Low fidelity Podcast #2: Pumping

September 23, 2017 § 9 Comments

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away … bike pumping! Click on the above link to listen. Extra special high quality equipment and boss recording techniques approved by sound technicians used in the recording, editing, and post-production of this broadcast.

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PS: Don’t forget the Wanky’s. As if you could. And I may have forgotten to mention that there is free food and beer for the first 300 guests, so get there early.

south_bay_cycling_awards_poster_2017_final

Ode to a Japanese rice cooker

September 4, 2017 § 26 Comments

I’m not sentimental about stuff. There is a box up on a shelf in my closet that has my great-great grandfather John Turner’s powder measure in it. He used it in the Civil War; it’s made from the breast bone of a turkey. I’m pretty sure it’s the only thing I own from that side of my family, but you know what? If it got lost or stolen I wouldn’t really care because it’s just a thing.

Bikes are the same. I owned bikes that are what you’d now call “classics,” but if I still owned any of them all I’d ever call them is clutter. Good fuggin’ riddance.

Last week my wife bought a new rice cooker. Here is a picture of the old one, beat to shit.

suihanki

We bought this Zojirushi rice cooker in June 2000, when we moved back to the United States from Utsunomiya. I calculated that it has cooked over five thousand pots of rice since then, and it has never hiccoughed, much less needed repair. At the time it cost $200, which in today’s dollars is about $45,000,000, adjusting for inflation and poor arithmetical skills.

My sentimental rating for this thing is zero. The front cover has peeled off from being so close to the stove for so many years, and it is covered with more battle scars than an alpha male bull elephant seal. Since it still works fine, we’re handing it off to our youngest, who has left the dorms and signed up for apartment living in his second year of college.

Like I said, no sentimentality for that old thing. Some big corporation made it, I worked to pay for it, it did what it was supposed to do, and now it’s going off to Santa Barbara to do it some more. Most people would love to retire to Santa Barbara anyway.

But even though I’m not sentimental, not even a little, about the contraption that fed us and nourished us and did its job without interruption or complaint for close to twenty years, when you think about it, that old rice cooker marked a lot of time with our family.

When we brought it home from the Asahi Japanese Market in Austin, my youngest son was two. His brother, seven. His sister, eleven. He’s now a sophomore in college and I’m a grandfather. Time didn’t fly, it vanished. These wrinkles on my hands are tree rings, they mark the truth and can’t be obscured.

That rice cooker saw a lot of trials and a lot of tribulations. Terrible family altercations, family illness, family death. Friend troubles, school troubles, work troubles, life troubles. That rice cooker saw paychecks cashed with so little to go around that working poor would have seemed like an upgrade. Through the worst times, though, it coughed up a daily diet of hot steamed rice, nourishing food that left us with full bellies no matter how dire things otherwise might have seemed.

That rice cooker saw a lot of happiness, too. Reconciliations, mended friendships, excitement and adventure, new jobs, California, graduations, nuptials, and the crowning gift of life, babies. Whether we were making up or celebrating a milestone, that old rice cooker kept plugging away, pumping out the mainstay of every meal we ate together as a family for almost twenty years.

Those meals we ate together as a family, sometimes mad, usually happy, often hilarious, always filled with commentary about the things the day had brought, those meals were the glue that bound us, and they bound us in a way that frozen food and dinners out and ready-to-eat Trader Joe’s fare never could have. Whether we argued or whether we laughed, we did it over home cooked food whose backstop was invariably steamed white rice.

And if I’m so damned unsentimental about that old home appliance, maybe you can tell me why I’m so sad to see it go.

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Have a Hartt

July 28, 2017 § 17 Comments

One of the least talented athletes I ever knew was Roger Worthington. Zero cycling physique. Couldn’t climb. Couldn’t sprint. Couldn’t time trail. Lousy physio numbers, and he was whatever the opposite of an all-rounder is. An all-squarer.

But as a bike racer, he was one of the best. What he lacked in every other category, he made up for in the only one that mattered: Desire, or in bike racing terms, meanness. Roger didn’t hate to lose, he refused to accept it as an outcome. Roger had more desire than entire teams.

Time and time again he won races in impossible scenarios. Bitter climbing road races. State titles. Stage races. Track races. Crits galore. And even time trails. Roger won a couple of those out of sheer spite. To Roger, no pain was worse than the pain of defeat and he would endure any physical pain not to lose. The ability to endure longer than everyone else comes in pretty handy when you’re competing in an endurance sport.

One time, I think it was in 2007 shortly after Roger had his first hip replacement, he was mounting a comeback. We were doing a training ride in PV and it was a very unpleasant and nasty little lunchtime interlude that he, John Caron, and I did together. We had dropped John and were pounding up the reservoir climb on PV Drive. Roger was in a lot of pain because he hadn’t bothered to let the leg attachment surgery heal properly before throwing himself into a grueling ride regimen.

As we hammered up the climb we passed this old dude who was pretty small. He didn’t like being passed, and he hopped on our wheel, then passed us. We chased him down and he attacked. We chased again and he attacked again. After a third effort we gave up and he rode off. It was the only time I saw anyone out-mean Roger Worthington on a bike.

That day was our first encounter with Steve Hartt. Steve died the following year while descending into Friendship Park when he smacked a park truck head-on at what must have been 50 mph. If you’ve ever bothered to read the little brass plate up by the water fountain atop the Switchbacks, it has his name on it. A ferocious rider, he was a legend.

I sometimes think about Steve’s ferocity and the way he battered the snot out of us that day, and for some reason was thinking about him this morning on the Flog Ride. Some new dude had shown up and was putting the wood to us. We’d chase him down, drop him, he’d batter back, we’d drop him again, and he’d pass us, repeat. Just like that day Roger and I got worked over by Steve.

The first five laps we managed to dislodge the guy each lap before the regroup, but it was hard going.

On the sixth lap Adam Flores and I hit him hard, he hung on, but we dropped him over the last part of the climb. As we hurtled towards the bottom of La Cuesta, the 19% monster that we ascend on the last lap, I looked under my arm and saw the dude catching back on just as we hit the bottom of the wall.

Adam jumped away, the dude came by, just like Steve did that day ten years ago, hard, ferocious, annoyed. He caught me and dropped me but the road kicked up more and he slowed, then kicked and caught up to Adam. He was riding on something that burned pretty hot inside. The two of them locked in battle for a while until Adam faded. The dude passed him, then Adam caught a third or fourth wind and battled him around the turn where I lost sight of them.

I got to the top, gassed. “Great riding, man,” I said.

He grinned. “You, too.”

“What’s your name?”

“Brooks.”

“Brooks what?”

“Hartt. With two ‘t’s.”

“You related to Steve Hartt?” I asked.

“He was my dad.”

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Call of the dead

June 29, 2017 § 23 Comments

By the time you read this we’ll have been underway for at least seven hours, and the early travel buzz will be wearing thin. We’ll be east bound and down, loaded up and rolling with a tankard of espresso, a giant plastic bag filled with beef jerky, chocolate, and three huge cigars that none of us knows how to smoke, and we’ll be several hundred miles closer to Austin than we were when I tapped this out.

I got the news that Jack Pritchard had died and they were holding a Gatheration Omnium for him that consisted of a Prologue ride with a few miles of his beloved dirt roads, followed by Stage 1, an early morning breakfast at the Omelletry, the place he frequented like clockwork every morning at 6:45 AM for the better part of forty years. Stage 2 will be a trip to the CAF in San Marcos, where we’ll commune for a bit with the old airplanes that he had such an affinity for, ending with Stage 3 at the Polonia Cemetery.

“Gatheration” is the kind of word Jack would have used, and probably did use. He was a pedaler of bikes and a smith of words, many of which were one-off creations, fitted up for just that one particular sentence, and never used before or since. A gatheration is different from a gathering, those quiet affairs where people in fine clothes and coiffed hair do and say things in hushed tones or listen to elegant music behind paintbrush-thick makeup and beet-red, drunken noses.

A gatheration is a gathering, all right, but the bastard child of a love triangle between demonstration, aggravation, and tarnation. That combination was Jack, through and through, or at least the Jack I knew. Gatheration, indeed. I hope when I die I get a gatheration, too. Jack would have scorned a memorial service. He probably would have scorned a gatheration as well, especially if it were his.

The last time I drove from California to Texas was never, so Jack’s passing seemed like a darned good reason to rent a car, throw the bike in the trunk, and then cajole my two sons to join me. They will take turns keeping me awake, and would utilize the Googlifier to figure out proper cigar smoking technique. We might have some good father-sons discussions, peppered with the occasional argument and tamped down by at least one good roadside plate of Texas barbecue.

You can’t go home again, and it’s a good thing because even though I grew up in Texas I was born in Princeton, and to make that long a haul we’d need something stronger than beef jerky, and something more like a box of cycling performance supplements from Shanghai.

But Jack’s passing made me think about the pivotal time in my life when I bought my first bike, Jack working behind the counter at Freewheeling, and what a short jump it had been, going from bike commuter to full-blown racing addict.

The things I’ve done in life have all stemmed from that first bike and the unusual people it anchored me to. Faces I’ll never see again remain fresh and set in amber; Jack’s is one of them. Others that have cropped up on Facebook, though impossibly old, haven’t erased or even dulled the razor crispness of memories from days gone by, silly days, maybe, worthless days, maybe, wasted days, definitely, but my days nonetheless.

I’m going to Texas to do penance for my cycling sins, to pay homage to a man who deserves it, to stand in the stead of those, far-flung, who can’t go or won’t, to trample out the vintage of some road time with my two sons, and to ride those few dirt miles into Lytton Springs, roads we pounded long before we knew there was anything strange or unusual about putting skinny tires on lumpy roads, before we knew that every road had an end, before we knew that ours did, too.

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A toast to Tilford

April 24, 2017 § 55 Comments

Just got home from Steve’s memorial service. It was extraordinary in every way, an amazing outpouring of love for Steve. Thank you Trudi, Catherine, Stacie, Micheal, Ned, Roy, and everyone else for such an unforgettable day.

Several people asked me to post the remarks I made — here’s the link.

Up since 3:50 AM, just got home an hour ago. And a hot meal was waiting!

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A Toast to Steve Tilford

April 13, 2017 § 2 Comments

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Photo by Phil Beckman, (c) 2015

An evening to share memories of a life rich with love, happiness, humility, and compassion. His drive to be the best brought out the best in all of us.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Cider Gallery
810 Pennsylvania
Lawrence, Kansas

5:30-9:30 pm
Open House

Small plates, beverages, and of course, pie!

Please RSVP to Stacie by April 17
sgrossfeld@louisvillebones.com

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Exit, stage center

April 6, 2017 § 91 Comments

Steve Tilford didn’t go quietly into that dark night, and he certainly didn’t exit stage left. He went out from the center in a thrashing, twisting howl of shredded metal, his van hurtling through the body of an overturned semi-tractor trailer in a winter storm on I-70. The last act of Steve’s life, one marked by countless falls, broken bones, and injuries, was a massive freeway crash.

Steve Tilford died the result of a violent collision, something that couldn’t have been predicted or avoided, but that he nonetheless found himself smack in the middle of, going full tilt, no time to brake, swerve, or take evasive action. Incredibly for anyone but Steve, smashing through the first tractor-trailer didn’t kill him, no, he survived that just fine. It was the second 18-wheeler that plowed into the crash scene that left him with injuries from which even Steve Tilford, the man of steel, the phoenix who rose from every injury faster and stronger and tougher than before, the time-defying ageless competitor, could not recover.

This was just like when things go sideways in a tightly packed, high speed crit. It was just like in the uproarious, furious, full-throttle story of Steve Tilford’s incredibly short life. He was 57, and still younger than all of us.

The last time I talked to Steve he had texted and said that he was on his way to California, and could we grab a bite near the airport before he headed on down to San Diego?

There was only one possible answer to that invitation, which was “Absolutely.” We met at The Habit burger grill in El Segundo, and I wasn’t really sure why he’d reached out, but didn’t exactly care. He had fallen on a training ride in October of last year and suffered a catastrophic closed head injury. He had been slated to come and speak at our annual South Bay Cycling Awards again, but of course couldn’t after the fall.

Tilford-like, he’d gone down at 30 on a training ride, unhelmeted, taken out by a dog, such that his skull shattered. When the inevitable victim blaming sprang up, Tilford shrugged. “I didn’t wear a helmet and it didn’t work out for me, but I don’t go around blaming riders with helmets who’ve been injured or killed.”

The first words out of his mouth when we met were an apology. “Really sorry I missed the awards last year,” he said, as if hovering between life and death wasn’t a good enough reason to stay home.

And that summed up one part of Steve Tilford: Decent to a fault. Reflective to an almost painful degree. Keenly aware by orders of magnitude how his life, his actions, and his words affected others. Not by random chance did he end up that way. His parents were alcoholics, and at a young age he was abandoned by his mom and sent to live with his grandmother, who was in her 80s.

“Never really cared for drinking,” he told me. “And living with my grandmother, that added years to her life.” He said it with a laugh as he regaled me with the story, because the other part of Steve was his storytelling. Everything may not have happened for a reason, but it happened, and he recalled the smallest of details to give you the blow-by-blow. His memory was extraordinary, photographic, total recall. “I’ll never forget being down in Austin one winter, I was staying with Fields and the Dicksons. They were always doing stuff.

“One morning I got ready to ride and my bike was super heavy. I couldn’t figure it out. It was like ten pounds heavier. Turns out they had yanked the seat post and filled the seat tube with gravel.”

Behind the smile and the kindness was the hardness of Steve’s early Kansas boyhood, and it was fitting that the town of Topeka gave rise to one of cycling’s greats. If American cycling has a soul, it is in the Midwest and the Great Plains, where the wind, the cold, the wet, the heat, and the wind, the wind, the wind made bestial pain the price of bike racing. Steve was a product of hard scrabble and hard wind, and it showed in everything he did.

And what he did, mostly, was whip ass. His, hers, yours, mine, everyone’s. The first and only time we rode together was on the Donut Ride in 2015. He had come out to be a guest speaker for our annual awards ceremony, and that morning we had our weekly slugfest. Word was out that Tilford was in town, and quite a bit of heavy artillery had been rolled into position. Steve made short work of everyone, “everyone” being at least twenty years younger.

But aside from the national titles, the masters world titles, and the thousands–yes, thousands–of races he competed it, Steve stood for something a lot bigger than ripping your legs off and screaming through corners at 35. Steve stood for what is right, and he stood for it by living it.

A prodigious talent, a tremendous competitor, a disciplined athlete, a meticulous strategist, Steve never made the big time in the sport of bike racing. It’s not because he lacked the legs or the will or the smarts or the drive. It’s because he refused to cheat.

It grated on him to watch the big generation of drug cheats, the Armstrongs, Hincapies, Leipheimers, Vaughters, the entire cheating hall of shame that not only scooped up the money but retired to lucrative clothing lines, profitable grand fondues, and the management/ownership of UCI Pro Tour teams. But rather than dwell on what he might have done, he didn’t dwell at all. You can’t dwell when you’re railing the corners at 35.

He called dopers what they were, shrugged, and raced his fuggin’ bike. It was this relentless honesty and his world-renowned blog that, in the second half of his racing career, kept him on the sidelines yet again. His writing was direct, personal, powerful, and unvarnished. He didn’t whore out to rebadged component makers, didn’t extol the fake virtues of new bike frames or disc brakes, didn’t attribute his success to magical elixirs or power meters, and insisted on speaking The Hard Truth: If you want to be a good bike racer, you have to train hard and race hard. There is no second path, there is no Plan B.

And he lived the corollary to that truth: If you race, you’re going to get hurt. This amazing and beautiful piece written by Bill Strickland twenty years ago captures the cycling side of Tilford’s life in brutal prose. By age 38, Steve had sustained the kind of wounds and injuries and PTSD that we normally only associate with war. And at the time Strickland’s piece was written, Steve had almost twenty more years to go, years into which he would pack the equivalent of a hundred other lives in terms of danger, competition, injury, victory, and excitement. A hundred lives? A thousand.

Strickland calls this piece “Why We Ride,” but in truth, if Tilford’s life is the model, it’s why we don’t. Because we can’t.

Steve’s writing captured the imagination of thousands, and it chapped the asses of cycling journalism because it paid them no homage, paid them no advertising, and spoke only the introspective and reflective thoughts forged from a lifetime of real racing. Steve wrote true things, and those who read them knew them to be true.

Roy Knickman, one of America’s legends during the golden age of cycling, raced with Steve and summed it up like this: “There was only one Steve Tilford, a guy who spoke his mind but never with malice, he simply said what he believed to be true. He lived his life like no one else–I love racing my bike and I’m going to race my bike forever–that was Steve. He found a way to make it work and developed so many relationships along the way, and it’s amazing, the goodwill that he spread and the following that he had. People loved him because he was Steve Tilford who could do anything; at 57 he could do a P12 crit and still get in the money, or be the masters world ‘cross champ, or win an MTB series.

“One of my best memories of Steve is the year at the Coors Classic we were getting ready for the banquet and instead of dressing up we spray-painted t-shirts in my driveway. Hampsten’s shirt read KOM, but Steve’s read KOS, King of Spills (or Stories). He would crash, get up, and tell a story about it … and he could sprint pretty good for all that.

“One of the last times I saw him I had just mentioned off-hand on the phone that I was getting married and we were at the rehearsal down at the beach in PV and suddenly up rode this guy looking like Keith Richards on a bike. It was Steve who had come by to say hello, who for all I knew should have been in Kansas, not California. Classic Steve.”

A friend of mine, Michael Smith, also a Kansan, talked about how watching Tilford at a race in Scottsdale in 1997 had inspired him to race bikes. Fifteen years after that race, “My cycling career was complete when I was able to battle it out with Steve, shoulder to shoulder, racing up a finishing hill in a nothing race in nowhere Kansas. Might as well have been the Alpe D’Huez, that’s how much I cared. After the finish, which of course Steve won, I told him the story of how he inspired me with his performance that night in Scottsdale. As we stood there breathless, he recounted that race from fifteen years ago in vivid detail, move by move. I think he knew how much that meant to me.”

Michael is only one of thousands whose lives were affected for the better by Steve’s kindness and his amazing exploits on the bike. Steve’s life was a big picture, but it was lived and shared and scripted in the details, of which none seemed to escape his keen eye and digital memory.

As tributes poured in from all over the world, another thing became clear. The reward to a virtuous life can only be reaped in death. It is not only what people say about you when you are alive, but when you are not.

As Steve and I sat and talked over hamburgers and fries that night in El Segundo, we didn’t really talk at all. Steve did. He talked about his injury, about the splitting headaches that hurt so bad he couldn’t open his eyes for hours on end, about how long it was taking for his brain to function properly again, about his fear that he might never fully recover, and about how he was going to race anyway. He was in California, after all, to train. He’d set the Belgian Waffle Ride in his sights and was there to recon the course.

We parted company and he headed on down to San Diego. I figured I’d see him again on his way back to Kansas.

I never did.

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