Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Off Season, Part Un: fat pants, small pigs and blowtorches

The race season is over, so onto the offseason plan:
1.a. get fat 
1.b.stabilize weight gain 
1.c.succumb to team peer pressure 
1.d.lose weight again. 
I've already started step 1.a, getting fat, mainly through a complicated and meticulous process I call "eating too much."  I gained about 6 or 7 lbs to top out at about 192 lbs before I moved on to step 1.b of stabilization.  Not too bad a weight gain - I didn't even need to break out my fat pants! 

Sidebar: I once weighed 218 lbs!  Here's the proof of my hugeness:

This was supposed to be all the kids in the fam
but the camera frame could only fit me and Dee's left arm

Brother Con called me the "218 train" and I was virtually unmoveable on the hoops court - I couldn't even move myself.  Good thing my vertical jump was about 2" as I would surely have Daryl Dawkinsed any backboard



So I'm now onto step 1.c - succumbing to team peer pressure - via Tim asking me about the Thrive diet while slipping in that he's down to 181 lbs.  CRAP!  Tim's a former bodybuilder who used to eat small pigs whole at every meal.  So his being on the plant-based, raw diet that I have strayed from lit a blowtorch under my butt.  Not to mention the fact that he beat me by like 5 minutes at TVR. 
Gotta get back to eating better.  And less. 
Part Deux will be to review last season.  Part trois will be the plan for next year.  Part quatorze will be to teach U2 how to count.
Tks for reading.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Treasure Valley Rally (TVR) Race Report, 10/16/2011

In mountain bike racing, is it possible to do well and NOT suffer?...to perhaps, dare I say, do well and even have fun?

Well I attempted to answer that question this weekend.  For myself anyway.

The TVR is held at the Treasure Valley Scout reservation in Rutland, MA.  After leaving Kristy and the baby at home, and then dropping off the lil' man at my folks in Northboro, I drove through Worcester, up over the Hills (caked with college memories) and out to Rutland.  Julian was crying when I left my folks, but I called them on the way to the race and it turns out that he had already calmed down and was relaxing with the tv babysitter. 

So with that stress off my mind, it was time to stress about the race.  Actually, back to our theme...I decided to NOT stress about this race.  In fact, I decided that, for just this race...the last one of the year...my first geared race in well over a year...I was intent on simply having fun.  (Gasp!)

What's that you say?  It's impossible to have fun bike racing?  I know, it seems like suffering and bike racing go together like dog crap and sneaker tread.  But like a sharp stick, I was going to try to scrape the stink of suffering off racing.  (I think I just pulled my metaphor muscle)

Here's how I planned to go about having a fun race: 1. NOT start superfast and blow myself up; and 2) ride at an even pace that I could sustain the whole race.
 
(On a side note...as I was registering, I saw a female racer with curly locks protruding from below her helmet and a green/black/kenda/seven race kit - immediately recognized her as none other than Mary Mc.  Partner Mike was there too, as well as some other serious elite talent. It's pretty cool to be racing on the same course at the same time with those guys and gals you read about. Their times are ridiculous.)

I lined up at the start with 30 or so other men racing Cat2/VetII and somehow ended up in the pole position. Huh?  I offered to trade with anyone who would be seriously racing for points or anything, but everybody looked at me like I was crazy, so I just said something like "all right, but you're going to be passing my slow ass in the first two minutes."  And that is exactly what happened: "Go!" and my teammate Lucas and the rest of the brawlers are hammering off the line...I wasn't, and dropped back pretty quickly.  But knowing that was my plan, I didn't panic.  It's a long, hard 19 miles or so, so I figured I'd pass whomever I'm supposed to and not pass whomever I'm not.  I settled into my pace, after all, pace is the trick (any excuse for an Interpol link).

The course was incredibly fun, but not for the faint of heart, lungs, or skills.  LOTS of pointypuncture rock gardens and spillslippery roots, and a couple of thighthrashing climbs.  I rode steady and somewhat carefully through the ruffstuff and started picking up some places here and there on slower riders and bobbles and mechanicals (lots of flat tires out there).  The new bike goes up really well - all stiff and light and spinny...gears makes climbing so much easier. 

The course got more 'flowy' and super fun towards the end of the lap.  I came through the start/finish with plenty left in the tank for lap 2, stopped to quickly change bottles and have a gu, and I was off again.

I passed some more guys - wasn't sure what age category they were - and then caught a guy who said he was in first place in the Cat2/VetI group.  Really?  Hmmm, maybe I'm doing ok.  I rode and chatted with him for a while.  Soon the trail headed upwardly again and I decided to pass him and invited him to latch on, but next time I looked back he was out of sight.

I then rode by myself for a while.  I was having so much fun I was actually audibly "whooping" through the woods.  At one point I heard some wet-brake-squeal getting closer and closer from behind, and that's when I decided to start hammering a bit.  I dipped into my reserves and managed to pull away from Mr. SqueallyBrakes and pass some more people and then I took it home - to a surprising 6th place in my class.  I'm psyched with that result.  The rest of the Cape Cod crew did well too - Tim got 2nd (!) in his class , Lucas got 4th in mine, Jeff C got 5th in his. 

So is it possible to do well without suffering, and maybe even have fun?  I'd say, unequivocally, YES!  And that's how I'll try to ride from now on.  Maybe I could suffer and place higher, but the more I suffer, the less fun I have. 

And with that, so concludes my first full racing season.  If memory serves, I got a 1st, two 2nds, a 3rd, a 4th  - all in Cat2 SS - and then this race's 6th.  Not too shabby, especially with a chunk of time off in the middle for Helena's birth and juggling the needs of a 2-year-old.  I learned a ton too, and had a lot of fun. 

Is an upgrade to Cat1/Expert in my future? - maybe. If I have a good offseason and start well next season, I may apply.  But at this point I think I'd rather have fun in a lower category than suffer to be in a higher one.  As has been said through the millenia in many different ways - it's the journey that matters, not the destination (any excuse for a Ray La link).

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

(Landmine) Classic overconfidence, and some 'new bike pron'

Haven't "composed" in a while.  I find that blog posts with pictures tend to be more interesting, so I'll start this post with a couple cute ones of the fam during our 'funny hat day' walk.
Future "Toddlers and Tiaras" contestants

Surly sent me that cap and some cool socks after I broke one of their bars -
which was probably my fault, but shows how cool Surly is. Julian is in his Thomas hat, of course.

I did have another race, Landmine Classic, which was good until it sucked. 

Going in, I had dreams of winning my Singlespeed Cat2 class and then applying for (and receiving) an upgrade to Cat1.  Reality set in soon after the start.  I took off and after a few miles, I felt like I was comfortably ahead of the other two guys in my class.  I even started thinking about the upgrade...Murphy's law and hubris being what that are, my left crank started coming loose...repeatedly.  The 2nd time I stopped to tighten it, I was passed.  I re-passed and re-took the lead, and then re-lost it for good when I had to re-stop to re-tighten the crank.  I rode behind the eventual winner (Chris) for a while, but my crank and crankiness got the best of me and he soon was re-gone. 

He was riding really well, so it's debatable whether or not I would have beat him anyway.  But then I flatted and lost 2nd place while pumping up my 'tyre'.  At that point I had given up, so I stopped at the 3rd aid station to eat a banana and drink a coke and chat up the volunteers and pump up my tire some more.  I finished a while later, with a flat tire and a flatter mood.  But hey, I got to ride my bike with a bunch of other like-minded and very cool people, so no complaints.  I especially enjoyed riding for a spell with Cat 1 female winner Susan Lynch, not only a great rider, but super nice. 

All that happened on my 2011 Stumpy Singlespeed.  I've had a couple problems with that bike that were fixed, but soured me on it.  So I decided to sell it and buy something else...a Stumpjumper Carbon Comp (huge thanks to my team's sponsor shop Bike Zone in Hyannis for hooking me up).  Witness:
Gears?  Gasp! 

I've ridden it a bunch and am amazed at how well it handles.  I'm also amazed at how difficult riding a bike with gears is...you'd think going from a single speed to gears would be a fairly easy transition...it's definitely not.  I haven't ridden a mt bike with gears for a long time, and it's totally different.  Part of the difference is certainly on hills, where staying seated with gears works a different set of muscles than the standing and mashing method that a single speed often requires.  And it seems like you have to keep your motor humming more with gears - and that'll take some time as well.

That said, this bike is fast...very fast.  And I'm not, but for occasional bursts.  During those bursts, the bike is really smooth and flows along with a devilish grin.  But I can't sustain that for too long...yet.  A few more thigh-and-lung-busting rides should hopefully do the trick. 

I've also been on my road bike a bit lately and have loved it.  I leave early enough in the morning that I can enjoy any Cape Cod road without the concern of excessive traffic.


Obligatory rising-sun-in-front-hub shot.
Makes me love Cape Cod even more - the sun coming up over the south-facing coast, and over my left shoulder, as I cruise past Allen harbour in Harwich Port and down lower county road to the West Dennis beach rotary - one of my favorite stretches (for safety reasons, I generally keep the sun behind me when it's low in the sky at dawn or dusk...going into the sun would mean the cars behind might not see me because of the glare, even with my crazy blinking light and strategically-placed strips of fluorescent green).
So that's what I've been up to.  What have you been up to?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Grand Opening" - Week in Pix

We welcomed Helena Ophelia into the Maguire clan on Sunday July 10 at 6:20AM.  Weighed in at a healthy 8lbs 15 ozs.  Here's how the week went down:

K's water broke on Friday night, so on Saturday we rushed - as any couple would - to
have Thai food and watch sail boats pass under the railroad bridge.
Some hours later, and after a rather eventful labor, this alien-looking thing popped out. 
We called it "Helena," which is Greek for "bug eyes."



Meanwhile...our incredible friends Lynne and Larry babysat Julian and he clearly was very upset the whole time...


Just look at that sorrow...

When I finally managed to pry Jude away from the Pereras, I brought him to
wonderful Tobey hospital to meet his new sister. It was jealousy at first sight.


We're all home now, and the baby is nursing near non-stop.  So we've attached this contraption to Kristy
 and duct-taped the milk hose around Helena's mouth.


Meanwhile, I've attached this contraption to my Karate Monkey and Jude loves it!
Thanks to snap-pea crisp bribes, he's easily good for 3 hours. He can't feel his legs for a few minutes after he dismounts, but there's no long-term effect to that (as far as I know).


Yesterday we toured around all afternoon - saw the trash train, played in a front loader, raced four teenagers on road bikes (nice try guys), and then Jude picked his nose in this YFD fire truck. Fireman said "it's fine, we all do it."

Then we pedaled home to this sleeping beauty.

Of course, it's not easy with a newborn and a 2.5-year-old, but we're managing to have a little fun.
Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Frame on the Way; I-Bert Passes Test; Baby Protest Enters Week 2

Specialized is sending a new frame.  If I bend the new one, they're going to upgrade it to the (carbon) Sworks frame.  So I'm pretty much planning on running the new frame with a 38/12 and torquing as many hill workouts as possible.  Like this badass:


 Hahaha, just kidding.  I will be very gentle with the new frame (ehem).

They think my frame might just be poorly tubed or welded.  Guy said he knows some big strong dudes riding same frame as mine without problems.  That's what Surly said about the bar I snapped (though they were beyond awesome about warrantying it).  So we'll see. 

Anyway, good on ya so far, Specialized. 


I-Bert seat - looks goofy, works great.
 GREAT news today.  Bought an I-Bert toddler seat and perched it on the Karate Monkey and took Jude for a ride to see if he'd like it.  He LOVED it.  Woohoo.  Already planning awesome rides for us.


"Nice try with the spicy food, mom...SUCKA!"
Baby is still holding out - will be a week tomorrow.  I've already started my 12 weeks leave from work.  Feels weird being on leave without the baby here, but Kristy's been in a tough way  - I guess chasing a big, energetic 2-year-old while 41 weeks pregnant makes one tired.  Pfft.  ;-) So it works out.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Chain Drops, High Tops, Huge Crops

CHAIN DROPS
I've ridden my new Specialized Stumpjumper 29er a total of about 30 minutes in the last 3 weeks thanks to a dropping chain. 
My new Stumpy in its usual position...
I've adjusted and readjusted the chain line, changed chain rings, cogs, chains, all to no avail.  I told this to the LBS I bought it from, and they quickly diagnosed it as a chain line issue and "fixed" it.  On my test ride, the chain stayed on for less than a mile. I've dropped the bike off to them again and they're going to call Specialized this time.  I can't imagine there's THAT much flex in the frame, but maybe.  Or maybe it's cracked.  Either way, I'll actually not be psyched to get a new frame - what's the point if I end up with the same frame but new (newer than the two-month-old frame I have).  We'll see.  Luckily, my trusty Karate Monkey is virtually indestructible.  And I've actually had better results this year on it (a 1st and a 2nd as opposed to a 2nd and a 4th on the Stumpy back when it was working for a month). 

HOLY HEELS
We ate Indian on Main St Hytown the other night and were treated to this tall tail just outside the window.  My wife was not-so-secretly hoping to see her fall over.  Had to be 7 inch heels.   

Those heels will give you cyclist calves
HUGE CROPS
Apparently neglect is the key to growing HUGE flowers.  I think we planted this two years ago and forgot about it.  Then this year - BAM!  Sucker is close to 5 ft tall with massive flowers (see deck chair it is towering over for perspective).


Finally, since I don't have much riding news to talk about, we watched in awe yesterday as two blue jays dive-bombed an enormous red-tail hawk that had perched atop the high tension pole across the easement from us.  Blue jays are bad asses.  They were hitting the hawk on the head, wings - no fear whatsoever.  Must have been protecting their babies.

Speaking of babies, Kristy's going on day 5 overdue with stubborn Helena.  To think I stopped racing 3 weeks before the due date...  Oh well.




Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Desperately Trying To Burn Out

Kristy is due FRIDAY.  So I'm trying to get as much riding in as possible - burn my legs out and then recover on newbabydaddyduty for as long as that takes. 

So my 19ish mile mt bike commute loop on Monday took me through Weir Rd trails, Greenough Boy Scout Camp trails, and then Willow St.  A lot of the ride was with my laptop and clothes and food for the day all jammed into my camelbak.  Then an ez spin home.

Tuesday I had to drive. I hate driving to work.  Hate it. Hate it hate it hate it. (hate it)

Rode in again this morning - did hill repeats in the Greenough scout camp - it's a pretty good push with my stuffed pack.  Then on the way home I pushed it hard around the scout camp trails daydreaming of the race I'd love to organize there, and then the quick road home.  My "Mytracks" GPS said I did 53.51 miles in 57 minutes, an average that would have given Sagan a run for his money down the final descent of stage 3 of the 2011 tour de Suisse.  Mytracks also thinks my house is 100 feet under sea level (it's 60 feet above - pretty darn high for the Cod).  So basically Mytracks sucks.

Pumped up the tires on the road bike for tomorrow morning, assuming the "grand opening" doesn't happen overnight.

I'm taking 12 weeks off when Helena arrives.  12 WEEKS!  IFAW rocks.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Thoughts that bounce around my helmet (ongoing)

The dumbest people I've ever met are the ones who think they have all the answers.

If you think a mom breastfeeding a toddler is in some way sexual, then you're the pervert, not the mom. 

It's funny how only the people who have beliefs different from the norm are accused of "pushing them" on others, while the people with socially acceptable views can babble on with impunity.

If another child is rude to my son, I usually let him handle it.  If he's rude to another child, I intervene.  Not sure if that's right or not.

The willingness to discover the truth about the origins of religion can take years to muster; but once willing, the truth takes only seconds to come by.

Children who have awful parents are usually doomed to be awful parents themselves.  The exceptions, however, often end up being exceptional parents.

A country is a concept, drawn on a map. Without its people, it ceases to exist. A government that promotes the agenda of its country at the expense of its people never survives.

The list of things I don't agree with my parents about is a very long list. And yet not a day goes by where I don't appreciate what great parents they are.  Indeed, it is because of their support that I was free and confident to carve such a different path from them.

I've found that any goal is reachable when I decide to fully commit to it.

In my experience, life is constantly giving us signs, nudges, and hints about which decisions to make and which directions to go. It's up to us to recognize the signs, and then follow them.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Commutations: Shock in Vancouver and Awe(some!) in Boston

I was slightly euphoric on my pedal to work this morning, delighting in the afterglow of the Stanley Cup returning to Boston after we let the rest of the league borrow it for 39 years (they were supposed to return it earlier, but they wouldn't...so we had to go get it!). 

It was truly awesome that they could pull it off - a team with one great line, a roster of tough and hardworking defenseman, and a 37-year-old goalie who lost the manual on netminding and so created his own spastic version.  Heart trumped skill in these finals, and proved once again why hockey has such a primal appeal.

But I was conflicted by the shocking sight of sourpuss fans in Vancouver destroying their own city.  Now I must admit that I don't know much about Vancouver other than it's said that at some times of year, you can be sunning on the beach and then 45 minutes later be carving turns down snowy slopes.  And if that wasn't enough to make you want to move there today, there are, of course, the legendary mountain bike trails, reportedly etched in the north shore woods by Norco the Greek god of mountain biking. 

Vancouver sounds like heaven to me.  So why would its own residents want to destroy it?  As I'm typing, I'm sure some psychologist is prepping notes to go on CNN to explain why, but if I were to sum it up, I think I'd surmise that it's because they're a bunch of assholes.  They took their cue from their whiny team of floppers.  I can't imagine Toronto or Montreal fans acting like that.  And, of course, Boston fans know better (plus they know that the Boston police are not to be f-cked with).  I bet the Bruins couldn't wait to get out of there and get back to Beantown. 

So those thoughts bounced around my helmet for about 30 minutes - which is about how long it took to ride on the road that led to the trails that led back onto the road and then back to some more trails -- the new-to-me stash with its fairly flat profile and wide winders with firm berms.  Had the race bike this morning - Stumpy HT 29er with 34/18 gearing.  These trails were made for intervals, and I did a loop that allowed for 4 sets of 4 minutes each.  Having had some easier commutes this week on the rigid Karate Monkey, it felt good to go fast again, even though I was feeling the deep hurt after having also done some weight workouts this week.

Finished up and hit the road again to get to work and arrived just before Mike on his Felt and from across the parking lot he pumped his fist into the air a la Bender in Breakfast Club, and the Bruins glee returned.  The fires on Vancouver's streets will die out long before the glow of euphoria from this victory fades from New England's collective smiles.  And as the B's were winning, Josh Beckett was finishing up a one-hit gem of a shutout for the first-place Red Sox.  So I'm guessing the Sox might be taking the torch from the B's in, oh, about 3 months.  Going to be an awesome summer.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Get Lost, Mountain Biker

I'm lucky enough to have several trail systems between my house and where I work, so I get to commute on my mountain bike. I stuff my pack with clothes and food and leave the house between 5 - 5:30AM to get some pre-work training in.  This morning I rode a trail system that I haven't ridden in a long time -- so long ago that the trails may as well have been new to me.  

And those trails were amazing - well packed, seemingly groomed single track that weaved through typical Cape Cod forest.  The area is pretty flat - no hills steep enough to get me off the saddle of my singlespeed Surly Karate Monkey. 

The best part of the ride?  I got lost.  Well, I'm not sure I can say I got lost as that might imply that I accidentally took a wrong turn when I thought I knew where I was going.  This was no accident - this was all on purpose.  I just simply got on a trail and kept going until I saw another one and then followed that, and so on. 

I haven't been lost on my mountain bike for a long time.  And being so reminded me of days long past when I first started mountain biking on trails that I now know well enough that I could ride them blindfolded. 

I felt like a two-wheeled explorer.  I found a grove of older-growth trees that survived the forest culls to make way for farmland or to harvest building materials; I rode a trail cut scalpel-straight through a field of lightly bowing ferns; later, I rounded a corner at too high a speed and shouldered a pitch pine as a square foot section of bark exploded into the trail around me and I rode away laughing out loud for a full minute. 

It was euphoric, this ride to nowhere.  I was riding without purpose, except to have fun. 

I don't do enough of that - riding just for fun - especially now in the midst of racing season.  But I'm at a point now where I have to take a hiatus from racing as child # 2 is due in a couple weeks.  So I had hoped to do some long base-mile rides up until my daughter arrives, and then rest and hope that my fitness doesn't fade too much before I can get back on my bike again.

The pre-baby base miles plan took an exciting turn this morning, and I definitely plan to ride this rediscovered trail system again as soon as possible and maybe explore some others I haven't ridden in a long time or haven't ridden at all. 

I can't wait to get lost again.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Race Report: Domnarski Farm

Brian, Lukas and I piled in the team van (the Maguire Family Honda Odyssey) and traveled to scenic Ware MA for the Domnarski Farm race.  I texted Brian (The Falcon) earlier in the week to let him know that no Cat 2 racer had ever done the 10.41 mile lap in under one hour.  I thought it might motivate him.  Lukas, on the other hand, needed no motivation because his # 1 point series ranking put a target on his back and he was eager to defend! I was motivated by getting my butt whooped by Erik at Winsted. He's my main rival at this point (though he may not know it, lol) - great rider and guy and also 40 w/ young kids (ok, I'm 42 w/ one kid, and one loudly knocking on the door). 

On the ride up, Lukas was saying that he didn't remember the course having a lot of tough climbing.  I'm pretty sure he said that about Winsted too, so I didn't really believe him this time.  Turns out Domnarski has lots of climbing, of the steep and technical sort.  So my strategy going forward is to ask Lukas for his course description, and then plan for the opposite.

And we're off!

Actually, let me go back to the starting line, where I see a fellow I don't know lined up next to me in queue for the singlespeed Cat2 start line.  I inquire, and he says he's a Cat1 racer from another series - couldn't race Cat1 in Root 66 because he doesn't have his official promotion from US Cycling.  So a twenty-something year-old Cat1 dude racing down a category is about to kick all our butts.  yay.  Not his fault, just a weird USAC licensing thing. Anyway, guess it's a race for 2nd place between the rest of us.  Erik is there, as are the Nemba crew.  Good guys.  No Nathan this week as I guess he was working (according to wife Jen, who raced in Cat2 women).

Whistle and we're off (for real this time).  Erik starts ridiculously fast as usual, the Cat1 is on his back wheel, and very quickly I'm in 3rd by a gap of 30 yards or so. It was my best start, even though I felt way behind them.  The start was a technical Jeep road type track that turned into a very long hill.  I start picking my way through the rocks, trying to keep the top two in sight.  Towards the top of the climb I catch up to Erik.  He says "I knew you'd be coming" and gives me room to pass, and then says "go get him" - "him" being the Cat1 who's moving up up and away at a pace that I can't match.  I bobble a short time later and dismount to start pushing and see Erik riding up the hill but I think my hill training off the bike has helped as I'm not totally gassed pushing the bike like I was at Winsted.  I re-mount at a flat spot before Erik catches me and start chasing Cat1 dude again.

I pushed hard for the rest of the race but never see the Cat1, and never see Erik behind either.  For a while I was behind a Cat2 30-39 geared dude who lost his seat - he rode a couple tech features that I dabbed - awesome!  I had to get off on the powerline climb too - ended up running/walking behind another geared Cat2 who was spinning for all it was worth.  I encouraged him best I could and despite a football-sized boulder dislodging on his front wheel just before the top, he dug deep and made it up without dabbing.  I also caught an awesome pro or cat1 women's rider - she rocked the last steep, technical climb as I ran behind her.  Then she very kindly pulled well wide to let me pass as soon as I caught up to her on the DH.  Only one dude who wouldn't make space for me -  I'm very polite when passing but he didn't want to budge off the middle of the single track at all - so I had to pass through the woods around a tree.  He might've been gassing or zoned out or something (giving him the benefit of the doubt). 

The last part of the race is downhill through the woods and when I see cars I'm thinking "no way that's the parking lot." But it was.  I cross in 2nd in 1:01 and change.  Erik is 3rd a minute or two back. Cat1 guy finished in 58 and change.

Finn (L) and Erik (R) getting cash for podium from Matt Domnarski

I was really happy with my result, and loved the course.  Very tough climbing, lots of tech stuff, fun downhills and fast fire roads.  Launched a few small rocks and trail obstacles.    

The sub-hour motivation worked for Brian as he won Cat2 30-39 and became the first Cat2 to do the lap in under an hour.  The Falcon soars.

You guys plan this pose?
The most exciting moment of the race today came courtesy of Lukas literally roaring past the guy in 2nd place at the line.  I hope someone got a vid of that. So Lukas got 2nd in Cat2 40-49 and probably wore his medal to bed.  (Lukas is getting very fast...shhhh).

Lukas, ever the rock star
So a win and two 2nds for the boys from Cape Cod.  Not too shabby. 

The dude who organizes this race, Matt Domnarski, basically opens up his horse farm to it.  He lets racers ride on his property whenever they want (as long as they let him know) and lets people swim in his pond after the race. And he pays out in cash.  Awesome dude.  I think he's a pilot for the state police too, which is pretty badass (unless you have a pot farm).

Course description: start goes about 50 yards and then bottlenecks into a technical Jeep road  hill that turns into a steep rocky climb.  Then some single track and logging roads and halfway through there's a couple more climbs, the first a loooong and rocky fire road, the second a technical and steep-in-spots climb up the power lines.  There's one more section of very technical singletrack climbing and then it's lots of downhill single and rocky double track.  It was really fun, though I gather it wouldn't be quite as fun in the rain. 

My 34/20 gearing was good, though I did have to dismount a few times.  There were some long sections of flat stuff, though, so I definitely wouldn't go with a smaller gear.  Just need to find some bigger hills to train on.

Next up is Pat's Peak.  That will be 19 days before Kristy's due date of July 1, though, so it's up in the air if I'll race it or not.  Was leaning towards not, but Kristy said it might be ok.  May be an early Sunday morning decision.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fool in the Rain

Hill workout this morning.  Dragged my butt out at 5:30am and rode over to the Badlands (Weir Rd, Yarmouth Port).  I felt terrible on the first hill - apparently still haven't recovered from intervals the other day - but then my legs loosened up nicely. 

Did Two Bowls trail backward and then hit the fireroad for the gradual climb, then onto Black Racer for the serious leg burning.  Went up the first smooth climb, then went down into the valley and back up the techy climb.  My pack (which was packed for work with clothes and food for the day) was really weighing me down, so I hung it on a tree and put my rain jacket over it - oh yes, did I mention that it was raining for the 800th day in a row?  Then I streamed my Tool station on Slacker Radio on my phone and headed back down into the valley and back up and down again to the driving bass of 10,000 Days, Part 2 (gotta love 11 minute songs).  Repeated that 4 times, got off the bike a couple times to train pushing the bike up the hill, which happens a lot more in SingleSpeed racing than I realized it would.
 
It was not only a great workout, but it helped me tweak my climbing form on the new bike.  The new bike (Spesh Stumpy 29er SS) rewards a bit more upright climbing stance, with a real focus on pushing the bike forward instead of the bent over and side-to-side torque form that my old bike (Surly KM) seemed to want.
I then finished Black Racer and headed over to the long DH fire road.  Flew down that and turned around and climbed it and flew down again and climbed again.  Then I did a couple more reps pushing the bike up the steepest part at the top.  Then flew down and headed to work via the road and a quick romp through the boy scout camps.

Overall a good workout.  Plan to do a little recovery road ride on the way to work tomorrow, then do a long ride on Saturday morning.  Maybe Trail of Tears if it's not raining, but Yarmouth trails if it is as they don't get muddy for some reason.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mud Gumbo: Winsted Woods Race Report, May 15 2011

Winsted Woods Race Report, May 15 2011
Cat 2 Single Speed
(scroll down for course description)

Summary: Got 4th out of 8, actually my worst result ever (in 5 races).  Felt great, but had wrong gearing, so I had to run/walk with the bike a lot and I’m not in that kind of running shape. Learned two things: I need to bring an extra cog or two with different gearing, and I need to start jogging or at least work ‘running with bike’ into my training.

The race: I felt pretty good before the race.  Rested but ready.  I made some raw cookies for Kristy for Mother’s Day last week and realized in sampling the treats that they were little delicious bolts of energy (dates, cocoa, agave, vanilla, coconut oil, coconut shreds, pecans…yum)…so I made some more the other day and that was my pre-ride and on-board energy and it worked (and tasted) great.

So yeah, feeling good, until I saw Tim B in the parking lot before the race and he told me he pre-rode the course two days earlier and changed his gearing from 34/18 to 34/22 because of the hills.  I had 34/18. He laughed. I sighed. He was right.


Trailing Nathan as we head towards the woods
I literally ended up running/walking probably half of the course – lots of climbs I couldn’t make, and the extreme mud didn’t help; There were more mud species than Bubba had shrimp recipes:  Black mud, brown mud, watery mud, dry mud, floating mud, slick mud, suction mud, mud gumbo, mud cacciatore, etc...  

I rode/ran/walked with Tim for a while during the race and I eventually caught sight of the rider in second place, Erik.  Then we hit the downhill near the end of the lap and Tim went by me like a runaway locomotive.  I tried to keep up with him but crashed. Twice.
Heading over the logs at the end of the downhill
I caught a glimpse of Tim once more at the top of the long hill to start the 2nd lap, but then I burned out trying to run to catch up to him and his smaller gear.  Tim ended up passing Erik, and taking 2nd behind Tom G, a guy I hadn’t raced against before but met prior to the race.  All three guys finished within a minute of each other and I guess were yelling at each other out on the course.  Wish I was close enough to play too, but I ended up about 3 minutes back. Nathan O came in 5th, which was awesome considering he crashed hard near the start and was riding a rigid fork and tires with little tread…bad day for both.

Tim J, Lukas, me (shh..don't tell Cape Cod Beer that I don't drink)
There were times during the race, whilst pushing my bike up a steepmuddy hill that I wondered why I drove 3.5 hrs to put myself through it.  But it was a great learning experience.  And the ride there was fun as Brian, Tim, and Lukas all piled in the team van (our Honda Odyssey).  So the time went by pretty easy.  Ride home sucked though - tons of traffic.

I feel like my riding fitness is in a good spot, now I have to work on the finer points.  I have some credit for a bike I sold at my team sponsor shop (Bike Zone) and have already gotten a chain whip and ordered a 20 tooth cog so I can swap out before a race if necessary. 

In prep for my next race in 3 weeks, I’ll probably split my training between intervals, hill work (including off the saddle) as the next race is hilly, and maybe one long ride a week to keep endurance up.  I’ve been loving my superearly long road rides b4 work, so I’ll squeeze one or two of those in – for training and fun.

Sadly, the next race on June 6 will likely be my last race for a while.  Happily, that’s because Kristy, Julian, and I will soon welcome little Helena Ophelia into the family.  Due date July 1, but I suspect it will come before that as Kristy’s huge (haha - just seeing if Kristy bothered reading this far).

Course description (I include these in such detail for the benefit of racers who’ve never ridden there and are wondering what it’s like): Under dry conditions, I imagine my description of this course would be hilly + technical = fun.  However, given Sunday’s weather, I’d alter that to hilly + technical + torrential rain = mudclusterfudge.  The start is 50 yards of uphill pavement, right turn into a field, left turn towards the woods via a short kicker hill, then right to a long gradual hill with a decent number of rocks and roots.  Then the trail becomes twistyturny single track with rocks and roots aplenty – lot of fun actually.  Then through a small field again and another climb, then a quick down, then another climb, and a lot more of that (climb/turn/quick down/climb etc).  Much more time spent climbing than descending.  The last climb of the lap is a rock-face single track that is really cool. Then a big field at the top where you can get megaspeed going, then you have to scrub said megaspeed quickly as it dives back down into singletrack DH through the woods – lots of roots.  Couple little techy sections at the bottom of that hill, including an easy log obstacle, and you’re spilled back out into the field for another lap.  For s/s I would not run a gear bigger than 34/20, and may even go smaller because  I’d say only 5% of the course is flat.  Even the field at the top points downward.  If I race this next year, I’ll probably go 34/22. 


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Race Report: Massasoit Lung Challenge, April 23, 2011

Singlespeed, Cat 2
Rigid Surly Karate Monkey that is so old it's actually starting to rust. 34/18 gearing.

The Massasoit Lung Challenge used to be called the Lung Opener, which made me picture ribs spread wide open on a surgical table.  Glad they changed the name.

Before I describe the race, I want to thank Kristy for supporting my racing and training. I'm so blessed to have someone like her on my team.  Thanks honey!

So, where was I?  Oh yes.  So, the hour car ride up to Taunton from the Cape gave a preview of the conditions - pouring rain.  In mt biking, that translates to mud, mud and more mud.  As I warmed up for the race, the pros and Cat 1s were finishing and I saw my riding buddy Jim, who had just finished.  He was covered head-to-toe in mud and was absolutely beat.  I'd soon be just as mud-covered, and just as beat.  Witness the post-race face carnage:
 
I met a really nice guy named Nathan at the start line. We chatted a bit, then the whistle blew and we were off.  We'll meet Nathan again in a bit.

The Course: Each lap was 7.1 miles, and we Cat 2's did two. The start was on pavement for about a 1/4 mile and then went straight into very rooty, twisty, very muddy singletrack. There were a couple short-but-challenging roller hills at the beginning, though I think they would have been much easier if the ground was dry.  Also a couple of bridges which held up really well (wet bridges usually turn into grease, but these were good).  The middle miles flattened out and had a few long stretches of doubletrack.  Towards the end, there were 2 or 3 sandy climbs (loved those), then 2 very steep and rooty hills (hated those) that I don't think anyone was making because of the mud and wet roots.  After the last hill, it was a steep, curvy, muddy, rooty downhill that led out to the pavement and back to the start/finish.

My strategy was going to be to start really fast and try to get out in front early and try to hold a lead.  No way.  People kill themselves at the start. I entered the woods in about 8th place out of 15.  And the mud and roots really made it difficult to pass people, especially with my rigid fork bouncing me off every root.  But, like last week's race, I regulated my heartbeat a bit after the fast start, and then began trying to pick people off.  About halfway through the first lap, I had caught up to a group of 3 riders who I figured were the top 3. These guys were going at a good clip, but I felt pretty good and suddenly got a little boost of confidence.  I figured I'd pass these guys, take the lead, and ride a brisk-but-not-killer pace to the win.  Man, I'm so stupid sometimes. 

Just in front of me was that Nathan dude I met at the start line.  I got on his wheel and said hi and asked if he and the two others were the top three.  He said no, there was one ahead of them.  Huh?  Yikes - that one was nowhere in sight.  I thanked Nathan, picked my way through the three, and started hunting.

I was pushing very hard, but seeing noone. When I got to that steep and rooty final hill of the lap, I saw my buddy Dave and he said I was about 20 seconds behind the leader. I said for real? or are you lying to make me feel good?  He said for real. 

I came out of the woods and onto the pavement and past a smattering of spectators who enthusiastically braved the elements. I definitely get energy from those kind folks, even if they're secretly rooting against me and anyone else who's not their family member.

So 20 seconds behind.  I could make that up, I told myself, just keep the motor running and take some chances where you can.  I got back into the singletrack and started pushing hard.  I soon approached a rider who seemed to be having a mechanical issue with his rear wheel.  Wait, I think that's a singlespeed! Hey, I think that's him!  I passed him, but I knew he'd quickly be tailing me, so I put it in top gear and blasted as hard as I could for as long as I could.  And that would have been fine, except I started cramping up.  Right thigh, right calf, left thigh, left calf. I think even my spleen was cramping.  So I had to dial it back a bit and ride that thin line between showstopper-cramping and max-effort-without-cramping. It was precarious, but I somehow managed it.  I caught up to some geared riders in the middle of the lap and traded spots with them for a while, all the while looking back, and thinking ahead to that last climb - that would be the ultimate cramp test. 

With so much muck and wet conditions, my brakes became near useless, and I know lots of other people had the same issue.  So a couple downhills were spent hurtling over wet roots and sliding around mudded corners.  And several times a splotch of mud would hit one of my eyes at the perfectly wrong time. I actually resigned myself to crashing, but it luckily never happened.

I finally, mercifully, got to the last very steep hill, got off my bike, and walked up it, using the roots like steps. Debilitating cramps threatened to erupt with each step, but I shifted and stretched and kept them at bay.  Over the top, one last brakeless/near freefall descent, and I was back out on the pavement.  With the win.  Yay. 2nd place was that guy I passed at the beginning of lap 2 - he was a minute and a half down, which was probably at least what it took him to figure out his mechanical issue.  Tough going.  

What I learned:
> I have a hardtail on order (glossary entry: a hardtail has a suspension fork for the front wheel).  Can't wait, I think I need it.  Stupid roots.  My full suspension (front and back wheel) Turner Sultan would have easily flowed over those roots.
> I need to work on my starts.  I'm pretty happy with everything else, though some longer rides would help too.
> The cramping - much research to be done.  I'd prefer a natural, rather than chemical, solution.  I have 3 weeks break before the next race - lots of early mornings to play with.
> My wife rocks.  But I already knew that.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fat Tire Classic, Winding Trails CT, April 17, 2011: Race Report and other musings

Root 66 race series, Race # 1
Singlespeed Open, 2nd place
My first race for team Cape Cod Mountain Bike Racing
Surly Karate Monkey circa 2004, rigid Salsa steel fork, 34/18 gearing

Took one of the seats out of the 2nd row of the Honda Odyssey and Tim "Young Gun" and Brian "The Natural" (aka the Falcon) piled in with their bikes and settled in for the approximately 2 hour 45 min ride from Cape Cod to Farmington CT on Sunday.  I don't know what kind of taxes people in Farmington pay, but it's worth it - the Winding Trails recreation area is the gold standard for rec areas.   Besides the miles of bike trails, it has 3 sweet hoops courts (one with a low hoop for the kiddies or so we vertically-challenged can dunk), several tennis courts, a plush soccer field and baseball field, water to swim in (presumably).  Place was killer - if you have kids, bring them.  I saw so many dads with their sons and was really missing mine.
Anyway, onto the race.  A quick pre-ride of the first mile or so of the trails to see what we had in store - not too technical, some short steep hills but us Cape Codders are used to those. Course seemed to set up pretty well for singlespeeds, and nothing too techy for the rigid fork. 
It was clear that the best line at the start was the left line, so I lined up with my fellow SS-ers and got to talking and ended up far over to the right.  Der.  Whistle blew and at the top of the first hill I was probably 6 or 7 out of 10.  I took a look at the jerseys in front to see who I should be chasing, then took a minute or so to regulate my heart rate, and then got down to business.  There was a nice colorful jersey leading the pack.  I passed the rest of the jerseys in front of me within the first couple miles and caught glimpses of that colorful jersey here and there, but it was more like a ghost teasing me through the woods, and as the race continued, the ghost disappeared completely.
The singletrack was a thin ribbon of packed mud that flowed well and followed the contours of the rolling terrain.  There were a few logs across the trails, but nothing that you needed to dismount for (unless you're a, well, you know). 
There were also several long runs of fire roads, sprinkled with rooty sections, but they hardly even slowed you down.  There was one awesome steep gravel uphill that was a dream for singlespeeds.  On the 2nd lap I think I passed 5 gearies from an earlier heat on that hill alone.  Towards the end of the 5.1 mile lap there were two areas of deep mud and long muddy puddles - they could be pedaled through, though I got sucked in on the last lap and had to dismount into ankle deep mud.  Very close to the end was a very steep, muddy hill that was not doable on my 34/18, so I had to dismount and push.  After that hill it's a quick and flat run to the lap/finish.
This was my 3rd overall race and 1st SS race.  My two previous races were in the EFTA series.  I like that Root 66 breaks up the Cats into different times of day.  Makes for A LOT less traffic on the course.  Another thing about Root 66, and this is just my impression, but the racers seemed a bit more friendly and supportive. Maybe it goes hand-in-hand with the lack of traffic on the course, but nearly everyone I passed gave a sincere word of encouragement. And the spectators were telling me how far in front the colorful-jersied ghost was -- and I'm pretty sure they were lying that he was "just 30 seconds ahead" to keep me motivated - it really worked, I pushed friggin hard for the whole race.  Oh, and they have nice prizes - I got a medal and a sweet Pedro's brush set that I've already used to brush off the mud caked on the Surly.
In looking at last year's times, I figured 1:16 would win.  So I was very happy to ride 1:15.37.  Mr Colorful Jersey (Tim), a granite block of a guy on a sweet Lynskey with Niner fork, rode (I think) 1:13.30.  That's just flatout fargin fast, and no way I could have caught him.

Side notes:
> On the ride up, we stopped to gas up and Brian went 'round back the station to relieve himself.  As he piddled, a nearby rustle caught his attention and he was amazed to see that a falcon had just taken down a smaller bird and had him pinned to the ground and had his eye pierced at Brian.  To Brian it was a sign not only to zip up, but that his Spring spent telemarking instead of training wouldn't hurt his performance.  The bastard was right, as he finished 3rd in the Cat 2 30-39 geared div.  His time was in the 1:14's.  Awesome.  His nickname on my phone list hereby officially is changing from "The Natural" to "The Falcon."
> With Helena Ophelia joining Team Maguire on or around July 1, Kristy and I decided to expand our hauling capacity and we traded in the Mercedes for a Honda Odyssey.  Trading in the Merc was really sad for us - until we reclined into the captains chairs and played with the power doors and watched Julian running around the back of the Honda.  Yes, our sadness lasted a whole 5 seconds.  And, as a plus, the Odyssey is a bike team hauling dream.  3 bikes, 3 guys, all our gear, no bike rack needed.  Nice ride, quiet, plenty of power.  Now I'm really totally sold (plus we got an awesome deal 'cuz the dealer couldn't stop drooling over the Merc).
> I switched up my diet a bit recently - adhering fairly strictly to Brendan Brazier's Thrive diet. It's nearly totally raw, whole (organic) foods - "one-step nutrition" - so it's simple foods that are less stressful for the body to process.  I've adapted to it surprisingly well.  I've been vegan for a few years anyway, but I had gotten sucked into some processed foods and sugary stuff.  On Thrive, I definitely feel like I've lost some weight, and some fat, but no power. On my training ride this morning, I rode a 2-hill combo that I haven't previously gotten on the SS - it just feels like I have maybe 5% more power - just enough in certain spots.  My complexion is also cleaner than I can ever remember - which will be good in case that modeling job comes through (haha).  For the next race, I might opt for an onboard Gu pack over dates soaked in agave nectar though, as the date acted as a throat plug and I had to regurgitate it.  And I might go back to my pre-ride apple, as nothing I've ever eaten/drank has given me a more noticeable energy boost than a good old fashioned gala apple.  My recovery smoothie was awesome - bananas, dates, hemp protein, flax, greens, almonds, coconut milk all blended up into a delicious mud. I felt great the rest of the day - none of that post-race drag.  Another rider asked if I was drinking sand - I told him ya that's what all us Cape Codders drink.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Welcome to my blog

Thanks for visiting.  I'll hopefully be posting new things on a regular basis, but I'm also posting some past things I've posted elsewhere, in case, you know, you're wondering why I'm posting about my dog that's been dead for 5 years....

Your Favorite Places on Earth

The second-to-last time we lay down together to sleep - you were too sick to greet me at the door when I came home from work. So I got down on your bed with you and we cried for a while - for what we knew was coming. And even though you were the reason we were crying, and even though you were in pain -- you were still there to console me, your big paws reaching out to pull me closer, your big head gently lowering into my lap.

Your breathing slowed, your body slumped, and I said my goodbyes. I was amazed at how peaceful and perfect the scene was, but couldn't help wish that mommy also had a chance to say goodbye.

Then a burst of rain came crashing onto the roof as if spilled from a giant bucket, like God was splashing water on you to wake you back up. It startled you awake, pulled you from the soft embrace of passing on. And there you were again - alert and strong, still protecting, and still comforting.

You greeted mommy when she came home from work and then lay next to us as we ate, and later as we watched tv. And as always, you perked up as soon as you heard the tv shut off for the night, and you hobbled down the hallway, knowing that your cushion in the bedroom was warm and inviting - it was one of your favorite places on earth.

When I woke up the next morning, you were flat on your back, your head and neck arched to one side to brace the weight of your once powerful body. Your gangly legs were sticking up - folded over like a reindeer in mid flight. You must have seen me stirring before I awoke, and now you feigned sleeping in that awkward position - knowing that I couldn't resist but to jump down on top of you, bury my head into your neck, and coerce you into battle. You didn't have much battle left, but you never could resist a row, so out came the teeth and that rumbling Rottie growl.
You could use your aggression in such destructive ways, ways that I secretly admired for you showed no fear in the fight, full blast in, teeth blaring - and I wish I could approach the fights in my life with such abandon. We humans so civilized, and thoughtful, and fearful of outcomes. You could swallow my body parts whole, but you only gripped down enough so that I'd know that you could never cause me that kind of pain. Your playful restraint stirs a different kind of pain in me now - one of my teeth clenching and tears held back.

We brought you to Chapin beach for one last time. We had to carry you out of the Jeep and you didn't get too far down the beach. You laid there as the tide came in - I tried to build a dam of sand to protect you from the water, but the dam washed away in the incoming waves. But you didn't mind the cool water lapping up against you. The sand cushioned your aching joints and you were just happy to be at one of your favorite places on earth.


We took pictures to remind us of the day. Your head looks slightly droopy in them, like it pained you to hold it up. But you're still smiling, ears back, that wild and playful look in your eyes.

When the time came, I picked you up and placed you into the back of the Jeep, probably your favorite place on earth. You started the ride standing on uneasy legs, with your head out the window, your gums flapping in the breeze, and drool spinning down the side of the truck. But then you limped to the back, circled, and laid down - facing forward, watching us, just happy to be there even if you weren't smelling the parade of scents that rushed by the open window.

I helped you out of the Jeep and we made our way towards Dr. Tom's office - probably your least favorite place on earth, with its slippery floors and the man in the white coat prodding your painful tumors. Not the place you wanted to be on your final day, or any other day, so you limped to a comfortable spot in the grass on the front lawn, under the shady branches of a thick pine tree, and you laid down. I couldn't coax you further with your favorite treat, so we stayed there as mommy went to get the vet. Once again, you comforted me through my tears, and laid your big head in my lap.

The vet's needle pinch didn't phase you, but once the poison started to take hold you seized, your head arched up off my lap, and you stared at mommy. I can't fault you for being a little afraid. And I'm so, so, so sorry. We take on the role of God when we adopt animals, and sometimes it feels like all the happy times barely add up enough to offset the sadness we feel when cancer devastates our best friend and forces us to make the hardest of decisions.

You laid your head back down on my lap for the final time and gently passed. I buried my head into your fur, and when I smelled those puppy-scented ears of yours, I remember thinking "I hope I don't ever forget what your ears smell like." And I haven't. Haven't forgotten the puppy ear smell, the wet and coarse licks up the side of my face, or the way you would lean into me for hugs and pats, or roll on your back for "bellywubs."

When we walked away from you for the final time, I glanced back - squinting through the tears. You looked so content - fast asleep beneath the sheltering tree, a gentle breeze shaking the grass and lifting strands of your fur upwards. You were no longer struggling to hold your head up proudly through the pain. You were finally at peace.

Mommy and I left the vet's and started driving. There was no conversation - we each were lost deep in our own thoughts. We drove past our road and before we knew it, we were back at Chapin beach. We traced our usual path, and I pictured you trotting along beside us, that goofy look of utter joy on your face. We walked until what little energy we had left was spent. And then we finally spoke - the unavoidable subject of whether or not we did the right thing.

Despite what the vet said...despite what we knew in our hearts -- there was that flicker of doubt that more could have been done to help you. Had we exhausted all the medical options? Did the cost of your treatment - adding up so much over these months - play a part in our decision? I said I would pay anything to have you back and healthy - even for just one day. We walked slowly and spoke softly, our voices crackling under the weight of the sadness. If only we had a sign to tell us that we had done the right thing, made the right decision.

We found ourselves back at the spot where we had laid with you a few hours earlier. A crowd was gathering nearby. They all faced to the west. The sun was setting across Cape Cod bay, tucking down behind the white cliffs of Plymouth. The sky was streaked with intense pinks and purples - a lightshow of colors we had never seen before. People with various accents gushed and stared in awe as the sun finally dipped into darkness. And we sat with them, distracted from our grief if only for a few moments, but long enough to know that we had our answer.

It's been a few months now, and I miss you at the oddest times. Like I'll be driving on
Union St
under the Rt 6 overpass, and I'll wait for a wet lick on the ear, thanking me for the ride, and anxious to get back home to see if mommy's there. I miss you when I watch the Patriots, you getting up from your bed beside the couch and tip-toeing down to the bedroom to avoid the hoots and hollers. I miss seeing you stir when the morning alarm sounds, flipping onto your back to invite the bellywubs.


Moments when we could predict each other's movements, when our intentions became one. Those are some of my favorite memories of you...those are some of my favorite places on earth.

The Smearing


Dad's crooked fingers, bashed into awkward angles by years of rugby, and now dripping with a healthy dollop of saliva, arc towards my morning forehead, aiming to smear my wispy bangs into a greasy, artificial part. 

I can see it coming but I’m temporarily frozen to stop it, the connection between mind and body misfiring like the loose battery cable on the ’72 Corolla my mum taught me to drive a stick in.  I haven’t yet shaken off the cobwebs of a long night’s sleep and my dream-like paralysis now threatens to leave me caked with the coagulated gel of dad’s greasy Irish breakfast. 

My eyes widen and brows arch - involuntary reflexes not requiring active thought – but I take brief comfort knowing that at least my brain is online.  Can I now spark the synapses to act on command, to duck my head or raise my arm – some movement, any movement to spare my curls the smearing?  

I grit my teeth, hold my breath, and struggle to react in time.
 
It's my own fault really.  Dad was always notoriously early for church, as if God Himself was handing out prizes to the first 10 arrivals.  If dad had his way, he’d have arrived at the end of the previous mass and fought upstream as the celebrants filed down the front steps, bobbing and weaving his way to his preferred pew.

My priorities were a bit different.

Sleep.  Glorious sleep.  I'd wring every possible drop of doze from Saturday night's slumber, 'til dad slid my groggy bones off the side of the bed, down the stairs, and into the idling car.  The ride to church would be spent re-acclimating myself to consciousness, and then I’d stumble alongside him into the nave, and collapse in a heap into the pew next to super-celebrant himself. 

Dad would then ready himself to receive the Spirit. 
Hymnal?  Check. 
Monthly bulletin?  Check. 
Kneeler cushion intact and hinge in proper working order? Check.  Check.

All systems go...bring on the healing!

Of course, his attention would now turn to me. He'd look me up and down like he was inspecting some piece of modern art that he only understood enough to know that he didn’t like what he saw. 

Admittedly, I was a Sunday morning sight to disappoint.  Somehow yesterday’s clothes would make it onto by body during my rushed morning stupor, and whatever sweaty stench I wore to bed the night before would now have been reactivated.  Short of dragging me to the sacristy and stealing an alter boy’s robe, dad’s options for salvaging some presentibility out of his third-born were limited. 

But there was always the hair. 

The one aspect of my physical appearance that distinguished me from my siblings was my curly mane.  The sandy-brown coils that thicketed my scalp like some impenetrable jungle, would be twisted by many hours prone to pillow into a shaggy, lopsided muddle that was surely distracting God from blessing dad and the rest of the quickly-arriving congregation.  Dad’s embarrassment was too much to take. 

The smearing takes place in slow motion.  How is it that an act that I can’t move quickly enough to prevent appears to take place in slow motion?  I don’t know, perhaps it’s yet another of the Church’s great mysteries.  Or perhaps I’m subconsciously allowing it to happen as some act of self-penance.  Regardless, his warped hand arrives, and the sopping, gritty smudge slides across my hairline, transforming my front tufts of hair into a sculpture that can only be cured with several rounds of vigorous shampooing, prior to which I will cringingly glimpse myself in the mirror amazed at how my petrified tresses now resemble dad’s crooked rugby fingers.

There are few things I can look back on in my childhood that disgust me as much my dad’s sloppy spit styling my Sunday morning tresses.  I can still feel it cooling and hardening into some kind of bacterial snarl, distracting me from whatever pious perspectives the priest is sputtering from his perch upon the pulpit.   

And yet, I can’t help but laugh, for that mental mark remains long after, and represents far more than a crusty coif. 

It’s a reminder of a childhood blessed with my dad’s goofy brand of fun – the kind that only an Irishman who doesn’t take himself seriously can provide.  It’s a gift I’m still learning to cultivate in myself, and one that I hope I can pass on to my own son.

And as I sit on this beach, out here in nature where my God exists, I bounce Julian on my knee and notice how the cool Cape Cod breeze easily splits his wispy infant hair into a natural part.  Curls are just starting to form on the longer locks - thin tresses that creep towards his neck a little further each day.  Maybe I too once had a part, I think, before my curls took hold. 

Suddenly the morning’s wind picks up for a moment, gathering up from behind us and buffeting our backs.  I notice that Julian’s part is now gone, and his hair sticks straight forward like stiffened fingers all pointing out towards the bay.

I smile a grin drenched with memories, slide my thumb down the length of my tongue, and as Julian stares at me in frozen wonder, I reach out in slow motion. 


Hands Once Strong and Ripe With Veins

Hands once strong and ripe with veins,
Grease in every crease and crinkle
And caked under broad and chipped fingernails,
Now at rest forever.

Tools that once cherished trials of strength,
Of twisting and torque;
Remain stacked neatly in a red metal chest;
Curious for lack of use,
Awaiting the sliding of the drawer,
And the grasp of the master tuner.

Bikes line up along a garage wall,
Waiting for the door to raise
And their pilot to return,
Their dreams of flight fading.
  
Riders gather to bump, buzz, and whir
Over trails caked with memories.
A rider at the back is dropped,
A derailleur is bent,
A wayward comment goes unchecked.
Looks are exchanged - unspoken sentiment -
"He wouldn’t have let that happen"
"He would know how to fix it best"
"He would have said this..."
And it is understood what is meant
By the saying "the silence is deafening."