Friday, October 26, 2012

The Time I Nearly Froze to Death

It was 80° F this past Tuesday. Wednesday brought high winds, thunderstorms and a 40° drop in temperature.

Inevitably, when the temps fall below 50° F, many cycling folks begin salivating about embrocation.  Embrocation is a liniment rubbed on bare skin to mask the effect of cold.  It doesn't make you any warmer. It just feels like it. I'm not sure if that's good thing. You know that pain that you feel when you're getting frost bite? Well that's nature's way of indicating that you should probably put something warmer on than scented butter. And the stuff ain't cheap, either, costing upward of $5 an ounce.  That may not sound like much, but that's $640 a gallon.  Not that you'll need a gallon. You'll be long dead of hypothermia before a pint of that goop is gone.

Anyway, if you're a newbie and are considering riding outside this winter, you aught to consider investing in some decent riding gear. It's worth it.  And if you're local to Omaha, Mark Savery is putting on a free winter riding clinic at the Papillion Trek store (73rd and Giles) on November 5th.  Mark knows his stuff. I've learned lots from his listening to his advice.

The cold weather also means that we all have a choice on whether to ride the trainer or to embrace/tolerate the cold outside.

Since I hate spending time on the trainer, I'm in the latter camp. I tolerate the cold.

Notice how I didn't say that I embrace the cold.  I may have tried fooling myself  into "embracing" the cold weather at one time in my life. Back then,  I was delusional. Aside from the occasional nice winter scenery, cold weather riding basically sucks. It sucks because, in addition to being cold, it's often wet and/or windy. Nice. And throw in four months of bleak, gray cloud cover. Meh, embrace that, cold-winter riding fans.

YPG, it still beats the trainer.

I could have used some of Mark's winter clothing advice one winter. It was a frigid day with wind chills that made it feel like -10° F. Visibility was poor due to blowing snow.  But I wasn't afraid. No, I was a macho.

I was also seven years old and was preparing to go sledding.

Back in the 1970s, we didn't have any of that fancy-schmancy $640/gallon embrocation gunk. Times were bad. We had to make do without.  I got ready for cold weather the old fashioned way by layering it on. Knitted hat, fake fur lined jacket, mittens, scarf, snow pants over wide-wale corduroys, a sweater, turtleneck, thermal unders and a pair of itchy wool socks. Over my leather shoes I wore black rubber boots with rusty, adjustable clasps, only two of which were functional on each boot. I put plastic bread sacks around my shoes to help slide them into the boots. Mom said that the plastic sack served as an  additional layer of insulation to keep my toes nice and warm.

Of course all that bundling and exertion resulted in a sweaty mess before stepping one foot out the door.

The walk to the sledding hill was just over a quarter mile. The blowing snow found its ways inside of gaps in my layering and onto clammy skin. By the time I arrived, my sweaty feet had already gone numb, but not numb enough that I couldn't feel the burning cold or my itchy socks.

I took only one run down the hill before deciding that I wasn't nearly as tough as I had previously thought. I  started home.

I walked only 50 yards before believing that I was going to freeze to death.  I decided that survival was my top priority and headed towards the first sign of civilization, which was Mr & Mrs Aldinger's house some 50 yards from where I stood.

I trudged through snow drifts. I turned my back to the driving wind. I curled my fingers in my mittens. Finally, I arrived at the Aldinger's front door and rang the door bell.

Mr Aldinger answered the door. He looked surprised to see me.

"I'm freezing to death, can I come in?"

"Y-Yes, by all means, please come on in."  Mr Aldinger adjusted his bottle of oxygen from his right to left arm and then swung the storm door wide enough to allow me to enter. He took a deep draw through his plastic nose tube, then said, "It sure is nasty out there, young feller. You could catch pneumonia --"

"Who's at the door, dear?" called Mrs Aldinger from around the corner.

"It's young Brady Murphy from up the street, Gladys. He's been out in the weather and needs to warm up or he says he'll freeze to death. Now we wouldn't want that, right? How about fixing him a nice cup of hot chocolate while I call his parents to let him know that he's safe with us."

For the next hour, we drank hot chocolate and ate sugar cookies while playing checkers together.

After I had sufficiently recovered, I layered back up to embrace the brutal cold hike back home.

We lived all but five houses away.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Never Leave A Man Behind

"I don't suppose you boys have IDs on ya?" asked public safety officer Joe Hardy.

It wasn't a difficult question. We didn't have our IDs. But nobody wanted to talk. Shrugged shoulders and vacant stares was all PSO Hardy got from us.

"I didn't think so," Hardy said. "Get out of the pickup truck and into the patrol car. We're going to have to go get this thing written up."

An hour earlier, I was with my three roommates and two other friends at our house at 34th and California Street.  It was Wednesday night October 9th, 1991.  A half a pot of coffee on the dining room table had gone cold as we studied and did school work.  At around midnight, I had had enough and needed a break.

It was warm that night and I wanted to get out of the house. Suddenly, for no better reason than why not, I shut my book and said, "I'm going streaking. Who's with me?"

For me to suggest something like this was out of my character. There was a moment of silence as the rest tried to figure out if I was joking or serious.

"I'm totally serious," I said.  "Who's with me?"

My roommate Scott Alter was all about this kind of mischief.  He lived for the moment as well as anyone I've ever known.  He could walk into a party knowing no one and emerge being everyone's friend. Scott simply knew how to have fun. Of course he was with me.

There was also no need to persuade roommate Robert. Robert -- or Rocking Robbie Pisco as he preferred -- was a hot blooded Italian who backed down from nothing or no one. Sports, academics, women -- there was no challenge that was too great for Rockin' Robbie Pisco. When he saw that I meant what I said, I believe he just stood up and yelled, 'YEEEEEEEEEAAAHHH!"

Friends Dan 0'Keefe and John "Hugs" Hospotka were not roommates but happened to be at our house that night.  Dan was the quiet type. They say that you never know the quiet types. He simply nodded his head to indicate that he was in.

In truth, I'm unsure why Huggs was at our house that evening. John was not on your traditional four/five year plan. He was a lifetime student. He knew just about everyone on campus. Or at least, just about everyone knew him. They knew him because he gave everyone hugs. I'm not kidding here. He just went around literally hugging everyone. So much so that that's what everyone called him: "Hugs".  Anyway, Hugs gave the thumbs up that he was also in on the plan.

And then there was my roommate Tom. Tom was the most pragmatic of my roommates. He was the thinker. He represented reason amidst the chaos that the other three of us presented to him. As a result, Tom was entrusted with the household budget. He collected rent and paid the bills. He got us to school on time. And he could prepare a can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs like no one.

When Tom saw that all of us knuckleheads were committed to streaking, he agreed to be our get-away car driver. He also happened to be the only one besides Scott who had a car, and there was no way Scott was going to miss out on this. So, we sorta needed him to drive or it just wasn't going to work.

The plan I suggested was have Tom drive us to campus in his pickup truck. He would drop us off at the top of the mall, at 24th and California, right next to the all-women's dorm, Deglman hall (#26). At that point, we would only be wearing boxer shorts. On top of our heads. Just boxer shorts. Nothing else. We would then proceed westbound down the mall, passing by Swanson Hall (24), St John's chapel (28), the Library (29), the Student Union (22), then Kiewit (21) and Gallagher Halls (19). Finally, at the bottom of the mall, Tom would be waiting for us with his pickup truck at Wareham parkway. In all, a distance of two city blocks that was home to 2,000 on-campus residents.

It was a reasonable plan.  We were all college students in relatively good shape. Well, Hugs kinda looked like the Buddha (the fat and happy Buddha), but the distance wasn't that far.  It was after midnight, midweek. We'd be there and back before very many noticed. Right?

Tom dropped us off as planned. We streaked past Deglman and Swanson Halls without issue. I was the first to reach the fountain in front of St John's. On the spur of the moment, I climbed up on top of the six foot pedestal. It was at that point that I heard some girls yelling out Swanson Hall's windows. I looked and saw silhouettes gathering at the windows. I climbed back down and started heading down the mall.

Robert was next to climb the fountain's pedestal. More yelling from Swanson Hall. Robert started yelling back. This only encouraged Scott to be even more obnoxious when it was his turn.  When I looked over my shoulder, Scott was cupping his hands around his mouth to amplify his yelling. By now, cat calls were also coming from Kiewit and Gallagher Halls. I started running. Really fast.

I spotted Tom waiting with the pickup truck on Wareham parkway. I was the first to climb in. Then Scott, Robert and Dan. By now, the entire center of campus was in an uproar. I saw camera flashes from dorm windows.

"LET'S GO, LET'S GO!" Scott yelled while pounding on the truck's sidewall.

"Wait, Hugs is not with us!" Robert countered.  "Never leave a man behind!"

To my horror, I looked up the mall to see Hugs strolling leisurely along as if he was the Grand Marshal of the Rose Bowl parade or something. Only this Grand Marshal's boxers were draped over his head.  Not that that would have stopped him from giving you one of his namesake hugs.

It probably only took an extra 30 seconds, maybe a minute, but it felt like an eternity before Hugs finally climbed into the back of the pickup. Tom sped through the parking lot to exit campus property. I sighed in relief. I thought for sure that we were going to be caught.

That's when we saw the flashing lights of the public safety vehicles speeding to block our exit. PSO Joe Hardy nabbed us.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Bring Me a Bucket

I've reached a new low.

This past Wednesday evening, I rode my Madone to KFC to buy a bucket of fried chicken.

As in finger lickin' good.

Anyway, I don't think the good folks at the KFC on 40th and Dodge had ever seen a high end road bike parked outside their door. They sure liked my fancy road shoes, though.  Even said so.

"Those are some fancy shoes there."

"Thanks.  They're made for my bike pedals. They clip right in, locking shoe to pedal."

"Ha ha ha, that's funny. Regular or extra crispy?"

Funny was those fancy carbon fiber road shoes on greasy KFC floors.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Hipster Thread

This cooler weather makes for excellent cycling.

Most of the year, I commute by bus in the morning and cycle home after work. This works best for my schedule because at a distance of six miles from door to work, the commute is just long enough in the summer to cause a hot sweaty mess, and short enough in the frigid winter that it's not worth the extra effort to get bundled up for the ride.  But now, the weather is perfect, neither too warm nor too cool. This allows me to ride into work in my business attire, hipster style.

I was mulling over this whole thing while riding in the other day. It might have been because I wasn't wearing a stitch of spandex. Perhaps it was because my right pant leg was rolled up so it wouldn't get caught in the drive chain. Or maybe it was because I was toting a road kit in my messenger bag, next to a hand packed lunch with a thermos of hot coffee.

The crisp cool air, the crunch of dry leaves and the hum of the tires on the pavement lulled me into smug feeling of wholesomey goodness.

As I was track-standing at an intersection, it dawned on me that I was in solidarity with my hipster brethren. This caused me to quiver involuntarily; I lost my balance and had to click out of the pedals to keep from eating shit. After gathering myself, I took the following litmus test. It goes like this.

Question 1: Did you like the way Urkel dressed then? How about now?

Question 2: What's your take on skinny jeans?
This one I failed on. Last Friday I rode in to work in skinny jeans and a flannel shirt buttoned all the way up. I changed into business attire when I got there. Later that evening, I rode home in a v-neck tee shirt and skinny jeans.

Question 3: How do you feel about facial/ body hair?
I wore a full beard at the beginning of 2012 and sported wookie sticks much of the year. I also let my hair grow out this summer. However, I still bathed regularly, wore deodorant -- and for extra credit -- had my teeth cleaned professionally twice in the past year.

Question 4: Do fixed or single speed bikes appeal to you?
Guilty here, too. As winter approaches, the idea of having a low maintenance bike for the street crud is appealing. That would be a sixth bike in the stable, which would also equal the number of pair of shoes in my closet.

Question 5:  Do you have a current racing license?
Yes. Two, if you count Masters Swimming. But maybe a better question is: have you been shirking racing lately? Shim mentioned that I reminded him of another friend who trains to race, but never actually races. Ouch. Thanks, pally.  I countered that the only race I trained for but bailed on was the Hy-Vee Triathlon, and that was because of a registration technicality.  I also wanted to mention that I raced in this year's Corporate Cup 10K running race, but telling a cyclist that my last two attempts at racing were a 10K and bailing on a triathlon wasn't going to cut it.

So in conclusion, I'm a mixed bag. It appears that I have some hipster tendencies. I commute by bike. I ride the bus. I hug trees.  I also have roadie tendencies, too. And, I train in multiple disciplines and have raced top events in swimming, running and cycling in 2012.


Which character(s) do you identify with here?