Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What We Talk About When We Talk About Outdoors

The summer after I graduated from seminary was when I discovered that the woods are relaxing.
Let me take a step back and see if I can explain a little better.  You see, I've been playing in the woods since I was a boy.  Go beside the garage, slide/walk down the small hill after the small tree right next to the garage, between the bushes.  cut across Cathy's backyard to Missy Sankey's house, which incidentally is the house my mother grew up in until she was 12, where my babysitter used to live when I was very small.  I tied her to a chair, but that's a story for another time.  My mom tells me my grandfather Mars built the house out of a barn.  She's not always perfectly accurate in her stories, though.
Run down through a backyard which may very well have been sculpted by my own grandfather that I never met, across the same yard that Mom and Uncle Ashley played in, past trees grandpa mars likely planted, and into the long grass where my mom told me snakes lived.  Past the small gully where the Meanors threw all their garbage and onto the trail.  Take the trail down until it emerges next to Hickory Creek. Head for the log that looked like a spaceship and skip some rocks.
So you don't have to tell me about enjoying the woods.
I loved it, but I didn't know I needed it.
You see, I was more nervous than I was aware in those days.  Lots of trips to the bathroom. Enough so that I went to see the doctor and he did some tests that I'd rather not discuss, and gave me some medicine.  Who knows what it was he gave me (a tranquilizer?), but it really didn't work all that well.  And I had a cousin's wedding I needed to attend.
In those days my mom was living in NJ and working as a nanny.  So we met in CT the day before for the rehearsal dinner or something like that.  Meet and greet. Maybe it was the wedding reception.  I think it might have been.  Regardless, it has nothing to do with the story I'm telling.
You'd have to grill my mom to find out if she did this on purpose (doubtful) or if we just ended up walking on trails nearby because I was crazy(er) for bikes in those days and she'd visited these relatives previously and wanted to show me the trails.
But here's the thing I've been working toward.  Listen up.  I was so nervous that I literally felt like a had to pee constantly, and when I took those walks in the woods, THE FEELING WENT AWAY.  Was it a woodsy miracle from God?  In a way, sure.  But not in a nature-religion kind of way.
Was it that I was distracted?  Good theory, but a wedding should have provided plenty of distraction, don't you think?  Yeah, me too.  And it didn't.
But in those woods, I relaxed.
So you see what I mean now.  I had proof- enough proof for me, anyway.  And when my wife gives me THAT look, and suggests I head for a bike ride, I know that she's right.  I don't just want to go for a ride.  Maybe I don't even want to.  But I know that I need to.  And it helps on a deeper level than I realize.  She swears I come back home a different person.  And of course she's right- but I don't feel it on the surface of my mind.  Something deeper is happening.   On some subliminal level, trees do something to me. 
So you see, it has nothing to do with "fun" for me- sure, yeah, whatever, the bike is fun.  But if you say that to me and I have a blank look on my face, it'll be because it's so much deeper than that.  I may not be having any fun at all, or I may be laughing every foot of the way.  But that's not important.
This is therapy.  This is medicine.
If only I could get health insurance to pay for bikes.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Friday, November 7, 2014

Do It Once, Do It Best

On Monday, I start a new job.  A new career, perhaps.  Finally, I feel like my job, my work, will match what I feel my calling is, my true self's direction is:  To sculpt and craft words like some of my inspirations do with steel or titanium tubes.

I will try to live this creed from now on:  Get as few things as possible, strip away what's unneccesary, and when you acquire something, get the best I can.

When I do some work, I will try to make it the best it can be.  I already know there's proofreaders and editors.  I will not be precious about what I "make".  But I will strive to make the best and "charge" accordingly.

I've told you before about RBW, but now I have access to a scanner, so here's the cover of their newest catalog, which touches me artistically and as a writer on so many levels, and very few of them are the cyclist part of me.

If you'd like a copy of this catalog yourself, email and tell him this blog/me sent you:  or just go to

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hero link

Here's a great link to the Rapha Gentleman's Race.  This is how I think cycling should be, and includes some writing from Andy Hampsten... My all time road-cycling hero.  Another time I'll go into the escapism and whatever you call that Breaking Away, longing-to-be-someone-else feeling.

Anyone know the term for that?  That would be helpful.  Anyway, here's the link:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Throwback Thursday Magazine Page

We've been moving house recently, and it has taken my usual urge to reduce my material goods to even higher heights. 

I'd already gone through my old magazines.  Round one was selling the old BMX magazines that I faithfully moved from place to place, but never actually read.  Met a guy at the mall and away they went.  Rounds two and three were to go through the MTB magazines, and get rid of the ones that contained nothing of any particular emotional currency.  A good third went away.

But now a scanner has come under my spell, and so I can have my old mags and eat them, too.  You know what I'm saying.

So in honor of this event, I present to you the article that was the seed which burst forth into my current masochistic state of cycling.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Most Beautiful Sound I'd Ever Heard...

 "...I was aching to be somewhere near,
Your voice was all I heard
I was shaking from a storm in me,
Haunted by the spectres that we had to see
Yeah I wanted to be the melody,
Above the noise, above the hurt."

When I was 15, it was 1985.  My youth group was going to some big event called Lifecheck.  My mom wanted me to go.  I was opposed.  I went anyway, and it changed my life.  I saw a couple of things that day.  People who acted like their faith mattered every day, not just on Sundays.  A DJ who played only Christian music.  A subculture of people I felt a lot like who listened to said music.

And U2.

One of the seminars I chose to attend that day was Christian Rock Music.  Sounded like a ridiculous contradiction to me, but what did I know about rock music, anyway?  I hadn't listened to much more than the REO Speedwagen, Ratt, Chicago, and Journey that they played on the radio in those days.  Oh, and Air Supply.  You know, the hard stuff. 


Well, knowing now what a divisive force U2 can be among Christians, I can now tell what a miracle it indeed was that whoever led that seminar chose to share the music they did.  Steve Taylor, for one.  Other things I don't remember.  Crumbacher.  And at lunch, he invited us to come back and watch "Under A Blood Red Sky".  From U2.  On a huge projection screen.

"I was young
Not dumb
Just wishing to be blinded
By you
Brand new
And we were pilgrims on our way
I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred
Heard a song that made some sense out of the world"


The first few times I heard this song, I was a typical academic about it.  Thinking about Bono's past, about Ireland's troubles.  About how I knew Bono had written the song about seeing the Ramones in concert.  It wasn't till a few days later, driving to my job with Kathy, that it hit me.  I was listening to Bono sing about his musical awakening and how it changed his life, but the song was really about me.  About U2's effect on me that day in 1985.  I remember it as rainy, but that really could just be because of "...Blood Red Sky" and its famously rainy setting. 

Could there be a more romantic introduction to any band?  The rocks themselves.  The rain. The fog.  The fires.  The white flags.  It’s still touching now, but to a 15 year old, it was quite simply magic.  I went home and got the cassette at Kmart of Blood Red Sky, and listened until I knew every note, every syllable of Bono’s yelps and Edge’s counterpoint, echoing, chiming guitar. 

That day started me on a musical journey, one that had me listening only to “Christian” bands until college (and what does that mean, really?).  But U2 always stood outside of that.  How could I justify not listening to a band that sang “If I had anything- anything at all- I’d give it to you” and “to claim the victory Jesus won on Sunday Bloody Sunday”?  I didn’t know it, but my decisions about these four Irish boys (and back then, they weren’t much older than boys either) and their music were forming me spiritually into the person I’d become right up to the present day.  I saw faith, out-in-the-world, credible, nothing-to-fear-from-the-world-we-live-in faith in them.  I saw that Christians could compete right alongside everyone else and didn’t have to- shouldn’t, even- live in a ghetto known as Christian Rock.  I saw that while God is certainly worth singing about, there’s a great big world that can be sung about, and some great big problems in it, that also need to be addressed.  See what I mean about it being foundational?  No wonder I’d never be satisfied with “Give your heart to Jesus.  No, literally.  Give it!” evangelicalism, and its art.

But I’m getting needlessly philosophical here.  Because I sometimes thought about those aspects, sure.  But what I was hearing, what I was experiencing, what I saw on that big screen, was just… magic.  How do you describe The Edge at his best on some of those songs?  “Seconds”, for example?  Or the scratchy guitars in the middle of “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, while Bono is parading around with that white flag?  You can’t, not really.  You just hear a song, and it makes sense out of the world.  We all know this.  That ecstatic electric guitar moment, of Hendrix burning his guitar, or Johnny Greenwood’s guitar tweekery on OK Computer?  Or thousands of other such moments?  You just know.

“Everything I ever lost, now has been returned
In the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.”


Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Story About A Dirty Rag

Hey, Maurice, Tyler, thanks for accepting my invitation.  Don't know if I'm gonna have much to offer you here, but your names popped up in my contacts and I thought, what the heck.

So for these two "subscribers", let me tell you all just a little bit about myself that you don't know [BIKE CONTENT ALERT]

I first rode a mountain bike, a yellow Ross, at Schwinn Bicycle Center, in New Castle, PA.  I was a BMX kid, about 16, when I first started working there, and they had me put together new bikes.  Didn't do any repairs, not even fixing flats.  That was Brian Park's job. 

Due to the influence of the guys in the shop, I decided to buy a bike, but would it be a road bike, or a mountain bike?  There was a group of guys that did road rides from the shop all the time, and with the influence of the stacks of Bicycle Guide the guys gave me, along with the fact that Bob and Brian considered MTB just a fun pastime for when they weren't training (which should sound very familiar to anyone who's seen the movie Klunkerz), I bought a road bike.  A Schwinn Traveller.  Steel and lugged.  And I did ride with the group and did my first century.  Remember hitting 55 MPH tucking down a hill.  But in retrospect, I made the wrong decision.  Should've bought the Moab earlier.

So I traded in my GT BMX bike for a Schwinn Moab in sparkly british racing green.  Loved it.  Loved everything about it.  But it wasn't until I'd moved to New England, that I really started riding it. 

That was also when I discovered a magazine called Dirt Rag.  Printed in Pittsburgh, the city where I was born.  I wasn't sorry I'd left PA, but DR gave me a little dose of home every issue.  A bike magazine like I'd always loved, but instead of talking about California like every other magazine in the world (MBA in particular, and BMX Plus before it, and BMX Action, and Freestylin', ad nauseum) they wrote about places I knew or was at least familiar with.

So I've always had a special place in my heart for DR.  Even got published in it once.

Gotta go if I'm gonna fit a ride in.  Some Surly content next time, promise.