Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Peter L. Teeuwen Memorial Ride

I sat in my warm home looking out the window at the rare snow falling, whipped by wind gusts and felt the embrace of the wood stove's presence. The coast is so viscerally raw in these conditions. It's as if it wants to push us all away from the very place buried by the summer's hordes later in the year. Locals here know this snow event thing is rare and fleeting. The rain that followed confirmed this and worked for hours and hours to wash the white blanket away. We are now left with only wind and cold, cold, cold.

Two weeks ago I rode with about 40 other cyclists to honor the memory of Peter Teeuwen in Chesapeake, Virginia. Among the riders were Peter's brother, Gerald and his son John. His daughter, Christina, was at the Grassfield Ruritan Club building with others preparing the potluck meal the cyclists attending had brought this day.

When I arrived riders were going in and out of the building and standing around the back of their vehicles pumping tires and wrapping up for a ride we all knew would challenge only a freezing north wind and not each other. We rolled our bikes out to Shillaleigh Road with Gerald standing by his bike at the head of the group with John, his son, moving to his side.

I noticed Gerald looking around as if someone was still to arrive. Then I noticed 3 guys move into position by his side with the letters "VBW" on the backs of their kits. They were members of Virgina Beach Wheelmen and all were competitive cyclists: Jonathan Nisbet, Tim Shockey, and Tom Tomayo. Their connection to Peter Teeuwen I would learn later was quite special.

We set off down the road, the same road, the same course and direction many here ride in the Peter L. Teeuwen Time Trial known among cyclists as the "PLT." The first leg of the 23-mile course was downwind. The group's riders found their places. I was trying to move up near Gerald and his entourage so that I could do a little eavesdropping. I knew it would be good.

As we wound downwind we settled into a 20-21 mph pace. A rider named Andreas rode to my right and we talked a little on the ride. Turns out he's a Category 3 racer and knows Robert a friend and member of our club, GS Outer Banks. He told me he had recently purchased bikes for his wife and daughter and they all were getting some riding in together.

I remarked how much I loved to hear the distinct whisper on group rides of spokes slicing the air. Gerald came off the front group and dropped back along with John and the VBW riders. The guys on the front strained forward seeming to want to ride faster. We were up to 23+ mph now. I heard someone call my name from behind and I assumed correctly it was Gerald and he wanted me to rein the tempo in a little. So I relayed the message to the front and everybody eased back some.

For many of us, it's something new to just relax and ride with the very people you compete in races against all of each season for years. It's like seeing them and automatically flipping into the race mode.

Peter Teeuwen, according to Gerald, had not died on the road, but maybe as a result of a series of head injuries received crashing in road races over the years. He was forty-one years old when he passed away.

The last 6 miles we were back on the stick of the lollipop course returning to the Ruritan Club bucking the north wind. We traded pulls with plenty of riders to share the work, each thanking the rider coming off the front after his effort.

The Chesapeake police had come out to stand traffic guard for us at the corners of the course just like they always do for the PLT's. It all looked the same as it does during a time trial. But unlike the time trials, today's ride allowed us to ride the course sub-anaerobic threshold. No red lining and spitting up internal organs on the final mile to the finish line today.

Also unlike the PLT's, there was hot coffee and a fine meal waiting in the clubhouse when we returned. Inside there were three rows of tables covered with cloth tableclothes and potted plants called Cyclamens with their floppy pink petals grown by Gerald's family in their greenhouses I suppose. There was another table with a computer scrollng photos of the Teeuwen's racing days and a stand-up collage of friend and family photos.

So we all ate together---the cyclists, the police, and the family. While we sat, Jonathan Nisbet and Tom Tomayo came to the front of the room and told us of three 15-year-old boys who had been lured into cycling and then encouraged and groomed to compete in races by a local bike racer. They were shown how to do it---how to put on the strange tight-fitting cycling kits, how to trust clipping your shoes to the pedals, and how to train and mentally prepare for this very arcane sport in America.

They were carried to races everywhere and discovered a passion and place they didn't know existed. The veteran bike racer who took them even far away to race, endured their adolescent attitudes and behavior with boundless patience even when they drove golf balls in hotel hallways and explored the possibilities of light explosives and fireworks. The races had lit a fire in them.

So here they stood in their mid-thirties still missing their mentor, Peter L. Teeuwen, but still loving the sport he had shown them. However no one misses Peter, I observed, more than this family. Of this I am certain. And here before us all was the human legacy Peter had left. Nothing in this world counts more than this. Nothing.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Ride In Memorium---Peter Teeuwen

I'm thinking about going to Chesapeake this Sunday at 1 p.m. to ride in memory of Peter Teeuwen, a ride organized apparently by the family and friends of this deceased former pro cyclist. This is the ride's 18th year. I've been aware of it but never taken the time, been to the trouble. But this year I may go. This is not a ride which demands any special fitness level or even a fancy bike (a reason I can do it I suppose).

I began racing five years ago starting with a few time trials. They were the Peter Teeuwen Time Trials, three each summer. I raced two that year. You race on a 23 mile course shaped like a lollipop with square corners against the clock and your own mind and endurance. I loved it.

Even in my first time trial I noticed a growling, grumbly, irascible old guy who appeared totally in charge. He wore a broad hat and long-legged khaki pants and directed cyclist traffic around the starting gate in the 95-degree heat. He seemed to own the place. He would grumble about something unknown and then make a crack about some obscure part on someone's bike as they rolled to the line, a part I heard him say he hadn't seen on a bike in 25 years. Sounded like he'd been around this stuff for a long, long time because he had.

I became struck by this stalwart figure in command and was dying to know more about him. I love real characters. And this surely was one. After building homes as a carpenter/contractor for over 30 years, I've learned it's one of the things I savor, like sustenance itself. The business trains you to honor these characters who get it done. Gerald Teeuwen, Peter's brother, is such a character. Solid.

One possible reward for my trip to the Grassfield Ruritan Clubhouse building on Shillelagh Road is to ride with Gerald. My gift to Gerald, long overdue the way I see it, is to ride at least one time in memory of his brother whom I was never fortunate enough to know. I'm sure there will be lots of local cyclists there, as there always are. Gerald and his family have supported road bike racing and riding in southeastern Virginia for years. They more than deserve our thanks for the events they support which benefit riders like those in our club and me.

I arrived at the Grassfield Ruritan Club for registration for one of the time trials there in recent years and a photo tacked to the doors caught my eye. I looked closer. Here was a black-and-white shot of three cyclists straddling old style road bikes wearing cycling caps, the tight-fitting kind with short brims. I looked even more closely. One rider's face looked familiar. It was Gerald. His daughter, Christina, told me later that day it was her dad in his racing days in Europe. This was during the early 1970's, a time when riding and racing in Europe was only important in America to those who rode and raced. I bought my first road bike in 1971.

Sunday I'll learn what it is to ride in someone's memory and honor. Should be very positive. I'll let you know.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Winter Cycling 25---What I Wore Today

Today I was late and in a hurry to get to a New Year's Day group ride with our club riders. It felt like it took me so long to dress and leave. This always happens when in a hurry to do almost anything. My sensibilities are heightened. If surfing today, I'd be struggling into my wetsuit. In this case though, I was struggling getting out the door for the ride and there was more to wear.

When I returned I decided to study what was behind the delay leaving the house. I went into the bathroom to shower and began stripping. I had already taken off my helmet, under-helmet cap, road glasses, shoe covers, shoes, wind-breaker/Thinsulated vest, winter cycling jersey, gloves, and watch. I was now up to eleven items, apparel and accessories.

I continued this sort of obsessive look into just how far I was into this sport I really do love. But from time to time I do need a self audit.

I peeled off the two socks on each foot, the pair of arm warmers, the club cycling jersey, the club bib shorts, a pair of leg warmers, an Underarmor Cold Gear jersey, a pair of thigh-length, compression leggings, and a heart monitor: 25 things put on---25 items taken off. I stood alone shivering before the shower I surely earned. There was nothing left to take off. I felt like the master of nothing but I remain somehow willing to wear it all again tomorrow so I can ride.

It will be about 9 degrees colder tomorrow with a northwest wind blowing 25 to 35 mph. I love this sport.

Happy New Year y'all.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reflections on the OBX Marathon 2009, Part 2

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final part of my account of the Outer Banks Marathon 2009. The first part is below. Thanks for reading.)

The Outer Banks Marathon wound its way through the neighborhoods of Kill Devil Hills west of our U.S. 158 By-Pass. Bobby Mack led the full marathon field with two African runners I spotted some 800 to 1000 yards behind. In a marathon barely one third completed, this is a small distance. Bobby's position was not secure by any measure.

We reached the softer sandy loam road of Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve where the runners would go on and we would turn back, ride east over to the Beach Road and follow it south to Barnes Street in Nags Head. Here we turned west and rode back to the spot the runners would emerge from Nags Head Woods. Would Bobby still have his lead? This is where I defected my assigned neutrality and quietly hoped to see him still out front. He appeared from the woods alone and I was now fully in his camp as if I was his very own personal coach, soigneur, or cheerleader. His countenance read of intense, concentrated focus. This reminded me of the huge distance between us and why we both filled the two roles we filled, why each of us was here this day.

I returned to my supposed neutrality. Broken lines of watchers clapped and cheered along the streets. Families sat in beach chairs at the ends of their driveways, parents pointing to the lone runner for their children to see. "This is Bobby from Raleigh, our marathon leader," I repeated at each turn.

I let Bobby know what was up ahead and how far he had come. He responded that his mile splits were still good. "You're gonna do it today," I insured him, once again letting slip my neutrality.

We turned right onto the By-Pass at Blue Jay Street and after about another 1/2 mile I looked back, way back behind us and there I spotted the two African runners churning out a steady pace. "Bobby, they're still back there around 800+ yards. You're doing great!" We were now moving through the half marathon runners many of whom were walking. I could see Rick about 100 yards ahead clearing these folks to the right. Many were walking two and three abreast and as he passed, some would return to this. I carried a whistle which I laid on pretty hard from time to time as a more insistent way of clearing our path. We plied on passing Orange DOT cones one after the other on our left. "This is Bobby from Raleigh..."

Water aid stations, some with blaring music and bulging masses of runners and volunteers on both sides of the water-cup tables were to our right. Cars slowed outside the cones, windows down, passengers cheering and encouraging Bobby. My whistle bleated out above the fray. Our small lane was crowded now as we turned west to the causeway, mile 21 or so. The southwester had blown up this morning and was ripping across this stretch of asphalt beside the Roanoke Sound with the huge open expanse of Pamlico Sound beyond. There was enough fetch for a hurricane to wind up over this inland sea and here came a wind racing over it fully able to suppress even the strongest of marathoners.

I looked at Bobby for what I thought would be the inevitable: "They say if you can make it through this point in a marathon, you can make it the whole way," Bobby called to me. Profound pain was creeping over his face now. We were at the foot of the arched Daniels Bridge. Runners and walkers were jamming the lane. I quickly looked back for the African challengers but couldn't pick them out. Creeping cars to our left, people yelling out words of encouragement to the runners and walkers had fused into our landscape now. Commotion, and chaos as we climbed, me plowing through other marathoners on my bike, he rapping out a heavier pace up and over the top of the bridge where the wind had us fully.

I could see Rick way up there moving people aside and them filling back in behind him many mindlessly struggling with their own personal race demons. At two miles out (from the finish) we were to call the race official at the finish line to report who had the lead. Rick was to make this call. I signaled up to him that now was the time. My computer showed just over 24 miles run. I could see Rick, a big guy, standing over his bike making that call. I looked back at Bobby just at the moment he abruptly stopped running, holding his right leg rapt in pain. I knew this look well. He was cramped. It looked like a hamstring. He stood, hunched over, knees locked trying to stretch it out, make it relax.

Just then a runner rushed by me yelling at Bobby who looked up. The other runner pointed to Bobby calling out, "Come on Bobby, get back on it. Come with me. You can do it man." As if on a vehicle which would not stop, he ran right by us and kept on. Bobby told me that runner was a friend of his, Ryan Woods, whom he had run with at N.C. Sate University. He was a little older, but he was a good guy and a fine athlete. Bobby kicked with his right leg and then began to jog up to his race gait once again. He was in tremendous pain. This was awe inspiring to watch.

I realized I had let the new leader of the marathon go by without picking him up to lead him, but this was not to be. I would not leave Bobby out of respect for the effort I was so fortunate to have witnessed this day. Maybe Rick would lead Ryan to the line.

One mile later another full marathon runner passed us. This was Nicolas Robin, I believe one of the African runners whom had been dogging Bobby's lead the whole way. I had heard Philip Cheruiyot, a prior winner of this race and a sure threat to win it again, had abandoned the race somewhere on the causeway.

The last mile had finally come. With his goal of setting a new course record and the lead left so far behind on the causeway, Bobby wound down toward the waterfront in the original part of the old town of Manteo. He finished in third place behind Robin and his old buddy Ryan who won the marathon at 2 hours, 32 minutes and 38 seconds. He will never know what his marathon effort left with me that day. In a way he is still running along with me as I ride my own race.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Reflections on the OBX Marathon 2009, Part 1

I wasn't sure I was going to like the ride today. I rounded up the really warm clothes, the water bottle, pushed extra air into my tires. I mounted my fixed gear bike for the fourth straight day. Forty-two degrees. West cross wind jamming my spokes at a solid 35 knots. I rode north on Bay Drive along Kitty Hawk Bay once again---the usual route---the one offering some wind cover in trees and among homes farther north. I settled in finding my work tempo. The wind ripped over my ears. It all sounded like high volume, close-in roaring that only I could hear.

Training rides can be introspective when it's like this. You carry with you a private place to consider a multitude of things. Today as I toiled, I thought about the Outer Banks Marathon this past fall and its spell still lingering over me like a veil, a vision. I was one of many locals who helped with the event. Rick Godsey and I were to lead the elite male leader of the full marathon through the course on our road bikes replete with water bottles, gels, cell phone, and Gruppo Sportivo Outer Banks racing kits.

Although a tremendous honor, I failed miserably with my assignment this day. I had even done this before in an earlier race. But I still blew it.

We gathered with the throngs of runners at the north end of Woods Road near Dominion Power at 6:30 a.m. The phrase "beehive of excitement" comes to mind. Runners everywhere warming up and trying to stay warm. People introducing others to their friends and chatting all nerved-up before the monumental challenge they were about to engage. New friends made on the brink of tremendous efforts. The only place I've witnessed greater hope, greater anticipation is in a Little League dugout before the first pitch of the first inning of the first game. The day started cold and sharp but warm among the runners.

We positioned ourselves some 30-40 yards out in front of the start line in the pavement's center, bikes pointed down the road, heads turned back to the runners. In pairs, all our cyclists had different lead runners to lead, male and female runners in both the full and half marathon. The starter's gun cracked the air. Here they came. We pedaled forward nervously with the thousands of runners and the energy they rode so close behind us.

I've ridden in many road bike races. I know well the gamut of emotion and roiling nerves which seem to bind you like a guilty prisoner until you're snatched up by the focus required to race. You become given completely to the sweet moments as they stream past with you and all around you in their embrace. But leading a leaderless race you're not contesting is quite another thing. Peace rests at your center but hope reaches for someone who has not yet emerged to challenge the field. Who will it be? To witness up close a whole marathon alongside the leader, to observe the suffering and embedded joy all at once apparent on the runner's face would leave me with an indelible memory and a bond unlike any I've ever experienced.

By mile one a solo runner had nosed out by ten and then twenty yards. He was sprung, gap growing. So this was our guy. We let him settle in and then drifted back to let him know we would lead him through the course to the finish. There were two or three Africans in this marathon who were known contenders. One, Philip Cheruiyot, had won the 2006 OBX Marathon the day after winning the Chicago Marathon, slipping backwards cracking his head on the street as he crossed the finish line. His feet were laying over the finish line when he fell. I remembered seeing his beautiful, steady open stride, as he passed me that day. He was back there somewhere.

We rode onto Kitty Hawk Village road, a curvy two-lane affair. Our guy was steady at it while it appeared a pair of African runners separated from the unseen following main field somewhere further back. The miles unrolled as we passed clapping, cheering bands of locals all along the course. This event is huge in our community. In my opinion, there is no other land event which unites Outer Bankers like this one. Everybody was out there.

I was told last year every traffic cone possessed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation comes to Dare County for this event. Roads were blocked with them and later when we emerged from the backstreets onto the U.S. 158 By-Pass, we saw the runners' lane they marked for miles going south through Nags Head, across the causeway and bridge to Roanoke Island and Manteo.

Our leader was Bobby Mack, a young, former North Carolina State track athlete. He told me his goal was to beat the course record. He looked down at his watch and at mile 15 said, "Everything's good. I'm doing 5-21 to 24 splits so far" (1-mile splits at 5 minutes 21 to 24 seconds). Poker-faced, I turned around in the saddle and dropped my head in disbelief. I looked at my computer: 11.3 mph. I was astounded!

The course record for the 4-year race is 2 hours 24 minutes and 15 seconds held by Mike Wardian of northern Virginia, set in the 2007 race. He had come in third behind Philip Cheruiyot's first place the previous year, the first Outer Banks Marathon.

Fans were strung all along the route, some dressed in costume. Cow bells clanged as we passed. "This is Bobby from Raleigh our full marathon leader!" I called out swelled with pride. A runner from our state was leading. The knotted crowds along the route lit up when they heard this I believed, for the same reason.

(Part 2 to be posted soon.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas and Thanks

I sit here today, Christmas Day, over a huge welling up need to be thankful. I'll try not to be sappy. This is to my true friends. You know who you are. They take their own time to consider things I say or write, and there is often much. They challenge the same with fresh ideas and perspectives. They keep me pointed toward the things they know I love. Sometimes we lose our way to these. They experience these things with me---they make sure I'm there when it counts. I hope I remember often enough to do the same for them. They too need direction occasionally.

I've often said to them at this time in life I may need an attendant (or attendants), preferably wearing white lab coats and carrying clipboards. Sometimes it's that bad. But my friends are much more than that. They help me keep my road bikes and surfboards repaired and ready. They call me when conditions are favorable to us. They invite me to play music together.

They allow me to vent emotion and to not hide out as an enlightened soul work-in-progress, to be a miserable failure in my own eyes, and then turn the mirror my way to remind me the good we all possess. On this day, I thank my friends for meaning so much to me. I hope your Christmas holds you in the arms of love wherever you may be.

This morning I rode 28 miles on a Cannondale framed fixed gear. The onshore wind was east around 18 mph, air temp at 51 degrees. I warmed up circling the monument (Wright Memorial) and took the usual route north along the sound and Kitty Hawk Bay up to Southern Shores where I crossed east over toward the Kitty Hawk Pier. There I took the Beach Road south the 6+ miles to First Street and then home.

The sky pushed down with low clouds and the dampness preceding rain. The white-ish cloud underbellies warned me of the rain moving from the mainland, creeping closer and closer. Would I make it home dry? This is where I start reciting the names of my friends who live along the Beach Road in a chronological order beginning where I am now, who will give me shelter if it gets bad. The ocean water---smell the salt air---is 43 degrees, dropping a full 10 degrees since last week. It now truly is winter. This is the equivalent of our first snow. The cross wind and fixed gear are working me hard now. To counteract this discomfort I thought about my friends.

Monday, December 7, 2009

December Atlantic

I surfed last Thursday, December 3rd at Martin Street with 3 young teachers I work with at First Flight High School. In the water at 4:30 p.m. after battling a torrent of distractions and then hurriedly fighting my way into my wetsuit---a full 3-2 O'Neill Psycho with boots and gloves. The fighting only seems to occur when I'm in a rush---this time racing a falling sun. Water and air about the same at 57 degrees. I saw an extremely south head-high swell with fierce angle and long open lines of brown water when I topped the dune boardwalk. This is the sand bottom stirred up to the surface. It has that winter water look we know so well here. Right-hand tubes peeled and spit out a sideways spike of spray vapor maybe 15 feet as waves rolled over themselves, paced up over a shallow bar.

I tapped a few nice rights on my old (1982) 7'2" Sunset single fin---so fine. I hadn't felt this kind of ride in 26 years. The current was ripping from south to north at 7 or 8 knots. It felt like a conveyor belt grinding up the coast, riding it from sandbar to bar until the next set came through. All aboard! Ride a long right back to the beach, trudge back up on the beach out of the wash and stroll south. Paddle out again and repeat.

I left the water at last when I could no longer make out the contours of the wave face. I knew this when I took off on a big right closeout and had to pull out, straighten up, and bag it all.

Three of us, including one female art teacher who knows how to ride a wave, walked together up the sloped, soft sand beach back over the dune to our vehicles. I left the water that evening having caught only a few waves. I was content. The sun finally fell into a pool of rouge and maize.

I realized it doesn't take as much for me to reach satisfaction as it used to when I first rode this surfboard so long ago. My appetite for waves was insatiable then. But the measure of stoke now is just the same with far fewer waves caught. The joy in it must never have been in the quantity like so many things in this world. Or have my expectations only adjusted to my age and physical limitations? I really don't care what the answer is. I had these questions to consider nonetheless. You can't let them go unnoticed. Surfing does that to you. It makes you consider its joyful pursuit, its fleeting nature, your inability to own it as only yours. Yet it can give itself to you so completely or, crush and spit you out sending you home master of nothing. But we still go back over and again.

Thanks for reading. Get waves...on whatever you like to ride.