Mon 20 Jul 2009
Wed 10 Jun 2009
This weekend, I woke up more sore than on any other day during the trip. My knees hurt to bend and my ankle hurt to walk on. Jumping right back on a brakeless fixed gear bike weighing 1/5 the weight of my fully loaded touring bike and sprinting back & forth all day long in the rain didn’t come with as much ease as I might’ve expected it to, having powered nearly three thousand miles by this point. Quinn & my polo bikes were stored by friends in New York, and shipped out here for the tournament. They’re both fixed gear bikes. A good number of the people reading this blog know what that means, but for the rest of you – our moms’ friends, the ladies at Curves, maybe a few lurkers who haven’t left comments – it means that the bike only has one gear, no brakes, and doesn’t coast. To slow down and stop, you pedal slower or lock up your legs to completely stop the rear wheel from turning. It works an entirely extra set of leg muscles than riding a “normal” bike because stopping the bike requires applying resistance to the pedals’ constant forward motion. Sure, Quinn and I have worked the crap out of all the other muscles, but the fixed gear muscles had been more or less dormant for the past two months. Then we go and hurl ourselves into round-robin competition using them. I personally hurt a lot Sunday morning. It probably didn’t help that I fell on my knees & ankle once or twice – and the half-bottle of vodka I shared with my teammates before the last match of the day probably didn’t improve my coordination either.
More photo’s on Quinn’s flickr account
These idiots also showed up. If you haven’t watched their videos, you don’t understand bike polo.
My team’s Saturday win/loss ratio suffered. 1-6-2, I believe. One of the two ties was 0-0 with a Chicago team. Disappoinment all around. The other tie, we TRIED to lose 0-5 like most of the rest of our matches, but Ch0mb0 kept scoring goals! WTF!? Our one win came against Quinn’s team, “Ladies”, made up of herself, Birdie from Madison, and Amandaconda from Tampa/Seattle.
Photo from Minneapolis’s Kat.
Quinn’s brother, Jarrett, by the way, is on my team. No mercy. Another good lesson we learned is that we tend to play better sober and maskless. We did much better on Sunday. Yet another valuable lesson learned is that we’re great dancers. Watch this video! Here’s a caveat – you have to lay down or turn your entire computer sideways to watch it, and imagine there’s music playing. It’s got a fantastic ending.
People come out of the woodwork for these things, especially the well-sponsored and hyped events. Sven, Kat, Dustin, and Sue I met in Minneapolis; Ben Hunter, Johnny Hunter, Birdie, Jill, Pierre (from France as of a few months back) and Sam from Madison; Jason from Baltimore; Jarrett, Ch0mb0, Doug, Paul, Bad Zach, Good Zach, Red Chris, Johnny Midwest, Adam Ackbar and Cecily from New York; Amandaconda from Tampa/Seattle; Sea Bass & Leon from Seattle; Lucky from St. Louis; Alexis from Ottawa who’s Canadian teammates backed out at the last minute and left him with Sea Bass & Leon (they came in 2nd place); Rory, Gentleman James, and Pieter from East Vancouver; Gus, Jav & Nick from Boston; Nick, Ben, and Ian from Richmond; Ben, Dumptruck, Joe, Tucker and Brian from Chicago; all those kids from Portland whose names I forgot. There are names I’ve unintentionally omitted, and for that I apologize. And too many names from Milwaukee to recall – except for Jake and Kremin, who orchestrated the entire event with near flawlessness. Well done, in spite of the disagreeable weather and less-than-expected attendance, guys.
This is a good time to express our gratitude to Ben’s Cycle/Milwaukee Bicycle Company. One of the two main sponsors of the event, they also accepted the shipment of our bikes from New York, and had no apparent qualms with us loitering in the back of their shop for hours unpacking and assembling them. COG Magazine, the other major sponsor, made it possible to coordinate 22 teams into a two-day round robin/double elimination tournament on three handmade courts.
Before competition even began, Tucker from Chicago cracked two of his teeth in half after an errant mallet swing collided with his face. International polo medic Johnny Midwest leapt onto the scene of the carnage with aplomb, and Jarrett somehow found the teeth fragments on the surface of the refashioned tennis courts. Tucker fortunately lives a mere hour’s drive away, and his nearby family came to shuttle him to some emergency dental work. Polo can be a dangerous sport. As if it doesn’t take enough coordination to maneuver a bicycle while weilding a mallet and trying to hit a ball through a goal, you have to do this while five other cyclists swerve, twist and sprint, trying to do the same thing. Crashes are inevitable, and there are few rules prohibiting defensively rough play. Bike Polo is a contact sport.
Even the spectators are often at risk. Andy’s Mom, for instance, took a mallet to the face from Jarrett. Andy has given me free license to exaggerate the retelling of this event, but it’s good enough in real life to not have to.
Andy’s family lives across Lake Michigan. They ferried to Milwaukee for the weekend to meet twoarmparty and observe the polo. Tournaments, unfortunately, are all-day events, and they never got to take us out for some one-on-one dinner time. On Sunday, they came with sandwiches for the day and cookies for the trip. Quinn & I took a break from the crowds to hang with the family. As Jarrett walked up to play a game of pickup on the adjacent court, Quinn introduced him as her brother. At this exact moment, Jarrett was hurling his mallet onto the court. He missed. Instead, as it left his hand, it caught on a part of the plywood wall and redirected itself towards Andy’s Mom’s face, Jarrett’s hand extended in an expectant handshake. WHAM!!! In slow motion, this moment is spectacular. Andy’s Mom staggers back. Jarrett’s handshake turns into two hands covering his face in horror and humiliation. Quinn is mortified. Andy is in shock. I can’t believe that just happened. Bystanders shake their heads humorously, wondering how Jarrett can make this ok. He really can’t. Andy’s Mother was fine. No cuts, no scrapes, no shattered teeth or broken glasses. Jarrett only got that one chance to make that first impression, but he went as far away as he could afterwards to play his game. Well done, Gigante. Gigante smash!
Sunday’s weather was far more forgiving than the cold, intermittently rainy Saturday. As teams got eliminated from the bracket, more kegs were tapped and more courts were opened for pickup. The sun brought out more babies & dogs than I’ve seen at any other tournament. Our friend Roxanne brought out her baby, Mabel, who’s one of the most adorable babies the midwest has ever seen. And that’s saying a lot, since it seems an apparent requirement to have a baby out here. Like they give you one for signing a lease.
That’s Nan, Ben Hunter’s daughter. She’s teaching me how I can become a fairy. (Photo by Gus).
We stayed with Roxanne & Mabel Monday night after packing our bikes back up and saying goodbye to our friends. It was far more comfortable than my Sunday night slumber party at Kremin’s, sleeping next to Nick from Boston, who accurately warned me that he snores loud. While a party went on around us and he snored, I struggled to sleep on a dusty matress with no pillow or blanket. It was raining too hard for me to go back to the hotel, and my phone had died (more than just the battery) so I had no way of getting back into the room at this hour anyway.
I wandered downtown Milwaukee in the morning and found some girls handing out free Stone Creek Coffee in honor of Bike To Work Week. I gave them our blog and explained Bike Polo to them. We saw them again the next day in front of the Stone Creek coffeeshop on our way out of town. It was a good time taking some exhausting rest days in Milwaukee. We reconnected with people we’d met along the way, and saw some of our best friends for the first time in months. One of them in particular was impressed with how good we’re starting to look. I think he has a crush on me now…which is actually kinda disturbing. But flattering of course. Everyone was happy to see us and tell us how much they enjoy following us on this blog. We’ll see you soon guys. Thanks for a great weekend.
Wed 3 Jun 2009
Meeting up with Jonny Hunter in Wisconsin was one of the most anticipated parts of our trip. The week leading up to the COG tournament in Milwaukee is what we based our entire schedule around. Jonny was going to meet us two days out of his home in the capital city of Madison, and take us on a riding tour of some of the local farms.
Jonny Hunter and his brother Ben are menaces in two places: polo courts and kitchens. Ben can fly and score goals while doing it. Jonny’s got some kind of sixth sense. Both of them run The Underground Food Collective. While Quinn, Andy and I were already biking, they came to New York to cook a few more spectacular dinners. Back in the fall of 2008, I attended their five-course (or more?) Pre-Industrial Pig dinner. It was a brilliantly assembled, attended, and delicious event. Not only was Johnny going to show us how to get into our second big city this week, he was going to make sure we ate well along the way.
Before we met him though, we had to get there. Minneapolis is a big city. And there’s another city, St. Paul, right next to it. We foolishly didn’t ask for another guide out of the city, and foolishly followed the vague directions of the founder of Black Label at the Hard Times Cafe. I’m sure that the Gateway Trail he recommended we take is a spectacular ride, but you kinda gotta know how to get there in the first place. We didn’t. And instead of being out of the urban area in the morning, we didn’t make it to Wisconsin until the early afternoon. There was still 170 miles between us and Johnny Hunter. The good news was that it was along some of the most gorgeous parts of the country, following the Mississippi River. The bad news was that there was a 15-20mph headwind. The other bad news was of course that there was still 170 miles to go.
The Mississippi lopes and roams, backed up into lakes miles wide at times, its enormity fed by rivers already massive – tributaries that snake hundreds of miles away up the mountains this side of the Continental Divide. Route 35 hugs its banks for most of it’s length in Wisconsin. Motorcyclists roam up and down in packs, dropping off in groups to explore the roads up to more scenic vistas along the tree lined bluffs.
After 97 miles, stormclouds starting to threaten us and we paused in the town of Nelson, with hopes of finding a fine place to pitch a tent. The railroad that had paralleled us and the river went through the town like it had for all of the small, lovely towns along route 35. The locals recommended we camp in the town of Alma, 9 miles away, but after our obvious conviction towards not riding anymore, formed a consensus that the city park behind Beth’s Diner was probably a fine place to spend the night. We moved some picnic tables from under an overhang, pitched our tent, stashed our bikes away from any rain, and walked into Beth’s Diner for a dinner that could not possibly satisfy our appetites.
In true twoarmparty fashion, as soon as the doors closed behind us, the skies opened up and drenched the town.
The rain let up quickly, and we devoured our meals with similar haste. Sleep set in easily on our wind battered and grumpy bodies. Hours later, because commerce never stops, our dreams were shaken by the rumble of approaching locomotives. The movement of miles of freight was announced by a blast of the engine’s massive whistle, rendering slumber impossible, but waking us to a resounding echo from the mountains behind us. It was immensely disrupting, but strangely beautiful.
The next day’s trip was much further than the 97 miles we had just tacked on. It was supposedly less hilly (until the very end of our ride), and if the weather wasn’t lying to us, we were going to have some tailwinds. Both assumptions ended up being true. We even found a shortcut that Jonny hadn’t pointed out. Wisconsin, like Minnesota, has done a fantastic job turning old railroad tracks into bike trails. We followed this flat, straight trail for 12 miles into La Crosse. Quinn took a video, thankfully, to give you an idea of what it’s like. It might make you queasy, but…train bridges! Woods! Mississippi marshland! No cars whatsoever! Possibility of alligators on the trail! It was pretty.
We followed route 35 until Ferryville, where we were to pick up route C, headed away from the river and uphill all the way for the next 15 miles. This was at mile 107. We knew dinner was waiting for us with Johnny in Star Valley, but since the burgers at the biker joint were only $4, it only made sense to inhale one before climbing.
Maybe it’s because we psyched ourselves out, or maybe it’s because we’re just getting stronger, but that last 15 mile climb was no sweat. Maybe those burgers had something extra special in them that made them taste so great. Whichever way, we beat Jonny to his friend Josh’s house. Josh, a farmer, rolled out, and let us make ourselves comfortable in his house while he went out to plant some seeds. By the time he got back, Jonny was still on his way. So Josh took us on a tour of the farm. Quinn is the only one of us who has any knowledge of the fields at all, but we still learned a ton of stuff that city kids don’t know just from listening to him for 45 minutes. And we saw a bald eagle. Check.
What had taken Jonny so long is that he was trying to get his bike together. He has the luxury of owning one of the last bikes every produced by Johnny Cycles. All of his components though, were hastily borrowed from friends. While he cooked dinner, Josh’s brother Noah gave us a tour of the farm equipment. He had no idea how to give a tour, but it was OK, because we had no idea what we were looking at. He ended up giving us a spectacular explanation of some of the 100+ pieces of equipment they use to manage their farm.
By the time we finished eating, it was nearly 11, and we’d added 220 miles to our total. It was time to pass out. The next morning, just like any other day, we got ready to ride.
Fri 1 May 2009