Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Like a Virgin

Eucalyptus trees are gorgeous, tall, lean, and extremely colorful. The picture above (taken with my cell phone camera) doesn't even begin to capture the majesty of these forests. I don't know how they grow on their own, naturally, because I have only seen man-made eucalyptus forests. On the East-side of the Big Island of Hawaii, along the Hamakua Coast they grow likes weeds on Miracle Grow, spaced about six feet apart and stretching nearly 100 feet towards the open arms of the baby-blue sky. 

To an observant eye, it's easy to get a sense if something is natural or not. These forests look deliberately hand-crafted. A little Google digging reveals that a company called Tradewinds Forest Products planted the trees all over the eastern side of the island, over 14,000 acres. This part of the island is already lush and tropical, exotic plants cover the rolling hills where the tall, lime-green grass doesn't. All of this, of course, looks out over the South Pacific. Paradise, truly. Every hill-top has a breathtaking view.

These forests, scattered along the hills of Hawaii are perfect for mountain biking. And I do mean perfect. I would just stand in the midst of them and imagine a tight single-track running through it. Heaven. The Big Island is world famous for cycling, THE Ironman is held here, so all manner of cycling, running and swimming athletes come here to train. I thought for sure that at the epicenter of such athletic cycling interest that there would be a rich mountain biking scene. Especially considering the seemingly endless areas to ride.

I found a local bike shop, Bike Works (a sponsor of the Ironman) and talked to the manager about the mountain bike scene on the Big Island, hoping I could hook up with a few locals, rent a bike and go hit the eucalyptus forest. I was shocked and disappointed to find out that no one mountain bikes here. No one! He referred to mountain biking here as "poaching", because nearly all the land here is private.

Too bad. If someone were to press the interests of mountain biking here I think that it might just be the best in the world. Oh well, for now it remains completely untouched and pure, like a paradisaical virgin.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Picture Marks the Occasion

My dad came of age in the 1950’s. Sure there were cameras then but they were simple black boxes with salad plate flashes. Images taken were burned onto a section of film. Once a couple dozen shots were taken the roll of film was removed from the black box and taken to the local drug store. They processed the film and turned each shot into a slide. That slide, about one inch square, could only be viewed using a slide projector. The whole process could take weeks, never knowing if any of the pictures were even worth a damn until they were all loaded up in a projector. Queue up 50 plus slides, turn off the lights and force people to sit through slide after slide of the summer road trip from Utah to Arizona. Hm, half of them are out of focus!? Crap!

It was better than picture taking from the turn of the century, when it took an hour just to set the camera up and I think the flash was gunpowder (?). My point is, before the digital age, taking a picture was usually an event in and of itself and so was reserved for marking important occasions, transitions or documenting the unusual. Dad grew up at the tail end of that mindset. He certainly took countless pictures in his lifetime and we have the slides to show it, many of them are actually in-focus. But for all the things he did and places he went and occasions that certainly warranted the documentation of a photograph there is a conspicuous lack of them. 

Cycling was one of those things. He logged over 50 years of serious riding and thousands upon thousands of miles and yet I did not have a single picture of him and a bike. Not one. Until now! Once again, my brother Ken comes through. I don’t know where he got this from or who took it but here he is in Colorado with the TREK carbon fiber bike (the one he later traded in for the 3-wheeled recumbent). 

Notice the snow in the background (I’ve read in cycling magazines that some people actually put their bikes away for the winter). He was 70 in the picture, already had his stomach removed, nearly blind from macular degeneration, and diagnosed with cancer, again. He most likely did 50 miles that day. How? Hell if I know. Tough son-of-a-bitch. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Oatmeal with Mixed Berries

The word I cannot spell. The word is in no dictionary. The word does not exist. The word is a sound. The sound is clear. The sound resonating in my left ear, still. FMMNFT! Or maybe TMKTF! Or possibly WPTKF! 

There is no word or combination of letters or enough exclamation points to phoneticize the sound. The sound of my left shoulder impacting a tree cannot be enunciated. The word I blurted when I glanced the tree at 10 mph can be spelled. The type of tree can be spelled. All the elements of this bike experience can be spelled, easily. Not the sound. 

I smiled the instant after I blurted. Ok, more of a sneer. The kind of split-second half-smile  you might catch Clint Eastwood pull, just after he's been shot but not killed. Well now he's just mad and people better scatter. Right, I know I'm no Eastwood. But the goddamn tree did NOT knock me off my bike. I spit, I cussed, I pedaled, I did NOT stop, I did NOT slow down.

It's in the agreement with Paradise. I break her and she breaks me. Fair, simple, and clear. 

So, why do I have a picture of a bowl of oatmeal with mixed berries? Because that is exactly what my shoulder looks like: pasty white skin with the lumpy texture and color of oatmeal, add to that a fresh bruise that's purple, red, and swollen from the trauma. 

It's either that or I post a picture of my shoulder and no one needs to see that. That was abundantly clear when my wife caught a glimpse of it tonight and just shook her head, and I just smiled. No sneer, smile. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bike of My Father

My dad was a man of many diverse interests, some of which he still receives recognition for postmortem. The Sculpture in the Park show this year was dedicated to him and the High Plains Art Council wrote a wonderful piece about his skill and long history with the largest sculpture show in the US.

Riding a bike, however, was something very different for him. He was into cycling like a fish is into swimming. It was just simply something he did, no clubs, no newspaper articles, and no matter what. I remember him riding his bike to and from work (6 mile round-trip) year round, in Colorado! He has owned countless bikes over his multiple decades of riding. 

I would get his old bikes after he rode them into the ground. I would then disassemble, paint , and rebuild them to make my own road bike. However, since moving to Washington 20 years ago I no longer got his old bikes. 

Well, a few days ago I received the last bike he ever rode, a Specialized Allez Elite. 

Technically not the last bike he owned. A few years back he retired the SAE and dropped some serious cash on an all carbon-fiber bike, which he rode despite being almost completely blind from macular degeneration and his body riddled with cancer. How he managed that, I'm still not sure. There came a time when even his strong-will could not keep him balanced on the bike. He reluctantly traded it in on a three-wheeled recumbent, which he rode nearly to his last day. 

This bike, the SAE, now standing proudly in my garage, represents the return to the old system: he rides, gives to me, and I rebuild into something of my own. That's what he wanted, that's why he gave it to me. The problem is that my sentimentality (which I have very little of) has bubbled to the surface, much to my surprise. I am contemplating the notion of hanging it in my garage next to my coffee roasting station and above two other cycling tokens that he left me: his ever-worn red Specialized cap and his Scottish Royal Coat of Arms inspired cycling jersey.

I wore the jersey for five rides (for his five sons) and then retired it forever. I can't bring myself to wear the hat, not sure why. But now that I have his bike I'm not sure I can ride it either; let alone dismantle, repaint and rebuild.

For now I think I will let it rest, peacefully.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What is Breaking Paradise?

This is a mountain bike blog, sort of. 

I am documenting my journey back into a pastime that sat dormant for too long. Hopefully it will be entertaining and informative. What I write here is intended for my benefit but if my friends, family, and others get something positive from reading this blog then great, if not then that's okay too.

Breaking Paradise is a title I came up with that fits what I'm trying to do here. Paradise refers to  Paradise Valley Conservation Area, a mountain bike ride that I try to do once a week. It is difficult, punishing, and awesome. Breaking refers to the process commonly used to tame and train a wild animal. This journey is about me conquering Paradise Valley (and mountain biking in general) in such a way that it changes who I am at my core. 

In a way Paradise (mountain biking) will be breaking me.