Back to school

IMG_1299When the light begins to change in August and kids head back to school, ancient instincts rise within the mind. For those of us that competed in running and the fall sport of cross country, these August days smell and taste of hard effort and tw0-a-day workouts.

It was always confusing to be going “back to school” when cross country always started earlier than the actual school year. There was such freedom in those early practices, running without the burden of classes to hold you back.

Yet the reminders were there. In high school we’d gather in that creaky old locker room and change into our jocks and shorts along with shoes issued by the program. Then we’d head out for a half-hearted stretch on the grass behind the football stadium and go run our asses off for an hour or more.

Down on the football field were the supposed real warriors of the gridiron. They’d be dressed in full pads and grunting through workouts in the heat. At the end of practice they’d pile back into to locker room all sweaty and greased with dirt and we got the hell out of their way.

Joyously we’d pile into the showers after our workouts and sing our way through several rounds of song by The Who, the Doobie Brothers, Chicago or Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

“But you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking…and racing around to come up behind you again…the sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older, and shorter of breath, and one day…closer to death…”

Little did we know those songs and that period of music would remain at the forefront of culture for the following four decades. Yesterday at our local Panera Bread I watched a kid that was obviously a freshman or sophomore in high school walk in the door wearing a tee shirt from the 70s group Boston. We still see Led Zeppelin shirts and Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and Stones.

The more things change

10703754_10152865040451095_3933546903019467610_nAs a result, the kids walking into high schools these days don’t look much different than we did 40 years ago either. That holds true especially for the skinny kids going out for cross country. It’s still the hair flying back, the half-awkward strides and the focus in the eyes that seems to drive these kids along, and always has.

They still tend to come from the bookish end of the spectrum. Last weekend I stopped to pet a dog during the middle of a 12-mile run while my running partners visited the restroom. The dog’s owner started asking about our running, and it turned out his kids ran cross country for the same program I did. “Four of the top five runners are now doctors,” he informed me. “I always appreciated that the cross country team encouraged the kids to pay attention to their grades.”

Making grades

Well, I wish that could be said for everyone in the program over time. I struggled with some subjects in school due to inattention and flat out stubbornness. So the joy of running always seemed to be balanced by the dread of an unfinished homework assignment or a pending test.

At some point I missed a test on the subject of genetics in Advanced Biology because of an afternoon cross country meet. To make up the test, I  had to head out into the hall for a period to take the exam. I knew going in that I did not recall the subject well. My brain did not grasp the Xs and Os of genetics well. I don’t recall if I needed that grade to stay eligible for running but it felt like a lot of pressure at the time. So I fashioned a crib sheet out of notebook paper and brought it out into the hall with me.

Window 1There was just one problem. The biology teacher was actually a birding friend of mine and he knew me pretty well. As I sat there sneaking looks at the crib sheet to get answers for the test, he stood behind me watching the process and no doubt snickered at my awful attempt at academic credibility. “Well, if it isn’t the Furtive Nutscratcher,” he finally intoned over my shoulder. I jumped out of my skin and handed over the crib sheet. “I can’t believe you did that,” he scolded. Then he left me in that raw, empty hallway to suffer in genetic distress over my incapacity to memorize certain types of information.

Schoolyard dreams

But it wasn’t because I did not like to learn. Other subjects I gobbled up ferociously, and reading was absolutely precious to me. Before one cross country meet against an important team, I was immersed in an amazing book called The Peregrine by J.A. Baker. It chronicled the pursuit of those rare raptors by a denizen of the moors and mountains in Great Britain. That book took my mind off the nerves and I went on to run one of the best races of my life.

That was an interesting lesson in the relativity of thought. What was it about the dissociative power of that book enabled my mind to run so freely? As a generally anxious kid I was often so nervous before races it was hard to control my guts. Yet somehow that day I floated into competition both determined and relaxed.

Human nature

CudworthEnglertThat was a lesson so important in life that no amount of actual schooling could ever teach it. It had to be re-learned many times, but that’s the nature of many things about human nature. We’re going Back to School all the time.

That inevitably stokes some memories along the way. It’s easy to beat yourself up for having to re-learn some things in life. But then you see those kids with the Boston and Beatles tee shirts on and you realize that it’s human nature to have to make mistakes and learn from them. You can tell a kid (especially your own) a thousand ways what’s the right thing to do and they’ll still go out and screw it up out of sheer stubborn will. And you have to let them do that. We all go back to school every day.

Yet it’s the light and the smell and the feel of August that makes us recall that we’re all alive and going through life at a pace that, while it often changes, also stays magically the same. We are neither faster or slower than we need to be. We just are. And August tells us that every time it comes around. It’s time to go Back to School.


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A successful experiment with the Waterford bike

WaterfordA while back I wrote about the difficulty I’ve been having at the competitive level in duathlons and triathlons getting good results in the bike segment. No matter how hard I rode on my Felt 4C, or how I managed to stay in “the drops,” I was still losing two to three minutes to my competitors.

And that did not make me happy.

So a couple weeks back something happened that stoked a move to upgrade my cycling situation. My daughter was cleaning out the Toyota Matrix I once owned and found a conversion stem that I’d purchased three years ago to fix the configuration on the Waterford racing bike my brother-in-law had bequeathed to me because he does not ride or race anymore.

Classic bike

It was a wonderful gift, to be sure. But I was a bit frozen on how to use it with respect. Right away there were several offers made for the bike. Real cyclists know that the steel framed Waterford line is beyond classic in feel, control and even speed. My brother-in-law raced that bike to a Category 3 level and rode 40K in under an hour. That’s 24mph if you don’t want to do the math.

So the bike is fast. Heavier than some carbon bikes today, for sure. But this Waterford was the pinnacle of racing machines at one point. Bikes like that never really go out of style.

I’d purchased the conversion stem and it somehow got wedged down in the fold between the seats and back and disappeared. Then life intervened in many ways and I was riding the Felt happily enough.

Test runs

But I’d taken the Waterford up and down the street on many occasions and marvel at how smooth it rides. One of my best friends is a longtime cyclist who knows my brother-in-law and raced against him. My buddy is also a great bike mechanic. So I asked him if he’d be willing to work on the Waterford and turn it into an aero machine for my time trial efforts.

Waterford 2I meant this as a philosophical as well as mechanical question. One does not mess around with a Waterford without giving the issue some thought. But I’d had four years to think it through. What I want to do is race the bike in criteriums and also use it for time trials including those in the middle of triathlons and duathlons.

So for $130 I purchased a nice set of clamp-on triathlon bars that form a triangle off the front of the bike. Jack agreed this was a respectful (and respectable) way to use the Waterford for these purposes. The bars can always be taken off when I want to race in local criteriums. In fact that is a requirement. You can’t race crits with tri-bars on the bike.

I brought along a couple beers as Jack worked on my Felt a couple weeks back, which had a creak in the crank, so to speak, that needed attention. I paid him for that work and he smiled and said, “That’s enough to cover them both.” And I left the Waterford with him to install new bars, the aero setup and some new tape as well.

Returning a week later, it was a treat to see the bike setup.

Getting fit

With some experimentation on the fit I got comfortable in aero and took it out for a ride yesterday afternoon. The wind was blowing hard from the northwest, and I tucked down in aero and noticed right away a different sensation from riding on the hoods or drops on the Felt.

In fact I imagined myself competing in a time trial as they do in the Tour. Stay low. Push a decently big gear. Use the full pedal stroke.

And so it went. And then on the return trip there came a segment where last spring my companion Sue and I hit it hard to see how fast we could travel from Green Road to Bliss on Main Street in Batavia. We averaged a solid 25mph.

Yesterday I did nearly the same pace, missing my best time by only two seconds.

Waterford 3


Aero works. I could feel the clean movement through the air. The classic spokes on the Waterford were whirring like a Ferris Wheel hopped up on coke. I was flying, in other words. I really felt like I was flying.

The bike fit was remarkably good. All that hurt was a spot on my shoulder after I got home and flopped on the couch to pet the dog. That was dumb, but I was so happy and satisfied it just felt good to stop and appreciate the moment. That was the first real thrill I’ve felt on the bike in a while.

So it feels like respect for the legacy of that bike. I’ve upgraded it to fit my needs while not whoring the thing up. The feel of those aero bars is cool as hell. And the fact that I averaged 19mph on a hilly course on a windy day is a good indicator that in race conditions I can average 22, 23 or 25 mph in a time trial. Maybe even faster depending on the course. I literally felt like there were no limits. That big ring delivers lots of power and the shifting is clean and crisp.

I am psyched.


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On race and running

As a teenager recently graduated from high school, I signed on to coach a summer track club in St. Charles, Illinois. The pay was $500 total for the months of June, July and August. There were 80+ kids in the program, including several athletes that went on to win AAU national championships.

We traveled around the state to compete with teams from Moline, Belvidere, Peoria, Chicago and Aurora. Many of the kids on the teams from these Rust Belt towns were black. We sometimes traveled to inner-city track venues as well.

Yet the novelty for our often blonde, blue eyed kids wore off quickly. Because when it came time to compete on the track, there was one purpose in mind. Run your fastest and see if you can beat the kid in the next lane.


Our youngest athletes learned much about their competition over the course of those summers. Inevitably the smallest kids found reasons to play together between events. On many hot afternoons it was all one could do to stay hydrated and get out of the sun at those city tracks.

The coaches for the primarily black teams were always big personalities it seems. They would move around the track keeping kids in check all day, organizing relay teams and keeping an eye on the focus of their best athletes.

As a white kid from the suburbs it was enlightening to see this leadership in progress. What I knew of leadership in the black community was from big-world events in the mid-to-late 1960s. I was in grade school when John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their hands in black gloves in protest on the Olympic podium. We learned about Martin Luther King, Jr., in school, and we knew that he’d advocated peaceful protest as a means to achieve equality for black people in America. We also knew that he  was assassinated by someone that was afraid of what he had to say. That was my take anyway.


But those events were a very different thing from witnessing the figure of a black coach running a track program so that kids could compete and improve their lives. You realized there were decisions being made every day that changed the world. It showed that someone cared about every one of those children.

The really fascinating aspect of those summer track meets was the athletes themselves. Being in the company of black children when you’re not accustomed to the culture was enlightening, and the constant creativity, social celebration and engagement stood out for me. Conversations and laughter and sometimes even hard words of criticism or encouragement deepened the sense that something very important was going on. It encouraged me to be more focused in my own coaching.

And it also made me wish I knew these people better.


So that when it came time for college it was no big transition for me to room with a black teammate. The mid-1970s were a highly transitional time at Luther College, with perhaps no more than 100 black students on campus. At an Iowa school in the cornfields, you really could not expect much more. It was no doubt a culture shock just to drive the 6.5 hours from Chicago to Decorah, Iowa. So these were courageous people I knew.

At some level I understood the notion of being a stranger in a strange land. I’d been the minority at those city meets and had come to realize that it is the human connections that matter in all situations, not race. So during my track season at Luther I roomed on track trips with a great guy named Ron Bolden who hailed from the deep inner city of Chicago.

I don’t share this to aggrandize myself as some racially astute individual. All I know is that when the door to friendships have been opened, I have walked through. And many days I do my best to open those doors by looking people straight in the eye and greeting them as another human being. That’s what any of us can do, and should.

Walking through doors

To society’s persistent credit, in many places our formerly lily-white suburbs and schools are becoming more racially integrated. Many in these new generations of kids coming through the schools no longer see race among friends. It simply doesn’t matter. Indian. Asian. Black. White. Latino. Friends.

Frankly, it almost always comes down to one or two things that start a friendship. If someone listens to you that is one important aspect of friendship. And if they can make you laugh, they’re you’re friends forever.


Track and running are simply portals to those key elements of friendship. When you compete with someone on a team, you naturally share thoughts and laughter during training and competition. Race together and race disappears.

When you compete against someone, you also share an experience. Sooner or later you might approach that person and say, “Nice race.” It’s a show of respect. Or perhaps they show that respect to you.

We should all remember that respect is the foundation for all human connections, and sports should teach respect.

Plus everyone seems to love an underdog, and that one lone black athlete in the Tour de France is someone for whom you cannot help but root. And on the day that they make a breakaway, staring tradition right in the eye, you find yourself crying at the joy of someone stretching the boundaries and breaking free from expectations and limitations.

If only this process were not limited by the ugly anchors of politics or religion, the human race might actually have a chance at respect––and love even––for all.


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There’s a party going on right here

The morning after a party requires a bit of domestic forensic examination. There is a forgotten salad on the counter mixing it up with the microbes of the universe. Large bowls of Flaming Hot Cheetos and Fritos sit uncovered. A bit of Glad Cling Wrap solves that.

11951166_10204932967260195_8359790280938029599_nCans of half-finished Coke and Miller High Life Lite perch on the counter. As a party wears on, the will to finish such things begins to thin. Full cans still sit in the coolers outside. You think to yourself, “Who’s going to drink that now?”

But it will happen.

Perhaps most humorous is the appearance of the Fannie May chocolate sampler on the kitchen counter. Those little brown candy holders look so violated while the few remaining bits of chocolate huddle beneath the wrappers as if they were victims of war trying to escape the inevitable.

So I pick one up and eat it with a chocolaty morning relish, because that’s what party hosts are supposed to do. You browse your way through the carnage and pick up bits of edible things without a trace of guilt. You are the master of your post-party domain.

Good reasons to party

The occasion was the 50th birthday of my companion Sue. Several weeks ago when I mentioned the idea of a party for her birthday her eyes brightened. That was enough

Sue (center) with her sister Julie Dunn (left) and Anne de Traglia. All are triathletes.

Sue (center) with her sister Julie Dunn (left) and Anne de Traglia. All are triathletes.

motivation to make it happen. She’s been in deep training for the Wisconsin Ironman and there have been a few nights when the light was barely showing in her eyes. That’s because her eyes were generally closed after the hour of 9 pm. A half glass of wine and a foot rub will do that when you’re engaged in hard training for an Ironman.

The race is just three weeks away now. So it’s time to taper and get ready.

So the party came on the heels of a pretty big weekend for Sue that included a 17-mile run on Saturday and a 5-hour bike ride on Sunday.

The GirlsA moving party

I ran with her for 11 miles of the 17 on Saturday. She looked comfortable and confident and felt good. She even ran the last two miles in the low-9:00 range, a good sign that her endurance is there. She also had two training buddies join her for the run.

We paused for a mid-run drink and a photo at the northern end of the run in St. Charles. With the Hotel Baker forming a backdrop, it looks like the girls are out for a run in some exotic foreign city. Turns out a party is wherever you make it.

In many respects every run and ride you do is a form of party. Rather than drinking booze and eating Cheetos, you’re downing salty sports drinks and gobbling Gu packs. But it’s a party nonetheless.

Are you going to try to tell me the gals in this picture don’t look like they’re in the middle of a party? It’s just a 17- mile party. And sure it hurts at times. You get tired. But I’ve also been to plenty of other parties where it actually hurts and you get tired. Yet you turn around and brag about it the next day.

Party tents

Unfortunately, I missed the Sunday bike ride entirely. Sue joined up with a group of fellow Ironman athletes for a ride through the dank, misty morning. But the sun broke through at 10 a.m. and the day turned beautiful just like the weatherman said it would.

Cinnamon rollKnowing that there was still a bunch of prep to do for the party, I went to church early and then grabbed a guilty cinnamon roll on the way home. Then it was time to set about final cleanup and organization of the house and yard for the party.

The first thing that had to happen was the disassembly of the white party tent I’d left out in the elements since the 4th of July. See, I like to have at least a couple parties every summer. In summers past I’ve left the pop-up tent outside for weeks and it was fine. But this year the rain pummeled us in July, and that caused big dips in the nylon canvas that put a strain on the seams and from there it just got ugly.

So I took the thing apart one last time and it will go out to the curb for the metal gleaners to pick up and recycle. We’ve had that tent since the mid-1990s. It has lived a long and fruitful life and has seen everything from soccer tournaments to graduations. But it’s useful life is over.

Making things pretty

11889613_10204932967420199_8648756169181518670_nThe rest of the party prep involved yard work and clipping the scraggly parts of the garden back. A few mums got planted and a big heap of phlox was harvested and placed in a vase under the Jose Cuervo umbrella.

These things matter, you see. Parties are all about making quiet little statements of greeting and love. But honestly, they’re also about cleaning the crap up that gathers around all the seams of domestic life. From toilet detritus and dust on the porcelain to sweeping up flecks of dog food that migrate around the kitchen, it’s all about showing that you’re neat enough to care.

Life is one long party

So much of life is like that. One of the toughest things you must learn in taking on the triathlon is how to be organized in transition. Otherwise you’ve got this crazy little party IMG_0932going on every time you return to change from one sport to the other.

By all reports the transition tents for women at the Ironman are a relatively organized affair. Most of the contestants have a plan and get naked only when they need to be. Then they move on and out for the ride or the run.

But many of the men, apparently, are balls out half the time and a major mess at that. “Oh, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a transition tent for men at an Ironman,” my friend Maxine, a leading triathlete and volunteer at the Madison race once told me. “It’s quite a scene.”

Good parties and bad

 So there are good types of parties and also bad.

Of course bad parties can be really good too.

I recall a wild party following a LaCrosse Half Marathon in which most of the men and women at the party wound up wandering around the house drunk and naked or least half-naked and half drunk. That was a bad party that was really, really good. I woke up hung over to witness a comely young lass stepping over my sleeping position. She wore nothing under her oversized tee shirt and all I could think at the moment was some kind of weird pirate thoughts. “Yo ho!” I muttered.

Then we all got up and ran 10 miles nearly as fast as we’d raced the day before. Which for me was 1:10:50 for the half marathon on a hilly-assed course in Wisconsin. And that, my friends, was a party weekend not to forget.

We like to party

11947450_10204932967060190_391518101286961288_nAthletes simply love to party when they get the chance. With all that training and dedication there is nothing like a party to release a little tension. And of course it often doesn’t take much to get a skinny, overtrained athlete drunk. A few glasses of wine or a bunch of beers and away we go.

People used to come to our college cross country party just to watch the skinny crazies go nuts. You never know what might happen. I’m pretty sure some of the anthropology students did some sort of dissertation on that annual event.

Partying with a purpose 

11899770_10204932786895686_7541094398027786076_nOf course the degree to which parties do or do not get out of control are directly related to the purpose for the party. A birthday party for my girlfriend was more about sharing than daring. That made the group of thirty or so friends all the more interesting, because they came from all walks and elements of our lives.

There were triathlon teammates, friends and family. We introduced and shared these associations. Some just shook their heads at tales of the crazy training Sue has done this summer. But most told her that turning 50 was not all that bad. And it’s true.

Party fixings

11225349_10204932966620179_8569137128825084643_nThe beer flowed and the wine poured. Then massive piles of pizza showed up and Portillo’s salads filled the bowls. A fresh breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay and people fairly enjoyed themselves in my happy little yard with a garden formed of care and serendipity. There could be no better use of a Sunday afternoon.

I stood back at one point and smiled. It makes me happy when people get together. And all I could think to myself was one simple thought: “There’s a party going on right here.”

And it was good.


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It takes courage to go slow sometimes

One of the principal lessons in distance training over the years came in the most unexpected way. I had moved out to the Philadelphia area for work when I was 23 years old, and went looking for a group of running partners in the area. Fortunately there was a shop called The Runner’s Edge about three blocks from my house in Paoli.

The shop had a running team composed of about 20 guys. Women’s running had not yet taken off the way it operates today, but there were a few gals that joined us for occasional training runs.

Feeling my oats

IMG_7618The club had many very good runners. Several had 10K times in the low 29:00 range. My PR at the time was 32:20. Given the disparity in ability, I thought it would be a lot of work to keep up with them.

That first run with the group I started out at 6:30 pace thinking they’d soon pass me by. But when I looked back and saw them far behind, it startled me. “Huh,” my grand little ego thought for a moment. “They must not be as good as they say.”

So I slowed and let them catch up. “What’s up with you?” one of them asked. “Why are you starting out so fast?”

I stammered for an answer. Someone in the group chuckled a little. “Chill out dude. We’ve got 20 miles to run. And at mile 17, we’re going to pick it up to 5:00 pace. If you can still go fast then, have at it.”

Fast results from going slow

So we fell into 8:00 pace and trotted along talking and joking. And when mile 17 came around, the group increased its pace and finished with a time that for many runners would have been a PR for 5K. And that, I learned, is how good runners really trained.

Within a month my PR dropped another 20 seconds in the 10k. And by the next year I had taken a minute off my time at 31:10. All because I had the courage to go slow sometimes.

Modern art

Is going slow a forgotten art? I don’t think so. It’s more likely true these days that runners and cyclists don’t do enough of the other extreme. Fast interval work and hard, criterium-like rides are critical aspects of getting faster. You can’t skip those steps either, or you will never gain in racing speed.

So those are the balancing points of training. One must also still go slowly enough in training to build a deep endurance base. Then you build off that with speed to get faster in racing. It’s that simple.

Tripping along

IMG_7179Yesterday my body demanded that I go slowly because I’m increasing my training volume. So I tripped along at just over 10:00 pace, which I used to consider something less than running. To be honest, I’ve always been something of a running snob about pace. But that was always insecurity, not wisdom. When you’re trying like heck to get faster, especially as a young endurance athlete, it doesn’t seem to make sense to go slowly. What we wind up doing is not good for the body. We do a pace that is “semi-hard” everyday. Not slow enough to build baseline endurance, but not fast enough to get real speed benefits from the workout. That’s a dumb middle ground.

Rolling through time

In cycling that’s almost always what I do. It’s a really bad habit. But when you get home and find your average pace is 17 mph and you consider that too slow because you see others riding at a faster pace on Strava (or whatever) there’s this weird driving force that makes you want to go faster. So this spring I did not use either Strava or a cyclometer. I just rode. If I felt good and went faster, all fine. But if I needed to ride 10 miles into the wind at whatever pace I could manage, I did that too.

Slow ride

Going half fast all the time is a bad habit in all phases of life. I mean, having sex is not a good thing if all you do is jump on and pound away at the same old pace every time you have at it. Seriously, sometimes it’s really good to take it slow. In the words of the group Foghat… Slow ride….take it easy…I’m in the groove, the rhythm is right…Move to music… we can go all night…

There’s a lesson in that.

Getting loopy

Ride In CloseupIt paid to ride the bike at a sane pace while touring last weekend in Wisconsin. My girlfriend’s bike was busted and her loaner didn’t fit, so we were forced to ride the Ironman loop course at a much slower pace than usual. So I did what was best and just took in the scenery. It was enjoyable and we still covered 50 miles of very hilly terrain.

Too often it is a “head-down” approach we take to riding in such beautiful places. So I studied the hills and valleys. Took a look up the road and behind as well. I felt the terrain as we climbed, and trained rather than strained.

Toward the end a rainstorm came over us and we got a little wet. So we put on the brakes before reaching the downhill sections because our bikes would have hurtled ahead without us if we had not done so. I laughed at the water from my girlfriend’s back tire rooster-tailed into my face. It felt good. We were riding at whatever pace we could find. On the flats we went a little faster. And that was that.

Working it out

I told her, “You rode an equivalent to 80 miles in that 50. Without a bike fit you were working much harder than normal.” For a while she wasn’t having fun. But once she realized there was nothing to do about it we all relaxed a little and rode through the gathering summer heat until the rain cooled us off. It was almost like we were standing still and the road was passing under us like one of those movie scenes where the characters are in the car and the road is being projected on a screen behind us.

Stick to the plan

IMG_1165It takes courage to go slow sometimes. So you need to plan it into your schedule and stick by your goals. Ride 50 or 100 miles and don’t try to push it. Let that four-miler be your recovery day. Your legs and body need it. Swim and don’t try to kill yourself. Practice the finer points of your stroke and think about that body rotation and how it propels you through the water.

Going slow is really a matter of getting over yourself. Our precious egos make us think that ramming along is making us better every day, but really, that’s not the case. If you must, turn off the Strava and tune into the day.


Forget about segments or kudos. Like so many I fall for that crap on occasion too. On Tuesday or Wednesday night I had a really good run with an average pace of 8:00 per mile. It felt great, but when I looked at Strava and saw all the people I follow had run faster, I was bummed out. Suddenly my 7:30 mile and 24:00 5K in the middle didn’t look so good.

And how stupid is that? It’s also being too chicken to admit that perhaps I’m not the runner I once was. So you see, it takes courage to go slow sometimes. Because it takes courage to appreciate who you really are. And that might not be who you think you are.


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The long running take on tarsnakes

FootprintWalking up to the door of the Starbucks in a neighboring town, I looked down to see a clearly marked footprint on the street. You don’t often see footprints made from tar on many streets. That’s a pretty remarkable fact given how many millions (perhaps billions) of tarsnakes are laid down by road maintenance crew on public roads and streets.

It’s true: You just don’t see many footprints. That means the people doing the work of filling cracks with tar take quite a bit of care about their job, doesn’t it? You’d almost expect to see a million footprints all over the streets because the tar is so sloppy and easy to track arond. All it takes to begin making footprints is a single step into a freshly tarred crack in the road. Then your foot becomes a paintbrush.

IMG_1352So we must give credit to those who do the work of sealing our roads so that they don’t fall apart at the seams. That’s what tarsnakes are for. They hold together the road in places where it cracks apart. Otherwise water seeps through and degrades the road surface even more. In winter ice wedges down between the cracks and expands, further busting up the surface.

That’s why you’ll typically notice more tarsnakes out along the road edges than out in the middle. Toward the edge of the road there is constant pressure from car and truck tires, plus the inevitable flow of water, ice, slush and salt to the side. Add in the pressure of loose gravel and uneven road edges and cracks are inevitable.

Footprint TwoThe constant battle against cracks in the road make maintenance a long running project.

Tarsnakes also make riding along the side of the road an interesting proposition. On hot days, tarsnakes sink down below the road grade when you ride over them. Your bike tire can get stuck in the rut and you wobble for a few moments. Some cyclists even go down in a heap.

Runners can pick up tar on their shoes on really hot days. When actual road construction is going on, newly pressed asphalt can be hot enough to pop your bike tires. Just last week our group ride rolled past a mile-long section of road being resurfaced. The construction worker kindly yelled to us, “Stay off the fresh asphalt. It’s really hot!”

I know that feeling from experience. I once was told to cross the road laterally by a construction worker and within feet my bike tires sank into the fresh surface of the asphalt. You could hear the hissing sound of tar still burning and I worried that my tires would indeed pop. And what a mess that could be. I know a guy that tried running across a newly paved road and tripped. He got burns on his legs.

So I pedaled like crazy to avoid having my tires pop and looked back to see that my tires had made thin impression through the tarmac. Talk about a reverse tarsnake!

Every year the process of creating tarsnakes is the same. Workers armed with tar guns stroll the roads for miles, filling in cracks as they go. They walk along armed with black goo and do their best to follow the variegations of cracks in the road. You can imagine that must get rather tedious at some point.

IMG_1343While watching the Tour de France this year I chuckled when an aerial view of the Tour riders on a country road in northern France showed the peloton crossing over an entire field of tarsnakes covering the road. It made me feel at home to know that the Tour encounters the same road conditions that we do back here in the states.

Tarsnakes are not really noticeable to everyday motorists, so it is only cyclists and runners that really engage with this unnatural phenomenon. They are definitely a product of the human race.

And though it be a rare thing, it is interesting to think about the semi-permanent result of that one fellow stepping in tar as he does his job, leaving a footprint that may last for a decade or more until the street is resurfaced again. I wonder if he ever walks past that footprint with a sort of pride. Like, “That’s me.”

Or maybe its a mark of shame for those who lay tarsnakes to leave a footprint or two behind. There’s really no harm in that, but there are aesthetics to consider, and perhaps the road bosses dock your pay if you stomp around blindly leaving tracks behind.

It makes you think about the impact of human beings in general, and the carbon footprints we generate every day of our lives. They may be invisible for the most part, but the tarsnakes of our existence really do make a mark upon the earth.


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Swimming to a place that no longer exists

imgres-1Recently a fellow from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania contacted me through email.

Greetings, Chris. I did an online search of the Meadia Heights Swim Team and found your article regarding your time on the team.  I live in Lancaster, PA and am in the process of compiling the history of the Lancaster County Summer Swim League that was formed in 1962.  I swam for the Lancaster Country Club from 1977-1988 and our sons swim on the LCC’s team now.  I originally started this project with the intent to compile a complete history of the LCC Swim Team, win-loss records, names of coaches and dual meet scores.  I have spoken to a lot of former swimmers, coaches and parents to piece together the history.  Through my research I have expanded the scope of my project to include the history of the League itself which thrives to this day with 22 active teams.  I would like to include a piece on all of the current teams as well as the teams that were formerly involved with the League but are no longer active such as Brookside, Maple Grove, Meadia Heights, Willow Street, Locust Heights, Eden Manor and others.  Meadia Heights was part of the original league but the team disbanded sometime in the 60’s or early 70’s.

Coincidentally, I lifeguarded at Meadia Heights in high school and then managed the pool during my four years in college.  Sadly, Meadia Heights Golf Club closed the pool several years ago and it sits abandoned today being consumed by the woods that surround it.

I wanted to see if you could recall any details regarding the Swim Team at Meadia Heights, names of coaches and/or meets?  The pool was very long.  Did you swim the full length of the pool or did they place a rope across the middle to mark off 25-yards or a 25-meter mark?  Any information that you could provide would be extremely helpful.

To help this fellow I put him in contact with my brother who still lives in Lancaster County. He recalled one of the coaches was a neighbor of ours that swam at Dartmouth. My brother also recalled his experience swimming for the team. His specialty event was the breast stroke. “I don’t know why I was good at that,” he said with some wonder in his voice. “But I won a lot of races in that event.”

imgres-2For me, swimming in the Meadia Heights pool was an almost daily phenomenon. To get there it was a half mile jog across the practice range of the golf club next to our home at 1725 Willow Street Pike. We spent so much time in that pool it was only natural to get sucked into the vortex of the swim team.

What I most clearly recall was mastering the art of the flip turn. It took a day or two of practicing but when it clicked, it really clicked. I can still see the bright flickers of water and sunlight during those flip turns. The memory is very specific even to which side of the pool I was on. Why that sticks in my mind I do not know.

I also recall the state of frantic breathlessness swimming the 50-yard freestyle. As the fellow who contacted me made note, the pool at Meadia Heights was quite long from end to end. But there were not ropes or lanes that ran that direction. Everything we swam was sideways across the pool.


We traveled to other pools in the area, but I do not recall but one or two meets. I think I avoided that type of competition at first, or else I had baseball to practice and that came first. The years would have been 1965 to 1969.

imgresMore often we swam just because it felt good to hang out at the pool on a hot summer day. There we many such days. The richness of that experience and that time of life was so fulfilling it has lasted forever.

It is hard for me to conceive that the Meadia Heights pool is no longer in operation. Hard to acknowledge that the bright clear ripples, like inverse tarsnakes on a country road, no longer cast themselves on the bottom of the pool.

Harder still to imagine that abandoned pool lurking there in the woods, dank and deconstructing at whatever pace nature sees fit to use. I also knew the nature of those woods well. I spent hours walking the soft clay paths in my swimsuit, trying to cool off and even stripping bare to feel the touch of the soft air. Those woods are deep and thick, capable of consuming anything that stands still too long.

Truth be told, I have honestly had dreams for years about going to the pool only to find it closed. So my imagination preceded reality. Those dreams represent the inevitable fact of our disconnection from the past. They are like a rehearsal of life and death in so many ways. The things we love and lose. The people and experiences. We are always swimming through places destined to no longer exist. That is time itself. It explains why the concept of time travel is so alluring.

The nature of life

And so it goes with the story of life, that all such places seem destined to fade or change. The farm where my mother grew up was long ago sold and the barn burned down. The house and barn where my father grew up was purchased by the power company up the river. They bulldozed the structures to the ground and built a gravel hill to keep anyone from entering.

All of life is a cemetery of sorts, when you think about it. All our memories are like grave markers of a past we can seldom grasp or revisit. Those grave markers may be happy and pink and floating above their own shadows on the bottom of the pool. But they mark a space and a time and a place just the same.

swimming_poolYet my memories of the Meadia Heights swimming pool do live on in full memory technicolor. I can still feel the cool water greeting my skin for early morning swim lessons, and for years after that as we grew up and played games in the deep end of the pool, or dove for hours off the low and high boards doing jackknifes to soak the pool guards, it was life in the moment that mattered.

Despite the sense of longing and innocence that it recalls, it still feels good to swim to a place that no longer exists. It will always be blue and rippling with the sun beating down. Between swimming sessions we sat on towels eating hard pretzels with bright yellow mustard, and chewed down long braided strings of licorice washed down with ice cold Coca-Cola or Pepsi. Then we went back in the pool and swam, and swam, and swam.

Our childhood demanded it, and it lives on in my mind no matter what else changes or happens in the world.


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The sweet music of a summer run

It’s been a bit chaotic the last couple days. My girlfriend’s beautiful little cat Bennie got out of the house and hasn’t come back in. Last night I had him in my hands for a second but he’s a feisty quick little bugger and got away again.

IMG_8604That kind of capped a week in which a lot of things kept slipping away. We had a replacement bike frame for Sue, and then it turned out there was a warranty issue and the bike had to be replaced, not repaired. Things got complicated and it was back and forth on that issue too. It’s close to being resolved but life is not simple. Not in so many ways.

Which meant that last night’s run was a gorgeous break from the complications of everyday existence. Sue was getting a needed massage after her 15 mile run in the heat on Sunday. That meant there was an hour and fifteen minutes or so to use as I liked.

The massage appointment was right next to the headquarters of the DuPage County Forest Preserve District offices. The offices sit right at the juncture of the Danada Farms complex and Herrick Lake Forest Preserve. A trail snakes it’s way from one to the other. That trail called with all its might to me.

It was twilight as the run began. A few other runners and cyclists were out finishing up their workouts as I began. The trail is well known to me since we train there every other week in the summertime.

During May there were warblers of a dozen species singing in the trees. Overbirds call from the forest floor, mocking the human world with a song that says Teacher!Teacher!Teatcher!

Come June the towhees and thrashers launched into song. In July the bobolinks circled above the fields calling in their miraculously unleashed voices.



By August the birds settle down and the insects take over. From the oaks one could hear thousands of cicadas rising as one in their summer song. I’ve lived through 58 summers on earth and the sound of cicadas never gets old. The cicadas often sing at the Ravinia Music Festival venue when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays. It’s a fascinating mix of human genius and natural sound.

One absorbs sound as much as one hears it. That is the case while running along a trail late in a summer day with the sun sinking in the sky. The thrum and hum of cicadas soaks through your skin and becomes one with the blood flowing through your veins. Your heart may be beating faster and you may sense it, but do not hear it. Instead the sound of your shoes on a crushed gravel trail keeps time.

You look at the white surface of the trail disappearing into a hedge or grassy turn ahead. An eternal sequence of rabbits runs along and darts into sections of the restored prairie

Monarch caterpillar life cycle by Emily Cudworth

Monarch caterpillar life cycle by Emily Cudworth

standing like a low wall beside the trail. In that prairie are literally billions of creatures we never see or know. But if you were to peel off the trail during your run and dive into the thick and unforgiving grasses, the insects would surprise you in their number.

Many of them have voices too. Tiny, twitching voices complimented during the day by the insect-like song of the grasshopper or Henslow’s sparrows whose songs are nothing more than low buzzes and short tsi-liks! that somehow carry through the wind. These quiet routines have evolved through hundreds of millions of years.

And still, a parade of ponderous and sometimes pondering human beings pass through this natural encyclopedia barely recognizing that we’re formed of the same genetic stuff that drives the bugs and birds and bees.

IMG_1882The bright color of my shoes starts to glow in the ultraviolet twilight. My slightly tanned legs are a sin against medicine and age, but it makes me feel good to have absorbed some sunlight this summer. Yes, it’s a risk they tell us. But summer is a rite of passage from this life to another no matter what you do. You either choose to live in it or without it.

And I’m flying along for once, as if I were young again. The mile times drop from 8:15 to 8:00 to 7:50. Not super speedy but quick enough for a summer night. The curves in the trail are fun to run. I decide to say nothing to the young mom picking up her child’s detritus from the trail. Her husband lugs along ahead pushing a stroller. Their child is flat on his back and a bit outsized for the stroller. He is kicking his legs like a beetle flipped over on its back. As I pass it is apparent the child is on the autism spectrum. He senses the world in entirely different ways. This kicking of legs is his response to passing under the trees. Perhaps he thinks he is flying. I think the same thing. We’re so much alike.

At the far end of my run the lake waits while I circle the loop after a bathroom stop. Sweat drips off the brim of my hat. Honest sweat. It is humid outside. I stand and pee while chuckling at the fact that there is a small touch of poison ivy rash on my penis. How that Happened I do not know. It may have come from shoelaces laced with oils from that horrid plant. There are a couple spots on my body where the rash popped up. But on my penis? It has itched for three days. Finally I treated it with TechNu, which works every time.

Such is the reach of summer. Sometimes it infuses our souls and other times it only bites and scratches and oils us as if we were a human palette. A patina of mosquito bites on the neck or legs is a reminder of the previous night’s perch on the back porch sipping wine.

Chris check timeOn the return trip I decide to drop the pace another notch and see how the internal motor responds. Easy. Not out of breath at all at 7:30 pace. I know that my body can now produce 6:00 pace on demand. The track sessions have told me that. Knowing there is something in the tank is the height of youth at any age. Admittedly a few gears from the top end of my former range have been lost but the sensation of running fast has not changed. For all I know I am 21 years old again. In fact I’m 58. Is there any real difference when you’re running well and loving it?

Finally toward the end of the run a bit of fatigue sets in. I make a wrong turn as well, and have to backtrack. That’s okay, an excuse to slow for a few seconds and study the dark bushes with the sun fully down. The cicadas are in full throat now. A few katydids start to join the chorus like a rhythm section. They will take over for the cicadas once they retire for the night. Then it’s katydids speaking their own name through the blackness of night.

I turn through the parking lot and pick up the pace again. Only a quarter mile to go on a gravelly path back to the parking lot where I expect to find Sue done with her massage. And indeed, she’s just gotten to the car when I arrive. Sweat soaks through my shirt and I ask permission to job around a little and cool down. She understands.

We drive home with thunderclouds forming on the western horizon. We hope for rain in some ways. Summer delivers overnight and the morning grass shines humbly as sun peeks through the trees. Another day. A summer day. The sweet music of another summer run or ride awaits. You either take in the sweet music of a summer run or you don’t. As for me, I will listen with a full heart whenever I can. And be thankful for that.


Posted in aging, aging is not for the weak of heart, Christopher Cudworth, healthy aging, it never gets easier you just go faster | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s a giant game of chicken on the roads

The recent spate of traffic accidents among our triathlon group continued last Friday night when a motorist suddenly pulled a U-Turn and smacked another of the athletes in training for Ironman Wisconsin.  That was Incident Three in a series of bike accidents in a span of two weeks.

Incident One

Chris Bike standup

The mere sight of a cyclist brings on rage in the minds of some motorists who do not want to Share the Road under any conditions.

With the race just four weeks away, most were expecting one final week of hard training before the taper began. But a week ago last Wednesday a crazed driver of a mini-van gunned her engine to get past a group of seven riders lined up single file to make a left turn. She took out the first three with her bumper, causing two to have serious enough injuries to be treated for concussions and major road rash. Their bikes were trashed. “It would have been a lot worse for the guy behind me,” said one of the riders hit by the vehicle. “But when he came flying over me I used my gymnastics training and flipped him over me. That kept him from hitting the ground right away.”

You heard that right. People were flying through the air because some woman determined that she might have to spend 10 seconds waiting for a group of legally positioned and signaling riders to make a left turn.

As a result of her grievous attack, she was ticketed for six or seven infractions including leaving the scene of an accident. Yes, she actually tried to drive off after hitting the cyclists. Others in the group recorded her license plate and she was apprehended by police minutes later.

Incident Two

Then on the Sunday following such a newsworthy wreck, another driver turned in front of a cyclist in our group, causing her to swerve and skid out. She picked up some nice road rash and a crack near the rear cassette in her carbon fiber frame. The driver of the Hummer H3 admitted, “I didn’t even see you.” Then she asked, “Why do we have to exchange insurance information? I didn’t even hit you.” That’s a case of rampant ignorance.

Then last Friday night a driver made a sudden U-turn right in the middle of the road after passing a cyclist.  That move struck a rider and sent them skidding across the pavement.


No matter how safely some cyclists ride, and how visible they are on the road, some motorists consider their presence and affront to their personal liberties.

No matter how safely some cyclists ride, and how visible they are on the road, some motorists consider their presence and affront to their personal liberties.

The aftermath of all that carnage meant that several of these riders showed up on borrowed bikes to ride the “loop” of the Ironman Wisconsin course this past weekend.

The rider struck by the impatient woman was still sore a week later and his road rash was oozing enough to stick his skin to his shorts. He made it one time around “the loop” and thought better of continuing.

The bike my girlfriend borrowed to get in a couple loops of training on the course turned out to be too long for her to ride with any efficiency. She rode a loop and “the stick” back into town.

With just a few weeks left before Ironman, these riders were dealing with the aftermath of having been struck or driven to the ground by careless or aggressive drivers.

The costs

Most made the decision to save themselves for another day. Once the insurance checks come through and replacement bikes can be secured, there’s a week or two of longer riding and then it will be time to taper and continue getting used to a new bike setup.

As for the driver who struck no less than three bikes with her vehicle? “That woman will be looking at replacing more than $20,000 worth of bikes,” one of the riders stated. “And if I can’t get healthy enough to participate in the Ironman, she’s getting a bill for the race fees, the hotel and other expenses as well.”

All of these accidents were the result of different types of motorist infractions. There was aggression and impatience on the part of the woman who struck down three cyclists trying to make a legal and simple left turn on the roadway. She crossed a double yellow line in an attempt to fly past them.

The causes

There was inattention on the part of the woman who turned absentmindedly in front of a cyclist legally riding on her side of the road.

And there was an inadvisable decision to make a sudden U-Turn in the middle of a normal roadway that caused yet another accident with a cyclist.

“I’m scared,” said one of our female club riders on hearing the stories of three accidents in under two weeks.

“Well,” someone joked. “You can’t be a member of the club until you’ve dumped your bike one way or another.”

“I’ve fallen over in my yard,” she offered.

“That counts,” someone replied.

Rules of the Road

Cyclists represent

Cyclists represent “the other” to people who do not share the sport.

At this rate, we’ll certainly take what we can get when it comes to cycling safety. All those motorists on the road who do not care who they hurt certainly don’t want to mind the Rules of the Road.

In fact there almost feels like there’s a mission to drive cyclists off the road altogether. The crazed driver of a Ford Econoline that buzzed our group of four riders a month back was not just careless, he was insanely preoccupied with throwing fear into all of us. His van came within inches of four different cyclists riding in a legal single file line.

We chased him down and got his plate. For several weeks we’ve held it but never made a police report.

The officer that talked to my girlfriend admitted a bit of a disturbing fact from the perspective of the law. “Sometimes if they don’t hit you there’s nothing we can do.”

I thought about those words for days. I thought about the fact that so many issues of the world work like that. I thought about the sick little strain of aggression running through America’s history. I thought about how many times people have formed an ugly group mentality to persecute others. I thought about how comfortable people are with using brute force to take what they think they own.

Manifest Destination


Our “road kill” includes millions of animals as well as people. But we drive on by.

The selfish desire to dominate runs like a bright red vein through America’s history.

Our supposedly proud tradition of claiming the land for white settlers resulted in genocide of native Americans. The nation tricked and cajoled and called in the military to steal and terrorize and dispossess lands that covetous white settlers wanted to occupy.

And when that wasn’t enough control and ownership, the nation brought in slaves and brutalized people some more, claiming them as property while setting up an economic system almost entirely dependent on the enslavement of others. Some happy history that is. It took a Civil War to cause a market adjustment to that perversion of justice.

Even after thousands of lives were given to end slavery, Jim Crow laws kept the tradition of racism going, with thousands more people banned from full citizenship and cruelly ostracized or killed. And to make matters worse, the Christian religion was often invoked to justify the entire operation.

In Wisconsin the Governor is cutting funds for bike trails and support for cyclists, proving their is political support for persecuting cyclists as a social order.

In Wisconsin the Governor is cutting funds for bike trails and support for cyclists, proving their is political support for persecuting cyclists as a social order.

Tribalism still exists

The same ugly tribalism crops up on many fronts. From hating every new wave of immigrants that arrived on our shores throughout our history, to treating women as property and inferiors, America has an ignoble tradition of pushing people out of the way to maintain a selfish and fearful status quo.

It’s a Manifest Destination mentality, and America spreads it around the globe as well.

Look at America’s most recent actions in the Middle East, where the war of choice in Iraq led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians followed by torture of hundreds more. All this was complimented by the death of thousands of American soldiers and maiming of tens of thousands more. It was all based on a violent merge between a violent ideology and an incident that was ignored by those ostensibly charged to protect us. So to compensate, America violently drove right over a country that had nothing to do with the event on 9/11 just to prove that we truly owned the road.

Even the Wizard of Oz captured the essence of modern day conflict: Stay off the Yellow Brick Road! The Wicked Witch of the West considers it her domain!

Even the Wizard of Oz captured the essence of modern day conflict: Stay off the Yellow Brick Road! The Wicked Witch of the West considers it her domain!

That’s how we roll. America has and likely always will be a nation of Manifest Destination because our notion of American exceptionalism is based on a farcical combination of selfishness, violence and greed.

And please, spare us the timeworn lectures on the high-minded motivations of America getting into World War II to save the world. We got into that war to save our own asses from the road hog actions of the Germans and Japanese who were doing the one unacceptable thing possible on the worldwide stages: Acting like Americans. Yes, the lives given in that effort were indeed noble acts. And FDR was the man for the job, but certainly no saint. Hell, even Winston Churchill got dumped as Prime Minister by the Brits once the job was complete. Even great empires turn into ungrateful, selfish beasts once the threat is gone.

Self hatred and patriotism

The parallels of deep psychological reasons why we hated the Germans and Japanese are so plain they go beyond the obvious. Expansionism? Please, that’s American history in a nutshell. Fascism and cramming ideology down the throats of others? That’s the entire game plan of the West and the Christian assumptions that go with it. Genocide? We’d already done that here at home by slaughtering Indians by the tens of millions.

So, it is a well-known political phenomenon that people fight hardest against the things they most hate about themselves. Sometimes it is deep-seated urges that people want to deny. Other times it is recognizing the selfishness and greed in others that we most despise in ourselves. And enough with playing innocent about all this. Even some cyclists admit they find other cyclists on the roads annoying.

The struggle between dark and light is always going on within us.

The struggle between dark and light is always going on within us.

But there is hope in the dark side of all humanity. Look at the example of St. Paul, the man who persecuted Christians before he converted to the ultimate evangelist.

Or, if you’re not the religious type you can consider that Darth Vader actually reconciled with his own son at some point in that Star Wars Quadrilogy. It’s a true statement that there’s a little Death Star warrior in all of us. It can be difficult to find one’s way back to a more positive force in the universe.

Made worse by domestic policy

What makes it worse here in America is that all of society has now been pitted against each other by an economic siege that has essentially foisted on the nation by the richest Americans who care only to gain even more wealth for themselves. It is left for most of the rest of society to draw their own battle lines and fight it out..either for what’s left, or to regain equity in the nation’s real value.

And as a result of this deep-seated struggle for normalcy and ownership, people do indeed feel it’s their job to protect their share of the roads somehow.

That’s why the war between the white lines between motorists and cyclists seems so present and real. These confrontations between angry drivers… and equally angry cyclists is a textbook example of America’s habit of Manifest Destination. We’ll kill anyone to get where we’re determined to go.

Test cases

As a result, this is a massive test case on how and why the laws really apply on our roads.

There are millions of cyclists on the roads. And some people hate that.

There are millions of cyclists on the roads. And some people hate that.

Pissed off drivers apparently see all cyclists as lawbreakers. We hear them yell at us to get off the road! and, ride on the sidewalk!

But the law frequently states that riding on the sidewalks (and even some trails) is neither legal or advisable.

Let’s be clear: Ignorant cyclists ride two and three abreast and hog the road. Meanwhile, ignorant motorists aren’t willing to abide by the three-foot law in passing cyclists or to separate hazards and wait for a legitimate opportunity to pass.

So the rules of engagement aren’t even clear. There’s just anger and response because general ignorance rules. This chasm of misunderstanding is widening the divide between cyclists and motorists. Some drivers respond by cutting that chasm on their own, driving too close to cyclists as some kind of warning. It is a deadly game of chicken.


The result of all this ignorant behavior is accidents like those documented above. These have real costs in money, emotion and time to the victims of such negligence or violence. Until you’ve seen a person mangled by a bike accident and witnessed the scars and broken limbs and weeping road rash resulting from driver carelessness or aggression it remains remote to the senses. Motorists either are not thinking about the consequences of such damage to another human being, or worse, they actually relish the idea of harming those they dislike, or simply don’t care.

And yes, there are many instances in which cyclists are “at fault.” People make mistakes on the road or ride in ignorant fashion. That’s where legal action comes in.

IMG_1019As a result, lawyers have entered the fray to pursue compensation for cyclists injured in such accidents. The firm of Zniemer&Zniemer in Chicago posts this information on their website: “Injuries suffered from a bicycle accident can be severe and life-threatening. Injuries may include severed limbs, broken vertebrae, or a fractured skull, in addition to broken collarbones and elbow joint damage, just to name a few.”

Bullies on the information highway

How truly ironic it is that motorists in 3,000 lb. vehicles claim they are being persecuted and harassed by a person on a 20 lb. bike? Those who complain about having to Share the Road are the ones yelling insults out the window of their cars. And when confronted for their bad behavior, they whine about paying taxes for the roads, as if cyclists do not pay taxes of any sort. What, none of us who ride bikes also own cars? That’s absurd. The stupidity of that argument defies all logic.

But that doesn’t stop the haters from embarking on all sorts of angry rants.

Some politicians want to tax bicyclists for the right to use the roads.

Some politicians want to tax bicyclists for the right to use the roads.

As Exhibit A, there are blogs such as the subtly named I Hate Bicyclists. There’s also a Facebook page titled God I Hate Cyclists Using the Road that has more than 2000 likes. Here’s a quote from that one, not coincidentally based in Britain, a nation where attitudes of empire and imperialism also have a sordid history. “Sorry all you road kill lovers out there, we missed the 1400 mark and have now passed 1500. Any thoughts on what we give lover (or hater) number 2000?” 

That’s right: They’re giving out faux prizes (or real road kill) for the act of hating on cyclists. What an enlightened mentality.

Motivation for the haters

So you see it really is the product of a mindset of dominance and violence of one “tribe” of people toward another. Granted there are elements of prick cyclists making it worse for everyone. Yet the mere fact of existing as an entity on the roads is motivation for the haters to move forward with an agenda of aggression toward cyclists. These actions are protected by laws governing free speech, but at some point the hate does convene into action. And who is then responsible?

Even at rest a tri-bike aero frame looks more aggressive.

Is this person Public Enemy Number One? That’s how some prefer to portray cyclists.

It’s rampant and real, and reflects a violent strain of society that pops up in other ways as well. We see it in gun nuts demanding Open Carry so they can threaten anyone they like on the streets. We see it in the brand of narcissistic evangelical Christianity that can’t handle a challenge from anywhere without screaming that rational inquiry is a form of persecution. We see it in people who claim their personal and religious liberty is being impinged by the idea of a pair of same-sex adults getting married.

In sum, it’s the instinct to radical elements of insecurity and fear as a means to claim the middle of the road. And while driver education courses teach people to “separate hazards” those lessons are forgotten in favor a giant came “chicken” in which the object is to see who backs down first.


Posted in bike accidents, blood on the highway, cycling, cycling threats, evangelical Christianity, game of chicken, gay marriage, hating cyclists, I hate cyclists, internet trolls, Open Carry, religious liberty, road kill lovers, same sex adults, Share the Road, trolls | Leave a comment

My plan for a better future with 8 arms and legs

Davy-Jones-from-Pirates-of-the-CaribbeanMy new fitness plan is to inject octopus genes into my bloodstream

A recent article published by the University of Chicago suggests that it may be possible to cross my genes with those of an octopus and come out with some really great abilities and effects.

Don’t try to tell me this isn’t possible. The article states: “With a few notable exceptions, the octopus basically has a normal invertebrate genome that’s just been completely rearranged, like it’s been put into a blender and mixed,” said Caroline Albertin, co-lead author and graduate student in Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago. “This leads to genes being placed in new genomic environments with different regulatory elements, and was a completely unexpected finding.”

That means (if my science is correct) you can pick and choose the attributes you want to steal from the octopus and use them in your human genome. In other words, you can become as octopussy as you want.

LegsFor example, the article states: “The octopus genome is enriched in transposons, also known as “jumping genes,” which can rearrange themselves on the genome.” This is great news! I’d love to get me some “jumping genes!” That means I could go back and compete in the steeplechase and never get my feet wet.

Plus, octopuses rock in other ways as well. “Octopuses, along with squids, cuttlefish and nautiluses, are cephalopods—a class of predatory molluscs with an evolutionary history spanning more than 500 million years (long before plants moved onto land). Inhabiting every ocean at almost every depth, they possess unique adaptations such as prehensile arms lined with chemosensory suckers, the ability to regenerate complex limbs, vertebrate-like eyes and a sophisticated camouflage system. With large, highly developed brains, cephalopods are the most intelligent invertebrate and have demonstrated elaborate problem-solving and learning behaviors.”

You can clearly see why I want to become part octopus. It’s not an entirely new concept I know. That creepy Davey Jones dude in the Pirates of the Caribbean had the whole octopus scene down pretty well. But his only priority was sucking people down to the bottom of the ocean to become his death ship slaves. That seems a little mean. I promise I’d be way more positive than that.

OctopusVulgarisFor instance, I could be an awesome massage therapist if I grew about six more arms outfitted with suckers. Think of the work I could do on tired and sore athletes! It would be no problem to massage both IT bands at once. And with those suckers I could pull on tensions in the fascia like no one’s business. Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?

Yes, being part octopus would be great. It might be tricky if I grew another set of legs, I admit. Some days it’s hard enough to move the ones I already have. But think about the possibilities for a typical 10K or marathon? You could wear out one pair of legs and keep another set fresh and ready for the second half of the race.

Even better, for triathlons you could grow yet another set of legs (six in all) and use one pair for the swim leg, another for cycling and hit the road with a fresh pair of legs for any run distance triathlon you wanted to try.

Spare me any conservative lectures about how this octopus thing is a liberal scheme to take over the world. That’s already happened. you see. Scientists think octopuses may already be aliens in our midst. “The octopus appears to be utterly different from all other Octopus2animals, even other molluscs, with its eight prehensile arms, its large brain and its clever problem-solving capabilities,” said co-senior author Clifton Ragsdale, associate professor in Neurobiology and Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago. “The late British zoologist Martin Wells said the octopus is an alien. In this sense, then, our paper describes the first sequenced genome from an alien.”

“The first whole genome analysis of an octopus reveals unique features that likely played a role in the evolution of traits such as large complex nervous systems and adaptive camouflage,” the article states.

Complex nervous systems and adaptive camouflage could be great use in all walks of life. It might improve your emotional intelligence at work, for example. And if that didn’t work, you could always camouflage yourself to disappear next to the office copier.

Well, I’ll let you know how it all comes out. This is just so exciting I think I just peed myself. Or is that ink? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Be ready for the new OctoMe. I predict it will catch on, once we get past the idea that genome sequencing is just for suckers.


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