Friday, May 28, 2010

Drama, action and front-row seats

Boy, there’s a great bike race going on in Italy right now. The Giro d’Italia has offered up more drama than Cannes and the Sundance Film Festival put together, and with a killer mountain stage tomorrow and a time trial for the final stage on Sunday – no ceremonial parade into Verona for these gentlemen – it’s not over yet. But it will be over Monday. Where are racing fans going to turn for their excitement next weekend?

Try Lansing, Michigan. Sunday, June 6 is the 4th annual Hawk Island Triathlon. I’ve been involved all four years. Its first year, I just raced. Second year, I joined the organizing committee (my doctor recommended against trying to defend my masters title [like how I slipped that in?] a week and a half after double hernia surgery. Last year, as an out-of-shape, finishing-writing-a-book racer AND committee member AND coach, as my mother and my wife both earned their first triathlon finisher’s medals. And this year, as an again somewhat compromised racer (first weekend after moving day) and committee member. I love this race. Sure, I love it because I’m involved with it. But really, I got involved and stay involved with it because I love it.

Here’s your invitation to get involved and love it. The start list is full, but we still need volunteers to help with everything from setup to handing out water and medals to writing numbers on bodies to marshalling corners to guarding a gazillion dollars worth of racers’ gear to pointing the way and cheering. And believe me, volunteering for this race is no sacrifice. It’s a short race – you don’t need to blow your whole day on it. It’s in and around a beautiful park. The food is great, the appreciation is deep, and you get a front-row seat to some racing that’s a little different from the Giro d’Italia, but no less dramatic.

We get lightning-fast veterans of the sport if you want that kind of drama. And this race is especially beginner-friendly, which is not to say easy. So if you have a taste for watching emotional people accomplish big goals they may once have not thought possible – change their lives, even – we’ve got plenty of that kind of drama, too.

Oh. And now that I’ve teased you with Frazz cycling jerseys that may or may not exist, Frazz and Kiefer swim gear and I are the official swim-cap sponsors, and I ordered a few extra Frazz-themed swim caps -- if you catch my drift and volunteer and ask nice and there are enough left over. And I’m pretty sure there will be.

And yes, I’ll be racing. Look for me Sunday on the official Trizophrenia race bike wearing the orange Team Trout shorts and singlet. Black aero helmet on the bike, bald head off it. And come talk to me Saturday afternoon at early registration (and we need volunteers then, too). I’m there to offer tips to beginners and answers to everyone, and I’ll have a raft of Sharpies if you want to bring a book, or a swim cap, or anything else for me to sign.

And we’ll have so much fun we’ll forget all about the Giro.

To volunteer, e-mail Jerrell Braden, the volunteer coordinator, at Tell him you’re volunteering because you want a Frazz swim cap, and we’ll put your name at the top of the list so we won’t run out of them on you.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Getting high at the Tour of California

Two important tips for writers and bloggers:

When time gets tight, delegate. And when someone offers you material a thousand times more interesting than you could ever make up, run with that instead.

This video is from my friend Jonathan Dietch. We share a current passion, cycling. And he's continued with, and gotten extremely good at, a former passion of mine, hang gliding. He's combined the two in absolutely stunning form over Stage 6 of last week's Tour of California. Don't miss it.

With all due respect to the doping debates, there is a right way to get high at a bike race.

PS: You'll have to take my word for this, but Jonathan is wearing his MMBA Frazz cycling jersey during this flight. As if the video (and Jonathan) weren't cool enough already.

Monday, May 24, 2010

It's tough to kill your mother

One more standard, if brief, blog entry before I line up the book excerpts and take care of other business.

This weekend was the penultimate (why would anyone say second-to-last when they can use a word like penultimate?) pre-moving-day weekend. Yesterday and most of Saturday were gorgeous, and staying inside a house and packing ranked a lot higher on the necessity list than it did on the wish list. Training’s rank on those lists was reversed. There was some internal whining. Probably some external bitching, too.

And a lot of fear. I just wrote a book about triathlon. I’d like to begin my first season after its publication looking like someone who knew what he was writing about, which is complicated when you’re not training much.

Some reassurance was needed, and I found it fermenting in the refrigerator.

Beer? No. I find a lot of things to like about beer, even reassurance sometimes, but what I found was my sourdough starter. Sourdough starter, or levain, if you’d rather, or poolish, biga or mother, is basically home-grown yeast for baking bread. But yeast is a living thing that needs to be fed and cared for. Like any kind of farming, it takes some discipline. Unlike some other kinds of livestock, though, yeast can go dormant in the right environment, so if you’re going to miss a couple days of feeding the culture, you can put it in the refrigerator and get away with it. But there are limits.

I put mine in the refrigerator before I went to the Alcatraz swim a month and a half ago. Life had already gotten a bit full by that point, and I sort of forgot about it until yesterday, when it didn’t look much like starter at all. It looked like putty with a big puddle of alcohol on top. Dead.

But amid all that packing – maybe because of all that packing – I took a few minutes’ time-out to stir it back together, measure out a new portion to combine with fresh flour and water and see what happened.

By this morning, bubbles were happening. Bubbles mean life. Another couple days and replenishings, and it will be full strength, and I’ll take it east with me and soon the new house will smell the best a house can smell. Sourdough is hardy stuff; it’s tougher to kill your mother than you think.

That’s just the sort of thing I needed to apply to my own life. Fine. When I race the Hawk Island Triathlon in a couple of weeks, I might or might not look like someone who had any business writing a book about the sport. Five weeks later is three races in three days at the Musselman, and I’ll probably still be putty and hooch. But by Luray in August and Savageman in September, I might just be showing some bubbles again, and by the Detroit Marathon in October, I might just have the suds to qualify for Boston.

I may not look like it now, but this summer I’m going to race like a mother.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Doping, my butt

Well, that was an interesting day in the bike-racing world.

Midway through the most exciting Giro d'Italia in years over there, and an exquisitely exciting Tour of California over here, Tour de France champion-not-champion Floyd Landis distracts us all with an announcement that he really did dope, and Lance Armstrong doped, and most of the pro cycling world doped, and that the sky is blue.

I live in Michigan. The sky IS blue. Some of the time. Other times, when the sun is coming up or going down, it's the most stunning magenta you could ever hope to see. Most of the time, it's somewhere amid some indefinable, vast gray area, which brings us back to Floyd Landis' moment in the scud.

Landis may have something important to say, but after several years, millions of dollars and a treasure of his fans' trust spent vigorously claiming exactly the opposite of what he's spilling now, which isn't a lot different from what we've heard before and not, to my knowledge, backed up by any real documentation, I don't see him finding a lasting audience.

Am I part of the problem if I'm already losing interest?

It's too big for me to attack, and too depressing for me to assimilate. I choose to deflect. And today's Frazz turned out to be nicely timed. The world doesn't need to know who makes it to Paris with the lowest aggregate time as much as it just needs to get interested in riding bikes at all. The people who need to get interested in bikes don't care about blood boosters, or hematocrit levels or testosterone patches. They don't look at a 3-week bike race and marvel at the racers' watts-per-kilogram ratio or VO2 max. No.

They ask, "Don't their butts get sore?"

If Landis could answer that, people would listen. And since the answer is yes, whoever finds a drug that fixes that is cycling's first billionaire.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How bad can it be?

There are three notable things I know of where you can follow this theme:

Nothing is as good as good (coffee), but bad (coffee) is right up there.
I used coffee just now because one of my favorite songs – John Hiatt again – is “How Bad’s the Coffee?” I didn’t use pizza because I don’t think there are any songs about pizza, and I didn’t use the third because more songs have been written about that than anything else in the world.

Actually, it’s more than just coffee, pizza and sex, and for starters I have to remember that “busy” fits the equation, too. Like, busy and out of control isn’t as good as busy and under control, but it sure beats idle. You’ve noticed from recent posts that right now I’m busy and out of control. We’ll see if I can walk the fine, fuzzy line between the explanation I owe you and destroying what remains of my privacy. (Note to identity thieves, old-fashioned thieves, vandals and snoops: My writing, whatever you think of it, is vastly more interesting than my private life anyway.)

So. My wife and I are moving. To a new city. Soon. Turns out shopping for houses and finding a house and planning and packing things and signing papers and hemorrhaging money and just plain trying to grasp the idea of it all take up a lot of time, and it’s not as if work and training slow down in the meantime (What am I saying? Training has taken the biggest hit of all.) It takes up a lot of thought, too, like just about all of it, which can’t make for the best blog reading. Sorry.

So with big-time crunch time coming right up, I’m going to see if I can’t cut back on the workload and make the blog more interesting at the same time. I’ll still keep up with the schedule, but I’ll post excerpts from my book, “Trizophrenia: Inside the Minds of a Triathlete,” which, come to think of it, this blog was designed to plug anyway.

So enjoy. I’ll be busy, but like I said, it sure beats idle. And in the background, I’ll be playing “How Bad’s the Coffee?”, just because it rocks. And CAKE’s cover of “I Will Survive,” just in case I need reminding.

P.S. Apologies for not telling my fellow triathletes about this huge speed bump earlier. As in, soon enough to sign up for the Hawk Island Triathlon before it filled. It’s June 6 in Lansing, and it’s full and I’m going to be completely ill-prepared for it and I’m racing in it anyway. Anyone who wanted to race me when I was beatable will have to wait for … okay, any given race.

Monday, May 17, 2010


People who don't like waking up on Monday mornings apparently don't wake up the way I did this morning: To John Hiatt's "Crossing Muddy Waters," from his 2000 album of the same name. It's haunting and beautiful, with a jangling mandolin that's somehow soothing and a depressing lyric that is somehow uplifting. It's one of the best songs Hiatt has done, which means it's one of the best songs anybody has ever done, but Hiatt flies below the pop radar and your chances of waking up to "Crossing Muddy Waters" on the clock radio are criminally slim. Waking up that way every morning since Friday would defy all odds, unless of course your clock radio also plays CDs and that's what you put in there.

The song speaks for a man whose life has just reminded him that he's not in control - "Baby's gone and I don't know why," the song begins. Life is like that. It happens to you more than you happen to it. Mine's been happening to me a lot lately, too. Baby certainly hasn't crossed any big wide brown river and disappeared, but this spring has served up a tectonic shift mostly beyond my control. Same jangling, different mandolin. It happens. That, I guess, is why I try to train and race and eat right and read and write and learn something new every day, and why I rack up an old CD alarm clock before I go to bed way too late and way too briefly. You control what you can, and if only three minutes of the day goes right, it might as well be the first three.

Friday, May 14, 2010

News about sexually frustrated people in funny glasses

I believe today’s the day the June issue of Playboy hits the stands with its 3D centerfold.

This latest frontier in wanking technology is all very exciting, but I suspect it’s just a temporary distraction from the bigger problem, a glitter pastie on a Sumo wrestler.

Playboy isn’t what it used to be. Or, rather, it is exactly what it used to be. Playboy was hardly the first girlie- or even pornographic magazine. What Playboy did to shake up the culture was to put the girlies into a glossy, high-end book – a tart in a business suit, if you were looking to replace the image from the previous metaphor – and give it a certain legitimacy, even prestige. Hugh Hefner didn’t give us the naked lady. He gave us the phrase “I read it for the articles.”

The magazine doesn’t appear to have weathered technology nearly as well as it conquered the existence of imagination and actual women. In either form, porn is more common than the former and much more convenient than the latter. Technology isn’t the issue. Technology isn’t even close.

The home theater and the Internet didn’t improve on the image quality of a glossy magazine page. I somehow doubt that improves on the beauty of the models Playboy hires. I suspect what Playboy is up against is convenience and immediacy for starters – no more trying to sustain the mood while you run to the Walgreen’s magazine rack – but, even more against its old nemesis, imagination. Pretty as they are, the bunnies just sit there. And ultimately, Playboy suffers from the very shamelessness the magazine helped to foster.

Nobody feels the need anymore to say, “I only read it for the articles.”

Me, I always enjoyed it for the cartoons. And the day they bring back those Buck Brown cartoons with the naughty, saggy-boobed granny in 3-D, I’ll be the first in line at Walgreen’s.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Classic case of metaphor overload

Every spring I declare my overwhelming preference for the one-day classic bike races in northern France, Belgium and Holland over the grand tours in Italy, France and Spain, and then the Classics are over and the Giro d'Italia begins and I can't pull my attention away from that, either. Not that it matters. Both are so far out of my league that having a preference for one over the other is like a pimply 17-year-old announcing his preference for Kristen Bell over Christina Hendricks.

But to carry the comparison perhaps (no, assuredly) too far, like the pimply teen-ager and his dream-girl choices, I'm happy with whatever cycling I can get. And like the pimply teen-ager's father, I can climb that little hill by the river while I imagine it's the Mur de Grammont.

Truth is, I like following, fantasizing about and emulating both types of racing. And me being me, I carry both out to a broader perspective. Beyond riding, beyond racing, beyond Esquire Magazines Women We Love feature, all the way to life in general. Sometimes life is a one-day, do-or-die, winner-take-all affair. Other stretches require a little more pacing and strategizing. And really, in either style of racing, there are going to be stretches where it's ridiculously difficult, and if you fall behind you might not ever catch up.

So maybe the big difference between classics and stage racing is how long you have to suffer after you screw up. Great. Life itself is even longer. It lasts the rest of your life.

I'd better get back to it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The opposite of regret

I don't have many regrets. Not because I haven't done anything dumb - far from that. But regrets by definition involve looking backward, and my attention span is so bad that it's all I can do to scan the future.

But I do have a few (we will pause while my wife and anyone who shares her trademark attention-span issues breaks into a few bars of Frank Sinatra), and one of them is being lifted today.

The Grand Rapids Press is starting to run Frazz today. The Press is probably the paper I most identify as "my" paper. My parents subscribed to it while I was growing up, and it was a really good paper. It's the paper that made me want to draw for newspapers. And while it's not the first paper I did draw pictures for - that would be the Big Rapids Pioneer, one of the other papers I consider "mine" - it's the first one I drew for to make an actual facsimile of a living. I left college - nursing school - to work for them as a full-time freelancer, a move that could easily have turned out to be a regret but turned out quite well.

Things didn't go well with the editor there.

Now, just so you know, that's as harshly as I'm going to badmouth the editor. Sorry. That sort of thing is entertaining, but about as long-term healthy and satisfying as half an orange marshmallow circus peanut. This is about my regrets. If he has any, he can write them in his own blog.
Actually, it was worse than that. Things did go well, and then they didn't, which I'm sure gave it the taste of betrayal. It also gave me the knowledge that he did, indeed, have a sense of humor, the confidence to try to patch things up with humor, and the hubris to try to match his style of humor. That third one, I think, was the one that did it. He seemed to prefer a certain kind of elbow-in-the-ribs type of teasing, but apparently it was more fun in outgoing form. Or maybe I was just that ham-fisted. I nudged -- elbowed -- him and his paper in an episode of the strip, which, to my knowledge, remains the one and only cameo that didn't make everybody involved happy, and boom. Not only did I anger someone I was trying to patch things up with, but I did so with someone powerful enough to ban my strip from "my" paper. Regret.

The sick thing is, it worked well for me. When you're starting a comic strip, you don't quit your day job for a while. The money comes in slowly, and most strips fail. So I worked a lot of long, long weeks in a row with no break. I did a lot of drawing tired. Really tired. Tired enough to affect intrapersonal-relationships judgment, we've learned. Tired enough to feel really wronged by the outcome - and mad enough to make sure I did everything right from there on in, because the only way I was going to make sure he didn't have the satisfaction of thinking he contributed to my downfall was not to fall down. That anger fueled me through a lot of late work nights.

I'm still here. He's not there. The new editor is superb. I've known him almost as long as that first editor and known of him even longer, and I have thought the world of him the whole time. I still do, and he's brought Frazz into yet another one of his papers. This is the opposite of regret, but not the opposite of motivation. If there's one thing you want to do more than make your enemies look dumb, it's make sure your allies look brilliant.

So, yeah. I sure hope the first Frazz that happens to run in his paper isn't a juvenile bathroom joke or anything …

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sometimes you're the dog, and sometimes you're the finger

I did a Frazz strip a while back involving the saying, "sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you." Frazz, or maybe it was Caulfield, followed up with something about the wisdom of not teasing bears in the first place. I'd hunt that strip down for you, but I'm hurting for time. Lately I've been getting eaten by the bear.

So today I'm stealing one guy's story and another guy's photo, which combine into something much better than I could make up anyway, and then I'll tie it together just enough to try and fake some sort of intelligent involvement of my own.

Hey. The creative mind at work isn't always pretty.

Last night was the final night of the spring-semester swim training class with world-class swimmer and coach Iian. After class, Iian hosted a pizza party at his house, where Alonso, one of my fellow swimmers, snapped this picture in which I am happily eating some pizza, disturbed more by what the cheese is doing to my blood vessels than I am by the human finger that Rich is holding next to my ear. (Rich is Iian's father and my other world-class coach.)

Iian and Jim acquired the finger a while back when he and Jim were out walking their dog near their home in coastal California. The dog ran off and retrieved something, as dogs do. This time, it was a finger, which dogs don't tend to find as often. They usually find things like little, dry, hardened turds. Which are evidently more disgusting than human fingers, given that Iian found himself somewhat relieved it was a finger, and given that I'm not so sure I'd have kept on eating my pizza had Rich been holding a nugget next to my ear.

Anyway, these are the kind of people I'm so happy to hang out with and steal material from.

Life is good, even when it's overwhelming. Sometimes you're the finger, and sometimes you're the dog. And if you do it right, sometimes your friends are Santa Cruz, where you never know what you're going to retrieve but you know it's going to be a lot more interesting than, well, you know.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Time's up

C.S. Lewis famously noted that time passes at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whoever you are, whatever you do. C.S. Lewis was right. But now he’s wrong. Now we have Facebook.

It’s not that Facebook and its electronic allies like e-mail, video games and blogs eat up time. It’s that they wreck the ratio. Watch someone burn up half an hour, an afternoon, a day on Facebook. Then ask them how long they’ve been on it. “Just a few minutes,” they’ll say. Watch them burn up a summer, a year, a relationship, a lifetime, staring at the screen and they’ll tell you they’re on it maybe ten minutes a day.

This is not a rant. It’s an observation, and one of the people I’m observing most closely is myself.

And I’m only making things worse. United Feature Syndicate and I just went live with the Official Frazz Facebook Page. And by “United Feature Syndicate and I,” what I mean is apparently “United Feature Syndicate.” I’ve already burned up an entire morning trying to figure out how to get onto it, let alone how to update it with each day’s new strip and some quick comments, which is the plan. Once I do, I’ll also link to it from this blog and back again, because if you’re going to thumb your nose at C.S. Lewis, you might as well do it reading Frazz and whatever insight I can pull from my sixty minutes per hour, 1,440 per day, 524,160 per year, around 7 per mile in a good run, 1.5 per kilometer on a good bike ride and someday, dammit, 1.5 per hundred yards for any length of time in the water.

But unless you can figure out how to get there yourself, you’ll have to wait another 2,800 minutes until my next blog post while I make sure I don’t get any further behind on strip and magazine deadlines, which approach WAY faster than 60 minutes per hour and fade away much slower. Not only did C.S. Lewis fail to anticipate Facebook, he didn’t know about the Deadline Doppler Effect. Some genius he was.

C.S. Lewis wasn’t the only genius who tried to explain time and came out the worse for it. None other than Albert Einstein (actually many other geniuses, and t-shirt printers galore, said the same thing in slightly different words) said time was a conspiracy to keep everything from happening at once, and we’ve all had days where it couldn’t have been more clear that that was a big crock.

Actually, time is such a vague, nebulous entity that hardly anyone can comment on it without coming up wrong.

Except Groucho Marx, who said, “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”

And it goes by slowly while grown-ups like me whine about it. Wow. Where did my morning go?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Go Green, go White, go beige, go gray

I'm not sure how IQ is figured, but I ran across some numbers yesterday that show at least a little intelligence:
7:15   7:09   6:55
7:10   7:01          ... 8:36!
Those are my mile splits from yesterday at MSU. I didn't melt down, and the final mile wasn't up the side of a mountain. I just got smart for once; at the Heart of a Spartan 10K, it was nice to show the brains of a mollusk.

What happened was a popped Achilles tendon somewhere in mile 5. That sort of thing isn't unusual for runners, and may be even a little predictable for runners who go longish on the bike the day before in really stiff winds, which tends to encourage sloppy pedaling in too big a gear. What's also not unusual is for that kind of runner to ignore the tendon and try to finish off with one more sub-7 split and then spend many, many weeks in a position to make some really bad decisions regarding rest vs. temptation. Achilles tendons are like lady country singers that way: Do 'em wrong once and you might be forgiven; make a pattern of it and you'll regret it longer than a truck loan.

A lot of being smart is a matter of not being around bad influences, so it's a good thing Ron couldn't find me again at the starting line after he hit the loo. Ron finished in 42:30, which is about where I'd have been if that 8:36 looked a little more like the other splits. That's not to say I would have beaten Ron. I could have made it close, but making it close is not the way to beat Ron. He's got quite a finish, and whether or not I succumbed to his kick, I'd have spent several weeks kicking myself with my one good leg.

As it happens, we finished next to each other in the semigeezer age group anyway, Ron third and me fourth(!). I had no idea until Ron told Rich in an e-mail about something else. Had I known, I might have stuck around to see if the awards went three deep or perhaps more. They went five deep, so I could have brought home the, I'm not sure, beige, perhaps.

I'd be proud of a beige ribbon. But it's even better, for once, to be proud of my gray matter.