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Archive for September, 2008

Last week I read my treasured find–the first edition hardcover of Ralph Hurne’s novel, The Yellow Jersey.  It is a very quick read, and I found myself racing to finish it before I had to run off for an appointment.  Despite its significant flaws, it is entertaining, and the racing scenes make it worth reading for any fan of bike racing who is looking at the lack of TV coverage in despair and is considering watching Breaking Away for the hundredth time.

The novel was published in 1973, and I have to say again, for Mr. SOC’s benefit, that my edition says “First Printing” right there on the copyright page.  First printing.  Hardcover.

But, in my shameless gloating, I digress.  The novel is certainly dated, and while that is usually an unequivocally bad thing, this novel sometimes shows how “dated” can be a benefit.  The narrator, Terry Davenport, is a 37 year old former pro racer who now spends his time coaching an up and coming cycling star, working in his fiancee’s antiques shop in Ghent, and have surreptitious sex with his future step-daughter.  The bad sort of dated shows in that small plot summary.  Terry is a sort of Austin Powers on two wheels, a swinging late-60s, early-70s bachelor who says things like “When I bought this model, I made sure it was a station wagon with a fold-down seat.”  All the better for his conquests.  And he does go on about the various “birds” he has conquered, in a completely open, unenlightened manner that is almost but not quite charming in its utter candor and ingenuousness.

The good sort of dated, though, is found in the descriptions of the racing scene.  Terry’s experiences in the tough Belgian race scene are worth getting through his antediluvian sexual attitudes.  He talks about the tough Belgian pros who race several days a week, hoping to earn enough in prize money–a few francs here, a few there–to earn a meager living.  The races are local affairs far from the hype of the Tour and the big classics, but they are contested just as fiercely as any of the name venues.  Hundreds of local townspeople line the streets in the rain to watch the race, and they cheer on the local heroes and the big pros.  It is a tough, gritty, damp, and tiring world that is seemingly far removed from the weekend warrior outings I see all summer long.  The men racing in Belgium are not dentists and attorneys and college professors who want to have some fun on their bikes but bicycle racers who race because they have to.

Once the action of the novel moves forward and leaves Terry’s dalliance with a 19 year old tourist from New Zealand more or less behind, it grows in appeal, at least to me.  Although he had retired, he entered a local race to impress the girl and, as a result of this and some other events, finds himself slated to help his young protegee in the opening weeks of the Tour de France.  Terry figures that he will ride the opening flat stages to help Romain, who is an awesome climber but timid in the rough and tumble of a pack sprint finish, and drop out once the race hits the big mountains.

The plan works well at first, with Romain sitting well when the Pyrenees rear up.  However, when a fortuitous accident and a doping scandal thrust Terry into the yellow jersey with a fifteen minute lead, the plan disintegrates.  The team owners are furious that this old man is threatening the status of their young star.  The young star, meanwhile, agrees to help his mentor win the whole race, further infuriating the big brass.  The last several chapters are detailed descriptions of the race stages unfolding, with Terry’s lead slipping every day, and more and more pain and trauma at every rise in the road.  Not only must Terry battle his main rival on the raod, but he must also fight off attempts by his team’s sponsors to sabotage his chances.  I found my palms sweating as I read about the attacks, counter-attacks, and team strategies being played out.  I could feel the tension of the race, and Hurne’s account made me think of my own race reports.

However, Hurne seems to get as tired as his hero, or he decides to toss in the proverbial towel.  The last chapter is a frustrating, opaque, and rushed mess, where he wraps up everything too neatly and too quickly for any satisfaction.  Still, I have to recommend the novel for the great race scenes.  Anyone who has seriously watched a race unfold or has tried to strategize in the middle of the peloton will appreciate and see the grace and excitement of racing in Hurne’s workmanlike prose.

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More Weight…

Giles Corey allegedly requested “more weight” as he was being pressed to death in an unsuccessful attempt to get him to confess to witchcraft in Salem back on September 19, 1692.  I feel that way at the moment–asking, facetiously or otherwise, for more of that which I already possess in ridiculous excess.  I am speaking, of course, about books.  After coming away from the two local library used book sales with heavy stacks of books a couple of weeks ago, yesterday I found myself buying more weight…um, books, that is.

Upon receiving an invitation from the Suitcases of Courage to meet with them and the Sprinters Della Casa for a trip to bookstore, Dorothy and I immediately and eagerly accepted.  The book store in question is the Book Barn in Niantic, CT, and it promised to be one of those great, messy, out-of-control bookstores with strangely compelling volumes hidden in dusty, cobwebby corners and cats lurking in dark nooks.  One may take it as a rule that any bookstore called “the Book Barn” must be both strange and compelling, it must have dusty, cobwebby corners, and it must have at least one cat.  The Book Barn in Hillsdale, NY, is another such establishment.

So we made the drive east and met the rest of the group at the Casa Della Suitcase before heading to the mountains of books.  We immediately began telling each other bike racing stories, and, since I had a couple of great crashes recently, both of which resulted in broken bikes, I found a very enthusiastic audience.  All six of us ride, and four of us race, so it was definitely a cycle-centric group.  Keep this in mind, as it has some bearing on later events.

The Book Barn offers everything its name implies.  The main building is a large overstuffed hulk, smelling of old paper and mildew.  The eccentrically landscaped yard around the main building features several smaller buildings, many of them nothing more than sheds haphazardly stitched together, all of them filled to the rafters with more books.  White tents stand between the odd assortment of buildings, and these are also filled with stacks of books.  There is some attempt at organizing these treasures, with travel books dominating one white tent, a shed named “Hades” housing science fiction and fantasy, and a haunted outbuilding dripping with murder mysteries.  In one corner of the yard goats lounge in a fenced area, and small children with their faces painted cavort, playing hide and seek in the stacks of books.

I found a number of books I had to take home and an even larger number that sorely tempted me and which I valiantly resisted.  I did end up with two more John Le Carre novels–A Small Town in Germany, and A Murder of Quality, both wonderful old paperbacks.  I discovered a lovely hardcover edition of Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona.  It features a wonderful dustjacket with a watercolor scene from the novel.  Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood found its way into my bag, as did a hardcover copy of David Mamet’s The Village.

As I was browsing the H section, looking for a good copy of Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame (they only had a Barnes and Noble edition, so I passed), I saw Ralph Hurne’s The Yellow Jersey and immediately pulled it out.  Mr. SOC and I had been talking about the Book Barn’s decent collection of cycling books and he mentioned this very novel.  The edition I found was not the new release put out by Breakaway Books but the original, a first edition hardcover from 1973, with the cheesy 70s artwork on the dustjacket.  I quickly found Mr. SOC and showed him my find.

His eyes lit up when he saw the title, and then he frowned.  “Wait, that’s the original…isn’t it?”  I assured him it was and his mouth worked silently.  “I…I have the new paperback edition…” he said, somewhat pitifully.  “Wow.”  His voice trailed off and I saw his eyes fixed on the book in my hand.  We went back to our hunt through the stacks, but something told me to be on my guard.

Later, as I was exiting the Annex, I saw a shadow in the little alcove housing the poetry books.  I stopped and backed up cautiously.  The shadow moved and seemed to tense, as if the caster of the shadow were preparing to leap.  I gathered my courage and sprinted past the alcove.  As I passed, I felt a rush of wind and heard a dejected howl as the grasping hand reached for my back but couldn’t quite catch hold of me.  Looking over my shoulder, I saw Mr. SOC land hard on the ground, dust and small poetry chapbooks flying everywhere.  I ignored his anguished shriek and laughed triumphantly as I ran to the cash register.  Victory and the book were mine.

After about two hours of browsing, we left the bookstore and headed for some much needed food.  Over sloppy burgers we told more bike stories, many of them involving crashes and other mayhem.  Mr. SOC consoled himself over the loss of the book with chocolate chip cookie pie with ice cream, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream.  Though many of the rest of us had no need for consolation, we did need chocolate chip cookie pie with ice cream, so we joined him enthusiastically.

Of course, Mr. SOC did not really try to steal my book–he is far too kind even to contemplate such perfidy.  We ended the evening with plans to meet again for bike rides, an excursion to see Edith Wharton’s home, and something to do with sheep.  I don’t remember exactly what that last one is, but I do remember sheep were involved.  And possibly wool and lambchops.

Edit:  Dorothy has posted her version of events here.  Somehow she managed to miss the violence inspired by raw, naked book lust.

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Waiting for April

I finally finished all of the last little details on my tenure portfolio.  The little things were much harder to deal with than the big things.  Writing the narrative was not hard at all, since I approached it as if I just had to tell a story, and the documentation was not as bad as I thought it would be since I had nearly everything I needed crammed in a desk drawer.  In the last few day, though, I have had to put everything in the binders, organize the tabs, make sure the numbers on the tabs matched the references in the narrative, and create tables of contents for all three binders.  I had a problem, then, with the templates to make the table of contents for the tab dividers.  Avery has templates on its website for most of its dividers, but, of course, one of the divider sets I used did not have a template online, so it was back to Office Max again for a new set of dividers.  I could have simply typed up a t of c without the template, but I wanted this to look as professional as it could.

It took me three and a half months, about two reams of paper, and one and a half printer cartidges.  Now, though, it will be out of my hands, and I will do my best not to think about it.  My dean told me last week that after September 15, I should feel great relief since there is nothing more for me to do.  She advised me to put it completely out of my mind.  I will do my best, at least until April draws near, and I know that the final decisions will be coming from the President’s office.

Here is my masterpiece:

One binder for the narrative, one for documentation of my teaching, and one for scholarship and service documents.  And yes, those are skulls on my desk–two deer skulls (complete with antlers) and a coyote skull.  I found them all in the park walking with Muttboy.

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Three Cats

…or Cat 3.  I got my cycling upgrade from Category 4 to Category 3!

P.S.  No, those aren’t my cats.  I Googled “three cats” and that was the first thing to come up.

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Seven Points

It was very hard last night to stand on the sidelines and watch the final Tuesday Night World Championship race unfold without me.  The pace looked pretty good, and several still ahd enough in their legs to try a few little attacks now and then.  I was a little disappointed to see the guys from my team doing a lot of sitting in the middle of the pack; they finished well, but I think they could have done better if they had been a little more aggressive.  That, after all, is how I got my placings this year.

My main rival won the field sprint fairly easily.  I scored enough points last week, though, to make my lead safe, so I won the overall by seven points even without racing.  Two of my teammates finished in the top ten (8th and 10th).  Dorothy rode a great race, stayed safe, and finished within the pack, making it look easy.  Her riding has improved exponentially since she started racing in these things two years ago.  She started out getting dropped, but this season, she has stayed with the pack and beaten a lot of the guys out there.

Except for the race crash and getting hit by a car, my season went very well.  It was easily my best season ever, with some solid finishes.  I also learned a lot about how to race this year, and I feel much more confident in the pack and can ride in a more dominant fashion.  Next season is already in my sights.

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Some Mountain Goodness

I intended posting this a couple of weeks ago, but things got in the way.  So, without further delay, here is some Mountain Goodness.  Clicking the thumbnails should biggify.

Here is the beginning of our epic hike.  Please remember that I had cracked my rib only a few days earlier.

Muttboy taking a break before the climbing gets really steep on the Glen Boulder trail.  He is a photogenic beast.

At timberline, with the Whites spreading out majestically to the east.

The rugged mountain man and his faithful canine companion.

The rugged mountain woman wending her way through the alpine scree.

On top of the world.  It’s disorienting to climb all morning in a rugged wilderness to find yourself at a major tourist destination with a parking lot and fat tourists in flip flops wandering around the gift shop.  Note the rugged mountain man look, complete with Julbo glacier glasses and a cloud colored bandanna.

In Tuckerman Ravine, Muttboy starts to show some signs of fatigue.  He is a tough mountain dog, though, and soldiers on.

The way down Tuckerman Ravine is steep.  It requires climbing from boulder to boulder as if walking down a giant, ungainly staircase made of stone.

The Bowl.  A little photo miserably fails to capture the gandeur of the scene.  You can easily see how the poets were inspired by the sublime sight.

At the bottom.  Muttboy looks ridiculously fresh.

And here he is a couple of days later, begging a treat on top of Stratton Mountain.

And let’s end with a picture of serenity–Stratton Pond, one of my favorite places in Vermont.

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