Friday, February 27, 2009

Work-Time Yoga

Don't hate, but we’re now doing yoga at work. Our bosses decided the most convenient and cost-effective way for them to get their yoga workouts in would be to hire an instructor and have her come to us. So we all benefit. We each chip in $5 a class, and twice a week, during our lunch hour, nine of us shuffle downstairs with our yoga mats and go through an hour of stretches and strenghening stuff.


I’ve always liked the idea of yoga, but when given free hours, I’m a shameless cardio-addict and would much rather hit the trails for a run or grab my bike and annihalate my lungs. Over the years, the cumulative effect of my additction has resulted in extremely tight hamstrings and muscles that know how to churn out lactic acid instead of letting me balance on one leg. I can run really far, but I have a hard time touching my toes.


I’m quite grateful that the yoga is coming to us, because unless it’s this convenient, I’ll never do it. And I really, really need it.


We’ve done three classes so far, and during each session, I’m continually amazed at how aware I become of my muscles, ligaments, and tendons as I coerce them into unknown positions and ask them to stay. It’s giving me an overall awareness of my body, and I’m quite enjoying it. I’ve always had a healthy level of respect for my body and admiration for the distances it allows me to go, but now we’re getting acquainted on a whole new level. It’s a bit humbling recognizing that endurance does not at all translate to yoga strength or flexibility.


I doubt my twice-weekly sessions will result in me doing headstands with my legs in a position resembling a pretzel, nor will I become enlightened from the practice. But I Iike that it calms me and forces me to stretch and strengthen something other than my legs or heart.  

Thursday, February 26, 2009

We go way back.

My best friend—the only person I’ve managed to keep close ties with for decades—outside of family, of course, is John. Our friendship began in third grade. He called me names, pulled my hair, and then asked me to be his girlfriend. We shared the same bus route—an unfortunate diesel fume-infused ride that lasted about an hour. Interestingly, John and I each lived about three miles from our elementary school, but under the banner of building character, filling our young lungs with exhaust, and killing our small backs with a shock-less bouncy ride, our mothers insisted we ride the bus. Every day. Even though I’m still slightly bitter about having to take the bus for the entirety of my elementary school career, I can now honestly say I may never have befriended John in such a way, had we just been classmates. So thank you, Mom. With all sincerity. My lungs have finally recovered, and I got a best friend out of the deal. 


John was my first kiss. We regularly staked out the giant school tires during our recesses for some smooching exploration. By fourth grade, we finally moved on and had somewhat of a bitter breakup. To get back at me, he dated one of my best friends and I dated one of his. This continued on all the way through sixth grade. Since we were still stuck on the same bus route, we inevitably made up, and though we were precocious kids, we finally matured enough to handle a boy/girl friendship. We’ve been going strong ever since.


By seventh grade, we were inseparable. By that point, we had both tired of being with the same friends classmates for eight years, so we shunned everyone and spent most of our free time together. Our families were acquaintances, so it wasn’t a big deal when he came on a family vacation with us or that we all took sailing trips together.


In high school, we hung around different friends, so we didn’t spend all that much time together, but we always looked out for each other. We both hated our hometown and wanted to get out, bad. By senior year we had figured it out: We would move to San Luis Obispo and be roommates.


My parents, and his parents, understood. Even as conservative as my parents are, they didn’t freak out over John and I getting a place together. They understood we were like siblings.


I can’t imagine having gone through that first year of college with anyone but John. We adored SLO, got accustomed to our classes, and because our livers were still pickled from our high school experiences, we didn’t do the typical Freshman-party scene. He surfed. I biked. We had a blast. We screened each other’s dates, sizing them up to see if he/she was worthy of the other.


Unfortunately, that was the only time we managed to live together. By our second year, I had to find a short-term lease because I transferred up to Seattle, and by the time I finally came to my senses and moved back to SLO, he was locked into a new lease. But we still hung out.


We’ve managed to lead remarkably parallel lives. We’ve both crossed coasts, had adventures in Europe and Central America, raced bikes, skied in exotic locales, broken hearts, and had ours broken. We just manage to have all of these adventures at different times, so we rarely overlap, though we do compare stories. 


We’re so alike that when we’re talking to each other, we tend to drop the “I” personal pronoun and substitute in “we.”

“You know how we are so sensitive to people like that…”

“We could never live in a place like that, you know how it goes…”


I think it’s because we’re so similar we could never actually be a couple. It would become a creepy combination of feeling like I was dating myself and someone who has become a sibling.


Because of John, I know that men can be sensitive, insightful and empathetic creatures, who listen really well. Countless men I’ve encountered contend such traits are not wired into their chromosomes. I disagree. One of the most manly-men I know is also incredibly transparent and aware—at least with me. I realize not everyone gets to see him the way I do. But he’s given me a standard for the types of conversations and openness I should be able to have with a man. Because I know, underneath the façade and bullshit tough exterior, men process and analyze, too.


When I look at the things I’m most grateful for in my life, John’s friendship is at the tip-top of my list. If I ever get married, and was the type of girl who’d have bridesmaids (I’m not), he’d be my man-of-honor. Seriously. And I’ve threatened him with this.

I also frequently remind him to respect me, the elder, because I'm a whole two days older than him.


I love sharing this journey with him. So, dear friend, if you ever read this, know I love you with all my heart. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tour of California: A Tribute to the Fans.

Here, my friends, is a gallery showcasing cycling fans at their best. You should all go home, right now, and convince your children to become professional bike racers when they grow up. I mean, how fucking motivating are these fans? In what other sport will fans camp out, in the cold, on a mountain, strip down, stay solidly drunk for two days, and then run alongside you screaming and telling you to PEDAL HARDER. I'm so proud of these devoted California fans. I'm just so proud. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tour of California Notes: The Concluding Stages.

Leipheimer, for the third consecutive year, pretty much dominated this year's tour. Which is cool. He even dropped Lance, and the rest of his teammates, on the Alpe d'Huez-esque Palomar Mt. climb yesterday. Which is also cool.

Proving that a stage race replete with cold rainy weather, nasty climbs, and a tricky time trial really is a lot to handle in February, over 50 men dropped out by the time the Tour was all said and done. Most riders, in February, are still recovering from off-season hangovers and removing cyclocross mud from their ear folds. It's very early in the season to tackle a proper stage race, especially for riders who aren't planning on peaking until July. Unless your fist name starts with a L and rhymes with brings to mind a certain denim company. LL proved, once again, that it's totally okay to peak in February.

Which brings up an interesting scenario: Because California has a very brief time period where it's highly likely to rain, and this happens to overlap with the wildly-successful Tour of Cal, organizers are contemplating moving the race to later in the season calendar--April or May. This late in the spring, riders are finding their form--they've already conquered many of the Spring Classics, and they're preparing their hematocrit levels for July. Which makes me wonder...if the race were moved to later in the season, could Levi still win? He would have to completely re-adjust his training schedule, obviously. He might enjoy more couch time in December if he knows he's not expected to peak in February.

I, for one, really hope the race is moved to later in the season--not because I have anything against Levi, but because I think it would make for a more interesting race. More fit contenders, better weather, and a strategic placement before the True Tour. Of course, it could have the opposite effect--the Dauphiné Libéré and Tour de Suisse are currently the pre-Tour prep races. If the Tour of Cal is moved too close to the Giro d' Italia, many of the top European riders could very well choose to stay on the other side of the Atlantic, where the real racing occurs. Which would be such a shame. North America finally has a decent race.

BUT, if the UCI picks a decent date, and the Tour of Cal folks continue organizing a very classy stage race, maybe, just maybe, Levi won't have to peak in February.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Tour of California Notes: Stages 4 & 5


Well, nothing remarkable to report from stages 4 and 5. Cavendish is once again proving to the world that he wants to be my Isle of Man really is the strongest sprinter in the world. Sorry, dear Tom. I do prefer you, even with your cocaine habit and unfortunate choice of a car, but that strapping 23-year-old has more cylinders firing in his engine.


The scenery has been lovely. Stage 4 went remarkably close to my hometown. I can’t say I felt too nostalgic seeing cows and bull pines on the side of the road as they wound their way out of Merced and into the mountains. However, I did feel some pangs in yesterday’s stage as they rode down Hwy 41 to Paso Robles—I’ve probably driven that road 100 times going back and forth between my hometown and SLO. There’s not much out there—wide open ranges speckled by the occasional oak tree, but the scenery definitely improved as they made their way into the Paso wine country.


Our college team often did our long rides up in that area, and most of my memories from that region involve me bonking. I also recall an incident where a guy we were riding with crossed wheels with a girl in front of him, freeing up her spokes to flap in the wind. Because she really wanted to continue the ride, she talked a non-team member (and slightly annoying character) who was just along for the ride, into swapping wheels. We left him there, on the side of the road, 30 miles from anything, with the promise that someone from SLO would be along to pick him up. He pointed out that we didn't have cell phone coverage to call for his rescue. We told him to sing the "Have Patience" song, because we were headed to an area with more people than cows. And we'd definitely make the call. 


I don’t know that he ever rode with our group after that. In fact, I’m not entirely sure that the flock of buzzards we saw later that day weren’t somehow involved in his life story.



Anyhow, today is the time trial, a very decisive day, indeed. If Lance can continue to keep his ego in check, Leipheimer will most assuredly bag the day and be on his way to the overall victory. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Today’s Lesson in Tour Commentary.

Somebody needs to stuff a wet arm warmer in Craig Hummer’s mouth next time he attempts a Spanish lisp and says “Manthebo” when referring to Spanish rider Francisco Mancebo.

ONLY Phil and Paul are allowed to lithp their words. Paul rarely attempts. Phil tries to lithp words that even Columbus himself wouldn’t have lithped, such as Alethandro Valverde. (For the record, his name is Alejandro—not sure why Phil’s turning that J into a S…)

Phil and Paul are also the only ones who can get away with saying things such as “…and the first pedal has been turned in anger!” And, "He's dancing on his pedals in a most immodest way!” Phil’s also the only one who can get away with calling any man tipping the scales over 150 “Big.”

“Big Maggie Backstedt.”

“Big George.”

Unfortunately, that label also caught on in the 2008 TDF, when Craig attempted to label a few men “Big.”

Again, no. Craig: You go to your corner and speak American English.

Phil and Paul, you go to yours. You may thay anything. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why I prefer to watch the Tour Alone.



The Tour of California is celebrating its four-year anniversary. For three of those years, I’ve been confined to the tele-version, instead of the live-on-the-streets version. Geography, unfortunately, separates me from live gawking as my most favorite spandex-clad men whizz by. I tend to get all emotional and nostalgic this time of year as I watch their shapely calves conquer hills I’ve ridden. I feel famous by association for a full week because they’re riding in TOWNS I’VE VISITED, and in some cases, through towns I’ve lived in. And isn’t that just the definition of fame?


I’m so annoying to watch stages with that to preserve friendships, I try to limit my audience to glass bottles of Hoegaarden. “I’ve ridden on that road!” “I think I recognize that town name!” “That dude raced in our collegiate conference!” "My sweat has hit that pavement too!" and “I think I know that shirtless dude waving a flag and running alongside the rider!” tend to all become rather bothersome slogans that I shout. Repeatedly.


Here’s a brief re-cap, in case you haven’t been following:

Prologue: Sacramento

I’m not sure why stage races even bother with prologues. All of that fuss for 4 ½ minutes of racing? They basically have to shut down the city streets for the day, put some serious money into permits, and sleep with the wives of city officials for the honor. I say, for all that fuss, let the riders do a time trial or proper crit. American racing, although finally becoming a more popular spectator sport, is still way behind our European counterparts. Over there, towns collectively give up their firstborn children for the honor of having a race pass through the town. No crits, circuit races, or prologues are necessary to draw a proper crowd. But on this side of the Atlantic, we put on a big show, and often ruin the breakaway finishes, just so we can stage a finish in a town—with a circuit ending, of course. If Bush didn’t kill our reputation in Europe, our stage racing circus-endings certainly will. Anyhow, I digress. Cancellara (he wouldn’t even have to respect me in the morning), won. Reportedly with a fever. Then he dropped out. I think he had an honest shot at the podium—no hilltop finishes means his time trial performances could have sealed the deal. Possibly.


Stage 1: Davis to Santa Rosa

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to oogle over a former stomping ground of mine—the Napa Valley, as the riders passed through. Versus, bless its heart, still hasn’t figured out how to film a bike race in the rain, meaning, we had the pleasure of watching Craig Hummer look estupido and un-eloquent next to Phil and Paul. For hours. Fortunately, things cleared up just enough to capture Rock Racing’s Mancebo actually WIN, after being solo for 100 miles. That occurring in a race is about as rare as me going on a successful date. But he did it—even with that atrocious Cadillac team vehicle hot on his soaking-wet ass.


Stage 2: Sausalito to Santa Cruz

It’s a shame the race falls during California’s very brief rainy season, because it was hard to make out the riders as they rode over the Golden Gate—a first for a bike race. Coverage was spotty as they wound down the coast and up into some fabulous redwood-bedecked climbs. (This is one of those occasions where I started shouting, “I’ve ridden that road!”) Leipheimer, proving there are advantages to being a 5’7 man, drilled the climb in an attack reminiscent of the doping Armstrong days.


I’m avoiding all media outlets until after I watch tonight’s stage. If you tell me what happens, I will puncture your tires and stick a wet finger in your ear.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Tour of California: The official notes.


“I’ve slept with Paul Sherwin now more than his wife.”
Race announcer Phil Liggett, on his long-term partnership with colleague Paul Sherwin.

What better way to introduce my second favorite cycling race than an eloquent quote from the legendary Phil Liggett? In case you've had your head in the sand for the past few weeks, I'll bring you up to speed on what's coming up next week and give you an upfront reason why I won't be available between the hours of 5-7 p.m . LIVE COVERAGE OF THE TOUR OF CALIFORNIA, MO-FOS! 

I'm so excited I'm all twitchy. All of the dopers have served their time and are back in the peloton for the massive throwdown. I doubt many are concerned that it's only February, and really, too soon to be turning themselves inside out. They might regret it come May, or July, but I'm pretty confident that next week is going to be replete with some amazing racing. 

Lance is there. Overrated. Defending champion (and Lance's teammate) Leipheimer is there. The two men who want to marry me, but just don't realize it yet, Ivan Basso and Tom Boonen are there. Whoa? Hello Tyler Hamilton. That man has an insane pain threshold (watching him win a mountain stage with a broken collarbone? You have to respect that) and apparently, an affinity for recycling his own blood. Carlos Sastre, defending Tour de France champion. That dude doesn't hide the pain he's feeling--if you ever watch him race, he plasters the hurt all over his cheeks. He needs to work on his poker face. Then there's Mark Cavendish. HOT. But too young for me. And a wee bit too short, but nevertheless, I can't peel my eyes off of him when he's interviewed. And Floyd Landis. The man who convinced himself he never took testosterone. AGGGHHH. I'm so excited just typing about all of the peloton players. I can't stand it.

It's cool seeing how the Tour of Cal has exploded and become such a huge spectator event/media frenzy. I saw the inaugural years, when SLO had a stage finish/start, and even though the race didn't have all of the major players then, it was still a very cool event. But this year will be spectacular--it's a world class lineup, and basically, a mini-Tour de France. I'm highly jealous of all of my friends out there watching stages live. I won't be answering the phone when they call to rub it in. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

SLO Dreams

I went out to dinner with some friends last night, including a girl who’s from my hometown and shares the same Alma Mater with me: Cal Poly. She’s out here visiting her grandmother, who in one of those small world coincidences, lives in Winston-Salem. Anyways, we hadn’t seen each other for years, and it was fun to catch up. She was filling me in on the latest happenings in San Luis Obispo, a.k.a., the true love of my life. My happy place. I can’t describe how much I miss(ed) that town hearing her talk about it. It’s a deep ache that never seems to quite go away.

She asked why I don’t go out for a visit—I haven’t been back there in 2½ years. The simple answer: It would destroy me. I know that sounds weird, but I know if I went back to see my friends there and spend a long weekend, my heart would shred, bleed, and splatter all over. I would come back here, to a town I don’t mind living in, and I wouldn’t be able to function. I would catatonically bump into  walls and make weird wailing sounds. My six years in SLO were a period of my life that indelibly shaped who I am, what I enjoy, and what I seek.


If I loved it that much, I know it seems strange that I moved away and won’t move back, or even go back for a visit. SLO’s a weird town that way. Unless you’re effing insane, everyone who goes to college there adores it and tries to extend their undergrad education into the 5-6 year range. Inevitably, the students depressingly realize the cost of living prohibits them from ever living in an apartment or house with less than five roommates, and they’ll never be able to pay off their student loans by working at the local surf or bike shops. So they move. But you talk to any Cal Poly alum who has moved away, and he or she will get the same wistful, teary look when remembering SLO. Fuck yeah, they’ll say. That town was awesome.


I moved away three times and came back twice. It’s a strange town because it’s almost so perfect it becomes boring, and you realize maybe you should venture out into the real world, get a job that uses your education, have your heart legitimately broken, marry someone you don't truly love, get yourself into a constraining mortgage, and look forward to your job like you look forward to a root canal. Because it’s the American way. You’re not supposed to be able to surf every morning, live in a place with a perfect climate, insane biking, gorgeous mountains, and a vibe that is impossible to describe. You need to be properly miserable for a while and put your college degree to use.


I left the third time because I wanted to live on the East Coast. The SLO ennui had grabbed me, and I felt l needed some pains and/or challenges in my life. So I said goodbye to my most favorite friends and drove across the country. I’m glad I’m here, I’m glad I’ve had this NC adventure. I know it’s not a permanent stop for me—it’s a venue for me to add experience to my resume and build that “character” you can’t seem to come by when you live in utopia.


In my dreams, I go back. In my dreams, it all works out. 

Monday, February 09, 2009

I'm being mocked.


This past weekend, to spite me for my libelous last post, the North Cackliacky weather decided to flip me a giant Eff-You Bird and prove that it is capable of mocking us with 70 degree temps in February. I think my face remembered how to smile again. For two blessed days, the temps were in the 70s,* and I spent my weekend re-kindling my affair with my bikes. I did a mt. bike ride on Saturday, which was unfortunately quite muddy, because the frozen ground THAWED OUT. On Sunday, because sometimes I’m either stupid or brave, I joined up with a local group ride and hammered around with 30 men and 1 woman** for 58 miles.


I say stupid or brave because I haven’t been on my road bike since an unfortunate freezing January 1st ride, where I was so miserable during a 60 mile ride, that I seriously considered stopping on the side of the road and calling a cab. My plans were thwarted when I realized I only had $2 on me, had no cell phone reception, and correctly assumed the closest cab company was probably in Charlotte. Anyhow, running, surprisingly, seems to keep me in adequate shape for riding. I actually felt really strong yesterday, and it was such a welcome thrill to again feel the rush of being crammed in the middle of a peloton and riding fast. I will never tire of that feeling. I squealed in delight when I came home and discovered I have the slightest farmer tan beginning on my arms—the jersey tan. The hallowed tattoo of cyclists everywhere. MY FIRST SUNBURN OF THE SEASON.

 *I was TOTALLY joking when I said I would bear children someday if the temps reached the 70s for one hour. That was actually a typo. It has to get up to at least 90, in February. And the sky has to turn green.

** Let me take this opportunity to point out another difference between the South and California: In California, it’s not an apocalyptic event when women show up for group rides. Women there ride. Fast. A lot of women.  

***One final note: Just because I posted a picture of Lance Armstrong's tan line does not mean I'm a fan of his comeback. The only comeback of his that I support is a comeback with his original wife. 






Thursday, February 05, 2009

This Winter has done me in.

Im not shy, or quiet, about my distaste for cold weather. It’s a frequent topic in this blog. Read any post from November-March, and you’re bound to see multiple entries where I bemoan the cruelty of cold temperatures, threaten lawsuits against the winter season, muse about drinking myself into a stupor until May, and make seemingly sincere promises about bearing children someday—if the temps will hit 70 FOR JUST ONE BLESSED HOUR.


I’ve finally settled on a solution.


I’m going to move back to the West Coast. This will hopefully occur before the winter season of 2010 officially finishes me off and plasters my frozen remains to a sidewalk. That means my liver and I need to somehow make it through these last few months of The Winter of ’09. If we make it till spring, I think I’ll be lucid enough to begin my job search somewhere on the coast of Southern-ish California. I’ll spend the spring and summer thawing out, and will hopefully secure a job somewhere far west and south of here before the leaves begin their descent off the trees.


I will also make myself a T-shirt that says “I survived 3 WINTERS IN NORTH CAROLINA.”

I’ll wear it proudly, with flip-flops, next December, as I prance around in shorts.


Perusing El Internet-o today, I stumbled across a site that calculates how far your current salary would go in a different city. Depressingly, housing costs are 230% higher in San Diego and Southern LA.


Which means I’ll be living in a cardboard box next year.


No matter. Additionally, the site also informed me that to maintain my current standard of living in So. Cal, I’ll need to make approximately $30k more than I’m currently raking in.


So my choices are to either auction myself off as a mail-order bride to a rich Southern Californian or move in with my parents.


At this point, either of those options sounds quite appealing, because I’m quite convinced I can’t possibly take another winter out here. *



*And that, my friends, is proof that 2 ½ years in North Carolina has not taken the Californian out of this Ice Pop.