Welcome to The Human Ride.

Because we're all in this together,
this blog is an ongoing chronicle of what it means to be human,
with a focus on what it means to be human ... cyclists.
The good. The bad. The ugly.
The joy of a ride on a lonely country road.
The pain of a cyclocross race.
The rage that comes from dealing with aggressive drivers.
The appreciation of a fine piece of cycling artistry.
And anything else that comes as a result of loving bikes
and living.

Friday, April 2, 2010

We all geeks.

Riding through downtown last week I stumbled upon a car show.

(Notice how skillfully I managed to include myself in the picture.)

There was a lot of boom-dee-boom.

Big sound, big wheels, big tech. For ranchers, too.

Much like in the cycling world, I saw a lot of passion, artistry and a desire for the latest and the greatest.

Bikes are part of the urban culture as well.

Carlos was shy about posing with his chromed-out steed, but he was clearly honored to do so.

I was on my usual ride for easy days, a Swobo Del Norte steel fixed gear. Fun, but not the lightest.

There must be something about this bike, cause it still elicited the usual “Is that one of those bikes you can lift with one finger?” and a “How much did you pay for that bike?” Hating to disappoint them, my answers were apologetic, yet no one seemed concerned.

I was standing amidst hip-hop urban kids –black, white, Hispanic, Asian. I stood out, of course, resplendent in my Team Bikesport/Ion green spandex, taking admiring photos of their sick cars. And yet, they made small talk, a human connection. They recognized me for who I am: a fellow geek. Yeah, from a different culture altogether – but a brother in geekness, nonetheless.

Twenty-sixes are the new twenties, by the way.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Anything can happen on a bike ride

You can go looking for a bite to eat and find this:
Out of which comes something like this:

Which has bananas, pecans and Nutella®. Or you can order one with Schulenberg Garlic Sausage, local spinach and Redneck Cheddar, which looks like this:

Oops! Almost all gone, must've been good. The cart is called Melange Creperie.

You can also ride around downtown and stop to get directions, walk into a shopping center, find a pet adoption event, and end up with a sweet boy like this one:

He's a mix of something like a boxer, and an American bulldog. He's got a big head and jowls, but a slimmer body. He was found on the street, lost. He's got a lot of ant bites on his nose and heart worm. He's going to the vet to get the heart worm treated before coming home to us later this week. He's so sweet, calm and just adorable.

Who knows what'll happen the next time we're out on the bike.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Eye wunce rote a pome.

A few years ago I got stung repeatedly by a hornet while on a ride (That's what the sucker looked like).

I wrote a poem about it.

Curse Thee, O Hornet, For Thy Multiple-sting Ability.

A true story by Luis Gonzalez

J-R-A on F-M Twenty-nine Seventy-eight,*

One wandering hornet and I (it was fate),

Met head on – a collision a cyclist would dread

Had it meant just one sting on the top of the head.

But for me it was different, I noticed too soon,

As the wasp it stung twice at the neck of this goon.

As I swerved off the road in a panicky squirm,

My jersey I flung off in haste to confirm

That the insect had left my Lycra and fled

To attack the next poor and unsuspecting Fred.

But alas, five miles later, I learned, yelling, “F–ck!”

That under my base layer the bugger had snuck!

Three more times he nailed me right under the pit.

So I pinched on the cloth to squash the little sh–t.

He stabbed my gloved thumb – that’s three layers, folks.

The bastard was up to no good – and no jokes –

As he crawled to, and stung me, on my manly chest,

As if saying, “How’s that, for a flying yellow pest?”

By now I was writhing in panic and pain,

Tearing off all my clothing in careless disdain.

But, too late, as my bib shorts apparently made

One last layer for Vespa crabro to invade,

And administer the eighth and terminal sting

To the base of my… umm, you know, my, umm… my thing.

Crushed in defeat, even more, humiliation,

I reached to release him in blind desperation.

But the creature flew off with the wind, not to linger,

As I noticed his tiny upright middle finger.

*Just Riding Along on FM (Farm-to-Market road) 2978

Saturday, February 27, 2010

There was drama.

There was drama today. I’ll try to be as accurate as I can. Here’s how it went down:

MIND: Hey, Body, come over here, I’ve got something to show you.

BODY: Dude. Not now. I’m all comfy here watching the Olympics.

MIND: Look, I found one of your team uniforms, still in the bag. Betcha can’t fit in it.

BODY: Bitch, dontcha make me get up.

MIND: Thought so.

BODY: Pinche culero, man. Can’t you just leave me alone? I’m gonna miss another Lindsay Vonn interview.

MIND: Mm ... hmm.

BODY: Fine! Let me see that. (Mmmfff!) See? It fits just fine.

MIND: It’s a little tight in the middle there.

BODY: Yeah, but, just a litt … hey! What are you doing? No! Stop!

(At this point, from snippets that I’ve gathered, Mind pretty much kidnapped Body and both of them got on my mountain bike and headed out the door for a ride. Body was not happy.)

BODY: You gotta be kidding me! That was a slimy trick. You jerk.

MIND: Pedal, pedal, pedal. Watch out. Curb. Bunny hop. Car coming. Pedal. Turn, turn. Pedal faster. Median. Hop. Curb. Hop. Pedal.

BODY: OH … MY … GOD! You’re frikking killing me! Arrgh! You know how long it’s been since I did this? (Gasp!)

MIND: Better keep up. And keep quiet. We’ve not been on a bike in two months and I’m still pissed off about what you did to our brother. Watch out – root!

BODY: Soul? Whaddaya mean? Soul is gonna be fine. Yikes! That root was waaay to big. I hurt my huevos.

MIND: Sorry, I saw it too late. Anyway, last time I saw Soul, he was all aplastado under your fat ass as you cheered on Apolo Ohno. You know how sensitive he is and how he mopes when he's not riding.

BODY: Crap. Seriously? Well you can’t blame it all on me. You’re the one coming up with all the reasons why not to ride – too much work; too cold; too this; too that. Wah.

MIND: Fair enough, I just hope Soul’s gonna be allrigh … Whoa! That’s gonna hurt.

BODY: Easy for you to say, it’s my shoulder hitting the tree.

MIND: Well maybe if you quit whining I could focus. We’re a team, you know.

(A couple of hours later, they pulled up to the house. Soul was waiting on the front steps.)

SOUL: Hey bros, where you’ve been? I was looking all over for you.

MIND: We had something to straighten out between the two of us.

SOUL: Everything OK?

BODY: No biggie, it’s all good.

SOUL: Well next time you go out for a ride, let me know. We’re a team, you know.

MIND: Sure thing, brother. Sure thing.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tandem Riders

I’ve been off the bike for two months. Year-end holidays, weeks out of town for work, bad weather, more work, legal problems, more rain – all conspired to keep my four pairs of wheels static, motionless, gathering dust.

But as I pinch my bikes’ tires to gauge how flat they’ve become, I need to admit to you, I’m not whining or complaining. In fact, it’s quite a wonderful choice not having to get up at 4:20 to go riding; and it’s actually liberating to know that I have that extra time to sleep, dream or simply lay in bed, staring at the ceiling.

Of course I’ll get back on the bike eventually. I miss it. I need it. I’ve been riding since I was eight and I’ll ride till I’m 98. It’s a part of me.

But, in the meantime, while that moment comes when I’ll lift my leg over the saddle, I remind myself that this blog is meant to chronicle our journey during the human ride. And this human ride goes on, whether we’re on a bike or not. Sort of like a road race continues after you’ve crashed into a heap of torn skin and Lycra. It’s not that other racers don’t care; the race simply continues. That’s racing. That’s life.

Yet, one of the things that is possible in life, as in racing, is that we sometimes get lucky enough to have good teammates for support, encouragement and companionship. A few, are family, bound by blood and linked to the past and future like an infinite paceline. Some are our work colleagues, united by a common cause. Others are friends – sharing interests, memories and stories.

But today I want to write about a much closer partner on this ride. More than a co-pilot, she’s a rider on a shared tandem bike, pedaling along with me; climbing, descending, steering, stopping and starting, over and over again.

My partner’s name is Lemée; pronounced Leh-may, her great-grandmother’s French last name. At first glance, she appears to be shy, naïve, bookish; somewhat vulnerable. And all those impressions are true. They are part of who she is, but they are only superficial traits. I would guess that most people who know her, even her close friends, don’t go deeper than what they see. And that’s fine by me; I know better.

I’ve been around for 52 years and seen my share of singular people, interesting characters, beautiful, wonderful, intriguing human beings. But Lemée is original in a way that is hard to explain, because she possesses a trait that is unique to her. And I say it’s hard to explain, not because the concept is complicated, but because it’s so simple, and it’s so pure in its form: Lemée is the most honest person in the world. Yes, she’s also sweet, loving, caring, devoted and uncomplicated, which are wonderful qualities, and, fortunately for many happy couples, these are things that many other humans share. But pure honesty? It’s as rare as sticking a one-man breakaway in a Cat 4 crit.

OK, even rarer.

It’s interesting, because it took me a while to find this secret out. When I first met her I was struck by her clean, simple style, her clarity of purpose, and her no-nonsense approach to life. But her inner strength is not perceptible from the outside.

Yes, it took me quite a while to realize that Lemée does not lie. But when it hit me, it hit me hard. She. Does. Not. Lie. Does not cheat. Does not break the rules. Does not cut corners. Does not find the easy way out. Witnessing how she lives by this unequivocal standard is impressive, inspiring and humbling. I am also ashamed, because I remember once in a distant past vowing to live this way, too.

Lemée’s honesty is sometimes a burden for her; she's had her fair share of run-ins with people at work. As you may imagine at an ad agency, there are those who function with hypocrisy, dishonesty and deviousness. And unethical people run up against a brick wall when they deal with Lemée, who shoots straight and goes by the book – always. And, of course, they hate her for it; not only because they are impeded in their deviance, but because, most likely they are confronted with their own deceit. They are reminded they are wrong and they dislike hearing it so much that they prefer to dislike Lemée instead. She tries to take it in stride, but I know it wears on her.

For me, Lemée's honesty is as precious as the most coveted treasure. She's the real deal. She calls it like it is, lets me know the truth, is always on the level. She makes me feel like a worthy human being, sometimes I'm simply a trusted friend and sometimes I’m a superhero. Before Lemée, I was married for 20 years to a woman who always kept me on my toes, out of balance, making sure I never knew where I stood, I never felt certain, I never felt sure, I never felt right. She wasn’t evil. She wasn’t mean. She wasn’t cruel. It’s just that … she wasn’t honest. And, in a relationship this close, if there’s no honesty, there’s no trust. And, pedal stroke after pedal stroke, if there’s one thing tandem riders need from each other, in the long human ride, it’s trust.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Big Manzana

OK, so I've been so busy with work and out of town that I haven't been riding. Riding my bike. It sucks, but while away, I've done a couple of runs, runs that have actually resulted in p-a-i-n.
I've been runnning here:

Which, coincidentally, is exactly where the next story took place a few days later ...

Joaquin Baca-Asay - Running Man

Today, while shooting a simple scene on the bank of the Hudson river, I witnessed the passionate intensity of Director Joaquín Baca-Asay. We had to shoot a few seconds of a woman walking a dog along the waterfront, answering her Blackberry. Simple. The usual foot, rollerblade and bike traffic was detained for no more than 30 seconds every time we shot a take, so that our actress would be in the clear.
Well, one über-achieving blonde would have none of our TV commercial-filming nonsense. She ran around our traffic-stopping First AD and proceeded to run right into our scene, ruining our take, and continuing on her "very important run."
Joaquin paused for half a second to look at her in amazement, got off the dolly, and, being the spry, agile, 5%-body-fat-terrier that he is, proceeded to bound after her. Yes! Even in a fashionable trench coat, mauve-genta scarf, snowboarder-chic knit cap and Garbo sunglasses, it took him 4.7 seconds to reach the running maven of self-righteousness. Joaquin then delivered an on-the-run lecture about the film industry's contribution to the economy of the City of New York and chastised the intruder for her lack of respect and patience. In spite of her profusion of "Stay the f**k away from me" protests and one final, irrelevant "I'm on call!" pronouncement, our director made his point. Wow, this should put him over the top for a DGA (Director's Guild of America) Award.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

It Ain't That Cold.

The Sunday after Christmas I went out for a ride alone. I had been sick and needed to get some kind of a ride in. I like riding alone, even though group rides are much better training. Riding alone I get a chance to mentally detach, clear my head. I get to stop whenever I want to. Sometimes to talk to people like Pedro, who that day was proudly strutting his two-wheeled awesomeness.

Almost always, I get a wave, nod or shout out from a homeless person. Going over the Elysian viaduct, I can see a park below, usually where a couple of dozen homeless people are camping out. A sad figure, hunched over on a bench, staring at the ground, noticed me up on the bridge, straightened up and gave me a long-distance wave. Here’s a photo of the park, after I went by.

It was a cool day, not terribly uncomfortable. But I could see from a distance, that quite a few members of the Houston Fire Department were going to be uncomfortable.

I never found out what was burning. Maybe one of these tanks. Hope not.

Today was a little different. It was definitely cold. Not cold by Minnesota or Colorado standards, although, believe it or not, it was colder in Houston this morning than in Breckenridge when I took this photo two weeks ago.

I decided to go on the Saturday Ride, which today was a.k.a as the HTFU ride in honor of the low temps we’d be enjoying. Riding in cold weather requires the right gear and a judgment call, since it’s just as easy to over-dress as it is to under-dress. I wore this today:

Dressing in removable layers is essential. Wearing too much clothing that can’t be taken off or opened up to ventilate could make a person sweat, and being wet on a cold day could be disastrous. Also, your toes will always be cold no matter what.

On the ride I was surrounded by quite a few other riders, most of whom I know for different reasons, though mostly just from participating in races or rides like these. All of us were nicely layered in our removable layers of clothing. There were other layers of protection, as well. Riding in a group, there’s shielding from wind, calling out of potholes, ice patches and cars, as well as camaraderie, friendship and human warmth. The group is a nice place to be. Today’s ride was a casual ride, a no-drop ride. That means that if someone can’t keep up with the group, the group will slow down to let that person re-incorporate. I was happy about that, since I got dropped a few times.

Usually there’s a good amount of chatter, and for the most part, I enjoy listening – today especially – since the cold air made my mouth numb and I mumbled like I had tequila in my water bottle. I heard people talking about their bikes, their kids, their husbands or wives. I hear movie reviews, complaints about work, comments about food and fashion. There are a lot of smart alecks on these rides. I struggle to keep up – both riding and smart-alecking.

One of the riders along with us today was Meril Moen. I’ve known Meril for almost thirty years. When I first moved to Los Estados Unidos, my brother and I were roommates with Meril. Thirty years holds a lot of shit going down. And a lot of joy. The things we’ve lived through, good, bad and stupid could fill a book or two and I’m not going to get into that here. Meril and I don’t keep in touch too frequently, but like all good friends, we don’t need to, and we pick up where we left off just as if it had been yesterday. Cycling has helped to reunite us once more.

After the ride was over, we rode home together – we live just a couple of miles from each other. Meril had told me earlier that he was going to try his first road race. He’s in his fifties, like me. I smiled as we went our separate ways, feeling warm and protected, knowing that he’s going to be one of the many riders along the way in that bigger group ride, the human ride.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holi-deads

Am I nuts? ‘Tis the season to celebrate birth, yet I’m choosing to write about … death?

Ugh, that horrible, terrible word. No one likes to think about it. The Grim Reaper, so dark and … well … grim. His huge scythe ready to take you out with one deft slice. Come on, how can he compare to Santa Claus, all merry and jolly and full of HOs.

But you know what? Riding a bike exposes us to a lot of death. Most readily present and obvious for riders to see, are the innocent victims of civilization and our non-human-powered vehicles: road kill. As cyclists, we see a lot of dead animals on our rides. We cringe and turn away from the ghastly image, hold our breath, swerve or bunny hop the ones that have been pushed to the bike lane or shoulder. I am creepily amazed by their degrees of decay and levels of flatness. Dogs, cats, squirrels, possum, skunks, birds, deer, snakes. A sad end to so many lives.

But not all creatures end dead and flat. A few months ago I was on a regular early morning ride with my friends Julia, Holt and Gordon. As we regularly do, we met at 5:20 at the Fiesta on Fulton and Quitman and headed out to the Ship Channel before turning back to downtown and then our respective homes.

On this ride we see our fair share of the dead animal world, no doubt. And riding through the poorer sections of Houston, it’s easy to encounter stray dogs and cats (although it’s a little more difficult to determine if a cat is a stray or not.) The typical stray dog encounter is also – as in that movie American Flyers – an opportunity to practice our sprint, as most strays are happy to oblige us with fierce chases.

But this one morning as we had to slow down to cross some railroad tracks, I heard a cry of what I could only describe as a combination of pity, delight, amazement and shock, as Julia spotted a small dog running at her from a field. She immediately stopped to assess the dog’s condition. Its lean body was probably due to malnutrition more than breed, though it appeared to be some sort of genetic collabo project between greyhound-whippet-jackrusselly dogs, pitbull-pointer-terrier dogs and maybe a little Chihuahua mixed in for good measure, kinda like when you thrown in a pinch of pepper in the soup, but you don’t know why. The dog was in bad shape. Shaking, with a rash on its belly, and, like I said, starving. But it had a sweet disposition, and a most crucial, life-saving skill – it had tractor-beamed itself into Julia’s soul (or maybe performed a canine version of the Jedi mind trick, who knows).

At this point in the ride, we were farthest from our start. And the ride had now officially stopped – at least as far as Julia and the puppy were concerned. The next issue on the agenda was how to transport the dog back to safety. We took a plastic bag (so hard to find, by the way) and wrapped the dog so that Julia could carry it as she rode. Yes, an admirable feat which soon proved to be unsustainable for any distance longer than 20-30 pedal strokes, even for a former bike messenger. So, after a few starts and stops we ended up at the corner of Wayside and 75th, at a small Mexican restaurant, not yet open, since it was not even 6 AM.

Julia couldn’t call her hubby Chris, because Chris had lost his phone, so she called and woke up our teammate Andrew Leach, who dutifully showed up 20 minutes later with his pick-up truck to rescue Julia, her bike, and the newly named “Flaca.” Gordon, Holt and I finished our ride, a little later than usual, but somehow faster and lighter than when we began.

At this point I’m going to give the two readers of this already-too-long story a break by fast-forwarding two days to a happily-adopted-via-Craigslist puppy who is now enjoying a pleasant life of non-flatitude somewhere in a warm home full of love.

Yes, Happy Holidays, there’s death all around us. And if we take notice of death, then we also take notice of life. And with just a little effort, people like Julia can make life happen.

Here is another version of the same story:

The Starfish Story

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."

"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "It made a difference for that one."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

How much that bike weigh?

So this morning I'm on my customary Ship Channel ride. It's a crisp morning. 45 degrees. I'm stopped at Telephone Road and I-45, waiting for the light to change. There's no one else around, except for one of those guys who cleans windshields with a squeegee, expecting a buck in return. From the median where he's standing, he yells at me, "How much that bike weigh?" I'm riding my fixed gear Swobo Del Norte, which even for fixies, is a boat anchor. Taking him seriously, I answer, "It's not very light." He's a good 20 feet away, the freeway's roaring above us. He erroneously repeats, "It's not very heavy, huh?" At that moment I realize that he's not really interested in the weight of my chromoly steel bike. I could have said 45 pounds, or 15 pounds, or five. It wouldn't have made a difference to him. All he wanted was to make a connection with someone. There, on the median, standing in the cold, he couldn't clean my windshield or, really, do anything for me. Except just ask a question that was more than anything, a human being reaching out to another for a little warmth. A black man asking a white man about his bike, just because it's a subject matter that was available and obvious. Once I got that; once I understood his sincerity, I asked him, "How you doing? Keeping warm?" He said, "Yeah, doing the best I can." The light turned green. "Same here," I said as I rolled off.

I rode the rest of my route with an extra layer of warmth that inspired me to start this blog. I thought to myself, this is part of cycling that car drivers never experience. There's something about being on a bike that puts you on a closer connection to the street or the road. A bike is a unique mode of transportation, in that it is part of two worlds: the motorized world and the pedestrian world. In the motorized world, the king is the semi, the eighteen-wheeler. His court, in descending order, is composed by cargo trucks, dump trucks and cement mixers, mail vans, pick-up trucks, Station wagons, cars, motorcycles, scooters, and finally, the court jesters – bikes. In the pedestrian world, bikes are king. You can walk. You can run. Or you can ride. When I'm in a car, I never talk to people outside the car. I'm totally isolated from them. On my bike, I talk to cops, firemen, construction workers, runners, people waiting for the bus, kids playing, homeless people, dogs chasing me, the old Asian woman tending to her flowers, the "paletero" guy with his popsicle trike. For me, it's a totally different world. Same streets, different dimension.

Lest you think that this blog is going to be warm, fuzzy, feel-good and inspirational, I assure you it's not. Because we're human, whether we walk, ride or drive. Whether we're black, white, rich or homeless. As I was getting home, riding down Gray Street, by the Greyhound station, I heard a guy call out, "Hey, hold up, man." Another street level reach-out to connect, human-to-human? Or just a bum wanting a handout? I made up my mind way too quickly. "Hell, no," I thought. I didn't even turn to look at him, I just pedaled a little faster. In seconds, a range of emotions went through me like an electric shock: fear, contempt, skepticism, annoyance, relief and guilt. Just 30 minutes earlier I had established a connection with a total stranger, and now I was ignoring another. Crap! I just shunned, dismissed and blew off someone who was calling me. I'm not as good a person as I thought I was. Or maybe I was just reacting as I know how to, reacting to take care of myself, protecting myself from the harsh life of the streets. Maybe sometimes I'm a nice person. Maybe sometimes I'm an ass. Sometimes connecting, sometimes rejecting. Human.

The Human Ride

Welcome to The Human Ride.
Because we're all in this together,
this blog is an ongoing chronicle of what it means to be human,
with a focus on what it means to be human ... cyclists.
The good. The bad. The ugly.
The joy of a ride on a lonely country road.
The pain of a cyclocross race.
The rage that comes from dealing with aggressive drivers.
The appreciation of a fine piece of cycling artistry.
And anything else that comes as a result of loving bikes
and living.