Monday, November 30, 2015

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thankful for...

All of these dents in my bike that aren't in me.
The Parkway
That uneasy feeling on Tuesdays at exactly 6 pm
The color teal
Simmons Gap
Drinking not coke at the old coke building
Flo Lakes
Rocky Holler
Rigid Fork Comeback
The Hold Steady on the way to night ride at 9 PM
Strict Chipotle pre-race regimen
Ditch Witched trail
12 pack of 40Mile cans for $10
Little rippers
New grips
8-speed stuff that I stockpiled 10 years ago because I saw the future
Honey Stinger Gingersnap Waffles
Private land
How insanely bright a new $150 light is now
50-foot tall Rhododendron forests
The diverse pursuit of 2 wheeled happiness in all its forms

And on and on and up and up and up.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Perpetual Tie

A decade and a half ago, I lived in Paris for six months while on a study abroad program.  I was finishing out my last semester of college in Europe vs. within the relatively safe confines of the sheltered bluestone campus in Harrisonburg.  It was a tremendous experience.  Not all positive, but all very real - certainly an education.

Early on in my stay there, after the luster of just being in Paris wore off a little, I recognized that it was still a big city, complete with all of the big city highs and lows you might find in New York or London or Hong Kong.  Non-directional septic smells.  Street sweeping dog shit.  Mean people.  But also, the best of the best: and at times that was Sports.  Indeed, one of the most profound experiences I had in Paris was taking the RER north to St. Denis, buying a ticket off a scalper, and watching a football friendly between Team France and Team Cameroon in a much-hyped match between what was, at the time, the Olympic Champs (Cameroon) and the World Cup Champs (France) at the Stade De France.

Outside of being just an absolutely huge stadium, the second most defining characteristic of The Stade De France is that there are basically only two levels - The Top and The Bottom.

The Top, where I sat, and much to my surprise, was almost 100% black people, mostly North and West African immigrants.  I wasn't bothered by this in any way - quite the opposite.  These were the warmest, most welcoming, and certainly the most excited people I had ever encountered at a sporting event, immediately prompting me to root for Cameroon instead of France.  We sat together, cheered and yelled and hissed at the refs, and all the while looked out across The Lower Deck, below us and a great deal closer than we were with a better view of the action - pretty much exclusively white Parisians.

The obvious and unapologetic segregation was shocking at first, but everyone there seemed to take it in stride.  The reality is that this was and still is a pretty accurate cross-section of France and Paris today.  The old guard - white people near the center of the city with the view and influence of it all - and the immigrants craning their necks from afar just to see.

I'll cut to the punchline on this one: France and Cameroon tied that night.  I didn't see anyone fight after the game, but I heard on the news the next day that there had been some serious brawls later that night - as so often happens in a tie, sometimes the fans will try to sort out the winner on their own.  Of course that doesn't ever work, but it was obvious to me then - December of 2000 - that the table was set for a real, hard, bitter struggle for what you might call "limited seating" between the haves and the have nots.

Such were the grounds, at least in the sense of an actual location, for the suicide bombings in Paris last week.  Of course, Cameroon is not ISIS, and that's not at all what I mean to imply.  I'm talking about the enormous gap itself - that space in the middle.  It's the perpetual tie in a game we insist on continuing to play over and over - the fact that I'll never convince you and you'll never convince me, and hate, death, and whatever hell may come, no one ever actually wins.

It's not just in France, of course; it's everywhere.   The divisive, unholy line.

I've been in exactly two sprint finishes in bike races - both times racing for the Win, and both times I've been beaten at the line.  Once, in 2011, I almost won the XXC at the Middle Mountain Mamma, probably the closest I've come to winning a decently big race.  I actually had a pretty big gap coming into the last downhill, and I played it safe in some pretty poor conditions while the guy behind me risked it, and he came from a long way back and outsprinted me at the line.  At the Urban Assault in Richmond in about 2009 or so, I led it out into the final straight, but Mike Hosang passed me, only I passed him back, but then he re-re-passed me to take the W.  In both cases, I was pretty psyched just to have been close, and I was beaten by really fast guys.  And, more than anything, we didn't tie.  Nothing in a bike race ends up being a tie.  There's a clear winner, and a podium, and a top 10, and everyone else too, and we can all move on and go home and feel OK about that.

But life is not bike racing.  Most things aren't.

Today - The Third Thursday of November - is Beaujolais for the French.  It's the day when the newly bottled wine of the year is uncorked, decanted, and served across France even though it's still pretty fruity and not entirely ready for consumption.  It's a national holiday and basically an invitation to call in sick to work tomorrow.  But after various credible threats around Paris and the rest of Europe this week, it will be no surprise if another terrorist attack hits France right on the nose again tonight.  I could be wrong about that, and that's one of the unfortunate effects of terrorism - that attack or not, we're all at least a little terrorized.

I've done a ton of bike riding in France over the years.  Ventoux.  Alps D'huez.  Normandy.  Arles.  Right through the streets of Paris and out past the Hippodrome and farther West out to Versailles and back.  But right now, it's hard to imagine.

The lines we draw are all so clear, now - that's the power of the internet.  They're Social.  Economic.  Cultural.  Religious.  Ethnic.  Political.  There are language barriers.   Financial gaps.  Dead bodies to reinforce the threat from the other side, whatever that side might be.  The distance from here to there is so enormous, people so far out of context with our own reality that perhaps we'd be better off just not interacting at all.  But we can see them all so clearly, and so far, that isn't helping.
I saw the gap - right across the waistline of the Stade De France, just like that night when France and Cameroon tied, and fought, and nothing was ever really settled.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A letter to John from his Ex-Fork

Look, it was either contemplate the meaning of a world that might allow the existence of a caliphate state on a closed-borders-only basis because religious freedom isn't really religious freedom if we only allow the religions we like to be free, or write an imaginary letter to John from his old fork that he gave me because he didn't want it anymore.

Neither would have been safe for work, but I chose the latter.
You are most welcome.
Up, up, up.

Dear John,
At first I was afraid; I was petrified.  

I'm a rigid fork, after all.  So movement isn't something I do very well, and I think that comes with a fear of change.  Travel is not what I do.  I've never left anyone before.  But you and I both know how bad things had gotten between us, and the end was the end.  And that's fine.  I mean, I was furious at first.  How could YOU leave ME?  You with your floppy little handlebars and your wanky saddle.   I hate you.  You want to know what I really think?  Of course you don't because you're a mean-hearted soul sucking buzz kill.  So let me tell you what I think about you. Kiss my dropouts.  Again, I'm a rigid fork, so I'm basically genderless, but if I had a genitals I would definitely not let you touch them anymore.  You with your hate.  Always with your disdain for my body.  Like I wasn't good enough for YOU?  Ha!  That seems so silly now.  But I couldn't see it at the time, because when you told me I wasn't good enough to flow down North Bank trail, I believed you.  And so you would run off and ride that other fork you have, with her implanted travel adjustment and her perky air valves and bullshit - let me tell you something - that shit ain't real.  And I'd sit at home all alone and think I wasn't pretty enough, and then you'd come home and we'd go get groceries or walk the dog or some garbage, and I was just that - a utility.  

Let me tell you something you don't know about you, John, you can't handle me!  You and your wanky little short stem.  For so long I believed the story you told me that I wasn't good enough.  But you know what I did last night?  Of course you don't, because you LEFT ME, so let me tell you what I did: I JUMPED DOWN A FLIGHT OF STAIRS.  You would have never let me do that.  You thought I wasn't good enough for it.  But now I see the truth, the awful truth, that it was YOU who couldn't jump those stairs, not me.  And sure, I broke a spoke or two on this wanky little no-balls wheel, but screw him, I'm a grown-ass fork now!  I will huck all the stairs I want now, and bitches and spokes better bend a little.  This grown ass fork is a whole lot of fork, and I'm going to paint this town with my ass on backwards if you know what I mean.  Of course you don't know what I mean, because you wouldn't ever let me do that.  And you kept me locked up, and I almost believed you and I could have thrown my whole life away, but finally I have escaped, and I will SURVIVE.  

Again, and in summary, screw you and your wanky saddle and your carbon bikes and whatever.  I hope your other fork blows oil in your stupid eyes.  

-Karate Monkey Fork

PS - Here's a picture of me.  It's amazing what a little fresh paint can do for a girl's confidence.  Eat your heart out.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tractor Factor

I want to tell you about a really sexist, bizarre, shitty thing that guys do when they talk about women, and why they do it, and how it applies to cycling, and what I think it all means.  So dig in there and be patient with this very calloused thing I'm about to explain to you, and I'll try to help make it all make sense by the time I roll out of here in 10 minutes.
What I'm here to tell you about is Tractor Factor.

And it goes like this.
There's this inane, bizarre, sexist way that men objectify how a woman looks, a very simple rating scale that I'm sure you're familiar with: a simple number rating of 1 - 10.  "She's an 8."  "She's a 10!"  "Oh man, she was a four.  Ugh."
That sort of thing.  You've heard of it before, I assume, though if you hadn't I'm sorry you had to read about it here first.  It's not only a calloused way to objective the complex nature of beauty, it also tends to dumb the entire worth of a person down to a simple number.  And I do mean Dumb.  We're talking about the most basic of male instincts here.  Not something anyone is proud of, I don't think: it simply IS.

But here's the part you might never have heard of: Tractor Factor.
Tractor Factor basically works as follows:
"Bro, she'd probably only be a 6, but she drives her own tractor, and it's a John Deere.  So she's a 9."
You see what happened there?  An otherwise modest "score," if you will, was amplified by an outside factor - in this case, quite literally, a tractor.  The gifted lady in this case has a 1.5X tractor factor, resulting in a Net "score" of 9.

Congratulations, you've just entered the human male brain at the very bottom floor.  Welcome.  And again, I'm really sorry.

While still abhorrently sexist, Tractor Factor actually serves to add some level of natural complexity back into the overly simple 1- 10 scoring system I mentioned above, thus restoring (in a minimal way) the very subjective and nuanced way that a person actually perceives the beauty of another person, and thus (I hope) helping to right the wrongness of the 1-10 system in a very minor way.

Ok, let's get back to bikes.  Because that's what you came here for and that's what I actually know something about.

Tractor Factor applies to bikes also.  In fact, since a bike is an actual Object, objectifying it isn't such a bad thing, and again, the male brain is only capable of so much complexity when it comes to surmising a person or thing's worth.

So a 2005 steel 26er hardtail with a little rust around the edges isn't exactly a bike that you're excited about spending some time with this winter, right?  But put some 2.4's on there, a short stem, and some 700mm wide bars with new grips and wait, what?  Yeah, you'd ride the shit out of that thing.  You might not tell your buddies about it, but you'd do it, and you'd love it.  A subtle difference changes the whole game.

Ditto that for your road bike.  Again, it's a mid 2000s aluminum frame with a triple crank and some really heinous shifting.  So you sell it, right, because you're just not into it anymore.  And some guy buys it, and he lovingly bolts on a double crank with some new cables and housing, some new grip tape, and maybe even some new tires and boom - it's like seeing your ex-girlfriend with another guy, and she looks great.  They look super happy, and they drop you on the steep climb coming back into Free Union.  You're a fat asshole, and you're an idiot.

None of this is revolutionary psychology, nor is it a mode of thought that I think anyone should subscribe to in a broader sense.  The male gender of our species simply lacks the ability to understand worth in much more than black or white terms.  Tractor Factor, sexist though it remains, is a useful vessel for trying to overcome this.

In summary, you need some new tires for the winter.  But more than anything, don't be that guy. The beauty of a person (or a bike) is actually bound by you, not them.

See something for what it really is for a change.

Up, up, up.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Election Day

“This,” cried the Mayor, “is your town’s darkest hour!
The time for all Whos who have blood that is red
To come to the aid of their country!” he said.
We’ve GOT to make noises in greater amounts!
So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!” 
-Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who