A story my coach asked for, careful what you ask for
My first memory of a bike experience was when I was quite young, maybe not even 10 years old. Youngest of three brothers in the family, we had one bike. It as a classic old chrome fendered 3 speed Schwinn that was bought probably for my oldest brother, way too big for me.
With no experience or any training that I remember, I decided to go to the store, about a mile away for groceries, not sure why. An adventure maybe? We had only 1 car that my dad took to work, mom never drove.
The only thing I remember is carrying a six pack of bottled something and about half-way home, I distinctly remember the place, I crashed. I think all the bottles broke; I may have been hurt, maybe not. I don’t ever remember riding as a kid after that.
Forward to the early 80’s. I have a smaller boat than the one I now have, not much. (Neither were/are big) Fall season and I needed to have the boat hauled and set on a storage cradle for the winter because the rivers freeze over. The closest marina that did hauling was about 5-10 miles from where I docked the boat and the other side of a river called the St Croix, border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. I had no way to get back to my car once I left the boat at its destination. My not yet wife and I were living together, and she had an old bike, too small for me but I decided it would be my way to independently deliver the boat and make it back to my car without having to rely on anyone else. Maybe a 10-mile ride, how hard can it be? I’m in my 30’s and haven’t ridden a bike since the “incident”
Strapped the bike on board and made for the marina, got there, unloaded, hopped on the bike and rode back to my car. No crashes, a big smile on my face when I got there, just discovered the fun and freedom of cycling!
I went to college and majored in English, after 4 years I got bored, quit and went to work as a car mechanic. I had been helping my brother prep race cars while going to college. (A whole different story) I was hooked on fast cars, I could drive them pretty well but had no money, so I fell in love with working on them, building them, taking good care of them, felt like the right place in life for me. My creative zone.
While working on my own car and helping prep race cars I met some of my brother’s friend, one who was adopted as a kid by a wealthy spinster. Bob was his name (since has died) and he tried to do normal things like other non-wealthy people, real down to earth kind of guy. You would never know he came from money. He and I got to be close friends (He and his wife were best man and maid on honor at my and my wife’s wedding) He was kind of like the devil, always trying to get me into the things he liked to do. The race car things, learning to fly a small aircraft and then sailing. Only problem was he had money for those things, I didn’t. The only thing that stuck was sailing. I sailed with him and a bunch of others from Florida to the Bahamas one January for 2 weeks, by then I was really hooked. Not sure why but he split the cost of my first boat and then we traded that one in and bought the current boat, 1983. It was a BIG ask for me, he could have walked in and paid cash for it. We took out a loan and made all the payments. He lived in Florida by then and his reason was when he came back to MN there was a boat he could use. (He had two in Florida) I think he was just being very generous; he barely ever used the one in MN. Vera and I would drive to Florida every winter and spend two weeks with Bob and his wife Kathy at their house, go sailing, just have a good time. One trip he and I went to a night class for both weeks so I could become a licensed coast guard captain, which I did and held that license for about 10 years. I was in charge of all the care and maintenance on the boat in MN, which I gladly did. I liked working on them as much as sailing, probably still do.
One of the guys who helped on the race cars was into bicycles, he was a “racer” of sorts too. Had my same problem, no money. He helped me purchase my first bike (age 40 now), a Centurion Le Mans RS, steel framed 10 speed that had friction down tube shifters that you could change to “click” shifters by turning a loom like part on the outer face of the shifter. The last of friction shifters. By then I had my boat in the water at the same marina I’m at now. I would bring the bike with me, as now, and ride all over. Like anything I get into, it’s all or nothing, bought all the gear from catalog stores, read Bicycling magazine cover to cover and then read them over again, got hooked on watching and learning about bike racing, in Europe. Fell in love with the Spring Classics. Had to walk up the last part of the first big climb I tried, once only.
I loved working on the bike (seems to be a trend here?), caring for it, trying new things to make it and me faster. Addicted! (Still own that bike)
I have, since my 20’s been interested in staying fit. Had work out club memberships for almost all my life. Never really thought of myself as an athlete though. I struggled with heat, endurance efforts, not really feeling like I had the lung capacity to perform really well. I’m persistent and stubborn though so I just kept trying, cycling kept giving me that “thrill” of endorphins or who knows what. Some of my old race car related buddies took up cycling so I had friends to ride with. I liked the challenge of multi day, all day rides and did a bunch of charity rides, and as it turned out most of them rode in the area around the lake I’m in, Lake Pepin, riding in MN then, WI now.
Hills and open country, great riding area, not much traffic in the farmlands. Eventually I got hooked on doing RAGBRAI, ride across Iowa, oldest, longest, largest organized bike ride in the world. 7 days, about 500 miles, Sunday through Saturday. I’ve done about 17 of those. At first, they were my personal TDF. (Last full week of July, hot humid Iowa)
And then things change some.
One of my spinning instructors organized a “Day at the Track” about 20 people signed up, about 3 showed up, one being me. Never ridden a fixed gear bike before although I was in the grandstands watching the US Olympic Trials in 1990 at our track. Of course, I fell in love with the thrill and felt quite comfortable riding, even one handed towards the end of the day. That was about 2004, I tried to get my friends to take the 4-week class with me, but no one would so in 2005 I headed up there by myself. It took all summer long, 1 night per week for 4 weeks but lots of rain outs. Finally passed the class and was allowed to train which is all I really wanted to do.
Long story about this but another track guy, who ended up being my track coach for a few years and still a good friend, told me “This is a racetrack, not a casual ride track, you will race!” Next thing I knew I bought a chrome Bianchi Pista race bike and started down the devil’s path again. Only steel Bianchi that had an Easton carbon bar and Zipp 808’s on it. (Still have that bike and parts too, see a trend?) Bought a Teschner Track Pro (Last of the good Teschner track bikes) a year or so later based on input from my Aussie buddy who had one. I still own it, (Was to be my bike at last year’s worlds until the front fork drop out failed and I had to adjust back to my Dolan sprint bike) went to Australia and rode in a local big race in the Sydney Olympic Velo, Dunk Grey, Clarence Street Cup, in 2005/2006? And got 4th in the elimination/miss and out. I was on a roll.
What do/did I love about the track, the adrenalin rush, being close in the pack, the idea that I could actually do this and sometimes keep up with the kids racing at the track. Chris, my first track coach (Although I had some Carmichael Training coaches prior) was a sprinter and as he coached me, he thought I had the fast twitch needed to be a sprinter. Another’s devil’s path. I started with Chris after spending all of 2008 with Epstein Bar/mononucleosis disease that wasn’t diagnosed for about 8 months, finally crashed at the track, broke my collar bone and had to rest and my wife made me ask the doctor to test me for it. Gradually got some better over the winter but took years to really recover. My addicted, perfectionist personality wouldn’t let me quit though. Went to my first National Champs in 2009, got a 4th place medal in the points race, went to Sydney for Worlds 2009, best was a top 10 finish, old guys can be fast! My great bike related friend in Oz raced there too, his first and last Worlds. He made the sprint tourney, I didn’t, crap.
I also loved the openness of our local track community, it energized me. I started a team, at first just Chris my coach and me. It grew, I helped the junior program, had some juniors on my team, one that is now/last year, racing in Europe as a USA Cycling pick.
I’ve continued to have success at US Nationals, lots of medals, no firsts. 2014 might have been my best overall year, four 4th place medals at Nationals and then a 2nd in the Scratch race at Worlds in Manchester. (First went to a later found out doper from France)
I’m an extrovert so the friends and enjoyment of the track has been a great find for me, and I miss that it is gone, maybe forever in MN. I miss the fun we had at structured training nights every Monday when I could just open up and be myself with all who were there. Made me feel alive like nothing else currently in my life. The other side of it is I like riding alone for long periods of time, it’s what got me hooked on cycling to begin with, I just tune everything else out and concentrate on what I’m doing, evaluating what I am supposed to do and how I’m feeling, watts, rpm, etc. Thinking about how I make it better.
So, I think track cycling has become my favorite but that can’t happen now and when it does open again, the closest track is a 5.5-hour drive to a big flat concrete track. 10-hour drive to a concrete 330. I have to fall back on what I loved at first, long road rides, big hills. I loved being in Europe in 2017 with my Aussie buddy riding 5000 k’s, doing the Arenberg and other cobbles, doing Alp du Huez, Tourmalet, Ventou, riding in Belgium, Holland, France, Germany all day long or at least for hours at a time. We spent 6 weeks over there, a trip of a lifetime. I loved being in that part of Europe. I want to return and relive it all.
I also understand that I am over 70 years old and I feel like I’m trying to keep myself fit so I can continue as active as possible for as long as possible. I feel like once I give up on my training, I’ll be on a downward slide I don’t want to take. I’m not sure if track cycling and competitions are still in my future. I would like to think yes but there comes a time, not sure when that time is, not now!
Bikes? I love them all. They all have a special place in my heart. My first ever/Centurion, my first touring bike/Cannondale, my first track race bike/Bianchi Pista, my first REAL track race bike/Teschner, my BEST track race bike/Dolan DF3, my nicest road bike/Pinarello FP6, my crit bike/Specialized Allez, my Euro bike/Singular Cycles Kite. Overall, my Kite is my go-to everyday bike. Hugely versatile, disc brakes, can fit 35mm gravel tires or 25 mm road tires, steel frame/heavy, spent 5000 k’s on it in Europe, rode up 3 big classic climbs and did a bunch of cobbles including the Koopenberg and the Arenberg Forest and the next 3 cobble sections and back again. I have other bikes, they just don’t make the best of list.
Best kit? I love the most current PJW Race kit and I finally got a bib version that is good for long rides. Strangely enough, the Team Stages kit I got this year from a California company called Wattie, fits and feels as good or better than anything I have ever ridden in. Supporting Stages, great power meters, very good cycling computers, head unit mounts that are the WORST ever! I am struggling to stay positive about the company that doesn’t seem to want to fix a problem, although I understand why to a certain extent.
Miss most? The energizing, adrenalin filled, exciting, belonging feeling that happened every Thursday night race night at our track plus the similar feelings during our every Monday night structured training night. Almost always left with a feeling that I was fulfilled. Not that I didn’t have some major disappointments when my goals and accomplishments didn’t come together. Probably part of the reason I kept coming back for more.
Second, I guess that is the craziness that RAGBRAI brought, huge ride, usually over 12,000 riders per event, carnival atmosphere, a party happening all day long. Every kind of rider you can think of, racers/hard core, casual, young, old, families, drunks, eccentrics, free spirits, exciting innovative, you name it. Immersed in a world of cycling from morning until night for 7 plus days. Dealing with the heat, the rain, the cold sometimes, highs, lows and then get up the next day and do it again. BIKES and BIKERS RULE for a week!
Third, the training structure that allows me to be as fit as I am at the age I am. I don’t want to give that up, actually maybe a little bit to demented about losing the ability to train and execute at some level. It lends purpose to me getting up every day and making sure I focus on being the best I can be, at least on a bike.
Sailing has come back int my life as well. I seem to have time for it now that I’m retired. That’s been a fun a rewarding part of the last 2 years, hoping to keep it going for a while yet.
Personally, I am so sad that I live in the USA right now and see the inability of all of us to accept each other as we are. I have been a believer that the USA was a great place, best in the world and am disappointed that I bought into a dream that does not exist and may never exist. What our current president has done has opened festering wounds that I’m not sure can ever be resolved. That is sad for the overall positive person I have tried to be my entire life.
Sorry that this is how I end what has been a fun reliving of what makes me what I am. What is amazing to me is that I have written all this and never once mentioned that I ran an auto service business for 38 plus years, a major part of my life but obviously not the parts that made the most to me, just allowed me to be and do what was the real me.