Cachaça and Helles

Somewhere downtown, at a bar with a couple of friends. After two bottles of wine, a couple of beers and a few drinks, the realization of a rare event: I was the worst time-trialist sitting at that table.

- - -

Six days were much too short: forty-five.


The War: 999

A war is also fought during retreats. Many gloryless, fightless steps back, in the hopes of later strides forward.
- - -
I dragged the bike bag back down the stairs towards the subway station. It would have to wait.

On the days that followed, many a standing ride ensued, and throughout the constant fear in the back of my mind. Is it back?
- - -
Two weeks later, we made it to the check-in counter. The performance was lacklustre at best, but deep within, I celebrated joyfully

Everything - the season, and more - is not lost.


Life: a racing metaphor

A two-hundred mile drive early Sunday morning, enjoying along the way the usual diet of beetroot juice, a honey sandwich, a couple of bananas. And a strong espresso from a thermos before the warm-up.

Riding flat-out from the gun and still dropped like a rock within the first half-hour. Legs bursting and the constant feeling of being about to puke. Not even halfway in, the thrown towel - no point driving oneself to sickness for a second time this month. Early call at the showers and a two-hundred mile journey back.

- - -

Lack of doping controls, unfair game play, all the other conspiracy theories notwithstanding - it remains a challenge I can't seem to master easily, with different weaknesses rearing up each time I let the guard down and fail to attend to any seemingly diminutive detail.

And yet, hours into the drive home, the void feelings from the empty endeavour still mixing with the endorphines, the realisation that the only way out is through: more.

- - -

Any similarity to real life is obviously not just a coincidence.

- - -

Stars of track and field, you are.


Douro Deja Vu

Late March. Somewhere over the Pyrenees. The eleventh flight of the year already, on a machine named after Erlangen.

In spite of this having been my third training camp installment in this still young season, my training volume to date is likely the smallest since attaining my current category. Work commitments, health concerns, and abysmal weather kept epic outings and frequent interval sessions at bay. Instead, I'm now happy to simply work out a sweat on the indoor trainer during early morning sessions, or follow wheels of my loyal training partners as we fight the elements on the roads south of Munich - or, just now, the wet shores of the Douro river. I still hope to convert the vast amount of overtime clocked into miles under more inviting skies, and draw encouragement from the fact that, even with all the woes and interruptions from yesteryear, the season still ended successfully - perhaps even stronger due to the freshness off the forced break.

- - -

If life does begins at Forty, the Thirties are providing for a most interesting, roaring prelude, shaking up the concepts of career and work-life-balance, relationships, luxuries, or sporting goals. Not the manager, but not quite an employee either. No longer racing the Bundesliga, but still unwilling to drop the towel. Not exactly committed, yet neither absolutely single. Far from riches, and while insisting it is not splurging, rewarding myself more often, say, with a new suit... or four.

American essayist Flannery O'Connor once posed that "(n)othing needs to happen to a writer’s life after they are twenty. By then they’ve experienced more than enough to last their creative life".

I gazed over the snow-covered mountains overlooking dry plateaus in the distance and, devising a traversal crossing of the range, established just how little applicability I could find in the writer's statement above.

- - -

As if those twenty years hadn't been busy enough.


Nihil obstat

The wind was gnarling with the waves breaking high against the seawall.

DCFC's New Year began playing just ahead of a silent countdown.

As fireworks went off in the distance, a Swiss army knife opened a beer for the toast.

I drank a bitter sip and felt a sudden urge to throw the bottle off into the dark waters. Instead, I offered the sea some and brought it back to the recycling bin.

- - -

The Last Time I Saw Richard was on as I poured the remaining coffee and packed for the upcoming ride.

Picked for its symbolism, it was the ride that ended '16; now it should begin '18.

This time - perhaps it was the warmer weather, perhaps an altogether different mindset - I thoroughly enjoyed the descent.

- - -

Deep Blue Something gave way to Natalie Imbruglia and Alanis Morissette as the endorphines of a sun-soaked five-hour ride hit me in the evening. One more day to go. This gift comes with a price. But in such moments I realize just how much I'm glad to pay the bill, time after time.

- - -

There's a sunset somewhere every second of the day. But when one happens to watch it...


365 // Fail better

I took my health for granted. Drinking from noon until noon again and waking up to cross a mountain range the next morning.

And then there was Iceland.

I loved the struggle. Always boasting of seeking the hardest path. Betting against the odds and relishing on the challenge.

And then there was Iceland.

I thought I had the answers. The meta-knowledge on how walking down the path differed from knowing it. No hay camino, se hace camino al andar - and those were worn soles.

And then there was Iceland.

I believed in a four letter word. And that a deed done with it could never be lost.

And then, there was a weekend in Reykjavik. An alarm clock that went off too early Monday morning. A whispered "don't let go" before the hotel door closed behind me. A drive to the airport, and then, the void.

- - -

I recovered completely, once more highlighting just what a fabulous piece of machinery hosts my consciousness. But I am now aware of just how special simply carrying out everyday activities by myself can be.

I still cherish my ordeals and voluntarily give up comfortable positions, be it in sport, work or elsewhere, to fight what I believe is the good fight. Yet I'm learning to give up martyrdom and realise that the struggle should not be an end unto itself.

I still undertake those metaphorical hikes, however I now appreciate that sometimes, the walk will not leave a path - or that such path may lead to a dead end and one must then backtrack, as hurtful as that may be; one way or another, the knowledge gained is not static but must constantly be learnt anew.

- - -

Someone once told me it only happens once a lifetime. That I know not to be true. Poor are the souls who have not yet lived through it. And I'm all the richer for - even if only fleetingly - having touched the skies once again.

Yet a price was paid for this experience. The effects of those butterflies flapping their wings were felt by others as well, and I have to acknowledge my share in not properly restraining those, or dealing with their aftermath. Howe is right: the knowledge that makes us cherish innocence makes innocence unattainable. Which, however, in turn "adds to a rich and complete picture of being human (...), part of the wildness and beauty of (a) life lived with depth, commitment and grace" (from a comment in this very blog).

Indeed. Always - and all ways - Yay!


Of hills and writing

Some two years ahead of getting my adviser's blessing to start writing my doctoral thesis, I already had the core part of the acknowledgements sketched out within my head. In a sense, those two pages were one the reasons for me to soldier on, suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous Ph.D. fortunes, so that in the end I could have those words published.

To different measure, I can trace similar patterns between last month's race chronicle, or a previous blog post on two similarly motivated hikes: seeking new experiences for want of a life worth writing about. Sometimes the ensuing essay or photo album may already be vividly on my mind before I even set out on such adventures, and may - like pages IX and X in the above - even lend the necessary impetus to see them through; other times the storytelling follows as an afterthought, perhaps if, by looking back through a different angle, I find something interesting enough to entice the writing spirits (who would otherwise picture me writing about shoe shopping?).
- - -
Upon first moving to Munich, a friend commented on the Facebook status where I announced my relocation: "Head South along the Isar, the first hill comes at Schäftlarn". 

The climb from Schäftlarn Abbey to the village of Höhenschäftlarn quickly became my standard go-to hill for interval work. It's not such a beautiful ascent which rewards one at the top with majestic views of the Alps, as is the case with the Peißenberg, but it's close enough for rides during the week, and with 1.5km and 80 vertical meters sufficiently long and steep to enjoy the reputation as "The" Schäftlarn within the Munich cycling scene.

The summer of 2013 saw Christoph Listmann take over the crown from Peter Maly, improving the 3'14" that had stood for over three years by a single second. With such distance and steepness favouring my rider profile, I eventually set out on a quest to stamp my mark, and two years later, I first matched the then-new best time of 3'12" by Austrian legend Klaus Steinkeller, and then set a 3'06" to seal my name atop the leader board. I was happy to let that mark stand, continuing to do hill repeats on its slopes, but no longer with any concern for the time. It wasn't until Spring this year that I started conjecturing designs of being the first one to break three minutes, but my illness put those plans on hold. In the meantime, between fellow amateurs and professionals alike, some had come within a second of my time, yet still my name stood. Until last Friday.

A relatively unknown, a hobbyist for his lack of a proper license, posted a 3'04". The wind was not unfavourable and his bike could potentially be below the minimum weight stipulated by the regulations, but nevertheless, such a time doesn't come without the legs. Chapeau, I said, and vowed, half jokingly, now I'd have to actually bring out my carbon hoops instead of my regular training setup. 
- - -
A very similar feedback loop between experiences and their written expression takes place with my training and racing entries on Strava. My activities' titles are as if mini-blog entries, where I attempt, on occasion, to convey a bit of poetry replacing the standard naming conventions. Trying out new gear: "Shiny shifters, sunny skies, speedy Saturday!" . Warm, sunny day in winter when I decided to cancel or postpone all meetings and go on a ride: "Of global warming and work-life balance" . Rained on? "Wednesday weather warning withheld, wet ways wearily wandered". Most often, though, the titles are nonchalant, fact-of-the-matter ("Breakfast Lactate" or "That warm-up thing"). 

And so I contemplated - as I rode off early Tuesday morning, bringing my Pride and Joy, with its shining, cut-to-measure carbon galore, for the first time outside of a racing event, to a (if this could be classified as such) training ride - how this endeavour would eventually be titled, and the entire story behind it: from discovering the climb, to countless repeats up and down again, walking its length with my father when he last came to visit, my illness, the first workouts on its slopes when I was healthy again, and now this symbolic moment representing my return to the top of the rankings, to performance levels that ultimately I grew so used to employing to define me. "Sorry, Felix" ? No need to rub it on the poor soul that had just enjoyed his moment of glory. "Schäftlarn Sub-3 Minutes Club, Member Count 1" ? (There is a "3 Minutes Club" for all riders who have managed the ascent in less than 240 seconds). No, though it would be fun to start a second club. "Ops, I did it again?". My mind wandered.

I felt slightly sluggish; and contemplated how I often struggle on early morning rides against my body still craving to stay longer in bed or another cup of coffee; yet last week in spite of similar sensations I had still managed to post pretty usual numbers on my series, so why expect any differently this time? I rode on. It was a beautiful morning. Blue skies, little traffic, even a gentle breeze aligned with the climb. I made my way down, enjoying the aerodynamics and stiffness of my racing machine. Rolling out on the flat section at the bottom, I turned around and waited for the last car to disappear from sight, stretching one last time as I took a deep breath. Then I darted off.

And I failed.
- - -
Writing is like reading, except the book is trying to kill you. This chapter, it seems, won the first battle.

But I'll vow: not the war.