Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Place That Scars You.

Among the many very valid (as well as the vexingly obtuse) criticisms of my writing, the most prevalent regards my logorrhea...or my admitted tendency to be a bit more verbose than necessary.
(A bit?)
This from the (chosen) few who consistently read what I write as well as the (misfortunate) many who find themselves confoundedly and confusedly perusing this blog when whatever google search they were engaged in somehow dumps them here instead. (According to the stats, this month the winners are "Kelli Samuelson," (sorry Ty) "Golden Saddle Cyclery Cap," (sorry Ty) "Jana l Jordan," (sorry Jana L Jordan, whoever you are. And sorry Jana and Jordan!) "Juli Furtado," (Shit! I'm so sorry, Juli!) "Shenandoah 100 blog," (Sorry Chriscottistan!) "Revolting Cogs," (meh) "Watts Dixon,"(???!!!) and "Naked Guys." (sounds about right))

Nevermind my penchant for parentheticals or my stubborn and insistent use of ellipses at every opportunity. (I write my own grammar rules!) And nevermind my questionable ideas about what constitutes appropriate content. What I hear the most, outside of "I have absolutely no idea what you are even talking about" are two simple words: "Too." and " Long."

To this day, my favorite critical comment ever was on my exceedingly witty and mordant indictment of bicycle retail as we know it written for the Biketumor.

"Too long. I'm not reading all that self-indulgent shit."

Ha! Amen, brother. More so than any of you, "Other Zap" gets me. He really gets me.

That particular article began with a sentence that I had written a number of years ago, when I first started thinking about bicycle retail and the current challenges of "winning" at customer service. "Give the people what they want... In lethal doses." I'd said and typed those words a number of times as a kind of cathartic chant, but once I typed them in the heading on the Bikerumor Wordpress site, the sphincter was released and I was unable to leave the proverbial toilet for the next few hours. Every time I'd finish a thought and "wipe" I'd feel that rumble and sit back down.
(Wow. Nice image, Watts. I totally need a shower now.)

There have been a few like that, honestly.
For instance, that last post was a mite bit long.
This one will probably follow suit.
I'm only kind of sorry. I'm just not a fan of the short posts. I'm not good at them, either. (What? I have a lot to share.)
I also don't really care for narratives. Telling you a story about some race I did (as I'll do in a moment), or some event I crashed always ends up being an endless litany of "And then... And then.... and then....."
I like themes. I like concepts. I like emotions. I like all of the things that bike blogs typically aren't. I won't claim that I'm wrestling with anything particularly heady or heavy here, but I'd rather pretend like I am then talk to you about actual "bike stuff."

I mean.... Maybe you really do care what bits and bobs I vajazzle with, or what gear ratio I used to lose the race (again), or what tire I managed to catastrophically flat (again), or which plastic bike with plastic wheels is the most "vertically compliant and laterally stiff" (umm... this one?), or what new products we have in the shop that I think seriously kick honest-to-gawd ass. (Ok... that's actually valid. I should totally do more of that last one. Here's one of them, btw.) But regarding stuff, I'm afraid that my opinions on the various new things that are always pooped out by the industry just aren't particularly strong.
("Yeah... That's pretty neat, I guess. Are we going to go ride bikes or what?")

No. You, my friend, are obviously here for my sprawling reflections on life, thematically and loosely strung together by our shared two-wheeled muse
And if you aren't, then all I can offer you are apologies. (Super sorry!)

For the uninitiated, let me just go ahead and paraphrase every blog post I've ever written and probably ever will write... ever:
I was drunk... I didn't win the race... I'm pretty much a walking trainwreck of a man... I love my son something fierce... something something about Rich Dillen... I tricked a company into thinking I was a VIP... name drop here... name drop there... I was drunk... People ain't no good... my dog Mango ate the panties you left at my house... and did I mention that I'm a mess?

There. No need to even read any further.

And now that that's out of the way, let's ignore everything I just said and get to a narrative about the Wilderness 101.

We all have that unhealthy relationship that despite bringing us nothing but pain, somehow has a deep hold over our life. All it takes is a low cut dress, or well-fitting jeans, or a glimpse of tan-line or inner thigh, or a flash of flirty smile, or a gentle kiss or touch... and we forget every single low point or horrible thing we've endured and dive right back in.
The Wilderness 101 is that 3:00 a.m. booty call that I would willingly self-destruct to answer.

Why? I don't know.
Much of it has to do with Pennsylvania itself. There's something about it... like all of the best aspects of bucolic patchwork and rolling mountains and rivers combined into exactly what I never knew I wanted.
I can't really explain it, but have to admit...I'm totally sweet on PA.
It makes me giddy and reflective, like any good crush should.

So despite being signed up for ORAMM, which disappointingly happened to be on the same weekend this year, I instead decided to drive 8 hours to PA and to spend a brief night in the arms of that crush who will sadly never be mine.

This place sounds pretty cool!
(Just kidding... Sounds like a nightmare.)

I was totally going to rock down to this place... maybe take it higher... but I had other places to be.
Oh no!

Although, there were some snags.
Trying to leave Gettysburg on Friday morning, the Adventure Wagon (ostensibly known as Glenn Vanzig) decided that he (she?) didn't want to start. After about 30 minutes of me pondering what the hell my next step was, a random turning of the key kicked the engine to life. Um... ok.
Stopping for gas in Newport, the she (he?) once again decided not to start. After a half hour of sitting at the pump and turning the key in vain, I pushed the van into a spot and started crawling underneath. Long story short, it has to do with the ignition switch and the starter itself. Lots of heat and fried wires mean that there's no spark to start it.

Pretty sure that's not a good thing.

Playing with the wires and doing everything I could think of, I finally got him (her?) started and made it up to Coburn, snagging a spot next to my friends Shoogs, Jeff, Scott and the other Cadre bastardos.
Naturally, we started drinking beer, and I walked around, greeted the various race friends I have who make the annual pilgrimage to Coburn every year.

Part of my ritual with this race is the Friday night meal at Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks, an amazing little spot in nearby Millheim PA. For the past three years, my partner in this ritual has been the talented and wonderful (and legendarily heartbreaking) Hannah Banana...

...and I admit to being disappointed that she wouldn't be there to join me this year. (Don't tell her I said so.) I'd already failed at one of my rituals, a beery lunch at Otto's in State College, instead having spent that time crawling around under my van. I didn't want to fail again. Knowing that there was a good chance the van wouldn't start if I drove it to Millheim on my own, I solicited a ride with Mike and Laurie Ramponi. I've known Mike for a long while, as we typically trade places more than a few times during these races (that is until he finally passes me for good) and he's thrown up massive quantities of beer right outside my tent at least once.

After a great meal and a few beers, we headed back to Coburn Park for more beers, and eventually and amazingly, I  went to sleep at a surprisingly decent hour. (Shocking(ly))
And after a promising forecast of beautiful blue skies and dry trails, I awoke to this...

Did I say I love you?
I take it back. You're a lying succubus.

Not the first time I've done this race in the rain. Not what I wanted, though.
Alright. Let's go hurt for a while.
As usual, I went out pretty quick, feeling good. Coming down one of the long gravel hills, I couldn't spin my legs fast enough to stay in contact with the lead group, which I'd worked extremely hard to catch up to. I hovered in limbo until the second group came, then hopped on for as long as I could.
I really didn't have any expectations for this race, outside of finishing. I always have hopes of finishing well, but what's the old adage? You can shit in one hand and hope in the other and see which one fills up one of Rich Dillen's drop bags quicker. (Something like that?)
I'd gotten in maybe one month of real riding time, and that was made up of two long rides a week, punctuated by occasional short weekday runs. Sure... I'd like to do well, but the reality was I'd just be faking my way through yet another event, yet again. Whatever. All I really wanted was to steal a kiss from that minx. Maybe nibble an earlobe and cup a cheek.
And I did, as evidenced by the photo of me riding over the very same bridge that left me with a bone-revealing gash on my right leg the first time I ever did this race. This is the first year I've even attempted riding the bridges since then, so shaken was my bridge-riding confidence by that fall. And by the end of this race, when my legs are covered in mud, there's always a void revealing the scar tissue that the mud won't stick to. A nice little reminder.

I weathered some dark times, as usual....  At various points being swarmed by all of the many messes I've made in my life... the people I've hurt and the friends I've lost... my many failings as a person. Demons (and dishes) finding the cracks in my armor and taking every bit of power out of my already cooked legs. At a point, my climbing rhythm became a three-beat cadence, with each downward pedal-stroke punctuated with a word.
The driving mantra becoming:
...repeated over and over. (Good times!)
I don't know what everyone else's "dark place" is like during these races, but that's mine.
It's a therapy session that's just you and a cat-o-nine-tails. Are there any real breakthroughs? Who knows? But there's plenty of blood.
There were other times as well. Fun swooping sections of trail meandering through fern beds... Cresting a hill with a clearing and looking out over the mountains....Dappled sunlight on a rocky trail... Memories of kisses and touches bringing unwitting smiles to my muddy face... Thoughts of someones who either fail to see my failings or see them all too well and still want to know me and share something special making me grin and flush.... Thoughts of a laughing little boyo, dancing and jabbering on and on in a pure little voice about anything and everything, making me laugh out loud...
It's the gamut, and these races... They're the real deal. I'd say you don't know who you really are until you've done a few.

At the first aid station, as I rolled through with my quickly exchanged bottles, Justin from Freeze Thaw handed me a Heineken. I'm ashamed to admit that it was delicious and that it hit me harder than I thought possible. By the time I reached the top of the hill, I was feeling really good.. like, really good... even if my stomach was a little pissed. A little way down the road, my brain overrode my stomach once again (or is it the other way around) and I took a Dos Equis from the unofficial beer-station.
My one criticism of the race... they need more of that kind of thing toward the end. Not just the first half.
In years past, I'd used Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem and Sustained Energy. This time I opted to shove half a ProBar in my mouth whenever I could manage it. That and as many Pringles as I could fit in it at at time. Honestly... as easy as sucking liquid calories down is, this worked just as well. (Except for the flax seeds that kept getting stuck in my chipped tooth.

I'd opted for my custom CYSCO instead of the SIR 9 this go round.

I hadn't gotten an opportunity to bring the Cysco to one of the bigger events yet, and was looking forward to it. I felt bad swapping my Watson ti-bar out for the Niner bar, but wanted Ergon grips and some barends for something this long, and those don't really work well with the Watts bar's curvature.
I considered swapping out tires, but instead just left the Conti Mountain Kings on. Flats have been my nemesis at this event for three years straight, and I didn't want to deal with a brand new tire not sealing. Despite running entirely too much pressure, they did very well, and I didn't flat once.
I did, however, get beat to shit.
The overinflation, coupled with the extremely stiff Whiskey fork totally destroyed me. That fork does really well around the Greensboro trails, and in the shorter and faster courses, but it is not the fork to be riding in a 101 mile race on PA rocks. I definitely lost some time having to occasionally stop and manually unclench my hands from the grips. I might even have cried a little coming down the tail end of rocky doubletrack-hell called Panther Run.
(I am "Crybaby," after all.)
I'd been passed many times by many singlespeeders, and had no clue where I was in the running, but with less than a mile to go, I came across at least one of the people who'd passed me pretty early on, and I put in an effort that I didn't really have in my legs to pass and stay away from him. I came across the line in 8:40ish? Something like that?
Pleasantly surprised to have gotten 8th place.

Sure... one day I'd like to do better. Maybe even snag a real podium spot... but whatever. That would mean actual work and training, and ain't nobody got time for that. Except Gordon Quadsworth. But he's not human. (He smiles too much... that's the dead giveaway.)
Anyway... what I really need to work on is training my face to not always look stupid.

photo cred: Jeremy Palermo

Although much like the chances of me scoring a podium at Wilderness....
I think we both know that's hopeless.
Post race, after hanging out in the river with the other singlespeeders, getting a massage from SSWC'05 winner Buck Keich, eating a few burgers and drinking a lot of pints of Elk Creek Copper Ale (I lost count at eight), I sat with the Cadre boys until the wee hours of the night. Mike Ramponi read everyone's collective minds, and utilizing the abandoned PA system, made a nearly incomprehensible announcement about ordering a "shit ton of pizza" from nearby Millheim.
I didn't think we had it in us to coherently form anything close to a cohesive plan to obtain said pizzas, but we pulled it off... and just before midnight, we were stuffing our faces and breaking into our own stashes of beer, having long killed the kegs.
I eventually crawled into my van, full and happy and tired.
The next morning, Vanzig started up with no issues, although to be on the safe side, I left her running every time I filled up with gas.

Rightly so, because the moment I got back into town and pulled up to the shop, I instinctively turned off the ignition. And could not get her started again... for days.

And then.... And then... And then....
... the story was over, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

Having just returned from a time at the beach, I've got a mountain of things to accomplish at the shop. But everyone is finding their footing and things are finally falling into place. The taps are up and running... We're pouring beer... Selling tons of bikes.... Solidifying our already solid niche.
Having underutilized sunscreen as a result of the expected rain, I got a good bit more sun than I intended, just as I had in PA and in Utah.
And as stressed and burnt as I've felt for the past four months, I'm coming back feeling pretty good.
Maybe it's denial, but I'm looking at it all and I can't help but think:
I ain't burnt. Just golden brown.
Let's go start some fights.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Puerile as the Driven Snow

Why I'm going to do this, I'm not really sure. Nonetheless, before we begin, I'm going to go wayyyy back and include the following un-edited snippet of what was going to be Frostbukake part 2 before I just lost interest and moved on to greener (well, greenish) pastures. Much like you will do in 3, 2, 1.....

Extracting myself from the bizarre mess I'd made of my bedding (all sheets removed to expose the mattress, then piled on top of me in the opposite order... the geologic law of superposition reversed by an inebriated juggernaut)... I slid along the hallway wall to the bathroom. Waning drunkety aside, the door to the bathroom proved a conundrum, opening in the most unintuitive way; either blocking the toilet or the sink or the shower or, funnily enough, the entrance to the bathroom.
Which I realize was it's job, but door... this was hardly the time.

"Ugh. I feel... Ugh. I feel... alright" I said, steadying myself on the sink and splashing cold water in my face. 
Feel alright, maybe. Look alright? Hardly.
Dehydration, lack of sleep, alcohol and genetics were conspiring to make the increasingly conspicuous bags under my eyes comically swollen. Enough so that my vision was actually blurry.
It was bad enough that I wandered, unclad, into the hallway to find ice... then lay down with said ice applied to my eyes. 
Once I'd reigned it in, or as it were, given up, I wandered downstairs to find some breakfast and coffee. 

My memory of last night was fragments of moments. Flash to David of Golden Saddle and I still at the bar, talking to someone... maybe many someones....but I don't remember who. And David, his eyes no longer working in sync, wasn't looking at people or things so much as through them, his gaze(s) focused on a horizon hundreds of miles behind my left eye.
Familiar faces came and went. 
Someone told me that they'd read the Revolting Cogs and that they enjoyed it. Or maybe they told me that I was a total hack and they hated it. It was one of those, I'm sure of it. And I made a lot of words with my two lips, two lungs and one tongue.... but there's no telling what they were. Important things, I'm sure.
Flash to hitting the wall and leaving the bar, mid-sentence.
Flash to me in the elevator pushing a hopeful selection of buttons.
Flash to me walking down the hallway toward my room.
Flash to me getting back on the elevator.
Flash to me walking down the right hallway toward my real room.
Flash to me leaning on my door and inserting various business cards and other objects into the lock in a vain attempt to gain entry.
And darkness. Until now.

Yesterday had been my day to mess about and see a little of the city.
Today was my day to get some learning.

My first session of the day was Profitablility.
The hope was to gain some perspective on my P and L statements. I mean... I read them and know what they say... but sometimes they honestly just don't seem to clarify anything. Best month ever shows a loss. Worst month ever nets profit. Old "stockholder loans" still on record that are just as meaningless as when I purchased the place.
Having just finished taxes and feeling absurdly unsuccessful at explaining the bizarreness of my world to my accountant (shaking her head at me with bafflement and frustration), I wanted some sort of external compass, specific to the industry.
It was helpful, if only to hear some very similar stories echoed by other dealers and to have some common-sense strategies reinforced by the presenter. But outside of a mounting feeling of anxiety (desperately wanting to be back at the shop going over some things in the books before they left my head entirely), my hangover was truly beginning in earnest.
With five minutes left in the presentation, I had to make a choice: Get up, conspicuously and abruptly leave.... or stay and risk a scene involving me, my peaking nausea, and the garbage can I'd been eyeballing for the past 20 minutes.
I bolted.
Resting my head on the cool counter of the sink in my room, I then had to make another choice. Succumb to the nausea and hangover and alternate between the bed and the bathroom for the next hour or so.... or get outside.
Before I could think, I started pulling on my running clothes. Walking toward the front doors, I saw Greggers who looked at me incredulously. "I fucking hate you," he gushed. Whether because the idea of a run outside in the current conditions was the dumbest thing he'd ever heard, or whether because the idea of moving in such a fashion would not agree with HIS hangover, I don't know.
All I knew is that I needed to get outside and get moving before bad things happened in the hotel.
I stepped outside and started running.

Further study is needed to determine the exact physics that allow for a nose this large in a face this narrow without gravitational warping of the surrounding features.
It was cold. Single digits.
Which for an southern boy is pretty cold... Colder than I was used to. But it was helping to blast the hangover out of me, one risky fart at a time.
It had snowed in earnest the night before, and the sidewalks weren't particularly navigable. That meant running in the road with no shoulder. On ice. Finding my way to the trails of yesterday was out....So I created a loop that took me along service roads and through parking office parks and warehouses. It was still beautiful to me, as there was snow on the ground and the sky was blue.

When I finished the run, feeling infinitely better, I cleaned up and headed to my next workshop, BRANDING. In truth, that wasn't my next workshop. I was signed up for WHERE TO GROW FROM HERE. It was frustrating that they were at the same time, as each one seemed appropriate, but I had to choose. So I barged into the standing-room-only branding workshop and found the one seat that no one noticed.
I wasn't sure what to expect, but knew that while numbers and profitability aren't particularly interesting to me (Uhhh.....what?), branding is. More than anything, I take to that. I mean....I'm a decent mechanic (super awesome). And I'm a decent sales guy (super awful). But I'm a bit of a nutter when it comes to marketing, as my vision of the image I want to project doesn't necessarily jibe with current trends of what's popular or effective. I'd rather throw shit against a wall my way until I like what I see. (I made this!)

Jason, the presenter, passed around cards and asked each of us to write on the cards what differentiates us from other shops. I forget exactly what I wrote, but "non-elitist", "wildly androgenous" and "maddeningly erotic" come to mind.

You'll never guess what 90% of the folks in the room wrote.
"Great Customer Service"

Yep. 90% of all shops are totally different from each other because they all give better customer service than each other.

So... a little factoid. 90% of shops say they provide "excellent customer service. Do you know how many people say that these shops give "excellent customer service?"

There's a pretty massive disconnect between what many a shop think they bring to the table and what they actually do. I think we do an excellent job on some levels, but damnit, I've dropped so many massive flaming balls on the customer service side of things that making that claim doesn't even enter my head. (Revolution Cycles NC: home of tolerably good customer service!)
The workshop was decent in that it jump-started some thoughts on how we've branded the shop. Greggers had managed to snag me a one on one session with the head of branding at QBP. In it we talked about various models and how...

And just like that.. we're done. I never even got to the part about what I learned, or about Handsome's Shop-Bike-Shootout...

Sick skid, bro.

...or about the actual show, or riding fatbikes in the snow, or about peeing in One on One's mop-closet or about drinking too much beer and putting both my feet in my mouth (again and again) and some other amazing misadventures in love.

So, now that I've wasted just a little of your valuable time telling a half-story about a time long past, let's get to the things that just recently passed.
I was thinking about Frostbike because I spent the early part of last week in Utah as part of SADDLEDRIVE; another event hosted by QBP and which I was fortunate enough to attend.

First off, going to Saddledrive meant a great deal to me.
By no means are we one of QBP's bigger accounts. But they still felt like my humble shop was worthy of not only an invite, but of the expense of flying me out there and putting me up so that I could ride some bikes on amazing mountain roads and trails, and hang out with other dealers...all the while being fed copious amounts of great food and all the free beer I could drink.
That a company would invest that much time and money in me and my shop means a lot. Sure, they want me to carry their product. But they want me to carry it at the level that works for me. And outside of wining and dining me, they've consistently shown us that the respect our relationship as a business.
I've never had a company value our commitment this much, or give that much of a shit about us as a shop. Usually companies just want us to bump it up a level or get lost.
It's refreshing.
I'm fairly stand-offish about overcommitment to any one company in this industry, as I've seen too many of those "relationships" go south when that company just keeps putting the screws to you.
"We've got a dealer down the street who said they can move more product." or "Well, according to demographic data collected by people who have no real clue about your city, we expect this much in annual sales, and if you can't meet that, then we'll just open another shop five miles down the road, because "the data" says the town is big enough."
Despite my squeamishness regarding commitment (you don't know the half of it, brother), I can definitely say that Q will be be getting much more of my business this year.
They've invested in me, which is something no one else has ever done.

And it doesn't hurt that their bike lines are fucking amazing. Every year they get better and better.
Salsa's knocking shit out of the park this year. Surly's doing what they do best... bongs, farts, chainsaws... and you and I both know that's gold. And then Jeff and All-City are putting some party and attitude back into riding. (#fartyband) Bout time.

I arrived in Utah Saturday afternoon, a day before the official event started. I figured it gave me a day to decompress, hammer out some emails, brainstorm on the shop, go on a run and check out the town.
Standing at the airport with Tyler Loosenuts, I almost immediately ran into Ty Hathaway and Kyle Kelley of internet golden boys, Golden Saddle Cyclery. We quickly realized that the complimentary shuttle service we'd anticipated wasn't happening, (maybe because... I don't know....we got there a day early?). So Kyle did some math and made some arrangements and we piled in a cab to our hotel in Layton.

Or at least their hotel. My hotel was around the corner. Reason kicked in before I let myself get too bummed, the Hilton Garden seeming infinitely nicer than the Hampton Inn, but come on... free hotel? A block away? Shut up, Watts. I think what really had me bummed was the Hampton Inn's pool. A tiny, indoor tub. Discovering that the Hilton's pool was also a tiny indoor tub was the tipping point to regaining perspective. That and the two pitchers of beer (Oh shit. Was it three?) that Kyle, Ty, Tyler and I proceeded to drink at Roosters, a local brewery right around the corner.
By the time we left, I was in a good place. So good that walking a mile or two through strip-mall hell to find a liquor store seemed like a pretty good idea.
After traversing many a parking lot, and within a stone's throw of the liquor store, we found our progress momentarily impeded by a cracked-out woman in a bikini angrily yelling at a cracked-out man in the parking lot of a bar.
Honestly... What choice did we have?
We walked into the bar.
4pm in a Utah bar called Goodtimes.
I have no doubt that some good times have, indeed, been had in this establishment...



... but outside of us, and the evidence on the walls, I was hardpressed to see it.

I think it might have been when the guy with the eye-patch pulled out a tattered bible from the filthy backpack resting on his walker, and opened it to reveal a stack of faded pictures, most of a baby, and then confided in a quiet voice to another bar patron that he'd already lost everything, and that losing a game of pool didn't mean shit to him, that I felt the waning veneer of my goodtime start to slip in earnest. #realitybro

Despite the young barmaid's entreaties, we finished our drinks and left, making our way to the liquor store. I felt (nay, knew) that my day and night might take a giant shit in the bed if I bought a bottle of booze, having already stashed a growler of beer in Tyler Loosenut's fridge, so Tyler, Ty and I waited outside until Kyle emerged with his whiskey. Then we walked across the strip-mall wasteland back to our hotel and right into the QBP staff dinner that totally wasn't for us, but that we crashed anyway.
It was delicious. Thanks Q.
We all ate and drank beer until dark, then made our way across the street to do more of the same.
Then I hit the jetlag wall and went back to my room and passed out.
Next day, after breakfasting with the Salsa and Surly folks, and with no plan save for killing time until the event started proper that evening, I found myself riding up to Snowbasin with John Fleck, sales manager of Surly. We stopped for coffee in Ogden, a town I could probably handle living in, then got to the venue and snagged some Surly bikes to ride.
The day was looking pretty damned good.

A motley assortment of Instigators, Ice Cream Trucks, and Krampuses (Krampi) rode up to the top of some big hills and came bombing down. 
So much fun. So different from the riding back east. Super buffed out and swooping. Nothing technical save for some soft, loose dirt. Epic vistas, crawling through Aspens.... such a change from the claustrophobic, winding singletrack of the east. I could get used to it.
After a nice long loop we headed back in where I reconnected with Ty, Kyle, Trevor and Jeff (who'd spent the past day broken down in Jeff's bus somewhere between MN and UT). 
We all ponied up for the gondola and took some Surlys to the top of the mountain and started heading down. 
It was pretty damn awesome.

#goldenshowercycles #fartyband

Until I flatted about a half mile down.
I grabbed a beer from Ty's backpack, sent the boys on down with a slap on the asses, and started pushing my bike back up the hill to ride the gondola back. Ty apparently flatted soon after...Kyle flatted closer to the bottom... and Trevor tore all the skin off his hands because he didnt wear gloves. (We were pretty much totally prepared, obviously.) Only Jeff made it unscathed. There was optimistic talk of another run, but felt the time crunch of needing to get back to Layton for the official opening Saddledrive dinner. Especially if we were going to go swimming.
Heading back to the hotel, we stopped at the reservoir and baptized ourselves in the urine of a million mormons.

Is it naked time, guys?

Refreshed and "clean" we made it back to the hotel just in time for dinner, where we greeted the many ne'er do wells we'd anticipated seeing. Then on to the Summit Lounge for the ALL-CITY welcome party. More free beer and people. Though I confess to having no pep. As three of us stood silently in a circle, I drank my umpteenth 3.2 percent beer and decided that my wall was hit. 
G'night erybody. 
(A curious law in Utah that has everything to do with made up laws made up by a made up religion determines that excepting beer served at breweries (like Roosters), any beer on tap in a bar cannot be above 3.2% alcohol. Which means that you're bloated and painfully full of liquid calories long before you feel the slightest hint of drunkety. It wasn't until the next night that I discovered the secret: Don't drink draft beer at bars in Utah. Only craft bottles and beer at a brewery (so Roosters was a go). Or liquor, but even that's super-regulated with 1oz pours. No doubles, mind you, but you can order two shots.)
Anyway... cool story, Watts.

Next morning, I hauled myself and my riding gear down to breakfast, tried to crush as much water as possible (and coffee) and rode the first bus with Andrew Forron of New River Bikes out to the event. Ty, Andrew and I went out and climbed some hills, then bombed back down again. 

It wasn't technical, but damn, it was dusty. If you were following within 30 feet of the rider in front, you couldn't see the trail at all. Which meant that occasionally you hit the one rock in the trail blindly and temporarily went into the brush. Andrew might have gone bushwhacking a few times.
Outside of attending the Salsa presentation, I rode bikes all day, almost manically so, trying to milk my time in these mountains and on these trails and on the bike for everything I could. After reluctantly returning the last demo, I joined all the other attendees on the patio for Happy Hour, QBP providing us all with free beer and wine.

Scott and Andrew

Not a bad view.
From there.... Q bused everyone out to Cemetery Point for a beach party, dinner and more beer and wine. Everyone except me, Josh, Nick and Andrew, as we were busy drinking even more beer under the All City tent. As Kyle, Ty and Jeff all disappeared on bikes, Nick asked where they were headed. "Instagram Circlejerk" I offered. Nah...Turns out it was to film a promo video. 
Same difference. 
"Speaking of instagram circlejerks, do y'all think John will like this picture I drew for him?" I inquired. 

"Hmm... Prolly not?"
Awww.... But I spent like two whole drunken minutes on it! And I even brought it with me to give him!
We all piled into Josh's car and made our way to the beach party. As soon as we got there, I went straight into the water. Floating there, looking up at the hills, I felt a massive flood of feeling wash over me, maybe even fighting back some tears. (so what) This is what I miss and crave in my life on a daily basis. Mountains to dwarf all the buildings and problems, and a body of water in which to lose myself, be it a river to run over my head or a lake to immerse myself. Greensboro has none of these things. 
I don't trust towns without rivers or swimming holes. And all the "nice" or "cool" neighborhoods or restaurants in the world can't fill the void of a sky without stars. 
You know it and I know it.
It's why I hold Greensboro at arm's length. 
(Like I hold everyone.)

When the beach party was over, we piled back onto the buses. Greggers, myself, a little stealth and a backpack executed Operation: Grab-All-The-Unopened-Wine-Bottles-Off-That-Unattended-Table-And-Bring-Them-On-The-Bus... and a merry time was soon had by all.
Mayhaps too merry. Because by the time I finished my first beer at Roosters following said bus ride, I was in trouble. 
I was also in a pair of very short running shorts. Which is why the waitress dubbed me: Mr. Shorty Shorts.
I'm told that I gained another name that night as well. Someone, I'm not sure who, apparently took to calling me "Crybaby." 
Ha! Love it.
It apparently stemmed from my jabbering about the dangers of continuing to drink red wine, as it would likely result in me spending the rest of the night sobbing hysterically. 
I guess some people take the things I say seriously. (rightly so, because I'm dead serious)
But considering that I totally found myself sobbing hysterically earlier today watching this fucking video, I guess it's actually a pretty reasonable nickname. 

I might have made some messes that night. I think a few people did. My heartfelt apologies to everyone. 
I think we're going to be ok. 

I woke up at 3am, lying sideways on the bed with all the lights on, in a state of partial undress: One sock. Boxers. Tshirt still hanging off one arm. 
For the first time in Utah, I'd drunk myself into peaceful oblivion. 
I slept in as late as my body would allow (7am) and headed down to breakfast and on to another day of reflective riding. All day long. 
I rode anything and everything I could. This was my Salsa day, and even still, the line and wait was huge. I took out the Spearfish carbon. And the Horsethief. And the Beargrease. And The Mukluk. I never got a chance to ride the Bucksaw, but I wanted to. 
I'll be honest. I'm not a fat-bike guy. We haven't had much call or demand for them in my neck of the woods, and I tend to view them as a quirky little anomaly. I've never harbored any ill-will or vehement opinions on them. It's a bike. Bikes are fun. Next.
But I have to say... out of all the bikes I rode the entire time.. the one's I enjoyed the most were fat-bikes. They were. I loved the Surly Ice Cream Truck. It handled like a trail-bike. Yeah, the q-factor was all jacked and your feet are way wide apart. But coming into turns and rolling over rocks, I had tons of control and traction. Maybe more than on the super cush 29ers. 
And I loved the Salsa Beargrease. If I lived somewhere snowy, I'd ride and race the crap out of that bike, trying to hang with beasts like Jesse LaLonde in what look like incredibly fun events. 

photo cred: Prenzlow Perspective
As I rode as hard and as far and as high as I could, my head was full of music. One moment a reflective love song by the Pixies. The next a reflective love song by Tartar Control

That night, after a long day of riding, and another welcome Happy Hour, we ate dinner at the QBP Utah warehouse, played cornhole in the sunset, and rode the buses back to our hotels. 
Then we made our way to the Summit Lounge for one last night of drink and merriment before we all went our separate ways. 
Karaoke was in full effect, and much to the chagrin of the few locals in there, we pretty much owned it. Greggers and Sam, in particular. I'm so proud of those boys. 
I bid farewell to all my faraway friends and went back to my hotel room, packed and ready to fly out early the next morning.
Unsettled and still a bit confounded, I boarded the plane flew straight home and into the spindly arms of my little boyo, having missed the everloving shit out of him. 

When he's not with me, it tears at me so much that I kind of have to shut a part of myself off. It's hard to explain. And not that other father's don't miss their kids... but I think you have to be a single dad to know what I mean. The point is, I was so damned happy to be back with him, if only for one night before I took off for PA and the Wilderness 101, the one event I've been able to do all summer. But that's next time.

At the end of my last day in Utah, after I'd returned from my final ride and called it quits, I found myself, as I often do at these events, at the Surly tent. Sitting on the grass, drinking delicious beer that was definitely NOT 3.2%, and looking up at the mountains and the sky, I took stock: 
I like what I do. I like the opportunities I'm afforded, and the people I get to meet. And I like the industry, as silly and boring and stupid as it can be. 
Maybe I'm not connecting the missing dots in the evolutionary history of the whale, or discovering missing links in the fossil record. And maybe I'm not writing important worldview-changing treatises on the human condition, landscape connectivity or evolutionary theory. And maybe I'm not making dick in the way of money, or living in the town I want, or living the life I always knew I would. 
But all of my many stumbles and falls and messes aside.... I get my moments. And I know it. 
It's a good gig.

(Now I'm totally going to cry.)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Heartsinking Work of Stammering Meanness.

Long have I loved The Handsome Family.
Outside of serving as the soundtrack to years of estrangement, separation and self-destruction many, many moons ago, they've resonated on too many levels to mention with some facet of my life over the years: Be it depressiontrying to maintainnot doing a good job maintainingthe ever-changing nature of existence, or pretty much everything.
But I have to tell you... What does not resonate is the "slice and gin" that I just tried to drink in impulsive homage to my favorite sing-along-in-the-shower.
Ugh. Man....I just wanted to feel weightless again... Not drink Dayquil®.
Back to whatever wine I was drinking. (Cheap)
Because they've been so good to me over the years, I'll forgive the Family for tricking me. And I have to say, I'm very glad to see them finally getting some of the acclaim and recognition that they deserve in light of True Detective. Parsnips tricked me into watching it with hints of a Lovecraftian plotline. While that didn't turn out to be even remotely true, I still got sucked in. Good stuff.

Having been prevented from seeing them when they came to Raleigh five years ago (still bitter) you can be damn sure that I'll be attending this show. Especially since it's less than a mile from my house.
I first stumbled upon the family some nine years ago when I was in my "Denver sound" phase. To this day, Slim Cessna's Auto Club is at the tippety-top of the list of bands to see live before I die. That I haven't managed to yet is a source of much frustration. I'm currently lobbying to have them play at the shop. Whether it ever comes to fruition or not, simply the thought of it is sustaining.
My poor employees. If I had made them listen to Slim, or Munly and the Lee Lewis Harlots, or Munly and the Lupercalians, or Munly Munly, or Munly de Har He, or the Denver Gentlemen, or the Denver Broncos UK, or Tarantella (or Bum Kon) one more time, they'd have probably lost their shit. Throw in some Reverend Glasseye and some Handsome Family and I'd undoubtedly given the shop quite the jovial atmosphere.
So jovial that one of my staff (I think it was Tommy) finally told me that I "was really bumming the customers out."
I'm pretty sure that was also during what Tommy once referred to as "the year Watts didn't smile."

Times change. But smiling still hurts.

The pain.
The picture above was part of a photoshoot for an article about "shop-dogs" in the local O'Henry Magazine.
Mango the total-effing-nutter got a little attention, which he needed like a junkie needs heroin. (Which is to say not at all.) But the shop got some attention too, which I'll always take.
And me? I dunno. Hold me.... Just not too tight.

Which reminds me....
Recently I was exchanging drunk texts with Stevil. (At least I was. Drunk, that is. I'm not sure what kind of state he was in, as it was only 7pm in his world (Yeah... you're probably right. Drunk)). Among the cryptic jabber were truths about good companies doing shitty things. And then shitty things happening to good companies. And then shitty people keeping good company. And then just straight up shitty people.
One of the shitty people that came up was none other than the short, bloated prince of darkness, Glenn Danzig.
I'd recently attended a pretty awesome event at Green Door Wheel Works, a new shop that recently opened in nearby High Point. (Steve and Kirsten are doing something awesome over there. They've got their work cut out for them in that town, as even back-asswards Greensboro seems a progressive haven in comparison. But I know they're going to kick ass.) The event in question was "Dinner and Bikes" where they had Joe Biel of Microcosm Publishing, author and activist Elly Blue, and vegan chef of the punk stars, Josh Ploeg stop in and tell some stories, show some documentaries, sell some books and cook some amazing food. It's the kind of event that I WISH I had put together.
Seriously. Kudos to them. (And boo-dos to me.)
Providing some succor to my feelings of inadequacy was a comic book for sale with the title HENRY AND GLENN FOREVER AND EVER.

I bought every issue.

Stevil admonished me regarding the meaning behind one cover in particular.

In case you didn't already know, I'm pretty much a huge internet sensation.

I reluctantly admitted ignorance, but felt the vision-blurring presence of a massive revelation, tantamount to life as we know it being revealed as "the matrix."
Sure enough....

Do you remember Crystar? Probably not. Crystar was a toyline that came out in the early 80's.

I had a few of them. They weren't bad, but didn't really rank as "awesome" on my little-kid toy-o-meter.
Not like the Powerlords.

I might have been a strange lad.

But each toy came with a comic book, and if the toys were fairly tame, the comic book was, to my young mind, actually pretty good. I'm sure the writers and artists involved had bristled to no end at being assigned to a comic book based on some lackluster toy line... But they did a good job. (I say this, of course, without having read it since the early 80's, and with all of the dewy mist of nostalgic longing, so I could be waayyyyy off.)
Anyway.... one of the issues of this particular title sported this cover.

Obvious gender-studies issues aside....Notice anything?

How about now?


As if you didn't know it before, Danzig's a goon.

So... Sorry for the sporadic writing. Just needed to focus on some other things lately.
One of which was actually getting back on the bike.
You laugh...(least funny joke ever)... but it took some doing. Still does. Lately, it seems to take every bit of will power I can muster to ignore the many, many, many things that I really, really, really need to be doing at that moment and instead go push a pedal over and over with my foot. And I don't like that, because once upon a time the opposite was true. When it all seemed too much... and it all too often did, (Ugh! I can't handle these dishes right now! I just want to live my life!!!)... I'd throw a leg over the bike and get moving. And it would all melt away. (Ha! Suck it, dishes!!!)
The bike was where I processed it all. Or at least outsprinted it.
But one day, something started happening. The demons I was keeping at bay with the ache in my legs started finding me again. Sometimes with a vengeance. (So. Many. Dishes!)
(Ahem.... So, in this joke, "dishes" is a metaphor for "demons". And not the Danzig kind, although I'll wager he has a few dishes of his own.)
I wonder sometimes if long solo rides aren't necessarily the best thing for a person of my temperament, as they often involve a good bit of introspection and reflection. And for me, more often than not, introspection and reflection has a tendency to turn to self-loathing and dejection. So halfway into the ride, I find myself thinking that maybe what I really need isn't a long bike ride. It's a bar-fight...Someone to break a stool or two over my head.
(What?! I don't have issues.)
Look... you can pat yourself on the back for your perfect life all you want during your ride. Me? I've got some flogging to do.

I'm not one to deify the bike.
I love the shit out of it, and it's been a part of my life for longer than you've been alive.
(Not you... Him.)
But few things vex me more than cloying "live to pedal" or "cycling is life" drivel. Not that I've never clung madly to something as a way to define my life and existence. But come on....whether you're a burgeoning hipster with an online-purchased fixie as the next accessory to your wardrobe, or an entitled Cat 3 Racer with an "impressive" resume of top twenty finishes,  or a yuppie with a bike themed "life is good" sticker on the window of your luxury SUV.... we get it:
Bikes are cool.
(But you're not.)

I do admit to being fascinated (or conversely bored to tears) by the various directions and evolution "cycling culture" has taken lately. In my particular neck of the woods, where we operate a little behind the curve, there appears to be a banal focus on racing. That is to say a relatively tedious obsession with time and pace and power at the expense of fun... All to achieve 6th place in a local field of ten. Yawn. Not that I ever bemoan a person trying their hardest or striving to improve themselves, and not that there's anything at all wrong with racing, because friendly competition and high-fives and heckling are the best. But when people are swaggering around like self-important dicks, or yelling at you to get out of their way on the trail, all because they're trying to nail a Strava segment and desperately want to make the lower rungs of mediocrity their "bitch", I admit to being flummoxed. Seems like they're not "getting it."
(And you know that I "get it" because I just told you I do.)
I don't know. At some point, XC became the new triathlon (compression sleeves!)... Enduro became the new XC (kneepads and full-face on the greenway, bro!)... Cyclocross became the new fixie (online shopping is punk!).... Singlespeeds became the new beach cruiser (I see what you did there) and blogging became the new masturbation. (How does Rich even type with those hairy palms?)

But you know what's super cool these days in the hippest of the hip circles?
Riding a Bridgestone on gravel roads in cut-off shorts with no shirt.
I shit you not.
The very same thing I did when I first got really into riding some twenty plus years ago (Gah!).....(And, incidentally, was relentlessly mocked for having "no clue." (I didn't, but that had nothing to do with bikes.)

Photocred: Ultraromance

Photocred: Ultraromance
Full circle.
But you know what? I'll take it. Currently there's this resurgence of what I'll wincingly call "soul cycling." It's just people getting out on the bike and kicking ass. They're not "racing." They're not "training." They're not prancercizing. They're just ridingFor fun. Just getting out and exploring.
And THAT.... is awesome.
I don't know Ultraromance personally, but I like him. (I think I do, anyway. I mean... Unless he's a total dick or something.) At the very least I like what he's doing, and I like his hebrephenic word style. And it seems sincere.
There are some influence peddlers out there who I sincerely believe are as insincere as they come. Ef them. (And I mean that sincerely.)
Does everyone have a personal photographer that follows them around and posts photos of them being awesome to Instagram?

(Incidentally, I have one....

...capturing all the super awesome shit that I do.
#fartyband  #goldenshowerpieskulls  #lightnapbro
photocred: lil Dorrit
The old adage, "If a ride happens somewhere in the woods, and no one posts a picture of it to Instagram, did it happen at all?"
But despite the social media hyperfertilization of the cult of personality, something big is happening.
Bikes are becoming cool again.
Yeah.. some of us know that they always were. We can high-five each other or shake our heads knowingly. And if vanity replaces honesty, and the new breed is in desperate want of a spanking, then a little schooling isn't the worst thing. Don't be afraid to dole it out.
But don't squash that enthusiasm for the bike in the process. Because that shit is like gold.

Regarding the hipsters, I've never really cared too much. (As far as anyone's concerned, I probably am one.) If the fixed gear fashion accessory is what got them on a bike, and that eventually turned into a passion... then I'm down. And if "staying wild" and riding beaters on gravel roads is the next step, then I'll concede. It's a damn sight better than the alternative.
Regarding the yuppies... If the Dura-Ace equipped, carbon-fiber pitching-wedge is what got them out on a group ride... then I'm down. Let's talk about getting them on that commuter bike now.
Regarding the deadbeats.... If losing their license because of a DUI is what got them on the bike... (just kidding)
And regarding the goons... Even if legions of people think that that shallow lagoon is a bottomless lake... as long as they're getting people on a bike, then I'm down.
With the bike thing. But not with them.

You down with OPB?
I am.