Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Just as i was getting out of bed to grab my slippers, book and head downstairs to look at a calendar for some solace, one of Jones' eyes popped open with a simultaneous puckering of the lips in anticipation of his morning kiss. Instead he was handed an impromptu game of "20 Questions". "Is it race day today? What day is it? what date is it? Are you sure i raced yesterday? But i was talking to my coach while having coffee. Oh, HE was having coffee in California. Are you sure we dont have to leave for Luxembourg right now? Why am i so confused?"
I had this same confusion when traveling with pro teams. But at least when traveling with them it was almost always race day when you awoke. It was confusing sometimes to awake in a strange bed, in a strange room with a strange person.
It is race day tomorrow so I am ok...this time.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I just got back from Azencross in Antwerp, Belgium today and it was not too good for me. But i have two more tries in the next days for a better result. There is a race in Luxemburg January 1st and another "hometown" race January 4th in Tervuren. I love when the race is close enough where i can ride my bike to it. Have backpack will travel...
I'd also like to give a shoutout to my fan club who screamed their heads of at me today in their thick belgian accents! You all made me feel special, like I was a rockstar.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Saturday, December 27, 2008
After racing in yet another World Cup (in Zolder, Belgium) yesterday, i was a little tired today and did very little writing. By tomorrow i should have my race report from this last race submitted to Cyclocross Magazine.
I did, however, take time today to thoroughly relax with lots of couch play and left the house briefly to run some errands and buy myself a holiday gift or seven.
First stop was to my favorite cheap supermarket called Aldi. They sell rotating staple items like pasta, tomato sauce, coffee, wine, bras, bike trainers, wedding dresses, and boxed wine.
Next was to my favorite store in all of Belgium. It is a thrift store called Spit. I go there for set items like pocketable backpacks that i use for shopping when on the bike, fun winter hats, funky tees, outdated bike jerseys, and exotic dishware. I got lucky with three hats and two backpacks, each 80 cents but jonas scored more than I. He found a stylish chocolate pudding-colored short sleeve button-down that'll go perfect with his Levis. His other winner was a pale blue insulated vest - both 4€. And lastly I found him a scrunchable backpack he can use to carry his meals into work when takes the scooter.
As Jonas waited on the checkout line, I ran over to their book section. I never checked it out before since i assumed they were all in dutch. But to my surprise, there was a whole English section. By the time i settled on some books, peeled my eyes away from the rest, and ran over to checkout, Jonas was already checked out. Since the line was too long to wait again, the moment was gone. I will have to read my remaining two books real slowly to drag them out until I go back to Spit again.
Thanks for reading and hope your holiday season is going well!
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Aside from birthdays, I am not normally much of a holiday person but i do take a moment during the holiday season to sit down and think about everything i am thankful for. It always seems to cheer me up so i can come closer to matching the giddy spirits surrounding me at this time of year.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
I also got a new book today - YIPPEE!! It is Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I think they just made a movie about it. Normally I dont read blockbusters but my friend Karen gave me a book called New Moon on her last trip here. There arent many places to buy english books so i read it, only to find out that it is the second book of a four-book series. Shoot. Now i have to read the first book (Twilight) to get the answers to assumptions made in the second book, and also must find out how it all ends. Luckily, there is a British shop down the block so I ordered the rest of the books.
Well, i gotta get to my book now. My next post should be by monday or tuesday. Fingers crossed that i will have good results to write about - or at least good stories!
Have a great weekend!
Monday, December 15, 2008
Next we played with his new Tacx indoor trainer. It's that high tech one where you hook it up to your computer so you can ride famous events like Tour de France and Tour of Flanders. It was too cool. They use real footage of the course, complete with cheering folks taking photos. I can easily see myself sitting on the trainer for hours without noticing the time. My ass may notice though.
Jonas and I sat with Jan, his parents and their friends. Since most at the table didn't speak english, i was "forced" to conduct and follow all conversations in flemish. I am happy to report that i passed. The only word that snagged me was "afraid."
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Last Sunday I raced at Frankfurter Rad-Cross in Frankfurt, Germany. Even with its UCI ranking, an event so far from Belgium should theoretically produce a low-key turnout, but instead I lined up alongside superstars like Hanka Kupfernagel, Pavla Havlikova, Sanne Van Passen, Reza Hormes-Ravenstijn, Helen Wyman, Gabby Day, and Marianne Vos. Yep, child prodigy herself – before reaching twenty years of age she had already earned World titles on the road, cross and track. After her recent addition of Olympic champ on the track, she took a break from competition. It was her first cross race of the season.
As Vos was parked next to us (and Hanka), we caught up a little before starting our warm-ups. She confided that she was actually nervous about the race. It is always nice to remember that even the top athletes get nervous like the rest of us.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Marin mountain biking: Blind ambition - Visually impaired racer McMullen makes his mark
McMullen can't. He is blind. But you would never guess it from his chosen passion of downhill mountain-bike racing.
A former extreme skier, McMullen lost his sight to diabetes in 1994 at the age of 32. His two double-organ (kidney and pancreas) transplants may have cured his diabetes but his sight remained impaired.
"If you cover one eye with your hand and you take a toilet paper roll over the other eye, put saran wrap over the top and smear Vaseline over it, that is my vision," McMullen said.
McMullen has no vision in his left eye and 20/1,200 in the right. He has no fear either, which is why the Redding resident is featured in the documentary film, "The Way Bobby Sees It," which will be shown at the Lark Theater in Larkspur on Thursday night.
How does McMullen do it? In open areas, he can make out shadows but, in the trees, he can't see a thing. So McMullen relies on human guides such as Chris Schierholtz of Mill Valley
"The guide tries his best to protect Bobby but it can be a mentally exhausting job," said Schierholtz, who works at Marin-based Wilderness Trail Bikes, which sponsors McMullen's racing.
"In a recent trip up Mt. Tam, I took him all the way down Railroad Grade at Mach speed, even managing to avoid a lady with four dogs on leashes sprawled across the trail, navigating him through Mill Valley traffic.
"Just when I think I got him down safely, he walks right into the garage door at the office. I forgot to tell him it was partly down. When you get down the hill, you are so mentally exhausted that you forget you're in charge of him, even off the bike."
In other words, even with all precautions and solid support in place, there will always be accidents. Some worse than others. Sometimes they are too numerous - and painful - for McMullen to track his injuries and fractures.
"Seven fingers, multiple wrists, collarbone, ribs and foot É I couldn't begin to count," he said.
Yet McMullen is adamant that the tradeoff is well worth it.
"My passion just happens to be on the bike," he said. "The benefits outweigh any consequences - the people and the experiences are great."
It helps McMullen that there always has been an element of danger in his life. His passion for extreme sports did not happen after he lost his sight. McMullen used to ski about 150 days out of the year. When he wasn't on skis, he took up riding mountain bikes as a favor to his girlfriend. After McMullen's sight faded, he didn't quit skiing but rather took it to the next level of Paralympic ski racing. Ten years and over thirty broken bones later, McMullen traded in the skis for a downhill mountain bike which he races 25 events per year.
That helped him hook up with Schierholtz at WTB. Schierholtz has served as a guide for McMullen about seven times.
"I am grateful to have him in my life as a racer and a friend. When he comes in the office, everyone gives him a big hug," Schierholtz said. "As much as he relies on others, he is a very independent person, while humble and thankful. He has a cane he uses once in a while but prefers not to use it so he isn't obviously visually impaired."
It was McMullen's dream one day to ride up - and down - Mt. Tam and Schierholtz helped him attain it.
"He is in your hands and he's yelling at you to go faster and you're already going really fast. It's scary," Schierholtz said. "We hit speeds of 20-25 mph. We're cooking and he wants to go faster. If everything is feeling right, we do go faster. It is inspiring."
It's not easy either. McMullen's immune system isn't the best so, Schierholtz said, "a simple cold can crush him."
So could a big tree if McMullen were to take a wrong turn. He wears extra padding and a full face helmet.
"He falls all the time and gets back up and he's gone," Schierholtz said. "Just imagine falling and not knowing where you are going to hit the ground. Just imagine trying to reach a hand out.
"In the (documentary) film, the camera shows what he sees, a blurry mess."
Fortunately Schierholtz and his other guides can sort out any twists, turns or obstacles in McMullen's path. When he is out and about or racing, McMullen rides a few feet behind his guide, who sends a steady stream of directives back to McMullen such as "bump, bump, bump, up, up."
In turn, McMullen keeps his guide abreast of his status by responding with remarks like "I'm on, yes" or "I'm off."
McMullen also relies on sound - namely the rattling of his guide's bike - to keep him upright. If he hears the chain slapping against the frame, he can expect bumpy terrain. Or if he hears no sound, his guide is probably airborne so he knows to prepare for a jump.
In addition to using words and sound to get the job done, McMullen constantly works on becoming a better bike racer through feel. Since he cannot learn by watching others ride, he periodically enlists some of his professional downhilling friends to describe a proper riding technique such as navigating an incredibly steep rock bed while situating their bodies in correct position for that maneuver so McMullen can run his hands over their bodies to feel what it must look like.
"I live a risky life. If they would have said before the transplant that I couldn't ride my bike, I would have refused the organs. I like to think that the transplant has allowed me to live the life I have chosen," McMullen said. "Transplants don't last and I will inevitably have to face these challenges again. I am living life to its fullest because that's who I am and what I have always done."
So McMullen doesn't need to see Mt. Tam to appreciate it. He senses it. When McMullen completes a ride down Mt. Tam - or any other trail or race course - his reaction is pretty much always the same.
"I give it a WOO-HOO!" McMullen said, smiling. "It's the second-best feeling in life. We can't talk about the first-best feeling in a PG-rated paper."
Christine Vardaros is an accomplished professional cyclist from Mill Valley. She is also writes for VegNews and Cyclocross magazines. Contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or at http://christinevardaros.blogspot.com
ON THE BIG SCREEN
Bobby McMullen will appear at the screening of the 60-minute documentary film "The Way Bobby Sees It" at the Lark Theater in Larkspur on Thursday at 8 p.m.
- Tickets: $12 in advance, $15 at the door.
- Info: call (510) 653-2453 or log onto www.norcalmtb.org
Friday, December 5, 2008
Luc is also one of the organizers of GVA (Gazet Van Antwerpen) Cyclocross Series, with particular emphasis on the infamous Koppenbergcross. On a side note, the scoop is that Belgian National Coach Rudy De Bie just gave his women racers permission to compete in Koppenbergcross next year (the day before European Championships). This means there may be a Koppenbergcross category again for women next year! Yippee! It is by far my favorite course in Belgium.
Last month, Koppenbergcross had a steady stream of 700,000 Flemish viewers on TV, with the highest volume reaching 827,000 towards the end. Maybe the two-man last lap battle between Sven Nys and Lars Boom pulled that extra 127,000 to a TV to witness the outcome. That is about one in six residents living in the Flemish section of Begium tuning into the race.