Thursday, December 30, 2010


With temperatures forecast in the 50's this weekend, it is looking like great conditions for getting outside and on a bike.  The traditional New Year's Day rides are popping up all over the place and there will be a lot to choose from.

The Ya Ya Hula Cycling and Social Club will be having an 18 mile ride at hangover pace leaving from the Lake James Fire Dept. at 11 am on Saturday for anyone who is interested.  They are a great group to ride with and always have fun on their bikes.

The Boone crew is going to do a ride in our territory leaving from Setzer's Creek Church at noon.  Since they could use an escort of locals, I think we should leave from the shop at 11:30 and ride out to meet them and join their ride.  Meet at the shop around 11:15 and we'll leave promptly at 11:30.

Saturday will be the first day of the MS 365 Project.  I'm working on an introduction, a facebook page and a blog that will be specifically devoted to the project.  It will be a celebration of my 20th year with Multiple Sclerosis and I hope you'll join me for 365 days of riding.

I've been thinking about my MS more in the past few days than I have in the past few years.  It is a little sobering to contemplate what my life might be like or what the future holds for me, but that is really true for anyone.  None of us knows what the future holds, but only a few of us aspire to live our lives to the fullest.  I want to crack open the bones of life and suck out the marrow!  As we move into this New Year, we all contemplate the new beginning it affords us (no matter how metaphorical that new beginning may be).  Let your resolutions be important and take hold of the opportunity to turn them into something real.
from Surviving the World - check it out, it's great!

Monday, December 27, 2010

A dusting...

Early on in the week, meteorologists crowed about the coming white Christmas.  As the week progressed the snow fall predictions began to ebb from 5-8 inches to 1-3 inches to not much if anything. Bold words to throw out the possibility of a white Christmas and then back it off as the big day arrives.  So we're up fairly, but not ridiculously early thanks to Owen's discovery that Santa did indeed stop by and leave a few things.  As we enjoy Legos and Playmobile adventures, a gentle snow begins to fall.  After a while it gets a bit more serious and then begins a long phase of earnest snowing that lasts the day and into the night.  We got our 5-8 inches all right.

Now the wind is blowing like the jet stream ripping at the peak of Mt. Everest with gusts of what sounds like 400+ mph.  Thankfully, all of this weather comes during the holiday break, so no makeup days on the backend of this winter wonderland!

The mechanic's class begins tomorrow evening and there are still spots left if anyone is interested or has been waiting until the last minute.  I'm excited about the class and it has been obvious how eager everyone is to get their hands dirty and learn about the down and dirty of their bikes.  I've been reading a fantastic book, Shop Class as Soulcraft - an inquiry into the value of work by Matthew B. Crawford that has really inspired me to integrate more hands-on instruction and DIY ethic into the shop.  Essentially a criticism of modern industry and education, the book puts forth the concept that we are becoming increasingly abstracted from our mechanical possessions.  One example is of the new BMW that doesn't have an oil dipstick, so the owner can't even check the oil let alone change it themselves.

By getting your hands dirty, you are able to gather knowledge of the machine that you rely on,  You learn its idiosyncrasies, its needs and develop a deeper understanding of the thing in the process.  Crawford also points to our lack of respect for tradesmen (not to be confused with craftsmen, the artisan or artist) and trade work and how our education system pushes everyone to go to college and be a knowledge worker (which in reality is just the modern assembly line).  Crawford echoes my own disillusionment with the present day education system, especially when he discusses the dual roles that had to be played by Soviet Union middle managers who had to support the party line and deal with the reality of Soviet communism as it applied to their daily functions in the workplace.  I see this in administrators who have to support the current regime of standardized testing and data collection while seeing the reality of this approach and its breakdown in the real world.

All I really know is that no job has ever brought me more happiness than bike shop work.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


As mentioned the other day, Jeremiah Dyer has been stranded in Belgium at Euro 'Cross Camp without a bike or clothes.  He's missed a few races that he could have participated in because he couldn't get his bike or a loaner from anyone.  Up steps Jonathan Page.  Love him, hate him that's on you, but the most successful American cyclocross pro in history sent his personal mechanic to Belgium to deliver one of his spare bikes to Jeremiah so that he could race.  THAT is class.

Thanks, Jonathan, for helping an up and coming kid out in a huge way.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

I'd like to add a new Zen koan to the vast collection that are already out there: What does a lunar eclipse look like in a cloudy sky?  Yes, for the first time since 1632, a lunar eclipse happened on the winter solstice and was visible from North America, but guess what?  The cloud cover here was waaaaaaay to thick to see anything but the orange glow of reflected sodium vapor lighting.

So if eclipses throughout history were seen as omens or portents of bad things to happen in the future, what happened if your tribe or village was so clouded over that nobody in your area saw it?  Did you get to shrug your shoulders, say, "Couldn't see it." and blow the whole thing off?

"So, Ichabod, I heard Hespeth saying that the moon turned to blood over your village and now you know your crops are going to rot in the fields."

"Yes, Jebediah.  Aren't you afraid for what will happen to your village?"

"Hmmmmm.  Yeah.  Um, it was pretty cloudy last night and we didn't really see anything, so..... I think we're good."
I'm not really disappointed despite getting up pretty early to shuffle out into the cold night and see not much of nothing.  Sure this was the first one in 532 years.  I guess I'll just have to exercise patience and wait for the next one...

I have failed to mention a very cool development that most of you may have already heard about, but it bears mentioning with some depth here.  Jeremiah Dyer, Sonni Dyer's son, was chosen to participate in Geoff Proctor's Euro 'Cross Camp and is currently in Belgium to do a slew of the pre- and post-Christmas cyclocross races with an international field of hot shot juniors.  Jeremiah is the first rider from the Southeast to go to the Euro 'Cross Camp and it shows how the sport is growing in our area.

Unfortunately, Jeremiah has been caught up in the European airport closures and has become separated from his clothing and his bikes which now circle in some airport purgatory with a scheduled release date of God know's when.  Be thinking of Jeremiah and his slowly building ball of disappointment and anger.  Think, too, of those poor juniors he will unleash this on when he does toe the line this week and tries to make up for lost time.  Good luck Jeremiah!  We're rooting for you!

Besides our own Fiets Maan Racing team trying to lend some help to Jeremiah in covering his expenses for the trip, the class act guys at MSGCross leant a hand, too.  If you ever get the chance to go check out their races, you won't be disappointed.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hidden gems

We headed back from my sister's house yesterday morning after a leisurely wake up routine.  The get up and hang out morning routine is a sure sign that we are hitting a vacation period.  Although we have a snow make-up day today, it sure doesn't feel like we should be doing anything but starting our Christmas break.

Driving back from Sanford is no easy task.  The road is long, the landscape is dull and the radio station selection is bleak.  We rolled in to Asheboro and decided to look for some lunch.  Prominently located at the top of the highway exit was a sign pointing us to downtown.  We followed the directions and came into downtown Asheboro and were greeted by a tremendous collection of restaurants, art galleries and shops.  Being Sunday in the South, I was dubious about any of the local businesses being open, but there were several restaurants open and bustling.  We gravitated toward The Flying Pig, a nice little sports bar/bistro combination that serves great pizza and sandwiches.  I ordered a Buffalo Chicken sandwich with their handmade chips.  A heaping mound of chips with a tremendous sandwich the size of my face was brought to the table in short order.  Owen dug in to a grilled cheese with fries (mainly he dug into the fries), while Golden had a salad.

For Owen and I, the noble potato ( or pomme de terre) signifies the true mark of the chef's abilities in the kitchen.  While his gustatory passion lies with the fry, my heart yearns for the perfect handmade chip.  The true bistro chip is a tricky thing.  Too thick and it doesn't cook right and is essentially a french fry gone wrong.  Too thin and it cooks too quickly becoming a dark brown, fryolator flavored drink coaster.  But the chips at the Flying Pig were at the very apex of the fried potato arts.  They occupy the rare air that is the zenith of the handmade chip universe, right up there with the previously unequaled Sledgehammer Charlie's.

To a greater extent though, our sojourn into downtown Asheboro was a glimpse at what a downtown should be.  A thriving, bustling ecosystem of locally owned businesses, each imbuing the town with a dash of character that makes it unique and different.  A place where the locals can go and see each other by happenstance and where visitors can feel that they have "discovered" a unique place to visit.  More and more I hear people from Lenoir saying that they haven't been downtown in years.  If you haven't been downtown, then our town is nothing more than a generic collection of fast food restaurants, chain stores (especially dollar stores) and a sprinkling of locally-owned businesses that survive amidst the generic bustle.  When I visit these little thriving downtowns in other places, I see what Lenoir could be, what I and many like me want it to be, but we must make the conscious effort to support and grow the fragile downtown area.  Our locally-owned businesses, especially the new and risky ones, are fragile and need support to make it through these dark economic times.

Wherever you may happen to live, make the conscious effort to support your local businesses and especially your downtown.  The hearts of our cities and towns are what make us unique and makes our homes much more liveable.  Vote with your dollars to support your local economy!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Road

We drove down to my sister's house for a holiday get together yesterday.  For those unfamiliar with NC highway routes, there is literally no good way to drive to my sister's house in Sanford from our house in Lenoir.  The route looks like a giant zig-zag across the whole state from the Blue Ridge foothills to the Sandhills towards the coast.  Suffice to say, a 3 1/2 hour snaky wandering through scrub oak, long-leaf pines and rolling bumps of sand make for a long, slow slog of a trip.

I shut down the shop and jumped into the car with my dad and headed down the road towards the Sandhills, my ancestral home.  We passed through areas of snow on the ground, but luckily were not in any active winter weather.  The trip was uneventful, but my creeping dislike of long car rides was in full bloom with about a half hour to go in the trip.

We got a ride in yesterday morning despite the chilly temperatures.  Dubbed flauhute Saturday, 7 of us headed out, bundled up and eager to generate some body heat.  The ride was a welcome break from my overly bundled, weekday hard man commutes as I was able to get away with wearing half the layers.  It was a nice change to do a ride with more substance than my 20 minute commuter blasts, even if I had to turn off early to open the shop up.

Sister Futs Cafe hooked me up with some post ride food (cold fried chicken, baked beans, green beans and coffee) while a healthy dose of Flight of the Conchords on iTunes made for a nice transition into the retail day.  A little bike building, a little chatting with friends and some regular, old bidness made for a nice, relaxed Saturday.

Today is my eleventh anniversary with Golden.  Between the long shadow of the holidays and a make-up school day tomorrow, our anniversary is wedged into a tight, stressful spot this year.  We might hit up some Korean or Vietnamese restaurant outside of Fayetteville before we head back since we don't have access to any Asian restaurants of the caliber that you find in my hometown.  Heck, we may even hit up some pawn shops, scope out used cars and play "name that military weapon" to round out our Sandhills adventure.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What does a bad decision look like?

There are few times in my life when I recognize that I am doing something stupid.  Now don't take that to mean that there are few times that I do stupid things.  I do stupid stuff all of the time - I just don't normally realize it's stupid until AFTER I've done it.  Swallowing nails, locking myself in the closet, setting the house on fire, etc. were all good ideas that turned out to be stupid when the consequences hit.

In education parlance I'm a Kinesthetic learner, I learn by doing.  So it was a big surprise to me yesterday when the thought "Hey, this might not be such a good idea" came percolating up through my brain about 2 minutes into my commute.  I had the Xtracycle  loaded up with my school stuff and a bunch of stuff that needed to be shipped for the holidays.  My 10 minute dressing for riding ritual had increased a slight amount with the addition of a third pair of gloves (my Bar Mitts are on back order, dammit) to prevent my hands from freezing.

At the two minute mark of the ride, my fingers were alarmingly cold.  I could them getting colder like some time-lapse movie that shows frost forming on a window.  By the time I made it to Smith's Crossroads (about 5 minutes from my house), the deep ache of seriously cold extremities was very present and I was beginning to question my decision to commute on such a cold day.

But then I thought about all of those super cold Belgian cyclocross races where you see the racers on the line and they are trying to keep warm before the start.  A lot of riders do an aggressive self hug kind of maneuver that looks like they are trying to hit themselves on the back.  I gave this a shot and lo and behold it worked a treat.  By pounding warm blood back into my fingers, the hands warmed up nicely and were fine for the rest of the ride.  A quick refresher self-hug/hit maneuver at the next stop light was an added bonus.  The hands stayed warmer than they would have, plus I looked even crazier than normal (an added bonus!).  So if you see some guy on a bike, stopped at a stop sign and vigorously hugging himself over and over again, he's not crazy - he's just trying to keep from freezing to death.

Ok, he's a little crazy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Beware of waxy skin...

It's cold out there kids.  And windy.  Serious cold and driving wind the likes of which have driven many a frontiersman to pick up an ax and begin whittling away at the family with a glassy-eyed zeal that just screams "C-R-A-Z-Y".

It takes about 10 minutes for me to put on all of the extra stuff that is keeping me alive on these brisk morning commutes.  From the normal clothing base (pants, long underwear, wool socks, undershirt, shirt, sweater) a fleece lined balaclava goes on, followed by a fleece jacket, alpaca scarf, windproof jacket, a toque, double gloves, helmet and glasses.  I feel like that kid in "A Christmas Story" who falls down and can't get up he's so bundled up.  And despite all of that clothing, it's still a cold ride.

This morning I'm waiting at Smith's Crossroads for the light to change, wondering why my thumbs are burning while my normally wussy pinkies and ring fingers seem to be just fine, when I feel two hands grasp my shoulders.  Now sudden embraces from strangers are not normal when waiting in traffic, even when exposed on a bicycle, so this was a bit unexpected.  As in "WTF?"  I turned and there was Sandman.  "I just wanted to say 'Hi'".  Awesome.  A nice change of pace from the slow freezing to death punctuated by furious pedaling that I am otherwise mindlessly pursuing every morning lately.

The light turned green, we took off and I hammered up the hill into a headwind.  A car passed me, honking that long, frustrated honk that I assume is meant to make me realize that I am riding a bike where cars belong.  I wave back - with all five fingers, thank you very much, trying to feign friendliness while repeating my favorite line of Jayne's from Serenity - "You are starting to damage my calm..."

I wheel into the school, safe and sound.  The disbelieving looks of my colleagues are largely unnoticed now as I strip off layers and try to make my hands work well enough to sign in.  The best thing is the flush of heat that you feel once you are inside.  Open up the thermos of hot tea, and BOOM! you're good as new and ready for the work day.  I don't know what I'd do without it.

Got aspirations of doing some winter bike commuting?  Figure it is time to go from mildy eccentric to downright weird?  Well, we've got some gear to help you out.  We just got some balaclavas to help extend your riding from merely chilly to bone-crunching cold.  And I'm taking it up a notch with the addition of some Bar Mitts because I'm fond of having all ten of my fingers.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Frozen perspective

Riding provides me with a rich conversation with myself.  Sub-freezing morning commutes provide a heightened sense of introspection and contemplation.  Thus, my commute this morning was a meditation on the philosophy of self inflicted pain in bike racing.

Now before you go thinking that I am a masochist or that this is about suffering, stop.  I'm talking about the pain of effort, the pain of driving yourself to the limit of your capability and then going a little beyond.  The quest for "a little bit faster" is never ending in bike racing.

I had some wonderfully insightful thoughts on this idea while I was bundled up and riding to work in the 18 degree morning, watching a beautiful sunrise sky of peach and fuchsia.  To me, the purest moments of my life, the things that make me feel quintessentially alive with the animalness of being are the flow state moments that come on the bike.  That moment when you are pure effort, when vision narrows to a tunnel and your self talk is coldly clinical in its analysis of the moment.  That strung together series of moments when nothing in the world matters but what you are doing right then, is the essence of bike racing.

This season of 'cross has been my brink season, my hover season. I hover just inside or just outside the top ten.  I ride in a no man's land of solo effort; passing some, being passed by others.  This past weekend in Statesville, I had a large group chasing me the whole race.  45 minutes of being pursued.  Somebody would pass me and I would pass them back and never see them again.  This went on for 4 laps.  After I get past the start of the race (where I use positive visualization to see myself riding through everyone to get a good start, finding the holes in the chaos), after I burn through the smoke and mirrors (let's face it, my only training right now is commuting, so I gotta rely on muscle memory and fakery as much as possible), I settle down to the hard task of digging deep and pushing every ounce of effort out of myself.  I have to admit - I love every moment of it.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

How cold is too cold?

Every morning commute this week has been in sub-freezing temperatures. I bundle up in layer after layer, topped off with the bright yellow commuter rain jacket that I have, put on a thin skull cap under the helmet and then some gloves with fleece-lined gauntlets.  With this setup, I'm a little chilled at first but stay comfortable to almost too warm all the way to work.  The key is to not be warm at the start, if you start out warm you will overheat, guaranteed.

As I shot through the underpass, I hit a big patch of frozen silt (from the massive rainfall earlier in the week) which was crusted over with a frozen layer and still had a frozen tire rut from my previous morning commute.  Naturally, the crust broke through slightly about halfway down towards the underpass, my front tire migrated into the very narrow, frozen rut which caused my tire to grab a little bit at speed.  All of this plus my momentum (little real-world physics in action) had the net effect of pitching me towards the flowing stream to my right at an alarmingly quick rate.  Don't forget that the work supplies that are resting in the panniers behind me get in on the action and are pushing me towards the stream with a zeal that they had not previously demonstrated, preferring instead to really just hang out and create more drag and friction.

In a 'cross race, a sub-freezing dunking in flowing water would be a bad, but not wholly unexpected outcome.  For this to happen on a morning commute though, would be an egregious error of epic proportions.  As I yawed wildly toward the stream (which it must be noted lies below the bike path by a few feet due to a built up wall so the true experience would be a dropping through space, a dunking in the stream, and then a darkly comical struggle to climb up the wall and out of the stream while rapidly losing core body temperature and wondering how you were going to replace your ever important laptop and would you have to completely overhaul the bike or would you freeze to death before any of this could be a real concern) I let my brain take over, a somewhat dicey proposition, but there wasn't much choice.  Firing up the old reflexes and remaining relaxed despite the growing inevitably of a frozen bath under highway 321, proved to be a winning combination.  The bike arced gracefully away from the stream and towards the underpass.

I have not, as of this writing, added a wet suit to my layers of commuter clothing.  I do now have a healthy respect for the underpass and will be less cavalier upon my approach until the cleanup of the flood debris is completed.  I feel like I'll have a little bit of a leg up on the competition at this week's 'cross race since it will be cold and wet.  The daily commute is the truest expression of the flauhute ethos, since getting out and riding is the only option.

Remember always, the mantra to live by when you are forced to ride in foul weather, "There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad equipment."  With the right stuff, you can be outside in just about any weather (hurricanes and tornados represent difficult riding conditions that should be avoided unless you live somewhere very flat and a 110 mph headwind presents you with a good climbing interval opportunity).  Don't skimp on winter or wet weather riding gear.  The toes you save may be your own.

Thursday, December 02, 2010


Lyon, France has a large commuter bike program called Velo'v - a kind of take a bike, leave a bike program.  Each bike is equipped with a computer that gathers all sorts of data which is stored in a central computer.  From this data comes the first large look urban bike commuting habits of a city.  The findings are interesting, but the one that struck me most was that the average speed of commuters is consistently fastest on Wednesday.  It's like everyone attacks humpday with the zeal with which they attack on the hills in training rides.

I've been riding the new 321 underpass on the greenway as part of my commute and I have to say, well done Caldwell Count Pathways (full disclosure - I know sit on the board of the Pathways organization, but this effort was begun long before I joined).  It is well built and is as nice of a tunnel as I have seen on a greenway.  This big effort to build it has added significantly to the bikeability of our town.  And that idea of bikeability really ties in with my concept of what makes a place liveable.

For me, an area has to have access to cycling opportunities in order to be measurably liveable.  The more opportunity, the freer and more unfettered those opportunities are, the more liveable an area is.  Variety is important as well.  There needs to be scenic backroads with low traffic for road riding, trail networks for mountain biking and greenways for recreational riding and commuting.  Included with all of this has to be a bike shop (of course) which serves as an all in one hub for all of these different cycling specialities.

To me, Lenoir is getting quite high on the list of liveability when it comes to cycling opportunities, but there is still room to improve.  My wishlist:

1. Keep expanding the greenway.  A good goal would be to link all public schools with the greenway plus a corridor to CCC&TI.

2. Build a viable mountain bike trail network in town.  A trail network at the Aquatic Center would be a great way to add variety to the in town cycling opportunities and could serve as a great place to get people in to mountain biking.

3. Build a BMX track.  A BMX track would provide a great resource to help kids stay healthy and active.  Developing an active lifestyle at a young age has a huge impact on the rest of a kids life.  BMX is a great, low cost way to get kids into cycling as a sport.

These three things can be a reality if we, as a cycling community, want them and are willing to work for them.  It is great that we all ride our bikes and enjoy the company of fellow cyclists, but we must start acting like a community and take an active part in that community.  Find out how you can be involved, donate a little money to Pathways, participate in our local cycling events like Cycle to Serve and Bridge to Bridge.  Together, we can improve the liveability and visibility of Lenoir and Caldwell County.