Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Most Glorious Failure

The Most Glorious Failure Ever

(some graphic pictures)

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Bike decal with an old New England flag

Velominati tell tales of a “wry smile” that appears at the opportunity to ride in inclement weather. The weather forecast for the Rapha Festive 500, was rain, thunderstorms, rain, fog, clouds and “partly sunny” (which means mostly rainy). This would be my third consecutive Festive 500, having completed the 2013 and 2014 editions, and I fully intended to complete the challenge this year on my new steel fixie (48/16).

Day 1: The weather was ugly: unseasonably warm, but pouring rain. Knowing 18º C would not qualify me for any “Against All Odds” awards, even for day-after-day riding in the rain, I simply I looked up to Lord Merckx stilling atop Mount Velomis and tried to mirror his smile as I embarked on the first 100K of the challenge. I rode 40K with a small group of hardmen who like to work, another 30K with a man legally permitted to have legs hairier than a gorilla, and a final 30K solono food since 1930 the night prior. The rain precluded my willingness to photo-journal the ride, so the only photo I have to show for my efforts in the PVC tubing shoe dryer constructed that afternoon.

2015-12-25 05.41.06.jpgDay 2 (Christmas morning): Christmas rides are quiet rides and among my favorite of the year. I donned my gay apparel (an ugly Christmas sweater jersey and a Santa cap) and headed out for 70K of solitude. The roads were quiet and clear. As I pulled out my phone to take some moving pictures it occurred to me, “Don’t be a moron.” So I put the phone away until I could set up a quality picture of my bike with a Christmas-theme -- the Greek Church would do.

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I was now 170K into my Festive 500 attempt, and feeling quite good about the likelihood of completion.

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Maryland's capital, Christmas morning
With five children, Christmas mornings are robust and busy, completely unlike Christmas morning rides. My children tore through presents and before I knew it … there was quiet. I snuck into the garage to clean off my bike, which apparently had a slow leak in the rear tire to which I needed to attend. After removing the wheel from the bike and the tire from the wheel, and hearing nothing demanding my attention in the house, I decided to de-grease the bike while I had it apart. After putting the wheel back on, I cleaned off the chain, then oiled it. Until this moment, I was completely unaware of how dangerous a moving fixed-gear bicycle chain and gear could be. In an instant, my rag got caught in the gear, and my thumb in the rag … not a moment later, both the rag and the thumb passed between 16 teeth and an 8 speed chain. The rag remained intact.
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Hospital shot

Thinking I simply hurt myself, in the spirit of The Christmas Story, I yelled “Fuuuuddddddge." My wife heard the scream but it didn’t phase her (that’s a subtle suggestion that perhaps I yell “Fudge” far too often when alone in the garage). I strolled to the front of the garage to assess the damage only to learn then I shaved some weight -- less than a gram -- from my hand.

I came into the house and barked, “HOSPITAL, NOW!” Ordinarily, we consult neighbors, "Would you go to the hospital for this?" This time, there was no question. I had lopped off the tip of my thumb.

The hospital was jovial, staffed and otherwise pretty empty. This was the longest period my wife and I had together in quite some time, four hours from the time we left our house until we returned. She remarked in the ER, from now on we'll be able to say, "Remember that Christmas we spent in the hospital?"

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Banana for scale
Once we returned home, I fished the tip of my thumb out of the bike and staged a photography session with the lost part of me:
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2015-12-29 08.22.41.jpgDay 3: The Day After. It was now 0930 and I couldn’t sit still. “Would this be a failed Festive 500 year?” 

I recalled there was a “greatest excuse” prize and thought I might qualify. Although the prize was a "mystery gift," I figured I wouldn't qualify for a roundel unless I finished. It was then I decided, if I was going to win the "greatest excuse," it would be only be after passing out on the bike for riding without a full left hand.

'13 and '14 Festive 500 patches
on team wool jersey
Perhaps some context is now in order. Is a woven badge really worth all that? Of course not. But for the past two years I've looked forward to Festive 500 from completion of the one prior. This is the “event” I planned for each cycling season since 2013. I can’t explain the joy or fun … maybe it is the physical woven roundel that looks great on my winter wool jersey … but completing this feat is what gets me going in October, November and December. If not for Festive 500, I'd have to do cyclocross.

So each day since Thanksgiving, rain or shine, cold or wet, I got up at 0500 to ride about 40K. On December 26th, I sat in my house with pent-up energy looking for release. 

After some hemming and hawing with myself, I took a short ride (boring circles around my neighborhood, with an escort) to ensure my braking hand worked and that I wouldn’t pass out. After determining I could adequately stop my bike with 2 legs and 7/8s of a thumb, I ventured out for 40K more. I was back on pace … I rode less than planned for December 26, but Festive 500 was again within my reach.

Photo taken during 2014 Festive 500
Days 4-7 provided no particularly fantastic stories. I road each day, some days further than others. On the 7th day, I took some PRs on a 100K which would clinch my quest to complete 500K in 8 days. 

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On December 28th, the doctor issued his final diagnosis ("Yup, that thumb been lopped off") with a treatment plan including, "Try not to get angry when people call you a dumb ass." My friends mocked me for gross ineptitude in bicycle maintenance. One even reached out to my family to suggest I be committed.

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But at the end of the week, I completed the the 2015 Festive 500 in 7/8ths of the time, and with 7/8ths of a thumb.

Dear Rapha Judges: If this Christmas Story isn't enough, please note, I wear Medium and love wool.

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