Friday, November 30, 2012

Retrospective Highlights: the 2012 road season.

(Dear loyal Readers, if you enjoy reading my stories as much as I enjoy writing them, please support my car-less cause.)


This essay will focus on my season highlights, on adventures I had along the way, and--to satisfy your lust for gore--on the many harsh lessons cut in the name of blood and grit. As is often requested by you, dear reader, I will of course also share many audaciously wild stories.

The 2012 season was spectacularly enjoyable. I had a non-stop race schedule that sent me all around the USA on Bike Racing Gypsy adventures. Along the way I even managed to secure a few laudable results. Most importantly, this season I finally learned how to be a road racer.

For the past three years my primary racing focus had been on endurance track racing.  After the tumultuous learning lesson of my failed attempt at the making the 2012 Olympics, I ultimately reached the conclusion that pursuing professional track racing in the USA lacks any sort of stability or infrastructure. To satisfy my life desire to race full time I had to switch to the road to obtain any sort of constancy and forward trajectory in this nebulous career.

At the last possible moment, in December of 2011, I fortunately landed a spot on the Chicago based team, Astellas Oncology. The transition was complete. I was now an official road racer on an official team and would focus on the domestic NRC and NCC circuits. I ended up touching my track bike only twice the whole summer.

Now, with the race season behind me, as I sit here writing this, I can say I much prefer racing on the road. Going around in circles on the velodrome (yes, metaphorically) was tiring. The season spent racing on rugged and diverse landscapes inherent in NRC stage races and UCI classics, and learning the trade of handling my bike at top speeds in sketchy, blazing fast NCC crits, was a stimulating challenge.  Plus, there was the fringe benefit of spending a large chunk of my summer based in Chicago, which is damn fine mad, mad city I now know more intimately.

At the start of my 2012 race season, my goals were clear:

     -Win USCF Time Trial National Championships
     -Learn how to be a dependable and savvy force in highly technical criteriums as a breakaway artist
      and go-to lead-out man.
     -Lock down as many National caliber results as possible.

I wanted to make the transition to higher ranks of professional cycling. Achieving these three goals was a surefire way to do so. You see, at a National level you must market your assets. Teams want riders with specific skill sets. I already have a big engine and pursuit power (I’m still developing), but this is useless without technical skill. Sure, if I were winning NRC Time Trials, then I could baulk on skills. But, as of now, I’m not winning big TTs (yet). So, I knew learning how to be a lead-out man and a strong NCC racer was my best path towards ‘job security.’

In short: I only achieved the latter two goals. The season had many unexpected turns and twist of fate. The simplest explanation is I raced too much at the detriment of focusing on those BIG results, like TT Nationals.

In retrospect, the over-abundance of racing was still a huge success. Racing so many tough races was my intentional crash-course in learning how race my bike with skill and savvy—a struggle I’ve forced myself to overcome in lieu of my prior brawn-over-brains racing style.

Though I wished for some bigger results, the most significant gain from this season was: I proved to myself that I’m physiologically, technically, and tactically able to compete at higher levels of the professional racing world. Having just broken into these ranks, I’m hardly anything special. Bottom of the barrel, as the saying goes. Yet, I know how far there is to go and of how much more I’m capable of developing and progressing. There's still so much to learn!




The Race Season: always a list.


(For the love of this damn crazy sport.)

2012 Results:
-1st, Monkey Hill Prologue, NCC Wilmington Grand Prix, DE
-1st, Stage 4 (Criterium), SRAM Tour of Gila, USCF1/2 , NM
-1st, Tour de Dung Road Race, WA
-1st, Winfield Twilight Criterium, IL
-1st, Team Overall Classification, Ski to Sea, WA
-1st, Stage 3 (Road Race), Wenatchee Omnium, WA
-2nd, Stage 1 (Prolouge), Village Volkswagen of Chattanooga River Gorge Omnium, TN
-2nd, Fountain Square Criterium, IN
-2nd, General Classification, Wenatchee Omnium, WA
-2nd, Stage 1 (Time Trial), Wenatchee Omnium, WA
-4th, Stage 2 (Criterium), Wenatchee Omnium, WA
-4th, Redmond Derby Days Twilight Criterium, WA
-4th, Herman Miller Grand Rapids Classic Criterium, USCF1/2, IL
-4th, Ravensdale Road Race, WA
-5th, Downer’s Ave Twilight Criterium, NCC Tour of Dairyland, WI
-7th, Stage 3 (Time Trial), SRAM Tour of Gila, USCF1/2, NM
-8th, Volunteer Park Criterium, WA
-8th, Winfield ABR National Criterium Championships, IL
-9th, Stage 1 (Criterium), Tour of Elkrove, USCF1/2,  IL
-9th, Final GC, Village Volkswagen of Chattanooga River Gorge Omnium, TN


  2012 Races:
-Lago Vista, TX
-The Driveay, TX
-Sequim, WA
-Redlands Classic (NRC), CA
-Volunteer Park, CA
-Tour of the Battenkill (UCI), NY
-Sunny King Criterium (NCC), AL
-FootHills Road Race, AL
-Joe Martin Stage Race (USCF), AR
-The Tour of Gila (USCF), NM
-Ravensdale, WA
-Monkey HIll Prologue (NCC), DE
-Wilmington Grand Prix (NCC), De
-Ski to Sea, WA
-Lake Bluff criterium (NCC), IL
-Glencoe Grand Prix (NCC), IL
-Wenatchee Omnium (Regional), WA
-Nature Valley Grand Prix (NRC), MN
-USCF Elite National Road Championships, GA
-Sheboygan International Cycling Challenge (NCC), IL
-Fond du Lac Commonwealth Classic (NCC), IL
-ISCorp Downers Classic (NCC), IL
-Madison Capitol Criterium (NCC), IL
-Redmond Derby Days, WA
-Cascade Cycling Classic (NRC), OR
-Herman Miller Grand Rapids Criterium, IL
-St. Charles Twilight Criterium, IL
-Elkgrove Criterium, IL
-The Winfield Criterium, IL
-Fountain Square Criterium, IN
-The River Gorge Omnium (Regional), TN
-Thompson Buck Country Classic (UCI), PA



USCF Tour of Gila:

(In bike racing there is nothing as glorious as a winning by a solo attack.)

(I owe my Tour of Gila success to the full moon and to the relaxing place I stayed. My mind was connected to my body. A calm soul I was.)

(Here's me motoring down the straights while gasping out of my mind.)

The Tour of Gila is a race I've wanted to check off my 'must do races' list for quite sometime. During the first week of May, a mere 24hours after I finished racing the Joe Martin Stage Race in Fayetteville, Arkansas, I hitched a ride to Silver City, New Mexico to compete in what I consider to be the most beautiful, challenging, and epic-ly fun stage race in the great ol' USA. 

Since I was racing by myself (my team decided to skip this race and allowed me to race it solo) I wasn't eligible to enter the UCI version. The UCSF version still boasted much talented. For example, the eventual winner, Louis Meintjes, a scrappy young kid from South Africa (who won on a 5-year old aluminum Cannondale with Shimano 105) is now racing on the prestigious Pro Continental team, Momentum Toyota. 

After a strong showing at J.M.S.R. and the Sunny King crit, I was excited to throw down in New Mexico. Everything--as they say--was aligned in my universe. No expectations, gorgeous scenery, a relaxing guest-house all to myself, new epiphanies in my personal life regarding a certain intimate relationship, and a massive Southwest desert full-moon all equated to my mind reaching a calm ferocity directly connected with my body.

I'm by no means a climber, yet on the first-day of the five-day long race I managed to place 11th on the stage despite the grueling finishing climb. Unfortunately, by my own oversight, I missed the winning ten-man breakaway that oddly went off the front in the first 5miles of the race and stayed away after gaining over 10min on the field. 

From then on, top-ten in GC was set, so my battle was to fight and maintain my overall placing. My legs surprised me with unknown climbing prowess and I secured 13th final classification, even after surviving the infamous last stage appropriately named, The Gila Monster.

The real highlight of my week was the downtown Silver City crit. For the previous day's Time Trial (which should've been my time to shine) I was an absolute shit-show and walked away with a disappointing 7th. Using this piss-poor result as motivation to rile me up, the next day I started the crit on a hunt for blood. 

The week before, at the criterium stage of J.M.S.R., I tried a ballzy solo attack with eight laps left and stuck it all the way until a lap-and-a-half to-go when I got caught by the field and thus resigned myself to lead-out man duties. Learning my lesson, I remained patient on the streets of downtown Silver City. 

The high elevation, strong winds, and tough course comprised of a nasty head-wind on the front-straight and a cruelly steep leg-killer climb on the back-straight equated to a lot of suffering and necessary smart positioning. 

With five laps remaining the peloton was exhausted from an hour of relentless attacks. In a flash of instinct I saw an opportunity to attack hard and power over the steep kicker on the back-side of the course. The field hesitated and I surged on ahead, holding on for dear life. And then, well, you already know the end to this little story: Solo attack and a win. By over 30-seconds. Bamm!



NCC Monkey Hill Prologue:

(Proud of my first win at a Domestic Professional race!)

(Here's me charmingly gettin' up on that top step.)

(A perfectly gruelingly end to a treacherous and technical course that ended too early for my taste.)

(Example of the technical course: exit out of a downhill s-curve at 30-35mph and then immediately take an off-camber 90degree right-hander onto the longest cobble section of the course-- and I love how the police officer is telling me to, "slow it down.' Hah! Right. Guess that means I pushed it harder than a few other riders...)

After the Tour of Gila I went back home to Seattle for two weeks of 'supposed' downtime. My recent racing success led to my Ego begging for more cut-throat training when I should've been recuperating from a hard 6weeks of racing on the road. 

Instead of going on easy recovery spins like I should've been, I thick-headed-ly cranked up my training volume and intensity to eleven. I did stupid shit, like: biking 3hrs to a local race, then racing the 60mi road course, getting in the winning breakaway, and then hammering it out in the sprint for a measly 4th place. 

In short: I felt invincible and ignored everything I had learned the hard way about over-reaching when on form. The wise, weathered athlete would've said: don't get full of yourself, eventually you will come crashing down. In the long-run, your fitness will benefit more from a rest block than from crushing even more training.

Before I dropped splat onto the ground right behind hot-headed Icarus (my fated plummet from the sky would happen about a month later) I hopped on a plane to Delaware on May 15th to compete in the Wilmington Grand Prix and Monkey Hill Prologue. One of my lesser season goals was to win this prologue. 

My good buddy, Adrian, had won the year before, so I knew the course had good juju energy for me. I called him up and he gave me the beta. "Race it like a crit," he explained, "Any time you can put down power you gotta kill yourself and then try to scrub as little speed as possible in the corners.

The prologue course wound through the gorgeous expanse of the Brandywine River Park. Short and extremely technical, with over 25 harrowing turns,  requiring massive power in the couple straightaways that were less than 1k long, and boasting cobble sections so jarring I swore my bike was going to explode into pieces at any moment, this course was unique and held true to its historic cycling legacy. The finishing climb up famed Monkey Hill, a mind-numbing cobbled hill with blasphemous grades around the 20% mark, was the real climax.

Since I had recently acquired a new set of handling skills, and since my body was great at the big-papa watts (and since my Ego was all polished up neat after the Gila crit win), I knew this course was built for me to win.

The morning of the race I pre-road the course nearly fifteen times. Pre-riding a course is the single biggest advantage a racer can have in a technical Time Trial. You must know the course as you would an enemy. For the really technical turns (example: see video above) I probably practiced thirty times. 

Despite the meticulous memorization of the course, the second the gun went off for my start-time I was in an absolute panic. I felt like I was running for my life. I desperately clawed to find a rhythm. I stomped madly on the pedals with no form or finesse.  I sucked in air spasmodically like a bloated and beached fish. When I hit the longest straightway my legs felt like they were piston rods snapped at the center. 

This course was madness and I felt lost. All I wanted was to get to that damned Monkey Hill where I could hammer out of the saddle and destroy any energy I had left. 

I hit the bottom of the hill and pushed and pulled my way manically to the top and when I crossed the finish line I collapsed on my bike in total despair knowing that was my worst effort ever. I hobbled off to sulk in the shadows. That is until a few minutes later when my friend Ben Chaddock, who races for team Exergy, came up to me and said, 

"Dan, you crushed it. You beat me by over fifteen seconds!" 
"Really?" I said. To beat Ben was no easy feat. "Then, who won?" I asked curiously.
"You did!"

I was ecstatic. The discrepancy between my perceived exertion and my actual result I still find hilarious.  The psyche of an athlete always wields an itchy knife. In my defense, rolling through the course at race-pace happened so wildly fast I had zero concept of my effort; thus, to protect my Ego, the logical answer was to cut sharply into my moral and declare: I must've sucked royally.

To measure up my time against the greats, my good friend, Paul Timmons (who took the awesome videos above), did some research and informed me on the following historic Monkey Hill statistics:

-Greg Lemond, 1992. Time: 6:18 (1st)
-Lance Armstrong, 1995. Time: 6:06 (3rd, 1sec off of 1st)
-Dan Harm, 2012. Time: 6:07 (1st by 17sec)

"Are you sure it was the same course?' Was the first question I asked Paul. "As far as I can tell," he replied. "Distances match and from what I remember everything is the same. I was there for all three! In Greg's defense, it was windy in 92."



Downer’s Grove:

(Nature Valley Grand Prix: Stillwater Criterium Stage. This was the race that cracked me and showed me that I ain't piddly-beans.)

(Four years ago, if ya told me one day I'd absolutely love Criteriums, I would've said you're full of shit)

After my Delaware exploits I returned back to my lovely home in lovely summer-soaked Seattle. Within two days I mysteriously contracted a fever, which frustrated me to all hell since I never get sick.

My fever was soon explained by my ankle flaring out red, bleeding, and oozing like mangled meat, which were all sure signs of poison ivy. I guess the Brandywine River Park sent me home with more than a big win.

The illness turned out to be blessing in disguise since I was forced to resign to taking a break. There wasn't much time. Ten days later, on the weekend of June 1st, I had to fly to Chicago for two back-to-back NCC crits: Lake Bluff criterium and Glencoe Grand Prix. The races were highly technical. Glencoe lasted for 2hours, which is brutally long for a criterium, and was filled with unattractive crashes, including a rider bashing out his teeth on the asphalt and leaving a pool of blood. 

This Chicago trip only lasted five days. The combination of hard racing and very involved sponsorship obligations at the American Clinical Oncology conference had tuckered me out. After the crit carnage and a sponsor gig in downtown Chicago, I was back at my second home--the airport--to hop on the ol' airplane once again to my real home, sweet Seattle. Thank gawd. I needed the rest. 

Yet, instead of reflecting to realize I hadn't taken a break since the Redlands Classic two and half months ago, I was obsessively looking forward to what would be the hardest month of racing yet: June. There were now only three weeks left until Time Trial Nationals.

The following weekend, after I returned to Seattle from Chicago, instead of resting and focusing on Nationals, I greedily competed in the Wenatchee Omnium with the intention of cashing in on the decent prize money.

In the end, I won the queen climbing stage, thus beating a local x-pro whom I've never outdone before. The effort of lugging my 180lbs up 7,000ft of climbing over the 73mi course put half of me in the grave, specifically: my legs. The death of my legs was terribly convenient (hopefully you are seeing a trend here...) since two days later I had to fly to Minneapolis to race in the Nature Valley Grand Prix.

My logic was as follows: without question, the Nature Valley Grand Prix is the hardest technical NRC stage race in the USA. With my recent form and criterium skills, I believed I had a high probability of securing a decent result. Arguably, landing a stage result at the NVGP is more honorable than a podium at TT Nats. Along with this, I also knew the learning experience of racing at the NVGP would be a critical learning opportunity. If I could hang in this race, then I could hang in any race.

And all I did was hang. Hang on for dear life. And finish in the middle of the pack every day, suffering like a beaten dog, my Ego shattered and trampled to bits by my own undoing. And Time Trial Nationals was now only four days away. I stayed positive and hopeful.

Perhaps my effort at NVGP would convert to speed if I went into recovery mode, I thought.

The travel from Minneapolis to Augusta, Georgia (where Nationals was held) was an exhausting trip allowing for little recovery from NVGP. After hibernating in my hotel room for two days, hiding from the sweltering Southern sweaty summer heat, I rolled up to the start line of Time Trial Nationals and, as I deserved, made an absolute fool out of myself. 

And this is where a crucial transition was made in my personal development as both an athlete and a human. Here, at 2012 Time Trial Nationals, after the most embarrassing result of my life, I went to my hotel room, sat down slumped in a chair, and started to laugh out loud.

Dan, I said to myself, You are such an idiot. Did you really think you had any hope at winning after the amount that you've been racing and training obsessively? 

Unlike prior years in my cycling history where I would've thrown a spectacular hissy fit, I instead resolved to stay positive and to learn from my mistakes and accept my folly. 

Two days later, I sold my soul in the National's road race to sling my team captain into the critical break away of the day. The effort of playing domestique obliterated the last of any energy I had. After the race ended, I coasted up to my director and asked him if I could skip the Tour of Dairyland, which was the following week. I wanted to go home so I could crawl in a hole and heal. 

After much internal deliberation, I revoked my request to go home and obliged to my race commitments, knowing that if I skipped out on the Tour of Dairyland I'd let my teammates down and negatively affect moral.

Another aspect of my personal development this year included my growing understanding of, and appreciation for, being a team player. Racing on the road taught me the value of self-sacrifice, of  emotionally connecting with my teammates, of placing the groups progress above my own.

And this wasn't hard, because my teammates were a hellacious hoot of fun. Our team roster for the Tour of Dairyland consisted of:

-Big-grin Andre who talked with a drawl, cracked jaw-drop jokes, and whistled a mean whistle;
-Baby-faced Zach with his sexy stutter, and quick punk young-kid wit;
-The spider-legged Kiwi, Gorter, who loved Americans who couldn't understand his ghetto-Zealander accent;
-Thug-life Brandon who always had killer beats to blast and who worked his ass off admirably;
-And last but not least, suave McVey who was always game for quality conversations and who understood the psychological training benefits of really loud rock shows.

My mind was made up to be a team player and to stay focused on racing for one more week. On June 25th, five days before the Tour of Dairyland, I flew back to Chicago and stopped being a bike racer for the rest of the week.

You see, I resumed the role of just being a wild kid in a wild city and I busied myself collecting stories I can't share with the children. Enjoying life for life's sake was a needed shock significant enough to charge me up for four days of hard midwest NCC crit racing. 

Our first two days racing at the Tour of Dairyland were ugly. Despite the short five day break after National, neither me or any of my teammates were motivated. We just went through the motions. That is, until our director called us up and informed us, "The head of Astellas global marketing is going to be at Downers. We gotta get a result."

Pressure: Downers Classic. Located in a hip, artsy area right outside of downtown Milwaukee, Downers Classic was the hardest and most prestigious of all the Tour of Dairyland races. With the specific task of our team having to get a result, our moral sky-rocketed. Excitement of a do-or-die job pulsed nervously through our veins. 

The boys--Zach, Gorter, Brandon, McVey, Andre, and myself--worked out a meticulous game plan with our director: for the first half of the race we'd launch one of our guys into every move. Each of us would have a specific role. My role was to stay fresh enough to hurl a convincing attack in the closing laps to keep pressure off of our sprinters. If I got caught, then my sprinters would take over. And if I didn't get caught...

On the tough triangular course, the massive and rowdy crowds of Milwaukee were deafening in the fading twilight. Calm composure, clean lines, conserving energy, and racing intelligently were my constant mental occupations. Total clarity and engagement. Plus, a dark-haired, tattooed girl from Chicago had driven all the way up here to watch her first bike race.

Some primal force crawled inside my legs and I raced like a savvy beast that night. All the harsh lessons I had learned this season burned bright in my mind and were transformed into instincts.

At the decisive moment, half a lap after the $6,000 gamblers prime, I felt the subconscious predilection of a looming snap in the field. Before I even had the chance to look, I knew what was going to happen and so I sprinted like a man fighting for his life and merged to my left onto a blur of movement lurching of the front of the peloton.

After the red fog of violent pain faded from my eyes and I had controlled my breathing I assessed the situation: I was in a decisive nine-man break. It had already got 10second on the field. Who was in it? I quickly recognized: Pipp, Damiani, O'Rielly, and, dear lord, Rory Sutherland. If you don't know who Rory is, you should. He won the the queen stage in the Tour of Colorado's USA Pro Challenge by attacking on the final climb up Flagstaff.

This break ain't coming back, my mind excitedly shouted (forming words were not possible). And it didn't. I had the distinct honor of following Rory's wheel in the break. Holy hell can that man put down the watts. It took everything I had just to stay connected to his wheel. When we finally hit three laps to go I knew I had at least secured a top-ten result.

Once we hit the sprint my legs did the best they could and I nabbed the most satisfying Criterium result of my career thus far: 5th at Downers.

With the team director happy, Zach, Gorder, Andre, and I were ready for some healthy celebration.  I'll save us all a lot of trouble and keep the stories safe. Let's just say we thoroughly enjoyed every hour of that night and I'm proud to say we did so responsibly and respectfully. When we all re-grouped the next day none of us were dead and we all had made some new friends... 

The best part is, after a night of zero sleep (I don't consider two hours of slumber in the backseat of a car to be sleep). We rolled up to the Madison Capital criterium and all of us placed in the money.

The whole team had been racing full-time without a break since Battenkill, which was an honest learning lesson of a well-funded first year team composed of a motivated, yet small squad. The reward: our director gave us all a month break and sent us back to our respective homes. By golly did we need it. 



The UCI Classics:

(All you have to do is simply suffer)

(Mandatory post-race hotel-room glamour shot. Couldn't tell if the cute front-desk lady was scared or turned on)

(Having a hoot in the Hospital. Gawd!!! I love health insurance)

(Showing off blood and gore like the full-of-it bike racer that I am)

Every bike racer has dreams of competing in certain races. In another life, in another body, I believe I would've excelled in European classic. Over the years, I've had the realistic dream of racing the Tour of Battenkill, which is a famed UCI one-day classic held on dirt roads--chaotic Roubaix style--up and down the steep-hilled and big-leaf forested landscape of upstate New York. 

To compete in a race of this caliber is an honor. Bike racing at an elite and professional level is very different than say, a typical marathon or triathlon, because your team has to be invited to race. Any old Joe can't sign up and start. At a race like Battenkill, every one of your competitors is a force to reckon with.

When our director told us Battenkill was on our team's race schedule, I used this race as a carrot all winter to kill myself in training. The demands of a 130mi race slogged out with a laudable showing of international professionals and all the domestic heavy-hitters was both motivating and terrifying.

Last winter was the first winter in my career as a bike racer where I truly focused my entire life on training. Radical epiphanies lead to Quality base training. Yet, I learned the hard way about an error in my process of transforming my aerobic engine into fast race-legs.

I trained like an animal all winter long. The fitness reward was immense, unfortunately the fastness rewards came to fruition in May (Gila and Monkey Hill), and not in early March in time for my first A-race of the season, the Tour of Battenkill. Along with my nonexistent race-legs, there was another mistake I made before the start gun even went off at Battenkill. 

Nutrition is a fundamental element of training and racing. Over the winter I had over-hauled my nutrition/diet with significant positive success. I began for the first time to track the quantity, quality, and macro-nutrient composition of everything I ate. 

The information I gathered was substantial and I thus developed a more intimate understanding of how my body works as an athlete and an animal. A better understanding of the relationship nutrition has with recovery, training, and lifestyle directly leads to a greater awareness of one's body as a holistic biological machine. Mood, energy levels, and even small fluctuations in homeostasis can be more exactly perceived when one increases knowledge of his/her nutrition.

Race day morning I stuffed myself with absurd amounts of calories in preparation for the massive physiological demands the race would require from my body. A lot of this was admittedly from nervousness. It wasn't like Battenkill was an entirely new beast. In training, I had done 5hr death-marches and knew my caloric requirements for these type of efforts. So, I knew I didn't need to eat this much damn food.

Even worse, the calories I ate were significantly less quality than the nutrition I had complete control over while at home. Refined sugars in pastries and bagels entered my system and turned me into a nauseous and lethargic lump of a belly-ache. Hardly the sensation of ferocity I aspired to possess at the start line.

I'm not gunna blame my breakfast on getting my ass handed to me in the race. My bad nutrition and lack of race-legs were by far outranked by my most critical mistake: Positioning. 

In a race like Battenkill, where the roads are very narrow, where the climbs are short and extremely steep, where the course is over 50% gravel and dirt, and where the field of over two-hundred riders is heavily talented, positioning is the critical crux. If you aren't racing in the top thirty to forty guys, you aren't even in the race. 

And about halfway through, that is exactly where I was: not even in the race. Furious at my mistakes, I powered on, refusing to quit, finishing the race well off the back, by myself, covered in grime and misery.

Thompson Bucks County Classic (formerly known as Univest Grand Prix) is the only other UCI classic in the USA. The two classics act as bookmarks to the domestic race season; Battenkill at the very beginning and Bucks County at the very end. This would be my last race of the season. Having learned many harsh lessons throughout the previous seven months of racing,  I readied myself for the Thompson Bucks County Classic on the hunt for redemption.

In true Classic's form, the course was epic. Tight, narrow tree-lined roads, covered bridges, harrowing descents, and four extremely steep climbs comprised each lap of the course, which we did six times. 165km of up and down. There was no flat ground, no place to hide, no place to chase back on. To increase the difficulty, not only was the course more difficult than Battenkill, the field of riders also boasted more talent.

My game-plan was simple. I'd race this long, brutal race the same way I would a crit: at the front and killing myself to follow moves and maintain position. 

Yup. A four-hour crit up insanely steep climbs. Before the race, I had no intention of making the lead-group. All I wanted was to prove to myself that I was capable of 'racing' in a race like this. So, I guess you could say my goal was to race as hard as I could and be an actual bike racer until I blew up to high hell.

From the gun I was in the top-twenty and I maintained this position the entire race. The first successful attack came (unbelievably) up the first climb. A few guys went hard at the base and I knew it was trouble when Rory Sutherland hesitated  then changed his mind and put on the afterburners when he saw how dangerous the attack was. He bridged the gap, taking a few others with him, including me, for about thirty second...

Following Rory's wheel on flat ground at Downer's Classic was one thing. Following him as he covered the winning move on the 15% five minute climb was a completely different requirement. I wasn't strong enough. A moment ago, I said I maintained top-twenty the whole race. The catch is, I maintained top-twenty in the lead group. 

Honest assessment:  I was strong enough to maintain position in the lead group, but I wasn't strong enough to cover and go with the critical attacks. 

A few laps later, another break went, and I tried again to hold the pace, but could not, and resigned myself to finishing the race strong. I did not berate myself, because I knew the more important positive outlook was to appreciate me surviving in the lead group. 

Yes! I showed myself that I was skilled enough and fit enough to actually be racing the race. Strength, I knew, could develop, and I soon would be the one barreling off the front into the winning move. I knew to achieve this all it will take is time and commitment.  

So I stayed positive and excited and my adrenaline soared while on the front pf the peloton bombing around the crazy course. My job wasn't over though. These long races wear on you. By this point, I realized I actually had a chance of finishing up there in the rankings. Crazy, since I started the race not even thinking about finishing. 

About half way through the race, numbing fatigue set in. To mentally combat the dull knife of pain slashing into my body, I began to count down the number of climbs left. Four climbs each lap. Three laps left. So, twelve climbs is all I got.

Each time I summited a rapacious climb, I'd ecstatically tick it off and focus solely on the next one. I did this all the way until I got to the very last lap and summited the fourth to last climb, the hardest of the lot. When I crested and my legs didn't buckled completely, I knew I was actually going to finish this race strong.

Then, everything quickly changed. As the peloton approached the feed zone, in a sudden undefinable instant, I was lying in the ditch covered in blood and not able to move. 

To this day I do not know what happen. Five others crashed, and I was the first to go down, so I knew it was my fault. By the damage inflicted on my bike (the fork snapped in half, indicting my bars had swung ninety degrees, thus pile-driving my bike into concrete, causing the bike to stop instantly with a loud crack, which sent my body rocketing at 25-30mph straight onto vicious chip-sealed asphalt), my best guess is I hit an unseen pothole and my hands were knocked off the handlebars. None of the riders were hurt, and none were pissed at me, because a crash like is often unavoidable. And that was that.

I did not look good at all. A crowd of medics encircled me. My director ripped off his shirt to stop the stream of blood gushing from my elbow. I couldn't move my left shoulder. 

"Broken scapula. And by the look of that elbow its busted too with that there road rash all the way down to the bone," the medic said nonchalantly. "You're going straight to the trauma room, buddy." I was in a daze."You need any pain killers? What's your pain on a scale of one to ten," he asked as the ambulance roared. 

"I'm fine," I spat, "I hurt more going up that climb before I crashed."

I had no perception of pain. I didn't care one damn bit. I wasn't concerned about my body. It was in shock anyway. So pain wasn't an issue. The real issue was: I couldn't finish the damn race. 

By the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital I had silently overcome my disappointment with a few moments of hidden, hot tears. It's over, deal with it, Dan. And I did.

Then, it hit me: if I'm as bad as they say I am then I'm gunna to have to cancel NYC. 

You see, months ago I had planned to visit NYC directly after this race. I had planned to spend five days in NYC with close friends for celebration and much needed off-season debauchery. Jackson (a best of friends) was already there having flown in from Seattle and was with Veronica (my high-school sweetheart and still close friend who'd moved to NYC a couple years ago) and they were both there waiting for me to arrive so we could all begin many maniacal adventures. 

Twenty X-rays later, the E.R. doctor scratched his head and said, "I don't know how ya did it, but nuthin's broken." The most significant damage was tons of road-rash and a large, gnarled gouge on my elbow that went all the way down to the bone. The doc did the best he could to stitch the mangled skin.

While at the hospital I smiled and laughed and had a hoot. Hell, it's not every day you get sent straight to the Trauma room, So I figured I might as well soak up the experience and slap smiles on the faces of nurses an' doctors. 

Plus, nobody likes a whinny cry-baby. I think I crossed the line when the doc was stitching me up and I started taking photos of myself giving the thumbs up. Doc rolled his eyes and said, "Just keep still."

Sooo... I almost finished the hardest race of the season in the lead group. Progress! But ended up the in trauma room. And now I was going to NYC! Looking like a zombie!  With a barely functional bike I patched back together with spare parts! And I didn't give a flying fuck because I knew I was gunna have a guaranteed riot. Season's over. 



NYC Adventures: (photos: Jackson Edward Alaho Quall)

(An easy way to make room on crowded NYC subways is by shoving on a huge bike bag and two bikes while you and your best friend both look like you just fought a hoard of post-apocalyptic zombies.) 

(Last night in NYC: speakeasy shaman.)

(Every morning I spent a good hour guzzling coffee and re-wrapping all my lovely oozing wounds.)

(There's so much life and adventure still left to be explored in the world.)

(The only wat to explore big cities like NYC is by mobbing around on bikes. If only my busted post-crash bike had a front brake and steerer tube with more than 1cm of bite for my stem...)

(Do I really need to explain the sheer bulk of amazingness contained in this photo?)

(A wild five-day reminder that best friends for life are even more important than bike racing.)


I arrived at the NYC Port Authority terminal around 9pm on Sunday, September 16th. While I waited for Jackson to roll up on his bike to meet me, I pieced together my haggard bike. With a few turns of allen keys and and a lot of cursing, my bike was ready to (unsafely) ride.  Jackson and I mobbed through the streets of Manhattan--a real life game for the adrenaline-seeking cyclist junkie.

Jackson, a talented musician and artist, adopted my Bike Gypsy ways. After I taught him a few tricks, now whenever he travels he always brings along his mid-1970s road-racing bike. Though not a racer, he can handle his bike quite well.

Racing our way down the streets, I didn't have to worry about him while we squeezed in-between cars, dashed by pedestrians, navigated harrowing feats of maneuvering, and glided through the chaotic ever-shifting maze of spontaneity this crazy city offers.

Thirty blocks later we hopped off our bikes, strolled into the lobby of Veronica's condo, stacked our bikes and bodies into the elevator, and soared up to the top floor. Veronica lives two blocks away from Union Square in a penthouse complete with an incredibly large patio deck that gazes out into an astonishing view of NYC’s narrow steel skyline of concrete giants.

Walls lined with antique books, shelves spilling with musty records from lost eras of time, a baby grand piano, and a small well-stocked European kitchen all created the foundation for Veronica’s lavishly decorated condo. And this would be our home base for the following five days of big city madness.

Without losing a second, I threw my bags on a full-sized bed laid out for me in the living room, slid into my skinny jeans and worn green tank-top, and then briskly followed Jackson and Veronica as they hustled right back out the door, down the elevator, and into the warm glow of a late summer New York night.

“Where we goin'? I asked.

“A few spots you'll like,” Veronica informed. “A re-donk-u-luss Indian joint for dinner, then a couple dive-ey bars.”

She looked at me inquisitively. "What?" she hollered, sensing I had a different plan. She knows me all too well.

Coffee!” I begged. It was after 10pm. “First we gotta get coffee.”

At this point, with the race season officially crashing to an end, my coffee drinking routine was no longer an energy booster. It was a nervous habit—completely necessary for me to keep up with Veronica and Jackson’s night-owl artist’s lifestyle.

The life of an athlete—my life—is structured and rigid. Early bedtimes, meticulous meal planning, and obsessive focus on recovery and health for optimal performance are incessant and fully consuming preoccupations.  To make a sudden transition to sleepless nights--especially considering my body was fighting desperately to regenerate itself after my brutal crash--meant I'd be living two contradictory lives in NYC.

The world of late nights and the world of waking just after dawn regardless of how little I slept was not sustainable. Obviously. But, totally worth it. For five days I knew I could fight through this double standard in the name of experience and adventure.

My body's biological clock is ingrained to wake early. So, as Veronica and Jackson slept like the angles they are, I would get up shortly after dawn, make a gallon of coffee, spend a solid hour cleaning and re-wrapping all my oozing wounds, and then sit calmly on the patio and either read or just stare out at the endless sights flashing all around me beneath the gallant rising sun.

Each day, by the time we busted out of the apartment for adventures, it was usually around high noon. We’d ride our bikes all over, meeting friends here and there. Brooklyn, Dumbo, Harlem, East Village: non-stop here we go! Michael, Pepper, Alex, Natalie, Brett: conversations go-go-GO!

Then, at dusk, we’d cruise home, and while Veronica plunked around on the piano or fabricated her outfit for the night, and while Jackson edited photos, I would cook up a massive, healthy meal and then would pass the 'eff out to recharge up on as much rest as possible before 10pm rolled around and I was unceremoniously dragged out of bed for another night of too many stories to tell.

On Tuesday, Veronica had to work. One of Jackson’s main missions for our NYC visit was to bike north, off the island, through the Bronx, and all the way out of city to where trees and animals actually still lived. Our final destination would be Pelham Bay Park, which is an expansive green space nestled on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

That morning, we woke to a massive windstorm. The sun had vanished. In replacement we were given tornado warnings and violent gusts of savage unpredictable winds. In my opinion: perfect weather for an adventure. Plus, precipitation was low. Jackson and I didn't have to worry about getting soaked and could thus enjoy the novelty of such strong winds.

Bags packed with food and water for the day, Jackson an I rolled out, headed towards 1st ave, and then headed North on a precarious bike path. The streets were surprisingly empty for Manhattan. Our biggest battle was pedaling in a straight line down as punches of crosswind would catapult us every which way.

In downtown Bronx we stopped at a fire station. All my Uncles are fire fighters, and my mother and father both once were. So, I knew that I could ask any station for medical supplies and they’d gladly donate them to my dwindling bandage supply.

A fire-lady there, a young hip gal, inquired, “You’re not riding those bikes here at night are you?”

Oblivious to her insinuation, I said,  “Naw,” and then explained,  “and if we do, we have these flashy lights for cars to see us.”

She laughed and said, “That’s right. You’re bikes are flashy. Real flashy.You best be safe 'round here. This isn't Manhattan.”

I agreed. Though, I wasn’t worried. I had travelled the globe. Hell, I even spent a week by myself roaming the streets of Guatemala City, a city with one of the highest murder rates in the world.

In downtown Bronx, there are many ‘eyes’ because of the many people bustling about; thus, safety isn't a concern. When you get north, all those eyes disappear and only a few ‘eyes’ remain and they are standing in the shadows on empty and dilapidated street corners.

My fight-or-flight instincts kicked in hard as we rolled through one neighborhood where I knew no good was waiting for us. A heckle from the streets, “Nice bikes. Those are nice bikes.” My confidence back at the fire-station had been rash.

With the sensations of fleeing a predator I remained externally calm. Jackson instantly read my cue. We pedaled our butts off all the way to the main highway where the safety of a bike trail led us away from danger and closer to Pelham Bay Park. The wind still roared ferociously. We dodged fallen branches and felled trees. The wind was so loud Jackson and I had to yell just to talk.

We pulled over at a little sandy beach next to a small bridge that connected the farthest edge of the narrow Bay. The immense Ocean lay before us angry and disturbed by the relentless winds.
While Jackson wide-eyed and grinning took pictures I stood on a rock and gazed into the tempestuous beauty all around me. That is, until I noticed a peculiar sight.

Unbelievably, a sailboat was out in the storm. Tossing and splashing, it headed steadily towards the drawbridge where beyond safe harbors lay. As the boat approached the drawbridge, I suddenly realized the bridge was no drawbridge. It was a regular ol’ bridge.  And that sailboat was unmanned. Free from the constraints of ropes and a heavy anchor, the broken free sailboat was the wind’s merciless toy.

I shouted at Jackson and began to sprint towards the bridge where the boat was now mere feet away from the course of its unavoidable crash. I glanced back and saw Jackson hot on my heels and holding his camera in front of him to document the looming carnage.

The support embankments for the bridge were built from a steep pile of stones stacked twenty-five feet high. The lower portion was covered in thick slippery sea-slime. My eyes sharpened by a life spent outdoors immediately saw the slime and I effortlessly leaped through the slipperiness. As I reached the top I looked down and saw Jackson had not been so lucky. Sitting on the ground, a smashed camera in hand, he held his knee which was gushing a crimson stream of blood.

He’ll be alright, I said to myself, and I jumped to the top of the bridge's structural underpinnings just in time to witness the sailboat's fatal battle. The mast had rammed into the bridge, and the sailboat clung there, fighting to remain upright as the wind cruelly beat its hull. Right at the point where I thought for sure it would capsize, the mast snapped at the base with a violent twang! And, like an embarrassed puppy recently neutered, the sailboat limped onwards, the mast pathetically trailing behind. To this day, I still wonder where the hell that sailboat ended up.

My lust for destruction quenched, I helped Jackson limp over to sit on a stone. Then, I proceeded to wash out his would and bandage him with the bag of fresh bandages I had conveniently acquired a few hours ago. Serendipitous, indeed!

Having satisfied our mission’s goal for beyond our wildest expectations, we hoped on the subways, which was only a mile away (thank god, since Jackson could barely bend his knee). Yes, Jackson and I, two characters, both beat-up and injured, yet still filled with the boundless energy of NYC escapades.

That night, Jackson bounced back from his injury. Though barely able to walk, he.prevailed and shortly after 10pm he and I limped our way onto the subway to visit a bar in Williamsburg renown for playing those nasty trap beats.

The following day, Wednesday, would be our last full day in NYC. With the invading feelings of impending nostalgia, Veronica, Jackson and I spent the early afternoon slowly walking around Manhattan, hobbling along at Jackon’s pace, filling our time with incredibly gorgeous conversations and many memorable moments stopping into cafes, bistros, and little quaint hidden shops Veronica is oh-so-talented at sniffing out.

The day quickly vanished into our last night, a night, which by principle, had to be epic. Joining us for the night was Veronica’s slender smooth-talk boyfriend, Austin, and his fast-pace, design-genius friend, Curtis.

After getting rowdy all evening listening to loud records in Veronica’s living room, together we all hit the streets to roam, gallivanting southwards to dance away the night at a speak-easy hidden beneath an art gallery.

Down in the dingy barely lit basement French cold-wave blared relentlessly on moaning speakers. We danced madly and would take breaks by ascending up from the depths and into the fancy art gallery lounge where we filled our heads with mad talk of endless stories, ambitions, and dreams.

Our lone objective for the night was to stay out until dawn to watch the sun rise over the electric folds of NYC. After our legs could dance no longer we casually strolled through the deserted streets and returned back to Veronica's condo.

The sun had still not risen. A warm hazy dark glow of pre-dawn gurgled awake. Everyone was tuckered out and cuddled up beneath blankets on the balcony and whispered soft tales of memories-- collective memory of friendships, a bond no amount of time will ever break.

Even though I was surrounded by the best of friends, I could not tolerate sitting still. Filled with the energy of this mysterious Universe, I climbed the stairs leading to the rooftop. There, by my lonesome, gushing with thought, I leaned on the railing and watched the sun rise over a city so vast and teeming with life my frail mind struggled to comprehend it all and I felt very small and very alive.

"I've found I live best by following a life of straight-edge focused athleticism with rare occasional well-planned moments of hedonist debauchery" -Me (off-season break, 2012)



A Return to Home:

(For a Bike Racing Gypsy to remain sane, there must be a home base to return too: Seattle, my love!)

With the race season behind me, I'm back to spending my autumn and winter days in Seattle. My coffee consumption is also back to a more reasonable high-quality intake. Life is good. Stress levels are at an all-time life low. I've never been so productive and calm. Too be honest, sometimes, when gazing at the clouds or trees, I laugh to myself at how good everything is, and hot damn, I believe this is all from hard work and perception. You see, for so long I perceived my goals to be these monstrous, insurmountable obstacles. I was a whinny, nihilistic braggart. And a complaining quitter. 

After life slapped me around good and hard a few times, and once I started growing the hell up, I realized that there is nothing else in the world I'd rather be doing than pursuing these 'hardships.' Seven long years it took to lay the foundation for making bike racing a sustainable lifestyle. And this year it all finally came together. 

Viola. Magic. Hardships convert to Passion. All it took was hard work and focus and learning to never, ever complain because there ain't nothin' to complain about. We are alive people. We are alive! Crazy.

The best part is, I'm fervently working towards my personal, business, and athletic goals. And my life still allows time for me to volunteer at the Major Taylor Project, to help my grandparents with projects out in the gorgeous autumn air, to hang out with my mom for meaningful Sunday dinners, and to assist in one of my favorite activities: being a catalyst in helping my friends actualize their potential. In doing so I get to live vicariously through my friend's many talents: art; music; fashion; gardening; and the list goes on. Feels good to be behind the scenes.

Surround yourself with ambitious friends and loving family and the synergy of life marches forever upwards. Yup. Life is good. 



Winter Revisited:

(Stay tuned for the next installment of winter training advice and lessons learned the hard way.)

After the chaos of living on the road racing for eight months, I've swung wildly to the opposite lifestyle. Directly following my much needed and cathartic adventure in the Enchantments, I officially began my winter training on November 1st. In doing so, my life has become a beautiful spectacle of rigorous routine and intentional patterns constructed elegantly to form a cocoon protecting me from any and all distractions. 

When you are so passionate about specific goals, nothing else matters. All the 'fun things' people claim you are missing out on become trivial annoyances. My bedtime, waking at dawn, dreaming, training,  writing, and accomplishing the tasks and projects I've been craving to do have all become my most direct route to fulfillment and satisfaction. 

My mind is most efficient and productive when working on multiple projects simultaneously. This holds true for my writing. This post you just read is the first of five I've been working on.  

In two popular posts of mine from last year, You're a Week and I'm a Machine, and, Winter Arsenal, I offered many insights into my revamped training. For my next big blog post I'll specifically address all the mistakes and learning lessons involved in my training last winter and from my racing this season. I will meticulously go through what worked, what didn't work, and explain why I reached these conclusions. Stay tuned for another ass-kicker. This winter, as always, is going to be next level shit!

-dharm

P.S. Many more Bike Racing Gypsy stories in the works...


4 comments:

  1. Whew, I'm drained just reading that. Drained, but jacked.

    Looking forward to your insights on training in the next installment.

    Thanks. Reading this was a nice ride.

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  2. P.S. Actually, using WP as an offensive weapon against military targets is against the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Convention on Certain Chemical Weapons, not the Geneva Conventions per se - although the GC DO ban the use of incendiary weapons in civilian areas or against civilian targets. But this just a 'the more you know' quibble which I only know because I just wrote an article on war crimes in videogames.
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  3. Great inspirational work. Keep it up.
    Great information and well written.
    Even a complete newbie like me understood it.
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