Friday, August 22, 2014

It is time for an adventure

I want to go on a bike adventure. I'm not sure if this is a good idea, but it seems like maybe it is.

Gravel Worlds was last weekend, so that adventure is out. Also, that's not really what I was thinking of. Riding and camping would be cool, but I don't want to carry all of that crap with me. And I'm a wussy and my back hurts doing pretty much everything, so just rolling up somewhere and sleeping out the ground would be a bad idea, too.

Really, I think I'd just like to go on a really long ride. Like from here to Algona in one day.

Oh, shit. That's a really long bike ride. Like 200-plus miles. But if a guy left at, say, 4 a.m. and got a good way up the road before the sun came up, then hit the gravel when the pavement got busier ... eh, it could work.

Well, maybe. Or perhaps not at all. Seems like you'd want to make sure you plan a pretty good route, with refreshment (or bailout) options at fairly regular intervals. Probably gonna have to devote a pretty decent amount of space on the bike to carrying supplies like spare tubs and a pump and, I don't know, crackers or something.

But that kind of ride seems like the kind of thing that could keep my attention in the fall. Already, with the school-year schedule in full swing I'm realizing how difficult it will be to have a solid 'cross campaign. I'm still super-psyched on it, but it's just going to require some discipline to make sure keep up with workouts.

This ride though? Just get on the bike and go. That could be fun.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


The ice broke about 10 minutes before my race on Saturday night in Papillion. I was going through Turn 4 one last time before lining up for the last crit of the season. We made eye contact, exchanged a quick nod, and that was it.

Until that moment, I hadn't acknowledged Ryan, my former boss, since a snarky email sent in response to a letter penned by his lawyer and delivered certified on a Saturday almost two years ago.

In that time, I've been angry, upset, sad, desperate, jealous and vengeful. I've felt left out, abandoned and exiled. But as I've worked over everything in my head — about a zillion times by now — I've rarely been angry at him. When he told me to go home (and to not come back), it was because I really wasn't very good at my job. I feel like I knew that then but wasn't able to admit it.

In some ways, I was glad I didn't have to be there anymore. It wasn't fun. When you're struggling and doing poor work, simply getting out is a relief. I remember enjoying very much the first Monday I didn't have to drag myself in there. The flip side, obviously, is unemployment. That wasn't exactly a ton of fun.

Every time we passed Turn 4 during the race, I felt like it was my chance to show him that I had everything under control — that I was doing OK, and that everything is back to normal. I'm fairly certain he hasn't been concerned with that in the least, but I wanted to perform well. I wanted to prove that I've moved on.

These are silly thoughts to have during a bike race. One should be focused on positioning, watching for moves and being ready to pounce on an opportunity. I did all of those things, with the only letdown coming on behalf of my legs (or maybe my lungs). Five seconds more of full-gas effort and I would have been able to stay with the leading group of three as they pulled away.

As it was, I was the fourth guy, and I just couldn't get there. Given the talent in the break, I may have ended up fourth regardless. That said, when it was time to make my own luck with the chase group I did what I needed to do. I put myself in position, attacked at the right time and did the best sprint I've managed in a long time. Yeah, I ended up fourth.

Afterward, as I cruised around the course, I stopped at Turn 4. We talked about the race, about bikes, about the kids. When I heard the call to the line for the 1/2 race, I told him I had to get out of the way. We shook hands and I rolled back toward the start/finish line feeling happy and free.

On the last day of an up-and-down season (mostly down), I'd ended the night with $140 and the satisfaction of finally riding a good race. I'm excited for 'cross. I'm excited for 2015.

The biggest joy, though, was coasting down from Turn 4, where demons were forever buried in the front yard of a corner house, in a normally quiet neighborhood in Papillion.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Last hurrah

The road season, such as it is here, ends tomorrow. It seems like it really just started. I don't race much until June, because we have baseball starting in April. The odds of me having a free weekend in May are pretty scarce.

When the season does start, I don't race a ton — there's just not time. So here we are at the end.

I've ridden lots over the summer and raced about the same as last year. Nothing terribly notable, though I've been able to be of some sort of assistance to teammates. But I've been a non-factor just as often. Such is life as a 37-year-old guy who tries not to make his family hate him and his bike.

I think I'll race a decent amount of 'cross this year. This will all depend on how much fitness I can hold. Toward the end of the summer, getting up early and getting out the door was getting tough. I don't expect it will be any easier. Most likely, it will be high-intensity trainer work. Oof.

But I think I can be worth a crap — at least marginally so.

And then after 'cross we'll reset everything and zoom into another year. It happens quickly. Maybe next year is the one where I make the bike move quickly, too.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Ballpark chronicles

I spent a very large portion of the ages 18 to 24 or so at baseball fields. I coached every summer through 2001 from little guys (10-year-olds) to a few years as a varsity coach. And, really, after that I was at the park for another couple of years as a reporter.

It was a lot of hot nights and a lot of cold nights and more than a fair bit of rain. Pretty much every day from mid-May to mid-June, it might rain. I did a lot of raking and tarp pulling and sometimes we even lit the dirt on fire to dry it out. The fire department doesn't like that, by the way.

Since those years now more than a decade ago, my time on baseball fields has been limited. Well, at least until Jack started playing ball last year. Since then, I've been enjoying being back at the park. Last week we spent a nice, if drizzly, night at Werner Park.

Pretty much any time I can go to a baseball game, I will. And I will almost never leave before the game is over. As the drizzle (then rain) fell last week, I wondered if we'd need to pack it up and head out. Chris was ready to jump ship, when it starting coming down harder. Maddy didn't care. Jack, however, refused to leave. So he and I sat under a blanket in the rain and watched the remaining outs tick away.

It was really nice. And, more than anything, I really just wanted to go down on the field and play catch. Nice, long throws. It's been a while since I've done that.

Jack is getting better and better every time we throw in the backyard. Eventually, it'll be less like throw and chase and more like just playing catch.

I'm really looking forward to that, actually. I hope my shoulder can hold up to that.

Friday, August 1, 2014

I'll give you $35,000 to go away

If you want to find the exciting times at an insurance company, wait for the end of the month. Actually, that's kind of a tease — nothing at an insurance company is that exciting. So maybe it's just more interesting.

As an adjuster, it is my job to close claims efficiently and with cost savings in mind. That said, if a claim is going to cost $50K because of surgery and rehab and lost-time pay, so be it. If we're supposed to pay, we'll pay. But ultimately I need to close that claim. And every month we push toward the last week to wrap up claims in order to hit goals.

Sometimes it's just a matter of completing care and being returned to work. Those are the easy ones. Sometimes it's a matter of getting lawyers to agree on numbers and taking it before a judges. That's not really that hard, either — provided you know what you're talking about.

Other times, you make a phone call to an injured worker and just offer a pile of cash. Sweet, tax-free cash. And sometimes that works. Ideally, a doctor will have declared them permanent and stationary, so you have some sort of guide for your cash expenditure. But sometimes you just have to sort of guess, get the money together (which is really just asking for authority from a supervisor) and make a phone call.

And, ultimately, I'm offering someone a lot of money (or sometimes a very small amount of money) to close their claim and wander off into the sunset. It's an interesting proposition: the insurance guy just offering you cash out of the blue. And all because you fell off of a truck, cut your finger, tried lifting a barrel full of concrete or slipped on a wet floor. And the sooner they accept, the sooner I can close a claim, which means ... well, nothing, really. I just get my name higher up on the list of closures.

Yep. That's insurance guy excitement. And with the start of a new month, we can do it all over again.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Go, you baby bears

Against my better judgement, I've watched the vast majority of the last two or three seasons' worth of Cubs games. Sweet baby Jesus, it's been bad. I was overjoyed, though, when a few years ago the organization hired Theo Epstein, of Red Sox fame, to right the ship.

Step one: Blow up the entire franchise. That means maximizing the old, expensive talent and turning it into young, better talent that costs much much much less. We're in the third year of that now, and it's finally paying off. The farm system is now the good kind of ridiculous — completely stocked with talent. Wave after wave of young, top-end talent. There are a few on the big-league club now, and a bunch more on the way. The Cubs have five players in the Baseball America top 30 prospects list. That's fairly solid.

And because of that, it's actually fun to watch this damn team now again. There were glimmers of hope before, but they're coming more frequently now. Of course, since the All-Star break they've been terrible — pretty sure they're 1-5.

But it won't be long. And not the "if we cross our fingers and the other teams fold the Cubs will win" kind of "it won't be long." It's actual, honest-to-goodness hope.

Man, I'm a sucker.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What the future holds

In the early morning hours, about five years ago, I laid in bed at Methodist Hospital, staring at the ceiling. I'd finished work for the night (I kept doing my freelance stuff while I was there), and the Xbox (thanks, Brady) was off. It was just me and my thoughts.

The day before, I'd crashed my bike and headed to the hospital thinking I'd broken my hip or pelvis or something. That would be a drag, I knew, but that happens a lot. Those are big bones. They'll be fine. I was in a side room in the ER when the doctor came in and said it was my back, not my pelvis. L2 ... smashed.

Once I got checked in and doped up and fed, they got me stabilized in a room. The next day I was fitted for a brace, and headed back down for more X-rays (that was a daily routine). I had a neurosurgeon visit late in the afternoon, and he said they'd keep an eye on things for a few days. And that night, I finally settled down and thought about the whole deal.

I got a Facebook note from one of my high school friends whose husband had two or three back surgeries. She said I was lucky that surgery wasn't on the table right now. Her husband got a little better after the first one, but never really returned to normal.

I thought about that into the night. Would things be remembered as "before the crash" and "after the crash?"

For the most part, no. Life got back to normal pretty quickly. I still can't lift heavy things — to be fair I was bad at that to begin with — but I ride lots and nothing else is really a problem. Well, most of the time.

Over the weekend, I tweaked something in my back that left me in a pretty constant stoop. I don't know if it was pulling Jack on the trailer or riding through Tranquility or what. But after I got off the bike, I couldn't stand up straight. It got worse Sunday night and by yesterday, I was seriously wondering whether I'd be able to race this weekend.

Actually, check that — I'd be able to race, but I wouldn't be able to walk afterward. So, really, no problem.

But I didn't ride this morning — opting instead to get some extra rest and do some gentle stretching after coffee. And over the course of the day, my back relaxed and all is now well again. I'm still gonna make sure I stretch and everything over the next few days, but all systems are essentially normal.

I've put forth decent effort in making sure I take care of my back and core since that night in the hospital. Somehow, I've been able to race cyclocross reasonably well the past few seasons. I'm sore as hell afterward and I spend most of December getting the kinks out, but I do it and it's fun. Also, it helps me justify having another bike, which is OK by me.

I have to wonder, though, how much longer I can keep it up. I would imagine my back looks like that of a 50-year-old. Or maybe worse. Arthritis will be an issue at some point, no doubt, though I hope that point is still a few years away.

Yesterday I thought my season was done — and I'd need to head to the doctor. But just like that, it's back to normal. Everything is back in play. I hope I can make it happen.