Rapha party on Charlie Cunningham’s 66th birthday

•November 10, 2014 • 4 Comments

CC baby braceletChris DiStefano told me last week that their company  (Rapha) was welcoming a new manager at the San Francisco club/coffeehouse. The manager’s name is…Charlie Cunningham. A very familiar, friendly name.  Not Charles. Charlie. Charlie Cleverbacon.

When DiStefano told me the date–August 23rd–I chirped: that’s  MY Charlie’s birthday! Maybe he can have the 1948 era baby bracelet that Carol Cunningham lovingly saved all those years (i’d have kept it but we have a bit of a clutter issue here at Taj Mahovel).

Naturally i had to come welcome the  2.0 version of Charlie Cunningham and rode blithely into the teeth of the most densely packed Sausalito/Golden Gate Bridge tourist scrum i’d ever experienced. “This is good for me” I told myself, carefully steering around the towers needed to avoid another scrum of backward-walking, camera clicking tourists. I knew nobody in Fairfax that would actually ride 23 miles to a a posh pedalhead party, just for the food. I figured I might catch a ride back if there WERE a Marinite that’s in the Rapha inner circle.

Pulled into the Union street store, with its fantastic sawed-in-half Citroen delivery truck which now operates as a parklet.  The first person to greet me in the door was Jen Nordhem, a minx that worked miracles to quash my exuberance during the 2 monthlong 42-below commercial we were both part of….An unhappy child, she orchestrated all of the  (very few) miserable days  on that memorable tour. Weighing in at about a hundred pounds, she throws about three hundred pounds of unpleasant psychic baggage around. Drunk and disorderly was how she presented herself throughout the tour, especially at the boozy ‘parties’ hosted by the sponsor, Bacardi (they were just pretending to be the ‘cool’ folks that dreamed up 42 Below). Fights, broken phones, scary stuff for this Old Bat, who somehow missed all the dangerous parties in high school and college.

She wondered why I refused to give her a hug at the door of the Rapha shop.

“Did you forget the night you wouldn’t let me into my own bed cause you’d invited  your boyfriend over?” I reminded her.
“I prefer to remember the good things”.

I don’t know if this deserves more explanation… ok it does… to save on hotel bills, the 42 below people put two women in each bed, four women per room. In our quartet, Jen was the petulant ruler, dictating to me the terms of  our shared quarters–i.e. whether it was acceptable to walk  about the room naked (it wasn’t).

So anyway, on a 3o degree night in Austin Nevada, I stood around out of doors for a few hours, not wanting to wake anyone up in the hotel because Jen had pushed me out of the room.
Only a couple weeks earlier, I orchestrated a little favor. I’d advocated for her to take a day off from the ride, got a driver for us, and accompanied her to her  very first road race in Champaign Illinois. Coached her, lent her some kit, I forget what, and cheered for her as she rode around getting dropped, but at least  she experienced a real criterium. I remember my Very First Race, and how Darryl Skrabak ‘orchestrated’ it for me.
You see, a true bike novice needs some sort of Old Hand to sheperd them thru the registration, the bike check and even the petty stuff like Where To Put Your Non Racing Clothes.

In Belgium, mom and dad do it for the (male) rider. Here, it’s catch as catch can, since many parents don’t understand a kids wish to race a …bicycle?!

Yah, it’s hard to forget an evening of hypothermia , but I do sort of remember working hard to help her race.
If I had my cold night out BEFORE the race weekend, you can be sure I’d have let her figure out how to do the race, get there, etc. on her own.
From Nevada on, I just kept clear of her royal awfulness.

Anyway, the party was a blast, Jen pretended she didn’t hear what I told her, and I rode home (got in 40 miles, easy) in the beautiful summer night, to my beloved Charlie 1.o.


Just discovered that “Lurksmarvelous” (i think it’s Corey’s non-de-plume) has a LOT of that 42 Below adventure uploaded to You tube.

I just spent an hour catching up on other moments of the 2 month ride I’d forgotten about.




Davis hosts a party for the pedalocracy

•November 9, 2014 • 2 Comments

helmet hairAutumn in Davis is always colorful, exuberant, and bicycle-intense. Thousands of new students on campus figuring out how to get around the campus on two wheels (not all are adept, but most become graceful members of the gliding parade in the downtown streets.

For me, it’s an annual visit to the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame that re-establishes my ties to the #1 bicycle city in the country. Six years ago, I took a train, but this time I pedaled to the bus, and met up with Peter Rich, father of West Coast road racing in the modern area.

As I write this, I’m listening to my hero Dervla Murphy in a 2 hr program (interspersed with music and news from Radio Scotland). She’s the writer/cycler whose books continue to blow my mind upon re-reading….I visited her 3 years ago (blog is somewhere around here). She has just uttered a central truth: that the consumer culture and modern lifestyle is killing the planet and not slowly.

But I was going to just surprise my 300 readers (or is it 30?) with a note about hanging out with mountaineer and fat tire champion Sara Ballantyne and three time Olympian cyclist Inga Thompson. This year, the Hall puts two women in–a first. I’ve dreamed of, and demanded, an all-women induction year. Please let this still be possible, eh?

I met Sara in Crested Butte–when I was the unbeaten champ–and when I couldn’t keep up with her on a long ride out in the aspens, I suggested she race me later that summer and be the first to beat me. She was busy that weekend, but certainly rolled into mountain biking with successes piling up for the next 12 years.

Inga I met before I became a mountain biker—when I was a hopeful roadie, and she was a really raw, gifted college runner in 1984, the first Olympic year that permitted women to ride astride bicycles (before that, we had some track and field, gymnastics and synchronized swimming). I was not quite the future Olympian I’d dreamed I’d be, but about ten years after a pretty fun romp in mountain biking, I undertook a stage race in Idaho and got to really know Inga, and visited her at her horse ranch in Halfway, Oregon.

Both of them look as fit as ever, though Inga claims she’s not been on a bike in 20 years.  Before the ceremony we three rode with a pack of locals to the nearest town, Winters, 13 miles away.  It was windy, and one little pack surge shelled me,   while up ahead Sara herded Inga into the dirt along the walnut orchards.
“She converted me into a mountain biker!” said Inga, as she gave her brief, touching tribute to a high school running coach who taught her about maintaining a joyful attitude in the middle of arduous competition.

Sara spoke of her gratitude to always have been in the right place at the right time–the ground floor of the fat tire boom, for example, and also shared stories about her bagging the Eiger with husband Chris Haaland while at a race in the Crans Montana, Switzerland.

I schmoozed with Brooks, Inga’s big brother, and Lee, her little brother (separated by at least 14 years) and was flabbergasted at how supportive her family is…Their mother was also on hand, a gracious woman in pearls, happily witnessing her kid up there in one of mom’s sequined gowns from the 1960s. Very cool.


great shot

I look up to Downieville!

•June 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

beginning down trailDownieville’s a big kid now–truly a Dusty Nation Bicycle Resort. It reminded me of mid-80’s Crested Butte, which hadn’t yet drunk the Koolaid of large-scale tourist hotel development.

In about 1992, Charlie and I rode up the big long trail,–by the name of  Lavezzola Creek trail –back when there were precisely fifty people who’d even put bicycle knobs on those trails.  Took us two and a half hours. Now it’s a 45 minute, 20 dollar bus ride, thanks to years of local and regional collaborations which resulted in  Yuba Expeditions, the celebrated not-for-profit bike shop/outfitters.

More than two decades later, fate plopped me smack dab in the middle of a women’s mountain bike camp earlier this month.  I was a guest professor at Shine Riders women’s downhill camp.  Considering that Lindsay had ruptured her spleen ( she’d been thinking about the six million details of the upcoming weekend, while riding the rocks around her property around Folsom), it’s a miracle  the camp went live, complete with the usual high-caliber clientele (every woman of the four had advanced degrees. One in law, one in vet medicine, one in genomics, and one in public accounting–i was the odd woman out with a piffling “Bachelorette” in French).

Needless to say, conversations ranged across topics from global health and the environment to the relative merits of flat pedals vs. ‘entrapment’ lock-in pedals.
When you put seven women across the age and ability and acumen spectrum, great things happen in the interstitial hours that follow the 3 or 4 hour downhill rip. This camp did not disappoint. Even the meals–beautifully crafted by Tristan of Fox tech and his aid-de-camp “the silent partner”.

The menu included  healthy dishes like  chickpea quinoa salad that was heavenly, farro,  staggeringly delicious custom-charcuterie sausage with nettle greens by El Salchichero’s founder and bicycle R&D tester Chris LaVeque. It would have been tough to top that opening culinary gambit, but the following morning’s bacon again wowed this mostly omnivorous tribe of eager riders. I found myself cramming six pieces into a sandwich to stave off my usual noon  mid-ride hunger pangs. No sense in getting “HANGRY” just cause my worthless sports bar ran out of calories.
For me, real food’s the only way to go, and i teach it in my Instant Finesse classes. Why ingest faux food unless forced to by Poor Planning or Inability to get to Santa Cruz farmers market for El Salchichero products?
Does this sound like a blatant product placement? I sure hope so. I brought home seven cooked pieces of said bacon which I’m using up in increasingly tiny amounts, (see Xeno’s paradox or this David Pratt piece with mention of Madam Blavatsky, one of my heros) to make it last.
Chris, did you send in that scary broken pedal to Crank Brothers?

Chickpea surprise El Sachichero handmade Nettle sausage farroSo, back to the weekend.

We had great shuttles, great learnin, great gab, and even a few great ‘biffs’ (lame way to call a crash, to lighten impact on worried parents, spouses) which will no doubt go down in herstory.

For my personal herstory, it’s the apres-bike connecting that lingers more than the trail surface features. At 49 wines, francophone Will Clark and I exchanged lively ‘shoulder French’ conversation, and learned that one of the campers, scientist Melissa Cline, had spent a year and a half at the Institute Pasteur a decade ago finishing (if I remember correctly) her PhD.



No Obvious Label

•February 25, 2014 • 2 Comments

Mudlife crisis "obvious brand"

In the 7 years since i began blogging, WordPress has added advertisements (so now I pay to keep them off) and changed the difficulty index.

But I read this funny sentence in NYT about some fashion show, and realized that this could be my motto. No Obvious Label.

I’ve never felt comfortable being a billboard for certain things:

Car companies (now and then I’d accidentally ‘work’ for a car company, like when I was paid by Safe Routes To School. For about 20 or so classes I conducted with my SRS colleagues, I had to pop a CD into the computer that ostensibly touted bicycle safety, but all the while, the Honda robot did its “media impressions” magic to all the 2nd-4th graders that were our captive audience.

Naturally I didn’t last. I’m perhaps too critical of such things: IMBA flogs Subaru automobiles. All the race teams  of note had car company affiliations back in the 90s and 2000s.


Bouquet of rodents for Post-Phelantine’s Day

•February 17, 2014 • 1 Comment

Bouquet of rodents for Post-Phelantine's Day
Mochi LaTrine’s three massive tumors were expertly excised by Dr. Noah Stroe of Animal Farm Pet Hospital on Mission St. San Francisco.
THANK YOU Dr. STroe!!!
The little collar needed some fashion assistance–it’s usually just an opaque doughnut of soft plasic with velcro closure…it needed some perking up…
Nothing a little lace won’t fix.
She doesn’t wear it now–since she’s smart enough not to chew out her numerous stainless steel staples…

Brews, Bikes, and Teenagers

•February 7, 2014 • 11 Comments

For 15 years I’ve been one of the guest ‘legends’ at the annual midwinter fundraiser for Trips For Kids.

Every February, Noah Rich, owner of Broken Drum Brewery donates the beer tab to Marilyn’s prize-winning charity. Often, in fine weather, there’d be a ride before the 2 p.m. event, which I led a time or two, up around China Camp. Then we’d go and “prolong the buzz” with a pint of Noah’s finest, and a burger and fries.
The event was noisy–a raffle was always held to boost donations–and usually mobbed with supporters and the usual “legend” suspects: Charlie Kelly, Joe Breeze, and now and then a special surprise like Dave Garoutte or Ross Shafer or even Wende Cragg. This year I hear Denise Caramagno will be there.
I won’t be.

When Marilyn’s group letter went out a couple of months ago, she announced that Trips for Kids would pair up with another worthy beneficiary, the teens in the high school mountain bike racing program. I asked her to please remove my name from the list of legendary riders, because I disagreed with the premise of teens fundraising in a brewing establishment.

To agree to come would be (to me) a tacit agreement that beer and mountain bikes are inextricably entwined, and that it’s not POSSIBLE to have a venue where there was no alcohol. This little protest of mine could have stopped at that, but when Charlie Kelly asked if I was coming, I told him why I wasn’t and offered to send him the letter I wrote to Marilyn and her staff, which follows:

Greetings Jon, Marilyn, staff….

I got your invitation to Bruise, Bikes & Bucks at Broken Eardrum Broory Feb 2014. I shan’t be there (this will be my first time not to come, I think)..I will truly miss the chance to meet this year’s crop of eager teen bike racers… but I can’t be there .because i have a problem with the high school kids + beer equation.

Last spring, Drake H.S. held a party at Gestalthaus, a sort of Private Awards Ceremony, and only because  I’d been there in the afternoon was I witness to the bar becoming flooded with young riders. I spoke to a few of them, and came to the conclusion that there are better places to hold a bike event for high schoolers.

 The bike industry is marked by thousands of positive beer+bike  associations via brewery supported magazines. I’m troubled by the fact that the more attendees drink up, the more cash goes Trips For Kids. 

This year for the first time you’re formally teaming up with a high school program, juxtaposing these two volatile entities, kids and beer. All in the context of  the health, freedom, and fun of riding mountain bicycles…

 My experience with parental alcoholism, and my awareness of the high susceptibility Marin teenagers have to booze in general,  has spurred me to take a stand.  Make no mistake–I adore beer, and love getting together w/friends. 

But “normalizing” the association between bikes and beer and kids (very young adults) has just gotten too intense. 

Here’s a link that helps with the facts : http://www.marincounty.org/depts/gj/reports-and-responses/decisions-responses/2011-12/~/media/Files/Departments/GJ/Reports%20Responses/2011/marin_youth_alcohol_crisis.pdf

The way Charlie and I see it, our bike culture uses riding to justify the drinking.

And here, the charity normalizes the heavy drinking and gives kids an acceptable setting to get into the bar milieu. 

 We believe that riders who ride and drink habitually are at high risk of becoming alcoholics when injury or old age prevents the exercise that allows them to metabolize the alcohol. Respectfully, Jacquie Phelan and Charlie Cunningham



At Gestalt Haus  I circulated among the teens and asked a few of them why they were convening there rather than at the high school. “Probably because that’s where the coaches wanted it to be” said one. I know that the local brew pub, Iron Springs Brewery is a sponsor of the Drake High team.

 I did some desultory research on  the connection between Marin teens and alcohol–it’s easy:  just open the Independent Journal. Every year teens die in beer-fueled car crashes. We are practically number one in the USA when it comes to kids in rehab, kids in recovery, kids that are drinking with their friends, their parents…by themselves.

I am putting these thoughts out there because it seems like no one is questioning this beer-bike link. Matt Fritzinger, who founded the Norcal Highschool league and oversaw the growth of mountain biking at high school level around the state and the country, understood my position perfectly. He put me in touch with one of the board members of the Norcal league, where I left a message in November (maybe got the conversation started, but haven’t heard back myself).

The event is in two days. I’ll no doubt hear that everyone had a great time. If you have feedback for me, I’d enjoy hearing or reading it


A Good Tool is A Good Tool

•November 24, 2013 • 2 Comments

"Im a tool-maker, and this is a good tool"

“Im a tool-maker, and this is a good tool”

This morning, being Sunday, began with KPFA’s increasingly befuddled Mary Berg at the controls. These days, her early morning Bach show feature lengthy silences (she might be catching up on sleep) punctuated by a squeaky office chair and then Mary sayng “What?!–?” to someone in the studio… (“hey! Mary! Wake up!) We love the fact that it’s OK to have a true “eminence grise” on the airwaves, and dread her inevitable absence. Since ALL the DJ’s are volunteer it’s unlikely she’ll be fired. Plus, she has a decent base of rabid, septuagenarian listeners.
CC always turns on the radio in the house if the show is a good one, and this one had enough cantatas to drag His Shyness out from the treehouse into the quite warm thanks to the spaceship insulation hovel. Even after breakfast, Charlie lingered*, sweeping all the wood-chips and houseflith with the broom we brought home from Toad Hall. It’s a Quinn kitchenette, a seemingly hand-made job from Illinois. Chances are, Carol Cunningham used this same kind of broom as a child and re-discovered it recently (I’d never seen it at the Hall–it was pulled from a deep recess in kitchen pantry). There is a leather cuff where the corn straw joins the wooden handle, and since Charlie was marveling audibly about the absence of dustophilic static electricity, plastic bristle brooms all have it, I thought I’d google ’em.
Hence this perfunctory blog qua fan note, since compliments from this guy don’t tumble out very often.

*it being cold in the shop, any excuse not to go in and face 48-degree metal tools.