Monday, January 25, 2010

It's Easy to Get a Bit Sappy in the Off Season

I have come to the conclusion that there are three kinds of people in this world. There are the magic people, the good people, and everybody else.

The magic people are an apparition. We have all met one at some point during our travels but they are seldom in our lives for long. We tell stories about them long after our paths have briefly crossed but most audiences find the stories a bit far-fetched. You know one of these people, just think back for a moment. It is the old friend who slept with a famous musician in the bathroom of a Denny’s. It is the person who travels to exotic locales on a shoestring budget only to return half a year later. Their stories are familiar to us all because they are the same stories appearing in our wildest dreams. Much like those dreams these people vanish into the mist leaving us to question whether they were real or simply figments of our imagination.

The good people are the ones we are lucky to know. They are uncommonly good. It is not easy to be one of them and I am most assuredly not among this group. Their attitude is unfailingly positive. Their kindness knows no end. When you are with them you are reassured that there is simple beauty in this world and that the rest of us have made it all more complicated than it really is. I have been fortunate to have some truly good people invite me into their lives and I am better for it. I am not by nature an optimistic person. My attitude fails me more often than it should. I have disappointed more people than I care to admit. At the end of the day, I can only aspire to be good.

Then there is everybody else. You may be one of them. I may be one of them. The hard part is knowing where you stand. That is the curse of this particular group of average citizens. Everybody else. They are the dazed masses drifting through life as they expect they should. They live in muted misery because they find themselves unfulfilled by reality television and bad Chinese food. The common attitude is one of general negativity with only a whisper of what might be truly possible.

You may think it is a leap for me to tie this into cycling but nothing could be further from the truth. Many of the truly good people I have known in my life have come to me on two wheels. This thought crossed my mind yesterday while in hot pursuit of a rear wheel that I have chased many times before. The clearest of my thoughts have come to me while spending time in that quiet space between my saddle and my handlebar. I could not help but think about how lucky I was to be in that situation, sliding through the mud in a desperate chase. As I struggled to hold the pace I reflected on a weekend spent listening to the sweet song of Michigan accents and enjoying a game only those from the mitten know. In a room full of transplants now enjoying the southern sun I had been transported back to a place remembered but long since out of reach. My bicycle has carried me many places but the best place of all has been into the company of good people.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I Blame Michael Phelps

There is something truly beautiful about an empty lap pool. The undisturbed water has a stillness that eludes life outside that space. The morning light bursts through the gym's glass wall and gives the water an eerie glow. This is a pure and perfect moment that is as brief as it is mesmerizing. It is reserved for the early risers who bravely cast aside extended sleep in pursuit of tranquility. As I enter my lane and displace the water for the first time, a ripple extends ahead of me. Gliding along I savor the feeling of being the only creature on earth. I know this will pass as other swimmers arrive. The others in pursuit of serenity will have to try again another day.

I began swimming last year as a way to connect with the excitement I felt watching Michael Phelps in the Olympics. Having a crippling fear of water and no knowledge of how to swim were not significant deterrents for someone as stubborn as I tend to be. I figured that anyone with tight shorts and a pair of goggles could become an Olympian. So what if Phelps and I are not exactly identical physical specimens. If you look at me from far away in the dark it is nearly impossible to tell us apart. Especially if I stand behind a tree.

Enrolling in swimming class was the first and most painful step toward my Olympic delusion. Having not been in a pool since the third grade I at least had the good sense to get some instruction. My class was filled with experienced swimmers so I was sure to lie to my instructor and tell her that I too could swim. Some little white lies are not so little. 30 seconds into our first lesson my deception was revealed. A bit of water in the lungs never hurt anyone. Except me of course. It could have been the skill of my instructor or perhaps my own tenacity but I did manage to learn to fling myself across the pool in a somewhat organized manner. I cast my water wings aside that day and never looked back. My strokes are ugly. My breathing needs some work. My flip turns? Well, let's just say that I am always glad to find the water's surface when my awkward flip turns have come to an end far too long after their beginning.

I now find myself in the pool each morning honing my technique. Starting each day in the water makes the long hours at work seem less taxing. While sitting at my desk I recall the first laps of the day when my muscles were protesting the decision to rise so early. The smell of chlorine on my skin is a reminder of the moment I looked at my watch and thought "just four more laps". If I listen very closely I swear I can still hear the echo of the pool long into the afternoon. I drift off and the world around me disappears as I kick just one last time.

Where will you be tomorrow morning? I know where I will be. I will rise early to arrive at the gym before they unlock the doors. I will take a deep breath before entering the pool to savor the aroma of the water. The stillness will break with my first stroke and peace will settle over me. In that moment I will be a swimmer.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Test the Strength of Your Marriage Using My Simple Three Step Program

Have you ever asked yourself the following questions?

1. Does my spouse really love me?
2. Have I forged a lifelong relationship with my partner?
3. Is there a way to test my spouse's love?
4. Where did that rash come from?

Thanks to my proven three step program I can help you answer the first three questions above. As for the fourth one you are on your own. Seriously, that's nasty.

The key to my proven system is conducting the test in a controlled setting. Much like the GRE, if the test is not conducted under the prescribed conditions the results will not be valid. The set up is very simple. You must wait to conduct the test until the day after your spouse has given up her entire Saturday cleaning your home to a standard that would make most hospital operating rooms look like the kitchen at a Kentucky Fried Taco Hut. Now check the bathtub. Does it squeak when you run your finger across the bottom? Success. The stage is set.

Step one will require some work on your part. First, tell your wife you are going for a quick ride and will be back in time for lunch. Leave at 11am and don't return for 4 1/2 hours. This seemingly insignificant detail is crucially important to the success of the test. Your ride needs to include trails that are covered in copious amounts of mud with a consistency resembling that of jello pudding. For best results, do this on a day when the air temperature is cold enough to freeze the mud to your bike upon contact. Feel free to complete multiple laps to ensure your bike is covered in the appropriate amount of mud. With 4 1/2 hours to kill you will have plenty of time. Does your bike resemble the one in the picture below? If you answered yes then you are ready to conduct the test.

Step two begins upon your return home. Without apologizing for being late you should walk in the front door and throw all of your muddy clothes onto the freshly cleaned carpet. Are there big chunks of frozen mud on the floor? Excellent. You are doing so well.

The third and final step of my program will either reassure you that you are happily married or confirm that you need to start looking for your own apartment. Place your mud covered bike directly into the squeaky clean bathtub. Don't worry about getting mud on the bathroom floor. That is a good thing.

Using water hot enough to thaw the frozen mud, hose down your bike and give it a thorough scrubbing. If you have done everything properly up to this point you should now have a river of mud flowing through your bathtub. Examine the picture below and if your bathtub matches the photo you are good to go.

Now it's time to test the strength of your marriage. Take your spouse by the hand and carefully walk her into the bathroom with her eyes closed. Make sure she is facing the mud filled bathtub and when she opens her eyes proclaim in in a boisterous voice "Happy Anniversary!"

Are you still married? If you answered yes then good for you. Congratulations on forging a life long bond with your partner. If you failed this simple yet effective test please send me an email as I may be looking for a roommate.