29 May 2010

Wow. Okay. Maybe?

Some of the best memories I have are of the movies my dad took me to see when I was a kid.

For everyone in my particular generation who grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, watching movies in air-conditioned theaters was a regular part of summer vacation.  Summer movies were great.  They were a reprieve, a respite... from the heat... and especially from my little brothers.  I loved going to summer movies at Harkins Los Arcos Mall Cinema and at the El Camino Theater Camelview north of Camelback Road.  But I was never actually too stoked with most of the summer movie fare: The Fox And The Hound... The Devil And Max Devlin... Benji.  I sat through these films not because I liked them but because I got to see them with my friends... and because we got soda and popcorn... and because it was someplace to be out of the sun and the heat, if only for a few hours.

But every once in a while, usually on a Saturday morning, my dad would open the paper and turn to the movie pages and start scanning show times.  Excited, my brothers and I would begin the process of scrounging up our quarters and dimes for the snack bar. But we never really knew what we were in for whenever my dad determined to take us to the movies. Nevertheless, sitting next to my dad, not knowing what to expect, I can remember watching some very formative films:  the re-release of 2001: A Space Odyssey... Star Wars... the Ralph Bakshi animated oddity Wizards... Star Trek: The Motion Picture... Clint Eastwood in Any Which Way But Loose and Outlaw Josey Wales... Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther Strikes Again... Abrahams, Zucker & Zucker's comedic masterpiece Airplane! (for a long time my touchstone for funniest movie ever) and many, many more great movies.

However, none of the films I ever saw with my dad stands out for me as memorably as does Bruce Brown's On Any Sunday... which I scored today for, like, six bucks in near-mint condition on DVD at Hollywood Video's going-out-of-business blow out sale!  The clerk who rang me out, who happened to be a former student of mine, noted my excitement at finding this film still on the rack today... shelved under Special Interest, for whatever that's worth.

"What's this movie about, Mr. Coe?" he asked.

"You've never seen it?" I replied.  "Oh, man, you should watch it.  It's a great film...Bruce Brown directed it... You know, the guy who made The Endless Summer?  Anyway, it's about motorcycles, and Steve McQueen, and riding dirt bikes in the 1970s, back in the day.  It's just an incredible film!  Really beautiful.  I used to own it on VHS.  I've watched it a dozen times and I could easily watch it a dozen more.  You should totally watch it!"

"Wow.  Okay.  Maybe?" was about all he said.

On Any Sunday isn't a movie you can really explain well with words.  It's a movie you need to watch.  And not just if you like motorcycles.  It's a movie you should watch if you're passionate about anything.  Because it is essentially a movie about passion, about being so sold-out on something, anything, be it skiing, or tree climbing, or stamp collecting, that you've got it flowing through your veins.  I don't think anyone (and I include Warren Miller in this statement) to-date has ever made a really good movie that truly expresses the passion found in any of those things.  Plenty of films have touted the cool-factor of a given pursuit... the speed, the thrill, the danger... but I'm hard pressed to recall films in this genre that also succeed in conveying the abiding compulsion, the sense of pure passion, the joy that we experience when we're out doing whatever-it-is that we love.

In my opinion, Bruce Brown has succeeded at this like no one else.  Twice.  In 1966 he made the incredible The Endless Summer about the passion of surfing... and in 1971 he made On Any Sunday about the same thing, only about motorcycles.

Given three wishes, one of mine would be that I could make a film like this about riding bikes in the woods... or maybe skiing.

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

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.


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.


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.

16 May 2010

All the feels

It was a weekend. And a very good one!







All the feels. It happened something like this...

Had dinner on Friday evening with several old friends and co-workers, then rode home alone in the dark via Lockett Trust and Jumps trails. Not a big ride, but so nice to just be out in the dark riding trails at night.

Rode the Rock Lobster across Rocky Ridge early Saturday to meet the rest of the trail crew at the bottom of Schultz. Walked in about a half-mile from Weatherford Road to the new Fort Valley Trail.  Spent most of the morning working with Vince moving a large rock near into a huge hole we made in the ground.

Our daughter has been rehearsing in a jazz-and-tap ensemble with the farm-league of the NAU Dance Academy. She had two performances this weekend, along with all the big girls who did a lot of ballet. I went to her performance on Saturday night and got to sit next to my wife while we watched our little girl dance... It was almost like a date! My wife raced back stage at intermission, grabbed the kid, and we ditched the rest. 

Hundreds of other bike-geeks turned out downtown in their corniest attire, on their silliest bikes, to ride in the annual Bike To Work Week kick-off Bike Parade on Sunday morning Had there been a prize for longest bike, our tandem-plus-trail-a-bike would have won easily.

Alas, there were no prizes. Only helium-filled balloons and fake tattoos, prize-enough for any 5-year-old, honestly, and a police-escorted tour through some of Flagstaff's best neighborhoods and the whole of downtown for some 200+ riders.

Afterward we rode over to "the other Coe's house" to visit for a bit while the kids played together.  Then we rode over to LFTT for coffee and brunch-ish breakfast burritos and rode home by way of up Lockett Trust and Elden Lookout Road and Jumps together. 

Life is good!

13 May 2010

人算不如天算 ... or, ya know, I don't really miss those 20 lbs.

Man's schemes are inferior to those made by heaven.

Kids are crazy as a rule.  They just are.  Wind just makes them crazier.  It just does.  Put a windy day anywhere in the last two or three weeks of the school year, and it's all any teacher can do to just keep a lid on things.

It's been super windy here lately.  So my job, lately, has just kinda become a crowd-control situation as I attempt to keep 28 ten-year-olds focused and on-track at the end of the school year.  It's not easy.  Even after some seventeen years on the job, it's still not easy.  Especially not at the end of the year.  Especially not on windy days.

As someone once said: "I'm tired (ain't it a fwiggin' shame)." 

Normally, this kind of thing really wouldn't bother me. But, truthfully, I think maybe this year it is because it's been an unusually humbling year, this year.  Humbling as in: I feel like I've been reminded more than a few times that I-Am-Not-In-Control-Of-My-Life-Nearly-As-Much-As-I-Like-To-Think-I-Am.  Said reminders of such inability have arrived in various ways and by various means over the course of the last calendar year, such as:
  • The tree that nearly crushed me this past summer.
  • The deer that crashed into my wife and daughter one night in October (they came out unscathed; the new car, not-so-much).
  • That whole swine-flu pandemic dust-up.
  • My bout of diverticulitis last November, which cost me some seven days of sick-leave (more than I've ever taken in one school year), garnered me two CT scans, several blood tests, 10 days on Cipro and Flagyl, a dozen or more trips to the doctor, and left me 20 pounds lighter, a couple thousand dollars poorer, and more scared than any other illness I've ever had.
  • A barrage of gloomy pronouncements in the local newspaper of the impending potential for school closures (perhaps to include mine), teacher layoffs, and deep program cuts district-wide.
  • And, heck, just for good measure, toss in a few other family-related crises that shall go unmentioned at this time...
And, well... Like I was saying: it's been an unusually humbling year, this year.  I think I'm beginning to get it: I'm Not-Really-In-Control of things. Not at all.

But, ya know... we're rolling with it.  It's okay.  I know that sounds odd, especially given my whining in the first few paragraphs.  But really, we are doing pretty well, as a family, all things considered.

In the midst of all this confusion and fear, and more commonly, bewilderment (confusion and fear all mixed up together, ya see) we've really sorta grown, somehow. We are, indeed, fortunate and well cared for, despite all the things that have happened that plainly, unequivocally sucked, or mostly sucked, or kinda sucked some but not as much as they could have sucked.  And, as we've looked back on each strange turn of events, something really interesting seems to have occurred... We've been able to identify a few positives in the midst of sometimes profound negatives... and that's something good, I think... All this makes us hopeful that the same will continue to be true for those circumstances we've yet to encounter, to say nothing of those which do not yet appear to have reached a discernible conclusion.

Take my missing 20 pounds, as a for-instance.

Before I had diverticulitis, I looked a lot like the guy on the left.

Afterward, I looked more like the guy on the right.

Even I was a bit shocked by this.  Not that I didn't want to loose a few pounds.  Who doesn't?  But trust me, diverticulitis is not a good way to loose weight.  It works, sure enough.  But it's really not worth it, if you're just trying to thin-down.

True story: One day years ago a muscle-bound regular customer came into the bike shop and, after pausing to admire his own physique in the full-length mirror, and then glancing over at a poster of Lance Armstrong for comparison (one presumes), remarked for all to over-hear, "Man, Armstrong got so lucky getting cancer.  Look how ripped he is now.  I'd take cancer if I could look like that after."

Whatever. Moron.

These days, I'm sorta somewhere in between these two guys... but still leaning a bit more to the guy on the right, still more toward gaunt than fit.  It's one thing to be thin and fit (ergo: fast), and another to look thin and sickly (ergo: not fast)... sometimes I worry I still look a little too sickly.  And I'm just vain enough to let that sort of thing bother me.  By the way, it's okay to tell me I don't.  But it kinda still hurts my feelings when folks point out that I do.

So, what do you do when you find yourself pretty much more-or-less fully recovered from a somewhat dire illness and also 20 pounds lighter for your pain?


It's been nearly 10 years since I queued up behind a start-line for a mountain bike race with a bunch of other skinny cyclists early on a Saturday morning.  I used to do it pretty regularly, a few times a year.  And I used to enjoy it.  A few times I even did sorta well.

I've got no illusions about doing well in any upcoming races.  But, for reasons I can't fully explain, I've been riding with renewed passion lately.  And, heck, I'm skinny again.  Just like the old days.  When I put on my bike clothes, if you don't look at my desperately white, hairy legs, I almost look like I might be fit enough to be a little bit fast.  But it's been ages since I had anything to prove on a race course, so I have no idea how I might compare now to my competitors... No... That's not true.  I've got a pretty good idea how I compare.  But that's not the point, is it?  The point is, I'm gonna put my new-found weight-loss to work, just like that lucky-duck Lance Armstrong, and try and win a few races... Or at least try to finish a few races... Maybe even respectably.  Who knows.

First up: The MBAA Flagstaff Finale on the 22nd of May.  It's on my home turf.  On the trails I ride all the time, like a hundred times a year. It's like fate, or something.  Might even try the downhill time-trial on Sunday, too.

Anything might happen.

I'll be the dork on the old single-speed.
I'll let ya know how it goes...
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. -- Ed Abbey