23 May 2010

Wit wot forse eur winde doth blowe! [updated]

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley.

To A Mouse On Turning Up Her Nest With The Plow 
Robert Burns
1785

Argh!  Wind.

Unless you've lived in northern Arizona in the springtime you've probably got no idea what subtle madness the wind can evoke.  No idea.  As Burns might put it, "Wit wot forse eur winde doth blowe!"

My first spring here in Flagstaff I recall asking a classmate, "What's up with this wind?  Does it ever stop?"  She just smiled and replied, "No.  Not until summer."

Sometimes it seems summer will never come.

Nevertheless, it will.  And there's much to do before it does... I should not be blogging, but I honestly find teh blogging relaxing...  I've got grading to finish, scores to tabulate, report cards to complete, and this year, as a special bonus, a classroom to pack into boxes just in case the school board decides to close and relocate my school and all that goes with it, including me.  Word is they'll let us know by June 8...  It's nuts.  I know.

But still, it's not the school board, it's really the wind that persists in adding stress to our lives, in making us feel ever-so-slightly crazy.  All the other stuff would seem that much less bizarre if gale-force winds weren't blowing at mach all day, everyday... for days and days and days.

Fortunately, yesterday at the bike race, the wind presented far fewer challenges than it could have.  Ingenious (or perhaps just coincidental) planning put most of the race facing the wind in the trees on rocky trails, where, aside from the din the wind creates overhead, the effects of the blowing are minimal.  And, when we came out of the trees the lap-layout had all of us climbing the Elden Lookout Road with a truly righteous tailwind behind us.  Only during the last mile, across Buffalo Park's exposed, treeless meadow, did the wind get tricky.

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As things happened last week, race day almost didn't happen for me... despite the fact that I was basically determined to do it... despite my trepidations... despite the fact that I really have no business racing at this point in my season.  I mean, it seems like I just put my skis away.  And all but a few of my rides since then have been well under 15 miles.  Sure, I'm 20 pounds lighter than I was six months ago.  And I've been healthy of late.  And, since I ride them so often, I probably know these trails  as well as anyone.  But, racing?  Really?  School's still in-session.  There's still snow on the mountain!

Regardless, I got the Rock Lobster, my 25-year-old singlespeed mountain bike, prepped and ready to race: gave it a quick tune, the once over... you know... nothing special, but enough to probably ensure that no mechanicals would impede my racing.

As part of my prep I checked the seatbag's contents (tube, tool, levers, patches: check) to make sure everything was A-OK.  And I removed the big, old black Mt. Zefal pump from it's place behind the seat-tube, just to make sure it's stroke was still smooth... these old pumps, if you don't keep 'em lubed about once a year, they get kinda sticky.  And, since they're old-ish, they're easy to take apart and relube (and rebuild, too).
Turns out, the old pump was fine.  But, low-and-behold, lurking beneath the color-matched blue Jaand velcro pump-strap that keeps the pump from bouncing off on bumpy rides, was a GIANT CRACK running nearly half the distance around the seat-tube.  There's a ding in the tube right there.  Has been since before I bought it.  And I guess, after years and years of riding, it caused a stress-riser to form.  Because it was hidden under the pump strap, and because I hadn't flatted in a while, I didn't notice it until it was well-beyond fatal, as flaws go.  In disbelief initially, I hit it with a bit of sand-paper, hoping, "Maybe, just maybe it's only a flaw in the powder-coat," but knowing in my heart it likely wasn't.  My heart was right.

Scratch one singlespeed.

I figured the bike was a total loss and began to make arrangements to ship it off for display at the Salida, Colorado, Absolute Bikes Museum.  But my wife insisted I contact the builder, Paul Sadoff, first and ask him if anything at all could be done.  Reluctantly, knowing most frame builders loathe doing repairs and therefore fearing the worst, I did.  Paul graciously replied the same day, "Hello, John. If you can get the paint stripped I could replace the seat tube. It's a really tough job but that bike has some significance to you and also it is historically significant to me... There's also the possibility of welding up the crack and filling the dent. I guess I wouldn't know what is the best course of action until I saw the frame. There's a local guy here who can strip the paint for $ 55 if needed. Let me know if you wish to proceed. Cheers, Paul." I told Paul I did indeed wish to proceed.  And, as of today, the bike is disassembled and ready for stripping and shipping; the Rock Lobster resurrection project is underway!

Faced with the awful truth that the Rock Lobster was gone, but glad to know it was not gone for good, I had only a couple of options if I still intended to race.  The simplest: flip the rear wheel on my otherwise-always-a-fixed-gear Surly Steamroller, buy a new 18-tooth freewheel, install it and a rear brake, and ride that in the race instead of the Rock Lobster.  With Midge drop-bars, old Dura-Ace road side-pulls, and balding 700x38 Tioga Bloodhound tires, not the best option, for sure.  But since I was not necessarily racing to win, I figured 20-some miles on it, on familiar local trails, was at least do-able.   I went down to the shop and found the freewheel I needed, but likewise found that the shop had zero-inventory in decent cyclocross-type tires.  Despite its lack of new rubber, I figured I'd try the bike out for a few days as a freewheeled-bike anyway.  After several days test-riding it on Forces Of Nature Trail on my way home from work, it became super-obvious that, given all the variables, most especially considering the poor condition of the tires, this solution was simply not going to work.  The Steamroller's a super-fun bike, I dig it, but a race-bike it is not.

So, late on Thursday evening, with just over 24 hours to go until the start of my heat, I decided, as a last resort, to spend an hour downgrading my aging red Stumpjumper Pro from a bike-with-gears, to a bike-with-only-one-gear using the rear wheel off the Rock Lobster.  While not pretty, nor especially sensible, it worked.  In the end, the Stumpy did not disappoint on race-day. It performed flawlessly as an improvised one-speeder, if only for a day; I put it back together as-it-should-be this morning.

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For whatever it's worth, I'm not exactly sure how I finished [See UPDATE below]... But I finished!  Twenty-one miles in just over two hours on a singlespeed as fast as I could muster.

There were hundreds of other racers out on Saturday, but as it turned out only six guys in my heat, Expert Open Singlespeed, five looking very young, very fast, and riding very nice bikes... and me, looking much older and slower on my trail-worn Stumpy.  I could have entered the Sport group and been slightly less intimidated and out-gunned by my competition.  But I really wanted to race, and be challenged by it, ya know.  Plus, I thought paying $50.00 to do just one quick lap was kinda dumb.  But, paying $50.00 to do two laps... with a handful of guys way-fitter than me.  Now that's money well-spent!

Anyway, I knew, from the moment the whistle sounded, as my competition headed out of the gate at least twice as fast as I did, that I was pretty much in my own race against the clock, rather than racing against them.  As it turned out, however, I did pass one of them, a flat-lander gasping for air, in the first mile or so... and I suppose there's a slim chance one of the flats/mechanicals I saw out on the course was someone from my group... but that's about it for my chances of placing better than DFL. The best I can hope for is probably fifth of six riders, fourth if someone broke down, sixth if I got passed again by the gasper without noticing him.  I don't know.  And I really don't care all that much.  No, really, I don't.

UPDATE: The official race results are posted here [.pdf].  As you can see on the screen grab at-left, I got 5th of 7 riders at a respectable off-the-couch pace of 6:24 per mile.  However, in my classification I finished more than 30 minutes behind the leader and almost a full 20 minutes behind the guy who came in 4th, just ahead of me.  But that means I still actually beat one guy, fair-and-square, and the DNFer, too.  The gasper and the no-show. And I gapped the gasper by almost 15 minutes!  And totally killed Mr. DNF!

So, okay, maybe I care a little.

Regardless of how I placed, I had a blast!  I'm glad I finished, and that I finished feeling like I'd spent all my coins.  And, it was great to be out racing after my decade-long hiatus, too.  Even though I'm not a skinny, fast racer (and honestly never really have been) it was a lot of fun being in that so-bike-centric milieu once again, if only for a few hours.

Best of all: It was wonderful to be surprised by my wife and daughter cheering me on at the beginning of my first lap, at the bottom of the first descent behind Buffalo Park, and then again at the finish line some two hours later.  They had a whole host of obligations and events of their own on Saturday morning, so it was pretty special that they found some time to see me off at the beginning and also to greet me at the end!

"You winned, daddy!  I'm so proud that you winned!" my daughter told me as she ran to greet me at the finish line.  And even though it wasn't exactly accurate, it was well-meant and I loved hearing it.

Thanks, girls!  I love you.