sometimes you have to stop and smell the chamois butter

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A prisoner in my own body

     The onset of binding muscles creeps into my brain and forces me awake.  I immediately start to take inventory of the pain.  At the moment it's just a dull, annoying ache, but I'm still in the prone position.  I prep myself both physically and mentally for the start of the day.  Heating pad-check.  800mg Ibuprofen -check.  As the warmth flows into my angry muscles and nerves, I try to focus on my breathing and let the anti-inflammatory do its job.  Minutes go by that could be hours.  I really am not sure at this point, because for the last three weeks I have spent a majority of my time lying down.
     Essentially my body is pissed from being beat on for months on end.  I felt it creeping in around the end of June, four months ago.  I was driving the company F350 loaded down with a summers worth of gear and bikes up to beautiful Hailey, Idaho where we would be showing folks from all over the goods that the Sun Valley area has to offer.  The bench seat in the beast of a truck offered no support for my old back and the nine hour drive allowed plenty of time for the system to become aggravated.  Achy back muscles tugging on the gluteus requesting help from the hamstrings.  As I slid out of the front seat onto solid ground my frame was questioning this sudden change.  I could feel it looming as soon as I stood up.  A small jolt originating in my lower back and racing down the back of my leg reminded me of my old friend the sciatic nerve.
     We were well acquainted, me and that pesky nerve.  I had awakened it's angry power a few summers ago when I was running through an overgrown field to make a call from the only phone in tiny little Atlanta, Idaho.  Our plane was late and I had left the group to dash a mile into town to use the only payphone.  As luck would have it, as soon as I hung up with the gal from Salmon Air, I heard the drone of the planes engines pushing over the ridge top.  I knew how much time I had and how irate the group was getting as I began to dash toward the grass strip.  The strip was in sight and the planes were still taxiing as my left foot disappeared in a hole.  I rolled with it, jumped up, and dusted myself off feeling like I had just dodged a bullet.  The next day I found out the truth as a sharp lightning bolt shot down my leg.  My pain was evident as we started out next trip just two days later.  At lunch one of our guests came up to me and started firing questions about my condition.  He assured me that it most likely was not my IT band, but sciatica.  His recommendation was ibuprofen and stretching.  I managed to make it through the week and somehow recovered without too much damage.
     My current episode however, is far different than the minor discomfort I felt for a week or two during my initial introduction.  This time it took me down for the count.  I had finally asked too much from my body and it was in total rebellion mode.  It all came crashing down as I tried to wheel my bags downstairs to begin our ride from Salt Lake to Vegas.  I found myself unable to support any of the weight and before I knew what had happened I was crumpled in the doorway of the hotel room.  My back was now done.  I called my co-guide to help me bring my bags down and through tears I told him I couldn't work.  I had to surrender to my body.  My emotions were in a tailspin as I grappled not only with my injury, but the fact that I was leaving my already short-staffed team on day one of our trip. 
     After being rescued by a friend, we began one of the longest four hour drives I have ever experienced.  There was not a position I could find in the car to give me any relief.  After finally reaching Moab we went directly to the Urgent Care, where the doctor proceeded to tell me that I might be a bit old to be doing the amount of physical labor I was used too.  His eyes widened as I broke down my day to day duties at work.  It was no surprise to him that I was in my position.  He prescribed a litany of products - anti-inflammatory, pain killers and muscle relaxers - as well as rest and physical therapy as soon as I was able.
     In my mind I was prepared for a couple of uncomfortable weeks.  I am now in week four of this heinous attack of my body upon itself.  This case is obviously not like my previous incident.  The beating that I have given my body for months, years even, has finally caught up with me.   My sentence is six months and I am sure as hell counting the days.
     There is never a convenient time to get injured and this time it happened right at the beginning of fall, my favorite time to be outside.  It has been pure torture watching people head for the outdoors and hearing about the adventures.  Getting out right now is a walk around the neighborhood, which usually ends up with a frantic dash for the couch with some ice bags.  Walking is painful, sitting is far worse and riding is pretty much out of the question.
     When I can stand to be on my feet for any amount of time, it is spent in my workshop.  For some reason just being surrounded by my quiver of bicycles makes me feel a little better, and yet sometimes worse.  I walk around to each bike and let them know we will be back in the game.  I grip the bars, spin the wheels and try to remember what it's like.  It's seems like it's been so long.  An awesome season of riding brought to an abrupt halt.  Believe me bikes, this is hurting me more than you.
     Just a couple of months ago my buddy told me this is the fastest I've ever been, and probably the fastest I'll ever be.  Those words weigh heavy on me now as I grapple with the fact of whether I will be able to get it back.  Chronic pain is a terrible thing.  It gets inside your head and scrambles your brain.  I have been on an emotional roller-coaster for weeks.  Tears fill my eyes often with pain, fear and frustration.  Sometimes I just cry for no apparent reason.  And then I get pissed.  I cuss the pain, my body and anything I can find associated with this situation.  How much can one endure.
     It's no secret that suffering is part of the cycling culture that is somewhat embraced and after 27 years of pedaling I can say that I have done my share.  When you ride yourself into the pain cave you know that inevitably you will come out.  At this point I just want this ride to end. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

valdez - glen allen

     The rate of heat exchange between me and the surface I was sleeping on suddenly went to the negative side.   The cold slab of concrete I had rolled onto forced my hand at holding off my bladder for a little more sleep.  I had spotted a bathroom across the way behind the giant rotting pile of snow.  Much to our delight it had running water and a flusher.  The pissing rain had lifted leaving misty clouds floating against the hillside as we packed up and made our way to breakfast.  We went back to the same place we had dinner at the night before and guzzled coffee while destroying platefuls of calories.  Not really sure when our next meal was going to be, we hit the convenience store for one last stash of snickers and cokes.
     Valdez delivered in great Alaska style with a sweet bike path ushering us out of town.  It was a nice way to ease into the day as we had some climbing ahead of us.  The stacks of snow-covered peaks gave a clue of what was to come.  We were headed across Thompson Pass, a popular heli and back-country skiing hotspot, put on the map by a bunch of badass snow ninjas.
     Our first hurdle of the trip came when we hit Keystone Canyon.  Jason was looking forward to riding through and had me all psyched up by the time we rolled up to the road construction stop.  After making no headway convincing them to let us ride through, we heaved our bikes onto the back of the flatbed pilot truck and climbed in with a skinny meth-head chick.  She was quite entertaining to talk to in a creepy yet harmless kind of way.  As we said our goodbyes to the shuttle gal, she piped out to Jason and asked if he thought I looked like Richard Branson.  That alone gave away to a bunch of miles as we started pedaling because we were laughing our asses off.  Richard Branson, seriously meth lady!
     The incline of the approach to Thompson was pretty mellow and the traffic was pleasingly light.  Jay motored away for a bit as I was geeking out and snapping photos.  Peaks and ridges smashed up against each other as if trying to be corraled.    I was definitely working up a sweat which was battling the cool wind whipping across the snowfields. There was no cheering tifosi when we hit the summit, merely a well stickered sign and a bunch of dirty snow.   After a nature break and a few quick photos, we were off.  It was chilly enough we didn't really want to hang around and after that long climb we were beginning to think about lunch.
      The first place that we came to, Tsaina Lodge, looked pretty inviting yet was unfortunately closed.  Their main focus being a hub for Valdez Heli Ski operations in the winter.  Everything had really just melted out at this point and folks were taking some much earned time off from a banner snow year.  The more we considered this fact, the more worried we became about our food options.  We were in the bush now and there weren't going to be many choices, coupled with the fact that it was still early for the tourist traffic, we were becoming a bit antsy.  We had enough food with us for a couple of days, but our big pick-up was in Fairbanks, some 300-400 miles away.
     Luckily the scenery as well as the weather were fantastic, so the miles clicked off rapidly.  The road undulated through meadow and thick forests while skirting endless lakes.  Signs of life were few on the Richardson Hwy, so when we spotted the next bit of civilization resembling a store, we stopped.  Jason ran in to check it out and came back out with a bummed look on his face.  In the bush it's kind of common courtesy to spend money in someone's place of business once you have darkened their doorway.  I felt the same way when I stepped in, but knew we could find something to eat.  The choices were few everywhere and the couple running the joint seemed out of place for Alaska folk.  We guessed they were witness relocate people from Boston.  Crime family, we reckoned.  So we best sit our asses down and buy something from them.  We chose the her "special" sandwich, which consisted of - cheap ass bread/crappy salami/crappy ham/mystery meat/cheezy american cheese- all grilled to perfection. It came with a side of chips and some "special" dip she created.  Yeah, it was ranch dressing and sour cream, real freaking special all right. We ate the crappy food and got the hell out of there as soon as possible.  Lucky for us, some Euros popped in and made our exit less awkward.
     Now we were pedaling with gnarly food knotting up our bellies. It just increased our motivation however, because we just wanted to get as far away from that place as possible.  More miles of perfect pavement a sparse vehicles lulled us along.  We were breaking no records, yet still making good time.  Our goal for the evening, Glenn-Allen, was around 40-50 miles out which would put us a little over 120 for the day.
     At about 25-30 miles out we spotted another roadhouse.  This was one J knew about and had been in so we decided to stop for a beverage.  It took a us downing a couple of beers before the local bush-people warmed up to us.  I could feel stares heating up the back of my neck for the first thirty minutes we were in there.  Some of the folks finally broke down and started inquiring as to what the hell we were doing.  Several beers went down easily as I was still trying to forget that awful sandwich.  That's when Jason suggested we eat there, because camp was before the next spot, which would be breakfast.  I conceded, not really hungry or feeling I needed to eat.  It was Russian food, however and I was a bit intrigued.  After the logger-sized plates showed up, I felt less intrigued and more overwhelmed.  I did what I could and took one of the Russian-meatpockets with me in some foil.
     Now piloting with a buzz and a double gut bomb, we weaved our way down the empty highway toward camp.  The small, barely noticeable turn-off held an awesome camp.  Just behind some pushed up dirt and downed trees high above a river, lie a perfectly level pine thicket with a nice clearing.  This would be our camp tonight after some good pedaling and questionable eating.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Alaska - the beginning

     Prior to space being the last frontier, there was Alaska.  A land that is big, proud, beautiful and waiting to eat you.

     I arrived in Anchorage around 1:30a.m. amidst overcast skies spitting a little rain against the breaking daylight.  The light and the time confused me, which was compounded once I saw how tiny Adrienne’s car was.  I looked at the bike box, then the car, then Adrienne and scratched my head.  Miraculously we drove away, bike and gear inside as well as myself, wedged sideways in the front seat.
     I was on a new place/travel buzz and Jason works late, so I waited up .  He rolled in around 3a.m. and we immediately commenced to geeking out.  Both of us are huge bike geeks and it was fun to check out J’s garage.  Bikes and parts tucked neatly in every nook and cranny.  There were photos, flyers,. and race numbers pinned to the wall, much like my man-shed, but neater and cleaner.  We blabbered about bike nonsense well into the morning until finally conceding to a little sleep.

     A few hours later we were at it again, running errands and tying up loose ends before our departure.  Jason had to work later and I needed to put my rig together.  The plan was to shove off after he got home from work in the early hours of the morning.  Since both of my people were at work, I went for a shakedown spin of Anchorage.  The bike path system there is amazing and I took full advantage cruising around and taking in the sights.  The weather had broken and as blue sky began to peek through the clouds, more and more people appeared on the waterfront.  After taking a quick lap through the city I headed back to base to make sure I was dialed for departure.
     Their dog Rizzo, looked over my shoulder as I tinkered on my rig, checking all the bolts and nuts one more time.   As I tightened the last strap I looked at my watch.  Midnight.  My mind was still very confused about the fact that it was still light out.  I killed all the switches and Rizzo and I called it a night.
     Half asleep, my brain acknowledges that someone is speaking.  “Dude let’s do this.”  My eyelids flicker open and shut to a lycra clad figure beside the bed, before finally focusing on J, fully kitted and ready for action.  I drug myself from the stupor and got dressed, trying not to look outside.  But I had to, because I needed to know what to wear- I was in Alaska now and my second biggest fear was weather.  A peek out the window revealed a light grey veil that would envelope us as soon as we began.
     I followed Jason as we weaved through a maze of bike path and dirt connectors.  He was giving me shit about my panniers making noise when we rounded a corner and spotted a moose.  She was eyeing us over and not looking like she would relinquish any ground, so we detoured our route.  We were to meet Greg from Speedway Cycles, as he was going to pedal part of the day with us, so we didn’t waste too much time getting out of the city.  The weather was consistently grey and the traffic on the highway section was a bit distracting, but I soon tuned it all out to the mind-blowing scenery that was unfolding.  Bald eagles soared around snowy mountains and a big old, proud Dall sheep watched over the blacktop scar from high on a rocky perch.  As the last section of bike path came to an end Greg had to peel off.  We bid him adieu and made our way to the next little blip of civilization that might have some food. 
     The ham and cheese croissant caught my eye and soon became my nemesis when I saw how large and in charge it was.  We had both pointed in its direction, sitting there commandingly in the case of donuts and other delights, wondering what the hell it was.  Like a typical dude, I didn’t want to ask but simply ordered the ham and cheese croissant.  Much to my surprise, the foot long flaky pastry that we both giggled at earlier landed on my plate.  Jason got one as well, and we attacked the buttery gut-bombs.  Stomachs packed with dough, butter, meat, and cheese, we lumbered to the beginning of the tunnel. 
     To get through the tunnel to Wittier we had to hitch a ride.  The tunnel is one of the longest in the world, at 2.5 miles long.  It was constructed for a railway to bring in and hide munitions from the Japanese.  The gal at the tollbooth was super nice and told us to wait by the bathrooms and she would get us a ride.  Less than ten minutes went by before a Dad and a couple of kids pulled over in a big truck hauling a boat.  They told us to load up and we both had work to get our heavy ass bikes in the back of the truck.  Once in the tunnel, I was stoked to not be pedaling.  It was dark and horribly stinky in the tunnel and we probably would have died from the bad air.  We finally popped out into the marina town of Whittier as I was mentally fending off a headache from all the gas and diesel fumes. 
     We were psyched, eighty-something miles in our legs, and plenty of time before the ferry was to depart.  Ahead of us was a five-hour cruise through Prince William Sound so we changed out of our riding gear and grabbed a beverage. Jason had not slept the previous night, so he looking forward to going down for the count. 
     After we settled, I walked around the deck, taking in the sights and snapping some photos.  The sunshine and blue skies were a welcome addition after our damp morning pedal.  Mountains stretched for the sky in all directions.  Bays embraced remaining glaciers and floating chunks of eerie blue ice.  Fishing boats and little schools of kayakers skimmed across the water, both out searching, but for very different reasons. There was an abundance of wildlife:  a pod of Orcas, a group of seals hanging out on and around a buoy, eagles and a multitude of sea birds, and the fluke of a humpback which totally blew my mind.  
     Five hours seemed like a really long time to be on a ferry.  As we approached Valdez however, I was glad to have the time to warm up and dry out.  The clouds had moved in and it was pissing rain.  First order of business was food.  The choices were few so it wasn’t long before we were devouring big plates of food.  Bellies full, we ambled outside into still pissing rain.  We discussed camping options as we pedaled around town.  Much to our delight we found a town park with a nice big gazebo.  It was late at this point and we weren’t very concerned about being hassled by anyone.  It felt good to stretch out horizontally and let the dripping rain fade out with the first day of our adventure.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

new title

Here we are in the dead of winter and I am left with no excuses for slacking on my blog posts.  Not that anyone would actually read my dribble or give a flying monkey-crap what I have to say, but it's my blog and I really don't care.  It's all about me here people.  I was recently asked why I have a blog in the first place and my response was to empty my brain of all the words crowding up space in my head.  After all, there is not a lot of extra space left because of all the useless information pertaining to bikes and the rides that I dream about dancing around in there.
So as I was going through my morning ritual of sipping delicious coffee and reading other blogs where people make money and actually have a dedicated readership, a light went off.  Well maybe no one cares about my blog because the name is (insert yawn), kinda boring.  Wheel Life- what does that mean anyway?  This could be a blog about cars, shopping carts, wheelchairs, baby joggers or roller skates with a name like that.  The name needs some oomph, magical power or some secret message.
With that said I would like to throw out some new names.

1.  Chain driven - because, well bikes can't go anywhere without a chain.  Duh!

2.  The Squeaky Drivetrain - like fingers on a chalkboard to bike geeks, nothing gains more attention than the audible screams of chain without proper lubrication.

3.  Vintage Toe-Baskets - why do people call them toe-clips anyway?  Baskets hold more than clips and throwing vintage in there make the name much more marketable.

4. Clipless - of course this is the antithesis of toe-baskets and could inevitably increase your power-ratio and efficiency.

5. Handlebars and Brake levers-  I like to hang on and go, and stop if the need arises.  Besides, I don't ride a fixie and my huge cycling legs won't fit into skinny jeans.

6.  The Grease is always Greener - I think there is a certain truth to the adage things look better from the other side of the fence.  It's human nature to suffer in some fashion.

7.  Just Riding Along - this is what happens the moment before the wheels come off.

8. L' Arriere du Peloton - because I am always off the back.

9. Amor Bicicletta - ahh bike love, and it has a nice European flair which gives it much more credibility.

10. The Well-lubed Chamois - I bought stock in Assos chamois butter this year 'cause it literally has saved my ass.

11. Chamois without Panties - please do not wear your undies whilst in bike shorts.  It hurts me on a deep level.  I see those lines on your butt and if you think it's gross to go underpantsless, well buy a freakin' washing machine.

As you can see I took it to eleven, because these days top tens are all the rage and far be it from me to jump on the bandwagon.  I would like to ask of the six of my readers to vote on their favorite.  And remember, your choice should be influenced by what would look good on a cycling kit. 

Monday, January 2, 2012


As I am sure my amazing significant other can testify, the pump track project has definitely been my obsession for the past two weeks.  My mornings I spend drinking coffee and waiting for the sun to warm up the frozen ground so I can start shaping.  The giant pile of dirt at the Mulberry Grove subdivision has seen my truck and shovel no less than 15 times and I'm quite sure the neighbors think I'm bat-shit crazy.  I even snagged a couple of loads of dirt on Christmas day -  the pump track was my gift by the way. 
It is now in it's 3rd edition since I started and I feel like I can finally put the shovel down and actually do some riding.  My initial design was a bit ambitious and I had to admit defeat by lack of momentum, although it looked mighty cool.  Let's just chalk the early design as a learning experience.   And even though I haven't exactly become an expert on flow yet, I have gotten pretty good with a shovel. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Who would you get into cycling

     Now that guiding season is over and winter has officially set in, it's time to start writing again.  I'm sure I could conjure up a whole boatload of reasons why I don't blog during my busy season, but excuses can be applied to the same old adage as opinions.  Opinions are like assholes - everyone has them and they all stink.
     Lately I have been spending my free time (when not riding of course) devouring magazines, blogs and whatever other literature I can find on cycling.  I like having time to read because the more I read the more inspired I am to write.
     This morning I was pouring through my normal list of bookmarked pages and came across a post from Patrick over at Red Kite Prayer.  He posed the question - If you could bring anyone into the sport, who would it be?
     While a majority of the comments were targeted as the "significant other" would be the obvious choice, I have learned over the years that you can share your passion for something with someone, but that doesn't mean they will embrace it as you do.  I have offered the experience of cycling to virtually every relationship I have had, but never pushed the issue.  If they embraced it, wonderful.  If not, life will go on.
     In all honesty, the thought of trying to persuade Lisa (my amazing other half) to become a cyclist never even crossed my mind.  She enjoys pedaling, but rock climbing is her passion.  And we are both alright with that.  We both dabble in each others sports, but realize where our passions lie.
     That being said, the obvious answer to the question was -  my Dad.  Unfortunately it would require a time machine to make this happen at this point.   He is still alive and kicking, but is in his eighties now.   As bad as I hate to say it, it's a little late in the game for him to take up cycling.  I know he can ride a bike, but for as long as I can remember, I can't recollect ever seeing him ride.
     I found that I was oddly affected by my immediate reaction to this question.  Emotions welled up inside as I thought back to the time my Dad and I spent together in my youth.  I played both baseball and football like most red-blooded American boys were supposed to do back then.  At the time I loved baseball and had the luxury of my Dad being one of the coaches.  We spent many hours together not only at practice and games, but also in the backyard; practicing throwing, fielding and hitting.  I knew that this was something special we shared, even as a kid, as I can remember the day he spent a hundred bucks on a glove for me at Pee Dee Sporting Goods.  Don't tell your Mom how much this was he told me.  It was our little secret and being the 70's a hundred dollars was a lot of money.  Money I knew our family really didn't have.   I kept my mouth shut and cherished that glove more than anything I owned.  I wish I still had it.
     These days I could give a flying crap about baseball or football.  My world revolves around the bicycle.  I'm not sure if Dad understands my love for the sport, but I know for sure that he believes in everything that I do and stands behind me one hundred percent.  That's what makes me wish I could take him along on my rides.  To share the experiences that define me,  places I've been and relationships that have been forged from my perch on the saddle.
     When I wrote my response on Red Kite Prayer tears began to fill my eyes.  Writing this piece also gives me the same emotional response.  I'm not really sure why.  Maybe it's because I feel like it's something my Dad and I are missing out on or the fact that two thousand miles separate us these days.  I don't really have an answer other than my Dad is an amazing individual who has made a huge impact on my life, even though we don't share a love for cycling.  

Sunday, June 5, 2011

taking the gloves off

Since I'm getting up there in my years, I find it hard to embrace certain forms of change.  Most of those incur in my world of pedaling a bicycle.  Habits get ingrained over years of repetition.  Miles and miles and miles of rolling along comfortably in my bubble of what works for me.  Merckx would measure his saddle and stem positions fanatically.  He also won a boatload of races.  There are many others out there with the "princess and the pea" haunting their riding position and gear choices. 
I've ridden with glove since I can remember.  The boss at the my first bike shop job pounded in our heads that gloves can save your hands in a crash and clean debris off of your tires.  When I graduated to mountain riding I began to wear long-fingered gloves for protection.  Then I started riding in long-fingered gloves all the time, no matter which discipline. 
This winter I sprung for some Brooks leather handlebar wrap.  It is an elegant touch to a road/touring/cross bike.  I spent a great deal of time this winter in the saddle of the cross bike.  The Brooks wrap looked sassy on my ride, but grip was a bit on the sketchy side with winter gloves.  Meanwhile a friend and I were having a debate on what the best glove for leather wrap would be.  He was also unnerved in the drops for lack of gription.  I continued to run full fingered gloves and recently re-wrapped my bars so the lower half is a grippy cork tape wrapped over the Brooks.  It feels good and looks kinda cool being all two colored and what-not. 
So the other day I decided to pedal on the road on a day off and for some reason I didn't need gloves.  Partly because it was getting hot and also because I just was curious how it would feel.  I'll have to say I was still comfy riding and had plenty of grip, even on the leather section. 
I just finished my second ride today sans gloves and I'll have to say for warm weather drop-bar riding I am a convert. 
I'm not gonna go giving up my gloves on the mountain bike though.  Not just yet.