The Final Push

I have been overweight since 1997, to some degree or another.  The increase of Mt. Dew availability and the decrease of physical activity were a bad combo.  Therefore, since 1998, I have embarked on several missions to lose that weight, most of which haven’t been successful.

In ’98, I enrolled in two Phys. Ed. classes at Michigan Tech — running and tae kwon do.  The only things I gained from that were a separated shoulder (from TKD) and shin splints (from the running).

In ’99, I bought rollerblades and Tae Bo videos, but did not attempt to really change my diet.  So even though I was out on my skates every day, I wasn’t losing weight.  Perhaps the vivid memory of eating a third of a package of Double-Stuf Oreos had something to do with that.

After getting married in 2000, I tried Slim-Fast.  I drank many shakes, ate many bars, spent a lot of money on “food” and lost all of three pounds.  It didn’t stay off once I got back into eating real food.

In 2002 or 2003, I joined the local gym and was, for the first time, very consistent about making use of the membership.  But again, since I didn’t change my diet, it had no effect.  When you sit at a desk and drink two 20 oz. Mt. Dew bottles and then spend 30 minutes on an elliptical machine, you’re not exactly coming out ahead.

In 2004, it all came to a head.  I was almost 230 pounds and just uncomfortable in my own skin.  A little extra exercise (some running, some biking) and a radical change of diet in form of the South Beach Diet, I brought my weight down to 190 and was pretty happy.  I stayed there for almost 5 years, until last October.

I realized then that I was a Fat Cyclist (Resurrected Post from Specialized Riders Journal) and set off on the second great (and successful) weight-loss program.  I used the Livestrong.com DailyPlate website and iPhone app and lost about 25 pounds.  It was a beautiful thing and had a huge impact on my health and cycling performance.

But I don’t feel done.  There’s just a little more to go.  Just a little pudge around the middle and a couple pounds that are creeping on now that the competitive cycling season is done.  I’ve been at 175 pounds (plus or minus 5 pounds) for a year now, so this weight loss is sustainable.  Now I want to be at 162.5 (plus or minus 2.5 pounds).  It’s for my wife, it’s for my kids, it’s for my cycling.

Part of this is spurred on by Cyclocross Nationals coming to Madison for 2012.  I am completely enamored by the idea of racing in that event and I want to be at my physical best.

So the Livestrong app is all cued up again.  The running shoes are ready.  There’s still a few good riding days left (and my light is charged up).  Let’s do this thing.

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2010 Keweenaw Cup

My first cyclocross race ever was the very first Keweenaw Cup in 2008.  My Tricross was very new and I pretty much had no idea what I was doing or what I was getting into.  I rode hard, but only garnered mid-pack finishes.  Really, having a ‘cross bike for the race in Copper Harbor was quite a liability, due to all the bumps and singletrack.  The Sunday race at the Tech Trails went somewhat better, but only marginally.

It was enough though.  I was well and truly hooked on this lunatic sport.

Last year, I only did two ‘cross races in total: the Sunday of Baycross and the Saturday of the Keweenaw Cup.  The course at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge was just as brutal in terms of terrain and more brutal because of the overnight snow that melted into slush and deep puddles.  Riders I know that I could beat smeared me because they were riding full-suspension mountain bikes.

This year, due to skipping most of the rest of the UPCROSS races (okay, pretty much all of them), I committed to both days of the Keweenaw Cup.  And while I don’t really like recounting all the details of the races (because they’re boring to everybody except the person who rode it), these memories are recorded for my wife.

Saturday

After a good night’s sleep (the first in more than a week), I drove up to “downtown” Copper Harbor.  The weather was to be fairly nice, but I was shivering when I registered and suited up with my thermal jersey, a light base layer and my Equinox cool-weather gloves.  I did a couple laps of the course and was a little worried about it.  It started at the Copper Harbor Community Center and headed out into Clyde’s Field via a short section of singletrack.  There were crazy blind corners that were really easy to overcook.  Then you were extricating yourself from waist-high grass and weeds.  There was a sharp 180 that emptied out onto a gravel path for a short time.  That led directly into another 180, this one on a nasty off-camber slope.  A little more two-track, another quick wiggle through some freshly-cut paths through the weeds and then a bridge.  This bridge was worrying everyone, because the transition from the dirt to the wood was not at smooth.  It was a pinch flat waiting to happen.  After a sweeping right-hand curve, there was a set of triple barriers and more two-track taking you back out to the park area surrounding the Community Center.  There was a mean trip through the volleyball courts, around one of the poles (off-camber, naturally) and back across the sand.  The lap finished up with a wiggling track through some cedar trees and a set of two barriers around a sharp 90-degree turn.

I lined up at the front of the Men’s B field and did my best to keep things close heading into the singletrack.  I was holding third place pretty comfortably at that point.  Ahead of me was a guy on a mountain bike and one of the Lakeshore Bike guys on a Pugsley.  The first lap pretty much ended with that as the status quo.  At the second 180, one of our local guys pulled ahead of me as my chain skipped.  We stayed tight like that until the set of triples, when I pulled by the Pugsley.  It was still a pretty tight bunch through the end of lap 2.  Then bad luck hit.  My chain skipped again in the first 180, skipped hard in the second 180 and then just before the bridge, it jumped off entirely.  At that point, absolutely everybody in the B-field passed me.  This is a hard pill to swallow after winning the week before.  So I put the chain back on and started chasing.

It took two laps and lots of chain skips, but I got back into third place, which was to be my final position.  As hard as I tried, I could not bridge up to second, and first place had run away with the lead.  I nearly lost third place during the last lap, as the chase in 4th was breathing down my neck through the sand pits.  I turned myself inside out to stay ahead of him in the home stretch.

I had my mechanic (who was racing too) take a look at the bike, but he couldn’t put his finger on any reason the chain should be skipping.  So I just went home to munch some FRS chews and guzzle some POM Wonderful.

Sunday

Sunday’s race was back up at the Mountain Lodge, but with a completely different course.  It started in a similar location, but was going the opposite direction.  We rode cart paths towards the Lodge, then a big sweeping turn back down one of the golf course holes.  The paved cart path gave way to unpaved, rocky and rooty path and then one of the most evil course features I had ever encountered.  The course was essentially shaped like a ‘W’, with a barrier positioned right at the top of the middle point of the “W”.  So even as you were coming back up from the first dip, you were trying to dismount to hop over a barrier, finish a little dip and then run up the other side.  After that, there was a quick section of cart path before riding partway down one hole and back up the next one over.  There was a double barrier, a little 180 and a section of rough singletrack before we dropped onto a gravel cart path back to the start line.

A couple of laps proved that my chain skipping issues had not been completely solved by quick fiddling from Saturday.  Lacking time to fix it, I tried not to worry and performed a little experiment during the first lap: leaving it in the big ring.  And actually, that worked wonders.  Not one skip.  There were some times where the 50t ring was a little hard to turn over, but consistent chain performance is worth the effort.

My start wasn’t nearly as good.  After the initial selection, I was sitting in 5th, behind Saturday’s winner (“Pletka”), the Pugsley rider (who wasn’t on a Pugsley today, but a Specialized Epic), my rival from Baycross and Saturday’s second-place rider (in a Spider-web jersey).  The group stayed tight for the first lap.  The Pug rider fell back during the second lap, as did my Rival.  My teammate from the Gentlemen’s Ride moved up, and I was then in fourth.  At least one lap passed that way.  Then a mechanical forced Pletka off his bike, the Spider moved into the lead with my teammate and I close behind.  Another lap.  My teammate started to falter and I pulled ahead of him, but couldn’t cover the ground up to the Spider.  He led and I chased hard for two more laps.  I was almost beginning to accept the idea of finishing second until the 180, where I was right on the Spider’s wheel.  He pulled away again on the singletrack, but as we got back onto the cart path straight-away, I grabbed a couple of gears and started sprinting for all I was worth.

He had a gap, but I was catching him.  Someone pre-riding the course was going to get in my way, and I hollered out, “Coming through!”  At that point I pulled even and yelled out to him, “Come on, Ian!” I wanted to spur him on, make it a good fight. I heard him hollering something I went past.  As we got up to the finish lip, I threw my bike across the line, even though I had no idea how far ahead of him I was.  I coasted out my momentum and then just about collapsed.  I thought I was done, so I changed into my street clothes and watched the A race.  (That’s called “foreshadowing”.)

I realized during that race that the scorers had a conundrum.  Pletka had won on Saturday and taken third on Sunday.  The Spider took second both days.  I was third on Saturday and first on Sunday.  I thought all 3 of us had the same number of points, but apparently only Pletka and I did.  They decided as the tie-breaker, we would do a 1-legged sprint down the finishing straight.  I couldn’t believe that I had to go get my bike back out of the car, but didn’t bother taking off my jacket or the rest of my street clothes.  I don’t know if I would have won in a completely straight-up race, but poor Pletka had another incident where he unclipped and I was able to pull ahead.  Amazingly, I had just won the whole weekend.

I feel a little bad, like a “stole” the victory from the Spider.  At the same time, a race isn’t over until it’s over.  I also feel badly for Pletka, because he seems like a really nice guy who had some of the worst luck.

So that’s another great weekend for me on the ‘cross bike.  I’ll have three weeks off before the U.P. State Championships down in Marquette.  I’ll only get in one more good Wednesday night practice, so it will be interesting to see if the fitness holds.  The equipment is definitely dialed in though.  The Challenge cyclocross tubes have been great.  The Captain CX is every bit the all-around performer the Captain is on the mountain bike.  I need to figure out the skipping chain, but figure it might be the chainring.

Now I’m going to just sit here and rest my weary, weary legs.  I’ve done 6 race-efforts in the last 12 days and they are feeling just about spent.  It’s a good feeling of tiredness though.

BikeRadar’s Review of the CruX

Earlier this week, I read through a review on BikeRadar about the “new” Specialized CruX Pro Carbon.  It wasn’t as effusively positive as their review of the Focus Mares CX 2, but certainly wasn’t overly negative.  But what bothered me about it was this statement:

The CruX Pro Carbon still carries the baggage of the original Tricross range, which sought to satisfy a broad range of ‘FreeRoad’ users with its neither-here-nor-there geometry. Both the chainstays and wheelbase are rather long at 440mm and 1,027mm, respectively, and the trail is a generous 70mm. As a result, the CruX Pro Carbon is stable at speed but quirky to change direction, wanting to flop its front wheel into tight, slow-speed corners but simultaneously resisting swapping ends at turnarounds.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I Love My Tricross. A great big part of that is the “baggage” of the “neither-here-nor-there geometry”.  It does everything.  And I think that more often than not, people want that kind of bike.  Not all of us can afford to have a stable of bikes.  Some people have a road bike, a ‘cross bike, a hardtail mountain bike, a full-suspension mountain bike and a singlespeed mountain bike.  That’s great, but I think that’s unusual.  More of us have one or maybe two bikes.  So a do-it all bike is incredibly valuable.

Look, I love to race ‘cross.  But I can only realistically get in 10 races if I were to race every single weekend from the end of September until mid-November.  Add in 6-8 Wednesday Worlds and that’s it for the year.  (And, that’s a ton of traveling.)  How many times can I get out on the road for a training ride?  How many times can I hit up some gravel roads for an organized race or just to explore?  How many bikes let me do all of these things?  I honestly believe the answer is “not many”.  Maybe the new Fisher Cronus CX.  Certainly some of Salsa Cycles offerings.  The Ibis Hakkalugi (which I am desperately in love with).

I don’t think this is just an issue of rationalizing the purchase that I made.  It’s been over two years; I don’t to rationalize decisions made that long ago.  It’s much more an issue of not agreeing with the fundamental underlying paradigm that the reviewer is working with.

Another thing I take issue with is the reviewer’s discussion on the Roval Pavé SL wheels:

Though not the most exciting bits, the Roval Pavé SL wheels on which those tires were mounted got the job done. They’re reasonably light at 1,625g (claimed weight) but a decent chunk of that weight is located out at the rim and the low spoke count yields a soft feel in the saddle. Moreover, the hub internals lack the proven DT Swiss star ratchet guts of Specialized’s higher-end Roval models (the Pavé SLs retail for just US$400 a set) but they held up fine during testing.

I have put thousands of miles on my Rovals and can say they are not just getting the “job done” and they don’t just hold up “fine”.  They have been excellent, reliable performers with the only problem being completely aesthetic — the stickers on the rear wheel started peeling.  When I think about buying any wheels, I first think about Rovals, based on the experience I’ve had with my Pavés.

I guess the take-away for me is this: You have to know the biases of a reviewer when you read their work.  Otherwise, you will make wrong decisions.  Based on the BikeRadar review, I wouldn’t buy a Tricross and wouldn’t buy Roval Pavé wheels and wouldn’t buy The Captain CX tires.  But I’ve used all of those things and love them.  They work for me.

An Almost Completely Unrelated Note

Today was Keweenaw Cup Day 1.  I lined up next to the guy at Lakeshore Bike who sold me my Tricross (and recently sold my wife the Captain CX tire I have on the front).  Amazingly, despite this man living 100 miles away and working in a shop I only occasionally visit (though we have purchased two bikes from them), he knows me and my bike.  I love that.  It’s not just him though.  It’s the tight-knit biking community.  It’s the U.P. and northern Wisconsin.  It’s why I love this sport.

I Really Like Ashland, Wisconsin

Back before I started doing quite so much biking, we lived in Minneapolis.  (Well, actually a suburb called Shoreview, but whatever.)  My parents had moved to Houghton and in our drives back and forth to visit, we stopped frequently in a town called Ashland.  It was a convenient stop, just about halfway between the Twin Cities and Houghton.  It’s a neat little town with a rich history in the timber industry.  It also happens to have a good selection of fast food restaurants and a lovely bay of Lake Superior where extra-furry dogs can get a cool drink on hot days.  I can’t count the number of times we’ve stopped in Ashland on our way to some place in Minnesota or Wisconsin.

So last year, in the midst of a year when I really wanted to do more cyclocross but was simply not able to, the folks at the local shop asked if I was going to race Baycross.  It was put on by a nice guy who is constantly making the 2.5 hour trip up to the Keweenaw for bike races.  He comes up for all of our mountain bike races, and usually hits up the whole UPCROSS series as well.  And just to spite me, he races way faster than I do and he only uses one gear.  Show-off.

Baycross 2009 fell on one of the only free weekends I had, so we went.  For the first time in 4 solid years of racing bikes, I podiumed.  Third place in Men’s B!  I more or less resolved then and there to come back in 2010.  We also spent some time wandering around Ashland and checking out what is really a cool little town.  Their big claim to fame now is all of the murals painted on buildings throughout the town.  Even on a blustery day, we enjoyed checking them out.

When this year rolled around and I started really considering ‘cross season, I almost backed out of Baycross.  It was going to be one more travelling weekend, one more hotel stay and one more weekend of stress.  Work had started keeping me much more busy, the kids were going to bed earlier and we were running from engagement to engagement almost every night of the week.  I decided that if we did it right, it would actually be the best thing we could do.  Get away from everything normal and spend quality family time together doing something fun.  So just a week before the races, I sent in my registration and made reservations at the AmericInn, which plays host to a small waterpark called SplAshland.

Saturday

One of the things that you don’t realize about Ashland is how close it really is.  2.5 hours of driving gets you there, and you gain an hour on the way.  So getting to Prentice Park at 11 AM meant leaving Houghton around 9AM and still having some fudge room on the drive.  No hurry, no fuss, no stress.  The weather was set to be perfect — right around the mid-60’s.  After checking in (and finding that I was one of very few people who bothered to send in registration ahead of time), I pre-rode the course.  Lots of fun.  The course started with a long grassy section you could ride in the big ring, leading into a well-maintained (and fast) section of gravel ATV trail. Then you rode a little rougher two track through a giant mud puddle back onto a gravel road.  You finally drop off the big ring to ride some short sections of singletrack before a cool stairway run-up.  Wiggle around through the woods a little more, another short run-up and a straight, grassy shot brought you back to the start area.  Then you just had to contend with the sand in a volleyball court and a set of triple barriers to complete your lap.  Each lap took 7-8 minutes.

The Volleyball Sand Pit

After the LeMans start I was in third place, but lost another place before we even hit the ATV trail.  The first four of us stayed pretty close together during the rest of that lap and just before we hit the barriers, I took third place back.  I wanted to bridge up to the first two riders, but didn’t want to go that deep so early in the race.  I never did make up that gap.  I rode alone in third place for the next few laps with only a few memorable occurrences.

Cranking near the end of a lap

During the pre-ride and almost every lap during the race, I portaged the bike around the the big puddle.  On the second lap, I tried riding it and got completely mired halfway through.  My shoes were pretty soaked after that.  One or two laps later, remounting after that puddle, I just completely screwed it up.  I jumped on, but was struggling to find my pedals, struggling to not run into trees and struggling just to get moving forward.  Eventually I got my act in gear.

On the final lap, I dropped into my little chainring just before the staircase run-up and dropped my chain.  I hopped off, rethreaded it and ran the bike until I found a good place to jump back on.  I couldn’t believe that I was so close to another podium finish and might get derailed by my derailleur.  (Ha! It’s a cycling joke.)  Everything turned out okay though and I rolled across for 3rd place, about 1.5 minutes behind the leader.

Happy with a good finish

We stuck around for the awards, which included door prizes.  Even my wife and kids walked away as winners.  Cameron picked a y-wrench bike tool for some odd reason, but was really excited about it.  I talked with the winner and found out that he had been a Forestry student at Michigan Tech at the same time my wife and I were students here.  Crazy coincidences.

Picking up the award for 3rd place

We headed to the hotel and played in the pool for a bit.  The kids were having a blast.  They even played with some of the kids of other racers who were staying there.  The waterpark is just about the right size and not too busy.  People were incredibly friendly and the water was warm.

We went out to dinner at the Deep Water Grille, using our 10% coupon that was a perk of the Saturday race.  We had delicious food in a really cool atmosphere and it was really reasonably priced.  Highly recommended.  Back to the water park for a little while longer and then to bed.

Sunday

Julie had really wanted to go to a church service down there if it fit into the schedule, and it totally did.  We talked to some friends up here who had lived in Ashland for a while and they recommended a church to attend.  It was really nice and felt very comfortable.  The people were immensely friendly, the worship was authentic and the guest speaker was interesting and challenging to listen to.  It was the complete opposite of the experience we had at the unnamed Twin Cities church a few weeks back.  The number of people who said, “Hi!  I don’t recognize you,” was encouraging.  These are people who want to be there each Sunday morning.  In another case of the Small World Syndrome, I ran into a student I had in a couple of classes a few years back.

After the service, we squeezed in one last trip to the waterpark, packed up and headed to Bayview Park for race number 2.  This was at the same location that I had gotten third place at last year, so I was feeling pretty confident going in.  I didn’t know how my legs were going to recover, but I had done my best with FRS and POM Wonderful.  The pre-ride revealed a few changes in the locations of the barriers and a few extra wiggles in places where the course used to just go straight.  Otherwise, it simply wound through the grassy areas of the park, dropped you down onto a sandy Lake Superior beach with a rocky run-up, more grassy wiggles and that darn set of triples again.

Taking the triple barrier and moving into 2nd place

Here’s a video of me looking like I know what I’m doing going through those barriers: http://gallery.me.com/cmcischk#100048

This time, we started on our bikes.  I slotted into fourth position, behind two men and one of the ‘A’ Women until after the run-up.  I moved up one spot getting back on the bike and was tailing first and second place pretty closely.  Going through one off-camber section both first and second place had some trouble, but I didn’t.  Going into one little twisty section, the second place rider slid a bit and hit a tree.  I was stuck behind him, but he seemed to recover quickly enough.  At the same time, by the time we were going through the barriers, I found myself passing him.  As we rode through the start line, I had a sudden realization that made me briefly sick to my stomach.  I could see the lead rider was fading fast.  I was clearly riding better than third place.  Shortly, I realized, I was going to be leading the race.  More than that — I thought I could win.

Cruising through the barriers again
Navigating the Run-up with Lake Superior in the background

I can honestly say that I remember very few details of the next 30-some minutes.  I remember taking the lead and hearing my son shouting that I was winning and that second-place was way behind me (as I wondered what “way behind” means to a 5-year old).  I remember watching the laps count down and watching the gap grow on each lap.  Eventually, I rolled across the line with a one-minute gap on second-place.  I had just won my first bike race.

 

Crossing the line first!

 

Amazed at a good finish.

Third on Saturday and first on Sunday was good enough for second overall and I took home a growler of South Shore Brewery’s “Nut Brown Ale”, which I promptly gave to my father (since my position at the church prohibits me from consuming any alcohol).  The whole family walked away with some more door prizes, including a couple of new Camelbak Podium bottles.  Again, Cameron surprised us by picking a bottle of chain lube over ICE CREAM.

The second-place rider (that Tech grad) demanded a rematch with me at the Keweenaw Cup races this coming weekend, and it’s fun to have a friendly rivalry.  We’ll see how this week treats my legs and bike to know how I’ll ride come Saturday.

Overall

So here’s the thing.  I had some great bike races.  I can’t lie to you — it’s really exciting to win something.  But that’s not what made this a great weekend.  We spent time with some truly nice people, both at the bike races and at church.  We had quality family time, doing something unusual and fun and it didn’t cost a fortune.  By the time we got home on Sunday, everybody was happy, having had a fun, memorable weekend.  And I think that sometime I’m going to have to take my wife on a special weekend down there as just the two of us.

I’ll definitely be back for next year, as long as the schedule works out.  We’ll see how the rest of the UPCROSS series goes to figure out whether or not I need to move up to class ‘A’.

And all of that is why “I Really Like Ashland, Wisconsin.”


Ah, Cyclocross…

For the fourth Wednesday in a row, I headed over to the Tech Trails, aired down my tires and got ready to suffer.  It was harder to suffer this week, since the weather was 60 degrees and sunny, but I tried really hard anyways.

One thing that was going to be different this week was that I had mounted a Specialized The Captain CX Pro tire on the front wheel, keeping the Bontrager Jones CXR on the rear.  The Bontrager tire’s tread pattern is very similar to the Specialized Fast Trak mountain bike tire and this gives me a setup on the ‘cross bike that is extremely similar to the setup on my mountain bike.  I’ve found this setup to be a good all-purpose one, regardless of the trails.  I should be careful here to mention that for CX courses comprised mainly of grass, pavement and hardpack dirt that this combination would likely be overkill.

I went out on Sunday and rode the singletrack at the Tech Trails on the Tricross with this setup for about an hour.  After about 20 minutes, I settled into a groove with the bike.  Really, it was the first time that I felt really good riding in tight quarters… well, ever.  I stopped riding the ‘cross bike like a full-suspension mountain bike and started choosing my line more carefully, braking differently and finessing the bike rather than just plowing through everything.

This all helped immensely on Wednesday, as our course had a very extended section of singletrack that I was riding faster than some people on hardtail mountain bikes.  I also became a counterpoint in the after-ride conversation.  One of the really fast guys suggested that one of the hills we rode up was only rideable on a mountain bike, but it was pointed out that I rode it all 8 or 9 laps.  To be honest, during the last few laps I didn’t have any easier gears to fall back on, but I was still riding the hill.  There was only two guys ahead of me on ‘cross bikes, and everybody else was on a mountain bike.  I only got lapped by 3 riders, including one that’s off to Collegiate MTB nationals, so I don’t feel too bad about that.

Here’s the thing.  I have wondered constantly this year if I am not cut out to be a good mountain bike racer.  Part of it has been riding these really long distances that I am not at all used to against some of the best regional and national (in the case of the Cheq40) amateur racers.  But I have seen my best results at races when I was on skinny tires and rocking the Tricross.  It’s not just that they were shorter races.  The 55miles of the Superior Bike Fest took me 2.5 hours, just like the Deer Chase.  It would be kind of nice to keep the MTB fun and just race the skinny tires.  Oh well.  That’s too much thought for me on this Friday afternoon.  I’m just going to prep for my upcoming CX races, keep hitting up the Wednesday World’s and have some fun on the bike.

More Than Bikes

One of the nice things about moving away from the Specialized Rider’s Club was feeling free to speak on topics that didn’t relate to biking.  So far I haven’t done that.  So, here’s a few thoughts.

After the Gentlemen’s Ride, we visited some friends in the Minneapolis area.  We went with them to their church, which is an extremely large congregation with a very well-known teaching pastor.  This wasn’t the first time we had attended this church.  Back when my wife and I were living in Minnesota and were trying to find our church home, we visited this church.  We didn’t go back.

There were two reasons for this.  First, the worship seemed to be too much of a performance.  It was difficult to tell when I was supposed to sing and when I wasn’t.  The other thing was that we were not greeted or talked to by anybody, despite the size of the fellowship.  Of all those people, absolutely none stopped to even say, “Hi.”  With a giant congregation that we didn’t know how to plug in to and a distracting worship experience, we kept searching.

I can say that in the last 9 years, nothing has changed.  Well, that’s not true.  There’s one additional reason I wouldn’t ever consider going to that church full-time.  I wouldn’t call that a positive change.

The worship is still a performance, yet they have the gall to declare it otherwise.  They say they’re not up there performing, but they clearly are.  The congregation is still huge and insular.  It might be the very definition of “Minnesota Nice”.  The new reason to stew over is the lack of involvement people have.  It’s clear that too many of the attendees of that church are only involved at a superficial level.  They have limits on the number of children they will accept for Sunday School because they don’t have enough volunteers to staff the rooms.  Think of that.  This church was large enough that 1000 people left during a specific sermon series and yet still fills up this enormous auditorium.  Yet, they cannot find people to give 1 hour every other week to teach kids.  They scramble about in this or that mission field, but ignore the mission field in their own homes.

The teaching pastor is excellent, there’s no doubt about that.  But it’s clear there’s something wrong at that church that can only be fixed by getting smaller.

On a completely unrelated note, at our church this past weekend we had our annual Missions Conference.  It’s not big or flashy.  It’s mainly an opportunity for us as a congregation to reconnect with some of our sponsored missionaries.  I suppose it’s also an opportunity for new missionaries to solicit some support from the church as a whole or individual members.  This year, we had a pastor from a church we have been connected with for several years.  He has a passion, and for that I commend him.  But there was one thing he said that riled me up.

Before becoming a pastor, he had spent a number of years as an elementary school teacher.  He was clear that he was “ashamed” of the time he spent preparing to be a teacher.  He looked back at that as years of his life he wasted.  This is a sore point for me.

I have been in college more or less constantly since 1997.  I have poured countless hours into my degrees and into my job, which is in the field of engineering education.  I am sure this is where God wants me to be.  I have watched so many talented students walk away from their studies to pursue ministry because they somehow believed it was more spiritual than engineering or geology or whatever.  I won’t say that they are not doing God’s will in their lives, but I do believe they may be under this mistaken impression that only people in full-time ministry can be doing God’s work.  From a simply practical point of view, ministry doesn’t happen without financial support.  That’s part of what I do.  The bigger impact is influencing these students with knowledge and character.  What happens to the influence of the church if we all withdraw from industry and academia?  Who can be a missionary doctor if they don’t pour those hours into learning how to practice medicine?  I refuse to let my involvement in my profession become a source of shame.

So to those who have dedicated their lives to full-time ministry, thank you.  But please don’t look at the way that I’ve used my gifts and somehow declare that I’ve wasted my time.

Why I Love My Tricross

In May of 2008, I picked up a new bike.  It wasn’t a mountain bike; I had one of those.  It wasn’t a road bike, per se.  I didn’t have one of those, but didn’t feel like I really wanted one either.  I was a mountain biker!  What does a dirt rider like me need with one of those pavement machines?  But oh, a cyclocross bike.  That was definitely what I needed.  In the event I actually needed to ride the road, I had an appropriate tool.  But now I had a bike that would let me ride in cyclocross races.  The fact that I had never actually done a cyclocross race at that point was largely insignificant.

Now, to be honest, part of the reason that I got it was for a long-distance ride along US-41 with folks from my church and thought that the Tricross would be the best possible option.

So after three summers of riding this machine, why would I suddenly be inspired to wax poetic about it?  It has a lot to do with that ride last weekend.  103 miles on gravel roads and was absolutely perfect.  But two days before, it was my ride into work.  The day after I got back, it was transformed into a cyclocross rig.  Off came the bottle cages, on went the CX saddle and CX tires.  Yesterday it got all muddy during our local Wednesday Worlds CX practice.  Earlier this summer I had on 23c road tires and rode in a criterium with it.  The next day was a 55-mile road race.  Two days later it carried me to work again.  I haven’t even mentioned the two long winters it has spent on the trainer in the basement.

That’s what’s so fantastic about this bike — it’s incredible versatility.  It tames short road rides and long road rides and rides where there is no road.  It’s been reliable like no other bike I’ve ever had.  Even after all the CX races, I’ve never had to true a wheel.  The Shimano 105/Ultegra drivetrain has been quietly reliable.  The Avid canti brakes took a while to dial in, but all CX bikes have that problem and we tamed it.  No fork chatter here.  I did have to replace the freehub in the Roval rear wheel after just a few months, but the replacement has been solid for thousands of miles now.  The frame looks as good as it did the day I bought it.  I believe the Zertz inserts are completely doing their job.  The ergo bars are perfect.  The lines of the bike are elegant, but functional.  If there is anything at all that I would complain about, it would be the paint job.  The brown/black combo is a little underwhelming, but Specialized made some weird color choices on the Tricross over the years.

Sadly, Specialized has watered down the Tricross a bit and split off the ‘cross racing usage into the CruX.  I think the new CruX Expert could make a good replacement for the Tricross (except for the rack mounts).  So for now, I’ll hold on to the most versatile bike in the world (and take another “shortcut” through the Tech Trails on the way).

Before the Superior Bike Fest

Cycling, Christianity and Fatherhood Meet.