Monday, March 10, 2014

Mistral Wind




The week started well with an easy but fun ride with Big Worm and Mighty Mite. A lazy stroll with some minor efforts and a couple hard uncontested climbs. I am like a precocious child to Worm and Mite. They watch me go up climbs and they think; "Isn't he cute? Look at him breathing all heavy." MM is one of the fastest women in the state and could destroy me at will. They were saving their legs for a possible Chaires fest on road bikes. They felt no temptation to swat gnats. 

The next two days were awful. MTB rides with no power in the tank. Those kinds of rides where you just make yourself do it, because not riding would be worse. Labor and discipline. There is no happy to be found on days like these, only questions and doubt. There is a candle forever burning, in the window at home. You always feel better than you would have if you baulked.

Saturday was beautiful. I opted not to ride with the crew because I had no faith in my legs. Lil WB (seems funny calling him that since he's four inches taller than me and in college) said he'd ride with me if we went easy and on the road. I had two goals: keep the pace fun and keep him out of the wind. We took a straight route down to St. Marks Trail with only one real climb. He was talking and we were laughing like the old days. He's been so busy with school and music that we usually only exchange grunts, as one leaves and the other arrives. We were about five miles from the coast when he popped a spoke and dished his rear wheel, into the frame. I offset the skewer enough to where it would turn and we back tracked to Natural Bridge Road, where his Mom picked him up. He made faces at me as they drove off and I laughed so hard I started coughing. 

I thought I might as well head up Old Plank to Chaires and get a real ride in. I figured it was fourteen miles. I had already gone twenty eight, but our pace had been so slow I felt fine. Anyone who has ridden that route is probably already laughing. It was twenty six miles of head wind to Chaires. By the time I got there, I was feeling every inch of the forty eight miles and three hours in the saddle. I knew I had twelve miles (most of it tough climbs) back to the house. I decided to settle in and ride at whatever pace felt good. I felt like a cyclist for the first time (that week) when I got home. Success. I had about a hundred twenty miles in for the week. The Sunday weather forecast looked good.

I got up late again and headed out to look at the new trail section the MTB club cut in, and the new bridge over the tracks, out by the levy. I rode slowly and looked around a lot. I stopped to enjoy views. I smiled at people (lots of them!) on the trail. All was right and good in my head, a rarity to be sure. That was two weeks ago.

The following week had two gigs, cold pissing rain, and no rides. The kicker was a fever laced head cold that arrived Friday. Last night I had LSD dreams about a vacation that never happened. The kids were young and we were at some resort with a spectacular view. People were eating seafood by the shore. Then I noticed the entree's were fighting back. A man had a angry crab in his beard. Big blue crabs were crawling up my legs and shirt. I woke up brushing them off my chest at seven A.M. Just in time to hear the alarm. Time to go to work.

Oh, how funny life is. Mine at least is filled with equal parts joy and regret. My hours are spent in wonder or questioning every word I have ever said, and all the choices that got us here. Here where the view is good, but the crabs are coming.....and they are always angry.

W.B.Z.N.         

Monday, February 17, 2014

Down To Earth


I have played this room million times, or I should say, others just like it. They have a secret factory in South Dakota where they are made and shipped out to tertiary markets around the U.S. They are produced to placate the masses so they can survive and get through the week. The fifth tier contenders come here to drink, play music, and work the bar, trying to erase the big dreams and faces of the ones that got away. The stage is a ten by twelve feet, and is twelve inches high. It was built with all the available technology any ten year old would have, to build a tree fort. It looks like a raft floating on a acid stained concrete sea, among the flotsam of mismatched tables and chairs. There is a small dance floor in front of it. I know it's a dance floor because there are no mismatched chairs and tables there. "Yes" I think to myself in silence, I have played this place a million times, like a reoccurring dream riddle from a video game I can't escape. I never seem to get passed this level of the game for long. I can't defeat the dragon at the gates of the tour bus and limo level. I hear the sad trombone from a seventies game show play the "Whaw, whaw, what wahaaaaaw" as my avatar returns to a different version of this little bar. Somewhere in here, I am supposed to unlock the code of ascension. The good news is; it's relatively quiet. After a brief chat with the owner, we decide to load in. The Shackle backs up the van and we start to ferret in the gear like zombies. As I pull open the door, the sound hits me like a wind from a fucked up hurricane. A loud D rated local bands demo is playing impossibly loud. There is one waitress, the manager and us. This a common phenomenon, all bars must play loud music when mops are being used or bands are setting up or tearing down. It is law.

Last night we played the Tara Plantation of Atlanta's live music scene; Smiths Olde Bar. It was once a must stop for many music icons. It has great sound, lights, technical staff and a authentic vibe you can taste like a popsicle. The walls are covered with stickers and you can hear the ghosts of all the great bands, as you hang back stage. In it's hay day it was your passport to credibility in the south. Now the maiden still has good bones, but her dress is faded and her face shows the wrinkles of one who knows she's is no longer the southern debutante at the ball. Still, you cannot deny the honor you feel in her presence. This place has everything a good bar should have. It seems so simple but like love, it cannot be forced into existence, it just happens. Venues like her are struck by lightning. Legends and myths rise from these temples, like smoke from camp fires. Smith's has been dubbed the C.B.G.B's of the south for very good reason and like me she is hanging onto the denial, that dedication and love will be rewarded, but we both know it's not enough. The most one can do is look around during the glory days and try to remember the stories. The stories we recant after too many beers. Last night we played like the veterans we are, to a thirty percent capacity crowd that wasn't there to see us. The sound was great. We grooved like demons and sang like angels. We were met with applause and accolades and we were promised another date, in the hallowed main room upstairs. As we loaded out our gear, it began to rain. We carried our cases down the wet fire escape to our van. We drove home drinking the beers we took from our dressing room. The rain and cold air hit the van hard from the side like an omen, but I ignored it. These basking moments are few and even though they be drenched in idealism, they must be chewed slowly. You must savor the juice and it let run slowly down the back of your throat. They are rare birds in this game.

The Shackle is pissed about his mix position. It's in a closet/dressing room. Like me, he has come to the realization that this gig is something we never thought we'd do again. The Shackle works at high levels in the sound world. He has mixed stadiums and huge shows all over the nation. He thought his closet mixing days were over. He is perpetually positive and professional in the face of all kinds of indignities, but even he is showing doubt. He is an even share member of our team and a veteran from the days of limos and buses when I was the singer's manager. The Shackle was the front of house sound man I hired to take care of my boys, for a grand a week. We had deep pockets and an account full of record company money. I laugh at his contempt, because nothing will cheer you up like seeing the shared misery of a friend next to you in the quicksand.

We play our two and a half sets. There is about fifty people at the peak and we end with about twenty. Our singer and guitar player are pretty lubed up on Miller Lite and at the end it gets a little sloppy. The minute we finish playing, the local band demo begins to play again louder than hell through a speaker, three feet from my head. We force feed our gear and cables into cases. The bass player passes on load out and drives home separate with his girlfriend. We drag his name through the shit, as we throw cases in the van. I get paid after hearing a positive review from the manager. I know we will be back. We take perfect back roads, through the timeless rural landscape, towards Monticello and eventually Tallahassee. We make way too much noise unloading at three thirty A.M. in my quiet little neighborhood.

The next day dawns beautiful at noon. I make breakfast for Neil and I and he leaves to install cabinets on a Sunday with his Dad. I pull on Lycra, pump up my tires, and head out to cleanse my lungs of smoke, and my head from the gigs. I am trying to sweat off the clown paint, from my two nights at the circus. The sky is clear, the air is crisp and cool, as I meander around the east side paths for three hours and twenty eight miles. It is obvious, to me and everything in the woods, another spring is coming. My sins of pride and grandeur are washed away and I am reborn. Tomorrow I will rise like Lazarus, and go to work, like the whole caper never happened. I will cycle my lights out in my office and recharge them for that evenings night ride. Soon the time will change and all my rides will be in sun. The visions of the night will fade and another season will decay. There will be other rides in the woods, and gigs like this weekend. I will string them together, like beads on a rosary, hoping for redemption wherever I can find it.

W.B.Z.N.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Jungleland



She looks how I imagine a buffalo might look with a shaved face and glasses. She has a nasty expression and she is tapping her spoon 3.6 feet from my right ear. The waiter approaches and she grabs his arm, despite the steaming entrees he's holding for table six.

"NO ICE!"

She barks tapping the spoon on her cup. There are three cubes floating in the glass, as he confirms her command. She releases his arm and table six gets their food. Another man in arms reach of my left ear, is nervously crinkling fortune cookies, while he waits for a take out order. He is performing a symphony of sighs and tisks, in between nanosecond time checks.

I begin writing a book in my head about a serial killer, who's victims are Cretans that ruin his dining experiences. She is victim one, found in her yard posed like Al Jolson on one knee, hands out stretched "Mammy" style. Her eyes were tooth picked open, she had three egg roles in her mouth and was found in the early stages of rigor. The police department is stumped.

Even as I surmise, that I am projecting my anger, I cannot stop planning the death of Mr. Cookie. I just awoke from a trauma nap twenty minutes ago. The kind of tormented sleep, only a soul shaking defeat can deliver. Dark fever dreams full of symbols and icons from my greatest hits album. I sip one of the best iced teas in town, as I begin interrogating myself internally about the days events. I am trying to piece together the wreckage into a recognizable form. This will be analyzed for the forth time today; once on the shortcut out of lunch, once on the drive home, and once in retelling to my wife. I now will perform it in a duet, with my abusive inner dialogue....by far my favorite version.

Was it the Mexican food the night before, with the eight pounds of chips, ten different salsa samples and two beers?
Was it the room with the wet carpet, mold lab and suspect bed spread?
Was it the lack of focus on diet and riding the last two weeks?
Was it the elevated hyper-state I could not stabilize, for the last two days?

Oh why must I choose? They are all so good. It's like deciding which child should die, and I'm no Meryl Streep. I decide to let them all live on repeat, in my festering subconscious.

(Earlier today, at the Tour de Felasco 50 mile Eco ride)
 I am having some issues with a mild cough. I take two hits from the inhaler on the car ride from the hotel and a couple more as I unload gear. I'm starting to notice that I'm really not improving, but my Olympic level denial is working overtime, so I ignore it. A few miles in on the first climb, even at the VERY slow pace we are maintaining, so two stragglers can catch us, I am not feeling spry.

About ten miles in, at the base of some of the tougher rooty climbs, I begin coughing for real. I tell some riders behind me to come around, while I  try to pace through, and regulate my breathing. The next set of climbs has some traffic on it, I can't ride the pace I want and the main event takes the stage.

"LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, ARE YOU READY? PLEASE WELCOME TO THE STAGE...
ASTHMAAA ATTTACK! ACK ACK!"

The lights dim, the white noise erupts and I cannot turn one more pedal. My group is gone, I am off my bike and my head is balanced inside my helmet, on my saddle. Rider after rider asks if I am alright, by far my favorite thing about attacks; the question and answer round. I recover and relapse and manage to get moving again when I see my friend Zak, waiting beside the trail. He knows the look, he's a lifetime member of the lung club, and falls in behind me. There are blurry montages of roots and riders and a brutal climb, where Chris was fixing Chad's chain at the top. Zak passes the baton to Chad, and he nurses me through the next ten miles, to the second sag stop. I assure Chad I am OK and tell him to go, which he reluctantly does. I am thankful for my friends, but in my humiliated state, I am good company for no one. I get short cut info from a worried looking volunteer, who asks me three times to get in the "Yellow Truck of Shame". I crawl five miles to the lunch stop, and then take the green arrowed "Route of Tears" back to my car.

I am finishing up my solo dinner. Bison head is neck deep in a feeding orgy, showing no signs of pleasure or nourishment. She taps her glass to let the waiter know he is once again derelict in his duties. I finish my meal, which was the only good thing that has happened today. Tea to go. Check and tip. I slip into the wet reflective stream of lights and faceless cars.

I pull into my garage. The house is empty. Springsteen's "Jungleland" comes on, so I shut the car off and sip tea to a song you might hear on the radio, once or twice in a lifetime. Bruce knows the pain of a real death waltz, and what it's like to reach for a moment, and wind up wounded. Suddenly it's all just water colors, on a wall in my head, set to a tune by The Boss.

It's hard to be thankful at times like these, but we never tell the stories of the perfect rides. These are the days you put in your quiver, for the ride that used to be tough, but doesn't seem that bad now. A shit day on a mountain bike, is still better than what ninety percent of the world is doing with their time.

See you next year Felasco..... you Motherfucker.


W.B.Z.N.    

Monday, December 30, 2013

Futile




Two nights prior, I played music with a Grammy winner and a mutli platinum producer. I also played with my long time bass player. No one outside this city knows him, but he could play with anyone. The music is deceptively difficult. Little subtleties that hardly anyone would notice, but they all add levels of texture, that would otherwise diminish the songs. I should be over the moon, but really, I just want it to be over. I live in mortal fear of missing the next syncopated claymore. All ends well. I actually play the only tasteful drum feature of my life. A raised eye brow from the Grammy winner, a knowing smile from the bass man, and a nod of acknowledgement from the Maestro....better than applause or money. Still, all I can think about is getting to the bar.

"Irish handcuffs please. Thanks. Again. Thanks."

 Finally, a breath taken at room temperature and not from the open door of a furnace. 

Saturday; four hours sleep, lunch with my girl, nap, stationary trainer torture, movie, bed. 

Sunday: Tuning drums for a session with the Maestro. All the while twitching like a worm on a hook. The bike is on the car. Munson is surely prefect, gripping, damp clay and white under belly. I escape two hours later than promised. Something with the files and the pre-amps, and a ringing noise in the snare I couldn't eliminate, while maintaining the pitch the Maestro wanted. 

Scramble out of clothes, forget glasses, triple check the car doors. Hammer into paper cup way to fast, way to anxious, and way too pissed off. A thought occurs that, the current meth like state of mind, could lead to a few PR's on Strava. I am full cry in the big ring, railing a corner when I see him. Jeans, flat pedals, no lid, holding his phone attached to his ear buds. Off I go into the thicket to the left of the trail. Thank god it is full of thorns. He says; "Duuude". I ride away from him. Two corners later I run into a couple of riders I know, faces full of teeth, having the ride of a life time. They force me over a berm and yell my name as they blaze by. Instant Karma. Not stoked. I am less than a half mile into the ride. 

I finish the lap and it is getting colder by the minute, but also dark and the lot at the trail head is nearly empty. I try to hit the reset button. This time there will be no traffic. I will hammer out a clockwise lap in total solitude. I can feel my center coming back. The sky is an airbrushed license plate from 1985. I cross the power line to a long set of curving climbs. Still in the big ring, still have legs. Just before coming down the to cross the power line for the last leg of the lap, I see him. His bike is upside down and he is looking at his front wheel like he found a piece of alien technology. He has no tire irons. To my surprise, I don't either. I get the stiff tire off with a screwdriver from my multi tool. I put his tube in and its bad too. I try for ten more minutes to get the tire off, so I can put my spare tube in, but it will not budge. He mumbles something about how he could have walked to the car by now. I hand him his wheel, and ride off.

"Some days you can't do good."
He says. I wish him luck.

I fumble back to the car, in the dark, with no lights. It's the first time in years that the ride was not the cure. It was like running on a trampoline. 

Tour de Felasco looms on the horizon. I should be over the moon, but really I just want it to be over. 

W.B.Z.N.        

Monday, November 11, 2013

Wild Horses




It's 5:30, I wake up to the alarm in complete state of forget. It is a haze I stay in for less than two seconds. I rise quietly, grab my phone and head out of the room. The dining room table is covered with a grid work of bike clothing, food and accoutrement's for the Spaghetti Dirt Epic; 62 miles of clay and paved roads. I am ready. I know it. I have done the completely undramatic work. I am surprised by how confident I feel. Fear still walks with me though, and it knows better than anyone all my secrets; How badly I tend to handle mechanical failures, how panicked I change tires, how childlike I become during asthma attacks. It whispers to me at moments like these when I feel good about myself:

"What if you have an issue? What if you have a migraine or asthma attack? What if you get too excited and blow to pieces in the early chaos of the start? What if everyone sees you bent over and retching for breath?"

I have a new answer for all those questions: "Fuck it, I'll ride alone. That's how I got here." Because riding alone was what I have feared most, that's what I have been doing. Long rides on the road, learning to navigate, intentionally getting lost, and making it back, which in many ways describes my life in a perfect little nutshell. I just want to be good enough to ride with my friends. I don't want to beat anyone, or prove anything, I just want to be part of story, instead of hearing the recount.

The start is the typical  mock opera of knuckleheads. Mountain bikers moving to the front and causing all kinds of expansions and contractions in the school moving upstream. Twice I have to speak up to people fighting for Big Worms wheel (which is the most valued piece of group ride real estate in cycling). They want me to give it up and that is not an option.

We turn onto the first section of dirt, the one that Ricky Silk called; "kinda sandy and soft". He said it with raised eyebrows like it was a secret. The underscored subtlety was not lost on me. Once he described Oak Mountains Blood Rock section as "kinda technical". When a guy that can ride anything says something like that, its noteworthy. We hit the sand, I am on Worms wheel, about twenty five people from the front. It's Braveheart on bikes. People and bicycles are performing a dance that would make sub atomic particles blush with envy. The yelling starts behind me as things begin to go wrong. I follow Worm into and ankle deep section of fine brown sugar. Worm shoots far left into a hard part of a little ditch and powers though. I put a foot down and Fred Flintstone for dear life. In the process, I stop roughly fifteen riders behind me. Fifty yards away I see Worm out of the saddle on the first dirt climb, no sign of looking back, no sign of stopping. I am on the edge, breathing like a whipped plow horse, and start running in the brown talcum, with all I have. It is like a bad slow motion dream. I jump on and attack the hill, knowing that if this keeps up I will not stay with the group. I crest the hill and make the catch. We settle back into a hard pace with a little more organization and no talking. There is only heaving breath and the wheel in front of us. As I realize I am going to have to give up and go off the back, Worm tells me, we need to start riding smart and let the leaders go.

 I am saved.

We settle into a rhythm, and the drama resides. Worm  and Storman are pacing us and I recover. We chat about the melee, and laugh about how Cliffy couldn't resist going with the leaders after swearing he was going to "take it easy, have fun and ride with us" (so generous of him). We see a lone rider ahead going the wrong way. The sight of the bright yellow vest, and barbaric beard, sets all laughing. Cliffy comes into view talking to himself as we fly by. He turns and catches us with out any effort we can detect and now the ride is shaping up like we planned. We make lunch, and roll out with a few more strays heading into the second leg for home. I know now, I am going to be alright. I even do a little work at the front (a first in my career on this type of ride, where I hide from the wind for fear of death or getting dropped). Back in the first dirt section after lunch, I am again defeated in the powder and this time I take Jim Smart out. We fight our way through and I pull as back to the group, pissed and exhausted. *I really need sand skills on the cross bike.

Nearing the end of this ride (as all endurance events) when the pack smells the barn, the alliances break and the stronger gently move ahead. The talking devolves to grunts and communication via expression. Future TMBA President, Mike Yaun, stays just off the front of Worm and I and the others are specs in the wavy distance. We are almost home. The three big dirt climbs, come and go, with Worm and I cursing our way over the tops. Back on pavement, we pick off some low hanging fruit from the forty mile ride. I help on the climbs and Worm turns the pistons on the descents and flat tarmac.

We arrive in three hours forty five minutes, a time Worm and I both agreed would be a great number for the day. Beers are opened, spaghetti is eaten and for the first time in four years I am hearing stories about a tough ride, I was actually on. It all seems fine and completely mundane. The best mundane I have ever experienced. A mundane I remember from old days before the storm, before I chose to let anger steal my life. A mundane I hope to keep as long as I am able.


W.B.Z.N.

*Photo Brian Pierce (my nominee for "rider of the day")
 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Time Flies


I hate getting ready to ride. I grumble and hope for rain and dig out clothes and cuss when there are no clean water bottles. I hate my old pump and I am out of tubes. My gloves smell like a dead body. Somehow I mange to throw a leg over.

There is no way in or out of my hood with out a climb. It is a bitch at the beginning of a ride. Crawling up to the Thomasville Road light where the cars always pinch off the curb on the right turn. People come over the hill there at warp factor seven, running from the jobs they hate, rushing home to the television. I am a pissed off cyclist but at least I am not them. I hop up on the curb and then back down at the front of the right turn line. Stink eye from the lady with too much hairspray. I spot a little opening in traffic and in a supreme act of faith, drop onto Thomasville road and hammer towards Hermitage. I catch the light and lean into the great right corner with no traffic. You can hold all your speed going wide and stay around twenty five miles per hour, to the base of the hill. The missing twelve pounds in my jersey are the difference between now and the last time up this hill. I got dropped by my son here in a wheezing stagger, two months ago. 

Over I-10 and into the safety of Kilearn Estates. Drink water. Trying to ignore the smell of food I can't eat. The A.J. decent is next. A van follows me into the the first sweeping left a little too close. I drop him. The scary corner is more blind than ever with fallen trees blocking the vision of potential cars coming up the hill. The climb up to Shamrock isn't bad. Drink water. I have a line from a song I can't stop repeating in my head: "but after a while, you realize, time flies...."  

At the top I see a cyclist go by. I am still half way up the climb. I speed up involuntarily. By the time I get to the stop sign he is a half mile away. He doesn't know it, but we are racing now. He is a fake rabbit on a stick. By the church I am closer to him. He looks over his shoulder, as he starts the fast section. I get out of the saddle. On the fast climb, he is fifty yards away. By the bricks I am on top of him gasping, but I don't come around. I don't have to. It has been a very long time since anything like this has happened. I turn right on Bayshore and disappear. 

A couple climbs and a I am dropping into Hermitage. No traffic. Forty two miles per hour at the base of the descent, I sit up and ease onto the sidewalk and back up the last hill to home.  

The dog is happy to see me. I smell dinner. I want to write. I want to sing. I never thought I could feel this way again. Nothing in the future is written. 

W.B.Z.N.    
     

Friday, August 23, 2013

Don't Crack Up



You ride too much. You quit riding. You come back but don't commit. You start playing music again. You turn fifty and question every decision since the summer of 79. You remember who your friends are and that they will not wait forever. You write a story (you are not sure why or what it meant). It takes a year, and runs off the folks that like to read about how shitty you ride bikes. You are blessed but you struggle.

The calm returns one day on a solo ride, to the coast and back. It is a ride born from anger. You are angry with yourself, for not being able to ride with your people. A dusty switch flips and a rusty machine churns in the wind, on the burning lanes of Capital Circle. You are out of water, food and grinning, at the ride you didn't think you could finish.

You remember that you ride bikes. It's not what you do, it's who you are and not doing it makes you an unbearable, bi polar, fuck face. You start riding more and have a couple small victories: Complete a group ride with the crew. Finish a Chaires ride (thanks to luck and a friend that pulled your carcass home). You get invited to a ride that you normally would have been on the "no call list' for. It starts to come back a little. You get the shit kicked out of you at Munson for the uncountable kabillionth time. It's not supposed to be easy.

The cross bike is aptly named, it is the crucible of truth and the revelatory place where the spirit was waiting. It is the cave where the visions come. The trip you hated that you can't wait to make again. It's "the fucking bike" you are going to ride back to the fold.

I cannot promise I won't start some convoluted story here again (if the ghosts start talking, I must write) but for now, I am back on the bike, and blah blah blogging about it.

Tell your friends.

W.B.Z.N.