Thursday, November 26, 2009

Aylesbury - Chasing the Griswolds through Buckinghamshire

Spent a lovely day trying to locate the Griswold family and came up quite successful.  After pouring over microfilm from the early 19th century - where vicars carefully recorded the births, marriages and deaths, we were able to piece together things to about 1793 which was pretty incredible.  The 1851 and 1841 census was quite helpful. Tomorrow we'll head to Little Horwood to see the church where they baptized the kids, several who will eventually end up in Ogle County Illinois.  We ended the day in Oxford and had dinner at The Bear pub near the university.  Some pints of Fullers and fish & chips for our Thanksgiving Day dinner.  I will post pictures along with yesterday's trip to the Tower of London and St Paul's as soon as I can.  Sorry for the delay on that.

As ever,

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

London Day 1

The overnight flight to London was quite unremarkable. I slept for a large part of the flight and woke for breakfast.  After clearing customs, we waited for my parents to arrive on the AA flight.  We had arranged several fall-back plans in the case we could not find one another, but soon they emerged from customs and we took a cab to Cartref House.  Jack the dog greeted us warmly and we settled in.  Our only plan of the day was heading to Westminster Abbey for Evensong.  This is one of my favorite things to do.  Hearing the choir sing the service just steps from where nearly every monarch in English history has been crowned is just amazing.  After service, we headed to the Jugged Hare for dinner - appropriately, Hare Pie, chunks of juicy rabbit in puff pastry.  Finally, quite tired, we dropped Mom & Dad at the B&B then headed to the St. George for a final pint before bed.  Today will bring the Tower of London, St. Paul's, and at least a pub walk along the Thames.

Pictures are here
As ever,

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fat Tire Recap

A few days have passed since my last update. Time to suck it up and write up Saturday's Fat Tire Festival. I woke at 5:50 AM with the alarm, nervous, but excited. I had readied my gear so that I wouldn't have to think ahead of our 7AM departure for Hayward. I ate a small breakfast, some Golden Grahams, a bit of coffee, some Cytomax, and a Clif Bar. I paced around, double checked my gear, my Camelback – my water supply and backpack that would hold my tube, tools, patches, and my nutrition: 5 Hammer Gels, a Clif Bar, some Gu Chomps for electrolytes and a packet of Gu drink powder in case things really went awry. My Jamis Dakota hard-tail was already tweaked and ready.

Lee, John and I headed over to the cabin that Steve, Bob, Jim and Chris Hammer were sharing. They were readying their bikes and I snuck a piece of bacon off the pan, hoping nobody noticed. Bob loaded up with us as the others were grabbing road bikes for their warm-up. I'd planned on doing a road ride with them, packed the Cherry on the back of Chris' SUV, but after my pre-ride I realized that time on the road would only hurt me. My position is different on the road and I was worried enough about my hamstrings that the thought of switching from 170 to 175 mm cranks had me thinking one scary word: cramp.

Lee took us over to Hayward where we parked and set up our bicycles. The Fat Tire Festival has the riders put their bicycles in a staging area hours well ahead of the 10AM start. We flipped our bikes over leaving the saddles and bars on the ground with the wheels rolling slowly in the air. Lee and John both warned me of the difficulty in finding the bikes even with care given to finding points of reference. Once flipped, I could see their point, and when 1700 bicycles were all in a mass of black tires, it would be chaos.

With that done, we walked to the Norse Nook for breakfast where a waitress named Heidi waited patiently on us. Worried about my stomach I passed the cranberry-stuffed french toast for scrambled eggs and wheat toast. As we told stories and I tried to keep my nerves in check, I realized something in my pocket was wet. I reached my hand into my pocket to find the gift Lee had given me earlier: a banana, now squashed from sitting on it. Ugh. The waitresses did get me a washcloth and I commented to a girl from Saris that I hoped that it would be the worst thing that would happen that day. She laughed. I hoped I was right.

After breakfast we had enough time to change into our clothes, make a final stop at the restroom, and head to the bikes. Amazingly we found them right away, and better still, we found Kim and John Mahr! The tandem had a new fork and they were ready to roll. We flipped up the bikes and stood for the national anthem that was sung live. After that, we mounted up, wished one another good luck, and John gave a few last tips of advice. The sun was shining and it was anticipated to near 80 – warm for this time of year.

I have raced at least 150 races over the last 15 years, with probably a ratio of 147 road : 3 mtb. Mass start racing is not something I'm a rookie at, but I can't describe and hopefully will be able to link a few photos what it is like when 1700 mountain bikes leave for the 4 mile roll-out to Rosie's Field. At least 12 wide we negotiated the turns as riders looked for small gaps to move forward in the absolute mass that was hurtling forward with one goal: Telemark. 40 miles separated us. The knobby tires hummed on the pavement as we sped down the road at over 20 mph. Gaps formed and were closed. Riders were moving up and going backward. I stayed with Lee as John showed that he hasn't lost a thing not doing as much road racing – he picked his way forward – setting off on what would earn him top spot in our team finishes. I felt pretty good on this stretch. Got the legs going, stuck with Lee, and remembered “don't take the first turn, but stay to the left”.

I don't know how to describe the first few minutes. If one word could describe the hoard hurtling across the field, it would be terrifying. Scattered in the field were myriad water bottles, just waiting for an unsuspecting wheel. The first casualties were already strewn through the field, the wounded trying to repair their bikes and continue. It was a sight that would continue until nearly the finish. Man and machine, broken, at the side of the trail.

As the trail narrowed, Lee passed and I yelled some encouragement. I knew that it was the last I'd see of him until the finish and that was ok. I was racing my race. I had one lofty goal: finish. If I happened to finish in under 4 hours, so much the better. As we shot through the woods, I took one glance at my heart rate: 190 beats per minute. This is not a sustainable number for me and I hoped for mercy. Then we came to a complete halt. A long sandy section of trail caused a complete shut down and we ground to a halt. My heart dropped to normal racing speed (about 160 bpm) and for the remainder of the day, I'd go nowhere close to max. The legs were going to be the limit – not the fitness of the heart.

At this point, my memory of the race grows a bit dim I must say. We blasted a section of the Birkie trail and I tried to follow John's advice of taking every possible risk going down to make it easier going up. I picked my way down a rocky descent a bit to slowly, coming to a halt and having a girl yell at me. It was deserved, but I was just proving I was not a skilled mountain bike rider. Everybody had told me that I should make County Rd. OO in about an hour. I didn't believe this, and it was well that I didn't because it took me 1 hour 25 minutes to arrive. However, my bike was still running smoothly and I was more importantly, still atop it. That said, if you asked me at that moment in time, I hated cycling. I hated everything about bicycles. I was getting passed and passed and passed. Look, I've never been a great bike racer. I've won one training race and a couple of citizen-race Top 5's are my only palmares. Even for me, however, this was humbling. I wished I'd never seen the Tour de France and Paris Roubaix on TV in the 80's. I wished I'd never heard of Greg LeMond.

I was in a fog of pain. At two hours, I knew that this day had pushed Luz Ardiden and the 95 degree heat of the French Pyrenees into a pleasant memory of rotisserie chicken and fun with my friend Bryn. It made the rain, flat tire, false flat and misery of the 2001 stage to Pla d'adet seem like a childhood ride. I was certain this day had surely eclipsed the first day of RAGBRAI 1998 when the temp on the pavement was 125 degrees in Iowa and Gatorade was measured in gallons consumed. The course is a blur to me now as I reminisce. Only fragments survive, my mind at the time consumed not with remembering the details of the course or the beauty of the gorgeous Wisconsin North Woods.

Around Mile 20 I recall pirates – it was International Talk Like a Pirate Day – Arrrh – and they were passing in shots of rum. Had I not seen them at breakfast I would now believe I had hallucinated this memory. Somewhere around the same place a sign indicated “Flying Monkeys Ahead” - I heard their theme music from the Wizard of Oz in my head and barrelled toward them – only to never find Flying Monkeys. I was profoundly disappointed. Perhaps they had already carted off the lead riders to the Wicked Witch of the West.

Mile 17 (to go) was my turning point. I knew that the climb to the Fire Tower was long and so I subtracted a mile off the distances from this point, knowing that if only I reached the Fire Tower I would finish this race. I also knew at some point there was a 2 hour 45 minute cut-off. Only I had no idea where that occurred on the course, but I only hoped I would make it. I began mentally riding mile to mile. Ticking them off to my magic number of 11 that would symbolize the base of the Tower climb that I knew I would walk. I had 6 miles to go. If I could just go 10 miles per hour I would have less than 40 minutes of suffering now before I knew the course. I relaxed and rode my bike. I rode the gravel sections under control, pacing my efforts, guaging my legs for cramps, sucking at Gu packets. At about Mile 13 I saw Jim at the feed station. I took some water, more Gu, and probably crammed a banana in my mouth. Jim and Heather ran the Lake Owen Resort, our home base, and he asked how I was doing. I replied that I'd much rather be at his place. I wasn't really joking, but now I was starting to get in a rhythm. 27 miles of racing and I was finally coming around.

The base of the Fire Tower began the death march. My back ached, but I knew when I reached that top I knew the way down. At each step a sign announced, “Thank you sir, may I have another?” 4 signs stood by, insulting us as we pushed pulled and prodded our bikes and bodies up trying to stay out of the way of the brave few who attempted the assault riding the climb. Minutes passed and finally I reached the summit. I stood for a moment, taking it all in. There was a group at the top, PBR's in hand, cheering the brave riders, and having a party. I believe beer was offered to the riders. I enjoyed the party, waited for a break in the riders and commenced my descent. I flew down the next two miles, trying to not be afraid of the rocks and let the bike do its job.

At Mile 8 I grabbed some additional water and hit the last two miles of the Birkie, heeding again John's advice to bomb the descents and fly up the hills. It worked as best it could and though I bailed out occasion and crawled, I never walked this stretch. Riders were beginning to come unglued around me and I offered encouragement, knowing this brutality so late in the race would only last 2 miles. A rider asked how I knew, I just told him, “I know, man. Nearly home.”

A feed right out of the Birkie saw me top off my bottle of Cyto was Gu's drink. I was offered donut holes, and I gladly took the sweet sugar, a bit worried about my stomach, but I could smell the barn. I hit the final gravel road and pushed as best as I could push. An earlier twitch to my right quad near my knee had me a bit worried, but the body held on. Finally we entered the woods again at about Mile 2 or so. I knew that I'd walk at least one hill back here. The ascent was just a bit rocky for me to keep planted and I didn't mind. I ended up pushing up the final two hills, but I was going to do it. A quick glance at the HRM told me I was going to make it in under 4 hours. I came out onto the grass, could see the barriers, hear the cheering fans, and could see Telemark. I cruised in for 3 hours 50 miles and 42 seconds. Under 4 hours, with several stops. Sweet.

I looked around for my friends. A minute later I head Bob Meinig's name announced. We'd been within a minute of eachother on the course. Wow. Lee and Trevor appeared and I drank water and munched on more donut holes. Eventually the rest of the group appeared and I was able to get back to Steve Pippen's car and change out of my sweaty race clothes. Some beers were drunk. Stories told. Chris pipped Lee literally in a photo finish. Our oldest WFR rider, John Wrycza turned in the fastest time, arriving 1 hour 10 minutes ahead of me. Wow. I ate corn-nuts, drank gatorade. John and Kim on their repaired tandem came in shortly after me, amazing that they were able to get the bike fixed and not have too much trouble on the course.

Eventually it was time to send guys to fetch the trucks from Hayward, rather than wait, John W and I rode back to Lake Owen. My hands ached, my butt, sore. It was misery, but beat waiting. After we arrived, John headed for the lake, I headed for a shower to clean off the grime. We told more stories, ate cheese and sausage. We were in Wisconsin after all and John and I are both natives. My nativity may be tenous after 36 years of forced relocation in Illinois, but I still like cheese, sausage, curds, and friday night fish fry, and John helped me expand my fish repetoir to walleye! Lee arrived; more stories told.

Dinner on Saturday was a cookout at John Mahr & Trevor's. Burgers were grilled, beers were consumed, and we relaxed, mostly staying seated, our legs tired. A campfire ended a beautiful night under Wisconsin stars, as shooting stars fell from the black sky. For all of the pain and misery, it ended amongst friends and cool wood-smoked air.

I began these posts recalling fondly my March 1986 Bicycling magazine, wanting to “ride with death”. After 40 miles of racing at the hugest event I've ever done on American soil, I feel I accomplished that goal. I have never suffered so profoundly mentally and physically on a bicycle, so hated my life's passion. As I rolled down that final hill and heard the announcer shout, “From Downers Grove Illinois, Kevin Butler!” I knew that no matter what success or failure awaits me in this crazy sport I love, I will still line up and try again. Somewhere down the line this day in September will get pushed down the list as another day in the saddle brings more horror. If you asked me on Saturday afternoon if I'd do it again. I was noncommital at best, but as the memory brightens, of time with friends doing what we love, I will now say, yes, I will probably go back to Chequamegon and do it all over again.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I can't even begin to describe this. John and Kim got the tandem fixed
and we saw bob and Kristina and the half acre gang. Wow.


I never liked bananas but will eat them racing for the potassium. Just
sat on it. Wondered what was wet in my cargo shorts pocket. Oops. It
is good. I am ready to get this baby rolling.

Kevin Butler

Holy cow

Ready to go

Had a nervous breakfast and now we are loading bikes. I know I will
settle on once we get going but right now I feel the stomach flopping
on some bacon.

Kevin Butler

Friday, September 18, 2009

I am scared

Rode 20 miles. The last 10 miles of the course. It is going to be
hard. Very very hard.

Lazy morning on Lake Owen

Hi Gang,
What a perfectly lazy morning in Lake Owen. I woke about 8 AM after a wonderful 8.5 hours of sleep, comforted by the fresh air of the North Woods. Breakfast was yogurt, Golden Grahams and cinnamon donuts! Lee was up and so we just hung out enjoying a very lazy Friday morning, with no ability to receive calls and so "work". Not having cell coverage is a pretty wonderful thing. Today's plan is a 10:30ish ride, hopefully taking in the last 8 miles of the race course. It will be nice to preview the suffering that tomorrow will bring me. At least I'll know how bad it is going to hurt on a fresh legs!

The sun is out here at Lake Owen. I'd say temps in the low 70's with a pleasant breeze. The air smells of wood and water and the thing is, save the breeze and the birds, there is no sound of modern urban life.
It is fabulous. Last night outside is was utterly dark save a million stars I can't see at home. After 3 days hopefully Chris will be able to get me back in the truck to head home.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lake Owen

> We made it to Lake Owen. Now we're hanging out tearing bikes apart
> with beers and Chris' electronica. There's an air compressor running
> of all things. Pretty good night. We have no cell coverage but some
> wifi so life is pretty good. Saw Mahr's tandem. Never seen the
> front wheel tabs ground off a fork before. 70 mph off a roof rack
> just isn't good. He's hoping for a new fork tomorrow and Chris is
> going to try and true up the wheel. Hopefully this will come
> together. Otherwise dinner was some pizza and Leinenkugels in
> Hayward.

Lake Owen

Loaded and ready

Chris and I are underway and now in Wisconsin. Amazing how much gear
two guys can take for a four day weekend. Leaves are starting to turn
so we will see what the north woods bring. John M had his roof rack
come off his truck last night. What a crummy way to kick off the
weekend. Hoping he can get things fixed in time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I Ride With Death

The March 1986 issue of Bicycling Magazine featured an article by Stuart Stevens titled "Don't it make you want to shout 'Mama!" That was my first taste of the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival in Telemark Wisconsin. 23 years ago I was a small town kid bombing around gravel farm roads with my brother Stephen, dreaming of being anywhere but there. Each climb brought us dreams of Alpe d'Huez, each rutted muddy Spring road took us to Flanders or the cobbles of Northern France. Our bikes were our dreams, our freedom, and all these later, we still ride and race together, the gravel dust our bond. I still have that issue of Bicycling. I still have all of those old issues from my youth and a Bike Nashbar catalog from when it was mostly newsprint with sketches of the parts.

I received my postcard in the mail letting me know I was in for the 2009 edition of the Fat Tire Festival. As I began packing my gear, I pulled out that issue of Bicycling and fondly re-read it. I'll try and write about many of the other things in that 1986 issue that foreshadow our present bike racing world today (Lemond had not yet won his first Tour!), but for now one thing stands out. Stuart desribes rolling up to the line to see the jerseys of a team in front of him that proclaimed "I Ride With Death." As a 15 year old newly in love with the sport of cycling, I too, wanted to ride with death.

Cycling has given me many things. After 15 years of holding a USCF license I'm still a Cat IV rider, by all accounts a bit of a failure, but I still race as often as I can, and still love that feeling of hitting a turn in a crit 3-wide and the silent prayer to exit unscathed. I have seen a world of carnage on the roads of Illinois and Wisconsin, but have been fortunate to have only hit the deck on a few occasions. I have taken my bike across Iowa on RAGBRAI. I have ridden the fabled switchbacks of Alpe d'Huez at the Tour de France on a day that Lance took the stage win. I have raced Superweek and the Tour of Illinois and Wisconsin. But after 23 years, I've yet to ride with death, and this weekend, I will finally have that opportunity. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Playing Catch Up

Hi Gang,

I have been lazy post-crash and Summer has been slipping away. Just because the race updates have not been posted, does not mean that I lost all of my courage and quit racing. I had originally planned on making my comeback at Sherman Park, a great crit a few weeks after Monsters. With rain pouring down, I played the role of DS, mechanic, photographer and general personal assistant for Stephen, who went out and gave a terrific ride, finishing about 8th in soaking wet yellow & blue.

My comeback was a return to an old venue, Cobb Park in Kankakee. I remember racing here 15 years ago and the result was the same … the dreaded 3 letters all riders fear D N F. Ugh. Stephen and I headed down with Kim with the hopes of putting in a good ride in fairly hot weather at the SCW-run crit. My warmup felt ok and I was optimistic that I might be ok. All of us have hit the deck at some point in our racing careers. We know the risks involved in threading a bike around a tight course at better than 25 mph wearing less clothing than an NFL cheerleader and a bit of foam on our heads. While I am not great at this sport, I thought I could shake off the horror of Monsters with a turn of the pedals. I found that charging back into the fire requires more courage than I could muster in my first race.

The race is now run counter to the days of old and it presents a bit of a challenge as the course dog-legs and narrows on the back and the resulting squeeze caused the inevitable accordion. I was already giving up more cushion on the wheels ahead than I should have been giving up and the sprint out to catch a wheel took its toll quickly. Stephen was up front and looking good. That much I could tell. Probably 10 or 15 minutes into the 45 minutes I was shattered. I just couldn't get on a wheel out of the final turn, the party corner where the locals cheered madly, even for me, and I got gapped. While Kim cheered me on, I kept riding hard, figuring I needed the hard training. When the race hit a few to go, I voluntarily withdrew to help coach SJB. He was looking good at the front, about 3-5 wheels back. Near the front not at the front, Stephen! Good! The field got the bell and Stephen was in the drivers seat looking like a repeat of his Top 10 at Sherman Park. Then, it all went pear-shaped. As I could watch the backstretch I watched in pain as Stephen started going backwards, blowing up spectacularly with half a lap to go! While it wasn't a good day for the WFR boys, at least I was back racing. With Superweek but 2 weeks away, could I get back into some kind of form?

A Matteson SCW paint-factory crit helped give me some feeling that all hope was not lost. While I struggled, in an A's race that didn't see much use of the brakes, I started working at getting the courage back, following wheels tightly through the turns and getting up close. It felt good to be going fast and some optimism returned. I did a great long road ride in Door County with Stephen, hit the trails for a bit of mountain biking with Kim, and found myself remembering why being on a bike is so vitally important to me.

ON a beautiful Saturday morning, I drove to Chris Hammer' to meet him and SJB. Chris' SUV was burdened down under 3 bikes, a spare set of wheels for every bike, trainers, tools, pumps, bags, bottles, fig bars, and heaven knows what else. We drove right past the Burr Oak Cemetery getting all the news and headed into Blue Island for Crit #1. Superweek check-in was astonishingly smooth and soon we were on the trainers, Chris' ipod cranking out some music. Who rolls in for a little crit action, but John Mahr! Sweet. With Derek racing 3's, WFR/Bicycles Etc. was up to 5 guys!

We lined up in a large field in the Masters 30+ 4/5 and quickly launched. With the large field racing a similar course to Monsters it was a bit squirrely. I tried to hang on Chris and Stephen took his spot near the front. John was near me. I was feeling ok, it was fast and my heart was going, but ok, maybe I'm ok. A few laps in, a Cat 5 rider doing probably one of his first crits cuts me off in T3 and the rider to my outside is forced onto my hip. Be cool man, be cool. We exit the turn safely, but what the heck? I try and move forward a bit, but can't get away from this guy. He's always shadowing me. Crud. This can't have a happy ending. A few laps more and we're hitting T1 fast and suddenly this guy is sliding across the road solo. I hit the brakes, avoid the body, and I'm gapped. You're kidding me! I catch on with a couple of xXx riders, we pick up JM and the four of us start working together and it is going ok. As we hit the end we get lapped, but we're still going. As we exit T4, it is suddenly carnage, bikes and bodies all over. Oh crud. I thread through the wreckage and an ABD rider is sadly moaning in agony. It was chilling. JM stops to help. I press on, but for what? I finish near the end of official finishers. I find later that Chris narrowly missed the wreck caused by a Beverly/Vee Pack rider jumping out to grab a wheel without looking. Crashes come with the territory, but any time you cut out to follow a wheel you need to know you aren't going to take somebody out. We ride this new Masters category to stay safer than we'd be in a straight Cat 4/5 with teenagers and college kids with no fear, no responsibilities, and so far in 2009 it has not proven to be any safer.

Superweek Crit #2 is a nice neighborhood race in Richton Park on Monday. All of us took off Sunday, chosing not to do the hilly road circuit at Elgin. I opted to switch bikes. Since switching to the Cannondale as my crit bike, I'd crashed and had less than stellar rides at Kankakee and Blue Island, so the Bianchi saw duty, repelete with her Campy crit wheels. The race started off good enough. I was hanging, towards the back, but hanging. I was trying to stay near Hammer again. A move went off the front and got a good gap. Stephen was up working and then Chris looked over at me and let me know he was going to go. Off he went with blazing speed and he put in some monstrous effort and then SJB pitched in and suddenly it was gruppo compato. I was dying, but kept the tongue hanging out and praying for reduction in speed. Then, as so often happens, bodies in the road, Kevin on the brakes, and a gap and it was all she wrote. I found a Team Mack rider and we worked hard, getting lapped towards the end, jumping on the back of the field and riding home, one down, but feeling ok.

Tuesday took us to Arlington Heights. I was starting to get into a rhythm getting the bottles ready, taking care of the bike, feeling like a bike racer again. Yeah, the results weren't there, but I was riding as well as I could and I was pragmatic enough to be happy with that. The course was a crazy 8 with a tight square to navigate and then some long straights to keep the speed high. It was insanity. Stephen and Chris were once again looking pretty good, I was hanging the tongue out and trying to avoid trouble. The pavement was brutal which presented some tough choices at high speed. Probably 10 miles into the race, I found myself in familiar territory, piecing together a group to chase. 4 of us started trading turns and then I saw the safety-truck roll and I knew we'd be coming on a crash in the tough section – I yelled out for the guys to stay sharp as we'd be hitting some wreckage. Then, to my horror I saw my worst fear – yellow & blue on the road. Two bodies. Two friends. Oh my gosh. They were moving and looked ok. I kept going with my group. As we came through again, Chris was gone and I yelled at SJB who replied that he was so-so. Ok. He's not too bad – he's up and mobile – if he were really in bad shape, he'd tell me. He describes it all in his report. I chased back to my group. Chris slotted back in after his free lap. We got lapped probably with 4 to go and I hung at the back, happy with a free ride to the finish. The motorcycle was yelling at the other lapped riders to get to the back and not disrupt the sprint. Fair enough. I rolled home. Another crit. Another finish. A veritable Lanterne Rouge of Superweek. Stephen was banged up with some good road-rash, but his bike and wheels ok. Chris was the same, less road-rash, but more importantly, the bike and wheels unscathed by their plummet to the ground.

As we pieced things together, it went down about like this: suddenly Stephen was on his way to the deck, Chris didn't know what happened and figured Stephen to have tapped a brake, Stephen was apologizing to Chris even before impact, along with probably a tirade of naughty words. Chris after a few more laps realized what happened, there was a lip in the pavement on the outside of the turn. Stephen caught his wheel on it and lost his front end, resulting in the wreck. Tight on his usually safe wheel, Chris followed him to the ground. As we cooled down, a police officer pointed out that she'd asked for that spot to be marked and was assured it wasn't a problem, but she'd already seen several wrecks caused by it. Ugh.

Rain was threatening Wednesday morning for Bensenville. Stephen called to let me know he was just too sore to go and so I met Chris for our final Superweek Crit. We warmed up. A Team Mack rider chatted with us briefly, a bit puzzled about the wreck from the day before as he nearly went to, but was assuaged by the explanation of how the wreck went down. He heard SJB's apologies as it all occurred and found that amusing.

A smaller field contested this odd course through a park on some narrow paths and a street or two. It wasn't a bad course, just odd. I glued myself to Chris once more, hoping that I'd find some luck on this final race for me. Tongue hanging out, we zipped around and around and I was hanging. Then, as we came into the park onto the “path” Chris told me he had a flat. Crud. Losing my wingman, I tried to find wheels, but the magnetic pull of the yellow & blue was gone. I came unglued. I soldiered on, picked up another rider, picked up the pack and rolled in for another finish. Definitely the Lanterne Rouge. I'll hold the red lantern at the end of a fast Superweek train. I'm racing. I'm doing what I love. It is ok.

A few more Matteson crits found my fitness coming around after the boot-camp that Superweek had provided. I had a strong night with Stephen and Chris, once again feeling like a bike racer again. The Cherry was seeing duty for these races so all three road bikes had seen their pedals turned in anger, to steal from Phil Ligget.

Grayslake was a great little crit that I'd definitely do again. It rained the entire drive up, but I was pre-registered and it occurred to me that this is what separates us from our golfing and softball playing adult-sports bretheren. When the weather turns foul, we just see the muddy farm roads of Belgium, our mad-spattered heroes fighting in bloody awful conditions, we don our rain gear and we race. I've raced in snow, in rain so hard that it stung, in conditions so cold water would freeze in bottles and fingers couldn't operate the shifters, in races where due to real concerns of hyptothermia the race shortened, I've been so covered in mud that the sponsor logos are gone, and I love it. Oh maybe not in the heat of the battle, but as a bike racer, survial is part of the draw. The rain stopped as we rolled to the line, but the roads were soaked and we would be quickly enough from road-spray. About 35 of us set out in the Masters 4/5 crit. In foul conditions I found that my courage was a bit lacking and I was nervous. I couldn't stay glued on wheels and was having to power hard out of the turns to stay on. Then a loose dog rattled me a bit. I was alone. A 2CC rider came up and he pulled us to two xXx racing riders burying himself with the effort and soon our group was 5 and we tried to organize a chase. If you race a bike, you should know how to pull through a paceline, but this group was like herding cats. It took forever before things started to click and still it wasn't smooth. I'd come off the front to see a gap a few riders back and have to slot in, fill the gap, and was back on point faster than I'd like, but that was the job on Saturday. It wasn't until the bell that we got lapped. So we had a bit of a sprint, but I think the group was largely happy to have finished the race upright.

So Downers Grove is in a few days. I'm hoping that all of this racing has provided me 30 minutes of fitness. I put in another Matteson crit that went poorly, but I'm hoping that was just because there were more 2's and 3's putting the screws to us. It will be good to have friends and family cheering me on, good to be racing with Stephen and Chris, and good to be racing on my home streets again. Since 1991 this has been a high point of my summers. I can't believe that for 19 years that has been a part of my life. I've had highs and lows on this course. I can still remember Bryn and I being the last official finishers in 1995, finishing hand in hand, and scoring 12th a few years ago. Wish me luck, and I'll give the update soon.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Monstrous Midway 2009

I love the Monsters of the Midway crit that University of Chicago's cycling team hosts each year. For me, 15 years ago now, it was the first Cat IV crit I finished after I got my upgrade and I love the history of the course, racing up and down the Midway Plaisance, home to the fabulous amuesements of the Columbian Exposition 116 years ago. This is one of my favorite crits every year and despite the tight turns, I've escaped unscathed, each year. In fact, in 15 years of racing, I've only wrecked twice, both with little damage to my body. Yesterday, my luck ran out.

About 100 riders lined up to contest the Cat IV race. Stephen and I rolled to the line after getting talked through the course by Ed from Tower Racing. It was good to know where the trouble spots would be. Also in the yellow & blue of Wheel Fast Racing was Cully, newly a Cat IV. We quickly moved up as we rolled out. We charged through the turns and then with a good headwind, battled the half mile trip north. The guys at the front wanted to push the pace and it was a hard first lap! I found my rhythm, figured out where I wanted to be, and found Stephen nearby. Good.

I was doing ok, the tempo was fast, but it was settling in and I figured that with the reduced race time of 30 minutes + 2 laps (miles) I'd be fine. We rushed through the Start/Finish and headed into Turn 1. I don't know quite what happened, but there was a pile up outside and I ran out of room and piled into the back of the crash. I fell and jumped up checking my bike, extricating my front wheel from another's handlebars. Crap.

Now I'll take a step back for a brief moment. Today was the day I'd race a 20 year old Cannondale 3.0 - the late 80's early 90's classic criterium bike. Bryn had purchased it in the Spring of 90 when we were freshmen at Illinois and I got him hooked on cycling. When he upgraded to a Bianchi, remember these were the days of Moreno Argentin, Stephen took possession of the black Cannondale. When he moved away, it came to my basement and as the saying goes, "Possession is 9/10ths...." After sitting idle for years, this past winter I set out to update it a bit. I had some 8 speed Shimano 105 still from my upgraded Bianchi and so scoured eBay, hit a bike swap and cobbled together a pretty nice looking bike with some carbon to soften things up. Finally, I crowned it with a set of Easton EA50SLs and Easton bars & stem from our sponsor. It looked gorgeous and it proved to be a fun crit bike, solid and stiff.

I spun my new front wheel that now had probably 4 or 5 miles on it. It rubbed the pads. Oh no. My heart sank, but there was no time for sorrow, I hustled back to the pit and with the help of Rodney Anderson, a fellow rider I've known for years, I switched to my back up wheel, a good Mavic Open Pro I purchased from Chris a year ago. As the field came round, the 5 or so of us from the wreck slotted back in the field. Stephen found me and again we were racing. The adrenalin bump was good and I felt ok. Surely this race would be over soon enough.

With the headwind, the guys would pour on the gas out of T2, but couldn't sustain and a few times as I felt like I was about to popped, I rode right back into the group and recovered fine on the remainder. So, with 2 laps to go to the finish, I rode right back in. Then, all hell broke loose.

The riders in front of me stacked it up and suddenly the rider directly in front went airborne. I had no where to go. I couldn't swerve lest I take more riders. I've always been able to skirt the wrecks. This time, no dice. I piled right in from behind and got tossed up and over the top going from 25 mph to 0 in the space of several feet and landing right on my face. The thuds, oomphs, screams and such of the carnage that followed just didn't register this time. I was one of those thuds & oomphs and I was bleeding all over. I got to the side of the course and somebody dragged my bike off the course. A rider lay in the road across from me. I sat there, a bit dazed, bleeding on my gloves trying to ascertain where it was coming from. Nose? No. Teeth? Seemed to be there. My lip. I wouldn't learn till later, but my lip was split badly and face scraped. Suddenly Kim was there.

Bits and pieces of memories: somebody gave me a napkin; a man gave me a handkerchief to mop the blood; a Triple X rider gave me a water bottle to help; a rider in black named Mike gave me a bit of triage and helped calm Kim. Stephen rode by on the cool down and didn't know I'd wrecked. He asked if I was ok, and Kim replied no. It took forever to get an ambulance and finally we made the decision to try and get to the ER ourselves. At first I thought I could make Good Sam, but that wasn't a great idea and so we headed a couple of blocks to University of Chicago Hospital's ER.

I cannot say enough good things about the doctors and staff that cared for me. They were absolutely outstanding. In a few hours time they had me sutured up and out. One of the other victims from the wreck was next to me and he was doing a bit better from when I'd last seen him in the road. He had his IV, but otherwise Mark from SCW seemed to be doing better and I wish him a speedy recovery.

Kim and Stephen stayed by my side and kept me positive and pretty relaxed. Not being able to see the damage, I know now that they had to have been trying to keep a good face on. Thanks!! One person needs a special thank you and that is Brian Boyle from SCW. He noticed me in the waiting room and came over to chat and kept our minds off things and gave some aid later, too. It was really great of him to help. Honestly, in a moment I really needed people, from Brian, to Mike, to Stephen and Kim and the guy that gave me a handkie, people helped. A lesson to remember the next time I see another rider go down.

The spare front wheel of the Cannondale was completely destroyed save the hub. It was amongst the worst pretzels I've seen of a wheel. So, three wheels need to head to Bicycles Etc. for some work. Otherwise, the bike seems ok. Between the ER and the wheels it was an expensive day in the sadddle. But, I'm ok, skin heals, the stitches will come out, the wheels will get fixed, and I'll be racing again soon enough I suppose. Two wrecks in one race are hopefully enough bad luck for one season!

Thanks for reading,

Monday, April 27, 2009

A lonely ride

After just having been in Belgium last month, I can say with certainty that Flatlandia's Leland Kermesse lived up to its goal. The rural course proved surprisingly similar to Flander's fields and the creek cuts bore a startling resemblance to the old trenches of the First World War. It was also relentlessly windy, with rain, and a sector of gravel. It was incredible.

I met up with my brother Stephen and after check-in we warmed up for a bit on the trainers. The wind was blowing steady at about 20 mph and the skies were heavy. It had the promise of an epic day in the saddle, and strangely we welcomed it.

Somewhere between 20 and 30 Cat IV's departed for a neutral roll-out with another good group of Cat V's behind. After we hit the S/F it was time to race and a rider in a burnt-orange jersey attacked. In a heavy crosswind it was suicide to imagine going 40 miles solo, but he gave it a go. Stephen and I sat in as the field rolled at 18 mph. I could do this all day. I hoped.

We turned into a mixed cross-headwind and went single-file. There was no shelter. My heart rate climbed up. I was on the nose of the saddle. It began to rain. Finally we picked up the tailwind and my heart was going 185. Crud. The speed picked up and we were doing 30 mph and I was frying. Then at 6.6 miles into 40, I came unglued. I was alone.

The gravel sector was fine. Growing up riding the roads around German Valley I knew that the crown would be smooth and hardpacked and though I kept toying with running fatter tires, I decided that I could ride 700x23's on my Bianchi. The gravel sector was fun and I came off it, rounded the turn, passed the S/F and was on my way for the second lap.

Now alone and facing the 20mph winds I was struggling. Mentally I was shattered. I couldn't wait to quit. I recalled Andy Hampsten's famous quote, "I was hurting so bad it was like a meditation." I was going hard - at 12mph. I was being passed by riders coming from behind. Even if allowed to mix and ride with them, I was so gone I couldn't have stayed on a wheel. I had to ride my pace. It was the 2001 stage to Pla d'Adet all over again. Then I picked up the tailwind. Suddenly I was riding 23mph and felt .... well .... good all things considered. As the miles ticked down, I decided that I had time to turn in another lap. I cruised over the gravel and turned for lap 3.

Lap 3 was manageable because I knew that this really would be the final lap for me. I plugged along, steady as a turtle. The wind was still vicious, but I kept the pedals turning over. I kept looking at the computer as I saw the distance go down. The tailwind was again a blessing and with new wings I flew along. In the final stretch of gravel I noticed the sky turning dark. I cruised through it, turned to go to the S/F just to let them know I was retiring, and then slowly pedaled back to my car.

I should have pedaled faster. As I leaned the bike up against the trunk, the heavens opened, the god's barked and threw fire at the earth, and in the blink of an eye I was wet. I pulled wheels off, through the bike and wheels in the trunk and dove in the car. Stephen was still out there - completing Lap 4. Oh Crud.

I changed into dry clothes in the car and pulled out as the rained slackened. There, in soaking wet WFR yellow & blue, was Stephen. Looking happy. He said they got the rain in the gravel sector. He figured he'd probably done about 10th overall. He thought it the hardest race he'd ever done.

I averaged a speedy 17 mph and spent an hour with my HR in Zone 4 so for fitness, it was a good outing. The course was great and I highly recommend that we plan on racing this next year! Flatlandia put on a terrific race, the ABR officials for hanging out in rainy conditions, and I really thank all of them for giving us the opportunity to have such a great time!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Spring Break 2009

From Bruges 2009

I know I'm not in college any longer, and even still I only had one great Spring Break (1992 in Ireland), but it is always nice to get a way for a week after a long winter. 2008/9 was a really long winter. We planned the trip in the cold of Door County at the Whistling Swan and after not settling on a warm destination, chose Amsterdam as it was easy to get to via United and decided to visit Bruges Belgium, too. I'll include 3 albums to browse of Bruges, Flanders and Amsterdam. Favorites were the Flanders Fields tour and Cambrinus where they had 400 beers of which we made it through 20. It was great to see new places and drink new beer!

Flanders Fields

I do enjoy Heineken more now after touring their brewery and having a great experience! The Van Gogh museum was fascinating in its special exhibit of Starry Night and the artistic journey that led to that painting. We did visit the Anne Frank house, though I've not read the book. The emptiness of it was touching given what occurred.

Citizen M Hotel Amsterdam Airport just defies description. The bathroom "tubes" recall Star Trek, yet I'd stay there again as it is convenient and Amsterdam is an easy jumping off point to the rest of Europe.

Like all vacations, the time passed too quickly. Next stop for me, San Francisco.


Monday, March 16, 2009

If it is March, we're in Wisconsin ....

With the Spring kick-off of racing on Sunday, Chris, Stephen, Trevor, John Mahr and I rode on Saturday on the frontage roads. None of us had functioning computers, but we spent a couple hours outside remembering how to draft and turn and generally just having a good time on our bikes on a great spring day. I'd guess we turned in somewhere between 25 and 30 miles just based on time, but who knows? who really cares? So on we go to Wisconsin ....

It was a great day for racing. Only about 30 or so guys in this ABR race, though, which was weird. I don't recall seeing a USA Cycling event, but I never get those emails after having had a license for 15 years. Wheel Fast Racing had 5 guys flying the yellow & blue: perennial WFR stalwarts Chris Hammer & John Mahr, Stephen Butler back after 2 years away from the sport, WFR newcomer Derek Held, and your reporter, Kevin.

The course was an industrial park just east of the Culvers in Pleasant Prairie Wisconsin, a new venue for the Spring series that has traditionally been held at UW Parkside. The day was about 50 and sunny with a bit of a breeze. Racing my faithful Bianchi, I chose to go aero over light, and picked the Bontrager clinchers over the Campy tubulars. The course was roughly D-shaped and had a slight uphill on the S/F. My goal was simply to sit in, stay out of the wind, stay upright, and get to the finish with the field. Lofty goals, I know.

Nearly off the bat at rider attacked and we were going single file. My legs a bit fatigued from Saturday complained and I knew if this pace continued, I'd be cheering before the finish. Thankfully it bunched and I got inside and out of the breeze. Then Derek attacked early and towed us around for awhile, stretching his legs. As he came off, Chris made a jump soon after and got about 30 yds in front for a lap or two. Stephen put himself at the front of the line and tried his best to preserve Chris' move. We caught Chris and quickly it again was Stephen and Chris riding the front with Derek nearby and John and I a few spots back.

A couple of guys attacked after Stephen and Chris had taken a big turn on the front and we just couldn't chase. A few guys put in some turns, but nothing concerted. Derek, Chris and Stephen stayed at the front of the action, but the break was gone. The course was pretty safe to navigate and except for T4 being slightly - and I mean slightly - tight, the race was really safe. There was a crash out of that corner on the final lap, but I didn't even see it! Usually guys would hit it on the rise, but with the headwind and hill, it was easy to ride right up into the thick of the action. We counted the laps and maintained contact with each other. I made my stupid mistake glancing inside through a turn and drifting in just a touch, causing the rider right on my inside that I didn't realize was there, to put his bars in my ribs. Oops. We were both fine. He was cool. No harm, no foul.

With the race winding down, John attacked with 3 to go to soften things up and then Chris countered shortly after we caught John, but the result was that Chris was a little too spent to sprint and then Stephen got boxed in through the turn and lost places rather than crash. I lost track of Derek and John in the last lap. Don't know how we finished. It was fun, though. I had an average speed of 22 and some change and average HR of 168. It was a good return to racing.

Looking back we needed to organize better in the final laps. We were slightly haphazard and everybody had great thoughts on what needed to be done, we just didn't communicate to one another well enough to take advantage of the situations. We probably should have had a conference at 4 or 3 to go and lined it up for the final lap. I had enough left to take one final turn and John and Chris clearly had some punch. We just aren't used to having 5 guys in prime position on the bell lap. That will come. We discussed coordinating the attacks better for the subsequent races so we probably need to have an end-game as well. It will come. It was a blast racing as a team! We'll get better!

I won't be at #2, but should be back for #3 assuming my plane lands on schedule Sunday morning and I can get the bags packed and the bike loaded up.