Friday, October 24, 2008

Cyclocross 102: SingleSpeed Cyclocross

As my pal Dean Vermeire says, “When your only tool is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.” My faulty logic was:
-I have a singlespeed bike
-I like riding it
-I’ve raced in one Cyclocross race on a Mountian bike:
THEREFORE I’m ready to race my 29 pound 1976 Schwinn Varsity as a SingleSpeed in the Boulevard Cup Cyclocross race.

That same faulty logic is what got (nee: Caleb) Major Major Major promoted to the Rank of Major in Catch-22.

First; why single speed bike? Let me count the reasons:
1. Simplicity—nothing to go wrong, nothing to break, nothing to shift.
2. Counter-intuitiveness: In cross, you have to run up hills often where gears don’t really help. Single Speed evens out those parts of the course.
3. Ego—sure it’s a part of the ethos: “You think the course was hard? HAH! I did it on a bike with only 1 gear!”
4. Stupidity—See # 3
5. Adventure-See #’s 1-3
6. See #4

Lessons learned:
Gears are good, but not where you think;
-On the sharp up-hills, I didn’t really miss the lowest gears, you just stand up and grunt through them. It helps being in a taller gear because you keep the momentum
-I really missed them on the long gradual up-hills, you really lost time when people could downshift and leave like you are standing still
-In the heavy grass—think of riding over Velcro
-Especially in the flats, where the geared guys could get in a bigger gear and out gun you.

The Bike:
I bought the Varsity in Oct 2007 for $40, turned it into a fixed gear/single speed by purchasing new 700c wheels, chopped and flopped the handlebars, and got ride of all the gears, shifters, derailleurs, detritus. It went from 42 pounds to 29 pounds.

Then I added fenders, rear rack and the best of all accessories, the bell to use as my commuter. Then I purchased from Harris Cyclery (RIP Sheldon Brown, you are missed) a new one piece crank that had 9/16th pedal sockets to put modern pedals on the bike. So far I’ve ridden it 51 times this year, 32 of those for commutes to work.

To turn it into a cyclocross bike, I changed the tires, changed the rear singlespeed sprocket from 16 to 18 teeth, had an old schwinn shop remove the kickstand with a tool that looked like a garlic press, and installed a new 36 tooth front ring to give me the elusive 2:1 ratio. It feels very solid, and yes-heavy.

The Race:
I started at the back of the pack around the guys riding bikes straight off the island of misfit toys (Or more accurately, misfit guys.) Several eyed my rig with incredulity, see # 3, but others eyed it with wisdom, see #4. We got out of the chute pretty fast on a flat, then a hard downhill left turn. My Varsity shone there—the combination of my weight (92Kilos) + it’s weight 29# and I was gliding along while all the skinny guys pumping away hard. I kept with them during the first set of chicanes and s-Turns.

Then we had the first long uphill, probably 200 meters of a false flat that turned into a sharp incline. About 100m into the area I understood the practicum of having no gears, after the theory of it wouldn’t be a big deal. It was a big deal, and it sucked. Only a quarter of the way into the first of 5 laps and the experiment turned into an ordeal. Maybe not epic, certainly not heroic, but now unavoidable. Crap. It was like the old song RPW loved, “I’m a rock and roll man fall in love with a disco girl”

The Issues:
When I would come up to a hill or muddy spot, and needed more uumph, I would stand up to mash the pedals, which put my weight more forward, which caused the rear wheel to have less traction, which led to my tire slipping/spinning out and me loosing momentum.

The Seatpost:
In the middle of the second lap, I was hammering on the pedals when my seatpost bent sharply back, causing my seat to no longer be level, but pointing up towards the sky like a bird dog sniffing the breeze. The picture shows the angle, but after the race I adjusted the seat to be relatively level so I could ride it to the beer tent.)The effect of not having a seat meant I had to crouch/stand the for the rest of the race, which led to traction problems. The few times I did try to sit down, I had to hang on for dear life like I was riding a bucking horse. Sometimes I looked like a bmx kid preparing for an ollie or whatever it is they do between bong hits.

The Reward:
My first ever blog post started with the immortal words of “he said there would be beer”. This proved to be prophetically true. As the picture of the SKC's JB shows the race was called the Boulevard Cup, they poured complimentary and unlimited glasses of Pale Ale, Wheat, and as I came to find out by some cunning, a hidden keg of Boulevard Saison from their SmokeStack Series. It was choice. Great folks from Boulevard.

Prosser and Hendry also raced. Prosser raced the real SingleSpeed Division, Hendry in the Cat 3-4 geared. It was fun to watch Prosser suffer much more than I did on his single speed for many of the same reasons I discussed, with one small difference. While my racing style approaches the edge of pain and engages it in a sissy-slapfight, he dives in with both hands, and knees/headbutts and eye gouges it to the bitter end.

The Results:
I came in 46th out of 52, so I beat 6 guys on geared bikes. See #3. And I lost to 45 guys on geared bikes, See #4.
I also came out with tremendous respect for the guys who really race single speeds competitively. As they say, it ain’t braggin’ if you done it, but the guys that are truly single speed studs don’t brag.

Ultimately that is what is so fun about cyclocross, everyone is out for a good time, races are competitive by being in the right class, the crowds are appreciative, and the after race camaraderie is fantastic.

What’s next:
Maybe, just maybe my next race will be on an honest to God, geared Cyclocross bike. And if I still finish with 85% of the racers beating me, I’ll know Lance Armstrong’s first book title is correct: It’s not about the bike.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Persephone & Hades... Crusin' in the Murphini on the River Styx?

Alas, I know what Ceres felt like when Persephone was taken away from her. Remember the story in greek mythology about the hot chick Persephone (Pronounced "Per-soff-ah-nee" sez Danielle's pal Katie Devan) gets kidnapped by Hades and taken to the underworld? Her mom Ceres wigs out so everything dies until she comes back in the spring.

Well, that's me (Ceres, that is). This weekend Connie and I took the Murphini2 out of water, the whole family cleaned her up, and prepared her for her winter slumber. I'm taking her to Innerspace Storage (the caves) tomorrow, where she will sit in hibernation until Persephone comes back from the netherworld in the spring. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

But like Mardi Gras before Lent, it is fine form to send something off in style. Tonight we had the last "cruise" of the season, a driveway/street cruise with Connie & I, Kevin and Danielle Shank, and their guest of honor Ms. Katie Devan. Yes, that is us, sitting in the boat, parked the street at 8:32PM on a Sunday night, it's dark outside, 52 degrees, and we're having a BEvERage. It's fun doing the parade wave to every car/minivan that slowly drives by, looking at us sitting in the boat, at night, on the get the picture. Katie seemed most curious of all, and wondered if we'd really do this; so thanks for makin' in happen, kid.

Year 1 on the Murphini was eventful:
-We took 31 cruises
-Ran the engine 63.9 hours
-Had 84 different guests
-Trailered it to Okoboji
-Trailered to Tablerock
-Learned how to wakesurf.

Highlights? There were many:
-Wakebording with Ryan and his Pals
-Okoboji Madness with Becky Eiting carving S turns at 7am on the glassy water
-Delores cradling and cuddling the heating duct like it was here newest grandbaby during our night cruise
-Sarah's 14th Birthday Party with 9 of her friends
-Kevin Shank's only day off all Summer
-Trip to Tablerock with the Rodriguez's
-TouchNet Sales team day on the boat

Another highlight? Sometimes I do and I give and I give and I do things for others because I've got a big ole heart like a grapefruit, and it's hard for me to say no. This is one of those times.
Danielle's daughter Madison is the Senior Co-Captain of the Blue Valley Northwest Cheerleading Squad. Tradition has it that the squad has a promotional photo taken on some unique vehicle for a poster to be distributed to boosters, local business and parents. Somehow the idea came up that a picture on a boat would be nice. Darn the luck in that we just so happen to have a boat that holds 16 people.

The day it died at TableRock, but even that has a great story/ending. The boat was under warranty, turned out it was a loose ground cable, and the President of Tige Boats wrote me a check for the day we had to rent a boat since our was literally dead in the water.

All winter, I'll be thinking of Hades taking his hottie Persephone out for rides on the STYX on my boat. By the way, Persephone actually fell in love with Hades and her mom doesn't know....and I bet she digs the time away from all the hustle and bustle of our world, so she can hang on the Murphini with her forbidden love. I can see them now, dodging the Charons and the lost souls, cranking the toons and having a blast.

I can't wait for Spring.

Cap'n Johnny

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Runnin' down a dream--and some poor kid from Rockhurst ...

I pity the kid, a sophomore at Rockhurst, running in the JV Cross Country race on Saturday Oct 11th in Kearney, MO, home of Jesse James. And just like Jesse James, he was taken down, from behind, unaware until it was too late. The killer/stalker/victor? None other than our own Sarah Kathryn Murphy.

In the JV Race, the girls and the boys run at the same time, and trust me, the boy's don't want to be beat by girls. Sarah did great: not only did she come in 15th place for the girls, she beat a bunch of boys, including 4 from Rockhurst; a Sophomore, two Juniors and a Senior.

This is a picture of the finish area--with about 50 meters to go, Sarah was a few strides behind this kid--probably an nice guy out running because he wants to stay in shape, to be on the team with his friends. He had no idea he was being stalked.

Sarah hit the afterburners and caught him in a few strides, he looked over, panicked, ran faster, which made Sarah run harder inside his left shoulder all the way to the end, where she had to jut to the left to go into the girls chute and he to the boys chute. She clipped him at the end, and was I proud. He was not sure what hit him, or blew past him.

Sports make girls/women strong. Strong in heart, body and mind. Nothing was going to keep Sarah from mowing down people infront of her in the last 50 meters--she's done it in every race. This will be a great metaphor for her life--run her pace, then run even faster, doing something that she wants, and enjoying the result. She is gracious in victory, but ruthless in it's pursuit.

Happy Place?
Believe it or now, Kearney, Missouri is one of my happy places, joining the Plaza, Okoboji, Lidia's and the 4th Street elevator in Dubuque, Iowa. Not only did Sarah have a breakthrough race, Ryan also had his best ever race on this same course his Sophomore year. He was running in a group of 4 other kids all race, then I lost sight of them in the woods, and coming around a corner out the woods he was all alone. He powered up the hill where I was watching like a motorcross rider down-shifting to surge up the hill. Now I've seen Sarah excel at the same place.

Sarah and Ryan will both go places in their lives because I've seen them learn firsthand that they can overcome pain and reach beyond what they thought they could do. It's the lesson that every parent wants for their children to learn on their own. I am one proud papa.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Busted: Ride Recap: Oct 8th 2008

I was wondering why all the cars were stopping on both sides of the road for the police siren that was loudly behind me. Being the dutiful bike rider, I too stopped. The cop went past me and stopped on the road ahead of a car that stopped...the one I thought he was pulling over, so I started again, when the siren went off. Again. Busted. He pointed at ME.

It was really Prosser & Dutcher's fault for turning right at the 4 way stop from southbound Woodland to westbound College without really/truly stopping. It was maybe my fault for jumping in behind them. And it was definately Wade's fault for jumping in behind me, riding on his titanium cyclocross bike with carbon 4 blade spoke wheels. He and his rig is what got us busted.

The officer was pretty direct at first saying that while we had rights to use the road, but we had to follow the SAME rules that cars have to follow. We normally do, this was sort of a "St. Louis rolling stop" or the old "no cop/no stop".

He took our names and birthdates to make sure there were no warrants out for our arrest. Wade tried to confuse him by not really saying if Wade was his first or last name, but we ultimately escaped with a warning. We almost got BT to come up and act as our attorney, but didn't want to keep pay his retainer. Truth be told, the cop was a good guy, and was correct. He let us off with a warning. (Somehow Prosser's rap sheet was wiped clean....). BT, Mark, Austin & Rapp just huddled back about 20 yards giggling at Prosser, Dutcher, Wade and myself. Properly chagrined, we restarted the ride.

Rest of the ride was scattered. After the cop/stop, we broke into a few groups;

Dutcher and I hammered Valley Parkway, then Wade, Mark, BT and Prosser rode together, Austin & Rapp/BamBam were behind--didn't realize Rapp was held back by the cop until all the traffic cleared.

As the other guys were already far ahead, I rode in with Rapp & Austin back way on 95th/Prairie Star then DOWN the 8% grade Woodland. Rapp hit new alltime speed on his bike--38.9mph. I hit 42.7mp. They then took the MillCreek trail back to the cars, I rode north on Woodland to Martindale to meet up with the other guys.

Once I metup with Prosser and Dutcher, we rode south again and went back UP the 8% grade on Woodland, and I won King of the Mountian. "Won" isn't really the right was uncontested. I arrived ahead of them because they didn't try to beat me. So what if Prosser had ridden all weekend in Moab Utah, and Dutcher had led for the last hour of hard riding, and I had ridden 10 miles less, most of it at below lactate threshold....a win is a win, even when it isn't.

Afterwards, KOC met us in the parking lot on his way home from Omaha. His weekend wounds are healing nicely and he was recovered enough to join us at Johnny's for some post ride replenishments.

I learned a few things:
-Two wrongs don't make a right, but turning right on a road can be wrong
-Like in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it's always good to travel with your attorney
-Any King of the Mountian Points are good, even when they are uncontested
-BT has a new POSLQ
-I like the carbohydrate replenishment.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I'm simply eccentric, not crazy....

I flew Shamu. Again. To be more specific, yesterday I flew one of the two Shamu’s in Southwest Airlines’ fleet, and yes, I have ridden on both, multiple times.

On September 30th, 2008 I flew on Southwest tail number N713SW from Kansas City (MCI) to Chicago (MDW) to Philadelphia (PHL). I have also been a passenger on that plane on March 1st, 1999 from Chicago to Las Vegas, and on November 5th, 2007 from Indianapolis to Kansas City. So I first rode this plane 9 years ago? When Bill Clinton was President? Wow.

The other Shamu is Tail number N715SW, and I’ve flown on it 3 times; December 10th, 1998 from Los Angeles to Kansas City, March 29th, 2002 from Kansas City to San Jose, and on June 12th, 2007 from Kansas City to Chicago.

And yes, I do have a point in here somewhere.

The point is that life as a business traveler ain’t very glamorous, so sometimes flying on a plane painted as a Killer Whale is the best thing that happens on the road.

In 1998, I read somewhere that there are people who have the hobby of “Plane Spotting”. Like bird-watching or roller coaster riding, they want to see or “spot” every plane owned by an airline. Some camp out near maintenance bases, some scour the timetables, some need to get a life.

I thought it would be interesting to record the plane tail number of each Southwest Airline plane I flew on. I had no idea that this quirk in the ole logic circuit would give me something to look forward to on my job of traveling around the country.

So far, I’ve ridden on 285 separate airplanes operated by Southwest Airlines since July 10th, 1998. This does not count all the plane rides I took from 1990 to 1998 for my job.

Of the 285 planes, I have ridden on 102 of them more than one time. Each Shamu’s I’ve ridden three times each. Some, like N744sw, I’ve ridden on 5 times from March of 1999 to January 2006. Lots of 4’s and 3 peats. For example, here is N683WN, I've ridden her twice: August 12th, 2000 to Las Vegas, and on January 25th, 2008 home from Indianapolis. They have 520 planes, so I’m halfway there.

As of today, (writing this on SW403 PHL-MCI 29,000 feet over south central Iowa) I’ve ridden 416 different legs on Southwest Airlines. I define a “leg” as a trip on a single airplane, whether it is from one city to next, or like today when the plane departs from Philadelphia, lands in Chicago, picks up passengers and departs again for Kansas City.

To put that in perspective: let’s assume each “leg” is an hour and a half. So doing some quick math: approx 400 legs x 90 minutes per leg, minutes is 36,000 minutes, or 600 hours in the air. 600 hours divided by 24 hours in a day is 25 days in the air.

Or, let’s assume that the average speed is 500mph, taking into account takeoff’s and landings, headwinds, etc. 500mph x 600hours= 300,000 Miles. The circumference of the earth is approximately 25,000 miles, so I’ve been around the world 12 times. Or to the Moon, and part of the way back....

Finally, Southwest is known for cheap fares. If I assume that every round trip is $400, or $100 each leg. (Example: Kansas City to Philadelphia connects thru Chicago), I’ve paid $400,000 to Southwest over the years. Or last 10 years, $40,000 per year, $3,333 per month, or about $109 per day. As brother Steel-Cut says, “That’s a lot of burritos.”

And that’s only on Southwest….it doesn’t count my flights on Continental, Delta, Northwest (Northworst), Midwest Express, United, American, ComAir, AirTran, JetBlue, Frontier, USAir, AmericaWest, Delta Connection, or TWA, Eastern, ValuJet, ExpressJet, Braniff, Ozark, Midway.

In all the legs I’ve flown on Southwest, I’ve never had a bad experience with any of their employees. That is why I keep coming back.

I’m not “Rainman”, I just needed a hobby to stave off the crushing suckiness of having to hop on another plane. I’m very lucky that I love the outcome of the travel, and now have a little “something-something” to keep my mind occupied as I walk down the jetway for yet another trip.