I did my little speech at the Big Bear (SoCal) Triathlon carbo load, which took place at the Big Bear Elks Lodge. Emilio de Soto gave a speech too, and he remarked to me that the Elks Lodge is a block away from the Moose Lodge, which seems ironic since there is no Bear Lodge in Big Bear.
I noticed old photos of ancient men in the glass cases surrounding the inside of the hall. Encased next to the photos were big, heavy -- I don't know what you call them -- necklaces (I'll say, for lack of a better term). Also, plaques were hung with the name and title of each august figure. One of the plaques commemorated old so-and-so, a "Grand Lecturing Knight."
I told Emilio that I thought that while we have not yet earned the right to be Grand Dragons, or Poobahs, or Viziers, we should each be granted the title Grand Lecturing Knight (and be given one of those cool necklaces which I, for one, would wear often, and in public).
The next day de Soto promptly went out and won the race for the 11th time, and I rode around the course on my bike being a marshal -- a Grand Marshal, actually. This was after I had to drive to the Vons and buy more paper cups. To accomplish this task I unhooked my trailer -- in which I carry all my possibles for multi-sport occasions -- from my truck.
I might mention at this point that I've decided using paper cups is an ecologically unsound habit. I believe the better idea is a watering trough every mile or two, and a large one in the transition area, with a dozen or so ladles at each trough. You then belly up and get your drink. No more cups. For those who think this unsanitary, all the more reason to train harder, race faster, and get to the trough early.
While I was at the Vons somebody parked a car in front of the trailer, so I couldn't re-attach. I was angry. Meanwhile an announcement was made that so-and-so -- a lady -- had crashed on the bike and was taken to the hospital.
The morning wore on. Everybody finished, the awards were promptly awarded; times were calculated; expo items were purchased; the race directors and sponsors (primarily Syntace, and particularly its U.S. president, Sham Ehlag) were congratulated on another scenic and superbly-run Big Bear Tri; and people got in their cars and drove off. Except the person who'd parked in front of my trailer.
"Is this any way to treat a Grand Lecturing Knight," I thought. Then, finally, the culprit showed up, bandaged like an Egyptian Lon Chaney. It was so-and-so who'd fallen. She gingerly poured into her car and drove off. There was no way for her to have known she'd parked in the wrong spot, and the only thing wrong with the spot was that it slightly inconvenienced me.
I felt stupid, and decided I'm not yet ready to be a Grand Lecturing Knight, and the necklace will have to wait.
OBLIQUITY OF THE ECLIPTIC
About 2000 years ago this was the name of a certain astronomical measure (it described a way to determine latitudes and to predict the solstice). Things astronomical were fairly well understood back then. The notion that Columbus intended to prove -- or that anyone in his day seriously questioned -- the sphericity of the earth is myth. The Greeks knew the earth was round, and a certain one of them -- Eratosthenes -- had fairly closely calculated the earths circumference.
He did this by sticking a pole in the ground and measuring -- at two places remote from each other -- the distance of the poles shadow the sun shone on the ground at high noon on the same day (obviously he had an accomplice in this). Then, knowing the distance between the two places, he could calculate the earths circumference. Simple.
I like to imagine what Eratosthenes was doing when he hit on this idea. What I imagine he was doing was... nothing. I think of the exquisiteness of the vacant daydream; the mere fact that he had -- or took -- the time to imagine; the spectacular sensation when the idea of his circumference test hit him.
Mostly I imagine cerebral expanse. In my minds eye I see a huge Montana-like Big Sky -- a technicolor sky -- in his mind's eye. My problem is, my brain is so damned cluttered, it seems like my imagination is enclosed inside a hall closet, while his was "enclosed" in his wide-screen sky. I dont have time to have a sky over my brain. There are problems and issues in this closet my brain must attend to before it can afford to take the time to stroll outside.
Greeks, Egyptians, Mayans, most great civilizations had pretty-well figured out a host of astronomical phenomena hundreds, or thousands, of years ago. How did they do it? One thing they apparently had that we apparently dont: the time and the inclination to gaze heavenward. To imagine. To conceive. To wonder.
And I wonder too... about how we, as advanced as we are, are completely unequipped to notice, to observe, to imagine, like our "primitive" ancestors.
A few years ago I did decide to start "noticing," and I started with the terrestrial -- plants, trees, etc. Now Ive turned my gaze heavenward, because I figure the sky is available to all of us; it does (after all) take up about half our visual frame. Im also -- frankly -- humbled by the fact that your average sailor 500 years ago knew more about celestial reckoning than I do. So I thought Id teach myself.
This does require looking upward. Triathletes have a special talent for this, honed by our miles riding in the aero position (were used to craning our necks for hours on end, right). So if I just stand, instead of bend, and assume my tri-bike-trained cranial position, I'm looking at Cassiopaeia. Right? (Not that I'd know it if I saw it).
What does all this have to do with the Obliquity of the Eclyptic? Not much, really. I just thought it was a cool-sounding phrase.
ONE MAN'S MEARURE OF HUMANITY
The measure of a society -- we have often heard -- is how it treats its poor and infirm. This is a scorecard used by many, and rightly so in my estimate. Somebody originally said this: Socrates; Voltaire; Bill Murray (Im sure 23 Slowtwitch readers will enlighten me).
My wife tends to rein in things ethereal, or corporate, and reduce them to the individual. Shes a mano-a-mano type gal. She doesnt form estimates of societies, but of the people in them. But when she does take the measure a society the yardstick she uses is always the same: How do they treat their animals? How much room do the horses get to run around in? Does everyone pour out of their front doors after dinner to take the dogs on a walk, or leave them stuck in the back yard? Stuff like that.
For this reason, it is no secret that the English rate exceptionally high. The horses get more square footage than the people who own them. The streets are thick with dogs and their owners every morning and evening. While the English may not worship animals, as some cultures do, the reverence they show their pets ranks just a notch below. Here here!
Im not a rater of cultures. I assume they all have reasons for behaving the way they do. But my magnanimity, or ambivalence, is not universal. The slack I cut for cultures is not offered to corporations. You could rightly call me judgmental in this respect.
As many Slowtwitch readers know, we are not simply an ezine. We also traffic in hard goods, some of which is offered on this site. We are a supplier of triathlon-specific parts to manufacturers, and to your favorite LBS. In this capacity we have had the occasion to do business with Litespeed. In the last 90 days weve probably purchased in the neighborhood of $150,000 from Litespeeds QR/Merlin division, or from that divisions previous owner. Three times during this recent process our offers to buy certain equipment or inventories were refused with the comment, "We have employees who would like these; we think well give them to them."
Yes, its true, sometimes I think Litespeed ought to make a head tube or a top tube a little shorter, or perhaps a chainstay a little longer. But at least a certain element of their management has passed my "civilization test" with flying colors. Its one thing to have, in a corporate mission statement, a clause regarding the commitment to ones employees. Its another thing to demonstrate it -- and not because you think you should, but because its part of your corporate personality. Sometimes the biggest impressions you make are the ones you didnt intend, and these are the impressions Litespeed has made on me. I can think of no better reason for Litespeed refusing the sell me something than that they'd rather bestow such products -- free of charge -- upon their valued employees (who certainly have no expectation of the largesse coming their way)
I think all three of the examples above -- Voltaires (or whomever); my wifes; and my own -- ask one common question: How does one in power treat a person (or other entity) under his (or her, or its) direct influence and control? Its easy to promise that you'll give exceptional treatment to someone if they grant you the power. The true measure is what treatment you deliver after youve been granted the power.
Uncle Dave Macon was born in 1870, and upon his father's death he started a company hauling freightthe Macon Midway Mule and Wagon Companyin the south. He didn't imagine a professional career as a musician and didn't play the banjo professionally until past the age of 50, after his drayage company collapsed due to the advent of motorized conveyance. Uncle Dave became the first star of the Grand Old Opry in 1925, and he played banjo there until a few weeks before his death in 1952.
I'm a bluegrass fan, and of all the great bluegrass tunes I've clapped to on the back-beat, none can top "Soldier's Joy." It's a banjo duet, and on the great 1972 recording, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," Earl Scruggs plays it with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's John McEuen. Somehow it appears Scruggs has possession of Uncle Dave's old banjo and has loaned it to McEuen for the duet. "The banjo is light," McEuen says in remarks prior to the recording. This was of particular advantage to Uncle Dave because, as Scruggs tells McEuen, "They had to follow Uncle Dave with the [microphone]... he'd get up and dance." McEuen asks Scruggs if "Uncle Dave ever played Soldier's Joy." Scruggs answers, "I'm sure he did."
I am not a weeper, generally speaking. You could cut off my fingers one by one and burn down my house and I'd certainly be upset, but none of it would cause me to shed a tear. I don't attempt to keep back the tearsthey just don't come, even upon profound sadness. Joy and passion, though, that's another thing altogether. I'll drive my truck down the road with the windows down and "Soldier's Joy" blaring on the CD and tears will be flying off my face and splattering on the back window like a shower of gnats.
I listen to "Soldier's Joy" and imagine Uncle Dave Macon playing his light banjo with the sound engineers scurrying behind him, trying to keep the microphone close enough to record. I never saw him dancehe might be doing the twist or the minuet for all I knowbut in my mind's eye he's doing that herky-jerk pentecostal jig they do so well in the south.
Nothing intrigues, motivates and animates me more than seeing somebody act with passion. It doesn't matter what a person is passionate about. The topic isn't important to me, it's the passion itself. I say all this in preparation for the first statement I'm going to make regarding a situation about which I've been asked some dozens of times over the past two weeks: The purchase of a company I founded and built, Quintana Roo, by Litespeed.
I've had an opportunity to get to know the Litespeed people a little since their purchase of my old company. (They bought it from Saucony, to whom I sold it back in 1995.) They impress the hell out of me with their intelligence, knowledge and hard work. That's on the positive side of the ledger. What has not been clear to me, yet, is what they intend to do about putting some passion back into the brand. Passion built QR. A dose of passion isor wasfolded into every bike and wetsuit that company manufactured.
Merlin, the other brand to go to Litespeed in the deal with Saucony, needs the same. It should be independently run by people who believe in their heart of hearts that Merlins are better than Litespeeds. And Litespeed not only needs to allow that sort of esprit de corps at Merlin, it needs to foster it. Nay, it must demand it. QR's need to be designed, built and sold by people who are certain there is no better tri bike (or wetsuit) made in the world, at any price, out of any material. Strategic purchases of premium niche brands rarely work. Out of Trek's four such purchases, only Gary Fisher is seen as an unqualified success. Klein, Bontrager and LeMond are all viewed in the industry as either flops or as mixed successes. Mongoose's purchase by Brunswick was an unqualified disaster, and there are a dozen similar examples I could cite.
It is way too early to tell what Litespeed will or won't be able to achieve with Merlin and QR. Litespeed has the resources, intelligence, experience and diligence to turn both brands into the dynamos they once were. But that's not enough. Litespeed will need to buy some passion. Or rent it, or contract with it, or strategically ally with it. Otherwise, you may as well start building two more graves next to Uncle Dave, both of which will be occupied within a year.
MUSINGS ON THIS MEDIUM
Im passing my nine-month anniversary as a cyber-journalist. I figure this makes me the Ironman of internet journalists. (Has anybody else been at it this long?) Every day it seems another dot.com runs out of venture capital cash. Us? Weve still got ours in the bank.
Right about the amount we started with, as it happens. Of course, we have a very low burn-rate at Slowtwitch.com. Most of our monthly nut consists of pigs ears, vet bills, chain lube, andas some of you knowapples.
Speaking of cash, our business model calls for most of our cash to be earned by banner advertisers. So far, thats been going pretty well. Funny thing is, though, its been occurring to me over the past few weeks that this particular propertySlowtwtitch.commay or may not be unlike other internet e-zines, but it feels, in practice, more like an event than a publication. It feels more like putting on a race than printing a magazine. From a business perspective, I think its closer to the former model than the latter.
So I think youll start to see some subtle changes over the next couple of months. Our "partners," a.k.a. advertisers, will be positioned more like sponsors than buyers of ad space. I dont know that buying a "banner ad" is, in and of itself, the best way to get value out of an internet presence. Perhaps it is for other sites. But Slowtwitch.com tends to be more thematic, and it seems proper to have business partners who take a more thematic, interactive approach to a particular section of Slowtwitch.com than simply putting up a banner.
Some of that is already evident on our site. Inside Out Sports banner can be seen on our Product Review site. But this companys owner, Cid Cardoso, is also one of our footwear reviewers. This company is probably the ONLY one, among the elite triathlon retailers, that does a vibrant footwear business. (And I hope you are investigating them as a footwear vendor for your own needs, as they have a level of expertise that makes them a natural choice for triathletes.)
Also, Computrainer and Kurt Kinetic Trainer sponsor a segment of Slowtwitch.com in which we augment their fine products with a manual that adds our expertise to their knowledge and manufacturing acumen.
Bicycle Sports sponsors our bike fit section. If you know anything about that shops owner, John Cobb, you know how thematic a fit this is. Cobb is fast turning into the guru of everything aero in time trial and triathlon, both with regard to equipment and positioning.
But were just scratching the surface. We havent begun to mine the opportunities to bring manufacturers, retailers and readers together in a fun, knowledgeable, interactive way. Many of you have taken advantage of our Slowtwitch Bike picker service. We really should have a manufacturer or retailer involved with the Bike picker in some way. And we should have several more interactive screens on Slowtwitch providing similar services, perhaps for wetsuits, footwear, aero wheels.
Maybe this sort of model also works for coaching and training. Who knows? Perhaps we have a screen that asks a lot of questions of you and then, based on your responses, we tell you what sort of training you ought to be doing that youre not now doing.
Ive been rolling around in my noggin a questionnaire that would seek a broad array of information. The response would be our view as to the goods or services that would make one a faster athlete, given the price range the respondent chooses. For one athlete it might be an aero wheelset. For another it might be a one-week cycling vacation of 400 bike miles. Another, getting a personal coach. Another, a weekend at a Total Immersion swim camp. Another, a new wetsuit.
We also have our Dealer Survey, as many of you know. That sort of thing proves useful, I think, and wed like to have more interactive screens like that. Perhaps we profile events and have our readers rate them, just like they rate the performance of retailers.
I hope Slowtwitch.com eventually becomes an online theme park for those looking for the best advice, prices, technical data, and all that meaty stuff. And, of course, wed like to think were some of the better wordsmiths around as well.
I presume to dream all these things because weamong all Internet start-upsretain all of our initial venture capital. All $300 of it.
MONDAY MORNING IRONMAN OBSERVATIONS
The Ironman is a hit out here in San Diego, as of course it was bound to be. It was longer, slower, and harder, though, than anyone expected. The swim course was long. The marines measured it, twice, and are sticking by their guns -- perhaps that is a bad choice of words -- saying it's 2.4 miles. They're blaming currents. Inside the marina? Hmmm.
But I'm not going to get on their case about it because, first, they've got .45s on their hips and, second, the race was very well run in every way. It's just the the swim was a little long.
Speaking of the marines, this base was not the place to attempt shenanigans. Some poor slob tried to steal a wetsuit from an expo booth. They caught him. He spent a couple of days in the brig and, for all I know, he's still there. He's been banned from Ironman races for life, but I don't think that's what he's worried about right now. Message to the marines: Keep him locked up for another week, and as for that long swim, we'll call it even.
Ironman Village rocked. It was a tent city erected on a bed of barren sand: Bartertown with an ocean view. A regular downtown. with cafes, souvenier shops, and a stage, USO-style, on which bands were performing most of the time. All built of tents.
And then, on race day the marines were out on the course, perfectly behaved, winning hearts and minds. "Gatorade, Ma'am?"
There were one or two little flaps, but these were generally in spite of the winning performance by the base personnel, not because of anything they did. Like the twenty-seven or so people who were mis-apprised -- or scantily apprised -- of where and when the IM qualification slots were to be given out. It seems hard to uphold the notion that the race management did their duties when a large percentage of all IQ winners failed to turn up at that right place at the right time.
Here, of course, is an opportunity for Ironman to do the right thing. Perhaps it might let these twenty-seven into the race, in place of those who always manage to enter the race under questionable circumstances. Heard every year in Kona:
Question: "Where did he qualify?" Answer: "In the office."
Otherwise, the race was an unqualified success. Why do I always feel so bonked for days after watching one of those things?
THE ART OF SWORD FALLING
I'm only bringing it up becaue they're bringing it up. The race organization in Perth issued a statement. So I've got to issue one too, of course. And this is it.
There are two things I have to say about the laps, the short run, and all that.
First, we've chosen a demanding sport. It's demanding in every way. The races are hard to train for, and hard to compete in. They're even harder to stage. Imagine staging a decathlon. But imagine having to run from the discus throw over to the 400 meters and start that immediately. Cross the finish line and then keep right on going over to the pole vault pit. And so on.
Now take it out of the arena, and put it on city streets (I vote for staging the javelin downtown). Then imagine that there aren't twelve or fifteen competitors, but twelve or fifteen-hundred, and they're all going at the same time, start-to-finish, at top speed.
It is a mathematical certainty that problems are going to happen every now and then. Do you know what they call this sort of mishap when it occurs? They call it "Sport." Sport happens. Get used to it. If you're going to do triathlons and you're not ready to have Sport happen to you, you are in for disappointments. The best thing you can do when Sport happens -- if you're the race director -- is to try to make it right for all involved. To pretend stuff like this isn't going to happen is to believe in fiction. From everything I heard, it was a great Worlds. Except that one run leg in one event was a mile-and-a-half short. To hear the press talk about it, that was the ONLY thing that happened.
I commend the poor bastard for having the fool notion to put the race on in the first place.
Having said that, there is also the issue of responsibility. I only saw one person actually, fully, take it, and that was Loreen Barnett, whose responsibility it wasn't. People should be falling over themselves to take responsibility when something like this happens. When you shirk it you do nothing to instill confidence in those who are watching from the outside. They need to know steps are being taken to shore up the issues that led to the problem, and the first thing that they look for is a full acknowledgement from people involved.
The artful way to fall on one's sword is to make certain the blow to oneself is lethal. There should be none of this turning sideways at the last moment. You aren't falling on your sword when you say, "I'm the race director, it was my fault, I take responsibility, and if it wasn't for the dirty rotten surveyor whose fault it really was I wouldn't be standing here apologizing for what was my fault."
You've got to completely do yourself in, and do it in one blow. The great irony is, that is the only way you ever manage to fully recover.
THE POWER OF LOVE
Me, I'm supposed to know better. But I'd been trying to get this guy to advertise on Slowtwitch for quite some time, and I hadn't heard from him in awhile. So imagine my glee when I downloaded my mail one morning last week and, Lo!, a message from him.
ILOVEYOU it said, with an attachment. Damn right, I thought, you'd better suck up, after dissing me for all these months. And he's doing the right thing sending me one of those Blue Mountain digital suck-up cards.
Okay, ILOVEYOU is a little over the top, but hey, he deserves to be able to spend his money however he wants, and besides, it's hard to give too much love.
So I popped that baby, and, woah, that doesn't look like any Blue Mountain card I ever got. No jumping bunny, no dancing rat (mouse, whatever). Just a bunch of code. Hmmm. Doesn't look like html, doesn't look like dhtml, doesn't look like Java.
Just then, I get a phone call. "Hey," this pal-o-mine says, "You know what? There's this virus going around, and believe it or not some people are dumb enough to double-click it. Hahaha." "Gotta go just now," I said, "I'm on the other line."
By now I'm dumping stuff like crazy. Long story short, 36 hours later I'm back to square one. Well, not exactly. I've got this new laptop loaded up with a bunch of new software, as I'm taking that baby out for a spin up at Wildflower, doing live coverage for Triathlonlive. Honestly, most of my trouble was in uploading about sixteen different versions of five different utilities, the older ones corrupting the newer.
But it finally got done, and I got up to the race ready to go, at 9PM the night before the race (instead of at noon, two days before, my original ETA).
That other guy? I'd still love to have him advertise, of course, but I don't care if he sent me that virus unawares, his rates just went up anyway.
WHY I'M NOT A RACE PROMOTER
Mind you, I will be one once again. But I dropped out of the two I promoted over the past couple of years, both races occurring in early June -- partly because they were at THAT time of year.
This is going to sound petty. But we all have to follow our drummers, don't we? I had a Moment two years ago. Moments mean a lot to me. There is a lot of life that goes in one ear and out the other. My hard drive (the one between my ears) is packed to the gills, and God didn't grant me a whole helluvalotta RAM either, for that matter. At this stage of my life, I'm lucky if -- for each byte that goes in -- only one falls out. I'm trying not to lose too much on the uptake. Who are you again?
So anyway, I had a Moment. These are the things that stick. They got soldered onto my motherboard. The rest of it -- the rest of what happens during my day -- I'm not particular whether I archive this stuff or whether life's ones and zeros just float out of my head and flutter to the ground, like a trail of down feathers.
Back to my Moment. It was on the first of July, 1998 I think it was. At this point I must digress and say that I may have shared this story before. It was such a big Moment for me that I can't imagine I didn't mention it somewhere else on these pages, or on rec.sport.triathlon, and don't you hate it when people forget they tell a story and then re-tell it, and you have to act all on-the-edge-of-your-seat, and inside you're thinking, "early-onset Alzheimers." You may be thinking that right now. Frankly I don't remember if I wrote about it, and it's at the end of my day, and I don't have my site search engine done yet, and I'm not going to go hunting around all over this big damn site. So please act interested if you've already heard this one.
My Moment, I think we were talking about. I was fat, and I mean fleshy. I think if you'd have cut me open I'd have been mostly white inside. I was gross. Disgusting. Something needed to be done. So I put my bike in the truck and said honey I'm leaving, be back in three or four days. She said, "You going to ride all day every day? Take five days."
I went to the lower Sierras. Rode day one up the Kern River. It's about a 2% grade and I thought I was climbing Palomar. Day two: Rode about, oh, forty-five, climbed 3000' or so, felt quite good really, thought I might survive this.
You might not remember, but we got a spitloada rain on the West Coast in '98. El Nino. Everybody was talking about the falls in Yosemite. Huge water gushing over the edge of the canyon cliffs. I've gotta see that. So in the truck goes the bike, I drive on outa the Greenhorns and northward I'm bound. Several hours later I'm in Yosemite. I go look at the falls. Yep. Alotta water. That was cool.
Now what? Perhaps I'll shoot across to the East side, and ride over there. I find a Park Ranger. Is Tioga Pass open? No. Wow, it's July 1st tomorrow, that's late. When is it opening? Two or three days. Hmmm. So, most of the road is open already? Yes. Okay Smokey, let's say I have my road bike and I want to ride the open part? No problem, just turn around where we're still clearing the road.
Woah. This has possibilities. So I drive up to Crane Flat the next morning, and the road is closed. But I see another Park Ranger and I ask, "What are the Caltrans people going to do to me if I ride this road?" "Nothing," she said, "Park Rangers clear Tioga. Go ahead and ride." Park Rangers: I love you.
My Moment: "Water water everywhere," as Coleridge wrote. Tuolumne River rushing like a torrent right under the road. All that water, melting, trying to get out, get down, and me riding through it, over it, next to it. And the whole damn road to me. I could have rode that ride nekkid and nobody was there to say anything about it. My road. My Moment. Okay, not all the way to Tioga Pass, but most of the way.
You never know when that darn road is going to open. So you have to be ready. That singular moment in time, right before the road opens. Late enough for the road to be clear. But just before a heap of smoking, smoggy RVs are allowed to queue up and convoy through.
No way am I occupying myself with obligations that occur between the second week of May and the last week in June. You know where I'll be.
I may get there in a roundabout fashion, but I am going somewhere in particular today. Skip to the end of you want the facts and not the story.
As to the story, its theme is the admiration I have for a lot of people. But that list gets much shorter when I think of those people with personality traits I covet.
I got to thinking about whom I've emulated over the years. It's a tricky exercise, because in retrospect I was not conscious of the effect certain people had on me until after I'd already been changed by my association with them. When I might have become a slight bit more selfless, ambitious, diligent, serene, or wise, it is almost never because I made a decision to value these virtues in the abstract. It is almost always because I've seen such traits gracefully exhibited by someone.
One of my role models is somebody who doesn't know it: my wife. She has a strength about her that I wish I had. And a diligence. I've been fortunate to see--up close and on an every-day basis--the Iron Will Mike Plant described in his famous book.
I have no problem admiring people in slices. I've got friends and acquaintances who definitely, for me, qualify as heroes. But only on Mondays and Wednesdays. Otherwise their lives are nothing I'd want to emulate. I'm reading "Cloudsplitter" right now, a fictional narrative of the life of abolitionist John Brown. He's a hero or a villain, he's both, he's neither. I find nuanced, layered personae much more compelling than uniformly admirable people (who we often late discover are not so admirable after all).
These last several years the trait I've most admired might be described as courage or bravery, but these words do not connote the essence of what I mean. Fearlessness is a better word. I realize at this late date that one of those whose fearlessness I admired was the late Bill Smith, Spencer's father. He had elements of his personality that were maddening. But this particular virtue shone to me like a beacon.
Another person I admire is Scott Molina. I am sure Scott is human like the rest of us and, like us all, has his own private set of fears. But I've never met a person who would go out his front door and get onto his bike or step onto the trail on-foot, and stare into a full day of work--with an accumulation and graduation of pain certainly facing him--with no apparent concern.
In this regard he is to me a modern-day John Muir. Lots of people think of Muir as a conservationist, a tree-hugger, a mamby-pamby butterfly catcher. But he was one of the great mountaineers of the nineteenth century, and would regularly write about walking out HIS front door with a "crust of bread stuff under [his] belt" and be off for a full day, or perhaps two, exploring previously unclimbed mountains of the Sierra Nevada. A crust of bread (and of course my coffee) might get me through the morning, if all I was doing was plunking at my keyboard.
For those of you who--like me--wish you could have met John Muir, Molina is as close as you'll get. If you've never met Molina, or seen him race while he was fit, this year is your chance. He just turned 40 and will be doing the Lubbock race, against the other two "Scotts": Dave and Tinley.
He'll be racing more throughout North America if he is able, and this will depend on his ability to generate a sponsor or two who will cover some travel expenses and some time off work. Perhaps a Slowtwitch reader is connected with a commercial enterprise which might benefit from an alignment with such an athlete. You may contact Molina through us here at Slowtwitch. Otherwise, other than perhaps the CSNY Tour, the Molina show might be the best one going if it comes to your town.
GEORGE , FOOTBALL, AND FLATTRACK
My first industrial building was in Santa Ana, California. It was fifteen-hundred square feet, and much too big for my needs. But my friend George also needed space for his new company, so we moved in together and split the building.
This was in 1987. I met George Yates when we both went to Kona for the first time, which was to race the Ironman in 1981. I stopped Ironmanning after that, and he kept on, eventually getting 7th in '83 or so. He had one of those streaks going, like Lyn Brooks and Scott Tinley. Like twelve or fifteen Hawaiis in a row or some such thing. Great cyclist, George.
George started a company called Trico Sports, and some of you might be hauling your bikes around in a Trico Ironbag. Or maybe riding on a Trico saddle or saddle cover. He doesn't own his business any more, and I don't own Quintana Roo. We've both moved on.
George needed a building because he was pouring his own seat pads in aluminum molds in his garage in Corona del Mar, and he burned part of his garage down one day. I needed one because fumes from wetsuit cement were making it hard to hang around my Irvine apartment, and I got tired of loitering inside the movie theater all the time. Our new industrial space had a lot of cockroaches, so I had to make sure my wetsuits were always on a pallet rack off the ground. Wetsuits are warm and cozy if you're a cockroach. But our space had one redeeming factor--a landlord who was understanding when we couldn't pay the rent.
We didn't have a lot to do during the winter. So we threw the football back and forth in the parking lot. We'd be sitting there. For hours. George across from me. Then... "Wanna throw the football?" "Sure." Sometimes that exchange, repeated once every couple of hours, was just about the entire conversation during a whole day. We both had arms after that winter.
When I say the place was too big for us, we set up a flattrack course in the back. We could have put all our inventory into the bathroom if we wanted to. So we brought in our mountain bikes, and just went round, and round, and round. We raced flattrack so much we'd wear the knobbies down on one side, dismount the rear tire and flip it backwards, and race some more on a fresh batch of knobbies. The landlord wondered what those two black parabolas at each end of the building were all about.
I thought about this because I'm starting over again. With a few more coins in my pocket. But still, it's a new business. Gets quiet at times (compared to ninety employees on both sides of the continent making and selling bikes and wetsuits all day).
George isn't around. There is no football. But I've got a lot more to say nowadays.
MANO A MANO, OR IN THIS CASE PIERNA A PIERNA
I have recounted this story before, to the readers of the rec.sport.triathlon newsgroup, but I repeat it again here with a few corrections that have been brought to my attention by both Jeffrey Justice, who was a firsthand witness to the original bet, and Jurgen Zack, who was, of course, one of the two major figures involved. I repeat it for those who don't know this story, because Jurgen and I touch on it in my interview with him airing this week.
Several-time world triathlon champ and current pro bike racer Spencer Smith's late father, Bill, was an extremely compelling and likeable guy. We were all his buddies, he is very much missed. One thing about Spencer and Bill, they were a team, and one endearing quality was the way they always used to refer to each other's efforts in the plural. "We just didn't have it today," Bill would say, "We rode well, but we just couldn't hang with Lessing in the last two K's of the run. We'll get him next time."
One day at the Coyote Bar and Grill in Carlsbad, one of Bill's watering holes, Jurgen and the Germans were holding court. One thing led to another, and Bill says, "We'll lay a thousand bucks that we can outride you to the top of Palomar." Jurgen accepts.
Pretty much all of San Diego finds out about this, and there are more spectators than usually show at most triathlons. Everybody's there. My wife and I can hardly navigate the traffic. Just for these two guys. You could hold a stage of the Tour here and you wouldn't get as many people to line the road.
Palomar is timed from what is called here locally, "the store to the store," which means the store right after the turnoff from Valley Center Road onto Highway 76 (which is where the climbing starts) to the store right after you get to the top of the mountain, technically about 30 meters to the left of the intersection with East Grade Road (this is where the hill-climb stops, although this mountain's famous observatory sits a few hundred feet higher). It is 11.7 mi of riding, all climb with almost no break, and starts right at 1000' above sea level, plus or minus a hundred, and ends at about 5200', or perhaps 5300'. It is about 9% for the first two miles, then from 6% to 7%. Then you hit the 4000' elevation sign and you're back up to 9% again until the top. The overall average is 7%. But it dips once at 4 miles for a slight descent and some flat, for about a half mile, so the real average for all the climbing is probably closer to 7.5%.
They rode out to the hill, which is a good long distance to start with. Mark Alen rode with them, and also climbed, but he wasn't part of the bet and had no intention of hotting it up with them once they commenced climbing in earnest.
They eventually reached the lower store, and then started up. Jurgen was riding a Softride Power V set up strictly for road. Spencer was riding a 650c road race bike, road geometry, also strictly a road set-up. The first part of the hill is, as I said, tough. If you are in any trouble at all, you'll struggle right from the start. It was within the first two miles that Spencer shot ahead.
Jurgen never made closed the gap, but it never widened either. Spencer finished in fifty-eight minutes and change, with Jurgen exactly a minute back.
NOBODY breaks an hour up Palomar. You're an instant legend if you do. I believe Hegg has done it. I've heard allen has gone fifty-seven at one point, out of many, many climbs up the thing. I heard a rumor once that Kenny Souza went fifty-four minutes, but I recently asked him about it and he said he'd never gotten under an hour. I also heard that Rominger once did it in forty-nine minutes, but I flat-out don't believe this apocryphy, which I classify no more than urban myth.
If you do climb it well, it is almost certainly because you've gone up it plenty of times and have it "wired." But it's very difficult to wire that hill. It never gets shorter, you never get your arms around it, no matter how many times you ascend it. My first time up I didn't even get up. I turned around at 4000'. To break an hour on one's first trip up, like Spencer did, especially without a group in which to ride, is just not done.
Jurgen, to his credit, right in front of the store at the top, laid out, into Bill Smith's hands, ten C-notes.
We had late rain. What rain we did haveabout five inches this season, below the eight inches we normally havecame very late. But I'm not worried because there is a big snowpack in the Sierra Nevada and we buy, or legally swipe, much of our water from therewater that would otherwise go to farmers, or out to sea.
But this late rain has caused the winter blooms on our normal running route, behind our house, to be delayed. So we waited. And now, a few days into spring, our trail is starting to color.
The spice bushes have been blooming for awhile. They're showy and they must flower ahead of all the other plants. Like it's a competition. Then came those two related succulents, lemonadeberry and sugar bush. I marvel at the sugar bush. My wife and I can be running out in the middle of a brown and gray high desert and here is this bright green, leafy, showy tree behaving as if it is in the middle of a well-watered garden.
The mission manzanita has also sprouted its small, pink, bell-like flowers, just like its bigger, more well-known manzanita cousins a few thousand feet up in the "cold chaparral" of the high local mountains.
Lower down, in the riparian areas of our trail, the flowers of the wild cucumber and fuschia-flowering gooseberry are out, along with a showy yellow flower I've never seen before. How could I walk on the same trail for years and never notice this one?
But today is a banner day! The lilacs have bloomed! Today the white lilacs, normally all white with flowers in January, have burst from their buds (I've been watching them every day). They always get a three-week or so head start on their blue cousins. I've already seen the blue ones out on the bike routes that take me up to three or four thousand feet in elevation. But the blue lilacs are still in buds down here. The white ones, rarer at higher elevations but common close to sea level, where we live, bloom first.
Imagine all this from a crusty hard-ass like me.
LES MCDONALD, MY HERO
Les McDonald is an avid reader of Slowtwitch. That's all I can surmise after my conversation with him yesterday. I wrote an editorial two or three days ago in which I rued the fact that I had no wars to fight, that I loved everybody and everybody loved me right back. It was an eerily peaceful situationand a little unnerving, frankly speaking. I asked you (and apparently Les): "If you come across anybody I should be mad at, gimme a hand and tell me."
Les McDonald, president of the International Triathlon Union, patriarch of our sport, God bless him, sacrificed himself. Finding my line of enemies short, he offered himself up. He became my champion by offering to become my enemy.
Some background is needed before I describe our conversation.
There is a North American Triathlon Championship this weekend. Maybe. The General
Secretary of PATCO (maybethere is some dispute as to whether he really holds this office) announced this race two days agothe first anybody had heard of itand scheduled it for this weekend. (Yes, that's six days notice.) USA Triathlon says no, there is not a championship race this weekend. Maybe. It couldmaybetake place at St. Anthony's instead. The race this weekend was announced for Los Cabos, at the tip of Baja California, in Mexico. But the race might be a thousand miles away, in Valle de Brave, instead.
So I sent emails furiously to the race director, to the PATCO General Secretary (Brazilian
Joao Calazans), to the American and Canadian federations, and to the ITU's very capable front-person for events, points and rankings, Loreen Barnett. Only Calazans had replied by mid-morning. I replied to Calazans with more questions, copying everyone, and said that none of the other federations, nor the ITU, had responded yet with their take on it, but that I hoped that they would.
I never received a further reply from anyone. But I did get a phone call from McDonald around three in the afternoon. Calling it a conversation, of course, gives one the impression of dialogue. My "lines" were confined to, "er...," "but...," and parts of multi-syllabic words that required more time to say in their entirety than I was to be allotted.
"Don't try that shit with me!" was the last thing he said before I heard the click. I wanted to ask which particular shit I was trying. I've tried shit before, yes, but it has been of a qualitatively different kind than anything I've tried lately, and I certainly wasn't trying any here. I was dumbstruck! I thought my requests for information were straightforward and my procedures proper.
Then I took three of the dogs in for their annual shots. When I got back, a couple of hours later, I called Les, wondering if he'd become reacquainted with normalcy yet. He told me that I was a liar, and that Loreen Barnett confirmed the fact. He hung up, again, before I could find out exactly what it was I told a lie about.
It was an inquiry to me, from an athlete, that originally generated my inquiries. The athlete wanted to know, simply, whether the race was on or off. This was one of the few, last opportunities for this athlete to gain points that would accrue toward Olympic qualification.
It appears the race will be in Valle de Bravo. Very nice place, very challenging course. I've been there several times. My wife has raced it, and I've cycled its surrounding mountains in thorough enjoyment. Americans and Canadians are anticipated for this championship. They'll have to fly to Mexico City and seek ground transportation from there. There is no other way. Does the ITU know what happens to green, uninitiated, young gringos who try to find ground transportation in Mexico City these days? I have a lot of experienced, older, wary Mexican friends who live in that town, and MOST of them have been held up, kidnapped, ransomed, mugged, or assaulted at least once in the past three years. Might it not be nice for the ITU to help the inquiring media get the word out about this race? People from, for example, Triathlonlive? Might these athletes want to know about what accommodations and hospitalities the (usually very capable) Mexican race directors might have worked out for American and Canadian pros?
That assumes, of course, that this actually IS the North American Championship, a curious and elusive questionthe answer to which, a day later, still escapes me.
One might think that a man facing an imminent election, Olympics, and decision on his sport's hoped-for, but not guaranteed, inclusion in the 2004 Olympics might want to be a little more accommodatingor at least civil. One might expect that an organization that is in delicate negotiations with several marketing and internet firmswith which it has made deals that intersect, and must be gently worked outmight want to be somewhat less abrasive. One might think that an entity that has had virtually no luck with sponsors, has gotten rid of its previous sponsor bird-dog and just hired another, might want to be a teensy bit less caustic.
Why am I complaining? Les did me a favor. (Don't ask for what you don't want.) Just the same, I guess I'll not be getting my media pass for Worlds.
IM A LEAN, MEAN WRITING MACHINE
One must expose oneself.
To all kinds of cultural phenomena. Your literary types do that sort of thing, and since I'm a journalist now I have to engage in cultural enrichment, too.
To be a REAL journalist you have to know stuff. You've got to read books and articles. This is the only thing that I find occasionally doesn't happen in my new profession, at least as regards things in print which concern triathlon. Though Im sorry to say it, sometimes I don't think my colleagues read overmuch, judging from some of the stuff that comes across my desk. At least, not the same stuff that they're writing about. There are exceptions to this. Both "our" editors, TJ Murphy and Tim Carlson, are smart guys and study the sport--Carlson is the walking triathlon encyclopedia.
Fortunately, I still have some enthusiasm for gaining knowledgewhich is a good thing, inasmuch as you can still hear hollow echoes if you yodel down my brain's silo, where it stores my factsor theoretically would store them, if there were enough create a functional inventory.
Writing has been bery good to me. Not bery bery. I figure four months isnt long enough in this profession for me to claim that. Still, in my own head Im practically a grizzled veteran. Ive grown into the job. But Im not sure Im comfortable with the sort of person Ive become. Subconsciously (during my former life) I had a thing about journalists, or at least those who interviewed me while I was on the other side. They all struck me as too conciliatory. Non-combatants. It seemed to me that writers must be of a type, and not my type. Maybe they had artsy-fartsy parents or took different classes than me in school or perhaps they were, you know, fruity. But now that I'm a veteran journalist and there's no turning back, I feel I can make this confession. I myself am turning fruity.
Pretty soon, I'm afraid, Ill start waiting for the Victorias Secret catalogue to show up so I can eye the lingerie, not the models. And I did find myself going WAY against type (for me) and voting for gays to have the right to marry in California. (I was voting the other way when I entered the booth, and my hand justall by itselfpunched the other hole.)
I used to be the sort of person who'd get up in the morning and put on my armor. Get ready for battle. Every day was a siege. Now I get up and just don't have the same things to fight about anymore. Sometimes I miss it. (Which way to the front!) I don't dislike anybody anymore. I even like the people I hate. I have so much more energy now.
You want world peace? Have everybody write an investigative article once a week. Everybody interviewing everybody else. "How do you feel about blah blah?"
I spent the afternoon with Peggy McDowell. She brought me fabulous bread baked in her own oven, and because she recently read a thingy I wrote about my newfound love of apples, she brought me a bag of pink ladies. She's that kind of gal. What a sweetie.
But she's a tough ol broad as well. You can tell it. She's near the top of her age-group in the world, and not for no reason. I wouldn't want to get crosswise of herin anything. I like that. Tough but sweet. That's what I want to be.
But nowadays Im just sweet. Im turning into a spongecake. Im way too cultural. I go to chick movies. I'm considering the opera.
But sometimes I think I ought to be more combat-minded. A good ol fashioned donnybrook is what I need. I should be beating somebody at something. "Just win, baby." Find me a war. Please. If you come across anybody I should be mad at, gimme a hand and tell me.
Until then, I guess Ill just have to reconcile myself to a life of peace, tranquility, and cultural enrichment.
I have three pairs of black cycling socks in my drawer. They are the most edgy fashion thing I have in my otherwise more-or-less conservative collection of cycling apparel. More often than not when I put these on I think of the guy who used to ride Como Street with black socks. This was about 15 years ago, before anybody rode with black socks.
I haven't ridden Como Street in years. It is the Sunday roadie ride in Orange County and has been going on so long nobody even remembers its beginning. The first time I rode it was in 1979, and it was going strong back then. Its location has changed a few times over the decades, and nobody knows where Como Street is anymore or even if it still exists.
Como Street is a big ride. I've ridden it when there were upwards of 300 attending. Used to be, after the first 15 or so miles the ride split, with the fastest riders turning off and doing an extra ten of the hilliest miles on the route. If I turned off with them I would usually get to a specific part where I could see the best and strongest up the steepest hill in the distance, riding in a gear and at a speed I could only hope to someday match. And those black socks were always at the head of the pack.
I never did meet him. But I often thought of him, and I really think his black socks started the craze.
Last week I rode my usual Wednesday ride with RAAM legend Pete Pennsyres, 56 years old and still stronger than most 26-year-old riders. His brother Jim rides with us, as do some other "older" roadies. I, at 43, am the kid. It was the last ride for Dan Deroo, another 43-year-old, a doctor who is moving up to Arcata to work at a new hospital job.
Good riddance. He's too strong. He's a beast on the hills, and it's not fair that he had time to do all that doctor-type schooling and still found a way to get so strong on the bike. Pete thinks you can count on one hand every vet in the West who can outride him.
We had a newbie on the ride. He had an old steel bike that had several coats of black- and copper-colored Rustoleum. Decals were long history. He had a rack on the back, of all things, and where it was supposed to connect to the brake bridge he had a baling-wire-type arrangement. His bike squeaked.
I hate it when these guys come on the ride because our ride is hard and long, and goes over hard terrain, very hilly, and it's easy to get lost. Then we have to wait up or else they'll get dropped out there and maybe die of exposure and sue us.
It was Dr. Dan's farewell tour, as I said, and he wanted to get his money's worth. He was out of the saddle on the first hill and starting to move away. After he was a decent interval ahead of us, Ken with the Rustoleum bike whipped around me and took off, out of the saddle.
This happened twice more before the ride was half over. As I caught up to him I was by now quite familiar with his particular riding style (at least the rearward view of it) and thought it looked vaguely familiar.
"Interesting cosmetic scheme on the bike," I quipped.
"Anti-theft," sez he.
"Pete told me you used to race. Where was this?"
"Up in Orange County," he said. "But that was back in the 80s."
"Did you ever ride Como Street?"
"All the time."
"Did you ever by chance wear black socks?"
"As a matter of fact I did," he offered. "My dress socks did double-duty. Hey, they were the right thickness. It was economical."
Whenever I hear people say, "I don't care what others think of me," you can bet they care very much what others think. You can't try to not care about stuff like that. Some people are naturally un-self-conscious. It's a gift.
Ken is like that. Utilitarian. Form is all. Fashion is nothing. He's an authentic master of counterfashion, which you can't aspire to. It's a very Eastern thing, I figure.
I haven't double-booked like this in I don't know how long.
There is no age when you're past the age where you can blow it good, and I mean screw up something fierce. I thought I had achieved a sort of critical mass of wisdom and experience that had moved me into a place where I just didn't make large mistakes anymore. Uhhh, sure.
I was driving north on Saturday to be the guest speaker at Kalifornia Kool Stuff's triathlon extravaganza. March 11th it was. Yep, I was going to speak there March 12th. Big day, that. Kal Kool's spring party.
But there's something else, right on the periphery of my mind. What is it, what is it?
I got all my important work done Friday. Went on a fabulous ride on Saturday with my good friend, bike builder Wes Mandaric. Santa Ana winds. It's March and it's 80 degrees. It's good to be alive.
I made these CDs. Dan's greatest hits of the Eagles, Neil Young and, OK, I'll come clean, Johnny Rivers.
Stopped by Sham Ehlag's house on the way north. Hes the president of Syntace USA. Got new Syntace bars to fit onto my super-special custom-fits-everyone fit bike with the Computrainer load generator. I'm hauling it up to Kal Kool and I'm READY.
Neil Young in the CD player, driving north, I'm a travelin' man, on the interstate, I'm Kerouac, I'm Hunter Thompson, I'm Lynyrd Skynrd, I'm Tom Petty. I'm freeeeee-faaaaaalin! I'm learnin to flyyyyyyy!
March 12th is my wedding anniversary. My wife is not the sort to remind me. She figures it's up to me to remember and that I really don't need any help. Just the same, she did remind me a couple of weeks earlier, and that should've been enough. Thing was that I did remember, almost every day, all the way up to about a week and a half before. And then it just flew right out of my head! Something inside me, my mental wake-up-call, my auto-reminder, it failed me big!
What to do, what to do. Will Williams Sonoma deliver on Sunday?! I stop and call from a pay phone. No dice.
I'll just be totally honest here. I went through every scenario. Perhaps I can somehow turn it around and blame somebody else. Gays in the military. Russia. Somebody has to take the fall and it's not going to be me! Maybe I'll blame my wife. It's somehow, in some convoluted way, her fault. But no way I can make that stick. No, I'll just go home after it's all over and take my lickin'. How long can I be in the dog house for, anyway?
It finally struck me, like a bolt from the blue. Or maybe like a baseball bat. The right thing to do, is, of course, to do the right thing! So I turned around and drove home. With a stop at the hoity-toity mall in Orange County where everything costs a fortune but, after all, she's worth it. Paul from Kal Kool understood. And I'll make it up to him.
My wife was obviously surprised when I showed up late Saturday night. And I KNEW right then I did do the right thing. You could look at it that I was saved by the skin of my teeth. That my faulty internal alarm did finally go off before it was past the point of no return. But I was more than saved. I did good.
Doing good is more than the absence of doing bad. Doing good is choosing something costly when there is a less costly alternative. In this case I thoughtat least for an hour while I was driving and sweating and driving and sweatingthat the "right thing" would be to continue north and live up to my obligation to Kal Kool. But that was the less costly thing. It was the face-saving thing, and I always try to save face. The right thing involved my losing face with Paul from Kal Kool, and with his customers.
Sometimes when you don't screw up for a long timewhen you do things wisely and prudentlythe opportunity to do something "good" doesn't come along very often. Maybe my internal alarm is smarter than I give it credit for.
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