Category Archives: Whatever

There’s always another hill

I NOTICED I WAS losing my voice around mile 75 or so, which I noticed because I was saying things like:

“T-left Millbrook.

“T-left Millbrook.

“T-left Millbrook.

“T-left.

“T-left Millbrook.

“Anyone can T-left Millbrook.

“T-left Millbrook.

“There’s a left. Are you a T-left?

“Are you Millbrook? I hope you’re Millbrook…

“Millbrook. T-left.

“Left Birch Ridge Road, Hardwick on right.

“Left Birch Ridge Road…”

This was a 208-mile, 21-hour ride, including twelve climbs that Strava wants to call category-4 and several platoons of regular old stabby little vindictive hills. Now, if you’re not a randonneur, you may be thinking wow, that’s a ride, THIS GUY IS INSANE! Which is a reaction we cherish, since we’re nuts–but if you are a randonneur, you’re thinking, Wasn’t this a 300-kilometer brevet? That’s 186 miles, not 208. And don’t you only get 20 hours for a 300K, not 21?

Correct!

Here, finally, is incontrovertible evidence that chanting “T-left Millbrook” until you lose your voice is not a viable GPS strategy:

GPS track of me riding the Princeton 300K

That’s me riding this course. (Strava geeks: the whole thing’s here.) The yellow parts are “bonus miles.” That means I strayed off the course and had to find my way back–not just to the course, but to the same point where I left it. That’s brevet rules: You must ride the entire course. You may ride as many bonus miles as you want–if you know a restaurant a block off-route, for example, you may decide to eat there–but you may not skip a millimeter of the route. So when you see this:

202 detour

which does not return along the same path by which it departed, it means I stood in a gas station at 11:30pm, did simple math several times to make sure I wasn’t screwing it up, concluded that I’d have to travel at twice my maximum speed for 30 minutes, and called in and let them know I’d be rolling in well after the cutoff. And then I just effin’ well took 202 to Summer Road, because (1) my iPhone wouldn’t show me the way back onto the course, and (2) I rode back along the wrong turn and couldn’t find it. But I was about to be over the time limit anyway, and no help for it, so there wasn’t a self-serving dilemma to wrestle with. As much.

princeton_2014

So about iPhones.

A sidebar which you should skip
if you’re not a randonneur

Google Maps often doesn’t use the same names for roads as cue sheets do. There are three ways it can vary:

  1. The cue sheet uses the official County Road or Route number, but Google Maps shows what that segment of it is named locally–so it won’t find “Rt 719,” and you don’t know you should be searching for “Climbsbury Switchback.”
  2. The opposite of that: The cue sheet says, “Pothole Way B/C Broken Spine Plummet.” B/C means becomes. The cue sheet is telling you to be alert for the name change. This is very considerate of it. Too bad, though, because Google Maps is waiting for you to type in “County Road 4857B.”
  3. The road changes names along its length, sometimes in many places. Google Maps is absolutely certain this one particular name changes in this one very precise place, and you’re not there yet, but the road sign you’re looking at believes you are. So Google Maps refuses to find the intersection, and you can’t out-stubborn a road sign. This cue sheet was created by either:
    1. Somebody who relied on Google maps instead of riding the entire route and reading every street sign, or:
    2. Somebody who knows the area intimately and uses the colloquial name for the road, which is technically correct only at its other end. You know, the town end, where everybody lives. Neither Google nor the road sign knows that only the last twelve yards of Busted Rusted Mill Road is called Turkey Bladder Hwy S, way out where where it has that little curve and ends at Flung Phone Junction. Oh, right–that little bit by the abandoned lot where the nickel Coke machine used to be–yeah, funny story about that Coke machine, but anyway, nobody calls it that.
       
      Except, you know, every GPS in the world.

Google Maps also doesn’t work well on brevets in areas without Internet access, and only today did I understand why other GPS apps would work better. Any of them will put a blue dot on the screen to show where you are, but without Internet access, Google Maps can’t draw a map behind the dot. It has to get its maps over the Internet. Other apps cache the maps in advance. After some advice from my friend Bill, I’m playing with Motion-X.

princeton_2014

MY OFFICIAL RESULT: Did Not Finish. DNF.

I wasn’t afraid of not finishing, though. I was afraid of not being able to.

The numbers say I was able to. The 22 bonus miles would have taken me about two hours at the end. I came in one hour overlimit.

princeton_2014

I BOUGHT MY Trek 1000SL in 2007, when I had two-year-old twins and the sleep deprivation was still bad enough that I couldn’t think about bikes or parts or tires. And I didn’t know much about them anyway. I had a hybrid bike. I did my first century on it. I thought I should probably get a road bike and see if it was better, like everyone said. BICYCLING magazine said the 1000SL was their pick for best entry-level road bike. That was all the information I could process. The bike shop didn’t have Midnight Blue in my size, so I bought Flame Duotone for, I think, $700.

This is the only road bike I’ve ever owned as an adult, and the only bike I’ve ever ridden a brevet on.

It’s not suited to brevets, but…“suited to?” It’s a bike, right? So isn’t it suited to whatever I want to do on a bike? We’re oversold on the idea–mostly I think we oversell ourselves on the idea–that we cannot do X without Bike Type X, or Y without Bike Type Y. Racing? You need carbon. Touring? You need steel. Expensive steel. Expensive carbon.

It’s a bike. Your legs make it go. If you can balance, you don’t fall down.

That being said…

It’s started falling apart. Things aren’t just at the “things break” stage. They’re entering the “things keep breaking” stage. And if you add that up…well, I’m slowly building a new one, as I can afford parts, and that one will be more suited.

But this is the one that let me start randonneuring, back when I didn’t know what randonneuring was, and let me keep randonneuring once I knew. And yes, it’s Monday, and I still have numb fingertips and toe tips from Saturday, and my butt is still too tender to place on another saddle today, and that is related to what bike it is. So the new build–parts sale by parts sale, as money trickles in–will have 44mm tires and low-trail geometry and front bag instead of saddlebag, and all that. You get obsessed with a specialized activity and you find out what’s better for you–and not even necessarily more expensive. So you end up with things more suited.

Still a bike, though. Just a bike. You push with your legs, it goes. Beautiful lugged steel and internal wire routing would not have minimized my bonus miles, and neither would Zipp wheels and aero bidons.

A generator light might have, though, since I was on low beam in pulse mode because I didn’t bring my headlight charger like I thought I had (the Garmin charger looks the same), and didn’t know how much battery time was left. And so might a front bag instead of a saddlebag, with the map case you can flip a cue sheet over in without stopping, the food you can reach without stopping, the phone you can reach without slowing in the dark so you don’t crash while fishing for it. And a frame that wider tires can fit into might mean that on longer rides, the orchestra of saddle sores doesn’t start tuning up until mile 250 instead of mile 175.

Bring on the parts sales, man.

princeton_2014

“YOU RIDING IN or pedaling in?” The voice came from the car that slowed beside me. Five miles from the end. Seven miles an hour. Almost one AM.

I gingerly peeled my butt off the saddle and stopped so I could answer.

“Okay, see you at the end,” he said, and left. His brake lights flared after the next light. I didn’t turn. Not turning was correct navigation. He drove on.

princeton_2014

THIS IS the deep part, which I thought would be the longest part, but is the shortest part.

I sold the first novel I wrote, and then sold every other novel I finished and tried to sell. I wrote all my term papers the night before, and got good grades. I never played team sports.

Brevets taught me how to fail.

I love randonneuring.

wing_96W

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RIDE REPORT: Seven Gates 50K Petite Brevet

A BREVET STARTS when you wake up. Ride preparation is backstory. It ended last night. This morning, in medias res, you do what randos have always done:

  • Eat
  • Dress
  • Stop singing and find your hoody
Controle 1: P.S. 314

Controle 1, P.S. 314, 08:00

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IT WAS EIGHT in the morning, but the gray chill wasn’t easing off. “You’ll warm up as we go,” I assured my companions, who were wearing their new real bike shorts, and we went R OUT OF CONTROLE ONTO BROADWAY.

n_broadway_pigeons

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THE SEVEN GATES 50K is a three-controle out-and-back. It starts and ends in Inwood, at the top of Manhattan, so the first thing we do is leave New York City.

Marble Hill used to be part of both Manhattan, the actual island, and Manhattan, the borough, which back then were the same thing. When the Harlem River was rerouted to truncate the tip of the island, Marble Hill got amputated. In all meaningful ways, it’s now fused to the Bronx; but civically, it’s still a ghost digit of Manhattan, the dotted outline of a toe up where no toe should be. It’s populated by the tormented spirits of doomed New Yorkers, stranded forever in a twilight existence where the subways vanish. But the Broadway Bridge goes there.

STRAIGHT ON over Harlem River: The whirring of drivetrains, the wailing of despondent souls

STRAIGHT ON over Harlem River: The whir of drivetrains, the wailing of despondent souls

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ON THE OTHER SIDE, my companions offhandedly mentioned they might be feeling the slightest sensation of coolness, so I berated them. “Are you randonneurs or children?” I sneered. “Are you riding? Like hardmen? Or OHHH, should we stop for COCOA at some nice little WARM PLACE?”

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Cocoa at warm place

Cocoa at warm place

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MILE 1.3: ENTER VAN CORTLANDT PARK BIKE PATH. If you don’t have a cue sheet, but you know where to jink over to the left past the bones of the abandoned train platform, where it doesn’t necessarily look like you should, you’ll be on a dirt-road-looking thing that soon narrows. If you did it accidentally, the sensation of being in the wrong place may stop you. You didn’t see any NO BIKES signs, but you might decide not to go in.

But if you know…

z_on_dirt_standing

 
The bottom mile and a half of what used to be the Old Putnam Railroad is now rideable hardpack, sometimes with a little mud—or more than a little—and always with stray roots and rocks and half-buried railroad ties. Then so sharp you can feel the surveyor’s line, the paving starts, and soon after this passage into Yonkers comes a passage both more profound and more nasal: Dad has promised to reveal to you the secret of the snot rocket.

 

Photoshopped for reduced disgustingness

Photoshopped for reduced disgustingness

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Boys!
Stay right!

THE PHRASES “NOT as steep as Henshaw, but longer” and “just downshift and you’ll be fine” trickled away almost as soon as Dad said them, weeks ago. “Two-mile climb” has remained solid in memory, and you have the nebulous sense it’s coming up. Is this it? No, this is flat. Is this it? No, this isn’t it. Is this it? Are we climbing? No. Then this isn’t it.

But now the surface has been tilted slightly up for a ways, and it’s tilting up slightly more. “Is this it?”

“This is the beginning of it…”

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“STOP!” BELLOWS THE voice falling further behind. “STOP! WAIT UP! STOP! HEY! YOU GUYS! HEY! HEY!

Like much of this route, the leg we’re on wavers more-or-less straight, with no intersecting trails or cross streets. There’s nowhere to go but forward or backwards. Instructions have been given a thrice of thrices: If we’re separated, we’ll meet up at the top of the climb, which is Gate 1.

But this rider, who on the flats enjoys passing his clubmates and wiggling his hiney at them, can be lazy on hills, a laziness that turns to indifference when he’s passed and fury when he’s dropped. His countertactic is to allow the escape group to build their lead until the gap seems too wide to bridge, and then, many heartbeats after seasoned observers will have written off his chances, to brake, plant his feet, stand in the middle of the lane, and holler.

There’s mild discussion at the front of the group, but these domestiques have been riding with him a long time. They continue to gain elevation. The occasional two-story roof shows through breaks in the treeline; the toys in those houses’ front yards look like toys. The echoing sounds of outrage become more distant.

Then an increase in volume and a decrease in echo, the words now intelligible: FINE! I’M SO MAD, I’M GONNA PASS YOU! repeated several times, and soon a red-hoodied blaze churns past on the left, past his companions, one of whom latches on and sprints. The other companion smiles silently and watches them race around the final bend—to Gate 1.

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YOU DID THE two-mile climb. What do you get on the way back?

A two-mile descent!

Stay right!

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EVERY PETITE BREVET—yearly, except I couldn’t get it together last year—I add another element. Last time it was more distance. This time it was more distance and a cue sheet.

Seven times between Manhattan and Elmsford Falls, the rail trail crosses a street or entry road. Cars could turn onto the trail if there was nothing to stop them, so there are not just bollards, but gates.

It may be conceivable that this only happens six times, and that the route designer, who’d already ordered medals with SEVEN GATES 50K engraved on the backs, had to go looking for a seventh gatelike thing on the final pre-ride, but this could not be confirmed by press time. Regardless: This cue sheet has a column called GATE, in which appear the numbers 1 through 7, for riders to whom monitoring TOTAL and LEG seems like less fun than you should have on a Saturday.

A seventh gatelike thing

A seventh gatelike thing

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Stay right!
Bike up, hold your line!

“IT FEELS A lot stronger after lunch, doesn’t it?”

“My legs feel brand new!”

Mile 15.8 is the turnaround, Elmsford Deli.

Around mile 18, a boy paying too much attention to giving his brother a very sweet pep talk and not enough to—something, we’ll never know what—went down. I heard the tone of sincere encouragement passing between them ahead, and then there was a low tangle of bike, boy, and lost shoe, and that sound of short metal tubing and forty pounds of flesh hitting pavement and sliding.

I have failed him at this moment before. When he got creamed on the flat between the two Little Red Lighthouse descents, and I carried a 16″ bike and a screaming six-year-old down to the bottom, I was angry. It was with myself, but that distinction clarifies too late to make a difference to a hurt child. And when he ate it on the playground and the first-aid pack with FAMILY BIKE on it in green marker wasn’t in my pannier, I had to borrow whatever little Band-Aid was offered from the bottom of a purse.

So first I did not run him over, and then as he shrieked so hard, still sprawled and tangled, that his voice distorted like a guitar, I leaned my head tube against a bench back and unbuckled the pannier and dug out the first-aid pack.

If this story had a different ending, my first words being Pick it up would now be slotted in behind the other things I regret in painful detail years later. But gently and firmly, opening the pack: Pick it up, you can get up, and he did. I helped him out of his frame. His brother retrieved the shoe.

The wailing had stopped. I noticed the suddenness.

His hands were okay—half-gloves—but there was road rash. Dirt was ground into abrasions up his leg and there was a good half-inch rip filled with blood, and a couple of smaller versions of it.

“It just stings,” he said. His voice was shaky. I felt my surprise change my face. “It’s fine,” he said again, still uncertain. “It just stings.”

I gave him a wipe and had him gently cleanse the wound while I got the big Band-Aid ready. How the heck had he done that? He didn’t know.

“I think you were doing a good job of encouraging your brother, and talking to him a lot, so you weren’t paying attention to the road.”

He said, “The thing about helping people is you don’t help yourself.”

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“I’M VERY IMPRESSED with you right now,” I said as I bunched up the first-aid wrappers to shove into an outer pannier pocket.

“I’m acting like Johnny Hoogerland right now,” he said.

As we rode out, he murmured, “I didn’t know I was like that.” He said it again, maybe twice more, only partly to me.

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MILE 20.1: X SAWMILL PKWY, R INTO CONTROLE. Controle is unstaffed, so timestamped receipts take the place of a signature.

Starbucks Cake Pops: Not as good as expected

Starbucks Cake Pops: Not as good as expected

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RANDONNEURING, LIKE MOST things, is mostly about the basics.

  • Eat again.
  • While you are doing your shoulder check, do not run off the road.
  • If your penis hurts, put Lantiseptic on it.
  • The Lantiseptic will warm up.

Is this the two-mile descent?

No.

Is this the two-mile descent?

No.

Is this the two-mile descent?

Are we descending?

No.

Then this isn’t it.

Heads up!
Stay right!

z_n_downhill_zoom
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“THEY SMELL THE BARN,” says Laurent, the man I followed around for my first year randonneuring, to explain why bicycles speed up at the end of a brevet.

n_elevated_train

MILE 29.6: SOUTHBOUND BROADWAY SIDEWALK. CAUTION: PEDESTRIANS, DRIVEWAYS.

We’re moving in 2014, and not sure where yet, so the randonneuring element I’ll add a year from now may reveal itself when we get there. If not, time limits to the controles are the obvious addition. For what is a brevet without a faint, constant trickle of fear?

But months before the Who Knows Where We’ll Land 75K, there will be the 40-mile (64-kilometer) Five-Boro Bike Tour, a fitting goodbye lap of the city where you were born, and with it maybe a little more understanding that even compared to grownups, a little dude like you can sling some respectable skills.

Or it may just be a bunch of whining—you never know what’s coming, this far out.

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n_medal_results

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Johnny Hoogerland was hit by a car and thrown through the air into a barbed-wire fence within minutes of our sitting down to watch our first Tour de France together. Parts of him were torn to ribbons. He finished the stage.

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Every rider has a rider he dreams about.
I dreamed of one day being as good as Barthélemy.

 
—The Rider
Tim Krabbé

 

seven-gates

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Seeds

LAST NIGHT WALKING BACK from a special-treat dinner at a pharmacy counter, my eight-year-old scientist asked if rum, whiskey, wine, beer, alcohol, and scotch were all the same kind of alcohol. So I told him about it, and since he recently learned about percentages, I explained what a liquor’s proof number means. He sees me with a glass sometimes, but never drunk, for which his only references are Captain Haddock in TINTIN and the sentries Toshiro Mifune gets soused on sake before he kills them in SANJURO.

That led to a conversation about the stages of drunkenness, which led to revelation of the existence of alcohol poisoning, and how it works, which led to the contexts in which it’s most likely to happen, which led to teenagers, young adults, and parties.

Which led to silence as I tried to decide what to tell them, what would scare them, and what they’d misinterpret.

So I asked what would happen if they drank, and the scientist said he’d want to run around and act silly, and I said what if you drank more and kept drinking? And he guessed he’d want to punch people for no reason, and I said, you’d pass out. Then I had to clarify what “pass out” means and this whole time, I’m wondering how much he even gets anything I’m saying. So if you pass out, I asked, what can happen to you?

You could fall down. People can laugh at you.

Take your money, I said. Punch you in the face. Draw on you with permanent marker. So here’s what you need to know. And I thought, am I going all the way with this tonight? Are they ready for this? Can I make it general enough that it doesn’t freak them out? So here’s what you need to know. What if you’re with someone who passes out? Then people can do those things to them. So if you’re with someone who passes out, you should probably watch out for them, and make sure those things don’t happen. Especially if it’s a girl.

Well that’s okay, he said, because girls don’t like to drink alcohol.

Sure they do, I said. Some do, some don’t. Some of your ideas about boys and girls are—they can do all the same things.

OK, he said.

But if it’s a girl who passes out…if you’re ever at a party and a girl passes out, sometimes there can be boys who will want to do bad things to her and hurt her.

But why? Why would anyone do that?

Because they’re not good people.

But why?

Because they’re not good people. So if you’re ever at a party, and there’s a girl who passes out, you be the one who looks out for her and keeps her safe. Right? So—what would you do?

I would punch them in the face!

Well, uh—no, you don’t have to punch anybody in the face, just make sure she’s safe, and tell the other people to knock it off.

Tell them to knock it off! That’s like how a grownup talks.

Yeah. But you be the good guys. Right? You be the ones who don’t let her get hurt. Got it?

Got it.

And then over to the silent boy who’s been holding my other hand: You interested in this?

Not really.

But he’s the one who listens when you don’t think he’s listening, and who nurtures and protects every child on the playground, and who a father once swore he wanted to marry his little daughter after he championed her safety during some swingset contretemps, and who thinks he’s a superhero, and whose safety my heart clutches for the most when he gets his chance to stand the good stand against villains he doesn’t realize use actual fists and boots, and it’s Dad who told him to do it.

seeds

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4 bike thoughts during a break

I STILL CAN’T ADJUST a drivetrain, but it’s no longer because I believe my dad, who told me I’m no good at anything mechanical. Now I understand better. I’m good and fast at typesetting, for example, which is a tricky thing I won’t be good and fast at next year if I don’t do it every day. I’m still learning things about body copy, and I’ve been setting it for years. I’ve barely learned anything about drivetrains after a few dozen sincere but sporadic stabs at adjustment.
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PEOPLE APPARENTLY HAVE the capacity for being uplifted and burgeoned by a gorgeous sunset over a mountain pass. I look at the sunset dutifully and sometimes try to get my burgeon on, but I’m disappointed in myself. I don’t have that. I just have knowing it’s where I should be, and putting a check in that box: Where I should be. The check feels like approval. A good review I don’t need you for.
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MY ROAD BIKE has a broken spoke so the brake rubs, even with its release lever open, and my folding bike is still in the suitcase that took it to Los Angeles and back, because it needs a new derailleur hanger before I should bother putting it back together, but I wrote today.
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LEARNING HOW RANDONNEURS relate to each other has given me perspective on life off the bike. There’s a hierarchy that you can ignore without anyone thinking less of you, but if you try to insert yourself into it and you figure your level wrong, then you live with that. Acting like you’re still something you used to be is poison unless they know about the injury. If they don’t, you’re an awkward problem. That one’s lost. Don’t try to chase it into a win. Shut your mouth, heal up, ride a lot. Let them come back to you, if they’re coming, which they may never do. Oh well. Just put your check marks in your boxes.
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I FINISHED HALF of today’s work list, delivered a couple of proofs, and just thought I’d enjoy mentioning those things before the second half of the climb. Have a good ride. Check.

5_bike_thoughts

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The traditional Rosh Hashanah blog

A couple of times a year, any uncertainty about what is a Jew dissipates, and I become a true member of a singular tribe, the American Jews of the diaspora, when I perform, with sincere and profound humility, our only major tradition: Googling to see when the holiday begins, what we’re supposed to already have started cooking, and what the greeting is.

1. Tonight; 2. brisket and sweet stuff; 3. L’Shana tovah.

The brisket is in; the jumble of blocky tzimmes precursor is heating around it. The boys have been guided by paternal threat and prattle through the evening pouring of the cheap red wine over meat, the morning grocery shopping with their own carts, the splendor of beef turned purple by grapes so it looks like a giant tongue, with sound effects, and onion-chopping best practices with The Good Knife. They will be recalled from the Wii for kugel insertion and the basting ceremony. I don’t know that basting is necessary when observing loose tinfoil protocol, but also can’t see a down side to it. Teach your male children to baste.

Tonight’s challah is round instead of braided because so is the cycle of creation; this is, after all, a new year’s celebration. It’s sweetened because so may your year be sweet.

This has always bothered me as a metaphor, ever since I was a child, because it’s just too facile to be recognizable. Years aren’t sweet or bitter; life is sweet and bitter. Even horrible years have the stray golden raisin in there, and good years harbor the roots of bad ones to come—much as savory tzimmes contains root vegetables (see, it’s genetic; that took no effort).

What I wish for you, and for myself, is that what has taken root in the past, no matter what kind of manure or burnt field it first sprouted in, bears good fruit in the future. I also wish you an easing of droughts and destructions, so that orchards can once again be maintained by one standard orchard’s worth of toil.

May your troubles convert to gelatin in the heat of your efforts, as melts brisket collagen at temperatures over 180°F.

May you question and break free of the traps of your childhood, just as we all, at some point, ask, “Why am I drinking Manischewitz?” And may you pass your mistakes on to the next generation, just as in the same breath, we pour Manischewitz for our own children, so that they in turn may taste the fuller flavor of rejecting the overly sweet nonsense of their parents.

L’shana tovah. May you be signed in the…sealed in…crap, I don’t know. I googled it twice already. Here:

Eat up.

rosh_hashanah_blog

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The yellow bike is sold

“This is my yellow bike,” he said, in a tone I didn’t notice at the time. I didn’t notice his face, either. I was walking ahead, holding the camera facing back at the end of a nonchalant arm. It was the day I gave him the bike. He was four. Nothing in his entire life had ever been remotely like this day. He didn’t know it was a universe where a boy could have his own bike.

I heard the tone and saw the face that night, offloading the pictures and video onto my computer. I could have missed them. I didn’t watch everything as it transferred. Instead, I learned my heart had another little door in it that could open. I learned also that his was so full that a bike could brim it over.

His fraternal twin brother liked to clean his blue bike. Liked the inclinometer I installed on it. Still wants a computer. The boy with the yellow bike just liked riding it. The day the training wheels came off, I saw him do my running dismount. Until they did, he liked to sit on the stopped bike like a cowboy on a fence during a work break and eat a sandwich. He kept growing. I got a longer seatpost for it instead of a bigger bike. He got heavier and learned how to skid. There’s about 20′ of black rubber on a sidewalk on Seaman Ave. His personal best.

Today I asked him how he felt that somebody was coming to buy it. He said he felt good, because another family would be happy because of that bike. He has a 20″ red one now.

I watched it carried to the elevator as I closed the door. The back tire is new. I didn’t tell the dad that’s because of all the skids. Let his kid write some new stories with it.

Bye, yellow bike.

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wing_96W

 

 

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Night Ride

night_ride_cover_for_blog

AT THE TOP OF THE RISE he waits for the signal from the bottom, and when he hears GO! he lets off the brake and pushes the pedals. It’s not a big chainwheel he’s got, so his feet are spinning at top speed in about three seconds—but by then he’s already flying.

Last weekend he flashed past the dip at the bottom and got twenty feet up the other side before he had to stand out of the saddle. You had to stand when you climbed because it gave your legs more power.

This time he’s going to hit the uphill with great strength, pump right up it, even the steep part, and then take the curve at the top without stopping, all the way behind the trees where no one can see him.

GO GO GO GO the words whip past his ear and make him grin, sun and shadows strobing in his eyes, and then he’s ten feet up the shallow grade, twenty, thirty, the bike slowing so soon on the steep part and he’s up out of the saddle, fists clamped around the rubberized grips, King of the Mountains, polka-dot jersey. He chants:

I-must-con-cen-trate.

I-must-con-cen-trate.

I-must-con-cen-trate.

GO GO GO GO! behind him. YOU CAN DO IT YOU CAN DO IT CLIMB LITTLE MAN CLIMB CLIMB CLIMB CLIMB!

Bobby is six.

His daddy’s cheering for him. He climbs, climbs, climbs, conquers the little part where it’s steepest and you have to push your legs hard instead of just riding your bike, and then he’s out of sight where Daddy can’t see him, which is a great joke.

Walking up the paved pathway toward him is an old man.

“Hey, Bobby,” the old man says. “Remember me?”

Bobby’s still looking at him when he hears his daddy’s bike come rolling up behind him.

“Dad,” his daddy says.

“Bob-by!” says his grandpa to his daddy.

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Why

THE TWEET WAS aimed at another writer/cyclist and me:

It was sent by a third writer (and former cyclist), and was meant affectionately. And it didn’t bother me—but what did bother me is that I’ve never been able to put my finger on why. Why? Why brevets? Why distance? It’s been two years since my SR series (a 200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K in one calendar year), but why was that so meaningful—and why is it still?

Because you think you can outrace death. No, that’s not it. That’s dumb. That’s a line I heard on HOUSE.

On a bike podcast recently, Grant Peterson was discussing the appeal of gritty, Rapha-advertising-type “epic rides” to middle-aged men, and he hypothesized that it had something to do with regaining a feeling of athleticism lost since youth.

I had no athleticism in youth.

By my standards, I still have none. I’m not trim at this moment, I’m not ripped. I’m of decent build for a man who designs books, tall, with better-than-okay legs and butt, but essentially usual above the belt. I’m not someone you look at covertly because of how beautiful I am. At this writing, I weigh 210. I should weigh 195. That means I should weigh 190. And while I do technically have abs, they do nothing besides facilitate the movement of my torso between pelvis and ribcage, and are entirely subcutaneous.

When I said recently, to a 1200K veteran I was about to ride a 200K with, that a 200K isn’t that impressive, he corrected me, pointing out that “Most of the population thinks we’re crazy for what we do.”

This is true. But, I said, “That’s because they don’t know a 200K is mostly just about being smart, and managing your nutrition and hydration.”

I could also have said, “And because there’s really no reason anyone should do this stuff in the first place.”

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ALL THIS TIME randonneuring—my first brevet was April 11, 2009—I haven’t understood why. During that time, I’ve also heard, “A bike racer is chasing something. An endurance athlete is running away from something.”

I tried that one on. It was cut wrong too.

Tonight I was thinking about Grant Peterson’s take on it, his theory about regained power, when I understood:

I haven’t regained my power. I’ve found it.

It’s going to leave me when I die. It’s going to diminish as middle age tightens its chokehold, or evaporate with my next MS exacerbation. But I found it.

It’s mine.

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NOT ALL OF it—no one gets to find all of their power. It’s all potential. We were all children, and children have nothing but. And then large chunks of what the world doesn’t ruin, we ruin ourselves. I’m blogging right now instead of writing a page. I’m on Twitter instead of knocking out my paying work faster and using the resulting 20 minutes to create another few notes of music. The short films stopped when the recession hit, the Wall Street investors for the feature vanished, and I had infant twins and debt and was tired. (God, was I tired.) There may be half an inch of scotch later, for bliss and anesthetic.

So—partly I do it. Partly the world does it. Nobody gets to transform potential into kinetic without loss, and sometimes the cost is greater than the result, or the result is not viable, or the work that doesn’t even get you to where you can do more work is just too, too, too effing hard.

So it slips away. The power, the potential, all of it, as liquid as time.

This one’s mine, this riding a bike far and getting there by a certain time, and doing the hill that gets you to the next hill that gets you to the next hill. In some ways it’s an easier power to capture than those others, and real hills are less abusive than allegorical ones; in some ways it’s harder. It’s certainly simpler. But I am this, now, and when I reach in to see what I am, my knuckles hit something solid.

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RANDONNEUR IS A lifetime title. You do it once, finish a single 200K, and you can keep calling yourself that for as long as your self-respect lets you. Novelist is like that, too. You did it. They didn’t.

No point running from death. When that window closes, it’s all a matter of how you filled the frame.

 

 

wing_96W

 

 

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My bicycle confession

  1. I’D LIKE TO formally apologize to people I’ve scared inadvertently on the bike path. I saw you for quite a while before you saw me, and adjusted my line to swing wide around you, but I could tell it startled you.
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  3. I’D ALSO LIKE to apologize to the two I scared intentionally. One was on the bike path in Venice, California about fifteen years ago. You were walking next to your girlfriend and I thought you were aggressively taking up the entire lane, plus part of the opposing lane, so I blew past you close enough to lightly clip the edge of your arm with mine. I take full responsibility.

     

    The other was on the West Side Greenway in New York City, about four years ago. You meandered straight across the path from the street without even glancing to look at oncoming traffic. I zipped by close enough that you probably felt some wind, and I heard you shriek behind me. My thought was to keep you from doing that again, because the greenway is chockablock with people on bikes who aren’t skilled or alert enough to save you from your lunkishness, and I don’t want you hurt.

     

    I concede that I was also annoyed with you.

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  5. I CONFESS THAT Monday evenings have become my favorite time of the week, because first I walk from SoHo to Chinatown for banh mi and Vietnamese coffee, which I think is just iced Cafe du Monde with condensed milk, and then I walk back to SoHo for a bike repair class. Walking through the dark and neon of Chinatown has always made me feel like I’m in Blade Runner, even back before I had children and stopped remembering what it’s like to be out in a big city at night. This is as close to giddiness as I get.
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  7. I ADMIT WITHOUT the basic human decency of guilt that I have spent money on bike tools and a repair stand, including both sizes of Park Tool torque wrench, two tubs of Phil Wood Hand Cleaner, and a honking 32-oz jug of ProLink chain lube. It grieves me that I feel no regret for this, and if paroled, will do it again. Further, I admit to a glow of satisfaction upon taking a bike off the stand in better shape than when I put it up there, and to liking the image of myself with a spoke wrench and a beer.
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  9. IT IS TRUE that I only noticed the wide-open quick-releases on both brakes once I was descending Henshaw St. at considerable speed, and I aver that I may not have effected as decisive a Flintstone stop if my children hadn’t been watching from the bottom. I additionally stipulate that I have stood on a bank of the St. Lawrence River in the sub-freezing dark, straddling the frame of a hybrid bicycle, eating the best apple of my life, and that the bridges upon which you hop little islands back into Montréal, to catch your train home, are sometimes locked when you didn’t expect it.
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  11. I CONFESS THAT I do not know why even though my boys have identical bikes, one keeps dropping its chain.
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  13. I VERY MUCH regret that my actions have caused smudges on the walls in the bike area; that I have betrayed the goodwill of rugs that trusted me; that I will, at some point, kick a snapping dog; and that I hope it’s a solid kick.
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  15. I SWEAR THAT I have never felt as exhilarated as on two downhills, both mountain descents, both firsts. Exhilaration one: on a practice brevet before my first 200K, a single downhill spanning a longer distance than could fit into the boxy little dresser drawer of Manhattan. Exhilaration two: 49MPH on what I’d find out, a year or two later, is the same road the boys and I now take to our second-favorite campsite in the summer.
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  17. I SHAMEFULLY CONFIRM an excited “Boys! C’mere! C’mere!” when I saw a Calfee leaning against the wall at Darling Coffee, but plead nolo contendre to the charge that I have received a cheap frame and build kit for my first home bike assembly. I furthermore refuse to respond to any and all questions regarding dining room and repair stand, relative sizes of.
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  19. I ADMIT TO thinking poorly of:
    • Pathetic slugs slower than me
    • Arrogant showoffs faster than me
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  21. BUT ALSO TO thinking well of:
    • Kids faking out traffic and practicing BMX tricks under the GW overpass
    • Carcinomic septuagenarian, shirtless on ten-speed
    • Pasty pudgy guy, hybrid, motorcycle helmet
    • Wiry older woman who knew good hills in Edgewater
    • Ethiopian lady on mountain bike in Van Cortlandt Park
    • Local kids with tall bikes
    • Danny McAskill
    • These women
    • Guy who tossed me an inner tube when, for some reason, I didn’t have one, halfway back from Bear Mountain
    • Slender guy with a mullet I followed uptown when I couldn’t see the road because of my messed-up glasses and a bad storm, but could see his blinky
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  23. I CONFESS THAT I saw the diagonal expansion joint coming before my kid got to it on his 20″, and didn’t yell anything because I thought startling him would be worse than letting his natural reflexes handle it. I was wrong. That was one bad 15MPH wipeout and neck-twisting crash into metal railing. For this, Daddy is truly sorry.

     

    Daddy also thinks not wearing a helmet in urban environments is generally not the brightest choice, having seen where aforementioned child’s head went, and admits both to knowing who that statement will annoy and to thinking their logic is mostly confirmation bias; and moreover regrets both his lack of interest in fighting about it in the comments and the likelihood that he will anyway.

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  25. I ADMIT TO resolving the dilemma of where to look when an attractive woman zooms by on a nice bike by staring, as though riveted, at absolutely no particular component of the bike whatsoever, with great interest, until the crisis has passed.
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  27. I CONFIRM THAT I once hung by one arm from the base of a metal post near the very top of the hill above the Little Red Lighthouse, with my bike downhill from my prone body, gripped by my other fist, because I tried to ride up when the path was iced over, and I am honor-bound to tell two additional truths: I saw the neck of the guy in the little kiosk at the bottom swivel 180° as he stared after me on my way up the first rise, and I will probably try again.
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  29. I HAVE CLIMBED and descended mountains, hit potholes, and lost traction on the metal lips of driveways in downpours. I have pretended to knowledge I did not have, offered advice that turned out to be wrong, and given just the perfect fact at the perfect time. I have ridden the beaches of two coasts and glided alongside pelicans.
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  31. I HEREBY CONFIRM that the consequences of my actions have brought enhanced harmony to my family; increased productivity and tolerance of bureaucracy to my employers; and exhilaration, reduced heart rate, and damn shapely calves to myself; and I cannot, in good conscience, swear that, given the chance, I would not repeat any and all of them until my final moments on Earth, except for the one with my kid wiping out.
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  33. AND THAT I love the smell of Proofide, and finally taking off night gear at dawn on a rural road between misty pastures, and that I will always cherish towing my two-year-olds to preschool, riding with my six-year-olds to PS 178, and cheering crazily for my seven-year-olds when they finished 16-mile rides or climbed like champions. FURTHER, DEPONENT SAYETH NOT.
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    wing_96W

     

     

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Three questions

RIDE 2 cover

Cross-posted at the RIDE blog.

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IT DIDN’T OCCUR to me, when I decided to use this “Three Questions” game to say what I liked about each story, or why I’d chosen it, that I would eventually come to my own. Instead of telling you how great it is, I’ll tell you something I learned.

The first RIDE anthology (mumble mumble purchase mumble) was my first stab at being an editor and publisher. One of my mistakes was in sending Advance Reading Copies to reviewers when everything was almost perfect—except for my own story, a novelette called “Night Ride.” The cover did say UNCORRECTED PROOFS, after all, which people would know meant there was still some hammering and sawing going on, and I was thinking of the book as a team effort, which implied there was a team for me to take one for. People were trusting me, and if tasks had to fall undone before the ARCs had to go, it was only fair if most of them fell into the bucket with my own name on it. So I sent the ARCs out.

And then I minded.

Not as much, though, as I’d have minded being that guy who sends a string of “Wait, I uploaded a new version!” emails.. So I stuck Don’t ship the ARC before your story is as polished as all the other ones in the “lessons learned for next time” column, along with Don’t publish the ebook and the print book at different times and Don’t miss the holiday sales window.

Those last two…well, RIDE 3, I’ll do better. But “The Rambler, Part 1″ was nice and shiny before the first review copies of RIDE 2 went out. And—yeah, it’s a poem. It rhymes. I was reading Chaucer in the tub on my iPad, and I saw that he was heavy on the plot and light on the closely observed moment, and I went I can do that! I can not observe stuff!

…up through Harlem, onto Broadway; picking
out his silhouette, they weave to follow,
sticking tight past Jimmy Jazz, Apollo,
Duane Reade, Rite Aid, Popeye’s Chicken,
toward the river, tires quicken
toward the bridge that goes to Jersey.
If he’s caught—there’ll be no mercy.

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Barb Goffman (“Ulterior Motives”)

asks three questions of

Keith Snyder (“The Rambler, Part 1″)

Barb: In “The Rambler, Part I,” your rider is using his bike as a means of escape, literally. Have you ever raced away from someone on a bike, trying to avoid them?

Keith: I like to do these things called brevets, which are long-distance rides with proscribed routes and time limits. I’m also the CEO and OGH (Only Guy Here) of a book design company that grew from a fledgling business that sucked up all my time in 2011 to a big workload that sucked up all my time in 2012. So my last ride that went all night was in 2010.

Whaddayagonnado—I been busy.

But in 2010, I was severely underemployed and emotionally shredded, so I was riding longer distances. One was a 400K that went through the Pine Barrens at night.

The overnight portion of a brevet can be physically and emotionally difficult; you’re fatigued, it may have been a while since your last real food, you’ve had several imaginary but not entirely silent confrontations with the most obtuse people of your acquaintance, and your metabolic thermostat has sprung its coil. You can’t remember why you thought this was a good idea, your car is fifty miles away, and there’s no train and zero bars on your phone.

Brevet routes tend to be designed to put you on smaller highways and mountain roads as much as possible, both to reduce the number of cars you’ll encounter and because stoplights bleed your average speed more than you’d think. (Well, stopping at them does, anyway.) So depending on route, season, weather, and velocity—I’m slow—you can end up in unlit desolation for long stretches of time, able to see only as far as your headlight beam, utterly blind to the sides and rear. 4am isn’t just the best time for an army to attack, because the other army is at its worst; it’s also when a dirty, discouraged randonneur (or frozen, or drenched; we do this in all weather) can’t see the point of this anymore.

The Pine Barrens are a forest shot through with cranberry bogs. There are no streetlights because there is almost no night traffic, and there are no stars except those directly overhead, because the pine trees snuff them out in all directions. On this night there was no moon, either, and an overcoat of clouds over whatever stars had escaped the pine trees. I could see the highway in front of me well enough to think every stretching shadow was a pothole, but the portion of beam higher than the road didn’t do anything but collude with every reflective highway sign to blow out my vision and hint at an ever-moving wedge of distant black foliage.

But you can hear things in the cranberry bogs.

I don’t know species, so I classify them all by size. That soft crackling and crunching, very soft, everywhere, is the the local insect biomass stumbling over thousands of tiny twigs, falling off leaves, dropping into ponds. Briefer, more directional little snaps and dull creaks are your beefier bugs and possible birds. Next larger: definite birds—woodpeckers, the occasional confused rooster—and continuing up the size scale are your random small mammals, trotting coyote, bored, leaping deer, the isolated shapeless thing skulking across the highway.

And to my left, the deep, leathery flap of something huge in the air, rising off a dirty water surface. There’s a creek, or a bog, or a flooded ditch off the highway there, because the rising thing’s feet drag on liquid as its wings beat. It gains altitude ponderously, amassing momentum, its hot weight coming even with me, then rising above eye level—and my panic has flooded me with so much strength, I can barely get my fumbling fingers on the shifters.

Once identifiable as little rocks, gravel has become dim streaks beneath my pedals. I’m maintaining barely enough self-mastery to not flub a shift and grind my non-precision budget drivetrain. Hair surges on my neck and forearms—the luxurious wingbeat is closer, the dense black body gliding in the humid black air; my butt’s bouncing because I just outran my gearing. The highway floats ahead in a few dozen feet of bulbous gray light. A few inches behind my saddle, the floating glow of a deep red coal—the brightest taillight on the Internet—is beacon and rangefinder for anything that wants to strip my nerves from my meat.

There’s a deep bovine growl three feet from my ear, a hot snort on my cheek. I’ve just whimpered and my legs are spinning faster than the gears can accept, and I don’t know what gear I’m in, so I shove a shift lever in my blind panic, and there’s a cling! and a thrrrrrip!; my pedaling legs flail against nothing, and I understand that the chain has come off.

A single blast of warm air into my face and through my helmet vents, and thick leather wings and a whip tail clip the topmost antumbra of my headlight, as I grab my handlebars and fight to keep from crashing; I stutter-step with one foot a few times because I can’t remember how to unclip the other one and I stand alone shaking, the flashbulb impression of a massive bat ray still fading in my retinas, and up in the depth of night, something smashes the tops of the invisible pines.

Barb: Is there anywhere in the world you would like to explore on a bicycle but haven’t been able to? If so, where and why? And what’s holding you back?

Keith: There aren’t that many places I wouldn’t like to. In some alternate universe, I have no family and one of these. In that same universe, its bushings never fail, and my witty, self-deprecating accounts of adventures through a smorgasbord of terrains and cultures are the most fascinating things that happen near the onion dip at parties of A-list literati; but this never happens. So let’s just keep things as they are.

Barb: What’s your most embarrassing or funny biking story?

Keith: FCO (Failure to Clip Out) in front of Princess Grace of Monaco. She pretended not to see, but we both knew.

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LIKE YOU’VE NEVER read Chaucer in the tub on your iPad.

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