Thursday, January 31, 2008





Wednesday, January 30, 2008


After spending a weekend in northern California, I am convinced that the sun still exists. My concerns that the world has been thrust into a Narnia-like permanent winter have been dispelled. While most of our trip was filled with overcast skies and rain, there were a few moments of sublime sunshine that made it all worth it. Actually, that's not true at all. Here's a slice of why:

  • I climbed the twisting, craggy road that goes from Davis to Napa in the pouring rain. There were waterfalls appearing our of nowhere along the cliffs.
  • I climbed to the top of mount Diablo, ascending nearly 3000' in a mere thirteen miles. I throttled it up the first half, and set a new season-high power record. The view from the top is panoramic, and I watched coyotes harass a colony of pikas along the way.
  • I climbed the bluffs outside Sausalito, past the massive gun turrets from World War Two. The road looks straight down on the Golden Gate Bridge, and the one-way descent was as beautiful as it was steep.
  • I climbed mount Tamalpias through sheets of fog so thick, I got scared and made us turn around -- New Mexicans have an innate fear of fog. I was later informed that it wasn't fog at all, but rather low hanging clouds. I didn't really care, I'm just glad we got the hell out of there.
  • I climbed out of the Muir woods through a hundred-foot canopy of redwood trees. From within the forest, there was no way to tell the wind was that strong.

Monday, January 21, 2008


For most cities, building a velodrome is like making a new year's resolution to lose eighty pounds before July: the idea sounds great, in theory it's what you want, you'll probably spend a bunch of money on gimmicky "quick fix" solutions, and there's a good chance absolutely nothing will actually happen.
Take my home state of New Mexico for example. The notion of building a velodrome in the Land of Enchantment is older than Lance Armstrong's recent squeeze. Numerous proposals have come and gone -- some of them more hair-brained than others. When I was first getting into racing, I spent a summer in Santa Fe. Daydreaming about how sweet the new Southwest Velodrome would be was a favorite pastime. The Southwest Velodrome Association got off on the right foot: they proposed a plan, asked city council for permission, and went about raising money. But when a wooden velodrome in Winnipeg, Canada (originally built for the 1999 Pan-American games) was put up for sale for a fraction of the cost it took to build it, the Southwest Velodrome Association bought the thing like a jittery E-bay shopper. They had the velodrome disassembled, and shipped it to Albuquerque. Since they had not yet procured a piece of land upon which to assemble a velodrome, nor had they sufficient funds to do so in a timely manner, the wooden pieces just sat on a lot. Outside. In Albuquerque, New Mexico -- a place so hot and dry that more often than not, when it rains all the water evaporates before it hits the ground (I shit you not). Naturally, the velodrome pieces warped horribly. It's uncertain whether or not the pieces are still usable (albeit with a substantial amount of sanding). What is certain, is that the Southwest Velodrome Association set themselves back a decade or more in their plans to bring track racing to New Mexico.

Boise, Idaho on the other hand, seems to have its shit a little more together. The Idaho Velopark is currently under construction. This impressive facility will make the lives of Boise cyclists much much better. As well as the 333.3 meter concrete velodrome, the Velopark will boast a BMX track, a combined cyclocross / short-track mountain bike course, and a "skills park" [I have no idea what this is]. My point is, there is currently a piece of land (one that I've seen with my own eyes!) with a sign on it. That sign that tells me that one day, there will be a massive, gleaming bicycle track for me to race upon, and I like that idea. I'm sure there will be snags, delays, and shortcomings, but clearly the people in charge of the Idaho Velopark aren't ninnies. And I hate ninnies. Unless they're dancing ninnies.

Friday, January 18, 2008

I [Hope I] Know How to Train Smart...

There comes a point when, if you really don't want to ride your bike that much, you probably shouldn't ride. Today for instance.

Today is another balmy day in Boise. Clear skies, dry roads, 27 degrees, 10 mph winds. Normally, a great day for a winter training ride. Normally, on days like today, I'd happily wrap myself in every single piece of warm-weather clothing I own (this is not an exaggeration -- my tights never came, if you remember), giddily stuff my pockets with food, bound out the door with a smile on my face (which would naturally be covered by my polarfleece neck gaiter), and start pedaling pretty darn hard. 15-20 minutes later, just as my hands and feet start to get numb, my core would be nice and toasty. Provided I didn't stop for more than thirty seconds, or let my wattage go below 250, I could be nice and comfortable (except for my hands and feet) for upwards of five hours. [Author's note: next year, I'm seriously considering exploring the world of true winter sports. I have a friend who tells me that skate skiing is actually enjoyable in weather like this.]

But it's not just the weather. When I woke up, my legs felt like they were dunked in a tank full of electric eels, thanks to the relentless onslaught of intervals my coach keeps sending me. [Author's note: this isn't unusual -- my legs feel like that more often than not. If they didn't feel like that, I wouldn't be training hard enough.] For the most part, I've eagerly gobbled up the workouts I've been given, even when my legs are tired. For the most part, I like the feeling of going hard on tired legs -- that's what stage racing is all about. Today however, my legs told me to reconsider. It's as though they were saying [author's note: god knows why, but my legs speak with an Irish brogue -- think Mary or Pippen in the Lord of the Rings]:

"Ya'know Sam, we know full-well we could finish the workout ya got planned fer yerself -- aye, we could give yer coach a power-file to remember for years to come -- but the hole we're diggin', it's not gettin' any shallower. If ya'd like our advice, ya should give us a rest: take a nap, watch a movie, drink yerself some hot coco, and look forward to tomorrow."

Sometimes, my Irish legs know best, ya know?

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Meanwhile, at work…..

Business has been booming over at Sustainabuilt [I would like to point out that we've updated our website a little -- with things I've built! That performance stage? Yeah...I built that]. We have cabinet jobs backed up like jumbo jets waiting to land at O’Hare in a blizzard. Our success is the product of several things: the current national shift towards green building, the unique materials and design we offer, and the lack of local competitors (we’re the only green cabinet builder in Boise). Because he’s clearly hit the right niche at the right time, my boss has decided to expand the business. He is now the proud employer of TWO—that’s right, TWO carpenters*. In the cabinet shop, many tasks are two-person jobs. Before the new guy [make that knowledgeable, experienced new guy] showed up, production would usually grind to a halt whenever I’d excuse myself for a training ride. Now that our binary has turned into a trinity, there’s always an extra set of hands around to shoot with the stable gun – even when I’m off training – so production has been much more steady, much less stop-and-go. This is a good thing.

*and yes, I do consider myself a carpenter now. Here are the top three reasons why:
1. When channel surfing on cable TV with my housemates, I routinely insist upon watching carpentry shows. They hate me for it. There's this old guy who re-makes antique furniture, it's great -- I mean, the guy is really good.
2. I constantly find myself sizing-up anything made of wood that I see. "Would I have done a better job?" I ask. Shoddy craftsmanship glares at me like the reflection of a tailgater with his bights on.
3. I now make few enough mistakes I’m confident my boss spends more on my paycheck than he does on material I waste.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Begrudgingly Boycotting Boise's Bike Bash

So as the petals of the New Year unfurl into a sickly blossom of looming national economic recession, the pedals of Boise's cycling community have also begun to open into an equally ghastly monstrosity. I recently received a notice about upcoming bicycle related events in the Boise area. Some of these I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing before; others I have yet to enjoy. I plan on giving you a “Sam’s eye view” of the looming debacles upcoming calendar, but before I descend into a quagmire of over-opinionated criticism, let me take a moment to honestly brag about the Boise cycling community.

Boise is a fantastic place to be a bicyclist. From our house in the North End it’s a ten minute ride to downtown, a ten minute ride to Garden City (a more industrial part of town) where I work, a four minute ride to Camels Back Park (one of the primary mountain biking trailheads), and a one minute ride to Hill Road (one of the primary arteries for road riding). I haven’t started my car in weeks, nor have my housemates. Despite my griping, the climate is such that commuting by bicycle is possible year round, and training is possible through 90% of the winter. The possibilities for racing in Boise are impressive as well; Boise boasts a full calendar of road, cyclocross and mountain bike races. As a transplanted New Mexican, I can safely say that Boise’s bike scene puts New Mexico’s to absolute shame, despite Albuquerque being a much larger city (with arguably a better year-round cycling climate and more impressive nearby mountains). There are a LOT of quality racers (and a lot of quality teams) out here, especially for a city its size, including one of the best youth development teams in the country, a former world time trial champion, and a rock-solid elite team capable of battling it out at national level events with the best pros and amateurs in the country.

Now with all that praise aside, let’s get to it:

The 2008 cycling calendar officially began on New Year's Day, kicking off a weekly series of large group rides that begin at the famous George's Cycles flagship store on Front Street. These
"noon-time shootouts" generally follow the same route: a three hour loop that begins flat and slow, and ends hilly and fast. These rides are pretty fun, and are a good opportunity to socialize with local riders. By the time Sunday rolls around, my legs are usually so blasted to pieces, I'm pretty softened up. The ride starts off pretty tame and friendly for the first hour and a half, after which it flat-out explodes into a non-stop slugfest all the way back to town (largely thanks to the relentless short steep kickers along the way home). I don't really have any criticism for these rides, except that the weather has been taking pot-shots at us by delivering inches of fresh snow most Sunday mornings.

The official kickoff the the "racing" season [and I apologize for using quotes here; I just hope doing so will help avoid permanently sullying the word racing] is the Limited Gear Ratio Road Race. My mind has difficulty wrapping itself around this unique [to my knowledge] abomination, but I'll try. A limited gear ratio race is the cycling equivalent of playing tee-ball: it's a wonderful way for toddlers to gain experience without hurting themselves, but it is as insulting as it is pointless for experienced athletes. Racers are asked not to shift beyond a certain gear ratio. I am not making this up: the category 1 men compete for a total of 30 miles, on mostly flat roads with a maximum gear ratio of 70 inches*. My grandmother can push 70 inches for 30 miles without breaking a sweat. What she can't do is spin her legs at 300 goddam RPMs, which is what it would take to get a descent workout at that ratio. While I'm normally all in favor of playing fair, and playing by the rules, there's one type of rule I simply won't obey: rules that are against my religion. My belief system does not include races of this nature. 70 inch limited gear races simply don't exist to me any more than evolution exists to the Kansas school board. Therefore, I am going to say here and now: I will be shifting at the Limited Gear Ratio Road Race. If I ride off the front all by myself and look like a humongous dickhead at the end of the day for not playing fair, so be it. It's not like I'm too popular around here anyway, after my cyclocross shenanigans. I simply refuse to believe, however, that the rest of Boise's top level cyclists are excited to spend an hour futilely trying to spin their legs faster than a coked-out hamster on a running-wheel. Something tells me if I shift, others will too.

The crown jewel of the early season out here in Boise is the George's Spring Series. The 2008 version of the race is identical to last year's event, so perhaps the best way to describe the George's Spring Series is simply to share my race report from last year:
March 18th, 2007. The Slammer Road Race. 65 miles on a flat windy course, roughly 25 guys, and one girl (Kristen Armstrong). This was stage 2 of a 5-stage race that spans a whopping 7 weeks. It's based on elapsed time--yes, elapsed time--and since I missed the opening time trial, I was out of the GC. There are no prizes for stage wins, top GC contenders only.
"Why not make this race series a points omnium?" I ask, "that way, racers who can't commit to being in Boise for all 8 weeks can still strive for a GC spot."
"What's a points omnium?" they reply.
What's more, is that the local racers really, really CARE about this series. They take it very seriously, and some of them (I'm not joking here) go so far as to base their entire season around it. I asked some local guys what their seasons looked like, and one fellow responded "Well, I'm shootin' to do really well in the Spring Series, and then I was thinkin' about taking it easy until cyclocross starts." Obscene, I know. Oh yeah, and the best part is, the day-of-race entry fee is a mere $40. Did I mention that there are no prizes?

Anyway, we start racing. It's windy. Guys are going across the yellow line all over the place. 15 minutes in, the guy to my right gets blown into my line. I swing a little left too, and push the guy to my left over the yellow by a tad [note: no contact took place, I just drifted into his line a bit. No big deal, right? wrong]. I quickly move back to my right, giving the guy across the yellow space to move back onto our lane. Which he does. Then he punches me.
Nice Boise. Real classy. [remember this guy--he comes back]

After half an hour, one guy from Bob' (Boise's only elite team, with some several strong guys) rolls off the front, and is quickly joined by Kristen Armstrong. There is minimal reaction from the field, and the duo quickly gains time. 1/3 of the way through the race, I hop on some guy's wheel [we'll call him Earl] as he blasts off the front on the course's only roller. Earl closes half the gap to the break before he even looks around for help. We were dragging another Bob's guy with us who had no intention of helping, but we were gaining on the leaders anyway; I rolled through but well under my threshold. We catch the lead group, making it 2 Bob's guys, the women's world TT champ, a very strong (but perhaps overeager) Earl, and myself. To my confusion, the Bob's guy who we dragged up to the break kept sitting on. He didn't pull through once. "I've got orders" he kept saying. I tried to convince him that it was in his best interest, that it was in his team's best interest, but all I got was a stone faced "Sorry dude, orders is orders." I'm no dummy--I'm not going to drag some guy to the line just for him to punk me in the sprint, so I sat on too, thinking this would either cause the break to fall apart (ok by me--my legs were still completely fresh), or get this guy to work. Instead, the three other breakaway members kept pulling their brains out. Our gap increased, with 2/5ths of the break sitting on! Eventually, the Bob's guy who was pulling popped himself and dropped back to the field. The other Bob's guy, the one with "orders", kept sitting on, as did I. But Kristen and Earl just kept trading pulls, and with only 25 miles left in the race, I started thinking that our bizarre breakaway might actually succeed. I attacked hard, and got a large gap the 3rd time up the little roller, drawing the sting out of the Bob's guy--he was the only one with enough juice to respond. Eventually the three of them organized, and due to the strong winds, brought me back. With about 15 miles remaining, we got word from the motorcycle ref, that two guys were bridging up. I stayed calm, and buckeled my seatbelt, preparing for the pace to quicken once the fresh legs arrived. To my horror--well not horror so much as shock and awe--we were quickly joined by 2 more bob's guys (the GC leader of the stage race being one of them). Aparently, these guys just rode the entire field off their wheels, completely clean. Once they arrived, the pace picked up, and Earl popped, making the group 3 Bob's guys (2 of them very strong, and very fresh), Kristen (who at this point was completely shot), and myself. Getting triple-teamed might be fun in the bedroom, but it sucks on the bike. With about 10 miles left, they started taking cracks at me. I responded to about 20 attacks but eventually, the two late-comers gapped me off, and I soloed in for 3rd.

Fast forward two weeks:

April 1, 2007. Bird of Prey Road Race. 72 miles on another flat windy course, in fact it practically WAS the same course; it shared several of the roads, and the terain/conditions were identical. Bob's shows up with 9 guys: the same crew from the previous race, with several very strong additions. From the gun, all of them line it up, and echelon it out. They didn't drill it. They didn't even gutter it. They just rode. The field got a free ride, completely neutralized by Bob', for nearly 60 miles. The few attacks launched by the timid field were quickly reeled in by a 9-man team time trial. At one point I rode up alongside a Bob's guy, saying "dang, this might turn out to be the longest lead-out in history, eh?"
"Shut the fuck up, cocksucker" he replied.
Ah. The classy guy again.
I was bemused. Apparently his memory works better than his reasoning.
"You're the guy who punched me last week, aren't you?" I asked with a grin.
"Yeah, and I'll do it again. I'll push you into the fuckin' ditch if you try any of that shit again--I don't care if I go down with you."
I did my best to explain that when I swerved into his line [two full weeks ago] that I wasn't trying to offend him, and that it wasn't personal. I also tried to make it clear that even though he punched me and cursed at me in our last race, I held no grudge against him. I'm not sure if he understood my words, but by using grunts and gestures I think we were able to communicate. We shook hands. A truce, I think...

With about 15 miles to go, the Bob's GC contenders (who had been sitting in this whole time), exploded off the front. Once again, they rode everyone off their wheels, the field helpless to respond, even though the they hadn't spent a single second in the wind. Once again, I found myself alone in a thicket of Bob's riders. Once again, I was attacked, and once again, I had to settle for third place.

*For those who aren't familiar with the term, inches refers to the distance the wheels travel along the ground during one complete revolution of the cranks. Thus, an easy gear ratio will yield a smaller number of inches, and vice versa.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Biking or Politics?

As many of you know, our country is in the process of selecting a new president. Thank god. This has happened a handful of times in my life, but I've never found the process exciting until now (in fact, I wasn't even aware it was taking place before now). And I must say, I do find it exciting. Here's why: I'm a cycling fan.

Who would have thought, but major cycling stage races bear an uncanny resemblance to the primary elections. Think about it: the build-up, posturing, and preparation. The scandals, and allegations of foul play. The grueling series of races that span a huge block of time, travel around the country, and test a variety of skills and disciplines (not just of the contestant, but also of the the team propping up the contestant). It's a perfect match.

The next time you find yourself yawning at the political pundit yakking about Hillary and Obama, instead imagine that you were being guided through the primary races by none other than cycling commentators extraordinaire Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin.

"I do say Paul, that was an absolutely brilliant win in (Iowa/Bordeaux) by (Barack Obama/Robbie Mcewen). By timing his (campaign/attack) to absolute perfection he was able to catch the other racers unawares. It appears the field may have underestimated him a bit."

"Yes Phil, but don't write off the likes of (Hillary Clinton/Allesandro Petacchi) just yet. (S)he has one of the strongest teams in the world, and when it comes to winning (elections/bike races) they know how to get the job done. There's still a lot of ground to cover before we get to (Washington/Paris), and I wouldn't be surprised at all if the other contestants have a few tricks up their sleeve in the stages to come."

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Of Mind-Numbing Boredom:

Boise, Idaho: Outdoor enthusiast's paradise. Booming cosmopolitan charmer of a city. Regular winner of accolades and distinctions regarding quality of life, and strength of economy. Possibly the best city of its size on the planet.

There's so much to love about Boise, Idaho -- it's hard to imagine why people live anywhere else. Except when it snows for three days in a row. Except if you're a road bike racer. Who doesn't have skate skis. And who hates riding indoors.

Let me tell you about the mind numbing boredom induced from a four hour indoor ride:

Nevermind. I can't bring myself to do that. Just believe me, it's really bad.

Really. Really. Bad.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Screw You Mother Nature!

To whom it may concern,
The purpose of this letter is to file a formal complaint regarding the meteorological occurrences of the morning of January 6, 2008. Despite ample forewarning that the morning in question was reserved for usage by Sam Johnson for the purposes of a twenty-minute maximum effort, the offending party placed no less than four inches of new snow on every horizontal surface in Ada county, including all roads, sidewalks and bike paths. Due to the extremely skinny nature of Sam Johnson's road bike tires, the addition of four inches of new snow made any and all bicycle riding absolutely impossible due to a "near certainty" of slipping and falling. The lack of usable roads has forced Sam to reschedule his ride, which will now take place in the sub-prime environment of his living room, where he will no doubt overheat thanks to a lack of adequate exhaust fan, and get extremely bored thanks to a lack of new scenery to look at. If this new snow is not removed within twenty-four hours, Sam Johnson is prepared to press charges. On behalf of Sam Johnson, and Sam Johnson's entire legal team, I sure as hell hope it doesn't come to that...

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year's

Ahhh....after a brief holiday hiatus, your trusty blogger is back for another action packed year of blogging action. Here are but a few of the things you can look forward to:

As the recent Iowa caucus demonstrated, Americans are hungry for change -- and that includes American blog readers. As we speak, drastic and sweeping reforms of this blog's infrastructure are being made. Most of the changes are taking place out of the view of the public eye, and when internet traffic is the lowest -- all to make these transitions comfortable and smooth for my readers. In fact, if everything goes as planned, you won't notice a thing -- you'll just keep reading the same high quality content, about the same random bullshit, at the same highly irregular intervals. It's as though no changes are being made at all -- but trust me -- they are, and you'll be better for it.

If there's one thing my blog is good at, it's absolutely stomping rival blogs in blog-offs! As my utter and total domination of TheMonsto in last month's bout demonstrated, I am the greatest blogger on the planet. While their feeble attempts to narrow the gap late in the month deserved some praise for bravery, there comes a point when only a fool refuses to admit defeat. I can't even think of a comic historical comparison that does TheMonstro justice -- most likely because all the people who demonstrated that kind of out-of-touch stubbornness have all been so thoroughly exterminated, their existence was wiped completely off the historical record.

At some point in this new year, my blog, and my life will again revolve around bikes, bike-racing, travel, and road rash more than its recent themes of blog-rivalrys, carpentry, and bitching about Boise's weather. Get ready for some race reports -- but not just any old race reports -- fully interactive ones! Strap on your helmets! My blog posts will be so good that you'll feel like you were in the races too. In fact, I'll even come over to your house and give you a simulation of what it feels like after a hard race. For example, for a wet, early-season race up in the pacific northwest: I'll fill a super-soaker with play sand, dead bugs, motor oil, and a little watter, and squirt the whole thing on your face (make sure you keep your eyes open!). Then I'll have you put on spandex, hop into a tub ice, and grip the daylights out of a pair of handlebars -- for at least an hour. While you're doing that, I'll completely disassemble your bike, replace all the grease with mud, fill your frame with dirty water, and grind your brake pads down to the shoes, before putting it back together. Once your face, feet and gentiles are numb, and your hands incapable doing anything other than signing the letter "c", I'll take a piece of steel wool, and scuff up those inner thighs. Lastly, I'll kick you down three flights of stairs with your hands tired behind you back. See? You'll get that authentic "I've just completed a tough race" feeling. Nice work Champ. 33rd place. Not bad. At least you didn't crash, right?!
Actually, that's a horrible idea.
Maybe we should keep it how it was, where I do the racing and write about it, and you read what I wrote and laugh at my misery.

As my faithful blog readers know, I had my purse snatched recently, and without a hero around to defend me, I couldn't do anything but let it go. With my camera inside it. Well, it's been two months, and the cosmos have spun wildly around, and the Craigslist gods have smiled down upon me, and good fortune has presented me with a suitable camera at an excellent price. All I need to do is get a friggin' charger for it, and I'll be in business. Expect 2008 to be the most picture filled year of blogging yet! Mark my words! Trust me! Muah-ha-ha-ha *evil grin*

Still working on this one...