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Archive for June, 2008

Catch Up

I have been quite busy lately, and my blogging has suffered as a result, so I’m going to take the easy way out and provide a quick update list to clear out the in-box.  Not that I am anywhere near to being organized enough to have a real in-box.

  • I finished my article on Rachel Carson and Barbara Kingsolver and sent it off to the editor.  It will appear in a book on ecofeminism late this year or early next.  This is two articles in a row on Kingsolver, so I guess I am now, by default, an expert (?!) on her work.  This should not be so, since Kingsolver is far, far too late in history for me–I’m a 19th century guy.
  • I read Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box a week or so ago.  Although it gives a little (very little) indication that it is a first novel, it is very entertaining, and it succeeded in scaring me.  It’s hard not to think of his dad while reading, and it’s not really fair to compare him to King, but he does, I think, compare very favorably with the old man.  I do have to say, though, that I was extremely pissed off at him for what happened to the dogs in the course of the horrible events.  That’s all I’m saying–go read it yourself, but make sure to keep the light on.
  • I also read Paul Theroux’s The Mosquito Coast about two weeks ago.  This novel depressed me a lot.  Father’s rants about the downfall of American life made sense and rang true in many ways, but his own misdirected attempts to reform (or re-form) society were so disastrously misdirected that it was at times painful to read.  The same old American story keeps cycling over and over again: the Puritanical impulse to lead a holy life, bolstered by the arrogant sense that you and you alone have the messianic knowledge to change the world, followed by attempts at regenerative violence, and, finally despair.  It’s a bit too long, or I’d include it in my American Hero class next spring.
  • I am going to include one of Raymond Chandler’s novels in my American Hero course.  I will probably use The Big Sleep, although I also liked Farewell My Lovely, which accompanied his first novel in the American Library volume I bought.  Chandler is sometimes dismissed, I think, as a sort of hack minimalist in style, but his dry wit and understated observations are so well done that he really deserves more attention.  Or maybe the problem is that he writes genre fiction.  At any rate, his novels are smart, cynical, witty, and fun to read.  And Marlowe is the perfect modern embodiment of the quintessential American Hero–the lone man living by his wits and strength, but with a wry, sardonic sense of fatigue.  Great novels–go out and read one right away.
  • I am inhabiting Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union at the moment and find myself torn: should I simply adore the novel or should I get deeply depressed that Chabon displays more talent in one paragraph–nay, one sentence!–than I can cram into an entire novel?  I’ll probably write more later after I finish.
  • The Tuesday Night World Championships are going very well for me.  This week we had a points race, which means we had ten sprint laps in a row.  I think some of my fellow racers are beginning to get scared of me because I spent the first half of the race attacking or chasing attacks and the last ten laps scoring points in the sprints.  Not to boast too much, but I’m looking pretty strong.  I’m now in second place overall.
  • One of the reasons for my power on the race course is my training.  I did 82 miles today with some friends, and I felt strong enough at the end to do some fun, super-fast work as we rode into town–flying along at 30+ on the flat parts and even faster down the hills.

Okay, so that should get me caught up, more or less.  I’m planning some posts on my recent reads, and I did promise a post on bike racing sometime soon.

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Today the Connecticut Coast Cycling team held its second annual criterium right here in my home town.  The race was at the same location of the big spring series and the all-important Tuesday Night World Championships.  (Please imagine that last all in bold, with flashing neon lights and dramatic music.)  We have been quite lucky over the past week or so with the weather, and today was bright, sunny, dry, and not too hot.  Except for the ubiquitous winds, it was a perfect day for a bike race or two.

My first race was the Cat 4 contest, and I have to admit to being a little nervous about it.  Because I have been doing well in the TNWC, I was putting pressure on myself to do well here at the home course.  In addition, I know that I and a couple of the other regulars have become marked men, the racers that everyone else knows, the guys who can never get a break going because the rest of the pack is watching their every move.  In fact, about two or three laps in, one of the Tuesday regulars rode up next to me and said, “So, are you feeling like you’re going to do something today?”  I just laughed and said, “We’ll have to wait for the end of the race to see,” but this just made me more nervous.

I didn’t really need to be nervous.  Among the local Cat 4s, I’m probably one of the strongest, which, I realize, is sort of like saying something like “Among the bums of Skid Row, I’m one of the wealthiest,” but I’ll take what small distinctions I can get.  At any rate, I did try a few attacks, and at one point, I had a good breakaway with three other guys going, including one of my fast teammates, but the pack saw that four very dangerous racers were up the road, and they chased us down.

The end of the race was bumpy.  By this I mean not the road surface (which is extremely smooth for a New England road) but the competition.  There were shoulder bumps and one poor soul found himself eating pavement and had to be carted away in an ambulance.  On the hill up to the finish line, I fought hard for my line, coming in under the elbow of one of my teammates (I had to give him a little nudge to get by) and hammered in for a fourth place finish.  If my sprint had not been so interrupted by sketchy lines and bumps, I think I could have done even better, but I’ll take the fourth.

My second race was about three hours later, the combined Cat 3 and 4 race.  I was not sure if I was going to race this one or not, but since I won $25 for my fourth, I thought I could recycle some of that money for another entry fee.  In the end, I am glad I did, although I was again nervous but for a different reason.  With so many Cat 3s in the race, I thought my ineptitude would show through.

This race was also a little sketchy.  About three laps in, I saw a domino wave of collapsing bikes to my right, and I and several others swerved gracefully to the left.  When the crash started, I was in the middle of the pack.  When I looked back after the crash, I was at the back of the pack–everyone behind me had been taken out.  Despite this, the rest of the race went fairly smoothly.

I decided to set modest goals, which in this case meant simply finishing the race in one piece, so I was sitting at the back of the pack.  A small break of four or five had been up the road for a while, when I realized I was feeling pretty good, so I moved to near the front.  I asked the guy next to me about the break.  “Oh no, we caught them a couple of laps back,” he said.  Once he convinced me that he was not teasing me, I decided to attack.  It didn’t work and I was quickly caught.  However, just after I was caught another guy counterattacked.  When it became clear the pack was not going to do much to chase him down, I went after him hard, hoping someone would come with me and help.  A quick glance back showed me I was alone, though.  This meant I was in that dreaded no-man’s-land between a breakaway and the main pack.  The solo break had about twenty seconds on the field and five seconds on me.  I worked into the wind, down in the drops, as hard as I could sustain for about four laps, but I just couldn’t make up that last few dozen meters.

Soon some other guys attacked, trying to bridge up to the break.  When they came flying past me, I tried to jump on their wheels, but I was spent.  I saw the pack was only ten seconds behind me, so I let them catch me and I sat back in the pack.  I was tired, but happy that I had been strong enough to stay away for as long as I did.  I even tried a couple more attacks, but my tank was running close to empty.  When the sprint lap came up, I did try to move up to the front of the main field, but I only managed to place myself somewhere in the top twenty or twenty-five.  All in all, not a bad showing, I think.

One other note about this race.  Aki, whose blog is over there on my blogroll, is a ferociously fast sprinter (he’s Sprinter Della Casa).  He is also, apparently, a witch.  When the pack was leading up to the hill in the final lap, I noticed that Aki was behind me.  I started to move to the right, where a little bit of a gap was opening up, and I thought I could squeeze my way up.  As I was squeezing my way up on the hill, I looked up at the front of the pack and there was Aki.  The only way he could have managed that miraculous feat was through the use of black magic.  I need some of that.

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