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There are very few things that I regret having sold in my years as a bike rider. Three stand out above all others though, and I sold them all at the same time – July of 2008.
I needed every penny I could scrounge together to move to Austria to be with Ashley. I had pretty much nada, so things that would normally be considered unsellable were suddenly on the auction block. The three items? My awesome, cheap, dependable Honda Civic that Pat and Theresa sold me, my cross bike, and my golf clubs.
Sitting here today, almost four years on, I wish I had all of those, especially my golf clubs.
I didn’t start riding bikes until the beginning of 2002. Before that, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I was completely and utterly in love with golf. Cliches were made for my devotion to golf – I lived, ate, slept, drank golf…then I discovered bikes, and there just wasn’t enough time in the day to nourish both loves, so golf eventually faded further and further away from my consciousness.
And to be perfectly frank, there just wasn’t enough money. When I played golf at home in Stone Mountain, I always had the support of the great people at Stone Mountain Golf Course – they let me become their resident golf bum, and because of that, money was never an issue. When I moved to Athens, I was suddenly faced with the prospect of paying to play golf. It just wasn’t possible. After an initial investment of 400 dollars, bike riding was 100% free.
Before that, there was a time when I dreamed of becoming a professional golfer, designing golf courses, or at the bare minimum, teaching golf. There was a time when I knew the stats for every golfer, tournament, and course, and there was a time I would absentmindedly draw courses in my notebooks.
I think it’s understood then that the idea of ever selling my golf clubs was somewhere along the lines of selling my family into slavery. Unimaginable.
But then it happened.
I sold them, and it was a horrible experience. My clubs were priceless to me. I saved up for them mowing lawns, raking leaves, doing chores, working at a restaurant. They were the classic teenage hard-earned prize…so putting a price on them was nigh impossible. When I did put a price on them, the buyer scoffed and offered me half as much.
I sold the clubs to that evil man for 200 dollars that July afternoon in my driveway. He tossed my bag of memories into the back of his car and drove away.
I almost cried.
I got over it though and moved to Europe, and our adventures began.
Today, on the second day of 2012, I played golf for the first time in two years (I borrowed clubs on New Year’s back in 2010), and for perhaps the fifth time in the decade since I started riding bikes.
It was magic. I’m always so scared that one day I’ll pick up golf clubs again, and it will be like I never played. I’m scared that the hole I wore out in my bedroom carpet swinging incessantly will have been for naught, or the raw calluses on my hands never existed…but then I start swinging, and it’s like I’m a junior in high school again, and try outs for the golf team are next week.
It’s like nothing has changed. It feels like my body has no idea that I became a bike racer, and a whole decade has passed since I last played golf regularly. Everything is the same. The club feels so perfect in my hands. My hands take to the grip like they were designed specifically for holding a golf club. I feel like I was supposed to swing a golf club.
I used to practice clearing my head of any thoughts or limiting it to just one mantra-type thought when I would hit a ball. Typically, a golfer would think positive thoughts – focus on a simple, essential part of the swing, anything but negative, anything but – don’t hit the ball in the water, don’t hit hit the ball fat, etc. Unfortunately, ten years on and very little golf later, I have no control over my thoughts.
My thoughts during most every shot today? I’m definitely going to hit this badly. How bad is it possible to hit a ball? Where in the world is this going to go? This is a bad idea. Stop swinging now.
And yet, no matter the noise my conscious mind blabbered, my unconscious muscle memory had no problems. I pulled the club back from the ball and moments later, there was the crisp sound and feel of solid contact, eyes flashed skyward, and there went the ball, beautiful, straight, arching high in the hazy blue, cool winter sky – to my complete and utter conscious amazement.
I did not shoot a good score today, nor was every shot great or even good, not by any means, but everything was still there. The foundation, the thousands upon tens of thousands of swings that defined me for the better part of my younger years were still there, living somewhere in my brain and my hands and my arms and my back and my legs.
When I finished playing golf with my friend, Stephen Maxwell, and his father this afternoon, I was ecstatic, elated, nothing short of high. I had found that treasured old possession deep in the recesses of the attic, and it was still just as perfect and fantastic as it was all those years ago.
They gave me the best gift I’ve received in a very long time tonight – they gave me a bag with a driver, a 3-wood, a 5-wood, a lob wedge, a pitching wedge, and a putter in it – almost half of a standard set of clubs. Just thinking about that gift makes me want to cry. It makes me so happy to have golf back in my life. I might not play every day, or even 10 times in a year, but just knowing that there are clubs waiting for me, for when the time is right, is a comforting feeling.
I grew up as a golfer. No matter how far I roam away from golf, it will always, always, always be a part of me. I’m glad that I finally realized that today.
I came home tonight and finished up what the Maxwell’s generosity started – I bought a solid set of irons online. They’ll be here by Wednesday.
After that, I made a solemn promise to my 14-year-old self with his countless pictures of golfers and courses on the walls of his room and a faded, worn nine-iron in the corner – I won’t ever sell these clubs.
I’ve been suffering from a bad back for the last month and a half. It has made me question a lot of things. It has freaked me out in a big way as well. I took it for granted that my tweaked back would get better after a few days, or at the worst, after a couple weeks. I took it for granted that I’d be fine to take up full-on training in the not too distant future.
But it didn’t go away.
It’s still here. It’s always here. The only time I don’t feel it is when I’m flat on my back or standing up. Any other position? It’s there, poking at my lower right back.
Over the last couple months, I’ve had a few wake-up calls on aging. I’m not old by any means, but 28 isn’t 18. At this point, I can start to see the benefits of healthy living, and conversely, unhealthy living.
I’ve never flossed my teeth. Before a month or so ago, I had probably flossed my teeth a grand total of 100 times…in my entire life. Then I got the news that there was deep pocketing in the back of my mouth in my gums, and if it went untreated, I could lose my teeth in a couple of years.
I always thought that flossing was sort of optional. If I didn’t do it, I’d just have somewhat puffy gums that bled easily. No big deal. Turns out it’s not optional, and if you don’t floss, you can either lose your teeth or cough up five thousand dollars to fix nearly three decades of laziness.
I hate learning adult lessons.
The same goes with my back… I always figured core and stability exercises were optional, same with stretching. I’m a bike rider. I like to ride bikes. I do not like pilates, yoga, stretching, planks, crunches, sit-ups, whatever. I like to pedal my bike. That’s it.
Now, I’m finding that I have some bad problems that have grown slowly and steadily over the last ten years of bike riding (I’ve been riding bikes for ten years as of this month-ish, crazy!) and not paying attention to the little details. Instead of being able to offer myself up for a surgery though, I’m left with the knowledge that I have to fix myself, fix ten years of non-work. In one way, it’s reassuring to know that I can undo my decade of wrongs, but in another way, it’s so, so frustrating to know that I could have fixed this years ago.
I’ve had so, so, so many people offer advice and help to me over the years. I wish I hadn’t been so stupid and arrogant not to listen to them. The above are only two physical examples.
I don’t even want to imagine how many things lie waiting for me not to get myself in order.
It got away from me at some point this fall… A solid five or so months of training led to some of my best fitness in a long, long time, perhaps ever, in September. After that, it all went to hell. We got home at the end of October, and I was intent on doing a good winter, then my back went bad. So, here I am, it’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m ready to try to get going…again.
I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again – I want to try to start writing more. I think it’s a good way for me to get some ideas on the keyboard, not forget them, and hopefully do a little bit of homework before the magazine due dates arrive. That would be nice.
Lots to talk about, but first off – getting back to riding.
I did my first real ride on Thursday. We’ve all had our stories about being unfit and suffering as a result. Thursday was a perfect example. I started with the best of intentions of just getting to the 100 kilometer mark and overall, taking it easy. I’m not good at that. I fell to pieces after about 60k and lurched home. Thankfully, I didn’t have to bail out and call Ashley, but I considered the possibility at one point.
Days like that make me question a lot of things. While I’m never going to be fast, I’m decent enough to be spoiled in a way. When things are ticking by as they should be, I take 3-7 hour rides for granted. I check them off before I even get started. No problem. Starting from scratch involves leaving that behind, and that’s hard. It’s like taking away my favorite toy or something. It leaves me pouty and unhappy.
It got so bad on my ride that I started questioning myself seriously – why am I doing this? I don’t have to go out and beat myself over the head for 3.5 hours. No one cares if I ride. I could be at home working on our photography website, researching, learning how to use Photoshop, hanging out with Ashley…a million things. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that my riding is a detriment to my photography. The more time I spend on my bike, the less time I spend working on getting better at what’s probably going to be my work for the foreseeable future. It’s hard to argue with that line of thought.
And yet, I don’t care. I love to ride my bike, even when it sucks. I love to ride my bike, even when I’m on some horrible, straight, flat road in the middle of nowhere, falling to pieces, wondering why my computer is reading such small numbers. I’m not entirely happy if I don’t ride, and the more I accept that basic fact, the happier I’m going to be.
So yes, I could probably use my time more effectively by taking up running, running for 45 minutes a day, and spending the bonus 3-4 hours on improving my picture taking skills…but it’s not bike riding. I need my bike. I need that time. I want to waste it by feeling every moment that rustily ticks by on one of those terrible rides. I am never so aware of time as I am on a bad ride.
I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
I just wrote this up for fun…
I had intended to spend a post devoted to the awesomeness of BMC’s 2012 team. And I will. Today, however, will be devoted to the world’s best rider and recent BMC signee, Philippe Gilbert.
Confession: I have long been a huge Gilbert fan boy. At this point though, I think it’s reasonable to turn around to everyone and ask – is that not the case with you too? How can you not be?
The man is thrilling to watch. He’s a winner in the truest sense of the word. You give him any chance, and he’ll win. Typically, the ‘any chance’ part means any hill within 10k of the finish. In 2012, it was like clockwork. He won over and over and over again with startling regularity. It always felt the same: explosive attacks in the final kilometers, a short solo jaunt, and a triumphant flash of the arms…or if it was an uphill finish, the action was a mere formality (see: Liege, Amstel, and the win that still has my jaw scraping the tiles – La Fleche Wallonne)
By the time he won the Clasica San Sebastian in late July, we weren’t even holding our breath anymore. The finale of San Sebastian barely had a hill in it either. I think you could call that one a ramp, and ramp he did. For the umpteenth time in 2011, he left the world’s best gasping, looking silly.
His performances this year made me giddy. I’m sitting here right now watching a highlight reel of his wins from 2011, and I just can’t help but get excited and want to go ride my bike. Gilbert notched 18 wins in 2011 – in a season that spanned from February to October. That includes: the Ardennes treble of Amstel, Fleche, and Liege (don’t forget the semi-Ardennes race of the Brabantse Pijl), the Belgian National Road AND Time Trial Championships, a stage and yellow at the Tour de France, the Strade Bianche…**and many more. Those are just the wins that are typically season-definers. A good rider would call it a successful year with one of those wins, maybe two, plus some solid placings.
In other words, the best way to describe Philippe Gilbert’s season has to be the words of Mark Cavendish on Twitter following Gilbert’s storming stage win at the Tour de France. Replace ‘today’s last kilometer’ with ‘the 2011 season’.
“Just saw today’s last kilometer. Gilbert humbled everyone with the equivalence of pulling down his pants to reveal a 13 incher. #yikes
Through all of this rampant success, Gilbert seemed to keep a humble air. He’s a hard-working poster child of the clean racing years, a hero in his hometown, a simple man who studied horticulture (I love that fact). Dumb comments never fall from his mouth, his words always a picture of professionalism.
Until this week that is.
While receiving his nth award for a season that will live forever in the record books as one of the best in the past twenty years (if not more – trying to not exaggerate), Gilbert let loose on his BMC teammate for 2012, Greg Van Avermaet, following recent amicable comments by Van Avermaet that more or less said – I think I had a pretty good year in 2011 (he did), and I hope I’ll have a chance to play my own cards every once and again in 2012 (he should).
“Greg has potential, but he has to be realistic. In the finale of Liege, he only took one turn at the front, and then he was dropped and lost a minute. If he was really strong, he would have gone all the way to the finish. He showed his limits, and he who shows his limits can’t lay claim to being a leader at BMC.”
These could be the words of a man not to be trifled with, someone along the lines of a Bernard Hinault, or they could signal a very distinct change.
I’d like to think that they’re honest words meant to dispel any idea of conflict for the leadership position in any race that Philippe Gilbert takes part in, but it just doesn’t feel that way. The unsettled feeling of – oh no, there goes another hero, and he’s not even a doper – was further twisted in my guts when Twitter talk ensued that Gilbert has begun charging for interviews. Charging. As in euros/dollars/pounds for a chance to speak with the King. Of course, as a mediocre journalist, I haven’t confirmed that, but it just goes well with the bad tasting stew I’m brewing, ok?
Back to the facts. There was no reason for Gilbert to comment on Van Avermaet like that. Nothing good can come of saying that. Why would you want to slam a teammate in public, who will likely be one of your most trusted aids when the race comes to its decisive moments? Gilbert complained (rightly so) about the lack of support he received in some crucial moments this year with Omega Pharma-Lotto. And yet, here he just joined a team that could escort him to the finish line over and over again in 2012…for a reported five million euros per year…and the first thing he says is – don’t even think about it, Greg?
Whether you agree with the statement or not (I personally think he’s not wrong at all to have that conviction), it’s undeniable that the media was not the place to voice that. It didn’t come in the heat of the moment post-race, nor did it follow some period of woeful luck or misfortune. This was Gilbert at his theoretically most relaxed and easy-going – and he let that fly out of his mouth? Discussions like that should be reserved only for one’s team, especially if you’re the baddest man on two wheels in the world (sorry, Fabian, you’ll have to retake that title in 2012).
BMC is so talent-laden next year, it borders on absurdity (as I said before, I’ll take a closer look at that later). It’s going to be a huge struggle to keep some of those egos in line. As THE one day hilly classic guy, Gilbert’s dominance is unquestioned. Van Avermaet certainly didn’t question it – he just said that he hoped he’d get some chances at some point. In a properly functioning team, he should get his chance. All eyes were on Gilbert in 2011, team directors and riders will be sprouting third eyes in 2012 to better cope with the menace. Teams will ride against him. He could well end up looking like Cancellara in 2011 without a powerful team to protect him from all that negativity (which would be nice, because Cancellara’s whining about negative racing was truly painful). Then again, he could just end up winning everything again, but that’s less likely than the other possibility. It is a bike race after all, and there are a lot of possible winners every time you toe a start line…even if Emperor Gilbert is in attendance.
Apparently, in Gilbert’s mind, since they will be racing almost the identical schedule in 2012, that means never.
If ever there was a time that Greg Van Avermaet comes off the saint though – it was here.
“Philippe and I have the same program, because we’re the same kind of rider. I’m three years younger and just like he did three years ago, I won Paris-Tours this year. I’d love to be on the same schedule as him. We’ve got the same character. I want to be the best too and win as many races as possible, because I’m ambitious.”
Unfortunately for ol Greg, he’s got the same schedule as Gilbert, and since Gilbert is likely targeting bigger and better in 2012, that just means – sorry about your luck, Chuck – enjoy your year as my indentured servant, and then get the hell out of here in 2013.
Van Avermaet must not have read the fine print in his 2012 contract though, because he seems to think he’ll be racing as a free man with race winning rights and equal opportunities: “[Paris-Tours] really freed me. It’s given me confidence, but it’s also given me another dimension within my team. I’m going to have more freedom. It’s a step forward for the future.”
I get the impression that won’t be the case. Do you find yourself feeling bad for Van Avermaet? I do. The guy just had the breakout season we’ve always speculated he could pull off, and what does he get in return? Philippe Gilbert and a don’t even think about it royal order from His Majesty.
BMC will win no matter what in 2012. If their team can really come together and somehow become a real team – they could be one of the greatest teams ever to race.
With comments like that from Gilbert, it looks unlikely. Van Avermaet doesn’t seem the kind of rider that’s just going to roll over either. There’s your first conflict in the BMC superteam. Who’s going to step up to be case study #2?
I think it’s fair to say that Gilbert could win at least ten races next year with a bunch of beer-bellied weekend warriors at his beck and call, but isn’t it worth keeping in mind that he might possibly be able to win 25, if he takes the reins and shows his teammates a level of respect that they deserve?
Not only that, when you make a statement like that, as VeloNews’s Neal Rogers pointed out on Twitter the other day – it makes it far too clear that the only card in your hand wears black, yellow, and red. What happens if Greg Van Avermaet goes up the road in a dangerous move in that specific time in a big race where those moves have a real shot at succeeding? It’s hard to play the GVA card if Gilbert himself slams his fist to the table and says he’s the only gambling parlor in town.
What happens if it’s Cadel Evans up the road? Will Gilbert treat Evans – a former winner of Fleche Wallonne – the same way?
Is the collected mass of talent on BMC going to just team time trial their way around the Classics, escorting Gilbert to the finish line to work his voodoo? I can vaguely see the annoying nicknames for this phenomenon now – something to do with a Train or Express. Just put me out of my misery now if that’s the case.
I’m not ready to sound the alarm just yet or turn in my membership card to the Philippe Gilbert is my hero club, but it certainly doesn’t bode well. Keep in mind – it’s just now December. If the rumblings have begun at this point, imagine what they could sound like come April.
My biggest fear is that we might be ushering in a new era – when Philippe Gilbert becomes the arrogant superstar that’s easy to hate. That would really bum me out. Then again, it would be pretty excellent to root wholeheartedly for Fabian Cancellara to give Gilbert a good drubbing the last time up the Paterberg in Flanders next April…
Imagine a world where Gilbert could make Fabian Cancellara look humble. This could be entertaining!
Thoughts? Write me! email@example.com
This is a beautiful piece on the topic. I read it about a week ago, but I keep thinking about it.
I had my first ever surgery on Tuesday. I had my wisdom teeth removed plus some extra bonus work on my gums. Turns out I really should have flossed all those years… I made it through ok, but the recovery period has been less than good fun. I’m hoping the third day will be the turning point toward feeling normal again.
Of course, there’s lots more to talk about, but that should suffice for the moment.
Tomorrow evening – onward to Colorado!
First off, thank you for your support and visiting our site!
If you’re interested in the limited edition Passo Giau print – please email me for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The price is 100 dollars including shipping. Payment is via PayPal and goes to email@example.com.
If you’re interested in other prints or digital downloads, so that you can do your own printing – head on over to our new online storefront:
That will become gruberimages.com in the near future. It’s still a work in progress, so let me know what you think!
Digital downloads are 50 dollars apiece, but if you’d like to download a number of images, I’d be happy to work out a better price for you.
Thank you so, so much for your interest and support. We’ve been blown away by all the kind words. It means a lot. Thank you.
Thanks for visiting!
We are offering 100 limited edition prints of the Passo Giau. The price is 100 dollars, which includes shipping. You can order the image via PayPal. Please send funds to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any questions, please, email me: email@example.com
If you’d like to see thousands of our other images – head on over to Flickr.
We’re doing our best to turn our passion for photography into something that might be sustainable for us in the future, or as Robert Frost says so much better than I could ever hope to:
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.
We’ve spent most of the last year taking a lot of pictures. It has been an incredible adventure, and we’ve learned a lot. I hope that 2012 can be even better.
As always, thank you for your support and help.
Ashley wrote this note to the producers of our favorite source of listening entertainment on our bikes, This American Life. If you haven’t checked out the show – do it.
Hi all –
I’m a fairly new listener to TAL, but I thoroughly enjoy the show
I was eating cereal this morning when a question entered my thoughts:
What is the difference between name-brand and off brand? How can they afford to produce the same product (more or less) at a reduced price? Is there a reduction in quality? What are the economics behind that?
I’d love to hear a show talking about this. As a young couple we frequently buy both types of product — it seems like that is a part of this American life, at least for us.
Thanks and all the best,