Friday, August 7, 2020

Back to My Future?

 

By John Rezell

Confusing times, without question.

That said, I've brought back ConquerMountains.com
 
So, if you want to keep up with the latest, I'll see you there.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Mountain Bike Challenge

Chris Kovarik at the 2000 Mont-Ste-Anne downhill. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
By John Rezell

With the quarantine/stay at home orders Facebook buzzes with folks trying to find something to fill the endless hours of the day.

The Top 10 Challenges are interesting, for sure.

So, I decided to start my Top 5 Challenge while I dish out some photos from 20 years ago, the year 2000 — my last time covering bike racing.

Here, in no particular order, are 5 Mountain Bike Events that I'll never forget.

  • Mount Snow, Vermont
  • Mont-Ste-Anne, Quebec
  • Steamboat Springs, Colorado
  • Sea Otter, California
  • Big Bear, California

Ah, Big Bear ...

It all started there at Snow Summit, way, way back in 1990 — pretty sure this is keeping with the bizarre theme that lands key events in my life on the 10s this year.

My introduction to mountain bike racing came at the NORBA event that year.

Alison Dunlap pushing up the Mount Snow opening climb in 2000. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
I was super new to mountain biking. Basically I had been out on the trails twice before that day.

Day to Remember

My first off-road ride of my life (if you don't count the 24-stitch gravel crash in eighth-grade) came outside Laguna Beach, California at Crystal Cove State Park.

My tour guide? A local trail organizer by the name of Margaret Day. For two hours I chased her up and down the rocky paths on a $1,500 mountain bike she let me borrow.

The demands on my body, coming in great spurts, punished me. I hung on for dear life, knowing my handling skills tend to match a third-grader not versed in the ways of BMX.

In the end she told me I did fine — for a rookie. Yeah, right. For two hours I begged for mercy, digging into every ounce of muscle my 150-miles-a-week road training had forged. She flew over hills like a gazelle. I clunked like a Mack Truck.

Alison Sydor getting creative at Mont-Ste-Anne in 2000. Copyright Photo by John Rezell

"Oh, did I mention I was national champion a few years ago?" Day said.

“Ah, no,” I said, choking on my Gatorade. “I think I would have remembered that.”

The Next Level

My second ride proved even more epic. Day set me up with some guy who tinkers with mountain bike frames. He arrives at the trail in a broken down van, an old VW like-I-care-if-my-rent-check-bounced van. He brought along a $2,000 bike for me to ride. Margaret vouched for my skill level, which blew my mind.

We enjoyed a great ride. The guy unleashed a volcano of information on bike equipment. Wish I could remember five percent of what he said. I do remember the name: Richard Cunningham.

But my true baptismal dive into the true mosh pit of the sport came at Snow Summit.

Leslie Tomlinson on her way down at Mont-Ste-Anne in 2000. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
The day before the NORBA Pros would humble the mountainous course, I took a test spin. They made me sign something that said I was a mountain bike expert before giving me a basic rental bike. I figured Day and Cunningham knew what they were talking about when they said I could handle my own. I signed and left on mountain bike ride number three.

A three hour tour ... a three-hour tour ...

 Get serious, I thought. It's a 12-mile loop. How hard can it be?

After an hour of eating dust as every Dick and Jane on the mountain ripped past me, I neared the summit. Bonks generally occur around the six-hour mark on the road. Somehow this bonk felt right on schedule.

My mind racing with the intensity a serial killer, the thin air filtering out rationality, I hit the emotional and physical peak of the adventure about the same time.

With Tomac wannabes catching air, screaming and disappearing down the steep incline I wanted to cry like a baby. I wanted a helicopter to come and pluck me from the mountain top then set me gently down at the bottom.

Ruthie Matthes dialed in at Mont-Ste-Anne in 2000. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
Instead, I saw the essence of mountain biking through blurry eyes. I felt it through exhausted arms shaking uncontrollably.

Then I hit the moment of truth, a 100-yard gravel and rock death slide on a, well, it must have been a 95 percent grade.

I closed my eyes.

I locked my brakes.

I started fast.

My speed increased each second.

A little voice inside my head screamed with veins popping out of its neck. "WE'RE BITING THE BIG ONE!"

The last fraction of rationality remaining in my head weighed my options with the voice.
  1. The bike takes us down; or 
  2. We take the bike down. 

Since the voice had no financial interest at stake, it voted for No. 2.

Miguel Martinez at Mont-Ste-Anne in 2000. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
It was a rental bike, so I agreed, and threw the bike out from beneath me.

I crouched down and surfed the gravel for nearly 30 feet before coming to a stop.

Still too steep to stand. I crawled on all fours to the bike searching the sky for my helicopter in shining armor, but it never came.

I inched my way down the mountain.

I hid the bike in the rack. I got back my deposit. I went back to my room and collapsed.

I still haven't learned any real mountain bike skills, but that hasn't stopped me from spending countless hours on the trails.

Brian Lopes neck-and-neck in the Dual Slalom at Mount Snow in 2000. Copyright Photo by John Rezell

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Zilch!

Me and my little bro Joey way back when. Copyright Photo by John Rezell

By John Rezell

Yeah, I got sucked into the 10 Influential Album Challenge on Facebook that I'm pretty sure is nothing more than hackers collecting personal data for easier password hacking.

And BTW, what's with these challenges and the rule that you post a photo without any explanation? That's like asking a movie critic whether or not she liked the movie and say limit it to just say yes or no.

I took one look at my stacks of 400-plus CDs, thought about the boxes of Cassettes in the attic, then hit shuffle on the bazillon songs in my iTunes and wondered where do I start?

I thought about growing up, and how even a slightest mention of the wrong type of song could get you ridiculed for weeks, months, years — heck, a lifetime.

Like getting lost in the moment in the shower after a Junior High gym class and busting into, "Ah, breaker one-nine, this here's the Rubber Duck ..." or "Having my baby, what a lovely way ..."

I'm not sayin' it happened.

I'm not sayin' it didn't ...

But I digress.

So it was pure torture selecting 10 songs that:
  • I could honestly admit to having influence on my tastes, whatever the heck that means;
  • Make me look musically cool — again only for the prospective employers checking me out (see my earlier post Facebook's Frustrating Findings), and 
  • Were not on everyone else's list.
The Honest Gender

Then some women started getting the challenge, and instead of all Led Zeppelin, Springsteen and Ramones there were Carly Simon, The Go-Gos and Elton John.

Finally one of my female friends took her unabashed honesty to another level and posted The Partridge Family.

Ah, I Think I Love You!

That moved me to compile this list of the Albums my little bro Joey and I would scream every word to day and night in our bedroom in our pre-teen years because, really, nothing had a greater influence than these classics:

Mary Poppins Soundtrack

Back in the day when needle dropping meant trying to get to a song a few tracks in on an album — and said ability was lost on anyone younger than 18 thus earning countless scratches on your most played albums — the Mary Poppins bedroom concert always began with the overture.

I'm betting some younger generations probably don't know the definition of an overture, much less the words to each of the 16 songs that follow even though they loved the movie as kids as much as we did:

You see Michael, tuppence, patiently, cautiously trustingly invested
In the, to be specific, In the Dawes, Tomes, Mousely, Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank!


Ah, forget it. Let's go fly a kite!

 
The Monkees 

So they weren't great musicians.
They didn't write their own songs. 

They were more entertainment-talented than musical-talented.
Yeah, so what! 

I was describing my San Diego area cover band Atröcious Noyze from the '90s in a nutshell.

In many ways we followed The Monkees' mold, spoofing songs, making them more entertaining.

(Close your eyes and think about our rap version of Takin' Care of Business with the pounding rap of Ta-ta-ta-TAKIN'! Ba-ba-ba-BIDNESS! and me wearing a gold chain with a car air filter on it)



Oh, I lobbied heavily for us to cover Zilch or I'm Gonna Buy Me a Dog, but I had to settle for the theme songs of Banana Splits and The Munsters for our TV showstoppers. 

Hey, I favored Peter and Mickey. 

That's all you need to know.

Soundtrack A Clockwork Orange
We were kids and despite the demented cover of the album that once prompted a super frightening nightmare, we played this endlessly always fighting over who got to wave the conductor's baton and who had to pretend to play air-violin or air-trumpet or air-flute or whatever section had the theme.
Our true introduction to classical music.

Full disclosure, I've never seen the movie or have any clue whatsoever what it's about.

Again, the nightmare keeping my curiosity under control.

Marches by John Phillip Sousa

It don't get more American and red, white and blue USA than Sousa marches performed by, who? The Czechoslovak Brass Orchestra!
Once again, the battle over the baton raged. If I remember correctly we settled on whoever dropped the needle got the baton.

This coincided with being in 7th grade band, and beginning every class pulling out the small songbook of marches. My favorite memory of band.

As a bass clarinet player, I can still hum the bass parts.

The Brooklyn Bridge

Our requirements were obviously any song that had falsetto, plenty of work for the backup singers and/or a brass section.

Johnny Maestro & The Brooklyn Bridge had plenty with Blessed is the Rain, Worst that Could Happen and Piece of My Heart.

Idea by The Bee Gees






Speaking of falsetto and backup singers ...

Oh, we were hardcore Bee Gee fans long before disco and Stayin' Alive!

The love affair began with I Started a Joke and I Got to Get a Message to You.


So there you have it. The story behind the story. Time to queue up some Sousa Marches and change all my Zilch passwords ...








Saturday, June 27, 2020

Countless Memories Pop Up

Brand new in 2005, just days before we embarked on the adventure of a lifetime. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
By John Rezell

I'm not sure if my neighbors were watching, but if they were, they saw a grown man cry.

Monday morning a single mother with three daughters hitched our longtime chariot of adventure to her truck and rolled away with the Starcraft pop-up camper that brought us to Oregon 15 years ago.

That summer of 2005 created so many memories that I wrote a book about it: You Cook a Dead Crab and Eat It. We lived in that 12-foot camper (A whopping 17 when folded out) for 85 days as we wandered through 8,000 miles in search of a place to call home,

But the adventures did not stop there.

Each summer we hitched up the trailer and explored the American West in good old fashion  family summer vacations.

For two weeks we would leave the world behind an immerse ourselves in nature. Yellowstone, Glacier, Zion, Grand Tetons, Mesa Verde, Arches, Lake Tahoe, Lassen, Crater Lake, Diamond Lake, Mount Rainier ... the list goes on and on and on.

Our summer road trips were so epic our daughters tagged along well into college. Year after year they would pepper me — sometimes as early as January — with the burning question: Where are we going this year?

Just a year ago on Memorial Day weekend, the four of us were together in the Starcraft for the last time, camping in the Columbia River Gorge. One daughter is a college grad, the other will be shortly.

The stories are endless, but one stands out for me as vindication that the lessons we hoped to impart on our daughters weren't lost.

Once we decided we would plant our roots in Eugene, Oregon we began to look for a place to live. We were downsizing significantly from our spacious home in Tennessee.

As we sat in the Starcraft pondering our next move, Debbie voiced concern that the house we were about to make our home might not be big enough for us.

My older daughter Sierra  swung her arms wide showing off the Starcraft and said, "Is it bigger than this? Because this is all we need."

Oh, the adventures won't end for Debbie and me. We have a new toy. Had to make sure we got one with enough room for the girls to pop in for a visit. Plans already in the making.

Sure, Progress is nice.

But memories are priceless.




Saturday, June 20, 2020

Time is on My Side

By John Rezell

My mind’s calendar flips through memories this year like a Vegas blackjack dealer shuffling two decks. So many milestones apparently falling into place in a cosmic alignment of anniversaries.

I fired a quick note to my college roommate reminding him that another 10 years have passed since we moved on from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and his response quite frankly baffles me.

“That just makes me feel old,” he said.

I find that surprising since I nurture an opposite reaction.

I feel young and reborn, as though boundless possibilities once again dance before me like endless waves lapping upon an ocean beach.

The flash of countless memories of my life dart through my mind so quickly I find it impossible to savor each one, yet accept it’s quite possible to squeeze every one into this single thought.

As I inhale this breathless scope of time its sheer magnitude overwhelms me. I exhale and create an equal amount of space for new experiences that lie ahead. My next lifetimes.

My mind carves my experiences neatly into lifetimes, each so unique upon itself yet bound together by a single thread — me.

Some of those lifetimes smoldered for years, while others blazed on quickly.

They can be sliced and diced a number of ways.

Sometimes neatly grouped by geography: Fort Atkinson, Dubuque, Carlsbad, Boulder, Austin, Knoxville, Eugene and Dallas.

Some congregated by job or lack there of: Sportswriter, Freelancer, Editor, Mr. Mom, Outdoor Writer, Unemployed, Marketing Manager, Editor and Covid Unemployed.

Some associated by title: Buddy, Boyfriend, Husband, Father, Grieving Son.

In total they amass a treasure chest beyond my wildest dreams.

I could spend hours savoring just the memories of the past year, not to mention the past five, or 10, or more.

All these adventures feel as recent as a blink of an eye.

As invigorating as a deep breath of mountain air.

As enchanting as a haunting hoot of an owl.

As inspiring as my daughters’ smiles.

As fulfilling as my wife’s embrace.

They live here today, and on forever.






Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Reality of Cycling

By John Rezell

You are not alone.
 
It's easy to feel alone at times. Like when you're breezing down the road solo on your bike, the sound of traffic so constant it can be numbing. 

Your mind drifts to strange lands. 

You're absolutely positive no one else ventures there.

At least, no one who is sane.

But you're wrong.

I learned that the first time I rode from San Francisco to San Diego. The multi-day adventure was not even an hour old. The Golden Gate Bridge was still a vivid memory of heavy haze hanging in a dreamlike manner, the sea gulls' screeches echoing across the bay and the cool ocean mist against your cheeks.

We were just making a turn to quieter roadways when a couple riders fell behind on a climb. At the turn I stopped with Jeff and we waited. Both of us surveyed the landscape on the edge of the road, a wonderful California mix of ice plant, cactus and palms.

Both of us knew better.

Searching for Gold

Landscape, schmandscape. We were looking at the garbage. Picking through the roadside clutter in our minds like 49ers in a mountain stream. Suddenly it hit us, one of those unspoken moments when you just know you're thinking the same thing.


"Someday," I said unashamedly, "I'm going to find a wallet." 

"You know it," Jeff replied.

For the next couple of hundred miles the junk on the side of the road occasionally distracted my attention from the scenic views of PCH, with its wonderful cliffs and rocky shores.

Look! California sea lions sunning on the beach. Wait, what's that? Just an aluminum fliptop, not a diamond ring. Damn. 

Is that a lotto ticket? Naw, a receipt from McDonald's.

I think of that day a lot when I ride today. When you travel the same routes day after day, they become stale. The only thing that changes, sure as the seasons in Vermont, is the garbage.

That's a good thing.

It's a bizarre game, the garbage game. Nine times out of 10 you'll pass right by that golden nugget. 

The first time.

If it's there the next day, though, it starts to eat at you. 

By that time you already have the Top 10 reasons why you should stop and get it. 

At least one might be good enough to get past your wife. 

But you doubt it.

I've played that game time and again. A pair of sunglasses can deteriorate immeasurably in 24 hours at the side of a busy road. 

Baseball caps, well, it all depends on the weather. If it rains, furgettaboutit. 

Then again, does rain kill head lice? 

CDs should be weatherproof, right?

The only thing I'll confess to is a whisk broom. The girls needed it for the patio. And it survived the 24-hour test.

I swear I rode past the remnants of a hand gun. The handle had been smashed, but the rest looked to be there. Hard to mistake a bullet chamber for something else.

I thought about turning around for five miles. It was gone the next day. Coulda solved a crime. Been a hero. I'm sure of it.

I stopped for a credit card once. Same gasoline company as I have. It wasn't even signed! I tore it up on the spot. The magnetic strip was scratched. I rode on.

Cold Hard Truth

Just a couple miles past the credit card, it hit me. For better or worse. Truth sometimes hurts.

Riding your bike all the time you like to think that you're cool. Somewhere, somehow, deep down inside, there's a glimmer of coolness you attach to cycling.

It's down there at the base level. Right at that spot that separates us from those nutcases combing the beaches with their metal detectors.

Come on, admit it. You thought about doing a price check on that chrome spoked hub cap in the ditch.

Or counted exactly how much you would make collecting all the aluminum cans along the route.

You can spot if a safety seal on an Evian bottle has been violated from 50 yards.

You know the difference between a balloon and a, er, other rubbery item, from 200 yards.

Of course, no one knows better. It's all in the art of the pickup. Check that brake cable. Jiggle that chain. True that wheel, and scoop that garbage.

Hey, why else would jerseys have THREE pockets?

Eureka!

We all dream for that magical moment — one that after decades of riding actually came true for me. I came whizzing around a corner on a city street one afternoon and a bright flash caught my eye.

I rolled around and back to the spot. I looked down and, unbelieveable! 

A diamond ring.

Oh, I know what you're thinking. I was thinking the same. 

I took it to one jeweler/pawn dude. He said worthless. He'd give me $20. I passed. I took it to a real jeweler. She didn't lie.

She smiled at me: "4.5 by 4.5 Princess cut, .52, a half carat with 14K gold."

My wife lost her original wedding ring years ago, and refuses to wear the replacement I bought because of the sentimental value. 

She doesn't think twice about wearing the gem I found in the street.

Now, gotta find that wallet ...

Monday, June 1, 2020

Lance Armstrong on the morning kids ride at the Ride for the Roses 2000. Copyright photo by John Rezell
By John Rezell

As four hours of the Lance Armstrong documentary on ESPN drew to a close I could feel familiar emotions swirling up from deep within as my mind and body attempted to digest everything once again through the slightly different perspective the film offered.

Having witnessed first-hand a good chunk of this story while I covered bicycle racing — and, specifically Lance Armstrong from 1992-2000 — I found the final minutes of Part 2 absolutely riveting. 

It sums up for me the element that clouds the issue and stirs the emotions inside those touched by Lance’s actions on and off a bike. 

It appears that Lance continues to attempt to rewrite history to shine a better light on his legacy. But what we struggle with, and what I wrote in my book Taken for a Ride: Chasing a Young Lance Armstrong, is that you can’t change the past. 

If you were inspired by his victories and stories at the time, nothing changes those experiences. Same, too, for those who didn’t do what everyone else was doing and thus didn’t enjoy the thrills and rewards of being part of those victories or earning some of their own. 

What we know now changes our perceptions of those memories but will never change the impact they had on us at that time. I know my relationship with Lance changed my life and helped mold me into who I am today. I can't change that, nor would I want to.

So if you are a cycling fan who was lifted to unimaginable inspiration watching Floyd Landis unbelievable ride, you might feel cheated in retrospect. 

If you were a cancer patient in the depths of a battle for your life and found inspiration from Lance you might be forever grateful no matter what the circumstances. 

In a world where black and white continues to surrender to grays in just about every aspect of life it appears most can’t allow Lance to exist in the gray. Instead most seem to sentence him to black or white.

I witnessed his ugly side first-hand as well as his beautiful side with cancer patients.

Lance Armstrong takes everything to the extreme, good and bad, and that's why we struggle to resolve just how we feel about him — because most of us have balance in our lives and perceptions and don't live in the world of extremes.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Crazy Views Inside the Caravan

Saturn's Bart Bowen racing back through the caravan in Wilmington 2000. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
By John Rezell

Without question the most amazing experiences covering bike racing came while following the race inside the crazy controlled chaos of the caravan.

Each team has a car in the caravan typically driven by the team director who fends for his or her riders like a she 'gator protects her young.

During the 2000 season, I took a ride with some of the team directors and snapped a glimpse of what like is inside the caravan. Exciting as those were, they paled in comparison to a couple of hair-raising experiences I'll never forget.

My first ride in a race simply hooked me on covering cycling. Last week I shared that for Memorial Day weekend ride at my first Redlands Classic back in '90.

Later on this summer I'll share the epic Red Zinger in 2000 when Race Director Len Pettyjohn let me drive my own press car for a crazy ride of my own. Redlands and Red Zinger standing as bookends to my cycling journalism career.

For now, I'll share a couple of stories from the past interlaced with photos from 2000.

The backseat is reserved for the onboard mechanic, who becomes a one-man pit crew on the road with tire changing usually the most frequent activity, so you must be prepared. Copyright Photo by John Rezell

Nutty Professors

At my first Tour DuPont in '93, I jumped into the USA Team car on Mother's Day with Jiri Mainus. It proved to be a great ride for me, then covering the race for The Orange County Register, because our local boy Jeff Evanshine got into a long breakaway with his Mother there watching. Great present for her.

Here's the excerpt from A More Simple Time: How Cycling Saved My Soul:

Then the real fun began. After 15 miles the breakaway gained 2:40, and team cars representing the breakaway were sent ahead of the peloton to cater to their riders.

US Postal Service director Dirk Demol gave me a ride in Wilmington 2000. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
Understand what I just said. Suddenly, every team car of every rider in the breakaway was allowed to pull to the side and rip past the main field of riders. It's orchestrated chaos.


My view from the passenger seat in Wilmington 2000. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
"Here we go," Mainus said, planting his foot to the floor and zipping around the main field. Well, almost. As we sped up for our turn to roar past the field, we got cut off by, you guessed it, Eddie Borysewicz, director of Team Subaru.

Jiri laid on the horn like a New York cabbie.

Eddie moved to the left.

Jiri pulled along side.

What followed was a two-sided tirade in Polish, or some Eastern Eurospeak. Two nutty professors screaming at each other in a foreign language at 40 mph on a winding road.

Sometimes the mechanic makes repairs on the fly. Benoit Joachim getting help from the team car at Wilmington 2000. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
Eddie kept spraying up gravel as he rode the shoulder, prompting more honking from other anxious team managers stuck behind. At one point Eddie literally disappeared from my line of sight on the passenger side as his Subaru began sliding into the ditch.

He over-corrected, almost smacking the Team USA Jeep as he swerved back onto pavement, prompting Jiri to fire a new round of expletives (funny how you can tell if someone is swearing in a foreign language). Eddie got his car righted and offered a quirky smile and shrugged. He slammed on the brakes and we jettisoned past.

"Worst driver here," Mainus said, shaking his head as we spit gravel on the peloton from his passing on the shoulder.

Racing back through the caravan can be crazy. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
Two Wheel Mayhem

The most exciting/terrifying ride came at the Tour of West Virginia in '95. Although I covered most of the race in my Ford Explorer, leap frogging from spot to spot, I took a ride with Dave Lettieri and the Chevrolet/LA Sheriff car for the circuit race around Beckley. Oh yeah, it wasn't a car. It was a mini-van. Buckle up for this one!

Gotta pay attention because there are riders everywhere. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
Here's the excerpt from A More Simple Time on that one:

The 110-mile stage 4 that began and ended in Beckley is one I’ll never forget. That was key — that it was an out-and-back race — because it allowed me to do something different than chase the stage in my Explorer. I rode the stage with Dave Lettieri in the Chevrolet-LA Sheriff team car. It was a ride for the ages.

The real excitement of the day came back in the mountains. They found the sickest road I've ever seen. Even worse than some of the logging roads outside of Eugene they used for the Tour of Willamette.

I spent the early part of the 2000 Women's Olympic Trial in the Autotrader team car that was super busy that day. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
This was a crazy switchback descent that was really less than one full lane wide. I kid you not.

Now, it's moments like this that racers live for. They love it. Challenged to the max. The only problem is that it came after the Lance Armstrong had blasted the race to smithereens, so there were riders strung up and down the mountains literally for miles. That means you have anxious team managers driving like idiots trying to make sure they are there for their guys.

We were screaming on the back bumper of Noel Dejonckheere in the red Motorola Volvo. Lettieri in the Chevrolet van. We come flying up the ass of a neutral support motorcycle lolli-gagging down the hill.

A quick roadside repair with a teammate up ahead waiting to escort. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
The moto guys try to up the ante and gas it on a tight switchback when, suddenly, the rear wheel slides out and the inside foot pegs spark off the pavement. The front wheel digs in, the bike nearly flips, but they get it under control and then go down.

Noel locks 'em up midway through the switchback, and slides on past, in what was the best piece of driving I had ever seen. At that time ...

A double push to get back going at the 2000 Trials. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
What followed was the most amazing piece of driving I have ever witnessed in my life. Of course, I'm watching Lettieri pull this off as my life flashes before my eyes.

Dave swerved, locked up the wheels, skidded just enough to get the fat ass of the van past the downed moto, then swung back for a brief moment before having to whip the entire van around again to make it around the switchback corner — kinda like you do on a mountain bike in a tight spot.

I know we were on two wheels for a moment or two.

Somehow we didn't flip.

Somehow we didn't skid off the side of the mountain.

Somehow, damn, somehow we're alive to talk about it.

Write your own caption. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
But if that wasn't bad enough, a few minutes later, we're still racing down the mountain trying to get the hell outta everyone's way after we had zipped past Noel, who was stopped and helping change Steve Bauer's flat.

We're flying when we hear a blasting of a car horn like a New York taxi, and, what do you know?

"F--ing Noel!" Lettieri screamed.

Here came Noel, blowing by us, nearly killing us again, escorting Bauer back to the front.

Unbelievable.

You haven't lived until you've driven in the caravan.

Enjoy the rest of the photos:

A team effort to chase back on with the TV camera moto and official keeping a close eye on the action. Copyright Photo by John Rezell


 Catching a draft to get back to the field at the 2000 Trials. Copyright Photo by John Rezell



Mercury's Will Frischkorn dropping out of the break to get his bike worked on. Copyright Photo by John Rezell

Mercury's Will Frischkorn getting worked on at the 2000 Olympic Trials. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
Some lively banter between Will Frischkorn and team director John Wordin at the 2000 Olympic Trials. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
Mercury's John Wordin giving Roy Knickman a hand at the 2000 Olympic Trials. Copyright Photo by John Rezell
I ask, hey, is that legal? Wordin ignores, Knickman smiles. Copyright Photo by John Rezell

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

My Way





By John Rezell

Just 16 years old, a high school junior, like most kids that age I had no clue whatsoever how to handle life.

I'm pretty sure all teenagers are mixed up in the head, never really sure what's up or down, right or wrong, black or white.

Then one night my parents headed out for some reason and I plopped down in front of the TV, looking for something to do other than homework.

I flicked around the channels — of which there were four — and settled on the live performance of Frank Sinatra from Madison Square Garden.

Oh, I had heard plenty of Sinatra over the years. My parents kept the radio playing in the kitchen most of the time, and it wasn't on a rock 'n' roll station.

Back then and even earlier, variety shows like Ed Sullivan, Dean Martin, Red Skelton, The Smothers Brothers and Sonny & Cher always had singers on.

I figured, what the heck?

Killer Intro

Well, as a huge sports fan, hearing Howard Cosell's introduction transported me to another world. Woody Herman and the Young Thundering Herd built the anticipation to another level with the brass swelling to a crescendo and then, BAM!

Music hit me the way Nature has so many times over the years. Like when you dive into an icy lake, or let a waterfall pound over you.

I explain it to kids by saying that in moments like that it's as if every cell in your body is screaming "IT'S GREAT TO BE ALIVE!!"

I fell into a trance, the Chairman of the Board, taking me on a mesmerizing journey I never wanted to end.

Finally, he said:

"We will now do the National Anthem, but you needn't rise ..."

And, he sang My Way ...

My parents walked in the door just after he finished that song to find me wallowing in a mass of tears, whimpering like a baby. They were wondering, who died?

Who died that day was the former me.

Reborn

I took My Way on as my anthem, my mantra.

I started to care less about what others thought or said, and I focused on what I thought and — most importantly — what I felt.

I learned to listen to my heart, my soul, my instincts, and let that guide me.

In this time of uncertainty and stay at home life, I've been listening to a lot more music than usual. The other night I had a late-night jam session, playing a seemingly endless stream of live songs from my iTunes.

Then I got to the Main Event. Howard Cosell again worked his magic. Frank crooned like a master.

When he sang My Way, I found myself reflecting on my journey, looking back at countless decisions that have transported me to this place and time — realizing there is no where and no when I'd rather be than right here, right now, just being me.

I made many moves that defy your standard logic by which most people chart their course. I've watched people scratch their heads evaluating my path, no doubt wondering why?

Why?

Simply put, I did it My Way.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

30th Anniversary: My First Race in a Press Truck

Interviewing Clark Sheehan after his amazing solo breakaway stage win at the 1995 Tour DuPont brought us full circle from our first meeting at Redlands in 1990. That story follows.
RAZ'S NOTE: This excerpt from my book A More Simple Time: How Cycling Saved My Soul chronicles my first ride in a press truck at the 1990 Redlands Classic, and how it hooked me on covering bike races.

By John Rezell

It didn't take long to get a taste of big-time cycling, American style. My baptism came at the Redlands Classic, a short stage race in Redlands, California, that attracted the top bike racers in America — and some of the top racers in the world.

The Russians sent a small contingent to the United States to race in the spring of 1990. They competed at the Tour DuPont in early May, and came to Redlands before heading back to the East Coast for the meat of the US racing season.

I spent countless hours researching everything I could get my hands on to get to know the top bicycle racers, least I ever run into a couple of national caliber cyclists tuning up at some local race. When Memorial Day weekend rolled around, finally, my chance to see them live.

I headed to Redlands as prepared as I could be on all fronts, except one. I had no idea how you actually cover a real bicycle race in person. I talked with the folks in charge of the press — Redlands is completely run by community volunteers — and Tracy Fischer said they would reserve a seat for me in the press vehicle, whatever that meant.

After the prologue, a short time trial stage around downtown, I arrived for the start of the Oak Glen Road Race, a 71-mile adventure that has the biggest climb of the event — 2,200 feet to the 4,883-foot Oak Glen summit. I checked in, got my press credentials, and found the press truck. A pickup truck on loan to the race by the local car dealer. I hopped in the back with a couple of other reporters and a case of bottled water, and began the adventure of a lifetime.

For most of the race, we sat in the pickup looking back at the pack of riders about a quarter-mile or so behind us. Sometimes the officials would let us slow down enough to get closer — maybe 50 yards. Occasionally a rider or two would attempt a breakaway, and get close enough to us so we could see them and read their numbers.

The press truck driver had a hand-held radio. He could get reports from the officials on what was happening with the race. It was cool.

In my mind I could hear "real" sportswriters complaining about wasting a day in a pickup, bouncing around highways and roads in the middle of nowhere for four hours, getting tossed to and fro, freezing from the stiff morning breeze, getting sun burned in the afternoon and not able to see anything closeup.

I could only laugh at those thoughts, out loud, as I stood on the side of the road taking a piss with the other two dudes along for the ride. Literally peeing in the ditch while a small army of CHPs on motorcycles whizzed past, escorting the race, ignoring us. I suppose on some level I was marking my territory, like a dog.

Feelin' the Rhythm

This was my reality. Through the acceleration and slowing of the pickup, I could sense the rhythm of the race as we mirrored the racers' pace. When the driver punched the gas pedal to the floor, the wind picked up in intensity, and you could feel what it's like to be out on a bike in the elements when the pace picks up. My heart rate spiked. My senses screamed on red alert.

Slowly, what may have looked like nothing more than a mass of riders in multi-colored splendor, seemed to come alive like focusing a microscope on a drop of water in junior high science.

When the pace ratcheted up, the mass turned into a thin line of cyclists speeding through the countryside, taking turns at the front before peeling off and disappearing back into the pack like a ballet in motion.

When it slowed, they bunched up and spread across the roadway as wide as they could, each keeping a watchful eye on the others.

The different colored jerseys would spark different reactions from everyone. When a rider or two would burst from the group, and all-out chase would ensue. Sometimes, it would abate, allowing them free reign.

The Danger Zone

So it went, on throughout the morning. Then came the feed zone, just before the main climb of the stage. Suddenly the side of the road appeared crammed with support vehicles and people handing food and drinks — packed in bags called "musettes" — on the fly, to the riders in the group. The riders would grab a bag, sit up, and begin to stuff their pockets with fresh water bottles and food.

That's when all hell broke loose.

Suddenly the Russian contingency exploded from the group. While the rest of the racers bellied up to the buffet, the Ruskies busted a move.

Three of the Russians — Evgeniy Berzin, Dmitri Zhdanov and Vladislav Bobrik tore the race apart. A lone American hung with them, a young rider from Colorado by the name of Clark Sheehan. The foursome attacked the climb up toward the Oak Glen summit.

We watched from the back of the pickup as the Russians took turns challenging the young American. The whine of the pickup's engine trying to accelerate on the pitch let me know when things got steep. Sheehan fought and battled to hang with them up the climb.

I got sucked into the pure athletic battle waging right before my eyes. It reminded me of the only time I covered an actual boxing match, sitting ringside watching Tommy Hearns fight. I'd watched countless boxing matches on TV, and oohed and aahed at some punches. Seeing them landed live, in person. Wow. Nothing compares. Same here.

This climb, long and challenging, had to burn. I've been there on my bike. Hurting. Yet not competing. Imagine being pushed. Fighting to keep up. Cliche as it seemed, we watched the robotic Russians working over a young American full of vigor and dreams. I wrapped my mind around the poetry.

Time to Fly

Then, suddenly, without warning, an official on a motorcycle cruised up to the driver's side of our pickup that crawled up the mountain about 5 mph.

"GO GO GO GO!" he screamed, "Get outta here. Get over the top!"

We flew to the tailgate as the driver planted his foot to the floor. The engine screamed as it tried to roar up the mountain. The riders quickly disappeared behind a switchback.

We flew over the summit at Oak Glen, past the wonderful apple orchard and pies for sale that eventually would become the mountaintop finish for this stage, and began racing down the other side of the mountain to Yucaipa, through the sharp switchbacks, with tires squealing around each turn. We hung on for our lives, getting thrown back and forth about the bed. I thought they were exaggerating the stunt on my behalf. It was like a great roller-coaster ride.

We laughed and hung on. I looked at the side view mirror, occasionally catching a glimpse of the driver. He was enjoying his opportunity to speed like a maniac on the back roads of Redlands. We raced past CHPs on their motorcycles, who were the support vehicles for the race. When do you get the chance to do that?

Then I saw the driver's eyes pop open in terror. The pickup jerked forward, tossing us backward again, as he lunged again on the gas. I turned to look. Holy shit.

The Russians Are Coming!

Gaining quickly on us, but still a switchback or two behind, were the Russians. They were flying down the mountain like superheroes on a Saturday morning cartoon.

I squinted my eyes to get a better look. Then again to actually believe what I was seeing.

The Russians had nearly half of their bodies thrust forward, hanging out over their front wheels. Their hands, gripping the handlebars tightly, were wedged somewhere around their waists. It appeared impossible to displace that much weight over the front without tumbling over. Yet, that's exactly what they were doing. On tires about an inch wide. At more than 50 mph.

I know the speed, because I lunged forward like a panicked pilot checking his gauges just before a crash. If it were a cartoon, my eyes would have popped 10 inches out of my head. Through the back window I could see the speedometer bounding between 45-50 as we screeched around the corners.

"Here they come!" one of my fellow journalists screamed with a high-pitch wail like a little girl in a horror movie. In my entire career of sports writing, I never experienced a rush of sport like this. I couldn't breathe. Breathless.

In the Zone

What transpired in the next minute or so seemed surreal. They got within 50 feet of the truck, and blasted forward in our draft like three missiles.

That's when time seemed to slow.

I sat in the back of that pickup truck, watching the background fly past me in a blur, tires screaming as the G-force tossed us about in the turns, listening to the engine roar as we accelerated out of turns, all with three bike racers literally within arm's length of me — the American Sheehan keeping a safer distance back.

There were moments that the pickup deviated from its steady line, and I'd watch a hand — yes, one of the hands holding the handlebars — calmly rise and gently touch the side of the pickup to keep a cushion of safety.

Then they moved to the outside like the Blue Angels in formation when we hit a straightaway, and bolted past us in a blur. The pickup screamed to a halt at the first pullout, skidding in gravel as the tires locked. I looked in the side view mirror. Our driver was white as a ghost.

Sheehan flew past in desperate pursuit. I doubt there was a dry pair of undies in the truck. My heart pounded out of my chest. I knew at that moment the only way I'd ever return permanently to the world of pack journalism would be kicking and screaming.


Excitable Boy

After the race I got to sit down and talk with Sheehan, away from the press conference. Just he and I, one-on-one. To put it delicately, Sheehan is known as an excitable boy. Imagine Steve Hegg on adolescent hormones. Sheehan's childlike enthusiasm sucks you into his world. Your heart rate spikes. Your voice climbs and octave or two along with him. Like two little girls squeaking about a teen heart throb.

That was insane! Incredible! I couldn't believe it! Sheehan bubbled on and on. Berzin won the stage with Sheehan second and Zhandov third. They were nearly a minute ahead of everyone else.

A little later that day I ran across Berzin, marching with Viatcheslav Ekimov to their team van. Both maintained their "Rocky" stereotypical Russian icy, emotionless, look when Berzin simply nodded his head, acknowledging me. His eyes said it all. They screamed, "Hey, you're one of the guys from the pickup. That was pretty cool, wasn't it?"

Damn straight.

They exchanged a few words in Russian as they passed by. Although I'd managed to avoid the temptation in situations like this many times before, I couldn't help but spin and savor the moment.

As I watched, Ekimov turned to look back for a closer look at me. I felt as though he took note, remembering I'd spent a lot of time talking to their manager whenever I got the chance. Then he turned and they disappeared.

NEXT WEEK: More photos and stories from inside the caravan 

Inside the US Postal Service team car at Wilmington 2000. Copyright Photo by John Rezell

Monday, May 18, 2020

Eagles in the Rain: The Sequel


By John Rezell

Soaked to the bone, my hands so cold my thumb doesn't have the strength to shift gears, I'm hammering as hard as I can on the descent desperate to get warm and dry while one thought shouts in my head:

What an AWESOME ride!

I'm pretty sure I have far too many moments like this when I pause and think, from an average person's perspective, that I should have my head examined.

But I love these moments.

I live for these moments.

They make me feel alive.

They define me.

This ride began innocently enough. Sure, it rains here in Oregon. Most days, though, there's a sun break when you can get out and ride.

On Saturday I watched the morning rain from my office window, then caught the early afternoon sun break for a tremendous ride before rain resumed later that afternoon.

On Sunday I figured I could swing the same deal.

About 45 minutes in, though, the rain started sprinkling down. It wasn't too heavy, and didn't necessarily look like it might get too heavy. So I continued.

Besides, I thought as I pushed on, look at the dry spots under the trees. We've had a lot of rain and those spots are bone dry. If it gets bad, I'll just hunker down for a while 'til it passes.

And heck, I wonder just what Bald Eagles do in the rain. Be cool to find out.

Before I could get halfway around the mile-long reservoir to the area where the Eagles play, it hit. Serious rain. Not a downpour — yet.

I found a dry spot and chilled for a while. Then? Well, the video above speaks for itself. I got dumped on. Soon the tree couldn't handle the rain, and it soaked me. The wind blew the rain and hail underneath, too.

I stood there (again, well aware of the possibilities of ticks hoping for me to take a seat, see previous post) with my sweat chilling and my body temperature falling. I'm thinking the ride home will be ugly.

Duck, Duck, Eagle

Just then I heard the terrified quack of ducks. Strange how you can tell the difference between a friendly quack and a frightened out of your feathers quack, even though I don't speak much duck.

Three ducks go screaming over the reservoir. If you've never seen ducks at full speed, well, it's like the Blue Angels flying over. They can boogie.

Then I heard it.

Without question, the shriek of an Eagle. But where?

I continued to scan the tops of the trees across the lake, looking high where two juvenile Bald Eagles were soaring around the day before. Nothing.

A few minutes later, I heard it again. Another scan and, Whoa! Directly across the lake from me, three quarters of the way up a tree, she sat there, perched, in the rain. Exactly what I came to see and learn about. Eagles in the rain.

She was much closer than the previous encounter. But with everything drenched I thought it best to leave my camera in the waterproof bag. It would probably get destroyed under these conditions.

So I just watched. Enjoying the show of her shaking off the water every now and then.

What followed blew my mind. A much louder, closer shriek. Suddenly her beau zipped past, about 50 feet away, between us. He flew up the rez, then spun and came back to check me out, zooming about 20 feet above me before heading back across the water.

He flew up the lake shore again, and I figured he would just land in another tree like they've done time and again. Instead, he swept around and bolted straight for her tree. He landed right next to her.

My mind screamed, "Who cares about ruining the camera!"

Trying desperately to keep drops off the lens and the rest of the camera body from getting soaked, I tried to take a few photos. The rain wasn't cooperating, and neither were my shaking, prune wrinkled hands. But I savored watching the couple catch up with each other. No doubt these are the parents to the juveniles. Maybe next year there will be six instead of four.

The male took off, again headed in my direction first before ascending like a rocket to become nothing more than a speck in the cloudy skies. The rain paused long enough for me to change into a dry cap and hit the road, making a note to return my winter gloves to my backpack — having lightened my load a week ago proclaiming spring to have sprung.

The rain started up again, just to make sure I was completely drenched. I hit the descent, and two miles later found sunshine and dry gravel. It didn't even rain a drop down there.

No matter. It's a ride that's unforgettable.

Eagles in the rain.




Saturday, May 16, 2020

Eagle Eye for Nature



By John Rezell

My eye caught a glimpse of nothing more than a white dot in a lush green palisade of Douglas Firs rising from the mirror surface of the reservoir, but the flutter in my belly and the smile cracking across my face knew the Eagle had landed.

Slowing my mountain bike to a crawl on the remote logging road, I maneuvered for the best view and pulled out my camera.

For many, many years I would have zipped right past, focused solely on my breathing, my pedal stroke and my rhythm, relying on the solitude of nature to allow me to concentrate on my physical nature rather than the metaphysical.

Keep a steady pace.

Keep pushing.

Ride for fitness.


Stop and Savor

A few years back I altered my approach, taking time to stop and soak in the wonder of nature that surrounds me. To stop and watch the Eagle.

The American Bald Eagle represents a lot of things to a lot of folks. For me, the Bald Eagle remains the standard bearer of optimism — majestic, feathered proof of a better future ahead.

Growing up in Wisconsin I never saw a Bald Eagle outside of a zoo. The Bald Eagle stood proud, perched atop a frightening list of fauna threatened by extinction.

Years later, when I saw my first Bald Eagle in the wild, tears flowed.

I'm a dreamer of the highest magnitude, and knowing we had taken measures to assure its posterity, as well as that of Wolves, Whooping Cranes and others, enriched my soul.

A Quiet Spring

Typically each spring incessant honking of mating Canada Geese serenade my ride along the reservoir as they pair up. Eventually these huge honkers will swim along as bookends to a string of tiny goslings or, if they happen to be feasting along the side of the road, they will hiss with instinctive parental intimidation as I pass by.

Last year the Bald Eagles hung around for a week or so, making for a much louder symphony echoing through the valley when they would swoop down from their lofty perch and circle, checking out the menu, if you will.

But this year, they've stuck around, no doubt finding plenty of meals paddling above or swimming below the water.

Fewer Canada Geese and even fewer Ducks mean the Eagles have decided to hang out for a while, their presence now going on four weeks. This weekend I saw both parents on Saturday. On Sunday I saw what I assume to be their juvenile offspring.


To get an idea of the power of a zoom, here's a little video: