One Hunny

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I didn’t know where I was or how I had gotten here. I had been riding for so long, I had forgotten how many hours I had been out.

I contemplated this thing between my legs. It had become an extension of my body rather than just a bicycle. Life before bike faded into a distant, welcomed haze.

It was a perfect plan. My family was away. My phone was turned off. I had the whole day and no need to rush home. Warm. Sunny. Dry.  My pockets packed full of food and my bottles topped off. So I had started riding, with vague thoughts of doing 100 miles but not sure how my body would respond.  It had been at least 5 years since I had ridden a similar distance. There was always something daunting and impressive about that century milestone. Back in the day, I would ride these once or even twice a week. But those days were long gone.

I rolled out in small gears, through Weston and Concord, up Strawberry Hill, working my way towards Littleton. In Littleton, I picked up our rollerski route and gnawed away the miles.  The slow grind up Oak Hill.  The sudden drop into Harvard Center. The steep climb out. Then out to Westford, running low on water and fuel.

Not quite half-way, I started to feel the hunger knock. I was out of food and water and not sure how many miles until I found a store.  I was somewhere near Carlisle at this point. I think. Rolling at Route 225, soft pedaling the hills, waiting for a country store around the bend.

In Carlisle center, I ate tub of German potato salad and drank a coke. I was craving a gin and tonic, of all things. I filled my bottles and pockets again with food, and set out to ride some more.  The potato salad settled nicely in my belly, kept me from going too fast. I rolled into the cranberry bogs, letting the bike pick its way along the twists and turns.

And that’s about where I started to forget where I was. Started to forget who I was. I was just a guy on a bike, with many miles more to ride and a cold beer waiting for me at the end. So I just kept riding.

In Concord Center, at about 75 miles, I stopped to fill my bottles one last time and chatted with a guy on a circa 1990’s JP Weigle. I told him stories about my old Richard Sachs bike while he marveled at my LOOK 695. I’m pretty sure I did. I was a little hazy at that point and it’s possible I was hallucinating.

I felt stronger and stronger over the final quarter.  Only my hands hurt from gripping the bars for nearly 5 hours.  I kept going.  I pulled on familiar roads like loose threads to eek out a few more miles.  Getting to 100 had become a matter of principle.

The sun was starting to drop as I approached home.  I had been on the bike for 5 1/2 hours, not including time spent refueling and checking the map on my phone.  I was high on endorphins. My bike was covered with the dust of the roads and countryside, the handlebars and tubes sticky with drink mix.

I’d have kept going had there been more daylight.

But 100 was good enough.

 

 

Boo! Salem Witches Cup 2014

Salem Witches Cup 2014 romeo

credit: Pete Banach – SpokenShutter.com

After missing the Witches Cup last year, I was happy to be back and even happier to see that the predicted rain had given way to sunny skies. Perfect conditions for a mid-week, twilight New England criterium.

I had slogged my way up 128 in stop-and-go traffic, with my 11-year old son to keep me company.  He kept urging me to a top-1o finish and a payout, but my expectations were lower.

We found parking close to the race course.  I kitted up and we went to find the boy some food, searching for an elusive slice of pizza, but settling for a muffin instead.  Along the way, people kept stopping us to ask about the race, reminiscing of the early years and Eric Heiden’s tree-trunk thighs.

Then I rolled out for a warm-up along Collins Cove. A car full of local girls passed me, a dark-haired leaning out the back window, shouting, “Go, Romeo!  Shake that beautiful boot-ay!”

Once back at the race course, I rode some laps, spotted my son with a slice of pizza.  “They had it at the VIP tent this whole time!”

On the start line, Richard Fries called up one rider after another until the front row was packed, then the rest of us swarmed to find good positions. My son waved and gave me the thumbs up from the side of the road.  The whistle sounded and I immediately lost 20 spots.  But I had an hour to recover from that.

After a few laps in, I was feeling good for the most part. I was having problems with my left hand. My fingers kept locking out, making it hard to control the brakes, until I stopped trying to brake and just carried my speed through the corners. I was loving the way my Look 695 and Vittoria rubber were handling the turns.  I kept finding more and more speed through until I started to get into trouble.  I had a few close calls with riders cutting across my line and vice versa, riders squeezing through the inside and getting tangled, riders overlapping wheels and almost going down.  At one point, my bike lost contact with the tarmac and skipped through the turn and I ended up with my front wheel in some guy’s derailleur, fortunately damaging neither of us.

That was enough for me to back off a bit. The main goal was still not to crash.  Nonetheless, before the race I had discussed with my son what he should do if I crashed out and ended up in the ambulance and on the way to the hospital.

With my speed under control and my nerves recovered, I kept finding ways to slingshot my way up to the front of the race.  I kept my eye out for Adam Myerson — a cycling buddy from when we were teen-agers — and tried to follow him while staying out of his way.  I never had the balls he has to thread the way through a dodgy pack of riders and I definitely don’t have them now, so I had to work harder to get to the front.

But I did get to the front and feel the wind full on in my face, closing up gaps to lead riders, and dreaming of going off the front.  With nearly every lap, I could hear my son yelling, “Go, Pop!” and every so often, I could see him jumping up and down in his matching Romeo jersey.

I was racing the race — not just surviving — and I felt better and better.

Until 10 laps to go.

That’s when my left hip flexor started to cramp up.

So I backed off a few laps, tried to hold position and let the muscle relax.  Eventually, it did and with 7 to go, I was back at the front of the race, foolishly inserted into the rotation at the head of the field.

The last 5 laps were blistering. I was in the top-20, but a little too far back to figure in the sprint. I was counting on a last corner inside line gamble to make up some positions, knowing full well I would be out of gas to sprint the final 200 meters.

But there was a crash instead. I couldn’t see where it was or where it was spreading, so I backed off, gave up a bunch of spots and all of my speed.  I still sprinted to the finish, but a sprint for 30-something place is purely one of principle.

Still, I was satisfied.  On my cool-down laps, I thanked everybody I saw:  spectators, course marshals, police officers.  And they thanked me for coming to race. Sometimes the locals get frustrated with the commotion the race causes, but Salem was glad to have us.

After the race, my son was ecstatic. He had never seen me race a bike like that before and he couldn’t believe it.

I was excited, too, and it was well past midnight before I had calmed down enough to fall asleep.

 

Holy Kit!

team romeo cycling jersey kit

Enough people have asked me about the cycling kit, so here is the story:

The kit is “one of a kind”, custom fabbed by Champion Systems. I created the design, developed the logo, did all the artwork. I have a limited run of shorts and jersey that I’ve shared with a select few.

I train and race in this jersey, under Team Romeo.

“Romeo” is an homage and memorial to my little boy, Romeo, who died as a infant. He would be 9 1/2 years old now. Cycling is one of the things that has helped me live with his loss. For me, grieving has been about externalizing it — so I literally wear it on my sleeves with this clothing.  It describes my own suffering — on and off the bike — in a way that feels clean and productive.

“Romeo” was also often found on cycling jerseys of the 60’s under the Belgian team Flandria-Romeo, so there is also a nod to the heritage of the sport.