And we’re back. In the hiatus, the sabbatical, the time away, I learned a few things. Some learning was perhaps more a strong reminder or reaffirmation, but mostly new things were learned. The reason for time away is to learn, to improve, to return a better and more thoughtful person. And so let it be written.
The first thing I learned is that sometimes mini vans, especially purple late 90’s Dodge Grand Caravans with 160,000 plus miles on them, will go out of their way to make to make you think they are dying and then not die. We all know that the mini van is the finest among practical vehicles, especially when traveling with several bikes and other fun makers. Everything fits inside, you can drive relatively fast and not get hassled by the constables, and there is plenty of room for changing clothes before races or the trail head. While many folks argue for the wagon, especially the Subaru wagon, I contend that those are perhaps the least useful of practical options. Nothing big fits inside an Outback, except perhaps dogs, but they will constantly whimper and look uncomfortable until you get to your destination. In addition, and to me most importantly, the Subaru insults the intelligence of anyone who pays attention to the silly initials and acronyms on the back of the car. PZEV (not an acronym unless PZEV is a word somewhere…), which stands for “partial zero emissions vehicle”, makes me cringe. What’s a partial zero? It’s either zero or it’s not. Half of zero is zero. 0.3458267496 percent of zero is zero. Don’t belittle us with this bullshit attempt to illustrate decent fuel economy on an all wheel drive car. If for no other reason, this is why I will never buy a Subaru. Mini vans make no bones about less than spectacular gas mileage. It’s generally in the 20’s somewhere. But, with all the people AND stuff you have inside the van, you’re winning. And looking smart while doing it.
Back to the fake dying of Dodge mini vans: on a trip down to Santa Cruz last month (where I learned that Santa Cruz is amazing for all things bike, surf, and sunset) we drove the purple mini van loaded with all the bikes, gear, room for people, soccer balls, and baby seats (not true). At the California border there’s a patrol stop for non-Californian produce. The attendant asked if we had any produce, I wittily responded only dried mango from Trader Joes, a California company. She didn’t laugh and waved us through.
A few hundred feet after that as I was accelerating to rejoin traffic the rpm’s were red lining. We were going under 40 mph at over 5000 rpm. The transmission decided it wanted to stay in second gear. Maybe first, I don’t know. Great. We’re almost half way there. Do we get towed back to southern Oregon? Ride our bikes to Ashland and rent a car? Charter a mini van sized plane? We pulled off at the thankfully very close exit and went to the gas station. I opened the hood to take a look and quickly remembered my automotive repair skills. Over there, on the left, that’s where the wiper fluid goes. Skills complete. We went into the gas station to see if they had transmission fluid (a fool’s errand as there are so many different kinds, I’ve come to find out). They didn’t. We went back to the car. I checked the tranny fluid level, it read properly. Well, fuck it, we decided. Let’s try it again. We got back on the highway, calmly brought it up to speed and merged with traffic. No blazing rpm’s. No thumping into gear. No hesitation. Smooth, wonderful automatic shifting from the company that in February informed us that it was half time in America. Maybe it was half time for the purple mini van and it just needed a little rest. It drove perfectly the rest of the way down to Santa Cruz, up to San Francisco for a bit, back down the Santa Cruz then back up to Portland. Two days after we got back to Portland, the van stalled while slowing for traffic on I5. Then again on a surface street. After some worry and an over night rest, it drives wonderfully again. I learned that mini vans have feelings too. They just can’t be predicted, deciphered or interpreted accurately.
More recently, I learned that if there is a race with a finish tailor made for my narrow cycling skill set, I will screw it up. This race did ten laps around a scenic circuit with a 1.5km proper climb to the finish of each lap. I remained more patient than usual and didn’t chase every attack on every lap (just most of them). This was the first race where I had actual teammates and I applaud them tremendously for their encouragement and attempts to keep me calm. A more seasoned teammate, Timmy, instructed me to wait until the final 200 meters of the climb. “Don’t lead it out, it’s too long.“ Coming into the last lap we caught the remnants of the break. With 5k to go Timmy and Weaver got on the front and kept the pace high to temper egos and keep me in good position. We hit the bottom of the climb at a good clip, those two swung off and the grimpeurs began to gather and then immediately slowed down. Way down. Everything bunched and the puncheurs reattached. At 500 meters to go a couple of us upped the pace but no real surge; no shock and awe that I needed. I have one acceleration in me and I prefer it to happen early so I can keep the pace high throughout. By 200 meters to go a young talent jumped, and walked away from everybody. He won. He’s 18 and raced in Belgium with the US National team a few weeks prior. I did my best to match the other jumps but I was at the pace where I couldn’t decide if I could jump again, and so I didn’t. At the time I was at max. Right now I kick myself for not trying to find a new max. I really kick myself for not trying from the base of the climb. I consciously avoid ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ statements. But this one is really eating at me. I should have gone earlier. I could have and should have been on the podium. Learning sucks.