Late for Nowhere

Back cycling on the roads and trails of the U.S., and dealing with reverse culture shock, after 13 years in Myanmar and Cambodia

Fort Wayne bike shop serves homeless community

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Early in his adult life, Michael Brown worked as a city planning consultant in Chicago. Eventually, he came to believe that rewriting zoning ordinances and establishing great landscaping designs were not the real solutions to community problems; the real issue, he said, was “the condition of our soul.” The realization prompted his shift to a new career as pastor for a suburban Chicago church.

In 2003, Brown moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, to serve as co-pastor at Mission Church on Cass Street. Five years ago he established Heart of the City Bicycles at the church, a bike shop for the homeless community and those who use their bikes as a main source of transportation. Open Fridays from 9am to noon, the shop averages 15 to 20 repairs a week, as well as 125 to 150 earn-a-bikes a year.

How did you get the idea to start Heart of the City Bicycles?

When I was a pastor in Chicago, our church had a very large group of cyclists. I was trying to find a way to really give back to the community instead of focusing on, “Hey, we’re doing all these really great rides.” So we started volunteering down at the Men’s Rescue Mission. We’d go in quarterly and fix up bikes. Then I became a co-pastor at Mission Church in Fort Wayne. We acquired our current building six years ago, and for five years we’ve had Heart of the City Bicycles.

What services does the shop provide?

We provide repair services on a weekly basis. We do an earn-a-bike program for those who would like to make strides toward getting their own bicycle, so they do community-related projects like cleaning up the Fort Wayne River Greenway and cleaning up the Wells Street Corridor. We also teach bike-repair lessons. We have an apron program. It’s like martial-arts belts – you can go Yellow Apron, Red Apron, Green Apron, Black Apron. The teaching is done by our four main volunteers. We’ll just kind of mentor somebody. The Yellow Apron takes about four weeks.

How does the program benefit the community?

We’ve recognized that poverty is not a financial issue. It manifests itself in all different areas, so we build relationships with these folks and help them learn life skills. We created a shop here that is relatively clean and organized, because many of these folks have a lot of chaos in their lives. From a very simple level, we think that a person having adequate transportation is a great start. Some of these folks don’t have the ability to acquire a driver’s license. Cars are expensive, and bicycles are a very effective form of transportation, as most of the rest of the world knows. We have a great infrastructure for bike paths in Fort Wayne, and we want to take advantage of that. If we can give folks the ability to get around to job interviews, jobs, healthcare appointments, and so forth, we think that helps with their quality of life.

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Written by latefornowhere

September 17, 2018 at 11:34 am

Indiana’s poet laureate writes his truths

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MatejkaColor

Adrian Matejka discovered his vocation as a poet in a roundabout way. His first love was not literature, but rap music, a creative calling that he soon determined was not meant to be.

“I was a terrible emcee, so I gave it up and decided to be a stockbroker,” he said. But during his second year in college, he heard American poet Yusef Komunyakaa reading in a coffee shop and felt compelled to try his hand at writing verse.

Despite abandoning his early dreams of musical stardom, Matejka (pronounced Mah-TEE-kuh) still finds inspiration in rap, which he describes as “the most popular example of poetry we have.”

“Rappers use the same language devices – rhyme, simile, metaphor, allusion – as poets. The big difference … is the goal of the language. Rappers are trying to team up with music in order to evoke emotion, tell stories or get the party going. Poets are teaming up with the reader’s imagination to do those same things.”

Musical and other pop culture references are among the means by which Matejka provides readers a non-intimidating entry into his work, with the goal of creating poems that “offer up stories and circumstances that I hope will be both familiar and surprising to the reader.”

The accessibility of Matejka’s work was perhaps one of the contributing factors to his appointment as the new poet laureate of Indiana by the Indiana Arts Commission. He began his two-year tenure on January 1, and will continue serving through December 31, 2019.

His published poetry collections include The Devil’s Garden (2003), Mixology (2009) and The Big Smoke (2013), the latter of which was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award and 2014 Pulitzer Prize. His most recent book, Map to the Stars (2017), explores growing up in Indianapolis in the 1980s.

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Matejka was born into an American military family in Germany, but settled in Indianapolis in 1980. After graduating from Indiana University Bloomington, he left the state for nearly 20 years to live in Chicago, Seattle, St. Louis and elsewhere before returning to Bloomington in 2012 to take up his current position as poet-in-residence at Indiana University.

“I rarely wrote poems that were influenced by geography before Map to the Stars. When I came back to Indiana [in 2012], I was struck by how little the place has changed cosmetically but how completely different the climate and culture is now,” he said. “So growing up in Indianapolis didn’t influence writing the poems as much as coming back did. I was able to think about my experiences here in the 1980s a little differently after being gone so long.”

Matejka’s other preoccupations as a poet include race, economics, family and masculinity.

“The racial conflicts in our country have been exacerbated by the current politics of ignorance and bluster, but all of this bigotry was here before. It just has a bigger megaphone in 2018,” he said, adding that while poetry “can’t change legislation, reduce gun violence or right electoral maleficence,” it can offer a way to speak out against oppression like sexism and racism.

“Poetry is a great enabler of voices,” he said. “The art has empowered many people who were previously disenfranchised, silenced or otherwise ignored in the larger public discourse. Poetry has the power to amplify the natural voice of protest, which I hope is happening in some of my work.”

He said one of his obligations as poet laureate is to remind people that poetry is vital and that anyone is “welcome to join us, as creators or listeners of poems in whatever way they would like.”

“Poetry can sometimes be intimidating because it has its own agenda for music and creativity, and it can feel like a party we’ve crashed without an invitation. At the same time, poetry often uses traditional English building blocks – words, syntax, allusions, even punctuation – that are familiar to many of us.”

Matejka also hopes to emphasize poetry as one of the oldest forms of communication, a means by which people remembered history, entertained and shared political ideas long before there were novels, radios or movies.

“[Poetry] is our most essential public art and there is room in it for everyone. It’s cheap to create and easily available. Once people accept that there is no right or wrong in poetry and there are no secret handshakes or initiation rituals necessary to writing poetry, creation naturally follows,” he said. “If you write your truths, you can learn the rest as you go along.”

Read Adrian Matejka’s poetry here:

“Gymnopédies No. 1”

“Gymnopédies No. 2”

“Gymnopédies No. 3”

Portrait Photo: Stephen Sproll

 

Interview in brief: Al Stoller, Fort Wayne’s thrill-seeking wing-walker

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Al Stoller Patrick Downs

For as long as he can remember, Al Stoller has been a thrill seeker. Growing up in Paulding County, Ohio, he was a member of the high school rocket club. After graduating from college and moving to Fort Wayne, he got into drag-racing cars – “legal and illegal” – before taking up skydiving, a pursuit that lasted until he broke his ankle. Next came aerobatic flying, and in 2013 Stoller attended an academy in Seattle, Washington, to learn how to wing-walk. Since then he’s been up more than 15 times, including performances at air shows. Last year, at age 71, he was featured in a Japanese documentary about seniors with unusual hobbies.

How would you describe the sensation of wing-walking?

The academy [in Seattle] teaches you all the specifics – the three points of contact, the propeller blast, where you can put your feet so you don’t step through the fabric wing. When you first climb out of the cockpit, you’re so overwhelmed, four of your five senses are on total overload. You’ve got adrenaline flowing through your body like you wouldn’t believe. It’s really, really hard to think because you’ve got so much going on that’s never happened before in your life. So you’ve got to develop muscle memory so you don’t even have to think about where to put your hands or where to grab onto.

What happens once you’re up in the air?

You climb up to 3,000 feet. It’s an open-cockpit biplane with a 450-horsepower rotary engine. I’m in the front cockpit; the pilot always flies in the back. You climb onto the top wing, and you’ve got to maneuver your way through some wires and then strap a belt on because there’s nothing to hold onto. You’re just standing there. Then you do loops and rolls. Then the pilot levels out. You get back down in the cockpit, and then climb out between the two wings and do the same aerobatics over again. I’ve got the point where I just stand up and the air pressure, the wind, holds me against the two cables. That way I can give thumbs up and wave to the crowd. The whole flight takes about 30 minutes, and the actual wing-walking is about 15 or 20 minutes.

Do you ever feel scared when you’re up there?

Your senses and instincts tell you to be afraid, but the thrill seeker inside of you says, “Nah, go for it.” I would say 75 percent of the people that do go up, if they hadn’t committed so much money and time, they would never climb out of the cockpit. The 25 percent of the thrill seekers just can’t wait to do it, but their senses still tell them, “You shouldn’t be doing this, you should be afraid,” but you just throw that aside and go for it.

Photo: Patrick Downs

 

 

 

 

 

Written by latefornowhere

August 9, 2018 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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Burmese refugees build community in Fort Wayne

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Buddhist Temple 1

Listen to the personal histories of refugees and asylum seekers from Burma who have settled in Fort Wayne, and you will hear a litany of travails unimaginable to most Americans: Teenagers thrown in jail for expressing admiration for democratic principles; ethnic and religious minorities whose hometowns were obliterated by their own country’s army; adults who have spent most of their lives in refugee camps and, as a result, retain few first-hand memories of their native land or culture.

Among them is Ven Kuthala, who arrived in the United States in 2002 on a religious visa and later attained asylum status. He now serves as senior monk at the Burmese Buddhist Temple on Tillman Road in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

As a college student in Burma’s main city of Yangon, Ven Kuthala was arrested in 1988 for participating in demonstrations aimed at transforming the country’s brutal dictatorship into a democracy. While an estimated 3,000 activists were gunned down in the streets by the army, Ven Kuthala described himself as “very lucky” to serve only 18 days in jail. Upon his release he rejoined the protests, but with the government crackdown intensifying, he was soon forced to flee to neighboring Thailand, where he became a Buddhist monk.

“I was not a legal migrant in Thailand, so I had to move from temple to temple every three or four months,” he said. “I didn’t want to spend my life like that, so I got a religious visa to settle in the United States and later applied for asylum.”

Ven Kuthala became a resident at the Burmese Buddhist Temple, taking over leadership in 2005 after the previous senior monk moved to California. In addition to his religious duties, much of his time is now dedicated to helping refugees from Burma adjust to life in Fort Wayne.

“Most refugees are displaced persons,” he said. “From 1988, the military junta launched military offensives along the border. Some villages completely disappeared, and the people moved into refugee camps in Thailand. Some lived in the camps for 10, 15, 20 years.”

He said that once refugees arrive in the United States, their main challenge is overcoming the language barrier. But they also need to find jobs quickly and deal with other aspects of daily life that most Americans take for granted. 

“I help people with everything they need: applying for social security cards, doing their taxes,” Ven Kuthala said. “Other things are social: family matters, enrolling kids in school. They need advice. Some people tell me about phone calls requesting money or saying they are from the IRS. I explain that these are called scammers.” 

Many refugees who live in Fort Wayne – from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union – arrive under a resettlement program run by the Catholic Charities Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, funded by federal grants under a cooperative agreement with the State Department.

According to Catholic Charities, about 200,000 Burmese refugees have resettled in the United States since 1990, with Fort Wayne hosting some 6,000 of those. While many early refugees fled political persecution, more recent arrivals have included Muslims and Christians escaping persecution in the Buddhist-majority Burma.

The program’s resettlement director, Nyein Chan, is himself a political refugee from Burma who was involved in the 1988 uprising against the military dictatorship. He arrived in the U.S. in 1994 and began working with Catholic Charities in 2000.

“The first barrier we experience is the language barrier,” he said. “Some people can pick up some level of English from the refugee camps, especially younger refugees. But some refugees are illiterate even in their own language, so it takes lots of time to learn.”

Nyein Chan said that the second biggest challenge is cultural integration, a process that also takes time and does not always proceed smoothly.

Last October, Fort Wayne City Councilmen Glynn Hines (6th District) hosted a community forum on Burmese resettlement. Several people aired complaints at the meeting about the behavior of some of their Burmese neighbors, including cooking outside, littering, neglecting their lawns, and painting their houses “circus colors.”

“Some people see this behavior among refugees and think, ‘Oh, it’s Burmese culture,’” Nyein Chan said. “But the reality is that refugee camp culture is divorced from the Burmese culture. Even though they’re called Burmese refugees, they don’t even know what Burma looks like. We don’t experience orange houses in Burma, believe me. This is a culture where they grow up in very crowded refugee camps – 45,000 people in a very small space. Sometimes it takes time to let it go of that lifestyle.”

Buddhist Temple 2

In the face of these challenges, Catholic Charities does its best with 11 staff members to facilitate rapid integration, including arranging housing, helping with job placement, and offering an initial five-day cultural orientation program about the basics of life in the U.S., such as law enforcement and how devices like fire alarms and thermostats work. The program continues for 90 days, with a mid-term orientation within 45 days of their arrival.

“We ask how they feel after two months in the United States. They say they love very much living here, but refugees always compare it with how they recently lived,” Nyein Chan said. “One thing they’re not happy with is the food. Even if they get food from the Asian grocery store, they say it tastes different. And when people arrive in wintertime, the weather is very challenging. Other than that, they always say, ‘Thank you so much. We are very happy.’ After three months, they even look different: complexion glowing, they put on a little bit of weight.”

After orientation, Catholic Charities refers the new arrivals to its job development program, where they spend six weeks learning how to dress for an interview, the importance of eye contact, the American work ethic, and workplace behavior. Employment services are offered up to five years from their arrival date. The Fort Wayne program boasts a highly successful job placement rate, with more than 89 percent employed within four to six months of their arrival.   

Other services offered by Catholic Charities include medical transportation, language interpretation, and after-school programs for the children who need help with their homework.

The City of Fort Wayne also does its part to welcome refugees to the area. Palermo Galindo, the community liaison with the mayor’s office, works citywide to help immigrants understand processes like applying for building permits, starting businesses, or finding information about jobs. He also fosters good relationships with all immigrant communities.

“I always ask people who call with specific complaints [about immigrants], ‘Have you talked to your neighbor about what’s going on with the trash or with the lawn?’ And they say, ‘No, I haven’t,’” Mr. Galindo said. “I think that’s the first step. If they say, ‘I don’t know if they’ll understand’ – well, you’ve got to try it first. A very small percentage of people are maybe not following the rules or the city ordnance. Just like any group.”

He stressed that immigrant communities also play a key role in facilitating the acculturation process.

“We started good relationships with [immigrant communities]. Now a lot of people know me. That relationship has to continue to grow and provide opportunities to establish a dialogue within the community. I see that as a win-win for everyone,” he said. “If they become isolated as a community, there are so many things happening with the city that they might not know about, and that could affect them not growing with the same pace as the city.”

He added that from his own experience as an immigrant from Mexico, he has seen first-hand the benefits of living in a city that is open and welcoming to newcomers. “I do my very best to represent the city to the community, and pay that as a way to show how thankful I am that I have been provided with an opportunity,” he said.

Despite the challenges of language and acculturation, the dedication of people like Mr. Galindo, Nyein Chan, and Ven Kuthala has helped many refugees not only settle but also prosper in Fort Wayne.  

Javier Mondragon, pastor of Many Nations Church and head of the Bridge of Grace nonprofit organization, said he has had only good experiences working with the Burmese community, and has seen many success stories.

“I’ve seen Burmese families buying properties that were vacant or blighted in the community, and they fixed them. And so that’s good for the community,” he said, adding that while some grievances he has received about immigrants are related to city code enforcement, other complaints, like house color, are less consequential. “A color, being different, doesn’t mean that it’s bad. We try to tell them, ‘Have you talked to them?’ I think the first step is just going to them and talk as friends and neighbors.”

Ye Win Latt from the Burmese Muslim Education and Community Center said he has also seen increasing numbers of Burmese buying houses, which is “a positive contribution to the locals and the homeowners as well.”

“Most of the Burmese spend their time in refugee camps, and this is the first time they are living free and becoming homeowners. Of course that’s not an excuse to be not complying with all the codes and regulations in place, but at the same time we are part of the community, and if there is any issue, we like to be part of the solution too,” he said.

Nyein Chan said Catholic Charities and other organizations do as much as they can with limited resources, but successful integration into American society requires effort from everyone.   

“Sometimes you have a big heart for helping people, but without additional resources you can’t go very far,” he said. “When we’re talking about integration, it concerns people who live here and people who come in. If we are going to put aside the title of ‘refugee’ in an immigrant country like the United States, it concerns people who arrived a long time ago, those coming recently, and those who are still coming. We have to learn from each other.”

 

Written by latefornowhere

July 10, 2018 at 12:16 pm

A grueling start to the cycling season

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On Sunday, April 15, I participated in my first organized cycling event of 2018: the Rollfast 8×8 Challenge in Brown County State Park in southern Indiana. Getting to the start line required a 2:30am wake-up call and a three-hour drive from Fort Wayne through darkness and rain. Dawn broke as I entered the park, and the rain continued falling while I prepped my bike and pulled on multiple layers of clothing: cycling cap under my helmet; thin base layer, long-sleeved jersey, short-sleeved jersey and rain jacket on my torso; tights over cycling shorts covering the legs; wool socks and shoe covers protecting my feet; and long-fingered gloves on my hands.

At the start line, it was apparent that the inclement weather had kept more than half of the 100 pre-registrants home for the day: I counted fewer than 40 cyclists shivering along with me in the cold rain as the ride announcements were made by the organizer, who remained sheltered in a tent while he issued warnings about the dangerous descents along the 11.7-mile loop. He then put down the microphone, stepped out of the tent and proclaimed the commencement of our 8-lap, 94-mile odyssey.

Lap 1: My grand plan to start the ride super-easy was tossed out the window by the need to warm my body. The climbing started immediately, and I shifted into my lowest gear (34×28) and kept a high cadence to the top of the first step of the climb. A group of four or five riders blazed up the hill, and someone near me said, “There they go already.” I reached the top with the second group, and stayed with them during the next, shallower step of the climb, but dropped back on the third, steeper section. I rode alone across the plateau with one cyclist within reach ahead of me, but no desire on my part to put the hammer down and get onto his wheel. I kept it steady through the rollers, then took it easy the first time down the descent: sweeping right, very sharp left, a couple of ups and downs, then a steep drop into a valley with two narrow gravel patches spanning the road at the bottom. I was starting to warm up, except for my arms, which were covered by only a thin jersey and rain jacket. After a mile or so of flat terrain, I hit the second climb, consisting of a steep section, a triple set of short but steep bumps, and then a very steep section to the top. I tried to balance standing and sitting to keep my legs fresh. At this point I was caught by three riders from behind, and rode with them down the fast, fun, brake-free decline to the start/finish line. Lap time: 41:5

Lap 2: Rain continued falling. This was the only lap that I rode most of the way with other cyclists. After that, I was on my own to the finish. I tried settling into a manageable rhythm on the climbs, and my 28 cog still seemed adequate. I sat behind the other three riders across the plateau, drafting off to one side to avoid the rooster-tail of grime flying off the tire in front of me, and then took the lead on the rollers leading to the descent. I kept my momentum and my cadence high on the small upgrades, then flew down the hill faster than on the first lap. We were still together on the second climb and descent, and crossed the finish line as a small, if loosely allied, group. Lap time: 41:50

Lap 3: More rain. One of the riders in our group dropped back a bit on the climb, and the other two stopped at a car at the top of the first section, leaving me on my own. Still pedaling, I pulled off my gloves to grab my second Gu packet out my back pocket but dropped it onto the road. As I circled back to pick it up, the two guys who had stopped at the car rode by – one asked if I was okay – and I never saw them again. I picked up my gel and ate it on the move before I hit the next uphill section, then settled back into my rhythm. I think it was also at this point that I really started thinking about what I had gotten myself into, wondering whether I could make it up the hills five more times. The lap-by-lap countdown began. Lap time: 45:3

Lap 4: A bit of respite from precipitation, but the roads were still wet and wormy, and the sky remained threatening. Another climb, another gel, another descent, another climb. Already, fatigue was starting to creep into my legs as I began struggling with the 28 on the steeper grades, but I was happy to reach the halfway milestone at the end of the lap. I made my first stop at the aid station to top-up my water bottles and eat a few fig bars. The people manning the station did all the work of refilling and handing out food, but one guy questioned my decision to carry two bottles, which of course added weight to the bike. Lap time: 50:41

Lap 5: And then came the storm. The rain returned with a vengeance, falling harder than before and accompanied by high, gusty winds that made even the flat sections of the course difficult to ride. The brim of my cycling cap helped keep the lashing rain out of my eyes, except on the descents where the cold drops stung any exposed skin. It was also around this point that, due to numbness in my fingers, I had to reach across my handlebars with my right hand whenever I wanted to shift my front derailleur into the big chainring. I skipped the aid station in favor of another gel; at one point on this lap or the next, I inadvertently dropped an empty gel packet onto the ground while trying to put it into my back pocket. Not wanting to be an ungrateful guest in the park, I circled back around to pick my litter off the ground before continuing on. Lap time: 49:30.

Lap 6: Wind and rain continued, and it was around this time that I really started suffering on the steepest climbs. I remained standing until my legs started burning, then sat down and churned my way to the top, sometimes at a cadence in the low 40s. Once I sat down, there was no standing up again. This was when that lazy, pesky demon in my head who prefers comfy sofas and Doritos started asking whether it was really worth finishing, but deep down I never doubted my ability to ride 8 laps. I also figured that I would finish in about 6 hours, which was the same amount of time I would spend driving to and from the race. I wanted to make the trip worthwhile, along with earning the burger and fries I planned to eat on the way home. I made my second aid station stop at the end of the lap, grabbing a banana and a bottle of energy drink. Lap time: 53:07

Lap 7: The most difficult and slowest lap of the ride, even though the rain finally stopped and the sun started shining through the clouds. As I had during the early laps, I made an effort to admire the scenery of the park as I passed a few of the vista points, turning my head to catch glimpses of the clouds breaking over the hills. But the pretty views didn’t do much to help me negotiate the climbs, the steepest of which I tackled by tacking back and forth across the road to reduce the gradient. Even so, I suffered cramps in the muscles behind both of my knees, but I managed to keep pedaling and worked them out during the descent to the start/finish line, where I made my last aid station stop for a few fig bars before heading out on the last lap. Lap time: 55:32

Lap 8: With (very slightly) renewed energy, and with my clothes drying out and my body warming in the intermittent sun, I ticked off each climb as I topped it for last time. I took it easy on the flats and on the descents (the idea of a blowout on my front tire, which I had recently swapped from the rear wheel after having used it for weeks on the indoor trainer, had been haunting me since around Lap 6), trying to save everything for the last climb, which loomed dark and unavoidable on the horizon. I feared the return of my leg cramps, but they remained at bay during the lesser climbs. I made the last of the day’s four or five toilet stops at the outhouse at the base of the final climb, then braced myself and started up, tacking across the road as I had the lap before. No one passed me on the way up, as a few had on previous laps, spinning by on their 32s or 34s while I struggled in my 28. Up I went the first section half-standing and half-seated, then standing up the triple slopes of the second section, then standing as long as I could up the last steep obstacle until I had to sit and churn my way ever closer to the top. Just when I thought I was safe, the lurking cramps suddenly struck again, but by that point I only needed five more pedal strokes to reach the crest. Despite the pain, I forced my legs over until I was able to coast across the top. I stood and stretched my protesting muscles, and then I was free to enjoy the descent on roads that were drying out after a day of relentless rain, finally crossing the line as one of only 15 riders to complete all 8 laps. Lap time: 52:48. Overall time: 6:23:47. Overall placing: 10th of 35 (5th in the 50-54 age group).         

 

Written by latefornowhere

May 31, 2018 at 11:47 am

Fear of the elements

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Spring is officially here, and as of this writing, I’ve spent about 70 hours on my bicycle since the beginning of the year – all but six of those in the comfort of the Great Indoors. There have been a couple of days when temperatures in the 50s have drawn me out onto the roads of northeastern Indiana, but for the most part I’ve felt no compulsion to get dressed in cold-weather gear and unhook the bike from the trainer.

Although I grew up in central Pennsylvania, it’s been 25 years since I’ve lived in a cold climate. Most of my winter-weather riding of years gone by was done during the era of helmetless pros, down-tube shifters and LeMond-Fignon rivalries. But now, after a decade in Southern California, followed by 15 years in Southeast Asia, anything below 55 Fahrenheit feels downright Arctic to me.

Another deterrent to outdoor riding has been the unsullied cleanliness of my recently purchased Specialized Tarmac: I want the bike’s open-air voyages to be thoroughly enjoyable rather than clouded by thoughts of spending 45 minutes removing salt and grit from the sparkling-new drivetrain after the ride. It’s inevitable that the Tarmac (and I) will be exposed to elements other than sunshine, but not just yet …

In the meantime, I’m riding four or five days a week on the indoor trainer, pedaling furiously for 90 to 120 minutes at a time without actually going anywhere.

One or two days a week, I use the Zwift cycling app, which does a fine job of deluding me into believing that I’m actually progressing along smooth, idyllic roads free from motorized traffic but clogged with fellow athletes from around the world. There’s plenty of incentive to ride hard – from speed, distance and wattage displays; to constant admonishments to “close the gap” on the rider just in front of me; to real-time comparisons between my fastest times up the hills and my current leg-burning effort to make it to the top, even as the resistance on my smart trainer ramps up in accordance with the steepness of the grade.

The rest of the time, though, I ride old-school, pedaling on my indoor trainer while staring at my Garmin and listening to music on my headphones. I do this when I want complete, distraction-free control of my ride, without Zwift’s built-in inducements to ride at a higher intensity than planned. (I readily admit to being mentally weak in this regard – my competitive spirit makes it difficult to temper my efforts.) Three days of Zwift in a given week, and by Sunday I’m suffering the effects of severe fatigue. But intersperse a couple of Zwift rides with two or three careful, heart-rate-controlled sessions on the good ol’ analogue trainer, and by the end of the week I feel like I’ve struck a good balance between hard efforts, base aerobic endurance and recovery.

This schedule seems to be working for now, and switching between Zwift and more archaic indoor training methods helps keep everything from growing stale. For the time being, I’m still mostly dedicated to riding inside, but I have my eye on the weather forecast, waiting for the perfect confluence of sunshine, warm temperatures and free time to get out on the open road.

Written by latefornowhere

March 23, 2018 at 1:39 pm

Posted in Cycling, Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

Getting fit and fitted for a new cycling season

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Photo: Austin Brooks

It’s been quite a while since I last owned a high-end road bike. Not that I haven’t been riding – I logged more than 4,200 miles in 2017, mostly on my sturdy old Trek 4700 hardtail mountain bike equipped with 1.5-inch city tires – but with thoughts of American-style road racing running through my head for the first time in two decades, I decided to kick off the New Year with the purchase of a Specialized Tarmac Elite.

The prospect of new cycling endeavors on a new bike also inspired me to take steps toward realizing the legendary “perfect” pedaling position, so I booked a session with bike-fit guru David Coar at Summit City Bicycles and Fitness in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The three-hour fitting process was divided into three parts, starting with a discussion that covered everything from my background as a cyclist (East Coast crits in the 80s; So Cal cross-country mountain bike races in the 90s; occasional gran fondos and casual tours ever since), my cycling goals (a bit of masters racing, interspersed with gran fondos and centuries), and issues with pain or discomfort on the bike (none).

Part two involved a meticulous body assessment from bottom to top, during which Maharishi Dave observed my (sometimes strained) efforts to perform particular movements and stretches. He also took numerous measurements of esoteric biological nooks and crannies like foot angulation and structure (high arch on right foot), spinal flexion and curve (neutral), shoulder rotation (full range), lower extremity alignment (neutral), and IT band tightness (mild).

 

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Photo: Austin Brooks

 

 

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Photo: Austin Brooks

 

During the third part of the fitting, I mounted my Tarmac, which had been attached to an indoor trainer, and did some pedaling under the watchful eye of David, who stopped me occasionally to take more measurements and make incremental adjustments to my position.

 

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Photo: Austin Brooks

 

The primary revelation of the fit process was that my femurs are unusually long, which David said made me a good candidate for a custom frame (too late for that). It also explains why, at a modest 5 feet 9 inches tall, I have always found it extraordinarily difficult to sit comfortably in airplane seats without hitting my knees on the seat in front of me.

In any case, long femurs are meant to be an advantage in cycling due to the extra leverage they afford, and it’s a fortunate condition that I share with legendary pros like Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault. In fact, David guaranteed that once my bike position was perfected, I would make the podium of every race I entered or I would get a full refund on my fit.*

(*Not really.)

The other big surprise was that I had spent years cycling with my saddle too low – way, way too low. David raised it about 5 centimeters, which at first felt horribly elevated. Meanwhile, my elongated femurs meant that my saddle had to be moved back as far as possible to align my knees with the pedal spindles, and a slightly longer left femur necessitated adjusting the fore/aft position of my left cleat to compensate.

 

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Photo: Austin Brooks

 

My ischial tuberosity (sit bone) measurement was unusually narrow, so we swapped out the bike’s stock saddle for the narrowest one available in the shop, allowing me to sit back where I’m supposed to be instead of sliding forward in search of a more tenable position. Finally, we shortened the stem by 1 centimeter to offset the rearward adjustment of the saddle, and we lowered the handlebar a bit to facilitate a marginally more aero position.

The day after my fit, I took a test ride on Zwift. Although I suffered from a bit of tightness in the back of my legs just below the knees, I did feel like I was able to utilize my power for a greater portion of each pedal revolution; in fact, my estimated functional threshold power (FTP) went up by 8 watts despite holding back to avoid injuring muscles that were being used in new ways. 

My legs were sore the day after the test ride – not in a bad way, but rather like the feeling of going for a run after a few weeks off. The ache receded over the next three days, and I quickly became accustomed to the dizzying heights of my readjusted saddle. With my acclimatization period coming to an end, I’m looking forward to ramping up my training and seeing the extent to which my position allows me to take advantage of my physical peculiarities.  

Now all I have to do is shave my legs and ride 2,000 miles, and I might be ready to jump into a couple of Category 5 races by May.  

 

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Photo: Austin Brooks

 

 

Written by latefornowhere

February 15, 2018 at 3:07 pm