Monday, November 23, 2009

8,500 of My Fellow Nut-cases

Well, I drank the cool-aid, or Gatorade, or Accelerade, or what ever liquid that is that makes us spend a small fortune to torture ourselves. My registration is in. I've bought the "package", including the 220 Euros for official "non-Residence in France" entry fee from Cyclomundo. As Goethe is quoted saying, "until one is committed there is hesitancy". Well hesitate no more, 2010 I'm tackling the Col du Tourmalet with 8,500 committed (or should be!) nut-cases - bring on the L'Etape du Tour!

The L'Etape is a little version of torture the folks at ASO, who run the Tour de France, dreamed up to let us wannabes try a shot at the pain and suffering the big boys go through. So in the true spirit of cycing-masichism ASO selects one stage of the TdF each to toss out for the amateur Convicts of the Road (and perhaps the truest Convicts)

Next Sunday July 18th I've decided to forgo my normal Tour de France ritual: morning cuppa Earl Grey, flip on the tube at 4:30AM and ring in the day with accented voices of Phil & Paul. Seven months from now Jenn and the "cycling kids" will have to hold my place in the cycling-room as the boys in the Tour begin their onslaught in the high mountains of the Pyrenees - Revel to Ax-3 Domaines.
I'll be on the other side of those same French hills, staying in the Pyrennean foothill town of Tarbes, a half-hour from the my own start in Pau.

On a beautiful and warm (I hope) Sunday morning at 7:00 am I'll mount my trusty ride and join "a flow of more than 8,500 riders will be on their way for a warm up” over Col de Marie-Blanque and Col du Soulor before tackling Tourmalet!" according to the Cyclomundo's pre-package info. Haven ridden over Cols such as Marie-Blanque and Soulor, even at a casual pace I would not discredit them by referencing their gradients as "warm up". They are listed as
Col de Marie-Blanque 9,5 km at 7,5%
Col du Soulor par Ferrières 22 km at 4,9%
Col du Tourmalet par Barèges 19 km at 7,4%

But after riding there a couple years ago my legs and lungs can vouch for inclines of 9-12+%. And of that final little lump in the road, the Tourmalet? Well, I hammered my way up the easier west slope in 2008 - and foolishly muttered how fun it would be to tackle the steeper east slope, so next July 18th I'll find out, along with many other shared suffering souls - 8,500 of my fellow nut-cases!

After our little "warm up" we set our sites and front wheels on the geant of the Pyrenees - Col du Tourmalet - where we like the Pros (four days later on Stage 17) will summit; of course this is after they have crossed the Tourmalet two days earlier, hey, they're Pro Convicts, they get paid for gratuitous suffering. In a true statement of cyclo-dedication, I will also stick around and reclimb the Tourmalet to watch (and film) them come over on Tuesday Stage 16 (the epic Peyresourde-Aspin-Tourmalet-Aubisque). Yes, you read that right - I'll end up climbing the Tourmalet three times, from the steeper east side, in five days. I'm also considering swimming the English Channel and rowing a boat, with my bike, back across the Atlantic,

.... KIDDING - one collective act of insanity at a time :").

So now that I am mentally and financially committed, totally psyched to do this, I'll alter my racing plans for next year just a bit - coming off of Elkhorn Stage Race in late June I'll put in a few more long mountain kilometers getting ready for France - unfortunately the Cascade Cycling Classic stage race will be the victim, since the L'Etape and Cascade overlap - but hey, maybe I'm just exchanging one set of nut-cases for another?

More later on the L'Etape, my preparations and a daily blog from the Pyrenees as it all develops.
If you want to know more about L'Etape 2010 check out Lindsay Crawford's experienced review on BikeRadar:

Preview: L’Etape du Tour 2010

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"...leaving her in the street for dead."

I'm just outside the passenger window, in the bike lane, and watching the drivers head - not one glance my way, not a hint of considering it... I unclip the right shoe - preparing to frog leap with my bike up onto the curb. Before I can make the slightest "rrribbit", muchless hop, the rear truck wheel is coming my way -
S#@&TTTTT! Holy MdG (Madonna del Ghisallo) where are you??

That was some time ago, I survived the near encounter with a bruised wrist (my frog hops aren't apparently what they use to be) and an increased distrust for 'right-turner' - that was before Portland began the green bikebox-no-right-turn project, hopefully that will increase awareness.

Others, have not been so lucky. Bikes and collisions with cars seem to be crisscrossing my life lately - earlier in the year it was "Moose", nearly killed by a driver turning across him (he is alive and recovering - not the bike); then it was Brian with the sequel to Moose's collision (different place and driver, same result); then the fall saga of Dr. Death-to-Cyclists hit the webwaves (available in painful detail on VeloNews), then Portland got its own sanctuary of the Madonna del Ghisallo, protector of cyclists and those not so lucky - kinda cool and ominous at the same time.

They say these things come in threes, or sevens, ...or elevens, I don't know. But whatever their fractally define frequency is, at some point they begin to coalesce into something that resonates, is meaningful; the critical bit for a cyclist is you just need to be listening for the music. I just finished this afternoons ride (safely) and I'm listening to the World on PRI and hear the story of
Melody Gardot and damn if it isn't another one! Errrrrrgh!! This last one struck a cord - several beautiful cords - reminding me not every bike-car encounter ends in the erection of a ghostbike. It's about Gadot's collision with bad judgment and her musical rise from death's door (thank you again MdG).

As I sat there listening to the story and her sultry jazz-infused voice wafting from the speakers I was struck by conflicting images - her lifeless body and bike splayed across the Philly pavement and this incredible living voice I had never heard. Increasingly we are living in a shared world - incumbent on our ability to learn and accept sharing - of resources, religions, rights, and roads. "All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at primary school." I also learned how to ride my bike in primary school - and nobody got hurt doing it.

In addition to the World's version of Melody Gadot's story, here's Michael Nastos' summation of events and musical outcomes:
The story of vocalist Melody Gardot is as remarkable as any who perseveres against abject adversity. Born in New Jersey in 1985, she took up piano and played as a youngster on the nightclub scene of Philadelphia, influenced by jazz, folk, rock and pop musics. At age 19 she was a fashion student at the Community College of Philadelphia. But, on a fateful day, while riding her bicycle, the driver of a Jeep made an illegal turn, hurdling into Gardot and leaving her in the street for dead. Hospitalized for months with multiple head injuries and pelvic fractures, her love for music was the best therapy she could receive. While in her hospital bed, she wrote and recorded songs that would become the EP Some Lessons. Upon her eventual release from intensive care, Gardot found the strength and determination to further her career as an artist. Blessed with a beautiful voice and grand insight as a songwriter, her cognitive powers slowly but surely became pronounced, leading to the independent recording and release of her debut CD, Worrisome Heart, which was reissued in 2007 by Verve records. Gardot is hypersensitive to light and noise, thus she wears dark glasses, and uses a cane to walk. On-stage she requires a special seating unit, and wears a Transcutaneous Electro-Nerve Stimulator, a TENS device, to assist in alleviating her neuralgic muscle pain. As amazing as her story is, what is more evident is that she possesses a blue style and persona that reflects not only her afflictions, but conversely the hope and joy of making personalized music that marks her as an individual and original. Though touring is difficult, she has been performing in major cities [in Europe and in the US] on the East Coast to support her recordings. In 2009, Gardot followed up her Verve debut with My One and Only Thrill."

Madonna di Ghisallo Portland-style

Winding down through the park behind the Zoo, above the Rose Garden, the road is being tinted lemon and golden amber with a thin layer of fallen big leaf maple leaves. The sky above crisp and deep blue. Our little version of the "Race of the Falling Leaves". The big difference - the speed. It was the last descending kilometer of the Thursday lunch ride - we were all seriously backing off the gas, enjoying the exceptionally gorgeous color of fall, and extremely cautious of the banana peel-like mat of leaves. It's fall days like these that make you pray you stay upright and remember it for all the right reasons.

Last fall when we began cycling in Italy Jenn handed Todd and I a small medallion - La Madonna del Ghisallo - none of us are Catholic, we are cyclists, Cycloterians maybe, but we were about to begin racing about, up and down narrow mountain roads on a couple square inches of rubber, so we thought why not take every blessing available - heck, what was good enough for Fausto Coppi is definitely good enough for me. It was also a lovely gesture as Todd and I were about to climb up from Bellagio, on the shore of Lake Como, to the sanctuary of cycling - Madonna di Ghisallo.

Todd made it through Italy safely, the little MdG medallion, fastened to his stem, did its job. My medallion popped off a week later while descending the twisty upper sections of the Mortirolo. I like to think it is there along some extra nasty 11% curve, where it belongs - it saw me through that section and now will shepherd safely the fate of others - I guess that's the Cycloterian conviction in me.

Portland's cycling culture has now made the next leap in it's full conversion to becoming a Cycloterian community - the Madonna has arrived - but does this mean we're no longer
non-denominational Cycloterians? Inside Portland's St. Stephen's Episcopal Parish Rev. Dennis Parker bless the nation's first known church shrine honoring the Madonna del Ghisallo – patron saint of cyclists (originally any old travelers - but since 1949 she has been ours). A portion of the 83 year old wood and stone sanctuary now awaits cyclists. Like in Italy the sanctuary is a place for those who have been blessed in their bicycle journeys and those who have died while cycling.

Portland is pedaling everyday a bit closer to that community of cycling citizenry that we read about in Copenhagen and Stockholm, the acceptance of bikes one sees in the streets of Milan and Amsterdam. Maybe it is time for us to welcome the Madonna to Portland to keep safe all the travelers of our streets, wheeled and otherwise.

More about the Madonna di Portlandia from Oregonian writer Joseph Rose: St. Stephen's Parish dedicates first bike shrine in Portland

Monday, November 2, 2009

China - no leisurely spin after work

Ran across this article that I thought you might enjoy - as well as sprinkle your local club ride with a bit of "global" perspective, especially when we deal with the occasional bad motorist.

Cycling in Chinese city is anything but leisurely