Time Warp

I’ve been so preoccupied with work lately I’ve recently experienced a weird sensation of displacement.

We’ve been riding around Louisville a lot—everywhere we go actually. Some of our routes have become rather rote, in a way. But one day, as I’m heading out to the Kroger (or what I commonly, and incorrectly, call QFC) and cross under a freeway overpass, crossing the next intersection I look to my right, and then to my left and proceed through. When I checked to my left something caught my eye: the freeway entrance ramp stating “South I-65 Nashville”. Totally common around here, but it caught my eye nonetheless, making me remark to myself, “Where the hell am I that I’m close to Nashville?”

Louisville, dumbass! Not only was it a sensation of displacement, it also reminded me how “out of the loop” we are about cars and how “regular” people get around. These freeways with their entrance and exit ramps and directional signs, they’re so out of our realm that I hardly take notice of them. Kind of interesting I think how unimportant things like that become when you remove them from your life; things like pumping gas, searching for parking, and many others I’m sure.

Mechanical Thoughts

(This post existed as a draft up until 9/3/2019, originally drafted 11/12/08)

I’ve been a professional bicycle mechanic for a few years now. “Where do I want to take it?” is a question that I ask myself frequently. Why did I get into it in the first place? This I know the answer to: Because I was hating the alternative. That being a corporate desk-jockey working for insulting wages doing tasks that utterly lacked pleasure or satisfaction. So now I’m a mechanic, and love it.

“Why do I enjoy it, why is being a mechanic pleasurable?” Because it’s fun. Getting your hands dirty—using both your muscles and your brain. Helping people out who are in need. Keeping these people on the road; helping them remain self-sufficient in their chosen means of transport. It’s also an interesting subject, seeing the evolution of components and technology (or rather notice how not much has actually changed). It’s a field that comprises a lot of my skills and takes from a lot of my previous experience; and this in itself is satisfying. Most of the time, the environment is filled with like-minded people which can be rewarding in its security.

“What is the future of it for me?” This is the one that I cannot readily answer. I think I do a good job of being a mechanic, however doubt enters my work space at times. More accurately diminished self-confidence rather than in abilities. Sometimes these doubts are inspired from a customer’s knowledge seemingly besting mine. That sense of competitive defensiveness always brings questions of doubt. I am confident I can repair just about any machine that crosses my stand, so it’s really just the thought of “knowledge” not being readily in my hand. And really this is just a factor of the sporadic lack of confidence in vocalizing that knowledge. The occasional inability to spew details and precise specs on specific bikes or components. Is this a commonly felt notion? Is my “bicycle personality”, hampering my mechanical experience? My personality being that of a cyclist who prefers simplicity and longevity—this relating to the fact that I don’t “jump on” enough varied bikes, components, doohickies and/or widgets? I like my few bikes simple and functional. Maybe I’m boring that way, I like to think of it as mostly utilitarian—to me that’s part of the bicycle’s beauty.

While I’m surrounded by the bikes and parts and all other such accoutrements of the bicycle mechanic, I sometimes feel stumped by the people who, from my perspective, are desk-jockeys who are likely learning data online as opposed to doing their white-collar tasks. (Admittedly, that judgement is just a knee-jerk reaction, and I don’t really mean it). Some other times, even in these surroundings, doubt creeps into my mind. “Am I merely a mediocre mechanic?” or perhaps, “Is this a mediocre profession?” I honestly don’t think so when I step away from these thoughts and really focus on my abilities. I do honestly think this is a great profession (certainly not in economic ways of course—it certainly is not as lucrative as I’d like; more on that below), it enables me to be around typically interesting people, it provides a great deal of satisfaction and that sense of accomplishment. But in some ways it seems like a finite profession. Definitely finite in it’s cap on income, but will it also be finite in it’s satisfaction and level of accomplishment. Factors I was keenly aware of when I began; factors I accepted. But. What’s next? 

Can one make a career as a bicycle mechanic? In Louisville, KY? Anywhere? At the moment I’m not making as much money as I was while in Seattle (that is understandable in a way I know, but…). The statement, “You don’t get rich in the bicycle industry” is often heard in the shop I’m in now. It’s stated in a way that implies someone asked for a raise of executive proportions. Getting rich was never my intention. Being paid equitably for time and effort, positive attitude and out-going ambition is all that is asked really. It’s probably just a factor of working for a small business owner, a factor of working for someone else—and that’s not something easily adjusted. Right? So in a way, that’s a finite direction to take the profession.  

What’s next? Owning my own shop? Perhaps. I often thought it’d be a good idea. Maybe start building my own frames? Extremely appealing. I’ve always wanted to get back into mechanical/industrial design, re-hone my dusty CAD skills. Travel to Europe and wrench there for a while? Revive the magazine and get Cranked back in print and back on the shelves? Hmmmm, not so sure. Seek corporate levels and get a “bicycle” industry desk job? Rather not, but the previous three all feel like viable options, just gotta start the planning process again. Can I do all three? Eventually, own my own shop, where I can fabricate my own frames, but only after a few years of cycling and wrenching in France and Italy. Sounds good to me. Someone send me a large sum check! What preparations are needed at this early stage of the game? There’s a lot to figure out, a lot to get busy on.

As of Late

I’ve been working like a dog. It’s been good though. Bike Couriers is a good shop, I’m really glad to be there. I’m glad to be here in Louisville, the change for me personally was necessary, and this geographic change has been good.

Louisville is an interesting town. I’m not sure if it’s the town, the new settings, the new bike shop, the general inability to stay in front of a computer for more than an hour or so at a stretch, or what, but I just really haven’t been wanting to post to this site. I’ve taken a few photos here and there, but I just haven’t been in the mood to write exactly.

My time writing this blog may be coming to a close. Perhaps I’ll generate another elsewhere, or redo this one. I’m not sure whether or not I want this site to be a part of my identity any longer. Things have changed; we’ll see how they progress.

In the meantime, who is this guy?

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Post Arrival

We’ve made it to Louisville, Kentucky. It was a quick trip across, we’ve been here just over a week, and we’re just about settled. Old Louisville: cool, eclectic, part of town (loving this place, where I’m at right now). Bike Couriers: very cool bike shop, really Louisville’s only urban, inner-city shop (website updating soon); very Magna-rific at times.

I don’t have the internet at my leisure just yet, so this is an extremely brief post.

Bike racks here look like this:

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sometimes like this:

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and more commonly, like this:

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Time in a Bottle (Post RAO Re-cap)

This past weekend was the Race Across Oregon, an event that I’ve mentioned previously and have been anticipating for some time now. The one we all know and love, Daniel Featherhead was Seattle’s contender and while he didn’t finish the race, he rode outstandingly fast and hard. I myself am extremely proud of him, and am proud to have been on his support crew, regardless of the outcome. We all agree that we came away with great lessons learned.

After getting the support vehicle inspected the crew was educated in the course and what to do and not to do as a rookie. Somehow, while we were attempting to heed that advice, we managed to fulfill most everything advised not to do. One thing that seemed paramount in our problems was the lack of sleep that Daniel got—we in the crew certainly could have gotten a few half hours more sleep. As John stated, we were sandbagged from the start, maybe so.

But hey, we were excited, probably a little nervous too. Three o’clock in the morning comes quick. We were off, and soon enough Daniel was in the pack leaving the starting line. The crew’s first priority was getting fuel for the Mercedes-Benz 207D, I assume the “D” stands for diesel. Our attempt at getting fuel reserves for the many hundreds of potential miles with no fill-up stations were daunted by the one Portland station we stopped at only selling single gallon containers. This proved to be an “issue” later in the day.

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The starting pack.

The first several hours of the race were great with excitement, getting a feeling of what it’s like to run support, how to do things, and how not to break rules (safety being priority number one for RAO organizers). We figured out the first day was when we were only allowed to leapfrog Daniel while he rode; van to rider hand-offs were not allowed during this time (this also meant reaching out to adjust derailleurs while hanging out the van window was prohibited), only able to get out and hand-off water and food to Daniel gave us the opportunity to stretch our legs frequently. The problem with this was all the other riders and their support crews were doing the same. This factor indicated to us an almost unrealistic and seemingly problematic dependence on cars (and fuel as we learned) in the RAO and likely other ultra marathon events like it. I’m not too sure what the alternative could be however—all in all it’s like an ironic co-dependence that’s always existed in bicycle racing.

Throughout the morning Dan’s progress and strength was high, impressive as usual. Especially with his care-free and can-do attitude beaming: at one point hearing his loud crew car approaching from behind he slung his spent banana at our windshield, just messing around, it produced peels of laughter in the van. Good ol’ Daniel, our nervousness for ourselves and for him diminished. This leapfrogging and attempts at communication via radio continued into the early afternoon, we couldn’t believe how early it was still, we couldn’t believe how much further this race entailed. 540 miles total—utterly ridiculous.

At one point the diesel situation became the Diesel Debacle, at Maupin we learned that the only pump in town didn’t offer diesel. We grew worried and spent the next half hour figuring out the logistics on having enough fuel for the long passage between fueling stations. Not only was their distance from each other an issue, their closing times were likewise a cumbersome detail to determine. There were many options, the best we determined left Daniel unsupported—with a loaded musette bag of course—for just under two hours and kept us on route (where we were able to get an idea where the leading three racers were). While the rig surprisingly got pretty good fuel efficiency, this Benzo was difficult to drive considering it’s lack of power steering and extremely short gears. Beware your choice of vehicles in next year’s RAO.

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Extra—non-regulatory—containers of diesel

We retrieved Dan as he was ascending some pretty steep switchbacks on the way to Fossil. He looked tired and hot; mild feelings of guilt for abandoning him crept in. Once he reached the summit, we dashed those guilty thoughts as we witnessed him rocket down the other side. The leapfrogging proceeded the same way for the most part until we began to experiment with vehicle-to-rider hand-offs.

At some point in the later afternoon, Daniel decided to take a break from the bike. Much to our resistance, we let him bust a nap; his complaints of heat-exhaustion, breathing difficulty, and shuddering cold seemed evident. It was a difficult decision to make, but we let him sleep. In retrospect this may have been the time we should have bagged the race entirely, but he got up, ate some food, straddled the bike and rode on.

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Daniel, about to devour a banana.

After darkness fell, the support vehicle was required to pace Dan with safety lights and such. His state seemed to progress further and further into exhaustion and delirium. At least that’s what it looked like through the windshield. At one point we broke out the binoculars to determine if he was riding in an appropriate gear—is there any delirium developing? is he aware of what he’s doing? It had the feeling of being one of those zookeepers observing and making notes about the caged gorillas. For the most part, it seemed good, but we had our concerns. We performed the hand-offs when needed and attempted to coddle him less; an attempt to keep him on his bike.

Some duration after Time Station 3 in Long Creek we were all growing weary, especially Daniel. I dozed in the passenger seat and was woke at 3:38 am while we were pulling over with Daniel; shortly after the decision to hang it up was made. After nearly a triple century in under twenty-four hours Daniel stepped foot into the van and took a very long nap, succumbing to his exhaustion, coldness, and at this point, likely delirium. It was a great weekend, ultra marathon style.

Check out some more photos here as well as a few updates from the weekend at Daniel’s site sevralprojex.com; donations can still be made for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America there as well. A big thanks to Daniel for letting me help on his team (I’ll fly out for future races!), thanks to the rest of the team (I think we rocked!), and thanks to the race organizers and other competitors (all very nice people).