Friday, March 29, 2013

Thunderbuddies Unite

"Hey, you gonna let your thunder buddy ride alone?" Rafal Doloto asked nobody in particular.

What is he talking about? And who is this thunder buddy?

"Hey, your thunder buddy's by himself," the voice goaded. "He's probably wondering why you aren't by his side helping him."

The pace line rotated. Due to the odd number of people in the group, I was then paired next to Fred, who was wearing the exact same throwback jersey from yesteryear's now defunct Lincoln Bicycle Company/High Gear team. From head to toe, we were matching pair.

"There. That's much better. Thunderbuddies unite!"

It was Rafal's voice again. He was comparing Fred and I to Seth MacFarlane's Ted and Mark Wahlberg's John Bennett from the 2012 movie, Ted.

A thunder buddy is something that helps calm one's anxiety. For a child, this could be a teddy bear. According to MacFarlane, the can also be true for a grown adult.

MacFarlane must be on to something, because seeing Fred and I in those matching kits must have resonated in Rafal. It must have soothed his growing angst over the surge of wattage Lucas and Noah were throwing down at the front of the pace line. Rafal probably figured (correctly) that as soon as Fred and I were up front, things would calm down again. It did.

Rafal knows a good thing when he sees it.

The thing is, I'm not the only one in my household that has a thunder buddy shirt. My dog, Emmylou, has one too. Not the LBC/High Gear thunder buddy kit, although that would be sweet. No, she has the real deal: the Thundershirt made specifically for dogs.

If you've followed this blog for any amount of time, you know that my dog is somewhat of a spaz. You might have read that I put her on Prozac. True story. She's on Prozac because the Thundershirt didn't evoke enough of that swaddling, cuddly goodness that the thundershirt website claimed it would. Nope, she was still a wreck while wearing it.

Emmy still wears the Thundershirt from time to time. I might as well get some use out of it. She doesn't seem to mind it. I think the Thundershirt makes her look like one of those greyhounds or whippets at the dog track.

Of course, Emmy would need to shed a few pounds to look like that. And I'd have to wrap her Kibbles 'n Bits chute with a steel cage. That dog above has crazy eyes, too. Aside from those differences, a spot on resemblance if there ever was one.

Speaking of dog racing, I've only gambled on live animal racing of any kind once in my life. It was at the dog tracks in Council Bluffs back when I was in college. The occasion was a social event our dorm threw one night. Back then, there wasn't much to do in Omaha except visit the Old Market. That's still the case, but back then it was even worse. And because the Old Market was/is the only show in town, every dorm on campus went there. Like every weekend. That was until a disgruntled RA came up with the idea of hitting the dilapidated dog tracks in Council Bluffs for a night of dog racing.

Growing up, I heard about the dangers of gambling and was strongly discouraged from partaking in it. Unless of course, it was Bingo! night in the Gold Room of our local parish, St Gerard Majella. But bingo wasn't gambling. Oh no. Gambling was what you did outside of churches, at places of scum and villainy such as dog  tracks. Tsk, tsk, those were forbidden places.

Back then, the good folks of Iowa also forbade gambling. Now I'm pretty sure they allowed Bingo in Iowa, but we've already established that Bingo is not gambling. Interestingly, they also allowed dog racing. Why that -- and not Casinos until more recently -- is anyone's guess. I suppose they allowed dog racing because Nebraska raced horses at the former Aksarben race track. Perhaps their logic could have been: since bingo is not gambling, and dogs are not horses, and Nebraskans gamble on horses, therefore dog racing is not gambling. Yeah, something like that.

At any rate, Iowa allowed Dog Racing in Council Bluffs. That's how we ended up at the Dog Track instead of the Old Market. On the very first race, I plunked down two bucks on a dog. Lady luck, or a dog doper behind the scenes, was on my side that night. My dog came from mid-pack to close on the final straightaway, winning by over a body length. What a rush. That two buck bet returned $38, lighting up the gambling circuitry of brain like Maccau at night.

I quit on the spot. That's also a true story. I haven't placed a wager since. I'm still in the black by $36.

Speaking of quitting, I'm pressed against a deadline. Enough of polishing this turd. Time to call it good.

Thunder buddies unite!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Buttered Coffee and Coconut Cream Pie

I hitched a ride with Rafal and Lucas to last week's Tour De Husker Road Race. That was probably the best part of that race. The car ride. No. Let me clarify. The car ride home. The car ride to the race was almost as bad as the race itself.

It's not because Rafal was a poor driver. Nah, he's silky smooth. Drives like a pro. Five speed stick-shift even. Clutches effortlessly.

And his car is neat and comfy, too. Who knew that a Toyota Matrix was so roomy? He had three bikes on a rack up top and three sets of wheels in the hatch. Plus all of our gear.

Outside it was cold and clammy. A humid, 28 F degree with a stiff north wind was not ideal conditions for a road race. Welcome to spring bike racing in Nebraska.

But it was warm inside Rafal's car. I had the backseat to myself. I tried to nod off a little because I didn't sleep very well the night before. I didn't sleep well because my dog Emmy has hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism has something to do with her not being able to digest her food very well. I give her pills that fakes what her failing thyroid gland is supposed to do, but it's not perfect. About once every three to four weeks, she has acute pain for about 12-24 hours. This pain is especially pronounced when she gets up after laying down for a bout. Unfortunately, she's also a somewhat of a nervous dog. This makes it worse. When a loud sound like the furnace kicks on, she stirs. The stirring causes pain. Pain causes her to yelp. And, poor dog, the yelping causes me to wake up. That's what was going on the night before the race.

So as I was saying, I tried to get some sleep in the car. But how could I sleep when Rafal and Lucas were talking about rad stuff like fake iPhone car chargers that may or may not work?

After the small talk faded, Lucas started running his trap about how windy it was, and how cold it was, and how he rode all winter long outside, but on that day he didn't have the sense to pack any winter-weighted gear for a road race around a lake in blustery winds gusting above 20 MPH.

Unh.  That's when my heart rate started climbing. I tried to plug my ears and think of other stuff.

I remember thinking of an episode of Gilligan's Island where Gilligan tried to think of Mary Ann's coconut creme pie to distract him. That worked for a few seconds. But then, thinking of Mary Ann made me think of the movie star, Ginger. Of course, thinking of Ginger brought me back to Lucas, who's red beard has earned him a nickname of ginger. This was very unfortunate, as it simultaneously ruined my budding fantasy of Gilligan's Ginger while returning me to Lucas' incessant gibbering about how awfully cold the race was going to be.

"Three hours! Look at the wind! You can feel it pushing the car across the road," the bearded ginger exclaimed.  Three hours -- why didn't I pack my winter weight booties? It's gonna be awful. Just awful."

Now I like Lucas. And he's my teammate, after all. But dammit, he was getting in my dome and everything. I was starting to get psyched out about racing in the cold.

I started chewing the ends of my fingers off. I told myself to get a grip. Coconut pie. There, that's better. Mary Ann's coconut cream pie. Ginger. Lucas. Ah!!

"HTFU, HTFU, HTFU," I began muttering to myself, mantra-style.

"And that lake it going to make it even worse," Lucas said. "I mean, it won't be so bad going over the reservoir's dam this year because we'll probably have a tail wind on it, but once we get out of the shelter of the trees the back side of the course we'll be totally exposed to that north wind. It's gonna be awful. Rafal, do you have any heavy gloves I can borrow?"

I started shivering in the backseat. I looked out the window, at the depressing grey skies and thought, just what in the hell was I doing racing a bike on a day like this.

"You know what I'd be doing right now if I were at home?" Lucas said as if he read my mind. "I'd light a fire and just veg out in front of it with a hot cup of buttered coffee."

Buttered coffee? That's a new one. If you're like me, you'd never heard of it. So I found myself asking Lucas what it was about.

"Oh it's reaaaally good. Extremely smooth and of course, buttery. The chemical process also helps deliver the caffeine to your system more efficiently," Lucas said. "Here's how I do it -- in place of creamer, take a couple tablespoons butter and emulsify it in your hand blender--

Wa-wa-wait a second. Buttered coffee? Crackling fires? It's a trap.


In a few minutes, we'd be pinning numbers on jerseys while the wind blew the life out of our trembling hands.


Needless to say, I was a wreck before the whistle blew.

The car ride home was awesome, though. I got the full dig on buttered coffee.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Bonking, Sugar and Root Canals

What do meth-heads and cyclists have in common?

Bad teeth for one.

I developed a tooth ache after a long ride over a week ago. The tooth ache was brought about by saturating my pie hole with sugary gels, soft drinks and candy bars over the course of a 75 mile ride.

My awesome nutrition plan worked for about the first 70 miles. That last five, not so good.

Fortunately, those last few miles came after Shim and I turned away from the main group. A group that I desperately wanted to NOT expose my weakness to, which included Shim, Lucas, Rafal, Noah and our own World Champion Mark Savery. Three candy bars, a can of coke and one Rice Krispie treat got me through those first 70 miles with vigor, allowing me to save face in front of the entire group. Well almost. Shim joined me as I turned away from the group and headed home. At that point I was running on fumes. A Bonk was eminent. Within a couple miles, that good old woozy-headed feeling came on. I struggled to turn the pedals on a 2% false flat and then preceded to get dropped by Shim, who was soft pedaling while running his trap about how stupid it was to do an extra 25 mile loop the rest were doing. He didn't notice that I drifted back, way back in fact. It wasn't until he was a quarter mile up the road that he looked back, slowed down and allowed me to catch up. I then told him I had to pee.

Next to intentionally shifting your chain off your front ring, the "I need to pee" excuse is well played when bonking. It allows you to get off your bike (relieve yourself) and then take in some nourishment while shooting the breeze for a moment afterward.

As an aside, while peeing along Fontenelle Blvd and Sorensen Parkway, I noticed a large dog freely roaming the streets of North Omaha. Normally, this is not something you want to see when you're doing your business, especially considering the dog might take your actions as a threat to his territory. But since I was mid-bonk, and my brain was in a fuzz, I just thought that the whole scene was simply interesting. While I was urinating, he went car to car, standing on his giant hind legs, and with front paws resting on the roof, peering into each parked vehicle. Polar bear style. He never saw me. Whew. That was close and in hind sight, kinda scary.

Anyway, I finished my business and quickly stuffed my mouth with yet another Snickers and saddled up.

The amount of sugar subjected to my teeth that day overwhelmed a deep filling on the right side of my mouth. Over the next few hours, a tooth ache developed. The tooth ache's constant low grade throbbing evolved into a massive headache during the next 24 hours. I couldn't sleep Sunday night and called in sick on Monday.

I hate taking any medication. Hate it. But by early Monday morning, the pain was so bad that I started popping Aleve like it was Pez. A few hours later, the pain had subsided considerably. In its place, a spotted rash began to develop over my torso. Hives. Great. This is why I hate medication. It seems that every time I take something, my immune system goes berserk. In short order, bright red splotches formed directly over my kidneys.

With pain under control, I downgraded to a lower dosage of 200mg of Ibuprofen, and kicked in a few Benadryl to quell the histamine reaction.

A few days later, poor sleep, intermittent pain and recurring headaches prompted a visit to the Dentist. The Dentist suggested trying a round of antibiotics before going to option 2: root canal. As much as I hated the thought of antibiotics, it's worth a try to avoid a root canal.

More pills. More red splotches and a possible root canal in the future.

All of this to avoid bonking.

And I failed at that too.


Friday, March 8, 2013

That Old Team Kit

That old team kit, the one with the faded colors, stretched hems, small tears and see-thru britches.

That old team kit, the one that once was draped proudly over flesh and bones -- strictly on race days -- and representing an entity much larger than the rider themselves.

That old team kit, stained in blood and sweat while closing the gap, chasing down attacks, and sprinting for all the glory.

That old team kit, once as fresh and vibrant as the day it was dyed with its team colors.

Ah, that old team kit.

Alas, its time has passed. Teams changed, designs refreshed, fabrics and cuts upgraded. The old has been tossed, relegated to training, or nearly forgotten at the bottom of a dresser drawer. 

Will our fate be any different one day? While our DNA does wonders at repairing and mending the wear and tear, we cannot escape this destiny. Each will end up not unlike that old team kit: haggard, stretched, sagging and faded.

Though the morning sun shines upon the open road, beckoning to take it in anew, let us first pause to honor that which has passed. That old team kit evokes stories and memories worth recounting.

Indeed. It's better to wear and wear out than to never wear and tear at all.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Zen and the Art of Whataburger Maintenance

As I mentioned in my last post, we were on vacation last week in Texas. One of our stops was at Padre Island.

It was there, in a Whataburger restaurant that I met a master of Zen Buddhism. I don't remember her name, but it was Gayle or Carol or Vicki or Deb, and she worked a local fast food counter like none other.

Our time was short and we were on a tight schedule to get to the beach. Though the GPS map showed in great detail the highway and its beach access points along the sliver of Padre Island, I thought it'd be best to check with the locals for the best beach location. So at Port Aransas, I sauntered up to the Whataburger counter and ordered a vanilla shake and asked Gayle where the best access to the beach was.

Gayle's head tilted sideways when she looked at me. I say looked "at" me because it was sort of a vapid stare in my direction. Yes, it was definitely in my direction, but her gaze was fixed at a point through and beyond me, on an event horizon thousands of miles away.

"Oh honey, I'm not too sure, I haven't been there" she said in a voice as thick as sorghum syrup.

What? Hadn't been there? You could practically hear the surf crashing over the sizzling patties back in the kitchen. I reasoned that perhaps she didn't hear me properly.

"The GPS shows that the road at the next intersection will take us up pretty close. Do you know if we can access the beach from there?"

"I'm sorry. I really can't tell you. I don't know where the beach is."

As she spoke, I leaned in a little to look into her eyes to see if she was telling the truth. What I saw there was a sort of freakish depth unfold before me, like staring up at the Milky Way while camping. As I looked, it felt as if I was falling forward as the planets and stars, galaxies and swirling jets of plasma gas nebulae whizzed by. It should be noted that I feel the same way when riding on Chris Spence's wheel.←That might be a bit of hyperbole (Spence, not Whataburger), but you get the drift. I shut my eyes and caught myself on the counter before I feel in too deep.

Looking back now, the Whataburger Gayle experience has left me both humbled and horrified.

Humbled because Gayle was apparently content. Content at what? A static existence? Telling customers a thousand times over that she had no idea where the beach was? I suppose it's possible. I mean, she was seemingly indifferent that an awesome force of nature was tearing down and rebuilding a shore line just a stone's throw away from where she stood. She just didn't care. Nada.

I was horrified for all the same reasons.

From this, I have concluded that I could never be a Buddhist  Yeah, life is a struggle. Life involves pain and suffering. But there's some good stuff worth living for, too. Emptying oneself of all cares, good and bad, is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

No thanks.  Don't throw Barry out with the bathwater.