Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ontario Cogal: Velominati Ride Dundas

we sat at the shed in erin, talking about bikes and riding them and all that other stuff that happens between the wheels and moments and our legs and memories and right and wrong answers. i mentioned poutine as a poor fueling choice. adrian and mikel ganged up on me, insisting that such behavior is the basis for insanity. i was about to counter with the fact that i am artistic (yes, it's a condition), and that madness and genius feel pretty much the same to me; it's the audience that decides. problem was, my mouth was full of italian panini at the time, so i just smiled and chewed.

just to make sure that i didn't miss anything obvious, i typed 'cogal' into and came up with a very satisfying '0 results'. i was hoping such would be the case, as i had spent the day yesterday learning that term, memorizing it, chanting it, cursing it, and ultimately digesting it in every molecule i could still retain after 185 kilometers and 1796m of elevation gain.

a cogal is a ride.

a simple concession, to be sure, but therein lie its absolutes: beauty, truth, communion, and bare humanity. a cogal is a ride, on bicycles, among fellows committed to these two-wheeled elements, for a long, long way.

bicycle rides start out at the meeting place, or before, at the trash-talking conversation, and then at the meeting place. we watch how the others wear their caps, we note the lengths of their socks, study their angle at the urinal, and ultimately make a mental catalog of likely strengths and weaknesses, traits to be considered or discarded, who to follow when, and who to let go.

i arrived at the domestique later than planned and preferred, in keeping with my innate talent for getting lost despite every gps and printed-map auxiliary one could ask for. i was early enough to assemble my bike, find the washroom, and don my kit. i was too late to not look flustered and nervous while doing it. a girl was putting up pink balloons in honor of the last day of the giro. everyone was hoping against hope for ryder hesjedal's win. the baked goods were stacked high. the espresso was stocked. and we were set to depart exactly an hour before canada's original cycling hero, steve bauer, would enter the cafe to watch the final stage.

timing is everything.

next in the steps of the ride and the constant cataloguing of one's ridemates is the inevitable equipment appraisal. old wheels. new brake pads. dirty chains. shiny cassettes. appropriate bar tape/saddle color combinations. campy or shimano. carbon or metal. 23 or 25c. it's all there. the writing is on the wall. and one by one, we succumb to out and out classism, basing expectations on the numbers presented by the outward appearance of our possessions. there were two steel bikes, a couple of carbon bikes, and an aluminum bike or two. six of us. only two on campy. i worried that my equipment might project falsities of fitness or ability. i hoped i would live up to these.

we stood in the drizzle for a group photo, twice. i tried to relax. i hate being photographed. worse is being photographed while on a bicycle while not actually riding said bicycle. awkward hasn't enough double V's for the sentiments involved.

after brief introductions and briefer instructions, we rolled out from the cafe to begin the most epic ride of my season thus far. we took a right, almost missed the second right, then rolled far too briefly to the first climb of the day. sydenham.

my lady rides around dundas regularly, and has mentioned this hill to me, along with the side note that she climbs it in the big ring. i considered this for the first four and a half revolutions into the climb, then banished the thought as i shifted ever further up my cassette, taking no shame in the 27 tooth cog as i enjoyed the view and worked into a rhythm. the hill was over as soon as it had started, though not without repercussions: it was going to be a long day, and we were not all climbers..yet. (i am never a climber at only 3 minutes into any ride.)

much of the rest of the first few kilometers remain a blur. i kept confusing mikel and michael, as i was sure they had both introduced themselves as such but i wasn't sure that there were two of similar-sounding names. and they were both leading and trash-talking and wearing white kit. regardless, i took some photos and worried about the longevity of the new tube in my front wheel and wondered about rattlesnake, the big feature of the day.

as we cruised along the ridgeline, enjoying rollers and shouted directions, we settled into that easy, assumed conversation: we're both on bikes, so we must like each other, and as such, we must have something to talk about. among the members of the group, this was absolutely the case. there were conversations among all subjects, age groups, and depths. i remember talking about the states and the auto industry with seth; about suburban riding with will. michael fascinated me with history and psychology while adrian piped in with intermittent sound bytes. and mikel, well...we covered everything else: pink, V, and that loving feeling.

·      we did rattlesnake and no one walked though several returned to get photos of the last 100m push.
·      rattlesnake was not the only hill with switchbacks.
·      we had some gravel and lots of chipseal but no extended grange road.
·      michael successfully unloaded his jersey cargo at the shed, only to be saddled with a jersey for the return trip.
·      ryder won the giro by 16 seconds, and i told everyone as we waited for a light. we stood in the middle of the road, clapping and cheering.
·      we continued to revel in ryder's victory intermittently throughout the rest of the ride, somehow sharing in something so monumental that we were a part of it, whether we could even pronounce hesjedal or not.
·      mikel at the hill on the terra cotta course: race ya. me: yeah right. subsequently: my ass kicked as mikel rode away.
·      michael and mikel pulled all of us, most of the time.
·      never let a gap open.
·      have you seen my horse?

i posited long ago that a good ride must, at some point, be so hard as to make me want to quit the sport. i posited that alone, somewhere on a road, suffering by myself. such a conclusion would never occur on a cogal, surrounded by gentlemen and nature and the opportunity to bury oneself on an ascent, skirt one's fears on the descent, and take an honest pull every once and again. the cogal showed some of the best roads of the country and county, for terrain, challenge, surface quality and utter lack thereof. there is no pulling anyone up a hill. at 22% gradient, the truth is distilled and even if it burns when it goes down, it tastes good. and then at the top, everyone regrouped after their honest efforts, happy to have buried themselves and to be with others to tell the tale in a double paceline at 38 km/h to the next climb.

when i got back to the house and was recounting different parts of the ride to my lady, she asked what my favorite part was. i sat there, confused, and unable to come up with any single moment where i could really pin down any favoritism. then it hit me: mikel. besides the two of us having to be separated by michael for bad behavior and filthy humor, we had a tendency to ride off the front while conversing deeply about childbearing and rearing or movie quotes from the eighties. so, two favorite parts: unintentionally pulling away up a gravel road while recklessly recounting all the pros who crashed, sustained broken clavicles, and continued to race (sometimes for weeks); AND riding off the front, up a hill, into the golden part of the afternoon as it rested on the tops of green fields, singing You've Lost That Loving Feeling much too loudly for the crest of a hill more than 100km into a ride. a cogal is for the people. we happen to be on bikes, but what we are is so much more complicated than the circles we spin. there are stories there and manners and mannerisms, sweat drips and drink drips, clicking cleats and inappropriately long track stands. we are supersaturated, making our way through most days condensed and solid and stoic. only when heated by that hill or that effort or the sun or a hand on a back at just the right time do we spill forth all that molecular adhesion, coating the moment and remembering it with flavor.

my dad always told me that a good party is one where everyone gets to bring something and participate, and then leave wanting more. on sunday, we all brought something, left it all on the road, and departed wanting more. i can't wait til the next one, if only to know more, get more than a glimpse, of the people who came together to make it happen. it's always a good day for pink.

Monday, May 28, 2012


i was on a river trip once in high school, all meek ambition and a fantastical concept of my own capabilities. tanned and tired and happy and dry for the first time in 18 hours, i was contentedly sitting by the cooking fire on an unlikely island in the middle of the petawawa. a guy named jim played a crooked guitar and sang johnny cash like only a guy named jim can, on a crooked guitar in the middle of a canadian river.

my friend nick, the taller, good-looking one, full of talent and charisma and enthusiasm, had found something in the river and wanted to share it. he stood there, dripping from his life jacket onto the pine needles between his teva straps, grinning like an idiot and waiting for me to join him.

i hate being wet.

and there i was, dry and fed and halfway to bedtime, with a glistening guy demanding company. of course i said yes.

i donned my life jacket and followed him to the river to discover his treasure and there it was: no river booty or skeletal remains or even anything shiny, just a big, black rock. thing was, i couldn't see  the rock. there was a strong, liquid current coursing over the top of it, hiding it from view. nick carefully picked his way through the shallow rapids, careful not to get tied up and break an ankle, and waited for me at the ever-changing bump of water. over the noise of the current, he told me to reach down and hang on. i didn't understand, so he demonstrated, squatting in the water, gripping the invisible ledge on the invisible rock, then he extended his body downstream behind him, and it all made sense.

he was weightless.

thousands of gallons of water from millions of years of water cycles and glaciers and evolution bore down on him, filling every fissure and pressing him downstream. he held on, face down in the current, as long as he could go without air. then he turned face up, let go of one hand, and smiled, squinting up at me.

i understood.

i took my turn and gripped the rock and eased into the current and disappeared. i was gone. there was no day or night or wet or dry or air or time. there was only current. streaming and streaming against me, i knew what it must be like at the speed of light. everything stopped and everything existed all at once. there was only now. i opened my eyes and watched light invade me at warp speed, surrounded by a constant blue pressure, my two-handed anchor forgotten. i had become the present.

i don't think i ever thanked nick for that evening. we returned to camp only after we had sufficiently waterlogged ourselves and used up all the strength in our hands, holding on for dear life, and finding something so much bigger than ourselves, and knowing we belonged.

Friday, May 25, 2012

guys with guts who hammer.

we must beware the rider with a gut, bib shorts, hairy legs, and mismatched kit at the saturday group ride.

he will hammer.

i showed up to the group ride last weekend, slightly nervous but mostly just optimistic; i was out for a ride and it was all i would have to do for the next little while. the sun was shining. i was wearing sunscreen and my usual kit. my bike worked, mostly. it was going to be beautiful.

at a group ride, like a group anything, there is much sizing-up and scrutinization. the categories and criteria are varied and storied and often false. that lady with a couple extra pounds and a really expensive shop-floor bike: she will hammer you. that guy with a comfortably rambling laugh, a mop of grey hair under his small carbon helmet and a white pinarello: he used to be a time trial specialist, and he knows more about wind than you do about being winded. then there's the unassuming, awkward-looking vince vaughan lookalike with a green jersey from a bike company that didn't make the bike he's riding with hairy legs: he showed up late, he will make the air part before him and drop you before you know it. the engineer riding his 'other' aero road frame: he will drop you. the nice, scruffy, grey-haired casual rider who got second at the race you finished DFL in: he can hammer AND corner so watch it. the shop owner and provocateur of all this two-wheeled silliness: he will drop himself in a ritzy neighborhood along the way and wish the group well. this is the saturday ride. assume the worst.

i spend my life knowing that few people ever know much about me, and those who know anything probably know too much. i assume the same about others: they are so much more than the nickname they've lodged in my brain, or the association i use to remember it. damon is an engineer and rides a bike made by engineers. jonathan lives in parkdale and went to italy to meet dario and have his pegoretti made for him for the italian fondos he does each year. chris rides a cervelo and broke a shifter cable on the first ride i did with him, finishing easily with the rest of the group, in a 39-12 gear combo up every hill. i'm just a weird guy on a steel bike who started crashing their group rides weeks ago, i'm terrible in the wind, but i'm okay on the climbs, and i make awkward conversation. we don't know each other. we ride together.

that ride ended up being a hard one. i ran out of water somewhere around 70k in, which was also around the time that i got dropped on a small rise into a whipping headwind next to the airport. we had attacked. i had worked, just enough to pull through two or three times, then i spun off and popped. jonathan passed me, working solo. then graham came up, a man of more than 60 years old, pedaling smooth as you like, into a stiff headwind, humming softly to himself. as i sucked wind and bottle and thrashed my pedals while trying not to look like i was beaten, i drifted to the right and let graham go by. then i did what any ashamed, beaten, no good rider would do: i went for his wheel.

i hung on to that wheel all the way around the airport.

an old man pulling a young man like flashy tin cans behind a beat-up VW.

it turns out that jonathan never did catch the leaders. they stopped at a stop sign and waited for the rest of us, jonathan soloing in, graham pulling my sorry ass. i thanked him, throughout the rest of the ride, for the pull that saved me. he shrugged it off, said no problem, and mentioned that time trialing was once his specialty. he's twice my age, and i couldn't bridge up to him if i was paid to.

and that other guy, in the wrong jersey with hairy legs and a vince vaughan-ness about him: he was up there with chris in the breakaway, and i couldn't hang with him. his belly hung low between his bib straps, but every time he pulled in the paceline, he jumped and we broke pace. when we attacked, he pulled through and left me behind.

we often don't look like the complete stories of ourselves. our scars may or may not be a starting point. we may or may not know any good stories, or even how to tell them. we don't know who woke up where or how they got there or whether or not they go home afraid of getting hit every night. we guess. we go on hypotheses. we must be proven wrong. we must be willing to look and learn.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

let's not do the editing thing here.


i hope you don't mind
but i started reading your book
and i dog-eared some pages
that reminded me of you.

i hope you don't mind 
but i'm borrowing your car keys
to drive away from you and this and those things and that taste
that i got in my mouth
like last time.

i hope you don't mind
but i've squandered our sex life
spent my best elsewhere
and left you the scraps.

i hope you don't mind
if i beat down your love song
and hum those tunes to myself
as i ruin your day.

i hope you don't mind 
if i cut off those pretty parts
praise them and water them and frame them
separate from you.

i hope you don't mind
if i forget the rest of the words
you were always so good with them
i'm sure you won't mind.

Friday, May 18, 2012


she asked why i hadn't written in a while, and, like all the posts of this month, i had a really good answer: .

that is not a typo. there is not that comfort. there will not be silence or sadness or the things that occupy emptiness when happiness runs dry. it's a space. there will be no televised alliteration.

when cracks in the pavement wrap around tires like awkward hugs, not knowing when to let go, and always doing it too soon or too late, momentum slips away in jagged pieces, defaulting to halted rejection. i didn't write about it, because it was happening. it's all been happening, and i've been looking for space, to let things ruminate and germinate and then reach some level of status. alas, it's been a big month.

there are things to enjoy on a daily basis, and there are things to document and write about after it's all come back together into some semblance of words that might capture an essence of what was. the little girl asking, before dinner, to head out into the alleyway so that she can ride her bike. the big one reading, with utter fascination, about how geckos and some snakes like their eyes to clean them because they don't have eyelids, but scales instead. the scales on the eyes are shed with the rest of the skin. i'm sure there's a poem in that somewhere, but i'll have to drink about it first.

yesterday, i rode my beautiful road bike 60k to coach a bunch of track and field youth in their individual instances of pain. the sun shone. the wind blew. the track brought glory and defeat and sometimes both. there was a tailwind and a headwind and a burn in the legs. then i got to run 8k. i did it with music because i knew i would need all the help i could muster to make the distance. i needed it. it helped. i made it. and i wondered how i would ever do this for 12k in july, in the rockies, without music. i wondered how i would make it through the duathlon in july. there is much to do.

there is more to write.
where did you go
and what did you see
and when you went there
and saw that
did you remember me?

did you remember that time that we walked along walls
stooping for dandelions and catching our falls
from grace or from innocence or the far off long somewhere
where dreams can come true like prisms in blue air?

when you tied up my shoes and zipped up my collar
and fastened my boots and for dinner would stall her
coming down from upstairs or out of the bed
still fuzzy and dreaming big dreams in her head

we stumbled through daydreams and walks in the woods
and i remember every playtime and patience, you stood
on the sidelines just hoping
and hoping 'til you burst
knowing the truth: we sometimes come first.

so settling for sunlight and breezes and naps
and medium and reflection's inevitable collapse
into one more slumber i yearn to exhaust
when you saw and you went were you home or were you lost?

and are they really all that different, anyway?