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.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Family Vacation: Return to Holidome

In my youth, I was carted across the bulk of the upper midwest nearly every summer in a 1972 Chevelle. Its AC was unreliable — I remember sitting in an auto parts store parking lot on a Sunday morning at least once  — and the backseat was not exactly a place to sprawl out.

But we saw all sorts of stuff — from Wyoming to Missouri to Kentucky and up through Canada. Lots of motels, from the very good to very bad. I remember a place called the Snow White Motel that had a miniature golf course and little statues of the Seven Dwarfs. There was a big huge lawn outside of that one. There was a place in Michigan that we actually stayed at on three separate trips (or maybe two).

The best motels were the kind that had a ton of stuff to do. Game room, pool table, swimming pool, a place to play catch or whiffle ball or something. Often, it was something like this:

Ah yes. The Holidome — a Holiday Inn staple of years gone by. It has everything you want. See that bar? Ping-pong, billiards, sauna ... ridiculous humidity throughout the building. Some even had miniature golf courses inside. Those were always a favorite stop; but they were rare.

Here's another:
Man, that looks like fun.

When we rolled into Overland Park, Kan., a few weeks ago after finishing up at the Tour of Lawrence, we were looking for a Ramada. When we pulled into the parking lot, I said, "This looks like an old Holiday Inn."


And then we checked in and walked in side and ... BAM. Holidome. I ran straight for the "Pole Position" arcade cabinet, only to discover it had replaced by "Cruisin' USA." Oh, and it wasn't turned on ... and neither were the other games. Hmmm.

This former family fun center had seen better days. There was a heavy storm our first night, and the roof leaked accordingly. And the room lock was some sort of 1970s job that didn't have a deadbolt. It was strange. The pool was fine, and the breakfast was OK. The WiFi was actually fast. The sauna looked scary as all get out. Oh, and there was, like, nobody else there. I saw maybe a half-dozen other motel guests the whole time.

But it brought back some pretty fantastic memories. I tried to explain to Jack that these things used to be all over the place. There are probably still a lot of them, but I doubt they have the same draw. The one in Overland Park certainly wasn't pulling them in.

I'd be willing to bet this is just the first of many summers that remind me of those past. I gotta figure out where that Snow White motel was. Maybe South Dakota? Unfortunately, we'd have to go to South Dakota. I'm not sure it's worth it.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Early birds, no worms

I'm late with this. Pretty sure it's supposed to be up before now. I probably could knock it out more quickly, but I'm using one of the kiosk computers at work. Even at the height of JUST LET ME GET ONLINE ALREADY in 1996, I'm pretty sure it was faster than this. The side of the machine says "intel Core2Duo inside," but I'm pretty sure it's a Pentium II. I'm fairly positive any formatting done on this machine won't stick, either. Great.
Anyway, this was supposed to be written this morning. But I was busy then - on the bike, welcoming the day with that terrible burning sensation in my throat, tongue wagging, body rocking side to side. The workout today was short, but intense. Three 1-minute intervals at 150% of threshold, then three 30-second intervals at full gas.
It's a terrible way to wake up.
But I dragged myself out of bed, regardless. With a July that's more or less clear, I feel the need to use these last six weeks or so to really go for it - to make the miles worthwhile. If it turns out that I really am that bad, well ... then, I guess I'll need to figure out if it's worth it. But I don't think I'm that bad. (By "that bad," I mean struggling to hold on to a 3s field.)
After Bellevue/Papillion in August, I need to figure out what to do. I'm equally terrible at 'cross, but I feel like I could probably carry over some fitness - at least for a few weeks. Also, I don't have wheels. Well, actually I do have wheels - they're Fred's and he said I could use them as long as I need to ... about 2 years ago. Hey, I still need those, Fred. But I don't have CX race wheels. I'll have to figure that out somehow.
Ideally, it goes like this: The Allez gets Force 11-speed next year, which means new components and wheels. And the Crux gets the Allez shifters, derailleurs and wheels. And the Crux shifters go to someone who appreciates good deals. That could work.
Hey, anybody need parts?

Friday, July 4, 2014

It is tradition

We moved here 10 years ago. Other than my childhood home, that's the longest I've lived in one place. College was a bit of a few years here, a few there. We were pretty sure we'd live in our current house for a few years and move elsewhere in town. But we haven't. It's small, but it's OK. It's hard to deny the appeal of an easy way out of town via bike, and off-road riding just a minute or two away.

Anyway, 10 years ago, as we were moving in, Chris' uncle brought us a smoker. In previous Omaha visits, I'd commented on how delightful the brisket or pulled pork or beans or whatever were. He took that to mean I'd like a smoker of my own.

He was completely right, of course. So we added a smoker to the arsenal. I've tried all sorts of stuff, some better than others. Smoked salmon is tasty. Brisket is good, too, though expensive as all get out.

But the specialties are smoked BBQ beans, ribs and pulled pork. I daresay I'm actually really good at it. I've had a lot of great beans in my day, but when I nail it on the smoker, none compare. (Already, I feel like today's is a good batch.)

We don't use the smoker a lot — it takes a bit to set up and cleanup is arduous and awful — but it does usually make an appearance on July 4. Beans are on right now, along with some pork shoulder (which will turn into pulled pork later). We don't always blow stuff up, nor do we go anywhere special on the Fourth.

But BBQ? Yeah, we'll do that. All the time. It is tradition.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Should have checked first

This sign was posted on the exercise room in our motel in Kansas City over the weekend. The exercise in the couple of days prior to arriving there was, indeed, strenuous. Medical consultation likely wouldn't have helped, though — it was two hard, hard days of racing.

On Saturday, the KU campus race featured a course that went the opposite direction from last year. That meant the same roads, for the most part, just backward. It was a really good course, and super-fun to bomb the twisty descent.

I was able to get down the thing without opening big gaps, so I was pretty happy with where I was the first couple of laps. The issue that is that the long hill on the opposite side of the course was hard. I was able to hang on the hill, but that put me in a bad position on the descent ... which then required me to chase up to the hill ... which then put me in the back on the climb.

It went like that for a while, until finally the back of the group was reduced to tatters. I was one of the faster tatters, but that wasn't much consolation. Up ahead, my teammate, Luke Sykora, was in the lead group. And then he won the race. That's pretty awesome.

Sunday's race was a different course from last year, too. It was every bit as fast, but definitely harder. How much harder? I missed my pedal at the beginning, kicked at it for a few seconds and quickly got back on. But it was three or four laps into the race before I could even move up in the bunch. We were pushing 32 or more on the finishing straight (slight tailwind) and averaged just shy of 26.

The course didn't provide much room to move and, to be honest, I couldn't go fast enough to do a whole lot, anyway. There were several points where I wanted to get up there and do some stuff, but I physically could not make my bike go fast enough to do so. It was frustrating to say the least.

In between kicking at my pedal and being spit off the back with about 1.5 laps to go, I saw a handful of crashes, most of which were silly, and tried like hell to hold my position. It was a hard day.

Afterward, I was happy (I guess) to hear that everybody had it hard — that my situation wasn't unique. It was a hard, fast race that made it difficult to move in the bunch. I guess that's something.

I'm not sure what comes next. At some point this season — and there's not much of it left — I need to make hay so all of this effort is actually worth it. I'm thinking about skipping Clear Lake and just riding and riding and riding through July. In August, East Village, Bellevue and Papillion are on top of the list. And I want to do well there.

Plus, I'm not sure donating more prize money is the prudent financial decision right now. We'll see. I have time to decide. But for today it's back to work.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Crossy things

I took my cyclocross bike out a couple of times last week. One was for a commute, the other was just for kicks. Man, that's a fun bike. Also, it's godawful ugly. That thing is ridiculous.

I had the temptation along the way to do some dismounts and remounts and participate in general tomfoolery. And that was fun and got me thinking about 'cross. And then I started looking forward to 'cross.

And that makes no sense becasue I am terrible at 'cross.

Also, the road season is just getting to the meaty parts — big races are coming up (Lawrence, then Clear Lake, etc.). And I'm feeling fairly good on the bike. So seemingly all is going in the right direction.

But just yesterday I stopped to look at 'cross tires. And I was thinking about wheels. I also wondered if the sun would explode from putting our 2014 Flatwater kit in close proximity to my 'cross bike. I don't know, seems dangerous.

Anyway, 'cross is on my mind. I'm not sure how the season is going to work. I doubt I'll race as long as I did last year. I was so done with bikes by the time Frosty Cross came around last year. It seems like I'm either going to have to choose to be decent early on or take a short break and then get back into it. I'll still do Frosty Cross, because it's fun and the Bike Central guys are good people. I'll just expect carnage.

So that's that. At the dawn of my first "big" road event of the year, I'm thinking about 'cross. This should go well.