Back to The Start

By: Justin Lindine May 29

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“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”
― James Baldwin

Bike racing is a sport of constant motion; of centrifugal force, momentum and constant travel. Seeing the world from behind the handlebars has taken me places I could have barely imagined; from the red-rock desserts of Moab, to the patina roofed streets of Quebec City, and the ruggedly beautiful mountains of South Africa. But sometimes I’ve found that to keep moving forward I have to go back to the start and find the store of motivation I first found hidden in the valleys and mountains I grew up in. Sometimes, you just have to go home.



I could ride these trails with my eyes closed I’ve been here so many times. The rock on the left, lean hard, pump the dips in the trail-shift. It’s like floating back through a collage of time spent training, of days lost in the woods. The “race loop”; ‘the ridge”; the “lean-to”; the “graveyard”. Names burned into my brain since I was a teenage punk riding on flat pedals with toe clips. Remember that time Andy Guptill made it all the way up the graveyard with no dabs? Can you make Mowrey hill? These are places I could reach out and touch without even having to close my eyes to imagine them, rocks and roots and dappled sunlight conjured with instant accuracy.

But it’s not just the trails, the roads too are as familiar to me and as laced with memories and as if I were here yesterday. I know the time from the motel at the base of the mountain on route 23 to the two-lane merge sign at the top, and I knew it before Strava when we timed things with stopwatches—the dark ages. I know what speed I can hit on the descent of Susquehanna Turnpike, and I have had good days and bad on the climb of Devil’s Kitchen.

This is my home: Windham, New York. When push comes to shove, and I need a place to fall back on and get back to the basics and put in a training block where nothing around me can distract from the work; where the ghosts of my past times or those of my friends, or those who I consider legends are all around me to make sure I push through and keep going, this is where I need to be. I came home in the weeks before the Cape Epic, when I was petrified of the possibility of barely being able to keep up with my own teammate, Jason Sager, across the mountains of Africa, much less the world’s best. I put in 100-plus mile days in the snow and the wind, linking all the longest climbs I could think of, hour after hour with my thoughts, the wind, the cows on the side of the hills, and 10,000 ft of elevation gain. I judged myself against things I knew and remembered from years past, and at night I sat in the fake-leather armchair of my parents’ living room, watching TV and falling asleep to the warmth of the wood fire, and summoned the belief that I could do this race, that I could make it happen.

This time, I’m here for the trails. I have another mountain bike stage race to prepare for, and while the miles I’ve been putting in elsewhere have been effective, it’s only here in these woods that I can describe in more detail than the interior of my house, that I can really judge myself. Every turn here is on the hairy edge because I’ve pushed it there before. Every hill is full gas with the in depth knowledge of their length and severity. I breathe deep in the middle of the woods the smell of blackberry bushes and ferns all around me, look at the stopwatch for my time up the “north face” and know that I am home.


*In a few short weeks this small town-where I once dreamed of being a pro mountain biker, the town that was almost carried away by the raging floodwaters caused by hurricane Irene, will become the epicenter of the mountain bike world for one weekend. Not so long ago I never could have imagined that Windham would play host to the World Cup of mountain biking or that, as happened last year, I would get to be a part and race in the middle of my hometown. It wasn’t a perfect race, with mechanical troubles keeping me from performing my best, but standing there on the start line amongst the best riders in the world, staring at the mountain I had seen every day as the backdrop for my K-12 school, it was a perfect moment. Hopefully I will be there again waiting for the start gun to go off, but even if I’m not, you can count on me being there shouting from behind the course tape and logging the training miles, proud to be a part of an excitement that has brought together an entire community. Sometimes, even if it has become a cheesy catch-all sentiment, there isn’t anywhere quite like home. I hope that everyone that can comes and supports this awesome event, to show the world that the US, and the East Coast, can be as worthy a World Cup destination as anywhere in the world.

 

Testing Positive…For Hardness

By: Justin Lindine Feb 28

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Ok, here’s the thing: In light of recent—and by recent I mean like the last ten years—allegations, admissions and proof of doping among the sport’s highest (and even local) levels, I just wanted to get a few of the lessons, and values that I’ve come upon along my journey from recreational cyclist to “elite bike racer,” out in the open.

I have never taken, and will never take, performance-enhancing substances; unless of course you count my own tears of pain or the bitter taste of defeat as performance enhancing. Defeat has an unlimited amount of potential as a performance enhancer, although it is often administered at the hands of cold, calculating practitioners, with little to no advice on proper administration. In countless races as an aspiring Cat 4 through 1 I wondered what the secret could be. Little did I know I was being dosed with the very tool I would need to succeed. Through years of careful observation I have learned how to administer this enhancement to myself and others and am quite proud of the achievement. Defeat is a performance enhancing substance if I’ve ever heard of one, and the cold, hard, and unfiltered truth is this: everyone is doing it.




Success in cycling is determined to great extent by genetics. However, if my own flailing attempts to battle the forces of nature and evolution can teach us only one thing, it is that perseverance and mental fortitude can count for a lot. Remember that time that Tyler Hamilton ground his teeth down riding the Tour with a broken collar bone? Oh wait, he was doped, huh? All right, remember that time that Vinokourov was attacking again, and again and again like some sort of hell-bent energizer bunny…oh, yeah that’s right, never mind. Well, remember that time you were on your last group ride and you had to win the Strava battle for the KOM at the end of that “sick epic” ride and you were so cracked but you rode until the world was getting dark and you weren’t sure what day it was, just to win an arbitrary and sort of imaginary race? Yeah, that’s what I thought; so screw those other guys and keep banging your head against that wall until it falls down.

In the words of the mediocre 90’s pop-punk band, Lit, I am “My own worst enemy”, and so are you. See, you think the key to success in cycling is training hard and taking easy recovery days, right? Wrong. It’s mental toughness and the ability to take discomfort and monotony with the composure of a Buddhist Monk. That and the ability to occupy yourself in airports and hotel rooms for long periods of time with little to nothing to do…which is why, I am told, Twitter was created. So, in preparation for the hardships and discomfort of this coming season, I have taken to turning the heat down to sub-arctic levels, eating the same breakfast every single day (forever), and have learned to pretend to like updating my Facebook status. I have also enlisted the support of my cat in the weight loss department by encouraging his licking of each and every cookie in the package so that I won’t actually eat them. Eventually through this series of negative reinforcement wherein I spend money on sweets only to have them ruined by my cat, I will eventually just stop buying the damn cookies in the first place. You see, cycling is a game where the strongest doesn’t always win, but the smartest often does. So this season I’ve decided to forgo my, “if you’re going to be dumb you’d better be strong” philosophy for a more elevated form of gamesmanship. I mean, if I can convince myself that I like social media and rice cakes, I am capable of anything.



Don’t mess with the Honey Badger. He will fight you. That’s hard.

A good friend and a great team director once told me that when you attack, you don’t look back, you just commit. Otherwise, you shouldn’t have gone in the first place. For example, the yardstick of hardness, Fabian Cancellara, attacked to win Paris-Roubaix 50-something kilos out, and didn’t turn around until he was giving a urine sample at the finish. So, despite the one obvious exception of the most famous of all “looks” between Lance and Ulrich, anytime you turn around to look at your opponents before attacking is lame…just saying. Incidentally, the only reason it was cool when Lance did it was because he was one hundred percent confident that he was about to drop everyone in the race. Now, I have no desire to open up the bowels of the Internet forums to a discussion of the Texan’s moral character. Suffice it to say that when you look back before attacking in a race, on a group ride, on the bike path-you just piss everyone off and make them want to chase you down harder. So if you’re feeling lucky, go for it, but they’ll thank you ahead of time for the heads-up, and make sure to do the other textbook hard-ass move, and that is to not even look at you when they come by.



The author and his editor. There is, obviously, nothing hard about this picture.

It’s an indisputable and scientifically proven fact that bright shoes and riding without gloves make you faster and harder. Exhibit “A” from my own experience: This cross season was going splendidly while my canary yellow Mavic shoes shone with brilliance thanks to diligent post-race washings. It was like every time I looked down in a race I couldn’t help but have my mood buoyed by the sheer loudness of my shoes. How could I not ride fast with shoes that nice? But sadly, as the season wore on and life got more hectic, the shoes got dirtier and soon were sort of an off yellow dinge. Straight away my cross season went similarly pallid and I was left feeling, much as my shoes looked, bedraggled and a little worse for wear. I could barely keep the rubber side down, let alone win a race. Obviously, not wearing gloves is in a similar vein of the hard credo. As is evidenced by any number of bad-ass victories by notable cycling luminaries of hardness like Tim Johnson, Jens Voigt et all, who remembers a podium shot with gloves on? Besides, the Zen experience of losing the feeling in one’s digits only harkens back to my previous point about the discomfort and pain inherent in cycling. Which is why I have my feet in a bucket of ice water while I write this. And the window open. And there is a dragon. Ok, I lied about the dragon.

There is a myth that being good in cycling requires you to defer to one genre, one discipline, one aspect of the sport. Either you race road, or mountain, or track; maybe you do one of those and dabble in cross. Surely you can’t do more than two and maintain the level of specificity needed for today’s elites. Well, I cry bull. In defense of my proclamation, I point to the hardest of hardmen, Eddy Merckx, who raced on the road, the track, and the cross bike pretty much year round. Not only did he “race” at all these things, he crushed and won and stole people’s souls in all these disciplines. I am sure that had mountain biking been around, he would have rocked that, too. In more contemporary cycling I reference Sven Nys who arbitrarily wins on the road and the mountain bike while preparing for domination of his nation’s national pastime—cyclocross. So I scoff at the “off season” and tune up all three of my weapons..err bikes, and prepare for a full frontal assault of anything that requires two wheels. Except, of course bike-polo, I mean, really? [Editor’s note: Dan Timmerman plays bike polo. Just saying. ]

My final point, for today, is probably going to run me awry with a certain crowd, but so it goes when one offers a diatribe: I have many friends who wear scarves, although I consider them a decadent over-indulgence. I have many friends who ride bicycles, obviously. Sadly, I have some friends who mix the two. To those of you who do, I don’t judge you per se, but I do have a hard time taking you seriously when you ride by me on the road. See, the thing is, I have ridden many a winter in some bitter-ass cold upstate NY and New England winters. I have ridden in temps that froze my bottles in minutes and gave me frost nip in unmentionable areas. But despite all of that, I have never, ever, had the need or desire to cover my face with a decorative piece of embroidered, knit, or woven tapestry so called a “scarf”. This is because I take my cycling seriously, although I grant that perhaps if I was on a casual stroll to the coffee shop, and my name was Ernest Shackelton, and I was on the freaking North Pole, then I might have need of a fleece Balaclava. But still not a scarf.

So there you have it. I have never taken performance-enhancing substances, and I will never wear a scarf. You can all count on me for that.

 

I Ride The Line.

By: Justin Lindine Jan 24

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“Some people hear their own inner voices with great clearness and they live by what they hear. Such people become crazy, or they become legends.” – Legends of the Fall

Maybe growing up I watched too many Clint Eastwood type, rugged individualist movies; because when things get heavy in my life, when the world starts to gather too much momentum for me to take, I pretty much want grab my pack and walk out the back door into the woods. Somewhere along the line, life took turns and paths that have made it somewhat inescapable. School, marriage, a cat: all things that on a day-today basis I would consider the trappings of a happy and complete—if somewhat directionless at this point in time—life. But somewhere, hidden not far beneath the fleshy veneer of domestication, lies the primal urge to wander, to roam uninhabited landscapes and live in a world where there is more to the meaning of life than paychecks and pant brands. Some days these urges swell up in growing waves of discontent, pressing against the confines of everyday life. Everywhere I look is a possible escape route—the clothes on my back and the money in my wallet more than enough to jettison this location for somewhere wild and untouched.


This is why I ride. Riding fills the gaps between these waves that are so desirous of cataclysmic change. Riding is what keeps them from becoming an unstoppable tsunami that ruins everything human with its brutal natural beauty; because every time that I get on a bike and leave my driveway, the world stops. The job, the family, the car, even the racing with a social structure all its own, all take a back seat to something infinitely more basic and instinctual. Is this some sort of return to a primitive hunter-gatherer state? Of course not, and obviously it’s not the same as buying a bus ticket for Alaska and vanishing off the map, Chris McCandless style. But think about it, every time you’ve gone for a mountain bike ride without telling anyone where you were, every time you “forget” to bring the phone on your four hour ride, what are you searching for? Sure we all get caught up in the training, in the data, in the electronic devices that tell us and our friends how fast and how far. But cast your mind back to before all that, maybe even when you were just a kid if you have to. What was it about those two wheels that made riding a bike better than everything else? I think that riding is what keeps a great number of us inside the lines.

This is a radical view that makes me sound like a civilization-hating hermit, but I love my shower and tempurpedic mattress as much as the next person. I do think, though, that in modern day life we have lost something that connected us more intimately to the world around us, and that in some of us that loss exerts a force more profound than in others. For me, maybe for you if this is true, riding acts like a damper on a fire: the coals still burn, but under control, because really, how many of us want to totally abandon our lives for something primitive? How easy is it even to do that anymore? The list of truly wild places seems to shrink on a daily basis while the reaches of “civilization” entwine themselves deeper and deeper into every moment of our lives. Even in the places where we can look at relatively untouched natural beauty, how many of us take the time to leave the phone and the ipod and all the other detritus of everyday life at home and just engage in the landscape? But in a few short minutes after the click-click of my cleats in my pedals, I can vanish from the world I know into a myopic adventure of my own making. I can ride until I am literally on the edge of collapse to see what happens. I can set goals or records to break, pretending as I have since I was a kid, that everything is an adventure, that maybe I am the first person to do this.

It’s a shell game that requires a willing suspension of disbelief. You get passed by a car on even the remotest of back-road rides and the illusion of solitude is cracked, or you round the corner on your mountain bike ride only to find the overlook already occupied by other riders. But, this is about an escape that takes place as a world within a world. The silence and the landscape is as much in your perception of it as in the reality. So you ignore the car and look the other way, putting you head into the wind in a struggle against the elements. On the trail maybe you smile and nod and offer the basic pleasantries to your fellow riders and then go your separate ways content with the knowledge conveyed in just a few simple gestures and words, the knowledge that they too are in the midst of their own adventure.

This is why I ride. Because in a world where more and more we are focused on the comfortable, on the ease with which technology allows us to live our everyday lives, riding is still hard and sometimes uncomfortable, and if you ride long enough and hard enough you will know what it feels like to physically fail. These are moments of solitude and clarity where, if I can say this without sounding too cliché, we can see what we are made of. It’s what allows me a window of a few hours to step outside the safe world around me, test the limits of what I know, and then come back and take a hot shower knowing that tomorrow if it gets to be too much, I can always run away again.

 

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