Happy Anniversary To Me: aka One Vantastic Year

By: Verg Jun 28

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Today is the one year anniversary of may last rent payment—twelve months of rent free vantastic bliss. Think about how much money you could save living like this, and all the great things you could do with it. You could probably use the money to get laid, get more bikes, or buy that supplement that will allow you to stand atop the podium in the cat 12 masters 90+ local crit series. Saving money seems like the best part of van living, but that’s far from the truth. You might not end up on your death bed wondering why you spent all that money on rent, but you will be there wondering why your life was so boring and average.


Really though, rent free living seems like a great idea until you think carefully about it. Maybe you buy a van or RV and stay in that. Genius move, but it’s still not so easy. Where do you piss? Where does your mail go? Where do you shower? How awkward will it be when your significant other’s parents find out? (I’ll let you know when it happens.) Your mind careens out of control; your thoughts run into one wall after another, hitting road block after road block. You realize that you can’t possibly live without a house for a year. Your lower lip droops. The child next to you winces as he hears your spirit break and looks at you the same way your teacher did you when you lost the 3rd grade spelling bee. You give up and realize that living “normally” is just a part of adult life. Well, f!@k you!


So living rent free can be done but it will take some sacrifice. You need to save up a bunch of cash for a van, say about $1000. Oh wait! That’s not actually that much. You do have to accept that it’s a little harder to do shit when you want—including take one. No cooking gourmet meals, no showers every day, and occasionally you will actually look and smell like you live in a van. It’s a more pure form of living, a throwback to a day when people couldn’t just turn up the heat when it was cold outside, instead they dealt with it.

For every negative there are more positives. Van living frees you up to do a lot of things you didn’t know you were missing out on. You never have to pack for a trip because everything you own is already in the van. Just start it and go. Last night I camped on the beach North of Malibu and woke up to an amazing morning. Even the 90 mile drive with a hangover in So Cal traffic back to work didn’t suck as much as writing a rent check, and the sense adventure that is lost when you have a safe and comfortable place to lay your head down.


It can get wearing, annoying, cold, damp, wet, hot, etc. It’s really just glorified urban camping. Your tent has metal sides and a V-8 with an oil leak, squeaky doors and some “custom” paint on the side. It’s not a polished retirement sled that whips you from KOA to KOA on a cloud of comfort. It’s real living. It’s the modern equivalent of a sheep herder’s wagon and it’s the most amazing year you will ever have. You will learn a lot of things that you won’t learn any other way.


The last year may not have been the best of my life, but it wasn’t the worst either. I wouldn’t have known unless I tried it, and I’m looking forward to the next 365 days of adventure. It may not be the best life out there, but it’s a life that’s less shitty than dreading the first of every month. (I always thought the Bone Thugs’ song should be a little more somber).
VERG

 

Group Therapy

By: Danny Goodwin May 27

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There’s no question that my training is more effective when I do it alone. Who does intervals in a group? Doesn’t work. And my schedule for the last, um, five months or so has been ridiculously unpredictable and unforgiving. So I ride solo most of the time, and I’m getting fit again, fo’ sho. I’m closing in on my preferred “race weight”, and able to push down real damn hard on the pedals for longer than I’d think a skinny dork like me could (or should); but my rides have been conspicuously lacking in a heretofore unidentified, but no less essential nutrient: contact with other humans.


It was helpful, as I was peaking last year and my training involved something Nathaniel calls “tapering” (whatever that is—sounds vaguely scatological to me), to avoid the Tuesday and Wednesday night World Championship rides that meet up at the town Park & Ride lot to head out into the hills, rain or shine, for a couple of hours of non-competitive, yet step-on-your-neck competition. I could always get suckered into going way too hard to keep up with the “A Group” (our local training rides are divided into two, sometimes three (A, B, C) groups). I’d tell myself as I rolled out that I’d ride at my own pace tonight, then Ruiz (substitute your own local Cat 1 Sensei) would invariably light it up on the hardest hill to avoid falling asleep, and I’d chase. Two hours later, I would have ridden 90% of the ride above the red line. Then by July I was totally cooked—over-trained. OK, so lesson learned: group rides are for checking your legs and practicing pacelining and sprints and attacks and shit. Fine. But this Tuesday I remembered the other, more fundamental thing group rides are for: mental and spiritual health.


We spend a lot of time in our own heads, especially those of us in so-called “creative industries”. Cycling, and training at a rigorous level, although certainly meditative and centering in much the same way that, say, yoga or masturbation (I’m told there’s a difference) can be, doesn’t really do much to force us out of our own noggin. Group rides penetrate that membrane of self-obsession on several, very constructive fronts. Hearing about a teammate’s renovation of his bathroom, or another’s recent trip to Majorca, or another’s daughter’s recent lacrosse exploits, pulls us through that seemingly-solid, yet permeable film of our own bullshit into the lives of others, whom we always assume are just like us. The intelligence community calls this “mirroring”, and it is a super dangerous stupor for nation-states to lapse into. It results in fomentation of wars and stuff. Mirroring is that lazy, provincial assumption that others think the way you think, merely because you lack the contextual or creative qualifying and possibly contradictory input to challenge your redneck assumptions. And we all do it. Especially you and people who look just like you. I hate you fuckers. You know who you are.


So this Tuesday we weren’t even 15 minutes into this chatty, spinny ride, when my pal Geno flatted. Two people I HATE being with when they flat are Andy Ruiz and Mr. Gene Primomo, if only because I know they will get all angry and fighty and want to chase back to the group with murderous rage. And that’s precisely what happened this time. Gene was calm as he fixed the blowout, then another rider and I volunteered to shepherd him back to the group, which meant climbing the steep, pitchy, and locally notorious AT&T climb at warp speed. I’m sure Gene knew we’d catch a few stragglers but I bet he never imagined we would catch back up to the front of the A group. That was a load of work, baby. I was ready to chomp some Gu Chomps and sit up and catch my breath to get back to the conversation I was having about shower enclosures, and had already visualized my compression socks and beer (there’s an under-developed marketing mash-up if I ever heard of one) on the other side of this nonsense. But noooo. Gene was still in “El Carnivore” mode, and rode right up to the front to push the pace. Seriously? I’m thinking, “dude, if we rode like this in races, we wouldn’t be such poseurs”.


Although I will show up for these rides somewhat judiciously this summer—since I seem to lack the self-control not to ride above my level when prompted to stomp—I look forward to catching up with my brothers and sisters as the sun sets at least once a week for the next few months. I may even see a few of them at the races. And maybe Gene and I can perform our pre-choreographed move at Willmington-Whiteface and the Saranac Crit in a couple of weeks. Without the flat tire. @Geno: you owe me, motherf*&!er.

 

Fail

By: Danny Goodwin Mar 20

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Texas native Danny Goodwin is an artist who works primarily in photography and installation. He is Associate Professor and Chair of the Art Department at the University at Albany, State University of New York, and that title really impresses his NYCROSS.com teammates, with whom he’s raced since 2006. A blissfully married father of two lovely daughters, Danny would be a lot faster if he spent half as much time training as he does thinking and reading and writing about bikes, and a lot more successful as an artist if he trained less.

Epic Fail

We pretty well know, probably from about the time we are potty-trained, how to succeed. This doesn’t necessarily mean we do follow through, but I think on a very basic level we at least know how. That is: set attainable goals and move toward them by building upon successes and avoiding failures. Or, to put it another way: move toward what comes easy and away from what is difficult. Peeing in your britches is met with disapproval, but if you pee in the pot like a big boy you’re rewarded with affection and praise (which is better). I don’t think the essential lesson changes much for many years. It just gets subsumed into layers of nuance and complexity as we rack up miles. How else to explain the continued popularity of quick-wealth seminar gurus offering sage advice on short cuts to financial independence (or awesome abs, or climbing prowess, or a few more watts at FTP)?

Popular culture seems obsessed lately with failure (or “fail” in its Internet meme and neo-meta-coinage form as not only a verb but also a noun, pronoun, adjective, etc.). Sitting in Penn Station, waiting for the train to Albany, after riding the train from Newark, after the plane from Hong Kong, I got a bleary-eyeful of ESPN’s “FAILy Awards”, in which well-coiffed anchors with lifelike rubber heads revisit the year’s most entertaining sports blunders in a testosterone-poisoned spoof of the Oscars. Being smugly obsessed with failure doesn’t mean you really know anything about it, though. According to Scott Sandage, in an interview with Sina Najafi and David Serlin called “The Invention of Failure” in Cabinet Magazine (#7) a few summers ago, failure is a ubiquitous part of the American experience but most of the language we use to describe it derives from the business world, where we “measure our souls using business models”. The concept of failure as something that defines one’s identity is a relatively recent phenomenon.

The worlds of bike racing and working artists have more in common than may, on the surface, appear. Both share a screwed-up flavor of teleology that foregrounds failure as a necessary part of success—not necessarily as something to be avoided at all costs. Failure actually IS an option. And often, the success part never really happens in the conventional sense. How many of you have actually won a race? OK, I’m not counting that Cat 5 cyclocross race—what about recently, in your current category? When I explained to my daughter once what a domestique is, she quipped, “…so is that what you do? Is that why you never win?”

Most serious artists have a similar stubbornness to clock back in even after their last studio day (or ten) was a total, soul-crushing disaster. We both—racers and artists—call it “learning to suffer”, right? As one completes that fourth and final two-minute submax interval at what feels like 125% of so-called lactate threshold, the only thing that keeps you from backing off to avoid throwing up is the thought that “this is when the adaptations occur”. Meaning, it is in those last seconds of an effort that goes far above and beyond one’s comfort zone that the body is trained to process the enormous amount of lactate coursing through the muscles. It is ostensibly what makes us faster, provided of course that we recover properly. Muscle failure during training leads to muscle success in races. Same thing with art: just when you think you have something figured out, however mediocre, you’ll inadvertently discover something far more amazing than anything you could have planned. A dear friend—an artist you’ve probably never heard of but who is nonetheless quite “famous” in my world—claims that one never really has more than seven good ideas in a lifetime. The best artists are attentive to haptic and haphazard discoveries that don’t rely on intellect to manifest. Learning to “trust the process” is as much athletic as it is intellectual.

It is tempting to get behind the cliché that, in the grand scheme of things, making art and racing bicycles are trivial and decadent endeavors. After all, if one applied a like level of effort and commitment to more practical pursuits, one might be quite a more prosperous and well-balanced person. And yet, what are civilizations remembered for (I mean other than the resources they consume or the peoples they conquer but fail to govern)? Most end up leaving behind a legacy of expressions and efforts. That’s part of what compels me to roll that big-ass boulder up the hill every day and watch it roll back down every night. I think about the myth of Sisyphus a lot, actually.

Brother Sisyphus was forced to endure his pointless, maddening, relentless punishment for his hubris (although he really only spoke truth to power, ratting Zeus out for having an affair). I use the word Sisyphean, perhaps, a bit too often to describe racing and art, but I think it is particularly apt in both cases. Hubris is what got me into this mess in the first place–imagining that I, who was never really an athlete, could be competitive at such a demanding sport and that I, who was raised to know better, would risk it all to follow a career that might never bring financial stability. And so my punishment for the audacity to try is that it is hard as hell and only gets harder the higher you climb. Truly–if you win races in your category, guess what? You get to upgrade and then it gets A LOT harder. Get a solo show in Brooklyn and if you don’t get one in Chelsea the next year, you were a fluke. But, to drill down deeper into the aptness of the myth, I suspect that Sisyphus, like me, took some masochistic delight in his struggle. Maybe not at first, but I bet he got really damn good at rolling that flippin’ boulder. You may assume his efforts were pointless and that he accomplished nothing, but I like to think of him as the undefeated world champion elite uphill-boulder-roller. An epic fail(ure).

 

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