Friday, June 22, 2012

Midseason post, life lessons and interesting pencils

I received an email a couple days ago from my mom reminding me how long it's been since I've updated my blog; and since I have absolutely nothing to do today, I acknowledge that I should at least try...

What to write about... hmmm...  My mother and former home-schooling teacher reminded me that a good writer could make the end of a pencil sound interesting.  I was going to respond that I must not be a good writer, or that it must not be a very ordinary pencil, but that excuse never flew in school so I doubt it will now. 

So I've gotta come up with some sort of update since my last one; which saw me in a state of depression whilst fighting bad form, sickness, and crashes early in the season, forced to resort to attempting to get a wave from passing commuters on the bike path as a way to pass the day.  I wish I could say that was the low point, but that honor would have to be reserved for two weeks later.  I'll try to keep the depressing part short, or, if you want to skip the bluesy bit, skip down a paragraph or two.  Here goes; the official low point: after getting dropped early on in a race in Italy, race directional arrows were removed and my soigneur left the feedzone before my arrival, leading to me being hopelessly lost and alone on top of an Italian mountain in the middle of a sleet storm.  After stopping in at a mountainside winery to ask for directions, I realised that I did not know the name of the race start or finish towns, or the contact information for my director and team staff.  So I set out again, blindly following the abandoned mountain road sinously wrapping around the mountain side, all the way fighting hypothermia while violent and frequent coughing fits nearly knocked me off my bike.

 I came around a corner to the valley floor, where  I thought there must surely be a town with hot drinks and helpful people, but was instead met by another climb and the still deserted road.  I stopped pedaling and prepared to dismount and allow myself to peacefully pass into the afterlife.  Then, suddenly, two headlights stabbed through the mist behind me.  At the end of these shafts of light, appeared the Norwegian team car.  I waved them down frantically and explained my predicament through my hacking.  They had gotten lost on their way from the feed zone and graciously brought me into their heated car to take me to the finish.

 After arriving, I leaned my bike against the side of the team van, and crawled into the back, wondering if I might have climbed off my bike for the last time.  Shaking and coughing, I wrapped myself in all the spare clothing I had and watched the cold rain pound on the windshield.  A couple weeks later, after being asked by the National Team Director why someone as sick and slow as myself should be allowed to stay on the team, I was driven to the airport and flew back to my team house in Toulouse.

Well, that was a pretty depressing start to my blog update.  Moving on to more happy topics, I decided to continue racing for the remainder of the season in whatever races my team would put me in and also have as much fun as possible with the experience of it all, regardless of results.  After taking some serious downtime to recover from my physical and mental fatigue, I got to race the Olympias Tour (Holland), Paris-Roubaix U23 (France), and the Thuringen Rundfarht (Germany). Each was a unique experience; Holland the peleton was constantly torn to shreds by brutal crosswinds, ironically the same ones that powered the surrounding fields of windmills and the country itself.  We finished off the week of hard racing with a big win by our sprinter Steele Von Hoffe on the final Stage.  At Roubaix, I rode into the famed velodrome for the second time, covered in grime and dirt but with a smile on my face.  And at Thuringen, we stayed on top of a mountain at a ski school (complete with a giant ski jump), surrounded by a forest so green and tall that a short walk left me feeling like I'd stumbled into Narnia.

Back in Toulouse, we made a great friend in our American neighbor, John, who moved to France several years ago with his French wife, their two daughters, and yellow lab.  He has improved our lives incredibly, by furnishing us with a basketball hoop, footballs, darts, and other American pastimes.  He and his family treated us to a true French picnic on top of one of the many surrounding hills with a view of the Pyrennees and took us on a tour of the ancient city of Carcassonne.  We've also started having evening barbeques where John is the master griller.  I'm looking forward to joining him for some fly fishing when I return in July.

After finishing Thuringen, my teammates and I made the long journey back across the Atlantic.  As I passed through customs, I entered the United States for the first time since February.  Now I'm sitting in an air-conditioned hotel room in Augusta, Georgia, waiting for the National Championships criterium this afternoon and the road race tomorrow (the time trial was yesterday, I was 9th and my teammate Adam Leibovitz was 7th). Hopefully, I won't melt on the pavement this year and will be able to finish the road race.  Mostly, I'm excited for Sunday when I'll head back to Vermont for the first time since Christmas, to see my parents, brother, and springer spaniel.  I'll have a short couple of weeks at home before flying back to France on the eleventh to finish out the rest of the season.

I guess I probably learned a lot from this season so far, despite the difficulties.  Mostly, I've gotten a lot of practice at keeping a positive attitude regardless of disappointing performances, and how to enjoy my experiences beyond the outcome of a bicycle race.  It's a lot more difficult that one might expect.  I've come to realise that regardless of how far cycling takes me, I have gotten some amazing experiences out of it, from racing, traveling, and most of all the friends I have made; all of which I'm very grateful for.  Above all, I'm grateful for home, with family, apple pies, fishing, and hiking!

Well, Mom, I tried my best to make a pencil into something passably readable.  Can I at least get a B?

Speaking of writing, my Dad finally finished the book he wrote about the cross-country bicycle camping trip I and my family went on when I was young.  Check out the Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/PedalToTheSea and see what other crazy adventures I was up to before I starting pinning numbers to jerseys!