Alrighty Then, Week Off

A few weeks ago, at our team dinner, the kids attempted to school Richie in # v. @ and other twitter niceties. Fair warning: The following could be construed as a grumpy old person post. #grumpyoldperson

Sometimes, when I’m sitting in bed in the morning, drinking my cup of tea and I cast my mental net #thinkinrealhard out into the social media web, I can sort of understand it #notquiteclueless. I see that it is a community of sorts: someone types something out on their little device #widescreentviphone6 and it is instantly seen by everyone following #lemmingstothesea that person. You get to know what that person is thinking right then, as if you were there! #butyou’renotsodon’tkidyourself.

So I get that part—it’s communication—which is probably where the word community comes from #toolazytogoogleit and it is all about connecting via communication. But wait: What are we actually communicating?

I’m a polymath #lookitup and so I like to connect at a deep and real level #D&R#sosanctimonious about lots of different things and this trend of more and more sprightly communication leaves me shaking my head, just as the tortoise must have shaken its head as the hare sprinted past, leaving a cloud of dust in its wake. #aparableyouareprobablytooyoungtoknowabout #andprobablyhaslostitsrelavenceanyway

I suppose it’s an age thing #grumpyoldperson and if you’ve grown up communicating by actually talking to someone #actuallytalkingtosomeone or by writing a letter on a piece of paper and mailing it, #whatsthiswhitethingwithmarksonit then the instant and brief communication offered by certain aspects of social media isn’t going to resonate, because the need has not been created in your psyche.

Ha! #lightbulb#!!! Since I, as middle-aged person, have not spent my formative years in a world filled by social media #alternateuniverse my communication needs #darkages have been filled with what I’ve already got. #whatsthiswhitethingwithmarksonit #actuallytalkingtosomeone

Good. That’s solved. #alrightythen Now onto other conundrums of modern living #passwordmanagerpasswordiswhat?#whydon’tihaveanyfollowers?



Alrighty then, Highland Park

Week 6 of being on the road and all that denotes

There comes a time in the ‘cross calendar when the weather stops being perfect and turns cold. Or, god forbid, rainy and cold. This past weekend at Highland Park was cold. Not the numbing cold of NBX (that wind off the water in the shady pit…) but in the low 30’s at 9:00 am when Richie likes to arrive at the venue for his 12:00 start. Brrrr.

I set up the tent-thingie near the lake, but quickly realized that we really wanted sun, not shade, and so I angled the new camp chairs outside of the tent, in the sun. I bought the chairs last week, thinking that as long as we have a tent-thingie now, we may as well have a few chairs to sit on too. Where this dissipation will end, I cannot say. Will a Hibachi be next?

Highland Park is a racer’s race. The spread-out course seems designed, not for spectators, but for the racers. The loudspeaker pretty much only reached the finish line area and nowhere else. These are not complaints. It was nice to just work in the pits, sit in the sun in between, and tend to the needs of our racers. I needed a low- key weekend. Because at this point, I have to admit I am weary. All the driving and packing and unpacking and trying to get work done in between grinds down the sparkle, so low-key was a respite. And another respite was that my order from The Feed arrived just before we left for Highland Park.

The Feed is a company that sells energy food for athletes. You go to their website, select what you want from a billion choices and then they box it up and send it to you. They are, hallelujah, a sponsor and so every month during the season everyone on the RS team gets a coupon.

I avoid wheat, so when I get my coupon, I activate the gluten-free filter on the website and go to town. Epic bars are my all-time favorite so far. For me it’s not about energy before the race, it’s about lunch. When I’m working in the pits, I often don’t have time to go find food, but with Epic bars, that’s not a problem. I pull one out of my back pocket (where I have tucked it for just such an occasion, and it also warms up nicely—oh don’t give me that look) and tear in. Epic bars are essentially pemmican—dried meat and nuts and berries—which may sound like Little House On The Prairie-subsistence-food-awful, but I’m here to tell you that pemmican is really good and I don’t feel a bit sorry for the early explorers anymore.

Having The Feed food makes things so much simpler on the road. So much so that when my first order (for September) was miscued and didn’t arrive until the middle of October, I felt very put out and had to remind myself that this is a gift and be grateful, you ninny. But that’s how much I depend on it.

Yes, week 6 is a grind, but with the right food and the right company (oh, and a little whiskey, thanks to the lovely foresight of Dan Chabanov) it ends up just fine.


Alrighty then, Charm City

‘Cross done right.

Richie and I live in the country. Not the suburban-we-have-a-big-yard-with-some-woods-behind country, but real country. Our town encompasses a little over 37 square miles, with a population of 780. Doing the math, that makes 21 people per square mile. By contrast Amherst, a nice medium-sized town, has 1400 people per square mile. All this is to say that we mostly have no idea what day it is or when there is a holiday or anything. We work for ourselves and at home. Calendars are not really part of our lives, except for ‘cross racing season and even then we just block out the days we’re gone and I use that info to set things up with my neighbors, who take care of the birds.

Charm City race is on Columbus Day weekend—a three-day holiday that completely eluded us. Until that is, we started driving. We figured, oh about seven hours of driving, and so we decided to start about 11:00 or so on Friday. (I can see you rolling your eyes…yes, I can.) We’re not prompt, so we actually left at about noon. Perfect timing, as we found out, to hit New York City right at 5:00. I was okay with the New York thing, thinking we were stupid to leave so late, but when the traffic snarl extended past New York and through New Jersey, pokey, pokey, pokey, it finally dawned on me that something else was going on—and that something was a holiday weekend. So, it took us eleven hours instead of the planned seven. And then we had to drive home on Sunday. (But that took only nine.)

Even with the god-awful drive, though, Charm City charmed me. Yes, it’s true the team did really well, and that helps with the bonhomie—BrittLee was on the podium both days and Dan and Sam either in the top ten or close. A racing team thrives on these kinds of results—it is like pouring oil on the machinery. But I saw something else happen, something important, that these excellent results were the place-markers of. I saw a determination in those kids that I’ve never seen before. I saw them grab confidence and never let it go. I saw them believe in what they were capable of—and act on that belief. It made my heart swell with pride.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with Joe Pugliese when he was at our house photographing Richie for Bicycling magazine this summer. Joe has photographed bazillions of famous and successful people, people like Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey, so during lunch I asked him if he noticed any particular quality these people had in common. He said, “confidence, they have a lot of confidence.” We went on to speculate whether they have confidence because they are successful or their confidence made them successful. Either way, we decided, the confidence was fundamental. And that’s what I saw happen this weekend: the kids seized confidence.

But the charm of Charm City was more than successful results. Charm City has a vibe—perhaps it’s the MAC series—that made it a real pleasure to attend. It lacked the feeling of hype, of frantic-pushy commercialism, of bigger, bigger, bigger, that I have felt at other races. In addition, the course was laid out so that we pit-people could see plenty of it, and let me just say that is a big perk when you spend most of your day in the pit. There were gobs of relaxed families and dogs (Buddy appreciated that) soaking up the perfect weather, and really good ethnic truck food. The little kids’ racecourse was set up in the infield, so it was easy to observe as I trudged to and fro from the pits. Watching tiny tots haul their bikes over the six-inch barrier, determined and inspired (and hilarious) makes you realize what these race days really should be, and are here—a celebration. And parking. Was not a problem. At all.

Charm-ing City.

charm city

photo by Erik Annis

Alrighty then, Providence


While biggish with crowds and busy with vendors and billed as the crescendo of “holy week”–the self-congratulatory label given to the racing week bookended by Gloucester and Providence–Providence is also a very expensive race for participants. You pay to park in club row. You pay more to park in the UCI section. You pay lots to race. But not to worry, there’s a race for nearly everyone (“Caucasians with Webbed Feet”) which is why the elite men’s race doesn’t start until 5:05 pm. By 6:10, when this final race of the day ends, the other race is on to try to pack up before it is pitch dark.

I do hope that whoever is raking in all this money is using it for good and not just exploiting the popularity of ‘cross to line their own pockets. At the vendors’ row and conspicuous at the Builder’s Ball was the presence of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, and I’m all for getting them some funds. Having been hit by cars twice, Richie being hit twice, and a friend killed, I am a big proponent of safe places to ride bikes.

Late morning Saturday, we pulled into the venue, where we informed the person guarding club row that we had paid for two spaces. “Oh,” said the person, “there aren’t any left.” They shrugged. “But you can try.” It was then, with sinking heart, that I realized this was a replay of last week’s event at Gloucester when we were shuffled around for 40 minutes because our paid spaces in club row were non-existent.

Ever since the fairly recent advent of charging race-goers to pay for parking if they don’t want to be stuck in the North Forty has become standard procedure, there has been a quick slide down that slippery slope. Just because you can charge for parking doesn’t mean you have unlimited parking to sell. Obviously what is happening is that these spaces are being oversold.

How to prevent this? Here’s a suggestion.

Measure out how much actual space you have to sell for parking. How many linear feet is it? I think using one of the line-thingies that you wheel along would work well. Or even a pedometer—an average person’s stride is two and one-half feet.

Divide this number by the average largest length of the vehicles you expect to occupy those spaces. Add eight or so feet to accommodate maneuverability. This is the number of spaces you have to sell.

When you send out the information wherein people start to reserve parking spaces, include on that form a space where the name of the club/team is indicated and how many spaces they want. Make a spreadsheet with this same information on it.

On the weekend of the race, give a copy of the spreadsheet to the person(s) responsible for policing the paid parking areas. Have this person stop each car and ask for the team name. Check off the team name and one parking space on the spreadsheet. If the club has bought more than one space, there will still be a blank space showing until that next team car comes and claims it. If a third car comes along and says they are from that team, the person will look at their spreadsheet and see that both spaces the team has paid for have been claimed. Ergo, no space for car three and so it must go to Siberia to park.

Yes, organizing an event like a big bike race is complicated, but surely the paid parking can become just one more integer added to the equation and not the random hope-for-the-best scenario it seems to be now.

alrighty then providence

Alrighty Then, a prologue

Alrighty then is the overarching title I’ve given to blog posts wherein I write about what it’s like to run a cyclocross team with my husband, Richard Sachs. Full disclosure. Unlike Richie, (by the way, you can only call him “Richie” if you’ve slept with him. My rule.) I’ve never raced cyclocross. I had a brief, some might say non-existent fling with road racing when I raced, um, I think once or maybe twice, with the Trek women’s team nearly twenty years ago.

At my first race, I lined up with all the other Type A’s and had an inkling of what racing was about when no one wanted to swap recipes or tell anecdotes while we were waiting for the gun. They’re taking this seriously I thought, and I felt at once intimidated and out of place. When lots of people are gathered together, I consider that a social occasion. Not so on the starting line of a race apparently.

And we’re off! Man, they go hard right at the beginning. What about just easing into it? After all, we’ve got a long way to go. Nope, anaerobic oxygen debt right off the bat. As my heart pounded and my muscles burned, I became uncomfortably aware that other people’s bikes were really close to me. Hope they hold their line I thought, but without much confidence. And why didn’t I have confidence that no one would crash me? Because I don’t know these people, and I don’t know if they can handle their bikes. And why don’t I know them? Because no one wanted to chat and share stories with me when we had the chance, lining up. So there I was, gasping in a pack of really mean looking women, who were looking neither to right or left, but straight ahead with a killer set to their faces that showed full readiness to do battle.

I don’t like battles. At least not obvious ones. And now, much to my dismay, I seemed to be in the middle of one. And what were we all risking life and limb and putting up with a great deal of physical suffering to battle for? This question floated into my naturally curious mind as I struggled to hold my place in the peloton.

The answer came as an epiphany. We are doing this so that one of us can cross a line first.

And now, astute reader, you have no doubt figured out my problem. Because a real competitor would call it “winning.” And “winning” puts a whole different spin on the activity, something that “crossing a line first” doesn’t quite do. Winning is about testing oneself overtly against others in a chosen field. It is throwing all the cards out on the table, in broad daylight, to succeed or fail, for all to see. And at that epiphanic moment, I knew I was not a competitor. At least not with other people.

Motivations duly clarified, I dropped to the back of the peloton where I had some breathing room and found a few other like-minded “racers.” We chatted companionably as we rode the “race.” And just for fun sprinted each other up the final hill climb (I “won.”)

So all this is to say that my perspective on cyclocross is not the racer perspective. I am the observer, the strategist, the big-picture person. And that’s what I’ll be writing about in the coming weeks.

alrighty then