Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Winter, anyone?

One of the best things about having a computer with high-speed web at home is instant access to weather. However, information availability is only as effective as the consumer of said information's motivation to log on and access the data. It would have been a great idea to check the current temperature before I hopped on my bike this morning for the commute to work. Last night before bed the trusty digital weather box indicated a forecast low of 17 degrees. A little chillier than lately, but I figured I would be fine with my usual garb.

I set out from the apartment and immediately thought it seemed cold -- colder than 17 degrees in fact. I shrugged it off believing I just haven't acclimated yet. It takes a while to get the winter riding resolve built up. "I'll warm up in a few miles," I told myself.

By mile 4 I was thoroughly convinced my toes were aching toward numbness, not aching back toward warmness. These are the physiological nuances one studies as a winter bike commuter. By mile 6 (about halfway) I knew something was up. The blasts of wind burned my face, threatening to rip my flesh away. My eyes watered. My feet felt as if they were freezing to my SPD cleats through the bottoms of my shoes. I try to smile during my commutes so that drivers will think it's (always) fun to ride a bike. This morning my face was frozen into a painful grimace and tears streamed down my cheeks from the cold. I cursed every traffic light because I didn't want to stop and prolong my growing agony. I lusted after my winter cycling boots which were warm at home. I felt like a fool for not donning my lightweight balaclava and maybe even my ski goggles. I attempted to calm my burning emotions with a cool drink of water -- alas, my bottle was frozen nearly solid. Then it hit me that it was a hell of a lot colder than 17 degrees.

When I got to work I was softly whimpering like an abandoned puppy. My feet hurt to stand on. I peeled off the outer layers at the bike rack and limped to the locker room. The warm water of the shower would be a blessing and a curse. Sure, it would feel good to my un-numbed parts, but the shock for my numb toes would render sensations somewhere between tickling (with an 80 grit belt sander) and stabbing (with cheap, dull, flexible steak knives). Sure enough, I whimpered some more in the shower. I envisioned a mythical hammer smashing my tender red piggies as preferrable to the bizarre pain of rewarming flesh which makes you want to alternately scream and laugh hysterically.

Dressed, fully recovered and somewhat late I settled down to begin my work day. As others trickled into the office I overheard conversations about how unbelievably cold it was this morning: 2, 4, 7 degrees folks were saying. At 10am with the sun shining I checked the current temp -- 9 degrees. That means it was damn cold at 7:30. I felt vindicated, but still thought I was an idiot for not checking the temperature or carrying a few light skin-covering layers with me. It sure does seem like it's going to be a long winter (especially since winter doesn't begin for another 3 weeks) ... Happy cycling!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Have you ever ...

... been unable to sleep because your mind, for some miscellaneous and unforeseen reason, decided to take a trip down memory lane to reminisce all the people you've known, all the girls you've dated, all the crazy shit you've ever done and all the times you probably should have died doing some of that stuff? That's tonight. Be extra careful if you happen to keep your old journals in an easily accessible place.

Like John Woodruff. I used to know a guy named John Woodruff.

Sleep, I hope.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

MN State Championship CX

The gala of the MN cycling season, a veritable "Who's Who" in the MN cycling world takes place every year at Bassett Creek with the MN State CX Championships. I rode the B1 race -- my first race in a month and a half. It was a struggle to even get there since I did not want to get out of bed and ended up sleeping an extra hour. We loaded up as a family and drove on over to Crystal (the forgotten suburb). By the time we got there I had about half an hour. Still, I was late to the line and had to turn around , wait for a break and fall into the pack. I found myself next to ATW Ray. We chatted it up and I went off to jockey up through the pack.

April caught me (on the far left, yellow and black) in a loose section coming out of the dreaded stair climb (which actually isn't so bad). Paul was behind me at this point doing a warm-up for the A race.

Side view, #378. I felt okay for the race, but hadn't warmed up as usual. Remounts were sloppy, almost crashed once passing Hurl and got my bike caught in a tree trailside on one run-up. Nice work, Fleck. True to form, I started to kick in during the second half. With two laps to go I started my aggressive passing campaign. I'm sure others looked at me zoom by and wondered why I didn't started out faster to begin with. On the final straightaway Paul's brother did creep around me at the line, but I had a strong finish.
I have to comment on Matt A's announcing. He was on fire with the "dot.com" bit and I appreciated the "We have a call for John Fleck" announcement as I rode by the stand. Other than April and Sylvia it was nice to have a lot of people cheering for me around the course. Dave Cory was there to insult and threaten. Matt and Tony came out to heckle me up the stairs. Afterward Matt told me it was really good to see me out racing again. That was nice. Thanks, Matty! Sorry I missed the after-party, guys. That's another story ... family obligations called. One of these years I'll make it.

The real work over for the day, it was time to settle in with friends at the top of the hill. Nate had the party table set up.

Nick had the tunes.

Tanner helped out with the whiskey hand ups.

Moffitt Sr, aka Chewey, was there for moral support. Always great to see you, Ron.

Zitox in attendance. I'm sorry my camera missed Geno riding through the barrage of firecrackers set off by Mr Zito.

The crowd atop the dirt pile silhouetted by the clearing skies and a little sun for the second half of the A race.

Geno negotiating the triples just past the finish line.

We'll take a short break in the action to examine an exhibit of questionable bike taste. A Brooks saddle with an Aerospoke, flat bars AND a triple crank?? Notice the retro matching oversized quill stem and the blue ano front hub. Some serious time and money went into dorking this ride out.

Meanwhile back up on the hill, some serious money was being laid down for any racer who would stop to pick it up ...

... The crowd was growing ...

... Tanner was making progress with the whiskey hand ups ... (Hey, didn't I see you in a Titec ad?)

Amy C was devising her own strategy for enticing riders to pause long enough to take the dollar prime.

One rider who was too far back to be in the money realized he could make a little money and cleaned the ground of $1 bills. He made about $6 for 20 seconds of his time.

Lots of bunny hopping occurred at the doubles on the hill.

One of the Lalonde brothers clears them in style aboard a single speed.
Geno popping out of the woods wearing his distinctive team kit. Hard to miss.

Geno coming through the crowd at the doubles. Do you need to ask whether or not he took the whiskey hand up?
Hurl and Mark take in the action. Another fine day. Sadly, it was the last CX race and the last bike race for the season in MN. Hope everyone had fun last night at One on One. (I'm sure you all did.) Stay tuned folks for a long, cold winter.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Family Affair

Got a new bike toy recently. April has been hinting about wanting a bike-mounted child seat for a while now. I'm not a big fan, but she really wanted one and did the research and even went and got it. All I had to do was install it. Do I enjoy an excuse to drop everything else and work on a bike? You bet. The bike is a little clunky and heavy with the seat attached, but it comes off easily by means of a sliding quick-release. If we wanted to we could even mount a second rack and quick-release on one of my bikes to swap the seat between rides.

We took it for a test spin after installation. It was nice for me because if we ride as a family that has usually meant I will be pulling the Burley with Sylvia. The little one has been a bit finicky over the past few months (she is two, after all) and has revolted against the Burley from time to time saying it is "too bumpy." She really likes the bike seat though. I think she is expressing that in the photo below.

We ended up at a playground where more cute photo ops awaited ...

April has already used the seat to get Sylvia to the babysitter several times. I even ran the seatpost up on her bike and picked Sylvia up with it one day. It is not too bad really; it balances the weight nicely. Sylvia enjoys having the view and she even does a little backseat driving reminding Daddy when there is a car coming on a cross street. Overall the seat appears to be a good addition to our collection of kid and cargo toting bike devices. With the new one coming in March I'm certain we will get a lot of use out of the bike seat. My goal (and partially our shared goal, I think) is to be a 90+ percent car-free family. I'd say we're 70 or so percent now. Here's a recent write-up of a car-free family of five. I work with Martin and he is a die-hard four season commuter. We'll see if we can get there. There are a few tricks to learn and some lifestyle changes to be incorporated. It's a worthwhile challenge though.

And, finally here is one of those gems that appears when you have a free-spirited two year old in your midst. Sylvia loves to play dress up. This is a particularly eclectic outfit she's assembled, crowned by my Surly cycling cap. Couldn't have staged it better myself!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

F-ckin' A! Now let's do something that really matters ...

This was ripped from the latest Minnesota Cyclist e-newsletter:

Last month the City of Minneapolis conducted city-wide bicycle and pedestrian counts, with the help of over 70 volunteers, AmeriCorps members, and government agency staff. This month the City is releasing the data to the public.

Highlights include:
· Top count locations for bicyclists - led by 15th Avenue SE in Dinkytown, the Midtown Greenway in Uptown, and the Midtown Greenway in Phillips.
· Detailed data for 57 count locations.
· A 51% increase in cyclists at 9 downtown locations, when comparing 2007 and 2003 counts.
· Detailed Census statistics, showing that a growing percentage of Minneapolitans bike to work regularly.

The City of Minneapolis has secured $7.01 million in funding to continue to improve the biking and walking environment, through the federal Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTP). You can learn more about the specific NTP projects which were funded for Minneapolis. Highlights include:
-17 projects to improve various streets, to make them more bicycle friendly.
-Funding to pilot the Minneapolis Bicycle & Pedestrian Ambassador Program, an education campaign for cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists.
-4 new infrastructure projects, including the Hiawatha Trail connection to Downtown and the completion of the University of Minnesota Trail.
-Funding to increase bicycle parking.

Now my spew: Do we have a bonafide explosion of interest in commuting by bicycle? Or, do we have more agencies putting more time into counting and crunching data so our city can score that mega-Fed grant? I think it's probably a little of both.

Yippee! More people are riding bikes. Yippee! Mpls gets lots of government money. Yippee! More freakin' bike trails. Yippee! Education? Let's hope my little magenta-highlighted blurb doesn't fall by the wayside. Let's hope, too, the educational component leans heavily on re-educating our internal combustible friends out there. It's pretty easy for a driver to kill a ped or cyclist -- it happens all the time; the reverse is hardly ever heard of (short of a gun toting biker -- oh, it's happened).

Motor vehicle operators need a lesson or two in tolerance, in a bad, bad way. Cyclists are not immune from the need for education and mutual respect of the rules of the road (It would be easier to begin obeying the "rules" as they are modified to be fair for bikes, too). The freaks who drive around on ego-fueled autopilot with a subconscious belief that bikes do not belong on the road and who are guided by a notion embedded at the level of their ids that cyclists deserve to be punished, i.e. killed, for "overstepping" their bounds need to be rehabilitated, majorly overhauled, re-worked, lobotamized, etc.

Come to think of it, $7.01 million is a lot of damned money. Bike trails are nice, they're fun, they provide a false sense of security for neurotic neophytes who may never be competent cyclists anyway. But what really itches me about bike trails? The more millions we pump into building more and more trails, the more and more the mass majority of non-cyclists (motorists) and some cyclists (weekend warriors/recreational "enthusiasts") will believe that the only right and proper place for cyclists is segregated from cars on a dedicated path. Bullshit. I say teach the drivers to become more tolerant, let enforcement agencies hold motorists accountable for exclusionary, bullyish behavior and we can stop building these bourgeois bike trails and let cyclists ride in peace on the road. $7.01 million is dedicated to Mpls alone; think about the pots of money for similar projects in Portland, San Francisco, New York, D.C. ... We're talking major coin, folks. Does it improve my quality of life? Yeah, but it could improve a lot of others' lives who are a hell of a lot worse off than I am (not to mention my cushy, middle class, white cycling cronies).

What would I rather see $7.01 million spent on? Here are a couple of ideas: Healthcare for the poor (affordable healthcare for people like my own family, in fact); Sensitivity training for cops; Salaries for more cops who have sworn to uphold the rights of bicyclists on the streets (let's not leave out upholding the rights of minorities and under-represented populations while we're at it); Improved public transit; Alternative energy initiatives; Affordable higher education; Dynamic improvements to public education; Enforcement of speed limits and traffic laws for motorists; the list goes on. And, by the way ... do you think $7.01 million is enough to buy the Bill of Rights back from the greedy bastards who've kidnapped it?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Flecktoberfest 2007

Well, here's a little story about a party called "Flecktoberfest," November 3rd, 2007. I stumbled upon the obvious logic of this naming rubric just this year. While I have touted the Fleck name for three years, it never occurred to me to incorporate it into the moniker of the yearly bash I've been hosting now for 11 years or so. While our party is nothing like the Roses' 4th of July celebration, (and it certainly was no "Patch's Easter Eye Hunt"), we did boast our biggest turn out ever -- over 50 people. The general theme every year is a celebration of all things Oktoberfest/pagan/harvest related. The specific theme this year was "Piss off the neighbors who should have moved to the suburbs." We succeeded.

It all started rather innocently. Taco sleeps peacefully on the bed while the party begins to crank up.

Family time indoors during the wee hours. From the left: Megan, Lilia, Sylvia (pants off), Kara, Chandler, Trevor and Isabella.

The party takes a turn after Andy and Pamela show up. I think this is about the time the keg (of Bell's Two Hearted Ale) kicked in, for me at least.

Another round of chicken wings, brats and dogs hit the grill.

Bike Tech Guru, Aaron, and Nikki. Eric (in the background) talks philosophy with Skiles.

Chef John. I referred to myself as the "Funky Chef" (traditional garb except for my kilt). I like this photo -- it is rather Van Gogh, don't you think?

Firemaster Mark Rahn brought over the fire pit and tended the blaze all evening. When he showed up at 4:50 (party began at 5) he said he intended to be the first to arrive and the last to leave. Who knew Mark was a prophet? Here Pamela chats with Sylvia while April (in rasta colors) and Megan look on.

The Renaissance mug puts all others to shame (including me, the person drinking from it). Bill and Dirty Kop arrived sometime during the filming of this evening. They look happy, that's all that mattered.

Lisa (holding Milo), Alison and Jen. Seeing Jen and Milo was one of the highlights of the evening.

Pamela captured in a weird moment of weirdness.

A queer sort of nativity: Tony eats the baby emerging from my frock while Andy awaits his turn to lap up the remnants.

As in popular christian myth, the baby lives on. Andy is not happy.

Tony, Fleck and Andy. Good hug ... let's get another beer.

At this point, the pictures drop off. The party raged on. Sometime after midnight I had the brightly-illuminated, mostly-drunken idea we needed music. I ran an extension cord and plugged in my boom box from the bike shop. CD of choice: Husker Du's "Everything Falls Apart." Apparently our neighbors (they're the ones who should have moved to the suburbs) aren't Husker Du fans. The fellow walked into our crowd and quite politely asked if we could quiet down. Someone less belligerent than I doused the music. (I won't go into my stock rant about the neighbors.) About 2am the Funky Chef had to get horizontal. Mark shut the party down, including (as I found out on Monday) welcoming a visit from Johnny Law (no, he's not related to Johnny Nebraska). Mark Rahn, you are my hero. Seriously ... thanks.

Sunday brought sunshine, so harshly announcing the end of a successful night of merriment. I awoke to find the chairs stacked neatly in the entry way, tap pulled from the keg, all remnants of the fire extinguished. Lesson learned: Bell's Two Hearted is a great keg but perhaps not the best for a keg party. As I understand, lots of our guests didn't make it to church on Sunday.

A shot of the aftermath (detail). There were several of these to pick up.

I policed the grounds. The keg was still afloat with yet a bit of liquid payload to yield -- about 5L precisely. It was not until well after noon that I lifted the lid on the grill to discover 8 brats and hotdogs as of yet uncooked. Apparently our chef had placed them over dead coals and gone about his business awaiting the gradual forces of nature to prepare their flesh. I am still awaiting the returns of such a phenomenon. That's a sign it was a good party, and a good party it was.

At this point, a few thank you's are needed (along the order of liner notes to an album): April, thank you for all your preparation, cooking and hospitality -- I love you without end, partly because you are an infinitely gracious host; Sylvia, someday soon you will understand the integral part you play in everything we do; Sheila, thanks for being our second guest and for blogging the party (BTW I linked you); Mark Rahn, you are an awesome friend and an inspiration ... thank you is all I can say; Angela, thanks for the yummy chili and for being our friend and fairy godmother (you, too, Eric! Sorry we didn't get to hang out more); Mark Emery, thank you for not letting your camera capture too much; Bear, you are a brother to the Nth degree and I welcome your presence anytime; Andy and Pamela, you two did not have to do the dishes, seriously, but you did and THANK YOU, also for showing up in costume; Megan, you are sexy and beautiful and a wonderful person to share our daughter with; Joel, I meant it when I announced to everyone around that you were my inspiration for bridging the gaps around the Cities by bike and your flatbread was awesome!; Trevor, Andrea and Isabella -- we hope to see more of you; Chandler, Kara and Lilia -- it was so nice to have you here and watch Sylvia and Lilia play together; Lisa, thanks for checking on Taco and bringing Jen and Milo; Jen and Milo, thanks for coming and may love and happiness be with you both; Don and Linda Sue, it's not all about the coerced hugs ... you two are incredible; Tony, you never dodge my hugs and for that I am thankful -- thanks, too, for eating my baby; Skip, you were here, you were gone, things were crazier than I thought they might be; Becca and Zach thanks for coming and putting up with the scene -- Zach, thanks for drinking scotch with me (although I didn't need it); Dirty Kop, I think we are cut from the same cloth and we still need to do karaoke someday; Seth, sorry I beat your helmet against your head -- you know I love you in sick and perverted ways; Johnny and Carrie, you two are my hope for the apocalyptic future, and I treasure Johnny for reminding me that things are never any worse than they've always been; Julia and Maria, the more we are together the more I realize we have so much yet to share; Alison, thanks for being receptive to the "other side" of your dharma friend; Bill, we're still eating the ice cream sandwiches and you're still a beautiful gnome; Bobby and Lara, positive vibes always welcome! Thanks for bringing some light to the party; Judd and Amy -- Judd, fate always brings us together and I think that is the way it is meant to be; Becky G, after Todd's party I can hardly believe you thought it safe to come to my house; Tyler, I really didn't need to try your rum-spiked cider but you were too convincing; Holly and Alix, you two are always fun and Holly, I love our banter; Sean-O, my captain, you showed up like you said you would - thanks!; Ryan, by the time you got here I was in the bag, but you were a trooper; Matty rocks! When I grow up I wanna be just like you; Geoff, you were a brave man to bring an uninitiated friend, but being here said it all, and nice jacket by the way!; Cameron, keep riding that new bike, man.

That's about it for 'thanks' and otherwise. If you read this and find that I am in complete error, call me out in a comment. It was an incredible party and only because all our friends decided to make an appearance. Good folks, good food, good cheer -- FLECKTOBERFEST!!

Friday, November 9, 2007

All Crossed Up and No Place To Go

It's been a while since a few of these shots were taken, but I wanted to post them. Mostly I want to post them since I have not raced since my little accident with the concussion and all. My head is fine (I think). But my low back still has a lump like a slightly flattened golf ball has been deposited atop my sacrum. Bone bruising the chiro says. It should go down -- eventually. Anyway, not racing hasn't meant not going to races. I have spectated at a couple of cross events, in attendance with cowbell and camera in hand, shouting 'til I'm hoarse, yucking it up with friends.

Here are a few samples from the Boom Island CX, just a couple miles from downtown Mpls:

Orange Crush in action cruising past the raucous Camp Hollywood.

The Brothers Orange: ATW Ray and the Man, the Legend -- T. Hurl Everson, Esquire

Obaid is not quite sure what he's gotten himself into. This was his first (last?) race. C race fields have been huge this year. Apparently cyclocross is hitting its stride.

Mark Rahn's arm with cowbell attached. It doesn't matter who you are -- in 'cross you're going to get the cowbell and you're going to get yelled at -- first place, last place and every place in between.

Andrew Pierre, of Team Vegan, reflects. He built that bike himself, as in the frame and all.

Mr. Burns clears a barrier. Yep, that's an Indy Fab with full Campy. If it was my size, I'd steal it from him. (Just kidding, Burnsy.)

Hollywood rolled out the black carpet for his friends. Looks like the scene of a pretty wild party. Wait, it was, if I remember correctly.

Ryan Horkey showing us why mtn bikers make good 'crossers. The dude following seems to be missing his ticket to board the clue bus.

Start of the A race. Nothing like a narrow off-camber a couple hundred meters from the line.

Geno (second back) cranks it out on the single.

Geno may not have been in the money, but he knows the real glory lies in snatching the beer hand-up!

'Cross fans come in all shapes and sizes. Here I display a few of the common essentials -- cowbell, beer, and in my free hand (until a friend snapped this photo) a camera. This was one representation of Team Hub.

Here's another representation of Team Hub -- Joel opening it up on the straightaway to the final barriers. Paul also raced. Sean-O joined the crowd on the sidelines for a bit.

An off-duty Matt with daughter Alicia (and someone in a very cool La Vie Claire retro beanie whom I don't know).

It's hard work standing out in the cold for 5 hours swilling beer. We headed to Grumpy's afterward to stoke what Seger called "the fire down below." Kelly Mac shows off a trick she learned in school. A lot of generic photos have people flashing peace signs. BORING. Biker photos predominantly portray another internationally-recognized symbol.

Oh, Cyclocross, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways by showing off a few photos from the mighty Team Hub's own event -- Mill City held at Powderhorn Park. I biked over with Sylvia while April ran off for Day 2 of a weekend seminar. It was chilly (in the 40s). Let me just say, our daughter is a hearty young soul. She loaded up in the Burley and was ready for action when we arrived at the park.

Start of the C race. Johnny Nebraska is all business, picking out his victim in the crowd. Notice -- brim down.

Matty, however, seems a bit more relaxed. This is obviously evidenced by the "brim up" posture of his cycling cap. Bearded Cat 6 boy poses no threat. After all, everyone knows the Amish don't race bicycles.

Another thing I relish about my daughter -- she, like her dad, loves cold food. That's right, honey, it's just energy and the belly will break it down and send it to your bloodstream whether it's hot or not.

Surly Pugsley -- official vehicle of USCF rep Matt Anderson.

Mark Rahn's party was hopping with a keg and a firepit within sight of the course. Marie warms her arse while someone else warms their beer??

Steve and Seth converse with Noren.

A blurry Geno and daughter Hannah. It was the day after Homie Fall Fest ... holding the camera steady was a bit difficult at times.

Another gratuitous Sylvia shot; can't get enough of these, especially when they also include one of my favorite bikes.

So, I've gotten pretty comfortable with the pressure of racing off my back, but I think I'll give it a go again this weekend in Milaca. More details to follow ...