It’s been close to six months since returning to inline skating, and I’ve since invested a lot of time to research and skill-building—certainly a lot more than I did during my first foray way back in the 1990s. That research lead me to Rollerblade’s Macroblade 110 3WD skates and accompanying accessories, including a Rollerblade backpack which, like the improvements made to the Macroblades, has its own set of improvements including durability. It was with this mindset that if the Big Box brand Rollerblade could do this, the more specialized brands with core followings within the inline community could & would do even better.
I was wrong.
Some months after first setting a-wheel again on the Macroblades, I scored a set of Powerslide’s new Zoom Pro Lomax 110 skates, a hardshell boot made for the urban skater, sporting longtime Powerslide-sponsored skater Nick Lomax’s name & alleged design preferences. The blue boot matched the hue & aesthetic that much of my kit h taking on, too. That I could land them on my doorstep in a couple of days for a good price from a local-ish small business skate shop was the proverbial cherry on top. But I still needed a place to stash & store them.
The Rollerblade bag still held the Rollerblades & related kit, with the plan to be to sell the whole shebang once I was sure the Powerslides were the skates for me. In the interim, I started looking for a bag to stash the PS skates and new kit.
Amazon had nothing that appealed to me in price or (especially) aesthetics, so I started perusing Powerslide’s branded offerings, happening upon the Powerslide Fitness backpack. The size & features looked right, only nobody in the States had the bag in stock. A link from Powerslide’s site sent me north to Canada, where I found inventory at Pro Skater’s Palace. The price was right, shipping wasn’t outrageous, and the bag was on my doorstep a week or so later.
It’s been about a month since receiving the bag, and it’s been doing a fine job of storing the Zoom Pro skates & safety kit when said kit is not on me for skating. Thanks to the abundant rainfall in South Texas this summer, that’s been a lot that the bag & skates have been hanging on the wall in the garage. But that’s about the best I can say about it.
I really wanted to like this bag. Again, its design looked to be perfect, but there’s a lot to be desired, especially for a bag hovering right around that $50 price-point; just over, once accounting for shipping & taxes.
The canvas construction isn’t terribly lightweight, but it—and the zipper, straps, and construction quality—is certainly not near as spacious or robust as the Rollerblade bag I have, the Pro Backpack LT30. Though, to be fair, that bag is a touch more costly, too, but only a touch.
The Zoom Pro skates are classified as an urban fitness skate, sporting the fairly common 3×110 configuration, and these just barely fit onto the Fitness backpack’s mounting straps. With a minimal amount of finagling, the skates can be securely fastened and stored and don’t really appear to be going anywhere, even if trotting after a bus or ice cream truck or what-have-you.
However, it is with the arm straps where I guess I feel like I find the greatest fault with the Fitness backpack. The material, the padding, and general lack of adjustment of the straps just leaves so much to be desired in not only comfort but also security. The absence of a connecting strap across the chest for improved stabilization, trotting or no, is just a colossal disappointment. I like to know my bag is snug & secure on me, and Rollerblade and Chrome and countless others get this right on every bag they make—at least ones I’ve used in this same price point.
While I know the Powerslide Fitness backpack is no “pro” series of packs, they didn’t really have to make it so obvious with the cheapness of materials & construction quality. Fortunately, I’ll not be doing much-if-any traveling or commuting with this backpack. It should be able to do fine keeping kneepads, gloves, and skates all safely stashed together and hanging on the wall for when I’m ready to quickly grab kit and head out the door—and do so for the next several years. I just really would have preferred something with a touch more room for a common size of skate and a touch of improvements in comfort & stability without having to go Pro to get it.
Before graduating high school, one of the first military recruiters I visited was for the US Navy. Based on my ASVAB scores and other indicators, it was pitched that I might be a good candidate for SEAL school, which greatly appealed to just-turned-seventeen-year-old me. Such a career tract was not to be realized, though the potential remains locked in my memory. That and the motto from SEAL training: “The only easy day was yesterday.”
Despite not realizing a military service career in the Navy nor in their counterpart the US Marine Corps (which did earn my enlistment but not my service, as the powers that be wanted to change my MOS to “marching band”—marching band?—so I caught an exit ticket based on my defiant attitude; I still regret it), that saying about the only easy day being yesterday has come to full fruition in my life. Nothing today seems easy, with responsibilities increasing with the passage of time and my seeming loneliness to complete task after task has me feeling like Sisyphus and Job alike both look at me and think, “Damn. Poor guy.”
It’s not that I mind being responsible and helping those who need it. It’s part of my nature and, to a large degree, gives me satisfaction knowing I’ve done something to offer more of myself. However, when there is never a break from what is expected or needed from me—and that the list of expectations continues to grow, bit-by-bit—I feel myself pushed up against a breaking point. Or another breaking point; I’ve been broken several times over the past couple of years, and each time, the repairs become more complicated. Krazy Glue, duct tape, or what-have-you can only do so much.
When N— & I were dating, I honestly disclosed the fallout and failings of my first marriage, some 20-something years ago, and relayed what I felt to be the secret to a successful relationship, marriage or otherwise: Reciprocity; give & take. But MS has inhibited N—’s ability—maybe even willingness—to give, and I get it: MS is a mentally & physically exhausting disease. But I, too, am mentally and physically exhausted from having given so much to the relationship, to the marriage, to everyone who needs so much from me, be it her, the kids, my folks, my job. I have so little left to give, including caring for what happens. To borrow from a Nine Inch Nails song: I believe I can see the future / Because I repeat the same routine / … / Every day is exactly the same.
The only easy day may have been yesterday, which leaves me less than optimistic about tomorrow and the future in general. I have become numb to so much that I accept what must because I cannot leave N— to suffer this on her own; that would not be morally or ethically correct for me to do, wedding vows or not. Like Sisyphus, then, I’ll just continue to push my boulder only to have it roll down again and start all over. Yesterday, today, and forever.
Like many American high school students in the 80s & 90s, I discovered comedian George Carlin. Unlike many American high school students of my generation, it wasn’t from his originally infamous (now merely famous) “Seven Words” bit. Instead, it was from his 1981 comedy album, A Place for My Stuff.
How I came to be aware of this album’s existence is lost to memory. In my extremely conservative household, such things were not listened to, let alone laughed at. Yet, I both regularly listened to and laughed at Carlin’s musings, especially the “Have a Nice Day” and “Fussy Eater” sketches. “Fussy Eater” continues to spring to mind anytime I try feeding either of my children something they’ve not had before. Or had before and didn’t like. “Fussy Eater” is definitely a euphemism for “big pain in the ass.” There’s not a parent who’s ever served a meal to their child who won’t back me up on that.
But it’s the title sketches from the album that are of what I write tonight, given that was on my mind as early as February when I first started toying around with returning to inline skating.
Now that I’m full-on back into it some three months later, I figured it’s share what I’ve got. I’ve settled on three options for stuff (chiefly) whilst skating:
In that original post, I mentioned Spibelt, which I’ve been using for running since I scored it in my swagbag at the 2011 Austin Marathon. Sure, it’s a slimmed down fanny-pack, but it gets an important job done for when pockets are simply not available—like on running shorts and such—yet you still need a place for your stuff. To quote Carlin:
Only the stuff you know you’re gonna need: Money, keys, comb, wallet, lighter, hanky, pen, smokes, rubber, and change. Well, only the stuff you HOPE you’re gonna need
“A Place for My Stuff” by George Cariln
Okay, so that’s not exactly what I stash when I go skating (most days it’s just the iPhone, but iPhones—let alone cellphones—weren’t exactly commonplace when Carlin recorded this), but you get the idea.
The Spibelt is an adjustable, elasticized belt with a 2-piece plastic buckle (like a race belt, if you’ve ever done a triathlon) and a zippered, expanding pouch for stashing your stuff.
At 20-ish dollars for the basic model, it really is quite the useful and cost-effective accessory for running and has transitioned quite well to inline skating. Sure, some of the shorts I wear for skating do have pockets, but the mass of the phone causes imbalance when the legs get to moving for more intense efforts. The Spibelt alleviates this imbalance while also keeping my phone (and [on occasion] keys) safe & secure.
It gets hot in South Texas.
Even in the “winter” months, it’s been known to creep into the 80s, and the mid-90s in “spring” are not unheard of. Summer is its own beast and staying hydrated can become somewhat of a burden were it not for hydration packs.
Like with inline skates, the company that popularized the product has become synonymous with all products in this niche category, but not all inline skates are Rollerblades, nor are all hydration packs Camelbaks.
Sure, I’ve used Camelbak hydration packs in the past, but the two I’ve had were just…lackluster in the proverbial bang for the buck. I don’t remember the exact models (the first was from 15-ish years ago, during my first foray into mountain biking, and the second was from three or four years back from my return to mountain biking), and, sure, they were some of the lower-cost versions, but I don’t feel it’s unreasonable to ask for even a cheap hydration pack to be easy to keep clean. Camelbaks are certainly not that.
But, rather than bemoan the shortcomings of the one brand that failed me, I’ll draw focus to the one that hasn’t: Orange Mud.
Orange Mud makes a variety of gear for trail runners and mountain bikes. I first came to be aware of the company after scouting an Xterra triathlon course when a buddy pulled out his Orange Mud Wrap to help change without the need for a private changing room. The Transition Wrap 2.0 was basically a big towel with a zipper and hook that’s useful for changing or even draping over a carseat to keep it clean(er) following sweaty or otherwise dirty activities, such as trail running and/or mountain biking. Despite my preference for Sport Kilt products for changing (and general comfort) after intense exercise, The Wrap offered carseat protection without me having to change while also being absorbiant.
A few months later, another buddy turned me on to Orange Mud’s hydration options for trail running, what they called “running packs.” These would store a full-sized water bottle or two, with additional storage for nutrition, keys, phone, and so on. Where Orange Mud products shined over similar products like Fuel Belt was their comfort. Fuel Belt was worn about the waist (like a belt—get it?) and stored between one and four 8-ounce flasks, was not just the full-sized bottles they would accommodate but especially in their comfort. They’d sling over the shoulders for easy access to bottles without breaking stride and would still feel like they weren’t even there, even 5, 10, or 20+ k into a run. So, when I was due for a new hydration pack for mountain biking, Orange Mud was a natural, well, fit.
I settled on the Endurance Pack 2.0, featuring a 2-liter bladder and storage for lots of stuff. It would fit the bill for hydration while also fitting all I would need for excursions on either bikes or blades: fluids & a place for my phone & keys. It features a similar shoulder harness setup which makes their bottle quivers so comfortable and awesome. But it was only after receiving & beginning to use the Endurance Pack 2.0 that I learned just how awesome it was.
Where Camelbak products “feature” a threaded cap closure which was not only inconvenient to fill—and leaked on me on more than one occasion—they were also a hassle to keep clean, requiring additional purchases of Camelbak-specific products. The Orange Mud pack, on the other hand, was the proverbial breeze.
Rather than a threaded cap, Orange Mud makes use of locking slide over a folding flap for quick & easy access for both filling & cleaning of the bladder. And the drinking tube & bite valve have a quick-release lock for even easier cleaning of both without the need for special tools. I use a spare 500 mL water bottle for keeping the bladder propped open for airing out after a wash.
Even with two liters of fluid, the Endurance Pack 2.0 feels light and comfortable when skating. Arm rocking or other movements don’t disrupt its sitting position or balance, thereby keeping the my balance—and safety—in perfect check. And there’s plenty of space for however much stuff I would want to bring on a distance-oriented skate including the meh-rathons I anticipate doing come summer.
Shortly after getting my Rollerblade Macroblade 110 3WD, I knew I would need a place to store them. It had to be a place that couldn’t be easily accessed by my perpetually nosey inquisitive children, but was easy & convenient enough for me to access, so a bag on a hook seemed the best option. A skate bag would also allow me to more easily transport the skates in the car, should I want to venture out on the greenways connecting the parks in nearby San Antonio.
But wow are there a lot of options for skate bags.
I’d used a similar model for my last Rollerblades back in the 90s, and it held up remarkably well and made for efficient storage & transport of my skates when not wearing them, while also serving as a convenient commuter pack whilst skating. (Sure, the LT30 is no Chrome Citizen, but it serves a very different purpose for very different storage than does the Citizen; the aforementioned ancient Rollerblade pack worked great during myskate commute days in Corpus Christi.)
The LT30 ups the ante a bit from the previous pack I had by featuring more durable and more weather resistant materials on the exterior, in addition to internal storage pockets for sundry stuffs on the interior. There’s also an attachment for securing a helmet on the outside, though the cross-piece seems to have become more pliable with use, necessitating looping the piece through the helmet and using the cross-piece to loop through its twin straps to keep it securely in place.
The pack’s straps also each feature a ring loop for fastening a carabiner or similar attachment for keys, flash drives, bottle openers, or what-have-you. A buckled strap allows the shoulder straps to be fastened together to prevent shifting while skating—and to great effect. In my 10k outing about town, everything stayed put and I stayed comfortable, despite all the stuff I had stored in the pack’s interior.
When not in use, the LT30 hangs nicely 0ut of the way (and out of reach of little monsters children) on a hook in the garage while securely storing the skates on the outside of the pack and my myriad gear on the inside. About my only complaint is the lack of any ventilation from interior to exterior; sweaty pads tossed in the bag and zipped inside develop a most malodorous aroma quite quickly.
Despite this one shortcoming, I really like the LT30 as a skate bag. It’s spacious and functional for holding skates and everything associated with the activity, along with room for stuff not even remotely related. I’m not sure what, but I am sure it would fit.
At the point I wind up adhering to my own guideline of n+1 for the correct number of skates to own, I’ll likely end up adding another skate bag or pack, as well. Until then, however, I’m quite content with the options I have available to me while out & about on blades; the Spibelt & Endurance Pack 2.0 for hydration are functional well beyond my own needs, with the LT30 in reserve for road trips or group meet-ups…should those ever become a thing for me, post-pandemic…should post-pandemic ever become a thing.
A month or two ago, Levi, this guy I met in a Facebook group who’s my age, also in the education game, and lives in the same state as I, mentioned he was upgrading to ceramic bearings for his 3-wheelers. Through the haze of exhaustion that has been teaching this school year and a bit—OK, maybe a lot—of alcohol, I started searching for some of the less-expensive brands of ceramic bearings and came across the brand Bank Roll. Or Bank Rolls. Or Bankrolls. Really, it depends on which site is listing them, but Amazon (through whom I eventually purchased them) has them as the 2-word version, sans s, despite the packaging sporting the s. But whatever, I had a set of ceramic bearings—and for less than a c-note at that. Take that, Levi.
The bearings were sold as a 16-pack for $54 (shipped) but arrived as two 8-packs. No matter. They were nicely packaged, and the first one I took out spun smooth. Like, buttery smooth.
Ceramic bearings had been a thing on my mind since at least Ironman Texas, but even more-so at Ironman Arizona in 2016, where CeramicSpeed was doing on-the-fly switch-outs of rear-derailleur pulleys for their oversized, ceramic versions. Sure, I was tempted, but I knew even that wouldn’t have helped me had a (much) better bike split that day.
Back to present-day and present application of inline skating, the Bank Rolls went on to the same Rollerblade Supreme 110mm 85A wheels that came with the Macroblade 3WD skates I purchased a couple of months back. The wheels had been recently rotated, since I had about 20 or 30 miles on them, and removing them, one-by-one, to swap out the bearings proved to be a somewhat therapeutic task, clocking in at a little less than a quarter-hour for all six wheels.
The inaugural skate came a couple of days later when I ventured out for a stroll about town to break in the bearings billed as requiring “no break-in period.”
I can’t say with any certainty just how true this marketing pitch was, but the bearings on-the-whole certainly did roll smoother than the stock ILQ-9 bearings—and far smoother than the ABEC-5 bearings the last set of skates I had used—that came with the Macroblade 110 3WDs. Skating on chipseal, however, was still no easier than it had been on the stock setup. Other road surfaces on my route, though, were significantly smoother.
On the way home (the last couple of miles or so), one or more of the wheels started chirping, a sure-fire way to know that something was not spinning properly and was in need of lubrication or adjustment.
Earlier this week, I was doing some reading on reviews of both metal and other ceramic bearings. Both revealed that—on especially, though not exclusively—the cheaper sets, one or more bearings would prove faulty, rendering it essentially useless.It was obviously not the random one pulled for quality control. My guess was that one or more bearings in my Bank Rolls was faulty, so I’d need to play spin the wheel in order to isolate the offending bearing(s). Talk about your fun ways to spend a a Friday evening, eh?
Really, the process took little more than a minute. I actually think it took longer to get the skates out of the storage bag hanging on the wall than it did to find the bad bearing. Though they were no longer chirping, they were obviously spinning less freely than their counterparts.
Fortunately, the Bank Rolls setup included a total of sixteen bearings, and my skate setup needed but 12. Four spares meant I had the ability to swap out both bearings on the guilty wheel (which were compared to those I was replacing, and there was an obvious quality difference). and still have two more in reserve.
Well, one is actually in reserve. Of the sixteen bearings in the Bank Rolls setup, three of them were not up-t0-snuff.
Depending on the weather, I’m hoping to get out about either my town/streets here or somewhere and put in some miles or other serious time on skates tomorrow. Regardless, I’m not overly optimistic about the Bank Rolls and am already planning a return to Amazon. Once I found a better set of bearings at not-too-high of a price. My eyes are on Yellow Jacket Stingers (in white), Rush All-weather Ceramics, or Bones Reds Ceramics, but there is that whole money thing. At this point, though, even the ridiculously affordable Kveni ceramic bearings have better reviews than do the Bank Rolls.
I’ll continue mulling over my options as I hopefully get out & skate this weekend. Regardless, if you find yourself in the market or even considering ceramic bearings, roll on by the Bank Rolls. Their QC and overall reliability is just not what I would say is worth it.
This weekend was the Texas Independence Relay, a 200+ mile jaunt from Gonzales to San Jacinto. It wasn’t held in 2020 because of the pandemic, but that doesn’t much matter; I’ve not run it since 2010. Though I didn’t finish that 2010 running (busted open a knee), it was filled with so much fun and many good memories, especially the dog.
Nicholle & I had been married for a few months by the time the 2010 TIR rolled around, and we had been talking about getting a dog. Because we both ran so much, a good-sized running-ready canine was going to be a must. Sometime mid-afternoon, I came across such a mutt. Some random stray dog just started running along with & following runners from one relay station to another for nearly fifteen miles—more than a half marathon!—and still had energy to spare. But we didn’t get that dog; he was in too-high of demand among the hundreds of runners at TIR. He found his forever home with another running couple who were able to get the dog back to their home more quickly than Nicholle or I would have been able to manage.
The following Monday, I was back at work with my stitched-up knee, while Nicholle stayed at home, earning some much-needed sleep & rest. Sometime in the afternoon, she took the extra cat stuff we had to the local animal shelter for donation. (Her cat-at-the-time, Sophie, had accommodations at both Nicholle’s old apartment and the home we now shared as husband & wife; with just the one cat, we didn’t need double stuff.) Shortly before the day’s last bell, I received a text from her reading something along the lines of, “I found us a dog. How soon can you get here?”
Twenty or so minutes later, I pulled up to the Schertz Animal Shelter’s old offices on Borgfeld, finding Nicholle in a side room with this lean, black & white dog who was loving all over her but promptly took a disliking to me, barking for me to stay back. Neither of us seemed terribly keen on one another.
But Nicholle was smitten, so I dropped back by the animal shelter to try to start building rapport with this dog while they started the paper work on getting Maggie (the name the shelter had given her) ready for adoption.
There was a side yard where the animals could go play, so I took Maggie there to walk around and better assess her personality. Within a few minutes of being outside, she found a gnarled, well-loved tennis ball and dropped it at my feet. Like any other sensible person, I threw the ball, which she, like any other good dog, promptly sprinted after and returned to me. This went on until the shelter personnel said her playtime was over.
The next day, I brought her her own ball (fresh from the tennis courts at Steele High School—thanks, Coach Haecker!) and arranged to take Maggie home by the weekend, just in time to start Spring Break. On Saturday, Nicholle & I walked the two or so miles to the animal shelter and walked home with a very happy Maggie Marzipan, tennis ball in her mouth.
Shortly after Nicholle & I wed, we jetted over to South Carolina for her to see her paternal grandparents and for me to meet them, introduced as the guy who eloped with their eldest granddaughter without telling a soul. While there, we were introduced to and enjoyed the traditional German sweet, marzipan, derived from ground almonds, spices, and sweetener. When we adopted “Maggie,” we agreed we would change her name (our dog, our name), and Marzipan was the best fit—because she was so sweet.
That, and I was am a HUGE Homestar Runner fan, and the character of Marzipan & general silliness, goofiness of HSR matched our new dog perfectly.
Right away, we learned a number of things about Marzipan that remained true over the years:
She did not like being indoors for very long. Kenneling would not be an option. (She destroyed nearly all of the different ones we bought for dogs her size—and larger.)
She was super-eager to please in most every respect. She learned to sit and stay away from certain things very quickly.
She loved to play ball, even learning the word “ball” and going to look for one when we would ask her, “Ball?”
She loved kids, acting as protector and pal to any & every kid she came near.
She knew she was home, staying in the boundaries of the home, protectively barking at any perceived threat until she was told it was OK.
There were more, like her love/hate relationship with laser pointers, but one thing Nicholle & I relished with her in those early years was that Marzipan loved to go for walks, as well as for runs.
“A tired dog is a good dog” is what Nicholle would say, and we both really tried to make Marzipan tired, but she was always ready to go anytime either Nicholle or I laced up the shoes to venture out. Some days, Nicholle would run with Marzipan in the morning, and I would run with her in the evening, 5 – 10k at an outing. And then we’d still go for a walk later, even picking up discarded bottles and other recyclables along the road. For a while, we kept items collected on walks with her in a separate bin labeled “Marzipan Recycles.” Tired or not, Marzipan was always a very good dog.
When we adopted Marzipan, we were renting & living in my grandparents’ house, which featured a phenomenally spacious backyard with lots of shady trees. Marzipan loved it because of the innumerable squirrels and the soft grass to run and run and run. But, within a few months of adopting her, Nicholle & I decided to buy a new home in a neighborhood not too far from where we lived. Though it would have a significantly smaller backyard (later expanding the side yards that first summer), it would be our own home, and Marzipan would still find a way to make herself happy, with the same running routes readily available and sufficient room to play ball.
Despite the smaller yard, Marzipan continued to persist on being an outside dog. She would come inside for short bouts of ten or twenty minutes at a time, but she insisted on being outside, no matter the weather; she had her dog house, and she loved that more than the house the people lived inside of. Even when it froze & snowed a few months after moving in, Marzipan would only come inside for a few minutes here and there—but she certainly did not like the snow, venturing out only to take care of nature’s business wherever she could find a suitable spot.
While we weren’t necessarily “that kind” of dog owners, Nicholle & I did do a lot with Marzipan, taking her to dog night at hockey games, triathlons where one of us was racing but not the other, as well as general training. One such spot was Boerne Lake, and Marzipan loved it there, playing fetch with tennis balls in the water—they float!—and just generally having a good time. Shortly before Nicholle learned she was pregnant with our first child, she & Marzipan attempted to do a doggie duathlon, with the two of them swimming together before running a 5k. Unfortunately, Marzipan was too overwhelmed with the noise and general mayhem that comes with open water swimming in a race, and the two of them had to DNF. But Marzipan would enjoy other victories, including a first place dog finish at the Boxer Boogie at McAllister Park later that same year as her epic failure as a duathlete.
At these varying events, we were typically asked of Marzipan’s breed, but we honestly didn’t know. We presumed she had boxer in her, given her markings and behavior around other dogs. Her paws, however, really threw a lot of people, ginormous as they were. “Oh, she’s going to be big when she grows up” was a regular comment for years of us having Marzipan in our lives. At one point, we saw a Great Dane with the exact markings as Marzipan, so we just decided that she was a mix between a boxer and a Great Dane. It seemed to satisfy the eternally curious, especially with regards to her paws. Honestly, though, we didn’t care what breed of dog she was. Marzipan was a good dog, and that was totally good enough for us.
Marzipan was always a very happy dog, made even more happy when she caught sight of her people—especially at feeding time. She would express this exuberance by leaping into the air. Normal, I guess, but her light, lean, muscular build allowed her to launch herself into a low orbit for a few seconds before doing it again. Jordan would likely have been impressed.
By the time Ironman Texas rolled around in May of 2011, Marzipan had been a part of our family for a little over a year. What to do with her during our weekend hiatus to Houston had been on our minds but not exactly at the forefront. With a few weeks until race weekend, we happened upon a new-to-the-area boarding service for dogs dubbed Pawdersosa Ranch. Their slogan? “We love your dog.”
Her stay there was more than satisfactory, though we did get a phone call her first night—the night before we left for H-town—to advise us that she was jumping “so high” that they were afraid that she was going to hurt herself. We assured them it was perfectly normal and that she was just really excited to get her food. By night two, they were used to it and loved having her around. Everyone always did. She was simply a very good dog.
The day after Ironman, we returned home to learn that Nicholle was pregnant with our first child. Marzipan would finally get to be a protector dog for her very own person.
She saw Nicholle through this pregnancy brilliantly, going for lots of walks and being, as always, a very good dog.
The night Nicholle went into labor with The Boy, a severe storm hit the area. Rain and thunder and lightning roared and flashed across the sky, pelting the house with angry arrows of rain. Naturally, Marzipan was outside, hanging out in her doghouse because she hated it inside. Plus, Nicholle was agonizing through labor pains as we waited her to feel “ready.” At some point, a tornado touched down somewhere in San Antonio, which, of course, was where the hospital was.
Unbeknownst to us, the ribbons of wind on the skirts of this tornado would wreak havoc on the extended fencing I had put up around the house, blowing it down where it ran past what would become The Boy’s bedroom. A neighbor attempted to call us throughout the morning and into the early afternoon to let us know (The Boy was born at 10:40 AM and rushed to the NICU, while Nicholle was shuttled off to surgery herself to repair a tear sustained during three hours of pushing) as well as to say that Marzipan was in the front yard. She hadn’t gone anywhere or done anything other than just to lie down in front of the house, waiting for us to come home.
Sadly, she would have to wait for us for several days, though my dad was able to go over and repair the fence, with Marzipan in the back yard with full food & water dishes during our absence. She was, after all, a very good dog.
As with all other kids she encountered, Marzipan was enthralled and super-protective of The Boy, as well as Nicholle, and even from his earliest, he loved the dog. “Dog,” in fact was one of his first words and everything became “dog,” including the orca leaping out of the water at SeaWorld one summer. One of our favorite pictures of The Boy was him supporting himself on the windowsill, peering outside at Marzipan, with her waiting for him outside the window, tail and tongue wagging.
Despite a similar picture with The Girl a few years later, she didn’t connect too well with Marzipan. Marzipan’s goofy, spaztic nature caused her to bump into The Girl and knock her down, which promptly caused some crying and an irrational fear of the dog. The Boy, on the other hand, despite frequent knock-downs and more, continued to be besties with Marzipan and attempt to coax his little sister to give the dog a go. It finally paid off eighteen or so months ago, with The Girl and the dog making nice with one another and becoming every bit as inseparable as the proverbial peas and carrots.
With the onset of the pandemic in mid-March of 2020, schools were shut down, and I found myself at home and able to take time to take the dog for a walk most every morning before logging in for work. Despite her advancing age, Marzipan proved to be more puppy than dog, always eager to go for a walk around the block, the neighborhood, or down to the doughnut shop (once they reopened) with me and the kids or even just with me. She was just happy to get out and move, even if she couldn’t move as quickly or as far as she once did. I’d given up running with her a few years ago when even 5k proved to challenging for, especially in the hot & humid summers common to South Texas. Though she had once run ten or more miles a day with me and/or Nicholle several days a week, running for distance could just no longer be her thing. But she would still chase ball. Or squirrels. Or anyone she perceived to be a threat who came within a dozen feet of the fenceline. She was simply a very good dog.
Following the freeze this past February, the sun returned, and Marzipan resumed her laying about in her yard, soaking up sunlight as thought she used it to generate what we thought was boundless energy. She would still jump at the sound of her food being scooped or the unlocking of the door. Until she didn’t.
I cannot say exactly which day it was that I first noticed her limping, bit I did notice when it had been more than a few days. Her paw had no thorn or debris embedded in it, and there was no wincing or yelping at the motion of the upper or lower leg; I guess I just thought maybe she had finally sprained something with her boundless leaps or sprints up and down the fence. But I also noticed she was losing weight, no matter how much food we gave her, and that she was drinking more—a lot more—which was odd for as mild as the climate has been.
When loading her into the car for her appointment with the vet, I was able to really feel differences between the right and left sides of her body, most prominent in the shoulder and ribcage. Something was very not right with this graciously good dog.
The phone call from the animal hospital came towards the end of my first class of the day, and I was able to step outside to take it while the students continued on with their assignment. Though I knew something was very not right, I was unprepared for what the doctor had to say: Marzipan had bone cancer, and it was moving fast through her body. She didn’t have long to live; weeks at best. Painkillers could be given to help her be more comfortable, but there was the real concern of her fracturing her shoulder which would, of course, put her in more pain. Sure, they could amputate and attempt chemotherapy, but, for a dog her age and the cancer as advanced and aggressive as it was, it was not a practical or realistic option that would allow Marzipan to live the good, carefree, and happy kind of life she’d lived to that point.
A call home put Nicholle & I in tragic agreement: Marzipan would need to be put down.
The timing could not have been much worse, given proximity to The Girl’s birthday (last year’s was complicated by the onslaught of covid19, while this year’s seemed to be bringing on the death of a dog she loved but only relatively recently had begun to truly enjoy having as a friend), but we knew that, given the immense pain Marzipan was living each moment of each day, unable to run or bark or be her happy self, it was best for Marzipan. No person, no animal should suffer so.
And so an appointment has been made for this Monday morning—the Monday after TIR, no less—for Marzipan to go to sleep in the company of the man she didn’t really much care for at first but with whom she found trust and companionship and a home. And in her, he—and any who met her—found the kindest, most gentle soul, wanting nothing more than to help others feel safe and loved.
Over the years, Marzipan was featured in a lot of pictures & videos we took. My favorite is of her on a rare occasion indoors in the living room of what had been my grandparents’ house, then mine & Nicholle’s when Marzipan first came home to us. She sits, staring intently at the remains of a foam ball she had completely obliterated. The look on her face speaks of confusion, of sadness, of acceptance.
The photo is framed and, for years, hung in our kitchen before being relocated to The Annex, the makeshift office constructed in the master bedroom closet just ahead of the pandemic last year. Looking at it has always made me smile just as it always will.
Interspersed with those feelings of elation, though, will also be feelings echoing those of Marzipan in that picture: confusion, sadness, acceptance.
Confusion over how such a healthy dog could so quickly succumb to something so unexpected as bone cancer.
Sadness at the taking of such a great bringer of joy in our lives at such critical periods, to say nothing of the suffering she must feel but never let shows.
Acceptance that this is just how things are, and I am grateful that Marzipan was able to be in our lives for as long as she was—even if I do not feel it was long enough.
In Marzipan we found more than just a dog as a running companion. We found a dog that was a companion through so much of life. She was always loving, always loyal, always just what we needed.
She was always a very good dog, and we we love her and miss her already.
Literal volumes have been written about how the human body changes as it ages. Monthly magazines by the score paired with an entire industry are at the ready to “inform” the reader/listener/viewer of the (mostly negatively) impacts of these changes. And, of course, some secret or other of how to counter them so “you” don’t suffer like some other sucker.
I’ve not actually read any of these magazines; the cover’s copy & accompanying image all but convince me not to. I’m not “ripped,” nor have I ever had any desire to be so.
Overall, my participation in sports has always been casual. I’ve enjoyed taking part in this sport or that (except for that one time I subbed in for second base during a company’s softball game one evening—it wasn’t even my company, but I was asked by a friend who was pitching, and the guy playing center nearly took my head off by attempting to throw through me in order to get the ball to home ahead of a runner who had barely rounded third) but only really found my niche and true enjoyment with seemingly solo sports, such as cycling and later running and eventually triathlon. But between my second foray into cycling twenty-one years ago was inline skating.
While the exact details around what inspired in me to pick up a pair of blades (originally some cheap set of Rollerblades and two days later their somewhat elite Macroblade) are fuzzy, I’m sure it had something to do with Leon and maybe the movie Airborne. But whatever it was, I was hooked on skating as a fun way to get something resembling fitness, literally wearing the umpteenth set of wheels off the skates and eventually wearing out the skates themselves.
Fast-forward to present-day twenty-twenty-one, and inline skating appears to be having somewhat of a renaissance, especially with me and many others in my general age bracket. While I certainly cannot speak for others, I’m not naive enough to deny this could very well be a midlife crisis for me, attempting to rekindle what gave me fire, gave me purpose through most of my twenties—maybe all; I don’t recall when, exactly, that buckle broke on my blue & silver Macroblades, but I can still feel the weathered plastic strap and its sundry notches in my hand, staring in abject horror at the literal destruction of the symbol of my younger years.
In between bouts of inline skating, I had somewhat of an athletic life, cycling tens of thousands of miles, running a dozen or so marathons, and completing who-knows-how-many triathlons, including three full-distance Ironmans. Even with my lackluster time since Ironman Arizona five years back—where increased responsibilities as a dad and caretaker for my wife, whose diagnosis with MS continues to compound as her body’s mobility degrades by degrees at a time—I’ve managed to maintain something resembling fitness. So even that had me ready to re-enter inline skating.
The “return,” in fact, was inspired by leg exercises prescribed by the biomechanics guy (Coach Joe—you remember Coach Joe?), where I remembered the sensations inline skating instilled, so I began poking around the interwebs for information on inline skates before stumbling upon a Facebook group geared towards a community of beginners who had a passion for not only skating but also—and especially—encouraging others to pursue their passion in the myriad disciplines of inline skates. It was here where I read so many hello-themed introductions of folks returning to the thrill of their respective youths by strapping three or four wheels inline with one another to their feet.
Now a month and change into being a part of this group, several who joined around the same time as I are beginning to lament injuries beyond the blood and bandages accompanying falls or crashes. These are the injuries of the aged, myself somewhat included.
Without even considering what happens to the forty-something’s body when it impacts with pavement, there’s a lot going on, especially for the lot of us who spend so much time in a chair or a car or otherwise not being terribly physically active—or haven’t been physically active since last lacing up a set of skates. Once those hunks of plastic and aluminum and countless other compounds are fastened to the feet, a multitude of muscles go into overdrive to stay upright, to say nothing of staying in motion.
Because I’m not a physical therapist or a coach of the caliber who should be spouting advice about preventing or treating muscle injuries, I’m, instead, going to just anecdotally disperse what’s worked for me for keeping me relatively injury free. Despite not having felt any of the calf cramps that necessitated my call to Coach Joe back in January, I know that no one is immune from the prospect of injury, myself included.
To note, my involvement with inline skating is, well, in line with fitness, tiptoeing up to speed skating. I’m no Apolo Ohno—though we are both Ironman finishers, even if his was Kona—but that’s more akin to what I fancy in comparison to aggressive or urban styles.
Looking at the image above, it comes as no surprise that the bulk of the work comes in with the hips & thighs. This should not discount, though, the importance of the abdominal muscle region; a strong core will help with both balance and the muscle movements in the areas south of the abs. Sure, there are sit-ups and burpees, but other ab-building exercises exist, many of which are far friendly to those of us closer to retirement than to our sweet sixteen. Myself, I prefer indoor rowing and am fortunate enough to still have my own WaterRower onhand when I want (or need, like last night) to hammer out a couple-thousand meters.
I’m working from memory here, but most hurts incurred have come lower back and the thigh muscle group as the primary culprit in keeping folk in this FB group from (enjoying) skating. The aforementioned indoor rowing will help with this, too, but a far cheaper means is available from Amazon: Stretch bands. Paired with the Phase I Hip Corrective exercises from Peak Fitness, this $20 pack of bands goes a long way in building & maintaining strength in critical muscle groups associated with inline skating, running, cycling, and swimming.
And then there’s what to do when the skating’s done.
Most anyone with any sort of kinetic experience sill simply say stretch, but that itself becomes a complicated process in terms of which stretches are best and for how long and blah, blah, blah. So I defer to the experts at The Sufferfest.
(Anyone who’s read most anything I’ve written the past year or so knows that I can’t shut up about the best app for cycling & indoor training—nor will I—and for good reason: It works.)
While the Strength section of SUF, too, will help build essential muscle groups to help with leg-based endeavors such as skating, it’s under the Yoga heading where salvation is to be found here, most in fifteen minutes or less. Yoga sessions such as “Hip Openers” I & II, “Hips & Hamstrings” (my favorite), and “Hip Flexor & Groin Recovery” all have invaluable benefits to anyone making any use of these muscle groups, regardless of fitness levels.
There are many, many more yoga sessions available through The Sufferfest (who, in turn, contracts them out from Abi Carver of Yoga in 15, which has its own horde of an additional 100 videos), but those mentioned above are kind of my “go-to” sessions when I need to loosen up critical sections of the body to be able to function, let alone skate. Or ride. Or run. Or whatever.
Because getting old sucks.
Whether or not returning to rollerblading is a midlife crisis is irrelevant—though if it is a midlife crisis, it’s fairly tame by comparison. What’s relevant is keeping moving which will certainly require some endeavors sans wheels. Cross-training through other sports can certainly help, but not near what building strength & endurance through exercises like those with the stretch bands or trips to the gym—if you still do that sort of thing in the midst of a pandemic—because there is significant importance to strength training as we age.
I really wanted to like love these skates. I really did.
When the notion of getting a new set of inline skates crossed my mind, I started my research where most do: The internet.
Without a whole lot of searching, I came across K2’s offering of the VO2 S 100 Boa, a fairly versatile boot atop a split rail, 4-wheel setup on smooth-rolling ILQ9 bearings mounted to 100mm wheels—and I was in love.
Good design has always been an attractive factor for me: Duncan’s wooden yoyos, Saturn’s original S-series of automobiles, McIntosh amplifiers, Apple computing products, Suunto watches. Good design tends to yield good results…but not always.
Case in point: These K2 skates.
Spec-wise, the K2 skates seemed to be solid, save the 83A wheel hardness; 85A has proven optimal for ’round these parts. My original order for the 2021 version from inlineskates.com kept getting pushed back and back—four times in under a month!—so I cancelled that order. But, a few days later, I was made aware through a Facebook group of a set of the 2019 models in my size through Inline Warehouse, and I was all…
So, yeah, I ordered them.
They arrived in seemingly miraculous time at the tailend of Spring Break for me to give them a roll around the neighborhood. And here’s what I found.
Without doubt, the Boa lacing system is the best in the business. I’ve used Boa on my road & MTB cycling shoes for a couple of years to great enjoyment, and this was the principal reason for my attraction to this setup—especially after updating to Lake’s CX241 a couple of months ago. Riding with these shoes is like pedaling with little, white, puffy clouds on my feet.
The K2 skates, on the other hand, are not exactly that.
The K2 skates weigh in at an impressively light weight and are equipped with 100mm wheels, what I presumed to be a midrange wheel for recreational skates—the kind to tool about town and do just about anything that doesn’t involve a half-pipe or grinding or other fancy footwork. The bearings are super smooth and free-roll with virtually no perceivable resistance, physical or auditory. Because of this, I had built up in my mind that this would be one phenomenal set of skates.
But maybe my expectations were too unrealistically high. Idealizing that the Boa lacing system on the K2 VO2 S 100 would sufficiently “hug” my feet in the same fashion that even the cheaper Lake CX218 or MX218 do—made me think everything would just fall into place with this skate, and I’d swear off my memory-based adoration for Rollerblade’s Macroblade line. But maybe K2 just didn’t get something right in this 2019 iteration.
Though it’s not just the Boa system that falls short.
The ratcheting buckle about the ankle feels too loose, even when fully ratcheted down around my seemingly narrow cyclist’s legs. Additionally, the 83A wheels are just not grippy enough for the pavement in my neck of the world—and that’s just plain blacktop; I’ve not even ventured out on the rougher chip-seal surfacing with these things.
Nor will I.
No, the nodular feeling, the unsavory ride, the unsecure sensation derived from what should have been the best system on the market leaves me with little choice but to secure whatever form of refund may be derived from this purchase.
Unlike with adventures on the Rollerblade Macroblade 3WD 110 setup I’ve been sporting about town the past week, I’ve no video to post. My actual roll-time with the K2s totals less than five minutes, barely making it about the block before deciding these were not the skates for me. To be sure, I fastened on the Macroblades and ventured out around the block instantly finding the ride to be so much smoother, so much more enjoyable than the K2 that I’m almost perplexed as to why I even bothered ordering them.
I guess it was hoped that the K2’s wider 415mm wheelbase would give better, more sure footing than the Macroblade’s 395mm, but such was not the case. Despite the broader footing and seemingly smoother bearings, the K2 felt more clunky, less agile, less of a good fit than Rollerblade’s Macroblade 3-wheel option.
No doubt, the K2 is a looker of a set of skates. The red, white, and black color scheme screams “Sufferlandria!” with all the fire and fury of a herd of rabid laser goats. But looks aren’t everything.
Did I hate them? No, that’s a bit much; the design and looks alone are superb and worthy of much adoration. With the as-executed lackluster lacing system and a roll quality leaving much to be desired, however, I was left unimpressed with my purchase of the K2 VO2 S 100 Boa. Disappointed would be an understatement. It was not a good fit.
Maybe the 2021 model really is that much better and is worth the wait that keeps getting pushed further and further back into 2021. Or maybe it’s not. I know some have been satisfied with the Boa system concocted for K2’s offerings in inline skates, but I sadly cannot count myself among them. As somewhat cumbersome and relatively time consuming that the Rollerblade setup is to get on one’s feet (probably 3 – 4 minutes, compared to roughly half the time of the K2), it’s the quality of the skate that follows that really killed the K2 for me.
Again, I really wanted to like love this setup—because I did; it really was love at first sight. The devil, however, proved to be in the details, and the details (for me) revealed a sub-par experience on what should have been a benchmark set of skates.
When first I called you some weeks ago, I was limping home from yet another run gone bad. My calf had again cramped at less than two miles in, and I found myself at wits end, theorizing over what could be causing such debilitation in my aged-yet-not-that-old-just-yet legs.
So I called for a bike fit.
Of course, Retül was the tool of choice, but our schedules would not allow, so you agreed to make a house call and see about better fitting me to my bike.
This wasn’t my first rodeo with a bike fitter but was when it came to biomechanics to the degree your degree and experience informed you. And I am so glad it did.
After some two hours of motion observation, wrestling with a stuck seat post, and fitting me to not just one but two road bikes, the everything seemed to be set in place for a more comfortable, more engaged & engaging fit on the bike, outdoors & in. there were even PT exercises prescribed to get me back into better shape on the bike, as well as off; that was, after all, the catalyst for calling you in the first place.
Since that last pain-riddled run, I’ve not run, though I have bought new running shoes, eschewing the suggested four millimeters of drop for the zero drop that has worked so well for me these past ten or more years. There is a bit more cushioning on the shoe to better match my own increased cushioning. But that’s a work in progress.
Today, I wrapped up a week-long effort on the indoor trainer, the annual Tour of Sufferlandria from The Sufferfest. The seven consecutive days of 60+ minutes on the bike trainer ramped up almost 200 miles, and I don’t think I’ve felt better since last February’s ToS. Consequently, I think I’m ready to go for a run.
So I went for a run, and what a run it was—even if it was only four miles and change.
I didn’t set any new speed records (PR or OQT or anything else), but I did make it over that two-mile barrier I’d been unable to cross since the calendar flipped over from 2020 to 2021. I’ll not lie and say it was entirely pain-free (legs screaming from Tour of Sufferlandria, lungs screaming from fresh, cold air), though I will say it was the best run I’ve had all year.
So thank you, Joe.
For the bike fit, for the recommendations & exercises, for taking the time to not exactly teach an old dog new tricks but to teach this one how to adapt in order to keep running—figuratively and literally.
Looking back, 2011 was a phenomenal year. Life was so much better, so much simpler.
There was no pandemic, kids (and all that’s involved with raising them properly entails) hadn’t yet entered the picture, and MS had not robbed Nicholle of the ability to walk; she, in fact was using her recently completed master’s degree to further her career, herself, and thereby us. We had also closed on our own house and were loving it. The most complicated it was had to do with finding time to train for the inaugural Ironman Texas. But, even then, that minor inconvenience all seemed to snap together.
Following the end of swim season, I & a co-worker rode our bikes up to Austin on a cold, rainy Saturday, and I ran the Austin Marathon cold (no focused marathon training) on Sunday, finishing a full minute faster than I had the year before. A few weeks later, the student teacher I had been assigned was ready for her solo stint in the classroom; if there were no classes for me to cover or “other duties as required” to tend to, I was able to hit the weight room or go for a run around the campus during the day and get in long bike rides or swims in the afternoon and evening. By the time IMTX rolled around, I was in some of the best shape of my life and had a heck of a strong finish: 11:16:09, almost a full hour faster than Ironman Coeur d’Alene two years prior.
The next day, Nicholle & I learned we were expecting our first kid, who would be born the following January. Another would be born in 2015, and then our entire world would be rocked in 2016 when a near-fatal infection began to exacerbate Nicholle’s MS diagnosis to take away her ability to run, to walk, to be independent in the sense that most “normal” people live their lives. More and more responsibilities transferred to me, including transitioning Nicholle in and out of bed at night and again in the morning. By the end of 2019, she would be in a wheelchair, unable to even hobble around with a rollator, manipulating physics to swing her hips side to side, forcing her legs into (relative) motion, as she had done the past two years.
Though I managed to finish another Ironman (Arizona) in 2016, my finishing time wasn’t to my liking, nor was how I felt pre- & post-race, to say nothing of actually during the race. After my return home in the wee hours of the morning the day after the race, I fell asleep on the sofa (Nicholle & I could no longer sleep in the same bed, as disease progression meant she needed more space and less heat in close proximity), crying myself to sleep. It was awful.
Things continued to decline the next few years.
But now it’s ten years later, 2021. The year after the year that we thought sucked more than any other year in the history of years.
By most accounts, this first month-and-a-half has been anything but stellar follow-up: Complications with MS management and the ongoing pandemic and the winter storm(s?) ravaging Texas, resulting in lots of snow & sub-freezing temperatures, bringing about intermittent power outages and other complications; yeah, it’s sucked.
But in a way, it’s actually been kind of OK, thanks again to The Sufferfest.
The annual Tour of Sufferlandria has been this week, and I was initially concerned, but, then, things just began to fall together.
I mean, there’s the 50-hour timeframe that is the Sufferlandrian day, but even that made some of the double-header stages seem more challenging or less likely to happen. Factor into that rolling blackouts brought about by Snowpocalypse 2021 (and ERCOT’s lack of foresight & planning for cold weather they knew was coming), and the 2021 ToS was proving to be nearly impossible. But then that same weather caused the cancellation of school (ergo work) one day, then another, then another, and then: The entire week.
In spite of the rolling blackouts, I was able to use my smartphone to run The Sufferfest and pause the workout if the power went out; once it came back up: Resume the workout and finish as usual. Double-headers were still a challenge, but that was only one day. By today (Thursday), everything was more or less back to normal with reliable electricity (keeping ours in moderation so as to not overwhelm the grid, natch), connectivity to the interwebs, and everything else to live a lifestyle accustomed to in these United States.
This is not to discount the enormous suffering so many have experienced in concert with my own semi-blissful state of life at home with the family (Probably our worst came with Nicholle getting stranded in her electric recliner for a few hours.); no doubt, others have been far less fortunate. With reliable power/connectivity, I’ve been able to check in on my students, ensuring they are OK, and offering assistance if needed. Fortunately, all who have checked in have been fairing about as well as I have with sufficient food, shelter, power, and running water to get by with minimal inconvenience. Some even worked on (non-mandated) assignments to stay busy.
Of course, 2021 hasn’t been even close to on par with the phenomenal year as 2011, but it’s been manageable. Life with the unpredictability MS ushers in has enabled me to be more accustomed to uncertainty, and even thriving where others might struggle. But that’s kind of what cycling does, too. To borrow from legendary cyclist Greg LeMond:
Life has been throwing a lot of stuff at us these past 13 or so months, but I guess life is always throwing a lot of stuff at us. Much like in cycling and The Sufferfest and so much more, what we do with what gets thrown at us determines our future: Sure, we can whine, we can complain. Or we can HTFU and do the best with what’s been handed to us. It’s likely to be uncomfortable. It’s likely to suck a little or a lot. But it’s also likely to make things better for the time(s) to come.
And, just like 2021 has taught us: If you thought 2020 was tough, just wait.
“I don’t know why they keep listing my name and number with these things.”
It wasn’t quite the warm welcome, hey-come-ride-with-us response I was expecting when I called to learn about the Thursday Night Ride from the Old Bracken fire station off 2252.
I had owned my GT Force for a few weeks and had been venturing out on increasingly longer rides ever since and had finally worked up the nerve, the courage, the endurance to go ride with a group of cyclists—a peloton, the French word for “platoon” used in pro cycling for the mass of riders who work in support of one another to make it through the miles.
Only I didn’t have near the endurance I would need.
When I arrived at the old Bracken fire station (I say “old” because their new facility was far larger and nicer and located several miles away; the old part of Bracken was now the city of Garden Ridge, and the amount of bracken in the area was quickly diminishing to make way for houses and businesses and schools), the field where we would park was full of cars and ordinary people, fresh from their day jobs, transformed into something extraordinary thanks to the marvels of Lycra and Spandex, helmets and sunglasses. Each had a bike worth more than the car I was driving.
Hurriedly, I leaped out of my car, unstrapped my bike from its rack, checked air pressure, and threw on my own helmet and sunglasses; I was no longer a mild-mannered computer technician: I was now a cyclist. A real cyclist heading out on a real bike ride with other real cyclists—and many were already heading out, so I followed the lead, tucking away the notion that so many were still in the field as I tucked in with the group.
Cyclists, as I would later learn, are a snobbish group of folk, due in no small part to the extremes of the sport, be it cost of bike or the miles ridden on said bike. This group was no exception, uttering not a word as a mile ticked by, then another, then another. Rocketing down the roadway (the bike speedometer read 21-point-something miles per hour—faster than I’d ever gone before), I knew where I was but was getting to experience the familiar in a whole new way, mentally making note of which was we were turning so I could later explore these same roads on my own or with hypothetical other friends I’d make through this new sport. But that didn’t last long, and, before I realized, we were in an unfamiliar area, where, to paraphrase U2, the roads had no names—or at least no name that was visible by street signs.
After another left, the pace intensified, and the roadway darkened as the foliage flanking the roadway itself intensified, reaching towards the sky like mitted hands hiding the sky save for a sliver. Balancing myself on a sliver of rubber some two centimeters wide at more than 20 miles per hour I knew this was what I had wanted when I reintroduced myself to cycling. It was thrilling to be zipping along the backroads between here and New Braunfels with so many strangers, and I glanced up as we swung right on the road and a railroad bridge came into view. Beyond that was a wall of gray as the road seemingly disappeared.
The part of Texas where I live and ride is known as the gateway or foothills to the Texas Hill Country, a topographical tangle of rises and falls in altitude. While not quite mountainous, the Hill Country and its outlying area are nothing to take lightly, especially if traveling by foot or by bike, as I was as I slammed into a twenty-four percent grade hill and the fast friends I naively imagined I had made demonstrated just how fast they were and I was not. Like a balloon tethered to the ground, my legs refused to turn as I became instantly aware of what it meant to be “overgeared” on a bike; I stayed put and the peloton floated away up the hill and away out of sight. I would not see them again.
Alone on the side of the road, gasping for breath like a fish out of water, I realized just how like a fish out of water I was. Though I wanted to think I was in my element, I certainly was not, so I began walking my bike up the hill in search of flatter earth to remount and pedal on in hopes of finding where it was I was supposed to go. In those days, there was no GPS, and there were no maps provided for the weeknight rides. But there was the sun, and it would be setting somewhat soon.
The ride was advertised as an “out and back” to New Braunfels and back again, and I knew how to get to New Braunfels and back—even on backroads, providing I could find one of the countless pathways that crisscrossed like so many arteries and veins making up this semi-remote part of south Texas, the lifeblood of farmers and ranchers allowing them to network their way in and out of neighboring towns and markets. I just needed to find one of these roads I recognized.
After a near eternity of twisting my way up a snake of a road, I happened upon FM 1863, a fork in the road that could take me back towards my car (albeit the long way) or on a shorter jaunt into New Braunfels. Because I needed to replenish my fluids, I opted for the latter in order to pop into the first gas station I came across and get what I needed to make my way back, like a dog: Head hung low, tail between its legs.
FM 1863 blasts down a hill into the outskirts of New Braunfels near Landa Park on a 5-lane stretch of some of the smoothest pavement this side of NASCAR. It was on this stretch I descended towards the Shell station that would serve as my salvation for not only fluids but also company: There were other cyclists congregated, ready to resume the ride back home.
After a quick refill of both bottles, I managed to bolt out of the gas station in time to mount my bike and catch up with this slower-moving pack of cyclists for the ride back home. Here I would learn about the two groups to leave on weeknight rides (the “A” group left first and had an average speed in excess of 20 miles per hour, regardless of terrain, while the “B” group left a bit later and was a bit more lackadaisical; it would take me another almost a full year to work my way up being able to hang with the “A” group) and assorted other nuggets of knowledge needed for surviving group bike rides. I would also meet Laura and her husband JF for the first time. Their company and mentorship would guide me over thousands of miles and hundreds of hours on two wheels, on road and off.
Turns out there’s a lot to know about riding a bike, at least in the group environment. And while this first group ride I went on some twenty years ago remains fresh in my mind, as though it happened recently, there are other impressions left elsewhere on me, in me that are even fresher, even stronger. The disclaimer given on group rides (organized or not) is that it is incumbent on the cyclist to know his/her way; he/she needs to know what they are doing. And, sure, that makes sense: We all need to have some semblance of responsibility. But that’s not entirely how I choose to roll.
Since getting dropped on that ride, I’ve managed to work my way up to being a somewhat decent cyclist (note: I still get dropped by the countless cyclists in the area who are so much faster than me) through hours on the bike, outdoors & in, as well as cross training with weights, running, and rowing. Since getting dropped on that ride, I’ve made it a mission to, when on a group ride, to ensure I know if someone who intentionally or inadvertently takes off with a group that’s faster than they’re used to riding that they know where they’re going, they know what they’re doing. Since getting dropped on that ride, I’ve become somewhat of a super domestique, a workhorse for others in the peloton to help bridge gaps between groups of riders, to help those who would otherwise be lost and suffer along the road alone. Doing so has garnered respect from fellow riders while expanding the circle of those I call friends and fellow riders. Indirectly, getting dropped on that ride put into motion a chain of events, a series of relations that would lead me to meeting the woman who would agree to marry me.
There have been adventures. There has been heartache. And since she’s developed MS and can no longer ride or run or even keep pace with daily activities so many of us take for granted, getting dropped on that ride has fortified in me the fortitude to do what I must so that she doesn’t get dropped. I attempt to take the same tack with my students at school, serving as domestique to get them what they need, readying them for their turn to pull at the front, so we can all make it through the months that make up the school year and not get dropped in the race that is life.