Downward-facing dogging off into the sunset

April 30, 2017 § 19 Comments

I have a good friend who helped me quit being a drunk. He doesn’t know how much he helped, believe me. He was a 40-year South Bay cycling fixture. Good rider. Tough guy. Good guy. Juggling his demons and mortgage while providing for a family, working for a living, and paying it forward by being there for any drunk who was willing to ask for help and willing to put in the effort to stay off the beautiful, lovely, perfect bottle.

Then I heard through Facebook that he was done with cycling. Not “fuck it I’m done” but something far more final: He saw that there’s more to life, this brief arrangement of atoms, than shoving your nose against the stem and riding in the gutter every weekend with the taste of puke in your mouth. There’s more to life than being exhausted by noon every holiday and coming home to collapse in a wet puddle of leg migraines.

Than honey-do lists that ain’t never getting done.

Than weekday mornings begun in a swarming pack of freddies and assassins on the NPR, never more than a pedal stroke away from a massive collision.

Than hurry-ups every Tuesday night to make the Telo beatdown so you can get home in time to drool and pass out.

Than weekend racing, of holiday trips to Phoenix to do the Thanksgiving Ride, of trips to North County to taste the whip, of a life focused around pain, exhaustion, food, sleep, and more pain.

In short, he decided to live. To give his wife a piece of him that hadn’t been mauled a few hours earlier by the Donut Ride, or the whatever ride.

And for that I commend him. It is hard to take a new direction, especially when it involves yoga. I did yoga once in Japan and threw out my back. The only way I can touch my toes is by curling up into a ball. He’s going to address some physical and muscular imbalances. I’m going to try to get rid of these 6-inch biceps that are slowing me down on the Switchbacks, dammit. In short, he’s figured it out while I’m still puzzling over whether the equation is right-side up or not.

It’s okay to honorably acquit yourself from the fray, or dishonorably. There is no right or wrong, and I admire someone who can put down the Garmin, walk away from the carbon, give a cold shoulder to the politics of next year’s team kit design.

What’s funny about stepping off the crazy-sel is that it just happens. One day you’re all in, full on, loaded up with 100% pure carbon that is all carbon, completely carbonized, and the next day you’re saying “namaste” and “I’m at peace with the world.”

There’s no transition zone. Look at Jamie Paolinetti, throat-slitting bike racer turned playwright. Look at Tony Galvan, one day the avenging hammer of Thor, the next day a hair-covered Buddha. And who can ever forget Roger Worthington, once the guillotine of the peloton, now a kindly old fellow peddling spirits to hippies in the Pacific Northwest and encouraging people to be the best version of themselves they can be.

Wish I had a nickel for every valiant hero who had wasted decades on bikes and then woken up, smelled the coffee, and realized that there was a planet out there to enjoy and explore. That people were more than sentient meatbags to chase, drop, crush, and punish. That life was beautiful and life was good.

I admire those people and wish them well. I feel nothing but the most profound respect for their maturity, however late they came by it, and for their ability to adapt their bodies and minds to the realities of passing time.

Of course, they’re dead to me now.



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The 16.7-year subscription

April 27, 2017 § 18 Comments

A giant box arrived at the office from Jessup Auto Plaza.

Sketch, for sure.

The name “Jessup” has long been associated with a wide variety of cycling beatdowns and shenanigans in SoCal, mostly as a result of legend Andy Jessup. A few years ago, Andy got shoved into the barricades at Redlands, smashed his hip, tore open an artery, and almost died.

His recovery was long, painful beyond belief, but inevitable. Just to show he could, replete with rebuilt joint and enough PTSD to spook a combat platoon, he suited up and did a couple of races last year.

Still, a box from Jessup Auto Plaza …

I opened it up and found this:


And this:


And this:


Andy must have taken especial note of my filthy water bottle nozzles and my love of cookies and my chapped lips! But most especially, this:


Mrs. WM was not impressed with the swag. “Where we onna put your more bikin junk?”

“It’s not junk, honey, it’s awesome swag.”

“I got one drawer onna underwear and bra and you got four drawer onna old tire and smelly bikin socks.”

“But look, honey! These bottles are the best. And all clean nozzles! Camelback!”

She scowled. Then she saw the blank check. “Thatsa blank check.”

“Yes, but it’s dedicated to the Wanky Defense Fund.”

“Not no more it isn’t,” she said, snatching it.

“Hey! That’s blog subscription money! At $2.99/month that’s a 16.7-year subscription! Gimme that!”

She turned her back and carefully wrote “Mrs. WM” in the payee line. “Itsa bout time some on your deadbeat reader onna payin. If you was atta McDonald’s like you wastin time onna that blog we’d be onna time and a half last ten years and retirin.”

“Now just a minute,” I said. “My blog provides a very important service.”

“Finally,” she said, as she walked out the door to the bank.



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April 26, 2017 § 12 Comments

I hope you like reading about Steve Tilford and the things he said, wrote, and did. Since his death I can’t stop thinking about him, which is weird because I only met him twice. The more I read, combing through his War and Peace of-a-blog, the more things stand out and make me think.

Steve wrote a lot about risk, indirectly and indirectly, something especially germane to cyclists in general and road cyclists in particular. Here’s one of his quotes:

We hate to admit it, but we don’t have control of our lives minute by minute. This is the way in bicycle racing. And in the way in life. The best way I know to do exceptional things in the sport, or in life, is to live a bit on the risky side. Get out of your comfort level. Raise your comfort level. In racing, hopefully, this will become your new base, your new comfort level, and this will allow you to progress in the sport. In life, it is a way to gain new experiences and to realize that the barriers that were holding you back were really not there at all.

Steve was superficially the archetypal big risk taker, or so it seems when you read through the things he experienced, tried, failed at, and conquered. But in the most basic way he wasn’t a big risk taker. He was a very careful guy. He did things after careful preparation, he never leaped blindly with no plan or idea or concern about the possible outcomes, and he always reevaluated and used what he learned to hone his approach the next time.

For him, risk wasn’t something to be avoided. It was something to be embraced, analyzed, and wary of, all at the same time.

Steve engaged in a hugely risky sport and survived it by constantly reducing risk. Checking equipment, evaluating the course, evaluating himself, evaluating the competition, taking calculated risks … all these things allowed him to thrive and survive.

What’s interesting is that Steve died not as the result of an incident on his bike, but while driving. In a way, this kind of makes sense. Driving is the riskiest thing any of us will ever do. No matter how good you are, how careful you are, or how experienced you are, Interstate travel over long distances carries with it so many risks that are so difficult to mitigate, especially when you do it for the millions of miles that Steve did. Crisscrossing the US in a van is so boring compared to bike racing, but it was ultimately the hazard that ended Steve’s life. Weather, night time, trucks, and so many other factors all came into play at just the wrong time.

If it had happened to someone else, Steve would never have concluded that we should stop driving, or that we should quit racing, or that we should quit taking risks.

Instead, he would have learned from it and not made the same mistake twice. He didn’t get a do-over. But we do.



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This race calls for a power meter!!

April 25, 2017 § 28 Comments

Since my training partner Kristie and I are doing the men’s team time trail next month, I decided to call Tony Manzella to find out the best way to prepare.

“You?” he said, fairly incredulously.

“Yeah,” I said.

He paused because he is a nice guy and a time trail champion and a problem solver and he didn’t want to hurt my feelings. “Well, as long as you have enough time to prepare, it should go okay.”

“How much time do you think I need?”

“Five or six years, maybe?” I could hear the note of faint optimism, and seized it.

My main question though was about equipment. I’m very cheap and don’t like spending money on anything, especially bicycle things. Tony was helpful there, too. “Don’t buy a TT bike. Get a power meter if you can. A helmet and a power meter and you’re good to go.”

I went online and stopped looking at power meters after twenty or thirty seconds, which was how long it took me to understand that they cost more than $15. Next I went to my bike parts drawer, located above the underwear and below the socks, and rummaged around. I was pretty sure I had an old Timex power meter in there somewhere. Sure enough, I found it.


Unfortunately, the battery was dead. It was complicated replacing it, especially pulling out the little watchband springy thingies, which shot across the room and landed on the beige carpet, invisible. I had to replace the blue strap because it was covered in a strange brown rusty fungus that smelled like the underside of a toenail.

Lots of people think you can’t really monitor your efforts unless you have a modern power meter that costs more than $15. But the Timex power meter has in the past been used in bicycle racing with modest success.


The Timex power meter has several cutting edge functions that are quite useful and relevant today. First, it measures time. This tells you how long you have been pedaling. If you are pedaling over a set course, such as the state team time trail course, then you also will know the distance.

By combining the Timex time output with the distance, the Timex power meter lets you calculate something known as “speed.” With the time output, the distance, and the speed, it is then possible to predict whether you should pedal more, pedal less, or go home.

I have high expectations of this performance device and will provide a DC Rainmaker appraisal of it in much greater detail after the race. For now, here is a basic review of the Timex power meter:

  • Aero fit on wrist.
  • Easy to read display.
  • Lightweight.
  • See-in-the-dark dial for when you’re deep in the pain cave.
  • Convenient date display so you know you are there on the correct day.
  • Retails for $38, roughly 100 times cheaper than the SRM power meter.
  • Compatible with all bottom brackets.
  • Compatible with Campy/SRAM/Shimano.
  • Accurate to within +/- 5 seconds per year.
  • Installs in seconds.
  • Removes easily for quick cleaning.
  • Looks good with a suit and tie.



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It’s gonna have to be a pretty big toast

April 23, 2017 § 13 Comments

I was in a hurry after the ride today because I’m flying out at 5:35 AM to attend a memorial service in Lawrence, Kansas. It’s called “Toasting the Life of Steve Tilford.” All I can say is, to do justice to that guy’s life it’s gonna have to be a pretty big toast.

One errand I had to run was at the nursery. The little stone pine I’d bought three and a half years ago in lieu of a Christmas tree had outgrown its second pot. I ran into Rich Stahlberg, who had helped me repot it the first time, and he said it was probably time to repot it again.

I went to the nursery and was getting a big bag of potting soil off the shelf. I was wearing jeans and a clean t-shirt and had my car keys on a lanyard around my neck. A pudgy, pissed off guy and his scowling wife came up to me. “Where’s the hardware section?” he demanded.

I stood up and pointed. “It’s over there, through those doors.”

“What aisle are the tape measures on?” The guy was staring at me like I was a real piece of dung.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Let me see if I can find out.”

He and his wife exchanged glances, as if to say, “What a minimum wage loser, doesn’t even know where things are in his own store.”

I walked over a couple of aisles and found a clerk. “Do you know what aisle the tape measures are on?”

“Sure,” she said. “Aisle four.”

I walked back to the guy and his wife, who were now really mad that I had kept them waiting. “Aisle four,” I said.

They strode off and didn’t say anything.

I finished loading the potting soil and then got a giant ceramic pot for the tree, manhandled it into the cart, and pushed my way through the hardware store to the cashier. The guy in front of me was the rude dude and his wife.

She saw me first. We made eye contact. I smiled at her. Her face turned red and she looked away. Her husband finished paying and glanced at me. It startled him when he realized I was a customer. “Find your tape measure okay?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, rudely, and hurried out.

I wondered what that was all about and then figured it was just normal life, people making mistakes and then being unable to apologize or even acknowledge their error. I see it all the time. It’s pretty sad, really. Mistakes are a great way to understand the world better, and to understand yourself better. Papering them over doesn’t fix jack shit.

Steve Tilford didn’t paper things over. He did the opposite. He examined what was in front of him, thought about it, and often let “it” change his actions and thoughts. Now that he’s gone, a lot of us are struck by how little we knew, or more accurately, how little time we spent trying to get to know. Once a person dies it’s really hard to get a handle on their life, what it meant, how they lived it, what they left behind.

Not so with Steve. He left a written record of over 360,000 words spanning fourteen years. The last seven of those years he wrote pretty much every single day.

One thing that Steve’s life inquired about was this: Are you doing what you want to do, the way you want to do it, with the people you want to do it with? That guy in the hardware store, what was his problem? Was he trying to live his life to the fullest? Or just marking time, and being rude to people in the process?

Better choose wisely. There aren’t any do-overs, as Steve would say.


World’s scraggliest pine tree.



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Washed up seals

April 20, 2017 § 16 Comments


“When I was watching, I almost couldn’t understand how that small gap could be so nearly impossible to close. But I did understand because that gap has been in front of me so many times before. The cool thing is when you do close it.” — Steve Tilford.

I had great legs for Telo last night, which I chalk up to the last two weeks of time-trail training. It seems that 60-minute efforts are thoroughly miserable but they make you stronger. And they do help you close a gap.

Before the race I told Derek that I had great legs. “The first rule of having great legs is to never tell anyone you have great legs.”

“My legs feel awful,” I said.

“Really?” Derek asked.

Bike racing has lots of rules. One of the rules is don’t buy a poster from unless you see it first. I have always liked Albert Bierstadt even though he is considered hokey by real art lovers. His work is overdone and drippy and maudlin, supposedly. I love his pictures because he really did paint the beauty of the West. If you think it’s overdone, that’s because you’ve never seen nature in its grandeur. He’s not overdone, you’re underdone.

Anyway, I bought one of his paintings called “Seal Rock.” I bought the poster for $10 because the painting’s $7,900,000 tag was out of my price range. My daughter and wife immediately said it looked horrible, and it was a pretty lousy reproduction, as if someone had fallen asleep with their finger on the “saturation” button. Still, I wasn’t about to throw away ten bucks so I hung it on the wall.

My daughter looked at it. “Well at least it fits with the other cycling stuff.”

“It does?”

“Aren’t you always talking about clubbing seals?”

She had a great point, and using that clever reasoning we now have another cycling work of art to go with my 1990 World Championship banner and my poster from the 1957 worlds held in Spain. So cycling poster purchase Rule #1 is Make Sure It Is Related to Cycling. And this one was because, seals.

There weren’t many baby seals at Telo yesterday. Mostly they were people I’ve never beaten before. But since I had great legs I planned to beat them anyway.

“What’s your plan?” Eric asked me.

“Hammer from the gun.”

“That’s not a winning plan.”

“What do you suggest?”

“Well, if Frexit shows up, he’s going to win. And Josh or Derek will make the split with him. So one of us covers Josh and the other covers Derek. That way one of us will make the split. They’ll still beat you, of course.”

“Makes sense. What about just following Frexit?”

“He will tire you out then counter while you’re putting a lung back in and you’ll miss the split. Like every week.”


The race started and we went easy for three laps. Then Aaron strung it out. It was a small group, maybe 25 riders, which is bad at Telo because there’s nowhere to hide. The headwind stretch was its usual howling headwind. My legs felt beyond good, like I could go with anything.

Daniel Park started the attacks, and pretty soon Frexit went. I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm so I forgot about marking Derek and Josh and went with him. It was hard but I was okay. Then there were a few more counters and we were about thirty minutes in and suddenly I wasn’t okay. Just as I came off the front a huge counter came with Frexit, Derek, Eric, Josh, Bader, and everyone else in a line, one of those grim-faced lines.

I got dropped and was in a chase group of about ten riders. We were all pinned. The leaders were about fifteen riders or so and they simply vanished. I recovered a little and started rotating hard along with Jon Paris and Tony Wang. Then Scott Torrence began putting in some massive efforts. He had been following wheels and had a lot in the tank. He finally put in one huge pull about the time that the leaders sat up.

That effort closed the gap and as we rushed up onto the tail of the leaders I could see that they were all sitting up and gassed. It was a case of a break going so hard it tired itself out, or it had too many people to get organized, or both. We caught them just before the right-hander into the driving headwind, so I swung wide and kept punching, which turned out to be the winning move, just not for me.

I was now in a break with Derek and Attila, who is ostensibly my teammate, but neither one of us can sprint. Then David Wells came across a hellish gap solo which made it 3-to-1 but still terrible odds because although Heavy D has a good finish, he’s not as fast as Derek.

We were in tactical hell. If I quit driving the break we’d get caught by Frexit, Brexit, Aaron, and Eric and my meaningless fourth place would go to meaningless-minus-four-places eighth. It’s funny the kind of loser math you do when you’re about to get your ass kicked. But if I kept my foot on the gas Derek would cream us in the sprint. He had no incentive to drive the break because he had two teammates in back, one of whom could likely close the deal. However, he wanted to keep the break going just enough to stay away from Frexit, who’d beaten him soundly last week, especially since the chance of losing to the three of us on Team Lizard Collectors was zero.

This is where if I’d have been a bike racer I would have taken the risk of getting caught and forced Derek to work harder. Instead I attacked him, which he easily followed, and neither of my teammates was able to counter, so we were back where we started, with the added disadvantage of having removed all doubt from Derek’s mind as to our respective energy levels.

On the final lap it was hopeless, so I told Attila I’d lead him out but he’d have to close the deal. That was wasted air, of course, because the only deal he closed was beating me for third. Derek attacked before the end of the chicane and came through the last turn clear. Heavy D gave him a run for a little while but Derek’s kick was too much.

The rest of the field, at least the part that hadn’t quit, finished in twos and threes. Everyone’s face looked green. I’m certain that’s the first time I’ve ever beaten Frexit or Brexit. Even though it seemed successful from the vantage point of instigating the break, driving the break, and getting one of my best Telo finishes ever, it was still loser math, fourth out of four with three teammates in the break.

I’ll keep doing the TT practice and see if that helps. That’s the first time I’ve made the split at Telo in about a year. But as Derek likes to say, the determining factor in winning any race isn’t how you ride, it’s who shows up. Maybe next time I’ll send out a group email telling everyone that the race has been moved to Wednesday.



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