Thursday, March 27, 2008

Alone in The Mountains

Riding alone, the mind sometimes wanders. Chris Carmichaels’ insistence on Armstrongian cadences gives way to a pace more in accordance with the body’s natural rhythms. Days like these can be as beneficial and satisfying as any personal record busting effort. It’s a day to let the lungs and legs have a break and spare some glucose for the brain.

Spring is my favorite time of the year. I know, I know, that’s about as original as saying one’s favorite color is blue. Nevertheless, it’s true. Summer is fine, I guess, when the humidity doesn’t press in like an anaconda. Yes, Autumn is a beautiful canvas of color but, I can’t get past the fact that death is all around. As a senior in high school we were divided into random groups of four to write a poem on Fall. The girls in ours were appalled at Butch and my scribblings. “The leaves hit the forest floor like fallen soldiers at battles end,” was soundly rejected as was, “The color drains from the hills like life’s last blush.” My compatriot in teenage angst and I finally gave in a standard trite and sugary rendition, indiscernible from every other waste of paper handed in. To this day I am sure, had we men persevered, Mr. Neroni and his green, pirate blazer would have lauded our out of the box, if not morbid, rendition. Of winter, well, only someone like Subarctic Jill and her Iditabike, Pugsly, ( could love the season.

Riding along slowly up the mountainside, signs of spring, both faint and strong, cycle by. The inexorable push of new life lifts soil left barren by winter’s hoary frosts. Delicate shoots, leaves yet unfurled, struggle to lift their heads. Soon the hills will explode in an orgasm of green, life sustaining, chlorophyll. I anticipate it like Christmas mornings of old. Formerly anemic streams flex their muscles in viril torrents of spring runoff. I feel my legs push a little harder, called out by the churning water’s power surge.

I wonder what spring is like on the pro tour. Can one appreciate the returning songbirds while bouncing across the cobbles of the Arenberg forest? Are the thaw unleashed aromas as sweet when sliding face first down the Kemmelberg? Is the spirit still buoyed while chewing gritty, greasy, petroleum laced mouthfuls of lowland Belgian fields? The answers will never be known, I know, to a graying, overweight, too late, father of two who is prone to oxygen deprived flights of fancy. But, at least, I can enjoy spring in the mountains.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A King is Crowned

The Flanders Fat Cat thinks he may change the blog title to "Tuesday Tourist" if he is to remain a central character. Yesterday's ride brings to mind the Mount Washington challenge, billed as the worlds hardest climb. There were some great finishing times and competition until the pros got wind of it all. Tyler Hamilton, and whoever else's blood accompanied him, came along to smash the record and pop everyone else's balloon.

There were 6 riders on the windy course Tuesday, five of whom warmed up with a brisk 20 or so mile ride from Morgantown WV. The Fat Cat left work for a long lunch and met everyone at the base of the mountain. (Excuse#1: not warmed up.) We had our first female grimpeur, Hannah, to whom the title, La Femme Grimpeur, is conferred. She would go on to represent her gender honorably. A hefty local in a pick em up truck called her "Hillary Clinton" when informed that she could indeed hang with the boys.

As soon as the grade kicked up into the double digits, things hotted up. Kean, aka The Aerobinator, and Jolly John set the pace. The Fat Cat grabbed a wheel, forgetting any idea of pacing himself. This desperation defense of the polka dot jersey lasted a beefy 2 or 3 tenths of a mile before The Cat popped off pace. By the hairpin the jersey was lost. Don, hereafter referred to as "Big Daddy" or "Birdman" (One nickname is not enough for a man of his stature), rubbed the flagging Cat's tire and then shot a few bike lengths ahead. Big Daddy proceeded to maintain a pace that kept him tantalizingly within the Fat Cat's view for a mile or so. Had he showed weakness, The Cat would have had a run at him but, The Birdman slowly flew away. The Cat's only choice was to slow the pace just a bit more so as not to be all out of sorts and winded when he rejoined the others at the finish. (Excuse#2: Didn't really go all out.)

The ceremonial handing over of the polka dot jersey was made right there on the summit with all due pomp and circumstance. In fact, rather than wear the jersey, the previous holder carried it in his pocket so as not to sully it before it was inevitably exchanged. The stats were as follows. The Aerobinator claimed to have beat The Cat by 10 minutes although he did not actually time his ascent. The Cat came in at a little over 36 minutes, putting The Aerobinator's time at about 26 minutes. That smashed the previous high mark as set by The Fat Cat of Flanders, 30.30 minutes. However, there is some question as to the validity of the win due to some investigative photo journalism.

Just what was the Aerobinator doing under that bridge? (Excuse#3: Kean cheated.) The UCI is investigating. After all, it wouldn't be a bike race without a scandal.

Following the requisite amount of lauding and photographing the new champion Grimpeur, we rode Skyline drive South to Bruceton Mills. After the 4 mile climb of Mud pike, the rolling beauty and overall downhill profile of Skyline South was much enjoyed. The Aerobianator, Jolly John and Big Daddy cranked it out, measuring each others--well, you know--while The Cat, La Femme Grimpeur, and Frank enjoyed the Scenery.

The group refueled in scenic Bruceton Mills, West by God Virginia, and then proceed forth on rt 73. We pushed slowly through the fragrant aroma of farm fresh manure until The Cat took his leave of the hill weary peleton. How the group fared on the two nasty little climbs 73 offers up, one can only shudder to think. For his part, The Fat Cat took Hileman road. He crossed an emerald green Lake o The Woods and descended Wymps Gap to free himself of the mountain's grip, returning to the car and work thereafter. Despite his whoopin, the Flanders Fat Cat had a great time and hopes everyone else did too.

One little irony. Riding in his car, feeling the sting of annihilation, The Cat was quickly ferried though the stages of grief by the car radio. The soothing refrain, "That's just the way it is, baby." repeated over and over until a little chuckle sounded. That's just the way it is, baby...for now!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Like Taking Candy From a Baby, Then Getting Shaken Down For Your Milk Money

Two riders made it out to the Pike on a blustery day. Lord MonkeyButt donned the first Polka Dot Jersey of the year by virtue of his glorious summit win last week. Feeling the weight of leadership, MonkeyButt trotted out that old saw, well known to The Fat Cat, about not feeling well.
On the first pitch, the Flanders Fat Cat, strong even after two days of intervals, pushed the pace just a bit. A glance back around the hairpin and, surprise, the maillot a pois rouges had popped off the back. Up the next leg breaker, a little faster and the gap widened. The Flanders Fat Cat toyed a bit with his foe like, well, a cat with a ball of yarn, slowing and accelerating. When it became all too obvious that the battle had been decided, MonkeyButt yielded and we staged some photos. Was it illness? Was the 27lb Frazee Schwinn Crisscross a hindrance compared to Earnestina? Whatever it was, we rode up the remaining mountain together, The Fat Cat making sure to top all steep grades first just to stamp out any protests. The mountain top was snow capped but, hopeful green shoots sprung through the vestiges of winter.
Having had enough of the old man of the North, MonkeyButt led the way back down the Pike. We tooled around in the lowlands, taking in the Smithfield War Memorial and admiring the mountains from below. After the ceremonial exchange of the polka dot jersey, the Grimpeurs retired to the traditional comfort of Bullfeathers bottom of the Pike, backwoods bar and grille. MonkeyButt spoke copiously of carbon fiber redemption.
Later in the day the Flanders Fat Cat juggled his many responsibilities and hit the inaugural Law School Criterium while the boy scouts baby sat. The nine other riders got together and all ruffled that Fat Cat's fur, but good. Any delusions that the thin mountain air may have conjured were dashed onto the wide stretches of pavement between The Cat and the peleton.

The group started with ten hard laps and a victory by, surprise, the ageless wonder, Gunnar. So, Cat, you think you can skulk about on the back? Let the games begin. Why not race two man teams? That sounds fun doesn't it? Why not let that denizen of the rear team up with he of the unfettered vision, Gunnar himself? General-G coached The Fat Cat into the most aerodynamic hiding pockets and slowed his pace each time a drop was imminent. Voila, third place, a podium spot. Sure, the Cat was sucking more than his fair share of air and third was two places short of his teammates accustomed spot, but all survived.

Not enough for ya? Stick with Gunnar and let's have a relay. Time to rest, great! Great googily moogily. Those boys and girls flew around that depository of legal writ. We nary had time to stop and settle into our restart positions, before our mad counterparts whipped around, exhorting us to go, go, go. My world squeezed down into a blurry pinhole in which the skinny ass of Ryan, leader of the WVU team, was my desperate carrot. Gunnar yelled things like, "you gotta want it more!" each time we made the switch. What I wanted was to just explode in a glorious ball of sweat, co2, lactic acid and hillbiily bar pickled eggs. Oddly enough, the rabbit sung words, whirl whirl twist and twirl jump around like a flyin squirril cycled through my head and drove me on. Despite a might bit o cheatin by Kean, The Cat and The Gunnar managed to avoid last place. Never in so short a time has The Cat felt so much fatigue. Small comfort was taken in the dirges of his cohorts. The beatings continued as General G-man tried to improve moral but the Fat Cat had to pull off the final five lap, side splitting, every man for himself, race.

Despite being a boy among men, and VeloBetsy, The Fat Cat of Flanders had a great old time at the Inaugural Law school smack down. Thanks all, I'm buyin the beer next time.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tuesday Traineur

The Laurel Mountains were left to their own devices, powering up for the great push of spring and such, while the Fat Cat of Flanders sat for several hours at the physicians office center. Too bad because the weather was a Belgian-like stew of overcast, rain and cool temps. The Fat Cat has had some of his best rides in such conditions. I ask you, why am I scheduled for 2:30 and then made to sit in some holding tank until after 4:00. Just get in, turn my son into a pin cushion so he can get into kindergarten, and get out. But I digress.

In lieu of the mountains, an 11pm ride with the folks at Carmichael training systems was the order of the day. The Cat, the Canadian national mountain bike champion, an Olympic medal winner, some girl from West Virginia, and a few others all took orders from a short bald man named Dean. He was preparing us for the rigors of mountain bike racing and mumbling on about "adaptation" and "energy systems." Dean admonished us several times to, "Make sure yer drinkin!" He blurted this phrase in a sort of quick slur that made it sound as if he had been drinking himself. Then again, maybe the Fat Cat was just flashing back to his college days.

After an eight minute warm up, which included two one minute 100rpm bursts to, "dilate the vessels," we started in on the intervals. The first round consisted of a boatload of 30 second, 90rpm, high intensity turns interspersed with 30 seconds of medium intensity so as to deny the subjects a full recovery. What a prick move, Dean. After 5 minutes easy spinning, we all were then forced to do a bunch of 2 min maximum efforts with 2 minutes recovery in between. Rivulets of sweat literally flowed off my body forming a steaming stream of salt water that emptied into the drain of my cold garage. Wiping the sweat from burning eyes, The Fat Cat noticed that the Silver freakin medalist was doggin it. She was hardly breathin, not sweating, and definitely not maintaining the insisted upon cadence of 90 rpm. C'mon Dean, ride that primadonna's ass. This really pissed off the Fat Cat. He shifted up a gear and felt the burn.

With a minute to go in the last interval, the pain was too great and the index finger twitched on the shifter. The mind flailed about, looking for some purchase on which to stave off collapse. It found the image of little Leo, taking four needles in the leg, the expected torrent of tears never materializing. He did not cry out nor did he even grimace. In fact, he said it was fun! The Fat Cat upped the cadence and let the pain soak in. As he hit the cool down, just a little bit of vomit danced up in the back of the throat. What fun!

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Different Kind of Mountaineering

Out in Morgantown we have a little weekly winter sanity maintenance session called the Baker's Ridge Sunday mtb ride. Ten to twenty people brave the snow and mud as well as potential busted clavicles and other sundry injuries. Although The Flanders Fat Cat started his career on a mountain bike, he is no mountain biker (and some would doubt his credentials on the road too). However, this week he dragged out his Trek mtb, circa 1990, and joined the fold.

Truth be told, this was the Cat's second foray into the Sunday subculture. Two weeks ago he and Lord Monkeybutt made their presence felt with a show of ineptitude and a case of beer. It was probably not a good idea to try on this new/old form as a first ride after weeks of virus imposed layoff but no one ever accused the Fat Cat of being rational. Needless to say, that ride was an unadulterated train wreck filled with lactic acidosis and hyperventilation. The only redeeming quality was the high schoolesque post ride parking lot beer blast. No intentions of returning before the ride morphed back into it's spring road incarnation were entertained.

What a difference two weeks back in the saddle can make. After performing a laundry list of fatherly duties such as, building a trapdoor in a tree house and making the Lionel train set run, a happenstance glance at the old "Worlds Greatest Dad" pocket watch read, 12:39. Having "need" of bicycling, the one o'clock Sunday ride seemed just the numbing elixir. There were 18 riders ranging from racers, to huckers, to girls who can kick your ass and look good doing it, to the old rear guard. The Fat Cat took up the lantern rouge position straight away, girding himself for another day of gurgling blood and hanging on. Surprisingly, the lactate threshold was crossed infrequently and the self imposed exile to the back was only maintained out of courtesy and poor bike handling skills.

Speaking of bike handling, the contrast between the front of the pack and the back was displayed in technicolor when Robbie, resplendent in head to toe matching winter gear, showed his father (who was also on the ride) his fit cat skills. Take one big rotten log jutting toward the sky, add one bike handler extraordinaire and watch as your perceptions of what are possible, if not easy, on a bike are altered before your naked, steaming eyes. Then, fast forward from fit cat to Fat Cat and his Baker's ridge Baker's dozen of over the handlebar pratfalls festooning the last hour of the ride. I was particularly entertained when, limbs entwined in a twisted ball of aluminum, dirt and flesh, a comrade quipped, "How's that cro-moly fork working for ya now?" Seems these young folk might just have something with their fancy smancy rox shox and such. I suppose five inches of pneumatic travel might trump the formerly cutting edge shock absorbing properties of a tapered steel fork...maybe.

Just about four hours later, after running "Spaghetti", "Three Stooges" (along with the obligatory nyuk nyuks), "Dragons Lair," "Far Out,""Turbo" and who the hell knows what else, the Fat Cat was finally released from his subservience to the lords of mountain biking and freed from their sylvan maze. AH- sweet, sweet blacktop. All apologies for a couple of post ride faux paus. Sorry for not offering up libations to quell the Olympian's thirst and wrath. I was rightly shunned and will make amends. Also, Robbie, please forgive the, "He thinks he's so cool because he works in a bike store," remark. It's a line from a movie entitled Empire Records starring Liv Tyler in a pleated mini skirt. My other friends, the lazy movie watching ones, would have laughed.

In the bohemian sprawl of the parking lot it was ordained that the Sunday mountain bike ride is to be officially banished until next winter. Too bad. The Fat Cat thinks he might just have had fun playing in the dirt. Oh, and Dan, I'm sure the self reports of your mountain biking demise are greatly exaggerated. Last ride my arse! I'm sure I'll see you back there next year.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Mountain Gives A Little

Magnifique, Muy bueno, Fantastic. Two riders, The Flanders Fat Cat and Lord MonkeyButt, took to the highlands. The weather was in the 60's and the Sun's dormant energy infused our legs with welcome strength. This week was the polar opposite of last weeks remorseless slog up a mountain seemingly endowed with some kind of gravimetric surge. The Fat Cat did not exactly fly up Mud Pike but he was able to put Lord MonkeyButt into distress several times. We went up the initial steep grade to the hairpin, one just behind the other. The same was true of the second 15 plus degree pitch, each pushing but neither able to get more than a few seconds lead. We stopped for a second to fix a speedometer and I saw Lord MonkeyButt was as redfaced and breathless as I. Quick work was made of the repair and Lord MonkeyButt, still fumbling to remove stifling layers of clothing bid the Fat Cat on, saying he'd catch up. The battle raged , the Fat Cat just under the limit, refusing to look back, and Lord MonkeyButt red-lining and doubting his ability to catch the formerly overmatched Fat Cat. After 2 miles the break was caught but, the ashen and non conversant visage of MonkeyButt made the efforts worthwhile. The Fat cat tightened the screws as his companion tried to pass. Several bike lengths of separation ensued as the crest of the pulloff section was made. We rode together for the recovery roller section, admiring the dormant high forest and anticipating the imminent explosion of greenery. At the last short, leg splitting grade, the battled was joined again. Lord MonkeyButt upped the cadence and his bobbing waif -like frame propelled his Colnago Dream forth. The Fat Cat, feeling okay but straining the legs, did not match the acceleration. "I'll wait until the rock outcrop and put on a sprint to pass," was the twisted thinking. It was quickly evident that such a late season strategem was ill advised after just recovering from a five week battle with at least four different microbial waves. The Fat Cat stood to attack but the burst was not there. All he could do was maintain pace and watch his foe ride off for a 30 second victory. We pressured each other across skyline all the way to the golf course, which was open for business. We thought it would be great fun to have a golf course beer but , alas, neither brought any money. After experiencing a winter of abject desolation on the roof of Pa, we didn't anticipate the go(l)fers coming out to their holes. More talking interspersed with attacking brought us back down the mountain's spine. The Fat Cat avenged himself on the intermediate fire tower hill, a lactic climb that Lord MonkeyButt is known to loath. The descent of Mud Pike was dusty due to our first encounter with cars since the start and thus, not the usual bobsled run fun. At least it wasn't greasy, gritty, Belgian toothpaste. We did power past a big, dirt cloud spewing coal truck on the flats at the bottom of the pike, always good for a kick. We rewarded our efforts with a few cervesas at Bullfeathers, purely for training purposes, of course. You know, carbo loading and all.