Monday, April 30, 2007

A 30 Year Love Affair

In 1977 I was living in San Diego, assigned to the USS Fresno working my way through a 4-year enlistment. I had a bottom bunk in OI berthing which opened up to stow my clothes and other stuff in addition to a stand-up locker which had even less room. Some of the guys would go together and rent apartments. These were usually the same guys who owned cars. I had neither. I lived a very meager existence. Much of what little I got in pay was sent home and put into a savings account which by the time my enlistment was over had grown to over $5000. I wasn't making much more than $8000 a year then so that was a lot for me to be able to stash away.

I'd eventually find an outlet for my money.

30 years ago today I went to the Navy Exchange in San Diego and bought my first road bike...a white Peugeot for $155. I knew nothing about components, bike handling characteristics or sizing. All I knew was that it would give me independence in a way the buses in San Diego couldn't. I'd no longer have to take the #23 from National City to Chula Vista.

Rather than keep my bike locked up on the pier I'd bring it up to the radar room each night. I'd spend hours in CIC (Combat Information Center) going over it, taking it apart, cleaning it and putting it together again. It didn't take but a couple months before I was swapping out components for better quality stuff.

My weekends from that time on were spent exploring San Diego County and points beyond. I'd leave the ship with no particular direction in mind...just a map and a desire to ride. It's the desire to ride which has stayed with me all these years. The map has been replaced by a Garmin GPS.

I put a lot of miles on my bike over the next year but I knew that it wouldn't be long before I'd need something more...something which would take me further and hopefully faster more comfortably. Jerry LeRue, a local racer was getting married and needed to part with some of his possessions. I was given his name by a local bike shop owner who knew I'd outgrown my current ride. Jerry had an Eisentraut Limited frame for sale. A whole new world was about to open up to me...the world of high-end bikes.

I remember the first time I saw a "superbike" as it was described to me. It was a track bike in the window of a shop in San Diego with a price of $700. I couldn't believe you could spend that much on a bike. Within the year I'd spend considerably more than that to build up the Eisentraut frame I'd bought from Jerry.

In August of '78, our ship was deployed overseas to the Western Pacific for 9 months. I was given the keys to the athletic gear locker in exchange for being in charge of it—checking stuff in and out for the crew. It worked out well as there was limited space on the ship to keep my bikes. I could no longer keep my Peugeot up in CIC while we were deployed so the gear locker gave me plenty of room to add to my bike inventory. With the help of Palo Alto Bicycles mail order catalog I was able to assemble the Eisentraut piece by piece during the months we were away. Between paydays, I'd sit down with the catalog and decide what I'd order next. The catalog listed the weights of every component so I could easily figure where I'd get the most bang for my buck in terms of weight savings. There was no internet or even an 800 number to quickly place my was strictly snail mail. It would often take over a month for an ordered part to arrive on the pier a few ports later. Building the bike was a lot of fun and I always looked forward to seeing what would be waiting for me in the mail at the next port.

My Peugeot was still serving me well. While overseas we were always told to use the buddy system when going out but I often didn't or couldn't as nobody else had a bike. I'd take it out into the city wherever we were and explore things other than the bars. Not that I didn't get out into the city with friends occasionally. I'd often turn heads as it was unusual to see an American on a bike in some of the more remote areas I'd find. The island of Iloilo in the Philippines comes to mind as being one of those places. Another place I loved exploring on my bike was the island of Guam. It was nice to not have to depend on the liberty buses to make their rounds as I'd just get on my bike and go.

By the time we arrived back in San Diego in April '79, I had my Eisentraut nearly completed. A couple trips to the local bike shop for the rest of what I needed and it was done.

I wrote in my diary after riding it the first time,"Fantastic! I was in awe...the bike gets it on so to speak. It's very quick and responsive." It was everything and more that I was hoping it would be from the Cinelli bars and stem to the Campagnolo Super Record rear derailleur and everything in between. My most vivid and fun memories on it were made out beyond Otay Lakes in San Diego where I'd often head to on my weekend rides...towns named Dulzura and Campo come to mind. 80 to 120 miles was a typical day for me then and those were the days before I knew anything about nutrition. I loved that time of my life.

I sold my Peugeot to Stan Whitmarsh for $150. I believe it died a slow death in the salty air on the pier. Somehow it wasn't right after all I'd done on that bike, it deserved better.

My Eistentraut was all I could want in a bike but that didn't stop me from looking at the menu. I used to frequent a shop in La Jolla called California Bicycles. It's still there today. There used to be a Macaw on a perch hanging in the doorway. It was a beautiful bird but when the owner sold the shop to Kevin Millard and his father the bird wasn't a part of the deal. Kevin was a few years younger than me and he seemed to have a dream me anyway. I was looking to add one more bike to my collection before my enlistment was done and I'd be returning to the real world, a world where money would be in short supply. Kevin steered me toward a Colnago frame. The Eisentraut would still be my favorite but the Colnago would fit me better.

There was nothing custom about my Colnago, just standard geometry. A few weeks later my Colnago would arrive. I remember the bus ride back to San Diego from La Jolla carrying my new frame. I couldn't wait to get the parts swapped out from my Eisentraut and get it on the road. I wouldn't have much time with the Colnago in San Diego as my enlistment was nearly done. I no sooner had it on the road when I had to pack it up for the trip home.

My riding took a back seat to my job and college after getting out of the Navy in late 1979. I still managed to ride some but it was spotty at best. I would seldom find the form I used to have but I still loved to ride.

In 1984 I discovered running and for the next ten years, I was much more a runner than a roadie. I still managed a few rides a year but I'd found a passion for running which left little energy for my bike. I could get my workouts done in a little over an hour whereas on the bike I'd be gone for hours at a time. There was no maintenance involved with running and it was much cheaper than riding. I'd replace my shoes every 500-700 miles and that was it. I wasn't about to sell my bikes but I really thought I'd found something I'd be doing for the rest of my life...until my right knee began to rebel and for good reason.

At 17 I tore ligaments and cartilage in my right knee on two separate occasions. Both times required that my leg be immobilized in a full-length cast. It didn't help that I'd also cracked the patella of the same knee around that time. My right knee had been my Achilles Heel you could say. In 1992 I'd go in for arthroscopic surgery to clean up some of the debris remaining from both the injuries and overuse through years of running. The orthopedic surgeon said I could continue running but that I should reduce my weekly mileage. I tried but it was never the same so I quit running altogether. My concern was that I didn't want to get into my 50s and 60s with knees which wouldn't allow me to be active.

For years after I'd have dreams that I was running and experiencing that feeling runners get where they're floating over the road and the whole experience seems effortless. They were bittersweet dreams. I was glad for the memory but sad that that's all it would ever be...a memory.

Over the next few years, I began to rediscover my bike and by 1996 I was fully back into riding. It was good therapy for me as I went through my divorce...hours out on the road with nothing but me and my thoughts. For the most part, I was on my Colnago which was approaching 20 years old. After my divorce I decided to take whatever cash I had left and buy more bike than I ever imagined owning. It was an irrational thing to do but I did it with no regrets. I could have lost everything at that point but I figured if I had Snickers and my bike I was going to be fine. I had Scott at Flanders Brothers in Minneapolis fit me for a custom Serotta. Standard geometry doesn't work for me with my short torso/long leg build. Scott dialed me into my new ride and I loved it. I began riding more than I'd ever ridden and was enjoying my riding as much as I used to in San Diego; maybe more.

Tammy has been very supportive of my riding but she won't allow me to race. I've done some in the past but that was never a focus for me. I was hooking up with some local groups and talk of racing on their teams would eventually come up and why didn't I race. My knee. I know that in a race environment and the training associated with preparing I wouldn't be able to moderate my effort. I'd push too hard (I already do that) and be plagued with overuse injuries which would cause my ability to ride to go the same way as my ability to run. I came close a couple years ago to racing but Tammy asked me not to. I'd been in a bad crash a few years earlier and those wounds were still too fresh for her. It was the right decision. She and Rachel both said no to me last year when I brought up the idea of getting a light for my bike and doing some night riding. That was another right decision on their part. I managed to ride over 9000 miles on the road last year so I can't complain.

For the past 10 years, I've been as serious as ever about my riding. In 2003 I dabbled again with running but soon realized that my running days were over. If I can ride into my 70s I'll be very happy and I'm trying to approach my riding with that thought in mind—self-preservation. Which is why I won't be having another 9000 mile year this year. I think something along the lines of 7000 miles would be more reasonable to allow for more recovery. I've never been very good at building recovery time into my training but I have to change.

I added one more bike to my collection last year. A Serotta Legend St with a sloping top tube to allow me to get the bars more easily in a comfortable position. I'm not quite as laid out as I am on my other Serotta (nor is my body as supple as it used to be) but I'm more comfortable which allows me to ride faster and farther more comfortably; the same reasons I bought my first high-end bike all those years ago.

I've always felt young at heart but never more so than when I'm on my bike. Out on the road in the country or in rush hour traffic jamming on Hwy 169 I'm not some guy about to turn 50. I'm someone in their late 20s (aside from a few aches) who can't believe that 30 years has gotten away so fast and desperately wanting to squeeze as much out of life as I'm able to and remain active for as long as I can.

I don't think I ever imagined what my purchase at the Navy Exchange 30 years ago today would lead to or the countless memories I've made along the way. It was just a simple bike after all. I'm so grateful for the ability and desire to ride. It's a 30-year love affair which I hope continues for many, many more years.


Anonymous said...

Great story. I own a 'traut limited as well:


Kevin said...

Thank you.

Beautiful bike you have. Is the paint original? I like the color.