Saturday, March 19, 2011

I'm Better than my Bike

[The first picture is of myself and Tom on the Yellowstone trip, summer of 86.

The second is of my bike as packed for the Tour de Borrego March 19th 2011.]

In this post I will tell three separate stories that illustrate why I think that it is more important to be better than you look.

I. First Time Skiing

In about February 1978 I went skiing for the first time with my neighbor Pepe. I knew nothing about skiing and neither did Pepe. So we signed up for a beginning ski class that lasted about half an hour. There were many other people in the class but in particular I remember noticing the young people about my age. I distinctly remember how they were very fashionably dressed in expensive ski attire. I, on the other hand, was wearing Levi jeans, old sweat shirts, borrowed gloves and beanie, and no sun glasses (I was nearly snow-blind the next day). I did not look cool.

After the class was over the instructor dismissed the class and at that precise moment much of the class fell down where they stood as if on cue. Pepe and I were the only ones that skied away from the lesson.

Later in the day Pepe and I were moving fast down the slopes and we noticed all the people who were dressed like pros but who were not skiing as well as we were. At this moment it occurred to me that it looks silly to try to appear better than what you actually are. This thought has stayed with me ever since.

(Side Note: Our two day ski trip was mid week and I had a track meet the day after. My legs felt like lead and Coach Tillman signed me up for extra races as a cruel punishment for caring more about skiing than the team. I still was a bit fond of Tillman but my heart was leaving High School; soon thereafter I picked up and went to Bolivia.)

II. Bike Race Mid 80s

In college I had little money. (Actually this fact is not limited to my college years.) Anyhow, during my five years of living in Provo, UT I always looked forward to the summers when I could ride my bike. Utah is cycling country though not the Mecca that Colorado is for cyclists. I had an old steel Nishiki touring bike with a rack for panniers, extra long wheel base, and pedals for tennis shoes. With this bike I used to ride up Provo Canyon, past the Sundance Ski Resort, around Mount Timpanogos and down American Fork Canyon. The “Alpine Loop” was about 60 miles. I used to ride this loop with minimal water and food; I was not yet very scientific in my approach. I could not afford sunscreen, though I didn’t think about it either.

At the end of one summer I rode from Provo to Saint George with Dad, a trip of about 300 miles in four days. This was the peak of my summer’s training. During this trip Dad told me that he had signed up both of us for a bike race in San Diego North County in about a week.

After we got to Saint George we were famished and we went into the supermarket and bought the largest watermelon in the store. We rode to the park while I carried this giant watermelon in my arms. The panniers (and the watermelon) made steering with one hand very difficult. At the park Dad split the watermelon long ways and we gorged on the best watermelon of our lives while we waited for Pam to arrive in the car to take us the rest of the way to Carlsbad.

One week later the race. In those days I had no knowledge of tapering and I hadn’t been on the bike for a week.

The gun fired and we were off. I didn’t know what to expect but I kept going. A group started to form, then a little group created a gap and rode just ahead. I settled in and took my turns in the rotation. In hindsight I laugh at myself for being so inexperienced.

The finish was a climb up Palomar Airport Road and then a turn south to the finish line. Up Palomar Airport Road the groups exploded, “carnage” as they say. I, however, felt great and climbed with no problem while passing people and putting myself in a very good position. After turning right, there were a few guys that stood up for a sprint to the finish. I was not prepared for this and it was never my intention to try to win anyway. I was just happy to be there and to see if I belonged.

Now here is the good part. As a small group of us, about four, were cruising into the finish line, the guy next to me said,
"Never in my entire life have I seen a guy finish this high in a bike race with a bike like that."

I just smiled but I was also surprised by his surprise. In retrospect I must have been a real sight with my, tennis shoes, no toe clips, T shirt, and rickety old touring bike.

Over the years this story has sunk in deeper to my psyche and I now think that this was one of the greatest compliments of my life. Pam tells me that she thinks this story is very cool but I also suspect that she is just trying to help me feel content about not having all the sleekest and fastest gear.

III. Tour de Borrego (March 19, 2011)

I picked up Jose Moreno at his house at 6:00 AM and we fit both our bikes inside of my Toyota Corolla to save gas on the trip to Borrego Springs. The agenda for the day was a quality training ride of 80 miles, two laps around the course. As Jose and I reassembled our bikes, Jose noticed how dirty my bike was. It was indeed dirty. And I tried to clean it a bit with some wet wipes. My bike is a 2004 model and nearly worn out. My components are not top of the line and my chain, derailleurs, cassettes, and well, everything else, were a bit greasy. I did not bother to explain that without the dirt and grime my stretched chain tends to skip gears and since the local bike shop just went out of business I had no choice but to not clean the bike yet.

Anyhow, I told Jose, “I would rather be better than I look, than look better than I am.”

Jose laughed as I tried to clean my bike.

I said, “I’ll clean it before the Tour de Phoenix.”

Jose laughed again (He is a happy man).

At about 8:15 AM the announcer started calling the cyclists to the start line and talking about many things. After about 15 minutes the announcer asked (using his microphone) if there were any last minute questions. Then a loud and clear voice from behind me said, “Yeah, When can we start?” Some people chuckled while others gasped at this unnecessary rudeness.

At 8:30 AM we were off to a rolling start behind the official who was leading us through town and out to the main course. To the left of the leader was a guy dressed in full Team Liquigas regalia including the classic white with large red polka dots of the King of the Mountains Jersey. He was riding half a bike length ahead of the leader and was pushing the pace already. The riders started stringing out into a line. Already I was starting to notice this guy; I’ll refer to him as Polka Dot.

After three or four miles the Leader was gone and there were just four of us at the front. We had dropped everybody. “Why?” I thought. It was my intention to find a good group and let them lead the way. I hadn’t studied the course map and now I was ahead. Considering that the last time I did the Tour de Borrego I got a bit lost at one point when I was riding solo, I began to inquire of the guy in position three (I was in position four), “Do you know the course?”

“A little bit” he said. “I’ve done this event before.”

Then I rode up to the guy in position two, Polka Dot, (while Jose was pulling), “Do you know the course?”

He gave me some distant Clint Eastwood response, “I just follow the sun.”

I thought that was an odd statement from a guy who looked to be in his mid twenties.

Then after a cycle of pulls I said to Jose, “We dropped our guide.” Whereupon Polka Dot very loudly and clearly said, “Who the f**k cares!”

Now it didn’t take me very long to process that this guy was an egomaniac with a bad-ass attitude and when my heart rate is already elevated, well…

So I said, “What did you say?” And I didn’t wait for a response.

I pulled up next to him and said in his face, with a loud and clear voice, “Are you an a**hole?”

Slight pause.

I continued, “I gotta know right now. Are you an a**hole?”


I truly needed to know this because in cycling there are certain alliances that need to be formed to deal with the draft.

I continued, “Where are you from?”

“Newport Beach.”

I probably shook my head in disgust and didn’t offer to say where I was from.

Finally he asked, “Where are you from?”

"We (Jose and I) are both from El Centro."

Jose was smiling at me behind Polka Dot’s back.

Since we were having a 16mph tailwind we continued to ride together and Polka Dot apologized in his way. When it was my turn to "pull" I took a double pull and increased the speed. My next pull was up a short 10% hill and I dropped Polka Dot and Jose too (unfortunately). When we got to the turnaround point we were facing a terrible headwind. I stopped to take a leak and to let Polka Dot get ahead. Jose and I wanted to hang back and let him ride solo into the headwind but we were soon caught by rider number four and Polka Dot slowed way down so we were soon all together again. Rider four was soon dropped again; he couldn’t hang on even in the draft. The three of us cycled in rotation into the wind. I noticed that when Polka Dot was pulling he was just a bit faster than Jose and a bit slow than me. At the twenty mile mark was the first aide station and Polka Dot stopped. Jose and I kept up the blazing speed for another 10 miles then stopped at another aide station. Polka Dot was nowhere in sight.

After 40 miles we finished our first lap and I wanted to stop by the car and get my wind breaker vest. As we were heading back out we stopped to say a few words with some other riders who were coming in and then Polka Dot whizzed by out of the parking lot and back onto the course. He came out of nowhere. If he were on skis, he would have sprayed us with snow. Jose thinks he cut the course by a couple miles (probably by accident). We never saw him come in. Polka Dot probably thought that Jose and I were done for the day. Then a group of riders too serious to stop rode straight on by. We continued talking to these riders who were done after one lap but I couldn't help thinking that there were now many riders ahead of us out on the course.

While we were standing and conversing, I said to Jose, “We’ll let this guy (Polka Dot) get a little lead and then we’ll real him in.” Soon we caught the group ahead and I was hoping that Polka Dot would be with them. These guys told me that they were the lead group but they were obviously mistaken as I could see a cyclist up ahead. So Jose and I left this group that was going about 30 mph and I kicked it up to 43 mph (wind assisted). Jose said that he was going to turn around and take the shorter course and meet me at the end. So I continued alone. I was soon close enough to identify the rider up ahead by his fancy garb and tried to keep back because I wanted to witness that he did not cheat at the turnaround point. However, my momentum from trying to catch up prevented me from feeling comfortable at a slower pace so I decided that I had no choice but to pass him convincingly and then let him try to keep me in his sights. I went into the red zone up the 10% climbs and into the head wind and beyond. After mile 60 I finally looked back but didn’t see anyone.

In my mind I said, “I bring the whoopin; You bring the ass” (something The Rock used to say).

I kept the pace up until mile 70 where I stopped very briefly for some water and to rest my burning lumbar. I looked back again and saw nothing, or maybe something. It was hard to tell. I pressed onward.

In the last few miles I slowed down a bit and saw a young lady jogging in bright red garb. I probably wouldn’t have noticed except for the brightness of her colors. I wasn't expecting to race solo but it turned out to be a great training day for my real race in two weeks.

I finished first out of the 80 milers. Small victory for sure.

Jose was at the finish waiting for me. He did 65 miles. We walked around a bit, packed up the car, and took a few more drinks for the road. I saw Jose talking with some young lady like they knew each other. I approached.

The young lady explained that “He [Jose] helped me change my flat tire and I would still be on the road if it weren’t for his help.”

Jose was quick to add, “And then she pulled me in or else I would still be on the road.”

Jose laughed.

Then I asked this young lady, “Did I see you jogging?”

She explained that she is a triathlete and was practicing her transition.

Through the corner of my eye I spied Polka Dot getting into his monster truck that he parked on the road. He did not make the social rounds.

Jose and I agreed that we felt sorry for Polka Dot's girlfriend (assuming he had one). And we laughed. It must be the absolute worst to be in a relationship with a foul mouthed, self-centered jerk. But we agreed that he’ll think about his whooping and someday mature and not act so pretentious when in the company of those that by appearances are beneath him.

Then Jose said,
“You really are better than your bike.”
(I really enjoy that kind of compliment.)

I laughed and in my mind I said, “I’m also better than my clothes, my house and my cars.” I was still in slayer mode. In fact I am still in slayer mode as I am writing this soon after the event, perhaps too soon.

There is so much pomposity on display at a typical cycling event, especially the expo. I have learned over the years that it is impossible to tell by looking at the riders at the expo who the fast riders will be.


So what I am trying to say is, dear children, toss the pride, toss the arrogance, toss the pretentiousness and--you don't have to be the best--simply be better than you look. That is cool! And it saves money.

PS If I sound proud and arrogant in this post it is really because I am nearing my peak training for Tour of Phoenix and I am feeling strong and competitive at the moment. To counterbalance my current kick-ass attitude, the reader might want to play the link "I'm Too Sexy" and remember that I don't always take myself this seriously.

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