestershire sauce.
Holy smokes, I thought to myself. If I almost forgot something as important as preparing the bratwurst, what else might I have forgotten for this trip?
Hey, it had been a busy week at work.
The IT Guy (the Hammer’s 22yo son) was coming with us, and was in fact volunteering to let his truck be used as the Sag Wagon for RAWROD (if you don’t know what RAWROD is, maybe you should read this, this, and this. Or this. Or just watch this). But I still had a more-or-less full workday, so we didn’t get out the door ’til late afternoon, and we didn’t get to the campsite at the top of Horsethief trail ’til about 8:30.
Kenny and I had a brief conversation about this fact via text message:
By the time we arrived — 8:30 as I predicted — it was dark. And most people had found something else to eat.
Which is a shame for them, because the people who waited (or who decided that due to the fact that we’d be riding our mountain bikes for 10-12 hours the following day it was just fine to eat a second dinner) discovered the indescribable beauty of beer-boiled bratwurst grilled over a wood fire under the stars in the desert.
Trust me: it lives up to the hype.
A Little About the Bikes
For a while, RAWROD was getting out of control — more than 50 people. This year, it was at a much more manageable size of around 20. We headed out at around 8:00am, riding an easy all-day pace.
I was riding my Specialized Stumpjumper Carbon 29 SS — currently my very favorite bike, geared at what I consider the most magically perfect gear there is: 34×19. The Hammer was on Her Gary Fisher Superfly SS, geared considerably lighter at 32×22 (it would be a high-cadence day for The Hammer).
The IT Guy was riding his Specialized Epic, but now equipped with brand new Shimano XTR brakes (he had fallen considerably out of love with his old brakes after a grabby front brake helped him endo and break his collarbone last August).
And Kenny — his cast freshly removed from his wrist — was riding his Niner SS. I should note that Kenny had recently used a fiberglass repair kit to fix his Niner. This is interesting primarily because of the reason Kenny had to repair the frame: he had worn a hole in the chainstay by his heel rubbing it each revolution of the cranks.
You want to be fast like Kenny? Ride your bike so much that you wear a hole into it.
The Ride Begins
The day started cool — but not cold. Armwarmers were just enough to make the ride comfortable.
The first 13 miles of the ride around White Rim (if you’re going clockwise and starting at the top of HorseThief) is a very moderately uphill, well-groomed, wide uphill dirt road — the perfect place to get your legs warmed up.
The pace was mellow, I loved the company I was in, the weather was looking good, and there was no wind to speak of.
The day was looking good.
We got to Schaeffer, — the only sustained descent of the day — and I took a minute to look out into the basin of the White Rim, where we’d be spending the rest of th day riding:
I wish I were a good photographer; my photos do this incredible place no justice whatsoever.
The drop down Schaeffer is always a little bit spooky, but it went off without any trouble.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for what happened about twenty minutes later.
The Hammer and I were riding along the rough, rocky dirt road, side by side. Talking, enjoying the spring morning. Everything was going great.
And then, suddenly, our handlebars touched. Locked together.
Did I move into her line, or did she move into mine? I don’t know.
But I do know that when I pulled left to get our handlebars apart it made her veer hard right. She unclipped! Got a foot out and onto the ground! It looked like she was going to get out of this fall on her feet.
No. She had too much momentum. She fell forward off to the side of the road, landing on her side and hitting her head against rocks and dirt.
Apart from a headache, she was OK.
I, on the other hand, felt like a total absolute dork for about two hours.
Tomorrow: Part II
For years — seven of them! — I’ve wondered what to do for the Friday edition of this blog.
“Why is Friday different than other days?” you might reasonably ask.
“Well,” I answer, reasonably, because you started out reasonably and so I felt reassured that you weren’t just trying to start an argument for the sake of arguing, “People in general are less likely to spend a lot of time with a blog on Fridays, because they’re more interested in wrapping work up and getting on with their weekends. In fact, a lot of people don’t even read blogs on Fridays at all.”
“And also,” I continue, still reasonably, “on Fridays I am generally kind of interested in getting on with the weekend, too.”
Finally, with utmost reasonableness, I conclude, “So big long posts on Friday don’t make a ton of sense.”
Anyway, ’til now my strategy for Fridays has been, “Do nothing.” It seems like a sound strategy, and is certainly easy to adhere to.
But this morning, I had an idea.
“What if,” I said, because apparently I am doing a lot of monologuing today, “I reserved Fridays for poetry? Specifically, short, poignant, evocative, original free verse in which I describe what my plans are for the weekend?”
“And furthermore,” I said, to nobody in particular, which made sense because nobody was even around, “What if I encouraged whatever readers happen to stumble (for I imagine my readers as the type of people who often stumble about) across my blog to comment in the form of free verse as well, whether to describe their own weekend plans or make snappy remarks about mine!”
I knew, instantly, that this is was a brilliant plan, and not just because I was the one who had it.
And so, without further introduction, I present the first Edition of:
Free Verse Friday, Edition 1: Ruminations on Quality of Life, and On Bratwurst
The workweek has been long
I have convinced eight analysts
To put more than 1200 pieces of paper on a wall
Truly, I am persuasive
But I am tired
The house smells of bratwurst, boiling in beer
In a few short hours I am going to Moab
To ride around the White Rim
And a few people I probably have never met
Annual RAWROD tomorrow!
Bratwurst by campfire tonight!
My life is perfect.
PS: For those of you who wish to comment in the form of free verse, please do your best to end your poem with “Thank you” so that we know it’s done.
I blame the cat. And my phone. And probably my bladder. All three really. I think they were working together to ruin my night’s sleep.
Specifically, about 2:00am on Wednesday morning, I was wakened by either my bladder or my phone. Even more specifically, I think my bladder was bringing me out of deep sleep and the vibration of the phone — due to, evidently, the fact that it was my turn in a game of Words With Friends — brought me the rest of the way out.
I went and peed. I shall not bother you with details of this event, because it was more or less uneventful.
By the time I was most of the way back to bed, the cat was scratching at the bedroom door. So I went back and opened the door so she could come in.
The extra time on my feet woke me up, just a little.
So I thought, “Hey, I’ll just take a quick look at the Words With Friends game and see what move someone made at this ridiculous hour.”
It was a pretty good move, in a game I am losing badly (I lose every game of Words With Friends, and do not know why I continue to play).
Then — fatefully — my mind turned to the blog post I wanted to write (this one).
And that was that.
No more sleep.
I was awake, and my mind was fully engaged in mentally outlining and writing the post I wanted to write. The title. Headings. Key phrases. Where the story would end.
I knew — knew! — from long experience that once this mental train leaves the station, it is not returning. My night’s sleep was over.
But for form’s sake, I stayed in bed ’til about 2:30. Pretending it was possible that I’d go back to sleep.
I did not go back to sleep.
So I dressed, went downstairs, and started writing. Knowing full well that the three hours of sleep I had had that night would not be enough.
Using the tactic (or was it a strategy?) of a more or less continuous consumption of caffeine, I made it through the day. I’m sure my co-workers didn’t notice at all. Ha.
And then, finally, I was back home. So tired that I just wanted to fall into bed, but so excited at the combination of plenty of daylight, perfect weather and ideal trail conditions that I had to get on my mountain bike for a couple hours.
So I did.
And — instantly — the tiredness evaporated. I felt good. Clear-headed. For the first time since about 7:00AM, fully awake.
I tell you, biking cures — temporarily — pretty much everything.
I climbed up Hog Hollow, feeling fine. Feeling totally lucid and clear-headed. Thinking about the fact that I was totally lucid and clear-headed.
“I feel totally lucid and clear-headed,” I said to The Hammer.
“Interesting,” she replied. “Because you’re picking horrible riding lines and you’re slurring like you’re about to fall over on your side.”
So it’s possible, I suppose, that I felt more awake than I seemed.
Even so, it was such a relief to feel good again.
Perhaps Not All Better
And then the descent began: down Rush, one of the more technical descents in the Corner Canyon riding park.
It twists. It turns. It’s banked and steep and has dozens of places to catch air.
It let me know, almost instantly, that I wasn’t operating at optimal capacity.
I came out of the first hairpin turn fine, but . . . off. I couldn’t — still can’t — tell exactly what was wrong, but I could tell that I was wobbly in the turn, and came out of it without much momentum and pointing in a strange direction.
“It happens,” I thought. And I was right, because it happened again, almost immediately.
And that’s when I made the connection. I might feel awake, but my brain was still not working at top speed. (Here’s the place where you can make a comment to yourself along the lines of, “Does it ever?”)
I changed my ride plan from “Charge!” to “Take it easy, take no risks, and get home without crashing.”
Which, in fact, I did. I had a great ride, felt fantastic (if even less coordinated than usual), and got a nice little vacation from the deep exhaustion I had felt the whole day. Thanks, biking, for your astonishing wonderfulness.
Then I got home, put away the bike, and immediately felt the crushing sleepiness once again pin me down.
This time, though, I welcomed it. I was in bed by 9:30.
And I have no idea whether the cat, the phone, or anything else tried to wake me last night.
Because I live an ordinary life, I sometimes have to do some pretty non-ordinary things. Which is my way of trying to say, in a clever way, that since I’ve got a job and wife and kids and house and responsibilities and stuff like that, and that my wife also has a job and responsibilities that don’t perfectly dovetail with my own, we have to sometimes work pretty hard if we’re going to train together.
And as of very recently, that’s gotten a little bit harder.
Specifically, now that the Boston Marathon is behind me, I don’t plan to do any more running for at least a few months. The riding season has begun, and that’s all I want to do.
The Hammer, on the other hand, is on a running hot streak and has a marathon planned for the weekend after this one (this weekend is reserved for the 2012 annual RAWROD). So she wants to keep running. And of course, I want to support her.
Plus, it’s not like our work schedules exactly match up or anything. She works at three different hospitals. I work either in an office complex or my basement, depending on whether I need to actually have human contact on the given day.
So for us to work out together last Monday, a little creativity was required.
I was getting off work earlier than The Hammer and really wanted to spend some quality time with a mountain bike and Corner Canyon — just have a ride where I could really go at my absolute limit for about 90 minutes.
By the time I finished doing that, The Hammer would be home from her job and would be into the narrow window of time she had for the 13-mile run se wanted to do.
How could we make these two things work together? Pretty well, as it turns out.
The Hammer would run toward and up Hog Hollow as part of her run, which I should be coming down. When we ran into each other, I’d turn around and would ride alongside her, carrying water, Gatorade and food for her during her big trail run.
The Beginning of the Execution
Everything started off great. Since I was in riding alone and was in the mood to beat myself up a bit, I used my Arriva Leo bluetooth headphones (full disclosure: I got no special deal on these, I just bought them on the website like everyone else) playing music streamed from my phone (My Chemical Romance: Danger Days, in case you’re curious).
And I had an incredible ride. Up Hog. Up Jacob’s. Down Jacob’s. Down Ghost. Up Brocks.
And then, right about the time I was starting back down Hog Hollow, I get a call from The Hammer (a kind of nice thing about the Leos is that they have a mic, so you can take a call while riding / running without stopping and digging out your phone; just punch the “Answer” button on the headset).
She was just getting to the Hog Hollow trailhead. “Good timing,” I said. “I’ll just bomb down and meet you in a few minutes.”
Which I did.
The Beginning of the Problem
The Hammer had gotten maybe half a mile up the trail when I ran into her (not literally, because I’m an excellent cyclist). “I stashed some bottles of water and Gatorade under a bush right at the trailhead on my way home from work,” she told me.
“Perfect,” I said. “I’ll ride back and pick them up and then catch up with you.” And then, over my shoulder as we headed in opposite directions, I shouted, “See you in a couple minutes.”
You can see where this is going, right?
A quick downhill half mile or so brought me to where The Hammer had stashed the bottles. I had no idea how much she would want during her run, but figured it was better for me to carry too much than too little.
So I filled one of the bottles in my cage with Gatorade, filled the other with water, and then stuck a third bottle water in a jersey pocket. It was a hot day (close to 80 degrees). More is better.
Besides, the extra weight of all this fluid would turn this ride into more of a workout.
I didn’t hurry. I figured I’d be catching The Hammer in a couple minutes, and after that it would just be easy riding for me. A nice cool down after the intense solo ride I had just done on my own.
Then I turned around and started back up Hog Hollow. At first, I went easy. I kept expecting to see her every time I rounded a corner. Surely she couldn’t have gotten far, right?
Then I started thinking.
“Hey,” I said to myself. “It’s not like The Hammer stood still while I rode back to the trailhead and loaded up with supplies. She’s put some distance on me since then. I need to hurry if I’m going to catch her before she gets to the top.
How long had I spent filling bottles? Three minutes maybe? I wasn’t hurrying, so maybe even four minutes. During that time, The Hammer would be on a rolling-to-mostly-flat section of the trail; she could have put half a mile on me, in addition to whatever time she had put on me while I was riding away from her to get to the supplies.
So maybe by now she was a mile ahead of me.
I started riding hard.
I could feel as I rode that I was already kind of cooked, but pushed hard anyway, wanting to catch The Hammer as soon as possible. After all, I had told her I’d be riding beside her — a rolling, always-available aid station ready to give her drinks at a second’s notice — not riding somewhere behind her, with all this food and drink doing her absolutely no good whatsoever.
And then I started wondering: How far is it from the Hog Hollow trailhead to the saddle, exactly? Two miles? Three? 3.5?
To my surprise, I really did not know. I’ve done this climb probably more than 100 times — maybe close to 200! — in my life, and did not know its distance.
Regardless, though, I figured she had a mile head start on me, and it’s not like she was standing still while I was riding. I started pushing harder (for what it’s worth, I just used this post to find that the Hog Hollow climb is just under three miles).
I kept expecting to get The Hammer in my sights. I kept continuing to not see her. I kept riding harder and harder.
I laughed to myself — just in my head, because I was breathing too hard to laugh in real life, plus I hear it kind of looks crazy when a guy by himself starts laughing aloud for no apparent reason, not that I have any experience with that sort of thing.
Somehow, the image I had in my head of me tooling along on my bike while The Hammer killed herself running had turned into a ride where I was on the threshold of finding out what Honey Stinger barf tastes like.
And then a question occurred to me: was it possible that The Hammer was currently working toward the exact opposite goal of what I was working toward? Which is to say, was it possible she was trying her damnedest to keep me from catching her?
As soon as that question occurred to me, I knew the answer: Definitely.
I rode harder. No, just kidding. I was already going full tilt.
One More Question
I rode with everything I had, knowing that I had somehow been fooled into a bike-vs-foot race with The Hammer, and that she was winning.
I passed the halfway point. She was not in sight.
I passed the 3/4 mark. She was not in sight.
I began to wonder if it was possible that The Hammer had made a wrong turn. Or had been kidnapped. Or had fallen into a ravine.
Seriously, I briefly considered each of those possibilities. But never seriously. Because I knew the truth of the matter.
And the truth of the matter was simple: She was busy kicking my butt.
Which gave rise to a serious question, which I began to ponder the rest of the climb up Hog Hollow, even as I strained my eyes hopefully, looking for a neon-yellow pair of shorts that simply refused to appear:
How much — if any! — faster is a mountain bike than a runner, when climbing a steep trail?
I got to the top of Hog Hollow. Beaten, in more ways than one. But I had not caught her yet, so I kept riding, hard.
I pounded away to the top of Clark’s trail, where three different trails converge, all headed down from there. I looked down each, trying to see her.
And there, running down Brock’s, was The Hammer. Finally. Maybe 200 feet ahead. And since it was downhill, it took just a few seconds to make up that distance.
“You caught me!” said The Hammer.
“You,” I replied, “are a badass.”
Today, I’m reviewing Eben Weiss’s new book, The Enlightened Cyclist. Before I begin, though, I should point out — in the interest of full disclosure and revealing biases and whatnot — that I think of Eben Weiss — aka Bike Snob NYC — as a friend. I’ve met him in person, exchanged email with him a number of times, and have gotten a lot of help from him in fundraising. Plus, I’ve made it pretty clear that I like his blog.
However, he didn’t give me a free copy of his new book; I had to buy it retail, just like everyone else. So that kind of balances things out, right?
In any event, I read Bike Snob’s book not just because I like him. I read it because he’s an important voice in the cycling community. And especially in the cycling blog community. And doubly especially in the cycling comedy blog community, in which I have a passing interest.
Anyway, I read his book, and now I’m going to review it. And I’m going to do my best to be fair.
I want to make a general observation about The Enlightened Cyclist before I dig into specifics.
This is the book that reveals that Eben Weiss isn’t just a good blogger. He’s a good writer. The thing is, those who love his blog for its style — a couple of paragraphs, a photo, a couple more paragraphs joking about the photo, another paragraph, a photo, repeated and meandering ’til he ties it together at the end of the post — might be a little surprised. Instead of reacting to cycling culture the way he normally does, Weiss has the space a book provides to more thoughtfully develop his cycling philosophy.
And that’s what this book is: a philosophy on cycling as part of life, and how cyclists should perceive the world and exist in it.
In fact, the above paragraph probably would have been a more accurate tagline than the one he actually used, though I doubt it would have sold his book as well.
Perhaps the best example of Weiss’s ability as a writer is the very first chapter in The Enlightened Cyclist: “Revelation: The Worst Day I Ever Had and Why It Gave Me Faith in Humanity.” In it, Weiss tells the story of riding his bike in NYC — trying to locate his wife — on 9/11/01:
…[I]t occurred to me as I picked my way through them that I was the only person actually headed into the city — which, as I entered it, was not thrumming as it usually was, but was instead in a paradoxical state of both lethargy and panic. The shocked denizens of rush hour walked slowly, attempting to get cell phone signals, while people in FBI windbreakers ran around like it was a movie set and jet fighters scrambled overhead. When I finally reached Tamara, maybe fifteen minutes after leaving home, she was standing next to the car, and she and a group of stunned bystanders were simply staring at the sky. When I looked up too (for the second time that day), I could see what they had been watching al this time: people leaping from the flaming buildings to their deaths. It was the first time I ever saw anybody die.
The Enlightened Cyclist is at its very best when Weiss is telling a story about something that happened to him. It’s then that he illustrates his points best, and his narrative feels the most natural.
As I read The Enlightened Cyclist, I found myself wishing Weiss would tell stories more often. Maybe that’s because of what I see as the main weakness of the book: it feels like Weiss doesn’t trust his audience. It seemed as I was reading The Enlightened Cyclist that Weiss is most interested in laying out his philosophy on cycling — and to his credit, it’s a really well-considered philosophy. But in order to cater to the audience he knows reads his blog, he then pads his thoughts with comedy that feels kind of bolted on.
I thought, several times while reading this book, “When you’re making a point, make the point. When you’re making a joke, make a joke.” Sure, it’s possible to do both successfully at the same time, but to me, it felt like Weiss was adding humor in a second draft, to something he originally wrote seriously. Sometimes the effect is that his humor sabotages his point, like when someone says, “Just kidding,” after giving an honest appraisal of whether those shorts make your butt look fat.
This Book Made Me Very Glad I Don’t Live in NYC
A lot of The Enlightened Cyclist applies to any cyclist, in any town. What surprised me, however, was that there were pretty big chunks of this book that were utterly foreign to me. I have never seen a cyclist “salmoning” — riding the wrong way in a bike lane. I’ve never seen or been party to a “shoaling” event (where cyclists come to stop at progressively forward positions) at a streetlight. The idea of “circling” was completely new.
Those may be incredibly annoying and common phenomena in NYC (and elsewhere?), but not everywhere.
As I read about how cyclists treat each other — and how they are treated by non-cyclists — in NYC, I kept thinking to myself, “I would hate living in NYC, or in any big city for that matter.” This shouldn’t be construed as a problem with The Enlightened Cyclist, by the way. In fact, it’s one of the things I liked about the book — getting a sense of how incredibly different the cycling experience can be, depending on where you live.
It did, however, make me want to get Weiss to take a little trip to Alpine, UT, where I have out-the-door access to untold miles of singletrack, and road rides that look like this:
Of course, he might find it disconcerting that there are no stores, cultural events (unless you count deer eating your flowerbed as a cultural event), or businesses (except the guy who sharpens saws out of his garage) whatsoever within walking distance of where I live.
Different strokes, etc.
It made me think, though: The Enlightened Cyclist could only be written by a big city dweller, and is written — in large part — to other big city dwellers, whether they ride a bike or not.
Yokel cyclists like myself may find themselves feeling more and more in love with where they are (thus becoming smug, one of Weiss’s most-referred-to cycling sins).
Should You Read This Book?
This book isn’t for everyone. Language in it will offend some people, the humor won’t make everyone laugh (The “Dachsund of Time” section is funny for a while, but stops being funny before the section ends), and some people — a lot of Weiss’s blog readers, I’ll guess — will be surprised that it’s not very much like his blog at all.
The Enlightened Cyclist is a short book: 217 pages, and even the pages are kind of small. I read it in its entirety over the course of two recent flights (Austin and back). So it’s not like it’s a massive investment in time to read. It’s definitely worth your time to read a a well-reasoned, surprisingly serious plea from a cyclist both to cyclists and everyone else, on why it makes sense to behave less badly toward each other.
The Enlightened Cyclist is available from amazon.com in hardcover for $11.53, and on Kindle for $9.39. It’s probably available in a bunch of other places, too.
PS: I was going to do a live Q&A with Bike Snob later this week, but a family emergency he’s had has made that impossible. Which sucks, in at least two ways.
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