Portland Days. Portland Nights.

December 24, 2011

That title makes this sound dramatic, but its not. Here’s a recap of all the stuff we were able to squeeze into our time in Portland – well, my time in Portland. Two days after arriving I flew to LA for a 2-day work trip, so I missed a couple of days there.

The Bike Bar

Our Alberta crew headed out to eat something and we ended up at HUB – the Hopworks Urban Brewery, aka The Bike Bar. Everything in the place was catered to and organized around bicycles. And not that penny-farthing olde school fixie tweed aesthetic that is more fashion than cycling (which is still really cool, btw), but the stuff here was straight up legit turn yourself inside out bike racing culture. The beer taps had Euro or US head badges on them, the lights hung from chopped down bike frames, the food had a cycling theme to the naming scheme. All in all – beer and bikes – rad. It was a great pub with good food and normal, aka not bikey, people just enjoying themselves.

There are two stationary trainers outside that are electrically wired into the building. There’s a sign that says “For every minute at 75 watts HUB can pour four pints.” So we all took a turn winding that thing up. I wanted to go down in full club kit and do it for an hour – thought that would be funny.

Coffee Drinking in the Fog

Portland is an empire of bikes, beer, and…coffee. Caffeine and sugar are the drugs that best combat the lethargy and melancholy of chronically overcast rainy weather. Well, those two staples and crack or crystal meth, too. The Pacific NW has these things in spades and PDX is no exception. Despite the availability of what I’m sure was some truly great crack we opted to caffeine ourselves into optimism and vitality. It totally worked. The first espresso I had, at River City Bikes, right out of the car, had my mouth bone dry in ten minutes. I was literally shaky and vibeing all over the place. I bet I was super annoying. Although not as super annoying as when I eat a bunch of cake. We hit Powell’s Books – a LEGENDARY book store. The sci-fi section in there is a nerd’s paradise and its located right next to the cafe. You can coral up some finds and hit a bench with a latte to inspect your finds. Awesome.

I felt it polite to not drink my coffee alone, so I always purchased something sweet and usually vegan, locally sourced, and delicious to go with it. I tell ya, I could sit on a stool in Portland, Oregon with a book and a latte for many, many hours, just watching the street roll by. A very nice balance to riding and racing your bike. You go all out and then you go all in. Like, all inside the warmth of a cozy little cafe.

Rapha NW

When England’s much polarizing purveyors of fine threads for the road experience were setting up a base of operations in the USA they chose Portland, of course. Actually, they put a shop in San Fran and, I think, for a little while NYC, and then set up their office in Portland. This makes total sense. I’d chose Portland over SF as well, if you can believe it. We went in there to process a return and met the guys running the show there – really nice dudes and a cool little loft space right about a flower shop. You had to enter through a little garden. I snapped a couple of blurry photos and then we had to jet to get me to the airport so I could leave the fog and green of PDX for the sun and dust of LAX.

Random Gallery of things Riden’, Eaten, Drunk or Witnessed

GPMC Winter ‘Cross – Washougal, WA

December 23, 2011

Smokey gets his Bandit.

After spending the two previous days in a car we were up in the air about racing on Sunday, but in the end we decided it was the best way to get with the program immediately. I wanted to be able to pre-ride and to register and pin my numbers on without that typical last minute panic that goes down. Its a given – no matter how organized and prepared you are, no matter how much leeway you allow, you will end up late, pinning your numbers on as they call you to the line, stabbing your thumb with the safety pins, and trying to wipe off the gel that you just smashed into your face. So of course that’s how it went down. We were making great time until we got pulled over by a Washington State Trooper for going over the limit in a construction zone. It was 8:30 in the morning on a Sunday and dead quiet, but we weren’t going to argue. He was pretty cool though and made the ticket out for only 5mph over. Fair enough. Of course, cause the guy was Russian we spent the next week saying stuff like, “How fast you know car is going, ok? Keep mind.” I know: assholes, am-I-right?!

Hear that? Sounds like horses. Big ones.

The GPMC is the Grand Prix Molly Cameron, its run by a well known local pro named Reggie Feggetti. Just kidding. Molly Cameron was fresh back from Japan and I spotted her in attendance, checking out the racin’. There are 9 races in the series and this would be the 9th one. What’s cool about Oregon is that they often have a – very well attended – Clydesdale category for dudes that are +200lbs. I was clocking 198 with just my skivvies on before we left, so that’s what I registered in. There were about 18 Clydes and then around that many guys from another category that all started at the same time. I got in on the second row behind a couple of guys that got called up there. Right off the gun four guys were well and clear of the group and I found myself in the middle, just behind them and ahead of the rest. I dug in and got up to the four leaders and decided I’d sit there and see what happened. I got around one guy and after two laps it was the two leaders and then me. The course was muddy, fast, and super fun. Not too much climbing, which suits me, but with one punchy and slippery riser that was right after a hairpin right. Most everyone in my category was running it but I was able to ride it without too much trouble for the first three laps till my legs lost some punch. McConnell was yelling my trademark heckle back at me, “YOU’RE FRESH”, and ‘ol Two Cup was going “You’d be first if your bike was smaller!”

I was really enjoying racing. I was talking to the guy in second the whole time and joking around, he quipped back a couple of times but then just started to ignore me. I was psyched! I was racing my bike in muddy, loamy Washington! There were a couple of spots where I wondered if I should pass or not, and when 2nd place started to fade I pushed and got around him on the punchy climb and then started focusing to see if I could get the leader.

It was exciting for me, having never been in a position to win anything before, and having people cheer me on as the underdog, unknown guy. Some dudes called me a “beast” when I rode the hill and some chick yelled, “you’re awesome, way to get into second.” I was like, no lady, YOU’RE awesome. The guy I was chasing, Shane Gibson, was the series leader and had a bonafide leader’s jersey on that made the whole event feel organized, legit, and super cool. It felt like I was reeling him in a bit but then as the grass softened up  I went down and lost some oomph and momentum, and like that he was gone. With a lap and a half to go I started to fade big time. I crashed two more times and pretty soon I was fighting to stay ahead of the chasers, who were right behind me. I crossed the line with other large men in spandex, who must’ve also smelled the chili, sprinting all over the place and was pretty sure I had held onto second, but turns out I was third.

Either way, I was happy with it and the course and atmosphere was a blast. They were Belgian waffles and beer and some bleachers to watch from – very, very cool and I can’t wait to get back. I met a nice guy named Matt that is also a Clyde and he introduced me to his wife as “Kevin, a Clydesdale from Canada.” He said that the two strongmen of the category in the larger Cross Crusade series would be racing in the Master A’s the next season, so that the dude I was chasing would be the guy to beat overall, for both the Crusade and GPMC – man, it would be neat to be able to do a whole series where I was actually able to contest for a win or podium spot. If I lived there I’d eat burgers and fries and hover at 199 and totally do it.

“Showing us how they do it up North.”

AKA: Remember that time McConnell won a ‘cross race?

I was excited for Mark’s race. I had finished and was happy with my result, the pressure was off, and now I got to just wander around with a cup of fine Oregon microbrewery and see how it played out in the Elite race. I knew Mark was a fast dude because I’d seen him race many times this year. He’d won a bunch and had raced a whole lot. The only guy in Alberta that seemed to be above and beyond the level Mark’s at is Schooler – and Schooler is super fast. But I had no idea how all that would play out in Oregon, the hotbed of cyclocross culture in the US. I suspect Mark wasn’t entirely sure, either. It gave the race a great element as a spectator.

Because he’d never raced here before, and had no call up, Mark went to line early to get a good spot. I wondered what some of the other guys thought, here’s Mark standing on the line, alone, and they’d never seen him before.

Off the gun he was about 9th or 10th going into the first few corners.

The next glimpse I got, he was about 4th wheel.

The next, he was ahead by a bike length.

He crossed the line in the lead on the first lap and held it for all ten laps. One guy, Ross Brody, got pretty close. He would bridge up to Mark, Mark would respond, and the gap would remain. The deciding factor was the steep little hill. Mark was riding it every lap, cleanly, as were most of his category, but now and then a guy would just miss it and need to dab over the top. When that happened to the second place guy I screamed my head off for Mark to go and he pinned it. The announcer didn’t know his name and when he heard me cheering loudly and purposefully he immediately ran over, after about 7 laps, and asked who he was.

I told him and the guy nodded his head, ran back to the announcer’s booth, and got to work. It was pretty cool:

“Well, here we have Mark McConnell from Synergy Racing, down from Calgary, Canada. He is not here to play, people. With 5:00 lap times for all ten laps he is crushing it and showing us how they do it up north.”

Rad.  Alberta makes a couple more impressions!

Here’s my Garmin stuff from the race. I turned it on and hid it in my pocket ’cause I felt a little too fancy with that little piece of tech on the bike…it only seems to work in Firefox, even as a link.

(I pilfered a couple photos from some people out there, hope they don’t mind. Here’s links to their work and some more images from the events: Brian Hansen, Leonard Johnson, Will Sullivan.)

Oregon Bound

December 20, 2011

Mark and myself took it upon ourselves to represent Synergy in some races down south and so we loaded up his fine American automobile and booked it out of Cowtown Friday after work. Our destination was Portland, Oregon and then, ultimately, Bend, for the USGP there. It would be Mark’s 5th and 6th race in the USGP series this year and the first time I’ve raced my bike outside of Canada. He was racing men’s Pro/Elite, and I had signed up for the CAT4 races and their 8:00am start. I think Mark’s best finish at the USGP, which is raced by the strongest guys in North America, was around 34 or so. When half the field has UCI points and a lot of them get a call up to a more forward start it can tough to crack the higher ranks – something that I would learn with absolute clarity: in ‘cross, you kind of tend to finish where you start.

We cruised it down to Sandpoint, Idaho in seven hours and stopped there to crash for the night. After an early start we made super good time to Kennewick, WA, where we stopped in Safeway to get some eats. Perhaps its a response to a depressed economy, but they were given’ the food away in this joint. By the time we ordered up some sandwiches from their deli-thing we were half full. As we went through the process of paying for said sandwiches I’m suddenly startled by this crazy alarm klaxon going off. Sirens and the whole lot. A dude gets on the PA and announces, to the entire store, “We’ve just had another $25 prize winner!!”

So, thank you Safeway of Kennewick for your prize.

I collected my gift card and sandwich and a few people politely clapped. McConnell captured the first win of our trip, which was used for some delicious microbrew beers.

So, thank you again Safeway of Kennewick for carrying cool beer.

We arrived in PDX the next day, with enough time to go straight to River City Bikes. Like, straight there. No checking in to our place, no bathroom break or food stop. We breathed about two lungfuls of Oregon air after being in a car for another seven hours and we were promptly back inside again. But what a store. I could spend hours in that place. They gave us espresso and, coincidentally, we watched some live footage from one of the track World Cups where fellow Albertan Monique Sullivan was racing. The girl helping us with the coffee goes, “Oh, she’s really fast, she has our track record.” Aw yeah. This would be the second time it was apparent that Alberta came to represent.

So we spent some money at RCB then found our place, a cool house right off of the Alberta Ave district. It was perfect and we where psyched, which was a good thing ’cause I was racing at 9:30 the next morning, in Washington, a 45 minute drive away. This would require being out of the door by 7:30ish.

The Blessing of the Curse

December 19, 2011

It’s been a long break in the blogging/diary/tracking efforts due to travel, work, and a series of emotional roller coaster rides, but here we are. I’m just back from a trip where I had the whirlwind pleasure of racing three times in Oregon over a seven day period with a two day trip to LA for work thrown in the milieu. I was really happy with the results of the trip, but I was mentally prepared to not be. It really could’ve gone either way and I honestly feel that I’m fortunate to have had results I can see as being definitively better than those of earlier in the season. If that wasn’t there, the momentum would be very hard to maintain.

This has me somewhat reflective.

After just missing his first major win of the season, and at 36 and perhaps on the cusp of contemplating moving from elite to master, US ‘cross godfather Adam Myerson said “Its just stupid bike racing, but, you know, it means everything.”

Myerson wears his heart on his sleeve. Well, his heart and a bunch of tattoos, but that’s beside the point. This is a guy that has been doing and growing cyclocross for around 20 years. He’s pretty passionate about it and isn’t afraid to share that. I think that’s rad. What he talks about it is very real. For him its a much bigger deal, but even for amateurs, and rank beginners, these sentiments ring true.

I often feel that riding my bike is both a blessing and a curse. The amount of time I could put into it is more than is considered socially healthy. This is a common thing with racers at all levels of the game and to be one requires either extremely tolerant people around you or a near ascetic lifestyle more commonly seen among monks and friars. When you’re leading up to a goal event and the miles stack up, there’s the pain of injuries both new and past, stretching and physio to do, you’re skipping beer for water, and irritable from eating bland oatmeal with no sugar every morning and carrot sticks for a snack, the comparison to the restrictive lifestyle of some mountain-top, cave-dwelling holy guru-dude is obvious.

If you’re feeling what CP Walsh refers to as “the keen”, then you can end up gleefully and joyfully structuring everything in your life around the act of trying to ride a bike faster than you did last weekend, but if you’re in the doldrums, and the performance you wanted isn’t there, a dark, depressive wave of futility, like heavy, rain-laden clouds off the water, will descend and cloak your mood and temperament for days and days. When this happens, and it probably will, there’s an irony in the fact that respite is often at the very gears of the machine that has condemned you. When all thoughts of ever trying to race again are buried under the shameful feeling of having given up a very lot for a very little, the simple act of going for a ride is most often the thing that will lift you. Forgetting training, forgetting racing, forgetting carbon fibre, heart rate and watts, and just pedaling your bike ends up being the thing to plug you back into the discipline and commitment that keeps the racer on the course. Now this will sound more morose and somewhat pitiful than it really is, but when a culture or a passion like this has been all things to you for a long time; friend and enemy, benefactor and detractor, it ends up becoming your core. And in the end, we all need this. Something to centre oneself around outside of work and family and real life. For some its religion, or some other sport, pastime, or hobby, but to the bike racer it’s a 23mm tread of rubber and a search for elusive perfect circles. I’ve both loved and hated myself riding bikes, proud of the smallest of successes while simultaneously embarrassed by their insignificance even within the culture and sport they’re a part of. If one’s racing means zero in the big picture of the sport, then its value in real life truly is quantum. This, of course, is the curse of the blessing. We’re connected to this thing on a level that is difficult to explain to outsiders or to people that have adopted the sport as a fashion.  One poison is as lethal as the other so its up to each individual to choose what there’s will be. Some just pick a bike.