Wednesday, March 29, 2006

days like this... know, fifties, some sun, a stiff wind with no bite, the hint of rain in the air--those kinds of days make me think of days like this:

Monday, March 27, 2006

what's the plan, man?

every year before this one, my cycling season has begun, oh, about now. i would've been out on the bike a half-dozen times on those unseasonably warm days,and i would've dragged my sorry ass to the trainer a few times, just to make sure i still knew how to pedal, or to justify that second helping of pot pie or that one last beer.

not this year. this year i'm the man with the plan--the annual training plan, that is--complete with goals and milestones and tests and lions and tigers and bears--oh my! i was always one of those guys who pooh-poohed the whole structured approach to riding. "pooh-pooh!" i would say, "what better way to suck the joy out of the 'Thing I Love To Do Most (in public)' than to plan it out and structure it with scientific goals and everything--me, i'm spontaneous! i ride when i like, because i like to ride!"

this year, my spontaneous, fun-loving self lost out to the fear of failure/desire to succeed (two sides of the same damn coin--scratch at someone driven to succeed, and i'll bet you find a fear of failure not too far under the surface) at something i was committed to--racing my bike. i really really didn't want to suck; and if i did suck, well, i wanted it to be because i had no choice--i'd given it my all, and i just wasn't very good. then i could happily go back to pooh-poohing planning, tossing back a swig of beer and opining a bit too loudly, "oh, yeah--i tried that whole training plan thing--didn't work for me; i'm more the spontaneous type."

so i planned.

and i started the plan.

and i've stayed on the plan.


...i like it.

a lot.

sure, i've had to drag myself onto the bike more than once, especially if i was heading out alone, after dark, for a couple hours of base miles. and i've had to take a little time here and there for "unscheduled recovery." but overall, i've loved it--recording my progress in terms of miles, and hours, and (gasp!) changes in my waistline, thinking of each ride as a piece of a larger whole, building on not just yesterday, but the whole four-week block behind me, and the four-week block ahead of me...

..and this is about where i notice people's eyes glazing over, because you know what? my training plan is fascinating to me, and mildly interesting to a couple of other people, and indulged by a very select group of one (thanks, p!)--but most people think i'm just sucking the joy out of an exuberant activity by reducing it to numbers and goals and (shiver) metrics.

but trust me when i tell you: i'm not.

at least, not yet. check with me after a few thousand more miles.


a big shout out to The Old Bag for sending her readers over here--welcome! i couldn't have asked for a nicer introduction than her post about our meeting at the LBS. and she blogrolled me! i feel a little like i came to the door in a robe and slippers and discovered i had fun company--a little flustered, but good. just help yourself to coffee, or a beer (or an old post), and let me run and put something a little nicer on...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Okay, so maybe I got a little heavy last post...

I mean, come on: "auguries from the innards of my day"? sheesh. But I have just the solution: silly dog pictures. (Can you tell that I want to be a good blogger but I have to go get on my bike?) Enjoy!

fierce, ain't she?

you're becoming very sleepy...

Monday, March 20, 2006

Here be new land—or monsters?

In old maps, occupying the fringes, illustrated monsters loomed to indicate uncharted areas—places of mystery, danger, and promise. Dragons with long tongues, fiery breath, multiple humps emerging from the surface of the sea, impenetrable scales: these images called out with one of two messages, depending on your disposition. Either you saw “come and get me (or the tropical paradise I might be hiding)!” or you saw “stay where you are, in your safe little plaguey medieval backwater.”

I can tell you right now that, had I lived in the age of great European exploration, I would’ve been nestling into my barn, making my little plague-ridden hovel as comfy as possible and leaving the exploration (and monster-confrontation) to the real explorers (and foolish knaves, as far as I’m concerned). I’m a homebody, friendly with the familiar, comfortable with the known, more inclined to stasis than not. I do best with regularity in diet, sleep, and other habits—I just feel better in those conditions.

But right now I’m girding for the monster, for the sea-dragon, for the promise of Tahiti behind its scaly threat. P and I are in uncharted waters of pregnancy as of sometime this week—we’ve been this far before, but no further. We’ve come this far, and lost. And I’ll admit, I’m a little terrified: making it this far means only that: we’ve made it this far. And when tomorrow comes and we’ve made it that far, great—but we’re not there yet. The whole thing about gestation, though, is that you’re working toward something, there is a destination and that destination is the real—and in some senses only—goal. For all the crap we hear about ‘enjoying the journey’ in this culture, it really doesn’t apply very well to the building of a little human being—because the baby—the kid, the squaller, the rugrat, the gawky kid, the young adult—that’s the destination, the reason you go through all of this. One very good definition of powerless rage might be losing a baby two days after you’d just bought her first onesie because you believed, you had faith that the next four and one-half months were planning, and painting, and late-night cravings, and swollen ankles, and debating names—only they evaporated in broken water, shredding grief, and a haze of disbelief.

So try as I might to take each day as it comes, and not look forward to the next one, or the next week, or the next month, or (damn! here I go again) late summer and all that it promises—try as I might, I’m not all that good at it, and I try to find solace where I can—auguries from the innards of my days. And I use those little twists of my mind, those little games of illogic, as my armor against the monster of the unknown, cloaking myself from the evil eye in hopes that our ship might make it that much farther toward its destination.

Here’s today’s: spring started today a little after noon—I choose to believe that the point at which we crossed into new, uncharted territory was the same moment as the first moment of spring—the season of rebirth, of green, of warmth, of emergent light, of waking from the winter slumber. Corny, yes—but it’ll do as a mace, or sword, or even a defensive shield against those nasty, brutish dragons.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Loop, thrown for a (n.)

By now, every Twin Cities road racing cyclist knows about and has had a little time to absorb the cancellation of the Tour of 10,000 Lakes (T10K) over Memorial Day weekend. But I suspect that the absorption is going to take some more time—I’d wager that about a third of the cyclists who plan their season to peak at certain points chose T10K for one of those points. I did, and I’ve been riding toward those four stages through the first 2 ½ months (and 1800-odd miles) of the year; and I started planning toward it sometime in October last year, as I suffered through my first ‘cross season. And of course nobody else set up Minnesota races that weekend—it would be organizational suicide to go up against an event that big, that tantalizing, that important to so many racers—so it’s not like we can all just go make everyone at the Smallville Road Race 1) shit their pants by tripling their field size and 2) jump for joy by tripling their field take.

I’m disappointed. Not with the organizers, or coupled with anger or frustration, or with any real sense that my season will be somehow diminished by the absence of this race (I am, after all, fighting the good fight--as a full-grown mortgage-bearin' child-expectin' adult on the wrong side of his athletic peak--to keep cycling and racing in perspective, whatever that means). No, my disappointment is all about me, and the mental games I’ve been playing with T10K—which I’ve never done—as my first major goal of my first full season of racing. It had assumed status in my mind: every ride in the dark, bundled up, studded tires whirring, each of these slogfests had a purpose, a capital-G goal, and each of these rides also had a built-in topic: how will this effort compare to the suffering of the 4th-stage TT? How about this hill? Is it anywhere near as tough as the Afton climb? T10K was my carrot, and I was the donkey going round and round, working the well dry, filling it back up, heading back out again.

So I feel a little empty, a little unmoored, and—is this true?—a little sheepish. I mean, everyone I’ve talked to and read says be flexible with your training plan, be ready to adjust on the fly, because we’re adults with unforeseen commitments, because we mis-gauge our fitness, because we get sick, because you never know, now, do you? So here I am lamenting the demise of the 2006 T10K, thanking the idea of it for getting me through the dark winter months (most of them, anyway), and feeling a little like my schoolboy crush on the girl two rows over in math class, which only ever existed in my mind, got a little out of hand in my mind, took on a life of its own (How would her first name look with my last name? Where would we buy a house? How should I wave from the podium?) and then her family moved unannounced and I came into class and she was gone for good and I was left with…

…oh well, I really like the looks of Avon and Ken Woods this year—maybe I can develop my own little man-crush on them.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Baby got back

We went to see pictures of our baby today, and it was a good time—for all of us! Well, I should qualify that: once we got there, it was a good time. But first we had to deal with the aftermath of yesterday’s foot of snow. After digging out and getting on the road, we discovered that the wipers were only covering about one-third of the windshield. Fortunately, that one-third was directly in front of the driver—a little low, but still just fine. Except for p, who couldn’t see a damn thing on the passenger side, and got increasingly more tense as the ride continued, especially since the car was shaking like a leaf on a tree. Yes, the little wagon chose today to develop tremors at 60 mph.

But this isn’t about the journey—this is about the destination, damnit. The little one is now almost as big as e was when we lost her, and this one’s just as (or more) active. I’ve already mentioned the hiccoughs, and today we got to watch her (we don’t know the baby’s a “her,” we just use the female pronoun) stretch, thumbsuck, kick a bit, and open her mouth. And we got a slew of pictures, most of them in the “only a parent could love that grayscale fuzz” category.

Except one, which struck both p and I as extremely beautiful: her spine, with the ribs more faintly visible. The curvature of the spine is just like those charts of adult skeletal systems you see in a doctor’s office, but in miniature—you can see the various nodes and processes on each of the vertebrae. The ribs are in proportion to each other, there seem to be an appropriate number of them, and they curve beautifully away from the spine. The bones are whiter than in previous weeks (because denser and more solid). I think what strikes me most is the curves and complexities of the whole picture: I don’t know what I expected a fetal spine to look like—maybe I expected it to exist in planes and lines, not curves, not complexities, not yet…but sure enough, the image is one of a complex organism getting visibly more complex. And moving around. Getting ready to be a little person. All from those two invisible cells joining just a few months ago. No wonder people have had all kinds of funky theories (my favorite gestational theory of yore: the homunculus) of prenatal development through the years.

Baby got back—and it’s a beautiful sight.

Oh—another cool pic: baby giving the thumbs-up (or maybe scratching her ear, but go with me here). We decided it was a message to me: “Relax, dad [or whatever the kids are saying these days], all’s well in here!” What do you think?


Monday, March 13, 2006

feeling minnesota

one of the things about living in minnesota that is both frustrating and pretty cool is that the unpredictable weather forces you to reset your mind on a dime. for instance, last friday it was 56 degrees and sunny, and over the weekend almost all the calcified honeycombed remnants of snow--snow that has been on the ground since our one big snowfall of the season, in mid-december--melted away, leaving the sadly hopeful brown grass exposed (and leading to a bad-air advisory on friday, as all the particulate crap trapped in the snow for four months swirled into the air and into our lungs) to sunshine and balmy southern breezes. you could taste spring in the air, and see the seasonal changes in folks' ambitiously reduced clothing choices.

today i'm sitting in the house under more than half a foot of snow, listening to the wind whip the white stuff against the window, friday's sun on my face a rapidly receding memory. oh, yeah--it's only march, and we're in minnesota--anything goes! i almost let myself forget...

what's frustrating about this mercurial meteorology is, of course, the tantalizing taste of spring--part of me wants to holler, 'don't let me smell green and then snatch it away! nooo!'

what's kind of cool about it, though, is the way a drastic shift like this forces you to reassess things, and see them in a different light--yesterday i was wondering how long it would take the ground to thaw and absorb the melted snow that was puddled all over the yard. today the yard is invisible. yesterday i could park at the curb for the first time in months (instead of up against an ice shelf). today there is no curb. yesterday i was thinking about fresh vegetables. today i'm thinking of pea soup with ham hock. yesterday my options were growing to include more and more outdoor activity. today outdoors is a flat white depthless screen offering no foothold.
i think, more generally, that the first hint of spring offers us the sense that we can have control over where we go and what we do; even more, it promises the restoration of control after the winter--whether the winter is severe or not. but storm fronts like this doozy--coming on the heels of such a warmup--remind us how much that control is contingent, fleeting, even illusory. the world not only looks different, it feels different. there's less i can do, therefore there's less i have to do (this i write after spending 20 minutes digging the car out, but it's still true).

as for today: better to ride it out indoors, huddled with the pooches--i wonder if there's any wood left to light up the fireplace?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

darkness on the edge of town

fun ride last night--mk, g, and i headed out around 6:15. normally on the wednesday night rides we have multiple hid lights that cause people to stop and stare and tell us we look like aliens landing. i always think of the scene in close encounters of the 3rd kind where the lights are crossing and zigging and zagging and the aliens appear all backlit--i'm not sure we're quite that dramatic, but four or five helmet-mounted hid lights are damn bright, don't look much like anything you'd normally encounter, and they move around a lot. this other-worldliness, i think, is a really good thing because it makes motorists notice. i'd rather have a car wonder what the hell i was and pause to wait to be sure than not see me at all, or (worse) see my pissant little $30 halogen bulb and dismiss me as a crazy nighttime biker taking up space on his road. but i digress, because that's not what last night was like at all.

see, m and i both had charger 'issues' beforehand--mine came unplugged at some point between last friday, when i used it to wobble home from happy hour at the shop, and yesterday afternoon. i had no idea how much time i'd have on the charge, and planned to rely on the brightness of my companions until i was alone and needed to get home. m's wasn't charged, and he left it plugged in at work while we rode, also (i think) assuming that there'd be plenty of candle-wattage going on without him. normally this would be so, but two of our usual bright-light stalwarts are on 'easy weeks,' and skipped last night, so g's was the only headlight for much of the ride. importantly, we all had very bright red rear flashers, and needless to say, we stuck together.

we rode through lilydale, and it was truly the darkest part of the ride--trees, no streetlights, only some reflection of skylight off the nearby river. once i got over being nervous about invisibility to autos and realized that there really weren't many, it was kind of nice to scoot along without lights--those cones of brightness tend to block out everything around you, and without them you can notice much more what it's like out there in the dark. and it is different--if i weren't so paranoid about some huge truck barreling into me, i'd like to try riding without lights for stretches (on purpose), just as a way to step back, smell the air, and enjoy--even more than i already do--the moment on two wheels.

Monday, March 06, 2006


bought a couple new cds this weekend--first, the new rhett miller. it's okay after a few listens, a lot like the instigator but maybe a little sappier (not a good sign, really). but i can't really give you a good review of it yet because my ears have been focused on the other album, the velvet underground and nico, andy warhol, the banana album, that one with 'heroin' on it, etc. i bought it kind of as a backfill--you know, buying a cd to replace an old lp or tape you used to have and love--except i never owned this album, in any format. i simply heard it over and over and over again through college and the few years after that. i think everyone i knew and hung out with in my early 20s had this album and played it all the time. because i know this album, inside and out, the way i know albums i've owned for 15 or 20 years (the introductory riffs to kind of blue, or the opening of the unforgettable fire). i think bob marley's ubiquitous campus-soundtrack-on-a-late-summer-day legend might be the only other album i know as well that i've never owned. but i really wanted to own the banana album (unlike legend)--i just never got around to it until, oh, now(!).

so i'm taking a bit of pathetically nostalgic pleasure in adding the banana album to my collection, listening to it and thinking of all those blurry college parties where i'm not quite sure i behaved but i think i did although with more opportunity i might not have; oh, and those equally blurry but potentially humiliating conversations pretending to know all about the velvet underground and why white light, white heat was so much more important, you know? remembering some of all that--not recapturing it, but mentally trying to establish a continuum between that me and this me. almost like i can go back to the 20-year old me and say 'hey, don't worry that you're the only one you know who doesn't have this album--you'll get it eventually, so it's okay. never mind that you'll be pushing 40 (pushing my ass--your nose is up against it buddy), you're still alright, 20-year-old-me.'

but when i put myself in the position of 20-year-old-me, all i hear is some old dude telling me to wait, to not be impatient, like so many other old dudes and dudettes are telling me, and i (20-yr.-old-me) want to tell now-me to buzz off and go back to his own little life, unless (perhaps) he has a copy of the banana album i can have.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


every day in my web-based email account i get a number of messages; on average 2/3 of these are unsolicited spam that i never even open. the subject lines are one of the two great giveaways in the "spam detection" game i know many people play (the other is the sender's name--if i don't recognize that, it's gooone). these subject lines are infinitely variable (i assume because filters will block repeated subject lines tagged as spam), and range from random incomplete excerpts of text to random collections of letters; occasionally they even indicate the product being spammed. although spam is primarily an irritant--granted, a minor one in my current book, or i would look more seriously into getting rid of it, or even finding another email account that more rigorously screens them--occasionally a subject line will stick out for whatever reason--rhyme, word choice, phrasing that rolls trippingly off the tongue.

today's fave spam subject line: "liverpudlian becalm."

this one works not because it trips off the tongue and begs mnemonic repetition. rather, i think it's the plain-sight obscurity of each word that makes this one memorable.

everyone knows that the beatles are the boys from liverpool, and even casual beatles fans may know that "one from liverpool" is a "liverpudlian." i'll go out on a limb here and guess that most liverpudlians know what they're called as well. but really, how often do we find the opportunity to use the term liverpudlian in conversation? you've gotta work at it: "i was running through your receipts from 2005, and i was reminded of a quote from my favorite liverpudlians: 'one for you, nineteen for me / I'm the taxman...'" riiiight. so it's a term many know, but very few use. plus, it's kind of fun to say, and has a vaguely reptilian resonance. i'm not even going to go into the beavis-and-butthead pleasures of the third syllable, although clearly i'm not above referring to them.

"becalm"--not the same, but close in terms of its usage. at least, i don't know anyone who uses this word (maybe i need to get out more). to me, it has a nineteenth-century ring to it, unless you separate the "be" from the "calm" and make it a command, in which case it's very late-20th-century. i always expect to come across it as an adjective in a seafaring book. for instance, i'd be a little surprised if somewhere in the vasty depths of moby dick there isn't a reference to a "becalmed sea." and it should have a sense of foreboding about it, e.g., "the becalmed sea stretched ominously toward the horizon, revealing nothing of the menacing fury lurking beneath."

and they say spam is worthless....sheesh.