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 (extremely) 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 and we're not astute enough to understand the difference between saturation and dillution."
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 have a good thing going. (#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. My heartfelt apologies to everyone. 
I think we're all 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, (for my own weird reasons)....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.)


  1. The key word in trying to keep up with Jesse, or Marko, is "trying". Try all ya want, it's not likely to happen.

    1. Ben...That's what I hear. And to clarify: By "trying to hang with..." what I really mean to say is, "participate in the same events as..." DFL pays out, right?

    2. It would seem that a whole bunch of people "tried to keep up with Jesse" this last weekend in Copper Harbor. Results were the same.