Category Archives: cycling

It’s not about the bike.

Published by:

Two very weird incidents from the past month or so that I’ve held off on talking about because I don’t know what they mean, but then on top of this continuing Obama/Osama nonsense, the latest of which comes from my own home county, I thought I just had to put them out there.

First incident – as a bike rider, runner, or anyone who does any form of sport in public knows, there are LOTS of people who are hostile to the very idea that you are exercising. It angers them. It’d be hard to say why, but even when you’re nowhere near their path of travel, drivers and passengers will go out of their way to scream, honk, throw things at you, threaten you with their cars. Being fit or getting fit seems to piss these cretins off, and a quick glance is usually enough to see why. So I’m used to being yelled at. But I admit even cynical old me was taken aback about a month ago when a beat-up old car with two lunkheads pulled slowly past me as I was climbing a hill and one of them leaned out and yelled the “N” word at me. For one thing, I’m as white as can be, and even with my bike tan I’m not what you would call passing. For another, I’m just amazed that in this day and age, the first thing that comes out of some lunkhead’s mouth when he wants to spew hate is a racial epithet that doesn’t even apply – I mean, how fucked up does your head have to be that the “N” word is at the top of your list to shout at someone? I expect to be called “gay” because I’m on a bike – I don’t know why, but it’s standard – but I’ve never before been called that.

Then, last week as I was taking a bump up Washington Avenue past the downtown SUNY campus, a carload of jerkoffs (that’s a technical term, I’m just trying to describe them as accurately as possible) drove past and the driver leaned out his window and screamed at me, “Obama sucks!” Again, I’m confused – did he, too, think I was black and that therefore I must care about his opinion about Sen. Obama? Or did he assume that because I was on a bike, I must be gay, and that being gay, I must be in favor of Sen. Obama, and again was in need of his opinion? Too deep a thinker for me to figure out, I guess.

And today, I couldn’t be more proud of my home county, which managed to send out absentee ballots with “Osama” on the Democratic line. Listen, I worked in a print shop, and I know how this nonsense happens – some joker commits a dumb joke to type and it doesn’t get fixed before press time, which is why that kind of behavior is unacceptable in a print shop. Really unforgivable.

Going postal

Published by:

No, not that kind. But it’s worthy of note that today my teenaged daughter, gifted as her generation is with the magical texting fingers (as our generation was with the magical remote-control fingers), received a letter from an out-of-town friend. A letter. Handwritten, on paper, in an envelope, with a stamp. (Lickin’ it old-school, you might say.) I’m thinking about offering it to the Smithsonian as the last teenage letter in captivity.

I was even thinking about letters not too long ago, listening to Joe Cocker belt out his version of “The Letter,” made more famous by the Box Tops, and thinking of other songs that we still hear but which must make absolutely no sense to my children except as historical curiosities: “Western Union,” “Please Mr. Postman,” even “Memphis Tennessee,” requiring as it did the intervention of an operator in order to place a long distance call. (Must seem as odd to them as “Daisy, Daisy” did to us — not just the bicycle made for two, but the need for a stylish carriage.)

Me, I’ve been busily tossing away a stash of my own teenage letters that somehow survived a hundred previous purges and have been hiding away in the attic. They’re not taking up any space, except in my psyche, but it’s just time for them to go. Of course, that requires one final read before they can be shredded, which means one more visit to whoever it is that I was back when I was 15, 16, 17 and more and the universe was expanding, when I was making new friends in far-off places and we were all so clever and literate. The old practice of referring to previous missives renders about half the letters unintelligible, and references to people and places I no longer remember finishes the job. I have letters from people whose names I barely remember, and from people I don’t remember in any way, shape or form. I have letters that intimate that I was in places I don’t remember having been, doing things I don’t recall having done. So this is how the memory goes, slowly, and things that once were so important they were committed to paper now cannot be recalled, even with written evidence to jog the memory. So it goes.

The Return of Lance

Published by:

Because I’m into cycling, and because I have no other known sports interests to chat with people about, everybody asks me what I think about Lance Armstrong coming out of retirement. I’m a little bit torn. Listen, Lance is a legend, and he’s the legend who attracted the kind of media attention that got me and a lot of other people interested in bike racing. He did a huge amount for the sport, and he did a huge amount for cancer — and now that every cause has its own colored bracelet and Lance mostly makes headlines for dating young blondes, that effort probably needs a boost.

And I would like to see him ride under the new testing protocols — I want to believe that he raced clean, but I’ve been fooled before, and with so many of the top riders of his era having been caught cheating, it’s hard to know what to think anymore.

On the other hand, cycling has moved on. Lots of old dopers have retired out (and caused the collapse of entire teams along the way). There are some brilliant, and hopefully clean, young riders out there, and I’ve never seen a more exciting Tour de France than this year’s. If the teams proving their commitment to clean continue to gain sponsors, while the doping teams continue to implode, I think that’s the shakeup that cycling needs. (So do most other pro sports, which are just pretending they don’t have a doping problem. Baseball’s attempts at doping control are ridiculous.) It really seems, even though only a few years have passed, that Lance belongs to another era.

But Lance is a Star. The new riders deserve their day in the sun, and it would be nice if the media could focus on some of them (including Kristen Armstrong, no relation, who has finally been recognized with some commercial endorsements, at least) instead of on Lance — but that’s not how it works. He’s the only cyclist 99% of Americans can name, and therefore his attempted comeback is both a Big Thing Indeed and, like it or not, good for attention to the sport. I think Versus, the only TV channel covering road cycling at all, has presented more races this season than ever before,and Lance Armstrong has always been a profitable name for them to flog. If along the way people notice some of the other bright young Americans like Dave Zabriskie or Christian Van de Velde, and maybe learn to love the sport, that’s good too.

So, it is what it is. He’ll find a team, and then we’ll see how those legs do after a few years off.

The Washcloth Index

Published by:

I think one of the economic indicators most ignored by the so-called “experts” is the washcloth-by-the-side-of-the-road count. Last year, as things seemed to be cooking along and Wall Street was spraying money from its trunk like a circus elephant, there were dozens of lost, discarded washcloths along the roadside. There were days when I might see 3 or 4 new ones. Why washcloths? Don’t know. Inexplicable. But there they were, more numerous than t-shirts, panties or even single shoes. But this summer, deep in recession, people are holding onto their washcloths — none by the roadside to be seen. Along with the downturn in road kill, I think it all means something. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

Cool weather in August? I’ll take it. The days have been just beautiful, the nights cool and crisp — it’s like September in July. Or something like that. Had a great camping trip over the weekend, got several girls safely in and out of the kayak, built sand castles, and just had a nice couple of days lying on the beach. Today it was time to make up for the lack of riding by taking on Taborton Road, my favorite new climb. Like a dinosaur, flat at both ends but a big climb up the middle. Perfect day for it.

Perilous poultry

Published by:

Two on-bike encounters with feathered friends this week. In the first, I flushed a hawk on the opposite side of a (very narrow) road — he came up out of the grass, then kept pace with me while eyeing my helmet and deciding how quickly it would break in his claws. It was unnerving to say the least. He stuck with me at a good 35kph pace for a while before deciding that I wasn’t going to be tasty enough to be worth cracking open the shell. In the second, I was attacked by a group of exotic ducks that were hanging out at the end of someone’s driveway, smokin’ butts and looking for trouble. I didn’t see them until the last second, when there was a sudden squawk, lots of feathery motion and a real hard left.

In general, road kill counts have been low this year, another side effect of $4 gas, no doubt. All those critters getting through the summer means that much more carbon dioxide they’re breathing out, and more global warming, so I’ve adopted an official policy of no longer swerving to avoid squirrels. Just doing my part to save the planet.

Ride of the week

Published by:

I’ve been meaning forever to track some of my rides and put them together on a page like the rollerblading page, which gets all kinds of hits despite my not having seriously rollerbladed in several years. (They haven’t moved the paths.) So here’s yesterday’s ride, a route I’d never taken before, which took place under a surprisingly blazing sun that took us into the high 80s, and from which there was no hiding because there are no leaves on the trees yet.

So, in Rensselaer County, I headed north on Route 4 up to Winter St. Extension, all the way to Route 66 (by mistake — I’d meant to take Whiteview, which is shoulderless but quicker). Then a quick left off 66 up Sharpe Road (Rt. 75), with some tight little uphills that got me up off the seat. At the end of Sharpe, a right on Spring and then a quick left on Creek, which follows the Poestenkill down to Route 2 in Eagles Mills. Right on 2, then a quick left on Moonlawn Rt. 133 (my map called it Woodlawn). This was a challenging little stretch of road so early in the season . . . lots of climbs. Out on Brick Church Road, where I hid in the shadow of the Brick Church for a few minutes just to be out of the sun, then out onto Route 7 headed back into town. At Grange Road Route 142 I faced the choice between coming home soon through rough city streets and heading out further to Waterford. Lance Armstrong appeared in my head and convinced me to head to Waterford on 142, so that’s what I did. That brings you down to the river with a quick right/left onto the Watervliet bridge. From there, a south to the Peebles Island Bridge (where Parks hasn’t opened the restrooms yet!), and then the rest of my usual route in that part of the world: out of Peebles and take 470 up into Cohoes, then left on 32 down to Mohawk Paper, where you make a left on Dyke Avenue and then cross 787 to Cohoes Avenue, through the new industrial park area and then left on Tibbits in Green Island. Right at Paine St. Park, then just keep heading south until you can pick up the bike path at Watervliet. Then it’s an easy slog through the flood mud (it’ll be gone soon) down to the Dunn Memorial Bridge and back home. 62K, just under 3 hours at a very slow average speed of 21kph and I needed the granny gear to get home. But I got home.

Wet paper bag

Published by:

These are the first days of spring, the thaw (from a very short period of freeze, honestly) is upon us, and the entire world smells like the inside of a wet paper bag. The snow is nearly gone from the yard (and it hadn’t been there all that long), the lake and the river have opened back up, and the roadsides are littered with the detritus that had been hidden under the snow: stray sweatshirts, crushed Red Bull cans, random parts of automobiles. I know this because I got out for my second ride of the season — see what a streak I’m on? — this one much less wet than the first. Just took a quick jaunt up the hill to Albany Rural Cemetery again, and then a little farther on to Siena College, by which time the previously bright day had turned to drizzle and I headed back down the hill. It’s one of those rides that takes literally half as long on the return as it does on the way out, because of the way the hills run.

All this melting has brought prodigious fog, which made a drive out to some western reaches of the area more than bit treacherous tonight. I actually had to put on my flashers as insurance against some lumbering tractor-trailer not noticing me, as visibility was down to about 20 feet in spots. Slow, slow going. But very cool, still. For a while it wasn’t clear if it was fog, or if the clouds had just come down that low — it was just continuous vapor from the ground to the sky.

I was tempted to reward myself on the way back with a shake from Coldstone Creamery, something outrageously chocolatey and heavy, but I couldn’t face a repeat of the debacle from last summer when I tried to reap that reward. The shake seemed to require special ingredients from “the back,” which took some time to procure (long enough that I figured the 20-something scooper was burning one on the way over — and if you don’t know what I mean, you’ve gotta get into the special features on your “Big Lebowski” disc). Eventually he re-emerged, cellphone to ear, and said to me, “Dude! We’re outta milk!” He then explained how the person on the other end of his conversation, his purported “buddy,” would be able to bring some milk from the store, like, really soon.

See, here’s my thing: I’m way into my 40s. I don’t answer to “dude.” Don’t call me “dude.” Just don’t. (And not “his dudeness” or “el duderino,” either, whether or not you’re into the whole brevity thing.) So, I bailed, and since then have feared each time I have gone there that they might not have some essential ingredient that is the very basis of their business model. Tonight, I just wouldn’t have been able to take the heartbreak.

First ride of the season

Published by:

While the pros are out there pounding the Race to the Sun (Paris-Nice), the warming this week got me out into the mud, slush, sand and salt yesterday to pound out a quick 20K for the first time this season. Of course, the weirdly warm winter meant that I didn’t stop riding until the end of January. I had a really long Christmas Eve ride and several quite warm days in January, so the only month I didn’t ride at all was February. And I normally get back on the bike around St. Patrick’s Day, so this isn’t all that early. I started on the bike path, which was hella-wet and only open for about half its distance (still snowed in for the rest of the way to Watervliet) so I turned around and went up the hill to the cemetery, a nice little jaunt up a wide-shouldered road that I always enjoy. Nice start to the season.

You know what’s better than endorphins? Me, either.

The Markers Speak . . . Poetry!

Published by:

A delightful, hill-climbing ride through the Glenville hills on Friday, a nip in the air but the sun shining hard — just one of those perfect fall rides. I took the good camera, which I don’t usually do, and made a few stops to capture the historical markers scattered along the route. Didn’t get them all — dogs objected to my presence in a couple of instances, and I’ve found that people who live in the country tend not to cotton to leashes or any other form of canine restraint. Generally when you’re on a bike the dogs will just run you, but in one case I was already stopped and getting my shot of the Wolf Hollow sign when this old collie came bounding out of his yard and across the road. I didn’t even have time to unclip my road-side foot before he was on it, but luckily he skidded to a stop, sniffed my shoe, and walked me off his territory. I didn’t argue.

From that lovely ride, what may be my second-favorite marker ever:

Van Vleck Home

Oddest roadkill in ages

Published by:

As a bicyclist, I’m used to all manner of death, decay and discards on the shoulders of our roads. I can tell at 100 feet how far away from that possum corpse I should swing in order to avoid the hot blast o’ death smell. I’m pretty good at picking through the unbelievable amount of broken glass that lines every road, everywhere, though it certainly seems like people are working extra hard at making sure there’s glass out there, ’cause car crashes and beer bottles just can’t explain that much broken glass. And I’m used to dodging all kinds of road flares, lost auto parts, plastic crap, fast food detritus, random bits of hardware and even, once, a box of tacks, just like in a cartoon.

But there are also things that have mostly disappeared from the side of the road — like unspooled cassette tapes. Once ubiquitous, now rarely seen due to the demise of the cassette (and not nearly soon enough, as far as I was concerned. Hated that medium). But today I veered out of the way for something I hadn’t had to veer out of the way for in twenty years — a broken LP in the road. Vinyl. Long player. A record. (Is this thing on? Old folks, explain to the young folks!) Now, how odd is that?

Other things out there in profusion, besides possums? Socks, lots of socks. Do-rags and cast-off t-shirts. Single shoes and sneakers. The single shoe always perplexed me until one day I saw an SUV merrily bombing down the highway with a single boot still resting on the back bumper, no doubt waiting to be tossed off like its mate must have already been.

Things I never see? Books. Just never. I’ve seen entire computers lying by the side of the road. I’ve seen cast-off toy dinosaurs and Powerpuff girls (and brought them home). I’ve seen cellphones and their parts. I’ve seen whippette canisters and hypodermic needles. I’ve never seen a book lying by the side of the road.