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Saturday, March 23, 2019

To The C.O.G. 100, One Gear Or Another

The C.O.G. 100 Iowa Gravel Single Speed Championship.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Keeping It Real. It still does. But like snow shifted by the prairie wind, my level of preparation for a hilly, 110+ mile single speed gravel race in March looks much different than just a few weeks ago.

Over the first five weekends of this year, I managed to get out for four solid training rides on challenging gravel: a hard 30 miler and then three increasingly difficult 50 milers. All on a single speed gear higher than I planned to take to Iowa. All while I continued to ride to work every day and run three times a week. With seven weekends to ride before the C.O.G. 100, things were looking good, Billie Ray.

Then second winter struck.

February is great for winter sports around the Black Hills, which normally includes some gravel riding out on the surrounding prairie. However, the combination of heavy snowfall and consistently cold temperatures conspired to keep much of the local gravel roads packed with snow and ice. One weekend passed, then another, and another. March started no better, then yet another blizzard hit last week, refilling those treacherous back roads.

Oh, boy. I planned to get in a few 70-80 mile training rides by now, preferably with a number of steeper pitches and softer roads. That didn't happen. Commuting, running, and cross training by shoveling only goes so far. Training time is running out. Now what?

My thoughts drift back to my long time cycling bud Dan Cook, with whom I shared many memorable endurance rides and races going back to the 1990's. Chronically undertrained but mentally tough, Dan repeatedly elevated his race day performance far beyond any reasonable expectation. When I'd whine about my perceived lack of training, he'd say, "Now, you're riding like me. I'm trained to race without training. Let's go. The race is your training."

With the C.O.G. 100 just a week away, I'll go with what I have and give it all at the race.
Thanks, Dan.

Dan Cook and Craig Groseth at the start of the 1999 Boulder Peak Triathlon.
Insufficient training didn't stop us from having fun finishing our first and only Olympic distance triathlon.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Here Comes The Sun

Go find it.
It's out there.
The promise of Spring.

It's in the breeze that fails to generate a negative wind chill.
It's in the glowing hint of a sunrise on a bike ride to work.

It's in the patch of gravel peeking from a crusted bed of ice.
It's in the prairie grass poking through a snow drift in the ditch.

It's in the ragged, shedding coat of a majestic American bison.
It's in the plaintive bark of a prairie dog seeking cover in a snowy field.
It's in the joyous chirp of a Western Meadowlark perched on a wooden fence post.

It's in the pounce of a puppy at a park astonished with the big world outside.
It's in the anticipation of a family cruising the bike path for the opening of Armadillo's.

It's in the knowing smile of a cyclist pushing a too-tall gear just to feel a little speed again.
It's in the giddiness of a gravel grinder busting out to explore a maybe-rideable remote road.

The promise of Spring.
It's out there.
Go find it.

For a little musical mojo, here's the unofficial anthem of Spring for the past 50 years:  Here Comes The Sun, by singer/song writer George Harrison (Beatles, Abbey Road, 1969). This song just sounds like a Spring sunrise.

Here Comes The Sun (lyrics)
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
And I say it's all right
Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it's all right
Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it's all right
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been clear
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
And I say it's all right
It's all right

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Black Hills Gravel Series - Season 3!

A treasure trove. Right here in my backyard.

The Black Hills Gravel Series returns on April 6, April 13, April 27 and May 4. Mark your calendars.

If you live around the Black Hills and fail to ride these, you are missing something special. If you live outside the Black Hills and fail to drive out for at least one of these, you are missing something special. This is grass roots gravel at its finest.

Director Lucas Haan welcomes folks gathering at the start of the Hill City edition of the 2018 Black Hills Gravel Series.
On that day, over 100 cyclists of all abilities and ambitions enjoyed exploring the surrounding gravel and dirt roads.

Lucas Haan, our local Pied Piper of Cycling, recently announced the BH Gravel Series schedule on the FaceBook group page for the Black Hills Drop Bar, Dirt and Cyclocross Riders. 2019 Black Hills Gravel Series. Similar to last year, the BH Gravel Series features a gathering on four separate Saturdays, each offering a Starter (10 mile), Social (25 mile) and Scenic (50+ mile) route. Lucas hand crafts each of the unique, creative routes through picturesque back country, provides cue sheets for self-navigating the unmarked roads and offers the enriching experience of riding self-supported. All of this free of entry fees, elitism and pomposity. Just ride. 

To join the fun, one merely shows up at the start/finish restaurant, signs a waiver, receives a set of cue sheets, and rides a remote, rough road ride in the amazing Black Hills of South Dakota. If you choose, hang out afterward for lunch with old and new friends. Lucas generally posts updated information on the FaceBook group page noted above, but if you sign up in advance, he will send you timely e-mails. Lucas does all the work. You just ride.

Lucas Haan out on the course checking on riders at the 2018 Black Hills Gravel Series.
These rides truly have something for everyone. In a stroke of egalitarian genius, Lucas added the Starter (10 mile) option last year, which attracted many folks not typically present at local cycling events and totaled about 15% of all riders. At the Hill City event, I met one mom who brought her middle school aged son and three of his friends, all finishing with big smiles and high fives. Another gravel newcomer spoke of his concern of venturing on these backroads with nothing more than cue sheets, but completed the ride without issue, other than wishing it were longer. Yet another gushed that it was more satisfying than riding to Armadillo's for ice cream.

The Social (25 mile) route drew about 50% of the riders and was perhaps the most diverse group of all. I can't help but think that a tempting attraction for many was a sweet 2-3 hour ride starting at a relaxed 9:30 am and finishing with lunch at a microbrewery. Those folks certainly had a good time.

The remaining 35% rode the Scenic (50+ mile) route, including some local fast guys like Quarq founder Jim Meyer and Mother Lode course record holder Harley Hansen. Regardless of relative speed, most were simply building base for longer events later in the season or just out having their version of fun. These routes had everything, including fresh gravel, fast gravel, gravel sprinkles, packed dirt, rocky two track and barely two track, with water crossings, spurs up to lookout towers, abandoned mines, beaver dams and even a 4 foot Pink Panther waving an American flag at passing cyclists. 

In any event, the popularity and growth of these rides has not been fueled by local racers chasing prizes or enthusiasts chasing the latest trends. And it certainly is not fueled by big productions starts, finishes, celebrities or awards, since there are none of the above. The Black Hills Gravel Series is a simple spring challenge to ride some unique back roads with like-minded folks in a low-key, social environment. 

Don't miss out. Don't let a friend miss out.

And thank Lucas Haan for his continued service to our community!

For a dash more motivation, here are links to reports from the 2018 BH Gravel Series and the 2017 BH Gravel Series, as well as a small gallery of photographs I captured on some of those courses.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Note to Self - Do Not Widen Home Plate

With Major League Baseball spring training in full swing and organized baseball of all levels preparing for another season, I found this article timely and thought provoking. The called third strike: hold yourself accountable to the highest standard, that which you know is right. Then, we can hold each other accountable and make our world better.

This message all from a simple question about the width of home plate in baseball.

Disclaimer:  I did not write this. This is a copy of an article a friend shared with me. If you are a parent, grandparent, teacher or coach, or aspire to be, this message is worth considering.

John Scolinos
In Nashville, Tennessee, during the first week of January, 1996, more than 4,000 baseball coaches descended upon the Opryland Hotel for the 52nd annual ABCA convention. While I waited in line to register with the hotel staff, I heard other more veteran coaches rumbling about the lineup of speakers scheduled to present during the weekend. One name, in particular, kept resurfacing, always with the same sentiment — “John Scolinos is here? Oh man, worth every penny of my airfare.”
Who the heck is college coaching career that began in 1948. No matter, I was just happy to be there.
He shuffled to the stage to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate hung — a full-sized, stark-white home plate. Pointed side down.
Seriously, I wondered, who in the hell is this guy?
After speaking for twenty-five minutes, not once mentioning the prop hanging around his neck, Coach Scolinos appeared to notice the snickering among some of the coaches. Even those who knew Coach Scolinos had to wonder exactly where he was going with this, or if he had simply forgotten about home plate since he’d gotten on stage.
Then, finally …
“You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck. Or maybe you think I escaped from Camarillo State Hospital,” he said, his voice growing irascible. I laughed along with the others, acknowledging the possibility.
“No,” he continued, “I may be old, but I’m not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.”
Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the room. “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?” After a pause, someone offered, “Seventeen inches,” more question than answer.
“That’s right,” he said. “How about in Babe Ruth? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?”
Another long pause.
“Seventeen inches?”came a guess from another reluctant coach.
“That’s right,” said Scolinos. “Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?” Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear. “How wide is home plate in high school baseball?”
“Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident.
“You’re right!” Scolinos barked. “And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?”
“Seventeen inches!” we said, in unison.
“Any Minor League coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball?”
“Seventeen inches!”
RIGHT! And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major Leagues?”
“Seventeen inches!”
SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls.
“And what do they do with a a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over these seventeen inches?” Pause. “They send him to Pocatello!” he hollered, drawing raucous laughter.
“What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Bobby. You can’t hit a seventeen-inch target? We’ll make it eighteen inches, or nineteen inches. We’ll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of throwing the ball over it. If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.’”
“Coaches …”
” … what do we do when our best player shows up late to practice? What do we do if he violates curfew? What if he uses drugs? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him? Do we widen home plate?
The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold.

Then he turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something. When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows. “This is the problem in our homes today. With our marriages, with the way we parent our kids. With our discipline. We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards. We widen the plate!”
Pause. Then, to the point at the top of the house he added a small American flag.
“This is the problem in our schools today. The quality of our education is going downhill fast and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful….to educate and discipline our young people. We are allowing others to widen home plate! Where is that getting us?”
“And this is the problem in the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity swept under the rug for years. Our church leaders are widening home plate!”
I was amazed. At a baseball convention where I expected to learn something about curveballs and bunting and how to run better practices, I had learned something far more valuable. From an old man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my responsibilities as a leader. I had to hold myself and others accountable to that which I knew to be right, lest our families, our faith, and our society continue down an undesirable path.
“If I am lucky,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “you will remember one thing from this old coach today. It is this: if we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools and churches and our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to …”
With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside.
“… dark days ahead.”
Coach Scolinos died in 2009 at the age of 91, but not before touching the lives of hundreds of players and coaches, including mine. Meeting him at my first ABCA convention kept me returning year after year, looking for similar wisdom and inspiration from other coaches. He is the best clinic speaker the ABCA has ever known because he was so much more than a baseball coach.
His message was clear: “Coaches, keep your players — no matter how good they are — your own children, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches."
(Copied post).